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Reliable Sources

Obama Gets Week of Glowing Press; CBS Chops McCain Interview

Aired July 27, 2008 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): Rave reviews. Barack Obama gets a week of incredibly glowing press for his world tour. Were journalists used for a series of glorified photo-ops? Did Katie, Brian and Charlie pin down the candidate? Are the media, as the McCain campaign complains, in love?

Slight of hand. CBS chops up a John McCain interview and uses his answers out of order. Isn't that unethical?

Boob tube rerun. A court says CBS doesn't have to pay the $500,000 fine over the Janet Jackson breast-baring incident. Was the media frenzy out of bounds as well?

Plus, Batman's arrest, why the melodramatic coverage was super unfair.


KURTZ: He came, he saw, he conquered. He was followed around the globe by a vast media contingent that seemed to record his every move. How positive was it?

From a helicopter ride over Iraq, to an enormous crowd in Berlin, Barack Obama was covered like a visiting head of state, while John McCain was seen visiting a German sausage restaurant in Columbus. The pictures were the story. And from the front pages, to the network newscasts, the media was all too happy to provide them.

Obama's day in Germany was the lead story here and in much of the civilized world.


CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS: Good evening. Barack Obama stepped to the center of the world stage today.

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: It was a highly unusual scene for a candidate smack in the middle of an American presidential campaign.


KURTZ: Two hundred thousand Germans gathering for the speech, and moments later, Obama hooked up with a familiar figure.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: When an American politician comes to Berlin, we've had some iconic utterances in the past. We've had "Ich bein ein," we've had, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."

OBAMA: Well, I don't rate that high.


KURTZ: The nonstop coverage was marked by plenty of praise from the pundits.


DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: How has he done?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Better than they could have imagined in the Obama campaign.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC: Tonight, my headline is, "Obama Gets a Big Political Boost in Baghdad."

FRANK LUNTZ, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Barack Obama clearly delivered one of the great speeches of his lifetime.


KURTZ: So, was the trip worth all that ink and airtime, and did journalists get swept away by the grandeur of it all?

Joining us now in New York, Mark Halperin, editor-at-large and senior political analyst for "TIME" magazine, who runs the Web site "The Page." Here in Washington, Steve Roberts, syndicated columnist and professor of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University. And in Chicago, Candy Crowley, senior political correspondent for CNN and one of the reporters covering the Obama overseas tour.

Mark Halperin, the trip was an important story, an interesting story, but should it have been such a relentlessly covered story?

MARK HALPERIN, SR. POLITICAL ANALYST, "TIME": I think the coverage was warranted, and I'm one who is very cautious about the problem we face going forward regarding the imbalance in coverage, and both the tone of the coverage and the quantity. But this was an important trip, I think covering it was important.

I think for the most part, our colleagues took advantage of the access. They had to ask hard questions. I would have liked harder questions, always do, but I think this trip is kind of the exception of a case where the coverage was disproportionate but was warranted.

KURTZ: Steve Roberts, "Newsweek" said this trip went smashingly well, Frank Rich this morning of "The New York Times" calls Obama the acting president. Obama himself said he got a week of great press.

When you strip everything away, wasn't this a series of photo-ops and courtesy calls and one big speech?

STEVE ROBERTS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Yes. And I don't agree with Mark. I think it was a bit overcovered.

Now, look, John McCain, in some ways, made a huge mistake by almost taunting Barack Obama and almost becoming his press agent, saying you haven't been, you haven't been. And then when he goes, of course, he built up the hype. But when you send three anchors, you're predetermining the coverage.

First of all, there's an enormous symbolism. It's like it's a head of state visit, but you don't send three anchors without huge coverage. You've already determined the news value of the trip before it begins. And given the fact also that we're undercovering a lot of foreign news, this was a lot of resources and a lot of money to be spent.

KURTZ: All right.

Candy Crowley, you were there for the week, except for the part in Afghanistan and Iraq, where no reporters were allowed to tag along, being controlled by the military. Did you feel at times this was a stage-managed extravaganza and were you there to provide the pretty pictures?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I felt the entire time it was a stage-managed affair. That is nothing new in politics. John McCain does it. Not as well. You know, Barack Obama does it, the president does it.

I mean, that is the nature of politics. They are stage-managed. And obviously, you know, you always get used to a certain extent know matter what you're covering.

They want the pictures to be pretty. They understand that no matter what words you say, what appears on the screen are those pictures. Now, is it incumbent upon us to say, listen, this is a trip about the pictures, this is a trip about people seeing Barack Obama on the world stage? Absolutely, and that's what was reported.

KURTZ: You, Candy, had an interview with Barack Obama that aired Friday on "THE SITUATION ROOM." Wolf Blitzer also interviewed Senator McCain that day. How long were you given that sit-down?

CROWLEY: We had about -- it came out to about 19 minutes, actually, more than we thought we were going to get. But, you know, you sit a reporter down in a chair and they stretch that time. So...

KURTZ: They keep talking.

CROWLEY: We did, yes.

KURTZ: Let me play a brief clip from that interview and ask you a question on the other side.


CROWLEY: John McCain has said that this really looked like a premature victory lap.


CROWLEY: Did you cross the line? Were there times were you really aware of that? You know, that sort of, oh, wow, he looks like he already thinks he's got it?

OBAMA: Well, you know what? I'll leave it up to the pundits to theorize on that.


KURTZ: The conservative critics are saying that Obama perhaps looked presumptuous or arrogant. Why did you feel the need to ask that particular question?

CROWLEY: Well, because I think the question was out there. Listen, look at those pictures, I mean, particularly in France. I was so struck by the way they came out.

It's like every presidential unilateral visit I've ever covered, I mean, they came out and the translators and the press was all over the place. I mean, enormous amount of not just the press that went with him, but far more press that came from other countries, that came to watch it.

I mean, it was very -- I mean, Sarkozy might as well have asked if he could be on the VP list. I mean, it was pretty amazing.

I mean, so all of these pictures really did say, and they wanted them to say, you see, I am on the world stage, you can now picture me as this. But I did think that there were times that it just looked -- I mean, look at this picture that you're seeing right now. I mean, this is what it looks like when a president comes out, and so I thought the question should be asked.

KURTZ: Mark Halperin, many smart journalists are telling me that it's OK, that it's justified to lavish all this coverage on Obama, not just this week, although this week is the sort of classic example of it, because he's such a fascinating figure and people are just more curious about him than they are about John McCain.

Do you buy that?

HALPERIN: No, I don't think that's OK. I think, look, talking about this past week is interesting and important, talking about the campaign to date. What I'm interested in is going forward.

Historically, Republicans have felt there's a bias in the coverage towards the Democrats. It's clear in this case that Senator Obama is a news story, he is interesting, and we'll have to grapple with how to balance our coverage taking that into account. But we have to be focused on, again, going forward, making this equal, having the coverage be seen as equal and actually be equal in as many ways, as often as we can. This trip though was an exception.

KURTZ: Well, here's a magazine cover that's not equal. "People" magazine has got Obama up on the cover with his family, "The Obamas at Home." This follows the "US Weekly" cover on Obama, and the "Rolling Stone" cover -- covers on Obama.

Where does journalism get off saying it's OK to give one candidate twice as much coverage -- this week, I would say four times as much coverage -- as the other candidate running for president?

ROBERTS: Well, I do think there is an imbalance. As Mark says, look, the essential word in news is "new." And Obama is new.

Barack Obama and his family are still -- people are learning about them, so there is a certain justification for the imbalance. But I do think it's gone overboard.

I think Hillary Clinton felt the same way, that a lot of reporters had fallen in love with Barack Obama and the gushing coverage. Now, we're starting to see some jokes about it. Jon Stewart says Barack Obama made a side trip to Bethlehem to visit the manger he was born in. You're starting to see, I think in a healthy way, people starting to make fun of this.

KURTZ: Candy Crowley, I do have to point out that when John McCain in March went to many of these same countries in Europe, CNN did not send a correspondent, a lot of news organizations didn't send a correspondent. That is part of the imbalance in my view.

But while you were on this trip, you were in a bubble. Obviously, you're traveling with this fast-moving entourage in Berlin and Paris and London, while back at home the polls remained pretty tight. So is it possible that journalists kind of overestimated the impact of this trip because it was so visual?

CROWLEY: Well, no, I don't think so. I think the fact of the matter is, was that this was a fairly high-risk trip for him.

Now, it was stage-managed to the nth degree. He gave a speech that had zero in it in terms of substance, but the fact of the matter is that he could have said something wrong in Israel. He could have said something wrong when he visited with Palestinian leaders, something could have run afoul.

He could have looked as though he, in fact, already had it in the bag. So I don't think we know the actual impact of this trip. I think we do see that the polls haven't really moved. Obama himself said, you know, I think you can see a dip in the polls because people are back here talking about gas prices and I'm over here.

So I -- but I still think that at the end of the day, this was a trip that had risk to it. This was a man who, by the way, was goaded into at least the first part of the trip by John McCain to go over there.

KURTZ: Right.

CROWLEY: So, you know, I think there was a real reason to watch him.

KURTZ: And speaking of John McCain, let's take a look -- the fact that McCain was so overshadowed this week became part of the coverage. Let's take a look at what some people were saying about that, and Senator McCain himself making a bit of a joke.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: With all the big shots covering Barack Obama's trip, is John McCain left home alone?

GIBSON: This has got to be very frustrating for John McCain, as Ron Claiborne pointed out, that he wants to make his points, he wants to get coverage, and yet, everything seems to swarm around Barack Obama.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My opponent, of course, is traveling in Europe. A throng of adoring fans awaits Senator Obama in Paris, and that's just the American press.


KURTZ: Mark Halperin, McCain, of course, was the media darling when he ran in 2000. He was -- he got some sympathetic coverage early in this cycle when he was the underdog. Now McCain and company seem pretty resentful toward the press.

What happened?

HALPERIN: Well, I think they are resentful, as Steve made a reference earlier to Hillary Clinton feeling the same way. I think they are stunned. McCain has gotten great press coverage for most of his career.

I don't think it's not particularly attractive to complain about the coverage, and I do think it was a very healthy thing that most of the networks in almost every case, when they were doing an interview, an anchor interview or a reporter interview with Senator Obama from the trip, gave Senator McCain interview time. I don't think he took as good advantage of that time as he might have, and I think his campaign needs to keep its head down and focus on trying to point out cases of huge inequity, where this week was not one, and stop complaining so much about the press coverage.

KURTZ: That mocking video that McCain put out, we played a little bit at the top with the Frankie Valli singing "You're just too good to be true." Could that strike a nerve among the press the way the "Saturday Night Live" skit did about Obama?

ROBERTS: Yes, exactly. I do think that there is a real problem here, and I do think the "Saturday Night Live" skit did force journalists to take a second look at what, by all accounts, was a very fawning coverage of Barack Obama.

KURTZ: And could that happen here?

ROBERTS: I think he's trying to do exactly the same thing, work the rest, make the journalists feel a little bit embarrassed about their gushing coverage, and get a little tougher on Obama. I think it could have exactly the same effect, and that's what he (ph) wants it to.

KURTZ: I've been on a lot of Obama campaigns trips where he would go days without uttering a syllable to the journalists who were following him. That didn't happen on this trip. And in fact, let's play some footage of Obama coming back on a plane -- this was on the flight to Germany -- and kidding around with the press corps.


OBAMA: What are you guys going to do in Berlin? You got any big plans? No?

You know, do you know Berlin pretty well? No? I've never been to Berlin.


KURTZ: Candy Crowley, just briefly, was this a much more accessible Barack Obama than we've seen in the past?

CROWLEY: Absolutely, yes. I mean, there wasn't a day when we didn't have access to him and/or press conferences. I think, and I'd have to look back, but from Jordan on, I think there was always access to him and the ability to ask questions. Let me just think really quickly.

Yes, I think every single day we had a news conference or an ability to ask a couple questions, as with Sarkozy. He did come back on the plane a couple of times. It is as accessible as I've ever seen him.

KURTZ: All right.

Let's get a break here.

When we come back, CBS interviews John McCain and engages in some creative editing. Did the network break a cardinal rule of journalism?


KURTZ: Hundreds of journalists may have followed Barack Obama across Europe and the Middle East, but three of them became preeminent symbols of the media excess surrounding the trip. Katie, Brian and Charlie flew halfway around the world to interview Obama, bringing their gravitas and their evening newscasts along with them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) COURIC: You raised a lot of eyebrows on this trip, saying even knowing what you know now, you still would not have supported the surge. People may be scratching their heads and saying, why?

GIBSON: If people have a reservation about you...

OBAMA: Right.

GIBSON: ... it is that you're young, that you're inexperienced, and that you're very new to the international stage.

WILLIAMS: Fifty-five to 35, you against Senator John McCain. American respondents are telling us they view you as the riskier choice for president.

Do you understand that? To what do you attribute that?

OBAMA: Well, I do understand it. I'm new to the scene.


KURTZ: Steve Roberts, how did the anchors do?

ROBERTS: Not bad. Those were all good questions. Katie Couric, in particular, I thought asked a very important question, which, by the way, Barack Obama has still not answered about why he refused to acknowledge that the surge is more successful than he predicted.

But as Candy was saying earlier, they don't really care about those interviews, the Barack team. What they cared about were the visuals which overwhelm any caveat, and that's what's -- on a gut level, that's what people are going to remember. And it's interesting, because Obama himself said it might not change minds now, but people will internalize it and remember it down the line, those visuals.

KURTZ: But Mark Halperin, you could argue that those sit-downs with the three anchors were among the most aggressive encounters that Obama had on this trip.

HALPERIN: They were good. They were well prepared and focused, and they asked hard questions.

I think Steve is right, as good as the questions were, we still need more follow-up, not just on the question of Senator Obama's view of the surge, but his -- I think the more important question of how wedded is he to at timetable for withdrawing American troops if conditions on the ground and the commanders suggest otherwise. We need to keep up on those substantive questions to keep the follow-up questions. But they were strong interviews, and that's the kind of access that we don't normally get.

If the price for that was to travel the anchors, I think it was worth it. And I think overall, as I've said, this trip was important. It gave the country a chance to see what Obama was like on the national, international stage. It gave him a chance to have these private meetings.

I think we gloss over that perhaps too lightly. It's important for him to start establishing those relationships in case he does win the election.

KURTZ: Right. Charlie Gibson, for example, a question whether Obama had made a rookie mistake in his comments on an undivided Jerusalem, which he later backed away from.

Now, Candy Crowley, I want to play for you a bit of an interview that CBS' Katie Couric did with Senator McCain. And the problem with this interview is that the answers that McCain gave were edited and taken out of order. And I want to play it and ask you about that practice.

Let's roll it.


COURIC: What's your response to that?

MCCAIN: Senator Obama has indicated by his failure to acknowledge the success of a surge that he would rather lose a war than lose a campaign.


KURTZ: That is not what McCain said right after Katie said, "What's your response to that?" And we see these pictures now of McCain with General Petraeus. That was used to cover an editing break, where then they substituted -- not substituted, but added another answer that McCain had given from elsewhere in the interview.

You've done a lot of these TV packages. Obviously, things have to be truncated for time. But can you take answers out of order like that?

CROWLEY: Well, you know, I'm more worried about out of context than out of order. But I think as a general rule, you shouldn't take things out of order in a package, like in a, you know, he said three things and here they are. I don't see a problem if he's answering a question on the economy, putting that first even if he answered the economy second after Iraq.

KURTZ: Sure.

CROWLEY: But I think out of context is a problem, and you run the risk out of context when you're out of order if it's the same subject.

KURTZ: Right.

Let me get to Steve.

What was left out was an explanation where McCain seemed to misstate the timing of the surge and how much credit the surge deserved.

ROBERTS: Well, I teach ethics at George Washington University. I would use this as a case study of what you should not do.

First of all, you know, the mainstream media still has something to contribute in American politics, and it's veracity, it's trustworthiness. And when you make a stupid mistake like this, you undermine the very credibility of the mainstream media.

KURTZ: CBS says that this was, in fact, a mistake made by a young producer under deadline pressure.

Now, just to show you how well things were going for Barack Obama this past week, look what happened when he visited some troops in Kuwait.


OBAMA: I may not make the first one, but I'll make one eventually.



KURTZ: Mark Halperin, nothing but net recorded by the pictures?

HALPERIN: Howie, I've got to say, a "TIME" magazine investigation shows his foot was on the line.

KURTZ: The next thing you say, it's not a three-pointer.

HALPERIN: That was just for two, and I think that undermines the message of the trip.

KURTZ: You nitpickers in the media, can't make you happy.

All right.

Mark Halperin, Candy Crowley in Chicago, Steve Roberts right here, thanks for joining us.

Up next, columnist Robert Novak's terrible week on the campaign beat and in the driver's seat.

A Philadelphia TV anchor gets busted for snooping on a troubled colleague.

And an Israeli newspaper invades Barack Obama's privacy.

We'll explain that all ahead in our "Media Minute."


KURTZ: Time now for the latest from the news business in our "Media Minute." We begin with the trials and tribulations of Robert Novak.


KURTZ (voice over): Novak set off a ridiculous round of media speculation by reporting that sources close to John McCain were suggesting he would pull a surprise by announcing his running mate this past week. But when the campaign knocked down that story, the Fox News commentator said he was used to generate a little publicity, that it may have been a scam.

That, he said, is reprehensible if true. Of course, no one forced him to publish the half--baked tip. And that was the least of Novak's problem.

On Wednesday, the 77-year-old columnist hit an elderly homeless pedestrian with his black Corvette convertible and started to drive away. A crew from the local ABC affiliate happened to be at the downtown Washington intersection.

ROBERT NOVAK, COLUMNIST: I didn't know I hit anybody.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And so you just kept driving?

NOVAK: Yes, and the bicycle rider stopped me and said I hit someone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you feel about this?

NOVAK: I feel terrible.


KURTZ: The bicyclist said the 86-year-old pedestrian was splayed across the windshield. It would have been impossible to miss. Fortunately, the man suffered only minor injuries.

A bad week for Bob Novak.

A Philadelphia TV anchor is in big-time trouble for allegedly trying to discredit a high-profile colleague.


KURTZ (voice over): The colleague is Alycia Lane, who lost her job at a Philly CBS affiliate after being arrested in a scuffle with an undercover cop. The charges were later dropped.

Lane also made headlines by sending bikini pictures of herself to an NFL network anchor whose wife intercepted the photos and wrote back, "Boy, do you look amazing."

Now Lane's former co-anchor at KYW, Larry Mendte, has been charged with hacking into Lane's computer as often as 12 times a day and leaking unflattering information to "The Philadelphia Daily News" and a local gossip site. The bikini shots were also found on Mendte's computer.

Lane, meanwhile, has sued her old station saying that Mendte was "obsessively jealous" of her for earning more than him, about $800,000 a year.


KURTZ: Lane's lawyer, Paul Rosen, castigated Mendte, telling "The Daily News," "She's destroyed and I want to restore her reputation."

And one low moment from Barack Obama's overseas trip. While he was in Jerusalem, the senator visited the Western Wall and he left a note with a short prayer he had written. That is traditionally a very private matter. But the Israeli newspaper "Ma'ariv" got hold of the note and published it on the front page.

Oy. That is pathetic. And rabbis have rightly denounced it.

Is this the paper's idea of good journalism?

Well, coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, the press starting to pick up on John McCain's misstatements on the trail. Is it fair to link these slipups to his age?

"The New York Times" rejects McCain's opinion piece on Iraq days after publishing one by Obama. How can that be fair?

And later, holy hype, Batman! How an actor's family scuffle was blown way out of proportion.


KURTZ: Let's face it, all candidates make mistakes out on the campaign trail. But when do these routine slip-ups rise to the level of a story?

John McCain has made a series of misstatements, such as referring to Czechoslovakia, a country that ceased to exist 15 years ago, or saying that Iraq shares a border with Pakistan, which it does not. Those gaffes are starting to draw some media attention, with some journalists questioning whether the slip-ups might be related to the fact that he's 71.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm afraid that it's a very hard struggle, particularly given the situation on the Iraq/Pakistan border.

I was in a conference in Germany over the weekend, and President Putin of Germany gave one of the old Cold War-style speeches.

It's pretty clear that Senator Obama was not going to change his wrong view that the success had not succeeded.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You hear the whispers of the people who say, "Could it be age?" How do you respond?


KURTZ: Joining us now to assess the media coverage of this suddenly global presidential campaign, in New York, Keli Goff, author and political analyst. And here in Washington, Jim Geraghty, contributing editor for "National Review."

Jim, is it fair for the media to jump on these gaffes? This story has been starting to bubble up.

JIM GERAGHTY, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Well, in the previous segment, they talked about how much more in front of the press John McCain is than Barack Obama. He does a lot more town hall meetings, he's always having press on the bus, he's also -- he's basically doing a live interview almost from morning, noon and night.

KURTZ: Exactly.

GERAGHTY: So, it's not surprising he'd make more mistakes.

We can all laugh when Barack Obama says that he's been to 57 states and all that stuff, but I don't really believe that he thinks that there are 57 states. If not, this is going to be one heck of an interesting administration if he's elected.

So it's one of those things where we can laugh at it, you know, it's somewhat amusing. I haven't seen any signs of senility out of McCain, and I don't think any senile, doddering old man would be able to keep up with his schedule.

KURTZ: And Keli Goff, I think that's the nub of it. I mean, even if McCain keeps slipping up, it's not like he doesn't know that Putin is the prime minister of Russia or that Czechoslovakia was divided in 1993.

So what is really the story here?

KELI GOFF, POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first and foremost, since my parents are watching, I want to go on the record and say that I do not under any circumstances consider the age of 71 to be old at all.

KURTZ: All right.

GOFF: And after getting that out of the way, I would say that, you know, I think that these things, these types of gaffes, only become a story when they play into a stereotype that the media and possibly voters already have.

The reason it was a story that Dan Quayle misspelled "potato" is because there was already the perception out there that perhaps his intellect may not be as strong as others. If Bill Clinton had misspelled it would have been funny that the Rhodes Scholar president misspelled the word "potato." It would have been a cute, lighthearted story. These issues have been out there for a while about whether or not McCain's mental astuteness has been affected at all by his age. And also by other factors we know in terms of his service and his temper and all of these things. It's only because they play into a sort of stereotype that's a bit under the surface there that they're becoming more and more of a story and picking up steam.

KURTZ: And even the eloquent Obama said on his trip this week that Israel is a great friend of Israel. Obviously he meant the U.S.

So -- but the media always seems to be on gaffe patrol, Jim. Ha, you said something wrong, you got it wrong.

GERAGHTY: Yes. And it's one of those things where if it points to some sort of great factual misunderstanding, like if McCain had said, "I'm going to put troops into Iraq to patrol the border with Pakistan," and he really was making that kind of quote, then we'd be worrying. But we all know he meant Afghanistan.

I mean, it's not like there's a -- if it points to some sort of policy bad proposal, or a serious mistake in that area, then it is worth paying attention to. But I have yet to see any of these pointing to something where you'd say, oh, my goodness, this guy wouldn't know what he's doing.

GOFF: Howard, you've also heard me refer to this as the "YouTube election," as I like to call it, and that's part of the issue here, is that, you know, before a gaffe patrol, it took a couple of days for a story to really percolate and get out there. Now it's available on YouTube for all the world to see, and everyone is terrified that it's going to become an advertisement that your opponent can use, string together and prove that you're inept.

KURTZ: Right. I've been out with McCain, campaigning during 16 and 18-hour days, and believe me, he is a vigorous 71-year-old candidate.

"New York Times" this week, Jim Geraghty, turning down -- or we found out that the paper had turned down on op-ed on Iraq by Senator McCain. This would be completely unremarkable, except for the fact that The Times days earlier had published an op-ed by Senator Obama on Iraq. And they sent it back and said, we'd love to publish this, but you need to kind of completely rewrite it, and it needs to mirror's Obama's op-ed, and it needs to talk about timetables, which of course McCain doesn't support.

GERAGHTY: There were two troubling things, though. One is that point about the timetables, which suggested that the rejection person hadn't paid any attention to anything McCain had said on Iraq in the past -- since he started running for president.

And the other thing is that the guy who made the decision was, I understand, a Clinton speechwriter.

(CROSSTALK) GERAGHTY: When you have a background as a partisan Democrat and you decide to run the Democratic candidate's op-ed and the Republican candidate you sort of reject, that's a bad sign. That's going to have people raising questions, and they've got good reason to raise those questions.

GOFF: Howard, can I play cynic for a moment and put my old former political operative hat on from the days when I used to work on a campaign?

KURTZ: Uh-huh.

GOFF: This is really good news for McCain. I think that this is one of the best things that could have happened, because it allows him to line up with the conservative base and reinforce this idea of a liberal media bias. It's resulted in a ton of free press for him, more so than the op-ed itself would have.

KURTZ: But the way he got that free press -- let me just jump in for a second -- is by leaking the e-mail exchange with The Times op-ed editor to Matt Drudge, who then drove the story on the Internet, right?

GOFF: Right. So, I mean, I think that this is not exactly a lose-lose for them, even though the public face of course is, how dare they?

KURTZ: "The New York Times" said in a statement about all of this that it's standard procedure on the op-ed page to go back and forth with an author on his submission. And that is true, except the question is, was there a different standard here? The Times also noting that it endorsed McCain in the Republican primaries and has published at least seven op-ed pieces by the senator.

GERAGHTY: Yes. An endorsement by "The New York Times" in a Republican primary isn't a help.


KURTZ: Are you suggesting it's deliberate?

GERAGHTY: You know, we're looking for the lead pipe in the -- for the clue analogy here or something.

KURTZ: But Keli -- so Keli, you're saying that McCain would rather have the issue -- in other words, he should be thrilled that The Times turned him down because if the paper had run the op-ed, nobody would have cared.

GOFF: Right. Well, we're sitting here talking about it. And any conservative at home sitting here watching the show is thinking, I always -- oh, "The New York Times," look at them. You know, yet again, another example here.

I think any help that he can get in rallying conservatives to his cause and showing that it's us versus them is a win for him. This is certainly a win.

On the other hand, I certainly feel for him, those of us who are writers. You know, it's never fun to get editorial...

KURTZ: Rejection.

GOFF: ... pressure (ph) you're not thrilled with. But...

KURTZ: And usually the phrase is, "We're going in a different direction."

GOFF: Right.

KURTZ: Now, Scott McClellan, the former Bush White House press secretary who lately hasn't been saying very nice things about the Bush White House, made some news Friday on MSNBC's "Hardball." Chris Matthews asked him whether when he was in the White House, whether Fox News was used as a tool for the administration's message.

Let's watch the exchange.


SCOTT MCCLELLAN, FMR. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Certainly there were commentators and others, pundits at Fox News, that were helpful to the White House. And certainly, yes, we got talking points to those people.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: Did you use -- did people say, call Sean, call Bill, call whoever? Did you do that as a regular thing?

MCCLELLAN: Certainly. It wasn't necessarily something I was doing, but it was something that we at the White House, yes, were doing and giving them talking points.


KURTZ: So, Jim Geraghty, has McClellan kind of ripped the lid off a seamy situation here, where the Bush White House was funneling its message, its talking points, to the likes of Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity?

GERAGHTY: I guess the question is, do you see a talking point as an instruction, as this is what you're supposed to say, or do you see it as, this is our argument, this is how we see the issue, this is our perspective, if you want to make that argument go ahead? I mean, it's not like, you know, Bush or McClellan or anyone else can push a button or pull a string and get Bill O'Reilly to say what he wants to say.

Bill O'Reilly, sooner or later, will make the issue about Bill O'Reilly. It's a given.

KURTZ: And that was part of my reaction, Keli Goff, which is that the phrase "talking points" makes it sound like you're robotically reading off a sheet of paper -- you know, one, two, three, four, five. I mean, reporters talk to the White House all the time. I talk to the White House. I talk to the Obama campaign. I talk to the McCain campaign. They give you their spin and you decide whether to use it.

So, was this a damaging revelation or not?

GOFF: Well, yes. I was a little unclear as to exactly what the news in this story was.

You know, I mean, "dog bites man" is supposed to be a news story. I didn't exactly see the "man bites dog" element here, because, I mean, everyone -- let's put it this way: there's a reason that Dick Cheney did his first interview after his hunting mishap with a specific network. And so I'm not exactly clear on why everyone is acting as though they are surprised that perhaps there might be a stronger relationship there. It just sort of struck me as a bit, maybe it was a slow news week.

KURTZ: I think the phrase "talking points" suggests to some people that you are taking marching orders. And McClellan went on to say in that "Hardball" interview that, "I think everybody in this town uses people that are going to be helpful to their cause to try to shape the narrative..."


KURTZ: Well, wait a second. Yes, of course.

So, I'm saying, you think that more liberal-leaning hosts don't get, if not talking points, at least off-the-regard guidance from people on the left side of the spectrum?

GOFF: Well, look, we all do. I mean, we couldn't do our jobs, those of us who cover anything, if we didn't have specific sources. And I think that the fact that they are -- that some camps might have certain sources who lean in one direction and some have them in another is not particularly that surprising. I think that the only thing that happens to be surprising here is very rarely do you get someone in such a senior spokesperson position who actually admits to some of the people they specifically talk to.


Is this a little embarrassing for Fox, or no?

GERAGHTY: Not really. I mean, if it was going to Brit Hume or one of the news reporters, and they were seen parroting the same arguments, that would be one thing. But look, I get talking points and stuff from campaigns all the time. Some days I'm saying, hmm, that's a good argument. Some days I'm like, I can't believe they bothered to send me this.

KURTZ: And, in fact, McClellan made the point twice of saying that he was not talking about the working reporters at Fox, he was talking about the commentators.

GOFF: Which is an big distinction.

KURTZ: Which is an important distinction. But still, I mean, I'm sure they will have a lot to say about this, probably tomorrow, about whether or not they swallow these talking points that the White House or anybody else might put out.

Got to go.

Keli Goff, Jim Geraghty, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

Still to come, Batman's brush with the law generates worldwide headlines. And CBS off the hook in that Janet Jackson Super Bowl incident.


KURTZ: Holy cow, this is embarrassing. Actor Christian Bale was riding pretty high when his new Batman movie had a record-breaking box office performance last weekend. And on the eve of the premiere, as you've probably heard if you haven't been living in a bat cave, he got into a fight with his mother and sister and was arrested on assault charges. Just look at these breathless headlines.

"The New York Post": "Bad Man: Holy Pow! Batman Star 'Beat Mom." "The Australian": Batman "beats up his mum." "The London Sun": "Batman Busted by Boys in Blue."

But it turns out that not that much may have happened.

Joining us now to talk about hype in the entertainment press, in New York, Adam Buckman, television columnist for "The New York Post." And in Los Angeles, Sharon Waxman, a former "New York Times" reporter who now runs the Web site

Sharon Waxman, it's not clear exactly what happened with Christian Bale, but at worst it was a little shoving incident, and yet he was convicted around the world.

SHARON WAXMAN, WAXWORD.NET: He was convicted by the headlines but not by any police. This is just more of the "summer we need something to talk about doldrums" in the celebrity press, but that gets picked up by the mainstream press. I was astonished to see the huge headlines all over the world. This is really much ado about nothing.

KURTZ: Adam Buckman, I'll concede that it's probably not real smart when your big movie is about to premiere to get into that kind of a fight with your family, but the headlines, like the one in your "New York Post," Bad Man" and "Batman Star Beat Mom."

Isn't that a little over the top?

ADAM BUCKMAN, "NEW YORK POST": Well, let's bear in mind that newspaper stories are the first draft of history, and sometimes those drafts get revised in the days to come. But, you know, it is true that some cops were called.

He's the star of the biggest movie of the summer, maybe the biggest movie of all time. It seemed to be a domestic dispute.

Now, most domestic disputes do not make headlines, but when you're the biggest movie star in the world, they do. And let's not forget that the temptation to use "bam" and "zowie" and "pow" headlines was a bit too much to resist for headline writers and comedians.

KURTZ: Well, I want to see...

WAXMAN: That's a good reason for making such a big deal out of it. OK.

KURTZ: I want to see what the second draft of history looks like in "The New York Post," Adam, if in fact he's acquitted or it turns out that...

WAXMAN: He's acquitted? There's no charges, Howie. There's nothing going on.


WAXMAN: They questioned him at the police station, then they let him go.

KURTZ: All right.

BUCKMAN: I'm sure we wrote that story, too.

KURTZ: I'm sure I could find it if I turned enough pages.

BUCKMAN: I'll send you a link.

KURTZ: Thank you.

Now, I want to return to the Janet Jackson Super Bowl incident of four years ago, back in the news this week because a federal appeals court panel -- there we see the picture, we're not going to show you the video for the 9,000th time -- but a federal appeals court panel this week striking down a fine by the FCC against CBS. This was a $550,000 fine. The court ruling that this wasn't so pervasive as to amount to shock treatment for the audience.

Now, just a brief taste of what a huge deal this was four years ago from our own show. Let's watch.


KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: All Americans were defamed internationally...

DAVE MARASH, ABC NEWS: ... when Justin Timberlake tore off part of Janet Jackson's costume and exposed her breast.

TED KOPPEL, ABC NEWS: I'm inclined to believe they planned it.


KURTZ: All right.

Sharon Waxman, I'm getting flashbacks for what a huge mega story this was.

Did CBS deserve to be let off the hook here?

WAXMAN: Yes -- no, I don't think CBS was let off the hook. I think that somebody ought to raise the question of what are the judgments being made by the FCC.

I mean, doesn't -- let's remember that not only did this make a huge hullabaloo in the media, this actually had a ripple effect on the kinds of things that were allowed to go on to TV. It contributed to Howard Stern eventually saying, I give up on all of this, and he went to Sirius. You know, standards and practices offices at the broadcast networks were having to look again at, what are the standards and what is the appropriate lines for broadcast television?

And so for this to be a footnote now, which it really was -- I'm very glad you're talking about it, because it barely made any -- got any attention this week, this court decision -- really means that we should take a look at how these decisions are made.

KURTZ: So, Adam, does this open the floodgates for more topless women on TV?

BUCKMAN: No, not at all. I mean, these kinds of fines have been overturned in the past. It doesn't necessarily open floodgates for women baring their breasts during the Super Bowl or anywhere else on TV. The real problem with the FCC rules has always been that they're very hard to define, they're very hard to enforce, and they're very hard to, upon scrutiny, uphold eventually in the courts. And this is a pretty common occurrence.

KURTZ: Adam, I mean, parents were legitimately upset with young kids watching this, but the real incident lasted two seconds, as opposed to the endless replays brought to you by all your television stations.

BUCKMAN: Well, actually, it was more like half a second. And I think the issue always was -- and frankly, I've never seen this definitively stated or proved or reported -- did they intend to do this as something that would shock audiences and help sell records and tickets to Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson concerts?

You know, it's certainly possible that they did. I do not think -- I do not -- I would not doubt that about people in that position. But nobody knows that, and so what it really looks like is something that was accidental and something that was beyond the control of the network.

KURTZ: But even if it was planned... WAXMAN: I don't believe for a second that it was accidental. And I do believe that it was shocking. But at the same time, you look at the television landscape, there is worse stuff, as bad, and worst stuff at all times all over television. So it just seemed so arbitrary, why we would pick -- or why the FCC would pick this one thing to come down like a ton of bricks. That's what bothered me about it.

BUCKMAN: And definitely in this environment with all this media that Sharon cites, it's even harder and harder for the FCC to enforce anything, and certainly for courts to uphold anything...


KURTZ: Right. Well, I don't think there's any (INAUDIBLE) that CBS knew about it in advance. And I, just looking back at it, boy, I mean, television was really guilty of inflicting this on the American public over and over and over again.

I want to touch on some news that NBC made this week. We've all known that Jay Leno was supposed to leave "The Tonight Show" next year. Now there's a date, May 29th, making way for Conan O'Brien.

He could well jump to another network, say, ABC, Sharon Waxman. Do you think ABC would be interested in getting Leno, and then, in that 11:30 timeslot, just throwing "Nightline" overboard

WAXMAN: Yes. Yes, that's exactly, I think, what looks like is very likely to happen.

ABC has been courting Jay Leno. And I think it's a very funny thing that NBC is sort of booting Jay Leno out. It's not like he's doing poorly in the ratings. He continues to beat David Letterman in the ratings, as he has for years, so you have this kind of strange situation of him being shown the door from a network that he has been at for close to 20 years.

But, yes, I think that is what is going to happen. ABC has made very clear that they are very interested in having Jay Leno. Jimmy Kimmel is willing to accommodate that. And I think that we may well see "Nightline," now with the absence of Ted Koppel, of course, being booted.

KURTZ: And the irony, Adam Buckman, is that ABC wanted to dump "Nightline" six years ago and try to steal Letterman. That didn't happen, but "Nightline" has since reinvented itself in the post-Koppel era, and sometimes beats Letterman in the ratings, including the last two weeks.

BUCKMAN: "Nightline" has actually, in my view, has turned into a very sprightly, energetic and lively news show. In fact, in my opinion, better than it was in the waning years of Ted Koppel. But that won't be enough to save it. And I think even six years ago, ABC was interested in seeing where they could take their late night time period into a new era. After all, now, "Nightline" has been on television for 29 years. It has a certain amount of value. But they have a very, very great opportunity, as I write about tomorrow in "The New York Post." Read my column.

KURTZ: All right. Free plug there.

BUCKMAN: To hire Jay Leno.

KURTZ: I like Leno, Letterman, I like Conan. But do we need to have only comedy on at 11:30? We'll have to see.

Sharon Waxman, Adam Buckman, thanks for joining us.

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

After the break, which television host has been most obsessed with Barack Obama? We'll point the finger.


KURTZ: I've complained on this program time and again that the media are lavishing an extraordinary amount of coverage on Barack Obama, while giving short shrift to John McCain. They are all swept away by Obamania. And this morning, we're going to call out one of the prime offenders.


KURTZ: Is this trip going to be covered as if President Obama were visiting world capitals?

(voice over): It's called RELIABLE SOURCES, and every week it seems to turn a critical lens on Obama's coverage.

(on camera): It's no laughing matter then that Barack Obama is being accused of being just so darn eloquent and inspiring that he's hard to make fun of.

(voice over): From television to magazines, it's all about who loves Obama more.

(on camera): Now, this is the second time you've had Barack Obama on the cover of "Rolling Stone."

(voice over): And when the show gets tired of talking about the Illinois senator, well, anyone with the last name "Obama" will do.

(on camera): The media chatter was about Michelle Obama appearing with Barbara Walters and company on "The View."

(voice over): Off limits? Nothing about Obama is off limits for this CNN program.

(on camera): Barack Obama seems to live a charmed media life. He literally broke into the evening newscast the other day by staging a John Edwards endorsement.

Barack Obama spent weeks blaming the media for pumping up the Jeremiah Wright controversy and playing snippets of sermons out of context.

(voice over): And what about what's his name, John McCain?

(on camera): At what point does the sheer volume of coverage become unfair to McCain?


KURTZ: I've actually wrestled with this over the month. Barack Obama gets endless cover, and we cover and critique and criticize what's out there in the media. When the cable debates and the news magazine covers aren't about John McCain, that makes it harder to talk about McCain. But it's crucial that the media give the same amount of oxygen to both sides and not hyperventilate over one nominee, however fascinating journalists insist he is.

The problem with this media fixation and the coverage of the coverage is that eventually you begin to take on the candidate's own mannerisms.

See what I mean?

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

I'm Howard Kurtz.

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