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Reliable Sources

Obama Denounces Wright; Barbara Walters Admits to Affair With Senator

Aired May 04, 2008 - 10:00   ET


REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, BARACK OBAMA'S FMR. PASTOR: I'm not his spiritual mentor.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): Obama's outrage. Saturation coverage of the Jeremiah Wright spectacle prompts an angry denunciation from Barack Obama. Were journalists too slow to grasp the importance of the story, or are they making too much of one limelight-loving pastor?

Sexual secret. Barbara Walters admits to an affair with a senator in the '70s, Edward Brooke. Does that tarnish her reputation?

Showing skin. Hannah Montana accuses "Vanity Fair" of manipulating her into sexy photos. But shouldn't Disney's teenage star have known better?

Plus, blogging can be hazardous to your health. Really?


KURTZ: Barack Obama spent weeks blaming the media for pumping up the Jeremiah Wright controversy and playing snippets of sermons out of context. Well, we all got plenty of context when the reverend's smug, sometimes smearing, appearance this week at the National Press Club. Then the senator's telling (ph) reporters to do what he had steadfastly refused to do -- denounce his former pastor in strong and vivid language.

What Obama realized was that this story was not going away and that Wright's inflammatory anti-American attacks were not just conjured up by media hype.

Here's some of what Obama called Wright's rants and the Illinois Democrat's response.


DONNA LEINWAND, NATIONAL PRESS CLUB: "You have said that the media have taken you out of context. Can you explain what you meant in the sermon shortly after 9/11 when you said the United States had brought the terrorist attacks on itself? 'America's chickens are coming home to roost.'"

WRIGHT: Have you heard the whole sermon? Have you heard the whole sermon?


WRIGHT: No, no. The whole sermon.

LEINWAND: "Are you disappointed that Senator Obama has chosen to walk away from you?"

WRIGHT: Whoever wrote that question doesn't read or watch the news.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But the insensitivity and the outrageousness of his statements and his performance in the question-and-answer period yesterday I think shocked me. As I said, that made me angry, but also made me sad.


KURTZ: Obama had been getting the worst press of this campaign over the Wright furor, but after he hammered the reverend the media reaction was mixed.


JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: He's just a petulant, nasty, disappointed, old man who doesn't have a job as a pastor anymore.

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, there's no conceivable justification for continuing to cover Wright as a campaign story given that Barack Obama has said that, "He doesn't speak for me."

BILL HEMMER, FOX NEWS: This looked like a person who had been scorned by an estranged spouse and they were taking the revenge publicly.


KURTZ: Joining us now in San Francisco, Joan Walsh, editor-in- chief of Here in Washington, Amy Holmes, CNN political analyst. And Linda Douglass, contributing editor at "National Review" and host of "National Journal" on air on XM Satellite Radio.

I meant, of course, "National Journal." Excuse me.

All right. Short answer from everyone.

Linda Douglass, the media have treated this as a huge story that could sink Barack Obama's candidacy. Are journalists going overboard here?

LINDA DOUGLASS, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Well, it's a legitimate issue because it certainly raises questions about his judgment. However, you know, as Robin Toner in "The New York Times" wrote this morning, there's a fixation on this. It has been the number one story, and I think that it has been too much. KURTZ: Joan Walsh, should this have been a two-day story?

JOAN WALSH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SALON.COM: Well, no, Howard. I think it deserves a lot of attention. But not quite the kind of attention it's getting.

I think the wall-to-wall sound bites, the anger of Reverend Wright, the anguish of Senator Obama, that's a personal story. It plays well. I think the real reporting should have come in a year ago.

"The New York Times" did some of it to really get to the bottom of his relationship with this minister. And now I'd rather see a little bit more emphasis on context. And again, why did it take so long for him to leave the church?

You know, Oprah left the church, we learned this weekend, because she was concerned about some of the incendiary sermons.

KURTZ: Right.

WALSH: And also, as a businesswoman, she was concerned about her brand. Why didn't Barack Obama see the danger? And I think people are going to continue to ask that question...

KURTZ: All right.

WALSH: ... because it does raise a question of judgment.

KURTZ: Amy Holmes, why shouldn't the media go crazy over this? Obama calls a news conference to denounce the guy. And he says it's a legitimate issue.

AMY HOLMES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He said it's a legitimate issue. And nobody dragged Jeremiah Wright to the National Press Club. He went there very happily, very willingly.

He was inviting the national media to cover him. And the national media did. And one person's saturation coverage is another person's context.

We were told over and over this was a few sound bites that were being looped, you don't understand this man who's been my pastor for 20 years. Well, we got to see him, you know, up close and personal. I think people can make their own judgments about that.

KURTZ: Linda Douglass, the press loves to get into the character game. What does this tell us about Barack Obama's values?

Is that fair? This was, after all, somebody with whom he was associated for 20 years.

DOUGLASS: Well, this was the pastor of his church. And this was a guy who came to Christianity by virtue of going to this church.

He had this lifelong search for who he was. He was an African- American guy with a white mother, white grandparents, grew up in Hawaii, went to Indonesia looking for himself. And he found himself, if you read his autobiography, in this church where he became a Christian.

So in that sentence, that association is somewhat relevant. But I have to say that, to make your judgments about how to cast a vote for president based upon the statements of this pastor seems to be a bridge too far.

HOLMES: But it's interesting. I think that the media was actually really helping Barack Obama out with this issue, because when he first came out, he said, "I can no more denounce him than I can the black community." And oh, the media was swooning, this was the greatest speech ever, it should be taught in elementary schools.

And at the same time, he was saying, but he doesn't speak for me. So how can he speak for the black community but not for Barack Obama? And finally, Jeremiah Wright went a bridge too far, and Barack Obama had to give this press conference to say, finally, I'm denouncing this man's crazy rants.

KURTZ: Part of Reverend Wright's media blitz, Joan Walsh, was that interview on PBS with Bill Moyers. And after that interview, you wrote that Wright looked wounded and you felt sorry for him. And then you changed your mind, even though he didn't really say anything substantively different the next couple of days.

Why did you change your mind?

WALSH: I changed my mind because, you know, I thought the conversation -- Bill Moyers is one of our greatest journalists. He really got both the spiritual and prophetic and intellectual basis of Wright's thinking into the interview. And he definitely -- you saw the beginning of this wounded man.

And he was wounded. I didn't change my mind about that. But I really felt it was an effort for him to kind of clear his name and explain in great context what he meant.

When I saw him at the end of NAACP speech in Detroit on Sunday night, and then at that awful, horrific press club event, it was clear that this is a narcissistic man who is preening for the cameras and who, I felt, really wanted to hurt Barack Obama because he had been hurt by being cast aside. So, you know, I always saw what was wrong with the speeches and with his thinking, the demonization of America, not just certain bad deeds of America, but America. The demonization of white people, which is not in every speech, but in many of the speeches.

But I saw a little bit of the wounded man. After that, I saw an arrogant man.

KURTZ: Right.

Well, Bill Moyers took a lot of criticism from me, among others, for not pressing Reverend Wright in a full hour on many of his most controversial statements. Now, he talked about this on his PBS show on Friday, and he did say that there were some offensive comments -- which he hadn't say earlier -- that there was this absurd charge by Reverend Wright about the U.S. government having manufactured the AIDS virus to kill blacks.


KURTZ: Here's some of what else Moyers had to stay.


BILL MOYERS, PBS: This is crazy and wrong. White preachers are given leeway in politics that others aren't. All the rest of us should hang our heads in shame for letting it come to this in America, where the gluttony of the nonstop media grinder consumes us all and prevents an honest conversation on race.


DOUGLASS: Well, I think that that is actually a point that we should be discussing. E.J. Dionne wrote this very interesting column this week about how it is that Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson routinely have blamed all the woes of the United States on homosexuality and other kinds of things, and presidents, Republican candidates have routinely associated themselves with white pastors who have made similarly incendiary statements, and it hasn't come back to haunt them. Now, this is a much more personal association.

HOLMES: But I would say that...

DOUGLASS: ... with Barack Obama.

HOLMES: I would say that it does. I think that the media jumps on these white evangelical leaders for what they consider outlandish statements. And interestingly enough, I thought that they didn't look close enough into what Jeremiah Wright was saying.

At that NAACP meeting, he was talking about how black children and white children have different brains -- left brain versus right brain, and it was science and this and that. It's clearly racist. It is clearly stone-cold racist ideas. But the media was trying to be very gentle and say, well, let's put it in context, let's understand the background that he comes from in terms of discrimination, instead of being really tough on these ideas and say let's see it for what it is.

KURTZ: Do you think that some African-Americans look at the coverage of this differently because they have more sympathy with Jeremiah Wright's portrayal of America as a racist society?

HOLMES: I think that they do. But I would also say there was an NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll after the first sort of blowup with Jeremiah Wright. And one of the things that journalists did not look into was the approval ratings.

They looked at all the different -- Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Jeremiah Wright, John McCain and Barack Obama. Only -- Jeremiah Wright got only 15 percent approval ratings among African- Americans. Half are willing to say, you know, I'm going to sit back and I'm going to wait and judge for myself.

But it wasn't that he was speaking to this overwhelming black middle class alienation and that this just resounded and resonated in the black community. The black community is willing to like sort of sit and wait and look.

KURTZ: Joan Walsh, Barack Obama may have won the Guam caucus yesterday by seven votes, as it turns out, over Hillary Clinton, but he's on something of a losing streak in those big states. And of course, we're coming up on Tuesday on Indiana and North Carolina.

Do you think that one of the reasons that Wright has become such a huge issue for the media is that we're now in a period where journalists, for the first time really in this campaign, are being far more critical of Barack Obama because he's in some political trouble?

WALSH: I think that is true. I think it's just a natural dynamic of political coverage. And you and I both have seen it before.

But, you know, I was struck when I got to Iowa and New Hampshire in January by how our media colleagues were just swooning over Barack Obama. That is not too strong a word. They were swooning.

They -- I was at a speech. I remember it -- I'll write about it some day -- in Manchester. And every -- the biggest names in our business were there.

And they were -- they could repeat some of his speech lines to one another. It was like a Bruce Springsteen concert where the fans sing along.

And, you know, I respected it to some extent. He's a towering political figure. Of our generation, he is probably the best politician. He's inspiring. And reporters, white reporters, black reporters, reporters of every race, we want to get beyond racism in America.

So he was inspiring. I understood it. They're human. They responded.

KURTZ: Well...

WALSH: The downside, though, is that they hate -- hate Hillary Clinton, most of them. Hate is not too strong a word. And so there was such a double standard with anything she did.

KURTZ: Well, most of them -- most of them, that may be unfair. And I agree with you that a lot of journalists just saw Obama as a vehicle to a post-racial society. But, of course, in a political campaign, we are supposed to be fair despite our personal feelings.

WALSH: Right. KURTZ: Now, one of the themes that Obama has gotten hit on in the last couple of weeks, beyond Jeremiah Wright, is this question of patriotism. It came up with a voter in Indiana who asked him a question the other day.

Let's take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been reading on the Internet that you believe as an American we should not have to pledge allegiance to the flag. Is that true? And if so, why?

OBAMA: It is not.


OBAMA: That is a bogus -- you know, that is completely bogus. These e-mails have been sent around in each state depending on what state I'm about to go into.


KURTZ: Have the media done a less than stellar job here in that so many people seem to believe these rumors about Obama and patriotism, or is it not the fault of the media?

DOUGLASS: Well, I hate to keep being in the position of defending Barack Obama, but on this question, John McCain does not wear a flag pin. Hillary Clinton does not wear a flag pin. And yet questions about his patriotism come up all the time.

He does do the Pledge of Allegiance, but he didn't put his hand over his heart during the singing of the National Anthem, which became a practice that originated under the times of Ronald Reagan, where you put your hand over your heart when you're singing "The Star-Spangled Banner."

So all of these questions, again, go -- fill the vacuum in people's minds who don't know enough about him.

HOLMES: And I would add to that, that the media is operating on sort of the reasonable sphere, the reasonable level. There is a lot of unreasonable things that get sent around on the Internet through e- mails. And you can't knock down every single one of them.

KURTZ: You were saying that you do think that white preachers who say extremist things have been held to account by the media. But Frank Rich, for example, has a column in "The New York Times" this morning talking about John Hagee, who has endorsed John McCain, and he has said such things as calling the Catholic Church "the great whore drinking the blood of the Jewish people."

Obviously, Hagee has not been as big an issue for McCain.

HOLMES: Well, this got -- it actually got huge coverage when he said these things. And it was on the news. People could see that John Hagee had said these things or that John McCain had...

KURTZ: Huge coverage compared him to Jeremiah Wright?

HOLMES: But John Hagee is not John McCain's pastor for 20 years. He didn't marry John McCain and his wife. He didn't baptize his children. It's a different relationship.

KURTZ: Joan, a quick final thought.

WALSH: It is a different relationship. Hagee deserves a lot of criticism. But you know, he's gotten it.

McCain deserves more criticism for embracing Hagee and going after his endorsement. But he is not his pastor. So I really don't think it's comparable.

KURTZ: All right. Let me get a break here.

When we come back, remember all that media chatter about how Hillary absolutely, positively can't win? Well, the tone has changed just a bit. Now, why would that be?


KURTZ: For weeks the know-it-all pundits have been telling us that the Democratic race is over, there is no way that Hillary Clinton can win, that her candidacy is toast. But as Obama has run into some heavy weather, a different tone has crept into the coverage leading up to Tuesday's primaries in Indiana and North Carolina.


RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA RADIO: The momentum is so with Hillary Clinton right now, it doesn't really matter that Obama is ahead.

ALAN COLMES, FOX NEWS: She resonates with voters. She's got momentum. Makes a case to the superdelegates.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: I actually think Hillary Clinton deserves a lot of credit.


KURTZ: Joan Walsh, are we seeing a little rethinking of the media's mantra that Hillary can't win?

WALSH: I think we're seeing a little rethinking of it, sure. I mean, there were all those weeks where people were just elbowing each other out of the way to get her out of the race. And that has basically stopped, at least in the media. And I think she's won people's grudging respect by continuing to forge on when she was down and then, you know, really put together a pretty impressive string of wins in these big industrial states that really matter to Democrats.

KURTZ: But the conventional wisdom remains that no matter how many primaries somebody wins, the superdelegates won't take it away from Obama, their fear of splitting the party.

When did journalists learn to predict the future?

HOLMES: Well, I think we've seen that in this election, that hard-core reporting, straight news reporting, has really merged into analysis and prediction and being able to read the tea leaves. Because then you sound really smart. If you predict the future, then you're the smart guy in the room.

But I think what Hillary did with this story was really smart. She re-framed it, and she said, why can't he close the deal? And that was a line, a story line that journalists can take and run with. And they got the class/race/gender trifecta that they love to report on.

KURTZ: I'm all for analysis, prediction, not so much.

This constant media drumbeat for weeks and weeks now, Linda Douglass, that Hillary can't win, does that affect the contest by making it harder for her to win support, to raise money, to create the perception that she's still got a shot?

DOUGLASS: It may have for a while, but it doesn't look like it has now. She has been getting superdelegates coming out to support her. They claim that they've raised a lot more money. People think she has got the momentum.

I mean, numerically, it does look like she can't win. I mean, just in terms of delegates and the way that one gets the nomination.

But there is a psychological component that has been added now to this mix where there is a theory that she could somehow persuade the superdelegates that she is more electable. And for the first time in any presidential campaign, we're analyzing now every demographic group to see which one on paper looks to be more electable. And that is her argument.

KURTZ: Right.

Now, of course, it would be in part because of the Jeremiah Wright controversy, maybe instilling some fear into Democratic delegates and members of Congress that it could hurt the ticket.

We were talking during the break about the coverage of Wright and the black church. Do you think that, particularly white reporters, are reluctant to assess or criticize black churches, black pastors?

HOLMES: I think that they are. I think that this is a sort of exotic area that they don't have very much comfort or familiarity with. And they don't want to be called a racist if they're critical.

So we saw with Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama and his relationship with him and the Philadelphia speech context, context. We have to learn -- we have to understand the history of the black community and say let's, you know, judge this man by who he is and what he says. And I think that white reporters are very reluctant to get into that area. DOUGLASS: I agree with that.

KURTZ: Joan Walsh, I have got less than half a minute. Do you think there is a concern, a fear, among at least some white journalists, about if they push too hard on these issues they will be seen as racist?

WALSH: Oh, absolutely. You know, and certainly I've learned the hard way.

You know, I wrote about the Moyers interview on Friday night. And I was flamed in our letters. And, you know, I can't count the number of times I was called "racist" for criticizing Wright's preaching about, you know, AIDS, et cetera, all the things we talked about on.

And you really will get that. There really is a kind of knee- jerk reluctance, to especially let a white person have their say and say this is really -- this doesn't belong in our politics.

KURTZ: All right. A tough crowd out there.

All right. Joan Walsh, Amy Holmes, Linda Douglass, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

Up next, the press castigates the president for refusing to say we're in a recession, the anchor who thinks "The New York Times" has become a bit sex-obsessed, plus the president who blamed "The New York Times" for whipping up anti-war sentiment, and it's not Bush.

Our "Media Minute" is just ahead.


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


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a tough time for our economy.

KURTZ (voice over): At a White House news conference this week, reporters could hardly contain their disbelief about why President Bush was refusing to use the "R" word.

JEREMY PELOFSKY, REUTERS: Were you premature in saying that the U.S. economy is not in a recession?

SHERYL STOLBERG, "NEW YORK TIMES": Have you been briefed on tomorrow's GDP numbers? And are you concerned that they will show us to officially be in a recession?

APRIL RYAN, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO: Americans believe we are in a recession. What will it take for you to say those words, that we are in a recession? (END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: But when the new figures were released, it turned out the economy actually grew slightly in the first quarter by just over half a percent. So, while things certainly aren't great, the country is not technically in a recession yet, despite what the correspondents say.


KURTZ (voice over): Some new LBJ tapes were released this week. And one of them shows President Johnson at the height of Vietnam in 1968 blaming anti-war sentiment on a certain newspaper.

LYNDON B. JOHNSON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They run all these scare stories in the paper, "The New York Times," which is the root of all this trouble. And they've scared the people that we're going to call up a half a million people.


KURTZ: That sure reminds me of another president who has blamed media negativity for exacerbating opposition to his war in Iraq.


KURTZ (voice over): Brian Williams has plenty on his plate as NBC's anchor, but this week he took on the role of media critic, questioning why "The New York Times" has been running so many stories about sex. He recited the litany on his blog.

A style story touted on page one, "A sex chair becomes a battlefield." Last Sunday alone there was this piece -- "Through Sickness, Health, Change," the magazine cover story on the newlywed gays. And the travel section feature on vacation resorts catering to nudists.


KURTZ: Brian Williams may not approve, but maybe this sort of fare is popular on Manhattan's upper west side.

Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, Hillary on O'Reilly, Barack on Russert. We'll examine the art of the big confrontational interview.

Plus, Barbara's bombshell. The host of "The View" admits to an affair with a married senator in her forthcoming book.

And later, girl gone wild? Is the controversy over a bear back shot of Hannah Montana really worth all this media attention?


KURTZ: Most of the Democrats running for president had been avoiding Fox News like some kind of electronic plague, egged on by liberal bloggers who declared the network unfair and unbalanced. But the unofficial boycott ended this week when Barack Obama went on "Fox News Sunday," and in an eye-opening development, Hillary Clinton ventured into Bill O'Reilly's No Spin Zone.

Check it out.


BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: OK. You know you're going to bankrupt the county with health care, right -- the health care program?


O'REILLY: But, wait, wait, wait. You're going to bankrupt the country.

CLINTON: No I'm not. That is so not true.

O'REILLY: California -- that's socialism. That has a socialist component.

CLINTON: No, it doesn't.

O'REILLY: Sure it is.

CLINTON: Teddy Roosevelt -- was Teddy Roosevelt a socialist?

O'REILLY: Somewhat. But you're a more polarizing personality. You're like I am. And I hate to say that, with all due -- but you are. And Barack Obama is a nice guy. And that's what this is all about.


KURTZ: So what explains this Fox strategy and the candidates' general willingness to submit to TV interrogations?

Joining us now in New York, David Folkenflik, media correspondent for National Public Radio. And here in Washington, media commentator Matthew Felling.

All right, Matthew Felling. How did O'Reilly fair? And was this a coup for him to get Hillary?

MATTHEW FELLING, MEDIA COMMENTATOR: Well, absolutely, it was a coup. I mean, take a look at the ratings. I think his ratings almost -- ratings, which are already good, by the way. I think they doubled from about two million to way over three million for that night.

And I think that he fared very well. I think the clips that we saw, not to get all Reverend Wright-esque, but there was a lot of context.

There were four segments there, and he had a little bit of give and take. He had a little bit of, "Your husband didn't do bupkis for the little guy" sort of thing. But they had a good conversation.

She got to elaborate on the war on terror, Afghanistan. He gave her a pop quiz on Pakistan. I thought it was pretty informative.

KURTZ: It was a very substantive interview, no question about it, David Folkenflik. But why would Hillary Clinton sit down with a guy who has been criticizing her and her husband since she was first lady and on a network, Fox, that the Democratic candidates had basically been avoiding? Remember, there have been no Democratic debate on Fox this season.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, NPR: Well, she's obviously trying to look ahead to these primaries coming up in Indiana and North Carolina. She's been feeling good. She's -- as some of your earliest guests said, she's in a tough place mathematically. But momentum seems to be swinging her way.

In Indiana in particular, the same kinds of perhaps conservative Democrats, ethnic Independents that helped her in Pennsylvania, are perhaps available to her. And they can be reached through Fox, which remains by far the top rated cable news channel. She's going to where she thinks some of the voters she needs might be.

KURTZ: In the process of promoting this interview, Bill O'Reilly went after his favorite target, NBC, and its parent company, General Electric.

Let's watch that.


O'REILLY: Because they sold their souls to the worst elements in this country. And Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, is doing business right this minute with Iran, who are killing our soldiers. And Jeffrey Immelt is a despicable human being.

SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS: I've got a lot of friends at NBC News.

O'REILLY: I don't care.

SMITH: I -- I like Brian Williams. I admire his work.

O'REILLY: You can like whoever you like.

SMITH: You know what I mean.

O'REILLY: That Immelt man answers to me. He answers to me. I'm not letting that go. And that's why I'm in this business right now, to get guys like that.


KURTZ: Now, GE announced in 2005 it was no longer going to do any business in Iraq. But why would O'Reilly who, you know, is always attacking left wing bias on NBC, go after Jeffrey Immelt? FELLING: Well, because I think that he has this vendetta against what MSNBC has been doing to him. I think that he sees the numbers creeping up on him from behind. And we see the success of MSNBC, having not just political, but also a left-leaning nightly lineup.

And I think that he's feeling very threatened by it. And I think that what he's doing is just, you know, stabbing his bait. He is trying to stop the bleeding.

And let's -- David Folkenflik was right about Indiana. Hillary goes on O'Reilly not just because she wants to control the message or control what Bill O'Reilly says about her, but also at the same time, Republicans can vote in Indiana and Independents can vote.

KURTZ: Good point.

But coming back to O'Reilly's attack, David Folkenflik, Keith Olbermann, who often mocks O'Reilly, the worst person in the world and all that, he called Hillary's decision pathetic.

Is that what it's really about? It's not about GE, it's not about Immelt, it's about MSNBC and Keith Olbermann?

FOLKENFLIK: Oh, I think there's no question that Olbermann has gotten under his skin with sort of the persistent jibes. You know, Fox News is feeling a little less secure. It's sort of wondering what it will look like in the post-George W. Bush world.

But this stuff is personalized for O'Reilly. He also likes to kind of nurse grievances. He likes to be this populist, he likes to have a little bit of anger sort of fueling him. And if he can seize on and personalize that with GE and Immelt, it's a way of him avoiding mentioning the name Keith Olbermann.

KURTZ: Which he never mentions. All right.

Now, Barack Obama, who as you both know has been on the defensive for weeks, and particularly this week over the Jeremiah Wright controversy, went on "Meet the Press" this morning knowing full well that that would be Topic A and B. Tim Russert did about 20 minutes on it.

Let's take a brief look at how that went.


TIM RUSSERT, NBC NEWS: Critics have said he can attack the United States of America. He can do all sorts of things that divide the country. But only when he made it politically uncomfortable for you did you finally separate yourself from him.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, I think back several weeks ago it was already pretty politically uncomfortable, you know, when his statements were being looped on cable stations 24 hours a day for about five straight days.


KURTZ: Matthew Felling, Obama goes on the "Today" show and "Meet the Press" this week. He knows, as I said, that Reverend Wright is going to dominate the questioning. Why would he give television a chance to recycle the issue?

FELLING: Well, because you allow yourself -- if you don't go on these interview shows, you allow whoever is there, your proxy or the YouTube clip or your opponent, to control the issue and to direct it. By going on "Meet the Press," by going on "Today," he allows himself to characterize exactly what happened and take his stance on it and control it, funnel it, as he will.

And you forgot he was also on Rachael Ray this week, where Reverend Wright never really came up. I mean, she was not the...

KURTZ: They just talked about food?

FELLING: Do you smell what Barack Obama is cooking? I think that's what they tried to do.

KURTZ: All right.

FELLING: And David Letterman as well.

KURTZ: Now David Folkenflik, I have a different piece of tape for you. Hillary Clinton doing some counter-programming by going on ABC's "This Week." And in her conversation with George Stephanopoulos, it turned to free trade and the NAFTA agreement passed by the Clinton administration. And then Hillary Clinton brought up something about Stephanopoulos' previous employment.

Take a look.


CLINTON: You remember this because George did work in that' 92 campaign. And George and I actually were against NAFTA. I'm talking about him and his previous life before he was an objective journalist and didn't have opinions about such matters.


CLINTON: Yes. But -- you know, but we were in meetings together where we said, look, we think there is going to be a lot of downsides. And we're not really thinking through that.


KURTZ: Now, did Hillary Clinton kind of undermine Stephanopoulos there by reminding viewers that they had worked together in the Clinton White House?

FOLKENFLIK: That's a little brutal. I mean, a completely fair point, to be honest, one that other campaigns have mentioned, you know, at various points. George Stephanopoulos has tried very hard since leaving the White House in early 1997 to show himself as a thoughtful, tough-minded political analyst. And in many occasions he's done. But for her to do this in this moment makes it very tough for him to proceed in the rest of this town hall-style meeting and show himself to be a completely distanced and detached observer.

KURTZ: In fairness, he asked and has asked in the past some tough questions of Senator Clinton.

FOLKENFLIK: Absolutely. But rhetorically though, positions of somebody who's inside the room, not somebody outside who is observing from a bit of a distance.

KURTZ: Right. Well, you know, it's on his resume. And by the same token, although it's been about two decades now, Tim Russert once worked for Democrats Mario Cuomo and Pat Moynihan.

FOLKENFLIK: Absolutely.

KURTZ: All right. I want to turn now to a new book coming out. It's called "Audition" by Barbara Walters. And the thing that made headlines when it leaked out before publication was Barbara Walters, a long-time ABC newswoman, now the host of "The View," of course, revealing that she had an affair in the 1970s when she was on "The Today Show" with Senator Edward Brooke, the married Senator Edward Brooke at the time.

Matthew Felling, would this have been a firing offense if it had been known? Would it be a firing offense today?

FELLING: Well, we saw what happened with the Latino journalist who had the relationship with the mayor.

KURTZ: Mirthala Salinas of Telemundo...

FELLING: Exactly.

KURTZ: ... who -- she ultimately acknowledged that she had an affair with L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

FELLING: Basically, my point is that I think it would have been -- it would have been a firing offense even in the media landscape of the '70s back then, because people would have said, OK, this is just inappropriate.

But I think -- don't get me wrong, Barbara Walters is still on Mount Rushmore of females in journalism. I think she is fantastic. But every day that she takes a seat at "The View," every day that she sits there and talks about, you know, women body parts and all these little more trivial things than, you know, getting a big-time interview, her star falls a little bit.

And I think that now she has been sucked out of hard journalism towards this, you know, sordid tell-all journalism, which is totally built just to sell books. I think that it takes a little bit of her reputation away. That being said, she is still one of the pioneers.

KURTZ: I don't agree with that part. I think they have some very good and sometimes very conversations on "The View."

But David Folkenflik, Barbara Walters says that she and Senator Brooke broke up after a couple years. They both realized their careers could be threatened.

Should she have revealed this now? Ed Brooke is 88 years old.

FOLKENFLIK: You know, that was a fair question. I sort of wondered a bit about that myself. And you know, it's been three decades. I don't know how steamy a revelation it is to those of us not incredibly involved in Massachusetts, you know, senatorial races of the late '70s.

You know, it does tell you two things, one of which Barbara Walters is sort of part of this celebrity journalism. And in a way -- or journalists as celebrities, so that, you know, it's scandal and gossip fodder of a sense, although more of a historical sense.

And the other thing is that, you know, depending how it was done, had she acknowledged this to her bosses at the time, my recollection -- and I could be wrong, I was about nine at the time -- but my recollection was she wasn't covering Congress. There could have been a way to deal with this. Andrea Mitchell was married to, you know, Alan Greenspan while he...

KURTZ: But didn't cover economics.

And look, Barbara Walters has interviewed everybody from Saddam Hussein to Fidel Castro to every president since Nixon. So let's not be too quick to sign her to celebrity journalism.


KURTZ: All right.

David Folkenflik, Matthew Felling, thanks for joining us this morning.

Up next, "Vanity Fair's" photo of a shirtless 15-year-old superstar draws criticism from Disney and plenty of media types. Should we really be shocked that Miley Cyrus is changing her image?

And we're going to put up something her from "The Telegraph," which has rated the 50 most influential political pundits. You see there Jon Stewart, Tim Russert, Matt Drudge, Rush Limbaugh. And I thought this was a pretty silly idea until I saw that I came in at number 34, Karl Rove, the number one important pundit, according to "The Telegraph."


KURTZ: The photo isn't very racy, not by the standards of today's bear-it-all Hollywood culture or X-rated Internet sleaze. But when "Vanity Fair" published a strategically-posed picture of teen sensation Hannah Montana without a shirt, the Disney star had a major PR problem.

At first, her alter ego, Miley Cyrus, told the magazine the photo was really artsy. It wasn't in a skanky way. But she changed the skankiness rating.

Cyrus apologized to her fans, saying she had been taken in by world famous photographer Annie Leibovitz. "Vanity Fair" dismissed Cyrus' complaints, saying she and her grownup handlers had signed off on the pictures at the time.

Leibovitz issued something of a non-apology, saying, "I'm sorry my portrait of Miley has been misinterpreted."

Well, it was, of course, an irresistible story.


A.J. HAMMER, CNN HEADLINE NEWS: The biggest, the most famous, richest squeaky-clean teenage star in America now caught in this mind- boggling scandal tonight that is just sparking outrage from coast to coast.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Like it or not, she's also a role model, which is why some new magazine photos of her are causing such a ruckus.

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: Miley Cyrus is one of America's hottest young stars, but now some are wondering if she's gotten a little too hot with magazine photos that show a side of her that might leave her teenage fans, well, a bit confused.


KURTZ: So did this amount to teen exploitation by a major magazine? Earlier, we decided to tackle that question.


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Joining us now from Los Angeles, Carlos Diaz, correspondent for a syndicated TV show, "Extra" and Jane Velez- Mitchell, investigative journalist and author of the book, "Secrets can be Murder."

Carlos Diaz, did "Vanity Fair" take advantage of a sweet, innocent, defenseless teenager?

CARLOS DIAZ, "EXTRA": You have to wonder, you know, where this lies, because her parents were there, they did approve all the photos that were taken. But when you have a photographer like Annie Leibovitz, you know, right there in front of you suggesting a photo, how do you say no when you're a 15 year old girl?

KURTZ: Well, how do you say no if you're the parents though? And on that point, Jane Velez-Mitchell, you know, first, Miley Cyrus was quoted as saying the pictures were just fine, and then she was embarrassed and she apologized. Engaging in a little damage control here?

JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, JOURNALIST: Yes. And the only person who shouldn't apologize, Howard, is Miley. She is the child. All the adults are to blame.

"Vanity Fair" did not consider the significance of the fact that they were dealing with a child. And not just any child, a child who was a role model for millions of girls ages four to 15. And, you know, these adult starlets that they have on their cover can decide whether or not they want to be a sex object, but a child cannot make that kind of informed decision.

And for adults to sexualize her and to turn her into a nymphet for profit is unethical. And I don't know what "Vanity Fair" was thinking except money. They are going to sell this issue like hotcakes. So where's the downside for them? They really have no incentive to be ethical.

KURTZ: Right. Well, I suppose the downside is all the criticism the magazine is getting.

But from the point of view of Disney, Carlos Diaz, I mean, Disney is selling this 15-year-old as the epitome of wholesomeness. And now Disney says, well, she was deliberately manipulated by "Vanity Fair," which "Vanity Fair" of course denies.

This hurts the brand, doesn't it?

DIAZ: It kind of hurts the brand, but right now the Miley locomotive is moving down the tracks really fast. And it's going to be interesting to see if this does hurt the brand. because she has a new book coming out, she has a new album coming out this summer, she has a movie coming out next spring.

It's one of those things where this is going to be a really interesting test. And as far as "Vanity Fair" goes, their Web site crashed the other day when they put up these pictures because so many people hit the Web site at one time. That's how popular these pictures are.

KURTZ: So you sound a little skeptical. You seem to be suggesting this is a bit of repositioning on the part of the Hannah Montana star.

DIAZ: Well, I disagree with her wanting to reposition at the age of 15. This time last year I interviewed Miley Cyrus one the red carpet at a "Harry Potter" premier, didn't really have any kind of fanfare. I mean, people were there to see Harry Potter and not her, and they weren't really cheering.

My advice to her would be to ride out the squeaky-clean image she has for at least another year or two or three, and, you know, get mature when you turn 18, not 15 and a half.

KURTZ: Only Hollywood do they say ride out the squeaky-clean image until it's no longer of any use to you.

DIAZ: True.

KURTZ: Now, Jane, you know, this follows by a few days. There were some pictures that were posted on MySpace of Miley Cyrus kind of pulling down her shirt and showing the top of her bra. Parents are upset about all of this, understandably, parents of teenaged girls in particular.

Are we as a society drawn to sexy teenaged girls even as we publicly say, oh, that is terrible.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: There is so much hypocrisy in this story. I mean, look at the news media showing the photos over and over again, even as they have teams of commentators beating their chests and denouncing it.

So they have the moral high ground on one hand, and at the same time they're getting the ratings, they're getting the money and they're commercializing off of it just as "Vanity Fair" is. So it's having your cake and eating it too.

By the same token, I would say this is a valid story that we do have to discuss because there are serious issues surrounding it like the sexualization of children. And the irony is that you have to really see the photos to appreciate why they're controversial, because when I heard about them, I was like, what's the big deal? But when I saw them, I saw the mussed hair and the mussed lipstick and the revealed shoulder and the come hither look. I realized, yes, this is the sexualization of a child.

KURTZ: On the other hand, Carlos, you know, the truth is the picture itself is not that revealing. You basically can see your back. You can see more skin on any beach in America, but we're talking here about Hanna Montana.

This is an important person. She's one of TIME's 100 Most Important People in the new issue.

DIAZ: Exactly. But my question, and I don't mean to question Jane, I do agree that this is a 15-year-old person, but we see more skin on a red carpet. I mean, she has exposed more of her back on the red carpet going into an event. It was really an over-the-shoulder shot, and instead of a dress, she had, you know, a blanket on.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Carlos, it's the sum total. It's the look. It's the implication and the insinuation that she is either thinking about something sexual or has just done something sexual, or is about to do something sexual. And that is an exploitation of a child, because she can't make that informed decision for herself at her age.

KURTZ: And on that point, Jane Velez-Mitchell, Any Leibovitz, of course, world-famous photographer, known for her provocative photos, including that famous "Vanity Fair" cover of a naked and pregnant Demi Moore. So does she have to produce something that's somewhat controversial in order to stand out in a sex-saturated marketplace?

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, she's a genius and a brilliant photographer, but this is her stock in trade, as you mentioned -- sexually provocative photos. So when she is hired, that is what you are going to get. She apologized, saying that she was sorry that this photo was misunderstood.

As you know, when a photo shoot is done, there are hundreds of photos taken. I think "Vanity Fair" bears the ultimate responsibility. They chose that really delicious, juicy photo. And as journalists, we know a lot of the times our best footage has to end up on the editing room floor because it's inappropriate.

KURTZ: Carlos Diaz, I've got about half a minute. This whole flap reminds me of Brooke Shields a couple of decades ago in those Calvin Klein suggestive ads. But then I see late this week Miley Cyrus quoted as saying she wants her TV show to become more like "Sex in the City," and I said, well, no wonder. This is her, again, trying to change the public perception of her.

DIAZ: Yes. And of course, the spin control came out immediately after she said that. They said, well, she doesn't watch "Sex in the City" from HBO, she watches the TBS version of "Sex in the City", the edited version. So they spun that as quickly as they could as well.

KURTZ: No wonder some people get a lot of money to do the publicist thing in Los Angeles.

All right. Carlos Diaz, Jane Velez-Mitchell, thanks very much for joining us.


DIAZ: Thank you.


KURTZ: We had invited "Vanity Fair" to make someone available for this program.

And if you've missed any of today's show, you can download our video podcast available at iTunes or

Still to come, the "The New York Times" suggests that blogging could be fatal. I'm serious. We'll see if the writer can back that up.


KURTZ: I blog every day. And I never consider it particularly dangerous. But according to "The New York Times," I may be missing something.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KURTZ (voice over): A recent front page story about blogging until you drop said that online writing has become so stressful that three bloggers suffered heart attacks in recent months, two of them fatal. But who knows? Maybe they smoked. Maybe they ate a lot of fettuccini alfredo, or had a family history of high cholesterol.

MATT RICHTEL, "NEW YORK TIMES": This is a story very broadly about the people who produce information in a global, fast-paced, fast-twitched information economy that is getting very intense. And the result is there's an enormous amount of stress created in their lives.

KURTZ: Times reporter Matt Richtel says that stress transcends the pressure on freelance writers.

RICHTEL: We can blog or write from a desk. We can do it from a cell phone, in a restaurant. We can do it from a car, text messaging at a light. Although that is not encouraged.

But the thing that makes it a really important difference is that most traditional media are paid on a salary. Bloggers are paid by the piece. It's done by the blog post, it's done by the click, it's done by the amount of traffic they generate. And the end result of that is that there is enormous pressure to create traffic.


KURTZ: During his research, Richtel called Larry Dignan of, who said he works out every day. Dignan challenged the reporter's thesis, and guess what? Wasn't included in the piece.


LARRY DIGNAN, ZDNET.COM: I just don't think can you put blogging in a vacuum and say that, you know, it's any more stressful than any other high-stress position. You know, how many mortgage brokers died in the last six months? Corporate lawyers?

And I guess what I'm saying is the stress level is high, but is it any higher than, you know, a firefighter, a police officer, a guy in Iraq?


KURTZ: So, did the Times reporter use a couple of coincidental deaths to create a precooked narrative? And what about that headline writers who blog until they drop? Richtel, of course, doesn't write the headlines.


RICHTEL: We talked to a blogger who fell asleep regularly at his desk, one who pulled all-nighters and was exhausted the next day, one who said he's going to have a nervous breakdown if something doesn't happen first. So "drop" has a number of meanings. What may happen is you focus on the headline, infer that "blog" solely means death, and then you have got -- you've got a lot of interpretation happening that's not intended.


KURTZ: But when a hyped headline bounces around cyberspace, the subtleties tend to get lost. The headline for me is that I can keep on blogging and have a very good chance of surviving.

Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

I'm Howard Kurtz.

Join us next Sunday morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media.