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Reliable Sources

Is Obama Too Low-Key?; Gore Marriage Breakup; Google to the Rescue?

Aired June 06, 2010 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Disaster zone. The pundits pound the president for his low-key response to the oil spill. One columnist compares him to Mr. Spock. Is Obama getting a bum rap?

Calling it quits. Why is the press treating the Gore's breakup like a celebrity divorce?

Google to the rescue. The Internet giant says it wants to help save print journalism, but is it part of the problem?

Plus, cooking for the cameras. Does America really need another food channel?

We have heard this refrain in the media before, that Barack Obama is too passive, too passionless, too much the inspiring technocrat. But with concern over the B.P. oil spill rising by the day -- and I've lost track of the company's botched attempts to stop this leak -- this was the week when even the president's allies in the press really turned on him.

Maureen Dowd in the New York Times: "Too often it feels as though Barry is watching from a balcony, reluctant to enter the fray until the clamor of the crowd forces him to come down."

There's Dana Milbank in The Washington Post, calling Obama "a weirdly passive figure who delivers lawyerly phrases and seemed cool, almost bloodless."

And most television commentators haven't been much kinder.


BILL KRISTOL, FOX NEWS: President Obama was a legislator and a law professor. And it does not strike me that he is behaving like a chief executive here.



SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: The president has not taken the lead. This is Obama's Katrina on steroids.


CHARLES BLOW, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I mean, at some point, he has to be smart enough to realize that he has to do better by the people of South Louisiana, or you're going to get to a point where you're going to have a Kanye moment, where somebody's going to say President Obama doesn't care about bayou people.



KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC NEWS ANCHOR: He has not done less than he should. But, Mr. President, we need you to get angry.


KURTZ: Journalistic consensus is that the president has bungled this oil disaster, but is that consensus fair?

Joining us now, Julie Mason, White House correspondent for the Washington Examiner, Matt Lewis, blogger and political analyst for, and David Corn, Washington bureau chief of Mother Jones magazine.

Why are liberal commentators -- these are your people, Corn...



CORN: ... Maureen Dowd.

KURTZ: ... turning on Obama in very personal ways?

CORN: Listen, I think the B.P. oil disaster, you know, defies what pundits do best, which is give the president advice on what to do. If you read these columns, no one really has much advice on what should be done to solve the problem.

KURTZ: Which may be insoluble.

CORN: Which may be insoluble. There are -- you know, there are some things that, once broken, cannot be fixed, and maybe that's true for a hole in the ocean floor.

So, when they -- so, since we can't have a policy dispute, like in Afghanistan, more troops, less troops; in faster, out quicker, whatever, you can't -- so all that's left is discussing one of my least favorite words in Washington, "optics," how things look and what the president's style should be in terms of dealing with this.

KURTZ: But the press coverage matters. And, Matt Lewis, what's your reaction, as somebody on the conservative side, to see the likes of Frank Rich saying Obama's handling of this oil spill threatens his presidency? LEWIS: Well, I think, first of all, it's about time. I mean, the press has loved Barack Obama, and I do think that one interesting thing about this is actually the way that the press is going about criticizing him. If this were George W. Bush, the narrative would be, he's mean; he hates animals; he's -- he's evil.

(UNKNOWN): Come on.


LEWIS: Yes, but what the press is doing now is saying that Obama cares too much; he's too trusting; he's actually too trusting of the smart people in the room. So it's more of a stylistic thing. But the truth is that the press likes to make caricatures out of people. So George H.W. Bush was a wimp; Bill Clinton was a philanderer; George W. Bush was a cowboy; and Barack Obama is in danger of becoming Spock.

KURTZ: By the way, Bill Clinton was a philanderer, as we found out during his presidency.



KURTZ: Julie Mason, you know, it strikes me that Barack Obama has never in his career, even when he was in Chicago, cultivated allies in the press. Maybe he didn't need to do that. And it's funny, Chuck Todd of NBC told me he thinks Obama has disdain for the press.

So now that he's hit this rough patch, he's got few cheerleaders left.

MASON: It's really true, Howard. And at the White House, in the briefing room, you can feel how the tide has turned. Everyone -- the press corps came in giving him the benefit of the doubt. The honeymoon period was very short. And this old story about how the press loves Obama, that's over. They're all critics. We're all frustrated theater critics at the White House, right?

But this is important. And David hates optics, but part of leadership is showing that you care, that you understand.

KURTZ: And speaking of that frustration, I think we have seen some of that in the press conference the president held, his first one in 10 months as a full-fledged East Room affair, I might add -- and also this week, at one of Robert Gibbs's press briefings, we have assembled some of the questions that the White House correspondents have asked, and let's take a look at that now.


QUESTION: Yet how do you explain that we're more than five weeks into this crisis and that B.P. is not always doing as you're asking?


QUESTION: How can you say that everything that can be done is being done, with all these experts and all these officials saying that's not true?



QUESTION: Can you respond to all the Katrina comparisons that people are making about this with yourself?



QUESTION: Have we really seen rage from the president on this? I think most people would say no.

WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS: I've seen rage from him, Jim. I have.


KURTZ: He's seen rage. Is the press convicting the president of insufficient anger here?

CORN: Well, I think they are. And I've been, from the beginning, you know, a critic of some sort, saying that I don't think he does lead in that fashion. He doesn't show empathy and...

KURTZ: And that is important.

CORN: I think it's important. I don't think it's a major thing. The president often says, "I'm fighting for you." He said this on health care; he said this on financial reform. He now says I'm fighting for you and trying to clean this up.

But when you say that, you have to show people that you're fighting. And often, that could be pounding the podium, but it also can be the policy.


... criminal investigation two weeks...

KURTZ: But it's the journalists who are pounding the podium, saying that he is not in touch, because everybody's mad and frustrated about this, and he doesn't appear to share that.

CORN: I'd like to see him do it with solid, sharp policies that he talks about in a -- in a fighting manner.

KURTZ: Before I go to you, Matt, let's -- let's take a brief look at the president on "Larry King" this past week, when he was asked this question about why is he not mad?


LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Are you angry at B.P.?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You know, I am furious at this entire situation. Because this is an example of where somebody didn't think through the consequences of their actions.


KURTZ: He says he's furious, but he doesn't look furious. That's not the Obama style.

LEWIS: It's not. And the interesting thing is Barack Obama was the first liberal Democrat that, sort of, was elected in the modern era who didn't have this capacity to emote.

I mean, Bill Clinton was an anomaly, but if you look at Democrats who've lost, John Kerry, you know, Michael Dukakis, Barack Obama was always in danger of falling to this narrative of being an elite academic who was not in touch with American people.

KURTZ: But why is the press setting this up as a character test, so to speak? I think most people care what he gets accomplished, as opposed to how he performs on TV. Or in the television age, is that an outmoded...

LEWIS: There is an argument -- during the campaign, Barack Obama gave this great speech. He was criticized for being a good speechmaker. I think it was Hillary Clinton who was actually hitting him on this. And he gave this speech where he said, you know, we hold these truths to be self-evident: words don't matter.

The point is that words do matter, whether it's Winston Churchill rallying his nation in World War II, Ronald Reagan saying, "Tear down this wall," one of the important jobs that presidents have -- and it's not just superficial -- is actually rallying Americans together.

KURTZ: But in terms of words mattering, I see a lot of commentators, particularly on your side, talking about Obama is now Jimmy Carter; this is Obama's Katrina.

I mean, it seems to me that some conservative pundits who never liked Obama -- you feel like the press is catching up -- are really using this disaster to pile on.

LEWIS: Oh, sure, and some of it's hypocritical and some of it's just politics, plain politics.

KURTZ: Why is it hypocritical?

LEWIS: Well, you know, first of all, I do think that if this were George W. Bush, it would be worse, and so a lot of Republicans and a lot of conservatives are saying, they beat up on my guy, so I'm going to beat up on their guy, even if it's not fair. KURTZ: Julie, is the White House pushing back against the press as the coverage has both escalated, of this crisis, and also turned more consistently negative?

MASON: You know, as best they can. And you certainly see that from Robert Gibbs, when he was saying, I've seen him express rage; I have, you know, really being, but that they're a little more defensive than proactive about it.

KURTZ: CBS's Chip Reid reported on the air that reporters who were really hammering Gibbs about this got called into the press office for a scolding.

MASON: Yes, there was lots of...

KURTZ: ... about the kinds of questions they were asking.

MASON: The questions, and there's lots of nasty grams flying out of the press office to the reporters who were doing some of the tough reporting.

KURTZ: So this is getting personal?

MASON: It really is. And they're really on the defensive, but they can't figure out how to do a better job with this.

CORN: It's a dysfunctional relationship between the White House and the press corps. You know, each side is trying to get the other to do what they don't want to do. The White House wants easy questions and to stay on the message they care about and -- and the press guys all want the White House to say something that will make news, which is something that they don't want to say.

And so this tussle goes on in every single issue that comes up. I think, now, the -- the horrific nature of this episode is so great that it's -- I think it's put everybody on edge. I think it's raised the stakes to both the reporters covering it and for the media.

I mean, what is the most important thing here?

Is it whether Obama is emoting sufficiently?

I think that's the important, but is it the most important thing, compared to what else can be done, what should we be doing about our energy needs, for instance?

KURTZ: Compared to the almost unimaginable ecological damage here. And we were talking before the program began about these pictures of the birds and the pelicans covered in oil that we all see now on the front pages of newspaper and TV, and how...

MASON: Right. And that's a real turning point.

KURTZ: How that has really just hit people in the gut. On what...

CORN: And the economic consequences could just be, you know, massive, not for a year or two, but for maybe a decade or longer.

KURTZ: Speaking of conservative criticism, the president, at the end of that very long news conference, did bring up his 11-year-old daughter, Malia, and she had asked about the spill. And that prompted some mockery on Glenn Beck's radio show. Let's take a listen.


GLENN BECK, RADIO HOST: Daddy, did you plug the hole yet? Daddy...

PAT GRAY, CO-HOST: No, I didn't, honey.

BECK: ... why do they hate black people so much?

GRAY: I'm part white, honey.


KURTZ: Now Beck apologized for that. All right. What is your take on that?

MASON: Well, I think he should have...

KURTZ: Those comedy stylings?

LEWIS: Well, I think he should have apologized. It was, you know, beyond the pale. But I also think that President Obama was unwise to reference that. I mean, first of all, it, again, hearkens back to Jimmy Carter, whose daughter Amy was giving him advice about nuclear policy, he brought that up in a big debate against Reagan.

KURTZ: It's fine to poke fun at it, but in a way that it was (INAUDIBLE)...

LEWIS: I think it was beyond the pale, yes.

KURTZ: You know, this week we had Brian Williams in the Gulf reporting every night, Anderson Cooper has been there, last week Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer took their programs there. I mean, a huge amount of media coverage. And on his previous visit, not the one on Friday, the previous week, President Obama said, the cameras at some point may leave, the media may get tired of the story, but we will not.

I'm thinking maybe it's the other way around. I think that the ratcheting up of the news coverage in the early weeks, when the administration didn't seem engaged, and certainly they were engaged, but the optics, to use your word, kind of forced Obama to make these visits.

MASON: It really did. And you think about that the disaster happened on April 20th, his first sort of televised event talking about it was on April 29th. So he has a got of catching up to do. And you see the White House trying to do that. They keep sending him down there. His trips, they highlight the problem, but he's not down there fixing the problem, he's down there getting a briefing.

KURTZ: You don't want him to put on a wet suit, do you?

MASON: I would like to see him in waders. I would.


CORN: Tony Hayward, you know, from BP, putting on a HAZMAT suit.

But the question is, really, is that the best use of the president's time and energy? To go down there and have conversations that could happen...


KURTZ: Because all of your colleagues in the press say, oh, he doesn't go there and it shows that he is blowing it off, he doesn't care, he's not engaged.

CORN: But is that a disservice to the nation to set that as the term of the debate?

LEWIS: But this is the same argument that George W. bush made when he said, I've been advised not to go down to New Orleans so much because it actually is hurting the relief efforts.


CORN: George W. Bush's problem was the beginning of the crisis, when he and others were vacationing and they weren't prepared and they...


LEWIS: The Interior Department top guy was actually -- went on a rafting trip after this oil spill. So there isn't an...


KURTZ: We're out of time in terms of re-litigating this now. But ahead on the program, friend or foe, it has been cast as a villain, but can Google actually help save newspapers? James Fallows is a believer. And The Atlantic writer will tell us why.

But, first, Al and Tipper Gore calling it quits and it's journalists who seem to be taking it the hardest.


KURTZ: In strictly political terms, it wasn't exactly a huge story. Al Gore had been out of public office for 10 years. His wife Tipper has long since faded from the spotlight. But the news this week that they are splitting up touched some kind of nerve, landing on the front page of The Washington Post, front page of USA Today, and generating plenty of television coverage, including endless replays of the most famous smooch in convention history.


KATIE COURIC, CBS ANCHOR: Now to a story that came as a big surprise, especially to anyone who remembers that famous image of Al and Tipper Gore passionately kissing at the Democratic Convention in 2000.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC ANCHOR: As we said, the news came today as a shock.

DIANE SAWYER, ABC ANCHOR: Just a few days go, they celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary.

LOIS ROMANO, THE WASHINGTON POST: It totally surprised me because they bought a $9 million house just last month for a winter vacation home and it shocked everybody.


KURTZ: (INAUDIBLE) I get the impression many journalists were taking this break-up personally. Was this story wildly overplayed?

MASON: It was a little bit. But you have to remember, when Al Gore came to office, he was the same age as a lot of the journalists who were covering him. And so there is probably some identification with that marriage. And, you know, if they can't make it work, Howie, who among us can have a successful marriage?

KURTZ: That's the refrain I kept hearing. And, Matt, the couple had put out this terse e-mail. They've asked for privacy. On MSNBC, Joe Scarborough said, just leave these people alone. But is that really possible in today's media culture?

LEWIS: No. It's not. And why even try? So let's talk about it.


LEWIS: I mean, look, I think it was -- it shocked people. They have been together for so long. And they seemed like a great couple. So it's newsworthy.

KURTZ: And every pundit on the planet said it was the Clintons' marriage that was supposed to be the one that might not survive long term.

CORN: Sometimes the most obvious one-liners, the best one-liner -- and everybody seemed to reach that within a nanosecond. I mean, my line is you can never tell what is happening in a marriage unless you're in it, and even then sometimes it's a mystery.

And so, I mean, you know, people say this is a shock, it's terrible. Stephanie Coontz had a very good commentary on, I'll plug it here, in which she said, you know, 40 years for a marriage might be a good marriage, might be a successful marriage, depending on what ends up, you know, bringing it to -- you know, to -- bringing them to go different ways.

People live longer. They got married at an early age. It's easier to live on your own at an older age now than ever before. And divorces among older people are trending upward.

KURTZ: I think all of this presumes, and we in the media perpetuate kind of this, that if people are famous, if they're prominent, if they're well-known, that we know what is going on in their lives. We don't often have a clue, whether they are movie stars or a former vice president and his wife. And exhibit A, John and Elizabeth Edwards, who everybody thought, at one time...

CORN: Wasn't that the perfect marriage?


KURTZ: Yes, well, OK, I guess we could learn something about that.

Before we go, I want to turn to a growing controversy involving Hearst newspaper's columnist Helen Thomas. A video was posted to -- this week on a site called She was asked by an unidentified interviewer, maybe the rabbi, for her views on Israel. Here's what the video shows.


HELEN THOMAS, HEARST COLUMNIST: Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So where should they go? What should they do?

THOMAS: They'd go home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where is their home?

THOMAS: Poland, Germany...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So the Jews -- you say Jews should go back to Poland and Germany?

THOMAS: And America and everywhere else.


KURTZ: Helen Thomas told me she apologizes for those remarks, that she went over the line. But is that enough?

LEWIS: Well, look, if you or I said it, we wouldn't be sitting here today. That's how serious--

KURTZ: We would lose our jobs.

LEWIS: I think we would. That's how serious this is. Now, she's -- on one hand, she has been reporting for 60 years or something like that, so maybe she apologized, she's brought out some good will. But the other thing is, those opinions are so far out of the mainstream of American public opinion, and this is a person who has been delivering news to the public. That makes me wonder about her fairness as a journalist.

KURTZ: She is a columnist.

MASON: She's a columnist, she is an opinion writer, and I think she's not the first one to express a view that is repellent to many people.

LEWIS: It is repellent, and I'm glad to hear you say that.

CORN: My view is oy, I wish she hadn't said this. I have known Helen for years and I think well of her, but it was a dumb remark. Pat Buchanan recently had a column saying there were too many Jews on the Supreme Court and people got in an uproar about that. You know, he didn't apologize. He actually believes that. And I think, you know, Helen is a columnist, and it's not as if someone with a perverted sense of analysis, in your view, Matt, here, is bringing objective news to the public and is duping the public. People know where Helen is coming from. Anybody who spent any -- five seconds watching her knows.

LEWIS: This is also somebody who is frequently called on at White House press briefings. I think that does elevate her to a certain stature that maybe I don't have it at PoliticsDaily.

KURTZ: Do you think the press kind of gives her a break because she's 89 years old?


KURTZ: OK. And look, the whole situation in the Middle East is a complicated one. There are intense passions on all sides. But to call for the Jews to leave Israel, give up -- abandon their country, go back to Germany and Poland, that, I thought, was just shocking. And there have been calls by Ari Fleischer and others, former press secretary, for her to be fired. I don't know whether that will happen.

CORN: I think everyone agrees, including Helen, it was a dumb thing to say, and I think when you come to the decision of, you know, a media company whether you fire someone or not, you look at a bigger picture as well.

KURTZ: Your soundbite will be oy.

CORN: Oy, I stand by that oy.


KURTZ: David Corn, Julie Mason, Matt Lewis, thanks very much for joining us.

Coming up in the second half of Reliable Sources, Google to the rescue? The Atlantic's James Fallows thinks the supreme search engine could help save newspapers and magazines. But is that realistic?

Plus, the Food Network launches another 24-hour cooking channel. Does the country have enough of an appetite for this? Two of the network's new stars will join us here.


KURTZ: Google's tongue-in-cheek motto is "don't be evil." But the search engine giant hasn't always lived up to that standard. The company recently apologized for mistakenly gathering information on users of its Streetview mapping service. But is Google's almost magical ability to help us find any article, picture or video anytime hurting the media companies that produced them? James Fallows argues in this month's Atlantic cover story that Google could turn out to be something of a savior for the press. I spoke to him earlier here in the studio.


KURTZ: James Fallows, welcome.

JAMES FALLOWS, ATLANTIC MAGAZINE: Thank you very much, Howard.

KURTZ: You say in this piece that Google has a vision, a vision that could help save the newspaper business. Is that a realistic vision?

FALLOWS: I think it's realistic in terms of its sort of overall cultural approach. There is not a specific plan they have, one--

KURTZ: No magic bullet.

FALLOWS: No magic bullet. But they would say also for their own business, they don't know what their own business is going to be in five years or eight years, rather it's an approach to trying everything and seeing what works.

KURTZ: But it's an approach that is based on, as you write, the assumption, and it is an assumption, that people will pay for stories, people will pay for news. And, you know, that may be that people will not pay for stories that they can get for free on the Internet in 100 different places.

FALLOWS: Sure. I think the argument they would make is that through the history of media and information, there has always been a range of ways in which people pay. There has always been publications and information has been free. There's always been things of very small circulation and high price, and so this range they say will re- create itself as the digital world sorts out. There will be ways in which you will pay more for new applications we don't quite know about now, whether it's on iPad or things like that. So it is saying that we should have some faith that a new system will be -- is being built now.

KURTZ: So my future in the newspaper business depends on faith? FALLOWS: Well, yes. But actually, you know, there is a way in which our business is both daring and conservative. Daring in that every show you do, every article you write, every article I write, every book I write is a kind of a venture capital undertaking. We don't know how it's going to work. Yet our whole structure has become somewhat conservative. And so these Google people are saying the kind of daring we show in our actual journalism can be applied to the business as a whole.

KURTZ: Surely you are aware that there is a PR aspect of this for Google, which is getting hammered by critics and say, you know, it's a $150-billion corporation, doesn't produce any content, just vacuums up for free all of our content that we're paid to produce, and makes a lot of money off of it.

FALLOWS: Sure. And I think their argument, there is a sort of high/low road aspect for Google. I quote Eric Schmidt, who is the CEO of Google, and as I disclose, a long-time friend of mine, since long before he was involved in Google. Saying that Google doesn't want to be seen as the vulture picking off the dead carcass of the news industry, but also they have come over the last year or so to think that it's in their corporate interest to sustain the supply of news, because otherwise what are they going to have to have people search for?

KURTZ: Right. They need to peddle a good product, or at least interesting, provocative product.

FALLOWS: It's in their interest. I use this analogy. They're involved a lot in clean energy projects now. They're not responsible for environmental crises, but they figure it's part of their responsibility to deal with it, so too with the ecology of news.

KURTZ: Let's explain a little bit about -- about what the core of the problem is. Here's the New York Times, for example. What I've always loved about newspapers is it's a package, it's a smorgasbord. And you have got the front page and you've got stories from all over, you've got the business section, you've got the weekend and arts section, there is a sports section in here. People paid money and they got to pick and choose what they care about, movie reviews.

What Google and other search engines have done is they have unbundled all this. You don't have to read this part. You can go to one article. You can get a link from somebody else and come in and read something that you have written for the op-ed piece, or you can just read what happened in the Yankee game.

So that is a crisis for people who are in the packaging business.

FALLOWS: Yes, right. It is. And as everybody who has looked at this business knows, actual news has never paid its own way. It has always been the real estate section, the classified section, the grocery section that has paid for your reports in the style section, for things I have done...

(CROSSTALK) KURTZ: Or sending somebody to Baghdad or...

FALLOWS: Yes. Yes, especially -- right. And so, the question is, the way in which this has been bundled for the last two generations is being picked apart and some new form of business support for this is being built now. And exactly what form it has taken, we don't know, but the news I was trying to convey is there is a lot of people whose expertise is getting money in the online world for thinking about how to solve this problem.

KURTZ: Here is something called Google News, which is a digest of all that is out there. And they've got 25,000 sources of information. And, apparently, the decisions are not made by human beings. They're...


KURTZ: I envision robots in a room. It's made by some kind of algorithm. You talked to the guy who is involved in running the...

FALLOWS: Yes. Krishna Bharat, who invented it, sort of over the weekend.

KURTZ: Yes, OK. On the back of an envelope. And he says there is a lot of pap journalism out there. A lot the publications are sort of doing the same thing.

FALLOWS: He said that -- you know, this is a man, Krishna Bharat, who grew up in India and he invented Google News after 9/11, when he said, there has to be some way to kind of have more source of all the breadth of the world's information.

He has -- in a way, he is the air traffic controller for the entire world's news movement. When a story breaks anyplace in the world, they can see the patterns of coverage around the world. He said, what struck him is how much of the news business's energy goes to essentially duplicative efforts. So something will be reported and 5,000 people will report the same thing.

KURTZ: It could be something President Obama says. It could be Lindsay Lohan ending up in court.

FALLOWS: Exactly, exactly. And we know the latter will sort of drive out the former...


KURTZ: We have seen examples of that. But when you get in this Atlantic article, you get to the specifics. For example, Google worked with The New York Times and The Washington Post to create a big story page. One collection -- one page where all of the pieces about a big important...

FALLOWS: Yes, right.

KURTZ: ... running story could be grouped. They made an adjustment in the search formula for a non-profit...


FALLOWS: For Pro Publica, right.

KURTZ: Pro Publica, which is doing very good journalism. So they could get higher in the Google rankings.


KURTZ: Very important to be high in the Google rankings. These struck me as kind of a nothing-burger. It's very marginal stuff.

FALLOWS: I think there is a line I quoted here from Clay Shirky, who is an NYU media professor, and his line, which I think guides a lot of the tech world's effort is, nothing will work but everything might. That the accumulation of 1,000 efforts in a certain direction can have a cumulative effect.

And I think that is the faith on which a lot of these tech businesses have been built. And they're saying to people like us in a business that for a generation have seen contraction, if you try 1,000 efforts, 90 percent of them won't work, but the 100 percent that will work and that you don't know before you try them, that can be the way that a new business takes place.

KURTZ: But do magazines such as yours and newspapers such as mine have enough time to throw those 900 things against the wall and see what sticks because, obviously, advertising revenue down, online revenue not taking its place...

FALLOWS: Except at The Atlantic Monthly.

KURTZ: ... or reporters...

FALLOWS: Up 22 percent this year.

KURTZ: Oh, right. OK. Let's work that in. But we're living in an age of diminished resources because so much is available for free online. So the clock is ticking, isn't it?

FALLOWS: Sure. The clock is ticking. Number one, what is our alternative to trying to find how we can have a new business basis? Number two, the argument, again, by these people who are involved in the flow of money to online information sources is that it should be possible soon to shunt more money this way.

And it won't be by taking away things that people now get for free, because that never works, but offering new sorts of things. And the iPad is the first little wedge here. I have no commercial interest of any sort in the iPad...

KURTZ: Right. But Apple gets a pretty substantial cut...

FALLOWS: Yes, sure.

KURTZ: ... of the revenue that any organization that puts its app on the...

FALLOWS: Yes. But there are going to be 20 products like this in a year's time. There are just going to be new business models that come up. You know, Politico, which people like and dislike in its coverage, is a very strong business model with a print and online presence, et cetera.

KURTZ: With a print presence that brings in the most lucrative (INAUDIBLE). A dozen years or so ago you were the editor of U.S. News & World Report. You tried to make changes then in the product. U.S. News now essentially a Web site. Newsweek is up for sale. Why do news weeklies seem to be dying?

FALLOWS: I think that news weeklies are probably the most troubled part of the news business. You know, newspapers are more numerous and they have their problems. But news weeklies, it's a form that was invented now 80 years ago by Henry Luce and Briton Hadden for a need that no longer exists. The exist was to -- the need was to distribute across the whole nation digests of the week's news.

So there have been three or four re-inventions of the news week model since -- the news weekly model since that time. There probably is only space for one or maybe one-and-a-half entries in this field.

KURTZ: You recently spent, what, a couple of years living in China?

FALLOWS: Yes, mm-hmm.

KURTZ: When you came back after that period -- and obviously, you were plugged in for the (INAUDIBLE), did the American media seem different to you? What changes did you note?

FALLOWS: Certainly the Internet had had both its business presence and its other presence. And I guess the struggles of the newspaper industry and, in particular, the ways The New York Times and The Washington Post had evolved over the last couple years struck me, since I hadn't seen their physical incarnation in the past three years.

KURTZ: And it struck you as a disappointment or is it still a vibrant form of journalism?

FALLOWS: It struck me that The New York Times was a recognizable version of its previous brand, and The Washington Post had gone through more visible changes, you know, physical changes, physically smaller, a lot of the sections that had gone, a lot of veteran reporters no longer there.

So I was struck by sort of the physical evidence of the newspaper industry's challenges. But, you know, all of these industries have been -- through their history gone through all sorts of business tumult, and they'll find ways to make it.

KURTZ: So, ultimately you're an optimist, even though there are a lot of clouds on the horizon. FALLOWS: Yes. That creative people will find a way to do things they want. And an informed and ever richer populace will demand more information. And somehow these two things will be connected.

KURTZ: What if that populace is happy reading the Lindsay Lohan stories and isn't going to demand that people pay a lot of money -- journalistic organization (INAUDIBLE), to cover Iraq and Afghanistan?

FALLOWS: The problem in particular of supporting Iraq coverage, state house coverage, those two things, foreign coverage and state...

KURTZ: State house coverage is shrinking.

FALLOWS: Yes. And there is an interesting reason. State capitals by design are often in sort of off-the-track cities where you don't get the ambitious young people going as -- they don't -- they go, fewer of them, to Sacramento than to San Francisco, for example.

So, I think this is going to be a particular problem to work on and some mixed solution, partly charitable efforts like Pro Publica, partly different ownership models, you know, partly different revenue models. There will be no one solution, but a lot of ambitious people will find ways to address this need.

KURTZ: And we'll see whether Google plays an important role in that, as well. Jim Fallows, thanks very much for joining us.

FALLOWS: My pleasure.

KURTZ: The optimistic James Fallows. After the break, do you think America suffers from a lack of cooking shows? The Food Network whips up a new channel, but is the menu basically the same?


KURTZ: The Food Network has made a number of chefs into brand names, and now the culinary czars are trying to extend the franchise. With the genre looking increasingly popular on the network morning shows, on PBS, on Bravo's "Top Chef," The Food Network launched a 24- hour operation this week called The Cooking Channel, which is aimed at more serious foodies.


(UNKNOWN): I like the ice cream because it works and responds very much like clay.



(UNKNOWN): I'm (inaudible). I'm passionate about my cocktails. You can mix up so many things behind the bar.



(UNKNOWN): (inaudible) does is we're able to put it into a vacuum machine, pull the air out, then have a giant sponge of rhubarb that we're able to freeze.


KURTZ: The channel has imported such established Food Network stars as Rachael Ray, Emeril Lagasse, and Bobby Flay.


RACHAEL RAY, FOOD NETWORK HOST: We're going to quick-fry the meat and the veggies and toss everybody all together at the end.



EMERIL LAGASSE, FOOD NETWORK HOST: Want to get a skillet on fairly hot?

We want to take our ribeye steak and we want to season the ribeye steak.



BOBBY FLAY, FOOD NETWORK HOST: All right. So we've got the olive oil, the oregano, the garlic. I'm just going to pour it right over the lamb, let this marinate for about an hour, hour and a half.


KURTZ: Now I'm getting hungry. The Cooking Channel also features hosts who now have programs on The Food Network's Canadian outlet, including Chuck Hughes of "Chuck's Day Off" and David Rocco of "La Dolce Vita." I spoke to them earlier from New York.

Chuck Hughes, David Rocco, welcome.

Chuck, let's start with the big enchilada, so to speak, Food Network. A lot of people love it. Does America really need a second food channel?

CHUCK HUGHES, COOKING CHANNEL HOST: You know, I really think that, actually, America is wanting more, and that's why we're on cooking channels, because people want more how-to cooking; they want to learn about food; they want more recipes and really get involved and be creative and get in the kitchen and actually cook.

So I think America wanted this channel, and the people have spoken out and they want more and we're here to give it to them.

KURTZ: David, is there that kind of hunger -- excuse the expression -- for more food programming?



I mean, if you think about it, people are doing food blogs; they're photographing their meals at restaurants and uploading it to Flickr, to their websites. I mean, it's just insane. And so, I mean, we're catering to that hunger, and it's been awesome. I mean, people across the country are so excited for The Cooking Channel.

KURTZ: You are catering, indeed.


Let's talk a little about your programs. Chuck, your program is called -- is built around your day off, but it's not really your day off because you're cooking and there are cameras there.

HUGHES: I haven't had a day off in a while.


Basically, it's a how-to cooking show, and we take people behind the scenes in a restaurant on a day off. So Mondays are my day off. I invite my fishmonger, my plumber, my coffee guy, my linen guy. Basically, I invite everybody in the restaurant to have a meal on my day off. These are all the people that make it happen. They're the behind-the-scenes people that really, you know, make us who we are. You know, there's waitresses, bartenders and, you know, there's the chef in the kitchen, but, really, without these people, we wouldn't be where we are today.

So, you know, it was important to pay my respects and to invite them on the show and get a couple recipes done.

KURTZ: David, let me make sure I have this straight. Your job is to run around Italy, hang out with beautiful women and create dishes, and you get paid for this?

ROCCO: It's a tough gig.


I hope the network's not watching. Yes, apparently, that's what we've sold them. The show is filmed entirely in Italy, Florence, Sicily, the Amalfi Coast. And essentially, we show a slice of life -- Italian life, through food, and, really, that's "La Dolce Vita," connecting people and food and having a good time.

KURTZ: The Food Network, the original Food Network seems to be moving, at least in prime time, more toward reality shows, these competitions, who can beat the iron chef, the worst cook in America and so forth.

Do you think that's because, maybe, the whole 20-year-old genre of watching people stand at a stove and stir up the ingredients has gotten a little dated? Either one.

ROCCO: Go ahead, Chuck.

HUGHES: You know, basically, what I think is, you know, food has become such a big part of our culture. People are knowledgeable. They want to learn more. They want to eat, and they want food under every aspect. You know, they want -- they want the cooking shows; they want the competitions; and they want to see it all. They want it all.

And Cooking Channel is going to give them more food-based recipes, more how-to cooking, and just get back in the kitchen and cook.

KURTZ: But it's also going to be good television, which is why I assume that Food has jumped on this reality show trend.

ROCCO: Absolutely. And, you know, good cooking shows don't teach you how to cook; they inspire you to get into the kitchen, cook and really connect with each other through food.

So, hopefully, you know, that's what we do, and I think that's what people are actually excited about, not just cooking demo shows but really that -- it's a lifestyle.

KURTZ: Right. But, I mean, you guys -- when I watch these shows, whether it's you guys or Emeril or Rachael Ray, I mean, you make it look easy, and I'm wondering, like, how much sweat there is behind the scenes.

You know, can you really cook a meal in 30 minutes?

ROCCO: Oh, absolutely, even in five minutes. I mean our show...

KURTZ: Well, you're pros.

ROCCO: Well, on our show, we talk about the simplicity of cooking and, you know, like a Caprese salad, fantastic local ingredients and good olive oil, some slices of mozzarella. You drizzle some olive oil, salt, ripped basil, and you have a great little recipe in probably two minutes. So, absolutely.

KURTZ: So you're not necessarily aiming at the sophisticated cook. The average person can watch and, maybe, learn something?

ROCCO: Well, you know, Italian cooking is really la cocina pauvre, which is the poor peasant man's dish. And all these recipes, like pasta fagioli and the Caprese salad and panzanella are dishes that are having a revival that any five-star restaurant in New York is actually sharing, but, really, its roots are basic, and it's simple food. And in this economy, you know, it's really economical.

KURTZ: And, Chuck, here's the most important question I have for you, is, what's with the tattoos? Is this an art form?

(LAUGHTER) HUGHES: Yes, you know, growing up, I always had a fascination for tattoos.

KURTZ: Why don't you show us a couple?

HUGHES: You know, lobster, shrimp, lemon meringue pie. It's all things that I -- that I really deeply enjoy love. And when I turned 18, I said, you know, I want to immortalize some of these items on my body.


KURTZ: So you didn't just do this for TV; you already had these tattoos when you became on television?

HUGHES: No, these are on there. This is a -- this is a life sentence right here, so...


KURTZ: All right. Well, you'll probably become even bigger in Canada once you make it to the U.S. market.

Chuck Hughes, David Rocco, thanks very much.

Up next, the oil spill, again dominating the talk circuit this morning. Candy Crowley joins us from "The Sound of Sunday," straight ahead.


KURTZ: The Coast Guard's Thad Allen out on four Sunday programs this morning, including State of the Union. And here to analyze the message is Candy Crowley.

CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, STATE OF THE UNION: The message is, and this is interesting, because Admiral Allen has been at this now for many a week, and part of what he's had to do over time has been to kind of dial back BP. Saying, well, this is not exactly -- and it struck me on Saturday when BP said that it was very pleased with how the new containment cap was working as we meanwhile see all these pictures. And so I asked the admiral if he was very pleased.


ALLEN: I don't think anybody should be pleased as long as there's oil in the water. What they have been able to do is put a containment cap over the leak site, start to bring oil to the surface and produce it, and slowly start turning off those vents that have been in the oil. So I would say progress has been made, but nobody should be pleased until a relief well is done.

CROWLEY: And this is really why people have a problem with BP, isn't it?

ALLEN: Well, you know, they're making progress. And I think they need to understand that they set out goals in their medium, and that's good, but we all need to know that it's the relief wells, capping this well, killing this well is what's important.


KURTZ: Are others starting to blame the media?

CROWLEY: Yes, that was the other thing, because here are these governors, all of them, the four Gulf states going, we need more ships and we need more boom and we've got -- and where's BP? And at the same time, it's really Louisiana that has a huge beach problem at this point, so the other senators and governors are going, yes, we really need this help. But by the way, come on down and go fishing. So they are blaming the media because that's what we're focusing on, is the oil well, so listen to this.


SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: The bad part is that people think that there's oil there and they're canceling their fishing trips. They're canceling their hotels. They're not going into the restaurants because they're not coming. They are canceling orders of our fish houses because they're afraid that the seafood is tainted. And as a result, there is a huge economic impact that is beginning to be felt.


KURTZ: So they'll be blaming the pelicans for getting themselves covered with oil.

CROWLEY: It's just like the disaster before the disaster. So there was one more thing I wanted to share with you just because it was great TV. Haley Barbour, governor of Mississippi -- nobody is a better politician than Haley Barbour is. And the question to him was about how he thought the president was doing, whether there was something there to criticize. Listen to this as the art of the political soundbite.


GOV. HALEY BARBOUR, (R), MISSISSIPPI: The American people want problems solved, and they don't need Republican politicians like me piling on. The American people are making up their minds pretty clearly about what they think of the administration's performance in this disaster, and I'll let it stand at that. You know, Napoleon said never interfere with the enemy while he's in the process of destroying himself.


KURTZ: So he takes a shot without taking a shot.

CROWLEY: That's right. He said I am not going to criticize the president. The last thing he needs is someone like me piling on him. By the way, Napoleon said don't interrupt your enemy when they're busy destroying themselves.

KURTZ: Message, this is Barack Obama's Waterloo, but I didn't say that.

CROWLEY: He was great.

KURTZ: All right, Candy Crowley, thanks very much for stopping by.

CROWLEY: Thank you.

KURTZ: My two cents on some efforts at damage control in just a moment.


KURTZ: Joe McGinniss, the attention-grabbing author, may have every legal right to rent the house next door to Sarah Palin as he writes a book about her. But the move is, let's face it, kind of creepy. People who don't like the former governor are ripping her for criticizing him as she did on Glenn Beck's show.


SARAH PALIN, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: Any mom in my position, if they put themselves in my shoes, they would feel the same way. And that is--

GLENN BECK, TALK SHOW HOST: Of course they would.

PALIN: -- do your thing, do your thing, but keep your distance, and you better leave my kids alone.

KURTZ: McGinniss went on the offensive on the Today Show.

MATT LAUER, NBC: You've obviously gotten some strong criticism from people over on Fox News, I'm sure you're not surprised by that. But words like stalker, voyeur, peeping tom.

JOE MCGINNISS, AUTHOR: Sarah hysterically puts up this Facebook page with all sorts of ugly innuendo, which frankly is revolting, the things that she has caused people to say about me. She has created all the publicity. I didn't expect any publicity at all. I'm not calling her a Nazi, but that's the same kind of tactic that the Nazi troopers used in Germany in the '30s. And I don't think there's any place for it in America.

KURTZ: Nazi tactics? She created the publicity? Come on. Who would want a prying journalist observing their family's comings and goings in close range.

In an update on another media controversy, you've all seen the hidden camera video of Sarah Ferguson offering to sell access to her ex-husband Prince Andrew for 500,000 pounds. A reporter for the British tabloid News of the World trapped her by posing as a wealthy businessman. Fergie sought forgiveness this week from a different kind of royal, the queen of daytime talk.

OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: As we were watching the tape, I heard you say, "sad really, sad."


WINFREY: Yes. So when you watched that, you feel mostly?

FERGUSON: Terrible sorrow. There aren't really very many words to describe an act of such great stupidity.

KURTZ: The duchess of York claimed she needed the money to help out a friend. Oprah was having none of it.

WINFREY: But this doesn't make any sense to me, so you have to really clear this up for me and the audience, because I am the audience, surrogate audience member here. Why would you, Sarah Ferguson, duchess of York, meet with a stranger to talk about his problems or his wife, and you went on with the dinner? Why did you do that? Were you that desperate? You can't ask the queen or you can't ask your ex-husband.


KURTZ: Oprah did her job. She didn't even have to say how lame Fergie's I was just sloshed defense was. We all got to see it. And this time, the cameras were out in the open.

Well, that's it for this edition of Reliable Sources. I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us again next Sunday morning, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media. You can download our podcast on iTunes or at Become a friend of the show on Facebook.

Now here's "State of the Union" with Candy Crowley.