Return to Transcripts main page

Reliable Sources

Palin Mounts Media Blitz; Hillary for Secretary of State?

Aired November 16, 2008 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): Extreme makeovers. Sarah Palin mounts a doggone media blitz trying to repair her tattered image. Did Matt, Wolf, Greta and Larry pin her down? And did that home cooking help neutralize help unnamed Republican sources, the ones she calls jerks, who have been sliming her?

Madame Secretary? Should journalists have floated that trial balloon that Hillary is being considered to run the State Department?

Obamamania. From the covers to the hip-hop music to Michelle as a fashion icon, are the media getting swept away by the new first family?

Plus, bait and switch. With the market tanking and General Motors on the brink, are journalists holding administration officials accountable for completely and totally changing the bailout program they sold to us as the only way out of the crisis?


KURTZ: For a woman who kept her distance from the dreaded mainstream media during her brief, controversial culture war of a vice presidential campaign, it was hard to miss Sarah Palin this week. As she hopscotched from NBC to CNN to FOX to an actual mini news conference, the Alaska governor had plenty to say.

She was a politician with a mission to restore her tarnished image. And who can blame her for wanting to fire back against those unnamed McCain aides, those so-called "jerks" who have been using journalists to trash her in the press?


MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: ... anonymous leak that some top McCain advisors were -- and this is from "Newsweek" -- "flabbergasted" by the amount of money you spent on clothing and accessories for yourself and your family.

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), ALASKA: Well, I'm flabbergasted that anybody would say that I spent any money on clothes for me or my family.


KURTZ: Some journalists seemed sympathetic to Palin's plight over reports that she thought Africa was a country, not a continent.


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: I talked to someone who was in the room with you whose name I can't reveal, who was there for all your preparation. Talked to that person, grilled that person, cross- examined that person, said that Africa thing never happened. Never happened. And I grilled the person.



KURTZ: And when Larry King passed on Katie Couric's counsel that Palin should keep her head down and study the issues...


PALIN: Thank you, Katie Couric, for your advice. I would have greater respect, though, for the entire profession called mainstream media if we could have great assurance that there is fairness, that there's objectivity throughout the reporting world.


KURTZ: Thank you, Governor, for that advice.

Joining us now to talk about the Palin media blitz and the latest media leaks about Hillary Clinton, in New York, Beth Fouhy, political reporter for The Associated Press. And here in Washington, David Zurawik, television critic for "The Baltimore Sun" whose blog is called "Z on TV," and Julie Mason, White House correspondent for "The Washington Examiner."

Beth Fouhy, Palin kept saying during this media blitz that she would have loved to do more interviews during the campaign. Now, you traveled with her during the election. How accessible was she?

BETH FOUHY, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: She wasn't accessible at all, Howie. She came back on the plane once when I was traveling with her, and it was very, very tentative.

She kind of wanted to shake our hands, say hello, wave to us. We made some small talk with her, and then we kind of started to engage her a little bit more on issues. And she kind of make a beeline out of there.

I actually do think she wanted to engage more, but she was under strict instructions not to speak to us, and so they kept her away and she did what she was told. And you can tell in those interviews that she has now done subsequently that she loves to talk to reporters. The question is whether she made a better impression this time around than she did early on. And I would sort of argue that she didn't.

KURTZ: Right. Well, she clearly was muzzled during the campaign. Julie Mason, what's your reaction to this former sports anchor saying she wants to bring greater fairness and objectivity to the media?

JULIE MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Well, but she undermines her own argument when she cites these stories supposedly written by the mainstream media about, for example, was Trig really her kid? But were never actually written by the mainstream media.

And then she complains that it took them days to correct it. So she really undermines her own argument. I don't think she helped herself at all this past week. I think she actually probably made it worse.

KURTZ: David Zurawik, let me play for you part of Governor Palin's interview with Matt Lauer on "The Today Show." This one having to do with the infamous interview that Palin had conducted with Lauer's former "Today Show" colleague, Katie Couric.


LAUER: But you didn't think the interview was unfair? I mean, the questions were fairly straightforward, weren't they?

PALIN: Well, sure. Yes. But you know, questions about, you know, what do you read up there in Alaska? To me that was a little bit annoying, because I'm like, what do you mean what do I read in Alaska? I read the same thing that you guys read in New York and there in L.A. and Washington State.


KURTZ: What did you make of that question and that answer?

DAVID ZURAWIK, TV CRITIC, "THE BALTIMORE SUN": Well, right there, Lauer should have said to her, Katie Couric didn't say, "What do you read up there?" She just asked her what newspapers and magazines she read.

Palin takes it and twists it into this thing as if Couric was mocking people who live in Alaska and he lets her run with it. I thought that was outrageous. That was exactly what upset me about Lauer's interview.

But it also shows you how in a way, deviously clever Palin is in trying to repair her image and how carefully she was trying to go point by point. Every mistake she made with Charles Gibson -- I'm surprised she didn't bring up the Bush doctrine in these interviews.

KURTZ: Maybe she didn't want to go there.

KURTZ: Beth Fouhy, she did hold this news conference in Miami, which lasted about four questions and then was suddenly cut off. So my question is, did we learn much from all of these interviews about Sarah Palin's positions and her outlook, or for the future, or was she just really given a platform to repeat her scripted sound bites?

FOUHY: Well, I think what we learned is that she is extremely ambitious. I guess we already knew that, but she's as ambitious as ever despite the brutal campaign that she herself described that she went through. But she's also pretty unprepared.

I was really surprised by the interviews that she did, because she didn't really come with an agenda other than to just put herself out there and say, hey, I'm still around and I like talking to you guys. She didn't clearly articulate what she plans to do next, she didn't focus on issues that she wants to stress as governor. And she also was given a pass on a bunch of things which I thought was very surprising about why she didn't appeal to women more.

I mean, the fact is polling showed that she was a real drag on the ticket. And she was never really confronted with that issue. Like, how could she really rehabilitate herself to go forward as a national figure given how badly overall she did as a candidate?

KURTZ: When Wolf Blitzer asked her to name a couple of initiatives that she thought Republicans should push in the next couple years, she said, "It's all about free enterprise and respecting equality," although she wasn't very specific.

FOUHY: Right. And she didn't even know how to answer Wolf's question about whether or not the government ought to bail out the auto industry. She didn't have an answer for that, and that was the basic news of the day. She's not a prepared politician, and that's, I think, what we really learned from these interviews.

ZURAWIK: Howie, that's right. You know, we really should separate Wolf Blitzer's interview from Lauer's and Greta Van Susteren's. He did a very good job.

And the point Beth made, when initially Palin started talking about the bailout as saying, well, you need to emphasize personal responsibility, she was sort of doing these old sound bites. And he said, well, wait a minute, you were for the bailout of Wall Street. She said, well, then you have to kind of -- and then he said, "Well, what about the auto industry?" And she totally lost it. She went into that thing where she talks in phrases and she doesn't really answer questions.

KURTZ: She went into Tina Fey mode?


ZURAWIK: Yes, that's right.

FOUHY: She did.

ZURAWIK: She did, absolutely. And really, Wolf did a great job with her.

And when she kept saying how much she wanted to talk to people during the campaign, just as Beth said, Wolf said, hey, at CNN we were asking every day for an interview and we weren't getting one. So he didn't let her get away with it the way Lauer and Van Susteren did.

KURTZ: Well, she did have a very specific issue. Everyone asked her, of course, "Are you going to run for president in 2012?" And she said God will help her find the open door, if indeed there is an open door.

Julie Mason, you mentioned earlier the question that had come up about her baby.

MASON: Right.

KURTZ: And let's play that for the audience. This is, again, from the Matt Lauer interview from NBC. And we'll talk about it on the other side.


LAUER: What was the biggest misconception that you would have loved to have corrected at the time?

PALIN: It started off with the rumors, the speculation, even in mainstream media, that Trig wasn't actually my child. That Trig was somebody else's child and I faked a pregnancy. That was absolutely ridiculous, and it took days for that false allegation to ever be corrected.


KURTZ: She says the mainstream media published rumors and speculation that it wasn't her baby.

MASON: Who? Who? And he didn't pin her down on that.

You know, no one has pinned her down on that. Who reported that? Nobody reported that. Sure, that was a rumor, a joke going around, but no one reported it.

KURTZ: Well, I'll tell you exactly what happened, because I was there. It was on the first day of the Republican convention. The McCain campaign put out a press release saying that her teenage daughter Bristol was pregnant, and McCain officials told reporters the reason they were putting out this news -- nobody had asked them about the teenager -- was because there had been some inquiries and rumors on the Internet about whether Trig was in fact her baby. But nobody -- no newspaper, no network, no magazine had done that before.

MASON: Right.

KURTZ: So...

MASON: Yes. Yes. It's crazy making.

KURTZ: But, you know, isn't that typical, that a politician would try to paint herself or himself as a victim?

MASON: As a victim, right. And create a straw man and, of course, run against the media and blame the media. And at one point she was saying, well, Hispanic voters didn't support us and the media was against us. And, you know, all these reasons why it didn't work with her and McCain, when really, you know, a lot of it comes down to her.

KURTZ: Beth Fouhy, there certainly are a lot of people out there though who think that we collectively have been unfair to Sarah Palin and we have been sexist. And look, there has been some bad reporting and there has been some unfair questions raised. But she obviously kind of conflates it into one big mess in terms of skewing the coverage.

FOUHY: Right, and that's the unfair part. There was a lot of really great coverage of Sarah Palin.

Look, she was running to be vice president. She was completely unknown until the very end of August. There was a lot of scrutiny, clearly a lot of vetting that the McCain campaign didn't do, that legitimate reporters went and undertook themselves.

The Associated Press, where I work, sent a bunch of investigative reporters to Alaska to look into her record, which is completely legitimate. So to conflate that with some of the bad reporting and some of the, you know, unfair stuff that she was -- you know, as Julie mentioned, was blaming on the mainstream media that we didn't even do, is completely ridiculous.

ZURAWIK: And Howie, there was great interviewing. Those first two interviews by Gibson and Couric, they had created, and image- makers did a great job, this frontiers woman, this folksiness, that's all that America knew about her.

These two anchor people went in there, did their job prepared. And we knew so much more about her after those two interviews. That's the job of the press. They really came through for us.

KURTZ: Here's an interesting footnote. Rick Davis, who was the McCain campaign manager, telling "National Review" that one of the reasons the campaign picked Katie Couric was they thought she would do a somewhat softer or easier interview because she was a woman. Well, how did that work out for them?

John McCain surfaced for the first time after his election loss on "Jay Leno." Let's take a look at Senator McCain addressing this question of people who are anonymously trashing his former running mate.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think I have at least 1,000 "top advisers." You know, "A top adviser said..." People I never even heard of, much less a "top adviser," or a high-ranking Republican official.


KURTZ: Is that smart to do a comedy show as the first interview out of the box?

ZURAWIK: You know, I think it's really fascinating that he's on "The Tonight Show," on that Tuesday night Veterans Day, and it's genial John again. I think this is him being welcomed back into Washington, in a way. And I think driving Palin a little bit is understanding that she's not being welcomed in and that she's the one who's going to get the blame. I called her thing the "Don't Blame Me TV Tour." I mean, that's really what she was doing.

KURTZ: Well, here's my two cents.

I don't blame Sarah Palin for one second for wanting to go on TV because, clearly, she had been muzzled during the campaign, and hit back against these "anonymous jerks," as she calls them, and some of the media were jerks to just repeat a lot of this stuff without having anybody put their name on the record. And I talked a lot about this "whack job" comment, "whack job" that just went through the media echo chamber.

I called up Mike Allen with Politico and said, "Why did you allow somebody to say that without his name attached?" And he said, "It was illuminating, because it came from an extremely senior McCain person," not some lower level person, as the senator charged or suggested. But, you know, that extremely senior person was using the media, just like other people to take a shot at the candidate who McCain had picked without having the guts to go on the record.

I also think we shouldn't let Sarah Palin, as we've discussed right here, get away with misstatements and exaggerations and not answering the questions.

Now, that's my two cents.

If you want to give your two cents, you can e-mail us. Have the media been unfair to Sarah Palin? Our address is

We turn now to Thursday night. Suddenly a big story on cable TV was, again, based on anonymous sources, what might be in the future of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton? Let's watch.


KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: Our own Andrea Mitchell quoting two Obama advisers with what would be the hands-down biggest leak of the transition or the campaign.

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN: Senator Hillary Clinton under consideration for secretary of state in the Obama administration? Would she want that job? Will she take the job?


KURTZ: Beth Fouhy, any question you would go with that story based on unnamed sources?

FOUHY: Oh, no question at all. And there was also evidence that she was there.

As you probably know, there was a motorcade that left his transition office, Senator Obama's transition office, a few minutes before his motorcade left. There aren't that many people in the country who have Secret Service motorcades. So journalists who were sitting outside his transition office watching this very quickly came to the conclusion that somebody was in there talking to him about a job, and it turned out to be Hillary Clinton.

That we learned from other people. But there was evidence to support it.

KURTZ: Right.

But before -- just briefly, Julie Mason, before we knew that, sources told journalists that Hillary Clinton was in Chicago on personal business. Well, it turns out that she met with Obama and they did discuss either this job or possible jobs. So isn't that -- the technical term, I guess, would be lying?


MASON: Well, she did give a speech.


MASON: That wasn't personal.

KURTZ: Right.

MASON: She might have had some other personal business we're not aware of.

KURTZ: So it's a non-denial denial.

MASON: It's a non-denial denial. I hope we're right about the story. I don't know how we dial back if it's wrong.

KURTZ: Well, if it turns out that she doesn't get the secretary of state job, then I think many of us will look silly, although clearly it's been discussed. And if she does get it, it's probably all we'll be talking about next week.


Julie Mason, David Zurawik, Beth Fouhy, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

When we come back, Anchorage anchorman. Our man up north tells us how Sarah Palin is playing with the home state press.


KURTZ: We wanted to send a RELIABLE SOURCES correspondent to Alaska to check out Sarah Palin's media coverage, but, well, then we checked the airfare, and there were budgetary issues. So we decided to call upon Matthew Felling, one-time media critic who is now an anchor at KTVA. He joins us this morning from Anchorage.

Matthew Felling, is there a feeling in the Alaska media that the governor comes home after the campaign, and then she's on NBC and CNN and FOX, and down to Miami for a Republican gathering, that she's maybe too much of a big shot for the folks back home?

MATTHEW FELLING, ANCHOR, KTVA: No, but I do think that the people of Anchorage and the people of Alaska are looking forward to having the governor back home, because I've been here -- I landed -- I just landed September 8th, and I think the amount of days that she's been on terra firma here in Anchorage has been, you know, two or three. And this is a big state to run, and we've got some serious issues up here. And I think that we're looking forward to seeing her back here.

We're not quite sure what she's been doing with this media blitz. We can understand because she had the muzzle on for so long. But at the same time, a lot of us are curious how we're going to reconcile the Sarah Palin of old who was a friend of the media, who was more -- you know, a "Straight Talk Express" in the old McCain model, how she's going to balance that against the more attack dog, the more vociferous person that she was on the campaign trail.

We're at an inflection point. And everybody's curious to see act two.

KURTZ: Yes. It's interesting, because before the rest of us found out about Governor Palin, she had an 80 percent approval rating in Alaska. She clearly got roughed up in this campaign. Sixty percent of Americans in polls say they found her unqualified to be vice president.

So has this changed the way she has portrayed in the state of Alaska?

FELLING: I think that because she was so open with the media up here, it was a lot like McCain in 2000, as I said, where the media was forgiving of some things. And there was a lot of good coverage, and I'm sure the media's role in that 80 percent approval rating cannot be understated -- or overstated.

But I think that when it comes to bringing her back up here, and what she's going to do from this point forward, we can -- I think for the most part, the state of Alaska is crazy about her still. They want to see her succeed. They're just not sure who this Sarah Palin is that was the national figure, and what's going to happen when she comes to Juneau, because she's a lot like the old George Bush from Austin, Texas, ,where she did reach across the aisle. And she was a bold, fresh of breath air up here in more of an old boys' network sort of political structure. And we're curious, who is the Sarah that's coming back in November and December?

KURTZ: Let me ask you about the Alaskan media culture. You have in recent weeks all these unnamed McCain officials and advisers dumping on Governor Palin. And we keep hearing that Alaska journalists don't use anonymous sources. So is the feeling from the vantage point where you are that the national media are being irresponsible by quoting all these unnamed people, or are the Alaskan media feeling a bit sheepish about being scooped on this story?

FELLING: Well, there is something to the scooping, but at the same time, when we are talking about that "whack job" quote, or the "rogue" quote from a couple days before that, I think the Alaskan media is not allergic to anonymous sources, but I think that they do have a sense of accountability, especially when it is taking a shot at Governor Palin.

And I think there is also this streak, if I can say, in Alaska of defiance and independence towards the lower 48 and towards Washington, D.C., in particular. And that's what we saw bear out in how close the Ted Stevens Alaska election has been. We still don't have a winner despite the fact that the guy was found guilty on seven counts down in a D.C. courthouse.

KURTZ: And you gave me the perfect segue to ask about Senator Stevens. He is, I guess, trailing by about 800 votes in the latest recount against the mayor of Anchorage.

Are the Alaskan mayors (ph) generally sympathetic to this guy who's been around forever and is such a well-known figure in Alaska, or more amazed that he wasn't defeated despite his conviction?

FELLING: Well, we have with Senator Stevens a guy who's been up on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C., for about 80 percent of the time that Alaska has been a state. Alaska is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and here we have Ted Stevens who is an icon.

And I think that there's a deep, deep sense of loyalty to him because of the earmarks, because of all the things that he has done for Alaska. At the same time, Alaska is changing, as the rest of Alaska is changing.

And before Governor Palin was announced on the ticket with John McCain, this was a solidly purple state. And a lot of people would like to just toss it away in the red cubbyhole, you know, with the...



FELLING: But this is a more nuanced state than you'd give it credit for.

KURTZ: All right. Well, Matthew Felling, we appreciate you getting up early in Anchorage to give us that perspective. Thanks for joining us.

FELLING: You're welcome.

KURTZ: And coming up on the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, cult of personality. Is the Obamas' celebrity status -- they're just about everywhere these days -- fueling the change in how all African- American families are seen?

Plus, bailout fallout. Are journalists asking the tough questions about how that massive $700 billion bailout is being spent?


KURTZ: We'll talk about Obamamania in a few moments.

But first, the financial crisis hit Washington like an earthquake, altering the landscape and prompting the Bush administration to push that $700 billion bailout plan to buy up toxic mortgage loans from the nation's banks. The media warned of dire consequences if the measure failed, and Congress reluctantly went along.

This week, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said never mind. He's got other plans for all that money.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: It's already being called the $700 billion switcheroo.

CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS: Today, the treasury secretary said they're not going to use the money to buy up bad mortgages. None of it.

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: The original piece of the bailout plan is now gone? Poof?



KURTZ: To talk about the coverage of this financial mess and whether the right questions are being asked, I spoke earlier with two of the nation's top business columnists.


KURTZ: Joining us now here in Washington, Steven Pearlstein of "The Washington Post. And in New York, Joe Nocera of "The New York Times" and author of the book "Good Guys and Bad Guys: Behind the Scenes With the Saints and Scoundrels of American Business."

Joe Nocera, before we get to the latest flip-flop, you recently found out what the CEO of JPMorgan Chase actually plans to do with his $25 billion in federal bailout money that was supposed to be for loans.

How did you do that?

JOE NOCERA, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, Howie, somebody gave me an 800 number for a -- without -- it didn't have a password or anything to call into an internal conference call, and I heard an executive basically say point blank, we're going to use the money for acquisitions. And also said that, you know, loan standards are being tightened up and we continue to expect to make fewer loans. I mean, it's pretty simple. I mean, it's basic reporting.

KURTZ: All right. Well, so much for the official story that this is going to be used to actually make loans to people and businesses.

Steve Pearlstein, I want to play a snippet from Hank Paulson's news conference this past week when he was asked about these changes to the so-called TARP program.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're using TARP now completely differently than you told Congress you're going to use it. Did you mislead Congress? What's happened?

HENRY PAULSON, TREASURY SECRETARY: As the situation worsened, the facts changed. I will never apologize for changing an approach or strategy when the facts change.


KURTZ: Steve, you recently wrote, and I'm quoting here, "I told you so." Wasn't there a prevailing drumbeat that this package had to pass?

STEVEN PEARLSTEIN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It was. I was, I guess, part of that drumbeat. It did have to pass.

You know, the Congress and the government had to do something to get liquidity moving in the financial system. There's no playbook for how to do this in a situation like this. People are making it up as they go along.

And so we really shouldn't be surprised that they tried something, it doesn't work. They try something else, maybe it works. They're throwing a lot of darts at the wall.

KURTZ: But Joe Nocera, I'm wondering whether the press kind of got stampeded here, because Paulson sold this and the administration sold this as $700 billion to help -- not to help banks buy banks, not to help banks pay dividends, but to make loans. And if they had said what it was really going to end up being used for, I doubt it would have passed.

NOCERA: Well, I mean, first of all, it almost didn't pass anyway. And the people who were being stampeded wasn't the press so much as it was the Congress.

I mean, that was the constituency Paulson was trying to reach. I mean, the fact is Paulson now says that even before the bill passed the House, he had already gathered his aides and said well, fellows, I don't think we should do the TARP plan right away, I think we should recapitalize the banks. KURTZ: But Steve, if Paulson knew that there was at least a strong possibility that he was going to change the nature of this aid, then it sound like he was not straight with the media, with the public. Where is the journalistic outrage here?

PEARLSTEIN: I think you're wrong about that, Howie. And I know that Joe was outraged in his column.

If you read the first three-page document that he outlined with the legislation that he wanted, and if you followed this all along, the bill always allowed him specifically to make capital injections in banks that were in trouble. That was always there.

KURTZ: Let me go back to Joe Nocera.

I know we're all sort of waiting for the Obama administration and counting the days, but it seems to me that, as these changes are made, I mean, I just question whether journalists are really holding Paulson and company accountable.

NOCERA: Well, I don't know. We have got -- at "The New York Times," we've got Paulson on record as saying, you know, he didn't tell Congress about the notion of recapitalization because "I didn't know how to sell that." So, I mean -- and there's a widespread perception now that he is sort of stumbling from plan to plan, not quite sure how to do this.

I mean, Steve is right, but he's putting the sort of -- putting it in the most positive light. Yes, you try one thing, and if it doesn't work you try something else.

To be honest, I'm more pessimistic about it. I feel like Paulson really hasn't had a good idea of how to come at this, that the problem with the original TARP plan was it was almost impossible to administer, and they didn't know that until they passed it. Then the recapitalization they did, in large part because that's what the rest of the world was doing, and now they're still back to kind of throwing spaghetti against the wall.

So I'm kind of saying the same thing that Steve is saying...

KURTZ: All right.

NOCERA: ... but in a more negative way.

KURTZ: And it's pretty expensive spaghetti, let's face it.

Let me switch to the auto industry.

General Motors on the brink of bankruptcy right now. The Democrats and Obama want some kind of bailout. Now, there's been some skeptical pieces about this in "TIME" and "The New York Times," but I think the working assumption in the media seems to be that bankruptcy would be terrible for GM and a bailout would be a good thing. Should that be the assumption? PEARLSTEIN: Well, I wrote a column two weeks ago in which I said that a prepackaged bankruptcy was the way to go. Prepackaged means you deal with most of the hard issues up front so you just run it quickly through the bankruptcy process. But the reason you want to run it through bankruptcy is only the bankruptcy court can order there to be a change in the labor contract, only the bankruptcy court can wipe out obligations to pensioners, only the bankruptcy court can override state laws that prevent taking away dealerships from local dealers.

KURTZ: If that's true, Joe Nocera, and you may not agree, I mean, why is the sort of sense when I read the headlines and listen to news reports that, you know, people are waiting for the feds to ride the rescue, as if they can just wave a wand and somehow the company will be competitive again?

NOCERA: Howie, I think you've been a media critic too long. I don't know what headlines you're reading.

Mickey Mater (ph) in The Times this week says, you know, maybe they should go bankrupt. David Brooks in the op-ed page saying maybe bankruptcy is the right thing.

I mean, I think there's actually been -- what's happened is, after the initial Democratic push and the president-elect saying we're not going to let the auto industry die, I think there was, like, a two-day lag, and then people started to think, hey, wait a minute, is that really the right thing to do? And I actually think there's a groundswell now that says bankruptcy might be the best thing.

Now, maybe I'm not reading the same papers you're reading, Howie. I don't know.

KURTZ: Well, I watch a lot of TV also, Joe.

A half a minute here, Steve.


KURTZ: I mean, is there a serious debate now about whether the federal government should pick particular companies, a particular company that has made cars for 20 years and people don't seem to want to buy, and, in effect, pick winners and losers in this economy?

PEARLSTEIN: Nobody likes that. There's only one reason to do this. This is not the time to let three big companies like that, which have concentrated in certain areas of the country, all go down at the same time.

KURTZ: You think we're having an intelligent debate about this now? Joe said there was a lag.

PEARLSTEIN: Absolutely. This is about as intelligent an economic debate we've had in this country, actually.

KURTZ: All right. Well, then let's continue it. Steve Pearlstein, Joe Nocera, thanks very much for joining us.


KURTZ: After the break, Barack, Michelle, Sasha, Malia, the dog. What are we to make of this explosion of cultural coverage over all things Obama?

And as we go to break, Helen Thomas made her return after an absence of several months to the White House press room. Barack Obama will be the eighth president that she has covered.


KURTZ: It's no secret that Barack Obama the politician is getting one heck of a media ride right now. But there's something deeper going on, a cultural swoon over Michelle, the girls, the new first family, which, of course, will be the first African-American family to live in the White House.


A.J. HAMMER, HEADLINE NEWS: Forget the formal and stogy image of the first family that we're used to seeing. This first family bumps fists, sports BlackBerrys, graces the cover of fashion magazines, and even listens to hip-hop.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN: Imagine you're Michelle Obama, about to decorate the White House. Your personal style, one for the history books. Talk about pressure.

JAMIE GANGEL, NBC NEWS: She is most often compared to a first lady best known for couture.

ALBERT LEE, "US WEEKLY": The Obamas are like the new Brangelina.


KURTZ: So what should we make of this sometimes gushing coverage, and could it change the way African-Americans are perceived in this country?

Joining us now in New York, Lola Ogunnaike, entertainment correspondent for CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING." And here in Washington, Tara Wall, deputy editorial page editor for "The Washington Times" and a CNN contributor.

Lola Ogunnaike, what do you make of this absolute media swoon over Michelle, the family, the dog, and all things Obama?

LOLA OGUNNAIKE, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're pop culture icons. America cannot get enough of them.

They're moving magazine sales. They're actually being featured in rap songs. You know, a number of rappers want to be the Barack Obama of the hood. They're like, "I inspire people like Obama." Michelle is driving fashion. The outfit that she wore on Jay Leno sold out. J. Crew has featured her on their Web site.

I mean, they have managed to sort of engulf pop culture at large, and people aren't even thinking about Brad and Angelina anymore. It's all about Barack and Michelle.

KURTZ: Well, I feel terrible that Brad and Angelina would be slighted. But you say that -- I mean, in other words, are the media sort of feeding this a appetite for knowledge about this family and what they're like and what they do, or, really, are we really giving people no choice because that's all that you see on the magazine covers?

OGUNNAIKE: No, people want to know where they shop, what they eat, who they're listening to, what they're doing in their off time. They want to know where the girls are going to go to school. They want to know what dog they're going to have in the White House.

This has -- they have become a national obsession. And I think the media recognizes that these two -- this family helps move and helps them make a lot of money, and it's in their best interest to keep feeding them as much of the Obama family as they can.

KURTZ: Tara Wall, do you see any of this as being slightly excessive?

TARA WALL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, no. You know, it's quite understandable.

And quite frankly, listen, there are, what, almost 70 percent of young people 18 to 29 that voted for Barack Obama. I mean, they are really appealing to, in a sense, this new generation, my generation where we had icons like the Huxtables. Remember the Huxtables, the Huxtable family, "The Cosby Show?"

This is a different kind of Cosby. And actually, I think it puts the spotlight on them in a way that gives them an opportunity to show some responsibility as far as being a solid family, not just a solid black family. But I think it sends a message even to the black community, where you have an illegitimate rate about 70 percent among -- you know, within the black community. And you see this solid black family.

He's spoken out about fatherhood initiatives. And I think him delivering that message and them showing this positive family ideal family is a good thing in that regard. And I think if the media focuses on some of those more core issues as it relates to that, that's what's going to propel us forward.

KURTZ: Well, let's put up some pictures of the Huxtables, the famous Bill Cosby television series. And I guess my question is, will the perceptions of the typical African-American family change because we will get to know in a way, a very personal way, this new first family, or will Barack Obama come to be seen like Tiger Woods, which is, you know, after a while you don't even think about race, and therefore it won't really affect the sometimes stereotypical images of blacks in the media?

WALL: Well, I think, first of all, people have to remember, there are a lot of black families that do look like this in America today. I mean, we have evolved. We are not monolithic.

KURTZ: But how much do you see them in the mainstream media, where entertainment, sports figures and people who commit crimes, perhaps, tend to get featured more?

WALL: That's true. And I think to that end, this does send a very positive message as it relates to the black family as being solid and in tact, and a positive force. Eventually, it will evolve to a almost -- yes, we will evolve into a colorblind society, but I think it does send a clear message that this is what can be achieved in America today by anyone, and it's a good thing.

KURTZ: We're also joined now in Tampa by Eric Deggans. He's the media critic for "The St. Petersburg Times."

Eric, we've been talking about the explosion of cultural coverage about the Obama family and the hip-hop videos and the hip-hop songs and the YouTube videos and the magazine covers. Do you think that these tributes go beyond politics, and do you think that they will, as we've been discussing here, change, perhaps, the way that the average African-American family might be viewed?

ERIC DEGGANS, MEDIA CRITIC, "ST. PETERSBURG TIMES": Well, I think one of the things we're seeing is just an expression of the optimism and the hope that came from the election of Obama in the first place. There was a lot of creative energy I think that comes from feeling like you're starting a new in dealing with some very serious problem that are threatening the country.

The other thing I'll say is that I think it remains to be seen whether Obama will be seen as an example of the average African- American or an example of an above-average African-American. I think one of the things that we've seen in society is that there are certain black celebrities and certain black notables who achieve a status that is sort of beyond the way average African-American are seen. And I think Barack Obama is a perfect example of that.

He's very high-achieving. He went to Harvard. You know, he's achieved a lot, including the presidency now.

It may help some people understand black folks. But, you know, racism and prejudice, as we have found in the weeks following this election, is pretty tractable (ph). And I think sometimes people find a way to explain away the achievements of some people and say that they're singular.

KURTZ: Right.

DEGGANS: So I think we've taken a step, but as far as, will this make everybody think that all black people are wonderful, I think we have a ways to go on that one. KURTZ: Lola, what about the role of Michelle, who, obviously, is going to be a superstar in her own right? She is kind of being touted as a fashion taste (ph) maker and a super mom, but she's an accomplished lawyer. I wonder if you see anything condescending about putting her in this box.

DEGGANS: Well, I think we saw that with Hillary Clinton, too. I mean, you know, she even came out and talked about -- a little derisively -- about baking cookies and then had to take it back. There's a certain role that we expect of our first ladies, and I think when we have first ladies who are baby boomers and even younger, and they're used to being career women, they're used to having their own priorities in their life, they have to figure out a way to reconcile the independence that they had in their marriage before they went to the White House with what we expect from a first lady.

KURTZ: Right.

DEGGANS: And I think it would be very interesting to see what Michelle Obama does with that.

KURTZ: Lola, would you jump into that?

OGUNNAIKE: But I think it's interesting that Michelle Obama has fully embraced her role as a fashion icon. The fashion community absolutely adores her because she is actually willing to take risks on young designers and unknown designers.

She's warn people like Narciso Rodriguez, Isabel Toledo, Tacoon (ph). Her favorite from Chicago, Maria Pinto. And the fashion community appreciates the effort that she's just not calling up Oscar de la Renta and saying, send me over a truckload of clothes. She is actually experimenting with that.

And in many ways, I think that will go a long way towards helping her image around the world. I mean, let's face it, you know, beauty and image go a long way. And if she is known as a fashion icon and well regarded in the fashion community, that could help. I'm sorry to be superficial, but I think that's the case.

WALL: You know, look, I think that -- it has -- it could -- we have to caution. I mean, we don't want to minimize the presidency, the first lady. I think we all know she's a fashion icon.

I think the greater challenge for the media and media responsibility in this is to focus on those issues that really propel us forward that have to do with, what are we going to do with a black family, and how is this family going to be representative of that? How is this family going to step in and speak up? Even when you're talking about the hip-hop culture, they may embrace this family, but I don't know that he necessarily embraces everything there is about the hip-hop culture because of what it represents in stark contrast to who they are.

KURTZ: Right. OGUNNAIKE: He's made that very clear, that he doesn't necessarily embrace everything about hip-hop culture. He embraces the good things about hip-hop culture, but not the negative at all.

KURTZ: Right.

Let me jump in. And I think Tara's point also is that we shouldn't just portray Michelle as a beautiful woman who wears beautiful clothing.

WALL: Right. The media has a responsibility, is the point I'm making.

OGUNNAIKE: Howard, I wasn't doing that. I mean, she's obviously a three-dimensional woman, but...

KURTZ: I wasn't saying you were doing it.

OGUNNAIKE: ... we can't ignore the fact that she wears clothing well, and people appreciate that.


KURTZ: Hold on, Eric, because I want to play something for you. And I'll get your response on the other side.

Barack Obama yesterday doing his first radio address, but this time with a YouTube video to accompany what's usually just an audio file. Let's watch.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Make no mistake, this is the greatest economic challenge of our times. And while the road ahead will be long and the work will be hard, I know that we can steer ourselves out of this crisis.


KURTZ: My question, Eric Deggans is, will Obama be using the Internet and YouTube and texting and all that to go around the mainstream media?

DEGGANS: Yes, I don't think there is any doubt that he has a more sophisticated way of reaching past traditional media to get directly to people. But as far as this weekly address goes, I think content is going to be important. And, you know, one of the things that we found is that his really substantive speeches, you know, the speech on race, and when...


KURTZ: Yes. Just briefly.

DEGGANS: Those became viral hits. I don't know that a weekly address is going to do that. KURTZ: OK. Not quite in the same category.

All right. Thanks to all of you for joining us this morning.

Still to come, TV's talking heads say the darndest things. Michael Barone makes an unfunny crack about abortion. Joe Scarborough drops the F-bomb. And MSNBC have identified a McCain leaker trashing Sarah Palin, but not so much.

"Media Minute" ahead. But first, a programming note.

There are only a few days left to vote for your favorite CNN Hero. Go to to see their stories. And join Anderson Cooper Thanksgiving night to find out who will be CNN's Hero of the Year.


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

The so-called liberal press gets accused of all kinds of mendacious behavior, but this one is really low.


KURTZ (voice-over): Michael Barone, the "U.S. News" columnist and FOX news commentator, was giving a speech in Chicago when he had this to say about mainstream journalism and the governor of Alaska: "The liberal media attacked Sarah Palin because she did not abort her Down syndrome baby. They wanted her to kill that child. I'm talking about my media colleagues with whom I've worked for 35 years."

(on camera): Barone told The Politico that he was "attempting to be humorous and went over the line." You can say that again.

There are only a handful of words that you can't say on TV, but one of them seems to keep slipping out.

(voice-over): The latest perpetrator, Joe Scarborough. The MSNBC host was talking this week about Rahm Emanuel, the newly-named White House chief of staff, in his expletive-filled style. Scarborough didn't even realize he dropped the F-bomb.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: But these are good, decent, steady men that don't go around flipping people off or screaming (EXPLETIVE DELETED) at the top of their lungs. I suggest that you missed the Jay Carney story. That was a Jay Carney story.

KURTZ (on camera): Well, it was obviously a mistake, and he apologized. But his bosses have now put "Morning Joe" on a several- second time delay. Trust but verify, I guess.

(voice-over): What a great week for the cable channel. MSNBC's David Shuster reporting that the unnamed official who was trashing Sarah Palin didn't know that Africa was a continent and all that had been revealed.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC: It turns out it was Martin Eisenstadt, a McCain policy adviser who has come forward today to identify himself as the source of the leaks.

KURTZ: Sorry, David, but Martin Eisenstadt doesn't exist. Neither does his think tank. And his YouTube clips are also a hoax cooked up by two filmmakers pitching a TV show.

MSNBC says the story was not properly vetted, and it did put out a quick correction.

But there was some good news at MSNBC, at least if your name is Keith Olbermann. Network executives tore up the liberal crusader's contract and gave him a new one -- a four-year deal worth $30 million.


KURTZ: Now that's real money. Almost Bill O'Reilly money, in fact, just for showing up and talking.

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.