CNN's Kurtz Sees Media 'Lust' as Hillary Does the 'Full Ginsburg,' Flip-Flop on Torture

On Sunday's Reliable Sources, CNN host Howard Kurtz led a discussion of Hillary Clinton's recent media attention, commenting that the networks "lust after putting her on," and also quipped that the New York Senator did "the full Ginsburg" when she appeared on all the Sunday morning talk shows last week, during which, as Kurtz noted, she gave the "Clinton cackle" response to a number of questions. While discussing the recent Democratic debate moderated by NBC's Tim Russert, Kurtz also pointed out that Clinton had flip-flopped on the issue of whether she would be willing to torture a terrorist prisoner, as he noted the lack of media coverage. Kurtz: "That was a flip-flop by Hillary Clinton. She had earlier said, taken the opposite position saying that torture would be acceptable in that kind of extreme situation. The AP, the New York Daily News pointed this out, but you didn't get a lot of flip-flop coverage." (Transcript follows)

Kurtz began the September 30 show: "Air time is like oxygen for presidential candidates, and many of them are clearly gasping. But Hillary Clinton seems to have an almost guaranteed air supply. When she unveiled her health care plan last week, all the network morning shows scrambled to book her. And when the Senator let it be known that she would be available last Sunday, she did the full Ginsburg. So named for a five-program appearance by Monica Lewinsky's lawyer William Ginsburg."

After bringing aboard the Washington Post's Anne Kornblut, The New Republic's Michelle Cottle, and National Review's Jim Geraghty, he asked his first question: "I'm not saying the anchors aren't asking Hillary Clinton tough questions, but why do the networks lust after putting her on in the way that no other candidate gets?"

Kornblut brought up Hillary Clinton's "celebrity," and Cottle added that Bill and Hillary Clinton have become "rock stars." Cottle: "She's a celebrity. She and Bill have passed some point where they're no longer just politicians, they're rock stars."

When the CNN host asked if Hillary Clinton was "generally accessible to reporters or only for selected TV interviews," Kornblut contended that Senator Clinton has learned to "manage the media" without it looking like she's "avoiding the press." Kornblut added that, in dealing with the Washington Post, Senator Clinton "picked the columnists that she wanted to speak to." Kornblut: "When she decided to talk to the Washington Post, she picked columnists that she wanted to speak to, and then decided not, hasn't done interviews with the beat reporters, for example. And this is not just true of the Washington Post. It's true everywhere. And it's worked to her benefit so far, but it's a very specific strategy."

Turning to the issue of Hillary Clinton's regular use of laughter in answering contrarian questions, Kurtz showed a clip from The Daily Show that featured a montage of Hillary Clinton laughing during interviews. Kurtz wondered: "Why does it take Jon Stewart to point that out?" He then quoted the day's New York Times which had used the term "Clinton cackle."

The focus later turned to the last Democratic debate, which was moderated by NBC's Tim Russert. While discussing Hillary's contention that she disagrees with husband Bill on the issue of torturing terrorist prisoners, Kurtz pointed out that Hillary had flip-flopped on the issue. Kurtz, addressing Geraghty: "I'd like your view of Russert, and also the coverage of that particular answer. That was a flip-flop by Hillary Clinton. She had earlier said, taken the opposite position saying that torture would be acceptable in that kind of extreme situation. The AP, the New York Daily News pointed this out, but you didn't get a lot of flip-flop coverage."

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the Sunday September 30 Reliable Sources on CNN:

HOWARD KURTZ: Air time is like oxygen for presidential candidates, and many of them are clearly gasping. But Hillary Clinton seems to have an almost guaranteed air supply. When she unveiled her health care plan last week, all the network morning shows scrambled to book her. And when the Senator let it be known that she would be available last Sunday, she did the full Ginsburg. So named for a five-program appearance by Monica Lewinsky's lawyer William Ginsburg: Meet the Press, Face the Nation, This Week, Late Edition and Fox News Sunday. They all took Clinton from a barn outside her Chappaqua, New York home.

[Shows clips of questions from the different Sunday morning shows.]

KURTZ: Joining us now to examine whether there's a media double standard in the coverage of Hillary Clinton, Anne Kornblut, national political reporter for the Washington Post; Michelle Cottle, senior editor at The New Republic; and Jim Geraghty, contributing editor of National Review. Anne Kornblut, I'm not saying the anchors aren't asking Hillary Clinton tough questions, but why do the networks lust after putting her on in the way that no other candidate gets?

ANNE KORNBLUT, Washington Post: Well, because most of the time she doesn't agree to do it. I mean, this was really the first time we'd seen her going out. She has learned over the years, she didn't know it so well when she was first lady, that she had this incredible megaphone, and she would sneeze and it would be on the front pages, even when she didn't want it to. Now she's learned how to harness her kind of celebrity and her power. And when she wants to go out there, she does it like we saw her do last week. And she really actually drove the agenda for about a week on health care.

KURTZ: But Barack Obama and John Edwards both put out health care plans long before Hillary Clinton did. I didn't recall the networks scrambling to put them on.

MICHELLE COTTLE, The New Republic: That's because they're not Hillary Clinton. I'm sorry. Just more basically, she's a celebrity. She and Bill have passed some point where they're no longer just politicians, they're rock stars. And life is not fair. You know, she has certain down sides she faces because of that, but this is one clear up side.

KURTZ: The former first lady on the cover of the new copy of U.S. News and World Report, "The Education of Hillary Clinton," if we can put that up here. Flat-out media double standard here? I mean, if they're rock stars, if they're celebrities, doesn't that tilt the playing field?

[GERAGHTY]

...

KURTZ: Anne Kornblut, you cover the former first lady a lot. Would you say that she is generally accessible to reporters or only for selected TV interviews?

KORNBLUT: She, only, the latter. She has figured out how to really manage the media so that she doesn't appear to be avoiding the press. You know, if you went to them and said, oh, she never does interviews, they could say, oh, well, she did all five last Sunday. But she picks her targets. I mean, when she decided to talk to the Washington Post, she picked columnists that she wanted to speak to, and then decided not, hasn't done interviews with the beat reporters, for example. And this is not just true of the Washington Post. It's true everywhere. And it's worked to her benefit so far, but it's a very specific strategy.

[Kurtz notes that on all the Sunday talk shows she was asked about the MoveOn.org attack on General Petraeus, and plays a montage showing that her answer each time was worded very similarly. Her first answer had begun: "This is not a debate about an ad, this is a debate about ending the war in Iraq..."]

KURTZ: So is it fair for journalists to say that this is one disciplined candidate?

[COTTLE]

...

KURTZ: There's one other thing that I noticed in these Sunday show interviews that Hillary Clinton did, and it was an observation that was really kind of brought together by The Daily Show.

[Shows a clip from The Daily Show with a montage of Hillary Clinton laughing in response to different questions]

KURTZ: Why does it take Jon Stewart to point that out?

[GERAGHTY]

KURTZ: The New York Times this morning, inspired by Jon Stewart, has an entire piece on the "Clinton cackle." And here's something funny. One Clinton advisor, who couldn't be named, says, well, she has a good sense of humor. Now, that really, you really had to go off the record for that one.
...

The discussion turns to the story of the Clintons influencing GQ magazine not to run a story.

KURTZ: Is this a cave-in by GQ?
...

KURTZ: But do you think that this is a good example, Anne Kornblut, of the way in which the Hillary campaign can use access to Bill as a kind of a weapon or a tool or a bargaining chip?

KORNBLUT: Oh, absolutely. I mean, even his trips to Africa were used this way last year. They certainly, you know, Josh had written a story, the reporter you mentioned had written a story the year prior which he described her Senate career and described her as kind of middling and timid, and they didn't like that, so he already, going in, was at a disadvantage. But sure, I mean, Bill is a great get. When it suits them, they say, oh, they're completely separate, they never talk, they haven't consulted each other. When it doesn't suit them, they are a package deal, as we saw in this case.
...


KURTZ: I'd like your view of Russert, and also the coverage of that particular answer, that was a flip-flop by Hillary Clinton. She had earlier said, taken the opposite position saying that torture would be acceptable in that kind of extreme situation. The AP, the New York Daily News pointed this out, but you didn't get a lot of flip-flop coverage.

[GERAGHTY]