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Obama and Romney Camps Spar over New Jobs Numbers; Computer Technology Helps Give a Sense of Candidates Feelings; Big Bird Gets a Shout Out in the Presidential Race

Aired October 6, 2012 - 18:00   ET



The Obama and Romney camps spar over new jobs number as the president tries to rebound from his weak performance in his first debate.

Computer technology helps us get a sense of what the candidates might have been thinking and feeling on the stage.

And big bird gets a shout out in the presidential race. Will he be an endangered species after the election?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

Exactly one month before Election Day, there's a new dynamic in the race for the White House after Mitt Romney outperformed the president in the first debate. And now knew jobs numbers are likely to provide more fuel for their next debate. The unemployment rate unexpectedly fell to 7.8 percent in September. That is down from 8.1 percent the previous month and the lowest level since January 2009, the same month the president took office. A separate survey of employers, show businesses added 114,000 jobs last month. And that mark slow down in hiring from July and August.

Let's bring in our chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin.

And Jessica, what's the Obama White House, the Obama campaign, saying about all of this?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're effectively saying that the economy, while it's still weak, is showing signs that the president's policies are working, that his agenda is finally getting traction in the economy. Here's what the president had to say at a campaign stop earlier.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are too many middle class families that are still struggling to pay the bills. They were struggling long before the crisis hit. But today's news certainly is not an excuse to try and talk down the economy to score a few political points. It's a reminder that this country has come too far to turn back now.


YELLIN: That was Friday right after the jobs numbers came out. Wolf, I'll point out two meaningful things about those jobs numbers.

One, you recall right when his stimulus plan came out somebody in his administration said with the stimulus plan, the job number should stay below eight percent. Republican seize on that say, it was never a promise. It was never promised. It was a projection. But, it has become a political football. So, symbolically it's meaningful obviously, that this is now below eight percent.

Also, it's fallen for the first time not because fewer people are looking for jobs. Actually, the number of people looking for jobs rose slightly. So it's two pieces of good news for the Obama campaign in a week they really needed something.

BLITZER: Yes. The bad news was the president's own performance in the debate. I'm told even the president knew he didn't do a very good job. So, here is the question. What are they going to do to change that looking ahead to the next debate?

YELLIN: They'll have to bring it more. I mean, the president did not go on the attack. And part of that was deliberate because they think the biggest as et he has is his personal likability. That is based on polling. That's not my personal opinion. They think voters find him a nice guy and they don't want to risk that at any cost.

But it actually cost him in that debate, because not going on the attack meant he didn't defend his own policies and now they're saying Mitt Romney was dishonest. Wolf, they're saying it too late, after the fact the president needed to call him on the stage.

So, I think you'll see him call him out more on the stage. The question is he has to calibrate it carefully because in past seasons you'll seen Al Gore, for example, was too aggressive in one debate over correct it by didn't have within another. The president doesn't want to miss the mark both times.

BLITZER: Why didn't he respond more forcedly when he was being attacked by that - by Romney, why didn't he talk about that 47 percent?

YELLIN: You know, they're not giving a good answer to that. Again it was partly on the 47 percent, they say was, he wanted to ask the questions. He wanted to answer the questions he was asked. You know, the president sometimes finds the scenarios silly. He finds it all so false and a setup and the politics of it are such a game. He seems to remove himself from the moment as a person. And this is a moment you can't do that. You need to be present and engage. And sometimes incumbent presidents do that in their first debate. They don't really take it and to bull by the horns. I think you'll see a different performance next time.

BLITZER: I think you're right. I'm sure we will.

Thanks very much for that, Jessica. The Romney campaign certainly has a far different response to the new jobs numbers saying this is not what a recovery looks like. The republican is writing a new wave of momentum after claiming victory in his first debate with President Obama.

Let's bring in our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, after a couple of days of positive reviews, after that first presidential debate, Mitt Romney is running into some political news that may be blunting some of that momentum today since new unemployment report showing that the jobless rate is fallen below eight percent, is taking away a key line of attack for the GOP contender for months. Romney has said the president has failed to bring the nation's unemployment rate below eight percent. But Romney found a new way to crunch numbers here in Virginia.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Campaigning in Virginia coal country, Mitt Romney tried to dig through the latest jobs number to make the case President Obama has not hit pay dirt just yet.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There were fewer new jobs created this month than last month. And the unemployment rate, as you noted, this year has come down very, very slowly, but it's come down nonetheless. The reason it's come down this year is primarily due to the fact that more and more people have just stopped looking for work.

ACOSTA: Still, one of Romney's key metrics on the president's handling of the economy went up in smoke, when the nation's unemployment rate dipped below eight percent.

ROMNEY: Eight percent unemployment for over how many, 43 months?

We still have unemployment above eight percent.

He told us he would get us back to work and hold unemployment above eight percent.

Our unemployment above eight percent month after month after month.

ACOSTA: It's a political bar Mitt Romney has repeatedly accused the president of failing to clear for months. A threshold that GOP nominee repeated in his closing statement at the first presidential debate.

ROMNEY: We've had 43 straight months with unemployment above eight percent. If I'm president, I will create -- help create 12 million new jobs in this country, with rising incomes.

ACOSTA: But Romney knows the president has fallen short of estimates set by the administration's own economic advisers who wants predicted the stimulus would lower the jobless rate to six percent. ROMNEY: What's happened this has been the slows recovery since the great depression. As a matter of fact, he said right now we would be at 5.4 percent unemployment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Obama says he's creating jobs. But he's really creating debt.

ACOSTA: And Romney has a new ad out arguing that the president's job creation efforts have only added to the deficit.

ROMNEY: A couple of nights ago, we had a debate. You may have gotten a chance to see that.

ACOSTA: Before the new jobs numbers, Romney had been riding a wave of momentum after this week's debate. He even got a pass from the president, who never mentioned Romney's comments on the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay income taxes.

ROMNEY: There are 47 percent of the people will vote for the president no matter what.

ACOSTA: With an Obama campaign ad still repeating those remarks, Romney tried to put an end to the controversy once and for all on FOX.

ROMNEY: Clearly in a campaign with hundreds, if not thousands of speeches and questions and answers sessions, now and then you're going to say something that doesn't come out right. In this case I said something that is completely wrong.


ACOSTA: Romney next heads to Florida where his economic message will still resonate. That state's unemployment rate while it has gone down in recent month, is still well above the national average -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Jim Acosta, Thanks very much.

Let's bring in our chief political analyst Gloria Borger and our senior political analyst Ron Brownstein, the editorial director for the "National Journal."

Gloria, I'll start with you. These new numbers that came out in Friday, how will they impact the president that didn't so well in that debate?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: They are a great talking point for the president. Very important to be below eight percent. You know, the president can't say these are fabulous, this is great. He has to say no, we're heading in the right direction. And that's what's really key for him.

The Republicans and Mitt Romney of course are saying you know what? This isn't moving fast enough. But at least for the president, after his poor debate performance, now has some good news to hang on to. And something he can point to. And say OK, right direction. BLITZER: Because people could easily understand 8.1 percent, 7.8 percent, right track, wrong track. That looks like it is the right track.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, a little bit of psychological milestone and that unemployment at 7.8 is back to the level it was when he took office in 2009. And after that (INAUDIBLE) it is decline. But overall, I would say these numbers are kind of, you know, warm water, not a big boost. In a sense that earlier this year when the economy was growing, producing 200,000 jobs a year, it looked like the economy might be enough to lift Obama to a safe level. Then the big spring slow down, Republicans brought that. It might be kind of fetal.

And now I think we're getting numbs, whether it's growth or jobs that are really neither, that point you again toward a very close race. It's been a modest uptick in economic optimism. But still, a lot of anxiety out there. And I think these kind of numbers reinforce the sense we have in the race itself that you don't have a decisive wind blowing in either direction at this point.

BORGER: And - but the point of that optimism is that this, you know, voters are already beginning to feel a little more optimistic. We see that in the polls. This will add to a sense of optimism and that's good for the president.

BROWNSTEIN: I think a little more but not vastly more.

BORGER: Right, exactly.

BROWNSTEIN: It's not a strong tail wind but it's better than a head wind.

BLITZER: Not a game changer.


BLITZER: Let me play a couple of clips. I want to discuss what he's saying. Listen to this.


ROMNEY: What's happened is this has been the slowest recovery since the great depression. As a matter of fact, he said right now we would be at 5.4 percent unemployment. Instead, we're at 8.1 percent.

We've had 43 straight months with unemployment above eight percent. If I'm president, I will create -- help create 12 million new jobs in this country with rising incomes.


BLITZER: All right, so now it's 7.8 percent. So how much damage does this due to Romney's line about eight percent?

BROWNSTEIN: He can't use that particular line. But I don't think it changes things that much. I mean, my sense talking to voters, as I have been out this year, is that there are a slice of voters who give Obama credit for or avoiding the worst. The president -- things that he did in 2009, they're grateful we are not living in another depression which they feared.

But there is a sense among voters who are ambivalent in their choice here that things are not improving fast enough. And again, I think this is a small tail wind for him at pushing back against that perception, but not something that is fundamentally going to change those doubts.

BORGER: And Mitt Romney will still talk about the 23 million unemployed in this country. That's his - that is going to be his key number and --

BLITZER: Unemployed and under employed.

BORGER: And underemployed, right. And he's going to continue to hit that and say that the president hasn't solved the problem quickly enough for just what you just saw in that bite. The problem for Romney is that he is walking a fine line because when there's good news, he can't seem to be sort of dour about it because he's depending on bad news, right? So he does walk a fine line.

BLITZER: It's good news for the country if there are jobs being created.

BORGER: And then, there is another question and sort of how baked in people's minds is the sense of --.


BROWNSTEIN: It's past the point where the perception has changed very much.

BLITZER: Here's what you wrote in the "National Journal." I will put it up on the screen. One of those vulnerabilities is Obama's inability so far to enlighten voters about the second-term agenda. To the extent the president outlined goals during the debate, they were largely defensive. Go ahead and explain.

BROWNSTEIN: I think other than deception where he was talking and criticizing the Ryan-esque Republican vision on the budget, on Medicare in particular and on taxes. It's hard to say what else the president displayed much passion about accomplishing over the next four years. I have felt, really all year, this is the biggest hole in their campaign. I don't think he has given Americans a clear sense of what he would do to make the next four years better than the last four years. It goes to this questions of whether where we are is good enough. At the convention, there really wasn't much of the second- term agenda. And this debate, there was almost no second term agenda talking about the American jobs after (INAUDIBLE). Things that have been installed. What is it that Obama himself wants to do? Certainly in this next debate he's going to be more aggressive on Mitt Romney. Can he be more persuasive about his own plans and how he make the next four years better than the last one? BORGER: And Mitt Romney ought to be more aggressive in pushing the president to talk about his agenda. Because of course the president is tying him to the Ryan budget, for better or worse, what is he going to do about Medicare, what's he going to do about tax reform.

It is true that Romney hasn't put a lot of meat on the bones when it comes to what he would do if he were to reform the tax code. What deductions would he cap. He started getting at that a little bit this past week.

Well, then why doesn't he push the president for some more details and the president can push back? I think with the American public, and I think you're 100 percent right. They want to say OK, where would you take us in the next four years? There's a danger of appearing to be over ambition in this kind of economy and I think that their problem.

BROWNSTEIN: I mean, Obama seems to me, passionate only about two things. Stopping the Republicans from converting and ending the entitlement to Medicare and Medicaid and implementing his health care plan. But beyond that, what is he burning to accomplish over the next four years that he thinks he can accomplish. Does he believe he can truly do a grand bargain and what would that look like. You know, in some ways the best indication would be, would be the behind the scenes reporting about what he is negotiating with John Boehner.

BORGER: But nobody wants to talk about it because it might get them in trouble. I mean, the closest Mitt Romney came during the debate he actually talked about means testing Medicare which would mean that wealthier beneficiaries would have to pay a little bit more.

BROWNSTEIN: He's on record in supporting the idea for converting Medicare into a premium support of plan and end Medicaid --

BORGER: -- which could get him in a lot of trouble.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. You know, I know that we know that Obama is passionate about blocking those ideas. But what is his agenda for the next four years. Really, has not throw an ankle on that.

BLITZER: Maybe we'll see in the next debate or two.

BORGER: Maybe he'll get pushed on that.


BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.

A lot of harsh words were certainly flying after that first presidential debate. Up next, we are going to hear from an Obama ally who calls the president's debate strategy that hurting him now, disastrous.


BLITZER: Many of the president's allies were openly acknowledging that his debate performance fell flat and now they are arguing that Mitt Romney fooled voters during that faceoff.

I spoke to the independent senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont about the president's debate performance and I started by showing some confusing statements from the president. Listen to this.


OBAMA: Governor Romney and I both agree our cooperate tax rate is too high. We both agree we've got to boost American energy production and it appears we've got some agreement that a marketplace to work has to have some regulation. I suspect that on Social Security we've got a somewhat similar position.

BLITZER: You understand what he was trying do there?


BLITZER: I got a bit confused.

SANDERS: I think you're right, Wolf. And I think that is a disastrous approach. The truth of the matter is Mitt Romney right now is the head of a right-wing extremist party called the Republican party. It wasn't always the case. That's what they are today. And if the president cannot differentiate himself clearly from right-wing extremism, we've got a lot of problems as a nation and he's got problems as a candidate running for re-election.

In terms of Social Security, it is absurd for the president to say that he and Romney are coming down in the same way. Social Security today has a $2.7 trillion surplus. Social Security hasn't contributed one nickel to the deficit, can pay out benefits for the next 21 years. The president should be saying now what he said four years ago. He is not going to cut Social Security while Romney and Ryan certainly are.

BLITZER: Would you blame the president himself or his aides and advisers who were supposedly preparing him for this first debate?

SANDERS: Wolf, you know, all of us in public life like to blame our staff when things go bad. But you know what, at the end of the day, it's the president, it's a United States senator, it's a Congress person.

We've got to take responsibility. The president should have got in there swinging, differentiating what a progressive policy position is as opposed to an extreme right wing one. Put Romney on the defensive. How dare you give tax breaks to the richest people in this country while we have the most unfair distribution of wealth and income of any major country on earth? How dare you throw children off of Medicaid when we've got 50 million people without any health insurance today?

Put him on the defensive instead of saying oh, I agree with you on this. I agree with you on that. So, you know. You've got to take responsibility and the responsibility is with the president.

BLITZER: Senator Sanders, we will see if he follows your advice in the next debate and the one after that. We will stay close in touch with you.


BLITZER: They're expressions may tell more than their words. We're taking a closer look at some special face reading software and what it reveals about the presidential debate.


BLITZER: While, political observers were pouring over every word the candidates said in the presidential debate, a special software program was actually analyzing their expressions.

CNN's Brian Todd talked to the man behind it.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Chris Coal wasn't focusing on policies, taxes, or track records in Wednesday's debate. He was looking at well, how they looked.

CHRIS KOWEL, PROFESSOR, PURDUE UNIVERSITY: Governor Romney was much more expressive than President Obama was.

TODD: Kowel is an expert in the communications of emotions and assistant professor at Purdue University. He employs software called face reader, traditionally used by marketers to measure people's responses to products and he applies it to political candidates. The software creates super imposed mesh masks on their faces which Kowel says measures based on the movement of hundreds of muscle points on the face.

What did he measure on Mitt Romney's face? In this feature here, you can see his eyebrows are slightly up.

KOWEL: In this feature here. You can see his eyebrows are slightly up. And this would suggest an emotion of surprise. But at the same time, when you look at how his lips and nose are, that might represent something about a negative type of an emotion of disgust or something like that.

TODD: The clenched lips combined with the surprised eyebrows, Kowel says, he saw from Romney. He says that helped Romney with his supporters who are angry of the economy.

KOWEL: By communicating specifically that type of anger and that type of scorn, Romney is building a bridge that connects to those voters.

TODD: By contrast, Kowel says, President Obama was expression neutral aside from the occasional raised eyebrows, smile or smirk which the Romney campaign leverage it when new video ad. .

KOWEL: In a sales deal, Obama can't close a sale. We're seeing that if he were to be more expressive and express the emotion that his voters are feeling, his voters would then would start rating him as more charismatic. TODD: What about body long wage? We measure that with Karen Bradley, a movement analyst at the University of Maryland. She says President Obama had the edge there at the beginning. A strong handshake, a clasp of Romney's arm that projected dominance. But within an hour, she says, the president wilted.

KAREN BRADLEY, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: See, he's blinking here. He's tired here.

KOWEL: Also illustrated with one camera angle from behind them. Romney is up right, Bradley says, still energetic.

BRADLEY: Here Barack Obama is dropping his focus. He's beginning to drop away from Mitt Romney. And here he comes down to his paper.

TODD: She says President Obama dropped his posture often, especially late in the debate. She says, that was a signal to many viewers that Romney got the better of him.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: A sharp drop in the jobless rate. What does it mean for President Obama and the economy? I will ask his former chief economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee.


BLITZER: It's not quite an October surprise, but certainly some welcome news for the Obama White House, waging what has been an uphill battle against unemployment.

This week the labor department reported the jobless rate fell sharply in September to 7.8 percent. That's the same level it was when President Obama took office back in January 2009. Actual growth last month was modest, only 1114,000 jobs created. But the labor department also revised the July and August number to include an additional 86,000 new jobs.

Let's talk about it with a former White House chief economist Austan Goolsbee, now with University of Chicago, Booth school of business.

Austan, thanks very much for coming in. What is this jobs report mean to you?

AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF ECONOMIST: Well, I think it's a good sign. You know, when I was in the White House, I used to say every month, good or bad, you never want to make too much out of any one month's numbers, because it's plus or minus 100,000 jobs is the margin of error. So there's a lot of variability. Taken as an average, this is a solid report.

BLITZER: When you say plus or minus margin of error of 100,000 jobs, in other words if 114,000 jobs were created last month it could have been 214,000 or it could have been14,000? Is that what you are saying?

GOOLSBEE: Or 14,000, yes. And you see in these revisions when they're going back to the previous months where there were 80,000, and then you say it was actually 46,000 more than they thought the first time around.

So, you just keep that in mind. The three-month average is a lot more accurate statistic than one month's report.

But look, this fairly solid data coming in. And I think over a longer period we've seen moderate progress that's consistent with modest growth in the U.S. and the modest growth in the U.S. is in excess of the growth rate in almost the entire advanced world. It's a very tough period in a world economy, but it's making some slow progress. I do think it's fairly interesting to compare, if the unemployment rate today is the same as it was when the president took office.

Just remember what that month was when the president took office. I mean, it was horrible. That was a rate of 7.8, but it was shooting upward by large amounts every month. So I think it's pretty different, comparing the past year to that year.

BLITZER: And 700,000 jobs or so were being lost every month in those - in the period leading up to his inauguration. That was a really rough time as a lot of us will remember.

Now, the -- you saw the statement that Mitt Romney released reacting to these latest jobs numbers. This is not what a real recovery looks like, he says. We created fewer jobs in September than in August, fewer jobs in August than in July and we've lost over 600,000 manufacturing jobs since President Obama took office. Would you call this a real recovery or you think he's on to something over here?

GOOLSBEE: I mean, we're clearly recovering. I mean, since the end of the recession, the private sector has added more than 5 million jobs. Now that said, I think he's right that we're still a long way from calling ourselves recovered. I mean, we went way, way down. And we're coming back and we want to be coming back faster.

I think picking the manufacturing employment numbers is somewhat deliberately trying to shape things because you are combing the losses in the recession with the recoveries in the after recession period. And actually, if you look over the last one to two years, manufacturing is having its best two years in several decades during this recovery.

BLITZER: You know, Jack Welch, the former CEO of G.E., he tweeted this. Because he didn't believe these numbers. He tweeted, unbelievable jobs numbers. These Chicago guys will do anything. Can't debate, so change numbers.

Now, there are others who are suggesting there was political influence over the bureau of labor statistics that are driving these numbers trying to make the president look good only a few weeks before the election. You're familiar with the economists, the statisticians who work there. What do you say to these folks who see some conspiratorial involvement out there?

GOOLSBEE: Totally, totally insane. Look, I'm friends with Jack Welch and I tweeted him back. I said Jack, look, I love you, but on this one you've flat out lost your mind. I mean, there's an iron clad fire wall with criminal penalties for anybody at the BLS to have any kind of political interference or to release any of the numbers early. It's totally impossible to do that. You've seen all the reputable Republicans that have worked with the bureau of labor statistics in the past, past eight years.

Come on, say, look, come on, you've got to be kidding on this thing. I kind of think they were kidding. I hope they were kidding. I mean, there's absolutely no evidence of political changing the numbers. And, if somebody were changing the numbers, why would you make the numbers last month worse than expected? Why would you make the pay roll numbers at 114,000 not especially impressive. I mean, why -- it just doesn't make any sense.

BLITZER: All right, Austan. Thanks very much for coming in.

GOOLSBEE: Great to see you again, Wolf.

BLITZER: Austan Goolsbee, joining us.

President Obama wasn't the only one whose debate performance drew some mixed reviews, by the way. Jim Lehrer, the moderator, he was also pinned by some of the critics out there, the pundits. Were the criticism justifies? Stand by.


BLITZER: President Obama wasn't the only one to get some bad reviews for this week's debate performance. There were also some questions about the moderator Jim Lehrer. Watch this.


JIM LEHRER, PBS HOST: Governor Romney, do you have a question you would like to ask the president directly about something he just said?

ROMNEY: Jim, the president began the segment so I think I get the last word.

LEHRER: You get the first word in the next segment.

ROMNEY: But, he gets the fist one of that segment. I get the last word of that segment.

LEHRER: Is there a specific --

ROMNEY: Let me mention the other one --

LEHRER: No, let's not. OBAMA: Before.

LEHRER: Two minutes is up, sir.

OBAMA: No. I think I had five seconds before you interrupted me was --

STEPHANIE CUTTER, OBAMA DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I sometimes wondered if we even need a moderator because we had Mitt Romney. So, he should rethink that for the next debate.


BLITZER: All right, joining us now two journalists from the Web site Lauren Ashburn is the site's founder. She is the editor in chief, also a former managing editor of "USA Today." Howie Kurtz is host of CNN's "Reliable Source." He is also the Washington Bureau chief for "Newsweek" magazine.

He said this in defending himself, Lauren. Let me start with you. He said, this Jim Lehrer. Part of my moderator mission was to stay out of the way of the flow and I had no problems with doing so. My only real personal frustration was discovering that 90 minutes was not enough time in that more open format to cover every issue that deserved attention.

What do you think of all the criticism he's been getting?

LAUREN ASHBURN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, DAILY-DOWNLOAD.COM: Let's just talk about what was on twitter. That let's not comment that he made was the most tweeted comment of the entire night through the entire 90 minutes. And I think people were really looking to him to stop the Romney bull dozing. And he might not have done that as much as some people might have liked.

BLITZER: Howie, what do you think?

HOWIE KURTZ, CNN HOST, RELIABLE SOURCE: Well, I talked to Jim Lehrer. And he told me that yes, he was frustrated at times at the candidates keep running through the stop signs. And he perhaps, he could have done a tighter job of reigning in both president and the former governor.

But Jim Lehrer wanted this to be about the candidates and not about him. He said this was a new format in which the candidates weren't tightly restricted to the 90-second responses going 60-seconds answer. He wanted to let them to go at it. He wanted to let them make the case. He wanted them to challenge each other. There were times I thought he could have jumped in with a follow-up and said yes, you said this six months ago, but he said he would do that on his PBS show as an interviewer, not as a moderator in a presidential debate.

ASHBURN: But, I think he should have set that up. That that was in term in cake.

KURTZ: Because the audience didn't know. ASHBURN: Nobody knew that's what he's doing. If that was the way he decided to change the debate, maybe at the top he could have said we're going to do something different and here's what it is. And I think that might have tempered some of the criticism.

BLITZER: I think what might have worked better if they were all sitting around a small table the three of them, instead of Jim Lehrer so far below and these guys' its podiums or whatever. It is hard to control a debate like that. At least when three people are sitting around a table, you can have a discussion, you can have it interchanged, and the moderator could use body language, you can stop things, he can move along. But that's just my assessment.

I want you to listen to what Candy Crowley. She's going to be moderating the second presidential debate, our own Candy Crowley what she said about some of this. Listen to this.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm not sure the minutes. I mean, in the end, this debate is, you know, brought to you by these candidates. And to me, it's better to hear from the candidates than to hear from the moderator. And I think Jim is one of those that always is very intent on trying to get the two of them to talk to one another to kind of try to explore those differences.


BLITZER: And that's his history. He goes way back, I think to the '80s moderating these presidential debates. He wanted to be - I know Jim Lehrer. This is the last thing he wanted to be part of this conversation. He didn't want to be obviously criticized, but it doesn't go in his nature. He wanted to let them debate, Lauren.

ASHBURN: Right. And I think that maybe some of the criticism was misplaced. I also believe the role of social media now is such that those one liners and zingers, are what really drive the conversation now. So, the let's not moment, I get five more seconds moment, big bird moment, that happened are people on twitter and facebook are talking about. And I think that because of that, that's what the media cover, and then that's what becomes, the reality of what's happened.

KURTZ: And that's where I'm disappointed in the media's performance, Wolf. It's political theater and of course the zingers and the body language, the president looking down, is all part of the story. But, it is our responsibility and with some exceptions, I haven't seen enough of this, to deal with was Romney moving away, or moving partially away from part of his tax plan, or is he saying he would repeal the Dodd-Frank banking law. Did the president exaggerate the number of jobs that he created. There have been some fact checks on CNN and elsewhere, but it seems to me the focus has been on the clash and styles and on much less to what was, to Lehrer's credit, a very substantive debate.

BLITZER: You know, the social media role is fascinating. I remember watching this debate before there was all the social media, especially the twitter and you sit in a room. There will be four, five people and you would talk about it, you hear what they thing as the 90- ,imutes is going on.

Now, you are listening to the 90-minutes, but in the process you're reading all these tweets coming in from all the pundits out there, people that you are following or whatever and you're hearing Bill Maher say this or somebody else say that and that obviously is going to have an impact on what the final result, Lauren, of what the pundits are going to say on television 90 minutes later. What do you hear during the course of those 90 minutes not just from a very small group of people in the room with you, but now from maybe a thousand people you're following.

ASHBURN: It becomes group think at that point. We used to talk about pack-journalism, well, this is a sort of the equivalent, the mass market equivalent. And you know, there were 10.3 million tweets in that 90 minutes. That was more, Wolf, than the entire Democratic National Convention. So not only is social media beginning to drive, but it is really taking off from this point.

KURTZ: And not only does it happen in real time, you don't have to wait for the network's snap polls. But I think the comments are more nuance, who won, who lost. We do a lot of tweets about Medicare for example, when the candidates clashed on that. So, you really get a real time snapshot and people don't have to have a television station or the printing press, they have the meg phone of social media. And I think that is a healthy event.

ASHBURN: And the Google search terms, this was interesting, the top Google search term is Simpson-Bowles was one of them. I think people were using Google to get information. Everyone is now two-screening it or three-screening it. As you said, you're not just watching the debate.

BLITZER: It's the nature of the world right now.

All right, guy. Thanks very much.

Howie is going to have a lot more coming up Sunday morning on "Reliable Sources." It is only here on CNN, 11:00 Eastern. Howie, we will be watching.

Thanks very much.

KURTZ: Thanks, Wolf.

All right, in the wake of the first presidential debate, is big bird, yes, big bird, really an endangered species? We're going to have a reality check.


BLITZER: Mitt Romney's debate remark that he had cut funding for public broadcasting, even though he loves big bird, set of an explosion on social media. Get this. On facebook, mentions of big bird increased by 800,000 percent.

Lisa Sylvester has ore on the reaction.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Most of the debate as expected focused on the core issues of the day.


SYLVESTER: Then there was this.

ROMNEY: I'm sorry, Jim, I'm going to stop this subsidy to PBS. I'm going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love big bird. Actually like you, too. But I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it.

SYLVESTER: The mere mention of cutting funds to big bird sent the social media world into high gear. Pictures like this, with big bird on the ropes. President Obama on the campaign trail.

OBAMA: I mean, thank goodness somebody is finally getting tough on big bird.

SYLVESTER: The Pentagon, which has been a close ally of the eight foot tall bird, was asked about it at the briefing.

GEORGE LITTLE, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not going to get into politics here. I wouldn't want to ruffle any feathers, so to speak.

SYLVESTER: But big bird has some conservatives a little plucked. They argue that it's time to stop funding public broadcast programs like Sesame Street, NPR and the PBS news hour.

Brian Darling is with the conservative heritage foundation.

BRIAN DARLING, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: It's not well spent at all. I mean, using public funds to fund different news outlets, to fund entertainment programs, is not what the federal government should be doing. And furthermore, it's a waste of money when there are so many private resources that are doing very similar functions.

We all love big bird, but maybe it's time for him to go out and find a real job in the private sector and stop sponging off the federal government.

SYLVESTER: Is big bird part of the infamous 47 percent? Well, here's how it breaks down.

The corporation for public broadcasting receives about $445 million a year. Seventy percent of that goes directly to local PBS stations that rely on federal funds and private donations to stay in business.

But big bird and the rest of the Sesame Street gang actually stand on their own feet. Ninety-three percent of that program is paid for by licensing fees and corporate underwriting. So who could be hurt? PBS president Paula Kerger says stations, particularly those in rural parts of the country, will go dark without the federal dollars.

PAULA KERGER, PBS PRESIDENT: For many families that do not have access to computers, that may not have books in the home, they have televisions and public broadcasting is really their way of accessing content that will help their children have the basic skills that will enable them to be successful in school.

SYLVESTER: PBS says what they receive is less than a hundredth of a percentage point of federal budget.

And even big bird weighed in with this tweet saying quote, "my bedtime is usually 7:45, but I was really tired yesterday and fell asleep at 7:00." Did I miss anything last night?

Lisa Sylvester, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: It's the same man but sometimes a different sound.


OBAMA: I'm the son of a black man.

Where's your dollar?

I can no more disown him --

You got some better speakers.


Jeannie Moos takes a closer look at President Obama's changing accents.


BLITZER: Here's a look at this hour's hot shots.

In Australia, waves crash against the rocks after a storm.

In Shri Lanka, Buddhist, monks protest outside the Bangladesh high commission.

In London, a woman stands in the rain room. A new art installation.

And in Germany, a seal looks out of a wicker basket before she's returned to the wild.

Hot shots. Pictures coming in from around the world.

Is President Obama flip-flopping when it comes to his accent?

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Same president.

OBAMA: The Obama presidency.

MOOS: Two different accents.

OBAMA: I'm the son of a black man.

Where's your dollar?

I can no more disown him --

You got some better speakers.

That made me cringe.

In this country.

That may seem jarring to the untrained ear.

MOOS: What seems especially jarring to some conservative ears is that the president's speech changes when he addresses an African-American audience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The falseness here is overwhelming.

MOOS: But some linguists say the falseness would have been if the president didn't change his speech. Especially considering he's African-American.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That audience would say what makes him such a stuffed shirt.

MOOS: But, conservative critics like Sean Hannity are attacking President Obama's delivery.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX HOST: He went into Al Gore preacher mode and Republicans have the wrong agenda.

MOOS: For instance, when Al Gore addressed the NAACP.

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The tap root of racism is hundreds of years long.

MOOS: What critics call pandering.

OBAMA: We got too many daddies, not acting like daddies.

MOOS: Linguists call accommodating.

DENNIS PRESTON, PROFESSOR, OKLAHOMA STATE UNIVERSITY: As linguists we find this kind of switching back and forth to be pretty natural, pretty automatic, and very often, even outside the conscious control of the speaker. MOOS: But accommodating is harder to pull off, when it's not your natural dialect.

ROMNEY: Who let the dogs out?

MOOS: Mitt Romney seemed to realize that when he poked fun at himself talking southern.

ROMNEY: Morning, you all. Good to be with you.

MOOS: Hillary Clinton was mocked as Kentucky fried Hillary when she went over the top at an African-American church.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I come too far from where I started from.

MOOS: In this case -- Hillary was actually performing lines from a gospel hymn made famous by reverend James Cleveland.

What the politicians do is not to be confused with an actual Medical condition called foreign accent syndrome. It changed this Florida woman's accent following a stroke from this --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've got fabulous things --

MOOS: To this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I felt like I was going bloody crazy.

MOOS: For politicians, acquiring an accent --

OBAMA: The miracle of that baby --

OBAMA: Sometimes can't be overcome.

Jeanne Moos, CNN.

GORE: Crooked places shall be made straight.

MOOS: New York.


BLITZER: Funny. You can always follow what's going on here in the SITUATION ROOM on twitter. Tweet me @wolfblitzer.

That's it for now. Thanks very much for watching. The news continues next on CNN.