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STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING
Aired December 6, 2009 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: For once, the predictably partisan lines were scrambled. The right-wing media haven't found much to like about President Obama this year, what with the big stimulus package, and the sweeping health care bill, and climate change, and bowing to the emperor, and flying his wife to his New York, and just about everything else. And the left-wing media pretty much applauded the president for his eloquence and his ambitious agenda, and for not being George W. Bush.
But Obama's decision to send another 30,000 upon troops to Afghanistan is supported by most Republicans and opposed by many Democrats. So did the conservative pundits praise his televised speech this week?
Well, not quite.
KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: The core of tonight was good news, but it was badly delivered in a weak frame.
STEVEN HAYES, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I think it was one of the worst speeches I could imagine in support of the right policy decision.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: It's not exactly the kind of speech that you would have heard from Henry V or Churchill.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: I didn't hear Winston Churchill. I did not hear Ronald Reagan. I didn't hear George Bush.
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: I did not see a Winston Churchill-type performance. The president's speech tonight was OK, but not exactly "The Gettysburg Address."
KURTZ (voice-over): Mainstream and liberal commentators, meanwhile, ranged from lukewarm to outright skeptical.
BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: I just don't understand the logic of how that works. It seems to me that what the president did tonight was try to make a speech that had a little something for everybody.
BILL PRESS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: It's a huge gamble on Obama's part. I think it's a big mistake.
(END VIDEOTAPE) KURTZ: So, has the Obama surge been fairly portrayed or subjected to partisan distortions?
Joining us now, Chip Reid; White House correspondent for CBS News; David Frum, editor of FrumForum.com and a former speechwriter for President George Bush; and Michelle Cottle, senior editor at "The New Republic."
Chip Reid, the president had lunch for a bunch of writers -- Tom Friedman, Fareed Zakaria, and others -- and there's detailed reconstructions of how he made this decision with lots of help from the White House in this morning's "New York Times," "Washington Post," but even mainstream commentators like your CBS colleague Bob Schieffer saying this makes no sense, to send a lot of troop and then pull them out a year later.
Is the media reaction a problem for the White House?
REID: I think they believe it's not going to be. They believe the American people are going to gradually come on board with this thing. Of course, it's all going to depend on the success of the actual mission, but they don't seem to be terribly worried about that right now in talking to them.
They're worried about -- they were worried about a bit about this whole idea of July 11th being a time to get out, and it looked like when Gates went on the Hill he made it sound like it was flexible. They're saying no, absolutely not.
KURTZ: I want to come back to that, on your reporting on that. But let me turn first to David Frum.
Conservatives, many of them, support President Obama's Afghan policy. And they slammed him in the speech -- no "Gettysburg Address," you heard that he's no Churchill.
Are some on the right just incapable of praising Barack Obama?
FRUM: No. Some on the right are too fond of stirring rhetoric.
You know, I've been thinking about this Churchill analogy a lot. In Churchill's last term in office, he was the prime minister who launched this very successful British counterinsurgency in Malaya, and he did it without making a single memorable speech.
It is not always 1940. It is not always our finest hour. And it is not always true that you will fight for victory at all costs.
If President Obama had gone on television and said, "My policy is victory at all costs in Afghanistan," people would think he'd lost his mind. What they want his victory at reasonable costs.
KURTZ: Michelle Cottle, could there have been a more grudging reaction than some of what we heard -- no Churchill, no "Gettysburg Address," but he's doing the right thing? COTTLE: No, of course not. But I think it's exactly what we should have expected. I mean, at this point, Obama has been criticized so many times for being nothing but soaring speeches, and now everybody is criticizing him for not having a soaring speech. Basically, he could have stood up and said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," and they would have gone, not so...
KURTZ: All right.
Let me come back with you, Chip Reid, because you, at the White House, challenged a key part on this policy the president announced. That is, that we will begin to withdraw American troops in July of 2011.
What did you do and how did the White House react?
REID: Well, at the briefing the day after the speech, Gibbs and I kind of went round and round on this after Secretary Gates and others on Capitol Hill had suggested that it was a plan and they didn't argue with one senator's characterization of it as a target. Gibbs called me as I was writing the sentence in my script for that night that said, "It appears that this date is not etched in stone," which makes me think maybe they're reading my scripts as I write them -- I don't know.
But he called me at that moment, and he said, "Could you come to my office?" And I went to his office, and he said, "It is etched in stone and I have the chisel."
He went to the president after the briefing, and the president said, absolutely, it is not flexible. Of course, that still leaves a lot of questions open. Does that mean they can pull out 250 troops from some remote part of Afghanistan and say there, we did it, we began the drawdown?
KURTZ: Well, when you say you're going to begin...
REID: We're going to begin. They're going to begin. But what is the beginning? Very unclear, but it is etched in stone. Something will happen that month.
FRUM: The focus on the troop deployment means that a lot of other questions that the media should be asking are not being asked.
For example, STATE OF THE UNION, just a few minutes ago, Dianne Feinstein suggested that aid should be flown to the localities. Well, one of the big questions that people have about Afghanistan is, is it time to unravel the central government and pretend that it's not there because it's such a failure? Now, that was a very interesting clue the senator dropped. That is as big a story as the troop numbers.
KURTZ: Why are journalists not pressing these kinds of questions? FRUM: Because we have a Washington tick-tock focus, and the president is the star, and things that the president does not directly own through his speeches don't get attention, no matter how important they are.
KURTZ: Now, it's interesting. If you turn to the left side of the spectrum, liberal commentators, many of them are either opposed to this surge or are lukewarm about it, except for Michael Moore, who are just in outright opposition. It seems to be they're treading carefully. They don't particularly want to mount a frontal assault on President Obama.
COTTLE: Well, they've got their man in office. You know, they don't want to make it too difficult for him.
KURTZ: But aren't some of them disillusioned of this president?
COTTLE: Of course. And I think, increasingly, the people who really thought he was going to come in and pull all the troops out of Iraq and end the war in Afghanistan are having to go back and look at -- you know, the rhetoric was never that clear even during the campaign. But of course the left is disillusioned. But at the same time, there are a lot of issues that he's taken care of that they want dealt with.
They don't want to pile on. I mean, he's got enough criticism coming at him. He's not going to get away unscathed, but, sure.
KURTZ: Journalists certainly asked the president about Afghanistan during the campaign, and he always tried to -- of course, Iraq was the big issue then. He always tried to separate it from Iraq by saying this was the war of necessity, this was the good war.
So why should anyone be shocked that he is...
REID: Well, there were occasions when he made clear not only that Afghanistan was the necessary war, but he actually said he's going to escalate the number of troops in Afghanistan and he's going to get the job done. I don't remember if he used those exact words that he used this time around, but that was the point that he made on many occasions. There were other times when he was a bit more vague about it, but I went back and looked, and there are many times when he made that very clear.
COTTLE: Oh, sure. And voters don't listen to the details a lot of the times. They have this image in their head of Bush as warmonger and Obama as answer to warmonger. And that is the narrative they will stick with until they drop dead.
FRUM: Wait a moment. The Democrats have run on more troops for Afghanistan in two consecutive presidential elections. It was a major theme of John Kerry, too. And one of the things we ought to be asking is, you know, is the good war always the war America's not fighting and the bad war the war America is fighting?
And there really is a question of bait and switch here. That this was the way Democrats proved they were serious about national security, and it turns out when it's their war, in fact, they don't mean it.
KURTZ: Well, where's the switch? The president is sending 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.
FRUM: Where's his party? The president is one man. He's going to do this with Republican votes, not Democratic votes.
KURTZ: Which is an interesting scrambling of the lines for the media.
FRUM: He's a bipartisan president.
KURTZ: Of course, this may be the first thing the Republicans have supported since the day he took the oath of office.
One commentator over at MSNBC took issue with the venue that the president spoke. Of course, at West Point.
Let's take a look at what Chris Matthews had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: I didn't see a lot of warmth in that crowd out there the president chose to address tonight, and I thought that was interesting. He went to maybe the enemy camp tonight to make his case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: An enemy camp? Is that a fairly dumb thing to say?
COTTLE: It is actually really a dumb thing to say. It emphasizes that whole idea that Democrats don't appreciate the military and the military don't like Democrats.
You know, I think it was actually a good move for him. I mean, you had a scene of him schmoozing with the soldiers, and then people talk to the -- I think it was a good -- I think it was better than sitting in the Oval Office and kind of doing this so antiseptically.
KURTZ: Yes. Well, Matthews, to his credit, issued a full apology for using that phrase, "enemy camp," about West Point.
This business about 2011 that Chip has been reporting on, I mean, it leaves me confused. I mean, the journalists -- you know, all the headlines the next day were the troops go in and many of them come out, and now we don't quite know what the situation is.
Should we be continuing to press about that?
FRUM: Do American schoolchildren grow up with that nursery rhyme about the grand old Duke of York who marched his troops up to the top of the hill and then marched them down again? It's an astonishing commitment for the president to have made, especially in face of all of the difficulties he knew.
And we read in "The New York Times" this morning the story of the tick-tock, of how he was presented with a (INAUDIBLE) of showing the influx and the outgo, and the president said, can we move this thing to the left? And it's like the joke -- the military said, sure, we can move the graph on the paper any way you want, but that is not what is conducive to success.
KURTZ: White House officials very cooperative with that tick- tock, as we call it, except for the one in "The Washington Post." General Jim Jones, who John King talked to earlier, was the only person quoted on the record. But, boy, there was a lot of stuff provided to journalists off the record.
Friday night, a new scandal story emerged involving Senator Max Baucus, leading -- one of the leading Democrats in the health care debate. It turns out that he recommended to the U.S. attorney, the top federal prosecutor in his home state of Montana, his girlfriend, a woman who had been on his Senate payroll and suddenly was being -- she did not get the job, but she was on this list.
And so, my question is -- I looked at the papers this morning -- and I'll start with you, Chip. "The Washington Post" has it on page three; "The New York Times" has it on page 33.
I watched CNN all day yesterday. I didn't see any mention of this story, which I thought was a stunning lapse in judgment.
Why isn't this a bigger story?
REID: Well, I don't think it has legs because there's no sex scandal. It's not like Vitter, it's not like Ensign. There's no scandal here, and there's a long history...
KURTZ: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute.
Baucus was married. OK, he was separated. He has this relationship with a woman on his Senate...
REID: Well, beyond separated. His wife wasn't even on his Christmas cards. They were done.
KURTZ: All right. He has this relationship with a woman on his Senate payroll, and he pushes her for a top job in the Justice Department. Why would that not be a scandal?
REID: It's because there's a long history of senators nominating people they are very close to...
KURTZ: "Very close to" is the key phrase.
REID: Yes, exactly.
FRUM: It's enormous, because the U.S. attorney there is the chief anti-corruption officer in that district. And what are the odds that that anti-corruption officer would ever investigate anything that Max Baucus doesn't want investigated?
COTTLE: It's not fair (ph) because she didn't get it. If she had gotten it, this would have more legs. But they basically had her voluntarily withdraw from the process once the relationship got more serious, or more involved, or whatever.
I mean, as far as scandals go, there's no hookers, there's no payments. This doesn't quite rise to the level of juiciness that's required.
KURTZ: Now you zeroed in it, right.
Well, I just think that news organizations that have played this down have left themselves open to charges after the John Ensign story and after the Mark Sanford story that they're a little less enthusiastic about Democratic scandal.
COTTLE: Eliot Spitzer? Come on.
KURTZ: Well, Eliot Spitzer...
COTTLE: Eliot is everybody's favorite.
COTTLE: Well, that's it.
KURTZ: There are examples...
FRUM: ... the Mayflower Hotel. He might as well have done it in Grand Central Station.
KURTZ: There are examples on both sides.
All right. Chip Reid, Michelle Cottle, David Frum, thanks very much for joining us.
Ahead, Tiger Woods, the media and the mistresses.
But first, mergers and acquisitions.
George Stephanopoulos taking a giant step toward being a morning person. Is that a good fit? And what about his Sunday morning show?
Plus, NBC goes Comcastic. We'll talk about the potential impact of that mega media marriage.
KURTZ: He exploded on the national scene as a top White House adviser to Bill Clinton, then jumped to ABC and eventually took over its Sunday morning talk show. Now George Stephanopoulos is about to climb another wrung on the network ladder.
I broke the news this week that ABC has offered him the job of co-hosting "Good Morning America," where Stephanopoulos would replace Diane Sawyer, who is ending her nine-year run at "GMA" this week before moving to the evening shift and anchoring "World News."
But is George Stephanopoulos ready for morning television with its love of movie stars and crime stories and cooking segments?
Joining us now in Los Angeles, Sharon Waxman, editor-in-chief of TheWrap.com, and in New York, Marissa Guthrie, who reports for "Broadcasting & Cable" magazine.
Sharon Waxman, does it make sense to take a guy like Stephanopoulos, who's steeped in politics, used to work for the White House, take him out of Washington, off the program this week, and put him on a morning show?
SHARON WAXMAN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THEWRAP.COM: It's definitely a curious choice. I mean, usually television's going in the other way of making -- putting fluffier in more serious jobs. That's sort of been the debate around putting Katie Couric in the nighttime anchor slot, and even Diane Sawyer.
So what they're doing is kind of the opposite, is taking the gravitas that they've got and putting it in a much more diverse and broad and mass consumer kind of middle America market. So, I don't know what the thinking is, but it's definitely a curious choice.
KURTZ: Marisa, Stephanopoulos was picked over Chris Cuomo, who is already the news anchor at "GMA" and part of that ensemble.
Do you see him and morning television as a good fit?
MARISA GUTHRIE, "BROADCASTING & CABLE" MAGAZINE: Well, it's interesting, because, you know, I look back to the days when Charlie and Diane were anchoring the show. Charlie was sort of your avuncular uncle. Diane was the charming and somewhat steely magnolia.
George is like the smartest kid in the class who always made sure you knew he was the smartest kid in the class. He's not exactly the sit down in your moo moo with your coffee kind of guy.
He's very wonky and very cerebral. He's very smart, though, so I think, you know, he's -- and you have to be able to do both.
This is the question. Is he going to be comfortable dressing up in the Halloween costume and doing the cooking segments? We know he's a great newsmaker/interviewer.
KURTZ: But even if you don't have to dress up in the costumes, you do have to talk about your kids. I mean, you have to sort of have breakfast with the audience. Now, it's interesting, Sharon, because Diane Sawyer, a mega star, leaving that show, leaves a big gap. And morning television -- and this is the dilemma ABC faces -- is a big moneymaker. So, filling that seat.
WAXMAN: Yes, it's a huge piece of the -- yes -- huge piece of moneymaking product in the news machine. So, I think that also points to kind of the lack of young, ready-for-camera talent in the ranks of ABC News. I hate to say it, but, I mean, you need somebody who has that, just as we're talking about that balance of "yes" news chops, but at the same time being able to be really folksy.
I personally am willing to say that I don't think George is going to like it. I mean, I don't think that that sort of fits his self image in a way. And it's going to be a very interesting period of time to watch how he adapts to that.
KURTZ: He definitely has had reservations. And, of course, he has to fit in with Robin Roberts, the other co-host.
And Marisa, my sources say that the negotiations are still ongoing. Stephanopoulos is asking that the program be revamped. That there be hard news, less fluff, less cooking and fashion, playing more to his strengths. But I wonder if that is realistic with -- particularly in the second hour of these morning shows. They have a largely female audience.
GUTHRIE: Well, that's the question, and you have to be careful. I mean, I don't think that's a bad thing on its face, to make the show fit the host, because the host has to be comfortable. If the host isn't comfortable, the audience is going to know it.
But I think you have to really be careful to do too much tinkering, because morning TV is what it is. I mean, you have to have that range. No other broadcast is created and, you know, is formatted in such a way that you have to have this really incredible range of being comfortable doing all of these things.
KURTZ: Yes, I think -- go ahead.
GUTHRIE: And I'm not sure this is a game-changer for them.
I mean, a few years ago, when Charlie and Diane were anchoring, "Good Morning America" was really closing the gap on "The Today Show." For the November sweeps period, the gap was 1.3 million viewers.
KURTZ: Yes. It's very hard to challenge that "Today" franchise.
KURTZ: Let me turn to the other big media news this week, and it had to be, of course, the lead story on "The Today Show."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MEREDITH VIEIRA, NBC NEWS: Good morning. We've been sold. VIEIRA: General Electric has signed an agreement this morning to sell control of NBC Universal, our parent company, to Comcast, creating one of the biggest media companies in history.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Sharon Waxman, you were the first to report that Comcast and General Electric, NBC's current owner, were in talks.
How important is the NBC television network to Comcast, as opposed to CNBC, MSNBC, Bravo, the Sci Fi Channel?
WAXMAN: You may not believe this, but it is true that NBC, for the purposes of this deal, was valued at zero.
WAXMAN: I have the chart. I published it. Zero.
So, I wouldn't say they weren't interested in NBC, but the reason, it's very clear financially, and in everything they said, the reason they made this deal, Comcast, was to buy the cable channels. And that's Sci Fi, that's USA Network, that's Bravo, and they're going to put that together with E! and the other -- the Golf Channel and all the things that Comcast has, and they have a massive, once it passes federal regulatory scrutiny...
KURTZ: All right. Well, one day I'll figure it out.
WAXMAN: ... which everybody thinks it will.
KURTZ: Yes, if it passes and gets regulatory scrutiny. And this is not going happen for at least a year. Comcast tried to buy Disney and ABC some years ago, and that ultimately failed.
Let me turn to Marisa.
WAXMAN: A year to year and a half, yes.
KURTZ: Consumer advocates, some critics are saying that Comcast will now control the distribution of cable television programming, and a lot of content, and the Universal film library, and that this is too much power concentrated in a single company.
GUTHRIE: Well, that's certainly the knee-jerk reaction, and I think where it really gives Comcast a leg up is over the satellite and telco providers like DirecTV and Verizon FIOS. But I think as technology continues to give consumers more choice, we're going to see more and more of these kind of mergers that marry distribution and content, because companies need to get -- to figure out a way to get 00 as the advertising model has broken down, companies need to get -- figure out a way to get paid for the high cost of producing that content.
So, I think, in a sense, it could -- I mean, there are so many regulatory hurdles, and they have made overtures to not interfering with the news and public affairs programming on NBC, and also in beefing up children's programming. So I think we're going to see a lot of these questions asked in the regulatory process.
Sharon, I've got half a minute.
I mean, Jeff Zucker is the chief executive of NBC Universal, and he apparently is going to remain in that job despite the fact that Comcast is paying all this money. It's valued as a $30 billion deal.
Are you surprised that they would keep the guy presiding over the fourth (ph) placed network?
WAXMAN: There's two ways to answer that question. Yes, I am surprised that they would keep him, but the fact that he's staying in place now doesn't really mean they're going to keep him. That's kind of the public posture, and we'll see if they really mean it.
They have to keep him in place during this period of time while they try to close the deal and get the feds to agree to let them do it. It would be very destabilizing for them to tell Jeff Zucker now that he'll be leaving. So, whether they actually mean what they say, there is an open question.
KURTZ: In other words, we'll watch that space.
Sharon Waxman and Marisa Guthrie, thanks very much for stopping by this morning.
Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, bunker mentality. Tiger Woods clams up after his car crash, while the press keeps unearthing one alleged mistress after another.
Does the world's top golfer deserve this tabloid treatment?
And later, swing and a miss. A Fox News interview with Derek Jeter leaves out a key statistic.
Plus, party crashers, two weeks later. Why are the media still yammering about those two uninvited socialites and their Facebook moment of fame?
KING: I'm John King, and this is STATE OF THE UNION. Here are stories breaking this Sunday morning.
President Obama's national security adviser is trying to clarify exactly when the United States is planning to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. July 2011 is the target date to begin pulling out.
Speaking on this program earlier today, General James Jones said that date should be viewed as a transition point, not a cliff. Jones says there will be a downward ramp for U.S. troops beginning in 18 months. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is also responding to President Obama's new war strategy. In an exclusive interview on CNN's "AMANPOUR," President Karzai says it will take at least two years before Afghan forces can begin taking the lead in security operations. He urged patience from the international community, saying if it takes longer, "They must be with us."
President Obama makes a rare visit to Capitol Hill later today. He'll meet with Senate Democrats and urge them to work out their differences on health care. A few sticking points -- the government- run public option and abortion.
Those are your top stories here on STATE OF THE UNION.
KURTZ: From the moment Tiger Woods' Cadillac ran into that tree, it was clear the world's top golfer wanted to stay in the bunker. While Woods remained silent, "The National Enquirer" stepped up its reporting that he had an affair with a New York party girl named Rachel Uchitel, and that this had angered Tiger's wife Elin and precipitated the late-night accident.
Now, some news organizations wouldn't touch that with a 10-foot golf club, but the allegation produced a spate of sensational headlines for the New York tabloids. The sex scandal aspects quickly spread to the cable news channels and then the network newscasts.
RANDALL PINKSTON, CBS NEWS (voice-over): There's speculation that she may have been angered by a "National Enquirer" report that Woods had been involved with another woman, New York club manager Rachel Uchitel.
VIEIRA: New developments on Tiger Woods' car accident. He has now backed out in appearing at his own charity golf tournament, and this as a one woman tabloid linked to the golfer vehemently denies they ever had an affair.
JOHN BERMAN, ABC NEWS: New York nightclub host Rachel Uchitel tells "The New York Post" the tabloid rumors of an affair are simply not true.
KURTZ (voice-over): But that was a chip shot compared to the report in "US Weekly," which said that a nightclub staffer named Jaimee Grubbs had the voicemails and text messages to prove she had an affair with Woods. A single phone message was endlessly replayed on television and radio and prompted Tiger to apologize.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
TIGER WOODS, GOLFER: Hey, it's Tiger. I need you to do me a huge favor. Can you please take your name off your phone? My wife went through my phone and may be calling you.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, did Tiger's stonewalling just fuel the media's desire to find out what he was hiding? And is the sex life of a professional athlete, even a really, really famous one, fair game for the press?
Joining us now in New York, Bradley Jacobs, senior editor for "US Weekly"; Will Leitch, contributing editor at "New York Magazine" and founder of the sports blog DeadSpin.com; and in Los Angeles, Lisa Bloom, legal analyst for CNN.
Bradley Jacobs, Tiger, I think, not your usual cover subject, but is this "US Weekly's" idea of a great story -- sports, sex and text messages?
JACOBS: Absolutely. You had a wife, a golf club and a smashed- up car. This really piqued our interest.
JACOBS: Early last Friday morning, we put our whole reporting team on it, and along the way we met Jaimee Grubbs, who wanted to tell her story about her two-and-a-half-year-long affair with Tiger. And that voicemail, of course, was the smoking gun, the voicemail heard around the world, and it just kind of went from there.
KURTZ: It did seem that that voicemail was played every four or five minutes on television.
I want to come back to the Jaimee Grubbs story.
Lisa Bloom, did Tiger Woods escalate this media frenzy by basically putting out a couple of vague statements as these allegations -- and there are even more this morning -- of various affairs swirled around him?
BLOOM: Right. For those keeping track at home, the tabloid reports are now up to four -- four mistresses that apparently Tiger Woods allegedly had.
KURTZ: Now there's a fifth one in "The London Daily Mail." I'll mention that later, but go ahead So you need a scorecard.
I don't know who was advising Tiger Woods as to how to do PR, but putting up vague statements on your Web site is clearly not the answer. I think for Tiger Woods, it's been a week of Whack-A-Mole. As one pops up and then she gets quieted up, somebody else comes out of the woodwork.
I don't know how many more are going to be coming out and speaking. I noticed that the rate of disclosure has slowed down. It's taken three days for a new one to come out. So, initially it was one every day, for about three days, so at this rate, maybe there will just be a few more and then that will be it.
BLOOM: That is really a disaster for Tiger Woods.
KURTZ: Will Leitch, I look at the sports sections, for example, of "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post." And it almost seems like they're running from this story. In one "New York Times" piece, Jaimee Grubbs wasn't mentioned until the 17th and 18th paragraph, and some of these pieces haven't even named the women. Are they protecting Tiger Woods?
LEITCH: Well, you know, it's just really the way that sports journalism has always kind of been set up, is this idea. We were talking about the idea that these people have been covering Tiger Woods for years, but he's not even like the regular kind of athlete. It's not like he was on a team that was covered.
He's been in a bunker his entire life. And so the way that he would handle this situation is entirely in tune with the way that Tiger Woods has handled everything, which is, don't give anything of yourself.
He basically tried to follow the old Michael Jordan model that Nike kind of gave him, was the idea to, like, say nothing, have no stance on anything, be all things for all people, and give nothing of yourself. And I think that's why so much of this has happened outside of the sports world, was because they're treating him like he's a regular celebrity, but to him, he's always been this global corporation. And I think journalists have always kind of treated him that way.
KURTZ: Right. Well, that strategy clearly has not worked.
Bradley Jacobs, let me come back to US Weekly's role in this.
Why would Jaimee Grubbs, who is the second alleged mistress to come out, why would she talk to your magazine and provide the voicemail?
JACOBS: She told us, Howard, that she was actually kind of bitter and angry when she read about Rachel Uchitel. She thought, in her own way, that she was the only other woman besides Tiger's wife, and she wanted to get her story out there.
Jaimee is also a woman who's been on a reality TV show. She was on a VH-1 program called "Tool Academy." She is a woman who does like the spotlight, and I think that that's one of the reasons why she came to us.
KURTZ: "Tool Academy," a very bizarre dating show.
But there are reports, as you know, that "US" paid her $150,000 to do these interviews.
LEITCH: We don't discuss our news-gathering process, we never have, Howard, but I'll tell you, we looked at all 300 texts. We interviewed her for three hours. We talked to her best friend. Her story was nuanced and detailed, completely checked out. There was nothing in here that made us uncomfortable. KURTZ: OK. So you're saying the story was accurate. But when I ask you if "US" magazine paid for this, and you say, "We don't discuss our news-gathering process," you know everybody out watching is going to say of course they paid her.
LEITCH: Howard, we're not going to discuss it here.
KURTZ: You're not able to deny it.
LEITCH: We're not able to discuss it here.
KURTZ: Why is that? Why is that? Why can't you discuss it?
LEITCH: We're just not going to. There is just a lot -- there was no reason to doubt her. We listened to the voicemail, we listened to --we read all those texts. They were very specific texts from Tiger about what freeway to take to meet him on...
KURTZ: No, no, you had the evidence. There's no question about that. The question is how the evidence was obtained.
Let me move on to Lisa Bloom.
In his statement, Tiger Woods said he was dismayed to realize what the full extent of what tabloid scrutiny means. Here's a guy who's the world's number one golfer, he's gotten almost $1 billion in endorsements by having his name and his image projected around the world.
He didn't think he was going to get this kind of scrutiny? What was he thinking?
BLOOM: Yes. Blaming the media is never a good approach, I think, for a celebrity like Tiger Woods. And this is a man, let's face it, who is engaged in abject cruelty against his own wife.
If any of these reports are true, I mean, three-year-long affairs with Jaimee Grubbs, in one case, and with the new one who is alleging a long-term affair as well, while his wife is pregnant twice? I mean, this is a man who is either as dumb as a box golf balls in thinking that none of this was going come out, or he just didn't care. I mean, either way, it's a horrendous story when you think about his wife and what she must be going through, and how foreseeable all of this was.
Nevertheless, Tiger Woods chose to put himself first. And I have to tell you, Howard, I mean, women who I speak to constantly are just outraged about this. I think that's what takes this out of the realm of just a usual story of somebody having an affair and puts this really front page on all the tabloids, and even in the ordinary legitimate news, because this is just such a shocking story.
KURTZ: Let me come back to the sports world with you, Will Leitch. In "Esquire" magazine, Charles Pierce, who has profiled Tiger, says that, "One of the worst kept secrets on the PGA Tour was that Tiger was a hound. Everyone knew it. Everyone had a story."
Now, I don't know that to be the case, but I wonder whether journalists were reluctant to kind of mar the uplifting story of a guy who is a terrific athlete.
LEITCH: Yes. And not just that, but such a large percentage of golf's success.
LEITCH: He's so important to golf and so important to journalists covering golf. And so, like, he was the story.
Whatever tournament he was at, it was everyone else that was in the tournament and Tiger. And he was always his own story.
The Golf Channel once had a specific site just to watch every shot that Tiger did while the rest of the tournament was going on. He was so kind of vital to that, that I think people were a little wary. And I think they probably still are.
KURTZ: I've got to get a break. But as we go to break, "Saturday Night Live" had a little fun with the Tiger story last night. Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For all of those who have supported me over the years, I offer my profound apology for these multiple transgressions.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Multi? So it happened more than once?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did I say multiple? Because...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This just in -- Tiger Woods is back in the hospital.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And we're back discussing the Tiger Woods saga.
Lisa Bloom, I want to come to you, because your mother, Gloria Allred, is representing the first woman whose name surfaced, Rachel Uchitel, who, by the way, has repeatedly denied quite vehemently having any sexual relationship with Tiger Woods. Gloria Allred called a press conference with her and then abruptly canceled it.
And you were asked about it on CBS' "Early Show." Let's take a look at that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLOOM: I would estimate that had to be in a very significant amount for my mother to cancel that press conference. I would estimate at least $1 million, probably well in excess of $1 million.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, TMZ is now reporting -- quoting sources as saying that Rachel Uchitel didn't get a penny, there was no financial deal. So was your speculation about that wrong?
BLOOM: No. I would like to see a source come out publicly using a name, or even a face, and refute what I'm saying. Now, look, my mother has obligations of confidentiality. She's not talking to anyone in the press, and that includes me. But having worked with her...
KURTZ: Is it awkward for you at all?
BLOOM: ... and having handled many celebrity cases myself, I know how this game is played, Howie, and I know that an attorney of the caliber of my mother, one of the best attorneys in the country by any standard, is not going to cancel a press conference for the first time in history unless there's a confidentiality agreement in place. And there's no way she would do that unless it's a very significant settlement, probably in the multi millions of dollars. If I'm wrong, let's hear Gloria Allred, let's hear Rachel Uchitel, Tiger Woods or somebody from his camp come in and say otherwise and not just sneak in a little story to TMZ.
KURTZ: All right. Well, we'll see about that. And obviously you two have not discussed the case for obvious reasons.
Bradley Jacobs, there are other names floating out there. I mentioned "The Sunday Mail" quoting the sister of Mindy Lawton as saying she had an affair with Tiger. And your magazine, also, I believe, reported on a woman who works at a club in Las Vegas named Kalika Moquin.
Am I pronouncing that correctly?
JACOBS: Within our cover story, we actually mention that there were several other women, several other sightings of Tiger Woods with other women. And as you mentioned, now we are up to five other women.
KURTZ: Well, what happens when some of the women deny it and you go with it anyway? You must feel comfortable that, despite the denial, that this can be published?
JACOBS: Well, in the case of Rachel Uchitel, we printed her denial, but then we also printed quotes from sources around her saying that she had indeed been intimate with Tiger over the last six months. So we do present both sides in that case.
KURTZ: All right. It's just interesting to me that when the women deny it, and sometimes quite vehemently, sometimes everyone runs with the story either based on firsthand reporting, or they pick it up from some other Web site.
Now, Will Leitch, there's a column in the "Kansas City Star" today, Jason Whitlock, sportswriter, saying, "Don't expect an apology from the media. We're no better than gossip rags, tabloids and blogs." And he even says that, "Our reporting on the Tiger story could inflame racial divisions."
What do you think of this whole argument that we just shouldn't be going there?
LEITCH: Well, certainly, it's definitely not something that has ever -- the world of sports has ever done. And I think he's really right about the notion that there's been a change.
KURTZ: What about Kobe Bryant?
LEITCH: Yes, but that was an actual -- it was a legal case. And this is the first time it's really moved in that level.
I mean, like, you're getting updates on Tiger's mistresses on the ESPN crawl. That is unfathomable. And it shows how different this has really -- like, if -- we were talking about the Michael Jordan notion. I guarantee there are many athletes from the last 20 years who are pleased that they played 20 years ago rather than playing now. It's a different media environment.
KURTZ: All right. Things have clearly changed. And we've got to leave it there.
Will Leitch, Bradley Jacobs, and Lisa Bloom in L.A., thanks very much for joining us this morning.
BLOOM: Thank you.
JACOBS: Thank you, Howard.
KURTZ: Up next, the reality show wannabes who crashed that White House dinner wind up on "The Today Show," and the embarrassing headlines just keep coming. We'll talk with the gossip columnists who broke the Salahi story, Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts.
KURTZ: The tale of the White House party crashers just will not end. Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the once obscure Virginia social climbers who liked to stage polo matches, are now more famous than most members of Congress. And from the moment that this couple penetrated security at the White House, the media just won't let go of this story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: The infamous White House party crashers.
KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: Michaele and Tareq Salahi... CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS: The couple that crashed the White House State Dinner...
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: ... Tareq and Michaele Salahi...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... this fame-obsessed couple.
ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: This family, this couple, whatever you want to refer to them as, I won't stay their name. They don't deserve it.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: What a mess.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: It's being covered like Watergate informal wear.
Joining us now are the two "Washington Post" reporters that broke the story, Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts, who write the paper's "Reliable Source" gossip column.
Roxanne, you're at the State Dinner. This couple is introduced. What made you think that something was wrong.
ROXANNE ROBERTS, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, I've covered State Dinners for about 20 years, and I know how competitive it is to get an invitation. There's month of arguing behind the scenes.
So, when they walked in, I knew their history. I knew that they were sort of sketchy and there were various allegations and legal issues going on. I knew they weren't political, and I knew they didn't have a lot of money. And I could not figure out why they were there. I could not figure out why they had managed to somehow get an invitation.
So -- and then I looked on the guest list and their names weren't there. And that was highly unusual. The White House releases an official guest list about an hour beforehand, and everybody who is there is on there.
ROBERTS: And they weren't.
KURTZ: And Amy Argetsinger, when you talked to your colleagues at our newspaper about whether they could have crashed the party, what was their react ion?
AMY ARGETSINGER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, virtually, it was just overnight Tuesday, Wednesday morning, talking to friends, e- mailing about this. I had a conversation with one friend who said, "Look, Amy, it's not possible for anyone to crash the White House. They were there."
KURTZ: Which is what I would have said.
ARGETSINGER: I know. And I said, "Well, listen, if they were invited, it's a scandal just the same." The next morning we come to find out they really had crashed.
KURTZ: Didn't you guys think this would be a pretty good two-day story?
ROBERTS: I thought it would be a great item next day for our column. I thought these people somehow managed to get an invitation. How did they pull that off? Who invited them? Does the White House know they're involved in a reality TV show?
And I basically thought that would be the end of it.
KURTZ: Michaele has been trying out to be on the Bravo network's "Real Housewives."
ARGETSINGER: "Real Housewives of D.C.," yes.
ARGETSINGER: I thought -- I will say, I thought this was more than a column item. I knew this would be a big story.
Having said that, Wednesday night, after Roxanne and I had written what was about to be an A-1 story, rare for a gossip column, I think we both went our separate ways thinking, great work, fun story, see you Monday. And instead, it consumed our Thanksgiving weekends.
KURTZ: And not just yours. As we saw, everybody was talking about it.
Look, in the first 48 hours, it seemed to me, there was a legitimate concern about security. The Secret Service apologized. People -- anyone said, gee, how could somebody who wasn't invited get so close to the president of the United States? But now, it seems to me, that's kind of a fig leaf for our interest in the more gossipy aspects of this story.
ARGETSINGER: I will say, this is a complicated story. It is, on the one hand, a very serious story, and it's a serious story that brings together a lot of things. This couple, as we and our colleagues have exposed in the past couple of days, have a history of very dubious behavior, all kind of allegations of financial misdoings.
KURTZ: People are suing them, they're suing other people.
ARGETSINGER: A million dollars in debt. And this is getting just deeper and murkier and messier.
You combine that with the security story -- I mean, that they got in -- and the whole reality TV dynamic. Did reality TV stoke their delusions in some way?
KURTZ: Right. In fact, there was a camera crew that was trailing them when they went to the White House. The camera crew, of course, did not get in.
Let me just mention, you know, there was great competition in the media -- who was going to interview them first? And my sources say that they did at one point ask for five figures to be paid before they got the interview. Ultimately, it went to NBC's Matt Lauer. They did not pay anything, but, of course, NBC owns Bravo.
And here's some of what the Salahis had to say on "The Today Show."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATT LAUER, "THE TODAY SHOW": Do you feel as if you've been mischaracterized in the media?
TAREQ SALAHI, ATTENDED STATE DINNER: Well, no question. I mean, unfortunately, we've been mischaracterized through the media and other paparazzi forums, and our homes have been invaded. And it's been just devastating to what's happened to Michaele and I and our friends, colleagues, our business partners.
MICHAELE SALAHI, ATTENDED STATE DINNER: Our lives have been destroyed.
T. SALAHI: Our lives have really been destroyed.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: So, Roxanne Roberts, they say they've been mischaracterized, their lives have been destroyed, but they're basically in hiding. They refuse to testify on the Hill, and they haven't really explained anything about how they came to be at that dinner.
ROBERTS: Well, also, they appeared to be having a great time. They're not that much in hiding. They went to a photo shoot on, what was it, Tuesday?
ARGETSINGER: Tuesday, Norristown (ph). It was attended by TV cameras and paparazzi. They were hardly shielding their face from the paparazzi. They gave the paparazzi photos.
ROBERTS: I think the only question right now is whether or not they're going to face any charges, which is doubtful given the fact that the White House and the government would have to prove that they lied. And I don't know...
ARGETSINGER: But they are under investigation now by the state of Virginia, not just because of allegations about their charity, but because of allegations about their entire polo match that they've been throwing the past three years.
They're in some pretty serious trouble. And this is the thing, we don't really know. They seem to be enjoying themselves in front of the cameras, but they may be well aware of the fact that they're in very grave trouble right now. KURTZ: But at the same time, they're sort of milking this. I mean, they go on "The Today Show" and they make themselves available for the cameras. I mean, if they skate by without any legal complications, they could be one of the most famous reality show couples.
ARGETSINGER: Well, this is the big question.
KURTZ: We're aiding and abetting this by talking about it now.
ARGETSINGER: This is a big question. I mean, does Bravo have a liability on their hands, or is Bravo sitting on a gold mine with this footage? They've had this couple on film for the past three months.
KURTZ: If it was just Tareq Salahi, and his blonde wife was not part of the picture, would we still be talking about this?
ROBERTS: It wouldn't be nearly as interesting. I mean, what makes this story, what takes this from sort of an interesting one-or- two-day story, is the fact that this couple is so over the top and so flamboyant.
There are so many stereotypes -- the thin, ambitious blonde, who was never, in fact, a Redskins cheerleader. All the tall tales that they've told, all those things, that's what makes it so fascinating. KURTZ: Maybe that's why the media aren't letting this go. And, of course, this hasn't fully played out, so we'll get to talk about it maybe next week.
Amy Argetsinger, Roxanne Roberts, thanks very much for joining us this morning.
Still to come, Fox and friendly -- real friendly. Gretchen Carlson airs a softball interview with a big league athlete, but it's what she left out that has people crying foul.
KURTZ: I like Derek Jeter as much as the next diehard Yankee fan. So when he went on "Fox and Friends" this week, I wasn't really expecting any brushback pitches. But the interview that Gretchen Carlson did, well, I don't want to say she had the pom-pons out, but she did seem to be awestruck to be in the great man's presence.
GRETCHEN CARLSON, FOX NEWS: Derek, thank you so much for doing this interview. It's always great to sit down and talk with you, especially today, because you're the hottest athlete right now in the world.
What do you want to do after?
DEREK JETER, NEW YORK YANKEES: I all wanted to own a team. I like to call the shots. So that's my next dream.
CARLSON: 24/7, the microscope is on you. How difficult is it to live your life so perfectly?
KURTZ (voice-over): Perfect? That was too much even for Jeter.
JETER: Well, I wouldn't say perfectly. Nobody's perfect. Everybody makes mistakes. I'll be the first one to say I've made mistakes as well.
KURTZ: Somehow, though, Gretchen Carlson didn't get around to mentioning that Jeter's agent, the man who negotiated the shortstop's $189 million contract, is her husband.
Now, I think it's fine for her to interview Jeter anyway, but how about leveling with the viewers? That would have made the interview a bit more perfect.
And John King, as I turn things back over to you this Sunday morning, I understand you were at the Gridiron Dinner last night, and that things are not quite as off the record as they used to be. I was able to read in Politico this morning that Sarah Palin was there and she talked about having an index for her book, which famously doesn't have an index, which included page one to 432, Alaska, media not understanding it, and bias, page one to 432.
KING: Yes, she had a lot of fun. She was very funny, very engaging both at a reception beforehand at the dinner. So was Congressman Barney Frank. He was the Democratic speaker.
They did lift, Howie -- 124 years, the Gridiron Club has been in existence. The rule always has been reporters are never present at the dinner, meaning it's off the record, even though it's full of reporters. But they decided in the Twitter age -- they said they were going to lift the veil a bit and let people tweet and report the dinner. And it was a one-time experiment. We'll see what happens heading to the spring dinner.
KURTZ: The Gridiron coming into the 21st century, and Sarah Palin letting her hair down a bit, it sounds like, with a group of journalists.
Thanks very much.
KING: Thank you, Howie. You have a great Sunday.