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State of the Union: Reliable Sources

Aired February 22, 2009 - 10:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: And as I do so, Howie, a quick look at the headlines. It seems a flashback in some ways to a case that drew headlines here in Washington a few years back. This is the New York Post, "We Know Who Killed Chandra." Chandra Levy, of course, a former intern who was found killed in a park here in Washington. It's on the front page of the New York Post.

Also, right here on the front page of the New York -- of the Washington Post -- excuse me, Howie -- "D.C. police believe close to arrest in Levy case." And out in California, where she was from, Chandra Levy, her parents pictured on the front page of the Modesto Bee here. It was an interesting story at the time, a tragic case, Howie, and as you know, a test case for how we deal with anonymous sources and the like in our business way back.

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN ANCHOR: Well, John, it was a huge story in 2001 for one reason, and that is that Chandra Levy was having an affair with then-Congressman Gary Condit, who refused to admit it, even in a celebrated interview with Connie Chung. So, you know, that led to all kinds of speculation around the clock, horribly overheated talk about the case. I hope that if the police indeed charged a subject, who is already in prison, by the way, and he's convicted, it will bring some closure to the Levys' family and friends, but not to produce another media circus.

KING: We can only hope, Howie, on the not another media circus.

On that note, take it way.

KURTZ: Thanks very much, John.

Ahead, we'll examine 18-year-old Bristol Palin's interview with Fox News about having an out-of-wedlock baby.

And I'll face off with Bernie Goldberg over his contention that the media had been carrying on a slobbering love affair with Barack Obama.

But first, it's probably not much of a stretch to say that Roland Burris would not be a United States senator today without the media. When Blago appointed him a few weeks back -- that would be the disgraced former governor of Illinois -- Senate Democrats vowed not to seat Burris. So he framed the issue in racial terms, staged events that he knew would attract reporters, and appeared on every television program that would have him.

This is what it looked like. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: What do you think about all this, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Spread out. There'll be no statements or questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You certainly knew this Senate seat was radioactive and what the reaction would be.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN: One of the phrases used today to describe any effort to stop you, the word used, maybe an unfortunate word, was a lynching.

MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC: Are you saying you are certain the governor has done nothing wrong?

SEN. ROLAND BURRIS, D-ILL.: Now, are you going to try to put words in my mouth?


KURTZ: But after Senate Democrats bowed to the mounting pressure and seated him, Burris changed his story. Contrary to his earlier denials, he admitted he had discussed fund-raising with Blagojevich's inner circle, just as the governor was, according to a criminal complaint, trying to sell Barack Obama's old seat to the highest bidder. In fact, Burris admits he actually tried to raise money for Blago.

So how does the appointed senator feel now about answering questions from the press? We got his answer this week.


BURRIS: What I will no longer do after today -- and get this, please -- now that there is an ongoing investigation, is engage the media and have facts drip out in selective sound bites.


KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about this and some other hot issues, Tucker Carlson, conservative commentator and former host of programs on MSNBC and here on CNN; Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for the "Chicago Sun-Times"; and Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker."

Ryan Lizza, what does it say to you when a public official says, that's it, I'm not talking to the media anymore? And how is this whole thing being covered?

RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORKER": Well, it's not surprising. These guys use us all of the time. When they want to get their message out, they go on every show that they can.

Look, I want to offer a partial defense of Burris and a partial criticism of the media on this. I mean, look, back in the fall, when he had a couple of conversations with people close to Blagojevich, and he casually mentioned helping Blagojevich out, and then connected that in a very casual way to, hey, I might be interested in the Senate seat as well, frankly, that's not a crime. That's frankly how politics works.

And I think one of the things that the media has done ever since the indictment of Blagojevich came out is that, any contact with Blagojevich, any mention of fund-raising, any sort of politic as usual, has now been elevated to a crime. And I think some of the press are missing that. His crime here was he fibbed about it, that he had the contact in the first place.

KURTZ: Well, you make it sound like a minor thing. I mean, did the fact that he changed his story about how -- the circumstances of his appointment is a key thing. And now he says -- the guy who gave a zillion interviews says, I'm not talking to you people anymore.

TUCKER CARLSON, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Well, he spent yesterday talking to federal investigators. He can't duck their questions. He may in trouble.

For my own part, I think he's amusing as hell. I hope he serves as long as Robert Byrd.

I think the real story that the press missed, though, is the pressure that the Congressional Black Caucus applied to guilty White liberals in the Senate to keep this guy. And they treated him like he was a civil rights hero, a leader of the Montgomery bus boycott or something. He's this hack politician...

KURTZ: Did the media treat him...


CARLSON: No, no, no. They actually -- I don't think the press played as large a role in this.

It's the leadership. The Democratic leadership in the Senate gave this guy a pass because they came under pressure from people employing identity politics. It's true.


CARLSON: The guy's not qualified to be a senator, amusing as he is.

LIZZA: They didn't give him a pass. They had no leg -- they had no legal leg to stand on. The governor of Illinois appointed him, and it was within his rights to do it.

CARLSON: The rest of the Senate has to -- I mean, they cannot accept the guy.

KURTZ: Let me break this up, because I want to bring in Lynn Sweet. Let me put up a headline yesterday from your paper, the "Chicago Sun-Times" quoting your governor, or the Illinois governor, Pat Quinn, "Quinn to Burris: Quit."

Now, wasn't Burris pretty accessible to journalists like you before he got into this deep political mess?

LYNN SWEET, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Well, and actually, he was playing more the TV interviews where you can, you know, have your say. He loved being before cameras. You know, yes, he was accessible and I got him, but what good did it do?

Even the day before he talked to the impeachment panel in Springfield under oath, I asked him about contacts he had, and he totally misled me in his -- in what he said. And he knew or had to know that even if what he said wasn't a big deal, we're talking now about the cover-up, more than what he did.

Ryan, I agree with you, what he did is what anyone would do who wanted an appointment. You talk to the people around the appointer.

What he did to too many people in too many ways is just not even tell the barest facts. He misled people, including me, by trying to make it seem the most he did was talk to some people from high school.

KURTZ: That will be count one of the indictment -- he misled Lynn Sweet.


KURTZ: You can't do that in politics.

SWEET: You cannot.

KURTZ: Let's take a quick look at what some of the pundits have been saying about this case on the airwaves.


JACK CAFFERTY, CNN: When you get down to where you've got to start blaming the media, you're out of bullets.

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO: This is a problem for the Democrats. They don't need this distraction. It's bringing back the ghost of Blago.

KARL ROVE, FOX CONTRIBUTOR: Burris ought to go though. Burris got to go

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: Got to go. I agree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that he's going to have to end up giving up is seat.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: The conventional wisdom earlier was he was not going to be seated because everyone was so outraged about Blago. And now people are predicting he's going to have to leave.

SWEET: No, no. I'll tell you, this is -- I don't think he is going to leave anytime soon. There's two people sitting in the Senate right now who had big accusations of sexual impropriety against them and, you know, people do weather the storm.

One of the reasons that you forget in this episode that built up to his seating, it's not just the Congressional Black Caucus, but President Obama, who had been siding with the Senate Democratic leadership and, take your time, vet him, do whatever you want to the leaders, Durbin and Reid. He said end the distraction. That's when they came up with this idea, go to Springfield, just say what you know about the events leading up to your appointment. He did not do that.


Ryan, a quick question, then I've got to move on.

By refusing to do interviews, does Burris deprive this story of oxygen so that if there are no other legal developments, in a couple of days we all move on to something else?

LIZZA: Partly, absolutely, unless something's coming from the prosecutor's office, unless something's coming about he's going to be charged with perjury, or he's continuing to meet, or the heat's on him even further, he's going to -- I think he's going to remain a senator.

SWEET: A quick disagreement. The Chicago newspapers, including my own, which has been a leader on this story -- we broke it -- you don't need Roland Burris to keep this story going because there's still a lot of developments, and you don't need interviews with him to go.

LIZZA: And he's got some powerful defenders out there. The mayor of Chicago just said that he does not believe that he should resign.

KURTZ: I think the White House...

SWEET: He just declined to say.


KURTZ: All right. Let me move on to the continuing and fervent debate over President Obama's stimulus package, his new mortgage aid plan this week.

On one network -- that's Fox News -- a certain word is being thrown around an awful lot. Let's check it out.


FRED BARNES, "WEEKLY STANDARD": The stimulus package is a good example of what one of the people was talking about, and that is we're moving toward Democratic socialism.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: To the socialist republic for which it stands, one nation, under the anointed one, you know, with bailouts and welfare for all.

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS: It's always so spooky -- socialism. Socialism. Is it me behind the mountain? Blah, blah, blah.


KURTZ: That was the voice of Glenn Beck.

Ryan, it's a perfectly legitimate argument. But what about the way that Fox kind of pounds that message night after night?

LIZZA: Look, it's no secret that Fox, one, sees itself as a business. Two, sees itself as an entertainment company. And only third as a sort of public service news organization.

And, look, Obama has saved Fox. After eight years of having to sort of be very mild on the president in power, they've got someone they can just attack left and right. And everyone knows that cable is all about niche audiences. So they're going further to the right, attacking Obama as a socialist, and just sort of keeping that hard core 30 percent of the country who watches them.

It's a very smart business decision. You know.

CARLSON: I've worked for a lot of cable networks, and the description that you just offered up could apply to any place that I have worked at, and I mean that with love.

LIZZA: But more so than possibly anywhere else.

CARLSON: Let me just say this, the question is not why is it so outrageous that people are calling this plan socialism? The government is moving toward controlling the means of production and setting wages. That's the classic definition of socialism.

The question is, why is that description so offensive to people? Why are people outraged that someone would dare call what is, in effect, socialism, socialism?

KURTZ: Let's go back to...

LIZZA: Why they're saying that about the Obama administration, but they weren't saying it about the Bush administration...


CARLSON: Well, that is -- I agree with you there. I agree with you there. This began under the Republicans, and an honest person will admit that. And I...

KURTZ: Does MSNBC, where you recently worked, do anything comparable to what Fox does in terms of pounding a message? CARLSON: I don't know. I haven't worked for Fox. But every network has a meeting in the morning, a story meeting. Every newspaper has the same, the budget meeting, where they figure out what the big stories are and how they're going to attack them, and different channels take it in a different perspective.

KURTZ: Let me put up the cover of "Newsweek" this past week, which has the headline, if we can see that, "We're All Socialists Now," making the case that I guess both parties have agreed to this.

All right. I want to talk about this "New York Times" settlement of a libel suit this week. Some of you may recall that Washington lobbyist Vicki Iseman was named in a story during the campaign. It was a story about her relationship actually back in the 2000 campaign with John McCain, whether they had a very close relationship.

She sued, The Times has settled. The Times published a note to readers that says, "The article in question did not intend to conclude that Vicki Iseman had either a romantic relationship or unethical relationship with Senator McCain."

No money was paid, no apology from The Times. What did you make of that?

SWEET: Well, I made of it that you'd have to read between the lines or they wouldn't have to done that if they thought they did nothing wrong. And as a reader of that story, I sure came away with the impression, Howie, that there was some kind of -- you know, the innuendo was dripping off that story. As a reader, you had to think there was some hanky-panky going on.

KURTZ: Former McCain advisers, unnamed, were reported as saying they were concerned there might be a romantic relationship between the two. She denied it. McCain denied. But The Time is saying, look, this was a victory for us -- the suit gets thrown out, we don't pay any money, and we don't apologize.

CARLSON: The piece itself was a loss for The Times. I read the paper every day, I think it's a pretty good paper. This was a sleazy story.

I mean, look, if you're going to write a story saying McCain's doing some lobbyist, just say so, just come out and say it, he's having an affair with this girl. They didn't do that. They weren't direct or manly enough to just say it out loud. They did it in a sleazy, indirect way.

LIZZA: They didn't know.

CARLSON: It was disgusting.

LIZZA: They didn't know. They reported what they knew, which is that former aides were worried about this.

CARLSON: Oh, come on.


LIZZA: I agree it was a mistake, because the point of the piece was McCain was blind to the conflicts of interest, which is also...

SWEET: Right. And they had to wrap it up in something, and a wrapping that they didn't need to know. And they knew or should have known what they were doing, which is why they even went as far as they did in this money list and this deal that they had, which is still more than they do for most other people who feel wronged.

KURTZ: And I would just say, you know, couldn't any of us quote people honestly (ph) as saying they believe or suspect some kind of...


SWEET: And we don't do it.

LIZZA: And you're trusting a Times reporter who is evaluating this sort of -- how much that source knows, and so you're putting a lot of faith in that Times reporter and The Times.

CARLSON: Well, The Post wrote the story without that crap. I mean, "The Washington Post" wrote a pretty similar story saying, you know, he had this weird relationship with a lobbyist, probably too close, but they didn't imply in this feline way that he was sleeping with her. I mean, if you're going to make the allegation through innuendo, make it directly.

SWEET: Well, see, they had a pretty good story as it was, and they just went too far.

KURTZ: And The Times ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, criticized the paper for the story, saying it did imply, suggest there was something going on.

LIZZA: But let me say about The Times, they have a good self- correction there, just by the example you just raised. Hoyt actually went out and criticized his own reporters.

KURTZ: That is true.

Now, let me turn to one more thing.

Jill Zuckman of "The Chicago Tribune," has been a guest on this program many times. Joining the Obama administration, she'll be director of public affairs at the Transportation Department.

Now, this follows ABC's Linda Douglass, who worked for the Obama campaign, who will work in the administration; TIME's Jay Carney, who has become communications director for Vice President Biden.

Does this suggest that journalists are a bunch of closet Democrats?

SWEET: No. In this case, though, everyone knows that the Chicago papers are ailing. The Tribune has taken a lot of cuts. KURTZ: It's bankrupt.

SWEET: And I think in this case, you have to look at -- it's situational.

CARLSON: So the only job you can get is working for a Democratic administration? I like all those people, some of them are friends are mine. I'm not going to criticize them personally; they're still my friends. But it's not that the press is a bunch of closet liberals, they're open liberals! I mean, that's the difference with the way things were 10 years ago.

LIZZA: The question is not whether they're liberal or not. The question is, does their work show some kind of liberal and conservative bias? And I think that all the reporters that you mentioned were pretty solid reporters.

CARLSON: Those are good reporters. Did you read the papers, though? They're in love with Obama.

LIZZA: I never read one of those reporters and said, wow, this person is pro-Democrat.

KURTZ: Jill Zuckman makes the point that she had a relationship -- a press relationship, of course, with Illinois Congressman Ray LaHood, who's a Republican, and that's the reason she went to work for this job, not because of Obama, but because of Ray LaHood.

All right. Lynn Sweet, Ryan Lizza, Tucker Carlson, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

When we come back, Bristol's moments. Sarah Palin's daughter talks somewhat awkwardly about teen pregnancy in her first TV interview. And some pundits dismiss her message.

And then, in the tank? Bernie Goldberg thinks the mainstream media -- to your point, Tucker -- had a slobbering love affair with Barack Obama during the campaign. A full-blown romance? He'll be in the hot seat at the bottom of the hour.

Plus, going for gold. ABC's Robin Roberts from Hollywood on covering Oscar glitz and glamour in the midst of an economic crisis.

And coming up at noon Eastern, John King, one-on-one with Arnold, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.


KURTZ: She was seen but not heard during the fall campaign, the subject of considerable media chatter and sometimes mockery about teenage pregnancy. Now Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol, the unmarried mother of a new baby, has given her first TV interview, sitting down for sometimes an uncomfortable conversation with Fox's Greta Van Susteren.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: And in terms of your mother making you have the baby, I mean, the whole issue of I guess the right to life and choice and things like that?


VAN SUSTEREN: But this is your issue, this is your decision?

PALIN: Yes. And I would have -- it doesn't matter what my mom's views are on it. Those are my decisions, and I wish people would realize that, too.

VAN SUSTEREN: Teen pregnancy, what is your thought on that?

PALIN: I think everyone should just wait 10 years.


PALIN: Just because it's so much easier if you're married and if you have a house and career, and it's just so much easier.


KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about the Bristol Palin interview, in Charlottesville, Virginia, Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor for "Slate" magazine. And here in Washington, Amy Holmes, CNN political contributor.

Dahlia, how did Greta Van Susteren do? Could she have tried harder, or should she have tried, to pin down Bristol Palin on the apparent contradiction between her choice to have the baby, and her mother's position on abortion?

DAHLIA LITHWICK, SR. EDITOR, "SLATE": I think she was in an impossible situation. This was such a strange, hybrid interview. It was kind of 50 percent TomKat, introduce you to baby Suri -- you know, the Hollywood moment -- except that instead of the handsome husband, we had kind of looming Sarah Palin.

And then it was 50 percent supposed to be a substantive news interview. And I think in sort of failing the gap between those two things...

KURTZ: Right.

LITHWICK: ... it actually proved to be nothing at all.

KURTZ: My knee-jerk reaction, Amy Holmes, was leave this young woman alone. But, of course, she agreed to the interview.

Was this a big scoop? I mean, everybody played the clips.

AMY HOLMES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's true. But, you know, I agree with Dahlia. What was so peculiar about this, in the interview, Greta asked her, "So when did you tell your parents you were sitting down with me to do this?" And she was like, "Oh, yesterday." So, what was the context? Was it because Bristol is doing a book negotiation? Is it because she felt she was maligned and misunderstood? And Greta never really put it in a context so that we can understand, why are we listening to Bristol Palin right now?

KURTZ: Dahlia Lithwick, did Bristol Palin have a message other than abstinence doesn't work and don't do what I did?

LITHWICK: If she had a message, she didn't articulate it at all. She took pains to say she wanted to be a spokeswoman, she wanted to stand for something. And she was quite clear to the extent she could be, to answer Amy's question, that there was a point to this, she had something to say.

But then she was never at any point able to say, so here's the sound bite, here's the takeaway. She said several times, this isn't glamorous. She said several times, this is hard. But if she wanted to tell teenagers something, to look in their eyes and say, don't do what I did, that never happened.

HOLMES: But I think here we're putting the onus on Bristol, an 18-year-old who is not a media professional...

KURTZ: Right.

HOLMES: ... instead of looking at the interview. And what was strange about this interview, Greta did something really hard, which is to have a conversation with no notes that was lengthy, that went on, you know, minute after minute after minute. And it wasn't a package, it didn't say here's a sound bite, here's useful (ph) to you.

KURTZ: And they didn't chop it up, right.

HOLMES: They didn't edit it. And so we're asking Bristol to be more articulate than the average person who's ever interviewed.

KURTZ: Right.

Now, at the end of the interview, the governor of Alaska dropped by, perhaps accidentally, perhaps not.

Let's take a brief look at what Greta Van Susteren asked Sarah Palin.


VAN SUSTEREN: Did you give her hell at first? I mean, what...

GOV. SARAH PALIN, R-ALASKA: Yes, I kind of did. I mean, I was -- let me put it this way...

B. PALIN: We were all surprised.

S. PALIN: ... we were all surprised. Let me put it this way -- and I think Bristol's kind of an example of truly, it can happen to anybody. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Now Dahlia, this is the former vice presidential candidate. Should Greta have pressed her on whether it was really Bristol's choice to have the baby, as Bristol said early in the interview? And what about other pregnant girls and women, and should they get to make their own choices?

LITHWICK: It was such an amazing death by prop. I mean, Sarah brings in this baby, and Rebecca Traister at Salon called him the football. And he's sot of this mute bomb, so that when Sarah Palin hands him off to Bristol, Bristol stops talking and the interview becomes Governor Palin's. So there's a really strange subtext here of, you know, you hold the baby, stop talking, and we can't now talk about these hard issues of abstinence, we can't talk about the unfortunate policies I've had, because the baby's in the room.

And even Greta goes out of her way to say -- she doesn't want to say anything bad, because look at the blessing that is here in our midst.

KURTZ: Let me get to Amy.

HOLMES: I just thought the whole thing was completely awkward. It's in a motel room. We see the governor sort of looming at the side of the table.

I think the whole thing, in terms of choreography, was really strange to watch. And we saw this actually right after the election, when Greta went up to Alaska and did all of this in the Palins' house.

KURTZ: Right.

HOLMES: Everything was just like strange. And we don't normally see that in interviews. So we're sort of seeing the backstage business.

KURTZ: Amy, let me briefly touch on this Chandra Levy story, which is in all of the papers today, a possible arrest warrant for the suspect in the case, who was not Gary Condit.

Chandra Levy's parents on "The Today Show" this morning at 5:00 a.m. California time. And I would criticize journalists for interviewing them, but obviously they want to be on, they want to get their daughter's story out and keep it in the news; right?

HOLMES: Well, they do. And during the whole entire investigation, you'll remember that they kept trying to say this is a person, this is Chandra Levy, which is something that we know about these types of criminal investigations, to try to get to the perpetrator, because maybe he's watching television, too.

KURTZ: Right. Although he is in jail, the guy who, sources say, could possibly be charged.

And Dahlia Lithwick, Gary Condit, the former congressman who had an affair with Chandra Levy, said just yesterday, "It is unfortunate that an insatiable appetite for sensationalism blocked so many from searching for the real answers for so long."

So, in retrospect, were the media kind of unfair to Gary Condit?

LITHWICK: Well, I certainly think we fall in love with these stories. You know, we loved this sexy, swinging guy and poor unfortunate girl. And we did lose interest, I think, in a way that sort of makes the Chandra Levy case like every other case that we're not interested in. It just becomes something that, once he fell out of the picture...

KURTZ: Right.

LITHWICK: ... it stopped being a sort of sexy case to follow.

KURTZ: We were interested because of the affair with a member of Congress. And by the way, ,he didn't come clean about that affair, even in a celebrated interview he did with Connie Chung. So it wasn't like he was a choir boy here either.

All right. Dahlia Lithwick, Amy Holmes, thanks for stopping by this morning.

Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, media swoon? Bernie Goldberg charges Main Street journalists with practically carrying Barack Obama's suitcases into the White House. Does his new book hold up under our critical lens?

And later, the show must go on, even with a tanking economy. Good Morning America's Robin Roberts uncovering a more subdued Oscar night.


KING: I'm John King, and this is STATE OF THE UNION. Here are stories breaking this Sunday morning.

The fight against the Taliban will be on the agenda when Pakistan's foreign minister comes to Washington this week. He's scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other top administration officials.

European leaders backing sweeping new regulations for financial markets and hedge funds. They're meeting in Berlin today and hammering out a common European position on economic reforms before an April summit of G-20 nations. The leaders agreed on seven key points, including a beefed-up role for the International Monetary Fund.

The nation's governors are focusing on money headed to their states from President Obama's new economic stimulus package. They're discussing the deal at an annual meeting here in Washington. Some Republicans say they may turn down part of that money.

We'll discuss that controversy during a one-on-one interview with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. That and much more ahead on STATE OF THE UNION.

Time now though to go back to our partner, Howie Kurtz and his RELIABLE SOURCES.

And as we do so, Howie, I'd like your thoughts on another media controversy.

This past week, of course, the photo of Rihanna, the singer and entertainer. She was in an awful domestic abuse thing, and it moved around, the photo around. You see it here on the front page of "The New York Post."

I was in Phoenix last weekend, and everybody was getting these photos on their BlackBerrys and sharing them, walking around at receptions at the NBA all-star game, something that we see grownups follow and also my 12-year-old daughter, of course, who's a big Rihanna fan.

KURTZ: Yes. Right.

You know, it was clearly newsworthy. You see just how badly beaten up she was from that incident with her boyfriend, Chris Brown.

But what a terrible leak of a police photo. You know, if it was your daughter or my daughter? TMZ, the entertainment Web site that obtained this police photo, is known to pay for pictures, but every major news organization that carried that, that plastered it wall to wall, is just as culpable, I think, as TMZ.

KING: It is a difficult call. There's great interest in the case, but can you cover the case and maybe not have to deal with that? That's an interesting question, Howie.

KURTZ: I wish it hadn't leaked in the first place.

Thanks, John.

KING: Same here.

KURTZ: We'll check in with you later.

Now, anyone who has watched this program over the last two years know we were pretty hard on the media for coverage of Barack Obama that was often quite soft. And anyone who has read the work of Bernard Goldberg in recent years knows he feels strongly that the media lean to the left.

But the former CBS correspondent really ratchets up the indictment in his new book "A Slobbering Love Affair: The True (and Pathetic) Story of the Torrid Romance Between Barack Obama and the Mainstream Media."

I spoke to him earlier from Miami.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KURTZ: Bernie Goldberg, welcome.

GOLDBERG: Thanks, Howie. Thanks for having me.

KURTZ: I agree that the Obama campaign coverage was pretty soft, but you go much further than that. You described the media mindset in your book this way: "We need the black guy to win because he's black. Helping to elect our first African-American president would make liberal journalists feel better about the most important people in their lives -- themselves."


KURTZ: So are you saying that journalists for mainstream news organizations deliberately and consciously set out to elect an African-American?

GOLDBERG: I think they were on a historical mission, which is something they had never been on before. In the past, liberal reporters put a thumb on the scale for a liberal candidate, whether it was Michael Dukakis or Walter Mondale or John Kerry.

This time it was different. This time it was a noble mission that they were on, and a historical mission.

And Barack Obama had a lot of things going for him. He was young. He was cool, not unimportant. He was black. And he was liberal.

Because if we had just inaugurated the first black president who was a conservative Republican, there wouldn't have been any slobbering. And to sum it up really in a sentence, I think in elite liberal circles, certainly inside the media, race trumps gender, and that's why they slobbered over Barack Obama, and took Hillary Clinton the back room and beat her with a rubber hose.

KURTZ: OK. But when you use a word like "mission," so what you are saying is that journalists at the big newspapers and the big networks, your former colleagues at CBS, they're -- in this campaign they weren't really journalists anymore, they were political activists. Is that what you're saying?

GOLDBERG: Yes. That is what I'm saying. I'm saying they crossed the line from media bias to media activism. And they did it because they felt the cause was worth it.

KURTZ: All right. There are generalizations in this book. Here is one: "Mainstream media writers hate O'Reilly and think MSNBC is just wonderful."

Well, I'm a mainstream media writer, I don't hate Bill O'Reilly. In fact, I was on his radio show last week, and I've repeatedly taken on MSNBC for lurching to the left.

GOLDBERG: Right. Obviously, I don't mean every single reporter. And I don't even mean every single reporter was in the tank for Barack Obama. I'm making a statement about the mainstream media as a whole.

It doesn't hold up for every single story on every single day. And I certainly -- I certainly didn't mean to give that impression. And I don't think I did. I think reasonable...

KURTZ: All right.

GOLDBERG: ... people will understand that this is a general statement about the media.

KURTZ: OK. Fair enough. I think sometimes you're selective in your evidence. For example, you write about Deborah Howell, she's the former ombudsman at my newspaper, "The Washington Post." You say, "She waited until after the election to write about the tilt on The Post op-ed page toward Barack Obama."

But -- and she did, but on August 3rd, Deborah Howell wrote about the huge imbalance in photos favoring Obama at "The Washington Post." On August 17th, she wrote that Obama had a 3-1 advantage over McCain in front page stories.

So she didn't entirely wait until after the election.

GOLDBERG: No. But this was the -- this was the information that would have done us a -- it didn't do us any good after the election, Howie. I mean, it was nice that she wrote it. It was nice that she acknowledged what just about everybody out in America already understood, that the media did side with one candidate over another.

But why not write it before -- you know, she wrote some things before she wrote this after. She shouldn't have written this after is what I'm saying.


You say that the media during the campaign didn't show enough interest in Obama's longtime relationship with the "unhinged," as you put it, Jeremiah Wright, but as you acknowledge in the book, the tapes of those "God damn America" sermons were first aired by ABC's Brian Ross, who is a card-carrying member of the mainstream media establishment. And that that story, it seemed to me, kind of dominated the campaign news for several weeks.

GOLDBERG: It only dominated the campaign after the tapes came out. And the tapes came out way, way late in the campaign.

These tapes were available at the church. These tapes were available, you didn't have to be Woodward or Bernstein to dig them up. You just had to dig into your wallet for a few bucks and buy them.

If those tapes had come out six months earlier, certainly a year earlier, I don't think Barack Obama would have been the nominee. I think Hillary Clinton would have been. And I think she would have been the president today. And in that sense, she's the biggest loser in all of this.

KURTZ: All right. Well, certainly, I would agree that the media should've looked at Reverend Wright earlier in the game.

You talk about the media not being very much interested in Obama's relationship with Bill Ayers, the onetime terrorist, but you again point out it was ABC's George Stephanopoulos who pressed candidate Obama about this in the debate.

And FOX News, where you're a contributor, want to play some tape for you, went haywire on this issue. Let's just give a flavor of what it was like at that time.


BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: New tape of Bill Ayers saying he's an anarchist and a Marxist.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: Now we know that Senator Obama wrote a blurb in "The Chicago Tribune" praising a book by Ayers.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: ... picture of Bill Ayers, the unrepentant terrorist, stomping on the American flag, saying, free as a bird, guilty as hell, what a great country...


KURTZ: So, Bernie, Bill Ayers, legitimate story, but when FOX is pounding it like that, when Hannity is talking about it every night, why isn't that media bias on the conservative side?

GOLDBERG: Because it's a legitimate story. It's a legitimate story not because we think Barack Obama shares Bill Ayers' views on setting bombs in the Capitol or at the Pentagon, it's a legitimate story because we -- this was a relationship that we had.

And even if we take Barack Obama's description of that relationship as "flimsy," his word, "flimsy" relationship, what if John McCain had a relationship with a right-wing domestic terrorist who set bombs not at the Capitol or at the Pentagon, but at a black church or at an abortion clinic? Do you think the media would have gone easy on him?

Everybody would have picked up on that story, and not just FOX. And as for the first part of the question, about Stephanopoulos, George Stephanopoulos was the first mainstream reporter to ask that question about the relationship between Barack Obama and Bill Ayers.

And what happened the next day? Was the story of the next day, well, what is that relationship? No.

The next day the story was, where did he get that question? He got it from Sean Hannity. And that became the question and the bludgeon with which they beat up one of their own, George Stephanopoulos.

KURTZ: Well, mostly on the blogs. Now -- but what I'm trying to understand is this...


GOLDBERG: Well, no, no, no, no. That's not true.

The "L.A. Times" wrote about it. Cable -- MSNBC talked about it. There were numerous -- The Huffington Post wrote about it.

KURTZ: OK. Fair enough. But, you know, Ayers was a legitimate story, it was covered. My question is how often and with what intensity it should be covered.

But if you as a critic are upset about, for example, MSNBC's pro- Obama bias, Chris Matthews' "thrill up the leg" and all of that, what about all of the softball interviews that Sean Hannity did with John McCain and Sarah Palin?

In other words, are you applying the same standards to somebody where you also are a contributor on the right side of the spectrum?

GOLDBERG: My -- by the way, the fact that I'm a contributor, if you know anything about me, Howie, I'll blast FOX News in a second if I think they deserve it. I don't care.

KURTZ: Here's your opportunity.

GOLDBERG: Well, no, this is not a good opportunity because I don't agree with the premise of the question.

KURTZ: All right. Take it on.

GOLDBERG: It's not what they say on commentary shows, although what Chris Matthews talked about, a "thrill running up his leg," that's not commentary, that's a man-crush. It's when MSNBC makes a business decision to let partisan commentators anchor news coverage.

KURTZ: Which I was very critical of.

GOLDBERG: Absolutely.

KURTZ: Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews are entitled to say whatever they want, but they shouldn't be in the role of anchors.

Let me ask you this, because if you had written this book and said, you know what, the media coverage of Barack Obama was too favorable, I would agree with that and I think a lot of people have already said it. Is there a subtle pressure when you're writing a book to use a title like "Slobbering Love Affair" to push the envelope a little bit more, because that's how you break through the static?

GOLDBERG: Maybe, but that wasn't my reason. I'll tell you how that came about.

I was minding my own business, Howie. I wasn't writing any book. I wasn't bothering anybody. I was following the coverage the way you were and just millions of ordinary citizens were.

And I heard one thing too many. I don't even remember what it was. And I said, this isn't coverage, this is a slobbering love affair. And, boom, that became the title.

KURTZ: All right. I've got half a minute left.

The coverage of President Obama -- I just was handed a CNN/Opinion Dynamics poll. Seventy-three percent say the coverage of President Obama has either been fair or too critical, 26 percent say not critical enough.

Do you see journalists being a little tougher, a little more skeptical now that Obama is in the Oval Office?

GOLDBERG: Let's say the jury is out on that. I don't think -- I don't think the questions at the news conference were especially tough. I think that the way they framed the biggest bill since he has been president, the stimulus package, has been framed in a way that Republicans are obstructionists and Barack Obama is the one reaching out.

So, no, I think there is still a certain amount of slobbering going on. But I'm not an ideologue. I say the jury is out, let's hope for the best.


KURTZ: Bernard Goldberg.

And back by popular demand, the RELIABLE SOURCES podcast. You can check out our video podcast. You can download it at, or find it on iTunes.

Up next, the Academy Awards are tonight, as you may have heard. We'll talk with ABC's Robin Roberts about working the red carpet, who she'll be wearing, and whether America wants to tune in to a lavish Hollywood party in these troubled times.


KURTZ: Tonight, of course, the big night for movie fans. And ABC's Robin Roberts, the co-host of "Good Morning America," will be working the red carpet for the pre-game show, entrusted with the awesome task of interviewing and button-holing the glitterati.

I spoke to her earlier from where the Governor Ball is being held tonight in Hollywood.


KURTZ: Robin Roberts, welcome.

ROBERTS: Good to see you, Howie.

KURTZ: Do you worry in covering this whole Oscar shebang, the designer gowns -- the jewelry, the parties -- that it might seem a bit out of touch in a country suffering from mass layoffs and home foreclosures? ROBERTS: That's a fair question. And when I first got the call about doing it, that's what I thought of. And thought, you know, do I really -- should we be doing this? Should I be a part of something like that?

And then you realize that it's just a brief diversion, that you can't always be talking about -- we know how bad it is. And it's hard to tell being in here, in the grand ballroom, but it is more subdued than it has been in years past.

The big party is held here. But I can tell you all around town, Howie, there are not as many parties, they're not as big as they once were. There is an understanding that it is a very difficult time. But also understanding that life goes on and that you have to have a brief diversion, if you will.

KURTZ: And speaking of diversions, you'll be on the famed red carpet. You'll be co-hosting the pre-game show with Tim Gunn of "Project Runway." My daughters might ask, who is the bigger star there?


KURTZ: And then, as I understand it, you'll be talking to some of the stars for Monday's GMA. Will you be asking probing questions of Kate Winslet and Meryl Streep and Angelina Jolie...

ROBERTS: You're loving this, Howie.

KURTZ: ... and Robert Downey Jr.?

ROBERTS: You're loving this right now. You're peppering me, and you're just -- I know you, my friend.


ROBERTS: You know, who are you wearing? I really want to, but the hope is to make people feel like they're here, that this isn't something that everybody can go to. I've never been on the red carpet myself. And to just really kind of capture the excitement of the Oscars.

It's the end of the awards season, and making folks feel like they're a part of it. But I'm really going to react. I love live television, and so it's just basically seeing what they're wearing, talking to them, and just getting a sense of how this moment feels. Because, you know, Kate Winslet, what is it, it's her sixth nomination, and that has got to be...

KURTZ: And she's on the cover of "TIME."

ROBERTS: Yes, she is on the cover of "TIME."

KURTZ: Cultural phenomenon.

Now, you've built up... ROBERTS: I know...

KURTZ: You've built up a little bit of suspense about what you'll be wearing. Let me roll some tape from "Good Morning America."

ROBERTS: Oh, boy.


ROBERTS (voice-over): Selecting a gown for Hollywood's biggest night is not easy, my friends. So I asked my own fashion guru for some help to get red carpet ready.

(on camera): All right. Suse, it's your turn. This is your turn.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And it is so important. We have to make you look absolutely gorgeous.

ROBERTS (voice-over): First up, an emerald green gown with a plunging neckline.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It has kind of a very 1920s look. You know...

ROBERTS (on camera): That's what's very popular?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. The drapery, the thing that are flowing.


KURTZ: All right. I vote for that one.


KURTZ: Did you enjoy being fussed over by these high-end designers?

ROBERTS: Oh, who wouldn't? Come on. Let's -- you know, full disclosure here, of course I did. I appreciate all of them, and Suse really -- Yalof Schwartz, really for helping me out.

And by the way, tell your daughter, yes, Tim Gunn is the real star. And I'm glad that he's going to be with me, from "Project Runway," make it work. But it has been interesting having people weigh in on what dress I should wear.

And I love it from the guys. Some people will weigh in, they'll go, hey, I'm a guy from Milwaukee, I don't much about fashion. And then he'll go on for a paragraph to tell me why I should wear one dress over the other.

So again, it has been fun for a lot of folks, myself included.

KURTZ: Now, Robin, I agree there is enormous interest in these movies and these stars, but ABC has been, you know, televising the Oscars for three-and-a-half decades, and last year was the lowest ratings ever, 32 million. Isn't that a sign that people are maybe getting a little bored with all of the Hollywood glitter, or not so much?

ROBERTS: I don't think -- I think not so much. I think last year the movies were pretty heavy and we had that again this year. But I think this is a reflection of what's going on in the world right now.

And -- but you have the excitement of those little kids from "Slumdog Millionaire." They're getting on a plane for the first time ever. They're flying from India here to Hollywood. They'll be on the red carpet. They're going to be here at the Academy Awards for the first time.

So they're going to be cute little stories like that that kind of bring some life and excitement back into it. But, yes, I think that when you look at the sign of the times -- and we're in some very difficult times right now -- movies can be a great escape for some folks.

KURTZ: Right. Now, before I let you go, you were not able to go to Hollywood last year because of your battle with breast cancer. And you've talked about it quite publicly. You appeared during a fashion show, in fact, last year, without a wig, and that got a lot of attention.

Has it been hard to be so public about this? And how are you feeling?

ROBERTS: Well, thank you. And you've been very kind to me, Howard -- Howie, this past year.

And this is part of the reason why I also accepted this, because this time last year, completely bald, just finished chemotherapy. I was home on my couch, I couldn't be here at the Oscars. I couldn't be anywhere. I couldn't travel.

So I like the fact that folks know that, they see me here this year. If they're going through something similar, they know this too shall pass and that they -- that will hopefully make them feel like whatever they're going through, that they can indeed get through it.

So it's not something that I have wanted to do, be so open and public about it, but I am -- it's gratifying knowing that it's helping so many people. And so that makes it more than worth it, Howie, more than worth it.

KURTZ: Well, you set quite an example. And I'm sure millions of Americans will tune in just to see who you are wearing at this award.

ROBERTS: No, no, but just -- your daughters are tuning in for Tim Gunn, I know that. You've already said that. I already know that.

KURTZ: All right.


KURTZ: Robin Roberts, thanks so much for joining us, from Hollywood.

ROBERTS: Always a pleasure, Howie. Always a pleasure. Thanks.


KURTZ: And after the break, the art of the apology. Alex Rodriguez kind of says he's sorry for lying to Katie Couric and slamming a sportswriter, but did he really come clean?

And on Tuesday, go online for a special Web edition of STATE OF THE UNION. John King will preview President Obama's speech with CNN's political team.

Join the conversation. Go to That's Tuesday, noon Eastern.


KURTZ: I reported on last week's program that Alex Rodriguez had quietly apologized to the "Sports Illustrated" reporter who busted him for steroid use. Why the zillion-dollar superstar felt the need to trash Selena Roberts in the first place is hard to fathom. A-Rod confirmed the apology in a news conference this week. And as for the assembled sportswriters, well, the president is lucky he doesn't get questions like this.


QUESTION: Do you feel like your homerun record would be tainted and even your homeruns are tainted?

QUESTION: Commissioner Selig last week said that you shamed the game, and I wonder if you agree.

QUESTION: What assurances can you give us that everything you're saying today is the whole truth?

KURTZ (voice-over): Rodriguez sat there and swatted away at the questions, but he also stuck to a script of sorts, pointing to his age at the time, as if that let him off the hook for cheating.

ALEX RODRIGUEZ, BASEBALL PLAYER: I was being silly and irresponsible, and I decided to stop. And I was a young guy. I was 24, I was 25, I was pretty naive and pretty young. But again, when you're 24 and you're 25, and you're curious and you're ignorant, you know, there's a lot of things you really don't tell a lot of people, not just that.

KURTZ: Taking banned substances to improve your performance sure sounds like cheating, but that word wasn't in the Yankee star's script. QUESTION: There have been a lot of people talking about this being cheating. Do you consider what you did cheating?

RODRIGUEZ: That's not for me to determine. I'm here to say that I'm sorry.

KURTZ: As for Selena Roberts, A-Rod had accused her in an interview with ESPN's Peter Gammons of stalking him, trespassing, even trying to break into his house. Even Rodriguez seemed to realize he had gone too far, and he backed off the trespassing charge. RODRIGUEZ: It was definitely a misunderstanding of the facts. I reached out to her, and it went well, and we both decided to put it behind us.

KURTZ: And what about that interview just 14 months ago with Katie Couric, when A-Rod insisted he had never used steroids?

RODRIGUEZ: I may have to answer them for the rest of my career. I mean, that's the position I put myself in. As far as Katie, I reached out to her about 10 days ago and, look, when you're in denial, when you're not being honest with yourself, it's hard to be honest with Katie.


KURTZ: That, quite frankly, is a copout. A-Rod lied to Katie and should just admit it. I give him credit for facing the media, but he really didn't have much choice. And if he thinks this story isn't going to dog him for the rest of the playing days, then he's still in denial.

By the way, "Sports Illustrated" also did something this week. It airbrushed a photo of racecar driver Danica Patrick to remove a tattoo that she had on her back. SI thinks this is just fine. I don't. This is a journalistic magazine.

Come on, guys. Keep it real.

Still to come, a CNBC correspondent goes on a rant against President Obama's mortgage plan, and the White House smacks him down.


KURTZ: Talk about cranking up the volume, CNBC correspondent Rick Santelli went on a bit of a rant this week, denouncing President Obama's bailout plan from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade, and that earned him a bit of a rebuke from White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

Roll the tape.


RICK SANTELLI, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: This is America! How many of you people want to pay for your neighbors' mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can't pay their bills? Raise their hand. How about we all -- President Obama, are you listening?



ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I also think it's tremendously important that for people who ran on cable television, to be responsible and understand what it is they're talking about. I'm -- I feel assured that Mr. Santelli doesn't know what he's talking about.

I would encourage him to read the president's plan. I'd be more than happy to have him come here and read it. I'd be happy to buy him a cup of coffee -- decaf.


KURTZ: Now, Gibbs had every right to take on Santelli after that diatribe. Santelli may or may not have a populist point, but isn't he supposed to be a reporter? He says he voted for John McCain. Maybe he couldn't resist the chance to call out Barack Obama, or maybe he's decided to become the next Jim Cramer.

John King, we're going to turn it back over to you.

I guess ranting on television is one way to get attention.

KING: I think you just hit the nail on the head there, Howie -- way to get attention. I think there's probably a little bit too much. Asking what people think on the floor, that's a legitimate question. Doing it as a stunt, over the line, in this reporter's view.

KURTZ: We'll see you next week, John.

KING: All right, Howie. Take care.