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CNN Gears Up for Presidential Debate; Did Media Sour on Cindy Sheehan?

Aired June 3, 2007 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): The media and the debates. As CNN gears up for presidential campaign face-offs in New Hampshire tonight and Tuesday, are viewers learning much from these multi- candidate extravaganzas? Or are they exercises in network branding?

And why is the press clamoring for Fred Thompson to jump in?

Peace mom signs off. Did the press sour on Cindy Sheehan once she started castigating the left?

Hot air? As Rosie O'Donnell makes a noisy exit, is her high- decibel style all the rage for cable hosts and commentators trying to plump up their ratings?

Plus, all those magazine stories about supposedly pregnant, cheating and divorcing celebrities. The editor of "US Weekly" says are rivals are just plain making things up.


KURTZ: In our lightning-quick media culture, presidential campaigns often seem dominated by fleeting sound bites and 30-second attack ads. Everything seems on fast forward these days -- McCain said this, Obama responded, Romney weighed in, here's what the bloggers have to say.

One of the few exceptions is debates, when candidates have to stand on the stage and field questions from journalists for an hour and a half or two hours, although even these sessions are then reduced for quick bites for the 24-hour news cycle, as we saw in the first encounters among those seeking the White House.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think a president must move as swiftly as is prudent to retaliate.

RUDY GIULIANI (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As someone who lived through the attack of September 11th, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq, I don't think I've ever heard that before. And I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11th.


KURTZ: Tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, CNN is hosting the first New Hampshire debate of the 2008 election with eight Democratic candidates facing off. On Tuesday night, again, 7:00 Eastern, the 10 GOP contenders will take the New Hampshire stage.

The moderator on both nights will be CNN's Wolf Blitzer, and he joins me now from Manchester.

Wolf, you'll have eight Democrats on the stage tonight and 10 on the stage Tuesday night among the Republicans, unless somebody else gets in between now and then. How much can you really get from them in terms of detailed answers? .

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Remember, that's going to be without any commercial interruptions. Two hours tonight, two hours Tuesday night.

And as you say, there are a lot of candidates up there, but we'll try to mix it up, try to move it around. And not only will the journalists be asking questions in both of these debates, we're going to have an old-fashioned town hall meeting for the second part of each debate, where individuals, registered Democrats tonight, registered Republicans Tuesday night, will have a chance -- they're undecided, and they'll have a chance to ask some questions as well.

So we're going to hope that the viewers out there, the voters will have a little better understanding of who these respective candidates are.

KURTZ: Always interesting to see the distinction between what people in the audience ask and what professional journalists ask.

But as you know, the candidates all have these canned 30 and 60- second responses to every issue question like pressing a button. Is it your role, in you view, to aggressively challenge them about incomplete answers or past contradictions?

BLITZER: Yes. I think I'll try to do that. And within the time restraints that we have.

And you know, the questions will be specific. They'll be precise. And a lot of times these candidates, they try to avoid the questions and just go into their camp remarks, start to just go into their sound bites, some of their talking points.

It will be my job, when appropriate, to try to cut them off and say, look, that's not the question. The question is this. And if they don't answer the questions, point out to the viewers out there they didn't answer the question and give them another chance to go ahead and answer the questions.

If they're still not answering the questions, say, "I take it you don't want to answer the question." And then we'll move on to the next question.

KURTZ: You know that the biggest news tonight will be if Hillary attacks Obama or Edwards, or vice versa.

Will you be encouraging the candidates to take each other on?

BLITZER: We'll try to -- what we're going to try to do is differentiate between the candidates, and if there are significant differences, whether on Iraq or health care or energy-related issues, education. Whatever the question is, if there are differences I think it's important that viewers and potential voters out there understand the differences. And yes, if there are significant differences, we'll try to make sure that the viewers know that and let them make up their minds based on where the candidates stand.

KURTZ: Why is CNN including, for example, Mike Gravel. And this is a guy who was an Alaska senator more than 25 years ago. I would say probably doesn't have a great chance of being elected president, and yet people like that are part of these debates.

BLITZER: You have to cut off the debates -- you know, the candidates' opportunities to participate in these debates at some point. And we've looked at the polls. And if you're getting one percent in the polls, then presumably that's a fair distinction. And as a result, we decided to include Mike Gavel and some of the other lesser-known candidates and give them a chance, because you never know.

Sometimes there can be a breakout moment. And while they may not capture their party's respective nominations, they may play some significant rolls down the road. And we try to err on the side of caution and give people an opportunity here in New Hampshire, and then down the road, whether in Iowa or South Carolina or some of the other states.

KURTZ: And sometimes they boost the entertainment factor.

All right. Wolf Blitzer, we'll be watching tonight. We'll have a report on next week's show. So stay on your toes.

BLITZER: Thank you.

KURTZ: Thanks very much for joining us.

And joining us now to talk about this and other issues a bit further, Christopher Cillizza, political blogger and reporter at And from New Hampshire, Candy Crowley, CNN senior political correspondent. And Roger Simon, chief political columnist at

Candy Crowley, the media love presidential debates, but in terms of these folks called the voters, do they mean anything this early?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They do mean something. And I think I can make an argument on a couple of counts, but primarily the people that are watching this now are those that are truly interested, really the activists in both parties. Read that donors, Howie. So what happens here is that a very good performance by somebody attracts attention from both donors and voters. They then in New Hampshire or Iowa, South Carolina, come out to see that person or the buzz starts.

So while they're -- I would say that the general population learns of these things, perhaps through other media, what happened last night, that kind of thing. There is a very hard-core audience, and these are the people that vote, that are watching tonight and Tuesday night. And it helps form their opinions about these candidates.

KURTZ: Chris Cillizza debates also do tend to drive the news coverage. For example, Rudy Giuliani was widely pronounced by the media as having lost the first debate and having won or done very well in the second debate. So is that -- how much of a factor is that?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM: Look, I think in a two-hour format it's tough for us to get anything real out of the full policies for any of these people. I think what every candidate is hoping for is a moment. And I would say that Rudy Giuliani, in the moment we showed where he answered Ron Paul by saying that's the most ridiculous thing ever said, that was his moment.

KURTZ: Right.

Like "Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine."

CILLIZZA: Exactly. Or Joe Biden, "Can you be concise enough on the world stage?" "Yes."

You're looking for a moment like that, because the reality is, with 10 candidates or eight candidates -- you break it down, you do the math -- I'm not a math major -- you're talking about six or seven minutes tops for any of these people. You're looking for that moment, and this is the moment when people who are paying attention -- Candy's right, there's a small group, but they are -- this is the moment they're paying attention. You want to -- you want to shine.

KURTZ: So, in other words, Roger Simon, especially with all these fringe candidates, on people I call fringe candidates on the stage, it's a television show.

ROGER SIMON, CHIEF POLITICAL COLUMNIST, POLITICO.COM: Debates are politics at its most theatrical. This is where politics most resembles an actual stage play, even to the point where the candidates have rehearsed.

They have a script, they have a briefing book. They have people taking the part of the question or someone playing the role of Wolf Blitzer, even though we know no one can play the role of Wolf Blitzer. And it is really a game on how well they can hit their talking points, how closely they can stick to the script.

While we as journalists want to see them go at each other and say things and make points, from their point of view it's about not screwing up, about making no big mistakes. Hillary Clinton made no big mistakes in the first big debate, she wants to make no big mistakes in this debate.

CILLIZZA: I think Roger's right. The one thing I will say is I thought that moment was so good for Giuliani because it seemed like a moment of raw emotion.

Now, maybe he's just good at faking raw emotion, but it seemed like something that wasn't in a briefing book. It seemed like, "I take September 11 2001 seriously, I take it to heart, and I don't like when people insist that we've done something that caused it." And I think that raw emotion can also get out. I think that is powerful to people. People pick up on that.

KURTZ: Sometimes you wish they would show more emotion and not just play not to lose, which is to say, not to make a mistake, as Roger just said.

Candy Crowley, a lot of attention this week, media attention for Fred Thompson, the former Tennessee senator who has now formed an exploratory committee, is said to be -- expected to get into the race by early next month.

Can it possibly be that journalists are already sick of the declared candidates and therefore want somebody new to jump in that we can all obsess over?

CROWLEY: Well, I think sick of it goes a little far here, but, look, we like a new story. And Fred Thompson is a relatively new story at this point.

If you've been out with Obama, if you've been out with Clinton, you know that these events tend to be pretty much the same. And we're always attracted to a new story, and that's the case with Fred Thompson.

KURTZ: Roger -- go ahead.

SIMON: Also, he's a TV star. He's a movie star. That always helps.

People who don't follow politics know Fred Thompson. Some people think he's already president. This is a larger-than-life figure which takes the story beyond the issue set, which we like to avoid whenever possible, and get it into celebrity status.

KURTZ: Let me read...

SIMON: And that's -- yes, go ahead.

KURTZ: Let me read you, Roger Simon, a quote from Jack Shafer, media columnist at who talked about the exploratory committee announcement this week and says, "What disappoints me is how wildly the big dailies fell for this pseudo event. I thought political reporters were supposed to be cynical animals."

What about that, Roger?

SIMON: Well, if we didn't have pseudo -- if we didn't have pseudo events, we wouldn't have events at all. I mean, we go with what we're given.

The fact that Fred Thompson is toying with the idea of announcing for president, the fact that he's already in double-digits in the polls while most of the field is in single digits, says something. It's an important story, and I have the feeling he's going to be a serious candidate.

CROWLEY: Well, look, and also, you know, you have to say that the context is very important when you report a story like this sort of non-event of him forming this sport of state corporation so that he can raise money and pull in staff. It seems to me that that story has to include that this is another attempt by the Thompson people to kind of keep him in the news, keep that anticipation going. I think if you put it in that context, it's a story.

KURTZ: Well, they're certainly keeping him in the news.

Now, Chris Cillizza, Roger Simon mentioned that Fred Thompson is probably known by most people or many people as the star of "Law & Order" -- as a star of "Law & Order".

Let's take a brief look at him playing the Manhattan district attorney, Arthur Branch.


FRED THOMPSON, ACTOR, "LAW & ORDER": That family's influence is one of the few things left that dates back further than I do.

BEBE NEUWIRTH, ACTRESS, "LAW & ORDER": Money doesn't mitigate murder.

THOMPSON: You get no argument from me.


KURTZ: Now, "New York Times" TV critic Alessandra Stanley wrote this week that voters may hold him accountable, may hold Fred Thompson accountable for the role that he plays on TV.


CILLIZZA: Well, you know, I talk to a lot of people who are familiar with Fred Thompson from his days in the Senate, and they say, look, Arthur Branch is basically Fred Thompson. That, you know, in this...

KURTZ: He's playing himself.

CILLIZZA: ... illustrious history of politicians turned actors, politicians tend to just play themselves. And so, yes, he is that tough-talking prosecutor type. That's what he builds up. So, I think Roger is right. I mean, the reason we -- there's a poll out today that has Fred Thompson at 13 percent, ahead of Mitt Romney, ahead of a lot of other people who are running very aggressively. It's because they know him from TV.

Will they like him once he becomes a candidate and they learn more about him? Very up in the air.

KURTZ: All right. Imagine an actor becoming president.

Well, here's my two cents.

Reporters are always hungering for the next big thing, and they seem more entranced by the flirtations of the non-candidates. Remember the Obama flirtation. Then by those who are doing the daily slog of actually getting out there, making speeches and running for president. Of course, from the moment they get in we start to kick them around and that glow starts to fade.

When we come back, Cindy Sheehan bows out of the antiwar movement with a blast at the left. Why did the media fall out of love with her?

And later today, 1:00 p.m. Eastern, join CNN's Tom Foreman for "THIS WEEK AT WAR".

Here's a preview.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Al Qaeda's message could be reaching the U.S.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To the people of Darfur, the United States will not avert our eyes.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Ninety percent of Democrats oppose this war.

CROWLEY: Republicans are trying to get some distance from the Bush administration.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Al-Maliki is really just trying to keep things together.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: These debates are about what they would do next.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: What would the Iranians think if U.S. troops are staying for the next 50 years?



KURTZ: She was a lone protester two years ago at President Bush's Texas ranch, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, when the media turned into a prominent and controversial symbol of the antiwar movement. But Cindy Sheehan has faded from the news over the past year, and now she says she's giving up her public role.

In a posting on the liberal blog Daily Kos, Sheehan says she's tired of being called an "attention whore". "I was the darling of the so-called left as long as I limited my protests to George Bush and the Republican Party. However, when I started to hold the Democratic Party to the same standards that I held the Republican Party, support for my cause started to erode and the left started labeling me with the same slurs that the right used."

Roger Simon, why did the media magically transform Cindy Sheehan into the face of the antiwar movement in the first place?

SIMON: Well, because she fit a convenient, stereotypical story line that we're all comfortable with: grieving mother humbly protests the war. But Cindy Sheehan wasn't the humble mother quietly protesting the war. She had another agenda.

It was probably an agenda that she didn't start out with, but when she got all the media attention she started talking about all the things she believed, that George Bush is the worst terrorist in the world, worse than Osama bin Laden, she said. She'd rather live in Venezuela with Hugo Chavez as her president than George Bush. The twin towers didn't collapse because two planes hit them, but because explosives were planted inside.

This was pretty nutty stuff to a lot of people. And Cindy Sheehan's popularity took a nosedive as a result.

KURTZ: And Chris Cillizza, because of what Roger characterizes as "nutty stuff," I mean, you know, her somewhat radical views on some of these issue, was it a question of just the left turning on her, or did the media become disenchanted with her because now she was a very different kind of public personality?

CILLIZZA: Well, I think she fit, as Roger said, I think she fit a specific role. And don't forget, it was during the summer of that year when it sort of slowed politically. So she fit a nice mold there.

KURTZ: August of 2005...


KURTZ: ... when there was nothing going on.

CILLIZZA: There was nothing going on, and she filled a void there. She had the protests, as Roger pointed out. She had the son who was killed. It was a great story line.

I think what happened is the left soured on her because they saw her as symbolic of the extremism that they're actually trying to avoid. Say what you will about the net roots and the sort of liberal left and the party, but they're somewhat pragmatic. They understand that having Cindy Sheehan out there saying she'd rather live in Venezuela than the United States serves no good purpose for them. They saw her as an outlier to their movement that had become representative of their movement. So I don't think many tears were shed on the left when she decided to step away from politics.

KURTZ: And, in fact, I have not heard many liberals at all defending her now that she says she's going to get off the public stage, but conservatives have been having a good time beating up on her.

Let's take a look at some of that on the airwaves.


TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC: This is, I would say, probably the greatest news ever for the antiwar movement, that Cindy Sheehan, friend of Hugo Chavez and other dictators, this kind of self- describing (ph) figure, is gone.

GLENN BECK, CNN HEADLINE NEWS: Over the last year Cindy Sheehan began to realize that she was merely a tool for the Democratic Party, a puppet that they could, you know, trot out from time to time to show their liberal colors to the base in order just to get elected.


KURTZ: Candy Crowley, a cynic might say that Cindy Sheehan was kind of useful to the media when she fit a certain narrative of the grief-stricken mother against the war, and a lot less useful to the media when she became more of a partisan political player.

CROWLEY: Well, a cynic might indeed say that, but remember that Cindy Sheehan was also the first recognizable face of the antiwar movement. There had been an antiwar movement going on, but there was no one for the left at that point. It's more than the left now, but to galvanize around, to show the antiwar movement. So she was very good for them at that point.

I think the press in this case followed what was going on, because the left did begin to sour on her precisely for the reasons that Chris just talked about. So, you know -- and that was reflected in the coverage. I don't think the media and those reporting fell out of love with her.

Now, commentators had something, you know, entirely different, but I doubt any of those commentators you just said were in love with Cindy Sheehan to begin with. So, I think this was a case where the media followed what was actually going on.

KURTZ: Roger, just briefly, do you agree with that?

SIMON: It's tough to ride the tiger. She rode the tiger. Whatever she said got notoriety, got media attention.

You slip for a second and the tiger eats you. She didn't realize she was only popular because she took a popular view. She was against the war. Once she went into other less popular fields, she wasn't this heroic figure anymore.

KURTZ: You know, even now in that posting on the Daily Kos, Sheehan writes that the country is "... in danger of rapidly descending into a fascist corporate wasteland."

And I think it was difficult in 2005, when most Democratic officials were still at least nominally supporting the war, for the media to sort of get a handle on the antiwar movement. And so she became the public face, we essentially invented her as a public figure. But now, with two-thirds in the country saying things in Iraq are going badly, with 3,400 Americans dead, you don't need one person as a symbol anymore.

Chris Cillizza, Candy Crowley, Roger Simon, thanks very much for joining us.

Up next, a fitness magazine beefs up its cover image.

And is FOX News shying away from the Iraq war?

All ahead in our "Media Minute".

And later tonight, the Democrats square off in New Hampshire. You can watch it live on CNN, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, 4:00 Pacific.


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

Tennis star Andy Roddick is a muscular guy, but, well, not that muscular. "Men's Fitness" magazine altered a cover photo of Roddick to make his arms look even stronger than they are. "The New York Post" reported that even Roddick was a bit embarrassed at what the magazine did to him.

"I'm not as fit as the 'Men's Fitness' cover suggests," he wrote on his blog. "Little did I know I have 22-inch guns and a disappearing birthmark on my right arm."

Little did we know that "Men's Fitness" would pull such an unethical stunt.

More than four years into the Iraq war, the coverage remains a constant story on cable news. But more constant in some places than others. Check out these figures for the first three months of this year from the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

MSNBC spent 31 percent of its air time. CNN, 25 percent. But at FOX News the figure was 15 percent, about half the coverage of NBC's cable channel.

How about a very different kind of story? The frenzy over Anna Nicole Smith consumed 4 percent of CNN's air time, 6 percent at MSNBC, and 10 percent at FOX. In fact, if you look just at the daytime hours, FOX devoted nearly three times as much attention to Anna Nicole as to Iraq.

Now, some might think that FOX has steered away from the war because it's sympathetic to the Bush administration and, let's face it, things have not been going well in Iraq. But it may just be that FOX is more concerned than ratings, and every network executive knows the audience is suffering from a certain degree of Iraq fatigue and that Anna Nicole pumps up the numbers.

Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, Rosie O'Donnell is off "The View," but are in-your-face anchors who put rants above reason discourse the hot new thing on cable news?

And later, "US Weekly" takes on the other celebrity magazines, calling them out for fake news. We talk to editor Janice Min.

And don't forget to watch the Democratic presidential debate. Wolf Blitzer moderates tonight from New Hampshire, 7:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN.


KURTZ: Welcome back.

They don't lack for self-confidence or a good set of lungs. Some television hosts and commentators are increasingly bringing passion to the airwaves, stirring up controversy day after day. Some people love them, others can't stand them, but their audiences are growing.

Rosie O'Donnell drew all kinds of flack for her rants on "The View," which she quit last week after one last battle with Elisabeth Hasselbeck. But Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Keith Olbermann and Lou Dobbs are among those embracing the argument culture on their programs.


ROSIE O'DONNELL, "THE VIEW": You would not even look me in the face, Elisabeth...

ELISABETH HASSELBECK, "THE VIEW": What are you talking about?

O'DONNELL: ... and say, "No, Rosie, I can understand how people might have thought that. Why don't you take this opportunity? Like I'm six.

HASSELBECK: Because you are an adult...

O'DONNELL: So are you.

HASSELBECK: ... and I am certainly not going to be the person for you to explain your thoughts. They're your thoughts. Defend your own insinuations.

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: Make no mistake here. The intent of that is to get us to confuse the psychotic scheming of an international terrorist with that familiar bogeyman of the far right, the "media". That linkage is more than just indefensible, it is un- American.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": This idiotic amnesty legislation would bring in 400,000 more guest workers into this country. No telling how many others. If the American people don't awaken to this stupidity that is passing for leadership...

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: This is justice! And you want anarchy.

GERALDO RIVERA, FOX NEWS: This has nothing to do...


O'REILLY: No, you want anarchy.


O'REILLY: You want open-border anarchy! That's what you want!

RIVERA: What I want is fairness. We have lured...

O'REILLY: Fairness, bull!

RIVERA: We have lured these people -- we have lured these people to this country...

O'REILLY: Oh, yes!

RIVERA: ... with the promise of jobs.


KURTZ: That's fun to watch even the second time.

So, are these cable combatants generating more heat than light?

Joining us now, Mary Katharine Ham, managing editor of In New York, Rachel Sklar, blogger and editor at And in Philadelphia, Gail Shister, television columnist for "The Philadelphia Inquirer".

Rachel Sklar, you write this week that you're happy to see Rosie O'Donnell go because she's a bull. But "The View" is supposed to be a debate show, not a tea party.

RACHEL SKLAR, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM: I don't think I said that I was happy that she went. My comment was on the way she departed and the way she engaged with Elisabeth Hasselbeck. It had absolutely nothing to do with her politics and everything to do with her manner. And she was a bully in the last episode, and I thought it was -- I was surprised that she didn't come back to "The View".

But I think that no one said "The View" is supposed to be a tea party. It's a debate show. It's called "The View". And so it's fine to engage in debate. It's terrific to engage in debate. The -- you know, I think what we're talking about here is bluster versus facts.

KURTZ: Gail Shister, the critics have basically torn Rosie to shreds, but she got everybody talking about "The View" this season. The ratings were up 17 percent.

Isn't that what a commentator is supposed to do?

GAIL SHISTER, "THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER": Oh, absolutely, Howie. My motto has always been, never let the facts stand in the way of a good story. So, if she's punching tickets doing what she's doing, ABC's going to be very happy.

The interesting thing I see about this whole brouhaha is in that in the clips you just showed, Rosie was the only female who was the so-called "bully" and the only one who was screaming, when I just think it's a lot more acceptable if a guy's yelling. I think viewers are much more intimidated and uneasy when it's a woman. So I think there is an element of sexism here, too.

KURTZ: That is an interesting point.

Mary Katharine Ham, where Rosie O'Donnell lost me -- and I've talked about it on the program -- is when she started talking about 9/11 conspiracy theories, tower seven at the World Trade Center complex couldn't have come down without explosives.

Did that kind of loony stuff made her radioactive for ABC?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, TOWNHALL.COM: I think it should have. I think unfortunately it didn't, and she left of her own accord after Elisabeth finally pushed back. And I think Rachel's right and she...

KURTZ: You don't think that ABC nudged her out at all?

HAM: I think she was nudged a bit, but I think -- basically, I think Rosie wimped out after Elisabeth punched back once or twice. I'm going to have to agree with Rachel and say that she was quite the bully on the show, and I'm glad Elisabeth finally got a few shots in.

But I think that this fighting argument culture is sort of like -- it's like negative ads in politics. People say they don't want them, but they work. And people will tell you all day long that they want to see very calm, rational discussion on TV, but the fact is, is that if Rachel and Gail and I went to cat fighting and hair pulling, then we'd be on YouTube with 100,000 views.

KURTZ: Well, don't let me discourage you from that.

SHISTER: Don't tempt me.

KURTZ: They say they want Jim Lehrer, but they actually want Geraldo and O'Reilly beating each other up.

Well, Rachel Sklar, FOX's Bill O'Reilly is paid to have strong opinions on everything, and he does. But does he delight in bringing on, you know, these left wing professors and activists who don't have that much TV experience and kind of pummeling thing?

SKLAR: Well, Bill O'Reilly really does enjoy a good pummeling. And I think it makes for really good TV.

And, you know, I watch O'Reilly and I enjoy Bill O'Reilly's manner. What I don't enjoy is when Bill O'Reilly does not traffic in truth.

An example that I can think of is when he kind of -- in an anti- abortion discussion he made an off-hand assertion that there was absolutely no case where a pregnancy would endanger the life of the mother, which is patently untrue. And then he went on to support that by having a -- you know, a very, very right-wing guest on to agree with him, and none of this was fact.

There's ectopic pregnancy, there's preeclampsia. I mean, and -- and that sort of thing, that's just one example where it's very, very dangerous to be putting that out there and asserting it as truth when it is not.

HAM: And I don't know if I'm dealing with the same exact incident that Rachel is dealing with, but I believe he did have somebody from the other side on to have a nice fight with. So I think, you know, it is important to deal in truth.

Passion is OK, and I enjoy passion, as long as I know where my newscaster is coming from. I kind of enjoy that. But they do have to deal in truth, and I think it's good to have somebody on to fight with you.

KURTZ: Well...

SHISTER: Yes, but have you ever -- Howie, I'd like to jump in here.

Have you ever noticed and when -- and we just did it ourselves. When two women are fighting you're calling it a cat fight. Why is it when two men are fighting nobody calls it a cockfight?

KURTZ: Well, I didn't call it a cat fight. I was picking up on a lighthearted comment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'll call it that any day.

KURTZ: But since you've jumped in, Gail Shister, let's look at MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, whose ratings at one point were up about 85 percent.

With his increasingly harsh denunciations of President Bush and the Iraq war and sometimes Bill O'Reilly, who calls him the worst person in the world, has he become more of a liberal version of O'Reilly? Because O'Reilly, to his credit, has Democrats on and people he disagrees with, and they go at it. But Olbermann generally only has liberals on the show.

SHISTER: Here's the difference in my view, is that we're talking about a difference in level of discourse.

I don't even care about the politics. I do care about the truth factor, or as Colbert would say, the "truthiness" of the anchor. But what offends me more is the decibel level.

And Olbermann is a great writer. Nobody would dispute that. Does he go over the line sometimes? Absolutely. But one thing he doesn't do -- so you couldn't call him a liberal O'Reilly -- is that he doesn't cut people off at the knees, he doesn't point at people like O'Reilly.

You watch O'Reilly, he does the body language. Every single night, the body language. And he doesn't talk over people when they start to answer a question.

HAM: I think...

SHISTER: Speaking of which...

HAM: I think Olbermann is -- I mean, he's a textbook example of a blowhard. I mean, he's -- he has -- and this is one of my concerns, is that I don't mind...

KURTZ: Why do you say he's a blowhard?

HAM: I don't mind the passion and I don't mind arguing back and forth, and I think you can do that intelligently. What I miss is some good humor. And Keith Olbermann has exactly none.

KURTZ: Oh, he's a very funny (ph) guy.


HAM: Oh, I disagree. Have you seen his on-camera -- you know, his monologues? I mean, they're so serious, to the point that they actually end up being funny.

SKLAR: Sure. They're very earnest. They're very earnest.

KURTZ: Well, special comments are, by nature, editorials.

I just think he should have more people on with a different point of view, and they can go at it and then we can -- viewers can decide which argument they find to be the strongest one.

CNN's Lou Dobbs, we saw him at the top, often talks on his "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" program about illegal immigration. This week, a "New York Times" columnist got him to acknowledge that a statistic involving illegal immigrants that one of his reporters had offered on the show was inaccurate. Dobbs then turned around and attacked "New York Times" columnist David Leonhardt, called him -- accused him of a personal attack, and then he had this to say.

Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DOBBS: I don't like personal attacks from both the left and the right wings, but I'm getting kind of used to it. I will assure you that we'll continue to report on the nonpartisan independent reality that is too often overwhelmed by the ideologues in our national media, the left wing and the right wing.


KURTZ: Rachel Sklar, anything wrong with Lou Dobbs banging the drum night after night on the subject of illegal immigration?

SKLAR: Again, the problem is when it's not balanced. And in the case of Lou Dobbs and that "New York Times" article, when it is not right.

The scary thing that happened and the reason that this blew up was the fact that Lou Dobbs was questioned on "60 Minutes" for his assertion that there had been 7,000 cases of leprosy in the country over the past three years. And it had in fact been 30 years.

And when he was challenged on that fact by Leslie Stahl, he said, well, if we said it, it must have been fact. And that's where he stood, and he refused to budge, and he refused to support anything -- he refused to support, you know, Stahl's challenges to his -- to the fact that he -- that his critics say that he distorts and exaggerates.

KURTZ: OK, fine. But when you say he doesn't give the other side, I mean, he often frequently has guests with a different viewpoint, and they go at it. And that's a good thing about the show.

SKLAR: Sure. It's great to have guests with different viewpoints, and it's great to have people going at it on the air, absolutely. And it's clearly great for ratings.

My focus is on the credibility of it as a news source. It's a CNN shore, the most trusted name in news, and when, you know, a grave error like that is called out so publicly, it should be apologized for. I mean, that's where credibility comes from. And being right.

SHISTER: Well, that's -- I'm sorry. Go ahead.

HAM: I think she's right. I mean, Dobbs should have stood up and said this was incorrect. It was fairly obvious. It was not a personal attack in the piece that I read about him.

I think it's also interesting that I think O'Reilly and Dobbs both take this very passionate populist pose. And I think it may betray sort of a fatigue on the part of the American people with the far left and the far right. They're doing this sort of "I'm not on either side" kind of thing.

KURTZ: Gail Shister, I've got about half a minute for a closing thought.

Are some of the quieter voices in television being drowned out by the people we're talking about? SHISTER: Who are they?

No. What bothers me the most, Howie, is that the reactions of people like Dobbs and O'Reilly is sense of the imperiousness and the dismissiveness. This attitude of "If I said it must be true." And very few people can get away with that, but they clearly are.

KURTZ: Well, it's good to correct mistakes, but it's also good to have these voices on the air. And it's good to have all of you not talking over each other on this program.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're very polite.

KURTZ: Rachel Sklar, Mary Katharine Ham, Gail Shister, thanks for joining us.

Glossy magazines dishing the latest celebrity gossip, and this will come as a shock: getting it wrong? "US Weekly's Janice Min tells us why she's calling out the competition for fakery next on RELIABLE SOURCES.

And later tonight, be sure to watch the Democrats square off. CNN is live with the presidential debate, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, 4:00 Pacific.


KURTZ: When it comes to celebrities and their romances and engagements, breakups and divorces, pregnancies, diets and drug problems, nobody covers the turf more breathlessly than the glossy magazines. "US Weekly" has mounted an unusual campaign against its competitors, running a weekly feature on what they got wrong. What's behind this media war? The other magazine editors would not speak for the record, but I spoke earlier with Janice Min, the editor of "US Weekly," from New York.


KURTZ: Janice Min, welcome.


KURTZ: Why have you mounted this frontal assault on your rivals? Shouldn't we conclude that your motives are perhaps less than pure here?

MIN: Well, listen. I mean, obviously, it's a competitive marketplace out there in the world of celebrity magazines.

And our motive really was to just point out to the consumer, look, there are several titles out there fabricating news. And at "US," we built our name, we became a hot magazine through breaking news, and these titles are trying to get attention on themselves through faking news.

We really want to be considerate (ph) of "US" readers -- the people who are buying multiple titles in this category -- to understand what's going on.

The key -- you know, the turning point for me was when one of these titles kept declaring week after week that Brad and Angelina had broken up. This is the biggest couple in Hollywood. And it suddenly became a little news story in itself that we felt we needed to cover.

KURTZ: Right. Well, "fabrication" is a very strong word, as you know.

Let me go through some of these magazines and the covers...

MIN: Sure.

KURTZ: ... and we'll talk about them.

MIN: Sure.

KURTZ: For example, in the area of pregnancy...

MIN: Yes.

KURTZ: ... "OK!" magazine has the cover, "J.Lo to Be a Mom".

MIN: Right.

KURTZ: "In Touch" magazine had three different ones in the last year or so -- "Jen Looks Pregnant". That would be Jennifer Aniston, of course.

MIN: Right.

KURTZ: "Friends Worry Britney's Pregnant." We don't have to explain who that is.

MIN: Right.

KURTZ: And Katie Holmes -- "Katie Looks Pregnant Again".

MIN: Right.

KURTZ: Now, they say, well, we just said they looked pregnant. And they did look pregnant. And so, what if they weren't pregnant?

MIN: In all of those stories, they have anonymous sources discussing the fact that, yes, it does appear she's pregnant, that friends are so happy that it looks like she has a belly. You know, when you look at the cover lines, you know, they'll say in the smallest font possible, "Friends worry," "Britney's pregnant" in 36- point type.

But there are other covers they do where they actually do declare people pregnant, where one of the -- one of those publications actually sent out a press release declaring Jennifer Lopez pregnant. So, it's varying degrees of...

KURTZ: And apparently... MIN: ... deception going on.

KURTZ: Apparently this was news to Jennifer Lopez.

MIN: Yes, she's shocked to know that she's had so many children.

KURTZ: Now, in the area of divorce, which, of course, is a celebrity magazine's staple...

MIN: Yes.

KURTZ: ... breakups, divorces, getting into rehab.

MIN: Absolutely.

KURTZ: OK. "Star" magazine had a big headline, "Divorce!" with an exclamation point. This was about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.

MIN: Right.

KURTZ: "Katie in Tears," said the subhead.

"Life and Style" magazine on Angelina Jolie, "Why She Left Brad".

MIN: Right.

KURTZ: And we referred to that earlier.

MIN: Right.

KURTZ: But, you know, all the magazines publish when, you know, these couples appear to be having trouble.

Is this in a different category, in your view?

MIN: Oh, completely. I mean, you know, the fascinating thing about the Brad-Angelina split story is that this was done just completely against all reporting and all evidence that was out there.

I mean, this is the couple's photograph together in Cannes. They're together in the Czech Republic filming Angelina's movie.

And there's no evidence, there's no reporting -- nothing to sustain the fact that these two have broken up. Yet this cover is put out there.


KURTZ: Now, rival executives tell me that you're worried about the competition. There's two of these magazines published by the same company. "In Touch" and "Life and Style" didn't exist five years ago, and now they have a combined circulation of more than two million.

And besides, isn't it obvious to readers that Jen didn't have the baby and Tom and Katie didn't break up, and so forth?

Why do we need "US" magazine to point it out?

MIN: You know, I actually don't think it's so obvious to the reader.

Let's remember, we live in a total ad media society right now, where people go to the newsstand. They're tired. These are primarily women at the checkout.

They're not keeping up with the latest headlines. And they go to the supermarket and it's like, "Oh, my God. I missed that big story."

And then they get - they purchase a publication.

And, you know, for some people they might not care that it ends up not being true. For other people, they actually might not even remember which title said what.

So, to clarify in the reader's mind, and since it is an increasingly competitive category of magazines, that became important.

KURTZ: Whose idea was this campaign in the first place?

MIN: It was born out of a conversation between Jann Wenner, who owns "US" magazine and -- between the two of us. And he - you know, it's funny. It coincided the same week that his other publication, "Rolling Stone," won the National Magazine Award for general excellence.

And to him, you know, he obviously -- he loves "US" magazine, has played a pivotal part in its success.

He was sort of shocked by what he was seeing out there. The fact that celebrity journalism, whatever you think of it, whether you think it's silly or frivolous, is a real newsbeat. He is a real news journalist, as are the people who work at "US" magazine.

He was shocked to see what was becoming of a legitimate newsbeat, that it was becoming illegitimate through the deeds of these other publications.

KURTZ: I'm sure he was quite shocked.

Now, what about "US" magazine mistakes? I mean...

MIN: Sure.

KURTZ: ... Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were having a baby. You said it would be a girl. I guess that didn't turn out to be the case.

MIN: Right. I mean, we ran a correction in our publication. You know, what I've always said about the mistakes in "US" magazine is that, look, mistakes happen as part of any news-gathering operation.

We ran a correction on that error in reporting on the baby's sex. We ran it on our Web site, we ran a correction. And we actually instituted a policy at the magazine after that, that we will never report on a baby's gender before the event, before the birth actually happens, because...

KURTZ: You decided to just say no.

MIN: Just say that...

KURTZ: Now, what about this big cover that you had on Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston? "Vince Proposes". They're not married.

MIN: Yes, we've -- listen. We've always...

KURTZ: They're not engaged.

MIN: Right. But that doesn't mean the engagement or proposal didn't happen. We've always stood by that story. And anyone who's read the coverage of -- read our stories on both the proposal and the subsequent story on the breakup, it's very clear that we've stood by the story, and that the facts are accurate.

KURTZ: Are you -- let's be frank here. Are you having a grand old time, getting a kick out of this...

MIN: I mean, it's -- you know...

KURTZ: ... firing away at your competitors?

MIN: Listen, it's funny. It's amusing, you know, to -- when you actually lay all this -- when you lay it all out, these grand soap operas that have been drawn out by these publications, that really just show they're living in a parallel universe of fiction, compared to what is actually going on in the world of celebrities.

Sure, it's amusing. But I actually find it a little frightening for the whole world of publishing overall.

KURTZ: This is big business, indeed. I know a lot of political magazines that can only fantasize about the kind of circulation that you and some of your rivals have.

MIN: Absolutely.

KURTZ: Janice Min, thanks very much for joining us.

MIN: Thank you so much.


KURTZ: And this just in: Paris Hilton will not be allowed to do TV interviews when she goes to jail.

Still to come, a new generation of online critics is cashing in on Hollywood perks and junkets. We'll give you the lowdown after the break.

And don't forget the Democratic presidential debate tonight, 7:00 Eastern, 6:00 Central, on CNN.


KURTZ: Bloggers hold forth on everything these days, including their television shows. And more power to them. Why should newspaper and magazine critics have a monopoly in this day and age?

But some bloggers are -- and there's no delicate way to put this -- selling out. It's been called blogola.


KURTZ (voice over): Take the CBS comedy "The New Adventures of Christine." The divorced mother, Christine, being Julia Louis- Dreyfus. Warner Brothers, which produces the show and is part of CNN's parent company, invited a dozen female bloggers to the set to watch a rehearsal. They even got to make videos with Julia and other cast members.

One of those attending was Yvonne Marie of the blog Joy Unexpected. This "was totally rad," she told "The Wall Street Journal," which detailed the practice. Marie e-mailed her post to CBS with a note -- "If there's anything you'd like me to add, just tell me and I will. XO, XO."


KURTZ: Yvonne Marie now says, "I wrote whatever I wanted to write, and no one told me to do otherwise. I don't deny they used me to help promote the show. I mean, duh. That was the whole point."

Warner Brothers also paid for seven bloggers to fly to British Columbia and put them up in a nice hotel to promote the drama "Supernatural". Oh, but there were no lobster dinners, a spokesman said.

"TV Guide" critic Michael Ausiello is also a blogger. Disney's ABC quoted Ausiello by giving him a bit part in the comedy "Scrubs," which airs on NBC. ABC is bragging about the promotional payoff from that move.

Most news organizations prohibit their writers from accepting freebies worth more than $25. If some bloggers want to ignore the ethical aspect and take these junkets and goodies from studios and networks, they may have a grand time hobnobbing with the stars and taking home the loot. What they won't have, at least in my book, is much credibility.

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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