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Will Clinton Get a Daytime Talk Show?; David Brock Discusses `Blinded by the Right'

Aired May 4, 2002 - 18:30   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES where we turn a critical lens on the media. I'm Howard Kurtz. Ahead we'll talk with author David Brock, who's drawn both praise and harsh criticism for his book renouncing his past as a right-wing hit man.

But first, during his presidency he talked and talked and talked and talked, a regular one-man C-SPAN. Now everyone is talking about Bill Clinton talking to NBC about the possibility of doing a talk show.


MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, "TODAY," NBC: He's been called the comeback kid and now he is back. President Clinton is inching his way back into the spotlight.

BILL O'REILLY, HOST, THE O'REILLY FACTOR: Mr. Clinton's spokeswoman Julia Payne confirms the story, and the "LA Times" reports that the former president wants a yearly salary of, ready, 50 million bucks. Whoa, does Katie Couric know?

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS": So will "The Bill Clinton Show" be going into competition with "Jerry Springer," "The Price is Right," "All My Children," a few other daytime programs?

JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO," NBC: Well he had to do a daytime show. He couldn't do a late night show because he couldn't do Clinton jokes.

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN," CBS: He could be the first president to ever be impeached and canceled.


KURTZ: Could the ex-pres really be the next Oprah? Is this for real? Would Bubba TV be a ratings blockbuster or has the country had enough of the man from hope and his lust for the limelight? Well joining us now in Philadelphia the booming voice and face of radio show talk host Jim Bohannon. He's syndicated on Westwood One Radio, and in New York, Adam Buckman, television critic for the "New York Post." Welcome.

Jim Bohannon, here's how I do the math. Everyone who likes Clinton would watch. Everyone who hates Clinton would watch just so they could fume at the guy, and he'd have 100 share. When I was on Paula Zahn the other day taking phone calls, half the people called up said they loved the guy. They would watch his program. The other half said he should be in jail. So, isn't that a pretty good buildup for a potential television talkshow host?

JIM BOHANNON, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well certainly in the first week he would have incredible tune-in. The curiosity factor alone, but I tried this topic out on my talk show the other night, and I found a large number of Clinton haters who amazingly enough seem to be out there in the talk radio, and they said they would not watch. They were adamant.

And I said, well you know, we're not talking about him being president again. We're talking about him simply doing a talk show. Are the standards the same? And there are a significant number of people who at least say that. My guess is they would tune in. Yes, he would have for the first week huge ratings.

KURTZ: Now what about topics, Jim Bohannon? I mean former president could talk about Afghanistan and the Middle East or does he also have to talk, especially in daytime about adultery and whether young women should wear thongs -- subjects in which he also has a certain expertise.

BOHANNON: You'd have to wonder. I mean on the one hand I'm sure he loves the glory, and he has to have this public adulation. I don't think he's going to get it at the polls anymore unless he runs for the Senate or something. So he has to get it through ratings. He wants that. But on the other hand, he also wants to burnish that tarnish legacy of his. So I just don't see Clinton -- today on "Clinton" ten tips to a successful marriage. He's limited in topics.

KURTZ: Adam Buckman, your newspaper, the "New York Post" went pretty big with this, Bubba TV. "New York Daily News" also had the same inspired headline. Would Bill Clinton as a television talk show host get over exposed pretty quickly, or is a lot of the country tired of him after eight years?

ADAM BUCKMAN, "NEW YORK POST": I think it'll be awfully difficult to come up with Clinton as topics day in and day out. I mean we all had a good time with the story and the people are still having a good time with it. Our Bubba TV story included potential guests that he would have -- tongue in cheek, of course -- Monica Lewinsky and his wife Hillary and Linda Tripp and the like. And even after all those jokes you had about maybe 10 shows.

So what are you going to do after two weeks? My whole curiosity about this show was who on earth -- and the people at NBC are pretty smart people -- who on earth is going to pay him $50 million to do a show that is untested? And where on earth would a Bill Clinton show go? Is he really interested in joining the cesspool of afternoon television...

KURTZ: So you think... BUCKMAN: ... with topics about gay teens and their lovers spats or is he going to be on one of these cable channels in primetime or late night? I just don't see where this thing goes.

KURTZ: Well you don't get $50 million from cable.


KURTZ: You think the figure 50 million is kind of inflated, that a deal like that would never really happen?

BUCKMAN: Well it's interesting. I don't know really where the $50-million figure comes from. I don't doubt that a source told the original writer of this story in the "L.A. Times."..


BUCKMAN: ... that this was the figure. But I have no idea who arrived at a $50-million figure. The biggest stars in television are David Letterman, Jay Leno, and Katie Couric; even they don't make $50 million a year. They -- you know maybe Oprah Winfrey is worth about $100 million a year. I don't what her salary is, but you have to really put on a blockbuster year after year week after week month after month for a really long time to make money like that.


KURTZ: Hosting a talk show is hard work. Go ahead Jim.

BOHANNON: I don't think the guy is prepared to put in the work either. I think he's thinking more along the lines of show up for an hour, read the adulation, and go on. And there's a lot of work involved of doing a successful talk show, and it's going to cut into his speech time...

KURTZ: You seem to be...


KURTZ: ... suggesting that it's harder to sit behind a microphone than to be president Jim Bohannon.

BOHANNON: Well it certainly is very time consuming and you can't delegate as much as you would like to.

KURTZ: No big White House staff to bring you all the...


KURTZ: ... research.

BOHANNON: ... there's not going to be all the aides passing you ad libs off camera, I don't think.

KURTZ: Adam Buckman, every president even a once impeached president, has a certain gravitas when he's not over-exposed... BUCKMAN: Yes.

KURTZ: ... and Clinton, as we all know, is obsessed with his legacy. If he actually did this, and we should add the inconvenient factor this may never happen, what it would do -- what would it do to the presidential legacy?

BUCKMAN: To his presidential legacy?


BUCKMAN: Well it all depends on what the show would be like. I mean he's the one apparently who made the comparison with Oprah Winfrey. Oprah Winfrey is the queen of daytime talk. That's a women's oriented time period -- a time period that in fact is dying in the ratings. I just don't see Bill Clinton going into that arena, and if he did, that would contribute nothing to his legacy, whatever his legacy is and whatever it is he's concerned with. It's almost like he's only really concerned with the fact that he's kind of bored, and that he's not in the public eye to the extent that he would like to be.

I think a network like CNN or MSNBC or Fox News Channel should offer him one of these shows in primetime to talk about current events with guests in a -- in a serious or semi serious tone and he can give outrageous opinions and he can let things hang out in a way that perhaps he wasn't able to do when he was president.


BOHANNON: He'd be more comfortable there, but I mean you can't see him doing left-handed lesbians in leather. He's not going to...


BOHANNON: ... do Springer. And so that leaves -- if he doesn't do politics at night on a cable channel, and he doesn't do Springer by day, then he pretty much has to do the relationship thing, the Oprah thing -- Gropa (ph) or whatever you want to call it.

KURTZ: Here's what I think you're both missing and by the way, the idea that Bill Clinton could end up competing with the likes of O'Reilly and "CROSSFIRE" and (UNITELLIGIBLE) I don't see happening. I mean if he wants -- he's going to want to reach the broadest possible audience, but Bill Clinton is -- was the most polarizing president since Richard Nixon.

Nobody is neutral on Bill Clinton, and he has that certain force of personality. Remember those State of the Union addresses he used to give that went on for an hour and a half and the (UNITELLIGIBLE) all hated him and the audience loved it. And so I think it would be more than just a one-week curiosity factor. Anybody want to take that?

BUCKMAN: Well -- but the problem still exists. Where do you put this show and who would be curious, let's say, during the day where -- you see if he needs an hour every day to go on television -- if that's the kind of mass audience he wants, then he's got to go on the one big broadcast channels or go into syndication. And as tantalizing as it may be to watch him discuss politics or discuss hot button issues, the afternoon television audience that watches those kinds of shows are not into politics or current events or even into watching Bill Clinton. They watch "Ricki Lake" and "Jerry Springer" and "Jenny Jones" and "Oprah Winfrey " and...

KURTZ: Right.

BUCKMAN: ... all those court shows and soap operas. It's a very different world and it doesn't seem like he would fit at all.

KURTZ: Jim Bohannon, what about Clinton as a super booker? I mean this guy could pick up the phone and he could get Tony Blair to come on or Steven Spielberg or Sharon Stone and who's going to say no to the former president?

BOHANNON: Definitely he'll get the people. Barbara Streisand would probably even appear on a show like this, but once he gets them, then what does he do? I mean this guy has a politician's natural instincts to build consensus and feel your pain. Does he have what it takes to get out there and create the conflict and controversy that are part and parcel of talk shows?

KURTZ: You mean you have to yell at people? You mean you have to be...


BOHANNON: I think you have to yell at people Howie, is what I'm saying -- yell.

KURTZ: All right.

BUCKMAN: Yell at people, but people like Sharon Stone and Steven Spielberg can be actually really boring on talk shows, if you've seen them. And so if you're talking about getting big names -- big names don't always cut it or make a really good television...

KURTZ: Now you're in New York, Adam Buckman...


KURTZ: ... Peggy Noonan had a column in the "Wall Street Journal" when she said this will never happen because Hillary, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, will not allow her husband to get out there and get in trouble, stir controversy, maybe overshadow her. What do you think?

BUCKMAN: Well I'm not sure how much control Hillary has over what her husband does in his career these days. I guess the issue really would be is what if it came to the topic of Hillary Clinton at some point and time as a -- as a hot button political issue and how could Bill Clinton run a discussion show with that as the topic? Well if that's the one topic that is a problem, I don't see why that would prevent him from doing a television show...

KURTZ: Right.

BUCKMAN: ... perhaps he could just stay away from that topic or find some other way creatively to deal with it. I don't...


BOHANNON: Plus she...


KURTZ: Just briefly Jim.

BOHANNON: ... she might very well say hey it's better than some of the things he could be doing.

KURTZ: Listen, this may never happen, but all of us in the media are having a heck of a time talking about it. Jim Bohannon in Philadelphia, Adam Buckman in New York, thanks very much for joining us.

BOHANNON: Thank you.

KURTZ: We turn now to our e-mail question of the week, which is would you watch Bill Clinton TV talk show host? Should the networks put him on? E-mail us at

Coming next, speaking of Bill Clinton, we'll talk to the man who helped tell the world about Paula Jones, author David Brock. These days he calls himself an ex conservative. We'll ask about his nasty breakup with the right wing in a moment.


KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES and joining us now is writer David Brock, the author of "Blinded by the Right," the conscience of an ex conservative. Welcome.


KURTZ: Before we get to the book, what do you think about the idea of a Bill Clinton talk show? You spent a lot of time writing about him.

BROCK: Well I think in a dignified setting, it could be quite interesting. You know the conservatives are always talking about liberal control of the media, but one thing that I've noticed actually in promoting this current book of mine is there really isn't a liberal Rush Limbaugh, and that's kind of a role I could see Bill Clinton playing in terms of shaping a debate from a liberal perspective. I think that could be quite interesting.


BROCK: Doesn't look like it's going to happen anytime soon. KURTZ: I'd like to see him have you on. That would be an interesting conversation, but -- now you were by your own description, a character assassin for the right. You were very tough in this book on your former conservative friends, and yet almost no one in the right is talking about the book (UNINTELLIGIBLE) why do you think that is?

BROCK: Well I think originally they decided that the less said the better. I think that in part -- in fact I was told by one of the conservative radio show hosts who did have me on that there was a well-orchestrated campaign on the right to say nothing about the book. In other words, I think to deny it, certain kind of publicity. I think that was a mistake though because the book obviously has gotten quite a bit of attention and I think it's obvious to readers who are interested out there in the country that the silence is deafening and it means that they probably actually can not dispute a lot of the things in the book.

If the conspiracy, the checks that were written, all these things that this book describes, if none of that happened, we'd know it by now. I've been talking about this book for six or seven weeks...


BROCK: ... and it hasn't really been contested.

KURTZ: Now you're openly gay, but in the early '90s when you weren't, you accused "New York Times" columnist Frank Rich of a thinly veiled outing -- this is some criticism he made of you. But in this book, if you don't have (ph) people, you certainly strongly suggest that some of them are gay. How do you justify that having been in a similar situation yourself some years ago?

BROCK: Well I don't think there's anyone in the book who's outed who hasn't been outed previously, first of all. It's justified in this way, and I was very careful about it. I mean there are lots of people whose private lives, who are characters in this book, who I leave those alone. In certain cases I think there was an issue of hypocrisy involved.

I think it was people who either made a living investigating other people's private lives or make a living with extreme anti-gay sentiments, and in a couple of those cases I thought it was justified to point out to the reader that there was hypocrisy because one of the themes of the book obviously is the endemic hypocrisy that is in the conservative movement that I saw here in Washington during the years I was in it.

KURTZ: By the way, you owe Frank Rich an apology for the charge you made against him in 1994?

BROCK: Yes I do and I write that in the book. That was -- that was spin, essentially.

KURTZ: OK. And that's why people come on this show and admit to spin. So we're glad to have you do that. Now you've been making your television rounds and you've been getting roughed up a bit on some of these programs. Let's take a look.


TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, "CROSSFIRE": You claim that I called you up and said gee, you know, David, I agree with every word in your "Esquire" piece and I'm just attacking it to make $200. That's an outright lie, as you know.

BROCK: You told me that.

CARLSON: That's a total lie David. I never said that. I thought your piece was ludicrous then. I think it's ludicrous now. I never said that, and you made it up.

BROCK: Yes, that is what you said.



LAUER: You're someone who admits you lied.

BROCK: Right.

LAUER: You did a lot of things that simply weren't true. You wrote things that weren't true. You were posing as a journalist when you were really a political operative. And now you come and sit with me and look at our viewers and say here's the truth. And the question is why should they believe this version?


KURTZ: Tucker Carlson seemed pretty adamant in saying that he didn't say what you attributed to him.

BROCK: Right. Well I think I was equally adamant that he did say it; and he did say it.

KURTZ: Now some other people have disputed some the accounts in the book. I just want to go through a couple. Former White House aide Mark Paraletti (ph) in the first Bush White House -- this was during your period of reporting on the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings -- says it's simply not true that he told you that Clarence Thomas had watched X-rated videos, became a point of contention in those hearings.

BROCK: Right.

KURTZ: And Republican activist Vicky Sudmon (ph) with whom you were once very friendly, you quote her as saying Clarence Thomas when some of this other information came out, he did, didn't he? She says -- she told me that was made up out of whole cloth.

BROCK: Right.

KURTZ: Now that does raise a credibility question when specific people are disputing specific things from "Blinded By the Right."

BROCK: Right. You know I think that I was aware that this was kind of going to be a problem that was inherent with this book, that the people who are still in the conservative movement were going to hold together and were going to deny specific incidents. I don't think anything's been disproven in the book and I'd also point out that there are characters in the book who are not in the conservative movement. And some of those have come forward in various ways to say that what I wrote about them actually was true.

KURTZ: Haven't you put yourself in a box because anytime anybody disputes anything, as we have seen, they just turn around and say well, you lied before, you admit that you lied before. Why should we believe you now? You are constantly running into that.

BROCK: Right. Well sure, I guess I have, and I think there was no way around that. I had two choices I think. One was to keep concealing what I had done in the past and move on, and the other was to admit it and face the kind of questions that I've faced, and I think I took the more honorable course. And as I said, I think after six or seven weeks, the book has stood up very well.

The most aggressive person who is -- who has contested it was David Harwitz (ph) who denies that an account in the book that he made an anti-gay slur and shortly after he aggressively denied that an e- mail came out from the person involved showing that I -- that I actually had that story right and that he did say that and so he was caught with his pants down.

KURTZ: Back when you were savaging Anita Hill, when Rush Limbaugh was reading excerpts from your book on the air, based on what you now say was one-sided and shoddy reporting, do you feel the slightest bit guilty, the slightest bit conflicted that you were getting this sort of fame and fortune based on this one-sided journalistic effort?

BROCK: Oh yes and I think -- I think it's apparent to anybody who reads the book and even people who've seen me on television.


BROCK: This hasn't been fun.

KURTZ: You weren't enjoying it at the time?

BROCK: Was I enjoying...

KURTZ: At the time -- the fame and fortune...

BROCK: Oh sure I was...



KURTZ: Yes. BROCK: And you're asking me do I regret that or feel guilty about that?


BROCK: Yes I do and I think this whole process even promoting this book has been a humbling experience.

KURTZ: How do you go from attacking Bill Clinton over the Troopgate episode, which you helped break, to hanging out with Sydney Blooming Paul (ph) and voting for Al Gore? I mean that's quite a journey.

BROCK: It is. I think that's what makes the book interesting. It obviously didn't happen overnight. The second thoughts that I started to have were happening as early as late 1994, so this is five or six years in the making. And so you know part of the story obviously is not only a moral transformation but a political transformation and finding my real values.

KURTZ: You portray a number of people, who are conservative activists as being pretty awful, hypocrites in your word...

BROCK: Right.

KURTZ: ... but don't a lot of liberal activists play the game just as hard?

BROCK: Well I think that, obviously, there are excesses on both sides. But I think that what I describe in this book in terms of the highly coordinated and millions of dollars spent in a relentless campaign to destroy a presidency from day one, I think that is singular and unprecedented, and I don't think that goes on here all the time.

KURTZ: Was it hard for you writing this book, David Brock, not just to come clean about your own conscience, but to in effect turn on people who you've been close to, not just professionally but socially. You've had dinner -- they invited you into their homes, and they obviously feel that you've betrayed them.

BROCK: Yes, there -- and there is an aspect of betrayal in the book. I mean I think in all ideological defections, if you look back over the history of them, there's a whole literary jauna (ph) and it often involved this kind of betrayal. It's necessary to tell the truth, and I put that -- the value there...


KURTZ: Is that why you wrote the book? You say it was a painful experience. You say it's painful even to talk about it. Is thy why you wrote the book, or do you feel you had to put this behind you?

BROCK: I do because, as I -- as I've said before, lots of people make mistakes in their lives. I made them publicly, and I thought that the record needed to be set straight, and that's why I did it, yes.

KURTZ: We have just about 30 seconds. I wanted to ask you whether or not -- whether or not you really feel you have a future now as a journalist, given all the twist and turns that your yourself have acknowledged. Is this a career you're going to continue to pursue?

BROCK: Yes I think if I -- if I choose to, and I think that you know I anticipate writing another book and going on in a writing career involved in politics and writing, yes.

KURTZ: The writing -- the other book won't necessarily be about David Brock?

BROCK: No, I think we're finished with the subject of the confessions of David Brock, yes.

KURTZ: All right, David Brock, we appreciate you joining us. David Brock, author of "Blinded By The Right," thank you.

BROCK: Thanks very much.

KURTZ: And when we come back, the ABC news correspondent who's been disciplined for trying to cash in the fake colonel (ph) at Fox News and more "Ups and Downs" in the media world this past week, plus your viewer e-mail next.


KURTZ: Welcome back. Time now for the week's "Ups and Downs" in the media world.

It's been a bad week for Dr. Nancy Snyderman, who's been suspended by ABC News. The medical correspondent violated the news division's policy by making a commercial for Tylenol. The penalty for the paying gig, no house calls on ABC for one week. Snyderman has apologized.

A good week for Jerry Knotman (ph) who's run the "New York Post," a couple of local TV stations and produced Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect." Knotman (ph) is joining MSNBC as a player coach including his own afternoon talk show. He promises to be flamboyant, which would be no surprise to anyone who remembers those screaming "New York Post" headlines.

Not a great week for Fox News, which had been using as a military consultant for the Afghan War a man named Joseph Kufoso (ph), who said he was a Vietnam veteran, who had won the Silver Star and was part of the failed 1980 mission to rescue American hostages in Iran. But the "New York Times" reports that Kufoso's (ph) total military experience was 44 days of boot camp at Fort Dix, New Jersey back in 1976.

A very good week for Michael Kelly, the new editor of "The Atlantic" and David Remnick, editor of "The New Yorker," each winning three national magazine awards. Also a good week for "Newsweek" editor Mark Whitaker and "Entertainment Weekly" editor James Seymour who won for General Excellence in their circulation categories. Other winners and recent RELIABLE SOURCES guests were media critics Michael Wolff of "New York" Magazine and Ken Auletta of "The New Yorker."

An interesting week for CNN's Aaron Brown, who questioned whether his own program, "NEWSNIGHT," should be devoting so much time to the Bonny Bakley murder case.


AARON BROWN, HOST, NEWSNIGHT: The program we planned to do, the one we've been planning for awhile is going to wait for another day because we're going to spend a fair amount of our time with you tonight on the arrest this evening of Robert Blake.

For those of you just joining us, Blake arrested a short time ago for the murder of his wife. We are not going to ignore everything else. Now some of you, perhaps even most of you, are whispering to yourselves O.J. -- yes, I hear that too. How this plays out over time, how media crazy we all go on this, what lessons we learned or didn't are for another day.


KURTZ: Aaron Brown wrestling with the media decisions we all grapple with out there in the public for everyone to see.

And now for a quick look at our e-mail (UNINTELLIGIBLE) last week we talked about whether the press has been getting tougher on President Bush. One viewer writes, "The media have become the on carrying, cheerleading and pennant waving purveyors of news releases issued by the administration. They have advocated the responsibilities and reputation earned through many years and through many trying circumstances. Where have all the real reporters gone"?

And Dan in Santa Barber, California says, "anyone who thinks the media coverage of the administration has been the least bit tough is living in a fantasy land. Bush's poll numbers are a result of the mindless fawning over him particularly by the cable news networks."

Doesn't anybody out there think the press has been hard on the White House? Well let us know what you think. E-mail us at

Well that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz.

You can catch our program again tomorrow morning at 9:30 Eastern for another critical look at the media. "CAPITAL GANG" is up next.


Discusses `Blinded by the Right'>



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