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Isaac Roils Convention Coverage; A "Legitimate" Rape Story?

Aired August 26, 2012 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: We are here in Tampa for the Republican convention that was supposed to kick off in this arena tomorrow. But now, of course, has been delayed by a day because of a tropical storm heading for this part of Florida.

How much will the media allow a potential hurricane to blow away Mitt Romney's big event? Is there enough political news here to justify the presence of 15,000 journalists?

And has the press obsessed on another storm, the one over Senate candidate Todd Akin's comments on rape, to the point almost of obscuring this GOP gathering?

I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is a special convention edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.


KURTZ: I had thought the challenge for the hordes of journalists arriving here in Tampa, as you see a live shot of the Tampa Bay Times Arena, was going to be what to write about, a convention, and basically a coronation of Mitt Romney.

Well, that question has been answered. We'll be writing about, talking about, tweeting about is the weather. And the question for all of us and the media as a whole and perhaps the country as a whole, is how much the weather story is going to obscure the political event that brought us here to Tampa.

And joining us to talk about that -- Roger Simon, chief political correspondent for "Politico"; Lauren Ashburn, editor-in-chief of "Daily Download," a Web site where I'm a contributor; Lynn Sweet, the Washington bureau chief of the "Chicago Sun Times"; and Nia-Malika Henderson, political reporter for "The Washington Post."

Welcome, everybody. I'm glad you made it through the long security difficulties outside.

Roger Simon, we have a collision two of stories here.


KURTZ: Politics, which is your bailiwick, and extreme weather which television loves. Which is going to win? SIMON: Everyone loves extreme weather. I mean, extreme weather has clear winners and losers. I've always wanted to stand outside and get blown over live on TV as I've seen so many --


KURTZ: You have done that? You have as a local reporter?

ASHBURN: As a local news reporter.

KURTZ: You plan on doing it this week?


SIMON: There's no better credential to have.

KURTZ: But here is the question, Lauren Ashburn. Obviously, Monday's events canceled. The hurricane, tropical storm, rain sprinkling, whatever turns out to be, will be the media focus. What happens when it gets to be Tuesday and the convention is underway but the storm -- it could be a hurricane by then, hits the mainland somewhere north of Tampa? The more that the medium, particularly television, concentrates on the storm, the less attention to the convention and that's not going to make the Republicans happy.

ASHBURN: Well, of course it's not. But you can't control the weather. I mean, you should have told Michael Steele this when he chose this place how many years ago.

KURTZ: The former Republican chairman.

ASHBURN: Right, right.

KURTZ: You can't control the weather, but you can control what you choose to cover.

ASHBURN: Come on, this is convention wall to wall. You know, Wolf is going to be from 4:00 to midnight. You know, all of the convention people are here, and your CBS, FOX and PBS is on for three hours. I mean, there's going to be a lot of coverage, Howie.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, WASHINGTON POST: I suspect at some point we'll switch because I've already written a weather story. I was dubbed the weather reporter for "The Post". Yesterday, my editors e- mailed me. At some point, we'll switch to talking about what's going on in the convention. I mean, it would be wall-to-wall coverage.

I mean, you had the Republicans complaining already about some of the coverage saying why are the networks only covering it three hours? They had to shift some things around.

KURTZ: Yes. Ann Romney's speech moved from Monday because the broadcast networks not playing them --

HENDERSON: But there's cable news, there's blogging, there's tweeting. I think Lynn Sweet has been tweeting up the storm this morning. I think there's plenty of coverage.

LYNN SWEET, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Here's the thing -- this is the first convention I've been to where I had to before coming here, I went and bought dry bags, I brought rain pants, I brought raingear, and I have infinite number of baggies to keep everything dry.

I think we could do two stories at once, Howie, it's not impossible. Weather and politics. Weather and politics.

SIMON: And it should be about us, right? That's what the week should be about.

SWEET: And you know, some delegates, though, people are coming in today -- there will be legitimate stories about people who are paying -- you know, these delegates, people might not know it, they pay their own way to come here. Since it is in Tampa, it's a vacation. People bring families.

So, you may just have people who aren't in the best mood to carry out the party, you know, railing cries. Remember Minnesota, the first night four years ago? They had weather problems, too. You forget about it.

KURTZ: Well, the problems weren't in Minnesota, they were in Florida which caused John McCain to cancel the first night.

I think you're all being a little too dismissive of the challenge here for Mitt Romney and the Republicans. Even if it's split screen coverage on Tuesday, let's say, half weather, half convention, and that may be generous, this is a four-day period where Romney was going to introduce himself and his running mate Paul Ryan to the country. To the extent that that is obscured, overshadowed, or either partially distracted, that's a real net negative for him and the Republicans.

SIMON: Absolutely. Since the only purpose of a convention is to have a flawless, seamless TV show. That's already been trashed. I mean, all the --

KURTZ: Hasn't even started yet, Roger.

SIMON: All the people who were supposed to speak Monday night like Mike Huckabee and others who consider themselves important now have to be found spaces on other nights, bumping other people, and there are easily bruised egos involved here. Not so much ours. But the politicians --

KURTZ: How long have you been around television? I could think of a few.

SWEET: This definitely isn't the show they wanted. So, you give them -- I thought when we were talking about the ability of the press to cover both, obviously I think we can and are doing it. Clearly what's happening here won't get all the showcase display they want.

KURTZ: Here's something that occurs to me, Lauren Ashburn. That is even given television's great attraction to extreme weather, extreme weather logos and banners, team coverage, it seems to me that you have a collision here between something that is a real news story, which is a storm, possibly a hurricane, we don't know where it's going to go, how much damage it's going to inflict, and the overly scripted nature that we all complain about every four years of convention. Maybe that's why weather is winning out.

ASHBURN: Well, because it mixes it up. I was talking to Governor Rick Scott just a few minutes ago who only wanted to talk weather and the safety of the people in Florida. So, here you have the governor of this state not talking about Mitt Romney and the convention, talking about how Florida is going to help all of these different people.

But, you know, when it comes back to Mitt Romney and how this is going to affect him. We're still going get the coverage. You're still going to have Republicans sitting at home in front of their television for the entire evening watching all of the speeches, watching to say who's going to appear as the front-runner, maybe for the future. I don't think that the weather is going to detract from that.

HENDERSON: I think that's right. And you know, I guess something like 30 million to 40 million people watched last time. A lot of times, these conventions are about a couple of sound bites that come out of the three major speeches. The keynotes that will be Christy, Paul Ryan and, of course, Mitt Romney speech.

So, I think ultimately, they'll be fine. He'll have his nomination speech on Thursday and he'll get his sound bites and there'll be coverage of that. And then guess what? We'll switch immediately to the DNC on the following week.

ASHBURN: The weather might just pass us, too.

SIMON: If they're smart they'll have pictures of Romney and Ryan filling sandbags.

HENDERSON: Rain boots, yes--

ASHBURN: You have a career in P.R.

ROMNEY: But this is -- my final point on this is, if there did not happen to be a convention in this state this week, let's say the convention had been two weeks ago and this storm came along, this is not some category 5 hurricane, it could turn into something, it wouldn't be getting a tenth of the coverage that it is going to get because of the potential for disruption of these four days -- everybody agree on that?

SWEET: And we agree, yes.

HENDERSON: And I think there's heightened coverage of this sort of stories because of Hurricane Katrina.

SWEET: And this 20-year anniversary of hurricane Andrew.

KURTZ: All right. Hurricanes dominating the talk here.

Let's take a short break. When we come back, the latest guidance on Isaac from the CNN weather center in Atlanta.


KURTZ: We'll go to the CNN weather center in Atlanta. Talk to meteorologist Bonnie Schneider for some brand new information on where this storm, Isaac, is heading.

Good morning, Bonnie. What can you tell us about the direction of this storm?


I can tell you that the models have really shifted the path of Isaac. We still have a hurricane warning and we are looking at immediate impact for areas in south Florida, like the Florida Keys with hurricane-force winds. But what's new as of just moments ago is the new at 11:00 advisory that now put New Orleans under a hurricane watch. That means, within 48 hours, we could see hurricane-force winds in the vicinity of the central Gulf Coast. Once again, it does include the city of New Orleans. And that is brand new as of the 11:00 advisory.

The intensity of Isaac right now remains the same -- 65 mile-per- hour winds with gusts at hurricane-force strength, 75 miles per hour. But I want to show the track because it's shifted to the west, further away from Florida, more into the central gulf. We're still looking at possibly a landfall in the Florida Keys, maybe near Key West later today or tonight.

And then the storm emerges in the Gulf of Mexico and it all pushes westward. So, now we have the cone of uncertainty including cities like Jackson, New Orleans, Mobile, and moving away from Florida.

So, this is just a dramatic change from where we were before. Notice the intensity right now. And Wednesday morning, 105 mile-per- hour winds. So, that's a category 2. But It doesn't take too much more to be a category 3.

KURTZ: Bonnie? Potentially bad news for those gulf coast states. So the cancellation of the first day of the Republican National Convention could turn out to have been for no reason if this storms actually misses the west coast of Florida. Is that corrected?

SCHNEIDER: Not exactly because it is a large storm, Howard. So, we're likely to see tropical storm-force winds impact cities like Tampa. So, we are going to see squalls and heavy downpours of rain. If it does indeed push further to the west, it will be less of an impact. I do believe there will be an impact on Florida.

Back to you.

KURTZ: All right. Bonnie Schneider in Atlanta, thanks very much for that update as the storm dramatically seems to be changing direction.

Up next here in Tampa -- will this past week's controversy surrounding Congressman Todd Akin and rape overshadow the GOP's convention message?


KURTZ: From the moment that Todd Akin talked about "legitimate rape" and how rape victims could somehow will their bodies not to get pregnant, those outrageous remarks were a huge story and rightly snow.

The Senate candidate from Missouri apologized but journalists continued to press him hard.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: You're a member the House Science Committee. A lot of people are wondering how an idea like that could even get in your head?

REP. TODD AKIN (R), MISSOURI: Well, that's a -- the point of the matter is, is that, yes, pregnancy can happen as a result of rape. I understand that. And I've acknowledged that facts.


KURTZ: Akin had few defenders, even at FOX where Sean Hannity pushed the Republican nominee to quit the race during an interview on his radio show.


SEAN HANNITY, SEAN HANNITY SHOW: If you become a distraction for the next 77 days, which can happen and keep Claire McCaskill and Obama from addressing their failed economic policies, I wouldn't want that on my conscience. Have you thought about that?

AKIN: I've given all the things that you said a lot of consideration.


KURTZ: And it wasn't long before the press and particular liberal commentators made the rape uproar an issue in the presidential race.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: There's very little daylight between what Akin and Paul Ryan believe, as I just said. Ryan and the other Republicans are just smarter about the way they talk about it.


KURTZ: Nia-Malika Henderson, credible story involving Todd Akin. But day after day after day, this rape story was on the front page, top of the newscast. Did you get the impression the media are trying to keep it alive?

HENDERSON: No. I think it was a legitimate story. I mean, you have a sitting congressman talking about rape. Then he was of course in this very contested seat in Missouri. The balance of the Senate in -- you know, hangs in the balance with his seat.

So, I think it was a legitimate story. I think, again, we're going to shift to the RNC at this point unless Todd Akin comes and stages some protest down here. I don't think people will be talking about it.

The fact that Huckabee who in some ways was his big defender might not be on stage is probably a good thing in terms of the Republicans trying to get past this story.

KURTZ: But at the same time, Lauren Ashburn, the press it seemed to me made some attempt to bring Paul Ryan into the story because of Ryan and Akin sharing the same position on the question of abortion and rape, talking about that.

ASHBURN: And that was a legitimate connection to make because they had sponsored a bill together, and in all fairness --

KURTZ: Bill together that had no exception for rape, ban abortion --

ASHBURN: Ban abortion, right.

KURTZ: No exception for rape.


KURTZ: But Paul Ryan didn't make those remarks about --

ASHBURN: No, but I want to know where Paul Ryan stands, who's with him, who's supporting him. And I think -- I went in to journalism because I wanted to keep the government honest, and I wanted to report on politicians. And that's what that is. And yes, it is fair.

KURTZ: Is there some attempt here by the media, consciously or unconsciously I should say, Roger Simon, to cast the GOP as a party, large elements of which are indifferent to rape?

SIMON: I think all of this is part of what the Democrats would call the Republican war on women, which has been going on for a long time. And I think the media think that it's a legitimate story.

KURTZ: So the media buy the Democratic attack line of Republican war on women, which is a very --

SIMON: Parts of it --

KURTZ: Parts of it?

SIMON: Parts of it. KURTZ: And that's not biased in your view?

SIMON: I don't think they buy the conclusion. They buy it as a legitimate story to explore. And given that there are more women voters than men voters, it's an important dynamic in this election.

And the Ryan story is perfectly legitimate. Here's a guy who's been in legislative posts his entire life, he -- he makes laws. He's a lawmaker. He believes this stuff.

And if the public can't focus on that, then there's no purpose to news.

KURTZ: Now, Todd Akin, after he apologized, Lynn Sweet, blamed the liberal media for trying to drive him out of the race.

SWEET: I think that's nonsense. What happened is that he had -- to use our weather metaphor -- a perfect storm. Not only did he say something that would have been controversial anyway, and as you know in the original interview, the host doing the interview didn't follow up, didn't apparently do a story on it.

The story was brought out because Democratic allied trackers would see it and then pushed it out. So that's how it got out there. And that's a legitimate form of inquiry.

But the reason it had so many legs, it's not only who said it, which would have gotten maybe just localized attention. He's in a big battleground state. He does have connections to Paul Ryan. And then the presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, called for him to step down.

KURTZ: The Missouri talk show host, Charles Jacko, incredibly did not follow up on these remarks and he said later he just was too focused on getting to the next question. He said he had a brain fart, using his phrase.

But now other people waded into this, "Politico", David Catanese reported there, tweeted that he felt the congressman had misspoke. Then he was taken off the story. Was that too harsh a reaction for a single tweet?

HENDERSON: You know, this is the danger of tweeting and not thinking or tweeting while drunk or something. But I -- it was a very odd tweet. I know we covered it at "The Post." I don't know what has -- what other sort of sanctions he's had at "Politico."

But it seemed about right that he's wading in and seeming to give his opinion on this. That I --

KURTZ: Taking a side on whether or not the congressman --

HENDERSON: Taking a side.

KURTZ: It didn't seem like something that Akin blurted out and didn't mean those words.

HENDERSON: Right. Yes.

KURTZ: He obviously believed it when he said it.

HENDERSON: He believed it when he said it. He sort of said this is what doctors, he'd read from doctors. So, he believed it when he said it. So, to sort of step back and say what he really meant was this, I thought was a bit much for Catanese to do that. And probably right for "Politico" to take him off the story.

SWEET: Because -- what the congressman said, remember, it wasn't one thing, it was two things. One, quote, "legitimate rape," unquote, what's that, and that a woman can't get pregnant as a result of it? So, we have two issues here.

KURTZ: Right.

SWEET: That's why saying somebody misspoke is -- is -- that's why we're discussing it, because there were two things also, not just one.

KURTZ: The day after this controversy erupted last Sunday, Congressman Akin was scheduled to be Piers Morgan's program on CNN. He did not show up, was obviously the worst day of his campaign. So, we had this spectacle on the Piers' show.


PIERS MORGAN, PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT HOST: Congressman, you have an open invitation to join me in that chair whenever you feel up to it, because if you don't keep your promise to appear on the show, then you are what we would call in Britain a gutless little twerp.


KURTZ: A gutless little twerp? Appropriate language?

ASHBURN: This is a schoolboy, bratty schoolboy saying you didn't come to my show, and I'm going call you a twerp.

I like Piers. Piers, no offense, but come on. Why the language? Why the name-calling? Why do you need to go that far?

The message says it all by itself. I'm not showing up. I'm not going into the media storm.

KURTZ: Are you OK with the empty chair?


HENDERSON: It was good TV. Yes.

ASHBURN: I loved it.

SIMON: An empty suit refused to fill an empty chair. I can understand why Piers was upset. And you know, what part of gutless little twerp is Akin now? KURTZ: OK, so you're doubling down. You are you doubling down.


SWEET: You know, this is --

SIMON: His statement, I mean -- as -- the importance of his statement is that he believes that when women have children as a result of rape, the rape was voluntary on the woman's part because her magic rays did not destroy the sperm from the rapist.


KURTZ: I'm not defending Todd Akin in any way, shape, or form. But when you call him gutless, look, he made a political decision that was not in the interest of his faltering campaign to go television at that time.

SIMON: But he agreed to. I mean --

SWEET: Hold often let me get to the press aspect of it, because we're print reporters. I cannot tell you the number of people who have canceled interviews over my years of being in business starting, you know, a long time ago, when it's not to their advantage to do an interview, and probably we would have shrugged it off unless it was a huge, huge interview.

It's interesting, you know, Piers, as you're on TV, you know there's a different element on this. I don't go out and promote my interviews. I know I don't say --

KURTZ: Maybe you should.

SWEET: Tonight, later today I'm talking to -- we don't do. It so here's --

ASHBURN: The bottom sideline we're all talking about Piers Morgan, aren't we?

KURTZ: I think that's part of the point. He gets more, sort of conversation and chatter --


KURTZ: I've got one more piece of tape. The last bounce of this happened when Mitt Romney was doing interviews with local television stations. And the Denver affiliate, Denver CBS affiliate reporter Shaun Boyd, gave this report about her sit down with the Republican nominee.


BROOKE WAGNER, KCNC: Shaun, you were one of only four local reporters to get to talk to him.

SHAUN BOYD, KCNC: Yes. WAGNER: And what did you ask him?

BOYD: You know, I had about five minutes with him. We got through a fair amount of material actually in that five minutes. The one stipulation to the interview was that I not ask him about abortion or Todd Akin.


KURTZ: Who -- what reporter agrees to an interview in which you're told you can't ask certain things?

ASHBURN: A local news reporter who wants to interview the president.

HENDERSON: That's right.

KURTZ: Or the potential president --

SIMON: She shouldn't have done it, but I must say she had her cake and ate it, too. She got the interview and got to embarrass --

HENDERSON: Basted him.

SIMON: -- Governor Romney.

KURTZ: Just to be clear, people who -- so people understand how the journalism business works, the guests, candidate, politician, officeholder, businessman, can agree not to answer any question you ask. No comment, I don't want to go there, they can attack you for asking the question, but you don't sign away in advance your right to ask the question, I don't believe.

HENDERSON: That's right. And I think she very much wanted that interview, as you said. She's a local news reporter, trying to get the big interview.

SWEET: There's another way to handle it. This is, again, parts of that is these interviews, that's why they go directly to regional reporters.

HENDERSON: Right. And skip over the White House press corps.

SIMON: It's been a myth for decades that local reporters are stupid and easy. A lot of them --

SWEET: That's true.

ASHBURN: I'm not saying that. I was a local news reporter --

SIMON: I'm not saying you were saying it. But the Romney campaign --

ASHBURN: Oh, they think it's going to be softball questions?

SIMON: Sure. They found in this reporter that she was neither stupid or --

KURTZ: To Shaun Boyd's credit she shared what the ground rules were, the Romney campaign --

SWEET: Yes. And a lot of people don't do that, because the others did not.

KURTZ: OK. Roger Simon, Lauren Ashburn, Nia-Malika Henderson and Lynn Sweet -- thanks for stopping by at the arena in Tampa this morning.

Up next, Mitt Romney's birther joke, Paul Ryan's ex-girlfriend -- will the coverage of this campaign ever get back to the most pressing issues? Stay with us.


KURTZ: We are here in Tampa, if you're just joining us, at the Republican convention, which is going to get underway, weather permitting, any day now.

And joining us now is Kelli Goff, political correspondent for, and Hugh Hewitt, host of his own syndicated radio talk show.

Hugh, I want to play a clip of Mitt Romney speaking the other day in Michigan and ask a question on the other side.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was born at Harper Hospital.


ROMNEY: No one's ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised.



KURTZ: Mitt Romney was on your radio show just the other day, almost everyone in the media covered this and covered it as, why is Romney reintroducing the so-called birther issue? What's your take on that angle of the media coverage?

HEWITT: You know, I thought it was misplaced. I had the governor on the talk show that afternoon, right after the Michigan appearance. And we talked about the jobs issue, we talked about the abortion issue, we talked about Tampa, how his speech was going, Ann Romney's speech, the networks' decision not to cover the first night.

Didn't even occur to me that that was an issue. I thought it was a classic bit of "gotcha" journalism when the convention is getting ready to talk about the most serious things, 8.3 unemployment, the sort of smoking ruins of the Obama presidency. And they're chasing after this story, misplaced, bad journalism.

KURTZ: Well, "gotcha" journalism suggests to me that the media are setting some kind of trap. And the problem with that thesis, Keli, is that Romney is the one who uttered the words, whether it was a joke or not.

GOFF: Right. And also you have to point out, too, that the conservatives have been pretty critical of the extremists in their own party, right? So I think in terms of covering the story, you kind of can't have it both ways, right, and say that it's not fair to paint all conservatives with this broad brush of extremists and then make a comment that's perceived as embracing some of those extremist comments.

And that's I think actually what made this somewhat newsworthy. If Donald Trump had repeated it again, no one would have covered it, right? What made it interesting is that...

KURTZ: Well, not nobody, it's Donald Trump.

GOFF: Well, it wouldn't have gotten to the same level as this, right? I mean, this is a little ridiculous.

KURTZ: Let me turn to something that -- I didn't mean to cut you off. Let me turn to something, Hugh, that you wrote the other day that caught my eye in which you talked about how you thought the media -- the television networks, I should ,say sticking it to the Republicans by -- now this has happened before the storm kind of scrambled everybody's plans, by not covering the first night of this convention, that's when Ann Romney was going to speak. She has been moved to Tuesday.

It has been that way for a couple of cycles now where the broadcast networks, ABC, CBS, NBC, blow off the first day because they don't think there are ratings in it. So how is that -- and the same applies to the Democrats, so how is that an example of bias?

HEWITT: I think getting down to three hours of network coverage, whether it's one cycle or two, is shameful. This is -- you know, whenever PBS comes up for funding, Howard, we hear one thing. We hear that all those people out there that don't have cable can't watch, get news.

And so what about all those poor people for whom we fund PBS that can't watch convention coverage? This is the middle of a crisis. The country is coming together to watch an argument being made against the re-election of the president, argument being made for the election of Mitt Romney. And the networks blow it off for reruns. They're licensed to -- institutions.

KURTZ: I think that's a strong argument. It may be dereliction of duty. In fact, the Democrats kind of bowing to televised reality by only doing their convention in Charlotte in three days.

But I don't see how you could say -- and let me get you in on this, that it's something that's aimed more at the Republican Party than the Democratic Party.

GOFF: Well, you can't. And actually this is one of those instances where I think that Republicans have a bigger gripe with the weather than with the media, because that has actually turned out to be the running pattern here, because this happened four years ago...

KURTZ: But even if the weather -- if it was sunny skies...

GOFF: ... and it created problems.

KURTZ: ... there was still going to be no broadcast network coverage on Monday night. That's the decision the networks made a couple of cycles ago.

GOFF: Right. Yes. Although the weather rendered it a moot point. And I don't hear them saying that that's going to significantly wound them. In fact, they said the opposite, right? That this is not going to affect us losing a day to the weather.

So I don't really understand how it's different if they lost a day just because of coverage. I'm asking genuinely.

KURTZ: Well, because there still would have been coverage in newspapers, on cable, on Twitter.

HEWITT: It will still be covered, there will still be guests on all the cable plans, et cetera.

KURTZ: Well, that's true.


KURTZ: We talked just a little earlier in the program about Todd Akin and the rape controversy. And I raised the question of whether or not the media were unfairly putting this -- or, shall we say, dragging the presidential and vice-presidential candidates into a controversy, a dumb thing said by one candidate in Missouri. Your thoughts?

HEWITT: I think it is extraordinarily manipulative to try and tie Todd Akin to the national campaign. The president's statement, "you didn't build that," has become the defining statement. If we saw the president's "you didn't build that" statement as often as we see Todd Akin's statement, that would be itself a misapplication of time.

But you're going end to up saying a lot more about Todd Akin than are you about the president's blurting out what he really believes is the way the economy ought to operate.

GOFF: Again, I think that would be a legitimate criticism of the media if it weren't for the fact that the vice president -- excuse me, Governor Romney just picked the vice-presidential candidate who has agreed on Todd Akin on some of his more extreme policies. There's a news strainer (ph), Howie...

KURTZ: Well, let's be specific. (CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: Let's be specific. Paul Ryan has the same position as Todd Akin, not in the outrageous comments he made about women not getting pregnant but in saying that abortion should be outlawed and there should be no exception for rape.

GOFF: Right. So if that weren't on the table, then I think he might be on to something. But to say that it's completely beyond the pale for the news media to cover it and to cover it to the degree that they are, I think is a stretch.

KURTZ: Let me turn to what you wrote this week on The Root, in which you said -- you posed the question, should we be talking about the fact that Paul Ryan, congressman from Wisconsin, once earlier in his young life had a black ex-girlfriend? Why did you bring it up? Why should we care?

GOFF: I actually didn't bring it up, which is fascinating. I didn't break the story. Pete Hamby from CNN tweeted it. But what has been fascinating...

KURTZ: But you chose to write a column about it.

GOFF: I wrote a column about it. There has been a lot of coverage about the column and not about the fact that Paul Ryan volunteered the information in an interview. I think it's fascinating. He's the first major presidential party ticket candidate to have admitted to interracially dating.

It says something about being part of Gen-X. It's a fascinating anecdote, just like being -- him liking Rage Against the Machine. So I'm surprised people found it offensive or uncomfortable.

HEWITT: Here's what matters, unemployment is 8.3 percent. It has never been below 8 percent when the president promised it would never be above 8 percent. The fact of the matter is this is a terrible economic situation. That's the issue.

KURTZ: OK. I've got to close. Are the media distracting us with all of these side controversies and circuses and sidebars and not focusing on the economic issues that most people...


HEWITT: One hundred percent yes. This country needs to get out of the ditch.

GOFF: Akin raises an important issue that needed to be covered. The fact that people believe that women should not have abortions if they get raped, it's an issue that should be covered.

KURTZ: And I would say that the campaigns are contributing to this too with the way that they are choosing to run attack politics. Thank you so much for stopping by, Hugh Hewitt, Keli Goff. And after the break, more on the coverage of the convention here in Tampa and a look at why ABC is kicking "Nightline" out of its coveted time slot.


KURTZ: Back here at the Tampa Bay Times Arena.

And joining us now Eric Deggans, media and television critic for The Tampa Bay Times, and Rachel Sklar, longtime media analyst and founder of Change the Ratio.

Eric Deggans, this is your home turf, media are descending. I'm seeing a lot of stories, one on CNN, about strip clubs. Tampa the only city in America that has strip clubs?

ERIC DEGGANS, TAMPA BAY TIMES: Apparently if you were to read Salon or you were to read The Village Voice, or you were to watch CNN, there has been a lot of stories about strip clubs.

KURTZ: Are you offended by that?

DEGGAN: Well, I think it's a superficial sort of stereotypical look at Florida. And I actually have a post up on my blog, The Feed, pushing back against that a little bit. If you spend time here, and I hope people take time to get outside the walls of this convention, you will find a really rich mixture of people that pretty much reflects the mixture of the country.

KURTZ: Rachel Sklar, I don't have a strip club question for you.

RACHEL SKLAR, CHANGE THE RATIO: Yeah, I have no expertise.

KURTZ: All right. We'll move on.

Leaving aside the hurricane and the extent to which it is obviously impinging on the story lines here, 15,000 journalists here for a choreographed convention. When so many media people hungry for a morsel of news, do they tend to kind of create their own news?

SKLAR: Well, I think that we'll see, right, because 2008 was very different than now. And there was no -- there was Twitter, but not in a widespread way. There wasn't any Instagram. It's just -- everything is different now, so like the unguarded moments are there to be captured. And I think we'll see a real interesting diversity of stories come out. And that might be the flip side of like reporting on anything, trying to differentiate yourself.

But you know, the fact that you know that it's choreographed, I think the point is to try and find the real news underneath and what it means.

KURTZ: But in terms of the way in which that news is distributed, are we now moving more away from TV broadcasting to live streaming, to tweeting, to blogging?

SKLAR: Yeah, there's everything...

KURTZ: So it's a more digital experience for a lot of people who don't want to sit in front of the television set for three hours a night.

SKLAR: Well, I think that we are seeing a siloed experience. People are now following who they follow. And who -- they get the news that they want to see.

So actually there's -- you know, there's an incredibly robust debate going on now, for example, but Mitt Romney's, you know, joke alluding to Barack Obama's birth certificate. And there's like a -- in the progressive media world, tons of interesting discussion about that really unpacking the racial implications of it. But that's only being consumed by people who are interested in that.

KURTZ: I want to get to Nghtline, because -- excuse me -- ABC announcing this week that Jimmy Kimmel, hot young comic, is moving up to the 11:35 pm time slot, go up against Leno and Letterman, that makes sense on a comedic level. But Nightline, this venerable television show, moving back an hour. Let's take a look a little from each program.


TERRY MORAN, NIGHTLINE: Good evening, I'm Terry Moran. And tonight the west is burning.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN, NIGHTLINE: Good evening, I'm Cynthia McFadden. Tonight we look at atheism in America.

JIMMY KIMMEL, LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY KIMMEL: Oftentimes people will come up to me and tell me, your show's on too late for me. Well, you're going to need a new excuse now, like for instance, your show sucks.


KIMMEL: Starting in January, Nightline "will be on after us. But other than that not much will change.

KURTZ: Eric Deggans, the funny thing about this is Nightline was winning its time slot and it still gets bumped out of the prime slot.

DEGGAN: Exactly.

This is all about two things. This is all about potential. I think ABC feels they can make a lot more money if Jimmy Kimmel is successful in that time slot. And this is also about Jimmy Kimmel's maturation as a performer. The White House correspondents dinner he hosted. He's going to host the Emmys this year. And he had a contract reportedly where he asked for this time -- time slot switch, because he has come into his own. He wants to go up against Letterman and Leno. And frankly, I think he's going to do very well.

KURTZ: I like Kimmel, I get Kimmel. But putting a new show on at 12:35 in the morning, isn't that close -- tantamount to canceling it?

SKLAR: It could be. But then again, you know, there's so much with time-shifted viewing now and DVR viewing on demand with -- you know, on the web, that it -- this may just be what's trending.

I actually think what's more interesting is just like how important 11:35 remains to all of these comedians when we're living in an age where the actually consumption of a lot of the this material happens way, you know, in other places, other times.

KURTZ: Let's be clear, this isn't Ted Koppel's Nightline. It's not one big story. There are a lot of lighter features, but it's still a news show. And it still dealt with hard news. And that is going to be lost. And again no knock on Kimmel, but is there any part of you that says, gee, this is a shame?

DEGGAN: Well, see, it is a shame because Nightline is a great show. But we -- we've been talking about this media environment. There are so many more platforms online. And obviously we have three 24-hour cable news channels that have programming up until 11:00 p.m. So can Nightline really offer something that we don't already have? Or is it about giving Jimmy Kimmel a chance to really make a mark in late night and ABC to see make a ton of money?

KURTZ: The cable news programs actually go past 11:00 p.m, sometimes reruns, sometimes live, but that's an interesting point. When Nightline started in 1980, it was kind of an accident, because it was an outgrowth of the Iranian hostage crisis. It's even before CNN began. So it filled a very -- a void, then, that you're saying doesn't exist as much with the panoply of news sources.

SKLAR: I think it's always sort of sad when a hard news show doesn't work out or is deemed to not work out. In this case is just bumped for something better. But there are a lot of opportunities here and hopefully this will be an opportunity for ABC to do something with the Nightline they have and turn it to into the Nightline of the future.

DEGGAN: Nightline is running at 9:00 p.m. on Fridays beginning in March. So we can keep our fingers crossed that it does well. 20/20 has done well on Fridays for quite a long time.

SKLAR: And maybe Jimmy Kimmel will do some hard news. I'm sure we'll see that.

KURTZ: I look forward to that. Rachel Sklar, Eric Deggans, thanks for joining us this morning.

Ahead on Reliable Sources, Wolf Blitzer has covered a few of these conventions. We'll ask how the coverage has changed in just a moment.


KURTZ: We're joined now here in Tampa by a veteran of many presidential campaigns and conventions, CNN's Wolf Blitzer. And I was going to ask you, you're going to be on air eight hours a day, and how do you fill that time with a convention that's so heavily scripted as they all are these days, tightly choreographed.

The weather seems to have taken care of that, at least in part.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I think the hurricane, tropical storm, whatever it's going to be -- I think it'll be a hurricane pretty soon, that's going to dominate the news.

KURTZ: Because CNN now reporting it's going to miss the Tampa area, obviously it'll be rain here, but it's not going to be a direct hit. Is there a danger that CNN, other networks, other news organizations, are going to focus so much on this storm in the next two days that's it's going to overshadow Mitt Romney's convention?

BLITZER: Well, the convention's not really starting now until Tuesday. So they've delayed it a whole 24 hours.

On Tuesday, that could be a big day because if it's a category 2 and it's up in the Gulf of Mexico and even if it hits Alabama or the panhandle or whatever, there's going to be a lot of destruction and damage. A category 2, 100-mile-an-hour winds, that could be pretty devastating. It's hard to be partying at a time here in Tampa when there's destruction and devastation in another part of Florida or Alabama or wherever it is, wherever it winds up hitting.

KURTZ: That's a political challenge for the GOP. The challenge for the media is are we giving this storm more attention than it would otherwise receive if the convention didn't happen to be in this region?

BLITZER: We're giving it a lot of attention because the convention is in this region.

KURTZ: Just wanted to get you on record.

BLITZER: And you know what? For months, our producers and people who have been taking a look at Tampa during hurricane season have been asking them the question, what if there's a hurricane at the time of the convention? I used to say, oh, come on.

KURTZ: What are the odds?

BLITZER: What are the odds of that happening? Well, you know what, sometimes it happens.

KURTZ: What was the first convention you covered as a journalist?

BLITZER: I've been with CNN now for 23 years -- almost 23 years. The real first one I did for CNN was 1996 when I was the White House correspondent for CNN and Bob Dole and Jack Kemp were the Republican team, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, the Democratic team.

And I remember those -- I remember when I was the podium reporter at that time trying to grab people as they were coming on and off the stage. And it was pretty exciting.

I do remember learning from Maria Shriver, she was working at NBC, she was podium reporter at that time. And I was really -- I was relative new at the game in television. And I could see she was getting all the good gets as they were coming off after their speeches or before their speeches.

KURTZ: She's better looking.

BLITZER: No, no, she had worked a long time in advance arranging. I didn't realize that you're supposed to spend weeks and months leading up to the podium -- I learned from that experience. And it help me a lot.

KURTZ: But in 2012, it seems to me that four-day convention, almost like a relic in terms of sustaining interest as a TV show. And of course a lot of it's going to be covered online, tweeting, and so fort, a big dramatic change from 1996 until now.

BLITZER: Yeah, it's a huge day. Three days is plenty. The Democrats have already decided to keep theirs three days, the Republicans now. This was not a tough decision to move it to three days. I'm sure they would have liked four.

But the first night, the three broadcast networks weren't going to televise anything anyhow. So they were sensitive to that. But, you know, if there's any danger at all to the delegates, people who are coming here, they want to err on the side of caution.

KURTZ: You have been getting a lot of attention lately for some pretty aggressive interviews. You did one with Debbie Wassermann Schultz, the Democratic chairman, pressing her on attacks she's made on Medicare. You did one with Donald Trump in which you said he was sounding a little bit ridiculous on the birther issues, I wonder if you're becoming more opinionated in your approach to these politicians and whether we'll see some of that in these next few weeks.

BLITZER: I don't know if it's more opinionated, but a little bit more shall we say forceful in making sure that if you hear something that clearly is wrong or a distortion, you challenge the guest, you do it in a polite and respectful way, that person, after all, is a guest on your show. But if you hear something that clearly is wrong, all the years of your journalistic experience should come to the table, and you should point that out.

KURTZ: Is that a conscious decision on your part?


I mean, I've been doing it for a long time, but I think it's a little more assertive right now. As you get older, you say to yourself, you know what? If I hear a guest -- and I'm going to be polite to that guest and respectful -- but if I hear a guest just dissemble and make stuff up and really say something that's wrong, I think we should at least point that out to our viewers and let them know that I'm not dumb enough to just go along with it or whatever. And I'm going to point that out.

KURTZ: I would never accuse you that. We'll watch you with great interest this week and next week in Charlotte as well.

Wolf Blitzer, thanks very much for joining us.

BLITZER: Thank you.

KURTZ: Still to come on Reliable Sources, a British tabloid has a lofty explanation for running those naughty royal photos. Really, Rupert?


KURTZ: If you really wanted to find pictures of Prince Harry cavorting naked in Las Vegas, and I personally have no interest in seeing the crown jewels, they were all over the web this week after being obtained by the gossip site TMZ.

But the British papers held off, except for one. Rupert Murdoch's son, which splashed Harry on the front page, the tabloid saying the pictures were, quote, "hardly the acts of a man jealously guarding his privacy." Now that's true.

The paper also said that the Prince Harry pictures are a crucial test of Britain's free press. Come on. "The Sun" ran them for the same reason all those American websites did, salaciousness sells especially if royalty is involved.

So let's stop pretending there's a more high-minded reason, shall we?

Well, that's it for this special convention edition of Reliable Sources from Tampa. I'm Howard Kurtz. Check us out next Sunday morning when we'll be in Charlotte for the Democratic convention. And you can go to iTunes every Monday and download this program if you miss any part of it.

State of the Union with Candy Crowley begins right now.