August 17, 2014

Hillary's hug hype; media maelstrom in Ferguson

With: Howard Kurtz, Lauren Ashburn
Jim Geraghty, Joe Trippi, Joe Concha, Keli Goff, David Zurawik

This is a rush transcript from "Media Buzz," August 17, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, FOX HOST: On the buzzmeter this Sunday, new violence in Ferguson early this morning in defiance of a curfew as the national media chronicles the chaos after the fatal police shooting of an unarmed teenager. This prompting a week of protests, the tear gassing of a television crew, and the arrest of two reporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go. Let's go. You can move. Let's go. Move.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's move. Let's move.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's move this way, here's the door. This way or this way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: But is the press helping to inflame another racially charged controversy? And how has the release of that shoplifting video changed the media narrative?

And Atlantic Monthly interview with Hillary Clinton prompts the pundits to pile on, and this new form of diplomacy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going to hug it out with the president?

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Absolutely.

GREG GUTFELD, FOX NEWS: Hillary looks like a grown-up neocon Republican. She's treating Obama like a drunk on the subway. She's quickly moving away.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: In her efforts to appear more authentic, she stepped in it and she went a step too far.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: But is this a real schism between the president and his former secretary of state, or are the media embracing a phony narrative here?

The sad death of Robin Williams prompts a tidal wave of media mourning, blunt talk about depression, and the inevitable excesses. Is the coverage cathartic or just celebrity exploitation?

Plus, NBC finally makes it official, dumping David Gregory and handing "Meet the Press" to Chuck Todd. Can he revive the battered franchise? I'm Howard Kurtz and this is "MediaBuzz."

The looting and violence that erupted in Ferguson, Missouri early this morning, with one person shot and 7 arrested in confrontations with police, came too late for the Sunday morning papers, but they added to the sense of chaos that kicked into a higher gear on Friday when the troubling tale of just why a Missouri officer shot and killed Michael Brown took a bizarre turn. Ferguson police released a videotape showing the teenager, Michael Brown, intimidating a convenience store check and making off with some cigars. Now, this ran in an endless loop on cable news, but it wasn't until a press conference hours later that reporters got the police chief to admit this had nothing to do with the fatal shooting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're telling us that when the officer stopped Michael Brown the first time, he was not aware that Brown was a suspect in a robbery?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, he didn't. He was walking --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So that had nothing to do with the stop?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It had nothing to do with the stop.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why at this point -- at this point, why didn't he stop Michael Brown?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because they were walking down the middle of the street blocking traffic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Joining us now to examine the coverage, Lauren Ashburn, Fox News contributor who hosts "Social Buzz" on the Fox website. Jim Geraghty, contributing editor at National Review, and Joe Trippi, Fox News contributor and a Democratic strategist.

How has this video of the shoplifting, which I've now seen about 10,000 times, how has it changed the storyline of this tragedy?

LAUREN ASHBURN, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: It has utterly transformed the way we take a look at this, the way analysts do, the way reporters do and the way the public sees it. You know the old cliche, a picture is worth a thousand words. It doesn't matter what the police are saying that it didn't have anything to do with it. What they're saying is -- the images are saying, yes it did.

KURTZ: Does it matter what the reporters and the anchors are saying? And should cable news be playing this over and over and over again, like wallpaper, despite the fact that there is no dispute that this robbery was not connected to the shooting?

ASHBURN: Absolutely not. This is something of the media going overboard, and the police shouldn't have released it, either. Even the FBI said, don't do this, it will cause trouble.

KURTZ: Jim, how is it that it took skeptical reporters at that press conference you just saw, and this was hours after this thing was playing on cable news, to get the police chief to acknowledge that this is a shoplifting case and that the officer who shot Michael Brown didn't even know that the guy was a suspect?

JIM GERAGHTY, NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE: Yes. From the comments during that seemingly chaotic press conference, you could get the feeling that the police chief was not at the top of his game.

KURTZ: You are being diplomatic.

GERAGHTY: A bit of a panic--

(CROSSTALK)

GERAGHTY: And yet, perhaps there's a little bit of crazy like a fox sort of thing, because for several hours, putting this out there, this goes from the story of a bad cop shooting this poor kid to all of a sudden, wait a minute, maybe he's not such a poor kid. Presuming it's him in the video and some people are expressing skepticism--

KURTZ: His family's team is not denying it at this point.

GERAGHTY: So he does this, and all of a sudden he's not this innocent kid more. He's not this gentle giant. Now he's a bit of a thug. Which all of a sudden puts things in a new light, except then a couple of weeks later, the cop didn't know about -- you know, a couple of hours later. But by that point, if you're watching mid-day, it hasn't sunk in yet.

KURTZ: But that suggests to me that the media -- and I'm not saying this isn't news and I'm not saying it shouldn't be aired. Of course we need to know more about this 18-year-old who is now dead. But (inaudible) the media were used by the Ferguson police.

JOE TRIPPI, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, this is clearly a case of -- this whole episode shows how the media is both manipulated and has to be there. They're manipulated when the video is released. And they use it. It's great video, as Lauren points out, it's going to get repeated over and over again. The police knew that, the chief knew that. Did it anyway on purpose despite the FBI Justice Department saying don't do this. And then, but look, it's a requirement. It's a requirement of the media being there, putting the police chief in that position a few hours later, and constantly grilling him until he fessed up and said it had nothing to do with the reason they were stopped.

ASHBURN: And that's good that there were boots on the ground in order to do that and to get to the truth.

KURTZ: Chief Todd Jackson claimed that he had to release this video because there were some FOI requests from several media organizations. The family called it character assassination. Talk about how the images of this story, because the pictures have been so powerful, have changed over the last week in the aftermath of the killing?

ASHBURN: Well, in the very beginning, you see the victim lying on the ground. He was there for several hours. You hear that the police shot him seven times, that he had his hand up in the air. You had social media going crazy saying I just watched the police shoot this guy as he was running away.

(CROSSTALK)

ASHBURN: Then the robbery video surfaced. And then just Friday and early this morning, 4:00 in the morning, there were people who were anti-curfew protesters coming out, and it starts to change the way the coverage is shaped. Because now you're thinking, gosh, these police have to deal with these very violent crowds.

GERAGHTY: Think about how -- cable we have always thought of as this voracious beast, that it's hungry for new pictures all the time. Think about how often during this we've watched a blank podium, empty, waiting for a press conference to start, and everybody is at the edge of their seats saying what's going the happen? Any new video that comes out of this, whether it's protesters, whether it's tear gas canisters flying around, in some ways this is a fantastic story for cable news, because each day something new happens, the images are violent, they're vivid. On the other hand, you have to wonder for the media cameras, are these things getting worse because the cameras are there? Is there an element of performance?

TRIPPI: So -- and also the cameras are looking for new characters. So the hero, kind of the heroic Ron Johnson, the captain, comes on the scene.

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: He's the voice of reason. He marches with the protesters.

TRIPPI: One guy is going to solve all the problems. Everybody is going to go home. Never -- that was never going to happen, and, actually, you know, just an injustice to him.

KURTZ: There's also an old character, Al Sharpton, who always shows up at these things. I have to say Sharpton has condemned the violence. And I don't think his rhetoric has been inflammatory, but again, to show up at the press conference with the Brown family and then interviewed them on MSNBC and then go back today -- he once again is wearing two hats in a way that I don't think most news organizations will allow. But MSNBC says it does not have any problem with it.

We're going to do more on the Ferguson coverage throughout this hour. But I want to turn now to the political story that got a lot of heat and generated a lot of buzz this week. Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic conducted a lengthy and substantive interview with Hillary Clinton on foreign policy, but a few passages exploded in the headlines because they seem to diss Barack Obama, such as taking aim at one of the president's slogans, "great nations need organizing principles," she said, "and 'don't do stupid stuff' is not an organizing principle." What kind of temerity was this? Every pundit on the planet seemed to weigh in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Hillary Clinton wants to divorce herself from Barack Obama, whose popularity on the handling of foreign affairs is declining.

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Certainly Fox News is taking it to be an attack on the president. Which she had to anticipate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: And Hillary's attempts at patching things up brought a new round of media mockery.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST: She still seems so awkward. So stiff. And so canned. Let's be honest about it, so insincere.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: How great is the media appetite for a big, bad Hillary versus Obama spat?

ASHBURN: It's voracious. People want to talk about political dust-ups. Yes, there was a bit of conversation about the foreign policy angle and whether she was right, he was right, who made the decisions and what did she say. Yes, that was there, but then we get headlines like these from the Daily Mail, "Hillary and Obama pals, a sign the pair danced the night away." That was when they were in Martha's Vineyard. And then one from this morning I love, "Obama and Hillary's hug-a-thon that turned into a slug-a-thon."

KURTZ: But let's deal with the substance a bit. The criticism that Hillary Clinton made was fairly restrained. For example, she said the failure to create a fighting force to help the Syrian rebels -- she didn't name Obama. Clearly the implication was there. But this was just catnip for the media.

GERAGHTY: Here is the thing. The hug-it-out aspect is the frigging dumbest part of a really important story. I don't care if they get along. Or someone -- it's very high school-ish. Someone is not speaking to someone else. The real question is, what do we do in Syria?

ASHBURN: But politics is high school, right?

GERAGHTY: No, it's not. This is serious.

KURTZ: Let me stop right there. I think you should give him a hug.

(LAUGHTER)

KURTZ: In other words, this went off the rails and obscured what you think is a serious debate --

GERAGHTY: Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: Much of this criticism was in her book.

TRIPPI: It's not only is it in her book, it's like the scene from "Casablanca." Shocked, shocked that gambling is happening in a casino. And on two fronts. First of all, he beat her. She isn't president of the United States today because of this guy, and she was always to the right of him on all of these issues from the beginning. She was always much more of a hawk than Barack Obama. She was for the war, he was against it. It cost her the nomination. None of this should be a surprise to anybody. And guess what else isn't a surprise? She's running for president of the United States in 2016 and wants to separate herself from him.

KURTZ: I want to let you finish your point, but that's what strikes me is it is hardly shocking that somebody who is running would distance herself from the president of her own party, because she has to, especially at a time when huge foreign policy problems around the globe from Gaza to Iraq to Syria, because she needs to separate herself. And you're shocked by this?

GERAGHTY: It's a criticism that makes both of them look significantly worse.

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: Makes them both look?

GERAGHTY: Makes both of them look significantly worse. And it's more than just a routine, oh, they didn't agree about arming Syria. She said an overarching policy vision, that there was no there there, it was just don't do stupid you know what. Here is the thing. If only she had been in some position to influence foreign policy, over the last four years. If only she could have done something, she had some job --

TRIPPI: This is going to help her and hurt the president.

KURTZ: Let me have you respond to Jim. Do you think that the media have fallen down on pointing out that Hillary Clinton was running the State Department for four years during -- while some of these problems were growing and festering?

TRIPPI: I think the media has to do that, will do it, I'm sure.

KURTZ: Has the media done it so far?

TRIPPI: No. I think they will if and when she runs. But I think the fact of the matter is, the media and the pundits were putting everybody in the position of if only Barack Obama had listened to Hillary Clinton. How does that hurt her in 2016?

ASHBURN: It hurts her with progressives.

TRIPPI: That could be a problem--

ASHBURN: But who else do they have? Anyway, that's politics.

KURTZ: Let me get a break in here. We're going to talk more about Hillary and the hug on the other side of this break. As I said, more on Ferguson a little bit later in the program.

Send me a tweet about our show during this hour -- @howardkurtz. As you know, we read the best messages at the end of each hour.

Also ahead, a look at the excesses and mistakes in covering Robin Williams's tragic suicide.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: We're back talking about the Hillary hug hype. And Jim Geraghty, before the break, you said that was a rather crazy phrase, in your view, used by a Hillary spokesman. I assume she approved it. Why exactly is it -- is it because it is something a male candidate would say?

GERAGHTY: No. I think the idea that there's some sort of special personal relationship between the president and the secretary of state, and it matters whether they get along -- when it doesn't. I'm sure Colin Powell and George W. Bush didn't always get along.

KURTZ: Wait a minute, the camera has to go to this look on Lauren's face, who -- apparently (inaudible).

ASHBURN: Are you saying that men can't talk about hugging? John Boehner cries, for goodness sake. I mean, I'm so tired or --

KURTZ: I'm not saying it. I'm asking the question --

ASHBURN: You are asking the question and implying it. I am just so tired. Let's just stop making Hillary, all of this about her being a woman.

GERAGHTY: But if it were John Kerry, would we be talking about hug --

(CROSSTALK)

ASHBURN: It's 2006 phrase. That's more egregious than anything.

KURTZ: Everybody is piling on what Hillary was calculating, she didn't handle it right, she handled it fine. Is there any possibility -- and I know this sounds insane -- that in answering those questions from the Atlantic on foreign policy, that she was just saying what she thinks? Or do candidates not do that? You ran a campaign.

TRIPPI: I think she was saying what she thinks, but it was calculated. She knew exactly what she was doing, both things are probably true.

KURTZ: Right. So then you would say that then she looked bad because she walked it back, she called the president.

(CROSSTALK)

GERAGHTY: She will call them as she sees them, and then she will call back and apologize. But the second thing is, if she's saying what she really thinks now, it means for the past four years, she's not been saying what she thinks. Which is probably necessary for every cabinet official. However, this is a big deal that basically she thinks the entire time we're pursuing the wrong strategy in Syria, but she's going to salute and say okay, Mr. President, do it. Now we find a situation with 170,000 people dead later --

KURTZ: In fairness, it's been reported that she was more hawkish, within the administration councils on Syria, she did write about this in her book. What I want to know is where is the video of the alleged hug? Why is it being hidden from the press? But a serious, semi serious question for you, after the Atlantic interview was published, there was a lot of sniping, particularly in the newspapers, between unnamed Hillary Clinton advisers and unnamed White House allies and officials, except for David Axelrod, who took a swipe at Hillary on Twitter. Should the media be reporting this background (inaudible)?

ASHBURN: Every media organization will say, here is our anonymous sources policy. We will not use anonymous sources to disparage anyone. If you ask any media executive, that's what they stand by. In practice, it's completely different. That is not what happens. And they're used, because it's political theater.

TRIPPI: The media loves to cover food fights between two people in the same party, particularly when one of them is the president of the United States and the other one is running for president.

KURTZ: And if that involves granting people anonymity, so they can take pot shots, so be it?

TRIPPI: They're going to do it. I mean, in a political -- in that situation, I mean, particularly in a presidential campaign, it just gets rampant with --

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: I guess we are already in a presidential campaign.

TRIPPI: Yes.

KURTZ: Let me just close by saying we have such a heavy news night this week that we not even -- only have time to talk about the indictment of Rick Perry. What is striking about that, the Texas governor not exactly hiding, at a news conference yesterday, he was on "Fox News Sunday" this morning. I think even many liberal leading commentators and analysts are saying this seems like a pretty flimsy indictment in which the governor was (inaudible) was just practicing politics by using his veto power to force out an investigator. Yes, (inaudible) of his administration, but was locked up on a pretty bad drunk driving charge.

TRIPPI: When we start going after governors because we disagree with a veto, so we think he's going to get indicted, I mean, he has the legislative -- the authority in the Constitution to veto this stuff. So I just think -- I look at this grand jury indictment and it doesn't make any sense to me, other than it's political -- try to embarrass him politically as he gets ready to run for president.

ASHBURN: And Joe is a Democrat.

GERAGHTY: Friends don't let friends drink and drive and remain in prosecutor's offices.

ASHBURN: That's a good line.

KURTZ: All right, we're going to close. I still think Jim needs a hug, Jim Geraghty and Joe Trippi, thanks very much for joining us. Ahead, is Chuck Todd the man to fix NBC's debacle over "Meet the Press?"

Up next, two reporters arrested in Ferguson. How much did that change the tone of the coverage?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: The situation in Ferguson, Missouri, spun so out of control this week that President Obama felt compelled to speak up on behalf of journalists trying to do their jobs. As protesters filled the streets after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an Al Jazeera crew said officers fired tear gas at them. We're looking at the pictures right now as they were setting up for a live shot and carried off their camera equipment. And two reporters, one for the Washington Post and one for the Huffington Post were arrested at a McDonald's. The beginning of the confrontation captured on video by the Washington Post's Wes Lowery.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can move your car if your car is out here. Let's go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is. That's what I was asking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go. Let's go. Let's go. Here is the door over here. Let's go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got an armed officer with what can only be described as an assault weapon gesturing his weapon at me. And so I couldn't help but have some of my attention focused on this large gun in front of me. That's when they said, let's take him. They threw me up against a soda machine, they put me in handcuffs or in plastic restraints, all the while yelling at me stop resisting, stop resisting, as I was yelling to them, I'm not resisting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Joining us now from New York, Joe Concha, a columnist for Mediaite, and Keli Goff, special correspondent for TheRoot.com and a columnist for the Daily Beast.

Joe, let's start with the arrest of the two reporters in that McDonald's. Those charges were totally trumped up, right?

JOE CONCHA, MEDIAITE.COM: Howie, if you watch that tape in full, on 23 separate occasions, that officer asked Wes Lowery and the Huffington Post reporter, Ryan Reilly, to move. How do Wes and Ryan know what's going on outside in the street where they can resist that order? And before that video was shot, also, Howie, Wes Lowery was asked for identification, for which he refused. This was clearly an action to provoke that officer.

KURTZ: I'm going to stop you there. They didn't resist arrest. They were packing up their computer equipment, which was plugged in.

CONCHA: Really?

KURTZ: Secondly, I'm sure you don't condone slamming reporters' heads into glass doors and soda machines. Thirdly, the charges were so flimsy that the police chief immediately dropped them.

CONCHA: Correct. No, they shouldn't have arrested them, Howie, I don't advocate that. But how do you pack up equipment and batteries when you're holding up a camera and pointing it at somebody? I'm having a little trouble grabbing my laptop and all of my equipment when I do that. And here is how you know this was all about Wes Lowery expanding his television career. Right after he was released from custody, it was all about tweeting out, calling Maddow now, going on national television, CNN, MSNBC after that, Fox, as well. This was a media tour that was only rivaled by Hillary Clinton's all in the efforts to give Wes Lowery's byline a microphone and a future career, and nothing more.

KURTZ: I think that's unfair. Wes Lowery is a good, solid reporter. He was deluged with requests to appear on TV, including from me. He only did a few of those. I don't think this was as self-promotional as you do. Let's agree to disagree so I can turn to Keli. Were those arrests and the tear gassing of the Al Jazeera crew and the seizing of the equipment, did that become kind of a turning point in the tone of the coverage, Keli?

KELI GOFF, THEROOT.COM: Absolutely. And I will say with all due respect to Joe, I hate to hear the kind of criticism he would have doled out about 50 or 60 years ago to reporters who may have been a little slow to pack up their gear when they were covering another crisis, which is known as the civil rights movement.

CONCHA: A little slow.

GOFF: So this idea that reporters shouldn't be documenting the behavior of people in authority when people in authority are part of the story and their behavior has been questioned by the reporters that were there, I think to criticize them for recording is odd, Joe. They actually would have been doing their jobs to not record, and frankly, I don't think it would have been a smart safety thing to do. Not to be funny, but just again, drawing the comparison, there were a lot of reporters who were assaulted, some were almost murdered during the civil rights movements. I only wish they had Twitter and camera phones back then. So I think to criticize Ryan and Wes for recording is a little bizarre.

KURTZ: The images of the riot gear and the armed personnel carriers and the tear gas, in some ways was that reminiscent of Birmingham in 1963? Purely from the kind of perceptions that it had on the public as that footage was recorded?

GOFF: I don't know how anyone could watch the footage of what was done to those Al Jazeera reporters and not draw parallels. And I think this idea that once you see that footage, I don't see why anyone would not record their interactions with police. If you are a citizen or if you are a member of the press. And I also think that not only do you and I seem to disagree with Joe and Howie, but let's not forget the letter that was signed by 40 major news outlets decrying this atrocious behavior of the police by members of the press.

KURTZ: Let me go back to Joe. Did the sheer volume of the coverage here, hour after hour, day after day, as the national media descended on Ferguson, to do their jobs, is that exacerbated what is an undeniable tragedy no matter who is at fault, and that is the killing of an unarmed 18-year-old?

CONCHA: Absolutely, Howie. Twitter has now become the sixth network. There's ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CNN and Twitter, and there's only been over 7 million tweets that have mentioned Ferguson. So that certainly poured gas in the fire. Then you have activists that have 6 pm shows on another network that are going down there and fueling the flames, as well.

KURTZ: You're referring to Al Sharpton?

CONCHA: I am, exactly. And look, one second, Kel, you know, the bottom line is, it's now a cottage industry when a white cop shoots a black kid or we saw with Trayvon Martin last year, CNN, HLN quadrupled their ratings because of these sort of events, and ISIS and Gaza happening overseas. This is domestic, cheap and easy narrative, and that's why we've seen the coverage go where it has.

GOFF: You call it a cottage industry -- those of us who have African- American men in our families consider it a crisis, Joe, and I think that must be nice to not have the experience in this country where you can dismiss it --

(CROSSTALK)

CONCHA: You don't get to do that to me, Keli. You're calling me a racist on national television? Sorry.

KURTZ: She's not at all, Joe.

CONCHA: That's the inference, that I'm being somehow insensitive.

GOFF: No, it's not -- I think you're being insensitive. I didn't call you a racist. You're the one that used that word, Joe.

And what I want to say, Howie, is I think this idea that the coverage has inflamed things, I'm going to again to go back to draw the parallels from 60 years ago. We all know that there was behavior that changed 60 years ago because people realized that the images were filtering out to the rest of the country, and the South did not like how it was being portrayed. I think the same thing has happened here in Ferguson.

New York magazine ran a headline about this, about how you saw this 180, where you saw the police actually start marching with the protesters and engaging them in a positive way. I do not think that would have happened if there hadn't been all those images of them in riot gear, and they knew how that was reflecting on their town.

CONCHA: And one point, Howie. What Twitter has done in a positive manner, and Keli, I'm sorry if I overreacted. Perhaps I did.

At least now the police cannot control the narrative in terms of everything that is coming out.

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: That is true.

CONCHA: So there are positives for social media, as well as negatives. I just want to say that, and I apologize to Keli for overreacting as well.

KURTZ: Not at all, you two can go hug it out and then make up.

CONCHA: There will be video of that, by the way. Unlike some other people.

KURTZ: I do think that we still don't know what the police version is of exactly what happened. I saw a lot of the coverage up to now had been one- sided because we haven't had access to the other side. Keli Goff, Joe Concha, thanks very much for stopping by.

CONCHA: Thanks, Howie.

GOFF: Thanks, Howie.

KURTZ: Ahead on "MediaBuzz," when we come back, how about some of the reporting on Robin Williams' suicide, was it distasteful or just wrong? And the ugliness that drove his daughter off Twitter. And later, can Chuck Todd pull "Meet the Press" out of its tailspin?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

KURTZ: Just about everyone seemed to love Robin Williams for his comic brilliance and acting intensity. So the suicide of the 63-year-old entertainer who had spoken openly about battling depression and alcoholism came as a shock. Every newspaper, every web site, every network weighed in. And the cable nets were virtually wall to wall.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Great actor and comedian Robin Williams has died. The Marin County sheriff's office confirming Williams was found dead in his house.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC ANCHOR: On our broadcast tonight, Robin Williams, what we're learning about his sudden and shocking death. The investigation into his apparent suicide as tributes pour in.

ROBIN ROBERTS, ABC NEWS: Robin Williams was often at his best when he was just playing himself, funny, smart, touching, always lightning fast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Breaking tonight, what we've now learned about the final hours of Robin Williams' life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Joining us now for "The Z Block" to examine this emotional media outpouring is David Zurawik, television and media critic for "The Baltimore Sun." Let's start with some of the excesses. ABC apologized for running streaming video of Williams' house. Fox's Shep Smith apologized for briefly questioning whether Williams as a father might have been a coward for taking his own life. CBS had the gall to interview somebody who had been in AA with Robin Williams. Not a pretty picture.

DAVID ZURAWIK, BALTIMORE SUN: Outrageous. Howie, those kinds of excesses totally need to be denounced. There's no excuse for them. These are professional broadcasters doing really stupid stuff. Why do you sit on the air after someone is dead and call them a coward for? What was Shep Smith thinking? He was a veteran anchor. Why do you show a picture of his house? Howie, it's so simple in some ways. The journalism that you and I were socialized to, if cable news just practiced that, which what do we know to be true? Let's limit it to that. They would have been fine.

KURTZ: And then you have social media with Robin's daughter, Zelda, quitting Twitter and Instagram because people were being incredibly cruel, blaming her for her father's death.

ZURAWIK: What do you say about that? We know that's the way social media is. But what is it in the culture that makes people want to do that in the wake of something like this? Look, the minute it happened, I happened to be walking in the news room and they said, Robin Williams is dead. They said do you want to write about it? I said this is going to stop the culture, to myself, this guy is that important. And do you know what was missing --

KURTZ: Let me pick up on that. There were hours and hours and hours and there were no other stories virtually on television. It wasn't the most important story in the world, but I didn't have a problem with all the coverage. Did you?

ZURAWIK: I had no problem whatsoever. I thought it was important. I think as our culture, I think the people who run the media tend to minimize the importance of cultural figures like Robin Williams to our emotional, to our psychological and to our spiritual life. This guy touched the culture in deep ways. And do you know what was missing in all of this coverage that got high ratings for just about everybody, what was missing were analysts who told people why he was special. It's not enough to say he was a genius, he was a force of nature. Remember when Mike Wallace died and you and I were on the air live on another channel, we went right to why historically did he matter.

KURTZ: The speculation was proven to be so off base, because then several days later, Robin Williams' wife said, well, he was suffering from Parkinson's disease, which might or might not -- I'm not going to speculate here -- played a role. Also, I did find a good focus on depression. Even though I hate when we do the disease of the week, because of a celebrity. A lot of journalists talked candidly about their own battles with depression. The other thing is, here he is on the cover of "Time," it's a big spread inside, but what totally got overshadowed was the death of Lauren Bacall at 89, although she was a bigger star in her heyday, but that was a long time ago.

ZURAWIK: She was. And I think that's just the way the culture works. And don't forget, Robin Williams spoke to successive generations in different media. I'm surprised at how many people in their 20s came up to me the next day and wanted to talk about him.

KURTZ: Take a half a minute to talk about the coverage of Ferguson, Missouri, and what has struck you with all the television presence there.

ZURAWIK: You know, some people say we're not equipped to talk about issues like depression and mental health? Race. We are awful when it comes to race. You know, I think that if you ask me what single event troubled you most, it was the police shooting rubber bullets and tear gas canisters, which you reported at Al Jazeera and the other sorts of things to the press.

But, you know, showing the officers how -- here we go again with all these excesses, and Howie, this is just basic journalism that we knew 20 years ago and forgot. Especially in cable news when we're on a story. It's tough when you're out there and it's going and it's going and it's going. But you have to be better than they are right now. Especially when it involves race.

KURTZ: Yes. And the death of a young man. But it does get ratings. Let me get a break here. Don't go away. Up next, NBC finally dumping David Gregory after putting his through slow-motion torture. But is Chuck Todd the right choice for "Meet the Press?"

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: NBC has made David Gregory twist slowly in the wind for months, but this week, the network finally made it official -- Gregory is out as moderator of "Meet the Press." He is being replaced by a man of many titles, NBC's political director, chief White House correspondent, and MSNBC morning host, Chuck Todd.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK TODD, NBC: This poll is a disaster for the president. Essentially, the public is saying your presidency is over.

By saying a number like that, it was 54 percent saying that he no longer has the ability to lead. And solve problems.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: David Zurawik, NBC's treatment of David Gregory was shabby and really inexcusable, but was it the right choice to dump him?

ZURAWIK: Absolutely, Howie. We talked about this earlier in the summer, I think. I felt he had a total lack of passion compared to Chuck Todd's kind of passion. Chuck Todd, whether it's true or not, you have the feeling with him that you have with Mike Allen of Politico, that he knows everything that's happening in Washington and cares about it, and that he's plugged in totally.

KURTZ: Not just in Washington, but in 435 congressional districts.

ZURAWIK: Exactly.

KURTZ: For people not familiar, he's a political junky, he is a former print guy, he ran the Politico hot line. So he's had to make a transition to television. In your view, then, smart choice?

ZURAWIK: Oh, absolutely for him. Look, he's not the consultant's idea of a host, which makes me love him, absolutely, first of all.

KURTZ: That's interesting.

ZURAWIK: He isn't.

KURTZ: He's not a blow-dried anchor.

ZURAWIK: Exactly. He's not slick, he's not glib, he doesn't look that way. But here is what I believe. No. 1, I believe passion is more important on television than a -- that good looks and hair.

KURTZ: You have to believe that.

(LAUGHTER)

ZURAWIK: Yes, I have to believe that. But secondly, this guy really, really can lift this show out of the sort of malaise that it's in right now. It's really been sad to see this great franchise fall into the kind of disrepair it is. So you need somebody with this kind of energy to try to bring it back.

KURTZ: Insiders tell me that Chuck Todd has these challenges, making the transition from daily journalism to daily cycle to a weekly show, doing more online, and he's a very frequent tweeter, and making the show more relevant, which is another way of saying, what you said, which is it's got to matter again?

ZURAWIK: One thing about this, I think people don't understand. Sunday morning television, people want experience. Everybody in TV wants young, young, young. Bob Schieffer is No. 1 for a reason, because he gives you the sense that he can synthesize and he has experience. I think it's that. Now, Howie, one problem with this transition, I think NBC has bigger problems. I think the production of that show has really suffered. I wrote about a really bad mistake.

KURTZ: Let me jump in because we are short on time. Some people think Chuck Todd is liberal because he's on MSNBC, but he regularly on his cable show has Republicans and conservatives on. I think that side respects him. But is he -- no one is expecting him to be Tim Russert. Is he a strong enough interviewer?

ZURAWIK: That is a good question. I think he can grow into the Tim Russert role. I think if anybody at that network can grow into it -- it's Tim Russert. But also senior management, they've really got a screwed-up operation over at NBC News. How long will they stay with him if he doesn't get a ratings bump? Will they bring in consultants, will they bring in a psychiatrist to talk to him like they did David Gregory? And call it a brand consultant?

KURTZ: Let's hope not. I don't think he needs any psychoanalyzing.

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: You saved me the cheap shot. Thanks for stopping by, Z.

After the break, was a CNN anchor acting an an advocate for the family of Michael Brown? And the Fox News contributor who has a problem, yes, with Michelle Obama's weight. Our video verdict is straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Time for our video verdict, where we rate TV clips based on whether they're good journalism and good television. After the tragic police shooting of their son, Michael Brown's parents gave their first interview to MSNBC's Al Sharpton.

ASHBURN: But their second sit-down was on CNN, where anchor Don Lemon conducted an interview that was both highly sympathetic and highly unusual.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: How are you dealing with this right now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The best way I can.

LEMON: Are you sure -- it says no justice? Why are you wearing the shirt?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because my son don't have justice. And we don't have no peace. He has no justice, we won't get no peace.

LEMON: And to you, mom, I don't even know what to say to you, except that every mother in this country, in this world is rooting for you. And so you stay strong, you have the entire world behind you, and if you ever, either of you need anything, you know how to get in touch with me personally.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ASHBURN: That was cringe-worthy in my opinion. I just feel like he crossed a huge line. It was so personal.

KURTZ: Personal in a sense that he was openly siding with the family. And look, let's make it clear, these people just suffered an unimaginable loss.

ASHBURN: I get it.

KURTZ: And of course he's going to do a sympathetic interview, and I have no problem with it.

ASHBURN: There is a way to be compassionate without crossing that line. The last time I checked, Don Lemon was an anchor.

KURTZ: And he doesn't know what happened. We still don't know the details of the shooting, and so by saying you come to me if you need anything, he was acting as an advocate. What's your score?

ASHBURN: Two.

KURTZ: Well, it's pretty moving, and so I will give it a three.

ASHBURN: It wasn't that moving. All right. The women on Fox's "Outnumbered" seemed to be taken a bit aback the other day when one lucky guy weighed in on Michelle Obama.

KURTZ: Dr. Keith Ablow, psychiatrist and Fox News contributor, is not a fan of the first lady, and he took a swipe at her looks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't need the federal government applying -- projecting these standards upon us, and Michelle Obama is like the duchess when she speaks.

(CROSSTALK)

ABLOW: How well can she be eating? She needs to drop a few.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh! You did not say that.

(CROSSTALK)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ASHBURN: The worst thing a guy can do is talk about a woman's weight. And he should know that.

KURTZ: You're saying I shouldn't mention that time you kept going back to the buffet?

ASHBURN: Exactly right, get out of here. I give it a 3.

KURTZ: You're giving it a 3? Look, it was a low blow, but Keith Ablow was trying to be entertaining, he was trying to be provocative. He is on a show with a bunch of women.

ASHBURN: The only thing he should say about a woman when they asked how do I look, is hold up his pinkie and say, you look this thin, you look this good. That's what my dad did, that's it.

KURTZ: Nice try. I'm giving it a 5.

ASHBURN: No way. 3.

KURTZ: It was fun.

Still to come, your best tweets, a list of reasons that Buzzfeed just raised a whole lot of money, and Joe Scarborough blames those reporters who got arrested in Ferguson.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: And here are a few of your top tweets, are the media covering the unrest in Ferguson fairly or inflaming the situation? Farenell Photography, "considering police keep contradicting their own public statements and how they're treating reporters, coverage is justified." Carl Gottlieb, "the media have no idea if witnesses actually saw anything, often stories change when cops interview. Saw it for 40 years." Fairflattaxnow, "The liberal mainstream media's performance this past week is nothing short of disgraceful, they should really be ashamed." A response from Zuckman, "Ashamed of what? Reporting of the racist behavior of a corrupt police department? That's their job."

ASHBURN: Not quite fair to say that the entire police department is corrupt.

KURTZ: Or racist.

ASHBURN: You don't know every member of the police department.

KURTZ: Right. On the other hand, there have been some good reporting about the fact that in many towns, you have majority white police departments, majority black communities, and often that leads to friction.

Buzzfeed, the viral web site with a monster traffic just scored an eye- popping $50 million investment in Silicon Valley. The site mixes solid reporting with LOL stuff and cat pictures and of course lists. 13 awkward moments everyone has at the doctor's office. 18 things people who can't swim are tired of hearing. So how did Buzzfeed's big payday get reported? The New York Times, 50 million reasons Buzzfeed wants to take its content far beyond lists. The Guardian, 21 things you need to know about Buzzfeed's success.

I've got one big reason this has to stop. It's becoming a tired cliche.

And finally, after Washington Post reporter Wes Lowery was arrested in that McDonald's in Ferguson, Missouri, the host of "Morning Joe" blamed him and his colleague, and Lowery was quick to respond.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH: When the cops tell you, for like the 30th time, let's go, you know what that means, son? It means let's go.

LOWERY: I would invite Joe Scarborough to come down to Ferguson and get out of 30 Rock where he's sitting sipping his Starbucks smugly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ASHBURN: It is too easy to criticize when you're sitting in a studio, just like this, and you aren't on the ground, you don't know what happens, you don't know what the conditions are. However, I do think that you need to be able to listen, you have to listen to the police, what they say, sometimes.

KURTZ: Scarborough is entitled to his opinion, absolutely. And a lot of people think Wes Lowery went too far and should have gotten out of there faster. I would have gotten out of there faster because I would have been worried about getting arrested. (CROSSTALK)

ASHBURN: Not getting the story, Howie?

KURTZ: But to be actually arrested, and the charges were so trumped up that they were shown out, shows just what a difficult situation it was, and I don't agree with what Joe Concha earlier said, that Wes Lowery was doing this to promote himself.

That's it for this edition of "MediaBuzz." We're a little short on time here. I'm Howard Kurtz. Check out our Facebook page. Give us a like. We post a lot of original content there. We're back here next Sunday, 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Eastern with the latest buzz.

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