CNN’s Kurtz Questions Media’s Preoccupation with Angry Attendees of McCain Rallies

On Sunday’s Reliable Sources, CNN host Howard Kurtz seemed to question whether the media are unfairly hyping inflammatory words from audience members at John McCain rallies that are of the kind one would expect to sometimes see at political rallies to make them fit into the narrative of the McCain campaign fueling anger at Barack Obama. Kurtz: "I've gone to a lot of rallies where a lot of crazy things have been said. Why are the media this week pumping up this story about McCain’s and Palin's crowds as if it is their fault if there's a bit of ugliness that breaks out?" Speaking to Politico.com’s Roger Simon, he later added: "It seems that the press has kind of adopted this theme that McCain and Palin are stoking the anger."

Simon responded with his view that McCain was indeed "stoking the anger." Simon: "Well, it may be that McCain and Palin are stoking the anger. It seems to me that John McCain is riding a tiger, and he's trying not to fall off that tiger and get eaten by it. When your vice presidential running mate goes around the country saying Barack Obama is ‘palling around with terrorists,’ and when you run ads that say, you know, he's a liar, he's not telling the truth about this unrepentant terrorist, and then you wonder why people in the crowd shout out ‘terrorist’ when you mention the name Barack Obama. This anger is coming from somewhere. It is being ginned up by a campaign, and it is logical, I think, to assume that these people are only responding to what they have heard from the candidate's mouth. And it's fair game, and it's, in fact, responsible for us to report how the crowds are reacting."

On the same day’s Late Edition, CNN's Wolf Blitzer pointed out that "ugly things" have also been said about McCain and Sarah Palin at Obama rallies. Blitzer: "But you've been at a lot of these Obama rallies. There have been some pretty ugly things said at these rallies by outspoken, you know, people out there about John McCain and Sarah Palin, too." Candy Crowley responded:"Yeah. And, you know, from the podium, I mean, there are lots of things that go on at rallies, and there's booing and there's, you know, all that, because the whole point of a rally is to rally."

Below is are partial transcripts of the relevant discussions from CNN’s Reliable Sources and Late Edition from Sunday, October 12:

#From Reliable Sources:

 

HOWARD KURTZ: I've gone to plenty of political rallies over the years, and there's usually a few yahoos or hecklers shouting things out or making a bit of trouble. Most of the time you don't hear about them, you don't read about them, unless the candidate is forced to respond. But this week, as John McCain and Sarah Palin campaigned around the country, the crowds became the story. Some ugly things were said and yelled, and the media, in their wisdom, began questioning whether the Republican ticket mates were to blame. By week's end, that had become the dominant storyline.

And we were going to show that to you, but we're having some technical difficulties. So joining us now to talk about the coverage of the campaign, in New York, Lynn Sherr, former correspondent for ABC's "20/20" and author of the book "Outside the Box," a memoir, which is just out in paperback. Here in Washington, Candy Crowley, CNN senior political correspondent. And Roger Simon, chief political columnist for Politico.com.

Lynn Sherr, as I said, I've gone to a lot of rallies where a lot of crazy things have been said. Why are the media this week pumping up this story about McCain’s and Palin's crowds as if it is their fault if there's a bit of ugliness that breaks out?

[LYNN SHERR]

KURTZ: Roger Simon, I'm certainly not saying that what people say at these rallies, particularly if it's ugly stuff, shouldn't be covered. It's part of the story. But it seems that the press has kind of adopted this theme that McCain and Palin are stoking the anger.

ROGER SIMON, POLITICO.COM: Well, it may be that McCain and Palin are stoking the anger. It seems to me that John McCain is riding a tiger, and he's trying not to fall off that tiger and get eaten by it. When your vice presidential running mate goes around the country saying Barack Obama is "palling around with terrorists," and when you run ads that say, you know, he's a liar, he's not telling the truth about this unrepentant terrorist, and then you wonder why people in the crowd shout out "terrorist" when you mention the name Barack Obama. This anger is coming from somewhere. It is being ginned up by a campaign, and it is logical, I think, to assume that these people are only responding to what they have heard from the candidate's mouth. And it's fair game, and it's, in fact, responsible for us to report how the crowds are reacting.

KURTZ: For example, Candy Crowley, I was in Indiana with Obama this week. And there was some nut job in the crowd who started screaming about Obama was going to bring about the new world order, and he was ejected from the scene and people booed. Hardly anybody reported that because, who cared? But it seems to me that in the case of McCain and Palin, we have decided that they are somehow responsible for this. And I just question whether that's fair.

CANDY CROWLEY: I think it needs some context. I think, first of all, we need to know that all throughout this campaign, from the primaries on, there were lies and smears about Barack Obama on the Internet. There were people out there saying things about Barack Obama in Hillary Clinton's crowds. So, you know, it has been there all along. It's not something that just came up with John McCain. Second of all, I think it behooves us to remember that it helps the Obama campaign to have these stories out there because it shows, you know, by osmosis McCain is intolerant. Is McCain, you know, over the top here? This has nothing to do with, because I agree here that there is some culpability, but it was also unclear to me because I don't cover McCain, because all I saw was the one report at the beginning about somebody in the crowd yelling "terrorist," and the author said it was unclear whether he was talking bout Ayers or Obama.

Now, we saw the questions at McCain's town hall meetings, but he answered those in the way that Lynn was talking about. So I'm unclear how big this is.

KURTZ: All right. Let me, does this ever happen to you, where the crowd turns on you?

SIMON: Oh, sure. Covering George Wallace. I was at a rally in 1976. This was after Wallace had already been shot. And Wallace would put the press in the front rows and he would point to the press and say, "These are the enemies, these are the people." And we went up to him afterwards because we were afraid to go outside and we said, "Why are you instigating?" And he said, "I don't instigate, I just lay down the hay where the goats can get it." And that was George Wallace.

KURTZ: All right.

SIMON: And it was only Mary McGrory who saved us afterwards from the crowd because she engaged the crowd in calm conversation.

KURTZ: Let me take you back to Tuesday now. I was in the spin room, or spin tent, as you might call it, after this week's presidential debate in Nashville. And most of the reporters didn't want to talk to campaign aides about the financial crisis or John McCain's new $300 billion mortgage bailout plan. They wanted to know whether McCain had been belittling Barack Obama and why he hadn't brought up William Ayers. The candidates talked substance, and the pundits pounced on just two words.

BARACK OBAMA: We're not going to solve Social Security and Medicare unless we understand the rest of our tax policies. And, you know, Senator McCain, I think, you know, the Straight Talk Express lost a wheel on that one.

JOHN MCCAIN: There was an energy bill on the floor of the Senate loaded down with goodies, billions for the oil companies. And it was sponsored by Bush and Cheney. You know who voted for it? You might never know. That one.

BRIT HUME, FROM FNC’S SPECIAL REPORT WITH BRIT HUME: Well, imagine, "That one." That got a lot of attention as the moment of the night.

HOWARD FINEMAN, ON MSNBC: And I think most of the people here in the room and out in the country thought that was a weird moment.

JEFF GREENFIELD, ON CBS: I think that those two words are going to be what the water cooler conversation is tomorrow. Was it demeaning? Was it an insult?

KURTZ: The post-game chatter also seemed to recycle one rather well-worn sports term.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were no game-changers tonight.

FRED BARNES FROM FNC: This wasn't one that was a game-changer at all.

KEITH OLBERMANN, FROM MSNBC: No game-changer, not really for Obama, and certainly not for McCain.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, FROM MSNBC: It was not a game-changer, David.

ED HENRY FROM CNN: He needed some sort of a game-changer last night. Did not get it.

KURTZ: All right. Who should I start with? That one, Lynn Sherr in New York. So the economy is falling apart, the Dow is down 18 percent just this week, the credit markets are frozen, and it seems like TV is still into "That one" and game-changers, or lack of game-changers. What do you make of that?

#From Late Edition:

WOLF BLITZER: But you've been at a lot of these Obama rallies. There have been some pretty ugly things said at these rallies by outspoken, you know, people out there about John McCain and Sarah Palin, too.

CANDY CROWLEY: Yeah. And, you know, from the podium, I mean, there are lots of things that go on at rallies, and there's booing and there's, you know, all that, because the whole point of a rally is to rally.

GLORIA BORGER: Right.

CROWLEY: And so, you know, you are going to have 98 percent of your crowd is booing at the right time, there's the fashion play, it's a little kabuki, and then you're going to have, you know, a half a percent or something in there saying something pretty horrible. So, it just needs a little perspective on both sides, I think.