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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Cheering for Charlotte; Obama Draws Tepid Reviews
Aired September 9, 2012 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: We are just back from Charlotte, along with the rest of the media mob, after a long week in Tampa, covering the speeches and the spectacle of the conventions.
The media portrayal of the Democratic gathering clearly more positive than that of the Republicans. Was that a fair reflection of reality? Did the press just plain swoon over those speeches by Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama, far more than over the appearances by Mitt and Ann Romney?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN: The first lady of the United States not hitting a home run, but probably a grand slam, as far as what her mission was to do --
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: The master, Bill Clinton, delivered a masterpiece of a speech -- truly a wonder, a rousing call to re-elect President Obama.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: An electrifying endorsement of President Obama from the former president --
MARK HALPERIN: A performance was amazing in the room, amazing on TV.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: Reviews of President Obama's speech not quite so positive.
Plus, some journalists are openly complaining, OK, maybe whining a bit, about the joyless and overly choreographed nature of this campaign. Do they have a point?
I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
KURTZ: It's rare in these days of polarized politics that most pundits agree on anything. But when the Democratic convention kicked off this week, there was plenty of praise for the soft-spoken and highly personal speech by Michelle Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) CHUCK TODD, MSNBC: Michelle Obama owned this convention, the delegates.
ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: I think that we may have forgotten how good Michelle Obama is.
PIERS MORGAN, CNN: Michelle Obama, I thought knocked it out of the park, as you Americans would say.
BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS: My first thought was, and I see here, this is an extremely impressive and attractive woman.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: But the media mavens were just warming up. When the 42nd president took the stage for a long, folksy, and colorful speech -- did I mention it was long? It was a blast from the past for those of us who covered him in the '90s.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: President Obama appointed several members of his cabinet, even though they supported Hillary in the primary.
CLINTON: Heck, he even appointed Hillary.
SCOTT PELLEY, CBS NEWS: President Clinton may have just made a better argument for the Obama administration than the Obama administration has been able to make for itself.
BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: Just an amazing speech, I thought.
BLITZER: I have to tell you, this may have been the best speech I have ever heard Bill Clinton deliver over all of these years.
HUME: He's the most talented politician I've ever covered and the most charming man I ever met. And no one in my view can mount an argument, frame an argument more effectively than he can. And that doesn't mean everything he said was true.
ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: This convention is done. This will be the moment that probably re-elected Barack Obama.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: Well, we'll see about that. Obama's speech drew decidedly lukewarm reviews from the press, as we look at to in a moment.
Joining us now to examine the coverage of the Democratic convention, here in Washington, Jane Hall, associate professor at American University School of Communications, Jackie Kucinich, political reporter at "USA Today", and Bob Cusack, managing editor of the Capitol Hill newspaper "The Hill."
Bob Cusack, the extraordinary media reaction to Bill Clinton's speech, even leaving aside the subplots about Hillary in 2016 says to me journalists missed the guy.
BOB CUSACK, THE HILL: Yes, absolutely. There was definitely some nostalgia here. I mean, the speech was 48 minutes, and that's 15 minutes longer than his 1988 speech, which was widely panned. I thought it was great at times.
But I thought the media reaction was a little bit much because he did meander. I mean, it was 48 minutes, a long time. The networks stayed with him, but still, very long.
KURTZ: Had Bill Clinton gotten off the stage after the first 20, 25 minutes, I think people would have said this was just an incredible oration. But he went on and on.
But most pundits, Jackie, gave him a pass even for going longer. There was like there he goes again, the self-indulgent Bill Clinton, but he's entertaining.
JACKIE KUCINICH, USA TODAY: We were taking guesses how long it was actually going to be, before the speech.
KURTZ: A pool going?
KUCINICH: Oh, yes. There's a little poll going.
But I mean, I think you're right. There was a little bit of missing him, because he is the ultimate non-stage-crafted, non- choreographed politician, when we do have a race that is very buttoned up, very scripted in a lot of ways. So --
KURTZ: Jane Hall, can this be the same politician who was at war with the media during his 1998 impeachment and all the scandals that swirled around that?
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF COMMUNICATIONS: Right. Right. You know, he has -- he has become beloved. And people tend to forget some of what happened, some of the attitudes.
But I have to say that I think for a little inside baseball here, he kept the audience in the hall engaged. Obama, you know, benefited clearly from the argument. Obama joked that someone tweeted he should be the secretary of explaining stuff. Jon Stewart said, isn't it refreshing that we had a policy wonk, largely factual discussion. And I think there is a hunger for that.
You know, obviously, you can fact-check what he said. But he went through and he presented the case. And since we're in such a spin alley, I sort of thought it was a very good policy speech.
KURTZ: So, it was the policy wonk aspect that lifted it above -- HALL: It was appealing. Yes, I thought.
KURTZ: And Clinton is very good at melding the two, plus being a great showman.
Now, when President Obama spoke, and, of course, there were great expectations because he is such an orator, the reviews were, I would say, on balance, pretty lukewarm, disappointment, mediocre, OK, but not his strongest speech.
Let's look at some of that to start with.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I won't pretend the path I'm offering is quick or easy. I never had. You didn't elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear. You elected me to tell you the truth.
SCHIEFFER: It just didn't have that little spark it seemed to me that Clinton had over and over again.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, FOX NEWS: I was stunned. This is a man who gave one of the great speeches of our time in 2004. And he gave one of the emptiest speeches I have ever heard on a national stage.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: But the reaction to the president's speech very different on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SCHULTZ: The president tonight had one of his strongest finishes. Very passionate.
MATTHEWS: After four years in office, the president delivered a home run of a speech. The president stated clearly and emphatically he is the president.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: Jane, did these people watch the same speech as everyone else?
HALL: Well, you know, Charles watched the same speech and so did Karl Rove who heads the super PAC against Obama and commented on the speech. So I think they -- I think the MSNBC people -- I liked what they did largely. But in this instance, I think that they may have not really seen that the speech was not soaring oratory.
KURTZ: You are saying they were cheerleading?
HALL: I think that they saw it through the lens with which they were seeing it. KURTZ: Bob Cusack, Obama gave a pretty good speech overall. The media acted like it was terrible. And it seems to me that perhaps we have set a standard for him that it he doesn't hit the stratosphere, he has somehow failed.
CUSACK: Right. I mean, he definitely set the bar so high because he's a great orator. But I do think he got off to a flat start. I did think he finished strong. But it was about a B.
And then when you have more -- partisan voices getting in, you're going to have Charles Krauthammer saying very empty and MSNBC people saying great. I think it was somewhere in the middle.
KURTZ: Do the media tend to ignore the substance of these things? I know when he talked about investing in energy and education. He talked about $4 trillion in spending cuts to reduce the deficit. But it was all about theater criticism. Is that what we do?
CUSACK: Yes. That's what we do. That it connects and it rouses people, that's what we're looking at.
KURTZ: Obama advisers told me and perhaps some others that the president deliberately didn't give a lofty rhetorical speech. That he wanted to give more of a subdued speech looking forward to a second term. That he tested this with dial groups, where people who twist the little knots.
And yet journalists I think don't want to hear that. They want to know, did he hit it out of the park, to use the rainy baseball cliche.
KUCINICH: You know, there is the fact that he knew the jobs numbers were coming out. He knew what they were by the time he gave that speech. Yes, he got them about midday on the day before. So I mean, there was that.
If he had given this soaring speech about how great everything was, these job numbers would have come out and we all would have said, oh, my gosh, he's so -- I mean, this was completely out of touch with what's actually happening.
So, there is the argument that there needed to be a balance struck there. And maybe as a result it became flat.
KURTZ: You're sure at that president knew in advance that there would only be 96,000 jobs created, which is a pretty anemic figure?
KUCINICH: I believe it was a "Bloomberg" story, when they interviewed Austan Goolsbee and said usually, the day before is when the president gets it about mid-afternoon.
KURTZ: I wonder if there's a discontent here, Jane Hall, reminds me of the long Clinton State of the Union addresses where the media would say it was too much laundry list and public polls showed the public liked it. Maybe the pundits didn't like the president's speech. And clearly it wasn't his best speech, and everyone admits that. But maybe the public like when he talked about some of the specifics, not that specific, but some of the framing of what he'd do in a second term.
HALL: Well, you know, I think it's because people are who reporters had been there and had been t previous convention 24/7, I think there's a disconnect. I think if we're too much theater critics, you know, the public does want to know issues. I think, in reality, President Obama can be faulted for not talking enough about what he was going to do. In a way, that maybe more what the average person was looking for, rather than did he hit out of the park, or did he not hit it out of the park.
KURTZ: Let's pull back the cameras a bit and talk about the Democratic convention in Charlotte. I was there, you were there, you were there. It's a long grind when you do these back to back conventions.
But it would be hard to argue with the notion that the Democratic convention overall -- notwithstanding the lukewarm results from the president's climactic speech -- that it got more positive covers than the Republicans in Tampa.
And so my question is, is that a fair reflection of reality, or does this show something else?
CUSACK: I think it was justified. I think the Democrats had better speakers. The Chris Christie speech did not go over well. He said I or me 43 times in that speech.
If you look at the Democratic convention, Michelle Obama had an exceptional speech. Bill Clinton somewhere, at least good speech. And President Obama did what he had to do.
I just think the speakers were better. Joe Biden's speech was very good. So I think that's why the Democrats, it looks like they're going to get bigger of a bounce than the Republicans.
KURTZ: We talk about balances -- we're talking two or three polling points, and it turns out it evaporates in the next week.
So, you're saying essentially these things are packed for television -- Democrats put on a better show.
KURTZ: There's no obligation on the part of the press to say the conventions were equal if one side put a better show. But a lot of people out there I'm sure are saying, well, you're a reporter, you're a little more sympathetic to the Democrats.
KUCINICH: Also, they're so close now. By the time the Republican one ended, Democrats were already saying what -- you know, how awful Mitt Romney was. So in the eyes of the public, when you're hearing that immediately, it's going to kill the bounce. And then the president had these jobs number came out. So, the timing of these things and the fact that they're in late August and you got all these storms coming out, I mean, there are all these various things that complicate any kind of bounds from these thing. Also, I mean, these things weren't -- I don't think they changed any minds.
KURTZ: That's my first to know. Certainly is trying to persuade that shrinking core of persuadable voters. I mean, I do think you'd have to say the most talk event in the Republican convention was Clint Eastwood, who has been defending what he did with the empty chair. A lot of us saw was bizarre. The people loved it.
Most talked about event for the Democrats had to be Bill Clinton.
HALL: Well, you know, I think it's interesting. I think the media are in a tough spot, because, generally, you know, conservatives are better at attacking the media for liberal bias. And that's more of a suspicion. But objectively, the Democrats put on a better show. And that's a problem for --
KURTZ: There was more fact checking of some of what Romney and Ryan said. But maybe that's because the Democrats told fewer references, as oppose opposites according to Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan saying President Obama is cutting $716 billion in Medicare, except their budget does the same thing.
HALL: To me, it's an interesting role. The media are trying to figure this out. How much do we fact check? Can we say somebody is not telling the truth? We're sort of in a bind as to how we're going to play that I think still.
KURTZ: Well, I think more fact-checking is always good, even though we now are getting attacked for fact-checking because it's easier to make the media appear partisan when you're saying the other guy's is factually inaccurate or exaggerated. The story is distorted. But, of course, it's great when you make a fact-check, when it fits the narrative of the campaign that wants to jump on it.
CUSACK: I do think one thing that the media is a bit of hypocritical of is that we all went in saying, well, these conventions are so scripted. And then the Clint Eastwood not scripted at all, and Clint Eastwood attacked for that.
KURTZ: Well, attacked, ridiculed --
CUSACK: It was bizarre.
KURTZ: Let me get a break here. When we come back, Mitt Romney is engaging the mainstream media these days. He was on "Meet the Press" this morning. We'll take a look.
KURTZ: Mitt Romney who had avoided Sunday talk shows for a year and a half now deciding he wants to take advantage of the megaphone. He was on "Meet the Press" earlier this morning. Here's one of the exchanges he had with host David Gregory.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: You haven't specified where you'd cut loopholes in particular to make up the savings, because in addition, you actually want to increase defense spending in addition to all of that.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Well, I want to maintain defense spending at the current level of the GDP. I don't want it keep bringing it down as the president's doing. This sequestration idea of the White House, which is cutting our defense, I think, is an extraordinary miscalculation.
GREGORY: The Republican leaders agreed to that deal, to extend the deficit --
ROMNEY: That's a big mistake.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: What I liked about the exchange and some of Gregory's other questions, Jackie Kucinich, is that he's pressing for details. And it seems to me Romney made a little bit news there actually by disavowing the Republicans, Paul Ryan and so forth, you know, going along with the automatic cuts that now the Republicans and others want to avoid.
KUCINICH: You notice he didn't say Paul Ryan.
KURTZ: He didn't say that, did he?
KUCINICH: It's like when you hear them say stuff about Washington. You know, it -- Paul Ryan was there. Yes, I mean, I think you'll see even more of this story in the debates. I think the interviews were good because it does tease out more. Romney's starting to do more of them where you can actually -- you're starting to get more answers about -- you know, that there aren't answers as far as some of the stuff he will cut eventually.
KURTZ: Right. Romney had been on "Face the Nation" and "FOX News Sunday" in recent weeks, first time on "Meet the Press" in this campaign cycle.
Where I thought Gregory fell short, Jane Hall, was a question about the G.M. bailout -- the auto bailout, big theme right now in the Obama campaign. And Romney tried to say, well, President Obama took G.M. into bankruptcy. I said G.M. should have gone into bankruptcy earlier. Was it just a timing dispute when in fact the president put billions of federal dollars into saving that automaker, took a stake in the company which the U.S. government still owned -- and Gregory did not point that out or follow up.
HALL: You know, it's tough because he had a certain upon number things he was trying to get to, get in Ann Romney, he was in Boston, he was with the two of them. He had points he had to hit.
HALL: He might have been able to come back to that. He asked him about the social issues. He got a lot in, yes --
ROMNEY: And he also asked him about being potentially a first Mormon president of the United States. I understand the time pressures there.
HALL: Right. I mean, the G.M. thing, I think will get fact checked. Seems to me it was clearly not factually accurate, what he said.
KURTZ: What do you make of Romney, I presume this won't be the last such program he appears on. I thought the whole idea of these campaigns was to go around the old line media. Seem like maybe they need us a little bit.
CUSACK: Yes, I think so especially after the convention. I think it was a good, shrewd political move to go on "Meet the Press" today. But at the same time, I think Romney's got to be more specific. Gregory is trying to hit him on specifics on tax loopholes, Afghanistan. The viewer knows when Mitt Romney is dodging questions. He dodged a lot of them today.
And that's -- you hear that criticism from the right that Romney's speech at the convention wasn't specific enough. So I think that's a fault of the candidacy, not the interviewer here.
KURTZ: But does that -- those appearances and Gregory did use the words secret plan at one point, share the secret plan, what are you going to do about Afghanistan, all that. Does that put more pressure on President Obama to do more interviews and be more specific about what he would do in a second term?
CUSACK: Absolutely. I think, though, that the person who's down is going to do more of the interviews. Romney now is certainly the underdog. Not a big underdog, slight underdog. It could put pressure if it flips a little bit.
It also seems to me that a lot of people consume these conventions different ways. There were a record number, I think 16 million convention-related tweets between the Republican and Democratic conventions. Look at some figures here, on the third night of the Republican convention, it peaked -- I guess when Romney was speaking, 14,000 tweet per minute, if I'm reading this right, 52,000 tweets per minute when Obama was speaking on the final night.
And then there was -- the administration or Obama campaign put on its own live stream of the convention with Kal Penn of "Harold and Kumar" fame serving as the narrator. He's a former White House aide.
So, you didn't have to watch network or cable in order to get a sense of what was going on in Charlotte and Tampa.
KUCINICH: It's true. It's also interesting, though, when you watched it on TV versus what it was like in the hall. I felt like a lot of the impressions were very different.
But to your point with Twitter, I was sitting next to Adam Sharp of Twitter, during --
KURTZ: We had him on last week in Charlotte.
KUCINICH: Yes, during Michelle Obama's speech. And you could just see the -- how much the -- it was upticking from even some of the Republican speeches, Mitt Romney's speech. It was just -- I mean, it's one of these things that's new for this convention that was fascinating to watch.
KURTZ: What I constantly heard reporters and others questioning, Jane, is whether or not these conventions have become such a relic that we shouldn't have them anymore. They're a totally prepackaged TV show except for somebody like Clint Eastwood. The broadcast networks only carry them from 10:00 to 11:00 on three nights. We all go down there and try to hunt for news, which is very difficult -- 15,000 journalists, each of them.
Have these outlived their usefulness?
HALL: You know, I think not, actually. You know, I -- I've covered this story for so long, you know, the network -- I wasn't there when they go gavel-to-gavel, but I've been there as they reduced and reduced. They had, I believe, 30 million people watching, 25 million people watching on the other party.
I think people are watching. People are engaged. And yes, it's scripted --
KURTZ: Even though the numbers are shrinking?
HALL: Even though than -- yes, but as far as the number of people who might be influenced, I don't necessarily think that's our job, whether we move votes. It was an important political event however they try to script it in my opinion.
KURTZ: On the other hand, one night, I think it was Wednesday when NBC put on football, it got about -- almost as many viewers as did Bill Clinton.
CUSACK: Yes. There are people who were actually in the arena who were watching football as opposed to that speech.
So I think these things are going to be shortened but will always be around. We're not going to see the four-day convention. Both were three days --
KURTZ: Republican was supposed to be four days but got rained out in the first day by tropical storm Isaac. CUSACK: And the Democrats had Labor Day. So, they said let's not killed that first day. So, I think we'll look at three or two days.
But on Jane's point, a lot of people were watching, especially the nominee. And when you go back four years ago, a lot of people watched Sarah Palin.
KURTZ: It's useful for journalists because you have a chance to talk to a lot of people, lawmakers, politician strategists that may be hard to get on the phone. So, in that sense, I think it's worth going. Because I had the impression that perhaps we're in a bubble where it seems huge, for example, when Obama moved his speech from the Bank of America stadium because of the threat of rain inside the Time Warner Cable Arena. To people on the outside, not following as closely as the people inside what I call this bubble.
KUCINICH: But isn't it always like that, up until, you know, September, October, November? I mean, during the primaries we were all, you know, glued to the set every time --
KURTZ: Except here we're physically in the same city staying at bad hotels.
KUCINICH: No, it's very true. But I feel like, I mean, I just feel like that's a lot of it. I mean, I feel like that's a lot of the political season.
KURTZ: But does it cause journalists to lose perspective on the impact of individual speeches on, the impact of the conventions themselves?
HALL: Well, you know, I think people are watching. And you have to keep in mind -- I mean, people are watching on the "Today" show. They're watching on the live tweet. They're watching on sites they agree with and sites they disagree with. There is something there --
KURTZ: There's a border line effect.
HALL: There's something there. There are some there there.
KUCINICH: Clint Eastwood's speech actually was one of the things that I found fascinating. When I talked to people after the convention, I went out and I was speaking to people at different rallies. They loved it, where a love of us were looking at it and saying that was absolutely bizarre.
But you know, out --
KURTZ: Ultimately, the people get to decide, not professional journalists.
KUCINICH: Yes, so true.
KURTZ: Thank you very much, Bob Cusack, Jackie Kucinich, and Jane Hall, for stopping by. Up next, the thrill is gone. Are the media finally getting disillusioned with Barack Obama?
KURTZ: We are continuing our critique of this week's Democratic convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. Joining me now here in Washington, Matt Lewis, senior contributor at "The Daily Caller," and Michelle Cottle, Washington correspondent and my colleague at "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast," who I know worked hard in Charlotte.
At the beginning of the week, there were a lot of stories written about Obama's 3 1/2-year record, where he fell short of promises.
Do you -- is there a real sense of letdown in media that Obama is no longer the hope and change candidate of 2008?
MICHELLE COTTLE, NEWSWEEK: I think there's a sense the letdown in general that he's not. We didn't just see it at the convention where his speech got kind of mediocre reviews. I mean, id you crunched the number over the last couple of years, the news stories are more negative than positive on him.
KURTZ: It may be a letdown in general. But, as you know, the media, particularly in '08, were seen as among his biggest cheerleaders.
COTTLE: Well, I think the expectations were so high and he hasn't been particularly good at courting the media over the years. And you know --
KURTZ: So, we feel spurned?
COTTLE: We feel spurned. We feel letdown. And, you know, on some level, you get used to the nice speeches. And so, they don't go as far as they used to. And there's obviously a sense of neh.
KURTZ: I'd like to see how the transcript records that.
Matt Lewis, was this the week when the press confronted how short the Obama presidency has fallen from its original goals?
MATT LEWIS, THE DAILY CALLER: I don't know, Howie. I don't know that the press is really dealing with the substantive part of it. I tend to think Michelle's actually right. This is like a flirtation or a love affair. I think that they fell in love with Barack Obama's charisma and speaking skills, and I think that they were let down based on that, not based on the economy not improving. That's my take.
KURTZ: But then now, it's like a tedious marriage.
LEWIS: That's what it is. Yes, exactly.
KURTZ: Now it seems like the Democratic convention overall got pretty good, pretty solid, positive coverage in spite of the fact that the reviews were tepid, shall we say, of the president's own speech.
COTTLE: Exactly. And I think that part of that is obviously compared to, say, Bill Clinton. You should never, ever try and match that -- or Michelle Obama. You know, the joke is that he gave the third best speech of this convention.
I think that because everybody expects so much of him, they expected it to be more inspirational, more, you know, high-flying rhetoric. And he gave a really low-key performance.
KURTZ: And his people tell me that had he given an inspirational high-flown rhetoric kind of speech, he would have gotten killed for being empty words and not delivering much substance.
But compare the expectations for Mitt Romney's speech, when so many pundits said he had to connect. He had to hit it out of the park, he had to do this, he had to do that -- with whatever expectations there were for the president's renomination speech.
LEWIS: Well, I think that both conventions got done what they needed to do. I think they needed to humanize Mitt Romney. And I think that happened. And I think Barack Obama needed to make a case for reelection. And I think they did that. But the interesting thing is I don't think either candidate did it themselves. I think it was Bill Clinton who made the case for Barack Obama.
KURTZ: OK, but give me your media analysis. Because I figured you are going to walk in here all loaded for bear and say that ...
LEWIS: Me, Howard?
LEWIS: I don't.
KURTZ: And say that the press was skeptical at the very least about what went on in Tampa and much more accepting and praiseworthy or offering a lot of praise about what went on in Charlotte.
LEWIS: I do think that the conventional wisdom is that the Democratic convention -- and the media, that the Democratic convention was head and shoulders above. I think both conventions were equal. Either both had problems. The Republicans had a hurricane to deal with, they had Clint Eastwood to deal with. Democrats had, you know, the whole God and Palestine chaos thing. They also, you know -- there were some problems. They'd been moved to a different -- you know, from the stadium to the -- so, but I think both -- again, accomplished their ultimate goals, too.
KURTZ: Let's talk about that platform flap. President Obama and his people ordered that the Democratic platform -- we pay so little attention to platforms these days, put back the word God or I guess what -- "God given" was the phrase. And once again recognized as the party has in the past that the capital of Israel is Jerusalem, which is very fraught issue in the Jewish American community. That was like a half day story. It was barely reported on MSNBC. Had this happened at the Republican Convention, would it have been a bigger story?
COTTLE: Well, if -- what you have is the Democrats are already, you know, getting smacked by the Republicans for not being pro-Israel enough, for taking God out. So, it kind of played into an existing narrative. You know, on the other hand, you had the Republicans with the abortion snafu because that plays into their existing narrative. So I think, you know, the Democrats' issue wasn't quite as interesting to the broader public. You know, more people get fired up about abortion than they do about kind of the Jerusalem issue. But you still got attention from both.
KURTZ: First, the press tends to yawn about platforms these days. I mean -- and used to be ...
COTTLE: They don't matter. Platforms do not matter.
KURTZ: But they used to be taken very seriously at these conventions.
LEWIS: It's important. But it wasn't just a platform. This wasn't something that happened in a smoke-filled room. This happened on national TV with Antonio Villaraigosa. And he had to do it three times. And it was very clear that he didn't have the voice vote. That he actually overruled the will of the people. Most of the delegates, most of the Democratic delegates were booing putting God and Palestine back in. So that should have been a huge story. It wasn't a boring platform story ...
KURTZ: And the reason it wasn't a huge story is?
LEWIS: Bill Clinton spoke that night.
KURTZ: And just, you know, wiped away anything else?
COTTLE: Bill was primetime. And then, you know, that's what everybody saw. And everybody loves to report on Bill.
LEWIS: The Republican gaffes happened in primetime like Clint Eastwood. The Democrats had their own gaffes, but it was sort of not primetime.
KURTZ: Yes, the thing is to have it happen during the day.
COTTLE: And that was the joke with putting Joe Biden before primetime. You know, there was a lot of buzz that Joe Biden was put on before some of the networks were going to tune in to the convention. And the Republicans put out a press release that this was -- must be intentional because they're afraid Joe's going to embarrass them.
KURTZ: The broadcast networks only covering from 10:00 to 11:00 on the final three nights, all three nights in the case of the Democrats. Since you brought up Clinton, what do you make of all these conservative pundits joining in the praise of Bill Clinton? All right, the guy gave an incredible stem-winder speech. But, you know, I used just to sit in this program in 1998, in 1999, and the right hated this guy, impeachment, Monica Lewinsky, fundraising scandals, have you all just sort of mellowed?
LEWIS: I think it's -- no, I think it's convenient for Republicans and conservatives to now say that Bill Clinton was a moderate Southern Democrat -- look, in retrospect ...
KURTZ: Wait, wait, wait. That suggested that it is less than fully sincere. You're saying they praised Clinton in order to bash Obama.
LEWIS: Yes, absolutely. Because I remember -- Look, I actually have a memory and some institutional knowledge. And you were right, Howie. Back in the '90s, they didn't just say that Bill Clinton was a liberal. They said that this is a whole new generation, that he dodged the draft. He was -- and by they way, some of the stuff is actually true. He actually wasn't always a great guy.
KURTZ: Slick Willie.
KURTZ: They used to hate this guy. What happened?
COTTLE: What happened is he's now a convenient foil. He's a convenient contrast with the current president. So the way to really dig Obama is to say to all those Clinton Democrats, well, he's no Clinton, and we appreciate Clinton, and how can you possibly go for this radical?
KURTZ: How times have changed. Now, you're being a little laid- back this morning, so I'm going to push you one more time. You say that these Democratic and the Republican conventions both sort of accomplish what they needed to do, and, therefore, were successful conventions. And yet, you also say the Democratic convention got more positive coverage.
KURTZ: So, why would that be?
LEWIS: Well, I think a couple of things. I think the fact that it came second, clearly had a bigger bounce. I think the Republican convention, the momentum from the Republican convention was stepped on by the Democratic convention. But I also think ...
KURTZ: Advantage to go second?
KURTZ: Even if you're nominating a guy who's been running (ph) the country a little bit more than four years--
LEWIS: Always want to go second.
LEWIS: Nature bats last.
KURTZ: But is there any sort of journalistic/ideological aspect to this?
LEWIS: I think so. I think that we know that most reporters are, you know, predisposed to be liberal. Look, there were some things -- let me tell you a story that didn't get told by the media.
KURTZ: Very quickly.
LEWIS: Very quickly. The abortion-a-palooza, the radicalization. The first two nights of the Democratic convention, not nights but days. There were things that were way out of touch. And I think that it could have turned off a lot of voters in Ohio. But the press didn't really harp on it. They didn't talk about it. You have the head of NARAL, pro-life, this National Abortion Rights Action League speaking. If the Republicans did that, it would have been, you know, this party has been taken over by the radical Christian right.
KURTZ: Or is it just that we basically just do the theater (ph) criticism of the speeches and simply cover it as a show?
COTTLE: We like a good show. We're jaded. We all know that whipping the base is part of the daytime, in the early speeches in the convention. And at some point it all comes down to who puts on the best circus.
KURTZ: It has become a television show. And there were circus- like aspects at both. Michelle Cottle, Matt Lewis, thanks very much for joining us.
LEWIS: Thank you.
KURTZ: Just ahead, what was life like for 15,000 journalists in Charlotte and Tampa? A look at life inside the convention bubble.
KURTZ: After two weeks inside the convention bubble in Tampa and Charlotte, I can tell you that the most unappreciated factor in covering these things is sheer fatigue. By the end that's all anyone is talking about. Your hotel is far from the convention site, try South Carolina in my case, the security is onerous, and Tampa agents confiscated my banana. And in Charlotte, we kept getting rained on because security won't allow anyone to bring deadly umbrellas inside the convention center or arena. Or, and fire marshals kept shutting down the Charlotte arena. So, at times even big-name anchors, not to mention the delegates couldn't get inside. And police kept closing off highways so it took forever to get back to your far-flung hotel. Throw in hot temperatures, bad food, and you've got a bone-tired press corps. Now, all this creates a kind of reality-distortion field where you forget that not everyone is obsessively following each speech or mini-controversy and that some folks might be watching football instead or doing other things. That's why reporters emerging from this bubble now have to recover, get re-acclimated and reacquainted with their families.
After the break, journalists are starting to complaint that this year's presidential race is depressing to cover. Do they have a point?
KURTZ: For me at least, this "New York Times" magazine piece struck a nerve. Reporter Mark Leibovich writing about the joyless nature of the presidential race had this to say -- "This spring for the first time since I started writing about politics a decade ago, I found myself completely depressed by a campaign. How I'm ever going to get through it, is not the question you want to be asking yourself as you enter what is supposed to be the pinnacle few months of your profession." Now, this sparks something of a debate as people in the media business asked whether Leibovich was on to something or this was just another form of journalistic whining. Joining us now from Washington, Lois Romano, senior political reporter for "Politico," and Erik Wemple who blogs about the media at the "Washington Post." Lois, the indictment is this is a campaign with little joy, it's all gaffes, and tactics, and super PAC ads, and not that much fun to cover.
LOIS ROMANOS, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER FOR POLITICO/THE DAILY BEAST: Boo hoo.
KURTZ: You're not moved?
ROMANO: No. I'm not moved. I mean -- it would be great if we could all find joy in our jobs. But that's not our job, to find our inner joy in this campaign. This is a campaign about a time in our history that's not going well. And our job is to cover that. And a lot of hard choices have to be made. And these candidates need to figure out ways to express that. And our job is to find out what they stand for and to communicate with the American public, not to have a good time.
KURTZ: Erik Wemple, you didn't mince words. You describe this as flat-out whining.
ERIK WEMPLE, WASHINGTON POST: Well, I think there's a problem with the optics of complaining to begin with. I think complaining is a bad thing to be doing, first of all. But I think that, you know, given where journalism has been for the past ten years, how much joy are all the unemployed journalists having right now? Is that not -- is that a joyful sort of fate to be, you know, laid off by a news organization? So, and, you know, Leibovich and these other folks are covering what's probably the most exciting, you know, most sort of like in the spotlight story in this country, in the world. So ...
KURTZ: I would say that we are, as journalists, are lucky to have these jobs, we are lucky to have jobs period.
WEMPLE: Right. Exactly.
KURTZ: But I don't think it was all about Leibovich just complaining.
WEMPLE: That's correct.
KURTZ: But I -- he wasn't available this morning. I did get a chance to talk to him in Charlotte for a live Webcast on "The Daily Beast." Let me play a little bit of his comments where he expressed some second thoughts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK LEIBOVICH: I sort of regretted making it as much about me as I did. I was more -- that was my personal experience. I didn't want to make it sound like I was speaking for other reporters and that I was part of a groundswell of reporters complaining, which I think collectively might have come off whining.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, Joe Klein in "Time" magazine says the press depression reflects the mood of the country. So, in other words, maybe Leibovich is not just saying I'm not having a great time, but he is saying this campaign is not very illuminating or satisfying.
WEMPLE: But there's a problem there, too. And that is that Mark Leibovich is the chief national correspondent for "The New York Times" magazine. And if these people are really upset about how the way the things are going, I think journalists and so on and so forth, they can't crusade if they work for "The New York Times," they can't crusade for one side or the other. But they can crusade for transparency. They can crusade for other things. I think that's where news organizations don't do enough. It's like, OK, you don't want to come down on the side of either candidate, but you can say this candidate did not say anything when asked about tax policy. This candidate did not say anything when asked about exactly what they're doing on immigration. There should be more crusading. I think that's where Leibovich might channel his obsessions a little more constructively.
KURTZ: It's not just this one reporter. Your own publication, "Politico" a couple of months ago, had a piece saying the media bemoaned the small campaign but isn't doing its own version of self- loathing and powerlessness. I assume there's no self-loathing at this table. But in other words, is there -- are there legitimate gripes about the way the campaign is playing out, not -- you know, it's not designed for us to have fun, but it is designed for us to feel like we're contributing something to the national debate.
ROMANO: Well, it's a very controlled campaign on both sides. And it's also probably one of the ugliest campaigns I can ever remember.
ROMANO: Relentless. I mean when you think about what the kinds of things they're saying, it's like you play golf too much, while your wife rides horses. You know, and however ...
KURTZ: Did you kill that guy's wife?
ROMANO: Right. Exactly.
KURTZ: Blame it on Bain Capital.
KURTZ: And you were -- you did say you didn't build that, you know, this is this endless cycle.
ROMANO: Right. But I believe -- I agree with Barack Obama, one line in his speech, where he says that this election is about monumental choices and different visions. And so I think our job as journalists is to hold these candidates accountable and to say what are your visions, be specific. And then report them to the voters.
KURTZ: But it is difficult, Erik, to hold them accountable when we as journalists have less and less access. I mean this is not the McCain campaign of 2000. You get to ride around with the guy on the bus for hours on end. Instead I had a journalist say to me, my employer spent tens of thousands of dollars to send me on Romney's foreign trip or Air Force One. And I never get within, you know, 500 yards of the guy.
WEMPLE: Well, but look what happens, though, when the press is forceful about making the point that we're not getting access. Like on Romney's foreign trip, a big part of that story was the lack of access. I'd say the press sort of scored a victory there, because I believe I've heard from Romney reporters since then. They've loosened up a little bit. There's been a little bit more information flow since then. So I might cite that as a success story.
KURTZ: So, you are all about push-back. In other words, if the campaign is small and negative and mean -- and look, we have to cover the campaign in front of us, we can't cover the campaign we wish to have. The idea is to do something about it rather than just moan about it. But is that realistic?
ROMANO: I think it's realistic, because particularly in a race like this, where it's incredibly close. And I think that if you push back, you are going to get some results, because neither of these campaigns want to alienate the press right now.
KURTZ: I'm not sure they care well that much what we think.
ROMANO: They care about coverage. They care about how they are presented.
KURTZ: To what extent, Lois, does our own collective obsession - and you see this a lot on cable news day after day after day, with the gaffe, the misstep, the soundbite, the personal attack, and not about, let's say, the future of Medicare, which is what this campaign was supposed to be about, the future of Obamacare, we all thought the campaign would be about that after the Supreme Court ruling. Do we contribute to a small-minded campaign because of our tweeting and the 24-hour nature of all this small-bore stuff?
ROMANO: Yes, there is no question about that. We're in a 24/7 cycle. In the last election cycle in 2008, that McCain's advisors stopped the straight talk express for that reason, which was so successful in 2000, because all they were getting -- they weren't getting, you know, sort of the grand big views from David Broders of the world, they were getting little tiny increments. They had all 20- year-olds on it, they were asking the candidate demeaning questions.
KURTZ: And sending out snarky tweets?
ROMANO: Exactly. And they just said forget it, you know, we can't get any vision.
WEMPLE: I would point out, though, that I think that we as journalists don't give ourselves enough credit for one thing, and that's something you mentioned in your last statement, which is fact checking.
WEMPLE: If you look at fact checking, fact checking is where substance is residing these days in the political dialogue. The CBO has never gotten a better press that it does in fact checking, and it's all over -- it's like a CBO advertising (ph).
KURTZ: That's what we need to do more of. Even with this pushback questioning our motives. A little bit time of left. Quick questions about the ratings. Fox News won the Republican convention in Tampa beating all the broadcast networks. But the Democratic convention, MSNBC won two nights, CNN was close -- behind CNN won one night and Fox was last. What does it tell us about what audiences want?
WEMPLE: It tells you that people just basically leave the TV onto the place that speaks to their ideology.
KURTZ: But they didn't leave the TV on for Fox at the Democratic convention, nor where they gravitating to MSNBC during the Republican convention? So I find this -- you're saying they want their own opinions reinforced and they don't particularly like watching the opposite party?
ROMANO: Yeah, I mean, I think we've been seeing that for quite a while. But I think what's really interesting about those ratings is how much higher they were during the Democratic convention, and I think that goes to a very fundamental point, which is that Obama's base likes him a lot more than Romney's base, and I found this in talking to the delegates. There's much more passion among the core liberal Democrats than you're finding with the conservatives.
KURTZ: Or just briefly, do Democrats have bigger stars in the person like Bill Clinton, Michelle Obama?
WEMPLE: Yeah, I'm a little hesitant to draw too many conclusions from those ratings aside from ....
KURTZ: But it's the same thing happened in '08 where Fox won the Republican convention, but CNN, I believe, won the Democratic convention.
WEMPLE: Well, CNN had the Obama night in the Democratic convention, and MSNBC ran, as you discussed in your last segment ran into a lot of trouble with this not covering the God thing. I think at some point ...
KURTZ: To be continued.
KURTZ: Didn't mean to cut you off. Erik Wemple, Lois Romano. Thanks for stopping in this Sunday morning. Still to come, Tom Brokaw's pharmacological mistake. New evidence of misconduct by a once promising writer. And Katie Couric pushes back against a sexist description. Our media monitor is straight ahead.
KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor", our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business. For a few brief hours this week, websites erupted with headlines suggesting that Tom Brokaw might have a serious health problem. The NBC veteran was rushed to the emergency room after falling ill on the set of "Morning Joe" during the Democratic convention but his problem, it turned out was taking an Ambien.
TOM BROKAW: It was one of those dumb mistakes. I got up early. I was in a rush. Somehow, a half of a sleeping pill had gotten into the (inaudible) box reserved for baby aspirin. It all kicked in at exactly the wrong time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: It was a lesson in how tweeting and blogging can make even a minor incident seem huge until all the facts are in.
Some "The Washington Post" readers upset the other morning when the paper had nothing on Michelle Obama's convention speech the night before, or equally important, a report on the Washington Nationals game. It turns out, a massive computer meltdown made it all but impossible to update the paper. The timing couldn't have been worse when people expect their newspaper to have the latest news.
Remember Jonah Lehrer, he is "The New Yorker" writer who had to resign after another report of found fabrications in his book? Well, there's more to the story. "Wired" magazine has severed its ties with Lehrer after hiring a journalism professor who found numerous examples of plagiarism and mangled quotes in his writing. It turns out, "Wired" wouldn't publish the results of the probe by Charles Seife, which is hard for me to understand, but "Slate" did. Seife wrote "I'm convinced that Lehrer has a cavalier attitude about truth and falsehood. This shows not only in his attitude towards quotations, but in some of the other details of his writing. And a journalist who repeatedly fails to correct errors when they are pointed out is in my opinion, exhibiting reckless disregard for the truth.
When journalists steal material and make stuff up, in my experience there's usually a pattern.
Finally, Katie Couric's daytime show debuts tomorrow. The former CBS anchor tells me that her approach will not be that far removed from what she did on the CBS EVENING NEWS. Although that's a tricky balance. Because a syndicated program has to appeal to stay at home women many of whom may have less interest in hard news topics as opposed to family and lifestyle issues. Couric also told me she wants to explore serious subjects in the way that Oprah did, although she was quick to note they have very different life experiences.
Now, on a lighter note, in an interview with "Parade" magazine, Couric pushes back against being called a cougar because she had been dating a man 17 years her junior, saying it's silly and sexist. You don't hear men who date women 30 years younger being called cougars.
She is right about that.
It's a safe bet that critiques will be carefully watching "Katie," a collaboration with former NBC chief executive Jeff Zucker, her first producer at the "Today" show. We'll be watching as well, and we'll report to you next week.
That's it for this edition of "Reliable Sources." I'm Howard Kurtz, if you missed the program, you can now go to iTunes on Monday and check out our audio pod cast. Join us again right back here next Sunday morning, 11 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the media.
"State of the Union" with Candy Crowley begins right now.