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Reliable Sources

Interview With Charlie Gibson; Interview With John Dickerson

Aired October 29, 2006 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): Crunch time. Are the media mounting an election drumbeat for the Democrats? Have news organizations given up on the conflict in Iraq? And who is scoring points in the network anchor wars?

A conversation with ABC's Charlie Gibson.

Turning ugly. Why is Rush Limbaugh attacking Michael J. Fox?

Inside the tent. Why some conservative radio hosts visiting the White House now say Republicans should lose.

Plus, the darker side of Nancy Dickerson, the first female network star, from an unusual source, her son.


KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where today we turn our critical lens on media prognostications in these final frenzied days of the midterm election and the words over the portrayal of the war in Iraq.

I'm Howard Kurtz.

To look at these and other issues from a network perspective, I sat down in New York with Charlie Gibson, the anchor of ABC's "World News".


KURTZ: Charlie Gibson, welcome.


KURTZ: If you turn on the TV, you pick up the paper, it seems like a Democratic takeover of at least the House is being portrayed as virtually a slam dunk. Are some journalists getting too far out on a limb here?

GIBSON: Well, there's nine days to go, and always in elections things tighten up in the end. And there are some people when you go into conventional wisdom tactics, some people think that the Democrats may have peaked too early. And the president is not wrong to be chiding people for measuring the drapes and dancing in the end zone, but it is extraordinary that we are talking about the fact that there's a realistic chance the Senate could flip.

I don't think anybody was talking about that two months ago. That seemed to be beyond the pale. And when you look at the House races and the races that are political and seen as competitive, the list is growing all the time, and it's almost all Republican defense, seats that they have to hold.

On our list, a competitive list right now, there are 54 -- 53 races that are -- that we see as competitive, that could flip. And 48 of those are Republican holds, and only five are seats that the Democrats have to hold.

KURTZ: Republicans clearly playing defense. But let me ask you this. You led with one of these ABC-"Washington Post" polls the other day on your newscast.


GIBSON: Good evening. Two weeks from tomorrow, Election Day, and we have new indications it is shaping up to be a very difficult election for Republicans.


KURTZ: Are news organization too addicted to polls?

GIBSON: Oh, listen, we're less addicted to polls than the candidates are. You talk to candidates and, you know, that's the first thing that's on their mind, is what their latest polls show.

KURTZ: But you've got a big megaphone. And if you're putting polls out there all the time, sometimes polls are wrong. Sometimes polls change.

GIBSON: Well, yes, and they're a snapshot. And we said on the air when we led with that poll, this is a national poll. This is not a national election. Well, it is to the extent that -- that I think many people are so focussed on the war, but they are in each case local elections, either state elections for governor, senator, or congressional district races for the House.

And you cannot, with any great specificity or accuracy, Howie, translate a national poll to what that means to Congressman Snapdoogle in whatever state. So you have to do this with a great matter of caution. But I would say to you that we have -- in all of our election coverage so far, I think only twice have we done polling stories out of maybe 25, 30 different political stories we've done during this season.

You stay away from polls, I think, unless it really does add something. And we led with that poll because it gave a reflection of the national mood. And the important thing about that poll -- and it redirected my thinking -- my thought was, if the Democrats do take control of the House, that this is going to be very similar to 1994, when there was a very strong anti-incumbency mood in the country. This is not, as we saw in that poll, an anti-incumbency feeling. It is more a punitive feeling toward the Republicans and toward the president to punish them for a war that the public seems to be turning again.

KURTZ: No question, there's been a lot of bad news for the Republicans this past year. The war probably chief among them. Bill O'Reilly says it's what he calls the left-wing press that is tilting against and is unfair to Bush and the GOP.

GIBSON: Well, I don't think that that's fair. Look, you know, he sees the world through a more -- through a particular political prism.

We try to be -- and I say try -- I always keep in mind something that David Brinkley said years and years ago. There is no such thing as objectivity, there are only lesser degrees of subjectivity.

You cannot breed out things that you have in your own mind, but your constant desire, your constant striving is to be as objective as you can be. And I don't it's unfairness to the -- to the Republican Party. I think at the moment what's happening to the country is really interesting in terms of their feelings about the war, and you saw this past week on Wednesday -- you saw the president make an attempt in that press conference to try to make his case again.

It was a very interesting political moment. A lot of political advisers in the Republican Party are saying stay away from the war, put it down, don't emphasize this. And the president took it on, knowing that all of the questions at that press conference would be about the war.

KURTZ: And indeed, the White House correspondents at that news conference asked a lot of tough, skeptical questions about whether the situation in Iraq essentially has spiraled out of control, whether the president's plan is not working.

Should those kind of tough-minded questions have been asked more often, more aggressively earlier in this conflict?

GIBSON: Oh, hindsight is 20/20, sure. You know, the critical period of time was going into the war and the issue of WMD, which was the pretext of the reason for the war that was cited then. There was never any proof, and I suspect if you went into every newsroom in the country and said...

KURTZ: What do you really...

GIBSON: ... were you really tough enough, were we tough enough on holding the administration's feet to the fire on the WMD issue? I think every single managing editor in the country would express some contrition.

KURTZ: And isn't it easier now when much of the public has turned against this war for journalists to take a more adversarial stance than it was then when the country -- when the president was rallying the country?

GIBSON: Well, Howie, I think -- yes, but I think you go to the basic issue of what is the charge of a reporter in a presidential news conference? It is to challenge -- and that's not just in a presidential news conference -- it's to challenge the person that you're asking the question of on the -- on what may be some of the most vulnerable points of his argument.

KURTZ: But even beyond the news conference, the way the stories are reported on the air, the way they're framed, the way they're in the newspaper, a lot of very, very skeptical coverage. Sure, I mean, look, we're three and a half years into a conflict that is not going well.

GIBSON: Look, we depend very much on the people that we have there, and when we talk to them because they are in -- they and our people here in Washington, as well, are in contact with the leaders of the military in Iraq, and they're talking also to soldiers. We're very constrained in what we can do in Iraq.

We can't get out to some areas because of the danger to our correspondents that we need to cover. But what we can do is talk to people in the military that are around where we are. And when they begin to express concerns, when the kids who are carrying the guns begin to tell you that they're not sure of their mission, and when you add to that the situation that you see in front of you in the street, that leads to growing concern. And when you sense it in the generals as well, I think it is -- we're simply reflecting what we hear from our people there.

KURTZ: You're on the air every night. How do you deal with the daily drumbeat of death and destruction out of Iraq so that all of the stories don't sound the same? Fifty Iraqis killed yesterday in a car bombing, five American soldiers killed in a battle, 10 American soldiers killed this week. How do you try to humanize it?

GIBSON: It's a real problem. When do you -- because when you -- when you deal with a macro and it's simply a number, you have to -- how do you attach the fact that to every one of those numbers, to every one of those people killed, be they American or be they Iraqi, in every one oft hose stories there is a family that is just torn apart. It's very difficult. And it's very difficult when you are as constrained as you are.

I don't think -- one of the things that I feel is that we don't have to lead with Iraq every night. It is a cumulative story. It is a story where one day builds on the other. But it is incumbent, I think, upon us to make sure that it's in the broadcast almost every night so that people have a cumulative sense of what's going on.

KURTZ: You recently sat down with the president. One of the things you asked Bush was -- you told him that Iraq was not part of the war on terror until after a U.S. invasion.


GIBSON: But the point I make and many of the critics make is that it wasn't a part of the war on terror until we went in there.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Charlie, I just told you, the president's job is to confront a threat.


KURTZ: Do you feel you got a satisfactory answer on that question?

GIBSON: Well, I didn't try to tell him anything. I tried not to tell him anything. You don't tell the president of the United States what's going on in the world.

KURTZ: You surely suggest it.

GIBSON: You ask him about what's going on in the world. But I did ask him if -- if -- and I went back to it a number of times. We -- we actually only played I think two of the questions on the air, but three or four times I went back to the -- he keeps saying -- because at the time I talked to him, he was making that series of speeches about you have to look at the war as part of in context to the war on terror, generally. And this is just a part of it.

And I kept saying, "But was it a part of it before we went in there?" I mean, you can't -- you can't tie Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda. They didn't have weapons of mass destruction. So where is the evidence that -- that Iraq presented a danger as far as the war on terror is concerned?

We went back to that question a number of times. I think the president in his own mind honestly believes that it is, and I think many people are very skeptical of that. So that's why I went back to the question a number of times, and -- and I -- whether the answer was sufficient will be in the minds of the people who watched it.

KURTZ: All right.

It was ABC and Brian Ross who broke the Mark Foley congressional page scandal. Critics said the next two or three weeks the media in general just went totally overboard in pumping up that story.

What do you think?

GIBSON: Well, I don't think so. I think in the end it was a story about people who have custody, if you will, of children, and their responsibility to those kids, and whether or not the Congress was -- was exercising sufficient oversight in taking care of young people who are in Washington.


KURTZ: After the break, Charlie Gibson on his new role as an evening news anchor and competing against the likes of Katie Couric.

Still ahead on the program, Donald Rumsfeld rips the press over Iraq. And later on CNN, Wolf Blitzer interviews Senator Dick Lugar and Joe Biden on election politics and Iraq. That's "LATE EDITION," 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

And at 1:00 p.m., John Roberts hosts "This Week at War" from Baghdad.



More now from my sit-down with Charlie Gibson on the ABC set in New York.

Gibson took over the anchor chair at "World News" nearly five months ago, and I asked him what was the biggest change from all those years sitting next to Diane Sawyer at "Good Morning America"?


GIBSON: I think it was the extent, first of all, to which people watch these broadcasts with a different eye than they do others. They tend to look at these programs more intensely, I think, than they do a chattier show, which is "Good Morning America," and even to some extent "Nightline". But the most profound part of it is that within ABC News -- and I suspect the same thing is true for CBS and NBC -- that within the division you look to the person who is in this chair as having a leadership role that I guess I had -- that I had anticipated but not intellectualized enough, or not thought through enough. And so -- so people within the division really looked at this as well much more closely.

KURTZ: So when you're on camera does that require you to be more serious? I mean, I never see you cooking anymore.

GIBSON: There is no kitchen on this set of "World News," and I will not wear an apron. That's not going to happen. But, yes, sure, it's -- it's a much more -- you know, this is the news, and this -- that's essentially the charge of this broadcast, to give you the best 22 and whatever-plus minutes we have, the best distillation of the day's events that we can possibly do, and to stay on the news all of the way through.

KURTZ: Critics raised all kinds of question, Charlie, about Katie Couric going to the "CBS Evening News" because she had spent 15 years in morning television and doing the things you do on morning TV. No one raised those questions about you.

Why the difference?

GIBSON: I don't know. I was actually somewhat surprised that I didn't get that -- that kind of questioning. I think some of it was that we sort of -- and I was very pleased -- we sort of came on the air under the radar, started on Memorial Day, and worked through the summer, and sort of got up to cruising speed.

KURTZ: And while at the same time, you know, Katie was getting this tidal wave of publicity, she was on the cover of "Newsweek".

GIBSON: Was she? Was she?

KURTZ: And you didn't find that frustrating?

She was on the cover of "Newsweek".

GIBSON: Well, I'll be darned. No, I wasn't on the cover of "Newsweek".

I -- there was a -- I had a page 32 article in "Field and Stream," I think. And I'm big in "Mechanics Illustrated".

KURTZ: You like being under the radar, though?

GIBSON: I like being under the radar because this show is not about me. It's about ABC News -- or at least I feel it is -- and I try to convey that to the people who work in this division. Maybe part of that was that I worked for this broadcast and worked for ABC News for -- I mean, Katie worked at NBC News before she went to "The Today Show". But I was here for more than -- almost 20 years working for the broadcast.

KURTZ: A pretty familiar face.

GIBSON: And I had covered the Congress for eight, and I've been a general assignment correspondent forever. I covered nine spelling bees when I was in the general assignment corps.

I loved doing the spelling bees every year. But -- but I was actually somewhat surprised that I didn't get the same kind of question.

KURTZ: You got this job in part because Bob Woodruff, the former co-anchor, was badly injured in Iraq. Now he and his wife are writing a book and he's going to be doing a prime-time special for ABC about the ordeal that he went through.

How is he doing?

GIBSON: He's -- thank you for asking. He's doing much better.

It's -- I use the analogy it's a little bit like coming back from a stroke, where it's just very gradual, you know, all the time. And you recover a little bit every day. And if you saw him today and compared it with where he was two months ago and two months before that, it really is terrific to see.

He still fights for a word every once in a while. Strangely enough, as Bob will tell you, nouns. It's amazing how even -- it's amazing the way the brain works. And it's parts of speech specific that you lose -- I mean, but he's getting that back.

And the times he'll have to stop and say, "Oh, what is that word?" It's almost never anymore and it's -- listen, given the fact that 10 months ago he almost died, it is amazing to see this kind of recovery.

KURTZ: Well, that is good to hear.

Now, I know you don't like to look at ratings, but ABC this past week sent out a press release saying that your broadcast was only 200,000 viewers behind Brian Williams and "NBC Nightly News".

GIBSON: Did we put out a press release on that?


GIBSON: Did we really?

KURTZ: So did you look at those ratings?

GIBSON: They were brought to my attention. They were. But...

KURTZ: But usually you've been in second place. You're usually about 800,000 behind "NBC Nightly News," you have about the same margin over the...

GIBSON: Usually? I've only been here a few weeks. I mean, there's no "usually" anymore.

KURTZ: Well, as it's settled out in this three-way race.

GIBSON: It's no fair to say -- I mean, you guys are all writing that, you know, Katie's -- Katie's mired in third place. She's only been there six weeks. You know?

Let it settle down. Let it percolate. We'll see. You know.

KURTZ: How important is it to you to try to get to first place?

GIBSON: Well, sure, it's important. You know, I -- I've been number one and I've been number two when we were at "Good Morning America," and number one is better. That's no revelation. That's no headline.

But it is not the thing that you focus on. You don't sit down every day and think about what are the circulation figures for "The Washington Post"? You don't do that. You can't.

You think, how do I do my job the best I can today, and do I find out what's going on and beat those sons of guns at "The New York Times"?


KURTZ: My interview with Charlie Gibson.

When we come back, Madonna unloads on the press, and Jane Pauley says she was duped, duped by "The New York Times".

Details in our "Media Minute," next.


KURTZ: Time now for a look at the news business in our "Media Minute".


KURTZ (voice over): It's enough to make you depressed. Jane Pauley, the former talk show host who has battled bipolar disorder, says she thought she was being interviewed for a "New York Times" article on psychotherapeutic drugs. Instead, her picture ended up in a paid supplement called an advertorial for Eli Lilly and other big drug makers.

Now Pauley has sued the paper, charging fraud and false advertising. "The Times" denies the charges, saying Pauley was told the interview was for an advertising supplement.

Madonna is rich and famous, which probably doesn't hurt when you're trying to adopt a child in Malawi and are able to make a $3 million contribution to the country's orphans. But now that her attempt to adopt a 13-month-old boy has become mired in controversy, the woman whose career is built on publicity tells Oprah that she blames, yes, the media for taking too much of her case.

MADONNA, SINGER: I don't read newspapers or watch television, but all of my friends have let me know what everybody's talking about and what's going on in the news. I would say I'm disappointed because, more than anything, I mean, for me, I understand that gossip and telling negative stories sells newspapers, but I think, for me, I'm disappointed because more than anything it discourages other people from doing the same thing. I think if everybody went there they'd want to bring one of those children home with them and give them a better life.


KURTZ: I actually sympathize with Madonna for having this family matter turn into tabloid fodder, but no one knows better than the material girl that the spotlight she's always craved can turn rather harsh.

Oh, and Madonna, read a newspaper once in a while.

Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, Rush Limbaugh says he's the victim after he accuses Michael J. Fox of exaggerating his Parkinson's Disease for political reasons.

Plus, Donald Rumsfeld guests testy with the Pentagon press corps.

And the White House opened its front lawn to talk radio this week. We'll take you inside the tent.

All that after a check of the hour's top stories from the CNN Center in Atlanta.


President Bush met the press this week. Don Rumsfeld met the press this week. And both pushed back hard against increasingly aggressive questions from reporters about whether the administration has a new plan or just a new slogan for dealing with Iraq.

Joining us now are two on-air talkers from opposite sides of the fence.

In Los Angeles, syndicated radio host Stephanie Miller. And in Des Moines, Jan Mickelson of station WHO.

Stephanie Miller, I want to play for you a clip from Thursday's Pentagon briefing with Don Rumsfeld. He really goes at the press, particularly takes umbrage at some comments or some questions from NBC correspondent Jim Miklaszewski.

Let's watch.


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: You ought to just back off, take a look at it, relax, understand that it's complicated.

find almost every day I see all kinds of mythology repeated in the press. Day after day of things that never happened.

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Secretary, can you blame us for the tone? Expressing some skepticism?

RUMSFELD: That's your job. You can express all the skepticism you want.

MIKLASZEWSKI: A benchmark has been laid down in terms of security forces and the like. The Iraqis have been unable to meet them.

RUMSFELD: That is just false.

Wait just a minute! Just a minute.

That is false.

Every time a security benchmark has been laid down, the Iraqis have failed to meet it. Wrong.


KURTZ: Stephanie Miller, is Don Rumsfeld back to the old administration tactic of blaming the press on Iraq?

STEPHANIE MILLER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: He doesn't appear to like questions at a press conference, Howard. That is apparently not the place for it.

And normally, as you know, he asks his own anyway. Is it going to be tough? Sure. Do I need you guys to ask me anything? No.

But I -- you know, as an actual compassionate liberal, Howard, I feel that it's time for him to go somewhere where he can spend a lot of time in his pajamas. I feel that he's getting a little cranky and persnickety.

He's kind of like that man that yells at the kids to get off the yard all day. He's a -- isn't he? He's like that gym teacher that tells you to run it off after you break your leg. He's, like, back off!

KURTZ: You're talking about the secretary of defense here.

MILLER: I mean, are you kidding me? This is the secretary of defense that is in charge of the most disastrous war plan we've ever had and he doesn't know us answers?

KURTZ: Let me go to Jan Mickelson.

Rumsfeld suggested several times that the media are deliberately playing up bad news about Iraq. But with the U.S. death toll for October the highest level in two years, and with Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq disputing what the White House said about agreeing to timetables and benchmarks, there hasn't been a lot of good news, has there?

JAN MICKELSON, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: No, there has not, but both of those things are connected. Rumsfeld is old enough to remember the scene on top of those buildings in Saigon where our honorable peace, our honorable way of leaving Vietnam left behind a lot of our friends dangling from the bottom of our helicopters. We left behind good people because we did not have a good tactic to end that war.

At the end of Gulf I, we asked the Shiites to rise up against Saddam Hussein. They did. We stood down. They got slaughtered.

Rumsfeld understands the seriousness of this, that there are literally millions of lives at stake. He is -- his whole administration, partly from, as Stephanie said, because of some of their own mistakes, but because it's just the nature of the ugliness of this thing.

They don't want to have this all fall apart on their watch. They're terrified that they might have another step down and get our friends slaughtered. They don't want to be an asterisk in history with that under their belt.

KURTZ: All right. Let me jump in here, because I want to ask Stephanie whether or not -- you know we saw that press conference. President Bush got some very tough questioning when he met the press this week for the second time in two weeks.

Are journalists getting more aggressive now in questioning, being skeptical about pushing back on the administration's rationale for this war? MILLER: Well, Howard, first of all, may I just say, it's about time. You know, I certainly hold the media -- and by the media, I mean you, specifically, Howard -- responsible for, you know, the run- up to the war. You know, a lot of people might be alive today I think if the media had been paying more attention and been more critical, you know?

There were -- there were some brave Democratic legislators that did say this pre-war intelligence, you know, does not look right to us.

KURTZ: So why the change? Is it easier now for journalists to be more aggressive about the war because it does not appear to be going well, public support in the polls is dropping? Is it just frankly easier than it was at the outset.

MILLER: Well, of course, Howard. But that's my point, is that that's not what journalism is. Journalism is, you know, asking the tough questions when it's not popular. You know?

And I hope that the press has learned a lesson from this whole thing. Everybody was caught up in this patriotic furor, you know, and look where it's gotten us.

I'm not saying it's the press' fault. You know, I'll leave that to the White House, because as you know, it's not that things are going badly in Iraq, it's how you're covering it that's making it look bad.

KURTZ: Jan Mickelson, ahead in the program we're going to take a look at Talk Radio Day at the White House. You were up here earlier in the week to participate in that.

I asked a lot of conservative radio hosts whether or not they are rooting for the Republicans to win, to retain control of Congress in this midterm elections.

Are you?

MICKELSON: The stakes are pretty high no matter who wins in this. If we are only going talk about war-related issues, the choice is that both parties will have, no matter who is in control -- it's pretty limited now. We're trying desperately to hand this war back to the Iraqis, going back to your observation about Maliki.

KURTZ: I've got to pin you down here.


KURTZ: Are you -- does it matter to you whether Republicans control the House and the Senate after November 7th?

MICKELSON: At home it does. And it really does -- there are things at stake and things on the drawing board right now that would affect the quality of a lot of people's lives. KURTZ: I'm sorry. You mean -- you mean that on domestic issues you prefer the GOP, but you are disillusioned -- is that a fair word -- in terms of the conduct of this war?

MICKELSON: On domestic issues I am a dissatisfied customer and I'm a dissatisfied consumer of this administration, as a lot of social conservatives are. I'm not a social conservative. And by the way, for the record, neither is President Bush.

But on the war situation, this is a bipartisan mess. We got ourselves in here for all kinds of different reasons. Some justified and not.

Lives are hugely at stake here. What we do over the next few weeks will affect the lives of literally millions of people. And the future of the Middle East depends upon how well we handle the next few weeks in this transition. This is pretty serious stuff.

KURTZ: All right. No dispute on that.

Stephanie Miller, the Virginia Senate race took another strange turn the other day when you had Senator George Allen accusing his Democratic challenger, Jim Webb, of writing steamy sex scenes in novels. And the press release from the Allen campaign says the women were being portrayed as servile, subordinate, inept, incompetent, promiscuous, perverted, or some combination of these.

My question to you is, apparently the Allen campaign had been peddling this line for weeks, reporters had not bit, and suddenly Matt Drudge puts out a big headline about it and everybody jumps on the story.

What do you make of that?

MILLER: Oh, you know, let me -- let me just say, Howard, I think the key point here is that the underage sex scandals for Republicans are real, and with Democrats they're fictional. So there is a big difference right there.

Are you kidding me with this? I mean, of all the last-minute desperate ploys -- you know, I brought with me, by the way, Bill O'Reilly's, Lynne Cheney's, Scooter Libby's and Newt Gingrich's dirty novels to read from, but I don't know how much time we have. But certainly it would disqualify a lot of people from office.

I mea, you've got to be kidding me with this.

KURTZ: In a broader sense, Jim Mickelson, does the press spend too much time on sex scandals, "Macaca," somebody's Jewish grandfather? I mean, all of the triviality and sleaze that seems to be part of the coverage this time around?

MICKELSON: Yes, but it beats real work. I mean, it is -- it is -- it is silly. And that is part of the distraction. And it really is -- provides some comic relief in some pretty grim times.

KURTZ: All right.

MICKELSON: You'll have to admit, though, that the former secretary, Jim Webb's novels, demonstrate a pretty dark imagination. And I haven't read them, but I've just read the excerpts, and they're pretty much like B moves. You know if there's going to be a pole dance scene in some kind of a nightclub dive. You're watching a B movie.

KURTZ: Let me jump in now because I want...

MILLER: But Howard...

KURTZ: Hold on, Stephanie. I want to turn to Rush Limbaugh because we're running a little short on time.

As everybody knows, Rush made some news this week beating up on Michael J. Fox, the actor who has suffered for years now with Parkinson's Disease, and then a day later he seemed to feel that he was the target of unfair media criticism.

Let's take a look.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: He is moving all around and shaking, and it's purely an act. This is the only time I have ever seen Michael J. Fox portray any of the symptoms of the disease he has.

There is an action line to every story in the media. I am a story to the media, and thus I have an action line. The action line is I -- I'm the poster boy for all of the negative stereotypes that they have created about conservatism, and anything they think fits that action line and moves it forward they are happy to report.


KURTZ: Stephanie Miller, Rush Limbaugh now says that he is being unfairly treated by the media.

MILLER: Oh, who doesn't think Rush is the victim here, Howard? I can understand why he's a little confused about prescription medication, because Michael J. Fox takes medication in the prescribed amount by one doctor and not a thousand picked up by his housekeeper.

But, you know, Howard, this is -- I mean, seriously, if I have to watch that tape again of someone mocking physically the symptoms of Parkinson's Disease, I just cannot believe the level of debate we've gotten to in this country. I mean, it's just disgusting what Rush did.

KURTZ: Jan Mickelson, it is reasonable, it seems to me, if an actor like Michael J. Fox puts himself in the political arena, makes political ads, that he should expect to be criticized. But did Limbaugh go too far in accusing him of exaggerating his symptoms?

MICKELSON: No, Rush understands his function. His function is to make it safe for lesser people in the culture war to talk about issues that he raises.

It is part of the (INAUDIBLE) theater that politics has become. You'll lob a hand grenade, and then you respond to the reaction to the hand grenade.

Rush understands what it is to be, at this level on this issue, an adult. Somebody has to be a jerk and tell the truth that embryonic stem cell research is junk science and it's a hustle.

KURTZ: All right. Let me just -- I just want to get a response in here from Michael J. Fox, who appeared this morning on ABC's "This Week".

Let's listen.


MICHAEL J. FOX, ACTOR: I can't stress enough, I don't want to react personally to these a attacks. It's pointless. It's silly.

It's like -- it's like getting in a fight with a bully. What's the point? You're not going change his mind, you're just probably going to get a nose bleed.


KURTZ: Stephanie Miller, I've got about 20 seconds. Do Limbaugh fans like this sort of thing, or do you think that he has hurt himself?

MICKELSON: They expect it.

MILLER: I would hope he has...

MICKELSON: I'm sorry.

MILLER: I would hope he has hurt himself among decent people.

And by the way, Rush, if you were just watching that tape of Michael J. Fox, there's a road you couldn't find if Google was up your butt. It's called the high road.

KURTZ: All right. Well, we'll try -- 10 seconds left, Jan Mickelson.

Closing thought?

MICKELSON: Well, Michael J. is in Des Moines tomorrow at Drake University, campaigning for a cafeteria Mormon who is pro-choice. It all sort of fits together in a great political tapestry.

KURTZ: All right.

Jan Mickelson, Stephanie Miller, thanks very much for kicking around these issues with us this morning.

For the latest in campaign news updated throughout the day, check out the CNN Political Ticker,

And all this week, beginning at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, Wolf Blitzer and Paula Zahn team up for a special two-hour edition of "THE SITUATION ROOM". Breaking news, political news, updates, as we head to the finish line on election night.

Up next on this program, are conservative radio talkers helping to amplify the administration's message in the final days of the campaign? We'll go behind the scenes of Talk Radio Day at the White House right after this.


KURTZ: Welcome back.

I got an up close and personal look on Tuesday at the Bush administration's latest media strategy.


DAN BARTLETT, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: They will weaken the tools on terror, whether it be the Patriot Act, whether it be the Terror Surveillance Program or other key issues (INAUDIBLE) in the war on terror. And they're going to raise your taxes.

KURTZ: Talk about getting your message out. The people in that big white tent behind me are radio hosts, mostly conservative, here for White House Radio Day. It's a tremendous way for administration officials to get out their message with a usually sympathetic audience.

So you have got a lot of table-hopping going on. Karl Rove, Tony Snow, Dan Bartlett, Michael Chertoff, going from one microphone to the next, repeating the same things over and over again two weeks before an election, trying to make their case for the Republicans. But this time some of the conservative hosts in there tell me that they are not happy campers, that they are disaffected, disillusioned, disappointed, at least with aspects of this administration. So it's a little bit of a tougher sell than it might be in another election year, in another climate.

TOM SULLIVAN, KFBK, SACRAMENTO, CA.: Spending is unconscionable. You know, the Republican mantra is not even close to being watched.

KURTZ (voice over): But aren't they worried about a Democratic takeover of Congress?

JAN MICKELSON, WHO, DES MOINES, IA.: At the national level, I don't really give a rip.

KURTZ: Not all of the conservatives feel that way, of course, but the assembled hosts understood full well that the administration sees them as a conduit.

MARTHA ZOLLER, WDUN, GAINESVILLE, GA.: You know what I say? Is use me, because any time my listeners can get to hear from policymakers -- and we do it with Democrats, too -- Republicans, Independents, Libertarians, whoever it is -- any time they have the opportunity to maybe ask a question directly through a phone call or me ask the question, that's better for them.

SULLIVAN: You know, the dirty little secret is, nobody calls me up from the White House to give me my marching orders and never has.

KURTZ: Conservatives have dominated talk radio for 15 years. And not surprisingly, they dominated this White House event.

FOX's Sean Hannity got an exclusive sit-down with Vice President Cheney, while some of those on the left, such as Air America's Rachel Maddow, couldn't even get their calls returned. But a handful of liberals did make it inside the tent.

MARK DAVIS, WBAP, DALLAS: It's easy to take a look at this and say, there's a -- you know, there's a friendly tent full of nothing but conservative talk show hosts. Hey, the NPR guys are in there. There was some challenging questions asked, and I did, too.

KURTZ: In the end, did Karl Rove and company change many minds, particularly among the more skeptical conservatives?

MICKELSON: It's just background noise at this moment. It's kind of an ego stroke to be out here and to be able to see some of these folks.

KURTZ: Atlanta's Neal Boortz learned one lesson from hobnobbing with the high and mighty, running the country is hard work.

NEAL BOORTZ, WSB, ATLANTA: I'd rather just run my mouth. This is a job I wouldn't want to have.


KURTZ: Up next, John Dickerson's surprisingly raw and personal look at his famous mother, Nancy Dickerson, one of the first female stars on network television.



KURTZ: Nancy Dickerson was the first female correspondent to become a big TV star. While at NBC, she rubbed shoulders with the likes of Jack Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.


NANCY DICKERSON, NBC NEWS: I thought that JFK had all the pizzazz in the world. And of course, LBJ was -- well, he was such a -- well, it's hard to describe him, because he was so different in real life from what he was on television.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: So you would expect a book by her son to be totally laudatory, but John Dickerson, chief political correspondent for "Slate" magazine, has written a very different kind of book, called, "On Her Trail: My Mother Nancy Dickerson, TV News' First Woman Star."

John Dickerson, I would hesitate to compare this to "Mommy Dearest," the film about Joan Crawford, but you make the comparison in the book. You basically say that Nancy Dickerson was your enemy for much of your life and a fairly awful mother.

JOHN DICKERSON, SLATE.COM: Well, that's right. I make the comparison because we had a rocky relationship when I was growing up. When my parents split, I moved in with my father and lived with him for the rest of my life.

What this book is about, though, is discovering the other woman after she died, what she was like before I was born, as a young girl, and the conflicts between those two images, and the woman who emerged in the end.

KURTZ: Let's talk about that rocky relationship. You write for example, "Mom's schedule never had a window large enough for natural moments."

So was it that she was consumed by her career and you, as a young boy, just felt kind of shunted aside?

DICKERSON: Well, she was doing this all without a playbook. No woman had been on television in the way she had, and she was raising five kids. And so, she was trying to do both of these without any rules about how to do it, and what ended up happening, is her ambition and her drive to succeed in her job ended keeping her away from us a lot of the time.

KURTZ: But that's your analysis now as an adult, looking back. At the time, you resented her? You disliked her? You...

DICKERSON: Well, at the time, what it was like is basically we thought we were independent operators, because she wasn't around. We had this wonderful freedom, we had this great world in which she ultimately then became an intrusion. We sort of had to figure it out on our own, and so during the time she was around and insisted then that we'd be as well, these clashes were inevitable.

KURTZ: It's hard to escape the conclusion reading this book that you had a lot of anger that you had to deal with, even in order to come to terms with your relations with your mother.

DICKERSON: I think that's fair to say in some ways, although in the journey of going through -- she left me 20 boxes of her life, everything from her journals as a young girl to her work in papers as a journalist -- and in going through all of that, I learned about a far more complex and interesting woman. And one whom in the end I'm quite sympathetic towards, not just because she's my mother but because she's the character at the center of this book. KURTZ: There were so few women on network television at the time. What qualities enabled Nancy Dickerson to become a star in that era?

DICKERSON: She had extraordinary hustle and drive. And she just didn't take no for an answer. And there were a lot of men who said no, who said women can't do this, they don't have the authority to talk on television. They treated her like sort of baby doll at times, and she just plowed right ahead, and worked very, very hard, and every time they said no she worked a little harder.

KURTZ: No, she was so friendly with JFK that there were rumors that she was one of his many conquests. I find this remarkable: Lyndon Johnson had dinner with her, you write, the night after Kennedy's assassination, his first night as president. And then your mother sent over some black clothes for Ladybird Johnson to wear to the funeral. So was she too close to the people she covered?

DICKERSON: She was, and she admitted as much. But ultimately, that's what sort of her hurt her very much in the business. But she had sort of one trick she could play. In the world where all of the men had all of the relationships with the men in power, she had access, which she worked very hard to keep and which worked very well for her through much of her career. And so in the end, the thing that had worked so well for her ended up being the thing that hurt her.

KURTZ: Why did it hurt her?

DICKERSON: Because the network executives thought it was fine for men columnists to be close to presidents, but for a news correspondent, for -- to be close to the president, they couldn't report objectively about them.

KURTZ: Double standard?

DICKERSON: Double standard perhaps, but also for them, it was also a period where the personal presidency when Nixon -- when she left NBC in 1970, Nixon was president, getting too close to him and that was a bigger problem than, say, being close to John Kennedy when she started out.

KURTZ: Was it hard for you, John, even before you wrote this book, in terms of people knowing who your mother was? And perhaps assuming this must have been great to grow up as the son of Nancy Dickerson, when you knew full well it has been a difficult childhood for you?

DICKERSON: It was odd growing up. She had me later in life. She was 41 when she had me. And when I grew up, people would always sort of come to me with these predisposed notions about who she was. So it was complex, and always sort of having to deal with their notions of her before I could try and explain my own.

KURTZ: Was it a painful experience for you to write this book?

DICKERSON: It was painful. All writing is painful. This was particularly painful, but in the end, we reconciled in life, and also in this book. There are lots of wonderful parts about it, discovering who she was in this period that I never saw. There were some really great discoveries.

KURTZ: But in terms of sort of exposing yourself and talking about your feelings and your childhood and all of that, it's got to be difficult to do? I mean, did you feel like you had to write this book? Was there a compulsion to write this book

DICKERSON: I did feel like I had to write this book, and that's one of the things mom and I share. As reporters, you figure out issues by writing about them, by talking to people, by sort of twisting the information as best you can into a narrative. And that's what I had to do with this material, and in the end, the person that I found, as textured as she was, is more real than the image that might have come forward just to people through their television screens.

KURTZ: All right. As I say, a surprising book, and an interesting one as well.

John Dickerson, thanks very much for joining us.

DICKERSON: Thank you.


KURTZ: My conversation with John Dickerson.

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.