CBS Examines Caroline Kennedy’s Qualifications, Promotes Celebrity Status

Harry Smith, CBS At the top of Wednesday’s CBS Early Show co-host Julie Chen declared: “Caroline Kennedy gets a boost in her quest to become a Senator from the woman she hopes to replace.” Later, co-host Harry Smith introduced a segment about Kennedy’s qualifications: “There are reports this morning that Senator Hillary Clinton has told her supporters to stop questioning if Caroline Kennedy is qualified to replace her. Kennedy is the latest in a long line of high-profile candidates who have sought a Senate seat. So, what actually qualifies someone to be a Senator?”

In the report that followed, White House correspondent Bill Plante acknowledged criticism of Kennedy’s qualifications, even quoting New York Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman, who compared Kennedy to Jennifer Lopez. However, Plante then brushed such concerns aside, instead praising Kennedy’s celebrity status: “Caroline Kennedy is just the latest celebrity to seek a Senate seat. In 1974, astronaut John Glenn won a Senate seat in Ohio. Bill Bradley won election to the Senate from New Jersey in 1979...Governor Patterson of New York, who will appoint the person to fill that Senate seat, has to run in two years. Who wouldn't want to run with a Kennedy on the ticket, who can raise lots of cash?”

Following Plante’s report, Smith discussed the issue with Al Sharpton and former New York Republican Congresswoman, Susan Molinari. He first got reaction from Sharpton, who defended Kennedy’s qualifications: “I think that she's qualified to run. And I encouraged her to -- I told her that when someone told me that someone with a high-profile name that had never held office couldn't make it well in the Senate, that person was Hillary Clinton when she came to Harlem to my headquarters...She's succeeding someone that had faced the same arguments if, in fact, the governor appoints her.”

Smith then turned to Molinari and asked: “If you want to do this for a living, do you think -- I mean, we don't know that much about Caroline Kennedy, if she has that kind of fire in her belly.” Molinari offered some criticism, but like Smith’s question, it centered around Caroline Kennedy’s toughness, not her lack of experience: “You need to have, particularly at a time like this, you need to be able to have almost, you know, excuse the expression, but razor blades on your elbows...Does she have sort of that gumption to get in there and push other states out of the way and fight for New York?”

Sharpton later jumped in and pointed to celebrity Republicans to justify the appointment of Kennedy: “And remember now, the Republicans, in all due respect to Susan Molinari, who I have respect for. They gave us a billionaire, Mayor Bloomberg, for Mayor of New York, who no one thought could do retail politics...They've given us Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had never done a grade A movie, let alone run a state. So I mean, all of a sudden they have a different set of qualifications for Caroline Kennedy?” Smith failed to challenge Sharpton by pointing out that Bloomberg and Schwarzenegger were both elected to office not appointed. The same was true of Bill Plante’s examples of John Glenn and Bill Bradley.

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

7:00AM TEASE:

JULIE CHEN: And Caroline Kennedy gets a boost in her quest to become a Senator from the woman she hopes to replace. What Hillary Clinton's telling her supporters.

7:12AM TEASE:

HARRY SMITH: Coming up, Caroline Kennedy, the debate over whether she has what it takes to be a U.S. Senator.

7:16AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: There are reports this morning that Senator Hillary Clinton has told her supporters to stop questioning if Caroline Kennedy is qualified to replace her. Kennedy is the latest in a long line of high-profile candidates who have sought a Senate seat. So, what actually qualifies someone to be a Senator? Here's CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante.

RICK LAZIO: My opponent has talked and talked. But she's done nothing for New York.

BILL PANTE: Former Congressman Rick Lazio was talking about Hillary Clinton when she first ran. Caroline Kennedy is also getting flak, even from members of her own party. New York Congressman Gary Ackerman said, quote, 'I don't know what Caroline Kennedy's qualifications are, except that she has name recognition, but so does J. Lo.' yes but-

DAVID MARK [POLITICO]: Name recognition is huge if your running in a big state.

PLANTE: Caroline Kennedy is just the latest celebrity to seek a Senate seat. In 1974, astronaut John Glenn won a Senate seat in Ohio. Bill Bradley won election to the Senate from New Jersey in 1979. So what does it take to be a Senator? The Constitution says only that you must be 30 years old, a citizen of the U.S. for at least 9 years, and a resident of the state in which you're running. But these days, there's something else you need -- money. The person appointed to fill Senator Clinton's seat will have to run again on his or her own in two years and then again two years after that when Clinton's term would have expired, takes a lot of cash. But wait, there's more. Governor Patterson of New York, who will appoint the person to fill that Senate seat, has to run in two years. Who wouldn't want to run with a Kennedy on the ticket, who can raise lots of cash? Bill Plante, CBS News, the White House.

SMITH: We are joined now by Reverend Al Sharpton and Susan Molinari, a former Congresswoman from New York, good morning to you both.

AL SHARPTON: Good morning.

SUSAN MOLINARI: Good morning.

SMITH: Reverend, let me ask you first, you got a call from Caroline Kennedy, what did she say?

AL SHARPTON: She said she was very interested in running and that if the governor appointed her, she would serve. And I've known her work in education and in other areas in the state. I told her I was not supporting anyone, this particular decision would be made by Governor Patterson and I would trust his judgment. But I think that she's qualified to run. And I encouraged her to -- I told her that when someone told me that someone with a high-profile name that had never held office couldn't make it well in the Senate, that person was Hillary Clinton when she came to Harlem to my headquarters.

SMITH: Right.

SHARPTON: She's succeeding someone that had faced the same arguments if, in fact, the governor appoints her.

SMITH: The thing about Hillary Clinton, though, she went county, to county, to county, to county, in her run for the Senate in New York State. Susan Molinari, this is retail politics. If you want to do this for a living, do you think -- I mean, we don't know that much about Caroline Kennedy, if she has that kind of fire in her belly.

MOLINARI: Well, and I think that's it. I think you've hit the nail on the head. Should she have an opportunity? I mean, look, she seems very, you know, articulate, intelligent, has done, you know, great philanthropic work for the city of New York. But you've hit the nail on the head. You need to have, particularly at a time like this, you need to be able to have almost, you know, excuse the expression, but razor blades on your elbows. Whoever represents New York State going into all this -- the major problems that we're going to be having over the economy, there's going to be major fights for the TARP funds. Do they go to the companies in Michigan or the banks in New York? You know, highway bills, stimulus packages. It's going to be New York versus every other state. Does she have sort of that gumption to get in there and push other states out of the way and fight for New York? And that goes to the fire in the belly. And that is one thing Senator Clinton was able to accomplish during her listening tour. At the end of that, before the election, people sat back and said, 'she's willing to do the retail politics.'

SMITH: Right, she changed a lot of minds, yeah.

MOLINARI: We don't know that Caroline is -- you bet.

SMITH: Alright, Reverend Sharpton, what do you think?

SHARPTON: Yeah, but I think that's a bogus argument. The reason that Caroline Kennedy is not having to go co county-by-county is she's filling the seat the governor resigned. No one in the running here is going county-to-county. This is one man's decision.

SMITH: Right, right, sure.

SHARPTON: So it's not a fair comparison.

SMITH: Gotcha.

SHARPTON: We will see if she can go county-to-county if she's chosen. And remember now, the Republicans, in all due respect to Susan Molinari, who I have respect for. They gave us a billionaire, Mayor Bloomberg, for Mayor of New York, who no one thought could do retail politics.

SMITH: Right.

SHARPTON: They've given us Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had never done a grade A movie, let alone run a state. So I mean, all of a sudden they have a different set of qualifications for Caroline Kennedy?

SMITH: And here's the thing Susan Molinari, the difference between campaigning for Barack Obama, you're riding business class, you start running for Senate, you're back in coach. There's a whole different deal.

MOLINARI: Well, you're back in coach in the media-

SHARPTON: Bloomberg owned the plane.

SMITH: [Laughter] Real quick, Susan.

MOLINARI: Well, there are some exceptions. And the media's going to treat her much differently. So we'll see how she holds up. Look, it's great that everybody wants to serve in public.

SMITH: Susan Molinari, thank you very much. Reverend Sharpton, do appreciate it.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC