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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Mandela And The Media; Reporter Won't Have To Divulge Sources; All I Want For Christmas is New Songs

Aired December 10, 2013 - 16:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The Politics Lead now. It's a showdown in the Lone Star State. Perhaps another warning shot for the Republican establishment. Texas Congressman Steve Stockman, a Tea Party favorite, just threw his hat into the ring for next year's Senate race and a primary challenge against fellow Texan and incumbent senator John Cornyn, member of the Senate Republican leadership who has been ranked as one of the more conservative members of the Senate staff.

In 2008, Cornyn ran this web ad, borrowing a tune from the late great Johnny Cash.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: See, I'm from Texas, where we do things quick. And the way this place is run is about to make me sick. Big John. Big John.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Ah, yes, the work of Fred Davis. Can the self-styled big bad John, can he be taken down? Let's ask our panel. CNN political commentator and columnist for "The New York Times" Ross Douthat. Democratic strategist and former senior advisor to the Hillary Clinton campaign, Kiki McLean. And White House correspondent for Yahoo! News, Olivier Knox.

Ross, I'll start with you. Cornyn has a war chest of $7 million. Stockman, $32,000.

ROSS DOUTHAT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And he's sending out some great direct mail, except he's sending it out online. He's putting up fundraising appeals that basically describe -- the name John Cornyn as only mentioned with the epithet liberal attached. So, it's liberal John Cornyn should take his Massachusetts values --

TAPPER: He's really calling him a liberal?

DOUTHAT: Oh, you haven't - oh, yes. No, no, no, the Stockman pitch is that it's liberal John Cornyn has, you know, betrayed conservatism in 17 different ways. And if he wants to be a liberal in the Senate, he should run for the Senate for Massachusetts. So, look, it will be entertaining at the very least.

TAPPER: I guess you could make the case Steve Stockman is more conservative than John Cornyn.

DOUTHAT: Well, you can. There's a substantive difference in their lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union. And that seven percent is the seven percent on which the American republic stands or falls.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: But Olivier, does Steve Stockman have a chance here? You never know, really.

OLIVIER KNOX, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, YAHOO! NEWS: It's going to be really fun to watch both this race and the one in Kentucky, where Republican leaders, people who are known as bedrock conservatives, are facing challenges on this notion that they are somehow not true to the faith. Matt Bevin in Kentucky, Steve Stockman in Texas.

I'm not hearing a lot of concern from the establishment, though. I think that the National Republican Senate committee would like Harry Reid and the White House to maybe stop praising McConnell and Cornyn.

TAPPER: But I mean, Kiki --

KIKI MCLEAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I'm a Texan here. I'm from south Texas, born and reared, and --

TAPPER: I keep hearing about that state coming blue.

DOUTHAT: Her color today is a testament --

MCLEAN: I wore this sweater today -- the guys were going to go to fashion --

TAPPER: Here's the only actually blue Texas I have ever seen is here.

MCLEAN: So, well, you know I grew up (INAUDIBLE) with Mr. Pickle and Barbara Jordan and Lloyd Benson.

TAPPER: Ann Richards.

MCLEAN: Ann Richards. The thing about Texas politics you have to remember, they don't like people from outside the country -- no offense, gentlemen, we call it the country -- from telling them what will or won't work in their politics. That seven percent you refer to, there's a $7 million but there is also that seven percent -- remember, this is a primary fight.

TAPPER: Right.

MCLEAN: And Governor Perry has done a lot to cede the -- stoke the emotional fire, the super-uber Tea Party conservatives in Texas. So we can giggle and laugh and there's a lot of reasons statistically to do that in this one, but don't be surprised if --

TAPPER: The only thing I'm laughing at is liberal John Cornyn because he's not a liberal. DOUTHAT: There's a real -- Stockman's argument, right, is focused in this pitch that I can't believe I'm the only one who has read is focused particularly on the debate about defunding Obamacare and the debate about the government shutdown. And it's exactly the line of argument that I think we expected coming out of that inter-Republican debate to be used.

TAPPER: No, I take it very seriously. Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

MCLEAN: But what's interesting about that --

DOUTHAT: (INADUIBLE) says he's pro Obamacare. That's the argument.

TAPPER: Right.

MCLEAN: Yes. What's interesting is in a big picture, you would look at for a general election you would say he's not telling you what he wants to do which is what he has to do in order to win in terms of Stockman. But in another sense, he's starting his campaign by filing -- explaining why he's done it by giving already that boiled-down messaging. Why I don't like that liberal Cornyn, as he calls him.

TAPPER: But remember, Ted Cruz, the other senator from Texas, he was not the Republican party establishment favorite in Texas.

KNOX: And I think that's why we're seeing a lot of attention from the media that some of these early primary announcements. A lot of reporters feel a little burned from the last time the way they handled the Ted Cruzes or even going back, Rand Paul. I think we are seeing a lot of attention for that reason.

I wasn't focusing so much on the liberal John Cornyn. I did like that Steve Stockman told supporters they would not have to face actual bayonets.

(LAUGHTER)

DOUTHAT: Not yet. Not yet.

MCLEAN: But here's the other thing. No incumbent wants a primary challenge, regardless of how comical you may think it is or isn't, it's bad. This is a demonstration that there is not cohesion in the Republican Party. There's a lack of leadership in the Republican Party. And right now, doesn't even look like anybody's getting the tools in an effort to build a bridge to bring that party back together. That's the problem.

TAPPER: Let's talk about cohesion and leadership because there's at least an indication there is some lacking at the White House with the announcement that John Podesta, former Clinton White House chief of staff is coming on board the Obama White House to become counselor. I'm not exactly -- maybe you know, Olivier, being a White House correspondent. What exactly is he going to be doing? KNOX: Well, I think he's going to be trying to steady the ship over there. This guy has a long career in Washington. He's done a lot of work like before in the Clinton White House, for example. I think this is clearly the transfusion. The question is whether the transfusion before the amputation in terms of the White House staff. The president and other top aides have suggested that somewhere down the line, probably after they smooth out the wrinkles -- putting it mildly for Obamacare -- they would be open to looking at a review of the team, seeing who's playing well and who's not. I haven't heard anything about amputation yet, but this is a very interesting transfusion.

TAPPER: Kiki, a brand new Pew Poll out this hour has President Obama at a new historic low, 38 percent approval. I mean, they need to do something.

MCLEAN: Look, he doesn't need to raise his approval ratings just for the sake of raising them. Big change like Obamacare --

DOUTHAT: It would be nice.

MCLEAN: Well, those are nice --

DOUTHAT: Hypothetically.

MCLEAN: Those are nice to make us all feel good on a panel, but that doesn't have anything to do with -- what his numbers are doesn't have anything to do with the kind of work he's trying to do for the country. Big change comes with a cost sometimes of your own favorability rating.

I want to challenge the premise of how you opened this conversation by talking about the lack of leadership. I actually think when a leader brings in great talent, that's a tremendous sign of leadership. To invite somebody like John Podesta to join the team when there are big, difficult issues at hand, I think is a remarkable sign of leadership.

TAPPER: Well, if you're bringing in a good leader, then I'm just saying that you had a lack and then you brought it in -

(CROSSTALK)

MCLEAN: I think good leaders bring good talent to the team.

(CROSSTALK)

DOUTHAT: I think two points about Podesta. One, this is a guy who in his first tour as chief of staff in the Clinton years has experienced basically running a White House at the end of an administration, when you aren't doing a lot of big things in Congress, you are mostly doing things through the bureaucracy, you know. And Podesta is incredibly hooked up with, you know, Washington insiders of every stripe, industry, and so on.

And then the other thing, to your point, the approval ratings need to go up for the Democrats to survive in 2014. (CROSSTALK)

MCLEAN: The other benefit of John joining them is people are tired.

TAPPER: Right people are burned out.

Kiki Mclean, Ross Douthat and Olivier Knox, thank you all so much. Great job.

Coming up, world leaders past and present, royalty, celebrities, tycoons, all in Johannesburg for Nelson Mandela's funeral, history and huge news happening in that one spot. So why did most of the network news anchors stay home?

Plus, will a court force a reporter with a big story to reveal her sources? That's next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Back to THE LEAD now. The Buried Lead, it was an historic farewell, complete with a phalanx of camera crews, celebrities, more than 100 world leaders past and present, but a notable no-show at today's memorial for Nelson Mandela, network news anchors.

Of the big three, only NBC's Brian Williams was on hand to witness history. Was it a media snub or was it just a sign of the times? The Associated Press writes quote, "The mood shows how economics and a dwindling interest in international news are changing the biggest broadcast networks."

Where a decade ago there would have been little question that their most prominent faces would be on hand for such a big story. Joining me to discuss, CNN senior media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES," Brian Stelter.

Brian, I should note here at CNN, our colleagues Christiane Amanpour, Anderson Cooper, Chris Cuomo, all anchors, all made the trip. This obviously isn't about bragging rights. It's about the changing face of news. What's your reaction to this notable absence?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": There was a time and an age when all three nightly news anchors would have been there. Where anchors go, attention follows, and I was pretty surprised to see that Dianne Sawyer of ABC and Scott Paley of CBS did not travel to South Africa for the memorial service or for the other services this week.

But ABC and CBS, folks there would say it's a different time and a different age now, and that it's better to have reporters who have covered Mandela all his life actually there while having the anchors back in studio. They say this attitude that I'm expressing is kind of obsolete.

TAPPER: Let me play devil's advocate with you because Diane is a friend. I obviously used to work at ABC News. I understand their argument. There just isn't the interest in world news among the American people and there isn't the money, it's incredibly expensive to broadcast from a place like Johannesburg.

STELTER: Or any of the war zones that the United States finds itself, you know, involved in right now. I sometimes think to myself if one of the nightly news anchors who has eight or nine or ten million viewers a night went to Afghanistan every few months and gave us an update on the war there, the American people might remember the wars in the same way that if they were to go to South Africa, we would be more aware of the Mandela memorial service.

But you know, that might be an argument that was more true ten years ago than it is now. After all, if you want to learn about the memorial service today, there are endless amounts of information about it online, on the internet, including from articles from ABC and CBS and other outlets that didn't send anchors there.

This is maybe an example of the changing media landscape, where the internet is providing most international news and where television is more focused on domestic news.

TAPPER: I wonder if anyone is willing to suggest that maybe the viewers are just not as interested in the wars, Afghanistan or before that, Iraq, or international events and ultimately, this being a commercial enterprise, we're beholden to them in what they want.

STELTER: There is a significant part of that that is true. I found myself thinking earlier today when I read that Associated Press article you quoted, if American viewers really wanted more coverage of Africa, then there would be more coverage of Africa. Right now, there are very small bureaus in Africa among the three major networks. ABC for example, has someone in Nairobi but no one in Johannesburg, just to give one example.

If American viewers really, really wanted more coverage, there would be more coverage because they would be reacting to the market demand. Instead, what American viewers are more interested in, it seems like, is coverage of issues here in the United States. Of course, if you're interested in world news, there has never been more of it online. But instead of being passive, leaning back and watching it on TV, you have to be active and seek it out on your own terms.

TAPPER: Brian Stelter, thanks, and welcome to THE LEAD. Good to have you on. You can see Brian every Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern on "RELIABLE SOURCES" only on CNN.

A Fox News reporter will not have to betray her confidential sources or go to jail. Lawyers for the alleged gunman in the Colorado movie theatre shootings wanted New York-based journalist, Janna Winter, to reveal who gave her information about his notebook. James Holmes reportedly described his plans for violence in that notebook before the shootings and mailed it to his psychiatrist.

His lawyer said those sources may have violated a gag order and lied under oath and they wanted Janna Winter to name names, but a New York appeals court ruled that state law shields her from having to go back to Colorado and give up her sources. Winter said she would have gone to jail first. Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to multiple counts of murder and attempted murder. His trial has been put on hold indefinitely.

Coming up on THE LEAD, all I want for Christmas is new Christmas music. You would think people would get tired of doing the Jingle Bell Rock after 56 years, but the season's newest tunes go over about as well as Aunt Marie's fruitcake. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. The Pop Culture Lead, it's the Christmas season again. You may have noticed. It begs the question, do you hear what I hear? No, it's not the sound of sleigh bells ringing. It's the heavy rotation of Christmas music. It's big business worth tens of millions of dollars, but the sound track, well, seems almost as old as the holiday itself.

In a world where someone can be creative enough to invent the Cronut, is it really that hard for today's song makers to come up with something new, a catchy tune that forces them to rhyme the word mistletoe?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): As you're zipping around holiday shopping, attending religious services and generally spreading yuletide cheer, you are likely to notice something. Your jingle bell rocking to yourself, humming, the same tune, probably the same one as last year and the year before that one, too. "White Christmas" by Bing Crosby. Check.

The classic duet, "Baby It's Cold Outside." Check. That one premiered in the 1949 film "Neptune's Daughter" from MGM, this year's twist on it? Now you can hear it as sung by "The Gang" from "Duck Dynasty."

Every year, holiday stations churn out the same musty standards. The only twist, it seems, is who is belting them out. But no new songs seem to break the candy cane ceiling.

CHRIS KLIMEK, SLATE.COM: It's hard to figure out why it is that even though we still have the top stars of today writing original Christmas songs, none of them have really broken through.

TAPPER: Chris Klimek wrote a piece for slate.com pinning down this Christmas song trend. He points out that the latest modern holiday song to stick was, well, take it away, Mariah Carey with "All I Want For Christmas Is You."

KLIMEK: It's not that there are no more good Christmas songs coming out. It's that we as a culture have stopped embracing the new ones that do come out. It's been 19 years since Mariah Carey released "All I Want For Christmas Is You."

TAPPER: That's right. The newest of holiday standards is 19 years old. Before that, the "Waitress's Christmas Wrapping," now a perennial holiday song on the radio, came out in 1981. It's hard to write a new standard. Big pop names haven't stopped writing Christmas songs, it's just that we, the public, we have stopped embracing them, maybe rightfully so? Remember in 2008, Lady Gaga released "Christmas Tree." In 2010, Coldplay offered "Christmas Lights." How about 2011, Justin Bieber's "Mistletoe."

ANI JOHNSON, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF MUSIC BUSINESS, BERKLEE COLLEGE OF MUSIC: They want to do something that's popular with their fan base when really Christmas is about nostalgia, it's about harkening back to good times, to youth.

TAPPER: Ani Johnson is an associate professor of music business at Berkelee College of Music. She's worked in the music industry for years with everyone from Gloria Estefan to Parliament Funkadelic.

JOHNSON: With Gloria Stefan, it was really easy. Often times artists do this at a point of their career where they are trying to harken back to things that they did at the beginning of their career that were wildly popular.

TAPPER: Are we no longer willing to embrace new Christmas songs? Are we only willing to enjoy stars regurgitating classics like Bing Crosby and David Bowie with "Little Drummer Boy?" We have to wait for the next generation of holiday tune risk takers to see what holds and if anything sticks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Kelly Clarkson, Mary J. Blige, Jewel, they've all released new Christmas albums this year. Among those three albums, you will only find a handful of new Christmas songs. So far, none of them are getting touted as classics. Bah-humbug.

The era of live holiday musicals may officially be coming back thanks to the success of NBC's broadcast of "The Sound of Music" live. The network is already making plans to air another musical next year. There's no official word on what the show will be, but rumor has it Peter Pan is a top contender.

The live "Sound Of Music" remake was a ratings hit for the network even though critics were ready to say so long to star Carrie Underwood's performance minutes into the show. The broadcast did well in social media, drawing more than 450,000 tweets, some of them even nice.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I'll be back in two hours substitute anchoring on Erin Burnett "OUTFRONT" at 7 p.m. Eastern. I now turn you over to Mr. Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Wolf.