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Interview With Barbara Walters; Coverage of Bunning Filibuster Fair?

Aired March 7, 2010 - 11:00   ET



HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): Curtain call. A conversation with Barbara Walters about her last Oscar special: Tiger Woods, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Jenny Sanford, Diane Sawyer and "The View."

Hardball. Former pitcher Jim Bunning gets beamed for holding up unemployment benefits. But were the media umpires fair?

Start spreading the news. More and more people are e-mailing stories, tweeting them, posting them on Facebook. So who needs editors?

Plus, smoking gun. The pundits razz the president for still sneaking cigarettes. Should they give the guy a break?


KURTZ: It's become something of a national tradition when it's time to hand out the Oscars which, unless you live in a cave, you probably know is tonight, Barbara Walters chats up the movie stars of the moment. The Walters special airs tonight on ABC and includes a look back at her three decades of schmoozing with the Hollywood elite.


BARBARA WALTERS, CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": You have said cheating is when you lie and are deceitful, not when you have sex outside of the marriage.


WALTERS: Do you and Sid have sex outside of the marriage?

MONIQUE: Do we have sex outside of the marriage? Let me say this -- I have not had sex outside of my marriage with Sidney.

Could I have sex outside of my marriage with Sidney? Yes. Could Sid have sex outside of his marriage with me? Yes. That's not a deal breaker.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WALTERS: Are you glad you finally did an interview?


WALTERS: Thank you.


WALTERS: You turned down "MASH," you turned down James Bond, you turned down the role in "Terms of Endearment," for which Jack Nicholson won an Academy Award. You either have very bad judgment or you're very unlucky.




WALTERS: You know you could stop these rumors. You could say, as many artists have, yes, I am gay, or you could say no, I'm not.

RICKY MARTIN, ACTOR/SINGER: For some reason, I just don't feel like it.


KURTZ: The reason for the retrospective, Barbara Walters is giving up these specials. This is her final curtain call.

I sat down with her in New York to talk about that, her career and the changing media culture.


KURTZ: Barbara Walters, welcome.

WALTERS: Thank you, Howard.

KURTZ: You've been doing these interviews for 30 years, these specials. You've talked to the most famous --

WALTERS: Twenty-nine.

KURTZ: Twenty-nine. You've talked to some of the most famous folks in entertainment.


KURTZ: And now you say you're sick of it.


KURTZ: You're sick of it.

Why? WALTERS: Because I'm sick of it. Look, when we began these specials -- by the way, for the first six years, the Academy wouldn't let us interview nominees. It was only until we had done them for six years that they said we could have a nominee on.

OK, to interview a movie star and have him or her open up and tell you inner feelings, and things that happened in their childhood and what moved them what they are, that was special.

Now, every movie star is in every show. They come in, they plug their movie, they get up. Reality stars are celebrities, people who have done one movie is a celebrity.

It doesn't seem special to me anymore. I feel I've been there, done that. I love the two people we're doing this year. I think they're important.

KURTZ: But don't you get more --

WALTERS: Sandra Bullock and Monique.

KURTZ: -- out of these interviews than the average --

WALTERS: But I'm --

KURTZ: -- a guy sitting on a couch on a talk show?

WALTERS: I just think they've been everywhere. And I thought -- but I didn't want to get stale. I could have stayed for 30 years, but -- and then everybody would have said, ah-ha, it's time for her to go, or maybe she was pushed out --

KURTZ: I was looking at some of your clips.

WALTERS: At 29 --

KURTZ: All right.

WALTERS: -- I know I wasn't pushed out.

KURTZ: All right. I was looking at some of those clips.


KURTZ: You were working out with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

WALTERS: I used to do all kinds of things. I played the drums with Ringo Starr.

KURTZ: Demi Moore showed you her stripper move.

WALTERS: Yes, she did.

KURTZ: And you're just going to walk away from that?

WALTERS: I should have walked away from that a long time ago. KURTZ: Right.

WALTERS: It's not that -- look, I have interviewed I think almost every star. Not just Academy Award night, but on other programs. To look back and see Robert Mitchum and Betty Davis and Audrey Hepburn, some of the great ones who aren't with us, and then to see people like George Clooney, who I love, and several interviews with Tom Cruise and, you know, the wonderful women that we interviewed as well, I will miss that. But that doesn't mean that I want to keep doing it, Howard.

KURTZ: "The New York Post" says the problem is that you became a bigger star than many of the people you were interviewing.

WALTERS: No, no. Anybody who's on television becomes a big star. You know, you do two reality shows, you're a big star. That's not the problem.

The problem for me was that it didn't seem special, that I would have to call it "The Barbara Walters Special, Special, Special," because these stars, the big ones, are everywhere. Look, the last special, Hugh Jackman did a lap dance with me.

KURTZ: I was going to ask you about that.

WALTERS: That's the --

KURTZ: It's in the press release.

WALTERS: That's a good time to leave.

KURTZ: It says it's one of your most fond memories.

WALTERS: It is. Nobody else has done a lap dance with me. You know, I'm happy --

KURTZ: See the benefits of being on television?

WALTERS: It's a fringe benefit, shall we say, yes. But I don't -- I've been thinking about this for a few years now. And I just feel it's time.

And sometimes you can't explain that. I will still do "The View." It's still like having a wonderful dessert for me. I will do "The 10 Most Fascinating People" because that's more varied.

I just don't want to do another movie star. And I'm tired of the programs of movie stars out of rehab. I mean, "Tonight we bring you the 84th person out of rehab." I haven't done that. I don't do that. And I don't want to get to that point.

KURTZ: Speaking of famous people who are coming out of rehab --

WALTERS: I'm sorry I brought it up.

KURTZ: -- Tiger Woods hasn't done an interview -- WALTERS: Tiger Woods.

KURTZ: -- since he had his problems.

WALTERS: Correct.

KURTZ: Would you like to sit down with him?

WALTERS: I have said publicly that I don't think Tiger Woods should do an interview.

KURTZ: You're not saying you would turn it down?

WALTERS: I would not turn it down.

KURTZ: But you're counseling him not to talk to the press?

WALTERS: Yes, I am.


WALTERS: Because I think that he made his statement. I think he did his apology. I think he has to get his life back and get his wife back. And to sit down with a journalist like myself, or like you, well, what about the first one? What about the third one?

Did so and so have to have an abortion? Did you ask her to?

Then the women come on and say that's not what happened, I was really with the -- what good does this man? It satisfies us.

KURTZ: Because a lot of people think --

WALTERS: It doesn't --

KURTZ: -- this was a stage-managed, carefully-crafted apology.

WALTERS: It may have been. Look, David Letterman used his own program to --

KURTZ: Well, he has a program.

WALTERS: But he didn't do interviews. Believe me, I would have done it. He didn't say now I'll tell you why this one. He didn't have his wife standing by with some tight smile next to him.

Yes, it was stage-managed. Yes, he was trying to do it in the best possible light. But he was abject.

He was as apologetic as he could be. Let him get on with his life. This does not mean that if he calls me, I wouldn't sit down and do, I hoped, a very fair and dignified interview. But if I were his public relations person -- and I know that there are many who say that he should do an interview -- I would say get your life back, get your wife back, get your game back, don't do an interview.

KURTZ: Well, if he goes back to professional golf, he's going to have to talk to the press at some time.

Let's talk about --

WALTERS: No, he doesn't. No he doesn't.

KURTZ: He wins the Masters he has to.

WALTERS: He wins the Masters and he talks about his game.

KURTZ: All right.

WALTERS: He does not have to talk about the third girl that he was with or wasn't with in Las Vegas before the first one before --

KURTZ: And which one was -- all right.

WALTERS: He does not have to do that.

KURTZ: Let me ask you about some of the other famous public figures that you've sat down with.


KURTZ: Glenn Beck.


WALTERS: Oh, you make a lot of people cry these days. You do.

You and I are sitting here, and you are a pussy cat. You are talking quietly, we are having this lovely conversation. But on the air, you strike out, you name names, you get emotional.

Glenn Beck is somebody who incites people to violence.

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS: Oh, I've heard a lot.

WALTERS: He is inflammatory. He makes us scared.

BECK: Barbara, people can call me anything they want. Here's what I hope they call me in 10 years --


BECK: -- wrong.


KURTZ: Why did you press Glen Beck the way you did?

WALTERS: Because the show is called "The 10 Most Fascinating People." And Glenn -- the phenomenon of Glenn Beck in just a couple of years is more than fascinating. It's unique that this man should become the voice of, what, the two-party movement? We hadn't heard of him five years ago.

KURTZ: But was he not being fascinating enough in that interview? He seemed very sweet and reasonable.

WALTERS: Oh, yes, but you can be whatever you want to. I mean, I don't -- he doesn't have to scream and yell at me.

You know, Glenn Beck is a very intelligent man. This may disturb a lot of people, and I'm not so sure I'm so thrilled that he is. But he is. And he's a man who reads a great deal. And the fact that he could sit down and didn't -- you know, didn't rise up and scream at me showed a different side of him.

KURTZ: All right.

Sarah Palin?


WALTERS: Only a month after Trig was born with Down Syndrome, your 17-year-old daughter Bristol came to you and your husband with the shocking news that she was pregnant.

Did you know that she was sexually active?

SARAH PALIN (R), FMR. ALASKAN GOVERNOR: No, and that is why it was shocking. And that's the understatement of the century, too, that we were shocked. And truthfully, we were devastated.


KURTZ: Sarah Palin is a woman who got offended when Katie Couric asked her what newspapers and magazines she read, but she responded very well to your questions.

WALTERS: I think Katie Couric did two or three interviews with Sarah Palin. And Sarah Palin has written about this in her book.

I think what bothered Sarah Palin was that she came out looking uniformed and stupid. To talk to her about her daughter's sexual activity didn't insult her intelligence. And so that's why she answered me.

KURTZ: Jenny Sanford -- she'd been through this terrible affair. You asked her about her husband, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford.


WALTERS: Mark called her his soul mate.


WALTERS: Did that break your heart?


WALTERS: Did he ever call you his soul mate.

SANFORD: Not to my knowledge.


KURTZ: Was that a hard question to ask?

WALTERS: The hardest question to ask Jenny Sanford was, what did this woman have that you don't have? That's the question I worried about, not soul mate, because she -- I thought she could handle that. But when we're talking about wives standing by their husbands, Jenny Sanford became a heroine because she did not put on that phony face and stand next to her husband.

KURTZ: I guess what I'm trying to get at is whether you're interviewing the movie stars for Oscar specials, or people in public life, in politics, you seem to be able to ask them highly personal questions and they're not offended.

WALTERS: A part of it -- well, when I do an interview -- if I do a political interview, I'm asking about politics. If I'm doing an interview where you want to really know the person, I really do want to know what makes them tick. And part of it, I think, is the way one asks the question.

I don't come off belligerently. I don't give me political point of view. And if I don't get an answer, I say something like, "What's the biggest misconception about you?" And it's amazing what you learn.

And I also think that over the years -- I mean, 29 years of Academy Award specials -- I don't know, how many years have I been at ABC now? More than 35, I think. People know that I'm fair and dignified.

I'm not out for the kill. I'm not out for the get. I'm out to have you know this person.


KURTZ: When we come back, more of my interview with Barbara Walters. We talked about "The View" and her tryout, so to speak, as a Sunday morning anchor.

Stick around.


KURTZ: More now of my sit-down in New York with ABC's Barbara Walters.


KURTZ: You're still having a good time doing "The View." "The View" was very controversial when Rosie O'Donnell was on. Now you all seem to be getting along better.

WALTERS: Rosie O'Donnell was a particular time. And I'm very fond of Rosie. Rosie and know what our relationship is.

"The View" has never been more successful than it is now. Not that we don't disagree, not that we don't fight, not that we don't take on politicians. For all those reasons, we are successful.

For me, it's great fun. And it's also different from doing ABC News because I can express opinions and I can be more myself than when I'm doing, as you say, an interview with --

KURTZ: It's a little bit liberating.


KURTZ: Your longtime colleague, Diane Sawyer, became the "World News" anchor a couple of months ago.

WALTERS: Hooray!

KURTZ: Why was there no controversy about her the way there was about Katie Couric? We don't even talk about the fact that a woman is anchoring the evening news, of course, which you famously did in 1976 and --


KURTZ: -- that was an unpleasant period for you.

WALTERS: Well, when I anchored, I was the first female co-anchor --

KURTZ: Co-anchor, right.

WALTERS: -- on a network news program. It was long before its time. And I was crucified at the time. It was almost the end of my career.

I'm very proud of Diane. And ABC did it right. You see, Katie left one network for another.

KURTZ: Right.

WALTERS: With huge hype -- is she going to make it, isn't she going to -- whereas Diane was at ABC, is at ABC. We've seen her do so many things. We know her as a news reporter. So it was a much more -- a peaceful, smooth position.

Also, she isn't the first, she's the second. And what thrills me -- although I like Brian Williams and he's just fine and a terrific man, so -- is that we have two women who are now accepted. I mean, when I think of what I went through, this is my -- I don't know, not my vindication and not my legacy, but my great pride in them.

I was so happy about Diane. People think that she and I are not friends. We were competitors.

KURTZ: Yes. WALTERS: We didn't like that --

KURTZ: There was always that buzz in the press.

WALTERS: We hated that part of it. But we always had respect for each other. And I'm very pleased that she's doing what she's doing now, and doing it so -- you know, just beautifully and smoothly.

KURTZ: Before I let you go, a couple weeks ago you filled in as the host of "This Week" on Sunday morning.

WALTERS: Yes, I did.

KURTZ: You seemed to have a good time.

WALTERS: I had a very good time.

KURTZ: You got great reviews.

WALTERS: Yes, all of the above.

KURTZ: And some people said that you ought to consider taking that job on for a while.

WALTERS: It would be too much for me now. I mean, I wouldn't mind doing it sporadically, but I wouldn't want to have to go to Washington every Saturday night. And I'm not -- you know, it took a lot of homework and I chose my panel. You know, to get Roger Ailes to come on --

KURTZ: How did you do that?

WALTERS: Roger is an old friend. And I asked him. I thought it was great fun and very refreshing. But it's a tough job to do. And I've got enough jobs.

I mean, between "The View" and ABC News and the specials that I do and a radio show every Monday night on Sirius Radio, I've got a full plate.

KURTZ: That's practically semi-retirement for you.

WALTERS: It almost is, isn't it? Yes, it almost is.

KURTZ: Now, although --

WALTERS: And I'm going on vacation in two weeks. So there we are.

KURTZ: Glad to hear that.

And so in terms of giving up these Oscar specials, you're not saying that you're never going to sit down with anybody from Hollywood elite again?

WALTERS: No. But I'm not saying that I'm never going to sit down with another wonderful star. I am saying that I don't want to do it year after year, Howard. Been there, done that, have the T-shirt. And the T-shirt says, "The End."

KURTZ: Do you become friends with some of these people?

WALTERS: Some of them.

KURTZ: And it -- for example?

WALTERS: Well, I don't -- I'm not sure I've become friends, but I feel that I -- that I have an affection and I know them.

I interviewed Sandra Bullock 15 years ago, when she talked about the fact that she'd never get married. Now she talks about the fact of what marriage has given her. I have great affection for Sandra, and she teases me in this. I mean, she asks me what kind of a tree I want to be, she --

KURTZ: Everybody asks you that.

WALTERS: No, she --


KURTZ: Are you going to make me cry?

WALTERS: So I have, you know, a special affection. Do we become best friends? No. But are there some that I hug when I see them? Yes.

KURTZ: But does that make it a little more difficult to ask the tough questions and probe into the personal life?

WALTERS: Sometimes.

KURTZ: And how do you deal with that?

WALTERS: That's my job.

KURTZ: All right. I'm going to try to learn from the master here.

What's the biggest misconception about you?

WALTERS: I think it was, until I started to do "The View," that I was very serious, authoritative and cold. Now people know that I'm warm and lovable.

KURTZ: Barbara Walters, thanks very much for sitting down with us here in New York.

WALTERS: Appreciate it.


KURTZ: And Barbara Walters' final Oscar special airs tonight on ABC at 7:00 Eastern, just before the Academy Awards, and after the Oscars on the West Coast.

Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, information overload. From podcasts to PDAs, the way we get our news is evolving every day. So who needs news organizations? We'll ask a pair of tech-savvy journalists.

Plus, bashing Bunning. The Kentucky senator stiffs the press after holding up jobless benefits that Congress wouldn't pay for. Did he deserve all that bad press, or have the media missed the point?


KURTZ: For all I know, you could be watching this on a podcast downloaded to your iPhone. People get their news and information in many ways these days, even when they're on the move. And they're no longer passive consumers. They e-mail each other stories, they post comments online, they put news items in their Facebook feed and on their Twitter pages.

A new study by Pew's Internet & American Life Project serves up some fascinating statistics. Nearly half of Americans getting their news from four to six different media platforms each day. One-third of the folks who own cell phones use those phones to access news. And 37 percent of Internet users have sent out stories on social networking sites or added their two cents online.

So, are journalists adapting to this lightning-fast world or in danger of being left behind?

Joining us now in New York, Jeff Jarvis, who blogs at and is the author of the book "What Would Google Do?" And here in Washington, Ana Marie Cox, Washington correspondent for "GQ" magazine.

Jeff Jarvis, if people are choosing their own news, they're on the go, they're getting it on Facebook, they're getting links from their friends, then is there a role for editors at media organizations?

JEFF JARVIS, BUZZMACHINE.COM: I think so. In a world of overabundant content, value shifts to the curator who can help you find the good stuff.

I think we're seeing new spheres of discovery of content. It used to be it was only brands. You would could come to the newspaper or come to the show and that's how you got your news.

Then along came search, which gave us more control of what we were looking for. Then algorithms like Google News.

And now what's emerging is the tremendous power of human links through Facebook and Twitter. Together, some say that they're bigger than Google now in driving traffic to news sites. So, the news sites still have a value, the value of creating content and doing original reporting and doing some editing, but a lot of the editing occurs by us. KURTZ: Let me have Ana Marie jump in.

"Curator" kind of sounds like we're in museums wearing old- fashioned uniforms.


ANA MARIE COX, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "GQ": I don't think it's quite that formal, and I don't think Jeff meant it to sound that formal. It's a fancy word for finding people whose opinions and sensibilities you trust.

I was thinking about how the normal knock or the typical knock on people getting their news online used to be that you had a very narrow window, you'd only read stuff that you already agreed with, or read brands that you already knew you had a sympathy with. I think, at least for me, one of the way that I find out about things right now is through Twitter, people tweeting different links. And that's a vast -- that is a very varied audience there. And I find out conservative news, I find out sports news.

KURTZ: Well, you're not just finding out. I mean, several of the news organizations that you've worked for have gone belly up.


COX: I found my new job on Twitter.

KURTZ: But meanwhile, you have a 1.5 million followers on Twitter. What are you giving them?

COX: What am I giving them? I mean, "curator" is a kind of fancy term. But I like to think that the reason why people follow me on Twitter is not just because of the reporting that I do or the behind-the-scenes view I can give them in the White House briefing room, or whatever, but they enjoy my sensibility, which could mean I posted a picture of my bed head this morning, so people could appreciate the transformation that would take place before I did the show.

KURTZ: You figured a whole new problem (ph) with your hair.

Jeff Jarvis, let me throw up some numbers from this Pew survey. And if you take a look at this -- I'm sure it's coming in a second now. Here we go.

Online, people -- where Americans get their news, 61 percent. It's only trailing now local television and network and cable news. It's ahead of radio, ahead of local newspapers, ahead of national newspapers.

So, is the Web basically leaving newspapers in the dust?

JARVIS: Yes. And it has been the case for a while.

(INAUDIBLE) suggested this week that I think newspapers should get rid of their print. I argued that they should stop defining themselves by their medium. Yes, online is a great thing. It's updatable, it's current, it's linkable, it's customizable. It's so much better than a paper.

KURTZ: But, of course, newspapers are also online. And newspaper Web sites are where a lot of places like your beloved Google get their content.

JARVIS: "Get their content" is an odd phrase. What Google does is link to their content and promote their content.

Rupert Murdoch and The Associated Press whine about Google News linking to them, which is ridiculous. Now, will they still whine about their own readers recommending them in Twitter? I think not. They're too smart for that.

The truth is that there's a whole new economy in media here. And he or she who gets the links has to figure out what to do with that. The problem with newspaper is too many of them don't understand what to do with an online relationship.

KURTZ: It's got to be a relationship. It's got to be a two-way relationship.

I had an interesting experience on Twitter this week. I put up something that went absolutely viral in terms of people passing it along or re-tweeting it.

It was a picture that I saw on "The New York Times" Web site which was a striking picture, if we see that. I don't know quite how to describe it.

And then I looked at the caption, if we can pull that up. It said that this was Hillary Rodham Clinton and the president of Chile. So obviously that kind of blunder got a lot of traction on a place like Twitter.

COX: That's right. I actually have to say that in this day and age of multiple slide shows, lots of multimedia, it's really easy for that kind of mistake to get made. It's awesome when we capture it. It becomes an instant sort of touchstone for both what is right and wrong.

KURTZ: And speaking of mistakes, just the other day, Jeff Jarvis, RadarOnline touted a big exclusive -- John Roberts seriously considering stepping down from the Supreme Court. That was retracted within and hour. It apparently began with a hypothetical scenario given in a classroom by a Georgetown University law professor.

So, should that sort of thing make us a little more skeptical of some of these great scoops that are popping up on these new media sites?

JARVIS: I think we've always been more skeptical. And now media literacy is really about learning about how to be skeptical, I think. And the truth has been -- that's been a problem since 24-hour cable news. I hearken back to the West Virginia mine disaster, when we watched live and there was a mistake on air. No fault of CNN, as we talked about it on this show at the time.

The public has to be aware of what live news means. New is not a product. We turned it into that idea because we had to, because we had presses and shows to be put out. The truth is, news is a process. It's an onion, well named, that's constantly being sliced and diced and folded back, and the truth comes out over time.

KURTZ: Right. What was amazing about that John Roberts bogus story is it got picked up by Fox News a couple times, while rushing to say that this was not true. Nevertheless, talking about how this was online.

You used to work with the print magazine "Radar," which --

COX: That's right.


KURTZ: A little trigger happy?

COX: Yes. And I also think -- speaking of curating and using your judgment about what's online, I think pretty much immediately no one believed that because it was "Radar," which does not have a tradition of doing a lot of Supreme Court reporting. And I think that people --

KURTZ: It's good at gossip.

COX: Right, but people were very suspicious. I mean, people thought, well, it could be true. Right? But I think there was already a degree of doubt because people were knowledgeable about what the source was.

KURTZ: And that's the new thing, is that in this new media world, users have to be smart and take into consideration who is putting something out.

I want to put up one last set of numbers from this Pew survey where -- there we go -- grading the media. "Major news organizations do a good job covering stories that matter to me," 63 percent. That's pretty good. But then another question, "Most news sources today are biased in their coverage," 72 percent.

So, just briefly, Jeff Jarvis, how can both things be true, doing a good job and also being biased?

JARVIS: I think what the Internet is teaching people is that the virtue here is in transparency. Objectivity was long a lie (ph), and people expect you to open your drawers and show what you think, and we then can judge you on that basis. And that's the ethic of online that is now creeping back slowly into old media.

KURTZ: People do like sites that reflect their opinion.

COX: They do. But I also think they like to be transparent about it.

And I don't know what drawers Jeff is referring to exactly. I was surprised that weather out -- was the thing that people checked the most online. So I guess people are dressing appropriately. That's what they trust their news organizations to do.

KURTZ: All right. Got to get a break here. All right.

We'll follow you both on Twitter.

You can follow RELIABLE SOURCES on Facebook.

And before I go to break, we have an update on the Toyota story.

Last week we showed ABC's Brian Ross and a professor taking a test drive to recreate the conditions in which some Toyotas accelerate out of control, a test that included footage of the car's tachometer zooming up from zero in the space of a second.

Here is what it looked like.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to take off here right now at 20 miles an hour.


Whoa. Just like that, huh?


KURTZ: But after an investigation by the Web site Gawker, which usually traffics in gossip, ABC acknowledged that it substituted video of the tachometer while the car was still parked. An ABC spokesman tells me that an editor replaced video of the tachometer while the car was actually moving because that shot was very shaky. But it has now changed the video online to include the original footage and added an explanation.

ABC says the substitution didn't affect the results of the test drive, but this was sloppy and potentially misleading.

After the break, Chris Matthews blames "The New York Times" for Charlie Rangel's demotion. Really?

And wild pitch. Jim Bunning holds up the unemployment checks and the press portrays him as a loon. Is that fair?


KURTZ: Jim Bunning is a former Major League pitcher and lately, writes Dana Milbank, he's been throwing screwballs. The retiring Kentucky senator can definitely be cranky and seems to have no patience for the press. In fact, he gave a television producer a middle finger salute the other day.

But did Bunning deserve to be portrayed as a heartless fiend intent on snatching away jobless benefits from the unemployed? Take a look at this report and the way he dealt with ABC's Jonathan Karl.


JONATHAN KARL, ABC CORRESPONDENT: Sir, we just wanted to ask you --

SEN. JIM BUNNING (R), KENTUCKY: Excuse me. This is a senator- only elevator.

KARL: Can I come on the elevator?

BUNNING: No, you may not.

KARL: Can you tell us why you're blocking this vote?

BUNNING: I already did.

KARL (voice-over): We wanted to ask the senator why he is blocking a vote that would extend unemployment benefits to more than 330,000 Americans, including Brenda Wood, a teacher in Austin, Texas, who has been out of work for two years.

KURTZ (voice-over): MSNBC's liberal pundits pounded Bunning hour after hour. While he got little attention on Fox News though, Sean Hannity cheered him for taking on the rest of the Senate.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: You know those lousy unemployed people lazing around, loving being unemployed.

Jim Bunning, you're a hero for cutting them off without any rational explanation whatsoever.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: What Senator Bunning said is, look, I'm going to stand up against this. We can't afford it. We're stealing from our kids and grandkids.

Senator, you've become a hero over the last week. Welcome to the program.


KURTZ: So have the media acted as an impartial umpire or a thorn (ph) at Bunning's head?

Joining us now to talk about that and coverage of some other political stories, here in Washington, Margaret Carlson, chief political columnist for Bloomberg News and Washington editor of "The Week" magazine. And Chris Stirewalt, political editor at "The Washington Examiner." Margaret, Jim Bunning is an irascible character, but did the media give a fair hearing to his argument, which was Congress was going to extended $10 billion in extending jobless benefits without paying for it?

MARGARET CARLSON, CHIEF POLITICAL COLUMNIST, BLOOMBERG NEWS": We gave a fair hearing to baseball metaphors, which you just did in your intro.

KURTZ: Guilty.

CARLSON: He's irresistible in that, yes, he did throw a perfect game and, yes, he is colorful in the sense that he's just openly cranky.

The reason there was a side story to this -- which is it was Republicans that felt he was heartless and clueless in that they were ruining -- he went rogue on them by doing this obstructionism which wasn't in the playbook. Republicans are choreographing their filibusters. And although this wasn't a filibuster, it was a non- unanimous consent.

It didn't fit into the program. And so, we jumped on it because it was much more colorful than the others.

KURTZ: When the television reports go from Senator Bunning on the floor, clearly ticking off his colleagues, to some poor unemployed person who obviously wants to continue to receive checks, are we loading the dice a little bit?

CHRIS STIREWALT, POLITICAL EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Well, sure. And, look, ,this story was catnip for a couple reasons. One, you have somebody who is openly disdainful of Washington. You have a member of the United States Senate who hates both parties, hates Washington.

KURTZ: And openly disdainful of the press.


KURTZ: It was day after day, as we saw with Jonathan Karl, when he just literally and figuratively had given the bird to reporters.

STIREWALT: Exactly. And he perfectly fits the narrative of this moment.

And the narrative of the moment is Washington is broken. And here is Mr. Breaking Washington. So he fits perfectly.

But the other reason it was catnip was that four reporters to get the finger from Jim Bunning is going to be a badge of honor that you will wear on your --

CARLSON: If only we could have, yes.

STIREWALT: Exactly. So you have all these people running after him like a pack of barking dogs, running down the hallways, hoping that, like Byron Wolf, they're going to get the finger from Jim Bunning so they can say, I go it, man. It was me too.

CARLSON: Yes. It's our perfect game.

STIREWALT: Right. Exactly.


KURTZ: But in terms of the substantive argument here, it took some liberal pundits to point out that while Bunning was going haywire over Congress spending this money on the unemployed without coming up with revenue, that he's voted for lots of bills during the Republican presidency -- the Bush tax cuts, Medicare drug benefit -- that weren't paid for.

CARLSON: And the very law he's citing, pay-go, he didn't vote for it.

KURTZ: Pay-go is a Democratic attempt to make Congress --

CARLSON: Make you pay for what you spend.

KURTZ: As opposed to just more deficit spending.

CARLSON: More deficit spending. So, if he had, he would have had a better rationale for picking on the unemployed.

And one of his few supporters, Senator Kyl, is saying, and, by the way, we're not moving on these unemployed until we get that last .25 percent of the estate tax killed -- 99.8, gone. So, you're juxtaposing the unemployed, the teacher at the computer that we had in our intro, and the estate tax.

STIREWALT: I think Senator Bunning, for a person who hates the media and doesn't usually do very well when it comes to it, did this very well. I thought he ended up doing a very good job of this. He took it right up to the brink and he forced this vote where you get 53 Democrats going on the record and voting and saying I refuse to pay for this $10 billion even when his amendment would have paid for it by eliminating a special tax for --


CARLSON: He overshadowed his accomplishment.

KURTZ: He certainly didn't look good in the press coverage, despite what you see as a positive.

STIREWALT: I think in the end it's a wash, perhaps a lean positive for the Republicans, because I think Democrats overplayed their hand. They brought in as many sob stories as they possibly could to try to crush Bunning. Nobody lost their benefits. There was not the interruption.

KURTZ: Well, some thousands of federal workers were furloughed for at least a couple days.

All right.

Let me turn to Charlie Rangel, who was forced to give up the chairmanship of the House -- powerful House Ways and Means Committee after the Ethics Committee found that he had accepted some corporate- paid trips to Caribbean getaways. And it brought an interesting bit of analysis. Most liberals were not (ph) defending Congressman Rangel, but an interesting bit of analysis from Chris Matthews on MSNBC.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: What is it that has led, for example, "The New York Times" -- I'm always skeptical of motive -- excuse me for that -- I don't think all journalism is objective -- why they have been pounding this guy? Is it because of what he did, or did he vote wrong on something?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, Chris, I think it was journalism.


KURTZ: Why is Chris Matthews going after The Times? The Times reported the facts.

CARLSON: They did. And also, this is their hometown guy. So they would, I guess, in Chris's view, over-cover it.

There were many other things than this one particular trip to the Caribbean that Charlie Rangel was accused of.

KURTZ: He's got other problems that haven't been resolved.

CARLSON: He has other problems, and it looks like he's been hanging on at a time when it looks like the pendulum could swing towards, Democrats are corrupt, too. That's how Republicans lost. They don't want that -- 2012.

KURTZ: Well, David Paterson and other Democrats getting involved in problems. That could be a problem.

Matthew went on to say, "I've loved the guy" -- Charlie Rangel -- "for years. I feel like recusing myself."

But do you think this Rangel story got enough attention? All the networks covered it. NBC "Nightly News" is the only one that did a full story.

STIREWALT: Well, I think that it became so commonplace, the knowledge that Charlie Rangel had ethical problems, that this, in the end, was sort of -- it wasn't an explosion. It was, at the end, well, at long last, Charlie Rangel is finally going to slink out after what was a very sort of shocking two-or-three-year run where you have these ethical charges piling up and piling up. And the fact that the Democrats learned the lesson from 2006 with the Republicans that says you've got to act, you've got to dump that weight, and in this case Charlie Rangel was dead weight for the caucus.

CARLSON: And if he weren't loved -- he's the opposite of Bunning. If he weren't loved by Chris Matthews and others, he would have been gone.

STIREWALT: Oh, he would have been gone long ago.

KURTZ: All right.

I need a 20-second answer from each of you.

Sarah Palin, according to "Entertainment Weekly," has been talking to the former "Survivor" producer, Mark Burnett, about pitching a reality show about Alaska.

Does the world need such a program?

CARLSON: No. And we help her so much. Just now, Howie, we raised her fee.

KURTZ: She was doing standup on Jay Leno this week. Does this sound like somebody pursuing a media career or a political career?

STIREWALT: New brand. There's going to be the Palin network. And she's going to be part of -- one of the channels that are out there, whether it's Oprah or Martha Stewart.

CARLSON: It's the P Channel.

STIREWALT: There's going to be the Palin network.

KURTZ: And, by the way, Jay Leno returned to "The Tonight Show" this week and doubled Conan's audience, was number one, edging out Letterman by significant margins. So, all those guests who came on this program and said, oh, no, people are going to be mad at him, and he was so mean to Conan, and therefore his ratings are going to drop, well that may still happen. But so far it hasn't happened.

Chris Stirewalt, Margaret Carlson, thanks very much for stopping by.

Up next, Sunday is the time for talking points. Candy Crowley joins us to find out what the politicians are peddling this Sunday morning.


KURTZ: Time now to check out what's been happening on some of the other Sunday shows. And with that, Candy Crowley.

CROWLEY: Thanks, Howie.

Three members of Congress who voted no on health care the first time around arrived on the Sunday morning talk show circuit as undecideds this time. For Pennsylvania Democratic Congressman Jason Altmire, the issue is concern about federal funding of abortion. He thinks the issue could be the tipping point for passage or failure.


REP. JASON ALTMIRE (D), PENNSYLVANIA: I voted for the Stupak Amendment, who say that they're not going to vote for the finished product unless they tighten the abortion language that's in the Senate bill. So we may see some vote holdouts based on that issue.

REP. BRIAN BAIRD (D), WASHINGTON: So the difficult choice for some of us is to say, this is not the bill I would write by a darn sight, but it is certainly better than the status quo. What would we do if we didn't have this option?

CROWLEY: You would vote against it if you come to a conclusion that you don't like it, even if it meant health care went down.


REP. JOHN ADLER (D), NEW JERSEY: Well, I think, actually, I have to know what the bill says. I'm one of these guys that believes I should read the bill first before I make up my mind. Having said that, I think there were some pieces in the Senate bill that were missing. The House bill, also, I think, failed to address cost containment.


CROWLEY: The congressman charged with helping Democrats get elected to the House this fall says leadership does not yet have the 216 votes needed to pass health care reform.


REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: I believe it will pass. Do we have a mortal lock? No, because people are still looking at some of the changes that are being made to the bill. The president, of course, sent Congress a letter with some additional ideas based on the bipartisan summit he had. So, until people --


CROWLEY: And on a day when the Iraqis went to the polls for the fifth time since 2003, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell found out that at least, he and Joe Biden have something in common.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: As the vice president, earlier no supporter of the Iraq War indicated, it could be one of the big accomplishments of this current administration.


CROWLEY: A short while ago, President Obama wrote issued a written statement commending the Iraqi people and security forces for their courage, despite deadly attacks aimed at disrupting the voting. The president will make on-camera remarks at 3:00 p.m. Eastern. CNN, of course, is going to carry that live -- Howie.

KURTZ: And Candy, I won't be surprised if the president is upbeat about the Iraqi elections, but I saw a report before coming on this morning that 38 people were killed in attacks. And so that is part of the story, as well.

CROWLEY: It is part of the story. And also part of the story is that CNN had an interview earlier this week with the prime minister of Iraq, Maliki, who said to our reporter that he wasn't so sure that he wouldn't be needing combat troops later than the withdrawal date.

So, it does seem that they passed the test. Even though 38 people did die, tragic as that is, they expected worse. So this came out about where they wanted, and the administration has every reason to say that this was a success.

KURTZ: And coming back to the lawmakers we saw talking about the health care bill, it seems like we're all trying to do the math. You know, can Nancy Pelosi gets the votes? And nobody really knows if this can be put together or not, and that's why everyone's being tentative in their comments.

CROWLEY: Exactly, which is what makes you want to be in that back room, because they really are looking for votes. Because the abortion issue may be very big, and it just gets more and more difficult to add it up.

However, the Democrats know that, probably, their political future, when it comes to this November, hangs on this vote. It would be almost impossible for them to go to November without health care reform.

KURTZ: They're going to be blamed for voting for it the first time around. And they figure they may as well as have a program. But putting together that majority is difficult.

CROWLEY: Is hard.

KURTZ: Candy Crowley, thanks very much.

Still to come, smoking out the story. How did the president's largely positive physical turn into a media referendum on his character?


KURTZ: -- healthy. So, why have some people been trying to portray him as a drunken tobacco addict?


KURTZ (voice-over): The potshots began once Obama completed his physical at Bethesda Naval. "The Drudge Report" ran a tantalizing headline over a picture of the president imbibing a beer: " Obama doctors recommend moderation of alcohol intake." What? Well, that's what Drudge got from London's "Daily Mail," which had its own rather scolding headline. But what the medical report said was this -- "Continue smoking cessation efforts, a daily exercise program, healthy diet, moderation in alcohol intake, periodic dental care, and remain up to date with recommended immunizations." That, said Chuck Todd and his NBC colleagues, is akin to your dentist telling you to floss daily and brush your teeth twice a day.


KURTZ: That's right. Come on -- how about a little moderation in the punditry? The man is not exactly hitting the bottle every night.


KURTZ (voice-over): The president's borderline high cholesterol also became a media issue.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think he would also be the first to tell you that he has probably had a few more cheeseburgers. And I think he would admittedly tell you he has had more desserts in the last year than I've seen him eat prior to this.

KURTZ (voice-over): Remember when Obama was criticized during the campaign for talking about arugula and refusing to eat junk food? But what really made headlines was another recommendation by the doctors.

CHIP REID, CBS NEWS (voice-over): For all his immense power, there's at least one adversary President Obama seems unable to defeat -- his addiction to cigarettes.

JAKE TAPPER, ABC NEWS: Is it more difficult because this is probably the most stressful year he has ever had, I would assume?

GIBBS: Yes. I mean, I can't imagine that that helps.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As a former smoker, I constantly struggle with it. Have I fallen off the wagon sometimes? Yes.


KURTZ: It is a struggle, and anyone who has watched a loved one try to kick the nicotine habit, as I have, knows that all too well.

The presidency is a rather high-pressure job, so I say we cut Obama a little slack in trying to break a terrible addiction. And if he wants to have a beer or a glass of wine once in a while, that's all right by me.

Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us again next Sunday morning at our new time, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media. You can check us out on Facebook, as well. And you can check me out on Twitter.

"STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.