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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Romney on "Firing" Line; Hype in New Hampshire

Aired January 15, 2012 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: I could tell when we were in New Hampshire last weekend that Mitt Romney was heading toward a victory. The only question was, how big? Well, Romney carried just under 40 percent of the vote. But for some in the pundit world, that wasn't enough.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC: Actually, historically, is not a strong showing by Mitt Romney. Not a bit. The average win -- the average winning percentage in the New Hampshire primary is 39.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: The press piles on Romney as he makes a classically clumsy comment and plays to the notion that he was a heartless corporate job cutter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I like being able to fire people. I like being able to fire people. I like being able to fire people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: But were those words wrenched out of context as we just did there?

Plus, we'll look at CBS's launch of a newsy morning show with Charlie Rose and Gayle King, and her interview with Michelle Obama, and a controversial book about the first couple.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GAYLE KING, CBS NEWS: You would think Michelle Obama is angry, she's unhappy, she feels burdened, she feels frustrated. Do you feel frustrated as first lady of the United States?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: The question for CBS, do network viewers want that much politics for breakfast?

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

(MUSIC)

KURTZ: It was almost comical as I flipped around the cable chat shows before the polls closed in New Hampshire to watch the pundits try to set the bar for Mitt Romney. He needed 35 percent of the vote. No, it had to be above 37 percent.

Even when the former governor cruised victory with more than 39 percent in the Granite State, some commentators were unimpressed -- on FOX News, for example.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

STEPHEN HAYES, WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, I think it's a good night for Mitt Romney. It's not a great night for Mitt Romney.

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: Everyone is watching. He wins Iowa. He wins New Hampshire, bounces on to South Carolina. How -- that's not a great night?

JUAN WILLIAMS, FOX NEWS: It really doesn't feel to me like a great night for him because the expectation was, you know, the polls had been saying, he is getting regularly between 36 percent and 40 percent of the vote.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

KURTZ: Ah, the expectations. Well, despite Romney's victory, he found himself fending off Republican attacks that he destroyed many thousands of jobs while running a takeover firm Bain Capital. And Romney didn't help himself with his line about liking to fire people, even though he was talking about dumping health care companies that weren't providing good service.

How did that get reported? Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: This yesterday I like to fire people, I mean, I guess the only thing worse you could say is, in a time like this when people are out of work, is that the Herbert Hoover is my hero.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: Here's Romney perhaps putting gasoline into the fire, speaking today about being able to fire people, like insurance companies. I'm not sure this is fair. But it's a bad tone for him to be striking right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Joining us now to examine the presidential campaign coverage in Columbia, South Carolina, Nia-Malika Henderson, political reporter for "The Washington Post." And in New York, Maggie Haberman, senior political reporter for "Politico." And Glynnis MacNicol, editor of "Business Insider's" media page, "The Wire."

We are in temporary quarters, as you can see behind me this morning. Our regular studio is being renovated. The political unit has its newsroom here, which is usually buzzing during the week.

Nia-Malika Henderson in South Carolina, is that line by Romney, "I like to fire people," resounded through the media echo chamber -- was it really taken out of context?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, WASHINGTON POST: Well, it was taken out of context. And immediately after he said it, the Twitter universe lit up, and the DNC was ready with an ad, a web ad, and some talking points that they mailed out immediately to everybody. But, again, if you look at the entire context of it, he is talking about insurance companies. He is talking about companies that provide bad service, and I think most people agree that if you get bad service, that you want to have that right to fire people.

I think, though, it did underscore a narrative out there that Romney isn't very good in these impromptu your, spontaneous settings, and there he is obviously speaking off the cuff.

KURTZ: Right.

HENDERSON: And so, that fed into that. And then this other narrative that he is this capitalistic titan, this corporate titan that can't identify with the little people. So, I think in tone, it probably wasn't the right thing for him to say and people criticized him for that.

KURTZ: Given --

HENDERSON: In terms of the entire context of it, it was pretty fair.

KURTZ: And given that that's the media narrative about Romney, Maggie Haberman, you know, candidates are supposed to avoid serving up damaging sound bites. Those were his words, whatever he meant.

So, was the media at fault here? Or was it more of a Romney misstep?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, POLITICO: I think it was a Romney misstep. I think, you know, we do have an obligation to present the context, which I think I saw a bunch of people doing and we did as well. But I do think that was a really ill turn of phrase for a couple of reasons. It would be generally certainly as Nia said place to a narrative about Mitt Romney.

I would actually argue that it was less than Romney was off the cuff and more that he was very comfortable. He was heading into a large win in New Hampshire. He had just come from a very, albeit, narrow called win for him in Iowa, and he was speaking before a Chamber of Commerce. I mean, he's generally pretty comfortable in a business setting.

I think it was a misstep on his part, and I think that his campaign is in a position now where it's very hard for them to complain when something is taken out of context because his initial campaign ad quoted President Obama out of context, and I think this is where it's problematic for them going forward.

KURTZ: I do seem to remember that.

Glynnis MacNicol, on New Hampshire, primary night, as on Iowa caucus night, MSNBC went not with straight reporters in the hosting role, but with five liberal commentators from its primetime lineup. That led to a situation like this, I'm going to play for you, when John Sununu, the former White House chief of staff in the first Bush administration was being interviewed. Chris Matthews had a question for him. It had to do with this theme about Romney's business background.

Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN SUNUNU, MITT ROMNEY SURROGATE: This is a country in which somebody can start and have that kind of great success. And to begrudge him now for having been successful, I think, is kind of anti- American, don't you?

MATTHEWS: No, I just wonder why a fellow who's been to boarding school and is going to elite universities and never had a sweat in his life, never had to worry in his life about putting a meal on the table, should go out there and offer himself as some sort of Uriah Heep -- is that fair?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: And so, Glynnis, by having Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow and Al Sharpton on the gang on primary nights, does that change the tone and tenor of interviews like that and of the entire coverage?

GLYNNIS MACNICOL, BUSINESS INSIDER: Of course. Of course. MSNBC has redirected itself with his entire "lean forward" campaign as leaning to the left with sort of a political slant, and they've had some success with that. So, I think they're really trying to exploit that to its most profitable end.

And having Chris Matthews there, you know, knocking Mitt Romney for his upbringing is a little ironic considering Chris Matthews, inevitably, compares everyone to JFK.

So, but this is, I think, is what we can expect for this whole political election season is what we have seen cable news channels setting themselves up with for the past two years, and how they've been successful with their punditry, and then bleeding over into technically what is news coverage.

KURTZ: Right. Although you'll have to make a distinction that FOX News and CNN did not do that on primary night, although we can debate on what they do the rest of the time.

Let me come back, Nia, to this question of what I think kind of referred to as the media narrative on Mitt Romney. When we get to Bain Capital, he knows what it's like to worry about a pink slip. That raised a lot of eyebrows.

But is the press now seizing on every comment and a very perceived bit of awkwardness on Romney's parts to further this narrative in a way that might not be true of a different kind of candidate, with a different background?

HENDERSON: Well, I think in some ways they are. And obviously, the Democrats are doing that too in the media. We are involved in that too, seizing on some of these comments. But I think in part it's that there's this contest where there does seem to be this inevitability surrounding Mitt Romney, right? So, you know, there is I think a need and a desire to inject some interest, some talking points into the coverage of it.

So, I do think in some ways, he is going to see that. If he is the nominee, which it looks like he will be -- this is the kind of reporting that we'll see. I think, you know, in talking about this narrative of him being, you know, this sort of corporate elite guy, I think the reason why it's catching on and the reason why the press is also focusing on it because he is setting up this narrative of Obama as this guy who is all about entitlements, all about, you know, this welfare president. That's more like what Newt Gingrich is doing.

But I think because he is doing that, it's setting himself up to be this guy that himself has been a very entitled, privileged figure. He is some somebody who as Chris Matthews said, did go to boarding school and has led a very charmed life.

So, I think, you know, this whole narrative we're going to be exploring it, and as he tries to change it and tries to be this guy that -- yesterday, he gave somebody, like, 50 bucks or something like that who was struggling.

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: I think he is feeding into it too because he is trying to --

KURTZ: I have never seen a candidate -- I have never seen a candidate give money to somebody in the crowd.

HENDERSON: I have never seen a candidate do that either.

KURTZ: There's a good story on the front page of the "New York Times" this morning which notes that Romney has been praising a for- profit college in Florida called Full Sail University and it happens that the guy who runs this is a major donor to the Romney campaign and the tuition at this full scale university, $80,000, low graduation rates in some instances.

So, we are learning more about his affiliation and his background.

Let me circle back, Maggie Haberman, to some of the sound I played at the top about Mitt Romney, you know, winning by double digits in New Hampshire and, yet, some of the commentators saying, well, it wasn't a big deal, and he's from the neighboring state and all of that.

I am wondering whether some in the press just trying to keep this race alive as we head into South Carolina.

HABERMAN: I think there is no question that the press would like to see more of a race than is taking place than, you know, as we've seen. It has been fairly boring, fairly predictable. You know, if we're being honest about it, I think people would always rather see a race. I also think the Democrats would like to see this go forward, and I think they're doing everything they can to amp this up, whether that ends up feeding off one another is a different issue.

I think that, you know, regarding what you said at the top about Mitt Romney and the expectations on New Hampshire, a win is a win, period, and he won pretty decisively. He won very handily over his closest competitor who was Ron Paul.

KURTZ: Right. A win is a win, and, yet, I turn on the TV, and I hear all these smart people saying, well, you know, he didn't really exceed expectations, and the margin, and it seems like a win is only a win if the geniuses of the press say so.

HABERMAN: I think that's right. I mean, I think -- although I think that generally speaking, even those who are arguing perhaps if the press says so, this isn't still quite a win, I think reality is setting in. If he wins South Carolina, it is going to be very hard for anybody to argue that he is not seen as the likely if not presumptive nominee -- presumptive might be a bit early. But he will have run the table on the three early states. It is hard to argue that is not a positive. I am not one of those who thinks that the New Hampshire win was something that should be minimized. I think it was a pretty decisive win.

KURTZ: Well, all of you will have your expense accounts curtailed if that's the case, if he wins South Carolina next Saturday.

Glynnis MacNicol, you spent some time in New Hampshire during the primary, and you wrote something very interesting that caught me eye. You say the media are not telling you the whole story about what's going on there. You say the excitement in New Hampshire -- here's your phrase -- is "barely palpable."

And you said the primary felt very routine to you, but that wasn't reflected in the excited coverage pouring out of the networks, and to some extent I would say print, too.

Tell me about your observations and the gap you saw in the way it was portrayed?

MACNICOL: Well, I think if you were paying attention to political coverage for the last few weeks, you almost feel like you're watching the Super Bowl or the lead-up to the Super Bowl. Ok the ground, the energy level was much lower. Not just with voters, but with the press that was there.

It just seemed a little routine in this sort of awareness that this might be over next weekend, that Romney has had some decisive wins, that there's not really a competition. But the cable channels have all poured a ton of money into make this a huge competition. So, when you tune in on primary election night and hear people saying, well, he didn't really win because he didn't hit 40 percent, et cetera, et cetera -- that's not really reflecting any reality on the ground from voters or the press I spoke to who are covering this. There is a real sort of resignation that this will not be the competitive election season that we saw in 2008.

KURTZ: You know, if you are a reporter covering that election season, even a good one, you go to a lot of repetitive speeches where the candidates are sort of hitting their marks, making the same -- offering the same sound bites, and you kind of seize on a little moment of drama here and there in order to make it sound more interesting.

Anybody else on our panel this morning want to challenge the notion that the media made New Hampshire sound more exciting than it actually was?

HABERMAN: I think --

KURTZ: I hear silence.

HABERMAN: I think --

KURTZ: You nailed it.

HENDERSON: I think that's exactly right. We were trying to make it much more exciting than it was.

I was at a Newt Gingrich speech at some point, and there was a guy in the audience. I said, are you excited? Are you excited? He said, no, I'm a little interested, but I'm not excited.

And there was another guy, I said, oh, this is a really interesting race where we got to see who is going to win. And he's like, well, we kind of know who is going to win. The real race is for second. So, I do think --

KURTZ: Nice try.

HENDERSON: -- by the time this was all over, we knew sort of where it was going to hit.

KURTZ: OK. Well, we do have a possibility now of a little more excitement, because up next, just when the campaign was in danger of getting serious, Stephen Colbert is kind of sort of thinking about jumping in.

And as we go to break, I want to show you, you know, Colbert had a super PAC that he's now relinquished. It actually has money. It is running ads.

Here's an ad it just cut about Mitt Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: If Mitt Romney really believes --

ROMNEY: Corporations are people, my friends.

NARRATOR: Then Mitt Romney is a serial killer.

(LAUGHTER)

NARRATOR: He's Mitt the Ripper.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Stephen Colbert is trying to make a serious point about campaign finance, I think. He had formed a super PAC and he wanted to show that he could run for office and transfer the PAC to someone close to him and it would still be legal and, of course, get a few laughs in the process.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Colbert super PAC transfer, activate.

(SCREAMING)

STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: I am proud to announce that I am forming an exploratory committee to lay the ground work for my possible candidacy for the president of the United States of South Carolina. I am doing it! Drop them, Jimmy! Whoa! Whoa!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Nice balloon drop.

Maggie Haberman, is this pure political theater, or is there a form of almost journalism here in illustrating some of the absurdities involving these super PACs?

HABERMAN: I don't think it's pure political theater, but, unfortunately, I think the theatrics are going to be what people remember from this.

He is trying to make a serious point about super PACs, about how porous the current campaign finance laws are, about coordination between super PACs and the campaign that they support, about how sort of anybody with a certain level of celebrity can run for president. You know, we saw the Donald Trump phenomenon early last year. I think to some extent, this plays on this, and this primary has been marked by that.

But I don't really think this is going to be seen that seriously. He is also on the air with an ad. You showed a portion of it before about Mitt Romney. It's a very small buy -- what we would normally call a fake buy in South Carolina aimed at getting headlines. I don't know that people are going to see the parody element of this and just be entertained by the theatrics, and that's the risk.

KURTZ: It's a fake buy, except when we all play it on television, we make it a bigger buy, and that's called free media.

Now, Colbert was on ABC's "This Week" this morning, with George Stephanopoulos. And I wasn't running a clock, but it seemed to me he got more time than Rick Perry. He came on right after Perry.

And Stephanopoulos asked him an interview that actually I had done with Roger Ailes, the FOX News chairman, about Jon Stewart and you'll let me play for you part of that and we'll see his response to that at the end.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Roger Ailes, the chairman of FOX News, said about him. He said that, "Stewart hates conservative views. He hates conservative thoughts. He hates conservative verbiage. He hates conservatives. He is crazy.

If it wasn't polarized, he couldn't make a living. He makes a living by attacking conservatives and stirring up a liberal base against it."

It's not going help you all that much in South Carolina to have someone who, according to Roger Ailes, hates conservatives supporting you.

COLBERT: No, Roger is a friend. We hit the steam room together a lot. And I usually do his back.

I agree with Roger. I mean, that's why I am disavowing anything that Jon Stewart does that is not accurate. I believe that Jon Stewart is a loose canon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Throwing Jon Stewart under the bus.

Glynnis MacNicol, so -- I mean, here he is appearing on a serious Sunday morning show. Is the media world taking the Colbert phenomenon seriously because we're tired of digging into intricacies of what did Bain Capital buy and how many jobs were saved and how many jobs were lost?

MACNICOL: Right. Well, I think, on the one hand, Stephen Colbert is giving a great civics lesson. And as we all know, civic lessons made this theatrical and entertaining, and then they're a lot easier to absorb and remember.

And on the other hand, unlike Stewart, he is playing a persona which gives him so much more wiggle room to have fun and say something possibly more truthful without having to sort of involve his true self in it. I think we saw Jon Stewart give some of those interviews on FOX where you could see he was getting frustrated and angry.

And because Colbert is just playing a satirical person, he can have so much more fun with it, while making really, really hard points about our election system and what's wrong with it.

KURTZ: But, Nia-Malika Henderson, this isn't just a stunt. I mean, obviously, it is a stunt, but at the same time, this PAC that Colbert formed, has 30,000 donors and can remain anonymous under the campaign finance rules.

And could all of the attention that we in the media collectively give him, could it have some impact on South Carolina, which is Colbert's own state?

HENDERSON: Absolutely not. No, I think this is just funny. I mean, I can't help but laugh when I see him. I don't see him really impacting the race down here.

It looks like Mitt Romney in the most recent polls has got a pretty strong lead here. Obviously, you've got Santorum and Gingrich.

But, I mean, voters will go to the polls, and they're thinking about thinking of a president. They're not thinking of picking a comedian.

But, granted, obviously, Stephen Colbert is a funny guy. He's a Charleston, South Carolina, native. So, he's got something of a home court advantage here.

KURTZ: Right.

HENDERSON: But I think it's only fun and games. Does -- is there an underlying message about super PACs and --

KURTZ: Right.

HENDERSON: -- the seriousness with which a lot of journalists have taken fake candidacies, whether it's Donald Trump or in some ways, Herman Cain. Sure, that is the message.

KURTZ: Right.

HENDERSON: But, I think, ultimately, people will look at this and laugh.

KURTZ: Got to go.

HENDERSON: And -- yes, thanks.

KURTZ: You know, it will have one real impact, I predict, and that is on the ratings. Colbert and maybe some of ours when we have him on various shows.

Let me get a break. When we come back, Ron Paul and the press. The congressman gets testy with another CNN reporter. We'll show you what triggered his temper. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Just before the New Hampshire primary, CNN's Dana Bash interviewed Ron Paul. And she asked him about the woman in the crowd, an Obama supported who she interviewed, and Bash said that the woman had told her that if she had been able to shake Ron Paul's hand and look him in the eye, she might have voted for him, and that produced the following scene.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now she's turned off. Does that say anything about your ability to connect?

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is something --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a joke. This is a junky question. We're stopping.

BASH: No, I'm --

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL: Because you, the media, did that to her.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Glynnis MacNicol, CNN didn't play that part about Jesse Benton, the campaign manager, saying these are junk questions. We got that off YouTube. I think it should have been played.

But anything wrong with Dana Bash's question asking the congressman if he is having trouble connecting to voters?

MACNICOL: I'm not sure there's anything wrong with that question. I do think, though, Ron Paul has a lot of success with his followers by not playing nice with the media. He sort of doesn't speak in talking points.

He is not terribly interested in flattering interviews. He says what he means, and when he gets asked the same question again after he has explained it, he gets irritated, and he is more than happy to have that on TV.

And I think that sort of authenticity on his part is what people who support him find so attractive about him. The unpolishedness of it.

KURTZ: Maybe part of the irritation -- this is the second time he has sort of walked away from a CNN interview, Maggie Haberman, has to do with the fact that, you know, he finished second in Iowa. He finished second in New Hampshire. He may well finish second in South Carolina, and, yet, the press really doesn't take him seriously, I would argue, as a threat to win this nomination. HABERMAN: Yes, I think that's right. I do think there's a legitimate frustration on the part of his campaign with the mainstream media. Although I would say, I think that a lot of people are taking him seriously now.

There is a fairly wide recognition that he is the only one who's built up a campaign apparatus that's poised to come in second in delegates if it keeps going this way, which will make him a force to have to contend with for the GOP at the convention and for a while going forward. But I do I do think that what Glynnis says is accurate. I think that he -- this plays very well for his supporters. I think that it was a very effective thing the last time with CNN when he walked off, which is when he was asked about the racist news letters that bore his name. He's disavowed them and says he didn't write them.

I don't think those are illegitimate questions. I don't think asking him about whether he connects with voters is illegitimate. Remember, Michelle Bachmann got asked if she was a flake by Chris Wallace on one point on "FOX New Sunday".

KURTZ: That's right.

HABERMAN: He apologized, but, you know, it was seen as an inbounds question at the time. I think Mitt Romney has gotten asked questions about flip-flops and kind of activity as well.

I think this is somewhat schtick-ish with Ron Paul. I do think he has a frustration with the mainstream media, but he's going to have to find something else to hang it on because the media is taking him seriously.

KURTZ: I just got a time for a brief comment from you on the Ron Paul coverage, Nia-Malika Henderson.

HENDERSON: Well, I say this again. When you are in a scrum and you're trying to ask Ron Paul questions, he does not answer them. I tried to ask him questions many times, and he gave the response that he didn't like to walk and talk at the same time. I said, well, we can sit here and you can answer a question, and he at one point said that his voice wasn't working.

So, he does play this weird game with the press. I think there is a realization, A, that he has a disdain for this process, but also in some ways, he is not really the best messenger for his own message. It seems like in some ways, they pass off Rand Paul as a better messenger.

KURTZ: His son.

It could be a messy process.

Nia-Malika Henderson, Maggie Haberman and Glynnis MacNicol -- thanks for joining us this morning.

Coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES: The White House pushing back against a "New York Times" reporter's book on the Obamas. Does the book hold up?

Plus, CBS says it's putting more news in the morning. We'll weigh on the debut of Charlie Rose and Gayle King.

And later, which candidate took an unfair slap with "The New York Times" in a New Hampshire debate?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: It's no surprise that a book called "The Obamas" would make waves or that the White House would push back against the portrayal of the First Lady.

Now, the author, Jodi Kantor of the "New York Times" reports that Michelle Obama often clashed with Rahm Emanuel, former chief-of-staff and that spokesman Robert Gibbs had a cursing fit over her reported comment to French First Lady Carla Bruni Sarkozy that she can't stand life in the White House. Kantor talked about the book with CNN's Soledad O'Brien.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JODI KANTOR, AUTHOR, "THE OBAMAS": Soledad, your argument is that the First Lady shouldn't be covered in a serious way by journalists. And I look forward to reading her memoir but -

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think that if you are going to -

KANTOR: But a reported book by an outside fair observer is a totally different project. It's not a legitimate (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

O'BRIEN: You have not interviewed her. You haven't interviewed her. I don't know even know the First Lady. I interviewed her once many years ago, four years ago. You haven't interviewed her since 2009.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: White House says in a statement, "The book is about a relationship between two people whom the author has not spoken to in years. In fact, the author did not interview the Obamas for the book, so the emotions and private moments described in the book, though often seemingly ascribed to the president and the first lady, reflect little more than the author's own thoughts."

"These second-hand accounts are staples every administration in modern political history and are often exaggerated."

Joining us now to talk about the coverage of the White House and the presidential campaign in New York, Amy Holmes, anchor for Glenn Beck TV's "The Blaze." And here in Washington, David Shuster, chief substitute anchor for "Countdown" on Current TV.

Amy Holmes, the White House says Jodi Kantor tried to read Michelle Obama's mind. But don't all reporters draw conclusions by reporting around major public figures who won't talk to them and interviewing aides and friends and things like that?

AMY HOLMES, ANCHOR, "THE BLAZE" ON GLENN BECK TV: Sure. Of course, they do. And I thought it was telling in the statement that the White House tried to attribute this to the author's thoughts, not to the thoughts of those who work in for and around the Obamas, particularly Michelle Obama.

But one of the most telling stories, I think, in this book that came out was that Halloween party that the White House threw. And it really leapt out for me was the fact that we didn't see reports of this party Johnny Depp was in attendance, Tim Burton.

And it was a very extravagant affair. So either the White House press corps was colluding with the White House not to report on this event, or they didn't notice all those party trucks going into the White House with big "Alice in Wonderland" decorations.

KURTZ: I'll let you get to that in a second, but I've read a good chunk of this book, and it's pretty good, a lot of people on the record. And she had to interview them for the "New York Times" magazine some years earlier, and the White House hasn't really pointed to any specific factual errors.

DAVID SHUSTER, SUBSTITUTE ANCHOR, "COUNTDOWN" ON CURRENT TV: Well, the fact of the matter is Michelle Obama, if you read the entirety of the book, as a lot of us have, it's incredibly flattering.

I mean, and so my surprise is that the White House would push back and essentially punch down. I think, unfortunately, they drew more attention to some of the foibles that Jodi Kantor describes.

But the fact of the matter is every White House has its infighting. And I think if Michelle Obama looked at the entire context of this book, she would be thrilled.

KURTZ: What really helped the book, in my view, was the interview that the first lady did on CBS' "Good Morning Show," which we will talk about later in the program.

Here's Gayle King asking the first lady of the United States that question that elicited the response about, well, "I'm not some angry black woman." Let's check it out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GAYLE KING, CBS NEWS: If reading the book and you take out parts of the book, you would think Michelle Obama is angry. She's unhappy. She feels burdened. She feels frustrated. Do you feel frustrated as first lady of the United States?

MICHELLE OBAMA, UNITED STATES FIRST LADY: That's been an image that people have tried to paint of me since, you know, the day Barack announced that I'm some angry black woman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what interests me about this. First of all, there seems to be a nice chemistry there. I mean, you have known this person for a long time.

KING: You know, I think we should say it's no secret here at the table that we're friends.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Amy Holmes, should CBS send a friend of Michelle Obama to conduct this interview?

HOLMES: You know, I was - I'm very sort of ambivalent about that. On the one hand, Gayle King could land this interview with the first lady. And we know that the first lady, apparently from "The Obamas" can be quite vindictive about access to her if she doesn't like the coverage that she's getting.

So we do get a glimpse into the first lady. But on the other hand, you know, Michelle Obama - in that interview, she did inject the issue of race when she said, you know, she doesn't like this portrayal of herself as an angry black woman.

She brought that up, not Gayle King. And I wonder if Gayle King was the right person to send into an interview to sort of unpeel those layers simply because she knows Michelle Obama so well.

Maybe like her, you know, flag didn't go ding, ding, ding when she heard that to be able to ask the follow-up questions and dig deeper.

KURTZ: David, Gayle asked good questions, but if the "New York Times" or "Time" magazine or CNN had sent somebody to interview the first lady, and that person said, "Well, I'm a friend of Michelle's," they would have been barbecued for that.

SHUSTER: Right. And I'm surprised that CBS wasn't barbecued for this. I mean, Gayle King - she's a terrific interviewer. She's gotten her share of gets.

But this was inappropriate. I mean, they should have sent Charlie or somebody else or simply not done the interview. But -

KURTZ: But they couldn't have gotten the interview if they sent Charlie Rose.

SHUSTER: And that's the whole problem about access journalism that is pervasive in networks - in broadcast networks today.

KURTZ: I want to turn now - we were talking earlier in the program about Mitt Romney and all the stories about his role at Bain Capital and cutting jobs and that sort of thing.

And Amy, I'm wondering if you think as this controversy exploded on the campaign trail, did the media get to higher ground in dissecting what goes on with this corporate takeovers and inevitably some jobs are lost. Or was it just the sort of game of assessing the political damage to Romney? HOLMES: You know, from what I was reading, it was just a political he-said, she-said or he said, he said in this case. And Newt Gingrich's super-PAC is not his officially. But it's fortunate that Gingrich, in the 28-minute video, with the cigar chomping, the suitcases full of cash and Mitt Romney in Bain Capital.

And at GBTV, we actually dug down into what is Bain Capital? What is venture capitalism? What do private equity firms do? Because so much of the coverage did not actually inform the reader about what exactly this type of firm would do. And therefore, are these charges fair?

SHUSTER: Amy, I'm curious. At GBTV, did you dig down to the fact that at Bain Capital, they actually pay a 15 percent carried interest rate as opposed to the rest of America who pay 25, 28 or 33 or 35 (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

HOLMES: Oh, we certainly didn't - we certainly didn't get into those sorts of financial details.

SHUSTER: Why not? Because that was a key part of Bain Capital, and that's a key argument here. And the other thing is that, at GBTV, did you get into the fact that Mitt Romney essentially -

(CROSS TALK)

HOLMES: I'm not going make this a debate between Current TV and GBTV.

SHUSTER: Wait a second. Let me finish.

HOLMES: And your boss and my boss. However, the question that Howie asked was, did the mainstream media look at what does Bain Capital do? And I would say, for the most part, it didn't. And I think you'd probably agree.

KURTZ: But why are we talking about that since that was Howard's question? Bain Capital engaged in public-private partnerships, including, for example, the ad that Mitt

Romney just ran in South Carolina featuring a steel mill. That steel mill got $37 million from the State of Indiana in subsidies (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

(CROSS TALK)

HOLMES: We did talk about that, actually, as a matter of fact -

SHUSTER: Well, that's great then.

HOLMES: And the fact that there were conservative arguments to be made against Bain Capital.

SHUSTER: Right. Absolutely.

HOLMES: But getting to the larger point, did viewers - did readers learn about Bain Capital in detail? And I would say no. They learned about Republicans attacking one another on the primary campaign trail.

KURTZ: I would just inject this point. The "Wall Street Journal" and Reuters ran some pretty good pieces about the record at Bain.

SHUSTER: Yes.

KURTZ: Mostly, this story has been covered by political reporters. But "Washington Post" fact checker, Glenn Kessler, has been getting a lot of attention for the Pinocchios he awards.

And he said that this movie about Bain Capital, which is done by pro-Gingrich super-PAC - that got four Pinocchios. On the other hand, Romney got three Pinocchios for some of the claims that he's been making.

And it's interesting that the referee role the press sometimes plays is getting as much attention as it is. I want to turn to one more thing on Romney, and that is I'm hearing a lot this week, a lot of it on MSNBC.

I've heard Howard Stern talking about it. And I even heard Howard Stern talking about it. And that has to do with an incident that happened three decades ago with the Romneys' dog. Let me play a little bit from the "Rachel Maddow Show."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": Before beginning the drive, Mitt Romney put Seamus, the family's hulking Irish setter, into a dog carrier and attached it to the station wagon's roof rack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What were you thinking?

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), CANDIDATE FOR THE 2012 REPUBLICAN PARTY PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATION: This is a completely airtight kennel, and mounted on the top of our car. He climbed up there regularly, enjoyed himself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Are we seriously going to report on what happened with Romney's dog 30 years ago?

SHUSTER: We didn't on Current TV. This week, on Current TV, we focused on the fact that Mitt Romney hasn't made public his tax returns, and that is financial disclosure forms show that he and his wife have millions of dollars in the Cayman Islands. We also focused on Current TV on the fact that how Bain Capital got these public- private partnerships -

KURTZ: OK.

SHUSTER: At the time that Mitt Romney is condemning President Obama. So we haven't gone there.

KURTZ: You used to work at MSNBC. They love this dog story. Why?

SHUSTER: I have no idea, because there's so much other legitimate things to be talking about. And the fact of the matter is, look, maybe it's because it's entertaining. And everyone loves dogs and cats, and it's one of those stories. I don't know.

KURTZ: It's also a story that was reported four years ago. There's nothing new about it. Amy, do you want to stick out for the dogs of America.

HOLMES: Well, it does seem that the press has a very strange fascination with the pets of our political leaders - Ted Kennedy's dogs flash.

You have the first dogs and current dog occupant of the White House when Bill Clinton got a dog and George Bush. It's really silly. And maybe it's because the public likes stories about puppies and babies.

KURTZ: OK. But is there a media subtext here which is, you know, this guy, Romney - he is kind of weird. He's kind of strange. Doesn't like Irish people.

And look what he did to his dog. Is that why this story is getting traction at least in liberal media circles?

HOLMES: Well, I suppose that they're, you know - I think Maureen Dowd made a reference to it in one of her columns that it plays to this idea of Mitt Romney being this, you know, sort of like unfeeling sort of tightened and he doesn't even pay attention to his dog on the top of his car. I think it's strange. I think it's unfair, but again, puppies, babies - it's media fascination.

SHUSTER: I'll agree with Amy on this. I think - look, I think the whole story is bizarre in the sense that it's bizarre the media is focusing on it. Who cares what he did with his dog?

The dog was in some sort of kennel. It wasn't like he was torturing the dog as far as we can tell. And there's so many important issues to talk about. Good grief.

KURTZ: You wait. Some super-PAC will do an ad on the dog. David, a rare moment of agreement here on that note. Amy Holmes, David Shuster, thanks for stopping by this morning.

After the break, CBS that says "Morning Show," with Charlie Rose and Gayle King, has more news and less fluff. So why were there so many celebrity interviews?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: CBS executives were adamant from the start this wouldn't be just a typical morning program, just another "Today" show or "Good Morning America." It would be smarter and more serious. And this week Charlie Rose, Gayle King, and Erica Hill unveiled the new look, now dubbed "CBS This Morning."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLIE ROSE, CBS NEWS: Welcome to the debut of "CBS This Morning."

That suggests that you have got to gain some momentum by tearing down Mitt Romney.

REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA), CANDIDATE FOR REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATION: He used millions of dollars of negative and sometimes very false ads in Iowa to stop the momentum when we had a purely ideas-oriented campaign, almost a Charlie Rose-style campaign.

KING: So I'm so thrilled. This is what's to cool about you, Melissa. You have nothing to promote. You just wanted to join in the conversation. The big news certainly in New York and it's making national news. It's one of the number one things on Twitter. Beyonce had a baby girl over the weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: So does the show work? And can it help CBS climb out of its third place hole in the ratings?

Joining us now from Tampa, Eric Deggans, television and media critic for what's now called "The Tampa Bay Times." And in Stanford, Connecticut, Verne Gay, television critic for "Newsday."

Verne Gay, you wrote after that first show, it's supposed to be brain food, but it had celebrity interviews, quote, "weather cut-ins and everything that passes for morning TV drivel." So I take it you're not an immediate fan of this new program.

VERNE GAY, TELEVISION CRITIC, "NEWSDAY.": No, I wasn't, Howie. And I was initially very cranky, and I'm a little less cranky now. But my initial reaction was we've been down this road before.

It's a morning equivalent of Groundhog's Day again. And I - you know, we have a Beyonce story. There was a story, a long network promotion effectively, with Julianna Margulies.

And I kind of hit roof. I was just - enough of this. You know, you only get a few chances in life, and you don't want to keep making the same mistakes. I feel like CBS News is making the same mistakes with this program to a certain extent.

(CROSS TALK)

Julianna Margulies, of course, has a CBS show, "The Good Wife." And television critics are entitled to be cranky. It's almost a job requirement.

Eric Deggans, the show is produced by the former producer of MSNBC's "Morning Joe," so it's got a lot of politics. And you described it in your review as a brisk line-up of substantive news stories, so you were impressed.

ERIC DEGGANS, TELEVISION AND MEDIA CRITIC, "TAMPA BAY TIMES": Well, impressed - what I liked was that if you watch the other morning shows, the "Today" show and "Good Morning America, you've got about 10 or 15 minutes of serious news before you get to the celebrity interviews.

And at least on CBS, they waited until 8:00 to give us that stuff. I did like the fact that they had Scott Pelley on to talk about a great story that he had done on "60 Minutes" the night before. And they had Arma Katana(ph) on to talk about a great story that he did about the BCS bowl system, football system.

So I mean, there was some substantive stuff in there that we would not have seen and probably did not see on the other morning shows.

And at least there's an oasis where there's an hour where they will talk about relatively serious news before we are inundated with the "Good Wife" crossover and Melissa Etheridge.

KURTZ: And Verne, there were a number of taped news reports of the kind you usually don't see in the morning. So at times, it almost felt like the evening news.

GAY: That's true. It really did. And Eric points out correctly that there were some intelligent pieces there. There's no doubt about it.

But once again, you hit 8:00 and you're pretty much doing what the other guys are doing. And there's no reason to do what the other guys are doing. You have an opportunity to do two hours of smart, intelligent news analysis.

Do something on Iran. Get an expert on that. Don't do the Beyonce story. There should be a sign in there saying, "We will never, ever mention" - in the studio there should be a sign saying, "We'll never mention Kim Kardashian ever on the air."

You get enough entertainment fluff elsewhere. You should always be smart. CBS has been smart with "60 Minutes". It's been smart with "CBS Sunday Morning." And it should aspire to excellence always and just keep Kim Kardashian off the show.

KURTZ: But there is a difference, and that is that the other shows, usually at 7:30, usually see what I would call kind of a tabloid story about a missing child or love triangle murder or something like that.

I didn't see CBS going there. And at the same time, the reason that you both talk about the 8:00 hour is the audience there is primarily women. And that's obviously who Charlie and Gayle and Erica are trying to appeal to in that hour. DEGGANS: I would say as somebody who was compelled to write a "Jersey Shore" story not long ago, I can say that I do think it's possible to talk about the Kardashians and "Jersey Shore" in an intelligent way.

I think some of the problems I have with morning shows is they don't bother to do that, that we get these recycled shows, these recycled stories that are basically commercials for other programs that they have within their broadcast family.

There are ways to talk about pop culture subjects in an intelligent way. And what I'm hoping that they will particularly push Gayle King do that.

GAY: You know, what - go ahead. Go ahead.

KURTZ: I was just going to make the point that beyond the story lineup, there is this undeniably important thing in the morning. It's called chemistry.

So even though there isn't much happy talk between the hosts - and that's by design - how would this pairing of Charlie Rose and Gayle King work in your view, Verne?

GAY: I think it's a little rough right now, because Charlie is a solo act. He's been a solo act pretty much his entire career. And it's a brilliant solo act.

He's a wonderful interviewer. He's a very smart guy. He can handle questions on the fly as well as anybody on the planet. He's not really -

(CROSS TALK)

KURTZ: But he's probably - he's probably a better interviewer when he has the luxury of doing the long-form interviews on his PBS show, a little harder when you've just got four minutes with Newt Gingrich.

GAY: There's no question about it. He's not - he's a long-form guy. Now, he's stuck in this sort of short-form format. So I think chemistry is going to be something they're going to have to work on.

KURTZ: Eric, you were about to make a point about the story.

DEGGANS: Well, I was just going to say, it seems to me that what you do with the debut of a show like this is you want to make sure that sort of the format is something that you can build on.

And I do think that they've come up with a format that's interesting, that they can build on, that they can grow. And I think the anchors are still quite tentative.

I think their chemistry is a little odd. I think having them at this desk in the round where you can never really get two-shot of the two of them together where that takes an effort, I think that's a little odd. And I do think Charlie, you know, one of the things - I don't know how fair this is to say - but you know, it looked like his eyes were a little red. It looked like he was a little sleepy.

(CROSS TALK)

KURTZ: All right. He's not used to getting up early. He'd admit that. Let me close with Verne. I wonder if you were both being kind of elitist media critics because there's a reason that the "Today" show and "GMA" are very successful whether you like the fare or not. Millions of people watch, right?

GAY: All right. Well, I'll say this. "Today" show on Friday reminded millions of viewers why it's been so successful for 60 years. "GMA" is successful and it's been successful for a number of years, too.

This is a golden opportunity to do something different. You're not going to take on "Today" show. You go smart. Go high class. Do the best you can do and do hard news for two hours and you find viewers.

KURTZ: We will see how they do in the second week. I've got to go. Thanks very much, guys. Good to see you.

Still to come, Joe Paterno opens up to "The Washington Post." CNBC's Suze Orman is pitching a financial product. Huh? And a CNN anchor is mocked over a misplaced call. "Media Monitor," straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business.

We begin with kudos for "Washington Post" sportswriter, Sally Jenkins, who landed the first interview with ousted coach Joe Paterno since the scandal that rocked Penn State.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SALLY JENKINS, SPORTSWRITER, "WASHINGTON POST": I spoke with Joe Paterno who was dismissed in November in the wake of the child sexual abuse scandal involving his former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky.

JOE PATERNO, FORMER PENN STATE FOOTBALL COACH: I called my superiors, and I said hey, "We've got a problem," I think. Would you guys look into it? Because I didn't know - you know, I had never had to deal with something like that. I don't (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Jenkins pressed Paterno on exactly what happened after he learned of the awful incident in which a young boy was sodomized in the football team showers, but also portrayed him as a somewhat confused 85-year-old man who was struggling with chemotherapy treatments.

"The New York Times" got bashed at a Republican debate this weekend when Newt Gingrich was asked about his attacks on Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital and cited a story in the newspaper. The former Massachusetts governor then blamed the messenger.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Well, I'm not surprised how "The New York Times" try and put free enterprise on trial.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: But it turns out that Reuters, not "The Times," published the story, a perfectly fair report on Bain Capital's purchase of the steel mill that later shut down. So does not Romney owe "The Times" an apology?

Suze Orman is a CNBC host, author and financial guru who, this week, has been touting something new in her portfolio, a prepaid debit card called the Approved Card.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUZE ORMAN, CNBC HOST AND FINANCIAL GURU: It will allow you to do so many things I can't tell you all for $3 per month. There are so many features.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Now, these kinds of cards have drawn criticism for high fees. And besides, should someone dispensing advice to CNBC viewers be peddling her own financial product?

A CNBC spokesman told "The New York Times" that Orman is just a contractor and, quote, "We have editorial guidelines in place to ensure that her show maintains its editorial integrity."

Now, I think Suze Orman should stick to the advice business and not lend her name and prestige to a moneymaking scheme.

Now, if I were designing an early morning show - this is just me talking - I don't think I'd add a regular segment on calling people and waking them up. I sure don't like to be woken up unless it's a really big story.

But CNN's "Early Start" has such a segment and things went a little awry when the program's Ashleigh Banfield tried to call a comedian named Chuck Nice, an ill-fated exercise that landed her on "The Daily Show."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK NICE, COMEDIAN: Hello?

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, "EARLY START": Hello, Chuck. NICE: Hello.

BANFIELD: Chuck, this is the FBI calling.

NICE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is somebody else.

BANFIELD: Oh, is this chuck nice?

NICE: No.

BANFIELD: Hello? Oh, my god.

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": It's bad enough you have the wrong number, some poor schmuck who doesn't even speak English at 5:00 (EXPLETIVE DELETED) in the morning.

But then you've got to tell them you're the FBI? You know where that guy was 30 seconds after hanging up? Shimmying down his fire escape.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Banfield admits she needs a thicker skin and sounded a bit wounded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: I was really in a rough way last night after my hero, Jon Stewart, my absolute hero -

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Well, everyone in television needs a thicker skin. As for me, Ashleigh, when I turn in, I'm taking my phone off the hook.

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

"STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.