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State of the Union
Aired December 13, 2009 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KURTZ: Morning television is a very special beast; those who come into your home at the breakfast hour have to be able to toggle between hard and soft news, between foreign leaders and film stars, between cooking up political stories and cooking with celebrity chefs. And frankly, the first name that comes to mind for that sort of morning duty is not George Stephanopoulos, the rather serious-minded Washington analyst. But tomorrow the former Clinton aide will be in New York sitting alongside Robin Roberts on "Good Morning America." ABC picked Stephanopoulos over the program's news anchor, Chris Cuomo.
So, with Diane Sawyer bidding farewell to the program Friday before heading off to anchor "World News," the new kid on the morning block joined her for the passing of the torch and confessed to a bit of nervousness.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: I would love to know what you're thinking as you wander in to the building...
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Well, no, honestly, I mean, we'll do a full suck-up here. I am scared to death to follow you in this job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, does ABC's move make sense even though Stephanopoulos will soon surrender some prime political turf, his Sunday morning show, this week?
Joining us now in New York, Steve Friedman, veteran morning show producer who has run NBC's "Today Show" and CBS' "Early Show." In Boston, Emily Rooney, the host and executive editor of WBGH's "Beat the Press." And here in Washington, David Zurawik, television and media critic for "The Baltimore Sun" who writes the blog "Z on TV."
All right, Z, the rap on George Stephanopoulos is that he's this intense political creature who now has to make himself all warm and fuzzy for morning TV.
Can he do it?
ZURAWIK: I don't think he has to make himself all warm and fuzzy. I think he has to get a little warmer and fuzzier than he is right now.
You know, you can see it in the statements from ABC news president David Westin and from George himself, George saying, I have to sort of learn to go with the flow. But the interesting thing from Westin is he said he wants a little newser morning show, and I think he's trying to distinguish himself from "Today," the perennial leader here, which is a lot of Kate Gosselin, a lot of reality shows, a lot of the softer stuff.
I don't think he has to get that soft, but it is a challenge. It's an absolute challenge, and it's no slam-dunk, him succeeding at this.
KURTZ: We'll come back to that format question. I think morning television is perhaps one of the hardest jobs in television.
Emily Rooney, Stephanopoulos told me that he's more prepared to open up more about himself and his family. He's married, of course, to actress Ali Wentworth. But it almost sounds like it's work for him to do that.
ROONEY: Well, there's no question they're looking for a more family-friendly, people with more -- people with young kids, and I think that's one of the reasons they chose George. But to the point that David was making, I mean, they've got to have a dramatic format change.
There could not be a bigger difference between last week's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" and what was going on last week at "Good Morning America" with the sappy, saccharine farewells to Diane. I mean, last week, George was interviewing Secretary of Defense Gates and Hillary Clinton. You know, he's going to be talking to people who had their faces ripped off by chimpanzees. Those are the kinds of interviews that the morning shows go for.
KURTZ: Well, they do also interview cabinet members and presidential candidates.
Steve Friedman, Stephanopoulos also told me this was a difficult decision for him because he did not want to leave Washington. His family likes it there. Does it make sense for ABC to take him off the program this week that was closing the gap with "Meet the Press" and even beating "Meet the Press" on occasion, and to sit him down at 7:00 in the morning next to Robin Roberts?
FRIEDMAN: Of course it does. And I'm sure Emily wants to party like it's 1962.
But let's face it, morning television is the money engine that drives the networks. And if you want to be a big star at the networks, you have got to do morning TV.
Doing morning TV didn't hurt Charlie Gibson. It didn't hurt Diane Sawyer. It didn't hurt Tom Brokaw. I worked a lot with Tom Brokaw, and he was a serious guy, but he did the morning shows great.
It didn't hurt Bryant Gumbel, it didn't hurt Katie Couric. It didn't even hurt John Chancellor, who said he hated it.
So, I think ghettoizing morning television as cooking and fluff is a big mistake. In fact, I think there's more news on morning television than there is in the evening news.
KURTZ: Emily, you want to respond to that?
ROONEY: There's a little news on. It's usually between 7:00 and 7:30. After that, there is absolutely no news on, just a couple of sections that are read by the news reader. But there's no news.
I'm talking about the interviews. They're not doing serious, hard-core interviews the way George Stephanopoulos does on "This Week." Name me one. They just aren't there.
There's no a appearances by anybody in the cabinet or anybody who is a serious newsmaker on the morning news shows. It's just not there.
FRIEDMAN: I just don't believe that. I mean, I think senators come on, cabinet ministers come on. People come on from overseas, administration officials come on.
I mean, you know, who is more important in Washington today, David Axelrod or some senator from the 48 states? Come on. Morning television is very...
ROONEY: They maybe talk to Axelrod about his child having epilepsy, but they're not talking about serious issues.
ZURAWIK: No, that's not true. You know, Emily, when there's something like Katrina -- and these anchors travel a lot, and they cover major stories, and they do a very good job of it. I really think I have to agree -- you're demeaning people like Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer, who did excellent work in those jobs and are very serious people, and are just as smart and just as politically savvy as George is.
I really do. I think if you watch those morning shows even casually, you'll see some fine news programming.
KURTZ: But David, when there's no hurricane or war or calamity or bridge collapsing -- I watch them all. At 7:30, often, there is what I call the tabloid story of the morning. They'll do the Amanda Knox murder trial or something like that, and you see that on "The Early Show," you see it on "Today," you see it on "GMA."
So, isn't it hard for a morning show to break out of that formula?
ZURAWIK: They're not goings to break out of that formula. He's going to have to bent (ph) it.
They can go a little bit in the other direction, I think, because "The Today Show" owns Matt Lauer going to Sarah Palin and saying how much he loves her moose burgers. But he is interviewing Sarah Palin. You know?
They can't compete with that. They own that territory. But they can do a hybrid of that.
You know, Diane Sawyer never really got silly in that job. People say he's going to be wearing a Halloween costume and cooking and interviewing Kate Gosselin. I don't think you have to get that silly. I really don't.
KURTZ: But Emily, isn't the reason that there is a lot of cooking and fashion and parenting advice in that second hour that you referred to, the 8:00 a.m. hour, because a lot of women are in the audience at that hour?
ROONEY: I don't know. I think there have got to be just as many getting up and going to work in the morning or tuning those things on.
I mean, listen, there's got to be a reason why more people watch "The Today Show." I don't know if they do more serious things. It seems to me that there isn't as much clowning around. You say you never saw Diane being silly. How about last week, just for example, trying to be the weather person? Because she used to be a weather person when she first got started.
ZURAWIK: Oh, come on. This was farewell.
ROONEY: It was embarrassing.
ZURAWIK: Look at Katie Couric's farewell week. It was...
KURTZ: Or farewell month.
ZURAWIK: Well, farewell month. And Howie, that's where I came to really respect these shows.
The people were in Rockefeller Plaza. I thought the pope was dying the way they were out there wailing away. That bond is a very deep bond, and there's a reason that these shows lead -- carry the other news programs in terms of earnings.
FRIEDMAN: You know, Howie, George Stephanopoulos is now ready to take charge as the voice and face of ABC News. He's 48. She's 63.
He succeeds in morning television, his career path is made. He will do the evening news and will become the voice and face of ABC News. Had he turned this job down, I don't think that would have happened.
KURTZ: You don't think he could have become the evening news anchor even doing a great job as the chief Washington correspondent and all that? FRIEDMAN: When has that happened? When has somebody from the Sunday show gone on to anchor the evening news in a direct step?
KURTZ: So let me follow up.
ROONEY: Why not? I think they could have done that.
KURTZ: Let me follow up with you, Steve...
FRIEDMAN: But it hasn't happened, Emily.
KURTZ: What if he is not a smashing success or the ratings go down on "Good Morning America?" Will that hurt Stephanopoulos' career?
FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, I'm not here -- you know, look, Diane Sawyer did "Good Morning America" for 11 years almost. She didn't win a year, she didn't win a month, she didn't win a week, she didn't win a day, but yet she's promoted.
All you have to do on those shows is hold your own. And George certainly is good enough to hold his own.
Plus, he comes in at a time where he's not expected to win. Diane Sawyer didn't win. And he can't fall into third because CBS seems to have a lock on that. So I think George is in a very good position to evolve and grow as the host of "GMA."
ZURAWIK: I think Steve is absolutely right. You step up and you help -- the best person for that job is what they needed because it's the most lucrative newscast. Take that job, do a decent job, and you get the evening news anchor position.
KURTZ: It was at the end of 1998, when "GMA" was plummeting in the ratings, that both Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer agreed to a temporary assignment at "Good Morning America." They both stayed quite a long time, and each of them later became the evening news anchor. So I guess that helps your point, Steve.
Let me get a break here. When we come back, Diane Sawyer getting off that morning shift is one week away from becoming America's next evening news anchor. Has she got the right stuff?
And later, the tabloid trials of Tiger, the mistresses and the media.
KURTZ: Diane Sawyer, as you know, is changing jobs at ABC, moving from the morning shift to the evening. But after nearly 11 years, she got an emotional sendoff from "Good Morning America" on Friday, which aired plenty of highlights from the big interviews to, shall we say, the lighter side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DIANE SAWYER, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA": We wanted you to know that this is going to be my last week after 10 years here at "Good Morning America."
You see that glazed look in my eyes. I'm trying to figure out which camera you go to next. How on earth do you ever get comfortable and relaxed and calm?
Do you still expect to get health care by the end of the year?
SAWYER: Has the U.S. failed in Afghanistan?
HAMID KARZAI, AFGHAN PRESIDENT: Not at all.
SAWYER: Did you murder your wife?
SCOTT PETERSON, ACCUSED OF MURDERING HIS WIFE: No. No.
CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS: She certainly is. She's one of my great heroes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And Emily Rooney, I don't know if you could see that video of the chimpanzee on Diane Sawyer's head, going back to the point you were making earlier, but you worked with Diane Sawyer when you were the executive producer of ABC's "World News' back in the '90s and she would fill in for Peter Jennings. But it's a big transition from being an occasional sub to being "the" anchor.
ROONEY: I think she'll be great. Diane, whenever she substituted -- she was the primary substitute for Peter Jennings in the '90s -- very, very energized, has a lot of ideas, is a big pushback kind of person. She'll be a great leader, I think...
KURTZ: What do you mean a big pushback kind of person?
ROONEY: ... and I think people will like her.
KURTZ: What do you mean a big pushback kind of person?
ROONEY: You know, if she thought it was the wrong lead or she thought there was a better way to go, I mean, she has big energy, a lot of -- just brings a lot of presence to broadcasts. And I just was going to say she was always very popular when she came into the newsroom. And, you know, not every anchor -- Peter Jennings was a big pushback guy, too. Just anything that he thought was the way to go, that's the way it went. And I think Diane will be that way, too. Very engaged with the group who produces the show.
KURTZ: Right. Anchors tend to be the 800-pound gorillas of network news.
David Zurawik, Charlie Gibson has really established himself in that chair in the last three years. Do you think some of his fans may not be comfortable with Diane Sawyer?
ZURAWIK: I don't think so. I don't think so.
I think they're both really strong, politically-grounded anchors. I think that's important.
I think anybody who likes Charlie Gibson is going to be OK with Diane Sawyer. You know, she is -- I think Emily touched on this a little bit. Diane Sawyer, to me, has an incredible drive, almost a passion that really comes through. I think it's going to make her an outstanding anchor.
Now, Dan Rather had it, too, but I think it got out of control as he aged. You know what I'm saying? And you couldn't bring him in. As long as she brings that under control -- and I think she's much more collegial and listens to people and all of that -- I think she's going to be an outstanding anchor because of that passion and drive.
KURTZ: Right. When they showed the highlights on "GMA" on Friday, you saw that she had circled the globe several times, and doing stories from countries I never heard of.
Steve Friedman, it was three years ago the media were going absolutely haywire over Katie Couric being picked as the first solo female anchor of a network, the evening news broadcast. Now it seems to be, in the case of Diane Sawyer, a nonissue.
FRIEDMAN: Well, I think it is a nonissue. I think that ABC decided to be the anti-Couric. They almost snuck up on all of this, they almost wanted no great publicity campaign, figuring that the expectations were too high.
KURTZ: Is that a snob move?
FRIEDMAN: Yes. But I also think that Diane Sawyer is in good position in the evening news.
Charlie Gibson is a strong established number two in the time period. And that's what she comes in, in. She doesn't have any danger, I don't think, of falling into third. And it will be a hard pull to get into first. So, she, too, can establish herself and the program as time evolves.
KURTZ: So you don't agree that anything that she did -- and the same question was raised about Katie, that anything that she did on the lighter side, shall we say, of her decade in morning news in any way hurts her or presents an image problem coming in as the evening news anchor?
FRIEDMAN: I go back to Charlie Gibson, Tom Brokaw, Bryant Gumbel, and the list goes on -- John Chancellor. John Chancellor hated "The Today Show" when he did it. And yet, he did a very nice job when he did the nightly news.
This is a stepping stone to further greatness at the network. You know, the interesting thing is, morning television is the money engine that drives network news. The question is, will the face of the network news always be the one who does the evening news as they get less and less powerful within the corporation? I think that's an interesting idea to look at.
KURTZ: Well, maybe this whole thing about morning versus evening and lighter versus harder, Emily Rooney, is something that journalists and media critics care about, but the audience isn't terribly bothered by it.
ROONEY: I think they do. And I think it does -- I'm going to disagree a little about Charlie Gibson.
I think he brought a kind of avuncular approach to "World News Tonight," but I never thought he had a really serious gravitas that he brought to "World News Tonight," and maybe that was just because of who he is, maybe that was just his personality. The same thing with Katie Couric, by the way.
She has definitely transformed herself in the last year and a half. But that story was more about Katie Couric than it was about a woman being the first on a network newscast.
The stories, the ramp-up to that was really about her and her personality, and could she make that transformation, because she had never done anything differently. Diane has done it for years. She was the anchor of "Primetime Live." She had filled in for Peter Jennings. She's a known quantity on the evening news.
KURTZ: OK. Let me get to one other television development this week, and that was John Stossel's debut on the Fox Business Network. Stossel, of course, the Libertarian journalist who spent a quarter century at ABC.
His first show this week talked about global warming. He is quite skeptical, shall we say.
Here is part of that program.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN STOSSEL, FOX BUSINESS NETWORK: I wish that Al Gore were here to debate him and me. The truth is you won't debate anyone. You've been asked lots of times, but you always say no.
But if you do ever want to debate, we'd love to offer you the air time. We will give it to you. I'll give you a special phone number that goes to this phone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: David Zurawik, does this continue a trend of partisan people going to partisan networks and putting them on partisan shows.
ZURAWIK: You know, I interviewed Stossel and I liked him. He was very frank about this, and he says he's doing a Libertarian show. I think it's fine, especially for the Fox Business Network.
You know, it's fascinating. When I asked him if he felt more comfortable being over at Fox and if other people shared his view, he positioned himself as saying that Bill O'Reilly had too many "big government parts" for him. And I thought, man, this guy is hard core if Bill O'Reilly is too government.
KURTZ: My only problem with that first program is that he basically had one guest for three-quarters of the show, a guy from the Libertarian Cato Institute who is also very skeptical of global warming. And so, except from the studio audience, you didn't hear a lot of contrary voices.
Emily Rooney, Steve Friedman, thanks very much for joining us.
KURTZ: Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, the Tiger trap. As a parade of women line up to tell tales about the country's top golfer, one of them on "The Today Show." Is there any limit to the media's appetite for this tawdry tale?
Plus, prize fight. Some conservative pundits were up in arms when Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. How did they react when the president's speech was a passionate defense of war?
KURTZ: It began as a minor car crash, turned into a tabloid story,, then a sports story, a sociological story, a sex scandal story, a business story, a story that everyone in journalism had to jump on and dissect in all its magnificent messiness. The Tiger Woods tale is no longer just about a fallen icon. It's about multiple mistresses, embarrassing text messages, a collapsing marriage, nervous corporate sponsors, and racial arguments, all of which have combined to force a supremely talented athlete to leave his sport, at least for now.
Are the media now on the 17th hole of this story? It sure doesn't look that way.
ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: The soap opera continues for Tiger Woods and his family. The story is ending up like an episode on "The Bold and the Beautiful." COURTNEY HAZLETT, NBC NEWS: Now to the drama unfolding around Tiger Woods and the developing news overnight that a woman was taken from his Florida home by ambulance.
PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS: The Tiger Woods saga just keeps deepening with this frantic 911 call, a tabloid list of reported lovers.
NANCY GRACE, CNN HEADLINE NEWS: Gatorade drops the Tiger Woods drink. And his primetime TV ads dry up as Woods' alleged mistresses hit double digits.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Should he lose endorsements?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure.
HANNITY: He should?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I mean, I don't know whether losing all of them.
HANNITY: Do you think he will?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe some.
GIBSON: Late word this evening that Tiger Woods is taking an indefinite break from golf.
KURTZ: So, are the media behaving as badly as Tiger did? And did they drive him to the sidelines?
Joining us now in Minneapolis, Gregg Doyel, national columnist for CBSSportsline.com. And here in Washington, Christine Brennan, sports columnist for "USA Today" and a featured contributor on ESPN. And in New York, Lola Ogunnaike, a pop culture commentator who has reported for CNN and "The New York Times."
Christine Brennan, Tiger announcing Friday night he's taking an indefinite leave, like we weren't going to notice because he did it on a Friday night.
How much did this relentless coverage, the media just going crazy over this story, how big a role was that in forcing him off the golf course?
BRENNAN: Oh, it meant everything. If there was no coverage of this, Howie, Tiger would be moving along and living his life.
I think it's important to keep in mind that Tiger, of course, has used the media beautifully, manipulated it over the years.
KURTZ: Until now.
BRENNAN: And putting the family pictures on the Web site. His wife has the children when he wins the golf tournament coming out on the green with him and celebrating. So, Tiger wanted to have his private life, parts of it, be public when it could help sell products.
I'm not saying that this means he deserved the tabloids. But clearly, the engine that drove Tiger to millions and millions of dollars, the media is obviously now what has turned on him.
KURTZ: And then he totally clams up except for a couple of statements, although he did finally use the word "infidelity" in that Friday statement.
Gregg Doyel, are you willing to admit right now on national television that you are interested in every one of Tiger's 11 mistresses?
DOYEL: Is it up to 11 now? I thought it was eight or nine. I can't keep track of it.
DOYEL: If Vegas tells me the over-under on this thing eventually will be 48, I'm not sure which side of that I'm going to go, but, yes, I'm interested. Tiger Woods has been behind the scenes in private and plastic his whole life, and all of a sudden, now he's more real than anybody I've ever seen? Yes, I'm interested.
I'm going to steal a line from The Weather Girls, "It's Raining Men." Well, with Tiger it's raining women. And I'm going to go outside and get absolutely soaking wet.
KURTZ: All right.
Lola Ogunnaike, you know, we've seen a lot of pictures of these various women. Every single one of them seems to have a lot of bikini shots, there are the porn stars. And these text messages that have been reported from Tiger saying things like, "I will wear you out" and "Send me something naughty."
Are the media getting too tawdry here, or is this a perfectly legitimate part of the story?
OGUNNAIKE: Well, you know, the text message is the new lipstick on the collar. And you know the media loves a good pull quote, and there's no better pull quote than a racy text, Howie. And this is the ultimate pull quote.
So, of course they can't avoid it. I mean, it sells copy. They make for great headlines. The media can't ignore it.
KURTZ: But should they -- you're saying that it's an irresistible urge. OGUNNAIKE: It is an irresistible urge. But what I was going to say next is that I think Tiger is manipulating the media once again. I think he's setting himself up for the perfect Tiger Woods comeback story.
He's changing the narrative. He's going to completely disappear for a while. And then the story is going to be about, does Tiger still have it? Can Tiger still play? And the Tiger hoopla about his comeback.
I guarantee that his sponsors will come flooding back and the narrative will completely change. So I think he is again is manipulating the media. And this whole, I'm disappearing, I'm taking time off for my family, oh, I don't think so. He just wants to hideout for a while and make us salivate for him coming back.
KURTZ: But can he do that, Christine Brennan, without at some point going in front of a camera and talking to -- whether it's Oprah or some sports journalist, and answering some questions about this and not hiding behind these carefully manicured, corporate-approved statements?
BRENNAN: Howie, that's the question. This guy, in my 28 years of sports journalism, might be the most private, having his image most protected and disciplined about it, which is why this is just so uncharacteristic and why it has to be killing he and his team.
KURTZ: Well, it's uncharacteristic of what we had come to expect of the person that we thought was Tiger Woods.
BRENNAN: From him. But the fact that they can't manage this one as they could manage other things over the years. But I think -- so, the thought of Tiger Woods, who would never admit failure until the last couple of weeks, which is why these statements, for those of us who have covered him, are understandable, he had to do this. But it's also a bit surprising to see Tiger actually showing a bit of his soul.
I think that the thought of Tiger on Oprah's couch is -- that would have been the furthest thing from my mind a couple of weeks ago. But will he have to, your question? Yes.
He's going to have to talk to someone. Maybe it will be sports, maybe it will be ESPN, maybe it will be a Tiger webcast with a chosen journalist or something which would be, I think, phony. I don't think that would fly. But he will have to do it. And I think he'll hate doing it.
KURTZ: Yes. He can't hide behind these statements anymore.
Gregg Doyel, it seemed to me that a lot of sports sections initially played this down, were uncomfortable with the story. And a lot of sports columnists -- not all of them -- pretty sympathetic to Tiger.
Now, here's Jason Whitlock writing that -- in "The Kansas City Star" -- that, "The media are now no better than gossip rags, tabloids and blogs by covering this," whereas as I would it's a pretty big story.
DOYEL: Yes. I think we're sympathetic in some ways because Tiger has committed a mistake of being human, Howie. With the rising numbers of women, he's a lot more human than we ever thought he was.
I mean, again, his human over-under is getting up to in the 30s and 40s, but, yes, there's some sympathy there because he hasn't killed anybody. He hasn't drunk driving and ran over somebody's grandma.
I mean, yes, he's been horrible to his wife and behind the scenes, but what has he done to me or you or whoever buys Nike? He's done nothing to us.
KURTZ: Well, on the other hand, Gregg, I mean, here is Michael Wilbon in my newspaper, "The Washington Post," -- and I love Wilbon, but he says, "This is all an overreaction being led by moralists and hypocrites."
Really? I mean, there are so many of these women. And clearly, this is a guy who had a very robust extracurricular life off that golf course.
DOYEL: There are moralists and hypocrites in the media, and that's not breaking news to anybody, especially to Michael Wilbon. But this is not an overreaction.
This is -- Tiger Woods is like Babe Ruth. He's a modern day Babe Ruth. He is the best of the best of the best of the best. He's probably the best athlete in the world, not just the best golfer. The best anything.
I've always been, you know, a little bit upset that I never got to see Babe Ruth or Jackie Robinson or some of these just enormous figures. Well, Tiger Woods is that enormous figure right now, and he's had 12 mistresses. You know, at some point there's going to be a goat somewhere in the Sudan that he's made love to.
KURTZ: Oh, it's Sunday morning. Let's be careful here.
Lola, I've also been struck by...
OGUNNAIKE: It's a Sunday morning show. Please don't mention goats.
KURTZ: I've also been struck, Lola, by the writings of some African-American columnists such as Gene Robinson saying that blacks -- or at least some blacks -- are ticked off at Tiger because he has a white wife and all the mistresses are white.
So, what, is he guilty of insufficient diversity in his love life? OGUNNAIKE: I think he did not have an equal opportunity mistress plan out there. He needs more affirmative action in his mistresses.
I don't get that argument. The fact is that he cheated on his wife. He cheated on his wife.
It doesn't really matter who he cheated with. It's just clear to all of us that Tiger has a certain type, and that type has not a bit of color. His idea of diversity is blonde or brunette, and that's about it.
KURTZ: Christine, I wonder whether too much has been reported and repeated that falls into the category of unconfirmed journalism, or rumor. For example, whether Tiger has a sex tape. I don't know whether he does or not? Does he have a love child? I have no idea whether it's true.
And this whole business about the prenup with his wife, Elin. "The Washington Post" said Tiger has offered to pay her $5 million -- excuses me, it's "The New York Daily News" that said that, $5 million, $20 million according to "The Boston Globe." Up to $80 million, according to The Daily Beast.
It just seems like a lot of stuff is being thrown out there.
BRENNAN: Well, and it's clearly, Howie, the Internet and the tabloids are driving this story. And we're watching the mainstream media once again kind of on the sideline and many ways almost -- well, second, third in.
And we have to be in some ways, because, of course, your standards and mine are that we just don't print stuff and we don't buy stories. But this is the sign of our times, isn't it, in many ways?
On the other hand, I think we in the mainstream media do have a role to play in giving perspective, is what I've tried to do. Others have as well. And we are watching the greatest fall from grace, in my opinion, in the history of sports. Some might say Kobe or O.J. Simpson. I don't think -- you know, Tiger was up there with the Obamas and Oprah.
KURTZ: Yes. And no one else was more important to his sport, except for -- despite the fact that when he was out with an injury, ratings for professional golf dropped by 50 percent. All right. I want to play a clip now from the first of the however many mistresses go on television. This was Jamie Jungers. She spoke to NBC's "Dateline." And before that she talked to Meredith Vieira on "The Today Show."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MEREDITH VIEIRA, "THE TODAY SHOW": You came here today, you said, because you wanted to clear up some of the information that's been out there about you, like this headline, "Tiger Paid Me." Never paid you for anything, you said.
JAMIE JUNGERS, MISTRESS OF TIGER WOODS: Nothing. I didn't even get a birthday card. I got nothing out of this relationship but a broken heart.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Gregg Doyel, should we be making these mistresses into stars? Are they each going to get their 15 minutes?
DOYEL: Well, she's breaking my heart, because she says that she actually broke up with Tiger because she asked him for some money and he wouldn't give it to her. So, yes, it's true, she didn't get paid by Tiger. What's also true is that she wanted to.
But, yes, all these women are becoming stars. They're all getting agents and they're getting their 15 minutes of fame. And it's kind of pathetic.
But then again, I'm the guy that's already been out there and said, look, if there's a picture of a new woman, I'm going to click on it. And if there is a goat out there somewhere, I'm going to click on the link. I at least want to see what that goat looks like.
KURTZ: Lola Ogunnaike, Christine Brennan makes the point that this is the greatest fall from grace in professional sports, at least that she has ever seen. Is Tiger in a special category? Or is this now a watershed moment, we'll look back and say that professional sports, special athletes who have personal problems, are going to be covered in a whole new way because of what happened here?
OGUNNAIKE: Well, I do think that Tiger was one of those black people who was beyond black. They're green at that point. You're right up there with the Oprahs and the Michael Jordans of the world, yes.
But I do think that people, after Tiger Woods -- I mean, I don't see a juicier story coming along in decades that will rival this. And I think after this, people are going to realize that, you know what? Athletes, they are human at the end of the day. They're not gods, they're not deities, they're not people to necessarily be glorified.
They are human, and they will have failings. And the idea that this person was perfect and had the perfect life is far from true. And I don't think we'll ever buy into that narrative again. KURTZ: Human beings, Christine Brennan, but, of course, the media tends to sometimes build some of these people up into legends. And maybe that era is ending now as well.
BRENNAN: I don't know. I mean, we want to cheer for something, don't we? We want to have that escape, especially as the economy and other things in our lives are getting tougher. You turn to sports and you want to have a hero.
So, I believe they're all role models. I'm guessing that Tiger, if he does come back, when he comes back, the ratings will go through the roof. People will care. So it will be a huge thing.
I think we always want to cheer for people, and probably end up putting them on pedestals whether they deserve to be there or not.
KURTZ: All right. Well, here's my two cents.
I mean, those people who said that we in the media should just ignore this story, not living in the real world. I mean, I got e- mails saying, "Why are you covering this? You should be covering Afghanistan."
This guy is one of the most famous people on the planet, a tremendous athlete. And it wasn't like he had one girlfriend. He had all these girlfriends. How would we explain if we had played this story down why he's now taking a leave from professional golf?
I think too many sports columnists, sports sections, sports magazines gave Tiger Woods a pass. And clearly, the media made mistakes, we allowed too much unverified garbage to get into our airwaves and our print columns. But we were right to pursue this story. This is a heck of a story.
Christine Brennan, Gregg Doyel, Lola Ogunnaike, thank you very much for joining us this morning.
Up next, hot air. Global warming is a complicated issue with massive worldwide complications. And this week, the media boiling it down to a fight involving an out-of-work politician -- Sarah Palin and the newspaper op-ed that sparked an outcry.
KURTZ: The media absolutely, positively loved to cover Sarah Palin. So when she weighed in on global warming, she was certain to generate plenty of hot air. And when "The Washington Post" posted her op-ed on this subject, the paper drew some flack as well.
In the wake of those embarrassing hacked e-mails that showed some climate scientists talking about manipulating their data, the former VP candidate wrote, "In the his inaugural address, President Obama declared his intention to 'restore science to its rightful place.' But instead of staying home from Copenhagen and sending a message that the United States will not be a party to fraudulent scientific practices, the president has upped the ante."
That drew a frosty response from Mr. "Inconvenient Truth" himself. MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell asking Al Gore about the Palin opinion piece.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC: Palin calls it junk science and writes that "The agenda-driven policies being pushed in Copenhagen won't change the weather, but they would change our economy for the worse."
I asked Al Gore to respond. AL GORE, FMR. VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The global warming deniers persist in this era of unreality.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So have the media turned this rather complicated issue into a showdown because an ex veep and a failed VP candidate?
Joining us now to talk about that and the coverage of President Obama's Novel Prize speech, by phone, from San Francisco, where we're having a studio problem, Debra Saunders, columnist for "The San Francisco Chronicle." And here in Washington, John Aravosis, founding and writer of AmericaBlog.com.
John Aravosis, let's start with the newspaper question. Should "The Washington Post," my newspaper, have published Palin's op-ed piece?
JOHN ARAVOSIS, AMERICABLOG.COM: I don't think so for two reasons.
One, I'm not sure that she's a credible source on the issue. And I think, at least for an op-ed, even though we know that a lot of them are ghost-written, as you had written this week, you need someone who actually pass the laugh test of, why is this person writing about it? Have they devoted their life to it? Al Gore, no matter what you think of him, you know he's devoted his career to global warming.
The second point is, I think the substance of her piece was already written on her Facebook page, which violates, apparently, one of The Post's rules about writing things and republishing them. But also, the substance contradicted what she said last year about global warming. She linked to "The Washington Post" piece as proof -- to contrary to what she was saying, and she was putting out junk science that I'm not sure that...
KURTZ: But the whole idea of op-eds -- and I want to bring Debra Saunders in -- is to let people like you pick it apart.
ARAVOSIS: Not if we know the subject is false. I would disagree completely on that one.
KURTZ: I'll come back to you.
Debra Saunders, you're a conservative columnist at a liberal newspaper. What about the notion that an opinion page should offer a wide range of views?
DEBRA SAUNDERS, "SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE": Well, I have to laugh that there's even a controversy about whether or not "The Washington Post" should print Sarah Palin on this issue. She was the running mate for the GOP ticket last year. She was the governor of Alaska. She had to deal with warming issues as the governor of Alaska.
What is the problem, she's a politician? I thought Al Gore was a politician. Isn't he repeating what he had in his book?
So, all of a sudden, all these standards come up, and the truth is people want to muzzle Sarah Palin or they want to demonize her. So, they actually come up with this argument that newspapers aren't supposed to publish her.
Boy, I'd call that censures.
ARAVOSIS: What newspapers aren't supposed to do is present an issue that's already decided as being a he said/she said of, hey, half the people say yes, half the people say no.
KURTZ: So you say it's already decided.
ARAVOSIS: Ninety percent of scientists believe global warming is manmade.
(CROSSTALK) KURTZ: And Sarah Palin has said that manmade activity contributes to global warming.
ARAVOSIS: Well, but she kind of went back and forth.
KURTZ: You're saying she should just be banned, no op-ed page should publish her?
ARAVOSIS: I don't think Al Gore won the Nobel Prize for his climate change issues. Sarah Palin has not esteemed herself in any way on climate change. Just on the very issue of her weighing in doesn't make any sense.
SAUNDERS: Well, I disagree. And, of course, she doesn't get any credit for the fact that she's dealt with warming issues as the governor. People just want to turn her into some kind of freak.
So, if she does something that an executive would do in this issue, she gets no credit. She also had to deal with the issue of polar bears on the Endangered Species Act. She fought back.
You know, this really is an attempt to keep conservatives off the air or out of newspapers. That's what it is. The people want it to be their little playground.
KURTZ: If it was up to me, there would be no ghost-written op- eds by politicians in any newspaper, but that would be true on both sides of the spectrum.
And Debra, what about this storyline, Sarah Palin versus Al Gore? Is this just an easy way for the press to deal with what is, let's face it, a rather complex issue?
SAUNDERS: Yes, but I also think that -- it is a complex issue, but I also think that they get really different treatment. If Sarah Palin is in "The Washington Post," there are all these pieces taking on whether or not she should even be printed. When Al Gore is interviewed on television about his book, gee, Al, it must be really tough for you because some people don't believe everything anymore.
ARAVOSIS: Because global warming is a decided issue already. Sarah Palin is putting out science that's already been debunked by the AP and everyone else.
And finally, she has no credibility on this issue. And she had a credibility issue last year during the campaign. That's why people make fun of her.
SAUNDERS: You know what?
KURTZ: Well, we should debate what she says.
ARAVOSIS: She's not a credible character on any intellectual issue. That's the problem. Al Gore won the Nobel Prize. What did Sarah Palin do on global warming? She cared about killing polar bears, but whatever. I mean, that's just not comparable.
SAUNDERS: It isn't. I mean, by the way, Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. There are a lot of people who feel that was a rather early winning for him.
ARAVOSIS: I think it was early, too. I would agree with you on that one.
KURTZ: So would the president.
All right. Since you brought it up -- we're running short on time -- let me play a little bit from the president's speech accepting the Nobel Prize and what some of the commentators had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I know there's nothing weak, nothing passive, nothing naive in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King. But as a head of state, sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone.
HENDRIK HERTZBERG, "THE NEW YORKER": This should put to rest any notion that Barack Obama apologizes for America or doesn't love America.
BILL BENNETT, THE CLAREMONT INSTITUTE: One gets very tired of this mantra about Guantanamo and torture. But at least today it was balanced some.
HANNITY: President Obama just can't seem to give a speech overseas without bashing America with that same old worn-out paragraph.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: John Aravosis, there were exceptions such as Charles Krauthammer, but conservative pundits, most of them, don't seem to be able to say anything nice about President Obama even when they agree with what he was saying, he was making the moral justification for war.
ARAVOSIS: Right. And this surprises you?
No, I mean, I'm not sure what your point is. The conservative pundits, well, of course they're going to go after Obama. What's the question?
KURTZ: Well, the question is, no matter what he says, even if they agree -- and some would say yes...
ARAVOSIS: I think that's the point that politics has gotten to today, is that it's so polarized, that the conservatives are always -- and frankly liberals may do it, too, now. They're always going to go after the other guy no matter what, and it's gotten a little disruptive.
KURTZ: And Debra Saunders, some liberal commentators found that speech too hawkish even though Obama is their guy.
SAUNDERS: Well, you know, there were -- let's go back to the West Point speech as well. There were also a number of conservative columnists -- and I was one of them -- who praised the Obama speech in West Point.
Now -- and there has been praise for this speech as well in Oslo. So, I have to disagree with you.
I mean, yes, there are some knee-jerk people who the minute they hear Barack Obama say something, just decide that they have to dump on it. But there are also conservatives who are thrilled to hear him talking with this muscular tone on foreign policy and given kudos for it.
KURTZ: All right. We seem to be talking to one of them. You got the last word.
Debra Saunders in San Francisco. John Aravosis here.
Thanks very much.
After the break, the incredible shrinking media. A look back at a very tough 2009 for those of us who report the news.
KURTZ: Well, it's that time of year where we compile the lists of the media's biggest stories of 2009. Only, this year, the media were the story, and the news was almost all bad.
KURTZ (voice-over): A spate of magazines bit the dust this year. "Portfolio" magazine, gone. "Gourmet" magazine, with celebrity editor Ruth Reichl, gone. "BusinessWeek" was close to oblivion when Bloomberg News rescued it, but the weekly is cutting its staff, including such celebrity columnists as Maria Bartiromo and Jack Welch." "US News & World Report" has essentially become a Web site. So has "Radar" magazine. So has "The Christian Science Monitor."
"The New York Times" has just lost about 75 reporters to early retirement buyouts and could face another 25 or so newsroom layoffs. Those bailing out include many veteran beat reporters, not household names, but people who did important work on substantive issues.
"The Washington Times" said last week that it's laying off at least 40 percent of its staff, giving away the smaller paper at selected locations and concentrating on its online efforts.
"The Washington Post" is closing its remaining domestic bureaus in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, where I was once the bureau chief. Incredibly, one of the nation's top newspapers will have no reporters in the United States outside the D.C. area.
The casualty list for 2009 includes the burial of "The Rocky Mountain News" and "Seattle Post-Intelligencer." Even the industry's trade magazine, 108-year-old "Editor & Publisher," folded this week. And many big city papers are straining under the weight of bankruptcy -- the "L.A. Times," "Chicago Tribune," "Chicago Sun-Times" and "Philadelphia Inquirer," to name just a few.
And in that Comcast deal to buy NBC Universal, the valuable properties appear to be the cable networks. The NBC television network, home of Brian Williams, Matt Lauer, Meredith Vieira and Jay Leno is valued at zero.
Not all the news is bad. Such Web silts as The Huffington Post and Politico appear to be thriving. And a new generation of bloggers is having an impact. But almost all the old-line news organizations are struggling.
KURTZ: Now, some of this can be blamed on the recession, some on online competition, some on self-inflicted wounds, and some on just being out of the touch. But the cumulative effect is an erosion of good journalism and aggressive reporting. There's no sugarcoating those headlines and no prospect for sudden improvement as we head into 2010.
Let me just reach over here and show you something I could not resist. This is the cover of "Men's Health" magazine.
And as you can see up here, some of these headlines, "Six-Pack Abs," "Dress for Success," "Eat Better, Think Smarter," and "1,292 Cool New Money, Fitness, Sex and Nutrition Tips."
Now let me just show you this copy of "Men's Health" from 2007. And look at these headlines. "Six-Pack Abs," "Dress for More Sex," and "1,293 New Money, Fitness, Sex and Nutrition Tips."
I'm all in favor of recycling, but this is ridiculous. And apparently they keep writing these same headlines over and over again. Still to come, "Twitter Talk," your feedback on whether the media's Tiger Woods coverage is putting all of us in the rough.
KURTZ: Time now for "Twitter Talk." Here is what some of you had to say when I asked this question on my Twitter page: "Are the media turning tabloid on the Tiger story or simply covering his tabloid life?"
MLGillardo says, "Turning tabloid? Our biz turned tabloid the day we broke into programming for live coverage of police chasing a white Ford Bronco."
I thought that O.J. chase was a pretty big story.
NHMitchell weighs in that, "Tabloids have every reason to take Tiger down. The golf press have every reason to build him up. No one is objective. Aargh!"
MSStag writes, "This story is getting stranger and stranger so the media needs to cover it. He's Tiger. No problem with the coverage."
From Serena5401: "The media is now basically tabloid. The overkill on the Tiger coverage demonstrates how shallow the media is."
And Tbridge gets the last word. "When you have more than one mistress, I'm pretty sure it's tabloid. When you have eight? That's news."
And John King, as I turn things back over to you on this Sunday morning, what do you think about whether we are just going completely overboard on the admittedly tabloid story of Tiger Woods, who has now been sidelined from golf, at least temporarily?
KING: I think Tiger sidelining himself and the big debate about whether the corporate sponsors will stand by him, I think those are two big, huge, legitimate stories. I am one who thinks his personal life is between him and his wife, but he is an iconic figure, Howie, ,someone who has transcended sports into becoming a huge cultural and a huge corporate figure, and that makes it news.
He's in the public eye. Sometimes you take the public stones.
KURTZ: So, if you were in charge of the entire media world, you would not have done any of the mistresses, at least in any detail?
KING: I am not in charge of all those worlds, so I'm not sure exactly how I would have handled it. But some of what I have seen in my travels has been, shall we say, over the top.
KURTZ: All right, John. We're handing things back over to you.
KING: Howie, you have a great Sunday.