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Reliable Sources

Are Obama's Critics Motivated by Racism?; Public Mea Culpas

Aired September 20, 2009 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": At first there were just whispers, as the ugly rhetoric ratcheted up at town hall meetings as some people showed up with guns, and as a South Carolina congressman shouted "liar" at the president, there was muted speculation in the media that maybe, just maybe, race had something to do with it.

But then Maureen Dowd wrote in her New York Times column last weekend that she heard Joe Wilson's outburst as "you lie, boy," and concluding some people just can't believe a black man is president and will never accept it.

And there it was, race was now on the media's front burner. Jimmy Carter promptly turned up the heat, telling Brian Williams that an overwhelming portion of the animosity toward the current president is based on the fact that he is a black man. That's all it took for the media's racism debate to reach full boil.


MATT LAUER, HOST, "TODAY ": Is opposition to President Obama and many of his plans fueled by racism?

ED ROLLINS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And I think to basically blame any opposition at this point on racism is just absurd. LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: So we can't really speak out without being called racists.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: We hear people -- Glenn Beck call the president hating white culture. There are people who are playing into other's racial fears.


KURTZ: Obama responded this morning on five Sunday programs includes right here on "State of the Union," part of an unprecedented presidential PR blitz. We'll get to this in a moment.

So are the pundits and the press inflaming this debate about race? Joining us now to talk about that and the president's extraordinary television offensive this morning, in Tampa, Eric Deggans, TV and media critic for the "St. Petersburg Times". Here in Washington, Chris Cillizza, White House correspondent for "The Washington Post" who writes the online column "The Fix." And Amy Holmes, political analyst and guest co-host of WNYC's "The Takeaway."

Eric Deggans, should the media be devoting all of this time and energy to explaining or examining or exploring whether some of Obama's critics are, in fact, motivated by racism?

ERIC DEGGANS, ST. PETERSBURG TIMES: I think it's an appropriate subject just because for a long time people who have been covering these rallies, covering these protests, have an sense that there's an undercurrent of something that goes beyond just opposing the president politically.

And there's been an effort to try and explain that. Why is there such visceral hatred for what Obama's trying to do among the certain core, a certain percentage of people who are at these rallies and then we found that these weird e-mails pop up of photos of Obama looking like a tribesman, you know, weird racial jokes that seem to be passed along by e-mail by some people who oppose him. So we're trying to explain that, and I think it makes sense to try.

KURTZ: Some of that, of course, may come from the fringes. Amy Holmes, is there a danger that journalists are perhaps insinuating or suggesting or implying that many of Obama's critics must be motivated by racism?

AMY HOLMES, POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that's the key word, isn't it, Howie? It's many or an overwhelming portion. Of course there will be fringers. There will be people who have ugly motivations, who say and think ugly things. I mean you can talk about George Bush and jug ears and all of the cartoons about that. I think though where it becomes problematic is when it goes from liberal columnists and bloggers into the news pages. And for example, the "Washington Post" had a front page story talking about is race to play in the opposition to President Obama and with very little evidence frankly. And his numbers went down among Independents who went for him, to vote for him. So do these people all of a sudden become racists?

KURTZ: Chris, I want to play for you some of what the president had to say this morning on several networks as he made the rounds. And he wanted to talk about health care and Afghanistan. This question of race came up in each interview. Let's roll that tape.


KING: Former President Carter says he sees racism in some of this. Do you?

OBAMA: You know, as I've said in the past, are there people out there who don't like me because of race? I'm sure there are.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOLOUS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Does it frustrate you when your own supporters see racism when you don't think it exists?

OBAMA: Well, look, I think that race is such a volatile issue.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Do you agree with that?

OBAMA: No. Look, I said during the campaign, are there some people who still think through the prism of race when it comes to evaluating me and my candidacy? Absolutely. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: This president, this White House clearly do not want to engage on this subject. But if that's any indication that journalists are not willing to let the subject drop.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTON POST: You know, Howie, I think that the White House in some ways made a deal with the devil. Of course that paints people like us as the devil, but they made a deal with the devil with these five sitdowns on Sunday because they had to know that in the battle between race and healthcare, that is not a fair fight when it comes to the media.

The media is absolutely entranced with the story of race. It is so much a part of the nation's history. It is such an issue that drives ratings, that drives interest, that drives readers that it is going to get more attention than health care.

I think their hope was that health care eventually, that that message would also get out there. But worth noting, on Friday the networks were allowed to release one clip from the interviews. What is that one clip for all five? Race.

KURTZ: It was about race. That's what they found was most newsworthy or more novel than repeating the same message on healthcare. But come back to Eric Deggans, you wrote the other day about a classic strategy here of painting people of color as exotic, dangerous outsiders. So are you as a journalist hurling this charge against some, I emphasize some, of the president's critics? DEGGANS: I think it's obvious in the way that some of the arguments have evolved, but I wanted to talk about a couple of things. First, I really think that some people are upset whenever race is discussed because it becomes this blowtorch that obliterates debate. And I think one of the things that journalists have struggled with is trying to put some perspective on this. How do we talk about the idea that racism may motivate a portion of people who are opposed to Obama?

Even President Carter said the most vehement opponents of Obama are the people who he thinks are motivated by race. And then all of a sudden it becomes everybody who opposes Obama which is not even what President Carter said.


DEGGANS: And one of the things -- and one of the other points I want to make is I think people of color have to deal with race a lot in their lives, but because President Obama is our first black president, now white people have to think about color a lot more often than they are used to and I think that makes people uncomfortable as well. We're seeing all of these dynamics come out in coverage and how people are reacting to the coverage.

HOLMES: As a matter of fact, President Carter said that he thought an extraordinary amount of this was motivated by race, but again, we look at the polling data with the president and people who supported him initially now are starting to fall away. And I don't think necessarily racism can explain that.

KURTZ: So are the media over-emphasizing this --

HOLMES: That's exactly my point.

KURTZ: It is not just about Barack Obama. Look, Rush Limbaugh the other day took this incident on a bus in St. Louis, where a bunch of black kids beat up a white kid and said, this is what happens in Obama's America. A lot of people are throwing around this race question.

HOLMES: As Chris mentioned and we've discussed a lot that the media loves the race story. It's easy. It's a way to paint some people as victims and some people as predators. But when we look at the issue of Obama's agenda, I think it is a lot more complicated. I sent you a blog I wrote for CNN when Obama signs a stimulus bill. He was by himself. He personalized the issue. So it's not necessarily surprising that the opposition to the agenda has becomes personal.

CILLIZZA: Just quickly, this is to Eric's point. I think that covering race is so difficult especially on television but in print as well because it is such a complex issue. There is so much going on there, it's hard to contextualize what we struggle with some time. Let's say you have 30 column inches or you have a five-minute show. It is tough to say let's deal with race in America and how it relates to the first African-American president. That's a very tough topic to cover in a short period of time. It necessarily gets drilled down.

HOLMES: But it is one that is like candlelight to the media flies who want to buzz all around.

CILLIZZA: Very true.

KURTZ: Well my two cents is the president told NBC the media loved to have a conversation about race and I agree with that. You take any story, it could be Jeremiah Wright, it could be Henry Louis Gates, it could be the Duke rape case. And once you inject race into that as the media sometimes have no choice to do, but sometimes love to do, it's like pumping steroids into an ordinary story and it makes it live on for weeks and weeks and months and months.

A white Harvard professor gets arrested in a dust up with a police or a misunderstanding with a police officer in Cambridge, it's a two-paragraph story. It happens to a black professor, particularly a prominent one like Gates, and we all jump on it.

I want to come back now to this -- to say it's unusual really understates it. The president going on five Sunday shows this morning, all those interviews taped back-to-back at the White House on Friday. Here's what some in the media have to say about that presidential blitz.


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Is he diluting his message here by doing so many interviews with so many different people? JAKE TAPPER, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: The White House said they would be happy to deny all of ABC News interview requests for the president for the rest of the year. They were joking, I think.

BARBARA WALTERS, ABC HOST: President Obama, if you're doing everyone, do us!


HOLMES: Blatantly. Eric Deggans, you're a television critic. Is there too much Obama all the time?

DEGGANS: Oh, great. You're going to have me comment after that comment? Well, you know, Obama's doing -- he's leveraging the biggest weapon in his arsenal obviously which is his own personal charisma and the fact that people seem to like him even when they oppose his policies.

And I think people who initially complained that maybe he was not living up to his idea of transparency would have a hard time making that argument given how much he's been in front of the press. He's doing what he feels he needs to do. We'll see in the days and weeks to come whether this has the effect. Certainly the speech that he gave to Congress, to the joint session of Congress, seemed to give him a bit of a bounce and seemed to make people give a second look at some of the policies he's trying to advocate. So maybe this makes a certain kind of sense.

KURTZ: Well, but he followed that with another appearance, his third since the election on "60 Minutes," CNBC interview, now the five Sundays interviews and then tomorrow he's going on David Letterman. The president has never gone on David Letterman's show. It would be a big event. I think it's like he already did Leno, now he's doing Letterman, so does it lose his punch, Chris?

CILLIZZA: I do think it does lose its punch a little bit for exactly the reason you said, Howie. It's less of a big deal when it happens every week. That's just the simple reality. That said, this White House believes strongly and learned it, they think, in the campaign, that they need to put as Eric pointed out, their best salesman out there in all times in every medium so that there are people who shockingly don't watch CNN who may watch "The Late Show" or Leno or Univision and they want to make sure that they're reaching all those mediums.

CILLIZZA: So they figure not everyone, except for a few of us, are watching all five of these things. And they're not going to think he's overexposed.

HOLMES: But here's -- but here's the problem, is that he can -- he can do one show and get coverage on all the rest of them.

KURTZ: Right, we all replay the clips.

HOLMES: And Mary Matalin, our friend and colleague in the green room just told me, you know, look, they want you to periscope on their issue, which is health, and what they've gotten is a kaleidoscope.

So what are the clips coming out of all these interviews?

We talked about race. We talked about...


KURTZ: Yes, well, I looked -- because I looked at the transcripts, and he didn't really have much new to say about health care; therefore I don't think that's going to be the headline in tomorrow's story.

But one last question to you, Amy Holmes. Chris says he's using every medium -- not Fox News, "Fox New Sunday" pointedly excluded from this round-robin, and host Chris Wallace saying that they were a bunch of crybabies at the White House.

HOLMES: I -- yes, I saw that.

KURTZ: Was that a misstep on the White House part, to, kind of, stick it to Fox?

HOLMES: Well, I think it was a misstep to stick it to Fox, but also to stick it to the people who watch Fox, and these are people that I think the president -- he said he wants to reach out to all Americans. Well, you know what? Fox viewers are Americans, too.

KURTZ: All right. Let me get a break here. And when we come back, the ACORN uproar. Fox News jumps all over those undercover videos showing ACORN employees trying to help a phony pimp and his phony prostitute.

Were the rest of the media late to this burgeoning scandal?


KURTZ: The ACORN scandal began 10 days ago with hidden camera video shot not by journalists but by two conservative activists. And this was nothing short of outrageous, as staffers for the community organizing group gave an inquiring couple advice and encouragement on how to hide the fact that they were supposedly bringing in underaged girls to set up a brothel.


JAMES O'KEEFE, CONSERVATIVE ACTIVIST: My girlfriend's a prostitute.

(UNKNOWN): Your business is a performing artist...


(UNKNOWN): ... which you are, OK? So you're not lying -- a little play on words.

(CROSSTALK) GILES: ... my ego.

(UNKNOWN): You're a performing artist, OK? So stop saying "prostitute."

O'KEEFE: Got it.



KURTZ: ACORN, which was hired by the Obama campaign has long been a target for the right, and Fox News beat the drums on this story day after day.


(UNKNOWN): There is new undercover video showing another ACORN Worker offering to help a pimp and his prostitute.



GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: ACORN, the people who are sitting there and saying, yes, don't worry about those 13-year-olds that are being used as hookers! It's corrupt.



SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: This is a Fox News alert. The massive scandal involving ACORN continues to spread tonight. (END VIDEO CLIP)


(UNKNOWN): There is new and big trouble for ACORN.


KURTZ: But much of the mainstream media was well behind on this story. CNN also jumped on the budding scandal 10 days ago, though not with anything approaching Fox's intensity.

But it took five days to hit the CBS "Evening News" and six days to be reported by ABC's "World News," NBC "Nightly News" and MSNBC.

Chris, there was two conservative activists, James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles, posing as a pimp and a ho, get this footage with a hidden camera. Is that journalism?

CILLIZZA: I think there is a blurry line of what journalism is now, Howie, with video on demand, with blogs. I will go back to a somewhat less controversial example. Mayhill Fowler, a Democratic donor, wound up in a San Francisco fund-raiser for Barack Obama in which he said some voters in Pennsylvania are "embittered and cling to their guns."

KURTZ: And she wrote it for The Huffington Post.

CILLIZZA: She wrote it for The Huffington Post. She was not a journalist. I could not have gotten access to that. It became a massive story. In some ways, I feel as though the time we spend -- it is out there. Once it gets picked up, it doesn't necessarily matter who produces it.

KURTZ: It took a week for this story to hit the front page of The Washington Post on Friday. It's on the front page again, of the Post, today, our newspaper.

Ombudsman says the paper was slow. Do you agree with that?

CILLIZZA: I think we were a little slow on it. And I'll put that on myself. I write a blog, so I can, sort of, post whenever I want. The newspaper comes out once a day.

I didn't write about it until Thursday, and I wrote about the political implications of it, how much damage could this do to Democrats. But, look, I was behind the ball, so I will take blame for it on myself.


HOLMES: If -- if liberal activist had walked into the Heritage Foundation, for example, and conducted the same sort of sting operation, it would have been on the front page of The Washington Post in a day. I think that what we're seeing here was -- is this just a right- wing, sort of, fringe story that the mainstream media didn't want to touch with a 10-foot pole, or this a real story about corruption at this organization?

And I think the mainstream media, because it was conservative activists going into a liberal organization, were a little bit wary, I would say, of the story.

KURTZ: Eric Deggans, I can make this criticism because I've criticized "60 Minutes" and ABC News and others for doing this. When you use a hidden camera and you say you're somebody else, it involves deception. It involves lying. It would be a firing offense at my newspaper to do it.

But is it all right in this instance because these people, not being journalists, by their own admission, are not bound by those sort of ethical constraints?

DEGGANS: Well, first of all, I would challenge what Amy said. I don't think what she said was true, necessarily.

HOLMES: Which part? DEGGANS: I think what -- I think the idea that, if there was some liberal group that did this, it would be on the front page in a minute.

What I do think we're seeing here is this war and struggle between truth and "truthiness," and if you remember...


... what Stephen Colbert talked about, "truthiness," information that you want to believe is true, but may or may not be true.

And I think what happened is that Fox News has been beating the ACORN drum for so long that mainstream news outlets have been a little skeptical of their reporting on this issue because they've said a lot of things about this group.

And it turns out that this big story was not even unearthed by their reporters. It was unearthed by a conservative filmmaker. And who knows what his motives are? Who knows how he edited the tape? Who knows what kind of journalistic standards went into creating this?

I don't -- I'm not surprised that mainstream media took a beat before they took a look at this tape to make sure that perhaps there was an actual story there.


DEGGANS: Now, maybe -- maybe...

KURTZ: Let her get a response.


HOLMES: Eric, hold on. Hold on.


This is the same media that put on the front page of the New York Times that John McCain might be having an affair with a lobbyist. And, you know, the vetting process that Eric is describing was not used in that story.

DEGGANS: Well, don't -- don't blame all of the media for that story. I criticized that story.

HOLMES: Exactly, but what I'm talking...

DEGGANS: That was a story generated by the New York Times and by its reporters. That's a very different...

HOLMES: Eric, what I'm talking about -- what I'm talking about is that there seems to be different standards for vetting when it comes to covering stories about corruption and this organization, versus complete innuendo about a presidential candidate who happened to have an "R" behind his last name. KURTZ: All right. Let me turn now to the broader question on the role of Fox News.

Let's put up the cover of Time magazine. The cover boy this week is Glenn Beck; the headline "Mad Man." And he did not talk to the magazine for this.

And we talked, last week on this program, Chris Cillizza about the Van Jones story, also pushed by a Fox White House adviser who resigned for saying and doing controversial some things; now the ACORN story.

Do you have the feeling that mainstream or establishment news organizations are being stampeded by Fox?

KURTZ: Or are their eyes being opened to legitimate stories that they would have overlooked?

CILLIZZA: I mean, I think in a world in the media in which so much is going on on a daily basis -- and there really is. I can tell you, things flood in all of the time, you do have to make these judgment decisions about what's newsworthy and what's not.

Amy might argue some of that is driven by bipartisanship, I would argue it is not. I mean, I know in my case it's not. I think when you have someone like Glenn Beck, with the ratings that Glenn Beck gets, or Sean Hannity, with the ratings that Sean Hannity gets, if they are every single night highlighting this, you are starting as a reporter to -- the incoming is a lot more, you're paying more attention to it than if they ignored it.

I mean, to me, the Van Jones story and this story suggest that we had better pay attention because they have power. There is clearly no...


KURTZ: So is that a healthy thing that there is an outlet with opinionated hosts who have a -- clearly an ideological agenda, but maybe highlight stories that people like Chris Cillizza need to know about?

HOLMES: Well, I think it's a healthy thing to get as much information out there from whatever sources, whether it's an ideological host or it's a report, Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post, that -- you know, that Americans are getting information.

But I would say that some of these ideological hosts, as Chris pointed out, are bringing different questions and different stories to the table, which I think people have -- you know, should have the right and the opportunity to hear that.

KURTZ: And there are ideological hosts on the left too.

DEGGANS: But again, if I could break in...

KURTZ: You've got 10 seconds.

DEGGANS: If I could break in, the problem is that these ideological hosts often say things that are incorrect or that are twisted or that are exaggerated or that are not accurate and that's the problem.

When Glenn Beck went on Van Jones's case, he said a lot of things about him that weren't necessarily fair and then he finally hit on some things that affected...


KURTZ: Which is why...

DEGGANS: ... Van Jones and forced him to resign.

KURTZ: ... we to do our jobs in vetting information from the left, the right, and any other source. And when you have got something on videotape, though, unless it has been doctored, that's pretty strong evidence.

Got to go. Eric Deggans, Amy Holmes, Chris Cillizza, thanks for joining us this morning.

And coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, media mea culpas, from Kanye West to Serena Williams to the "you lie" congressman, Joe Wilson, why is television giving a platform to folks who were rude and crude?

Plus, that sinking feeling, the news business in a deep financial hole, a new poll shows that most people no longer believe what journalists report.

And Blago is back. But why exactly do we care about the indicted ex-governor?


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

Federal agents have arrested three men in the investigation of an alleged plot to set off bombs in the United States. Najibullah Zazi and his father taken into custody last night in Aurora, Colorado. Another man was arrested in Queens, New York. The three are charged with making false statements. The Justice Department says more arrests are possible.

President Obama says the U.S. job picture likely won't improve and could get each worse over the next couple of months. In an interview here on CNN's STATE OF THE UNION this morning, the president predicted significant job growth will happen, but probably not until 2010.

On Afghanistan, the president says he wants to make sure U.S. strategy there is working before he decides whether to send more troops.

Back now to Howie Kurtz and more RELIABLE SOURCES.

KURTZ: Here's how it works. You do something wrong, outrageous, or just plain stupid. You've got a major league image problem, it's time for the media ritual known as the apology tour. Hello, Oprah, Barbara, Larry, or Jay.


KURTZ (voice-over): It's hard to imagine a more stunning outburst than Kanye West's storming the stage at the Video Music Awards when Taylor Swift was being honored.

KANYE WEST, MUSICIAN/RAPPER: Yo, Taylor, I'm really happy for you. I'm going to let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time!

KURTZ: Next stop, Jay Leno's primetime debut.

JAY LENO, HOST, "THE JAY LENO SHOW": So when did you know you were wrong? Was it afterwards? As you were doing it? When did it strike you, uh-oh?

WEST: As soon as I gave the mike back to her and then she didn't keep going.

KURTZ: Serena Williams lost more than her temper at the U.S. Open when a match-ending penalty call led to an expletive-filled tirade. She lost part of her reputation as well. So the tennis star tried to swat the story away on television, missing no opportunity to plug her new book.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: What are your thoughts about what went down?

SERENA WILLIAMS, TENNIS PLAYER: Well, yes, like I said, everyone has and says, you know, things that they do and everyone, you know, has moments. No one is perfect, and I think everyone could see that. When I played at the U.S. Open everyone kind of sees me as like a little bit sometimes a robot, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to write "On the Line" because it talks a lot about my faults and a lot about how I kind of felt embraced.


KURTZ: And, of course, the "you lie" moment. Joe Wilson made a brief apology to the White House for shouting out during the president's health care address to Congress. And then the House reprimanded the South Carolina Congressman for refusing to apologize on the floor. Wilson hit the airwaves, reveling in the rudeness that turned into a fundraising bonanza.

WILSON: I am not going to apologize again. I apologized to the president on Wednesday night. I was advised then that, thank you, now let's get on to a civil discussion of the issue. (END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: So are the media a tad too quick to embrace the bad boys and girls of culture, sports, and politics, offering forgiveness in exchange for ratings? Joining us now in New York, Jane Velez- Mitchell, the host of HLN's "ISSUES WITH JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL," and author of the book "iWant: My Journey from Addiction & Overconsumption to a Simpler, Honest Life."

And here in Washington, Amy Argentsinger, who co-authors "The Reliable Source" gossip column for The Washington Post.

And, Amy, is Jay Leno the new confession booth? We just saw that with Kanye. I mean, a celebrity does something dumb, he seeks Jay's forgiveness, and the country is supposed to stand up and cheer?

AMY ARGENTSINGER, "THE RELIABLE SOURCE," THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I think Hugh Grant almost 14, 15 years ago probably established the role model for this. You go on "The Tonight Show" and you apologize and you do it in a very charming way. And it really helps to keep you on the radar in a way.

It makes you wonder, in fact, how calculated some of these outrageous, spontaneous outbursts are, because they lead to, you know, three, four, five days' worth of a news cycle that you get to dominate.

KURTZ: And you have set up my first question to Jane, which is, how sincere are these television -- televised apologies? Kanye didn't even call Taylor Swift first, he made a beeline for the cameras.

JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, HOST, "ISSUES": I don't know how sincere they are. I know that the public demands them. Howie, we live truly in a global village where most of these insults occur on television.

So people at home feel insulted too.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: And you can't just apologize to the individual you've insulted or the institution, whether it's the U.S. Open or MTV. You have to apologize to the public, as well.

And that's why like a private phone call, such as what Joe Wilson made, doesn't cut it in today's world, nor does Twitter, nor does Facebook, which they try. They -- first, they try to blog. Then they do Twitter. Then they do Facebook. And when it doesn't cut it, finally they have to go on "The View" or Larry King or -- or one of these -- the late-night talk show is, obviously, the high pedestal of apology venues.

KURTZ: Since you mentioned Twitter, I'm going to get to that in a moment. The president of the United States had something to say about Kanye, not intended to public consumption. It came up during an off-the-record portion of -- before the interview began with CNBC's John Harwood. Let's play that tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: The young lady seems like a perfectly nice person. She's getting her award. What's he doing up there?

HARWOOD: Why would he do that?

OBAMA: He's a jackass.


No -- now, this -- all this stuff -- I'm assuming all this stuff. Where's the pool? Come on, guys.


KURTZ: You could tell that Obama really knew he was in trouble. He said, "Cut the president some slack." So then what happened -- let's just fill people in. ABC's Terry Moran, the co-anchor of "Nightline," Tweeted on his Twitter page this word "jackass" that the president had used, then took it down. Then ABC apologized. Should ABC be sorry for this?

ARGETSINGER: ABC should learn a lesson and all reporters should learn a lesson that Twitter is going to get you in the end. Twitter is a big problem. I mean, reporters have this -- this impulse to try to be first, to show everyone that, oh, I knew about this first. And, well, they go out with stuff that they may regret putting out later. I mean, the Terry Moran thing ended up making the Obama jackass comment more of a story than it might have been. I -- I had spent a couple of hours trying to track down that the president had said this until Terry Moran, by saying something that was supposed to be off the record, opened it up for the rest of us.

KURTZ: And then what happened, Jane Velez-Mitchell, is that TMZ, the gossip site, got the audio of the "jackass" remark, and then Politico, we just played it there, posted the video, but then took it down because CNBC wasn't happy. What is everyone so nervous about? I mean, he said it.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I don't know. I think it makes the president look very likable. Let's face it: Kanye West is a jackass. The entire nation feels that way. So the fact that he was overheard saying that, I think, makes him seem very human, very down-to-earth. He's in touch with popular culture, which so many previous presidents weren't. We remember the first George Bush not knowing about the scanners in the grocery store. So it's great to have a president who really knows what's going on in pop culture.

KURTZ: Yes, I haven't heard anybody say, "Boy, Obama was wrong. He's not a jackass." But just to be clear, I mean, CNBC was bound by the off-the-record restriction, because it's their interview, but other news organizations -- it's a fuzzy line.

All right, Serena Williams, we saw that expletive-filled tantrum again at the U.S. Open. Then she goes on "Good Morning America," and we played the clip from CNN's "American Morning." She didn't sound very sorry. She just kept talking about her book. Should the anchors have pressed her, Amy Argetsinger?

ARGETSINGER: Yes, they probably should have pressed her a little bit. I mean, the Serena Williams thing matters in a way that the Kanye West thing doesn't matter. I mean, the Kanye West thing, it's -- it's -- you know, one millionaire entertainer slighting another millionaire entertainer at a big, fake awards show that thrives on this kind of controversy. It was a made-for-TV event.

The Serena Williams thing, I mean, people do expect a little bit more of Serena Williams, you know, the whole issue of sportsmanship and civility -- yes, should have pressed her more.

KURTZ: But on this question, Jane, of how the anchors handled it, she never really came out and gave a full-throated apology on these morning shows. Is there an unspoken agreement when you land the first or second interview with a big -- get a big get, somebody famous or somebody's in trouble, that you ask the obligatory question and you move on?

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I think what the public wants is a catharsis, a cathartic moment, where the person, the way Kanye West did, breaks down and admits they're sorry. We want to see behind the mask.

As the public, we know we're fed so much hooey about these stars that we love it when they drop the mask and they show us their true selves. Who hasn't acted badly at a moment where they're about to lose? So when we see Serena Williams acting badly at that moment, we love it, because it shows that, hey, she's human, too. We relate to her. We feel better about ourselves, because we've done things that were less than gracious at moments like this.

And then we also want to bring them down to earth and make them apologize. It's like the public stocks, the pillory back in the days of the pilgrims. That's what we have today with television.

KURTZ: If you're -- if you're going to apologize and go before that camera and really apologize, don't you say, "Well, you know, this is what I talk about in my book"?

All right, the other apology guy is Joe Wilson, the South Carolina congressman, the "You lie" congressman. As -- as Jane mentioned, I mean, he issued that one private apology. Then said, "I'm not going to be muzzled," and he kept giving interviews. So did the fact that he had done this pretty outrageous thing of shouting at the president during a speech to Congress, was that almost lost in the media?

ARGETSINGER: Because they're demanding an apology, was it lost?

KURTZ: No, because it became just a news peg for him to -- to get all this attention. I mean, who ever heard of Joe Wilson before?

ARGETSINGER: Well, exactly. Now he's a very, very important man in the Republican Party. He raised millions of dollars because of this act. You know, but at the end of day, you know, is it the media's job to scold and apologize? I don't know. But it is interesting that he did issue an apology to the president within hours, and everyone's still demanding another apology. We want -- we want the contrition tour.

KURTZ: Well, the House Democrats were demanding that he do it on the floor, and that led the Democrats, you know, who had their own partisan point to make, to pass this resolution of disapproval.

All right. Let me move on to one other politician who apologized once, but perhaps not fully, John Edwards. Front-page story today, Jane, in the New York Times saying that the former presidential candidate, former senator is considering admitting, after all this time, that he is, in fact, the father of his mistress' baby, Rielle Hunter's baby girl.

And the Times got a hold of a book proposal by a former Edwards aide named Andrew Young who took -- took the hit initially, who said, oh, no, I'm the father of that baby, saying, no, no, no. He lied for Edwards. Edwards is the father. So does this story put more pressure on John Edwards to finally, once and for all, come clean on this paternity question?

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Oh, boy, does it. I mean, this article is horrific. This aide is saying that Edwards said to Rielle Hunter, "Hey, when my wife dies, presumably of cancer, we're going to have a big wedding in New York, and the Dave Matthews Band is going to perform." Also, he claims that Edwards tried to scope out, can I get a phony DNA test, presumably so that he could prove that he wasn't the father of this child.

This is a nightmare for him, and it proves once again the cover- up is always worse than the crime. What was he thinking? We know in this day and age, between the National Enquirer, which broke the story, and the New York Times, which is cleaning up the mess and adding these juicy details, you're not going to be able to hide a scandal of this proportion when you've got a cast of thousands, it seems, involved in the cover-up, not just the aide, but then these wealthy supporters.

Did he really think that all these people were going to keep their mouths shut over time? It's completely naive. And I don't know what he could do to clean up this mess, except admit the truth, finally.

KURTZ: It's worth recalling, Amy, that the mainstream media, lacking proof, initially held back on this story when the Enquirer broke it. And then Edwards went on "Nightline" and said, "Yes, I lied. I did have an affair with her, but, no, it's not my baby, because the timing is off," and so forth. So it seems to me that the media -- the story has kind of gone away, but if you're going to go on television and admit you did a fairly terrible thing to your wife, how about giving us the whole story?

ARGETSINGER: Well, yes. And I think there -- there are two different ways of looking at this. I mean, one is, you know, the -- the whole privacy issue, people -- people bring up, but, you know, if this is his child, then it's been pretty humiliating treatment.

KURTZ: Should this be on the front page of the Times? Does anyone still care about John Edwards and Rielle Hunter and this baby?

ARGETSINGER: What can I say? I mean, nothing but readers. This is -- you know, as fascinated as people were with Sarah Palin and the Levi Johnston saga, which became a reality show, it became a soap opera...

KURTZ: Right.

ARGETSINGER: ... this is -- this certainly tops that. I mean, is it right or wrong? It's juicy stuff.

KURTZ: And let's not forget that John Edwards almost was elected vice president, that he ran for president, and I think he is an important figure, even though he's out of office and in a whole lot of trouble right now. Jane Velez-Mitchell, Amy Argetsinger, thanks very much for stopping by this morning.

KURTZ: Up next, bottoming out. A new survey puts public confidence in journalists at an all-time low, but does what you think depend on your political views?


KURTZ: Everyone knows how unpopular the media are these days, but like the stock of a bankrupt company, now it's just hit a new low. Check out these numbers from the Pew Research Center.


KURTZ (voice-over): Do news organizations generally get their facts straight? Only 29 percent of Americans say yes. Are they careful to avoid politically biased reporting? Even worse: 27 percent say yes. Willing to admit their mistakes? Just 21 percent say they are.

What's driving these low numbers? Democrats are now much more critical of the press. Some 69 percent of Republicans say the media's reporting is often inaccurate, but 59 percent of Democrats agree, a big jump over two years ago.


KURTZ: And joining us now to examine why the news business has sunk so low in public esteem, Alicia Shepard, ombudsman for National Public Radio, and Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Mark Jurkowitz, how much responsibility do journalists bear for these abysmally low approval ratings?

JURKOWITZ: Well, the first thing to say about it is, this is part of a trend that's actually been going on for a number of years now. This survey began in the '80s. At that point, we were held in fairly high esteem.

KURTZ: That was a long time ago.

JURKOWITZ: That was a long time ago, but there's been part -- this ongoing trend has been going on now for about 10 or 15 years, where we've really seen decreasing public affection for the media.

To some degree, the news media, obviously, bear responsibility, but I think there are a couple of factors involved here. Number one, we have a tremendous proliferation and fragmentation in the media. So when people talk about the media now, there are so many more practitioners with so many different standards and so many different kind of behaviors.

KURTZ: Before you get to your second point, I want to bring Alicia in.


KURTZ: When 7 out of 10 say journalists don't get it right, even cover up their mistakes, I mean, that is a collapse of public confidence.

SHEPARD: It is, but I'm not sure that it's totally accurate. I really think it speaks to how hard...

KURTZ: Well, it's opinion.


KURTZ: It's opinion.

SHEPARD: It's opinion, right, but it just speaks to really how we as Americans said, when we have core feelings and strong beliefs about something, we see something in the news and it disagrees with what we think, we say it's wrong, we say it's bias. And so, you know, I think, as Mark said, there is a proliferation of sources out there, and that's the part that makes it very difficult.

KURTZ: Before I come back to you, let me put up one other poll that actually underscores your point. What do people think about the various cable news networks? Here's what Pew found.

If you look at CNN in the top line there, 75 percent of Democrats have a favorable view of this network, 44 percent of Republicans. MSNBC doesn't do as well with Democrats and only 34 percent of Republicans like MSNBC. And then the Fox News Channel is kind of a mirror image: 72 percent of Republicans, favorable view. Only 43 percent of Democrats like Fox.

So it seems like people increasingly trust the news outlets that they agree with?

JURKOWITZ: Well, some -- some people call journalism a validation. You obviously have more options now. One of the things that's also interesting is, you know, that -- that not only do you have, particularly in cable, different outlets that may give you different perspectives on the news, but part of the message coming out of competing cable outlets is not only that we're giving you the news, but that the other guy is wrong, and he may be deliberately wrong.

So part of the message that the media now spread about other media is don't trust them, trust us. And I think that plays into those poll numbers to great degree.

KURTZ: But where does that leave the news organizations that at least try, however flawed they may be, to be in the middle? And I would include CNN in that. CNN doesn't put a parade of right-wing or left-wing hosts during primetime, but CNN and others are suffering, as well.

SHEPARD: Right. Well, I noticed NPR happened to get the highest favorable percentage, but CNN was right after that.

KURTZ: What was the percentage?

SHEPARD: That was 79 percent overall.

KURTZ: Overall.

SHEPARD: But it leaves news organizations with having to continue to do the job that they're doing, to report the news accurately with integrity, and to not be trying to cater to one audience or the other.

KURTZ: But are they explaining themselves well enough on this question about credibility and bias and mistakes? And we all make mistakes.

SHEPARD: Yes, I think one of the most disturbing things was that 70 percent say that news organizations do a bad job of correcting their mistakes, so they try to hide them, and I think that the news media is -- it's doing a disservice to itself to not be more transparent, to not say, "We were wrong. We made a mistake. We'll learn from this. Let's move on."

JURKOWITZ: And I'd point, there is more transparency now, I would argue, in the news media than there were 20 years ago. All three of us were media critics at one point. That was at -- at one time a very small part of this business, a little niche. Now it's not. Alicia and I were both ombudsmen at -- at news organizations.

KURTZ: You were at the Boston Globe.

JURKOWITZ: I was at the Boston Globe. I actually think that one of the things that's happened in the last 15 or 20 years is that there is more transparency among media organizations, in part because, frankly, they need to more closely connect with their news consumers in this era.

KURTZ: On Mark's point -- and if you had, you know, Coke and Pepsi bad-mouthing each other, maybe you'd see the same thing. Fox every night talks about don't trust the rest of the mainstream media. MSNBC is constantly beating up on Fox. Then you have talk radio, blogs, Twitter. It seems like everybody likes to beat up on us, and that's fine, but how much does it hurt the brand?

SHEPARD: Well, what you need to do is distinguish between CNN news and Fox News versus the pundits, I mean, O'Reilly, Olbermann. Those people are giving their opinion. And so I'm wondering, when you're looking at a poll like this, are you knowing -- are you talking about Fox News, the 60-minute news hour? KURTZ: When -- when people are asked that question, are they thinking of Bill O'Reilly or are they thinking of Major Garrett at the White House, who's a straight reporter?


JURKOWITZ: They probably are putting them both together. It would be hard to separate, frankly, the -- I mean, in the same way that many people read newspapers every day and don't know that the news pages are different from the editorial and opinion pages, I doubt that they're making that distinction.

There is some good news, by the way...

KURTZ: Very briefly.

JURKOWITZ: ... in this study. One is that people don't want news organizations to vanish. The other is that they tend to have higher opinions of the news organizations that they use.

KURTZ: I'm glad you have some good news, because I was getting depressed. Mark Jurkowitz, Alicia Shepard, thanks very much for joining us.

After the break, booking Blago. The disgraced ex-governor sits down with just about anybody on television to sell his book, but is he backing up his claims of innocence?


KURTZ: With all the folks apologizing out there -- Kanye West, Serena Williams, Joe Williams, kind of -- there is one man who is standing tall, refusing to say he's sorry, defending his sacred right to appear on every television show in America. His name is Blago.


KURTZ (voice-over): He is under indictment. He was booted out of his job by Illinois lawmakers. But Rod Blagojevich will not be cowed. After all, he has a book to sell.

And the media can't get enough of this guy. Why? Prosecutors say he broke the law, but he puts on a good show. He's good box office. It's not that the anchors didn't ask tough questions. It's that Blago has an all-purpose dodge. He can't discuss the details, because he's heading to trial, but he can loudly proclaim his innocence for a national audience.

In television terms, he's bleeping golden.

VIEIRA: You write -- this is a quote from you -- "There is nothing in my private conversations that would verify I was trying to sell the Senate seat." Yet in those taped conversations released by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald right after your arrest, you're quoted as saying, "I want to make money on the Senate seat." And, "I've got this thing, and it's bleeping golden, and I'm just not giving it up for bleeping nothing."

Now, those two quotes, again, widely circulated suggest that you were trying to sell the Senate seat. Why didn't you address those quotes directly in your book? Are you saying that you -- you never said that stuff?

BLAGOJEVICH: No, this is a story that is completely upside-down.

VIEIRA: Did you say it?

BLAGOJEVICH: It is -- it is a complete lie.

VIEIRA: Did you say it?

BLAGOJEVICH: I did say that, but I said that in a context of politics.

BROWN: OK, so maybe -- maybe technically it's not illegal, but -- but, really, a routine political deal?

MATTHEWS: So, basically, it's your bottom line, it's OK to trade the president's Senate seat for a job for you in the private sector, a job for you in the cabinet? Is that your belief, that that's fair, that's legal?

BLAGOJEVICH: I'm not saying that at all.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is there any reason why you can't just play them if they set you free, if they -- as you say, if they're going to show everything?

BLAGOJEVICH: Yes. The prosecutor, those who made the accusations, who took snippets of those conversations out of context, and misled the public, and misled you in the media, mutilated the truth, they're the ones who went in to court...

VAN SUSTEREN: Yes, but wait a second. That doesn't...

BLAGOJEVICH: ... and got a protective order that prohibits me and you to talk about those tapes.

KURTZ: Got that? It's the prosecutor who's playing the press, not this guy, who spent 45 minutes sparring with Howard Stern. The ex-governor clearly knows when it's time to just be entertaining.

GEIST: We wanted to do the least hard-hitting interview of all time. So my first question is, why are all these people being so mean to you?

BLAGOJEVICH: Well, which ones? There are so many, I can't begin to start telling you.

KIMMEL: You could sell this vacant seat...


KIMMEL: ... on eBay. And you can do whatever. You can give the money to charity. You can keep it; I don't care what you do. But you can sell -- literally sell your seat.


KURTZ: Now, in a legal sense, Rod Blagojevich is presumed innocent until he has his day in court, but he's guilty of one thing: incredible chutzpah in trying to manipulate the media without really answering the charges. Hot Rod may not know much about ethics, but he knows television can't resist a good show.

Still to come, pumping up a protest. Fox News goes a bit too far in trying to make a good story even better.


KURTZ: Fox News tried to stick it to the other networks with this in-your-face ad in the Washington Post and other newspapers about last weekend's conservative protest here in Washington. "How did ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, and CNN miss this story?"

Well, come on, they all covered the demonstration. Some CNN reporters were out there all day. Fox says it was talking about the larger story surrounding the protest and the ACORN scandal. Right.

But I have to admit: There is a difference in the way Fox covered the story. Here's Fox correspondent Griff Jenkins doing a live shot, and keep an eye on what is producer is doing.

Now, call me old-fashioned. I don't think a producer should be whipping up the crowd. If Glenn Beck wants to be a cheerleader for conservative protests, fine, but what you just saw amounts to choreographing the story to get people hollering. Even Fox agrees, its Washington bureau chief telling the Huffington Post that the network has disciplined the inexperienced producer who, he says, made a mistake. That's for sure.

And John King, as I turn things back over to you this Sunday morning, you covered a lot of ground with your 15 minutes with President Obama at the White House on Friday. Were you conscious at all of the fact that he was doing these four other programs and perhaps trying to get something out of the president that the competition wouldn't have?

KING: Oh, you try to ask (inaudible) questions. I think you're conscious, most of all, Howie, that this was the White House idea, so it is part of a political strategy, so we need to make that clear to our viewers (inaudible) that he's not just doing us, he's doing these other people, as well. It was on his turf there.

But, sure, you try to ask -- we have an international audience, so I tried to asked probably a little bit more overseas stuff than the other guys, but they're all worthy friends and allies and, in some ways, competitors, but it was an interesting exercise.

KURTZ: Well, I like the way you snuck in that question about swine flu. How many of us have done that when we're told, "Time is up," and yet you got the president to answer just one more question.

We're handing the ball back to you, John. Thanks very much.

KING: Howie, you have a great Sunday.