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Coverage of the Mark Foley Scandal
Aired October 15, 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): Turning ugly. Are the media going too far in pumping up the Mark Foley sex scandal? Is there really an effort to out gay Republicans? And were Democratic operatives involved in spreading the story to the press?
Changing sides. Why has conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan turned so violently on the Bush administration?
Matt Drudge as influential as Walter Cronkite? Why two of the nation's top political reporters say the Republicans have mastered the art of the online leak.
Plus, Google swallows YouTube. How two video-loving guys launched a media revolution.
KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where today we turn our critical lens on the media's role in investigating and perhaps hyping the Mark Foley's sex scandal.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
There was news about the tawdry case this week. The FBI and questioning former House page Jordan Edmund about e-mail he received from Congressman Foley. Speaker Dennis Hastert said any staffer found to have covered up Foley's sexual correspondence with teenage boys would be fired. And the Ethics Committee began taking testimony from such witnesses as Foley's former chief of staff.
But mostly there was arguing about who leaked what and which party had lower ethics when it comes to sexual misconduct.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: The dinosaur (ph) media is pumping the story as much as possible. I don't blame them. It's titillating. It's certainly more interesting than what's happening in North Korea to them.
MARK WILLIAMS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: The Democrats pioneered "keep the perverts in Congress" with Ted Kennedy and -- you know, to blame Democrats for whatever happened before, they got their comeuppance in the '94 election for a lot of reasons. We're now at a point in time where Republicans will get their comeuppance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: On "LATE EDITION," Republican congressman Patrick McHenry was pressed about his claim that the Democrats were behind the leaks about Foley.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you have evidence at all that Democrats or others might have been behind this -- the timing of this scandal?
REP. PATRICK MCHENRY (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Look -- look, let's be honest here.
BLITZER: Do you have any evidence to back that charge up?
MCHENRY: Do you have any evidence that they weren't involved?
BLITZER: I'm just asking if you're just throwing out an accusation, if you have any hard evidence.
MCHENRY: No, the question, Wolf...
KURTZ: Joining us now are two conservatives with very different views on the scandal and just about everything else, Jonah Goldberg, editor-at-large for "National Review Online," and Andrew Sullivan, who blogs at TIME.com's "The Daily Dish" and is the author of "The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How To Get It Back".
Andrew Sullivan are journalists pushing the Foley scandal because they enjoy embarrassing Republicans because it involves gay sex, or because it's just a juicy story?
ANDREW SULLIVAN, AUTHOR, "THE CONSERVATIVE SOUL": All three, I would say. Wouldn't you? It is a good story. It's something people can easily understand. And I think it also reveals, obviously, massive hypocrisy among Republicans.
I mean, there was a fascinating moment this week at the State department, where Condi Rice and Laura Bush swore in the new global AIDS coordinator, Mark Dybul, with his partner. And Condi Rice refers to his partner's mother as his mother-in-law. So we know that Condi Rice and Laura Bush have no problem with gay marriage.
In fact, most of the elite Republicans on the Hill have no problem with gay marriage, but they use homophobia to win votes at the base. And that is the underlying tectonic problem going on here, hypocrisy.
KURTZ: Coming back to the Foley scandal, media pushing it too hard?
JONAH GOLDBERG, "NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE": Of course it is.
KURTZ: Do you see an agenda here?
GOLDBERG: I see an agenda in that it's a very exciting story, it's a fun story, especially come around election time.
KURTZ: That's what we do.
GOLDBERG: And that's what we do. I understand that.
I think there is a huge disconnect. There's a massive amount of hypocrisy on the part of the media.
We did not get this kind of coverage of Mel Reynolds, who was -- had a much more egregious sexual relationship -- an actual sexual relationship -- there is no sex in this scandal.
KURTZ: Former Democratic congressman.
GOLDBERG: Former Democratic congressman. Everyone wants to talk about Gerry Studds. We can talk about Gerry Studds if we want to, we can talk about Phil Crane if we want to, characters from the 1980s, but what we've seen here is that basically it's a feeding frenzy. And there's a perfect storm going on.
Andrew, who's got a very specific definition about what constitutes right-thinking gays, thinks that somehow it's hypocrisy if gays don't live according to the politics that he and a lot of other people dictate. That is not the story here. This is not what's been going on.
It's not a Vassar seminar. We're talking about the media coverage here, and the media coverage here has been way out of control.
KURTZ: I bet you want to respond to that.
SULLIVAN: I'm not dictating any politics to anybody. I'm just saying...
GOLDBERG: You're saying anybody who disagrees with gay marriage is a hypocrite and living in a lie.
SULLIVAN: No. I'm saying that if someone is tolerant to gay people and supports gay marriage, should not be in a party that's out there actually baiting gay people and saying gay marriage is going to destroy the earth. And at least it's fair point to point out that there is a huge disagreement between what they say in private and what they do in public.
GOLDBERG: So if you don't -- if you have some minor form of homophobia, or if you oppose gay marriage, you can't be a Democrat then?
GOLDBERG: Well, OK. Then just say...
SULLIVAN: The Republican Party has based its campaigns on terrifying people that gay commitment ceremonies will destroy the world, and yet they acknowledge them in private.
KURTZ: Let me jump in here. I want to read -- I want to read something that Andrew Sullivan wrote this week on this very point.
"Openly gay and closeted Republicans in Washington are now besieged by both the gay-hating religious right and the Republican- hating gay left. I hoped it wouldn't get this ugly."
Is part of the ugliness you're concerned about on this point of hypocrisy and whether it should be exposed, that gay staff members on Capitol Hill, gay lawmakers may be outed by journalists who have a very definite view that this should -- that this should be dragged out of the closet?
SULLIVAN: Yes, I am, and there is -- but there are two varieties of gay people on the Hill. There are the openly-gay people on the Hill...
SULLIVAN: ... openly gay Republicans who are struggling with living here in a bigoted party, essentially, at this point. And then there are the closeted Republicans like Mark Foley, who are in such a dysfunctional state of being they can't even think straight and doing outrageous things.
Now, from those people you have both the religious right and the activist left combining, spreading from McCarthyite lists to out and punish these people. I wish it were more civilized than that. I think we can have a debate about hypocrisy without penalizing individual human beings.
GOLDBERG: (INAUDIBLE) there's a lot of cognitive dissidence going on there.
Somehow Andrew holds two propositions simultaneously. One is, is that gay men are no more likely -- which I generally tend to believe, that gay men are no more likely to prey on underage people than straight men are. That it's just -- it's uniform across the board.
On the other hand, he is claiming that somehow it is being in the closet that has driven Mark Foley to doing this. Well, either it holds constant across -- across these populations or it doesn't.
We have not seen a huge spike in closeted gay men in the Republican Party preying on young men. And this whole hypocrisy thing heeds this media feeding frenzy because it is such a non-issue. Allegedly, the real reason for driving this is because Denny Hastert somehow covered up something. He had the exact same...
KURTZ: Well, hold on. All right.
I mean, there are a lot of conflicting accounts among Hastert and top Republicans about who knew what when. Even you would concede that that is a subject -- a fair subject for journalists to inquiry.
GOLDBERG: Sure. Sure. But not journalistic overkill.
In 2001, Andrew had the position that it was the most outrageous lynch mob media coverage of Gary Condit's private life. And he was under scrutiny because of a potential murder. Foley...
KURTZ: The issue was -- it turned out he was exonerated.
GOLDBERG: Totally exonerated, yes.
SULLIVAN: Thank you.
GOLDBERG: Foley has committed -- Foley has committed arguably no crime whatsoever, including the own law he has. It's not clear that he even violated that, which is opposing with the main canards of hypocrisy.
All these kids were of legal consent. He had no sex with them. He resigned immediately.
KURTZ: Let me come back...
SULLIVAN: How much more hypocritical could we get than passing a law, grandstanding it, while you're breaking it at the same time? That's obviously a great story, Jonah.
GOLDBERG: But Andrew, his -- I agree with you. His hypocrisy is metaphysical, and I have no problem with it. I think...
SULLIVAN: The hypocrisy of Condi Rice supporting a party when she actually embraces gay marriage?
GOLDBERG: Condi Rice shouldn't agree with her party about North Korea because she (INAUDIBLE) by gays.
KURTZ: I've got to jump in here.
So the question I want to bring you both back to is whether or not because of what you see as hypocrisy, the media coverage here is -- I think Jonah used the phrase "out of control" -- or is this perfectly appropriate because we are talking about what many people regard as a cover-up in the Foley case?
SULLIVAN: I think there is a legitimate argument that the leadership of the House needs to be held into account for their actions and this investigation to go forward.
I think things have calmed down a bit, Howie. I mean, I don't think -- there was a moment last -- the week before last where the hysteria was getting completely out of control, and I think we've got a better handle on it. And I think Jonah is right, this has gotten out of perspective. But there is a story here, and it's worth pursuing.
KURTZ: The way that this came out -- Ken Silverstein of "Harper's" magazine reported this week that a Democratic Party operative offered him the early Foley e-mails last May. This is the non-explicit "Can I have a picture of the 16-year-old" e-mail, not the really raunchy stuff. The same source says Silverstein gave this to the "St. Petersburg Times".
He decided not to run with it. So, is there a partisan -- (INAUDIBLE) letters to believe?
SULLIVAN: Well, I think that's a very important fact. I mean, I put it on my blog to make sure where this actually came from. However, I think the e-mails and IM thing is an interesting discrepancy, but what...
KURTZ: But it's true. The story is true. There's no question about that.
SULLIVAN: The story is true. In between, however, for people on the Hill, not outside journalists or operatives, or people in other states, apparently this behavior was going on in full daylight on the floor of the House, that had become notorious among the pages and among the congressmen, and the leadership didn't know anything or didn't want to know anything.
KURTZ: And Jonah Goldberg, you could hardly call the liberal media reckless, because no one went with the story. "The St. Petersburg Times," "Miami Herald," "Harper's" magazine, and others had those e-mails and they decided not to publish it.
GOLDBERG: No, but you can call them hypocritical. If "Harper's," which is basically, you know, the in-house flyer for Pacifica Radio, didn't think that somehow -- didn't think that these initial e-mails were so disturbing that they weren't going go with them, but somehow holds Denny Hastert accountable for seeing the same material and somehow being part of a cover-up, there is a big disconnect there.
SULLIVAN: No, they're holding him accountable because he's on the Hill. They're not. He may have known and should have known about the conduct outside of e-mails in the actual -- in the actual halls of Congress where this stuff was going on.
I mean, you've heard as many stories as I have now. I mean, I didn't know about it, but the speaker of the House's responsibility is to know if his members are misbehaving.
GOLDBERG: Then I suppose -- then why didn't, say, Dick Gephardt quit over Mel Reynolds? Why didn't Tip O'Neill quit over Gerry Studds? There has been this inflation of the standard of appropriateness and responsibility on to the leadership of the House in order to get Republicans. KURTZ: You say, Jonah -- you say that you see a backlash brewing against Democrats and liberals who are pushing this Foley scandal, and obviously you've brought up some examples, some of them old, of past Democrats who have had sexual misconduct problems.
Do you see a backlash building against the media as well?
GOLDBERG: I've been coming on the show for years, and every month, at some point or another, we're predicting a backlash against the media. I think the backlash is permanent.
KURTZ: Well, a lot of people don't like the media.
GOLDBERG: I think it's permanent background radiation in the age of the blogosphere against the media. There will be a backlash against this. I think there will be a backlash coming out about the standard that's being set for this level of scrutiny into -- into Foley's life. And we're going see it again when it's going to be inconvenient to the Democrats, and then you'll see hypocrisy on their side.
SULLIVAN: But isn't it also true that we're talking about social status here? We are much more sensitive today than we were 20 years ago about young people being in positions to be abused.
GOLDBERG: I think that's right.
SULLIVAN: When we saw what happened with Clinton, then when we saw what happened in the Roman Catholic Church, we have evolved as a society and our standards are higher. And you know what? I think that's a good thing. I think that people under 18 should be protected more than they have been in the past.
GOLDBERG: Yes. It's a funny irony. We've become more conservative, and the Christian right has a much higher exacting toll on this kind of behavior than it did even 20 years ago.
KURTZ: On this rare moment of agreement I'm going to take the opportunity to blow the whistle.
Jonah Goldberg, thanks very much for joining us.
Andrew, stick around.
When we come back, we'll talk about your evolution from pro-Bush conservative to, well, something very different.
And we want our viewers to weigh in. Our e-mail question this week: Are the media sensationalizing the Mark Foley page scandal for partisan reasons?
Write to us at email@example.com.
For more on the Foley scandal, Wolf Blitzer interviews Howard Dean and Ken Mehlman on "LATE EDITION," 11:00 a.m. Eastern.
And at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, John Roberts hosts "This Week at War".
KURTZ: Welcome back.
We're talking with Andrew Sullivan, author of "The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How To Get It Back".
You are a lifelong conservative who supported George Bush in 2000, and now you're a fierce critic of the administration and you supported John Kerry in 2004.
SULLIVAN: Well, as John Maynard Keynes says, "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?"
From the very beginning I saw spending going out of control. And we've seen this enormous increase in the debt of the next generation.
George Bush inherited $20 trillion worth of overhang for the next generation. Increases to $43 trillion in five years. I did not become a conservative to spend and to commit that kind of borrowing long term.
KURTZ: And then there's this thing called the Iraq war.
SULLIVAN: Then there's the thing called the Iraq war.
KURTZ: Which you were a big supporter of.
SULLIVAN: Which I was a passionate supporter of and almost a sort of withering critic of those who opposed it. And I just believed -- call me naive -- that if you do such a thing and you tell people it's the most important war of your generation, you will actually send enough troops to do it right. And that if you don't, if you make mistakes -- which we all can make -- you will then fix it as quickly as you possibly can. To go in there and to have obviously a failing policy and never change it because you're too proud to admit an error seems to me to be also not prudent and conservative.
So, from small issues on the war, like many other people, Howie, I'm not alone. A lot of former Republicans are in the Independent camp now.
KURTZ: "New York Times" columnist Frank Rich recently recalled a piece that you wrote for Salon in 2003 in which you called him the idiot of the week for writing about what you called an alleged ransacking at Baghdad's National Museum. And the question was, who was writing about how bad the looting was? Was Donald Rumsfeld right or wrong?
And you wrote, "Rummy, of course. He almost always is."
SULLIVAN: Well, it turned out, in fact, in this particular instance... KURTZ: Yes?
SULLIVAN: ... of the raiding of the museum that the initial accounts were grotesquely exaggerated and we later realized that actually not many things were stolen, and that those that were stolen was an inside job anyway. So in that particular instance, there is still some dispute about it still, but it was never -- nothing like the amount that was originally reported.
KURTZ: What about your sweeping judgment that Donald Rumsfeld is almost always right?
SULLIVAN: I was extremely wrong. And I've learned my lesson.
I mean, look, we -- to some extent as journalists and writers and bloggers, we deal with the facts as we got them, and I think some of us after 9/11 I think became too certain. I was one of those people who became a little too certain and cocky about my own position, and I think I made mistakes in that respect.
But the only thing you can do is correct that. And the book is an attempt really to atone for that and to say, look, what did I learn from that? I learned that conservatism is also about skepticism, empiricism and prudence. And that's something that we've lost.
KURTZ: How much is this crisis of faith on your part brought on by the fact that you are a gay conservative at a time when the Republican Party in 2004 pushed a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage, not exactly seen as welcoming? And many Democrats opposed that amendment, too, I should add, but not exactly seen as welcoming of gays in the party.
SULLIVAN: Of course it played a role. How would it not play a role? I mean, they -- I could live in a party, for example, that says they don't approve of marriage for gay people. I can understand that position.
KURTZ: You got married yourself.
SULLIVAN: Not yet. No. I'm engaged.
KURTZ: You're engaged. So the Republican Party and President Bush would say you should not be allowed to...
SULLIVAN: I can live with someone who says I don't agree with that. What I can't live with is rewriting the federal Constitution to make it impossible ever for any state to do so.
That level of extremism is what drove me out. Not just saying we want to reduce the number of abortions, which I do, but saying we're going to pass a constitutional amendment to criminalize all of them, including rape and incest.
The Terri Schiavo case showed that they had no restraint, no moderation, no respect for the states. Those are conservative issues. Yes, the gay thing was part of it because I think the conservatives and Republicans should reach out to gay people, not to demonize us. But the rest is so important.
KURTZ: Since you have a prominent platform, blogging, books, magazines, have some other conservatives gotten angry at you for bailing out on them, betraying the cause, in their view?
SULLIVAN: Of course. And there's a certain rigidity with the Bush administration, you're either with them or against them. Not only in the global war on terror, but domestically. They don't like internal critics, even those of us who are criticizing them for what we think are conservative principles.
But I think what's amazing to me is the conservatives are the angriest people in this country right now. On the question of small government, fiscal balance and, indeed, prudent foreign policy, all the conservative principles have been violated.
I mean, the Democrats love Medicare. They love new entitlements. They've always been for big spending. But this president has beaten LBJ on spending domestically.
KURTZ: You were one of the first major bloggers to have a national following. You now blog at TIME.com. Is this a forum because you're up there every day in which it's easier to admit error or revise your thinking, especially when readers are picking apart your arguments?
SULLIVAN: Absolutely. I think that it makes you much more susceptible to criticism on a daily basis. It also means inevitably when you write every hour or day that you're going to get things -- you're taking an instant view. And so unless you can concede it's provisional and you can subject to change your mind later -- but I think it forces you to be more open and honest that, look, columnists and pundits, we don't have tablets of stone. We're human beings.
We evolve. We change. We think. What matters is the thinking process and the correction process, not claiming to know the truth and laying it down in tablet stone every week. And blogging has helped out that, as it were, and make it part of the mainstream, which is a good thing.
KURTZ: All right.
Andrew Sullivan, thanks very much for joining us this morning.
SULLIVAN: It's always a pleasure -- always.
KURTZ: Interesting conversation.
Still to come, is there a future for liberal radio now that Air America has declared bankruptcy? We'll ask one of the most popular radio hosts on the left, Stephanie Miller.
But first, a Reuters editor calls Ann Coulter brainless and ends up jobless.
And is Jay Leno playing favorites in the California's governor race?
Our "Media Minute" just ahead.
KURTZ (voice over): Ann Coulter, the best-selling conservative bomb-thrower, is the target of several new books, including "Brainless: The Lies and Lunacy of Ann Coulter". The author, Joe Maguire, has now been dropped from his editing job at Reuters.
The wire service had given him permission to write the book but now says he violated the company's principles of "integrity, independence and freedom from bias." Maguire told "The New York Times" he thought he had met the conditions set by Reuters.
Working Families for Wal-Mart, a group financed in part by the giant retailer, recently launched a blog in which a couple named Jim and Laura recorded their adventures driving an RV across country from one Wal-Mart store to another.
Well, "BusinessWeek" discovered that Jim was Jim Thresher, a veteran photographer for "The Washington Post." Thresher says his girlfriend did the blogging while he took the pictures. And while in hindsight it may have been a mistake, he asked his editor for permission and sees his involve am as pretty harmless.
But "Post" editor Len Downie says Thresher violated the paper's policy against taking money from special interest groups. Thresher is repaying the $2,200 in travel expenses.
JAY LENO, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, ladies and gentlemen!
KURTZ: Jay Leno had his buddy Arnold Schwarzenegger on the other night, and the California governor talked a little politics.
GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: To link me to George Bush is like linking me to an Oscar. I mean, it's like -- you know, it's ridiculous.
KURTZ: But the appearance was no joke to Schwarzenegger's Democratic opponent, California treasurer Phil Angelides, who has demanded equal time. NBC complained it's just giving the incumbent free air time for his reelection campaign. Now Angelides, who has appeared in, let's see, zero movies, may not be as entertaining as "The Terminator".
SCHWARZENEGGER, "THE TERMINATOR": I'll be back.
KURTZ: But shouldn't the television host, even a funny one, have to display some semblance of fairness? (END VIDEOTAPE)
KURTZ: It's hard to compete for air time with a movie star.
Still to come, two top political reporters say Republicans are slam-dunking the Democrats when it comes to exploiting "The Drudge Report" and other online media. ABC's Mark Halperin and "The Washington Post's" John Harris take on their own business, along with former Wonkette columnist Ana Maria Cox.
Plus, Air America files for bankruptcy before its third birthday. Was the liberal network a lousy idea from the start? Talk show host Stephanie Miller weighs in.
And will the video site YouTube lose its coolness factor once it's taken over by a giant corporation?
All ahead after a check of the hour's top stories from the CNN Center in Atlanta.
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
The world in which a handful of networks, newspapers and magazines' control of the news agenda has been obliterated, replaced by an Internet culture filled with millions of voices. How has this online explosion transformed the nature of politics and the old media, as well? And is Matt Drudge really that big a deal?
Joining us now in New York, Mark Halperin, political director of ABC News. Here in Washington, John Harris, political editor of "The Washington Post".
They're co-authors of a new book called "The Way To Win: Taking The White House in 2008".
Also joining us from Chicago, Ana Marie Cox, who started the Wonkette column and now writes for "TIME" magazine and blogs at TIME.com.
Mark Halperin, in writing about the media's coverage of politics, which you dub "the freak show," you talk about how Matt Drudge rules our world, how he's a gatekeeper, how he's the Walter Cronkite of his era.
Mark, he's just a guy with a gossip site.
MARK HALPERIN, POLITICAL DIRECTOR, ABC NEWS: Well, he's just a guy with a gossip site, but he's an incredibly influential one. We document in the book in this new era the Republicans have many advantages, the Democrats have some advantages, but one big advantage the Republicans have is Matt Drudge. If he goes with a story, whether it's true or not, whether it's his own reporting or based on someone else, your newsroom, in the newsroom at "TIME" magazine, in the newsroom of ABC News, everywhere within the political world they pay attention and he drives coverage as much as anybody else.
KURTZ: John Harris, the book takes a somewhat jaundice view of Drudge, talking about stories that he either hyped or got wrong or was helping out the conservatives with. But you once did some business with him on your last book.
Tell us about that.
JOHN HARRIS, POLITICAL EDITOR, "WASHINGTON POST": Look, I am a personal example of somebody -- how Drudge can influence the old media agenda. We've heard of Drudge as part of this new media. In fact, he's sort of the impresario of new media.
KURTZ: But he only has an impact if people like you deal with him.
HARRIS: I was trying to peddle a book. You've been there, Howard. We all have. And I had sent some talking points to one of the network morning news programs with an ideal platform if you're trying to sell a book.
I said, "Hey, here's some of the better stuff in it. Why don't you take a look at it?" They said, "Hey, thanks, but no thanks. It's really not our thing. Good luck with the book."
A couple weeks later a friend of mine -- I had no idea he was going do this, of course -- sent the exact same list to Drudge. Within five minutes -- I'm not exaggerating -- five minutes, the same network news program called me on my cell phone and said, "Hey, can you do the show tomorrow?" Driven totally by Drudge.
KURTZ: And the book sales jumped on Amazon?
HARRIS: They did OK.
KURTZ: All right. That seems to be the name of the game.
Ana Marie Cox, this whole talk about Drudge sounds to me very 1999. I mean, I would say that bloggers who have sharper opinions and do actual digging, and Web sites like "National Review Online" and "The Huffington Post," are more influential these days.
What do you think?
ANA MARIE COX, WASHINGTON EDITOR, TIME.COM: Well, I think it is changing. I think that actually the comparison to Walter Cronkite is probably an apt one in the sense that Walter Cronkite, you know, had his reign and it passed. And the same thing is happening in the blogosphere.
I think that Matt himself has tacitly acknowledged the growing power of all these smaller voices by starting to link to blogs. You know, for years he refused to link to anything that wasn't a major news site himself.
I also sort of question, I have to say, the thesis that the Republicans have some -- some great sort of insight into how Matt works, or they're the ones who really are capitalizing on him. I doubt that has to do with Republican facility, as it has to do with sort of Matt's own predilections. And I also think it's really telling that the one anecdote, the really great anecdote in Mark and John's book about Drudge when the RNC went down to wine and dine him actually came from a Democrat operative.
KURTZ: But on the other hand, Mark Halperin, if Ken Mehlman, the Republican chairman, kind of brags about utilizing the Drudge channel, as you report that he does, it does raise the question, why can't Democrats do the same thing? Not with Drudge, who's a conservative, but, you know, anywhere else on the Web? It's a wide open Wild West atmosphere there.
HALPERIN: It is, Howie. But look, for 40 years Republicans have felt the media, the old media, the (INAUDIBLE) networks, the newspapers were liberally biased against them. We deal with that issue in the book.
We can't settle that debate, but half the country feels alienated from the old media. And over 40 years, Republicans have look for ways, talk radio, direct mail, the Internet, cable TV, to reach their audience. They're better at it because they're more inclined to it. They feel more aggrieved by the whole media.
They also are able to use the old media -- the new media, rather, to infect our coverage, to slant coverage. Again, look at what happened to Al Gore, as we document in the book. Look at what happened to John Kerry. They're more aggressive at it, they're better at it. Drudge is just one example.
KURTZ: John Harris, you interviewed Bill Clinton for this book, and he told you that he was disappointed when he first found out how the old media were going to be treating him when he ran for president and, of course, when moved to the White House.
Explain a little bit about Clinton's views here.
HARRIS: Right. You know, and this is important.
Our book is a book about presidential politics and the reality of politics, of which the media is a big part. It's not strictly a media book. We talked with Bill Clinton, we talked with Karl Rove about how politics had changed.
Clinton was fixated on this topic that we're discussing today of media. He said, "Look, for Democrats of my generation, who grew up in the '60s and early '70s, we're accustomed to thinking" -- as Mark had alluded -- "as the old media as our allies." The media led the way on civil rights, on Vietnam, Watergate.
He came into politics and he basically thought the old media would serve as an insulator to him and a referee of the process. And he was -- one of the most shocking things of his presidency was to see, A, the old media turning against him, and, B, not really serving as a referee on some of these new media forces, which most of which were powerfully biased against Democrats.
KURTZ: It's interesting, Ana Marie Cox, you alluded to this earlier, because if liberals like Clinton were disappointed and maybe they thought the media were going to be on their side -- and, of course, we like to kick everybody around who's in power -- conservatives are absolutely convinced that the press tilts to the left and that's why they go to other outlets, to Drudge, to FOX News, to Rush Limbaugh.
COX: That's very true. And I think that it's something that's very comforting on both sides when you have their own sort of -- I believe it's called a noise machine. It is very much a noise machine.
I think that's what's interesting and also one of the reasons why Drudge maybe is sort of a 1998 phenomenon, is that Drudge is a kind of referee for that new media. But I think what we're moving into is an era without referees at all.
If you look at some of the biggest sort of Internet movers in this past -- in this current election cycle, YouTube has actually been the thing that's made a difference in, for instance, George Allen's campaign. And that's a case of just mini-to-mini broadcasting.
No one was doing refereeing on the "macaca" incident. That just sort of erupted on people's screens across the nation.
HARRIS: If I could just take what both you've said, Howard, and what Ana has said, our very common views that Drudge is a 1990s phenomenon, the fact is, though, there is no other site -- and we're not here to tout Drudge. And Drudge may well be replaced, and he's definitely got competition, but there is no equivalent site or sites on the Democratic side that can drive stories.
You mentioned "Huffington Post". Give me an example of "The Huffington Post" driving a story into the mainstream news agenda.
KURTZ: ... which is very liberal and now the most -- it's in the top five or 10 of Web site -- drive stories every day on to talk radio. They take any little thing that makes President Bush or the Republicans look bad, and they do the banner headlines. Are they Drudge yet? No.
But let me turn, Mark Halperin...
HARRIS: There's still a relative imbalance. I agree with what you said. There's still a powerful relative imbalance.
KURTZ: All right.
COX: I do -- I think he has a point, that Drudge is right now really preeminent in driving a certain kind of story. But I think what's changing isn't that there's going to be a liberal equivalent of Drudge. It's a whole sort of -- the whole mechanism of how stories are distributed are changed. KURTZ: Mark Halperin, let's talk about the Bush administration -- let me just move on here.
You report in the book that this administration, in your view and John Harris' view, is intent on breaking the old media. Not returning phone calls, not providing real answers, using conservative commentators as kind of a back channel. And you say that the old media's inability to respond is disturbing.
Well, you work for a major league network. A lot of these are big news organizations. Why can't they respond? Why can't they deal with this sort of attitude?
HALPERIN: Well, some organization like ABC News and "The Washington Post" are trying. The problem is many-fold.
It's a bad match in the time we're in between the decline of our business. Our organizations are weaker than they've ever been, where questions about what our economic models will be going forward. Questions about what our role is in dealing with competition from the new media.
The Bush administration is well aware of how the public views us. The one thing that unites America at this very polarized time is both the left and the right hate the old media. They don't trust us. They don't believe we do a good job.
The Bush administration has moved very aggressively to take advantage of that. And we are too weak in most cases to stop them. We're describing the way the world is today. We also aspire to a better world, where there are strong organizations that are trusted by both the left and the right, but we're miles away from that.
KURTZ: But John, while you say in the book that Karl Rove, who you also talked to and his Republican colleagues, regard the media as kind of a nuisance to be circumvented, I wonder if that's really true. I mean, you look at the coverage of the Iraq war, you look at the coverage of Katrina, you look at the coverage of the Mark Foley scandal. This business, even though it's losing viewers and losing readers, still has enormous influence to drive a story.
HARRIS: I would agree with that, and I do think at the end of day it's one reason we are optimistic. Look, reality matters.
I mean, they have -- you cannot put -- use artful spin to get yourself out of a bad war that's growing more unpopular with the country. Media matters. But I think in terms of our business, we're a long way in the old media from living up to and vindicating our historic standards.
KURTZ: Ana Marie Cox, for all of the clout that people like Drudge have and the Web sites have and the bloggers have, don't they really feed off this much maligned mainstream media? I mean, what would bloggers write about if they didn't have "The New York Times" and "Washington Post" and networks to kick around every day?
COX: That's true. You and I have talked about this before.
Bloggers really are kind of parasitic on the actual reporting that many mainstream media outlets do. Let's face it, reporting is very expensive, it's very time consuming. It's not something that has immediate rewards. And blogging for all the good things that it can do, the kind of collective intelligence can bring to analysis, isn't -- isn't the kind of medium that really sustains any kind of thoughtful investigation.
KURTZ: Well, we've never regarded you as a blood-sucking parasite.
Mark Halperin, you repeatedly refer in the book to political coverage of politics campaign as "the freak show". If it is a free show, whose fault is that?
HALPERIN: Well, it's the fault of everybody involved in the process. It's the fault of the polarized system we have driven by politicians and activists and interest groups who have every incentive, we write in the book, to be polarizing, to be negative, to not care about substance.
It's the fault also, though, of the press, which began the old media has lost its way, infected too often by the new media, which cares more about gossip and scandal and attack. And it's the fault, frankly, of voters and readers and viewers who don't demand yet, at least, a type of dialogue in our country which is one in which facts do matter and where attack politics and polarizing politics aren't the order of the day.
There's a lot of blame to go around, and we do try to be optimistic. But the current trend lines are all in that direction.
We make it very clear in the book, again, that this system in presidential politics favors conservatives. They have got every incentive to keep it going, and liberals are pretty much now following that same passing.
KURTZ: All right.
HALPERIN: We need our own "Drudge Report". We need our own Rush Limbaugh.
KURTZ: A lot of blame handed out there in that one answer.
Mark Halperin, thank you.
John Harris, Ana Marie Cox in Chicago, appreciate your joining us this morning.
For the latest on the midterm elections, check out CNN's "Political Ticker" for the latest political news at cnn.com/ticker.
Just ahead on RELIABLE SOURCES, Air America files for Chapter 11. We'll assess the impact on radio with liberal talk show host Stephanie Miller. And later, YouTube, revolutionary maybe, but worth a billion and a half dollars?
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) .
KURTZ: Air America, the liberal radio network that made a big splash when it debuted two and a half years ago, has filed for bankruptcy. The network, which touted such personalities as Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo, bought stations in a half-dozen major cities, but that proved to be a decidedly flawed business strategy, with Air America losing $33 million just since the beginning of last year.
So, is this a fatal blow to liberal radio?
Joining us now from Los Angeles is syndicated radio host Stephanie Miller, whose program is carried on 60 stations.
You know, Air America remains on the air. You have nothing to do with Air America. But you know that conservatives are doing a victory dance here, Stephanie, saying this failure is not just a financial bankruptcy, but a kind of intellectual rejection of liberal radio.
STEPHANIE MILLER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Oh, well they might want to -- they might want to back up on the victory dance, Howard, because progressive talk is doing just fine and it's going to continue to do fine. You might want to ask them why huge companies like Clear Channel and Infinity are flipping more and more stations to progressive talk every day.
Air America is just one syndicator of syndicated programming. I'm with Jones Radio Network, as is Ed Schultz and a lot of other hosts that are doing very well.
And that being said, people should remain calm. Capitalism is not a bad thing. Many of the best shows on Air America, even if they do go out of business, will continue.
Randi Rhodes is doing very well. Al Franken is doing very well. If he does, you know, stay, I mean, there's speculation he will run for the Senate.
But may I just say, you know, we owe him and Air America a debt of gratitude for starting the format, but the format is not going anywhere. I just picked up nine stations last month.
KURTZ: I will try to remain calm for the remainder of the interview. Now, one of your favorite commentators...
MILLER: You're so hysterical, Howard.
KURTZ: ... Bill O'Reilly, was on the air Friday talking about this. And he doesn't refer...
MILLER: Oh, you're kidding. He brought this up? That's so shocking. KURTZ: He doesn't refer to Al Franken by name. He calls him Stuart Smalley, after one of his characters.
MILLER: Hilarious. Hilarious.
KURTZ: Let's listen to what O'Reilly had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, HOST, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": Stuart Smalley and his pals have now run out of radical sugar daddies and are broke. Even "The New York Times" won't buy them lunch. So now Smalley has on his resume a failed movie, a failed sitcom, and failed radio operation.
Not gloating, just reporting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Not gloating?
MILLER: Interestingly, Howard, Al is beating Bill O'Reilly's radio show in several markets. So if his show has failed, I'd like to know what Bill O'Reilly's is.
KURTZ: All right.
Now, to start a network by buying up a bunch of stations as a business strategy was -- I guess the word would be dumb. But the argument for it is that it's difficult for liberals like you to compete on stations that already play Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity or Bill O'Reilly. That, in other words, is like, you know, playing country music on a hard rock station.
MILLER: Well, you know, Howard, my show used to be on conservative stations and I did very well back before there was such a thing as progressive talk. Same with Ed Schultz. Same with Randi Rhodes.
You know, I'm beating a lot of conservative shows already, and our format is only two years old. They've been on the air for 20 years.
So, you know, what's happening is I think the people that are radio people, that have been in radio and do good shows -- entertainment is entertainment -- will continue and will continue to do well. These companies wouldn't be flipping stations if they weren't making money.
You know, we're taking stations from a zero rating and making money for them. And that's the bottom line. It's a business. It's not a political movement. I think Air America would be the first to tell you their business plan was not good as a radio business.
KURTZ: Yes. Now, you spend an hour on every morning, delving into what you call "Right Wing World". You play clips from FOX News and you make fun of Sean Hannity.
Any jealousy factor there?
MILLER: Jealousy factor? Oh, good lord, no. It's my -- I should send them my ratings bonuses.
It's my material. You know? And by the way, you end up there sometimes, Howard, depending on how you behave.
I'm watching you.
KURTZ: Do you get a lot of hate mail from people to the other side of the spectrum?
MILLER: No. No. I've actually -- you know, I've been on Sean Hannity's radio show. I was just on his TV show last night, and I've told him I don't agree with anything he says.
He's a great radio broadcaster. The people that are great radio broadcasters will do well. You know, I'm already getting on stations that are not progressive stations because I think, you know, Rush Limbaugh -- you may not agree with him -- he's a great broadcaster. And the people on the left that are broad broadcasters will continue to do well.
KURTZ: Now, virtually all of your callers are liberal. And when you have guests, which is not very often, they tend to be liberal. So the argument would be, are you preaching to the converted? Do you have your own personal dittoheads?
MILLER: Well, you know, again, Howard, that's the dirty little secret. I mean, great radio is great radio.
Rush wouldn't have his ratings if only conservatives were listening. I can't tell you how many, you know, callers or e-mails I get from right-wingers. They listen, I don't know, because they love me, because they hate me, because they think I'm funny.
Who cares? You know, when people say, you know, "I don't agree with everything you say," you know what I say? "Well, if you agree with everything anyone says you're an idiot."
KURTZ: You need therapy, perhaps.
Now, has the Bush administration, which you view as basically one long outrage, really pumped up liberal radio and given it energy? I mean, wouldn't you be a lot less entertaining if you were having, for example, to defend President Hillary Clinton?
MILLER: Well, I mean, we make fun of everybody. That's why my show's success could not be more stunning to me, because as you know I'm too liberal for conservatives and too politically incorrect for liberals. So theoretically, I have a show that appeals to no one. But, you know, you have to admit, Howard -- come on, the right is giving us a lot more material these days. I mean, you can't write this stuff.
You're like, the guy that was the head of the Missing and Exploited Children Caucus? OK. Can you write that? You can't.
KURTZ: So you view it as -- and we have about a half a minute here. You view it as your political views may be interesting, but if you don't make people laugh, keep them entertained, you're going to be out of business?
MILLER: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, my show is really a comedy show. You know? And we make fun of everybody, you know?
KURTZ: But you seem very passionate about your political opinions even as you skewer people and ridicule them.
MILLER: Well, how can you not be these days? I mean, you know, we say with the Bush administration we're documenting the apocalypse and making it sound fun.
KURTZ: All right. We'll leave it there.
Stephanie Miller, thanks for getting up early and joining us this morning from L.A.
MILLER: Thanks, Howard.
KURTZ: When we come back, two guys who started a do-it-yourself video Web site sell out to Google. Will YouTube go corporate?
KURTZ: So a couple of 20-something guys start a video site in their garage, set up shop above a California pizza place, and then sell the whole shebang to Google this week for $1.6 billion.
Nice work if you can get it. But is YouTube worth it?
KURTZ (voice over): It depends on whether you think there's a mass market for videos like this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, guys.
KURTZ: YouTube has never made a dime, but it's a brilliant idea that outfoxed all the major media companies, from Disney, to Time Warner, to Yahoo!. Anyone could post a video online and anyone could easily click on it.
When blogger Jeff Jarvis wanted to comment on the Google deal this week, he made a crude video and posted it on YouTube.
JEFF JARVIS, BUZZMACHINE.COM: YouTube made television social, not just by allowing us to click on things and link to things and rate things, but also by allowing us to put videos on our own blogs. It turned us into network programmers.
KURTZ: And lots of people noticed, not just the crazy dancers and singers, but politicians and their opponents, such as the Indian- American volunteer for Virginia Democrat Jim Webb, who captured Senator George Allen making this blunder...
SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R), VIRGINIA: So welcome. Let's give a welcome to Macaca here.
Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.
KURTZ: Musicians noticed YouTube was a way to bypass the record companies.
NBC noticed and cut a deal with YouTube after watching the popularity of videos such as Connie Chung's off-key farewell to her MSNBC's show.
CONNIE CHUNG, FMR. MSNBC ANCHOR (SINGING): Thanks for the memories.
KURTZ: And if some of the footage posted by users was owned by the networks, well, the complaints dwindled after television executives realized the exposure was priceless.
Some dweeb at FOX News had YouTube take down the video of Bill Clinton's testy interview with Chris Wallace and was promptly overruled by FOX News chairman Roger Ailes.
Talk about free publicity.
KURTZ: And that's the genius of this tiny company. You get to decide the content. You get to decide what you like, not some hotshot New York or Hollywood programmer who takes meetings for a living.
Now we'll see whether Google, which itself was launched by a couple of nerdy young guys, screws it up or figures out how to milk it for money.
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Join us again next Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. Another critical look at the media.
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