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Interview With Tony Snow; Coverage of Mary Cheney's Pregnancy

Aired December 10, 2006 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): Under fire. Tony Snow grilled in the press room as the Baker commission and the next defense secretary cast doubt on the administration's approach to Iraq. Are journalists going too far in framing the war effort as a failure, or is Snow just denying reality? And what's it like to face a room full of badgering reporters?

We'll ask the White House press secretary.

Mary's baby. Mary Cheney's pregnancy caught in the ideological sniping of her same-sex marriage. Is it a legitimate news story and why are some outlets treating it as mere gossip?

Plus, when less is more. How to sell a shrinking newspaper.


KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where today we turn our critical lens on the White House press secretary.

I'm Howard Kurtz.

In the six months since he left FOX News to become President Bush's spokesman, Tony Snow has had to fight two wars. He's been the public face of the administration as the carnage in Iraq has spiraled out of control, a major factor in the Republicans losing control of Congress. And he's had to fight the daily battles with the press corps, with briefings that frequently turn hostile.

I sat down with him in the White House press room to talk about how he deals with the media.


KURTZ: Tony Snow, welcome to the program.


KURTZ: The tone in this pressroom this week has been very contentious, and really for months.

Is the White House getting a fair shake from the press corps?

SNOW: You know, I don't know. Whether they're being... KURTZ: That means you think it's not and you don't want to say so?

SNOW: No. What it means is it's not my business to be picking fights with the press corps. You've got to keep in mind that what we do have is a political season where there are a lot of highly contentious issues. And you also have a time now where you're having a debate about Iraq, where passions run high. So, you've got to expect from time to time people are going to push, and sometimes I'll push back. But I don't -- I actually don't see it as that contentious.

Maybe it's a sign of how genteel the American press or civil the American press is compared to, say, the British press, where after we did the press conference the other with British Prime Minster Tony Blair, the people in the Blair entourage were saying, "You people are so nice." So, I actually -- I view good, tough questioning of the press secretary as kind of the normal order of business.

KURTZ: Well, then we won't disappoint you here.

SNOW: Yes.

KURTZ: But when you push back, you push back hard. On Wednesday, you objected to a question from NBC's David Gregory...

SNOW: Right.

KURTZ: ... about the Baker-Hamilton report.


DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: The co-chairs say the following: "Stay the course is no longer viable. The current approach is not work. The situation is grave and deteriorating."

Can this report be seen as anything other than a rejection of this president's handling of the war?

SNOW: You need to understand that trying to frame it in a partisan way is actually at odds with what the group itself says it wanted to do. And so you may try to do whatever you want in terms of rejection. That's not the way they view it.

GREGORY: I just want to be clear. Are you suggesting that I'm trying to frame this in a partisan way?

SNOW: Yes.

GREGORY: You are? Why? Based on the fact that...

SNOW: Because what...

GREGORY: Wait a minute. Wait a second. Based on quoting the report and the chairmen and I'm asking you a straight question which you're not answering straight. You're actually -- you're trying to answer it by nitpicking it.

SNOW: No, here's the...


KURTZ: He was quoting from the co-chairmen, and you said, "You're trying to frame it in a partisan way."

SNOW: Well, no. He used words that were in the report, but actually did not quote from the report. And I don't want to re- litigate this, but let me just make a simple point.

What was interesting about the Baker-Hamilton report -- and I brought my dog-eared personal copy with me which I had read at that time -- and I don't think members of the press, really, at the beginning of this briefing had had a full opportunity. It had been available to them for two hours and to me for five.

So, I'd read the whole thing. And I sat through the meeting with the Baker-Hamilton commission and I heard Vernon Jordan and Ed Meese and everybody else talk about the fact that they weren't looking back, they were deliberately not trying to have critiques of the administration performance, and they were trying to establish a bipartisan basis for working together on an issue of overwhelming national interest.

That was the whole -- that was the whole gist of it. This is a report -- I think a lot of times members of the press looked at this as the Baker-Hamilton commission having been given a baseball bat to whack the administration on the side of the head. And instead, what they said is, "No, we're here to help."

KURTZ: But when you say to David Gregory -- you're asking a question in a partisan way...

SNOW: Yes.

KURTZ: And a few months ago you accused him of asking a question that reflected the Democratic point of view.

SNOW: Right.

KURTZ: That is a really serious charge for a lot of journalists.

SNOW: Well, and I will tell you why. Because, number one, it did not reflect the stated views and approaches of the commission itself. I mean, what they had said.

Secondly, I'd only heard that particular formulation through a partisan lens as a critique of the president, rather than as a critique of -- or a characterization of the report itself. Again, if you want to take a look at this, Lee Hamilton and Jim Baker, both, it pains (ph) to say, this is an opportunity to work in a bipartisan basis, we're not here to look back, we're not here to criticize. And so... KURTZ: But you're free -- you're free to dismiss questions as you see fit.

SNOW: Yes.

KURTZ: But in this case, it seems like you're challenging the reporter's motivation.

SNOW: Well...

KURTZ: Do you think David Gregory is an honest reporter?

SNOW: Yes, David is -- very often, I think David works very hard to be fair. And I've said that to him. But it is certainly worthwhile to question motivations -- or not the motivations, the assumptions of a question. And then I proceeded to say, "OK, let's take a look."

KURTZ: The question that David Gregory asked was, "Is this a rejection of the administration's policy?"

SNOW: No, but...

KURTZ: And, in fact, the "New York Times" and the "Chicago Tribune" called it a "rebuke of the administration policy" and the "Wall Street Journal" called it a "searing critique." So you're taking a position, speaking for the administration.

SNOW: I understand that.

KURTZ: It's very different from the way news organizations are characterizing this.

SNOW: Well, yes, but news organizations were characterizing, interestingly, in direct defiance and contradiction to what the people who wrote it said. And it is worth taking into account the motive's aims and objectives rather than saying, "Ah-ha, here's a searing critique."

For instance, is it searing critique that this report says, at the beginning of its own segment on actions forward, that it says, and I quote, and this was not something I was asked about, "We agree with the goal of U.S. policy in Iraq as stated by the president."

KURTZ: The goal?

SNOW: "An Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself."

But that's important.

KURTZ: They also said the policy is not working.

SNOW: No, what they said is that you need a new policy. What they also said is, the policy of precipitant withdrawal, which had been raised in the campaign season, "would be wrong for the United States to abandon the country through a precipitant withdrawal of troops and support a premature American departure from Iraq, would almost certainly produce greater sectarian violence."

KURTZ: Let me ask you about something else you said about Iraq. You said, "What I think is demoralizing is a constant effort to try to portray this as a losing mission.

Do you think that journalists deliberately portray Iraq as a losing effort?

SNOW: I don't know if it's deliberate or not, but there is a failure narrative that tends to run through a lot. And you, I'm sure, have talked to servicemen who come back and say, "Why don't they cover what I do? This is not what I see."

And they constantly hear stories -- for instance, this week the, "Are we winning, are we losing" debate. Rather than an acknowledgement that wars are grueling and long, and they are difficult, and they are characterized by the unexpected, and that they draw upon resources of national will, blood, and treasure, and they're tough things. And the idea that you sort of do a snapshot of win/lose, rather than taking a look at broader metrics or broader things that are going on. To give you an example...

KURTZ: It was the president's nominee, Roberts Gates, for defense secretary who said, "We're not winning" (INAUDIBLE).

SNOW: Well, he also said we're not losing. And Pete Chiarelli, who's the general on the ground, said we are winning militarily.

KURTZ: If you were still the host of "FOX News Sunday," and you were interviewing me as an administration official here, wouldn't you ask whether we were winning? Wouldn't you ask about the criticism from the Baker-Hamilton report?

SNOW: Well, you know what I might be inclined to ask about is what's actually going on over there. And I might be inclined to start listening, also, to some of the things that we have tried to talk about.

For instance, in the Baker-Hamilton commission report, there's a lot attention on what Iraq needs to do. And low and behold, the prime minister, this week, talked in various, sort of, terms about a number of things that are included within that.

You see, one of the key questions, maybe the key question, Howie, is how is it possible, and is the Iraq government willing to do what it takes to win? This is the question that the commission has asked and a number of politicians, rightly, have asked.

The president has confidence in Prime Minister Maliki. Why? Because he's a man of action. You've got a six-month-old government, and this week he tackled a lot of the tough stuff -- militia violence, shaking up his government, going after corruption...


KURTZ: But when a memo from your national security advisor is leaked, it says that -- raises questions about Maliki, what he can accomplish, shouldn't journalists ask about that?

SNOW: You know what they should have asked about as well? The back half of it.

What it says is, "Here are questions you may ask." And the judgment at that point was that you had somebody -- his chief problem was not willingness, it wasn't whether he had his eyes open, but whether he had the capability. And therefore, the bulk of that memo, as you know, had to deal with beefing up capabilities.

KURTZ: A week before the election, as you know, President Bush told three wire service reporters that Don Rumsfeld would stay on at the Pentagon until the end of his term.

SNOW: Yes.

KURTZ: The day after the election, when Rumsfeld was out, the president said, "I didn't want to inject a major decision about this war in the final days of the campaign."

SNOW: Yes.

KURTZ: You were asked about this as well.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why isn't it less than straightforward to say a week before the election that Secretary Rumsfeld would stay through the remainder of the administration when the president knew that wasn't the case?

SNOW: Well, he didn't know it was the case because he didn't have a suitable -- what he considered a suitable replacement, and hadn't had the final conversations with Don Rumsfeld.


KURTZ: You talked about there'd been no final decision and no suitable replacement had been found.

SNOW: Right.

KURTZ: But, can you now acknowledge that the president wanted to duck it and he gave a misleading answer?

SNOW: No. I'm not going to get into characterizing it.

KURTZ: Was it fair for journalists to point out that the president's answer didn't match what he'd already planned to do.

SNOW: Yes. Yes, I think -- look, it was perfectly fair for journalists to talk about that. KURTZ: All right.

The Mark Foley congressional page scandal. On Friday, the House Ethics Committee came out and said that no member of Congress broke any rules, but that some remained willfully (INAUDIBLE) of what former Congressman Foley was doing with those teenagers. Disconcerting unwillingness to take responsibility.

My question to you is, you stood up at this podium day after day and took a lot of question on this.

SNOW: Yes.

KURTZ: In retrospect, did the media overplay that scandal?

SNOW: I don't know. You know, I mean it's -- that's the kind of story that -- that naturally grabs people's attention.

It is behavior that is so bad, that in some ways -- you know how it is, people look at this stuff. They want hear about it.

So, I don't know if they -- the fact is, this is a guy who grotesquely betrayed the public trust. So, you know, I'm not going to worry about whether it was overplayed or underplayed. The fact is, stuff like that should never happen.

I mean, a kid who comes to Washington to be a page should not have to worry about their personal security or even getting pinged by a member of Congress. What they ought to be concerned about is having a glorious experience with the world's greatest representative government. So, you know, and now when I think -- I'm not going to -- I'm not going to raise judgment about who ran it or how often.

KURTZ: After the scandal broke, you did an interview with CNN's Soledad O'Brien and you talked about Foley's correspondence as being "naughty e-mails."

SNOW: Right.

KURTZ: And you acknowledged that that was a poor choice of words, so I don't want to dwell on it. But...

SNOW: Well, I'll also point out that that was one of six interviews given during about a 40-minute span that morning. And furthermore, in the broader context, I was pretty clear that it was unacceptable behavior.

But it's interesting. Look, it's perfectly fair criticism, because when you're press secretary, every word counts, or in this particular case, one word and a hyphenated second word counted, so I take full responsibility

KURTZ: I was going to give you a pass on that.

SNOW: I take full responsibility.

KURTZ: All right.

Soledad O'Brien asked you, "Does the president and does the administration stand by Representative Hastert has far as he has lead so far on this issue?"

SNOW: Yes.

KURTZ: And you said, "Again, we have to find out what's going on here. You're trying to create problems. What you are trying to do is pick fights here."

It seems to be a recurring theme when journalists press you. You kind of accuse them of being troublemakers.

SNOW: No, I don't think so. I think that that was a fair characterization of what was going on.

KURTZ: But here's the question: "Do you stand by what Representative Hastert has done?"

SNOW: Yes.

KURTZ: How was that picking a fight?

SNOW: No, and then it's, you know, "do you, does the president," and the fact is, it's trying to get the president to render judgment on internal deliberations within the House office, where the president is, as is the normal course of business, is not going to be privy to the internal deliberations in the House office. The House of Representatives and members of Congress are very jealous of their prerogatives, as they ought to be, and what they say is, "White House, thank you very much, but butt out."

So, therefore, to be called upon to render judgment on something that, under no circumstance, would we be privy is sort of an attempt to provoke.


KURTZ: After the break, more of my interview with the White House press secretary. We'll find out how Snow views his boss' relationship with journalists and the performance art of briefing the press.

Coming up at 11:00 a.m. Eastern, Iraq Study Group co-chairmen, James Baker, Lee Hamilton, are Wolf's guests on "LATE EDITION."

And later on CNN, 1:00 p.m. Eastern, join John Roberts for "THIS WEEK AT WAR."


KURTZ: Welcome back.

More now of my interview with presidential spokesman Tony Snow at the White House, where I continued my practice of pressing him about his own words.


KURTZ: I've got one more from Snow's greatest hits.

SNOW: Yes.

KURTZ: This is during the election campaign, very hard-core campaign.


SNOW: Every time people read these stories that almost look like suppression efforts to bring down Republican morale, the Republican say, man, I'm ready. I'm going to get out there and do it.


SNOW: Yes, this -- this is the whole series of -- I think this was -- you know, this was, in fact, you know, broken Republican morale stories in a lot of these. What was interesting is that there was always a focus on, I believe -- and you can correct me if I'm wrong, because I'm not sure exactly what the question was in response to -- it's been that long, at least in terms of news cycles. But there were a whole series of things that focused on the psyche of Republican voters and very little talking about Democrats or talking about problems within the Democratic family.

KURTZ: Did you expect in the final weeks that Republicans would lose the House?

SNOW: No I didn't. I actually -- I really did think that Republicans would end up winning the House and Senate. And I was wrong.

KURTZ: So you weren't just giving us a line there.

SNOW: No, no, no. I really -- I mean, you know, we -- we had our own internal way -- you know, people where asking me. And they asked internally what I thought would happen, and that, literally, I thought would happen. But I was wrong.

KURTZ: Listen to this quote: "President Bush hates responding to the press, hates responding to political enemies. He thinks it's beneath him. He's got a stubborn streak."

Who said that?

SNOW: I don't know.

KURTZ: You did, last March on FOX News.

SNOW: Did I? Yes, OK.

KURTZ: Does he hate responding to the press? SNOW: No, actually, you know what's been interesting? And I think people have seen this in the last couple of months with press conferences, especially. They're more regular, we have them more often, they end up going longer.

And he actually likes it. I think, you know, presidents may say, "Oh do I have to go out in front of the press?" And then when he does it he wants to do it longer.

We saw this in Amman, Jordan where Prime Minister Maliki and he were doing -- it was supposed to be what we call a three and three -- three question aside -- and the president said, "What do you want to do more?"

You know, and so, what I think is, about the press, he actually doesn't hate the press and he likes reporters. He keeps saying, "No, I like reporters." And I also think...

KURTZ: But did you have to urge him, when you took this job six months ago, to do more news conferences? He's doing a lot more now then he did in the first term.

SNOW: Yes. I know, but I think that just ended up being a confluence of interest within the administration. It's certainly something that I thought was wise, but on the other hand, so did a lot of other people.

KURTZ: So, are you now officially retracting your previous view that he has a stubborn streak?

SNOW: Oh, no. I mean, he does have a stubborn streak.

I mean, look, this is a president -- I didn't -- I'm not retracting -- what I like about the president is -- let me put it this way, if you've got a guy who says, "I'm going to stick to my principles," if you call that stubborn, yes.

KURTZ: "Newsweek's" Richard Wolffe describes your performance at the daily briefings, given your radio and TV background, as the "Tony Snow Show."

SNOW: Yes.

KURTZ: Is there an element of theater involved?

SNOW: I think there's probably necessarily an element of theater, just like there is here. I mean, we're sitting in the press room, we've got cameras going. But on the other hand...

KURTZ: Are you very mindful of playing to the audience at home?

SNOW: No. No, you can't be.

I mean, if you're sitting around thinking, how's this going to play at home, you're going to trip over yourself. Because it's a substantive job, and when I'm at the podium, my primary objective -- and I know you've got a couple of these things where I've gone back and forth with reporters, but also, what you try to do is convey information.

And there have been a lot of times I've come up to the podium doing readouts, very specific readouts of breaking news developments, because ultimately -- look, the press corps can't do its job of covering the White House without my help, because the press office has the obligation to help members of the press. And it's our obligation to get facts into the hands of reporters, to be accessible, to get them in touch with reporters -- I mean, with figures within the administration that can help them.

KURTZ: Right.

During your years as an editorial writer, radio host, television...

SNOW: Yes.

KURTZ: ... you could say whatever you want, all about your opinions. Now you're obviously much more constrained.

SNOW: Absolutely.

KURTZ: Big adjustment for Tony Snow?

SNOW: Well, I think you only have to mess up once, because you realize that you're speaking for the president of the United States.

It's not that big an adjustment, for this reason. When you step into this job, you very quickly

KURTZ: All right. Well, Tony Snow, thanks very much for sitting it out with us in the briefing room.

SNOW: That was it? It's over?

KURTZ: Do you want to do more?

SNOW: That was quick.


KURTZ: Maybe we should have gone twice as long.

When we come back, some changes coming for CBS' last place morning show.

And a belated discovery about a Pulitzer Prize winner.

And later, the House Ethics report on the Mark Foley scandal. Have the media reached a different verdict?


KURTZ: Time now for the latest in the news business in our "Media Minute."


HARRY SMITH, CBS NEWS: Welcome to "The Early Show." Good morning, everybody.

KURTZ: The co-hosts at CBS' "Early Show" must not be feeling to secure right about now. The network dropped Rene Syler this week. And as for the others on the last-place program, Harry Smith, Julie Chen, Hannah Storm, well, they're seen as interchangeable. At least that's what CBS morning show chief Steve Friedman says.

Friedman has already made another move installing CBS' Russ Mitchell as the program's news anchor.

If "NBC "Nightly News" seemed longer than usual this past Monday, it was. Twenty-eight minutes of news and just two minutes of commercials from a single sponsor, Philips Electronics.

Brian Williams clearly enjoyed the extra time and said he'd like to do it again, if, of course, an advertiser is willing.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: There will be more such broadcasts, and we hope very soon. We'd like to think last night was the start of something big.

KURTZ: This photo of an execution taken in Iran after the fall of the shah in 1979 one a Pulitzer Prize for UPI, but the photographer was never identified out of fear for his safety. Now "The Wall Street Journal" has solved the mystery, identifying the prize winner as Jahangir Razmi, the first person ever to win the coveted prize anonymously.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, little Rummy, little Cheney, little Condi.

KURTZ: It's called "Lil' Bush: Resident of the United States," and it's just a little cartoon for cell phones produced by the wireless company Amp'd Mobile. But now it's going mainstream. Comedy Central plans to pick up the animated feature. The first time a program has made the leap from your phone to your TV set.

Hey, sometimes it pays to start small.


KURTZ: Ahead in our next half hour, is the press treating Mary Cheney's pregnancy as gossip or ideological fodder?

Plus, covering the Foley fallout. Why does the media seem to be rejecting a House committee's report on the page scandal?

That's all ahead after a check of the hour's top stories from the CNN Center in Atlanta.


The Mark Foley scandal dominated the news after ABC's Brian Ross broke the story of the Florida congressman's sexually graphic e-mails to current and former House pages. On Friday, the House Ethics Committee delivered its verdict. No other lawmaker violated congressional rules and no one will be punished.

The panel did find a "disconcerted unwillingness" to deal with the Foley problem, with many remaining willfully ignorant of the situation. The media were openly skeptical.


GLORIA BORGER, CBS NEWS: While the Ethics Committee refused to pub punish anyone, its report is a stinging indictment of House Republican leaders. The report says, "Those at the very top decided to remain willfully ignorant of the potential consequences of Foley's inappropriate contacts with young male pages."

JAKE TAPPER, ABC NEWS: Critics of today's report say if members of the Ethics Committee cannot see any evidence that that rule was violated, it shows they cannot effectively judge their peers.


KURTZ: We heard from Tony Snow in the first half of the program. Joining us now are two commentators from the liberal side of the aisle.

In New York, Rachel Maddow, host of "The Rachel Maddow Show" on Air America Radio.

And here in Washington, Bill Press, who hosts "The Bill Press Show" on Sirius Satellite Radio.

Bill Press, this was a bipartisan committee report from House Ethics. No rules were broken. And the media basically treating it as a whitewash.

Is that justified?

BILL PRESS, SIRIUS SATELLITE RADIO: I think it's a total copout. I mean, what gets me is they admitted that the leadership knew about the Mark Foley -- maybe they didn't know the details of every e-mail, but they knew there was inappropriate contact with these House pages. They were -- they willfully -- they decided not to do anything about it, and then they hold nobody responsible and take no action. And they release it on the Friday before they leave town, which is typical fashion when they have bad news at the White House or in the Congress.

You know what I think? I think it proves that Congress sin capable of policing itself.

KURTZ: Rachel Maddow, I mean, clearly, there was negligence and a lack of aggressiveness by many key Republicans. And the report says that. But the press treated this whole thing as a huge scandal in the middle of the campaign. And looking back, was it overblown?

RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA RADIO: I don't think it was overblown. Mark Foley's conduct was very egregious. And as Tony Snow said in your interview with him, it's the kind of conduct that people are going to pay a lot of attention to in the news. There's a lot of appetite for learning more about that.

The cover-up, if there was a cover-up in the House -- and I think this Ethics report says that effectively there was -- is a political scandal, because everybody hearing about that in the Republican leadership in the House should have been as scandalized by the details of what Mark Foley was doing as we all were as the public when we found out about it. It seems like they're not operating in a normal business environment if they can get away with this, not be held responsible, when they knew what he did just as we knew what he did.

KURTZ: But coming back to the coverage, the report also says that Democratic congressman Rahm Emanuel knew one year ago about Foley's problems and took no action. Emanuel says he had only cursory knowledge.

That doesn't seem to get as much attention from the media.

PRESS: You know, I don't know about the Rahm Emanuel thing. I don't know the facts of Rahm Emanuel. But my feeling is, anybody who knew about it should have gone to the Ethics Committee or should have gone to the police and reported this activity.

But I must say, if Rahm Emanuel had done that a year ago, you know what? People would have -- Republican leaders would have accused him of just playing politics and they wouldn't have done anything anyhow. This is a Republican problem.

KURTZ: And Republican leaders said at the time that Democrats were responsible for peddling this story. There didn't seem to be any immediate evidence of that, but the House Ethics report says that the communications director of the House Democratic Caucus got a hold of those e-mails, gave them to the "St. Petersburg Times," "Miami Herald," "Roll Call," and "Harper's" magazine, none of which published them.

So, Rachel Maddow, it does seem like Democrats were trying to get this out for partisan reasons rather than going to authorities.

MADDOW: Well, there was -- I mean, there was also the information, the e-mails. And the content of them was also passed on by nonpartisan groups to those e-mails -- to those media outlets as well.

What I think is interesting is the media side of this is that all of those mainstream, traditional media outlets didn't run with this story. It took its eruption in the blogosphere in order to make it into the story that then the mainstream media had to catch up to, even though they had first crack at it in terms of the information.

KURTZ: Even Brian Ross broke it first on his Web site, rather than on television.

PRESS: Right.

KURTZ: I want to turn now to the debate about Iraq and the Iraq Study Group. You know, the mainstream coverage of the Hamilton-Baker commission has bee that this was a great exercise in bipartisanship, very reasonable recommendations, and the only real question is, is President Bush sensible enough to do what they say?

Let's take a look at some of the interviews that Baker and Hamilton, who are all over the Sunday shows this morning, as well as "LATE EDITION," gave earlier in the week.


KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: D you believe this administration is really capable of admitting its failures and dramatically changing course?

WILLIAMS: Doesn't a lot of this require the president to do a 180 on more than one issue, some of his basic tenets?

CHARLIE GIBSON, ABC NEWS: What is your feeling, the sense, the odds, that this one will be heard, this one will be acted upon?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You guys both met with the president. What's your sense of your willingness to act on your recommendations?


KURTZ: Bill Press, have journalists fallen in love with this commission?

PRESS: First of all, I've got to say, I think the commission did -- I noticed this in your question -- I think the commission did an outstanding job of getting its stuff out there, this report. I bought a copy of this report.

KURTZ: So you've fallen in love. You even paid money for this.

PRESS: I paid money for it. I bought a copy the day it was released in a bookstore in Asheville, North Carolina. I mean, they were on the job.

But the other thing -- look, the first question -- I'm going to play Tony Snow here, right? The president and Congress must act together.

Well, we know that Congress wants to get out of Iraq. The key question about this whole thing is, Bush is the commander in chief, will he listen to these recommendations?

I think the media was asking the question, the key question that everybody has to ask. And we still don't know the answer. KURTZ: Rachel Maddow, while the mainstream coverage was very respectful, to say the least, toward this commission and its elder statesmen members, among the pundits my scientific survey shows that the people on the right hated it and the people on the left didn't much like it either.

MADDOW: That's right. On the left you don't like it because, on the left, basically we see it as endorsing a permanent occupation of Iraq, if that's what some politician wants to do with these recommendations. On the right, they see it as not being able to conjure some sort of mythical win out of the dust in Iraq.

Left and right don't like it, but what it is and what I think the mainstream media is responding to appropriately, is that it is a political moment. It is a political opportunity.

This is a chance, this is a political window of opportunity for a leader to step in and say we're going to change course. Nobody left, right or center thinks we ought to just keep doing what we're doing. The question is whether or not the president is going to find it within himself to actually say he wants to change.

I think that would be a miracle on the order of a star over Bethlehem, but it might happen. He's going to give a speech.

PRESS: Howie, I was just going to say, Tony Snow, I think -- and again, in your interview, is making a big mistake in trying to report -- to present this report as nothing different from what the White House is doing or no criticism of the White House's policy. It is a -- it is...

KURTZ: Well, he didn't say there was no criticism, but he did dismiss people like NBC's David Gregory for putting what he saw as a partisan spin on these findings, as if it was a complete rejection of everything the administration has done.

PRESS: But that's outrageous. It is a disastrous indictment of the administration's policy if you read it.

KURTZ: There you go again.

PRESS: No. Tony Snow is trying to say black is white.

This report says we've got to get out by 2008. This report says you have to talk to Iran and Syria. This report says it's grave and deteriorating. And the White House tries to paint a happy picture on it.

I think they just ought to say -- Tony should say these are good people, they did a lot of work. We disagree with them.

KURTZ: Rachel, what did you think of the screaming headline in the cover of the somewhat conservative "New York Post," "Surrender Monkeys," depicting Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton as baboons?

MADDOW: Well, it's interesting. I mean, I think -- I mean, "The New York Post," I never agree with them, but they do have some specifically wonderful headline writers and people who put together their front page. I will give them credit for getting press of their own coverage.

KURTZ: Right.

MADDOW: But, I mean, what's interesting, and I think what's happening in political terms, is that the right is trying to frame the Iraq Study Group report as liberal. It's trying to frame it as the leftward edge of where we can go in terms of Iraq policy.

Those of us in progressive media see the Iraq Study group report, while repudiating Bush's policies, see it as really not going far enough. I mean, if I got to write that report, I would say that troops should be out now, we should treat it like a humanitarian and security crisis along the lines of Rwanda or Darfur and stop treating this like a war at all. But, you know...

KURTZ: I guess you weren't invited to be on the panel.

MADDOW: Yes, surprise.

KURTZ: Let me move ahead here. Let me move in here, because at the news conference that President Bush held with Prime Minister Tony Blair earlier in the week, what's been replayed a lot on various network newscasts are the questions not from Americans, but from British and Irish reporters.

Let's take a brief look at that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, the Iraq Study Group described the situation in Iraq as "grave and deteriorating." You said that the increase in attacks is unsettling. That will convince many people that you're still in denial about how bad things are in Iraq and question your sincerity about changing course.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's bad in Iraq. Does that help?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you capable of admitting your failures in the past? And perhaps much more importantly, are you capable of changing course, perhaps in the next few weeks?


KURTZ: Bill Press, aggressive or rude?

PRESS: Perfectly aggressive. I'm sure Rachel did, too. I replayed those clips on my own show, and I just said this is what these reporters ought to be doing.

And I also think it shows that flip, sarcastic side of George W. Bush when he's talking about the war in Iraq, which is an insult to all Americans. KURTZ: Rachel Maddow, if American reporters asked questions in that sort of tone, that condescending tone, are you out of touch with reality, wouldn't they take a lot of heat?

MADDOW: Yes, they would absolutely take a lot of heat and they would probably have a real hard time at the next Tony Snow briefing for having done it, I'm guessing. But what's I think interesting about those British and Irish questions is that you have seen in American policy toward Iraq that the American people have been ahead of even the press and certainly ahead of leadership in Washington on this issue.

The American people have wanted a withdrawal for a lot longer than even the Democratic Party was willing to endorse it. I think when you hear those English and Irish reporters asking questions, they're much more along the lines of where the American people are than the American press is, which has been very cowed on this issue.

KURTZ: All right. I have about a minute. I want to sneak in a political question for both of you.

Barack Obama in New Hampshire today, testing the waters for presidential race. "Newsweek" reports there's an 80 percent chance he may run, 99 percent for Hillary, according to insiders.

Have you ever seen, Bill Press, any political figure get the kind of glowing coverage that Barack Obama has gotten in the last few months?

PRESS: Not since John McCain in the year 2000. I think there's a perfect parallel there. Barack Obama is a new face, he's a new voice. And he is...

KURTZ: He's been in office two years.

PRESS: I know. He's walking on water.

I am one who has been drinking the Barack Obama Kool-Aid, and go, Barack Obama. That's all I've got to say.

KURTZ: And why doesn't Hillary Clinton get the same kind of -- or get -- why does she get much more critical coverage than Obama, in your view, Rachel?

MADDOW: Well, two reasons. One, we've known her for longer than two years.

KURTZ: Right.

MADDOW: And two, I mean, you can't discount the fact that there has been a really deliberate, really advanced, really longstanding right-wing smear campaign to make Hillary Clinton into the bogeyman of all liberal values. And so that stuff, even if it's not reflective in mainstream media, it does have an effect.

KURTZ: It's a great topic for the next 27 RELIABLE SOURCES shows.

Rachel Maddow, Bill Press, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

MADDOW: Thank you, Howie.

KURTZ: Up next, Mary Cheney's pregnancy becomes a springboard for debating same-sex marriage and draws criticism from the right. Should the media just leave the vice president's daughter alone?


KURTZ: Welcome back.

The story broke in "The Washington Post" gossip column and the mainstream media have given it only modest attention or treated it like gossip. Mary Cheney, the vice president's daughter, is pregnant.

But on talk radio and on the blogs there's plenty of debate about a lesbian couple -- Cheney refers to her long-time partner Heather Poe as her wife, choosing to have a baby -- especially since her father is part of an administration that wants a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, an issue that Mary Cheney addressed on CNN last May.


MARY CHENEY, AUTHOR, "NOW IT'S MY TURN": Same-sex marriage is obviously issue an issue that we can disagree on and that this country needs to debate. but the notion of amending the Constitution and writing -- basically writing discrimination in to the Constitution of the United States is fundamentally wrong.


KURTZ: Joining us now, John Aravosis, who blogs at

And in New York, Kevin McCullough, radio talk show host at WMCA, who blogs at, and is also the author of "Musclehead Revolution: Overturning Liberalism With Commonsense Thinking."

John Aravosis, are the media uncomfortable with covering Mary Cheney's pregnancy? And is that why some are treating it as gossip?

JOHN ARAVOSIS, AMERICABLOG.COM: I think they were very uncomfortable the first 24 hours. You initially saw, I think, like, an AP story or something that was two paragraphs, and you kind of -- as if it was just sort of a little, oh, and by the way, the number one lesbian in America is pregnant, you know, and she's a Republican.

OK. But then I think within about 24 or 48 hours, they got into the gist of the story, which is the conflict of, what does the right wing of the party think when this is a party that was elected on "family values," and now you have got the number one man, Dick Cheney, whose daughter is single, unmarried, gay, and having a child out of wedlock. That's an interesting story. KURTZ: But Kevin McCullough, why should Mary Cheney's personal decision to have a baby be picked apart by the media and by some conservative groups just because her father is vice president?

KEVIN MCCULLOUGH, WMCA RADIO: Well, let me set the record straight first here. The reaction from the left has been much more vehement than the reaction from the right. And if you'll look carefully at the sources on the right, you will see that there was actually a debate over whether those on the right should even address the acknowledgement or not.

Significant conservatives like Hugh Hewitt, "The Corner," many other blogs, decided until Mary speaks about this personally, we're not going make public comment on it. There were a handful of others, myself, Focus on the Family, columnist Ben Shapiro, that have offered questions about it.

But one thing that I've been impressed by is that those on the right have chosen to talk about the larger issues, not focusing expressly on Mary, while those on the left have gotten pretty nasty about their intent to take down the vice president. One blog,, actually was sporting baby gear for purchase that quizzed things like, "Who is the real father of Mary Cheney's baby?" and so forth.

That kind of attack on the vice president is really what the left wants to see happen from this story. The right wants to talk about the larger issues.

ARAVOSIS: Actually, we're ecstatic that she's having the baby. I mean, I think this is a really -- it's a massive story.

What you've got is Mary Cheney is not Chelsea Clinton when she was back in the White House at 13 years old. You have a 37-year-old woman who was -- who ran the campaign of the vice president. I mean, she is a professional.

She was the head of a Gay Advocacy Organization. She was the gay liaison for Coors. I mean, this woman is openly lesbian, has been a gay advocate, was -- ran the vice president's campaign, when this was a campaign based on family values.

KURTZ: So why are you so happy about this?

ARAVOSIS: It's a huge story. Well, no, no, no.

All right. A, I'm happy she's having a baby. That's great.

B, I think it's a fascinating story in terms of the -- I think what the other guest just said shows our point. There's an incredible story here that half the right thinks it's a horrible -- unconscionable was what one of the religious right groups called this pregnancy, whereas the other half, according to our guest, and he's probably right, thinks, oh, my god, this is private, we don't want to touch it.

That right there is a story.

KURTZ: Kevin McCullough, you mentioned Focus on the Family. In the new issue of "TIME" magazine, James Dobson, the head of that organization, writes, that "In raising these issues, Focus on the Family does not desire to harm or insult women such as Cheney and Heather Poe. Rather, our conviction is that birth and adoption are the purview of married heterosexual couples."


ARAVOSIS: They want to harm women in the abstract. Now, if I may...

KURTZ: Well, let me get to Kevin.

So, actually, you know, while avoiding any direct insults, some conservative groups are basically saying this is a terrible thing that the vice president's daughter is doing.

MCCULLOUGH: Look, Howard, you cannot get away, nor can John, nor can anyone else from the moral components of what makes a baby. That is what the fundamental discussion of this issue is created by.


MCCULLOUGH: The difference, and I continue to say this, John's blog itself ran a contest to nominate who you think the top 10 candidates for Mary Cheney's father, the father of her baby was. That shows the pettiness, the shallowness of those on the left in terms of how they want to bring a black mark against the vice president.

Those on the right are having a much more philosophical, ideological discussion, saying...

ARAVOSIS: Oh, yes.

MCCULLOUGH: ... are these the type of issues that we should be addressing and what composes a family? That's a legitimate discussion to have.

KURTZ: Shallow?

ARAVOSIS: What we're talking about today, Howie, is the media coverage and how they feel about covering Mary Cheney. And the fact remains that Mary Cheney is the Murphy Brown of the year 2000.

What we had, Vice President Dan Quayle, 15 years ago now, criticizing a fictitious single mom on TV for choosing to have a baby. Now we have the vice president's daughter who ran his campaign, who is lesbian, unmarried, but claims she's married to another woman, having a kid out of wedlock, choosing to have that kid while the vice president is still in office. That's a -- it's a huge story.

KURTZ: What anybody who zeros in on this is doing -- she is hardly -- this is hardly the first gay couple to have a baby through artificial insemination. ARAVOSIS: Yes, but she's the daughter of the vice president.

MCCULLOUGH: That makes my point, Howard.

ARAVOSIS: If Chelsea Clinton right now -- if Chelsea Clinton right now, who is 24, 25, I don't know, engaged, decided to have a baby, it would be the story in America because she's Chelsea Clinton. Even if she's straight.

If you are Mary Cheney, this -- we are talking about gay marriage. We talked about amending the U.S. Constitution to stop these people from having a legitimate relationship, and now they're saying it's not a story. Excuse me, either it's a story or it's not a story.

Either it's private and you stay out of my Constitution, or we talk about it nationally. You can't have it both ways.

MCCULLOUGH: Howard, John is proving my point. The terms -- all of the terms identifying Mary Cheney's sexuality and so forth have been identified by your guest, who comes from the left on this.


MCCULLOUGH: They are trying to use this as a wedge issue to discredit the Cheneys, to drive a wedge between them as family members. And...

ARAVOSIS: You guys are the ones having the fight over this, not the left.

MCCULLOUGH: And this is not going to be something that the vice president is going to allow to happen. Every time someone has tried to drive a wedge between he and his daughter -- no matter what their differences on this issue, the vice president has stood faithful to say, this is my family, I love my daughter, and you can't come between us.

KURTZ: Kevin, let me jump in.

MCCULLOUGH: And they're trying to drive a wedge and he's not going let them do it.

KURTZ: Kevin, I need a quick answer. Do you believe the coverage of this in the mainstream media is too favorable because journalists don't see this as particularly controversial?

MCCULLOUGH: Probably so. I mean, that's why "The Post" and "The Times" and so many -- I mean, there were 1,200 outlets that had stories on it the day after it came out.

I think that they do think this is public fodder because she's a public figure. Those of us on the right have -- we've been conflicted in how we've decided to cover it.

KURTZ: All right. We've got to go. John Aravosis...

ARAVOSIS: I'm glad that Kevin thinks gay marriage is an issue we should all embrace and not be controversial.

Thanks, Kevin.

KURTZ: Kevin McCullough, thanks very much.

When we come back, why "The Wall Street Journal" is thinking small.


KURTZ: It's an age-old advertising pitch, more for your money. But in the media business these days sometimes the opposite is true.


KURTZ (voice over): "The Wall Street Journal," one of the world's most successful newspapers, is about to shrink. By three inches, to be exact. This is not as dramatic as it might sound. "USA Today," "The Washington Post" and the "LA Times" have all gone on this crash diet, and "The New York Times" is next.

"The Journal" is undergoing a redesign to deal with the 10 percent loss in space. And publisher Gordon Crovitz is selling this as, yes, an improvement. He says this is being done for the convenience of readers to give them an easier-to-handle size.

Not so fast, says Slate media critic Jack Shafer. "Doesn't Crovitz understand that he's writing for one of the most business- literate audiences in the nation and that they roll their eyes when a manufacturer says he shrank the product for the benefit of the customer?"

Crovitz is promising more unique features both in print and online, but just as telling is that "The Journal" and parent company Dow Jones are closing their bureaus in Canada. Now, these are tough times for newspapers, with all kinds of layoffs and cutbacks. "LA Times" editor Dean Baquet just got fired for refusing to make big-time layoffs demand by The Tribune Company, who itself is up for sale.

Billionaires are suddenly interested in buying big papers. David Geffen is eyeing the "Los Angeles Times" and Jack Welch covets "The Boston Globe." But the health of the industry is not good, and even prestigious brand names like "The Journal" aren't immune.


KURTZ: What if CNN announced that it was shrinking its picture, or that it would only be on 18 hours a day, with B movie reruns the rest of the time? You wouldn't find that an improvement, would you?

"The Journal," fortunately, for those of us who care about business coverage, is one of the healthier papers around, but don't try to put less soup in the can and promote it as a better brew.

Before we go, last week I said that Danny DeVito would be appearing on the "Today" show to talk about his drunken rant on "The View." Well, I must have been a little tipsy. It was his drinking buddy, George Clooney, who sat down with Matt Lauer on "Today."

That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

I'm Howard Kurtz.

Join us again next Sunday morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media.


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