Return to Transcripts main page

State of the Union

Reliable Sources

Aired May 10, 2009 - 10:00   ET


KURTZ: With all the media focus on Barack Obama, Michelle, the kids, the dog, the basketball playing, the BlackBerry, and the shirtless photos, the struggling Republican Party is sometimes treated as an afterthought. And when the GOP gets some press attention, it tends to be pretty negative, or about such lightning rods such as Dick Cheney or Rush.

Not that Republicans have much to brag about these days, but the new "TIME" cover story goes so far as to question whether the GOP, like some rare Whooping Crane, is an endangered species. Here, take a look.

"The party's ideas are not popular ideas. A hard-right agenda of slashing taxes for the investor class, protecting marriage from gays, blocking universal health insurance and extolling the glories of waterboarding produces terrific ratings for Rush Limbaugh, but it's not a majority agenda."

And who gets to write the accompanying essay? MSNBC's morning host Joe Scarborough, former Republican congressman, who has sharply criticized his party. He says Republicans "... must again find the middle of the American political life and stop being seen as tone-deaf ideologues mixed with self-consumed radicals."

So is this kind of coverage fair when contrasted with the reporting on Obama?

Joining us now to talk about that and some other political controversies, Rachel Sklar, contributor to "The Daily Beast"; Joe Klein, columnist and political correspondent for "TIME" magazine; and Amanda Carpenter, who writes the "Hot Button" column for "The Washington Times" and blogs online.

All right, Joe, much of this piece by your colleague, Michael Grunwald, read like a liberal indictment of the Republican Party -- shamelessly hypocritical, embittered, over the top. Is "TIME" being fair and balanced here?

KLEIN: Well, "TIME" stopped being fair and balanced a long time ago. We go with the voices of our journalists and go with what they see. But the hilarious thing to me about this is that I wrote the exact same story about the Democratic Party in "Rolling Stone" magazine in 1981, and then I proceeded to do 30 years of Democrats in disarray stories. The other hilarious thing...

KURTZ: But what's the lesson, then, that when we try to bury somebody, a political party, a political person, they can rise from the dead?

KLEIN: Well, the thing is that there are cycles in American politics. Democrats went through a down cycle during the Reagan era. That's changing now.

But the other interesting thing is Joe Scarborough's column, the title was "They Only Look Dead." And E.J. Dionne wrote a book about the Democratic Party a few years ago...

KURTZ: With the title?

KLEIN: "They Only Look Dead." This is nothing new.

KURTZ: All right.

Amanda Carpenter, when "Newsweek" wanted to have a piece by a conservative, the editors had David Frum write a story ripping Rush Limbaugh and saying the GOP should modulate its social conservatism. "TIME" picks Joe Scarborough to criticize the Republican Party.

What does all of this tell you?

CARPENTER: Well, it is interesting. There should be a number of voices. I do agree it's definitely the state of the Republican Party. It's interesting to see the perspectives, numerous amounts of, you know, different views so you can kind of see where they think you should go.

But what's lacking is some real reporting on what the people inside the Republican Party, the direction they would like to take it. I think that's where the real interesting debate is.

Look at what happened last week with the New Council for a New America. That was really interesting, because you had essentially a bunch of Republicans talking about lowering the costs of health care, education. So I kind of see a new dynamic coming where they're going to be talking about these issues on the consumer side, possibly with an eye towards spending. Whereas, you know, that's happening. Yet, we just have essays about how dead the Republican party is.

KURTZ: And Rachel Sklar, it probably wasn't hard for "TIME" editor Rick Stengel to find Scarborough to write this essay since he goes on "Morning Joe" every week to preview the new "TIME" magazine cover.

Do you see a striking contrast in the way President Obama is being covered, particularly in these past 100 days and the way the GOP is being portrayed?

SKLAR: Well, you know, Howie, we've talked about this before. I don't think that the two necessarily have to do with each other. I don't think that -- I mean, they have to do with each other in the sense that the disarray of the GOP in many ways enabled the rise of Obama and the Democratic Party. As Joe said, this is just the cycle that government goes through. But, you know, I think that the media has been very cheerleady (ph) about Obama, but he's had a pretty decent hundred days, and he keeps coming up to the plate and sort of doing all right.

KURTZ: But you know that people out there feel like the media lean to the left, they're going to be naturally sympathetic to a Democratic...

SKLAR: I know that people say that, but...


KURTZ: But you just said that the media have been kind of cheerleady to President Obama even though he's had a pretty good...

SKLAR: But based on the fact that when he's had to step up to the plate, he's done a very good job. You know? The 100 days press conference, he did a great job. Last night at the correspondents' dinner...

KURTZ: Your 100-day piece for "TIME" magazine said that he had gotten off to the best start since FDR.

KLEIN: Yes, but I also said that it didn't mean all that much, that 100-days pieces are a kind of flimsy journalistic conceit, and the rubber's really going to meet the road when he lays out an agenda. We'll see whether it works. That's what's important.

Can I just defend our "TIME" magazine piece?

KURTZ: Please.

KLEIN: Michael Grunwald, who wrote it, actually did a lot of reporting, and he did reporting from the grassroots up. He's based outside of Washington. He talked to governors like Mark Sanford and portrayed them in a pretty sympathetic way. But you have a real kind of DNA problem here with the Republican Party.

When the Democrats were in trouble, they would always propose these nice, touchy-feely, you know, proposals for the country -- let's spend more money on health care, let's do this. Then when the Republicans have been in trouble over the last 100 days, all too often the face has been hateful and angry and dismissive. And that is a cultural problem that the Republican Party is going to have to deal with and overcome.

KURTZ: I've got to move on, but do you want to briefly respond to that?

CARPENTER: Yes, just a quick response is that, you know, part of the reason I think that the Republican Party has been characterized with so much hatred is because a number of times, over and over again, you have up-and-coming figures in the Republican Party having to answer for controversial remarks made by Rush Limbaugh or Dick Cheney, people who are no longer really controlling the political agenda. I mean, Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer, and again and again, they...


KURTZ: Cheney was vice president for eight years.

Look, let me move on, because I want to talk about the Supreme Court vacancy that President Obama is going to have a chance to fill. And there's a lot of talk in the past week on the airwaves about one word that Obama used.

Let's roll that.


OBAMA: I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: He wants empathy, darn it. He wants a justice who can understand and appreciate the struggles and challenges of the little guy.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS: That is a singularly loopy idea for a qualification for a justice.

ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: Republicans already using code words for the Supreme Court nomination. Since when is empathy a bad thing?


KURTZ: Since when did conservative commentators decide that "empathy" was a word to be attacked?

CARPENTER: Well, empathy, it's an emotive term. I mean, Barack Obama is calling for a judge who will take their emotions into account when making a judicial decision.

KLEIN: This is just hilarious. First of all -- first of all...

CARPENTER: I mean, what does empathy mean to you?

KLEIN: First of all, this is Exhibit A of what I was just talking about. This is -- the Republicans, when they hit the word "empathy," are being hateful and ugly.

KURTZ: Hateful?

KLEIN: Hateful, because they're saying -- no, but they're saying -- you know, they've always talked about the strict constructionism, but when you look at the legal surveys of who has been more radical on the bench, especially over the last 10 years, it's the Republicans who continually overturn precedent. You know, the liberal judges, moderate judges, a guy like David Souter, was a profound conservative because he really believed in stare decisis in respecting judgments.

SKLAR: I just want to talk about the term "empathy." It's actually a very contextual term.

It talks about how you interpret the law. You know, the Constitution was written in a very different time. You have to take into account evolving social situations, evolving technology. I mean, this is how the world operates now. You know, you have to take into context...

KURTZ: My take -- my take...

KLEIN: But it's a word game. I mean, really, that's -- you know, Republicans are playing a word game.

KURTZ: Well, because there is no nominee. So, this is sort of a spring training fight. And once Obama actually names somebody, then we can debate whether that person has the qualifications, the temperament and, yes, the empathy.

SKLAR: But that's something that Schumer asked of -- I think it was Alito. He talked about, can we -- or it was actually Roberts -- like, can we see into your heart? I don't know your heart. I mean, this is pretty standard stuff for discussing a Supreme Court nominee.

KURTZ: All right.

I want to turn to one other thing on Capitol Hill this week, up on the Senate side. Senator John Kerry holding a hearing about the future of newspapers. Indeed, whether they have a future.

I talked last week about "The Boston Globe" facing a shutdown threat from The New York Times Company. That was averted after the Globe's unions agreed to substantial pay cuts, a furlough, giving up benefits, and there's going to be more layoffs at that newspaper.

Let's take a look at the Kerry hearing.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Today, it is fair to say that newspapers look like an endangered species.

DAVID SIMON, TELEVISION PRODUCER: High-end journalism is dying in America, and unless a new economic model is achieved, it will not be reborn on the Web or anywhere else.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, HUFFINGTON POST: The future of journalism is not dependent on the future of newspapers.


KURTZ: I've got a half a minute for each of you.

Amanda Carpenter, should Congress be getting involved at all with the plight of newspapers?

CARPENTER: I don't have a problem with them discussing it, but, no, they should not be involved in maintaining newspapers or even thinking about it. It's an interesting discussion, but no.

KURTZ: Rachel Sklar, your former boss, Arianna Huffington, we just saw said the future of journalism is online. Does that mean then newspapers, at least the printed versions thereof, increasingly matter less or not at all?

SKLAR: I think that the problem is equating newspapers with journalism. Newspapers are just one platform for distributing and receiving and taking in news.

KURTZ: They're one platform that happens to have big newsrooms that actually do original, enterprising, investigating reporting.

SKLAR: Right. And that work can be done and distributed in other forums.

I think that it's important at every step of the way to examine how these changes are being implemented, and I think it's an important public policy issue. But, you know, I don't think that newspapers equal journalism in...

KURTZ: Joe, go ahead.

KLEIN: Let's take your alma mater. Until the Huffington Post or any of these Web outlets or "TIME" magazine's Web outlet have the resources to put someone like Anthony Shadid, as "The Washington Post" has, in the Middle East, and have Dana Priest work for months and months and months on the Walter Reed scandal, you know, if we can't find a model to do that, this democracy is going to suffer.

KURTZ: Well, "The Washington Post" is still my employer.

But just very briefly, you worked in Boston. The Globe was a great, aggressive, politically attuned newspaper. How did it come to this?

KLEIN: They lost $75 million last year, I think. I mean, you know, it's -- I think, you know, clearly, the times are changing and, clearly, younger readers are not reading newspapers.

KURTZ: This is a great discussion, but we've got to get a break.

When we come back, prom night. Journalists, politicians and celebrities getting all decked out for the White House Correspondents' Dinner. But is this sort of thing a little too cozy?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KURTZ: Journalists here in Washington are accustomed to seeing big-shot politicians all around, but when a few Hollywood celebrities show up, they can act a bit like breathless tourists, especially if a movie star is sitting at their table. D.C.'s version of the spring prom took place last night, only we call it the White House Correspondents' Dinner. And the name of the game is to get top administration officials and members of Congress -- oh, come on, you know what the real game is.

The down and dirty competition is to snag (ph), the stars like NBC bringing Samuel L. Jackson, ABC taking Jon Bon Jovi, and CNN, which scored with Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore.

Joe Klein, you're down here from New York to go to this dinner. Does it have any journalistic value to you? KLEIN: Occasionally it has journalistic value. You meet, you know, a member of the administration you don't normally get to see, and you have a conversation. And, you know, you establish a contact. But I think that there is something really tawdry about all this. I mean -- and it's changed quite a bit in the thousands of years that I've been going to it.

KURTZ: Rachel, you've been twittering your party-going attendance. Is there something -- do we look a little silly getting kind of hot and bothered over these movie star types that descend on the capital?

SKLAR: Well, I think that, you know, talking about change, it just seems to be permeating the air here today. But I think that part of what the value I see as someone who just, you know, attended the festivities this year for my second time is the intermingling of people coming up and people who are established.

And personally, I find it very beneficial to meet and talk with members of my profession. You know, it's kind of cool to see Bradley Cooper or someone like that. But I think that there's value in that, and I think that there's value in sort of throwing a whole mix of people into one room and seeing what happens.

KURTZ: Let me play a little bit of President Obama's routine last night, if we can roll that.


OBAMA: Most of you covered me. All of you voted for me.


Apologies to the Fox table.

Michael, for the last time, the Republican Party does not qualify for a bailout. Rush Limbaugh does not count as a troubled asset. I'm sorry.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: The president address Michael Steele, the Republican chairman.

And speaking of Rush Limbaugh, Wanda Sykes, the comedienne who followed the president, told this joke that got some groans in the room. She said -- she kind of accused -- she accused Rush Limbaugh of treason and she said, "I think maybe Rush Limbaugh was the 20th hijacker, but he was just strung out on oxycontin and missed his flight."

Does that go way, way over the comedic line?

CARPENTER: I think it does. I mean, there is a willingness for these jokes to be a little saucy at these dinners. I think that went over the line.

I think the joke she told about Sarah Palin and Todd Palin's sex life was inappropriate. I think the inference she had to Barack Obama's race was also inappropriate. Overall...

KURTZ: She talked about if he was successful, he would be seen as an African-American president. And if not, he'd be seen as some half-white guy.

CARPENTER: Yes. Yes, I thought that was over the line.

KLEIN: You know, comedy is, by definition, inappropriate. I mean...

KURTZ: Or it wouldn't be funny.

KLEIN: This is just comedy. And we're talking about a guy in Rush Limbaugh who is inappropriate half the time I hear him on the radio.

CARPENTER: Yes, but he doesn't go to the White House Correspondents' Dinner to...


KLEIN: But he describes himself as an entertainer. Wanda Sykes, entertainer. This is entertainment.

CARPENTER: But would you hold up Rush Limbaugh at these dinners to tell those jokes?

SKLAR: It goes to context. I really think that it goes to context.

I mean, everyone in the room is aware of the bigger picture here, the history. I think that if you deliver a monologue, a toothless monologue, without reference to context, then it means nothing.

CARPENTER: I think she could have done a fine job that was in better taste. That's all.

KURTZ: Speaking of dinners...

KLEIN: So could Rush. He could be in a lot better taste on a daily basis in which he is delivering misinformation, lies to a large audience in America. That is far more serious than telling a couple of jokes at a banquet.

KURTZ: Well, "lies" is a strong word, but we'll come back to that another time.

Speaking of dinners, "Newsweek" reported that Paul Krugman, "The New York Times" columnist and Nobel Prize winner for economics, had an off-the-record roast beef dinner with President Obama and "pushed for more aggressive government intervention in the banking system."

Now, maybe he's right, maybe he's wrong, but can he privately advise the president and then write columns about how Obama doing on the economy? Is that a problem? CARPENTER: Well, it should be. I think he should disclose it. But we're talking about it right now. We can see how it influences his columns, and so he's -- he's his own person.

KURTZ: We're talking about it because "Newsweek" reported it. And Krugman takes the position, well, I can't talk about it because it was off the record.

KLEIN: Well, I'm a columnist, and I think that I've always felt that it was fair to have conversations with politicians about positions that you've taken in print.

KURTZ: But what if they turn to you and say, "Joe, what should I do about this particular problem? What's your take?"

KLEIN: And I've had those sort of conversations with politicians and I've said, "Here's what I've written about national health insurance. Here's what I think would actually work." You know, it's a conversation.

KURTZ: I recently reported that "The Atlantic" has been hosting these off-the-record dinners for its journalists and others with the likes of Rahm Emanuel, Tim Geithner, Ben Bernanke, King Abdullah. And the problem is you go and it's all very interesting, but you can't report a single word.

SKLAR: I think it's about relationships. Actually, as someone who's pretty now new and who has only recently sort of experienced what it's like to get on the inside and have people speak to you off the record...

KURTZ: You want to have dinner with Rahm.

SKLAR: Well, that's a different story. But I think there is real value to establishing those relationships, and it gets the flow of information going. Then you find something else, you can ask another source.

I think it's ultimately good for journalism and good for the public to have that free flow of information. I do.

KLEIN: And it's best. It helps you establish a context. When you're talking to military sources in Afghanistan, there are a lot of things that they can't say on the record about operations, but they can give you a sense of the battlefield off the record that informs your reporting.

KURTZ: And you have done that in Afghanistan.

We can't let you go without talking about one of the big breaking stories this week, and this is The Daily Show's take on the actual live coverage on MSNBC with Andrea Mitchell anchoring.

Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC: This just in. What you're watching is two guys going out for lunch. And I'm talking about a cheeseburger here, mustard, I'm not sure about hot sauce.

I'm also told by the experts in the control room who have watched all of this that the president wanted fries. They didn't have them, so he tried the potato puffs.


KURTZ: Why did Barack Obama and Joe Biden going out for burgers in Virginia get this kind of coverage?

CARPENTER: A slow news day? No, it's interesting. I mean, part of Barack Obama's push is become more familiar with the neighborhood. I thin it was a nice thing. I happen to live close to that little burger shop.

KURTZ: Ray's Hell Burger?


KURTZ: Can you vouch for it?

CARPENTER: It's delicious.

KURTZ: But isn't this part of this sort of everything Obama does is fascinating for the media?

SKLAR: I think it just exposes the mustard conspiracy in this country.

KURTZ: Oh, because he asked if they had Dijon mustard and some conservatives didn't like that.

CARPENTER: Yes. You know, I saw more left-wing blogs saying that conservatives were making a big deal about this. And actually saw right-wingers discussing it.

KURTZ: You're denying it?

CARPENTER: I did not write about Dijon mustard.

KLEIN: I feel sorry for Andrea, who is, you know, one of the least likely people in television to cover a burger. But, you know, she does a lot of substantive reporting, and there she is...

KURTZ: She does. She absolutely does.

KLEIN: And then Jon Stewart takes her apart that night.

KURTZ: Well, he mostly just played it because it kind of went on for a while.

All right. Rachel Sklar, Joe Klein, Amanda Carpenter, thanks for joining us. Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, opening up to Oprah. As Elizabeth Edwards sit downs with the queen of daytime talk, journalists start slamming her, as well as her philandering husband. Is that fair?

Plus, well healed. Gideon Yago, the host of IFC's Media Project, on whether the man who through those shoes at President Bush should be considered a journalist. Really?

And breaking the fever. The media following lowering the temperature on the white-hot swine flu coverage.

And at noon, John King talks with General David Petraeus on the war in Afghanistan and the growing concern over Pakistan.


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

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has arrived in Baghdad on a one-day visit to Iraq. Speaker Pelosi met with Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, to discuss U.S. and Iraqi economic relations. She's also meeting with senior U.S. officials and U.S. troops.

Pope Benedict celebrated an open-air mass today in Amman, Jordan. He called on Middle East Christians to preserve their faith despite hardships facing their ancient communities. The pontiff also called for greater respect for women.

Cool, moist ocean air is helping tame a wildfire in Santa Barbara, California, that has burned nearly 9,000 acres. Evacuation orders have now been lifted and residents are returning home. Firefighters say the blaze is about 40 percent contained. It has destroyed or damaged nearly 80 homes and buildings.

That and more ahead on STATE OF THE UNION.

Time now, though, to turn things back over to Howie Kurtz and his RELIABLE SOURCES -- Howie.

KURTZ: Thanks very much, John. We'll talk to you at the top of the hour.

For nearly a year since her husband admitted on "Nightline" that he had an affair with a former campaign aide, Elizabeth Edwards had held her tongue. She avoided media interviews, suffered in silence, faded from the news. But now, with a book coming out, the former senator's wife is lifting the veil, sharing her feelings, hitting the talk circuit, beginning with Oprah.


OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: So, when you would be out and you would be introducing your husband, or speaking about your husband and campaigning for your husband, not just the causes, but literally campaigning for your husband and saying what a great husband and father and man he was...


WINFREY: ... were you being honest?

EDWARDS: Well, I mean, I changed the way I talked a lot. I -- it was very -- it was actually -- at first I didn't think I could do it. I was still angry and hurt, and a lot of self-doubt about, you know, who I was, what I meant to him.

CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS: ... his mistress.

KURTZ (voice-over): And from serious newscasts to gossipy shows, everyone is wading back into the scandal, talking about John Edwards, Rielle Hunter... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will Rielle demand a DNA test?

KURTZ: ... a newly disclosed federal probe into whether he improperly used campaign money to pay her for making videos. And most of all, with a cancer-stricken wife, how could he?

GIBSON: The extramarital affair that brought an end to John Edwards' political career is resulting in a spate of new headlines and potentially legal trouble for the former presidential candidate.

NATALIE MORALES, NBC NEWS: Investigators are looking into whether any campaign money was wrongfully paid to the woman he admitted having an affair with.

JOY BEHAR, "THE VIEW": Let's tell it like it is -- he's a dog. And people do not like him. And I think his political career is over.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: But what about Rielle Hunter's baby? There's -- obviously, there's been a lot of speculation about who the father is. Hunter famously said she'd never get a paternity test.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't want to confuse the victim with the victimizer, but Elizabeth hushed it up, too. It's not like anyone came in front of the American people and said this guy is having an affair.


KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about the Edwards coverage and the Palin family feud that has erupted again on the morning shows, in New York, Lola Ogunnaike, entertainment reporter for CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING." And here in the studio, Lois Romano, reporter for "The Washington Post."

All right, Lois. John Edwards is washed up politically, his wife has a fatal disease. She's still angry with him over this tawdry affair.

Why the utter media fascination that continues here?

LOIS ROMANO, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, I think what you're seeing here is pushback from the national media, who really protected Elizabeth and liked Elizabeth and treated her -- and basically gave him a pass a lot of times because of her. She was an integral part of his narrative...


ROMANO: ... the death of their son, four children at 48, 49, 50 years old. And then her cancer came back.

And so now what you're seeing is the media feels misled by omission. This man could have become president, and if he had become president and this came out, it would have blown up the Democratic Party. So, I think all the media is saying, whoa, wait a minute here, you know, you knew all this. Why are you dredging it up again?

KURTZ: Lola Ogunnaike, do you think there is a certain element here where reporters and correspondents and pundits are kind of turning against Elizabeth Edwards, who, as Lois says, had been the kind of sympathetic figure here. Nobody would wish on any woman what she has gone through, and now it turns out she's known all along.

LOLA OGUNNAIKE, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I mean, she was painted as this martyr figure, this woman who had suffered great tragedy, has terminal cancer, had stood by her husband. They had what seemed to be this ideal marriage.

And it turns out that he was complicit in basically this cover- up. She knew all along that he'd had an affair, that he cheated on her, and decided that they would go along with this massive cover-up, and she ultimately decided that his political career was worth more than being honest.

KURTZ: And here she is resurrecting it all by bringing out the book, by going on "Oprah." In other words, she's got us all talking about it, and not in ways necessarily flattering to Elizabeth Edwards.

ROMANO: Well, that's the question. I mean, there's clearly something in her personality that is pushing her to get the last word. And if you listen to it -- and I listened to the Oprah interview a couple of times -- she's defending her husband and attacking Rielle Hunter. So, you have to kind of ask yourself, why would she do that and open up this can of worms again?

Secondly, she's exposing...

KURTZ: A lot of people think revenge.

ROMANO: Well, maybe, and...

KURTZ: But they've got little kids.

ROMANO: Exactly. She's exposing her children. Now we have Rielle making noises about, you know, maybe getting a paternity test, which she has never gotten before.

KURTZ: According to "The National Enquirer," which has been right about every aspect of the story.

ROMANO: Exactly. And the question is about Elizabeth. I think she is at risk of diminishing her own stature. I mean, people held her up as the soul of this relationship, and now she's turned it into a spectacle again.

KURTZ: Let me play a little more, Lola, of the interview with Oprah Winfrey for our viewers and ask you a question on the other side.



EDWARDS: I thought, you know, for my family, for my children, for John, for me, it would be best if he got out of the campaign. He said -- and truthfully, he was right, it was hard to argue with this -- that if you wanted to raise a lot of questions, what you do is get out of a campaign you got into two days before.


KURTZ: Lola, how did Oprah do in that hour-long sitdown at the couple's North Carolina mansion? And to ask an obvious question, how important is it to go on "Oprah" when you're peddling a book, particularly a book about the affair that your husband had when he was running for president?

OGUNNAIKE: Well, you go on "Oprah" because, you know, one, the book is going to sell. And two, everyone' going to watch it. So why would you not go on "Oprah?"

I thought Oprah handled this interview well. She was not particularly tough on her, but she asked the questions that everyone wanted to know. And I thought one of the really interesting tidbits that she drew from Elizabeth, I mean, Elizabeth referred to this baby that could potentially be her husband's daughter as "it," never referred to it as this child, this little girl, called her an "it." It's very, very telling.

KURTZ: I also thought that Oprah did a good job and didn't unduly sensationalize what was already a pretty sensational story.

But just to go back to this question of the way journalists are treating the former senator's wife, here's Salon's Rebecca Traister, to take one example. She calls Elizabeth's decision to go out with this book and hit the talk show circuit "... one of the most sadomasochistic publicity jaunts in political history."

I mean, people can't believe that she's doing this.

ROMANO: Well, I think what we're going to see here is we're going to see the curve of the public follow us. Right now, I read all the comments after Oprah, all the comments on the stories, and the public is still generally in support of her. You know, he was a cad, he's this and that. Let's see what happens after two weeks of this and after people start asking, well, what if it is her child -- his child? And I think there's a very good chance that it is his child. And what about all these family values? Doesn't he want to take care of the child? And why not find out? If it's not his child, let's put it to sleep. If it is his child, wouldn't he want to take care of it? And those questions are going to come up.

KURTZ: That's the unanswered question at the heart of all this. And boy, what if Rielle Hunter decides to do an interview? What if she goes on "LARRY KING LIVE?" That will really boost this thing into the stratosphere.

OGUNNAIKE: Or even worse, Howie, what if she decides to go on Maury Povich?

KURTZ: OK. Good point.

ROMANO: I don't know though. He's turned down a lot, by the way, and a lot of money.

KURTZ: Another person who has been in the news this week hitting the talk circuit -- two network morning shows, to be precise -- is Bristol Palin. She, of course, the Alaska governor's daughter who had a baby out of wedlock and then broke up with her boyfriend.

Let's take a look at the interviews on "The Today Show" and "Good Morning America."


MATT LAUER, "THE TODAY SHOW": One of the ways to avoid it is through abstinence, and yet you've come out and said in an interview that abstinence is in some cases unrealistic.

BRISTOL PALIN, SARAH PALIN'S DAUGHTER: Well, definitely. If you're going to have sex, I think you should have safe sex. And regardless of what I did or anything like that, I think that abstinence is the only 100 percent, full-proof way of preventing teen pregnancy.

LAUER: But it put you in the position a little bit of other teenagers as saying do as I say, not as I do.

PALIN: Yes, exactly. Learn from my example.

CHRIS CUOMO, ABC: Do you think it should be black and white, abstain versus protection? Or do you think there's going to be some middle ground some day? What do you think Bristol?

PALIN: I think definitely some middle ground.


KURTZ: Do you think, Lola Ogunnaike, that Matt Lauer and Chris Cuomo should have pressed Bristol Palin about what birth control she did or did not use? In other words, have done an actual aggressive interview?

OGUNNAIKE: I don't think they should have pressed her. I think that's going a bit too far.

Tyra pressed Levi, actually, on her show, and he admitted that they didn't have safe sex all the time. It's clear that they did not have safe sex. The proof is in the pudding. So, I don't think they should have pushed her at all.

We get it. We know.

The fact that she is the face of abstinence, though, I mean, is it opposite day? Miss California is the face of sanctity of marriage, she's running around with fake breasts, in a bikini. And this girl, who is a teen mom, wants to be the face of abstinence. What's going on here?

KURTZ: Well, since you mentioned Levi Johnston, let me play a brief bit of tape from his appearance this week. They kind of had dueling morning showdown appearances. This one on CBS.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Were you using birth control when Trip was conceived?

LEVI JOHNSTON, FATHER OF BRISTOL PALIN'S BABY: I was using condoms, but, you know, there was a few times, you know, we didn't. And that's what happened. We had a kid.


KURTZ: "That's what happened. We had a kid."

Lois Romano, is it somewhat ludicrous for the morning shows to book Bristol Palin as some kind of advocate for abstinence when she's walking, talking example of the exactly the opposite?

ROMANO: I think it is ridiculous, and I also think it's ridiculous to have him countering it. I mean, it's a little bit more than I personally would like to know about their sex life. I mean, why do we really care?

And also, she's delivering very muddled messages. Let's abstain and look what happens, it's awful to be a teen mother. But no, he was a blessing. I mean, what are we to take from all this, that if I, as a teenager, get pregnant and have a baby, I, too, can be on the talk shows?

OGUNNAIKE: Right. What kind of cautionary tale is she, really?

I mean, she's out on every television show. We're all talking about her.

Clearly, she's had support from her family. She has a Candies endorsement. I mean, come on. If she's the face of not what to do... ROMANO: And if Candies is paying her.


KURTZ: Well, we would not care and we should not care, except for the fact that she's Sarah Palin's daughter. But also, they're putting this all out there. Nobody is forcing these kids to go on television.

ROMANO: And who is protecting them? I mean, where are the parents here?

KURTZ: Well, I guess they're 18 and they can make up their own minds.

I want to touch on the Miss California situation that you alluded to earlier, Lola.

Perez Hilton was on this program a couple weeks ago, the celebrity blogger who asked Carrie Prejean in the Miss USA contest that gay marriage question. She said she was opposed. Everyone has now been attacking her.

And the latest thing to happen is some nude or, I should say, seminude, photos of her surfaced on the Internet. Perez Hilton put it up on his site.

Do you think, Lois, that whatever you think about this woman and her answer on gay marriage, putting up these lingerie photos is kind of a low blow?

ROMANO: Oh, I think it's totally unfair. And I thought her answer to the question was fine.

You know, she said it's great that we have a free world and we can choose, and this is what I just personally feel. And why we all care what a celebrity blogger who puts up a crass site says I just don't know.

KURTZ: And Lola, you know, we've only shown it to you once, but I think one of the reasons TV loves this story is they can run those pictures of Carrie again and again.

OGUNNAIKE: Who wouldn't want to run pictures of an attractive woman in a bikini over and over again? But Howie, the bigger story here is you do not want to get in a fight with Perez Hilton. You're just not going to win. Don't even bother.

He's the queen of all media. You don't want to go there.

KURTZ: All right. Well, ironically, some nude photos of the singer Rihanna have also hit the Internet this week. Some people suspecting her estranged boyfriend. And we don't know how those came about.

But thanks very much for that advice on Perez. Lola Ogunnaike, Lois Romano, thanks for stopping by this morning. Up next, from MTV to the IFC, Gideon Yago on season two of his media series on the Independent Film Channel and why he thinks Al- Jazeera is getting a bad rap in the U.S.


KURTZ: Gideon Yago has just launched his second season with the "IFC Media Project," and he's been looking at questions that don't get too much attention in the mainstream media.

Take "Al-Jazeera English," a two-and-a-half-year-old spin-off of the Arab satellite network based in Qatar. The channel has been virtually unavailable in America until it got limited distribution last week.

Yago examined the question of whether the Al-Jazeera Channel has been suppressed for political reasons.


YAGO: Because it's owned by Arabs, there's a battle going on over whether or not you should be able to watch it here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think there is some patriotism on the part of American cable and satellite providers that they don't want to put this stuff on the air knowing that it could incite people to kill Americans.



KURTZ: Joining me now from New York is Gideon Yago.


YAGO: Thanks for having me.

KURTZ: You raised a question as to whether "Al-Jazeera English" has been censored in the U.S. Now, censorship usually refers to government suppression, but you're suggesting that it's been kept off the air for political reasons?

YAGO: Well, "censorship" isn't the word that we used. It was more of just a blockade.

Why is it that cable providers have pretty much uniformly boxed it out of their cable programming with the exception of one carrier in Ohio, one carrier in Vermont, and as of about two weeks ago, one carrier in Washington, D.C.? So it's not censorship, it's the idea of why are we not letting this in to what is ostensibly a free market of ideas?

KURTZ: Well...

YAGO: Especially when you can get all of this stuff on the Internet.

KURTZ: Of course. What about financial reasons? Perhaps cable operators have decided there's not a huge market for "Al-Jazeera English" in the United States.

YAGO: And when we ask cable providers about that, that was what they gave us in prepared statements. But the funny thing is, if you just go cruising through a cable channel and you look at the hundreds of different specialty channels that are on there for Punjabi lifestyle or Korean pop specialty stuff, here's things that you wouldn't logically think would work, and yet are being carried on mainstream cable packets. So just to say that this Qatari, who is our ally-based cable television station, has no place in the American discussion about news is, I think, a dangerous thing.

But because, frankly, what it's going to do is it's going to keep us from really engaging in a meaningful dialogue with the Islamic World if we just refuse to even acknowledge that they have a viewpoint which exists. The crazy thing about it then...

KURTZ: But on the other hand, Dave Marash, the longtime ABC News anchor who had been with "Al-Jazeera English," when he quit after being demoted as an anchor, he said he thought there was some shoddy reporting at the channel. He didn't accuse it of being propaganda ...

YAGO: Well, you don't even have to look at that. There was a great documentary that came out a couple years ago by a documentarian named Jehane Noujaim called "Control Room," which was really all about the experience of a guy who is now an Al-Jazeera correspondent, a guy named Josh Rushing, who then was a Marine working for CENTCOM, and how CENTCOM was trying to manage the war for both Al-Jazeera and the American market in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

I don't know if it's shoddy reporting. I mean, I think there's shoddy reporting everywhere, especially in broadcast.

KURTZ: Well, that's a good point.

Let me move on because we're limited on time.

YAGO: OK, sure.

KURTZ: I want to talk about what you're airing tonight, and that is the episode having to do with an incident in Baghdad last December that everyone has seen a thousand times. We're going to replay it for our viewers right now.

YAGO: We're going to look like we're the Mideast specialty show, but please.

KURTZ: This was Muntadhar al-Zaidi, who now is spending a year in jail for throwing those shoes.

In the promotional material, at least, you raised the question, what that guy just did, was that an act of violence, a political act, or an act of journalism? And I have to ask you, are you kidding? An act of journalism?

YAGO: No, the -- well, the point that we had leading up to that was, yes, we threw that in the lead-in for the piece just basically to generate a conversation and keep eyes on the screen. Obviously, the conclusions that we come to in that piece is that the guy is an out- and-out activist who banked his journalistic credibility the second that he took off his loafers.

But for us, what was more interesting about that is that that piece got played again and again and again virally and on the late- night shows, and in the 24-hour news cycle. That guy, Muntadhar al- Zaidi, he was actually a legitimate TV journalist. It would be as if one of your CNN correspondents, Jane Arraf, or something, had taken off her shoes and flung them at Paul Bremer or something like that.

And so for us, the bigger question was not only how did that play in the room, and how did the journalists who were in the room have to report this incident where they're covering a press conference and there is a guy screaming outside because he is getting the crap kicked out of him...

KURTZ: Right.

YAGO: ... and at the same time they're now part of the story? And also, what is it that took this guy who was part of the two legitimate Baghdad broadcasting stations, and took him from being a legitimate TV journalist to a guy who is an out-and-out activist...

KURTZ: Right.

YAGO: ... and how did he get pushed over the edge? And that, to us, is the more interesting documentary.

KURTZ: The act of journalism thing just threw me. And by the way...

YAGO: Oh yes, ,sure.

KURTZ: ... there is strict language in all CNN contracts, I believe, to keep your shoes on.

YAGO: That's a good clause. That's a handy clause to keep in there.

KURTZ: Now, the creator and executive producer of your series, Meghan O'Hara, has worked with Michael Moore on such movies such as "Sicko" and "Fahrenheit 911."

YAGO: Sure.

KURTZ: Would you say that you critique the media from the left? YAGO: I would say that, yes, and I think that's just part of keeping in what the Independent Film Channel is. But at the same token, the other executive producer and creator of the show is a guy whose other screen credits include "Up All Night with Dave Attell." So, you know, I don't know if that means we have a pro-late-night drinking agenda as well.

KURTZ: Gideon, I've got half a minute here.

YAGO: Sure.

KURTZ: The news business in pretty deep trouble. Would you say that a lot of the wounds are self-inflicted?

YAGO: Yes, very much so, especially when it comes to print over the last couple of years. I think that there was a willingness to get in bed with Wall Street and investors and demand higher returns rather than just efficiently run small businesses on the local level. And now it's the local papers who are most threatened.

And unfortunately, that's where you see the real crisis in journalism, just as news aggregators are coming out and just siphoning headlines off of print journalists and investigative journalists. It really, I think, is going to be the golden era for corruption on a local and state political level for the next couple years until we find out whatever the alternative is going to be to shore up the death of the newspapers.

KURTZ: Well, I can tell you as somebody in the middle of it, it's very painful.

Gideon Yago, thanks very much for joining us.

YAGO: Thanks for having me.


KURTZ: Gideon Yago stopped by the other day. His program airs at 11:00 p.m. tonight.

After the break, fizzling flu. After two weeks of feverish coverage, hyperventilating journalists finally take a deep breath. Did they go way overboard on swine flu?

KURTZ: I have good news to report this morning. We're not all going to die. The swine flu outbreak isn't over, but the media hyperventilation is finally fading.


KURTZ (voice-over): You remember the feverish coverage that for days seemed to eclipse everything else -- the front-page newspaper headlines, the magazine coverage, and, as we showed you, the network reports and constant cable updates.

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: The world is moving closer to a full- scale pandemic.

CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS: We, in covering and reporting on this story, are not immune to it.

(voice-over): Our senior staff buzzed through a good portion of a bottle of hand sanitizer today.

LARRY KING, CNN: Is anybody safe from this ticking time bomb?

KURTZ: The tone and the volume were just out of proportion to what we knew about the outbreak. Of course it was a story that people were interested in, that journalists had to cover, that had the potential to turn into a public health crisis. But the key word is "potential."

Even as medical reporters sounded cautionary notes, the saturation coverage turned excessive, even scary. And then, well, the thing fizzled.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: If you spent at least part of this weekend wondering if this flu outbreak might be milder than we were warned about, you're not alone.

CHRIS CUOMO, ABC NEWS: U.S. health officials say the worst fears about the swine flu don't appear to be panning out, but it looks to be no worse than a typical seasonal flu.

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: But everybody else, it seemed, ran with this thing all day long, and now it turns out, hey, you know, it's not so bad. Well, a lot of people got hurt.

KURTZ: Swine flu is behaving pretty much like regular flu. You know, the one that kills 36,000 Americans each year. Most people quickly got better. One Texas woman died, but she had chronic health problems and was late in seeking treatment.

I knew the media were backing off when Janet Napolitano's briefings were no longer carried live and cable news returned to such fare as missing toddlers and the indictment of Drew Peterson on charges of killing his third wife.

There was one program that warned you about this last Sunday.

KURTZ (on camera): Well, my two cents is this, that we may look back on this as a textbook case of media hype, of shouting "Fire!" based on some embers?

(voice-over): Let's roll that tape back again.

(on camera): Textbook case of media hype.

(voice-over): You heard it here first.


KURTZ: I can't tell you how many people have complained to me about what they see as the media's wild overreaction on swine flu. Whatever short-term bump you might get in the ratings is outweighed by a loss of confidence among news consumers, and there's no vaccine for that.

After the break on this Mother's Day -- Hi, Mom -- what's more offensive, Michael Savage on the radio or decision to ban him?


KURTZ: I find some of what Michael Savage says to be offensive. Six years ago, the right-wing radio ranter was dumped by MSNBC for telling a gay caller he hoped the man would get AIDS and die.

And then there was this gem...


MICHAEL SAVAGE, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I don't want to hear anymore about Islam. I don't want to hear one more word about Islam. Take your religion and shove it up your behind.

KURTZ (voice-over): This week, British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith released a list of murderers and other undesirables who are banned from entering the country. Savage was on the list.

SAVAGE: I was astounded when I saw this. I thought it was some bizarre joke.

I said this can't be real. How in the world could she lump me in with people such as Russian skinheads who are in prison for killing people? It makes no sense.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KURTZ: And I have to agree. Britain is banning Savage for his opinions, not for any act he committed. And that is offensive. He says he's suing to clear his name.

The Brits, oddly enough, are making Michael Savage look good.

And John King, we have a First Amendment in this country. You can be kicked off the air if listeners or viewers don't like what you say, but you certainly can't be barred from America's shores.

KING: And look, it's a mistake, I believe, by the British government. I will take the same position as you.

And number two, I think in an odd way, they're doing him a favor, because if they think he's so offensive, by doing something like this, what do they do? They bring attention to him.

KURTZ: It's serving as a publicity platform for Michael Savage and his radio show.

KING: Absolutely.

KURTZ: Thanks very much, John.

KING: Howie, have a great Sunday and a great Mother's Day.