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Biden Mesmerizes Media; Romney's Move to the Middle; Moderating a Presidential Debate

Aired October 14, 2012 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: I've been covering Joe Biden for a long time and he's always been defined by his passion. That emotional style helped the vice president keep the upper hand in his debate against Paul Ryan.

But for some conservative commentators, Biden's smiling and smirking was practically the only issue.


BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS: I thought it was unattractive. I thought it was rude. And I have a feeling it will come across to an awful lot of people as rude. He looked like a cranky old man, to some extent, debating a polite young man.


KURTZ: Should the media be focusing more on laughter and body language than the clash over Medicare, taxes and foreign policy?

We'll look at how ABC's Martha Raddatz handled herself and we'll talk with the moderator of this week's presidential debate, Candy Crowley.

Mitt Romney changes his emphasis on abortion, and the media start examining whether the severely conservative ex-governor is moving to the middle. Were journalists too slow off the mark?

Author Buzz Bissinger says he's a lifelong Democrat who's now voting for Romney, and ignites an obscenity-laden firestorm on Twitter. He'll be here.

Plus, how did the presidential campaign come to fixate on this towering figure?


BIG BIRD: I feel like I'm famous now. I was walking down the street the other day and I felt like everybody recognized me.


KURTZ: "Sesame Street", the home of Elmo, Oscar, and Cookie Monster, fights back. I'm Howard Kurtz and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.


KURTZ: There were heated clashes over the issues as Joe Biden and Paul Ryan squared off in Kentucky. But by a strange coincidence, that was not the focus of much of the media. Instead, it was the mirth and mockery exhibited by the vice president of the United States.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: When we look weak, our adversaries are much more willing to test us, they are more brazen in their attacks, and our allies are less willing to --

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With all due respect, that's a bunch of malarkey.

RYAN: In a Romney administration, we will have credibility on this issue.


BIDEN: It's incredible.

RYAN: Jack Kennedy lowered taxes and increased growth. Ronald Reagan --

BIDEN: Oh, now, you're Jack Kennedy.

RYAN: I think the vice president very well knows sometimes the words don't come out of your mouth the right way.


RYAN: Mr. Vice President, I know you're under a lot of duress to make up for lost ground.



KURTZ: The FOX News crowd could hardly contain its distaste to Biden's performance.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: I don't believe that I have ever seen a debate in which one participant was as openly disrespectful of the other as Biden was to Paul Ryan tonight.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, FOX NEWS: It was so disrespectful, I agree with Chris Wallace. It was sort of almost unprecedented and hugely condescending.


KURTZ: On MSNBC where the gang was so depressed over President Obama's lackluster outing, the mood was downright celebratory.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: This was Joe Biden, as you just saw on his best tonight, and he gave President Obama's campaign a needed victory.

ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: I also thought that Joe Biden's experience tonight on foreign policy -- I mean, it was a man against a boy.


KURTZ: So have the media fallen short in analyzing this debate and could we be possibly exaggerating its importance?

Joining us now: in New York, Keli Goff, political correspondent for And here in Washington, Steve Roberts, professor of media and public affairs at the George Washington University, who spent a couple of decades at the "New York Times." And David Frum, a CNN contributor and contributing editor for "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast."

Steve Roberts, theatrics have been a part of politics roughly forever. But with some exceptions, the coverage seemed to be fixated almost on the laughter and the body language of Joe Biden.

STEVE ROBERTS, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Well, as you say, theatrics are important. We remember moments when Al Gore sighed and George Bush looking at his watch. Because the power of television, the visual impact of television is so great, Howie, that it does have an effect.

But these were Republican talking points before the debate was over. Every Republican strategist, every Republican commentator got the same memo which was -- with the same words, which was call him childish, call him immature.

And so, they've been driving and, of course, there's been an ad out tonight or today mimicking that as well.

KURTZ: David Frum, Paul Ryan who hadn't been in this national spotlight held his own and that's been overshadowed by all the commentary about Biden.

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He held his own and Martha Raddatz also drove a point. And I think one of the media stories that came out of this debate was the way in which it had been a Washington story.

Eli Lake, our colleague at "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast," his reporting of the untruth of the administration's Benghazi narrative burst from inside the Beltway to arrive at a national debate. And Joe Biden was forced to say things that are almost not true and had to be redefined when it's now explained that Joe Biden said we didn't know, he meant the White House didn't know, not the entire administration.

KURTZ: Let me go --

FRUM: So that's raising the question does the buck stop at the State Department.

KURTZ: You know, Keli Goff, maybe pundits are just like ordinary people in the sense that if you don't like Joe Biden you find him overbearing, over the top, them you found him rude and offensive. And if you liked the guy, you were cheering for him as he was trying to slam dunk Congressman Ryan.

KELI GOFF, THEROOT.COM: I think there's certainly a bit of that. But I will say this, I did tweet while I was watching the debate and asked, you know, were there any other viewers who were somewhat uncomfortable with his pointing which we know is for emphasis, which we all know was for emphasis, but we also it's a little bit rude, right?

And particularly I will say this, even though I'm going to get in trouble for it, I did mention this in my column, that when you have a man doing it towards a woman, it can look a little menacing.

So, I think there was a definitely a combination of the Joe Biden fan club, which he has a number of members of, including a few friends of mine, who called him "Smiling Joe Biden", right? I think he's actually quite the pin-up for some women of a certain age, you'd be surprised to know.

KURTZ: OK. Thank you for that breaking news.


KURTZ: Let me back to the folks here.

Steve, David Frum makes a point that the administration's narrative or shifting explanations on Libya have gotten some media attention. On the tax cut where Biden and even Martha Raddatz, challenged Ryan whether the numbers add up. On Medicare, you know, frankly, I have to ask -- where was the press on this? There's been some substantive coverage but it hasn't been the main theme.

ROBERTS: You're right about that and I think Biden in that sense made a mistake because he gave his opponent as chance to focus on the theatrics and not the substance.

Take one very good example where he really skewer Ryan on the question of the stimulus where Ryan as a congressional representative from Janesville had twice asked for money from the constituencies, and while he's attacking the whole concept of stimulus. Now, that kind of story has gotten buried in all of the talk about the theatrics.

So the Democrats are cheering Biden, but he made a mistake by giving his opponent a chance to focus on the theatrics.

KURTZ: Is there so much media attention on Joe Biden, his smiling and smirking aside, in part because President Obama did so poorly in that first debate, which was the seen as the next shot for Democrats?

FRUM: Yes. And of the particular way that President Obama did badly. If you follow the theory, this is a visual contest, it doesn't matter what they say, it matters how they said it, that what Biden did to Ryan, maybe he didn't make sense, maybe he told some lies, but what he did do is go on the stage and prove that he was the king gorilla, he dumped on the other guy and threw him around.

But in the previous debate, Romney had been the king gorilla and since we're more concerned about king and vice king, the fact President Obama so significantly failed to hold his own on that stage I think is a very concerning thing to Democrats, because it doesn't just go to the president's, you know, was he asleep, was he tired? It goes to -- is he forceful enough to be a commander of a nation?


KURTZ: Go ahead, Kelli.

GOFF: No, I was also going to say, also, Howard. You know, I think that part of this is with the perception about Biden is one of the reasons we're more obsessed with him perhaps than other vice presidents is because I very rarely hear of any person in the media who says I want a particular person to win a debate. What I do hear is we want a memorable moment, something we can obsess about, write about, analyze with an inch of his life.

And when it comes to delivering moments like that, Joe Biden is the gift that keeps on giving, or should is say gif as in G-I-F, because I've seen nonstop gifs and viral videos and slide shows of his sighing, smirking and smiling.

And you know, he's been a gaffe machine and we love that. You now, we in the media love that. That's part of the coverage here.

KURTZ: Very briefly, are we a little caught up in the V.P. debate? These are after all the running mate. It's a great story for three or four days, but not necessarily affect people's votes in the end?

GOFF: Fabulous material for "Saturday Night Live," fabulous stuff for us to cover. But in terms of the big picture -- no, it's not as important of what's going on in Libya, Howard.

KURTZ: OK. Another story that I have been arguing has been under-covered, started on the front page that "The Washington Post" did the other day, Mitt Romney moving to the middle. It's been a couple of other stories, you know, it's been talked about a little bit on cable, "Politico" had a big piece.

But this whole question of whether Romney is shifting his positions, let's take a look at some of the chatter on the air on this very point.


LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC: Tonight, Mitt Romney is trying to teach Republicans who don't believe in Evolution to believe in the evolution of Mitt Romney.

DANA MILBANK, THE WASHINGTON POST: It's not clear to me that letting Mitt be Mitt means anything, that there is a real and authentic Mitt. He changes his positions the way you and I change neckties.

KRAUTHAMMER: There's nothing there there. What Romney is saying, I have an agenda on abortion I was shaping, I will make to legislation and here are what my positions are. There's no contradiction.


KURTZ: Regardless, Steve, of whether we're talking about Obamacare, tax cuts to the wealthy, abortion, which I'll get to in a moment, it's pretty clear that Mitt Romney is at least in tone and emphasis has changed from the Romney we saw in the primaries. Why has this not been at the top of the media agenda? Because -- I mean, this goes to the heart of not what you're laughing and smirking, but what kind of president you'll be.

ROBERTS: Well, it's harder to cover. You know, as Keli was saying, you know, Biden or Big Bird are easy to create an Internet meme, you can talk in a 140 characters about Joe Biden's smile. You can't talk 140 characters on Twitter about the complexities of the budget or taxes.

KURTZ: So, if it's too complicated for Twitter, we all take a pass?

ROBERTS: Well, I think that's part of the problem with coverage these days. But I do agree with you, that there should be much more coverage of the contradictions. You take the issue of immigration for instance. There's a very good example, where he tried to move to -- Romney tried to move the middle by implying he would preserve an Obama program of allowing young people to stay in America who otherwise might be deported, but then he had to skitter back because the right got upset with it. He said, no, no, I'm not going to keep the program. I'm just going to let some of the people who have gotten a permit a stay here.

So, I think there needs to be a lot more emphasis by the media on the contradictions that are appearing in the Romney policies as he does try to move to the middle.

KURTZ: Hold on, Keli. I want to play -- I get you in on the other end. I want to play for our viewers Romney being asked the other day by "The Des Moines Register" editorial board about his position on abortion.


DES MOINES REGISTER: Do you intend to pursue any legislation specifically regarding abortion?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't -- there's no legislation with regarding -- with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda.


KURTZ: And then within hours, David, his campaign does I would call a walk back, putting on a statement, "Governor Romney would of course support legislation aimed at providing greater protections for life."

How do you cover that one? He says one thing and the scrambling.

FRUM: The way you cover it and this is the way that it's true which is what we're seeing here is the most important struggle of 2013 should Romney win which is the struggle between candidate Romney and President Romney. President Romney and the man who think about being president is a highly responsible person. His major economist statement in September 2011, 140 pages, introduced by Glenn Hubbard, dean of Columbia Business School, said, I want to keep tax rates where they are.

But the party said, we want you to drive tax rates down. So, they have this absurd 20 percent tax cuts tossup in a speech. And Mitt Romney is now struggling. People say, well, it makes no sense. You can't -- it doesn't work that way. And Romney's private answer to that is probably, well, I don't intend to do it. So, it doesn't have to make sense.

KURTZ: Well --

FRUM: And it's in the same way with abortion. What Romney is saying, I intend to do nothing about abortion as president. But that's really what I -- that was President Romney speaking in Detroit and then candidate Romney has this giant apparatus that has to say, oh, no, he'll ban it and he'll come to people's house and track them down.

KURTZ: But, ordinarily, Keli Goff, when there's a clear difference, of gaffe, of contradiction between what a candidate says and what we kind of think he'll do as president, coming out of his own mouth and not the campaign, the press is all over that. I have seen less of that the last few weeks.

GOFF: I totally agree with you, Howard. I do think that a little bit of what's going on is what I would think of sort of gotcha or flip-flop fatigue in that 20 years ago, people weren't recording every candidate rally, every candidate fund-raiser, every candidate meet and greet, every candidate barbecue on their cell phone so couldn't hear everything that came out of their mouths.

I think now, we sort of live in the age where 20 years ago, the celebrity lied about getting plastic surgery, it was a front page cover story of the "National Enquirer" and "People" magazine, and today, we sort of assume most of them do, and so you sort of have to catch a public figure in a big lie to get serious coverage. That's just my humble opinion.

KURTZ: I want to do kind of a lightning round here -- very quick answers on quick topics. The "Associated Press" ran a picture -- "BuzzFeed" did a story about this -- of Joe Biden's notes and what he actually scribbled to himself. Usually we don't show that. Any problem with that?

ROBERTS: No, if he's got notes, if he brings them on camera and brings them to the set, we show them.

KURTZ: OK. "TIME" magazine had a piece on Paul Ryan that came out just before the debate -- there we see the notes -- just before, that showed that Paul Ryan in his workout gear and backwards cap, but he had posed for this willingly for "TIME" magazine last year before he was V.P. nominee.

Some people thought, it was trying to make Ryan look foolish.

And your thoughts, David?

FRUM: Youth and vigor. That's always a selling point, and that's been a big selling for the Ryan candidacy.


ROBERTS: And for the Obama candidacy, it's the functional equivalent of Obama on the basketball court. Everybody wants the pictures that show him young and vigorous.

KURTZ: OK. And President Obama will be making his second appearance on while in the Oval Office on "The Daily Show" this coming week. We talked about the difficulty of covering complicated issues.

Keli Goff, does it show it's more important to go on TV and be funny?

GOFF: In a word, yes. You know --

KURTZ: I asked for a short answer, you gave me one.

GOFF: Yes.

ROBERTS: But also, look --

GOFF: Maybe he should go on "Sesame Street," just throwing that out there as an idea. It gets lots of coverage.

ROBERTS: These shows are very important because the adage is find viewers and voters where they are.

GOFF: That's right.

ROBERTS: And they're on these TV shows, they're on "The View," they're on entertainment shows, not necessarily watching CNN. You got to reach them. KURTZ: And they're also as we were discussing before we came on this morning, on Twitter, where a study shows more and more people are watching the debate and commenting with your friends and followers at the same time. You've seen this in your class?

ROBERTS: I've seen it very much so. And that means a lot of people are going to be watching "The Daily Show" and then they're going to be twittering their friends who are going to get information from each other. Young people believe one source more than others. That's people like them.

FRUM: It's too late for President Obama to do much persuasion. At this point, his task is mobilization and that's what you do on "The Daily Show".

GOFF: Right.

KURTZ: That's why you got Jon Stewart.

Speaking of Comedy Central, Stephen Colbert was on "Meet the Press" this morning, a fake anchor on a real news show. He explained his curmudgeonly conservative character this way.


STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, THE COLBERT REPORT: I don't really watch the news so much.


COLBERT: I come in around 6:30 and I'd just say the opposite of whatever Rachel Maddow said the night before.


KURTZ: How easy is that?

When we come back, we should tar and feather media folks for putting Big Bird at the center of this campaign.


KURTZ: I thought I'd seen it all in terms of unusual topics in presidential campaigns, from Gennifer Flowers to Joe the plumber. But now, there's a controversy growing out of Mitt Romney's comments in the first debate, which are being flogged by the Obama campaign that even kids can recognize.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Could Mitt Romney really fire Big Bird? Just the thought of it has PBS fans all fired up.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A big question on Big Bird -- was that a mistake to bring it up in the debate?

ROMNEY: Big Bird is going to be just fine. "Sesame Street" is a very successful enterprise.

STUART VARNEY, FOX BUSINESS NETWORK: America is in dire financial shape and what have we got? The president talking about Big Bird and calling his opponent a liar.


KURTZ: This is a serious issue here about Mitt Romney saying that he would end the federal subsidy to PBS. But is that what all this coverage is that?

FRUM: Well, this is a rerun, a controversy we saw back in the middle of 1990s. That's the Republican Congress elected in 1994. The core problem that Republicans face when we talk about the budget is that budget cuts hurt, and when you need to do it, there's going to be pain.

And if you're going to mobilize people, you have to give them some warning about what's to come. The beauty of "Sesame Street" and PBS is there is this successful enterprise embedded within PBS, and as a way of talking about cuts, in way that shows there's going to be no pain, because actually, "Sesame Street' would do just fine. They have all to these merchandising rights.

And it begs the whole question of, so, what is going happen to Medicaid. That is a really uncomfortable subject.

KURTZ: It's a serious issue, but I just think the media are having so much fun with it, Kelly Goof. And serious other part of this is that Sesame Workshop, which produces the program, has demanded the Obama campaign to pull the ad that uses the Big Bird controversy in order to taunt Romney saying he would crackdown Sesame Street but not on Wall Street.

GOFF: Such a fun show and not letting any of us have any fun in the media, right, Howard? I mean, you know, come on.

Look, you know a story has officially reached media saturation, Howard, when you have articles about the number of articles about the number of sexy Big Bird Halloween costumes we were all apparently going to be seeing come Halloween.

So I think it's official that we dumped the shark on this. But let me say this in seriousness -- I'm a big believer in giving readers a slice of dessert with their vegetables.

And what I mean by that is do I think the media should be covering Big Bird, Kim Kardashian, 24/7? Absolutely not. But I will say this -- one of my most widely read stories about the contraception debate was in which I talked about the Kardashian mom putting her girls on the pill as teenagers. So, sometimes --


GOFF: You got to -- ROBERTS: Well, look, as David says, it's an important point here. It's hard to crystallize the impact of budget cuts and people are hypocritical on the federal government. They all say, get the government off my back and out of my pocket until there's a cut that affects them. And so, the critics can seize on big bird and say here's an example. But it's also a part of what we're talking about earlier, the trivialization.

You can create an Internet meme on Big Bird. You can talk about it in 140 characters. You can't talk about Medicare in 140 characters. So, this is tremendous temptation to do that.

KURTZ: Neither have 140 characters have a few on this. There have also been complaints from various networks about Andrea Mitchell and Bob Schieffer and other journalists being used in campaign ads by both sides. Isn't that fair game if they say something on the air? Or they have a point saying take me, take me out of that partisan --

ROBERTS: I think networks try so hard to create brands out of their individual people they market them as authoritative features, then they can't really complain when their celebrity and their status is being used against them.

FRUM: If the media can show Joe Biden's notes, the political campaigns can certainly show the people who asked the questions the candidates are answering.

KURTZ: Last word, David Frum, Steve Roberts, Keli Goff -- thanks for stopping by this morning.

Up next, the third person on that V.P. debate stage has generated an awful lot of commentary. My 2 cents on Martha Raddatz.


KURTZ: Martha Raddatz was a fascinating choice as moderator of the V.P. debate and here's why. She's not an anchor who's accustomed to popping off on the air. She's a correspondent who's made her name in the field both covering the White House and on dozens of trips to Iran and Afghanistan. And, boy, did that experience show when she was questioning Joe Biden and Paul Ryan.


MARTHA RADDATZ, DEBATE MODERATOR: I have talked to a lot of troops. I've talked to senior offers who were concerned that the surge troops were pulled out during the fighting season and some of them saw that as a political move -- as a political move.

RYAN: Look, when I think about Afghanistan, I think about the incredible job that our troops have done. You've been there more than the two of us combined.


KURTZ: The moderator also prodded the contenders to be a bit more reflective.


RADDATZ: We have two Catholic candidates, first time on a stage such as this, and I would like to ask you both to tell me what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion.


KURTZ: Raddatz talked about her challenge the next morning, saying she had a lot of follow-up questions written down.


RADDATZ: When you're there and you're there in the moment, you really -- you really have to go with what's happening. So when they were talking to each other, when they were going at each other, you do -- you want to extort of step back from that. And yet, when I'd hear things I'd think, oh, I've got to jump in there. I've got to jump in.


KURTZ: And jump in she did, reining in both candidates.


RADDATZ: Quickly, Vice President, I want to move on.

RYAN: Where are the 5 million green jobs that we're being --

RADDATZ: I want to move on here to Medicare and entitlements. I think we've gone over this quite enough.


KURTZ: Moderating is a tough job. And despite some carping from Paul Ryan candidates, it seems to me that Martha was fair to both candidates. That's not because she's a woman for all the attention that has drawn, it's because she's a tough journalist.

Ahead on RELIABLE SOURCES, the woman who will be posing the questions at the next presidential debate on Tuesday. Candy Crowley joins us in a moment.


KURTZ: If there's one moment that shines a searing spotlight on a journalist is moderating a national debate as we've seen in the last couple of weeks.

And the next presidential debates, just two days away, Tuesday night at New York's Hofstra University, and CNN's Candy Crowley will be asking the questions along with the town hall audience.

And the host of "STATE OF THE UNION" joins me now. So you haven't exactly hidden the fact that this is a lot of pressure. CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, CNN'S "STATE OF THE UNION": It is a lot of pressure, but in the end, I mean, I know that we spend a lot of time on, you know, the moderator and what are they going do, and then afterwards whoever thinks they lost kind of blames the moderator.

I think the only way to go into this -- and I think both Jim did this and I think Martha did this -- at least I think it showed in their end product was, it's really not about me. That's what I keep -- when this seems, what about this, what about that -- I go, well, it's not about you, it's not about you.

It's about these two guys. I think Martha was on to something -- I've said this previously, these are organic things. You can't go in thinking you will definitely do this. It's like parenting, you know, you decide you're never, ever going to do something, and then you find yourself doing it, or that you will -- you've got this battle plan and the battle changes, and you have to be able to move with it. I think -- so you plan for everything and anything, and then you let it take its own course.

KURTZ: Well, you mentioned Martha Raddatz, and she got a lot of praise, I think, for tightly reining in the candidates, moving on when she felt she needed to move on, following up, asking specifics. Is that more toward the style that you will bring? You've moderated debates before.

CROWLEY: I have, and it's difficult. I will say I do think that part of what really helped Martha, and it definitely is more in her wheelhouse because she wants to get answers and move on to the next thing, and that's what you do as a reporter.

You can't have this lengthy -- let's talk about this. I think part of it was her experience as a reporter, but I also think it helps when they're sitting across the table from you. You and I know it's so much easier to talk to somebody who's here, because through your body language and everything else you can tell I'm getting close to done.


KURTZ: When you're up at a big lectern, you're a mile and a half away.

CROWLEY: Exactly, which really is what it even looked like. I was in the room during the Lehrer debate, and he was. Not only was he a mile away, but he is kind of down. So I think that kind of thing does matter, and also it's a presidential debate, and it's a little bit tougher to say to the president, would you be quiet for a minute, please?

KURTZ: Yes, would you zip it and let me get to the next question.

CROWLEY: There's a way to do these things. We'll see.

KURTZ: In terms of your preparation, are you buried in blue cards, have you been up late making all kinds of notes?

CROWLEY: I have them in every place in my house. Because the truth is that I will need probably 1 percent of what's going in here. But it has to be the right 1 percent. So you have got to get 100 percent and hope -- things are going to slip past you no matter what.

I think I've accepted, like there will always be something -- and I bet you do this too. There's never a show that goes by, there is never a piece that I write that I don't look back at it later and say, I should have done this.

KURTZ: Or I could have jumped in here, but you don't want to jump in so much that you interrupt the flow of the candidates. It's not a show. It's a presidential debate, and this one of course is going to have the town hall format, so questions from the audience. Does that make your job more challenging in a way, because you have to think about do you follow up if somebody gives an evasive answer to the nice lady from Long Island?

CROWLEY: Absolutely. And look, I think in some ways it's both. I think that it's very easy for politicians to run over a member of the news media. There's no penalty for that.

It's very difficult if I go, but Mr. President, she asked about oranges and you answered with apples. So I wonder if you could answer her question. That's harder, I think.

And yes, with follow-up. I think you go, you know, you either drill down more on the subject or say, that wasn't really this or that. So I think it helps him that way. It gives you like a posse in some ways, and it's not just you. It doesn't feel like it's just a member of the media. These are actual voters, but I also think there are just more moving parts, and any time I'm not in control, you know, that to me feels like a more difficult situation.

KURTZ: But briefly, you'll know in advance what these audience members are going to ask?

CROWLEY: Yes, yes. Yes. So we'll have seen the questions. We'll have selected, which ones we think will push it toward some new information, sort of expanding out other subjects that they've touched.

KURTZ: Going to get a good night's sleep the night before?

CROWLEY: I hope. I hope. You know, it's not something that's also under my control. You know, how you lie awake before a big night thinking what about this, what about that.

KURTZ: Right. Briefly as we wrap it up here, you talked about whichever side is perceived as losing, they'll often dump on moderator. That is also true of people on Twitter and everybody out here is going to have an opinion. So I'm sure you have decided to have a thick skin about the fact that you - what you'd be under this microscope. CROWLEY: I think that -- I think that -- I think you're either born with a thick skin or you're not. It's very hard to kind of get used to it. I am aware of it, but you can't be driven by it.

You either -- you know, as a journalist, you get batted around regardless, and I think it's good to know, but it's also not something that can drive what you do. You have to do what do you and just take what happens.

KURTZ: It comes with the territory.


KURTZ: Candy Crowley, we'll look forward to seeing you Tuesday night and hope to have a chance to talk with you afterwards.

We have a little bit of breaking news to deal with having to do with the record-breaking sky-dive plan very shortly and CNN's Brian Todd has that story -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Howard, the Red Bull Stratus launch of the balloon and capsule that will take Felix Baumgartner up to 120,000 feet above the earth did launch about 9 minutes ago and he is now ascending in his balloon.

You may be able to see a live feed of it there. He's now a little past 17,000 -- excuse me, 12,000 feet above the surface of the earth right now. He'll get to 120,000 feet.

It will take him about 2-1/2 to 3 hours so we project that he will make his feet so we project he'll make his jump between approximately 2:00 p.m. and 2:30 Eastern.

Once he gets to that he has to do several checks and other things but he's on the ascent now toward the point where he will attempt the record-breaking free fall from 120,000 feet above the surface of the earth. He'll also, of course, try to become the first person outside of a space vehicle to break the sound barrier, free falling at 390- plus-miles an hour.

KURTZ: Brian, is the reason there's so much media attention to this is because it's pretty risky?

TODD: Absolutely, Howard, the risks are pretty plentiful at this point. Once he gets up there and actually makes his leap, that's when the risks will occur. But the first 30 seconds to a minute are the most dangerous.

He could go into a flat spin. The suit could become breached. If that happens, then a lot of things could happen. His blood could boil. All the things you don't necessarily want to think about. The first minute of this jump is going to be the most dangerous.

HURTZ: OK, is there a delay in terms of the pictures that we're seeing? TODD: Well, the pictures that we're seeing, I think is real- time, if you're seeing the altitude there at 14, 900 some feet, that should be in real-time. That's a live feed that red bull is sending to some of the broadcasters in the United States and elsewhere.

He is now past 15,000 feet and it looks like a pretty rapid ascent. Once the balloon got off the ground it started moving fast.

KURTZ: CNN's Brian Todd thank you. This reminds me of the car chase that Fox News carried live where it's ended tragically and on the air.

And a suicide that we hope for a more positive outcome here obviously, the Cable Networks if they do take it live or running the risk of some bad news.

After the break here on RELIABLE SOURCES, a Pulitzer Price winning journalist gets plenty of abuse for daring to declare that he is voting for Mitt Romney. Buzz Bissinger is on deck.


KURT: As we mention before the break, Felix Baumgartner has begin his ascent in that balloon capsule attempting a record breaking skydive from 120,000.

As we also said, this could end badly. CNN is going to cover this, but we're not going to cover this real-time. There will be a delay, we'll have some time to process, however that turns out high over New Mexico.

Turning now to our segment, Buzz Bissinger is best known as a sports writer. Boy, did he kick up a political fuzz this week by announcing in "The Daily Beast" that he will vote for Mitt Romney. Even his wife thinks he's lost it. But what's really telling is what happened next.

The author of "Friday Night Lights really lit it up over Twitter, getting all kinds of abuse over his political stance, and Buzz Bissinger joins me now from Philadelphia. Buzz, welcome.

BUZZ BISSINGER, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "VANITY FAIR": Thank you, Howie. I think at this point I feel I was up in the space capsule with that guy. I think I should be or at least the witness protection program given the reaction, hundreds of thousands of comments.

KURTZ: We'll obscure your face for television purposes. So you write in the "Daily Beast" where I work that you're a lifelong Democrat and you're voting for Romney, and you got savaged. Talk about the reaction to your sharing your political opinions.

BISSINGER: I would say between "The Daily Beast" comments, Twitter comments, Facebook comments, I would say roughly 4,000 comments. I would say I ran about 6-1 against, and it wasn't just -- I disagree with you, it was the "f" word, it was you're a baby killer. And it was even friends. Among friends, it wasn't as vitriolic, but there was this sense of, how dare you, you're a traitor. I mean, you're a writer, you're a journalist, how can you possibly come out in favor of this man, although the column -- you could feel the anguish, you could feel the sense of perhaps traitorship. I am a life-long Democrat. This is a one-shot deal.

KURTZ: But what does that -- when friends of yours, and many of your friends are journalists, what does it mean when they say you're a traitor, and they're coming down on you for, you know, going through an honest assessment of who you think would be the best president in the next four years?

BISSINGER: Well, I mean, what it says to me is, there's no doubt in my mind that there's a definite liberal bias in the mainstream media. You take out Fox and you take out MSNBC, which has staked out at the right and the left, there is a liberal bias.

You are simply not expected when you're a journalist and a writer to endorse a Republican. And don't tell me it does not seep into the courage. You look at "The New York Times." You look at their editorial today on Afghanistan. You would feel it's the Republicans' fault that we're still there, but that's Obama's decision. It does seep in. I know because as a journalist, it seeped into what I wrote for "The Philadelphia Inquirer." But it was shocking -- not shocking. It confirmed things to me.

KURTZ: But there I think you're being a little unfair, at least painting with too broad a brush, Buzz. Because you say, when I was a reporter, my own personal opinion seeped in, and then you're making the automatic assumption that this is true for everybody. And there are a lot of journalists who cover politics, I mean, I can toss off a lot of names, but you know, Wolf Blitzer, Dan Balz of the "Washington Post," Candy Crowley, Chuck Todd -- I don't know what they think about politics. I think they are fair to both sides. Whatever their personal views, it seems to me that you just decided that everybody in the media tilt to the left, and that it shows in their work.

BISSINGER: Listen, I tend to paint with a broad brush, I know that. But look at the coverage of the drone attacks by Obama. I guarantee you, whoever it is, if it was a Republican president doing it, reporters would be all over that story.

As it is, there was a public ombudsman column in "New York Times." It's not being covered. David Rhodes, who was kidnapped by the Taliban, who now comments for Reuters, has said the same thing. Certain reporters try to call it down the middle, or try, but even then I still think it can be subtle or it can be not subtle. I do think there is a liberal bias. Now, granted, I'm judging, you know, from friends, but they were outraged. It was how dare you, how can you support a Republican -- and granted some journalists may be better at hiding it than others.

KURTZ: And you say of these friends, Buzz Bissinger, most of them were offended and outraged by you saying you're going to support Romney to the point where my relationship with them will never be the same again, and I think that is a mutual feeling. So this is really damaging some of your personal relationships.

BISSINGER: Well, it is. I mean, it is damaging my personal relationships. It's not apocryphal that my wife and I can simply not discuss politics. It has created some tension and marital spats, but I thought the reaction -- look. I thought liberals were supposed to be open-minded. I thought they were supposed divergent viewpoint to at least say, everyone in America has a right to an opinion, but it is really about I love free speech as long as it's the free speech that I want.


KURTZ: You say of liberals that 90 percent are every bit as nasty and vitriolic as the conservatives that they rightly condemn for being nasty and vitriolic. So it sounds like you have been surprised at the intensity of the heat that you've gotten from people, journalists and others, on the left side of the spectrum.

BISSINGER: I have, and I stick to that statement. Liberals have this sense of themselves, but 90 percent are as nasty, as vitriolic, as vicious as the conservatives they say are. Nasty people are saying I'm not going to read your books. They say go f yourself. You're a baby killer. You're a traitor, you are a scum, I mean, on and on and on. And Howie, if you read the column, it was anguish. It is a one shot deal.

It is an emotional decision based on performance by Obama in that debate that said to me he's flat, he's aloof. He doesn't really want to be president. I'm not the only one. Look at the bounce he got in the polls. He got a 12 point bounce from Pew. And I know people say that polls are skewed, but I'm not the only one who thought that.

KURTZ: You are not exactly a defenseless guy. You went on Twitter and you were swinging at those critics, you were dropping f bombs yourself. Why did you take such, shall we say, an aggressive stance in responding to some of these critics?

BISSINGER: Because I've been on Twitter since day one, I've taken an aggressive stance about everything.

KURTZ: That's an understatement.

BISSINGER: Whether it is right or wrong, because my vernacular probably uses the word f bomb too much. Trust me, I have been bleeped out on the radio show I do probably a dozen times because it slips out. I have always been aggressive. I don't like taking crap, and I don't like taking abuse when I feel it is misplaced.

A commenter said, well, he is a low information voter. That's absolutely incorrect. I may be a misinformed voter, but I am not a low information voter. I know the pitfalls of Romney, I know the strengths of Obama. I said in the column he is a principled man, but maybe he's too principled, because he has a problem crossing the aisle.

But I feel this country is in malaise and it needs to be jump started. The fact that Romney is moving to the center I would think people think is a good thing.

KURTZ: All right, got to go.

BISSINGER: Remember, Bill Clinton was famous for it.

KURTZ: You've certainly triggered quite a debate here. And thank you for helping us get through this segment without having to bleep you. Buzz Bissinger, good to see you this morning.

Still to come, a suggested photo of Mitt Romney prompts apology and take of sheer salesmanship. The media monitor straight ahead.


KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business. Here's what I like, David Maraniss, the author of a Barack Obama biography reports that Obama won a debate back in his Hawaii high school. By his own account, he didn't take it seriously.

The reason the president faired poorly against Mitt Romney is he writes in this morning's "The Washington Post" is that his strength navigating different cultures is also his weakness, a tendency to avoid confrontation. Maraniss makes the point by drawing on history.

It was a funny picture, no question about it, but was it fair? The AP photo at a Romney campaign event captured the amazed look on a school girl's face and prompted this tongue lashing from Bill O'Reilly.

Here is the photo the Associated Press took at the meet and greet. A foolish shot that makes Romney the butt of stupid jokes, pardon the pun. Picture taken by photographer, Evan Vucci, never should have been published.

AP apologized saying the generic caption didn't say what was going on. Some photos need more explanation, fell short of our own standards by not providing it in this case. Reminiscent of this Reuters photo of president Obama awhile back which also generated some snickers.

I said last week that "Good Morning America" shouldn't be featuring Ann Romney as co-host because, well, you know, she's not a journalist. She never sat at the anchor desk and mostly did things like this.


ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT ROMNEY: I've got a cooking emergency! The grill is too hot, but I'm here. I'm making Welsh cakes. My grandmother taught me how to make them.


KURTZ: Ann Romney was fine when it came to cooking, talking of her love for horses, but no discussion of politics. The co-host title it seems was just a promotional gimmick.

You know, the old adage the show mug on, this was ridiculous. On the QVC shopping channel, the host was chatting about a computer tablet for kids with his guess co-host, Cassie Slane, when suddenly, well, take a look.


CASSIE SLAIN, QVX: What's so great about this, kids love tablets, love playing with tablets, love the games, they love the educational games. But mom and dad want them to be safe. They want them to do, you know, everything on it, but you know.


SLAIN: OK. What it does, it gives us an opportunity for us to be able to offer a piece of electronic equipment that is simple for children to operate.


KURTZ: Hughes keeps on selling the product, even though his colleague has collapsed. Fortunately, it was just a fainting spell and she was all right, but how do you keep pitching when the woman standing next to you fell down. She offered a more generous interpretation on the "Today" show.


SLAIN: He is one of my good friends. People are envisioning him stepping over my limp body to sell the product. But in fact, I was being taken care of by two medics, three producers. I said keep going, I'm fine.


KURTZ: Maybe. I think it looked awfully insensitive.

That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. If you miss a program, go to iTunes every Monday. You can check out the free audio podcast or buy the version in the nonfiction video section of the iTunes store.

We're back here next Sunday morning, 11 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the media. "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.