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Reliable Sources

A Look at Coverage of Presidential Campaign

Aired February 17, 2008 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): Sinking ship? Hillary Clinton loses eight straight contests and is nearly submerged by a wave of negative coverage. Are journalists already counting her out? And if Barack Obama is the clear front-runner, is he in for tougher scrutiny?

John McCain sweeps the Potomac primaries and gets Mitt Romney's endorsement. Why do the media keep portraying him as a weak nominee?

Hardball. Roger Clemens denying steroid use on the Hill and contradicting his friend and fellow pitcher, Andy Pettitte. Is the press more interested in the personal melodrama or the stain on the sport?

Plus, a London tabloid, a secret lover, and the Paul McCartney/Heather Mills divorce battle. Is this a case of cash for trash?


KURTZ: There's no other way to put it, Hillary Clinton is getting clobbered. Barack Obama dominated this week's primaries in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. He's pulled ahead in the delegate race, and the media, which came close to writing her off once before, seem poised to dig her political grave. "The Wall Street Journal" and other papers filled with stories about infighting in Hillaryland in the wake of the campaign manager's firing.

Now, maybe we are at a turning point in the Democratic race, with the math working against the former first lady. Or, maybe journalists are just getting swept away by Obama fever. Whatever the reason, the newspaper analyses and the TV pundits have been hard on Hillary.


KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: Barack Obama is really on a roll right now.

RICHARD WOLFFE, "NEWSWEEK": You can only suffer defeats for so long before people start wondering whether you can win anything.

JIM VANDEHEI, POLITICO.COM: This is a terrible night and a terrible month for Hillary Clinton.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: After 35 years of experience, shouldn't she have a message?

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: So how would the Clinton campaign stop Obama? Put another way, can the Clinton campaign stop Obama?

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: I think Obama, based upon what I'm seeing here, is just about unstoppable now.

MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: Let's say you're waking up as Barack Obama this morning. How can you not feel that this race is now yours to lose?

RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA RADIO: You're predicting Hillary Clinton's demising. Everybody who's ever done that in the past has gone down in flames.



KURTZ: So is this a classic rush to judgment by the same journalistic geniuses who predicted that Hillary would lose New Hampshire?

Joining us now here in Washington, Chip Reid, congressional correspondent for CBS News; Steve Roberts, syndicated columnist and professor of media and public affairs at The George Washington University; and Lynne Sweet, Washington bureau chief for "The Chicago Sun-Times."

Chip Reid, is there a temptation, perhaps even an overwhelming temptation, to declare this thing over and Hillary the loser?

CHIP REID, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CBS NEWS: I think there is, but I think it's being misinterpreted, to some degree. I don't think people are saying that Obama is going to be the winner and Hillary is the loser.

I think what they're saying is that Hillary was here, Barack was here, and it's gone like that. And they're more or less even. And that is a big story. That's a huge story, evening things up when she was the prohibitive front-runner for so long.

And I think it's being interpreted by some of the pundits and by some people listening as people saying Barack is going to win this thing. I don't think that's what we are saying, for the most part.

KURTZ: You would think, Steve Roberts, that journalists would be more cautious given all the things we have gotten wrong in this cycle, going back to McCain being dead last summer. But what I keep hearing and reading and seeing is, how is Obama going to run against McCain in the fall?

STEVE ROBERTS, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Right. I think some of it -- you know, you wrote a piece where you talked about Kennedy envy. And I do think that is part of it. I do think that, particularly younger journalists have gotten swept up with the drama and the excitement of the Obama campaign, and have become also infatuated with him. It's almost as if it's the Democratic version of Ronald Reagan.

Now, conservatives had a hero in the '80s. Democrats haven't had a hero in a long time, and I think journalists have bought into some of that. And I also think that there is -- remember, there's another adage you've got to -- journalists love two things. They love a good story and they love being against whoever is in power.

And the rise of Obama is a great story. Hillary is the old power establishment. And this storyline fits both of those biases.

KURTZ: She's not in power, but sometimes we treat her as an incumbent. And that Ted Kennedy endorsement of Obama, we went crazy over that, and Hillary won Massachusetts by 15 points.

Lynn Sweet, you spend a lot of time tracking the Obama campaign. How hard are his people pushing the line that it's mathematically impossible for Hillary Clinton to catch up? And is the press buying it?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Well, yes, they are pushing it hard. And, yes, the press, I think, overwhelmingly has bought into the narrative. And this is something that the -- that the Clinton campaign has not learned, and that is that they have, time and again, let the Obama campaign frame the discussion.

Quick example. Up until now, we've got delegates were delegates, which they are. In the end, you just need more than 2,000 of them to get nominated.

The Obama campaign started stressing that there are two classes of delegates, which it's true, and they decided to try to push the conversation that one class of delegates, the pledged delegates, somehow have more -- should have more of a sway than the superdelegates. That's why they even now have the upper hand.

It helped to have the upper hand in the conversation, and this is a quick reaction, Howie. Now the Clinton campaign says, no, we want to call them automatic delegates. Once you get into that way, it shows you how the Clinton campaign did not anticipate how the use of language is important and how you push the story along.

KURTZ: The chatter I hear, picking up on Steve's point, is that when journalists talk privately, Obama is a better story, he's a new face, he's exciting, he's a great speaker, this is a big upset. While as Hillary, she's been around forever, she's a conventional candidate, she's a little bit on the dull side.

I'm wondering whether that is influencing the coverage, at least a bit.

REID: I think it does, to some degree. But I think we really all have to be cautious here. I think for us to start assuming that Obama's got the numbers here is just crazy. We have been proven wrong so many times before. Why run the risk of making fools of ourselves? And it's not our job.

I mean, my job is not to predict.

KURTZ: Are people less cautious when they have to go on cable 24 hours a day?

REID: I think so. Exactly. Exactly.


REID: I see a different world now. When I was at NBC, and I was constantly on the edge of my seat because I knew I could be called to do a live shot on MSNBC at any moment, I had to listen to the punditry all the time. At CBS we don't have cable, so it's kind of a soft hum in the background, but I ignore it for the most part. So I focus on the story instead of punditry.

ROBERTS: There's another very important dimension here -- the way people, particularly young people in this campaign, are getting their information. They're not necessarily getting it through the mainstream media.

The phenomenon of the "Yes We Can" video, the Obama video, it's getting a million hits a day. I can tell you my students, they might see it on CNN, but most of them are getting it because their friends are sending it by email...

KURTZ: Right.

ROBERTS: ... or they're seeing it from the Obama Web site. And a lot of what -- a lot of the Obama story is information, particularly young people, are getting outside the frame that traditional journalists are drawing.

KURTZ: Making all the people at this table a lot less important.

ROBERTS: I'm afraid that's true.

KURTZ: Lynn Sweet, Senator Obama doesn't seem to engage with reporters very much, and yet he still gets all this great press. How?

SWEET: Well, you know, we've talked about this a few times in this phenomenon year, where...

KURTZ: But I really noticed it when I went out on the campaign trail with him. And you were there as well.

SWEET: Right. Right.

Part of it is, is that the press corps is larger than the people that cover him day to day. And there's so much going on, there's so many people writing about him, that they're able in a sense to minimize the lack of access that the reporters who are around him all the time have. If and when Obama becomes the nominee -- and I'm not predicting anything here -- and he has McCain, this will become a larger question, because McCain is just has a lot more free wheeling on that point.

KURTZ: We'll get to McCain in a moment. But Hillary Clinton stepping up her rhetoric just a little bit in the wake of those defeats in the Potomac primary. Listen to the way ABC's Charlie Gibson introduces this piece, and listen to what Hillary Clinton actually says.


CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS: Hillary Clinton took the gloves off today and unleashed a bare-knuckles attack on Barack Obama, criticizing him in more direct and specific terms than we've been hearing.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You have heard plenty of promises from plenty of people in plenty of speeches, but speeches don't put food on the table or do anything about that stack of bills that keeps you up at night.


KURTZ: Steve Roberts, that doesn't sound like a bare-knuckle attack.

ROBERTS: It wasn't a bare-knuckle attack. There was a shading of difference. She's trying to draw a more stark contrast.

She's trying to say, look, I'm the experienced person, which she has been saying all along.

KURTZ: She's saying all along -- 35 years.

ROBERTS: And she's particularly focusing on lower class voters who need government more, to say, look, if you really need government help when it comes to home foreclosures or medical care, I'm the person who can do it for you. I have the solutions.

"Bare-knuckle attack," I think that intro was way over the line.

REID: I don't think most of the networks -- I think that's probably the extreme case of how people introduced that piece, because that was so over the top, that was just plain incorrect. I don't think everybody was doing that.

ROBERTS: But we love a fight. And we love the conflict.

REID: He said journalists love two things. There are three. The third one is conflict.

ROBERTS: Yes, exactly.

REID: You've got to have conflict. KURTZ: All right. Well, there's certainly been some conflict between John McCain and many of the conservative commentators who are not exactly thrilled about him being very close to winning the nomination.

Look at this "Newsweek" cover from this past week. We talked about this last Sunday, "There Will Be Blood."

Now McCain continues to be on a roll, winning D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

Let's look though at the lack of enthusiasm for him and the way he's described after those victories on Tuesday. Let's roll that tape.


MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS: So why exactly is McCain struggling with the conservatives? Is it because he's too moderate?

HARRY SMITH, CBS NEWS: These conservatives, they're still -- they're not happy. They're not happy about this guy.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: And it shows that continuing discontent on the conservative side.


KURTZ: Now, Chip Reid, clearly some conservatives don't like McCain, or are holding their nose and reluctantly supporting him. But the guy has all but won the nomination, a remarkable comeback. I wonder if journalists are just putting too much emphasis on his...


REID: It is an important story. And by the way, I don't think the story is McCain versus Limbaugh and company. It's McCain versus the base.

And I was at the CPAC convention last weekend, and I don't think I have mentioned Limbaugh in any of my stories, but I sure have mentioned these people who just don't like him and may not show up. And that's the story.

The story is not just conflict. The story is that he could end up losing this thing in the fall because a lot of the base stays home. And we need to keep the focus on that, rather than this rivalry between Limbaugh and McCain.

KURTZ: But it's not -- it's Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham. I mean, that's a legitimate part of the story. They have a following.

ROBERTS: Look, there's an interesting fault line among conservatives. The more professional political conservatives -- the House leadership, for instance, Republicans in the House who care about who's president, who care about bills, care about winning their own seats back in the fall, they're falling in line.

It's two kinds of people who are not falling in line. The people like Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham, who are -- whose main purpose is to get people to listen to their radio shows, and the more religious-based, ideological people, like James Dobson, who are more interested in preserving ideological purity than necessarily counting folks in the House.

KURTZ: So which group is the press focused on?

SWEET: Howie, well, there's also -- it's just also -- for the great class of people who actually don't go out and cover things, to write about them, it's a lot easier for them to write about the media story, and not that Rush Limbaugh...


KURTZ: But another question for you, Mitt Romney endorses John McCain on Thursday. And this was great, because Mike Huckabee is so endlessly available to the media, that as soon as that event was done with Romney and McCain, Huckabee was on the phone to Wolf Blitzer to comment, "I'm not getting out of the race."

But anyway...

ROBERTS: There's just no money more ads. So he needs free media.

KURTZ: One way to get your message out.

And so Romney and McCain is the story of about half a cycle. Then everybody goes back to talking about Hillary and Obama.

Is this imbalance fair, the greater media focus on the Democratic race?

SWEET: It's not fair, but there's more of -- there's -- since there's less clarity on the Democratic side, Howie, it does make sense that you're going to spend time trying to explore what's going on, on the Democratic side, than Huckabee's uphill battle to try and catch up. It seems all but mathematically impossible right now.

KURTZ: All right. I've got to get a break.

Steve, we'll talk to you on the other side.

When we come back, polls, check. Attack ads, check. Superdelegates check.

Wait a minute. Have we forgot to cover the candidate's stands on the issues?

And later, the Clinton camp still arguing that the press is playing favorites with Obama. Look at this comment from Chris Matthews after Obama's victory speech this past Tuesday.


MATTHEWS: I have to tell you, you know, it's part of reporting this case, this election. The feeling most people get when they hear a Barack Obama speech, I felt this feeling going up my leg.


KURTZ: Barack Obama gave a major speech this week in which he proposed a $210 billion plan to create construction and environmental jobs, and also to create a national infrastructure investment bank. Hillary Clinton also talking about the economy this week at a GM plant. She talked about going after excessive oil company profits and creating a $50 billion energy fund.

No mention of this on the networks. A fleeting mention on cable. A little bit more on newspapers. "The Washington Post" did a story on Hillary and Obama's economic positions.

Chip Reid, I thought the economy was the number one issue.

REID: Well, it should be. And I think a lot of networks, and perhaps newspapers, too, are now at a point where they're saying, wait a minute, maybe there's something to what Hillary is saying, that we haven't vetted this guy completely. And I'm really sensing that, at least on the TV side, they're starting to say, wait a minute, we really need to take a closer look at this guy. And now that he's putting things out there like this economic plan, an economic plan that in some ways differs from things that he has said before, I really think you're going to see now, at this late date, finally, more of a focus on his substantive plans.

ROBERTS: I think you'll see a lot more focus on the issues in the fall, because the truth is, Hillary and Barack have voted 95 percent the same on Capitol Hill. They try to make a big deal -- she tries to make a big deal of the difference in the health care plans, but it's a marginal difference. When you get to the fall, the differences on the war, the differences on the economy, will be much more important.

KURTZ: But Steve, isn't that just a tremendous default by the media to say, well, you know, these candidates, not a huge difference between them, so basically we're going to check out on the issues...


ROBERTS: No, I'm not defending it. I'm explaining it.

But also, I think there's another thing to remember. If people want to know the differences, and want to know, they can go to their Web sites. This is a very different media environment now.

You're not limited to learning about these plans from what's on the nightly news. You can go and get anything you want, at any length you want, with two mouse clicks.

SWEET: And one of the points is, is that the Obama campaign is an aspirational campaign. Obama kind of ways (ph), if you want the 10-point plan, go to my Web site. But perhaps there hasn't been a lot written on the Democratic side because there isn't that much big difference between the candidates on a lot of it. So there hasn't been...

KURTZ: But shouldn't I as a voter know that Barack Obama has proposed a $200 billion plan to create jobs so I can judge whether or not I want to support him, whether I don't want to support him? When people say we cover the horse race, Hillary's lead is shrinking in Ohio, what are the superdelegates going to do, this is what they mean.

REID: And it's more than that. It's not just the difference between Barack and Hillary. You can say, oh, they're so minimal, we barely need to cover them. There are differences between Barack...

SWEET: I didn't say that we didn't need to cover them. I'm just pointing that out.

REID: Oh, I know. But there are differences between Barack and Barack.

He has shifted his positions recently. That economic speech that he gave recently is a good deal more populist and anti-trade than he has been in the past. And it is our obligation to get out there and report on it.

KURTZ: Why am I hearing and reading so little about that?

REID: Darn good question. And I think it's because we're more interested in the horse race at this point, and because there isn't that compelling need, apparently, for us to get out there.

ROBERTS: And remember, you said -- you used the word "conflict," right? Particularly television, you can't put a budget on TV. You can't put an 18-point program on the environment on TV.

You put a person on TV. And TV, by it's very nature, tends to focus on personal dimensions and the notion of conflict.

KURTZ: Newspapers don't get off the hook here. The eavesdropping bill, where Congress so far has not extended the powers that President Bush wanted, Hillary and Obama did not vote on that because they weren't in town, but they both oppose an extension. John McCain supported it. This got a mention at most.

SWEET: Well, look, the Barack Obama story and his rise has mesmerized a lot of the press, and that's what they've been focusing on. And the issues have taken a back seat. I'm not saying it hasn't. But...

KURTZ: Is it time for that to end?

SWEET: I think it's -- it is ending right now, because I think the race is at a point where it's clear that the next few weeks will make a difference. And so there is a shift in coverage. Part of it is Obama has changed what he is doing. He's talking more about... KURTZ: A little more detail from Senator Obama. We will see if you are right.

Lynn Sweet, Chip Reid, Steve Roberts, thanks very much for joining us.

Up next, covering the campus tragedy in Illinois.

Also, a computer giant coughs up some cash for spying on reporters.

And Jane Fonda drops the mother of all four letter words on live TV.

Our "Media Minute" straight ahead.

And for more behind the campaign trial, Tom Foreman hosts "THIS WEEK IN POLITICS," today, 1:00 p.m. Eastern, on CNN.


KURTZ: It's become a tragic ritual for the media, racing to the site of another school shooting.


KURTZ (voice over): This time it was Northern Illinois University, where a gunman murdered five students before killing himself. The satellite trucks descended and hundreds of reporters from around the world moved in on the tiny town of DeKalb.

Once again we saw the terrible scene of bodies being carried to ambulances, the grainy cell phone camera footage of the ensuing panic, and the emotional interviews with students caught in the crossfire.


KURTZ: The coverage, in my view, has been responsible and respectful. But did journalists really have to return to Virginia Tech for reaction?

There was considerable resentment toward the media last year for the all-encompassing coverage of the mass murder there, especially as the days dragged on. And many in the Blacksburg community wanted the space to heal. They don't need the media to make them relive the nightmare.


KURTZ (voice over): Hewlett-Packard plays rough be journalists. Two years ago, you may recall, the computer giant was caught using subterfuge to obtain the phone records of reporters covering the company for "BusinessWeek" and "The New York Time."

The spying scandal led to the ouster of HP chairman Patricia Dunn, and this week the company reached an undisclosed financial settlement with the two news organizations. The Times said it brought the case to demonstrate that "... corporate misconduct aimed at silencing the press is not acceptable," and that the money is being donated to journalism groups.

What is it about female movie stars on morning television? First Diane Keaton drops the F-bomb on "Good Morning America..."

DIANE KEATON, ACTRESS: And then I wouldn't have worked on my (EXPLETIVE DELETED) personality.

KURTZ: And this week, Jane Fonda used an exceedingly vulgar word on "The Today Show." Fonda was talking about the play "The Vagina Monologues" when she used a street term. And here's the odd thing -- Meredith Vieira just kept laughing and didn't react at all.

JANE FONDA, ACTRESS: I live in Georgia. OK? I was asked to do a monologue called (EXPLETIVE DELETED). And I said, "I don't think so. I've got enough problems."

KURTZ: Someone must have had second thoughts, for 19 minutes later, Vieira had this to say...

MEREDITH VIEIRA, "THE TODAY SHOW": Before we go to break, in our last half our we were talking about "The Vagina Monologues," and Jane Fonda inadvertently said a word from the play that you don't say on television. It was a slip, and obviously she apologizes and so do we.


KURTZ: It's live television which makes any bleeping impossible. But what was Fonda thinking? NBC did delete the word from later feeds to the western time zones.

Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, did John McCain flip-flop on torture? Why haven't most of the media called him on a controversial vote?

Plus, Chris Matthews calls Hillary Clinton's press team a bunch of kneecappers. Didn't he just apologize to the former first lady?

And later, Roger Clemens gets beaned on Capitol Hill. The media turning the steroid scandal into a reality show.


KURTZ: Any reporter who spent time on John McCain's bus or John McCain's plane has had plenty of exposure to the wit and wisdom of John McCain. And the Arizona senator told CNN this week that he doesn't want to lose touch with people, including journalists, now that he has all but sowed up the Republican nomination.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We'll have town hall meetings, and we'll have a bus for jerks like you to come on and spend time with us. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: But another Senator McCain was on display this week, one who seemed to differ from the former prisoner of war who has made his signature issue out of opposing torture tactics by American interrogators. McCain voted against the bill to ban tactics such as waterboarding, saying he felt agencies like the CIA needed flexibility in terror investigations.

Why has this received so little media attention?

Joining us now to talk about this and other aspects of the presidential campaign coverage, here in Washington, John Aravosis, who blogs at, and CNN political analyst, Amy Holmes.

John, some liberal blogs like yours have made McCain's vote on this an issue. And belatedly. "The New York Times" today has a story about this five days after the vote. "The Washington Post" did it yesterday. But most of the establishment media kissed it off.


JOHN ARAVOSIS, AMERICABLOG.COM: I think the media likes McCain. He likes the media. He doesn't mind sitting down with them, he doesn't mind hard questions.

I don't like him as a candidate, but I do think he does a wonderful job of basically getting reporters to like him. And in this business, if the reporters like you and they think you're a straight shooter, whether you are or not, it helps you with the coverage.

AMY HOLMES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's also because the presidential election is the main event right now for the media. And if you look at the piece in "The Washington Post," for example, covering this very issue, it put it in the context of the presidential election -- John McCain, is he trying to win his base by voting against this? And didn't really get into the policy of it, which what he said was he doesn't think that the CIA should be inhibited by the Army field manual, that there were other techniques that did not include waterboarding -- he was not advocating waterboarding.

KURTZ: So but you're saying we don't care...

HOLMES: What I'm saying is that the journalists...

KURTZ: ... so much about the...

HOLMES: ... didn't get into the policy and the meat of the issue. They go into...

KURTZ: Because (INAUDIBLE) politics?


ARAVOSIS: But that's interesting. But the only thing is, though, I think it's interesting to get into a debate of, wow, has he changed his position because he's trying to move to the right or move to the left? That typically is a story that the media likes. It's called flip-flopping -- John Kerry.

But it is working with McCain because I think -- I think they like it. I think he's done a good job.


HOLMES: But what that is, is it's journalists acting as analysts, the journalists characterizing John McCain's position, and trying to say it's a flip-flop, it's this versus that, when if you actually got into the meat of this issue, it is not a flip-flop.

ARAVOSIS: Typically...

KURTZ: Let me flip to...

ARAVOSIS: OK. But typically the substance isn't what matters to the press.

HOLMES: Yes. But a lot of readers just want who, what, when, where?

ARAVOSIS: It's the story. But it's not what the press does.


KURTZ: All right. Let me flip-flop to the next subject.

And I'm not even going to characterize this. I just want to play what Chris Matthews had to say on MSNBC on Friday morning. He, as many of our viewers know, has had a difficult relationship with Hillary Clinton's campaign. In fact, he had to apologize a few weeks ago for having said that Hillary's political success was basically because her husband fooled around a decade ago.

Let's watch.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: What she has to do is get rid of the kneecappers that work for her, these press people whose main job seems to be punishing Obama or going after the press, to building a positive case for her. I just don't think the kneecapping has worked. I think her press relations are lousy.

I think if all you do is intimidate and punish and claim you'll get even relentlessly, people -- all kinds of politicians, and, in full fairness, the press -- human reaction to intimidation is, screw you.


KURTZ: Is this a case of settling scores? Of course, MSNBC also had the situation with David Shuster, who was suspended for two weeks, we're now told, for making that "pimped out" remark about Chelsea Clinton.

Is he settling scores there?

HOLMES: Oh, I think this is definite payback. And, you know, congratulations, great profile, Chris Matthews, where you, you know, very carefully pointed out all of the instances where MSNBC, through Chris Matthews, has had this conflict with the Clintons, but I also think he's giving them good advice. And as John was saying previously, if you want to have -- you know, if you want to have good things written about you, it helps to have a good relationship with the media.

ARAVOSIS: I've got to tell you, Howie, people may not like Chris Matthews on the left, but he's right. Our own experience with the Clinton campaign for the last year and a half, for the last two years, and also reporters I talked to in town, because I've had this sense for several months now, has been the campaign has ticked off the press.

Not only has the media dealt with the Clintons for 18 years, so there's certainly a relationship there -- they know whether they're honest or not -- but just in the last two, this campaign, more than the others, has treated people as though not only does the campaign deserve the coronation, but you're with us or you're against us. And if you're against us, we're going to destroy you. And after a while, as a reporter, a pundit, a blogger, you kind of do say "screw you," to use Chris' phrase. And it may not be good, but it's human.

KURTZ: Not a phrase I have been in favor of using on this show, but nevertheless...

ARAVOSIS: No, I'm quoting -- I'm quoting him.

KURTZ: ... look, they're aggressive, no question about it.


KURTZ: There's been tense relations between the sides, no question about it. But when you get into a situation where he's calling them "kneecappers," I mean, it sounds personal.

HOLMES: Well, look at -- let's look at what the Clintons...

ARAVOSIS: But it's true.

HOLMES: The Clintons complained to MSNBC that Shuster needed to be fired.

ARAVOSIS: Oh, Shuster, mind you, is hardly the worst guy to go after the Clintons in 18 years. Come on.

HOLMES: Right, who's hardly -- exactly, who's hardly a partisan.

ARAVOSIS: He's a nice guy, frankly. Yes.

HOLMES: And what he said, while tasteless, I don't think the Clintons who call...

ARAVOSIS: Oh, yes.

HOLMES: ... the women that Bill Clinton was, you know, alleged to be involved with "bimbo eruptions," I mean, if they were "bimbo eruptions," Bill Clinton was Mount Vesuvius. But here they went after those people and then they tried to get Shuster fired over this one tasteless remark.

ARAVOSIS: It was a setup.

HOLMES: I think -- I think Chris is reacting to that.

ARAVOSIS: And they're playing the refs, first of all, because, hey, we all like to play the media to make them nicer in the end. Second of all, I think the campaign wants to present an image of being, oh, everyone's attacking us and they're going after us because, well, either we're women or our daughters are women. It's a game and the media knows these guys (ph).

KURTZ: OK. Quite a contrast with the way in which the press covers Barack Obama.


KURTZ: I think you probably would both agree on that.

This is how long I have been wondering when the coverage might start to get a little more skeptical of Senator Obama. This is an open that we played on this program in December of 2006. Watch.


KURTZ (voice over): The media's love affair with Barack Obama heats up after his frenzied trip to New Hampshire and a star turn on "Monday Night Football." Are journalists giving the senator a pass on his record and his lack of experience?


KURTZ: OK. It's a year and a half later. Are they?

HOLMES: The honeymoon isn't over. The press still loves Barack Obama.

I think part of this is that we have seen, particularly in this election cycle, part of what we have been talking about, is journalists as analysts. And as analysts, they have to acknowledge and recognize that Barack Obama has sky-high favorability ratings.

I mean, I saw a story that crowds are literally swooning and fainting in his presence. And that's a story. It's a story that Barack Obama has been able to have these massive turnouts, historic turnouts, pull in Independents, Republicans. It's hard not to be impressed by that.

KURTZ: Before I go to you, John...


KURTZ: ... let me just put up a couple of news magazine covers to make this point.

"U.S. News" just out, Barack Obama on the cover, "Does Race Still Matter? How Barack Obama is Rewriting the Rules." But on the right is a British magazine, "The Economist," which asks, "But Could he Deliver?"

That doesn't seem to be a question that American organizations are asking.

ARAVOSIS: Howie, people love Obama. The media loves him. But for one year, up until Christmas of three months ago -- excuse me, Christmas a month ago -- the media was saying, what a wonderful man, too bad he's going to lose. What a wonderful man, but too bad Hillary is inevitable and she's going to be president.

I would say from the Obama side, being told for a year by the media that, you're wonderful, but you're kind of a loser and you're not going to win, is the worst press any candidate could get. So, yes, right now there's a love affair with Obama, but up until three months, or two months ago, the love affair also included, but you're going to lose.


KURTZ: But a part of that hasn't changed, according to your analysis, is, what a wonderful man. And it's almost like...

ARAVOSIS: Well, but it was 12 months of dishing the guy, and now it's one month of saying he's wonderful. On average, I think the media has been fair, if not a little bit biased against him, as far as winnability.

HOLMES: But I also think it goes back...

ARAVOSIS: She (ph) was inevitable.

HOLMES: ... to the previous issue that we've been talking about, which is, while they have a love affair with Obama, it's in part because of their sour relationship with Hillary Clinton.


HOLMES: So in this Democratic primary, I do think that the media is, to a certain extent, picking favorites.

ARAVOSIS: Which gets you back to McCain.

HOLMES: I think in the general...

KURTZ: Hold on.

HOLMES: So if you get into the general, I think you'll see a tougher coverage.

KURTZ: You know who else is getting great press this week? And that is Michelle Obama.

She's on the cover of the new issue of "Newsweek" magazine. Let's put that up, "The Real Michelle Obama." He calls her his rock.

She's been doing a bunch of TV interviews this week. She also got a very favorable profile, front page of "The New York Times."

Let's watch some of Michelle Obama on the airwaves.


LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": So you're ready for it?


KING: Ready to be the first black, first female, first lady?

OBAMA: I am who I am. I'm ready for it. That's who I am.

KING: Think there will be a lot of pressure on you if that happens?

OBAMA: You know, I just think this is a pressure-filled position.

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: The first time Barack asked her out she said no, then...

OBAMA: I thought I can -- I can hang out with this guy.

COURIC: This must be an extremely heady experience for both of you. And I know you have said he's always had a healthy ego.

How do you keep it in check?


KURTZ: Look, she's not Bill Clinton, the former president. She's basically a poised woman and attorney. But is she getting the softball treatment here?

ARAVOSIS: Yes, because she's the wife. You don't grill the wife over the coals in anything -- whether it's scandal, whether it's an election, whether it's anything.

Bill Clinton is the former president of the United States. He's a big figure. You treat him as such. Michelle Obama is not the co- president of the Obama campaign. She's not.

KURTZ: But I don't see the "CBS Evening News" doing a two-part profile, which is what this was, of Cindy McCain.

HOLMES: Well, she's been a lot quieter on the campaign trail. She's not giving these big, you know, rousing speeches the way Michelle Obama is.

And you know what I would submit? Is that Michelle Obama is Hillary Clinton back in 1992.

If you remember, the press loved Hillary Clinton. They loved the idea that this man running for president of the United States had married this strong, educated, you know, woman who's someone in her own right. I think Michelle Obama is getting the same treatment Hillary did 15 years ago.

KURTZ: Here's the subtext here, that she's really interesting, not only in her own right, but because she would be the first black first lady?

HOLMES: Oh, certainly. Absolutely. And, you know, let's face it, she's gorgeous, she dresses well, has a beautiful family, speaks beautifully. I mean, Michelle Obama's getting good press because she's a good topic.

KURTZ: We found something to agree on.

John Aravosis, Amy Holmes, thanks very much for joining us.

Up next, live cable coverage as Roger Clemens and his former trainer face off on the Hill. But are the media more interested in melodrama than baseball's shameful scandal?


KURTZ: Not many congressional hearings draw live cable coverage, and not many lead all the network newscasts, or are splashed across the front pages. But this week you had Roger Clemens, the greatest pitcher of his generation, denying that he used steroids despite sworn testimony from his close friend and fellow pitcher, Andy Pettitte. You had Clemens' former trainer, Brian McNamee, at the same witness table, insisting he had injected the seven-time Cy Young Award winner with steroids and Human Growth Hormone.

In short, you had all of the elements for a media frenzy, as we saw at the House hearing and in a raucous news conference afterwards with Clemens' lawyers.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: Mr. Clemens do you think Mr. Pettitte was lying when he told the committee that you had admitted using Human Growth Hormone?

ROGER CLEMENS, BASEBALL PLAYER: Mr. Congressman, Andy Pettitte is my friend. He will be my -- he was my friend before this, he will be my friend after this.

REP. DAN BURTON (R), INDIANA: This is really disgusting. You're here as a sworn witness. You're here to tell the truth. You're here under oath, and yet we have lie after lie after lie after lie. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have any explanation at all for the miscommunication or whatever -- however you want to describe it of Andy Pettitte?



KURTZ: So, are the media once again getting interested in baseball's biggest scandal in 90 years, or just draw to the Clemens' melodrama?

Joining us now, Gregg Doyel, columnist for "CBS SportsLine," and Will Leitch, editor of the blog and author of "God Save The Fan."

Gregg Doyel, "Washington Post" columnist Mike Wise says the hearing showed Clemens to be a megalomaniac, a habitual liar, and a barrel-chested fraud.

Did journalists basically go into this hearing assuming that this sleazy trainer had no reason to lie and that Clemens therefore is not telling the truth?

GREGG DOYEL, CBS SPORTSLINE.COM: Yes. I hate to act like Mike Wise is the problem here. He's not, and he's a pretty good guy. But I think journalists are overcompensating for their tiny, little, itty- bitty little instinct from 10 years ago.

I think sportswriters, baseball writers let it happen. We saw it happen. We ignored it. And I was a baseball writer 10 years ago, so it's my fault, too. And now 10 years later, now we're going to show how tough we are.

No. You still have a little, bitty, tiny, itty-little-bitty instinct.

KURTZ: Well, I wasn't saying Mike Wise was the problem. I was just saying his commentary here was typical.

DOYEL: Oh, he's the problem and we both know it. No.

KURTZ: Most journalists simply don't believe Roger Clemens, and I wonder if that's colored the way the story is being reported.

Will Leitch?

WILL LEITCH, EDITOR, DEADSPIN.COM: Yes, well, it's funny, because it's amazing how far we have actually gone. I think, frankly, Congress is a large part of the problem, too. And so is Clemens, frankly, because the original idea of the old Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro hearings were to get to the bottom of the steroid problem in baseball.

But what we had the other day was essentially Congress, like, almost kind of mediating a divorce between a player and his trainer. And Clemens was the one that asked for this. So, like, I think that it's so strange, I think, how far we have gotten from what this was supposed to be in the first place.

KURTZ: Well, I wonder, Gregg Doyel, how much of this is about the friend versus friend subplot, Roger Clemens versus Andy Pettitte, two pitchers who have been friends for a long time, whether that's fueling the media interest here, or are journalists just sort of enjoying the spectacle of watching Clemens get beaned up on the Hill?

DOYEL: We're loving it. We weren't able to do this to Mark McGwire because we weren't looking hard enough. We couldn't do it to Rafael Palmeiro because we didn't know he was guilty. He wagged his finger, but no one knew he was guilty in the first place.

Barry Bonds won't give us this chance. Roger Clemens has given us this chance to pile on him, and by God, we're piling on.

KURTZ: And I wonder, Will Leitch, you know, this little subplot, where Roger Clemens saying that his -- the trainer was going to come to his house to inject his wife, his wife in the butt with Human Growth Hormone so that she could look better in a "Sports Illustrated" bikini shoot.

Does that jazz the story up just a little bit?

LEITCH: Yes, that certainly didn't help. And I think Clemens is -- it's funny, because at the beginning of the hearing, Clemens comes across as very angry and very similar to Rafael Palmeiro, actually, with the wagging of the finger in the face, and "I'm here to refute all allegations." But I think maybe he didn't realize that they were going to keep asking questions after that.

And that's where I really struggled. And it was funny for me to actually read not so much the sports commentary about it, but the political commentary, because, you know, it was on C-SPAN, so they usually have that on.

And it was funny to see actually political commentators kind of point out in a lot of ways, like, wow, he's really doing terrible. Whereas I think with a lot of sports commentators, they'd be like, yes, they're getting him, but he went in, and he went in to defend himself, and that's what he did. Whereas political commentators were like, man, this guy's doing a terrible job up there. And there was a little bit of a disconnect there, I noticed, between the two of them.

KURTZ: Gregg, you alluded to this earlier, but, you know, for a whole period of years you had all these players bulking up, the Jason Giambis, before our eyes. And it does seem that sportswriters just kind of turned a blind eye to it.

So, you're suggesting -- first of all, I want to know why that was. And second of all, is there a little bit of overcompensation going on now?

DOYEL: Well, in a lot of ways we may have seen what was going on, but there's nothing you can do about it for libel and slander and all those kinds of legal reasons. You can -- you can look at Mark McGwire and say, boy, his body looks like it's been poured into that uniform like concrete and it turned hard, but if you write that and say that and you have no proof at all, you're in trouble.

But now we have enough proof. Now that Roger Clemens has been out there for two years -- in fact, I have been trying to write Roger Clemens sure does look like a steroids guy to me, and I have been told, you can't really write that, there's nothing out there, there's no evidence. Well, now we all have the chance to write it, and so we're all jumping on with two feet.

My only question is, in face of all this evidence against him, is he really dumb enough to play the "liar, liar, pants on fire" defense to Congress, knowing he can go to jail for lying? Part of me wonders, is that stupid or is it possible he's innocent?

KURTZ: Gregg, what do you think of Will's earlier point, that -- or, I'm sorry, you made the point, actually, that because Clemens is willing to step into this spotlight, you know, we get to do the batting practice things, whereas a lot of these other players have put out statements or basically not made themselves available to the press?

DOYEL: Well, he's made himself into a pinata and we're all stepping forward and taking a shot at him, but who even knows whose decision this was? I remember -- I know Will said that this is Roger's decision. I wrote a couple of days ago Roger wanted to be here.

Well, now you've got Henry Waxman, a little idiot, saying, no, it wasn't us, it was Roger. And Roger, his defense lawyer, saying, it wasn't us, it was them. I mean, they can't even agree on whose idea this was.

KURTZ: Will Leitch, what do you think of the notion that Clemens has just kind of served this story up to us? Because, look, when George Mitchell's report came out, I mean, it was a big story for about two days, and then it kind of faded. So it seems to me that the media are more interested in, you know, rise and fall stories with big names than in the abstract question of what this is doing to the sport.

LEITCH: Yes. And I think Clemens never quite understood that. He'd be so kind of focused, kind of with his own tunnel vision. And he didn't recognize that -- you know, it's funny, we think back at Mark McGwire, everyone made fun of Mark McGwire for saying, oh, I'm not here to talk about the past.

But I think ultimately McGwire may have been better off with that statement than Clemens be going up there and being like -- being asked, did you bleed through your designer jeans in 2001? All told, I think I would probably go ahead and take the "I'm not here to talk about the past."

KURTZ: That was a great moment. Gregg Doyel, Barry Bonds, until now, was basically the symbol of the steroids scandal. Got very harsh coverage. Obviously doesn't have great relations with reporters.

Is the press applying a different tone to the Clemens' coverage?

DOYEL: Well, we're allowed to. We're able to, because Clemens has now been named in the Mitchell Report, A. And B, he shows up at Congress and gives us this chance to just tee away.

I mean, he has made himself into a Titleist, put himself on a tee, and given us all a big birth (ph) and said, take your best shot. And so we're all swinging away.

Whereas Barry Bonds has kind of played the rope a dope -- I'm going to keep denying and really not even talking about this thing. And it's kind of hard to take a shot at him. He's slippery.

Clemens is sitting out there with his chin out saying, hit me in the face.

KURTZ: But Will Leitch, I've got a half a minute here. I don't see any comparable clamor about, should Clemens be kept out of the hall of fame, should there be an asterisk next to his seven Cy Young awards? It doesn't seem like he's getting the full Bonds treatment.

LEITCH: You know, I think it speaks to actually the general idea that people still have the idea that steroids is for homeruns. And I think so many more pitchers in baseball have been frankly lately named with steroid involvement, that somehow it doesn't seem like as much of a horrible refute to the game when someone's pitching using steroids, as opposed to Bonds hitting a famous -- breaking Roger Maris and Hank Aarons, these heroes of the game.


KURTZ: Right. I confess that I was surprised as well to see pitchers getting drawn into this.

Gregg Doyel, Will Leitch, thanks very much for joining us.

LEITCH: Thank you.

KURTZ: Still to come, not exactly a romantic tale for Valentine's Day. The Paul McCartney/Heather Mills divorce takes another tabloid turn. But were the charges of Mills' infidelity bought and paid for?


KURTZ: Paul McCartney and Heather Mills were back in divorce court this weekend. I would have thought that Mills' image in this mess couldn't possibly get any worse. But thanks to a London tabloid, I was wrong.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KURTZ (voice over): The one-time model was already seen as a gold-digging shrew determined to blacken the former Beatle's reputation. She, in turn, has gone ballistic at times, blaming, naturally, the media.

HEATHER MILLS: Four thousand-plus articles, a lot of them front page, of complete lies and rubbish, and I've been unable to respond to them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... just trying to put more pressure on him.

MILLS: Listen, I have -- pressure to do what? Pressure to do what? The press should have to be brought accountable to do fair and just and real journalism.

KURTZ: Now comes the most sensational of Rupert Murdoch's British papers, "News of The World," with a breathless report that she had been cheating on McCartney for six months. The paper quotes "Handsome film editor Tim Steel" saying of his alleged dalliance with Heather, "I suppose I was flattered that Mills still wanted to have sex with me despite being pursued by this musical demi-god."

But hold on. It turns out this ostensibly happened back in 2002 when Mills was first engaged to Sir Paul.

But a larger question. Why in the world would this handsome film editor be spilling the beans about his supposed affair, complete with graphic details of what Heather is like "between the sheets"?

Well, the British tabloids has been known to pay for exclusives. So is this the case of an ex-boyfriend peddling cash for trash? And if so, could Steel be embellishing, or even inventing this tawdry tale?


KURTZ: And if this was a case of checkbook journalism, does that mean I have to feel sorry for Heather Mills? Well, no.

"The Daily Mail" reports that McCartney has agreed to a confidential settlement of $108 million that includes money for their young daughter. Heather Mills shouldn't be subjected to shoddy tabloid sensationalism, but if money can't buy her love, at least it can buy her the chance to stop making her private life a sickening spectacle.

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.