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Reliable Sources

Hillary Clinton's Media Blitz; Did Bill O'Reilly Make Racially Insensitive Remark?

Aired September 30, 2007 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): All Hillary, all the time. The former first lady does all the morning shows and all the Sunday shows.

Are news organizations giving her special treatment? Have they decided she's unstoppable? And why did "GQ" magazine kill an article on Hill after her campaign threatened to cut off access to Bill?

FOX flap. Did Bill O'Reilly make a racially insensitive remark about his Harlem dinner with Al Sharpton or is he being smeared by his critics?

Ahmadinejad on the airwaves. Have the media given the Iranian strongman the publicity he craves even while attacking him?

Plus, the coach versus the columnist. Did this man commit a personal foul?


KURTZ: Air time is like oxygen for presidential candidates, and many of them are clearly gasping. But Hillary Clinton seems to have an almost guaranteed air supply.

When she unveiled her health care plan last week, all the network morning shows scrambled to book her. And when the senator let it be known that she would be available last Sunday, she did the full Ginsburg, so named for a five-program appearance by Monica Lewinsky's lawyer, William Ginsburg.

"Meet the Press," "Face the Nation," this week, "LATE EDITION" and "FOX News Sunday" all took Clinton from a barn outside her Chappaqua, New York, home.


TIM RUSSERT, NBC NEWS: Are you now saying that you will not vote one more penny for the war in Iraq?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Can you pledge that all U.S. troops will be home over the course of your first term as president?

BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: Are you ready now to vote for a date certain to have all American troops out of Iraq? WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: What happened? Why can't you stop this war?

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: No matter how you feel about the war, how can you vote to cut them off while they're still on the front lines?


KURTZ: Joining us now to examine whether there is a media double standard in the coverage of Hillary Clinton, Anne Kornblut, national political reporter for "The Washington Post"; Michelle Cottle, senior editor at "The New Republic"; and Jim Geraghty, contributing editor of "National Review".

Anne Kornblut, I'm not saying the anchors aren't asking Hillary Clinton tough questions, but why do the networks lust after putting her on in the way that no other candidate gets?

ANNE KORNBLUT, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, because most of the time she doesn't agree to do it. I mean, this was really the first time we had seen her going out.

She has learned over the years -- she didn't know it so well when she was first lady -- that she had this incredible megaphone and she would sneeze and it would be on the front pages, even when she didn't want it to. Now she's learned how to harness her kind of celebrity and her power, and when she wants to go out there, she does it, like we saw her do last week. And she really actually drove the agenda for about a week on health care.

KURTZ: But Barack Obama and John Edwards both put out health care plans long before Hillary Clinton did. I didn't recall the networks scrambling to put them on.

MICHELLE COTTLE, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE NEW REPUBLIC": That's because they're not Hillary Clinton. I'm sorry.

Just, more basically, she's a celebrity. She and Bill have passed some point where they're no longer just politicians, they're rock stars. And life is not fair. You know, she has certain downsides she faces because of that, but this is one clear upside.

KURTZ: The former first lady on the cover of the new copy of "US News & World Report," "The Education of Hillary Clinton," if we can put that up here.

Flat-out media double standard here? I mean, if they're rock stars, if they're celebrities, doesn't that tilt the playing field?

JIM GERAGHTY, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Oh, absolutely. I would love to see Tim Russert interview Mike Gravel for a solid hour, because you know that would be by far the most entertaining hour of media press in a while.

KURTZ: So you're suggesting it's about ratings. GERAGHTY: Well, put it this way -- it's one of those things where Hillary Clinton, there's a good chance she's going to end up making news in this interview. In this one, she had to go through all five shows and say absolutely nothing of interest to anyone. Perhaps another great skill for a politician to have.

But, yes, when you have a candidate who's at two percent in the polls, there is not much chance that they're going to come out and say something that's going to, you know, suddenly attract a huge audience and make a huge amount of news. So, you know, it's less interesting.

KURTZ: Anne Kornblut, you covered the former first lady a lot. Would you say she is generally accessible to reporters or only for selective TV interviews?

KORNBLUT: She only -- the latter. She has figured out how to really manage the media so that she doesn't appear to be avoiding the press.

You know, if you went to them and said, oh, she never does interviews, they could say, oh, well, she did all five last Sunday. But she picks her targets.

When she decided to talk to "The Washington Post," she picked columnists that she wanted to speak to, and then decided not -- hasn't done interviews with the B reporters, for example. And this is not just true with "The Washington Post". It's true everywhere. And it's worked to her benefit so far, but it's a very specific strategy.

KURTZ: And how about these growing spate of stories about whether she can be stopped for the nomination? I mean, every day it seems I pick up something that says, "Can Hillary be stopped?"

KORNBLUT: Well, I mean, the stories, like the coverage of her -- the stories are inevitable. I mean, there are going -- there's going to be a prediction of what's going to happen, and then there's going to be a counter story. I am going to anticipate right now that there is going to be stories before the nomination is out that say maybe she isn't inevitable. And then there there's going to be others -- it always happens.

It reminds me of sort of the McCain surge now. He died, and now he's back. It always happens. I don't think it's going to seal the fate of the nomination, though.

KURTZ: Going back to Hillary Clinton's appearance on all of those Sunday shows last weekend, just about every anchor asked her about that MoveOn ad attacking General Petraeus. Let's listen to how she answered the question.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But this is not a debate about an ad. This is a debate about ending the war in Iraq.

But let's be clear here, this debate should not be about an ad.

But let's be clear about this, this is not a debate about an ad.

But you know, this is not a debate about an ad. This is a debate about how we end the war in Iraq.


KURTZ: Is it fair for journalists to say that this is one disciplined candidate?

COTTLE: Oh, the woman has her talking points. I mean, this is one disciplined campaign.

They have been incredibly shrewd and on message and in control. And her campaign manager and all of her senior aides are vicious about this. They are really good at staying on message because they have learned over the years what happens when you don't.

KURTZ: And don't journalists kind of admire that, even if you're getting cut out of the action in the process?

COTTLE: Oh, sure. I mean, it's incredibly annoying, but they learned from the Bush campaign. I mean, Patty Solis Doyle, her campaign manager, is very clear about that she admires Karl Rove's approach to keeping the media in its place on some level. And they do a great job at that.

KURTZ: There is one other thing that I noticed in these Sunday show interviews that Hillary Clinton did. It was an observation that was really kind of brought together by "The Daily Show".

Check this out.


WALLACE: Let me ask you about health care.

CLINTON: Yes, I'd love for you to ask me about health care.

WALLACE: Because you did come out -- you did come out...

STEPHANOPOULOS: What's your response?

BLITZER: I wonder if you want to respond to the former mayor.




KURTZ: Why does it take Jon Stewart to point that out?

GERAGHTY: Did anyone else's eardrum just burst in pain of hearing that over and over again? No, you know, it's one of those things where probably Jon Stewart can get away with it -- with a comedian. I'm willing to bet almost every interviewer on Sunday morning said, "Oh, there she goes with that laugh again. Oh, Hillary's so fun."

But if, you know, Tim Russert or Chris Wallace or one of these guys comes out and says this, you know, it will easily turn into a very hostile interview. You're not supposed to assess your interviewee while you're talking to them, as much as I hope you are not assessing me now.

KURTZ: I was actually getting a great laugh out of some of your answers. No.

But "The New York Times" this morning, inspired by Jon Stewart, has an entire piece on the Clinton cackle. And here's something funny. One Clinton adviser who couldn't be named said, "Well, she has a good sense of humor." And that really -- you really had to go off the record for that one.

Let me turn now to this controversy over "GQ" magazine which had assigned Josh Green of the "Atlantic" magazine, a very well regarded and meticulous reporter, to do a piece on the Hillary Clinton campaign, infighting in that campaign. That piece was killed a couple of months ago after "GQ" was called by a spokesman for the Clinton campaign who said, you know, you've got this request in for Bill Clinton, you want do this big cover story on him traveling to Africa. I really doubt that the former president is going to want to do this if you run a very negative story on his wife.

Was this a cave-in by "GQ"?

COTTLE: Well, it's embarrassing for "GQ". I suspect this is not the only time this has happened in the history of publishing.

I mean, "GQ" does a lot of long narrative pieces about politicians, but their bread and butter is kind of celebrity profiles and things like that. And of course Clinton's going to play hardball. I mean her people do this. This is also not the first time they've pitched a fit about a piece. So...

KURTZ: And it's interesting, because I think when you're dealing with Hollywood stars, a lot of times, a high-powered Tinseltown agent or P.R. executives will say, well, if you want -- if you want access to Tom Cruise...

COTTLE: Well, Hollywood is much more unreasonable about this. Yes.

KURTZ: ... I don't want -- yes. Exactly.

But do you think that this is a good example, Anne Kornblut, of the way in which the Hillary campaign can use access to Bill as a kind of weapon or a tool or a bargaining chip?

KORNBLUT: Oh, absolutely. I mean, this is -- even his trips to Africa were used this way last year.

They certainly -- you know, Josh had written a story -- the reporter you mentioned had written a story the year prior which he described her Senate career and described her as kind of middling and timid. And they didn't like that, so he already going in was at a disadvantage.

But sure, I mean, Bill is a great get. When it suits them they say, oh, they're completely separate, they never talk, they haven't consulted each other. When it doesn't suit them, they are a packaged deal, as we saw in this case.

KURTZ: Now, Jim Nelson, the editor of "GQ," told me that, "Hillary didn't kill the piece; I killed the piece... I guarantee and promise you, if I'd have had a great Hillary piece I would have run it."

So He's trying to portray this as a separate decision.

GERAGHTY: Words cannot express my skepticism, because I think there's three ways this doesn't really add up.

First of all, allegedly, the story is about infighting in the Hillary Clinton campaign. I read in "The Washington Post" and "The New Republic" all the time about infighting in political campaigns. This is nothing new or shocking or surprising. So there had to be something really good in that story for the Clinton campaign to really lean on them with this much pressure.

It must have involved pictures of somebody with goats or something like that. Something that would be a huge scandal.

Then the next thing is that the story of going with Clinton and his global initiative, is there anything in that story that's going to be truly shocking or surprising? Bill Clinton is going out helping people. Is the -- is that story so important to "GQ" that they're going to kill this other one which people might actually be interested in?

KURTZ: Everyone loves to talk to Bill Clinton. In fact, today -- we'll get to this in the next segment -- he was on "Meet the Press," he was on "This Week". So he gets as much air time in some ways as other Democrats running against Hillary Clinton.

When we come back, was Tim Russert the moderator as the Democratic candidates went at in New Hampshire or one of the debaters? We'll go to the videotape next.


KURTZ: Eight Democratic candidates shared a stage in New Hampshire this week, but the star may have been Tim Russert, who brought his hard-charging "Meet the Press" approach to the MSNBC debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CLINTON: Tim, I think that's one of those hypotheticals that...

RUSSERT: It is not a hypothetical, Senator. It's real life.

CLINTON: ... is better not addressed at this time. What is real life is what apparently happened in Syria. So let's take that one step at a time.

RUSSERT: But my question though...

CLINTON: I know what the question is.


KURTZ: When Hillary Clinton said she was against torture, even torturing a terrorist to foil an imminent attack, Russert says one of his "Meet the Press" guests took the opposite view. That would be Bill Clinton.


RUSSERT: So he disagrees with you?

CLINTON: Well, he's not standing here right now.


RUSSERT: So there is a disagreement?

CLINTON: Well, I'll talk to him later.


KURTZ: Michelle Cottle, is Tim Russert being an aggressive moderator or stepping over the line and debating the candidates themselves?

COTTLE: Well, you know, I think this is what he -- this is his persona on "Meet the Press," and he just carried it over. And I find, you know, all of these debates are a little dubious with the forced theoretical/hypothetical questions and...


KURTZ: There's going to be a nuclear attack in 10 minutes. What do you...

COTTLE: Are you going to do X -- raise your hand if you -- it's all a little silly at this point.

KURTZ: I'd like your view of Russert and also the coverage of that particular answer. That was a flip-flop by Hillary Clinton. She had earlier said -- taken the opposite position, saying torture would be acceptable in that kind of extreme situation. The AP, the "New York Daily News" pointed this out, but she didn't get a lot of flip- flop coverage. GERAGHTY: No. Well, first of all, I think that was probably one of the better debates than what we saw -- who on that stage was prepared, who on that stage was decisive, and who was willing to show leadership? Unfortunately, it was Tim Russert.

But it was one of those things where this is what he does, and it's one of those things where I really didn't like her dismissal of the, oh, it's a hypothetical question when he asked about Israel striking Iran, because Israel had struck Syria earlier this month. This is not like Martians coming down tomorrow or something.

KURTZ: Russert did get the three leading Democrats on that stage to admit that they would not commit to having all troops out of Iraq by 2013. And I thought that was a bit of a journalistic breakthrough because a lot of people would have the opposite impression.

Now, we played the clip of Hillary's torture answer, we played her response about, well, I'll have to talk to Bill later. As I mentioned earlier, on two of the Sunday shows this morning, the former president of the United States got to talk up his wife's candidacy, and he was asked by Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" about that very clip where Hillary Clinton kind of laughed and said she'd talk to him later.

Here was Bill Clinton's response.


RUSSERT: You've seen that look before?

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have. Several times over the last 35 years.


KURTZ: So how much of an asset is it to have Bill out there on the Sunday shows and other talk shows, almost as a part of the two- for-one team?

KURTZ: Oh, it's -- yes, it's an incredible twofer for them. Back-to-back Sundays.

You know, he's going to be -- he's raffling off a night with watching a debate with himself as part of a fund-raising tactic -- come with me, watch the debate, eat a bag of chips. I mean, it's an incredible asset for her.

The recent polls we've seen have shown that Democrats overwhelmingly would love to have him back in the White House. So certainly in a primary. I don't think we know yet in a general election, the prospect, what Republicans would think of having him back in, but, sure, I mean, he's a celebrity. He can get on TV, he can get interviews. It is a great thing for her.

KURTZ: Barack Obama, John Edwards got to be frustrated that they don't get this kind of exposure. GERAGHTY: Yes. Well, first of all, I'd just like to say, I'd like to watch a debate with Mrs. Kucinich. But beyond that, yes, you know, there's this ability to deploy the spouse that is unequal. And I think Michelle Obama -- actually, Elizabeth Edwards is a little bit of a human interest story with her cancer fight, et cetera.

KURTZ: Yes. And she has been on a lot of shows.


KURTZ: But not in Bill's category.

GERAGHTY: No. And, you know, that's what happens when you have a president as a spouse.

COTTLE: But on the flip side, nobody is fine-tooth combing through all these other people's personal lives like they do with the Clintons. I mean, they can get away with things in other lower- profile campaigns that they cannot with the Clintons. So you have -- you know, you have the pros and cons of being the world's most famous couple.

KURTZ: You're saying not just -- not just did Hillary disagree with this position of the Clinton administration in 1997, but also about their personal lives and their marriage and...

COTTLE: Oh, sure. I mean, especially when we get into the general.

I mean, the Democratic primary is going to be about issues and leadership and stuff like that, but when you get into the generals, if Hillary is the nominee, we're going to hear all about their personal lives again. I mean, this is going to be all Clinton personal life 24/7.

KURTZ: I can hardly wait.

Before we go, Anne Kornblut, Newt Gingrich announced yesterday he is not running for president. Now, I always thought that this was a big tease and a ploy, gets media attention for the book that he wrote. He was going to go out and raise $30 million and see if he could do it.

Did we all fall for this?

KORNBLUT: Well, a little bit. I mean, he did play an awful lot of footsie with us about it. And in a -- with a Republican electorate that seemed thirsty for somebody else, it seemed plausible. But I'm with you, I never really thought he was serious. And it seems to be the really great way to sell books these days is to dangle out the notion of running for president


KURTZ: Colin Powell did it in 1995 and it seemed to work for him, at least in terms of selling books. Michelle Cottle, Jim Geraghty, Anne Kornblut, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

Up next, a college journalist in trouble for an X-rated insult of the president, the beauty queen who doesn't want to be like Katie Couric, and Tony Snow gives Jay Leno an anatomical assessment of his White House life.

Our "Media Minute" just ahead.


KURTZ: Time now for the latest from the news business in our "Media Minute".


KURTZ (voice over): It took just four little words -- or more to the point, one word starting with "F" -- to turn the student-run paper at Colorado State University into ground zero for the debate over free speech. Responding to the tasering of a University of Florida student during a Q&A with John Kerry...


KURTZ: ... the "Rocky Mountain Collegian" published an editorial simply reading, "Taser this... "F Bush," with the expletive spelled out.

As he was denounced and praised across the airwaves and online, "Collegian" editor David McSwane told CNN he was just trying to get students talking about free speech. The university is now threatening to remove him from the paper.

Miss USA, Rachel Smith, says she doesn't want to end up like Katie Couric. "I want people to take me seriously," she says.

So what are her career aspirations beyond trashing an anchor who recently returned from Iraq? The pageant winner told New York's "Daily News" that, "I always wanted to be a reporter. Maybe some TV. Who knows? Some serious news, but some modeling, too."


KURTZ: Some modeling, too. That will certainly help Rachel Smith's journalistic career.

As a Couric spokesman said, "If she continues to offer such profound insight, she will not have to worry about anyone taking her seriously."

Now that Tony Snow is out of the White House, he's evolved a rather clinical view of the time he spent battling with reporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": What's the first day on the job? You show up, you're the new press secretary. I mean, it seems overwhelming.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Sphincter-tightening terror.


LENO: You know something? With the Republican problems now, I wouldn't use that word. You know?


LENO: You know, with the whole Larry Craig thing, let's no go there. OK?


KURTZ: Larry Craig still the Senate's gift to late night comics.

Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, the media fire storm over Bill O'Reilly's racially-tinged restaurant review. Fair or unfair?

Plus, why NPR said thanks, but no thanks to a presidential interview.

And did journalists give Iran's president exactly what he wanted -- big-time attention?


KURTZ: Welcome back. Bill O'Reilly was trying to make a point. The point, he says, was against racism. But his radio remarks about his dinner with Al Sharpton at Harlem restaurant Sylvia's sparked a media firestorm this week with all kinds of charges being hurled at the FOX News host, who punched back hard, swinging at CNN, among others. We'll play the tape in a moment, but joining us now talk about this and other media controversies, Rachael Maddow, host of "The Rachel Maddow Show" on Air America Radio. And Amy Holmes, a conservative commentator and CNN contributor.

All right. Let's give the full context here. Here's what ticked off the controversy on "The Radio Factor."


BILL O'REILLY, HOST, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": I think black Americans are starting to think more and more for themselves. And they're getting away from the Sharptons and the Jacksons and the people trying to lead them into a race-based culture. They're just trying to figure out, look, I can make it. If I work hard, get educated, I can make. You know, when Sharpton and I walked in, it was like big commotion and everything, but everybody was very nice. And I couldn't get over the fact there was no difference between Silvia's restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it's run by blacks, primarily black patronship.

There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming M-Fer, I want more iced tea! You know, I mean, everybody was -- it was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb, in the sense of people were sitting there and they were ordering and having fun and there wasn't any kind of craziness at all.


KURTZ: After O'Reilly's remarks were publicized by the liberal advocacy group Media Matters, CNN and other news organizations played them up and O'Reilly said his critics were engaging in distortion.


O'REILLY: Of course, this is all nonsense and we usually ignore it, until it is picked up by the so-called mainstream media. Elements at NBC News have made a living parroting Media Matters garbage and now sadly, CNN has jumped into the swamp. This is dishonest and dangerous. If a slime machine like Media Matters can get its far-left propaganda on CNN and NBC News, the nation is in trouble.


KURTZ: Amy Holmes, Bill O'Reilly says a lot of controversial things. I've criticized some of them. My feeling on this was it was overblown. What are your thoughts?

AMY HOLMES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I don't know if it was overblown. I think that George Bush might call this the soft bigotry of low expectations. I think that where O'Reilly got himself into trouble was expressing this astonishment with the black middle class. But I would put this in the category of Joe Biden's remarks when he called Barack Obama, "clean" and "articulate."

But what it really betrayed was an unease and an inexperience with the black middle class that I think with O'Reilly, you know, he should be a little big past that.

KURTZ: Rachel Maddow, I know you've been critical of O'Reilly's remarks. Do you think that Bill O'Reilly had any racist intent in what he said?

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": I don't know if intent matters when what he has demonstrated is ignorant and buffoonery. I mean, he just looked like an ignoramus. And so whether or not he intended to look an ignoramus, that doesn't necessarily matter.

The thing that I think is most interesting here is the way he has tried to turn this into what he has always done in his work, which is to blame the media -- to blame the rest of the media on this, when really all the media did in this case was replay these remarks that he made. I don't think there is -- any case can be made that it was taken out of context.

KURTZ: Well, let's come back to the media treatment in a second. But let's stick with what he actually said. He was trying, in what you would describe as a very clumsy and perhaps clueless way, to deliver an anti-racism message. He was comparing rappers and gangsters and perhaps the image that some Americans have of blacks to the perfectly normal treatment he got in this Sylvia's restaurant.

So at worst, it seems to me, he came off as surprised that a black restaurant would be no different than a white restaurant.

MADDOW: But he said he was surprised. He said, I could not get over the fact people were not swearing while ordering their iced tea. I mean, why can't you get over that? Why is that surprising to you? Where do you live?

HOLMES: But it also would beg the question, why would he be going to a restaurant where he would expect the patrons to be using profanity and for the kitchen to be badly run, which I think suggested he expected it to be a perfectly normal restaurant, but in his radio talk show personality and trying to draw distinction between the black middle class and urban underclass, which he does a lot of reporting on, he got himself into this trouble.

KURTZ: Well, not all African-Americans agree with you on this point. Listen to a couple of them on the airwaves this week.


ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: What bothered me was when he said that he was surprised that there was no difference between Sylvia's and someone else. Well, why would you be surprised?

JOHN RIDLEY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: For an individual who has probably come in contact with people like Condi Rice and Colin Powell or Dick Parsons, to be surprised by this, that's the thing that's really shocking to me.


KURTZ: So I detect a certain split in the black community here.

HOLMES: Well, I think what they're saying is that Bill O'Reilly is in contact with these very elite African-American leaders. Like for example, the president of Time Warner being a black man, Dick Parsons. But that he's not really in touch with the black middle class and that if he were, then this would not be such an astonishing, bewildering experience of being in a restaurant where people are well- mannered.

KURTZ: On the other hand, Clarence Page of The Chicago Tribune, while poking fun at O'Reilly for saying, hey, they use knives and forks at Sylvia's, says he's getting a bum rap. MADDOW: I cannot believe that anybody would see this as other than a huge embarrassment for Bill O'Reilly. I just -- I really feel like we could parse it and try to figure out what part of class he is stripping out here and not understanding versus parts of class that he does understand.

Honestly he made a really, really buffoonish racist comment that showed that he expects black people to not -- to not behave at white levels -- white people's level of behavior.

HOLMES: But I wouldn't go so far as to say that it is racist, I would just say that it was clumsy. I've been on Bill O'Reilly's show many times in the past. I would not regard him as a racist whatsoever. However...


MADDOW: How can it not be racist to expect black people to swear while ordering iced tea? How can that not be racist?

HOLMES: Well, I wouldn't say that it is racist so much as it is inexperience and it isn't very different from Joe Biden being shocked that Barack Obama...

MADDOW: But this isn't about Joe Biden.

HOLMES: ... is clean and articulate. And he's not being -- they're not trying to run him out of the party.

KURTZ: But I would -- you know, I understand you are saying buffoonish. I was surprised that you used racist, because he was trying to make a point against racism. And you seem to just be ignoring that.

MADDOW: Listen, if he had said, you know, I met a woman the other day who did math, it was amazing, she did subtraction, I saw it happen, women can do math these days! Women are amazing! That could be a sexist comment.

In the same way for him to express absolute exasperation that black people behave at restaurants the way that white people do, which is set up as some sort of -- you know, the apex of behavior, it is fundamentally racist.

KURTZ: Do you think that CNN overplayed this for competitive reasons, which is what O'Reilly says? This got a lot of air time on CNN this week.

MADDOW: Well, let's face it, we know that, you know, when you pick a fight and you pick a fight with someone who is very successful, that does raises ratings and it raises attention. I'm not going to reflect on the motivations of CNN to be picking this fight with Bill O'Reilly, but it was a story.

I agree with Bill O'Reilly with Media Matters, by the way, that they do try to dredge up negative stories about people that they are politically opposed to. They've done it to me personally, so I do agree with him on that. But in terms of playing this up, it is going to be done this week. I think this new cycle, this news story is over.

MADDOW: The place where this has gotten the most play is on Bill O'Reilly's television show. He cannot criticize CNN for having overplayed this matter for ratings when he has led with it three nights in a row.

HOLMES: In fairness, he said that he was responding to this criticism on a rival network and I think he has the right to do that.

KURTZ: But you made the point earlier that, I mean, he loves this because he loves to cast himself as the lonely warrior against the evils of the mainstream media. So it has been -- it was the lead story on "The Factor" about four evenings in a row. So he is not exactly shying away from this.

MADDOW: Right. And he can't really criticism other people for covering this as a story when he himself is covering it literally more than anybody else in the media.

KURTZ: Juan Williams was the black journalist who was having that conversation on the radio with O'Reilly. Juan Williams was in the news for another reason this week. And that has to do with not him being a FOX News contributor, but him being a full-time analyst at National Public Radio.

Last weekend the White House offered Juan Williams an exclusive sit-down with the president on racial issues. This was tied to the 50th anniversary of the desegregation at Little Rock. And NPR turned the interview down saying the White House shouldn't be able to pick which NPR journalist would get to sit down with the president. So ironically it ends up on FOX News instead of on NPR.

Does this make NPR look bad?

HOLMES: I think it does. And I think it is a silly, precious rule that they would have that an interview subject cannot address or cannot choose who they would like to have cover them. And the result being that the president, who even with still a year-and-a-half on his presidency, is still considered a pretty big get. And so he went over to FOX News.

I think that NPR has really shot themselves in the foot. And it disincentivizes journalists to be able to go out there, cultivate their sources and get those people to sit down with them. That is a very typical thing that journalists do. And in this case, NPR said, what, we do central casting for our journalists? It doesn't make sense.

KURTZ: On the other hand, NPR Vice President for News Ellen Weiss told me that the president hasn't given that network an interview in seven years with one exception, earlier this year, Juan Williams. Now again he wants to talk to Juan Williams. But on the other hand, Juan Williams, author of several books on civil rights, the conversation is going to be about race relations. Why wouldn't you want him sitting down with the president?

MADDOW: I think that it is not a silly and precious rule. I think NPR made the decision on principle, to say, listen, this is our interview. This is -- if you are offering this to us as a media outlet, we get to pick who does this. And we want it to be one of our anchors.

And for the White House to say, no, the only NOR person whom the president is comfortable enough speaking to, to actually do an interview with, in seven years, is this one guy who is also an employee of FOX News, who has also sort of been reliably pro-Bush...

HOLMES: Well...

MADDOW: In context, in the broader context of NPR, he is their chosen guy. And I just think it makes the White House look lame for feeling like the president can't take it unless he has got a friendly reporter.

HOLMES: But then -- the presumption being then that Juan Williams is not able to give a fair and illuminating interview. And if that's the case, then he shouldn't be on the payroll at NPR. Clearly they have faith in him...

MADDOW: NPR just wants the decision.

HOLMES: They have faith in him that he can conduct an interview with any number of people at NPR.

MADDOW: When you have an interview with a high-level guest, a lot of times people will say like, well, we'd like to see final cut, or we would like to hear the final edit of it before it goes on the air.

HOLMES: And that's not what the White House was asking.

MADDOW: No, but it is the same kind of rule.


MADDOW: For the media outlet to say, listen, this is going to be our content, we decide who does the interview, we decide what the final format is. You don't get to do it.

KURTZ: Even at the risk of losing the interview with the president.

MADDOW: Exactly. You have to have some journalistic standards.

HOLMES: But the White House...

MADDOW: It's not...


HOLMES: The White House is not asking for control over content, they weren't asking to review questions before they were asked. They said, we'll give an interview to this news outlet with this journalist who they've worked with in the past...

MADDOW: Provided it's Juan.

HOLMES: ... and NPR...

MADDOW: ... because we're comfortable with Juan. Simple!

HOLMES: But that's NPR's decision to say that he's not good enough for them to give this interview...


KURTZ: And by the way, Juan Williams has criticized the Bush administration on a number of occasions.

HOLMES: Repeatedly.

KURTZ: But not reflexively. Let me move on to our last topic. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad got a lot of attention this week from the media. And there was great debate about should he have been invited to speak at Columbia University where he ended up being denounced during the introduction by Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger.

Of course, media outlets are not shy about putting him on. The latest one, "60 MINUTES," Scott Pelley did the interview. Let's take a look at that.


SCOTT PELLEY, CBS CORRESPONDENT: It is an established fact now that Iranian bombs and Iranian know-how are killing Americans in Iraq. You have American blood on your hands. Why?

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Well, this is what the American official are saying.


KURTZ: So could it be argued that journalists like Scott Pelley are giving this dictator a platform?

HOLMES: I guess it could be argued that, but he is also giving a very tough interview of this dictator. I think the difference with Columbia was that a prestigious academic institution was giving him a platform to spew his propaganda.

In fact it is working. He has just been down with Hugo Chavez who said that he was a great revolutionary for defying the Western imperialists. So I think in this case that the arguments against Ahmadinejad being at Columbia were correct.

KURTZ: Diane Sawyer, Brian Williams have also interviewed Ahmadinejad this year. Here's what Jon Friedman says, media columnist at "The lesson was how to sucker the U.S. media. The man played us for suckers. Just like any P.R.-hungry celebrity who spins reporters and editors."

MADDOW: I think that Ahmadinejad had a huge win in his trip to the United States. But it was not because he -- somebody allowed him to give a speech while he was in New York City. In a free country one might expect that people couldn't be banned from speaking.

But the reason that it was such a win for him and the reason it played so well for him at home is the way he was attacked, the way he was attacked by Lee Bollinger in the introduction, the way he was attacked during his media interviews, and the way that he was made out to be this great Satan, Satan manifest on Earth in this tiny rumple- suited body.

It made him seem so much more powerful than his own people think that he is.

HOLMES: All the more reason for why he should not have been invited. It could have been expected that there would be this outcry and this opposition. He's using that, as you say...


MADDOW: Opposition built him up.

HOLMES: ... to say that he had the strength to stand up to the Western imperialists.

KURTZ: You two can take this outside.


KURTZ: Rachel Maddow, Amy Holmes, thanks for checking in this morning.

Up next, do Hispanics get a fair shake in the media and why does that subject get so little attention?


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Coming up at the top of the hour on "LATE EDITION," Iraq's foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari discusses his government's efforts to try to meet some political goals.

Also, senators Kit Bond and Ron Wyden, they're weighing in on the escalating tension between the United States and Iran.

And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on why the Democratically- controlled Congress is simply unable to change Iraq war policy.

All that, a lot more, on "LATE EDITION." Now back to Howard Kurtz and RELIABLE SOURCES.

KURTZ: Thanks, Wolf. We in the media spend a lot of time focusing on black/white issues, especially in such high-profile racial incidents at the bogus Duke rape charges, and the prosecution in Jena, Louisiana. But journalists pay far less attention to the coverage about the -- questions about the coverage of Hispanics. CNN is looking at such issues this week as part of the "Uncovering America" series. And we add our critical lens this morning.

Joining us now, Rick Sanchez, who anchors CNN's "OUT IN THE OPEN" and the primetime weekend edition of "CNN NEWSROOM." And Roberto Suro, former director of the Pew Hispanic Center, now professor at USC's Annenberg School of Communication.

Roberto Suro, put aside the immigration debate for just one moment. Why is there no great discussion about how typical, law- abiding Latinos are portrayed in the media or about how many Hispanic editors and anchors there are in the news business?

ROBERTO SURO, ANNENBERG SCHOOL OF COMMUNICATION, USC: Well, I mean, part of the problem is that the immigration debate has sucked all the oxygen out of that story. It is the one point of public policy controversy that the whole media has just focused its attention on.

You get secondary coverage of education and crime issues, but in the last couple of years in particular, it has just been overwhelmed. It's as if there is a certain limit to coverage of Hispanics. And it all goes to one topic.

KURTZ: Rick Sanchez, you once hosted a Spanish-language radio program in Miami. Are there fewer Hispanic stars in the mainstream media because a number of people go to Univision or Telemundo or Spanish-language newspapers?

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. And not only that, I think, Howard, it causes many of the management types in our profession to be somewhat short-sighed in how they cover Hispanic news stories. I'll tell you why, because of Telemundo and Univision.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard editors say, well, those folks aren't going to be watching us, after all, they have got their own two channels and they're going to be watching Univision and they're going to be watching Telemundo. So we are really are not going to be able to reach them.

Well, things are going to be changing over the next few years, because as you have in any new population shift, you have people who are going to be assimilating faster, not to mention the fact that the sons and daughters of those people who may be watching television and Univision are going to switch over to the CNNs and the NBCs and the CBSs.

So it is important for both sides to kind of understand each other. That's why there has been that divide.

KURTZ: All right. Roberto Suro, you talked about the immigration issue kind of sucking up the oxygen. Has the heavy media focus on the 12 million illegal immigrants in this country, majority of them from Mexico, provided a fair picture? SURO: Well, I mean, I think when there is so much emphasis on one element of a population and on one particular controversy, inevitably in total the picture in the English language media is kind of distorted.

And the problem then becomes a matter of stereotyping. If that's the only time that people see Hispanics in their newspapers or on their TV shows is in the context of a debate over immigration, it really gives people a very narrow perception of this population.

KURTZ: You're saying it is almost a form of stereotyping. Rick Sanchez, if anything, some would argue that the media are sympathetic to illegal immigrants by focusing stories on their kids and their struggles and perhaps paying less attention to the simple fact that they broke the law in order to get here.

SANCHEZ: Well, if anything, those stories often end up looking like they're somewhat patronizing. Like we're just going to say this story about the Hispanics and deal with it there. But when it comes to the real issues, few people are out there saying, maybe there is a little bit of demagoguery going on here. Because the easiest thing in the world, and people have done this for time immemorial, is find one person or one group that you can call an enemy -- or a common enemy, point your finger at them, and say, oh, look, they're taking your jobs or they're doing this and they're doing that and you coalesce a group against them.

You know, it works on TV for years, it has worked on the radio. And some of that is taking place in our business. And we can close our eyes and pretend it's not going on. But we know very well that it is and it is not a good thing. And it is not a healthy thing for our business or for our democracy.

KURTZ: But there is, Roberto Suro, like it not...

SURO: Yes. But it is really...


SURO: But, I mean, that demagoguery is hard to miss. And it happens a lot on CNN itself, I mean, you know, many evenings at 6:00. So there is a great deal of that happening.

KURTZ: You're referring here to Lou Dobbs' program.

SURO: Yes, of course. He has really provided a great deal of the vocabulary and of the imagery for the demagoguery on this issue. Not just in the media, it is carried on from the media and now has become part of the political discourse.

KURTZ: But let me ask you, Roberto, is it demagoguery for the media also to cover the considerable resentment among some Americans who think that immigrants are either taking their jobs or using taxpayer-funded services like schools, isn't that a legitimate part of the debate? SURO: Yes, of course. And it's interesting, one of the things that often happens, you have allowed minority protesting, as in the case of the Minutemen, some years ago they were outnumbered by the number of the journalists whose were covering them when they first did their sort of stunts along the border.

It's a classic problem where you have a large number of people who aren't agitated about a subject who are at least relatively happy about the way things are going, they're benefiting from it and they aren't saying much so they don't get any coverage.

KURTZ: Roberto Suro, thanks very much for joining us this morning, we appreciate it. Rick Sanchez, in our remaining moments, we talked earlier about the Bill O'Reilly controversy. You were the first person to do it on CNN. This of course having to do with the Harlem dinner. Your only guest that first night was Roland Martin, African-American radio host and CNN contributor, who said that O'Reilly's comments were stupid and ridiculous. How was that fair? Where was the other side?

SANCHEZ: Well, actually, what we had to do on that night -- I'll tell you what the other side was. The other side was Bill O'Reilly himself. That was the other side. The first thing I did when I heard of this story, and it was brought to my attention by people inside and outside of the business, I picked up the phone and I called Bill O'Reilly directly. That's the onus on me is to call the source directly.

And he got on the phone with me. And I expected that he would say something, Howard, like, you know, Rick, I was on the air for three hours and things happen from time to time, I probably wish I hadn't said it but there was no intent, there was no harm, it was benign, there was no malice intended.

Instead he got on the phone and he started berating me in the most demeaning way that you could possibly imagine, almost in a way that seemed to perpetuate exactly what people were saying about him.


KURTZ: All right. Let me jump in here because...

SANCHEZ: So late in the day we decided to do the story, go ahead.

KURTZ: Let me jump in here, because I want to play a bite from another interview you did on another night with a professor and blogger named Boyce Watkins who said this to say about Juan Williams, the black journalist O'Reilly was talking about.


BOYCE WATKINS, AUTHOR & PROFESSOR: The fact of the matter is that when Bill O'Reilly gets Juan Williams, the eternal "Happy Negro" on his show to congratulate him on his racism, that's like Hugh Hefner getting a stripper to come on the show and tell him that he is not a sexist.


KURTZ: "Happy Negro"? That's outrageous. Why didn't you challenge him?

SANCHEZ: He was out of line to say that. And I wish he hadn't. We had made a decision on that night that we were going to get two African-Americans, one who was a conservative, one who was a defender of Bill O'Reilly, and one who has been critical. And we were going to stand back and let them have their own argument.

And he made that comment. I wish he hadn't. I don't think Juan Williams is anything like that. I think Juan Williams is a professional. He also has a right to his opinion and people shouldn't blame him for it.

But let me tell you one thing real quick, Howard, Bill O'Reilly has been saying all along that he hasn't been getting a break from the media. When I did an interview the other day with The Washington Post and Paul Farhi interviewed me, and Paul Farhi is on record according to Bill O'Reilly saying, I agree with you, I think you're getting cheated here. And he didn't tell me that when he interviewed me. So...

KURTZ: Rick Sanchez, we're out of time.

SANCHEZ: Thanks, Howard.

KURTZ: Still to come, a college football coach melts down, all because of a single newspaper column. A titanic tirade next.


KURTZ: Sports reporting has an in-your-face quality. Athletes know they'll get plenty of praise when they score the big touchdown and lots of blame when they fumble.


KURTZ (voice-over): By sports page standards, what Jenni Carlson wrote about Oklahoma State quarterback Bobby Reid was hardly roughing the passer. Carlson says the 21-year-old had been benched because he wasn't a gutsy player and his mother had even fed him chicken after a game.

"Does he want to be coddled and babied," she asked?

Last weekend, Coach Mike Gundy denounced Jenni Carlson and her newspaper, The Oklahoman, in what has become a YouTube classic.

MIKE GUNDY, HEAD FOOTBALL COACH, OKLAHOMA STATE: Let me tell you what I want to talk about this article, three-fourths of this is inaccurate, it's fiction. And that article had to have been written by a person that doesn't have a child and has never had a child that's had their heartbroken and come home upset! And had to deal with the child when he is upset!. And kick a person when he's down!

That's why I don't read the newspaper! Because it's garbage! And the editor that let it come out is garbage!

KURTZ: Then Gundy stormed off, no questions. And Jenni Carlson was, to put it mildly, rather surprised.

JENNI CARLSON, THE OKLAHOMAN: It was unbelievable that this was happening.

I just was really not suspecting that there was going to be this sort of outrage.

KURTZ: But would Gundy have gone off on a male columnist in this highly personal fashion?

GUNDY: If you have a child some day, you'll understand how it feels. But you obviously don't have a child.

KURTZ: In a follow-up column, Carlson said she would later ask the coach, can you tell me what were those inaccuracies when you said the column was three-quarters inaccurate? Gundy's response, I don't have to.


KURTZ: Actually, coach, you do have to, if you don't want us to think you're just a bully and blowhard. If you don't want us to think you're happy to have wonderful things written about your team, but squeal like a baby when one of your stars gets criticized, if you don't want us to think you hurl personal charges at a female journalist but don't have the decency to back them up, great video, coach, but journalists aren't there to pamper you and your boys. Toughen up.

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.