Howard Kurtz Hits Media 'Romance' With Clinton

NewsBusters reported on the media's early valentine for outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and CNN's media critic Howard Kurtz focused on their "romance" on Sunday's Reliable Sources.

"[T]hings were so lovey-dovey, it almost sounded like a therapy session," Kurtz described Clinton's 60 Minutes interview.  He added the media "are almost portraying her [Clinton's] exit as walking on water."

Kurtz implied a liberal media double standard: "But, particularly in those TV interviews, could you see any Republican outgoing cabinet member getting that kind of treatment?"

And panel members agreed about the red carpet treatment. Former PBS correspondent Terence Smith admitted it was "a bit of a love fest," although he opined that Clinton "has done a good job."  

"But do remember that the media had their knives out for Hillary back in 2008 when she was in the way of the other media darling, President Obama," The Blaze's Amy Holmes observed. "But now that she's been sort of safely put, it would seem safely put at Foggy Bottom and now is leaving, we can now discuss her potential for President of the United States."    

"I was really disappointed with this," Smith said of the 60 Minutes interview. "The President of the United States, the Secretary of State, and only what was it, two questions on foreign policy issues. It drove me crazy. I found it to be a real missed opportunity."

A transcript of the segment, which aired on Reliable Sources on February 3 at 11:01 a.m. EST, is as follows:

HOWARD KURTZ: It just didn't seem like the usual 60 Minutes grilling. In fact, when we saw Steve Kroft sitting down with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama last Sunday, things were so lovey-dovey, it almost sounded like a therapy session.

(Video Clip)

STEVE KROFT, CBS News: How would you characterize your relationship right now?

BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: I consider Hillary a strong friend.

HILLARY CLINTON, former Secretary of State: Very warm, close. I think there's a sense of understanding that sometimes doesn't even take words.

(End Video Clip)

KURTZ: So, are the media going, dare I say it, soft on Hillary? Joining us now: Terence Smith, former correspondent for The NewsHour on PBS, CBS News and The New York Times; Dana Milbank, columnist for The Washington Post. And Amy Holmes, anchor of "Real News" on The Blaze. Seems like the media, you know, whether you think Hillary Clinton did a good job or not so good of job as Secretary of State, are almost portraying her exit as walking on water.

TERENCE SMITH, former PBS correspondent: Yeah, a bit of a love fest, wasn't it? Not surprising, I suppose. She has done a good job and so she got credit for that. Towards the end of the week, it seemed to me, you saw more critical coverage of her four years, what she achieved, what she didn't achieve. How power and foreign policy, anyway, is still in the White House and not at Foggy Bottom.

KURTZ: A point made by the New York Times this morning. But, particularly in those TV interviews, could you see any Republican outgoing cabinet member getting that kind of treatment?

AMY HOLMES, The Blaze: Certainly not. But do remember that the media had their knives out for Hillary back in 2008 when she was in the way of the other media darling, President Obama. But now that she's been sort of safely put, it would seem safely put at Foggy Bottom and now is leaving, we can now discuss her potential for President of the United States.

KURTZ: Setting up my question for Dana Milbank, by the way. Newsweek, my magazine, calling her the most powerful woman in American history. Hillary Clinton had testy relations with the press during the 2008 campaign, and even going back to her days as First Lady. So, when did this romance blossom?

DANA MILBANK, The Washington Post: Well, there's one thing that causes change and that is the number 67 percent. That's her favorable rating and, you know, the media may be biased, I'm sure Amy would say in favor of the liberals and the Democrats. But the truth is, we're biased in favor of people who are successful and we follow the polls and if somebody's doing well, they do well. We were pouncing on her in 2008 because Obama was beating her up. Now, she's possibly a leading contender. And, you know what, we're building up all the presidential candidates now. We're building up Marco Rubio, and Bobby Jindal, and Chris Christie --

KURTZ: Okay, we're not exactly building up Bobby Jindal to the same level that we seem to building up Hillary Clinton.

MILBANK: But we want to have all these guys be contenders. Then we'll knock them down later on.

HOLMES: But I would also contend that this positive coverage of Hillary Clinton has been going on now for quite a number of years. These profiles of Hillary Clinton, you know, being sort of this lioness or something of foreign policy.

KURTZ: Let's take look at some of the interviews. Now, some of them dealt with a lot of substantive foreign policy questions whether Greta Van Susteren on Fox, or Elise Labott on CNN, or Cynthia McFadden on ABC. But they all eventually circled around to these questions.

(Video Clips)

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC News: When that phone call rings at 3:00 in the morning, who is best prepared to answer it in 2016?

CLINTON: Well, that is to be decided by the American people. But one thing I've learned is that the phone rings day and night.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN, ABC News: Can you still say with a straight face that you have – that there's no way you would consider running for president?

CLINTON: Sitting here right now, that is certainly what I believe.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN: I'm sorry, Madam Secretary, you know, the party says that the field is clear and open for you until you make your decision. Have you decided that you absolutely will not run?

CLINTON: Well, I have absolutely no plans to run.

(End Video Clips)

KURTZ: Leaving aside that there was absolutely no way she was going to answer that question –

(Laughter)

KURTZ: – why is the press collectively so focused on an election four years from now?

SMITH: Well, I mean Dana has got it absolutely right. This is – this is the best sport going. It provides more coverage and more fodder than anything else. So they just can't wait to start.

HOLMES: And the prospect of Joe Biden being the shoe-in is just too laughable. So --

KURTZ: And it's more fun to talk about that than it is to reconstruct what happened in Benghazi?

MILBANK: I think if we were actually to say please when interviewing Hillary Clinton – please run, Madam Secretary, I think we'd have a better shot.

KURTZ: I think maybe the please was implicit, perhaps.

MILBANK: Yeah, but we have to beg her.

KURTZ: All right. Now, I want to circle back to that 60 Minutes interview which got so much attention, the joint interview with the President and Hillary Clinton. Steve Kroft, the 60 Minutes correspondent who is a terrific journalist but took a rather soft approach in this one, got some heat for that approach. He defended himself in an interview with CNN's Piers Morgan.

(Video Clip)

KROFT: I think he knows that we're not going to play gotcha with him, that we're not going to go out of our way to make him look bad or stupid, and we'll let him answer the questions. And I think we all realize that the value of this, and it's one of the things that the television can do and the New York Times can't, is to capture the chemistry between the two of them.

(End Video Clip)

KURTZ: Terry Smith, Steve Kroft said he only had 30 minutes with the two of them. What did you make of that interview?

SMITH: I mean, I was really disappointed with this. Steve is an old friend and colleague, but this was a rare opportunity. The President of the United States, the Secretary of State, and only what was it, two questions on foreign policy issues. It drove me crazy. I found it to be a real missed opportunity.

HOLMES: And certainly, for those of us who still would like to get to the bottom of Benghazi, an opportunity to ask the President of the United States the timeline of the attack on the embassy and we have the Secretary of State sitting next to him and to try to get some answers there. I'm not so sure if the American people are, you know, biting their fingernails to know about the chemistry between President Obama and Hillary Clinton, but whether or not that they were competent at their jobs.

KURTZ: And yet I've got to say this, that focus by Steve Kroft about the two of them, their relationship and all of that, got about 1,000 times more attention than all the substantive questions and all the other interviews put together.

HOLMES: Really, the White House was supposed to be a reality show? I mean, 60 Minutes is supposed to be a much more hard-hitting news organization.

MILBANK: The truth is you could sit there and ask them a bunch of hard-hitting questions and none of these sort of gauzy, soft focus interviews ever produce anything. He is very good at saying nothing, regardless of the questions being asked.

KURTZ: You're talking about the President?

MILBANK: Yes. Whether it's at a news conference or not.

HOLMES: But even the act of deflecting the questions speaks volumes.

SMITH: Dana, why not say – why not say, where are you on Afghanistan? Are you where you hope to be after four years? Where are we going in this and half-a-dozen –

(Crosstalk)

HOLMES: And the President said that he saw Egypt as an example of American leadership and he's proud of the results there. And now, Egypt might be on the edge of a military coup. These are important questions.

KURTZ: Well, if he'd had 31 minutes, maybe he would have gotten to that.
 

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014