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State of the Union
Aired August 30, 2009 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": Thanks, John.
He was portrayed as a politician and a celebrity. A liberal lion and a bipartisan dealmaker. A tabloid figure and the living link to two murdered brothers. We all knew the end was near, but Ted Kennedy's passing reverberated across the media landscape this week, prompting an outpouring of tributes, recollections, and for the most part, relentless praise. Even in death he was larger than life.
What struck me in this ocean of acclimation has been the decidedly personal tone from anchors, correspondents, commentators who covered Kennedy, who socialized with Kennedy, and who, in some cases, were befriended by Ted Kennedy.
DIANE SAWYER, CO-HOST, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA": That smile, that trademark smile through his entire 15-month battle with brain cancer.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, "HARDBALL": I'm a type 2 diabetic, and he called me and it was funny because he called me right after I had an attack of hypoglycemia. And he called me up, and he started talking about his friend John Tunney's father, Gene Tunney, who was the heavyweight fighter. And he had it, and then some cousin had it. He was trying to tell me all of the people in the family, his friends who had this diabetic situation.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: We used to go vacationing with him in Caribbean. We'd be up having tropical drinks at night. He would be bellowing with stories.
GERALDO RIVERA, FOX CORRESPONDENT: He really was a mentor to me in many ways. And in that regard, leading me, helping me editorially, helping me emotionally.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: My father was diagnosed with a very rare, kind of nasty cancer. He's fighting it off, he's still in remission, he's a tough old bird. But Senator Kennedy heard about that and he called me at home. He gave me the name of one of the world's foremost experts in cancer treatment.
He said, "He's expecting your calling. I just talked to him."
KURTZ: So, have the media provided an honest portrait of Kennedy's life, warts and all? And how much is too much?
Joining us now are four first-rate journalists who have covered the senator for decades.
In New York, Joe Klein, columnist for "TIME" magazine. Here in Washington, David Broder, columnist for "The Washington Post"; Thomas Oliphant, a former columnist for "The Boston Globe." And in Boston, Emily Rooney, the host and executive editor of "Beat the Press" on WGBH.
Joe Klein, you've described your relationship with Ted Kennedy over the years as affectionate. You first met him back in 1970.
What was he like to deal with over the years?
JOE KLEIN, COLUMNIST, "TIME": Well, I also said in that same sentence that we were not friends. You know, it was a professional relationship, but it lasted 40 years.
And when I first met him, he was not the guy that many other journalists came to know. I met him right after Chappaquiddick, and he was very, very wary of the press, he was very awkward in public. It took -- you know, he didn't start becoming the Kennedy that -- who was really praised this week and mourned until after he ran unsuccessfully for president in 1980.
KURTZ: Yes, that was kind of a turning point.
And Emily Rooney, what was it like for you to cover the dominant figure in Massachusetts politics for so many decades?
EMILY ROONEY, HOST, "BEAT THE PRESS": Well, you know, it's funny that Joe says that Kennedy was wary of the press, because my experience was that he was very aloof, that he was sort of unaware of who the important journalists were. I had a personal experience with him myself. My husband was a journalist at WCVB, the ABC affiliate in Boston, and he had a heart attack and died the summer of 1997. And Ted Kennedy showed up at the hospital room.
And not only did he know who my husband was, but he described how he behaved at press conferences. He said, well, Kirby was always in the background, jumping up and down, and he wanted to have the best perspective from the back of the room. And that sets you back as a journalist, frankly, when you suddenly have a personal connection with somebody that is so important in your life that you cover almost every day as a working journalist, and then, suddenly, he intersects with your life.
So, to hear so many other stories of people who had these same experiences with him has been profound.
KURTZ: So many journalists have had those kinds of touching experiences.
And David Broder, you first met Ted in JFK's 1960 campaign. What was he like in those early years and later? DAVID BRODER, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": He was a callow youth, but a charmer. And they sent him to one of the toughest parts of West Virginia, the home of the Klan, historically. And he tackled it by just going out and talking face to face with everybody that he could possibly meet and said, "Give my brother a chance. Give him a chance. You'll like him."
KURTZ: Did you envision him as a future senator at that point?
BRODER: No, I did not.
KURTZ: All right.
Tom Oliphant, was Kennedy good at working the press, especially the hometown press?
TOM OLIPHANT, FMR. COLUMNIST, "BOSTON GLOBE": Well, hometown, national. Remember one thing, he didn't need the press to have name recognition.
KURTZ: That is true.
OLIPHANT: He didn't need the press to get attention for any proposal or speech he wanted to make.
KURTZ: Unlike, say, the other 99 senators.
OLIPHANT: That's right.
KURTZ: He was so famous, yes.
OLIPHANT: He was a notorious no-show on Sunday morning, at least until recent years. He didn't need to go. And yet, he had gone through one rough experience with us after another. His campaign in '62 was actually ugly, especially the primary. He had not been in office much more than a year when he made one of the biggest political mistakes of his life, putting a hack friend of his father's up for a federal judgeship that cost him about a year of -- and then Chappaquiddick two years after that.
He was used to pretty rough treatment. And my experience from 1969 forward was that he relished it. He loved the combat. He loved to get in your face, he loved to argue with you. He was not afraid to come back and challenge you when he didn't like what you wrote.
He was a transitional -- this was not like Bob Kennedy and President Kennedy from a different era. This guy really liked the game.
KURTZ: Let me go back to Joe Klein.
Because what struck me is, on the first day, when they had the bio pieces, you know, things like Ted Kennedy got kicked out of Harvard for cheating were mentioned. By the second day, it almost reminded me of the Michael Jackson death in this respect -- he was a legend already, it seems to me, in the coverage. So, do you feel, since this guy did have certainly negative aspects to his career, that Kennedy has now been lionized by the press?
KLEIN: Well, I think he was justifiably lionized. And he just died, Howie, for God sakes. I think, you know, the bad stuff was mentioned, it wasn't dwelled upon, although there were some conservative commentators who did.
He was a very, very human being. And I think that over time, this past week, the stuff that will be remembered about Ted Kennedy is not so much Chappaquiddick, as the legislation he passed. But I think for many of us, it was such a personal experience to cover Kennedy, that those were the things -- those personal experiences were the things that we dwelled on.
I mean, I was with him the day he was pelted with tomatoes by a crowd of anti-busing protesters in Boston's City Hall. And, you know, we reflected on that later. And he talked very personally about how he didn't hold it against them, that they and the poor blacks in Roxbury were being asked to carry the burden of this social experiment, and the rich kids in the suburbs were getting off scot- free.
KURTZ: That's quite a scene.
KLEIN: And so, I think those are the sorts of things that we remember about him. It isn't -- this isn't the time to re-litigate Chappaquiddick. I mean, this is the time to remember the man for what he accomplished.
KURTZ: Well, I'm going to re-litigate a little bit, and I'm going to ask Emily Rooney a question on the other side. Let me play for you -- it's 40 year now after the car accident that killed Mary Jo Kopechne. Let's look at what Ted Kennedy -- some of what he had to say after that tragedy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: These events, the publicity, innuendo which have surrounded them, and my admission of guilt this morning, raises the question in my mind of whether my standing among the people of my state has been so impaired, that I should resign my seat in the United States Senate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Emily, that was a tragedy I think that would have ended the career of just about anybody else. And so, aren't we as journalists -- sure, there's a natural reluctance to bring up negative things when somebody has just passed away, but isn't that part of the story as well?
ROONEY: I think people did bring it up. You know, the Kennedys have left an incredible archive of video behind them. They have been recorded since their birth, each one of them. This episode appeared on every national and local television station across the country. It was the 40th anniversary of Chappaquiddick this past July. It was also the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, which got more attention.
And also, as Joe Klein points out, Ted Kennedy was dying. So, to bring that up repeatedly.
But I certainly saw it in every single obituary, in every single biography, in every single piece that was replayed. It was an important chapter in his life.
And you have to remember that the people of Massachusetts have never forgotten about Chappaquiddick. Even though Ted Kennedy is reelected every six years, a third of the people of Massachusetts never voted for him. Frankly, never vote for a Kennedy, and largely because of that and other issues -- for instance, his position on being pro-abortion.
David Broder, watching the funeral procession reach Arlington last night reminded me of that terrible weekend in 1963. Do journalists, say, over 55 -- you're in that category, right?
KURTZ: Is it possible to look at Ted Kennedy and talk about Ted Kennedy without looking at it through the prism of JFK and RFK?
BRODER: I think it is now, Howie, because his career stayed so long, and he carved out such a different role for himself. His brothers never were really important figures in the United States Senate. And he became a dominant figure in the United States Senate. And he became much more of a populist leader than either Robert or John Kennedy had been.
KURTZ: Ironically, Tom Oliphant, for a guy who's remembered for some really eloquent speeches, Ted Kennedy, when you interviewed him, could be rather inarticulate. I want to play a little bit of the famous 1979 CBS interview with Roger Mudd, when Kennedy was asked a non-curveball question -- "Why do you want to be president?"
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROGER MUDD, JOURNALIST: Why do you want to be president?
KENNEDY: Well, I'm -- were I to make the announcement, and to run, the reasons that I would run is because I have a great belief in this country that it is -- there's more natural resources than any nation in the world. There's the greatest educated population in the world, the greatest technology of any country in the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: It seems to be painful to watch now. What was it with...
OLIPHANT: Can you answer the trivia question of what that show was up against that night?
KURTZ: I do not know.
OLIPHANT: The commercial network premiere of "Jaws."
Roger's interview is metaphor, not tree-ring act, and it's important to remember that, though he was usually much more inarticulate than that. Whenever he would have a good day, those of us who were condemned to cover the presidential campaign from start to finish, we'd joke that somebody had given him a basket full of verbs and that it helped him get through the day.
And one time I collected a bunch of his -- just did a long quotation to give people a sense of how inarticulate he could be. And again, this is another one of those occasions when he just blew a gasket, but at the same time, thought it was hilarious because he knew he was guilty.
KURTZ: All right.
Let me play a little bit from one other clip. This is 1987, Senator Kennedy on the nomination to the Supreme Court of Robert Bork.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KENNEDY: In Robert Bork's America, there is no room at the inn for blacks and no place in the Constitution for women. And in our America, there should be no seat on the Supreme Court for Robert Bork.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And, Joe Klein, in a floor speech, Kennedy said that in Robert Bork's America, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors at midnight raids.
How do we square that kind of partisanship with the bipartisan deal-making for which he was justifiably famous -- Orrin Hatch, John McCain, working with President Bush on education?
KLEIN: Well, I think that, you know, until recently, those two were not mutually exclusive. You could do both.
Could I just make a point on his tongue-tiedness?
It seemed to me that he became a lot more at ease with himself and at ease with answering questions almost immediately after he was eliminated from the presidential competition. I was with him the day that he lost New Hampshire, the first -- you know, a Kennedy losing in New England.
He lost the New Hampshire primary to Jimmy Carter. And that night, he gave a rip-roaring ad hoc speech. And after that, I think he seemed to loosen up because the pressure was no longer on him.
And yes, at times he could be wildly partisan, passionately partisan. And at times he could be demagogic, as he was with Bork. But that was in public.
In private, you know, there was -- he was a different guy. He worked small rooms better than either of his brothers.
KLEIN: His brothers worked big rooms better than he did.
KURTZ: Let me just jump in and ask Emily Rooney this question.
Putting on your media critic hat, don't many journalists identify with Kennedy's causes? I mean, could a Republican senator have gotten anything approaching these kinds of tributes in the last five days?
ROONEY: Well, I don't think there's anybody like Ted Kennedy. I don't know what Republican senator would have deserved it, frankly.
I was trying to think of -- even any living president, I don't think at this point, would get the kind of attention. Which one? If George Bush 1 or 2 died tomorrow, I'm not sure they would get the same kind of accolades.
I also want to jump in though on the articulateness of Ted Kennedy. He sort of originated the filibuster in terms of answering a question. It didn't matter. I'm sure everybody had the same experience with him.
One on one, no matter what question you asked him, he answered it in the way he wanted -- he just picked an answer and he started going. And then he started looking down. He would stop looking at you in the eye.
So, you couldn't interrupt him. You couldn't say, "So, what a second, Senator. What I asked you was..." -- so he just went right...
KURTZ: I thought we interrupt politicians for a living. I'm interrupting you right now because we've got to get a break.
When we come back, we'll talk about whether the media coverage has gone overboard.
And as we go to break, let's look at "TIME" and "Newsweek" commemorative issues on the life of Edward Kennedy.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KURTZ: A look at some of the nation's front pages the day after Ted Kennedy's death. And in today's "Washington Post," I counted nine stories and columns about Ted Kennedy.
You know, the story has really been inescapable. From primetime specials, to the constant cable coverage, to the extravaganza of yesterday's funeral, Ted Kennedy's death has dominated television for days.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: Good evening. Tonight, the nation marks the end of an era in American politics and the end of an unprecedented family dynasty.
CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS: Good evening from the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: This is "NBC Nightly News," and we're now continuing our special coverage of this story from the Kennedy family compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.
CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN: Right now we're all going to get a unique look at Senator Edward Kennedy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And Tom Oliphant, even those live shots of the funeral procession, the motorcade going through Boston, and then yesterday making its way to Capitol Hill and Arlington National Cemetery got live coverage. It's all part of the melodrama.
OLIPHANT: Yes, though, interestingly enough, I thought we underplayed, damn near missed one element of the story that started to break last night, and that was the release of the letter he had had President Obama hand Pope Benedict, a letter more from penitent to priest, as a supplicant asking for a blessing, admittedly one with unique access.
OLIPHANT: But it showed a vulnerability and an awareness of sin.
We're going to hear more about this when his memoir is released in a few weeks, but I think this was an example of all the preparations, overwhelming news judgment. And I would have liked to have seen more attention to that letter and the reply.
KURTZ: Joe Klein, there have been a lot of television segments and print stories asking this question about, who will now assume the leadership, the mantle of Camelot? And it strikes me as kind of a bogus question, because Ted Kennedy, at this point, really sort of irreplaceable.
KLEIN: Right. And in many ways, Ted Kennedy saw his older brother, John Kennedy, in Barack Obama. Obama is a very similar, cool sort of politician, charismatic in the way his older brother was.
There are, you know, really interesting, wonderful courageous politicians coming up through the ranks. And there will be another one. But I would like to ask -- you know, that Bork speech is still kind of digging at me. And I'd like to ask both David and Tom a question, if I could.
And that is, the Ted Kennedy who was the compromiser in the Senate, it's my recollection -- and I may be wrong -- that that began to happen later in the -- starting in the late '80s, '90s, you know, the last 20 years, rather than the first 20 years, especially after his 1980 speech at the Democratic Convention, when he was very much the liberal lion.
KURTZ: All right. I'm going to let David Broder answer that, because we're short on time.
BRODER: Joe, I think it was a combination of two things. One, he was an emotional politician before he was an intellectual politician. And two, somebody on his staff wrote that inflammatory rhetoric, and in that moment he did not have the sense to tone it down.
KURTZ: And Emily Rooney, as we look at the larger question here about whether these five days of coverage has in any way gone overboard, we do have to remember that this was not just a senator, but he was a Kennedy, he was a celebrity, he was a tabloid figure, and all of that.
ROONEY: Overboard compared to what? Compared to the coverage of Michael Jackson? I should say not.
And something that the local stations did here, which was really profound, starting in the wee morning hours of Wednesday, they blew out coverage, went wall to wall, forced out all commercials. And that's been going on right up until 8:00 last night.
And I just want to say to Tom Oliphant's point...
KURTZ: Just briefly.
ROONEY: ... that one of the letters that did get a lot of attention here was the letter he sent the Thursday before he died to the local leadership here on Beacon Hill asking that his seat be temporarily replaced by the governor, instead of waiting 143 days for a special election. So, that has gotten a tremendous amount of attention.
KURTZ: And that will be the next chapter for those of us in the media to cover.
Thank you very much for helping us remember Ted Kennedy this morning, Emily Rooney, Joe Klein, David Broder and Tom Oliphant.
Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, life after the bubble. Author Kurt Andersen says everything has changed since last year's financial meltdown and that the media are finally getting more serious. I say he's getting carried away and not much has changed.
We face off in a moment.
Plus, Steve Brill has a plan and a new company to rescue newspapers and magazines. But are readers really willing to pay for the same stories online they have been reading for free?
And RELIABLE SOURCES becomes fodder in the war of words between Bill O'Reilly and Jon Stewart.
KING: I'm John King, and this is STATE OF THE UNION. Here are stories breaking this Sunday morning.
Fire crews are battling wildfires in central and southern California. The largest and most dangerous is burning in the mountains above Los Angeles. It nearly tripled in size yesterday, burning more than 20,000 acres. Residents of several nearby communities have been told to evacuate.
In all, 10,000 homes are in jeopardy.
Allegations of fraud in Afghanistan's election have doubled in the last two days. Officials says there are now nearly 2,500 complaints. About a quarter of them serious enough to alter the results. They include allegations of voter intimidation and ballot stuffing.
The latest tallies indicate incumbent president Hamid Karzai now has a sizable lead over his main rival.
President Obama is wrapping up his weeklong family vacation on Martha's Vineyard. He's scheduled to fly back to Washington late this afternoon. Yesterday, the president traveled to Boston to deliver the eulogy at Senator Ted Kennedy's funeral.
That and more ahead on STATE OF THE UNION.
KURTZ: It was a nice ride while it lasted. America was living life on the bubble, a stock market bubble, a housing bubble that created a whole lot of wealth for a whole lot of people, until, of course, the bubble popped, the economy nose-dived, investment banks crumbled, Bernie Madoff went to jail, and the rest of us were left to pick up the pieces.
But are the media now being too quick to proclaim a new era of austerity?
Kurt Andersen, the "New York Magazine" columnist and NPR host, has a new book on the subject called "Reset."
I spoke to him earlier from New York.
KURTZ: Kurt Andersen, welcome.
KURT ANDERSEN, HOST, "STUDIO 360": Happy to be here.
KURTZ: You say we've been living through a gilded age that came to a spectacular halt late last year. But didn't the media push and promote all of the conspicuous consumption, the big houses, play the stock market, get rich quick, and all of that?
ANDERSEN: Oh, you know, the media played a big job. I mean, magazines, certainly for the last 25 years, which is more or less the length of the era we're talking about, were so much about aspirations, as the term of art went, creating a fantasy world that people should aspire to be part of. So, absolutely. And those luxury brands were a big, diehard foundation of a lot of those magazines and media.
KURTZ: And the advertising that rolled in. And most news organizations, with few exceptions, did not warn us sufficiently that the economy and the big banks were dangerously overextended.
But let's talk about this new era. Politicians don't like to ask people to sacrifice. I'm not sure the media do either. You don't get a great cover story out of, don't buy that big house or, stick with the boring municipal bonds.
ANDERSEN: No. That's absolutely true.
And in that sense, all of us, in our -- in the media and out of it, and just normal Joes, were part of this great denial. It felt pretty good. It was -- you know, there was a recession or two along the way, but as people looked at their 401(k)s, people looked at their house prices increasing, why be a buzzkill?
And certainly the media were part of that, let's not be the skunks at this party.
KURTZ: And we were wall complicit, you would say.
KURTZ: You write in "Reset" that people -- even in their now reduced circumstances, people will still want to buy cars, buy houses, read quality journalism. Really? There are a lot of bankrupt newspapers out there, and I had the impression that the YouTube culture seems to be diminishing the audience for what we would call high-end journalism.
ANDERSEN: I think there is an audience for high-end journalism that I -- for instance, look at the growth of public radio, of which -- on which I happen to have a show. Public radio, while every -- while the rest of journalism and media have been cracking apart into smaller audiences while newspapers -- the particular platform of newspapers as it existed in the 19th and 20th centuries has been dying, public radio's audience has been growing and growing. And so, to me, that says, absolutely there is an audience for quality journalism.
KURTZ: Although public radio does have the advantage of some government subsidies.
Let's take the...
ANDERSEN: Tiny government subsidies.
KURTZ: OK. Let's take the tenor of this conversation down several notches. Donald...
ANDERSEN: Happy to do so.
KURTZ: Donald Trump, you call him a "clownish reality show artifact living the high life in Manhattan and Palm Beach."
KURTZ: "The Donald" fires back with this: "Kurt Andersen has always been a third-rate writer, and an unsuccessful one at that."
KURTZ: You two just don't get along, do you?
ANDERSEN: Well, we're -- sometimes I feel like we're professional wrestlers. That once a decade, we're brought back to take punches and swings and scream at one another.
You know, he is what he is. Donald Trump is an amazing creature of the media and of entertainment, and kind of depends, as most of us depend, on oxygen and sunlight for life on the attention of the media. So, I think -- I guess I'm doing him a favor, a small favor in my own sentence in "Reset."
KURTZ: That is awfully generous of you. Of course, you and Graydon Carter, when you were young whippersnappers, were taking shots at Donald Trump when you ran "Spy" magazine.
I wonder if in some ways this book hasn't already been partially overtaken by events. And I'm sympathetic to that as somebody who has written books, and two weeks after you go to the press, something happens and you say, gee, I wish I'd gotten that in.
I mean, you write about the implosion of Wall Street. Wall Street seems to have bounced back, with the big banks now again handing out big bonuses.
ANDERSEN: Well, but Wall Street is changing, absolutely. I mean, yes, if you concentrate on the day's news, oh good, the Dow is back up. The Dow is still off 35 percent, off of what it was two years ago at the peak of the boom.
KURTZ: Now writing in the wake, I presume, of Barack Obama's inauguration, which, of course, was so heavily trumpeted by the media and the culture, you say we seem to be heading into a new era of racial reconciliation.
KURTZ: Yet, lately, we've had the Henry Louis Gates controversy and the birthers and other things that are racially-tinged controversies. So, I think your era of reconciliation has hit a few bumps on the road. ANDERSEN: Well, actually, I was writing -- I was writing this book in as recently as May and early June. So, I -- you know, it's not as though I was in some Inauguration Day swoon while I was writing it.
And I don't suggest that we have suddenly, with the election of Barack Obama, or with the recession, turned 180 degrees. I'm talking directionally about the swing of the pendulum away from the last few years. And I think that is happening.
Yes, we see people -- we see kind of crypto -- we see racial tensions continuing, absolutely. We see kind of crypto-racist feeling fueling some of the crazy attacks on this administration. Yes, that's going to still be there. But I'm still hopeful.
It becomes somewhat less -- it becomes harder to be quite as hopeful when one sees the nuttiness, the sort of Glenn Beck nuttiness, for instance, that...
KURTZ: Well, since you mentioned his name...
KURTZ: ... let me first read a sentence that struck me in your book. Let's put it up on the screen.
You say that "Hyperbolic rants and rigid talking points, in either Limbaughian or Olbermannian flavors, now seem worse than useless." And yet, Rush Limbaugh has probably got more attention in the last six months than he has gotten in a long time. And Keith Olbermann isn't exactly lacking in the spotlight either.
ANDERSEN: No. And what -- to me, it's the last hurrah of a discredited era where people substitute shouting instead of reasoned discussion, which is -- again, it's not going to go away overnight. But I think -- and people like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olbermann, are invested in a certain kind anger.
And there is going to be a small number of Americans who flock to that and who respond to that. But a small number of Americans is very good -- a perfectly good basis for a business model if you've got a cable channel.
KURTZ: Well, that's a point that I often make on this program, which is that you get a couple of million people watching, and you're a huge success, even though it's a small amount of -- small percentage of the culture. But you're right about the juvenilization of national life.
And you mention Glenn Beck, you say "Children scream and cry and exaggerate," like Glenn Beck, but he is, at least by the standards of this cable universe and radio talk shows, a pretty successful guy. So, you say it's a discredited culture. I'm not sure I see the evidence of that. ANDERSEN: Well, one piece of evidence is that this last week, the adults -- at least insofar as they are -- run the consumer products companies that have heretofore sponsored Glenn Beck, have taken the wheel back and said, nah, this is crazy, this is extreme, we don't want our ads on his show.
So, you know, I think -- you know, I trust the market over the long run to correct. And I think Glenn has found where the market is going to correct for his over-the-top nuttiness.
KURTZ: But what you would call nuttiness, don't people like Glenn Beck and CNN's Lou Dobbs speak for a certain disaffected portion of the culture? You said that you have been critical of Dobbs, but that all of the excess on Wall Street made you viscerally understand the rage and disgust of his followers.
ANDERSEN: Absolutely. And -- but when it gets to the point of simply asserting untruths about birth certificates, or about Barack Obama being a racist, you know, I can viscerally understand the -- when my children, when they were small, crying and screaming and telling lies. That doesn't mean I have to agree with them or pretend as though they're not acting up.
KURTZ: But how good is the mainstream media culture at providing some sort of antidote or corrective to things that you might think, I might think, or people with different political views might think are untruths, exaggerations, distortions by people who have a pretty big megaphone because they've got a big television show or a big radio show?
ANDERSEN: Well, you have to do what you can do. I was watching one of your competitors -- one of CNN's competitors, MSNBC, and I saw Dr. Nancy Snyderman doing an exquisitely good job of moderating a discussion of health care. Not screaming and not saying, oh, these people are stupid or nutty, but saying, here's the facts, let's not pretend that there are anything such as "death panels" proposed under any bill in Congress.
And so all you can do is be reasonable, be fair-minded, try to tell the facts as they are, and hope that at the end of the day, the good and the true and the real drive out the bad and the false.
KURTZ: Let's end on a less-than-profound note. In writing about the "age of excess," as you call it, you have kind of a throwaway line. You say, "So long Paris Hilton." And she hasn't really been getting much attention lately, but if your point is that the sort of trivial, cultural phenomenon that probably soak up too much of our attention are maybe fading, what about "Jon & Kate"? What about "Octomom"?
I mean, it seems like there is always a couple of these going on, and they get on network news shows and they get newspaper coverage and other kinds of coverage.
ANDERSEN: Again, we're not going -- we're not becoming an aesthetic, serious, earnest, you know, only-The-Economist-reading culture overnight. I would suggest that we look at ourselves in a year or two or three and say, is this culture a little more sane, a little more serious than it was in 2007? And I'm betting you'll say yes.
KURTZ: And you have no doubt that the culture is heading in that direction despite some of the excesses of the past?
ANDERSEN: Oh, I have doubts every day. I mean, we live on doubt. You know, the people without doubt are the crazy ones.
No, of course. But do I still have hope and belief and a strong hunch that the winds of history right now are blowing in the right direction? Yes, I do.
KURTZ: Well, if you're right, you will get bragging rights. And if you're wrong, we've got the videotape.
KURTZ: Kurt Andersen, thanks very much for joining us.
ANDERSEN: My pleasure.
KURTZ: Up next, charging for news. The era of free newspaper and magazine stories online may soon be ending. Steve Brill on why his new company won't scare off millions of readers once the free ride is over.
KURTZ: The body count isn't pretty. Major newspapers in Seattle and Denver have died in recent months. Both Chicago papers are in bankruptcy, along with those in Los Angeles, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Minneapolis. And almost all the others have been laying off or buying out editors and reporters and slashing sections. "Reader's Digest" is in bankruptcy as well.
There's a growing consensus that print publications can't continue to give away their goods for free on the Internet, but are enough people willing to pay? A new company called Journalism Online has signed up hundreds of clients to help them collect money, at least small amounts of money, from some of their online customers.
Steven Brill, the lawyer, businessman and one-time media maven, is a founder of the company. I spoke to him earlier from New York.
KURTZ: Steve Brill, welcome.
STEVE BRILL, LAW/MEDIA WRITER, ENTREPRENEUR: It's good to be with you, Howie. KURTZ: As you know, newspapers, magazines have been giving it away online for years now. People are used to getting everything for free. Now they're suddenly going to open their wallets and pay?
BRILL: Well, it's not going to be so sudden. And what they're going to be asked to open their wallets to pay for is going to be the most valuable, distinctive content that various newspapers and, I should add, magazines and online news sites are now giving them.
And not all of them are going to be asked to pay. The idea is that a newspaper probably has 10 or 15 percent of its audience who are the most engaged, who come to that Web site all the time. Those are the people who will be asked to pay a small portion. And the goal, really, is to say that, you know, there is valuable journalism out there...
BRILL: ... and it needs to be treated like valuable journalism.
KURTZ: So, the other 85, 90 percent, they will be free riders? They will be able to access everything for free because the most committed customers are going to fork over some money?
BRILL: Well, it's not quite like that. Let's say that a newspaper in a given month has one million visitors. It might be that 850,000 of those people just came there casually through a Google news search, came there once or twice, but aren't particularly devoted to, let's say, "The Washington Post."
On the other hand, there might 100,000 or 150,000 of those people who absolutely, positively have to see "The Washington Post" every day. They want to read your column. They want to read the stuff about lobbying. They want to read the stuff that really makes "The Washington Post" "The Washington Post." Those people will be asked to pay something, typically getting a big discount if they already have a print subscription. KURTZ: Right. Well, I'll personally ask them to pay if they'll keep reading me.
But the great fear, I think, has been -- you know, because this has been tried before on a limited basis. "The New York Times"...
BRILL: It hasn't been tried before.
KURTZ: Well, not in the way that you're envisioning it. But the great fear is that if you start charging something, even to some people, that it is all too easy for computer surfers to go clicking off to Yahoo! or AOL or TMZ or YouTube, and that your traffic numbers will plummet.
BRILL: Well, Howard, you are way too modest. That assumes that what you write every morning, what you get up in the morning and do, is absolutely fungible with what 100 other journalists do. And it's not.
And a lot of people will pay something for that after they've sampled it, let's say, five or 10 times. Or a lot of people will pay for the coverage of the State Department.
Most significantly, lots of people will pay for coverage in their hometown, in their hometown newspaper, of the local zoning board or the high school baseball team, because there is nobody else that's covering that. And I think most Americans understand that. And in fact, most Americans have been paying for that kind of coverage all their lives.
Now we're simply saying that the form in which you now get it, which is much more convenient and much faster, that that form shouldn't be free, that everybody made a mistake a long time ago. And what we're going to do is give you the convenience across thousands of Web sites of having one password and one account so that all you have to do is click once.
Now, just briefly, who decides how much to charge? And I read the other day that there might be a scheme, for example, where people could pay money to support specific reporting projects, or reporting in a certain area rather than everything on the site.
BRILL: All of those decisions are left in the hands of the individual publisher. This is not any kind of a group action. Every publisher will decide what to charge for, how to charge, whether to allow people, for example, to have 10 samples a month before they charge, or five samples, or no samples.
BRILL: Whether they'll allow people to read the first two paragraphs of everything for free before they charge. Whether they'll only charge for their Big Ten college football coverage and make everything else free.
There will be a whole variety of decisions. What we're doing is giving them the flexibility and the ability to do that, and giving their customers the ability to do that with one account.
KURTZ: Now, your detractors might say, you know, you started "Brill's Content," the media magazine which I wrote a couple of articles for, which lasted about three years. And...
BRILL: Yes, I know. That's why it failed. If your articles had been better, Howie...
KURTZ: Well, I tried to do my part.
And you had an airport fast lane security company that after you left this year went out of business. So why should people have confidence that you're going to make this one work?
BRILL: Well, first of all, I have some very good partners this time. And Gordon Crovitz, who, as the publisher of "The Wall Street Journal," has made this work. And second, you know, I know you're limited in time, but you've listed two of the projects I've started, one of which did not work after I left, and the other which -- you know, Brill's Content was a noble effort that never gathered an advertising audience, but I'm proud to have started that. So, I think my batting average is pretty good. But this time I think the partners I have are even better.
KURTZ: In 20 seconds, what's at stake here? If this kind of effort fails, can newspapers survive without getting some revenue from the place where everybody now seems to be gravitating? And that, of course, the Internet.
BRILL: Well, there really isn't a significant news-gathering business that you or I can think of that has ever existed long term as a viable business entity, without getting too streams of revenue, advertising revenue, and some stream of revenue from the people that you're asking to read it. So, I think this is pretty important, but I also think that's why it will succeed.
KURTZ: Steve Brill, we'll be following the progress of your effort. Thanks very much for joining us. BRILL: Thanks, Howie. Great to be with you.
KURTZ: Same here.
KURTZ: After the break, the Pentagon investigating journalists? What's wrong with this picture?
And Glenn Beck beats up on a White House official without disclosing a rather crucial detail.
Our "Media Minute" straight ahead.
KURTZ: Reporting alongside U.S. forces in Afghanistan is one risky assignment. No question about it. But now the Pentagon wants to make sure that journalists are, shall we say, acceptable.
KURTZ (voice-over): The Defense Department has asked a private contractor to check out anyone who wants to become an embedded reporter. Does this have to do with their experience in war zones? Not exactly.
According to "Stars and Stripes," the Rendon Group examines each journalist's recent work and determines whether it is positive, negative or neutral. The "Stars and Stripes" says the Army recently barred one of its staffers from embedding in Iraq from reporting that many of the people in Mosul want the American soldiers to leave. A letter from the military said the reporter, Heath Druzin, was allowed to visit places where Iraqis were committed to working with U.S. forces, but "... refused to highlight any of this news." (on camera): Now, the Pentagon initially denied using theses background checks to reject journalists, but that didn't smell right. And on Friday, that explanation became inoperative.
An Army spokesman acknowledging that the reports were used to deny access to two correspondents in Afghanistan as recently as last year. The spokesman told "Stars and Stripes," "If a reporter has been focused on nothing but negative topics, you're not going to send them into a unit that's not your best. There's no win-win there for us. We're not trying to control what they report, but we are trying to put our best foot forward."
Of course, by keeping journalists off the battlefield, the military is controlling what they report.
GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS: Do yourself a favor...
(voice-over): Glenn Beck devoted some time this week to trashing a man named Van Jones, a special adviser at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
BECK (voice-over): Let's start at Yale Law School, where Van Jones showed up wearing combat boots and holding a Black Panther book bag. A major turning point came in 1993, when he was arrested during the Rodney King riots. He spent the next 10 years as full-fledged radical. Among other things, founding a group called STORM, Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement, which held study groups in the Marxist and Lenin teachings.
And why is it that such a committed revolutionary has made it so high into the Obama administration as one of his chief advisers?
KURTZ: And why is it that the Fox News host would target this relatively obscure administration official, along with that scary music? Van Jones was a co-founder of Color of Change, an advocacy group that has been promoting an advertising boycott of Beck's show over his denunciation of President Obama as a racist. Some three dozen advertisers have pulled their spots from the Beck program, a detail that Beck somehow neglected to mention.
Still to come, selective editing. Jon Stewart, Bill O'Reilly and the RELIABLE SOURCES video that was cut off at a very interesting moment.
KURTZ: We could all agree, I think, that wrenching thing outs of context isn't fair play, even in search of laughs.
On last week's program, we waded into a spat between Jon Stewart and Bill O'Reilly over "The Daily Show" mocking Fox's coverage of the protesters at this summer's town hall meetings. We did the fair and balanced thing, pointing out that the tone of Fox's coverage seems to have changed a bit from the Bush years, but that "The Daily Show" cut out some of O'Reilly's qualifying words.
Well, we're deeply honored that our segment was featured on "The O'Reilly Factor" this week, but look at how Bill's show edited it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Jon Stewart, on "The Daily Show" played some clips to that effect. And then Bill O'Reilly came back the next night with a rebuttal.
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: When we cover the town hall meetings, we don't describe the protesters as loons.
JON STEWART, "THE DAILY SHOW": Of course you don't describe the protesters as loons!
O'REILLY: The surveys show many protesters are simply loons.
To be fair, ah, once again, Jon Stewart took the "loon" clip out of context. Here's what I really said.
There are the anti-Bush protesters here in New York City. Why most of these people have been peaceful, more than 1,000 have been arrested, and surveys show many protesters are simply loons. KURTZ: So, Anne Kornblut, I mean, sure "The Daily Show" does selective editing for comedic purposes, but isn't there a serious point here about how you describe protesters depending on what the cause is?
ANNE KORNBLUT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, I guess so.
O'REILLY: You guess so, Madam? You guess so?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, just a minute. Look at what Kornblut said just seconds later about what "The Daily Show" was up to.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KORNBLUT: And certainly, I think Jon Stewart's goal in all of this is to be funny, first, and probably accurate first-ish.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Right. She did zing "The Daily Show" over that piece.
What was it again that Bill was saying about unfair editing?
And John King, as I turn things back over to you this Sunday morning, the death of Ted Kennedy has really turned into this remarkable television moment in recent days. And you'll be talking more about that this hour, right?
KING: We will be. We'll be talking more about it this hour, the future of health reform, all the tributes to Ted Kennedy, Howie. And before I let you go this Sunday, I want to say, congratulations. I bet you're not sleeping at home. A new addition.
KURTZ: A new edition. A new baby girl. Thank you very much for sharing that with the audience.
KING: All right, Howie. You have a great Sunday.