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Reliable Sources

Palin Pummels Press; Obama's Stumbles

Aired January 11, 2009 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): Palin pummels the press. The Alaska governor says journalists are hypocrites who ran with false information about her baby and pregnant daughter. Does she have her facts straight?

Obama's tough week. Is he stumbling as badly as news organizations are suggesting?

Grappling with Gaza. How a writer who once fought in the Israeli army is covering the conflict.

Paging Dr. Gupta. Is CNN being too soft on Sanjay and Obama's offer to make him surgeon general?

Plus, pining over pundits, why Jessi Klein always seems to have a crush on someone.


KURTZ: She wowed them at the convention, flopped with Katie Couric, was shielded from journalists, mocked by Tina Fey, and wound up perhaps the most polarizing vice presidential candidate history. Now Sarah Palin is punching back against what she sees as a biased, hypocritical, rumor-mongering and condescending media.

In an interview with a conservative radio talk show host who's making a film about how the news business supposedly helped elect Barack Obama, the Alaska governor is folksy, feisty, and pretty darned ticked off about her treatment by the press. Virtually nothing was her fault; it was all their fault.


GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), ALASKA: Frustrated, I guess, that I wasn't believed that, yes, Trig was really my son. When did we start accepting as hard news sources bloggers, anonymous bloggers especially? It's a sad state of affairs in the world of the media today, mainstream, especially, if they're going to rely on anonymous bloggers for their hard news information. Very scary.


KURTZ: But is Palin pedaling fact or fantasy? Joining us now in Washington, Jim Geraghty, contributing editor at "National Review"; Roger Simon, chief political correspondent for Politico; and in New York, Kelli Goff, political commentator and author of "Party Crashing: How the Hip-Hop Generation Declared Political Independence."

Roger Simon, why is Sarah Palin picking at these scabs? If she runs for national office again, doesn't she want better coverage?

ROGER SIMON, CHIEF POLITICAL COLUMNIST, POLITICO: You know, I think some of her briefers forgot to tell her that when you go on TV and go in front of the media, you get to do only the answers, you don't get to do the questions, too. And I mean, was she treated that badly? I mean, she was asked what papers she read, you know, really hardball questions like that.

I think, by the way, she has a point about all of the stuff about her baby. That stuff was over the top. There was no reason to believe that her youngest child was not her youngest child.

And she does have the germ of a case that we are so driven by this "get it now, get it fast, get it first, not necessarily get it right" news cycle, that we will put anything up. But the lesson that the press has learned, unfortunately, is, when we hold back, like Senator Edwards is having an affair...

KURTZ: It comes out anyway.

SIMON: ... it certainly comes out to be true.

KURTZ: All right.

Now, some of the coverage was unfair, I've said that all along.

But Kelli Goff, in New York, Palin talks about anonymous bloggers. It was a non-anonymous blogger, Andrew Sullivan, who has challenged her to release her medical records on the birth of Trig. Who else in the mainstream media reported the rumors about Trig not being her baby?

KELI GOFF, MEDIA ANALYST: None that I know of, although I'll say, Howard, off the back, and I'll try not to take it personally, that she doesn't have a soft spot for we bloggers since I'm among them. But no, I think you're completely correct.

I mean, I did read those rumors, but I wasn't reading them, you know, in "The Washington Post" or "The New York Times" or the "San Francisco Chronicle," or even "The National Review." So I'm not exactly sure, even from the bloggers from some of those publications -- I mean, I was reading them on, quite frankly, tabloid Web sites.


KURTZ: Right. Well, one exception was when the McCain campaign put out the fact that Palin's daughter Bristol, the teenage daughter, was pregnant. The campaign said it wanted to put that out in order to knock down this rumor about the baby. So we sometimes explained that at the time. This was during the Republican convention.

Jim Geraghty, is ripping the media as a bunch of rumor mongers, basically not very nice people, is that popular with Republicans who might vote in 2012?

JIM GERAGHTY, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: It's going to have some success. Just a minor correct to what Roger said. She doesn't have a germ of a case, she has the Ebola virus in terms of the sheer variety.

And, you know, it's not just that Andrew Sullivan is promoting this whole Trig was, you know, secretly her child or other rumors, it's that nobody else at "The Atlantic" ever said, "Andrew, Andrew, could we get back to the real issues here? Could we do something a little more serious?"

So, in other words, look, Andrew Sullivan and all these guys, they're enemies to the right. They're people who are very disregarded. You're never going to lose any votes for trashing them. This is not going to be enough if she insists in running in 2012. I don't think she's -- I'm not even sure she's going to run in 2012. But this is red meat.

KURTZ: Right. Right. Although Sullivan -- let me just stop you here, because Sullivan never came out and said he didn't think it was her baby. He raised questions about.

Now, Roger, you picked up on the point about the Katie Couric interview, we all remember that, did not go very well for Sarah Palin. The question about, "What newspapers and magazines do you read?" Well, that was also included in this film, excerpts of which were posted online this week.

Take a watch.


KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: You know, even in the post-election interviews, Dave, that she's done, nobody's really asked her, "Why didn't you answer that question?"



PALIN: Because, Katie, you're not the center of everybody's universe. To me, the question was more along the lines of, do you read? What do you guys do up there? What is it that you read? And perhaps I was just too flippant in my answer back to her.


KURTZ: And Roger, you're not the center of everybody's universe either, but was that an unfair gotcha question by Katie Couric?

SIMON: How could it get any easier than, "What do you read?" I mean, you say the back of cereal boxes, say something, say "The Anchorage Daily News," say the Wasilla whatever it is.

I mean, talk about a softball, talk about an icebreaker, I don't think it was meant to pin her to the ground. And I mean, Palin's answer wasn't too flippant, it was just nonresponsive. She couldn't name one.

KURTZ: And just for the record, she didn't -- Katie Couric did not ask, "What do you read up there in Alaska?" The exact quote was, "What newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before joining the campaign?"

All right, Kelli. Now, Palin was also complaining about Tina Fey -- there we see her with Katie -- making jokes about her teenage daughter. And I can see being sensitive about that. But Palin later went on "Saturday Night Live," and doesn't "SNL" mock Hillary and all kinds of politicians?

GOFF: "SNL" mocks everyone. I mean, in fact, if there's one mainstream outlet that you want to say didn't give Obama a free ride, it would have been "Saturday Night Live," which is, as you'll recall, was pretty -- actually somewhat instrumental in perhaps shifting the media narrative from being perceived as soft on Obama because they mocked how they perceived the media being soft on Obama. So, no, I think that "Saturday Night Live" is an equal opportunity offender, just like any good comedian or comedy is.

I'd also like to say really quickly, Howard, that I don't think the conservatives can necessarily have it both ways, ,particularly Palin on this, in that, I mean, the conservative blogosphere is certainly no shrinking violet itself, and it was instrumental in spreading some not-so-flattering things perhaps about Obama and his perceived religious background, et cetera. So, I think that that blogosphere, there's some criticism that could be had about the blogosphere from all political viewpoints.

KURTZ: Well, the problem is the blogosphere is a huge place with lots of people, and obviously there are excesses on both sides.

Now, these questions, Jim Geraghty, were asked by John Ziegler in these clips that we have seen. He is conservative-radio-host- turned-filmmaker who's putting out this DVD called "Media Malpractice: How Obama Got Elected."

He told me -- Ziegler told me that Palin had said to him that she didn't want to come off in this interview as whiny. Did she?

GERAGHTY: I would say, well, since she's got a completely legitimate case, it never looks good for a politician to be saying, well, we would have won it if it wasn't for the media. It's kind of like when, you know, a football player complaining about the ref. You know, either you catch the ball or you don't.

She ran a -- you know, for somebody who was not thinking about vice president more than, oh, two weeks before she was selected, she did an extraordinary job considering the circumstances. Your veep candidate is very rarely going to take a candidate over the top, and the only two weeks that McCain was ahead was when he picked her.

KURTZ: Right.

GERAGHTY: She did her part. You know...

KURTZ: She does say that she wished in retrospect that she had done more interviews, because she really was kind of in a bunker, and she blames that on the McCain campaign, but she could have spoken up.

Now, the other circus this week, besides what we were just talking about, is Roland Burris. He, of course, the African-American politician named by Governor Rod Blagojevich. And Burris came to the Capitol, he wanted to be seated.

And look at some of the pictures there.

He got a lot of attention from the media, we might say. Let's check that out.



What do you expect to do right now, sir?

You can probably hear people trying to ask him questions, including myself.

KELLY O'DONNELL, NBC NEWS (voice-over): Even in the sharp elbow world of Washington...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Keep the sidewalk open.

O'DONNELL: ... this was quite an entrance.

BRIAN WILSON, FOX NEWS (voice-over): It was a media scrum, the likes of which has not been seen in the nation's capital in some time.


KURTZ: You're (INAUDIBLE), Roger Simon. Roland Burris' strategy was to keep holding news conferences and doing interviews until the Senate just throws up its hands and takes him.

SIMON: We'll hear less of him if we seat him...

KURTZ: Right.

SIMON: ... than if we don't seat him.

There's a difference -- or a small line between high drama and low comedy, and I think Roland Burris has crossed it. You know, Sarah Palin...

KURTZ: But did he cross it, or did all of those, you know, hungry journalists surrounding him with cameras and boom lights, did they cross it?

SIMON: How, you know, we're all part of the same circus.


SIMON: You know that.

KURTZ: I just wanted you to clarify.

SIMON: But, you know, Sarah Palin, ,in the interview we were just talking about, says, Caroline Kennedy, why don't they ask the same hard questions of Caroline Kennedy that they asked me? Actually, Caroline Kennedy got some tough questions.

It's Roland Burris she should be complaining about. Has anyone asked him where he stands on the current situation in the Gaza Strip or what he thinks of President-elect Obama's bailout plan or the environment, or anything?

All we know about Roland Burris is the theater. We don't know any of his qualifications for high office, and the media is not asking.

KURTZ: And Kelli, you know, look, it's a great story, it was a very strange scene, but when you pulled the cameras back, you saw that it wasn't like there were huge mobs there. It was basically about 100 journalists who were feeding this frenzy.

GOFF: Well, absolutely. And I think, look, we all knew that after the election ended, that the media was going to be sort of looking for whatever story they could milk or, as they say, beat the horse to death. And I think at this point with the Burris thing, they're running out of options and perhaps they're trying to look for more options for what to do with the horse, so to speak.

No, I think that you're correct. But I also think that the media's going to wring the story for every ounce that it's worth.

KURTZ: All right. Well, then there's the man who appointed Burris, and that is Rod Blagojevich. And he was impeached by the Illinois House on Friday by a cliffhanger vote, 114-1.

He did some amazing things. He went jogging in the snow while the impeachment vote was going on.

Let put up the cover of "The Chicago Sun-Times," which sort of captures it with a one-word headline, if we've good that. And there it is -- "Bizarrovich."


KURTZ: And then he had this press conference where he kind of ranted and raved and didn't talk about the impeachment charges.

So, Jim Geraghty, are the national media done with the sideshow of Blagojevich, or is this just the beginning? GERAGHTY: Howard, I hope not, because this story is bleeping gold!


GERAGHTY: You know, getting back to Burris for a point, I'm just kind of noticing this is part of the strategy, which is -- and I think it's part of Blagojevich's strategy, too, which is, instead of talking about, oh, my God, can you believe this corrupt SOB who's just, you know, selling out -- you know, selling seats and selling furniture out of the governor's office, we're saying, isn't Harry Reid being a bit unseemly in this? Isn't it unfair that the one black senator isn't allowed to enter?

And then you have the congressman from Chicago jumping up and saying this is just like Alabama in the...

KURTZ: Right.

GERAGHTY: Like, this is all part of the thing to say, don't pay attention to Blagojevich.

KURTZ: It was a very effective tactic.

Let me turn in our remaining moments to the Obama transition. The coverage has been a little more negative now as the transition has gotten more rocky. For example, the Leon Panetta nomination has gotten a lot of criticism, the Burris circus. Democrats questioning some aspect of the president-elect's tax package.

And Obama was asked at one of his daily news conference about "New York Times" columnist Paul Krugman saying the economic stimulus package wasn't big enough.

Here's his answer.


BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: If Paul Krugman has a good idea in terms of how to spend money efficiently and effectively to jumpstart the economy, then we're going to do it.


KURTZ: The president of the United States embracing a "New York Times" columnist?

SIMON: I think that means if anybody has a good idea we're going to do it.

It has -- we have gone from no-drama Obama to a week or so of chills and spills. I mean, we also had Bill Richardson in there, the selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation. This is not exactly the calm, cool, error-free, no-flub campaign because it's simply harder to do. I mean, putting together a campaign, as difficult as it is, it's much more difficult to put together an entire branch of government.

KURTZ: So, is the media honeymoon over? Is it fading? Is the romance souring just a bit?

SIMON: I hope so. You know, I think he has gotten a media honeymoon. It has been historic. He did run an almost flawless campaign. And now it's going to change.

KURTZ: Right, except for the several days of inauguration hoopla.

All right. Now, before we go, yet another media institution in the tank for Barack Obama.

Put it up on that screen.

Look at this.

"Spider-Man." I used to read "Spider-Man" growing up. Apparently, so did Barack. And this entire issue devoted to how wonderful -- and helping him in the crime-fighting efforts of Spidey.

All right. Thanks very much, Kelli Goff, Roger Simon, Jim Geraghty.

When we come back, hitting close to home. The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, a former Israeli soldier who once fought in Gaza, now he's agonized over writing about this conflict.


KURTZ: Jeffrey Goldberg is one of America's foremost writers on the Middle East. He's written a book on the subject and has worked for such magazines as "The New Yorker" and his current employer, "The Atlantic Monthly." But as Israel's ground offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip enters its second week, Goldberg has a unique perspective. He's been in the Israeli army and has fought in Gaza.

He joins me now here in the studio.

So, you're not a typical journalist when it comes to the Middle East. How can you be objective about it, or is that not something you even worry about?

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, "THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY": It's not something I worry about anymore, especially since I work in magazines. I don't have to -- I have to be fair, but I don't have to be balanced. Or I have to be balanced, but not fair. I'm not sure which one the formula goes.

But no, what I do is I just bring my perspective to it. I don't hide it from anyone. I wrote a whole book about being in the army a long time ago.

KURTZ: You were once kidnapped in Gaza.

GOLDBERG: I was once kidnapped in Gaza.

KURTZ: Was it as soldier or a journalist?

GOLDBERG: No, that's a journalist. That's a journalist yes. I mean, it's not that rare an experience, unfortunately, for journalists. But it ended well because I'm here.

KURTZ: You're here.

GOLDBERG: I'm on your show.

KURTZ: We like that.


KURTZ: You didn't write much about the it in the initial days, and I got the impression you were kind of paralyzed.

GOLDBERG: Paralyzed is probably not an understatement. Yes, this one is very difficult.

There are a lot of things banging through my mind. One is that I know a lot of people in Gaza. And I mean, as weird as this may sound given the context, I have a lot of friends in Gaza. And I worry about them.

I worry about them from two things. One is that Hamas will hurt them. The other is that the Israeli army will hurt them.

And I really am conflicted, if you will, about this war. I understand Israel and its need for self-defense. These rocket attacks are a serious threat to Israeli sovereignty, these rocket attacks that are coming out of Hamas. On the other hand, I worry that this is a repeat of 2006, that we're going to get a situation where Israel is fighting an asymmetric war it can't win.

KURTZ: As it did in Lebanon.

GOLDBERG: As it did in Lebanon against Hezbollah. And that large numbers of civilians are going to be hurt. And that's a terrible thing.

KURTZ: I would say that...

GOLDBERG: They are being hurt.

KURTZ: I would say the American media have basically adopted the Israeli view that no country can allow itself to be under rocket fire persistently for years without fighting back. But are the media giving short shrift to the Palestinian argument that Israel's response is disproportionate and innocent civilians and children are being killed in appalling numbers?

GOLDBERG: I don't know. I think that the American press has done a pretty good job of highlighting the stories of families, whole families that have been killed in the Israeli incursion. And I think that if you look at the photographs that are running on front pages if you watch TV coverage, there's no hiding of the civilian casualties.

KURTZ: And yet, by and large, those photographs and the footage we see on television are not coming from western journalists because the Israeli government has continued, despite a supreme court ruling in that country, a ban on foreign journalists going into Gaza.

And here's a quote from an Israeli government spokesman in "The New York Times" that really caught my eye, if we can put it up on the screen. "Any journalist who enters Gaza becomes a fig leaf and front for the Hamas terror organization, and I see no reason why we should help that."

Isn't it precisely the opposite? That by keeping journalists out, Israel has really kind of seated the media battlefield to Arab outlets that are going to play up the suffering of civilians and especially children, selectively?

GOLDBERG: Well, that is a very, very stupid thing to say, what this Israeli spokesman said. And it doesn't reflect anything that I know as reality.

Right now you have -- the only reporter in Gaza are Arab reporters, many working for Al-Jazeera and places like that. Is the implication that the American media or even the European media are going to be unbalanced in that way? It's crazy. I mean, that's just crazy.

I mean, when I report in Gaza -- and I have a lot of, over the years, very good contacts in Hamas -- I report accurately what they say and accurately what they do, including use of human shields to protect themselves from Israeli civilians, including the fact that Hamas leaders literally sometimes hide behind their children in order to protect themselves. And that kind of reporting gets lost if you don't let foreign reporters in there.

KURTZ: So what is the Israeli government's motivation in continuing this ban for two weeks now, and thereby meaning that we can't do anything firsthand checking on precisely what you're say, human shields, targets that really are military and not civilian?

GOLDBERG: Here's the amazing thing. You'll remember the Jenin so-called massacre of several years ago of which the Israeli army was accused by many Palestinians of massacring people in the West Bank town of Jenin. It was "The New York Times" and other publications that debunked that myth, that found out that only 55 Palestinians, most of whom were fighters, were killed in that incursion.

KURTZ: But how did they do that? They got access. They went there.

GOLDBERG: They interviewed literally everybody they could find in Jenin. And they applied American standards of journalism, which are quite high, especially in comparison to other places around the world. And they said this is what happened, because we've interviewed everybody. So I can't imagine what's going through the minds of the Israelis, who have decided that keeping foreign reporters out of Gaza is in their best interest. It's not in the best interest of a democracy, in any case.

KURTZ: Have the media, over the years, as these Hamas rockets have continued to hit Israel, have they kind of tuned out or played down those attacks? Because, you know, in each particular case maybe a couple of people were killed or injured. But then when Israel goes to war, obviously it's going to get enormous coverage and Israel is going to be portrayed as a destructive force.

GOLDBERG: Right. Well, look, I mean, you have to just put this in your own context.

Imagine if -- and this is true -- imagine if someone were trying to hurt you or your family, and they weren't necessarily succeeding all the time, but they were trying. You would think to yourself, I have to defend myself. And if they're come at me with a knife and I happen to have a gun, I'm going to use that gun and I'm going to feel justified in using it.

So I think that you have that -- you have many Israelis thinking to themselves, well, other people, if they were in this situation, would react the way we react.

KURTZ: Right, except that the intense media coverage comes when they take the gun out and not with all the...


GOLDBERG: Right. No, no. Right. Right. I mean, the intensity media coverage, it's a body count issue.

KURTZ: Right. All right.

Jeffrey Goldberg, thanks very much for stopping by this morning.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

KURTZ: We appreciate it.

Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, covering the correspondent. Obama taps a surgeon general, a fellow by the name of Sanjay Gupta, leaving CNN the tricky task of covering one of its own.

Plus, Ann Coulter's supposed "Today Show" feud. Did we fall for it again?

And later, a "Daily Beast" blogger weighs in on he 200-pound Oprah, the unclothed Jennifer Aniston, and the always dreamy David Gergen.


KURTZ: The nomination for surgeon general doesn't usually attract that much attention, but that changed on Tuesday afternoon, when I learned from confidential sources that Barack Obama had offered the job to none other than Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, who also happens to be an Atlanta neurosurgeon, and that Gupta planned to accept.

An hour and a half after my story was posted on "The Washington Post" Web site, CNN itself reported that the Obama transition team had approached Gupta about the job. It was a firm offer, trust me. But that raised an interesting dilemma: reporting on one of your journalistic colleagues when, out of nowhere, he could become a senior official.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: As committed as Sanjay is to health, to good health, to wellness, making sure especially young people stay strong and healthy, you know, it would be very enticing, very intriguing for him to leave this kind of an operation. And if the president, the incoming president of the United States, asks someone like Sanjay Gupta, "We need your help," I'm sure it would be very hard for him to resist.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: That's arguably the best of the best appointment, if he takes, that President-elect Obama's made so far.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: I mean, there's no question just about what an impeccable person he is. I mean, all around, just a wonderful guy, humble, brilliant. And we're certainly going to miss him if he indeed does take this position.


KURTZ: CNN put out a statement saying that once it learned of the job talks, Gupta was barred on reporting on health care policy or any matter involving the new administration.

So, how has this network handled the news about the host of "HOUSE CALL?"

Joining us now, Frank Sesno, special correspondent for CNN; Mark Feldstein, professor of media and public affairs at The George Washington University; and Alicia Shepard, the ombudsman for National Public Radio.

Mark Feldstein, did CNN's on-air folks, as we just saw there, do a little too much on-air gushing about how great Sanjay Gupta would be as surgeon general?

MARK FELDSTEIN, PROFESSOR OF MEDIA AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Yes, they did. They were over the top. I mean, it's an understandable human reaction. They know him. But they're going to have to rein themselves in as they cover him when he makes policy in this administration.

KURTZ: It reminded me, Frank Sesno, a little of the enthusiasm at Fox News when Tony Snow was picked as White House press secretary. Is it possible to remain objective about a nominee who you have worked with and are fond of?

FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, I don't think it's possible to remain purely objective. I mean, you can try to step back and try to ask some tough questions. But let's face it, whether it was Tony Snow, the late Tony Snow at Fox, or Sanjay Gupta now, that's a big home team advantage, home court advantage.

You know, the crowd's roaring out there because it's your crowd. Great guy.

Oh, by the way, Sanjay Gupta is a brain surgeon. So it's a little hard to get way from that. But some of the criticisms, or at least questions that have come up since, CNN needs to ask and needs to probe as well. I mean, this job comes with 6,000 or some odd public officers.

What is Sanjay Gupta run? How is he going to run the health corps? What about that?

KURTZ: Gupta, who's also, of course, a contributor to CBS News, once told me that doing television was harder than brain surgery.


SESNO: I don't believe him.

KURTZ: Does it look to the public, Alicia, like CNN is promoting its guy in?

ALICIA SHEPARD, OMBUDSMAN, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well, it does. But the other thing that concerned me was I watched John King, and he acted like he was breaking a story and had sources, and that seemed a little disingenuous.

He works for CNN. You know, we know that he's got sources. And I think it would have been better had CNN said, we acknowledge this is an awkward situation, and then more transparent about it, than acting like -- I know you broke the story, but they had it also.

SESNO: I actually don't agree with that.

SHEPARD: Really?

SESNO: Yes. I actually think it's very important. And John King picked his words, actually, quite carefully.

He talked about speaking to senior administration sources. Now, he may have spoken to you, too. You're not a senior administration source, but he may have talked to others.

SHEPARD: Oh, that too.

SESNO: But if he was making claim to the audience that his information was coming from the administration, which he was doing in that comment, and not Sanjay Gupta, I think it's an important distinction. SHEPARD: I think it was also, though -- it seemed to me that he was talking about inside CNN as well.

KURTZ: Well, that wasn't clear. And of course I can't reveal my sources.

But you know, CNN, I think -- one of the first questions that came to my mind was about, well, was there a conflict? Because these talks had been going on.

He first met with Obama in November, Gupta did. But CNN addressed that in the statement, saying he was only allowed to talk about sort of wellness and fitness, and not anything involving policy or politics.

But CNN did report that Congressman John Conyers the other day put out a statement saying he's opposing this nomination. So I think there is some understanding that this may not be a slam dunk. And you can't cover it that way.


FELDSTEIN: No, you can't. And if CNN's going to maintain its reputation for neutrality, it has to pull back from the cheerleading that it showed early on in this coverage.

SESNO: With one small thing though to point out. John Conyers, with all due respect, is absolutely inconsequential to this process because this is a Senate confirmation, if it comes to that, and he's in the House of Representatives.

KURTZ: Right. But here's what's interesting.

In his statement, Congressman Conyers mentioned -- and this is why some liberals are starting to oppose the Gupta nomination, if it becomes a nomination, and it's not quite there yet, it's not official. He got into it with Michael Moore two years ago about Moore's movie "Sicko," and Gupta critiqued and criticized the movie. And he made one -- at least one minor error for which he acknowledged and apologized. And other errors -- they were arguing over statistics.

So this has sparked criticism from people on the left who like Michael Moore.

SESNO: Who like Michael Moore and who -- but I'm not sure that the people on the left are also saying that Sanjay Gupta somehow isn't going to follow in line on health care reform, on the actual policy. Look, this is going to come out in the debate and in the confirmation, or anything else that takes place, and that's where the bright light gets shined.

SHEPARD: And in this case, Dr. Gupta admitted that he made a mistake. I mean, I don't think that should prevent him from being nominated.

KURTZ: Right. FELDSTEIN: And the policy will be made by the president, obviously.

KURTZ: Right. You know, people say, is he qualified for the job? And we don't have time to get into that, but, I mean, basically, it's a communications job, and obviously Sanjay Gupta has the TV experience.

But he has one or thing that I've never seen any nominee for any senior administration job have. He has the ability to do this.

Roll the tape.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And now take it out. Much better. Much better.


KURTZ: That could come in handy when things get hot.

SESNO: That's the cure for the common cold, I think.

SHEPARD: And Jon Stewart had that on the other night, a whole piece sort of making fun of him. So that's going to open him up a little, too.

KURTZ: "The Daily Show" has a way of cutting to the chase.


KURTZ: All right. Let's turn now to Ann Coulter, who's got a new book out. And she was bumped this week from "The Today Show," and then went on a bunch of other shows and complained that she had been bumped from "The Today Show," whereupon she appeared the next morning on "The Today Show."

Let's watch.


MATT LAUER, NBC: You said all kinds of things, that one of the reasons you weren't on the show is because the mainstream liberal media hates conservatives. I mean, you do know that...


LAUER: Yes, you did.

COULTER: Where did I say that?

LAUER: I think it was on "Hannity & Colmes," or something like that.

COULTER: That the mainstream... LAUER: Do you think though that much was made of this and maybe you helped fan the fire here a little bit to make a controversy to sell the book?

COULTER: No. I don't think I'd be sitting here now if it hadn't been a headline on Drudge.

LAUER: Really?

COULTER: But let's get to the book, because I do want to talk about the book.

LAUER: But we've had you on so many times in the past after every book. You've always been invited back. Why would you all of a sudden be banned?

COULTER: Why would -- I don't know.

LAUER: We traded you out for Tony Blair yesterday.

COULTER: I mean, that's not for me to answer, what your motives are.


KURTZ: By the way, Coulter did not say on "Hannity & Colmes" what Lauer said she said. She may have said something similar elsewhere.

Any chance, any possibility that Ann Coulter manufactured this controversy to sell books?


SHEPARD: Gee, what do you guys think? I don't know.

FELDSTEIN: The question is, is there any chance she did not?


FELDSTEIN: And the answer is no.


But then again, Matt looked so -- also disingenuous, like, arguing with her. "We've had you on so many time before." I mean, it seemed like he was falling right into the play.

KURTZ: You know, a couple years ago, Frank, Ann Coulter went on "The Today Show" and she attacked the 9/11 widows, those who were activists, as witches and harpies who enjoyed their husbands' death. And it created this firestorm, which, of course, helped her sell her book at the time. And the producer of "The Today Show" told me at the time that, " Well, it's good television."

SESNO: And that's the problem we've got going on now. It doesn't matter what you say, it matters how well you do on television. And outrage sells and outrage pays.

In the end, you'd like to think you're judged by the company you keep. And NBC should be judged and everybody else should be judged by the company they keep. But as I say, the more outrageous, the more outspoken someone is, somehow the more they're rewarded.

For her to run around and keep referring to "B. Hussein Obama," this other kind of business which also came up, it's just amazing.

KURTZ: It was a big headline on Drudge: "NBC Bans Coulter for Life" -- of course, that turned out to be 24 hours -- that drove the story, and NBC said that was never true.

FELDSTEIN: That's right. And I trust NBC over Ann Coulter.

I mean, this is a woman who publicly said that a Supreme Court justice she disagrees with should be forced -- poisoned with rat poison. She's called former Vice President Gore "a total fag." She said that President Clinton was a latent homosexual.

Why NBC even gives her a microphone at this point is the real point. And she's working the reps (ph), and it works.

KURTZ: She's entitled to say whatever she wants, but the idea...

KURTZ: But she's not entitled to have a megaphone whenever she wants.

KURTZ: All right.

Let's turn now to Joe Wurzelbacher, "Joe the Plumber." You remember him from the McCain campaign.

He's going to Israel for Pajamas TV, an online conservative site. Here's what he said on Fox.


JOE WURZELBACHER, "JOE THE PLUMBER": You know, I've just been studying new -- everything that comes out on the news lately, trying to get -- help pronounce the names, things like that.


KURTZ: All right. Got time for two sentences from each of you.

Is this citizen journalism or an attention-grabbing stunt?

SESNO: It is an attention-grabbing stunt dressed up as citizen journalism. Let's just drop the world "journalism."

SHEPARD: It is a tremendous boon for Pajama TV, very bright of them, you know, because it will draw people. I mean, I don't get why there's still this interest in him. Even NPR the other day used this as a news flash.

KURTZ: And it didn't seem like a news flash to you.


KURTZ: Mark?

FELDSTEIN: It's an insult to any foreign correspondent who has put their lives in jeopardy to tell the public the truth. It's Vaudeville, and he should appear with Ann Coulter on the stage.

KURTZ: Well, I will reserve judgment and see what Joe comes up with.

Mark Feldstein, Alicia Shepard, Frank Sesno, thanks for joining us.

After the break, passion for pundits. We'll meet the woman who doesn't mind admitting she finds some of those TV prognosticators very alluring.


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

The feeling was out clearly out there, and someone had to admit it, to own it. That someone turned out to be Jessi Klein, who wrote rather breathlessly of her affection for a certain CNN commentator.


ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "AC 360": It was basically a confession of love for you, David Gergen, and I know a lot of people around the world, frankly, agree with this. In part, she wrote, "How do I love David Gergen? Let me count the ways."

"I love his low, quiet voice. You know how Bed, Bath and Beyond sell those white (ph) noise machines that help you sleep, and they usually make ocean noises? I want one that is just David Gergen muttering about the economy.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I can't believe that Anderson Cooper groupies are migrating away.


KURTZ: He is very cute.

Jessi Klein is a writer and comedian who blogs at Tina Brown's new Web site, The Daily Beast. I talked to her earlier from New York.


KURTZ: Jessi Klein, welcome.

JESSI KLEIN, DAILYBEAST.COM: Thank you. KURTZ: Now, you have a lot of crushes, it seems, on media people, and I wonder if you watch a lot of TV and -- how shall I put this -- have the life?

KLEIN: You're reading me like a book. It's very transparent.

I do watch a lot of TV. I feel like I choose it -- I choose the TV over having a life a lot of times. But this year has been very compelling to watch TV, so I feel like I'm not alone.

KURTZ: Now let me quote from one of your pieces. You write about David Gergen's low, quiet voice. He makes you feel very calm. He seems to know everything. And I thought, well, maybe you're mocking him.

KLEIN: Oh, no, no. There is absolutely not a single ounce or shred of irony or sarcasm in any of that. David Gergen is basically my Brad Pitt.

Angelina, you can keep him.

What was so fun about the Gergen thing was, as soon as I wrote it, comments started pouring in.

Oh, there he is. Look at him. Adorable.

KURTZ: Let's get Gergen off. I want to look at Jessi.

All right, but then you went and you cheated on him. You decided that you had fallen for David Gregory. You called him "My favorite nerdy white man."

KLEIN: You know what? I did. There was a disclaimer -- let me be clear. There was a disclaimer at the beginning of that article where I said that Gergen is always number one. But that said, as with any relationship, the eye sometimes wanders.

KURTZ: So what is it about these pundits that just seems to get you going, shall we say?

KLEIN: Shall we say?

You know, honestly, I really do think it boils down to -- and I would like to put this out there for any man watching. That really, I think what appeals to most women is intelligence and a sense of humor more than anything. And I don't think anyone could have gotten through the last election cycle without the intelligence and humor that we saw on CNN and all across the pundit spectrum.

KURTZ: Now, it's not just the political pontificators who you seem to like. You also wrote something about Jennifer Aniston, and you described her as being kind of funny and vulnerable, pretty but not shockingly gorgeous. And OK, she's had Brad Pitt, you haven't. But I guess you like Gergen better anyway.

So, were you happy or horrified when she suddenly took off her clothes for "GQ."

KLEIN: Excellent question. I experienced a range of emotions. It was really a roller-coaster.

KURTZ: We're not looking at you right now, we're looking at Jen.

KLEIN: Oh, I'm looking at her as well.

You know, she obviously looks incredible. I kind of -- I didn't love the cover where she's sort of doing, like, dog beg, like please like me. I feel like we like her without the clothes on, but that's from a female perspective. I'm sure male perspective is a little different.

Good for her?

KURTZ: OK. Well good.

You had some interesting insight, I thought, into the Obama campaign, where the rest of us were trying to gauge his appeal and his sound bites and his political positions. You said that young people were drawn to the campaign because if they went and volunteered, they might end up with "A hot one night stand with a Stevie Wonder soundtrack."

So there was a whole social aspect to the Obama campaign that I had missed?

KLEIN: Oh, yes. If you were signed up on the Obama sort of mailing list, you were constantly getting invitations from various Obama volunteers.

You know, come over to David L's house to do a calling party. There'll be cupcakes and snacks. And it just sort of seemed like there was a barrage of these. And I was like, we're all helping, but I think there's something else going on here.

KURTZ: Clarence Paige said on this show a few weeks ago that he felt that people in the comedic line of work were being a little chicken when it came to making fun of Barack Obama. Is there a certain sensitivity there or is this going to change?

KLEIN: It is absolutely not sensitivity. I've been talking about this a lot with my fellow comedians. It is genuinely very difficult to find anything to make fun of with Barack Obama, which ...

KURTZ: It could be a long four years, then.

KLEIN: I think it will be a long four years. We have Biden, thank God, but other than that -- I think -- you know what? It is sad for us, but I think great for the country that he's not a giant idiot.

KURTZ: All right.

Now, you also weighed in on Oprah. I guess I shouldn't use the word "weighed," because it's about her weight. She's hit 200 pounds. KLEIN: No. You did it. You did it.

KURTZ: ... her weight. She hit 200 pounds.

KLEIN: You did it. You did it.

KURTZ: I did it. She said she was feeling like a fat cow, and then you wrote this piece in which you said -- there we see her on the cover of "O" magazine...


KURTZ: ... the before and after shots, I guess you might say.

KLEIN: There's two of her.

KURTZ: That perhaps the craving that led Oprah to balloon like that also led us as a county to binge on SUVs and plunge us into the financial crisis.

And so I have to ask you, were you on a sugar high when you wrote that?

KLEIN: You know what? Actually, the story behind that piece is I had written something different about Oprah for "The Daily Beast," and that analogy was actually Tina Brown's analogy. And credit to her, because she clearly touched a button there. But she knew I'm a giant Oprah fan, and I actually adore Oprah.

KURTZ: But is there really a connection between one woman scarfing down too much food and the way the country has spent itself into this problem?

KLEIN: I think there is a connection there in terms of, I think, overeating and overspending are both the results of people trying to stuff their feelings down, fill the emotional void, which I'm sure you're familiar with...

KURTZ: Well, thank you.

KLEIN: ... without knowing a lot about you. But we all have one.

KURTZ: Thank you for filling our emotional void today.

Jessi Klein, one of the Beasties at "The Daily Beast."


KURTZ: Thanks for joining us.

KLEIN: Thank you.


KURTZ: Jessi Klein. I want to say a word about by friend Lucy Spiegel, who's been in charge of weekend programming here at CNN, roughly forever.

She is rather forceful in her views, you might say. She's had a huge impact on this show, on me personally, has worked around the clock to make it better. And she'll still be here in a different role for CNN. So I expect she may do some kibitzing now and then.

We're going to miss her.

Still to come, first day frenzy. Did we really need all of those TV cameras there when the Obama girls went to school?


KURTZ: You know, the big news in Washington this week was not about Bill Richardson or Leon Panetta or Roland Burris or Al Franken. It was about two young girls. And it was a story that, to be honest, I could have done without.


KURTZ (voice-over): I'm sure the whole world was interested in Sasha and Malia and their first day at a new school; namely, the highly exclusive and hugely expensive Sidwell Friends. The media, after all, remained utterly agog over Obama, whether he's on vacation -- there's that swimsuit shot again -- or playing hoops or hard at work. But the first daughters didn't ask to be in the beltway spotlight.

They are 10 and 7, in second and fifth grade. The president, the first lady, absolutely fair game. But do journalists have to chase the daughters around as well?

We mostly left Chelsea Clinton alone. That is, until the Monica Lewinsky uproar, when "People" magazine, ignoring a plea from Bill and Hillary, put the teenager on the cover.

We mostly left Jenna and Barbara alone, except when they got into legal trouble for underage drinking.

Don't Obama's children deserve the same hands-off treatment?

Well, it turns out the president-elect's transition office considered the Sidwell debut newsworthy enough to put out some photos of mom and dad bidding farewell to the kids, which were instantly devoured by the media. Maybe the Obamas aren't as protective of their kids as we thought, or maybe they realized that the media appetite for Sasha and Malia's first day was so voracious, that they better feed the beast just to keep it at bay.

Everyone covered the story. Some briefly, some at greater length.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN: It's the first day at a new school for the Obama girls. The soon-to-be first daughters, Malia and Sasha Obama, start classes at Sidwell Friends.

DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: Can we roll it back and see it one more time? Because you can see -- I think you can see Sasha's little head just barely peeking over -- yes, just barely peeking out there.

Oh my goodness. We all feel it, don't we?

ROBIN ROBERTS, ABC NEWS: Don't you -- all of a sudden, I'm queasy just thinking about the first day of school, starting a new school.

KURTZ: But some journalists immediately had second thoughts.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: I'm not so sure I'm comfortable with what we just did on the air as a father of a young girl.



SCARBOROUGH: And I would not want those images...

KURTZ: So I was happy to hear Brian Williams, the father of two teenagers, make this pronouncement about the Obama daughters, echoing a promise by the late NBC anchor John Chancellor in 1977 on Amy Carter's first day at a D.C. public school.

JOHN CHANCELLOR, NBC: Unless there is a compelling editorial reason, that's the last you'll see of Amy Carter at school on this program.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC: We'll cover their dad, the president-elect, and their mom when she makes news. And in the meantime, we will try to let Sasha and Malia do their jobs, making new friends at their new school.


KURTZ: Amen toto that.

And here's my promise. If media people get carried away and chase, stalk or otherwise invade the privacy of these two young girls, we'll call them on it on this program.

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

I'm Howard Kurtz.

Next week will be part of CNN's special pre-inauguration coverage, as John King takes over with his new "STATE OF THE UNION" program. But we'll be back every Sunday after that, at our regular time, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, to turn our critical lens on the media.