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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Interview With Author of Murdoch Biography; Can Gregory Fill Russert's Shoes?
Aired December 7, 2008 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): Moody mogul. Does Rupert Murdoch really despise Bill O'Reilly and disdain Fox News? And has he tainted "The Wall Street Journal?" We'll ask the author of a controversial new biography.
Coveted chair. David Gregory gets the nod at "Meet the Press." But can he fill Tim Russert's shoes? And what does the change mean for the other Sunday shows?
Armchair analysts. The pundits keep putting Hillary on the couch instead of assessing her diplomatic skills.
High decibel senator? Should Chris Matthews stay on MSNBC while he's actively exploring a challenge to Arlen Specter?
Plus, what a fumble. The football star, the gun and the tabloids.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: It almost seemed like old news this week when Barack Obama finally named Hillary Clinton as his secretary of state. So thoroughly had the matter been leaked and analyzed and dissected and chewed over by the media. And there's still a healthy debate to be had over what kind of diplomat the former first lady will be. But by and large, the pundits are chatting about her political ambitions, her relationship with Obama, her relationship with Biden, her relationship with her husband, and whether she plays well with others, as if she were a patient on our collective couch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, "VANITY FAIR": Senator Clinton is essentially, in this argument, nonpolitical. She only cares about one thing; namely, herself and her own prospects.
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: If she feels that she can be president in four years, she'll resign.
DICK MORRIS, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: She'll go for it.
O'REILLY: Yes, and run against him like...
MORRIS: So what Obama is doing is he has built into his administration the seeds of his own destruction.
CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN: Does the baggage they have in this relationship doom it in a way from the start?
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: And then there's Bill. The elephant in that Clintonian room that nobody wants to talk about becomes an 800- pound gorilla.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now to examine the coverage of the Hillary Clinton nomination and the Obama transition, Dana Milbank, national political correspondent for "The Washington Post" and a CNN contributor; Ana Marie Cox, a contributor to thedailybeast.com; and Jonah Goldberg, editor-at-large for National Review Online.
Dana Milbank, we're talking about a woman who's going to become America's top diplomat at a time when we're fighting two wars and terrorism around the globe. What explains this endless media and gossip and speculation about Hillary?
DANA MILBANK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I can't get enough of it, I confess right off the bat. You know...
KURTZ: You're addicted.
MILBANK: Absolutely. I mean, I was in a deep state of despondency after Obama was elected that irony would be dead in Washington. It has come leaping back to life here. I am very grateful, so I'm hugely indebted.
We're not sitting here dissecting her foreign policy credentials because we took care of that in the campaign. She's qualified. Now let's talk about Bill and all those sleazy characters donating to his charity.
KURTZ: But isn't this coverage kind of like high school? I mean, Hillary isn't sure she likes Barry and Joe is getting jealous. And what about Bill?
ANA MARIE COX, CONTRIBUTOR, THEDAILYBEAST.COM: Well, it's always been a little bit like high school here, only it's run by the nerds instead of prom kings and queens. As a nerd, I appreciate her being in power. I think deep down she is a nerd.
And actually, I think something that is interesting, all the clips you played were simply people asking questions about her ambitions, asking questions about her relationships. The answers to those questions are actually kind of boring. I mean, I think in the Senate she proved herself to be an incredibly serious person who did play well with others. Her reputation in the Senate is sterling, actually much better than Obama's in terms of her ability to work well with other senators.
KURTZ: So the one thing we don't want to be is boring, apparently. (LAUGHTER)
KURTZ: I'll leave that up to you.
But here's a question to you, Jonah. Conservatives for years made an industry out of attacking Hillary and the Clintons. Your mother was involved, of course, with impeachment. But the pundits on the right, right now, seem satisfied, maybe almost pleased with her nomination.
JONAH GOLDBERG, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE: I think that's true. I think there is this sense which I'm a skeptic of. I'm an outlier. I'm not entirely convinced that she's actually a centrist and conservative as people thing she is.
She became centrist and conservative the second she started to -- she got in the Senate and started to run for president, essentially. And, you know, she was changing her brand name, as it were.
But I think there's a more fundamental, bizarre thing going on here, is that regardless of her former policy credentials, according to Barack Obama and this campaign, we heard for 18 months that the signature issue of his campaign was that her judgment disqualified her from being president because she voted for the war. Joe Biden, too.
And now she's put in, Hillary Clinton as secretary of state; Joe Biden as the vice president; and is keeping on the secretary of defense. And the press doesn't care about that at all even though that was the essential rationale of his candidacy.
KURTZ: Not entirely true, because you've set me up for our first clip. At least one member of the press does care.
Peter Baker of "The New York Times" asking the president-elect at a news conference in Chicago this week when the Hillary nomination was announced this question about all the nasty things they used to say about each other.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Going back to the campaign, you were asked and talked about the qualifications of now your nominee for secretary of state, and you belittled her travels around the world, equating it to having teas with foreign leaders, and your new White House counsel said that her resume was grossly exaggerated when it came to foreign policy. I'm wondering whether you can talk about the evolution of your views of her credentials since the spring.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Look, I mean, I think this is fun for the press to try to stir up whatever quotes were generated during the course of the campaign.
BAKER: They're your quotes, sir.
OBAMA: No, I understand. And you're having fun.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, wait a minute, as Jonah says, they challenged each other's qualifications for president repeatedly, hit each other over the head. Now the press is supposed to say never mind?
MILBANK: It absolutely kills me to defend "The New York Times," but I'm going to do it anyway because Peter Baker is such a good fellow. Of course it was a legitimate question.
We did the same thing -- I mean, we held Bush accountable for his words, and they were far more colorful and interesting words, because you never knew what would come out of his mouth. And of course, we got a lot of grief from this man's colleagues when we did that. And, of course, this is exactly our job to do now.
If he really believes she is unqualified and irresponsible, then why has he -- why has he chosen her? Of course we should ask it. And then he said quotes that were generated during the campaign, like some random word processor, as opposed to his mouth.
KURTZ: But Obama says we're just having fun.
COX: I know. I don't think of that as fun at all. Maybe he has a different idea.
I do think he's kind of a nerd like the rest of us. So maybe his idea of fun is different than mine. But that's not fun for me that is holding someone accountable.
And I also think, you know, unlike -- we, yes, expect politicians to not necessarily cling to everything they said on the campaign trail. But you know what? That's because with a majority of politicians, they have a resume, they have a record that we can go to, to compare and contrast what they're saying and doing now.
Barack Obama -- and this is something that I keep pointing to Jonah's colleagues, like Jonah is representative of an entire fleet -- but Barack Obama, all he has is his campaign. He doesn't have a very strong resume for us to look at, to compare and contrast what he's going to do as president. So, all we have to go on is what he said during the campaign, so of course he needs to be held accountable.
GOLDBERG: Also, by what standard is the fact that the press is having fun de-legitimize...
GOLDBERG: I mean, you guys had fun feeding on the carcass of George Bush for eight years. That didn't mean -- you wouldn't argue that it was illegitimate or sort of not worthy of pursuing.
KURTZ: So in other words, oh, you guys are just having fun is a very handy way...
GOLDBERG: But it works on this press corps. If Bush tried to do it, it wouldn't work.
KURTZ: I see. Well, I spent a lot of time covering all those ads, like the Hillary 3:00 a.m. ad, taking the phone call. And so now to hear, oh...
GOLDBERG: And now she will take the phone call, for the record.
KURTZ: All right.
One light moment at one of the press conferences when Barack Obama got to go into humorous mode. Let's take a look at that from earlier this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WENDELL GOLER, FOX NEWS: If I also may ask the governor, what happened to the beard, sir?
OBAMA: I'm going to answer this question about the beard. I think it was a mistake for him to get rid of it. I thought that whole western, rugged look was really working for him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Is Barack Obama just going to charm the hell out of the press corps?
COX: Now, that was fun.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Substance.
COX: He already has charmed the heck out of the press corps. I mean, it's actually -- I've been -- I read the pool reports that come out of the transition team, and the numbers of times that you get, like, "And the crowd cheered, and the reporters swooned," and it's getting to be -- I've been saying I am going to have to start covering the Hill, because there'll be no irony or sleaze to cover in the White House, apparently. But that is the level of question I think Barack Obama would like to have from the press corps, is...
KURTZ: About Bill Richardson's beard? All right.
Now, Obama was on "Meet the Press" this morning. He didn't make much news, although he did announce a new VA secretary. And he was on "60 Minutes" and he was on Barbara Walters. And he held five press conferences in 10 days, and he's having another presser today in Chicago.
Is this going to be a television presidency more like Clinton's than like Bush's? MILBANK: Well, I think this is a case of being careful in the press of what we wish for. You know, you want this accessible candidate. Now he's out here and, oh, goodness, what are we going to ask him today? Because we better go to the beard or what he's shopping for, for Christmas.
So he has this uncanny ability to sort of suck the available news out of the room. The answers are just -- you look at them and there is nothing you can use.
KURTZ: Is that a skill for a politician, to be able to answer questions...
MILBANK: I think it's a brilliant skill, unless, of course, he's trying to actually deliver some news. So hopefully when he's in that occasion he'll be able to do it.
GOLDBERG: He does have the great advantage of not actually being president of the United States. I mean, that helps suck of the news value out of it.
KURTZ: Sure, except that we all treat him as if he is president already. We want to know the details of his economic plan because of this unusual situation, this transition where the economy is falling apart.
GOLDBERG: Sure, and the press has been doing that for about six months.
COX: There was this great moment recently where -- I think it was on CNN -- that they had two stories going on. One was Obama announces, you know, national security team; Bush pardons turkey.
KURTZ: Now that's a contrast.
COX: That's a contrast. I think it sort of says it all about how the press is covering this.
KURTZ: Speaking of George W. Bush, he's been -- the other president -- he's been giving some exit interviews. He looks forward to his final weeks in office.
ABC's Charlie Gibson was the first up. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLIE GIBSON, ABC NEWS: You've always said there's no do-overs as president. If you had one?
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know. The biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq.
GIBSON: If the intelligence had been right, would there have been an Iraq war?
BUSH: If he had had weapons of mass destruction, would there have been a war? Absolutely.
GIBSON: No, if you had known he didn't.
BUSH: Oh, I see what you're saying. You know, that's an interesting question. That is a do-over that I can't do. It's hard for me to speculate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: No do-overs here.
How did Charlie Gibson do at pinning down the president on this issue that we all have been debating now for six years?
COX: He got him to use the word "do-over," which is, in some ways, slightly offensive in terms of using a sports metaphor to describe what has turned out to be a tremendous, tragic, chaotic mess that he will leave to the next president. I think if that's all it took to pin down Bush about the mistakes going to into the Iraq war, it is sort of a wonder that it hasn't been said before, I guess. But now is the time when Bush can say it. It's a very low-cost thing for him to do.
KURTZ: Why is Bush doing all these interviews? And will it make any difference to his reputation?
GOLDBERG: I don't think the interviews will make any difference to his reputation. I think his reputation can only go up, because, I mean, it really can't go any further down. And I think history is going to be kinder to him than a lot of people around here think it is.
But this is the process that we have seen on every presidency. There's these exit interviews and the wistfulness and all the rest. And I think Gibson did fine on all of that.
KURTZ: But perhaps one difference is that the media, it seems to me, usually have a bit of nostalgia for the parting president and cut him a little slack. That does not seem to be the case.
MILBANK: No. No. Kicking him all the way out here. In fact, we're all breathlessly reporting on what house he bought in Dallas this week.
KURTZ: To ask an obvious question, why is that?
MILBANK: Well, I just think the press, like everybody else, except for 25 percent of the nation, has reached a conclusion that it's time for something new here. I don't think Charlie Gibson did anything at all unusual in that interview. What's extraordinary is the extent that Bush has suddenly become introspective. Remember there was a time when he couldn't think of a darn thing that he might have done differently.
KURTZ: When John Dickerson asked him the question, any mistakes.
MILBANK: Yes. Yes. Now he's got a whole list of them.
GOLDBERG: I thought that was an attempt to trap Bush in a political situation where he was right not to sort of start admitting mistakes. It was a thread that he didn't want to pull. Now I think he has the luxury of actually being introspective, and I think he's doing -- you know, he's humanizing himself in a way, and I think it's all perfectly fine.
KURTZ: And just briefly, you see a contrast between the way Bush handles these interviews and Obama is handling his interviews?
COX: Oh, yes. Well, I mean, Bush actually made news in his interview, whereas Obama -- Obama seems to make news before his press availabilities. All these leaks and trial balloons.
KURTZ: Yes, when they leak the stuff.
COX: And then the press availability is there to tamp everything down, whereas Bush actually made some news.
GOLDBERG: I don't think -- I think Obama has been since the beginning of his campaign obsessed with image, and he's been great at it, giving the image of action, image of change, and all the rest. And these press conferences are there to make him look presidential, that he's got his hands on the tiller.
KURTZ: All right. January 21st changes. It's not going to about image, it's going to be about action. And maybe the tenor of the press questioning will change as well.
Ana Marie Cox, Jonah Goldberg, Dana Milbank, thanks very much for joining us this morning.
When we come back, what if they sent O.J. to prison and no one cared? A look at the media's lack of interest next.
KURTZ: There has never quite been a media obsession like O.J. Simpson. It's not too much to say that his double murder trials more than a decade ago gave rise to the whole tabloid culture that thrives on celebrities and crime. So when the one-time football star was sentenced to at least nine years in prison on Friday, and potentially up to 33 years for armed robbery and kidnapping, it seemed like a dramatic moment, one that Simpson's last-minute plea could not prevent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O.J. SIMPSON, CONVICTED FELON: I wasn't there to hurt anybody. I just wanted my personal things. And I realize I was stupid. I am sorry. I didn't mean to steal anything from anybody, and I didn't know I was doing anything illegal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now from New York, Jane Velez-Mitchell, investigative journalist and the host of "Issues With Jane Velez- Mitchell," which airs weekdays, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, on CNN's Headline News.
Jane, the trial itself was barely covered by most of the media. The sentencing got modest coverage, middle-of-the-network newscasts, a couple of segments on the cable shows. "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" put this story inside the paper.
Have the media and the country just kind of moved on?
JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, HOST, "ISSUES WITH JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL": Howard, nobody cares. I was actually in a makeup room filled with journalists and other people, and I had to shush everybody so that I could hear the verdict because everybody was talking. And I think it's a variety of reasons.
One, if you're 22, for example, you were 8 when the double murders occurred. So young people really don't care.
Older people who are very well aware of the 1995 case really almost have an aversion to this entire story. They want O.J. to go away.
Look at what's happening in America today. We've elected an African-American president, we're hopefully entering into this post- racial period. And this guy is a pest. He is a reminder of racial divisions of the recent past that nobody particularly wants to revisit, especially not with this loser. So everybody is kind of, please, just go away.
KURTZ: All right. Let me take our viewers back, particularly our younger ones, to 1994 and 1995.
CNN, which was then basically the only cable news network, carried every minute of the criminal trial for double murder. Celebrities were created -- Kato Kaelin, Marcia Clark, Johnnie Cochran, Mark Fuhrman, the detective who is now analyzing the case over at Fox News. Larry King devoted about 150,000 shows to this case.
Now you go to Friday. CNN took just a few minutes of the sentencing, while Fox and MSNBC went wall-to-wall.
I wonder if the media are being a little high-minded here. Maybe your journalists friend didn't care, but surely there's more public interest than that.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: I don't know, because if the story rates -- and we all know about the overnights -- the media will cover it. And I think throughout this trial, there was just a tremendous sense of apathy. And I think it gets back to the fact that this man is no longer the glamorous, handsome, strapping defendant that he was back in 1995.
He's a pathetic middle-aged man who embarrasses everybody. Even his staunchest defenders, the people who stuck with him, have been consistently embarrassed by his actions between the time of the acquittal and today. Most notably, the book "If I Did It," the hypothetical account of how he could have killed Ron and Nicole, had he done it, which many consider a confession, I think that was such a crass, horrific concept, that he really became an embarrassment to those who had originally supported him.
KURTZ: Right. But that certainly got a heck of a lot of media coverage.
Now, look, I know that this particular trial was about this bungled, almost comical attempt by Simpson and his thugs to steal back his sports memorabilia at a Las Vegas hotel. But everyone had to be thinking this was, on some level, poetic justices for a guy who most Americans believe is a murderer.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Oh, absolutely. And I think that most legal experts think the thumb was on the scale that an ordinary defendant would not have gotten this kind of time for what was really not your stereotypical kidnapping.
Nobody was moved from one location to another. It all happened in this sleazy little hotel room, a bunch of unattractive middle-aged guys. I mean, I think you also have to look at the cast of characters.
As you mentioned, you know, you had glamorous characters in the original case -- Kato Kaelin, Faye Resnick, Paula Barbieri, the victims themselves, beautiful, glamorous people. Look at the cast of characters in this case -- a bunch of three stooges, except I think it was six stooges, middle-aged guys, unattractive guys. That plays a role in whether or not people are interested.
KURTZ: Do you think part of the reason that the trial itself generated so little media attention is that there was really no doubt about what happened? I mean, the planning was taped, the actual event was taped, the aftermath was taped, so we knew that Simpson was guilty of something.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes, it's almost like we experienced it before it happened in the courtroom because we had all listened to the tapes. I mean, everything about this was recorded -- the poolside conversations before they went in, the actual confrontation, a video of them leaving the hotel. So it's almost like a bad reality show that we've seen once and we didn't particularly want to see over again in reruns.
KURTZ: Apparently it's now been canceled.
You make a very good point about how this was a very racially charged time in America. We all remember the TV shots of blacks cheering when he was acquitted of that double murder. And now, of course, we're in the age of Obama. All right. Jane Velez-Mitchell of CNN's Headline News.
Thanks very much...
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Thanks, Howard.
KURTZ: ... for joining us this morning.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Thanks for having me.
KURTZ: Coming up, CNBC's Jim Cramer goes job hunting on the air.
Plus, Slate has a new columnist, a guy who lost his job in a prosecution scandal.
And the press back to obsessing on Katie Couric's looks.
Our "Media Minute" straight ahead.
KURTZ: Time now for the latest from the news business in our "Media Minute."
Is CNBC's "Mad Money" man Jim Cramer serious about wanting a new job?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM CRAMER, CNBC: You want that? You want a level playing field? Then I know what you want. I know who you want.
You want James J. Cramer to be your next SEC chairman.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Well, Cramer is a former hedge fund manager and a big Democratic donor. But something tells me Barack Obama will look elsewhere.
KURTZ (voice-over): Slate magazine should also have looked elsewhere for its new financial columnist. First, Ashley Dupre, who had been Eliot Spitzer's call girl, tries to rehabilitate her image with Diane Sawyer. And now Slate has signed the disgraced former New York governor.
I mean, who cares what Spitzer has to say on anything other than the thing he doesn't want to talk about?
Just when Katie Couric was starting to win some plaudits, a new debate has erupted over the CBS anchor. "Delight or Disaster?" says the "L.A. Times."
The argument is over, I kid you not, her new hair style. The Huffington Post put up a slideshow on Katie's dos over the year. Really.
New York's "Daily News" scoffs at the "jarring makeover," saying, "This short cut once again makes her appearance the big news story."
KURTZ: Not exactly. It's silly and superficial columns like this that make it a news story by treating a veteran journalist like some kind of supermodel.
Well, coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, breaking news this morning. David Gregory is the new host of "Meet the Press." Can he carry on the Russert legacy?
Plus, the read on Rupert. A new book shedding new light on Murdoch and his feelings about Fox News.
KURTZ: Tim Russert was, let's face it, the giant of Sunday morning television. So his death last spring was not only a loss for journalism, but left a gaping void at NBC, which had to find a new host for "Meet the Press." Would it be Chuck Todd or Andrea Mitchell or PBS' Gwen Ifill?
Well, the network made it official just moments ago, with interim host Tom Brokaw announcing that David Gregory will take over television's longest running program.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: I thought about a lot about what it means to succeed somebody like Tim Russert. And I'm not Tim, but along with this great team, I can just work real hard to make him proud.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Gregory has been hosting an MSNBC cable show this year, but is better known for his combative approach to his job as White House correspondent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Can this report be seen as anything other than a rejection of this president's handling of the war?
TONY SNOW, FMR. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You need to understand that trying to frame it in a partisan way is actually at odds with what the group itself says it wanted to do.
GREGORY: Are you suggesting that I'm trying to frame this in a partisan way?
SNOW: Yes. GREGORY: Why shouldn't people conclude that you were either stubborn, in denial, but certainly not realistic about the strategy that you've pursued?
Can you explain why you believe you're still a credible messenger on the war?
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm credible because I read the intelligence, David.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about the Gregory move, from Tampa, Eric Deggans, media critic for "The St. Petersburg Times." And in New York, Andrew Tyndall, television analyst who publishes "The Tyndall Report."
Eric Deggans, David Gregory, a lot of journalistic experience, a lot of Washington experience. It seems like a safe and solid choice. Too safe?
ERIC DEGGANS, MEDIA CRITIC, "ST. PETERSBURG TIMES": Well, the proof of that is in the pudding. But I do agree, David Gregory is a rising star at NBC.
He's hosted "The Today Show" very successfully, has his own show on MSNBC. And certainly there's a sense that he was the guy internally that was the leading candidate.
People like myself had talked about maybe considering Gwen Ifill from PBS, or Andrea Mitchell, or Chuck Todd. Younger people, women, people of color. But they went with someone who was clearly the successor and clearly poised to take over the job. We'll see if he can continue the tradition while also bringing something new.
KURTZ: Yes. Although, Gregory, despite the gray in the hair, is just 38. So it is a generational move.
Andrew Tyndall, David Gregory, as we saw at the top, very aggressive reporter. But as an interviewer, just to give our viewers a taste, here is a question he asked on his cable can show this week having to do with the plans for an auto industrial bailout.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: There is this combination of politics, public relations and the economy coming together on this question of whether the big three ought to be bailed out.
Do they have a more compelling argument now?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So Andrew, how do you think he'll dos as a Sunday morning interviewer? ANDREW TYNDALL, "THE TYNDALL REPORT": Well, the interesting thing about "Meet the Press" is that it really is uncharted territory for almost anybody who works in television news. The unique format, almost unique format that "Meet the Press" has, is this long-form interview, interviews longer than five minutes, that could go 15 minutes, 20 minutes, whole half-hours. Sometimes when it's a major newsmaker, going into an entire hour.
TYNDALL: And there's just nothing else on television apart from Charlie Rose or maybe Ted Koppel in the prime of "Nightline," where this format exists. So, it's not only that David Gregory doesn't have any experience in doing this sort of interviewing, it's almost everyone in television doesn't.
The skills it takes to be an aggressive correspondent that we saw at the White House are very different from the skills that it takes to conduct a structured, long-form, detailed interview the way Tim Russert used to do. He doesn't know how he's going to do in that job, but nobody does, because nobody knows how to do it.
KURTZ: Yes, certainly cable isn't very good training for that because everything is seven minutes and go to commercial.
So, Eric Deggans, NBC might have taken this opportunity to do a very different kind of show, to kind of bring "Meet the Press" into the next decade, but I suspect that we're going to see -- I mean, I guess the question for me is, can David Gregory step into that Russert role where you really are expected to be the interrogator, the whole, you know, "You said this in 2005, let's put it up on the screen. How do you explain yourself right now?"
DEGGANS: Well, I mean, I do think that when Tom Brokaw took over the show for a while, he showed that that's a form that a lot of people can slip into. The question is, what kind of questions do you ask and what do you do with that? I mean, where do you take that into the next century?
I mean, we have one of the most diverse and different White House administrations that we've seen in a long time, and we have a host of new problems facing this country. And I think "Meet the Press" has got to evolve from being what the big shots say, which I think was Tim Russert's only weakness, to exploring this ground in a new way. And they've got a prime opportunity because David Gregory is younger and he's shown on "The Today Show' that he has a playful attitude, that he knows pop culture, and that he's willing to occasionally step outside the boundaries of your traditional TV anchor.
KURTZ: But Andrew, don't all the Sunday shows, although they do have the pundit roundtables, obviously, aren't they pretty much built on this old-style model of what the big shots say, and it's the big shots in the administration, and perhaps in Congress, who are expected to make news?
TYNDALL: Yes. I disagree a little bit with Eric on this, where it's like the morning show's function is an old-fashioned function and it doesn't have any place.
It's actually one of the very few places where a newsmaker, a powerful politician could come on and try to make his case to the people in power and to the American people on a Sunday morning, where all the other parts of television are confined to small sound bites, five-minute pieces, et cetera, et cetera. This is one of the few places where, if you are an ambitious politician, or if you're someone who wants to make news, or someone wants to challenge for power, or wants to make their case, you can come on and show if you have -- if you have the stuff to -- if you have the moxy to be able to play on the big scene or if you don't.
That's the unique place that "Meet the Press" has had. And I don't think there are very many other places on television where that does exist.
DEGGANS: Well, I love Andrew to death, but I will say one thing. The one weakness of the show -- and we saw this in the run-up to the Iraq war -- is that if you base a political show mostly on what the big shots say, then you are a prisoner of what they want to talk about. And I do think that one of the problems that we saw with journalism, sometimes, is that you have to be willing to step outside that and you have to be willing to bring other voices into the mix who may not be a part of the typical Democrat/Republican paradigm.
TYNDALL: Of course. OK, Eric, my counter to that is, if you remember the primary season earlier this year, where what Russert did before he died was, he made an hour available to all the major candidates. And some of them, like Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, for instance -- and there are many people who think that was the death knell for their campaign because it showed that they just couldn't handle an hour of interrogation on network television.
KURTZ: That's why it was called the Russert primary. And of course, "Meet the Press" is still a showcase in the sense that Colin Powell, just a few weeks ago, chose "Meet the Press" to endorse Barack Obama. And Obama on today for almost a full hour, the first Sunday show interview he's done.
Just briefly, Eric Deggans, could this provide an opening for George Stephanopoulos at ABC, for Bob Schieffer at CBS, for other cable anchors to gain some ground on NBC?
DEGGANS: Well, you've already seen some quotes from Chris Wallace from Fox News hoping that that is what will happen. But I do think that Gregory is enough of a continuation that there won't be as much erosion as these guys might hope for.
KURTZ: All right.
Let me turn now to the case of Chris Matthews, who is, of course, the host of "Hardball" on MSNBC, actively exploring a possible run for the Senate against Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania in 2010.
Can he stay on MSNBC, Andrew Tyndall, while testing the political waters? Doesn't that create an awkward dilemma for that cable network?
TYNDALL: Yes, it creates more of an awkward dilemma for MSNBC than it does create for Chris Matthews. Chris Matthew's style as a journalist is one that is very opinionated. He wears his opinions on his sleeve. Everyone knows where he is coming from. So he is not sacrificing any reputation that he might have neutrality or lack of bias by simultaneously trying to see if he could be a politician, because he never had that reputation to begin with.
MSNBC, on the other hand, does have this problem. I think over the election cycle, they really got the reputation with Matthews and with Olbermann and with Maddow of being a very partisan channel. And the news coming out that he's thinking of running as a Democrat I think just emphasizes that partisan representation that it has. So the problem is at MSNBC, rather with Matthews himself.
KURTZ: Let me go back to Eric. I mean, this may -- some people are saying, well, this is kind of a contract ploy, because Chris Matthew's contract is up in the spring, and he wants to continue to make $5 million a year. But if he's meeting with Democratic Governor Ed Rendell and other Democratic leaders in the state, is that at least a perception problem in your view?
DEGGANS: Yes. I think it's kind of disappointing that MSNBC news has shown itself willing to accept these increasing levels of dissidence in terms of what they're doing.
They've accepted, apparently, the criticism that Keith Olbermann and Maddow and Matthews has gotten for being partial to Democrats. Now they seem to be accepting the fact that he'll be quizzing people like Rendell on his show in one moment, and then meeting with them in private to talk about his political aspirations in another.
KURTZ: Well, we'll see how long that period lasts.
Got to wrap it up, guys. Eric and Andrew, thanks very much for stopping by.
After the break, Vanity Fair" Michael Wolff spent many hours interviewing the usually press shy Rupert Murdoch. We'll ask him what makes the mogul tick.
KURTZ: Rupert Murdoch has always been something of an enigma, a fabulously successful media titan whose properties range from the Fox network to Fox News to "The Weekly Standard," from "The Times of London" to "The New York Post." He has been cast as everything from a ruthless businessman to a conservative ideologue, to one of the few rich guys who actually cares about newspapers. And he's made clear he wants his newest acquisition, "The Wall Street Journal, to take on another journalistic giant.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUPERT MURDOCH, MEDIA MOGUL: Well, we're already in circulation 50 percent bigger than "The New York Times." Our readers are more influential (ph), wealthier. We're a very much more attractive prospect to advertisers than "The new York Times" is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: He has also ripped MSNBC's Keith Olbermann for his attacks on Bill O'Reilly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MURDOCH: He's out of control, no doubt (ph) of it. And we have had bitter personal attacks on some of our people to try and destroy our credibility as a network.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: "Vanity Fair" columnist Michael Wolff had extensive access to Murdoch for his new book, "The Man Who Owns the News."
He joins me now here in the studio.
So you got to interview Murdoch a number of times.
MICHAEL WOLFF, "VANITY FAIR": Not so much of the number of times, on and on and on.
KURTZ: OK. But it sounded to me from reading the book like this was a bit of a frustrating experience. I mean, you don't have that many great quotes from him. He has had trouble explaining himself?
WOLFF: Well, I have become a great Murdoch imitator. So I'll give you an interview with Murdoch. "Grrrr."
KURTZ: And you would take notes?
WOLFF: And then -- yes, and then I'm taking notes and then puzzling over the tape.
KURTZ: A lot of the book is built around Murdoch's $5 billion acquisition of Dow Jones and "The Wall Street Journal." There was a lot of hand-wringing and wailing in the journalistic community that he was going to destroy the credibility of that newspaper.
Have those fears come true at all?
WOLFF: No, I don't think so. Actually, I think, certainly from my point of view, it's a better paper. It's more exciting, it's more immediate, it's more on the news. Other people, of course, feel it's less businessy, but I think that's essentially the only criticism at this point.
KURTZ: So, was the journalistic establishment wrong about what a terrible thing it would be for Murdoch to own The Journal?
WOLFF: I think that they were. I mean, no one knows. You know, it is Rupert Murdoch, and he goes where the money is, he goes where the audience is, he goes where the zeitgeist, the word Rupert Murdoch would not use, but he goes where that is. So, I think that The Journal is still very much a work in progress.
KURTZ: I found plenty of criticism of Murdoch in your book, but "The New York Times" reviewer Janet Maslin called the book "supercilious, yet star struck."
What did you make of that?
WOLFF: She's, you know, in it for "The New York Times." I mean, it goes -- this book goes right after "The New York Times."
It essentially says Rupert is going to go after "The New York Times" and that "The New York Times" is highly vulnerable. So I think that she was one of those reviews that you just go, jeez, you know, they're always -- you know, save me.
KURTZ: Now, one of the things that you write in this book that has gotten a little bit of attention is saying that Murdoch absolutely despises Bill O'Reilly. What do you base that on?
WOLFF: Sitting with him for a long period of time. And it's not only him, it's everyone around him. I mean, for obvious reasons.
I mean, O'Reilly is a problem, he's had all kinds of problems. You know, phone calls with subordinates we won't go into that make people cringe. And Murdoch, when you say, "Well, O'Reilly says this," and he goes, "Grrrr," and the shoulders go up, and then he looks toward his -- one of his aides who's always there and the guy goes, "Grrrr."
KURTZ: Wait. So you have no quotes to back it up, you just have Murdoch making faces? That's the basis on which you write that?
WOLFF: Well, if you -- you should see Murdoch's face. If a guy goes "Grrrr," I think you can begin to make certain assumptions.
Also, as I say, all of the people around him -- and my interviews are not just with Murdoch...
WOLFF: ... it's with everyone who is talking to him at every point of the day.
KURTZ: But of course...
WOLFF: "What's the story with O'Reilly?" Answer: "Nobody likes him. We can't stand him. He makes money for us."
KURTZ: Well, making money is the point, because O'Reilly just got a big, fat, $40 million contract. So they can't dislike him all that much.
WOLFF: They like -- well, Ailes, also, the man who runs the network, there's enormous number of tensions there. But Murdoch looks at this very squarely, does this make money for me?
What do you do about it? It's not a question, ultimately, of, do I like this or not? Fox News, and that's an interesting thing, has never been Murdoch's network. It's been Roger Ailes' network.
KURTZ: Well, you say that Murdoch has kind of a crush on Roger Ailes, but you also depict him as being sort of slightly embarrassed by Fox News. Evidence?
WOLFF: Well, sitting with him -- and he -- actually, "embarrassment" is exactly the word. He turns away from it. He sort of says -- he says, "Well, we're going to talk about that."
When he arranged for the summit between Murdoch and Obama, the first time that they met, he brought in -- he brought Ailes to this exactly so that he could let Obama take on Ailes. Murdoch himself didn't want to say, you know, change your coverage, you're unfair here. He specifically brought Ailes into the room so that Obama could say, what are you doing?
KURTZ: Wait. You're saying that not only did Rupert Murdoch obviously want to meet Barack Obama himself because he looked like he was going to be the next president of the United States, but he wanted Barack Obama to complain about the coverage of his own Fox News?
WOLFF: Absolutely. This was a whole setup so that Obama could say to Ailes, what are you doing here? And Obama did.
They sat knee to knee, and Obama said, I don't have any time for you. Why should I sit here and do this? You treat me like a terrorist. What's going on here?
KURTZ: But here's what I'm having trouble understanding. Rupert Murdoch is not exactly shy about meddling with the journalistic operations of his properties. "The New York Post" a classic example.
You are right about this. He wants...
WOLFF: Two points.
KURTZ: So why doesn't he do something, if, in fact, it's true that he has problems with Fox News? He could...
WOLFF: Rupert Murdoch is shy, fundamentally a man that is conflict-averse. That's number one.
Number two, Roger Ailes -- remember, Murdoch is a newspaper guy. He's not a television news guy. Roger Ailes runs this place.
Actually, Roger Ailes told me -- and there's some dispute; the Murdoch people said that's not exactly true -- but he told me that in his contract it says that Murdoch cannot interfere, that he has final say. He can fired ultimately, but, otherwise, he has final say and that Murdoch can't talk to his people. KURTZ: I can think of a lot of other executives in the Murdoch empire who would like that contract if that's true.
WOLFF: No, no. Totally.
And remember, it's not a newspaper and it makes money. So, that's the thing. You know, Murdoch -- and it's Roger Ailes.
Have you ever seen Roger Ailes He's a scary guy. Murdoch is one of those people who is scared of him.
KURTZ: Well, he's certainly a take charge guy.
We're running a little short on time.
WOLFF: Barack Obama it seems, however, is not scared of Roger Ailes.
KURTZ: You talk a little bit about the impact on Murdoch of marrying the much younger Wendy Deng.
KURTZ: It changed his life?
WOLFF: It changed his life. I think changed his outlook as -- actually, as his children pointed out to me, Murdoch is kind of henpecked.
You know, he really responds to the wives he's married to. His second wife, incredibly conservative. Obviously, Murdoch conservative during that period.
KURTZ: Wendy is more liberal?
WOLFF: Wendy, more liberal. You know, introducing him to this full range of the liberal intelligentsia. Yes.
KURTZ: I've got about half a minute here. You describe Rupert Murdoch who sits atop this global empire, is living in something of a bubble, and pedaling dubious facts at times.
WOLFF: At times. Not always.
KURTZ: Why isn't he better informed? I've got about 20 seconds.
WOLFF: Because he gets this gossip all of the time. All he does is live for the gossip. Whether it's true or not, not so interesting. Is it interesting gossip? That's what he lives for. He is a newspaperman.
KURTZ: Journalists have to check it out.
All right. Michael Wolff, the man behind the news.
Thanks for stopping by this morning. Still to come, self-inflicted coverage. How did a ridiculous story about a gun-toting football player wind up getting so much attention?
KURTZ: When I was in New York this week, the big front page story wasn't about Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or the Wall Street meltdown. Forget about it. The tabloids and just about everyone else going nuts over the former football star who fumbled away his career.
KURTZ (voice-over): Plaxico Burress helped the New York Giants win last season's Super Bowl and had just signed a $35 million contract. So why on earth would he carry an unlicensed gun into a nightclub where he wound up shooting himself in the leg? The incident was so bizarre that it sparked round-the-clock coverage...
RUSS MITCHELL, CBS NEWS: New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress turned himself in this morning.
KURTZ: ... and round-the-clock mockery from the media.
WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC: Carrying an unlicensed loaded gun into a club in the waist of your pants with the safety off is not the best idea anyone has ever had. Granted, especially when you're an extremely highly paid football player who might have just cost himself $25 million.
JEFF TOOBIN, CNN: What kind of moron shoots himself in the leg?
KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: What a mess for him.
JAY MARIOTTI, ESPN: A Super Bowl hero, $35 million new extension, a new wife and son. And look at his life right now. Absolutely threw it all away.
KURTZ: But with Burress facing criminal charges and New York's Presbyterian Hospital flouting the law by not reporting that he had been secretly treated for a gunshot wound, the narrative took a more serious turn, complete with screaming headlines like, "Lock Him Up!"
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK: It's a misdemeanor, it's a chargeable offense. And I think that the district attorney should certainly go after the management of this hospital.
KURTZ: The Giants quickly punted, suspending Burress for the rest of the year.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, they think he's stupid.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. A Bozo move. The Giants are winning without him. (END VIDEOTAPE)
KURTZ: So, is the saga of one foolish football player really worth all this ink and air time? Probably not. But with all the headlines about home foreclosures and sinking stocks and failing car companies, Plaxico was drafted for duty as the media's favorite punch line.
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Join us again next Sunday morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, right here, for another critical look at the media.