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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Interview with Bob Woodward; Tale of the Tax Returns
Aired September 23, 2012 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: In the pantheon of political media coverage, "Mother Jones" isn't usually a major player. But the liberal magazine rocked the presidential campaign this week with that video of Mitt Romney at the fundraiser. And it wasn't just the pundits on the left and right squaring off, some conservatives defended the nominee and others savaged them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: So now we have a controversy over Governor Romney telling supporters that a large portion of the American population is dependent on government and will most likely not vote for him. Here's my question: why is that controversial? That's true.
ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Even conservatives who like me who don't think it's as damaging as a lot of people say, we have to see the remark was inarticulate at best and really dumb.
DAVID FRUM, CONTRIBUTING EDITROR, NEWSWEEK/THE DAILY BEAST: If you don't run to be president of all the country, you won't be elected president of any of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Was it fair for "Mother Jones" to post a surreptitiously recorded tape? Are the media making far too much of Romney's remarks about the lower 47 percent of taxpayers? And is FOX News fighting back with a 14-year-old video snippet of Barack Obama?
Bob Woodward joins our discussion.
Plus, the president and his challenger are hitting the chat shows, popping off on pop culture.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know who either of these two are?
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm kind of a Snooki fan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She had a baby now.
ROMNEY: Look how tiny she's gotten. She's lost weight and she's energetic. Just her spark plug personality is kind of fun.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Is this any way to elect a president? I'm Howard Kurtz and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
KURTZ: David Corn, the Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" is an MSNBC commentator and an unabashedly liberal journalist it, using Jimmy Carter's grandson as a go-between. How strange is that?
He obtained the Romney fundraiser tape from an unnamed source, who approved of his ideological leanings, as Corn told me in an interview for "the Daily Beast."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES: He'd told me that he read my books and he was familiar with the earlier Bain stories that I had done, which were investigated pieces and he was impressed by that. What I'm told is that this was not a hit job on infiltration. He didn't go there looking to get Romney.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Hit job or not, the result was a media firestorm over Romney's descriptions of those who were automatically supporting President Obama, those who, he say, pay no federal income taxes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe they're victims, who believe the government has the responsibility to care for him, who believe that they're entitled to health care, to food, to housing, you name it -- that that's an entitlement, and government should give it to them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Romney turned to FOX News for damage control, sitting down with Neil Cavuto.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEIL CAVUTO, FOX NEWS: You said your wording might have been inelegant, but others have said you've just kissed half the electorate good-bye this election year, that you all but called them moochers. Did you?
ROMNEY: No. I'm talking about a perspective of individuals who I'm not likely to get to support me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So is this one of those make-or-break moments in the campaign and has the fourth estate treated Romney fairly?
I spoke earlier with Bob Woodward, associate editor and author of a new book "The Price of Politics."
KURTZ: Bob Woodward, welcome.
BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR: Thank you.
KURTZ: You obtained confidential material for a living, with David Corn of "Mother Jones" obtaining this secretly recorded videotape of Mitt Romney, talking about 47 percent, anything questionable of a journalist getting hold of a tape of a politician who didn't know he is being recorded and publishing it?
WOODWARD: No, just the opposite. It's exact -- it's a big scoop and one of the important campaign stories of the year.
It really -- everyone calls it a secretly recorded -- well, you know, it's on open forum to a certain extent. It's a fundraiser, anyone can be there. Maybe it was a waiter. Maybe it was somebody who paid the 50 thou for the dinner.
KURTZ: You're saying politicians should have no expectation of privacy in the cell phone camera era.
WOODWARD: Well, no one in the world has an expectation of privacy. It doesn't exist anymore.
KURTZ: I think Princess Kate learned that as well.
But if this tape was given to a liberal magazine, "Mother Jones", and Jimmy Carter's grandson was involved as a middle man, does it look to the outside world like it's partisan, like it's kind of a hit job?
WOODWARD: No, because it's authentic. And, you know, the Romney campaign and Romney said, you know, this is what it is and its authenticity is the question. And, again, it -- over the decades, you and I have known each other -- it's one of the themes. We don't know what's really said or done behind closed doors.
And here, somebody went behind closed doors and Romney laid out a philosophy and some ideas that lots of conservatives and Republicans object to.
KURTZ: That is right. This was not just liberal criticism of Mitt Romney. David Brooks and Peggy Noonan and lots of others.
If you pull back the camera a little bit, Bob, and you look at the weeks and weeks of bad press that Mitt Romney has gotten -- this goes back to the foreign trip and the one at the Olympics, when he kind of have the quick trigger response on the Libya attack and now, of course, the 47 percent video, is there an appearance -- you know everybody said in 2008 the press was in the tank for President Obama. Is it our appearance that the media are being rougher on Romney than on the president?
WOODWARD: Well, I don't know. I mean you have to report the daily story. The problem is that the daily story is often the daily food fight, which has no meaning for who these people are or what their values and attitudes and proposed policies are.
KURTZ: No meaning in the sense that we pounce on the gaffe, the attack ad, the latest poll, and get distracted by these femoral developments?
WOODWARD: It's overemphasized. You have to report it --
KURTZ: Of course.
WOODWARD: -- but it shouldn't live on as this is the story of somebody's candidacy. The story of somebody's candidacy is who they are and what they've done and what they would do.
KURTZ: You report extensively on the Obama White House in this book. It seems to me unlike the first three and half years, that the president's record is no longer at this center of the campaign coverage. That it is more what you call the food fight, as well as the candidates go at each other.
But we do have a 3 1/2-year-record of an incumbent to judge him by. Why isn't he more focused that?
WOODWARD: Because it's complicated, deals with lots of difficult economic issues. And when this book came out, I was talking to somebody from Amazon, one of the people who interview you, and they said -- because normally they categorize books as red or blue. I said what do you with this book? They said it's purple.
KURTZ: You have both colors out here.
WOODWARD: But it's purple because it's an attempt at really neutral reporting and there's lots of stuff in there that the Obama team and White House have been up to, that they really don't want to focus on. And lots of stuff that Republicans have been up to that they don't want to focus on.
KURTZ: I'll come back to this in one second. But there was a political story one week ago in which unnamed Romney advisers were trashing the campaign itself, trashing Stuart Stevens who was the chief strategist. It used to be I had to wait for your book or a book of Mark Halperin and John Heilemann to find out who really hates each other behind the scenes.
What do you make of the fact that it now comes out in real time?
WOODWARD: Well, sometimes, each campaign -- there have always been stories like that and resignations. I mean, during one of the Reagan candidacies, he fired his campaign manager, John Sears, and put in Bill Casey.
KURTZ: I remember that. WOODWARD: In 1980, 32 years ago. At the time it was covered like this is the end of the Reagan candidacy. He'll never be president. There was all of this -- I mean it --
KURTZ: I guess it turned out to be wrong.
WOODWARD: It turned out to be wrong. I went into the last two weeks of the campaign and Carter was ahead and then it turned out he lost by seven or eight points. So there was a 15-point shift. So covering the food fight and covering the polls, I think it is misguided or overemphasizing. We really want to know what the performance is of these people.
KURTZ: Right. And on that point, with journalists now as you know constantly tweeting and blogging and Facebooking and Instagram, all this real-time 24/7 stuff, how has that affected campaign coverage?
WOODWARD: Well, it's accelerated. You talk to people in the White House as I have done extensively, and they just die because it's 24/7, somebody's going to come out and say we're going online with the following story, what's your response, you have five minutes, you have 10 minutes. This can happen at 2:00 a.m. It can happen 8:00 at night. That tends to drive coverage because other people are looking for a response.
And this is the essential difficulty with the news now that we run by it. We cover the day or the week and if you go back and try to excavate it and say let's find out what the real memos, the real conversations were, it's often quite different than we covered it on a daily basis.
KURTZ: More from that interview later this hour.
When we come back, Mitt Romney ends a tough week by finally releasing his tax return from last year. How did that play in the press? We'll take a look.
KURTZ: The Romney campaign put out what they call a document dump on Friday afternoon. And here to help us examine it: Peter Baker, White House correspondent for "The New York Times," Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for the "Chicago Sun-Times."
Peter Baker, so Romney's tax returns from last year showed he paid an effective annual rate of 14 percent. Does this diffuse some of the journalistic expectations, some of it based on the fact that he paid little or no taxes in some years?
PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: He said not that he paid 14 percent but in the last 20 years he never paid less than 13 percent. He gave us a summary, a top line summary. It diffuses the speculation that some years he didn't pay any income tax. It makes you wonder what on earth he is trying to keep from the public.
So, it came more about the offshore accounts, that kind of thing will trigger a lot of suspicion.
KURTZ: And the media story line, Lynn -- a lot of it was about Romney paying more taxes last year than he had to.
LYNN SWEET, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Right. Now I just disagree with so many of my colleagues, who as you did, I respectfully say, use that 14 percent number when everyone knows he got that number because he decided not to declare $2 million of his charitable expenses in order to say he paid more than 13 percent rate.
KURTZ: The campaign doesn't dispute this. He didn't take all the charitable deductions.
SWEET: I give him credit for him. But I think in telling the story, I for one never doubted all that much that he didn't pay and I don't think that's the point. I think the interest --
SWEET: I, too. I mean, when you are able to leave on the table more money than most -- than a lot of people in America make just in order to have it conform with an earlier statement in an issue that does it really matter in substance if he paid 13 percent or 14 percent or 15 percent or 10 percent, it's going to be a lot less than people make because we have a tax policy that says you can pay less on investment income, Howie.
SWEET: How can anybody just kind of let this idea that --
KURTZ: Well, it certainly reported and not stressed adequately in your views.
SWEET: I think when you he picks a tax rate as he did by leaving a $2 million on the table, that's pretty noteworthy.
KURTZ: Let me move on to the now Facebook hidden recording. Many people this could cost him the election. Is that an overreaction?
BAKER: You know, it's this week's that's going to cost him the election. The week before it was Afghanistan.
KURTZ: Clint Eastwood.
BAKER: Clint Eastwood, every week -- and for Obama as well. It's an effort to look at a story line that's going to captivate voters at this point. I think it's important but whether it will cost him the election is too soon to say.
KURTZ: I think it's very important moment, because he's talking about. It's not some off-the-cuff remark. He's talking about his view of nearly half the country and their dependence on government as he puts it.
The fact that it was a secretly recorded tape, would that sort of add to his allure for journalists?
SWEET: Well, I -- yes and no. Most of his fund-raisers are close and have been. So he has opened up some of them now and you don't even know really where he is most of the day because he doesn't put out a full schedule. You don't each know where he's going to fund-raisers.
So there is so much unknown. I don't know the fact that we got the tape alone, I think no matter what circumstances that any comment like this would have surfaced, it would have been news. I don't think the, quote, "surreptitious" part of it made much of a difference.
KURTZ: Have journalists done it adequate job of pointing out the weaknesses in Romney's 45 percent argument. Namely, most of those people do pay some payroll taxes and substantial amount of payroll taxes, but some of theme are already and retired and therefore not having to pay. That some of them vote Republican are not just knee- jerk Democrats.
BAKER: I think the press has exactly done a lot on that. I think they've gone -- broken down and explained to people. It's been a good teaching lesson about the nature of the American tax system day and who pays what. I think what we've missed perhaps is in the nature of the scandal and this sort of breathlessness.
What we've missed is a very fundamental philosophical debate between Romney and Obama here. And if you go back to Obama's gaffe or whatever you want to call it, you didn't build it, I mean both of this maybe overhype, or someone out of context. But if you really look at them, they actually do represent a pretty interesting, different way of looking at the role of government in society today.
KURTZ: When you look at all the terrible -- I think that's a good point. We ought to look at the larger debate and there was substance at the heart of this comment, even though some of it mate have been taken out of context. If you look at last week's events, the convention, Clint Eastwood, Romney's statement right after the Libya attacks were actually came out before the attacks were completed.
And now this -- it must look to the outside world that the press is beating up on Romney.
SWEET: Well, there's many outside world on this thing. If you're in battleground state where the coverage is spoken on that candidates coming to your state, you may not be hearing this as relentlessly as you hear al these lists of problems that --
KURTZ: Because people get cable networks and they get newspapers and they get the Internet.
SWEET: Yes. But there's also a layer of coverage that we're not exposed to on a daily basis. KURTZ: Oh, you're saying the local reporting --
SWEET: Right, because -- absolutely. So I'm saying, yes, the messages are there, but they get extra information that is not on the national level.
KURTZ: Breaking in the front page story of "The New York Times" this week about Obama using the powers of incumbency, filing a trade complaint against China for example, using ambassadors -- excuse me, using cabinet member to go out to the states, announcing grants that are well-timed.
You also say that George W. Bush did this and Bill Clinton did this. Why is this important to be in the front page?
BAKER: Well, in the campaign, you have to sort of point how candidates are running what their operations are and what tactics they use and what available they have. President Obama just this week -- this last week announces a WTO complaint about China and I think it's important to kind of peel back the surface a little bit and see wait's about.
Now, the complaint is very substantive. It's a product of months of lawyering and campaign documents. It's not something a campaign can do. But the rollout of it, how you announce it, how you take advantage of it is obviously campaign related.
KURTZ: Before we go to break -- and I do have go to break -- I want to put up a chart. New Gallup poll showing trust in the media. Look that line, 46 percent back in 1997 had little or no confidence in the mass media. It's now up to 60 percent. It's a stunning verdict against our news business.
Up next, the president and Letterman, Mitt Romney with Kelly Ripa, and they're both heading to "The View". How did the chat shows take over this campaign.
KURTZ: In their latest appearances on a chat show circuit, Mitt Romney pumped up on Kelly Ripa's show, while President Obama sat on the David Letterman's couch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
DAVID LETTERMAN, COMEDIAN: One-eighty looks good --
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you.
LETTERMAN: That's just about where I am and I don't look so good at 180.
OBAMA: You look sharp.
LETTERMAN: You haven't seen me naked.
OBAMA: We're going to keep it that way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what does Mitt wear to bed?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't write the question. I promise, I didn't write the question.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, he did.
ROMNEY: I think the best answer is as little as possible.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: The naked truth comes out.
"Washington Post" columnist Ruth Marcus says the candidates are going to demeaning places and answering demeaning questions. Really?
BAKER: Yes, and not the first time, course. This got started really when Bill Clinton and the boxers and brief questions.
KURTZ: On MTV.
BAKER: On MTV 20 years ago, and asked, this is the latest version of it.
It's a way of humanizing people, obviously. It's a way of getting around those 60 percent negative media organizations that candidates don't trust and that viewers don't trust.
KURTZ: And a way of reaching voters who don't watch Sunday talk show hosts, or who don't watch cable news all day.
SWEET: Absolutely. That's why these shows are used so much. The Romneys are going to be on "The View" on Tuesday or is it the Obamas.
SWEET: I got it, excuse me. I screwed up.
This is important audiences as you noted -- different demographics, especially these daytime shows. Yes, and you get some very different questions. I think we shouldn't go by the exceptions are, such as what you wear to bed, which I found the answer interesting. Why not?
But that they do provide us with extra information about these people.
KURTZ: There was a sun substantive discussion as well on Letterman with the president. Mitt Romney a little bit nervous about the view. Here's another part of that fund-raising video which he talk about, his challenge in going on that program.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: "Saturday Night Live" has a potential of looking slapstick and not presidential. But "The View" is fine, although "The View" is high risk because of the five women on it. All but one is conservative. Four are sharp-tongued and not conservative. Whoopi Goldberg in particular.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So he's going to take on Vladimir Putin but he's worried about Whoopi Goldberg.
BAKER: Vladimir Putin doesn't have the power to actually beam in to all battle ground states. You know, it's important.
SWEET: All these shows aren't equal, and because "Saturday Night Live", she mocked whoever is there, I can see how it's a higher risk than going on "The View."
BAKER: But you also want to show you have a sense of humor, and that's one thing that politicians have done over the years.
SWEET: But I think if he recognizes that he can't pull it off, which is it is hard, it's not a good decision not to go.
KURTZ: By the way, he's right. "The View" is basically four of liberals and one conservative, and "SNL" has really had a field today, been Lampooning.
But just briefly, do you now have to be funny and entertaining to be elected president? Is that now a job requirement?
BAKER: It's so funny, we're talking about the likability factor so much with two candidates who frankly are not that likeable, right? I mean, on the pantheon of politicians, neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney are the take home, and have a beer kind of guys that we've seen in the past. In fact, it's not what the campaign really is about.
It's a side show and it was really about economic interests and a lot of serious policy issues.
SWEET: So, one thing that's very important in politics is self- deprecating humor and Obama has demonstrated that many, many times, and I think it is a very a useful tool sometimes to defuse your critics.
KURTZ: And, look, we've now address one of our penetrating questions of this season, which is Mitt Romney does know who Snooki is and he likes her.
Peter Baker and Lynn Sweet, thanks for stopping by this Sunday morning.
"RELIABE SOURCES " ahead, in just a moment.
KURTZ: CNN came under sharp criticism from the State Department last night for its reporting on the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three of his colleagues in Libya. CNN had attributed some details about Stevens' security concerns as Anderson Cooper confirmed on Friday to a source familiar with Ambassador Stevens' thinking.
And CNN attributed its findings to others, as well as its own reporting on the ground.
Three days after the attack, CNN correspondent found a seven-page journal kept by Stevens in the compound. CNN says they contacted the family and returned the journal within 24 hours at the family's request. Days later, CNN used the journal for tips that it corroborated with other sources, as questions mounted about the security concerns at the consulate in Benghazi.
Now, State Department spokesman Philippe Reines says in a statement to the "Huffington Post," he called the network's handling of the journal, quote, "indefensible", saying CNN went against the family wishes in reporting on the journal. Reince also said, quote, "CNN patting themselves on the back is disgusting."
CNN says it reported the existence of the journal on Friday night only because news organizations had called to ask about it. The network adds in the statement that it didn't quote from or show the journal out of concerns for the family.
The statement also said, "CNN did not initially report on the existence of the journal out of respect for the family, but we felt there were issues raised in the journal which required full reporting which we did. We think the public had a right to know what CNN had learned from multiple sources about the fears and warnings of a terrorist strike before the Benghazi attack, which are now raising questions about why the State Department didn't' do more to protect Ambassador Stevens and other U.S. personnel. Perhaps the real question here is why the State Department is now attacking the messenger."
I understand the raw feelings involved here, but my take is that CNN did the right thing in using the journal's contents for its reporting on a vital subject, and, at the same time, tried to be sensitive to the feelings of a grieving family. We'll be right back.
KURTZ: On the day that "Mother Jones" disclosed the secretly recorded Romney video tape it seemed like MSNBC was covering the story every ten minutes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC: Tonight, the Romney campaign is reeling from the leak of a secretly recorded video of Mitt Romney speaking all too candidly at a campaign fundraiser, where he managed to insult and lie about 150 million Americans.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: The poor of this country are just freeloaders off society.
ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: There are two Americas and he only cares about one of them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: That same day there was no primetime mention of the controversial video on Fox News, except for a discussion on Greta Van Susteren's show. But the following day, after Romney sat down with Fox's Neil Cavuto, the network's top talkers were defending the Republican nominee.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: Tonight, we have a controversy over Governor Romney telling supporters that a large portion of the American population is dependent on government and most likely will not vote for him. Here's my question. Why is that controversial? That's true.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Let's break down what you just heard, because everything that Governor Romney said is 100 percent accurate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now here in Washington, Jennifer Rubin, author of "The Washington Post" "Right Turn" blog, and Bill Press, host of a "SiriusXM" radio show which also airs on Current TV. Jennifer, is MSNBC and (inaudible) mainstream media overplaying this videotape story?
JENNIFER RUBIN, WASHINGTON POST, RIGHT TURN BLOG: Oh, you think so? Yeah. I think they are.
KURTZ: You don't think it's important?
RUBIN: Yeah, I do think it's important, but I think likely virtually every story in this campaign, the stories that are the gaffes, that are the ones that the Obama team is more than happy to have at the top of the news, magically are at the top of the news. And I -- by the way, the media's responsible, but so is the Romney camp. I think they've done a very poor job in getting their own message out and communicating, developing relationships with the media. So when these things come along, that they're proactive and that they can diffuse them. There are major, major stories going on right now, and yet these stories ...
KURTZ: I'll let you get back to that.
RUBIN: ... these stories get to ...
KURTZ: By contrast, is Fox News deliberately downplaying this Romney videotape?
BILL PRESS: Totally. Totally. And I don't think -- I'm not so -- big news, MSNBC played it up, Fox News played it down. What I think was more significant is that "The New York Times," "The Washington Post," it was all on their front page. NBC, ABC, and CBS all led with it on their evening news. It's a big deal when a candidate for president starts off by saying, I'm not even going to go after half of the electorate. That's a BFD.
KURTZ: To quote Joe Biden, yes. As you know, Jennifer Rubin, some of the harshest comments came from pundits commentators on your sight of the political spectrum. Peggy Noonan, for example, saying that Romney campaign had turned into a rolling calamity and David Brooks of "The New York Times." Well, here is what he had to say earlier this morning on "Meet the Press."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID BROOKS: Mitt Romney doesn't have the passion for the stuff he is talking about. He is a problem solver. I think he is a non- ideological person running an extremely ideological edge, and he's faking it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So it's not all the so-called liberal media.
RUBIN: Well, David Brooks is moderate by his own description these days. He used to be conservative, but he's a moderate now.
RUBIN: Yeah, and I think at some point the Romney team and specifically Ann Romney, decided that the hysterics should stop. Listen, in many of the national polls, it's tied. Even in these battle states it's a close race and yet the conservative intelligentsia inside the beltway is having a meltdown. Why is that? I think it's several things. One is, that they never really liked Romney to begin with and now they're playing a little bit of I told you so. Part of it, I think, is the plethora of polls and again, part of it is that Romney has left this vacuum of storyline, of information, of message and people run in.
PRESS: Well, I just admire Jennifer's attempt to put all this behind her. But, listen. What kept this story alive, I think, was, number one, the Republican, conservatives, pundits and commentators who were very, very critical. Bill Kristol calling it stupid and arrogant, those remarks. But then the Republicans themselves. Scott Brown, Linda Lingle, Dean Heller, Susan Collins. You can go down the list of Republicans, senators or candidates who distanced themselves from Mitt Romney. That kept the story alive. When Harry Reid went on the floor of the Senate and said this means he's got to show his tax returns ... (LAUGHTER)
PRESS: ... not one Republican senator stood on the floor to defend Mitt Romney.
RUBIN: I think there is a different reason for that, but yeah ... * KURTZ: Let me get back to the media and let me turn to the 1998 videotape, that surfaced the Barack Obama, which Fox News played again and again for a couple of days and here are is how some of the Fox commentators (ph) that story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An audiotape services that President Obama espousing the socialist tenet of income redistribution.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Redistribution is code word, dog word, for socialism.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the sinister side of redistribution, the power goes to Washington.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is division, that is class warfare. This president has taken us straight down the road of Europe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: What State Senator Obama said was actually, "I believe in redistribution." Then this is the part the Republican ad cut it off. "At least at a certain level to make sure that everybody's got a shot." Now, is that equivalent in newsworthy value to the Romney (inaudible)?
RUBIN: I think somewhat. I think both of these, however, are representative of an undue fixation on the gaffe in the moment. In fact, we've had lots of these throughout the campaign. In fact, at one point I wrote a column of all the things that were supposed to be decisive comments that both sides had made and it never is. And the polls move for a few days, then they retreat. And in fact, I think, the fundamentals of this election remain the same, and because the media loves to pounce on these and it's easy reporting and you can pontificate for hours, they don't cover the more complicated, the more difficult and also the more problematic stories for the president.
PRESS: Well, I have to say. It is hardly a comparison of the gaffes of the moment. One was 1998. The other was 2012.
KURTZ: And beyond that, I mean let me just jump in for half a second. Did the press do a good enough job of pointing it out? When Obama talks about redistribution. And we do have redistribution in this country.
PRESS: Yes. KURTZ: We have a progressive income tax. We have a Medicare program and the Social Security program that do transfer wealth to those who need it.
PRESS: And as you know, Howard ...
KURTZ: We can argue whether they're -- whether these programs are out of control. Bu that's a different debate.
PRESS: Right. And when you look at this context, he was talking about this distribution of public funds, foundation and public funds for public education and they ought to be distributed more fairly so that all kids have a shot, that's what he was saying, but this was a classic bait and switch. The Romney campaign gave it to drudge. Drudge puts it on top. Fox News picked it up and you know what, nobody else went with it because it was -- it was apples and oranges.
KURTZ: Other people reported, I want to turn everything -- as you keep suggesting that -- the press is not applying the same standards to President Obama. So, he was interviewed by Univision's Jorge Ramos, among others, on that channel, on immigration, and Ramos said you promised that and you didn't keep your promise -- the immigration reform. Why don't we hear more of that from the media about places where the president's record has fallen short of his promises?
RUBIN: You could have one of two explanations. One is, they're in the tank for the Obama campaign. That's the popular one. The other is that we have gotten too fixated on process and political machinery questions, that people really don't look to politics. We also haven't had very explanation of poverty in America, we haven't had very much explanation of ...
KURTZ: Maybe it's time for Bill to jump in.
RUBIN: You know, the connection between debt and low growth.
PRESS: I think Jorge Ramos did a great job. I think he showed us all the way you ought to conduct an interview. I salute him for it. I mean that's a good question. Why haven't you (ph) of an immigration reform? I think he has a good answer for it, but the media has to press more, even if it's the president of the United States.
KURTZ: I agree with that. And with so much focus on Romney's mistakes all the last few weeks and a lot of them have been self- inflicted wounds. We can't lose sight of the fact that president is running on his record as well. Bill Press, Jennifer Rubin, thanks for coming by. Enjoyed our discussion.
After the break, more of my sit down with Bob Woodward about his new book "The Price of Politics." He got ample access to the president and his top aides, but ...
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KURTZ: One-word answer. If the White House had asked for quote approval, what would you have said?
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KURTZ: Woodward's answer in a moment.
KURTZ: It was a bitter battle that pushed the country to the brink of default with President Obama and Speaker John Boehner trying and ultimately failing to reach a sweeping budget deal. The threats and counter-threats were covered pretty extensively by the press, but it turns out there was more to the story. Now, the compromise that was reached last summer continues to shape the presidential campaign as both sides face plunging over what's called the "fiscal cliff" at the end of this year. What happened behind the scenes is the subject of Bob Woodward's new book, "The Price of Politics." And here is more of our conversation.
KURTZ: In "The Price of Politics," I wonder if it was a bigger challenge for you. Like your last four books were about war. And this -- this budget battle between President Obama and the Congressional Republicans had been pretty extensively covered, and there was nice ticktocks (ph) in "The New York Times" magazine and elsewhere, covering the same ground. So, was that more of a challenge for you to excavate more deeply?
BOB WOODWARD, WASHINGTON POST: No. Because there is always coverage, there was coverage on the Afghan war, there was coverage on Bush's war, but, you know, 80 to 90 percent of the information in this book is all new. You have to have some of the structure of what was being said in public and so forth, then the president is quoted thousands, literally thousands of words in private meetings, things that people had no idea of. And ...
KURTZ: How were you able to get -- I mean I know that you, for one thing you talked to the president, you talked to Mitch McConnell, you talked to other key players, John Boehner, but you had long verbatim reconstructions of meetings. I mean it wasn't just a quote or two that somebody might have said I remember the president saying that. How were you able to get that kind of specificity?
WOODWARD: There were people who take notes. And they often sit in the back or they're off at the main table and there are some great note takers. And they get a hold of those contemporaneous notes and then check with people who were speaking, give them an opportunity to talk. And for instance, at one point, Speaker Boehner said that the president was so angry he was moaning and groaning and desperate and threatening, and I asked the president about that and he said anyone who knows me knows I don't moan and groan and threaten, I'm not desperate, but as we used to say a long time ago, in a sense, that's a non-denial denial. KURTZ: Anyone who knows me.
WOODWARD: Yes. I mean, it doesn't mean it didn't happen at that point, and then when you lay out the circumstances and the drama of it. And this is -- look, war is central, but the condition of the American economy means so much to everyone.
KURTZ: And coming to the brink of default as this budget battle did last year.
WOODWARD: Well, and coming to the brink of the problem again in about three or four months ...
WOODWARD: We're going to be in the soup.
KURTZ: Essentially kick the can down the road. You found some great secondary characters, and one thing that caught my eye in your report, that Peter Orszag, former White House economic adviser, he left, he became a "New York Times" columnist and then he was sending drafts of his columns to the White House in advance. And what happened then?
WOODWARD: Well, he wrote some things that were OK, then Valerie Jarrett, the senior adviser in the White House, it turned out when the columns were published in "The New York Times" she didn't like them and actually told him he burned his bridges with Obama. Orszag was the budget director for the first two years.
KURTZ: Right. Right. As you know, Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House disputes one thing you reported, which is that she put the president on mute on the phone when he was having a conference call with Democrats. She says that did not happen.
WOODWARD: Well, the president wasn't put on mute. She was in a conference with Harry Reid and others ...
KURTZ: She put her own people on mute.
WOODWARD: She put herself ...
WOODWARD: ... and her own people, so the president's words were able to come by, because they had to come up with some numbers on the stimulus package and they were dividing a great pie, and if you know lots of people in conference calls, which essentially is what it is, they get bored or they want to do something else or talk to somebody else or focus, and they will mute their phone. It's not necessarily unusual. And again, her -- it was a non-denial. (laughter). It was kind -- Anyway.
KURTZ: You're standing by the reporting.
WOODWARD: Well, I mean the witnesses were there ... KURTZ: Sure.
WOODWARD: ... and emphatic about it. And there's nothing -- but the point of including that in the book is to show that this, you know, seven or 800 billions of dollars in the stimulus package was a dream come true for the Democrats up there saying, oh, now we can spend it on education, we can spend it on those, we can spend it on new energy projects, we can spend it on tax deduction. I mean they're -- the goodies in the candy jar at that moment were overflowing, and everyone's desire, including Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to get their share was such, well, we'll let the president talk in his high-minded way, but we're still -- I need 4 billion more for education.
KURTZ: You seem a bit more transparent in this book. I mean some of your previous books you say, and you detail, you have (ph) interviews with McConnell, and Boehner and, of course, the president. Was it a conscious effort on your part to push as much on the record as you could?
WOODWARD: Well, I think the key players should talk on the record, and you want to hear exactly what their words are.
KURTZ: But you're, of course, famous for talking to people who don't want to be on the record, deep throat chief among them. But many other sources over the years.
WOODWARD: Yes. Yes, that's right. And I've got lots of information in media notes and memos and so forth. I got a bunch of memos about the offers between the White House and the Republicans on various phases of this deal making, which eventually collapsed, and the White House was not happy. And I said, well, why don't you give them all to me, and they said, well, this is like catnip to you. And I said well, you know, let's lay it all out, and to the credit of the White House, they were incredibly transparent on this. They didn't ask for quote approval as they have for some people, and it's -- as one of the people in the White House said, it is not a pretty story. And what's not pretty about it is the basic problem has not been solved. We have $16 trillion of IOUs out there.
KURTZ: One word answer, if the White House had asked for quote approval, what would you have said?
WOODWARD: I mean, I don't think they could have looked at somebody like myself who has been around for so long and looked me in the eye and asked that, and I would have said, you know, come on.
KURTZ: You say at the end of this book that ultimately it was President Obama who failed to work his will in Congress. Now, you make clear that Republicans at various points were intransigent, both sides, both leaders on both sides have difficulty getting their troops in line.
WOODWARD: More than difficulty.
WOODWARD: I mean there's a real war going on in each party.
KURTZ: Right. But ultimately you choose to lay the majority of the blame on the president's shoulders, why?
WOODWARD: Because the president is the leader, this is the Obama era, this is not the John Boehner era. And presidents have to find a way to do hard things and this didn't happen here. And look, the president himself a couple of weeks ago in public gave himself an incomplete, and that's essentially what I'm saying. And you know what, it's a shame for everyone in this country, because there could have been some partial fix or we could have gone on the road to fixing some of these things.
KURTZ: That did not happen. Less than a minute. Some of your past book critics have said, well, you lay all the facts, you vacuum them up in your classic style, but you go a little light on the analysis. Did you feel more pressure to reach a conclusion, to say here is how it seemed to me after I've done the reporting?
WOODWARD: No, because the facts when you lay them out in a situation like this and you talk to everyone and you weigh it and as I point out, there's lots of discussion of Clinton and Reagan in this book, Clinton did this, Reagan did that, they should have -- they would have done the following. You look back on their presidencies, which, you know as well as anyone, and there's a lot of criticism that can be directed at them. But on the large issues of national business, they worked their will, they made deals and Obama in the end made a political calculation to go ahead and make sure, do everything he can, not to solve the problem, but to get reelected.
KURTZ: At the end of this book we know where Bob Woodward stands. Bob Woodward, thanks very much for sitting down with us.
WOODWARD: Thank you.
KURTZ: Still to come, Ted Koppel takes on Bill O'Reilly. "The New York Times" pushes back against demanding sources. And which cable show fill for "A Fake Pirate?" "The Media Monitor" is straight ahead.
KURTZ: Time now for "The Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business. Here is what I liked. On NBC's "Rock Center," Ted Koppel took a withering look at the loud, shrill and ideological tone of commentary on the airways, particularly at Fox News and MSNBC.
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O'REILLY: You are a coward! You blame everybody else.
You're a coward.
REP. BARNEY FRANK, D-MASS.: Here's the problem with going on your show. You start ranting. O'REILLY: Does that offend you?
TED KOPPEL, NBC: Does it offend me? It offends me when you're rude. It offends me when you ride over people, which you have a tendency to do.
O'REILLY: But I only do it when they filibuster or when they lie, as Barney Frank did that one time.
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KURTZ: Now, I give Bill credit for coming on and sparring with Ted, but even though it is an NBC program hosted by Brian Williams, the bosses wouldn't allow anyone from MSNBC to appear with Koppel. Talk about holding everyone else accountable.
I talked last week about author Michael Lewis spending eight months trailing President Obama, but giving the White House veto power over all quotes. Well, now "The New York Times" is getting out of that business. The paper telling us reporters in a memo that the whole quote approval game has gone too far and risks giving leaders a mistaken impression that we are ceding too much control over a story to our sources. What might really change the game is that other news organizations followed suit.
On "Fox and Friends," it seems the friends make a fair number of mistakes, and they always happen to cast President Obama in a negative light. Here is the morning show saying Obama is too busy to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but he has time for this.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here he is, sitting down with a pirate, making sure he did not forget to commemorate international Talk Like a Pirate Day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Arggh ....
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is in the Oval Office, the pirate is.
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KURTZ: Except that the photo is from three years ago, and the president was doing a bit for the White House Correspondents Association. "Fox and Friends" did acknowledge their mistake on Twitter. Arggh indeed.
That's it for this edition of "Reliable Sources." If you miss a program, go to iTunes on Monday, then you can get the free audio pod cast or buy the video version. You'll find it on the non-fiction TV show section of the iTunes store. We're back here next Sunday morning. I hope you'll join us. "State of the Union" with Candy Crowley begins right now.