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Coverage of Campaign '08; State of the Union

Aired January 28, 2007 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): Hounding Hillary. The former first lady hits the air waves and is confronted by skeptical anchors who question whether she can win the White House.

State of disunion. Pundits pan the president's speech. Are the media writing him off as a war-damaged lame duck?

Out of bounds? Dick Cheney cries foul over Wolf Blitzer's question about his gay daughter's pregnancy.

And virtual journalism. The press dives into a strange new world.


KURTZ: Our critical lens this morning focused on coverage of some of the big political moments from the increasingly unpopular president's State of the Union, to the media's unusually combative approach to Hillary Clinton.

I'm Howard Kurtz.

A former first lady running for her husband's old job is, by definition, a great story. But as the senator made the rounds of network interviews -- and she was all over the tube this past week -- it was hard to miss the confrontational nature of many of the questions, the kind really put to Barack Obama.


MEREDITH VIEIRA, NBC NEWS: Many voters have this very negative upon of you. And some of the words that are used to describe you are not very kind. They're words like "strident, cold, scripted, phony."

CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS: You are a strong, credible, female candidate for president of the United States. And I mean no disrespect in this, but would you be in this position were it not for your husband?

HARRY SMITH, CBS NEWS: How do you change the minds of so many people who really don't like you?

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: What a way to start my morning!

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: There are some people, and some of them are Democrats, and some of them are women who say, Hillary, I like her, but a woman cannot win the presidency, she cannot be elected. What's your response to those people?

CLINTON: Well, I think we don't know until we try, Soledad.


KURTZ: Joining us now here in Washington, John Harris, editor- in-chief of, a new Web site and newspaper that launched on Tuesday. In New York, Linda Douglass, a former ABC News correspondent, now a fellow at Harvard's Shorenstein Center on the Press. And in San Francisco, Debra Saunders, columnist for the "San Francisco Chronicle."

A quick answer from all of you, please.

Linda Douglass, let's start with you. That question that your former ABC colleague, Charlie Gibson, asked of Hillary Clinton, "Would you be in this position were it not for your husband?" Fair question?

LINDA DOUGLASS, FMR. ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Very fair question. She went out today -- she went out this week to point out she was very experienced, to sort of take a dig at Barack Obama's experience. She said she was there on the front lines watching her husband be president. So she raises the question of whether she'd be in this position in the first place were she not the wife of a former president.

KURTZ: Debra Saunders, fair question?

DEBRA SAUNDERS, COLUMNIST, "SAN FRANCISCO COLUMNIST": Well, it's a fair question, but I don't remember people asking George Bush if he would be where he is -- he was governor of Texas -- running for president because of his father. So it's fair. We can overdo it sometimes.

KURTZ: John Harris?

JOHN HARRIS, POLITICO.COM: I do remember that. Fair question, should be a fair answer. And she's obviously in position to answer these right out of the gate.


Linda Douglass, I want to play for you -- there was a CNN report this week on the Hillary Clinton candidacy which went back to a clip that our viewers have seen many times from 1992, "60 Minutes," Bill and Hillary, and the then -- the then -- excuse me -- want-to-be first lady responding to a question about the Gennifer Flowers uproar.


CLINTON: I'm not sitting here as some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette. I'm sitting here because I love him.


KURTZ: Linda, my question is, is this campaign going to be about Hillary Clinton's ability to lead the country, or are the media going to make it about Bill and Gennifer and Monica and all the baggage from the '90s?

DOUGLASS: It's going to be about all of that. But first of all, there is no escaping why it is that we know who Hillary Clinton is in the first place. She was the wife of Bill Clinton. They went through all of those troubles, Gennifer Flowers and the Monica Lewinsky matter, impeachment, and so forth.

It's all going to come out. The voters are very familiar with her on those subjects. That's all got to be aired, as well as certainly looking at whether she's qualified to lead the country. Those are all relevant questions in the voters' minds.

KURTZ: But Debra Saunders, she's now a United States senator, and so to what degree are the media going to make this a rehash of all of the soap opera and the culture wars of the 1990s?

SAUNDERS: Well, we all know more about their personal lives than we want to know. And I think one of the questions that will be on voters' minds is, how much of their baggage are we going to have to see if she is the nominee?

That said, there are a lot of questions to ask Hillary Clinton about Iraq, about her domestic agenda. And those will be aired.

KURTZ: John Harris, when Hillary Clinton was first lady, wasn't she very weary of journalists? And how does she overcome that?

HARRIS: She was. She had a brittle, distant relationship, a highly suspicious relationship with the press.

One way she's overcome it -- and she still has more to overcome, I think -- but she has been fairly accessible, at least in preferred formats where she feels like she can talk about policy rather than the soap opera. And she's a very commanding presence. So, to the extent she can take that personality that we know in Washington as a senator and convey that, that may help her transcend these soap opera elements that you're talking about.

KURTZ: But why was she brittle and suspicious toward the press?

HARRIS: I think it was very frustrating. She's obviously a woman with strong policy views, strong political views, and yet she was in this position where all of her power and influence was derivative. I don't think she ever really found that role comfortable. And she always found it constraining. She didn't like a lot of her coverage.

Obviously Whitewater was a huge thorn in both their sides. That's almost a separate story. DOUGLASS: Well -- and Howie, let me just interject here. Also, imagine going through life as a public figure, being constantly criticized for staying with a man who cheats on his wife. This would certainly create a sense of defensiveness for any woman who is constantly asked those questions and is seen in that light. That's going to be something she's going to have to grapple with head-on.

KURTZ: Although she was criticized for other things, as well, including her role and being in charge of healthcare reform.

Debra Saunders?

SAUNDERS: And the question that Democrats are asking is, can she win? A lot of people don't think that she's very likeable. There are Democrats and Republicans who will never, ever vote for her.

So whether she likes it or not, her personality is a big issue. I mean, there are two candidates right now, two politicians who are known by their first names, Arnold and Hillary.

KURTZ: Let me -- on that point, Debra Saunders, let me put up a "USA Today" headline. This was the front page headline, if you've got that -- if we've got that. The first piece that they ran on this" "Why some Democrats worry she can't win."

And so, Debra, you would think that the so-called liberal media would love Hillary Clinton. But clearly that's not the case. Why?

SAUNDERS: Well, they won't love her if she can't win the nomination. And there are a lot of reasons to think she can't win.

So while people may like her as a New York senator, they're very fearful she would crash and burn if she were the nominee. And that's all most Democrats are thinking about. They want the White House back. They want it badly. And they're not willing to risk it with someone who's not going to take it.

KURTZ: Hillary Clinton campaigning in Iowa this weekend. Let's put up some footage of that.

Linda Douglass, especially in contrast to Barack Obama, I come back to something "The New York Times" wrote last week, and in terms of the media's perception of the former first lady. "She has to combat her image of being ruthlessly ambitious or ethically compromised."

It does seem that there is just this undertone in the press coverage that Hillary Clinton is not a very likeable person.

DOUGLASS: Well, that has been -- that has been written about extensively, but also polls have shown that she does have a high unfavorable rating, higher than the others, probably because people simply know about her more than they know about the other candidates. And certainly because of all the baggage of the Clinton years.

But these are all very fair and legitimate questions. And you're pointing out that the -- that the mainstream big anchor people were very tough on her, but that's what she's going to have to go through, because she's making the claim that she is the most qualified and she is the most experienced. But the fact is, she's only been a senator for one term, has been a pretty low-key senator, and is best known as the wife of President Clinton.

KURTZ: But on the other hand, Linda Douglass, John Edwards was only a senator for one term and Barack Obama has been a senator for all of two years. And yet there doesn't seem to be this edge in the coverage of them that there is of Senator Clinton.

DOUGLASS: Well, Obama, first of all, hasn't really exposed himself to the same kind of media blitz that Hillary Clinton clearly decided that she had to do, and which may actually be working for her, because in many of those interviews, some of them she was very defensive but in others she managed to laugh it off and have some authenticity. So probably the media blitz was something she had to go through to get this started. The other candidates haven't faced that yet.

KURTZ: John Harris...

SAUNDERS: And she's a genius at playing the victim. I mean, so, the tougher the questions, the better she gets to look like a victim, the better she -- the better it is for her.

KURTZ: John Harris, do many journalists have a chip on their shoulder when it comes to Hillary Clinton?

HARRIS: Look, she's a subject of fascination. The fact that she is a soap opera figure, as you say, the fact that there's this controversy that swirls around her, is also the reason that she can command network interviews with all three networks upon her debut, both morning shows and evening shows, and basically, you know, compete on equal terms with the president of the United States State of the Union message.

I don't think there's a lot of personal animosity toward Senator Clinton. There's a lot of personal curiosity about her. And the controversy in her past is one reason -- is one thing fueling that. It's not entirely a negative feature here...


KURTZ: It's a double-edged sword.

Well, here's my take. I think a lot of the coverage of Hillary Clinton is -- portrays her as cold, calculating and inauthentic. And I think some journalists either don't particularly like her or aren't convinced that she can win.

And so, she bears some responsibility for that. Part of running for president is being able to court the press effectively. But it could reach the point of unfairness, especially if Obama continues to draw this walk on water political coverage. Now, Hillary Clinton happens to top our list this week of the Google Gainers. This is the online search -- the biggest increase since last week. We see it there on the screen -- Hillary Clinton, a lot of football this week.

Here are three of these searches that I had to go look up.

No. 4: Coachella. Now, that is a music festival in California. I wasn't quite sure about that.

No. 7: Frilled Shark. Some of you may know this is a rare sea creature that was spotted off the coast of Japan this past week.

And No. 9: Ron Carey. He was actor, it turned out, who passed away from the old "Barney Miller" show. That was a great show.

All right. And now our e-mail "Question of the Week."

Does the press hold Hillary Clinton to a tougher standard than other candidates? Send your comments to We'd like to hear from you.

When we come back, journalists turn thumbs down on the president's State of the Union Address. Are the media now writing him off?

Plus, get me Tim Russert. How the White House tries to manipulate the press straight from the Scooter Libby trial.

And later today, 1:00 p.m. Eastern, "THIS WEEK AT WAR" with guest host Tom Foreman. Here's a preview.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's going to take a lot for the Iraqi prime minister to prove that his government is really one of national unity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a difficult road ahead. Petraeus is the right guy for it.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Iraq consumes the agenda. That's going to continue right through the election.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Being president is often very different than running for president.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What people are seeing is reminiscent of the civil war.



KURTZ: It was, the media kept telling us, a huge challenge for President Bush, addressing a Democrat-controlled Congress for the first time, saddled with anemic poll numbers and an increasingly unpopular war. And while Bush said the state of the union was strong, the same couldn't be said for reviews of his speech.


TIM RUSSERT, NBC NEWS: We did not see the kind of energy, the kind of passion, the kind of certitude that we have seen in prior speeches.

TERRY MORAN, ABC NEWS: He doesn't have much political capital left and not much time either.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This is a wounded president. His first State of the Union to a Democratic Congress.

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: Predictably, left-wing organizations like "The New York Times" and NBC News didn't much like the president's speech.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC: This was extraordinarily effective speech.

BOB BECKEL, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I'll tell you honestly, this is the lamest of lame duck presidents. I almost felt sorry for him.


KURTZ: Debra Saunders, under these circumstances, unpopular war, 30 percent in the polls, could Bush have gotten good media reviews if he had delivered "The Gettysburg Address"?

SAUNDERS: Well, I -- I mean, I thought it was a good speech myself. I thought it was one of his better ones. But he's going in there and he's weakened.

He has to deal with the first Democratic Congress he's had to deal with. He has a madam speaker. And what he tried to do was make -- life gave him lemons, he tried to make lemonade out of it.

I thought he did a good job. But there's -- you can't deny the fact that he's walking in there having been hit. So I don't know how you get around that.

KURTZ: John Harris, the journalistic verdicts seem to be the first half was a laundry list of domestic proposals that the Democrats aren't going to pass, and the second half was more impassioned, but kind of the same old rhetoric on Iraq. So the media, I think, treated the speech as almost irrelevant.

HARRIS: Well, two things. Media criticism of State of the Unions is not necessarily that relevant. I remember many speeches that President Clinton that kind of a thumbs down in the early press release.

KURTZ: From the pundits.

HARRIS: And you saw the polls go up. Now, President Bush's polls did not go up. He has a weakened presidency, as we've seen.

What the press coverage will do with any politician, and especially the president, is amplify the general thrust of what's going on. So if somebody's having a good week politically or a good month, the press coverage will exaggerate that. If things are going poorly, it will exaggerate that.

But, you know, you mentioned it before with Obama, the glowing press reviews he's getting. Everything is good; the press will exaggerate that. When he stumbles, we'll exaggerate that, too.

KURTZ: It's all about momentum.

Linda Douglass, the president not only got pretty negative reviews for this speech, but then there were the extraordinary comments from the former president of the United States, George Bush 41. Let me read that.

"It's one thing to have an adversarial... relationship -- hard- hitting journalism -- it's another when the journalists' rhetoric goes beyond skepticism and goes over the line into overt, unrelenting hostility and personal animosity."

What do you make of that?

DOUGLASS: Well, the first President Bush is clearly so emotional now about -- first of all, you saw him in tears over the -- when his other son, Jeb Bush, was leaving the governor's office. He's been defending the president with great emotion.

But, on the other hand, I would say that the coverage of the speech going into it was almost funereal. They talked about how it was sad, there was a -- there was a tone of pity in the journalists' voices going into this moment. And certainly, the reviews, as you say, were extremely critical.

On the other hand, it was a very dramatic moment. The Democrats are sitting there listening to this speech because they got into office because of him. There was very subdued reaction by the Republicans. There was not nearly the rousing applause that you would normally see. So the reviews that came after the speech, which were based on what happened in the room, were mostly reflective of the mood in the room.

KURTZ: And John Harris, do you think that the stories that were written the next day or two were reflective of the -- of the comments from other members of Congress, especially at a time, we should add, when some Republicans seem to be joining this effort to pass a non- binding resolution disapproving of the sending of more troops to Iraq?

HARRIS: Look, the press coverage reflects the fact that George W. Bush is fighting to make his presidency relevant. He's lost even many fellow Republicans on the war. There's no way to spin a positive press story out of that, Howard. KURTZ: Well, I happen to agree -- I disagree with the senior George Bush. I do not think that the criticism from the press is persona. In fact, I think a lot of reporters, even those who give him a hard time, like President Bush. He gives nicknames and he's very personable when you are with him. But I think a lot of it is poll- driven and a lot of it is driven by the mess in Iraq.

If Iraq was not in as bad shape as it is now, and if Bush was at 50 percent in the polls, instead of 28 percent, which is where CBS News had him, I think you'd see a very different tone to the coverage.

Now, Debra Saunders, I want to turn to the Scooter Libby trial. Testimony began this week in the trial of the former top aide to Vice President Cheney.

We got a real glimpse of the way in which the administration tries to sort of pull the strings of the press. My favorite moment is the former Cheney press secretary, Kathy Martin, is testifying what Cheney should do about the controversy over WMD, and the suggestion from Kathy Martin is, go on "Meet the Press," be interviewed by Tim Russert, and control the message.

But how does going on "Meet the Press" enable you to control the message? He's a pretty tough questioner, isn't he?

SAUNDERS: He is a tough questioner.

You know, the thing that surprised me from the testimony from this trial is how much time Dick Cheney spent on the press. I thought he was the vice president. I thought he had better things to do.

So, I mean, I know that they think they're controlling the message. They obviously didn't do that good of a job on it.

You know, Howie, the one problem with this story is, it's something that very few people care about. Every time I've written a column on it, there's this -- it's the people who really care about Sandy Berger stealing those documents on the right, and there are the people who really care about Joe Wilson and Scooter Libby on the left, but it's not something that I think most readers care a lot. It's a great story for those of us in the press. I'm not sure the public is paying that much attention.

KURTZ: Well, people may or may not care about Scooter Libby, but they certainly care about Iraq.

And the subtext for this trial, John Harris, is about how they tried to deal with Iraq, particularly a vice president who says he doesn't really care about his image in the media. So here's some more advice he got -- he should lunch, which he did with a group of conservative pundits, kind of taking care of his team. But when it came to Nicholas Kristof, "The New York Times" columnist who is writing about the WMD controversy, blow him off, don't deal with them at all.

How different is this from what every White House does? You covered the Clinton White House. You wrote a book on the Clinton presidency.

HARRIS: It is different. The Clinton White House very much cared about the elite media. There's no way they would have tolerated, you know, bad columns in "The New York Times" without worrying about this...

KURTZ: Without fighting back?

HARRIS: ... or coming in and fighting back and figuring out a strategy.

The Bush White House really doesn't care about this, because they feel they have the access to these conservative channels. And, you know, we've seen that that strategy only works but so far, given the problems that they have now. But it is unique to them, I believe.

KURTZ: Linda Douglass, we all know that administrations leak, but here in this Scooter Libby trial you had the confirmation of it. In fact, Kathy Martin, the former Dick Cheney press aide, suggested a leak to Sanger, Pincus and news mags. And that would be David Sanger of "The New York Times"; Walter Pincus of "The Washington Post"; and, of course, "TIME" and "Newsweek."

No surprises there, I imagine, from your point of view?

DOUGLASS: Well, no. These are all very respected reporters, and these are the reporters who get the highest level kinds of leaks, they're the ones who break the exclusives all time. But, look, this is lifting the veil on something that everyone in Washington knows about but the public doesn't understand, which is the games that are played between the press and any administration, certainly this White House, if there was nasty coverage by a network, will hold back a desired guest from that network Sunday show. They won't let Condoleezza Rice go on that Sunday show if the coverage has been particularly nasty.

And one of the outcomes of this trial may will be that it will embarrass not only the White House, but the press corps in Washington, when you begin to see inside how these relationships, some of which are cozier than people realize, work.

KURTZ: I think you've hit it on the head. And I think that it's funny that the journalists sometimes -- the administration sometimes gets outraged about unauthorized leaks, but of course they play the leaking games themselves.

My favorite detail is that "TIME" magazine got an exclusive one weekend because the Cheney press office didn't have the phone number for anybody at "Newsweek" they could reach over the weekend.

John Harris, you launched this week. There are a lot of political Web sites out there. What makes this different?

HARRIS: First off, we're not just an opinion Web site, which a lot of the political Web sites are. There are people, you know, grinding the axe from the left to the right. We're reporter-driven, we put together a group of some of the top political reporters.

What makes us different from a place like "The Washington Post," where I worked with you for many years, is we're going to write with a little more voice, we're going to be more conversational. We're not going to feel like reading "The Washington Post." We'll be something new.

KURTZ: Should I worry? Should I find something more lasting in terms of employment? Does this mean that newspapers are dead and that Web is where the action is?

HARRIS: No, I do not. I think that this is not a zero sum game. We're providing something new and different that I think people will probably read both our sites.

KURTZ: Well, that would be nice.

All right. John Harris, Linda Douglass, Debra Saunders, thanks very much for an interesting conversation.

Coming up, a harrowing close call in Iraq for anchor Chris Cuomo.

And later, should Oprah be putting a kidnapped boy on the air who was just reunited with his family?

And did ABC botch the handling of some anti-gay slurs by a start of "Grey's Anatomy"?


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


KURTZ (voice over): Chris Cuomo is a lucky man. The news anchor of "Good Morning America" was embedded with a military police unit in Baghdad when a roadside bomb exploded.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get back. Get out of here.


CHRIS CUOMO, ABC NEWS: ... rocked the entire vehicle, blew out the tires on two of the vehicles, destroyed much of the glass, rocked the vehicles in a very, very big way.

KURTZ: The only thing that saved Cuomo's life and that of his two ABC crewmembers was the armored plating on their Humvee. That, and the American soldiers who got him to safety after a group of insurgents opened small arms fire.

The close call came one year after ABC anchor Bob Woodruff was badly injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq. "I'm trying to deal with it like a soldier," Cuomo told me. "Just do my job."

A former "New York Post" gossip columnist is off the legal hook. Jared Paul Stern, who wrote for the tabloid's "Page Six," learned this week that he will not be charged for his aggressive dealings with a California billionaire. Supermarket mogul Ron Burkle secretly taped Stern last year asking for a $100,000 payment and a $10,000 monthly stipend in exchange for keeping unfavorable mentions of Burkle out of "The Post."

Stern says he wanted Burkle, who, by the way, is now trying to buy the "L.A. Times," to invest in a clothing line, but does not deny he offered P.R. advice as well. The whole thing stunk, but federal prosecutors don't see a criminal case.


KURTZ: Finally, there's a whiff of something strange here, but "The Wall Street Journal" is planning some scratch-and-sniff ads. According to Advertising Age, you use your finger and get the aroma of perfume or chocolate.

Smell funny to you? Anything for a buck these days.

Ahead in the second half hour of RELIABLE SOURCES, Dick Cheney takes offense at Wolf Blitzer's question about his gay daughter's pregnancy. Is Mary Cheney's personal life fair game in a vice presidential interview?

And ABC's "Grey" problem. Is the network responsible for a cast member's anti-gay slurs?


KURTZ. Welcome back. Let's get right to it.

Joining us now to talk about several television controversies, David Zurawik, television critic for "The Baltimore Sun," and David Folkenflik, media correspondent for National Public Radio.

You've probably seen the video by now, Vice President Cheney and Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" this week, a contentious interview and some particularly awkward moments prompted by this question...


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Your daughter Mary, she's pregnant. All of us are happy. She's going to have a baby. You're going to have another grandchild.

Some of the -- some critics, though, are suggesting -- for example, a statement from someone representing Focus on the Family, "Mary Cheney's pregnancy raises the question of what's best for children. Just because it's possible to conceive a child outside of the relationship of a married mother and father doesn't mean it's best for the child."

Do you want to respond to that?


BLITZER: She's obviously a good daughter. I've interviewed her.

CHENEY: I'm delighted -- I'm delighted I'm about to have a sixth grandchild, Wolf, and obviously I think the world of both my daughters and all of my grandchildren. And I think, frankly, you're out of line with that question.


KURTZ: David Zurich, was Wolf Blitzer out of bounds?

DAVID ZURAWIK, "BALTIMORE SUN": I don't think he was. You know, and the thing that I was reminded as soon as I heard this was, back in October, just on the eve of the midterm elections, when Lynne Cheney did the same thing essentially with Wolf Blitzer -- and it was a very contentious thing -- you know, I think this is a political strategy. If you heard that exchange and then saw the blogs the next day, right- wing blogs saw the same pattern this time.

It shifts the argument on to the media, away from -- he had been sitting there explaining an awful policy in Iraq and saying how well it's going. You know? And so the debate is not then about his performance. It's about how Wolf Blitzer conducted that interview. And I don't think there's anything wrong with what Wolf Blitzer did.

KURTZ: Well, let me -- somebody who has a different view is Tony Snow, the White House spokesman. Here's some comments that he made on FOX News.


TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, he said it was out of line, and he was right. Think about Chelsea Clinton. Nobody ever butted into Chelsea Clinton's business, and good for the press back then. And the Clinton were rightly protective of their daughter. It does seem that for some members of the press it's been open season on the president's daughters.


KURTZ: Out of bounds, open season. He makes the comparison to Chelsea Clinton.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, NPR: Well, he's also invoking sort of silently the Bush twins themselves and the question of whether their occasional partying has been improper to report on in the press. And I think, you know, there's a fair question about that. If their last name were "Folkenflik," you know, it's very unlikely they'd be showing up in the paparazzi photographs. In terms of the vice president's daughter, certainly she has been a public figure, a political figure in some ways. She's not a minor, so her life as an -- as an adult is a little bit less, it seems to me, needed to be protected by the press. Not...

KURTZ: Unless she was staying out of the limelight. Now, Chelsea Clinton, the press should not have covered her. And, in fact, the Clintons, if anyone forgets this, called "People" magazine to complain after the Monica Lewinsky affair when there was a cover story on Chelsea Clinton.

Barbara and Jenna Bush, I think it was a little bit too much in terms of their nightclubbing. But Mary Cheney is a woman who wrote a book about her experiences working in her father's reelection campaign, criticized the administration on its policy on same-sex marriage.

In fact, let's play a clip of Mary Cheney talking to Wolf Blitzer last May right here on CNN.


BLITZER: You write this on page 180 in your book: "If the Republican Party fails to come around on this issue, same-sex marriage, I believe it will find itself on the wrong side of history and on a sharp decline into irrelevance."

Those are strong words.

MARK CHENEY, DICK CHENEY'S DAUGHTER: They are strong words, and I did write them. And I believe them.


KURTZ: So if she's willing to talk about it, is it, therefore, out of bounds to ask her father about it?

FOLKENFLIK: I don't think it's out of bounds at all. I think Wolf Blitzer gets to ask the question. I think the vice president, on any number of grounds, if he wants to avoid the question, gets to not answer it. He's not under oath.

You know, it seems to me as though it's a valid question politically. I went back and reread within the last couple of days the 2004 Republican platform. It's a component of it, the question of gay marriage and the question of what is the proper family structure in which children should be raised.

Again, it's uncomfortable for the vice president perhaps personally, but also politically to deal with it. He just blunted it by sort of bulldozing across Blitzer on that.

KURTZ: All right.

Let me play devil's advocate here. Dick Cheney is a representative -- is an elected official. His daughter is not. She probably wants her privacy. She has not talked much at all publicly about her pregnancy.

So by asking that question, what you're doing is, you're essentially accusing the administration of hypocrisy.

ZURAWIK: I don't think that's at all. I mean, we just laid the groundwork, Howie, here for how she's been out in the public. Why wouldn't you ask that question? The only way Wolf is out of bounds on that question is if there were ground rules laid down that he was only going to talk about Iraq.

KURTZ: And there were not.

ZURAWIK: And there were not.

KURTZ: Right.

ZURAWIK: So otherwise, end of story. Absolutely.

And honestly, you know, we're so nice about this when politicians try to sabotage the dispersion of information. You know, this is a democracy. These guys are attacking what we do as journalists. We shouldn't be nice about it. Wolf Blitzer was doing his job. He is not the issue here.

FOLKENFLIK: One of the things that interested me a lot was that it was sort of a more personal and visceral articulation of, in a sense, what Cheney had been doing throughout the interview. If you watch the full interview, you know, Blitzer on a number of occasions, from the start, asked some fairly challenging and difficult questions, the premises of which Cheney attacked at each point.

He would not accept the notion -- I believe Blitzer reflecting the phrase of the president -- that there had been mistakes made in sort of how things have been handled in the occupation of Iraq. Cheney refused to acknowledge that, said, you know -- at any point that Blitzer offered anything difficult he said, "That's old history, Wolf." It was...

KURTZ: He used the phrase "hogwash." He said there had been enormous successes in Iraq.

Look, Wolf Blitzer is entitled to answer the question. Dick Cheney is also entitled not to answer it.

FOLKENFLIK: Absolutely.

KURTZ: And Blitzer asked that question somewhat respectfully and politely. And in fact, you can see the full interview on "LATE EDITION" coming up after this program, Wolf Blitzer and Vice President Cheney.

Let me turn now to "Grey's Anatomy."

Isaiah Washington is one of the big stars on that program, used an anti-gay slur which we're not going to repeat on the air to describe a fellow actor on the show, T.R. Knight. ABC put out a statement saying this is unacceptable and Washington apologized. And my favorite part is he fired his publicist.

Should ABC have done more?

ZURAWIK: Yes. ABC, and specifically Shonda Rhimes, the executive producer, creator, and show runner of "Grey's Anatomy," should have done more.

They all dragged their feet, Howie. I mean, this happened, an event allegedly happened, in October, where he issued the slur on the set. And it's been pretty confirmed by a number of sources that he said it, though he denies it.

But he said it again backstage after the Golden Globes on January 15th. He said it out loud. It was captured on tape, it became public.

We got these apologies days later. In the case of Shonda Rhimes, the executive producer and show runner who has power over this show, it didn't come until after a week, Howie. And what's going on here is, the alchemy of a hit show is something no one wants to tamper with. And this is a top 10 hit show. It might not be as big as "American Idol," but it's big, and they don't...

KURTZ: In the interest of giving proper journalistic credit, the story was broken by "The National Enquirer" and turned out to be right.

And now Isaiah Washington has checked into rehab, and he says he wants to have a better understanding of why he does such things.

What do you make of the coverage of this?

FOLKENFLIK: What do I make of the coverage of this?

KURTZ: And what do you make of ABC's handling?

FOLKENFLIK: ABC itself, as David said -- I mean, obviously came to it a bit slowly. I was reminded in thinking about this of what a fairly senior P.R. exec once told me, which is, you know, you want to be careful about how quickly you apologize for things because then people assume you're somehow responsible for it. And it may have been the network was hoping desperately that this would go away.

Well, it didn't. As David said, it sort of flared up actually on set, apparently, as reported, in a confrontation between two of the stars, both Washington and Patrick Dempsey. And then it bubbled up again in this -- in this very ugly way.

KURTZ: Shawn Hornbeck, the Missouri teenager -- we have a couple minutes left -- he's kidnapped four years ago, he gets released. Thankfully, reunited with his family, and, you know, within 48 hours, it seemed, shows up on the "Oprah Winfrey Show."

Is that bizarre? Should Oprah have put that family on?

ZURAWIK: It's not bizarre for Oprah Winfrey. Oprah Winfrey really believes 00 and I think she does believe -- she has a kind of healing power and a ministry out there. I think it's representative of the larger -- and this is...

KURTZ: You're saying it's television as therapy?

ZURAWIK: Well, she believes that, Howie.

KURTZ: Right.

ZURAWIK: I don't believe that. But it's also the way public and private has changed, the way television has changed notions of public and private.

There are issues here about naming victims of sexual assault, but also trying to help find missing children. This teenager, this 15- year-old, everybody knew who he was before he was found.

KURTZ: Wait a second. Wait a second now. I never heard of this kid before he was released. And if he had been a girl, he would have been on cable news 77 times a week.

Would you agree with that? And yet, it ends up on the cover of "Newsweek".

FOLKENFLIK: It ends up on the cover of "Newsweek" in part, I think, because it's knit together with the notion of, hey, somebody's been found who actually was taken by somebody who wasn't a family member.

KURTZ: Right.

FOLKENFLIK: I mean, there are -- if I'm recalling correctly, there was a study, the last comprehensive study done about five years ago that showed -- you know, call it 800,000 kids were reported missing, of which about 115, not 115,000, but 115, are actually sort of your standard abductions.

So the number of cases for which...

KURTZ: Could we have protected his privacy at the point where this case had become so well known? It seems very difficult to me.

FOLKENFLIK: It's a very tough thing to do, particularly when, you know, law enforcement is essentially trumpeting a great success. After all, there was a second kid who had been gone for years who was rescued as well. This is a great, you know, thing for people to be able to say, at last, good news.

KURTZ: We also can't protect the privacy of people who go on "Oprah". That's their decision.

We've got to go, David Folkenflik.

Up next, we'll take you into the strange new virtual world with the star of Will it change the way you at least see the news? . (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Now, this next segment is a little way out for a guy who still has a record player, but there's an online world called Second Life, which has attracted three million members in just three years. They tell me -- I'm a first life kind of guy -- that it's a kind of computer-generated landscape where players create their own image or avatar to represent them.

Well, now the politicians are getting into the act. The popular video Web site Rocketboom recently conducted an interview with California Congressman George Miller, or an avatar that looks like George Miller, in a virtual House of Representatives.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Were you nervous a little bit about being in front of all these people here in Second Life and being able to answer all of these questions?

REP. GEORGE MILLER (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, it's a very different forum for a member of Congress, but it's also very, very exciting.


KURTZ: I spoke with Joanne Colan, the host of, from New York.


KURTZ: Joanne Colan, welcome.


KURTZ: I'm from the era of playing Space Invaders, so help me out here. Why was this an improvement over a video that would show the actual you and the actual congressman?

COLAN: Well, I have to confess, when I first heard about it, I also was a little bit surprised. I just think it's because it's out there, it's new, it's something that everyone is excited about, not necessarily knowing yet why they're excited about it.

And -- I mean, it was a fairly bold move, I think, to hold the forum. But, I mean -- you know, I think it went smoothly and I don't see any harm in doing it. I think the verdict is still, you know, to come, as to the effectiveness of it.

KURTZ: When Congressman Miller started giving you his six-point agenda for the future, do you have the ability to interrupt him, as I might interrupt you in an interview, or do you have to wait until he's done?

COLAN: Nobody asked me, or, nobody told me if I could interrupt him or not, and I was tempted to. And because we weren't really sure how long we were going to have, I thought, OK, I'll see how far this is going to run. And you know that feeling when you're nervous to interrupt somebody, because it might be rude...

KURTZ: I know the feeling. I know the feeling. I know the feeling.

COLAN: ... but at the same time you want to? So I held in there.

KURTZ: Now, other people got to ask questions of Congressman Miller. How did this work? Were these just random people who had showed up?

COLAN: Yes. Initially they said that it would be an invitation- only event, and then I think they opened the floor and anyone could fly in. So I had a list of questions that I'd prepared, in case there was a delay in between avatars, people submitting their questions, and my time receiving those, and then the sort of feedback back to Congressman Miller.

But there wasn't any censorship, I think, if that's what you're getting at. It was a fairly open forum. It really was, in the sense, spontaneous, which I think Second Life is all about.

KURTZ: Well, Second Life must be a big deal, because Reuters now has a full-time correspondent covering this virtual world. But I'm wondering if you see more journalists and more politicians getting into this arena?

COLAN: I don't envy them. I wouldn't really want to have to sit there, myself, and spend all my time in Second Life, because it's kind of tiring. You're aware of your avatar, you're juggling how to move around. I'm fairly new at it; I'm not very good -- I crash into things.

But yes, it's true, there is more and more buzz -- there's 2.4 million people who are officially subscribed. There are companies popping up, there are events going on. I just noticed that the Sundance Channel is covering the Sundance Film Festival and doing screenings, as well as Q&As.

KURTZ: But personally speaking -- personally speaking, you like your first life better?

COLAN: I do like my first life better; I am also one of those people who is glad to switch off their computer and get up and walk away from it in my free time. So -- but I see the appeal, I understand it, I think.

KURTZ: Is there any danger that your identity could be hijacked, that someone could take that avatar and pretend to be you and go ask some rude and impertinent questions?

COLAN: You have to log in with a password, so unless you start to tell all of your friends and your extended friends and family what your password is, I don't think there's much chance of hijacking anything. And the names are fairly hard to come by. There are some wacky avatar names out there.

KURTZ: I see. Now, George Miller is a Democrat. Have any other Democrats approached Rocketboom about doing this, and do any Republicans that have any interest in this virtual reality interview thing?

COLAN: In Second Life in particular, I don't know yet. I know Mark Warner did something in the fall last year, in 2006, and they built the Capitol Hill replica that you saw if you watched the interview, or the forum with Congressman Miller. That's a permanent thing now; it's not going to destruct or vanish.

So I think there would probably be -- they've left it open. And George Miller said he was the - he felt like the canary going into the coal mine, and that he would encourage his fellow congressmen to take part. So we shall see.

I'm sure there will be an e-mail at some point popping up, and I think it should definitely come from conservatives or liberals alike. It shouldn't be just one or the other, I don't think.

KURTZ: Well, you can always say that you got there first. We're glad we had a chance to see you in the flesh, as opposed to just a picture of you.

COLAN: Me, too.

KURTZ: Joanne Colan, thanks very much for joining us.

COLAN: Thank you very much.


KURTZ: I must say, this is a little hard to get used to. This is the future, I suppose.

Do I look fat in this outfit? The good part is you don't have to worry about exercise or makeup or combing your hair. This is the future.

This virtual me was built by the Berkeley company Clear Ink, and I think I'm going to go back to concentrating on my first life.

And a reminder. If you missed any of today's show, you can download a video podcast by going to

When we come back, writing the obituary for international coverage at plenty of newspapers. .


KURTZ: Of all the things we do in the news business, the hardest, the most expensive, and often the riskiest is covering the rest of the world. But the small club of news organizations that even attempt to do this is shrinking.


KURTZ (voice over): From the war in Iraq to the war in Afghanistan, from life in London to Moscow to Tokyo, most Americans rely on journalists for basic information. CNN, which also has an international channel, happens to be one of the few television operations to maintain a web of bureaus around the globe. The broadcast networks have cut back but still have an international presence with correspondents such as CBS's Lara Logan and NBC's Richard Engel reporting from the Middle East.

"The New York Times," the "Los Angeles Times," "The Washington Post" and "The Wall Street Journal" still have a substantial number of foreign bureaus. But midsize newspapers are now folding their tents.

"The Boston Globe" announced this week that it's closing the paper's remaining bureaus in Israel, Germany and Columbia.

New York's "Newsday" says the last of its bureaus in Pakistan and Lebanon are shutting down.

"The Baltimore Sun" is recalling its last foreign correspondents from Russia and South Africa.

When Brian Tierney bought "The Philadelphia Inquirer," he said he needed more reporters in Jersey, not Jerusalem, and shot the last what was once 15 foreign bureaus.

Even "The Wall Street Journal" is pulling its four reporters out of Canada.

Another news front that's suddenly become expendable is Washington. "The Dallas Morning News" has gone from 10 D.C. correspondents to four. And the "Hartford Courant" has dropped from five just to one, David Lightman.

That's better than the "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette" and "Toledo Blade," which now have no presence in the nation's capital.


KURTZ: Now, I understand the rationale. In an age of instantaneous information, medium-sized papers are supposed to concentrate on their home turf, which is their unique franchise. But most of these papers aren't losing money. They're just trying to get their profit margins up to levels more pleasing to Wall Street.

Beyond that, don't you think that readers of "The Boston Globe" or "Philadelphia Inquirer" or "Baltimore Sun" took pride in reading world class newspapers whose vision extended beyond the immediate suburbs? Of course, these organizations shouldn't cover the same official news in Washington or Warsaw that the bigger outlets are covering. They should break from the pack and chase enterprise stories of particular interest to their local area.

But you won't be seeing much of that. Their owners have downsized their dream. Well, 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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