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STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING
Aired November 8, 2009 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, CNN ANCHOR: Washington generally doesn't make much news at 11:00 on a Saturday night unless someone is doing something scandalous. But it was at that sleepy hour last night that House Democrats finally pushed through a health care reform bill.
President Obama called the occasion historic. Nancy Pelosi called it historic. But are the media playing it that way? The measure still has a long way through, and the Democrats muscled it through with just two votes to spare, attracting a grand total of one Republican vote.
So, how big a story is this?
Joining us now to talk about the vote and this week's elections, from New York, Joe Klein, political columnist for "TIME" magazine. In Seattle, Michael Medved, host of "The Michael Medved Show" on the Salem Radio Network. And here in Washington, Beth, Fouhy, national political reporter for The Associated Press.
Joe Klein, the House vote, as I mentioned, being hailed as huge and historic. But for all of the headlines this morning -- here's "The New York Times" -- "Sweeping Health Care Overall Passes the House" -- don't journalists need to remind viewers and readers that this is far from over?
JOE KLEIN, COLUMNIST, "TIME": Oh, yes. I mean, the choke point for the health care legislation are obviously the 60 votes needed to get it to the floor of the Senate. And the Senate bill -- I mean, there was Jim Cooper, the representative from Tennessee, said that he was voting for this bill in the House knowing that it would change in the Senate. And so, I think that we've got a ways to go with this, and we don't even know if it's going to go all the way.
KURTZ: Or whether it will happen this year.
Beth Fouhy, I heard several correspondents on the air this morning calling this a victory for the president and for Nancy Pelosi, and it probably is, but victories can be ephemeral in Washington. To use a baseball analogy, it feels like the first round of the playoffs and not the World Series.
BETH FOUHY, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, of course that's true, but let's call it a victory. It is.
The Democrats won four days after an election which was interpreted by many in the press as a repudiation of the president and his very broad, sweeping agenda. Enough Democrats resisted what was a very big tide against the president this time, and went for health care. So...
KURTZ: So, a two-vote margin in the House, where the Democrats have huge margins, is, in your view, still a victory?
FOUHY: I think it's a victory for today.
KURTZ: There's no assets there?
FOUHY: Well, sure. Republicans and a lot of skeptics will play it that way, but I do think for this moment, at this moment in time, it was a victory.
KURTZ: Michael Medved, should the storyline be that there were 39 Democratic defectors on this bill, which is, of course, the president's top domestic priority, and that it came within two votes of defeat? Or does that not matter because a win is a win, as they might say in sports.
MICHAEL MEDVED, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, sure, a win is a win. But there is such a thing as a Pyrrhic victory, a victory that actually costs you as you go forward. And the real storyline, it seems to me here, is that Republicans maintained extraordinary solidarity which they've done fairly consistently under President Obama.
The fact that only one Republican out of 177 in the House, Joe Cao of Louisiana, was the only one who voted on the Democratic side, while there were, as you say, nearly 40 Democrats who voted on, if you will, the Republican side, that's extraordinary, because the nature of political victory is keeping your side United and dividing the other side. Republicans did that in this first round of the health care voting.
KURTZ: All right. It seems to me so typical of Congress, debating this for 10 long months, and then it passes late on a Saturday night when nobody is watching, nobody's paying attention. But I guess a victory is a victory.
I want to move on to the other events of this week.
If you've been busy with your job or your kids, if your life didn't revolve around politics and punditry, then Tuesday must have seemed like an ordinary November day. After all, there were a grand total of two governors' races, two special elections for House seats, and a handful of mayors' races. That's it.
But if you're in the business of writing and yacking about politics, hey, that's all we got. So there's been a concerted effort to analyze what impact this handful of campaigns has had on President Obama, the Democrats, the Republicans, and the country itself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Tonight we're reporting a small change which could also be an ominous development for the year-old Obama administration.
ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: Look, if you lose, it's not good. And it's not good for the Obama White House. CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Here we are a year later and we can see how ephemeral and how one-shot '08 was.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: I think it's a rebuke of Obama-care, although they don't seem to know it yet.
CHRIS KOFINIS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It was not a national referendum on President Obama. President Obama is still popular.
LIZ CHENEY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think there's sort of no way that the White House can spin the results last night in a positive way for them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: All right.
Joe Klein, political reporters love elections; it's part of what we do. But did this motley collection of races really have the huge national implications that some of these commentators were suggesting?
KLEIN: I mean, it was a sign, but actually, I was out of the country on Tuesday. That's how important I thought it was.
But I think that, you know, to go back to what Michael Medved just said, you know, it's not hard to keep all of your party in line when your party has become an extremist shard of a party that is essentially a regional southern party in the country and doesn't have broad appeal to the mass of Americans. And I think that that's...
KURTZ: But Joe, come back to the point...
KLEIN: And I think that that's the problem that Republicans are facing going forward. You know, you had two governors' races where you had Republicans who ran as moderates against dreary Democratic candidates, surprised they won. Up in New York, in that congressional race, you had an extremist attempt to take over the party there. And that extremist lost.
KURTZ: But Joe, if what you're saying is true, then why were so many forests cut down to provide all the analysis and the examination?
KLEIN: Oh, I'll tell you exactly why. Because we naturally overplay numbers in our business. We always do, whether there are election returns or, still worse, polling.
These aren't insignificant, especially in New Jersey. I think that if I'm in the White House, I take a close look at this and I think about how to appeal to Independents, to reach out to Independents more. But still, it is a minor, minor event in a very big week.
KURTZ: It wasn't treated as a minor event by the press. KLEIN: Well that's because...
KURTZ: Let me just spread it around here.
KURTZ: If you don't find some larger cosmic implications, then it's hard to make people who don't live in Virginia, New Jersey or the 23rd district in Plattsburgh, New York, care very much about these contests.
FOUHY: Yes, but I'm going to disagree a little bit with Joe. I do think in this case numbers do matter.
I think exit polling matters more than entrance polling because people are telling you what they did and, to some degree, why. And we did see that Independents swung away from President Obama. That's a fact, and it is something that the White House is going to take a lesson from. And I think we as journalists, as reporters, who are helping readers and viewers in parts of the country that didn't have an election make sense of this, it's pat of our job to explain that this does have some significance, at least right now.
What we don't want to be is predictive and say, well, because this happened now, it's a huge disaster for President Obama in 2010.
KURTZ: Every time I turn on the television set I see somebody telling me what's going to happen.
FOUHY: I know. I know. But my argument would be that that's probably not the best way to use these numbers. The numbers tell us a story about right now, not about a year from now.
KURTZ: Michael Medved, I would say Tuesday was generally a good day for the Republicans. But do you buy the line being pushed by some conservative pundits that -- the spin -- that it is also terrible news for President Obama and the Democrats?
MEDVED: Not necessarily. It's terrible news for whoever happens to be in power. And you see that across the country. I mean, the voters are restive, they're very unhappy.
Look at what happened to Mayor Bloomberg. He was supposed to win in a walk. And here in Seattle, I mean, this is the more undercovered story of the year.
There was a fringe candidate, hugely underfunded. The entire political establishment favored Mallahan, and this guy named McGinn, who rode his bicycle to meetings at the university, is going to be our new mayor.
And in Westchester County, New York, Republicans swept and swept out Democratic rule. In Nassau County, New York. In Pennsylvania, which was undercovered, Republicans swept at least six any maybe all seven of the statewide races.
MEDVED: So I think what you're seeing here is, all across the country, people are saying we are unhappy with our leadership, we're angry, and we want some real change and some real hope.
KURTZ: And Joe, you also had the White House and some commentators on the liberal side saying this doesn't mean anything at all, and that struck me as a bit of spin as well from that side of the equation.
KLEIN: No, I think it is a bit of spin. And I think Michael Medved is right that there is a real antsyness out in the country right now in large part because of the recession, and in large part because the public doesn't like what the government has done in response to the recession even though it seems to have worked at -- it has prevented something far worse, a depression from happening. But still, there's a great deal of anger at big anything -- big government, big business, et cetera.
KURTZ: Beth, did some of our journalistic colleagues -- certainly not all -- downplay the fact that this is not the same electorate as 2008? Many young people, many black voters who came out for President Obama didn't show up, they stayed home. But doesn't that often happen when you have the drop-off from a presidential election year to a governor race?
FOUHY: Absolutely. Absolutely. It's going to be the case the next time, too.
The midterms do not draw the same kind of electorate than a presidential election. But it's a problem for President Obama.
The reason that he won was he transformed the electorate. He brought out people who had never voted before. If those people vote for him once and then never come out again, his agenda is going to be somewhat in peril. He needs them.
KURTZ: Go ahead, Michael.
MEDVED: Yes, that's simply -- this is one of those things that everybody says that isn't true if you look at New Jersey. If you look at the exit polling in New Jersey, this time African-Americans were 16 percent of the electorate. In the Obama election, they were only 14 percent.
So, people did turn out. This minimizes the achievement of Chris Christie, who really turned suburban voters. And that's exactly why he won, and won, I think, by a margin that a lot of people didn't expect.
KURTZ: Do you think, Michael, that the analyses of the very races we're talking about have tended to favor or even be protective of Obama?
MEDVED: No, not necessarily. I mean, I think that again, people are trying to look at this, and this is the big problem. In the Obama era, everything is about the president. Everything is surrounding him.
And look, sometimes there are other political issues. There are other things going.
We do not live in an era in which the only sunlight, the only light, the only significance is Barack Obama. There are a lot of other issues and a lot of other questions.
KURTZ: That is exactly the problem, because people forget -- and people in my business forget -- that you have local candidates, local personalities. There was a third-party candidate in New Jersey, for example.
But I want to toss this question to Joe. Michael mentioned Mayor Michael Bloomberg winning by less than five points. This is a guy who spent $90 million after he changed the term limits...
FOUHY: Of his own money.
KURTZ: ... so he could run for a third time. His own money, yes. He's got plenty of it.
And it was so tight, that look at what happened on MSNBC on Tuesday night, election night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: Right now only seven percent of precincts reporting, but we are able to project a Michael Bloomberg win tonight.
There has been an update in the call tonight. NBC News, relying on a local election monitoring service called EMR, to call tonight's race. The local election monitoring service, EMR, that call has been retracted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The call was retracted because it was obviously closer than anyone had expected.
Why, with all the great political reporters in New York, Joe, didn't anyone warn us that this was going to turn out to be a fairly tight contest?
KLEIN: Well, I don't think -- I think everybody was -- in fairness, I don't know, actually. I wasn't following this race very closely.
KURTZ: But that's the point. If you thought it would have been a close race, you would have followed it a lot more closely, and so would I. KLEIN: Well, I don't know. I've spent most of the last month dealing with foreign policy issues, so I didn't follow this -- I didn't follow this election very closely.
But, you know, you stated the reasons why it became closer, because he spent $90 million and people thought he was buying it. And because he changed the election rule -- the term limit rule, and people thought that that was kind of moving the goalposts.
KLEIN: But I do think that...
KLEIN: ... at times we get surprised by these things when -- and it all depends on who actually comes out and votes on Election Day. Pollsters predict who's going to come out, and their predictions aren't always right.
KURTZ: And the journalistic geniuses sometimes are surprised by what the voters do. The voters still get to decide these things.
Beth Fouhy, here in Washington. Michael Medved in Seattle. Thanks very much for joining us.
Joe, stick around.
When we come back, a look at the cover story on Hillary Clinton in "TIME" magazine this week written by Joe Klein.
But first, as we go to break, "Saturday Night Live" had a little fun with how Fox News was covering or would have covered Tuesday's elections anchored by Greta Van Susteren.
Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's take a look back to New Jersey.
Shepard, break down the results for us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Greta, it was more bad news for Barack Obama. New Jersey went to Republican Chris Christie, and that was the death knell for the Obama administration.
It's official, Greta -- no he can't.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have to cut away to Fox's own Glenn Beck.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Greta. You know, I couldn't sleep Tuesday night because, in my neighborhood, people were pouring into the street and honking their horns in celebration of the return of freedom.
(END VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
KURTZ: She was a first lady, a humiliated wife, a senator, a presidential candidate, and now, of course, secretary of state. Hillary Clinton's media coverage has been decidedly mixed since she joined the Obama cabinet, and she's the subject of this week's "TIME" cover story: "The State of Hillary."
Joe Klein is still with us.
Joe, the media's conventional wisdom, as you noted in your piece, is that Hillary's has been eclipsed, that she's not one of the administration's stars, that she's not running foreign policy.
Are the pundits wrong about those things?
KLEIN: They're wrong about some of those things.
First of all, it's kind of early for us to make a full assessment of this. She spent the first few months trying to acclimate herself into the job, and now she's moving far more into the spotlight.
In this case, the trip that I took with her to Pakistan and the Middle East, both of the special envoys, the famous special envoys, Richard Holbrooke and George Mitchell, who had been doing the heavy lifting of diplomacy the first nine months of the administration, asked for her to come into their regions to change the equation some. I had argued that she succeeded in Pakistan and failed in the Middle East, and so we still have a mixed record.
KURTZ: But why is it that when she makes news over the last nine or 10 months, it tends to be when she's gone off script, said something a little blunt, and sometimes then has to walk it back?
KLEIN: Well, that's because, you know, we overplay gaffes and we underplay reforms. I mean, at the same time, I could argue to you that the most dramatic thing she's been doing diplomatically has been to change the structure of the State Department to really put a new emphasis on how our foreign aid programs are run, and to make them more efficient, because they've been lousy in the past. And I think that that might be her longest-term impact on the department, although her skill as a public diplomat, as she showed in Pakistan, also is a major asset. KURTZ: I think the problem for the media, Joe, is that diplomacy moves very slowly, as you know, and so it doesn't necessarily produce a screaming headline, a great visual.
In fact, I think the biggest story involving Hillary Clinton, not the most important, but the one that got the most play on TV this year, was when...
KLEIN: In Africa. KURTZ: ... she was in the Congo and the student asked that question about "What would your husband think about this?" And she got really mad and said, "I'm not channeling my husband."
KLEIN: But you also have this other problem that's going on in the administration, which is they have a very complicated policy that they're trying to sell. As you just said, diplomacy moves slowly. It's also more confusing and less easy to describe than a war -- you know, a three-week rush into Baghdad, you get a result in three weeks, and then you get a war for five years after that.
But in this case, the administration I think is still struggling to figure out who their lead foreign policy spokesperson's going to be. They've had seven different people on the Sunday morning shows trying to explain the administration -- the president's foreign policy, which is a complicated one. You know, a former Republican secretary of state said to me if you have that many messengers, you don't have a message.
You describe Hillary Clinton in this "TIME" story as a tough interview. Why?
KLEIN: Well, she has always been a very guarded person. I've known her for 20 years now, and we have a pretty good relationship, a pretty good professional relationship. She's great to talk to about issue, but when it comes to talking about herself, there's a kind of very Methodist propriety to her. And there's also -- for 20 years she's been the subject of insane public scrutiny.
KURTZ: Right. And it's interesting to me that when she has done television interviews, on the relatively rare occasions, what's tended to make news or be played -- you know, re-aired as the clip of the day is when she's asked the ritual question about, "Are you going to run for president in 2016?" And she says, no, and what a shock that is.
KURTZ: "TIME" magazine in the past year has had eight cover stories on Barack Obama, one cover story on Michelle Obama. Now on Hillary. "Newsweek," the last two weeks, Obama and Al Gore have been the cover subjects.
Some people are getting the impression these magazines don't find Republicans very newsworthy.
KLEIN: Well, you know, I think that at this point, in the print media, especially in magazines, if something sells, you tend to go back to the well. And people have been very, very interested in Barack Obama.
There aren't any -- we've also had Glenn Beck on our cover...
KURTZ: I was going to point that out. KLEIN: ... of "TIME" magazine, but there aren't that many Republican elected officials who are breaking ground in terms of their personalities or in terms of the issues that they're raising. It mostly has been -- you know, the Republican point of view has mostly been an attempt to block what Obama is doing.
KURTZ: So you're saying it's not just that these news magazines are in any way biased against Republicans. You're saying the Republicans are dull? FOUHY: At this point they don't have all that much to say, except for the extremists who say entirely wild things.
You know, this is a precedent-shattering presidency because of who he is. He's also trying to do very, very, very big things, very controversial things. So he's the center of attention.
You know, it's interesting. Before you were saying that Hillary Clinton didn't get very much attention for the first nine months. That's true. That's what I was trying to rectify in my piece.
You want to have -- you want to feature the major players in the administration. Earlier, I did a big interview with Bob Gates as well. There are a lot of fascinating aspects to this administration, the president being the most fascinating.
KURTZ: Right. You know, I just think it's my job to point out there are two political parties.
Thanks very much, Joe. Good to talk to you this morning.
KLEIN: My pleasure.
KURTZ: Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, Chris Wallace wants the White House to stop boycotting his network. But did the "Fox News Sunday" host hurt his case with a lengthy interview of Rush Limbaugh?
Plus the giant that is Google. Best-selling author Ken Auletta is here to talk about how the Internet powerhouse is transforming the media landscape.
And later, how Alex Rodriguez went from drug-abusing zero to hero.
KING: I'm John King, and this is STATE OF THE UNION. Here are stories breaking this Sunday morning.
The Army chief of staff, General George Casey, says he's worried diversity in the military could become a casualty of the Fort Hood massacre. Appearing here on STATE OF THE UNION earlier, General Casey says he's concerned an increased focus on the accused shooter's Islamic roots could cause a backlash against Muslim soldiers.
The House of Representatives has passed a sweeping health care reform bill. The more than $1 trillion measure squeaked by on a vote of 220-215. Only one Republican voted for it, 39 Democrats broke from their party and voted against it. The bill restricts insurance companies from denying coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. It also includes a government-run public option.
A hurricane watch has been issued for the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts as Hurricane Ida heads toward the United States. The Category 1 storm is now centered about 75 miles from Cozumel, Mexico, and could intensify into a Category 2 storm later today.
Those are your top stories here on STATE OF THE UNION.
KURTZ: Love him or hate him, Rush Limbaugh is, without question, a loud and provocative conservative voice. So it's hardly surprising that he would be a major guest for "Fox News Sunday." But Chris Wallace has been arguing that the White House boycott of Fox News is, well, dumb, and that President Obama should come on his program.
But did Wallace challenge Limbaugh during his half-hour appearance last Sunday, or virtually give him a free pass to attack the president? Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: You have now taken to calling Mr. Obama the man child president.
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Right.
WALLACE: What does that mean?
LIMBAUGH: It just means he's immature, he's a child. I think he's got a five-minute career.
WALLACE: And you suggest that he is taking all of this time to decide what to do in Afghanistan to keep his left-wing base on board for health care reform?
LIMBAUGH: Well, it's partly that, but I also don't think he cares much about it.
WALLACE: Well, come on. You don't think that Barack Obama has a profound respect for our soldiers and the families that are giving the sacrifice?
LIMBAUGH: Chris, throughout the Iraq war it was Barack Obama and the Democrat Party which actively sought the defeat of the U.S. military.
WALLACE: Thank you.
LIMBAUGH: Thank you, Chris.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now to examine the Rush interview and some major television coverage of other big stories this week, in Philadelphia, Gail Shister, the columnist for TVNewser.com and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. And here in Washington, David Zurawik, television critic for "The Baltimore Sun" who writes the blog "Z on TV."
All right, Z, Rush is a major league commentator. He gets to come on and say whatever he wants.
Did Chris Wallace, in your view, sufficiently challenge him?
DAVID ZURAWIK, TELEVISION CRITIC, "THE BALTIMORE SUN": I don't think he gave him a free pass as much as an easy pass, Howie. And I think the worst thing about it was the extreme deference.
Remember how a lot of people got on Brian Williams for almost bowing to President Obama when they did the backstage at the White House two nights? Chris Wallace was beyond that. And it starts right at the top of that interview, when he says, "In a rare interview" -- you know, he talks to us.
And later in the interview you'll see another example of it, when they talk about salary. And Rush is all pumped up about how much money he's going to be making. And Wallace says, "Now, you are a great broadcaster, but even you, are you worth that?" And I thought this is so -- so, his main problem, I think, was extreme deference, but this was a very sophisticated interview.
It wasn't softballs. It was almost like two jazz performers. He would come in and give a little knock on the tom-tom and Rush would take off.
KURTZ: Now, there were times, Gail Shister, when, for example, Wallace said that Obama had improved the economy. Rush obviously didn't give him any credit for that. And he also asked Limbaugh about his experience in drug rehab. But was it a different kind of interview that Wallace would have conducted with a major league liberal commentator who might get that much time?
GAIL SHISTER, COLUMNIST, TVNEWSER.COM: I think that it's painfully obvious. I mean, there's a reason that Rush Limbaugh was chosen to do this interview.
I mean, I don't think it's just coincidence that Roger Ailes produced Rush's syndicated TV from '92 to '96. That didn't just happen. I mean, he's the perfect mouthpiece for Fox.
And I agree with Dave that, yes, Wallace did challenge him from time to time, but basically he did get a free ride. You've got a guy like Rush Limbaugh, who is calling the president of the United States "immature," "narcissistic," with an "out of this world ego," and those are all direct quotes. And to me, it's just Fox saying directly to the White House, FU, look at what we've got, this is who we are. What are you going to do about it?
KURTZ: Well, you're saying it's Fox saying it directly to the White House, but, you know, guests come on CNN and MSNBC with all kinds of strongly-held opinions. It doesn't mean the network is endorsing those opinions.
SHISTER: Well, I would like to know who chose Limbaugh. I would like to know, how much of it was Wallace?
KURTZ: Well, what network wouldn't put on Limbaugh? I had Limbaugh on this program several years ago. He is a "get" in terms of television booking.
The question is, then, what do you do with that interview and how much do you challenge him, or how much do you give him a platform to start whacking away at President Obama?
SHISTER: I think it's a question of how he whacks away. It's one thing to criticize the policies of the president, it's another thing to say he's a man child that is immature and he has an out of this world ego. He wasn't challenged a lot on that.
ZURAWIK: I wouldn't criticize Fox at all for having him on. It's a big interview in terms -- you know, somebody said to me, "Is this a smart move?" I said, " Yes, in terms of ratings, it's probably a smart move." And in terms of Monday morning buzz and having your video out there on the Internet, it's a good move.
I think where it is again with this deference, but also, Howie, when he went to the thing about the pictures, the photographs of Barack Obama at Dover and he called it a photo-op. Right there I think any one of us three would have stopped the interview and said something along the lines, "Well, that's a serious charge. Do you know what you're saying here, that he's exploiting the death of these soldiers essentially?"
Chris Wallace didn't do that. And part of it is Rush's personality. Rush just steam-rolled -- as soon as Chris would start to say something, Rush would steamroller over him.
KURTZ: All right. Let me turn to something else now. And the Limbaugh interview did well in the ratings for Fox.
SHISTER: Why do you think his name is Rush?
KURTZ: Diane Sawyer this week got the first interview, the first public comments from Rihanna after that brutal beating that she suffered at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, Chris Brown.
Let's take a look at some of the ABC interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: Why be ashamed? Why would you be ashamed?
RIHANNA, SINGER: I fell in love with that person. That's embarrassing.
SAWYER: She must have done something? Did she hit him? Did she bait him? Did she rile him? How do you react?
RIHANNA: It's ignorance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: David, it was a very emotional interview. What Rihanna went through was terrible.
How did Diane Sawyer handle it?
ZURAWIK: I thought Diane Sawyer handled it very well. I mean, I really did.
Diane Sawyer is very good at this sort of thing. And you know how great she is when you see people trying to do Diane Sawyer who aren't as experienced. She is very good at this, and this is a really tricky topic.
Howie, it's interesting how much this is in the news. Friday night, MTV had Chris Brown, an interview with him. And we had the Oprah Winfrey thing this week where she kept BeBe Winans off her show, edited him out of show because of an assault.
KURTZ: Let me get to Gail. I mean, was this big news? I mean, the Rihanna beatings -- and we all saw those police photos -- certainly got a lot of attention at the time.
SHISTER: I don't see how it cannot be big news, Howie. What bothered me is that it was Diane Sawyer who did the interview, when she's about to become the main anchor. I don't know whether it's because it was a female-female thing that bothered me, or whether Diane Sawyer is really the queen of the furrowed brow, and when she does these kinds of interviews she's so sincere and she's so connected, that it almost feels over the top.
But I don't think you can dispute that it's a story, the definition of news. When everybody's talking about it, I guess, by definition, it would be a story.
KURTZ: Right. I've got to move on, but I would certainly have a lot of empathy, shall we say, if I were interviewing Rihanna.
I want to talk about the coverage which has been hot and heavy, understandably, in recent days of the Fort Hood shootings, 13 people dead, dozens injured.
Let's look at the opening hours. There wasn't as much speculation as there sometimes is in these cases, but it wasn't exactly absent from the airwaves either.
Let's roll that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CATHERINE HERRIDGE, FOX NEWS: Because that's one of the hallmarks of a terrorist attack.
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: Is this going to wind up being classified as a terrorist attack?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN: If it's an ideological issue here, terrorism, then you have to wonder, are there others out there who are planning or plotting to do the same thing?
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: I assume that if it was a terrorist plot involved here, that we're going to be worrying about this for weeks ahead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: David, investigators now say they believe that Nidal Hasan acted alone.
Why fill the airwaves with that stuff when you don't have the facts? Nobody has any idea whether any other conspirator was involved.
ZURAWIK: Howie, in hindsight we can say, why fill the airwaves with it? KURTZ: Yes.
ZURAWIK: There was -- not evidence, but there was quotes from relatives, quotes from people, quotes from people on the military base that -- you know, I thought of this, and I thought, well, you to put it out there. You know? But once you put out there, it's like wildfire, it sweeps through.
You know, looking back at that initial cable coverage, almost everything that was reported turned out not to be true at first. But I think as a culture...
KURTZ: And that doesn't bother you?
KURTZ: It should bother you.
ZURAWIK: Well, it does bother me, Howie, but let me say two things here.
One, I've covered stories on military bases. They actually have guns to keep you from going where you want to go to get the information. You take what the press officers give you, and they did that.
KURTZ: Yes. I understand.
ZURAWIK: So that's number one.
Number two, what I'm saying is, as a culture, we've come to expect cable news to be kind of a rolling thing where they update and they correct. It's bad. It's terrible.
KURTZ: Well, maybe our expectations are too low.
KURTZ: Gail, I want to play for you some sound from "Fox and Friends." Here's anchor Brian Kilmeade talking about his take on Nidal Hasan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN KILMEADE, FOX NEWS: Do you think it's time for the military to have special debriefings of Muslim Army officers, anybody enlisted? Because if I'm going to be deployed in a foxhole, and I'm going to be sticking in an outpost, I've got to know the guy next to me is not going to want to kill me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, Gail, the fact that Hasan is a Muslim is obviously a relevant fact in this story. But special debriefings? Might want to kill me?
What do you make of that?
SHISTER: What I made of that is I think it's interesting that he said "foxhole." That's what jumped out at me right away.
I think that it's -- without question, it's a Pandora's box. If you start to do special debriefings from Muslims, is that not going to dissuade potential Muslim soldiers from volunteering to fight in the U.S. Army? I think that you start doing it for Muslims, who are you going to do it for next?
One thing about the cable coverage that jumped out at me was when Bill O'Reilly went after all these so-called liberal networks on their coverage, saying that it was despicable that the liberal networks were exploiting, allegedly exploiting, the coverage for political purposes. Despicable. And at the same time, O'Reilly found a way to get in a plug for his ratings, and he was talking about how his ratings were great.
KURTZ: Well, let me go to O'Reilly's point, because I've got very limited time, and the critique from the liberal side.
Here's a piece -- let's put it up on the screen -- in "Newsweek" by Andrew Bast, who writes that, "The U.S. military could well be reaching a breaking point as the president decides to send more troops into Afghanistan. It isn't much of a leap to argue that to further tax our military would do as much as anything to guarantee that the homegrown terror on display today could well repeat itself in the future."
So some people in the media seem to be blaming the war, the military for this heinous act.
ZURAWIK: Well, Howie, one thing on Kilmeade, the problem with that is really that he extrapolates to a whole group from one instant. That's really what is sort of the definition of...
KURTZ: Right. And isn't it the same kind of extrapolation on the liberal side when you say, well, this could lead to more terror incidents because of this horrible war?
ZURAWIK: Yes. Absolutely.
SHISTER: Absolutely, Howie. And what bothers me is, how come nobody has really delved into the fact that this man is a psychiatrist? What kind of connection is there? There might be something there.
KURTZ: All right. We are out of time. And I'm glad you both agreed on something.
Thank you very much, David Zurawik, Gail Shister.
And I just hate it when loudmouths on the left and the right use a tragedy to play the political blame game. After the break, is Google crippling the newspaper and magazine business by lifting their content? Media writer Ken Auletta on his two-year investigation of the controversial company.
KURTZ: Google is a verb, a corporate giant and a way of life. It's that little box on the screen that so many of us use to navigate the Internet. It's also been blamed for the demise of newspapers, and as a mortal threat to people who write books for a living.
Can a search engine really wield that kind of power, or has the company become an all-purpose scapegoat?
Joining us now from New York is Ken Auletta, media writer for "The New Yorker" and author of the new book "Googled: The End of the World as We Know It."
Ken, the end of the world means the old media newspaper people, magazines are dying. And how much of that is Google's fault?
KEN AULETTA, AUTHOR, "GOOGLED": Well, I mean, if you can blame the Internet, Google is a surrogate for the Internet.
AULETTA: But I think that there's much too much whining on the part of traditional media who I think 10 years ago missed the boat. I mean, they didn't create...
KURTZ: Missed the boat? They didn't even know there was a boat.
AULETTA: Yes, I know. In fact, in my story, what I try to do in my story is not just tell the Google story, but tell the story about how traditional or old media woke up too late to the threat that digital world posed for them, and how the steps they didn't take that could have made maybe a difference. But nevertheless, the truth is it's very inefficient to print newspapers and magazines by killing trees, expensive paper, expensive printing plants, and pollution- belching trucks that distribute them.
KURTZ: No question. It seems like a 19th century technology.
But Google produces almost no original content. It's a distribution method. And here you have people like Rupert Murdoch saying here it is stealing content from newspapers and damaging them in the process.
AULETTA: Well, there's no question that the digital world damages. I mean, if you can do a search for Pakistan, what happened today, and get back links from thousands of newspapers and magazines around the world, that lessens your reliance on "The Wall Street Journal" or "The New York Times."
KURTZ: But doesn't it also help newspapers if your story or my story comes up in that Google search, somebody clicks and finds the online version of our story? Then we're getting a little bit of traffic out of it.
AULETTA: You get traffic, which is great. The problem is that when you -- you get two or three lines and then you click on the site. Let's say it takes you to "The New York Times" or "The Wall Street Journal." The problem is The Times or "The Wall Street Journal" could sell an ad off that traffic. But the ad only gets a tenth of the amount of money that an ad in the print newspaper gets.
So the problem becomes that as your audience shrinks for the print edition of your newspaper, the compensating revenue from your online ads don't compensate.
KURTZ: Which is precisely why we've seen so many layoffs and actually newspapers that have gone bankrupt in this past year.
Here's an interesting point that you raise. Eric Schmidt is CEO of Google, told you in your research that his gang had discussed actually buying "The New York Times."
How serious was that?
AULETTA: They did. Well, the problem they face -- and it's one of the reasons why they want to help papers like The Times or The Journal if they can -- but they're never going to help them the way The Times would like them to help them, which is to give them the huge amount of cash flow.
But the truth is, Google Search is dependent on good quality information appearing near the top of your search results. "The New York Times" is the best newspaper in the world, and so you want to have that information there.
If The Times doesn't exist, if it doesn't have the resources that it has in Afghanistan or Iraq, you're going to suffer and Google Search will suffer. The problem for Google and the reason they decided not to pursue this and talk to The Times about it was that Google decided it has to be a neutral Switzerland as a search engine, and that if it owned a content company like "The New York Times," it would be perceived as favoring its own content.
KURTZ: Right, although a lot of media organizations and companies try to find ways to game the system so that their results will come in, in the first five that come up on a Google search, because that can be so important.
Now, Google also trying to build a vast online library, having disagreements with authors and publishers about that effort. Did one of the founders -- did I get this right -- of Google ask you why you didn't just publish your book online? AULETTA: Yes. In my second interview with co-founder Sergey Brin, he came in on his rollerblades and he threw his knapsack down on the table and he said, "Ken, let me ask you a question." He said, "Why don't you just publish a book for free online and get a much larger audience for it?"
And I said, "Well, I might bet a larger audience, but who's going to pay me an advance so I have money to live on since I'm on leave from "The New Yorker" to do this? And by the way, Sergey, who's going to edit my book and who's going to do an index? And who's going to market it? And who's going to pay for my expenses to come out here as many times I'm coming out here?"
And, of course, at that point, Sergey Brin changed the subject. But it revealed two things, I think. One is that this is a guy that doesn't know much about publishing. I mean, he's idealistic and he wants to digitize all the books, but he doesn't think about how content creators or writers or directors or screenwriters make money.
AULETTA: And secondly, I think it suggested an attitude about copyright, which is that it's not as important to the people at Google as it is the notion of what's called fair use, which is, let's get all of the information for free and put it out there on the Internet.
KURTZ: Right. But here you've spent a couple of years of your life researching and writing this book, and obviously you don't want to give it away.
Here's an interesting thing. You know, a decade ago, Microsoft was a big Internet company and Google was a blip. Could Google, in turn, become a stodgy old company? Are Facebook and Twitter now stealing some of Google's thunder?
AULETTA: You know, I tell a story at beginning of chapter two. I interviewed Bill Gates in 1998, and I said, "Mr. Gates, what do you worry about when you think about the future?" And I thought he would name a competitor like Netscape or Oracle. And instead, he gently rocked back and forth and he said, "I worry about someone in a garage inventing a technology I've never thought about and that will challenge Microsoft."
Well, in 1998, two guys were in a garage, Sergey Brin and Larry Page...
AULETTA: ... the inventors of Google. Now what Google has to worry about, among many things, a company that has become as large, as fast as it's become has to worry about, they have to worry about social networks and how they might get into search. For instance, when I do a search, if you put in your search...
KURTZ: I've got about 10 seconds here, Ken. AULETTA: OK. I mean, the problem is the social network can allow you to contact your friends and ask them for their advice, rather than getting 10,000 responses.
KURTZ: Right. And it's a lot more personal. And in some ways it's a lot more fun.
All right. Ken Auletta. The book is "Googled."
Thanks very much for talking with us this morning.
AULETTA: Thanks, Howie.
KURTZ: Up next, the New York Yankees are world champions. Does that mean the press is now willing to forgive A-Rod?
KURTZ: Well, it turned out to be a pretty good World Series, at least if you were a Yankee fan. But more than just the world championship was at stake with the contest with the Phillies. There was also the question of how the media portrayed Major League Baseball and one of its biggest stars.
KURTZ (voice-over): Alex Rodriguez, who choked in several previous post-seasons, helped power the Bronx Bombers to victory in this year's playoffs and World Series. But roll back the tape just 10 months.
A-Rod was caught in a career-threatening lie. After such superstars as Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds were found to have been using steroids, A-Rod was outed by "Sports Illustrated," and his previous denials rendered inoperative.
KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: For the record, have you ever used steroids, human growth hormone or any other performance-enhancing substance?
ALEX RODRIGUEZ, NEW YORK YANKEES: No.
You know, At the time, Peter, I wasn't even being truthful with myself. How am I going to be truthful with Katie or CBS?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, he's not coming clean. And you don't know what the truth is when it comes to Alex Rodriguez.
KURTZ: But that was then. No less an authority than "The New York Times" said this week: "Alex Rodriguez is ending the baseball season not as the former steroids user, but as a home run hero. In the process, he may be clearing a path forward for himself and his much-maligned sport."
So, all it takes is to smash a few balls over the wall and all is forgotten? It's true that successful athletes have a way of winning over the crowd.
Kobe Bryant admitted cheating on his wife with a hotel employee several years ago, but sexual assault charges were dropped. And Laker fans cheered when he led the team to another championship this year. Rick Pitino is riding high as the University of Louisville basketball coach after apologizing for having sex in a restaurant with a woman who later tried to extort him.
A-Rod has been trying to soften his media image in other ways. After hanging around with Madonna, leading to allegations of infidelity from his wife, now the divorced superstar is dating Kate Hudson and trying to avoid becoming tabloid fodder. And the New York tabloids love the guy. The messy breakup and the drug scandal now deemed yesterday's news.
KURTZ: Now, I admit I cheered when Rodriguez put those runs on the board. That's what fans do. But I don't think his lying and drug use, the scourge that became baseball shame, is so easily erased. That will take more than one World Series ring. It will take some time.
Still to come, bam! The Food Network beats out Fox News, at least when it comes to the White House.
KURTZ: President Obama has already been on virtually every television show, from Leno to Letterman, from "The View" to ESPN. But there's one channel he doesn't quite have the chops for. So he gave that mouth-watering assignment to his wife.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALTON BROWN, FOOD NETWORK: The time has come for our gastronomical battle royale.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is "Iron Chef America."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: That's right. "Iron Chef America" is coming to the White House.
Michelle Obama will play host to Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay and Mario Batali to battle the White House chefs with ingredients plucked from the first lady's famous vegetable garden.
Now, maybe there's some kind of role for the president as judge or taste tester or chief dessert eater, or something. I don't know. But the message here is that the White House is serious about blanketing the airwaves whether the venues are nutritious or just plain junk food.
And John King, as I turn things back over to you this Sunday morning, President Obama had another one of those off-the-record lunches for journalists the other day. We'll put up some of the pictures here -- Cynthia Tucker, David Brooks and Gail Collins of "The New York Times" were there. CNN's David Gergen, and also people like Mike Allen from Politico, "Washington Post" blogger Chris Cillizza, and Josh Marshall, liberal blogger from the "Talking Points Memo."
As somebody who has visited the Obama White House once or twice, what do you get out of these sessions if everything is off the record?
KING: Well, I think it's helpful to get eye to eye-contact with the president, get a sense of his mood, get a sense of what he's thinking, what might behind certain decisions he's making. I've been over there before, usually around the State of the Union or big speeches like that, that a president gives. And this is a tradition that goes back many, many administrations. And I think even this president, who is very accessible, any time you can get a little bit of time -- maybe it's not one-on-one time, but a little more casual, relax time -- hopefully you learn something.
KURTZ: And hopefully the food is at least as it good as it would be on the Food Network.
All right, John. Back to you.
KING: Amen to that. Howie, you take care. Have a great Sunday.