Return to Transcripts main page
STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING
State of the Union: Reliable Sources
Aired March 15, 2009 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, John. That was an interesting interview with Dick Cheney. You gave him several opportunities to break with George W. Bush and, except perhaps on North Korea, he didn't really do that. You see him as still in the posture of defending the last eight years.
JOHN KING, HOST: He is defending his legacy. He did break with him on Iran policy and on North Korea policy. I found most striking there, I asked him has Barack Obama, President Obama in his view made Americans less safe, and he said, "I do," I do believe that. I thought that was quite striking.
Also, Howie, though, interesting, he did give the new president some credit. He says he thinks he's compromising with his commanders on the ground and he thinks, for now anyway, the president's plan to start to withdraw troops from Iraq is reasonable. So some tough words on one issue, are we safer, and some more conciliatory words on the big issue that divided them for so long, the Iraq war.
KURTZ: And for those who missed any part of that, we'll be replaying that at noon Eastern. Thanks, John, we'll talk to you later.
Ahead, we will look at Michelle Obama's charm offensive, including her first television interview as first lady, and whether journalists should be sticking their noses into Bristol Palin's personal life now that she and her baby's father had broken up.
But first, it was a clash of titans, a showdown for the showmen, a war over the meaning of journalism itself. Well, actually, it was just a television show that got plenty of hype. But Jon Stewart wasn't playing it for laughs. When he took on CNBC and its wild and crazy stock picker, Jim Cramer, "The Daily Show" was calling out the network's highly caffeinated approach to financial news. Did Stewart go too far by showing a clip of Cramer talking up Bear Stearns shortly before the investment bank collapsed?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": Jim Cramer, I apologize. That was out of context. Technically, you were correct, you weren't suggesting to buy Bear Stearns. That was something that you did five days earlier in your buy or sell segment.
JIM CRAMER, HOST, "MAD MONEY": I believe in the Bear franchise. You know what? At $69, I'm not giving up on the thing. STEWART: Yeah!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Cramer, who also criticized President Obama's policies and got dissed by spokesman Robert Gibbs, defended himself on the "Today" show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MEREDITH VIEIRA, "TODAY": You know, the White House is not the only one who has come down on you, Jim. Jon Stewart and you are having a little war on words.
CRAMER: Oh, a comedian -- a comedian is attacking me. Wow! He runs a variety show.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And then, late this week, the face-off between the funnyman and the "Mad Money" man.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: CNBC could be an incredibly powerful tool of illumination.
CRAMER: My first reaction is, absolutely, we could do better. Absolutely. There are shenanigans, and we should call them out.
I had a lot of CEOs lie to me on the show. It's very painful. I don't have subpoena power.
STEWART: But you're pretending that you are an innocent. Listen, you knew what the banks were doing and yet, were touting it for months and months. The entire network was. And so now to pretend that this was some sort of crazy, once-in-a-lifetime tsunami that nobody could have seen coming is disingenuous, at best, and criminal at worst.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, who won? Who was left for roadkill? And what is this feud doing to CNBC's reputation?
Joining us now in Los Angeles, Stephanie Miller, host of the nationally syndicated "Stephanie Miller Show." And here in Washington, David Zurawik, television critic for "The Baltimore Sun" and writes "Z on TV" blog. And Tucker Carlson, commentator and a contributor to "The Daily Beast."
All right. Stephanie Miller, let's face it, Jim Cramer was playing on Jon Stewart's home court. So how do you score this basic cable showdown?
STEPHANIE MILLER, NATIONALLY SYNDICATED TALK SHOW HOST: Well, this a technical term, Howard, but kind of an ass-kicking is I think what took place there.
KURTZ: Who did the kicking?
MILLER: I mean, something -- Jon Stewart, for sure. I mean, something has gone awry in our country, Howard, when, you know, a financial guy is screaming and throwing pies on television and a comedian is giving really cogent economic analysis. I think there's only one thing that's going to come from this, and I think we have to look at Carrot Top to solve the Middle East crisis.
KURTZ: All right.
MILLER: Hillary Clinton, for the good of the country, must step down, Howard.
KURTZ: Tucker Carlson, I want to play more a little bit more and get your opinion on the other side. You've tangled with Jon Stewart. We'll get to that a little later in the show.
Let's play another bite from that interview on "The Daily Show."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: I understand you want to make finance entertaining, but it's not a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) game. And I -- when I watch that, I get -- I can't tell you how angry that makes me.
CRAMER: Jon, don't you want guys like me who have been in it to show the shenanigans? Who else can I do? I'm not Eric Sevareid, I'm not Edward R. Murrow. I'm a guy trying to do an entertainment show about business for people to watch. (END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Did Jon Stewart prove his case against Jim Cramer?
TUCKER CARLSON, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Can you imagine Jim Cramer sitting there and taking a sanctimonious lecture from Jon Stewart? Yes, I mean, Cramer was craven and sweaty and pathetic, I'm sure his wife was ashamed of the behavior, the butt-sniffing he gave Jon Stewart.
But Jon Stewart, let's be honest, this was a partisan attack. He went after Cramer the moment Cramer criticized Obama's budget. That was the mortal sin. That's what kicked off this entire feud.
KURTZ: You don't buy the notion that Jon Stewart is angry? I mean, Jon Stewart's been...
CARLSON: Of course he's angry. And he's angry about a lot of things.
CARLSON: But look, was Jim Cramer the only analyst to call it wrong... KURTZ: No.
CARLSON: ... to, you know, come up with stupid stock picks? Of course not. He criticized Obama's budget, and that's what started this, because in the end, Jon Stewart is a partisan hack.
KURTZ: Let me -- we'll come back to that point, but I want to get David Zurawik in.
I want to play one more piece of tape which shows Jim Cramer. A lot of people were surprised that he didn't fight back very much. Let's roll that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CRAMER: I'm a big fan of the show.
I'm sorry, you're absolutely right.
You're right. I don't want to personalize it. I'm trying. I'm trying. And I got a lot of things wrong.
What else can I do? I'll do that. I wish I had done a better job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID ZURAWIK, TELEVISION CRITIC, "THE BALTIMORE SUN": Howie, he was pathetic. It just got more and more pathetic.
If you looked at body language, almost every shot, you had Stewart coming over the desk and Cramer going like this through the whole thing.
You know, he really thought -- I think he came on thinking he could do a showbiz schmooze and get out of this, and it would be some jokes and they'd be out of there. And Stewart set him up, in some ways, where he said, oh, it was just pies being thrown and some schmutz got on your suit, blah, blah, blah. And I think Cramer thought it's going to be OK.
But when he said, you know, guys made good calls and bad calls, and I think that something he said may be set him off, or maybe he was just doing a brilliant piece of argumentation, Stewart, the way he set it up. But first, he said this is not entertainment. You know, this is -- you've abrogated any journalistic responsibility. But by the end of it, he was accusing them, CNBC and Cramer, of dishonesty, of knowing there was this...
KURTZ: Right. Yes. That's what I was really surprised, that Cramer said, we didn't know, and if I had known, I would have blown the whistle.
And by the way, Jim Cramer did criticize CNBC's Rick Santelli for that rant against President Obama. That got cut out in the editing.
Stephanie, does Jon Stewart try to have it both ways -- hey I'm just a comic, I'm an entertainer, we're here to have a good time, but here's my serious social commentary?
MILLER: Well, if he does have it both ways, he does it very well.
And Tucker, I think you're wrong on that. This did not start because he criticized -- because Cramer criticized Obama. This started -- you know, he was just doing a rant against CNBC. Jim Cramer was included.
It was because of Santelli going off on the American homeowner that Stewart took them to task. So I don't think it had anything to do with Obama or that policy.
CARLSON: Well, Santelli wasn't going off on the American homeowner, of course. He was going off on Obama and Obama's policies. And that's -- that's the point here.
Look, Jon Stewart is a political player. He's a partisan. He is speaking on behalf of the Democratic Party. And in so doing, becoming, I think -- I mean, he's smart, he's talented, but he's becoming so self-serious and sanctimonious, that it's just a matter of time before it becomes unfunny.
I mean, this is the fate of all kinds of comedians. This is the fate of Lenny Bruce, and it will happen. You watch.
ZURAWIK: Honestly, Tucker, with all due respect, I think it's a horrible mistake to look at this through that kind of ideological prism.
You know, back in October, on this show, we were going after Cramer for this. This -- and what we were going after him for is essentially what Stewart talked about. It is that the job of journalism is to give citizens the information that they can use to make good decisions, sound decisions about their like.
CNBC, Cramer, Santelli, that whole crew, is doing the opposite in a time of crisis. They're giving us bad information. Thank God Stewart went after him.
KURTZ: Well, hold on. Hold on.
They're not just giving us bad information. You can take videotape and say they were wrong on this, Cramer was wrong on Bear Stearns, but they also do a lot of reporting.
KURTZ: You seem to object when anybody wants to have a good time or jazz things up to make people watch. It's television!
ZURAWIK: It's television, Howie, but really, would you not say we're in a time of crisis and people are looking to us, as the press -- this is the other reason that people don't like us in the press. They say, oh, I'm going to come and get some information, and instead they get clown show Cramer up there.
CARLSON: Wait a second.
ZURAWIK: And I think -- honestly, I think it is so dangerous right now, in this democracy, for us not to be able to know where we can get that information in the press. And obviously you would turn to a financial new network in an economic crisis.
KURTZ: One second.
CARLSON: Wait a second. I'm not defending CNBC or its bad calls, but you are not even commenting upon the demagoguery of Jon Stewart, who is posing as if CNBC is single-handedly responsible for the recession, which it is not.
You will never see Jon Stewart criticize the economic policies of the administration. He is acting on their behalf. He is looking through an ideological lens as he sees it.
KURTZ: I want to come back...
MILLER: Excuse me...
KURTZ: Go ahead, Stephanie. MILLER: Tucker, may I just say, first of all, Jon Stewart is very, very funny. He is not losing his funny. You know, the best comedy is based on truth, and he is tell the truth and he's being funny doing it. So...
CARLSON: Are you serious? "This is very serious," says Jon. "This is very serious."
Oh, lighten up, pal.
MILLER: I disagree. He's still very funny.
CARLSON: That's not funny.
KURTZ: All right. I think we need to put on the table what Jon Stewart did.
Actually, he came on this show in 2002, and he did a rant about CNN, and you're the news, don't be entertainment, you've got to help us. Then he went on your old show, "CROSSFIRE," the now defunct CNN program, "CROSSFIRE."
Let's play a little bit of that from 2004.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: It's not honest. What you do is not honest. What you do is partisan hackery.
The interesting thing that I have is, you have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you failed miserably.
CARLSON: You need to go to get a job at a journalism school, I think.
STEWART: You need to go to one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So you've been on the receiving end of a Jon Stewart lecture, clearly.
KURTZ: And does that color your view at all of his perspicacity?
CARLSON: It's all the same. I mean, to call me a partisan hack is ludicrous.
KURTZ: Well, you are partisan.
CARLSON: I'm the least partisan person I know. I have zero interest in party politics, zero interest. I've spent half of my life attacking Republicans.
I'm an ideologue, truly. I have ideas that are distinct from partisan politics.
Jon Stewart, that was the same year that he had John Kerry on his show, one of the very few people to be able to interview John Kerry, and sniffed his throne, sucked up to him. Questions like, "Why are you so wonderful?" "Why are they so mean to you?"
He's the one who's abrogating his responsibility to inform his viewers, who, by the way, actually believe him.
KURTZ: Oh, there's no question that Jon Stewart, in terms of his personal views, falls on the liberal side of the spectrum.
But now that Obama's president, I want to play this for you, Stephanie Miller. He's been making some jokes about the new president. Let roll a little bit of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: All right. Hope. There you go, nice agenda. Solid, confident, definitely...
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Health care reform cannot wait. It must not wait. And it will not wait another year.
STEWART: OK. Easy there, fellow. Let's just keep our feet on the ground here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: OK. We cut that off too soon. I didn't get to the joke.
The joke was he was -- let's just say he took exception to the Obama's notion about a cure for cancer in our time.
So Stephanie, do you see Jon Stewart as somebody who is just, you know, keeping the Democratic administration off limits, and that his comedy is one-sided, as Tucker suggests?
MILLER: I don't think so. I mean, I think that, you know, "The Daily Show" has historically taken on both sides and made fun of both sides. He clearly is on one side of the ideological divide.
But Tucker, I spent time with you, and you are delightful, may I just say. I would not use the word "hack" about you, but you hosted the right side of a "CROSSFIRE" show. You're saying you're not a partisan?
CARLSON: No, I was the right-winger. I wasn't there speaking on behalf of the stupid Republican Party, which I've never been involved in. I'm not my team, right or wrong. I believe in certain ideas.
MILLER: Right. But for you to call Jon Stewart partisan, you know... CARLSON: No, I think Jon Stewart is dishonest. And by the way, I also think he's a sacred cow. There's nobody who has the huevos to attacks Jon Stewart because he's too popular.
The press sucks up to him like I've never seen -- it's like Oprah. Jon Stewart, all the kids watch Jon Stewart. He's brilliant. I would like to see somebody have the stones to come out and say, Jon Stewart's kind of a pompous jerk, actually.
ZURAWIK: But he's not. That's why people aren't saying it.
CARLSON: But he is!
ZURAWIK: Tucker, all last week -- this is what you do. This is "CROSSFIRE." Jon Stewart's watching and saying...
KURTZ: Go ahead.
ZURAWIK: All I'm trying to say is it is a dangerous mistake to try to dismiss it the way you are. And this is, by the way, what conservatives have done to the press, is say, oh, you can't trust them because they're liberal.
This was not about political ideology. He was helping, literally, do the job for the press. Look, it doesn't make me happy that we can do this back in October and it doesn't have the kind of traction it does when he did it.
CARLSON: Are you serious?
ZURAWIK: Yes. Yes.
CARLSON: Is Jim Cramer responsible for the meltdown? That's not journalism. That's demagoguery.
ZURAWIK: He didn't say they're responsible for the meltdown. He said CNBC and Jim Cramer and Rick Santelli are not doing their job as journalists. That's what he said.
KURTZ: Let me get in here, because I want to give you my two cents. And that is, you know, Jon Stewart is, in my view, a razor sharp media critic, and he cares passionately about this stuff. You see that on the air. I've talked to him off the air.
But he is a satirist. People are calling him the next Edward R. Murrow. He is under no obligation to be fair. He's under no obligation to give the other side and to give context. And the notion that Jim Cramer and/or CNBC are single-handedly responsible for blowing the biggest financial story of the past decade is totally unfair, because they had plenty of help from the rest of the financial press that had bits and pieces of the story but failed to put the whole thing together.
I do think one thing, though. I do think that we, in our business, can learn something from the way that Jon Stewart calls people out. Tucker thinks Jon does it unfairly, but he does have a way of cutting clue the clutter and using clips to show when people were wrong. And I think we need more of that.
I want to get to one more point before we break, and that is -- I guess it was on Thursday Bernard Madoff, the scam artist who is responsible for a $60 billion fraud, he was down at the federal courthouse in Manhattan. Let's roll some tape of that.
He -- the victims were interviewed. And I just wonder David -- you're a TV critic -- was this kind of a cathartic moment? In other words, everybody -- all the big Wall Street institutions that screwed the American public with their risky behavior, they're kind of faceless institutions. But here's Madoff, and here's television going off on Madoff because he became the face of this.
ZURAWIK: Well, absolutely. Absolutely.
In television, you know, you've got a great new show if you can provide catharsis at the end of it. You're doing what the Greeks did. This is great.
They did. But honestly, I thought in many ways newspapers and television, too -- you know, "The Baltimore Sun" that day had a front page interview with a victim. I watched CNN, and they had some people in a trailer park in Arizona who couldn't leave the trailer park because of money.
I think this was a good thing. Humanize that story and show the suffering that this guy caused. And we haven't covered two percent of the suffering this guy caused.
KURTZ: Right, although the victims who put their life savings with one guy's fund I think were not acting responsibly as well.
When we come back, Michelle mania. The first lady gives her first television interview. Are journalists falling under her spell?
Plus, abuse outrage, why everyone from Katie Couric to Oprah is weighing in on what happened to Rihanna.
And later, President Obama says the U.S. is pulling out of the Iraq, but most journalists, it seems, have already pulled out. What has happened to coverage of this war?
KURTZ: Move over, Barack. The real media swoon these days is over Michelle Obama. She's on the cover of "Vogue," fashionistas are praising her sleeveless dresses, and she's drawing positive press from everything from visiting federal agencies to serving healthy food in the White House.
On Friday, she sat down for her first TV interview as first lady during a trip to Fort Bragg with ABC's Robin Roberts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBIN ROBERTS, ABC: Your husband has really had to hit the ground running with all of the issues that are facing our country right now. One criticism has been too much, too fast.
MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: There are also people who say that he's not doing enough, you know? So I think that's part of the process.
ROBERTS: How big of a help has your mom been?
M. OBAMA: She's -- it's -- you know, it's immeasurable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: David Zurawik, interviewing a first lady can be tricky in terms of not being too soft or too hard. How did Robin Roberts do?
ZURAWIK: I thought she was a little soft, but I wanted to grant her leeway. First of all, this is morning television. Morning television is not -- they're not coming at you, number one.
Number two, I think with the first time you interview someone like that, you want to try to establish some kind of rapport. You don't want to blow them off in the first one and never have them come back. And ratings are important. And Michelle Obama I s a ratings magnate right now. But I think she was a little soft with saying, oh, they love her like a rock star. And Robin Roberts, when she gets soft, talks a little bit like a sports question. So how fabulous was your performance out there today?
KURTZ: Tucker Carlson, have you seen anyone since, I don't know, Jackie Kennedy get the kind of glowing coverage Michelle Obama's getting?
CARLSON: No. No. I mean, you know, the president's wife always gets covered this way at first. I mean, that's just kind of the nature of the job.
The tricky part is when the first lady starts to assume a policy role, as Hillary Clinton did and as Michelle Obama is doing. And I think at that point, maybe not in the first interview, but at some point journalists have to ask real questions if she's going to be making real policy.
KURTZ: Stephanie Miller, there has been some criticism. David Brooks of "The New York Times" says, stop with the sleeveless dresses. Here's his quote -- "Sometimes I think half of the reason Obama ran for president is so Michelle would have a platform to show off her biceps."
MILLER: Well, at least he's looking at the big issues facing America. It's the first time somebody on the right has ever been for arms control, Howard.
MILLER: But, you know, I don't think the interviewing is too soft. She is being greeted like a rock star. And frankly, since when can you be against things the first lady is for?
It's like, she's supporting military families. No, I'm against that. For education -- no, we're against that. I mean, it's a little -- they don't really take a controversial stand.
KURTZ: Right. But I mean, Stephanie, for example, there was a piece in "The New York Times" the other day about Michelle Obama's pushing to serve healthy food in the White House. And then it said, well, Laura Bush did the same thing, but she wasn't so public about it.
I mean, it just seems like we're putting her up on a pedestal.
MILLER: Yes. I want to say, I'm against healthy food in the White House. I think there should be nothing but fries.
Like, seriously, how can you even debate issues like that? I mean, I think that's setting a really good example for America. We have a big obesity problem in the country. So the fact that she's being public about eating healthy food, how can you be against that, Tucker?
CARLSON: Well, I'm happy to be against other people butting into my food choices. Back off. I'll have whatever I want for lunch.
I don't want you to scold me. I've got a mom. I'm not attacking Michelle Obama, I'm just saying, it's not government's place to tell me what to eat.
KURTZ: All right. We'll have cheeseburgers after the show.
But let me ask you this, Tucker...
MILLER: She's not telling you. She's setting an example, Tucker.
KURTZ: There seems to be an intense curiosity among journalists and the public about her family, her kids, her mother. And I wonder if part of this is the novelty of the first African-American first lady.
CARLSON: Oh, sure. Of course. But that's always the case.
I mean, just with the first family, always, the phrase "the first family," I mean, all of it is kind of creepy and royalist, in my opinion. Regardless of party. We shouldn't be worshipping the first family. They're politicians who live in our House.
KURTZ: They're also symbols of American leadership.
CARLSON: I guess so. It's the president's family. I think we should just back off and not cover them and give them privacy.
ZURAWIK: Howie, also at this time of crisis again -- let me bring that up -- I think there's something inspirational -- or something encourage, at least, not inspirational, encouraging about a younger family with young children. This is all sort of forward- looking stuff. And honestly, I think some of us of my age would like to remember the Kennedy years and the sort of sense of optimism connected with that White House, and I think that link is made.
KURTZ: Well, one thing she's trying to do is draw media attention to military families, and we'll see whether she succeeds in that, or whether the sort of personality aspects of this new and interesting first lady will overwhelm that.
All right. We've got to go.
Stephanie Miller, Tucker Carlson, David Zurawik, thanks for stopping by this morning.
Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, falling off the front page. Violence spiked in Iraq this past week, but the coverage remains exceedingly slim.
ABC's Martha Raddatz, just back from Iraq, and Pulitzer Prize winner Tom Ricks on the media's war fatigue. Plus, superstar Rihanna back with the boyfriend accused of beating her. And that's got some media heavyweights offering her advice.
Plus, from merit pay for teachers to stem-cell research, why are journalists greeting the president's proposals with one giant yawn? And then at noon we'll bring you John King's Sunday morning exclusive, former Vice President Dick Cheney and his first interview since leaving office.
KING: I'm John King, and this is STATE OF THE UNION.
Here are some stories breaking this Sunday morning.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says he believes President Obama's policies are making Americans less safe, and Mr. Cheney is defending the Bush administration's actions in Iraq. In an appearance on STATE OF THE UNION earlier this morning, Mr. Cheney told me, "We accomplished nearly everybody we set out to do there."
A top Taliban commander has issued a new threat to foreign aid workers in Afghanistan. He says they will be executed as spies or held in exchange for captured Taliban fighters. In an exclusive interview with CNN, the commander says the Taliban is gathering information on foreign aid workers.
A face-off between protesters and police in Pakistan. Anti- government demonstrator defying a ban on rallies clashed with authorities today in the town of Lahore. Protesters threw rocks at riot police, who shot off several rounds of tear gas.
That and much more ahead on STATE OF THE UNION.
Time to go back now to Howie Kurtz and RELIABLE SOURCES.
And Howie, as I toss back, you've known Jim Cramer a long time. Why in the world would he go on "The Daily Show" and expose himself to that kind of ridicule?
KURTZ: You know, John, I wrote a book eight years ago about Wall Street coverage, and I spent time with Cramer when he was a hedge fund manager. This guy would throw telephones when he got mad, so he enjoys going toe-to-toe.
He decided he was going to go in there, take a few lumps, seem sweet and reasonable, and kid around with Jon Stewart. That was a spectacular miscalculation, because Jon was not trying to be funny. So Cramer was doing this kind of rope-a-dope strategy, and he probably should have come armed with more specifics to defend himself and CNBC.
KING: That was a tough one. I think he's hoping, Jon Stewart, now that he came into the lion's den, backs off. We'll see.
KURTZ: He gets to go back on his own show where he controls everything.
All right, John. We'll talk to you a little later in the program.
Iraq has all but faded from the media radar screen. As the violence has subsided and President Obama has announced a withdrawal plan, the war has come to be seen as old news.
For example, on Tuesday, a suicide bombing in Baghdad killed at least 33 people, the second such major attack in a matter of days. The "CBS Evening News" reported nothing, Brian Williams read three sentences on "NBC Nightly News."
ABC's "World News" did a fuller story, in part because it had a correspondent there on assignment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS: Despite the violence, though, the top U.S. general in Iraq, Ray Odierno, says it's unlikely American troops will need to stay beyond their scheduled withdrawal.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): On a battlefield tour of northern Iraq, General Odierno told us 25 percent of the country is still fighting off insurgents. Even so, he is comfortable with the plan to withdraw U.S. combat troops over the next 18 months.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about how the media are dealing with this six-year-old war is ABC's Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz, just back from Iraq, and a contributor to the series "Iraq: Where Things Stand," which airs on ABC News programs and online beginning today. And Tom Ricks, special military correspondent for "The Washington Post," whose new book is "The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq."
Martha Raddatz, these latest bombings, it would have been big news in 2006, 2007. Now they're a blip. Why?
MARTHA RADDATZ, SR. FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, ABC: Well, I mean, first of all, I think because we're six years into this war, because things have started going better, particularly in the security realm in Iraq. And also the economy, Howie. I mean, the economy has overwhelmed all coverage.
KURTZ: Tom Ricks, the media, economy aside, politics aside -- there are always competing stories -- seem to me to be sufficient from war fatigue. And, of course, Baghdad is not exactly being overrun by journalists these day.
TOM RICKS, AUTHOR, "THE GAMBLE": Yes. There are very few bureaus left open there now. It remains me of the old 1960s phrase, "Suppose they gave a war and nobody came?" Now, suppose they gave a war and nobody covered it? We still have 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. That's more than we've had on average for the last six years.
KURTZ: And yet, the story is on the backburner.
When Obama said a couple weeks ago that U.S. combat forces will be out of Iraq by the summer of 2010, and all U.S. troops will be out by the end of 2011, I was amazed that this seemed to be a one-day story and then the media just moved on.
RADDATZ: Well, I was amazed as well. In fact, it's one of the reasons I wanted to go back to Iraq, because I knew there was more to it. And, in fact, the war is still going on. So I wanted to check that out.
I wanted to talk to General Odierno, who Tom Ricks talks about so much in his book, and ask him what he thought of that, and ask him really how that drawdown plan will work and help people pay attention to that. You know, there was President Obama standing in front of Marines and getting sort of polite applause, but if the surge hadn't been as successful as it was, you would not have seen a lot of those Marines clapping.
KURTZ: There was such passionate debate in this country for so many years about the wisdom of going to war, about the surge, about all of this, and now it just seem likes we don't want to engage anymore.
Let me quote from your book, "The Gamble." "No matter how the U.S. war in Iraq ends, it appears that, today, we may be halfway through it."
So you're not necessarily buying that this Obama withdrawal plan is going to go off as scheduled.
RICKS: Well, first of all, there's a lot of rope-a-dope in the Obama withdrawal plan.
KURTZ: How's that?
RICKS: It's not an end to a combat war. They're putting in two combat brigades and calling them advisory units.
The day of the speech, I was at the White House. I said to a military official, "Does this mean that after August next year, no American troops will be dying?" He says, "No, it doesn't mean that."
Odierno actually says in the book he'd like to see 35,000 troops in Iraq in the year 2015, which would be well into Obama's second term, and which would mean that, as long as American troops are there, they're going to be fighting and dying. It would mean that Obama's war would be longer than Bush's war in Iraq.
KURTZ: You're presumably not the only guy who has noticed this. So I don't understand why journalists, with 140,000 troops there, with all of the bloodshed, when 4,200 Americans killed, why we, television, newspapers, magazines, are not debating whether this is a realistic plan. RICKS: I don't know either. I was kind of struck. Obama, in that speech, very eloquently walked away from a campaign promise. He campaigned had saying, I'll get a brigade out in a month for 16 months. He gets up and says, guess what? We're not really taking any troops out this year. We're going to be at the end of this year, 2009, at about the same level, 130,000, we've been on average there for the last six years.
RADDATZ: And a year from now, he told me you'll probably be at 120,000. So I think one of the things, also, there was a little rope- a-dope on was that all troops will be out by 2011, and they talked about the agreement with the Iraqis, the Status of Forces Agreement. That is indeed what that says.
But the Iraqis can quickly say, wait a minute, we want more troops and we can go into another deal. So I do think there's a lot of room for movement.
KURTZ: Well, the president says he modified his withdrawal plan after consulting with military commanders.
KURTZ: And I think we would like a president to consult with military commanders. But what about the previous president? I mean, he famously landed on that aircraft carrier, declared "Mission Accomplished," and we're still there. Could journalists be falling into the same trap of taking a president's word about Iraq at face value?
RADDATZ: Well, I think you've got two journalists here who wish we were debating it more. But let me go back to the economy, too, Howie.
I think news organizations really do look around the world and say, we've got X amount of money to cover the world, we've got a war in Afghanistan that's heating up remarkably. So I do think you have to look at, what can we do in Iraq?
I have gone over there every time I've asked to go over there. We're doing a "Where Things Stands" series this week. Terry McCarthy spent two weeks on the ground over there. So I think we all try to keep covering Iraq, but the rest of the world calls as well.
I mean, I started to going to Afghanistan more than I've gone to Iraq because there is a measure of success in Iraq, because, in fact, we have started this drawdown. But I don't think either one of us would argue we wish there was more debate.
KURTZ: Right. But isn't it true that when fewer American soldiers are dying or being wounded, American media attention tends to lapse, even if Iraqis are still being killed, as in marketplace bombings?
RICKS: I think that's right, but I do think that two years from now, people are going to look back and say, hey, Obama was given a free ride on his talk about Iraq. I think Obama has fallen into the same trap as Bush, of being overoptimistic about Iraq. Remember, Bush didn't come in saying, I have a great idea, let's invade Iraq and get stuck for 10 years. Bush's plan was get in and get out quickly. Obama has also come in and said, I'm going to get out quickly. Well, the "Mission Accomplished" banner was wrong, and I think Obama is going to be proven wrong in his plan.
RADDATZ: Well, General Odierno will not go there with any "Mission Accomplished" or even a measure of success. He says, I think we'll meet the benchmarks we want to meet by the time we start withdrawing troops. But they are not talking about victory over there.
KURTZ: There's been so much criticism of the media not being aggressive enough, not being skeptical enough in the run-up to war in 2002 and 2003. If we are falling into the same trap, I think we're going to get beat up again, especially if things don't go as planned.
Now, you set me up for the next question.
To the extent that the American media are covering a war effort, it's Afghanistan -- sending 17,000 more troops to that country -- which is -- the consensus seem to be and the situation there is a mess. But the coverage, again, sporadic.
RADDATZ: I think we need more debate. And I think you'll see a lot more coverage in Afghanistan in the coming years.
I think you'll see the same sort of shift in troops with the shift of journalists. I've noticed it in print, certainly, that you've got a lot more journalists going to into Afghanistan. And I do think we'll focus there. And I think we should focus there a lot more.
There are a lot -- we've sent -- we're going to send 17,000 more troops there, and I don't think they've got a strategy yet. There are -- several people in government are looking at a different strategy in Afghanistan...
KURTZ: But television...
RADDATZ: ... but we sent troops and we don't have a real strategy.
KURTZ: But television has never set up full-time bureaus in Kabul, unlike in Baghdad.
RADDATZ: No, they haven't.
KURTZ: Do TV executives just believe that Afghanistan is this endless slog and that it will drive viewers away?
RADDATZ: Well, I mean, I certainly don't think viewers are turning in. I don't think they ever did -- tuning in to hear about Iraq. And anyone who said, oh, it's just a business, you want to show this terrible news because people will tune in, that really wasn't the case.
But I think it's kind of force-feeding your viewers. You have to give them the vegetables, you have to make viewers care about these conflicts. You have to make them care about Afghanistan.
And you have to go there and do that on the ground, as much as you can. But we don't have a bureau there. I wish we all could afford bureaus there.
KURTZ: And Tom, you know, keeping journalists in a far off place like Afghanistan is expensive, at a time when the news business is shrinking and is having its own financial problems.
RICKS: It's usually expensive. It's also very dangerous. I think there's a lot of (inaudible) journalists in both countries not just being wounded, but also being kidnapped.
KURTZ: General Petraeus, who is in your book, and General Odierno, do they want more coverage of Iraq, or are they just as happy to do their work outside the media spotlight?
RICKS: I think the generals might be happy to have the media spotlight declining. One thing I noticed though is troops will say, does anybody know we're still here? I think it is hurting the morale of the average soldier.
KURTZ: They feel forgotten, you're saying?
RICKS: Exactly. That we're out here in Iraq and nobody seem to be paying attention anymore.
RADDATZ: I feel the same way, Howie. And I talked to a lot of soldiers when I was over there. And it's this real sense, it's just us over there, it's just the soldiers and Marines, and other members of the military and the civilians who are over there. It's just us, no one is listening anymore.
KURTZ: I think that the media are really falling short here, not just in terms of our responsibility to the Americans who are fighting and, in some cases, still dying there, but in terms of the importance of the war, both of these wars, to our country.
All right. Martha Raddatz, Tom Ricks, thanks very much for joining us.
After the break, a little lighter subject, but maybe not really. Bristol Palin told Fox News that her boyfriend was heavily involved in raising their baby, but it turns out they broke up a while ago. Is that any of the media's business?
KURTZ: Maybe it was that awful, heart-stopping photo. Maybe it was the fact that she's gone back to him. But people in the media, especially women in the media, can't seem to let go of the Rihanna story. The brutal beating of the singing star led to charges against her boyfriend, Chris Brown, yet somehow the couple is back together. And this has prompted some prominent anchors and hosts to offer advice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATIE COURIC, CBS: Talk to your children. Listen to how they feel about what happened and about Rihanna's reported decision to reconcile with Chris Brown. But most of all, remind them that love isn't supposed to hurt, except when someone breaks your heart.
OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: Chris Brown and Rihanna, if I were your friend, I would call you up and I would say, give it some time, get yourself some counseling. Love doesn't hurt. And if a man hits you once, he will hit you again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And joining us now to talk about the media's handling of the Rihanna saga, in New York, Lola Ogunnaike, who covers cultural entertainment for CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING." And here in Washington, Amy Argetsinger, who co-authors the "Reliable Source" column for "The Washington Post."
Great name for a column.
Lola, is it the role of anchors and talk show hosts to offer advice in a situation like this?
LOLA OGUNNAIKE, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think these -- both of these women that you just showed are very invested in making sure that young girls across the nation are safe. Katie Couric is a mother of two, Oprah is probably the mother of the nation. So whether or not it's their role, they're taking it upon themselves to make sure that they use this as a real teaching moment to educate young girls out there and young men out there, as well, that love, as both of them say, does not have to hurt.
KURTZ: Amy Argetsinger, are women in the media just so offended by Rihanna going back to this guy that they feel compelled to speak out?
AMY ARGETSINGER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, I think what you have is a situation in a domestic violence, dating violence, which is so common, and yet so rarely do we see it attached to very, very famous and very pretty people. So it's a shock to everyone's system and people can't help but talk about it.
What I found interesting is that figures in Hollywood have been very reluctant to talk about this, to make any commentary, probably because they know them both and probably because they're taking the, hey, ,innocent until proven guilty. Figures in the media less likely to do that.
KURTZ: Especially when you that horrible black and blue photo of Rihanna. But Lola, this is something that always bothers me -- and there we see the picture. Why is it that the media tackle serious issues, serious problems like domestic violence, mainly when a celebrity is involved?
OGUNNAIKE: Because, I mean, you know in journalism you need the hook, you need the lead, and that's the perfect lead. Pretty people behaving badly is always the way to get into a story that people may be reluctant to approach or maybe reluctant to speak about.
You've got a beautiful, young girl, you've got a handsome young man who had a very squeaky-clean image. And if these two can be involved in it, I think a lot of media people are saying, look, this is a great opportunity to address an issue that may not be something that we would tackle any other time.
KURTZ: I want to ask you, Amy, about the standards for reporting this story. "People" magazine, E!, "L.A. Times," CNN.com all reported that Chris Brown and Rihanna were -- had recorded a duet together, or were in the process of doing so. Then "People" comes along and quotes an unnamed sources saying, no, no, that's not true. It just seem likes a lot of stuff gets out there that is not exactly nailed down.
ARGETSINGER: Oh, absolutely. I found this whole news cycle to be ridiculous.
There's this demand for a fresh story about Rihanna and Chris Brown every day. The truth is, there is no new news on a daily basis, unless someone leaks some bit of, you know, ephemeral (ph) information about their personal lives.
KURTZ: So gossip fills the gap.
KURTZ: All right.
I want to play for you, Amy, something that CNN's Campbell Brown said the other day. This has to do with the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards, and Chris Brown was up for a music award, and Nickelodeon refused to remove his name from the list, refused to knock him out of the show, until he finally withdrew.
Here's what Campbell had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN: Nickelodeon, in my view, also has a lot to answer for now, given its fairly cowardly response. So where were you when it counted, Nickelodeon? Why is it that even Chris Brown had the common sense to do what you were apparently afraid to?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So would Nickelodeon have been essentially condoning his behavior by putting him up there on that program, Lola? OGUNNAIKE: Oh, I'm going to be a cynic here, Howie. And Nickelodeon, when is the last time anyone over the age of 13 was talking about the Nickelodeon Awards? I don't know.
I think this was very calculated on their part. One way to get generate buzz, one way to get people talking about the awards show is to keep his name on the ballot. Campbell Brown probably wasn't talking about the Nickelodeon Awards last year.
Let me turn now to Bristol Palin, the daughter of the Alaskan governor, obviously. We learned this week that she and the father of her baby -- she's of course 18 -- have broken up, and that led me to think about the interview just a few short weeks ago that Bristol Palin did with Fox's Greta Van Susteren, where they talked about the role of Levi Johnston.
Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: What about Levi? How has he taken all of this?
BRISTOL PALIN, SARAH PALIN'S DAUGHTER: Well, he's a really hands-on dad. He's just in love with him as much as I am.
VAN SUSTEREN: How often does he see his son?
PALIN: He sees him every day. Eventually, we'd like to get married.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Amy, I don't know how else to put this. Can we point out that Bristol Palin, in that interview, appears not to be telling the truth about her boyfriend and perpetuating the fiction that they were going to get married some day?
ARGETSINGER: Oh, who knows? We're talking about a couple of 18, 19-year-olds. You know, when he says, "We broke up a while ago," in an 18, 19-year-old mindset, a while ago could be two and a half weeks ago.
I mean, we had a bit of this debate when the news was first breaking. What does it mean for a couple of 18-year-olds to break up? They could be back together soon enough.
And that's been the really surreal aspect of the news coverage of this couple and this relationship. It's undeniably a story. And yet, they're having a rather ordinary relationship that almost looks ridiculous under the glare of media coverage.
KURTZ: Well, my preference, Lola Ogunnaike, would be to just leave all of the kids alone, leave the children of public officials alone. They didn't ask to be in the spotlight. But they were trotted out during the campaign, at the Republican Convention, and Bristol Palin chose to do an interview with Fox News in which she wanted to talk about abstinence.
OGUNNAIKE: Yes. You can't have it both ways, Howie. You can't use them as props on one hand, and then decide that they're off limits on the other hand.
They're both public figures now. I know Levi had not intended to be a public figure in this way, but he is.
The fact that they're broken up, by the way, I actually do think is worth noting. I mean, they were supposed to be the face of this wholesome couple that was going to make it work. In reality, teen mothers rarely marry the father of their babies. So, if anything, they're just another statistic at this point.
KURTZ: And Amy, "Star" magazine, which helped break this story, quoted Levi's sister as saying that the family is making it all but impossible for him to see the baby and regards him as white trash. But "Star" won't say whether she was paid for that interview.
So, I don't know, is that a credible report?
ARGETSINGER: Well, you know, she turned out to be right on the fact that they are were broken up.
ARGETSINGER: But, you know, certainly, this is an ugly little family battle at this point that has been writ large. And who knows? I mean, whether it's the attention she likes, the money, it's airing some dirty laundry, and you can't help but feel bad for everyone involved, even though they did put themselves out there.
KURTZ: Yes. I do feel bad for everyone involved, even though, as you say, the governor and her family did put themselves out there.
Lola Ogunnaike and Amy Argetsinger, thanks very much for joining us this morning.
Just a note to viewers. We had hoped to bring you an interview today with Meghan McCain. She had agreed to come on the show. At the last moment, she decided that she was "all talked out," as she put it.
We wanted to ask her about something she wrote where she said her dating life had been ruined by being the daughter of a presidential candidate. Maybe she got a date and she found better company to keep. So we're sorry not to bring that to you.
Up next, so much for substance. President Obama tackles some of the country's most controversial issues. And guess what? Television news barely takes notice.
KURTZ: President Obama took action this week on several high- profile issues that have stirred controversial in the country for years. And the television coverage, well, if you blinked, you might have missed it.
KURTZ (voice-over): For months back in 2001, there was a national debate over the ethics of using discarded embryos for stem- cell research, with President Bush banning federal funding for anything beyond a few existing stem-cell lines.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Embryonic stem-cell offers both great promise and great peril. So I have decided we must proceed with great care.
KURTZ: Just before Obama lifted that ban Monday, there were anticipatory reports on the network morning shows.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Obama's plans to undo another Bush policy, and this one is stirring up a lot of controversy.
ANN CURRY, NBC NEWS: Today, President Obama reverses a longstanding limit on federal money for embryonic stem-cell research.
KURTZ: There were stories that night on the evening newscast and a few debates on the cable news shows, but the next day, nothing. The television world had moved on.
On Tuesday, the president took on the teachers unions, a major Democratic Party constituency, calling for merit pay for the best teachers and forcing out the worst ones. But the network newscast gave the issue a few sentences, folded into these politic reports...
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: The economy, health care, two wars, and today, education reform. Which raises the question talked about on cable all day long, is it all too much for any one administration?
JAKE TAPPER, ABC NEWS: His first 50 days have been marked by presidential action on nearly every issue under the sun. Of course, for his critics, that's precisely the problem.
KURTZ: There were some cable news discussions of merit pay, several on CNN. Nothing on MSNBC and prime time, but cable anchors, too, seem fixated on the calendar.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: He's now been in office 50 days. And what grade do you give President Obama?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Day 50, right today. Is this president trying to do too much too soon?
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: It has been 50 days since the age of Obama began. KURTZ: Even the 100-day milestone is largely a media creation. Now we're handing out presidential report cards after just 50 days? Hello?
The bottom line, television air time for stem cells and merit pay was a mere fraction of a story that was much more fun to argue about.
WILLIAMS: Rush Limbaugh.
BROWN: Rush Limbaugh.
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: Rush Limbaugh.
COURIC: Rush Limbaugh.
KURTZ: Newspapers, by contrast, did a pretty good job of reporting and analyzing these issues. And yes, coverage of the sinking economy tended to overshadow science and education policy. But since journalists are so quick to grade the president, here's my report card on how television handled these important questions: D. So much for substance.
Still to come, we've had our say on the Jon Stewart/Jim Cramer showdown, but how did play out there? We've got some of your Facebook feedback. That's next.
KURTZ: Well, we asked a Twitter question last week. And this week, I used my Facebook page to round up some online feedback. I wanted to know who you thought came out ahead in the Jon Stewart/Jim Cramer smackdown on "The Daily Show." And where does this funny business leave the reputation of CNBC?
Craig Shaffer writes, "If thoughts were bullets and Stewart was a gunslinger he'd be one of the fastest guns around. Cramer's just another notch."
Kevin Torres weighs in. "Stewart came out ahead. Cramer had a tough time defending himself. He really looked nervous."
Samuel Wakim says, simply, "Cramer can move markets; Stewart cannot." And George Savvas had this to say: "Stewart laid it out there. Whose side are you on, CNBC? CNBC doing real damage by playing ball with the good 'ol boys and putting clown likes Cramer out front to entertain us while 401(k)s disappear."
And from Andrea Lagin, "Comedy Central proves again it's the only TV network telling it like it is. Jon Stewart ate a very unprepared Cramer up and spit him out."
No shortage of strong opinions out there.
Let's bring back John King for more of STATE OF THE UNION. KING: And Howie, comedy aside, Jon Stewart's big point was he wants more accountability, accountability in financial news coverage. And as he was beating up on Cramer this week, we also learned that "The Washington Post' is going to fold its business page, do away with the separate business page, and bring it in to the main news section. Not good news for that accountability, is it?
KURTZ: Well, the editors at my newspaper, John, say that the amount of business coverage will be just about the same. It will just be folded into the main news section in order to save money on newsprint.
I've got to be honest, I'm disappointed. I love having a separate section where stories that don't make the front page can get a certain amount of display.
It is another sign of the tough times for the newspaper business, not just at "The Washington Post," but all across the country. And I hope that we're going to see the worst of this soon, because it does seem to be cutting into the bone and the meat of the product.
KING: I love my newspaper as well. And I'm with you 1,000 percent on that point.
Thanks, Howie. Have a great weekend.