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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Newt Draws Anger on Airwaves; Hyping the Budget Drama; Interview with Andrew Sullivan; Interview With HuffingtonPost Canada's Danielle Crittenden
Aired November 27, 2011 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: It was in a way rather predictable. Newt Gingrich surges to the top of the Republican polls, and the media scrutiny intensifies. But look at this --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTIN BASHIR, MSNBC: If anyone's dirty, it's Newt Gingrich -- a man whose personal morality has been drawn from the sewer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: What explains the lever of vitriol toward Newt on the airwaves, including from some on the right?
The media clearly expected super things from the super committee, which turned into a debacle. Did news organizations hype the consequences if the panel failed to slash the deficit?
He's a British import and one of the most popular bloggers in cyber-space. But with his caustic criticism of Republicans, can he still call himself a conservative? Our conversation with Andrew Sullivan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREW SULLIVAN, BLOGGER: Look, by opening yourself up like that, and especially during the Iraq War, to have made such a massive blunder, and to then be forced to actually hold myself to account for it, and have my readers do so and stick with me, that was a very maturing experience.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Plus, "The Huffington Post" expands to Canada. So what's up with the Canadian woman who's running it, eh? We'll meet her.
I'm Howard Kurtz -- and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
KURTZ: In an increasingly shrill media environment, running for president means being attacked, assailed, mocked, ridiculed, bashed, belittled and otherwise denigrated. But rarely have we seen the harsh rhetoric unleashed against a man who's been a national political figure for two decades, the former speaker of the House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
GEORGE WILL, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Gingrich's is an amazingly efficient candidacy, and that it embodies almost everything disagreeable about modern Washington. He's the classic rental politician.
MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC: It's really not surprising coming from me, but that was about the most arrogant and un-self-aware, and those are probably the only words I can use, things for any politician in this Republican field to say.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Disgusting.
KAREN FINNEY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: He is a mean, vindictive SOB who does not really care about anything other than power.
BASHIR: But if anyone's dirty, it's Newt Gingrich -- a man whose personal morality has been drawn from the sewer, a man who pontificates about his Catholic faith and morality but repeatedly commits adultery.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: And that's just some of what's been on television. How much of this has to do with Gingrich's record and how much has to do with his relations with the Washington press corps?
Joining us now here in Washington: Danielle Crittenden, author and managing of blogs for the "Huffington Post" Canada; Eleanor Clift, Washington correspondent for "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast"; and Jackie Kucinich, political reporter for "USA Today."
Eleanor Clift, that was some sizzling stuff there. Why do some commentators have such a deep-seated animus toward Newt?
ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK: Well, first of all, it's hard to feel too sorry for Newt because most people who have been in Washington remember when he came on the scene and routinely instructed Republicans to call Democrats pathetic and corrupt. He pioneered going on C-Span and tearing apart your opponent.
But in this --
KURTZ: But the press, of course, is supposed to be fair.
CLIFT: But in this -- in this presidential season, he proves there's more than two or three acts in American life because he's conducted himself very well. I love some of his positions. And I think the press is just having fun with him.
And he can handle it. He's handled it very well.
(CROSSTALK) KURTZ: Danielle Crittenden, even some conservative pundits, we saw George Will there. He isn't hardly the only one, can't seem to stand this guy. Is it personal?
DANIELLE CRITTENDEN, HUFFINGTON POST: I don't know that it's personal. I met Newt Gingrich many times, and he's actually very charming and entertaining person one on one. But he is -- I think he does embody a certain amount of that -- I love that George Will line of rental politician.
I mean, he's coming out this Fannie Mae stuff looking very, very bad. There's a whole sort of tawdry Tiffany -- element around him. And I think in the debate this week, when he was making that pitch for immigration, one of your CNN contributors very shrewdly noted it wasn't just about being compassionate for immigrants or reach for the Spanish vote, that his constituency of donors is very much connected to restaurant, to the gaming industry -- and they employ a lot of illegal immigrants.
So it's hard for me to look at him, and I think a lot of people to look at him and see a sincere, unsullied, you know, person that they would want as their president.
KURTZ: Of course, so many politicians are unsullied.
We'll come back to that, that immigration.
But, Jackie Kucinich, journalists in this city have known and covered Newt Gingrich for something like 30 years. When he became speaker of the House in 1995, he was treated as a deputy president of the Republican takeover. At some level, does familiarity breed contempt here?
JACKIE KUCINICH, USA TODAY: He's got a long record -- long record that we all are digging through again, what's old is new again right now. And I think that's -- maybe there's some frustration not for me, but I think with some of the people who have covered him for a long time, that they know he said X, Y, and Z. Now he's saying C, D, F.
And so, it's --
KURTZ: But lots of politicians change their positions on things or appear to be -- have situational ethics. You heard some of that.
KUCINICH: It's true --
KURTZ: Morality from the sewer.
KUCINICH: It's true, but it's unapologetic -- I mean, Newt Gingrich has this unapologetic "No, this is what I'm saying today because I'm saying it today."
KUCINICH: And I think that might be a part of it. KURTZ: Is there a lingering resentment, Eleanor, for the way he belittles the media? And he didn't do this week, but often, the debate moderators in these televised face-offs.
CLIFT: Oh, he's gotten the best of us as an industry for quite a long time. But I think there's a love/hate relationship here because he's nobody -- he doesn't have canned sound bites, he invites them on the spot. You never know what he's going to say.
KURTZ: The love is because he's good copy?
CLIFT: More sincere than Mitt Romney. Yes, he's good copy. He's also -- he's intellectually capable, and he's one of the few on the stage in the Republican debates who actually belongs there.
KURTZ: In other words, he didn't have a 53-second pause when somebody asked him about Libya.
Danielle, is another factor here, all the pundits, all the collected conventional wisdom of the news business said he was dead a few months ago when he had no money and most of his staff quit. How dare he come back and make us all look silly?
CRITTENDEN: Well, OK, I'm going to throw out a bizarre analogy out here. The race with Mitt Romney reminded me of, if you guys remember the plot from "Sleepless in Seattle," where Meg Ryan is engaged to this perfect guy. He fits -- he checks all the boxes, you know? And then she falls in love with Tom Hanks.
And -- there's been that -- the non-Mitt, you know?
KURTZ: Who plays Tom Hanks in this --
CRITTENDEN: Well, this is the problem. Newt has come back but he's no Tom Hanks. And I think it's another brief, you know, desire to find that Tom Hanks character. But he's not in the -- we're going to have to marry Mitt.
KURTZ: But did it make the press look silly to write his obituary? And right now, he's leading in many polls.
CRITTENDEN: They always do that. You know, two months from now, it's going to be someone else.
KUCINICH: Well, John McCain, if you remember, his staff quit the last cycle, everyone proclaimed him dead.
KURTZ: In 2007, the press said John McCain was toast. He won the nomination.
You would think that perhaps we would learn a lesson from the premature burial of the senator from Arizona.
But going back to Eleanor's point, Jackie, do many journalists have a respect -- maybe a grudging respect -- for Gingrich's intellect? He is a man of idea. Some people say he's got a lot of ideas, a few good ones, some not so good ones. But he does -- he does -- his supporters would say he elevates the debate.
KUCINICH: I don't think anyone's ever said that Newt Gingrich isn't the idea guy. He's been -- he was the idea guy when he wasn't in Congress. He's the idea -- I mean, the Republicans have been carting him back to the House and to the Senate to talk about his ideas since he's been out of office.
I don't think anybody said that. I think what comes when he -- the ideas change and they're the exact opposite of what he -- like with the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac thing, he was saying, you know, the president's staff should resign because of their relationship with it, yet he was working for them. And so --
KURTZ: I wonder if journalists also reacting to a certain air of condescension. I mean, at that debate this week, he said, if we were a serious country, we would do this. He's accused moderators of asking Mickey Mouse questions, gotcha questions -- absurd to expect a 30-second answer on the future of health care. I wonder if that gets under the skin some people.
CLIFT: I think he's right about a lot of that. And I think that's even more irritating, the fact that he is right.
I think he -- he will make a great non-Romney. He will make the race entertaining. He'll make Romney perform.
I think -- I don't think many of us believe that he's going to go on to win the nomination or the presidency. But we could be proven wrong again.
KURTZ: And you may be right. And you may be right. But many of us did not believe he would be leading in polls at the end of November.
Let me come back to the CNN debate this week on foreign policy. Wolf Blitzer, or the Blitz, as Herman Cain calls him, asked about his support for immigration reform law past during the Reagan administration. Here's how the former speaker answered the question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN/DEBATE MODERATOR: Some called it amnesty then. They still call it amnesty now. What would you do if you were president of the United States with these millions of illegal immigrant, many of whom have been in this country for a long time?
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you've been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don't think we're going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out.
BLITZER: Are you saying that what he's proposing, giving amnesty in effect, or allowing illegal immigrants to stay, is a magnet that would entice others to come to this country illegal?
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's no question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: First of all, Jackie Kucinich, how did Wolf Blitzer do in framing that question? I mean, that was the news of the debate.
KUCINICH: I think so. And it was interesting to see the reaction here in Washington, and the reaction in places like Iowa and in -- some of these early primary states, because in the venue, this are a lot of people who are like, you had, that's a -- Newt Gingrich, a really reasonable answer on immigration.
But then you read some of the blogs in Iowa, and it was like, oh, my gosh, this is a mortal wound for Newt Gingrich. He --
KURTZ: Was it smart for Blitzer to follow up and bring Romney in and also bring Bachmann in?
KUCINICH: Yes. Absolutely, to show the contrast. And that was one of the great things about this debate, is you show -- it wasn't a lockstep debate with the candidate saying different things on one issue. And that hasn't been necessarily the case in some of the other debates.
KURTZ: Some of the questions from the people at Heritage and AEI who co-sponsored the debate. But the media narrative, Eleanor, is that this humane answer on Gingrich's point of immigration is going to kill him with grassroots conservatives. But I think it gets him some nice notices from the media elite who think his position actually is reasonable.
CLIFT: Right. It violates ideological purity on the right.
But if ideological purity is what Newt Gingrich is about, he can't survive. He's not pure on -- in so many cases. This was a realistic answer. And I think it shows that he's not willing to change his positions to pander.
KURTZ: Does he get points for candor or non-pandering or recognizing reality from people in the journalism business if not from people who are going to necessarily vote in the Republican primaries? Does the press like what he did?
CLIFT: The press liked what he did, yes. And I think the press was appalled at Mitt Romney's scrambling to get to Newt Gingrich's right. What kind of world do we live in?
KURTZ: But now, do journalists also like it, Danielle, when a politician -- we saw this with Bill Clinton in 1992, what was called the Sister Souljah moment. Takes a stand that he knows is going to be unpopular with the base of his party. And again, this may really hurt Gingrich.
But do you get points for standing up for -- appearing to stand up for principle?
CRITTENDEN: Well, I already gave you my cynical response to that. But I think even now, the problem is it's during the primary.
And as we've seen, the Republican Party right now is really holding its candidates to extreme litmus tests. That it seems that there is no room for any kind of reasonable debate on immigration or these issues without saying, oh, he just supported -- even, you know, immigration -- against illegals in a humane way. He's out, he's dead.
You have to wait until the -- you've got to wait until you're the candidate I think before you can risk taking those positions.
KURTZ: That's an interesting point because it suggests that the way the press scores these things, the instant reaction was, OK, he really hurt himself, he's damaged. He's going to bleed.
But on the other hand, why did the press not look at the substance of it and say, you know what? We're really not going to kick 11 million people out this country. So good for Newt.
CRITTENDEN: Well, also, we're watching this in sort of -- because of this, I think this increasing litmus time, we're watching this state of cognitive dissonance, that very reasonable things that some of the candidates are saying will play very well in the country. They seem totally reasonable. But they are not reasonable to the Republican base.
KURTZ: In other words, the --
KUCINICH: Jon Huntsman is a perfect example of this, right? I mean, if the media or the elite were electing a president, Jon Huntsman would be president.
KURTZ: And instead, he's at 1 percent.
KURTZ: All right. Let me go to break.
When we come back, remember all the terrible things we were told would happen if the super committee failed? Would it all just media hype?
KURTZ: The headlines all played up the super drama back in August when Washington's paralysis brought the country to the brink of default. The last-minute deal including a plan to turn over the debt debacle to 12 people in Congress -- they'd not known as the supercommittee, and journalists solidly informed us they would be under tremendous pressure to reach a compromise because otherwise, there would be terrible, no good, horrible, unthinkable consequences.
And, Jackie Kucinich, the media gave me and everyone else the clear impression that there would be awful consequences if the super committee fails. This week it couldn't even get a vote on anything. And then, now, we're hearing -- well, these cuts don't take place until 2013. And Congress could undo it. So, what happened?
KUCINICH: Well, they hadn't met for weeks -- they hadn't met for weeks as a group. So, I mean, if -- unless they were working the phones quite a bit, there wasn't a whole lot going on.
So, yes, there was totally -- I agree, I think it was hyped. It was hyped that the -- it was apocalyptic. But, you know, you can always tell when it comes to Washington whether something's actually apocalyptic or not -- in theory -- is that they will get something done. Might not be great but it gets done.
KURTZ: What would be the motive for the press trumpeting an apocalyptic storyline? To make people read newspapers and watch TV?
KUCINICH: Maybe. I mean -- well, I think it's more fun to talk about what could happen than what actually, you know --
CLIFT: You know, we were downgraded, the U.S. credit of downgraded after the debt debacle. And I think the genuine concern was that if this committee did not reach some sort of deal that the other two rating agencies would do the same. It turns out that the other agencies sort of assumed they would fail.
But this committee did have special powers. They only had to reach a majority. The Bowles-Simpson, which is the gold standard need 2/3.
KURTZ: What about the --
CLIFT: I bought into it. I thought they were rigged to succeed.
KURTZ: You thought the drama as trumpeted by the media was somewhat legitimate because --
CLIFT: I did. I think the one area where we fell short was not pointing out that Congress would have a year to shape the cuts. And I think that was kind of a hidden nugget.
KURTZ: Looking at it from the outside, Danielle Crittenden, all the media huffing and puffing over this the last three or four months, does it seem like kind of an absurd spectacle now that it became a nothing burger (ph)?
CRITTENDEN: Which story are we talking about now, Howie? That seem to be something up absolutely --
KURTZ: The super duper committee.
CRITTENDEN: Now, I know, I know.
CRITTENDEN: Of course. But you say why do -- you know, why do networks put these in --
KURTZ: You say this can be applied to any Washington --
CRITTENDEN: Exactly. We could bring up any topic and have the same -- the same reaction.
KURTZ: Do you think -- I mean, Republicans moved a little from their no way, no how, any tax increases, but not very much. Do you think that journalist have gotten sucked into a he said/she said narrative, both parties equally to blame when that may not have been why this collapsed?
CLIFT: I think this thing collapsed because the Republicans wouldn't go as far as any of the other debt commissions, the gang of six, all of them. And the Democrats actually gave more than President Obama wished them to do.
But, you know, I do think that the fault lies with the Republicans. But most media outlets don't want to come right out and say that.
KURTZ: Do you want to challenge that?
CRITTENDEN: It always -- it's always the Republicans these days.
CLIFT: Well --
CRITTENDEN: I'm going to acknowledge that I am not an expert on the super committee. And I will -- I will reserve judgment on that one.
KUCINICH: See, I would contend this is fundamentally what the parties argue about. We're talking taxes, we're talking entitlement reform, we're talking not wanting to cut entitlements and wanting to raise revenue. These are why people are Republicans and Democrats. And so, it's really -- this is difficult stuff.
KURTZ: Right. In order for the issue to go away -- I mean, it's still, you know, huge amounts of spending. Potential spending cuts, potential revenue. It has to be thought out. Maybe it gets done after the election.
The question to you is, did the stories about the committee's failure highlight, it seems to me to be the utter dysfunction of Washington?
KUCINICH: I mean, they've been -- they've been all year the stories. I mean, not only with the super committee, with the debt -- with the debt limit, everything is highlighted that the fact that Congress cannot meet in the middle right now for whatever reason. They -- there is not -- they're not in a compromising mood.
KURTZ: So, you don't think it's been swept under the rug nobody seems to be able to get anything done in the city? KUCINICH: No.
KURTZ: You think that's been front and center in the stories --
KUCINICH: I think -- I --
CLIFT: It's a deliberate strategy on the part of the Republican Party frankly.
CRITTENDEN: It may be part of the apocalyptic tone is that we have just gone through the fourth Thanksgiving in which the country is in a dire economic strait such as which none of us have ever seen in recent memory. And thus, you know, the fact that all of these issues seem to be paralyzed and not getting done I think would build up a lot of anger and apocalyptic feeling.
KURTZ: Millions and millions of people unemployed, and it's becoming an old story, and that does bother me.
Eleanor Clift, Danielle Crittenden, and Jackie Kucinich -- thanks very much for joining us.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
KURTZ: Coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, conversation with blogger Andrew Sullivan about journalism's changing landscape and life as a conservative who's become caustically critical of the Republican Party.
Plus, "The Huffington Post" Canadian-style. Danielle Crittenden will be back to talk about tailoring that Web site to fit her country's taste.
And later, actor Hugh Grant takes on Britain's tabloid press.
KURTZ: Andrew Sullivan was an accomplished journalist at a young age, coming over from Britain to become editor of "The New Republic" when he was 27. He's been a newspaper columnist and author. But most of all, a blogger -- one of the first online writers to attract a big following. "The Dish" moved this year from "The Atlantic," to my Web site, "The Daily Beast."
I spoke to him earlier on our other sit-down the hall to dish about journalism.
KURTZ: Andrew Sullivan, welcome.
ANDREW SULLIVAN, CONSERVATIVE BLOGGER: Thank you, Howie.
KURTZ: You are a conservative. In fact, you wrote a book called "The Conservative Soul." And yet, you've been vitriolic toward today's Republican Party. What explains that? SULLIVAN: Because I'm still a conservative, and they're not.
KURTZ: They're not?
SULLIVAN: Well, no. I think if you -- if you look at what they're saying, which is that really the most of major institutions in this country and government should be exploded -- I mean, should be destroyed, we should get rid of entirely traditions like Medicare -- instead of reforming it, just cut it off with a voucher system, or preemptive war against Iran which, again, violates most conservative nostrums, the idea that you can't defeat and cut the budget deficit without raising taxes at all is not a very conservative position. I mean, it's a very anti-tax, anti-government position. It isn't a conservative one.
If you define conservative as liking the status quo, as wanting it to be limited government but understanding there are two parties in the system, a little give and take, a little compromise. None of that is on display at all.
KURTZ: You don't mince words. After the CNN debate, you said that the sheer ignorance and callowness and narrowness of mind and shallowness were on display.
Let me run through what you say about some of the GOP contenders. Newt Gingrich -- only in Washington, you write, could such a half- baked narcissistic no-nothing blowhard be regarded as an intellectual.
KURTZ: It sounds a little harsh.
SULLIVAN: I don't think. This is a man who couldn't get tenure at not a terribly distinguished college and never actually managed to publish any papers, and yet he's routinely introduced on this network and others as if he's a historian, or intellectual, or somehow with the brains of the Republican Party.
He's none of that. There's no evidence of that.
KURTZ: Why does -- why does the press treat him that way?
SULLIVAN: Because they're lazy. They got -- they got -- this is what they're going to say about him. He sounds clever, even though if you actually wait a couple of seconds and listen to what he's saying, is not that clever.
So, they're lazy. That's the model for Newt. He's the smart one. He's the ideas man.
KURTZ: By contrast, Rick Perry, you write, ignorant of the most basic facts of war.
SULLIVAN: Yes. Well, he seems to think that there are no laws or rules of warfare. That once we were at war, we can kill or torture or capture anybody or do whatever we want with them. Well, that's just simply is a massive lack of awareness of what the laws of war, to which we are signatories as the United States, or at least used to be, mean.
KURTZ: And Herman Cain, facing the sexual harassment allegation. You said Cain should drop out of the race.
SULLIVAN: I actually think that when five people accuse you of sexual harassment and in fact there are two settlements legally, this is an allegation but actually settled with year-long salary, I think abuse of women in that kind of professional way is kind of disqualifying. Is -- as if there weren't enough other disqualifying reasons for him.
But, no, I took that seriously, I'm kind of offended that in so many others just moved along.
KURTZ: You think it was kind of a story that the media temporarily fixated on and even though it was never resolved, moves on to the next thing?
OK. President Obama -- I think it's fair to say you've become a pretty unabashed admirer of the president. Yet you write, "I worry he's going to run on fear."
SULLIVAN: Yes, I want him to -- I mean, I'm sort in the Tom Friedman/Ezra Klein camp on this one. But I have been for quite a while.
KURTZ: "The New York Times"/"Washington Post" columnists, yes.
SULLIVAN: In as much as they supported, and I loved Bowles- Simpson as a great, obvious, strategic and sensible and fair way to balance the budget.
KURTZ: The deficit commission appointed by Obama, yes.
SULLIVAN: Exactly. And what it did was say, look, there's a deal to be had. It's an obvious deal that the Democrats will give on entitlement cuts and should and must -- serious ones. And the Republicans will have to give way on some revenue increases.
The beauty of it is that you can get a lot of the increase in revenues without raising the rates because the tax code is so riddled with deductions and getting rid of them would raise a huge amount of money.
And that deal which is right there, everybody knows is the right deal, rather like the sort of 1967 lines in Israel which everybody knows is going to have to be the end result, yet somehow this obvious deal we can't make.
KURTZ: But given -- let me get a little further insight, Andrew, into your philosophy, because given the tone of your blog, the thing I read that you say about Republicans, and the fact that are you most of the time a pretty big booster of Barack Obama, you say the party has moved. But can you really still call yourself a conservative?
SULLIVAN: Well, yes. I mean, look at the British conservative government. Just raised taxes and cut spending by about a 3-1 margin, which is roughly what Bowles-Simpson is actually. It's kind of a conservative plan.
KURTZ: So, you're a Tory?
SULLIVAN: So I would count myself as a -- not a radical populist, like these people, or pseudo-conservative, as Richard Hofstadter once brilliantly described them as. I don't fear a multi- cultural, multi-racial America, I embrace it. I don't believe that this country is extremely vulnerable at this point to foreign threats to such that we need to have the same amount of defense spending as we had at the height of the cold war.
KURTZ: Now, you are not infallible, nor would you claim to be. I mean, you were a strong supporter of George W. Bush in 2000.
SULLIVAN: I was -- well, a strong supporter...
KURTZ: You were a supporter. You were a strong supporter of the Iraq war when it was launched.
SULLIVAN: I was.
KURTZ: But so in where you find yourself now, I mean, do you feel lonely? Do you feel that other conservative commentators have made adjustments to deal with the rightward tilt of the Republican Party and you haven't? Do you feel like you're out on a limb?
SULLIVAN: I thought I was out on a limb maybe in 2004. I don't feel that way anymore. I mean, there are plenty of -- even people who feel far more fealty towards the Republican Party are aware that, for example, this field is pathetic, I mean, this -- this group of candidates. I mean, even the -- even their own base cannot rally around their front-runner, and they're tossing new ones out and about. The quality of the candidates -- and then there is a quality candidate like Huntsman who's completely ignored.
KURTZ: Does the mainstream media, in your view, have to -- is so afraid of being accused of being biased that it has to pretend that this is a perfectly good field and not pathetic, to use your word?
SULLIVAN: Yes, I do. I do think there is -- that's a classic tendency that -- to associate whatever Grover Norquist is saying at any moment as conservatism, whatever incarnation the Republican Party has at any moment as conservative, and vice versa with the Democrats. And that's an easy, again, lazy thing.
It's not true. The country and the Republican Party has moved dramatically to the right in ways that are really beyond anything one imagined, say, under Reagan -- no tax increases ever under any circumstances, when we have 50-year historic lows of revenues? That's not what Reagan did, nor -- Reagan also made peace with the Soviet Union, having confronted them. Reagan was also in favor and did amnesty for illegal immigrants.
All of these topics are now -- rule you out of consideration even for membership within the Republican Party.
KURTZ: Let's talk a little bit about your journalistic life. You blog every 10 minutes, it seems, something like 270 posts a week. Has that changed the way you think? Has it changed the way your mind works to essentially be constantly on deadline?
SULLIVAN: Yes. I think it has to, doesn't it. I mean, you're thinking out loud, as they say. And the news is coming in. So everything you immediately respond to, you have to say, and the readers implicitly understand, This is provisional, this is my best take now.
But by opening yourself up like that, and especially during the Iraq war to have made such a massive blunder and to then be forced to actually hold myself to account for it and have my readers do so and stick with me, that was a very maturing experience. And I think if every journalist in Washington had to go through that grueling day-by- day accountability to their readers in terms of fact and previous argument, then we'd be in a more accountable place.
And I do think that the critique of Washington journalists and pundits especially of not changing, of not admitting when they've been wrong, of not taking account of their own errors, I think is an important critique. And that's why people have started to sort of not really listen to them anymore because they know what they're going to say.
KURTZ: More of my conversation with Andrew Sullivan in a moment as we turn to how the personal mixes with the political when it comes to being a gay journalist.
KURTZ: You've been a crusader, I guess I would say, for same-sex marriage for a long time. You were live-blogging the day that New York state passed its law. What was your personal reaction when that happened?
SULLIVAN: My personal reaction immediately after that vote was cast, and I finished the live blog and I heard a cheer come up from the bar blow me where I was blogging in my favorite diner in Adams- Morgan, was to suddenly cry. I mean, I don't want to go all John Boehner on you, but I kind of blubbered (ph).
It's a long struggle. You know, I wrote the first piece in '89. It's a long time ago. I was a kid, basically, and never really believing it would happen in my lifetime. And to see this argument -- again, I was regarded as not a conservative for a long time because of it. Who shows up to defend it in court? Ted Olson. Eventually...
KURTZ: A conservative lawyer who...
SULLIVAN: The Republican senate in New York state was the one that put it over the top.
SULLIVAN: So for me, to hear those arguments that some of us have been honing for years come back at us and finally make sense to us was very -- very, very encouraging. I mean, amazing case for the fact that this country isn't hopelessly broken, that subjects can be raised and arguments can be had and views can change, and we can come to agreement on some things.
KURTZ: "Esquire" referred to you as an American civil rights pioneer, even though you're obviously from Britain. Now, back in 1996, when you were at "The New Republic," you came to me, and I was the journalist who you chose to tell, to tell the world about something that had been secret. And that is that you were living with HIV. How did it feel at that time to go public with that difficult news?
SULLIVAN: Well, you probably remember. It was rough, especially since -- (INAUDIBLE) probably I had some PR manager, I would have done it better -- but especially since it occurred simultaneously with my leaving "The New Republic." I didn't want people to think I was leaving to die. And I also wanted them to understand that -- really, that this was an important topic. And as a journalist, I couldn't continue to write about this epidemic and about what was happening to gay men in America without being honest about my own vantage point, which had shifted dramatically.
KURTZ: It had come to increasingly bother you that you were living with this disease, but you were -- I mean, I'm sure your friends knew, but that you weren't...
KURTZ: ... "The New Republic."
SULLIVAN: I thought I was back in the closet, and it burned me up. I had very good legal reasons not to go public, which was that if the immigration authorities wanted to, because I hadn't yet gotten my green card, they could have pounced on me. And -- but in the end, I was, like, you know, To hell with that. If they want to do that to me, they'll do it to me, and I will -- I will do what I can to change the law and I will just -- I wrote that when AIDS -- "When Plagues End," (ph) a piece for "The New York Times," only a couple of years later.
KURTZ: Did you regard it at the time, given where medicine was, as a death sentence? SULLIVAN: Yes. When I was diagnosed, it was a death sentence. The year I was diagnosed I think was '93, which would be the peak -- nearly the peak of the AIDS deaths in this country. I think the peak was the following year. So it was not an academic exercise.
And it's incredible to me how people have just forgotten that. I mean, you know, six times as many young Americans died in 10 years of HIV as died in Vietnam. You know, that was a -- that was a big wound. Imagine going to the Vietnam memorial and having it be, like, six times as deep.
KURTZ: Yes. How's your health now?
SULLIVAN: Great. I mean...
SULLIVAN: I work too hard.
KURTZ: By choice, I presume?
SULLIVAN: By choice, but I'm sort of learning to handle it. I mean, a blog is a -- the kind of blog that I do and my team produces now, because it's a team effort at the DailyBeast, is grueling, completely grueling all the time. It never ends. There's no deadline because there's always a deadline.
At the same time, it's the most exhilarating journalistic experience ever to actually help pioneer this new medium, to get out there in the weeds of it, to figure out the pitfalls of this new medium, and to do it with a maximum amount of agility and independence was a dream.
KURTZ: And one of the things that strikes me is that you really do sort of merge the political and the personal. I mean, HIV is a perfect example. Gay marriage, as well, your feelings about the Catholic church. And you open yourself up to and you don't suppress criticism of you. People say, Oh, he had unprotected sex. I mean, you deal with stuff that's, you know, right there...
SULLIVAN: It's -- we run dissents every day and counterpoints that are not phony ones, that are actually genuinely calling me on stuff...
KURTZ: But do you ever feel too exposed...
KURTZ: ... because you talk so much about your personal life?
KURTZ: And yet you continue to do it.
KURTZ: Can you explain it to me in one minute?
SULLIVAN: Because on some of these topics -- I mean, for example, there's an agonizing and fascinating conversation on my blog about belief in God, where I -- my religious faith is mercilessly -- but I want to get at the truth of stuff. And I think that you -- when you put yourself on the table as part of the truth and part of the -- then people start taking you seriously as a truth-seeker. And then they contribute in the same spirit.
So some of these questions, you're right, are very close to the bone, but most of them aren't cruel. Most of them are genuinely trying to get me to the right place. And I think once you sort of accept that as a good thing, that you're going to have to lose yourself a little bit and lose some security a little bit because the truth is worth finding, even if you're part of the -- the wreckage of finding that truth, then that's -- look, I think when you're told that you've got a few years to live, you start developing a sense of, Why the hell not?
And I don't have an editor to tell me, Andrew, you know, you might want to shave that down. By the time someone's said that, it's already published.
KURTZ: You're your own editor. It's a blessing and a curse.
KURTZ: I know you don't do much television these days. Andrew Sullivan, thanks very much.
SULLIVAN: Thank you, Howard. It's a delight to be here.
KURTZ: After the break, the HuffingtonPost expands north to Canada. Journalist Danielle Crittenden on her plans for the Web site.
KURTZ: The HuffingtonPost has been such a traffic monster on line that it's spawned a number of local editions, from Washington to LA. Not long ago, the expansion pushed north to Canada with an edition tailored to the politics and culture of that country. So run the new publication, Arianna Huffington picked writer and author Danielle Crittenden, who rejoins us now, and who, as you might suspect, grew up in Canada.
So does HuffingtonPost Canada have a different sensibility than the one here in the States?
DANIELLE CRITTENDEN, MANAGING EDITOR, HUFFINGTONPOST CANADA: It does. It's got the same mix of politics and entertainment and news...
KURTZ: And gossip. CRITTENDEN: ... and gossip and YouTube videos of kitties that we all have come to love and expect. And now it's got a real Canadian bent in our bloggers. We mix it up. We keep some of the American bloggers, but we have a lot of our original ones -- or new ones...
KURTZ: Well, I was looking at it, and it said, Watch the video, M.P. Justin Trudeau takes it all off. This is about a striptease for charity. And Sidney Crosby (ph) returns to the National Hockey League, even though he plays for Pittsburgh. Hockey obviously a huge story in Canada.
CRITTENDEN: Well, hockey is kind of big in Canada, yes.
KURTZ: So why would Arianna -- I mean, the HuffingtonPost is famously a liberal-leaning Web site.
KURTZ: How is it that Arianna chose you, coming from the right side of the spectrum, to run this?
CRITTENDEN: Well, I think, first, all of our political sensibilities are in play right now, that -- but also, I'm a longstanding journalist and editor. In the end, I want -- what I think is unusual for Canada or different, what we're doing at the HuffingtonPost Canada, is I'm having right and left all sharing space in the same blog rail (ph).
So traditionally, there are liberal publications, conservative publications in Canada. But I'm mixing it all up together, so you can come and get that debate, which hasn't -- Canadians aren't as robust, I find, in their debates or in their debating and in their arguing as Americans.
KURTZ: You're saying they're polite?
CRITTENDEN: We're way more polite.
KURTZ: Are you going to change that?
CRITTENDEN: Or just reserved. They're a little more reserved. So it's fun. I want to have a real mix-up in the blog rails.
KURTZ: OK. Now, I have it on good authority that you and your husband, David Frum, live in Washington, D.C., right here.
KURTZ: So how are you able to run this Canadian publication from...
CRITTENDEN: Well, I'm doing...
KURTZ: ... the nation's capital?
CRITTENDEN: I'm doing a lot of commuting. And we've just built a house there this past summer, and all our family is there. So we remain very connected. And now, of course, me even more so.
KURTZ: So how much do Canadians care about Lindsay Lohan or Demi breaking up with Ashton, or are these more American fixations?
CRITTENDEN: I think we care -- still care a lot about those. What we care really about is royal family gossip. And that was actually one of the things that we were trying hard to persuade the American team that, you know, when the royals came this past summer to visit Canada, this was just huge and we wanted to make a big deal of it.
And I think although Americans, you know, were interested in the royal visit, they saw them -- the royals just more as sort of visiting celebrities, Kate and Will, not so much as these sort of superstars that they are in Canada.
KURTZ: I often wonder why American news organizations let Arianna get there first when it came to creating this site that pulls in just about everything, and you know, creates all this buzz and gets all this traffic. Why did nobody in Canada start the equivalent of the HuffingtonPost?
CRITTENDEN: Well, first, I think the HuffingtonPost -- I call it now the SEAL team 6 of new media. I think it is just so incredibly lean and ready to go into these places, and whereas the traditional media outlets are not.
And I think right now, we have -- we started in May. The HuffingtonPost Canada started in May. We've already got two million unique visitors per month. We're beating "The National Post," but the news sites such as, you know, the CBC.com, Globeandmail.com, those still draw in a lot of traffic. But...
KURTZ: Well, critics would say that one of the reasons the HuffingtonPost -- it's a great business model because most of the bloggers blog for free...
KURTZ: ... and a lot of the content is borrowed, shall we say, with appropriate links from other news organizes to actually...
CRITTENDEN: (INAUDIBLE) aggregated.
KURTZ: Aggregated -- actually have to pay reporters. So has that caused any controversy in Canada the way it often does here, where some news organizations feel like, you know, their stuff is being, shall we say, excessively displayed by somebody who didn't have to pay for the reporting?
CRITTENDEN: Well, I think, first, aggregation is now happening everywhere. So we could say everybody's doing it. And I think -- I find with the bloggers and opinion that we get, people who are -- I mean, nobody's making a living these days as a freelance journalist, or I should say very few, that paying journalism for opinion is something that has declined in the past decade. So people who are now putting out their opinions on a site like the HuffingtonPost, they're doing it because they want that exposure, they want that base. I think of the Internet like a vast trade show, and we're giving you a really good prominent booth. But they're not doing it because they expect to make a living. They're bringing attention to their own causes and passions and interests.
KURTZ: Danielle Crittenden...
CRITTENDEN: And getting wide attention.
KURTZ: ... I've learned a lot about the Saskatchewan elections from reading your site.
KURTZ: Thanks very much for joining us.
CRITTENDEN: Thank you.
KURTZ: Still to come: Hugh Grant says he's a victim of London's tabloid press. And how a New York TV station used a very close connection to land an interview with the police commissioner. "Media Monitor" straight ahead.
KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business.
It was an exclusive interview for WNYW, the Fox station in New York. Police commissioner Ray Kelly sat down with two reporters after a man was arrested in an alleged bomb-making plot. Then at the end of the nearly nine-minute interview came this exchange.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GREG KELLY, WNYW: At this point in the interview, we should point out that if you look at a family tree, the genealogy chart, we would -- they would be able to determine that you and I are related.
RAY KELLY, NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: This is true.
GREG KELLY: I believe father and son. All right. Just so people know.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are you two doing for Thanksgiving?
GREG KELLY: The usual.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is that?
RAY KELLY: Lots of turkey, fall asleep on the floor, right?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: That's right, anchor Greg Kelly is the police commissioner's son. Now, this should have been disclosed at the outset and not in the awkward and cutesy way it was brought up at the end. But beyond that, couldn't WNYW have simply asked the younger member of the Kelly family to sit this one out? Or, I'm taking a wild guess here, could Greg Kelly have been the one who used his connections to land this exclusive sitdown?
He's known more for his movies and an unfortunate encounter with a prostitute, but Hugh Grant has emerged as perhaps Britain's most prominent crusader against tabloid sleaze. The actor testified this week in parliament's investigation of the phone hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch's papers, and he delivered a command performance.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HUGH GRANT, ACTOR: I just think that there has been a section of our press that has become -- allowed to become toxic over the last 20 or 30 years, its main tactic being bullying and intimidation and blackmail. And I think that that needs a lot of courage to stand up to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Grant teed off on "The Mail on Sunday," which is not owned by Murdoch, for a story saying that his relationship with his girlfriend was in trouble because -- well, here, let him tell it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRANT: "The Mail on Sunday" ran an article February of 2007 saying that my relationship with my then girlfriend, Jemima Khan, was on the rocks because of my persistent late-night flirtatious phone calls with a plummy-voiced studio executive from Warner Brothers. And it was a bizarre story. I cannot for the life of me think of any conceivable source for this story in "The Mail on Sunday" except those voice messages on my mobile telephone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Grant says the woman with the sexy voice was actually the executive's assistant. "The Mail" hit back hard, saying, quote, "The information came from a freelance journalist who had been told by a source who was regularly speaking to Jemima Khan." "What's more," said "The Mail," "Mr. Grant's allegations are mendacious smears driven by his hatred of the media."
Now, Hugh Grant doesn't have definitive proof in this case, but he's taken on London's tabloid press in a way that no one else has. While he was bloody good in "Bridget Jones's Diary" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral," that in the end may stand as his most important work.
Finally, Jimmy Fallon seemed to have a good time interviewing Michele Bachmann the other night, but his NBC show made a huge blunder even before she reached his couch. That, as the congresswoman later learned, was a 1985 song titled -- quoting here -- "Lying Ass Bitch." How offensive is that? Fallon took to Twitter to apologize, saying, "I'm honored that Michele Bachmann was on our show yesterday and I'm so sorry about the intro mess. I really hope she comes back."
But in an interview with Fox's Bill Hemmer, Bachmann accused NBC of sexism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But I think the point is, if that had been Michelle Obama who had come out on the stage and if that song had been played for Michelle Obama, I have no doubt that NBC would have apologized to her, and likely they could have fired the drummer or at least suspended him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: You know what? She's right. And NBC executives finally came to their senses and apologized for this off-key insult.
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Hope you're enjoying the Thanksgiving weekend. We'll be back here next Sunday morning, 11:00 AM Eastern, for another critical look at the media.