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Reliable Sources

State of the Union: Reliable Sources

Aired April 05, 2009 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, John.

Well, with the global economy in crisis, with banks failing and people losing their homes around the world, Obama went to Europe this week with the network anchors in tow. Among the world's leaders, the media spotlight was on Obama. Every day, every night, it was all about Obama.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: Europe is getting ready for Michelle Obama. Never mind the president.

(UNKNOWN): Michelle Obama's already created a sensation over there.

(UNKNOWN): She has become a fashion icon in just the few months that she has been at the White House. And everybody in Europe is enthralled by her.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC: The president's one thing, but millions of people are just watching Michelle Obama, wondering what she will wear, wondering where she will show up next.

(UNKNOWN): All of Britain seems to embracing America's new first lady.


KURTZ: All right. The president was there, too. And there were some stories about the G-20 meetings and all of that. But Michelle, her wardrobe, her personality, her meeting with the queen, let's face it, the journalistic appetite is simply bottomless.

So, has the coverage been over the top? And how are news organizations assessing the first lady's husband?

Joining us now in New York, Keli Goff, liberal blogger and political analyst. And here in Washington, Danielle Crittenden, conservative author who blogs at and And Matt Frei, anchor of "BBC World News" on BBC America.

Matt Frei, what explains this tsunami of favorable coverage for Michelle to the point that it overshadowed the president and that whole G-20 thing? MATT FREI, ANCHOR, "BBC WORLD NEWS AMERICA": It's Michelle the mensch. I mean, Michelle is not just glamorous, she's different. She's confident, she strides forth. She can basically talk to school kids in north London, but also put an arm around the queen and get way with it.

And why can she do that? It's because she's genuine.

And, you know, we, in the media, we're always looking for that rarest of things, that bit of gold dust, which is the genuine politician or the genuine politician's genuine wife. And this is what we've got in Michelle Obama. It also helps that her husband happens to be the most powerful politician in the world.

KURTZ: I'm sure it doesn't hurt.

Danielle Crittenden, she's been compared to Jackie O., to Princess Diana. Isn't the coverage getting a little breathless?

DANIELLE CRITTENDEN, AUTHOR, "THE PRESIDENT'S SECRET IM'S": Well, it's probably a little breathless, but it's fun. I happen to enjoy reading it.

I think it's more actually the analogy is that this -- they are like the Brangelina of politics right now. We call them Barchelle -- go to Europe.

She's also, I think, the first post-feminist first lady we've had in that she seems to really be embracing her role as first lady. She finds it fun. It's a great job.

She gets a high profile doing charity work. She's not there jockeying for -- seeming to jockey for power with her husband.

KURTZ: Right.

CRITTENDEN: But remember, he said to her -- he was criticizing something she was going to wear, and she said, look, go save world hunger, get out of my closet. Like she's very confident in her role.

KURTZ: Get out of my closet.

Keli Goff, watching MSNBC, when the first couple went to France, and the headline was "Carla Bruni, First Lady's Fashion Smackdown."

Isn't this out of control?

KELI GOFF, MEDIA ANALYST: It is out of control, but I agree with Danielle, it's kind of fun. You know, by the way, I'm still waiting for President Obama to say that "I am the man who accompanied Michelle Obama to Europe." I've just been waiting for that.

KURTZ: That's been used by JFK.

GOFF: Absolutely. But no, I actually did a bit of checking, and on "The Huffington Post," which work I blog for as well, I noticed that, in the last couple of days of the 15 most popular stories, at least five of them have to do with Michelle Obama's wardrobe. And I think only one of them had anything to do with the G-20 or NATO or any of the things that are actually really important.

KURTZ: Well, that tells it right there. There apparently is a bottomless appetite.

But Matt Frei, the British press seems even more gobsmacked about Michelle Obama than here in the states. And that business -- if, we can put the picture up -- with her putting her arm very lightly around the queen, breaking protocol, I mean, you would think she had elbowed her in the ribs.

FREI: Ah, but Howard, who put the arm around the other person first? Was it the queen or was it Michelle Obama? There's a whole bit of discussion going on about this. Here's the point...

KURTZ: Why is this a controversy?

FREI: I'll tell you why. Because if you saw the film "The Queen" with Helen Mirren, you know that the royal family has a problem, and that is, how does it transport itself from the 15th century to the 21st century elegantly?

By putting her arm around the queen, as Michelle Obama did, she did the royal family the biggest favor that anyone can possibly do them. She bestowed some of that modern, gritty glamour the Obamas embody onto a family that is known for being a little bit aloof.

I mean, when the queen is normally touched, she bristles like a hedgehog. There, she purred like a cat. And, of course, she returned the favor to Michelle Obama. She then put her hand on Michelle Obama's back and, what's more, was heard to say after the meeting, in which her husband, by the way, who's a grumpy old fellow, was basically smiling like a split watermelon, the queen said, "We should keep in touch."

GOFF: Howard?

KURTZ: Go ahead, Keli.

GOFF: I was just going to say, one thing that we can't forget, too, is let's not forget she has a higher approval rating than he does.

KURTZ: She has a 76 percent approval rating. But if I can just briefly give you my thoughts here, I mean, look, she's a very impressive person. She comes from a modest background.

But this gushing -- "Oh, she was wearing J. Crew today," is just getting to be a little too much. Laura Bush never got anything like this. It almost seems like we in the media need someone to fall in love with, and it makes it look like we're in the tank for the family. And in fact, you probably disagree with many of President Obama's policies, but you like Michelle Obama.

CRITTENDEN: Yes. Look, I think we should all be -- you know, the press complains that we're not, you know, high-minded enough in our coverage, that we should be paying more attention to the economic things that went on in the summit, and that's all true. But there's also color, and these are what make our politicians human.

I think there's a great amount of pride seeing a first lady go over and conquer like that. And I'm just sorry she didn't high-five the queen.

KURTZ: Matt?

FREI: I think that there's another point here as well, is that -- this is a very British point -- in Britain, we don't do aspirational rhetoric particularly well. We can't talk about a British dream. It sounds a bit cheesy. The Germans can't talk about a German dream, because if they do everyone heads for the door.

But Americans talk about an American dream, and there is an American dream in what Michelle Obama and Barack Obama, more importantly, have achieved. So when she goes to black British school kids in north London, as she did last week, and almost tears up when she tells them that she has achieved something that she never dreamt she would have achieved, that's the kind of thing you never hear from any politician in Britain...

KURTZ: All right.

FREI: ... quite frankly. And it rings true.

KURTZ: There was also a focus about the gift-giving, and just take a look at some of the softer side of the coverage. We're going to roll some tape.


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: The president gave the queen a new iPod.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: Your Majesty, here is your royal iPod.

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC: An iPod with photos of her 2000 state visit.


COOPER: Apparently, she had an iPod already.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: They can't think of a creative, thoughtful, appropriate gift for, you know, prominent world leaders.


KURTZ: Keli Goff, have you gotten tired of the iPod controversy? GOFF: I'm not even sure it was a real controversy. I mean, I think that this is pretty funny, that we have all of these major problems, and Sean Hannity and others can get so worked up over something like an iPod. But, no, I mean, back to the overall issue, though, Howard, in terms of this coverage and whether or not it's getting out of control, you know, the one thing I'd like to say is, you're right, Laura Bush didn't get the same level of coverage, but she also didn't display quite as much of an interest in fashion. I mean, part of this is that it's a really tough time, it's a tough economic climate. It's no coincidence that romantic comedies -- the box office for those types of films go up when people -- like, during the depression and during tough economic times.

I think it makes people feel good to see someone who -- it makes the country look good and feel good about things like this. It's almost escapism in a way from the tough problems people are having.

KURTZ: Do you think, Danielle Crittenden, that one of the reasons we focus on this, besides the fact that it's fun, is that it's hard to judge the complicated global economic issues being debated at the G-20 summit? What did this summit actually accomplish? In other words, that's hard, this is easy?

CRITTENDEN: Well, yes, but I think if you go back, the press throughout time has always focused on these things. And human interest is about personality and story.

I did think it detracted a little bit from more criticism of what Obama actually achieved at the summit. That did get lost, and I think that's a shame. But on the other hand, I think everybody's just so excited.

I was thinking as I was watching them that this is the first time in a long time, maybe since Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan, that we've had a first couple who seem actually very connected to each other, a very good marriage, doing the job together in a way that sort of is exciting. And you get the sense with them that when they go back to their hotel at night, they talk it all over, and it's a real joint project in a way that we have not seen a long time. That's very fascinating.

KURTZ: Right.

But at this G-20 -- and I liked it better when it was the G-7, because I could remember all the countries -- they agreed to make $1 trillion available to spur growth around the world. I mean, clearly, that -- you know, obviously some stories and analyses, but it got short shrift

FREI: Well, I think it did get quite a lot of coverage, to be honest, certainly -- well, in the British tabloids, it was all about Michelle Obama. In the quality papers, it was a kind of balance between the two.

But I think Danielle's point is right, which is that Michelle Obama, who doesn't need to negotiate with Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel of Germany, who doesn't need to justify the fact that, actually, the administration didn't get all of the things it wanted on this trip, can basically become the custodian of the Obama mojo. What makes the Obamas special? Their connectivity, their kind of combination of glamour and grit, cool and clever, and all that kind of stuff. She's the custodian of that mojo while her husband goes out and does the hard talking.

KURTZ: Well, thank you for that insight.

There's one more thing I want to get to, one more piece of tape, because Obama, in his speech in France, criticized the U.S. And in the next sentence, he criticized Europe.

Fox's Sean Hannity played a bite from that speech. Let's take a look at that.


OBAMA: There have been times where America's shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.



HANNITY: And the liberal tradition of blame America first, well, that's still alive.


KURTZ: But in the very next sentence, the president of the United States said, "But in Europe, there is also an anti-Americanism that can be casual but can also be insidious."

And Sean Hannity's entitled to any opinion he wants. If he wants to criticize Obama for talking about American arrogance, that is fine. But he didn't play the second part of the sound bite, and I thought that was not quite fair.

When we come back, getting a pass. Another Obama cabinet nominee has to write a check for back taxes. Why did the press beyond with a great big yawn?

And don't forget, become a fan of RELIABLE SOURCES on Facebook. You'll get an early look at guests and topics, and you can throw in your own two cents along the way.


KURTZ: It had all of the makings of a Washington scandal story. President Obama's nominee to run the Health and Human Services Department had to belatedly pay thousands of dollars in back taxes, just like his first nominee to run the department, Tom Daschle.

But the story about Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius seemed to last about half a day. Fox News jumped all over it, CNN did a story. There were some inside the newspaper pieces, but Sebelius' tax troubles got a couple of sentences on the NBC and ABC newscasts, zilch on the "CBS Evening News," and then vanished.

It's almost like a group of journalists sat around the table and decided, well, that did kind of happen, on MSNBC.


MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC: Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, President Obama's second choice for health and human services secretary, revealed that she, too, has run into tax problems around the table.

Does anyone care?





KURTZ: Is that is how it works? Just sit around the table saying, "I done care" and then the story vanishes?

CRITTENDEN: Well, I think the thing that I was more shocked by was the "I don't care about Geithner." That should have been much more criticized than it was.

And I think by the time you get here, it's not as big a story. And in comparison to that, of course you don't care.

On the other hand, I think if you're going to be the party that raises the taxes, you should pay them. And this is sort of like the equivalent of Republicans and sex scandals -- if you're going to be moralistic, don't have them.

KURTZ: Interesting analogy, Danielle.

Keli Goff, why does the governor of Kansas get a pass from the media when Tom Daschle, it became such a big story that he was basically run out of town and had to withdrawal from the HHS nomination?

GOFF: Right. And Killefer, too.

I mean, I think there's a little bit of tax coverage fatigue. But I actually think that the bigger issue, Howard, is that when you -- that's a lot of money to a lot of us, right, thousands of dollars? But when you compare that to the AIG bonuses, I think the average American looks and says she messed up on $8,000, and then you have corporations giving out a hundred million dollars' worth of bonuses. It just doesn't even compete in terms of warranting front-page coverage and getting the interest of readers.

That's what I honestly believe happened.

KURTZ: And you certainly didn't have the symbolism, as with Daschle paying taxes on a car and a limo driver to ferry him around town.

GOFF: Right. Absolutely.

KURTZ: Matt Frei, does it seem to you the American press is a bit hypercritical of presidential nominees, and almost everybody who putts their name up for some job gets dragged through the mud?

FREI: Well, not surprising. The process is arduous. The process is all-encompassing.

And this is something that certainly you don't get in Europe to the same extent. So I think the bigger question here is, do you really want to put yourself up for nomination in this administration when you have to answer a 63-page questionnaire, more than you used to?


KURTZ: And then have your reputation dissected and sometimes trashed in the press.

FREI: Absolutely. And also, you're not necessarily perhaps getting the best people to apply for those jobs because a lot of people are staying in New York or elsewhere, saying, you know what? I don't want any part of that.

KURTZ: On the other hand, it is our job to hold people accountable.

FREI: It is.

KURTZ: And that's what we try to do here in the states. Matt Frei, Danielle Crittenden, Keli Goff in New York, thanks very much for joining us.

Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, Beck bashing -- why everyone from "The New York Times" to Stephen Colbert is scrutinizing the high-decibel rhetoric of Fox's Glenn Beck.

Plus, Chi-Town trouble. How can it possibly be that both of Chicago's major newspapers are in bankruptcy? We'll talk to veterans from both papers.

And monitoring the Material Girl. Did media outlets really need to jump on Madonna's latest adoption adventure?

In our next hour, John King, one-on-one with the new General Motors CEO, Fritz Henderson.


KING: I'm John King, and this is STATE OF THE UNION. Here are stories breaking this Sunday morning.

North Korea has launched a long-range rocket. President Obama calling it a provocative act. The U.N. Security Council has called an emergency session later today. North Korea says the rocket put a communication satellite into orbit, but the United States and South Korea say the payload never made it into orbit.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is busy working to build an international consensus to condemn the North Korean rocket launch. Clinton spoke on the phone with foreign ministers of China, Japan, and Russia this morning. All three of those countries are involved in talks aimed at getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.

And speaking to a crowd of some 20,000 people in Prague, President Obama laid out an ambitious goal of getting the world to rid it sell of nuclear weapons. He also pledged in the short term to negotiate a new strategic armies treaty with Russia by the end of this year. Later today, the president heads to Turkey.

That and more ahead on STATE OF THE UNION.

Let's turn things back over now to my partner, Howie Kurtz, and his RELIABLE SOURCES.

KURTZ: Thanks very much, John. We'll talk to you later in the program.

If there's one guy on TV who is mad as hell and doesn't want to take it anymore, it's Glenn Beck. Since jumping from CNN's Headline News to Fox News last year, Beck has become a bigger hit in the ratings and a magnet for media attention, not always of the favorable kind. Some folks love him, others can't stand him, and some think he's a little Looney Tunes.

Here's Beck this week on America's reaction to the Obama presidency with a striking visual in the background.


GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS: People are realizing, wait a minute, the grass isn't any greener on the other side. They're marching us to a brand of nonviolent fascism.

KURTZ (voice-over): "The New York Times" gave him front page billing this week, saying that his "mix of moral lessons, outrage and apocalyptic view of the future... is capturing the feelings of an alienated class of Americans."

MSNBC's "Morning Joe had a bit of fun with the Beck bombast.

BECK: I'm sorry. I'm just a guy who cares an awful lot about my country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, again, I got nothing...


BRZEZINSKI: What the hell was that?

KURTZ: And Stephen Colbert seems to view Glenn as something of a role model.

BECK: I'm sorry. I just love my country and I fear for it.

STEPHEN COLBERT, "THE COLBERT REPOT": I'm sorry. I just love Glenn Beck's sanity and I fear for it.


KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about Beck's approach and the way the media treat him, in New York, Steven Malzberg, talk show host on WOR Radio and columnist for And in Los Angeles, Stephanie Miller, host of the nationally syndicated "Stephanie Miller Radio Show."

Stephanie, I'm going to take a wild guess and think that you don't agree with anything that Glenn Beck says. But what explains his appeal?

STEPHANIE MILLER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, you know, Howard, I thought there was no crying in baseball or television, but I guess I'm mistaken. And you know, your show does great, Howard, but it's my goal to make you cry before the end of this segment, because that can only skyrocket your popularity.

KURTZ: It will get me on YouTube. You may have to work it.

Steve Malzberg, Glenn does seem to get people riled up, both the people who like him and the people who are not crazy about him.

STEVE MALZBERG, WOR RADIO NETWORK: Well, you know, Glenn Beck is a great talent. Our station, my flagship in New York, WOR, just picked him up. And the reason Joe Scarborough is all ticked off is because Glenn Beck is beating Scarborough opposite on another station in New York. So that explains that criticism.

MALZBERG: But I think that Glenn Beck presents his own unique kind of humor and his own unique kind of message, and it's appealing to people because there a lot of people that are afraid right now.

Look, "The New York Times," in their economic section on March 31st, the writer actually said that Barack Obama's economic policies remind him of Hitler's economic policies, and that was a compliment by the writer. So, I mean, you can say Glenn Beck showing the film of the Nazis, and all that, "The New York Times" themselves said that Obama's economic policies are like Hitler's.

KURTZ: Well, personally, I'm for banning all Hitler references from our political and social discourse.

But we had Glenn Beck on this program two years ago. I want to play a clip from that. I asked him why he refers to himself as a rodeo clown.

Let's watch.


BECK: I don't know. Actually, I've gotten a lot of hate mail from rodeo clowns as well who say, "My job is harder than yours."

You know, I tick off I think people on both sides of the aisle. I'm just dumb enough to speak from the heart and from the gut.


KURTZ: Stephanie Miller, when he uses that phrase "rodeo clown," is that kind of an attempt to let himself off the hook for any rhetorical excesses?

MILLER: I think so. And you know, as Bill O'Reilly proves on a nightly basis, crazy is entertaining.

I think that it's his schtick, to be honest. I think Glenn Beck knows exactly what he's doing.

You know, listen, my show is popular, but not that popular as his. My friends have said that I couldn't be crazier in person. I just need to let more of it out on the air. I think that's my mistake.

KURTZ: All right. So you're suffering from insufficient craziness.

MILLER: Yes, really.

KURTZ: Steve Malzberg, has the mainstream media treated Beck fairly? I mean, that was a nice profile in "The New York Times."

MALZBERG: Yes, that was a nice profile in "The New York Times," but overall, the mainstream media has a double standard for us conservative talk show hosts compared to the liberals. Look, Randi Rhodes talked about assassinating President Bush with a gunshot. She got in a little trouble for that.

KURTZ: She got in a little trouble? She later was...

MILLER: No she didn't.

KURTZ: ... kicked off Air America -- not for that remark.

MALZBERG: Now, but when Bernie Ward convicted on child porn, I watched the media, I read the media. This guy was a hugely popular liberal talk show host. I've debated him many times over the years. Silence, nothing.

Meanwhile, Jon Stewart just told Rush Limbaugh, get the F out of here, you know, rhetorically out of New York, said he had a penchant for murder. I mean, these terrible, vulgar things. Whenever the left says anything, it's entertainment, it's creativity. If they didn't let that out, there would be a cosmic explosion. But when the right says something, it's mean, it's vicious, it's mean-spirited, go get those people. It's a double standard, and it's awful.

KURTZ: Stephanie?

MILLER: You know, I don't even know where to start with that. Jon Stewart is a comedian. Yes, it is entertaining. I think people know the difference between, you know, comedy and things that are just plain mean-spirited.

MALZBERG: Stone Henry Hyde to death, Alec Baldwin. Bill Maher saying that the conservatives are buying guns now because they're afraid that Obama's Negro friends are going to take theirs guns away. That's all hysterical, isn't it? That's so funny.

KURTZ: But Steve, don't -- go ahead, Stephanie.

MILLER: Well, you know what? It was really hysterical when Glenn Beck said the day after 9/11 on his radio show because he hates the 9/11 victims because they're whiny. Was that supposed to be funny?

MALZBERG: I'm not hear to defend what Glenn Beck said on particular instances. If he said that, if he did say that, that seems reprehensible. But let me hear the context of it.

MILLER: It seems that way? Oh, I see. Well, we're here to talk about Glenn Beck.

KURTZ: But that's the point, Steve Malzberg. It's about context. So you can pick out things that people have said, and sometimes they go over the line, who are comedians or satirists. But also, we need to distinguish that from more serious sentiments that people, even those who do comedy parts, are.

MALZBERG: Well, let's look at what Rush Limbaugh faced with "I want Obama to fail." OK?

It turns out, of course, that there was a poll done during President Bush's term where they actually asked the question, "Do you want to Bush to succeed or fail?" And the majority of Democrats polled said fail.

James Carville, ironically enough, on 9/11, before the attacks, talking about President Bush very early on in his presidency, said, "I hope President Bush fails."

So, I mean, but when Rush said it, it's like, oh, my God, treason. Hang him, shoot him. He wants Obama to fail. It's natural if you're on the other political side.

KURTZ: Stephanie, let me -- go ahead. MILLER: Steve, there was a difference. People didn't like Bush's policies, they didn't like the Iraq war. And it turns out they were right.

MALZBERG: And they don't like Obama's policies.


MALZBERG: And we won the Iraq War, Stephanie.

KURTZ: All right. Well, I'm not going to debate the Iraq War right now.

I want to bring it back to talk radio.

Stephanie Miller, clearly, it has been a conservative-dominated business. The Washington station that you are on, objectively named "Obama 1260," recently switched to a business format.

Why is it such an uphill battle for liberals on talk radio?

MILLER: Well, you know, I just did a panel on the fairness doctrine, and I have to tell you, I brought ratings information. And people like me and Ed Schultz are consistently beating conservative shows in many, many markets, and yet there is 10 percent liberal radio in this country, 90 percent of the stations are conservative. And you just cannot argue any more that it's because liberal radio can't compete.

I'm not for the fairness doctrine, but I'm for fairness. You know, you can bring up any -- I mean, Howard, you bring up Washington, that's actually a good point.

The station had no signal. No format that's ever been on the station got ratings. But they have -- that same company has a right wing station that has no better ratings, and they didn't drop that format.

So that what's Democratic senators are starting to look at, is there have been markets where we were number one in the market, where they were going to drop the format. So, you know, that's getting Democratic senators' attention, I'll tell you that.

KURTZ: But Steve, aren't these business decisions because conversation radio is popular with people who feel that their point of view is not represented elsewhere in the media?

MALZBERG: Of course the -- absolutely. And conservatives do well in every market they're in.

But I like the Democratic senators, like Debbie Stabenow, whose husband has an interest and has had interest in liberal talk radio. She goes on the record and she says, oh, yes, we're going to hold hearings, we're going to fix it, we're going to level the playing field. And her husband has an interest and the mainstream media is silent about that? Give me a break! KURTZ: Let me jump in because we're short on time.

MILLER: She's not the only senator that's interested in this, believe me.

KURTZ: Steve, Stephanie mentioned Ed Schultz, the radio host. He just signed a deal with MSNBC. We talked about Fox moving to the right by bringing in Glenn Beck and having Hannity without Colmes. MSNBC certainly seems to be moving to the left.

MALZBERG: Oh, absolutely. They're radical to the left, and there's a market for that, there's a niche for that. Absolutely. You know, Maddow...

MILLER: Thank God there's no TV station that's radical to the right.

MALZBERG: No, there isn't. Where is the TV station radical to the right?

MILLER: Oh, really? Fox News is fair and balanced. I see. OK.

MALZBERG: Absolutely. You know what? I'm constantly -- when I'm on Fox News, I'm always sitting there against a Democrat debating an issue, like I am with you right here.

KURTZ: Got to jump back in.

Stephanie, I want to play one last piece of videotape for you. This is Keith Olbermann on his program talking about the different MSNBC personalities and where Ed Schultz might fit in. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: Chris is the political inside baseball guy. Rachel is the affable, charming policy wonk. I'm the a-hole.

What are you going to be?

ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: I'm going to be that guy who's going to be there for the working folk of America.


KURTZ: Stephanie, I didn't know you could use the "A" word on television.

MILLER: About yourself you can, Howard.

KURTZ: Ah. You get an exception for that.


KURTZ: All right. Got to wrap it up there.

Stephanie Miller, Steve Malzberg, thanks for taking off the gloves here with us this morning. MALZBERG: Thank you.

KURTZ: And you can take RELIABLE SOURCES with you wherever you go. We are portable now. Download our podcast at, or look for us on iTunes.

Up next, double trouble. ""The Chicago Tribune"" and ""The Chicago Sun-Times"" both bankrupt just as Blago is under indictment.

Can these papers survive?


KURTZ: There's nothing like the rough and tumble world of Chicago newspapers -- the competition, the cussing, the columnists, the corruption, the unmistakable whiff of that classic film "The Front Page."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "THE FRONT PAGE": You lead on the hanging. And say, don't use Hartman's (ph) name in this at all. Just say "The Sheriff."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "THE FRONT PAGE": Why can't (INAUDIBLE) so we can get some sleep?


KURTZ: But the world has changed since Venhekt (ph) wrote that play in the 1920s, and he would barely recognize the Windy City today.

In December, just a year after real estate mogul Sam Zell bought the firm, The Tribune Company declared bankruptcy, leaving the city's dominant paper with an uncertain future. And this week, "The Chicago Sun-Times" joined its rival with a Chapter 11 filing. The tabloid has been struggling since its former owner, Conrad Black, turned out to be a crook.

And now The Sun-Times faces a serious crash crisis. How did it come to this?

Joining us now in Chicago, Carol Marin, political editor and reporter for WMAQ-tv, and a columnist for "The Chicago Sun-Times." And in Providence, Rhode Island, Jim Warren, former managing editor of "The Chicago Tribune."

Carol, we also had "The New York Times" company this weekend threatening to close down "The Boston Globe" unless the unions make serious concessions. I'm looking at Chicago, one of the great newspaper cities. Two bankrupt papers, and just thinking, how did it come to this?

CAROL MARIN, POLITICAL EDITOR & REPORTER, WMAQ: You know, we wonder that, too. But I'm here in the CNN newsroom, Howie, where there were used to be an awful lot more people than there are today. The same thing with the television stations across the country. We're not unique in this regard. Yes, two bankruptcies in one city, and it worries all of us, but it's everywhere.

KURTZ: Jim Warren, you're a lifelong newspaper guy, about a quarter century at The Tribune. This has got to be depressing.

JIM WARREN, FMR. MANAGING EDITOR, "THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Yes. I mean, you've got this bubonic plague of declining revenue, and you're beginning to see some of the weak sisters in the industry now falling out and dying.

Obviously, on one hand, it's apples and oranges in Chicago, Howie. "The Chicago Tribune" situation is a function of about $8 billion of leverage which Zell took on in 2007. "The Chicago Tribune" itself is undoubtedly in a pretty good cash flow situation, vastly superior to "The Chicago Sun-Times," which is actually burning money every week, it is losing money.

So if you had to bet, painfully, you would say that the prospects for "The Chicago Tribune" are far, far, far superior than those of "The Chicago Sun-Times." But the impact, even now, on the quality of journalism in a complex metropolitan area and in a major, major state are pretty self-evident.

KURTZ: Carol, does Jim have a point? Are you worried about the future of The Sun-Times?

MARIN: I think this is the classic competition between The Tribune, which always had a more Patrician view of itself than The Sun-Times. The Sun-Times doesn't have the debt of The Tribune, and The Sun-Times, in fact, may have a buyer not too far down the road, at least they're certainly talking to some.

The Sun-Times has lived through the criminal enterprise of Conrad Black and David Radler. We survived that and I think we're not ready to die. I certainly am not. Richard Roeper, one of our columnists for 20 years, just wrote a big piece about at his own endurance at The Sun-Times. We love it; we believe it's going to keep going.

KURTZ: And Carol, since you mentioned Conrad Black, who's engaged in a little bit of jail blogging -- he's now in prison, and he wrote a piece for "The Daily Beast" saying that he's one of the chief victims of these crimes, that he didn't do anything, it was the partner who was responsible. But of course he was convicted of essentially looting the company of tens of millions of dollars.

MARIN: Oh, please. And his wife, what -- what was she paid, $170,000, $270,000, to read the paper and give advice? I mean, come on. Conrad Black and David Radler raped "The Chicago Sun-Times," and nobody should be in any doubt about that.

But, you know, Howie, when you e-mailed me to say, would I come on RELIABLE SOURCES, and did I know that both papers were in bankruptcy, you were the first guy to tell me, because I was in a meeting covering the story. We're still doing the same stuff we've been doing, and I think we'll continue for as long as we can. KURTZ: I didn't realize I had broken the news.

MARIN: You did.

KURTZ: Jim, you talked about Sam Zell. Now, obviously, no hint of any criminal activity there, but by buying The Tribune Company and loading it up with $13 billion of debt, and then cutting the staff, and then a year later the company goes into Chapter 11, not just for The Tribune, but for all its other media properties, did Sam Zell badly damage The Tribune?

WARREN: Well, I mean, I think on one level, yes. And like a lot of folks in the industry, he doesn't seem to know what to do beyond reflexively cutting, cutting, cutting. But in fairness to him, when he closed the deal on December of 2007, nobody in the industry, nobody at "The Washington Post" company, nobody at "The New York Times" company realized the precipitous falling revenues that would hit to within a couple of months.

I was still at the paper for about half of 2008, and by February and March of 2008, we at "The Chicago Tribune" were running about $1 million a week behind what had been our pretty conservative revenue projections. Classified ads we know are dying, but then all of our other key categories, industry-wide, Providence, Rhode Island; Washington. It's all the same story, whether it's the retail sector with the department stores or whether it's cars or whether it's real estate market, everything absolutely imploded.

KURTZ: Let me ask both of you -- Carol first -- I did a story this week about a blog, one of several news blogs that have sprung up in major cities. This one's called "Chi-Town Daily News." It has just a handful of reporters and freelancers, but ells me that they go to things like meetings of the Chicago Housing Authority that The Tribune and Sun-Times don't anymore.

So I guess what I'm asking is whether or not these financial difficulties have really cut into the muscle and the bone of the kind of journalism that both papers have prided themselves on practicing.


MARIN: You know, Chi-Town, I'm familiar with it. I think it's a good blog. Yes, they do send reporters there.

But what they don't do, what they can't do, is supply the infrastructure for sometimes selecting what may be the most important story of that day and investigating it. Or defending reporters who are investigating and sources try to push back.

I think I told you last week, you know, I've been subpoenaed federally recently in a case where they want to know sources. And the pushback that you get comes from a place with big infrastructure.

We're still doing the major investigations. I think that's something that's very hard for the blogs to do. And no, do we go to every single meeting? We don't. I'm not sure that every single meeting require attendance for us to do the kind of due diligence we've been doing in Chicago, and especially investigatively.

KURTZ: Right.

Jim Warren, you were a managing editor at The Tribune. Obviously, the paper was going through downsizing and layoffs and things like that. You know, isn't the journalistic product -- and I could probably say this about virtually every paper in America -- you know, a much lesser enterprise than it used to be?

WARREN: Well, you know, it's got -- it's had to scale down its vision a little bit. When I was there, we had as many as 650 people in the editorial department. It's probably around 450 right now. Folks are not going to have the same time that they once did under our regime, six, seven eight, maybe a year -- six, seven, eight months, maybe a year, to do things.

You know, while I was there, just in the last few years, we did everything from extensive investigations, which resulted in defibrillators now being on every single commercial flight in the U.S., to getting everybody off of death row in Illinois, to having huge recalls last year of lead-based Chinese-made toys, and also a huge recall of a particular baby crib. That's the sort of stuff which may begin falling by the wayside...


KURTZ: Let me jump in because we're short on time.

One of the people who was investigated was Rod Blagojevich, the impeached ex-governor of Illinois. And The Tribune broke that story about the investigation.

WARREN: Right.

KURTZ: Carol Marin, you know, we all had a good time with Blago, as he made his media blitz, he went on Letterman and all that. But now this indictment the other day, pretty serious charges.

Do you think that the media, at least outside of Chicago, were treating him as entertainment?

MARIN: You know, sure. They are, because he's such an anomaly, he's such a character. And it's perfect for television.

But what we in Chicago -- and The Sun-Times has broken its fair share on Blagojevich as well -- understand is the sort of tentacles of corruption in this town. I mean, it's Chicago. You asked for it, we got it. You don't ask for it, we can find it.

KURTZ: Right.

MARIN: You know, I mean, we are...

WARREN: But two things...

MARIN: So it's part of the culture, and that isn't funny to any of us here.

KURTZ: Just briefly, Jim Warren.

WARREN: Howie, two things.

Both The Sun-Times and The Tribune did magnificent work, which the U.S. Attorney's Office piggybacked on in recent years and led to the indictment of Blagojevich. But rather than sort of fixate on the caricature of the guy who was on David Letterman and made a bit of a fool of himself on "The View," I think folks should step back, look at that indictment, and say, hmm, how is the substance of the that as it pertains to the daily workings of American politics that much different than what we know in our city and state? And it's not.

KURTZ: We've got to go. And that indictment, of course, includes charges that Blagojevich pressured "The Chicago Tribune" to fire some editorial writers in exchange for state aid.

All right.

Jim Warren, Carol Marin, thank you very much.

At noon Eastern, new GM CEO Fritz Henderson sits down with John King on the future of that car company and the American auto industry.

And as for us, after the break, out of Africa. The mainstream media suddenly very interested in international adoptions. Could that have something to do with Madonna?


KURTZ: President Obama may be trying to rescue the global economy in Europe this week, but some in the media seem equally fascinated by another international issue. This involves another public figure who strides the world stage. Her name is Madonna.


KURTZ (voice-over): It's not about her breakup with Guy Ritchie, her relationship with A-Rod or a new concert tour.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you tell us why you're adopting again, Madonna?


KURTZ: She may not be seeking publicity, but her trip to Malawi had reporters staking her out and anchors chattering about her mission there.

MEREDITH VIEIRA, NBC: But first, the controversy surrounding another attempt by Madonna to adopt another child from Africa.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN: Madonna is going to have to wait a few more days before learning whether she can adopt a second child from the African nation of Malawi. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Madonna is being criticized as a material mom in Malawi.

A.J. HAMMER, "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT": Tonight, there are brand new demands that Madonna back off charges that she's getting special treatment.

KURTZ: But word came Friday that Malawi authorities had rejected Madonna's request to adopt a 3-year-old girl named Mercy.

Of course, the media are just playing their favorite game here, pouncing on a social issue that just happens to have a celebrity hook. When Rihanna was badly beaten, she and boyfriend Chris Brown, who was charged in he assault, are now said to be taking a break. There was a spate of stories about domestic violence.

Paris Hilton's brief stint in jail gave rise to reports about driving infractions and law enforcement double standards. For Britney Spears, whose wild lifestyle led a judge to hand over her kids to her ex-husband, it was a debate over child custody issues.

Nadya Suleman wasn't a celeb, but the media make the octomom famous, and suddenly there was a surge of journalistic interest in multiple births.

So, when Angelina Jolie or Madonna adopt children from abroad, many news outlets suddenly have an insatiable desire to delve into the questions surrounding international adoptions.


KURTZ: What a coincidence.

You know, I think my colleagues should just drop the fig leaf. If you want to do stories about Madonna and her exploits, be my guest. Just stop pretending it's about anything other than her glittering fame.

What is it that she's famous for again?

Still to come, breaking political news from set of "The Tyra Banks Show."

We'll explain in a moment.


KURTZ: "The Tyra Banks Show" doesn't usually make political news, but that changes tomorrow. Tyra's guest is Levi Johnston, the ex-boyfriend of Sarah Palin's daughter and the father of her baby, who was trotted out at last summer's Republican Convention. The governor had said that he and Bristol Palin were getting married, but then they broke up.

Bristol gave an interview to Fox News. And now Levi is on the talk show circuit. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TYRA BANKS, TALK SHOW HOST: Were you practicing safe sex?


BANKS: Even when the baby was conceived?

JOHNSTON: We were.

BANKS: And so there was a wardrobe malfunction?

JOHNSTON: I guess.


(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: Johnston said a moment later that they didn't always practice safe sex.

Now, Governor Palin has put out a statement saying, "We're disappointed that Levi and his family, in a quest for fame, attention, and fortune, are engaging in flat-out lies, gross exaggeration, and even distortion of their relationship. It is unfortunate that Levi finds it more appealing to exploit his previous relationship with Bristol than to contribute to the well-being of the child."

John King, I was sort of taken aback by all this. I kind of wondered whether Tyra Banks should have this 18-year-old guy on. But then again, Bristol Palin appeared on Fox News.

Still, the situation is getting messy.

KING: It is getting messy. Most would think this is a private family matter that maybe should stay within the two families, even if they're feuding a little bit, Howie. But you were just talking about Madonna. We've talked about other issues. It is, I would say, sadly, just my opinion, the nature of the business.

KURTZ: Yes. I kind of think it's a private matter, too, but the media, being what they are, are going to want to milk this, I think, and continue to do that.

We're going to turn things back over to you, John King. Thanks for being my partner this Sunday morning.

KING: Thanks to you, Howie. Have a great rest of your Sunday.