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Health Care Vote Coverage Examined

Aired March 21, 2010 - 11:00   ET



HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): Sunday showdown. As journalists gear up for today's much-debated, much-delayed health care vote, will they credit President Obama with a victory if Democrats pass the bill --


KURTZ: -- or play up the polarizing process?

Comeback kid. Tiger Woods will head from rehab to the Masters. How will CBS and the rest of the media handle his return?

Penetrating Politico. We go inside one of Washington's hottest Web operations to find out how the staff slices and dices the news and tries to win the morning.

Plus, the magazine and the mistress. Did those pictures overshadow what Rielle Hunter had to say?


KURTZ: Today is the day. At least we think today is the day. After 14 months of front-page headlines and television reports and cable chatter and radio rants and blog warfare, after 14 months of legislative sausage-making and presidential speeches and raucous town halls and parliamentary maneuvering, the Democrats are trying to pass a hotly-disputed health care bill once and for all. The debate begins two hours from now, with Nancy Pelosi's team claiming it finally has the votes.

The hot-button issue in recent days? A House plan to approve the Senate version of the bill without a recorded vote by simply deeming it to have passed.

That arcane maneuver got the pundits all fired up before the Democrats yanked it at the last minute yesterday.


SARAH PALIN (R), FMR. ALASKAN GOVERNOR: If you don't hold their feet to the fire and call them on these made-up deem-and-pass process that Pelosi and others want to use right now, then things like this can be crammed down our throats.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: Republicans are trying to make the case that the self-executing rule this deem-and-pass rule, they are trying to make the case that it's unconstitutional. They, themselves, have used it more than 200 times over the past 15 years.

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS: They won't even put their name on a bill.

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC: When not lying about the bill, they're attacking the procedure.


KURTZ: And as President Obama postponed an overseas trip that was to begin today, every journalist in town was doing the math.


JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS: So far, by my count, there are 206 members of the House, Democrats and Republicans, who are already either no or leaning no. Now, 10 more and you reach the magic number of 216 and the thing dies.


KURTZ: I need a white board.

Joining us now to talk about the media's coverage of the health care debate, as we enter what could be the final hours, Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker" magazine; Amy Holmes, political analyst and co-host of "America's Morning News" on the Talk Radio Network; Chip Reid, White House correspondent for CBS News; and Ed Henry, senior White House correspondent for CNN.

Chip Reid, has it been frustrating to cover this story with the fluid and shifting vote counts? And even this morning there was some conflicting reports about whether the Democrats have the votes.

Are you skeptical that this is actually done?

CHIP REID, CBS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's been a blast to cover, not frustrating. I mean, this is what we love, this kind of roller-coaster ride and the unpredictability of it all, and the spin coming from the White House, the spin coming from the Hill.

You know, you even have some members of the Democratic leadership saying we have the votes, and others saying, well, we don't have them yet. And it's our job to kind of figure out what that really means.

The people who are saying we have the votes are not really saying we have the votes. They're saying we're going to have the votes. And the people you really need watch for are people like James Clyburn. He won't say they have the votes until they have the votes. And we have to make sure viewers understand that.

KURTZ: You're like a House whip. You have to know where the votes are.

Ryan Lizza, the media portrait seems to be, in recent months -- has been Obama and the Democrats using very ugly methods to drag this bill across the finish line, to drag an increasingly unpopular vote across the finish line.

Is that fair or unfair?

RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORKER": Well, I think what happened at a certain point in the debate, Republicans realized that on the merits of the legislation, the individual parts are pretty popular, despite the declining polls there for a while in the overall package. And they realized that parliamentary procedure and the sauce-making in Congress, that's always unpopular. So you don't argue against getting rid of the pre-existing mandate, you argue against the sausage-making.

And they realized, you know, probably last summer, that that was a much better strategy for them. And so every opportunity, they have made procedure and process very successfully into a negative for the Democrats.

KURTZ: But Amy Holmes, I've seen the media say time and again that this is, in the Republican phrase, a government takeover, and that it is an unpopular bill because they look at the top-line numbers. More Americans are against the passage of the bill than are for it, even though Ryan Lizza points out individual parts may be popular.

AMY HOLMES, POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's the argument that the White House is making.

But getting back to the question you asked Chip, I look at this story as political porn. And people love all of these details, lifting up the skirt of Congress and seeing what's really going on. Honestly.

And it reminds me actually of the recount in 2000. It reminds me of the Democratic primary race, where we basically were getting a civics lesson.

And Ryan, you say that --

LIZZA: You had me at "porn."


HOLMES: Ryan, you say that this is about process, but process and policy in this case are really interlinked. And the fact that this is such an unpopular bill is what is pushing Democrats today on the Hill to be using a process that flies in the face of what we understand to be the kind of Schoolhouse Rock version.

KURTZ: And I thought this might be a rather --

(CROSSTALK) LIZZA: The problem with that argument is that the bill is actually getting more popular in the last month than less popular.

HOLMES: But Obama is becoming less popular. We saw it with Gallup this week, that he's upside down in his approvals -- 46 percent approve, 48 disapprove.

KURTZ: Just briefly, does the coverage reflect that the bill is becoming more popular? Because that might be news to a lot of people.

LIZZA: No. I think at a certain point, when the bill became upside down, when more people opposed it than were for it, I don't think the coverage is necessarily reflecting that it's been inching -- that approval has been inching up.

KURTZ: And the process story has swallowed everything else, because, you know --

LIZZA: The process story is swallowing everything else.

KURTZ: But I want to turn to you, Ed Henry, on this question.

Yesterday, I happened to flip on the TV casually and saw President Obama delivering a talk -- kind of a pep rally to Democratic members of Congress. And after sitting through so many talk segments about, this is a detached president, a cool president, a cerebral president, I was struck by how emotional he was.

Let's play a little bit of that.


OBAMA: Do it for them. Do it for people who are really scared right now, through no fault of their own, who have played by the rules, who have done all the right things.

Don't do it for me. Don't do it for the Democratic Party. Do it for the American people. They're the ones who are looking for action right now.


KURTZ: You and your colleagues just kind of let that go by and then went on to the tactical discussion.

Was that an important moment, or was it just one of these fleeting moments on cable?

ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I remember Dana Bash and I being on the air and talking about how this was pretty emotional. And he was quoting Lincoln, who's his political hero. You do have to still talk about the tactics.

I think part of it, though, is that, as Chip will probably tell you, that the final summation is where you're going to get more emotional, where you make that final case. I've been struck, in covering all these speeches over 14 months, about the fact that the person who is supposed to be the next great communicator after Ronald Reagan has not always found his voice in this debate. And I think that's part of the reason why they've had a hard time selling it.

But in the final stretch now, with the chips down and the stakes raised so much, this president has found his voice. And let me agree with Amy about one thing. Not the porn part, but the process is policy part.

I mean, the fact of the matter is, if this deem-and-pass thing was so wonderful and above-board, why was it that for several days this week, me, Chip, Savannah Guthrie at NBC, several people were pressing Robert Gibbs -- do you support this or not? Well, we're going to leave it up to the Speaker.

KURTZ: No, they ran away from it.

LIZZA: And there was actually -- I know this for a fact. There was actually a dispute between the House and the White House over this. The White House, especially the communications people, were arguing with the communications people over in the House and saying, do we really want to go forward with this --


KURTZ: But let me put this to Chip.

The charge against the media is if you're not a junkie and you're not hanging on every turn of the dial on deem and pass, reconciliation, is that the coverage increasingly has been about the horse race, the parliamentary maneuvering, the polls, and that the substance of the health care measure has gotten overshadowed, if not lost.

REID: I think that's true recently. And I just know in doing my stories, I always try to get as much plain-old substance in there as I can in a two-minute story.

KURTZ: But you've got a limited amount of time.

REID: You know, how much can you do? And if you've got to cover that day's wrangling, it really is difficult.

On this whole issue of deem and pass, I'm not sure the Democrats are really this smart. But if you look back on it, the deem and pass just became this gigantic red herring, basically, and then it went away. So, the Republicans spent days arguing about something that now doesn't exist.

HOLMES: I would agree with that, in fact, that the deem and pass, it sort of -- it moved the goal post. So, the argument used to be that doing this through reconciliation was undermining the Democratic process. Then Nancy Pelosi had this deem and pass, and that's what they're arguing about. And now you hear Republicans saying we just want an up-or-down vote, which is what President Obama was saying. REID: The process is OK.

HOLMES: Exactly. But I have to say, what I love about deem and pass is that the way you run the words together, it sounds like "demon pass."

KURTZ: I have noticed that. And some Republicans have done that.

This morning, Ryan, "The New York Times" has what we call in business a big tick-tock, a reconstruction of how we got to here. Politico has a similar one. And they both have the same sort of anecdotal lead, which is basically Nancy Pelosi stiffening President Obama's spine, saying she didn't want to settle for some sort of watered-down version that she called kiddy care.


KURTZ: Do these pieces tend to be shaped by which aides are willing to leak what happened in the backroom conversations? That sounds like a --


LIZZA: I mean, just reading between the lines, reading both pieces, it does seem like the Pelosi folks decided that this is her moment and that she needs to get some credit. And they want the story to be how she stiffened the president's spine. And from my reporting, I think that's exactly right.

I think the yin and yang on this debate all year has been Nancy Pelosi and Rahm Emanuel. And, you know, at the end of the day, Pelosi wants some credit for accomplishing that.

HENRY: Yes. And on that point, I would say that the morning after Scott Brown's election -- I'll mention Dana Bash again -- she had Hill sources, and I had people in the administration and outside.

We were reporting, as others were, the morning after Scott Brown's victory, that Rahm Emanuel was calling around town saying let's do -- can we do a scaled-back bill? To be clear, he wasn't necessarily pushing it, but he was floating this idea of a much weaker thing. And Speaker Pelosi was one of many, but the chief person who was pushing it. So, even though it might look a little fluffy, that her staff maybe threw it out there to "The New York Times" and Politico, it also may be true.


KURTZ: Well, I wasn't arguing that it was not true, but there are many different versions of history. And of course, success has a thousand fathers. Everybody wants their little piece of the credit.

We were just talking about process and the majority vote. The media have led -- an absolute parade of Republicans get on the air and say that this is being shoved down the throat of the American people. But, you know, for all the argument of reconciliation, I mean, it does still take a majority vote in each chamber.

HOLMES: Well, it may. I mean, this Slaughter thing has been dropped.

KURTZ: The "Slaughter," being the deem-and-pass -- Louise Slaughter.

HOLMES: The pass rule. But I would also point out that Fox News is one of the few networks that has actually been reporting on the senators -- or sorry, congressmen -- who changed their votes from a yes to a no.

So, we have Dennis Kucinich, who seems to be very talented at getting attention for himself, at throwing a press conference -- I'm going to go with the president. I voted no originally, but now I'm voting no. And all the media covering that, but they're not covering the congressmen who are going the other way. So, there seems to be this -- you know, the White House and the Hill is trying to make this inevitable.

REID: Everybody is reporting votes going both ways.

HOLMES: I don't see the same fanfare.

LIZZA: In general, Fox News will cover the Republican talking points a little better than most networks. And this is more of a Republican line. And I think you're right, they probably pushed that a little bit more and emphasized it a little bit more, but that's what they do.

HENRY: But as reporters, also, we're not in the business of pushing talking points for either side. And I'm not disagreeing with Ryan, with how he characterized it, but it's our job to sort out the talking points on each side and figure out what's really going on.


KURTZ: And to sort out the conflicting claims of how many votes each side has.

LIZZA: The story is that it's being -- the momentum is towards success, not failure. And I think it's right to concentrate on that a little bit more.

KURTZ: If Pelosi's team is right and they have got the votes, and this thing passes today, will the press portray this in the next 48 hours as a huge and game-changing victory for President Obama, or as a political liability because obviously Republicans are going to attack this even after it passes?

REID: My obligation as a reporter, not a commentator, is to do, on the one hand, on the other hand. We don't know. That's the bottom line.

We don't really know what's going to happen in the fall. We know they're going to lose seats, but we don't know if they're going to lose more seats as result of health care reform or lose fewer seats as a result of health care reform.

KURTZ: But won't the journalistic focus shift, Chip, from the battle which is something we all love do, to the fact that it is now law and how is it going to work? And is it actually going to help people or is it going to bankrupt the government?

REID: Yes, it's going to be three things.

Number one, what is actually in here? I know CBS is planning a huge series of stories on what is actually in this thing for you people who haven't been paying attention, or have been listening to us talk too much about the horse race. What is really in this thing?

And number two are going to be both sides of the debate on whether it hurts or helps the Democrats in the fall.

KURTZ: All right. Let me get a break.

When we come back, face-off with Fox. The president sits down with Bret Baier. Did the anchor interrupt Obama just a little too much?


KURTZ: It was last fall, on this program, that White House official Anita Dunn launched the administration's war on Fox News, calling it an arm of the Republican Party. But it's a cable channel with plenty of viewers, and so President Obama invited news anchor Bret Baier to his place for an interview this week, and things got contentious pretty quickly.


OBAMA: And if people vote yes, whatever form that takes, that is going to be a vote for health care reform. And I don't think we should pretend otherwise. And if --

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: But, Mr. President, this Monday --

OBAMA: Bret, let me finish. If they lose their job, heaven forbid, or somebody gets sick with a pre-existing condition, they'll have more security.

BAIER: So how can you --

OBAMA: So the notion --

BAIER: You guarantee that they're not going to be -- they're going to be able to keep their doctor --

OBAMA: Bret, you've got to let me finish my answers.

BAIER: But, sir, I know you don't like to filibuster.

OBAMA: Well, I'm trying to answer your questions and you keep on interrupting. So let me be clear. BAIER: I apologize for interrupting you, sir.

OBAMA: And that's OK, Bret. That's your job.

BAIER: I'm trying to get the most for our buck here.


KURTZ: Amy Holmes, what did you make of the interview? Did Bret Baier go too far with interrupting?

HOLMES: Well, as the resident conservative at the table, I'm supposed to defend Bret Baier. And unsurprisingly, I will.

I looked at that interview and I think it was contentious. I think he did interrupt a little bit too much. But when did the press, you know, say that we have to be puppies in the laps of the presidents? Ask Sam Donaldson, who became very famous for yelling at presidents. I like the British model. I like --

LIZZA: I don't think it's our goal to become famous.


HOLMES: Well, certainly it's to get the news, and I think that Bret did. Unfortunately, because he did interrupt so much --

REID: I have to interrupt Amy here because --


HOLMES: Because he interrupted so much, that became the focus of the interview and not the substance of what the president was saying.

LIZZA: Look, in these issues, I'm going to side with the correspondent. Maybe he interrupted him too much, maybe he was little rude.

KURTZ: I don't think he was rude. I think he was civil.

LIZZA: I think he was civil, and there's --

KURTZ: But as the interview went on -- I'm interrupting you now -- as the interview went on, it did seem that Obama -- of course, here's what was happening. Bret Baier wanted to talk about process. Obama admitted the process is ugly, he used that word, but Obama kept trying to circle back to the substance of the health care bill.

LIZZA: Look -- yes, exactly -- when you are the president of the United States, and you sit down with a reporter, the reporter can do what they want, they can ask any question they want. And I agree with Amy. I like the British system a little bit more. I think there is nothing wrong with tough, contentious interviews.

And he didn't do anything that was out of bounds.


Now, the liberal group Think Progress later posted some contrasting footage, shall we say, of Bret Baier interviewing President Bush in the final weeks of his term.

Let's take a look at a little bit of that.


BAIER: Do you believe that there hasn't been a terrorist attack on U.S. soil in more than seven years because of the policies your administration has implemented?

GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, I believe the policies that we worked with Congress on to better protect America are paying off.


KURTZ: Now, the point, in Bret Baier's favor, it seems to me, Chip, is that the president has a tendency to filibuster. You have got a limited amount of time, the clock is ticking, and you want to get your questions in.

REID: Yes. In fact, the president started off with a filibuster right from the start. He was asked a question and he just went into his big speech on health care reform.

KURTZ: Including many things he has said many times.

REID: That's right. But I look at this whole thing a different way. I look at, what was the White House trying to do here, and did they accomplish it? I don't think -- you know, Fox may be big ratings on cable, but it's a very small number of people in this country who actually watched this interview from beginning to end.

What people got out of this interview was what you said earlier this week in one of your columns -- not to butter up the host, or anything, but what the people like is a president who is down there fighting in the arena and really going for what he believes in here. And he is finally doing it on this with those speeches and with this.

And I think this was just to have an image out there for the country that he's even willing to go into enemy territory, as he considers it, to fight for what he believes in. And all the substance of the interview, it was really about that one thing. He went in there and fought.

KURTZ: Although in fairness, Bret Baier is a news anchor. He's not Bill O'Reilly. He's not Glenn Beck. But it's still Fox News, which has obviously been at odds with the administration.

HENRY: Right. And I think that there's something -- as Chip says, there's something for the White House to say we're going in the lion's den. And also, Bret Baier gets something out of it -- we're taking on the president. There are other White House correspondents, by the way, and anchors who have taken on this president. I think maybe this one is getting a lot of attention, but there have been other clashes.

Chip and I have done interviews with him where we faced the same time constraint. You've got 10 minutes, and if he gives two-minute answers, you've got five questions. So, you want to get as many as you want in there, and if he holds the ball, there's trouble.

But there's a fine line there. And I think Bret largely found that fine line. But I actually just saw him yesterday and told him to his face, so I'll say it here as well, that there were a couple of cases where Bret had second and third follow-ups before the president even answered the second one.

KURTZ: And you just crossed the fine line, because we are out of time.

Ed Henry, Chip Reid, Amy Holmes, Ryan Lizza, thanks very much for joining us.

Before we go to break, the American Idol-style competition at ABC's "This Week" is over. The network has picked Christian Amanpour, CNN chief international correspondent, to take over the Sunday show that had been anchored by George Stephanopoulos.

It's an unorthodox choice because Amanpour has spent 12 of the last 14 years living in London and Paris. She tells me she'll get up to speed on domestic politics, but wants to give the program a more international flavor. And one sign of progress, with Candy Crowley at "STATE OF THE UNION," two of the five Sunday talk shows are now hosted by women.

Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, comeback kid. With Tiger Woods heading for the Masters, will CBS and everyone else let him leave his tabloid scandal behind?

Jim Gray and Christine Brennan join our discussion.

Also, backstage at Politico. Our cameras are there as one of Washington's top Web sites maps out its health care coverage for the week.

Plus, the real Rielle. Is what she told "GQ" magazine the story, or those racy pictures?


KURTZ: It was four weeks ago that Tiger Woods stepped before the cameras and apologized for making a mess of his personal life with all those many mistresses. He took no questions from the press, as you'll recall, and described his golfing career as secondary to the need to finish his rehab and repair his marriage.


TIGER WOODS, PROFESSIONAL GOLFER: I do plan to return to golf one day. I just don't know when that day will be.


KURTZ: Well, we now know exactly when that day will be, as a statement from the world's top golfer generated front-page headlines in many newspapers and was carried at the top of many newscasts.


KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: Tonight, he fell from grace. Now he begins the long climb back. Tiger Woods says he'll return to pro golf next month with the Masters.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: He'll play in the Masters next month, more than four months after the Thanksgiving night car accident outside his home led to the unraveling of his personal life in a very public way.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A messy scandal sent him into seclusion and rehab. Now Tiger Woods announces his return to golf.

ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: After four months of hiding, Tiger says he's ready for the comeback.

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: The sports world breathing a sigh of relief tonight.


KURTZ: So how will CBS, which is carrying the Masters, and other organizations handle the Tiger story once the tournament is under way?

Joining us now in Los Angeles, Jim Gray, correspondent for the Golf Channel. And here in Washington, Christine Brennan, sports columnist for "USA Today" and a contributor to ABC News.

Jim Gray, when CBS and ESPN air the Masters, will golf be the overwhelming story, or will Tiger's sex scandal share equal billing?

JIM GRAY, GOLF CHANNEL CORRESPONDENT: Golf will be the overwhelming story because that's what it is. It's a golf tournament. It's not about the sex scandal.

They will, I'm sure, touch on the scandal because it will be the news of the day. And if there's more news to report, both of them are very adept at handling it. But gold will be the overwhelming story.

KURTZ: Christine Brennan, if I can put up a "New York Daily News" headline from the other day which was not about golf -- have we got it? There we go -- "Best Text He Ever Had," the text messages to one of his many girlfriends.

If there is very little discussion of Tiger's rehab and personal problems amid the golf whispers, won't some people view that as somewhat of a whitewash? CHRISTINE BRENNAN, SPORTS COLUMNIST, "USA TODAY": Well, sure. And, in fact, CBS covered the Hudy/Martha (ph) story, the women's membership issue story in 2003, by really not covering it in the golf telecast.

You know, of course they're in business. CBS Sports is in business with Augusta National, and it's kind of like the Olympic coverage, where you won't necessarily get the greatest journalism.

I wish Jim Gray was a part of the CBS coverage. That would be different.

But I do think that the reality is what we saw in 2003 was a test run. It was a kindergarten picnic compared to what we'll see with all the craziness outside the gates at Augusta National this time. But again, I think it's a sports network that wants to cover sports. Maybe their news side will cover some of the news.

KURTZ: Well, Jim Gray, if you were the lead anchor for the Masters and Tiger won, which may or may not happen, obviously, and you got a chance to interview him, he's putting on the green jacket. Do you ask any questions about the scandal or just the winning putt?

GRAY: Well, I think it has to be within the context of what's gone on. If it didn't affect his game, obviously, then what's the point of talking about it at that time? There's a time and place for all of this stuff.

I think that if it's mentally distracting to him, if it does affect his game in any way, then he won't win. But if he wins, and then you're talking about it, well, the country didn't tune in necessarily to see about his sex scandal. That's between really him and his wife, and how ever he chooses to handle it going forward, and his sponsors and so forth.

So, yes, I think that there has to be some sort of question about it, about what has gone on in his behavior. But I don't think that that would be what predominates the conversation. It predominantly would have to be about golf.


KURTZ: I would disagree with that. I think the ratings for the Masters are going to be huge. And I think one reason that a lot of people are going to be tuning in who are not necessarily big golf fans is because of this tawdry melodrama that has surrounded Tiger Woods for three or four months.

BRENNAN: And I don't know that you have to -- and of course Jim is a great journalist, so he would ask the tough questions. We have seen that before.

KURTZ: We have seen that.

BRENNAN: And I would love to be right there with you, Jim, asking the tough questions. I think there's a way do this. There's the story of -- the fall from grace here is huge. This is not just about the mistresses. I have no idea, nor does Jim, nor do you, have an idea of how many mistresses are out there. I couldn't care less.

KURTZ: I lost count.

BRENNAN: The texts, I don't care. What I care about is the story, this cultural sports story of a fall from grace of this incredible icon.

And so, within that framework I think there are lots of questions to ask. And also the issue of performance-enhancing drugs.

The doctor, Dr. Galea, I would love to ask Tiger about his relationship with him. Tiger said, of course -- he made that clear in his speech -- that he was not involved with performance-enhancing drug use. But those are questions that we definitely need to ask Tiger.

KURTZ: Jim Gray, what about Christine's earlier point that CBS is in, effect, in partnership with the major league golf tour, Professional Golf Association, in carrying a prestigious tournament like the Masters, and maybe is going to soft-peddle some of this in a way that another network that didn't have this deal would not?

GRAY: Well, I think that everybody who would be in this circumstance would handle it the exact same way. The network is involved and has been involved for more than 50 year now on a one-year contract. So Augusta National contract is much different than dealing with the National Football League, Major League Baseball, or the PGA Tour in and of itself. It's because it is that one-year contract and everybody covets to have it.

So that's why golf will be the subject matter that is spoken most about. However, Sean McManus, the president of CBS Sports, he's also the president of CBS News If there's news to cover, he's going to cover it. He's not going to just stand by the side and not let this go on and pretend that the audience doesn't know what's going on.

I mean, and Billy Payne, who is the chairman of Augusta National, is a very, very bright man. He was the head of the Olympic Committee, the Atlanta Olympic Organizing Committee. And there was a bomb that went off, and unfortunately it cost lives.

Well, Billy Payne was smart enough not to call Dick Ebersol and say, hey, let's not talk about this bomb that went off. He knew that it had to be discussed.

KURTZ: Sure.

GRAY: So I'm quite certain if there is something that needs to be discussed, CBS, who knows how to cover a golf tournament as well as anybody, they will cover the news as well.

KURTZ: Do you think, Jim -- just inferring from some of your comments -- that the media as a whole have gone just way, way overboard on the Tiger Woods story and have intruded into his personal life, and pumped it up and sensationalized it? Or is it an actual fall from grace, as Christine says, that needs to be covered as huge story?

GRAY: Well, Christine is right and you're right. And it is excessive. I mean, there's a lot of things going on, as your program has pointed out already this morning.

KURTZ: Health care.

GRAY: Tiger Woods has gotten an awful lot of attention. And this really, at the end of the day -- I mean, he will be judged at the end of the day as a golfer.

And yes, a lot of this is very unpleasant, and it's disappointed a lot of people. And a lot of people who put their faith in Tiger Woods as more than a golfer had it misplaced.

And he has apologized for that and wants to try and move on with his life. And he will have been out of golf for 144 days, so he wants to get back to golf. Yes, it has been over-covered, it has been over- overanalyzed, and there's a lot more important things to talk about.

BRENNAN: Well, I would say that, yes, everything's over-covered today. We have, what, 300, 400 channels? Of course, that goes without saying. But within the framework, again, of a sports story -- and that's how I look at this as a sports journalist, as does Jim -- there are lots of issues here.

The golf is a huge issue, and we will be covering that. But I would say that those of us who are not in business with Augusta National I think will do a better job of reporting and doing the journalism.

When I was at the Olympics, I said there's not a whole lot of journalism breaking out in that press tent. You know, a lot of the writers want to get in the lottery to play golf for free on Monday. I was shocked by that when I first showed up in '99. I'm still shocked that that is allowed, and that journalists want to take a freebie from Augusta National.

There's a lot of issues there.

KURTZ: Right. There's also, of course, the situation with journalists wanting to get on the air and write about this. And, in fact, we talked earlier about President Obama's interview with Fox News. Here's another question that came up with Bret Baier.

Let's roll that.


OBAMA: You know, Tiger has acknowledged that he betrayed his family, and, you know, that's a personal issue that he's got to work out. I hope they've worked it out. I'm sure he's going to still be a terrific golfer. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Jim Gray, when the president of the United States is weighing in on Tiger's problems, it's a pretty big cultural issue, is it not?

GRAY: Yes. And Tiger Woods has been to the Oval Office to see President Obama. And President Obama is a huge golfer.

So, you know, I think that he kind of struck it right. You know, it's an issue that he's going to have to resolve with his wife.

He has let a lot of people down. He has acknowledged that so far. Let's see how he moves forward.

You know, there's been a lot of trampling on Tiger Woods, and this is all self-induced. And a lot of it he has brought -- all of it he has brought upon himself. Now let's see if he can dig himself out. Let's see if he will live the life that he said he will now lead going forward.

KURTZ: That is the test.

And we have half a minute, Christine Brennan.

When Tiger Woods said at that stage-managed apology that he did not know when he was going to return to golf, looking back do you think that was honest?

BRENNAN: No, I don't. We have no idea, but it certainly was misleading.

They parsed every word. When he said, "I will return to golf one day, I don't know when that day will be," oh, in fact it will be in 25 days. That was when he was going to announce it. So, I've said that, I wrote a column, Howie, about that.

KURTZ: You called it a fraud.

BRENNAN: I did. I called it a fraud. And I think it does allows us to question every word he said.

I would love to be wrong. I hope he's changed. And I hope -- well, it's definitely a great story to cover, but I think we are allowed to look at every word he says.

KURTZ: It's a great story to cover and a story that's not over.

Jim Gray, Christine Brennan, thanks very much for stopping by this Sunday morning.

Up next, inside the newsroom. We sit in on an editor's meeting at Politico. As the Web site plots its health care coverage, you get to see the making of the journalistic sausage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KURTZ: As the health care debate has headed into the final stretch, journalists have been scrambling to saying there's something new to say about a subject that, to be perfectly honest, has been both exhausting and exhaustively covered. That's certainly been true at Politico, the Washington Web site and Capitol Hill newspaper.

We paid a visit to the newsroom the other day on the Virginia side of the Potomac River and brought our cameras into a morning meeting. Politico's editor, John Harris, and executive editor, Jim VandeHei, were leading a brainstorming session with their top reporters and editors.

Here's what it looked like.


JOHN HARRIS, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, POLITICO: A month ago, I believe we were on the verge of writing a story that comprehensive health care is dead, will never happen. And I'm glad we didn't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, I was going to say, like, a month after it seemed pretty damn dead, it's back to --

JAMES VANDEHEI, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, POLITICO: The trick is to keep it tightly focused on Pelosi, though, because The Post and everyone else is doing the much broader tick-tock from beginning to end. And if we can, like, really rope it around her, and rope it especially around the final 72 hours --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And where are we? Are we going to tackle Alex's story? Did you hear about this? There is a suggestion --

Alex, can you explain it? I think we've had some discussion about it, but I don't think it's assigned yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure. The idea behind that was just, you know, with a matter of 72 hours, or whatever it is left until a vote, to take a look at the various groups of people who are sort of ostentatiously making claims about the number of votes they have, or the number of votes they will have, or the consequences that a vote would have.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess I view it as the health care drama queens story. I mean, how is it that, you know, Kucinich, the most progressive guy in the House, had us all waiting to see how he would play out in a press conference today? I mean, come on. He played it gloriously. And there are others --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Air Force One trip.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Air Force One and every -- and, you know, you have him, you have Alan Grayson, with the Republicans wants you to die.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has to call me three times.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I mean, let's just get the health care drama queens.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like that piece.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Moment of fame for these guys. It's like, you know, Dennis Kucinich ran twice for president, hasn't been heard from since.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I'm a person of interest in an ongoing investigation.


VANDEHEI: Kara (ph), what can we be doing out of the White House that's not -- that's sort of different from what everyone is on how they're looking at this. Like, everyone is going to probably look at it through the Rahm prism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do think there is something more to be done in the last -- or even a little. I mean, our sense from talking -- the reporting you did yesterday was like, you know, you can't shake a stick without hitting a cabinet member, calling every member of the House multiple times, (INAUDIBLE), and you're not going to be helping anymore.

VANDEHEI: Is there someone like, Marcy (ph), though, that we could take it, and actually who was our caller? And then, also, you could examine, like, who matters? Like you really care if you're getting a call from (INAUDIBLE) require Obama or Biden or Rahm or -- which calls actually matter? Which are considered overkill, and which are quite frankly considered an insult? Like the transportation secretary?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who would be great to talk to about this is Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, who got a similar call from Bill Clinton and was forced to walk the plank. I mean, she knew that that vote was going to cost her back in -- before the '94 cycle. And she --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It happened, like, immediately after the vote. Like, who are the plank-walkers?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Or is to do dead men walking. It's like, who just sort of signed their own political death warrant the next day by voting for this bill?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who could potentially do that? Altmire? Like, who is on that list? Who are some Democrats that could vote for it, that if they vote for it they very well could be toast?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the same freshmen, sophomores that -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Western Pennsylvanians, I think. Some of the Midwesterners out of Indiana, maybe, that -- some of the statewide candidates, some of the House members who are trying for statewides. It's not going to help them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's obscure first and second-term folks that you wouldn't know but that come from districts that they won, in part, because Obama was on the ballot, but they probably are not going to have an easy time anyway. And now, given this, they're going to be -- and plus, we also ought to mention those folks that have done the sort of triple-lending (ph). They voted for cap and trade, they voted for stimulus, now they're voting for health care.



KURTZ: Some of those stories they talked about were very solid. But Politico also suffered an embarrassment this week, as a leaked Democratic memo on health care -- they reported and posted a leaked Democratic memo on health care without saying it came from Republican sources. When Democrats called the memo bogus, Politico said it followed an old rule of thumb in journalism by quickly taking it down.

Actually, a better rule of thumb would have been to verify it first before publishing.

Next week we'll bring you my interview with the top editors, John Harris and Jim VandeHei. And I also want to mention that Politico is part of Allbritton Communications, which also owns a number of television stations, including some that are CNN affiliates.

Obviously health care taking top billing this morning. No surprise there.


KURTZ: Well, we all know what was topic A, B and C on the talk shows this morning. And here is Candy Crowley to break it down.

CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION": You're right. If you didn't want to talk about health care, today was not the day to tune in.

Just hours before an historic vote on sweeping health care reform, House Democrats were talking victory, though with varying degrees of confidence.


REP. JOHN LARSON (D), CONNECTICUT: We are happy warriors. We are so proud of the Democratic Caucus, that we will be a part of history, joining Franklin Delano Roosevelt's passage of Social Security, Lyndon Johnson's passage of Medicare, and now Barack Obama's passage of health care reform.

CROWLEY: So you've got the 260?

LARSON: We've got the votes.



REP. STENY HOYER (D), MAJORITY LEADER: There are still members looking at it and trying to make up their minds, but we think there are going to be 216-plus votes when we call the roll.


REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: We don't have a hard 216 right now. So, I mean, I couldn't tell you which 216 members we will have, but I believe firmly that we'll have 216 members.


CROWLEY: And this may end up to be a historic day, but it will not be the last day. The House changes to health care have to be approved by the Senate, and Senate Republicans say they have dozens upon dozens of changes of their own.


SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: I think it's more, probably, in the order of hundreds, but, you know, the point is we're going to help the American people understand by these amendments what is in the bill and why they are right when they think it's a bad bill.


CROWLEY: And if Senate Republicans succeed in making any of those changes, adding or subtracting from the House bill, guess where it goes next?


SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Anybody that thinks that this is only going to be a one-time deal today in the House I think is grossly mistaken.


CROWLEY: So it will -- so enjoy this historic day, because we have other historic days to come, is the bottom line here.

KURTZ: But that was fascinating, to see the split between John Larson, Congressman Larson, on your show, saying we've got the 216, and then there was Steny Hoyer and Debbie Wasserman Schultz saying, well, we're kind of close, we think we might have it. That didn't fill me with confidence as far as what the Democrats think they've got.

CROWLEY: I think what should give people confidence is that they have called the vote. If we get to 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, 9:00, and the vote hasn't been called yet, I think then we'd have to go back and say, do they have it? But they will not call it unless they have it, and they're very close to it.

I think Larson is right. I think they do have it. I just think they're back checking pulses again, going, OK, you're with us, right? I think it's that kind of thing going on.

KURTZ: Making sure nobody keels over.

CROWLEY: That's right.

KURTZ: Now, you crawled out on a little bit of a limb in our conversation here last week. You said that, look, the Democrats are going to get to 216, it's a question of which wavering members are going to be forced to take a vote they don't want to take.

Are you still comfortable that's the case?

CROWLEY: Yes. I think they'll still get 216. I think that you will see, by and large, when the "no" votes come, you'll see that they're from swing districts.

KURTZ: In other words, people will be given a pass by the party to vote no?

CROWLEY: Well, I mean, I don't think -- you know, in some cases it's not as, OK, you've got to buy this time here, this is your time, but it is understood. There are those who say I will be there if you have to have me there, but I need to -- my district wants me to vote no. And they will try their best to accommodate that.

KURTZ: I wish we had a transcript of some of those conversations.

CROWLEY: Me too.

KURTZ: It's fascinating.

Candy Crowley, thanks very much.

Still to come, the other woman speaks. Are the media taking John Edwards' mistress seriously or just salivating over her "GQ" photo spread?


KURTZ: It was almost like a scientific experiment. For more than two years, everyone in the media has talked about this woman and quoted everyone else talking about her, and shown her picture in "The National Enquirer."

So, how did the news business react when we finally had a firsthand account from Rielle Hunter?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KURTZ (voice-over): Her interview with "GQ" magazine got a masterful media rollout with dual exclusives in "The New York Post" and "Washington Post," and a network scoop on "The Today Show."

LISA MYERS, NBC NEWS: In fact, she claims that most of John Edwards' mistakes were because he feared the wrath of Elizabeth.

KURTZ: Hunter is, of course, the mother of what the tabloids call John Edwards' love child. That would be the same John Edwards who told "Nightline" the child couldn't possibly be his.

BOB WOODRUFF, ABC NEWS: I need to ask about probably the most controversial allegation, which is that a report has been published that the baby of Ms. Hunter is your baby.


JOHN EDWARDS (D), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Not true. Not true. Published in a supermarket tabloid, but, no, that is absolutely not true.

KURTZ: Elizabeth Edwards talked about the impact on her marriage when she wrote her book.

ELIZABETH EDWARDS, JOHN EDWARDS' WIFE: I only knew about a single night, a single moment of weakness.

KURTZ: And former Edwards' aide Andrew Young talked about how he pretended to be the father of Hunter's baby when he was promoting his book. When Hunter broke her silence with GQ's Lisa DePaulo, some questioned whether it was a news story at all.

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: Should the media even cover this tawdry situation?

KURTZ: But that didn't stop him and everyone else from showing the "GQ" pictures. You know, where the magazine had her posed provocatively, in a bed, surrounded by her daughter's toys.

Would "GQ" have done the interview without the photo shoot? Who knows.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: We've all been talking about it among the producers this afternoon, about how grotesque this whole thing is. She's there showing herself as sort of like a sex kitten with the -- holding the kid's toys.

KURTZ: Hunter had second thoughts about the pantsless shoot and called Barbara Walters, in tears.

BARBARA WALTERS, "THE VIEW": She found them repulsive. When I asked, "Well, if that was the case, then why did you pose the way you did?" She said that she trusted Mark Suliger (ph), whom she said is a brilliant photographer, and she -- "I went with the flow."

JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, HLN: That doesn't make any sense, Rielle. You were right there when they pointed the camera at you, honey.

KURTZ: But here's what got much less attention. Rielle Hunter comes across at pretty sharp, not some starry-eyed bimbo, as she's been caricatured.

Yes, she talks about how Edwards is now integrated and living a life of truth, and has grown in awareness and humility. And she doesn't seem terribly sympathetic toward the cancer-stricken Elizabeth. But it's clear that Hunter has shared many confidences with the former senator.

She says she spoke to him all night from the hospital after the baby was born. And their relationship seems to be quite current.


KURTZ: What most people will remember from this episode is GQ's specialty, a sexy photo spread. But there were words, too, that any fair journalistic appraisal of Rielle Hunter should take into account.

Now, before we go, Jon Stewart had a little fun on "The Daily Show" the other night. He was channeling Glenn Beck of Fox News. Here's a little bit of that.


JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": It's not that believing -- I'm not saying this. I'm not saying that believing there should be a minimum standard for how much lead can be in our paint might lead to the government having the right to sterilize and kill Jews. I'm not saying that that might be the case.


KURTZ: Well, you know, you want to be on "The Daily Show," but not necessarily just like that.

That is it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCE.

I'm Howard Kurtz.

You can join us again next Sunday morning, every Sunday morning, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media. If you missed any part of our program, you can check out our podcast at, or on iTunes. And you can check out our show page on Facebook as well.

Candy Crowley is standing here right with me, and "STATE OF THE UNION" begins right now.