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Rather Takes Swipe at CBS; Fox News' Coverage of War in Iraq
Aired June 17, 2007 - 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): Katie in the crossfire. Dan Rather takes a swipe at his successor and his former network, and CBS chief Les Moonves and "Evening News" producer Rick Kaplan punch right back.
What's behind Rather's charge that Couric is "tarting up" the news and CBS' countercharge that his scandal damaged the news division? We'll have our scorecard.
Downsizing war coverage. Bill O'Reilly says FOX News deliberately doesn't highlight every bombing in Iraq and accuses CNN and MSNBC of playing up the war to damage President Bush. What is he talking about?
Secrets of a spinner. Democratic strategist Robert Shrum on a lifetime of sparring with campaign reporters.
And the next newest star, Obama Girl. Plus, Paris Hilton and the art of image rehab.
KURTZ: It's been a rough nine months for Katie Couric. The CBS anchor has had to endure criticism of her looks, her wardrobe, her social life, and most of all the evening newscast she took over after leaving "The Today Show". The problem is this: whatever improvements she's made have been overshadowed by sinking ratings.
The latest blow came from Dan Rather, who occupied that anchor chair for 24 years before an acrimonious departure from CBS.
On MSNBC, Rather had this to say about his old program...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN RATHER, HONET: The mistake was to try to bring "The Today Show" ethos to the evening news, and to dumb it down, tart it up, in hopes of attracting a younger audience.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: CBS chief executive Les Moonves, who approved the decision not to renew Rather's contract last year, dismissed the remarks as sexist and suggested Couric was being judged by a double standard.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
LES MOONVES, CBS PRESIDENT & CEO: Let's stop talking about her clothes, her hair, who her boyfriend is. I don't remember ever reading about what restaurant Tom Brokaw was eating in last night with who.
We're trying our best to do the best product we can. We're going to promote it appropriately. Hopefully people will try our product, they will like it, they will come back, and it will grow.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
KURTZ: Rick Kaplan, executive producer of the "CBS Evening News," and a former president of CNN, told reporters that Rather was out of line. Kaplan said it took CBS a long time to recover from the 2004 memo-gate scandal in which Rather had to apologize for using disputed documents and charging that George W. Bush had received favored treatment from the National Guard.
So what does this dustup tell us about the anchor wars and the condition of network news?
Joining us now, Mark Jurkowitz, associate director at the Project for Excellence in Journalism. In New York, Terence Smith, former media correspondent for the PBS "NewsHour" and a former CBS correspondent. And in Boston, Emily Rooney, the host of WGBH's "Beat the Press".
Emily Rooney, why would Dan Rather come out and pound his successor, his old broadcast, and, for good measure, Les Moonves?
EMILY ROONEY, "BEAT THE PRESS": I don't know. I was sort of surprised he did.
On the other hand, he wasn't entirely wrong on the other hand. In the beginning, they were tarting up the broadcast. You know, they had the gam cam. But all of that stuff is gone.
So it's almost like his timing was off on this. If he said that right away -- you know, they tried all those gimmicks. But that's all gone.
You know, Rick Kaplan said on "Beat the Press" back in the fall before he took over this job at CBS that it really did matter what Katie Couric was wearing. In fact, she was too dowdy. And I was expecting a dramatic change when he got there.
There is always going to be a double standard when it comes to what a woman looks like versus what a guy looks like. You know, anyway, Dan Rather wasn't entirely wrong about that.
KURTZ: All right.
Terry Smith, you were at CBS News for 13 years while Rather was the anchor. He's been talking about the celebrification of news and the dumbing down of news for a couple of decades. But to do it now, was there a kind of an aroma of sour grapes?
TERENCE SMITH, FMR. PBS MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think Dan may be guilty of a lack of originality, but not sexism, as Les Moonves suggested in another of his comments, because six years ago, in an interview I did with him on "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," Rather used the exact same phrase about "tarting up" and "dumbing down".
His reference then was to the pressure he was under at the time from CBS management to lighten up his broadcast and theoretically appeal to a younger audience. So not very original of Dan, but not sexist either.
KURTZ: So he was fighting the "tarting up" forces of the media industry as well.
Mark Jurkowitz, Les Moonves, who, by the way, that joke about naked news, naked anchors, was a joke.
MARK JURKOWITZ, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, PROJECT FOR EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM: Right.
KURTZ: I mean, here's a guy who criticized Rather over the memo- gate scandal, fired his producer, Mary Mapes, and approved CBS' decision to cut Rather loose last year.
So is this payback on Rather's part?
JURKOWITZ: Put it this way: there is certainly some residual ill will here. And whatever you think of Dan's record as an anchorman, there is an argument to be made that he was thrown under the bus, or treated in a way at the end of his career at CBS that, maybe whether he had to go or not, that maybe wasn't as respectful of his long career as it should have been.
It's worth noting -- it's worth noting one thing about his claim. We all know in the beginning there was a lot of talk about how the newscast was. You know, that Tom Cruise baby pictures and the Vox Populi segment of the new Katie Couric newscast. But we've evaluated the content at the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the networks newscasts.
In terms of actual subject matter, there is very little difference between the three major network newscasts each night. There can be a different in the treatment of stories and in the persona of the anchors, but not the actual subject matter.
KURTZ: And since you bring up the content, let's take a look at this whole charge about whether CBS News is no longer hard enough. Let's take a look at the lead story for the first four nights this week anchored by Katie Couric.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: Hello, everyone. A key element of President Bush's war on terror was struck down today in court.
President Bush went to Capitol Hill today to fight an uphill battle to get his immigration bill through Congress.
Congress is trying to prevent another Virginia Tech.
What was once considered the best hope for peace in the Middle East is disintegrating tonight.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Terry Smith, this has become a harder-edge, more traditional newscast in recent months. But the ratings are still dropping. Why?
SMITH: Well, I think that in part it is the anchor. It's always about the anchor. But I don't think -- Katie Couric is a fine and professional broadcaster and a solid journalist. I don't think that she's the instant solution to the "CBS Evening News" problems.
If she had been, then they'd be doing better now after these months. So she's not entirely the problem. But she's not really the solution either.
There was a certain logic in bringing a proven morning star to the evening and see if she could light it up and build an audience. So that made a certain amount of sense. But now months have gone by and there is some resistance to accepting her in this new role.
So she may not be the problem, but she may not be the instant solution either.
KURTZ: And Emily Rooney, if there is some resistance to accepting her as a 6:30 at night journalist, as opposed to 7:00 in the morning journalist, is it in part, as some CBS Executives say, because she's a woman?
ROONEY: I don't know. It may be because she's the woman that she is. I don't think that there is a resistance out there in general to watch a woman on television.
You know, I was thinking about this just listening to you and Mark and Terry talk. There is a certain accessibility about Charlie Gibson. There was a real resistance, as you remember, right when Peter Jennings left to put him in that anchor chair maybe because he was too fatherly in a way. But he has an accessibility that I think the audience has really caught on to.
There is something about his persona much in the way there was about Tom Brokaw. So I think maybe her personality just -- it's been said a million times. It just hasn't translated into the evening news slot the way it was -- the way she was on the morning.
She had a flair for -- you know, and a lot of it was goofy stuff that she did in the morning. And people were attracted to that. She can't bring that same thing to the evening newscast. And she hasn't found a comfortable level of making herself accessible to the audience the way Charlie Gibson has.
KURTZ: And part of it, Mark Jurkowitz, is that if you only have a half an hour, minus commercials, then you don't have a lot of time to let your personality show, to kid around, and do all the things that you can do in the morning. So the more that they've made the "CBS Evening News" traditional, the less there is time for Katie Couric to shine.
JURKOWITZ: If her personality would work at that hour. And it may well work. But it is much more of a traditional newscast.
You know, there is an interesting theory. She obviously had unbelievable numbers in the very beginning of her newscast. And there's a theory, at least a theory out there, that suggests why Charlie Gibson overtook the "NBC Nightly News," which was she created so much initial churn, so many people who were willing to turn into her, tune into her in the beginning, that people began abandoning some of the long-held evening news habits. And that may have been some of the people who ultimately migrated over to Charlie Gibson and changed the equation in the nightly newscast race.
KURTZ: Terry Smith, you know, when Couric took over, the CBS management team there said we have to kind of reinvent the evening newscast because it hasn't really changed very much in about 50 years. The audience dwindles year after year. It's an older audience, your generation, average age 60.
SMITH: Thanks, Howie.
KURTZ: So they tried -- well, just thought I'd point that out in case anyone missed it.
So they tried some things. What is wrong with that? Shouldn't -- doesn't the evening news as a genre need to be reinvented to some degree?
SMITH: This is a wheel that didn't need reinvention. If people are willing to tune in at 6:30 or 7:00 in the evening, as you say, with maybe 21 minutes of news, they want hard news. They don't want gimmicks.
And in the early going of the new "CBS Evening News" with Katie Couric, it was riddled with gimmicks, with all sorts of things. They were trying to reinvent the wheel. It's not necessary.
They should have -- and now I think they've come back to a more traditional and harder format. And now we'll see. So if that's so, and if as Mark said earlier, the content of the three broadcasts is quite similar and the approach quite similar, well then a certain amount of it does come down to the accessibility and acceptability of the anchor.
KURTZ: Emily, you were once Peter Jennings's producer at ABC's "World News". Do you think that this is a genre that needs to be if not reinvented, at least recast to try to attract some younger people? You can't survive forever attracting to people who are attracting an audience that is primarily in their 60s, because eventually those people are all going to go away.
ROONEY: Well, maybe the Project for Excellence in Journalism will do a study about this. But I have never seen any proof that having a younger person do the news necessarily attracts younger people to the news.
It's all about -- it's all about being there in front of it. And kids and young people aren't there in front of the television sets the way they used to be. They're just not there.
And, you know, I don't see how that's going to change. I think all of the -- all of the network newscasts have a dwindling audience.
ROONEY: And by the way, I think the newscasts, all of them, are better than ever. I try to watch one of them at least every night. And I'm always stunned at the material they have and the money that they still spend, by the way, on the evening news.
Well, here's my two cents.
Charlie Gibson is right when he says that we in the press are too focussed on ratings. Even the third place newscast, "CBS Evening News," attracts an audience of six million viewers. That's a huge chunk of real estate.
Now, Katie Couric and her team made some mistakes in the beginning. There were too many changes too quickly, there were too many features, a few important stories were missed, and there was too much hype building up expectations probably to an unrealistic degree. But, it is a much more solid newscast right now. The problem is you only get one chance at a Broadway debut.
When we come back -- stick around -- Bill O'Reilly says it's not that FOX News is covering Iraq too little, it's that the other cable networks are covering it too much.
We'll analyze the charges.
KURTZ: Is coverage of the Iraq war influenced by political considerations?
As we noted on this program, the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that in the first three months of this year, MSNBC spent 31 percent of its air time on the war, CNN spent 25 percent compared to 15 percent for FOX News.
Bill O'Reilly not only doesn't dispute these figures, he says that in FOX's case, it's by design.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: We don't highlight every terrorist attack because we learn nothing from that. And that's exactly what the terrorists want us to do.
I mean, come on, does another bombing in Tikrit mean anything other than war is hell? No, it does not.
In my opinion, CNN and especially MSNBC delight in showing Iraqi violence because they wasn't Americans to think badly of President Bush.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: We'll tackle that amazing statement in a moment. But first, here's what O'Reilly had to say about the Project for Excellence in Journalism, the nonprofit group that conducted the study.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'REILLY: Well, their spokesman is a guy named Mark Jurkowitz, a former TV writer for the far left "Boston Globe," and the off-the- chart left "Boston Phoenix". Now, I've known Mr. Jurkowitz for many years. He hates FOX News and is a committed leftist.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Mr. Jurkowitz, you're being called a Marxist and a FOX hater.
JURKOWITZ: The only thing I'd say is I think I'll let my 25-year career in journalism speak for itself in this case. And I think it does.
KURTZ: But now isn't your study about the numbers, as opposed to you and your colleagues at the project making value judgments about what the networks are doing?
JURKOWITZ: We ascribe no motives whatsoever. We literally looked at over 300 hours of cable news programming the first quarter of the year just to find out basically what people were seeing.
We found differences between the three cable news networks that people may or may not have been aware of. We never ascribe motives. We never suggested there should be more coverage or less coverage. We simply said, this is what you're actually getting if you look at the networks.
Now, what's interesting, the one thing that's interesting to note, is the biggest component of the Iraq war coverage for everybody involved is actually the political debate about the strategy that comes out of Washington. Not necessarily the events that go on in Iraq.
KURTZ: Terry smith, should FOX be downplaying Iraqi violence on the theory that the terrorists want us to cover it? And do you think CNN and MSNBC aggressively cover this war to make Bush look bad?
SMITH: Of course FOX shouldn't be downplaying it. I mean, what's remarkable about O'Reilly's comments is he is acknowledging that there is a political motive in at least his show, downplaying the violence and difficulties in Iraq. In other words, that he wishes to downplay it to make it look like less of a mess in Iraq.
As for the other two, how he defines their motives in the news judgment is something that is beyond me. Obviously he can't. And he doesn't have any idea.
Listen, this is serious stuff. And it needs to be covered. And if you look at it day in and day out, it, I think, is balanced, professional coverage. And just about the right level.
This is the most important involvement, the most costly and difficult situation this country has been in in a long time. It deserves every minute it gets.
KURTZ: Emily Rooney, I think you could make the case that a lot of what CNN and MSNBC and other networks report about the war is bad news. At the same time, there is not a lot of good news right now coming out of that conflict.
ROONEY: You know, Howie, this is just fly-off-the-handle foolish. It's idiocy. It's stupid. And Bill O'Reilly is not stupid.
We've all worked with him. He's crossed our paths many times. He doesn't really believe what he said there.
I mean, he did that -- I honestly believe he did that to provoke the response that he actually got. Everybody ended up talking about it on their air, MSNBC, we're talking about it now. He doesn't honestly believe that. And...
KURTZ: So hold on. So you're saying this is just a cynical ploy on his part...
KURTZ: ... to score some points and that he doesn't truly believe...
KURTZ: ... that either there is a political agenda on the part of the other networks...
ROONEY: Oh, he may believe that there is a political agenda.
KURTZ: Yes. ROONEY: But I can tell you right now, there is no dictum inside the FOX News Channel newsroom to downplay the Iraq war because of political motivation. That is just flat-out untrue.
In fact, I don't know if you did any measurements, Mark, about, you know, their coverage of Anna Nicole Smith or Paris Hilton, but they were spending a lot of time doing that stuff because that's what's attracting the viewers. I mean, you could argue that they didn't cover it because it was, you know, war fatigue, or, you know, one bombing after the other is too boring for them, but not, I believe, for a political reason.
JURKOWITZ: Well, for the record, yes, we won't go to their motives, but the FOX News Channel did give, by a significant amount, the most coverage of the Anna Nicole Smith case, as we found out in our work this year.
ROONEY: I rest my case.
KURTZ: Terry Smith, you know, there are correspondents from all of these networks and newspapers, and people like Nic Robertson and Michael Ware at CNN, Richard Engel and others at NBC, who are risking their lives to cover this story. And I can't imagine that they're doing that because they have any political considerations in mind.
SMITH: Oh, not at all. And I agree with Emily, with this exception -- there is probably, you're right, Emily, no dictum within the FOX newsroom as to the quantity of coverage on Iraq. But there is a perspective on FOX News about President Bush, this administration, the Iraq war.
And it's silly to -- and I know you're not denying that, but, I mean, one can't deny that. This is -- they have a perspective in their approach to the news. And it probably plays itself out to some degree, consciously or unconsciously, in the quantity of coverage as well as the quality.
ROONEY: I would agree with that. I mean, I worked at the FOX News Channel when it first went on the air. I mean, I listened, I sat in on those editorial meetings.
I know that there was a perspective in terms of how they approached the news. But I think also the project showed that they didn't cover the U.S. attorneys firings stories much either. Was that for the same reason? I don't know.
KURTZ: Well, it's certainly hard for me to imagine the argument during World War II that we shouldn't cover every bombing in London because that's what the German wants.
We'll leave it.
Thanks very much, Mark Jurkowitz, Emily Rooney, Terry Smith in New York. Up next, Angelina Jolie gets a bit too brazen in trying to control the press. And the not so mysterious case of George Bush's disappearing watch.
Our "Media Minute" straight ahead.
KURTZ: Time from the latest from the news business in our "Media Minute".
Mike Nifong is the prosecutor who unleashed that media maelstrom on the three Duke lacrosse players falsely accused of rape. And on Friday, in the midst of a hearing on his fitness to practice law, he resigned as the D.A. in Raleigh, North Carolina.
It was poetic justice for a man who enflamed news organizations, which then proceeded to utterly embarrass themselves based on the shaky account of one unstable woman.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE NIFONG, FMR. DURHAM COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: To the extent my actions have caused pain to the Finnertys and the Seligmanns and the Evans, I apologize.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: A disciplinary panel ruled yesterday that Nifong violated the rules of professional conduct and voted to disbar him from the practice of law. Most news organizations covering the Duke case would probably get the same verdict if they had to go before an ethics committee.
Angelina Jolie may be a media darling, but she managed to mightily tick off the press this week. During the promotion of her new film about the murder of "Wall Street Journal" reporter Daniel Pearl, journalists were asked to sign an agreement that she could not be asked about her personal life. What? No Brad Pitt? And "The interview will not be used in a manner that is disparaging, demeaning or derogatory to Ms. Jolie."
Most refused to sign and Jolie backed off on "The Daily Show".
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANGELINA JOLIE, ACTRESS: There was a memo that went out to ask people in a very -- if they would sign it, that said focus -- basically, don't get into personal questions, focus on the movie. It was from my representatives trying to be protective of me. But it was excessive, and I wouldn't have put it out there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Jolie's attorney, Robin Offer (ph), told "The New York Times" he blamed a bone-headed overzealous lawyer -- himself. Well, time now for a report on the presidential wristwatch which seemed to have disappeared while George Bush was working the crowd in Albania last week. Let's look at the videotape.
We see the watch there. The media buzz began when people were reviewing this tape.
We see the president working the rope line there. And just a few seconds later, the watch had seemingly vanished.
Reporters wanted to know whether someone had swiped that thing during all that hand shaking. Well, it turns out Bush had simply slipped it into his pocket, as he proved days later during an Oval Office photo op.
Said the president, "I have never seen such a ludicrous story. Unbelievable."
And it's hard to argue with that.
Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, Democratic strategist Robert Shrum on a lifetime of sparring with campaign reporters and sometimes stretching the truth.
And Obama Girl goes viral, professing her love for the presidential candidate. Are White House contenders losing control of their image?
KURTZ: Welcome back.
He's been involved in almost every Democratic presidential campaign since 1976 but has never worked for a winner. He is an ad maker, a message man, a strategist, and a talk show regular who tries to sell the media on the virtues of his candidate. His services so eagerly sought after that the competition is called the "Shrum primary". But he is also a lightning rod for press criticism.
Robert Shrum is out with a memoir called "No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner".
I spoke with him earlier here in Washington.
KURTZ: Bob Shrum, welcome.
ROBERT SHRUM, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Thank you. Happy to be here.
KURTZ: All the presidential campaigns you were involved in, you dealt with reporters as much as anybody. Did you find that journalists were perhaps excessively cynical about what you did, what your candidates did? Thinking that every single thing, every thought uttered, every position taken was for political advantage? SHRUM: I'll give you a prime -- yes, I think that quite often happened, though I'll give you a prime example.
Al Gore actually strongly felt that Elian Gonzalez should not be returned to Cuba and said to me at one point -- I write about it in the book -- "Would we send a kid back to East Germany at the height of the Cold War?" And people assumed that it was all about winning Florida.
Now, we did want to win Florida. We were going to put Florida into play. But he had a very strong feeling about it and a long history of anticommunist credentials to back it up. But it was just very easy.
The other thing that happens is, once a stereotype takes hold, it's very hard to get rid of it. Al Gore never said he invented the Internet, but it just became an easy shorthand with which to label him.
KURTZ: And an unfair shorthand on the part of the press?
SHRUM: Yes, I think it was unfair. What he said was he introduced the legislation in the Senate that led to the commercialization and the technology in the Pentagon, and that's absolutely right.
KURTZ: Sure, on that point. But you write that you warned him and others warned him about his tendency to embellish and exaggerate, knowing that this was a narrative that the press had -- was feasting on.
SHRUM: Well, we said before the first debate, the one thing we have to absolutely make certain of is that we don't say anything, that you don't say anything that we're not absolutely sure of. And on the way to Boston, just before we left our debate prep site, a father gave him a letter with a newspaper clipping about a young girl who had to stand in her classroom in Sarasota. And he looked at it and decided -- there were no seats -- and decided to talk about it.
Well, of course the principal reacted defensively and said, A, she has a seat now, and, B, she always had a stool. And that became an exaggeration.
Now, the truth -- it's sort of like the sides. I mean, in a way, if you'll read that debate and look at the substance of that debate, Al Gore wins that debate against George Bush hands down. But the Rove-Bush campaign did a very good job of sculpting the message and saying it was about sighing.
You know, I'd rather have a president who sighed in a debate than one who lied us into a war.
KURTZ: Since we're talking about the former vice president, the 2000 convention, the speech, you worked very hard on that speech. Gore said he wrote the speech.
KURTZ: A "New York Times" reporter asked you who wrote the speech. How did you handle that?
SHRUM: I said that Gore wrote the speech. Carter Eskew, my partner and Gore's friend of 30 years, had a better answer which I can't repeat exactly. It's in the book and it was in "The Times," and I think it was something like, "Every part of that speech is, in a very real sense, his, if you know what I mean."
I just wasn't clever enough to come up with something like that.
KURTZ: So you were misleading instead? You plead guilty in the book.
SHRUM: What am I going to say?
KURTZ: All right.
Now, you say that Al Gore was hypersensitive about his press coverage, particularly that in "The New York Times". What do you make of this fabulous, some would say fawning, coverage that Gore, the Oscar winner, is receiving right now?
SHRUM: I think as long as he's a subjunctive candidate for president, he'll continue to get it. I think if he runs for president again -- and I have no idea whether he will -- he'll begin to get some critical coverage again.
KURTZ: But what explains this dichotomy, this -- you know, if you're not running, everybody falls in love with you. We see a little bit of that with Fred Thompson.
KURTZ: And the day you announce, all these reporters start asking annoying questions.
SHRUM: Well, I mean, I've seen this all the way back to 1979 to 1980, when people were saying to Senator Kennedy, "Come on in, run against Jimmy Carter. You know you're way ahead, it will be great." And then when he got in, it became in some ways a very tough campaign. But...
KURTZ: Do reporters change their view of how they should cover the politician, the public figure, once somebody is in the campaign?
SHRUM: I don't think there's anything unfair about it. I just think they get more critical. They ask tougher questions. I'm not bothered by that.
I think before someone gets in, the natural story is, is he going to run? It's like Al Gore is running right now the greatest non- campaign campaign we've ever seen.
Three thousand people wait outside a book signing and chant, "Run, Al, run!"
KURTZ: In the last couple of presidential campaigns, the press has written quite extensively about something called the "Shrum primary". How did the decision by you about which candidate you were going to go with become a media...
SHRUM: I have no idea. Maybe you can tell me because you interview all these people.
I don't put much stock in the "Shrum primary" or the "Shrum curse". The "Shrum primary" really happened in 2004 because so many people that I had worked for and had been clients of mine were either running for president or thinking about running for president.
I winced every time I read it. I didn't like it at all.
Now, there was a Carville -- there was a "Carville primary" in 1992.
SHRUM: And I think James found that uncomfortable, too. We talked about it at the time.
KURTZ: Why did you wince? Because you don't want the spotlight to be on you, as opposed to your candidate?
SHRUM: Listen, some...
KURTZ: Does it make it (ph) seem like a very big deal?
SHRUM: Having appeared on CNN and in a number of capacities over the years, I can't say that I never sought the spotlight. But I think the spotlight in a campaign ought to be on the candidate, number one. And number two, a lot of these people were friends of mine. And it was -- you know, I just didn't like the whole story line.
KURTZ: The John Kerry campaign, particularly in the opening months, was just torn by internal fighting. It often happens in these campaigns. And there was a page one story in "The New York Times" about the Shrum curse.
KURTZ: Did you feel that story was unfair?
SHRUM: I thought -- I refused -- David Halbfinger, I think, who wrote the story in "The New York Times," a correspondent at the time, I refused to talk to him for the story. So I can't complain about what he wrote. I just didn't want to protract this argument.
What had happened was the campaign had had a change in management and leadership. We were headed in a direction that I thought we ought to be heading in, and I was just going to be a big distraction.
It is true that my wife headed downstairs to get the morning paper and I suddenly heard her say something like, "Oh god," and came down. And it's not pleasant to read about yourself that way on the front page of "The New York Times".
KURTZ: There were sources quoted in that piece -- and this is similar to a lot of other pieces that are written during campaigns -- people who wouldn't go on the record, who obviously thought you had too much influence, or didn't like your advice, or whatever.
Is it unfair for reporters to play that game? Or, on the other hand, are they just simply being fed by people who don't want to have their names attached and want to -- want to get outside a message about what's happening inside a campaign?
SHRUM: Well, what I've done with this book is attach my name.
SHRUM: But I don't think there's anything unfair about people going out and telling reporters what they think is happening. It goes on all the time. I think some of the criticism turned out to be wrong.
KURTZ: So you don't have any problem with reporters constantly publishing stories about inside campaign battles or campaign strategy with some people who are hiding behind the curtain of anonymity?
SHRUM: It's inevitable. I guess I haven't even -- I haven't...
KURTZ: You've probably been a source yourself once or twice.
SHRUM: If I say -- I have been a source myself once or twice. But if I said I had a problem with it, it wouldn't change anything.
I do think there's a sense in which politics is too often covered as stereotype stick figures moving across a paper mache stage. And it makes sense for the press to try to penetrate that. Do they always get it accurately? No. But no one can get it accurately or see it accurately unless you're on the inside of it.
KURTZ: Here's one thing that jumped out at me in your book. Election night 2000, very close. Suddenly it looks like George W. Bush is going to win. A senior network correspondent, you said, called you and warned, "The Florida numbers are wrong. Don't let him concede."
Why would a correspondent -- this is not a commentator, this is not a columnist -- be giving you that kind of advice?
SHRUM: Someone I knew...
SHRUM: ... and Al Gore -- I think this happened not only with me, someone else called Carter Eskew and -- who was in a different place than I was at that point. And Al Gore was speeding to the war memorial to concede. And we actually had to have David Morehouse, who was his body guy (ph), stop him and say, "No, Mr. Vice President, you cannot go to the stage. You must go into this holding room."
Why would the correspondent do it? I think that the correspondent was just informing me that the Florida results were not what they had been reported as when we left the hotel.
KURTZ: "Don't let him concede." This is going to fuel everybody who thinks there's a liberal media, that journalists were rooting for Gore.
SHRUM: Oh, I don't know.
KURTZ: Trying to spare your candidate from embarrassment.
SHRUM: I don't -- I don't -- I actually think that if the situations had been reversed, there would have been correspondents who would have called the Bush campaign and said, "The numbers are wrong, don't let him concede, you shouldn't concede." Something like that.
I don't think it was in the nature of giving advice, actually.
KURTZ: Do you want to take this opportunity to name the correspondent?
KURTZ: All right.
I've got about half a minute. You were once a reporter for a magazine called "New Times" (ph).
KURTZ: And you were working on a story about the Carter administration and infighting involving Richard Holbrooke and Tony Lake. And they appealed to you -- please don't run this because it will hurt Carter, it will hurt Carter's foreign policy, it will hurt things you believe in.
What did you do?
SHRUM: I killed the item. And at that point I think I began to worry about whether or not journalism is something I should be doing with my life. And that's not what I've done with my life.
KURTZ: You went over to the other side.
Bob Shrum, thanks very much for coming in.
SHRUM: Thank you. Thanks a lot.
KURTZ: Robert Shrum.
More RELIABLE SOURCES in a moment.
KURTZ: We're going to talk now about this "Obama Girl" video. This has gone viral, as online people say. It has gotten a lot of attention.
And joining us to do that is Ana Marie Cox, who is the Washington editor for TIME.com, and CNN Internet reporter Jacki Schechner.
And we'll put the video so people can see it.
Let me ask you, Ana Maria, what makes a video like this hot, why it is getting so much attention? And does it have any effect on the Obama campaign?
ANA MARIE COX, TIME.COM: What makes a video like this hot? I imagine it has to do with the hotness of the girl herself.
You know, we're used to people using T&A to sell beer and cars. This is an unusual approach on selling a candidate, but of course it wasn't produced by the candidate.
And if anything, it's so over the top. I could understand how Obama people might be concerned this would reflect badly on them. I actually...
KURTZ: Why would it reflect badly? I mean, here's this woman who is singing this song about how much she loves Barack Obama.
COX: Well, if it was any way connected back to them...
COX: ... it would seem, to say the least, unseemly.
But I actually that this is kind of a wash for them. I think that it so over the top, that people recognize that it's parody. And of course it's come out that it was intended not even as a pro-Obama statement, but as parody. So -- produced by the same people who did the other video parody...
KURTZ: "Box in a Box".
COX: "Box in a Box".
KURTZ: Jacki Schechner, that video is getting more attention than anything that Barack Obama has said or done in a month.
JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, because it's visual. It's fun. It gives us in the news something to show.
You know, I think that when you have viral video like this, we try to figure out a way to make the Web engaging. And this is one way to make the Web engaging. It gives us -- it gives us the visual for television.
KURTZ: Having a woman in a bikini?
SCHECHNER: Well, yes. I mean, who doesn't show that? And really, I mean, we're talking about politics. We're talking about being so far out from the presidential campaign -- the election itself, rather -- that you need something to fill the time. And so people are taking this Internet self-created genre and giving us something to show on television.
COX: And I'm sure the Obama people would rather have us be talking about this than their leaked op-ed on Hillary, which also made news this week. So...
KURTZ: On the other hand, Maureen Dowd writes this morning in "The New York Times" that the problem for Obama is that the buzz is still about his beefcake side, as opposed to his policy prescriptions.
COX: Well, actually, I think the Obama campaign, to the extent that I've talked to them about this, they are very consciously -- I don't want to use the word "coasting," but they're keeping their powder dry. It is early out in the campaign.
We don't want to, like, push people too far into policy and having to think about things that are frankly kind of boring. I think that it's fine for him. He's not lagging in the polls.
He sort of lost his upward surge. But he is going to be fine if all that happens this summer for him is like a couple more Obama videos.
KURTZ: Well, this is interesting. On eBay, the T-shirt worn by that actress in the "Obama Girl" video is being sold -- the bidding is now at $600. I'm sure it's going to go higher.
Now, CNN and YouTube announced this week that they are joining forces to -- for a pair of presidential debates. The first one is July 23rd in South Carolina. This is the kind of question -- this is just a sample -- the question that people can submit via video.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, it's "The Resident" here in Brooklyn, New York.
No matter what side of the issue you believe in, the global climate crisis definitely needs to be addressed. So I'd like to know what tangible, concrete efforts we would see from your administration regarding this issue if you're to be elected.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: I ask you as a young person, could this -- could this get more younger people interested in politics? COX: I -- I'm not sure. It's an interesting gimmick. I have a few thoughts about it.
One is, it's amazing to me. I know that's a sample. But I predict that the questions that come from viewers are going to sound a lot like the questions you would hear from Wolf or Anderson. That people are -- you know, there is a script that we all follow in asking questions of presidents. And that script applies to normal people as well.
I mean, if you go...
KURTZ: I think I would disagree with that, because when you take questions from an audience, often they ask things that are even more basic or just not -- they're just not as political as questions that journalists ask.
COX: But they're basic. But we're not going to get anything -- I guess what I'm trying to say is we're not going to -- I don't envision anything out of the box from people. Although it will be great if it happens.
SCHECHNER: Well, I actually, coincidentally -- talk about citizen journalism -- actually know that woman from my years in New York.
KURTZ: You do?
SCHECHNER: And she has a show called "The Resident". So she is very well spoken.
SCHECHNER: She's very eloquent.
SCHECHNER: That's why you're going to get a question like that, that's very well put. She also talks about net neutrality in another question that she asks.
KURTZ: The debate about Internet access.
SCHECHNER: And that's a very fuzzy issue.
KURTZ: But will it look and feel differently than a debate as CNN and others have done where you go to the audience for an hour, a half hour question?
SCHECHNER: You know, it will look and feel different because of the YouTube. We were talking about this a little bit earlier.
SCHECHNER: I think it's actually going to look like "Total Request Live". You're going to get a little MTV to it. But that's not a bad thing. It's going to make it juicer. I think...
COX: It also depends on what -- the choices that CNN makes and what videos they choose to show. I mean, I would love as a -- I can imagine a campaign going to their supporters and saying, you should submit videos and you should make it -- and here are some ideas and some tips, and here's some, you know, backgrounds that you might want to use and some clips that you might find interesting.
And they could make some -- generate some pretty professional and maybe more MTV-looking kinds of things, rather than which looked, you know -- that that was a lovely little presentation. But...
KURTZ: We're short on time.
John McCain and Mitt Romney have been battling (ph) out with dueling videos online. The campaign increasingly seems to be online.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee says in a memo to its folks that you should avoid "Macaca" moments. That's the George Allen famous use of the word "Macaca". Always assume you're on camera, and tape everything your opponent does.
COX: That's excellent advice. I think that -- I don't think it's news to anyone. I doubt if there is a presidential contender out there that doesn't act or at least try to remember that they're on camera at all times.
KURTZ: You think so?
SCHECHNER: Well, absolutely. And they've all hired these e- campaign consultants who know exactly how this works. They all have their bloggers on board. So everybody is well aware of what can come out and how it can be done.
KURTZ: More stuff for us to talk about.
Thanks very much to both of you.
KURTZ: Still to come, Paris Hilton may be behind bars, but she's working on changing her bad girl image. The big makeover next.
KURTZ: Well, Paris Hilton finally gets it. She's been acting like a moron.
Now, is this, A, meaningless; B, a jailhouse conversion; or, C, a carefully calculated attempt to change her party girl image?
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KURTZ (voice over): The first hint that Hilton wanted to be known for more than just nightclubbing, bad reality shows and a lack of underwear, was when she was spotted recently carrying a bible. And upon returning to the L.A. jail after that early release fiasco, she issued a statement saying it was so disappointing that the media were all atwitter about her little problem rather than focusing on our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, a subject on which she had never shown the slightest interest.
Paris' next move? A jailhouse interview with Barbara Walters saying she now wants to make a difference.
BARBARA WALTERS, "THE VIEW": A lot of people were very touched -- maybe that's too big a word -- by Paris Hilton saying that she had -- in a telephone call that she made to me on Sunday -- saying she was now 26, that she used to play dumb, but she's now too old for that, it's no longer cute.
And beyond that, she said that she had had found God. Not found God, she did not find God in jail, but she was more spiritual, and that she felt that God had released her.
KURTZ: If you think stars can't change their reputations, guess again.
Take Angelina Jolie. A few years ago she was telling interviewers about how great her sex life was with husband Billy Bob Thorton, wore a necklace with a drop of his blood, and had his name and a dragon tattooed on her arms.
She was a talented actress and a bit of a flake.
Now, post-divorce and with Brad Pitt, Jolie has received lots of positive press for her U.N. volunteer work on behalf of refugees and her adoption of children from such places as Ethiopia.
KURTZ: Now, if Paris Hilton can come out of jail and use her celebrity for something more than celebrating herself and her empty- headed lifestyle, more power to her. She's not totally to blame for the breathless media coverage that reached an utterly embarrassing peak on the cable networks during her little melodrama a week ago. But I hope journalists will show a bit skepticism if the more serious Paris Hilton turns out to be just another bit of media manipulation.
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Join us again next Sunday morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media.
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