Conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt and liberal publisher Arianna Huffington squared off on Sunday in an epic ideological battle about Fox News's Glenn Beck and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin.
With Howard Kurtz moderating on CNN's "Reliable Sources," the outspoken pair found very little to agree about.
Unfortunately, Kurtz was by no means an impartial host oftentimes letting Huffington off the hook while pressing his conservative guest more strongly on points he didn't agree with (video embedded below the fold with transcript and commentary):
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Roger Ailes' network takes plenty of flack in the seemingly endless cable wars. And this past week, the Fox News chairman got a chance to return fire.
Ailes made a rare television appearance on ABC's "This Week" with Barbara Walters in the host chair. And Arianna Huffington took the opportunity to give him an earful. The subject? Glenn Beck, who in just a year has emerged as the channel's biggest lightning rod.
Here is how the exchange went.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM: Aren't you concerned about the language that Glenn Beck is using, which is, after all, inciting the American people? There's a lot of suffering out there, as you know. And when he talks about people being slaughtered, about who is going to be the next...
ROGER AILES, FOX NEWS PRESIDENT: Well, he was talking about Hitler and Stalin slaughtering people, so I think he was probably accurate. Also...
HUFFINGTON: No, no. He was talking about this administration.
AILES: I think as we start going around as the word police in this business it will be...
HUFFINGTON: It's not about the word police. It's about something deeper. It's about the fact that there's a tradition, as the historian Richard Hofstadter said, in American politics of the paranoid style.
AILES: I agree with you. I read something on your blog that said I looked like J. Edgar Hoover, I had a face like a fist, and I was essentially a malignant tumor.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, is this a case of holding Fox News accountable or just another squabble between the left and the right?
Joining us now here in L.A. is Arianna Huffington, the co-founder and editor of "The Huffington Post," and Hugh Hewitt, nationally syndicated radio talk show host and executive editor of TownHall.com.
Arianna, you went after Roger Ailes about Glenn Beck, as we just saw. Is Beck the only loudmouth on TV saying irresponsible things?
HUFFINGTON: No, but what's happening with Glenn Beck is he takes these apocalyptic statements that basically fuel people's fear and anxiety and has made them his stock and trade. Literally, practically no show is done without some kind of form of inciting fear in the American people. And I think that is dangerous, especially at a time like this.
KURTZ: Hugh Hewitt, do you find Arianna's outrage to be somewhat selective?
HUGH HEWITT, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: No, I don't. I think she's always been focused on Fox. So it's just like a laser. This is what she does all the time, and it's increasingly silly.
I've known Arianna for years, but the idea that Glenn is inciting a dangerous element in the United States, I think that's silly. I think that Arianna knows no one watches takes notes and acts on what Glenn Beck says.
He did use the word "slaughter." You were right. Roger was wrong.
HUFFINGTON: But they denied it.
HUFFINGTON: He denied it, and Glenn Beck denied it the day after.
KURTZ: Let me clear that up by playing, first of all, what Glenn Beck said on his radio show about your appearance on ABC the next day, and then some sound from this program back in November on this semantic question.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
GLENN BECK, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I don't even know if I've ever used the word "slaughtered." And if I used the word "slaughtered," if it wasn't in the context of Mao, Stalin or Hitler, it was in the idea that the truth is being slaughtered by this administration. Not saying that this administration is going to slaughter anyone.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BECK: Find the exit closest to you and prepare for a crash landing, because this plane is coming down because the pilot is intentionally steering it into the trees. We will thrive as long as these people are not in control. They are taking you to a place to be slaughtered.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Stop the tape. This is where Kurtz should have jumped on Huffington, for it was clear that Beck wasn't talking about the adminstration slaughtering people. Alas, Kurtz gave Arianna a pass:
HUFFINGTON: So it's unambiguous. And then, if it doesn't matter, why did Roger Ailes deny it falsely, and then why did Glenn Beck deny it for two days, even though the video was out there on "The Huffington Post" a day after the show?
Unfortunately, Kurtz never asked Huffington to admit she was wrong about Beck claiming the Obama administration was going to slaughter people. Instead, he moved on to Hewitt:
KURTZ: But you seem to be saying that Glenn Beck perhaps says some intemperate things but people don't take it seriously?
HEWITT: Proportionally. I think Glenn does about 15 hours of media a week. He used this I think before Christmastime. I believe that that was before Christmastime.
Arianna goes on a show with Roger Ailes, brings up a single word from six weeks ago, expects Roger to understand it, declares that to be falsehood. That just doesn't hold up as logic.
What he was talking about in that exchange was Andy Stern's SEIU speech where Andy used the term "workers of the world unite." And if we applied the same standard to Andy Stern that Arianna is attempting to apply to Glenn Beck, you could put Andy Stern in a very, very deep, dark corner with a lot of radical people who have been communists over the years.
I don't think it's responsible. I think we need to focus on the overall content of arguments made in public with a fairness and an accuracy that encompasses the fact that if you say -- you talk for 30 hours a week, you're going to use the word "slaughter" and you're going to use it sometimes without even knowing it. And I don't think we ought to focus on those individual things. We ought to focus on Glenn Beck and why he is so popular.
Why do you think he's so popular, Arianna?
HUFFINGTON: Well, Glenn Beck -- first of all, let me just correct something. This is not an isolated word.
On the same show, I talked about him saying -- asking his audience, who is going to be the next victim of a killing spree? I just have here a handful of quotes from him talking about what Al Gore is doing being equivalent to what Hitler did and leading to the final solution.
This is his stock and trade, talking about the fact that everything that the administration is doing is frightening, taking us to fascism, Marxism. I mean, all of that is completely paranoid.
KURTZ: But let me jump in here.
HUFFINGTON: And I think that there is a reason why there's an exception in the First Amendment to yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater. This is a crowded and anxious country, and he's just going on repeating the same...
KURTZ: But let me come back to this question of whether you apply the same standards.
Rahm Emanuel, White House chief of staff, said in a private meeting some months ago -- he used the word "retarded," talking about a Democratic idea. I think the exact quote was (blanking) "retarded."
KURTZ: He's now apologized. You were said about that on MSNBC. You said, "Oh, this is political correctness, let's not talk about it."
Why not apply the same standard to Rahm?
Great question. Watch how Kurtz let Huffington off the hook again:
HUFFINGTON: First of all, saying a group of supposedly your supporters are expletive deleted, "retarded," is a very different category of then what we're discussing here. Personally, I think he should not have used it, but it's not the kind of firing offense that Sarah Palin made it out to be.
Once again, rather than pressing Huffington on this issue, Kurtz moved to Hewitt:
HEWITT: Well, once again, selective use of a particular standard.
I'd like to know what the standard is. I like the Brandenburg decision, which is you must have the intention to incite, you must have the present ability to incite. Otherwise, the First Amendment says let a thousand flowers bloom.
Arianna, we've just got to give this up. I think it's important that the ideas that Beck puts forward or O'Reilly puts forward, or Rush or Sean or me put forward, be debated. And the reason that the left is missing the boat, the reason they don't understand the Tea Parties, the reason they don't understand Sarah Palin, is they're focused on trying to score points, as opposed to understand what the American people are saying.
And you still haven't answered my question. Why is Fox so popular?
HUFFINGTON: I'm very happy to answer your question.
First of all, I actually have said that the Tea Party movement should be taken seriously, that a lot of what they're saying is based on legitimate grievances. I've said that and I've written about it.
In terms of why Fox is so popular, Roger Ailes is a great producer, Glenn Beck is a great showman. Any time you have two people's emotions at a time of fear and anxiety, you're going to do well, because people are looking for scapegoats.
Another glaring error by Huffington that Kurtz missed, for Fox's popularity over its other cable news competitors didn't start on January 20, 2009. Kurtz should have mentioned this, but didn't:
HEWITT: They did well during any period of time, Arianna. They haven't ever done well.
KURTZ: All right. Let me turn to someone else.
I'm not putting him in the same category, but MSNBC's Keith Olbermann got a lot of flack for this comment that we're about to play. This was the day before the special election in Massachusetts, won by Scott Brown. Olbermann was, shall we say, not a fan of Scott Brown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: In short, in Scott Brown we have an irresponsible, homophobic, racist reactionary, ex-new model, tea- bagging supporter of violence against women and against politicians with whom he disagrees.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Do you have any problem with that? Did "Huffington Post" criticize that?
HUFFINGTON: Jon Stewart criticized him.
KURTZ: What about Arianna Huffington?
HUFFINGTON: And I don't know if you saw that after that, Keith Olbermann said that he had gone over the top.
KURTZ: Over the top, and he apologized.
HUFFINGTON: When was the last time Glenn Beck said he had ever gone over the top? And also, you can put out there thousands of emotional, passionate statements Keith Olbermann has made based on fact. This is a fundamental distinction -- passion and emotion based on fact, based on passion and emotion a la Glenn Beck based on fantasy and fabrication.
Once again, Kurtz allowed Huffington to not answer his question. Why didn't he press her on his point that her website didn't go after Olbermann for his statements concerning Brown?
Instead, once again, he moved to Hewitt:
KURTZ: Hugh Hewitt?
HEWITT: I've only been "Worst Person in the World "twice. And so I'm going for the hat trick right now.
If I could, I would give Keith a 24/7 cable channel, because he's the greatest thing in the world for conservative values and Republicans other than Joe Biden, who I would like to give a 24/7 cable channel to.
He's a joke. He's recognized as a joke. His ratings have gone through the floor because he's a sportscaster who doesn't know anything.
Now watch Kurtz start defending Olbermann:
KURTZ: Doesn't know anything?
HEWITT: He doesn't know anything. Come on. Get him engaged sometimes in a conversation. He falls on his face. He doesn't know a thing about politics.
He knows sports. He gets fed prompter copy, he reads great prompter copies like our president, in some respects.
KURTZ: I don't think that's fair.
Fascinating. Kurtz spent the bulk of the program bashing Glenn Beck, but now thinks it's unfair when Hewitt bashed Olbermann:
HUFFINGTON: Hugh, I bet you have -- this is unbelievable. I bet you have never really watched the show. Maybe you read the transcripts...
HEWITT: No, I watch "Countdown" all the time.
KURTZ: And not just when he's the worst person.
I want to get to one more topic, because we could spend another hour and a half on this.
Sarah Palin was interviewed this morning on "Fox News Sunday," the first Sunday interview she's done. Of course, she is a Fox News contributor. Chris Wallace did the interview.
He did a pretty decent job. She filibustered a lot.
Let's play a little bit of that, when the subject turned to the president of the United States.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": What do you think of Barack Obama's presidency so far?
SARAH PALIN (R), FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: He has some misguided decisions that he is making, that he is expecting us to just kind of sit down and shut up and accept. And many of us are not going to sit down and shut up. We're going to say no, we do not like this...
WALLACE: Where is he saying sit down and shut up?
PALIN: In a general -- just kind of his general persona.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUFFINGTON: Well, that's a great moment in the interview, because obviously he has never said, "Sit down and shut up." And I'm glad that Chris Wallace called her on it.
And again, that's typical of the statements based on nothing. What she said, what Hugh just said about Keith Olbermann, without any backing. I mean, I have tons of stuff to back what I'm saying about Glenn Beck.
Watch Kurtz's response:
KURTZ: We can put it on your blog.
"We" can put it on your blog? Seems like Kurtz was taking sides here, doesn't it?
HUFFINGTON: I want you to say one thing that Keith Olbermann said that was completely based on nothing but his own fantasy. I would love you to say one thing.
HEWITT: The one thing he apologized for.
HUFFINGTON: Well, other than that.
HEWITT: No I gave you one. Now I want to talk about Sarah Palin.
HUFFINGTON: No, because you say that about Olbermann.
HEWITT: The reason you don't understand Sarah Palin is the reason that you and the left and MSNBC generally don't get Rush, don't get Sean. They speak pasture to America. They speak pasture to people who are endlessly upset with the elitist and the Manhattan beltway D.C. media that refuse to understand that they're insisting upon a change.
When Sarah Palin says the president says, the president says sit down and shut up, you want to apply it literally. That, of course, people in America say, what about when he told Eric Cantor, "I won't, you lost"? What about when he said, "I will call you out"? What about the gestures of the middle finger.
These are the attitudes that she's referring to.
KURTZ: Well, was she being interviewed there as a fellow Fox News contributor, as the person who made a speech to the Tea Party Convention last night, as somebody who may run for president in 2012? She seems to have a number of possible occupations there.
HEWITT: Sarah Palin is to the center-right, as Al Gore is to the center-left. She will remain a powerful figure in public opinion for many, many years to come because she represents and gives voice to a great swell of American...
Now watch Kurtz press Hewitt unlike the passes he's been giving to Huffington:
(CROSSTALK) KURTZ: But you didn't answer my question. I mean, isn't Fox giving her a platform the same way that they would give to Mike Huckabee, the same way that CNN did for all those years for Pat Buchanan, between his presidential campaigns, when she's really more of a politician?
HEWITT: Look, when you look at George Stephanopoulos and James Carville, who will be on, I think, a little bit later, they talk frequently with Rahm Emanuel, or so reports are. So they channel through these platforms that they have, one with ABC, one with CNN, the views of a center-left, mainstream opinion.
There's nothing wrong with that. It's a great thing, in fact.
KURTZ: And Palin opened the door to a possible -- she didn't rule it out -- 2012 presidential campaign. But again, she's in the friendly confines of Fox News Channel.
HUFFINGTON: Well, and, obviously, if you listened to her speech last night, it's pretty clear that right now she's running for president. Whether she will in the end or not, we don't know.
But what is interesting is that Hugh is basically telling us that any time people like Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck say something completely unacceptable, we should not take it literally. So, that means, effectively, we shouldn't really take them seriously.
KURTZ: I've got time for a brief response.
HEWITT: Of course, I didn't say that. And I think people should hold that up of a perfect example of Arianna's work.
HUFFINGTON: You just said, "Don't take them literally." I'm quoting.
HEWITT: Number two...
KURTZ: I'm going to have both of you two take this outside.
Hugh Hewitt, Arianna Huffington, thanks very much for joining us in L.A. this morning.
In the end, this was a good debate between folks on the opposite side of the aisle that would have been FAR better if Kurtz would have pressed them both equally.
Why didn't he?