'Special Report' Panel on Media Bias in Covering the Presidential Campaign and the Future of Federal Campaign Financing

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from October 28, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRIT HUME, HOST: Our topic tonight will be the media and what it has done to the campaign, and more specifically what it has done to itself.

And there will be observations from Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

Before we get to that, though, one thing. We were a little rough last night on the McCain campaign and its handling of Sarah Palin, the vice presidential nominee. And we have been thinking about what was said. And I want to recognize Fred-Fred?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I was especially rough on Nicole Wallace of the McCain campaign, who I identified as the one who was responsible for getting all of those expensive clothes for Sarah Palin and then being cowardly and not admitting that she was the one.

Well, it turns out, I have discovered I was wrong. I apologize for my mistake, and I apologize particularly to Nicole Wallace.

HUME: Thanks, Fred.

Now, I want to listen to this comment from Michael Malone, who writes and has written for some years a column for the ABC News Web site called "Silicon Insider." He is a veteran newspaperman that has spent a lot of his career covering technology.

But this is what he says about this campaign — "The sheer bias in the print and television coverage of this election campaign is not just bewildering but appalling.

And over the last few months I have found myself slowly moving from shaking my head at the obvious one-sided reporting to shouting at the screen of my television and my laptop computer," that from Michael Malone.

This raises an intriguing question. There seems to be a widespread agreement even among some in the mainstream media that the coverage this year most of the year has been biased, first in favor of Barack Obama against Hillary Clinton, and now in favor of Barack Obama versus John McCain.

The question I have is what will be, if any, the long-term effect on the news media itself? Fred?

BARNES: Probably none.

HUME: Really?

BARNES: We have had liberal bias for a long time. And I wrote a piece about 20 years ago saying that we were having media realignment and liberal bias was beginning to fade away. Boy, was I wrong. It has gotten worse than ever this year.

And you can see it particularly when there is a fundamental questions that you ask about presidential candidates that the media is supposed to ask and then try to answer, and that is, is this person running for president who he says he is?

They have done it with John McCain. They say John McCain in 2008 is not the guy we got to know in 2000. He is a different guy running this year. We have heard that over and over again.

Now Barack Obama comes along, though, and here is a guy who is presenting himself as someone who is bipartisan, bring us together, unify the country, change, hope. And yet his political record is one of great partisanship, of liberal ideology, being a part of a Chicago machine.

And yet the press has made no effort to square those things, to ask questions about why we should believe Obama now and what he says, because what he has done in the past is so different.

HUME: Mort, do you think there is a price — this is almost so universally recognized that it is almost not controversial. There are some who will argue otherwise. I noticed our friends at the Politico are arguing that the reason why McCain is getting bad press is because he is doing badly.


HUME: Some of that may be true, but is there any price to be paid for this? A lot of these organs of the main stream media, perhaps for other reasons, are in real trouble.

KONDRACKE: Well, the mainstream media has been fragmenting. The viewership and the readership has been going elsewhere for a very long time. But I don't think it's entirely because of media bias.

But some of it is. People go to talk radio, and they go to FOX News, and they go to conservative blogs because they're unhappy with the news that they get elsewhere. And there's no question that that's happening.

You know, I think — I don't think that Obama — that the fact that Obama bought a house with Tony Rezko is unknown, that he had Jeremiah Wright as a pastor is unknown. Those things have not been suppressed. What I think —

HUME: Has the question ever been asked, or answered, or even asked to your satisfaction, for example, of how Barack Obama could have sat there all those years and been unaware of this man's views?

LEVENTHAL: I think it certainly has been asked around here. We've asked it innumerable times.

HUME: It has been asked of Obama in any debate or anywhere else?

KONDRACKE: I cannot specifically recall —

HUME: It is one thing for something to be reported. For example —

KONDRACKE: He was forced to make a speech about it.

HUME: I understand that he made a big speech about it, but that's not the same as answering searching questions, or even searching questions being asked.

KONDRACKE: I haven't been on his plane. I can't remember what happened at the time.

I would just say one other thing. What I regard as the worst of it is the storyline that the Obama — that the McCain campaign has brought violence to this campaign, where people have been comparing, John Lewis compared it to George Wallace. That is so overdone. Or anti- intellectualism in the McCain campaign.

I think it is a totally overdone story, as though, you know, Obama was — there were no excesses on the Obama part.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Look, I think that's the point. The mainstream media, it has gone beyond the point of a lack of curiosity, a lack of questions, a lack of probing into Obama's associations in the past.

It's that it has dropped a curtain over these associations, and implied or claimed openly as it said in the editorial page of The New York Times that to probe into them, to question them, and to bring them up is to engage in a form of racism.

That's what's so amazing. It's that when Obama is forced because of events to make a speech about race after it's discovered that he had been in the church for 20 years with a raving racist, he says "I can no more disassociate myself from him than my poor grandmother."

The press says brilliant, Lincoln-esche speech. Case closed — if you bring it up again, you're a racist.

Six weeks later he renounces his first position and he breaks, in fact, with Wright and says he is beyond the pale.

The press again says case closed, he's done it again. If you bring it up again, it's racist.

An ad appears in North Carolina which associates Obama with Wright. It is denounced in The Times and elsewhere as racist, and that becomes accepted.

We are looking at the most left-wing candidate with the most radical associations since Henry Wallace in 1948, and the press has ruled out as illegitimate any inquiries into this.

HUME: Any price to pay.

KRAUTHAMMER: Unfortunately not.

HUME: I thought you'd say that.

We will talk about the future of federal campaign financing after we take a short break.



SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But Senator Obama has broken it. And he broke his word to me and the American people when he signed a piece of paper when he was the long-shot candidate that he would take public financing if I would.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The whole object of public financing is to make sure that big money and special interests aren't funding you and instead ordinary Americans are funding you and that you are responsive to them.

And even though we haven't been in the public financing system, that's really what happened here.


HUME: Well, boy, he may not be in the public financing system, but he is in the financing system, all right. Barack Obama has raised in September alone $150,000(ph), and John McCain has had $84,000(ph) for the whole fall campaign.

John McCain is in the public financing system. Barack Obama is raising his money — after saying he would be in it, he has got out and has raised way millions more.

So what about this? Is this the end of public financing, the whole idea? Has this blown it up for good now that a Democrat that supposedly has favored it has deciding to ignore it?

KONDRACKE: I don't think so. Both Obama and McCain have said that they endorse a bill that's in Congress right now that would change the public financing system and make it better than $84 million, thereby being attractive to candidates, creating a four to one match for contributions under $200, eliminating the joint committees that —

HUME: What joint committee?

KONDRACKE: The Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee create all kinds of joint campaign committees between them and the candidate.

And the result of it is that you, as an individual, are able to contribute up to $70,000 to your favorite candidate, not just $2,300 per election to the candidate, but you can contribute for him $70,000 to these various committees. So you can be a fat cat.

HUME: So what you're saying the system may be broken now, but they're going to fix it.

KONDRACKE: They could fix it, yes.

BARNES: That is such nonsense. Mort, where have you been?

The notion - here's what is being killed now. It's the notion that we can keep large amounts of money out of politics. We can't do it. It always finds a way. John McCain ought to know that.

HUME: You mean private money?

BARNES: Private money will come in.

And public financing, we'll still have it for the weak candidates in the primaries. But any of the general election candidates will realize after what Barack Obama did so successfully that the heck with public financing. I can raise more, and I better do that if I want to win.

KRAUTHAMMER: For presidential candidates, public financing is dead. Anybody who uses it again in the future is going to lose and nobody is going to want to repeat the McCain experiment even if that limit is raised.

Obama will have no incentive if he is elected to have a real reform. Democrats won't have any incentive.

And I think it's punishment for McCain, who created this insane system, and he now is going to go down in the rubble if he loses. I should always add that.

And he deserves it. It did not in any way curtail the corruption or curtail political speech. It is an invasion of the first amendment. You heard all of the fixes that Mort has talked about that makes it even more complex, loophole-ridden, and corruptible.

It should go. It will go. And I think as a result of this election it will go absolutely.

HUME: But one thing I think this does prove, and I don't know if anybody would agree with this, is that you can ignore it no matter what you said about it, and the political cost of doing it is zero.

BARNES: Certainly that's true in Obama's case.

KONDRACKE: That's another case of press bias. The press did point out-

HUME: If McCain had done this?

KONDRACKE: That he did violate a promise. It was pointed out at the time, but he was forgiven.

BARNES: But in McCain's case, they would be saying that he is buying the election.

HUME: That's it for the panel.

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