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Will Christie Run for President?; Erin Burnett's Take on the Economy

Aired October 2, 2011 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Why is it that journalists are more fascinated by politicians who may be, just may be, might run for president than those who are actually out there campaigning? Chris Christie hasn't exactly been ambiguous on the subject.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everyone in the Republican Party but you is talking about that you should be on the ticket in 2012 to run for the White House. You say?



CHRISTIE: No. Not going to happen.

DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: You're still saying categorically not running, 2012?

CHRISTIE: No, I'm not running. I'm 100 percent certain I'm not going to run.


KURTZ: Not ready. But this week his people hinted he might reconsider, and the media went haywire.

What explains this obsessive behavior?

Roger Ailes tells me Fox News is on a course correction, pulling back a bit from the hard right. Really? And what's he doing meeting privately with Republican candidates?

Erin Burnett makes the leap from CNBC to CNN. What's her take on coverage of the ailing economy, and how will her new show compete in an opinionated landscape?

Plus, some news outlets can't get enough of the trial of Michael Jackson's doctor, while others can't care less. We'll have a diagnosis.

I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES. Maybe the governor of New Jersey will jump in and completely shake up the presidential race, or maybe the Chris Christie flirtation will turn out to be just another brief comet across the media galaxy. But move over, Romney and Perry and Bachmann and Cain and Santorum. Journalists have a new heartthrob.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Is this the man who can defeat the incumbent president? He could have ended all the talk about running, but he didn't.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: People who are down the middle, just everybody around here, is talking about Chris Christie jumping in the race.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: "No" means no. Or does it? Another full-throated denial from Governor Chris Christie. But does anyone believe him?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I talked to a close adviser to the New Jersey governor yesterday who said basically that only Christie knows what Christie is doing.

JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS: Sources close to Christie tell me that he is in fact reconsidering his earlier statements, emphatic statements, George, that he is not going to run.


KURTZ: So why can't the news business take no for an answer?

Joining us now here in Washington, Lauren Ashburn, former managing editor of "USA Today" and a contributor to "The Huffington Post"; David Frum, the editor of; and John Avlon, CNN contributor, a senior political columnist for "Newsweek Daily" and "The Daily Beast," and co-editor of the new anthology "Deadline Artists: America's Greatest News Columns." Got everybody in there from Jimmy Breslin to Mike Royko.

Lauren Ashburn, what does it say about the state of campaign coverage that so many journalists are -- I'm not going to shy away from saying this -- panting after Chris Christie, wanting him to run?

LAUREN ASHBURN, CONTRIBUTOR, "HUFFINGTON POST": Oh, boy. You know I just -- we are ADD. That's all I can say.

You know, everybody in the news business will admittedly say we have Attention Deficit Disorder. And if somebody new pops on to the screen, oh, my gosh, the cameras turn immediately to that person.

We get bored with Romney and Perry and Bachmann. We know their story.

KURTZ: We get bored with people actually running for president.


KURTZ: David Frum, Christie himself pointed to that political montage. We played a little bit of that where he said, "I'm not," "I'm not ready," "I'm not going to do it," "No way," "I would kill myself first."

The coverage all seems to be about will he or won't he, as opposed to any kind of examination of his record as governor.

DAVID FRUM, FRUMFORUM.COM: Well, in defense of the journalists, what they are also doing here is picking up on where the Republican Party is. Although the Republican Party has an adequate field, and if you like the kind of candidate that Chris Christie would be, you've got a candidate in Mitt Romney.

The problem -- what journalists are picking up is that Republicans have this problem, which is Mitt Romney is the logical person to nominate, probably the most electable, likely the best president, but --

KURTZ: Nobody's excited about him.

FRUM: And there's another problem, which is, if you believe that what President Obama did to the American health care system is -- or if you've been saying for three years it's the greatest threat to American freedom since the threat of Nazi invasion, then it's rather difficult to turn around and nominate somebody who did very much the same thing at the state level. So journalists are picking up on a self-inflicted Republican problem that's preventing them from nominating the logical guy to nominate.

KURTZ: But we have been through this, John Avlon, with Sarah Palin -- is she going to run -- and Haley Barbour and Mitch Daniels and Donald Trump, who ran for three weeks. The media always seemed more interested in the reluctant candidate.

Why is that?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: They do. Well, I think it's kind of self-indulgent.

First of all, I think it's easier to cover. But this Christie cycle has been ridiculous, because he has said -- I mean, not only Shermanesque, but "I'll kill myself before I run."

KURTZ: That's beyond Shermanesque.

AVLON: Right, exactly.

You know, we do a good job of covering a horse race. We do not such a good job of covering governing.

And now we've taken this to an additional bizarro level where we're more interested in covering the candidates who aren't running than the nine candidates who are, which is essentially -- I mean, also deeply unfair to the folks who are doing the hard work of putting a campaign together every day.

I think this has gotten absurd. It doesn't serve, I think, our democracy well at the end of the day.

KURTZ: Well, you know, a lot of the coverage has focused obviously on Christie's -- shall we call it blunt style of which there are -- no shortage of examples?

Let's play a little bit of that, and then I will ask you a question on the other side.


CHRISTIE: Gail (ph), you know what? First off, it's none of your business. I don't ask you where you send your kids to school. Don't bother me about where I send mine.



CHRISTIE: I sat here -- stood here and very respectfully listened to you. If what want you to do is put on a show and giggle every time I talk, well, then I have no interest in answering your question.



CHRISTIE: You know, Tom, you must be the thinnest-skinned guy in America, because if you think that's a confrontational tone, then I -- you know, you should really see me when I'm pissed.



KURTZ: And what would that look like?

Lauren Ashburn, you wrote in "The Huffington Post" this week that women, at least this woman, have a different reaction.

ASHBURN: And other women have --

KURTZ: Perhaps have a different reaction than some of the male pundits who think that is great, that confrontational, in your face --

ASHBURN: These guys laughed.

KURTZ: These guys laughed. What was your reaction?

ASHBURN: Well, I don't think it's appropriate for a leader to be talking about how he's pissed. And when Hurricane Irene hit, he told everybody to get the hell off the beach. I mean, first it was like a breath of fresh air, but all of a sudden it's becoming like a bad boyfriend, who you tell your girlfriend, you don't want to marry this, do you? And she goes ahead and marries him anyway, and then you say, see, when it doesn't work out.

KURTZ: So tell me why most of the media, maybe mostly populated by men, seem to be celebrating this as an authentic and natural and non-blow-dried approach.

ASHBURN: OK. Here's the reason, and I think there is some legitimacy to this.

You get a person who has been in the system, who maybe has been running for president, has been doing that for two cycles, maybe three, and they're airbrushed. Their polls, they have shaped themselves to what the public thinks of them, and you don't get an authentic person. You don't get somebody who says get the hell off the beach.

KURTZ: Every syllable is poll-tested.

David Frum, what the media now find endearing could in fact turn out to be a liability. For example, Governor Christie appointing a Muslim judge to the state bench, which a lot of people thought was a bold move. And then he says, I'm tired of taking criticism from all the crazies out there. Well, some of the crazies who may vote in Republican primaries may not like that.

FRUM: Yes. The media have also forgotten something else, which is that Republicans really care about the gun issue. Republican primary voters really care about the gun issue. And one of the --

KURTZ: And the immigration issue.

FRUM: And one of the underreported facts about Chris Christie is that he has a record as an advocate for stricter gun control. And it's understandable that a governor of New Jersey would have that view.

I mean, you're on the I-95 corridor with all of that drug smuggling, and strong police unions who want to see stricter control. But when the Republican primary electorate discovers this, they may discover, we care as much about that as we do about what Romney did to health care in Massachusetts.

AVLON: And then you get in the cycle of building up a candidate and tearing him down. Look, anyone who has been in law enforcement in big cities has a different approach to guns than someone who is dealing with it theoretically in terms of playing to the base. That's the first bit.

I don't know it's a gender issue. I mean, I think people are starved for authenticity from our politicians. I think they do want someone who's going to actually call it as they see it. That is so refreshing in today's overspent, over-scripted, blow-dried approach to politics, that's one of the reasons he's popping.

ASHBURN: There is a poll that does show that from the time that he was elected until basically now, among women he's gone from 46 percent approval to 36 percent approval. And one of the reasons that the polling director said so adequately that that's the reason is that, you know, a lot of women don't like belligerent men. And that really is what he is.

FRUM: Well, presiding over the build-down of the New Jersey public sector is also -- we tend to when we discuss these things ignore the fundamentals, which is tough economy, budget cuts, pressure on school funding. All of those things are very important.

ASHBURN: But he also --


ASHBURN: But he also said that the teachers union -- you know, that their complaints are crap.

AVLON: Well, and also, the teachers union has compared him to Hitler.


KURTZ: Before we get too deeply into the record, I want to bring this back, because journalists also said, by the way, that Rick Perry was going to be this fabulous candidate. And then he got in a couple of debates, and now he's not getting, say, rave reviews.

I'm struck -- just this morning, I picked up "The New York Times." Here's Frank Bruni with a column, "The Round and the Oval." It's about Chris Christie and his weight. We have Gene Robinson of "The Washington Post" telling him to eat a salad and take a walk.

Now, I'm not saying that nobody should ever mention the fact that Chris Christie's overweight. He's talked about it. But all of these columns -- and the guy is not even running yet, he may not even run -- about whether he's too fat to be president.

ASHBURN: It's a serious issue, though.

KURTZ: It's a serious issue?

ASHBURN: Of course it is. This is all about perception, which I don't know if he's learned yet.

You know, take a look at Mike Huckabee, who lost all of that weight. I think that people want in a leader someone that they can look up to.

And to your point, John, I really believe that we love that Oprah couch moment. You know, we love about people, politicians, people who sit down on the Oprah couch and say, oh, my gosh, I've done something wrong. We love to build people up who have failed, and -- or who have said I'm not running and now I'm running. FRUM: But there's also a contrast here between politicians from the tri-state area around the that media capital and politicians from elsewhere. I mean, you mentioned Perry. So, Chris Christie is so obsessively covered, that even his weight, which ought not to be any kind of factor, is being discussed.

Meanwhile, Rick Perry, his record of how he -- questions of, how did he make his money, what kind of business deals did he do? Those have been covered by a few small papers in Texas.

But we had a piece on our side about this. Texas is such a weak media culture with respect to Texas reporters, it doesn't penetrate. And if Perry emerges, if he becomes the nominee, he is going to be exposed to a national press that is going to be interested in asking questions --

KURTZ: Well, he started --


FRUM: -- that didn't penetrate in Texas about his personal business dealings.

KURTZ: But coming back to the weighty issue -- forgive me -- this Frank Bruni column, he goes on to say, well, he has struggled with weight himself and he had bulimia. So it's something that everybody can relate to.

At the same time, I can't help thinking, John Avlon, that this is so easy. It's the kind of thing that can be debated on "The View" and on "Oprah." And it's a lot harder to look at, what kind of governor has he been? And his immigration position, his gun control position. And it just kind of feels self-indulgent.

AVLON: It is self-indulgent. This is part of the dumbing down of our political --

KURTZ: I'm glad you agree with me. That's good. Go ahead.

AVLON: We're debating a guy's weight because it's easy. And look, maybe that makes him relatable to all kinds of other issues that we bring up. But it's not relevant to his governing style, it's not relevant his record, it's not relevant to what kind of a president or presidential candidate he would make.

And this is the spin cycle. This is the tail wagging the dog. This is what we're doing too often in our politics.

ASHBURN: For women -- think about it, though. If this were an overweight woman who was running, and men were attacking her for her weight --

FRUM: She wouldn't be running.

ASHBURN: That's exactly true.

KURTZ: I smell a double standard here.

My two cents is, if you look at all this coverage, we are acting like teenagers with short attention spans. Journalist are sick of the Romney vs. Perry, two-man-race storyline, because it went on for three weeks. We didn't have anything new to say.

And it seems to me that there's more focus on Chris Christie's weight than his dealings with New Jersey public employees or those kind of things. And this whole campaign, it seems to me, going back to Trump, going back to Palin, who's supposed to decide this month, she didn't, it's almost coming across as entertainment.

Now, before we end this discussion, Herman Cain says that the media are trying to create a storyline by sucking Chris Christie into the race. I don't think we have the power to do that.

ASHBURN: Sure, we do.

KURTZ: We can convince a guy who said I'm not ready, I'm going to commit suicide, to run for president?

ASHBURN: No, you said sucking him in. I mean, I think that -- why is he now turning around and saying, oh, gosh, I might? I mean, he's toying with the media.

KURTZ: Because people are going to him -- big money people -- and saying you have to run. And some of them are your friends in the conservative pundit movement, people like Bill Kristol, who are dying for Christie to get in. In fact, Kristol even has a slogan already, "A big man for a big job."


FRUM: Because they're trying to escape the gravitational pull of the Romney candidacy, that from the point of view of a lot of conservative pundits, if Romney runs it raises questions over things conservatives have been saying about health care for the past three years. Because suddenly, what was the death of freedom becomes actually innovative public policy. And that's embarrassing.

ASHBURN: Part of it is, too, that people don't know a lot about Christie based on the fact that they haven't been reporting a lot about Christie.

KURTZ: So he has this wonderful blank slate everybody can paint on.

ASHBURN: That's right.

KURTZ: And next week we'll come back and tell you, well, he didn't run, and so, therefore, the whole thing was a waste of time. Or I could be wrong.

Let me get a break.

When we come back, is Fox News really trying to move toward the center? And should Roger Ailes be meeting privately with Republicans who want to be president?


KURTZ: There are, of course, plenty of conservative voices on Fox News. But Roger Ailes told me in a series of interviews for "Newsweek" that the network has been undergoing a "course correction," edging away from the hard-right focus of a couple years ago, back when Glenn Beck was calling President Obama a racist and Fox was playing out the Tea Party rallies.

Now some Fox hosts occasionally defend the president.


BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: Do you think Barack Obama's the worst president in American history?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not enough of a historian to tell you the answer to that. I can tell you that I think he's been a very poor president.

O'REILLY: What failure are you talking about? He got Osama bin Laden. He's dead. The drone program's downgraded al Qaeda's ability to do anything. He has kept most of the Bush stuff in place -- rendition, Guantanamo --


KURTZ: John Avlon, would you agree that Fox has edged a built toward the mainstream in the last couple of years?

AVLON: I think that O'Reilly defined himself against the rise of Beck by being more independent and was well served by it in terms of ratings and in terms of his credibility. In terms of the overall network, I mean, you do almost have a parallel with this primary dance.

I mean, they played to the base in the opening years of the Obama administration. Now they're trying to attack center, allegedly.

Look, at the end of the day, Roger Ailes' strategy has always been the same whether it's in politics or media. It's positive polarization. He's been running the same play very effectively for a long time.

KURTZ: Ailes is pretty good at reading public opinion. The Tea Party's not as popular these days, people are fed up with both parties endlessly fighting, all the gridlock. So that might be reflected in the tone of Fox News.

FRUM: I think also that the later days of the Glenn Beck television show, the man did begin to walk up some very scary precipices in American life. And I think it was that -- I mean, it was hard to watch, for example, Glenn Beck's series on George Soros.

A lot of people aren't fans of George Soros, but when you begin to suggest that this Jewish financier is the mastermind behind world political events, and begin attacking him for helping to support democracy in central Europe because far right central European -- Eastern European politicians don't like that, I think a lot of Americans draw back from that. And I wouldn't be surprised if Roger Ailes had the same reaction.

ASHBURN: Right. And hence, he's out of a job.

KURTZ: Well, he left voluntarily, he says.

But Ailes also acknowledges that he asked his commentators to tone things down after the Gabby Giffords shooting, when this was a lot of public revulsion, I think, and incendiary talk on both sides.

ASHBURN: No, that's very true. And that's very admirable of him.

I mean, one of the things that I think people always confuse, too, and you've mentioned this before, is the opinion hours at the end of the evening and the news at the -- during the show. And during the normal --

KURTZ: During the day.

ASHBURN: During the day. Yes, the normal hours.

And, you know, I think that -- take a look at Bill Hemmer's show, for example, "America's Newsroom." I mean, I was in the control room just last week, and they're not asking, oh, is this right? Is this right? Should we put this on the air? I mean politically speaking.

No. They're asking, is this news?

KURTZ: And as part of this piece, I spent some time with three Fox News anchors, Chris Wallace, Megyn Kelly, and Bret Baier, who were trying to devise the toughest questions they could for the debate in Orlando. And I think in the last three Fox debates they've generally been credited with being fairly aggressive toward the GOP.

AVLON: Yes. The first Fox debate in particular, where they had very strong questions. And then they were criticized by Rush Limbaugh for having too strong questions.

KURTZ: And he said Fox was trying to suck up to the mainstream for MSM approval.

But let me -- I want to ask you all about meetings that Ailes admitted to me that he had. He says he wasn't giving advice, but certainly Chris Christie. He had dinner at Ailes' home in New Jersey. Romney and Perry have also met privately with Ailes.

Here's some of the things he told me.

For example, about Rick Perry, who hasn't given any TV interviews except for one, to Sean Hannity. "The press," says Ailes, "they will set a trap for him and ask him who's the leader of Uzbekistan and run with that for a week."

Michele Bachmann -- remember when she talked about God sending a message with Hurricane Irene. She said she was joking. Says Ailes, "The way they're playing it on the networks is that she's a Jesus freak."

And Romney, who for so long was called a week front-runner. "Weak is a word," says Ailes," the mainstream press will give all Republicans always as a precursor to killing them off. It saddens me. America used to be able to get straight journalism."

ASHBURN: He defines straight journalism by the fact that saying -- and I think you pointed this out -- that journalism is liberal and is to the left. And so his idea of balance is just balancing out the liberal.

KURTZ: Ailes said, "We are the balance. If you see every news outlet that is leaning to the left, then you feel like you are helping to balance that by putting on more right-leaning voices."

AVLON: Just quickly, I mean, this point matters enormously, because the whole core idea was that it took conscious bias to balance out the unconscious bias of liberal media, right? That is the genesis of this. But there's something very scary about that idea, that conscious bias can balance unconscious bias.

At the end of the day, what you have is the rise of partisan networks, polarizing the profit. That has been the game they have played from the beginning.

KURTZ: You're including MSNBC at night?

AVLON: Well, yes, because you create a cycle of incitement, the echo it becomes, because that model cocooning becomes embraced by the opposite side.

KURTZ: And they spend a lot of time attacking each other.

AVLON: Right.

FRUM: What you're also seeing -- John has written a new book about the history of the newspaper column -- America's going back to what it had in the 19th century, a partisan press. And it wouldn't have surprised anybody in 1850 if Horace Greeley were having dinner with the various candidates for the Whig or the Republican Party because he was running a Whig or Republican organ with no pretense to being a fair newspaper.

And network -- the cable networks, MSNBC and Fox, are going in that direction. They are voices of the party, and they act like party tools of organization.

KURTZ: Does it cast doubt? Because, of course, Ailes, 20 years ago, had a background in Republican politics. Does it cast when you're having these meetings on the people who you say here are my journalists -- they are Bill Hemmer and Chris Wallace and Bret Baier, and they just hired Ed Henry from CNN. Does it cast doubt for the boss, having these meetings, or is there nothing wrong it?

ASHBURN: You know, I think that the people have to kiss the ring. They feel like they have to kiss the Roger Ailes ring in order to be taken seriously. You know, how are you going to cover me? How is that going to be? I mean, I think that's on the candidate and the candidate's campaign folks.

KURTZ: Or they might want to get a job at Fox News. Tim Pawlenty, when he dropped out of the race, asked Roger Ailes for a Fox gig and he was turned down.

ASHBURN: Right. And how creepy is it that presidential candidates feel the need to kiss Roger Ailes' ring, that every single candidate running -- the vast majority of them, with the exception of Romney and Perry -- were Fox News contributors? That is an unprecedented circumstance, and that is a side-effect of the rise in partisan news. And that is something that should be troubling.

ASHBURN: You know, he is just the ringmaster of this. And one of the things that I love -- this is a little off topic -- is the way he pitted the anchors against each other by saying, you know, Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck had this feud. He's just the lion tamer. And in this, he can incite excitement for Fox News.

KURTZ: A lot of big egos there.

We've got to go.

Lauren Ashburn, David Frum, John Avlon, thanks for stopping by. We usually see you in New York.

Coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, the manslaughter trial of Michael Jackson's doctor. Why are some media outlets going wall to wall in the case, where others are just blowing it off?

Plus, are business journalist falling short on the unemployment crisis? We'll ask CNN's newest host, Erin Burnett.

And later, is "Nightline" going tabloid?


KURTZ: Erin Burnett is a former Wall Street trader who became a star business correspondent at CNBC. That, of course, a network that covers the hour-by-hour gyrations of the stock market. And Burnett was on the front lines right up to her emotional last day back in May.


ERIN BURNETT, FMR. CNBC ANCHOR: We've been in breaking news mode at CNBC because breaking news for us is when the markets are really great or really horrible, and they were really horrible overnight everywhere around the world. Hawrible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were they really? BURNETT: Hawrible, H-A-W-R. Hawrible.



MARK HAINES, CNBC: I want to say first, and you can say --


HAINES: -- you should have the last word. Give me your hand.

Coming to work for the last five-and-a-half years has been an absolute joy. You are the best, the absolute best. We wish you the best of luck. We're going to miss you a lot.

BURNETT: Well, I feel the same way. And -- anyway, that's -- good-bye.

HAINES: I'm going to go home and cry.


KURTZ: Burnett with the late Mark Haines.

Erin Burnett begins her nightly CNN program "OUTFRONT" tomorrow at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN.

I sat down with her earlier here in the studio.


KURTZ: Erin Burnett, welcome.

BURNETT: Good to be with you, Howard.

KURTZ: Let's start with your old place, CNBC.

Its coverage of the stock market gyrations sometimes seem so breathless, that I wonder if the big picture is lost.

Did you ever think about that?

BURNETT: Well, I mean, part of what we tried to do there, what they do now and what I used to try to do, was sort of the play by play. You know, it's a football game. So there is sort of an excitement and a breathlessness to -- the markets are still --

KURTZ: The Xs and the Os and -- yes?


BURNETT: But I do think one of the challenges is always taking that step back, right? Because if you're up a whole lot one day, and everything is ebullient, then the next day it's down and everybody is in the dumps, that trying to get that balance right -- KURTZ: And if you are covering the play by play -- and there's a place for that, and day traders and people in the stock market really want to know this stuff -- maybe you don't see that there's a housing bubble that might burst or that Wall Street is overextended, mortgage investment firms -- I mean, the business media in general did not do a great job of warning us about what happened, ultimately, in 2008.

BURNETT: That's interesting. And, I mean, when I think about that conversation, I think your criticism, you know, is certainly accurate in some regards.

KURTZ: Push back. Push back.

BURNETT: I do remember, though -- I'll push back. I remember when OwnIt Financial, which was the first mortgage company to go under --

KURTZ: It was before Countrywide?

BURNETT: Oh, well before Countrywide. This was back in December of 2006. And I remember doing that story and leading the show with that story.

And, actually, that January, leading the show with video of ostriches. And, by the way, video of ostriches with their heads in the sand, Howard, is not the easiest video to come by. But writing that sentence and delivering it -- we actually have the tape of, hey, investors, get your heads out of the sand.

And that was our show. But there were plenty of other people, I think, in financial journalism who also did that. But the problem was the overall mood and excitement out there about the boom --

KURTZ: Everybody was making money.

BURNETT: -- was bigger than the signs of warning. And sometimes people don't want to hear it. So we did it. I feel that we did a good job.

KURTZ: People want to take the punchbowl away at a party.

BURNETT: That's right.

KURTZ: Let's go to today. Here's my problem. There's an unemployment crisis in this country.


KURTZ: Fourteen million people are out of work. But 14 million people were also out of work last week. So there isn't necessarily any news to it, but it is something that is affecting lots of -- inflicting lots of pain. And yet, it seems to me the focus of so much media coverage and business coverage is about the budget brinkmanship here in Washington, the stock market going up and down 200, 300, 400 points a day.

Are we missing the jobs story?

BURNETT: You know, it's really tough, because the budget that -- I mean, they're all linked together, of course, right?

KURTZ: Of course.

BURNETT: I mean, as you have uncertainty and nothing happening in Washington, that causes problems in terms of creating jobs. But I think part of the problem is when you cover the budget, you can cover it, right? Who's to blame? Who's doing this? What can be done? What could be done better?

KURTZ: Will there be a default?

BURNETT: You can talk about plans --

KURTZ: Will there be a credit downgrade?

BURNETT: Right. And with the jobs problem, it's a crisis. But what could you do?

If there was a magic answer, somebody would have done it, whether -- whatever your political point of view, right, a Democrat or a Republican, someone would know what to do. A CEO would stand up and say, well, I do A, B and C and everything is great.

Nobody knows how to solve that. And so it's a hard thing to talk about day in and day out, even though, certainly, it is the most important story above and beyond all of this other conversation.

KURTZ: President Obama has a $450 billion jobs plan on the table. Some House Republicans have already said, well, we're not going to raise taxes on millionaires and people over $250,000.

Has there been enough analysis in our business about whether this could work, whether this should work? Do we engage in this sort of fantasy that presidents can fix the economy, when, of course, the economy is this big, complex thing?

BURNETT: I think we do engage in that fantasy. And it's interesting when you think about this whole thing --

KURTZ: I'm probably as guilty as anyone else.

BURNETT: Well, we all do it. But who is going to jump into the presidential election? You know, should Chris Christie rate because the economy gets better -- and then but this whole conversation is all really about the economy.

I do think that we have analyzed a plan in the sense of, if you look at some of the basics of it, right, a payroll tax cut, unemployment benefit, insurance extension, there has been a lot of analysis of whether those things will work and to what extent we should do them. So I do think we're having informed conversations around some of the key parts of it.

KURTZ: Was it a difficult decision to leave CNBC? You seemed pretty emotional that last day.

BURNETT: Well, it was very hard to leave Mark Haines, and obviously Mark was a dear friend. And I miss some of my friends there, Jim Kramer.

But I was thrilled at this opportunity. It was just too good to pass up, to come to CNN, to be able to do a primetime show, to have -- to talk about issues I care about, one of which is the economy, but there's other ones, as well that could become core to what I do.

KURTZ: So will you still be getting together with Kramer to argue off camera?

BURNETT: Yes. Kramer and I actually were together recently at my launch party. And it was just -- it was fantastic.

KURTZ: By doing a more general show here at CNN, are you, to some extent, giving up your business brand? I mean, you were so closely identified with being a market reporter. You worked at Goldman Sachs. I mean, it's taken you a lot of years to gain that credibility.

Is that a difficult transition for you?

BURNETT: Well, I think the first answer to that is it's still important for me in the sense that the election is -- the economy is the most important issue in the election. And I believe, in general, that money and where money is going and who is getting money is central to every story. And I think --

KURTZ: You're not walking away from that?

BURNETT: No. And I think that's an important angle that we can bring to all stories. But a lot of the things that I love in terms of the foreign reporting and some of the issues that I really care about that have a financial aspect, but also a much broader aspect, which I did at CNBC, but wasn't really the core of what they did, is now the core. So I think it's a perfect fit.

KURTZ: Well, you've been doing a rehearsal as you're ready to go Monday.

BURNETT: I'm sick of rehearsals.

KURTZ: You're sick of rehearsals.

BURNETT: Yes, I am sick of rehearsals.

KURTZ: You want to do it live.

BURNETT: That's right.

KURTZ: Let's do it live.

BURNETT: If there's something that's going to happen, just let it happen, right? KURTZ: What is the show going to feel like? What is the focus of it? Is there going to be a lot of politics? Is it a news hour? Is it a news and opinion hour?

BURNETT: Well, it's going to be -- we're trying to be a part of what modern news is. I believe that younger people -- and by younger, by the way, we all know the demo for nightly news, right? It's 60 plus. And that's great. You want those people to watch, too, but younger people care about news.

I believe that. I think when you look at all the statistics of iPad use and Web site use --

KURTZ: But they have drifted away from television.

BURNETT: That's right. But there are more TVs in American --

KURTZ: And you're going to get them back.

BURNETT: -- homes than there ever have been before. So they're still buying TVs.

So I think that there's something there we can capitalize on. It's going to have energy. It's going to be casual.

And the name, "OUTFRONT", is a mission statement for us. It's become almost a verb, right?

You know, how presidents -- how President Bush made Google a verb, it's a verb for us. Is that out front? How do we out-front this? Original reporting, a special angle, a fact-based point of view, that is going to be part of the brand of what it is.


KURTZ: Up next, Erin Burnett talks about her challenge of competing in cable's polarized marketplace.


KURTZ: More now of my conversation with CNN's newest anchor, Erin Burnett.


KURTZ: Nighttime cable news is very competitive, as you know.


KURTZ: Very opinionated, as you know. The people who have done the best seem to be the people who are the strongest personalities, sometimes the loudest. Certainly they don't lack for opinions.

Are you going to be more opinionated, Erin Burnett, then you have been in your previous role as a business correspondent?

BURNETT: I think that there is --

KURTZ: I want a yes or no answer.

BURNETT: You want a yes or a no answer?

KURTZ: Please.

BURNETT: Well, the answer is yes, but I would say point of view, to me, can be distinct from a partisan political point of view. So where you have very successful people yelling from the left and from the right, being passionate, enthusiastic, energetic, and pulling together -- being trustworthy, which I think is something I bring to the table in terms of numbers, and then you come out with a point of view of, this makes sense, this doesn't make sense, that isn't fair, that is fair, we can do that.

KURTZ: I've read somewhere you don't want to worry about ratings. But, for example, Campbell Brown, a very talented journalist who came here from NBC News, eventually gave up her CNN show and said, I can't put up the kind of numbers that Bill O'Reilly and, at the time, Keith Olbermann, were putting up. So ratings is a reality in this business, as you know.

Is this going to be a tough challenge for you?

BURNETT: Well, I'm not going to be looking at them at first, because I think we have to be -- we know what we are, and we have a mission statement and we need to be consistent with that. And I think that's really important, because I think as people know what that is, and there are consistency issues we care about, that they will come to the show. So the most important thing is to be consistent and to believe in what we're doing.

And I think it will rate --

KURTZ: I bet your producers will look at the numbers.

BURNETT: -- and we will tweak as we need to tweak. But I come into this with a real belief that there is space for passionate, enthusiastic, fair journalism, as opposed to that pure political point of view. And I think a 7:00 p.m. hour is an hour where you can still do that.

KURTZ: You are out front in this program in more ways than one. Your picture is going up on billboards. There's a tremendous promotion campaign.

How does it feel to be the star of this forthcoming hour?

BURNETT: Well, it's actually -- it's fun. We had a lot of fun this summer.

We went out just a few weeks ago, actually around the world, and we shot stories. So some of what you're seeing in the promo is from some of the stories that you'll see from China, from Pakistan, throughout the first couple of weeks of our program. KURTZ: You're dodging the question. Are you feeling the pressure?

BURNETT: I feel the same as I've always felt.

KURTZ: So now you'll be one of these bold-faced names. And if you go to a restaurant, it will be in the gossip columns.

Are you comfortable with that kind of thing, or are you going to embrace it?

BURNETT: Do you know what? You've got to just have fun and be who you are and be confident in who you are. Right?

And if people are interested, that's wonderful. But then when they're not interested, you're not that invested. You have the person that you are, and you're always that same person.

KURTZ: So you sound like you're ready. You've had enough of rehearsals.


KURTZ: You're ready to be out front.

BURNETT: Ready for the show. Yes, ready for -- yes. It's an exciting time for me in general.

KURTZ: Erin Burnett, thanks very much for sitting down with us.

BURNETT: All right. Thanks so much. Good to see you again.

KURTZ: Same here.


KURTZ: And after the break, Michael Jackson's doctor on trial for manslaughter. Does that warrant round-the-clock coverage on HLN, or is it just another tabloid extravaganza?


KURTZ: It would not be fair to say that all of the media are breathlessly covering Dr. Conrad Murray's manslaughter trial, but the outlets are reporting on it heavily, and these would include ABC News, NBC News, CNN, and especially HLN, are delving deeply into the case of Michael Jackson's death.


PIERS MORGAN, CNN: An extraordinary first day in the trial of Dr. Conrad Murray today. Michael Jackson's parents, his brothers Tito, Jermaine and Randy, and sisters Janet, LaToya and Rebbie are all there.

NANCY GRACE, HLN: The Michael Jackson trial in full swing. We are all live here in L.A., camped outside the county courthouse, as the testimony pours from the witness stand. It's enough to make you just turn away in disgust when you hear how Michael Jackson, the king of pop, truly the king of pop, was killed.

JEAN CASAREZ, HLN: Alberto Alvarez, star witness for the prosecution, testified that he was summoned to the bedroom of Michael Jackson, saw Conrad Murray giving CPR with one hand, with Michael on the bed.

SAWYER: Good evening. Inside a Los Angeles courtroom today, tapes began to roll, witnesses began to testify, and a drama began to unfold in that stunning manslaughter trial. This is the question before the jury: Who is ultimately responsible for the death of Michael Jackson?

WILLIAMS: Today, jurors and viewers around the world heard from a man who was there in the room when Michael Jackson died, ending a life that was more troubled than we all first thought, if that's possible.


KURTZ: So, is this a major news story, a tabloid story, or not much of a story at all?

Joining us now in Tampa, Eric Deggans, television and media critic for "The St. Petersburg Times."

And obviously, Conrad Murray didn't deliberately try to kill Jackson with Propofol, the drug Propofol. Is this a major news story in your view?

ERIC DEGGANS, MEDIA CRITIC, "ST. PETERSBURG TIMES": I don't think it warrants the kind of continuous coverage that we've seen on some of these cable channels. I do think that it lends some light into Michael Jackson's final days, one of the most famous pop stars on the planet.

So, obviously, we want to keep tabs on that kind of information, the stuff that comes out of the trial about what his life was like towards the end. But, you know, when you watch this continuous coverage, you see these guys -- you know, as the family enters, there's a play by play that's almost like some kind of fashion report. And they're talking about such minutia because they have to fill so much time. I think continuous coverage is excessive.

KURTZ: Well, CNN, obviously, which covered every minute of the O.J. trial back in the '90s, is devoting a substantial amount of attention, I would say. But CNN's sister network, HLN, doesn't make any bones about the fact that it's going wall to wall with this.

Is this about ratings and entertainment when you get right down to it, Eric?

DEGGANS: Well, with CNN, with all due respect, I think it's about sort of the nichification of media. CNN is able to sort of outsource the tabloid end of news coverage to HLN. HLN provides all this continuous coverage, and then CNN can kind of dip into it as it decides to display it on its main channel. And I think that's what we're seeing overall.

KURTZ: Well, CNN did carry, just to clarify, the opening statements, and has been having regular updates. Not just HLN.


KURTZ: But you talk about cable networks. As we just saw, Diane Sawyer led with this one night on "ABC World News." Brian Williams led with it one night on "NBC Nightly News." But Scott Pelley, "CBS Evening News," has just run one story down in the broadcast, seems to be playing it down.

So what accounts for these differing news judgments?

DEGGANS: Again, you know, it's the approach of each channel, the approach of each news program. Scott Pelley could be considered the most traditional newscast. So, obviously, they would cover it the least.

I think Diane Sawyer's newscast has increasingly become a home for focusing on these kind of stories that reach out to female viewers -- the Casey Anthony trial here in Florida, the Jaycee Dugard saga. So it makes sense in a weird way that they would spend more time on this story than any network news program.

KURTZ: The contrast between television and print here is really striking, because while you have some networks leading with it, while you have some cable networks, you know, going wild over it, you look at the papers, "The New York Times" and "Washington Post," for example, had very little about this trial. The Post has had a couple of wire stories and that's it.

How can that be? I mean, either it's a big enough story to be leading network news, and yet, at the same time, some of these newspapers are just kind of blowing it off?

DEGGANS: Well, again, it's about what the audience wants and what the audience expects. And I think particularly in an electronic media, online and on television, there's a sense that this story can draw audiences quickly, and big audiences, and draw attention. For print, where it's more deliberate, where the audience is more old- fashioned, and where the standard for news reporting I think is higher, I think there's a sense that there's not as much sort of breaking news, not as much important news coming out of this trial to be worth sacrificing, you know, increasingly valuable, increasingly costly news print.

KURTZ: Although you mentioned news print. "The New York Times" does have a recover covering it. Most of those reports have run online, as opposed to in the newspaper.

Look, Michael Jackson was not only one of the most famous entertainers in the world, he was also one of the most famous African- Americans in the world. Do you think there's more interest in this manslaughter trial among African-American viewers and readers?

DEGGANS: I haven't looked into the figures, but I do think that folks in the black community felt a certain ownership of Michael Jackson and felt like he was our pop star, their pop star. So, yes, I think there probably is a little more interest.

But I think what's really going on here is people know that this guy was private. People know that this guy had a somewhat dysfunctional personal life. And they're really interested in the details of that. And I think that crosses color lines.

KURTZ: Even a couple of years later they're still interested.

DEGGANS: Especially a couple of years later, because there hasn't been a lot of significant reporting necessarily on what the details of his life were like in the moment that he died and even in the day that he died.

KURTZ: And the judge in the case ordering a gag order just on Friday after one of the lawyers related to the defense team went on "The Today Show" to discuss the case. So, clearly, news outlets, some of them, at least, really interested in this story.

Eric Deggans, thanks very much for stopping by this morning.

DEGGANS: Thank you.

KURTZ: Still to come, Fox Sports commits a flagrant foul; Ted Koppel has some not-so-kind words for "Nightline"; and Andy Rooney calling it quits tonight.

The "Media Monitor," straight ahead.


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

"Nightline" has enjoyed strong ratings in recent years, regularly beating its funnier rivals, Jay Leno and David Letterman. But the man who founded the ABC program and anchored it for a quarter century isn't a huge fan.

When Ted Koppel accepted the Edward R. Murrow Lifetime Achievement Award, he said this to KOMO TV in Seattle --


TED KOPPEL, FMR. HOST, "NIGHTLINE": It's no secret they have become hugely successful, precisely because they are doing what I really didn't want "Nightline" to do.


KURTZ: Koppel went on to say that his former broadcast has " -- become a show that's heavily oriented into entertainment, more than it is in the direction of information and news." So, does he have a point?

"Nightline" still covers its share of serious news, including the family in Somalia. But in just the last couple of weeks, the program has also covered "Real Housewives"; "Jersey Shore"' that new TV show "Pan Am"' Mick Jagger's new SuperHeavy band, this disappearance of a young mother; a millionaire's murder trial; and this compelling news, the growing use of breast implants in Venezuela.

Here's a sample.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): In some countries the open secret might be scandalous. But it's gotten so that implants in Venezuela are to be flaunted, not just among beauty contestants, but by working class folks who admire them.

(on camera): Why are people so obsessed with breasts here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because here we have these beautiful (INAUDIBLE) Venezuela, and all those girls are so flawless, and they have big boobs, they have a perfect ass, perfect legs, the hair. And everybody wants to be like them.


KURTZ: In a statement, "Nightline" didn't really address the substance of Koppel's criticism, and really wished him well, saying, "We're so proud of the broadcast we are doing, covering the big stories of the day and bringing our viewers important news from all over the world."

No wonder more people are watching, but it's not your father's "Nightline."

When Fox Sports was covering a Chicago Bears game a couple of weeks back, the talk turned to criticism of quarterback Jay Cutler. Broadcaster Daryl "Moose" Johnston said these are the actual headlines from the papers in Chicago, and then they flash on the screens: "Cutler Leaves With Injury"; "Cutler Lacks Courage"; "Cutler's No Leader."

Well, "The Chicago Tribune" did a little digging and can find no such headlines, and that led to this on-air mea culpa by Fox's Curt Menefee.


CURT MENEFEE, FOX SPORTS: Now, the production team told our announcer, Daryl Johnston, that a taped video package that made air came from actual headlines concerning Bears quarterback Jay Cutler's performance during last year's NFC championship game. Well, in fact, they were not. Fox Sports regrets this mistake and apologizes to Cutler, the Chicago Bears Organization, and everyone involved.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: I've got to throw the penalty flag here. This wasn't some production snafu, it was an outright fabrication. At least Fox fessed up once it was caught.

Now, it was always easy to make fun of Andy Rooney. You know, "Did you ever stop and think about a paper clip?" But he had a homespun way about him just like chatting with your oh-so-talkative uncle.

Some of his essays were gems, others were a snooze. But he's been doing his thing on "60 Minutes" since 1978, back when Jimmy Carter was president.

And tonight, Rooney will deliver his last essay for the 1,097th time.

Let's take a look back.


ANDY ROONEY, "60 MINUTES": I can sleep night or day sitting, standing, or lying down. I often fall asleep right here at this desk. Last week, I took a bus across town in New York City and went six blocks past my stop because I fell asleep.

It's always fun to read the letters people send. I get a lot of them, although to be honest, if I took all the letters seriously, I wouldn't ever say anything again.

I think that if someone came up with a good comic strip that had a story line and humor, it would sell newspapers. The sad fact is there's no agreement on what's funny and what isn't. I'm funny sometimes, but I'm the only one who thinks so.


KURTZ: Andy Rooney is 92, got his start back in the '40s as a writer for Arthur Godfrey's "Talent Scouts." That's one heck of a remarkable career.

Tonight, we'll hear from the last time those stories and Andy Rooney on "60 Minutes."

And 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.