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McCain's Magical Media Tour; YouTube Factor

Aired April 6, 2008 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): McCain's magical media tour. As John McCain touts his military background, are journalists firing blanks at the Republican nominee?

From morning shows to cable shows to late night shows, is he getting a softer ride than Hillary Clinton, dogged by stories about her husband's feud with Bill Richardson?

And Barack Obama, the butt of jokes about his bowling prowess.

YouTube rules in this campaign. A young blogger explains why.

And will cable ratings fall back to earth once the political season ends?

Fade to black. Newspapers are dumping their movie critics, but some are finding second acts online.

Plus, the Newseum makes its glittering debut. Does it go too far in glorifying the press?


KURTZ: For a guy who was supposed to be overshadowed by the rock 'em/sock 'em Democratic race, John McCain got plenty of air time this week and barely broke a sweat. McCain staged a biography tour meant to "reintroduce" himself to the public. Meaning, a vehicle to trumpet his background as a naval aviator and the son and grandson of admirals. It clearly worked, and the former squadron leader didn't exactly come under hostile media fire.

Yes, he was asked about Iraq and the economy, but the tone was remarkably friendly.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You look like the guy who the neighbors later say, "He mostly kept to himself."

DAVID LETTERMAN, TALK SHOW HOST: Now listen, you announced right here on the show.

MCCAIN: Yes sir.

LETTERMAN: And the campaign started...

MCCAIN: Right then we plummeted.

LETTERMAN: That's right.

MCCAIN: It was right then. It was all your fault.

LETTERMAN: Well, it could very well be.

HARRY SMITH, CBS NEWS: Could you have done anything else except go to the Naval Academy?

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: By the way, you were turning to a lot of spots that had deep meaning for you throughout your life, all the way from high school and to your time returning after being in Vietnam.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: And of course, you picked up a huge endorsement yesterday. Both Willy (ph) and I, we're extraordinarily impressed at your ability to look right into the camera and lie about the fact that you're a huge fan of "The Hills." Heidi Montag on your side. You got that going for you.

MCCAIN: That was -- that was pretty good, wasn't it?


KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about the coverage of the Arizona senator and his Democratic rivals, Roger Simon, chief political correspondent for The Politico; Clarence Page, columnist for "The Chicago Tribune"; and Mary Katharine Ham, blogger and managing editor of

Roger, I'm not saying there was actually kissing going on, but on this biography tour this past week McCain has gotten awfully friendly treatment from the media.

ROGER SIMON, THE POLITICO: Yes. His stations of the military cross tour.

It was well-conceived and well-executed by the campaign. But it was also done against the backdrop of some rough weeks ranging from his, "We're going to be in Iraq for 100 years" statement or variations on that statement, his admission that the economy is not his strong suit. And the worst of it, his confusion of al Qaeda with the Shiite military group, which led Fox News to dub it "a senior moment."

And the other continuing, simmering stew in all this is John McCain's age. He was fine on there with Letterman. And Letterman gave him the whole show and was very nice to him. But Letterman hammers him every night saying, you know, John McCain is so old his Social Security number is one. He has got to deal with that.

KURTZ: Well, at least McCain himself jokes about it.

Front page of "The New York Times" this morning, Clarence Page, a piece about McCain's 19-year-old son Jimmy serving in Iraq. It says, "Military ideals have defined Mr. McCain as a person and politician, and he is placing them at the center of his presidential campaign."

I mean, Hillary or Obama would love to get this soft focus treatment.

CLARENCE PAGE, "THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Well, you know, this is an early time in the campaign. And we all predicted that with all of the fireworks going on in the Democratic side, how much energy does the media have to try to gin up some kind of controversy on the Republican side? And it's a...

KURTZ: You're saying we fired all out bullets at Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama?


PAGE: You know, the media are TV, and TV's lens is narrow. And depth is not the strong suit of the media. Conflict is, and that's really what it boils down to right now. We've got a lot of months to go until November.

KURTZ: John McCain has never been a favorite of conservatives. But he is once again now a media darling?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, TOWNHALL.COM: Well, they like him. I mean, that's the bottom line. And they're fighting with that urge right now.

And I think to some extent, this is a little bit of to the decisive goes the spoils, because the Republican Party has decided he's our guy. And while the other side is fighting it out in the trenches, yes, that's going to gather all the attention. And John McCain, to some extent, gets to get his hair done and go to the big dance and enjoy himself for a bit.

KURTZ: Here's an example. In the run-up to this week's 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, I didn't see any journalist ask McCain about the fact that he opposed a federal holiday back in 1983. So, he brings it up himself at an appearance in Memphis.

Let's take a quick look.


MCCAIN: We can be slow as well to give greatness its due, a mistake I myself made long ago -- I myself made long ago when I voted against a federal holiday in memory of Dr. King. I was wrong. I was wrong.


SIMON: He's been apologizing there. I looked up my old interviews with him. He's been apologizing for that at least since 1999, when he ran before. He is the first usually to bring up the Keating Five. He loves to say, you know, when he was wrong he was wrong. And that is John McCain. And that is part of what the media finds appealing about the guy.

KURTZ: Why isn't John McCain pressed on, for example, his proposal for dealing with the mortgage crisis, provides very limited aid to homeowners. As a matter of fact, that's a legitimate position, but he hasn't really had to defend it. He's refused for months to sign on to an expanded GI bill, educational benefits for veterans that Hillary and Obama support.

PAGE: Right.

KURTZ: It just seems to me he's not really getting...

PAGE: And John Edwards' wife has said that her kind of cancer and John McCain's kind of cancer, under John McCain's health care program, their preexisting conditions, would deny them coverage. I mean, there are some very good issue debates waiting to blossom out there.

KURTZ: What are we waiting for?

PAGE: But that's what I'm talking about, that narrow media focus.

But we're going to come back to all this. In fact, I just bet maybe some 527 ad or something is going to say in black neighborhoods, "John McCain voted against the Martin Luther King holiday." I can see that coming.

HAM: Well, let's not kid ourselves and act like this is going to be an easy walk from here on out. The press is a little bit distracted right now, but you have "The New York Times" ill-sourced piece on a 10-year-old innuendo and a 20-year-old scandal. And I think...

KURTZ: About a possible relationship with a female lobbyist.

HAM: ... he's going to get some rough treatment probably next week with Petraeus coming into town. And to some extent, this has to deal with what the candidates are giving the press to work with.

Obama had the right, legitimate scandal. Hillary's talking about -- and McCain is out there touting his own very powerful record. And so he is shooting from the hip on the MLK thing.

KURTZ: But you see this as temporary?

HAM: Definitely. Definitely.

KURTZ: And the fact that he spends so much time talking to journalists on his plane or on his bus, that clearly helps him, does it not? HAM: It helps him. And he always has been a bit of a darling. And he will continue to be, to some extent. But it's not going to help him out when we get into the trenches.

KURTZ: Let's look at what else he was asked about in these spate of interviews that he did this week.

Let's roll it.


CHETRY: Any talk of Mitt Romney has a possible vice presidential contender for you?

MIKE BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC: Couldn't Mitt Romney help with you that? And is he on your short list?

STEVE DOOCY, FOX NEWS: Now, I know yesterday you declined to give any names. But come on, you could give us a hint.

MCCAIN: Well, are you interested?

DOOCY: What's it pay?


KURTZ: What exactly is the point? I mean, asking John McCain about a decision that he's not going to make for months?

SIMON: It just shows the audience that you read the clips that morning. I don't know. These were really softball interviews.

I mean, the toughest interview he got was probably David Letterman because it went on the longest. I mean, no one is exactly pinning John McCain down on his bailout plan for people who are facing foreclosure on their homes, or pointing out to them that when he says, look, the economy isn't my strong point, I was in the military for 22 years, that he's been a senator for 21 years, he was a congressman for four years before that. He had little chance to bone up on the economy.

It's simply the press is obsessed with process on the Democratic side, and John McCain is sort of leaving for later.

KURTZ: Now, what broke in the last 48 hours while John McCain was getting this very nice treatment was a story about the Clintons' tax returns, released late on a Friday afternoon, which is what you do when you want to bury a story. And it showed -- I mean, how many years did the Clinton White House do that? It showed that the Clintons paid...

PAGE: They're rich.

KURTZ: They're very rich. They paid about 31 percent of their income in taxes. They gave $10 million to charity. An eye-popping $109 million over seven years. Did this seem to you to be reported as faintly suspicious because they're such successful capitalists?

PAGE: I think it's just shameful, Howie. We in the media focus on personality.

You know, that's why the running mate story becomes a story now. That is why the (INAUDIBLE) come out. Because this is "People" magazine gossip kind of stuff, compared to those real issues we've been talking about -- about here -- the economy, mortgages, health care, et cetera, et cetera, because maybe too many in the press don't want to read those position papers either. You know?

KURTZ: Well, I'm interested in how much money they made and how they made it. But half of "Hannity & Colmes" on Friday was devoted to this. And Frank Luntz, the pollster, said that, "Well, it's very hard for Hillary to feel anyone's pain when you're making that much money."

Is that a fair shot?

HAM: Well, I think it's fair to talk about when you're talking about being a warrior for the little guy and talking about how you can reach out and how can you truly see how other people's pain. But, yes, I think it's legitimate to talk about how they get their money and if they can really get out there and feel what the little guy is feeling.

SIMON: I think it's legitimate to look into the tax returns. I don't think the American public demand that people be poor to understand the problems of the poor.

Franklin Roosevelt was rich, John F. Kennedy was rich, Nelson Rockefeller was rich. In fact, almost everyone running for president is a multimillionaire and has been for a while. There have been a few exceptions for that. It's really, do you show compassion, understanding and empathy?

The problem for John Edwards and the hair cut was not that it cost $400, but that he paid for it out of campaign funds.

PAGE: I maintain that it's gossip. And poor folks love rich folks.

Like my colleagues have been saying, you know, FDR, JFK -- you know, the question is, how well do you deal with those issues? And it's not like this is news to us all, that Bill Clinton came from a near log cabin up to a multimillion-dollar status. The question is, where did they get the money?

KURTZ: But going to your point about the media focus on process on the Democratic side, we had Bill Richardson endorsing Obama. Then we had James Carville calling Richardson a Judas Then we had sources telling ABC that Hillary had told Governor Richardson that Obama can't win. Then we had shock that she would say such a thing.

What do you make of all this? Why is this such a...

(CROSSTALK) PAGE: And there is only one outcome -- how much does an endorsement matter? But, yes, process is something that we love because we do have a horse race.

And let's face it, the public does, too. I listened to a radio call-in show the other day where some guy calls in and says, "I want to know where does Obama really stand? What does he really believe?"

And I said, well, you know, his position papers are on his Web site. He said, "I don't want papers. I want to know what he believes."

You know, and this is the kind of thing that happens...


KURTZ: Don't confuse me with the facts.

PAGE: Thank you.

KURTZ: Hillary Clinton has been telling a story on the trail about this sad story about a woman who lost her baby and died because, the former first lady said, she didn't have $100 to pay the hospital. "The Washington Post" repeated this in a story about the kind of hard luck story she is telling on the trail.

Well, it turns out it she is completely untrue. She was repeating this, someone had told her this. But the woman did have insurance. She was not turned away at the hospital. She was treated by an OB/GYN practice.

Should the media have done a better job of fact-checking here?

HAM: Well, yes. You can't just look into an anecdote and move on and say that, well, because Hillary said it, it's true, as we learned from the Bosnia story.

KURTZ: It didn't provide any names, so it was kind of hard to double-check.

HAM: Well, I think -- and, well, the job of the press is to follow that trail and go back and figure out where this came from, because if it's an emotionally-charged anecdote and she's using it to inform her policy positions, you need to back it up. And that's the job of the press.

SIMON: Hillary Clinton can do a better job of fact-checking. I mean, her total defense is, oh, a deputy sheriff told it to me so it has to be true.


KURTZ: It's not only journalist that's need to check their facts. Thank you for that observation.

SIMON: She can go to Google, you know. It exists. It's out there.

KURTZ: Roger Simon, Mary Katharine Ham, Clarence Page, thanks for joining us this morning.

When we come back, the YouTube factor. Is the video Web site such a force in this campaign that it's setting the media agenda? A young YouTuber helps us examine the evidence.

And later, we'll take you inside Washington's new monument to the media.


KURTZ: There's been a fair amount of media coverage of Hillary Clinton's tale of nonexistent sniper fire on a visit to Bosnia 12 years ago, but that story really found an audience online. A "CBS Evening News" report on the controversy has been seen on YouTube nearly two million times, so is that where the real action is in this campaign?

To answer that question, we turn now to James Kotecki, who became a self-anointed YouTube commentator from his Georgetown University dorm room, prompting the "L.A. Times" to dub him the unofficial veejay of the 2008 presidential campaign. He now does a video blog for

You know, when I was in college, it took me three years to became the editor of the student newspaper. You became an Internet presence in about 12 minutes.

Let me roll a little bit of you in action. We'll talk about it.


JAMES KOTECKI, POLITICO.COM: He apparently has some plans to make government cool again, and told an audience, at least one audience, to be better parents by putting away the tricks and cold potpies for breakfast, turning off the television and video games, and watching your kids do their homework.

Wow, I had no idea this guy was so lame.

Look, Senator, you know how you get a lot of support from college kids? Well, having recently graduated myself, I can tell you that eating cold chicken and watching cartoons is pretty much what college kids do on Saturday mornings.


KURTZ: Hey, you can say whatever you want on these things.

KOTECKI: Absolutely. Well, I can't quite say whatever I want now that I'm actually working for somebody. And is actually paying me to do essentially what I was having a great time doing for free in my college dorm room. But I do feel like I'm kind of living the dream. And they give me a lot of leeway to have some fun with this political election.

KURTZ: When I see two million people watching the CBS report about Hillary Clinton in Bosnia on YouTube, I think that YouTube can make something a story whether the mainstream media do or not.

KOTECKI: Absolutely. But, you know, it actually works both ways.

YouTube -- because something is seen a lot of times on YouTube, it actually can influence what the mainstream media cover. But actually, what the -- what goes on YouTube are often clips of things on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, that are then put on YouTube and seen by a lot of people. So, it actually can be the mainstream media that eventually drives the story on YouTube as well. And if you look at the most viewed videos on YouTube for the month in news and politics, they are some of the mainstream media stories -- Tibet, Hillary Clinton in Bosnia, and Jeremiah Wright.

KURTZ: So it's actually serving as a megaphone, extending the audience, in a way, of people who aren't necessarily watching the evening news at 6"30. But some of these things are just cultural phenomena.


KURTZ: For example, this "Yes We Can" video that was made on behalf of Barack Obama, 6.5 million hits online. And again, you know, that is a way of delivering a message in an entertaining way that transcends any audience you would see on cable.

KOTECKI: Right. And you know what? It's a message that could never have been delivered in any really other context.

If you think about it, would the Obama campaign or some supporter have bought 2.5 minutes of air time to be able to air this message? This probably would not have been done in previous elections. But because this supporter of the Black Eyed Peas, not officially affiliated with the campaign, could make this video, put it on YouTube.

It an really help set the tone for who Obama wants to be seen as. He can put it on his own Web site as well, but it doesn't have to necessarily come from the campaigns or anywhere else.

KURTZ: We saw the same thing with the Obama Girl videos. Those were viewed more than 7.5 million times.

And then, of course, Obama's pass to Jeremiah Wright. Now, Senator Obama has taken to complaining that we in the media compressed this to 20-second sound bites. You can look at his whole sermon online, and a lot of people have done that.

KOTECKI: Right. A lot of people have. Bu, of course, what people are going to be seeing the most are some of these edited packages where they take the most incendiary remarks, put them together. There was one very prominent video where they took his incendiary remarks, and they also interspliced, you know, the image of Barack Obama supposedly not putting his hand over his heart during -- I think it was the Pledge of Allegiance or "The Star Spangled Banner." And some of the comments from his wife, Michelle Obama, "This is the first time I'm proud of my country."

And I think that's the kind of thing they worry about, where if you take all these things and they contextualize them all together, it really can have kind of a big impact.

KURTZ: In other words, it could also be unfair. But there is no editor to blow the whistle and say, hey, wait a minute, that didn't really represent what happened.

People of your generation obviously addicted to video Web sites and that kind of thing.

KOTECKI: Oh yes.

KURTZ: But are they increasingly blowing off the mainstream media? Is this -- does this threaten us in some way?

KOTECKI: Well, I don't necessarily think that it threatens the mainstream media if they look at it as an opportunity to get their content out there. As I said before, a lot of these clips are actually from places like CNN. And if they just go on CNN for 30 seconds and they're gone forever -- or they can live on YouTube forever and be continually played and emailed around.

Now, the key is monetizing that. You know? If you're not making any money by not putting it out there -- for example, the most viewed Bosnia -- Hillary Clinton and Bosnia CBS News footage clip was not uploaded by CBS News. They uploaded it, but then some random person like KiddyDanger5000 (ph) username uploaded it, and they both got viewed, but the KiddyDanger5000 (ph) got the link first from I think Drudge, and so they got the most views.

CBS isn't making any money off of that. That's bad for them.

KURTZ: But at least it does expose the content.

I've got 10 seconds.

In the next campaign, will there be 1,000 James Koteckis, 10,000? And if so, who will watch them all?

KOTECKI: I think there will be more of me, but I think there will be a lot more people who do something completely different that we never thought about before, just like I'm doing something that people maybe today never thought about for the 2004 campaign.

KURTZ: All right. James Kotecki, thanks for educating us her this morning about the online world.

KOTECKI: A pleasure. KURTZ: Up next, Dan Abrams drags me into a debate over television copycats, a huge embarrassment for Air America as raunchy Randy Rhodes unloads on Hillary Clinton.

And Jay Leno apologizes for going too far. We'll tell you why.

Our "Media Minute" straight ahead.


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


RANDY RHODES, AIR AMERICA: I am suffering from major Bush depression.

KURTZ (voice over): Air America, the liberal radio network, suspended host Randy Rhodes this week for what it called "... abusive, ad hominem language..." about public figures.

RHODES: This is called ticks (ph).

KURTZ: That is something of an understatement. We can't repeat most of her expletive-filled rant on the air, but at an appearance in San Francisco, Rhodes called Geraldine Ferraro "David Duke in drag," said that Dick Cheney moved to Wyoming so that he would never have to se a black guy or a Jew, and called Hillary Clinton, among other things, a whore.


KURTZ: In short, pretty ugly stuff.

Fox News has covered this heavily. The story got very limited play on CNN and MSNBC.

Dan Abrams has a segment on his MSNBC show called "Beat the Press," in which he usually beats up on the other networks. The other day he took a swipe at CNN's "THIS WEEK IN POLITICS" for doing a segment dubbed "Beat the Press." And he challenged me -- me, a guy who beats up on everyone -- to weigh in.

All right. Here goes.

Abrams has a point. CNN shouldn't have done it. The network says "Beat the Press" was used for a limited purpose and there are no plans to use it again. But Dan Abrams didn't exactly invent the title.


KURTZ (voice over): Emily Rooney at Boston's WGBH has been hosting a show called, yes, "Beat the Press." And she says she trademarked the name back in 1993 and wrote letters of complaint to MSNBC when it was appropriated.

MSNBC believes there's no confusion between the name of a show and the title of a nightly segment, so there's a lot of "Beat the Press" going on out there.

JAY LENO, TALK SHOW HOST: But did you have to do a lot of stuff like this?

KURTZ (voice over): Jay Leno says he's sorry. "The Tonight Show" host was fooling around with actor Ryan Phillippe about once having played the first gay teen character in a soap opera, when Leno said this...

LENO: Can you give me like -- like, say that camera was your gay lover, number two.


LENO: In the beginning...

PHILLIPPE: Wait a second.


LENO: Can you give me your gayest look? Say that camera is...

PHILLIPPE: I will not. No, no, no.

LENO: ... Billy Bob. Billy Bob has just ridden in shirtless from Wyoming.

PHILLIPPE: Wow. That is so something I don't want to do.

KURTZ: This week, Leno said his words "... came out wrong. I certainly didn't mean any malice. I agree it was a dumb thing to say, and I apologize."


KURTZ: Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, cable ratings soar during a heated presidential race, but are these programs shedding more heat than light?

Plus, Barack can't bowl. Was it really worth so much air time to figure that out?

And newspaper movie critics going the way of the dodo. With so many online options, will film fans even notice?


KURTZ: The presidential campaign has been very, very good to cable news. In prime time, the fist quarter of this year, top-rated Fox was up 14 percent from last year, CNN up 67 percent, MSNBC up 59 percent. In the key advertising demo, ages 25 to 54, CNN won the quarter with a 90-percent jump. That hasn't happened for years. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ (voice over): No wonder CNN has started a new election center show with Campbell Brown, and "THIS WEEK IN POLITICS" with Tom Foreman.

Fox has a new election headquarters program with Bill Hemmer and Megyn Kelly.

And MSNBC has given political shows to David Gregory and Andrea Mitchell.

The action is practically wall to wall.

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN: We've also got more on the Democrats' knock-down, drag-out fight for the nomination.

DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC: From inside the war room to the campaigns, the thinking, the plotting, the attacks, the strategy.

BILL HEMMER, FOX NEWS: Our top story out of California, did Bill Clinton have a meltdown?

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: So what else is new out in politics?

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: Is Barack Obama now unstoppable?

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: You can probably find any poll somewhere that will tell you anything you want.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, the big question tonight among Republicans, who will McCain pick as his number two?

ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC: What would be the virtues of having Mitt Romney on a ticket?


KURTZ: But is this just another boom and bust cycle for cable?

Joining us now in New York, James Poniewozik, media critic for "TIME" magazine. And in Tampa, Eric Deggans, media critic for "The St. Petersburg times."

Eric Deggans, this campaign has been like rocket fuel for cable news ratings. Is that because of the brilliant, incisive coverage, or is it just this huge public interest in the race?

ERIC DEGGANS, "THE ST. PETERSBURG TIMES": Yes. Well I think -- yes, it is definitely the fact that everybody is interested in this race. And we have a race that is highly contested.

We have two Democratic candidates that are very popular. And they're fighting it out tooth and nail. And some of the issues that they're bringing up are incredibly potent issues of race and gender, truthfulness, experience. You know, we've seen this presidential primary kind of do what we hoped it would do. It tested every one of these candidates, and it's also tested the media. And sometime they've met that test and sometimes they haven't.

KURTZ: All right.

James Poniewozik, you write this week in "TIME" -- the magazine, of course, owned by CNN's parent company, Time Warner -- that Fox News seems to you to be tired, and you say it will have to reinvent itself after the Bush presidency.


JAMES PONIEWOZIK, MEDIA CRITIC, "TIME": Well, I think Fox is in a position that a lot of very successful cable news networks -- or, I'm sorry, cable networks generally have been in, in the past, which is that it's a tremendously successful network of a particular era. After Bush was elected, Fox News, which, you know, gained a lot of its viewership and appeal from people who were, you know, disaffected with the "liberal media" and watched Fox instead, soared to become, you know, far and away the highest watched cable news network after the election of Bush, after 9/11, with this sort of full-throated, you know, patriotic, we're on your side attitude, with some very popular opinion hosts, and so forth.

The problem is that that sort of success, like, say, when CNBC was very popular during the Nasdaq boom, when CNN was very popular after the first Gulf War, when you become so closely identified with a certain era, you're going to have a problem of having to reposition yourself once it's clear that that era is ending.

KURTZ: But, you know, Eric, I heard a lot of that at the end of the Clinton presidency. People said, well, Rush Limbaugh wouldn't be as popular because he wouldn't have Bill and Hill to beat up on anymore. He certainly didn't subside in popularity among his conservative base at all.

So, I wonder -- I wonder if that really will happen to Fox.

DEGGANS: Well, I think one of the things you have to do is you have to look at the audience. And I think one of the things that Roger Ailes was very smart about, the guy who developed and invented the Fox News Channel, was that he looked at the audience for cable news.

And, you know, I haven't looked at a poll in a while, but when I did, I found that even people who watch CNN and MSNBC, overwhelmingly identify themselves as conservatives. They're older. They're people for whom Fox News Channel was designed.

So I think even though, you know, Fox News Channel may not have that kind of access they had before, or power they had before, they may not be the channel that's on the TVs in every room in the White House the way they were during the Bush administration, they're definitely going to still appeal to the largest segment of people who watch cable news. So they're going to be a potent force no matter who is in the White House.

KURTZ: James Poniewozik, how much of cable news's popularity or impact is driven by opinion, particularly at night? I mean, you watch CNN, you know what Lou Dobbs thinks about everything that he talks about. Keith Olbermann on MSNBC, O'Reilly, Sean Hannity on Fox News -- how much is that a key to the secret sauce here?

PONIEWOZIK: It's a big part of it. And frankly, that's been Fox's great strength. And it still is its great strength.

You were pointing to the first quarter ratings figures from earlier this year where CNN and MSNBC had seen these huge jumps in viewership and Fox not so much. Well, the flip side of that is that CNN and MSNBC have a lot of people who come to them in droves when there is big news going on. But, the great strength that Fox has and they managed to do fantastically is that they have very popular opinion and viewpoint hosts day in and day out who people will tune in and will watch whether there is a lot of news going on or not.

So, you know, that can put them in a relatively -- not a strong position. I mean, they did increase their viewership in the first quarter as well when there is big news going on, but, you know, when there is really nothing big going on...

KURTZ: Right.

PONIEWOZIK: ... they have a day in, day out audience that will come to them regardless. And, you know, it's certainly a high class problem to have.

DEGGANS: You know, one...

KURTZ: Go ahead, Eric.

DEGGANS: You know, one thing -- I'll break it down just real quick and say I think one problem Fox has is in developing new personalities. When we think about the new people that have come to cable news and really shown, we think about Lou Dobbs, we think about Keith Olbermann. We don't necessarily think about Fox as much. And I think that's been their big challenge.

They've tried to develop Bill Hemmer, for example. But they need somebody -- they need a new O'Reilly. They need a new Sean Hannity. And I don't know if they're doing that or how well they've been able to do that, but that is something -- that's a challenge I think they face.

KURTZ: All right.

Well, now, certainly I wonder whether when the campaign is over, whether everybody's ratings will come back to Earth from these stratospheric levels.

But you talked earlier, Eric Deggans, about the campaign is filled with questions about race and gender and honesty. There is also the question of bowling. Let's look at some tape that all the networks did with Barack Obama. He was bowling in Altoona, Pennsylvania. He didn't do all that well.

Let's watch.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Barack Obama goes bowling for votes and ends up in the gutter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was not pretty, throwing gutter ball after gutter ball.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He never once got (ph) down in the gutter, you know? And he really did unfortunately with the bowling.

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And so what if bowling isn't right up Senator Barack Obama's alley?

GREGORY: If a call comes in at 3:00 in the morning and you're bowling team is short, is Barack Obama prepared to take that call?


KURTZ: All right, Eric. Did cable get down in the gutter here a little bit?

DEGGANS: If you expect me to make a joke about a brother bowling, it ain't going to happen. But I will say that, yes -- I mean, one of the problems about having shows that are dedicated to election news is that when there is not a whole lot of election news, you wind up having to focus on stuff like this.

I mean, it is kind of funny that we found something that Barack is not particularly good at. Frankly, I'm kind of glad it's something that the commander in chief really doesn't have to do all that much.

KURTZ: That is true. OK.

Look, 37. He bowled 37 in seven frames. Not terrific, but, James Poniewozik, you know, there was all this, well, this shows his inability to relate to working class white voters.

I wonder if you think that is over the top?

PONIEWOZIK: Well, you know, maybe it's a little over the top. But these events are a little ridiculous and over the top. And nobody forces the candidates to do them.

Nobody forces John Kerry to go out hunting to, you know, prove his gun cred. Or Dukakis to get in a tank. You know, politicians might want to think twice about, you know, trying to send these messages in the first place if they don't want the messages to be...

(CROSSTALK) KURTZ: And I thought Barack Obama was a pretty good basketball player. He should have practiced up a little bit before bowling before the cameras.

All right.

PONIEWOZIK: Maybe he doesn't want that image out there.

KURTZ: Let me shift gears here.

Kathie Lee Gifford is joining "The Today Show." The fourth hour of "The Today Show," I should say.

Here is a little bit of tape from one of her early appearances.


KATHIE LEE GIFFORD, NBC NEWS: I do have brand new feet. People have been saying, are you going to get a lot of plastic surgery done before? No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Those are cute. Can we show...

GIFFORD: I was either getting my feet done...


GIFFORD: ... or getting my face done. As bad as I need it here, I really needed it on my feet. I had 80-year-old lady's feet after 50 years in show business.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wow. They look adorable.


KURTZ: James Poniewozik, you write that, "There is now more of a reason to watch the fourth hour of "Today" show; namely, if you were vacuuming during the third hour and you had a seizure and you're now prostrate on the floor awaiting medical help, maybe you should tune in."

I take it you're not a Kathie Lee fan.

PONIEWOZIK: Well, no. You know, actually, I think hiring Kathie Lee could at least do something to spice up the fourth hour of "The Today Show."

I think the problem is, I mean, I'm just waiting for the day when NBC announces that's it's going to establish a 24-hour "Today" network. Because my problem was whether we needed a fourth hour of the show that kind of becomes gradually dumber and dumber by the half hour over time. At the very least, maybe it will spice up what has been a pretty, you know, soberific hour of television.

KURTZ: Eric Deggans, I've got about 20 seconds.

There is something about Kathie Lee Gifford that sort of brings out the fangs in a lot of television critics.

DEGGANS: The insincerity, the -- I have no idea. No -- yes, you're very right. But she is somebody who presumably will appeal to a daytime audience, which they need.

They also need a big name to try and draw people, which makes a lot of sense. And frankly, they need to give Ann Curry a rest. I mean, you know, she was helping out with that hour of "Today" and also anchoring the news at 7:00 and being on "Dateline" and subbing with Brian William.

So, at least they brought in somebody to help her a little bit. And hey, it cuts down on the airtime that Tiki Barber gets, which is always wonderful.

KURTZ: There has got to be some time to sleep.

All right.

Eric Deggans, James Poniewozik, thanks for kicking it around with us this morning.

After the break, newspaper movie critics gradually becoming an endangered specie. A troubling trend, or are most of them expendable?

Blogger Jeff Jarvis joins our discussion.


KURTZ: It's a ritual as old as Hollywood itself -- a new movie comes out and you open the local paper to see whether your critic praises it or trashes it -- thumbs up or thumbs down. But that is starting to change.

"The New York Times" reporting this week that more than a dozen newspaper film critics have been laid off, reassigned, or taken early retirement in recent years as financial pressures have forced newsrooms to shrink and more movie criticism is moving online.

Joining us now to talk about this in New York, Jeff Jarvis, who helped create "Entertainment Weekly" and now blogs at, and Gene Seymour, former film critic for "Newsday" who recently took a buyout from his newspaper.

All right. Jeff Jarvis, you used to be an entertainment critic. Now you say it makes sense for lots of local papers to dump their critics. Sayonara, most of them are second rate anyway.

Sounds kind of cold.

JEFF JARVIS, BUZZMACHINE.COM: It's an economic decision, Howie. You know, it starts with a joke where a priest, a rabbi and critic get on a boat, and one of them has to get off. And that's really what this is about. There is no punch line here. It's that it's about saving the leaking boat of newspapers. And, you know, criticism has changed necessarily, because it's not inherently local. The opinion about a movie in Cincinnati or Cleveland is not different. There is a great community of criticism that exists out there.

And, you know, if I started (INAUDIBLE) today, I would start it not as a magazine, but as a community of criticism, where no longer does one size fits all criticism really matter. The move you like is not the movie I like.

KURTZ: But it sounds kind of elitist. I mean, a lot of people are not sitting around surfing the net all day. I mean, they work in schools and hospitals, and they have jobs, and they like to look at the local paper and see what the local critic says.

JARVIS: Or they can look at some film (INAUDIBLE), and there'll be some critic there.

One of the things I started at "EW" was called "Critical Consensus," where we took the opinions of many critics and reduced them to a grade. You know, what you want to find out -- what you want to find out whether to see a movie is, how good is it, sure, but also, who is in it and what is it about? And that information can be conveyed by many people.

KURTZ: All right.

JARVIS: It's also true online that you trust your peers more than the supposed influencers.

KURTZ: Gene Seymour, why is Jarvis -- who should I put it -- totally wrong?

GENE SEYMOUR, FMR. FILM CRITIC: I don't think he's totally wrong. I agree with roughly 68 percent of what my old friend says about this. But the part that I don't agree with is the part that involves newspapers' own attitudes towards these departures.

I think that they've been too premature in cutting off that level of dialogue. And it is a dialogue that goes on between newspaper readers in different cities and towns and their local critics. And, for that matter, their local sportswriters, their local political pundits. It's a form of commentary and, of course, the Internet has been kind of a fountain of commentary. Everybody's got opinions.

KURTZ: Did you decide to lose "Newsday" in part because you didn't see a terribly bright future for newspaper criticism?

SEYMOUR: No. My own departure, I just saw other possibilities elsewhere. I was not -- I was told I would continue to write reviews but I was told that they would be shorter and there would be less of them, and that I'd be compelled to write other things. And I decided at this point in my career that if I want to write other things -- and I do -- I wanted to have a say in what those other things were.

KURTZ: That certainly sends a message. Jeff Jarvis, I mean, I certainly agree that if you're really down to a crunch and you've got to lay off the city hall reporter, or the school's reporter, maybe the critic is going to go first. But what about the local flavor of a newspaper? I mean, people arguing about whether Joe Jones panned or praised the new George Clooney flick.

Isn't that -- wouldn't that be lost?

JARVIS: I don't really buy that. There is nothing local about it.

You know, when I worked for "The Chicago Tribune," in the same city with my parents, my mother would tell me about stories that she read in the paper. And I'd have to say, "Ma, yes, I know. I wrote it."

My own mother didn't notice my own byline. So I don't think...

KURTZ: Don't bring your family problems into this.

JARVIS: It tells you a lot, I know. But I don't think that that value of the byline is so great. And I think that, you know, if "Newsday" were smart, in my mind, what they should do is set up Gene in business.

Set him up in a blog, sell ads for them. He wouldn't be an employee anymore, but they built his brand and they're now waving good-bye to the value they built. And that's silly of them. There are new business models which this industry desperately needs to explore.

KURTZ: Gene, you wanted to get in?

SEYMOUR: This is doing wonders for my morale.

I tend to think that -- again, I agree with Jeff that the Internet is a great new terrain to be able to say as much as you want for as long as you want about a movie. I'm excited about the possibilities there. That's one of the many possibilities I want to pursue further.

But -- but I still don't believe that newspapers are quite closed off from connecting with the kind of people who need to read about certain movies. I think that even foreign movies or independent movies that don't necessarily reach other people -- I mean, everybody is going to hear about "Iron Man" or "Get Smart" or some of the other summer blockbusters coming out. They're all going to hear about those. But the small movies, the independent movies, somewhere out there, there is a person who is vitally interested in those movies that doesn't have access to the Internet, and part of that...

KURTZ: Let me...


KURTZ: I understand you're point, that those are the ones that will be missed.

Jeff Jarvis, but a logical extension of your theory, why should local papers send a reporter to the World Series or the campaign trail or the pope's visit? Why do people in Cincinnati and St. Louis and Florida and San Francisco need to weigh in on these things? You know, everybody could just run AP and "New York Times" news service...

JARVIS: Preach to the choir, Howie. Yes, I think that what they should be doing is putting their resources into what makes them uniquely good, which is local reporting, not the commodity news that exists elsewhere.

They can take their political news from "The Washington Post." And, in fact, there can be a new kind of business arrangement there, or maybe they get paid by "The Washington Post" or send them traffic. There is new business models here.

I think that newspapers have to decide what they really are. And it's no longer one size fits all. And it is desperate.

KURTZ: Well, I don't know whether stripping down papers to purely local reporting is the way to go.

I've got 20 seconds here, Gene Seymour.

The fact that "Newsday" wanted shorter reviews suggested that it wasn't that high a priority.

SEYMOUR: It did suggest that. But at least, again, I think there was still the intent to maintain that connection, that very -- however faint a connection, to maintain a connection.

I always think that when you actually tell somebody or let people know that you don't care about a certain aspect of their inner lives, whether it's entertainment or...

KURTZ: Right. Got to map (ph) it out.

SEYMOUR: That eventually they'll stop caring about you.

KURTZ: Well, I care deeply. But we're out of time.

Gene Seymour, Jeff Jarvis, thanks very much for joining us.

Up next, Washington's newest museum is a shrine to the media, but does it whitewash the sins of the news business?

We'll take you inside the Newseum.


KURTZ: Washington is filled with museums devoted to everything from art, to air and space, to spying. This week marks the opening of a new one, a shrine to the media. It's called the Newseum.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KURTZ: This is a big place. Six years in the making, nearly half a billion dollars, prime real estate on Pennsylvania Avenue. And one basic concept -- journalists as eyewitnesses to history.

But does the museum present an overly glowing portrait of generations of news hacks? Let's have a look around.

(voice over): One exhibit features famous headlines and front pages like this one from 1882, "Jesse James Assassinated."

There is a big Watergate display that tracks how two "Washington Post" reporters helped expose the scandal, including the door from the Watergate Hotel that led to the discovery of the Nixon campaign's burglars.

This is the only place in the building that suggests some journalists are less than heroic. Janet Cooke, Jayson Blair, and Stephen Glass are here, fabricating writers who each merit one paragraph.

And here are some protesters who aren't big fans of the press.

I asked Charles Overby, chief executive of The Freedom Forum, which built the place, why journalists are portrayed in such a flattering light.

CHARLES OVERBY, CEO, NEWSEUM: Well, there is a lot of heroic effort that goes on in journalism. People sacrifice their lives. We tell that story. But at the same time, journalists don't get it right, they're not objective. And we're willing to tell that story, too.

We had some people come in here last week who hate the press. And when they left, they said, "We love this place." And so that's all right with us.

KURTZ: There is no shortage of eye-catching displays here, like this news helicopter that hangs over the atrium, or a huge chunk of history brought in from Germany.

(on camera): These are actual concrete slabs of the Berlin Wall covered with graffiti on the western side, a stark reminder of one of the most visible symbols of the Cold War.

(voice over): There is footage of Tom Brokaw reporting from Berlin in 1989 as the wall that separated east from west is starting to come down.

And on another floor, front pages that captured a day of tragedy in New York.

(on camera): This is the most sobering, most heart-wrenching exhibit in this building -- dozens of headlines from across the country on 9/11, recalling that day of terror. And over here, this twisted steel which had been the communications tower atop the World Trade Center. (voice over): On a more personal level, a memorial to journalists who died in the line of duty such as The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Pearl and NBC's David Bloom.

But the museum has its lighter side as well. Kids love to play an animated game that puts you in the role of a newspaper editor making decisions about an unfolding story. And you can grab a microphone and pretend to be a real reporter.

I gave it a shot.

(on camera): Hi. I'm Howard. I'm here at the White House, where inside the president must be doing something important.

For the Kurtz News Service, I'm live on Capitol Hill. Now back you to in the studio.

If it's Sunday, it must be "Meet the Press." Our issues today, the media -- how badly are they screwing up?

(voice over): Every day a fresh display of front pages from around the country. And media buffs may be interested in the first newscast carried on CNN back in 1980.

KATIE COURIC, CORRESPONDENT: At Billy Bob's (ph) Texas, you can always ride a bull. And I don't mean mechanical.

TED TURNER, FOUNDER, CNN: People were calling us chicken noodle news, and that we weren't real. But basically what they were trying to do is stop us any way they could.

KURTZ: Let's just say things have improved since then.

The museum, meanwhile, is packed with videos and photos -- Howard Cosell with Muhammad Ali, a young Ted Koppel, and Howard Stern.


KURTZ: I believe there should be more focus on why so many people distrust the news business these days. But visitors can decide for themselves. That is, if they don't mind paying the $20 admission fee.

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

I'm Howard Kurtz.

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