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Reliable Sources

GOP Wins Control of House of Representatives

Aired November 07, 2010 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: It wasn't quite as big a wave as some pundits predicted, but it was high enough and deep enough to give Republicans control of the House. But are the media covering this 60- seat swing with less enthusiasm than the Obama victory? Folks at MSNBC sure look glum.

Is the press blaming the president? And will journalists treat John Boehner the way they treated Nancy Pelosi?

Keith Olbermann suspended by MSNBC for donating thousands to Democratic candidates. Does that make him "The Worst Person in the World," or did the network overreact?

Plus, some television pundits aren't too happy with Jon Stewart's rally. Did "The Daily Show" host hit the right target when he denounced cable news?

I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.

For journalists here in Washington, divided government is now the story. In the House, that means covering a new Speaker, new committee chairman, a new power center that shatters the Democratic monopoly on power.

After a year of trying to understand the Tea Party and the fed-up voters and the dissatisfaction with President Obama, the media faced yet another election night in which one party kicked the stuffing out of the other.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Well, they split up the government. They made it very clear they don't like the way things are being run. That means the president, that means the Democrats, the government as a whole, and the U.S. economy, most of all.

JOHN KING, HOST, CNN: A devastating night for the Democrats that fundamentally changes American politics.

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: It was a prove yourself vote. And most Americans believe President Obama has not yet proved himself to be an effective leader. Therefore, his policies were widely repudiated.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, "THE HUFFINGTON POST": Well, I agree that the Democrats, and especially the White House, did not listen to the American people.

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: You know, only 37 percent of the electorate actually said they were expressing opposition in their vote for President Obama.


KURTZ: Now, we have a whole lot of questions to sort through in examining the media's role in the midterms, the post-game spin, and these new Republican power brokers.

Joining us now, Alex Wagner, White House correspondent for "Politics Daily"; Frank Sesno, director of the George Washington School of Media and Public Affairs, and a former CNN executive"; and Peter Baker, White House correspondent for "The New York Times."

Frank Sesno, did journalists signal a kind of uneasiness with this Republican surge? I mean, look at the terms: "earthquake," "tsunami," "Category 5 hurricane," that you simply didn't see or hear when the Democrats seized the Hill in 2006.

FRANK SESNO, DIRECTOR, GEORGE WASHINGTON SCHOOL OF MEDIA AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS: No, I don't think they did, actually. I mean, I think these are terms that we use to capture the magnitude of the change, not the judgment on those who are making the clang. I think there was, in fact, an unusual enthusiasm for Obama because of the history-making nature of his campaign. And frankly, a lot of people in the media were sort of in love with him in that moment two years ago.

KURTZ: But you certainly can't argue that a lot of people in the media were in love with the Republicans who took over the House.

SESNO: No, I think that's probably true, but partly because they're familiar and they've been around. Obama is sort of this new, fresh character.

I think that some of the terminology that was used was wrapped and framed around the Democrats, so it was perceived as more of a setback for the Democrats. It may have sounded like it was siding with the Democrats, but it deserves the kind of tsunami-like characterization it got.

KURTZ: Is it fair to say, Peter Baker, that journalists have struggled all year to grasp the public dissatisfaction, to understand the motivations of the Tea Party movement, and why Obama didn't seem to be getting credit for some of the thing he accomplished?

PETER BAKER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Sure, I think that's right. I think you see different interpretations of what this vote means.

You heard a lot of commentators say in your clips this is repudiation of Obama. You heard President Obama say what the voters said is we ought to work together, and they're frustrated I haven't gone far enough. Well, those are very radically different ideas about what this vote meant, and I think the media has captured in the same sort of disagreement about how to read these numbers and how to interpret them for the pubic.

KURTZ: Conflicting public sentiment, and journalists perhaps a bit conflicted as well.

I want to play some sound for you, Alex Wagner. There were a lot of predictions coming up to Election Day. Here's a couple of people talking about the Nevada Senate race.


HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: What amazes me is that Harry Reid, the Democratic leader of the Senate, may lose to that person.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: With one day to go, it's looking more and more likely that Sharron Angle will unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.


KURTZ: And Bill O'Reilly bet money that Sharron Angle would win. He had to pay off that bet.

Did the pundits get so swept away with the polls and the predictions, that they made it seem like the Republicans were going to take over the Senate, to too?

ALEX WAGNER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "POLITICS DAILY": Well, I think it was a sexy series of races. Right?

You had candidates like Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell and Rand Paul, who were doing crazy things that hadn't been done before. It was a great narrative for the media to cover. And the fact that a lot of these races were neck-and-neck like in Nevada made it an exciting thing to cover. In terms --

KURTZ: You're not saying the candidates were crazy? You're saying they were doing some --

WAGNER: I'm saying it's a sexy narrative, Howard.

KURTZ: -- unorthodox things. OK.

WAGNER: And, you know, given that, I think there was a desire for this to be sort of -- you know, it was great for the ratings, it was great for print coverage. At the end of the day, I don't think anybody really knew what was going to happen. And so in that way, it was a really exciting story.

BAKER: Keep in mind, if you don't mind my interrupting, in 1994, and in 2006, we all said, going into Election Day, probably one House, not the other. In both cases were we wrong. It turned out to be both houses. So, there was reason to think in the last few days, does a wave election end up bringing another House along with the one we think is going to go? So I think there's reason to look at it both ways.

KURTZ: I have some sound for you, Frank Sesno, as the media guy.

SESNO: Oh, good. I can hardly wait.

KURTZ: This is MSNBC's coverage, both after John Boehner was declaring victory and choked up a little bit, and then, also, Rand Paul claiming victory in the Kentucky Senate race.

Here is some of how MSNBC covered that.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MINORITY LEADER: I spent my whole life chasing the American dream.

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: Not to rain on anybody's parade, but I was led to believe it would be Democrats who would be crying tonight.

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC: If he filibusters the debt ceiling beyond that point, he cannot only destroy the credit rating of the United States of America, he can wreck havoc on the world financial markets, cause a worldwide depression.


KURTZ: OK. So that's MSNBC. But isn't it fair to say that journalists are skeptical of some of these newer Republican faces, whether it be Rand Paul or others, who are not sort of cut from the orthodox establishment GOP mold?

SESNO: Oh, "skeptical" would be a word you could use.

KURTZ: OK. What word would you use? Am I being too soft here?

SESNO: I think you're being too soft.

KURTZ: Hostile?

SESNO: Hostile, dismissive, think that they're marginal characters who represent marginalized voters who can't be taken seriously.

KURTZ: How is that fair?

SESNO: And they do that at their own peril.

WAGNER: But at the same time, they had a very antagonistic relationship with the press. I mean, Sharron Angle running away from them in parking lots, banning them from victory parties. You know, Carl Paladino saying he's going to take someone out from -- you know.

SESNO: OK, fine. But they may run away from you. You may not have a great relationship. But guess what? They're elected now, the voters have spoken.

What are you going to do? Are you going to treat them as marginalized characters?

WAGNER: Right. Some of them were elected, right.

SESNO: Well, some of them -- right, some of them are elected. But they are where they are now.

So now it's going to be very interesting to see how they get covered and how the issues that they touch upon get covered, and whether they're just covered as fringe players, or whether they're covered as true participants in a meaningful policymaking scheme. I mean, they matter.

KURTZ: And I want to see how they do when they run up against the usual Washington gridlock, where it's a lot harder to get things done.

Let me come back to Boehner, because it was an interesting moment, the way he choked up here. And he is on the cover of the new "TIME" magazine, if we could put that up. Let's see if we got -- there we go.

Peter Baker, Nancy Pelosi got a great ride in the media, at least initially, as the first woman Speaker, history maker and so forth. I wonder if you think -- you know, now I pick up your newspaper, or "The Washington Post," or "TIME," and I read about Boehner as one of 12 kids growing up in Ohio, his father owned a tavern, he worked lowly jobs.

I never read any of that before.

BAKER: Well, I think you read some of that in last few weeks.

KURTZ: Last few weeks, OK.

BAKER: Well, but when do you pay attention to the guy who might become Speaker? In the last few weeks before an election.

KURTZ: There was a poll in your newspaper, a "New York Times"/CBS poll. Three-quarters of those surveyed said they had no opinion of John Boehner. I would argue that's a journalistic failure. He's been the House minority leader.

BAKER: But what was the number for Nancy Pelosi before she became Speaker?


BAKER: I mean, the fact is, individual members of Congress, until they become Speaker, are unknown in the public consciousness. The minority leader, with the exception of Newt Gingrich, as an exception (INAUDIBLE), are generally not well known by the public. And I think that's not surprising. The public is looking at broader trends and they're not paying attention to who's up and who's down. SESNO: One of 435. I mean, if you look at the inside-the- beltway crowd, read "The Hill," read "Roll Call," they know who John Boehner is.

KURTZ: Right, but he was not one of 435. With the Democrats controlling everything here in the Capitol, there were two Republicans, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, who were the opposition. And I just think that we focused so much on the Democrats because they did control everything, that we never really treated some of these Republicans as human beings, and of course that changes when you become Speaker.


KURTZ: I also want to get to Sarah Palin. You know, there was that incident where she referred to a couple of journalists on the Anchorage television station who were overheard, a phone call, either joking around or looking for dirt on Republican nominee Joe Miller, in that Senate race, as corrupt bastards. They later lost their jobs.

And here's more of what the former governor had to say.


SARAH PALIN (R), FMR. ALASKA GOVERNOR: First, let me make it clear that nobody has constrained me being here as a contributor to Fox. I still talk to whomever I want to. I will not talk to reporters who have an obvious bias or a vendetta, or are going to turn my words into something that they are not meant to be and take things out of context.


KURTZ: Shepard Smith had asked her if she wasn't kind of protected within the Fox family and if this would change this.


SESNO: -- Katie Couric.

KURTZ: But, excuse me, what reporters, as Palin talked about, outside the Fox bubble? I'm not aware of this.

SESNO: I don't think she has in a meaningful way. And the question whether she should. And the answer is, of course she should.

You just asked a minute ago, why didn't the American people know John Boehner better? Well, why don't the American people know Sarah Palin better? She's so carefully managing her image and who she's talking to, and she should be talked to more.

KURTZ: This whole trend among some -- mostly Republican candidates to avoid the press, certainly -- candidates have run against the press for a long time, but they just basically not hold any news conference.


SESNO: They don't need to.

KURTZ: Because anybody, except if you're a conservative, you go on Hannity's show occasionally.

Is that pretty troubling or is just something that --

BAKER: I think it's sad and disturbing. I would hope that people of all different parts of the political spectrum could think that they get a fair shake from the press and that they ought to in fact find something utility in talking to people who, at least in theory, are communicating to the public, but they don't need us anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They don't need you anymore.

BAKER: I don't agree with that.

SESNO: They announce their candidacies online.


KURTZ: But is that true? Because some of those who didn't need the press -- you mentioned Christine O'Donnell, you mentioned Sharron Angle -- they lost.

WAGNER: Yes. But I would also -- to put this in the longer lens of history, you know, Meacham has an article -- an op-ed in "The Washington Post" today saying --

KURTZ: This is "Newsweek" editor Jon Meacham.

WAGNER: Exactly. Sorry Yes.


WAGNER: And, you know, George Washington had issues with the press, right?

The issue is that the press has -- what is the press? Which is to say Twitter is the press, Facebook is the press. I mean, the media environment is so saturated, that every single decision becomes an apocalyptic moment for whoever is in charge.

KURTZ: You mentioned Christine O'Donnell earlier. Before we go to break, I tuned in this week and I saw her being interviewed on "The Today Show." She apparently is pursuing a book deal.

She was the most covered candidate of anybody in 2010, but she was always a long shot. She lost by 17 points.

Why is the guy who beat her, Chris Coons, not getting the TV invitations and Christine O'Donnell is on "The Today Show"?

WAGNER: Christine O'Donnell had Wiccan practices, satanic dates, and, you know, I mean, the woman was a media frenzy. There was no way she wasn't going to get the coverage she was going to get.

SESNO: I was at a Capitol Steps performance the other night. They have a whole thing on Christine O'Donnell. Huge applause, so they know a personality when they see one.

KURTZ: Sometimes you can lose the race but win the culture war.

All right. Let me get a break here.

When we come back, the president meets the press, and pinning him down on the Democratic debacle was not easy.

And later, should MSNBC have suspended Keith Olbermann for giving money to Democratic candidates?


KURTZ: I was watching in the East Room this week as President Obama met with the press just hours after his party lost control of the House. It took 57 minutes for the rather subdued president to call Tuesday's vote a "shellacking," but reporters kept asking different versions of the same question -- was Obama to blame?


SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS: If you're not reflecting on your policy agenda, is it possible voters can conclude you're still not getting it?

ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Is it possible that there are a majority of Americans who think your policies are taking us in reverse?

JAKE TAPPER, ABC NEWS: What does feel like?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It feels bad. You know, the toughest thing over the last couple of days is seeing really terrific public servants not have the opportunity to serve anymore, at least in the short term.


KURTZ: Jake Tapper's "What does it feel like?" got the first personal answer of the day.

Alex Wagner, did the White House make any effort to spin reporters this week about these results?

WAGNER: Oh, we think that the sort of word of the day was "resolute," and that was sort of the way the president went in there and was not going to talk about the emotional feeling, being emotionally bereft over the results, which was evident in the fact that it took him 57 minutes to say he was "shellacked," and that he was going to focus and throw the ball back to Republicans and say, again and again, I'm looking for cooperation, no one party can govern -- (CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: But you didn't have White House aides on the phone with you saying, oh, it wasn't so bad, or it wasn't as bad as we expected?

WAGNER: Well, I think there was, behind the scenes, a sort of, we thought this was sort of maybe going to happen. But the emphasis here, again, is governing and bringing the country out of an economic recession, et cetera, et cetera.

KURTZ: All right.

Peter Baker, at the news conference, the president seemed -- it seemed like -- you asked a question, as well -- reporters were really pressing Obama to give some kind of personal reaction. And I wonder why he -- whether you found that frustrating, or is that typical for Obama, where you can't pull it out of him?

BAKER: He's not a very emoting guy in a public sphere like that. He's not --

KURTZ: He's not a Clintonian "feel your pain" president.

BAKER: He's not Clintonian, "feel your pain." It does take a while to get him to warm up to that kind of the thing.

But, you know, the question was the same, because, in fact, I think people were trying to get at the essential element of this election. And I think that you heard a very different interpretation by him than he was hearing from a lot of other people. And that's why people kept coming back at him.

KURTZ: He foreshadowed that with you, ""The New York Times" magazine story you did that ran just before the election, which he kept saying, basically, he had had a communications problem, they hadn't spent enough time of the selling the policies, but not acknowledging there was anything wrong with the policies themselves.

BAKER: Right. Exactly. No, he doesn't think that they're doing the policies wrong. He thinks that they're not explaining well.

And there's something to that, obviously. A lot of people would say that part of it is true. A lot of people would say, well, there's also more to it. You can't simply ignore the underlying questions about where the voters are in terms of your values and your -- where they want to take the country now.

SESNO: How, I'd like to make two points about this.

First, this is a key -- a classic example where we see the fundamental adversarial relationship and difference in purpose between the media and the president. It's the media's job to come there, and they want the quote, they want the acknowledgement, but what they know from the exit polls, what we've experienced, what you've been covering all through this campaign, actually has registered at the White House and gets somebody, meaning the president, to acknowledge it. Because there was great dissatisfaction with Obama, whether it's his narrative or his policies or politics or anything else.

KURTZ: And he clearly didn't want to say --


SESNO: Yes, and that's in their interest. They're not going to do that. He's got to continue to govern. The way Clinton handled, when he got the Democrats thrown out, he said, I'm not irrelevant. OK?

KURTZ: That was a few months later.


BAKER: The new doughnut hole that they're talking about isn't in health care, but it's in the problem the administration has in terms of connecting with the American public.

SESNO: The other fundamental thing that's very interesting here is that where we are in this story right now. Where we are in the story now is in the finger-pointing and the knife-throwing, right? But let's think about where--

KURTZ: That's just journalists.

SESNO: That's our job and it's, by the way, what the public --

KURTZ: It's our job to throw knives?

SESNO: Yes, a little bit. You know, you hope you don't hurt anybody too much. But, you know, keep them sharp.

But remember back when we were in a similar economic mess, when Reagan, in '82, got more than two dozen Republicans lost their job. And it was terrible until things started turning around.

KURTZ: Let me jump in. The economy overhangs everything.

The president going on "60 Minutes" tonight, again with Steve Kroft. He's been on "The View," he's been on "The Daily Show." He did a radio interview with Ryan Seacrest.

Is there such a thing as too much media exposure?

BAKER: Well, that's the thing, ironically. What Republican critics would say, when you say it's a communications problem, how can that be? You're everywhere. We can't not turn on the TV and see you.

He has to get out there. He wants to still fill the space.

Remember, after the 1994 election, part of the difference was Clinton was shocked. They didn't really expect it. The House hadn't been in Republican hands in 40 years. These guys saw it coming.

And so it wasn't as big a shock. And I think what he wants to do is not allow Republicans to occupy the entire space. KURTZ: But as long --

SESNO: It's not who he's talking to, it's what he says.

KURTZ: Well, as long as he's doing everything, he's welcome on this program.

Frank Sesno, Peter Baker, Alex Wagner, thanks for joining us.

Coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, Joan Walsh and Matt Lewis weigh in on the coverage of the new Republican power brokers. Plus, Keith Olbermann suspended for giving thousands of dollars to Democrats. Should commentators be allowed to support candidates?

And later, some cable news guys firing back at Jon Stewart over his potshots at that Washington rally. Did the comedian draw some blood?


KURTZ: It was less than two weeks ago that Keith Olbermann had an interview with a Democrat on his MSNBC program without disclosing a key fact.

Take a look.


OLBERMANN: Let's go back to where this all started, in Arizona, and Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva.

Congressman, good to talk to you again.

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA (D), ARIZONA: Good to talk to you, my friend.


KURTZ: What viewers didn't know was that Olbermann had donated $2,400, the legal maximum, to Grijalva's campaign the same day as that interview. The "Countdown" host also donating that same sum to two other Democratic candidates.

It was just last month that Olbermann was pouncing on political donations by the parent company of Fox News.


OLBERMANN: I want to begin with Congressman Clyburn on Mr. Murdoch's News Corp.

A million dollars to the RGA, a million dollars to the U.S. Chamber of Congress, which is bankrolling this $75 million attack. What is the Democratic strategy, the political strategy, for dealing with a media outlet that has now put its money where everybody has known its mouth has always been? (END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: On Friday, MSNBC president Phil Griffin suspend Olbermann indefinitely for those contributions, saying they were in violation of NBC News policy.

Joining us now to talk about this, the election night coverage, and how the media are treating the resurgent Republicans, here in Washington, Matt Lewis, blogger and political analyst for And in San Francisco, Joan Walsh, the editor-in- chief of

Joan Walsh, you're a pretty regular guest on various MSNBC programs. Do you think the network did the right thing by suspending Olbermann?

JOAN WALSH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SALON.COM: You know, I'm not sure we have all the facts yet. I respect and admire Keith a great deal. I personally think he should have disclosed a donation like that.

But, you know, there's a lot -- we're dealing in gossip right now, where people are saying he knew about the policy, he didn't know about the policy, he should have apologized. And so, you know, it's kind of become this media storm when we don't really have all of the facts.

I hope Keith talks more, I hope Phil Griffin talks more, so we really understand what happened. But it's -- it can't be compared to Fox.

It's very silly to compare Fox's ginormous corporate donations to the Republican Party, as well as roughly 30 different Fox employees gave to the Republicans. So I think that attempting to equate these things is a little bit off track.

KURTZ: And on that point, Matt Lewis, it is true, leaving aside what a corporation does, because Time Warner and GE and all these media corporations give money. But Sean Hannity, for example, giving money to Michele Bachmann, and then interviewing her, no disclosure. But it's not against Fox's rules, it is against NBC's rules.

MATT LEWIS, POLITICAL ANALYST, POLITICSDAILY.COM: Right. And I think that's really fundamental to this.

I mean, look, if you break a company's policy, you should be suspended. I don't think this is a fireable offense, but it's certainly hypocritical of Olbermann and it's certainly breaking policy.

I think he should be suspended. But, look, first of all, the policy may or may not be smart. It could very well be a stupid policy.

It may be that if you host an evening show, and you obviously have a point of view, as Olbermann does, that you should be exempted from the policy, that's something to look at. But, look when you put him on election night and have him co-hosting election night coverage, that's sort of giving him the (INAUDIBLE) of being a legitimate journalist.

KURTZ: I'll come back to that point.

But, Joan Walsh, you know, at CNN, for example, part-time contributors are not covered by the ethics policy, so that you have James Carville, Paul Begala, who sign --


WALSH: Sure.

KURTZ: What about the point that if you're a commentator -- and I would say you're still a journalist -- but if you're a commentator, everyone hears your point of view every night, that maybe it should be OK for you to give money.

WALSH: Well, you know, I'm probably fine with that, too, Howie. The question is, what was the policy? Was the policy well known? Was the policy fairly and uniformly enforced?

But we're kind of -- you know, there's a way in which we're getting into what is simply a workplace dispute. And I agree with Matt. If he broke the rules, he should face some consequences. But, you know, people are being fired for things every day, and there's an element to this story.

You and I -- the three of us, this is a media show, so we get a pass. We can talk about it. But I want to say that the media pile-on on this story is part of why people don't like the media, because we're sitting here naval gazing about this very wealthy man, respected by many of us, reviled by others, who is going to be fine whatever happens, while people across the country are getting thrown out of their jobs. It's a little bit of media overkill, in my opinion.

KURTZ: All right. Well, I'll agree with you on this point -- I'd like to hear what Keith Olbermann has to say. He has been silent since this happened.

Now, Fox News, as I think you alluded to, Matt, had a very good night on election night. And I just don't mean because Sean Hannity's party captured the House. Let's take a look.


KURTZ (voice-over): With Bret Baier and Megyn Kelly anchoring the coverage, the network drew seven million viewers. That's more than ABC's Diane Sawyer, NBC's Brian Williams, or CBS' Katie Couric attracted during their one-hour specials at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

2.5 million watched the returns on CNN, and just under two million on MSNBC, which went with an all-liberal lineup of Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Lawrence O'Donnell, and Gene Robinson.


KURTZ: Matt Lewis, what do you make of Fox News drawing seven million on election night? That's a monster number?

LEWIS: It is, and they deserved it. Fox News election night was by far the best coverage. That's what I was watching election night.


LEWIS: Because Bret Baier and Megyn Kelly. Here you have people who are really journalists. I guess Megyn Kelly sometimes has her opinions --

KURTZ: That's true.

LEWIS: -- that tend to be conservative. But look, I think that MSNBC, they should go with the Joe -- when it's a big night, a debate night, an election night, they shouldn't have these hosts. It would be as if Fox had O'Reilly and Hannity hosting. I think it's a very poor model.

When they should instead do is actually have a bit of a firewall. I'd like to see the "Morning Joe" model. I mean, let's have people like Chuck Todd. I think Eugene Robinson was a good pick. How about Howard Fineman? That's the direction they should go in.

KURTZ: Well, let me go back to Joan.

I was surprised there wasn't at least one conservative on, a Pat Buchanan or a Scarborough, to provide a little bit of balance.

WALSH: You know, I'm not privy to their decision-making or why they weren't included. You know, I mean I think, look, my friends at Fox deserve a lot of congratulations.

They've created a clubhouse for Republicans, they've created a clubhouse for Obama haters, and it's going to get really interesting, too. I mean, I'm going to have to start watching Fox, because they've got four potential 2012 conditions. They've got Gingrich, Palin, Huckabee and maybe Rick Santorum, who's kind of a dark horse over there.

It's going to be like reality TV. The gladiators are going to come out, they're going to be smacking one another. It's must-see television.

KURTZ: We've already made some news here. Joan Walsh is going to start watching Fox News.

I want to get to one more point, and that is President Obama, on his overseas trip, there was this story that bubbled up in the conservative media that didn't have the virtue of being true.

Here's Sean Hannity interviewing Congresswoman Michele Bachmann about it.


HANNITY: He's going to one of the biggest mosques in Indonesia. Apparently 3,000 people. Did I read that right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two hundred million dollars.

HANNITY: Two hundred million dollars?

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: The president of the United States will be taking a trip over to India that is expected to cost the taxpayers $200 million a day. He's taking 2,000 people with him.



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: The White House is saying that idea that this is a $200 million, you know, boondoggle is completely overstated, that that number, it's wildly inflated, those numbers.

BACHMANN: Well, these are the numbers that have been coming out in the press.


KURTZ: They weren't so much coming out in the press as they were coming out on conservative shows, Joan Walsh. I thought Anderson Cooper did a good job of pushing back there.

But did journalists do a good enough job overall of pushing back against stories that don't have any basis in fact?

WALSH: Well, I think -- really, I do think that most journalists did. I mean, this -- when we get to the question of, is Fox a news source? You've got Fox broadcasting these lies, and then it's up to other people to take it apart.

And Anderson took it apart very quickly. Politfact, and a lot of other news organizations got there right away and said, wait a second, there's no way that this is true and here's why.

KURTZ: All right. Let me turn to Matt Lewis.

WALSH: So, again, it was an attempt to smear this president, and this time it didn't work.

LEWIS: I think that there's a huge discussion to be had here, because cable news and blogs have changed the world. They've really changed who is a journalist, who isn't a journalist. What I like to see --

KURTZ: But whether you're a journalist or not, we're talking here about, was it true? And these numbers were essentially made up.

WALSH: Right.

LEWIS: Well, what I'd like to see cable news shows do -- and this goes to Hannity, actually, specifically -- is actually have a firewall between who is an opinion host, sort of like a newspaper, right, the op-ed section, versus who is a journalist?

And I think Hannity would clearly be an opinion page person. By the way, let me say, he did give money to Michele Bachmann. Typically, it's not an issue because everybody knows she's a conservative. But she's now in a leadership battle again Jeb Hensarling. Now maybe that becomes an issue, right, as they cover --


WALSH: Right, that's a very good point. It's very interesting. And it's kind of why even opinion journalists maybe shouldn't contribute, because even within the realm of conservative or liberal opinion, their choices could be controversial.

But one thing to Matt. I mean, I think even conservatives and even liberals, opinion journalists, really have an obligation to check their facts.

LEWIS: Absolutely.

WALSH: So it's not just that Hannity, oh, he's just going to blow of steam. He's putting out lies. He's not doing the basic, basic groundwork to figure out if they're true.


WALSH: That's not good journalism from the left or the right.

KURTZ: I have an obligation to air some commercials.


KURTZ: So, up next, the media gear up for divided government after this week's Democratic fiasco. Are the Republicans getting the scrutiny they deserve?


KURTZ: Turning now to the midterms and a big win for the GOP.

Matt Lewis, are Republicans going to now face tougher media scrutiny because they'll actually be in charge of something?

LEWIS: Well, certainly tougher scrutiny than they have in past, and rightly so. I think, you know, when you win the election, all of a sudden the spotlight's brighter, there's going to be more attention paid to them.

But the other thing that you always have to keep in mind -- and I know this is from conservatives, a comment lament -- but it's media bias. As you know, Gallup has shown that four times -- I'm sorry, two times as many Americans identify themselves as conservative than liberal, but Pew has consistently shown that four times as many journalists identify themselves as liberal.

KURTZ: But the question is the coverage. And let me come to Joan Walsh on this.

Have the media -- we were just looking at pictures of John Boehner and Eric Cantor, who will be running the House of Representatives -- have the media tried to pin down Republicans on -- when they talk about cutting big government down to size, which is a great applause line, on exactly which programs they plan to cut?

WALSH: No, I think they have not. And I think that -- let me take that back. Periodically, reporters do try. They don't succeed.

That's not necessarily the fault of the media. I think that John Boehner -- I think the Republican message has been intentionally vague, has been intentionally opaque, has been all about no, and not about yes. And now they are -- if they're going to make any gains, if they're actually going to try to govern or be partners in governing, they are going to have to come out with, what would they cut?

You know, this question about extending the Bush tax cuts, it's really very ironic that people who are allegedly concerned about the deficit want to add that much more, you know, hundreds of billions to the deficit. They're going to have to do the math. And to this point, they have been very evasive about doing that math and what they will cut in order to pay for a massive giveaway to the rich.

KURTZ: Right.

And let me close with Matt.

It's not media bias to want to know the details of, what are you going to do about the deficit? But yet, you're doing tax cuts and exactly what popular programs you're going to cut. That's media bias.

LEWIS: No. I think those are legitimate questions. I think Chris Matthews actually, on MSNBC, has asked that question a lot to Republicans who have been on.

And let me also say this -- if you look at the coverage of Boehner versus Pelosi, Boehner has actually gotten pretty good coverage so far. Now, there might be a Gingrich that stole Christmas moment coming up in December, but so far, I think you have to say Boehner's gotten a fair shake.

KURTZ: OK. And now he's got to produce.

Matt Lewis, Joan Walsh in San Francisco, thanks very much for joining us.

After the break, Jon Stewart capped off his Washington rally with a denunciation of cable news, and not everyone has been applauding. David Carr and Rachel Sklar in a moment.


KURTZ: Jon Stewart drew a huge crowd to his rally on the Mall last weekend. I was there. It was huge. But the debate didn't end when they folded up the tents. "The Daily Show" host closed on a serious note by ripping the partisans of cable news and showing them making lots of inflammatory comments.


JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": The country's 24-hour politico, pundit, perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems. But its existence makes solving them that much harder.

KURTZ (voice-over): Well, one of his most prominent targets hit back this week. Keith Olbermann objected to what he called Stewart's false equivalence between the conservative commentators on Fox News and MSNBC's liberal hosts.

OLBERMANN: What are the odds that a network, this one, which acquired a progressive bent, essentially by inadvertence after I took a stand against the Iraq War that is now the definition of mainstream, would be exactly as bad as a network founded by a conservative billionaire who hired a former Nixon campaign man to run it for the expressed purpose of espousing the same right-wing view of the world, that the same company loses millions of dollars a year pushing a failed newspaper with, and which then gave millions of dollars to the Republican Party apparatus this year?

KURTZ: But Olbermann did make one bow towards Stewart's call for civility. He's ending his often caustic segment, "Worst Persons in the World."

OLBERMANN: Its satire and whimsy have gradually gotten lost in some anger, so in the spirit of the thing, as of right now, I'm unilaterally suspending that segment with an eye towards discontinuing it.


KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about this in New York, Rachel Sklar, editor-at-large for; and David Carr, media columnist and reporter for "The New York Times."

David Carr, does Olbermann have a point that he was unfairly lumped in with the Fox folks and there's a false equivalence between the two sides?

DAVID CARR, MEDIA COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I think that there's -- in service of comedy, I think Mr. Stewart needed to lump everybody together. And I don't think he was just talking about cable news. When politicians or people who run rallies on the Mall want to pick up a nice, ripe, easy target, it's easy to pick on us gas bags in the press. Everybody hates us.

KURTZ: We're a big, fat target, Rachel Sklar. But Olbermann seemed stunned enough that he decide, as we just saw, to end that "Worst Persons" segment.

RACHEL SKLAR, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, MEDIAITE.COM: Yes. The whole indefinitely suspended thing has a different sort of ring now.

I think that -- I think -- I agree that, actually, that Olbermann was unfairly lumped in, although he is part of that milieu. I think that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were trying -- they made a point about this being a nonpartisan thing, which is why they focus on the media rather than taking shots at specific politicians.

But let's be real here. This rally was in response to the Glenn Beck/Sarah Palin rally that was begun by Fox. So it was in direct response to an action that was taken that came out of the Fox News Network.

KURTZ: All right.

Since we're touching on Olbermann here and I have you both here, I'd like to get both of you to weigh in on MSNBC's decision to suspend Keith Olbermann for donating money to three Democratic candidates.

David Carr, I understand you're writing about this for your column tomorrow.

CARR: Well, I just -- I think it's a little weird to have him -- the expectation is that he'll fire up the base like a convention stump speaker, and then he'll pivot and conduct himself like Brian Williams does, the anchor of NBC. I don't think it's necessarily a realistic expectation.

I don think anybody who watches him would be stunned that he put his money where his mouth is. It's not clear whether he is an employee of NBC or not. That's for them to work out. But in terms of, did he injure his relationship with his viewers? I really doubt it.

KURTZ: But on the other hand, Rachel Sklar, if there are no such rules, then even commentators who, yes, parade their opinions before all of us every night, if they can give money to candidates, as some people at Fox also do, if they can hold fund-raisers, if they can go out and campaign, then at what point have they crossed some kind of line and they're no longer even pseudo journalists, but activists?

SKLAR: Well, I think that the line is to be determined by the specific networks, and it should be very transparent. I think that the narrow issue here is, did Keith Olbermann break a rule of his network, and did he behave differently than other people who had donated? Because the chief difference being prior clearance, or getting permission from Steve Capus, the president of NBC News, who Olbermann still is a subordinate of.

KURTZ: Well, MSNBC says he broke the rule. Otherwise, he would not have been suspended. So, you may disagree, but that's the finding of the network.

SKLAR: Oh, no, I'm not disagreeing with that. I think that, you know, if those bright line rules are there, then you're responsible to abide by them. And if Olbermann wanted to make this donation, then there were channels to go through.

KURTZ: All right.

SKLAR: I think that the larger issue here is, you know, were people confused, did people think that Olbermann wasn't on the progressive side, on the liberal side? I mean, I think it's pretty clear that he is.

KURTZ: Right. Well, it certainly wasn't out of character.

Now, going back to the Stewart rally, I had Arianna Huffington on the program last week. She, of course, was a participant, she financed a lot of buses that took people to that rally on the Mall.

Here's what she said, and here's Bill O'Reilly taking some exception to her remarks on RELIABLE SOURCES.


ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, "THE HUFFINGTON POST": The constant barrage of misinformation being put out by Glenn Beck, by O'Reilly, by Hannity is just monumental. I mean, this is a factual record that has been compiled of what they are saying.



O'REILLY: You know, it's boring. What information? So tedious, boring.

You've got something? Let me see it. I've never given out misinformation.


KURTZ: So, David Carr, what about Fox? O'Reilly also took a shot at you for saying that cable news has relatively small audiences. He says you're wrong, Fox is the most powerful news agency in the world.

CARR: Well, I think, in general, that the role of the media, and specifically cable news, has been way overestimated. The American electorate has been conducting itself in fairly similar ways for the last 80 years.

If things go badly, the people in the office get thrown out. If they go well, they get to keep their jobs. It doesn't really matter what kind of amplifier you put on that.

Even marginal movements like the Tea Party, which some would say was enabled by Fox News, there's always been fringe elements in American politics that have rose or fallen based on the mood of the people. And I don't think the current sort of media apparatus has fundamentally changed the math of American politics.

KURTZ: But David -- let me just jump in here with David.

When you wrote that in your column this week, you took a lot of heat from people who said that you were underestimating the impact --

CARR: Oh boy. I am still getting mail.

KURTZ: Has that caused you to have any second thoughts about the somewhat dismissive way you've dealt with cable news?

CARR: Well, I've got 450 e-mails, most of them very well spoken and careful, telling me what a nitwit I am. Of course, as a member of the media, I can't ever admit that I'm wrong.

But I've done some thinking through. I just don't feel when Mr. Stewart said at the end of the rally, "So what was this?" I again asked that same question, what was it, really? What's different a week later? Not much.

KURTZ: All right.

Rachel, do you think -- go ahead.

SKLAR: Yes. I would have to disagree with David in the sense that he framed the cable news audience as five million people watching TV, but we live in a clip culture now. With the rise of embeddable code, we can -- the distribution of all of these cable news clips and, frankly, Stewart and Colbert, just goes so wide.

You know, we do a lot of the clip culture stuff at Mediaite, "The Huffington Post," part of their bread and butter, their DNA. Gawker launched Gawker TV because of it.

It's a different world out there, and so the reach is enormous and amplified by Twitter now. You know, so you've got your water cooler moments are a result of next-day pickup. And, of course, the media is all paying attention to that, and that drives the news cycle on a larger level.

So I think to just say that cable news only targets a very small slice of viewers doesn't quite take into consideration the larger penetration.

KURTZ: And I'll have to read David's response online, because we're just about out of time.

Unless you have a very brief comment to make, David Carr.

CARR: Most people are out looking for jobs, trying to find a way to hang on to their house, and they could care what's on cable news right now.

KURTZ: All right. I guess that probably applies to this show as well.


SKLAR: Gave him the last word. Howie, et tu.

KURTZ: Rachel Sklar, David Carr, thanks very much for joining us from New York.

Still to come, Sarah Palin takes on Politico, Barney Frank bashes a local paper, and then ABC recruits and then drops Andrew Breitbart.

Our "Media Monitor," straight ahead.


KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business.

And here's what I liked.

Fox's Chris Wallace, interviewing Fox contributor Sarah Palin, didn't buy into the press's conventional wisdom that she's definitely running for president. I happen to be skeptical that Palin will run and put herself through the media meat grinder, but the "Fox News Sunday" anchor also threw cold water on the heated speculation that, let's face it, makes Palin valuable to the network.


CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": I think you're having too much fun. I think you're making too much money. You're still a big player in national politics. You don't have 100 people like me chasing you around saying, "What does she read in the morning?"

I don't think you're going to run.

PALIN: If the country needed me -- and I'm not saying that the country does, and that the country would ever necessarily want to choose me over anyone else -- but I would be willing to make the sacrifices, if need be, for America.


KURTZ: Meanwhile, Politico reports that the GOP establishment is uniting to stop Palin if she does run in 2012, a piece based entirely on anonymous sources. "Few, if any, Republican officials want to challenge Palin's credentials in public, but most speak dismissively and condescendingly about her in private."

Palin had this to say about Politico's sources --


PALIN: These are the brave people who want to lead the nation and run the world, huh? But they're not brave enough to put their name in an article. So having unnamed sources in an article like this is very, very disappointing.


KURTZ: And she has a point. I'm sure Politico did plenty of reporting for this piece. But why act as a conveyor belt for operatives to take potshots without having their names attached?

And winning candidates sometimes get carried away. When Barney Frank held on to his seat this week, he had some strong words for "The Boston Herald." One of the tabloid's reporters videotaped a strange incident in which the congressman's partner started badgering Frank's Republican opponent.


REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Massachusetts has reaffirmed the complete political irrelevance of "The Boston Herald."


There was no limit to the bias and vitriol they unleashed, and it had no impact. I also will say that the influence of Fox News does not, in the end, appear to have been very great either.


KURTZ: And The Boston Herald's response? "Bring it on, Barney."

We talked about Keith Olbermann's blunder in contributing to Democratic candidates earlier in the program, so let me just add, MSNBC president Phil Griffin stepped up to the plate by suspending his star rather than letting him off with a slap on the wrist.

Here's what I didn't like.

ABC granting a role to Andrew Breitbart in its election night coverage before an uproar in the newsroom helped prompt the network to back off. Breitbart, of course, the conservative activist who pushed the ACORN undercover sting and posted that misleading videotape, the one that made Shirley Sherrod look like a racist.

Breitbart's role was always going to be minor, but ABC kept making it sound more minor, finally insisting he'd only appear on the network's Web site before dropping him altogether. Breitbart was none to pleased, telling Politico, "This is about cowardice and caving into what was an overwhelming onslaught by "Media Matters," "The Huffington Post," "Talking Points Memo," and "Daily Kos."

I'm not sure if Breitbart was the best choice, but if you're going to use the guy, stick with him or don't book him in the first place.

Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz.

Join us next Sunday morning, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media.

"STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.