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Reliable Sources

Coverage of the Democratic Presidential Race; Myanmar Government Bans Western Journalists

Aired May 11, 2008 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): End game. The media referees declare the Democratic race over and are trying to take the ball away from Hillary Clinton. Are journalists again tilting the outcome toward Barack Obama or just blowing the whistle on a contest that has run its course?

Dueling interviews on the anchors holding the likely nominees accountable.

Out of sight. Myanmar bars most journalists from covering the aftermath of a devastating cyclone. Is that affecting the world's sympathy?

Plus, wedding bell blues. A presidential daughter ties the knot. No journalists allowed.


KURTZ: Hillary Clinton may have won Indiana this week, but it wasn't enough for the media. Her margin was too small. Her loss in North Carolina too big. Her bank account too empty. Her rationale for staying in the race too weak.

You've heard this drumbeat before,. but now it's downright deafening. It was after midnight on Tuesday when Hillary's lead in Indiana had shrunk to 20,000 votes when MSNBC, sometimes accused of being a pro-Obama network, began talking about her candidacy in the past tense.


TIM RUSSERT, NBC NEWS: We now know who the Democratic nominee is going to be. And no one is going to dispute it.


KURTZ: By the next morning, other pundits had joined in all but declaring Barack Obama the Democratic nominee.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: She's going to campaign in West Virginia today, but this nomination fight is over. BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: I think basically, Maggie, this race is over.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, GOP MEDIA CONSULTANT: Everybody knows it's over but the Clintons.

MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: Good morning. Is it over?

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: If it was not over earlier, the race for the Democratic nomination is now over.



KURTZ: Most newspapers were initially more cautious, except for Rupert Murdoch's "New York Post," which you see there, in talking about Hillary Clinton's chances had dwindled. But "TIME" magazine's cover essentially declared Obama the nominee and provided fodder for Brian William.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: The last time we were together, I handed you a copy of "Newsweek," the first time you had held it in your hands with you on the cover. Have you yet held this in your hands?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No. And I don't want to, because the last time I was in New Hampshire, and I ended up losing. So I'm not sure whether it's the magazine or you, Brian, but it's the jinx.


KURTZ: But even as Obama declines the crown and Hillary vows not to bow out, the great media machine continues to send one message -- it's over.

Joining us now in New York, Kate Zernike, national correspondent for "The New York Times." And here in Washington, Roger Simon, chief political correspondent for And Karen Tumulty, national political correspondent for "TIME" magazine.

All right, Karen. I know there is an asterisk here that says we're pretty sure, but...


KURTZ: "And the Winner Is." "And the Winner Is."

Where does "TIME" get off saying this is over and declaring Barack Obama the nominee?

TUMULTY: Well, the fact is we can all keep, you know, pretending there is a race going on here, but the doors are closing. And, you know, it's just getting -- the chance is getting smaller and smaller. And now it is -- you know, barring some kind of cataclysm, that Barack Obama is going to be the nominee.

Now, we can pretend otherwise or we can -- we can, as we do, you know, announce that we're now in a new phase of the race.

KURTZ: Roger Simon, you were not exactly delicate in your column. You referred to Hillary Clinton as a dead woman walking.

ROGER SIMON, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO.COM: I laid back on that a little. Russert declaring that it was over was like Cronkite turning against the Vietnam War. You know, it made it official.

KURTZ: Why is that? Is Russert so influential that everyone else follows his lead?

SIMON: Russert is very influential. And he's a mainstream media figure. He is considered to be a guy who concentrates and speaks seriously.

But it's not that anything had changed on the night of North Carolina. It's that nothing had changed. Hillary Clinton didn't do anything to change the math that has been in place for weeks. And the math is simply against her.

My only problem with the "TIME" cover, if you could hold it up again, is that they have the asterisk in the wrong place. And I don't mind "TIME" inventing the news, but they don't get to invent punctuation. How do they get away with that?


KURTZ: Kate Zernike, Newsweek's cover is out today. And if we could put that up on the screen, it talks about the "O team." And the whole top half of the front page of "The New York Times," there's a huge piece on Obama, or his rise in Chicago politics, that jumps to two full pages inside. And in the lead story right here, "Already, Obama and McCain map fall strategy."

So, while "The New York Times" is not coming out and saying, OK, Obama is the nominee, it's clear that you've moved on to the fall.

KATE ZERNIKE, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Right. We don't headline toast in "The New York Time," I guess. No, I mean, I think this is one way of just declaring the race over.

What was interesting to me though about this week was, you know, it was surprising to me that anyone thought that that much was going to change this week. I mean, you know, I think it was off the table from the beginning that Hillary Clinton was going to win North Carolina by a huge margin, certainly. And 15 points was not that surprising considering he was 25 points ahead in the polls weeks ago.

KURTZ: So were the media just waiting for the official tally to come in so they could say what they wanted to say all along?

ZERNIKE: Yes, I think so. You know, I think one question is, what would have happened if we had the Indiana results first and she won? Would that have changed the tenor of the night? If she had -- you know, if she hadn't squeaked by barely at 2:00 a.m., or whatever it was.

SIMON: Yes, I don't think so, because she violated the 12th commandment in Indiana, which is you can never fail to meet media expectations. The polling had come in at 5 percent; she only won it by 1.4 percent. And that just added to the story line that she was through.

KURTZ: And speaking of media expectations, here's some of what was said on the air as that night went on and the next morning. And boy, it makes you wonder about how original journalists sometimes can be.

Let's watch.


DAVID GERGEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It wasn't just a quick question whether this might be a game changer. For Hillary Clinton, it had to be a game changer.

FRED BARNES, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: You know, it turned out this was a game changer tonight.

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN: Is there anything you're seeing at this stage that will make tonight a game changer?


ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: There's no way to spin this. This was not a game changer.


KURTZ: Karen Tumulty, the Clinton people feel that media have been trying to push her out since predicting that she would lose New Hampshire, which, of course, she did not. Are we seeing some of that?

TUMULTY: Yes, but I think that they laid the seeds for this themselves, because the narrative that they set out at the beginning of this campaign was inevitability. So, when that game changes, it becomes -- it becomes an irresistible story line. And I think, you know, again, had they not set this as the bar themselves, I don't think that they would have been quite in this situation.

KURTZ: Roger, I think Hillary got some grudging respect in recent weeks for being a fighter and maybe, you know, finding her voice, to use another journalistic cliche. But basically, journalists seem to have had very little sympathy for her in this campaign compared to what some would describe as the swooning over Barack Obama.

SIMON: Well, that's how she and her supporters certainly see the race. And I find that if you go into Hillary crowds, the anger you find on the part of her supporters, especially women supporters, is directed not against Barack Obama, but against the media.

There is a real deep hatred for how the media has treated Hillary Clinton. We've treated her unfairly, they say. We've been sexist. The debates of male-dominated media have beaten her up, have given her tougher questions. She complains she got the first question.

This actually makes it easier for Obama to unify the party. They're not angry at him. They're angry at the media.

KURTZ: And Kate Zernike, have you have found that as well? And do you think there is some justification among those who passionately support Hillary Clinton's candidacy that she just simply hasn't gotten a fair break from the press?

ZERNIKE: Yes. I mean, I think what people were reacting to this week wasn't so much the media declaring the race over, as it was this kind of "Ding dong the witch is dead" quality about that tone to the comments. And I do think people are angry.

And I think when you look at, you know, the percentages of Hillary Clinton supporters who say they won't support Obama, I think Roger is right. They're mad at -- they're mad at the media. They're not necessarily mad at Obama. So, you know, what happens the next few weeks?

TUMULTY: You know, as far back as the Ohio primary, I remember seeing a person in -- at one of Hillary Clinton's rallies holding a sign saying, "Don't let the media man crush pick our nominee."

KURTZ: So you all seem to be acknowledging without quite saying it that there is something to the notion that Hillary Clinton has not been treated with exactly the greatest respect by the press. And let's face it, I mean, there have been many times in this campaign -- not in the last few weeks during the whole Jeremiah Wright controversy, for example -- when, you k now, to use one example of it, when journalists said, as Chris Matthews once did, that they've got to throw up their leg when Barack Obama speaks.

ZERNIKE: Yes. I think one thing that's happening here, an interesting point, is that what I heard a lot of people saying is that the media is more sensitive to race than they are to gender, to racial biases than we are to gender biases. And I think that's a little bit what people are reacting to as well.

KURTZ: Kate, was Hillary Clinton also hurt by the coverage of all the infighting in her campaign? I mean, there were so many weeks when I would pick up the paper and read that half the staff didn't like Mark Penn, who was later demoted, or didn't like Patti Solis Doyle, who was dumped as campaign manager.

You would never read such stories about the Obama campaign. ZERNIKE: Right. I think it created this sense of meltdown that was plaguing them from the beginning, lack of organization. Lack of discipline, which is interesting coming from Hillaryland, which has long been said to be this incredibly disciplined, leak-proof operation.

SIMON: Every now and then we have an obligation to tell the truth. And the fact is, there was more chaos in Hillaryland than Obamaland.

Obama did have a rough patch, having had the press at his feet for most of the campaign. He found them at his throat after the "clinging to guns and religion" comment. And after his loss in Pennsylvania, the phrase that was repeated (INAUDIBLE) to game changer was he can't close the deal, he didn't close the deal. Why isn't this guy going to close the deal?

And you might hear that again in West Virginia next week, where he'll probably lose. And we'll wonder if he closed the deal.

TUMULTY: I might say though that the great irony here is that Hillary Clinton campaign, having traveled with both of them, I can tell you, is by far, especially after she started losing, by far the more media friendly. She comes back on the plane much more often than Barack Obama does. She talks to the media a lot more. And, so, you know, there is some double irony here, too.

SIMON: That's the sign of a loser. They talk to the media because they need the exposure.

KURTZ: Well, you all seem to agree that we shouldn't dwell on the land of pretense, and the fact is this race probably is over. I mean, certainly, look, we don't know exactly what the superdelegates are going to do, but Hillary Clinton has, shall we say, an uphill climb.

So, what happens now, Karen Tumulty, when Terry McAuliffe, her campaign chairman, goes on TV and gives interviews, and the other primaries roll out? Are we just going to sort of ignore them or stick them on page 27?

TUMULTY: Well, I think that probably they are going to be downplayed quite a bit. And especially if Barack Obama chooses not to contest some of the primaries that he doesn't stand a good shot in. West Virginia being, of course, the first test.

KURTZ: Yes, but I see very little about -- I mean, what if Hillary Clinton wins West Virginia by 30 points? Why is that not important? Because we have all decided in our infinite wisdom that this doesn't count anymore?

SIMON: It's a little more than that. We do have infinite wisdom, but in this case, it's based on the fact that she can't change the metrics. She can't get ahead in pledged delegates even if she wins West Virginia by 30 points. She can't get ahead in the popular vote. She probably can't get ahead in the superdelegate vote. And that's what we're really saying, that she can't get ahead in any of those metrics that actually determine who becomes the Democratic nominee.

KURTZ: So, is "The New York Times" going to blow off the West Virginia primary, Kate Zernike?

ZERNIKE: No, absolutely not.

KURTZ: But it's certainly not front page material. I mean, this is a primary coming up in two days. Ordinarily, we get all sort of hyperventilated about the next contest and what we might learn.

ZERNIKE: Yes, but I think one of the questions is, did we get too hyperventilated about this past Tuesday's contest? You know, calling it "Super Tuesday," as some of the networks were. You know, were things really going change that much after Pennsylvania? Was the math really there for her before North Carolina and Indiana?

KURTZ: OK. So, again, it became sort of an artificial benchmark that enabled a lot of people in the press who thought that Hillary was going to lose anyway, despite winning three big states in a row, to declare her candidacy to be history. And I guess when I see all these pieces about who is Obama and McCain, of course, going to choose as their running mates, that also says to me that the press is very focused now on the fall and not on these remaining Democratic contests -- Kate.

ZERNIKE: Right. No, and you wonder how long they're going to keep focusing on this Hillary/Obama, the idea of a joint ticket, which seems to me that it's been dead for as long as it's been alive. But that seems to be getting a lot of currency, too.

KURTZ: I'm at the point now where I just mute the TV when somebody brings this up, because, you know, it's going to be endless speculation. We really don't know.

But, you know, Karen Tumulty, you used the phrase earlier about the Hillary narrative was one of inevitability. They didn't plan very much for the contest beyond Super Tuesday.

What about all the journalists who seemed to buy into that during 2007? What should their punishment be?

TUMULTY: Oh, gosh. Well, it is the stories that everybody has had to write since then, I think, is part of that. And, you know, it was your -- you're right. I mean, there are a lot of narratives that the press bought into in this campaign.

Don't forget the inevitability of the Rudy Giuliani campaign and Fred Thompson's great appeal. And John McCain is dead. I think the number of times we've been wrong in this campaign is far greater than the number of times we've been right.

KURTZ: Agreed? SIMON: Well, yes. I think Karen is right.

I think Hillary Clinton -- however, one of the reasons the press reaction is so strong is, as Karen says, there was this inevitability, but then she seemed to do basic things wrong. As you said, she didn't have a plan for Super Tuesday.

On the other hand, the Obama campaign got it from the beginning. After Super Tuesday, you win 12 in a row, you get a pledged delegate lead that can't be overturned. He got the math. She didn't get the math. Why?

KURTZ: Winning 12 in a row certainly helps in your press coverage, because we love winners and we also love to kick around losers.

Let me get a break.

When we come back, Barack Obama talks about his bowling. Why do the media keep throwing gutter balls when it comes to the candidates' images?


KURTZ: The country is facing many problems. But to judge from the television coverage, perhaps none is as important as Barack Obama's bowling ability. An effort to hold the senator accountable for his meager score of 37 in seven frames, Brian Williams raised the momentous issue this week.


WILLIAMS: With due respect, Senator, I'm not guessing you have had a lot of bowling experience. But you end up with people talking about your bowling score, gutter balls.

OBAMA: The bowling is a wonderful example. Right? You go and -- to a bowling alley because you want to go meet with a bunch of folks.

So I'm out there. And I'm having a great time. You know? And suddenly this becomes some big sort of signifier of whether or not I'm in tune with blue collar culture.


KURTZ: Kate Zernike, what Obama is really saying there is that you in the media went totally haywire over a couple of gutter balls and we sort of traffic in this world of symbolism.

Fair or not fair?

ZERNIKE: Well, I think it's a little bit -- I think these candidates are raising -- or being a little bit protest too much. You know, you had Elizabeth Edwards writing on the op-ed page of "The New York Times" that the media only pays attention to these narrative stories, to the poignant stories of our lives. And then the Edwards go and give their first post-campaign interview to "People" magazine.

I mean, really, what do they expect? They're sort of riding on this train.

KURTZ: But, you know, it's interesting, Roger, in terms of -- you know, the candidates always playing what pictures they're going to give the media. Barack Obama loves to play basketball.

SIMON: Right.

KURTZ: He did not do that in front of the cameras for about a year. Recently, every time I turn on the TV, he is playing the University of North Carolina team or saying, "I wand a Bud."

He's a beer drinker now?

SIMON: That was the fascinating thing to me about his interview with Brian Williams that you just showed. A lot of candidates are too smart for the game and see through the game.

Obama also wants to win the game. So instead of just complaining that we overemphasize the bowling pictures, which is a legitimate complaint, then he goes out and plays basketball. He knows how to use the media.

It's a real difference between his complaints and Hillary's complaints. Hillary complains about the rules of the process. That caucuses are undemocratic, Michigan and Florida should be seated. He complains about the media and the media coverage.

And then there's the North Carolina victory speech, one of the best speeches he ever gave. He talks about those that distract us from issues, pounce on our every gaffe, fake controversy in the hope the media will play along. He's very conscious of always keeping the media's failing in the forefront of this race.

KURTZ: And also known as working the refs, to use another sports analogy.

Karen Tumulty, Hillary Clinton certainly not -- certainly willing to be an active participant in this game of image-making. I mean, we saw her doing shots in a bar one night. I guess that was during Pennsylvania. And campaigning on a pickup truck.

Sending a certain message there?

TUMULTY: Yes, I think so, because this is the whole -- you know, her big hope is that she can convince the party that she can connect with white non-college-educated voters in a way that he can't. I mean, we've also learned some other things about her in this campaign that we never knew.

After all these years, we suddenly learned that she has to have jalapeno peppers every day. You know, it's -- people understand in politics that little snippets of your biography and your personal life tell people a lot. KURTZ: But I wonder, Kate, whether the media sort of encouraged this kind of thing, because these candidates are often millionaire lawyers. You know, we insist that they be down to earth, that they be one with the people, that they be somebody you would like to have a beer with.

Arguably, maybe that's not as important in who is the next commander in chief.

ZERNIKE: But I feel like every cycle we say. We say, oh, you know, it doesn't matter. I think Hillary Clinton even said this in one of the debates.

You know, when she was asked about the likeability, she said, well, last time we chose someone we wanted to have a beer with and that was a big mistake. So I feel like every four years we hear this and then we go out and do it all over again.

KURTZ: Just briefly, is this important symbolism about ability to connect with average voters or is it just kind of pretty pictures?

SIMON: It's an important symbolism. It's a strange office of presidency. And one level, we have it on a pedestal, and the other level, we want that person to be a person of the people.

And the most important metric is how you feel about that person when you go into the voting booth. Is he or she a person just like me? Does he understand me? And we want them to be down here understanding us.

KURTZ: And in that case, I'm sure we might see Barack Obama secretly taking some bowling lessons for his next outing since this is all so important.

Karen Tumulty, Roger Simon, Kate Zernike in New York, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

Up next, storm clouds over the Weather Channel after an anchor complains about sexual harassment.

Pollsters are now asking about Katie Couric's future.

And if you thought the relationship between the Pentagon and those TV military analysts was cozy, wait until you hear this tape.

Our "Media Minute" straight ahead.


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

The headline writers couldn't resist this one -- sex storm at the Weather Channel.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KURTZ (voice over): An arbitrator found that anchor Bob Stokes had subjected a female colleague to "severe, pervasive and extreme sexual harassment." The complaint was filed by former Weather Channel anchor Hillary Andrews, who received an undisclosed monetary reward.

Andrews charged that Stokes repeatedly asked her for dates, made crude sexual remarks, commented on her clothing, sabotaged her on-air performance, and once followed her into the women's dressing room. Andrews, who now works part time for CNN, charged in a lawsuit that the Weather Channel fired her the day after the arbitrator's ruling. The suit was first reported by The Smoking Gun, owned by CNN parent Time Warner.

(on camera): The weather channel told us it could not comment because of a confidentiality agreement with the two anchors that was filed in court.

(voice over): Should she get out of the race? "USA Today" pollsters asked that question, not about Hillary Clinton, but about Katie Couric. The embattled CBS newswoman got a vote of confidence, with 46 percent saying she should stay in the anchor chair, one quarter said it was time for her to go.

(on camera): The networks continued to ignore that "New York Times" story about TV's military analysts getting briefing and talking points from the Pentagon as they defended the Iraq war effort. We've reported twice on this program a huge batch of documents and e-mails show how cozy that relationship was.

But now comes an audio tape of a 2006 meeting between more than a dozen analysts and Don Rumsfeld in which some of the retired military officers are giving the secretary advice on selling the war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We would love for you to take the offensive and just go out there and just crush these people. You are the leader. You're our guy. You go on O'Reilly and you've got him eating out of your hand because you're smart.


KURTZ: Eating out of your hand. And these men were presenting themselves to television viewers as objective military analysts.

Coming up In the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, playing the so- called race card. Have the pundits made too much or not enough of Hillary Clinton bluntly touting her popularity among white voters?

Plus, media blackout. Disaster strikes Myanmar, but the government keeps relief workers and reporters at bay. We'll talk to one of the few who made it in, CNN's Dan Rivers.


KURTZ: You can barely pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV these days without hearing that Barack Obama has been winning 90 percent of the black vote and Hillary Clinton a majority of the white vote. But when the former first lady put it bluntly in an interview with "USA Today," she found herself taking flak from commentators on the left and the right.


KATHY KIELY, "USA TODAY": How does Hillary Clinton win the nomination?

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, Kathy, you know, there was just an AP article posted that found how Senator Obama's support among working -- hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again.

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: Should Senator Clinton have been more careful in not leaving the impression that her electability argument boils down, in effect, to working class white Americans are not ready to vote for a black American president?

DICK MORRIS, FOX NEWS ANALYST: She's using race to win the election. She is using the identification of whites, vis-a-vis blacks, to polarize the society racially and win the election.


KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about the controversy and other interviews with the candidates and their family members, Clarence Page, columnist for "The Chicago Tribune," and Amanda Carpenter, national political reporter for

Clarence Page, was this a terrible racial remark for Hillary Clinton to make about white voters?

CLARENCE PAGE, "THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Well, it was not good political etiquette. I can't remember when I have ever heard a candidate speak so candidly. It's normally your operatives, your surrogates, your consultants who talk like that, or us, the pundits.


KURTZ: But that's not to say that -- but that's the point. It's not to say that it's not true. In fact, she is quoting an Associated Press article.

PAGE: Truth is only part of the game here, Howard. We're talking about politics, after all.

And we're talking about a candidate who up front says, well, my opponent is weak with white voters. So I'm going to go out and get them.

You know, race is still too sensitive a topic in this country for you to just blindly say that as if we're talking about, say, Catholic voters, say, during the 1960 campaign with JFK.

KURTZ: With JFK. PAGE: This is a situation where now it sounds to black voters out there like she's kicking all of us under the bus, you know, after years of such heavy support.

KURTZ: "Saturday Night Live" really turned on Hillary Clinton last night. Amy Poehler did her impersonation and had her look into the camera and say, "My supporters are racists. You should vote for me because they won't vote for Barack Obama in the fall."

But does the press assume that it's OK, even automatic, for 90 percent of blacks to support a black candidate, but if two-thirds of whites support the white candidate, some of them must be racist?

AMANDA CARPENTER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, TOWNHALL.COM: Well, I mean, I don't think Hillary Clinton is wrong for sort of broaching this topic. I think she certainly could have talked about it more politely. But I think she knows exactly what she is doing.

All she has to do is look at the 2004 exit polling in the general election. Seventy-seven percent of those voting were white, and 58 percent of them did not have a college education. And that is her demographic. So, I think for her broaching this topic is OK, but maybe through a surrogate it would have been better or more...

KURTZ: So you seem to be saying it's OK for her to talk about this in code. She talks about working class or blue collar...

PAGE: Hard-working.

KURTZ: Yes. OK. People hear white. But if she actually says the phrase "white," I would think, well, maybe she just slipped, except she's so careful in her language. Then it is somehow an offense, it is -- it makes her look like she is pandering?

CARPENTER: I don't know if it's so much as pandering as that it's we're just trying to get used to how to talk about these things in ways that isn't divisive. Maybe using code words is a better way to do it. I'm not sure. But when she says "white" over and over again, it seems like she is doing it to draw divides. Even though I think her thought process is broaching this topic, it's correct to do.

KURTZ: All right. Let me move on to some other interviews that took place this week. It was a big TV week for the candidates and their families.

John McCain did a two-part interview on "The O'Reilly Factor" in which Bill O'Reilly brought up some of the media accounts about the Arizona senator. Take a look.


BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: Are you ready for the viciousness of this campaign? We understand "The New York Times" has, you know, a squat of reporters looking to dig up any dirt they can on you. You know that, right?


O'REILLY: The implication was that you're, number one, a corrupt guy and, number two, kind of looking at other women. That was the implication by "The New York Times."

MCCAIN: Bill, we discussed it already after it came out. And I don't discuss it anymore.


KURTZ: That was, of course, reference to "The New York Times" story about McCain's relationship with a lobbyist and whether he had done her favors and so forth.

Now, I praised O'Reilly's interview with Hillary Clinton. I thought it was aggressive, substantive and fair. But was he anywhere as tough on John McCain?

PAGE: It seems like McCain has been getting something a free pass here because he hasn't been in the spotlight compared to that big fight going on on the Democratic side. Those were good questions O'Reilly raised, and it is true it's going to start getting tougher on McCain. When I say "it," I mean the media, as well as his opponents. But right now those questions are the questions he's ready to answer, you might say.

KURTZ: But O'Reilly used the media -- used the interview to bash the media. Look at all these awful things they're saying about you. They're biased. "The New York Times" is digging up dirt on you.

That didn't exactly put McCain on the spot.

CARPENTER: I don't think the O'Reilly interview was completely softball. Sure, they talked about some of the anti-McCain stories. And there has been more than that than just in "The New York Times." "The Washington Post" just had a story trying to prove a an illicit land deal that was on their front page a few days ago that we talked about on TownHall quite a bit pointing out the errors in it. But O'Reilly...

KURTZ: Are you saying trying to prove? You don't believe that story was largely factual?

CARPENTER: Well, if you look at the headline of that story, it said that McCain backs deal that benefits backer. I might not have it completely 100 percent correct. But there is no connection in that story that McCain knew that deal would actually benefit a person that had donated to his campaign. Now, I think that link needed to be proven in order to put that headline up.

But back to the O'Reilly interview, he did ask McCain some tough questions, mainly on immigration and sanctuary city policies, which McCain said he opposed to. And which I thought was more interesting, opposition to drilling in ANWR, which is a huge issue to conservatives and makes McCain look bad to the base.

KURTZ: Right.

Now, Cindy McCain had a sort of coming out on "The Today Show." She sat down with Ann Curry and she made some news with these comments.


CINDY MCCAIN, WIFE OF JOHN MCCAIN: None of the negative stuff though, you won't see it come out of our side at all, because...

ANN CURRY, NBC NEWS: None of the negative stuff will come out of your side?

C. MCCAIN: My husband is absolutely opposed to any negative campaigning at all.


KURTZ: Now, what do you think she means by negative? Only meaning no negative personal attacks? Because, you know, certainly John McCain has been out there hitting Barack Obama on his inexperience, on his foreign policy positions, all of which seems fair game to me.

So that was a pretty...

PAGE: Well, we're talking about attack ads that morph Obama with Reverend Wright, for example. No, I'm sure that the McCain campaign won't do that sort of thing, just like the elder George Bush's campaign didn't produce the Willie Horton ads. It was the 527 groups, the outside sympathetic groups.

So, when she says "coming from our side," what does she mean by our side? You know, her campaign -- her husband's campaign may not produce that sort of thing, but there will be people on McCain's side who we can rely upon to beat up Barack Obama as a secret Muslim and all kinds of other crazy stuff.

KURTZ: All right. But let's focus on John McCain. Let me put up another piece of sound, Amanda, for you to react to.

And this was after McCain had told some bloggers in a conference call, "I think it's very clear who Hamas wants to be the next president of the United States," quoting some Hamas leader or activist who said nice things about Obama.

Senator Obama went on "THE SITUATION ROOM." Wolf Blitzer raised the question.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is offensive. And I think it's disappointing, because John McCain always says, well, I'm not going to run that kind of politics. And then to engage in that kind of, you know, smear, I think is unfortunate.


KURTZ: Smear?

CARPENTER: I don't think it's a smear at all. I mean, I've been on a number of those calls with Senator McCain. And what happens, I've noticed, within the media and how it gets covered, is that someone will ask him a question about, you know, William Ayers or Reverend Wright, or in this case Hamas. McCain will respond to it. He doesn't bring it up himself, he doesn't, you know, produce an ad it, but because he responds to the question, he gets accused of conducting a smear campaign against the candidate.

So I think there is a definite...

KURTZ: Well, I don't think it's unfair to raise it. But the fact that a candidate says something in response to a blogger's question or a reporter's question doesn't let him off the hook for what he says.

CARPENTER: I don't think -- you're right, it doesn't let him off the hook. But I think he is trying to draw a distinct where, if someone asks him a question about it, he's not going to evade it. He'll answer it, clearly, succinctly.

You know, John McCain, this is what he does. He takes town hall questions. He doesn't evade these things.

But he's not going to go out and give a speech about it. He's not going to begin the call with attack points and talking points against him on a certain subject like that.

KURTZ: One more piece of tape for you, Clarence. This is "CBS Evening News," Katie Couric with Senator McCain and his 96-year-old mother, Roberta.


KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: You don't like when your son's age is brought up, do you?

ROBERTA MCCAIN, MOTHER OF JOHN MCCAIN: No. No, I don't mind. When you think about the experience and what he's accomplished, as opposed to a man who two years ago was in the state legislature in Illinois, so that is a big bias (ph) in my view.

COURIC: You speak your mind, don't you?


KURTZ: Is that interview sort of a Mother's Day gift?


PAGE: A mom's gift to her son, I dare say.

Well, you know, McCain has his mom working for him. And she does say what she thinks.

What is interesting about this segment to me is that experience is an issue with Obama and will continue to be so. So will credibility and the question of whether or not he shares your values as a voter. That's the sort of thing that I think it would do Obama some good to have more shots of himself and his family out there, which we're starting to see.

KURTZ: All right.

Arianna Huffington charged this week, as you know, Amanda, that John McCain had said at a dinner in L.A. hosted by Candice Bergen in 2000 that he had not voted for George W. Bush. McCain says that is totally false. Mark Salter, his top aide, called Arianna a flake, among other things.

But then "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" reported afterwards that two of the actors on "The West Wing" were also at that dinner. It's Bradley Whitford and Richard Schiff. Said they also heard McCain say he had not voted for Bush in 2000.

Do you believe the story? And does it matter?

CARPENTER: Well, one, I don't think it matters a whole lot. Leaning towards I don't believe it, because if this truly did happen, why is she holding it until now? This would have been news in 2002.

KURTZ: She says that she...

CARPENTER: In 2005 and 2006.

KURTZ: She says that she is upset because the media are giving McCain one kiss after another.

CARPENTER: Yes. Well, you know, I read "The Huffington Post" quite a bit, and she equally divides her time between saying that John McCain is, you know, a pawn of the vast right wing conspiracy, but now she's trying to sell her book on the fact that he wouldn't even vote for George Bush.

KURTZ: All right.

CARPENTER: So I'm a little confused.

KURTZ: But Clarence, other people at the dinner do say that they heard the senator say the same thing.

PAGE: Yes. Well, you know, maybe this will be an issue. We'll see if it has enough saliency.

It is interesting, though, that McCain's critics do want to have it both ways on whether he's an independent of Bush or whether he is a Bush lackey. So I just don't know. I need to get more information.

KURTZ: Right. Well, the question here is whether or not McCain is in for rougher media treatment in the fall than he has gotten in the past. And certainly...

PAGE: Yes. The answer is yes.

KURTZ: All right. We've resolved something.

Clarence Page, Amanda Carpenter, thanks for joining us this morning.

When we come back, the devastation is just imaginable. But reports on the cyclone that hit Myanmar have been tough to come by. Is the ban on journalists undermining relief efforts?


KURTZ: The scale of the devastation in Myanmar is difficult to comprehend. The massive cyclone that killed somewhere between 20,000 and 100,000 people, depending on whose estimates you believe, could claim many more lives if the nation's military rulers don't allow more outside aid to combat disease and starvation beyond the one U.S. planeload already approved. But you and I have seen very little this, because the government in what was long known as Burma has tried to keep journalists out of the country, going so far as to deport a BBC correspondent.

One of the few western journalists to make it into Myanmar is CNN's Dan Rivers.


DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are horrific scenes here with the bodies being dumped in the river. We can't really film very overtly here. The authorities are not pleased we're here. And at the moment I think soldiers are coming. So we're going to have to leave.


KURTZ: Rivers escaped from the badly-ravaged country on Friday, but not without difficulty. He joins us now from Bangkok.

Dan Rivers, before we get into some of the close calls you had with the police, why did you decide during your reports to show your face on camera, thereby alerting the government to what you look like and making it easy for police to come after you?

RIVERS: Well, we spent the first 24 hours doing reports anonymously. And then we decided collectively with my managers at CNN that we were going to have much more impact in our reporting. If I could look down the barrel of a camera and tell people directly how bad the situation is, rather than just voicing over pictures which tends to kind of wash over people a lot -- you know, a lot of disasters get covered, you know, you see a lot of these terrible scenes around the world. It's much more effective television and effective communication if I can sit there and people can see me at the scene and I can tell people directly how bad it is.

That was the call we made. It's a very fine judgment. But that's what we decided. And I think it paid off.

KURTZ: All right.

Now, as a result of having your face known, you did have the police come after you. You had some close calls, as I said.

Tell us a little bit about how you stayed out of the clutches of the authorities.

RIVERS: Well, after I had appeared on air, it was clear that the authorities were after us. Our local contacts there said that all the hotels had been alerted and wanted -- and had to give the names of all foreigners staying. And then in another town, the rest of my team were picked up by the authorities, and they had their passport photos compared with a photo of that the authorities had circulated. Luckily, I was hidden at that point.

We then hit a checkpoint. I was hidden under a blanket in the back of the car. Luckily, we got away from that one.

Eventually we were caught by the police. We managed to talk our way out. One of the ways that I managed to do that was luckily just by obscuring my sir name on my passport as I showed my passport to them.

I had my thumb over my sir name. And that luckily just enabled them to write down my two middle names. And they were incompetent enough to radio those two names through and not my other name. And luckily, we escaped.

So, we had some very, very close calls.

KURTZ: Right. Hiding under a blanket in the car, people think being a foreign correspondent is so glamorous.

Now, when you finally decided to fly out of the country on Friday, you even had trouble when you were boarding the plane to flee Myanmar. Tell us what happened there.

RIVERS: Well, I was quite surprised. I mean, we made a decision I was going to go. So I went to the airport, checked in, expecting to be arrested on the spot. And I wasn't.

I made it through passport control fine. I actually got on to the plane and took my seat on the plane. And it was only at that point the flight attendant came up to me and said immigration wants to see you again.

So I go off the plane. And there were a whole load of police and soldiers there waiting for me. And they basically searched every pocket, every part of my bag, took everything apart. Even made me take off my shoes and socks.

I think they were looking for film or for tapes or for digital images. Luckily, I didn't have anything on me. The plane had been held up, especially for me. And I think it was just the flight attendant insisting they had to make a decision one way or another that saved me. And basically I think they just thought, OK, let's just get rid of him. I later discovered they actually stamped "deported" in my passport, so I was actually officially deported.

KURTZ: All right. Well, that must have been a relief when those wheels went up.

Now, what about the sheer magnitude of this disaster? Did you find it depressing? I mean, while the police were exerting all this effort to trying to catch you so they could kick you out of the country, I mean, tens of thousands of bodies and all the signs of starvation and devastation, how did that affect you personally?

RIVERS: I mean, it's very difficult to cover these stories without -- and remaining completely objective, especially in a situation like this, where the military regime is preventing aid getting in. You're seeing people in terrible conditions. You know people are short of food and water. And there are bodies everywhere.

I mean, it is tough to cover. Sadly, I've seen, you know, increasing number of these disasters -- the tsunami, the earthquake in Pakistan, another cyclone in Bangladesh. So -- but this had that added dimension of the government actively being obstructive.

In all the other disasters I've covered, the government has been fairly helpful and the aid has got in relatively quickly. Here, still they're being frustrated by the military regime.

KURTZ: It's incredibly frustrating. I have got about 60 seconds here.

Dan Rivers, I don't sense that the world is as fixated on what's happened in Myanmar as after the Asian tsunami, for example. Is the lack of pictures and the lack of first-hand accounts undermining efforts to generate world sympathy here for this horrendous disaster?

RIVERS: It's interesting. Yes, I mean, I guess in the tsunami there were quite a lot of westerners killed as well. And that helped to kind of prick interest in various countries around the world.

Here, it's only Burmese, as far as we know, that have been killed. And I guess that makes it more difficult for people to empathize.

It's a country that's so far away. People don't hear much about it. Not many people go there on holiday.

You know, I hope that from the reporting we've done that, you know, people will take an interest. And, you know, money is pouring into the various donations, to the various aid agencies. But it is just terribly difficult to report on the story, to get the pictures out and to get them on TV.

KURTZ: All right. Well, Dan Rivers, you did some terrific work this week. I'm glad you're out safely.

Thanks for joining us this morning.

Still to come, the president's daughter gets married and no journalists are on the guest list or anywhere near the place. Is that allowed?


KURTZ: The daughter of the president of the United States got married yesterday. You may have heard something about that. But you didn't get to see it. How in this YouTube age is that possible?

The White House hasn't even released a single photo of the blessed event. In fact, this distant grainy shaken video taken by CNN is the only proof we have that the event actually happening. Well, the first couple may put out a photo or two later today.


KURTZ (voice over): When Jenna Bush and Henry Hager tied the knot near Crawford, the press was most definitely not invited. No live coverage on CNN. No photo shoot for "People" or "US Weekly."

That's a far cry from Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas, who sold their wedding pictures to "OK!" magazine for $2 million. Or Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, who also made a deal with "OK!" -- or a few weeks ago, Mariah Carey, whose deal with "People" landed her wedding on the cover.


KURTZ: But don't we the people have a right to know, or in this case a right to gawk? And what's up with not holding the event in the White House and inviting hundreds of dignitaries?


KURTZ (voice over): The last White House wedding before the cable age was Trisha Nixon's back in 1971, and Lynda Bird Johnson and Chuck Robb four years before that. But the Bushes, more precisely Jenna Bush, had other ideas.

JENNA BUSH: I think the White House is a historical, beautiful building, of course. And place. But I wanted to have something more private and something that fit my personality a little bit more.

KURTZ: And Jenna told "Vogue" magazine she wanted the affair to be outdoors, organic and low key.


KURTZ: Low key? We don't want low key. We want a big, gauzy blowout that would have been a great media spectacle.

Actually, my hat is off to the Bush family for resisting the urge to feed the media beast by staging the wedding for the cameras. They chose to share their joy instead with 200 friends and relatives.

As for the rest of us, well, we'll have to wait for Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan to get married. Or a little down the road, Mylie Cyrus. I'm sure "Vanity Fair" will have the exclusive on that one.

I want to correct a graphic we used earlier in the show, that "USA Today" poll about Katie Couric. Forty-six percent said she should stay as the anchor of the "CBS Evening News." One quarter said that they would prefer that she vacate that chair.

That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

Happy Mother's Day, mom, and all the other moms out there.