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State of the Union

State of the Union: Reliable Sources

Aired May 31, 2009 - 10:00   ET


KING: And, Howie, I think a second week of the new Newsweek -- the remade Newsweek, and if you look at the cover, Oprah Winfrey on the cover, apparently Newsweek not afraid to take on the top lady of TV talk.

KURTZ: And what's so striking about that, John, besides the "crazy talk" headline, is that very few in the media criticize Oprah. She is such an influential and successful and wealthy figure, and here's Newsweek saying that some of the celebrities who come on her show and they push different kind of health and medical remedies, that some of those remedies are -- range from unproven to highly questionable. So an interesting read there.

KING: Subscription canceled.


KURTZ: A few people might do that. We'll talk to you later in the hour, John.

All right. The story line was clear from the start. Yes, President Obama's Supreme Court nominee is an accomplished jurist with 16 years' experience on the federal bench, but the media were hungry for the personal story, the rise from modest beginnings.

And at her White House rollout this week, that was what we heard from Sonia Sotomayor.


JUDGE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: My mother has devoted her life to my brother and me, and as the president mentioned, she worked often two jobs to help support us after dad died.

KURTZ (voice-over): And that, as well as her liberal credentials, framed the narrative. "New York Times": A Trailblazer and a Dreamer." "USA Today": "From Humble Beginnings, a Judge in Obama's Image." And the newscasts followed the same path.

CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS: Her parents were Puerto Rican. She was raised in the housing projects of the Bronx. And if confirmed, she will be the first Hispanic justice in the history of the court.

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: The judge's incredible journey, it all began in the poverty of the South Bronx.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN: She's overcome very humbling beginnings, a family loss and a longstanding health condition.

KURTZ: But her personal story and a pair of controversial comments also provided fuel for her critics while her ethnicity dominated the political chatter.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: This president, who promised to unite the country during the campaign, has selected the most divisive nominee possible for the United States Supreme Court.

ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: They're already saying that she's not smart enough. They're already saying that she's got a temper. Her temperament has come into question.

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS: I think she's made one of the most outrageous racist remarks I've heard.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: She's also an affirmative action pick.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: She's an angry woman. She's a bigot.


KURTZ: Joining us now to dissect how the media are covering the nominee and the debate swirling around her, Chip Reid, chief White House correspondent for CBS News; Jeff Zeleny, White House correspondent for "The New York Times," Joan Biskupic, Supreme Court reporter for "USA Today" and the author of the forthcoming book "American Original: The Life and Constitution of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia"; and Roger Cossack, legal analyst for ESPN and professor of media and the law at Pepperdine University.

Chip Reid, the personal story, the heartwarming story, an Hispanic woman rises from the Bronx projects, that's the easy story for the media, isn't it?

REID: It is, but it's the one that we got right from the start, and of course it's the one right that's right there on day one. But you've got to move past that pretty quickly and you've got to start reading her opinions and digging into stuff. And there is all this hysterical talk going on out in -- can I say cable land?

KURTZ: You can say it.

REID: And various other places. But, you know, the networks, we're not really focusing on that that much. We really are focusing more on where does she come from? And I don't mean the Bronx, I mean where does she come from ideologically, and what does she really believe?

KURTZ: Right.

Jeff Zeleny, the White House certainly, at least on day one, tried very much to sell the search story, not surprisingly. ZELENY: Not surprisingly, on day one, day two, day three, and day four. I was traveling with the president this week. He went to Las Vegas for a fund-raiser, Los Angeles for a fund-raiser. Both times he was telling her biography as though it was his own. It reminded me of when he first started running for president, when he would sort of give every song and verse of what he had done. So, the White House was very, very, very focused on her story.

KURTZ: And held a background briefing with a senior administration official who turned out to be David Axelrod.

ZELENY: Exactly, because he showed up on TV in the afternoon. And they provided photos of her growing up. I don't think this is that unusual, you know, but going forward, I mean, we certainly have read all these cases and examined them, and we'll be doing them more.

KURTZ: Roger Cossack, has the media's focus on gender and ethnicity, especially in the television coverage, pretty much overshadowed the more complicated legal analysis of her rulings over 16 years?

COSSACK: Yes. I mean, look, the point is, is that she's going to get confirmed, everyone knows she's going to get confirmed, and she's going to replace someone who thinks very much like her. So there's not going to be any major upheaval on the Supreme Court.

But remember, we seem to look for sound bites and we seem to have a need for the news. And so you have Rush who goes out and says ridiculous things, that she's a racist. But that is what gets him an audience.

And so, the president's doing the same thing. He's selling her personal story. That's what gets him an audience.

But is her personal story any different than Clarence Thomas' personal story? Is her way on the bench, where she's an aggressive questioner, any different than Clarence Thomas, who doesn't ask any questions? So, I think a lot of the criticisms we hear are just -- you know, just foolish.

KURTZ: Well, Joan Biskupic, Roger has taken all the drama out of it by saying she's going to get confirmed, but leaving that aside, you've found yourself having to profile Sonia Sotomayor this week, and you wrote on your own authority that personal background can affect a judge's ruling.

What led you to that conclusion?

BISKUPIC: Well, it can, but it has affected all of these justices. They say that. They say that out loud, that where they come from can affect how they see things.

It might not affect how they actually interpret a statute, but it affects kind of the lens that they see things through. And I think that the statement she said at the White House about a wise Latina woman, if the White House had early on sort of provided the confection for that, we wouldn't have as much hysteria about those kinds of remarks, because the truth is that experience plays into everyone. Samuel Alito said that his experience as an Italian-American growing up in Trenton played into his experience.

KURTZ: And it's ridiculous to pretend otherwise. We're all shaped by our experiences.

Let's put that statement up on the screen just to remind viewers what she said. This is in 2001.

"I would hope a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

So, Chip Reid, you're in the situation where Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh and others say she's a racist. That's a really heavy charge.

How do you deal with that? I mean, you don't want to say some say she's a racist, some say she's not a racist.

REID: I don't think anybody has a problem with saying that you might come to different opinions based on your background. It's that word "better." The word "better" is the problem there, and I think the White House probably defused that situation. When she goes before the Judiciary Committee and they ask her, and she says, I didn't pick my word well, I should have said "different" instead of "better," I think end of story. KURTZ: "The New York Times," Jeff Zeleny, wrote this week about Sotomayor's having been on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund, which has sued police departments over exams said to be discriminatory. That seems to me to be perfectly fair, but it's also the kind of thing that non-minorities don't seem to be subjected to, because I guess there's no white man's legal defense fund to be a member of.

ZELENY: I guess that's right, except the student body at large, perhaps -- you know, I mean when she was going to school at Yale and things.

KURTZ: Picking through the record is important.

ZELENY: I think picking through the record is absolutely important, and you've seen that again and again and again. And I think what is going to be focused on more is this New Haven firefighters case. Everyone has dissected that going forward.

But interestingly, on Friday, I thought the White House made their pivot because they realized that they could not withstand all this criticism. And they were really previewing what she's going to tell senators next week and what she's going to say in the confirmation hearings. So I think they think they've diffused it.

BISKUPIC: That's right. In fact, her arguments are going to start next week, when she starts to meet senators. She will drop little clues that will sort of be a preview of the hearings.

You were going to ask about the New Haven firefighters case. That is one of hundreds of cases that she has been involved in. She was on a three-judge panel that wrote one single paragraph that upheld actually something that is very provocative.

When whites outscored blacks on a promotional test for firefighters in New Haven, the city of New Haven threw out the test, saying that they were fearing disparate impact lawsuits from the minorities who could say, look, this test was flawed, we shouldn't have been subjected to it, and now we're going to be denied promotions. That's at the Supreme Court now.

KURTZ: And that's the point in the coverage, Roger Cossack, taking that case as an example. I think a lot of the initial coverage portrayed Sonia Sotomayor as being insensitive to the situation or the needs of white firefighters who just wanted to get a promotion and the exam was thrown out, when, in fact, if you dig a little deeper, you see that she was upholding a lower court ruling which in turn upheld what city officials in New Haven wanted to do.

COSSACK: Yes. I mean, if you talk about active judges, she was not being an active judge.

And also, I think what people forget is that the lower court judge wrote a 47-page opinion explaining why that court, the district court, felt that this test upholding the city of New Haven and saying that the test was somehow suspect. And what Judge Sotomayor said was, I agree with what the district court said. Now...

KURTZ: So why do these nuances get lost, particularly on TV? You make your living on TV. Why isn't this part of -- a more prominent part of the story?

COSSACK: Because, in fact, we have two minutes to make our point, if we're lucky, Howie.

KURTZ: Sorry, your time's up.


COSSACK: You know -- and so my time is up. But the fact of the matter is, is that we have trained our public to listen to sound bites without nuance. And I think that's what happens. I think we are seeing nuance on these subjects in the press, but not on cable, and certainly not in the blogs.

KURTZ: Speaking of sound bites, one that has been played over and over again -- in fact, it became an instant YouTube classic -- was Sonia Sotomayor talking at a conference four years ago about the role of the Court of Appeals.

Let's roll that.


SOTOMAYOR: The Court of Appeals is where policy is made. And I know -- and I know this is on tape and I should never say that, because we don't make law. I know. (LAUGHTER)

SOTOMAYOR: OK. I know. I'm not promoting it. I'm not advocating it. I'm -- you know.


KURTZ: Chip Reid, was there sort of a "gotcha" aspect to this? I mean, wasn't she kind of stating the obvious?

REID: Yes, she was. I mean, in law school, that's what we learn. You don't go out and legislate from the bench, but that is where legal policy is made. The district courts, for the most part, decide controversies based on the facts, and then the Court of Appeals sits back and strokes their chin and says, wait a minute, what's the best legal policy?

KURTZ: But pundits came out and said ah-ha, she's an activist judge. Is she?

REID: She probably shouldn't have backed off what she said. That's probably what got the attention.

BISKUPIC: But -- and also, you know what the difference is though this time? Roger was just saying how hard it is to do in two minutes. But now, you know what we can say at the end of any cable show or at the end of any TV news story? Go to the Web. That's where the whole thing is.

Go to the Web, that's where the whole opinion is. That's where the lower court opinion is. That's where her other opinion about -- and that's where the whole Latina speech is.

KURTZ: But isn't that pushing off on viewers the responsibility to go research her record when it's part of the job of journalists?

BISKUPIC: No, what it -- well, I think journalists should really give the full story and not just fall into the sort of code that her critics or her supporters fall into. I think it is our job, in no matter how short a space we have, at "USA Today," or no matter how short a space we have on TV, to try to distill that, but then say here's where you can see more information, because you can now that you couldn't before with other nominations.

KURTZ: And Jeff Zeleny, Jeffrey Rosen of "The New Republic" got pretty blistered for writing a piece about Sotomayor that relied on anonymous quotes from people in the 2nd Circuit, where she is on the bench, saying she's a bully, that she's not that smart. "The New York Times" did a version of that story this week. The headline was, "Assertive Style Raises Question on Demeanor," and this was very different -- on-the-record quotes, looking at transcripts, but still came down in saying that she could be a blunt and testy figure.

Does that take us back to the politics of personality?

ZELENY: I think it does a little bit, but, I mean, the politics of personality are going to be under way here. She wouldn't (ph) be meeting one-on-one, face-to-face with all these senators, and getting to know them and them getting to know her over the next few weeks. So, I mean, I think personality is a little bit involved in here.

But I think one thing that I heard last week was interesting. President Obama apparently read that Jeffrey Rosen story, and he was actively consuming all of this sort of opposition material as he was making his decision. So, it's interesting that...


KURTZ: The president wanted to know the worst things that could be said against his potential nominee.

ZELENY: No question. And he picked her anyway. So...

KURTZ: Would media organizations ask these questions about a male judge -- oh, he's tough on the lawyers that come before him?

BISKUPIC: Not necessarily. You know, for sure, it is sort of the stereotype of somebody who's from New York, or a woman who tends to get a bad rap for being "pushy." But you know, I have to say, the 2nd Circuit is known as a hot bench. It's much different than the courtly (ph) 4th Circuit in down in Richmond. And that's the kind of context I think is important to bring to the story.


KURTZ: Roger, jump in.

COSSACK: Howie, let me just say something. I've argued before the Supreme Court, and part of the thrill you get of being before the Supreme Court is having a hot bench, is having aggressive questioning. And that's the point I tried to make earlier.

Is her form of aggressiveness any less imposing than perhaps Thomas, who doesn't ask any questions? I think it's style. You get to the Supreme Court, it's the major leagues, pal. You want hot questioning.

KURTZ: A quick question before we go, Roger. A lot of -- certain abortion rights groups are now questioning, where is Sotomayor on Roe v. Wade? And it seems to me to be, since she won't say -- and that's a common situation with court nominees -- where does that leave journalists in trying to define her opinions on this hot-button issue?

COSSACK: Well, you know, there are -- she has decided a couple of cases, but I don't think that you can glean anything from the cases that she's decided. But I think you can -- you know, common sense tells you that the president is probably not going to nominate someone who is going to overturn Roe v. Wade, which has now been on the books so long that you can argue it's settled law.

KURTZ: Roger Cossack, the only person on this panel who has argued before the high court, thanks for joining us.

The rest of you stick around.

When we come back, tale of the tape. An incriminating audiotape devastates Roland Burris' alibi in the Blago saga. Why isn't this a page one scandal?


KURTZ: It's been months since Roland Burris declared that he would no longer talk to the media. The appointed Illinois senator was trying to choke off coverage of whether he had lied about his dealings with ousted governor Rod Blagojevich, and the strategy worked until this week, when the FBI released transcripts of a wiretap call between Burris and Blago's brother, and the press got interested again.


SEN. ROLAND BURRIS (D), ILLINOIS: And I'm trying to figure out how to deal with this and still be in the consideration for the appointment.


BURRIS: And God knows, number one, I want to help Rod. Number two, I also want to -- you know, I hope I get a consideration to get that appointment. And however that goes, it would dictate, you know, how the press treats it.


KURTZ: Jeff Zeleny, you worked in Chicago, so explain. Blago became a national scandal and a national punch line. Burris still feels like a sidebar story. Here he is on tape talking about trying to raise money and find a way that no one would find out how he could raise money for Blago. And it seems like it's already off the radar screen.

ZELENY: I think one reason for that is this got so much attention last year. Governor Blagojevich is always sort of in his one-man circus act. He's gotten a ton of attention. His wife has gotten attention for wanting to be on reality TV.

KURTZ: Exactly.

ZELENY: I think at this point, there's so much news going on -- this certainly was covered this week in Chicago, but otherwise, I think people have sort of given into the notion that Senator Burris is probably not going to be a senator for all that much longer. The campaign to sort of replace him is already under way. It got a lot of attention in Chicago, we had a couple stories on it, but it's not front page news anymore because we sort of already have been there.

KURTZ: The day the transcript was released, Chip Reid, the network newscasts didn't do anything on it, the newspapers did it the next morning. But that night, the network newscasts did cover it, some of them, at least, because there was audio that was released. So it's not a story without sound?

REID: Absolutely. It makes a big difference for the networks, absolutely. And if it had been on camera, just think what would have happened.

KURTZ: Oh boy.

REID: It really does make a difference.

KURTZ: But if Burris lied about how he got Barack Obama's Senate seat -- initially, he said he didn't have any dealings with Blago in terms of money -- isn't that a huge scandal even though it's...

REID: It is, but I thought this was just a little more fuel on the fire. I actually did not cover the story during the week, and I kind of set it aside. Oh, juicy reading at the end of the week, and I can see how they nailed Burris.

And when I looked at this, I didn't think they had. I really thought that, basically, you have a guy that desperately wants that seat. I think that's the worst part of it, how desperately he wanted it. And we want our politicians to desperately want it. And he knew he was talking to a crook, and he was saying to him what he had to say, but he didn't follow through, he didn't do any of the things that they said he was doing.

KURTZ: Well, are reporters struggling to explain the difference between an illegal quid pro quo and normal political horse trading that goes on all the time?

BISKUPIC: That's right. Actually, that is an issue, because not only is it being investigated as a potential criminal matter, did he lie before, did he perjure himself? But also, you've got the Senate Ethics Committee, which has a whole different standard for what you're going to look at.

And it is much more of a political problem he's got now, because the Democrats really just want him to go away, and he probably will go away in 2010. But legally, as Chip said, it's much more complicated because you'd have to prove that he actually did lie, and he's saying, I was just trying to placate the brother.

KURTZ: I think the Democrats want him to go away yesterday.

Burris gave one television interview this week to Chris Matthews on MSNBC. It got pretty heated.

Let's take a brief look.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: You said you're going to use your partner's name in your law firm to hold a fund-raiser. Did you intend at the time you said this to Rob Blagojevich that you intended to hold a fund-raiser in the name of Tim Wright or not? Did you intend to hold a fund-raiser?

BURRIS: I did not...

MATTHEWS: OK. So you were lying to the governor's brother?

BURRIS: I did not intend to hold a fund-raiser for the governor's brother.


KURTZ: Did Matthews pretty much nail Burris by making it a choice between you lied to the public and you lied to the governor's brothers?

ZELENY: No question. And I think -- I mean, again, what else is he going to say? Senator Burris is sort of -- I mean, he's a non- entity on the Hill. He's sort of a non-entity even in Illinois politics right now.

So, this is not a very good sort of epitaph for his political career. He had a long political career. And I think he -- you know, interestingly, the ethics charges -- or the ethics investigation will go on long after he's out of the Senate. So I think we're done with him.

KURTZ: Was that aggressive -- well, Chris Matthews isn't done with him. Was that aggressive interviewing by Matthews, or was he kind of berating Senator Burris?

REID: Well, Chris loves to berate people while he's interviewing him, but that's his style and people love it. But on the other hand, I thought that, yes, of course he lied to Blagojevich's brother. And so what? He's not under oath.

He can lie to a crooked politician any time he wants. In fact, a lot of people would commend him for that.

KURTZ: We have fun with Chris Matthews here from time to time. I thought he did a very good and aggressive job on that.

Jeff Zeleny, Chip Reid, Joan Biskupic, thanks very much for stopping by this morning.

Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, life and the law. Are journalists more interested in a potential justice's humble roots, as with Sonia Sotomayor, or when the nominee is liberal and not, say, Clarence Thomas?

Plus, Conan on the cusp. Leno says good-bye to "The Tonight Show." Is cooler than thou Conan O'Brien the right man to go up against Letterman and "Nightline"?

And Jon and Kate, plus the mainstream media, why even the networks and "The New York Times" are paying attention to the made- for-TV marriage meltdown.

At noon Eastern, John King talks to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.


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

General Motors is poised to file for bankruptcy protection tomorrow. The automaker's board of directors met yesterday to decide how to proceed. While the outcome of that meeting was not announced, there is a news conference scheduled for tomorrow.

The Senate's top Republican is staying away from comments by conservatives branding President Obama's Supreme Court nominee a racist. Senator Mitch McConnell said on STATE OF THE UNION last hour he does not share that view of Judge Sonia Sotomayor. McConnell also said he finds her life story absolutely impressive. McConnell said he hasn't decided how to vote, but says he better things to do than be the speech police.

President Obama heads to Saudi Arabia Tuesday. The Arab/Israeli conflict and Iran are expected to dominate talks with King Abdullah.

Next it's on to Egypt, where Mr. Obama will deliver a much anticipated speech to the Muslim world. The president also has scheduled stops in Germany and France.

That and more ahead on STATE OF THE UNION.

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

KURTZ: John, before you go, there was an interesting story the other day on "Politico" about White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. In his first four months at the podium, 600 instances of laughter among the tough men and women of the White House press corps.

We're seeing here a little joke about when somebody's cell phone went off. That's compared to just 57 instances of laughter during the comparable period for Dana Perino.

So, you've been in that briefing room. Is laughter a useful tool for a press secretary?

KING: I spent eight and a half years on that beat, Howie, and yes, laughter is a useful tool, a useful foil sometimes for the press secretary, sometimes also for the reporters to try and break things up and keep them going. But I saw those numbers about Robert Gibbs, and that's off the chart. I don't remember that much laughter.

KURTZ: Right. Well, maybe Jay Leno should be a little nervous.

All right, John. We'll talk to you at the top of the hour.

Was it the fact that the Supreme Court nominee was a minority? Was it the stirring up from poverty life story? These are the questions the press was examining, not about Sonia Sotomayor. This was 18 years ago.

The president was the elder George Bush and the nominee was Clarence Thomas.


QUESTION: Was race a factor whatsoever, sir?

GEORGE H. W. BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't see it at all. The fact that he's a minority, you heard his testimony, the kind of life he's had, and I think that speaks eloquently for itself. And the fact he's a minority, so much the better. LARRY KING, CNN: Clarence Thomas was born in rural Georgia with two strikes against him -- he was black, desperately pour, and from an early age on fatherless. Now, 43 years later, and again, seemingly impossible odds, he has become America's newest Supreme Court nominee.


KURTZ: So, is the heavy focus on race, ethnicity, gender and childhood struggles largely dictated by the media?

Joining us now, Blanquita Cullum, radio talk show host and political analyst for WOAI Radio in San Antonio, and Margaret Carlson, chief political columnist for Bloomberg News and Washington editor for "The Week" magazine.

Blanquita Cullum, it's interesting that president actually took questions in those days when they introduced their Supreme Court nominees.

Is there a difference between the media's treatment of a Clarence Thomas -- this was before the Anita Hill controversy, obviously -- and a minority nominee who has liberal view?

CULLUM: Yes. And poor Clarence Thomas, he was brutalized, he was savaged. I mean, I know a couple of the women that testified on his behalf to defend him, and he is and always was an honorable man. But boy, did they beat him up. And they beat up Miguel Estrada.

Now, I've got tell you...

KURTZ: It wasn't the media who beat up Miguel Estrada, because that never really achieved that kind of prominence.

CULLUM: Well, the media picked it up. The media picked it up.

KURTZ: Let me get Margaret in here.

Have the mainstream media swooned over Sonia Sotomayor, while Thomas was kind of treated as an oddity who had turned against his own race?

CARLSON: Well, I remember Clarence Thomas is from Pin Point, Georgia. Well, I know Pin Point, Georgia -- had it not been for pushing that storyline when he was up to be confirmed.

The press picked up on the non-elected leaders of the Republican Party as soon as Sotomayor was nominated. Not so much on the praise of her, as much on getting Rush Limbaugh with the race -- you know, she's a racist, she's a bigot, she's a hack, and on and on,. Newt Gingrich, who should not be allowed to Twitter, twittering that she was a racist. This is how I think the press went, much to the consternation of the establishment Republican Party, which is finally discrediting that wing of the Republican Party that's been controlling it all these years.

KURTZ: Blanquita, you have been through a Senate confirmation yourself.

CULLUM: Absolutely.

KURTZ: Whatever your political disagreements with Sonia Sotomayor, do you take a certain sense of pride in a Latina woman being named to the high court?

CULLUM: Absolutely, I do. Absolutely, I do. I'd be a liar if I said I didn't.

I'm a Latin myself. My mother was a Mexican. I mean, and I look at Miguel making it.

I mean, people don't understand how incredibly difficult it is to even get through the process to get the name up there. You know, the background investigations, your life is put out there, your kids are put out there, your friends are put out there. And you have to do this thing and have to suffer being beaten up.

Now, I may not politically agree with Sonia Sotomayor, but as a Latin, am I proud of her? Of course I'm proud of her. As a woman, am I proud of her? Yes, I'm proud of her.

I think she needs to be able to stand up and take the questions. And if she's confirmed, fine. If she's not, fine. But I think every Latin out there who says they're not proud of her is not being honest.

KURTZ: Because there's been so much focus, Margaret, on Sotomayor's comment about a wise Latina woman who might more often reach a better decision than a white male, let's look at what Supreme Court nominee Sam Alito had to say about that subject a few years back.


SAMUEL ALITO, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender.


KURTZ: So, why do the media make so much of Sotomayor' as if it was some explosive statement?

CARLSON: Because taking things out of context is exactly what we do at this time in the process because we want to have a fight. What's interesting to me is that you find that the Republicans do exactly the same thing when this is going on. And before, when the Supreme Court looked exactly like skull and bones, no one had to say that their experience was richer or they would reach a different or better conclusion, because it was taken for granted that WASPs would reach a perfect decision.

So, the assertion really comes when you've been discriminated against or when you haven't been thought to be able to make these decisions. We, as women -- I'm sure, Blanquita would agree -- have to assert ourselves a little bit more, as oppose to WASPs who have always been given the benefit of the doubt.

CULLUM: Well, you can just say WASPs. OK? That's a word you can use.

You know, the funny thing is my son James came up with something I think is very profound. You ask a 25-year-old to tell you a joke, they can't. And you know why? Because we've become such a politically correct society, they can't say anything because they're afraid to.

You know, groups like La Raza and the National Association for the Advancement for Black People -- for colored people -- I guess you can say that because it's not conjecture -- have a tendency to frighten people. There are a lot of people in those groups who are great people. I like Janet Muguira, who's the head of La Raza. But frankly, people right now have got a big chip on their shoulder if it's going to be a political advantage.

KURTZ: Let me jump in, because President Obama actually addressed this issue for the first time on Friday in an interview with NBC's Brian Williams. He was asked about Sotomayor's statement.

Let's watch.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: It's your judgment, perhaps having talked to the judge that, as we say, that's one of those she'd rather have back if she had it to redo.

OBAMA: I'm sure she would have restated it. But if you look in the entire sweep of the essay that she wrote, what's clear is that she was simply saying that her life experiences will give her information about the struggles and hardships that people are going through.


KURTZ: The media have continued to feast on this. It took the White House three days to say, all right, maybe it was a poor choice of words.

CARLSON: Never use a comparative. The word "better" turns out to be a four-letter word in this context.

Yes, they have been explaining it, but in...

KURTZ: Isn't it because -- you mentioned Newt's Twitter, you mentioned Rush Limbaugh. Tom Tancredo, the former congressman referring to La Raza as a Latino KKK. What about the Republican senators who have been mostly restrained? It seems to me the media are having a lot more fun playing up the more explosive comments.

CARLSON: Well, absolutely. That's where the split in the party -- and it's the first time it's happened in a long time, where Republicans are rejecting their unelected leaders. Remember, it was two weeks ago, Howie, when Dick Cheney anointed Rush Limbaugh as a better leader of the Republican Party than Colin Powell.

CULLUM: Well, the fact of the matter is, look, the Republican Party has had a huge and continues to have a huge demographic that are Latinos that support them -- Cuban-Americans, Mexican-Americans who have in the past been very strong supporters because they have the same values.

KURTZ: But address this question of whether or not, in terms of if you look at the television coverage, you would see a lot of Rush, you would see a lot of Newt. How many times have we seen the Rush clip where he says she's a bigot, reverse racist and all of that?

Is that a proper emphasis -- I mean, these people have big audiences -- or is the press giving short shrift to the actual Republican lawmakers who are going to vote on her confirmation?

CULLUM: Well, you know, look, when you're in the majority, you vote. When you're in the minority, you talk.


CULLUM: And the bottom line is they've got the minority in the Senate, and so they're talking. You've got a protest if you have...


KURTZ: OK, but Mitch McConnell was on STATE OF THE UNION last hour, and he talked, and he was restrained about Sotomayor.

CARLSON: Howie, it's hard to cover silence. In the first couple of days, the elected leaders didn't know what to do. They couldn't find anything. Their comments were very restrained.

And so, where do you go? You go to the noise. You don't cover the dog that doesn't get run over. So you're over on the other side listening to -- they were filling the vacuum.

KURTZ: Brief response.

CULLUM: And I've got to tell you, she may be a terrible candidate politically, but you've got to hear her out. You've got to be able to put her before and have the questions, and let that make the determining factor.

She will probably be confirmed because of the majority in the Senate. I will be surprised if she's not. And frankly, the Hispanic public should be proud.

KURTZ: Since when do pundits who have to have instant reactions to everything wait to hear anybody out?

All right. Blanquita Cullum, Margaret Carlson, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

Coming up, how did reality TV's Jon and Kate become the latest media obsession?

But first, so long, Leno. After 17 years on "The Tonight Show," Jay moves to 10:00. What does that mean for Conan and his late-night rivals?

Letterman sidekick Andy Kindler joins our discussion.


KURTZ: It's been five years in the making, and tomorrow, Conan O'Brien takes over "The Tonight Show." That's how long ago NBC promised the fabled franchise to Conan, but this isn't just a matter of musical chairs, with Conan moving up from his late-night slot and Jay launching a 10:00 show for NBC.

After 17 years, Jay had become "The Tonight Show." He is no easy act to follow.

The two men got together Friday on Leno's farewell show, and Jay played a clip from when Conan first took over late night back in 1993.


JAY LENO, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": You know, Dave Letterman is a legend here at NBC, and if there's anything that's fun to do, it's replacing legends at NBC.

CONAN O'BRIEN, INCOMING HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": All I keep hearing over and over again, which is compliments to this man, "Big shoes to fill." Someday I want to replace a local weatherman who's been on the air for about three months and who is no good and everybody hates.


KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about the late-night shake-up and this bizarro Jon and Kate reality show marriage, in Los Angeles, comedian Andy Kindler, who often appears on "The Late Show With David Letterman."


KURTZ: Hi. KINDLER: How's it going?

KURTZ: And in Tampa, Eric Deggans, media and television critic for "The St. Petersburg Times."

All right, Andy, so, your man Dave no longer has to go up against Leno, who's been number one all these years. Is he secretly rubbing his hands about taking on the new kid on the block?

KINDLER: Yes. He called me last night and he told me he's secretly rubbing his hands. No, I don't think he's -- I like the way I include myself as if I'm a regular.

KURTZ: Yes. I like that.

KINDLER: I'm a regular. No, we don't worry about anything over there. We just keep our eyes straight ahead and keep low, or whatever those war suggestions are.

KURTZ: You're focused. You're very focused.

KINDLER: Oh, by the way, before you were talking about press secretaries. Don't forget how hilarious Ari Fleischer was.

KURTZ: The comedy stylings of Ari Fleischer is immortalized for everyone.

Eric Deggans, the question that has hung over NBC here, I think, is, is Conan's hip brand of New York comedy going to work from L.A. at 11:30 at night?

DEGGANS: Yes, that's a tough question.

One of the things about Conan, I don't count him out because I think he's a smart guy and I think he's a funny guy. But he has said, when he checked off of his show, his 12:30 show, that he's not going to change who he is. And who he is, is kind of silly, who he is, is kind of urbane, who he is, is youthful oriented. And Jay Leno, you know, he developed this crowd by touring the country, playing in Ohio, playing in Michigan, getting to know the middle of the country, and doing stuff that a lot of comics felt was kind of lowbrow or middle brow, or dare I say it, even hacky.

So that's an open question for Conan.

KINDLER: I'll say it.

KURTZ: Go ahead. You'll say it. OK.

KINDLER: I'll chime in.

KURTZ: You seem to want to talk about Washington politics, Kindler. Let me throw this at you. The Center for Media and Public Affairs did an analysis and found that Leno, Jay Leno, has told one- third more political jokes than David Letterman and almost five times as many as Conan. So what does that tell you about what sells and doesn't sell on late night?

KINDLER: Well, his success rate is low, so he has to increase the volume.

You know, I hadn't watched Leno in a long time, and it was quite a shock to the system. I mean, if I had realized that the monologue was going to be 14 minutes long, I would have hydrated better before.

KURTZ: Well, one of the things Jay did when he took over was to elongate the monologue. And that's the thing. When Jay Leno first took over "The Tonight Show" from Johnny Carson, who was such an icon, and who dominated that timeslot for 30 years, it didn't quite seem like "The Tonight Show." It took a while for us to get used to Jay, and I think Conan seems to recognize that's a challenge that he will face, as well.

DEGGANS: Yes, that's definitely...

KINDLER: Well, he can'. Sorry.

KURTZ: Go ahead, Andy.

KINDLER: Over. Well, the thing is, Leno is not going to -- the problem is Leno is not going away. That's the problem.

He refuses to leave. There's going to be -- I think the best person who's going to benefit from this is Carson Daly, because aren't you going to be in the mood for more talk shows after nine and a half hours of talk shows every night?

KURTZ: You're saying we can't miss Jay because he's not going anywhere.

KINDLER: He will not go away. And I hope that he will be able to be as edgy at 10:00 p.m. as he was at 11:35, and I am employing sarcasm there.

KURTZ: Thanks for that disclaimer.

Eric Deggans, there is a little bit of question of whether Jay steals Conan's thunder by doing an hour of comedy an hour and a half before he comes on.

DEGGANS: For sure. I mean, one of the things that we know about "The Tonight Show" host or the host of the biggest late-night show on a network, is that they become the face of comedy for that network in the same way that somebody like Brian Williams is the face of news for NBC, for example.

So, now you've got the guy who was the face of comedy moving to 10:00 p.m. Who's really going to be the face of comedy for NBC? Is it going to be Conan or Jay? And, you know, Jay is also going to steal perhaps some of the guests that Conan might have had at 11:30.

KURTZ: Stealing guests? Isn't that illegal?

DEGGANS: Imagine what it would have been like if Johnny Carson had just taken a few months off and then started a show at 10:00 in front of Jay Leno when he was trying to get started?

KURTZ: Exactly. And let's not -- go ahead, Andy.

KINDLER: But what's NBC thinking? I don't understand what NBC is thinking. They say, well, we haven't had a hit show at 10:00, so let's just give up.

This is like back when they -- we used to have a comedy boom in the '90s, and then people stopped coming to the clubs. And they said, all right. You know what we'll do? Let's cut back on the comedy a little bit. You know, if your restaurant isn't doing well, let's cut back on the food.

How is Leno at 10:00 going to be a viable solution to NBC's problems? It's not going to syndicate. Are people going to enjoy his Jon and Kate jokes 10 years from now?

KURTZ: Well, you set me up to Jon and Kate.

DEGGANS: Well, Andy, I will tell you what their thinking is. They don't want Jay competing against Conan. And what happened was they set up this transition five years ago, when Jay Leno was going down in the ratings. And then here we are in 2009, Jay is as strong as he's ever been. Conan is the one...


KURTZ: All right. Let me jump in here.

DEGGANS: And they're forced to go through with this transformation.

KINDLER: And they couldn't have foreseen that coming.

KURTZ: All right. Let's lot leave ABC's "Nightline" out of the equation, which actually beat Letterman this season for the first time, edged him out, and could well benefit from this shake-up.

All right, Jon and Kate. Look, I have to confess some cultural cluelessness here. I did not know until two weeks ago who Jon and Kate were.

A lot of people are now finding out. Ten million people watched this thing last Monday, Memorial Day. Let's take a brief look at the show.


KATE GOSSELIN, "JON & KATE, PLUS 8": Everything's falling apart. I feel like the world is sitting on my shoulders. I will not give up. I will not lay down and die.

JON GOSSELIN, "JON & KATE, PLUS 8": I can't be myself. I'm not feeling so hot right now.

I might as well be in prison. We'll see what happens.


KURTZ: All right, Andy. What is so inherently fascinating about a reality show couple with eight kids where the marriage seems to be falling apart? KINDLER: Well, you know what? I volunteer to lay down and die, because there is nothing going on there. They spent half of the premiere of season five trying to get a table for 10 at a Denny's. That was half of the whole show.

KURTZ: Eric...

KINDLER: There's nothing going on. Why are we watching these -- first of all, there's no reality on those reality shows. That's gone years ago. Now they don't even do anything anymore. They just interviewed about events that they didn't capture on camera.

KURTZ: Well, one thing they may be doing, Eric, is Jon is alleged to supposedly be having an affair, and Kate is supposedly considering one. So it's turned into a total tabloid drama.

"US Weekly" has put this thing on the cover five straight weeks. What is the sensation here?

DEGGANS: Well, you remember when it was quaint enough that we were upset that people were trying to get married on television? I mean, the final frontier right now is people getting divorced on television, people actually having these marriages break up in real time.

And I think whether or not it's scripted, that's what this show is showing. And I've seen the first episode of Brooke Hogan's "Brooke Knows Best." That's the daughter of Hulk Hogan, the wrestler. And that marriage is breaking up. And I think we're going to see that on camera.

KURTZ: I've got to jump in.

KINDLER: Brooke Hogan is breaking up?

KURTZ: Hold on. The serious networks here -- "CBS Early Show" interviewed Kate's brother. Everybody's getting in on this.

I've got 20 seconds, Andy.

They parade their lives before the cameras and now Jon and Kate are complaining about their privacy as being invaded.

KINDLER: Yes. I don't think that they really have much of a case there. They should be very lucky -- I hope they both have affairs. Let's mix it up.

KURTZ: All right. So, you want the marriage to deteriorate for the pure entertainment value of watching it? KINDLER: I want something entertaining to happen on television, you know, besides...

DEGGANS: I say we get those guys on that show "Cheaters." That's what we need to do.

KURTZ: We've got to leave it there.

Andy Kindler, Eric Deggans, thanks for joining us this morning.

After the break, it was great video, Mancow being waterboarded. But the shock jock's conversion on torture may not hold water after all.


KURTZ: Time now for the latest from the news business in our "Media Minute."


KURTZ (voice-over): Nine and a half years ago, the business press -- actually, the entire media establishment -- went gaga over a huge corporate merger. Media titan Time Warner, CNN's parent company, was joining forces with an upstart Internet firm, America Online.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The world's largest media conglomerate conglomerate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The biggest corporate takeover ever.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This really is a historic moment, a time when we transform the landscape of media and communications.

KURTZ (on camera): But all the blather about synergy and the new cyber era of AOL/Time Warner showed that journalists could be taken in by buzzwords. The merger, actually a takeover by the overvalued AOL, was a disaster. The stock plummeted, and this week came the divorce. Time Warner, which long ago reclaimed its name, announced that it will spin off struggling AOL as a separate independent company.

(voice-over): Mancow -- that would be Chicago radio host Eric "Mancow" Muller -- agreed to be waterboarded last week. It was something of a stunt, but MSNBC's Keith Olbermann was eager to have him on to discuss this question: Is it an effective interrogation technique? Does it amount to torture?


KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: Can you, having gone through this, trust you get the right answer?

ERIC "MANCOW" MULLER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Keith, the honest answer is I don't know. Look, if I had information, I'm sure I would have given it up. I would have said anything to make it stop. This isn't gulping for air. This is -- your brain is shut off. This is water at the back of your skull, a gallon of water poured down my nose.

KURTZ: But uncovered e-mails that called the episode into question.

Linda Shafran, a Jerry Springer publicist representing Mancow, wrote a friend in search of someone to administer the waterboarding. "It is going to have to look real, but, of course, would be simulated, with Mancow acting like he is drowning. It will be a hoax but have to look real. Would be great if they could dress in fatigues and bring whatever is needed. We will supply the water."


(on camera): Olbermann said the e-mails were sent anonymously to "Countdown" before he interviewed Mancow, but that his staff investigated the situation and contacted the waterboarder.

As for Mancow, he criticized the Gawker reporter.

MULLER: This guy called me, and no matter what I said he wouldn't listen. To say it was a hoax or that it didn't really happen, how do you fake that?


KURTZ: Still to come, one of our guests practically accused him of fomenting fascism. Now Keith Olbermann returns fire. His response next.


KURTZ: On last week's program, David Zurawik had some pretty harsh words for the opinionated primetime host at MSNBC and Fox. His prime target, Keith Olbermann, fired back at the "Baltimore Sun" critic on his show "Countdown," naming him one of the "Worst Persons in the World."

In the interest of equal time, we want to show you the sound bite we played, Zurawik's take, and Olbermann's response this week.


OLBERMANN: You saved no one, Mr. Cheney. All you did was help kill Americans.

In the name of God, go!

DAVID ZURAWIK, "BALTIMORE SUN": It's really, that path lies fascism. This is a bizarro world or cartoon version of Edward R. Murrow with the cadence and this arch rhetoric, and all this, but he is saying madman stuff. It's exactly what happened in propaganda in the '30s in Europe. I'm not kidding you.

OLBERMANN: No. More accurately, he's kidding himself.

Instead of analysis of TV news or insider information, his blog is, time after time, simply a louder and louder version of the previous one based on what he does and does not like politically. Mr. Zurawik screams about this network, and its hosts have been so many and so hysterical, that he must either be a blind ideologue or on the take.


KURTZ: I would hardly describe David Zurawik -- it's pronounced Zurawik, Keith -- as an ideologue, but his invoking of fascism -- we're talking cable TV here -- was, in my view, over the top. Zurawik says Olbermann misrepresented his comments as an attack only on him and MSNBC, when he also took aim at Fox.

"For Olbermann to call anyone a blind ideologue, who screams his same talking points over and over, gives new meaning to the psychological concept of projection. Olbermann's further innuendo that if I am not a blind ideologue, then I 'must be on the take,' implies a partisan slant to my criticism. Tell that to Greta Van Susteren or Sean Hannity at Fox -- or better yet, Ali Velshi at CNN."

The two of them did tango on this program.

And John King, before I go, Susan Boyle, the Internet media sensation heard around the world, finishing number two last night on "Britain's Got Talent." And British tabloids seemed to turn on her after we all built her up. Suddenly, she was cursing, she was throwing temper tantrums. It just shows you what the media can do when somebody becomes instantly famous.

KING: Well, what goes up does come down in our business and in the rules of gravity. But, you know, a lot of people have finished number two on "Idol," in this country, and have actually gone on to do better than the winners. So let's see what happens.

KURTZ: And I suspect Susan Boyle still has something of a career ahead of her for somebody none of us had ever heard of.

Thanks very much, John.

KING: Howie, take care.