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Out of Bounds?; Bill Clinton's Media Blitz
Aired September 24, 2006 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): Out of bounds? A Washington television reporter asked George Allen whether his mother is Jewish, prompting a scolding from the Virginia senator and a media frenzy in his re-election campaign.
Did the reporter go too far? And why is this a huge story?
Beyond shame. Ex-governor Jim McGreevey may have made his gay lover New Jersey's homeland security adviser, but now that he's written a book, Oprah Winfrey, the "Today" show and others are more than happy to give him a platform.
Clinton's media blitz. The former president hits the airwaves to promote his global initiative and tells the press to lay off his marriage.
Plus, the NPR correspondent who quit to help rebuild Afghanistan. And Tiger Woods and the naked truth.
KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where today we turn our critical lens on a question, call it the Jewish question, that may have transformed the campaign.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Ahead, Bill Clinton rips Chris Wallace for what he charges was unfair questioning on FOX News.
But first, George Allen, Virginia's Republican senator, was expected to cruise to re-election against Democratic challenger Jim Webb, but he hit a speed bump at a televised debate this week. Peggy Fox, a reporter for WUSA, the CBS affiliate here in Washington, first asked Allen about an incident that's gotten plenty of attention, his use of a word considered a racial slur in Africa, directed at an Indian-American volunteer for his challenger.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R), VIRGINIA: So welcome. Let's give a welcome to Macaca here.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: Then Fox asked about reports that Allen's grandfather on his mother's side was Jewish.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PEGGY FOX, REPORTER, WUSA: Could you please tell us whether your forbears include Jews, and if so at which point Jewish identity might have ended?
ALLEN: You know what? I'm glad you all have that -- I'm glad you have that reaction.
You know what our first freedom in our country was? Freedom of religion. So I'd like to ask you, why is that relevant, my religion, Jim's religion, or the religious beliefs of anyone out here?
ALLEN: My mother is French-Italian with a little Spanish blood in her. And I've been raised and she was, as far as I know, raised as a Christian. But if you really need to get into such matters...
FOX: Honesty, that's all. Just, that's what...
ALLEN: Oh, that's just all. That's just all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about coverage of the campaign here in Washington, Roger Simon, chief political correspondent for Bloomberg News; David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter who writes for "National Review Online"; and in New York; Arianna Huffington, editor of huffingtonpost.com and author of the new book "On Becoming Fearless in Love, Work and Life."
David Frum, should that question have been asked of George Allen at a televised debate, or it was an attempt to embarrass the senator?
DAVID FRUM, "NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE": Well, we should begin by marking today as the second day of Rosh Hashanah, and, of course, you shouldn't be asking the question and I shouldn't be answering it. I find it an amazing event.
This is -- the Allen-Webb race is one of the two most races most intensely followed by the left wing Web sites in this country. And if you read those left wing Web sites and go into the comment sections, Daily Kos MoveOn.org sites, you will see they are seething with anti- Semitism that is unbelievable to anyone who thought they understand what American life was about.
So, in an age in which that kind of "the Jews led us into this war and the Jews are to blame for all of America's problems" talk is so common on the political left, for someone to stand up and say to a candidate for office, "So, you Jewish?" It's just -- it's just -- I found it flabbergasting. I find it even more flabbergasting that the spotlight is now on the person who was asked the question, not the person who asked the question.
KURTZ: Well, and our job is to put that spotlight on journalists. And Allen, the day after that debate, you know, acknowledged that his mother was Jewish and said he had not known that until recent weeks.
Arianna Huffington, I assume you're 100 percent Greek. You ran for California three years ago. Would you have resented being asked in a debate about your grandfather's or your mother's ethnicity?
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM: Absolutely not. I mean, it's a straightforward question. And what made it a story is that George Allen could not give a straightforward answer and has not been able to do so ever since.
He's been telling us even after he acknowledged that his mother was Jewish that he she made really good pork chops and that she gave him ham sandwiches to take to school, as though that had anything to do with anything. And the most revealing and kind of most disturbing aspect of that was his answer to Wolf Blitzer about his conversation with his mother last August, when supposedly he first found out that she was Jewish, when his mothered to him, "I hadn't told you that because I was afraid you wouldn't love me as much."
His own mother doubting whether her son would love her as much if he knew that she was Jewish? What does this say about George Allen?
KURTZ: Let me come back to the question at the debate, Roger Simon. Peggy Fox said -- we heard that the issue was honesty. She told me in an e-mail that she's not the issue, Allen's character is.
Was this a journalistically appropriate question?
ROGER SIMON, BLOOMBERG NEWS: It was not an inappropriate question. There's plenty in George Allen's background to give you an excuse to raise it.
He has talked about his grandfather being imprisoned by the Nazis for supporting -- for philosophical reasons, not for religious reasons. He complained to a columnist in Virginia for having printed that he had a Jewish background. And George Allen demanded a retraction.
The point is, however, that even if that wasn't there, she was asking a question because we want to know about celebrities in American society. And all politicians today are celebrities. How many newspaper columns, how many magazines, how many TV shows are devoted to celebrity gossip? This is just another form of that.
KURTZ: So celebrity gossip is OK in the context of a Senate race?
SIMON: Because people want to know about politicians for the same reason...
KURTZ: They want to know who they are? SIMON: Absolutely.
KURTZ: All right.
Let me ask you this, David Frum. James Webb, the ex-Marine who is running against George Allen, he wrote 27 years ago that the naval academy's co-ed dorms were "a horny woman's dream," and that he never met a woman he would trust to provide combat leadership.
I ask you about this because that became sort of a blip of a story for about half a day, as compared to "Macaca" and now the Jewish question.
FRUM: You know, I think it is an amazing contrast. It also suggests, by the way, that -- the fact that Webb wants to walk away from it suggests that he's walking away from one of the things that one -- is one of his sort of profiles in encourage, which is he was one of the early warners against some of the problems that would occur when you put women into combat roles.
We now have almost four dozen women dead in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it's amazing to me that it doesn't provoke more of a reaction in American society.
But there's a story line. I mean, it would be news to most American politicians that they are celebrities. Let them try to get a reservation at a fancy restaurant and then they'll see how celebrated they are.
There's a story line here. They want to tell the story that George Allen is an anti-Semite. If anti-Semitism...
KURTZ: And who is they? Who wants to tell that story?
FRUM: The woman who asked the question, the journalists who cover this. That is -- that is the assumption.
KURTZ: You're saying that Peggy Fox is trying to paint George Allen...
FRUM: She does...
KURTZ: ... as an anti-Semite, as opposed to just asking him to come clean about his family background?
FRUM: Well, that is -- that's the embedded story line. And if we're going to talk about anti-Semitism on the campaign trail in 2006, I think people should be reading the comment section at the Daily Kos, where you will see it rich and bold and vivid.
KURTZ: Go ahead, Arianna.
HUFFINGTON: You know, David, this is absolutely ridiculous. The story line is very simple. The story line is that George Allen is dishonest, that he cannot answer a straightforward question with a straightforward answer about the ethnic heritage of his own mother. That's the story. The story is not anti-Semitism and going to the comment section of Daily Kos. This is purely absurd.
FRUM: Arianna -- Arianna...
HUFFINGTON: You need to -- and, you know, the fact -- I read what you wrote in the "National Review," saying that the media didn't make as big of a fuss about John Kerry's revelation about his Jewish background.
HUFFINGTON: The discovery. And that's totally untrue. Just go and look at how much the media played that up.
FRUM: He was...
HUFFINGTON: The Boston blogs, "The New York Times"...
FRUM: Kerry was never asked to account for his absolutely unbelievable story about his -- about his knowledge.
But I just want -- it's a question about honesty and being asked about it. In the last segment of the show we are going to discuss Bill Clinton's refusal to answer questions about the intimate state of his marriage, and I think many of the people would say why it's perfectly appropriate to ask George Allen about the state of his soul, would then turn around and say it's inappropriate to ask Bill Clinton about the state of his sex life.
HUFFINGTON: But David, what...
FRUM: Politicians are allowed (ph) to refuse to answer.
SIMON: David, you stumbled on the truth there for a second when you said it was about honesty. And that was behind the reporter's question. Is George Allen honest about it? And tellingly, his reaction is, on a live debate in front of everyone, to lie.
KURTZ: Hold on. Hold on. Hold on.
FRUM: So when reporters ask Bill Clinton, how many...
SIMON: And by the way...
FRUM: ... nights do you spend with Hillary, is that also about honesty?
HUFFINGTON: Oh, David, honestly, you cannot seriously...
SIMON: And by the way, senators...
HUFFINGTON: One second. This is a very important point.
You cannot honestly think that the private state of a politician's marriage is of the same caliber in terms of honesty and questioning and, indeed, permissibility for the press to ask about that as the heritage, the ethnicity of his parents? You really think that's...
KURTZ: Hold on. Hold on. Hold on.
I want to play a clip from George Allen on "THE SITUATION ROOM" this week where he talks about the aftermath of that question in the debate.
Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALLEN: I know that the audience also thought it was inappropriate, but I'll tell you what I was thinking. I was thinking of my mother. I was thinking as a son, and I wanted to protect my mother and her wishes, and the promise I made to her. And I'm glad that she has released me from that promise.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Roger Simon, very briefly, because I want to move on. Would you agree that there are more important issues facing the voters in Virginia about whether George Allen's mother and grandfather were Jewish?
SIMON: Sure. And those issues are talked about all the time. But there are also issues about George Allen's character which he brings to the fore, not the questioner.
All George Allen had to say was what he started to say, "I don't think would be should be talking about religion. It doesn't matter."
SIMON: He stopped by saying, oh, "I was raised a Christian, my mother is a Christian." That was a lie. He knew it was a lie.
KURTZ: Right. Remember that he says that he didn't know until a few weeks before the debate. But he certainly knew it at the time of the debate.
I want to turn now to the big debate in Washington this week over the terrorism legislation. We finally had a compromise between senators led by John McCain and the Bush White House about how far U.S. interrogators should be able to go in aggressively questioning detainees, terror suspects.
David Frum, why are some conservative commentators so mad at John McCain, saying he's damaged his presidential hopes for 2008 and so forth? I mean, this is a guy who spent five and a half years in the Hanoi Hilton. Is he entitled to his views on torture, whether you agree with them or not?
FRUM: He certainly is entitled to his views on torture. And I think we may, in fact, be stumbling to a very healthy outcome. So that is -- that's the good news from all of this.
The bad -- the reason why Republicans are upset was this was intended to be a big campaign issue in 2006 and McCain gave Democrats political cover to oppose the president. And...
KURTZ: So they're upset with him over the politics of it, despite the fact that he, in his mind, may have been acting on a matter of principle?
FRUM: He may have been. He may also have been acting politically, though. Remember, it is -- and I'm not saying that I have any insight into his thinking, but it is true, the worse Republicans do in 2006, the better McCain does in 2008.
KURTZ: Arianna Huffington, the press loves John McCain, as you know. Was he awarded the sort of white hat in this debate with the president over torture?
HUFFINGTON: Well, he was rightly awarded a white hat for standing up to the president, but now he should be awarded a black hat again for caving in. And this compromise is basically a complete victory for the president. And there's no amount of pussyfooting that can make it seem anything else.
Basically, McCain can go out and say that he saved the Geneva Conventions, but he gave his advanced blessing, as indeed Congress giving its advanced blessing, to the president to define what torture is.
Roger Simon, can political reporters just now not allow the possible that somebody might be taking a stand because they really believe in it as opposed to political positioning?
SIMON: I'm not so sure it's political reporters doing it as much as members of his own party. One would assume that a man who was a victim of torture would be allowed to take a position against torture for others. But in the super-heated times that we're in, when every position is seen from extreme partisanship, he's villified for that.
You know, John McCain has serious feelings about certain things.
SIMON: One of them is the torturing of human beings. Why can't we just accept that that's what he was expressing?
KURTZ: All right. Let me -- let me get a break here, Arianna. HUFFINGTON: But Roger, just one -- just one quick question. If he has those serious feelings, why did he abandon them so quickly in this so-called compromise?
SIMON: Because he's thinks it's better than nothing, Arianna.
KURTZ: All right. We've got to leave it there. Let me get a break.
Up next, Bill Clinton's media blitz hits a large pothole as he gets into a war of words with FOX's Chris Wallace. You've got to see this videotape just ahead.
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
"FOX News Sunday aired an interview with Bill Clinton about an hour ago. Host Chris Wallace asked the former president about his record on terrorism which resulted in a long, impassioned answer that eventually turned into an attack on Chris Wallace.
Let's watch some of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS WALLACE, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": Why didn't you do more to put bin Laden and al Qaeda out of business when you were president?
WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So you did FOX's bidding on the show. You did your nice little conservative hit job on me. What I want to know is...
WALLACE: Well, wait a minute, sir. I'm asking the question.
CLINTON: No, wait. No, no.
WALLACE: You don't think that's a legitimate question?
CLINTON: It was a perfectly legitimate question, but I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you asked this question of.
WALLACE: Do you ever watch "FOX News Sunday," sir?
CLINTON: I don't believe you asked them that.
WALLACE: We ask plenty of questions.
CLINTON: You didn't ask that, did you? Tell the truth, Chris. Tell the truth, Chris.
WALLACE: With Iraq and Afghanistan, there's plenty of stuff to ask, sir.
CLINTON: Did you ever ask that? You set this meeting up because -- you're going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers, because Rupert Murdoch is supporting my work on climate change. And you came here under false pretenses and said that you'd spend half the time talking about -- you said you'd spend half the time talking about what we did out there to raise $7 billion-plus in three days from 215 different commitments, and you don't care.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: That was quite an answer. We saw just a part of that. Clinton was also talking about Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism official, and why supposedly Chris Wallace had hadn't asked Republicans about that.
Arianna Huffington, was it unfair for Chris Wallace to ask about Clinton's record on terrorism? And why did he fly off the handle on that?
HUFFINGTON: Well, I don't know what the private arrangements were about what he could talk about and he could not. But frankly, once you go on the television show, you should know if you're the president of the United States, or the former president, or me, or anybody else, that you can be asked anything at all.
What this may lead to which could be good news is that Bill Clinton may wake up to the fact that there is a real (INAUDIBLE) going on to define who is going keep America safer. And for him to try to have it both ways, to have Laura Bush do the keynote during his conference, as though we're all in this together, to have Rupert Murdoch, Chris Wallace' ultimate boss, do the fund-raiser for his wife, all that stuff is simply not making it as clear and as distinct as it to needs to be for the American people.
There are two very different views, and there should be leading up to the '06 election, about who is going to keep America safer. And Bill Clinton needs to decide if he's just a former president or a former Democratic president helping his party define what is at stake in the upcoming election. So this may be a good wake-up call for him.
KURTZ: A good wake-up call for everybody who was watching.
Just to clarify to Arianna's point, FOX says that there was an agreement that half the interview would be spent on his global initiative, and -- but at one point Chris Wallace tried to get back to the global initiative and Clinton kept going on this issue of terrorism.
FRUM: It looks like -- if you look at the transcript, it looks like about half to me.
I'll tell you, if I'm ever summoned to the vice principal's office, Bill Clinton is the guy I want next to me. I mean, what a filibuster and what amazing effrontery. I just went through the transcript and counted half a dozen urgings to people to go read Richard Clarke's book.
It's a wonderful Washington moment. Here's this national best- seller, and he knows no one in Washington has in fact read it, because if you do it's a damning portrait of the Clinton administration.
KURTZ: But why do you say effrontery? I mean, shouldn't the former president be able to defend himself forcefully, emotionally, as to Clinton's style, on this issue of what he did or didn't do on terrorism?
FRUM: Of course he should. Of course he should.
But to say, go read this book that says I did a did a great job when the book -- now, the beginning and end, because Clarke is personally loyal to Clinton, gave Clinton all kind of points, but when you read the actual substantive story, at one point, you know, Clarke comes out of a meeting with Clinton officials and says, "What is it going take wake this country up? Is al Qaeda going to have to smash a plane into the Pentagon?" And that's during the Clinton years.
Again and again, Clinton says, "I want to do something, but the CIA won't let me, the FBI won't let me." And this is the Richard Clarke's story, all in the book that Clinton kept telling them to read, counting on them not to.
KURTZ: We can debate Clinton's record on terrorism for hours.
What I want to know, Roger Simon, is, was he particularly sensitive maybe about being asked this on FOX News, where he's never before done a one-on-one interview? He brings in Rupert Murdoch and conservative (INAUDIBLE).
What do you think?
SIMON: Well, a couple of things. One, I think we've seen, as if we ever doubted, that making yourself available to the media is not the same thing as liking the media. And Bill Clinton still does not like the media, number one.
And number two, I think what his answer shows is that he believes, as his wife once famously said, there is a vast right wing conspiracy out to get the Clinton. That may be true. I'm not sure Chris Wallace is part of it, however. I think Chris Wallace was simply acting like a newsman.
KURTZ: And therefore, it would seem that, Arianna, that the former president just went overboard. I mean, it wasn't like a question -- it wasn't a personal question. It was a question about his record as president.
What's wrong with that?
HUFFINGTON: I mean, I actually like that kind of feisty Bill Clinton more than I like the one who congratulates the president on his handling of Katrina or lets Republicans get away on what is happening in Iraq. I prefer the feisty Bill Clinton.
KURTZ: All right.
HUFFINGTON: I mean, there's a -- there's a campaign going on. FRUM: Arianna's right, he's not a very convincing statesman.
KURTZ: But he's always an interesting interview subject. Maybe he'll come on this show some time.
Thank you very much, David Frum, Arianna Huffington, Roger Simon.
Coming up, Hewlett-Packard spies on the press. And how one cable network stacks the deck with those little headlines at the bottom of the screen. Our "Media Minute" is next.
KURTZ: Time now to check on the latest from the world of media news.
KURTZ (voice over): Hewlett-Packard doesn't seem to have much regard for the First Amendment. Some ugly new details are emerging about the computer giant's own leak investigation which led to the ouster of chairwoman Patricia Dunn.
Hewlett-Packard was so upset about a leaked story in "The Wall Street Journal" which reported that the firm would stop selling Apple's iPod that it had investigators secretly follow a "Journal" reporter and probably scrutinized her phone records, the newspaper says, in citing an unnamed source.
And according to e-mails obtained by "The Washington Post," Hewlett CEO Mark Hurd approved a sting operation against a San Francisco reporter for the online service CNET. HP concocted a bogus company tipster named Jacob to feed her information, and Patricia Dunn praised the plan as "very clever." But apparently not clever enough.
There's nothing more powerful, apparently, than a book deal. Even heads of state must bow to the whims of publishing houses.
Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, told "60 Minutes" in an interview running tonight that in the days after 9/11 State Department official Richard Armitage threatened a U.S. campaign to bomb Pakistan back to the stone age if it didn't cooperate. Armitage denies making the threat.
A reporter asked about this, naturally, when Musharraf and President Bush held a news conference.
PRES. PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, PAKISTAN: I'm launching my book on the 25th, and I am honor-bound to Simon & Schuster not to comment on that book before that day.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In other words, buy the book, is what he's saying.
KURTZ: So much for international diplomacy. It's all about selling books.
KURTZ: Cable news networks, yes, even this one, have been known to stretch the definition of breaking news just a tad when there's an ongoing story and producers want to make sure you don't go surfing off. But MSNBC stretched that definition like a piece of Silly Putty when anchor Chris Jansing was in the chair a few weeks ago and -- well, just watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC: There's an ostrich on the loose on a playground at a school. I went to college. I did.
These police officers are on their way to an ostrich on the loose? It could be a serious situation, I guess.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know is that breaking news?
JANSING: I don't know either, Jay. The answer is I don't know.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. I've got a bicycle crash down here. You want to cover that one?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: What's next, milk goes sour at local kindergarten?
Finally, how can you tell what they're really thinking over at FOX News? Just look at the words at the bottom of the screen.
KURTZ (voice over): A couple of headlines from FOX's coverage on Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez's rant against President Bush.
FOX writes, "Chavez Insults U.S.: Where's the Outrage?" "Taking Cheap Oil From Hugo Chavez: Act of Treason?" "Hugo Chavez Runs His Mouth All Over New York City." And "New York Audience Gives Chavez Standing Ovation... Why?"
When Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, held a press conference Thursday, the bottom of the screen read "'Axis of Evil' Leader Briefs Reporters at United Nations."
KURTZ: Subtle, they're not.
In the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, two years after he resigned amid political scandal and the revelation that he's gay, former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey back in the spotlight. Why is he getting so much attention for his new book?
Plus, Tiger Woods takes on a tabloid story about his wife. All that after a check of the hour's top stories from the CNN Center in Atlanta.
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
It's been two years now since Jim McGreevey resigned in disgrace as New Jersey's governor after being forced to admit that he hired his gay lover as the state's homeland security adviser. The married Democrat proudly declared himself a gay American and disappeared from the public stage.
Well, now he's back hawking the inevitable book on his humiliation, appearing on the cover of "New York Magazine," and making the television rounds.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: How did you tell your wife?
JAMES MCGREEVEY, FMR. NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: Badly.
WINFREY: Yes. Really? What did you say?
MCGREEVEY: It's because you're not only saying it to the woman you love, you're saying it to yourself.
MATT LAUER, "TODAY": Most people would say that when you resigned two years ago you resigned in disgrace, but, you know, America loves a sinner and they love a story of redemption. And so, there's no saying that politics can't be in your future. Would you run again?
MCGREEVEY: No. That's not what I want to do.
LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": This whole story, are you saying...
MCGREEVEY: Oh, yes.
KING: ... I'm the wrongful one? I did wrong?
MCGREEVEY: I did wrong. I did wrong. What I did was wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about this and other subjects, in San Francisco, Debra Saunders, columnist for the "San Francisco Chronicle." And with me in Washington, John Aravosis, who blogs at americablog.com.
John Aravosis, have the media gone along with Jim McGreevey's attempt to frame this as just a tragic little love affair where he was overcome by his heart? JOHN ARAVOSIS, AMERICABLOG.COM: I mean, I think the media's gone along with it considering this is a story at all. I know a lot of us on the left and even the gay community sort of said, "Who is he again?" I mean, the story happened two years ago, no offense to the governor, but, you know, it was New Jersey, meaning -- no, I mean, it wasn't California, it wasn't New York, he wasn't the president.
ARAVOSIS: You know? And, OK, the guy was gay, he came out, he was married, but two years later, I don't care.
KURTZ: And so why do so many television shows care?
ARAVOSIS: It's a good question. I mean, you know, I think to some degree -- well, obviously, look, TV likes scandal and controversy, and the guy was married, he was gay, but he -- you know, this kind of thing. But honestly, I'm a bit -- it almost reminds me of, like, the O.J. trial or something. I can't quite figure out...
KURTZ: All right. You're underwhelmed.
ARAVOSIS: I'm underwhelmed.
KURTZ: Debra Saunders, this guy disgraced the state of New Jersey. Should all of these televisions shows be giving him a platform at all?
DEBRA SAUNDERS, "SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE": Television loves a sinner. They have these designated heroes who, as long as they come before themselves on to the talk shows and bare their sins and say they're sorry, they love them.
I have to tell you, Jim McGreevey was tougher on himself than a lot of those interviewers. Larry King asked him, "Would you have had to resign if you had an affair with a woman?" And it was McGreevey himself who had to say, well, yeah, I would have had to resign because I hired somebody who wasn't a U.S. citizen and couldn't get a security clearance to head homeland security for my state.
KURTZ: The only person who really conducted an aggressive interview was Sean Hannity of FOX News.
Let's take a look at some of his questioning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: They tell me that they can't believe the worst attack on American history and you're not thinking about them. You're thinking about the guy that you're involved in an affair with. And they feel that is the biggest betrayal.
What do you say to those people in New Jersey?
MCGREEVEY: The first thing I say is they are right. I mean, it was a betrayal to put your lover on the payroll. (END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: By the way, Golan Cipel, the ex-boyfriend, disputes this account, says he was the victim of sexual harassment. But it seems to me that Hannity zeroed in on the scandal, which is not about the affair.
ARAVOSIS: Well, yes. But, I mean -- sure. But it's not a big surprise that Sean Hannity and FOX News were the only network to say, hey, we've got a gay scandal, let's exploit it. I mean, that's sort of their MO.
But I think the sort of normal networks across the board realized it's an old story and the guy's kind of goofy, and who cares? You know? I mean...
SAUNDERS: It's refreshing to see somebody who is a television interviewer who doesn't view Jim McGreevey's wife as old news and baggage that we can just sort of...
ARAVOSIS: Oh, Debra, it's two years old. Some of us -- Osama bin Laden is current news. Jim McGreevey, the two-year-old out gay governor of New Jersey, you know, Sean Hannity deciding what's news? Come on, Debra. There are bigger issues out there.
SAUNDERS: Well, as I said, I think it was refreshing that somebody decided that the way he treated his wife was bad enough to warrant more than one quick sentence and then we can move on.
KURTZ: All right.
We're going to move on, because another former official back in the news who hardly ever left, it seems. Bill Clinton, as we mentioned earlier in the program, rolling out what he calls his Global Initiative, launching a targeted media blitz, sitting down with Larry King and Jon Stewart and Meredith Vieira. As we saw earlier, Chris Wallace of FOX News.
In the "Today" show interview, Vieira asked about a recent front- page piece in "The New York Times" dissecting his marriage and examining whether it will be an issue if Hillary Clinton makes a White House run.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that the thing that I think is going to be interesting is whether the American people, after -- with all the problems we've got, really want to see the press basically follow the Republican bloodhounds and do all that sort of stuff again, and whether or not the people that are doing can escape the same scrutiny. They have in the past. It's been a free ride.
I think it's a stupid way to spend our time. (END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: John Aravosis, is it realistic for Clinton to say the press shouldn't cover his marriage when he his wife may run for president and he could be the first spouse?
ARAVOSIS: Well, it's realistic for him to say it. I don't think it's realistic to expect the press to actually do it just because, you know, in a sense, we've got a paparazzi culture that goes all the way up to the White House.
I mean, people -- people want to know about Bill Clinton's marriage even though it's kind of not relevant in terms of whether Hillary Clinton is credible as a presidential candidate or as president. I mean, I want to know how she does on the war on terror, I don't want to know how she does in the Clinton bedroom. It's irrelevant.
KURTZ: Debra Saunders, kind of not relevant? Are the media obsessing on the Clinton marriage, or is this perfectly understandable given what the country went through in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky affair?
SAUNDERS: Well, I mean, people want to know something about the personal life of a president. I just find it interesting, that answer, because he's acting as if "The New York Times" is doing the Republican bloodhounds' business? I don't -- I don't see that.
I mean, he sure knows how to feel like a victim, as we saw with the Chris Wallace interview.
KURTZ: All right.
ARAVOSIS: Well, Howie, all I've got to say is, if your sex life pops up on the cover of "The New York Times" 10 years after that scandal -- there's no scandal anymore -- but "The New York Times" still wants to dissect your sex life? I think one would feel invaded whether you're Bill Clinton or Sean Hannity, for example.
KURTZ: Well, the question is whether or not "The New York Times" will have plenty of company if, indeed, there's a Hillary campaign.
ARAVOSIS: Oh, they probably will.
KURTZ: Now, John Aravosis, you were one of a group of bloggers who had lunch with Bill Clinton a couple of weeks ago, and you wrote about it and you said you felt you had a small glimpse of greatness. And you talked about his beautiful blue eyes.
Were you in a sort of full swoon mode? And what does Clinton get out of hanging out with bloggers?
ARAVOSIS: I was in a half-swoon mode. I've always said I would be in full swoon with Hollywood people, but I've been in D.C. for 20 years, so I only get half-swooned with politicians.
It was interesting. I mean, for us -- or for me, at least, I wanted to see what the charm was about.
People always talk about Clinton's charm. And honestly, I didn't see it. I didn't see someone not charming, but he was just a very intelligent, smart guy, which, of course, was nice to see in a president.
KURTZ: And what does a former president get out of spending two hours with you and a bunch of bloggers? Liberal bloggers, I should add.
ARAVOSIS: I'm not sure if he gets anything. You know, he spent -- I'm just honored that he spent time with Meredith Vieira and me, because I'd love to be with Meredith Vieira.
But -- no, but honestly, I think -- I think the president realizes that blogs are a power on both the left and right. Obviously, we're a little more friendly to him than bloggers on the right. And from what I hear, he just wanted to sit down and finally establish some kind of a relationship. Because honestly, in politics, having relationships with people makes the difference.
KURTZ: All right.
As we mentioned earlier in the program, Bill Clinton, in an interview on "FOX News Sunday," that aired about an hour and a half ago, just unloaded on host Chris Wallace, who was asking him about his record on terrorism, which prompted a long, impassioned answer in which the former president eventually attacked the host.
Let's take a brief look at some of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: So you did FOX's bidding on the show. You did your nice little conservative hit job on me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Debra Saunders, what's wrong with an interviewer asking Bill Clinton about his record on terrorism and going after or not going after bin Laden when he was in office?
SAUNDERS: There's nothing wrong with asking that. Let me say, I'm sympathetic to Bill Clinton on the point that he was making, which is people did not see Osama bin Laden coming, and it is wrong to blame him for 9/11, which is the point he made.
But the way he handled that, everybody knows that when you're on television you are asked a question that isn't -- that you -- an area you don't want to talk about or get into. You give a quick answer and move on.
Instead, Clinton just unloads on Chris Wallace as if it's act of (INAUDIBLE) for him to ask, and then he keeps mentioning Rupert Murdoch, who had just been to the Clinton Global Initiative, like "your boss isn't going to like this"? He keeps bringing up Rupert Murdoch.
Boy, that was -- that was a great example of how to not do an interview. I'm shocked at how poorly he handled it.
ARAVOSIS: Oh, I would say, on the contrary, it's refreshing to see a president that actually knows the facts and gives more than a two-second sound bite. Bill Clinton took an issue like...
SAUNDERS: Read Richard Clarke's book?
ARAVOSIS: Debra, maybe you should. But the point is that Bill Clinton took a serious...
SAUNDERS: I mean, that's an answer?
ARAVOSIS: Bill Clinton took a serious issue of 9/11 and who's to blame and what -- and where we are and where we need to be, and rather than giving a quick sound bite about stay the course, he gave a long answer about a lot of details that, frankly, Americans do want to know.
ARAVOSIS: There's been a lot of talk that Bill Clinton's to blame, and Bill Clinton knocked it out of the ballpark, saying, guess what? I'm not.
KURTZ: But he did more than that. He said, "You're doing FOX's bidding," this is a "conservative hit job."
ARAVOSIS: But of course -- but of course it is.
KURTZ: Why was it a conservative hit job?
ARAVOSIS: Because this is FOX -- there's two -- there's two points.
One, this is FOX News. Let's not pretend that FOX News is the Howie Kurtz RELIABLE SOURCES show, Howie. I mean, you may have to say that, but for the rest of us, we know FOX is the Republican network. You're the independent network.
KURTZ: But Bill Clinton chose to go on "FOX News Sunday."
ARAVOSIS: But of course -- first of all, Bill Clinton went on FOX News because they said they wanted to talk about his Global Initiative, where he got leaders around the world to commit to making a difference.
SAUNDERS: And every time Chris Wallace brought it up, Bill Clinton went back to the subject he said he didn't want to talk about.
ARAVOSIS: Right, because...
KURTZ: Let Debra finish.
ARAVOSIS: Go ahead.
SAUNDERS: And Rupert Murdoch, by the way, had been the at the Clinton Global Initiative.
SAUNDERS: Rupert Murdoch has been at Hillary Clinton events. To act as though Rupert Murdoch is the Republican guy who is always against him -- and I really felt that he was saying to Chris Wallace, your boss wouldn't like this.
ARAVOSIS: Right, but the point is Debra and Howie, is that once somebody on the right attacks you, too many Democrats have learned to sit back and go, "Oh, don't attack me." But Bill Clinton...
KURTZ: Why is it...
ARAVOSIS: ... realizes that you've got to knock the response out of the ballpark.
KURTZ: First of all, we understand with all these interviews is that half would be on the Global Initiative, half would be on anything else.
SAUNDERS: Fair enough.
KURTZ: Why is it an attack? You used the word "attack" for Chris Wallace to say, what about bin Laden?
ARAVOSIS: Because Chris Wallace -- Chris Wallace brought a book up at the beginning, this "Towers Looming," or whatever, book that I've talked to some good defense friends who have read the book who said it's not at all an attack on Clinton. He brought out a book out of nowhere and said, this book attacks you, 9/11, blah, blah, blah.
The point is, he started the interview -- I'm sorry, you know the other point I wanted to make really quick was the context of this September 9/11 movie from Disney-ABC. Two weeks ago Clinton had to deal with a TV movie that was just flat out wrong blaming him.
ARAVOSIS: So in that larger context...
KURTZ: And if he was on my show, I would want to ask him about that, too.
KURTZ: Boy, Bill Clinton still gets everybody excited, but we've got to go.
ARAVOSIS: Oh, we love him.
KURTZ: John Aravosis, Debra Saunders, sorry. Thanks very much for joining us.
ARAVOSIS: Thank you.
KURTZ: From NPR to Kandahar, Sarah Chayes leaves journalism for work in Afghanistan, trying to help people there. She joins us next.
KURTZ: She was a National Public Radio reporter who covered a number of wars, including the conflict in Afghanistan. But then Sarah Chayes decided to put down her microphone and run a private aid organization in Afghanistan to try to help with the country's rebuilding. Her book about this journey is called "The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban."
Sarah Chayes joins us now from San Francisco.
You were a Harvard graduate, you worked for NPR, you covered the Afghan war, and then you gave up journalism to try to rebuild Afghan society.
Why did you make that decision?
SARAH CHAYES, AUTHOR, "THE PUNISHMENT OF VIRTUE": Partly because it -- you know, you just keep talking about it for so long, after a while you it feels like you need to do something about it, partly because of the lack of continuity in doing foreign reporting, particularly conflict reporting. You're in a story for a couple of weeks or a month, or a couple of months, and then you're yanked out and put into another story. And it started to seem to me that continuity is a really important aspect of -- of doing a good job, really.
CHAYES: And finally, because this was such an important place, and I still think is such an important place in terms of the -- the future of the United States and the world. I mean, this -- this war on terror and how we're approaching it and how we're considering it, I think is a little bit off. And it seemed to me that this was a great place to start building bridges, rather than barriers.
KURTZ: Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, making the television rounds this morning. He'll be on "LATE EDITION" after this program defending his record on terrorism, among other things.
What is it about American journalism that American journalism doesn't get about the Afghan conflict and why the Taliban appear to be gaining strength and U.S. casualties are rising?
CHAYES: Again, I think one of the main problems is lack of continuity. Everybody moved to Iraq, essentially, and although there are some bureaus in Kabul, people don't tend to get outside of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. And so they missed a progression that's been really noticeable since late 2002.
This is not a surprise that the Taliban are back and that they're back in force. It's been happening steadily, if a little bit saw- toothed, if you know what I mean. It's been like a spurt of violence and then a bit of a lull, and then the next spurt is higher.
And I've been watching it since late 2002 because I've been on the ground. But unfortunately, we're closing -- American journalism is closing foreign bureaus. It tends to concentrate reporters in the same cities rather than deciding, OK, CNN has someone in Baghdad, let's go some place else. And so we're missing stories.
KURTZ: You tried when you were working for NPR to report on how, in your view, the U.S. military was undermining Karzai's government. And what happened?
CHAYES: I was told that that story was not interesting. That this -- that there would be plenty of time later to talk about inter- Afghan factionalism. In fact, what I wanted to report was that there were a group of Special Forces soldiers that imposed a certain person on President Karzai as governor even to the point of encouraging him to take on Karzai's people militarily in the south, in Kandahar, which had been the Taliban capital.
So you've got this warlord, basically, who -- who moves on Kandahar militarily not to fight against the Taliban -- they were already gone -- but to fight against another friend of the Americans. And I thought this was a huge story in terms of the implications for where Afghanistan would go.
And I wasn't told you can't -- well, I was told you can't have this in your story, but not because -- it wasn't like censorship, but it was, we're not interested in this, this isn't important. What's important is looking at what a terrible fellow Mullah Omar is, which I certainly agreed with. But I felt like several years earlier was really the time that we ought to have been doing that story, and now we needed to look ahead at what was...
KURTZ: So let me just jump in here.
KURTZ: So having tried to report on Afghanistan and now kind of living the story from the inside, are you disillusioned with the limits of journalism?
CHAYES: Yes, definitely. Not that I don't think that journalism is a tremendously important aspect of a democratic society, but I do think that the constraints are really very, very powerful. And those constraints have to do with the number of people we have abroad.
I mean, now, more than ever, it seems to me, you know, that it's the time for American journalism to be very present abroad because we as a country are so present overseas. And secondly, the length of stories and the length of time that a person is in a particular posting. KURTZ: Right.
CHAYES: All of that leads to mistakes, really.
KURTZ: Sarah Chayes, I've got about half a minute.
What about the danger? Your friend, the police chief of Kandahar, was assassinated. You keep a gun in your home. It sounds like a lot tougher than being a reporter.
CHAYES: Well, a lot of reporters have been dying in the last number of years, particularly in Iraq. But some also in Afghanistan.
It's -- it's a dangerous job, and anyone that signs up for it ought to know that, this kind of reporting. But I actually believe that this is something worth taking a risk for.
KURTZ: All right.
CHAYES: I think that, you know, how we interact with the rest of the world is worth taking risks for.
KURTZ: All right. We appreciate you joining us.
Sarah Chayes joining us from San Francisco.
CHAYES: Thanks for having me.
KURTZ: ... par for the course? Tiger Woods tangles with an Irish magazine after a tawdry so-called spoof about his wife.
KURTZ: You know what our worst critics say -- you people in the media, you can't get anything right. If you haven't got the facts, you just make it up. Now, that's not true, usually, but then along comes a story about a celebrity and naked pictures and, well, someone married to a celebrity and semi-naked pictures.
And -- well, let me just check on the details here.
KURTZ (voice over): Tiger Woods has been on a roll on the golf course, and he's even got a glamorous Swedish wife Elin Nordegren. But the couple got some unwanted publicity in Ireland, the site of the Ryder Cup tournament, when the magazine "The Dubliner" -- get this -- ran some topless photos of Woods' five.
"Most American golfers are married to women who cannot keep their clothes on in public," declared the outraged magazine. "Is it too much to ask that they leave them at home for the Ryder Cup?"
And where did the racy pictures come from? "Elin," said "The Dubliner," "can be found in a variety of sweaty poses on porn sites across the Web."
Except, well, the editors must not have been looking very carefully at her face. The pictures are fake. Tiger Woods says his wife has done some modeling in bikinis, but that's all.
TIGER WOODS, GOLFER: To link her to porn Web sites and the such is unacceptable. And I do not accept that at all. Neither does our team.
KURTZ: The phony photo flap was big news here at home from "The New York Post" to the "Today" show. "The Dubliner" has apologized.
KURTZ: Now, there are thousands of more important stories out there from war, to terrorism, to the mid-term elections, but triple bogeys like this one tend to be remembered. And if Tiger Woods is a little bit more wary about dealing with the press, can you really blame him?
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Join us again next Sunday morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media.
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