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Are Presidential Politics Getting Down and Dirty?; Baseball Rocked by Steroids Scandal

Aired December 16, 2007 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): Down and dirty. Obama's past drug use, Romney's Mormonism and Satan? Is the presidential campaign headed down the low road or are the media playing up a couple of isolated incidents? Are journalists engaging in what Mike Huckabee calls dumpster diving and are they hyping reports of Hillary's campaign being in panic mode?

"The Des Moines Register" debate. Just a snooze or the most boring in history?

Baseball rocked by the biggest steroid scandal yet. Why did sports writers look the other way for so long? And why did some news organizations accuse the wrong players?

Plus, the paparazzi strike again. Why are the nasty gossip columnists calling this woman fat?


KURTZ: It's been a sorry week in the presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton told Barack Obama she was sorry that one of her supporters questioned his adolescent drug use in "The Washington Post." Mike Huckabee told Mitt Romney he was sorry for asking a "New York Times" writer whether Mormons believed Jesus was Satan's brother.

"The Des Moines Register" didn't say it was sorry for putting on two of the most soporific debates in modern memory, but maybe it should have. And reporters certainly weren't sorry for having a whole lot of negativity to feast upon.

As polls showed Barack Obama pulling even with Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire, journalists who long portrayed her nomination as inevitable were describing a campaign in panic mode, with Bill possibly running to the rescue. But it was Clinton's New Hampshire co-chair, Billy Shaheen, who made the biggest headlines after saying the Republicans would make Obama's past drug use an issue, thus making an issue himself.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A co-chairman of the Clinton campaign in New Hampshire raising questions about the electability of Barack Obama because of his own acknowledged drug use as a teenager. DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC: It led to Hillary Clinton actually offering a personal, direct, face-to-face apology to Barack Obama on the tarmac of Reagan National Airport.

JOHN GIBSON, FOX NEWS: Shaheen is out. That's right. He is out. Clinton has just accepted the resignation of this top adviser.


KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about the campaign's ugly turn, in Manchester, New Hampshire, Jill Zuckman, national correspondent for the "Chicago Tribune." And here in Washington, Amy Holmes, political analyst for CNN, and Bill Press, host of "The Bill Press Show" on Sirius Satellite Radio.

Some news first. If you haven't heard this morning, "The Des Moines Register" endorsements are out. Hillary Clinton getting the nod on the Democratic side, John McCain on the Republican side. That's less important because it's a liberal editorial page. In fact, Carol Hunter, the editorial page editor, told me that with six out of the seven editorial board members being women, she knew that everyone expected that Hillary would in fact get the nod.

Jill Zuckman, the Democratic presidential race has tightened. No question about it. But could reporters be overplaying how much trouble Hillary is in and whether Bill needs to ride to the rescue, just as they spent all year telling us that she was inevitable?

JILL ZUCKMAN, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Every time that I think I know what's happening or what's going to happen, I remind myself of 2004 when everybody thought John Kerry was dead, even in the days before the Iowa caucuses, and suddenly we were shocked -- shocked to find out that he had actually won and that the great Howard Dean had collapsed. So, you know, we're not really going to know who has the organization, whose people are willing to come out on a cold, snowy night in Iowa until it actually happens.

KURTZ: Amy Holmes, Billy Shaheen, the now-former co-chair in New Hampshire of Hillary's campaign, said the nasty, mean Republicans might bring up Obama's past drug use.


KURTZ: Is the -- not him. Is the press buying the line this was just one guy completely not authorized by the Clinton campaign?

HOLMES: I think to a certain extent they are. And I couldn't help but be a cynical Washingtonian when I saw Hillary Clinton issue yet another public apology, which I saw kind of as having it both ways, of keeping the story alive so you have it one more day, or here we are on Sunday talking about it.

KURTZ: You're saying she was apologizing just to get it out there for another news cycle?

HOLMES: I had my suspicions. And I thought that the press didn't really press her on that point to find out, you know, Hillary, why are you coming out again on this issue if you really want it dead and buried?

KURTZ: Here's why...

ZUCKMAN: Howie...

KURTZ: Go ahead, Jill.

ZUCKMAN: Howie, most people here in New Hampshire who actually know Billy Shaheen pretty much believe that this was somebody who was just talking. And he's a very talkative, garrulous kind of guy. And I don't think there are that many people who think this was all planned out to keep it in the news cycle for two or three days.

BILL PRESS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, and also, I think Hillary Clinton did the right thing. She had to fire Billy Shaheen. But the idea to me that he is some key campaign aide, top Clinton adviser who was deputized to go out and plant this, I think is just not real. Look, it was an incredibly dumb thing to do.

KURTZ: But it was not -- it was not just blurted out. And here's how I know that. Billy Shaheen said this to Alec MacGillis, who's a reporter at "Washington Post."

MacGillis called him back and said, "Am I clear now? Are you saying this on the record?" And he said yes.

So it was certainly premeditated. And look, the guy is the husband of former New Hampshire governor Jeanne Shaheen.

I'm wondering, Bill Press, whether this fits into a media narrative that Hillary Clinton runs a tough-as-nails operation that will do whatever it takes to win.

PRESS: It does. It does very much so.

In fact, I think that's part of the problem here. I think what we're seeing is that the media is too -- and I hate to become a critic of the media, but watching the coverage, right -- and I'm not endorsing any candidate -- I think the media has become too poll- driven. And then they get on the narrative and everybody starts repeating the same narrative. And you just pointed it out.

The one narrative was Hillary is the inevitable front-runner. Well, we heard that for six months, we get tired of it. Now Hillary's dead. I mean, the polls -- the blogs were announcing this week the death, the end of the Hillary Rodham Clinton campaign.

HOLMES: I would agree to that. I would agree with you, Bill, to a certain extent. But what has surprised me is how much that the media has picked up on the narrative that Hillary's people are putting out. It was Mark Penn who was putting out the information that Hillary was inevitable, and so the press is starting to report that she's the inevitable candidate. And now that she's trying to touting herself as the experienced candidate, the press is going along with that, and they're saying that Obama is the candidate of change and Hillary is the candidate of experience. If you talk to Obama's camp, they'll say, oh, no, Obama has more actual elected office experience than Hillary, and yet the press is setting already setting up this narrative and this story.

KURTZ: Speaking of Mark Penn, who is a key Hillary Clinton strategist and pollster, he -- and speaking to your point about whether or not the Clinton campaign still wants people to kind of, sort of focus on Obama's admitted past drug use as an adolescent, Mark Penn was on "Hardball," and this question came up. This was after the apology. And keep an eye on Joe Trippi, who is a John Edwards adviser, and how he reacts.

Let's play that clip.


MARK PENN, CLINTON CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Well, I think we've made clear that the issue related to cocaine use is not something that the campaign was in any way raising. And I think that's been made clear. I think this kindergarten thing was a joke after Senator...

JOE TRIPPI, EDWARDS CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I think he just did it again. He just did it again.

PENN: This kindergarten thing after Senator...

TRIPPI: He just did it again. Unbelievable. They just literally...


PENN: Excuse me. Excuse me.

TRIPPI: No, no, Mark. Excuse me. This guy's been filibustering this. He just said "cocaine" again. It's like this is what...

PENN: I think you're saying "cocaine."


KURTZ: Cocaine. We didn't mean to bring up cocaine.

Jill Zuckman, was this a way, kind of a sneaky way to keep it alive?

ZUCKMAN: Well, I don't know. I mean, you could -- we could all say that the Clinton campaign is brilliant and they know exactly what they're doing and everything's happening for a reason, or we could say he was on the show, he was being asked about it and he was just responding. It's not clear to me that everything that's happened with them is calculated and planned.

KURTZ: Well, I think "cocaine" is a loaded word. And when you -- go ahead.

PRESS: Yes. What gets me is the use of the word "cocaine." Barack Obama really talked about using pot. And he said once in a while he tried blow. But pot was the drug of choice at the time.

They're using cocaine because it is loaded. And it was bad enough for Billy Shaheen. I think Mark Penn should have stayed away from it.

KURTZ: But this interesting point -- journalists are all saying, well, you know, this is old news, because it was in Obama's book. It was in his autobiography that came out in 1995.

He's actually talked about it on the stump, saying that kids should stay away from drugs, that he had made mistakes. But when we say everybody knows, I mean, lots of people don't know. They didn't read the book, they don't follow the campaign that closely, either.

HOLMES: That's true. And it seems that the media has also sort of established that this is old news and it's not worth revisiting. And, you know, there may be some questions about that.

I don't know if Republicans should raise those questions or the media should raise those questions, but I think that it's interesting that this story is in -- that the story is, oh, it is dirty, it's underhanded to bring any of this up since Obama already brought it up in his own book and dealt with it.

KURTZ: Do either of you sense that the press corps, or much of it, is turning against Hillary Clinton? And in fact, excited that she might lose Iowa, and maybe even New Hampshire, because it is a new and dramatic story line?

PRESS: I believe so. I mean, and again, not supporting anybody, but I think it was so much fun to write the Hillary's inevitable story, that now it's so much fun and everybody is writing that Hillary is washed up, when in fact what I find most exciting about this presidential contest is, anything could happen on either side.

And it comes down to Iowa, which represents one-forty-seventh of one percent of the total vote in the United States. That's the story. And of course Hillary's the front-runner, was about to stumble at some point. But there's a certain glee, I think, in writing her demise prematurely.

KURTZ: But that...


KURTZ: Go ahead, Jill.

ZUCKMAN: Howie, I was with Senator Clinton yesterday in New Hampshire, and I have to say, she really seemed pretty subdued and solemn as she tried to make this case that she has not only experience, but she's had success in affecting change over her career, and trying to ticket off everything that she's done and the people she's affected in her life. But she didn't seem all that upbeat. I mean, I think she knows that she's got a very steep hill to climb right now.

KURTZ: And Jill, the one candidate on the Democratic side who has kind of been overlooked in recent weeks is John Edwards, as the media have very much tried to make this an Obama and Hillary race.

He pops up today on the cover of "Newsweek" -- let's put it up on the screen -- "The Sleeper" is the headline. I think it's an interesting choice by "Newsweek," because John Edwards, it is certainly not impossible that he could win the Iowa caucus.

ZUCKMAN: Absolutely. You know, he's got a great organization in Iowa. He's been working Iowa since the last time he ran for president. And I think they're just holding their breath and hoping they can slip through between Clinton and Obama, hitting at each other and surprise everyone.

And he's also worked fairly hard in New Hampshire, where he did not do particularly well last time, and hoping that if he can surprise people in Iowa, that people in New Hampshire will take another look at him. And then we'll have a completely new story line.

KURTZ: Well, if that happens he'll be on a lot more magazine covers.

An interesting point about "The Des Moines Register" endorsement endorsing McCain. Again, not that important for that newspaper, but McCain also got the endorsement today of the "Boston Globe," which endorsed Barack Obama on the Democratic side, and the Manchester "Union Leader," which is a very big deal in a Republican primary in New Hampshire.

So we see he's at least the choice -- the senator from Arizona at least is the choice of certain key editorial boards.

When we come back, the man dubbed "Holy Huckabee" continues to surge. Will the constant media focus on his Christianity hurt the former Arkansas governor?


KURTZ: The media suddenly can't get enough of Mike Huckabee, the candidate they all but ignored before he surged in the polls. And there seems to be one overriding issue about the former Baptist preacher -- his religion.

As the Huckabee media blitz continue this week, the question came up again and again -- was he running as a Christian and was he badmouthing Mitt Romney's Mormonism, a problem Huckabee compounded when he asked a "New York Times" magazine writer whether Mormons believe that Satan is Jesus' brother.


CHRIS CUOMO, ABC NEWS: Let's get right to it. Are you basically asking people in Iowa and around the country to vote for you because you are a Christian?


CUOMO: Why did you ask that question? Did you ask it to bait the bias against Mormons among your followers?

HUCKABEE: Absolutely not.

CUOMO: Do you believe they're Christians? Why are you unwilling to say that?

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Why did you even go there with this reporter?

HUCKABEE: Honestly, it was a casual conversation.

CHETRY: As a Baptist, do you think that Mormons are Christian?

HUCKABEE: Again, I'm not even touching topics about anybody's faith but my own.


KURTZ: Amy Holmes, is the press guilty of making Christianity essentially the only issue that Huckabee can talk about?

HOLMES: Well, I think early on I think that was certainly true.

KURTZ: Before (ph) this week?

HOLMES: Well, early on in the debates, for example. And he would get all the God questions.

KURTZ: Right.

HOLMES: You know, the evolution question. And in fact, he answered them I thought very skillfully. But, you know, Mike Huckabee also has to take responsibility that the press has actually been doing a lot of work for him and this has helped him with Christian voters. And he put out his own campaign ads that said he was a Christian leader. So in this case, the media's focus on his Christianity has actually worked to his advantage.

KURTZ: In Iowa at least.


KURTZ: Did Huckabee bring this on himself, in part, in part, by asking that "New York Times" magazine reporter about what Mormons believe and bringing Satan into the discussion?

PRESS: Oh, I believe so. I mean, you live by the bible, you'll die by the bible. And he's made the bible his front issue.

As Amy says, he painted it on his Web site, identifies himself as a Christian leader. And there's no doubt that he's been out there courting the evangelicals. That's why he really surged in Iowa.

Here's the bigger issue, I think, Howie, which we may be missing, that for a long time there's been this marriage between the Republican Party and the religious right, religious right kind of going along with the Republican Party. But when you have a leader in the religious right at least threatening to become -- and it looks like he could become -- the leader of the Republican Party, then the tail is wagging the dog. And what happens when the party's in fact taken over by the religious right?

That's the Huckabee candidacy.

KURTZ: Well, I don't know that I would him a leader of the religious right. He doesn't agree with everything that some religious right leaders agree -- espouse. But certainly, you know, that's how he came up. He was a preacher, he was a televangelist.


KURTZ: Jill Zuckman, in Manchester you've spent time with Governor Huckabee on the trail. How is he handling not just all this increased media scrutiny, but the waves and waves of questions from reporters?

ZUCKMAN: He's handling it with pretty good humor. He brings it up himself.

He was at a factory on Friday and he told these factory workers that now he's under the spotlight and he's being accused of everything from kidnapping the Lindbergh baby to having a role in the JFK assassination. I mean, it's a little hyperbolic, but he's trying to make the point that now that he's at the front of the pack in Iowa, everybody's giving him renewed scrutiny. And this is a guy who has was happy if he could get one or two reporters to follow him around just a few months ago, and now he's got this huge press contingent, people climbing all over each other to get to see him and see him interact with voters.

KURTZ: I want to come back to that point. But first I want to play a clip from Huckabee talking to Wolf Blitzer about the increased press scrutiny, and a very colorful way of describing it.

Let's watch.


HUCKABEE: We've got a lot of people dumpster diving right now in the political process, and they're going through every old waste basket they can find to dig up everything I ever have said. But I understand. I went through this in Arkansas.


KURTZ: Amy Holmes, dumpster diving is not necessarily how I would put it, but it is true, all the reporters are now going back through the Arkansas record. You know, in 1992, he called for the quarantining of AIDS patients, he called homosexuality sinful.

Is this a fair or unfair process that he's being subjected to?

HOLMES: Welcome to the national spotlight. And this is to be expected. Its (INAUDIBLE) of success.

When you step on to the national stage, of course all those things are going to be sorted through. And if you actually look at the Republican candidates, his opponents, they're saying the media hasn't done enough to look at his actual policy record, how he governed Arkansas. So now...

KURTZ: Because nobody -- the press cared about this guy until three weeks ago.

HOLMES: Well, and, you know, getting back to Bill's point that this was all about the horse race, if you remember three months ago, six months ago, it was would Mike Huckabee be a good VP, you know, addition to the ticket, bringing in that red state, bringing in southern voters, bringing evangelicals. Now that he's in the lead, all of a sudden he's getting this renewed scrutiny.

PRESS: Just one other point. I fear that we're getting to the point of sanitizing these campaigns to the point that they become meaningless. And I think it's very -- there's some legitimate issues here.

The pardon of Wayne Dumond by the state parole board, his role in it, is a legitimate issue. His policy on illegal immigration, or Romney's or Giuliani's, are legitimate issues.

And I find we see these stories when somebody mentions something that somebody else might have done. Oh, it's a personal attack. Somebody goes on the attack. No, they're not.

KURTZ: They're all legitimate issues for the media. But when you have it concentrated into, say, this three-week span where every single story appears to challenging, questioning negative, it can have a piling-on appearance.

PRESS: It can, but the fact is that's the downside. The blessing is he's number one in the polls. The downside is guess what? Now we know who you are and we want to know more about you.

KURTZ: Jill Zuckman...

ZUCKMAN: You know what?

KURTZ: Go ahead.

ZUCKMAN: The thing that's so sad about it is that the press -- you know, there are a lot of us out here, and we're incapable of scrutinizing all the candidates regardless of where they are in the polls, and that we're only going to look at them unless they're truly leading in the polls. And that's what this is essentially all about. KURTZ: Huckabee told me, Jill, that he was for months and months just obliterated in the news coverage. He got some columnists to write about him, and he liked to go on cable TV, which always needs guests. But wasn't, you know, making most of those stories, except for that paragraph about also running -- or also in the debate -- but is he, Jill Zuckman, kind of like John McCain now without the buzz in that he gives reporters so much access that they kind of end up liking the guy and maybe giving him the benefit of the doubt?

ZUCKMAN: You know, he's got so many people following him now, they were actually starting to limit it a little bit on this trip to New Hampshire. They were saying, you know, we're going to -- we're going to talk to you later this afternoon, let us do these events, let us talk to the voters, he'll answer your questions later. And he was pretty patient and he did.

Whether voters -- whether reporters like him because he talks to them or because he's funny and clever, that may be the other ingredient in this.

KURTZ: Just briefly, you can't accuse Huckabee of hiding from the press. I mean, knowing full well that the Satan quote and these other things were going to come up, he just kept doing TV interviews this week.

PRESS: Right. And the other thing is, we laugh about how many debates that we've had. Huckabee helped himself enormously in these debates, as did Hillary Clinton, I believe.

KURTZ: Brief comment.

HOLMES: I agree with that. But I would also say that the media loves seeing what they're now calling the holy war on the Republican side. The Christian right and evangelicals are always a favorite topic of the media.

KURTZ: Amy Holmes, last word.

Bill Press, Jill Zuckman in New Hampshire, thanks very much for joining us.

Coming up, some frightening moments for a former ABC anchor. A media mogul is headed to prison, and one of his former newspapers is applauding. And done deal. Rupert Murdoch taking command of "The Wall Street Journal" and taking aim at a big rival.

Stay tuned for our "Media Minute."


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


KURTZ (voice over): Conrad Black, the media mogul whose properties once stretched from Toronto to London to Jerusalem, was sentenced to six and a half years in prison this week. Black was convicted of fraud involving his former company, Hollinger International, owner of the "Chicago Sun-Times."

The paper said the Canadian-born businessman who became a member of the British House of Lords cut its staff to the bone and inflated circulation figures. The "Sun-Times welcomed the prospect of Black spending "... life in the slammer among the common rabble -- without the super-expensive wine and caviar or whatever else lavish spenders like him pamper themselves with."


KURTZ: Forrest Sawyer is one lucky guy. The former ABC anchor, now working for the Travel Channel, was in a helicopter in Tanzania that was flying low and flipped over into lake below. His producer suffered a broken hip and the pilot broke his leg. Sawyer injured his knee.

They grew dehydrated, had to wait six hours before a local tribesman helped them to get medical attention. Sawyer told New York's "Daily News, "I've been in a lot of strange situations, but I'd never come as remotely close to dying as this."


KURTZ (voice over): It's official, Rupert Murdoch became the new owner of "The Wall Street Journal" this week, but even before the sale became official, Murdoch had been pushing the tradition-bound paper for shorter stories and more coverage of politics and installing editor Robert Thompson from his "Times of London" as The Journal's new publisher.

And on Murdoch's FOX News Channel, the media mogul served notice on another national newspaper.

RUPERT MURDOCH, CHAIRMAN, NEWS CORP.: Well, we're already in circulation, 50 percent bigger than "The New York Times." Our readers are more influential, wealthier. We're a very much more attractive prospect to advertisers than "The New York Times" is.

KURTZ (voice over): Murdoch did hand The Times some cash with a full-page ad touting his latest acquisition.


KURTZ: Will Murdoch tart up the paper or compromise its journalistic integrity? We and plenty of others will be watching.

Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, an Iowa newspaper editor becomes a target for criticism after presiding over two lifeless presidential debates.

The steroid report rocks baseball, and some news outlets make things worse by naming the wrong names!

Plus, a super-sized controversy. Does this really qualify as fat?


KURTZ: There was a great sense of media anticipation as former senator George Mitchell prepared to release his report on steroid use in Major League Baseball. Which big stars would be on the list?

KTVI, the FOX affiliate in St. Louis, trumpeted the news that Albert Pujols, the Cardinals' first baseman, was among those being accused of improper drug use. Well, it turns out that the station took that information from the Web site of NBC's New York station, WNBC, and it was wrong. WNBC apologized for his mistake and Pujols understandably was upset.

"I would like to express how upset and disappointed I am over the reckless reporting that took place this morning. It has caused me and my family a lot of senseless aggravation due to their inaccurate information."

Joining us now to talk about coverage of the steroid scandal and some political news as well, David Zurawik, television critic for "The Baltimore Sun," and Matthew Felling, co-editor of the "Public Eye" blog on

Matthew Felling, you're two hours away from getting your hands on the actual steroid report. How do you take the risks of grabbing this information from another station's Web site and throwing it up on your air?

MATTHEW FELLING, CO-EDITOR, "PUBLIC EYE," CBSNEWS.COM: Yes, I think it was just a sense that the media was so impatient about this report. Baseball and the Mitchell people had been so good about being tight-lipped, that I started seeing little drips and drabs all morning on Thursday.

And, you know, all the blogging in the world, all the chatter on sports talk radio, God help us, doesn't make something right. And I think that it just built this momentum onto itself. And just because it's on a Web site out of New York doesn't mean it's right in St. Louis, although Pujols would have been one of the bigger fish, and it's understandable that they were tempted, but you've got to double- check.

KURTZ: Yes. All right.

Johnny Damon of the Yankees also complained about being on the WNBC Web site in New York. And I'm just thinking, even if you're right about this advance information, is that some great scoop to get it an hour before the full report? Why take the chance?

DAVID ZURAWIK, TELEVISION CRITIC, "THE BALTIMORE SUN": Well, it isn't, but remember, media is at its worst when you know something is coming. Remember when the Memo Gate report was coming from CBS? Every night I left the office and I'd say to my editors, I called so and so, I called so and so, I called so and so. And then people started dribbling stuff out that was -- and most of it was wrong because CBS was keeping that locked down. Remember? We're at our worst when we know something's coming and we don't want to get beat.

FELLING: It's election night 2000 all over again. The media has the most difficulty saying please stay tuned.

KURTZ: All right.

FELLING: They just don't know how to do it.

KURTZ: Well, I'm going to say that right now because I want to put up some headlines from the New York tabloids about this scandal.

We see "Cheaters" one banner headline, "Disgrace" was another. There we see in the "Daily News" and the "New York Post."

And this story was big news everywhere, it led to network newscasts. Let's watch some of that.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC: This was a dark day, and not just for baseball, America's pastime, but for fairness and competition and sportsmanship.

ARMEN KETEYIAN, CBS NEWS (voice over): The Mitchell report slammed home what many had long suspected -- illegal drugs were part of the lineup of every team in baseball beginning in the mid 1990s.

HARRY SMITH, CBS NEWS: Say it ain't so -- Roger and Barry and Miguel and Andy.


KURTZ: Some of these players, not just Barry Bonds, were dramatically bulking up over the course of many years. Did most sportswriters basically look the other way?

FELLING: Well, everybody looked the other way on this story. Everybody knew that there was something going on. And we might have just been in blissful ignorance in the early '90s, but it became clear that halfway through -- I mean, (INAUDIBLE) of Canseco and McGwire, we knew something was going on. We weren't exactly sure, but baseball didn't catch up until late in the game.

A lot of these things at the early part of the report were not illegal at the time. So baseball was in this really odd position of trying to regulate something and punish people for something that wasn't yet regulated at the time.

KURTZ: David Zurawik, we certainly knew that homerun hitters were suspect after the Barry Bonds investigation. Later we found out about Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa . But Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, I mean, two all-star pitchers, to find out that they were taking steroids -- by the way, Andy Pettitte has acknowledged it after denying it initially, and Roger Clemens still says it's not true.

I just wonder whether from the point of view of sportswriters, this undermines these great dramas that they like to write about.

ZURAWIK: Well you know, it's amazing, because, you know, in Baltimore, we had a team with -- Baltimore was one of the hotbeds of this. You know? And you would see a guy like David Segui, who was really a good line drive average hitter who all of a sudden bulked up and started hitting homeruns. And people were looking the other way.

Howie, I remember Miguel Tejada reading quotes in newspapers where they would question him about it. And he'd say, it's all protein. I eat chicken and rice, that's how I got so big.

And they'd let it go at that! And you'd go, my God, wait a minute!

KURTZ: Will journalists now shun these players, depict them as cheaters much as Pete Rose was depicted as a pariah over his gambling? Or is this going to be like a three-day story?

FELLING: It's not a three-day story. There is a shadow over these players, though, and I think that Bud Selig has said that he's going to punish, he's going to look into these cases on a case-by-case basis. So I think the verdict is still out, the jury is still out.

And I think that one of the funny things about the story is that it did something that I thought was impossible. It has made sports talk radio the place for reasoned nuance.

We have people saying let's talk about twitch muscles versus (INAUDIBLE), versus strength. And I keep thinking to myself, you look at Armen Keteyian's piece about bombshell and, you know, you find out a little bit more by talking to the loudmouths.

KURTZ: All right. Let's twitch to a different kind of sport, the spectator sport of politics.

"The Des Moines Register" sponsored two debates in Iowa this week, one Democratic, one Republican, moderated by the editor of the newspaper, Carolyn Washburn, who declined our invitation to appear on the show this morning. And boy, has she gotten a lot of flack.

Let's take a look at some of the questions that she asked and the one moment in the Republican debate that had at least a little bit of sizzle.


CAROLYN WASHBURN, MODERATOR: Who in this country is paying more than a fair share of taxes relative to everyone else?

What sacrifices would you ask Americans to make to lower the country's debt?

I want to take on a new issue. I would like to see a show of hands. How many of you believe global climate change is a serious threat and caused by human activity?


You want to give me a minute to answer that?

WASHBURN: No, I don't.

THOMPSON: Well, then I'm not going to answer it.


THOMPSON: You want a show of hands. I'm not doing it.


KURTZ: By the way, Fred Thompson is now raising money about that refusal to raise hands, saying, do you want a conservative leader who won't grovel to the liberal media?

What would you say, Mr. TV critic, that debate lacked?

ZURAWIK: A moderator, first of all. Howie, you know, some people have compared her to Nurse Ratched.

Really what you have here is a junior high school sort of history teacher who doesn't really know the lesson plan and is sort of faking it by being didactic and over the top and assertive. She -- you know, there was a point where Mitt Romney answered a question and she said -- it was on taxes. And she said, "OK, a little snappier, gentlemen."

And you expected her to clap her hands twice like a nanny, or maybe a riding crop would have been a little bit better. She was so -- listen, you know, she had such a tin ear for the television medium. You thought they wouldn't bring her back the next day for the Democrats, but they did.


KURTZ: You know, it's funny. When TV anchors moderate these things, whether it's Russert or Blitzer or Chris Matthews, people sometimes say they're too aggressive, they turn it into a talk show, but maybe there's something to having somebody who knows something about television?

Well, she was as aggressive, just in a very (INAUDIBLE) way. I mean, she was -- she was, if not Nurse Ratched, she was like Dr. Evil, saying, zip it. You only get 15 seconds. Zip it.

And I think that what she -- what she did -- I think that everybody in Iowa, at least the journalists portray it this way, they want to know about the issues. They don't want to see a food fight.

So she was determined to make it not a food fight. But she did it at the cost of like a real debate. This was no interaction. This was not a debate. It was a pageant, where each person gets in their 15 seconds.

KURTZ: But there were also such probing questions as what are your New Year's resolutions and what do you make of the people of Iowa? And where does a moderator get off saying, OK, we're not going to talk about the Iraq war and we're not going to talk about immigration?


ZURAWIK: Yes. Yes. Well, she justified it by saying Iowa voters are not interested in that, which was something right away where you said hold it, how do you know they're not interested in it? They'd be the only state in the union where people aren't interested in it.

But she also had another thing. You know, she said we have a lot of rules, which I'll explain as we go along. So let's get going.

And you went, wait a minute! Tell me the rules! And it was screwy rules. I couldn't figure it out after two days.

KURTZ: I am all for substance and I am not in favor of food fights. But when you ask very general questions like what would you do in your first year of president, you're basically giving these candidates an invitation to just press the button and recite the stump speech.

FELLING: Yes, just pull the string and let them talk. I would have liked to have seen her say, you know what, after the candidate was done with his 30 seconds, say, well, wait a second, candidate Thompson said this, how did that differ? I would like to see her compare and contrast the candidates because that was the value in a moderator, and she showed the complete inability to think on her feet, and it was just push button, push button, push button.

ZURAWIK: And Howie, I don't want to be accused of style over- substance either, but she was so bad on that front that it was a distraction. Even if she had gotten a substance, you couldn't concentrate because she was so bad.

KURTZ: On the other hand, I'm sure she's a very fine newspaper editor, and "The Des Moines Register" is a good paper.

Very briefly, a report in "The New York Times" this morning says that David Letterman is negotiating to bring his show back by reaching some kind of a deal with the writers' union to make an exception for him. I'm sure other late night shows would like to come back as well.

Do you expect that to be the first breach in the wall here?

FELLING: Not knowing a whole lot about that story, I do think that David Letterman has considerable pull in this sort of issue. And I think that he will be able to reach an agreement, even if it's just a tentative thing. And I think you actually need it in this political campaign, because there no checks and balances, there is no "Daily Show," there is no "Colbert Report," and you need somebody to give the candidates hell.

KURTZ: Letterman owns that show -- but I'm sure if he comes back, Leno will find a way to come back.

ZURAWIK: But it's going to be very bad for the Writers Guild, Howie. This is really going to hurt him if he comes back. And I think they're going to fight him. I really do. I think they know now that the studios and the companies have dug in their heels, they can't let this breach happen or else it's going to crumble.

KURTZ: All right. Thanks, gentlemen, for a segment that was long on both style and substance.

Up next, Jennifer Love-Hewitt is mocked by photos that wound up on "People" magazine. Do the media perpetuate unrealistic images of how women should look?


KURTZ: You know the drill -- the paparazzi take surreptitious pictures of the bikini-clad starlet and they end up on the gossip site TMZ. This time the quarry was Jennifer Love Hewitt vacationing with her fiance in Hawaii, and the snarky headline, "We know what you ate this summer, love -- everything."

The actress suffered plenty of online ridicule because she appeared to have put on a few extra pounds. And that catapulted the story to the cover of "People" magazine.

But look at that picture. Doesn't she look normal? Wouldn't most men love to date someone who looks like this?

Jennifer Love Hewitt hit back on her Web site. She complained about photographers taking invasive pictures from bad angles and added, "Like all women out there should, I love my body."

Joining us now to talk about the way media portray women and the whole issue of body image, from Toledo, Ohio, Carol Costello, Washington-based correspondent for CNN's "THE SITUATION ROOM." And in New York, Julia Allison, editor-at-large for "Star" magazine.

Julia Allison, do you have any problem with the paparazzi messing up Jennifer Love Hewitt's vacation, or is this the world we live in and she ought to just get used to it?

JULIA ALLISON, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, "STAR" MAGAZINE: No, no, I really don't think the discussion should be about that, because I honestly think that, first of all, TMZ apologized. I don't know if you know that.

KURTZ: I do know that.

ALLISON: I think that their comments were inappropriate, but I think the real story here is the fact that the media prior to this controlled all dissemination of information about celebrities. But now we have celebrities able to come out on their own blogs and do their own thing, and actually counteract stuff like this, which is really powerful.

KURTZ: Carol Costello, who is joining us by phone because the satellite truck we were going to use in Ohio apparently is under 10 feet of snow, what do you think of Jennifer Love Hewitt fighting back on her blog? It's an interesting wrinkle in the debate about how celebrities are covered.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, come on, Howie. The first thought that entered my mind was that Jennifer Love Hewitt was being a hypocrite. I mean, this is a young woman who appeared on the cover of "Maxim" magazine in a little saloon girl outfit in very sexual poses, and her body looked amazing, like no body any young woman could achieve.

And now she's coming out and she's upset because people are poking fun at her backside, which appears to be a little heavier than it was in "Maxim.:" I mean, she's the one that objectified herself.

Had she never appeared on that kind of magazine, perhaps she wouldn't be garnering the attention that she is right now. I mean, doesn't she deserve those comments if she puts herself out there as an object?

KURTZ: So you're saying this is what she was selling, and if this is how she markets herself to the public, then she opens the door to people to make fun of her if suddenly she's not quite as svelte.

COSTELLO: You betcha. You betcha.

I'm so sick and tired of women appearing half-naked on the covers of magazines, and then saying to young girls, you know, I love my body. And then when someone pokes fun at them for something, they turn around and they get angry about it. I mean, come off it!

ALLISON: But excuse me, it is not professional for media to have comments like, "I know what you ate last summer"? I mean really? Is that appropriate?

COSTELLO: We're talking about TMZ, which is a third-rate gossip site. We're not talking about any magazine of any heft. We're talking about male bloggers who posted...

ALLISON: But that is what people read.

COSTELLO: ... who posted blogs anonymously poking fun at Jennifer Love Hewitt. We're not talking about "People" magazine.

ALLISON: Well, and "People" magazine talked about the situation. Obviously, it was interesting enough for them to debate it.

But I don't think that that -- I mean, I really don't think that that's the big question here. The question is, should the media be snarky and then have celebrities come out and say, you know what, that's appropriate? The celebrities are chiding the media. That's a really interesting position for them to be in. KURTZ: You know, TMZ is an incredibly popular entertainment Web site. And I don't know who is buying all these magazines with pictures of half-naked women. I can't imagine.

But let me throw this back to you, Julia. Let's broaden it just a little bit.

Don't the entertainment media, almost sort of in concert with the fashion industry, send the message, at least if you're famous and a starlet and all of that, that you've got to look anorexic to be attractive?

ALLISON: I wouldn't say anorexic. I do think that they send the message that you better look good, yes. I mean, I think people -- let's be honest.

KURTZ: But looking good. Let me break in. Looking good, who defines what's looking good? Is looking good...

ALLISON: Biology.

KURTZ: ... you know, fitting into a size 2 that is beyond the reach of most women?

ALLISON: You know, you said, "Who defines what's looking good?" I think that in general, people who are healthy, who are fit.

I don't think that anyone thought Calista Flockhart during her anorexic years was attractive. I think that people find Jennifer Love Hewitt extremely attractive. To point out the fact that she has flaws I think is the only reason that the media has done, is because in a certain sense, I think they're jealous.

KURTZ: Jealous. OK.

Well, we just put up some pictures, so you both know of Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie looking like they eat about once a week.


COSTELLO: May I interject something?

KURTZ: Please.

COSTELLO: Just about how, you know, people are staring at celebrities and wishing they looked just like them? Remember a few years ago when the Barbie doll controversy was swirling around, when little girls playing with Barbie and her unbelievable measurements would strive one day to have a teeny, tiny waist and a very large bust and these lush plastic hips because of the way their Barbie doll looked?

Well, you know, I just don't buy that. I was sent out to do a story on that very thing, and I was talking to a group of 5-year-old girls who were all holding their Barbie dolls. And I asked them -- you know, first of all, what do you ask a 5- year-old about a Barbie doll? So I said, you know, "Do you think Barbie's pretty?" Yeah, yeah, they answered me.

I said, "Well, do you think Barbie's skinny?" And they all said yeah." "Do you want to look like Barbie?" And when I asked them when they wanted to look like Barbie, one of them inadvertently pulled the head off one Barbie doll.

And we all started laughing hysterically...


COSTELLO: ... because that's the way girls are looking at Barbie dolls at that age, as something to play with.

KURTZ: All right. Let me go back to Julia. I've got about 20 seconds.

You seem to object to the snarky tone of online gossip sites, but that's the blogosphere for you.

ALLISON: Yes, I think it is. I think it's immature.

But you know what? I think that the celebrities are going to -- once they figure out that they can blog, that they can post videos -- if Britney Spears posted a video right now on YouTube, if she chose to do that and said, you know what? I'm sick of all of the crap that I've been getting, everyone in America would watch that. And that's powerful.

KURTZ: All right. Got to go.

COSTELLO: May I just leave you with one thing?

KURTZ: We've got to go, sorry.

Carol Costello, Julia Allison, thanks for enlightening us.

And Julia, call me up when that video is posted.

Still to come, these kids today, how old do you have to be to play in the journalistic big leagues?


KURTZ: When we aren't worrying about Iraq, Iran and Oprah, journalists have been debating this burning question -- how old do you have to be to write a front-page story for "The Washington Post?"


KURTZ (voice over): Well, I couldn't have done it when I was this age. I did have a few when I joined the paper at age 27.

The question arises because of criticism of this Page 1 piece by Perry Bacon Jr., a former "TIME" magazine correspondent who is, yes, 27 years old. "Foes use Obama's Muslim Ties to Fuel Rumors About Him," the headline said.

I've criticized the story because rather than knocking down the rumors, as the paper says it intended, The Post didn't make clear that they are false.

Along comes middle-aged Chris Daly, a one-time stringer for The Post and now a Boston University journalism professor. He asked on his blog, "Since when does The Post assign 27 year-olds to write Page 1 presidential campaign pieces?"

Editor Len Downey fired back, accusing Daly of a reckless, shoddy and irresponsible attack on a fine journalist and saying he owes Bacon an apology. Daly backed off a bit. Lots of other tackled the age issue on Jim Romenesko's media Web site.

Excuse me, but the old bowls like Jack Germond and Jules Witcover and Bruce Morton have largely retired. It's a young person's game.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were in their late 20s when they broke the Watergate scandal. Jon Meacham became Newsweek's managing editor at 29. He now runs the magazine.

Reporters in their 20s routinely risk their lives in Iraq.

Philip Roth was 26 when he published his first major novel, "Goodbye, Columbus." Paul McCartney was 21 and John Lennon 23 when they landed on "The Ed Sullivan Show," having started writing the songs that would change music forever.

Mark Zuckerberg is the billionaire who created Facebook. He's all of 23 years old.


KURTZ: Now, a bit of seasoning and a few extra wrinkles does help in covering presidential politics. I know a bit more about the game than when I was a rookie chasing after candidate Jimmy Carter. But to suggest that a talented young reporter can't produce Page 1 journalism sounds to me like a case of creeping old fogyism.

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.