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President Obama Makes Case for Health Care Reform

Aired September 13, 2009 - 10:00   ET


KURTZ: You can pick your medical metaphor. Barack Obama's health care plan was bleeding, wounded, practically on life support, and the only way he could revive it was with a rousing speech to Congress.

That, at least, was the journalistic consensus as the president commandeered yet another hour of prime time this week to make his case on the complicated and politically treacherous issue.

But if the pundits are any indication, Obama's effort to forge a bipartisan agreement barely has a pulse.


OBAMA: The time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed.


KURTZ: But the time for cat calls wasn't over, not with this outburst by Republican Congressman Joe Wilson, instantly making the low-light reel.


OBAMA: There are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false. The reforms -- the reforms I am proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.

WILSON: You lie.

OBAMA: That is not true.


KURTZ: And what do you know? Most journalists thought the president delivered a strong speech, liberal commentators loved it and conservatives thought it was awful.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: This might have been the most emotional speech I've ever seen President Obama give. He was right on the verge of anger seems at times.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He revved up his party, that's his job in part, but at the same he reached out to the independents.

ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC ANCHOR: President Obama knocked it out of the park tonight. He brought passion, and he brought some heart, some spirits, some desire to the Capitol chamber tonight. I loved it.

PETER JOHNSON, FOX NEWS LEGAL ANALYST: Instead, we got a partisan spectacle, scare tactics, bickering, games, distortion, misinformation, demagoguery, lies, scary tactics all attributed to town hall people and Republicans.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: I want to say from the outset the president sounds like he's talking out of both sides of his mouth.


KURTZ: Are journalists being tough enough on the president's latest PR blitz and what about the swipes at the media coverage?

Joining me now here in Washington Ceci Connolly who covers health care for "The Washington Post." David Brody, White House correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network and in New York Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the New York Times Week in Review and The New York Times Book Review, also the author of the new book "The Death of Conservatism."

Sam Tanenhaus, Obama calls for the spirit of cooperation and commentators on the left and the right react in utterly predictable ways; do we have pundit gridlock in this country?

TANENHAUS: I think we might, Howie. We've gotten to the point where our politics has become purely spectacle. Actually we've been here a long time, but it's increasing now partly because the idea of a true consensus of a common basis of agreement between the two parties almost doesn't exist.

This is a consequence of politics that has evolved over many decades, peaked during the Bush years and President Obama has not really so far been able to solve. He's invented or devised his own theory of bipartisanship which is to incorporate some of the notions from the other side.

Senator John McCain, Governor -- and former Governor Mitt Romney on health care...

KURTZ: Right.

TANENHAUS: ...but the notion that you could bring along 13 Republican senators the way LBJ did to pass Medicare in 1965, is long gone.

KURTZ: It's seems like dim prospect. David Brody, let's bring you back to the media. Do you know of any journalist, any columnist, any commentators who were skeptical of Obama's health care and were reconsidering at least after the speech?

BRODY: No. I mean none at all. And you know it's interesting because you have to kind of do a disclaimer every time we talk about media coverage. I mean, you've got the MSNBC's of the world and the Fox News.

The Fox News -- you feel like the coverage is like Obama is in military fatigues on these tanks rolling in to the -- downtown D.C. And then you've got MSNBC and Keith Olbermann and some of the stuff he was saying it felt like it was a Kumbaya, everybody holding hands.

And so I mean, you really kind of going to have to distance yourself a little bit from that. I think what was a common theme though, through all of this coverage is that there was a sense that there was a soap opera-like quality to it.

In other words, the media loves a narrative. The media loves a story. There has to be heroes and there has to be villains. Obama comes in, gives the big speech then Joe Wilson will get to him I'm sure in the moment as the -- as the villain and the GOP, town hall crazy guy. It's very interesting dynamic.

KURTZ: We love complex. Ceci, Connolly, you were with the president yesterday when he gave the rousing speech in Minneapolis, but on Friday you had the lead story in "The Washington Post" and you said that the administration officials were struggling to explain the details of the plan even after the speech, not filling in the blanks on paying for it and tax credits and the public option.

That's a huge point, why haven't I heard more about that? Why aren't people on television saying you know he really didn't answer a lot of these questions?

CONNOLLY: Well, I don't know. In fairness the night of the speech you're taking it in, its 47 minutes and it's powerful, forceful. There's a big scene and drama to it, but the day after.

KURTZ: But the next couple of days. Yes.

CONNOLLY: Yes, I think we would have expected that, now, I will tell you it wasn't easy. I spent all day Thursday working the phones, pestering, cajoling, asking as many questions as possible and they really did not have much detail and it was interesting because they've quickly now come back to the idea even after he stood up and said this is my plan.

KURTZ: Right.

CONNOLLY: Under my proposal, but they're now back to saying well it's the framework, it's the parameters.

KURTZ: Back to the road map.

Sam Tanenhaus, we mentioned and we showed at the top the "You lie" moment. Has that story been a bit over covered? i mean, one haggard Congressman shouts out those two words, it was the second story after the Obama speech and by the next day it was the top story for just about everyone in the media. TANENHAUS: Well, you know, the great historian Richard Hostettler (ph) once said he was once interested in governance and policy than he was in the symbols of politics, what he called our political culture.

Sometimes a moment like that seems to gather up the other energies that are abroad. A president -- abroad in the land -- a president whose very legitimacy seems questioned by some in the opposition party and frankly, many Americans and so that sign of disrespect for the Office of the presidency on the one hand, if you looked at it as a liberal or finally speaking truth to power made that it seem a symbolic moment.

KURTZ: Right. And at the same time, David Brody, the media seems to have held up Joe Wilson, the South Carolina Congressman and there were even stories about what's in the water in South Carolina...

BRODY: Right.

KURTZ: a symbol of Republican anger and intolerance. Was that fair?

BRODY: Well, no. Sure it wasn't fair in the sense that there's a much broader picture and not just Joe Wilson but the GOP and the town halls that have been going on and on and it kind of gets back to that you know has to have Joe Wilson in a villain-type role.

What's interesting is that the illegal immigrants, so when he said "You lie," the whole aghast in all of this was that he said that to the president in a Congressional speech. But actually what was interesting is that the illegal immigrants and the true test on all of that got somewhat downplayed.

Yes, there were fact some checks overall, but actually the "You lie" comment, you would have wondered where was the fact-checking in all of this? Especially Thursday's briefing with Robert Gibbs at the White House he was pestered time after time about this by reporters about the illegal immigrant fact check and there was really none of that in the main newscast on that evening.

KURTZ: It's fascinating to me that Joe Wilson is now raising money off of this. He says I won't be muzzled. Nobody's trying to muzzle him and the question is whether you should be shouting out at the president during a nationally televised speech.

And Ceci Connolly, in that 47-minutes address to Congress on Wednesday, the president took a few swipes at those of us in the press. I want to play that and get your reaction on the other side.


OBAMA: It's worth noting that a strong majority of Americans still favor a public insurance option of the sort I propose tonight, but its impact shouldn't be exaggerated by the left or the right or the media. The best example is the claim made not just by radio and cable talk show hosts, but by prominent politicians that we plan to set up panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens.


KURTZ: Obama says you in the media are exaggerating the importance of this public option in government health care plan.

CONNOLLY: Well, I'm not going to take it personally, Howie.

First, let me say that we were one of the first news organizations on our front page to debunk this notion of death panels. So we take our role as sort of the fact checkers very seriously and devote time and space to it.

On the public option I sort of agree with him as somebody who has been looking at the totality of our health system and the totality of these proposals, he is right, it's one concept.

KURTZ: But more importantly, there is this criticism and I know you've heard this that the press spends too much time on the Beltway politics of health care and not enough time on the substance and a lot of people are confused as a result.

CONNOLLY: I am going to push back a little bit on that. I think that it's an easy criticism that we hear all of the time and the simple fact of the matter is in a big issue like this, one-fifth of our economy is impacted by health care.

The two are intertwined. You can't just write about the politics or just write about the policy. They're interwoven in every speech, in every Congressional debate and in every story.

KURTZ: Without the politics you don't know whether this thing is going to pass or in what form it might pass.

Now, there's also a presidential speech this week on education to the nation's schoolchildren. Let's take a look at what some of the pundits said criticizing this thing before we even knew what it was going to look like and what Obama actually said.


ANDREA TANTAROS, MEDIA CONSULTANT: It's historic in the sense that it's unprecedented; they do this type of thing in North Korea and the former Soviet Union.

MONICA CROWLEY, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Just when you think that this administration can't get more surreal and Orwellian, here he comes to indoctrinate our children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're using these kids as political guinea pigs for hope and change.

OBAMA: Your goal could be as something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class or spending some time each day reading a book.


KURTZ: Sam Tanenhaus, that didn't sound like a former Soviet Union to me and of course, the elder President Bush -- Bush 41 have given a speech to school kids. So was this a bogus story...


KURTZ: ...and if so, why did the media give it so much attention?

TANENHAUS: Oh my gosh. I mean, absolutely right -- oh my gosh you know, here is a case where the President of the United States actually wants to speak to the schoolchildren. Before anyone's seen this speech he's being compared to Saddam Hussein.

This is, I'm afraid, an indication of what I would call the death of conservatism -- of movement conservatism. The enmity and animosity now goes not even toward a particular president, almost to the Office of the presidency itself and to the understanding that schoolchildren might profit from what turns out to be a very anodyne and tearful and an optimistic speech.

BRODY: To the point of absurdity.

KURTZ: Let me get to David Brody and I just want to throw one thing at you. Florida Republican Chairman, a guy named Jim Greer said that Obama was trying to indoctrinate American schoolchildren to his socialist agenda. Once the White House released the text he flipped and said it was a good speech and he would let his kids to watch. So the media don't seem to make anyone pay a price; this whole pre-emptive strike against things troubles me.

BRODY: Greer clearly jumped the gun but I think that the media missed this story, Howie. The media missed the perception problem that this president has. In other words, you go back to the bank bailouts and I understand George Bush and you can go back and talk about how he was kind of responsible for that at the beginning, but the bank bailouts, the stimulus, health care.

He already comes in as a Democrat -- as a big government liberal Democrat and there are folks, look at tens of thousands of people yesterday on the Mall down in D.C. I mean, you look at these and the town halls...

KURTZ: Right.

BRODY: So all of this is a perception problem for the president.

KURTZ: I want to give Ceci the last word. Media are addicted to conflict. Critics say he may brainwash the kids and this is in advance before he has said anything.

CONNOLLY: Media are addicted to conflict to a certain extent. It's also true now that we have a lot more air time to fill and there are going to be some slow days when somebody is going to grab something like that and toss it out there. KURTZ: Just to be clear I'm all for people criticizing a speech that has actually been given, it's when this person hasn't even spoken yet that seems like this gets a little overheated.

Ceci Connolly and David Brody, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

When we come back Sam Tanenhaus on his new book, pronouncing conservatism dead as in kaput, toast, six feet under and which magazines is he calling Republican Party mouthpieces?


KURTZ: And we're back with Sam Tanenhaus of the New York Times to talk about his new book "The Death of Conservatism." Sam, you've dismissed such magazines as National Review and The Weekly Standard as quote, "Mouthpieces of the Republican Party," but it seems to me there's a lively debate especially on the "National Review" about what direction conservatism should go in.

TANENHAUS: Well, actually I don't dismissed them, I lament the decline of these publications. You have to look at the longer picture, you know, the broader picture. Over the last decade or so, magazines that were once quite brilliant store houses of conservative thought have really aligned themselves very closely with the party and with its leaders.

When National Review was founded in 1955 by William F. Buckley, Jr., it was actually done with the express purpose of unseating a seating Republican President Dwight Eisenhower. Then we saw in -- particularly in the years when George W. Bush was President we saw the Weekly Standard denounced as appeasers anyone who questioned the war in Iraq. We saw National Review online even now giving a kind of quasi-credence to the issue of the birth certificate and President Obama's legitimacy.

This is the opposite of conservatism, it's a form of radicalism and it's been with us for a long time.

KURTZ: Well clearly, you have a lot of respect for Buckley. You invoke him many times in the book and you say that -- today's leaders, at least in the media sphere, is Rush Limbaugh and you don't seem to have much respect for him. But look, Rush has got 600 radio stations and 15 million listeners, his message must be resonating with some folks.

TANENHAUS: Oh actually I show no disrespect. What I say is that, in the notorious comment that Rush Limbaugh made that he hoped President Clinton -- President Obama, would fail, he was actually alluding in a serious way to the way our two-party system works which is, is that we have alternating periods of single party dominant and the in party, the sun party in the famous formulation is going to have most of the debate occur within its own ranks such as we saw with the stimulus package and the health care debate.

Now, my concern is that Republicans have essentially vacated the field and conservative intellectuals are not holding their feet to the fire. The issue of Rush Limbaugh as having emerged as the most conspicuous spokesperson for the right was actually identified 15 years ago by Michael Linde (ph), a great political commentator.

This is something that's been with us for a long time.

KURTZ: And you don't think that Liberal Publications did the same thing and just became a sort of an anti-Bush force during the last administration.

TANENHAUS: Some of them did. But Howie, my book is about the subject I've been studying...

KURTZ: Right.

TANENHAUS: ...for 20 years.

KURTZ: But let me as you about -- you also mentioned Charles Krauthammer...


KURTZ: ...and you've pointed out that in a Washington Post column back in February, he said that Obama wants to move the country toward European style social democracy. And you say that Krauthammer was refusing to acknowledge that the public actually favors Obama's proposals.

Given the unease we see in the country now about health care and a lot of spending was that judgment a little premature on your part?

TANENHAUS: No, I don't think so because the judgment was made, both Charles Krauthammer's and mine at the moment. And at that moment the country seemed receptive to the politics, the policies that President Obama had introduced.

Now, if there is a debate that follows that weakens that support and that President Obama fails to strengthen that support, that's another question, but at that time I was responding to what was very clearly in the air and in fact, if anything, it's now gotten worse. KURTZ: I saw a number of conservative commentators break with the Republican Party last year when they came out and said that Sarah Palin was not a plausible candidate for the vice presidency.

So they're not all marching in lockstep.

TANENHAUS: No, no -- what I'm talking about Howie in this book, which traces the rise, the ascendancy, and the triumphs of conservatism and then its fall. What I'm talking about here are the intellectuals and the leaders. I think if you look at Bill Crystal's column in the op-ed page of "The New York Times" you won't see much back pedalling away from Sarah Palin.

And in fact you saw the opposite.

KURTZ: Well yes... TANENHAUS: It was a column translated into almost a kind of clearing house of Palin campaign talking points and it was reported on in the news pages of my newspaper.

KURTZ: He was a big Palin booster and others from David Frum to Christopher Buckley, to Kathleen Parker were not. I want to ask you about...

TANENHAUS: Yes and those are the people who are more or less allied with the position that I've been setting forth. Absolutely.

KURTZ: All right.

i want to ask you about a dramatic event this week involving the Times the British forces backed by the U.S., rescued New York Times correspondent Stephen Farrell who had been kidnapped in Afghanistan. He was thankfully freed. His translator, however, was killed.

What was your reaction and what was the reaction from the people at the Times to this military intervention?

TANENHAUS: It's so difficult a situation, I urge your viewers to read a quite magnificent post that the great correspondent John Burns wrote on our blog "At War," in which he works through in the most meticulous way all the complications.

Look, we know when American journalists are caught in these repressive regimes it's usually not they who pay the price. It's their interpreters and translators...

KURTZ: Right.

TANENHAUS: ...who are risking even more.

KURTZ: This is the second time in recent months New York Times had asked media organizations not to report on the kidnapping of a journalist, the earlier one was David Brody...

TANENHAUS: Yes. KURTZ: ...some people think that's kind of a double standard since we report just about everything else.

TANENHAUS: Well, it's a fair question whether it's a double standard. I think it's more a matter of putting someone's life ahead of what we sometimes glorify as our own journalistic values and we forget that reporters are citizens, too. They have families.

KURTZ: Of course.

TANENHAUS: They're people. And we have to put their concerns ahead of much else.

KURTZ: A very sensitive situation and we are so glad that Stephen Farrell is home safely.

Sam Tanenhaus, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

TANENHAUS: My pleasure.

KURTZ: And coming up on the second half of "Reliable Sources," the cable war has taken an ugly new twist. Glenn Beck's crusade forces a resignation at the White House and Keith Olbermann fires back at Beck.

Plus, welcome back, Leno, some say Jay could change the face of prime time TV, no joke.


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

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs is defending the president's plan to overhaul the health care system. This morning here on "STATE OF THE UNION" Gibbs said the reform plan would not affect people who already have health insurance. And he said a government-run option is one way to achieve reform and not the only way.

The family of an Iraqi journalist who was jailed for throwing his shoes at former President Bush is celebrating today ahead of his expected release. Muntadhar al-Zeidi is scheduled to be released from prison tomorrow after serving a 9-month sentence for assault. Al- Zeidi threw his shoes at Bush as an act of protest over the Iraq war.

Tennis player Serena Williams is out of the U.S. Open after an on-court confrontation. Williams lost match-point to unseeded Belgian Kim Clijsters but she was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for screaming at a line judge. Earlier, Williams smashed a tennis racket at the end of the first set.

That and more ahead on "STATE OF THE UNION."

KURTZ: News wars took yet another nasty turn this week after Glenn Beck took on the Obama administration and won. The Fox News host launched a crusade against a little-known White House environmentalist Van Jones, initially prompting Jones to apologize for calling the Republicans a rather crude term ending in "holes".


GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS HOST: How about being a member of the radical group STORM, communist? No. How about being a black nationalist in his past. No apology for that and how about taking wealth from one group and another and doing it the entire system over. No, no, no, no apology for that.


KURTZ: Most of the mainstream media ignored the controversy and then Beck reported that Jones had signed a 2004 petition urging an investigation of those wild and ridiculous charges that Bush administration officials deliberately allowed thousands of Americans to be killed in the 9/11 attacks. The Obama aide quietly resigned last weekend. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BECK: I am not the one to congratulate. I can go on and on and on about this stuff every night, but if you don't care, and it doesn't connect with the American people what I say doesn't matter. But you know what? It wasn't until this weekend that the mainstream media started saying it and they got the story wrong six ways to Sunday.


KURTZ: Now, that triggered an unusual response from MSNBC's Keith Olbermann who wrote on the liberal Website "Daily Kos," that people should send me everything you can find on Beck, his producer of Fox News chairman Roger Ailes. This echoing Beck's own request on Twitter for everything his fans could find on three administration official. Olbermann later dropped his appeal saying he doesn't want to operate the way Beck does.


KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST: I have some things Mr. Beck does not: conscience, the respect of my colleagues and self-respect.

Besides which, in just the last ten weeks Beck has fantasized about poisoning the Speaker of the House of Representative. He's agreed with a guest who advocated a bin Laden terror attack on this country and he's already personally called the President of the United States a racist.


KURTZ: So did Beck go overboard? What about Olbermann's reaction and where was the rest of the media on the Van Jones controversy?

Joining us now to talk about that: Chris Stirewalt, political editor of the "Washington Examiner;" and Ana Marie Cox, national correspondent for "Air America Radio" and a columnist for Playboy magazine.

Ana Marie, Glenn Beck targeted Van Jones, kicked the hell out of him on the air, but some of his information was damaging and Jones resigned.

ANA MARIE COX, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "AIR AMERICA RADIO": Yes, I think this is another sign -- I am very curious about how the White House sort of spot through some of the lower level appointees, I mean, not so lower level. I think that during the campaign they showed a masterful understanding of the way that the media works and the way that people respond to certain kind of allegations.

It seems like they really had no idea this was going to be a problem and that disturbs me more than anything.

KURTZ: Have they heard of Google? COX: Yes. KURTZ: Chris Stirewalt, Van Jones co-founded a group called Color of Change which has mounted a boycott campaign against Glenn Beck's Fox show. Beck started attacking Jones before that boycott and I should have made that clear the last time I talked about it on this program but then he really intensified (INAUDIBLE) and he never told his viewers about the boycott.

Was that a misstep?

CHRIS STIREWALT, POLITICAL EDITOR, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: On Beck's part, obviously not. He won. He carried the day, Van Jones is out and it's a win for his team. I think the bigger question that the Van Jones controversy creates is who is the White House talking to and who are they listening to?

It sounds like they're listening to Glenn Beck and if that's going on he's going to continue to have trouble with the left.

KURTZ: "The New York Times" didn't run a story on this Van Jones controversy until after he had already resigned. Why did the mainstream media with a few exceptions, all but ignore the allegations until the very end?

COX: I want to be clear. I think there's actually not a lot to these allegations.

KURTZ: The guy signed a truther petition.

COX: That he was deceived about.

KURTZ: How do you know that?

COX: Because I -- maybe the mainstream media may not have been following this -- but there was plenty of information on blogs and everywhere.

KURTZ: His signature is on the petition.

COX: Right.

STIREWALT: Are we supposed to now accept his...

COX: OK and actually so do you think that the 9/11 truthers are the people whose word we should be taking on this about how they got signatures on this petition.

KURTZ: There is a document with his signature on.

COX: There is and they have his signature and I'm not sure that I completely buy the way that that signature got there.

KURTZ: Whether Van Jones was in the right or not and when he's saying things like white environmentalists are forcing pollution into communities of color. Isn't that a story? He's a White House official. COX: Yes, it is a story. I think there's actually -- there's a whole history to that kind of -- to that kind of criticism of the way that the environment sort of charges work. Poor communities do get a disproportionate amount of...

KURTZ: My point is maybe it's fine to run a story that Van Jones is getting a bum rap and here are the allegations and they're not really true, but to run some story.

COX: I know. Definitely. Sure.

STIREWALT: That would have been the absolute story that at the very least -- "The New York Times" didn't do any stories. "The Post" didn't do any stories.

KURTZ: The "Washington Post" did one story the day I before his resignation.

STIREWALT: The day before the resignation. I'm sorry. I meant to say during the run-up. But the point being when you hear the managing editor of the "New York Times" or read the managing editor for the "New York Times" saying that we were short staffed because of the holiday weekend.

COX: That was pretty lame.

STIREWALT: And we weren't able therefore to cover the green jobs czar...

KURTZ: (INAUDIBLE) also acknowledged that "The Times" had been slow on the story.

What about Olbermann's role, here he is going out and saying, "give me everything you can find on Beck." Even though he later pulled back it made me think one journalist investigating another. Do we really want to go there?

STIREWALT: Glenn Beck is talking about the President of the United States and his administration. Keith Olbermann is talking about Glenn Beck. Glenn Beck has twice the viewership; he beats him in the demographics that advertisers want. He just kicks him all over the place.

The fact that Olbermann is trying to sort of latch on to some part of Beck's surprising success I think is indicative of what the situation is for him.

KURTZ: But Olbermann also says that Fox targets him by printing false rumor rumors in "The New York Post" also owned by Rupert Murdoch. And he's got several examples.

COX: I think there's something to that. I think there's something to the fact that people in media are obsessed with themselves and with each other. That doesn't make it okay for Olbermann to call for an investigation squad from the Baker Street irregulars, I think he called them. I watched his "Face in the Crowd," which is a big reference point for Keith Olbermann when it comes to Glenn Beck, the character of Lonesome Rhodes who's the sort of rabble rousing and right-wing demagogue. In that actually -- I just wish he'd stuck with pointing people to that movie rather than pointing people to the investigations.

KURTZ: Let's concede the point about self-obsession which probably most people out there would not dispute.

Are these feuds that go on particularly between Fox and MSNBC, but there are plenty of others. Are they at all holding journalists accountable or is it just ideological warfare?

COX: Feuds are not holding people accountable. Feuds are petty and about just digging up dirt. Holding people accountable...

KURTZ: And maybe getting ratings.

COX: And maybe getting ratings. And holding people accountable was sort of what Chris was talking about which is that when these allegations about Van Jones started to get turn around, someone should have done a story, are they true? Is there anything here?

And in the context of a larger question of the administration, how important is this job? Do the past views have any sort of influence on what he's doing now? Feuds are what kids do in playgrounds and they throw mud pies.

KURTZ: Glenn Beck, of course, also called the president of the United States a racist, that he had a deep-seated hatred for white culture. That's what triggered the boycott, whether Van Jones personally was involved in or not. But he also talks about being a recovering alcoholic and how he's made a lot of mistakes and he's successfully used that to kind of deflect criticism of some of his more inflammatory rhetoric of which there is no shortage, I should add.

STIREWALT: Well, there is that. But there also -- I think the real reason for Beck's success is that he's given -- there are more conservatives than liberals in America and he's giving conservatives a way to plug in and be interactive, whether it's to go to a Tea party protest or whether it's to Twitter him with that investigations they'd like to see carried out.

It's interactive, it's not just (INAUDIBLE) and when you watch Olbermann you feel it's sort of hysterical and emotional and Beck's giving them a way to plug in.

COX: I disagree with that. I think actually both Olbermann and Beck are just incredibly entertaining. I watched Beck yesterday when he did a special after the Tea party protest and that guy is good. He's really, really entertaining.

KURTZ: But does being entertaining -- is that enough? In other words, what about... COX: Apparently so because he's not right about much stuff.

KURTZ: He's doing well.

Yesterday you mentioned -- you called them Tea party protests and there were these big conservative protests around the country, the 9/12 project. That's something that Glenn Beck practically conceived, promoted. I got a souvenir here from somebody who would hide this one to (INAUDIBLE). You turn it around the state of our profession is not doing so well.

What is Glenn Beck? Is he a talk show host and a successful one, or is he a leader of a movement?

COX: I think that one thing that -- I went to the protest yesterday and talked to a lot of people. And I think that one thing that we should be careful about is in viewing it with too much of a political message. I think that right now there are a lot of people in the country that are scared and are anxious.

Glenn Beck is giving them an outlet for that fear and it's fear about a lot of different things and that can be used to fuel a political message of some kind, but I don't think it's necessarily political. These are people who wanted -- they got a great, you know, great feeling of satisfaction about being with each other, being with people who felt the same way.

KURTZ: That's great. Grassroots America, but when Glenn Beck says he doesn't like either party. I mean, the people he was interviewing, he was on unusually on a Saturday afternoon live were Republican members of Congress, conservative activists and so forth. So how can you divorce that from politics?

STIREWALT: The big test for the Republican Party right now is can they tap into the discontent and outrage that's going on out there in a way that doesn't have them sort of jump the shark. KURTZ: Bring it back to Beck. Is he a talk show host, is he a movement leader?

STIREWALT: He's an infotainer who right now has tapped into something very effectively. And whether or not he is going to be Lonesome Roads and end up creating a political movement, I think he'll probably -- I don't think that's where he's headed. But the question is has he identified something that actual politicians can tap into, use, and be effective with? And that I think he's done.

COX: That's what I just totally agree with.

There's a mood in the country that Glenn Beck has latched on to and probably feels himself. It's very genuine on his part.

KURTZ: Now that you two are agreeing we have to end this segment. Chris Stirewalt, Ana Marie Cox. Thanks very much for joining us.

After the break, CNN reports the Coast Guard firing shots near the Pentagon and it turns out to be a training exercise. Did the network jump the gun?

Plus, Jay Leno rolling the dice in prime time.


KURTZ: It was a sobering morning on Friday as the country observed the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and then suddenly a more urgent question about possible terrorism now filled the airwaves as CNN carried a report we'd hoped to bring you. We don't have the bite, but probably you've seen it.

Anchor Heidi Collins saying she wanted to update everybody, the Coast Guard has apparently fired some shots, some type of shots. In fact we don't know if they were warning shots and saying that apparently ten rounds were fired on a boat that came into this restricted space very well known in the area of the Potomac River.

Other news outlets picked up the troubling story as well and FBI and police rushed to the Potomac River. 24 minutes later CNN confirmed that there had been no shots fired, no hostile boat and a few hundred yards from where President Obama had been attending the 9/11 ceremonies at the Pentagon.

It was all a routine training exercise by the Coast Guard. CNN, by the way, says it would have been irresponsible not to report what its correspondents were seeing and hearing which included a Coast Guard transmission picked up on the scanner with talk of ten rounds of ammunition being expended.

Joining us now to examine the way the story was handled: in Philadelphia, Gail Shister, columnist for the Web site TVnewser and professor of TV criticism at the University of Pennsylvania; in New York, James Poniewozik, the media and television critic for "Time" magazine which, of course, is owned by CNN's parent company. Let me start with you, Gail, fundamental question here. After hearing that Coast Guard transmission about rounds having been fired should CNN have gone to air with that story?

GAIL SHISTER, COLUMNIST, TV NEWSER: Think the situation underscores everything that's wrong with 24-hour news, Howie, which is get it first and worry about getting it right later. I feel badly about the situation.

I do give CNN credit because the word apparently was used over and over, apparently, but in the correction they used the chyron "developing story." In the first part, the wrong part they said breaking story. I think it gave it a sense of urgency.

No, I wouldn't have gone with it. With something as important as that, something that would instill tremendous fear in the population, I would have waited to get it right.

KURTZ: James, CNN says that it didn't just rush on to the air with this. That it spent 20 minutes doing such things as calling the Coast Guard which could have said, hey, it's a training exercise. This is not a real story, but got no comment from the Coast Guard, no knockdown, no wave off, and in the meantime team had access to the police scanner which had sounded like shots were fired. And there we see the boats maneuvering in the Potomac on Friday morning as part of the exercise.

So do you buy CNN's explanation that it had no choice, but to go any ahead with what it had at the time?

JAMES PONIEWOZIK, MEDIA AND TV CRITIC, TIME MAGAZINE: No. No. I don't know how much more plainly to put it than that. There may have been extenuating circumstances and it's probably a mortifying thing for them, but the fact is they reported something as truth that turned out not to be true.

That's a screw up one way or the other, after 20 minutes of trying to verify it, maybe they should have taken 30 minutes. Apparently, it would not have left us any less safer. And the fact is that what they got was not, you know, verification that something had happened. They got the lack of verification that something had not happened.

And what they were going on air with despite having to use modifiers like apparently, there was, as Gail referred, a Chiron that didn't say shots possibly fired. Shots believed to have been fired or the words bang, bang, bang, heard on a police scanner. It said ten shots fire, ten rounds fired on the Potomac which was not the case. That's...

KURTZ: Gail -- go ahead.

PONIEWOZIK: It was simply a screw up.

KURTZ: Gail, CNN's Washington bureau chief David Borman (ph) told me in an interview that you had to keep in mind the date. This was, of course, September 11th, and the fact that the President of the United States was nearby, right off the river at the Pentagon and so that if this were a real situation, which thankfully, it turned out not to be, there could have been a really dangerous situation developing and that these were factors as well as the fact that the Coast Guard and the Coast Guard, by the way in the second phone call saying no government agencies were aware of any training exercise either and these were factors in the CNN's decision. SHISTER: I would argue that those factors make it even more important to hold the story until you've got it nailed down. It's too powerful. It's going to affect too many people and when you mentioned that CNN had said we didn't have a choice, but to run the story. I would argue that news organizations always have a choice. And in this kind of technology where one blog post can go viral in a matter of seconds, it makes it even more important that you have it nailed down before you make it public.

KURTZ: Right. I'm going to agree with both of you. I would have waited. It was a situation, no one heard gun fire and they heard a guy go bang, bang on a scanner.

The Coast Guard was out to lunch here. And the fact that it didn't notify, it wasn't prepared to wave off news organizations contributed to the confusion but still, I don't think there was any great urgency at that moment of putting that on the air.

I think if CNN had waited that would have been better for everyone involved.

Now we're going to turn to the subject we originally booked you two on and that of course is the big debut. You can't miss it because NBC runs the promos every 15 seconds. Jay Leno starting his show tomorrow at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, primetime and here's a little look at -- a little behind-the-scenes look at Leno getting ready for the show.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They still think you're tweaking the show.

JAY LENO, HOST: I will be tweaking an hour before the show. It's a simple formula: write joke, tell joke, get check.


KURTZ: Now, James Poniewozik, you have a cover story in Time magazine saying that this is not just about Jay Leno. That if Leno succeeds or at least makes a little money for NBC at 10:00 p.m. this could change the future of television. How is that not a wildly exaggerated statement?

PONIEWOZIK: Well, in a way I think that even if the Leno show fails, this still points the way the future of television is changing which is that the fact of "The Jay Leno Show" is a response to the fact that audiences are smaller and smaller in television. That broadcast television is subject to the same pressures that, you know, my business, the print media business and other forms of distributing information are, which is that it's harder to make a buck off the content and audiences are fragmented and one has to find ways to cut back.

Jay Leno is the restructuring program. He's the -- he's the downsizing program for broadcast television and NBC is the most desperate and hard up of the networks that has taken that gamble first. KURTZ: On that point -- yes, because obviously, a comedy or variety show costs less to produce than a scripted drama or sitcom. Is this going to take -- could this take broadcasting away from being a mass medium and turn it into a niche medium with much smaller audiences than we were accustomed to?

SHISTER: I'm not sure I would agree with that, Howie, about turning broadcasting into a niche medium. I think that the biggest effect is it's going to have a ripple effect on the other networks and on cable. I think what we've already seen is that the cable networks are now stepping up at 10:00 in response to Leno's show because they feel that enough viewers maybe disaffected at 10:00 that they're going to migrate over to cable.

For example, "USA TODAY" -- isn't that good? USA Network is launching a show called "White Collar" Friday nights at 10:00 p.m. It's a first time they've ever had a fall launch and that's in, I would argue, direct response to Leno and the ironic thing is that USA is owned by NBC Universal.

So this isn't just affecting the other broadcast networks. I think the bottom line here will be if Leno proves to be cost effective to the networks they don't have to get a big number because they're paying so much less for Leno than they would for a scripted drama.

KURTZ: That was my point.

SHISTER: Absolutely -- anyone would follow suit if it saves money.

KURTZ: Let me go back to James. Jay says that 10:00 is the new 11:30 and the show isn't going to be all that edgy, but this migration it feels -- I think has been going for some time. The most talked about dramas and comedies: Sopranos, Sex in the City, Madmen, Curb your Enthusiasm; all seem to be on cable or pay cable and networks -- the (INAUDIBLE) is never seemed to not be taking many chances.

PONIEWOZIK: I think the fact that we have this 500-channel universe and the audience's attention is fragmented, that's not necessarily to me a bad or dispiriting thing that's resulted in some of the best television that we've seen over the past decade.

It's just increasingly likely that the best television in the future is not going to necessarily be produced by the big broadcast networks and will not be viewed by 30 million people at a time. NBC and company are on the road sooner or later and if Jay Leno succeeds sooner to becoming just basically big cable networks.

KURTZ: Let me ask one last question to Gail.

Leno telling the "New York Times" that he was not happy to be given five years to vacate the "Tonight Show" chair. The original proposal he says with NBC was three years.

But now, is the Conan O'Brien experiment something of a failure. They took a guy -- Leno was number one -- took him off and now Conan is number two or three and I'm wondering how that looks in the light of -- now that we've seen what he looks like as "The Tonight Show" host.

SHISTER: I was stunned that NBC would even consider the option of taking Leno off the air. You've got a situation where the guy is a clear number one. He has been number one for 15 consecutive years against Letterman.

KURTZ: Right.

SHISTER: If it isn't broke, don't fix it.

KURTZ: Television executives don't always abide by that. All right. Got to go. Gail Shister and James Poniewozik, thanks very much for joining us on both these topics.

Up next, they just can't let it be. The media succumbed to Beatlemania all over again. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: It's been almost 40 years since the last Beatles album came out, but given the absolute avalanche of attention lately you would think they had just stepped off Ed Sullivan's stage or just walked across Abbey Road. When it comes to John, Paul, George and Ringo, everyone in the media just wants to hold their hand.


KURTZ: The Beatles have always been media darlings, from their first American TV appearance to their early concerts, they were a cultural phenomenon. They made movies, they changed music. Lennon said they were more popular than Jesus and it was debatable.

But the band broke up after the release of "Let It Be" going their separate musical ways; only Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are still alive. And now with the release of newly mastered cds and a video game based on their music, a whole new generation of journalists is succumbing to Beatlemania.

"The New York Times" magazine featured the Beatles Rock Band on its cover, but that wasn't the last of the coverage in "The Times" or "USA Today" or "The Washington Post" which featured a debate whether the mono or stereo version of the new CDs are superior and television wasn't far behind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's headline this one. Beatlemania, 2.0.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: All together now, they haven't recorded a note in almost 40 years, but tonight there is something new from the Beatles.

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: If they want a revolution, you know, you may just get one with Rock Band, the Beatles.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Money can't buy you love, but it can buy you the fully re-mastered Beatles catalog.

KURTZ: Some network hotshots couldn't resist trying to find their rhythm.


KURTZ: Here we go. What -- I can rock out with the best of them. So this is the part when I say this media swoon is utterly out of control, right? No.

I have every Beatles album and I've seen three of them in concerts and I wore my hair long back in the day. They are in fact, the most important musicians of the last half century.

I tried to Guitar Hero the other day and I think these video games are kind of artificial, but the Beatles remain one of the few cultural forces who enable the generations to come together. Yes.

Still to come, President Obama pays tribute to Walter Cronkite and can't resist a few hard shots at today's media elite.


KURTZ: I was up at New York's Lincoln Center the other day for one heck of a memorial service for Walter Cronkite. Tom Brokaw, Katie Couric and Bill Clinton were among those paying final tribute to the old anchorman, but what really struck me was when President Obama hours before his health care speech, used the occasion to decry what Cronkite's business has become.


OBAMA: Too often we fill that void with instant commentary and celebrity gossip and the softer stories that Walter disdained rather than the hard news and investigative journalism he championed. What happened today is replaced with who won today. The public debate cheapens.


KURTZ: The president seems to be developing a chip on his shoulder about his once gushing media coverage which has turned sharply skeptical since he ran into trouble on health care, but Obama has a point. There is plenty of perpetual punditry and confrontational hype and "Jon and Kate" type gossip that at times seems to overshadow and trivialize the news.

Even Cronkite might struggle to be heard above the din these days something that those that revere his legacy should keep in mind.

And John King, as I turn things back over to you this Sunday morning -- and you're looking rather dapper in our new HD format, I may have to get into high-def set just to fully appreciate you --, Obama really has been peppering his remarks and speeches lately with swipes and criticisms of those of us in the news business.

KING: It's not an unfamiliar political strategy; past presidents have done it essentially saying don't pay attention to them, pay attention to me, I understand it. And I would say, sometimes he's right, sometimes he's -- shall we say -- playing a bit of politics himself. But that's the way it goes, Howie.

KURTZ: We ought not to be too thin-skinned about the criticism.

KING: No, we should not. We dish it out.

KURTZ: All right. We're handing them all back to you, John.

KING: Howie, you have a great Sunday.

KURTZ: Thanks.