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Palin Gives Interview to ABC News; Cable Chaos

Aired September 14, 2008 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): Answers in Alaska. Charlie Gibson grills Sarah Palin on her readiness to be president, her knowledge of the issues, her views on God. Did he ask the veep nominee the right questions? Did he push hard enough? And will the ABC interviews change her hockey mom image?

Cable chaos. MSNBC dumps its top anchors for political events. Was picking Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews a huge blunder?

Plus, O.J. is back in court. Are we headed for another media circus?


KURTZ: She had been shielded from the media, from the probing questions of the press, as she became the first woman to run on the Republican presidential ticket, as she wowed the convention, as she became a huge celebrity from a tiny town in Alaska.

But that changed this week when Sarah Palin sat down with a veteran ABC newsman. Charlie Gibson's challenge was to find out what the governor knows on national and international issues but without being overbearing or prosecutorial. The interviews were a major test, both for the candidate and the anchor.

CHARLIE GIBSON, ABC NEWS: Can you look the country in the eye and say, "I have the experience and I have the ability to be not just vice president but perhaps president of the United States of America"?

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE-PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I do, Charlie. On January 20, when John McCain and I are sworn in, if we are so privileged to be elected to serve this country, we'll be ready. I'm ready.

GIBSON: And you didn't say to yourself, "Am I experienced enough? Am I ready?"

PALIN: I didn't hesitate, no.

GIBSON: Doesn't that take some hubris?


KURTZ: Joining us now in Denver, Anne Kornblut, national political reporter for "The Washington Post," who's just returned from covering Governor Palin in Alaska; Frank Sesno, CNN special correspondent and a professor at the George Washington University; and Julie Mason, White House correspondent for "The Houston Chronicle."

Anne Kornblut, you were on the Palin plane. Did you have any access to the candidate or her family?

ANNE KORNBLUT, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": In a word, no. The campaign did bring back -- a campaign aide brought back her 7-year-old daughter to introduce to reporters at one point, and she's very cute. But beyond that, no, there was zero access to her.

KURTZ: All right. Frank Sesno, the ABC interviews: did Gibson ask the right kinds of questions? And was he a little bit overbearing?

FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: There were moments when he was a little patronizing, I thought, you know, the reading glasses down on the nose, looking over them. "What exactly is the Bush Doctrine?" is what he was saying.

But you know, I don't -- I think he could have been tougher. I don't think this is about Charlie Gibson; this is about the candidate. And as far as I'm concerned, the tougher the better. This is the first time that the public has had sort of an unfettered view of Sarah Palin. And as far as I'm concerned, bring it on.

KURTZ: Some people, including some women, Julie Mason, thought that Gibson sounded a little condescending. We heard the clip where he asked her is she really ready for this. And he said, "Didn't that take some hubris?"

JULIE MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "HOUSTON CHRONICLE": Well, it does take some hubris, to presume that you are ready to be vice president of the United States. I mean, who among us can see that we are?

And I think part of the problem for Sarah Palin is so many people identify with her, and yet here she is, poised for this major step. I think it was a no-win situation for Charlie Gibson. I mean, I think -- I don't think he could have done it in a way that would have satisfied everyone.

KURTZ: Yes. There are always going to be critics.

Well, Frank, you mentioned the questions that Gibson asked Governor Palin on foreign policy. Let's play that. You've probably seen it once or twice. Come to Anne Kornblut on the other end.


GIBSON: Do you agree with the Bush Doctrine?

PALIN: In what respect, Charlie?

GIBSON: The Bush -- well, what do you -- what do you interpret it to be?

PALIN: His world view?

GIBSON: No, the Bush Doctrine, enunciated September 2002 before the Iraq war.


KURTZ: Now, Anne, there are several possible definitions of the Bush Doctrine, but when -- when Palin hesitated and Gibson gave his interpretation, was he just, you know, trying to help her out or was he trying to show her up?

KORNBLUT: I don't think we can second-guess his motivation. I do think that...

KURTZ: How did it come off on the screen?

KORNBLUT: As I was watching it, I thought he was actually trying to help her out. I mean, I think there's a pretty standard definition of what the Bush Doctrine is that we've all for many years interpreted to be a preemptive strike. Obviously, experts think it's up for debate now.

But that parry just stylistically looked very uncomfortable for her, that she didn't even seem familiar with what it might be. So he did seem to be helping her.

I will say the campaign is thrilled with the way this interview went. They have not had any complaints. In fact, they were discouraging some of their supporters at a rally yesterday in Anchorage from showing signs that said "Charlie Gibson" with a cross through it, so they're thrilled with it. So if there's any complaints, it's not coming from the McCain campaign.

SESNO: May I disagree just a little bit? Again, watching the screen, I'm not sure it looked like Charlie Gibson was trying to help her out. If he was helping her out, he would have said, "Oh, that's the preemptive war thing. What do you think about that?" He said, "The Bush Doctrine." He sat back and waited to see how she was going to fill in the void, and it was a very awkward voice. And when she finally got around to it, "World view, Charlie?" Which is a big broad question -- issue. I don't know what she was getting at there. And it finally came down to that.

She talked about the imminent threat. If there's an imminent threat, the United States can attack. That's not really the preemptive war doctrine that was laid out, that Gibson was referring to, and he didn't zero in on that. So she actually got off fairly easily on that.

KURTZ: In the third of the three interviews, Julie Mason, Gibson prefaced a question by saying, "Is it sexist for me to ask you how you juggle a family of seven with the vice presidency?" So it seems like you can't even ask these questions now without possibly being accused of that. MASON: It's true. And it shows how ferocious the Republican pushback on the press has been. We see it from the left, too, from Democrats. They just -- they push reporters into a corner, where suddenly hard questioning of someone who presumes to be vice president becomes a partisan act, when it's a journalistic one. People need to calm down and understand that this is a journalistic process. It's not partisan.

KURTZ: For...

MASON: Nor is it sexist, I would say.

KURTZ: There's been no instances of sexism?

MASON: Certainly, but there's always instances of sexism. You know, any woman can tell you that. But in this case questioning Sarah Palin is not sexist.

SESNO: If it was her husband who was running, you could say, "Look, you've got five kids. You just had a Down syndrome child. Do you really think..."

KURTZ: Come on, frank. But those questions tend to be asked far less frequently of male politicians, because they're not expected to be the primary caregiver.

SESNO: That's true enough. Anne, go ahead.


KORNBLUT: That may be the case. That may be the case. But you know, I -- when we get accused of being sexist, us female reporters, it does make us feel like we have a right to ask them, that we're in the same boat, being female.

And I have to say, we asked John Edwards when Elizabeth got sick, "Do you really think you should keep running?" We've asked this question of male candidates. It's not the center of our focus. It's not the qualifier. It's just one of many of thousands of questions that we're going to ask.

KURTZ: And what was the attitude of the female reporters on this trip to Alaska, Anne Kornblut? On the one hand, you know, you've actually got, for the first time in history, a vice-presidential nominee who's a woman, and on the other hand, obviously, you're there to do your job.

KORNBLUT: Sure. I think that having female reporters on the trail in general means that there's an ability to ask questions with, I think, a little less hesitation. So far none of us female reporters have gotten to actually ask any questions, and her next interview is going to be with Sean Hannity. But you know, maybe at some point we'll get to see a woman actually interview her.

KURTZ: That would be an interesting -- I'm sure we will, eventually. Well, of course, there's eight weeks to go. Let's take a look at another part of the Charlie Gibson interview, where he raises a question about religion. And then at the tail end we'll show you the reaction of Newt Gingrich as a FOX News commentator. Let's watch.


GIBSON: You said recently in your old church, "Our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God." Are we fighting a holy war?

PALIN: Yes, I don't think if that was my exact quote.

GIBSON: It's exact words.

PALIN: But the reference there is a repeat of Abraham Lincoln's words when he said -- first. he suggested never presume to know what God's will is, and I would never presume to know God's will or to speak God's word.

NEWT GINGRICH, FOX NEWS COMMENTATOR: That is a sad commentary on the growing anti-religious hostility of the elite media.


KURTZ: Your reaction to that?

SESNO: Give me a break. Anti-religious hostility of the elite media. There are all the buzzwords there. Maybe they were focus- grouped, thanks to Frank Luntz, before he went on the air.

But the fact of the matter is, is that the separation of church and state, the relationship of religion to policy, the reference and the evocation of God in any form is absolute fair grist for the mill.

We're fighting a war against religious fanatics, we're told, or extremists. I'm not saying -- believe me, I'm not saying or suggesting that she should be asked whether, you know, she's a religious fanatic or extremist. That's not the issue. But where that intersection tapes place and really understanding it is absolutely relevant and something that should be asked. That's not extremism, and that's not elitism.

MASON: Sure. And I would add to that, Howie, if I can, that we have -- Americans have a right to know whether the religious beliefs of our leaders will affect policy-making. And that's what it goes to. It's not an anti-Christian thing.

SESNO: No one -- no other than Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser for the first President Bush, suggested that the current President Bush went on the mission because he felt it was a mission from God. That wasn't coming from the elite, and that wasn't coming from the media.

KURTZ: Let me show you how it's being handled by the press. Now, we should just explain that Governor Palin considers herself a born-again Christian. She was a member of the Assemblies of God Church for some years. A spokeswoman from the campaign says, "We're not going to get into discussing her religion." Let's roll some tape of a couple of recent pieces on this subject.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sarah Palin calls herself, quote, "a Bible-believing Christian, period." What she doesn't mention is this. Palin spent most of her life attending a Pentecostal church which may have shaped her beliefs, if not her politics.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST, FOX NEWS' "ON THE RECORD": Now you often hear about speaking in tongue? Is that -- that's part of the custom?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's part of the -- and also the fundamental face of the semblance of God.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is that something you do?



KURTZ: Anne Kornblut, I mean, there is a critique that says that the mainstream media have a wary view of fundamentalist Christianity and therefore, somebody who, like millions of Americans, practices that is seen as or is depicted as a little bit strange.

KORNBLUT: Well, that's the Republican talking point about how the media sees the religious beliefs of the candidates. The truth is, we've always looked at religion with all of these candidates. We did a lot of stories, I think, about Barack Obama and about Reverend Wright. We did a lot of stories about Mitt Romney and his faith.

So I don't really know what the campaign expects. We're not going to ask these questions, the same questions that have been asked of other candidates and their faith?

KURTZ: How many stories have we done on John McCain and religion? Very few. Maybe none.

MASON: That's a really good question. Well, I'm not sure he's a regular church-goer. I'm not sure it's a big part of his makeup.

SESNO: That's right. There have been some stories. And in fact, they've examined just that, and that is the relatively lower- profile role that religion plays in his life. So you know, if it plays a larger role in your life, it becomes probably more worthy of probing. A lot of stories that were done about Reagan, about the Clintons and the role religion played.

KURTZ: The former pastor -- or the senior pastor, excuse me, of the Wasilla, Alaska, Assembly of God Church, where Palin had been a member, Ed Kalnins, had preached at one point that critics of Bush will be banished to hell.

But so that -- you could argue the other way, that's getting as much attention as the rants of Jeremiah Wright.


KURTZ: So no one here thinks that we ought -- that this ought to be off limits; it's none of our business; it's her own -- it's between her and God? Everyone thinks that the journalists can poke into this area?

SESNO: No, I think there are -- where her religion is her religion and her personal beliefs, that is her business. It's where it intersects with public policy; it's where it intersects with decisions that she or anybody might make in public office.

If you believe God is on your side, are you more or less likely to go to war? If you believe God is on your side, are you more or less likely to provoke a debate over taxes or abortion or anything? That's where it's fair game, and that's where the public has a right to know and reporters have a right and a job to ask.

KURTZ: Now, here's a story, Anne Kornblut, that you'd never see written about a male politician. It was on the front page of the "Wall Street Journal" the other day. It was about Sarah Palin's shoes. These are Naughty Monkey red shoes. And we see the story was talking about her designer grasses, and people are now interested in the shoes and the glasses.

Does that make you a little uncomfortable?

KORNBLUT: Not at all. Look, she's got a sense of style. She wears it well. It's part of what makes her a compelling figure. She looks really great on stage.

The same is true of men, but I think women have a way of doing it even better. And she certainly is.

So to be honest, I haven't heard any complaints about people saying -- I think we saw "Saturday Night Live" -- "Saturday Night Live" poke a little fun at it last night, but I haven't really heard the campaign complaining about how great she looks. That being commented on.

KURTZ: All right. Since we don't have a wide shot, we can't get a look at your shoes. But we'll leave it there.

KORNBLUT: I'm glad you can't.

KURTZ: When we come back, lipstick and livestock. Why exactly did the mainstream media go hog-wild over a manufactured story that was pushed by the right?


KURTZ: I seriously thought about passing up entirely this ridiculous, trumped up, phony lipstick controversy. No one really, seriously believes that Barack Obama was talking about Sarah Palin when he used the well-worn barnyard phrase. Just about everyone knows it was essentially pushed along and made up by Drudge, Sean Hannity and "The New York Post," which endorsed McCain by the way, in a front- page editorial.

Surely, the media wouldn't fall for this. After all, look at what this guy said a few months ago.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: In 1993 we rejected the then-Clinton universal health-care proposal. It was rejected by the American people. I don't like to use this term, but the latest proposal I see as putting lipstick on a pig.

KURTZ (voice-over): This Lipstickgate was all over cable and led all the network newscasts.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: Lipstick madness.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST, FOX NEWS' "HANNITY & COLMES": Top story tonight: pigs and lipstick.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Lipstick on a pig.

KATIE COURIC, ANCHOR, CBS NEWS: That lipstick comment.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST, FOX NEWS' "HANNITY & COLMES": We've got this lipstick comment that we've been talking about all night.

BRIT HUME, ANCHOR, FOX NEWS: The issue of the day today, all day, lipstick on a pig.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Lipstick smears, pigs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The lipstick war.

DIANE SAWYER, CO-HOST, ABC'S "GOOD MORNING AMERICA": What do we call it? Lipstickgate, I guess.

STEVE MURPHY, FORMER GEPHARDT CAMPAIGN MANAGER: They're all guilty of, I guess, pig-ism here.

JAKE TAPPER, ABC'S "WORLD NEWS TONIGHT": Barack Obama today said that John McCain was cynically making up a controversy about something that Obama simply never said.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: If so many of us know it's happening and the machinery behind it, how do things like this still happen?


KURTZ: You want to disagree with that?

SESNO: No. I just wish I'd bought lipstick futures at the right moment. You know? It is this -- you know, we've talked about it before. This echo chamber that we're in. Turn a catchy phrase, put out a nasty enough attack, have, you know, something personal and specific enough, and we can't -- we can't resist it.

KURTZ: We're like addicts.

SESNO: We're like addicts. And make it -- as I said, make it catchy and nasty enough, and everybody jumps on it. It's a feeding frenzy.

KURTZ: Julie, let's see how Barack Obama characterized it when he was asked about the great lipstick controversy.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: They seize on an innocent remark, try to take it out of the context, throw up an outrageous ad, because they know that it's catnip for the news media. See, it would be funny -- it would be except, of course, the news media all decided that that was the lead story yesterday.


KURTZ: Catnip for the news media.

MASON: It's true. I hate to say it. It might even be a new low for the news media, this late in the game, for us to become so distracted with something as trivial as this. And we're not talking about the issues. I wish we were more high-minded.

But it is a funny story, and everyone was talking about it for a day and then it was gone.

KURTZ: I think it was about 48 hours. Even as they were saying, "Well, you know, this isn't quite the way it happened," it didn't matter.

MASON: Right.

KURTZ: They still do segment after segment on it.

You know, it's not to say, Anne Kornblut, that there's not been some pretty good reporting in recent weeks on Sarah Palin. "The New York Times" this morning has a piece about how she hired a number of her high-school classmates to top official -- to top jobs in Alaska. For example, one was a former real-estate agent, was named to the head to run the state division of agriculture, and she cited her childhood love of cows, as a result.

But I have an impression, though, even when these well-reported pieces, where everybody's on the record, are published, there's a lot of pushback from the McCain campaign as somehow we're still being unfair and perhaps there's a whiff of sexism here.

KORNBLUT: I've never seen anything like it. There's been just incredible pushback about virtually every story. And it's not just the campaign, although it is the campaign. But it's also a sort of orchestrated outside campaign that I know a lot of my colleagues and I have been bombarded with.

This is something that happens late in the season always, but it's happening at a level I've never seen it before.

KURTZ: And do you think it's having an impact, Julie Mason?

MASON: Yes, I do. I do. I do think it has an effect. I mean, like you said, there's great -- there are great stories being done, but there's also, you know, journalism is a commercial pursuit, as well. And if so many people support Sarah Palin and so many people don't want to read bad things about her or hear bad things about her, that has to have an effect on the business decisions that the new media makes. The Republicans have been very adept at this.

SESNO: It just -- shows just how deliberate everything has become. You know, this is now focus-grouped and tested, and there are spinmeisters and all around all the candidates.

And -- and this is part of the overall deliberate campaign. You know you're going to get attacked by the media. You know you're going to -- and it's not attacked. You're going to get revealed. The layers of the onion are going to be pulled back. You're going to be -- have every speech looked at, every vote looked at.

So what you do is you inoculate yourself by saying this is somehow elite; this is somehow out of bounds. This is that negative, nasty media going at it again, to try to deflect it.

KURTZ: It was five -- it was five days after Sarah Palin's selection that Steve Schmidt, the top aide to John McCain, told me that the media were out to destroy Governor Palin.

But I think that we -- last question, Anne Kornblut. I think that we gave the McCain campaign some ammunition, because while there's been a lot of perfectly good scrutiny, good reporting on who this woman is, what's her record in Alaska, there's also been all these segments about is she a good mother and how can she be vice president? And I think that has touched a nerve among women who think that we're being unfair and perhaps condescending.

KORNBLUT: And not just women but Republican partisans who feel -- who have really rushed to her defense. That said, it's hard to imagine what would have been expected and sort of, frankly, what the complaints would have been if we hadn't asked all kinds of questions about somebody who was completely new.

So what I'd been asking the critics is what should we be writing, if not about the sum total of who she is?

SESNO: And may I say this: it's not just about Sarah Palin. We should be doing the same thing, and I hope have been, with Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Pull apart every speech. Does Barack Obama have the experience? If it's fair enough for Palin, it's more than fair for Obama, because he'd be at the top of the ticket. KURTZ: Is Joe Biden still running? He hasn't gotten much press lately.

All right, Anne Kornblut, Julie Mason, Frank Sesno, thanks very much for joining us.

This programming note: Frank Sesno and Christiane Amanpour will be hosting a special discussion, "The Next President: A World of Challenges," featuring five former secretaries of state. The special airs next Saturday at 9 p.m. Eastern, again on Sunday at 2 p.m. Eastern.

Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, benched. MSNBC takes Olbermann and Matthews out of the anchor chairs after months of criticism that they're too partisan to be fronting live political events.

Plus, disorder in the court. Can journalists possibly be impartial observers at yet another O.J. Simpson trial?



KURTZ: Keith Olbermann is the biggest star at MSNBC. He is also the most passionate and combative liberal at the channel. He has also been the co-anchor with Chris Matthews of every major live event of the presidential campaign.

Now, I questioned that arrangement again last week after all the on-air squabbling during the conventions, and this week MSNBC decided to make a change.

But first, a look at Olbermann and Matthews after Barack Obama finished his address to 80,000 supporters in Denver.


KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: An extraordinary political statement. I'd love to find something to criticize about it. Got anything?

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: No. You know, I've been criticized for saying he inspires me. To hell with my critics.


KURTZ: Now, here's Olbermann on the final night of the Republican convention in St. Paul after the party played a video tribute to the victims of 9/11.


OLBERMANN: If at this late date any television network had, of its own accord, showed that much videotape and that much graphic videotape of 9/11, and I speak as somebody who lost a few friends there, it, we would be rightly eviscerated at all quarters, perhaps by the Republican Party itself, for exploiting the memories of the dead and perhaps even for trying to evoke that pain again. If you reacted to that videotape the way I did, I apologize.


KURTZ: It was after those remarks that MSNBC executives decided to pull the plug on the Olbermann/Matthews anchor team. They'll still be analysts, but at the fall debates and on election night, the new anchor will be NBC's David Gregory.

Joining us now in Tampa, Eric Deggans, media critic for "The St. Petersburg Times"; and in New York commentator S.E. Cupp, co-author of the book "Why You're Wrong About the Right."

Eric Deggans, was yanking Olbermann and Matthews out of the anchor chair an overdue move by MSNBC?

ERIC DEGGANS, MEDIA CRITIC, "ST. PETERSBURG TIMES": I think what it was, was a perfect storm of problems for those guys in that position.

First, you had the increasing criticism of the press that you guys talked about in your previous segment. The pushback that the Republicans have engaged against the press has grown, and MSNBC was already being criticized for having two pundits anchor their news program.

But then you had this on-air squabbling. You had conflicts between their leading personalities, Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann and Joe Scarborough.

And there was some question as to why Keith Olbermann was in New York City for the Republican convention. Was he there because of some kind of threat or some reason that he couldn't travel or they wanted him there because of Hurricane Gustav? Or was he there because he couldn't get along with Chris Matthews?

So I think you had -- you had a perfect storm of problems come together, and the network just simply could not keep that arrangement together.

KURTZ: Squabbling and animosity between on-air, fabled personalities. I can't imagine that.

S.E. Cupp, let me mention that I've talked to MSNBC president Phil Griffin about this. He told me this was a mutual decision reached after conversations principally with Keith Olbermann.

But for months I would ask him about this, several times, and he would say that it was OK to have Matthews and Olbermann doing the anchor thing, because they were opinionated on their own shows, but they wore different hats when they were anchors.

What did you make of that argument?

S.E. CUPP, AUTHOR, "WHY YOU'RE WRONG ABOUT THE RIGHT": Yes, I don't think that they wear different hats. I think the hat that they wear is the hat of a fan: a fan of the Democratic Party and a fan of Obama. You know, they were practically groupies at the DNC.

And I'm a Mets fan, but if I called a Met game the way they called the DNC, I'd expect to be fired. I'd expect to be taken off that beat.

KURTZ: Practically groupies, Eric Deggans? That sounds -- some might call that a little harsh.

DEGGANS: It is a little harsh, although you know, Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews have never hidden their opinions.

And I think MSNBC's problem is that there are other cable channels that mix opinion and fact-based reporting, but they do it much more subtly than these guys have done. And by having two people who are so obviously pundits handle news roles, it wound up creating, I think, much more pushback than they expected.

And also, because they have a cable channel that's tied to NBC News, the credibility of NBC News journalists are often called into question for things that MSNBC does. And FOX and CNN don't have that problem.

KURTZ: I think that's a key point, S.E. Cupp, because Tom Brokaw, among others -- you know, Andrea Mitchell, Chuck Todd -- they're on MSNBC all the time during this political season. There was public criticism by Brokaw, for example, about this arrangement. And I think that may have been a factor, as much as, you know, the stories that were written about why can't these people get along?

CUPP: I completely agree. In fact, I don't even really mind that they're partisan pundits. That's -- that's fine. And as Eric said, they don't hide that. But I mind that they were fairly unprofessional.

And it's not just them. I think the Joe Scarborough incident with David Shuster was also very unprofessional. And if MSNBC is now reining in their stars, I think that's a good -- I think that's a good thing for the network and a good thing for MSNBC viewers.

KURTZ: Well, why do you use the word "unprofessional"? I mean, that's a very strong word. I mean, these are people who are experienced television anchors and commentators. They are there. They are paid a lot of money to give their opinions. And yes, so sometimes they get into fights. Why is that unprofessional?

CUPP: Well, I mean, for example, the Joe Scarborough incident with David Shuster was allowed to go on for 15 minutes. Viewers really had no idea what they were talking about.

KURTZ: It felt like an hour.

CUPP: It did -- it did feel like an hour. That's unprofessional. And in terms of Olbermann and Matthew, I mean, Bill Maher, I hate to admit it, actually put it best when he said there was something vaguely sexual about the way they were addressing Obama. It was almost, you know, leering lasciviously and, you know, sort of affectionate groans. I was uncomfortable listening to them discuss Obama and his speech.

KURTZ: Eric Deggans, what's wrong with having a liberal cable news network? I mean, a lot of people obviously consider FOX to be favorable to Republicans.

DEGGANS: You know, I have criticized FOX in the past for its friendliness to conservatives, and I'm not sure that I, as a viewer, particularly appreciate seeing a cable channel lean in the other direction.

The problem is that you have to suspect whether or not these political leanings are corrupting the news process and whether you're getting facts that make sense.

Now I'm not going to exaggerate Olbermann's and Matthews's admiration for Obama, because there are lots of pundits who have said nice things about Barack Obama on other channels. And you know, the idea of whether they were sexualizing him or something like that I think is kind of preposterous.

But what I do think is a problem here for MSNBC, is that you know, they decided at some point to be the anti-FOX. But it seems that they didn't really have the constitution to pull it off.

And one of the things you notice with FOX is that they have some of the -- shall we say -- biggest penalties in the business on their cable channel in Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity.

KURTZ: Right.

DEGGANS: But those guys don't fight publicly. They're disciplined about how they deal with each other. And I think it -- I think it helps the channel.

KURTZ: Well, I do -- I do remember O'Reilly getting into quite a fight with Geraldo Rivera over immigration. So once in a while they fight publicly.

All right. Now, we have a great test case here. We have interviews with Barack Obama. Some of that aired this week. Bill O'Reilly on the one hand, Keith Olbermann on the other. Let's take a look and we'll talk about it on the other side.


OLBERMANN: Maybe the most compelling moment of your acceptance speech in Denver was that one strongly-voiced word, "enough." A lot of people who have felt angry about what's been done to this country in the last seven or eight years have that same sense of urgency and simplicity to it.

Have you thought of using on the campaign trail and, in your speaking engagements, more exclamation points? Have you thought of getting angrier?

OBAMA: Well, I'll tell you what. With two months to go, I think everybody needs to feel a sense of urgency.

We were talking before the show about the fact that only in America could we have this success.


OBAMA: And I am not somebody who begrudges that success. I want people...

O'REILLY: You want 50 percent of my success?

OBAMA: No, I don't.

O'REILLY: Yes, you do.

OBAMA: No, I don't.

O'REILLY: That's your tax rate.

OBAMA: That is not true.

O'REILLY: Fifty. I'm paying 50 if you get elected.

OBAMA: What I have said is that I would take your marginal rate back to what it was under Bill Clinton.

O'REILLY: Yes, 39.

OBAMA: You go back to 39.

O'REILLY: Right.

OBAMA: You can afford that. That's point No. 1. In exchange, I'm cutting taxes for 95 percent of Americans. Ninety-five percent.

O'REILLY: That's swell, but that's class warfare.

OBAMA: No, it's not. Ninety-five percent is not class warfare.

O'REILLY: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.


KURTZ: S.E. Cupp, let's start with Olbermann. Obviously, he favors Obama. He's been very harsh on John McCain. What would you -- how would you characterize that interview with Senator Obama?

CUPP: I think that's a perfect example. He was actually giving Obama campaign advice. I don't know if that exists within -- within, you know, the bounds of journalistic ethics and integrity, but essentially, he was suggesting that he, you know, get more angry on the campaign. And I think O'Reilly actually went after Obama's -- Obama's tax plan and the issues. Hard-hitting facts.

KURTZ: Eric Deggans, O'Reilly -- O'Reilly at various points was debating Barack Obama, and in fact, the A.P.'s Dave Bauder wrote that he seemed to be shouting him down at times.

DEGGANS: Yes, I would disagree with that analysis. What I would say is that the viewer was ill-served by both of those interviews, because both of the interviewers had partisan points to prove.

Olbermann was too nice, and O'Reilly wouldn't be quiet and let Obama say what he had to say. And frankly, some of his counterarguments didn't make any sense.

So I think you'd be better off with people who are a little more honest brokers. I mean, it's not that you can't express your opinion and also interview people, but does that have to be the sole, overriding factor in how you present what goes on?

KURTZ: Right. Well, O'Reilly did give Obama some chance to say what he wanted to say, but clearly, he was in his face.

Now, we can't finish this segment without playing a clip from last night's "Saturday Night Live." Tina Fey and Amy Poehler playing Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton.


AMY POEHLER, NBC'S "SATURDAY NIGHT LIFE": I believe that diplomacy should be the cornerstone of any foreign policy.

TINA FEY, NBC'S "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": And I can see Russia from my house.

POEHLER: I believe global warming is caused by man.

FEY: And I believe it's just God hugging us closer.

POEHLER: I don't agree with the Bush Doctrine.

FEY: And I don't know what that is.


KURTZ: All right, S.E. Unfair liberal stereotype of Sarah Palin or just typical late-night mockery that all politicians get?

CUPP: No. That's classic "SNL." They did a great job. Everyone had been saying that Tina Fey needed to play her, and that's what -- that's what parody is. And I thought -- I said that it was a really, really good -- really good bit.

KURTZ: On the other hand, Eric, I mean, that kind of, you know, portraying her as a bit of a boob can -- can -- can really create an image that is hard for a candidate to counter. DEGGANS: Well, I mean, every candidate, you know, I guess except Obama has a line where they're made fun of. I mean, you know, John McCain is too old. He went on "SNL" and said that. And -- and I guess now they're going to make fun of Palin's, you know, traditional values.

KURTZ: We've got to go. I've got to...

DEGGANS: Well, I was just going to -- Obama didn't make an appearance, I guess, because of the hurricane.

KURTZ: Exactly. All right. S.E. Cupp, Eric Deggans, thanks very much for joining us.

CUPP: Thanks.

KURTZ: After the break, here we go again. In the middle of a ground-breaking presidential campaign, can the media find the air time to go nuts over O.J.? Well, there are cameras in the courtroom.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Coming up at the top of the hour on "LATE EDITION," we'll have the latest on how Texas is recovering from a direct hit by Hurricane Ike.

Also governors Tim Pawlenty from Minnesota and Bill Richardson of New Mexico, they're square off on this presidential race.

And with only 51 days to go, political analysis from four of the best political team on television.

All that and a lot more on "LATE EDITION." Now back to Howard Kurtz and RELIABLE SOURCES -- Howie.

KURTZ: Thanks, Wolf.

It's been a dozen years since the media went totally wild over O.J. Simpson, a dozen years since the trials that inflamed the nation. Now O.J. is on trial again, this time for armed robbery in that bizarre incident involving the demand for his sports memorabilia at a Las Vegas hotel. The confrontation was captured on a videotape [SIC] we've seen many times.


O.J. SIMPSON, FORMER PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL PLAYER: Don't let nobody out this room. (EXPLETIVE DELETED), think you can steal my (EXPLETIVE DELETED) and sell it?


SIMPSON: Don't let nobody out of here. Wow. You (EXPLETIVE DELETED), you think you can steal my (EXPLETIVE DELETED)? (UNINTELLIGIBLE)


KURTZ: Jury selection was completed this week, and one of those covering the case is Lisa Bloom, who anchors the program "Lisa Bloom: Open Court" on truTV, formerly known as Court TV. She joins us now from New York.

All right, Lisa, O.J. goes on trial for trying to steal or maybe liberate his sports souvenirs. Why should the media any longer care about this low-life?

LISA BLOOM, HOST, TRUTV'S "LISA BLOOM: OPEN COURT": Well, it's like Al Capone, who eventually got locked up, not for any violent crimes, but for tax evasion. This could be the final chapter in O.J. Simpson's legal dramas. He could get locked up for life if he's convicted of any of the top charges here: the kidnapping or the armed robbery charges. So it's a very serious case.

KURTZ: Cameras in the courtroom, we all remember the original O.J. murder trial, the double-murder trial that everybody, including Judge Lance Ito, seemed to play to the cameras. Could this, by virtue of the presence of these cameras, turn into yet another circus?

BLOOM: Well, I take issue with people who say that the cameras created a circus in the courtroom. I think in the first case, the cameras exposed the circus that was going on in that courtroom. Judge Ito did get a fair amount of criticism for the way he handled that case.

Judge Jackie Glass, who's handling the current case, is getting high marks from everyone already for keeping a close lid on that courtroom.

KURTZ: So you're saying that, if a judge knows how to run a trial, the cameras don't have the impact that some critics fear they might?

BLOOM: Well, sure. I mean, at "Court TV," now "In Session," we broadcast thousands and thousands of trials. Sometimes you see the shenanigans that are going on in the courtrooms and it leads to reforms.

I say let's get cameras into every branch of government, especially the judicial branch, and see what's going on. It's our tax dollars that are paying for it. Shine the light. Most judges have nothing to hide; have no problem with cameras being in there.

KURTZ: All right. Now, is this case going to be framed by journalists, and perhaps some of the jurors will buy into this, as well, as a chance to make O.J. Simpson pay for the double murders of which he were acquitted?

BLOOM: Well, I hope not. I'm sure there are some commentators who feel that way. I think most juries tend to look at cases only on the facts of that case. There are journalists who feel strongly about O.J. on both sides. But we're covering this case six hours a day on "In Session." We've got a one-hour special every morning, 9 a.m. on my show. We're looking at the facts. We're looking at the highlights. We're broadcasting the testimony. Viewers can decide for themselves.

KURTZ: Only six hours a day? Are you sure that's enough?

BLOOM: It's probably not enough, but we're going to give it our best.

KURTZ: All right. Now, when this caper first went down at the Las Vegas hotel, a lot of people game interviews. One of them was Tom Riccio, who was one of O.J.'s pals involved in that incident, who was later granted immunity for his testimony. Let's take a look at what he told Larry King at the time.


TOM RICCIO, FRIEND OF O.J. SIMPSON: I thought he would go there, and I thought he would identify his stuff. That's what he -- that's what he said he would do. In fact, it looked like they were going to turn this stuff over willingly, and they were doing that when the guns -- gun came out that I saw.


KURTZ: Could those interviews be a factor in this case?

BLOOM: Absolutely. And Tom Riccio is a convicted arsonist. He's got a rap sheet longer than my arm. He's already sold a book on the case, and he's written in the book, "I just want to make as much money off of this case as I can."

He may be the first prosecution witness in the case. He sold that tape to TMZ, reportedly for over $100,000. And he's just one -- he's just one of the cast of very colorful characters who have been trying to sell their story. Some of them are looking for sponsors so that when they go on TV, they can have a little ad on their T-shirt or on their hat. I mean, this is a crazy case.

KURTZ: Spare me. But you know, he sold that videotape, but then wasn't it replayed about a billion times on all the news networks? And so don't we bear some responsibility for buying into that?

BLOOM: Well, I think you're right. You know, and the interesting thing for legitimate networks like CNN, like "In Session," is TMZ pays for stories, they pay for tapes, and then we run them without paying for them. You know, so I don't think we can be a little high and mighty about TMZ.

Everybody has got an agenda. Witnesses in cases who come on TV to talk, they've an agenda. There are very few people in this case who just simply want to come on TV, I think, and tell the truth about what happened. They all have an ax to grind.

KURTZ: So what you're saying is that, you know, we in the mainstream press, the respectable media, you know, we get down on these tabloids, but we keep our -- we say -- we say that we're high and mighty, because we didn't pay for anything.

BLOOM: Right.

KURTZ: We're, of course, just covering the news.

BLOOM: Well, that's true. And look, Tom Riccio, who's got the book to sell; another key witness in the case, Mike Gilbert, already has a book out. We all want to interview them. We want to ask them about the facts of the case. But what are they really trying to do?

I've had attorneys for players in this case on my show who say they have books that they want to sell, and they're openly asking for publishers.

The judge is concerned the jurors in the case are just stealth jurors trying to get on the panel to sell a book or to sell movie rights. I mean, this is a case that's just awash in money, and to the extent we're complicit, I think that's unfortunate.

KURTZ: All right.

BLOOM: But nevertheless, it's a big case. We all want to cover it.

KURTZ: I've got 20 seconds for you. Here's my problem with this trial as a spectator, and as a journalist and as an American citizen. There's nobody to root for. Everybody looks slimy.

BLOOM: You mean, you don't like the arsonist, the stalker, the alleged pimp or O.J. Simpson, who the majority of Americans think is a double murderer? Howard, how could you say such a thing?

KURTZ: Well, maybe I ought to reconsider that stance and take a closer...

BLOOM: Root for the journalists.

KURTZ: ... look at the supporting cast. All right. Lisa Bloom, truTV, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

BLOOM: Thanks, Howie.

KURTZ: Still to come, has that Bridge to Nowhere spawned journalism that goes nowhere? The media's latest attempt at truth squatting, next.


KURTZ: A political operative once told me that he didn't care if I called his candidate's ad false, as long as I repeated the charge by the third paragraph. What he meant was a mere newspaper article can't catch up with a questionable claim broadcast on television again and again.

This week, that proposition was put to the test.


KURTZ (voice-over): Sarah Palin has a favorite line about opposing wasteful spending. She used it at the Republican convention.

PALIN: I told the Congress, "thanks but no thanks" on that Bridge to Nowhere.

KURTZ: And the McCain campaign put it in an ad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The original mavericks. He fights pork barrel spending. She stopped the Bridge to Nowhere.

KURTZ: Well, that wasn't quite the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the remote $230 million Alaskan project.

"The New York Times" pointed out that Palin had originally supported the project before it became a controversial boondoggle. So did the "Wall Street Journal," and so did "The Washington Post," more than once, including in an "Ad Watch" written by me. And "The New Republic" and a number of bloggers weighed in, as well.

But that didn't stop the Alaska governor.

PALIN: "Thanks but no thanks" for that Bridge to Nowhere.

"Thanks but no thanks" for that Bridge to Nowhere.

"Thanks but no thanks."

"Thanks but no thanks."

"Thanks but no thanks" for that Bridge to Nowhere up in Alaska.

KURTZ: So maybe my political pal was right, and print journalists can go only so far in policing questionable claims. But those newspaper accounts helped prompt television journalists to get into the act.

LISA MYERS, NBC NEWS (voice-over): But that's not the whole story. Here's what the campaign leaves out about the bridge. First, when Palin was running for governor in 2006, she actually supported the project.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After a year of supporting the proposed bridge near Ketchikan, Governor Palin pulled state funds from the project, which killed the bridge for good, but she never said no thanks to the federal funds promised by Congress, $233 million.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our fact check found that Palin, while running for governor in 2006, did voice general support for the bridge project.

KURTZ: so by the time Palin abandoned the bridge, Congress had effectively killed the earmark funding. Now, it was a classic showdown. Would the vice-presidential nominee continue to score her political points, or would the media referees rule the story out bounds? Here's Palin the next day.

PALIN: "Thanks but no thanks" for that Bridge to Nowhere.

KURTZ (on camera): When Palin sat down with Charlie Gibson, he tried one more time.

GIBSON: But you were for it before you were against it. You were solidly for it for quite some period of time until Congress pulled the plug?

PALIN: I was for infrastructure. It was our choice, Charlie, whether we were going to spend it on a bridge or not.

KURTZ: Well, there's your answer. Truth squatting is one of the most important things we do in journalism. If we don't hold politicians on both sides accountable, what's the point?

But reporters aren't perfect. You want to hold us accountable by checking the facts.

That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us again next Sunday morning, 10 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the media.

LATE EDITION with Wolf Blitzer begins right now.