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Gingrich Takes on the Media; State of the Union Speech Reaction; Conservative Media Nukes Newt

Aired January 29, 2012 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Newt Gingrich has spent the year beating up on the elite media -- hey, we're fair game -- and a series of debate moderators. But this week in the Florida primary, one of those moderators fought back.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR/DEBATE MODERATOR: You make a serious accusation against Governor Romney like that, you need to explain that.


KURTZ: Did Wolf Blitzer take the right approach?

From "National Review" to "The Drudge Report," a sudden avalanche of negative Newt stories.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it's increasingly interesting to watch the Romney attack machine coordinate things. And all of a sudden, today, there were like four different articles by four different people that randomly show up.


KURTZ: Why are so many conservative commentators ganging up on Gingrich?

President Obama's State of the Union draws the usual wall-to-wall television coverage.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: And good evening. While our focus in primetime here in Washington tonight will be the president's State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time. To be fair, the attention hasn't been on the president, not for months.


KURTZ: And within a day, the story fades. Has the media's attention span grown too short?

Plus, "The New York Times" reports that a former Yale football star withdrew from potential Rhode scholarship after a student filed an informal complaint accusing him of sexual assault. No charges ever filed. Is that out of balance? Why did the "Yale Daily News" sit on the story?

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


KURTZ: In the final days before this Tuesday's Florida primary, Newt Gingrich needed another strong debate performance to overtake Mitt Romney. The presidential debates, after all, have pretty much become the campaign, and after beating up on the likes of Chris Wallace and Maria Bartiromo and most notably, John King, there was every reason to expect that the former House speaker would unleash another anti-media tirade.

Here's what happened at the CNN debate in Jacksonville.


BLITZER: Are you satisfied right now with the level of transparency as far as his personal finances?

GINGRICH: This is a nonsense question.


BLITZER: Mr. Speaker, you made an issue of this this week when you said that he lives in a world of Swiss bank and Cayman Island bank accounts. I didn't say that, you did.

GINGRICH: I did. And I'm perfectly happy to say that on an interview on some TV show. But this is a national debate.

BLITZER: You make a serious accusation against Governor Romney like that, you need to explain that.


KURTZ: That moment seemed to crystallize an increasingly rough media environment for Gingrich with not just Florida, but perhaps his entire candidacy on the line.

Joining us now to examine the coverage of this very intense political week in Orlando, Mark Barabak, political reporter for "The Los Angeles Times." In Tampa, Jackie Kucinich, political reporter for "USA Today." And in New York, Jeff Greenfield, co-anchor of PBS's "Need to Know" and a correspondent for CBS, ABC, and CNN.

And, Jeff, did Wolf Blitzer by going up against Gingrich and not just letting him walk all over him, did he put himself in the position of debating the candidate? JEFF GREENFIELD, PBS: No, I that Wolf was perfectly the -- the tone was perfect, and I'm perfectly prepared to have been deeply critical of my former colleague had he screwed up, but he didn't. When you are a moderator, do you this, you pose a question with both hands tied behind your back. You can't debate because you are not an advocate.

What Wolf did was to remind Speaker Gingrich of the context in which those remarks were made, and I think you saw that Gingrich rapidly retreated and then no longer decided it was the right time to coin an old phrase "beat the press".

I think he went to the well once too often. He has had this very successful run of criticizing moderators, and I think this time it was like throwing a pitch that worked against a batter of five others times, only this batter was ready for it, and I think responded exactly appropriately.

Sorry. I'd like to be more critical, but I think he did a great job.

KURTZ: We'll give you a chance for another question.

Mark Barabak, when it was Newt smacking around John King over that question at a previously debate about the interview with his ex- wife, Marianne, John King chose not really to argue with Gingrich except to say this was a story first reported by ABC and not CNN. But Wolf fought become.

MARK BARABAK, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES: And, you know, and I'm not going to criticize John King in the way he handled the question. But I think there was a qualitative difference. I mean, a little blunt, I think Wolf called him on his, frankly, B.S.

I mean, you know, Newt Gingrich had made a charge. He gave this sort of weenie answer about, well, it's one thing to say it on a national TV show, but this is a debate where we talk about other issues. And, you know, I think it resonated the way it did with voters and viewers because everybody knows the mouthy kick who pops of on the playground, and then someone shows up and it turned tail. It looked like that.

I mean, I don't think it's quite up there with Ronald Reagan's 'I paid for this microphone" moment, but I think Wolf Blitzer pushed it, and Romney called him on his B.S. and said, look, you know, you are saying all this stuff behind my back in effect, so say it to my face. And that's why it was such an effective moment and why it resonated the way it did.

KURTZ: Well, certainly, it's been replayed endlessly on television, Jackie Kucinich. But, you know, even though this makes a big splash in the media, how important are these moments? I mean, Wolf is not running for anything.

JACKIE KUCINICH, USA TODAY: You know, I do think they're important because the voters -- one of Gingrich's biggest strengths has been these debates. And because he has such an issue with these debates, he wasn't as strong as he was. Voters care about this. I mean, I was watching -- and also, Newt's fans love when he goes after the media, right?

And so, I think because this didn't go as well for him, I think a lot of people who are on the fence, I kind of -- we're not as enthused with this, and are now looking at Romney or looking at Santorum, who had a really good performance. So, I think they do matter and I really do.

KURTZ: I'm enjoying looking at those boats behind you.

There was a big headline on the "Huffington Post" about this that Blitzer should put on his wall that said "Wolf bites Newt."

But let me move on to the earlier debate in Tampa this past week. I was there for the NBC debate. The audience was awfully quiet. That's because of an admonition delivered by the moderator Brian Williams. We're going to play for you and we're going to show what Gingrich had to say about that after the debate was over.


WILLIAMS: We've asked our invited guests here this evening to withhold their applause. Any verbal reactions to what they hear on stage, so as to insure this is about the four candidates here tonight and what they have to say.

GINGRICH: Well, I wish in retrospect, I had protested when Brian Williams took them out because I think it's wrong. And I think he took him out of it because the media is terrified that the audience is going to side with the candidates against the media, which is what they have done in every debate.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I could not have asked you the question if your ex-wife had not come forward. She's a Republican, sir. She said she supported much of your principles. How was that an example of the elite media trying to protect Barack Obama?

GINGRICH: Well, you have to ask yourself the question, why would ABC go back many years? Why would they dredge up something that had been reported several years ago? Why would they do it two nights before a primary? Why would they refuse to have other witnesses rebut her?

We offered them a number of people who were there at the time who said what she was saying just wasn't true.


KURTZ: We've we kind of jumped the gun by playing the second sound byte.

Jeff Greenfield, let me take you back to the first where Brian Williams gave the audience the no clapping admonition. Gingrich said the media is afraid that candidates are going to beat up on the -- that the audience would side against the media with the moderator.

Here's my question. Why should a moderator tell the audience to be quiet?

GREENFIELD: OK. Just a couple of things. Read the transcript of the Lincoln-Douglass debates, and you'll find that those crowds --

KURTZ: You sound like knight Newt.

GREENFIELD: They yelled and they screamed and they did that.

The second thing is, I -- and this is something I am critical of CNN and the other cable nets about particularly in their openings, CNN and MSNBC have covered these things like ESPN's game day, and they want the crowd to scream and yell because it's, quote, "good television."

I happen to be one of those old fogies who thinks it's better to listen to the candidates and keep the audience as all the fall debates have always done. The moderators always tell the audiences during the general election debates, please just, you know, just a little decorum, you know?

And I think that's the basic way to go. The irony here, of course, is that Newt got hoist by his own petard, having demanded the audience be allowed to respond, whether they packed the hall with Romney people or they just like those Romney in your face moments, it was Romney that got the applause, and I think Jackie is right.

I think audiences -- a couple of political scientists found this out in a study a few years ago. When an audience -- when viewers watch an audience cheer, much less jump to its feet, which has never happened before, they kind of think that answer must have been right.

KURTZ: Oh, yes. It makes it look like the candidate is absolutely on a roll, and everybody likes that energy.

GREENFIELD: Also, Howie, my mother was a librarian. So, I tend to favor kind of more quiet audiences.

KURTZ: But it's a live event, Mark Barabak. Why shouldn't the audience be a part of it? Why should the moderator be saying sit on your hands?

BARABAK: Well, I guess I would agree with Jeff. I guess I'm a somewhat younger fogy, but I agree. I mean, look, this is about the candidates.

I mean, the question is, you know, who is going to run the show? Literally. I mean, if the networks, as Jeff suggested, want this to be show, then the yelling and the screaming and the sort of world wrestling atmosphere, it makes for good television.

If the idea is to inform voters, then I think the more time that's devoted to candidates, the less time it's given over to cheering and screaming and applause -- I mean, again, maybe it's sort of old-fashioned, but you know, it's about the candidates. It's about the voters learning. And I don't think so much in the production values and the history is as important.

KURTZ: I'm going to disagree. I mean, you don't want people hoot and hollering to the point where you can't hear the candidates and it becomes a kind of a circus. But, you know, this shouldn't necessarily be antiseptic shows that are done in the temperature- controlled quiet of a television studio.

BARABAK: They don't have to be antiseptic. I mean, look, there's a lot of backing and forthing between the candidates. I don't think anyone who looked and saw some of those exchanges would suggest it was antiseptic.

You know, I don't think though that the audience necessarily adds to that.

KURTZ: OK. Let me move on to -- you know, we played --

KUCINICH: You know, I will say people have been -- if can I insert here -- people have been watching these debates, though. I mean, look at the ratings that these debates have gotten, and I think part of that is the audience. It's the same reason people use laugh tracks, you know? It engages the voter.

I think they like -- if it gets more people to watch, gets more people involved in politics, I think it's OK.

KURTZ: All right. I mean, there is, as Jeff says, a little bit of showbiz to this. Maybe a little bit too much.

But let me come back to you, Jeff Greenfield, and we played a bite earlier. But we saw Newt Gingrich going -- having a rematch, in effect, with John King after their confrontation at an earlier debate, and Gingrich said something that was blatantly untrue, and we talked about this on this program last week where ABC's Brian Ross who did that interview with the ex-wife, second ex-wife, Marianne Gingrich.

Newt's campaign had been claiming that it put out other people to support his side and that dispute with his former wife and ABC refused to interview them. Well, that's not true. ABC says it's not true. And now, finally, Gingrich's camp admits it's not true.

Why would Gingrich go back on the air and make this charge again? Any idea?

GREENFIELD: Well, you know, not being a political psychologist, I can't tell you. I do think -- look, I think part of the reason goes way back to a dilemma that journalists always have when dealing with politicians, which when they make an assertion, it seems -- it seems like you're taking sides if you say that's wrong. You are sometimes resorting to he-said-she-said journalism.

You know, when a politician says something that's demonstrably false, then I think it's absolutely right for a network or any network, any journalist, to come out and say this is not true. This isn't a matter of opinion. And that's what happened here.

Now, you -- if John King had known that at that moment, I think we have been totally right to say, excuse me, Mr. Speaker, but we can't find any of those witnesses. So, yes --

KURTZ: Well, the fact is they weren't even offered to ABC and, you know, he was wrong the first time, and I agree with you. The media were absolutely right to call him on it, and I'm surprised he made the charge again.

But, Jackie Kucinich, going back on John King's show, I thought he was really mad at John king. Gingrich seems to revel in these platforms, whether he is getting worked up about the moderators or not.

KUCINICH: I think it helps him when he -- aside from this last debate, I think it's helped him. I think, you know, when Juan Williams was asking him really tough questions in the FOX debate, and I think when the John King moment happened, I think that ultimately helped Gingrich in South Carolina. And, you know --

KURTZ: But my question, Jackie is -- my question, Jackie -- hold on a second.


KURTZ: My question is: how much of this is for show? I mean, Newt Gingrich looked really, really --


KURTZ: And a couple of days later it's like, sure, go on the show, talk some more.

You're saying?

KUCINICH: I think it's absolutely -- I think it's absolutely for show. I do -- because it plays to his base, it plays to the people who are angry at the media. It plays to people who are angry at the president, frankly, and the people who love him best.

So, yes, I think a lot of it's for show. I think the explosiveness of the anger, particularly with the John King question, I think that -- I think it was -- I wouldn't say orchestrated, but I think that was planned a little bit.

KURTZ: Before -- I want to play more bit of sound, I'm sorry. This is just getting a lot of traction here. Mitt Romney on the air with an ad about Newt Gingrich that features a former pretty prominent television news anchor.


TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: Newt Gingrich, who came to power after preaching a higher standard in American politics, a man who brought down another speaker on ethics accusations, tonight, he has on his own record the judgment of his peers, Democrat and Republican alike.


KURTZ: Mark Barabak, the Gingrich camp -- excuse me, the Romney campaign refusing to pull that ad despite complaints from Brokaw and NBC. What do you make of the use of Tom Brokaw?

BARABAK: You know, stupid like a fox. It's like they put this ad up, Gingrich disagrees. Everyone is now going on YouTube to watch the ad.

I mean, I happened to see the ad yesterday. The ad popped up for a second, it's like, wait a minute, Tom Brokaw? I mean, it didn't seem like an ad, which I think makes it all the more effective, and the fact that Gingrich has protested and we're talking about it.

And like I said, it's probably getting double or triple or some huge exponential number of more viewers than it would have otherwise.


KURTZ: It seems to be fair game in terms -- it's just like running a newspaper clip.


KURTZ: NBC has complained -- yes, Jeff?

GREENFIELD: The point -- what's interesting to me about this is I see the dilemma for any news person to be part of an ad. But one of the things we always criticize about political ads is how blatantly false they are. They're over produced. They use bad pictures. They use danger music, and they distort facts.

Now, here's an ad that simply is taking a news report and running it.

KURTZ: All right.

GREENFIELD: So, part from the awkwardness for Tom Brokaw or if any of us find ourselves in an ad, it almost seems to me that given, you know, fair use doctrine of copyright, that's not only maybe an appropriate thing to do, but actually a lot straighter than distorting facts and throwing up an ad that, you know, libels an opponent. I mean, here --

KURTZ: That is a good point. Brokaw, however, says he is extremely uncomfortable with the use of his personal image and feels he doesn't want to be compromised as a journalist.

When we come back, President Obama, you may recall, gave a State of the Union speech this week. But if you blinked, you missed it before it faded to black.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KURTZ: It's always a major event in Washington, the network anchors fly in for an off-the-record lunch with the president and then head to the hill to anchor the big speech. But the coverage of Obama's speech lasted barely 24 hours. The State of the Union almost serving as half hour time entertainment between the two Republican debates.

And, Jeff Greenfield, I know it's an election year, but in this Twitter era, has the State of the Union speech become just another piece of programming?

GREENFIELD: You know, I think it may be an idea whose time has passed. When Woodrow Wilson decided show up in person, that was the first time in more than 100 years a president has done this, and then it became more and more of an event. Almost like a speech from the throne.

But I do think in many ways archaic. It's a speech where you almost never have a memorable line. It's a laundry list. And in an election year, it's inherently political document.

I always got a kick out of the fact that some of the responses both pro and con were written before the speech.

KURTZ: Yes, the prebuttals.

GREENFIELD: Yes, the prebuttals. I always thought one speech a president should throw up something completely out of line. Like, you know, I'm going to a sex change operation or something just completely --

KURTZ: That will make news.

GREENFIELD: That will make news, but my point is, I do think in an era of Twitter and social networking, it is a kind of an archaic -- it's a pleasant enough experience, you know. OK, who is sitting in the president's box? We make a speech and say something in Israel, we show a Jewish senator. But maybe it's time that the president started setting these things up in the Hill in written form or e-mail and save everybody a lot of time.

KURTZ: Nobody is going to ever give up that hour of primetime.

Mark Barabak, we're a little short on time. But the fact that none of these things that the thing proposed, almost none of them are going to become law with the gridlocked Congress, may be contributed to the brief duration of the news coverage?

BARABAK: Well, sure, there's that. But, I mean, think it was important to the extent that it was a chance to lay out. I mean, people saw it for what it was. It was not the opening shot, but it's certainly a good summation of where the campaign was going to from here.

But, you know, as you started by saying, this is an election year. This is not surprising. I mean, you know, I'll take a $5 million check from Sheldon Adelson if I could tell you what president Bush said in his 2008 State of the Union address.

I mean, this is an election year. The focus is on the Republican race. It's not surprising that this had such a short shelf life.

KURTZ: All right. They tend to be forgettable. But, Jackie, 91 percent of the people in the CBS, it was an online poll, said they approve of the speech. Often the people, the public likes these more than the journalists do.

KUCINICH: You know, less of the public than all of Obama's State of the Union watched this one -- 37 million people watched this, which is the least of all of his speeches. And of that, I think 20 percent tuned out within the first five minutes.

So, I think even the public is more -- part of the public is more interested in the GOP race. It's exciting.

And I think -- I think you're right, though. I think a lot of it also is because that a lot of this stuff isn't going to get done because of Congress and because of the election year.

KURTZ: Right.

OK. Thanks to all of you, especially you two in the warm temperatures in Florida, enjoy yourselves.

Coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, going negative on Newt.

Kathleen Parker and Clarence Page square-off on why conservative pundits and publications are savaging the former speaker. Vast right- wing conspiracy perhaps?

And later -- should the "New York Times" have reported on the sexual assault complaint against the former Yale football star when no charges have been filed?

And what about reporting unproven sexual assault allegations against a FOX anchor in New York, who happens to be the police commissioner's son?


KURTZ: It was a remarkable snap shot of the media elite. The conservative media elite, that is, rising up almost in unison against Newt Gingrich.

The banner headline on the "Drudge Report": "Insider: Gingrich repeatedly insulted Reagan," and there were links to a piece on which Bob Dole blasted his former congressional colleague.

A CNN story that Gingrich, as we noted, had admitted he was wrong in the way he ripped ABC News over that interview of his ex-wife.

Ann Coulter, one of most flamboyant commentators on the right, popped a piece headline, "Re-elect Obama, vote Newt." So, what's behind this seemingly orchestrated assault?

Joining us now here in Washington, Kathleen Parker columnist for "The Washington Post"; and Clarence Page, columnist for the "Chicago Tribune".

And, Kathleen, "The National Review", Ann Coulter, "Drudge", all unloading on Newt within a couple of days.

Was there some kind of a secret meeting here?


KATHLEEN PARKER, THE WASHINGTON POST: If there was, I was not invited, by the way. I didn't get the memo.

You know, it's interesting. I want to clarify something right out of the gate, which is that when we talk about the media or commentators, pundits, et cetera, coming after someone in an orchestrated way, these are conservative operatives, Republican Party operatives essentially. They're not journalists, and they're not representing any institutional entity, I don't think.

I think they're representing their own political views, but they have access to media. They are media creatures.

KURTZ: That include "National Review?

PARKER: Well, "National Review" is obviously a magazine, but it was created from an ideological point of view. Right? As opposed to, for example, the "Chicago Tribune" or "The Washington Post" -- it's more traditional what we call mainstream, but I call just old school journalism entities.

KURTZ: Isn't this the kind of thing conservatives usually accuse the liberals of doing, ganging up on a Republican?

CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Well, yes, but -- well, at the same time, it's not a conspiracy. It's a community. You know?

These are people with shared value. They are all reacting to the sudden realization that, hey, Newt, you could win this thing.

I have been hearing for weeks -- I know you have too, Kathleen -- buzz among people who have worked with Newt Gingrich, Democrats and Republicans. A number -- I've heard more fury among Republicans who work with him on Capitol Hill or in other situations who were saying, well, you know, Newt is not really that popular in Washington. But no one come out in public and speak.

I mean, I think that's what's good about Bob Dole. He was the first big voice from Capitol Hill to speak -- what I have been hearing quietly from folks behind the scenes.

So, I think that's what you are seeing -- KURTZ: Kathleen, you wrote in your column about Gingrich's whole "I'm not a lobbyist, even though I collected money from special interests".

PARKER: Correct.

KURTZ: But do you agree with Clarence that a lot of these outlets, commentators, Ann Coulters of the world, they weren't particularly big Newt fans, but they really unleashed their firepower when it looked like he might win Florida, which could well have seriously wounded the Romney campaign?

PARKER: Yes. Look, there's a very, very real concern that if Newt Gingrich is the nominee, then the Republican Party loses. And I -- not only do they lose the White House, but they lose the House.

And I was talking to a former Democratic congressman the other day and he said, we're thrilled that it looks like it might be Newt because we think we can take back the House. So, I think it's really that. It's not an anti-Newt movement. It's a "we need to put the best person forward that can win against Obama" and the general -- the consensus is and the polls show generally that Mitt Romney is --

KURTZ: But I'm fascinated by your comment a moment ago that many of these people are not acting just as independent commentators who happened to reach this conclusion, but they're on the team, and the team effort right now even within the GOP is basically stop Newt.

PARKER: Yes. There is -- look, I mean, conservatives talk to each other. You know, the "National Review Online" just had a big party the other night celebrating their tenth year anniversary. What do you think they were talking about in that crowd?

And it's not that we sit down -- I wasn't there, by the way -- it's not that they sit down and say, look, we're going to do the following in a concerted way. It's just that they are of like mind given the circumstances.

KURTZ: But then when "Drudge" goes wild and has four or five headlines on the given day with all of these anti-Gingrich stories, it gives the mainstream press a license, I wouldn't say, an excuse, Clarence, to write about how the right wing is turning on Gingrich.

PAGE: Well, it's news. I mean, whenever you see - certainly, if you saw suddenly a lot of liberals turning against Obama, which, by the way, happens about every other week for one reason or another, it's Newt.

And so that's what we're seeing here because there is a civil war going on in the Republican Party. That's not news. But when you start seeing people become very vocal, who had been neutral before, then you say something's up.

And I think - look back, Howard. You're going to see that it was when Newt Gingrich had that stunning performance in South Carolina , love it or hate it, people said, "Oh, my gosh. Newt can win this thing."

And suddenly, Republicans who have been saying all along that, hey, that could possibly lose both houses of Congress for us, they became vocal.

KURTZ: What about the narratives take root in the media? For example, let's turn to Mitt Romney, and many stories about his investments in Cayman Islands, accounts and Swiss bank accounts, and, of course, his tax rate being below 15 percent.

Is all of this fair even if what he did is perfectly legal? Or is it being - is it being fed by journalists who just have a certain distaste for the fact that he is so rich?

PARKER: Well, I think most journalists would like to be so rich. I don't know that it's - anything is ever fair when it's not presented in a broader context.

And I don't think - you know, political campaigns are full of half-truths. And reporters will pick up the thread of what's being said, and, of course, they're reporting. But I think we have a responsibility to go ahead and provide that broader context.

KURTZ: Are we meeting that responsibility?

PARKER: I would argue no.

KURTZ: Would you say that Romney has - I mean, look, and he's - there's some self-inflicted wounds here. We say he has had trouble talking about his own money. But are you saying that we have consciously or otherwise helped paint a caricature of Mitt Romney?

PARKER: I think there are a lot of people who are perfectly happy to participate in that caricature - caricaturization(ph). Is that a word?

PAGE: Certainly.


PAGE: Yes.

PAGE: And, you know, we all, of course, in journalism try to give people a portrait of somebody, positives and negatives. The most damaging gaffe, or the most damaging revelation is the one that confirms one of the negatives.

And one of the negatives about Romney is that he is an aloof elite criticizing elitists. And the offshore money, that kind of thing, plays into the idea that he is not a regular guy.

PARKER: Well, that's the - that is the big theme for Romney, that he is out of touch, OK? He can't connect with the common person.

KURTZ: It's a big theme against him. PARKER: It's a big theme against him, but let's put that in the context of fairness. I mean, the real question is, is it necessary to be in touch with the common man in order to do a good job in turning around an economy? Sarah Palin was in touch with the common man.

KURTZ: Pregnant pause. Let the transcripts show. Let me bring this back to Gingrich. So he gives a speech in Florida where NASA is a big deal about going to the moon and starting a moon colony there.

And when you think that's a good idea or not, that plays into a media perception, stereotype. Newt is a space cadet. Fair or unfair?

PAGE: Well, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Newt is, that he has 100 ideas a day, four or five of them are good, but an awful lot of wacky ideas. And that's nothing new about that about Newt.

To me, this is one of the wacky ideas in the sense - well, I won't even go in depth on it, although I love space travel. I love space exploration. It was so transparently obvious he was pandering to the Cape Canaveral vote.

KURTZ: Well, maybe, but he has talked about -

PARKER: That's kind of a tiny vote.


PAGE: It's going to swing something.

KURTZ: Let me get a break. Up next, the media consensus is suddenly that President Obama is a much stronger candidate for re- election. Wishful thinking by the liberal press?


KURTZ: So I couldn't help but notice in the last few days the coverage of President Obama has gotten a little more positive.

He blipped up to 48 percent in an NBC poll. People in that survey say they're a little more optimistic about the direction of the economy.

And Clarence Page, the press now suddenly says in January of 2012 his chances for re-election are improving. A little bit of rush to judgment perhaps?

PAGE: Well, one late night comedian talked about how the - nothing makes Obama look better than the current array of his Republican challengers.

There's some truth to that in the sense that people are watching the debates very closely. And as they watch also some optimistic figures come out about the economy. It could be better, but it could be a lot worse, too.

They're saying, well, maybe Obama doesn't look so bad. That could all change in the next week, though, because it's all kind of on that edge that economic figures tend to be.

KURTZ: I don't dispute the craziness of the Republican season. And we went through the Donald Trump period. And the Herman Cain period may have helped the president. But some people think, Kathleen, that liberal media now just closing ranks behind Barack Obama in an election year.

PARKER: Well, again, I don't think that's a conspiracy. I do think that most people in the media tend to be liberal. I mean, they just do. What was it, 1992 - I think it was a huge - whenever - 92 percent, that is, of journalists in Washington voted for Clinton. So -

KURTZ: According to one survey.

PARKER: According to one survey, thank you. So anyway -

KURTZ: So how much does that benefit a Democratic president who has gotten some rough coverage for not being able to produce - deliver a lot of what he had promised? Let me ask you.

PARKER: Well, I think in a way it forces the media to be even more critical of Obama. But let's not forget -

KURTZ: It forces them, or are you saying it should force them?

PARKER: It should force them, but I also think they have to constantly check themselves to make sure. And you know, again, we're not talking about this monolithic entity. Some newspapers are better than others.

Some networks are more fair than others. You know, but one of the things that's helping Obama is, by the way, did he - did you hear him mention that he killed Osama Bin Laden?

KURTZ: Oh, yes.

PARKER: How many times did that come up?

KURTZ: All right. He's entitled to lead one speech with it.

PAGE: Beginning and end of the State of the Union address -

KURTZ: But you know, the president not always so happy with his coverage despite what his critics may think. He recently told "Time" magazine's Fareed Zakaria the following, if we can put that up, "I don't go to a lot of Washington parties."

"And as a consequence, the Washington press corps maybe just doesn't feel like I'm in the mix enough with them, and they figure, well, if I'm not spending time with them, I must be cold and aloof." Is that the reason?

PAGE: Well, that's a nice spin. I mean, I have - it was a farewell party for David Axelrod. We were back in Chicago. And Obama showed up unannounced - KURTZ: You two are hanging out?

PAGE: Yes. Yes. The two of us and about 200 of our close friends, yes. But I would say, it was everything, how he worked the room very comfortably and amiably and all that.

No, I think that's his spin right now because you can't go wrong on politics, right or left, by blaming the media for your troubles. But the fact is, Obama has had a couple of good weeks just like Mitt Romney had a bad week, followed by a good one.

KURTZ: Sure. Right.

PAGE: You know, that's the way these things go.

KURTZ: Kathleen?

PARKER: Yes, but presidents don't go with parties. They don't go hang out with journalists. I mean, that's a complete misconception.

KURTZ: But some of them, like Bill Clinton, do court journalism more assiduously than this president.

PARKER: Well, President Obama invites journalists in periodically. He has even invited me in a couple of times, and I'm sure you, too. So he tries to spread that around a little bit.

But here's the secret to Obama's success when he - I don't know which White House correspondent dinner it was, a couple of years ago. And he basically acknowledged that everybody in the room had voted for him.

PAGE: Oh, yes.

PARKER: So he is pretty confident.

KURTZ: I think that was meant as a joke, but now, we've learned -

PARKER: Well -

KURTZ: Kathleen Parker is at least occasionally part of the inner circle.

PARKER: Sure, it's in jest. But I don't know if it's inner circle. I think he is trying to demonstrate that he is not just inviting his best buddies every time.

KURTZ: People from a different -

PARKER: Different point of view.

KURTZ: Ideological persuasions.

PARKER: Some people have been, you know, consistent cheerleaders like (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KURTZ: Kathleen Parker, Clarence Page, thanks very much for stopping by this morning.

After the break, he was showered with positive press after withdrew from a potential Rhodes scholarship to play in a football game. Now, the "New York Times" is reporting that Patrick Witt faces an unproven allegation of sexual assault. Is that solid enough to publish?


KURTZ: As the star quarterback at Yale University, Patrick Witt got a whole lot of media attention last fall when he was deciding whether to pass up an interview for a Rhodes scholarship so he could play in the big Harvard-Yale game.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Yale's quarterback is a contender for the NFL draft with a stellar academic record. But he is getting the most attention these days for a big game day decision he has got to make.

ANNE THOMPSON, NBC NEWS: The answer to Patrick's choice may lie in the life he leads, an extraordinary individual in the ultimate team game.


KURTZ: Witt wound up passing on that Rhodes opportunity.


PATRICK WITT, QUARTERBACK: It's just one of those things where it's an unfortunate set of circumstances in terms of timing, but I was very humbled and honored to have been selected just to the finalists because I know that's a very difficult process in itself.


KURTZ: But the "New York Times" reported on Friday that his Rhodes candidacy had been suspended because another student at Yale had accused him of sexual assault in what's described as a formal complaint to the university, never went to police.

Few details are known of what she says happened in the dorm room. But the "Times" went with the story unlike the "Yale Daily News" which sat on it for three months.

Joining us now is Jane Hall, associate professor of journalism at American University.

And Jane, Patrick Witt was a hero. The "New York Times" story basically makes him out to be a liar, possibly guilty of sexual assault based on unnamed sources. Does that bother you? JANE HALL, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF JOURNALISM, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Yes, it does. You know, they had a story out one day, and then they had a story out the next day in which his agent responded and said he wasn't charged with anything. It was an informal complaint.

I have looked into this because it's a little bit different. Colleges have a procedure by which a person can come and say this happened.

And they have a choice as to whether or not they want to go further, whether they want to file legal charges. Sometimes, this has been used to silence complaints.

But in this instance, it seems to me when you read the story, it was incomplete when they ran it on Friday. Then had he ran a follow- up, and it seems very murky and the sources are anonymous. It's very murky to me.

KURTZ: Well, Patrick wouldn't comment for the original story, but he did - a statement was put out on his behalf. Let me just put that up on the screen.

"'New York Times' story incorrectly connects Patrick's decision to forego the Rhodes scholarship with an informal complaint process that had concluded on campus weeks prior to his withdrawal, a process that yielded no disciplinary measures, formal reports, or referrals to higher authorities."

"To be clear, Patrick's Rhodes candidacy was never suspended as the article suggests, and his official record at Yale contains no disciplinary issue."

You know, this informal complaint process - the worst thing that could happen to you is you get kicked out of the dorm or you are moved to another dorm and there's no finding of guilt or innocence.

And I'm not prejudging the facts here. I am asking the question whether this was solid enough to be published in a major newspaper in a way that clearly is kind of a blot on his reputation.

HALL: Well, I think that the story seems to be saying - asking what Yale knew and whether they told Rhodes. I mean, that - when you look at it again, I think they're saying something else about Yale and should they have reported it? And did he know?

And the media are the people who linked his decision, not necessarily he. So I think the college procedure is not that well- known to people. And again, it has been used sometimes.

We don't know this seriousness of these charges. It doesn't mean it's not true. But the fact that it didn't go further is a question.

And I think if you look at this story and you don't really read all the way through, you think he has been accused, probably charged with sexual assault. That's what I think a reader might come to conclude.

KURTZ: Kathleen Parker was just out here on the set before you. You wrote a column that appears today in the "Washington Post" saying, translation of the "Time's" story, "We don't know anything, but we're smearing this guy anyway."

Now, we invited "The Times" reporter, Richard Perez Pena to appear on the program. He declined. But "The Times" gave us a statement.

I'll just read a little bit of it, "Publishing the story was an easy journalistic call. We report news. The fact that Witt had done this was clearly significant news."

"We were meticulous in our reporting and editing, and Witt's accuser's identity was not compromised. We stand by the story." Clearly, the "Times" taking some heat for this decision because it is, to use your word, murky.

HALL: It is very murky. And again, you know, their statement seems to be saying that he knew of this and that this should have been reported. And what did Yale tell Rhodes?

I mean, they must feel that their reporting has some solidity to it. I think the question is the sexual assault procedure and is that something that they really had enough to go on to make that the big - significant part of the story.

KURTZ: Right. I mean, just to be crystal clear, this is a situation where the woman did not go to the police to charge sexual assault. Now, "Yale Daily News," the student paper, has known about this since December, declined to write the story until after the "Times" broke it.

We invited the editor-in-chief, Max de la Bruyere, on the program. He first accepted, then he backed out. But in a statement, "The Yale Daily News" says in order to be fair to those involved, they decided that these details remain allegations, not going to publish it and was not aware of any connection between this informal complaint and the decision to back off from the Rhodes scholarship.

So "The Yale Daily News" exercised the kind of restraint that perhaps the "New York Times" should have.

HALL: Well, you know, I don't know all the facts on this story. And if the -

KURTZ: None of us do.

HALL: None of us does.


HALL: You know, but I think what - and "The Yale Daily News" was taking a lot of heat even from some of its former editors. You know, there's so much more to this story. There's the context of allegations of sexual harassment by fraternity men at Yale that they've had a hostile climate there.

KURTZ: Right.

HALL: There's a lot of back story here.

KURTZ: Let me turn to another story that happened to break this past week. It involves the anchor - morning anchor at the Fox station in New York, Greg Kelly, who happens to be the son of police commissioner Ray Kelly, getting a lot of attention. Let's play a little bit of how it's playing out on New York television.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE NEWS ANCHOR: Commissioner Ray Kelly making his first public appearance today since his son was accused of raping a woman. The District Attorney's Office is investigating the case and no charges have been filed.


KURTZ: OK. I could not hear that in my ear. I hope the audience could hear it. Essentially, because this guy is an anchor in New York and because he's the police commissioner's son, there's already been three stories about this in "The New York Times."

HALL: Yes.

KURTZ: Again, no charges have been filed. Does that make you uneasy?

HALL: It makes me uneasy. And you know, I feel that this is such a difficult area because so often, historically, women have been afraid to come forward. They have been afraid to press charges because they won't be believed, because they will be besmirched.

That's over here. And then there's the specifics of this cases which are the old rule in journalism used to be, you don't do a story unless charges have been filed in this instance.

And then "The New York Post" - now, we're going to get into a battle of "The New York Post" defending him with anonymous quotes saying the case has no merits. She texted (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KURTZ: Right. The "New York Post," of course, owned by same company - owned by Rupert Murdoch.

HALL: Right.

KURTZ: But just to make sure everyone understands this, the woman didn't file a complaint for three months before going to authorities. And she says she doesn't remember a lot of the details because she was drunk.

If I'm Greg Kelly, it's an unfortunate situation that you're getting extra attention because of who your dad is.

HALL: Well, I think that's probably true. And then there was some story that the boyfriend of this young woman went up to him.

I mean, I really think we do need to say, because somebody doesn't report it and because they were drunk doesn't mean something terrible didn't happen.

KURTZ: Right. Again, we don't know.

HALL: But I don't think the story - I don't think the story deserves that kind of attention until a charge is filed.

KURTZ: OK. Jane Hall, thanks very much. Still to come, a TV reporter goes toe-to-toe with a Connecticut mayor. And "The New York Times" digs into where iPhone and iPad are really made. "The Media Monitor" is straight ahead.


KURTZ: Time now for "The Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business. And here's what I liked. In really what was a groundbreaking story, "The New York Times" took a highly-successful American company, Apple, and asked this question.

Why are almost all of its 70 million iPhones, 30 million iPads and other products made overseas? But the answer, it turns out, is complicated.

It's not just that it's cheaper to make these products in places like Asia, but that America isn't producing enough workers with the skills to make these electronics or make them quickly.

This goes to the heart of the unemployment problem in this country. And in a follow-up story, "The Times" disclosed dangerous and overcrowded conditions at some Chinese facilities that make the Apple products including, in one instance, a fatal explosion.

I also liked what Mario Diaz, a reporter for New York's WPIX-TV, did this week. He was interviewing the mayor of East Haven, Connecticut, Joe Maturo, after an FBI probe led to the arrest of four of the town's police officers for allegedly profiling and discriminating against Latinos. Look at how Diaz handled the mayor's response.


MARIO DIAZ, REPORTER, NEW YORK'S WPIX-TV: What are you doing for the Latino community today?

JOE MATURO, MAYOR, EAST HAVEN, CONNECTICUT: I might have tacos when I go home. I'm not quite sure yet. We are an open community. You know, no matter how you twist and turn it -

DIAZ: I'm not twisting or turning your words. You just told me that tonight when I asked you what are you doing for the Latino community -


MATURO: Here we go. Go ahead. Go ahead. Make it sound whichever way reporters want it to sound.

DIAZ: Mayor, mayor -

MATURO: Go for it. Take your best shot.

DIAZ: Mayor -

MATURO: Take your best shot. Go ahead.

DIAZ: I am not twisting words here.

MATURO: Say it whatever way you want.

DIAZ: Did you tell me that -

MATURO: This makes great news.


KURTZ: Diaz was absolutely right to challenge the mayor who has since apologized for the dumb remark.

The stench from the British tabloids scandal just got a little stronger. Police have arrested four current and former journalists at Rupert Murdoch's "Sun," including the executive editor.

Scott Leonard(ph) said this is not about phone hacking, which led to the closure of Murdoch's "News of the World," but involves suspected payoffs to police officers, obviously in exchange for information.

We have not gotten to the bottom of this journalistic cesspool in London. The extreme weather story was dramatic enough on its own.


DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: Something terrifying took the south by surprise last night. No warning - 25 tornadoes striking in less than 24 hours.


KURTZ: Well, not quite. James Spann, chief meteorologist at WBMA, the ABC affiliate in Birmingham, ridiculed the network's account on his blog, "No warning? Get a clue. This event was forecast days in advance."

ABC's "World News" did a follow-up report. Spann was one of those interviewed which made clear the storms didn't suddenly materialize.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Adams and so many other families here had time to get to their safe place.

STEVE OSUNAMI, ABC NEWS: It's a tornado warning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because the warnings came early.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Their trusted forecaster started spreading the word last Thursday, just days before the storm.


KURTZ: But the newscast never acknowledged that its previous report had been, well, blown out of the water. ABC should have just admitted, "We made a mistake."

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.