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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Romney Mounts Media Blitz; Christiane Amanpour Exits "This Week"; Media Reaction to Tebow's Open Display of Faith; TIME Person of the Year

Aired December 18, 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: Mitt Romney was absolutely convinced he didn't need the press. But now that he's fighting for his political life, that suddenly changed. Romney has somehow found time this week to talk to "Politico," "The Washington Post," "The New York Times," and earlier this morning, "FOX News Sunday."

Here, Jeff Zeleny of "The Times" asked whether Newt is too zany to be president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Zany is not what we need in a president. Zany is great in a campaign. It's great on talk radio. It's great in the print. It beats -- makes for fun reading. But in terms of a president, we need a leader.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Will this media blitz change the coverage as Romney tries to catch Gingrich?

Plus, we'll meet the 22-year-old college student who unearthed a devastating old Romney video.

It was a risky move when ABC hired Christiane Amanpour from CNN last year for the Sunday morning program this week. But now, she is out, continuing as an ABC correspondent, while launching an evening newscast for CNN International. What went wrong, and is bringing back George Stephanopoulos the answer?

Tim Tebow is winning all kinds of praise as the Denver broncos quarterback.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADAM SCHEFTER, ESPN CONTRIBUTOR: The entire team believes in him. The city is captivated by him --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How about the country?

SCHEFTER: The country is captivated by him.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: OK. So why are the media harping on his public displays of Christianity?

I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.

(MUSIC)

KURTZ: It's been a very long time, more than a year and a half, in fact, since Mitt Romney appeared on a Sunday show. He was the Republican front-runner for much of that time, and apparently felt no need to expose himself to sustained questioning. That changed this morning when Romney appeared with Chris Wallace on "FOX News Sunday." And toward the end, the questioning got a bit personal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: The rap against -- you've heard this, I'm not saying anything you haven't heard, Governor -- you're robotic. You're buttoned up. That you don't let -- that you don't let voters inside to know who you really are and what you really feel.

First of all, do you think that's fair?

ROMNEY: You know, anything's fair in this world. The good news is that the people who se me in town meetings, that actually meet me and spend some time with me, have a different impression.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: The fourth major Romney interview in week came as the conservative media establishment plunged itself into a virtual civil war over Newt Gingrich, who has surged past Romney in the polls at least for the moment.

Joining us now to examine the campaign coverage here in Washington: Julie Mason, now the host of "The Press Pool" on Sirius XM Satellite Radio; Dana Milbank, columnist for the "Washington Post"; and Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor at "Nation Review."

A zany question for you, Julie Mason. Now that you're a radio person, you can be zany. Will Romney's coverage get a bit of a boost now that he's actually talking to journalists?

JULIE MASON, SIRIUS XM RADIO: Well, that's the first phase, Howard. And then just doing the interviews is step one. Now, he has to say something in the interviews.

Just -- until now, just the fact that he's doing interviews and that he sat down, for example, with "The New York Times." That made news. The interview didn't make news. Now, he's got to start saying something and sharing.

KURTZ: Romney got the endorsement of "The Des Moines Register," the coveted endorsement. New Gingrich on "Face the Nation" said that's just a liberal newspaper. But Romney thought he could basically circumvent the press, all of us, through the debates, online video, TV ads and the like. How did that work out for him?

DANA MILBANK, THE WASHINGTON POST: Not so well, Howie. And it hasn't worked for any of these guys all the time. The most popular thing certainly in Republican primary circles is to bash the media.

But guess what -- they've all been sort of seeking the validation of the media. I've been in two campaign ads now, you know, spouting some nonsense on -- on cable TV which they use to -- in their attack ads. They're constantly validating --

KURTZ: You are fodder in the Republican presidential campaign?

MILBANK: Yes. I'm assisting Ron Paul.

MASON: Oh, do.

MILBANK: But the whole idea is that in the quotations, the things, the RNC sends out, it's always saying, according to "The Washington Post," according to "The New York Times," according to MSNBC. So, the whole idea is it's popular to bash the mainstream media, but in the end, that's what's validating.

KURTZ: The fear, Ramesh Ponnuru, is that journalists are going to make the candidate look bad, ask gotcha questions and all that. But I think the flip side is, viewers, voters, they need to see you sweat a little bit.

RAMESH PONNURU, NATIONAL REVIEW: That's right. And I think, you know, this is one respect in which the increased competition that Romney's getting in the primaries is sharpening him as a candidate. On the other hand, you do have the potential to make mistakes. And I think he is going to be haunted by not being able to give an answer on whether he thought the Iraq war was worth it.

KURTZ: So, dodging the questions which sometimes candidates do or on r forced to do can also hurt you. There was another of those debates that seemed to be dominating this presidential campaign, FOX News hosted it. Let's take a quick look at a couple of the questions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

WALLACE: Governor Romney, you have changed your position in the last 10 years on abortion, on gay rights, on guns. You say keeping an open mind is a strength, but some of your critics say that every one of these moves has been to your political advantage.

MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS: Two conservative former attorneys general have criticized your plan saying it alters the checks and balances of the three branches of government. They've used words like dangerous, outrageous, and totally irresponsible. Are they wrong?

(END VIDEO CLIPS) KURTZ: That was a reference by Megyn Kelly to Gingrich's plan which you talk good in a conference call with reporters yesterday to limit the power of the courts and impeach judges he regards as anti- American.

But my question is about the questionnaires. All of the FOX News debates in this cycle, has it established the network which is often criticized as conservative, as willing to ask tough questions of Republicans?

MASON: Yes, sure. Certainly. I thought Bret Baier and Chris Wallace, especially, did a wonderful job with those interviews. Was a little inside Washington, but I think people who are following the campaign very closely like getting that aspect in addition to questions about -- there wasn't -- obviously there wasn't enough about what about jobs. But they liked that aspect, that insider aspect.

KURTZ: You alluded to this earlier, but while Romney was in the Mitt-ness protection program as it's being called and staying away from the press, Newt Gingrich was all over FOX, all over TV in general. He didn't have money so he needed the free media.

How much does that help a candidate even when, as you say, you may go on TV and you may say, "I'm tired of these Mickey Mouse questions," but you're still there in front of the cameras?

MILBANK: Well, in Newt's case it helped a great deal, because if you look among his supporters, there's a disproportionate amount are actually FOX News viewers. So, that was whether, you know, when FOX News was actually paying him to be on the airwaves or now when he's just grateful for any time free time he can have. So, particularly in a Republican primary, particularly in Iowa, the FOX News has this outside influence.

KURTZ: And the media bashing, as you say, is popular even if you are doing it to the media --

MILBANK: All for show, Howard.

KURTZ: All for show? You think he actually loves reporters.

MILBANK: I've seen firsthand that Newt quite enjoys hanging out with reporters.

KURZ: You know, it's funny because he was going to take this weekend off, two weeks, a little over two weeks before the Iowa caucuses and then decided to go on "Face the Nation" this morning, maybe because Romney was on television and he felt he need to be in the news a little bit more.

But Gingrich said something -- we learned this week from an article in "The New York Times" that Gingrich spoke on background. He was a, quote, "senior aide to the campaign," to the "Manchester Union Leader." He was responding to criticism from the Romney camp in the person of John Sununu.

Do you have a problem with that?

PONNURU: I think it's lying. I mean, you can't report that someone's a senior aide to himself.

KURTZ: Who's lying?

MASON: Who's lying, Newt or the reporter?

PONNURU: I think "The Union Leader."

KURTZ: And "The Washington Post" blogger Jennifer Rubin said that "The Union Leader," Jennifer Rubin says "The Union Leader" trying to trick readers into believing that Newt was staying above the fray when, in fact, he was very much in the fray.

MILBANK: Although in Newt's case, it's fair because he only takes advice from himself, so --

(LAUGHTER)

KURTZ: But don't candidates do that all the time? I mean, what happened here is that Gingrich's own spokesman outed him to "The New York Times."

MASON: Right. The only difference here is someone got caught. It happens all the time.

KURTZ: I mean, you think it's unusual?

MASON: No. The code is, you know, so and so close to the candidates thinking is always code for the candidate.

PONNURU: Duplicity leavened by incompetence.

(LAUGHTER)

KURTZ: You clearly disapprove of this.

PONNURU: I just think --

KURTZ: Say it on the record.

PONNURU: I disapprove of this.

KURTZ: I mean, you should have said it on the record to the "Union Leader" which still refuses --

PONNURU: And before all of us being on the record.

KURTZ: OK. Now, your publication, "National Review," had a pretty blistering anti-Gingrich editorial, which I will read part. Put that up on the screen.

"We fear that to nominate former Speaker Gingrich would be to blow this opportunity in this election. Gingrich's colleagues were right to bring his tenure as speaker to an end. His character flaws, his impulsiveness, his grandiosity, his weakness for half-baked and not especially conservative ideas made him a poor speaker of the House. Again and again, he combined incendiary rhetoric with irresolute action."

Did you vote to use some adjectives in that editorial?

PONNURU: Well, I mean, to be a real Gingrich-ian editorial, it would have to have a lot of adverbs, frankly and profoundly and so forth. I think that's merited. I think those kinds of critiques and the fact that people think that they're true are some of the reasons why he's dropping in the polls.

KURTZ: But in a separate piece written by you, you say that he is temperamentally unsuited for the presidency.

Now, let's say he wins the nomination and he's going up against Barack Obama, you may have to eat those words.

PONNURU: Well, it will be a question between two people who are temperamentally unsuited for the presidency. Always have to pick which one of them is less so.

KURTZ: Why does Gingrich attract so much vitriol from the pundits including many, as we have just seen, on the right, on sort of his side of the ideological aisle? It's one thing to say, you know, he would be a poor candidate. But I mean --

MASON: There's so many reasons, there's not one reason. I mean, you know, for the -- OK, a few. They feel he's going to bring the party down. He's going to be a terrible nominee, and they're just going to blow it and President Obama is going to walk away with it again. That's one.

Also, he compared himself to, what, Lincoln, Jefferson, Jackson, and FDR. He compared his wife to Jackie O.

KURTZ: Reagan.

MASON: Yes, Reagan. He refers to himself over and over as a historian. He comes off as pompous. He was horrible to Michele Bachmann in that debate.

KURTZ: Wait, she was attacking him. He was defending himself.

MASON: He was so dismissive and rude, undecided women voters who heard that heard every boss who's ever put them down and called them stupid. And, you know, men don't hear that, but women do. That really hurt him.

KURTZ: I just wonder how much of this is personal, Dana Milbank, because some this rhetoric from conservative commentators who do not want Gingrich to get the nominations is more vicious than some of your pals on the left.

MILBANK: I think they're being vicious but not out of a personal animus but out of a genuine fear that this guy will cost them an otherwise unwinnable election. So, I think -- I don't think they have it in for Newt particularly, they just think he's too zany to win. So, I think they're making it practical.

It's a useful thing for the Republican establishment and the media -- conservative media establishment to be doing. That is what their role should be, to say, wait, voters out there, you don't know what you're getting into here.

KURTZ: But their is a split where some conservatives, whether it's at the "Weekly Standard" or Rush Limbaugh are very much pro-Newt. And they're saying you guys, you're just elitist, part of the establishment, and you're afraid for a real conservative unlike, what Dana would say, the milquetoast, Romney, to win the nomination.

So, give us some insight into this.

PONNURU: I love this idea that by pointing out that Freddie Mac gave $1.6 million to Newt Gingrich that makes not Gingrich but the people pointing it out part of the elitist establishment.

MILBANK: If I could defend the "National Review," they maybe elitist, but they happen to be very smart and in this case, they're right.

KURTZ: But you're not concerned --

PONNURU: Wow, wow.

KURTZ: You're not concerned --

PONNURU: We'll pretend he never said that.

KURTZ: You're not concerned about the in-fighting with people who ordinarily would be your allies on the right?

PONNURU: Primary season tends to be a time of heated emotions. I suspect when there's a Republican nominee which, you know, who knows when that's going to happen, that there their will be a little closing of ranks.

KURTZ: All right. While the rest of us are enjoying the bloodletting -- Dana Milbank, Ramesh Ponnuru, Julie Mason, thanks very much for joining us.

When we come back, the college student who dug up an old video that embarrassed Mitt Romney's campaign. We'll meet a new opposition researcher in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: It's a video clip that's been all over cable news this week. Mitt Romney when he was running for Massachusetts governor back in 2002 sounding very unlike the committed conservative he campaigns as today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: I think the old, you know, standby definitions of who votes for which party have been blown away in this campaign. I think people recognize that I'm not a partisan Republican, that I'm someone who is moderate, and that my views are progressive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: What you may not know is that the video was dug up from the C-Span archives pie a college student at St. John's University. His name is Andrew Kaczynski. And I spoke to him earlier from New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Andrew Kaczynski, welcome.

ANDREW KACZYNSKI, STUDENT, ST. JOHN'S UNIVERSITY: Thanks for having me.

KURTZ: So, how is it that the big media organizations, not to mention the rival campaigns, failed to find this Romney video and you did?

KACZYNSKI: You know, that's really a good question. I mean, I kind of just look all over the place, look on YouTube. I look on Google videos, AOL videos. And I just kind of think I find stuff that seems to have, you know, seeped through the cracks.

KURTZ: This is your life. This is what you do in your spare time. Is this an addiction?

KACZYNSKI: Yes. It's kind of a hobby of mine. I really do it because I think it's cool that I can, you know, have a little bit of influence over the political process.

KURTZ: Well, in this particular week, you had more than a little influence over the political process. I mean, everybody picked up that video. Now, are you not a Mitt Romney fan? Because this definitely hurt him.

KACZYNSKI: No, you know, I have my political views, some are the record, some of them aren't. And I'm someone --

KURTZ: Basically a Republican?

KACZYNSKI: Yes. I mean, I'm someone who's a -- I have my own political views. I just -- I feel like that when you're doing something like this, when you're researching people, you have to be objective. And you can't really -- if you find something, I'm not someone who is going to not put something out just because I feel like it might be a little damaging to someone because if you're a politician and you said something, and your views have changed over the years, people have a right to know that.

KURTZ: OK. So, this wasn't an attempt by you to push any particular agenda. Whatever you found, if you thought it was newsworthy, you were going to put it out there.

So, do you see yourself as a journalist or a new kind of opposition researcher?

KACZYNSKI: I guess I see of myself as more of a journalist. I'm someone who feels like, as I said, this kind of has an important purpose to play in the campaign, because it shows how people have kind of evolved.

KURTZ: And when you saw this particular Romney video, did you instantly say to yourself, boy, this is going to make quite a splash?

KACZYNSKI: I really had no idea. It's funny with the stuff I put up. Some of it -- I really don't know what's going to have a big impact or not. I mean, I guess when I find something like when I found that video of Romney talking about John Kerry, saying he was a flip-flopper, I kind of knew that was going blow up because it was almost surreal. But most of the stuff that I find, I really don't know what's going to go viral and what isn't.

KURTZ: So this -- the fairly intense reaction to this surprised you to some degree?

KACZYNSKI: Yes. You know, I put the clip out. I just woke up right before I was going to take a showering to go to school. And I'm like, I figured, I'm going to put up one video before I go out today.

I uploaded it, and I remembered, you know, after I was ready about to leave, I checked, and it had 400 views. So, I knew I find something pretty big.

KURTZ: So, it's not like you were sending emails to lots of TV networks trying to attract attention to your work.

KACZYNSKI: No. I mean, sometimes they'll send emails to people saying, like, hey, you know, check out this clip that I just put online. But most of the time, after one person posts it, it really goes out to a larger audience and people kind of take from there.

KURTZ: Now, give it all the attention you've gotten for from this and some of your earlier videos that you have unearthed, has this led to any employment prospects for you?

KACZYNSKI: Yes. I mean, I actually just got a job opportunity at BuzzFeed, which is really great. It's kind of the viral beating heart of the web. And it's going to be exciting to see all this new stuff that's coming out there.

KURTZ: So, Ben Smith who just left "Politico" has hired you on the strength of your video-gathering skills to join this Web site BuzzFeed?

KACZYNSKI: Yes, that's right. I really feel like this is going to be a great place to see how all of these political videos start going viral. It's going to be a unique place to view all of them on the web. KURTZ: All right. Now, you have your own cable TV show. Andrew Kaczynski --

KACZYNSKI: Thanks for having me.

KURTZ: Thank you very much for joining us.

He already has his own YouTube channel.

Well, coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, ABC's Sunday experiment with Christiane Amanpour is over. Was it a bad pick from the start? And can George Stephanopoulos hold "This Week" and "Good Morning America" at the same time?

Plus, he's winning one football game after another. So, why are some in the media uncomfortable with Tim Tebow and his open displays of Christianity?

And later, "TIME's" Rick Stengel defends the magazine's unusual pick for person of the year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Christiane Amanpour was the first to admit that taking over ABC's Sunday morning program "This Week" was an adjustment for a career foreign correspondent from CNN. Last Sunday, Amanpour welcomed her viewers as usual and joining her at the round table was the man who hosted the show before her, George Stephanopoulos.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, ABC NEWS: George, how do you think Mitt Romney measured up in the sort of aggressive tactics that people talk about? And how did they measure up against each other?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Well, I got to say I was a little surprised right there at the top. I thought Governor Romney was not going to hesitate at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Days later, ABC announced that Stephanopoulos will be returning to host "This Week" while co-hosting "Good Morning America".

Amanpour will become ABC's global affairs anchor and split her time as a new anchor of an evening newscast for CNN International.

Joining us to talk about ABC's short-lived Sunday experiment, here in Washington, David Zurawik, television and media critic for "The Baltimore Sun." And in New York, Marisa Guthrie, columnist for "The Hollywood Reporter."

David Zurawik, she lasted maybe year and a half at most. Did Christiane Amanpour ever really, truly establish herself as a Sunday morning host? DAVID ZURAWIK, THE BALTIMORE SUN: Yes, that's part of the problem. I don't think she ever did. It was 16 months, I think, was her tenure, and worst part -- ABC essentially went from second in the mornings, a tight second, with NBC, to third, Bob Schieffer is the big victor here, moving into a tight second place. She never did.

Part of it, Howie, I really do think this is part of the problem -- she lived in New York. She came to Washington to do the show. Washington is a culture unto itself. And as we hit this really hugely important political season, ABC just could not go on with the Sunday morning show that wasn't engaged in the American political discourse.

KURTZ: You say you have to be able to breathe the politically polluted air here.

ZURAWIK: Yes.

KURTZ: Marisa Guthrie, was this a fundamentally the wrong choice by ABC to give Christiane that job?

MARISA GUTHRIE, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: Oh, I think it's obvious that it was. I mean, look, she went from being a big fish -- you know, she went to being a small fish in a big pond at a broadcast network. You know, on CNN, she got to, you know, engage in her passion. She was passionate about foreign affairs. And she had 24- hour cable news network to do that.

She's shoehorned into a broadcast network where she -- the show she's hosting really is not doing that kind of reporting, and she has to -- you know, if she's lucky highway is has to get a two-minute piece on, where, the evening news? So, I think it was fairly obvious that she was miscast from the beginning.

KURTZ: There was talk of making this week more international --

GUTHRIE: Never happened.

KURTZ: It didn't really happen, but she did it at the same time as an anchor, scored exclusive interviews, for example, with Hosni Mubarak and with Moammar Gadhafi before he was killed. But I guess I agree with David, is you got to be an American politics junkie in order to do the Sunday morning.

She had lived in Europe for more than a decade before coming back to do this job.

ZURAWIK: Yes. In fairness, it is true, Howie. You know, when the situation in Egypt was unfolding, she did go there on a Sunday and do a terrific show that I think we both raved about --

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: Yes.

ZURAWIK: Yes, you can't have that every week. And now especially as we -- you know, they're moving really fast at ABC. January 8th, Stephanopoulos is in n that chair because as we head to Iowa and down the line, they have to get back in this race. And they're out of it. I mean, in some ways on Sundays.

KURTZ: And Stephanopoulos will remain in the early morning chair at "GMA" from Monday through Friday. And, you know, there was talk when he took that job that "GMA" would become a more serious, politically oriented newscast. That hasn't really happened. In fact, he does some serious stories, but here are other things he has to cope with in the early morning hours.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to turn now to our romance question of the morning: when it comes to dating, do men have a type?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love a classic New York black and white cookie, I'm going to show you how to ice them. The secret (ph) is after you bake them, you've got to freeze them.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Freeze them?

Lindsay Lohan, she has grown up in the tabloids. Every detail of her personal life exposed to public scrutiny. So much of it brought upon herself. And now, she's getting even more exposure by posing for "Playboy."

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

KURTZ: So, Marisa, the "Good Morning America," very different broadcast than "This Week," to which Stephanopoulos will now be returning.

GUTHRIE: Yes, again, miscast, right? I mean, I think this goes to show you cannot shoehorn an anchor into a broadcast that they're not meant to do. You know, it happened with Christiane. I think we've seen some of it with George on "GMA" although, you know, morning television news famously, you know, toggles between the hard and the soft.

KURTZ: Sure.

GUTHRIE: But, you know, he was clearly less than comfortable with a lot of those stories, the Lindsay Lohan stories. I mean, remember when he had to interview Charlie Sheen's hooker? I mean --

KURTZ: Who among us could forget that classic television moment?

But now, he's going to do double duty. He had told me one time -- he was reluctant to give up "This Week" and move from Washington, that he couldn't do both jobs. I mean, how long you think this will last? A lot of thought White House correspondent Jake Tapper might get the nod on Sunday morning. He's going to be a regular part of the program.

How long do you think this dual arrangement could last? ZURAWIK: Well, they have people like Jake Tapper who could -- you know, when Christiane got the job, I was one of the people who said, you know, Jake Tapper's really doing well here. I mean, he could do it and he brings an enthusiasm. And he's so plugged in.

Look, I think George is going to do it through this election season. He's going to do it until he can't do it anymore, but because they have Tapper, they have backup. They can -- you know, if he's having a week where he's stressed out, they can plug Tapper and not lose anything. That's a good thing. On mean, that really is a good thing.

Let me say one thing in defense of George because I watched a lot of these interviews that he had to do. And I -- and all of us in the media as we try -- as our publications and as our broadcast --

KURTZ: Briefly --

ZURAWIK: Try to --

KURTZ: He's a good sport.

ZURAWIK: Yes.

KURTZ: He's a very good sport.

ZURAWIK: I don't mock him. He's still a tremendous journalist.

KURTZ: CNN's Candy Crowley now the only woman hosting a Sunday show. And "Face the Nation," you mentioned Bob Schieffer, is now expanding to an hour from a half-hour. Schieffer wanted to do that for 20 years.

Let me turn to Chelsea Clinton who made her debut this week on NBC's "Rock Center." Let's take a brief look at how that went.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chelsea, We're so glad to have you.

CHELSEA CLINTON, NBC NEWS: So glad to be here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to ask Miss Chelsea if she will do the first demonstration for us.

CLINTON: Oh, dear.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You really don't cook, Chelsea, do you?

CLINTON: Not a lot. I'm working on it.

She recently had been to cajoling me and challenging me to do more with my life, to live more of a purposely public life, that being Chelsea Clinton had happened to me and that I had a responsibility to do something with that as an opportunity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Chelsea talking about her late grandmother, Dorothy Rodham. And earlier she had profiled this woman in Arkansas who works with underprivileged kids. So Marisa, you're - you have a license to review television. How did Chelsea do?

GUTHRIE: Like an amateurish - I mean, look, the cognitive dissonance on that particular edition of "Rock Center" was interesting, because here, you had Ted Koppel, career that spans, what, half a century - towering figure in broadcast journalism in Iraq.

And here, the very next segment, was this very earnest Chelsea Clinton talking to a lovely woman in Arkansas. But it felt like, you know, a college - something you would see on a college television station.

ZURAWIK: Steve Capus, president of NBC News, in his shameless hype for this journalistically-bankrupt decision, said it's as if Chelsea has been preparing all her life for this thing.

Based on the first show we saw, if that's true, it's been a largely wasted life. And as mean as that might sound, I don't take it back. Really, this was it. It wasn't just the style that Marisa talked about -

KURTZ: She wasn't that bad, and network television does a lot of these tough pieces.

ZURAWIK: No, no. This story - this story took a woman - and I know nothing about her, but I looked some of it up. Chelsea said she has given every dollar to this charity, and that's why she's bankrupt.

Well, nobody checked that out, for goodness sake. Who gives every dollar to the charity, number one? Number two, she said, oh, she quit a big educational job to dedicate herself to this.

I did a little surfing on the Web to try to find out - she was the youth leader at her church. It wasn't like she was the school superintendent of Little Rock.

KURTZ: OK. Got to wrap this up.

ZURAWIK: Howie, this is a journalistic piece that was really shameless by NBC trying to do this.

KURTZ: OK.

ZURAWIK: This is the difference between "60 Minutes" and the and Brian Williams' show. "60 Minutes" would not do this kind of stuff.

GUTHRIE: It would be interesting to see the CBS - the old school newsies at CBS News would eat her alive. It would be some blonde hair on the sidewalk -

KURTZ: I've got to - ZURAWIK: We're warming up, Howie.

KURTZ: I've got to pull the plug on you, guys. Marisa Guthrie, David Zurawik - look, maybe she'll get better. It was only her first story.

Up next, the storm around quarterback, Tim Tebow. Should sports reporters crying foul about his displays of religious faith?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: In football terms, at least, he's a clear winner. Tim Tebow is not a classic quarterback, but he has led the Denver Broncos to victory at six of his seven starts, including a string of miraculous comebacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACKIE MACMULLAN, SPORTS COLUMNIST: There's absolutely no point in trying to tear down Tim Tebow like everybody's doing. The kid is winning and that's what the game is about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: But Tebow might also be the most controversial athlete in pro sports. He showcases opposition to abortion, first of all, in a Super Bowl ad for the group "Focus on the Family."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I call him my miracle baby. He almost didn't make it into this world. I can remember so many times when I almost lost him, and I love him.

TIM TEBOW, DENVER BRONCOS QUARTERBACK: Thanks, Mom. Love you, too.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: These days, Tebow is quite open about his Christian faith. He does a celebratory prayer after touchdowns, and that has made him something of a cultural lightning rod.

Joining us now here in Washington, Dave Zirin, sports editor for "The Nation" magazine and host of Sirius XM Radio's "Edge of Sports" show, and in Cincinnati, Gregg Doyel, columnist for "CBSSportsline.com."

All right, Gregg. How much of the Tebow story is fueled by sports, and how much is fueled by religion?

GREGG DOYEL, COLUMNIST, "CBS SPORTSLINE": It's a weird combination of both. We've never seen anything like this before. You couldn't have one without the other.

If there was no religion involved, he'd be interesting and that's it. If there was no sports involved, we'd probably ignore him entirely. So it's both and it's pretty fun to watch.

KURTZ: You sports would certainly ignore him entirely if there's no sports involved. Dave Zirin, you write about Tebow's right-wing strain of evangelical Christianity.

You say Tebow has been spared the normal media smack-down that sports and politics don't miss. Has he? Seems he got smacked around by a few people.

DAVID ZIRIN, SPORTS EDITOR, "THE NATION": Yes, smacked around by a few minor lights like myself. But the guy got to do an ad in the Super Bowl for Focus on the Family, an organization that wants to end women's reproductive rights and is for gay reparative therapy.

Think about if Muhammad Ali was allowed to do a Super Bowl ad explaining his opposition to the war in Vietnam, for example. You don't get the same rights based on where you stand politically.

KURTZ: Wait, wait. So what if Tebow -

ZIRIN: And is part of what makes Tim Tebow grating to a lot of people. It's not about religion.

KURTZ: What if Tebow had done an ad in the Super Bowl defending abortion rights? Then, you'd be cheering him.

ZIRIN: Oh, I would be, but there would be a similar level of controversial-ness. But it's a weird question because there's no way that NFL would even allow that. They wouldn't allow an ad by the NFLPA, the union, during the Super Bowl.

I mean, there are a lot of ads that they don't allow. And the fact that they would allow Focus on the Family into that sacred space of Super Bowl ads says a lot about the politics of the NFL.

KURTZ: Well, Gregg, why should there be any media smack-down at all? Why can an athlete who, you know, gains prominence because he's good at throwing the pigskin, not be able to talk openly about his faith?

DOYEL: I don't know. If Tebow had more class, he'd kill dogs and get drunk and run over somebody and maybe end their life. You know, he's got a lot of nerve talking about some higher power in his life.

Whether we agree with it or not, people tend to be scared of or at least don't like things they don't understand. And we don't understand Tebow. I'm right there with him.

People like me look at Tom Brady, going from supermodel to supermodel and say, "I want to live like that." We don't look at Tebow and say, "I want to live like that." And I don't want to live like that. But at the same time, I like watching what he's doing.

KURTZ: Hold on. You say he's got some nerve doing this. It seems like - I don't want people to think that you're anti-religion. It seems like you're offended by the fact that he prays to God and does it in a very public manner on and off the field.

DOYEL: I'm sorry. I'm so sarcastic and dry. My humor's not any good. I was joking.

ZIRIN: Yes, he was joking -

DOYEL: That's what I get for trying to be funny. I'm not. I'm sparing you all the E-mail.

ZIRIN: But Gregg wrote a great piece a couple of months back about what he thought about the presumptuousness of Tebow at the start of the season acting like because he's such a believer in God, he therefore deserves to start a quarterback.

But to call Tebow - there have been a lot of religious quarterbacks - I mean, Philip Rivers, Kurt Warner. To call Tebow just a religious figure - and you mentioned this, Howard - is like calling Jerry Falwell just a religious figure.

It's much more about politics than just expressing his faith. And that's why he has such ardent admirers, and that's why, honestly, he makes people like myself uncomfortable, because I think there's a real hypocrisy in how he's received.

KURTZ: Well, are you uncomfortable because he is, some would say, kind of in your face about it? In other words, there are people who maybe want to watch football and enjoy the Broncos games and not see these public displays?

ZIRIN: There's some - some of that is true. I mean, there's - his father is a missionary, Earl Tebow. Tim Tebow talks badly about going to the Philippines and circumcising kids as part of his faith and trying to get them involved in his religion.

And there's an aspect of that - I will be honest - that makes me uncomfortable. But what makes me more uncomfortable is that I think he gets a pass on standing on that right wing edge of evangelical politics when other athletes with ideas on the other side of the spectrum, I think, would be absolutely pilloried.

KURTZ: Gregg, Dave Zirin here seems to be saying that Tebow should just zip it, that he should do what he's paid to do, put on the helmet, put on the pads, go out there and throw the football.

And we don't need to hear what he thinks about all these things. And there's something about that position that's making me uncomfortable.

DOYEL: You know what? I wouldn't mind if he zipped it. I really don't like listening to him talk about the stuff that he talks about. Don't get me wrong. When I say I'm enjoying watching Tebow, I'm enjoying watching Tebow.

I don't enjoy listening to him. But I'm one of the few people I guess that can separate the sports from the politics. I'm tired of the politics. I'm tired of the Focus on the Family talk. I'm tired of all that crap. I don't care about that.

Tim Tebow's 7-1 with the bizarre skills set and that's all that interests me now. And I think a lot of people are like me. They don't really care about the stuff off the field. Just watching him play is kind of neat, kind of weird.

ZIRIN: Yes. See, I don't want him to zip it at all. I just want us to be able to have a very honest dialogue on who Focus on the Family is and why he get a pass on it. I also like watching Tebow, too. Just a little stat - he's last in the NFL in Q.B. rating in the first three quarters of the game, and first in the fourth quarter. That's amazing.

KURTZ: What matters is the score on the scoreboard at the end.

ZIRIN: Yes.

KURTZ: But you say, Dave - you write, "There is something noxious about him being manufactured as a leader." But look, there are all kinds of showboats in the NFL and other sports leagues who were famous for different things, whether, you know, off the court behavior with women, tattoos, mouthing off to the coach. So - but you put this, it seems to me, in a different category.

ZIRIN: Because he's held up as this example that we should follow, but when you look closer at the example -

KURTZ: Oh, but by whom?

ZIRIN: Oh, by the media. Oh, my god. The love affair with Tebow - you're talking like the media is engaged in this Tebow smack- down. Well, I think the media collectively pays rent and Tim Tebow's behind at this point.

They are loving Tim Tebow to such a degree that I feel like a lonely voice just saying, "Excuse me. There's something noxious about where he stands," and we have the right to say that.

KURTZ: Do you see a love affair, Gregg Doyel?

DOYEL: I see both. I see both. I see a love affair from some people and see stuff that Dave's talking about. I've written stuff that Dave's talking about. I've been both, actually. I am both. I think there's room for both of us. And there's room hopefully for me being both of us.

ZIRIN: I actually recommend Gregg's columns on this, like the progression over months. On Tebow, it's very interesting.

KURTZ: Well, let me follow up, because, before, I guess he had all these victories under his belt. You, Gregg, wrote that his faith baffles you.

And you wrote - you describe his attitude as "I'll be a starter in this league because God loves me that much." Is that the part where you feel like you want to turn down the volume on the TV? DOYEL: Yes, yes. When he was talking about things have a way of working out. That's Christian speak 101 for "God's going to take care of me because I love him that much." I mean, whether Tebow realized that's what he was saying, that's what he was saying.

And that did bother me and it does bother me. But again, there's only so much time I'm willing to spend bothered before I realize, you know what?

Whatever's happening on the field, focus on the family all that stuff, that's high-minded stuff that I just don't really get into. I'm a sports writer. I'm in the toy department. Tebow's a fun toy.

KURTZ: I think you'd both agree on one thing - this is a fascinating story. Gregg Doyel, Dave Zirin, thanks very much for stopping by.

After the break, "Time" magazine's person of the year. Who is it? Turns out isn't a person. Managing editor Rick Stengel takes on his critics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: "Time's" person of the year was unveiled this week, as you probably heard, it's not one person. It's instead, "The Protester," a symbol of those who challenge the autocratic regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, as well as the Occupy Wall Street movement here at home.

But was that just a gimmick to avoid honoring a human being? I spoke with "Time" managing editor, Rick Stengel from New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(on camera) Rick Stengel, welcome.

RICHARD STENGEL, MANAGING EDITOR, "TIME MAGAZINE": Nice to be here with you, Howard.

KURTZ: Now, some of the criticism this cover selection comes from the right, the conservative site, "News Busters" saying, "'Time' is so liberal that it could not consider the tea party protest as a person of the year entry, but that's not true with occupy Wall Street." Your response?

STENGEL: Well, actually, in Kurt Anderson's fantastic cover story about the protester, he cites the tea party as an antecedent of what we saw all around the world this year.

And in fact, the - you know, one of the things about the protest movement is that it's politically ecumenical. I mean, there are people on the left and right. And it's not particularly ideological in one way or another. So I just don't think that's a particularly fair criticism.

KURTZ: Now I understand the Arab spring and the courageous people we saw protesting in countries like Tunisia and Egypt and, ultimately, Libya and fighting and toppling those regimes.

But when you pull the camera back a bit and look at Occupy Wall Street, which is a significant part of this story because it's kind of the American angle, ultimately, what did it accomplish?

STENGEL: Well, that remains to be seen. I mean, one of the things that I like about this particular choice and that I've tried to do with other choices, it's not simply a backward looking choice. It's also a forward-looking choice.

And I think the protester in the U.S. is going to influence the election this year, influence a lot of the way we think about our issues. And by the way, as well, I mean, the story isn't just about Arab spring and Occupy Wall Street.

It's about protests in Madrid, protests in Greece, protests in India, protests now, of course, in Russia which may be the most significant of all.

KURTZ: Now, some of the other criticism is not particularly ideological, but going back to the 2006 choice which was you, all of us, I guess. Some people saying, well, it's kind a copout, you know, because instead of picking a person, you picked this amorphous movement.

STENGEL: Well, you know what? Howie, I always prefer to choose a person, and I think that's what people like. You know, we've done that in most cases.

But part of the reason for the choice this year is that there wasn't a person who represented this movement, these changes, that stood out among the rest. And, in fact, part of the choice, too, reflects the fact - the failure, really, of orthodox, conventional government leaders who didn't - haven't risen to the occasion at all this year.

So by selecting the protester in general, it's a statement about the lack of leadership by individuals all around the world.

KURTZ: And when you say "making the choice," is this ultimately your decision? Or is there some kind of a committee that meets behind closed doors and then sends up smoke when you reach a decision?

STENGEL: I would be revealing house secrets about that. No, it's ultimately my decision. But again, you know, we talk to all of our correspondents, all of our editors, writers, and you know, when we do it during the course of the year.

There seemed to be a general feeling that this was the most interesting idea, the most interesting way to approach it. You know, early in the year, Arab spring was dominating. And once the kind of germ of protest started spreading, it seemed like it was an even bigger idea.

KURTZ: Right. Now, "Time," of course, which is part of CNN's parent company, always gets a lot of publicity and buzz and controversy over this annual choice. You said you prefer to pick a person. A lot of people are asking, "Why not Steve Jobs?"

STENGEL: Well, the way I look at it, Howie, is that person of the year is not a lifetime achievement award. If we had chosen someone like Steve Jobs this year, it would have been about what he had done over many, many years. And as you know, from reading Walter's book, he was very disappointed that he wasn't chosen in 1984 as person of the year, and he thought he was going to get it.

(CROSS TALK)

KURTZ: He thought he was going to get it according to the Walter Isaacson biography. But last year, you picked Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, so you're saying it helps to be alive to be in contention for this award?

STENGEL: Yes. Well, we've actually never in our history chosen someone who wasn't alive as person of the year. And in fact, you know, speaking of the protester, we had thought about choosing someone who had died, and that would have been Muhammad Bouazizi, the young man in - the young Tunisian fruit seller who set himself afire and started this worldwide movement.

But in the end, I thought the protester was more powerful. In the end, I thought, in the case of Steve Jobs, it would have been more like a lifetime achievement award rather than the person who really did influence events most during the past year.

KURTZ: Right. Rick, I've got about half a minute. But you also list the runners-up, and one of them was Kate Middleton. And without any knock on the royal family, I have to ask you, really? If this is acknowledging of somebody who changed the world -

STENGEL: Well, we're trying to, you know, have an interesting buffet of stories for people. And Kate Middleton, you know, captured hundreds of millions of people's hearts. And in a way, that was a little lighter than some of the others, so part of that is about the mix.

KURTZ: All right. Thanks very much for joining us, Rick Stengel. We appreciate it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Still to come, remembering "Vanity Fair's" Christopher Hitchens. MSNBC runs a horribly unfair story about Mitt Romney. And Chuck Todd forgets the lesson that the camera is always on. "The Media Monitor" is up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor." Christopher Hitchens died Thursday night, and I'll say this - he was a character. Not everyone liked the guy. The author and "Vanity Fair" writer was slashing polemicist. He could be obnoxious, a drunk, and loved to carry on feuds. Who else would call Mother Teresa a fanatic, a fundamentalist and a fraud? But he was also a tremendously talented writer, who championed the cause of atheism - it wasn't easy to do in this culture - and wrote openly and movingly about his struggle with cancer that claimed his life.

"The New York Times" stopped the presses to get his obit. Hitch would have loved that.

Mitt Romney has occasionally used the slogan "Keep America American," and it pops up in a campaign ad as well. Well, that was enough for MSNBC to pounce on the former Massachusetts governor with anchor Thomas Roberts pointing out the phrase had once been used by the Ku Klux Klan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMAS ROBERTS, MSNBC ANCHOR: All right. So you may not hear Mitt Romney say, "Keep America American" anymore. That's because it was a central theme of the KKK in the 1920s.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: That's right. The left-leaning network crediting the liberal Web site, "America Blog" actually had the temerity to suggest those words implied some kind of link between the candidate and the notoriously racist organization. MSNBC later expressed its regrets.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: During the 11:00 a.m. hour on MSNBC today, we reported on a blog item that compared a phrase used by the Romney campaign to one used by the KKK way back in the 1920s. It was irresponsible and incendiary of us to do this and it showed an appalling lack of judgment. We apologize - we really do - to the Romney campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Irresponsible, incendiary and an appalling lack of judgment. I couldn't agree more. How does something like that get on the air?

Meanwhile, the "Washington Post" also went with a Romney KKK story online and later retracted it saying, "This posting contains multiple serious factual errors that undermine its premise. The post should have contacted the Romney campaign for comment before publication."

"Finally, we apologize the posting began by saying someone didn't do his research, when, in fact, had not done ours."

Finally, most of us in TV news have learned to watch what we say in front of the cameras. But you also have to watch your body language, as NBC's Chuck Todd learned the other day.

CHUCK TODD, NBC: Oh, my god. David Gregory, NBC political analyst -

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: David Gregory, NBC political -

(CROSS TALK)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Todd was quick to tweet, "The camera is always on, a lesson some of us never learn. My apologies. Am personally embarrassed. Was a joke with someone on the other side."

A joke that unfortunately wound up being shared with the rest of us. So watch it, Chuck.

That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us again next Sunday morning, 11:00 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the media.

"STATE OF THE UNION" with Joe Johns, sitting in for Candy Crowley, begins right now.