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Media's Flip-Flop on Newt; The TV Studio Campaign; Interview With David Frum

Aired December 11, 2011 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Newt Gingrich has been all over television, is surging to the top of the polls. Mitt Romney, who's avoided the press like the plague, is slipping badly. Is there a message there? And are the media going too far in making Gingrich a target?


ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: You see, Newt just can't help himself. He's kind of like a high-speed blender without a top on, you know what I mean? It just goes everywhere.


KURTZ: David Frum, lifelong Republican, says FOX News and talk radio is helping to ruin his party, or has he turned into a media gadfly? We'll ask him.

Plus, ABC had a real presidential debate last night, but the pundits keep carrying about Donald Trump who wants to moderate his own version of a debate.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some say these candidates aren't coming because you haven't ruled out running yourself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I won't rule out a run, Greta, especially if the party nominates a joke candidate like Ron Paul or Jon Huntsman or Rick Santorum here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rick, I'm talking.



KURTZ: You know, it's sometimes hard for news shows to capture the absurdity of this campaign. Will "The Daily Show" and "Saturday Night Live" have a major impact on 2012 or just give us some much- needed comic relief?

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

KURTZ: When it comes to Newt Gingrich's surging presidential campaign, the journalism racket has done something rather sly over the past week or so. News outlets keep carrying stories about how Republican leaders, now even White House officials, are reassessing Newt's candidacy and concluding that, hey, he just might win the nomination.

What they really mean is that, they, the media mavens, are backing off their own premature obituaries and finally taking Newt Gingrich seriously -- even as they argue over whether he's presidential timber.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: Why does a guy with a diabolic grin -- and, I'm being completely objective here, a guy who doesn't look like a presidential candidate, looks too nasty for one, why is the nasty guy doing the best of all the candidates right now? The one who's obviously nasty?

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC: The new Republican front return Newt Gingrich is soaring in the polls now, not because Republicans love Newt. Who could? It's not because they love him. It's because they just hate Mitt.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: He is not a nice human being. He's a bad person when it comes to demonizing opponents.

BRENT BOZELL, MEDIA RESEARCH GROUP: Newt's trying to do something good. But, Sharon, what you have here, these are snipers. These are political hit squads. These are assassins that are on rooftops waiting for Newt Gingrich to come around any corner and they're going to try to take his head off from here on out.


KURTZ: This is one strange campaign, as I can report firsthand having just gotten back from Iowa.

Joining us now here in Washington, John Harris, editor-in-chief of "Politico"; Margaret Carlson, columnist for "Bloomberg News" and Washington editor of "The Week"; and Matt Lewis, senior contributor at "The Daily Caller."

John Harris, the media now scrambling back from a collective assumption, Washington wisdom, that Gingrich didn't have -- you know, what's the technical term? A snowball's chance in hell.

JOHN HARRIS, POLITICO.COM: Right. Well, I think that's true. And that did indeed reflect what the apparent reality back when we were writing those obituaries. It's not a common thing for the entire -- candidate's entire staff to quit, as Newt Gingrich's did in June, saying that they don't think he's prepared --

KURTZ: It was an implosion.

HARRIS: That was a genuine implosion. I think a lot of are surprised -- I know I am -- the durability of his candidacy.

And I do think it reflects something that we have written accurately, that this party is not enthusiastic about Mitt Romney. And that anti-Romney energy is going to go somewhere.

The fact that it's settled on Newt Gingrich is a surprise to me. But life's full of surprises. That's why in game is fun. That's why I love covering it.

KURTZ: It's settled on a lot of people. Settled on Bachmann and -- and on Trump and on Cain.

But, Margaret Carlson, do journalists who have been through all these controversies with Newt Gingrich, going back to his speakership, they just view this guy differently than, say, a lot of people who are going to vote in Republican primaries?

MARGARET CARLSON, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, journalists are trying to remind people of Newt Gingrich's history. And it's a vast amount of it.

KURTZ: Remind them or warn them --

CARLSON: Well, you know, it comes out as a warning. I think most of this. But the degree to which there are people willing to go on the record about Newt who know him well -- I mean, Republicans, that's a treasure trove of sources for the media because they still hold grudges against him as speaker. With this Joe Scarborough in your lead-in --

KURTZ: You're saying these politicians, political colleagues hold grudges, not that journalists although that a few might.

CARLSON: Yes. Well --

KURTZ: Jacob Weisburg, who runs "Slate," wrote just the other day under the headline "Is Newt Nuts?" He says, "One observes the former House Speaker certain symptoms -- bouts of grandiosity, megalomania, irritability, racing thoughts, spending sprees -- that go beyond the ordinary politician's normal narcissism."

My question, Matt Lewis, would you say that some have such an innate hostility toward Gingrich and view him as a self-important gas bag?

MATT LEWIS, THE DAILY CALLER: Yes. And I thought "Is Newt Nuts?" was right up there with "Is Rick Perry dumb?" in terms of headlines. But, yes, I think there's bias against Newt Gingrich. I think some of it is definitely unfairly. It comes from covering him for years.

I think the guy, you know, Newt Gingrich is very smart. I think he definitely rubs people the wrong way on some occasions. But I think that, you know --

KURTZ: Yes, but he takes on the press regularly.

LEWIS: He does. He does. But guess what -- here's something -- I think this is helping him. The more that "Slate" and MSNBC -- and by the way, most of those clips did come from that cable network, and Republican establishment figures attacked Newt Gingrich, I think the better he does.

KURTZ: Speaking of Gingrich, last night, of course, was the ABC News debate. And George Stephanopoulos raised the question -- actually, it had come from the "Des Moines Register," which co- sponsored the debate, about infidelity. He did it in a general way. Every other candidate got to answer, then he came to Gingrich and asked it in a more -- somewhat vague way.

Let's look at that and talk about it on the other side.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, DEBATE MODERATOR: Should voters consider marital fidelity when making their choices for president?

Speaker Gingrich, what do voters need to know about this issue from your perspective?

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In my case, I've said up front openly, I've made mistakes at times. I've had to go God for forgiveness. I've had to seek reconciliation.


KURTZ: There was the action shot from his wife, Callista.

John Harris, you've been a debate panelist earlier this year with "Politico" and MSNBC debate. Was it fair for Stephanopoulos to raise that question? And if you are going to raise it, why not ask Newt directly rather than kind of circle around -- since he was the obvious target of the question?

HARRIS: Well, one, it's fair because I think it's a subject that's in currency with a lot of discussion.

KURTZ: The three marriages, the acknowledgment --

HARRIS: Yes, sure, not just from reporters but from figures in Iowa. The -- raising the issue. It's a fair question.

As far as circling around, there's lots of ways to answer the question. I'm certainly sympathetic to anybody who's on national TV trying to raise a delicate subject, that this is one that you don't necessarily want to grab somebody by the lapels and say, hey, what about your cheating?

But Gingrich understood what the question was about. And I think he gave a pretty effective answer. KURTZ: And he was prepared, obviously.

HARRIS: Can I make one point?

KURTZ: Go ahead.

HARRIS: There is bias about Gingrich. But let's face it, the media bias about Gingrich right now late in 2011 is a pro-Gingrich bias -- stay in the race, mix it up --


LEWIS: The worst thing in the world for the media would be a Mitt Romney/Barack Obama campaign.

KURTZ: Right.

LEWIS: Both the guys are bore, and they keep the press at arm's length. You would get no action.

KURTZ: What is the nature of the pro-Gingrich bias?

HARRIS: That we love spectacle, we love competition. We love campaigns -- long campaigns. So, we would love to see the equivalent on the Republican side of Hillary versus Obama in 2008 went all the way to June.

KURTZ: But it's not just longevity, I mean, Gingrich is great copy. He's always throwing rhetorical bombs.

HARRIS: Absolutely.

KURTZ: And journalists love that.

HARRIS: Absolutely.

KURTZ: But is the pendulum -- I mean, we went from this period with Newt is toast, he's history, he just got out of the race -- to he's surging, how is Romney possibly going to stay competitive.

Has the pendulum swung too far where the coverage now suggests that Romney is hanging on by his fingernails?

CARLSON: No. We have polls which tell us that not only did -- is Newt having a surge, it seems to be holding and growing. You know, the longest surge this time around has been about 30 days. So, it hasn't -- I don't think he's exhausted his period of his urge. No, this is factually based.

Do we hope, as John says, that he continues? Brokered convention --

KURTZ: You want to be $10,000?

CARLSON: Can you think -- yes, right. I think the only flub last night was Mitt Romney - well, there was the Israeli thing. But, you know, and the $10,000 shows that Mitt Romney is extremely wealthy. You might bet $100 -- yes.

LEWIS: A point about the press. We were writing off Newt Gingrich six months ago. There was very good reason for doing that.

But I think part of the problem in this 24-hour news cycle, if you're the guy who comes forward and says boldly, Newt Gingrich is done, you get attention, you get praise for that, you get a Drudge link maybe. Six months later, nobody calls you out on that. Nobody looks back and says, Matt Lewis was wrong, he wrote off Newt Gingrich. No one ever looks and holds him accountable.

KURTZ: Do we still have, Tracy, the sound bites from six months ago? Can we play that?

OK. While we look for that, let me ask you a related question. And if we can put up this graphic, Gingrich is on the cover of the new "Newsweek." He spoke extensively with "Newsweek."

Last week, Romney was on the cover of "TIME." The headline said, "Why don't they like me?" He didn't cooperate at all.

How much -- I know Romney is going to go on "FOX News Sunday" next week -- how much has Romney's avoidance of the press hurt his ability to get the message out?

HARRIS: I doubt very much. I think Romney's problems are structural and they have to do with how Republican activists feel about him, not how reporters feel about him.

Anybody's press strategy, whether it be accessible or inaccessible, is driven by their particular self-interest in the moment. His interests have changed now that he's fighting back. He's suddenly more accessible.

I think that's the --

KURTZ: All right. Since Matt Lewis -- sorry, since Matt Lewis said nobody calls him out. Let's call him out. We played this a couple of weeks ago. I'm just going to play it again for fun.


BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: Gingrich's campaign has fallen apart. Most of his staff has quit. The former speaker is pretty much done as a serious candidate.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: So, maybe Newt Gingrich's sort of fake campaign is totally dead now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This thing is over for Newt. I think Newt is done.


KURTZ: We have to revise and extend our remarks on that. Let me get to one more bit of sound. And that is the Donald trying to reinsert himself into the process by hosting with Newsmax, a candidate forum two days after Christmas, most candidates saying no.

Here he is making the rounds. First on the "Today" show, and then calling in to Chuck Todd's MSNBC show and not being very happy with the hosts.

Take a look.


MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: This will truly be about the candidates, right?

DONALD TRUMP, CEO, THE TRUMP ORGANIZATION: I want a great candidate, a candidate that is going to beat President Obama.

Your statement is false. You said -- I quote, "Donald Trump wanted to respond to a poll." Well, I didn't want to respond -- your people called my office about 40 times asking me to go into this. So, it's dishonest what you're saying, Chuck. I wish you would sort of say it like it is and just -- I think you'd do better.


KURTZ: Kind of called him out on trying to get him on the program.

What explains the media's utter continuing and ceaseless fascination with Donald Trump?

HARRIS: I guess he's a flamboyant personality who can always be counted on to say provocative things. My own view is at that time for Newt Gingrich -- excuse me, for Donald Trump was maybe the first six or nine months this year when we're looking for entertainment. I actually think we're in a serious moment of the campaign. Right now, we're trying to assess people's actually qualifications to be president

So I think the Trump business is kind of nonsense, that should properly be pushed not just to the margins but off the stage.

KURTZ: It's nonsense. But, please, come on my show, Donald.


CARLSON: Yes. But it won't be. I don't think it will be pushed to the side because you can see just as he announced how much coverage Donald Trump has gotten.

KURTZ: And then he's -- let's the hint drop, well, might run as independent. Everybody rights that. Does anyone take that seriously?

LEWIS: I don't think so. But there is a feeling I think among grassroots Republicans that is unless he renounces that and says "I will not run as an independent," then he shouldn't be moderating Republican debates. KURTZ: It's starting to look like this Trump debate is not going to come off which is a great disappointment to journalists, we were looking for something to do Christmas week, at least some of us.

Let me get to the next segment. When we come back, just over three weeks until the Iowa caucuses, and most of the candidates are campaigning from TV studios or selling their books. Whatever happened to meeting the voters?


KURTZ: As I said, I was just back from Iowa where I didn't see many presidential candidates. I did go to a Ron Paul event. The conventional wisdom seems to be that campaign is really playing out on television.

Here's Dick Morris on FOX News giving his view of that position.


DICK MORRIS, FORMER CLINTON ADVISER: This is the phenomenon of this year's election. You don't win Iowa in Iowa. You win it on this couch. You win on FOX News. You win it in the debates. You win a national primary and it imposes itself on the early states.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That could make this the most powerful piece of furniture in America --

MORRIS: Absolutely. This is the casting couch.


KURTZ: Whether or not you win it on that couch, Margaret Carlson, has this become a debate-driven TV studio campaign where the conventional wisdom about going out and going to town halls and going to people's living rooms is so much less important than it ever has been?

CARLSON: It's so debate-driven that when you talk to people in Iowa, the leaders of the three big Christian groups there, they're just horrified that the candidates have not come calling more. They're furious at Mitt Romney. For instance, they're using that as a reason not to put them on the list of potential endorsements.

KURTZ: I had some top Republican officials tell me Romney made a real mistake by not spending much time in Iowa. He kind of wanted to bypass Iowa. But a Romney adviser told me, well, we are engaging in Iowa through the debates as opposed to going to Cedar Rapids and Sioux City.

Matt Lewis, so that would suggest that what succeeds in this campaign are good debating skills, 30-second answers, and debates have always been important. But is that -- has that changed the nature of it or perhaps even dumbed down this presidential campaign?

LEWIS: First of all, I think this is not an anomaly. I think it's part of the "Bowling Alone" thing that's happening in our society where we don't have like regional accents anymore. We all sort of watch the same TV shows. This could be good or bad.

I mean, on one hand, you could argue it's good to meet people. On the other hand, is Iowa really predictive of what the country is like? Should they be empowered with this personal, you know, retail politics?

And you could also argue that rhetorical ability, the ability to communicate is important for a president. And debates show that in a way that glad-handing Iowans does not.

KURTZ: Well, there's been a question about why these early states have so much influence. The rationale for Iowa and New Hampshire, and we've spent time in those states, is that candidates get out and they have to actually answer tough questions from real voters. Not the kind of questions reporters would ask, questions voters would ask.

And that whole tradition seems to me to be fading.

HARRIS: Well, I think that was always a wobbly rationale what somebody asked you at a diner necessarily sized you up to be president. I mean, Iowa and New Hampshire are still going to be terribly important because they're first. And there will be the so- called bounce. There's no question that a candidate that does poorly in those two early states are going to have a very difficult time continuing, even if they had strong national appeal.

So the -- Iowa and New Hampshire, we don't have to shed tears for them. They still have disproportionate outsides and unfair influence.

I do think it's true, the point that Dick Morris made, it sounds like Matt agrees with it, that this is now a national process. Not a regional process. And it plays out on debates.

We could do worse than that. Those are --

LEWIS: It killed Rick Perry. He would have been the nominee in the --

HARRIS: Those debates, they're frequent, they test the knowledge of the issues, they test what you're actually positions are. They test your ability to think on your feet. They test the ability to communicate effectively. Those don't seem like bad things to test.

CARLSON: And if it reduces the tyranny of Iowa a little bit, that's not bad.

KURTZ: Sounds like some people going to Iowa. It was 12 degrees when I landed there, I must point out.

Before we go, tonight on "60 Minutes," president of the United States will sit down again -- he's done a half dozen of these since being in the White House. You don't see, it's early, any of the Republican candidates appearing on "60 Minutes." which has a huge audience.

So, at what point does that become unfair? Anybody? Unfair advantage for Obama to command that stage?

CARLSON: Well, I mean, most of them, you know, for instance, Mitt Romney, doesn't want that. He doesn't want to sit down where a reporter who has full range.

KURTZ: I bet Newt will do it.

CARLSON: Yes -- and shoot himself in the foot.

KURTZ: You know, is this an advantage of an incumbency that you can go pretty much on any news show?

HARRIS: I think it is. I've always been kind of intrigued by this sort of mystical connection between "60 Minutes" and President Obama. He obviously likes that platform. I don't -- I mean, I don't doubt that that platform would be available to any Republican once he emerges to the nominee --


LEWIS: In a day and age when there are so many cable channels, that show still bestows a certain cache and that plays into President Obama's strategy of casting himself as above the fray while these Republicans fight it out.

KURTZ: Well, I'm hearing that next week, Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, will be on "60 Minutes." So they don't really play this game with Democrats. Equal time. He's not running for president.

All right. Margaret Carlson and Matt Lewis, thanks very much for stopping by.

Up next, John Harris on the speeded up news cycle that has produced a new form of campaign coverage, the e-book.


KURTZ: "Politico" has just published its first e-book called "The Right Fights back," in conjunction with Random House, by Mike Allen and Evan Thomas. Here this is on the iPad?

And, John Harris, help me out here. Why publish an e-book about the campaign before a single vote has been cast?

HARRIS: Well, we published a book about the campaign this early because the story is interesting. This is an idea that Jon Meacham, former "Newsweek" editor, now at Random House, brought to us. We really liked the idea because as Mike Allen's editor, I've always had a degree of frustration that he knows so much. There's so much information rattling around in his head and in his notebook.

KURTZ: That he could write it every day for "Politico." But not in a form like this --

HARRIS: It's the nature of the business and the rush of events. You well appreciate, Howard.


HARRIS: But you often don't have the time to step back and make a great story out of this.

KURTZ: But it's always been --

HARRIS: We've got -- I think really Mike Allen is a classic new media reporter, knows everybody, seems to know everything, reports in real time. Evan Thomas spent a career at "Newsweek" writing these long form narratives.

KURTZ: This week's projects used to come out after the election. This is the tradition that goes back to the Teddy White books, and Mark Halperin and John Heilemann with "Game Change." Are you trying to preempt "Game Change" by doing it before the game is even over?

HARRIS: We're not trying to preempt "Game Change" but we're trying to tell an interesting story in something more like real time, in serial fashion. This is the first of these e-books. We're going to do three or four more over the course of the campaign.

KURTZ: Is it harder to get candidates and staffers to talk about their ventures in real time while the thing is still going on, as opposed to looking back after most of the candidates have dropped out?

HARRIS: I don't doubt it's harder, but it's not impossible, as Mike and Evan have shown.

KURTZ: One of the things I like the book is you have a lot of people on the record. Extensive interviews with Newt Gingrich, for example. There are some people who are on background, saying thing about, for example, White House official Valerie Jarrett and the boys club, don't like her so much. But you were able to get a lot of people to put their name to it even while the campaign is going on.

Are you disappointed at all that the book didn't generate more big headlines?

HARRIS: We're pretty happy. It's made the best seller list on its first week. "The New York Times" has a special digital e-book list. And it shot up -- it's in the top 10. I think maybe the top five of that.

So a bunch sold the very first day. Mike and Evan both did a lot of publicity in the first week. So actually we're pleased by it, as is Random House.

KURTZ: You are charging $299 to download this. Is this --

HARRIS: That's $2.99.

KURTZ: $2.99. Sorry.

HARRIS: People think that they have to pay $300 -- this is the bargain of the century.

KURTZ: But how -- does it do much for you financially in terms of publishing?

HARRIS: We didn't -- we might make a little money out of it depending how the experiment goes. We undertook, it I say we, both "Politico" and Random House, because we thought this was a useful experiment.

One of the big questions facing media is what happens to long form narrative in this new world. We're trying to answer that question. We're really trying to learn something about the market for this kind of long form narrative, how to do it, how to be effective. That's the advantage for us is what we're going to learn out of it.

KURTZ: Both of have us written the old books that are between hard covers and, of course, there always comes a point when you can't add to it. But more things are happening in news. Here I suppose you could update until you press the button and publish it as an e-book.

HARRIS: That's correct.

KURTZ: Again, a reflection of the hyper speed this media environment --

HARRIS: The publishing industry, as you know, has historically been so slow. Well, the entire news cycle speed up. Books until recently had been on a six month, nine-month publishing --

KURTZ: Like giving birth.

HARRIS: -- schedule, right. That was somewhat frustrating, seemed to apply to every author except Bob Woodward, who I managed to get stuff in at the last month. But even he, I think, has a monthly -- we've got days lead time. If we learn something interesting, up to the moment in publishing, it can go in this book and did in fact --

KURTZ: All right. We'll look forward to more e-books. John Harris, thanks very much for stopping in this morning and bringing your kids.

Coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, a long-time conservative commentator says FOX News and talk radio are creating an alternative reality. David Frum on his caustic criticism of the right wing media.

Plus, the satire primary -- can a candidate survive a skewering on "The Daily Show" and "Saturday Night Live"?

And later, Rupert Murdoch's team caught in a new con of spying.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KURTZ: Liberal pundits love to bash Fox News and conservative talk radio, and the feeling is obviously mutual. But such criticism is striking when it comes from a lifelong Republican and former White House speechwriter for George W. Bush.

Yet there was the piece by David Frum on the cover of "New York" magazine, "How the GOP Went Mad: My Party's Break with Reality." He is the founder of, and now a CNN contributor. He joins me now here in studio.

You say Fox talk radio have built, let me quote here, a whole alternative knowledge system with its own facts, its own history, its own economics. You're tarring with an awfully broad brush there.

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, let me say. I remember the world before these institutions came into being and I remember welcoming them -- their arrival.

And I worked on the "Wall Street Journal" editorial page for three years. And there was a time when in an overwhelmingly monolithic liberal media narrative, they provided a corrective.

KURTZ: And then what happened?

FRUM: Let me give you a concrete example. Some of your viewers may have heard the story of the Obama administration's war on Christmas trees.

You'll remember this, that they were going to tax the Christmas tree, and this was -- it fed into a story about, you know, this Muslimy kind of president trying to destroy a Christian holiday.

This was a huge -- if you watched CNN or MSNBC or "The New York Times," this story didn't exist at all. It was a huge story in these alternative media. What was it about? It was about American Christmas tree growers struggling with Chinese, imported Chinese artificial Christmas trees, trying to put together their equivalent of the "got milk" campaign or the "beef, what's for dinner," campaign, or "pork, the other white meat campaign" in assessing themselves to fund an advertising campaign. Maybe a good idea, maybe a bad idea. I don't even observe Christmas. I don't have a dog in this fight. But to turn this into an example of -- of -- to make this a ground for a cultural conflict, to create a sense in large numbers of people they're being persecuted and attacked at a time when the country's in so much trouble, that's how this thing is fed.

KURT: When you say that outlets like Fox immerse their audience in a total environment of pseudo-facts and pretend information -- was Bret Baier doing that when he interviewed Mitt Romney on Fox and pressed him in a very testy interview?

FRUM: Yeah.

HURTS: In other words, you seem to be indicting almost everybody at these outlets. FRUM: The question is, what is the -- you can always find good people doing good work in bad situations and you can find people doing bad work in good situations.

The question is, what is the impact on the viewer? And we know, for example, that people who watch a lot of Fox come away knowing a lot less about important world events.

KURTZ: You're assuming a cause and effect there.

FRUM: I'm not -- that's just a correlation that we know, but here's what we can see. Let's go from the Christmas tree to the biggest story in the world right now. What is going on in Europe, and what the United States can or could do to help.

One of the things you have to understand to understand this crisis is what drives it. If you participate in the alternative knowledge system, you would think that what is going on in Europe is a debt crisis. There's a big article in the "Wall Street Journal" op-ed page just the other day by Senator Jim DeMint, hundreds and hundreds of these articles about how Europe is in trouble because of its debts.

Spain has a lower debt level than Britain. Britain is not in crisis and Spain is.

KURTZ: But let's get to the why. Why do you think since you were very specific, conservative talk radio, Fox -- why do you think they're pushing -- and I'm not buying this, in your view, they're pushing propaganda, false facts, pseudo-facts, pretend information, toward what end?

FRUM: Because these media institutions, they started as political projects. They started as ways to offer an alternative point of view on current events.

They have become an important industry, and so they see the conservative world not as a set of ideas, but as a demographic. And the way you appeal to a demographic is working by conflict. This is the oldest rule in how TV works. I've been writing -- I wrote a history of the 1970s that made this point.

TV enhances its own credibility by destroying the credibility of all other institutions, and you can see this in polls. When other institutions' credibility declined, TV's credibility goes up.

The old advertising motto for local news stations, we're on your side against all those other people who are not.

KURTZ: This is demonization --


FRUM: You need to create conflict and you need to create a sense of embattlement. You need to create a sense that we, this network, are your only reliable friends.

KURTZ: And liberal outlets don't do that?

FRUM: Liberal outlets have historically not done that, because liberal outlets until recently didn't know that they were liberal outlets.

KURTZ: They were operating under a false -- false self-portrait. But look --

FRUM: But this will come. This is a general poison that is happening to American culture and American media. Yes, the liberals are now catching up with results as bad. If I were a liberal, I would be writing about their problems and worrying about them. But I worry about my team.

HURTZ: This is not -- let's talk about your team. A couple years ago in "Newsweek," you wrote about -- you said the Republicans would regret ceding so much power to Rush Limbaugh. First of all, what happened to your television career after you wrote that?

FRUM: I used to do a lot of Fox TV. Every once in a while, I would get a call from a Fox booker, booking me for a show after that, and then an hour later, I would hear quickly back. I would always say yes, even if I couldn't do it. Just for the game of it, and I would be called, we're going in another direction.

KURTZ: So you feel like you were effective blackballed from Fox?

FRUM: Yes, I am not going to -- I'm a big boy, CNN is a great network. I'm happy to be here.

KURTZ: OK, but you also said -- how was the Republican Party ceding power to Rush Limbaugh? He has a very popular radio show -- that doesn't mean that he is running the GOP?

FRUM: What it means is -- look what's happened this primary year. Look in this year of incredible Republican opportunity, with this terrible economy, this weak incumbent. Now look at the field of challengers. How did the field get so weak? That wasn't an accident. How do we take --

KURTZ: Wasn't an accident? Those are the people who chose to run.

FRUM: Where are the other people?

KURTZ: They chose not to run.

FRUM: They chose not to run because in one way or another, they understood that they would be unacceptable. They couldn't get the platform, that the talent pool got constricted. And then even those who do run, who do have the talent, somebody like Mitt Romney who's good at running things, he has to reinvent himself as something he is not and something that the American people will like a lot less than they would like what he actually is, in order to make his way through this process. KURTZ: Let me make this a little more personal, because you say in this piece that some of your Republican friends are asking whether you have gone crazy.

FRUM: Yes.

KURTZ: Given where the party is and where you are, you have become a pretty caustic critic of the GOP, are you still a Republican?

FRUM: I am still a Republican. I look forward to voting for the Republican nominee for president in 2012. I have on my site, I have written about what is wrong with the president's health care plan. I have written about what is wrong with the stimulus plan. I don't like his foreign policy. I don't like what he's doing in the Middle East. I think generally he's a weak and passive person, who's not good at the job of being president.

KURTZ: To be fair, some in the conservative media, George Will, for example, have gone hard after Newt Gingrich. In other words, there are conservative journalists or right-leaning columnist who are willing to take on members of their team or at least hold them accountable.

FRUM: Good for George Will. I'm a big George Will fan, but here's the most fundamental question in this year. In this year of terrible economic distress, the fifth hard Christmas in a row, how is it that we have a party that is running on the theme of deficit reduction and does not have ideas about how to stimulate the economy and make things fair? Why was the payroll tax cut, for example, not a Republican idea all the way back in 2009?

KURTZ: Just to connect the dots in our remaining seconds here. You criticize the direction and the tactics of the Republican Party, but I -- I'm not clear on how the media, the Fox News and "Wall Street Journal" editorial page have somehow forced the party into this direction?

FRUM: Because there have been people who were more creative. Somebody like Rick Santorum, for example, is willing to say, hey, upward mobility in America is not only not the best in the world, it's one of the worst in the world.

KURTZ: And what happens to those people?

FRUM: They are utterly marginalized.

KURTZ: Deliberately?

FRUM: Deliberately -- it's -- it's --

KURTZ: The matter of fact is --

FRUM: It's an ecosystem that has its own rules. If you go on TV and say there's no other country in the world where you can be born poor and become rich, you get a huge megaphone. If you tell the truth, which is that most of the studies show actually the United States is worse than anybody except Britain in upward mobility, there is no audience for you. And yet, that's an important fact from a conservative point of view.

KURTZ: A provocative conversation that we'll continue in many forms. David Frum, thank you very much for joining us.

FRUM: Thank you.

KURTZ: After the break, Jon Stewart and 2012. Who's looking worse on "The Daily Show," the politicians or the press?


KURTZ: When "The Daily Show" turned 15 a while back, I started thinking, is there another program out there that's not quite news, but not just a comedy show? It's had more impact on politics through laughter and ridicule that it long ago eclipsed "Saturday Night live"? The 2012 campaign is prime time for Jon Stewart as he pokes not just the pols but the pundits for being so absurdly fickle.


JON STEWART, HOST, THE DAILY SHOW": I can't believe it. When Newt Gingrich was on his deathbed, the media just divorced theirselves from him. Who does something like that?

That's the political media. They care about two things -- are you going win, or are you dead? Bachmann got a taste of it back in July.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look who's surging now, Michele Bachmann, rockets up the ranks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michele Bachmann. Now leading the Republican pack.

STEWART: But with the death of her campaign, who will rise to complete the circle of pro-life?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Texas Governor Rick Perry jumping into the lead as the new Republican frontrunner.

STEWART: President Perry! It is on this day, August 31, 2011, that I inaugurate Rick Perry, the 45th president of these United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This dog don't hunt. Rick Perry's finished. He's out.


KURTZ: Joining us now to examine the "Daily Show" factor in 2012, in New York, Rachel Sklar, editor-at-large for, and in Syracuse, Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University.

Rachel Sklar, do we make too much of "The Daily Show's" impact on politics because so many journalists watch the program?

RACHEL SKLAR, FORMER SENIOR CONTRIBUTING EDITOR FOR "THE HUFFINGTON POST": I do not think we make too much of it at all nor do we make too much of "SNL" or "The Colbert Report."

I think that this is part of the larger media narrative, and I think that you raised an important point, which is that people who are acting as message magnifiers are all watching this show.

So even if "The Daily Show" has a relatively smaller audience level, but I guess 1.5 million last I checked, it's still being watched by all the people who are going to be tweeting, writing, including it in their coverage.

KURTZ: I guess we're amplifying right here, as well. Robert Thompson, what does Jon Stewart do in terms of his coverage of politics that journalists either can't or won't do?

ROBERT J. THOMPSON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE NATIONAL POPULAR CULTURE ASSOCIATION: Well, for one thing, he is doing real political satire. And in the mass media on television, we have not had a lot of that.

Before "Saturday Night Live," we had Johnny Carson. He told jokes about politics, but he certainly wasn't a political satirist. Even "Saturday Night Live," Chevy Chase falling down like Gerald Ford, that was hardly real political satire.

For the past several years, Jon Stewart has been doing real essays. Most of his show is about politics. And he's got evidence and he's got clips, and he's got attitude.

And maybe that's what journalists are afraid to do, is to cop the attitude that he's got. But frankly, I think reporters should be doing in the journalistic idiom a lot more of the kind of thing that Jon Stewart does four nights a week in the comic idiom, which is really bringing these sort of essays together and then giving us the evidence of what he's talking about.

KURTZ: Showing the clips helps hold politicians and others accountable. Rachel, a lot of what Stewart does, which is why journalists love him, but also sometimes cringe, when they see themselves or their colleagues on the screen, is to mock our superficiality and sometimes silliness.

SKLAR: Yes. That's right. Basically, I mean, I really want to emphasize it's really not just Jon Stewart. If you stay up an extra half-hour and watch Steven Colbert, he lands some pretty amazing, deft punches.

But just returning to "SNL," I do think it's important to note that Gerald Ford as klutz was immortalized in Chevy Chase's depiction of Gerald Ford.

KURTZ: Even though he was a pretty good athlete in reality. SKLAR: Right, exactly. And it was actually -- I always thought one of the most interesting moments in political comedy was after the writers strike ended in February, 2008. "SNL" came back on the air lampooning media's love affair with Obama and blowing it up in a way that the media could no longer avoid. That actually really changed the course of the coverage.

KURTZ: That was an important moment, 2008. So, of course, was Tina Fey playing Sarah Palin. I wonder if it's having the same impact this year. Let me play for you a recent clip of Jason Sudakis playing the wild and crazy Mitt Romney.


JASON SUDAKIS: Mitt Romney is going to really let loose. Get ready for Mitt Romney -- raw and unleashed. Without getting too graphic, did I ever treat you in a way, that, you know, might be construed by some of those prudes out there as sexual harassment?


SUDAKIS: Nothing?


SUDAKIS: I never made a comment about your clothing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You said I was a sharp dresser.

SUDAKIS: Uh-oh! Over the line. Over the line. Keep me away from the ladies because I'm a real dog. Bark. Bark.


KURTZ: Now that's pretty funny, but Robert Thompson, is it just kind of jokes about politicians as you were saying or does it tell us something a little deeper about a candidate like Romney that journalists can't quite convey?

THOMPSON: Yes, well, I think "Saturday Night Live" tends to depends upon exaggeration and impersonations. That's been their stock and trade.

Let's remember, "Saturday Night Live is a pretty short season, it's only on once a week, and those funny political bits often open the show, but they do a lot of other stuff that has nothing to do with politics.

Though I do agree that media love affair with Obama bit and that Tina Fey thing with Sarah Palin were moments that "Saturday Night Live" really had a significant impact on how we think.

The "Daily Show," on the other hand, is not only going after journalists but also after these political leaders. And it's doing it night after night after night, except for Friday and the weekends. SKLAR: I think it's really important to note that the life cycle of "Saturday Night Live" now includes next-day coverage on every single one of these sites.

All of the videos are embeddable. And mediaite, where I come from, huffingtonpost where I came from, Politico, all of these sites, are now blasting these sketches the next day.

KURTZ: It's got a much bigger megaphone than in the Chevy Chase days, but at the same time, Rachel, Fred Armisen playing Barack Obama hasn't really had much impact on the culture.

SKLAR: It's not every cast member playing every politician is going to hit. I actually think Sudakis has done Mitt Romney a huge favor by portraying him as doggone it, a really nice man, as opposed to someone who is cold and calculating about how his positions will be interpreted. But, you know, the season unfolds and you see how it goes.

KURTZ: Well, of course, the president is a pretty key player. I think you like that impersonation more than I do. Robert, is it hard for the "Daily Show" and Colbert and these others to be particularly funny when you have Trump and Rick Perry's brain freeze and Herman Cain and the women turning the campaign into a circus without any help from the comedy writers?

THOMPSON: Yes. It's almost as though these jokes are writing themselves, but they seem to be able to amp it up a bit. And then they can always deal with the press. We always used to call the press the fourth estate. I think we could call some of this comedy the fifth estate, which is kind of keeping the presses keeping the other three in place.

The "Daily Show" before September 11th, they changed after this for some obvious reasons, they used to open their show, the "Daily Show," the most important television program in the world.

KURTZ: In civilization.

THOMPSON: And in an odd sort of way, some people are beginning to wonder if that may not be the case.

KURTZ: This television show has got to go. Rachel Sklar and Robert Thompson, thanks very much for analyzing the comedy for us here this morning.

Still to come, Rupert Murdoch's company admits to some pretty serious skulduggery, TV experts for hire who aren't exactly objective, and baseball cracks down on provocatively dressed journalists. The media monitor, straight ahead.


KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business. Here's what I like. Pro Publica, the non-profit investigative unit dug into Justice Department records and found white applicants are nearly four times as likely to receive a presidential pardon as all minorities combined, and applicants were three times as likely to win White House where a member of Congress in their corner, which is more likely as you might imagine when the convict has contributed to the lawmaker's campaign.

Michele Bachmann, for instance, went to bat for a major donor, a convicted money laundering Frank Vennes until after FBI agents raided his home in 2008. He was charged this year with fraud and money laundering.

For politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, the watch word has been don't mess with Rupert Murdoch's empire. Now we know how dangerous it can be. Tom Watson, a British member of parliament, has been a leading critic of the Murdoch operation. We learned this week that they put Watson under surveillance two years ago. A private eye was hired to surreptitiously follow the lawmaker. That is chilling, though hardly shocking give than Murdoch's News of the World felt free to hack the phones of not just celebrities but ordinary British victims of tragedy.

Ever wonder about some of these so-called experts on TV and how objective they really are? Take Alison Rhodes, who recently appeared on the "Today" show.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here to tell us what's out there is Alison Rhodes. She's a national family and safety expert known as the safety mom.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just truly the virtual baby suite. I travel a lot. I'm on the road. This is the ADT pulse home monitoring system. Wireless cameras, motion detectors, texts that come into my iPhone if my daughter doesn't walk in the door from school.


KURTZ: But Rhodes is paid to peddle the product, this home monitor made by ADT. She defends herself by saying she really believes in the product and there's no evidence that NBC or other news outlets knew she was paid.

But it's not only misleading for her and other experts to pose as independent critics. It's against federal laws and networks and stations have to do a better job of vetting folks they're putting on the air.

Attention sports writers. You can no longer go into a major league locker room if you are wearing see through clothing, ripped jeans, strapless shirts, excessively short skirts or exposing your bare midriff.

The league is imposing a dress code on the scribes. What's going on? Baseball doesn't want a repeat of the incident last year when Mexican TV reporter Ines Sainz was sexually harassed in the New York Jets football locker room. So baseball is imposing a sartorial strike zone.

Isn't that treating reporters like little leaguers? That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us next Sunday morning 11:00 a.m. eastern for another critical look at the media. Download our program as a podcast on iTunes. "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.