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The Media and the Presidential Race; Interview with Darrell Hammond

Aired September 30, 2012 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: The media drumbeat is under way. This is it: do or die. The whole enchilada, Mitt Romney's last stand. Can he score, land a big punch, knock out his big opponent in the first of the presidential debate this week?


BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: If the president does well in the debates, he'll probably win the election.

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC: If Mitt Romney cannot successfully deal with his slander against 47 percent of the American people, his campaign will die on the spot on that debate stage.


KURTZ: But are the pundits overdramatizing the impact of these televised events?

What about Paul Ryan saying this morning the media are rooting for Barack Obama to win?

And was it more important for the president to do this --


BARBARA WALTERS, ABC: You're very happy that you came on with us, Mrs. Obama, and brought your date.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: I brought him with me. He had a few minutes in his schedule.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I told folks I'm just supposed to be eye candy for you guys.


KURTZ: -- than to meet with world leaders at the U.N.

With those debates coming up, how do comedians figure out precisely the right way to mock politicians and big shot anchors?


DARRELL HAMMOND, ACTOR: Well, Jim, Governor Bush and I have two very different plans to offer tax relief to American families.

With me is Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama.

Thanks for spending a few moments with us. You, sir, are great.



KURTZ: A conversation with Darrell Hammond.

Plus, the media cried foul again and again and again when an NFL replacement ref blows a big call. We'll blow the whistle on that high decibel coverage.

I'm Howard Kurtz and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.


KURTZ: Every day it seems, the media is finding new reasons for why Romney has fallen behind in the presidential race. It's the consultants or the cushion or the Paul Ryan pick. Or as "Politico" said the other day, maybe he's a lousy candidate. Some conservative commentators even claiming that maybe the polls are all wrong, or maybe it's media bias a popular notion on FOX News.


STEVE DOOCY, FOX NEWS: Ed, do you buy this into this theory, and there are some people on the right who say, look, mainstream media is going to talk down Romney's chances of winning?

ED GILLESPIE, SENIOR ROMNEY CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: Well, we have a no whining rule in Boston about that coverage in the media. We just like to deal with the facts.


KURTZ: But if there's one point of agreement in the mainstream media is that the debates starting Wednesday in Denver are Romney's last shot at winning the White House.

Joining us now to examine the coverage leading up to the debates here in Washington: Ana Marie Cox, political columnist for "The Guardian; Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor at "National Review." And in New York, Chrystia Freeland, editor of "Thomson Reuters Digital".

Chrystia, the debates, very important. Mass audience, no question about it. But are the media guilty of giving the impression that one candidate or the other could score a big knockout?

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, THOMSON REUTERS DIGITAL: Well, I think it's natural for us in the media to really focus on the debates because it's something on the diary. It's something that we can all cover and prepare for. Having said that, I think this debate is really, really important for a couple of reasons. One is we are operating in this really polarize media environment. We have FOX News and Ryan alluding to that a minute ago. And this is rare opportunity to see the two candidates on the same stage facing the same questions, so I think that it's a very valuable and sort of increasingly rare in the American political and media discourse chance to see them side by side. That's really important.

KURTZ: No question about that, Ana Marie Cox, but the pundits, of course, love to score it as a boxing match, score it for gaffes and who look at his watch and that sort of thing.

But how often do they really live up to the advanced drama?

ANA MARIE COX, THE GUARDIAN: Hardly never I think as far as I can tell. I mean, to think about the race -- I mean, this is -- at this point, Romney has a lot to risk going in, a lot to lose going in. Most of the time, debates don't move the needle that much. And actually content does matter here as well.

Romney's quote about the 47 percent made a difference because of what it was about, you know, the fact that it was at a fundraiser, who gave at fundraiser, all the optics that we want to talk about, the campaign strategy we want to talk about probably isn't as important as what that felt like to the people he was talking about.

If he makes that same kind of statement, I'm not going to even call it gaffe. If he makes that same kind of a statement, that will matter. I actually don't think -- they're apparently practicing zingers on people and whatnot.

KURTZ: I'm shocked to hear that because I think no candidates have ever done that before. I thought everything was spontaneously and non-rehearsed.

COX: And it probably work about as well as it does, you know, spontaneously.

KURTZ: Are the media, Ramesh, raising expectations too high for Romney? In other words, because he's behind in the swing polls and all that, we're going to stay if he holds his open against an incumbent president, that's not good enough?

RAMESH PONNURU, NATIONAL REVIEW: Well, I think there's way too much commentary in that vein, that -- you know, this is the last opportunity. Look, I think a fair reading of the polls averaged out. So Romney is behind but it's not an overwhelming gap. This isn't his last shot. It's not his last chance, no reason to say he's DOA if he doesn't score a knockout punch.

KURTZ: All right. Romney's running mate Paul --

COX: We're terrible. Don't watch. Never mind.

KURTZ: Romney's running mate Paul Ryan will face his own debate later on October, was on "FOX News Sunday" earlier this morning. And anchor Chris Wallace asked him about the media coverage of this campaign.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: Do you think the mainstream media is carrying water for Barack Obama?

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I think it kind of goes without saying that there is definitely a media bias.

WALLACE: Because the mainstream media wants Barack Obama to win?

RYAN: You will have to ask mainstream media that.

WALLACE: No. What do you think?

RYAN: I thing most people in mainstream are left of center, and therefore, they want a very left of center president versus a conservative president like Mitt Romney.


KURTZ: Chrystia Freeland, what do you think of that indictment by Paul Ryan?

FREELAND: Well, I think, first of all, we need to give up talking about the mainstream media. I mean, what is the mainstream media nowadays? A lot of people watch FOX. Is FOX now the mainstream media?

I think the bigger question really is the media is really polarized and that is why coming back to the debate point, that's why I think it's an interesting opportunity because we can see the two sides. I think if you watch FOX, which a lot of people do, I think you're watching media which is rooting for Ryan and Romney. If you're watching MSNBC, you're watching media that's rooting for Obama.

KURTZ: But there are a lot of journalists, Ana Marie Cox, who are styled themselves as straight news reporters and they work for "L.A. Times" or "The Washington Post" or "The Wall Street Journal", the "The New York Times," or the networks, or CNN, and the implication there from Congressman Ryan is they are in the tank too.

COX: Well, you've been doing this for lock enough you know this main critique about media bias is not about the individual predilections of reporters. It's about the institutional bias for covering interesting races, for making things exciting, for talking about things being a boxing match. We're talking about the big moment. We're talking about the zingers that get said.

That's what's exciting. And also I think there is a cultural bias towards Obama among journalists. I think that Mitt Romney's inability to kind of connect with people, you can put journalists in that category as well.

KURTZ: Do you want to jump in here?

PONNURU: Yes. I would say, look, I think there is a generic anti-conservative bias on the part of a lot of media institutions, the people who work with them. But I think in addition to that, there's a specific anti-Romney bias, and I think that it would be very hard to device somebody who's more culturally alien to the culture of most press rooms than a Mormon businessman.

COX: Right.

KURTZ: OK. So if you look at the Sunday morning papers, "Washington Post" has a big headline, Romney's money trap, going back to the question of his wealth, whether there's a liability. "New York Times' has a big front page story about how he was more moderate on energy issues and green, electric cars and so forth when he was governor of Massachusetts. Is that a cultural bias?

FREELAND: Can I answer that?

KURTZ: Go ahead.

FREELAND: Because I was going to say, this is something that's actually really mystifying to me and says something interesting about America. Isn't it amazing that America today and it's not just the media, but it seems to be American voters, find Barack Obama, son of a Kenyan, raced all over the place, Indonesia, Hawaii, more relatable than a Mormon businessman? I mean, since when did being, you know, a white conservative, great family man, businessman, became an unrelatable thing to the American people and the American media?

PONNURU: Well, I was talking about journalists.


FREELAND: No, but that seems to be something that, you know, is reflected in the polls. That people find Romney a hard guy to be to have if not a beer, how about a --


COX: Journalists would be frightened of math, may be not at "Reuters." But you know, I think in general.

And so, being a businessman is not so -- not a connectable thing. But also, he's a particular kind of businessman. Let's not forget that. We're not talking somebody who runs a mom and pop store who became -- who's an entrepreneur who built a business that sold things. He moved money around for a living and I think being in finance in that way, being in the transaction business and not being in the making and selling things business, that's a big difference.

I think that's something that is harder to understand for normal everyday Americans and that's the kind of business that we see because that's the kind of business that people see as having played a part in the crumbling of our economy. KURTZ: But this is a serious charge, Ramesh. You're suggesting because the average boy or girl on the bus doesn't relate to Romney culturally, most of them are not Mormon, most of them didn't come from the world of finance or have a hard time relating to the world of finance, that they're letting that influence the way they cover him as a presidential candidate when we do have to point out here, that he's made a lot of mistakes in the last couple of months, which, of course, should be covered.

PONNURU: And I'm not denying that, but I do think that certain candidates just don't get the positive coverage from the press. They don't get the press cutting them breaks.

I think that that personal dislike sometimes, that for Democrats. I think Al Gore suffered from that in 2000 also, maybe some of the same traits that arose that ire, of course, not the exact same ones, but being seen as stiff, being seen as somebody who wasn't friendly to them. And I just think that does -- whether or not the reporters are trying, I think it colors the coverage.

FREELAND: I think it's more about personality really even in politics and Paul Ryan actually is the best counter-example, because thanks to the real vividness in his message and also how he conveys it, I think he's had pretty fabulous treatment in the press and maybe actually a lack of scrutiny of what he's actually saying.


KURTZ: I'm going to call a halt here because I want to talk about Paul Ryan in the next segment. I want to extend this conversation about bias because some conservative commentators are now extending the charge in a way that I don't normally see in presidential campaigns. Let's roll that.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: All right. We have a not so surprising discovery according to various reports. The mainstream media polls are slanted in favor of President Obama.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO HOST: The purpose of the people right now, most of them doing these polls, they're trying to make news, not reflect it. They're advancing in agenda. They're all Democrats, they're all liberals.


KURTZ: OK, Ramesh, all these polls are bias?

PONNURU: No. I think if there are a range of polls. There are so many polls right now. They give you somewhat conflicting answers. I do think in general, especially if you average them out, they show Obama had. I do think you can make a reasonable critique of some of the polls that show Obama with a large lead because they also show a much more Democratic electorate than we normally see.

KURTZ: That's fine. And, of course, the FOX News poll has Obama ahead by five points.

COX: Exactly. And there's a practical response to this, which I've heard some pollsters say, being interviewed about this, because why would we want to be wrong? It's like, why would we put out polls that in the end show us to be incorrect?

The best measure of a poll is to have predicted the outcome on election day. So, why would pollsters create these polls that somehow screw up their analysis would be at Election Day?

KURTZ: Meanwhile, the talk show campaign continues. President Obama and his wife going on "The View." Mitt Romney and Ann Romney headed there I think in the next couple of weeks.

Let's take a brief look at that appearance.


M. OBAMA: Yes, I can make a man. I'm probably one of the few people who can really make a man.

JOY BEHAR, ABC: How do you make a man?

M. OBAMA: Any number of ways.

B. OBAMA: Am I being fairly unreasonable?


KURTZ: So, Chrystia, you're in New York where the U.N. gathered this week, all these world leaders. President Obama said he didn't have time to meet with any of them, went on "The View," took some criticism for that. Is that a fair shot when we're five or six week out from Election Day?

FREELAND: Well, I think it sort of misses the point. My personal view on what happened that day is there was some deft maneuvering by the president to avoid getting involved in the whole Israel/Iran debate. That's a very, very dangerous situation for him both in terms of foreign policy and also in the domestic electorate. And I think they made a decision that it was better to be criticized for being superficial than to risk some sort of dangerous and uncontrollable sound bites coming out of those meetings.

KURTZ: OK. Quick thoughts on "The View" appearance interview?

PONNURU: Well, I think, you know, combined with the avoidance of foreign leaders, just tells us we're going to have a president again after the Election Day.

COX: I have to agree with Chrystia's analysis. I mean, of course, it's easier to go on "The View." And the dangers of going on "The View" are much more minimal than the dangers of participating in this U.N. debate.

KURTZ: Well, I don't know -- Mitt Romney said that Whoopi Goldberg was pretty tough.

There's a bit of mainstream hypocrisy here, if I can just give you my 2 cents. You know, there's a little bit among some of the establishment press of looking down their collective noses at Leno and Letterman, and "The View," and "The Daily Show," why do the candidates waste their time talking about all the fluffy stuff?

The fact is, one, some very substantive conversation do take place on these programs. That was true and the president appeared on "The View" this week. And two, everybody else in the MSN (ph) then uses the sound bites and uses the clips of Romney talking about Snooki, of both Obama and Romney being asking about, you know, what you wear to bed, imagining -- well, I won't even go there. Everybody feasts on that stuff and they derive it at the same time, so they get to have it both days.

I don't think there's anything wrong with going on this program as well. That's where a lot of Americans live. It's what they watch. They don't all watch cable news all the time.

When we come back, remember when the media consensus was that Paul Ryan was a really smart pick for Mitt Romney. Now, the smart money says he was a terrible pick or he's being muzzled. Is that fair?


KURTZ: There's been a lot of chatter about Paul Ryan not living up to his potential as Mitt Romney's running mate. It started with the piece in "Politico," spread to "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post." And it came up this morning on FOX News Sunday when the congressman was asked the question.


WALLACE: They are now expressing some frustration that instead of you changing Romney, you've heard this, that they feel that Romney is changing you and you're running a much more cautious campaign.

RYAN: Mitt Romney has never once asked me to temper anything down. He said to go out there and sell this.


KURTZ: Ana Marie Cox, are the pundits now sort of writing off Paul Romney as less than successful running mate?

COX: Well, he didn't make -- he hasn't put Romney over the top. So, therefore, he's a less successful running mate I guess. I mean, I guess we'll all see when Ryan gets his own FOX News reality show after this or reality show and FOX News show.

KURTZ: Maybe he'll be living in the vice-presidential mansion.

COX: Maybe so. That will be a great reality show. KURTZ: And is it realistic Ramesh Ponnuru for journalist to have expected a running mate, the guy who was the number two, the guy who takes orders, make orders, to have totally shaken up and turned the Romney campaign around?

PONNURU: Well, I do think it's unrealistic. You know, when people talk about Ryan being muzzled, they're acting as though the number two should be driving the campaign and that's just not the way it works. I do think --

KURTZ: He could go rogue.

PONNURU: I do think -- picking Ryan implied a strategy of making a stark choice, making it an ideological contest and there hasn't been so much follow-through. So think it's been a little puzzling as to what Romney's campaign strategy has been over the last few months. And it does seem to be sort of veering around a fair amount.

KURTZ: Chrystia Freeland, there was a lot of talk in the press when Romney was picked, and it's a kind of a surprise pick that this was a very bold selection in Mitt Romney's part to make the campaign about big issues, particularly Medicare and energized the base. But now, the consensus, right or wrong, seems to be that none of that happened and it was not -- in fact, maybe it was a pick that has hurt the ticket.

FREELAND: So I totally agree with Ramesh here. I think that the Ryan pick actually represented the Romney campaign being a little bit spooked -- partly spooked by people like us, the sort of punditocracy, partly spooked by the conservative base.

KURTZ: I didn't know we had that much power.

FREELAND: Well, we seem to, because, you know, I think up to that point, Romney was running a very disciplined campaign whose focus was pragmatism and managerial excellent and the Romney pick said actually we're ideologues as well.

And what I think we're seeing now is the Romney campaign saying, no, no, we're about managerial excellence and pragmatism and that's why I think you're seeing the back-and-forth. And I think, in fact, the managerial excellence and pragmatism is the only place for Romney to be because that is what is authentic about him. I think he's going to win or lose on that battlefield and I think if he deviates from it, I think that weakens him as we're seeing now with sort of the iffiness around Ryan.

KURTZ: "National Review" reporting Ryan as recently reached out to some conservative commentators like George Will and Larry Kudlow and Paul Gigot. He has relationships with these people.

It circles back to our conversation about media bias, which is if the Romney campaign is zigging and zagging in terms of its strategy, picks Ryan, is going to bold and it's not so bold, then it's not exactly a case of bias on the part of the journalists who point this out. PONNURU: I don't disagree with that. I do think that in addition to -- these sort of objective things one would cover negatively or skeptically about the Romney campaign, that there's something in addition. Look, the first national campaign I covered was the Bob Dole campaign -- totally hopeless campaign. And yet there was less of a medial drumbeat saying it was all over in mid-September than there was for the Romney-Ryan campaign this year.

KURTZ: Final thought.

COX: Well, I was just saying that I think Chrystia is right, that the Romney campaign was spooked. I think that, one, this is a sign of a crumbling campaign, though, is when you get spooked, when you start paying attention, not necessarily your own press, but to what's going on in the press, more than what's going on with the voters -- sometimes I feel like the Romney campaign is trying to win the press over almost. They're trying to get that positive coverage and they're never going to do that, for the many of the reasons that --

KURTZ: Don't listen to the geniuses in the media. We have a habit of changing our minds.

Chrystia Freeland in New York, Ramesh Ponnuru and Ana Marie Cox here in Washington thanks very much for stopping by this Sunday morning.

Ahead on RELIABLE SOURCES, he's played presidents and pundits, but not Barack Obama.


KURTZ: Why is he hard to capture?

HAMMOND: He's an eloquent man with perfect speech.


KURTZ: How does a comedian go by capturing a public figure? Live -- well, live to tape from New York, my sit-down with Darrell Hammond.


KURTZ: With the presidential debates kicking off Wednesday in Denver, I'll be heading out there in a couple of ways, I'm reminded of when the entire country would gather around the television set to watch Darrell Hammond.


HAMMOND: I happen to agree with Governor Bush on that and I commend him for it. Let me add something -- let me add something in my plan. The lock box would also be camouflaged.

I'm here tonight to make a very exciting announcement, and even though I'm not supposed to say anything, I can't help myself. After the holiday, Barack Obama will officially appoint me husband to the secretary of state.

SETH MEYERS, "SNL": You mean he will appoint Hillary to the secretary of state?

HAMMOND: Say it however you want to say it, Seth. The point is, I am honored.


KURTZ: There are plenty of comic impersonators, but no one else has quite that magic touch. Which races the question, just how does he do it?

I sat down with him in New York.


KURTZ: Darrell Hammond, welcome.

HAMMOND: Yes, sir.

KURTZ: I am fascinated by the way in which you try to capture public figures. How does it work? Could you do Mitt Romney now or is he not ready for prime time?

HAMMOND: He's probably getting ready if he needs already. I mean, it seems like leading up to the election, three, four, five weeks out up until the debate, you know, you start seeing these guys doing things that coaches have told them not to do and actually being human beings so we get a sense of how they walk and talk and gesture and actually give as chance to play the guy.

KURTZ: So if they're just doing talking points and speeches or they go like this, they go like this, you need something more, something that you can caricature, something that's unique to their person's persona?

HAMMOND: Yes because I think these guys use coaches, which is odd to me, because, you know, the less coached you are, the more natural you are. The more natural you are, the more personal you are. The more personal you are, the more genuine you are.

I mean, you know, Romney and Marco Rubio and Republican convention are great examples of that. I mean, they just -- you know, in terms of style, they just didn't try to have style. They just stood there and spoke and appear to be moved about their topics, which -- you know, when you're talking to the faithful, has pretty pleasing results.

KURTZ: Everybody on the planet remembers your Al Gore impersonation. Did it take a while for you to nail the former vice president?

HAMMOND: We went, you know, I went to Comedy Cellar in the village for fully a year, four or five nights a week, trying to find an angle on this Southern guy with a baritone voice to wear the mantle of nice guy works hard, does well. It does nothing.

I mean, you have that, it's like trying to do Bob Costas. I mean, Costas was like, "Why aren't you doing me?" I'm like, "Bob, nice guy, does well, I don't know. There's nothing there.'

KURTZ: He wanted to be done by Darrell Hammond?

HAMMOND: He came up to me at HBO. I don't do great Costas. I do a good Costas. But this one -- he comes up to me.

This is one he said, he goes, "You've got the great couple. You've got the great Clinton. You've got the great Gore. But you can't do me. You tried to do me and you failed utterly."

Then, he takes a piece of paper out of his pocket and he signs it, and he hands it to me. He goes, "Here, try doing that." I thought -- we've had a running gag over the years about it. I'm very fond of him.

KURTZ: What was the breakthrough with Gore? Remind us how you --

HAMMOND: You know, we did three weekend updates the year before in dress rehearsal as Al Gore and got nothing because there's no hook. It was the first debate.

KURTZ: And in that first debate --

HAMMOND: In the first debate he came off as a school teacher talking down to children.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think this is very important moment for our country. We have achieved extraordinary prosperity and in this election America has to make an important choice.


HAMMOND: That's a wonderful endorsement and I want to thank you for it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jim, Governor Bush and I have two very different plans to offer tax release to American families. And his plan the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans would receive nearly 50 percent of benefits.


KURTZ: Now Bill Clinton, you must have been ready to do on the first day. That guy, you must not have needed a lot of advance PhD study. HAMMOND: It took me about three months to figure -- there was something bothering me the second I saw him. Usually when that happens, it's the influence of the speaker himself. In his case, it was the illogical places that he put commas.


HAMMOND: I come before you tonight not to talk about the important business of running the country, but rather to specifically to address this huge document that the lawyers for Paula Jones have made so graciously available to the media. My fellow Americans, I have read this thing cover to cover and, folks, it's good stuff.


HAMMOND: I would hasten to add that the greatest public speakers of all time. I think the greatest communicators would fail a college oral interpretation class and that's sort of the point event.

I mean, you have these coaches telling these guys don't do this, don't do that, but that's not what mother nature is telling them to do and when mother nature does it, it works better, you know, it seems to me.

KURTZ: Sadly you don't have the look for Barack Obama, but it seems to me that he's very hard to capture. I mean, (inaudible) did and now they have Jay Pharaoh I think is a little bit better, but it doesn't have a lot of ticks or -- why is he hard to capture?

HAMMOND: He's an elegant man with perfect speech.

KURTZ: Speaks in paragraphs.


KURTZ: Comedians don't like that.

HAMMOND: It's not easy to do if the person is doing all the things his coaches tell him to do and as you get closer to the convention, the glare of the presidential spotlight just breaks them down and they say something or do something.

KURTZ: I, of course, like when you turn your talents on media people and you seem to have a great time doing Chris Matthews and he seems to enjoy being done by you.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said about five words and I'm already bored to death.


KURTZ: What is it about Matthews that is so easily lampooned?

HAMMOND: Well first of all, he's got a great voice. But again, you know, this guy, you put him in an oral interpretation class in college. They're going to flunk him. You can't talk like that. Cronkite, Peter Jennings, I mean, Dan Rather, let's break it down.

KURTZ: Those are straight news anchors. Chris is an opinion guy.

HAMMOND: OK, that's a good point. But the point is he's utterly himself and he's interesting as hell.

KURTZ: So tell me what it is about his voice and mannerisms that lets you do him.

HAMMOND: Well, people are famous for things they say and how they say them. He's famous for them both. I mean, he's pretty outspoken.

KURTZ: He's outspoken. He asks a question, he answers it and then -- it's the secret to his success.

HAMMOND: He said he's a commentator so he's more unspoken than a traditional journalist.

KURTZ: How come you don't do anybody from Fox? I'd love to see you do O'Reilly.

HAMMOND: The clock ran out before I got to the Fox people. If they wanted, I would do it.

KURTZ: You know, you've written a candid book about your life. Why did you leave "Saturday Night Live"? It seemed liked a nice perch for somebody of your talent.

HAMMOND: I think after my second stalker, I thought, it doesn't just affect me, it affects my family. I was tired of being out there trying to do -- I mean, it's like trying to strike a chord on the violin with the NYPD walking in front of you in the audience. Who cares? I don't want that anymore.

KURTZ: You wanted to recede from the spotlight.

HAMMOND: Yes, I didn't want do this anymore, yes.

KURTZ: But you're still trying to make people laugh.

HAMMOND: A little. Not much.

KURTZ: So here's final thing I want to get your thoughts on which is we're in a campaign now where Barack Obama was on David Letterman and Letterman talked about seeing him naked and then Mitt Romney was on Kelly Ripa and they talked about how much do you wear to bed, not much.

And they are all on these shows, "The View," talking about Snooki. Is it now where we've reached the point where in order to be elected president one has to be funny and entertaining?

HAMMOND: Maybe. Clinton's funny. Obama's funny. If you recall, George Bush Jr. was quite funny too.

KURTZ: George W. Bush was great. He went on Oprah.

HAMMOND: He was very funny and very good thinking on his feet.

KURTZ: So they're doing more like what do you and I'm thinking how are they going to stand up to Vladimir Putin, not how they going to stand up to Whoopi Goldberg.

HAMMOND: I know. What these presidents and presidential candidates go through is impossible to conceive. I mean, you get the presidential daily briefing when you get in office and like being questioned, you said in Toledo 16 days ago, you know.

KURTZ: And then you have to go on Leno and be funny.

HAMMOND: You kind of do now, yes. I mean, it's the way it is. You know, the thing about comedy is that when you give a punch line, the audience has to believe the premise of your joke in order to laugh at them.

You can't educate an audience and make them laugh at the same time. So when a guy goes on TV and crack as joke and the audience laughs, that means they believe in his premise. In a very strange sense in this cyber age it's a way of getting news. What was said today, what happened, what does it mean, you know?

KURTZ: So this is fascinating. So it's not just that the politician has to be funny, but in a way he has to have the audience with him in order to make the joke works. So if you are funny, you're a successful candidate, bingo.

HAMMOND: It means you have a great set or you crushed it as we say downtown.

KURTZ: Or you had very good joke writers.


KURTZ: Darrell Hammond, thanks very much for sitting down with us here in New York.

HAMMOND: Thank you, sir.

KURTZ: Interesting footnote, as the networks try out their big stars to cover the presidential debates beginning this week, current TV's coverage will be anchored by a man who knows something about these high-stakes encounters, Al Gore, the co-founder of the network who famously lost to George W. Bush will be front and center as he was during current's coverage of the Democratic convention.

I'm not expecting a whole lot of sympathy for Mitt Romney. When Darrell Hammond was being interviewed recently by Joy Behar on "Current TV," the former vice president came out and assured the comedian that he did not cost him the 2000 election although it was the 5,037 votes in Florida. It was close. Up next, area car chase can be a cheap stunt and a dangerous run. A look back at what happened on Friday afternoon, the tragedy that unfolded on Fox News.


KURTZ: Car chases maybe cat nip when it comes to ratings, but there's an inherent danger in airing them. CNN has a policy of generally not showing such events live. Things took a tragic turn Friday afternoon when Fox News cut to a chase involving a carjacker in Arizona.


SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS (voice-over): I'm not sure about this. He's getting things out of a vehicle clearly, doesn't appear that there's anyone else with him. Well, you know, you wait for the end of these things and you worry about how they may end. There's nobody else around him. This makes me a little nervous. I've got to tell you. Get off, get off, get off, get off it. Get off it. Get off it.


KURTZ: It was too late. Fox stayed with the coverage as the carjacker shot and killed himself. Anchor Shepherd Smith as you just saw there was upset.


SMITH: We created a 5-second delay, if you bleeped back your DVR 5 seconds that's what we did with the picture we were showing you so that we would see in the studio what was happening 5 seconds. So if anything went horribly wrong, we would be able to cut away it without subjecting you to it. We really messed up. That didn't belong on TV.


KURTZ: Good for Shep for what was obviously a bad decision. Executive Vice President Michael Clemente adds that Fox took every precaution to avoid such a live incident and that, quote, "severe human error was to blame."

Maybe it's time for all television news, that includes you, local stations, to swear off live coverage of these incidents whose news value is limited unless you're more concerned with grabbing eyeballs than exercising editorial judgment.

After the break, a botched call on Monday night football brings the round the clock coverage of substitute refs. Should the media get a penalty flag on this one?


KURTZ: It was perhaps no bigger story this week at a time when world leaders gathered at the U.N., when the presidential campaign heated up, when Barack Obama and Michelle Obama went on "The View," the headlines seemed to be all about this.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: The replacements, the call that had football fans across the country howling at the NFL to bring back the professional referees.

DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: And now we move onto football and the split-second call that had everyone up in arms today.

CHARLIE ROSE, CBS NEWS: Another apparent mistake by NFL replacement officials has set off a new firestorm of criticism.


KURTZ: Yes, a blown call by replacement ref in the Monday night football game somehow mushroomed into a cacophony of media things that lasted for days.

To figure it out, we call Greg Doyle of off the bench. Greg Doyle, welcome.


KURTZ: Now everybody loves a good sports augment, right? But after the Green Bay Packers were robbed by that horrible call on Monday night football by the replacement ref, the media went haywire. I'm talking nightly newscasts, morning shows, front pages, why was this such an explosion?

DOYLE: Because it was easy and because the replacement refs were easy victims. Let's kick that little skinny weakling while he's down. That would be a lot of fun. Let's not kick Roger Goodell or the regular refs who causes a problem. Let's kick the replacement refs who were trying to do us a favor by calling some games.

KURTZ: But there were replacement refs in the NFL the week before. It was until that high profile mistake that did affect the outcome of Monday night football game that the media just seemed to decide that there was virtually no other story in the world as much fun to cover as this one.

DOYLE: Yes, if there's anything the media is really good at is sticking their finger, their mouth and getting it wet then putting it up in the air and feeling out which the wind is blowing. The wind is blowing against the replacement refs, let's go rip them. Let's mock the guy that was in the lingerie of football league. Let's go mock the guy who had the Facebook page who's a Saints fan. Let's mock people because on Twitter says, everybody likes that so we're going to ahead and do that too.

KURTZ: So you're saying basically this is a snark fest and you sound like you have a little bit of sympathy for these fellows who were brought in to, you know, fill in during the lockout imposed by the league and found themselves the object of so much national ridicule. DOYLE: Yes, I've got nothing but sympathy for those guys. I mean, clearly weren't good enough to do it at a high level, but I don't say that in a mean spirited way. It's kind of a fact, but everybody around the media around me are acting really like stupid little school boys.

Here is a chance to get some humor. Wonder if I can throw in potty humor, too, make it doubly funny. It's just not funny. These are human beings, doing the best they can, and they are low profile people thrust into a high profile job and let's mock them because it is easy, I don't get that.

KURTZ: Is there a mean spirited streak in sports writing? I'm listening to it and thinking it sounds like bullying people who after all they are not the rich, famous, multimillion dollar athletes, they're just some guys who were called off the bench so to speak to blow the whistle in some football games.

DOYLE: Yes, there's mean spirited stuff in sports, I won't take it except when I am doing it. I mean, we all like to be mean at times.

KURTZ: It is OK for you, wait a second. I have to blow the whistle on this one.

DOYLE: Yes, it is OK -- exactly, you pick your spots. If you're being mean to Lane Kiffin or Urban Meyer, or Unell Escober, the Toronto Blue Jays shortstop who wrote a gay slur on his face.

You know, that's -- be mean to those people, but in Al Michael's words, the retired insurance salesman from Des Moines or the arithmetic professor from Altoona, those are the people calling games, replacement refs, don't be mean to those people.

KURTZ: Do you think, Gregg, the whole media furor over the blown call and the replacement refs ratcheted up the pressure to the point that the NFL decided to settle that lock out and the refs came back, of course, for that game on this past Thursday night?

DOYLE: Yes, I am not an arithmetic teacher from Altoona, but I can add two and two and get four as well as anybody. You know, one moment the lockout is in place and firm and steady and there's no reported movement at all. Next moment, you've got that bizarre touchdown interception, whatever that was and next thing you know, we've lockout is over. Two plus two, it is four, like the odds on that.

KURTZ: It does seem like the two events were directly related and finally, you wrote in one of your columns that the NFL is in chaos. This is a multi zillion dollar business, slight overstatement perhaps?

DOYLE: Well, it has been -- their integrity has been totally called into question. In a sense, that's chaotic, yes. The whole country has been watching the games, watch Monday night, were prepared to watch more games if the lockout didn't end with one eye half closed, not believing anything they were seeing, that's a rather chaotic position for the NFL to be in.

KURTZ: You look at all of the money sloshing around in pro- football television rights, hard to imagine the league jeopardized that for a penny ante dispute over how much refs are paid. Gregg Doyle, thanks for stopping by.

DOYLE: All right, thanks.

KURTZ: It should have been the big sports story this week, the Washington Nationals on the verge of winning their division. It's the first such achievement for Washington baseball team in 79 years. Of course, for three decades or more there was no baseball in Washington.>

Up next, "The New York Times" this morning marking the passing of one of its own.


KURTZ: Arthur Sulzberger died yesterday and while you probably heard the name, you may not know how important he was to the "New York Time."

During more than three decades as publisher and as CEO of "Times" company, Sulzberger rescued it from financial jeopardy. A pipe smoking man who operated behind the scenes, he expanded the "Times" by adding sections on living, weekend, home, and science, which were controversial at that time, but were magnets for advertising.

He created a national edition and bought up other newspapers and magazines and television stations. By the time he stepped down in 1997, the company was bringing in more than $2.5 billion in revenue. Sulzberger was tough when he needed to be, facing down the Nixon administration by publishing the secret Pentagon papers on the Vietnam War.

And he faced down criticism from his own profession after giving an op-ed to Nixon aide, William Safire who went onto win a Pulitzer. Sulzberger whose son now runs the paper and the company was 86. Media monitor is next.


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

Roger Simon sure got plenty attention for his political column this week that's because he had Paul Ryan reportedly using a toxic nickname for his running mate, quote, "Let Ryan be Ryan and let the stench be the stench." Suddenly you could smell that story in lots of places.


LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC: Yes, the stench. That is what Paul Ryan is actually calling Mitt Romney according to "Politico." (END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: "The New York Times" columnist, Paul Krugman, blogged that this is bad behavior, you're supposed to wait until it is over before you do this kind of thing.

The web site media says it demonstrates that the Romney campaign's toxic press is in Ryan's head, except that Roger, well, made that up.

It was a bit of satire, subtle enough that "Politico" had to add an editor's note later saying some readers were confused that this was satire, which means it was too subtle and probably a bad idea.

Jim Bell, top producer of the "Today" show says Matt Lauer had nothing to do with the controversial decision to dump co-host Ann Curry. He says the move to replace Curry with Savannah Guthrie was definitely not Matt's call, it was Bell's decision.

He also addressed losing the ratings lead to "Good Morning America" after a 16 year run. He called the "Today" show a more serious program and said ABC's morning show is doing something else, asked if that meant going tabloid, Bell said that's what I am saying.

At first I thought this was a bloody parody, after all, you would think it would be a scoop when the BBC reported on Queen Elizabeth's private view of Britain's one top terror suspects should have been arrested for preaching fiery sermons at a mosque on the anniversary of September 11.

Instead, the BBC said that discussion between the queen and correspondent, Fred Gardener, should have remained private and apologized, really?

That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. If you miss any part of our program, go to iTunes on Monday, check out the free audio podcast or buy the video version. That's in the non-fiction TV show section of the iTunes store.

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.