HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: "Indecision 2002":
Jon Stewart on his crucial role in the campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JON STEWART, HOST, "DAILY SHOW": I'm a king maker. I'm an idol
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: ... his journalistic credentials...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: If I had a tie, I would be a newsman.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: ... and his dim view of the cable networks and their
Also, Paul Wellstone's death produces a new Senate candidate
in Minnesota. Is the press being too soft on Walter Mondale?
Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where we turn a critical lens on
the media. I'm Howard Kurtz. Ahead, we'll talk with two veteran
political reporters about whether the press is going easy on
Walter Mondale in the wake of Senator Paul Wellstone's death
But first, we sat down with a man who covers politics in a rather
unconventional way. Comedy Central's Jon Stewart, host of "The
Daily Show," gave us the treatment, taking aim at the media,
the 24-hour cable networks and the thrill of the upcoming election.
KURTZ: Jon Stewart, welcome.
STEWART: Thank you, sir.
KURTZ: We're on the verge of a big, momentous historic mid-term
election. How excited are you personally?
STEWART: Well, I think I reflect the feeling in the country,
just tough to sit still, can't wait to get out and vote for
whatever congressman is up there. Yeah, it's been real tough
to get anybody interested in it. Apparently, there's a -- what's
it called? -- a war looming.
KURTZ: But if you watch television, you would think the election
had been canceled. So has politics become too boring for the
media, unless it's some juicy sex scandal or something like
STEWART: I think the print media still probably covers it to
the same extent that they would before. But yeah, you know,
the 24-hour news cycle is the visual medium, so if they've got
pictures of immigrants jumping off of a boat into the water,
I guess that beats a Stump speech...
KURTZ: Breaking news.
STEWART: Yes, exactly, breaking news. Although, quite frankly,
you guys broke it. I mean, let's face facts. I mean, breaking
news -- the words breaking news I don't even think can be used
KURTZ: ... they've been overused?
STEWART: Well, during the sniper thing, they just left it up
there. They just literally left up the "breaking news" graphic.
And what's the difference between breaking news, by the way,
and "news alert"? What is the difference between a news alert
and breaking news?
KURTZ: A news alert makes you think that there might be breaking
news. Breaking news means that there actually is some sort of
oozing thing called news.
STEWART: Oh, OK.
KURTZ: Do you think voters are turned off by these ads that
say, "Joe Smith killed two of his business partners, can we
trust him with our future"?
STEWART: No, I think that's what people really look forward
They look forward to that. They look forward to, "My opponent
gave Hitler a piggy-back ride."
Yes, I'm not exactly sure -- I assume that what the political
strategists have figured out is very few people vote, and the
people that do are the people who answer telemarketers' calls
at dinner and actually talk.
KURTZ: And perhaps the people who watch your show. You're going
to be on live election night with...
STEWART: People who watch our show don't vote.
I don't think.
KURTZ: "Indecision 2000," live on election night...
STEWART: We're probably not going to go with 2000. We're going
to go with 2002. We're going to stick with the year that it
We're going live with all state coverage and all state results,
and we're very excited about that. The people really need to
get direct false numbers right away. We'll make our predictions
probably as early as we can, and we hope to really give a full-on
wrap up of everything that's happened.
Are you guys going live that night?
KURTZ: I don't know. Let me check with the producers.
KURTZ: It depends on what else is going on.
STEWART: I was going to say.
KURTZ: The other night on "The Daily Show" Senator John Edwards.
Why would a guy who is, you know, clearly planning to run as
president come on and answer your inane questions?
STEWART: I'm a king maker. I'm an idol maker. People come on.
I'm sort of the David Frost of the Comedy Central set.
KURTZ: He did promise to reveal on your program whether he was
going to run for president.
STEWART: He did promise that.
KURTZ: That would be a big scoop for you.
STEWART: But you know what? People have lied to me on my program
KURTZ: As an example of the kind of incisive political commentary
that we can expect, let's take a look at a clip from a recent
"The Daily Show."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: You've been out there talking to voters. What message
do they have for Washington?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jon, I'm hearing a lot of, "That sniper
thing was so scary. What was up with that sniper? Were you scared
of the sniper?"
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: What did you make of the sniper coverage? Were the media
trying to scare people?
STEWART: I thought it was the media's finest hour, the sniper
KURTZ: Finest hour?
STEWART: Absolutely, by watching the 24-hour news networks,
I learned that the sniper was an olive-skinned, white-black
male -- men -- with ties to Son of Sam, al Qaeda, and was a
military kid, playing video games, white, 17, maybe 40.
KURTZ: They really nailed it, didn't they?
STEWART: I thought they did great. And I thought it was really
responsible to put them on.
I thought CNN, MSNBC, FOX, did a great job putting on -- you
know what they should've called the coverage, "You know what
I heard?" and just have people randomly showing...
KURTZ: What should happen to all of these experts who came and
filled the airwaves with all of these predictions that turned
out to be completely and totally wrong?
STEWART: Well, it's not their fault.
KURTZ: It's not their fault?
KURTZ: Shouldn't they have to resign from the talking head society?
STEWART: Shouldn't CNN have to pay a penalty for putting them
on the air? You're Paulie Walnuts. You're vouching. You brought
a guy in, and you put him on the air and you vouched. You said,
"No, Tony, this guy, he's good people, he's credible." So whatever
they say, I mean, they're called profilers.
If you watched the coverage, you would have thought that that's
what the police do, is they literally have two guys sort of
almost like psychics sitting around going, "What do you think
he is?" "I don't know, maybe he's white, maybe he's black. Maybe
he's with al Qaeda, maybe he's Son of Sam."
They're actually following real leads. I don't understand the
idea of -- you know I heard a guy talking -- actually on your
show -- saying, "Well, the public really wanted information.
They had a real thirst for information. So because we didn't
really have that much information, we had to just speculate."
KURTZ: We made it up.
STEWART: Right. Which seems insane.
That's like saying, "You know, the kids were real thirsty, and
we didn't have any water, so we just gave them beer, because
we figured that would work."
KURTZ: Well, you're right. The cable folks who put these folks
in front of the camera have to bear some of the responsibility.
STEWART: Not some, all.
KURTZ: All right.
STEWART: Not some. They bear all of the responsibility. You
cannot -- I'm not even sure what the reasoning was behind just
putting people on who didn't know anything.
I mean, you know what was my favorite part was the hand wringing.
People would do this, "Now, I know that we're not supposed to
speculate, you know, obviously, people are nervous and it would
be irresponsible to inflame passions by speculating, seriously,
though, do you think it's terrorism?"
I mean, it was...
KURTZ: Well, my favorite part was the questions where the anchors
would say, "Do you think he will strike again, and where would
that be? And would it be on a Tuesday, because he hasn't really
done it on a Tuesday?"
STEWART: Unless you know the guy's name, don't say anything.
Unless you have information, rather than speculating -- unless
you could say, like, "Oh, the sniper? Yes, it's John Muhammad,
I think." Unless you know that, shut up, say nothing.
KURTZ: Take us into the inner sanctum of the Jon Stewart living
room: 8 p.m.; do you watch...
STEWART: My living room?
KURTZ: Do you watch Phil Donahue, Connie Chung or Bill O'Reilly?
Do you like any of those shows?
STEWART: "The Bachelor."
KURTZ: You're not a news junkie?
STEWART: No, honestly, I leave probably CNN on mostly all the
time. Although the networks are not really meant to be watched
all the time, which I realize now.
KURTZ: When did this come to you?
STEWART: As I was pulling my hair out...
... watching the same footage over and over again of nothing.
But I do keep CNN -- I mean, Fox, let's face facts, is a relatively
cynical undertaking, to begin with.
STEWART: Well, it's basically, it's taken the AM radio mentality
and labeled it fair and balanced just to upset you guys.
KURTZ: A lot of people watch.
STEWART: Of course, a lot of people watch. A lot of people watch
wrestling. A lot of people watch -- you know, you could put
on porn, and I think a lot of people would watch it.
But I think they call it fair and balanced just as kind of a
dig. I mean, it's not. It's clearly meant to be more ideological
and more opinion-based. They took the paradigm of AM radio.
By the way, I enjoy what those guys do. I find it fun to watch.
It's just not a news network.
KURTZ: Speaking of CNN. CNN is now broadcasting...
STEWART: You shouldn't have let me get away with saying that
they're not a news network.
KURTZ: They do cover some news. They have reporters. You seem
STEWART: Thank you.
KURTZ: ... dismissing -- all right.
STEWART: But the thing about CNN is, you guys actually say you
can depend on CNN. That's why I'm more upset with you than I
am with them.
KURTZ: You hold CNN to a higher standard.
STEWART: Exactly. I expect that from them. From you guys, I'm
upset -- what I don't understand is why you guys, with the talent
and the credibility and the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) would want to take
a page out of their playbook. Why wouldn't you want to take
a page out of the more credible? Why wouldn't you go towards
the other -- why would you go louder when you could go smarter?
KURTZ: Now, you are now part of the CNN family.
STEWART: No, I'm not.
KURTZ: And it's -- CNN has is broadcasting your show internationally.
STEWART: I am not.
KURTZ: Does that make you legitimate?
STEWART: No, I am illegitimate. I am the bastard son of anything.
We're not -- we're fake. That's what...
KURTZ: Is that right?
KURTZ: I have a theory about this.
STEWART: That's why I don't have a tie. If I had a tie, I would
be a newsman. But I am not.
KURTZ: Well, I'm going to be -- I'm going to have to take this
STEWART: All right.
KURTZ: I have a theory about this, which is, you've been doing
this for so long, to sit in front of the big anchor desk.
KURTZ: But you've come to think that, "Well, gee, maybe I am
kind of a journalist. I can do this."
KURTZ: I could host "CROSSFIRE."
STEWART: Well, yes, you could host "CROSSFIRE." What's that
got to do with journalism? I mean, that's just a couple of knuckleheads.
I mean, the promo for that is Bob Novak in a boxing outfit.
I mean, for God's sakes, somehow I don't imagine Edward R. Murrow
ever putting on the satin robe and going, "I'll destroy you."
KURTZ: I went to one of your tapings this week.
STEWART: Yes, you did.
KURTZ: And I can reveal -- can I say this?
STEWART: By the way, I didn't care for the heckling.
KURTZ: All right. I can reveal that all those -- you go to those
live correspondent reports standing in front of the Capitol,
out in North Carolina.
STEWART: That's exactly right.
KURTZ: They're right on the stage there with you.
KURTZ: Isn't that kind of dishonest?
STEWART: Our budget is to the point where we can only afford
the picture of North Carolina. We can't actually afford the
trip. So we put them in front of a just a green screen of that.
KURTZ: So you don't, you're not confusing yourself with a quote,
STEWART: No. You guys are...
KURTZ: You're just making fun...
STEWART: You guys are confusing yourselves with real journalists.
KURTZ: Oh boy, you're loaded (UNINTELLIGIBLE) today.
STEWART: Instead of putting on shows like "CROSSFIRE" and "Gotcha"
and "I'm Going To Kick Your Ass With Tucker Carlson" and "Let's
Beat Up The Short Guy." That was just one that I...
KURTZ: I'm glad you're at least watching so much CNN, Jon.
STEWART: I am watching it constantly. It's driving me insane.
Make the ticker stop. You're in the middle of a damn sniper
story, and all of a sudden underneath it, you know, "Liza Minnelli's
first VH1 show to air."
KURTZ: There's a new thing out called...
KURTZ: There's a new thing out called remote control. We'll
have to get you one.
STEWART: But you're the news. That works for entertainment.
People need you. Help us. Help us.
KURTZ: Thank you for making us feel needed, Jon Stewart. Thanks
KURTZ: Comedy Central's Jon Stewart. When we come back, Walter
Mondale back in the media spotlight. Will he face any tough
questions from reporters, as he runs for Paul Wellstone's Senate
seat? Two veteran political reporters wrestle with that question
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
After an 18-year break from the national spotlight, Walter Mondale
has replaced Paul Wellstone on the Minnesota ballot a week after
the tragic plane crash that claimed the senator's life. So is
the press treating the former vice president as too much of
a senior statesman in the emotional aftermath of Wellstone's
Well, joining us now, Roger Simon, chief political correspondent
for U.S. News & World Report. And CNN senior political correspondent
Roger Simon, Walter Mondale met the press in what Friday's "Washington
Post" described as "15 minutes of mostly friendly questioning."
Where are the tough stories about Mondale's horrible 1984 presidential
run, his record as vice president under Jimmy Carter's full
(ph) presidency, his service as ambassador of Japan, his service
on corporate boards? Where are those things?
ROGER SIMON, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT: Oh, I think they're
coming. I really doubt...
KURTZ: We only have a few days.
SIMON: ... if -- well, that's true. But I think both the local
press and the national press are going to concentrate on Mondale's
record, as they should.
I'm not sure I would characterize the press conference in exactly
the same way. The tone was certainly mostly friendly. But about
half the questions were about his age and his late campaign
schedule. He got three questions in a row about being 74 years
old. That's not exactly a friendly issue if you are 74 years
old and running against a 53-year-old man.
KURTZ: His age is the one question the press has understandably
But, Candy Crowley, do reporters maybe feel a bit unseemly about
appearing to beat up on Mondale, given the tragic circumstances
under which he assumed this nomination?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Not consciously,
not consciously. But I mean, you know, you're just, like, this
man and his wife and his daughter have all just died, and then
out comes Walter Mondale, and people are just still a little
bit reeling. I mean, I think they're -- you know, you try to
get your sea legs and you don't want to come across as a complete
KURTZ: You don't want to seem heartless.
CROWLEY: You don't want to seem heartless.
I agree that I didn't think it was a necessarily really easy
time for him. I think the age issue is so bogus. I mean, hello,
how many people in the Senate are over 74? And the real question
is whether his issues, you know, or his position on the issues.
And so, to focus on that I think favors Mondale actually, because
he can talk about experience a little more.
KURTZ: I want to touch on the Wellstone memorial service that's
gotten so much publicity. Now, initially most of the out of
town papers, "The Washington Post," "Los Angeles Times," "USA
Today," ran very straight pieces. Here's the L.A. Times: "More
than 20,000 people gathered here Tuesday night to remember Senator
Paul Wellstone as a man of principal and a true liberal willing
to fight the lonely fight." And then Governor Jesse Ventura
walked out of the service. And he had this to say:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. JESSE VENTURA (I), MINNESOTA: I feel used. I feel violated
and duped over the fact that that turned into nothing more than
a political rally.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So to what extent did that make the press coverage turn
much harsher toward the memorial service?
SIMON: I think it had an effect. I think maybe Jesse Ventura
dupes easily or -- but the issue of whether the tone was wrong
for a memorial service certainly has changed peoples' view of
this election. It's -- I was on C-SPAN for two hours after that
event, and half the calls from all around the nation were on
that memorial service. And it has...
KURTZ: Some people were offended when...
SIMON: They were. And it has changed...
KURTZ: ... Ventura got booed, Trent Lott got booed and it was...
KURTZ: ... supposed to be in honor of Wellstone's memory.
SIMON: And it has changed the story line from, "tragic death;
elder statesmen are picking up the pieces and going forward,"
to, "was this too political? Are they using this tragic death
just for partisan political purposes?"
KURTZ: Why didn't the press cover it that way in the first place?
CROWLEY: Well, you know, this was, sort of, late. I am a little
surprised that there was -- I mean I think it was a deadline
kind of thing. And it may very well. You know, the time was
KURTZ: So then it happened late on the East Coast.
CROWLEY: Right. And so, you're going to bed with it, you know,
and you're doing what you're -- you know, what you've seen.
Because I do find it hard to believe, because I think it was
very obvious. Even without Jesse Ventura coming out and saying,
"I feel duped," it was obvious that this was not your normal
I'll tell you the other thing it did, was give Republicans an
opening to have Coleman go a little hard on the issues. Because
after Mel Carnahan died in similar circumstances, they had a
very funeral funeral. I mean, it was very somber. And when Ashcroft
went back up on the air, everybody hated him for it because
everybody was still so depressed. This, you know, just turned
that corner for the Republicans.
SIMON: No, there had been a private funeral and this was a memorial
service. But if you invite 20,000 people to anything in America,
you know, it's really hard to maintain, sort of, a somber tone
with that kind of crowd in a state that has seen an extremely
partisan and a hot-button election.
KURTZ: Right. Now, speaking of tone, and tone is so crucial
here to the way this is perceived and the way that the media
covers it, a lot of reporters knew and liked Paul Wellstone.
A lot of conservative journalists have been singing his praises
in the days after his death. What is it like dealing with the
emotion after such a tragedy? You've had some experience with
SIMON: Well, I remember being in Missouri on the day that Mel
Carnahan crashed. His son was the pilot of the small plane.
There was a staff member too who died. And I think the press,
who by training our inclination has few personal loyalties,
sometimes forgets that the staffs of these men and women who
run are very emotionally connected to them. They have a deep
emotional commitment to them. They will tell you, know, "I love
this guy. I love this woman." And in a way, they do.
And we're calling the staffs five minutes after the death saying,
"When is the memorial service going to be? Who's going to be
on the ticket? What's the law? You know, are you going to do
this in Washington? Are you going to do it here?" And these
people are shattered.
SIMON: And they have to pick up the pieces and some how go on
and service our needs because they have to feed the beast.
KURTZ: Very difficult.
You mentioned Republican candidate, Norm Coleman. And I wonder
whether the press is in a difficult position with him. Because
instead of now reading or hearing more about his position, the
fact that he used to be a Democrat and became a Republican,
it's all about how does he campaign in this all but impossible
CROWLEY: Look, at the end it's all about, you know, who turns
out anyway. We're beyond issues.
Look, does all this coverage of Walter Mondale take the spotlight
off Norm Coleman and seem a bit unbalanced? Yes. But I haven't
seen the coverage in Minnesota and that's where it counts. The
people in Minnesota are well-aware that Norm Coleman is running.
And, you know, I'm not sure -- I mean, for us, obviously, it's
the story of an aging politician coming back to save the party.
I don't think that's really to Norm Coleman's detriment in Minnesota.
KURTZ: And, of course, nationally he's been overshadowed by
all of the coverage of Wellstone and now Mondale.
CROWLEY: Who nationally knew Norm Coleman? I mean, you know,
it's a Minnesota race.
KURTZ: The political reporters knew it.
Now, an hour after Wellstone's death was confirmed, CNBC was
on the air talking about the effect on the stock market of a
likely Republican takeover of the Senate. Was that, kind of,
tasteless or is that just financial reality?
SIMON: I think it was financial reality. I say that because
I was watching TV and I noticed that the stock market was zooming
right after that death was confirmed. And I didn't know why.
And then I saw a financial reporter come on and say, "Look,
most people who trade in the stock market, most of the big brokers
want to see a Republican Senate. And they think they're going
to get one and this is why it's zooming."
Now, had they been a little more politically sophisticated,
they might have realized it might have caused the Senate to
appear more Democratic than Republican. But it's a legitimate
thing to report on.
KURTZ: Obviously, it's hard for all of us to deal with, as you
were saying. Who's going to be on the ballot? How's the stock
market doing in the wake of a senator who was widely respected
just having died? And that's the challenge in the days ahead.
Candy Crowley, Roger Simon, thanks very much for joining us.
And coming next, the Russian media after the hostage crisis.
How much has changed since the old Soviet days? That's coming
next in Bernard Kalb's "Back Page."
KURTZ: Time now for the "Back Page." Here's Bernard Kalb.
BERNARD KALB, CNN CONTRIBUTOR (on camera): Suddenly for the
Russian media, it felt as though Russia had been taken over
by the old Soviet Union. Back in those days, and that was only
a decade or so ago when this flag flew over the Kremlin, the
Communists ran the show. When something happened, they decided
what got published and what didn't. Truth was a luxury and had
nothing to do with it.
But just a few says ago, echoes of that once upon a time reality
suddenly resurfaced when this happened: When Vladimir Putin's
government found itself confronted by the Chechen takeover of
a Moscow theater -- hundreds of hostages trapped inside.
Suddenly, a full-blown crisis, with a public desperate for information,
as the government tried to cope with the terrorists and save
The result was summarized in this headline in "The Washington
Post": "Russian News Media Feel Kremlin's Clamp On Hostage Coverage,"
with the story going on to say, "To some free press advocates,
and some ordinary Russians as well, the Kremlin has tightened
its usual short leash on mass media outlets, to the point where
the official version of events is paramount and unpleasant truths
Now, there was no question that the government had its hands
full. It said it didn't want to say anything that might jeopardize
the rescue operation.
Yet, despite the official pressures, the Russian media offered
up its share of criticism of the way the crisis was being handled,
including one newspaper with the front-page headline, "You Should
Resign," with pictures of the officials who coordinated the
rescue operation that left more than 100 hostages dead from
a gas used in the final assault.
It's still far from a perfectly free media world in Russia,
but that headline gives you some idea of how far the media have
gone since the old Soviet days. I mean, just imagine telling
any of the commissars of the Kremlin back then in the old days,
"You should resign."
KURTZ: Bernard Kalb.
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard
Kurtz. You can catch our program again tomorrow morning at 9:30
"CAPITAL GANG" is up next.
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