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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Obama's Coverage Largely Negative; Obama's Jimmy Fallon Moment
Aired April 29, 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: Here's an eye opener: the candidate with the best coverage during the presidential primaries was Mitt Romney. And the worst? Barack Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIZ CHENEY, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: No other president in American history has disparaged this country quite like Barack Obama.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: We'll examine what's behind a surprising new study.
The president gets all kinds of flack for his gig on Jimmy Fallon's late night show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm President Barack Obama. And I, too, want to slow jam the news.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Was it really such a far-out move?
Are you consuming too much junk online? Having trouble controlling your habit? We'll talk to the author of "The Information Diet."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) types of condoms. What they want about that stuff?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't even know how to make love to you anymore.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ew.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was told you were getting an STD test? But do you really think that sounds like a lot of fun?
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: The huge wave of media hype surrounding the new HBO show, "Girls," has now crested, leaving a bitter backlash in its wake. How did one program become a cultural battlefield?
I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
KURTZ: If you think of all the shots the pundits have taken at met Romney in the last few months -- stiff, awkward, flip-flopper, can't close the deal. You hardly expect that he got the most favorable coverage in the Republican primaries. But that's exactly what happened according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Here are the numbers: from January through mid-April, Romney's media coverage was rated 39 percent positive, 32 percent negative. And President Obama: just 18 percent positive, 34 percent negative.
To be sure, Romney took his share of knocks in the media.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: But Governor Romney has problems of his own. He has perceived as being out of touch with the regular folks, has not been able to convince conservatives he's one of them, and his personality is kind of laid back.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: Such comments, though, were outweighed by ones like these.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ED ROLLINS: He has a better campaign. He had better ads.
ERIC BOLLING, FOX NEWS: Romney is bringing it back to the economy because that's where he'll win.
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC: I thought of this the best speech that Romney has put together so far. But I think Romney has found his message.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: But as for President Obama, he's been hammered week after week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
DON LEMON, CNN: Not a good week for President Obama. The agency that protects him under fire. The agency representing the country on the battlefield, under fire. The agency that oversees government agencies, under fire.
DICK MORRIS, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I think Barack Obama has essentially given up trying to persuade the majority of American people to re-elect him as president. I think instead he is trying to persuade a minority to turn out disproportionately and re-elect him president.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: So what accounts for the huge disparity between two candidates?
Joining me now here in Washington: Rachel Sklar, founding editor of "Mediaite" and founder of Change the Ratio. Mark Jurkowitz, associate director for the Project of Excellence in Journalism, which did that study. And David Frum, contributing editor at "Newsweek" and the "Daily Beast", and author of the new e-book "Patriots," which will be released tomorrow.
Mark Jurkowitz, it sounds counterintuitive. That's the reaction I got from a lot of people. The so-called liberal media gave Obama much more negative coverage than any of the Republican candidates. How can that be?
MARK JURKOWITZ, PROJECT OF EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM: Well, one of the things this report did was it sort of looked at the structure of the campaign ad. You have to think about that. And basically, when you are doing well in a campaign, and when Romney really started turning his message around, is when he started defeating his rivals.
Good -- winning begets good coverage.
KURTZ: And losing?
JURKOWITZ: And losing begets bad coverage. The president obviously wasn't running against anybody during the primary period. So, what made up the media conversation about him? For one thing during the Republican primary -- five, six, seven candidates in debates in the newspapers every day, all of them criticizing some aspect of the Obama policy. That's volume. That's what the American public are hearing.
KURTZ: And --
JURKOWITZ: The other piece of it is that, frankly, you know, he is also inextricably linked with a number of issues that aren't necessarily going his way -- from the rise of gas prices, which was a big story, to the shaky economic recovery, to the renewed judicial review of his legislation and health care.
KURTZ: So, he's not just a candidate. He's president who takes knocks in that regard.
But, David Frum, this study showed that there wasn't one week during that time period when Obama got more positive than negative coverage. Is that surprising?
DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It raises some questions -- I don't want to be disrespectful about this -- about the methodology of these studies. If you say gas -- oh, my gosh, gas prices have gone up, people are really suffering. And gas prices have gone up and people are really suffering, in what sense is that an unfair coverage?
So, when you say that these things are negative, you are maybe covering a very negative external reality.
Romney's reality was positive. He was winning elections. He was besting rivals. So, what he was in the field of terrain that was available to him, he was succeeding.
The problems that President Obama is contending with, he is at best struggling.
JURKOWITZ: I'm glad David raised that because that's something I should have said from the outset. This is not a study of bias. A negative connotation or a negative assertion about a candidate does not mean the press is being unfair to them. It means he is involved in a negative story, and there are usually reasons for it.
KURTZ: But somebody in a journalistic capacity has to say Obama is responsible for taking the hit for vulnerable on rising gas prices.
KURTZ: And the same thing goes for the win and losing narrative.
Romney's coverage wasn't great. A few percentage points higher of positive than negative, but as Mark pointed out, when you start winning primaries and there's so much horse race coverage that, wow, this candidate is really on a roll, that's deemed positive as well.
RACHEL SKLAR, MEDIAITE: Well, I think it's a degree of positivity that's important here. I really never heard anyone on the television or in print anywhere enthuse about Mitt Romney. The praise, even that you showed was at best it was about -- it's good for him to talk about the economy and he has excellent ads. I think that that's indicative of sort of the lukewarmness with which he has been received.
And I think even his own party we haven't seen anybody who even wants to touch being a candidate for vice president. Marco Rubio is, like, no, no, I couldn't possibly. Jeb Bush, oh no.
KURTZ: Well, they all say that.
But even though many Republicans on those debate stages were attacking President Obama, don't journalists have responsibility to provide some balance in their reports, or are they just passive conveyors of these partisan attacks?
JURKOWITZ: Well, I think if you are talking about things like covering debates as events, you're not usually going to get a lot of context. You know, to what people are saying. It's often treated, frankly, as a kind of sporting event. It's treating classic horse race fashion.
So, you don't tend so see journalists vetting the statement who are saying, well, Obama is not really responsible for that. That's more for the fact checking aspect of the paper that people don't read about.
SKLAR: And Romney performed very well in the debates. It's when he is unscripted that he runs into trouble.
FRUM: And that also, by the way, gets hyper-argumentative on the part of the process, the background of the whole Obama presidency. So, you have this horrific economic crash at the beginning of his presidency, from which recovery has been expected. Each time it looks like recovery is going to materialize, it does not, or it turns out to be very weak. In 2012, it looks like it's going to be another weak year.
So, is it the job of the press to keep saying, well, there are a lot of factors to bear in mind when assessing the president's responsibility for this disappointing performance? I mean, that -- is that not biased?
Also, Mitt Romney should not relax. I think what is going on here is what in boxing you call jab, jab, hook, that he is getting a little bit of -- a little love tap now, but the hook is waiting for him. The haymaker is in the background. He will be hit hard as soon as this nomination is locked up.
SKLAR: I actually it's the responsibility of the press to cover the president like that. Call me crazy, but nuance and all sort of -- and context and factors that may weigh into --
KURTZ: We're not going to call you crazy. It's a very civil show.
SKLAR: OK. Thank you.
KURTZ: But let's switch sports analogies, I suppose. The usually you get nine innings as a candidate. Newt Gingrich seems to have had about 16. He is in the process of finally dropping out. He is going to make it official on Tuesday.
Have you ever seen a candidate get so much media attention for slowly leaving the race?
JURKOWITZ: Well, truth be told, in our report on Gingrich, he literally in the four months of this year only had one week where he really generated enthusiasm for his candidacy.
KURTZ: And what was that week?
JURKOWITZ: And that was the week when he won in South Carolina, and he looked like -- and then quickly it ended in Florida, and Romney -- excuse me. Gingrich, of all the candidates, really in some ways carried the most baggage with the media because of his tenure as speakership, because of his personal life. He had a very difficult time overcoming those.
SKLAR: And he went so negative. That's another thing.
KURTZ: Well, it would -- those of us at the press weren't great talking for Newt. But yet, there is this continued fascination, I would argue, in the media. So that -- we long though stopped covering Ron Paul. He wasn't winning primaries, and so, he kind of got off the radar screen. But it has been still covering Gingrich.
FRUM: Gingrich is the ultimate Washington insider. He is part of the city. Everyone knows him socially. They know much more about him than makes it into the press, and this is symbiotic relationship.
Look, attacking the press is still talking about the press. And people -- the press loves people who talk about the press.
KURTZ: Hit me again.
FRUM: Hit me again.
KURTZ: Because I'm so interesting.
FRUM: Because at least I'm a big star.
One more thing, though, I think the press is also covering Gingrich not just as a political story, but as a human story. This was a man who is saying he was going to run a campaign as a candidate of ideas. And he ran one of the ugliest and worst and least successful and least successful and least effective campaigns ever.
And to see this person that had been so important in the city sort of descend in this way, that is a tremendous human story.
SKLAR: But also the least controlled of the candidates.
KURTZ: Oh, we like that. We don't like overly --
SKLAR: But I think that's one of the reasons why there's a fascination with Gingrich. Like right out of the gate after Iowa, he focused all of his energy on Romney and, like, hated him with a burning intensity of 1,000 suns.
KURTZ: Let me circle back to Romney, but this time to Ann Romney, because she has been going out in some of these programs like "Entertainment Tonight" and "Extra." More accessible in a way on a national basis than her husband has been.
Here's some of what Ann Romney has been saying.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY'S WIFE: You go through your mood swings and the ups and the downs in life, and we have our battles, as all marriages do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was it about Mitt to just --
ROMNEY: Right away. Bang. Wow. I mean, it was right away. Actually, Mitt is a very funny guy. And he's not -- I mean, he doesn't comb his hair when we're not going places. It's like all over the place.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So Mitt Romney is not going to go on "E.T," but his wife can use that in those kind of shows to get a message out.
FRUM: Well, it's kind of a true message because these candidates are so removed from the public. One of the things is here are someone who has known him intimately for 43 years and she's crazy about him. And for a candidate who has kind of an enthusiasm gap, there's an interesting question, what is it about you that someone who knows you so well could be this crazy about you for this so long?
KURTZ: Are journalists, Rachel, giving Ann Romney relatively soft treatment compared to, say, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama when their husbands were running?
SKLAR: Oh, well, from what I understand the candidate's family members are off limits. Funny how that didn't happen to Bill Clinton during the 2008 campaign.
Yes. Right now, Ann Romney is certainly being treated with kid gloves, but I don't think there's any reason to do much more than that unless she comes out as a forceful voice of policy and starts being a surrogate for her husband, like on policy issues. She's a very effective surrogate for him right now, the human side. They're getting to know him through her. All of that is great, and especially after Hilary Rosen's comment which in and of itself was extremely fair in that she was commenting on whether or not --
KURTZ: Let's not relitigate that.
SKLAR: I know that --
SKLAR: -- about whether or not she should be speak about women and the economy. However, the sum total of that was that nobody wants to lay a glove on Ann Romney, and, really, why should they? She's pretty great.
KURTZ: It's typical for a candidate's spouse to get kind of feature story treatment?
JURKOWITZ: At this point in the campaign it certainly is. The other thing we found in our study was that Romney himself was the most vetted of any of the Republican candidates, meaning there was the most attention to his personal life and his public record, but what was it that people learned about Romney, he's extremely wealthy. He didn't want to release his taxes on time. What was Bain Capital all about, and he is a Mormon.
So, this is an attempt to fill in the biography. KURTZ: (INAUDIBLE) to Mitt Romney.
All right. Let me get a break here. When we come back, conservative commentators beat up on the president for doing his thing on Jimmy Fallon's show. Really?
Plus, all those celebrities at last night's White House correspondents' dinner, is this what news organizations are reduced to?
And President Obama took a few shot at the assembled journalists, including this one about the "Huffington Post" winning a Pulitzer Prize.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: You deserve it, Arianna. There's no one else out there linking to the kinds of hard-hitting journalism that "Huff Po" is linking to every single day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Presidents and presidential candidate are hardly an unusual sight on late night TV these days. So, it was the Barack Obama showed up on Jimmy Fallon's program.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I'm President Barack Obama, and I, too, want to slow jam the news.
OBAMA: On July 1st of this year, the interest rates on Stanford student loans, the same loans that many of you use to help pay for college are set to double.
The position is that students just have to make this rate increase work. Frankly, I don't buy it.
JIMMY FALLON, COMEDIAN: Hmm, hmm, hmm. The Barackness monster ain't buying it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: You know who else wasn't buying it? Many pundits on the right.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
GRETCHEN CARLSON, FOX NEWS: I just personally do not agree with the highest office of the land, the most important figure in the world, going on these comedy shows. I think it lowers the status of the office. DANA PERINO, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: We have so many issues and problems going on in this country, around the world, and you can't swing a cat without finding President Obama on a comedy show.
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC: The Republican Party and FOX News are outraged, just outraged, that President Obama found a clever way to get the attention of young voters last night on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon".
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: David Frum, 20 years ago, Bill Clinton played the sax on Arsenio Hall. I remember writing about debate about whether it was presidential. But in 2012, what's the big deal about him going on Jimmy Fallon?
FRUM: Well, Bill Clinton was a candidate. Candidates go through all kinds of degrading experiences. But --
KURTZ: Clinton as president talked about his underwear on MTV.
FRUM: But that was a big -- people really were shocked by that.
KURTZ: What about this?
FRUM: What has happened here -- so it's -- I had qualms about it too, but I think what we're also realizing is there is nor Eric Sevareid. There is no more Walter Cronkite, and that the media landscape is changing, and it is probably unrealistic to expect politicians not to adjust to it.
One more thing I think is happening. We are living through a fiscal crisis that has very different impacts on young people and elderly people. And the elderly are responding by mobilizing and the young people are responding by demobilizing. So, guess who is losing?
And I can kind of understand why a president who is looking to a young audience that's trying to reach in this way, but it's different, and all -- the precedents that are being cited are all about candidates, not about sitting presidents.
KURTZ: Well, Rachel Sklar, let me play a short bit of sound for you from another late night programs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID LETTERMAN, COMEDIAN: Number nine --
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I can't begin my day until I've read "The Washington Post" and Kim Kardashian's tweets.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Mitt Romney on Letterman. So, conservatives don't like it when Obama does it. Like David says he is president. But it's OK if their guy does it?
SKLAR: I'm outraged that Mitt Romney would appear on a comedy program. That's unbelievable.
KURTZ: And read the countdown.
SKLAR: Yes. I mean, that's -- you know, that's complete hypocrisy when -- when the clip you showed were from FOX News and Lawrence O'Donnell talking about the outrage coming from FOX News. It's very clear where the -- where the outrage is coming from.
KURTZ: It's not just FOX. There are columnists that have taken this on.
SKLAR: Right. But it's generally on the right, which tends not to be friendly to anything that President Obama does.
From what David just said, it's the media landscape is changing. Now, it's important to be on Twitter, on Foursquare. You know, the Obama campaign is on Tumblr. These are -- on Pinterest. Like these are all different ways to reach.
And, by the way, that's very effective messaging because that Fallon clip has been all over the place. We're still talking about it.
KURTZ: It's pretty viral.
SKLAR: It's bringing the student loans issue into spotlight. This is what they wanted to do.
KURTZ: Is there long history now of presidential candidates and presidents going on these programs?
JURKOWITZ: I'm going to going to faint (ph) myself when Richard Nixon went on "Laugh In" and said sock it to me. He is saying it as a candidate.
I think part of this, the narrative -- everything is obviously going to be fair game for the political narrative now. And to the extent that part of the narrative against Obama is going to be sort of he is a celebrity candidate, which was the John McCain commercial 2008.
JURKOWITZ: And you see this beginning to develop now that may be kind of a theme that the Republicans are going to want to use.
FRUM: Let's not have a false narrative. The one time a sitting president did something like this was George Bush appearing on "Deal or No Deal" which --
KURTZ: George Bush who you worked for. FRUM: Yes. But he did this -- and because he was aware, he did it through a video clip, he wasn't there in person, and he was delivering a personal message to a veteran.
This is a new thing.
FRUM: It has to be defended as a new thing.
SKLAR: When President Obama is delivering these speeches at the White House correspondent's dinner, they are written by comedians, and he is essentially doing stand-up comedy, and it's all --
KURTZ: And every president has done that.
SKLAR: Right. But now, everything lives in video clips that are distributed online, which is a different landscape.
KURTZ: I want to come to that. But first I want to mention, you know, Barack Obama has been on "The Daily Show." He gave an interview with "Rolling Stone," which he said, I think Jon Stewart's brilliance, it's amazing to me to the degree with which he was able to cut through a bunch of nonsense.
The president also saying he doesn't want a lot of TV news, doesn't watch cable at all, but he does look at the major papers, "Wall Street Journal," "Washington Post," "New York Times", reads the "New York Times" columnist, and Andrew Sullivan's blog on "The Daily Beast."
So, another thing that happened this week is going to air on "Rock Center" this week is that Brian Williams of NBC interviewed President Obama in the Situation Room at the White House, one-year anniversary of the successful assault on Osama bin Laden.
Does that trouble you at all? Did NBC allow itself to be used by having that august back drop?
FRUM: It doesn't trouble me. During the Bush administration, beginning shortly after 9/11, NBC did a day in the life of the White House, and these are transactions between networks and politicians that always happen. We'll give you an opportunity to have some amazing visuals, in turn you give us the kind of coverage we want, and everybody understands the deal.
But there are a lot of people who would like to see what the inside of the Situation Room looks like, and I don't blame a network for making that information available to them.
KURTZ: OK. Now, you mentioned the White House correspondents' dinner, which has become a huge spectacle.
Rachel Sklar, you were there last night, along with Lindsay Lohan and Kim Kardashian.
SKLAR: I'm saying, with my girls.
KURTZ: "Newsweek" brought Reese Witherspoon, who was I was delighted to meet ask, but also California Governor Jerry Brown.
But has this whole -- like I'm going to bring a bigger Hollywood star than you have with the news organization kind of competing, they put out press releases -- has this gone too far?
SKLAR: It depends what the purpose is of the event, right? If the purpose is to raise money as the dinner is one of the purposes to raise money, and, you know, you put out the bait. My personal opinion is, you know, that was supposed to be my fifth time going to the, I didn't actually go to the diner yesterday. I've been before, but assorted events surrounding it.
You know, you have this big collection of people from all over the place, and a whole bunch of different constituencies around this issues, and you have them on the highest level and the lowest level. And this is how relationships are built, coverage is made, people rise much, and, you know, stuff comes out of it. You need to have people put together in one big Petri dish.
KURTZ: And then presidents use their comedy routines as a way of taking veiled or not so veiled shots of the opposition.
When you worked at the Bush White House, you help President Bush do that, along with some professional comedians. So -- but he can't be too sharp edged. You have to make it funny, right?
FRUM: Well, this year, the president was unusually sharp-edged. You could see -- he is sort of getting past the point where he is going to pretend to like any of these people, or to pretend to like to be here, that his jokes this year were -- I mean, last year, he went -- last year, he was very tough. He had that Donald Trump exchange.
But he was really provoked. I mean, that was the situation where you had sitting in front of you somebody that had gone around the country saying you were involved in a giant conspiracy to deceive America. He would be super human if he didn't hit him back.
FRUM: This time he was not -- he is running against Mitt Romney, who's been a lot gentler and he -- you know, this was not self- depreciating humor. This was aggressive humor.
KURTZ: All right. You weren't there last night. You were watching baseball. Mark Jurkowitz.
JURKOWITZ: That's correct.
KURTZ: Does it look to the outside world --
JURKOWITZ: The all American pastime.
KURTZ: Does it look to the outside world like journalists are too cozy, sitting along side celebrities, with the politicians they are supposed to be covering?
JURKOWITZ: Well, frankly, I'm not even sure the outside world cares about it. I hate to say it.
KURTZ: -- the over absorbed Beltway thing.
JURKOWITZ: In flyover country, I guarantee, there was more baseball watching last night than the conversation about this. And I honestly do think that to the extent -- we know that the public has sort of a lot of antipathy for the press overall when they think about --
KURTZ: Right. A bunch of insider.
JURKOWITZ: And I think they think -- right, I think they are part of the big institutions and sort of this log rolling. And so, it doesn't help the image.
KURTZ: We got to go.
SKLAR: But they need to build up trust, right? It's about building relationships and building trust where, that happens --
KURTZ: It looks kind of cozy, but it's just one night.
All right. Rachel Sklar, David Frum, Mark Jurkowitz -- thanks for joining us.
Coming up, why is that new HBO show "Girls" getting so much coverage? And what about the backlash over whether it's racist?
KURTZ: The advance hype begun when a "New York" magazine cover story had never really let up. As author Emily Nussbaum wrote, "From the moment I saw the pilot of 'Girls,' I was a goner, a convert. In an office at HBO, my heart sped up. I laughed out loud."
The program deals with four young women in Brooklyn who wrestled with financial problems, talk a lot about sex, and have a lot of sex.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Seriously, nothing flakier in this world than not showing up to your own abortion.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have never had sex.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Really?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're bleeding.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So what accounts for this media counter assault on the show? And is it worth all this attention?
Joining us now in Chicago, Maureen Ryan, television critic for "The Huffington Post." And in New York, Anna Holmes, columnist of "The Washington Post" and the founder of Jezebell.com.
Anna Holmes, what accounts for this insane level of media hype that surrounds this show before it even aired?
ANNA HOLMES, WASHINGTON POST: I think -- well, you kind of touch on it with Emily's "New York" magazine cover story. There are a lot of other laudatory pieces, big ones, and publications like the "New York Times", but also because it's a show that hasn't really existed before. Certainly there have been a few shows like "Sex and the City" which was also on HBO, about four relatively young women. But this one is a bit grittier, a bit more honest, edgier, deals with topics like sex, romance, finding women's way in the world professionally. And we haven't really seen this sort of treatment before.
KURTZ: Maureen Ryan, when a TV program receives that much media attention, does it become inevitable that there will be a backlash of people criticizing it saying, "It's not so great?"
RYAN: Oh, definitely. There's definitely always going to be a mismatch when there's that much laudatory praise. And I get -- you have to keep in mind critics saw three episodes typically of the show before anyone else saw any of it.
And so when people tuned in and it didn't, you know, do their taxes for them and wash their car, they became, like, you know, this is not the greatest thing ever.
So there was some disconnect, I think, between what critics were sort of seeing and feeling. But I definitely agree with Anna that part of the reason for that hype was this was a voice and a perspective that has not typically been seen on TV, which I think, in some ways, led to the backlash.
People aren't trained to expect this kind of perspective.
KURTZ: And part of that backlash, Anna, of course, a major theme that bloggers and other critics are writing about is this is about four white women, and it's taking a lot of criticism on that racial front.
HOLMES: Yes. I don't know if someone took the criticism at least that I has been about the four leads being white. I think it's been more that some of the secondary characters or cameo appearances by people of color have been somewhat -- they've been stereotypes or caricatures.
Now, granted that there's -- only two episodes have aired. KURTZ: Let's keep that in mind.
HOLMES: The third one is airing tonight, but, you know, a lot of the criticism that I was seeing was coming from people who had seen at least the first three episodes and, you know, if not more.
And we're kind of commenting on things that we -- that the regular public hasn't yet seen. But again, I'm not so sure. At least my problem is with the fact that the four main characters are Caucasian.
I think it's more (UNINTELLIGIBLE) some of the secondary characters and cameo appearances.
KURTZ: Right. But Maureen, I have seen a number of people take a shot by saying that, you know, is this show really reflecting the diversity of New York City by having these four white women.
But If you look at history from Seinfeld to "Sex and the City" there's a lot of white ensemble shows. I'm trying to understand why this one is being singled out.
RYAN: I think it's really -- you know, there's some of that. I mean, in diverse bohemian enclave, there should be more diversity, and Lena Dunham said she will address that.
KURTZ: She's the director.
RYAN: I think there's -- she's the creator-director. I think that there's certainly issues that could be addressed in the show. As Anna points out, there's been two episodes of this that have aired.
And I'm someone who has actually written a lot about the lack of diversity, not just on screen, but in the sort of creative trenches of television.
There are very few female creators that get to, you know, put a show on air. There are very few -- you know, a lot of shows have all white casts.
So for me, the overwhelming attacks on the show -- to some degree, I think it's just people know that sexism is theoretically wrong and that they shouldn't attack people in that necessarily -- in that way necessarily.
So they're finding different avenues with which to attack a woman, a young woman at that, who got a very privileged platform to share her perspective with the world.
And you know, it's not acceptable to just use the kind of typical sexist avenues that people have used in the past. I think, to some degree, it's jealousy and just a lack of understanding of how a woman, you know, so young and is sort of untested got this prominent HBO platform, which is very unusual.
And my thing is, I would love to see all these commentators and critics come back and attack this issue in force, you know, in September when shows that are 90 percent white characters on camera, 80 percent created by white men, when that happens this fall, where are all these people going to be?
Are they going to be fighting the good fight, or will they still be grumbling about one show on HBO?
KURTZ: Right. I'm still shocked though that the critics engage in jealousy. I have to recover from that. Now, you touched on this earlier, Anna Holmes, but you know, the show obviously has a strong female point of view, female creator and director, but also a lot of sex.
I'm trying to wonder whether all this socio-cultural analysis that we engage in kind of glosses over the fact that people like watching programs that have a lot of sex.
HOLMES: I don't know if the sex depicted on "Girls" is the sort of sex that we enjoy watching.
KURTZ: Because it's not glamorous.
HOLMES: It's not glamorous. I mean, I certainly enjoy watching it because it seems very honest and very real and does push the envelope.
It's wince-inducing. It's no-holds-barred. But I'm not sure that it's titillating. I don't know if Maureen wants to jump in here, but I actually just wrote about the sex on "Game of Thrones" and how it is titillating. But -
KURTZ: Well, I've got about half a minute, so let me get Maureen back in. You write that a lot of TV shows are created by middle-aged, upper middle class heterosexual white men. Obviously, this one is different in that regard.
RYAN: Yes. Well, that's the thing. You know, people are saying, well, she's privileged. She has this sort of background. The actresses are all relatives that are famous. If you just looked at every show on HBO --
KURTZ: Like Ryan Williams' daughter, for example.
RYAN: They have people who are connected. Right --
KURTZ: Allison Williams.
RYAN: All the people who have shows on HBO are connected and have big Hollywood connections. This is a very common thing. I really think that "Girls" does represent a diverse viewpoint in that its young people affected by the economic crisis, trying to find their way.
And to me that's a valuable voice to have that female perspective. Something as raunchy and strange as Louis CK's show, but from a different perspective. KURTZ: Right. All right.
RYAN: For my money, that's worthwhile.
KURTZ: Well, after only two episodes, I have a feeling this media debate will continue. Anna Holmes, Maureen Ryan, thanks for joining us.
Up next, a glamorous New York movie premier. The red carpet, the paparazzi, Rob Lowe -- what was I doing there?
KURTZ: Political movies are very much in the news these days. We saw that not long ago with HBO's "Game Change." Well, I was at New York's Tribeca Film Festival this week with a premier of "Knife Fight" in which Rob Lowe plays a ruthless and cynical political consultant.
The movie was not coincidentally co-written and produced by Democratic strategist Chris Lehane. Jamie Chung is Lowe's deputy eager to learn the ugly business. And Julie Bowen is an aggressive television correspondent.
Now, I had more than a passing interest in this film, which will be out in the fall, since I play a very small part.
So there I was at this red carpet event, and there were hordes of photographers and reporters, and it was hard to know where to look, very strange to be on the other side of the velvet rope, peering out at the press pack.
In the film, Jamie Chung wants to leak some damaging information about an opposing candidate and is meeting with a series of reporters. I portray a rather self-important blogger. Now, I am not playing myself, of course. This is acting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMIE CHUNG, ACTRESS: Take this on deep background. Just follow the money. It's straight back to Perkins. Listen, I'm doing this favor so you don't get beat again.
You did all the legwork, but you definitely did not get this information from us.
Now, this story is yours and yours only. Remember, whatever you do, don't source back to us.
And remember, this is embargo at 7:00 a.m. online first thing tomorrow.
KURTZ (on camera): Yes, yes. But you are not giving this to anyone else, right? Because, let's face it, my blog drives the cable coverage. All the insiders come to us first.
CHUNG: No, absolutely. You got the first pop. KURTZ: This is going to be more than a pop. When I heard about this story, I had a blogasm.
CHUNG: Now, you'll get multiple blogasms.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: I had a few more lines, but they somehow vanished. Well, I'm not quitting my day job and moving to L.A. But it was fun watching a movie be made with all the endless retakes and flubbed lines from the inside.
After the break, if you are feeling a bit of information overload, perhaps you should go on a diet, an information diet. I talk to author Clay Johnson about his new book.
KURTZ: Anyone who spends time online can find a virtual feast of information, but much of it is junk food, lots of tasty tidbits that amount to empty calories. Why is there so much of that, and how can we improve our nutrition?
Clay Johnson is the author of "The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption," and he joins me now here in the studio. Welcome.
So in this book early on you write about the AOL wave, the rules at AOL. And you say the rule says it is the job of the writer to produce popular content as cheaply and quickly as possible. Does that trouble you?
CLAY JOHNSON, AUTHOR, "THE INFORMATION DIET": Yes. I mean, it's the same thing that sort of happened with food, right? Our food companies have said, "We've got to produce cheap, popular food, but it's not particularly nutritious."
And the result is obesity rate of 35 percent in the United States of America right now and children that are dying quicker than their parents were in some cases.
And that's really scary. I think the same thing is happening with news. If you have a news company producing cheap popular information, but not particularly what it is that we need to hear, then how do we get the Pentagon papers?
KURTZ: You say that AOL and companies like that, they chase what's trending, what Google or other search engines tell us is hot. And then they tweak their headlines to try to attract more traffic.
JOHNSON: That's right. They AB-test their headlines, so they'll, like, come up with maybe five or six different headlines per story and figure out what people are clicking on, and then that's what they'll run with.
So our clicks end up being votes. Our clicks have consequences. That's why part of the information diet talks about having an ethical consequence of what it is we are taking in.
KURTZ: And when you were researching this book, when you were looking at "The Huffington Post," which you write about. And you kept getting distracted by videos of Lindsay Lohan or a video of the oldest female bodybuilder who is 74. You just couldn't help yourself, huh?
JOHNSON: I mean, it's unbelievable. We don't have -- it's, again, a lot like food. If you put a pile of broccoli next to a large pizza, it's going to be really hard to just always go for that broccoli when that pizza is sitting right there.
KURTZ: So you yourself went off the diet?
JOHNSON: Oh, yes. I mean, I talk a lot about this. "The Information Diet" has ruined my information diet and the research.
KURTZ: And you say that many media outlets now online have resorted to what you call "churnalism" that is not journalist, but the churn of PR releases essentially being kind of rewritten and posted as original content?
JOHNSON: Yes. I mean, the number of PR professionals out there, people who are basically paid to tell you what it is that you should say on your show, has increased by 100 percent over the past 30 years.
KURTZ: They try.
JOHNSON: They try, but you know, lots of -- that's been a surge while the number of journalists is actually declining in the United States.
And so there's this -- even journalists have their own information diet problem because there's so many people trying to get your attention.
KURTZ: Right. But there are a lot of news sites that have a lot of good, solid reporting and information. And even "The Huffington Post," which uses as an example, just won a Pulitzer Prize for an original 10-part series.
So if these other things that you describe as less nutritious are popular, how can -- how do we blame the media companies for giving the public what apparently it wants if clicks are votes as you say.
JOHNSON: Well, there's a difference between what it is that people want and what it is that people need, right? And that's why, in my book, we really talk about this as a public health concern, not as a media reform concern.
I think it's time to really start thinking about it that way because our information consumption is something that affects our psychological and sometimes physiological well-being.
The average person is spending 11 hours a day of consuming information right now, and that's in America. That's -- they're not doing that on the treadmill, right? They're doing that while they're sitting down and blissed out.
JOHNSON: So you're the Michelle Obama of the Internet, trying to persuade people --
JOHNSON: Hey, you know, I'm trying.
KURTZ: To make better choices?
JOHNSON: That's exactly right.
KURTZ: You write about cable news in this book and you say that Roger Ailes really changed cable news with Fox, and here is a statistic that you cite.
Fox News, you say, spends 72 percent of its budget on programs and host salaries. MSNBC, 88 percent. CNN, 44 percent. What does that tell us?
JOHNSON: Well, it tells me that CNN spends a lot more money on -- I don't want to be too friendly to CNN now that I'm on CNN. But CNN spends a lot more money on journalism than it does on personalities.
And I think that that's indicative of a lot of things. One is that, well, personalities are a lot cheaper than a newsroom.
KURTZ: They may make big salaries, but it's not the same as spending money on 30 reporters to roam around the country.
JOHNSON: Right. Right. And people tune in more to a personality than they do facts, because, oftentimes, a personality is going to tell people what it is that they want to hear rather than the facts.
And who wants to hear the truth when they can hear that they're right?
KURTZ: Well, on the other hand, obviously, Fox News is a top- rated cable news channel. You did digital strategy for Barack Obama's campaign last time, so does your political point of view influence your view of Fox News?
JOHNSON: You know, I wouldn't -- the cover of my book is a nutritional label. And if you read it closely, it says that I'm 100 percent biased. So, of course --
KURTZ: 100 percent biased, and you also say that people are biased in the sense that they would seek out, let's say, Fox and MSNBC, points of view on cable that agree with what they already believe.
JOHNSON: Right. People want to seek out confirmation, because -- it is not anybody's fault. That is because of who we are. We are wired that way. Just like we are wired consume salt, fat and sugar, we are also wired get affirmation. KURTZ: So it sounds like you are going up against human nature, people -- whether it is getting distracted by clicking on Lindsay Lohan or whether it is watching cable news that already fits your ideological profile.
So if your diagnosis is information obesity, I mean, how realistic is it to get people to go on a diet?
JOHNSON: Well, I think it's a key to well-being. I think being on an information diet does a lot of great things for you. It gives you more time.
And if you start spending more time thinking about your spouse and your family than you do the president and his family, then you are going to have a richer life.
You're also going to live longer because you're going to spend a lot less time consuming -- if you are not consuming 11 hours on a couch of information.
KURTZ: Oh, so you are touting some health benefits here.
KURTZ: But you are not only saying make smarter choice about the kind of journalism or even entertainment or culture news that you seek. But you are saying turn it off more? You think we have become too absorbed by gadgets and smartphones and devices?
JOHNSON: Turn it off a little bit more. But it's also like set some priorities for yourself, right? I'm going around the country talking about this book, for instance.
I always ask, "What's the obesity rate here?" And no one knows. No one knows in any crowd that I've ever talked what the obesity rate is in the place that they are standing.
And then I ask, "Who was Kim Kardashian's ex-husband?" And everybody knows.
KURTZ: Well, there it is in one-sentence sound bite. I hope you lost some weight as you went around the country. Clay Johnson, thanks very much for joining us.
JOHNSON: Thanks very much.
KURTZ: Still to come, our program is dragged into the investigation of the Fox News mole. Rupert Murdoch grilled over his media scandal.
And how NBC's apology in the Trayvon Martin case failed to reach a crucial audience. "The Media Monitor," straight ahead.
KURTZ: Time now for "The Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business. The saga of the Fox News mole is not over.
The authorities served Joe Muto, the Bill O'Reilly producer fired by Fox, for leaking to the Web site "Gawker" with a search warrant at his home, one that cites this exchange from my interview with him on this program.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(on camera) You also, by the way, accepted $5,000 from "Gawker" to serve as the Fox mole. Does that make you look like more of a weasel?
JOE MUTO, FORMER BILL O'REILLY PRODUCER: I'm not going to comment on any financial arrangements that I may or may not have had with "Gawker."
KURTZ: Muto's reaction -- he described the unfolding scene on Twitter, "I just got search warranted at 6:30 a.m. by a very polite crew from the D.A.'s office, took my iPhone, laptop, some old notebooks."
And in a reference to another Rupert Murdoch media property, the now defunct British tabloid, "News of the World," "I should have done something more innocuous like hacked a dead girl's phone and interfered with a police investigation."
But Muto's tone could change if investigators conclude that he stole Fox property in exchange for payment.
Speaking of Rupert Murdoch, it would be hard to accuse him of evading responsibility. In his second round of testimony before a British parliamentary panel, the media titan, while testy at times, did not try pass the buck about the hacking scandals that hit Sky News and led him to close his "News of the World" tabloid.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUPERT MURDOCH, MEDIA MOGUL: Now, I have to admit that some newspapers are closer to my heart than others. But I also have to say that I failed.
Someone took charge of a cover-up, which we were victim to and I regret. It was an omission by me and all I can do is apologize to a lot of people, including all the innocent people of "The News of the World" who have lost their jobs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: I would say that news corps dodged a bullet at these hearings. Murdoch may have been embarrassed by the disclosure of so many high-level contacts we had with the prime minister and other top British politicians.
But neither Rupert nor his son, James, acknowledged seeing any incriminating E-mails or knowing about what even the boss now admits was a cover-up. NBC has apologized for its terrible blunder in the misleading editing of that 911 tape in the Trayvon Martin case which made George Zimmerman appear to volunteer the fact that the unarmed teenager was black, and the network fired the producer involved.
What NBC didn't do, as David Carr, points out this week in "The New York times," was to correct the error where it took place, on the "Today" show, with its huge audience.
Asked about the glaring omission, NBC News president, Steve Capus told Carr, "You are probably right."
This is an all too common practice on television, to apologize off the air, but not correct mistakes on the air, that's why Carr was right to call out NBC.
Elsewhere at NBC, "Hardball's" Chris Mathews was portraying Mitt Romney as backward on science issues when he used a most unfortunate phrase.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS MATHEWS, HOST, "HARDBALL": An issue on climate?
MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER CHAIRMAN OF THE REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: No, it wasn't an issue in the primary.
MATHEWS: OK, let's go. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the grand wizard crowd over there. Anyway, look --
STEELE: Wait. I resent that. Now, come on. What is this grand wizard nonsense?
MATHEWS: OK. Let me say the far-right party.
STEELE: Are you saying we are Ku Klux Klan? Give me a break. You don't go there with me on that, all right?
MATHEWS: OK. OK. Great. Great. OK. Good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: That reference to a KKK leader was way, way out of bounds. But rather than waiting a week as NBC did, Mathews noted moments later that he hadn't meant to say grand wizard. An apology might have been nice as well.
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.
Up next, a Candy Crowley's exclusive interview with House Speaker John Boehner on "STATE OF THE UNION."