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MSNBC Suspends Mark Halperin; Are News Orgs Condescending to Female Conservatives?

Aired July 3, 2011 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: When you're doing live television there's always the chance that at any moment you can blurt out something that will torpedo your career. MSNBC suspended Mark Halperin this week for belittling President Obama with a mild obscenity. But is the uproar over this one word a bit much?

Michele Bachmann jumps into the presidential race and gets pounded for a factual flub and asked whether she's a flake. Are news organizations just plain condescending to female conservatives?

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, released from house arrest as the sexual case against him appears to crumble. But hasn't he already been convicted in the press?

We'll also look at Glenn Beck's Fox farewell. Can he keep his clout online?

And the media's celebration -- there really is no other word -- of the gay marriage vote in New York. But what about the other side?

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

We will get to Michele Bachmann's campaign in a few moments.

But there's been so much buzz about Mark Halperin's suspension, that I wanted to address it at the top of the program. Halperin is an MSNBC analyst, "TIME" magazine editor-at-large, co-author of the book "Game Change," and all around smart guy. Bu on "Morning Joe," he did something dumb. Make that monumentally dumb, during a discussion of President Obama's news conference.


MARK HALPERIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Are we on the seven-second delay today?


HALPERIN: I wanted to characterize how I thought the president behaved.

BRZEZINSKI: Well, we have it.

We can use it, right, Alex? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sure. Come on. Take a chance.

BRZEZINSKI: Yes. Go for it. Yes. Let's see what happens.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, "MORNING JOE": I'm behind you, you fall down, then I catch you.

BRZEZINSKI: And the precedent has been --


BRZEZINSKI: So we're good.

HALPERIN: I thought he was kind of a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) yesterday.


Delay that. Delay that.

What are you doing?

HALPERIN: I think the president --

SCARBOROUGH: I can't believe you. I was joking! Don't do that!

Did we delay that?


KURTZ: They did not delay it. We bleeped it. But you probably know it was a word that was tossed around a lot during the Anthony Weiner scandal.

Halperin quickly apologized, but MSNBC called his comments inappropriate and unacceptable in suspending him indefinitely.

Joining us now to talk about this, and the coverage of the 2012 campaign, Michelle Cottle, Washington correspondent for "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast"; A.B. Stoddard, associate editor and columnist for "The Hill"; and Matthew Continetti, opinion editor at "The Weekly Standard."

Michelle Cottle, Halperin made a stupid joke. He apologized. And by the way, keep your answer clean by the way.

Does this warrant an indefinite suspension?

MICHELLE COTTLE, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "NEWSWEEK": Look, they feel like they have to because, otherwise, then you get into the question of, when is it OK and when you don't? So I think everybody always overblows these things. But I also think he was wrong. He thought he was on delay, so --

KURTZ: It's live television. Who's going to gamble their career on that somebody is going to push a button? But, Matthew Continetti, once the White House spokesman Jay Carney complained about this, did MSNBC, do you think, feel pressured into punishing Halperin?

MATTHEW CONTINETTI, OPINION EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I think if there was any pressure, it was internal pressure. Right? I mean, they don't want their commentators to have this type of vocabulary and malfunction, or whatever.

But having just seen the clip in the intro, Howie, I'm struck by the fact, if I'm Mark Halperin sitting there, I think that the hosts are telling me to speak my mind. I didn't see sarcasm in Mika or Joe. I mean, not watching them -- I don't know what they seem like. But I'm on Mark Halperin's side here.

KURTZ: It seemed like they were egging him on.

CONTINETTI: They were egging him on. And they told him the delay was there.

KURTZ: Now, just a few weeks ago, I had to apologize on this program when a guest from Gawker used the same d-word in talking about, yes, of course, the Anthony Weiner story.

And here's -- let's take a brief look, A.B. at Halperin apologizing just moments after that flub.


HALPERIN: I can't explain why I did it. It was inappropriate, it was disrespectful. I've already apologized, and I will again, to the president, and say I'm sorry. I'm sorry to the viewers. It was the kind of thing that I can't really explain, but I take full responsibility for it, and it was a mistake and, as I said, disrespectful, and I shouldn't have said it.


KURTZ: But now the indictment is being expanded to say that Mark Halperin is the epitome of superficial theater criticism and empty beltway conventional wisdom.

What's your take?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, "THE HILL": Mark Halperin has earned his reputation as a serious journalist. I have known him not as long as you, but a long time. I worked with him at ABC News.

He is tireless. And he's devoted. And he's also, as a commentator, I have always found quite measured and cautious.

So it is a surprising episode, but I don't think there's anything to criticize in Mark's past. I think this was a really embarrassing incident, and I think that, you know, MSNBC had no choice but to suspend him. And I think that if you look in the past at their suspension policy, it's a little haphazard. I don't know how they make up their mind. I think they say you're indefinitely suspended, and then they make up their mind about when you'll return to work based on different criteria. But I don't think that they have that you are on the sixth week or the sixth day. I think that it was an embarrassment to them whether the White House was going to say something or not, but I'm really surprised because there's -- Mark has not earned a bad reputation before that morning.

COTTLE: And here's the weird distinction between that and what some other people do. This was clearly no accident. It's not like he got in a heated discussion and it slipped out or something. He was clearly wanting to be a naughty boy.

KURTZ: The legal term would be premeditated.

COTTLE: Exactly.

KURTZ: He gives you a big windup, thinking, of course, it was going to be bleeped.

But on this larger point, Michelle, Halperin has been on this program a number of times. He's a substantive guy.

The show that he was on, "Morning Joe," three hours a day of guests sitting around talking about policy and politics, maybe the most substantive show on cable news. So it seems to me this indictment that, yes, they do the theater of politics like everybody does, like we do here on CNN, but it seems to me the idea that he's now the poster boy for superficiality strikes me as a bit unfair.

COTTLE: I think what people object to -- and it may have something to do with ideology of the people who are criticizing him -- is people complain that Obama is too serious or too laid back. And then he gets a little overheated, and now they complain that he's a "bleep." So I think it's just kind of the very idea that the president is judged on his manner, as opposed to what he's saying. But, of course he is, and that's the reality of the game.

KURTZ: But you've hit on something important here.

Because I think embedded in some of the criticism I believe, Matthew is, is that Halperin isn't liberal enough. He sometimes calls out liberal bias in the media. He's done it on RELIABLE SOURCES.

So here's something from Black America Web. "Halperin showed America exactly what he thinks of America's black first president." And a writer on "The Daily Beast" talked about how he said once nice things about the Bush White House's PR strategy.

So would it have been different if he had called George W. Bush the d-word? Would the reaction in the media circles have been different?

CONTINETTI: I think he may have gotten his own show if he used that term to describe Bush on that network.


KURTZ: Of course, Fox News would have gone crazy if he had done that to Bush.

CONTINETTI: Bush has been called a lot worse I think on many channels. And I think that criticism that you've just said is absolutely ridiculous.

He used the wrong word, but there's no reason why we can't say that President Obama sometimes seems unlikable, which is the way I think he has seemed at that press conference and has seemed in any times in the past. Remember when he said, "You're likable enough, Hillary"? I mean, Obama does have this sort of problem sometimes where he comes across unlikable. That's true.

KURTZ: Oh, I disagree. I thought it was an actual strong performance by the president at the news conference. But who cares? People are entitled to sit in front of the camera or write columns saying it was a terrible performance, it was a horrible performance. But there are certain words, even though language has loosened up, that you still don't use on TV, right?

STODDARD: Absolutely. I think "Morning Joe," everyone has a wonderful time. And they might get loose and sometimes words fly. But it's an awkward situation, because they were talking about the seven-second delay.

I don't know why he'd take that chance, still, but there was a lot of discussion about how he would be protected by a delay. It's not something I'm familiar with, but it was still a mistake.

KURTZ: Well, just to clarify for viewers, most live television, including our program, doesn't have a seven-second delay. "Morning Joe" adopted one a couple years ago after Joe Scarborough had used a word that you're not supposed to say on television.

All right. Turning now to Michele Bachmann, she said this week that the founding fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery, even though as we know, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and others owned many slaves.

The Minnesota congresswoman doubled down on those remarks on "Good Morning America."


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, if you look at one of our founding fathers, John Quincy Adams, that's absolutely true. He was a very young boy when he was with his father, serving essentially as his father's secretary. He tirelessly worked throughout his life to make sure that we did in fact one day eradicate slavery from our nation.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA": He wasn't one of the founding fathers. He was a president, he was a secretary of state. As a member of Congress, you're right, he did work to end slavery decades later, but -- so you're standing by this comment that the founding fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery?

BACHMANN: Well, John Quincy Adams most certainly was a part of the Revolutionary War era.


KURTZ: And by the way, here's what Bachmann says about the frequent media comparisons between herself and Sarah Palin.


BACHMANN: They want to see two girls come together and have a mud wrestling fight, and I'm not going to give it to them.


KURTZ: A.B. Stoddard, let's try to elevate our conversation above the mud wrestling level. What happened here with the founding fathers, it reminds me of Sarah Palin and the story she told about Paul Revere. Did Bachmann fuel the story by not simply saying, hey, I made a mistake?

STODDARD: Oh, yes. She probably should have backtracked in some way. And doubling down is only going to guarantee that it comes up again and again.

But I think that she's probably right that, comparing her to Sarah Palin when they makes mistakes or when they use fiery rhetoric or anything like that is probably something she's a little tired of. And I understand why she doesn't like the idea that they get compared and that media might be setting up a cat fight.

I think that the people who are really coming around to liking Michele Bachmann in the Republican primary electorate don't care she Googles the wrong person, John Wayne in Waterloo, Iowa. They just don't care. That's the bottom line.

KURTZ: As opposed to John Wayne --

STODDARD: That would be a problem for the general campaign, and we can worry about that if she gets there.

KURTZ: As opposed to John Wayne Gacy.

Matthew Continetti, you have a cover story in "The Weekly Standard" this week on Michele Bachmann. Do the media simply make too much of these historical flubs?

CONTINETTI: I don't think so. And Bachmann has a rack record of sometimes going a little bit over the top, or getting her facts slightly wrong.

KURTZ: A little over the top. You recall the time when she referred to the Obama administration as gangster government. You say she runs her mouth. Of course, that's part of her --

CONTINETTI: I don't think I used those words, Howie, but my point is --

KURTZ: But that's part of her appeal.

CONTINETTI: -- I'm agreeing with you that she makes sometimes statements that we, sitting here, wouldn't agree with. However, that has no impact on her ability to win the Republican presidential nomination. In fact, even when she makes these statements, like the founders or whatever, she's exactly in tune with most Republican grassroots activists who are going to be the core of her support.

KURTZ: Does it seem to you, Michelle Cottle, that conservative women are given a harder time in the press for these kinds of mistakes, as opposed to Joe Biden saying FDR used to have these chats on television? Of course there was no television during the Roosevelt presidency.

COTTLE: I think there's always a tendency to assume that a conservative woman who has a big mouth is a bit of a flake. And What I'm going to be interested in, if Rick Perry jumps into the race, are we going to see a lot of questions where people are like, well, are you completely nuts? I mean, are they going to use this same kind of approach? I mean, you say lots of -- Rick Perry has a tendency to say lots of over-the-top things.

KURTZ: Let me press you on that. If there is a tendency to assume, as you just said, that Michele Bachmann is a bit of an unguided missile, does that bother you as a woman? You may not agree with her politically, but does that bother you as a woman, that there is that built-in assumption.

COTTLE: Well, I think they have to watch the language. A word other than "flake" would have been preferable. Are you kind of an extremist? I think they're going to need to be, I would like to have a ban on the word "cat fight" if Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann happen to wind up in a primary together.

STODDARD: Well, I just used it.

COTTLE: That's right. She will be fined.

KURTZ: But you can't retroactively fine her. You just set the policy --


COTTLE: I think there's ways to approach this that aren't quite as glaring.

KURTZ: All right. Well, since you invoked the f-word, "flake," I want to play some type of what happened when Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman, went on "Fox News Sunday" last week and spoke to Chris Wallace.



BACHMANN: Well, I think that would be insulting to say something like that, because I'm a serious person.

WALLACE: But you understand when I say that that's what the wrap on you is?



WALLACE: I messed up. I'm sorry. I didn't mean any disrespect. I simply was trying to put an issue that's out there directly to her, because some people do dismiss her as a flake.


KURTZ: Is that an unfair question by Chris Wallace?

STODDARD: Well, I think he wishes, as he said in the subsequent apology, that he had said, the media often portrays you and your critics do as well, as being a flake. What do you say to that?

I mean, that, I think, would have been. And she would have said, I'm a serious person and they're wrong.

And I think that he would have liked to have gone back and done it differently. I agree with Michelle that women know there's definitely a different standard. And if they want to get into the national spotlight and run for the presidency of the United States, or the vice presidency of the United States, they should really be careful with their historical reference and other facts, even on policy matters.

KURTZ: There's a different media standard because they are women?

STODDARD: No. I'm saying there's a different standard in every walk --

KURTZ: You're saying the culture?

STODDARD: In every walk of life there's a different standard for women. And that is just true. And I think that when you run for president, if you want -- first of all, I want to say this, in Joe Biden's defense, he gets hammered as the day is long, every mistake he ever makes.

KURTZ: But not for as many news cycles. Well, maybe because he doesn't defend the mistakes.

STODDARD: He gets hammered. But I do think that Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and others, Christine O'Donnell, everyone who's running for federal office or statewide office, really needs to know that if they're going to run around and make big declarations --


KURTZ: OK. Let me get Matthew in here.

Would that question have been asked of Ron Paul or any other man who might have been seen as a bit out of the mainstream?

CONTINETTI: Maybe not using the f-word, "flake" word. But, you know, there's a long-running history of media portraying the Republicans as dumb. And if that's the extent of the case against Michele Bachmann, not only will it not hinder her from getting the Republican nomination, if all liberals can say next year when she's a nominee that she makes over-the-top statements, she'll be president.

KURTZ: Did Chris Wallace feel pressure to apologize? He actually called her personally after --


COTTLE: Oh, yes. Absolutely.

KURTZ: Because the conservative audience, in part on Fox News, obviously would not like that kind of confrontation.

COTTLE: Oh, yes. If they have to choose between Chris Wallace and her, they're going with her.

And that's what I'm talking about. Commentators, to avoid being accused of being sexist or condescending to women, are going to need to choose their language very carefully. The "flake" word in particular is something that people use with women vastly more often than men. So pick something different if you're going to do this.

KURTZ: You have put the media on notice.

Take note. You heard it here.

Michelle Cottle, A.B. Stoddard, Matthew Continetti, thanks very much for joining us.

When we come back, the rape case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn suddenly unravels as serious questions surface about the accuser's credibility. Was the press way too quick to assume the former IMF chief was guilty?


KURTZ: Dominique Strauss-Kahn lost his job as head of the International Monetary Fund after a New York hotel maid accused him of sexually assaulting her. The French politician denied it, but in the international media frenzy that followed, his guilt often seemed to be assumed. His conduct toward women, the subject of endless negative commentary.

But late Thursday night, "The New York Times" broke the news that prosecutors say the accuser has lied repeatedly, prompting them to release the man known as "DSK" without bail. Strauss-Kahn's attorney said there was a lesson to be gleaned from the press coverage.


WILLIAM TAYLOR, DOMINIQUE STRAUSS-KAHN'S ATTORNEY: And to remind all of you how easy it is for people to be charged with serious crimes and for there to be a rush to judgment, it's so important in this country that people, especially the media, reserve their judgment on the facts of the case until they are all in.


KURTZ: So was this a classic case of convicting a public figure in the press?

Joining us from New York, Apolline de Malherbe, Washington correspondent for France's BFM TV, and a contributing editor at "The Washingtonian" magazine.

Apolline, was there, in your view, a great rush to judgment in the American press with tabloid headlines calling DSK a perv?

APOLLINE DE MALHERBE, BFM TV: Yes. Well, the very interesting thing is to see that we have come from one extreme to the other.

The headlines where "Le Perv," the French are against. He was sort of representing the bad French behavior, and now the same tabloids are sort of saying that she is the bad one, he is he sort of almost a hero. So the big, big change in a few weeks only, even a few days this week.

KURTZ: All right. Well, before -- I think you've hit on really important point here. Before we all crown DSK a hero, or a saint, let's keep in mind that, at the very least here, he's a married guy who had sex with a hotel maid. There's no dispute there was sexual contact.

He admitted having an affair with a subordinate at the IMF in 2008. It almost cost him his job. And there's a French journalist who says that, back in 2003, he tried to rip her clothes off.

So, should we, in the press, having gone so far in the other direction, now be careful about the pendulum swinging too far in this direction?

DE MALHERBE: Of course we have to be very careful, and that's probably one of the biggest lessons, even though the story is not over, we don't know yet how it's going to end, if it's going to end. But, still, for the journalists, we probably should have been a little bit more cautious, even though here in the United States, the covering of the situation has been much, much different from the French way.

The French way was first the shock, really a huge shock in the first minutes of the arrest. You have to keep in mind that, for the French people, there is emotion in this. It's not only a case. It's not only a guy who is a head of the IMF. It's a man who has been in the political landscape for very, very long, and who, in the mind of the French people, was supposed to be the next president.

KURTZ: Exactly. Great emotion I see in a lot of the commentary.

And let's go to Paris now and talk about the French reaction. We're going to talk to Christopher Dickey, who is the Paris bureau chief for "Newsweek" magazine.

And Chris, how is the French press reacting to this sudden turn in the case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn?

CHRISTOPHER DICKEY, PARIS BUREAU CHIEF, "NEWSWEEK": Well, it was almost as cataclysmic as when he was arrested. Everything has turned upside-down.

The French election campaign, it's already sort of under way for next year's presidency. The presidential election has all been turned topsy-turvy.

Already, 49 percent of the French are saying that they want Strauss-Kahn to re-enter politics. The basic idea is that he's completely innocent, that this is all over, that the woman was lying, it was all somehow a setup, which actually isn't the case.

So I think there may some more turns in this plot in the near future.

KURTZ: And on that point, Chris Dickey, you have "The New York Post," yesterday and today, running big headlines saying that this accuser, the maid at the hotel in Manhattan, is actually a part-time hooker. Now, I hesitate to say, I don't know whether that's true. The only proof that "The New York Post" provides is "a source close to the defense investigation."

So I wonder if you think that the media is going a little too aggressively now to make her a villain and him a hero?

DICKEY: Sure. I think that "The New York Post" is backpedaling off a cliff.

It was "Le Perv" this, "Chez Perv," "French Wine," one stupid pun after another on the cover of "The New York Post." And now, all of a sudden, he's an angel, she's a demon, she must be a prostitute if somebody close to the defense tells you maybe she was.

That was one of the worst sourced stories I've ever seen. I can't believe even "The New York Post" would run that story, no matter what her actual background is.

KURTZ: And Apolline, regardless of where the truth lay in this particular case, the arrest of DSK did spark a media debate in France over the treatment of women and whether or not more women should go public when they are either sexually harassed or sexually assaulted, as some of the women in DSK's past said they were afraid to speak up because he's such a powerful figure there.

DE MALHERBE: Yes. You have to imagine that for us French women, and I as a journalist, but also a French woman, we he had a shock and open eyes, I would say.

And what Chris just said was that the French people now are sort of willing to see Dominique Strauss-Kahn coming back in the political scene. But what I would be very interested in is to see, what is the difference in perception between the woman and the man?

There was a very interesting quote this morning in "The New York Times" of Sylvie Kauffmann. Sylvie Kauffmann was the first female paid of the journal, the newspaper "Le Monde." And she said, "Well, he is still a guy who had a sexual encounter with a maid at noon in a luxury suite."

And she says she would have probably voted for him, but now she couldn't. And I think that's the very interesting thing.

KURTZ: Right.

DE MALHERBE: For us French, we were not really taking care of what was happening in the bedroom. That was private life. But now, it is probably changing a bit because it shows the relationship with women, yes.

KURTZ: Perception is starting to change.

Chris Dickey, it seems to me you have a classic case here where there's an arrest, and prosecutors tell reporters, often anonymously, what kind of great case they have. The accuser remains anonymous. And only now we find out she told law enforcement that she was gang- raped in Guinea, then she admitted that wasn't true when she was trying to get into the U.S., that she repeatedly lied, that she had ties to an alleged drug dealer who deposited $100,000 into her account.

I wonder if we're all guilty sometimes of taking on faith what the prosecutors say, often without their names attached, in these cases.

DICKEY: Well, I think sometimes that's the case, but it was a question of what you could really establish.

I mean, from the beginning, when I went back to New York to report this story for "The Daily Beast" and for "Newsweek," I was going out to Harlem. I was talking to people in her community to try to get a better sense of things.

And I always felt that she was being given too much of a free ride as a witness, that she was too pure sounding, too devout a Muslim, too much the single mother of a teenage girl. And that a lot of people only wanted to see her in that light, when in fact she was part of a community that's very complicated, a lot of people living on the edge like any community of new immigrants, where people -- you know, a lot of them are hustlers, petty gangster, the kinds of people that, hey, guess what, she did turn out to be involved with.

I don't think we should have been surprised.

KURTZ: Right.

DICKEY: But there was actually such a desire on the part of a lot of people in the United States to make her an angel, that it was very hard for anybody reporting the other side to get that message across, although I think we did pretty much.

KURTZ: Skepticism is an essential element of journalism.

Christopher Dickey, Apolline de Malherbe, thank you very much for stopping by this morning.

Coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, the media hailed New York's vote on gay marriage as a historic step forward. But what about covering those who strongly opposed the idea?

Plus, Glenn Beck's Fox farewell. Was he simply too incendiary for cable news?


KURTZ: It is a major political and cultural story, no question about it. When New York became the sixth and largest state to approve gay marriage, the media naturally trumpeted the vote as a sign of how far the country has come on the once untouchable issue. And the tone of the coverage, almost relentlessly positive.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: Good evening. We begin with breaking news tonight, possibly history in the making.

T.J. WINICK, ABC NEWS: This is where it all began in 1969, when riots sparked the civil rights movement -- excuse me, the gay rights movement. Now we can tell you that here on the village, folks are celebrating.

RUSS MITCHELL, "CBS EVENING NEWS": It is an historic day of celebration and controversy in the state of New York. Late last night, New York became the sixth and the largest state in the union to allow same-sex marriages.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The sun seems to be shining a little brighter today.

SETH DOANE, CBS NEWS (voice-over): New York Gay Pride comes ever June, but revelers told us today feels different.


KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about this, in Los Angeles, Dennis Prager, the host of a nationally syndicated radio show. And here in Washington, John Aravosis, the founder of John, you have to admit that most of the media gave this New York vote the equivalent of a standing ovation.

JOHN ARAVOSIS, FOUNDER, AMERICABLOG.COM: Sure, but I think they do that no matter what happens. Whenever you have a political contest, and one side wins, they cover the victor.

When Obama won the election, they didn't do a series of reports on, wow, Obama wins, what a bad guy. They didn't say John Boehner becomes Speaker of the House. Is he going to be corrupt as hell?

You cover the one who wins that day, and usually it's positive coverage. That's what happens in political contests.

KURTZ: Well, Dennis Prager, I think if you look at the media coverage in California when the same-sex marriage was defeated in a referendum, would you say that the victors got the most positive coverage?

DENNIS PRAGER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Of course not. Exactly. It was "Prop Hate," and it was covered as "Prop Hate" by the press.

Look, on another issue, but it's entirely analogous, the "Los Angeles Times" acknowledged a number of years ago that they could not find a single pro-life reporter at the "L.A. Times." The media are biased.

I don't even mind that. I only mind if it's denied. That's all.

We have to be clear and honest. And that's the way the media is. And on this subject, it is considered to be an equivalent -- same-sex marriage is the equivalent of opposing bans on interracial marriage. I just want to say one word on this --

ARAVOSIS: Well, I mean, it is the equivalent, but you're here today, Dennis, on CNN. The Family Research Council, which has already been branded a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, regularly goes on all of the networks, not just Fox, but on all of the networks. The religious right has always --


ARAVOSIS: You're here today, Dennis. You're not being --

KURTZ: But the fact that Dennis is here --

PRAGER: Yes, I'm here today because --


ARAVOSIS: And is Dennis banned across the networks because he's religious right? Come on.

PRAGER: I'm here today because Howard Kurtz is open.

ARAVOSIS: Oh, I know. Howie is that sanctuary of sanity of all the media. I do appreciate that.

KURTZ: Well, let me broaden that beyond RELIABLE SOURCES.

Dennis, would you say --

PRAGER: When Anderson Cooper had --

KURTZ: Go ahead. Go ahead, Dennis.

PRAGER: Anderson Cooper, on June 22nd, had two guests to discuss the issue, Jeffrey Toobin, your legal liberal analyst, and Evan Wolfson of Was I on? Was anybody analogous to me on? Of course not. And it's just expected.

And by the way, Anderson Cooper is a particularly good correspondent. And yet, even he had only one side on.

ARAVOSIS: He picked one show, and has branded the media now for two decades as being biased. The media covers both sides of the story.

The media is not stupid, however, Howie. For 20 years, we've been told by people like Dennis that marriages were going to fall apart around the country if gay marriage happened.

PRAGER: I never said it in my life. No one ever said it.

ARAVOSIS: David Frum, a big conservative -- David Frum has been on this show before with me, a big conservative, said this week that marriage has actually been more stable in the year 2000 to 2010 in the states that it's been for decades. But my point is David Frum came along on marriage because the facts weren't there. I think the media is doing the same thing.

KURTZ: All right. First of all, I want to give Dennis Prager a chance to respond, because you attributed something to him that he's disputing.

ARAVOSIS: It was David I was talking about. Sorry.

PRAGER: Yes. I never said that in my life. I don't know anybody who's ever said -- anybody responsible -- that if there's same-sex marriage, heterosexual marriages will fall apart.

We've said other things. For example, the notion that male and female don't matter. There is a war against the notion of gender identity, so that you have LGBT. Why is there a "T" there?

There is a celebration of the removal of male/female distinctions. This is what worries me, not same-sex marriage in and of itself.

ARAVOSIS: That's just bizarre.

PRAGER: Gays are humans like everybody else. But the notion that it doesn't matter -- for example, was it reported widely -- is it John? I'm sorry. Forgive me.

ARAVOSIS: John. Yes, that's OK.

PRAGER: Was it reported widely that Catholic Charities has stopped after 100 years of providing adoption services in Massachusetts, that it's happening now with Illinois?

ARAVOSIS: And the same thing happened in Illinois. It was a huge story, and we even reported on it.


PRAGER: Let me just finish one sentence.

KURTZ: Let him finish.

Go ahead, Dennis.

PRAGER: This is not a red herring. This is the whole point, that because same-sex marriage has passed, it is now a civil right. And, therefore, to prefer to give a child for adoption to a married man and woman, is considered to be the equivalent of racism.

ARAVOSIS: We've gotten -- Howie, this is absurd. We're talking about whether the media is bias on gay issues.

PRAGER: Absurd?

ARAVOSIS: And now Dennis is talking about, I'm trying to turn him into a woman. This is a bizarre discussion. Let's get back to the discussion at point.

KURTZ: As interesting as this is --

PRAGER: You obviously didn't understand what I said.

ARAVOSIS: I don't think anybody understood, frankly, Dennis.

KURTZ: As interesting as this is, I need to get a break here. We're going to continue this discussion on the other side. You two can regroup.

We will be right back.


KURTZ: We are continuing our discussion of the coverage of gay marriage in the wake of that New York vote.

And Dennis Prager, in Los Angeles, there was a headline in Politico yesterday that said, "Republicans on Capitol Hill Quiet on Gay Marriage."

Does your side, people who have reservations or are flat-out opposed to same-sex marriage, have some responsibility for the fact that your message is not resonating as loudly in the press? PRAGER: Entirely. There's no question. I'm sometimes embarrassed by my side on this issue, but the problem is that it's an extremely complex answer to a very simple statement.

The heart tugs toward same-sex marriage. Anybody who has a heart and knows any gay person understands the urge and the desire of people, of lesbians and gay men, to have the right to marry. It's entirely understandable.

However, nobody's asking, including my side -- well, some on my side -- what are the consequences? And the consequences are what worry me.

When you will teach kids, for example, about anything to do with marriage, if there is same-sex marriage you will not be allowed to assume that the little girl will marry a boy when she grows up. So you will have to say first, do you want to marry a boy or a girl? If you teach about a king and a queen, you'll have to teach about two kings and two queens.

These are the things that worry -- in New Mexico, the New Mexico Human Rights Commission fined a wedding photographer who would not cover a lesbian wedding.

ARAVOSIS: Howie, I'm sorry, I'm not going to sit here and have Dennis filibuster --

KURTZ: We're short on time. Go ahead.

ARAVOSIS: -- about how his argument is all about kids. That's a bunch of BS.

For two decades, the media has been told by people like Dennis that this was about marriage is falling apart. Now that people like Dennis, like 50 percent of Americans, have been divorced -- and guess what? A gay guy didn't cause anyone's divorce -- suddenly they're changing their argument and getting hysterical about kids. They've lost, and that's why the coverage has gone this way.

KURTZ: Let me turn you back to the coverage by asking this question. When there have been states that have adopted, even through courts or legislatures, gay marriage, and we have seen the television pictures of happy couples, happy gay couples, happy lesbian couples, and perhaps fewer people felt threatened by that, do you think that turned the tide in the tone of the media's approach to this issue?

ARAVOSIS: Well, I mean, there's sort of a chicken and egg here. I mean, I'm sure showing pictures of gay people who didn't have horns on their heads probably made the public sit there and say, huh, these guys look pretty normal to me, these women look pretty normal to me.

The media itself, I think, has covered both sides. But when someone wins a battle, it is normal to show the victor. You could show a picture of Dennis looking angry on the cover of "The New York Daily News." I don't think it would have been newsworthy and I don't think it would have been interesting. We're arguing about basic news here.

KURTZ: Given the way the polls have started to shift on this issue, Dennis Prager, particularly on younger people not opposed to same-sex marriage, do you think the media are, to some degree, capturing a cultural shift in America?

PRAGER: Yes, to a certain extent, but they've always overstated it. They were shocked that California went the other way, the most liberal state in the union, that it would have voted to keep marriage defined as a man and a woman.

You see, for vast numbers of people, redefining the most central institution in human history for the first time in human history is not a simple thing of, well, we just feel for people.

ARAVOSIS: That's interesting.

PRAGER: This is huge.

ARAVOSIS: Well, that's interesting, because then you're not --


ARAVOSIS: I'm confused. Do the people not get it?

PRAGER: I'm sorry?

ARAVOSIS: Is society oppressing people like Dennis and the religious right against marriage, or is he saying that vast numbers of Americans around the country get that maybe they're not comfortable with gay marriage? I think Dennis is trying to have a culture war battle rather than talking about the media.

PRAGER: I don't understand.

ARAVOSIS: That's my problem.

KURTZ: I've got time for a brief response, Dennis.

PRAGER: Well, you were the one -- you were the one who originally raised the question about why we oppose same-sex marriage.

ARAVOSIS: Right, because your side has said it's about divorce for two decades.


PRAGER: So, then, when I answer that, you say are we talking about --

ARAVOSIS: Go ahead.

PRAGER: You raise the question of why anybody would oppose it. I answered why I oppose it, and then you say to me, well, Dennis, are we talking about the media or opposition to same-sex marriage? I answered your question.

KURTZ: All right.

ARAVOSIS: And I said your answer is kind of silly, Dennis. I'm with you.

PRAGER: There are major consequences to the redefinition of marriage.

KURTZ: I feel very safe in saying this debate will continue, but right now, it will not continue on this program.

John Aravosis, Dennis Prager, thank you very much for joining us.

ARAVOSIS: Thanks, Howie.

KURTZ: Up next, Glenn Beck checks out at Fox News. Can he remain a cultural force by taking his act online?


KURTZ: It was just two-and-a-half years ago that Glenn Beck made the leap from Headline News to Fox News and become, whether you love him or loathe him, a cultural phenomenon. Beck delivered huge audiences at 5:00 p.m., but also clashed with Fox management. And after a divorce was hammered out, he signed off this week for the last time.


GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS: It all comes down to this: I learned the hard way who I was. We as a country now have a chance to learn who we are, what we're capable of, what we really, truly believe, before we're forced to learn it the hard way.

But for those members of the media who are celebrating, I waited for a season. I know exactly where I'm going. And you will pray for the time when I was only on the air for one hour every day.


KURTZ: So what should we make of Beck's exit?

Joining us now from Philadelphia, Gail Shister, a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, and a columnist for the Web site TVNewser.

Well, Gail, are you going to pray for the time when Glenn Beck was only on one hour a day on TV as he takes his act online?

GAIL SHISTER, COLUMNIST, TVNEWSER: I'm afraid, Howard. I'm very afraid.

KURTZ: Do you think he essentially talked his way out of a job at Fox?

SHISTER: Well, you had mentioned before, was he too incendiary for cable TV? I think it's all relative.

I mean, compared to Howard Beale, who, interestingly is one of his heroes and also one of Keith Olbermann's heroes? What about Jim Cramer on CNBC? He practically strokes out every other show. Is that too incendiary?

I think the question is, was he too incendiary on the wrong topics? I would argue that when anyone brings up Nazi, Holocaust, you're immediately going to alienate a big percentage of the audience, because to use that word as a weapon against somebody because you don't agree with their politics is the ultimate insult to what the Holocaust was. And I think that alienates people.

KURTZ: It seems to me, if I can jump in here, that the show got increasingly weird. It became more religious-themed. There was more talk about Jews and Middle East caliphates. And the ratings were phenomenal, as much as 2.5 million viewers at its peak.


KURTZ: But even with the decline, he still had a lot of passionate fans and some pretty big numbers by cable news standards.

SHISTER: Well, I personally think he should have changed the name of the show to "Apocalypse Now." And I think what it was is, I think he's brilliant in terms of getting a sense of the zeitgeist, which I think he did. I think he's very, very good at tapping into a sense of collective rage. And I think that that's what people identified with, and I think it's very tied to the economy.

I think because people are so angry that they don't have jobs for so long, and that the economy has not turned around yet, that he's tapping into that. When people are disgruntled and upset, and someone's speaking to their issue, when what he's saying is resonating with what they're feeling, he's going to be a success.

KURTZ: Fox News chairman Roger Ailes did ask Beck to tone it down on a couple of occasions, but a lot of what was going on was Beck had all these other things going. He had of course the famous Lincoln Memorial rally, he gave speeches, best-selling books, the radio show. And Fox began to believe that his television program, for which he was paid a fair amount of money, was not a priority, whereas Beck, I believe, felt someone reined in by Fox management.

So that may have had as much to do with his departure as the controversies that swirled around his rhetoric.

SHISTER: I agree with that. And, also, anyone who multitasks to that extent is going to inevitably hurt the mothership.

I mean, it's just physically impossible for a person to do so many things every day and over a period of time and not have it affect what got you there in the first place. Now, it's very common for cable hosts to also do TV. A lot of them do that, and it doesn't affect them nearly as much. But when you have your finger in as many pies as he does, it can't help but affect it. KURTZ: So, Glenn Beck is going to launch this online program in September. It's going to have a subscription fee. You have got to pay to see it.

When you combine that with he'll still have his radio show and the other activities, will he still have a substantial impact? Will people in the media be talking about Glenn Beck six months, a year from now, the way they have when he was a nightly fixture on Fox?

SHISTER: I think by definition they will not be, because he will not have the rubric of Fox behind him. I do, however, think he will get a bigger audience then a lot of people are predicting.

It's $4.95 a month. And I think that what could really affect it is if cable -- if you can buy the show a la carte, if cable turns a la carte, in the sense that, you can only buy certain networks, not buy certain other ones. If you're online, if that's going to be your choice, you stick with that and don't use pay walls for other things.

I think he's going to have a loyal base that will follow him. I don't think that he will become part of the daily conversation like he is now.

KURTZ: So you are saying in part that Fox News, the platform of Fox News, is what made Glenn Beck a superstar, and when that platform is taken away, he will still be a big deal but not at the same level?

SHISTER: Yes. Exactly. Yes.

KURTZ: And does it seem to you that -- does this indicate that this kind of incendiary talk, whether on the right or the left, is becoming less acceptable on cable, or is this more of a unique case? Got about half a minute to break.

SHISTER: Well, OK. I have two words for you: Mark Halperin. I mean, clearly, the line keeps changing. So it's hard --

KURTZ: But Mark Halperin, of course, was suspended by MSNBC for using a word that is part of a bad joke. I wouldn't necessarily say he's an incendiary figure.

SHISTER: I agree with that, but it depends how far you go. As I said before, you start bringing up Nazis every other week, and the Holocaust every other week, people are going to think you've left the reservation.

KURTZ: Well, thank you for avoiding any words that would get any of us suspended.

Gail Shister, thanks for joining us.

Still to come on this program, a "New York Times" columnist's badly botched joke; Newsweek's controversial Diana cover; and Fox News unloads on Jon Stewart in the feud that just won't die.

"Media Monitor" is next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Closing arguments in the Casey Anthony murder trial began this morning, and MSNBC and Fox News are taking it live, as is CNN's sister network, HLN. This tragic case, to me, is the most over- covered trial since O.J., and I hate the way the media have turned this into a national soap opera.

Time now for the "Media Monitor."

David Carr was right the first time. "The New York Times" media columnist tweeted, "If I were booking live TV like Bill Maher, the last person ever I would choose would be me. Be very afraid, for me, and for you."

Well, he got on Maher's HBO show, Carr really stepped in it with these words --


BILL MAHER, HOST, "REAL TIME": Maybe it's just false pride, but I think New Jersey is more sophisticated than other states because I'm from there.

DAVID CARR, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think if it's Kansas, if it's Missouri, no big deal. That's the dance of the low-sloping foreheads, the middle places. Did I just say that aloud?




KURTZ: Low-sloping foreheads. Carr got all kinds of flak as an arrogant New York snob, as you can imagine, and he made a hasty retreat, saying, "To all of America, at least the middle place that I come from, I apologize for saying something so, so dumb on Bill Maher last night."

But I think, as with Mark Halperin, it was just a bad joke delivered badly. David Carr is from Minnesota. I seriously doubt he was attempting to insult everyone who lives in the middle of the country.

Judged by the media critics, this week's cover of "Newsweek" is very controversial. Princess Diana is digitally inserted into the recent royal wedding and Photoshopped to reflect how she might look today, almost 14 years after her death.

"The Atlantic" says, "How Creepy is Princess Diana's Ghost on the Cover of Newsweek?" Mediaite says, "To create photographs that simulate a bizarre alternate reality is hurtful."

Here's what "Newsweek" editor-in-chief Tina Brown, author of a Diana biography, had to say on MSNBC. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TINA BROWN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "THE DAILY BEAST"/"NEWSWEEK": Some people think it's kind of spooky and should we have done it? And others think it's very effective. I think it's a very intriguing package to show what she would be like today, because I wanted to make her a time traveler.


KURTZ: Now, I work at "Newsweek," but here's my two cents. The cover was a gimmick designed to generate buzz and attention. I can see where some people would find it offensive. thought it was a tongue-in-cheek attempt -- there was even an imaginary Diana Facebook page -- to speculate about what might have been if the princess had lived. What it proved once again is that Diana can still sell magazines.

For two weeks now, Jon Stewart and Fox News have been sniping at each other over the comedian's confrontational appearance with Chris Wallace. Now, one rub against Fox is that many of its programs seem to gang up on the target of the week.

If you look at this montage from "The Daily Show," Stewart now has the bull's eye on his back.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jon Stewart says he is both liberal and fair. Is he really?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did Jon Stewart mock Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain because he's a black man?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A closer look at what the comedian gets away with his one-sided attacks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jon Stewart needs a lesson on truth- telling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why is Jon Stewart in denial about his liberal leaning?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Herman Cain says comedian Jon Stewart was mocking him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here is an example of Jon Stewart's bias.

JON STEWART, "THE DAILY SHOW": I guess everyone got the memo.


KURTZ: Now, Stewart did make fun of Herman Cain in an Amos and Andy voice that I found unsettling, but he responded with footage of himself doing a lot of ethnic voices and imitations, not always well. Fox has every right to stick it to Stewart, but it does look a bit like ganging up. Not that both sides aren't enjoying and exploiting this seemingly endless feud.

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 Candy Crowley begins right now.