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Beck Draws Thousands to D.C.; Mehlman Comes Out

Aired August 29, 2010 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Washington is accustomed to big rallies, but how many talk show hosts could draw a crowd to the Lincoln Memorial and stir up a huge fuss in the process? Glenn Beck, with help from Sarah Palin, spoke yesterday in the same spot on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Was it a nonpartisan event or a conservative clarion call?

Many Americans persist in believing a lie that President Obama is a Muslim, and some say they learned that from the media. Why haven't journalists been able to put this rumor to rest?

As President Bush's former campaign chief comes out as gay, a conservative columnist makes the case against same-sex marriage and gets hammered by other commentators. A conversation with Ross Douthat of "The New York Times."

Plus, Tiger Woods' wife breaks her silence as the couple divorces in an exclusive cover story for "People." Did the magazine giver her too much control over the interview?

I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.

After weeks of promotion, or self-promotion, to be precise, Glenn Beck hit the Mall yesterday. Tens of thousands of people or more showed up on the anniversary of the famous Martin Luther King speech, somewhat less than predicted, but still an impressive turnout for a talk show guy.

We'll show you what it looked like in a second, but first here's the Fox News host trumpeting the Lincoln Memorial event and his detractors on MSNBC who, in their obvious disgust, covered the run-up far more than Fox did.


GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS: I'm getting a lot of heat because on Saturday, a week from Saturday, August 28th, which is the anniversary of the Martin Luther King "I Have a Dream" speech, I am not standing in that same place, but I am standing several stairs down from where those two civil rights legends stood. And I'm asking people to join me and learn the history of America and learn again about the content of character.



JOAN WALSH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SALON.COM: The first thing Glenn Beck does when he's called on it is say, "Black people don't own Martin Luther King." And, you know, the tone-deafness of that when people were actually owned as slaves --



FAIZ SHAKIR, THINKPROGRESS.ORG: He sees himself as a Martin Luther King figure, and there's a lot of people who buy that nonsense.


ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: The fact that this clown will be on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with Sarah Palin, I find offensive. There is no honor in the way these two Fox employees have acted.


KURTZ: CNN had substantial live coverage of the Beck rally yesterday. MSNBC, somewhat less. And Fox ignored the event for the first two hours in favor of taped business programming.

Beck and his Fox colleague Sarah Palin had promised a non- political gathering, and here's some of what they said.


BECK: Something beyond imagination is happening. Something that is beyond man is happening. America today begins to turn back to God.

SARAH PALIN (R), FMR. ALASKAN GOVERNOR: And over these grounds where we are so honored to stand today, we feel the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


KURTZ: So, has the coverage of Beck's Washington extravaganza been fair or rather loaded?

Joining us now, Bill Press, syndicated radio talk show host and author of the new book "Toxic Talk: How The Radical Right Has Poisoned America's Airwaves"; Matt Lewis, blogger and political analyst for; and Jane Hall, associate professor at American University's School of Communication.

Now, Jane, we don't know the exact numbers. CBS said 87,000. Fox at one point said 500,000. But whatever the figure, was this Beck rally worth all the buildup it got in the media?

JANE HALL, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY'S SCHOOL OF COMMUNICATION: I think it was. I think NBC said it was 300,000. So those are always controversial. I think it was certainly worthy of coverage. I think that the Tea Party movement is getting more serious coverage. There is obviously enthusiasm out there. And I think the symbolism of a guy who has called Obama a racist standing there and acting as if he hasn't done that and he's now reverential towards this, the idea, to my mind, the language of it was the most compelling thing.

Who is the "we" that needs to restore the honor?

KURTZ: Right.

HALL: And I think the coverage needs to get at who is behind this, why did they draw people, what did people say, and what does this mean? It's important.

KURTZ: Bill Press, you have been crusading against this event for weeks. Most of the talk from Glenn Beck was about God and patriotism. What did he say, if anything, that you found troubling?

BILL PRESS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, first of all, talking about God on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. By the way, whatever the numbers were --

KURTZ: Haven't preachers done that?

PRESS: -- 200,000, or whatever, I was there yesterday. I went down there. OK?

And I'll tell you, I thought I was at a camp meeting, an old- fashioned religious camp meeting. I don't think that's appropriate on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. But two things.

KURTZ: Why is it not appropriate. Let's stick with that. Why is it not appropriate?

PRESS: Because it is a sacred spot, number one. I don't think it should be turned over to be a political or a religious rally. It was both, in my opinion. It was political. Not that he ever mentioned the word "Obama," but you can't bash Obama five days a week on the radio and television and then stand up on the Sabbath and be a non-political person.

KURTZ: So, in other words, you objected to his presence.

Let me turn to Matt Lewis.

By having Sarah Palin as another featured speaker, didn't Beck give his critics some ammunition that sees a bunch of conservative Republicans on this spot that is (INAUDIBLE) with so much symbolism because of King's speech?

MATT LEWIS, BLOGGER: Well, first, let me just respond to what Bill said quickly and say that Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. might have thought differently about invoking God. I think that it is consistent and appropriate to do so at the Lincoln Memorial. But you're right, I think, symbolically, having Sarah Palin there, although I think everything she said was entirely appropriate and classy, it does open the door for those who want to say that he invoked politics into it.

HALL: Well, you know, the Reverend Dr. King was a reverend. The reverend Glenn Beck is not a reverend. And we do have separation of church and state. I don't know if we have separation of church and state as talk show hosts.

KURTZ: But he has the right to talk about religion.

HALL: He has the right to do whatever. And I think that it's a very interesting phenomenon and deserves reporting. But I do think to call it non-political and not be called on that is something journalists need to look into.

PRESS: Yes. I believe calling it non-political is dishonest. But then, also, when you wrap the political in the divine -- and he said yesterday this has nothing to do with politics, it has all to do with God. He put himself in the steps of Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln and Moses.

LEWIS: But I think this is a lose-lose proposition for Glenn Beck. And by the way, I have been critical of him in the past, but for judging what he said yesterday, entirely positive, a great message. And look, if he had talked politics, we would be criticizing him for that. Because he transcended politics, we're now saying it was subtle.

KURTZ: Hold on, because I have a media question I reserved for you, Jane Hall.

HALL: I'm ready.

KURTZ: Beck specifically criticized a piece that ran I guess the day before the rally, Claire Shipman's pieces on ABC's "Good Morning America." It's a very brief clip we're going to show you right now.

OK. We'll come back to that because we don't have it ready.

So let me ask you this question instead -- Fox, which seemed to get behind -- where you were once a commentator, which seemed to get behind those 912 rallies that kind of gave birth to the Tea Party movement, seemed in this case to keep its distance from the Beck event.

Did it seem that way to you?

HALL: Yes it did. And I think you can question why.

I mean, I think they are taking heat for the politicization of their network. I mean, Rupert Murdoch gave $1 million to the GOP recently. I think that that was a move to say we are not doing this.

But again, when you promote it on your network, and the man is drawing people because he has viewers on Fox, it is aligned with Fox. So it's a distinction without a difference, in my opinion. PRESS: Howie, they did pull back toward the end. But let's face it, this event would not have happened without Fox News. This was a Fox News event.

KURTZ: Well, because Fox gives Beck a platform. But the other hosts were not banging the drums on this.

PRESS: No. Bill O'Reilly had him on his show to promote it. He was on "Fox & Friends" many times --

KURTZ: Yes, he appeared as a guest.

PRESS: -- to promote it. And when you -- I think the bigger picture is you couple that and all of the rest of his political activity, if I could just finish, with Sarah Palin is on the payroll, Newt Gingrich is on the payroll, Mike Huckabee is on the payroll.

LEWIS: MSNBC would love if Keith Olbermann could turn out 300,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial. He couldn't do it. Glenn Beck can do it, and there's a difference.


KURTZ: Doesn't Beck -- let me stick with Matt -- doesn't Beck benefit from the fact that he is a lightning rod, that he gets to have this even, that we all cover it, that we all talk about it? Doesn't that build him up even more?

LEWIS: I think controversy always sells in politics. But the beauty about yesterday's rally is I think a lot of people were pleasantly surprised at how positive it was.

Let's assume that the only people who showed up were just white conservatives. Not the case, but assuming that was true, that would be great because they were hearing a message of tolerance, of restoring American values. I think it would be a great message.

PRESS: Yes, but then they tune him in on Monday and he's calling Barack Obama a racist. You can't have it both ways.

LEWIS: By the way, on "Fox News Sunday" this morning, he did walk back that statement as well.

KURTZ: All right. I want to talk about that, but first I want to play this clip that we didn't have earlier. This is the "Good Morning America" piece that Beck specifically criticized. Let's take a quick look at it.


BECK: Blacks don't own Martin Luther King.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Glenn Beck is no Martin Luther King.


KURTZ: Here's what Beck actually said: "Whites don't own the founding fathers. Whites don't own Abraham Lincoln. Blacks don't own Martin Luther King."

Was that deceptively edited?

HALL: Well, I think that it should have had the context. I mean, you cannot accuse one side of not including context and not including the context --

KURTZ: Somebody makes a statement involving both races --

HALL: If somebody says two things, you've got to say two things.

KURTZ: -- and you just show one, I think that was deceptive.

You, Bill Press, said that for the Park Service to allow this rally was like "granting al Qaeda permission to hold a rally on September 11th at Ground Zero,"

Isn't that way over the top?

PRESS: I think the rally was a stick in the eye to any --

KURTZ: I don't know. But answer my question. You wrote a book about toxic talk.

PRESS: No, I said it and I'll stand by it because --

KURTZ: You're invoking a terrorist analogy for a talk show host. Why is that not over the top?

PRESS: No, what I'm comparing are sacred places. We have very few of them in this country. To me, the Lincoln Memorial I think for all Americans is one of our sacred places. Again, it should not be politicized, in my opinion, at Ground Zero.

KURTZ: I'm talking about your language, your language in bringing al Qaeda into it. Why is that appropriate?

PRESS: I think it is just as outrageous to have the people who offended -- I mean, who carried those attacks out at Ground Zero on 9/11, to give them that sacred site, to give a political huckster the Lincoln Memorial, yes.


HALL: I think it points to the dilemma, because the left hasn't known how to respond. And so now we are getting more response from the people.

LEWIS: But this is the toxicity of politics in our nation, where good folks like Bill, who are liberal, believe the conservatives, their political adversaries, not enemies, are worse than terrorists.

KURTZ: I've got to go, but let me ask you before we --

PRESS: That is not true, by the way.

KURTZ: All right. Denial registered.

You mentioned Glenn Beck being on "Fox News Sunday" this morning. And he was asked about that statement -- it's been replayed so many times -- "Obama has a deep-seated hatred for white people and the white culture." And he walked it back more than I've ever seen.

He said it was inaccurate, it was poorly said, he said he had a big fat mouth. But he did say that what Obama believed in is not racism, but black liberation theology.

Do you think Beck is trying to position himself to pull back from some of his extreme rhetoric?

LEWIS: I mean, look, we have to take him at his word. I hope that he is actually self-examining. And I think that as he said, he miscast Obama. I think he did, but it's also true that black liberation theology is the church -- you know, Reverend Wright's church that President Obama sat in for 20 years, not within the mainstream of American opinion (ph)

PRESS: As one who has a degree in theology, there is nothing wrong with black liberation theology. It's one of the greatest movements --


KURTZ: Since you've now taken us to the president and his religion, you have set me up for the next segment.


KURTZ: When we come back, the Muslim myth. Why does less than half the country believe President Obama is a Christian, or are the media at least partly to blame?


KURTZ: One of the things we learned about Barack Obama during the campaign is that he went to church, at least after two networks got hold of those tapes of his inflammatory pastor, Jeremiah Wright. But more than a year and a half into his presidency, many are doubting his Christian faith, at least according to a Pew research study.

Maybe you've seen these numbers. Eighteen percent of those surveyed believe the president is a Muslim. Another 43 percent don't know his religion. Only 34 percent correctly identified Obama as a Christian.

That, not surprisingly, sparked a heated discussion on the airwaves. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BECK : Your father is a Muslim, an atheist. Your mother at least is not practicing any religion. Your stepfather is a nonpracticing Muslim. Your grandparents who frequented something called the Little Red Church -- I don't even know.

I mean, is there any wonder why so many Americans are confused by him? They don't recognize him as a Christian. No.



LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS: It doesn't mean everyone expects you to go to church every Sunday, or even that you are criticized if you don't. But it's reaching out to the Muslim world, talking about the great Muslim contributions to the world, having all this Muslim outreach in Cairo.



STEPHEN HAYES, COLUMNIST, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": And he spends a lot of time, an inordinate amount of time, I would say, talking about extolling the virtues of Islam.



JUAN WILLIAMS, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I think these are people who are uncomfortable with a black president or uncomfortable with his policies. They don't like Barack Obama.


KURTZ: Jane Hall, do the media bear some responsibility here if so many Americans believe a flat-out lie or don't know what to believe?

HALL: I think they absolutely do. I think that this is a case where the conservative partisan media -- you know, our friend Glenn Beck that we've been talking about said "Barack" was a name he deliberately chose. I think it has to do with viewing Barack Obama as the other.

And Americans, at some level, many people being concerned about our place in the world and thinking that every Muslim is a terrorist and thinking that Barack Obama somehow is not legitimate. And the media -- I mean, he could help by going to church visibly every week. I mean, if they wanted to try to get in that game, he could.

KURTZ: Right. He hasn't picked a church.

HALL: But in absence of his response, he's being defined this way.

KURTZ: Matt Lewis, is there anything we just heard from Beck and others, suggestion that Obama is kind of, sort of acting like a Muslim?

LEWIS: Well, no. Actually, what I took that, as an analysis that we're talking about today as to why people have that perception.

So I think the truth is that -- I don't blame the media for creating this narrative. I blame them for sort of over-hyping it after the poll came out. You know, Ben Smith at Politico noted that 22 percent of Americans believe that Bush knew about 9/11 before it happened. The bottom line is a lot of Americans have a lot of notions that just simply aren't factual.

KURTZ: It's not like media commentators are going on the air and saying, hey, he's not a Christian. It's more subtle than that, isn't it?

PRESS: It is. And I definitely think the media -- I agree with Jane -- played a big role in this. And this poll came two weeks after this obsession with the so-called mosque at Ground Zero.

KURTZ: Which continues.

PRESS: Which continues, but it was right on the heels of that, and it's in that context they go out and ask this question. And I really question why they even would ask that question of Americans. I mean, you could ask him if he were cheating on his wife and you would probably get 15 or 20 percent.

LEWIS: I completely agree. It's a manufactured media story. But I do blame the media for pushing this story.

KURTZ: Yet, how can a public opinion poll in which more than half of those responding say they either don't believe that the president is a Christian or don't know, how can that be a media- manufactured story? It's a public opinion story.

HALL: It's a story that the right has been driving on talk radio. I believe Limbaugh has begun talking about him as an imam. It's being driven by the right. The left doesn't know how to respond, and Obama's not responding. And media reporters, it's like push- polling. You call somebody, as you said, do you beat your wife? Did you know he's not a Christian?

So, in the absence of facts, I think the media has some responsibility.

KURTZ: But you all have to keep in mind that people don't always believe what the media say. We saw that during the health care debate with these death panels. Many news organizations said flat out -- they didn't hedge it, they didn't say there are no death panels, and the poll comes out. You know, 40 or 45 percent believed that the health care proposal did involve death panels. HALL: But Howie, it's because of the power of the language. I think the language is working on Americans, many of them out of work, concerned about our place in the world, concerned about terrorism, and thinking that if you are Muslim, and if you are black, you somehow are not for this country. And it's a deep-seated thing that I think is frightening.

PRESS: And there is zero evidence to make a poll like this necessary. I mean, he's never been seen anywhere other than in a Christian church. We slammed him for six months for going to Reverend Wright's Christian church. He has a group of Christian advisers. There is no basis at all for this other than if you plant the question, you raise the doubt.

LEWIS: Well, I do think that, as Jane said, if he had gone to churches and sort of overtly tried to get this message out --

KURTZ: But that suggests it's his fault.

LEWIS: Well, Bill Clinton did that.

KURTZ: Right.

LEWIS: Nobody wondered -- you know, everybody knows that Bill Clinton is a Southern Baptist. I'm just saying, if you work in politics, your message is partly your responsibility.

Let me also say that Barack Obama is also different than most previous presidents we've had.

KURTZ: Yes, I've noticed that.


LEWIS: He's an intellectual. I'm talking about sort of his style.

KURTZ: His father was a Kenyan.

LEWIS: He's aloof, he's intellectual.

KURTZ: What does that have to do with it?

LEWIS: People just simply don't know him.


PRESS: I just want to point out, Ronald Reagan never went to church on Sunday, ,but he wasn't black. So nobody accused him of being a Muslim.

LEWIS: Do you think anybody -- if Jesse Jackson were president today, I don't think people would wonder.

KURTZ: Well, he happens to be a reverend. One more thing I want to talk about the president, and that is this started with a blogger. And then Toby Harnden of "The London Telegraph" wrote a column. And then Fox's Neil Cavuto picked it up, speculation, sheer speculation about whether the president is going to run again.

Let's take a look at that.


NEIL CAVUTO, FOX NEWS: Because I am more convinced than ever that President Obama won't be running then, his party won't take him out, polls won't take him out. I think Barack Obama will take himself out. I don't think the guy wants it.


KURTZ: Why do media people make these silly predictions?

HALL: Well, you know, that may be wishful thinking on the part of Mr. Cavuto.

Picking up on what was actually a very thoughtful column, I think it's what we were talking about. I think Americans got kind of tired of Bill Clinton, but we want some emoting. We want Barack Obama to show something. And he doesn't show the kind of overt emotion except around his family.

KURTZ: But this wasn't about whether he could win in 2012, it was whether he would want the job.

HALL: No, but it's about whether he wants it. But again, what is he supposed to do to prove that he wants it? You know, that's the question.

LEWIS: You asked the question, why do media people bring it up? And the simple fact is that it gets attention. I mean, if I said that --

KURTZ: Oh! Why didn't I think of that?

LEWIS: Yes. I mean, the story about Hillary Clinton is going to run against President Obama, that will give you attention.

KURTZ: Or become his vice presidential running mate.

HALL: Right.

LEWIS: Well, that's more likely. But running against him is an absurd notion, but it will get you ink.

PRESS: I just want to point out that this is the month of August. And in the month of August in Washington, you can say anything and people will talk about it.

KURTZ: All right. We've got a minute left. We had some more primaries this week, and John McCain won big. He was at least reported by the press to be in trouble. Of course, what does the press know? They said Lisa Murkowski was going to easily win Alaska, and she has probably lost.


KURTZ: But there is this media narrative that McCain won ugly by betraying his ideals. Here's a "New York Times" piece. "The question now is whether McCain's sharp shift to the right will come back to haunt him and perhaps tarnish his legacy."

Is the press just sort of angry with McCain?

LEWIS: Look, I want to blame my colleague, Jill Lawrence, of "Politics Daily," because I was out trying to interview John McCain this week, and he wouldn't talk to anybody because two weeks ago, she got him to deny that he ever changed anything. But look, I think John McCain did adjust some of his positions. He was very wise to seize on the fact that --


KURTZ: Sure he did. He had a challenge from the right.

LEWIS: Exactly. But the real reason John McCain won is that J.D. Hayworth was no conservative hero.

KURTZ: But I'm talking about the media saying, well, yes, he won, but he really betrayed what we thought we stood for.

PRESS: I think you're right. I think the media soured on John McCain. And in a sense, he invited that.

He ran some very negative ads against J.D. Hayworth. He was attacking Hayworth on the air while Hayworth was still a talk show host, hadn't even filed yet.

HALL: Well, he moved right on immigration, and I think --

KURTZ: Which had been one of his signature issues.

HALL: -- conservative friends of mine say that the media loved him when he wasn't going to win as a Republican. And now that he's moved to the right, they don't love him anymore.


KURTZ: That's a good note to end on.

Jane Hall, Matt Lewis, Bill Press, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, former Republican chairman Ken Mehlman outs himself to "The Atlantic." Is admitting being gay still a huge deal for the media? "New York Times" columnist Ross Douthat will tackle that subject and more.

Plus, Tiger Woods' ex-wife grants an exclusive interview to "People" magazine. Was Elin treated with kid gloves?

And later, Jon Stewart takes on Fox News over the mosque mess.


KURTZ: He was the chairman of the Republican Party and the head of President Bush's re-election campaign. But this week, in an interview with The Atlantic's Mark Ambinder, the former official came out of the closet.


JAKE TAPPER, ABC NEWS: Ken Mehlman today is the nation's most prominent openly gay Republican.


KURTZ: While working for Bush, Mehlman towed the party line, one that backed a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.


KEN MEHLMAN, FMR. CHAIRMAN, RNC: The president strongly believes that marriage in this country ought to be between a man and a woman.


KURTZ: But now Mehlman says he supports gay marriage, which is the focus of a major legal battle in California, where a federal judge has overturned the ban on Proposition 8.

Ross Douthat has made the case against gay marriage in his "New York Times" column, arguing that if American society accepts such marriages between two men, or two women, " -- we're giving up on one of the great ideas of western civilization, the celebration of lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate."

He joins me now here in the studio.



KURTZ: Good.

What do you make of the coverage of Ken Mehlman coming out, which he did voluntarily to "The Atlantic"? Why has it been such a big story, except on Fox News, I should add, which hasn't mentioned it on the air?

DOUTHAT: Well, I mean, has it been a big story?


KURTZ: It was covered by your newspaper, it was covered by my newspaper, it was covered by Jake Tapper. Anything Jake Tapper covers is big.

DOUTHAT: But I think part of the story of Mehlman's coming out is the fact that among Republicans, and particularly among Republican elites, it hasn't been perceived as a big deal at all.

There hasn't been -- I think there was expectation in the media that this would lead to a kind of anti-Mehlman backlash among conservative leaders. And part of it is that Mehlman's out of politics now, he's not an elected official, and so on.

But I think what you're seeing here is the fact that while the country is evenly divided roughly over gay marriage, maybe tipping slightly in favor, maybe not, I think among American elites -- and this is true of Republicans, as well as Democrats -- there is a sense that either there is support for gay marriage, or there's a sense that it isn't something that anybody really wants to talk about. But I think with the Bush White House, I think this was probably true back in 2004 as well, that this was an issue that was pressed on them by socially conservative activists.

KURTZ: Or one that the campaign, in fairness, was happy to seize upon for political purposes.

Mark Ambinder told me that at that time, when Mehlman was working for the Bush campaign, or when he was RNC chairman, he looked into Mehlman's sexuality. He would have outed him if he had had the evidence.

Is that something that journalists ought to do?

DOUTHAT: That's quite interesting. I'm kind of surprised that Mark would say that. I mean, I think -- I suppose it depends on what kind of evidence you have. I think --

KURTZ: Well, let's say you have slam-dunk evidence. But the question --

DOUTHAT: Well, I think there is a distinction in that kind of case between what you're revealing about the person. I think if the person is somebody who is gay but -- you know, I think it's possible to be gay and be against same-sex marriage. * DOUTHAT: And in that kind of situation, I think, outing is sort of -- you know, there is a dubious claim there, right, that your sexual orientation has to determine your views. Not only politically views, but your views on this particular issue.

KURTZ: Well, the hypocrisy argument is that you're not being honest, that you're working for somebody who is not advancing the interest of gay rights, and yet you're not coming out and being honest about who you are. On the other hand, there is the privacy question, which is why I'm always very uncomfortable with outing. You wrote about gay marriage even before this in ""The New York Times." And maybe because of the real estate that you have, it seemed to strike a nerve. Andrew Sullivan, probably the nation's most prominent gay blogger, and conservative, said that you're ignoring the reality of gay lives, the integration of gays into mainstream culture, and they're not going to be pushed back into the closet.

What was your reaction to that?

DOUTHAT: Well, I mean, I think Andrew's absolutely right that the integration of gay couples into the American mainstream is basically complete at this point. And I think we aren't actually at this point having a debate about whether gays are going to be pushed back into the closet or not. The debate is happening on narrower grounds. It's just happening on the question of whether legally and culturally we are going to think of gay relationships as marriages.

KURTZ: But if you are a gay person, you don't see that as narrow legal ground. You see that as a fundamental right.

DOUTHAT: No, you see it as fundamental, yes. And this is why the case for gay marriage is so powerful, because America is a culture of rights. It's a culture where if you can defend something as a right, people ultimately tend to support it.

I mean, I think if you look at what's going on in the debate over gay marriage, it's ultimately a debate about recognition. It's a debate where gay couples are saying that marriage is a kind of recognition of civil equality. And if we are excluded from this institution, then we don't have true equality.

KURTZ: But it's more than symbolic, because obviously there are legal rights that go along with marriage, property rights.

DOUTHAT: But I think at this point, frankly, I mean, if you look at the polling numbers, I think most Americans are supportive of offering some of the -- you know, the legal privileges that go along.

KURTZ: It seemed to me that you tried to make an intellectual argument about a very emotional issue.

DOUTHAT: Right. Well, I think the argument I was trying to make was basically that there is more going on in marriage than just the question of rights, and that the institution of marriage exists and has evolved for a particular cultural purpose. And that purpose is distinctively linked to heterosexuality and procreation, and that's what's happened in the United States over the past 30 or 40 years is that this linkage has weakened.

It's weakened in heterosexual life long before the issue of gay marriage appeared. So it used to be that sex, marriage and procreation went together culturally in a way that people understood. And now that's less true, and you see that in divorce rates and you see it in the fact that 40 percent of American children are born outside of wedlock. And so the question becomes, if you make this explicit, if you say, as Judge Walker did in the California decision, he says we have reached a point where marriage has nothing to do with gender difference or procreation. And the question is, if you make that explicit, does that have any cultural consequence?

KURTZ: Clearly, you're an op-ed writer, because that doesn't fit into a 15-second sound bite.

You've also written about the mosque controversy, Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero. And you said that this shows that there are two Americas.

"The first America," you wrote, "sees the project as an expression of high ideals, religious freedom," and so forth. "The second America," you said, "sees it as having disrespect for our values," and that these people, or some of them, "have dark suspicions about Islam. It's cruder, it's more xenophobic."

Are you defending the second group or trying to analyze it?

DOUTHAT: I'm saying that the second group, that they're -- in a sense, the push on immigrant populations, religious minorities, and so on to assimilate to American life is one side of a coin. And on the other side is bigotry, nativism, xenophobia and so on.

But these often co-exist and they often sort of work together hand in hand. So, the analogy I made was between Muslim integration in the United States today and Catholic integration in the 19th century. Right?

A lot of the people looking at Catholic immigration in the 19th century were just bigoted. They said the Irish, they're savages, they'll never become American, and so on. But those nativists also made an ideological critique of 19th century Catholicism.

They said it isn't compatible with democracy because so many Catholic leaders in Europe and elsewhere were critics of democracy, critics of liberalism. And similarly today, I think in the mosque controversy you see people making an ideological case about what Muslim leaders need to do, what they need to renounce.

KURTZ: So, this may be whipped up by the media to some extent, which is what I believe, and that it's never going to be -- they haven't even raised much money. But you think it taps into a larger -- a deeper, more visceral debate about American society?

DOUTHAT: Well, I mean, think about your first panel today. Right? You were arguing about Glenn Beck at the Lincoln Memorial.

And you had Bill Press, a liberal, on saying this is a sacred space and it's a violation of sort of my understanding -- "my," Bill Press's understanding -- of America to have Glenn Beck here. I mean, that's what you are getting from conservatives in the mosque case.

KURTZ: It's the flip side. DOUTHAT: You're getting people saying it's a sacred space and --

KURTZ: You can do it.

DOUTHAT: -- it's legal, but it's insensitive.

KURTZ: It's legal, but it's insensitive.

KURTZ: All right. I've got 20 seconds left.

KURTZ: So when "The New York Times" hired you, did that put more pressure on you because of the influence of that newspaper to watch every word, rein yourself in a little more?

DOUTHAT: I hope it did. I mean, well, I think not rein myself in, I think, but "The New York Times" is a unique platform in American life with a unique audience. And I think that you want to hold yourself to the highest standard possible.

KURTZ: Well, we appreciate your bringing your standards to our program.

Ross Douthat, thanks very much for coming in this morning.

Up next, Elin Nordegren grants only one interview about her breakup with Tiger to "People" magazine, but what about those ground rules imposed by the magazine?


KURTZ: There was the car crash, the stories about the parade of mistresses, the rehab, the eventual and not very successful return to golf. And through it all, Tiger Woods' wife remained silent, even when the world famous golfer admitted all the affairs.


TIGER WOODS, PROFESSIONAL GOLFER: I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. What I did is not acceptable, and I am the only person to blame.


KURTZ: But now Elin Nordegren has broken her silence not with a big television interview, but with "People" magazine. In a cover story just released just as the couple's divorce was becoming final, her conversations with reporter Sandra Sobieraj, Elin said she had been through hell, that she had no clue her husband was cheating on her, and that she was embarrassed.


SANDRA SOBIERAJ WESTFALL, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: She said one of the hardest things about listening to the chatter these past nine months and reading the headlines was that there was this impression out there that she was a violent woman, that she took after him, chasing him out of the house. And she said it wasn't that way at all, that he left.

TAMRON HALL, NBC: I'm curious, was she responsive at all to questions about the alleged mistresses who have been very vocal about their relationships with Tiger?

SOBIERAJ: You know, we didn't get into it. We wanted to talk about her feelings and what she's been through, and really sort of rise above, as she has handled herself, rise above sort of the muck of the scandal.


KURTZ: So, how did people, which is owned by CNN's corporate parent, Time-Warner, get the story? How was it handled?

Joining us now in New York, pop culture commentator and former CNN contributor, Lola Ogunnaike.



KURTZ: The ground rules for this interview -- and I misspoke before the break -- ground rules were imposed by Elin, not by the magazine -- was that -- and I'm quoting here -- "Elin would talk through People's questions but then write out her answers." And that's what was quoted.

Does that bother you?

OGUNNAIKE: That doesn't bother me at all, because I think that people would bend over backwards to get this interview. People have been wanting to here what Elin had to say ever since this scandal broke, so I can't imagine why "People" would not follow her ground rules. I think anything she said was a go as far as they were concerned, because she -- I'm sorry.

KURTZ: Right. Now, it does give her greater control.

The explanation was Elin Nordegren is Swedish and she didn't feel 100 percent comfortable with her English. But it means there is no video, and it means that it's difficult to follow-up. And it means that her P.R. team could have helped craft some of these answers.

OGUNNAIKE: Well, her P.R. team could have helped craft some of these answers. I'm not going to put that off the table.

But what I do think is clear is that Elin was forthright and very forthcoming in their interview. The only thing she really stayed away from was the mistresses and how much she got in the settlement. She talked about losing weight, losing her hair, how she had been to hell and back, and how she felt like she had been betrayed by not only Tiger Woods, but the people around them.

KURTZ: But there were also these carefully-worded sentences like, "I also feel stronger than I ever have." "I have confidence in my beliefs, my decision and myself."

And here's -- interesting. Here's a question that she was asked. "We know you don't want to discuss the things that led up to your divorce. But can you talk about how you first learned of his betrayal and what you felt at that moment?"

Answer: "Absolute shock and disbelief." But she didn't answer the question of how she found out.

So, it seems like "People" was being rather skittish in dealing with what we heard Sandra Sobieraj describe as "the muck," which, of course, is what everyone wants to hear about.

OGUNNAIKE: Well, exactly, which is very interesting. People do want to hear the muck. I think the one glaring hole was that she did not speak about the mistresses. But again, I'm sure Elin's P.R. people were very in control here, and "People" was willing to do anything to land this interview, including avoiding topics that she refused to discuss.

KURTZ: So, you have -- look, I'm very sympathetic to her. Anybody would be. She probably has been through hell. She didn't want to be a celebrity.

But when you look at the whole package here, the photo shoot, the family photos, the written answers, questions like, "Tell us about your childhood growing up in Sweden," it seems like she was treated like one of these carefully-packaged celebrities.

OGUNNAIKE: Well, she was definitely treated with kid gloves, and it was clear that she was very much in control. She got to talk about what she wanted to talk about.

The photos were obviously beautiful, so it seems to me like she had approval. And she was also very clear that she was not going certain places, and she did not go there.

I thought it was interesting that she did give "People" a lot of access, though. They had her -- they spoke with her over the course of four days and spent approximately 19 hours with her. That is a lot of time. But, again, it was clear that it was a very controlled interview.

KURTZ: It's a lot of time, but if you can't quote what is said during those 19 hours, you can only quote those written submissions. It's just an interesting way of doing it, and obviously a big exclusive for "People" magazine.

Speaking of "People" magazine, switching topics here to Levi Johnston, who seems to be in the news every week, he was on CBS's "Early Show." And the reason I mention "People" is he said not that long ago, "I publicly said things about the Palins that were not completely true. I owe it to the Palins to apologize publicly."

Here's what he said on CBS.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have any regrets?

LEVI JOHNSTON: I don't really regret anything. But the only thing I wish I wouldn't have done is put out that apology, because it kind of makes me sound like a liar. And I have never lied about anything.


KURTZ: This is the sixth time that the "Early Show" has put Levi Johnston on. He now said he shouldn't have apologized, he wasn't lying, before he said he was lying.

How does this guy have any credibility?

OGUNNAIKE: I don't think he has any credibility at all. He obviously flip-flopped on the statement. No one really knows exactly what he's in this for, except one thing is clear. He has got a taste of fame and he wants his 15 minutes to last a good half an hour.

KURTZ: And CBS is providing that.

OGUNNAIKE: They are. They're giving him the perfect platform. And he gets up there, and he spews and says whatever he feels like, and then turns around a few weeks later and can say the exact opposite thing.

KURTZ: Before, obviously he was getting back together and he was going to get married to Bristol Palin. Now that is off. He's changed his tune yet again.

I used to say leave these kids alone, they didn't ask for the spotlight. Boy, they seem to want the spotlight now.

Lola Ogunnaike, thanks very much for joining us.

OGUNNAIKE: Thank you.

KURTZ: When we come back, "The Sound of Sunday." Politicians talking about the economy, and Glenn Beck of Lincoln Memorial fame interviewed on Fox News.


KURTZ: It's not only about the Glenn Beck rally this morning. The lousy economy getting a lot of coverage on the Sunday morning programs.

And here to talk about that is Ed Henry.


That's right. You know, I'm filling in for Candy Crowley today. We wanted to talk all about the economy. Some of the other shows -- NBC was looking at Hurricane Katrina. Brian Williams filling in for David Gregory. Obviously, Brian Williams has been all over that story, just as Anderson Cooper here at CNN and others have as well. ABC was looking at education policy, kind of a back-to-school type of a show.

And we were trying to focus on the economy because there was such bad news on the housing front this week. Housing is what sparked this whole financial crisis. Now, all of a sudden, new home sales, existing home sales, way down.

We had exclusively the president's housing secretary. He suggested maybe they're open to the idea of reviving this $8,000 tax credit to first-time homebuyers, something that some of the candidates in the Florida Senate race jumped all over.


SHAUN DONOVAN, HUD SECRETARY: I think it's too early to say after one month of numbers whether the tax credit will be revived or not. All I can tell you is that we are watching very carefully. I talked earlier about new tools that we will be launching in the coming weeks, and we are going to be focused like a laser on where the housing market is market is moving going forward.

I think it would help enormously. I think any time you can reduce taxation to spur the economy forward is a great thing to do. I would en courage the president to do that because it would help my fellow Floridians. (END VIDEO CLIP)


GOV. CHARLIE CRIST (I), FLORIDA: I think it would help enormously. I think any time you can reduce taxation in order to spur the economy forward, that's a good thing to do, and that would be great to do. I would absolutely encourage the president to support that, because it would certainly help my fellow Floridians.



REP. KENDRICK MEEK (D), U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: As a member of the Ways and Means Committee, it was essential to helping individuals buy a home again. That tax credit means an awful lot. And here in Florida we need more of it.


HENRY: Now, interesting, the president is giving this big speech on Tuesday night, only the second time he is using the Oval Office as a backdrop. He's going to talk about U.S. combat troops coming home from Iraq. The deadline is August 31st. But even as such an important issue like that is still getting the spotlight, it's still all about the economy with two months to go. KURTZ: With two months to go, exactly.

Now, Glenn Beck was on "Fox News Sunday." I love that they billed it as an exclusive interview. The guy works for Fox.

HENRY: He can't go anywhere else. Contractually, he has to appear on Fox.

KURTZ: But anyway, I thought Chris Wallace asked him some hard questions. But what was most newsworthy, in my view, was when Glenn Beck was asked about his infamous statement of a year ago that President Obama has a deep-seated hatred for white people and the while culture.

He walked it back to a greatest extent than I've ever seen. This is part of what he said.


BECK: First of all, it shouldn't have been said. It was poorly said. I have a big, fat mouth sometimes and I say things, and that's just not the way people should behave.

And it was not accurate. It is liberation theology that --


BECK: -- that shaped his world view.


KURTZ: Glenn Beck is an unabashed conservative, but I think that whole "Obama is a racist" comment has become something he's trying to get beyond.

HENRY: Yes. Well, because it runs counter to everything he claimed he wanted to do yesterday as the Lincoln Memorial.

I mean, he billed it as this transformative moment, transforming the civil rights movement, for example, in trying to bring people together. That's sort of the opposite of what he does traditionally on a nightly basis.

He's pretty divisive. He'll go after the president, sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly, sometimes with the facts, sometimes without the facts.

Also interesting that Chris Wallace pressed him on whether he'd run for office with Sarah Palin, and he insisted he is not smart enough to be president and he won't run. And he also said, as you saw in that clip, ,he has a big, fat mouth.

I think bottom line, even his critics will finally agree with something Glenn Beck said. He's got a big, fat mouth.

KURTZ: I didn't know that there was any groundswell for him to run. So no Beck-Palin ticket in 2012?

HENRY: That's right.

KURTZ: Ed Henry, thanks.

Still to come on this program, David Gregory gets tough, Brian Williams squirms a bit, and Fox News airs some scary talk about an Arab who's no stranger to Rupert Murdoch's network.

The "Media Monitor" straight ahead.


KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor," our look at the hits and errors in the news business.

Here's what I liked.

One of the toughest things in live television is to pin down a politician who refuses to answer the question. On "Meet the Press" last weekend, David Gregory asked Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell a fundamental question: If the GOP is concerned about the budget deficit, what about the cost of extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, those earning more than $250,000 a year.

McConnell stuck to his talking points. Here's how it went.


DAVID GREGORY, HOST, "MEET THE PRESS": What are you prepared to do to pay for an extension of tax cuts for everybody?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: This has been tax law in America for almost 10 years now, existing tax law.

GREGORY: But my question is, how do you pay for an extension of tax cuts? Because if you're concerned, as Republicans say they are, about cutting spending and the deficit, you have to acknowledge that tax cuts are not paid for.

MCCONNELL: Well, what are you talking about, paid for? This is existing tax policy.

GREGORY: The CBO, Senator, this week made it very clear that the long-term picture for the economy, for the deficit is very dark if you extend the Bush-era tax cuts without somehow paying for them.

MCCONNELL: Look, what we're talking about here is tax increases in the middle of a recession.

GREGORY: But Senator, with respect, you are being unresponsive to a question, which is are tax cuts paid for going forward, or is it borrowed money at a time when you and other Republican leaders say we must get serious about the deficit? It's a straightforward question.

(LAUGHTER) MCCONNELL: Yes, I know, and I gave you a straightforward answer.


KURTZ: Now, whether you agree with him or not, McConnell never did explain why it's OK to add to the deficit by extending tax cuts, which by law would otherwise expire, but not OK to add to the deficit with spending programs. And Gregory didn't just let him off the hook and go on to the next topic.

And a tip of the hat to Brian Williams for keeping his cool when caught in a late-night crossfire. The NBC anchor was on David Letterman's CBS show this week when Dave tried to bait him into take sides against that other guy who does comedy on NBC.


DAVID LETTERMAN, "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": You probably go to the Jay Leno show, don't you?

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC: I do. We have a robust slate of evening programming.


LETTERMAN: Yes. But I don't like it when you go on that show. Could you not go on that show?

WILLIAMS: And now you're sounding like him.


LETTERMAN: Why do you have to go on that show?


KURTZ: Sometimes an anchor just has to stay on the high road.

Here's what I don't like.

Whatever your position on the so-called mosque in Manhattan, there are efforts to tie the backers to other scary-sounding Arabs.

Here's former Bush administration official Dan Senor, a Fox News contributor, on "Fox & Friends" talking about Imam Rauf, the man behind the project, and saying his rhetoric is harsher in Arabic.


DAN SENOR, FMR. BUSH ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER: Which is extremely common with a number of these leaders from the Muslim world who are supported by organizations like the Kingdom Foundation, which has been a funder of Imam Rauf in the past. The Kingdom Foundation, so you know, is this Saudi organization headed up by the guy who tried to give Rudolph Giuliani $10 million after 9/11 that was sent back. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

SENOR: He funds radical madrassas all over the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he funds this imam.

SENOR: Right.


KURTZ: Among those who were alarmed by Senor's words, intrepid media analyst Jon Stewart.


JON STEWART, "THE DAILY SHOW": The money might be coming from this evil Kingdom Foundation, run by a Wahabist 9/11-sympathizing, American-hating -- no, no, no, no, no. No. That's Rupert Murdoch's partner in News Corp.


KURTZ: That's right. Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, the man who Senor was talking about, is the second largest shareholder in the parent company of Fox News.

I guess it is important to connect those dots.

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

I'm Howard Kurtz.

Join us again next Sunday morning, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media.

"STATE OF THE UNION" with Ed Henry filling in for Candy Crowley begins right now.