Kurtz allowed political appointee Cullum to compare Bush U.S. attorney firings to Clinton's without challenge*

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

On the July 29 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources, host Howard Kurtz included conservative radio talk show host and Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) member Blanquita Cullum on a panel to "talk about the Bush administration," without emphasizing that Cullum was appointed by President Bush to serve on the BBG. Except for approximately five seconds of on-screen text, Cullum was not identified as a Bush appointee, even while she defended the Bush administration's controversial firings of nine U.S. attorneys by attacking former President Bill Clinton's administration.* Further, while discussing the controversy surrounding apparent contradictions in Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales' testimony relating to the ongoing U.S. attorney scandal, Kurtz allowed Cullum to make a misleading comparison in defense of the U.S. attorneys scandal -- comparing them to President Clinton's removal of 93 U.S. attorneys when he took office.

Introducing the segment, Kurtz identified Cullum as "radio talk show host and chairwoman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors Talk Radio First Amendment Committee." For approximately five seconds, Cullum was identified on-screen as having been "appointed by President Bush as governor on the Broadcasting Board of Governors." But even though he later urged Cullum to specifically "talk about the Bush administration," Kurtz did not explain that the BBG is a government agency, nor did he disclose further that Cullum was appointed to the BBG by Bush. Indeed, on October 16, 2002, Bush nominated Cullum to be a member of the BBG; the Senate confirmed her nomination on November 14, 2002.

Since her appointment to the BBG in 2002, Kurtz has hosted Cullum 10 different times on Reliable Sources to discuss media coverage of current events, including coverage of the Bush administration. On the April 18, 2004, edition of Reliable Sources, for instance, Kurtz asked Cullum of a recent Bush press conference: "Blanquita Cullum, were the White House correspondents we just saw trying to ask tough questions, or were they trying to embarrass the president?" Cullum replied that the press conferences were a good opportunity for reporters to get their "15 minutes of fame."

Media Matters for America identified only one prior case in which Kurtz has stated that Cullum is a member of the BBG and, therefore, tied to the Bush administration. On the April 18, 2004, program, he identified her as "a presidential appointee to the Broadcasting Board of Governors" and later described her as "part of the government."

Additionally, during the July 29 segment, Kurtz failed to challenge Cullum's misleading comparison of "the firing of the 93 [U.S.] attorneys" during the Clinton administration, which Cullum claimed involved "a political motivation," and the Bush administration's controversial firing of nine U.S. attorneys. In fact, as Media Matters has previously noted, both Clinton and Bush dismissed nearly all U.S. attorneys upon taking office following an administration of the opposite party, as is common when a new administration of the opposite political party of its predecessor takes office. As a March 13 McClatchy Newspapers article (accessed through the Nexis database) reported, "Mass firings of U.S. attorneys are fairly common when a new president takes office, but not in a second-term administration." The article added that "Justice Department officials acknowledged it would be unusual for the president to oust his own appointees."

Rather than challenge Cullum's misleading comparison, Kurtz appeared to adopt Cullum's assertion that "the press didn't cover" the Clinton administration controversies "the same way" they had covered the controversial Bush administration firings, by later asking ABC News correspondent Sam Donaldson: "[W]hat about Blanquita's point that the Clinton administration scandals were not covered with the same intensity as the Bush administration?"

Moreover, Kurtz went on to ask Cullum: "Blanquita, I'm going to get you off the Clinton administration, because I want to talk about the Bush administration. Let me toss you this question, which I think you'll like: Is the press being hard enough on the Democrats, for showering subpoenas on the Bush administration?" Cullum proceeded to attack Democrats, likening them to a "bad waiter at a restaurant that gets nice to you right before you're going to pay the tip." During her response, the on-screen text identified Cullum as "BBG governor."* Kurtz then "shifted gears" to a different subject without allowing any other guests to address his question.

From the July 29 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:

KURTZ: So, does this Beltway drama deserve the big headlines, or is it just routine political sniping that goes on in every administration?

Joining us now here in Washington, Sam Donaldson, ABC News correspondent and anchor of Politics Now on the ABC News Digital Network. In New York, veteran journalist Jeff Jarvis, founder of buzzmachine.com, who also blogs at prezvid.com. And in San Antonio, Blanquita Cullum, radio talk show host and chairwoman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors Talk Radio First Amendment Committee.

[...]

KURTZ: Blanquita Cullum, you might say it's a media-driven story. This all began with the firing of the eight U.S. attorneys and so forth. But even Republicans like [Sen.] Arlen Specter [PA] are saying that Gonzales has lost his credibility.

CULLUM: Well, Gonzales hasn't lost his credibility. I mean, I think that Washington suffers from short-term memory syndrome.

They forget about what happened with [former Attorney General] Janet Reno. They forget about the firing of the 93 attorneys. And they also forget that when the firing of the 93 attorneys happened, it was a political motivation. If you remember what was going on with [Former Rep.] Dan Rostenkowski [D-IL], if you remember what was going on with the Congress --

KURTZ: But wait. The fact that there have been scandals in the past and under the Clinton administration doesn't mean this isn't a legitimate and important story.

CULLUM: No, but you have to have -- no. Listen -- but the problem is you have to make this point. And that is that the press didn't cover it the same way.

And you have to remember that, for example, right now when you talk about [FBI Director Robert] Mueller and you talked about Alberto Gonzales, Mueller actually said it was his understanding. He was not in the hospital room with [former Attorney General John] Ashcroft and with Gonzales.

KURTZ: All right. Let me get --

CULLUM: So, you know, you've got to make sure that you get all these things right as well.

[...]

KURTZ: But what about -- what about Blanquita's point that the Clinton administration scandals were not covered with the same intensity as the Bush administration?

DONALDSON: Oh, Howard, it goes way back. People still think that somehow we were bad on Nixon but we weren't bad on somebody else.

If you look at all of the coverage, if you put all of the video tapes together, if you put The Washington Post, New York Times and you -- and Washington Times all together -- every time something like this comes along, it gets great extensive coverage. But the people on the other side say it's unfair.

CULLUM: Well, not completely. I mean, let's look at the incredible coverage that it got back with the Clinton administration.

KURTZ: Blanquita, I'm going to get you off the Clinton administration, because I want to talk about the Bush administration. Let me toss you this question, which I think you'll like.

Is the press being hard enough on the Democrats, for showering subpoenas on the Bush administration? For example, the congressional subpoena of [White House senior adviser] Karl Rove. They know Karl Rove is not going to testify. But it produces some headlines.

CULLUM: Well, you know what I think about that really? I think right now -- have you ever had a bad waiter at a restaurant? Have you ever had a bad waiter at a restaurant that gets nice to you right before you're going to pay the tip? This is what's happening right now with the Congress before the vote.

They're coming around and they're trying to make a lot of waves so that people will actually think that they've done something. And I'm not, like, really impressed.

I think that you are right. They're going after Rove. It's not going to happen. But they're like the waiter that wants the tip at the end of the meal.

KURTZ: All right.

Let me shift gears here and talk about CNN's YouTube debate this week. This has drawn both praise and criticism. But there's no doubt that many of the questions were different from what journalists would ask, or even think of asking.

From the February 12, 2006, edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:

KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about coverage of the King funeral, Eugene Robinson, associate editor and columnist for The Washington Post, and radio talk show host Blanquita Cullum.

[...]

KURTZ: But do you think that many journalists either ignored or downplayed these remarks initially because they agree with the criticism of Bush? So it didn't strike them as being anything particularly inflammatory?

CULLUM: Well, I also think that maybe some of them didn't write about it because they really didn't want that to be the focus of the eulogies that happened for this great woman. They were exercising --

KURTZ: So they made an editorial or a political judgment?

CULLUM: Yes, I think they were making more of an editorial than political because, frankly, it was all about -- it was supposed to be about her.

And you're right, Gene [Robinson]. The president is a big boy. I mean, he sat there and he kind of took it. But I mean, a lot of people just felt uncomfortable about it because even if they didn't like the president, they didn't think that was the venue.

If there was a venue, certainly they could have created a town hall. Or if Jimmy Carter wanted to go over there and meet at the White House or stand in front of the White House and criticize the president, or go to some other location, but this became his Janet Jackson moment. This became Jimmy Carter's Janet Jackson moment that everybody says he exposed a part of him that should not have been exposed, and we remember that more than we remember --

KURTZ: That is an analogy that never would have occurred to me.

From the April 18, 2004, edition of Reliable Sources:

KURTZ: Joining us now to grade the press' performance in New York, Janeane Garofalo, the actress and comedienne who now hosts a talk show on Air America network. And here in Washington, Blanquita Cullum, talk show host for Radio America, and she's also president of the National Association of Radio Talk Show Hosts. And commentator Arianna Huffington, author of the just-released book Fanatics and Fools: The Game Plan for Winning Back America.

Welcome.

Blanquita Cullum, were the White House correspondents we just saw trying to ask tough questions or were they trying to embarrass the president?

CULLUM: Well, I think right now it's become the kind of thing where you have the journalists out there trying to ask the tough question. It's almost getting your own little 15 minutes of fame.

KURTZ: Or 15 seconds.

CULLUM: Or 15 seconds of fame, actually. And it was a tough venue, I think, for the president. He did have a lot of courage going out there. He knew he was going to get those tough questions.

There was no surprise for him that he was going to get him. But I think the journalists did want to aim for the hard questions. They wanted to be recognized as the one that asked the toughest question.

[...]

KURTZ: Blanquita Cullum, you are also a presidential appointee to the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which take as stand on First Amendment issues.

CULLUM: That's correct. Right.

KURTZ: Is Howard Stern worthy of First Amendment defense.

CULLUM: Well, the Broadcasting Board of Governors doesn't take a stand on First Amendment issues. We oversee all the international broadcast.

The National Association of Radio Talk Show Hosts takes a position on First Amendment issues. In fact, we give an award called the Freedom of Speech Award. And one thing I think it's important to know, it wasn't a Bush administration issue that brought this forward. It was a guy in Florida that filed a lawsuit and has been following Stern for 10 years.

We as an association --

KURTZ: But you're part of the government.

CULLUM: No, no. I'm --

KURTZ: You are part of the government that is leading this crackdown.

CULLUM: No, that's not right. I am a part of the government that oversees international broadcasting, but I'm also the president of an association that stands for the First Amendment.

* CORRECTION: This item, which originally ran with the headline "Kurtz hosted Cullum to 'talk about the Bush administration' without disclosing that she is a Bush appointee," incorrectly stated that CNN Reliable Sources host Howard Kurtz did not note that guest Blanquita Cullum was a Bush appointee to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). In fact, while Kurtz did not address the issue himself during Cullum's appearance, the on-screen text accompanying Kurtz's introduction of Cullum read that Cullum "was appointed by President Bush as governor on the Broadcasting Board of Governors." The text appeared on-screen for approximately five seconds. Throughout the segment, the on-screen text alternated between describing Cullum as a "BBG governor" and as a representative of "podjockey.com." While Cullum was responding to Kurtz's request to "talk about the Bush administration," she was identified as "BBG governor." Media Matters for America regrets the error.

Posted In
Government, Nominations & Appointments, Justice & Civil Liberties
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CNN
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Howard Kurtz
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Reliable Sources
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