OTR Interviews

Was 'Politico's' 'Dumb' Article on Gov. Rick Perry Dumb?

Was Politico unfair to ask, 'Is Rick Perry dumb'?


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," August 29, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Texas Governor Rick Perry under attack and not for his policies, nor his experience, nor what he is promising on the campaign trail. That would be fair and that is journalism. But name-calling? Is name-calling journalism? "Politico's" headline is, "Is Governor Rick Perry dumb?" So what's up with that?

Joining us is Rick Klein, senior Washington editor for "ABC World News." And I'm putting you out on the end of a stick because we all know the author of it. But it's a terrible headline. Or we know the author of the story, at least.

RICK KLEIN, "ABC WORLD NEWS": Yes, no, look, I don't think -- whatever his brain power is, he was elected three times governor of Texas. He is now a first tier presidential contender. He's smart enough to be President of the United States. He's smart enough to be elected, I think. At this point, I think we can stipulate that. So whatever his book smarts are, I think that's irrelevant for this discussion. He has clearly met the bar in Texas several times. The voters in Texas have said three times he's smart enough to be governor, and he's had a record that he's now running on.

VAN SUSTEREN: But you know, the power of the media, and especially (INAUDIBLE) rumps. You can really destroy a candidate unfairly, when the -- you know, if the media is so "dumb," to use the word from the article, if the media -- and even cruel to say, you know, Is Perry dumb, and to put that all on speculation so we're talking about it now, they talked about it on "Hannity" before, and now that's going to be stuck out there -- there'll probably be a "Saturday Night Live" skit about it. And then the -- when the -- when the -- who wrote it probably never met him, probably never had a conversation with him. And it's just -- you know, it's open season on these candidates. This is not good journalism.

KLEIN: It puts a finer point on this -- on the question that would dogged him and dogs a lot of candidates regardless. Look, he had a month here of pretty good publicity. He came in and he seemed to be what Republicans are looking for. He's ridden high in the polls. He's leading in a couple of national polls. This happens almost like clockwork, though, where after the first couple of weeks, people start to dig into the record. It wasn't just "Politico" today. The "Times" and The "Post" both have stories on...

VAN SUSTEREN: But were those stories about whether his policies are dumb, or whether he's, you know, made bad mistakes or bad judgment? Because that's profoundly different than taking a swipe personally at someone. And it wasn't just the headline. You know, in the article, I mean, I -- at first I thought, well, it's just a headline. Somebody else wrote the headline to try to get the hits on the Web. But I go in it and it refers to "lightweight," "incurious," and probably never spoken to him, doubts about Perry's intellect, but isn't so deep, "Governor Goodhair" -- I mean, it goes on and on and on.

KLEIN: Yes, look, I think -- I think the broader point here, and I think what is legitimate in all this, the guy does not -- he's not a policy wonk. He's not someone that knows the details of policy...

VAN SUSTEREN: That's fair.

KLEIN: Totally. And I think that's -- if you want to flip it around to what this actually means for the presidential contest, it's not going to be about what the headline is, it's going to be about how he wears under pressure. He's going to be at his first debate next week. How does he hold up there?

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't agree with you on that. I think this the kind of stuff that sticks. I think when the media gets sort of nasty and mean and when they take things personal and when they go after someone personally, I think it becomes very popular and everyone sort of chatters about it and sort of, you know, giggles about it behind the scenes. And I don't think it's -- I don't think it's fair to the candidates, whether he's a good candidate or not.

KLEIN: I think -- look, this is part of the vetting process. This is part of the -- what you have to face as a presidential candidate these days. Again, this puts a finer point than most of them...

VAN SUSTEREN: Why? Why? Because the journalists aren't -- because the journalists aren't looking at your policies and to see what you've done in terms of your work experience, they're just taking swipes, asking if you're stupid, dumb?

KLEIN: Well, we ask a lot of questions, obviously, and character questions are part of it...

VAN SUSTEREN: That's fair.

KLEIN: ... and background questions are part of it. I think for him, Rick Perry, is one of the challenges he has is to show that he can -- that he can bring it. And it's the idea of filling out this resume a little bit, of showing up against those candidates -- look, I think if Rick Perry has a stellar debate performance next week and shows that he knows policy and has a command of the details and is able to hold up against Mitt Romney and against Michele Bachmann the other folks on that stage, then these questions tend to fade away. I don't think this can stick without evidence that kind of backs it up.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you think it's fair?

KLEIN: I think -- I think...

VAN SUSTEREN: Would you -- would you -- would you put this article out under your name?

KLEIN: The headline to me went further than I'd be comfortable with personally. But if that's what the reporting says, if that's what your reporting says, then I think you have a responsibility to present that, as well.

VAN SUSTEREN: But the reporting would be -- don't you think the reporter would be going back and looking at some of his policies...

KLEIN: Sure.

VAN SUSTEREN: About his hair? That didn't take a lot of reporting (INAUDIBLE).

KLEIN: He does have good hair.

VAN SUSTEREN: He does have good hair. I get that. But I mean, some of the stuff that's written about him in this article -- Paul Begala says he was known as a -- he was not known as a particularly bright guy? That's your source, you go to Paul Begala, who's -- who's going to be a political opponent of his? And he gets sort of the gossip, he's not known as a particularly bright guy? It wasn't like he -- that his policies weren't any good and or he did a terrible job in Texas.

KLEIN: I think one of the interesting things about Rick Perry is that -- someone made the point to me the other day that he's all the things -- he actually is what everyone thought Bush was. He -- the swashbuckling Texan who doesn't have a command of policy, isn't a details guy -- that actually is Rick Perry. He really is a Texan and he really does not care about policy as much as he does about the game. He loves -- he's a great campaigner. That's one of the reasons he's been so successful.

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't know if he'd be a good president, a lousy president, whatever. I just don't like it -- you know, I'd like to see -- I'd like to journalism be a little bit more like journalists instead of the gossip.

KLEIN: You'll have a chance.

VAN SUSTEREN: We'll have a chance. Anyway, Rick, nice to see you.