Kurtz: McCain Campaign's Charges of Media Bias 'Over-Stated'

Howard Kurtz, host of CNN's "The Reliable CNN, Howard KurtzSource" and a media writer for the Washington Post, told Soledad O'Brien, host of CNN's "Newsroom," that McCain campaign strategist Steve Schmidt "way overstated" the media attacks levied against Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin and her family.

O'Brien began the 2:40 PM EDT segment with clips of Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and Palin pushing back in the face of media bias at last night's convention proceedings.  She noted:

Given that medley of complaints last night you would hardly imagine that Republicans have held the White House in almost 20 of the last 28 years, but they have. Even so, bashing the media has pretty much been the gift that just keeps giving for politicians of all parties, especially Republicans these days. It's been that way since Richard Nixon's vice president Spiro Agnew lashed out at what he called the "nattering nabobs of negativism."

With an intro like that, it was easy to see where this segment was headed. 

O'Brien then tried to blame Palin for the media assaults against her family for bringing them into the spotlight and asked Kurtz, "Does bringing your family into the equation, does talking about being a mom and that's going to be part of your strategy to get voters, does that mean that you know, becomes frankly, that's just now an open question, an open field for everybody?"

Kurtz mostly followed O'Brien's lead in his answer:

I mean, I would prefer not to see us spending a whole lot of time on the problems of the kids just because their parents are public figures. From the very first time she stood before the camera, Sarah Palin defined herself as a hockey mom with five kids. We saw a lot of those kids last night at her speech here in St. Paul. And if she's going to talk about her son going to Iraq and if she's going to talk about her special needs baby, the one with Down syndrome, then she is putting them in front and center just as you say. And I don't think they can be shocked and horrified and cry foul if we try to do some reporting  on that family that is perhaps not so much to their liking.   

Quoting from an interview printed in yesterday's Washington Post, Kurtz continued,

But look, this is a calculated strategy. And not just because we heard it from all those speakers last night. Steve Schmidt who's John McCain's top strategist told me in an interview that was published yesterday that the level of press scrutiny and the tone of the coverage against the governor of Alaska has been vicious, he said, has been scurrilous and he said that the main stream media were on a mission to destroy Sarah Palin."

However, in his CNN appearance Kurtz failed to mention what exactly upset Schmidt so much. According to the Post interview, Schmidt was upset by "wave after wave of news inquiries that have questioned whether Palin is really the mother of a 4-month-old baby, whether her amniotic fluid had been tested and whether she would submit to a DNA test to establish the child's parentage."

Wouldn't those questions, and the insinuations behind those questions, upset any normal person? 

O'Brien also mistakenly concluded that the McCain campaign was charging the media with bias over questions of Palin's experience, when in fact it was the personal attacks on the family that upset the campaign.  Kurtz played along with O'Brien for a bit, stating, "yes, there's new talking points, it seems to me today because I'm hearing everywhere she's got more experience than Barack Obama, she's actually run a state."  Kurtz then acknowledged, "I do think we maybe have to be a little more sensitive to those who feel like we're being a little condescending toward the self-described hockey mom."

The transcript of the segment appears below:  

SARAH PALIN (clip): If you're not a member in good standing of the Washington elite than some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone.

RUDY GIULIANI (clip):  We the people, the citizens of the United States get to decide our next president. Not the left wing media, not Hollywood celebrities, not anyone else but the people of America.

MITT ROMNEY (clip): For decades now, the Washington son has been rising in the east. You see, Washington has been looking to the eastern elites, to the editorial pages of the Times and the Post. And to the broadcasters from the coast.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Wow, well, given that medley of complaints last night you would hardly imagine that Republicans have held the White House in almost 20 of the last 28 years, but they have. Even so, bashing the media has pretty much been the gift that just keeps giving for politicians of all parties, especially Republicans these days. It's been that way it's been that way since Richard Nixon's vice president Spiro Agnew lashed out at what he called the "nattering nabobs of negativism." That was 38 years ago.  SO today we turn to one of those nabobs, forgive me, Howard Kurtz, host of CNN's Reliable Source and media writer for "the Washington Post". Hate to call you a nabob, but that's what you are. You know, with questions of qualifications of Sarah Palin and questions and issues about motherhood came from the campaign and others, the media is biased against Republicans, against Republican women, and attacking us. Is there merit in that argument?

HOWARD KURTZ, Host of CNN's Reliable Source:  Well, Soledad, my self-esteem has taken a little battering because of all this criticism. Look, part of what the journalists are doing here is absolutely legitimate. Trying to find out who this person is, what is her record as governor of Alaska, somebody who 99% of Americans had never heard of before. At the same time I think these attacks are starting to sting a little bit because there have been excesses in the coverage. There has been a little bit of treating 17-year-old Bristol Palin as if she were 17-year-old pregnant Jamie Lynn Spears and there has been this questioning which I'm sure  has maybe bothered you a little bit, of well, how can Governor Palin be a good mother and at the same time run for national office? So I sense a little bit of a backlash brewing against our profession and a little bit of pulling back on the behalf of some of the columnists and commentators.

O'BRIEN: Well let me ask you a question about the family. You know, Bristol Palin, Barack Obama said family is off-limit. And then when they do a photo-op when they all greet Senator McCain, there she is with the boyfriend and so in a way, with the we want our privacy, here's  everybody in a photo-op. And to some people that sends a very conflicting message, the hugs you're looking at there that senator McCain gave as he got off the plane when he arrived in the Twin Cities yesterday. Does bringing your family into the equation, does talking about being a mom and that's going to be part of your strategy to get voters, does that mean that you know, becomes frankly that's just now an open question, an open field for everybody?

KURTZ: Yeah, that's a perfectly fair point. I mean, I would prefer not to see us  spending a whole lot of time on the problems of the kids just because their parents are public figures. But from the very first time she stood before the camera, Sarah Palin defined herself as a hockey mom with five kids. We saw a lot of those kids last night at her speech here in St. Paul. And f she's going to talk about her son going to iraq and if she's going to talk about her special needs baby, the one with Down syndrome, then she is  putting them in front and center just as you say. And I don't think they can be shocked and horrified and cry foul if we try to do some reporting  on that family that is perhaps not so much to their liking. But look, this is a calculated strategy. And not just because we heard it from all those speakers last night. Steve Schmidt who's John McCain's top strategist told me in an interview that was published yesterday that the level of press scrutiny and the tone of the coverage against the governor of Alaska has been vicious, he said, has been scurrilous and he said that the main stream media were on a mission to destroy Sarah Palin. Now obviously that's way overstated and obviously this is a partisan for John McCain, trying to brush back the hitters, the heavy hitters in the main stream press.

O'BRIEN: But let me ask you a question. Because you had at first from the campaign you got, listen, questioning someone's ability to lead, to govern and credibility about their resume basically is biased and unfair. Today when I talked to a campaign spokesperson, she said bring on the questions about her experience. We want them. So they kind of have now shifted the tone, what was not okay two days ago is now suddenly okay. I mean strategically, I guess that makes sense for them.

KURTZ: Well, I don't see how they could ever claim with a straight face that we shouldn't be asking questions about somebody who's been a governor for 20 months and was a small-town mayor before that and is this person qualified to be vice-president and a potential commander-in-chief. But yes, there's new talking points, it seems to me today becaue I'm hearing everywhere she's got more experience than Barack Obama, she's actually run a state. Look, that's part of the game they play. Our job is to ask the questions. But because the candidate is a woman, very unusual as you know, the only time this has happened on a Republican ticket, and because her family has been dragged into it. Look, they put out the statement on Monday saying that the 17-year-old daughter was pregnant, but they did that because so many journalists including national journalists were calling up and saying what about these internet rumors that the baby isn't really Governor Palin's that it actually belongs to Bristol. So there's a lot of tension right now on both sides. I don't think we should be deterred, I don't think we should be bullied out of doing our jobs, but I do think we maybe have to be a little more sensitive to those who feel like we're being a little condescending toward the self-described hockey mom.

O'BRIEN: Howie Kurtz, always nice to have you. Thank you very much.