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Reliable Sources

Iowa Caucus Preview; Media Mob Invades Iowa; Rise in Negative Coverage of Ron Paul; Rise in Negative Coverage of Ron Paul; Life on the Campaign Trail

Aired January 01, 2012 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: It's New Year's Day. Maybe you were up partying, and anxiously awaiting bowl games. But the presidential campaign doesn't take a holiday, not with the Iowa caucuses just two days away.

Of course, maybe the media are wrong, Iowa will be a pivotal, crucial, all important turning point in this campaign. But then, what are so many journalists doing in Des Moines?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tonight, the gloves come off. The Iowa caucuses are exactly one week away.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, we're live from Dubuque Iowa.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ken Crawford is in Des Moines.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Chuck Todd and Peter Alexander are in Iowa tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ABC's Jon Karl is in Iowa for us tonight.


KURTZ: We'll turn our critical edge on the coverage with reporters in Iowa and Washington, and especially the surge in negative reporting about Ron Paul.


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: This is the skeleton in Ron Paul's closet. This is from the Ron Paul newsletter.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN: So, you read them but you didn't do anything about it at the time?

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I never read that stuff.


KURTZ: Why did the press take so long to start examining the congressman's sometimes inflammatory record? I'm Howard Kurtz and we're kicking off the 2012 season on RELIABLE SOURCES.


KURTZ: Happy New Year to all of you. But it's obviously not a holiday for much of the political press, which is gearing up for the first actual voting of 2012 after a year of prediction and prognostication.

And if treating Ron Paul as an entertaining side show, the pundits reacted to his rise in the Iowa polls, the same way they did when Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich shot up in opinion surveys by belatedly examining his record, including those incendiary and racist newsletters that were published under Paul's name for years.


JOHN KING, CNN: There are some racy and racist things if you read some of these letters.

MADDOW: Quote, "It sure burns me to have a national holiday for that pro-communist philanderer Martin Luther King. I voted against this outrage time and time again as a congressman. What an infamy Ronald Reagan approved it. We can thank him for annual hate whitey day.

ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: "We're constantly told it is evil to be afraid of black men. It is hardly irrational."

"Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks."


KURTZ: Pretty strong stuff.

Joining us now from the state capital in Des Moines to examine the coverage of caucuses, Michael Shear, political correspondent for "The New York Times"; Nia-Malika Henderson, national political reporter for "The Washington Post"; and here in Washington, A.B. Stoddard, columnist for the newspaper, "The Hill."

And, Nia-Malika Henderson, the question I asked at the top, why did it take the media so long to seriously begin digging into Ron Paul's record?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I think for a while the media -- we've been focused on the horse race. As you mentioned, everything happened this way. Every time there was a new front- runner, and we've had almost, what, five or six front-runners, the media would then start more dogged scrutiny of their record. So, I think that's what happened.

And a lot of this stuff had already been out there. But I think when Ron Paul started to do so well, polling so well in Iowa, doubling a lot of his support from 2008, that that's when the spotlight finally fell on him. I will say, though, in talking to people out of his rallies, very raucous rallies, he's had a lot of people, hundreds of people there -- they don't seem to mind some of this rhetoric. They feel like it's a little disturbing but not a deal breaker in terms of how they feel about supporting him.

KURTZ: And I'm sure some think the press sort of ganging up on Ron Paul now. Michael Shear, this point about this stuff being out there, your newspaper just a week ran its first piece on these newsletters. And it was very frank in saying we're recycling something that was in "The New Republic" back in 2008.

So, why wait all year to do that?

MICHAEL SHEAR, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, look, I think there's some legitimate criticism leveled at the press for waiting, for not maybe putting some of this stuff out earlier. But, look, you've covered for years the problem of dwindling resources that the media has, and, you know, a struggling industry. And I think in that context, news organizations have to make some decisions about where they put their resources.

And it makes sense to put your resources, your investigative resources, of which we don't have all that many, in the places where it looks like it's going to make the most sense, which is the people that are actually getting traction.

So, I think --

KURTZ: I understand that.

But A.B. Stoddard didn't take an investigative team to do a database search to find out it was written about by "The New Republic" four years ago. I have an impression that the press largely gives a pass unless they are high in the polls.

A.B. STODDARD, THE HILL: Well, I think you're probably right. With dwindling resources, they tend to focus on the frontrunner of the moment. This year was particularly unique and that there was a new flavor every month or so. Sometimes, you didn't even get four weeks.

And so, they would focus on the person who was topping the polls. And as Ron Paul continued to gain in Iowa, when we heard more and more about his superior ground game there, people continued to write him off, the other campaigns as well as the press. Once he was really a threat and possibly a third party candidate who could help re-elect President Obama and Newt Gingrich began to fall, then the focus went to Ron Paul.

And I agree with Nia, I don't think his supporters care all that much about what they learned in that new scrutiny.

KURTZ: Right. Well, let me -- you know, an interview that's gotten a lot of attention was when CNN's Gloria Borger asked Congressman Ron Paul about those newsletters, others have since asked that as well.

Let me play a little of that and we'll ask questions on the other side.


PAUL: I was probably aware of it 10 years after it was written. And it's been going on 20 years people have pestered me about this. CNN does it every single time. So, when are you going to wear yourself out?

BORGER: I mean, it's legitimate. It's legitimate. These things are pretty incendiary.

PAUL: Because of people like you.

BORGER: No, no, no, no. Come on. Some of this stuff was very incendiary, you know, saying that in 1993, the Israelis were responsible for the bombing of the World Trade Center, that kind of stuff.

PAUL: Yes. Goodbye.


KURTZ: Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN got some criticism for the idea that suggesting the congressman had walked out on the interview. I don't see that. I mean, CNN didn't characterize it that way. You see the guy taking his microphone off during questioning.

But my question to you is, when Ron Paul said it's because of people like you that this is seen as incendiary -- is he engaging in the time honored tactic of blaming the press?

HENDERSON: Yes, that's exactly what he's doing.

I have to tell you -- the people I talked to didn't really blame the press. They felt like, A, maybe it wasn't that important. Or maybe that it was and that he should come out and at least say something about it.

And good for Gloria for actually getting an interview with him, because I've got to say, in covering him over the last few days, he just doesn't really answer questions. There we are in a gaggle surrounding him and shouting questions to him and he doesn't really answer.

And here's a guy, of course, who was all about the Constitution, all about freedom of the press and then liberty and all of those things, who really -- in terms of dealing with the press -- has had a blackout in terms of answering questions over the last couple of days.

KURTZ: Right. He does do TV interviews, but isn't very accessible to reporters on the trail. In fact, he's on a number of programs this morning, including "FOX News Sunday" where host Chris Wallace asked Ron Paul about a book he published four years ago and quoted from it. Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: In that book you wrote this, "The individual suffering from AIDS certainly is a victim, frequently a victim of his own lifestyle. But this same individual victimizes innocent citizens by forcing them to pay for his care."

Question, Congressman, do you still feel that same way?

PAUL: Well, I don't know how you can change science.


KURTZ: Michael Shear, to your point about dwindling resources in newsroom. Again, I don't think it would take an investigative team to buy the book that Ron Paul wrote, "Freedom Under Siege" back in 2007.

And again, I wonder why this is being brought up so late in the campaign.

SHEAR: Well, I mean, I think, you know, those kinds of things probably should have been brought up sooner. And I think that, you know, the dynamics of these campaigns are such that, look, we saw the same thing happen with Rick Perry's books where folks as soon as he got in started looking at that. That book had been out for a year.

You certainly had instances in which reporters have dug through Mitt Romney's book as well.

You know, I think you've got a legitimate point in terms of the criticism. And I think, you know, that this is one of those examples. If Ron Paul wins this caucus, we'll all go back and look at ourselves and say, maybe we should have done it earlier.

KURTZ: And if Ron Paul wins this caucus, A.B. Stoddard, I'm already hearing certain commentators saying, and one of them is Rich Lowry, the editor of the conservative "National Review," well, the caucuses will be discredited because it produced a winner who in the view of a lot of people who analyze this game for a living, you know, can't win the nomination, kind of a fringe character. His supporters would certainly take issue with that.

But how can you cover caucuses and they say, OK, if this guy wins, then they don't really count?

STODDARD: Well, it's interesting because back in August, Ron Paul himself said, if I win the straw poll in Ames, it will be written off as a joke. But if I don't, it will become very important.

And so --

KURTZ: And he came very close to winning.

STODDARD: And he came very close. He lost by 152 votes to Michele Bachmann who now is struggling to matter in the caucuses, excuse me.

But I think Ron Paul knew all along that he was being ignored by the press, that he was always considered -- KURTZ: He complained about it.

STODDARD: -- by the press and by the other campaigns.

Exactly. He is getting his moment in the spotlight. As I said, I don't think his supporters care all that much.

But he is a serious threat to the establishment. They are very worried that he will win in Iowa and get some momentum maybe from some quirky voters in New Hampshire and get a head of steam going. That is why you see the establishment saying that this will be a joke and we can write it off if Ron Paul is the victor there.

KURTZ: It is interesting that Paul spent so many months complaining about lack of media coverage. And yet, as Nia says, not very accessible to reporters on the trail. I didn't see him take questions when I was at a Ron Paul event in Iowa a couple of weeks ago.

Let's turn now to Newt Gingrich, who certainly -- can't complain about lack of media coverage. In fact, maybe he gets too much from his point of view, especially this moment just the other day when he had an emotional moment being asked about his mother. He talked about his mother who had bipolar disease and depression, going into a long term facility.

Here is what the former congressman had to say.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And my whole emphasis on brain science comes in directly from dealing -- see, how you got me emotional -- of dealing with, you know, the real problems of real people in my family. So it's not a theory. It's, in fact, you know, my mother.


KURTZ: And, Nia, the guy tears up talking about his late mother. It seemed like an emotional moment. Why this rush by the press to play it again and again and again and turn it into some sort of viral event which has a potentially huge impact on the campaign?

HENDERSON: Well, I mean, that's a captivating moment. I have to say, I mean, you know, I was looking down at the camera here so I could see it again. And it's moving every time I see it.

This whole idea of whether or not it will change the campaign, I think everybody is thinking what happened with Hillary Clinton, what happened with Muskie, I think, in '72 when he cried after there were some things written about his wife.

In those instances they definitely did change the course of the campaign. I think for Gingrich -- because they sort of fed into narratives or changed narratives, at least for Hillary Clinton, who was seen as a little detached, there she was crying, so it made her -- it humanized her. I think for Newt Gingrich, his problem is he's had millions of ads -- negative ads dumped on his head, calling up questions about his ethics and his record in Congress. He hasn't had a problem of whether or not he's a real humanized figure. So, I don't think it will necessary matter in terms of that. Again, a real YouTube moment.

KURTZ: Maybe it was a humanizing moment, A.B. But I wonder if it dehumanizes us -- 80 seconds later, we're doing political analysis because the guy choked up talking about his mom.

STODDARD: Well, I mean, these people are running for the highest office in the land. They are under intense scrutiny for many -- for their policy positions, as well as their private life, their personal story.

Newt Gingrich has been a tough guy about his divorces, and his adultery. And everything he's been frank he's asked for forgiveness but he doesn't seem to ever get ruffled. It was a very emotional moment. He was actually talking about the subject of mental illness.

I think it gets played again because -- as Nia mentioned with Hillary Clinton -- not only was it a surprise but they are about to begin the voting process for this huge campaign for the White House. They are kind of breaking down. I mean, they might be tired.


STODDARD: But it is -- I think it's a newsworthy moment.

KURTZ: A peek behind the armor.

All right. When we come back: does a blip in the polls really amount to what some are calling a Santorum surge?


KURTZ: Rick Santorum has struggled for a share of the media spotlight all year. But after moving up to third place in several recent polls, 15 percent of the "Des Moines Register" poll last night, the former Pennsylvania senator found himself this week on "The Today" show.


SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS: Well, we've seen this surge in the latest poll. You're now in third place. There's really just only one person who predicted this all along, you. You got the question now, though, is there has been so many --

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My wife. Hold on, my wife did, too. My wife predicted this one.

GUTHRIE: Fair enough.


KURTZ: Mrs. Santorum was a better prognosticator. Michael Shear in Des Moines, the media basically not giving Santorum the time of day all year long. And now, he has moved up in the polls and suddenly, we're all over him. You're the most poll-driven bunch I've ever seen.

SHEAR: Well, look, I mean, the truth is, you have to go, you have to go by something in terms of devoting time and coverage. And if you came out here in Iowa months ago, you would go to events for Mr. Santorum, nobody would show up, very few people would show up. He was in single digits in the polls, below single digits.

And so, look, I mean, the voters are clearly casting about for somebody to support. Lots of them are now supporting Rick Santorum if you believe the polls. And so, I think, you know, he's going to get more coverage.

KURTZ: But is there a tendency, Nia-Malika Henderson, we saw this with Herman Cain and others, for the press to prematurely write of somebody who is in single digits, who is actually doing the old- fashioned shoe leather thing of going out and meeting voters, with so many candidates have blown off in Iowa this year and then to be shocked when they actually get some traction.

HENDERSON: Absolutely. I mean, that's essentially what happened.

And let's face it. Santorum didn't have much money either, so that -- I think that is one of the reasons why he was largely written off. I think we have a couple days now to drill down on his record and see what we can find in terms of more coverage and investigative reporting on him.

But yes, we've got a snapshot. It looks like he's surged. He's in first or second place. People are predicting that he could win this whole thing. I will say that Sarah Palin seemed to predict this a while ago. There was all this chatter among hard core conservatives, Rush Limbaugh, to be one to say that Santorum is a guy that should really be looked at.

I will say, though, this recent poll is almost a poll that came about as a result of your poll. You guys did that poll. I think it was -- it came out Wednesday or Thursday that showed that Santorum -- yes, had this surge. You wonder if voters if they are looking at who to choose in these polls had the CNN poll in mind.

KURTZ: But Nia kind of anticipated my next question, A.B. Stoddard, and that is because Santorum's bump came so late in the game, basically in the final days, we haven't seen a real, a tough examination of his record as we have seen with Gingrich, you know, when he started to move a month ago.

STODDARD: Right, that's true. Rick Santorum, for those of us who have covered him for many years, he doesn't have a lot -- he's said a lot of things that would not shock social conservative voters who are now coalescing behind him. So, that's that.

The question is, at this point -- I mean, in defense of the media, Howie, he was at 3 percent, not even 9. I mean, really, really trailing, barely making debates for a really long time. He's going to face -- even if he has a surprise in Iowa, which I long predicted he might have because of ground operation he's running, he's going to have a big struggle to capture momentum going forward and raise enough money quickly.

KURTZ: Right.

STODDARD: I think really what it says -- ultimately, it says a lot more about Mitt Romney than it does Rick Santorum, that he was the last person voters could flock to. That's why he's surging so late.

KURTZ: Let me quickly go back to our Des Moines guest.

Michael Shear, for all the time that are you investing, braving the cold weather in Iowa, is it possible in the end maybe 120,000 people vote. Maybe Ron Paul wins and then he fades, that Iowa doesn't matter all that much in the scheme of things?

SHEAR: I think it's a really good question, a perennial question here, that people in Iowa hate that question because they love the attention that --

KURTZ: Of course, they hate it.

SHEAR: They hate. But, I mean, I think, and if you talk to veterans, if you talk to people who have been here years and years and years, the political folks, they say this question comes up every time. You know, people sort of muse about whether this maybe the last time Iowa is important.

It always seems to become the same thing. I think it's a legitimate question to ask. And I predict that four years from now --


KURTZ: I'll be asking it again.

Anyway, half a minute to break here, Nia-Malika Henderson. But, you know, the difference this time is that many of the leading candidates, one leading candidate, didn't spent a lot of time going to coffee shops and going to town halls. There are the claim to fame, you know, face tough questioning at the retail level didn't happen as much as -- except with a couple of people like Bachmann and Santorum.

HENDERSON: No, that's exactly right. I think Mitt Romney may have spent two weeks here total going back to May. He pretty wrote it off for a long time. And, of course, he's peaked here at 22, 23, 24 percent, which is about where he was at before.

I think one of the interesting things to look at, you know, in terms of coming out of Iowa is the ways in which these candidates sort of have to pander to Iowa's conservative voters. I think one of the most interesting things that Mitt Romney said yesterday was this whole thing about the DREAM Act. And Democrats are loving the fact that he got up there and said that he would veto the DREAM Act. KURTZ: Right, the immigration issue.

I've got to go to break.


KURTZ: I didn't mean to interrupt you.


KURTZ: A guy who probably never heard of, Iowa State Senator Ken Sorensen defected this week from Michele Bachmann's campaign, when he was the state chairman, to Ron Paul's campaign. This was almost covered on the air like a mini-Watergate.

Here's a brief clip.


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is about money. This is about money.

WOLF: The political director left with money, too.

BACHMANN: You'll have to talk to him about it. Clearly, there are other people that Kent Sorenson talked to he told the Ron Paul campaign is offering him money.

MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS: No one, not Ron Paul, not anybody affiliated with his campaign or supporting his campaign offered you any money to support Ron Paul.

KENT SORENSON (R), IOWA STATE SENATOR: I was never offered a nickel from the Ron Paul campaign.


KURTZ: A.B. Stoddard, this Kent Sorenson-gate sounds something like a media flap than something most voters would care about, doesn't it?

STODDARD: Yes. But, OK, if the measure of the media's focus is a candidate's popularity in the polls, why are we spending so much time on this? Michele Bachmann is now dead last in the polling for the caucuses.

It's interesting for several reasons, though. She won the straw poll in Iowa, in Ames in August. We all thought that it was going to propel her to a top tier candidate status.

And also, this person went to the Ron Paul campaign instead of, you know, the establishment pick. So, that made it interesting.

But ultimately, you know, this is interesting because Michele Bachmann, you know, is Iowa important, what we're talking about before, it is the great eliminator. She might find herself finishing last here, that might be the end of her campaign. KURTZ: And I wonder, Michael Shear, the reason this got so much attention, plus effective respond, was the press saw it as a metaphor for Bachmann's struggling campaign.

SHEAR: I think that's right. "The Washington Post" had actually a great story, Karen Tumulty did a great story on sort of -- how this was sort press of evidence of the kind of broader themes that are evidence in the race.

I also think, let's face it, that it was a story that was happening when all the press corps was already assembled here in Des Moines, it's easy to cover. I thought it was somewhat overdone. Our paper treated it a little bit less. We didn't make a huge deal out of it. After all, she's candidate, as A.B. said that's at the bottom of the pack.

KURTZ: Right.

SHEAR: And let's face it, who cares? The voters don't care. And I think it was somewhat overdone on television.

KURTZ: All right. And, finally, Nia-Maliki Henderson, I'm wondering whether the media interpretation what happens on Tuesday night is going to be more important than the actual vote totals. For example, this is all expectations campaign, Santorum finishes third, Ron Paul, more than we thought a month ago, if Romney finishes second, maybe that's a good thing, as long as he rose in the poll, not get Gingrich.

How much is the media take and spin going to influence the way this is all reported?

HENDERSON: Well, again -- I mean, it will matter a lot. But again, I think, a week later, we'll be onto something else. We'll be onto New Hampshire. Some candidates are even peeling away from here to go right to South Carolina.

So, it will have something of a lasting effect for two or three or four days, and then we'll switch out to New Hampshire.

KURTZ: Right. Although those two or three or four days could affect New Hampshire and other states as you well know. So, I guess the short answer is you're not a winner unless we certify you. We certify you as the undisputed winner.

A.B. Stoddard, and in Des Moines, Michael Shear, Nia-Malika Henderson -- thanks a lot for stopping by on this New Year's Day.

Coming up on the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, more on whether the press has given Ron Paul a pass on policy this time, especially with the former aide saying his approach to foreign affairs is off the wall.

And later, the shock troops in the trenches, television campaign ad beds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KURTZ: A former Ron Paul aide turned libertarian blogger made news this week with some harsh words about his ex-boss. Well, "made news" might be an exaggeration since few news organizations gave it big play.

Here is what Eric Dondero wrote on the website, "Right Wing News," "Is Ron Paul anti-Semite? Absolutely no. He is, however, most certainly anti-Israel and anti-Israeli in general. He wishes the Israeli state did not exist at all."

"He strenuously does not believe the United States had any business getting involved in Hitler in World War II. He expressed this to me countless times saying, quote, 'saving the Jews was absolutely none of our business.'"

"When pressed, he oftentimes brings up conspiracy theories like FDR knew about the attacks on Pearl Harbor weeks beforehand."

CNN's Randi Kaye asked Dondero about those words.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It sounds like you're sort of walking the fine line here between trying to defend him, but also throwing him under the bus at the same time.

ERIC DONDERO, FORMER RON PAUL AIDE (through telephone): Yes, I know that. I mean, he's a nice guy and I don't think he's got a mean bone in his body.

He said some untrue things particularly in Iowa in the last couple of weeks. I mean, he's - things that have stirred at the edge of straight out 9/11 trutherism(ph).


KURTZ: Joining us to examine THE campaign coverage on the eve of Iowa caucuses in San Francisco, Debra Saunders, columnist for "The San Francisco Chronicle." And here in Washington, John Aravosis, founder of ""

Debra Saunders, basic question - should the press pay any attention to this former Ron Paul aide who worked for him for many years?

DEBRA SAUNDERS, COLUMNIST, "THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE": Well, I think the press should pay attention, but I think there are a lot of other things to look at with Ron Paul. CNN has done stories - "New York Times," "Weekly Standard."

They have done stories on things the Ron Paul newsletter ran not under Ron Paul's byline. And these are disturbing comments, and they are worthy of note.

But Howie, I think you feel the same way about this. The truth is, we have a man who is running in this race who wants to completely get rid of the IRS. He wants to get rid of capital gains taxes. And I think these are positions that are pretty radical and that voters ought to want to know a little bit more about that.

KURTZ: By the way, the Paul campaign says that Eric Dondero was fired in 2003. He calls that an absolute lie and says he left over Paul's opposition to the Iraq War.

So has there been too much focus on these incendiary phrases from the newsletters which Paul denies writing and not enough on his actual policies and what people like his former aide said about what he would do in the White House?

JOHN ARAVOSIS, FOUNDER, "AMERICABLOG.COM": You know, I mean, the problem is the newsletters do go to who Ron Paul is. He could try to argue, although he's not, but he could try to argue, well, this is 20 years ago.

You know, it was a youthful indiscretion (UNINTELLIGIBLE). But it goes to who the man is today. And his positions are a little wacky. I think, to some degree, the press maybe rightfully considered Ron Paul irrelevant.

KURTZ: You know, over the years, he's been seen as a fringe candidate.

ARAVOSIS: He's the - who's is the - Lindsay LaRue(ph). Let's just say he's the crazy we always had in every election. And you know, you really look into what his policies are, whereas, all of a sudden, Ron Paul has become a little more relevant in Iowa obviously. And he ought to get more attention.

KURTZ: Well, the Texas Congressman was on - let me just play some sound, Debra, and I'll come back to you. The Texas congressman was on ABC this week, this morning.

And Jake Tapper asked him about one of the things that Eric Dondero, the former aide, had quoted him as saying. Let's watch.

JAKE TAPPER, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: One of your former close aides recently said that you, quote, "engaged in conspiracy theories including perhaps the 9/11 attacks were coordinated with the CIA and that the Bush administration might have known about the attacks ahead of time." So have you ever expressed in front of anyone -

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Wait, wait, wait, wait. Don't go any further than that. That's complete nonsense.

TAPPER: It's nonsense?

PAUL: Just stop that.


KURTZ: Complete nonsense. But my question, Debra, is whether or not there has been enough focus, you were starting to say on his policies, whether it's abolish IRS, abolish the feds, don't give any more money to cancer research, and all those things, some of which are popular with those who want small government and whether there's been enough focus on things that he actually has said at least according to this former aide.

SAUNDERS: Well, you know, Ron Paul has always attracted this sort of fringe element. The first time I met him, Howie, was in 1988 in Beverly Hills at the home of Timothy Leary, the turn-on, tune out LSD guru.

KURTZ: Drop out.

SAUNDERS: And so you have this element of people who follow Ron Paul. And some of them are like anti-drug left. And some of them are we want to buy gold coins right. And there's just no middle there.

And I do think that it's important so we can look at some of the far- out statements. But in the middle, there's something called the federal government. And how he wants to run it and how he wants to pay for it - I think these are fundamental questions that deserve answers.

So it's interesting to read about what he said 20 years ago and everything else. But I want to know what this country would look like. He says he wants to not spend money overseas.

Does that mean no military or hardly any military? We know that military families are supposed to be his biggest donors.

ARAVOSIS: My concern with that approach would be it almost legitimizes Ron Paul to say, you know what? Let's not talk as much about the crazy stuff. Let's talk about, well, do you agree or disagree about dismantling the IRS?

That almost sounds like something we could have a debate about. Maybe we disagree rather than, hey, those Jews and those gays and those blacks - you know, it de-legitimizes him as a candidate, what he said in those newsletters.

And I would argue therefore it's more important to discuss that because if we get that out of the way, then maybe you should vote for Ron Paul. He just has a different point of view.

KURTZ: Wait. You're saying it de-legitimizes him as a candidate. But he's - you're kind of suggesting, John Aravosis, that he's gotten a pass on this. I mean, is there a double standard here?

Could any other candidate, who has been on the stage in these debates, have survived these kinds of revelations, even if he says, "I was just the editor. My name is just on the newsletters," survive these kinds of revelations of this incendiary and often racist language?

ARAVOSIS: You know, maybe Jon Huntsman, because he's another one nobody cares about. Not because he's crazy, but he's just not doing well.

KURTZ: Would Gingrich or Santorum - ARAVOSIS: No.

KURTZ: Or Romney?

ARAVOSIS: I don't know about (UNINTELLIGIBLE).


ARAVOSIS: I think they would have been under much more scrutiny in the same way that Herman Cain was under a lot of scrutiny for the infidelity or whatever you want to call it, because he was considered, all of a sudden, a serious candidate.

But Herman Cain - we didn't pay a lot of attention to him at the beginning, too. We thought, "Who is the crazy pizza guy?"

KURTZ: And Debra, I understand your point about, you know, the press should focus more on the actual positions he's taking now, what he would do if he were elected.

But on these newsletters, again, you know, let's take him at his word. Maybe he was neglectful. He didn't see it in advance.

But I haven't seen a lot of reporters push him on. Why would you hire people who would publish this filth and why aren't you looking into it?

SAUNDERS: Well, let's face it. It shows appalling lack of judgment, and we've seen Ron Paul not seem to care that this happened. He seems to think that this is nobody's business, even though these are statements made under his name.

So what we've seen from him is an appalling lack of attention to detail to be kind, right? And the fact that he seems to think that these fringe positions are sort of a fair exchange of ideas.

ARAVOSIS: Or he's an opportunist.

SAUNDERS: And that's something people should know.

ARAVOSIS: Or he's an opportunist. I think it was the David Frum piece where he argued a couple of days ago that, you know, this was kind of hot in the early '90s with the riots in New York - I'm already forgetting -

KURTZ: Riots in L.A.

ARAVOSIS: Yes, riots in L.A. I'm sorry. But remember when the beating -

KURTZ: Rodney King.

ARAVOSIS: Rodney King and all -

KURTZ: It's all coming back.


KURTZ: Let's move off Ron Paul and let me ask you this question, John. Is the press missing a larger story in this campaign, which is that the whole Republican field compared to even say 2008, people like Rudy Giuliani running and John McCain winning the nomination moved so sharply to the right and we all just kind of take it for granted now? Is that the untold story here?

ARAVOSIS: I think so although it's probably been a lot more gradual than just the last four years. I mean, someone on the left - we've been arguing for a while now that you really can't win the Republican presidential nomination unless you're to the far right, unless you're a conservative.

To be a liberal Republican, a moderate Republican is bad word, thus Mitt Romney, who was a moderate Republican for 20 years and now has to pretend he's Newt Gingrich.

KURTZ: And in reading your columns, you don't think much of most of these GOP contenders with the possible exception of Mitt Romney. So what does that tell us since you're on the conservative side of the spectrum? What does that tell us about the state of presidential politics as seen through your eyes?

SAUNDERS: Well, I mean, we've seen the last year where polls basically drove the coverage. And polls showed Republican voters weren't happy with Mitt Romney. They didn't trust him or they weren't turned on to him.

I talked recently to one of the people who endorsed him in 2008 and he just endorsed him again in 2012. He just didn't catch people on fire. They weren't sure that could do it.

But we've seen as a sort of parade of other candidates who, in my mind, you really know couldn't do it. And Newt Gingrich is a great example. Now, Newt Gingrich has been on fire in these debates.

He's magnetic and you can see why people are looking at him and they're thinking, "Hey, what this guy says I like."

KURTZ: I've got to jump in -

SAUNDERS: And that's why we -

KURTZ: I've got to jump in because we're running out of time. I want to get to one last question, and that is about Tuesday night, caucus night. Here's the coverage of the cable networks.

Here's the lineup - Fox News, Brett Baier and Megan Kelly, journalists. CNN, Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper, Erin Burnett, journalists.

On MSNBC, the host of caucus night are going to be Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, Al Sharpton, Chris Mathews, Lawrence O'Donnell, all liberal commentators. Is that something the news networks should be doing? ARAVOSIS: I would just - A, Fox News isn't a news network. B, Megan Kelly isn't a journalist. She's as conservative as you come. I would argue that you can't have opinion journalism. I do opinion journalism. It means you have an opinion. You're opinionated.

KURTZ: Megan Kelly. Hold on. True.


ARAVOSIS: Megan Kelly I do not accept as being a journalist.

KURTZ: Have you watched her through the Republican debates? Do you not think she has asked recently aggressive questions (UNINTELLIGIBLE) candidate.

ARAVOSIS: I think - no. I do think Fox has got more aggressive in the debates, absolutely. But Fox's coverage across the board skews to the right. MSNBC is -


KURTZ: You're not asking my question. You're going to your larger view of Fox. I've got to get Debra in. Is MSNBC no longer a news network if it has commentators doing caucus night?

SAUNDERS: Yes, I think it's decided to be a left wing echo chamber. That's what these decisions tell me. You know, at these Fox debates, the journalists at Fox have asked the best questions, the toughest questions, when Byron York and Bret Baier asked the candidates -


SAUNDERS: Would you accept a deficit reduction deal, $10 spending cuts, $1 tax hikes? And they all said no. That was the defining moment of the primary.


KURTZ: I've got to go.

ARAVOSIS: Wait until he's debating a Democrat. Then let's watch what Fox does.

KURTZ: John Aravosis, Debra Saunders. After the break, they're known as campaign embeds. And they become a key part of the TV coverage of this race. We'll talk to two of them about life on the trail.


KURTZ: They are young, aggressive and apparently require little sleep. They've been dubbed campaign embeds, the off-air network producers who follow the candidates around. Here is a brief look at night for CBS' road warriors.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SARA BOXER, CBS/"NATIONAL JOURNAL" CAMPAIGN JOURNALIST: So one of the big things to do every morning is to label the tapes. These are all of my gizmos and gadgets. Literally, basically never, ever, ever leave my side, ever.

It is also key that we get all our gear like batteries, tapes, and that we don't leave them in the hotel. That would be bad.

I always get nervous that I'm going to leave something behind. When you walk around with this, everyone wants to talk to you about it. Everyone wants to know what kind of camera it is, what you're doing with it, who you're shooting.


KURTZ: I spoke earlier this morning two of the embeds, Sara Boxer of CBS News and "National Journal," and CNN's Rachel Streitfeld.


Sara Boxer, Rachel Streitfeld, welcome. Sara, as we just saw, what you do day to day, darting in and out of hotel rooms, doesn't look all that glamorous. And plus, you have to listen to Mitt Romney give the same speech over and over and over again. How is that working out for you?

BOXER: It is not glamorous at all but it is actually very gratifying to hear the same speech over and over again. When you're covering someone man-to-man, you notice the differences, the tiniest things that he might say differently in a stump speech in a place like New Hampshire versus a place like Iowa or Florida or South Carolina.

So you really actually do have to be on your game all the time and listen for every single word. So you're kind of always trying to pay attention.

KURTZ: Right. And Rachel Streitfeld, you have gone from candidate to candidate. What do you glean from spending so much time on the trail that reporters who are dipping in and out might miss?

RACHEL STREITFELD, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: Well, I was based in New Hampshire four months, and that really gave me the opportunity to delve into a state. I did a lot of shoe leather reporting, enterprise reporting.

And I got to see all the candidates come through the state individually. So I could see - I got a lot of contacts. I could see if there was a Democratic tracker who would always ask a healthcare question.

I would know what questions they were going to ask. I would see the different ways the campaigns handle questions and the different ways they set up for the events, which gave you some insight into how the campaign did. Some of them use a lot of lighting. Some of them use are more low-key, so that was interesting to see. KURTZ: All right. Sara Boxer, if you're with Romney all the time and with the staff and on the bus and going out to dinner with people and maybe a drink or two late at night, is there any danger of getting too cozy with that campaign?

BOXER: Yes. Yes. There absolutely is. You really do have to make sure that no matter what, at the end of the day, you remember that you are covering the candidate. You are not working for the candidate.

And so you do spend a lot of time with these people. You spend a lot of time with other reporters. I mean, it's a very small circle because it's really just - it's sort of your equivalent at the five networks and at the big newspapers who are with them all the time.

So you're basically with the same reporters and the same staffers at all times. So you really do have to sort of keep your grounding and remember that you are working for a different entity.

You're covering this guy for millions of viewers across the country. And you really have to sort of make sure that you're able to maintain a healthy distance between your own personal relationships with people and your editorial content.

KURTZ: Yes, and obviously -

STREITFELD: I could add -

KURTZ: Go ahead.

STREITFELD: Having covered all the candidates, what I find difficult about Mitt Romney is how disciplined their campaign is. You know, when you're covering other campaigns, you sort of hear whispers.

Or sometimes, the candidate will say something he doesn't plan to say in response to a question. With Mitt Romney's campaign, they don't answer media inquiries. They don't want to answer.

The candidate is very on-message. He's very disciplined. So you have to work harder to get into, you know, the internal mechanics and what's actually happening.

BOXER: Yes. I would actually say that, a lot of times, what happens to us when we are on the trail, if there are experiences where we are in places where other campaigns are, you know.

The Perry campaign knows who I am. The Obama campaign knows who I am, because they want their candidate to be - you know, a statement from one of those guys to be in a story about Mitt Romney.

So sometimes, actually some of the other campaigns are a little bit - can be a little more helpful in getting you information that you need about the guy that you're actually covering or trying to intersperse that into your stories.

KURTZ: Yes. I've been in that bubble that you describe, even having all the reporters together sometimes. And it produces a certain group think that you have to guard against.

Since you are such trail veterans now, I've got to put you on the spot and ask you what's the most anxiety-provoking or embarrassing moment you've had on the trail. We'll start with you, Sara.

BOXER: Well, I don't know if you can tell just by sitting next to Rachel, but I'm about a foot shorter than her and even shorter than Mitt Romney.

So if he's elected, he will be, I believe, our fourth tallest president, which is a little challenging to cover for someone who's 5'2" and running around with a video camera and trying to shoot him.

If you notice, in a lot of CBS' footage, it's either from above or below, because I'm on chairs and stuff like that around him.

So it's literally gotten to the point where the campaign staffers will sort of see me running around in the scrum or following him somewhere. And they'll point out where the closest table or chair, if there's something like that, for me to just kind of hop up on and get up there with my camera.

KURTZ: That camera gives you a lot of stature. Rachel, your turn.

STREITFELD: It's true. I do sometimes shoot right over Sara's head. But I have an embarrassing story. I was covering actually John McCain who was in New Hampshire to get an award.

And I saw him leaving, so chased after him to try to ask him a question. And I ran into him outside. And he said he would answer it.

And I turned on my camera and he looked at me and said, "Aren't you going to need a light on that thing?" Because it was pitch black outside. And it just wasn't something I was prepared for. I didn't have a light on me.

KURTZ: The veteran politicians providing technological advice as well as trying to answer the question. Rachel Streitfeld, Sara Boxer, thanks very much for giving us some insight into life on the trail.


KURTZ: They join me from Des Moines. A jam-packed "Media Monitor" is next.


KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business. It was an eye-opener when Janet Robinson, the chief executive of "The New York Times" company, abruptly resigned or was nudged out the door.

After all, the company has struggled financially during her tenure, but Robinson was give an $4.5 million consulting gig for "The Times" and nearly $11 million in pension benefits, the kind of golden parachute that has drawn so much flak from places like "The Times" editorial page when Wall Street executives get them.

Nearly 300 current and former staffers have signed an open letter to Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. expressing profound dismay with such company actions.

Now, the media love to wallow in scandal, as you well know, but it's harder when the subject works for your news organization.

The "Philadelphia Inquirer" did a very tough thing just before Christmas in taking on Bill Conlon, the city's most prominent sportswriter and a columnist for the "Philadelphia Daily News," which is part of the same company.

Conlon retired under pressure when the "Inquirer" reported allegations from four people that he molested them as children back in the 1970s. The accusers decided to step forward in the wake of the sexual abuse tragedy at Penn State.

Since that story, three more people have come forward with similar accusations. The 77-year-old Conlon has declined to comment, but before the "Inquirer" piece came out, he went after the accusers in an E-mail to the sports blog, "DeadSpin," writing, "They can toss my good name out there while alleging a crime that was never charged? Bleep that."

That's exactly what I would say to a veteran journalist refusing to comment on such awful allegations. Bleep that.

On a somewhat lighter note, Facebook, with more than 800 million active members, dwarfs its upstart rival, Twitter, which has more than 100 million active users.

But take note, Twitter, which has plenty of journalists and celebrities tweeting, got more media coverage in 2011 according to High Beam Research.

Twitter, which doesn't someone to accept you as a friend, was mentioned in 50 percent of all stories about social networks compared to 45 percent for Mark Zuckerberg's company.

By the way, you can follow me on Facebook and on Twitter @HowardKurtz, as well as the RELIABLE SOURCES page on Facebook.

And finally, the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communication has put together a video on its new site, "," on the questions that journalists ask presidential candidates, often about the polls and often about their own standing in the polls. I have to warn you, it's not pretty.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Different access, different questions, different treatment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who do you think won on the stage last night?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Assessments based on polls.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let me talk to you about the topic of the day and get your take on why you think at this point Newt Gingrich is doing so well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then how do you explain the phenomenal rise of Newt Gingrich?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you don't prevail in Iowa or don't prevail to get the nomination, will you endorse?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If it is Newt Gingrich, will you give your endorsement?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If it came down to it, could you see yourself supporting either one of these men if they got the nomination?


KURTZ: Now, some horse race questions can be legitimate and the anchors do get into policy as well. But when it comes to asking questions based on federal polls and treating the trailing candidates as, well, losers, the videotape tells the story. The voters deserve better than that.

That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Happy New Year to all of you. We'll be in New Hampshire next Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m. Eastern for a critical look at the media. We hope you can join us then.

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