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This is a rush transcript from “MediaBuzz,” July 17, 2022. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
HOWARD KURTZ, FOX NEWS HOST: Never seen anything remotely like it, the media are trying to knock President Biden out of the running for a second term. It feels like an orchestrated campaign. In fact, if the media were a political organization, as some of their critics believe, we’d say they’re carpet-bombing Joe Biden, trying to damage him to the point where he can’t run again.
And by the way, the media are also trying to disqualify Donald Trump on grounds of sinking support in his party, far less surprising but still happening. The press does not want a rematch. Remember how everyone thought the media would go easy on Biden because, basically, he’s not Trump? That’s out the window.
Just look at one newspaper, Sunday’s “New York Times,” Biden’s age is a big problem. Polls show many Americans consider Mr. Biden too old, and some Democratic strategists do not think he should run again. Monday’s “New York Times”, most Democrats don’t want Biden to run again in 2024. New poll shows that figure, 64 percent.
Tuesday, a Times columnist pleads with Biden not to run, and then there’s the former president. Tuesday’s times, half of GOP voters ready to leave Trump behind, poll finds, and a significant number vowing to abandon him if he wins the nomination.
Trump’s response, this is good, the failing “New York Times” is down 40 percent year to date because they are fake news. Their reporters are dishonest. They hate our country. The “New York Times” is truly the enemy of the people.
Now, of course the media would be committing malpractice if they didn’t report on Biden’s awful poll numbers or whether the Hill hearings have hurt Trump. But who exactly annoyed the journalists to try to muscle candidates out of the presidential race and more than two years early, if they’re damaged, they think they can’t win, maybe they’ll decide against running? But too many in the news media are acting like mob bosses and are sacrificing what remains of their credibility.
I’m Howard Kurtz, and this is MEDIA BUZZ.
Ahead, Ari Fleischer with the details and devastating look at media bias and snobbery. There’s been plenty of television coverage of the concerted media campaign against Joe Biden and Donald Trump with numerous segments quoting the “New York Times”.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNKNOWN: I guess the bottom line is if not Biden, then who?
MARK MCKINNON, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: The future of the Democrat Party is not going to be Biden, and I doubt that he’ll be running.
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: Influential liberal columnist Michelle Goldberg of the “New York Times” is the latest person begging Biden not to run. She’s citing his age.
UNKNOWN: Joe Biden is in trouble. I think that’s pretty obvious.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: The Biden presidency is failing so much, so past that even the media mob, they’re being forced to reckon with the reality that they helped create.
UNKNOWN: Joe Biden’s approval rating does not mean that America wants Donald Trump.
CHRIS HAYES, HOST, MSNBC: Donald Trump is a uniquely unpopular figure in American life. At some point you would Republicans are going to realize that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now to analyze the coverage, Ben Domenech, editor at large at The Spectator, and in Los Angeles, Leslie Marshall, the radio talk show host, both Fox News contributors.
Ben, does this feel to you like a political campaign by the media? And isn’t it bizarre that liberal news organizations and liberal pundits are trying to push Biden out two years early?
BEN DOMENECH, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it’s — that’s the — the earliness is the bizarre part of this.
DOMENECH: Because you would have thought that, you know, as the presidential election approached if Joe Biden was, you know, performing as horribly as he’s been performing recently that there would be an effort on the part of the media to say, hey, look, you know, take the gold watch, step aside. We’ve got some new blood coming in, we got new people in the wings —
KURTZ: People younger than 79.
DOMENECH: And instead, you have this coming much earlier, I think, certainly than I expected than a lot of people expected, and it’s because he’s performed so terribly. Look, the fact is we’ve had people in the office of the presidency who has been flawed leaders before. We’ve seen it, frankly, in Donald Trump, and in Bill Clinton and others where the popularity of their policies made upper for their own personal flaws.
In Biden, you don’t have that. You do not have a strong leader, you do not have someone whose policies are matching the moment, and because of that the media is forced into a position where they can’t lie anymore. They have to be honest about how unpopular he is, and even this to a degree, I think, is aligning the true depth of his unpopularity.
KURTZ: All right, let me get to Leslie. Look, it’s absolutely news when polls say that most Democrats or majority of Democrats don’t want Biden to run for re-election as he insists, he will or that he has a 33 percent approval rating, and on and on. But does this feel like a media crusade? The strongest things his allies say, is that according to that Times poll, if he did run, he’s beat Trump by three points which is actually a statistical tie.
LESLIE MARSHALL, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Look, I think this is kind of a war on old white guys, you know? Whether it’s left or right, you know? Ageism, if you will. I, from where I sit, Howie, I have seen the media be negative about Joe Biden from day one. I really have. And if you look at all of the social media, there’s — there were a lot of criticism of CNN and MSBNC and other outlets that are deemed liberal. Maybe they can’t be called liberal anymore.
As somebody who opines for a living but used to report news when I was a journalist back in the day, the media shouldn’t be having a campaign for or against any candidate. They should be reporting the facts, and the facts are, like you said, the numbers in this “New York Times” poll are worrisome for those who want Biden or for those who want Trump.
And at the end of the day, Donald Trump and Joe Biden aren’t going to do what the “New York Times” polls or any media outlet tell them to do. They’re going to do what they want to do.
KURTZ: War on white guys. I guess nobody defends if old white guys these days. All right. So, Ben, some media conservatives say that the press protected Biden in 2020 that he lost many steps, but, of course, it was a COVID campaign where he could just kind of do it from his basement.
What accounts for the vehemence with which the media, whether you think this is an orchestrated campaign or not, have turned on the president they hailed in 2020 because he was their best ticket for getting Trump out of the White House.
DOMENECH: Look, I think a lot of the media put themselves out there making the argument that he was a return to normalcy, stability, that he would tamp down on the culture wars, et cetera. But I think that they’ve been disappointed to see that that’s just not been the case.
It’s become harder and harder to defend the Biden administration if you are someone who just leans a little bit left of center and you had the idea that, you know, finally we were going to get the adults back in charge and then you face the circumstance where this White House really seems incapable of handling anything when it comes to the economy, when it comes to these culture war issues, when it comes to foreign policy and the like.
You have a president who really has disappointed his media backers, and for all those people who said, you know, he’s going to intimidate those around the world —
DOMENECH: — who are opposed to us, you know, he really hasn’t lived up to that. So, I think —
KURTZ: Do you think it’s policy-driven or do you think it is because the expectation is that he shouldn’t be the nominee because he can’t win?
DOMENECH: Yes, I think it’s both of those things. I think the policy issues in the moment are disappointing them, and the political side of this, they’re worried that he’ll lose. And they are — they are actually worried that he’s so bad that he could lose to Donald Trump.
KURTZ: Leslie, an ABC reporter asked the president about the poll story, and I want to take a look at what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNKNOWN: Mr. President, what’s your message to Democrats who don’t want you to run again?
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: They want me to run.
UNKNOWN: Two-thirds said they don’t.
BIDEN: Read the polls. Read the polls, Jack. You guys are all the same. That poll shows that 92 percent of Democrats, if I ran, would vote for me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, the reporter’s name isn’t jack, by way. So, Leslie, it’s true that the polls, if Biden ran, 92 percent of Democrats would vote for him, presumably against Trump or someone else. But he’s conflating two things. He says they want me to run. That’s’ exactly the opposite of what that poll shows, the reporter was right.
MARSHALL: Well, the report — was the reporter right, was the poll right, is the polls are off, or is the poll of one poll? And we say that because just the week before what we saw for both Democrats and are Republicans is that the end of the day, as we saw with Donald Trump, there are those in that party that held their nose and vote for him even though they didn’t want him.
And I think it would be the same this time around for Joe Biden with Democrats for some Democrats in that poll, and I think the same for Donald Trump if Donald Trump and not DeSantis is at the top of the Republican ticket. I think Republicans would do the same thing.
So, you know, we love to jump on, you know, one poll, you know, but it is, again, with one poll. And are there people out there who don’t want him to run or fearful they’ll lose for both Biden on the left, Trump on the right? That, certainly, is a reality.
KURTZ: Well, there are several polls in the case of Biden with different numbers about who wants him to run among Democrats. But the press is also going after Donald Trump, Ben, fueled by the same Times poll. He’s damaged, he can’t win, the Hill hearings have hurt him, Ron DeSantis is gaining support. Obviously, everybody says (Inaudible).
It’s hardly shocking. But Trump told New York magazine he’s made the decision, and it’s just a question of when he announces. You can guess what the decision is. Washington Post citing unnamed advisers saying he’ll probably announce in September. Of course, that would change the nature of the midterms. And so, it looks like this media campaign is not working.
DOMENECH: No, it certainly isn’t and, in fact, I think it’s kind of putting chum in the water, in a sense sort of daring him to announce earlier. But I do think that that is a media-driven announcement would be a mistake on his part. If you really are the powerful force here, if you really are the T-rex, the king of the jungle, then I think that you can actually wait. You don’t need to sort of, come out here early.
And the fact is that if he is baited into an early announcement, I actually think that gives people more time to familiarize themselves with the alternatives, more time to come around to the idea that Ron DeSantis may be the man for the moment.
KURTZ: Just briefly, you tweeted Trump will run, and he’s going to lose.
DOMENECH: Yes, yes, I did, because that’s what I think. I think that he is going to run, and I think he’s going to lose. And I think that a big part of this not to tag along with Leslie’s idea of being against old white guys, I think people are tired of a certain generation that we’ve had of leadership in America that has held the reins of power for so long. We’ve had three presidents who come from the same year. Think about the bizarre nature of that.
DOMENECH: And I think that we really have reached a point in America where people are ready to move on to a new generation of leadership, people who aren’t so tied to the past and tied to nostalgia and want, instead, to move forward into the future and not be tied to that.
KURTZ: Well, it may be that Donald Trump is the only person who Joe Biden can beat and Joe Biden is the only person that Donald Trump can beat.
DOMENECH: They hate each other.
KURTZ: Leslie, are the media going overboard here, by which I mean, if enough Democrats don’t want Biden to run, if his numbers stay down, if the country concludes it doesn’t want a president who is 82 at the beginning of second term, he’ll probably figure that out on his own. If enough Republicans want to move on from Trump and others are gaining traction of the younger and without some of the Trumpian baggage, he may figure that out. Why do we need this media pile-on? What does it accomplish?
MARSHALL: So much here. Ben, I actually agree with your tweet. I know we don’t agree much, let’s tally this. I think this is twice in a year. Right? I do agree he’ll run; I do agree he’ll lose. And I don’t agree with what you said, Howie.
I do think Biden, especially because he’s a company guy. When I say a company guy, he’s a Democrat, he’s a politician, a lifelong Democrat and politician — if he sits down with his fellow Democrats and they all say, you know, and have a come to Jesus moment, if you will, and say, look, you know, this isn’t going to happen, it’s best for the party, he is somebody, I believe, would step aside if he feels in agreement with the party and the politicians that are —
MARSHALL: — sitting at that table. I don’t feel that’s the same for — I don’t feel that’s the same for Donald Trump.
KURTZ: Yes. Well, because —
MARSHALL: And I do think it’s overboard —
KURTZ: Donald Trump engineered a hostile takeover of the GOP and that’s the point of what happened in 2016.
Let me get a break here. When we come back, Joe Biden taking some media flak for meeting the Saudi crown prince despite an atrocious human rights record. And later, Ari Fleischer’s indictment of media bias.
KURTZ: The media criticism of President Biden going to Saudi Arabia and meeting with the crown prince, having once called the country a pariah state after the brutal murder of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, was building all week.
Biden got off the plane on Friday, there was a fist bump when MBS unexpectedly greeted the president. A reporter asked how the crown prince responded, and according to Biden’s account to his bringing up Khashoggi’s killing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: He basically said that he was not personally responsible for it. I indicated I thought he was. He said he was not personally responsible for it, and he took action against those who were responsible.
UNKNOWN: We just heard from Jamal Khashoggi’s wife who said after this visit, the blood of MBS’ next victim is on your hands. What do you say to Mrs. Khashoggi?
BIDEN: I’m sorry she feels that way. I was straightforward back then. I was straightforward today.
UNKNOWN: How can you be sure that another incident, another murder like Jamal Khashoggi won’t happen again?
BIDEN: God love you, what a silly question. How could I possibly be sure of any of that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: All right, Ben, the president didn’t like that question. The questions were from White House reporters, Reuters, NBC and so forth. Fist bump seen around the world, OK? So, the last thing Joe Biden wanted was a picture of him shaking hands with the crown prince. So, he came up with this COVID cover story. I’m not going to shake anybody’s hand because I might get COVID except he had shaken hands at a White House gathering, he shook hands with foreign leaders, and then he forgot and he shook hands with leaders in Israel, so nobody was buying it.
DOMENECH: Yes. No. This was ridiculous. He shouldn’t have ever tried to game the situation, and frankly, I think the fist bump looks worse. It looks sort of casual and unserious. I think that one of the things that you have to deal with as president of the United States is difficult meetings with people who you have major issues with —
DOMENECH: — you have serious problems with. But the problem, I think, here was that the president set up an impossible situation for himself from the get go on the campaign trail, you know, in the debates saying that he wanted to make Saudi Arabia a pariah. We can’t afford to do that from a policy perspective, and so it’s not — it was never responsible to go in that direction.
DOMENECH: What I will say is this. Any president would have to have a relationship with Saudi Arabia. It does not make in any way the Khashoggi killing any less horrible and awful as an act for any leader to undertake.
KURTZ: Leslie, the no handshake thing wasn’t even good, as you know, a thinly covered story, so we ended up with the fist bump. And publisher Fred Ryan of the Washington Post where Khashoggi was a contributing opinion writer called it shameful and projecting a level of intimacy with Mohammed bin Salman.
MARSHALL: I, I would agree with the last comment that Ben just made, world leaders, whether Democrats or Republicans in the United States, have to meet with people that are at the helm of nations that have atrocious human rights violation. North Korea, Russia, China are examples in addition to Saudi Arabia. We also have them as trading partners. We need them for some things, they need us for some things. And when you go to another country —
KURTZ: So, do you think —
MARSHALL: When you go to another country —
KURTZ: I’m not disputing that, but do you think the media is off base then? Everybody should just say, well, look, this is the real politics in the global community?
MARSHALL: Yes, I do. After the meeting the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia said they should really, you know, focus on the content of the meeting and that this was actually a win for Joe Biden as opposed to the first bump.
Look, he said he wasn’t going to shake his hand, he did something else. You have to do something. He’s a prince, you’re a guest in his house. I’ve interviewed horrendous people. People that denied the Holocaust, grand wizards of the KKK. I treat them the same and with respect as a guest on my show because they’re a guest in my house.
That’s part of diplomacy, and that has happened since Adam and Eve, and it will continue long after we’re gone. This does not take away from the horrendousness.
KURTZ: All right.
MARSHALL: The president said that he did not believe that the prince was not responsible for this man’s death.
MARSHALL: And he looked him in the eye and said that.
KURTZ: There were some disputed accounts from the Saudi version. Ben, there’s been a lot of media criticism — we don’t have that much time — so was the media criticism off base, a lot of it was on Fox and on the right, that using Biden’s own words against him?
DOMENECH: I think the criticism is on base in the sense of the hypocrisy of the situation. And the fact that, you know, it’s a luxury to be able to sit outside of the White House and to, you know, throw rocks at presidents and say they shouldn’t even talk to this person, I wouldn’t even talk to them.
DOMENECH: That’s just not the way that we conduct world affairs, it never will be, and it isn’t the way that we — that represents a responsible approach diplomacy.
KURTZ: Leslie, MSNBC and CNN covered this on Friday night, although most of later segments in the night time segments led with January 6th. But they didn’t really offer direct criticism. The fiery Joy Reid, the most she would say about is I’m sure that was not the image she wanted to convey. CNN’s Erin Burnett something about it was too chummy. Are they kind of giving Biden a pass here? I mean you can criticize and still say he should have met Saudi Arabia.
MARSHALL: I cringed when I saw it, but I understood his position. He says you’re not going to shake his hand, you have to do something, he’s a prince, you’re there for a meeting, you in his country, that’s what people do.
Presidents are — presidents are criticized if they bow, no matter what they do. To your point, Howie, you know, I don’t know, I think it was, you know, more again why are we focusing so heavily on that. There are much bigger issues about this meeting that we should have discussed.
KURTZ: Yes. Of course, the fist bump had taken place just a few hours earlier so everybody was talking about it. And I think I agree with Ben, a plain old handshake probably would have been better.
So great discussion. Leslie Marshall, Ben Domenech, thanks very much for coming by Sunday.
Up next, Ari Fleischer’s detailed assault on the media for snobbery, for bias and getting Donald Trump to weigh in on his war with the press.
KURTZ: Ari Fleischer is, of course, former White House press secretary for George W. Bush, Fox News contributor and author of the new book, “Suppression, Deception, Snobbery and Bias: Why the Press Gets So Much Wrong and Just Doesn’t Care.” Here’s our conversation.
KURTZ: Ari Fleisher, welcome.
ARI FLEISCHER, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you, Howard.
KURTZ: The most interesting word here is snobbery. You say that newsrooms are mainly run by urban, college-educated professionals who put an information for people just like them. You point to TV hosts and commentators mocking Donald Trump and mocking those who voted for Donald Trump which is, I think, even the more important point.
FLEISCHER: Yes. There’s one thing to make fun of Donald Trump or make fun of a candidate in American life, that happens all the time, but too often – – and I begin my book with the anecdote of CNN reporter or correspondents Don Lemon, he and his panelists mocked half the country. They ridiculed, they made fun, they laughed out loud at people who voted for Donald Trump, and that’s the snobbery, Howard. And it’s killing good journalism. You cannot do that to the American people.
The right shouldn’t do it to the left, the left shouldn’t do it to the right, but Don Lemon did it, and I called him out on it.
KURTZ: Yes. I mean, is it journalism just to do that? So, look, you say it’s understandable journalists don’t like Donald Trump. Why? Because he picks fights with him. They pick fights with him, and vice versa. So, what happened to the notion that, yes, we don’t particularly like this guy, the reporters didn’t know of George W. Bush you worked for, but we have some obligation to be fair to him?
FLEISCHER: And this is what journalism has changed since I was the White House press secretary. Back then media was liberal, but their job was to be objective. They knew it, they said it. Sometimes they did it, sometimes they didn’t. But today activism has taken hold, particularly — and, again, I’ll go back to CNN.
There’s a chapter on CNN in this book. From the top from Jeff Zucker the president on down, correspondents, day time reporters, anchors were all encouraged to let it rip, to give their opinion and make it trash Donald Trump. That is killing journalism once again.
KURTZ: You write that that as a former CNN contributor who says that when you were there, CNN was slanted but not propagandists, so you see it as having really changed by the Trump years to appeal to a liberal audience.
FLEISCHER: That’s correct. And that’s part of the polarization. You really have an era now in which liberals watch liberal stations, conservatives watch conservative stations, and you can eat what you want to eat. And that’s a problem.
I would prefer a media that is objective, straight, neutral down the middle. But when you look at the mainstream media, and here I’m talking about CBS, ABC, NBC, MSNBC, CNN, the Washington Post, the “New York Times”, all the dominant mainstream media which are all in decline are the ones who have become the most opinionated. Conservative media is booming, but the mainstream media is in decline.
KURTZ: There are lots of examples. Ari, you write that the press is not the enemy of the people, to use Donald Trump’s phrase, but they sure can be their own worst enemy. I agree with that, but I was going to push back on what you wrote next.
You say that the American people want to get their news straight, they want honest reporting based on facts. Some do, but I think — and you alluded to this — I think increasingly many people want to see their own views reflected back to them, and that’s true for viewers of CNN, MSNBC and Fox.
FLEISCHER: Yes, but I think it falls into segments. I think viewers have an understanding that nighttime shows are opinion shows and it’s like reading the newspaper where you get to the editorial page. The daytime shows are supposed to be straight, fair, neutral shows.
I will take Fox as straight, fair, neutral daytime shows and its reporters over CNN’s any day. CNN went so far into the tank, and I say John Harwood of CNN, I say Jim Acosta, several other reporters who let their opinions rip, and their opinions are always anti-Trump. That’s the problem, and that’s where I blow the whistle. I think most viewers and readers do want neutral, objective news. They don’t mind a little opinion on the side and at night, but they want to be told what happened.
KURTZ: Right. Well, CNN’s ratings have now kind of taken a nose dive after an artificial sugar high of the Trump years. The new boss says he’s going to try to make the network less partisan.
KURTZ: And after the break, what Donald Trump had to say when Ari Fleischer interviewed him about media bias.
KURTZ: Welcome back. Here’s more of my conversation about media bias and his book with Ari Fleischer.
KURTZ: You interviewed Donald Trump for this book, and he said this about the New York Times. They’re both a victim and it also brings them, I guess, success. But I think they’re so chained to the people that read it, I’m not sure they can write the truth even if they want.
Look, we have 50 percent, they have 50 percent. But at the same time, I think, I don’t think the New York Times views itself as representing 50 percent of the country.
ARI FLEISCHER, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: This is the problem you have when newsrooms are taken over by younger activists who believe in subjectivity, not objectivity, and they a certainly don’t want to hear two sides of an issue.
This is — this is increasingly a problem for journalists, and they have to appeal to their subscribers. And at The New York Times’ subscribers was with the resistance movement. It was not neutral people.
KURTZ: Got it. You know, Donald Trump is not done with the name calling. In his interview with you, he referred to CBS Weijia Jiang as crazy, Jim Acosta you mentioned, as a maniac and a loser, CBS’ Paula Reid a whack job.
You asked if he would have handled the press differently had he won in 2020 if he was president now. He said, I don’t think it would matter, they would treat me the same. What do you think?
FLEISCHER: The most fascinating glimpse I had into the way President Trump thinks is he actually thought during the transition in 2016 that the press would be fair. He thought it would be a glorious moment for the country and he thought that would — that is what would happen because, lo and behold, he pulls off the surprise, he won. He thought campaign coverage would be over, and they’d be fair.
I actually think, Howard, if they had been fair, if they had been neutral, if they didn’t chase the collusion narrative or the Steele dossier, if Donald Trump would have behaved differently. And I think he probably might have. I think the name calling and all the things he does is a reaction to how far the press has gone against him. He thinks someone has to fight, and that someone is him.
KURTZ: Right. Well, he also uses the press as a foil and it’s obviously the environment after January 6th —
KURTZ: — and his campaign about what happened in 2020 makes all this more difficult. But quote from New York magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi that you cite, Donald Trump, she could write this. Donald Trump is the biggest a-hole, he is a terrible human being, expletive president, ugly, and nobody would be mad at me except all the people who were already mad at me for existing. So, there’s no penalty for trashing Trump?
FLEISCHER: Right. And this is what I object to, because when I came up in politics, New York magazine, New Yorker magazine, the New York Times magazine, they would not pursue that type of journalism. They had to be fair. There had to be objectivity at least ostensibly.
And now she’s saying that’s all out the window. I can write whatever I want if it’s really tough on Trump, and she gets that from her editors. And this is the cultural change that’s underway in newsrooms that I think is so destructive to good journalism.
KURTZ: Yes. Well, some people on the left don’t like the press either now that Joe Biden is president. Let’s talk about double standards. So you have it in the book a photo from the New York Times of Nancy Pelosi and this meeting that melted down with President Trump, pointing her finger. And it was described as an iconic image capturing Washington’s most powerful woman standing up to him.
Then you roll the tape back to when Barack Obama was president and there’s Arizona’s Republican governor Jan Brewer in his face on a tarmac pointing at President Obama. CNN’s John King saying, well, a lot of people are saying he is the president of the United States whether you disagree or not, perhaps she should have shown him a bit more respect.
FLEISCHER: The hypocrisy of it all. It’s OK if Nancy Pelosi does it to Donald Trump, but it’s not OK if a Republican governor does it to Barack Obama. And my book is full of examples of hypercritical examples over the same event.
You know, when Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, the front page of the Washington Post headline was a crusader for rights, basically, was their headline. And then when Anthony Scalia died, it was a conservative jurist dedicated to frustrating the left.
What kind of neutrality is that? What kind of fairness is that? One is a crusader; one is lionized and the other is attacked in an obituary headline. I saw time and time again example after example where the possess was easy and soft on the Democrats and brutal on Republicans and I call it out, I put the pictures in there. I name names, and I show who did it.
KURTZ: I’m wagging my finger at you, but I’m doing it in a friendly way. Ari Fleischer, thanks very much for joining us.
FLEISCHER: Thank you, Howard.
KURTZ: Next on MEDIA BUZZ, the latest January 6th hearing was mostly a rehash, but many in the press hailing it for snippets of the former White House counsel’s testimony, next.
KURTZ: The latest House January 6th hearing was largely a rehash, a taped deposition from former White House counsel Pat Cipollone did make some news, but there lots of pundits were pumped about whole thing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAT CIPOLLONE, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: And at some point, you have to put up or shut up. That was my view.
UNKNOWN: Why was this, on a broader scale, a (Inaudible) for a country?
CIPOLLONE: To how the federal government seize voting machines is a terrible idea if your question is, did I believe he concede the election at a point in time? Yes, I did.
NICOLLE WALLACE, HOST, MSNBC: It was jaw-dropping until the very last moment.
UNKNOWN: One of the wildest things that I’ve ever seen.
JONATHAN TURLEY, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: This does not seem to be a gold mine for the committee. Still damaging. The account of that meeting in the office is really breathtaking, it’s very disturbing.
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: The January 6th committee hearing today was a laughingstock.
ANDY MCCARTHY, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I think the goal is to say that Trump is not fit for office. It doesn’t advance criminal case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now to analyze the coverage, Guy Benson, host of the Guy Benson show on Fox radio and on podcast, and in San Diego, Laura Fink, a commentator and Democratic strategist.
Guy, I thought this was the least effective of all the hearings, was too much rehash, too many Trumpers guilty speeches by lawmakers, but it did have Pat Cipollone as sort of strain to avoid providing any colorful sound bites. But he said under oath he didn’t think there was evidence of fraud sufficient to change the outcome of the election, and he thought Trump should have conceded the election. Big news?
GUY BENSON, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Not really, because the former attorney general had said the exact same thing, Bill Barr, in testimony, in depositions, in his book, on cable television. So, I think that Cipollone was sort of on team Barr. They called themselves team moral, to some extent. We know their view was, that the president should have conceded the election and not done what he did.
To get that, I guess, under oath in public is newsworthy but not huge news. I also thought it was kind of interesting to see the former campaign manager for the president basically admitting openly in a text exchange so not publicly with one of his colleagues that President Trump’s rhetoric was responsible for the riot at the capitol.
That was also interesting. But in terms of new news value, I think this one, to your point correctly, Howie, you said this one wasn’t that much of a bombshell compared to some soft to the previous iterations, previous meetings.
KURTZ: Right. You’re referring to Brad Parscale who said that he felt guilty helping Trump win after the events of January 6th.
You know, Laura, media conservatives pushed back after the more dramatic Cassidy Hutchinson hearing but mostly ignored this one which tells me it didn’t break through on the right. For media people who basically talk about or care about processes and it’s a very highly partisan committee, it’s been packaged that way and the Democrats run it, how do they just brush aside, how do the pundits brush aside, I should say, testimony from Donald Trump’s own people? Like Cipollone?
LAURA FINK, DEMOCRAT STRATEGIST: I don’t know, and I think that Cipollone may have not had the dramatic impact that other witnesses have, but they got him to testify after months of resisting, you know, testifying in front of the committee which is news in and of itself. It also corroborated Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony which the right was questioning.
So, it really was objection-handling which may not cause fireworks in the news, but it does provide an airtight story that proceeds so that Cassidy Hutchinson testimony won’t be impugned in the future.
I think they’re continuing to do that with the investigation into the text messages and the Secret Service. I think that continues to sort of shore this up. And then in terms of Brad Pascale, I thought that was dramatic. His text messages saying that Trump’s rhetoric was directly responsible for inciting the violence, having that from your own campaign manager is truly damning especially in text messages that were sent during the time in which this was all happening.
FINK: And let’s not forget about Stephen Ayers, because he’s saying he was motivated individuality as a Trump supporter —
KURTZ: Well, let me —
FINK: — which is also important.
KURTZ: Well, you’re jumping ahead. Let me just get to that right now. But let me also just clarify that not everything Cassidy Hutchinson has been corroborated because she wasn’t there for some things, and the Secret Service people want to dispute the car incident.
KURTZ: — haven’t yet testified. Let me just play some sound bite to give you a flavor. Because there was this long knockdown, drag-out meeting in which White House officials were challenging the Rudy Giulianis of the world, and this is what Rudy says he told them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP’S LAWYER: You guys are not tough enough. Or maybe I put it another way, you’re a bunch of (muted), excuse the expression.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But it wasn’t bleeped at the hearing. All right. So, Guy, let’s talk now about the live witnesses, there were two of them. And one of them was a former Oath Keepers spokesman who broke with the group years ago, hates the group, and so he had nothing whatsoever to say about what happened on January 6th.
And the other one, if we can put up a picture, Stephen Ayers, as you mentioned, he was a social media addict who says he came to the rally because of Donald Trump. He walked into the capitol legally but when Trump put out the video saying we love you, go home, he went home.
He now thinks it’s not true, what Trump said, but he’s one guy. And there’s no reason to think that Donald Trump, you know, had any contact with him. It was kind of sad and pathetic I thought.
BENSON: Yes, I’m not exact — yes, I’m not sure what the value is there. Right? I mean, you can make a case about President Trump and his actions leading up to January 6th, during January 6th and afterwards, right? And I think a lot of us watched in horror as it happened on that day.
A lot of this was brought to the fore during his second impeachment trial, there is some new stuff from this committee. But I don’t know why this type of witness really advances the ball at all. I don’t know who it convinces of anything.
So, I mean, I think they need to be judicious about what they actually do, what they spend their time on, what they’re telling the American people is important because a lot of people are inclined not to pay attention anyway. And when they weigh, in my opinion, some important air time, if you will, on this type of thing, I think it does diminish the overall impact that they might be looking for.
KURTZ: Right. It certainly, in my view, was not nearly as strong as the other hearings, and I think that’s a good point. Laura, the other media bombshell here came in the last minute when Liz Cheney, and they always do a tease for the next hearing, said that Trump had called a witness before his or her testimony, didn’t get through the witness and refused to call. The media are saying aha, witness intimidation.
CNN and others reporting it’s a support staffer at the White House, somebody who wouldn’t ordinarily get a call from the president. So, is that a bombshell or just was it an attempt that didn’t succeed?
FINK: Well, I think President Trump, a former president calling support staff for any reason when they are linked to this congressional hearing is a big deal because it follows a pattern of behavior that has been reported on before.
So, president Trump attempting to dissuade everyone from state elected officials from doing their jobs right up until this week, it follows this pattern of behavior. He does try to intimidate and persuade and try to — to try to get people from telling the truth and from doing their duty. And so, I think that it fits into a pattern of behavior,
FINK: — and it’s just the latest example. So I think that’s huge. I think Rep. Cheney was right.
KURTZ: Right. I would just say that, you know, this is not the liberal media folks, I don’t understand why when people like Barr, and Cipollone and Parscale were on the Trump team, conservatives were perfectly willing to believe them and now that they’re testifying under oath, and the testimony is not favorable to Donald Trump, that they’re just being dismissed. But that’s debate for another time.
Still to come, a newspaper came under fire, some critic dismissed the story as fake until Ohio charged an illegal immigrant with raping a 10-year-old girl. That’s next.
KURTZ: The Indianapolis Star took plenty of flak for reporting on rape of a 10-year-old Ohio girl who was said to have gone to Indiana to seek an abortion based on a single name source with few details. Dr. Caitlin Bernard an obstetrician who works at Indiana University’s Medical School.
President and others seize on the report, but many critics doubted the story calling it suspect or fake. Jim Jordan called it a lie. The Wall Street Journal dubbed it a fanciful tale. Ohio’s A.G. galled it a likely fabrication, but as The Columbus Dispatch was first to report, Ohio has charged a man named Gerson Fuentes with this horrifying rape, and he has confessed. The story was true.
Guy, this monster — an illegal immigrant according to a source at ICE — has been charged with this despicable crime. Now some media conservatives including handful on Fox had called the story questionable, or not true or even fake. Does this, not — now that we know that this happened, does this vindicate what the Indianapolis Star did?
BENSON: I think it’s a complicated answer to that question, Howie, because I think conservatives and other people were right to be, let’s say, skeptical of this story and to question whether or not it was real. I think asserting that it was false or fake was also premature.
But one source who is an advocate with scant details and really no proof, that’s not enough, in my view, to go on print or go on air, certainly to get all the way up to the president of the United States stating a story as if it were fact when it had not been established.
Now, it turns out that the is true. And there are questions from that. There are questions about whether Ohio’s law actually would require someone in the situation to leave the state. The A.G. in Ohio says no. That’s relevant. There’s the illegal immigration angle to this.
Now, overall, just a horrible story in general. But I think the early skepticism was warranted. Now we have more proof and more evidence, which is important, and the discussion, a tough one, will flow from there.
KURTZ: I guess I would challenge you only on point that we don’t know exactly what Dr. Caitlin Bernard told the Indianapolis paper, maybe more than paper was able to print, but also the Washington Post fact checker said it could not be proven based on the details we knew. Laura, are abortion rights advocate —
BENSON: Right, that’s my point.
KURTZ: Yes. Laura, are abortion advocates and the media now using this to dramatize the reality that with the Supreme Court tossing out Roe and sending the question back to the states, there is no rape exception in this ruling? Some states may decide to adopt one, some states may not. And so, it’s not as simple as just some states will make it illegal, some states will keep it legal.
FINK: I think it throws into stark leaf the risks that women face every day and children face every day as a result. And we saw conservative media and pundits play down the repeal of Roe as if nothing to see here, and we can see from this story — and, frankly, the knee-jerk reaction of conservative pundits, the Wall Street Journal editorial board and even Glenn Kessler at the Post — to not believe that this was a story and to not even dig in further to try to find out the truth.
Instead, they condemned it. That shows they’re not prepared for this type of story and this reality, that women and girls are facing across the country today. I think it was media a malpractice, frankly, to go ahead and condemn this story as not being true without facts and then in the retraction to not — the Wall Street Journal put a one-liner at the top of their editorial instead of pulling it back even though it had been disproven.
Fox News hosts didn’t address it after all of this except to talk about the predator and if never, never went back on what they said.
FINK: I think this is an example of media bias in the strongest possible terms.
KURTZ: Yes. The Wall Street Journal made a longer editor’s note, and no one was saying it wasn’t important, it was, like, is it true. I got 20 seconds for each of you. Some are now going after Dr. Caitlin Bernard saying that she didn’t report the rape. It turns out she did under her obligation. Guy first.
BENSON: Yes, I think that we should be careful about how we discuss all these very sensitive matters, and those of us who are pro-life need to be prepared for debate. I think it’s also true that the media is overwhelmingly biased on this question the other direction, many journalists are activist in favor of abortion rights.
FINK: I thinkable reveals the fact that women — our health is in danger, that laws are opaque, that rape is rarely reported and that all of these barriers to abortion that Republicans have set up endanger the lives of women and girls.
KURTZ: All right, you’ve finished on time. Laura Fink and Guy Benson, thanks so much. And this also underscores the challenge for the media now covering 50 state battles over abortion.
That’s it for this edition of MEDIA BUZZ. I’m Howard Kurtz. Hope you’ll check out my podcast Media Buzz Meter. You can describe at Apple iTunes, Google podcast or on your Amazon device. We have a lot of fun. We get to talk without commercials. And I’m happy to have you along. We’re back here next Sunday, we will see you all then at 11 Eastern with the latest buzz.
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