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State of the Union
State of the Union: Reliable Sources
Aired February 15, 2009 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, HOST: Howie, I escaped Washington this week, but I still do have my printer with me. And I know you're going to talk about President Obama, the salesman.
Here's the Las Vegas Sun this morning. This is how the stimulus bill passed. You see Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker there, Harry Reid, in the picture on the top, and Republican Senator John Ensign. It's a pretty great layout here in the Las Vegas Sun this morning of how the stimulus debate unfolded and some of the challenges it presents for the president and for Republicans going ahead.
And one more here. And, you know, every now and then, the headlines get it just right. Here's the Los Angeles Times this morning, Howie. "Stimulus Bill Battle Only the Beginning." The L.A. Times exploring how the president now has to deal with health care, climate change, so many other issues on his agenda. And the question, of course, being, will the Republicans go along with him on some of those or will they -- in the future, we have a replay of the pretty partisan stimulus debate?
KURTZ: It's interesting, John, to see how it's playing way outside the beltway, because I think here in Washington there's a little bit too much of a tendency on the journalists' part to get wrapped up in the inside details of the strategic maneuvering. I mean, look at this: Three weeks into this presidency, President Obama got an $800 billion piece of legislation passed. That's not bad. And it's faster than almost any other president I can think of.
KING: A big, big political victory for the president.
KING: It is interesting, Howie, out in the country, when we look at these papers, you're right: in Washington we talk a lot about who's winning, who's losing, the ins and outs, the political spin. In the newspapers you see a great deal of the specifics: what it means for this state or that community. And a lot of the Sunday newspapers we've been looking at this morning also say, "You know what, Governor? You know what, Mr. Mayor, you're going to get some of what you want but not all."
KURTZ: Right. All right. We'll talk to you a little later in the hour, John.
Ahead we will look at the media's newest villain, the Octomom, and how her "Today Show" interview turned her into a target for giving birth to those eight babies. But first, after a roller-coaster ride in the press, President Obama was finally getting some positive headlines. He handled his first news conference without a glitch. He cut a deal with Senate Republicans, well, three Republicans to be precise, to pass a version of his $800 billion stimulus package.
And then, more cabinet trouble. Judd Gregg, a Republican who had agreed to become commerce secretary, abruptly backed out. He jilted the new president at the altar. And even though the New Hampshire Senator said this was entirely his mistake, that he had changed his mind, the media portrayed it as a no-good, horrible, very bad day for Obama.
Further evidence, the pundits said, of a rocky debut.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: He's just suffered a stunning setback in his effort to put together a cabinet.
BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: This does not help this administration's credibility. There's no other way you can say it.
CHARLES GIBSON, ANCHOR, ABC NEWS: Why wouldn't he think of the fact he wouldn't be a good fit before the president nominated him?
(UNKNOWN): I think this is a huge blow for the administration.
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST, MSNBC'S "COUNTDOWN": Senator Gregg's just not that into Obama. RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, MSNBC'S "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": Mr. President, you are in a nonreciprocal relationship here. Sir, it is not you; it is totally them.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I call him the runaway bride, Campbell.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, MSNBC'S "HARDBALL": This is nasty. This is not an amicable divorce.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Have the media been too quick to heap blame on the White House? Joining us now, Gwen Ifill, moderator and managing editor of "Washington Week" on PBS and author of the new book, "The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama"; Margaret Carlson, Washington editor of "The Week" magazine and columnist for Bloomberg News; and Christina Bellatoni, White House correspondent for "The Washington Times."
Gwen Ifill, much of the media pretty quick, I think, to portray Judd Gregg's withdrawal as an embarrassment, a setback, a blow to Obama. Is there sort of a knee-jerk aspect to this response, when Gregg says, "Look, I changed my mind. It was my mistake"?
IFILL: Of course, it's knee-jerk. It was a surprise; it was a shock; it was news. Anything that happens that we don't see is a shock and a surprise. And our first response is, gee, didn't he just lose the health and human services secretary? Didn't he lose a commerce secretary? So the first 24 hours or even 12 hours -- OK, first hour...
KURTZ: Things move quickly.
IFILL: ... people are saying, "Oh, no. Oh, no, another setback."
But almost -- almost immediately, I think, right after Judd Gregg had his news conference in which he said, "Listen, I thought about it, and I thought it about it, and I realized we don't agree." And then the scrutiny shifted to him and, I think, finally settled where about -- which was about right, which is they just were never going to get along.
KURTZ: It was not going to be a good relationship.
Christina Bellatoni, did the White House try to spin reporters about this? I did see certain aides quoted, not always by name, saying, "Well, you know, Gregg volunteered to be commerce secretary." Maybe suggesting he was a little bit of a flake.
BELLATONI: Well, what was interesting in this is that President Obama was on the road. So those of us that were here in Washington and the White House got a very different perspective than the people that were on Air Force One talking to David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs and the president himself. So I think that there was a little bit of spin involved but it was also -- not everyone was on the same page. Not everybody knew that the president had talked to Gregg about having cold feet earlier in the week.
KURTZ: Margaret Carlson, Sean Hannity and some other conservatives lumping it in, as Gregg (ph) says, with the nominations of Bill Richardson, Tom Daschle, Tim Geithner, the various problems and saying, "Well, this is a problem with White House vetting."
How is it a vetting issue if I propose to you, you say yes, then you -- I give you the ring and then you back out? How is that my fault?
CARLSON: I'm glad you put it in that language, because I blame Valentine's Day for a lot of the coverage, which was -- and the movie, "He's Just Not That Into You."
The language out of Gibbs in the first reaction and in Gregg's press conference was very much the language of, "We had this engagement; we can't walk down the aisle." And isn't that what engagements are for?
But Gibbs saying, "Oh, he came to us. He asked us out on the first date. We just responded." And then we have, in the last remark from Gibbs was, "a parting of the ways."
And Gregg saying, you know, "I couldn't be on his team; it just wasn't me." That language. But if ever you are third in a series of...
KURTZ: Then it's a trend.
CARLSON: The press has a trend, and it's over.
KURTZ: As I mentioned, Gwen Ifill, the president getting through this biggest economic legislation in the country's history in just three weeks.
David Axelrod, the White House aide, is quoted in Frank Rich's "New York Times" column this morning as saying, "If you watch cable TV, you'd see our support was plummeting, we were in trouble. It was almost like living in a parallel universe."
IFILL: You know, we do live in parallel universes in Washington. One of the most interesting things whenever there's any really big complicated moving target like a $800 billion bill, there are a lot of ways to look at it. But the way we always look at it first is up or down. Win or lose. And because the president set the bar very high by saying, "I believe in bipartisanship..."
KURTZ: "I will get Republicans votes here."
IFILL: ... then we began -- we began to count noses. And guess what? He didn't get those Republican votes at all in the House. He got only three in the Senate, and it's fair to measure him by the standards he set.
KURTZ: It's certainly fair to bring that up.
BELLATONI: If he'd gotten five Republicans we would still be saying that's not enough Republicans. I think that, no matter what the number was, it was going to be not exactly enough for the media.
KURTZ: I see. OK.
Well, the president also had his first news conference, a prime- time news conference on Monday this week. All the networks carried it. And I think the question for me going in was, what was the tone going to be of reporters, many of whom were getting criticized, or the press in general, having been criticized for the soft treatment of Barack Obama during the campaign? Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(UNKNOWN): Do you think that you risk losing some credibility or even talking down the economy, by using dire language like that?
(UNKNOWN): What went wrong? Did you understatement how hard it would be to change the way Washington works?
(UNKNOWN): Isn't consumer spending or overspending how we got into this mess?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: White House press corps not exactly rolling over for the new president.
CARLSON: Never do. Do they? I can't rather a time, except after 9/11 the press rolled over, but they don't roll over for a new president, necessarily.
What disappointed the press there most of all was that, unlike Bush, who gave short answers, and a lot of reporters got questions in, he gave tutorials. Those answers were long, and there were not as many questions in. So they have to adjust to a new standard.
IFILL: It's not about who had the most questions. I mean, the point of -- the White House has a different goal than we have. We have let's ask as many questions, get answers. Theirs is we want to talk about the stimulus package. And so...
IFILL: If we suck up as much air as possible, we're out there for one hour, we're going to make sure we get our message through.
CARLSON: And Bush couldn't take the risk of giving a long answer because he might do a Bushism. But Obama can take that risk.
KURTZ: Well, yes, but he also runs the risk of sounding like a constitutional law professor, which he once was.
Christina, you were at the White House for this. You were not in the East Room. The White House has a new policy: it notifies reporters in advance who's going to get a question, so there's no suspense. Did that make you feel like an extra? Is that why you didn't go to the East Room?
BELLATONI: No. Well, we have a rotation, so somebody else was in our seat that day. But it was very much like the transition, where people don't even shout out a question any more, because he's very obviously reading off a list of questions, and it was just -- that's a little bit frustrating. I think that it's more people saying it's not exactly like a press conference, saying, "Hey, Mr. President, call on me." And he didn't get any questions about Tom Daschle or the tax issues that his nominees have faced.
KURTZ: And that's something you would have liked to have asked?
KURTZ: You think "The Washington Times" will get a question over the next four years?
BELLATONI: Sure, we will. Absolutely.
IFILL: Does anybody remember that when -- was it Ronald Reagan, who first started this practice of reading names off of a chart, he got a lot of grief for that. There was a lot of question: doesn't he know who the reporters were? Can't he keep it straight? You don't get any -- you don't hear any of that criticism of Barack Obama.
KURTZ: Nobody's even mentioning this whole idea of being notified in advance.
IFILL: I never heard that, no.
KURTZ: It does make me wonder, like, why show up if you're a White House correspondent, if you -- in fact...?
CARLSON: If you're not going to get called on, don't go to class.
KURTZ: You know, "Newsweek," "TIME," "L.A. Times," "Chicago Tribune," none of those got questions.
But there was one question that did attract a bit of flak. Want to play it for you now. It was asked by Michael Fletcher of "The Washington Post."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL FLETCHER, "WASHINGTON POST": What is your reaction to Alex Rodriguez's admission that he used steroids as a member of the Texas Rangers?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
IFILL: I have to defend him Mike Fletcher for that, partly because we're old friends and we worked together for years. But also, because when he first asked that question, I remember thinking "A-Rod at a presidential...?" And then I immediately thought, OK, there had been ten questions about the economy.
KURTZ: Right. It was late in the game.
IFILL: The secret is to get the president to answer a question that makes new.
BELLATONI: That's so true.
CARLSON: You want to go off topic, especially when you're getting the tutorial from the constitutional law professor. You want to get off topic, out of his range and see what you get.
BELLATONI: And the best questions to the president are always the ones that make him think about it, where he doesn't have a prepared answer. And he didn't exactly answer that question, but you could see the wheels turning. And those are absolutely very good...
CARLSON: I want the Octomom question going to him.
KURTZ: Maybe at the next -- at the next press conference.
But it did seem to me that the news had just broken that day that A-Rod had admitted using steroids years earlier.
KURTZ: So I thought it was legitimate. A lot of people thought it was a soft one, over the plate.
Meanwhile, one person who was called on was Sam Stein of the Huffington Post. So is this a new era for bloggers in terms of White House recognition?
CARLSON: I don't know where Arianna was at moment, but she popped the champagne and cheered, because this is what bloggers have been waiting for, and he got it. And it's -- and it's right. The Huffington Post...
IFILL: And he had a perfectly reasonable question.
CARLSON: He did. Huffington Post is as much a player in this last campaign and now in this White House coverage as anybody.
KURTZ: He asked a question about a proposal on Capitol Hill to start a truth and reconciliation commission to look into Bush-era wrongdoing. IFILL: Something which the judiciary chairman in both the House and the Senate are interested in investigating. I was interested to hear what the president had to say, which was not much, because it was off topic, but it was perfectly reasonable to ask it.
I would be a little crazier if it was a blogger who'd never covered anything, who just showed up and said, "You know, I was woke up this morning, thinking that, you know, I have a hangnail, Mr. President. Can you help me with that?"
CARLSON: But that's...
IFILL: We didn't get that.
CARLSON: That's where the list comes in. He must have known, so he was prepared with a good question.
BELLATONI: And he did know. And it would have been, maybe, a little bit more interesting if he had called on someone like, say, Salon, or a new media outlet that hadn't just thrown a major party celebrating the inauguration of Barack Obama.
KURTZ: Well, you raise an interesting point. Because Huffington -- you know, a conservative blogger didn't get a question. Huffington Post was just filled for two years with pro-Obama columns.
And also the liberal radio host Ed Schulz was seated in the front row. He did not get a question. So I heard some people ask, "Well, what if George Bush had put Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity in front? Wouldn't there have been a lot of criticism?"
IFILL: Yes. There would have been a lot of criticism, no question.
CARLSON: "The Huffington Post" broke the story that stuck with Obama through the whole thing about the bitterness and the guns.
BELLATONI: They've done -- they've done great work. There's no question about that. And it's nice to have that many broad outlets. I mean, Ana Marie Cox was there for Air America, as well. And I think that there's -- it's good to have that many different types of people in the room. But you've got to call on them, too.
KURTZ: I wonder if conservatives will feel shut out.
Another thing the president did this week is he met with 16 regional reporters. And if we can put up some of the headlines. Generated a lot of stories in midsize newspapers around the country. I wonder if that is a smart technique. You know, we focus so much on the national news outlets.
IFILL: Every single president wants to go above our heads; it's what they do. They figure we are too caught up with being inside, being -- asking them tough questions they don't want to answer. So what do you do? You go and you talk to someone from a paper who can say, "We got a new highway coming our way." Now, these aren't dumb questions. These are smart and important questions, but it's to get past that...
CARLSON: But the other piece is -- is that outside Washington, David Axelrod made a mistake saying cable. He should have said Washington. Outside Washington, among the governors whom I always call, they're all for the stimulus, because they need the money and they know what they're going to do with it. And regional reporters are out there covering them.
KURTZ: Well, just to give you the flavor of it, "Obama Calls Alaska Planned Gas Line Promising," "Anchorage Daily News." "Obama: I Can Offer Serious Auto Help," "Detroit Free Press." "Plan Will Help Ohio, Obama Says," "Columbus Dispatch."
So you know, people want to know "What's in this for me?"
BELLATONI: And it's a tactic that he used very successfully in the election, as well, doing local radio, local TV.
KURTZ: It's a campaign tactic we see less of at the White House level, but the president is -- is coming up with some new ways to do new things.
Christina Bellatoni, Margaret Carlson, thanks very much for joining us.
Gwen Ifill, stick around.
When we come back, we'll tackle the subject of Obama and race. Does it affect the way the first African-American president is covered?
And later, angry at Octomom. Why has the media's fascination with Nadya Suleman morphed into around-the-clock denunciations?
KURTZ: And Gwen Ifill is still with us. I've been reading your new book, "The Breakthrough." You write that there was a debate during the campaign among black journalists and in the black community about was Obama black enough?
KURTZ: Obama is quoted as saying that it was "a political, systematic agenda to push that story line into the press." Was there?
IFILL: You know, the only people who asked that question ever were black people. It was black people in barber shops and in salons. And he loved the idea. He was -- he was taken early on, especially in the campaign, with the idea that somebody was behind it, that it wouldn't die. And no matter how many ways he answered it.
But I talked to a lot of different politicians across the country, African-American politicians. Every single one of them -- mayors, governors, attorneys general -- have all been asked this question whenever they reached a certain level of achievement. So it occurred to me that it was about something more than just "was he black enough?" It was about "are you going to be loyal to our interests?" And once that question was satisfied by whoever the candidate was, then they moved onto the flip side of the argument, which usually came from white voters and questioners in the media, which was "is he too black?"
KURTZ: And I was going to quote from your book on that very point: "To white people who considered themselves to be forward thinking, he was a black man but not too black." Was that also part of Barack Obama's appeal to the press?
IFILL: Absolutely. And -- but it's something that Barack Obama decided he was going to do.
KURTZ: Really (ph)?
IFILL: And not only Barack Obama, but his chief campaign strategists, David Plouffe and David Axelrod. They had run Deval Patrick's gubernatorial campaign in Massachusetts and had discouraged him from giving a big speech about race, because they decided that, in order for this black, breakthrough candidate to win, they had to deemphasize his racial character.
So Barack Obama spent a lot of time courting black radio and the black press under the radar. But when it came time for big speeches and prime time, it was almost always in front of white audiences, almost always giving big interviews to white media outlets.
KURTZ: You say Obama did not fit "the corrosive stereotype of what a black man is supposed to be." Who perpetuates that stereotype?
IFILL: Well, the media, who perpetuates the stereotype. But you know what it is, is that I gathered, talking to people about this, but the people are ready to hear about something beyond a stereotype.
There had been so many exceptions to the rule over the years. And what people voting, a lot of white people especially, voting for Barack Obama have told me, is that they tried to get past this notion that race was a negative. That maybe there was something positive about this, there's something they could be proud of.
So you know, we all perpetuate the stereotype. But the key is how do you live something beyond the stereotype?
KURTZ: On that point, with the rise of Deval Patrick in Massachusetts and Newark Mayor Cory Booker and some of the other African-American politicians you write about, will the media now stop running to Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson every time there's any race- related issue, as a kind of spokesman for the black community?
IFILL: I've never liked the idea that there was leaders, that I needed to be led, that the black community needs to be led.
But Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson still see a role for themselves, and that's as the loyal outside agitators, because they believe that someone needs to hold Barack Obama or any leader, any black leader, accountable for being responsible to the community. KURTZ: Sure. Was there too much of a tendency of journalists to go to those two guys?
IFILL: Yes, it was lazy.
IFILL: It was lazy. It's lazy to think there's only two people who can speak for all of the varied interests in a community that is not at all monolithic.
KURTZ: Now, before the vice-presidential debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, which you moderated, there was a concerted attack on you, that you had a vested interest in an Obama victory, because this book that you were finishing. Was that a difficult period for you?
IFILL: You know, I was -- a difficult period for me, because I was working on a very high-profile debate and I was trying to figure a way to do it right. And it was a difficult period for me, because I was recuperating from a broken ankle that I broke two days before the debate.
And in the middle of all of that came this kind of -- this little mini-tsunami of attack on me and my ability to be down the middle. Honestly, of all the things I was thinking about that week, that was what bothered me the least, in part because I knew what it was I was going to do. I had been to the rodeo before, done another vice- presidential debate.
KURTZ: You didn't know it was going to be Sarah Palin. That -- that must have required a lot of...
IFILL: But it didn't -- it didn't make a difference.
IFILL: It didn't make a difference, because all of the questions I got in advance were people telling me what to ask, or what I should ask Sarah Palin. And my response was always: "It's a debate. Joe Biden's on the stage, too." You know, that guy who's now the vice president?
KURTZ: In other words, it's not about you?
IFILL: It's not about me, and it wasn't about her. It was about the debate. And I also knew what a lot of my attackers didn't seem to get, that I wasn't writing an Obama book and hadn't, at that point, even written an Obama chapter.
KURTZ: And it hadn't been a secret.
KURTZ: But was it entirely unfair in the sense that, clearly, this book would not have done as well in a McCain administration?
IFILL: But how do we know? I was going to write the book anyhow. I signed the contract before I ever believed that Barack Obama would be president. So was I supposed to stop writing the book, because he was suddenly doing well? Was I supposed to write it differently?
I decided to just plow ahead and do what I'd always planned to do, which was write a book about an entire arc of change that was happening in this country, a whole lot of breakthrough candidates who weren't just about Barack Obama, even though he provide a framework with which to do this.
KURTZ: So if Obama had flamed out you obviously still would have finished this book?
IFILL: I would have finished the book. And whether people bought it or not or had greater interest in it was up to them, not up to me. I was going to write the same book.
KURTZ: Michelle Obama, as you know, is on the cover of "Vogue" magazine this week. An incredible puffy piece, written by a guy who raised funds for the Obama campaign. But are the media now making Michelle Obama...
IFILL: This is "Vogue" we're talking about. So I mean, it's not like he's a journalist, Andre Leon Talley.
KURTZ: OK. Are the media making her into a fashion icon and a celebrity and kind of downplaying the fact that she's an accomplished lawyer, an executive who's out there selling her husband's policies? IFILL: She is downplaying the fact that she's an accomplished executive. I don't see her talking about getting a job or going back into the professional world. She talks about being a mom in chief. That's the attention they want this on.
KURTZ: But she's gone to two or three federal agencies and given pep talks and also talked about the stimulus legislation and so forth. In other words, there's a bit of a substantive role taking place here. IFILL: OK, but we're still trying to figure out...
KURTZ: But the much sexier story is what's she wearing on the cover of "Vogue."
IFILL: You know, we're not at the point yet in 2009 where we can think of women in a broader sense that that. But I think if she were to start suddenly advocating policy, as we saw with Hillary Clinton, a lot of the focus would change quickly, and there are a lot of people out there waiting.
I mean, Michelle Obama certainly remembers the only time she ever said anything mildly controversial during the campaign she ended up on the cover of magazines, being called "Mrs. Grievance." So she's trying to find a way to tread that softly.
KURTZ: That was about the first time being truly proud of her country and so forth.
IFILL: That's right.
KURTZ: All right. Well, there is a balancing act there for her. But I think also for us, as well.
Gwen Ifill, thanks very much for stopping by this morning.
IFILL: Thanks, Howie.
KURTZ: Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, are the media unfairly demonizing that single mom who gave birth to eight babies, because it's good television?
Plus, "Sports Illustrated" forces A-Rod to admit his past use of steroids. So why is he denouncing the reporter who blew the whistle?
KING: I'm John King, and this is STATE OF THE UNION. Here are some stories breaking this Sunday morning.
Senator John McCain is accusing President Obama of backtracking on promises of bipartisanship. The Arizona Republican says Mr. Obama did not include Republicans when writing the economic stimulus legislation. And he calls that a bad start to his presidency.
Today Hillary Clinton makes her first overseas trip as secretary of state. She heads to Asia, with stops in Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China. The polls are open in Venezuela, where people are deciding whether to get rid of term limits. A constitutional change would allow President Hugo Chavez to run for a third consecutive six-year term. Venezuelans narrowly rejected a similar measure just two years ago.
And NBA all-star players here in Phoenix weigh in on President Obama's game, on and off the court.
That and much, much more ahead on STATE OF THE UNION.
But for now, let's go back to my friend, Howie Kurtz, in Washington for more RELIABLE SOURCES -- Howie.
KURTZ: John, before I let you go, when you said you were going to take your show on the road, starting the STATE OF THE UNION program, I didn't know it meant hanging out with basketball superstars. So I've got ask you, how did you sell this idea? And can I put in for it next year?
KING: You can come next year, next year's all-star game's in Dallas. We sold this idea in part, Howard, because there are some huge policy debates here. The president's coming here; the economy is punishing here.
But yes, I have a longstanding relationship with the NBA. And full disclosure, Noah and Hannah (ph) King would be very mad at their dad if he didn't bring them to the all-star game.
And so as part of it, you know, we have a diner segment every week in STATE OF THE UNION. Well, we brought the diner to Phoenix this week. And Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Grant Hill, Chris Paul, Steve Nash, a fun conversation about politics and culture. And you'll want to watch, Howie, when they break down President Obama's basketball.
KURTZ: Yes, I want to see what they have to say about Obama's left-handed jump shot. All right, John. We'll talk to you a little later.
It was a "gee whiz" story at first: a woman giving birth to eight babies at once. But the media turned on Nadya Suleman once we all learned that she already had six kids, lived in her mother's house, and had no job. Suddenly, the Octomom, as she was dubbed, was national news.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIBSON: In California, itself, there is growing anger about whether the state will have to pay to take care of the kids.
BILL O'REILLY, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL'S "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": Here's a woman who's really not in the real world. She's not. She's delusional.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's going to get her degree, but while she's pursuing that, who's going to take care of these children?
MONICA CROWLEY, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: The state should come in. They should take those children into their custody. The state's paying for them anyway. And this mother should be taken into custody.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: Everyone on TV seemed to have an opinion of Suleman's situation. There was even a split on the morning shows. The mother of 14 sat down with Ann Curry on "The Today Show," while "Good Morning America" aired an interview done by Radar Online with Nadya's mother, Angela Suleman, who is not happy about the brood of new babies.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANN CURRY, NBC'S "THE TODAY SHOW": Do you have any income at all?
NADYA SULEMAN, MOTHER OF OCTUPLETS: At the moment, no. That's why I'm most likely going to back to school in the fall.
CURRY: You're saying that you're going to use student loans to help raise your children?
N. SULEMAN: Temporarily. Temporarily.
CURRY: You don't have an income to provide for your children?
ANGELA SULEMAN, GRANDMOTHER OF OCTUPLETS: I was practically raising her children. She had really no means to support them, so they were always living in my house. She has not been thinking straight. To have more is just not right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Should the media's big guns be turning all their firepower on this strange woman? I put that question earlier to Bonnie Fuller, former editorial director of "Star" magazine, who recently launched her own company, Bonnie Fuller Media. And Jane Velez- Mitchell, investigative journalist and the host of ISSUES WITH JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, which airs weeknights, 7 Eastern on HLN, Headline News.
KURTZ: Bonnie Fuller, before we get to the details, why has the plight of this one clearly troubled woman become such a big media story?
FULLER: It's always a big story when there are enormous multiple births. I mean, we've seen that for years. People are fascinated by it, because it's so unusual.
Now, the fact that this woman has six other children, that she looks like Angelina Jolie and seems to have an Angelina complex, and that she's got a mother who is speaking out and saying that she's irresponsible, and that she has a doctor who implanted six -- six eggs, fertilized eggs into her and that's also controversial. All these things add up to make it a tremendously interesting media story and a story of interest to just regular folks.
KURTZ: Jane Velez-Mitchell, you've been talking about this constantly on cable for more than a week.
All right. Let's be blunt here. Aren't the media feasting on this terrible situation?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, it's more than that, Howie. I blame the media. For decades we've been acting like the cheerleading squad for these extremely large families. Every time there's quadruplets or septuplets born, we do these glowing features about the miracle of these large families.
And on top of that you have movies like "Cheaper by the Dozen," encouraging this irrational belief system that more is better.
This woman is simply the logical extension of everything we, the media, have been feeding the public for years and years. So we have to look at ourselves in the mirror and realize that a lot of the messages that we send for our own selfish purposes are extremely irresponsible.
This is a mess for this family. It's a mess for taxpayers. It's a mess for the environment. It's about the worst environmental move you can make in your life to have 14 kids.
KURTZ: Yes, and initially the coverage was just like that until we learned about the other six kids and the multiple births and all that.
Bonnie, you mentioned Angelina Jolie. You wrote the other day that Nadya Suleman is "fulfilling a need to be an Angelina-type celebrity and to make her fame and fortune off her innocent children." How do you know that?
FULLER: This is my opinion. This is what I fear, and I think that -- that her moves demonstrate that this is what she's interested in. I mean, look it. She's already done interviews for television; she's been on "Dateline." She has set up a Web site to collect donations. She's hired a P.R. person. I mean, normal people don't hire P.R. people.
KURTZ: How much -- how much of your view of this is influenced by the fact that you have four kids?
FULLER: What -- what influences me is that I do know how hard it is to have a lot of children. I mean, most people consider four to be a lot of children. Children need a tremendous amount of attention. Every baby needs to be held, to be loved, to be fed. But you've got to have eyes in the back of your head for one child, one baby, let alone eight newborns and infants crawling around. It's very hard.
KURTZ: And Jane, you've said that Nadya has very deep narcissistic reasons for having all these kids. Sounds like you're becoming a TV psychologist.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, I think we're all pop psychologists in this day and age on the Internet.
I do feel she's troubled. She obviously is working out a lot of issues that she should be working out with a therapist and not on some cold metal table.
And the fact is that she has boxed herself and her family into this corner. She only has three possibilities: one, marry a multimillionaire; two, win the lottery; or three, make an entertainment deal.
We shouldn't punish the kids in the process of punishing this woman. She does have to feed these kids somehow.
KURTZ: Marrying a multimillionaire is always a good option if you can wind (ph) that up.
Bonnie, let me come back to the way her story unfolded. Nadya Suleman originally said that she received no government assistance, and then it turned out that she is getting Food Stamps and disability payments for some of her kids. In the media's eyes, did that kind of destroy her credibility right there?
FULLER: I don't know that it destroys her credibility, but it raises -- it raises a lot of questions for the media to investigate.
And actually, I don't blame the media in this case. I think the media is doing a service, actually, to the children in this family, because if there wasn't attention, would -- would this woman be able to walk out of the hospital with those eight babies and take them home to God knows what kind of a situation?
Her mother, who has been taking care of the children, has already thrown up her hands and said publicly that she's leaving; she's walking out; she is not going to help her. So who is going to help -- who is going to help...
KURTZ: Now, surely, Bonnie, you're not suggesting that we, in the media, are doing this purely out of our own good-hearted concern for these little babies and that ratings and grabbing attention has nothing to do with it?
FULLER: Ratings has a lot to do with it, but I do feel in this case that having public attention focuses on the needs of this family, and otherwise those needs might not be met.
KURTZ: Once taxpayer money is involved, Jane, and once the focus has changed somewhat, not only to the grandmother's criticism but to the fertility doctor in Beverly Hills, who apparently has done this before, arranging multiple births with other women, has -- that has really changed the direction of this story, has it not?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes, and I think the media swings from one extreme to the other. We went from the "Oh, this is the miracle, the miracle of birth," and now we're, "She's a witch." And that's why she's getting death threats.
What we have to do is find a medium ground, where we discuss it rationally without demonizing this woman. Again, I do blame the media. I think she is sort of the living embodiment of everything we've been preaching to the public for years about more is better. And we do need to look at ourselves. We are at fault, as well, in this case.
KURTZ: Bonnie, Jane, certainly willing to give the media some share of the blame here. So I'm wondering, you know, should "The Today Show" have put her on, because obviously, that kick-started this story into the stratosphere? And now people are saying, well -- and I think you suggested, well, she just went on TV so she can get a book deal and try to basically make some money off the situation.
FULLER: Absolutely, I think she should have -- that "The Today Show" should have booked her. She is a news event. Having octuplets is a news event. And "The Today Show's" mission is to report on news. So I don't disagree with that decision at all.
Actually, what I'm surprised about is that there's been no noise yet about magazine covers, because normally, this is the kind of situation where you'd be getting bidding wars. And I'm sure that Nadya is counting on that.
KURTZ: You think that somebody is going to offer a good bit of cash for pictures of the kids and all that?
FULLER: Definitely there will be offers to get her on the cover, because again, she will sell magazines. People are interested in her. And I'm sure that she's of global interest, not just interest here.
KURTZ: Right, right. And I do have to say that once "The Today Show" made the decision to have her on, Ann Curry did a pretty tough job on her. This was no puffball interview.
Jane Velez-Mitchell, here's what drives me crazy. We've kind of touched on it here. I wonder if we've reached a point with these cable melodramas where at some -- we cross some sort of invisible threshold, where it's no longer about Nadya Suleman. It's no longer about the 14 kids. It's about continuing an argument that we can package and sell. You know, "Coming up, should the kids be taken away?" And it just takes on a momentum of its own, whether there's any new developments or not.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Right. And that's why I question the whole notion of whether the woman is really out to help this woman. We have demonized her to the point where her price is dropping. I've had people in the book industry, very high up in the book industry, tell me she's not going to get a big advance, because the story has become so toxic nobody really wants to touch her.
In fact, she hasn't even gotten diapers.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Usually, these large families get inundated with products. They're afraid to attach their brand name to her.
So this idea that we're all doing this for some altruistic purpose is nonsense. We're doing it for ratings, and let's be real about that.
KURTZ: All right. Well, I'm glad to have you admit that right up front.
And it does seem to me that we should keep in mind that, although I'm not going to defend this woman and what she did -- raises all kinds of questions -- the demonization -- it's the perfect word -- I think, is a little over the top at this point.
Bonnie Fuller, Jane Velez-Mitchell, thanks very much for joining us.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Thanks, Howie.
FULLER: Thank you.
KURTZ: And two publicists for the Octomom resigned yesterday, saying they have received death threats.
By the way, if you want to TiVo this program or record it on a DVR, set your machine to STATE OF THE UNION 10 a.m. hour or STATE OF THE UNION-RELIABLE.
When we come back, Alex Rodriguez busted for steroids. But was "Sports Illustrated" justified in revealing a confidential 6-year-old drug test?
KURTZ: A-Rod kept insisting he was clean.
KURTZ: Even as some of baseball's biggest names, from Barry Bonds to Mark McGwire, were tarnished by the seemingly endless steroid scandal. Alex Rodriguez, the game's biggest and richest celebrity, said he had never gone there. At least, that's what he told Katie Couric 14 months ago on "60 Minutes."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: For the record, have you ever used steroids, human growth hormone, or any other performance- enhancing substance?
ALEX RODRIGUEZ, PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL PLAYER, NEW YORK YANKEES: No.
COURIC: Did you ever witness or hear about or even suspect this was going on?
RODRIGUEZ: You hear a lot of things. I mean, I came in the game in 1993, and you heard whispers from the '80 and '90s, but I never saw anything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But then "Sports Illustrated" broke the story that Rodriguez had failed a confidential drug test by the league back in 2003, and A-Rod, who initially refused to comment, admitted it the next day to ESPN's Peter Gammons.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER GAMMONS, ESPN: You mentioned, in the Katie Couric interview, you did say -- you were asked if you had ever used steroids, human growth hormone or other performance-enhancing substances, and you said no, flat-out no. In your mind, that -- that wasn't a lie?
RODRIGUEZ: You know, at the time, Peter I wasn't even being truthful with myself. How am I going to be truthful with Katie or CBS?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So was this belated admission due to the coverage of A- Rod and of baseball itself? Joining us now here in the studio, Mike Wise, sports columnist for "The Washington Post"; and in Cincinnati, Gregg Doyel, columnist for CBSsportsline.com.
Mike Wise, so A-Rod lies to Katie Couric and now says he was deceiving himself. Is that coming clean?
MIKE WISE, SPORTS COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": No. That's not coming clean. And you don't know exactly what the truth is when it comes to Alex Rodriguez.
But you know, I'll give him this. He did -- he did come forward and admit that he used, and he was pretty specific about the years, 2001-2003. So it's something. It's a start for the guy.
KURTZ: I'm not sure I'll give him that, because I don't think he had much choice. "Sports Illustrated" had the goods, and so we saw headlines this week of the New York tabloids, "New York Post." Yankee fans saw this on newsstands, if we can put that up, A-Rod now being referred to -- have we got that? -- as "A-Hole."
All right. Gregg Doyel, are you troubled by the way that "Sports Illustrated," which is part of CNN's parent company Time Warner, singled out Rodriguez from the 104 players who flunked that drug test five or six years ago?
GREGG DOYEL, COLUMNIST, CBSSPORTSONLINE.COM: No, not at all. A- Rod wasn't singled out by "Sports Illustrated." They were working on a story on A-Rod or a book on A-Rod, and looking for information, they found out that, hey, he's been using steroids and they heard a leak. Believe me, it's not like "Sports Illustrated" has all 104 names and singled out A-Rod. They stumbled onto one name -- A-Rod happens to be the biggest name in baseball -- and used it. I've got no problem with "SI" for doing that.
KURTZ: All right. But Mike, some journalists, including your "Washington Post" colleague Tom Boswell, says this is old news. We don't need to know who the other 103 players are. It's time to move on. What do you think of that?
WISE: Gee, I'm of the opposite view, because for one reason, Howard: there's a lot of kids who were in AAA, AA, who never played with steroids, who decided, "I'm not going to do the risks of fame versus the risks of health, and I'm not going to cheat."
And then you've got the kid who does, whether he plays two or three years, I'm more -- I'm more bothered by that guy, who kept the guy out of the major leagues than I am A-Rod or Mark McGwire or Barry Bonds, who you know, were trying to keep up with the joneses. It's still wrong, but I can see their rationalization better than the guy who was only in for a couple of years.
KURTZ: Now, the lead reporter for "SI," who actually confronted Alex Rodriguez in a gym, was Selena Roberts. Rodriguez at that time said, "You'll have to talk to the union," which is what we in this business call a non-denial denial. Now, in that ESPN interview, Rodriguez had some pretty strong things to say about Selena Roberts. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RODRIGUEZ: What make me upset is -- and that "Sports Illustrated" pays this lady, Selena Roberts, to stalk me. This lady has been thrown out of my apartment in New York City. This lady has, five days ago, just been thrown out of the University of Miami police for trespassing. And four days ago, she tried to break into my house while my girls are up there sleeping and got cited by the Miami Beach police.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Gregg Doyel, Selena Roberts, who is writing a book about A-Rod, says that is an utter fabrication, all those allegations. What do you make of A-Rod going after her in that very personal way, when after all, the story she wrote was accurate?
DOYEL: Yes, A-Rod's anger is misdirected right now. There are rules of engagement in everything as small as a boxing fight, as big as a college football game and as massively important as war, the Geneva Conventions.
Well, there's rules of engagement for the union and baseball agreeing to these steroid tests six years ago. And rule No. 1 is it will be anonymous, A; and B, it will be destroyed afterwards. No one will ever know anything about this.
So if I'm A-Rod, I'm not mad at Selena Roberts for getting this thing leaked to her. I'm mad at baseball for not doing what baseball said it was going to do and destroying these documents. If I'm A-Rod -- he's not a very sympathetic figure; I get that -- but if I'm A-Rod, I'm suing baseball and I'm winning and I'm owning baseball. It's going to be called Major League A-Rod when I'm done with it.
WISE: Yes, well, Gregg, I mean, one, Selena Roberts, a former colleague of mine and a friend, and to me is intrepid journalism. I'm agreeing -- I'm in agreement with you on that. There's nothing off- line.
But as far as blaming the union for not destroying the test results, I completely disagree with that. They got caught, yes, it's an awful employee -- employee-company violation thing. But they got caught. They got the bad guys. It's like blaming -- blaming the union is like blaming Bernie Madoff's secretary for not deleting the e-mails. The guy got caught.
KURTZ: Well, you know, Selena Roberts, who's a former "New York Times" reporter, I am told -- and I can report this exclusively -- that after that interview Alex Rodriguez called her to apologize.
But let's face it, Gregg, he's never had a great relationship with the press. Many journalists kind of resent him and view him as arrogant. Isn't that true?
DOYEL: Probably so, yes. I kind of like him a little bit, but I think I like him, because compared to Scott Bourse's (ph) agent, he's an absolute human -- a swell human being.
But I have seen -- I have seen the New York tabloids go nuts on the story like they do on everything. A-Rod was just an excuse. He was collateral damage. Yes, they don't like A-Rod, so they're going to be pretty harsh in that "A-Hole" headline, which is journalistically abhorrent, but I admit to giggling for about five minutes when I saw it.
DOYEL: A-Rod was just an excuse to go off on each other, "The Daily News" and the "Post" and all that, and they used that excuse.
KURTZ: Does Rodriguez, Mike Wise, now have a Barry Bonds problem? Can you write about his exploits -- let's say he hits 70 home runs next year -- without typing the words "admitted steroids user"?
WISE: Yes, he does. And I believe this -- Gregg and I might disagree a little bit about this, as well -- that the congressional hearings of 2005, if they did nothing else, they shamed Sammy Sosa; they shamed Mark McGwire; and they shamed Donald Fear and Bud Selig into accepting stiffer testing. And sometimes, that's all you've got in this country any more, is public shame. Because they're not going to do anything to the record books.
KURTZ: Is A-Rod a bigger target, Gregg, for the media because he hangs around with Madonna and had a high-profile divorce and is basically a huge celebrity?
DOYEL: Yes, for the same reason that Tom Brady would be, too, in football. And Tom Brady has not been disliked like A-Rod has been disliked by the media. Although I wouldn't say we've disliked A-Rod like we've disliked Barry Bonds. But still, A-Rod is not real popular with the media.
But anyway, he's a superstar on and off the field with Madonna, with the Kabbalah, with all of the stupid stuff that he does. So yes, he'll be a target from all of us, not just me and Mike Wise, but for "Entertainment Tonight" and all of these crazy, silly tabloid shows that come out of nowhere.
KURTZ: That is true. The University of Miami just named its field Alex Rodriguez Field. I'm surprised the college didn't back out of that. But of course, Rodriguez had given the school $4 million.
Gregg Doyel, Mike Wise, thanks very much for slugging it out with us this morning.
After the break, Sully in the spotlight. Did Katie Couric and company go overboard in interviewing the hero of that Miracle on the Hudson?
KURTZ: When Katie Couric was on RELIABLE SOURCES last week talking about her interview with Chesley Sullenberger, I wondered how she would handle the telling of that incredible tale.
Unlike this week's tragic plane crash outside Buffalo, Sully's Hudson River landing was nothing short of miraculous. It would easy to get melodramatic or maudlin or put the pilot on a pedestal, but Couric didn't do that on "60 Minutes." Her questions were mostly short and straightforward.
COURIC: Did you think, "How are we going to get ourselves out of this?"
CHESLEY "SULLY" SULLENBERGER, U.S. AIRWAYS PILOT: No. My initial reaction was one of disbelief: I can't believe this is happening. This doesn't happen to me.
COURIC: So you took control of the plane. The engines have stopped working. How do you fly a plane like that?
SULLENBERGER: You glide it.
COURIC: Do you think about the passengers at that moment?
SULLENBERGER: Not specifically. I mean, more abstractly perhaps. I mean, I knew I had to solve this problem.
KURTZ (voice-over): When other hosts and anchors interviewed Sully, his crew and some of the survivors, there was, again, no need for hype. The tone was understated.
GIBSON: Was there an "uh-oh" moment?
JEFFREY SKILES, FIRST OFFICER, U.S. AIRWAYS: Both Sully and I are not very demonstrative people. I don't recall us saying anything.
DIANE SAWYER, HOST, ABC'S "GOOD MORNING AMERICA": What are you thinking right now? Where are you right now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's tough. I thought I was going to lose my life. I thought I would never get to see my children.
LARRY KING, HOST, CNN'S "LARRY KING LIVE": I know you're doing your job, but are you scared?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was terrified.
KURTZ: There are all too many small controversies that television feels the need to turn into soap operas, but that was hardly the case here. For once, journalists could turn down the decibel level and let the words and pictures speak for themselves.
As for Sully, you get the impression he'd rather be home with his wife than doing all these interviews. He's just a guy who did his job. And that, in this era of cashing in, is impressive as what he did on Flight 1549.
Still to come, talk about talking points. A FOX News anchor uses some material from a rather suspect source.
KURTZ: We sometimes jab at the pundits for using talking points, but in the case of FOX News anchor Jon Scott, it was literally true this week.
He put up some graphics designed to show the ballooning costs of President Obama's stimulus package, which it turns out, he lifted verbatim from a press release by the Senate Republican Communications Center, right down to the typo giving the wrong year for a "Wall Street Journal" article.
When the liberal -- liberal advocacy group Media Matters caught the copycatting, Scott had this to say:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JON SCOTT, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: In compiling that story, our producers and researchers did what we always do. We verify the accuracy of the material.
But in double-checking the newspaper quotes referenced in that news release, we made the same mistake they did. We labeled the "Wall Street Journal" article as having run in 2009, when in fact, it was 2008. That was our error, and we apologize.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Come on. You shouldn't be apologizing for that, even if we were to buy that it was a coincidence that you happened to make the same mistake on the day of the article.
You should be apologizing for using partisan propaganda from the GOP without telling your viewers where it came from. Talking about missing the point.
And speaking of screw-ups, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann gave Rupert Murdoch one of his "Worst Persons Award" for supposedly saying, "We have never been a company that tolerates facts." That turned out to be a transcription error. The FOX News owner actually said his company has never tolerated "fat." Ouch.
Olbermann quickly corrected the mistake.
Let's go back to John King now, who's in Phoenix.
And John, we just finished a segment on A-Rod. I'm looking at some of these New York tabloid headlines, "The New York Post" calling him a liar and a cheat, "The Daily News" talking about "Body of Lies." You're a sports fan. Spring training a few weeks away. How much is this coverage going to hurt not just Alex Rodriguez but the sport of baseball?
KING: It's very tough, Howie. As you know, you have the story; it's controversy. Many in baseball had hoped it was in the past. And now you have an MVP-caliber player, perhaps the guy who was going to be the future home run champ in baseball, facing all these questions.
And as you note, it's not just A-Rod facing the questions, and he does it in the glaring spotlight of the New York tabloid media. But just about every player coming to spring training is being asked about this. Veterans being asked, does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Rookies being asked, what are you learning from this controversy?
So it is a stain on a great sport, and we're going to watch it play out as pitchers and catchers report in the days ahead.
KURTZ: I agree with you on that. This is a story that's not going away. And it's our responsibility to keep pressing this steroids question. Thanks, John.
KING: Absolutely is, Howie. You take care and have a great Sunday.