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Obama Holds Town Halls on Health Care

Aired August 16, 2009 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": It's about anger and overheated rhetoric, dissent and democracy, passion and protests, and always the distorting lens of the television camera.

President Obama repeatedly criticized the coverage of the health care debate as he waded into the town hall wars this week, even as cable news was playing up the conflict and confrontations at other gathering with members of Congress.

And has the high decibel voices again drowned out numerous attempts to debate the Obama plan, both in the town halls we saw and in the media?



SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: You don't trust me?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Can I just say, this is another example of how the media ends up just completely distorting what has taken place? Suddenly, on some of these news outlets, this is being portrayed as "Obama collecting an enemy's list."


OBAMA: Now, come on, guys.

KURTZ (voice-over): At the White House, Robert Gibbs also seemed frustrated by the media's conduct.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think we all have something to lose, Matt, if we let cable television come to town hall meetings and kill health care reform for another year and put the special interests back in charge.

Look, I do. I think some of you were disappointed yesterday that the president didn't get yelled at. Sure.


KURTZ: So, have journalists allowed the protesters to hijack the debate or are they overly critical of Americans who want to vent their frustrations? KURTZ: Joining us now, Jeff Zeleny; White House correspondent for "The New York Times"; Amy Holmes, the co-host of WNYC's "The Takeaway," guest co-host this week; and Ruth Marcus, columnist for "The Washington Post."

Jeff Zeleny, is Robert Gibbs right and Obama right that the media are providing a distorted picture of these town halls by focusing on the most confrontational moments?

JEFF ZELENY, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think in a sense they are, but in a sense they're not. First, I think, I mean, the images and the passions that were shown this week from town hall meetings show real Americans having real concerns about this. I think that's one of the things that has been left out of this.

I spent most of the week in Iowa going to several town halls. There are real, patriotic voting Americans, some who voted for President Obama, who don't like what they see shaping up as a plan. But...

KURTZ: But is that the whole story?

ZELENY: But it's not the whole story. And I think we have been missing the context of all this

YouTube is fantastic. It takes us everywhere, into town meetings that we couldn't go, but it doesn't give us any context. And that has been a problem this week.

KURTZ: And when I watch cable, Amy Holmes, it almost seem like this endless loop of these loud moments. I mean, there's one woman in a blue dress, Katy Abram, we're going to play later. I've seen her 50 times.

AMY HOLMES, FMR. SPEECHWRITER FOR SENATOR BILL FRIST: Indeed. And it's perfect for television. You've got the audio, you've got the visuals, you've got the heat and the passion. But there are some loops that have not been played endlessly.

Kenneth Gladney, an African-American gentleman who was at one of these town halls, was beaten up. And yet, he has not been splashed on the front pages. He has gotten less attention than Professor Gates and his arrest at Harvard.

So, I think if you look at conservatives, the context that they are concerned about is the context that this is supposed to marginalize and characterize the entire opposition to health care plan as being fringe and hysterical. And the same treatment is not given to the other side when their folks come out to protest.

KURTZ: And Ruth Marcus, Obama keeps repeating this line about how TV loves a ruckus. And here we just heard Gibbs say the media was disappointed that no one yelled at the president after his first town hall meeting in New Hampshire.

Is there a grain of truth there?

RUTH MARCUS, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Sure. Look, conflict is more interesting than lack of conflict. When flowers bloom and the sun is shining, it's not necessarily news. And so, we are all going to naturally gravitate to -- we, being the media -- naturally gravitate to the more exciting moments.

And it is more exciting if you're a journalist to have those exciting moments. And I think it's a little naive and a sign of some -- to some extent their -- the way they have been rocked back on their heels to hear the White House complaining about, you know, following the ruckus. They know that.

KURTZ: Right.

HOLMES: This White House complaining about media coverage after Obama being on the cover of "TIME" magazine how many times?

KURTZ: It's really striking though how often Robert Gibbs and the president have complained about the media coverage. And here's a funny note.

When Fox News was breaking away from that first Obama town hall, the anchor, Trace Gallagher, said, "Any contentious questions, anybody yelling, we'll bring it to you." In other words, that would cause them to go back.

Now, Jeff Zeleny, the other night, the "CBS Evening News" led off with a story about 1,500 people lined up in L.A. for a clinic that was providing free health care for a couple days. And it made me think, well, the reason the existing health care system -- we've all kind of gotten away from covering it -- I think news organizations have made an honest effort to try to unravel the complexities of this health care issue. But, let's face it, covering angry, shouting folks is a lot more fun.

ZELENY: No question about that. And that free clinic I think was one example of that. I think we had it on the cover of our paper as well, this week.

But I think if you look at the coverage, what I was struck by, talking to voters and seeing people this week, how well-informed people really were about this. Not necessarily -- all the information was not accurate.

MARCUS: They knew about the death panels? ZELENY: Well, some, I think -- I think that was another thing that was taken a little bit -- perhaps given more attention than people actually thought. But without question, I think a lot of news organizations are devoting a lot of time to serious coverage of this. But it's a complicated issue. It's impossible to break it down in a long newspaper story, let alone a 60-second TV story.

KURTZ: Well, let's go to the videotape and share with viewers some of these moments, some of which you've seen all week.

We are going to start with a woman named Katy Abram at a town hall meeting. And then she later pops up as a guest on "Hannity."

Let's take a look.


KATY ABRAM, TOWN HALL QUESTIONER: This is why everybody in this room is so ticked off. I don't want this country turning into Russia, turning into a socialized country.

My question for you is, what are you going to do to restore this country back to what our founders created according to the Constitution?

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Katy, were you happy with the answer that you got from the senator today?

ABRAM: My best friend Karen (ph) called me and she said, "Katy, you're on YouTube." I'm like, "What? That's odd."

But, you know, honestly, after I asked the question, I was so just -- I don't know. I didn't hear half of what he said, to be honest with you.


KURTZ: Other people have shown up on these programs as well.

Is this a case where some conservative programs are trying to turn some of these ordinary anti-Obama folks into the next Joe the Plumber?

MARCUS: I was about to say...

KURTZ: I stole your line?

MARCUS: ... those very same words. Of course.

And, look, things are much more understandable and this sort of the -- to talk about the concerns generally is not as powerful as seeing it expressed in the clearly very heartfelt, very deep-felt views of people. But there's a really interesting loop that's going on, which is -- I happen to listen to a lot of talk radio as I drive around, and the conservative talk radio is ginning people up with, I believe, a lot of very false information and a lot of scary words like "socialist."

And those people are listening and going to the town halls, and motivated by concern about the health care program and concern about their country. And then they are being, also, then made stars by conservative talk radio and TV.

KURTZ: Right. And I want to be diplomatic here. But when I see some of these people interviewed, some of them are a little confused when they talk about taking back the country and the Constitution. They are clearly angry about more than just the details of this health care plan. Amy, I have some sound to play for you. This is from Chris Matthews on "Hardball," who confronted a man named William Kostric, who brought a gun to an Obama town hall meeting.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: You brought a sign that said "The tree of liberty has to be watered with the blood of tyrants," and you're carrying a goddamned gun at a presidential event. I think those things make people wonder what you're about.

WILLIAM KOSTRIC, BROUGHT GUN TO OBAMA TOWN HALL: Right. The sign didn't say anything about blood.


KURTZ: So, is there a counter by some liberal programs to depict some of these protesters as right-wing crazies?

HOLMES: I think that's absolutely the fact. And if you see some of the coverage for MSNBC, that they was delighting in some of these folks and taking the most extreme elements and making them stars and poster children for the protesters.

And I think you also have to look again back to the context, which was when the folks who were the "tea bag" protesters, again they were mocked, they were marginalized as if their concerns were not reflective of anything serious. And so, you look at these folks, and when they listen to Rush Limbaugh or they watch Fox News, they feel like they're getting a respectful hearing of their views which they don't necessarily with other networks.

KURTZ: Jeff, you made a reference to the death panels. This was a phrase used by Sarah Palin in a Facebook entry. Specifically, she said she doesn't want an American, or her parents or baby with Down Syndrome had to go before Obama's death panel.

Was there an instance where the media, rather than just saying he said this, she said that, kind of said to the former governor of Alaska, will you quit making things up?

ZELENY: I mean, it basically was. But she, I think, opened the door to allowing people to do that. She said herself when she was leaving the stage, we though, or at least moving on to the next chapter of her life that, you know, the media, will you stop making things up? I think it's absolutely appropriate this week for people to call people on things like that if she's going to use this as a platform.

But one thing I was struck by, how quickly that sort of spread to people who aren't even on Facebook. I mean, obviously, it was out there everywhere, but someone asked Senator Grassley this week in Iowa if he was concerned about that. And he said, I'm not going to pull the plug on grandma.

So, he did not say that that was incorrect necessarily at first, but the next day...

HOLMES: Well, and, in fact, there's been this Twitter tit-for- tat between Senator Specter and Senator Grassley.

KURTZ: Right. I mean, it's amazing -- go ahead, Ruth.

MARCUS: Can I just say one thing about Twitter? Which is, one thing that's very interesting to me about the current episode is that it seems to me the right has actually taken the playbook of the left and done it a little bit better in this one, where we're having -- all of the technology is being deployed by conservatives right now -- Twitter and Facebook and everything else. And meet-ups.

KURTZ: Right. Absolutely.

MARCUS: So they're winning at what used to be the liberals' game.

HOLMES: And YouTube has become a booker's (ph) dream, apparently.

KURTZ: Let me play for you what Keith Olbermann had to say in an on-air commentary about Sarah Palin on MSNBC.


KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: Madam, you are a clear and present danger to the safety and security of this nation. Whether the death panel is something you dreamed or something you dreamed up, whether it's the product of a low intellect and a fevered imagination, or the product of a high intelligence and a sober ability to exploit people, you should be ashamed of yourself for having introduced it into the public discourse.


KURTZ: There is something about Sarah Palin that makes liberal pundits very angry.

MARCUS: Well, I might be one of them. So, if you're looking at me -- what she said was -- I would not call her a clear and present danger, but what she said was outrageous distortion of what is in the bill.

And for her to say that now, she's actually -- it's really interesting. She's going -- and now, if you look at her postings, they have footnotes. So, I'm really curious about who is doing that for her.

KURTZ: And yet, once this phrase "death panel" got into the media echo chamber, it now has been taken out of the Senate Finance Committee version of the bill. So, death panels have been put out of their misery.

HOLMES: And Mickey Kaus, and a blogger for Slate, he actually points to an April Bloomberg story where Obama, while he's certainly not talking about death panels, is talking about we will have a tough moral decision to be making about whether or not we spend money on elderly people who are at the end of life. So, while you may say that Sarah Palin's formulation was extreme and possibly irresponsible, it does raise a tough issue in the health care debate. And I don't think it's appropriate for the media to say that should be off the table.

KURTZ: Jeff Zeleny, you are a co-author of a front page story in "The New York Times" time today, a profile of Rahm Emanuel and his powers as chief of staff. And in that piece, you say that the president was so ticked off about an earlier "New York Times" magazine profile of his aide, Valerie Jarrett, that he erupted in anger and declared no more cooperation with staff profiles.

What is the president so mad about?

ZELENY: He was mad about, we're told, that he was sort of reading all of the internal workings of some personality discussions and some personality -- really conflicts among his senior advisers. He read all of those on the pages of "The New York Times" Sunday magazine a couple weeks ago, and he called his advisers into a room, we're told, and said, enough, guys.

KURTZ: And you say that Mr. Emanuel declined a formal interview for this article.

It doesn't sound like you had no contact with him.

ZELENY: I think every reporter in Washington and across the country -- one of the interesting things we found out, he has 6,000 contacts in his...

MARCUS: You mean, we're not special?

ZELENY: So, everyone has contact with him, but he declined a formal interview for the story.

KURTZ: I wonder how many of those 6,000 names on the Rahm list are journalists.

All right. Let me get a break.

When we come back, anger in Africa. Hillary Clinton takes a history-making trip across the continent, but all that reverberates with the media is her going off on Bill.


KURTZ: Hillary Clinton has been traveling across Africa, but that's not why she's in the headlines. Instead, it was a brief, testy moment in the Congo in response to a student's question that became an instant YouTube classic and sent all the media therapists into a frenzy of psychoanalysis. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Wait, you want me to tell you what my husband thinks? My husband is not the secretary of state. I am. QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

CLINTON: Well, you asked my opinion, I will tell you my opinion. I am not going to be channeling my husband.



MEREDITH VIEIRA, NBC NEWS: This was definitely an uncharacteristic response by the secretary of state, leaving some to suggest that either she is jetlagged or jealous of her husband and the huge shadow that he casts.

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flashed a bit of a temper today during a visit to Congo.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Ouch. Well, I want to tell you, she seemed pretty mad at me right there.


KURTZ: Amy, I usually accuse the media of being obsessed with the Clintons' marriage. But given the cold fury we just saw there, isn't the coverage fairly justified?

HOLMES: I think it is, and especially that we have a former first lady, senator, now secretary of state, who has been very private and very contained in her public statements about her marriage to Bill Clinton. And we also saw on the campaign trail his arm around her -- you know, vote for my gal, Hillary. So, this actually gave you a little bit of flash and insight into a very, I would say, inscrutable woman.

KURTZ: There has been some journalistic tut-tutting here, Ruth. What about the substance of her 11-day trip to Africa? But can the media really ignore that from the wife of a former president?

MARCUS: Well, as with health carte, I think you can do both. You can pay attention to the heat part -- and certainly that was the heat part -- and you can pay attention to the substance of the trip.

What I thought was fascinating about Secretary of State Clinton's response was that it was so uncharacteristic. Usually when she gets a question that is apt to make her angry, she does the kind of faux laugh thing -- ha, ha, ha, ha. And this time, look, she was hot, she was tired.

It was -- you didn't have to be married to Bill Clinton to actually find that to be an annoying comment. I could say that as a woman. And if somebody had asked me that question, I probably might have popped off the same way.

And it also is true that there is a complicated marriage, and he had just had a big achievement in North Korea. So...

KURTZ: Right.

MARCUS: ... it was just so uncharacteristic. It was the very definition of news for that reason.

KURTZ: Yes. "The Washington Post" gave her outburst there two paragraphs at the end of a story. Maybe it was more of a television story.

But, you know, one of your colleagues at "The New York Times," Jeff Zeleny, asked the secretary about that moment a couple of days later on the trip and got a complete non-answer. She just ignored the question.

ZELENY: I mean, what's she going to say, really?

MARCUS: Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.

ZELENY: Yes, exactly. The video sort of speaks for itself. But I think it showed perhaps she's been wanting to do this for a long time. You know?

MARCUS: Oh, come on.

ZELENY: No. I mean, privately, of course. She didn't want this to be on television. But I think there's no question those are her real feelings in that moment. It was a very genuine moment for her. But I think in the whole scheme of things, there's also the issue, I think, in fairness of, was the question translated properly?

KURTZ: Well, the initial reports said that it was mistranslated, and it actually references to President Obama, not President Clinton. But later in the week there were reports that, actually, it was about her husband.

ZELENY: I think there's also a sense of question -- like, is there -- I haven't talked to that student, or I don't know if any reporters have specifically, but is that exactly what they meant? Sometimes things get lost in translation.

KURTZ: Yes, sure.

ZELENY: I remember traveling with Senator Obama at the time in 2006 in Africa. People thought he was already the president. So -- but the line of authority...


HOLMES: But another element is that it took a student, a foreigner, to provoke this reaction from Hillary when the entire Washington press corps couldn't.

KURTZ: Right. Well, one critic, Keli Goff, said the coverage of that moment was sexist. I'm not sure I agree with that.

But we have got to go. You're all looking at me.

Ruth Marcus, Amy Holmes, Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much for joining us.

Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, multiples madness. As the morning shows give us another dose of Kate, this time without Jon, Fox is going prime time with "Octomom." Don't they have better things to do?

Plus, second act. Michael Vick returning to football. Will the notorious dogfighter have a tougher time winning over the fans or the press?

And 40 years after Woodstock, the baby boomer media still won't give it a rest.


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

The White House may be willing to reconsider a key element of its health care reform plan -- the public option. This morning on STATE OF THE UNION, President Obama's health secretary suggested the White House may accept non-profit insurance cooperatives instead of a government-run plan. Kathleen Sebelius says the president believes choice and competition in the health insurance market is critical, but the public option isn't the only way of achieving that.

A tropical storm warning has been issued for parts of the Florida and Alabama coasts. Forecasters are predicting heavy rain, three to five inches, for the Florida Panhandle after a tropical depression formed over the Gulf of Mexico last night. It's expected to make landfall later today.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storms Ana and Bill are still well out over the Atlantic, moving west.

An American man imprisoned in Myanmar is now safely out of that country. Fifty-three-year-old John Yettaw arrived in Thailand today with Senator Jim Webb, who helped secure his release. Yettaw was sentenced to seven years hard labor after he went uninvited to the home of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Senator Webb is expressing hope now for improved relations between the United States and Myanmar.

That and more ahead on STATE OF THE UNION.

KURTZ: Thanks very much, John.

It is hard to talk about what Michael Vick did without cringing. The former pro quarterback, just sprung from prison after 23 months, wanted to get back to the NFL. The problem, of course, is that Vick was convicted of a heinous crime, spending years involved in dogfighting, a vicious sport in which the animals were tortured and killed.

So, in search of media absolution, Vick has landed a high-profile platform, a "60 Minutes" interview with sportscaster James Brown, airing tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAMES BROWN, SPORTSCASTER: And the operation, Michael, that you pleaded guilty to bankrolling, to being a part of, engaged in barbarous treatment of animals, beating them, shooting them, electrocuting them, drowning them, horrific things, Michael.

What about the dogs? What about the dogs?

MICHAEL VICK, FOOTBALL PLAYER: It was wrong, J.B. And, you know, I feel, you know, tremendous hurt behind what happened. And you know, I should have took the initiative to stop it all, you know, and I didn't.

I didn't step up. I wasn't a leader.


KURTZ: He didn't step up.

Well, on Friday, the Philadelphia Eagles announced they were signing Vick to a two-year deal, but despite the new job and the televised regrets, are the media still intent on throwing him for a loss?

Joining us now here in the studio, Mike Wise, sportswriter for "The Washington Post," and the new midday host at 106.7 The Fan, here in town. And in Detroit, Drew Sharp, columnist for "The Detroit Free Press."

Drew Sharp, did Michael Vick have to go on "60 Minutes" or some show like that? Was there this sort of media ritual of sinners seeking forgiveness through the media?

DREW SHARP, COLUMNIST, "THE DETROIT FREE PRESS": Well, he had to. You know, I always thought that he should have gone on "Oprah," because, you know, Oprah is a dog lover herself. You know? And he can have his "Come to Jesus" moment to appeal to the sappiness of our society at times.

Oh, he's learned his lesson. You know.

But I'm sure this is going to be a nicely-rehearsed, scripted performance that he's going to give CBS this evening. But again, I don't think it's going to change the opinions that a lot of people have.

It's a very polarizing moment right now in sports, because for every person who is singing the praises that he's getting a second chance, there are probably two or three other people who are saying, you know what? I don't want to see him ever again.

KURTZ: I'm sure he will use some of the lines that he used at the televised press conference when the Eagles signed him on Friday.

And just to give you a brief hint of the media reaction, "The Philadelphia Daily News" has a headline -- if we can put that up -- to the signing of Michael Vick, and it says, "Hide Your Dogs." Mike Wise, we don't have that to show you, but can this sort of thing change Vick's image given what he pleaded guilty to?

MIKE WISE, SPORTSWRITER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": He's going to have to show real remorse after the press conference, Howard. And I think that means going out to the animal shelter, going out to youth camps, and preaching against animal cruelty.

It's one thing to sort of have that, "I'm sorry, can I play again?" moment as Marion Jones did on the courthouse steps several years ago. Contrition tour is part of the deal, but you have to follow it up. And if he doesn't do that, I think there's going to be some people out there that question his sincerity the other day.

KURTZ: Drew, in a column yesterday, you talked about this second chance for Vick. You used the phrase "morality of convenience."

Now, obviously it's in his interest and maybe in the Eagles' interest to get him back wearing a helmet and throwing a football, but do the media play along with this? In other words, are we going to kind of forget about the dogfighting thing and just chronicle whether he can make it on the gridiron?

SHARP: And it's not just the dogfighting, Howie. I think we get lost in the dogs in this matter.

Michael Vick is in the situation that he is in because he masterminded and funded a felony, a federal felony. He lied to his boss, both of them, the NFL commissioner and the Atlanta Falcons owner. He failed a drug test when the judge told him to stay clean.

There is a pattern of behavior here. And for people just to get caught up on the dogs, I think we're making a mistake. That's the emotional impetus of this.

But this is a guy who may have sociopathic behavior here. And is this what the NFL really wants with the broad reach that it has, to have a guy like this?

KURTZ: This reminds me a little bit of Kobe when he was facing those sexual assault charges in which he was ultimately acquitted, or the charges were dropped. But, you know, we eventually got back to covering him as a basketball player.

Do journalists have a responsibility during this coming Eagles season to keep putting out the utter cruelty involved in the dogfighting, some of the other things that Drew mentioned?

WISE: Yes. Also, to Drew's point about, does the NFL really want this? If the NFL took out every person with a character flaw, not of Vick's caliber, but of that ilk, we would not have a league. OK? So that's one thing.

KURTZ: But the counter argument is the guy went to prison, he paid his debt to society. And should he never be forgiven by those of us in the press? WISE: I think at some point, you don't want to be defined by your worst moment in life. Everybody. It doesn't matter whether it's Rick Pitino, it doesn't matter whether it's Michael Vick.

But you also have to give the guy a shot. I think in a lot of state bar associations, a lot of state teaching associations, Michael Vick could never -- because he is convicted of a felony -- never teach again, never practice law again. The NFL is a special business. Anybody that thinks that Roger Goodell is piling on, no. He's saying this is -- I'm going to suspend this guy a little bit more, but I'm going to let him into my league again.

KURTZ: And, of course, the NFL commissioner.

Drew Sharp, before the Eagles signed Vick, Jesse Jackson was out there telling "The New York Times" that NFL owners may be colluding to keep him out of the league. Now, obviously that was not true. A number of teams interested in signing Vick.

Should that have been reported just as straight news story, or should we in the press have said there goes Jesse playing the race card again?

SHARP: That's the way it should have been played.

Again, I'm not a second chance kind of guy when it involves these spoiled, pampered athletes who have had their fans, family and followers excusing their contemptible behavior since they became an athletic prodigy at 13. And this is another example of this.

I would like these same people, Reverend Jackson and these others who have been preaching about second chances, I would like to see them hold that same standard to the next 29-year-old black man who is released from federal jail after serving two years who cannot run a 40-yard dash in 4.3 or sell a 100-yard (ph) jersey. That's not going to happen.

KURTZ: That's a good point.

Mike, you mentioned Rick Pitino, the Louisville men's basketball coach. He was before the television cameras this week saying he was sorry, or at least expressing regret. He acknowledged -- the married coach, that is, acknowledged having sex with a woman in a restaurant six years ago and paying her $3,000. The woman is named Karen Sypher, and she, by the way, has been charged with trying to extort $10 million from Rick Pitino.

KURTZ: So I will ask you, did he have to go on TV and make a statement about this? Is it like Vick?

WISE: If he's going to walk into -- Howie, if he's going to walk into 18-, 19-year-old kids living rooms and impress their parents or their AAU coaches, that somehow Rick Pitino is still a good coach for your child, yes, I do think so.

I'm also shocked at the double standard in which, for instance, a Democratic president or a Republican senator cannot be re-elected or will have, you know, congressional investigations against them. Rick Pitino can go on coaching his job at Louisville. Doesn't (inaudible) him as a coach.

KURTZ: Right. Now, the New York Post interviewed this woman, Karen Sypher, she -- but found some contradictions in her account. She said Pitino had pressured her to get an abortion, but she also played a voicemail for the reporter, in which he said, he's heard quite clearly saying, "I really can't give you any advice, just let me know what you're going to do."

Double standard for Rick Pitino, Drew, both in terms of Louisville and in terms of the media?

SHARP: Oh, absolutely. If Rick Pitino, if his record last year at Louisville was 18-18 instead of 31-5, one game away from getting into the final four, he would be fired right now because of his actions. His confessions violate the morals clause in his contract. And this idea that it is going to affect from a negative standpoint these parents of these 18- and 19-year-old kids -- they don't care. All they care about is that my kid is going to have a good chance of getting into the NBA playing for Rick Pitino. And that's the morality of convenience that I spoke of.

WISE: They don't care that a guy that stood next to the pope and made all these moral declarations about his values is suddenly going to be a good guy.

KURTZ: And I was surprised that the New York Post yesterday published a picture of this woman, Karen Sypher, in a bikini. It turns out she gave the paper the photo. There we see it. Got to get that circulation up.

All right, Drew Sharp, Mike Wise, thanks very much for huddling with us this morning. Up next, you knew it couldn't last. Kate Gosselin and Nadya Suleman jumping back into the media spotlight, which begs the question, why can't we get enough of watching families in crisis? And coming up in our next hour, John King breaks down the "Sound of Sunday" with James Carville and Mary Matalin.


KURTZ: They were reality show stars who most of America, including me, had never heard of, at least until he started cheating and they split up and the gossip magazines couldn't get enough of Jon and Kate and their eight kids. And this week, the newly separated Kate Gosselin was on "The Today Show."


(UNKNOWN): By the time there were all those rumors swirling about, about with Jon with other women. When I sat down with you in May, had he already moved out of the house by that point, Kate?

KATE GOSSELIN: To be very honest, I don't remember. There's so much going on. (UNKNOWN): And now we are hearing from him that he had started up a relationship in May with this young woman, Hailey Glassman, 22 years old. Were you shocked at that revelation, that he started seeing her in May?

GOSSELIN: You know, I was shocked, but it -- those things, to be very honest, that's his life. I mean, they don't affect me directly at this point.

(UNKNOWN): But it's got to be hurtful.

GOSSELIN: Well, it is hurtful.


KURTZ: While the TLC reality show warps into Jon without Kate, television is bringing back another previously obscure figure with a whole bunch of kids. Fox Broadcasting will air a two-hour, prime-time special this week on Nadya Suleman, better known as Octomom.

Fox says the program will chronicle the emotional struggles, physical complications and financial burdens of this single mother of 14, including her own feelings, doubts and fears.

So why do the media keep turning these rather sad characters into celebrities? And should the rest of us care? Joining us now in Los Angeles, Lisa Bloom, former anchor for TruTV's "In Session," now a legal analyst for CNN. And here in Washington, David Zurawik, television and media critic for The Baltimore Sun and author of the blog Z on TV. And Lola Ogunnaike, pop culture commentator who's reported for the New York Times and for CNN.

Lisa Bloom, so Kate's husband fooled around and they split up, and now she's on "The Today Show." I would have thought they had already gotten their 15 minutes of "Us" cover fame. Why does anyone still care about this?

LISA BLOOM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, how sad, really, that there's this insatiable appetite among American news consumers for stories like that, about people's shortcomings. I mean, is this the first time somebody has had a divorce, or in Octomom's case, is this the first time that somebody has been a lousy parent? Meanwhile, 20,000 people are dying every day from extreme poverty. The world is going through climate change of horrendous proportions, and the news media rarely covers those kinds of stories. "The Today Show," for example, did two very long segments on Jon and Kate. And you wonder what is going through Meredith Vieira's mind, a very intelligent, serious newswoman, as she continues to ask Kate questions like why is she still wearing her ring, who instigated the divorce. I mean, what have we become? We are fiddling while Rome burns, covering these stories ad nauseum.

KURTZ: All right, David Zurawik, what was going through Meredith Vieira's mind, and why does this warrant time on "The Today Show," which is a very fine news program? DAVID ZURAWIK, BALTIMORE SUN: Oh, that is a nice high-road sounding argument for Sunday morning TV. Listen, the audience, American people care about these characters. Now, that's not enough just that they care about them. But here's what's going on with Kate Gosselin, at least. People are judging their own lives. They're judging themselves as parents. They're judging themselves as wives. They're judging themselves as families against her. And that's really important. Look, she is the most talked about, the most discussed representation or image of motherhood on American television. Think back to the '50s, with Barbara Billingsley from "Leave It to Beaver" and all those, and books and dissertations are written about them. We should care about her.

KURTZ: Since you used the phrase, let me just come back to Lisa. David Zurawik just called you high-minded. Do you want to respond to that?

BLOOM: Well, you know, I do think it's very sad that international stories, stories of huge global significance, about people dying from malaria, AIDS and TB in the third world, 20,000 a day, most of those children, just don't get coverage while we continue to gorge ourselves on this diet of tabloid stories. Jon and Kate were entirely created by the tabloid media. They were on the cover of "Us Weekly" eight weeks in a row to drum up sales, which they did. Most people know a lot more about Jon and Kate than they do about the rest of the world, about serious international issues in the rest of the world.


BLOOM: I tell people, you have got to tune in and you've got to watch those stories if you care about them, but most people just don't. LOLA OGUNNAIKE, POP CULTURE COMMENTATOR: Lisa knows, reality is that people -- a lot of people are miserable out there and they find solace in other people's misery. So rather than have to deal with all the horrible things that are happening in the word, they like to tune in to Jon and Kate. It's easy, it's digestible, and for them it's really escapism.

KURTZ: But the latest, Lola, is that TMZ reporting that they had a fight over the babysitter and Kate called the police and now they've made up. I mean, in elevating this somewhat weird couple to this kind of prominence, are the media ignoring not only the kinds of important national and international stories Lisa Bloom was talking about, but also the plight of the eight kids?

OGUNNAIKE: Well, the -- the kids are being discussed a lot now, now that they've been -- exactly, now that they've been dragged into the media spectacle this has become. Everyone is wondering, are these kids being exploited? Are these kids safe? Are these kids in the best hands that they should be?

And people are asking those questions a lot, questions that they weren't asking before. So in many ways, this is really bringing to light also the issue of child exploitation and reality series. ZURAWIK: And the media is not ignoring those other stories. That is a phony argument. Cable news has 24 hours a day, and it covers those stories very well, thank you, and even network...

BLOOM: Do they really?

ZURAWIK: ... TV covers them very well, thank you.

BLOOM: Well, I'll tell you something.

KURTZ: Let's let Lisa respond.

ZURAWIK: But I'll tell you something...

KURTZ: Go ahead.

BLOOM: Yes, I don't see those stories being covered at all, actually, about 200 girls schools being bombed to the ground by the Taliban in Pakistan. You don't see these kind of stories covered.

ZURAWIK: How did you find out about it if it's not being covered, Lisa? Were you there?

BLOOM: What we do see is an extraordinary amount of time on things like Octomom, because we love to focus on the personal shortcomings of other people in their personal lives, as if we don't have those shortcomings in our own personal lives. And yet we are one of the richest countries in the world, and we ignore the horrendous problems which continue to fester in the third world because there is no appetite for it, for...


ZURAWIK: We're covering those stories.

OGUNNAIKE: But the issue is, people don't identify necessarily with the girls who've been victims of the Taliban. They do identify with "Jon and Kate Plus Eight." There are people going through divorces and people going through ugly divorces out there, and they feel like those people that they're watching on the small screen are just like them.

KURTZ: I am going to agree that particularly the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan has gotten short shift. And when you talk about 24 hours for cable TV, 23 of those hours this week at least has been taken up by repetitive images of people yelling at each other at town hall meetings.

Let me turn to Octomom. We're going to play a little bit of a footage to set up a discussion about this Fox primetime special this week.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Her hospital stay comes just days before a two- hour Fox documentary called "Octomom: The Incredible Unseen Footage." The producers call the footage "jaw dropping." It was shot by a crew that's been living with Suleman for seven months.

SULEMAN: I just want it to be very not like "Jon and Kate Plus Eight," whereas I feel they made a mistake (inaudible) allowing (inaudible)

(UNKNOWN): Are you going to start a reality show when -- when your kids are all grown up?

SULEMAN: No, I think that's exploitation of my kids.


KURTZ: Well, Lisa Bloom, is this sheer exploitation by Fox, or does Nadya Suleman also benefit from staying in the news and getting everyone to focus on her, her 14 kids?

BLOOM: Well, she does. And I do think there's a worthy story about the exploitation of kids on reality shows. And I've talked about that a lot on the air, that these children are living in a world with cameras and bright lights and equipment being brought into their home and being filmed, you know, 24/7 in their own home, which is very unhealthy and unsafe and a violation of California labor laws, in my view.

But, you know, we don't care that much about children, because this is just an interesting story, and we all want to look at it, and eat our popcorn, and, you know, forget about the more important issues in the world, and pooh-pooh Octomom for the bad choices she's made in her life. I think it's a crying shame.

KURTZ: Just as -- just as with Kate, David Zurawik, did all of the media attention create Octomom as a public figure, except in this case as a villain?

ZURAWIK: Well, sure, Howie. But, you know, again, with Lisa, there's a lot of interest in the children. Read the comments on the blogs. My blog, you know, gets 100 comments if I post about Kate; 90 of them are about the children, people concerned about the children. It's not reading popcorn and we don't care about children. These generalizations, oh, we're evil people because we watch these shows...

BLOOM: But there are a lot of other children in the world other than these children.

KURTZ: Go ahead, Lisa.

ZURAWIK: Octomom is a -- oh, OK. Sorry.

KURTZ: Let Lisa respond.


BLOOM: Oh. There are a lot of other children in the world besides these children. Of course we care about these children. But do we care about children who are dying from malaria and T.B. and diarrhea and preventable diseases? No, because we don't see them. If we did see them -- and occasionally we do, if there's a drought, there's a famine, we see children dying, and we see these stories covered, then America does rise to the challenge. But for the most part, we don't see them. And why? Because they're crowded out by these stories.

I have personally pitched stories like the Cambodian war crimes tribunal, because I'm a legal analyst. That's an important legal story. You can't get those stories on the air. Why? Because we want stories with sex, with bad parents, with people like Octomom. Those are the stories that get covered week after week to the exclusion of other very worthy and important stories.

KURTZ: Just to clarify, Fox bought this footage from another company that bought it from Radar Online, and then announced, well, we'll give the kids -- the 14 kids -- six figures, you know, $100,000 or more, I guess probably to avoid criticism that they're getting nothing out of it. But given how irresponsibly she acted in having these 14 kids -- let's not lose sight of that -- can television rehabilitate Nadya Suleman as a sympathetic character?

OGUNNAIKE: I doubt it. I highly doubt it. I think that she's hoping that this will, in many ways, lead to something even bigger. But people really do see her as a villain. She's not a likable character. And I think Fox is also banking on that, and that's why they didn't actually give her a full reality series. They're sort of testing the waters with this show and seeing -- if she does, indeed, draw ratings, they may give her a full show, but I do -- I do doubt it.

KURTZ: So there could be more. All right...

OGUNNAIKE: There could be more, unfortunately.

KURTZ: One more topic. I need a 30-second answer from each of you. The National Enquirer reporting this week that John Edwards has taken a DNA test that proves that he is, indeed, the father of Rielle Hunter's 18-month-old baby girl. Lisa Bloom, has the Enquirer earned the media's respect by being consistently right on this particular story?

BLOOM: Well, probably. And they generally are right about celebrity stories and stories about politicians. And John Edwards, you know, was a candidate for president. This is a story, I think, of some significance, of the very foolish choices he made, the shortcomings in his personal life, but, ultimately, again, I mean, this is a story about one man's failing. And if we were honest, many of us have similar failings, but we like to pile on somebody like John Edwards, look down our nose at him...

KURTZ: Right.

BLOOM: ... and ignore more worthy issues.

KURTZ: Just briefly, Edwards initially lied about the affair, then confessed it on "Nightline." Now he says that the baby is not his, and he could be lying again.

ZURAWIK: Well, you know, National Enquirer has earned credibility on this story by their performance so far. And, again, I disagree with Lisa. This is an important story. This was a man who was very close to being -- to being elected in Iowa. He had a very -- his two Americas thing was a powerful thing, and he was lying to us.

BLOOM: Yes, but he lost. It's over.

KURTZ: And he could have been vice president in 2004 if John Kerry won one more state. All right. Who has more credibility at this point, the National Enquirer or John Edwards?

OGUNNAIKE: The National Enquirer, definitely. Hands on. Ding, ding, ding, ding, they win.

KURTZ: That's -- that's an interesting way of scoring it. And thank you...

BLOOM: Except on the UFO stories.

KURTZ: There is that. All right. Lisa Bloom, David Zurawik, Lola Ogunnaike...

BLOOM: Thank you.

KURTZ: ... thanks very much for joining us. After the break, the music and the myth. The media fall back in love with Woodstock 40 years later. Are journalists' memories a little too hazy?

And you can check us out on Facebook, the "Reliable Sources" page. You can become a fan, get an early look at some of the topics and guests we'll be featuring on Sunday mornings.


KURTZ: Four decades after man walked on the moon, we are living through the 40th anniversary of a rock concert. Why exactly is Woodstock -- complete with two new books, a new movie, and lots of articles -- still discussed and debated? Dude, it was a seminal moment for the baby boomers, and we dominate the media.


WILLIAMS: Woodstock started 40 years ago this weekend. Those who were there have their own memories, or not. Those who weren't there have seen the images.

COURIC: Now, this could blow your mind. Woodstock was 40 years ago this weekend.

KURTZ (voice-over): It was, if nothing else, a spectacle: 400,000 young people descending on Max Yasgur's farm in upstate New York for three days of sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

There were big-name bands, Crosby Stills and Nash, Joan Baez, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead, the Who, and lots of rain, and lots of trash. Perhaps the greatest achievement, as David Crosby put it, nobody killed anybody, nobody raped anybody, nobody shot anybody.

But then the myth-making began. There was the Joni Mitchell song.

MITCHELL (singing): By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half-a-million strong, and everywhere there was song and celebration...

KURTZ: And the live album, and the movie.

The mainstream media were shocked and appalled by the hippies, and the hygiene, and most of all, the pot-smoking and the drug-taking. Woodstock, said the New York Times, was a "nightmare in the Catskills."

But as the boomers got older, got hair cuts, got grown-up jobs, started caring about money, and exercise, and vacations, and second homes, the summer of '69 remained a hazy beacon of when they were cool. So today's media nostalgia is as much about our lost adolescence as any historical significance. (END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Woodstock, you see, wasn't just a huge concert. It was transcendent, man. By the 50th anniversary, the boomers will have surrendered control of most news organizations and the whole shebang may be rendered a mere footnote. But that don't mean the aging fans won't be rocking out in their rocking chairs.

Still to come: digital diet. A woman's magazine takes major pounds off a pop star. Isn't that cheating?


KURTZ: Kelly Clarkson, the one-time "American Idol" winner, looks pretty good on the cover of Self magazine, but there's a catch. If you check out this footage from the photo shoot, Clarkson looks much heavier. That's because the magazine's photo team doctored the cover shot to knock off quite a few pounds.

Self editor-in-chief Lucy Danziger doggedly defends the digital diet, saying she's done it with published pictures of herself, as well.


DANZIGER: A snapshot is different than a cover. A cover is a poster. And the thing about a poster is, you want it to capture the essence of you at your best. So we're saying to women, look, everyone can love who they are from the inside out and want to achieve their goals.


KURTZ: Hey, who wouldn't want to look nice and trim without the annoyance of cutting out the pizza and the ice cream? Lucy Danziger says that what she did was meant to inspire women and is not journalism. She's right about that. It's also not honest and not terribly inspiring, since some women must be wondering why they can't look like Kelly Clarkson, that is, the fictional cover girl Kelly Clarkson.

And, John King, it seems to me you don't need any digital doctoring for your promo pictures.

KING: You know, I was wondering why I can't look like that just this morning, Howie, especially in this new HD world. You know, anything they can do to slim me down 5 or 10, I think I'd be grateful for.

KURTZ: Ah, so it is tempting. And it's certainly true that the HD does expose every flaw and pore in your skin.

We're turning things back over to you right now for more "State of the Union."

KING: All right, Howie, thank you very much. Enjoy your Sunday.