Return to Transcripts main page


Hillary Hits Back; Baseball Shame

Aired November 18, 2007 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): Hillary hits back. Is the press cheering on the former first lady for taking shots at her Democratic rivals?

And what explains the media frenzy over that student's question planted by the Clinton camp?

Baseball shame. The indictment of a slugger raises this question: Was the press right all along about Barry Bonds?

Out for revenge. Ousted publisher Judith Regan, who had an affair with the indicted Bernie Kerik, accuses Rupert Murdoch's company of trying to protect Kerik's pal, Rudy Giuliani.

Plus, the senator versus the liberal media. John McCain says CNN was unfair in reporting on his tepid response to a woman who called Hillary a very bad word.


KURTZ: From the moment Hillary Clinton stumbled in that debate in Philadelphia, the press made the story line clear -- could she recover in the next Democratic face-off? Would she waffle again, or would this become, as the reporters so fervently wish, a tight race? Because if it's not, how do we keep justifying all this coverage, not to mention our expense accounts?

So when CNN's Wolf Blitzer began the questioning at Thursday night's debate in Las Vegas, the spotlight was squarely on Hillary, and she promptly started swinging.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't mind taking hits on my record, on issues, but when somebody starts throwing mud, at least we can hope that it's both accurate and not right out of the Republican playbook.


KURTZ: The pundits love when a candidate, particularly a front- runner, throws punches, and that was clear in the post-game chatter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Hillary's back. And the subhead, I guess would be, no more madam nice guy.

BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: In a way this was Hillary Clinton's night. She got things back on track after really an awful performance in the previous debate.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, she came loaded for bear this time.


KURTZ: Joining us now, Chris Cillizza, who writes "The Fix," a blog on; Steve Roberts, professor of media and public affairs at The George Washington University; and Karen Tumulty, national political correspondent for "Time" magazine.

Chris Cillizza, reporters have been dying for Hillary to start throwing some punches and rushed to declare her the winner when she did.

What do you make of that?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM: Well, look, I thought the reviews of her Philadelphia debate performance were probably a little overblown. She was not great. She was bad, frankly, on the driver's license question, but remember she had withstood an hour's worth of attack in the first hour of that debate which may have made her a little bit punchy.

The story line, she's falling, she's faltering, she's stumbling, in this debate she was clearly better, there's no question. But the idea that she delivered a knockout blow to these people I think is again overblown. I think we have a tendency to see these things in black and white. I thought if you went into that liking Barack Obama, I think you probably came out of that debate liking Barack Obama.

KURTZ: The boxing metaphor is irresistible.

Karen Tumulty, let me read you some headlines. "Hillary Goes on Attack," "Washington Times." "Hill Hammers 'Mud' Brothers," "New York Post." "Clinton Hits Boys," AP.

Do the media make these debates all about Hillary, and Obama and Edwards are basically the foils?

KAREN TUMULTY, TIME MAGAZINE: I actually -- I think this debate showed the media at its worst. There's this whole tendency that we have to score these things. Like you said, like a boxing match.

And yes, there were plenty of punches thrown, but you know what else happened in that debate? We got our clearest view yet of precisely where these candidates differ on health care reform.

You had them talking about their differences on Social Security. I cannot ever recall that subject being discussed in a Democratic primary. And all of that gets lost I think in the post-debate so- called analysis.

KURTZ: And that subject drives me crazy, Steve Roberts. I mean, here you have Hillary saying to Barack Obama, you know, 15 million Americans would be left uninsured by your health care plan. He comes back and talks about mandates.

I saw one story on the substances (ph) in "The New York Times." Very little discussion elsewhere. Hillary Clinton says NAFTA was a mistake, thereby distancing herself from her husband who helped pass it.

Where -- why is it that we are so focused on who's throwing the punches, as opposed to what the punches contain?

STEVE ROBERTS, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Well, I think that's a good question. I do think that there's a search for a story line -- someone's up, someone's down, someone's up, someone's down. You can't keep writing Hillary's still ahead -- yet again, Hillary's still ahead, because you don't get on the air and you don't get in the papers if you do that.

But it's unfair to judge media coverage simply by what happens on television on even in the newspaper, because if you go to the Web sites of a lot of news organizations, you can find very in-depth analysis of a lot of these substantive issues. And I think that's one of the great advantages of the Web.

KURTZ: Then why do they limit it to the Web?

ROBERTS: Well, it's a good question.

KURTZ: A very good question.

ROBERTS: It's a very good question. But if you want to find that information about Social Security, health care, you can find it. You've got to look for it, but you can find it.

KURTZ: All right. Speaking of questions -- excuse me, Chris -- let's look at what was asked at the CNN debate by some of the networks' anchors and we'll talk about that on the other side.


CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN: Your opponents are saying that that's really part of a larger pattern with you, that you often avoid taking firm positions on controversial issues.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And you've suggested she's triangulating, whatever that means, on some of the key issues, she's running a textbook Washington campaign. You've suggested that.

BROWN: Some have suggested that you, that your campaign, that your husband, are exploiting gender as a political issue during this campaign.

What's really going on here? CLINTON: Well, I'm not exploiting anything at all.


KURTZ: Some have suggested that they're just trying to start a fight.

What do you say?

CILLIZZA: I was going to criticize "Some have suggested," and then when I was watching it, I thought, well, I've done that before myself.


CILLIZZA: I mean, I think what reporters are trying to do, and I think what Campbell Brown and what Wolf Blitzer and what everybody else who hosts these debates is trying to do, is trying to make the news -- you know, what's in the news get them to read and react to it very quickly. You know, they went right at a few of the things.

The first question was sort of about Hillary's position on driver's license and illegal immigration, but not really. She was able to not really answer that.

I mean, unfortunately, as much as people -- I'm going to defend the media for a minute here.

KURTZ: All right.

CILLIZZA: As much as people say, we need to focus more on substance, everything that I see -- people want to know -- when I see someone they find out I'm a political person and they say, "Who's going to win?" They don't say, hey, whose position do you like best on Social Security?

ROBERTS: I thought that Campbell Brown's questions on gender were right on. The fact that she is playing the gender card, everybody knows it. She is running as a woman, she's trying to maximize the votes of women. It's the only way she can actually win, is to maximize the votes of women.

I think it is a smart strategy. I thought Campbell's questions were fine. And what I don't like is the notion -- this was more in the previous debate than in this one -- where the Clintonian reaction is, the media's out to get us, you know, accusing Russert of asking a "gotcha" question.

KURTZ: Talking about the substance of driver's license...


ROBERTS: I mean, please. I mean, she ain't seen nothing yet if she thinks the media's tough on her now.

TUMULTY: But the stupidest question of the night was the diamonds or pearls, the very last question of the debate. It comes allegedly from the audience.

A young woman in the audience gets up and asks Senator Clinton, after we had discussed whether she's playing the gender card, she gets this question, what do you prefer, diamonds or pearls? And then...

ROBERTS: This is a version of boxers or briefs? You know?

TUMULTY: But wait. But then later we discover that young woman came to the debate armed with a bunch of serious questions and then she was told by someone at CNN to ask the frivolous question. And this in a week, by the way, when Hillary Clinton is getting criticized for planted questions.

KURTZ: Which we'll come to in a second.

Let me tell what you CNN says. That this woman -- Maria Louise (ph) is her name -- she complained about this on her MySpace page, saying the media chose what they wanted -- that she had a list of five questions.

And the question she wanted to ask was about nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain. That had already been asked during part of the debate. There was, you know, a minute and a half left, so she was -- it was suggested to her that she ask another question on her list. And in other words, this was her question about diamonds or pearls, not something that CNN made up.

ROBERTS: But you know, it's interesting that she has the ability to now talk back on her MySpace page.

KURTZ: That is very interesting.

ROBERTS: Everybody has the ability to voice their opinions here. And I think that the one thing I didn't like about the way CNN handled this debate was the rephrasing of the questions that Suzanne Malveaux and others did.

If you're going to have people out there, ordinary citizens, asking questions, give them a direct shot at the candidate. Don't stand there and say, let's rephrase it, let's add to it. I did not like that, and I thought Joe Biden and others did a good job by saying, I'm going to answer the audience's questions, not your questions.

CILLIZZA: The one thing that frustrates me as a member of the media, though, is it's not just this Clintonian, it's the media. John Edwards, earlier in the campaign, "They don't want me to be in this race," referring to the media.

John McCain takes shots at the media. It's much more popular on the Republican side because it plays to their base. But I think even now on the Democratic side there is this distrust among the liberal base of this party with the media, whether it's because of Al Gore in 2000, whether it's because of John Kerry in 2004 and the Swift Boats and those sort of things that I think linger, but it's this frustration. I feel like we're the foils in many ways. It's the easiest thing to do is say, well, the media is not reporting this story, but this is important.

Look, most of the people I know, including the people up here, are people trying to get this story right, trying to ask hard questions, trying to give people the most information so they can make a smart vote. We're not out there with an agenda to get John Edwards or to get Hillary Clinton.

KURTZ: In fact, there was a whispering campaign among some of the other Democratic rivals about, well, had CNN produced some sort of pro-Hillary audience? Well, the audience did seem to be pro-Hillary and was certainly demonstrative. But most of the tickets, the vast majority, were given to the state party, the University of Nevada where it was located, and the campaigns themselves.

Another bit of criticism after the debate was over -- CNN had sort of the post-game show -- two of the three outside analysts were David Gergen, who worked in the Clinton White House, as well as for Republican presidents, and James Carville, who is identified as a former Bill Clinton adviser but who has given money to Hillary Clinton and signed fund-raising letters for her.

So was that -- was that deck stacked?

ROBERTS: I didn't like that. I did think the deck was stacked.

David Gergen's different. He's worked with both Democrats and Republicans. Carville is a total Democratic operative, he's a close colleague and friend of the Clintons.

What I -- it wasn't just the stacking that bothered me, it was putting someone like Carville on with serious political analysts like Gloria Borger and others, where you mix and match, you confuse the audience about where people are coming from. If you want to have political operatives like Carville, have him on with Karl Rove and say, these are our partisans and this is what you are getting, but don't confuse the audience.

KURTZ: Right.

You raised the question earlier, Chris, about the infamous planted question -- this was at a town meeting in Iowa when a young woman whose name is Muriel Gallo-Chasanoff stood up and said, "I am a young person and I'm concerned about the effects of global warming." Well, it turns out that she was corralled by the Clinton staff earlier, told to ask that question. Not that it was such a great question.

Let me play a little bit of the reaction among commentators and pundits to that and we'll talk about it.


KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: Would this be Senator Clinton hurting herself, and who in her campaign would have been stupid enough to do this?

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN: Let's face it, the Clinton are masters at this type of thing. You know, certain Machiavellian nests involved in something like this.

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS: This is not the biggest deal ever, but it's a moment at which comes at kind of an awkward moment for her.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You know, that stuff's dishonest. I mean, why don't we just start there? Planting questions is dishonest.


KURTZ: Now, this is not exactly unheard of in politics. And it seems to me the press is treating it like a mini Watergate.

TUMULTY: Well, I think though that this was one of these moments where the curtain goes back on the political process and people -- I don't think that the coverage would suggest that most of it, at least, would suggest that this was something uniquely Clintonian. But it was a chance, I think, to pull the curtain back and let people see that these events, which go on and on and on through the political season, are in fact not quite the -- to coin a phrase -- listening tour that they are made out to be by the candidates and, by the way, by the press as well.

KURTZ: Does it play into the larger narrative that the press has -- I see you nodding your head, Chris Cillizza -- that Hillary Clinton is a calculating and controlling person and therefore she doesn't even want to take unscripted questions?

CILLIZZA: Well, I agree with Karen, that it's not something that is unique to Senator Clinton's campaign. The problem is any of these small events -- and I would put this as sort of a small development in the larger campaign -- aren't a big deal in a vacuum. They are a big deal as part of a larger narrative.

And the unfortunate larger narrative that this plays into is Senator Clinton is manipulative, Senator Clinton doesn't want to take hard questions that are too political. That's the idea, that if you go out into the country and ask, you know, 50 random people, 20 or 25 of them will say, I don't know, I just don't trust them. So the problem for her is that it plays into fears that people already have about the campaign.

ROBERTS: Absolutely. You look at the polls, and on the question of trustworthiness or honesty, she's right at the bottom. I mean, that is clearly her biggest weakness with Democratic voters.

KURTZ: So therefore, it is a big story? A significant story?

ROBERTS: Well, it's a significant story only because it plays into a larger story line.

KURTZ: All right. Let me get a break here. When we come back, is it a story when John McCain fails to object to a voter's use of a demeaning word to describe Hillary Clinton? McCain is crying foul.

We'll take a look.


KURTZ: John McCain, who got so much gushing press during his 2000 campaign, is ticked off these days at CNN. The contretemps began when Rick Sanchez, host of CNN's "OUT IN THE OPEN," led off his show with footage of a South Carolina town meeting where a woman in the audience had the temerity to call Hillary Clinton a word you may not want your kids to hear.


SANCHEZ: This could be real bad for John McCain.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do we beat the bitch?


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Can I give the translation? The way that...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John, I thought she was talking about my ex- wife.

MCCAIN: But that's an excellent question.

I respect Senator Clinton. I respect anyone who gets the nomination of the Democrat Party.

SANCHEZ: That's an excellent question, he says. This is a fellow senator that he's talking about, no matter what you think of Hillary Clinton. Is John McCain done as a result of this?


KURTZ: Steve Roberts, does McCain have a case that this was overplayed and overdramatized by CNN, the lead story on that program?

ROBERTS: No, because this is playing into an underlying sexism, it's a wink and a nod that men have always done when they deal with women.

KURTZ: Even though McCain obviously didn't say it?

ROBERTS: Yes, I understand that. But he could have immediately said, "I respect Senator Clinton, I don't like that word." He didn't do it.

He let the laughter roll. And I think that in dealing in this campaign -- and the truth is, it was out of character with McCain, because he has been a close friend of Hillary Clinton's, he's worked with her. They clearly respect each other. But I think in this campaign he just let the sexism boil a little too much, and I think he was trying to play on it, and I didn't like it.

KURTZ: Let's hear what the Arizona senator had to say afterwards.


MCCAIN: She made a comment, I made light of the comment. And then I said very seriously, I treated and continue to treat Senator Clinton with respect, and I've said that many times. I'm sure that's good enough for the American people even if it's not good enough for CNN.


KURTZ: As a representative of your gender, Karen Tumulty, were some -- would some women be offended that McCain didn't immediately say, "Madam, that kind of language is unacceptable"?

TUMULTY: I think so. And I also think though that his discomfort with the question is evident in his body language. It's evidenced in his reaction, and he -- you know, when he sort of sweeps his brow. It's one of these things where if you watch the tape, I think it's a little bit -- it's a little bit better for McCain than if you listen to the transcript.

All that said, however, the fact that he then lashes out at CNN is sort of interesting, because I think it underlies a dynamic we've seen in the McCain campaign this year that is so different from eight years ago, when he considered the media his base. And suddenly he's blaming the media for a lot of his problems.

KURTZ: And in fact, Chris Cillizza, the McCain campaign sent out a fund-raising letter ripping CNN, complaining about the liberal media and Rick Sanchez's "outrageous behavior." So he's keeping the story alive by doing that.

CILLIZZA: Well, you know, any time you can combine bashing the media and Hillary Clinton into an appeal for Republican base voters, those are two things that are very powerful.

You know, I think the challenge for McCain here is that one of the reasons that I think many in the media fell in love with him is he is funny, he is quick-witted. He does sort of, you know, make light of a lot of things. But the problem is that when a situation like this arises, I think his tendency is to sort of nervously, maybe even uncomfortably, laugh it off and go on to the next thing when people may want a serious condemnation.

It's a hard balance for him to strike. We love him because he's not all that serious and can joke around, but then we also bash him because he's not all that serious and can joke around.

KURTZ: Rick Sanchez says this is a classic case of McCain blaming the messenger, that he was simply reporting the story. But anyone else find something strange about McCain going after the media when he spends hours and hours on his bus talking to reporters and clearly loves it?

ROBERTS: By the way, I thought Rick Sanchez's comment that this is going to kill McCain was overdone. That was an exaggeration. But he was perfectly legitimate, perfectly within his right to say what he said beyond that, and it is odd that McCain, who, as Karen says, has used the media as a base, but he is a different candidate this time. He's appealing to the conservative base, and bashing the media is subject one for the conservative base.

KURTZ: Good point.

Steve Roberts, Karen Tumulty, Chris Cillizza, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

Coming up, CNN in a clinch with pro wrestling over a documentary.



KATIE COURIC, CBS: Honestly, you guys, it's OK. I'm not that (INAUDIBLE). Just a little.


KURTZ: Katie Couric unplugged. You don't want to miss this video of the CBS newswoman mocking Dan Rather.


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


KURTZ (voice over): World Wrestling Entertainment says CNN did an unfair takedown of one of its stars. The wrestler in question is John Cena, who was interviewed for the documentary "Death Grip: Inside Pro Wrestling." And the conversation with a CNN producer returned to performance-enhancing drugs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He doesn't like being asked if he has used steroids.

JOHN CENA, WWE WRESTLER: This is a crazy something, and it's something that -- it's tough to answer just because of the way society is now. I can't tell you that I haven't, but you'll never be able to prove that I have.

KURTZ: Well, that certainly sounded like an ambiguous answer, but the wrestling group is accusing CNN of biased editing, saying, "CNN's depiction of John Cena as it relates to steroids is not only professionally and morally wrong, but damaging to his character."

The WWE posted the unedited video of the Cena interview on its Web site.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you ever used steroids?

CENA: Absolutely not. And this is...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Even back in bodybuilding days, football days?

CENA: This is a crazy question.


KURTZ: I don't know how you can cut out those words "absolutely not." And after reviewing the footage, CNN stood by the editing but inserted the additional comments from Cena when the documentary was replayed.

Well, Katie Couric was having some fun while waiting to start the "CBS Evening News" in Nashville and somehow the outtakes became a YouTube classic. She pokes fun at an old tape of Dan Rather deciding just how he should wear his trench coat and seems to get even with her predecessor for charging that she and CBS were tarting-up the news.


COURIC: OK, should I open my coat? I'm going to be like Dan Rather on YouTube.

Mike, help me with my coat.

What do you think? Open? Or it's kind of cold, so maybe we should close it.

I think this looks good. This looks more anchorwoman-ish. Don't you think?

Jeez. Don't you think he deserves a little payback?

All right. This tart is ready to go.

No, I'm serious. Moving the camera around? I'm like, bro, what up?


KURTZ: This tart is ready to go. We don't see much of Couric's lighter side on the evening news these days. Gee, I wonder how that tape got out.

And Walter Cronkite still going strong at 91. He'll be doing weekly commentaries for the Retirement Living Network, introduced by Katie Couric.

And that's the way it is.

Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, Judith Regan makes a sensational charge against Rupert Murdoch's company saying executives were allegedly trying to protect Rudy Giuliani.

Newsweek's commentator is Karl Rove?

Plus, how journalists are treating the indictment of their longtime nemesis, Barry Bonds.


KURTZ: With her brash tabloid sensibility, Judith Regan seemed tailor-made for Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Among her big-name authors at HarperCollins Publishing was former New York police commissioner Bernie Kerik, who got some extra attention in the form of a sexual affair with Regan. But things really got ugly when Regan was fired for that fiasco of an O.J. Simpson book and TV special, allegedly for making anti-Semitic comments.

This week Regan hit News Corp. with a $100 million lawsuit over what she calls a smear campaign and she makes one particularly explosive charge. When federal authorities were investigating Kerik, who was indicted last week, Regan says a senior News Corp. executive told her to withhold information about Kerik, even to lie to investigators because the information might hurt the presidential campaign of Kerik's long-time mentor, Rudy Giuliani.

The former mayor dismissed the account.


RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't respond to this story at all. I don't know anything about it. And it sounds to me like a -- kind of a gossip column story more than a real story.


KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about this and some other media matters, in Boston, Morra Aarons, political director for And here in Washington, Mary Katharine Ham, managing editor of

Mary Katharine Ham, Judith Regan in this lawsuit doesn't name the News Corp. executive who supposedly allegedly asked her to withhold information to help Rudy.

Does this sound plausible to you?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, TOWNHALL.COM: Oh, you know what? Everybody loves a tabloid story. It's going to get some coverage. It's got the sexual affair and all that kind of stuff. But I'm not sure -- you know, Judith Regan is known for her penchant for these sort of stories.

She pushed the O.J. Simpson book. I think her judgment is a little -- a little off maybe. And the fact is that News Corp. company, if they wanted to help Giuliani, would just put him on the air more. And I actually checked the numbers, and according to MediaBistro, a blog I enjoy, he's been on the fifth -- he's the fifth- most booked of all of the Republican candidates. So...

KURTZ: Right, 20 appearances.

HAM: Right.

KURTZ: We'll come back to that.

But Morra Aarons, could Judith Regan be just throwing mud here because she's furious about Murdoch's company firing her?

MORRA AARONS, BLOGHER.COM: Well, there's no doubt she is angry, but I think she's dangerous. What I'm really curious to see, if this scandal comes out, if this it finally the thing that makes values voters wake up and look at Rudy Giuliani critically.

I mean, what else can this man do? You know, he's got this scandalous, tabloid life, and they think that he is as American as apple pie and coming from the heartland. So I'm really excited to see what Judith Regan comes out.

I mean, the story is perfect. They had trysts at smoldering Ground Zero. She is, you know, terrifying. Her mouth knows no bounds. If I was Rudy I'd be scared, man. But, you know, when he was the fifth most-booked candidate, guess who's number one according to that same blog? Tom Tancredo.

What does that say about the credibility of the FOX News booking department?

HAM: Well, I think -- I think Kerik will have to answer for -- Giuliani will have to answer for the Kerik stuff, but I don't know if going through Judith Regan, the alleged lover of Bernie Kerik, is the way to do that. I don't know if that gives the charges with Kerik any credence, if you're doing that sort of tabloid story.

AARONS: She wasn't the alleged lover. She was his real lover. Everyone knows that. I mean, she's angry, she's dangerous. This woman has an ax to grind.

KURTZ: All right. Well, we hope she'll come on the show and grind it.

Now, she also says in this lawsuit that FOX News and "The New York Post" joined in a smear campaign against her after the O.J. business. I haven't found any evidence of that. And a News Corp. executive told me that the lawsuit was -- and I'm quoting now -- "preposterous."

Morra Aarons, Mary Katharine alluded to this in terms of the way in which FOX News treats Rudy Giuliani. Now, look, there are questions because Roger Ailes, the FOX News chairman, is a longtime friend of Rudy's. He helped -- he worked for Rudy in his first mayoral campaign in 1989, which I covered. And he helped the FOX News Channel get on the air in New York when it was the struggling, fledgling outfit.

So do you think these are legitimate questions about FOX and Rudy or not?

AARONS: I absolutely do. I mean, I think that it's no secret.

I think actually now that other media outlets, including this one, which, let's face it, has had a pretty bad week, all things considered, could really take advantage of this story and expose that FOX just basically gives Giuliani a big, wet kiss on a lot of things. I mean, you look at Sean Hannity's fawning coverage of Rudy. I think he's also headlined at a Rudy fund-raiser.

I don't think exactly think that's fair and balanced journalism.

HAM: Well, this is where the liberal memes about FOX bump together. And it's -- you know, FOX is so, so conservative, and yet now they're using their clout to push the most liberal of all of the conservative candidates. So I don't know. I don't buy it, and I think that if they were really pushing Giuliani, then you would see him on FOX more often and you wouldn't see any Kerik coverage, which I have on FOX.

KURTZ: All right. Well, let me jump in here and turn...

AARONS: You know what?

KURTZ: Let me jump in here, Morra, and turn to another subject.

This broke late yesterday, a three-paragraph item in a column by Robert Novak. Rather than my characterize it, let me just read it.

"Agents of Senator Hillary Clinton are spreading the word in Democratic circles that she has scandalous information about her principal opponent for the party's presidential nomination, Senator Barack Obama, but has decided not to use it. The nature of the alleged scandal was not disclosed."

And then of course the campaigns got involved and Obama's campaign ripped Hillary's campaign saying these were Swift Boat-type tactics, and Hillary's campaign says, we don't know what in the world Robert Novak is talking about and Obama is falling into the Republican playbook by seizing on something reported by a conservative columnist.

What do you make of this, Morra Aarons?

AARONS: Well, not only that, Obama put up a first-person statement on his Web site with the entire Novak piece below it. I mean, is this man hiding something? Why would he fall for this?

I mean, I just feel like Novak is sitting back there with Karl Rove in some editing headquarters just, you know, shaking their fingers with glee that they are able to manipulate the Democrats like this. I don't understand what's going on. And of course Hillary's playing dumb and they're just watching the Obama folks get into a tizzy.

Maybe there is something behind the claims, but I doubt it. KURTZ: With this complete lack of detail as to what "it" allegedly is, if there is an "it," Mary Katharine Ham, should Novak have published this?

HAM: Well, I don't know if I would have published it. On the other hand, I don't think that Novak has become a Washington staple -- and you can ask plenty of media types around town -- by printing nonsense. So somebody's talking to him. And I think it is cute that Hillary's campaign gets credit for prudence while they're spreading a rumor that has no specific...

KURTZ: But wait, wait, wait. You're buying into the notion that the Hillary campaign is spreading a rumor.

HAM: Well, that's what I said. I think that Novak has been a reliable reporter for years and he has not become a Washington staple by printing utter nonsense.


Let me on to "Newsweek"...

AARONS: Do you actually think...

KURTZ: Go ahead, Morra.

AARONS: I was going to say, do you actually think that Novak is getting a leak from the Hillary campaign, Mary Katharine?

KURTZ: Well, I'm saying he could have picked it up elsewhere.

Let's move on to "Newsweek," which this week announced that it has two new contributors. One of them is Karl Rove, former White House aide for six and a half years, and the other is Markos Moulitsas, who founded the liberal blog Daily Kos.

We have Rove's first column from "Newsweek." We'll put it up on the screen.

He says of Hillary Clinton, "She tends to be, well, hard and brittle. The conventional wisdom now is that Hillary Clinton will be the next president. In reality, she's eminently beatable. Her contentious history invokes unpleasant memories. She lacks her husband's political gifts and rejects much of the centrism that he championed."

Morra Aarons, is Karl Rove a good, provocative, hire for "Newsweek"?

AARONS: Well, he's certainly provocative. I mean, look at this. But what I thought was interesting, Howard, is that in his whole column he does not mention George Bush once.

You know, I mean, I think that's a little bit of amnesia, which is the topic that Markos hits on in his column. Rove's column is completely about looking forward. He does not even -- you'd think this guy never worked in politics before the way that he comes out talking about the future and we need to remake the Republican Party and we can beat Hillary.

He's kind of responsible for, you know, a lot of the Democrats' strength right now. So it's kind of ironic if you look at it.

KURTZ: Jon Meacham, the editor of "Newsweek," told me that readers are smart enough to figure out whether Rove is going to use this precious news magazine space to act as an apologist for Bush and the Republicans or not.

What's your take?

HAM: Well, I think they're smart enough to figure out both Rove and Kos. I think this is fun for both the left and the right, because Kos is probably devastated to learn that he's the evil, evil Rove of the left. And Rove is probably laughing to learn that he's the diabolical blogger of the right.

So this is fun for everyone. But I think they'll both produce good content. I would note that Kos' column is all about George Bush. So he's not looking forward at all. He's relying on the amnesia and the bad record of the Republicans in the past to propel them forward. And Karl Rove is looking forward, as a political strategist does.

KURTZ: All right. Let me put up the Kos' column and get a response from Morra.

Hold on, Morra.

Markos Moulitsas writes, "Democrats should and will use Bush and his destructive policies on the campaign trail as the primary example of what happens when people who hate government are elected to run it. The message will be that Bush isn't an historical anomaly, he's the embodiment of modern conservatism."

So I would ask you the following, though: Karl Rove is a guy who really didn't give the press the time of day during his six and a half years in the White House. Why should he be rewarded with this platform?

AARONS: I think it is a big case of Stockholm Syndrome, you know? You fall in love with your captor. I mean, I think Rove said something like, I feel really sorry for people who, you know, base how they feel on what "The New York Times" says about them. And now he's in, you know, a big bastion of classic media, and as is Markos.

You know, I wonder why "Newsweek" is hiring these people who have done nothing but hurl abuse at them for the past five or 10 years. So...

HAM: It brings in readers.

AARONS: ... that's interesting to me.

HAM: Everybody wants to read what they want to say. AARONS: Yes. Well, fair enough.

HAM: And they want to see them fight it out on the page.

KURTZ: Because it brings in readers. That had not occurred to me. Oh, boy. Thank you very much.

Mary Katharine Ham, Morra Aarons, we appreciate it.

Before we go to break, ABC's Robin Roberts has been battling breast cancer, she's been quite public about it. She's given her first interview to "People" magazine.

If we could put up a picture from that spread.

She has posed to show the world that she has lost her hair due to chemotherapy. She says she's OK with the bald look.

And I think it's great that she is being so open about this battle and about this process.

When we come back, Barry busted for lying about steroids. Is Barry Bonds getting a fair shake from the hordes of reporters who already think he's a jerk?


KURTZ: Barry Bonds has never exactly been a favorite of sportswriters. I doubt most of them believe his repeated denials that he had ever used steroids. Denials that sounded a little more hollow this week after a grand jury indicted baseball's all-time homerun champ for lying about using the drug, even as he was allegedly testing positive.

Here he is scolding reporters in 2005, and in an interview weeks ago with sportscaster Jim Gray.


BARRY BONDS, BASEBALL PLAYER: But what's your purpose and what you're doing it for, rewriting it over and over and over again? What's your reasoning? What are you going to apologize for when you're wrong?

JIM GRAY, NBC: Those who believe that you have unfairly obtained this record through the use of performance-enhancing drugs, what would your response to them be?

BONDS: That's not true and it's not right, and it's not fair to me. It's not fair to me. It's not true. Just not fair.


KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about the coverage of this troubled athlete, in Indianapolis, Jason Whitlock, columnist for "The Kansas City Star." And in Dallas, Mike Wise, sports columnist for "The Washington Post."

Jason Whitlock, Bonds didn't just lie to prosecutors, according to this indictment, but he lied to the press repeatedly and he kept berating and lecturing and smacking around reporters for pressing him about steroid use.

JASON WHITLOCK, COLUMNIST, "KANSAS CITY STAR": Yes. He certainly mishandled this.

If I were Barry Bonds, I would have remained quiet throughout all of this. I wouldn't have been trying to get in a scrimmage with the media. You can't win with the media.

He should have handled it differently. But I don't think we in the media -- I don't think we treated Barry Bonds fairly. We've singled him out when I think the steroids and performance-enhancing drug problem is much bigger than just Barry Bonds.

KURTZ: And on that point, Mike Wise, let me put up a couple of headlines from the New York tabloids on their back pages. "Daily News" says, "Lyin' King," and "The New York Post," "Has it Got Him?"

So it does seem like, if I can switch sports metaphors, that the journalists are kind of spiking the ball in the end zone with regard to this Bonds indictment.

MIKE WISE, SPORTS, COLUMNIST, "WASHINGTON POST": Yes. What happened today is the federal government got their big fish, Howard. And they've been waiting to get Barry Bonds for a while.

And Jason makes a good point, that there are tons of people that are going to come out in the Mitchell investigation that essentially have some problems with performance-enhancing drugs as well. So -- but Barry is the big fish.

None of those people broke the all-time homerun record, what a lot of people think is one of the most hallowed victories -- hallowed records in sports. And I think that's a lot of the reason why they brought him down.

KURTZ: Former senator George Mitchell is heading an investigation of drug use on behalf of Major League Baseball.

Jason Whitlock, let me read from your column. "We're probably heading for another O.J. Simpson/Michael Vicki/Paris Hilton-like media circus that will distract us from important truths."

I would say, why shouldn't this be a big story? One of the world's most famous athletes, the guy who broke the homerun record, could go to jail for a long time over this case.

WHITLOCK: Well, I think it should be a big story, but I just wish the focus was in the right direction. To me, Howard, when we talk about performance-enhancing drugs and why they are so prevalent in professional sports, in amateur sports, you've got to hold management, ownership, coaches responsible. These are the people primarily profiting from athletes abusing performance-enhancing drugs. That's what's bothered me about this whole deal, is steroids and homeruns allegedly saved baseball in the late '90s, and the owners were all good with it. And our president was an owner at that time, and everyone acted like it wasn't going on.

That's the people -- when I talk about big fish, those are the people I want to come down. I want Bud Selig and all these guys pretending like they didn't know what was going on, I'd like to see them indicted.

KURTZ: What about that, Mike Wise?

WISE: I think that it's ironic that the day that he was indicted on perjury charges, baseball showed a profit of $6 billion. And where did that money come from?

Well, I don't think we care, Howard, how that ball gets over the wall anymore as fans -- and sometimes media, who also turned the other eye and turned a blind eye to this problem 10 years ago, 15 years ago. Tom Boswell, one of my colleagues, was one the first people to write that Jose Canseco was fixing up his steroid milkshakes. Everybody thought that was -- everybody thought that was heresy. And to this day, now we're finally getting on board with it.

You know, I want to disagree with Jason today, but he's right. We have obfuscated what is really a larger problem.

A lot of these kids have posters over their beds of Barry Bonds, and they know now that they can't just get bigger or stronger just by putting an extra bumper on the barbell. Some of them go out and get performance-enhancing drugs. And we have direct medical evidence now that shows that getting off these anabolic steroids leads to severe depression and sometimes suicide.

So that' to me is a huge issue.

KURTZ: But Jason, what about this point that journalists were among those who looked the other way when somebody like Barry Bonds sort of bulked up late in life into this bulging muscle man?

WHITLOCK: Oh, no, it is far bigger than Barry Bonds. There are a lot of athletes in football, in baseball, in all professional sports. Wherever there is money to be made, there are athletes using performance-enhancing drugs.

KURTZ: No, no, I agree. Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa...

WHITLOCK: And we look the other way.


KURTZ: All of those people have now been accused of or confessed to using this. But before this became an official investigation, it seems to me this was not a huge story in the press.

WHITLOCK: Not at all, because we were all comfortable with Mark McGwire, where we disliked Barry Bonds.

See, I really don't care how Barry Bonds treats the media. I don't see that as part of his job to be nice to me. It's no big deal. But other people, it got personal with Barry Bonds, whereas with Mark McGwire and some others that fit the image that we're more comfortable with, they gave Mark McGwire a free pass.

We found Andro in his locker, and just, oh, well, that's all. That's over the counter, no big deal, he's probably not doing anything else. It's a joke. And so that's what's so offensive to a lot of people.

Should Barry Bonds have lied to a grand jury and to some investigators? Absolutely not. He's made his bed, he's got to lie in it.

But, those of us in the media, I hope we never do this again. I hope that at some point we go after ownership, because trust me, they created the environment that Barry Bonds did this.

KURTZ: But, Mike Wise, if Barry bonds was -- often didn't talk to the press, if he was sullen around reporters, if he often pushed back against journalists, as we saw in the clips a couple minutes ago, it's like with politicians. If a public figure isn't particularly friendly to reporters, sometimes he pays a price in the coverage.


KURTZ: Yes. No, I think -- I think you're right. And there's been a backlash around the country against a lot of journalists who have taken on Barry Bonds. And some of it's gotten racial, because Barry Bonds happens to be a black man, and this is a guy who does -- who's very surly and acerbic when he deals with the press.

I have no doubt there are some folks out there that have a bone to pick with Barry Bonds because of his skin color. Well, I'm not one of them, and I think that if we get into race on this issue, it also obfuscates the issue.

Mark McGwire, that's a crime, too. Why does St. Louis still hold this guy up as an icon? Why do they have a street named after him?

KURTZ: Right.

WISE: The good people in San Francisco should also be ashamed how much they've been in denial. And they show up at this park and watch this guy, this guy with his muscles bulging out of his neck hit the ball into the water.

KURTZ: OK. Let's me jump in and play a clip from Barry Bonds' lawyer, Michael Rains, who disputes the charges and had this to say about how the indictment was handled.


MICHAEL RAINS, BONDS' ATTORNEY: All you need to know about the government's case is that it leaked an official indictment to every media outlet in the nation and withheld it from Barry, his lawyer, and everyone else who could read it and who could defend him.


KURTZ: Now, Jason Whitlock, there certainly were leaks during the investigation. The "San Francisco Chronicle's" Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada almost went to jail until their source at the BALCO lab came forward.

So are these guys still blaming the press?

WHITLOCK: Well, I think what's going to happen here, it's going to be the O.J.-type defense. Yes, Barry's guilty, but you framed him as well. And so, yes, Barry's guilty, but you leaked evidence on him, you singled him out unfairly.

So there's going to be a lot of talk about all the unfairness that has gone on with Barry Bonds, and they're going to hope they find some sympathetic jury members who will buy that.

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

My question is whether the press will give Barry Bonds an asterisk. Not in terms of the official statistics, but in terms of the way we write about him.

Mike Wise, Jason Whitlock, thanks very much.

Still to come, as entertainment shows grind to a halt under the Hollywood writers' strike, what would TV anchors do without their wordsmiths?


KURTZ: The Hollywood writers' strike, now two weeks old, has gotten me thinking -- forget about Leno, Letterman and Stewart, or "Grey's Anatomy" and "CSI." What if television news writers went on strike?


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC: Good evening...

KURTZ (voice over): Think of the impact on the network anchors. Would they come out and stumble their way through the stories, desperately trying to adlib?

Actually, Brian Williams and Charlie Gibson do much of their own writing. I've watched them. What's more, they often edit their correspondents' scripts as well.

Katie Couric generally collaborates with a top CBS writer. She would be affected if CBS news writers actually walked off the job. They voted this week to authorize a strike after working without a contract for two years. What about cable talk shows? They're mostly talk anyway. But writers generally help in putting together what's called the open and the scripts that introduce each segment.

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: Good evening. This is Tuesday, November 13th, 357 days until the 2008 presidential election.

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Democrats are threatening to withhold funding again for the war if the president does not promise to withdraw troops.

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: In the "Is it Legal?" segment tonight, three odd topics, including a rape case featuring sleepwalking...

KURTZ: So these shows might get a little rough around the edges. Where writers are indispensable is on morning shows and on daily cable newscasts. There is no way the anchors would have time to craft every story they present in front of the cameras.

ANN CURRY, NBC NEWS: A security guard in Jerusalem is being hailed as a hero today after he ran toward what appeared to be a grenade thrown on to a court during a basketball game on Sunday.

CHRIS CUOMO, ABC NEWS: The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation raised more than $2.5 million at a gala in New York supported by some big-time celebrities.


KURTZ: Television at bottom is a collaborative enterprise. I write virtually all my scripts, so there's no chance I'd have to go mute. But this program would never make it to air without producers to edit videotape and book guests and arrange satellite time, and directors to call the shots in the control room.

As for the entertainment world, I hope the writers in the studios, who resume their negotiations tomorrow, settle soon. Life without "The Daily Show" just isn't quite the same.

Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

I'm Howard Kurtz.

We're here every Sunday morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, with a critical look at the media.