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State of the Union

Reliable Sources

Aired September 27, 2009 - 10:00   ET



HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Presidents have been fed up, even furious about their press coverage. And Spiro Agnew was fulminating about the "nattering nabobs of negativity." Now Barack Obama has joined this exclusive club.

But hold on just one second. When Obama went off on the fourth estate in his Sunday marathon last weekend, did he strike a raw nerve? Can journalists really defend what he described as the speed and superficiality of today's fragmented media culture?

Maybe, just maybe, the president has a point.


OBAMA: In this 24-hour news cycle, the easiest way to get on CNN and -- or FOX or any of the other stations, MSNBC, is to just say something rude and outrageous.

They focus on the most extreme elements on both sides. They can't get enough of conflict. It's catnip to the media right now.

OBAMA: The easiest way to get 15 minutes on the news or your 15 minutes of fame is to be rude.


KURTZ: But what exactly does Obama mean by this phrase he repeats like a mantra, "the 24-hour news cycle"? Well, it looks something like this...


ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: This is the president's most important week.

STEVE MOORE, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": I mean, when you think about it, what is health care reform all about?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A lot of people in those crowds really get excited by Sarah Palin.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: If he comes out now and says the baby is now his, because he kept saying it's not mine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've already committed 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS: ACORN's massive tax fraud, the defrauding of the United States of America, that's kind of big.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: Senator Tom Coburn's chief of staff and his theory that pornography, straight pornography, makes people gay.

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: A controversial new breast cancer prevention ad has critics saying it is exploitative. Is that true?


KURTZ: So how did it get to be this way? Is there any way to change it? And is Obama altering the rules of the game by doing everything except appearing with Tom DeLay on "Dancing With The Stars"?

Joining us now in Philadelphia, Jim Geraghty, contributing editor at "National Review." Here in Washington, Ed Henry, senior White House correspondent for CNN; Lauren Ashburn, managing editor of Gannett Broadcasting and "USA Today Live"; and Margaret Carlson, senior political columnist for Bloomberg News and Washington editor for "The Week" magazine.

Lauren Ashburn, a superficial 24-hour news cycle driven by cable conflict and the most extreme voices.

Isn't that basically true?

LAUREN ASHBURN, MANAGING EDITOR, GANNETT BROADCASTING: I think that you could make an argument for the fact that because of the 24- hour news cycle, yes, you have to put a lot of things in there. And you have to remember, on television, emotion rules, right? The people who are the loudest are the people who people pay attention to.

KURTZ: Does it have to be that way?

ASHBURN: Of course it doesn't have to be that way.

KURTZ: It's up to the producers, right?

ASHBURN: Right. But if you go to the news directors and the managing editors of papers and television stations all across the country, one of the things that they're rated on or, you know, they have to be judged on is ratings.

KURTZ: Margaret Carlson, whether it's the town hall screamers or "You lie!" or the death panels, or, I don't know, Glenn Beck calling President Obama a racist, it seems to soak up a lot of air time. And if you turn on the set it seems like everybody is mad.

MARGARET CARLSON, COLUMNIST, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Yes. And everyone is kind of saying the same thing as you go through the -- when Jon Stewart does his nightly wrap-up, you see person after person saying exactly the same thing. It's very embarrassing. I remember the old days, Howie, when at the beginning of this 24/7 news cycle, Michael Kinsley, who was the host of "CROSSFIRE," famously noted that there would be a producer in his ear saying, "Get angry." Well, now what we need is a producer in our ear -- are you listening back there, CNN -- saying, calm down, please, can't you be calm?

KURTZ: You are saying the default setting now is high decibel, high emotion for...

CARLSON: The default is to be angry. And so now we have to be reminded, could you please calm down?

KURTZ: Jim Geraghty, does it seem to you that television often lurches from one breathless controversy to another?


KURTZ: See what I mean? You've been trained too well.

GERAGHTY: It's interesting to see the president complaining about this, because we didn't have a terribly different atmosphere a couple months ago. We didn't have a terribly different atmosphere a couple years ago, when he first jumped on the campaign trail. And if you ask me, why is the health care plan not pulling the way he wants and...


KURTZ: But leave the president aside for just a minute.


KURTZ: I want your take on whether or not, particularly on television, this whole news cycle where people seem to get mad and conflict is sort of bred into what we do, whether that is what we want from today's media.

GERAGHTY: Howard, I am probably one of the most obnoxious people I know, and I'm not on you program nearly enough. So, I don't subscribe to the theory that shouting and anger are necessarily -- look, there are certain programs that specialize in that, but I don't think, you know, your program or PBS or even John King or a whole bunch of programs that are not full of shouting and anger and all that stuff.

KURTZ: Right.

Obviously, there are exceptions, and obviously there's some good reporting out there, Lauren. But can television deal with, for example, a complicated subject like health care? Does it have the attention span for a subject that just turns on a lot of complex details?

ASHBURN: I think a lot of journalists don't understand health care. So, I mean, the fact that, could you really talk about it on television and make people understand it, is difficult.

But look, we're all from reputable news organizations. We're all asked on television. And we do our best to explain complex issues. That's one of the things that we do. And so, yes, I believe that there are certain segments of the 24-hour news cycle where it does happen.

KURTZ: Ed Henry, when Obama talks about the cable chatter, the ruckus -- he's had these phrases he comes back to time and again -- how much of that is a legitimate critique of the media and how of that reflects the president's frustration?

ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Look, I can't defend Rachel Maddow's segment on pornography or Bill O'Reilly's segment of ladies in bikinis, but I will point out, look, the president is sometimes right, that cable can have a lot of anger, as Margaret was saying. But I disagree with her that that's the default setting.

Some shows have the default setting of anger, but, in fact, if you put this is context, what the president really wants is his space to sort of make his case on health care for 20 minutes, 30 minutes. He wants to talk about a complex subject like Afghanistan, and more than a sound bite.

Where does he get to do that? He gets to do that on places like CNN, because we're the ones that run his speeches in whole. The broadcast networks, the big three, may do that when he talks to Congress in a joint session, but on Friday, when he announces the revelation on Iran, CNN and other cables are going there, taking it live.

When he's doing these town hall meetings, sure, we have segments later in the day where maybe the angriest quote, the angriest sound bite is used. But during the sound bite live, CNN is the one that's running it for 45 minutes.

CARLSON: I think like cocktails, the anger comes after 5:00 on those shows, from 5:00 on. During the day there's a lot more of what Ed is describing.

KURTZ: Prime time is the time for the opinion shows, particularly on MSNBC and Fox, as you point out.

Do you get a lot of private pushback from the White House about the coverage?

HENRY: Sometimes, and I'll give you one quick story, which is, recently, I was on a health care segment, and I was on Wolf Blitzer's show. And I did a segment that was actually pointing out some new poll numbers that suggested maybe the public was turning towards the president. But when I came back to my desk in the White House, on my way back I passed Robert Gibbs' office, and Gibbs and some of his colleagues were in there, and they were kind of yelling at me, and Gibbs was calling me on the phone because he was angry about it. I went into his office. It turned out that the chyron had said on the bottom -- the graphic said something like "Desperate move by the president" to have this speech to a joint session of Congress. And I said, "But did you listen to what I was saying?" And Gibbs' said with a laugh, to his credit, "We had the sound off." So, I mean, I passed that along because...

KURTZ: They had the sound off?

HENRY: ... how could they not be listening to me, Howard? That's what I was outraged about. Listen to me.

KURTZ: This is what they based their media analysis on?

HENRY: No. But I'm saying -- and a lot of people do that. A lot of people -- I'm not just picking on Robert Gibbs. He was honest to say, "Look, I had the sound down." The graphic wasn't what he liked, but what I was actually saying was the substance of...

CARLSON: And you have no control over those anarchists.

HENRY: Well, I don't. And I'm not pointing the finger at somebody making mistakes.


KURTZ: And we don't write the headlines.

All right. Let me come back to Jim Geraghty.

You were starting to make this point earlier. I think I steered you in a different direction.

Barack Obama didn't seem to complain about the 24-hour news cycle all that much during the campaign when he was getting a heck of a lot favorable coverage, did he?

GERAGHTY: No, he didn't. And it's interesting you're saying he wants 20 minutes uninterrupted to make his case.

Well, he got more than an hour in front of Congress a couple of weeks ago. And, you know, as noted, when he does a town hall, when he does his speech, if you listen to certain -- you know, XM POTUS does every Robert Gibbs' press briefing live. I know a lot of cable networks do that live. Good to know that Gibbs thinks that yelling at Ed Henry is going to get to the results he wants on the chyron.

Look, President Obama can be on the television more often than the Geico lizard, but that doesn't necessarily mean I'd buy the car insurance. So, you know, it's not necessarily exposure. I think we start running into trouble. It has more to do with the argument.

KURTZ: Certainly, Margaret, he is part of the 24-hour news cycle, and not just through his own speeches and interviews. But administration officials are out there all of the time.

So, is there some sense here where he just kind of wants the press to roll over and not carry these opposing voices?

CARLSON: Well, imagine that, a president wants to win the argument, the first one to want to do that.

Rather than superficial, I think cable tends to make arguments equivalent. Oh, President Obama says death panels don't exist. Oh, over to you, they do exist. You say they do.

So, there's no factual, middle ground where you decide. It's just one person who says something that actually may have the facts on their side, and then the other person who may have none who comes in and says no. They want to throw grandma from the train.

HENRY: Sometimes. But, I mean, when you go back to the campaign, they were talking about these madrassas, these schools. Allegedly, there were allegations out there that the president...

KURTZ: But CNN did a good job on that.

HENRY: CNN is the network that actually went to Indonesia and said no, he did not attend a madrassa. And so, going back to the campaign, that was an example where cable can succeed. So, I think, sure, are there extremes on various sides, especially on other networks? Sure. And sometimes here as well. Their voices, you know, sound bites get played up, of course.

But I think in context, we can't say that cable always gets it wrong. That's nonsense.

KURTZ: Let me roll a little bit of tape. There's one critic taking on the argument that President Obama is just out there too much on the tube.

Let's roll that.


JON STEWART, "THE DAILY SHOW": You know what's interesting? The press bitterly complained about a lack of access to President Bush. Well, this president is now making himself available to the most influential television journalists in the country. I wonder how that change will play amongst influential television journalists.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Does the White House run the risk of Obama overload?

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: Does the president overexpose? Do they worry at all about overexposure?

EUGENE ROBINSON, "THE WASHINGTON POST": You can say maybe he's overexposed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is overexposed.


KURTZ: I got asked about that as well.

It seems like journalists are never satisfied.

ASHBURN: Well, no. I mean, I think it's true. And I don't think the president's satisfied either. It goes both ways.

He said that conflict is catnip to the media, and I would also argue that good press is catnip to the Obama administration. And what he's trying to do is change how cable works? I don't think it's going to happen.

HENRY: It might be harder than changing health care.

KURTZ: Right.

You know, we spend a lot of attention and we talked about this on last week's program, Obama going on "STATE OF THE UNION" and "Meet the Press" and "Face the Nation" and "This Week" on Univision. Then the next day he went on David Letterman. And let's just take a look at some of the questions that Dave asked.


DAVID LETTERMAN, "THE LATE SHOW": Tell me -- I want to hear about the summer you and the family had. How is the family?

What do you think it is like for them to have their father be the president?

You're at the U.N. Is it tomorrow?

And how is the economy? And the stimulus, you're satisfied at the level of degree that the stimulation has worked?


KURTZ: All right. Nobody's expecting David Letterman to be Ted Koppel, but I thought that was really slow-pitched softball.

CARLSON: "What I Did on My Summer Vacation," by Barack Obama.

Well, no one expects it, and that's not why you tune in. And that's not why President Obama goes on there. He goes on "Meet the Press" for one audience and David Letterman for all those people -- I think many, many, healthy people -- who, on a Sunday morning, aren't tuned in to "Meet the Press." And that's the audience he got.

HENRY: But this is one of the reasons why sometimes the argument's a little silly from the White House, because the fact of the matter is, this is a president who's pretty effective at all these kinds of venues, whether it's David Letterman or John King.

KURTZ: He can be funny. He can be charming.

HENRY: Right. And so he can use these various venues. So, he may take shots at the media culture, but David Letterman is part of that, Jon Stewart is part of that. It's much broader now, and he's pretty good at it.

ASHBURN: But in terms of being overexposed, he's speaking to one audience that -- you know, we're so fractured in the media right now, that people who are watching "STATE OF THE UNION" and people who are watching these other programs are not watching David Letterman. And so, in terms of overexposure, for him to hit on all of those shows must make sense to the White House.

KURTZ: Jim Geraghty, you know, Letterman can be pretty feisty. And I think he was a lot harder when John McCain was on last year during the campaign than he was with the president this week.

GERAGHTY: Yes. I was thinking back to that when I was listening to those clips. But all in all, when (ph) David Letterman is the most unfair or biased or skewed interviewer in the press is the day I'll be doing a dance. That's why I always stick to the hard-hitting tough questions you get from Jimmy Fallon.


KURTZ: So, we seem to have a consensus here that whatever the flaws and shortcomings of cable television, in particular -- and you see this in the blogosphere as well -- not going to change, this is the way it is. The president can't reform it no matter how many shows he goes on.

HENRY: Well, actually, I hope it does change in some ways. I mean, I'm not saying I'm agreeing with the White House's position or disagreeing, but I don't think that the excesses of cable or the excesses of the blogosphere should stay the same.

I think that we in the media have to get better and better. We always have to strive to be more accurate.

We do have to be concerned about the push for speed in the Internet age of getting stories wrong or out of context, et cetera, always. So, I don't think it's static. I don't think we can say, oh, it's fine, it's never going to change. We have to always get better.

CARLSON: Yes. I mean, as I said at the beginning, I think we went from the too calm to angry, be angry.

KURTZ: Right, because anger sells.

CARLSON: Anger sells.

KURTZ: Emotion.

CARLSON: And maybe we'll find, you know, nice middle ground where anger and calm coexist and it's a better realm of TV.

KURTZ: I can't say I'm terribly optimistic.

ASHBURN: Me neither. I mean, take a look at "Jon and Kate Plus 8." You know, I executive-produce cable television programs. Five years ago, had I gone into the History Channel and said I want to do a series on American presidents, they would have said sure. Now, the number one rated show on the History Channel is "Ice Road Truckers," and it's all about danger. You know, it's all about the conflict and jeopardy. And you go into these meetings, and things that get green- lit are things that have jeopardy.

HENRY: And one part is the anger, though, has to be covered, too. I mean, we can talk about -- sure, it can't be overcovered, and we shouldn't make that the whole story, but the anger at those town hall meetings obviously was part of it.

KURTZ: Absolutely. I'm not saying ignore it or minimize it. But I'm falling down on jeopardy. I have to check out "Ice Road Truckers."

When we come back, scoops and secrecy. Bob Woodward gets a hold of a bleak and blunt assessment of the Afghan war effort and delays the story after the White House and Pentagon object.

Should "The Washington Post" have published what was classified information?

And later, Joy Behar and her love of arguing, on being an O'Reilly pinhead and her leap into the primetime cable wars.


KURTZ: Bob Woodward doesn't write newspaper stories very often anymore, but when he does, they tend to have a big impact. That was the case again this week, when Woodward published a story in "The Washington Post" that immediately changed the debate about the American war effort in Afghanistan.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC: In a once-confidential report now leaked to the media via "The Washington Post," General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, says the war could be lost unless more American troops are sent in.

BOB WOODWARD, "THE WASHINGTON POST": This is a striking thing for a general to say to the secretary of defense and the commander in chief. It really takes his finger and puts him -- puts it in their eye.


KURTZ: Margaret Carlson, The Post did withhold some details, but this is classified advice from a general to the president on a very serious war situation.

Should "The Washington Post" have published it?

CARLSON: Well, once they assess what the -- what the risk is -- and, you know, we're not talking about troop movements and that kind of thing here -- to me it's a question of managing leaks. I mean, this is a leak, then there's the counter leak, and then there's the reverse leak. And assessing motives, you know?

General McChrystal thought he was losing a battle. So the report -- the Pentagon gets the report out, possibly. I mean...

KURTZ: Well, we don't know exactly why whoever leaked it chose to do so.

CARLSON: We don't know, no. But then you have the White House aspects, people in the White House, Biden people, pushing back because everybody knows where they stand. I mean, it is not so much classified informational, although it is a new assessment (ph). But whose acts -- what is it...


KURTZ: Let me go to Jim Geraghty.

Woodward, in a conversation with me, likened this report to the Pentagon Papers, and that was a problem in Vietnam in the sense that our leaders were much more pessimistic in private, LBJ on the tapes talking about how the war was unwinnable, than in their public statements.

GERAGHTY: I think you are. And I think, by the way, when we're looking over our suspects of who possibly leaked this, I think we can cross out the Biden team trying to undermine their own argument. I think when you look at -- you know, this clearly comes out and supports a particular point of view, and the, "Hey, we can do with a light footprint crowd" is unlikely to put out information that makes them look foolish and out of touch.

Look, I think I agree with the earlier assessment, that, look, this changed the debate, which made it completely worthwhile, as long as you're not going to endanger a troop, as long as, you know, some Taliban guy is not going to be able to read this and say, ah-ha, the troops are going to be right there, let's attack there. It didn't seem like it was going to be that kind of specific information in that memo.

Look, this changed everybody as saying, look, we are in dire straits over there, and there is no easy, light footprint, minimal troop way of doing this.

KURTZ: Right.

GERAGHTY: And, you know, this way it kind of prevents the administration from coming out and saying, oh, don't worry, the generals are OK with this.

KURTZ: Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon spokesman, told me that this leak really complicated what was already a difficult decision.

Lauren Ashburn, "The Washington Post," my newspaper, delayed the story for two days, during which time there was a conference call between the editor and Woodward and officials at the White House. There was a meeting at the Pentagon. The Pentagon pressed for deletions, saying that some of that information could endanger or jeopardize troops.

Does a newspaper have a choice in that situation but to hold off and hear these arguments?

ASHBURN: I think that if you look at the code of ethics for journalism, there is a principle of limitation. And that principle of limitation means that you have to weigh the negative impact of full disclosure. And so, to answer your question, I think everybody needs and does, from managing editors to news directors across the country, weigh that very seriously. And there may be a lot of people out there who don't think that that happens, but it does. KURTZ: And it should, in my view.

Another story, Ed Henry, this week that relied on leaks was a story about how President Obama had sent a private message to David Paterson, the governor of New York, suggesting that he just basically get out of the race for re-election next year. "The New York Times" published this, a great scoop, but it's all senior administration officials. Nobody's quoted by name.

Why should "The New York Times" publish this kind of story with nobody on the record?

HENRY: Well, because I think it is a case where you're not going to get someone at the White House to say on the record, yes, the president, the first African-American president, wants the first African-American governor of New York out. It's a pretty messy situation, but the bottom line is, my sense is that top people inside the White House were being pressured by New York Democrats to get the governor out. His approval rating's around 15, 20 percent. And there's a fear there that he's going to pull down the entire ticket in 2010.


HENRY: And so, again, someone on the record...

ASHBURN: It was an anonymous source here. I mean, that's really the question.

I think that you have to be really careful, and I think newsrooms are very careful, when you're spinning toward the administration; right? This was a case where nobody's going look good; right?

The Obama administration isn't going look good. Paterson isn't going look good. And you weigh that as to whether or not you go forward.

CARLSON: And the anonymous source description, sometimes in "The New York Times," they're practically a paragraph long -- didn't want to be named because he was in on a meeting that was secret, and that might offend somebody. KURTZ: And they wanted to speak candidly.


KURTZ: Right. CARLSON: And this -- I'm sure the editors here knew exactly who it was.

KURTZ: Oh sure. And it was accurate.

CARLSON: And it was all qualified, and it turned out to be accurate. KURTZ: But they let them take their shots at Governor Paterson without anybody's name attached, and I always have a little bit of a problem with that.

We have got to go.

Jim Geraghty, Margaret Carlson, Ed Henry, Lauren Ashburn, thanks for stopping by this morning.

Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, Going solo. I'll talk with The View's Joy Behar, as she gets ready to moonlight on HLN. How much will be serious and how much will be schtick?

Plus, inside information. A new book claims to have some very personal information on the Obama marriage. A juicy read, sure, but how do we know it's for real?

And the media explore two very different sides of Bill Clinton.


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

War games in Iran. The country's state-run TV says Tehran tested a multiple missile launcher for the first time and two types of short- range missiles today. The long-range missile test is expected tomorrow. The exercises come just two days after Iran revealed the existence of its second uranium enrichment facility.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates says Iran's newly revealed uranium enrichment facility is illegal and likely intended for military purposes. Speaking on STATE OF THE UNION earlier today, Secretary Gates refused to rule out a military strike, but he calls for diplomatic efforts first, including possible sanctions.

The husband of Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney has died during a mountain climbing trip in Tibet. A spokesman for the New York Democrat says 71-year-old Clifton Maloney apparently died from natural causes after summiting a mountain at 27,000 feet. Congresswoman Maloney was in New York at the time.

Those are your top stories here on STATE OF THE UNION. Now back to Howard Kurtz and RELIABLE SOURCES.

KURTZ: She's a standup comic who can also be serious, a former high school teacher who doesn't always behave herself, a liberal who enjoys tangling with conservative crusaders. Now Joy Behar, best known for her 12 years of combat with the ladies of "The View," is joining the primetime cable wars. She launches a program Tuesday on HLN, CNN's sister network, at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. What exactly does she have in mind? I spoke to her earlier from New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KURTZ: Joy Behar, welcome.

JOY BEHAR, HLN'S "THE JOY BEHAR SHOW": Hey, Howie. How are you today?

KURTZ: Doing well.

I've got to go out on a limb here. I kind of get the impression from watching you on "The View this you enjoy arguing.

BEHAR: I do. I like a good argument. But not a mean argument. During the Vietnam War, we used to have mean arguments. Now they're just kind of -- although in the last administration, some of them were nasty, too, I must say.

KURTZ: You and Elisabeth Hasselbeck sometimes go at it quite vigorously.

BEHAR: Yes, but that makes "The View" I think a much more interesting show than if we just agree with each other and preach to the choir. This way we have a little bit of a banter.

Elisabeth and I are friends, though. I like the girl very much. And we're friends off the care. We don't carry the argument off the air.

KURTZ: Do you ever -- you know, it's live television, five hours a week. Do you ever blurt anything out and say, "Oh, I wish I had that back"?

BEHAR: You mean, like, the F-word?

KURTZ: Oh, that would be among the worst.

BEHAR: No, I've never done that. Others have on the show.

KURTZ: Others have. I've noticed that. There's a lot of that going around.

BEHAR: Yes. But I have ever said anything that I regret?



KURTZ: I don't know. There was a little pregnant pause there.

BEHAR: Well, I was trying to think if I did. I mean, every once in a while, if I say something about my daughter that she doesn't like over the years, I'm not allowed to say anything about her unless I clear it with her.

KURTZ: Oh, of course. Family matters.

BEHAR: So, those are the things I would regret, or maybe I would say something about my sex life and my uncle in Queens probably had a nervous breakdown. Stuff like that.

KURTZ: All right. Well, don't hold back in this interview.

BEHAR: All right.

KURTZ: I want to play a clip from "The View." Bill O'Reilly was the guest. You and he had an interesting exchange. Let's roll that.



BEHAR: Did you ever watch the Keith Olbermann show? Keith Olbermann hates you.

O'REILLY: Everyone hates me.

BEHAR: Why does he hate you?

O'REILLY: You do. He does.

BEHAR: I dislike you. I don't hate you.

O'REILLY: You got the Kool-Aid for her? Because you're a Kool- Aid drinker, and I say that really seriously.

BEHAR: You had the Kool-Aid on George Bush for eight years, Bill.

O'REILLY: Oh, we were just as tough on him.

BEHAR: Eight years. Oh, please!


KURTZ: Bill O'Reilly called you a Kool-Aid drinker.

BEHAR: He called me a pinhead. He's called me a Kool-Aid drinker. It's OK. It's like being on Nixon's enemy's list. I think it's a badge of honor to be called a pinhead by Bill O'Reilly.

KURTZ: Now, last week on "The View," Barbara Walter rather melodramatically said -- the president of the United States has been doing all these shows, as you know -- "If you're going to do everybody, Mr. President, do us."

Do you think will come on "The View"?

BEHAR: Well, he was on "The View" before he was president.

KURTZ: During the campaign.

BEHAR: Yes. And then, I don't know if he's going to come back. He might.

He's a very busy man. I mean, he does do a lot of television, but I don't know. Unless he really wants to appeal to women, I don't see why he would come back.

KURTZ: Oh, unless he wants to appeal to women.

BEHAR: I don't' know. I mean, if he really needs us for something, which, you know, now Michelle Obama is talking about health care because women are interested in that subject very much. And it's important us to. So maybe he will come back.

KURTZ: If you could have a guest on your HLN show that debuts next week, Barack Obama or Michelle Obama, who would you pick?

BEHAR: Oh, that's so evil of you, Howie. That's like "Sophie's Choice." Come on. I guess I would like to have him because he's the president, you know? KURTZ: Sure.

BEHAR: I love Michelle.

KURTZ: I'd like to see you with her.

BEHAR: You'd like to see me with her?

KURTZ: Yes. I just think it would be an interesting conversation.

What's with all the women on TV?

BEHAR: She's been on "The View" also.

BEHAR: I remember that well.

So, now we have on the HLN lineup, you and Jane Velez-Mitchell and Nancy Grace. Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric are going to be two of the three network anchors come January.

Are women hot all of a sudden?

BEHAR: Women have always been hot, Howie, and you know it. But "hot" meaning we're running things? Maybe.

KURTZ: Getting more of a crack at the higher reaches, the higher echelon of network television?

BEHAR: Well, we keep getting closer to the glass ceiling, I guess, and eventually we'll crack it. But we're certainly on the road to it. Aren't we?

The HLN lineup has got some really audacious females over there. Some bodacious females. And think that that's going to be very appealing to the audience, to have all of us there.

I was watching Jane Velez-Mitchell last night, for instance. I said to her, "It's like anger management meets 'The Brady Bunch,'" because they have all those millions of boxes over there and everybody's yelling at each other. It's just great.

KURTZ: "Hollywood Squares." Now, I'm sure you saw the front-page story in "The New York Times" last weekend about John Edwards' unnamed associates quoted as saying that he's considering acknowledging that that baby, Rielle Hunter's baby, is actually his.


KURTZ: And his former aide, who said, oh, no, it's my baby, has a book proposal saying it's not his baby, it's Edwards' baby.

Is that big news? Should that have been a front-page story? BEHAR: Well, maybe at this point it shouldn't, because he's not running for anything anymore. So, now it's just pure tabloid and it belongs on my show.

KURTZ: So you would like to talk to John Edwards?

BEHAR: Well, I've talked to Elizabeth Edwards. And yes, John Edwards is certainly welcome to come on my show. But as far as the baby is concerned, I mean, the baby is already starting to comb his hair, so it's his baby.


KURTZ: But given the fact that first he denied having the affair, and then he went on "Nightline" and said, yes, he had the affair, but it's not his baby, would you give him a hard time? Would that be a tough interview?

BEHAR: I would give him a hard time. I would give him a hard time because he's a disappointing character, because he was one of those people who was running for office who really gave a damn about poor people, and then he does something stupid like this. And we've lost that particular advocate.

So, it's really not great. And then there's some talk about him using campaign funds to buy her a BMW, which is not that great for GM, first of all. So, there's a lot of things I have -- I have bones to pick with him.

KURTZ: There's a grand jury investigation.

Now, you were hired, in effect, to fill a vacancy that had been left by Glenn Beck when he jumped to Fox News.

BEHAR: Really?

KURTZ: And he was on the cover of "TIME" last week.

What do you think of him? He's getting all this attention lately.

BEHAR: That is scary, that I am replacing Glenn Beck. But I think he's frequently ridiculous, and doesn't make any sense, as far as I'm concerned.

But, you know, he calls himself a rodeo clown. He's a clown. He's on the cover of "TIME" magazine.

I mean, the media just plays right into his hands, and he's sort of somebody who yells "Fire!" in a crowded theater, but I believe in free speech. And as long as there are no weapons involved, he's fine. Let him talk.

KURTZ: Do you have to be a little bit crazy to be one of these outside personality talk show hosts? That's how you draw an audience, people want to know what you're going to say next? BEHAR: Well, in that sense, he's interesting television. It's interesting.

But, you know, he was an alcoholic and a drug addict at one time.

KURTZ: Which he acknowledges, yes.

BEHAR: And so, it sort of follows, yes, that he would be crazy now. Not that all alcoholics are crazy, but it's sort of -- it's interesting to me that when they give up drinking, they replace it with another addiction. And in this case it's just carrying on and acting out and talking constantly, and riling up the crowds.

And he's addicted to all of that publicity, I think. Took the place of drinking.

KURTZ: We all had to get an idea of what your new program was like, so we looked at when you sat in on a couple occasions for Larry King. Here's a clip of you and Ann Coulter that I want to play.


BEHAR: I read this study one time, don't ask me where, because I don't remember where I read it, but they said that conservative women have more orgasms than liberal women?



BEHAR: Why? Based on what? Is it because Republican women have more money and so they're more relaxed? Is that what it is? Or they can afford better vibrators? Why?

COULTER: It's because they take it more seriously.


KURTZ: So, should we be looking for more discussions of orgasms on television?

BEHAR: Maybe. She was almost speechless. Did you realize that? I almost made Ann Coulter speechless for one second.

I'm hoping that she will come on my new HLN show.

KURTZ: She's invited?

BEHAR: I'm inviting her right now, and I always invite her to come on any of my shows.

KURTZ: You agree on nothing, I'm sure.

BEHAR: Yes, but it doesn't matter, I like her anyway. She's interesting.

KURTZ: I've got about half a minute.

You're already on five days a week. You get a lot of attention obviously for "The View." Why does Joy Behar need another television show?

BEHAR: I don't know. You know, you have to ask my mother why I just like to talk constantly and why I always got in trouble at school. And yack, yack, yack, yack, yack, yack.

I mean, that's it. That's the answer, Howie.

KURTZ: But your show is going to be more than just laughs. Obviously, you're going to be dealing with some serious topics. Beyond orgasms, I mean.

BEHAR: I'm a fairly serious person. You've spoken to me before.

KURTZ: I have.

BEHAR: And you can see that I am not just a clown, a rodeo clown. I have feelings and thoughts.

KURTZ: And I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot more about those feelings and thoughts.

Joy Behar, thanks very much for joining us.

BEHAR: Thanks, Howie.


KURTZ: Up next, digging for dirt. A new book dishes intimate details on Barack and Michelle's life together. But how did an outsider get so much inside info on the Obamas? We'll ask the author next.


KURTZ: Christopher Andersen claims to know a great deal about the Obamas' marriage. In fact, though, he's never talked to Barack or Michelle and had no connection to Illinois politics, he's just published a book on the subject filled with direct quotes. And that, given the subject matter, has drawn a whole lot of media attention.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: Let me ask you, what did you learn that's different between the Clinton marriage and the Obama marriage? KIRAN CHETRY, CNN: You write, "Michelle delivered an ultimatum to her husband -- if Barack couldn't find a way to pursue his political dreams and at the same time make more time for his family, then he would have to choose between the two."

Explain those years and how this impacted the couple.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: I think that was a fair assessment. I've got to be honest, I enjoyed the book. I really did. I thought it was a fascinating portrayal. I learned a lot.


KURTZ: And joining me now from New York is Christopher Andersen. The book is called "Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage."

When you're asked about reporting on conversations between Barack Obama and Michelle Obama when they're alone in a room, you've said, well, they told this to other people. But you put quotation marks around this, and you don't know exactly what was said. You're getting it secondhand, at best, right?

CHRISTOPHER ANDERSEN, AUTHOR, "BARACK AND MICHELLE": Well, I have to say, first of all, you characterized this as a book that's digging for dirt, and boy do I take issue with that. The "USA Today" article on my book called it a glowing portrait of a rock-solid marriage, and that's what it is. So I want to get that cleared up.

KURTZ: Well, it's not entirely wrong. We'll come back to that, but answer my question about the direct quotations.

ANDERSEN: Well, it's pretty damn positive. Well, the direct quotation comes from them. You've got to remember, these are people who have not been in the public eye for more than a few years.

KURTZ: Right.

ANDERSEN: And they talked to their friends in Chicago, and those friends talked to me, and many of them on the record. And they said this is what happened.

That incident that you're describing in the beginning of the book, where they woke up in the middle of the night to the screams of Sasha down the hall, rushed her to the hospital, spent 72 hours with her there, and found out that she had spinal meningitis, this is stuff that both Barack Obama and Michelle have talked openly about.

So, when I use an exciting narrative to describe the really horrendous situation they were in and how they came through it, I think that's perfectly legitimate. Remember, this is my 29th book.

KURTZ: Right. But even to the point of putting quotation marks around a conversation that was repeated to you by someone who was not part of the conversation, which I, as an author, would not do.

ANDERSEN: Rock solid. I mean, this is not a textbook.

This is the biography of a marriage, and I think it's perfectly legitimate. I've been doing this for 40 years, "TIME" magazine for many years. And this is my fourth book on presidential marriages.

KURTZ: Right.

ANDERSEN: No one has ever disputed a single important fact of any book I've ever written. And this general notion that you can't make a book exciting and interesting and at the same time accurate...

KURTZ: Well, of course you can make it exciting.

ANDERSEN: I mean, you know...

KURTZ: All right. Let's go through some of the details in the book...

ANDERSEN: ... it's my style.

KURTZ: ... and we'll get your response.


KURTZ: Reverend Jeremiah Wright, big controversy during the campaign. The Obamas claimed they were not in church during his most extreme and fiery sermons, "God damn America" and all that.

Seventy-seven investigative reporters tried to prove otherwise. Nobody could prove it. You say that the Obamas were, in fact, in church when Wright said some of these things. What's your proof?

ANDERSEN: Absolutely. He said them practically every time he gave a speech.

You know, Reverend Wright -- and many journalists have said this who are part of the Chicago scene -- said that he gave Chicago's African-American elite their weekly dose of militancy. So, of course, he said he was there when he said these things. I also...

KURTZ: You only cite unnamed churchgoers. You don't have a date.

ANDERSEN: Well, they're there. And I'll tell you one thing. The important thing about the book is that -- in terms of Jeremiah Wright -- is that I point out that they were indeed not there when Jeremiah made those famous statements that were videotaped and that got them in trouble. They were taking care of Sasha because she was still recovering from meningitis.

KURTZ: All right.

Let's talk about Bill Ayers, the one-time terrorist.

You say that when Barack was writing his first memoir, that he sought advice from Ayers, ,who was an acquaintance in Chicago.


KURTZ: And that he submitted the manuscript thanks to the help from the veteran writer Ayers.

How do you know that?

ANDERSEN: There's several people on the record who say that in the book. And I might add, CNN, in its own investigative report on the connection between Ayers and Barack Obama that was done for Andersen Cooper's show, said that indeed there was a closer relationship than the campaign said there was at the time.

KURTZ: But I'm not asking about how close the relationship was. I'm asking about the notion that Ayers actually helped Obama with his book.

ANDERSEN: Neither one of them denied it. In fact, there are definitely named sources in the book that point out the fact that there was a group of writers in Hyde Park, Chicago at the time, who had an input on each other's writing.

I definitely do not say he wrote Barack Obama's book. Again, I'm pointing out the accurate picture, which is that they knew each other. He helped a little bit, gave his opinions. That's all I'm saying. And, in fact, he did not write Barack Obama's book. So, again, you talk about the spin, and I don't like the fact that...

KURTZ: I didn't say that you said he wrote it. I quoted from the book.

ANDERSEN: Well, I know, but you're hinting.

KURTZ: I'm not hinting, I'm not suggesting, I'm not implying.

Tony Rezko, the convicted Chicago businessman who was a fund- raiser of Barack Obama and a friend, the Obamas bought a strip of land adjacent to a Rezko property, you say for $25,000. Actually, it was $104,000. But here's the thing. There was there a phone call between Barack and Michelle that you quote again verbatim concerning Rezko about whether they would buy the house near Rezko's house, and you had Barack Obama saying, "Tony really thinks it would be great for us." And Michelle says, "I'm in."

Again, how do you know that?

ANDERSEN: This is from the sources close to them. They're named in the book.

I have Newton (ph), a number of people who were with them at the time. They related what happened. And I'll tell you one thing, Barack Obama has said repeatedly it was a bonehead move on his part.

KURTZ: Yes, he did.

ANDERSEN: And he apologized for it. So, once again, it's just merely clearing up the details of a controversial situation.

KURTZ: As you mentioned, you've written a number of other books. You've written about a lot of celebrities.


KURTZ: For example, you wrote that Robert Kennedy had an affair with Jacqueline Kennedy.

ANDERSEN: Years ago.

KURTZ: You wrote that Hillary Clinton and Vince Foster had an affair. Obviously, in both cases there was at least one dead person who couldn't respond to that.

How is it that you make these allegations that no one else seems able to find?

ANDERSEN: I never said it. I never said they had an affair.

I gave the opinions of people who were close to them and the situation. And we're not talking about Hillary Clinton, and that's the point about this book.

We should rejoice that we do not have Bill and Hillary's personal life in the White House. We have a marriage that's admirable, that is a tremendous example I think for the country, and won't distract us from the important things that we have to address in the White House. And I think, you know, that is the point of this book. And Barack and Michelle Obama, in contrast to those other couples, have made the wise decision to be open about the tough times they've had in their marriage.

KURTZ: Yes. Barack Obama writes about it in his book.


KURTZ: And I will say this -- a lot of news of news reports picked up from your book said that Michelle had vetoed Hillary Clinton as a V.P. choice. But you didn't write that. You said that she had some input, that she sided with those who didn't think that Hillary should -- so, sometimes the reporting on this kind of adds or embellishes a bit.

But let me ask you this. I asked the White House for comment. White House officials do not want to comment on your book.

When you were on CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING," it was reported by the anchor that the White House had pulled a scheduled appearance by a senior administration official. So, if the book is as positive as you say, why does the White House seem to so strongly dislike it?

ANDERSEN: Well, let's not dance about this. They pulled David Axelrod, and the reason they did it was because the book came out that day, and they really hadn't had a chance to pore over it.

I'm sort of the stealth author. I will confess that.

I fly below the radar, and that's why I get friends to talk before the White House or anyone can get them to clamp down. I think they'll be very pleased once they take the time to sit down and read the book to see that it's really a very, very positive book.

KURTZ: Well, look, White House officials have since read the book and they are not pleased. Is that because you report on things like Rezko and Jeremiah Wright, that they're simply not happy about?

ANDERSEN: Well, you know, no. I mean, that's a minor part of the book.

I think that that this book was not written for the White House. It was written about this marriage, which, again, I think is a tremendous, rock-solid union. And it's a partnership in a way that past presidential marriages really haven't been.

KURTZ: All right. Well, I know you spent a lot of time. And we appreciate you spending some time with us.

Christopher Andersen, thanks very much for joining us.

ANDERSEN: Thanks, Howard. Thanks for letting me clear it all up.

KURTZ: After the break, back to the future.


MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: And I want to say, first of all, congratulations on what you've accomplished over the last several years.


KURTZ: Bill Clinton now styles himself a global statesman, but are some old tapes taking the press back to the days of sex, lies and impeachment?


KURTZ: One of the more remarkable things about covering Bill Clinton was what I call his split screen presidency. And this week, as he reveled in the role of global statesman, it seemed to make a comeback.


KURTZ (voice-over): Clinton campaigned on the economy, stupid. But the press was more fixated on Gennifer Flowers. He would be meeting with foreign leaders and reporters would ask about Paula Jones. He gave a State of the Union speech about domestic issues days after "The Washington Post" broke the Monica Lewinsky story.

Now the former president is making the rounds to talk up the Clinton Global Initiative, all very high-minded stuff.

LAUER: Can you have the impact you've had in past years?

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think so. It's very interesting. We have as many paying members. We have 30 more commitments this year going into the meeting than we had last year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you look back at the work the initiative has done over the years, what's the one thing you're most proud of?

CLINTON: It is that we have involved so many people at every income level, from all walks of life, on every continent, in this work, and believing that citizens can change the world.

KURTZ: But along comes Clinton's old pal, historian Taylor Branch, with a new book based on many hours of taped interviews during his White House years. When that hit the Internet, we heard what Clinton had to say about why he risked his presidency by carrying on with Lewinsky. "I think I just cracked."

After Al Gore lost to George W. Bush, Clinton told his vice president he should have used him more in the campaign. Gore said Clinton had never confided in him about Lewinsky. Clinton said he was sorry. Gore said this was the first time Clinton had ever apologized to him personally. That angered Clinton, who said Hillary had a greater right to be mad at him than the vice president.

On television, though, Clinton kept getting asked about international affairs, not sexual ones.

LARRY KING, CNN: Are we ever going to get something concrete in the Middle East?

CLINTON: Well, I -- first, it's more up to them than it is up to President Obama.

KURTZ: The Branch book, meanwhile, describes Clinton's animosity toward his media critics. He said that columnist Maureen Dowd "must live in mortal fear that there's somebody in the world living a healthy and productive life." And he told Gore that if it would get him votes, he could cut off Clinton's ear and mail it to Newsweek's Mike Isikoff, who was investigating the president's womanizing.

But that was then, and none of it seemed to intrude on the fifth annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative.

CLINTON: I'm happy to report that we have more attending this meeting than ever before.


KURTZ: For eight long years, Bill Clinton was the target of fierce journalistic scrutiny of his policies, his fund-raising, his marriage and, of course, his sex life. Despite the media's predictions, he's pretty much stayed out of trouble as the secretary of state's husband, but now his own voice on those old tapes is leading reporters back to the darker side of the Clinton years.

And Bill Clinton on "Meet the Press" this morning, talking about the vast right-wing conspiracy. He still thinks there is one against Democratic presidents. That, of course, a phrase that Hillary Clinton used -- that Hillary Clinton used during the Lewinsky scandal.

Still to come, Facebook feedback, what some of you think, at least, about President Obama's charge that the media are catering to the rudest and crudest voices.


KURTZ: Enough about what the pundits think. On our Facebook page, we asked our viewers this question: Is President Obama right when he says the 24-hour news cycle makes it difficult to have a substantive debate on the issues and that television plays up the loudest and rudest voices, or is he trying to blame his problems on the media?

Here's when some of you had to say.

David Poller: "He has a point. Looking at summer coverage of town hall meetings, you'd think that gun-toting and shouting were the norm. I saw much more heat than light on TV news."

Mark Galindo: "In the 24-hour news cycle, substantive debate and high ratings are mutually exclusive concepts. You want substance? Remove the news divisions from under the entertainment divisions and make them lost leaders again."

Ron Brown: "The cable political shows cater to the loud and the rude, the smarmy and the pretentious. He's simply stating a fact, as far as I can tell. Shows like yours, Howard, are in the minority."

I thank you for that.

Mars Hill: "He should blame the people. It's our fault if we the people just turned off all of the silly news programs and listened only to serious news. Then things would change."

And Clay Gilchrist: "Blaming the media never works, especially coming from someone who is a very eloquent speaker and who has benefited from more positive media coverage in his first eight months in office than anyone before him."

You can follow us on Facebook and you can follow me on Twitter.

And John King, as I turn things back over to you this Sunday morning, Afghanistan is on the cover of the new edition of "Newsweek," two front-page stories in "The Washington Post" this morning, one in "The New York Times," a prime topic of your interview with Robert Gates.

Why did it take the prospect of sending more troops to really finally put this subject on the media's front burner again? KING: It's a great question, Howie. Often, the forgotten war, it was called, during the final years of the Bush administration, when all of us, both politically and militarily, were focused on Iraq, well, whether we are to blame for not focusing more on it in the past, you can be certain it is front and center now and will be for some time to come.

KURTZ: And I'm very glad to see the media now fully engaged in a full debate about this very important war.

All right, John King, take it away.

KING: Howie, have a great Sunday.