Covering Ukraine under occupation; Bob Costas rips media culture, defends gun stance

News organizations scramble to cover Russian invasion of Crimea


This is a rush transcript from "#mediabuzz," March 9, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On the "Buzz Meter" this Sunday, American anchors parachuting to Ukraine as news organizations scramble to cover the Russian invasion of Crimea under difficult conditions. But are journalists giving us a clear picture of the crisis or are the pundits too focused on castigating or defending President Obama? And why was the mainstream media so dismissive when Mitt Romney called Russia America's number one geopolitical foe? Plus, Bob Costas tells me he wasn't praising Vladimir Putin at the Olympics and takes on Fox, MSNBC and a media culture that he says unfairly targeted him.


BOB COSTAS, NBC SPORTS: I don't respect the heat over light voices, which can be found in some corners of Fox News and can be found on the radio, as well. NBC Sports is not an extension of MSNBC, no matter what anyone may think about MSNBC.


KURTZ: But is the NBC commentator injecting his personal political views on Russia and guns into the realm of sports? Or adding a much needed dose of reality. I'm Howard Kurtz and this is "#mediabuzz."

There were reports in the last 36 hours that some journalists in Crimea have been beaten. The AP had some equipment confiscated and a CNN correspondent was told she would be kicked out of her hotel if she didn't stop broadcasting. Given these difficulties and the diplomatic fog surrounding the crisis in Ukraine, our news organization is helping us to cut through that fog.


SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: The truth of that matter is, what's happened here is the Russian troops have come in. They've in essence taken the place over and told the Ukrainians to surrender their weapons.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I saw soldiers for the - at first time in my life and I was scared.

ELIZABETH PALMER, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: We put that to some Russian soldiers outside the Ukrainian base.  (on camera): Are you allowing the Ukrainian army to go back and forth freely?

PALMER: They told us to stop asking questions and go away.

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's journalist that you saw, Bulgarian journalist, he witnessed this paramilitaries masked armed men basically taking away TV equipment. He took a couple of photos. One of them came up to him forced him to the ground, put a gun to his head, took his camera, took his phone.


KURTZ: Joining us now Lauren Ashburn, Fox News contributor, who writes the top Twitter talk column. John Aravosis, the founder and editor of America Blog, and Judie Miller, adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute, former "New York Times" reporter and a Fox News contributor.

It's difficult to cover an occupation. How much are we learning from the journalists actually in Crimea?

LAUREN ASHBURN, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, in the very beginning, we knew exactly what was happening. President Obama was standing by idly while Vladimir Putin trampled the lives of innocent people. But what happened two days later, is that we finally got journalists who parachuted into Kiev, we were able to get on the ground in Crimea. And I think that we got the pictures that solidified what we already knew.

KURTZ: Judie Miller, you were in the Ukraine last fall to write an article. What happened at that time with your journalistic efforts?

JUDIE MILLER, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: No one was interested in publishing an article about the coming crises between Ukraine and Russia over whether or not Ukraine would become part of the West that is linked by the - by trade and by association with the European Union.

KURTZ: Why do you think that was?

MILLER: Well, you know, Fox News wound up publishing it. I think it's because we're all busy people. This was not the story of the day. This was a coming crisis rather than one that was upon us. The press only mobilizes when it's clear that you're in the middle of a full-court press crisis.

KURTZ: It's interesting, Jonathan, to listen to some pundits who a couple of weeks ago couldn't find Crimea on a map. Now, saluting off about it, but for the correspondents who are there, it is not the same as being embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and perhaps there's less interest back home.

JOHN ARAVOSIS, AMERICABLOG.COM: Well, I think now there's, perhaps, growing interest, of course. But I think as Judy said, typically you don't have a lot of interest in the U.S. In foreign - I'm talking from regular Americans - in foreign policy unless it's a crisis. And I think that's just a fact of being American. We've got so many issues going on - and our country has always been a little more isolated, surprisingly, not foreign policy-wise, but domestically. We don't travel as much, but 70 percent of Americans don't have passports, so that we don't focus on international news sort of economist style the way maybe foreign press does. So, yes, it wasn't an issue until it was a crisis.

ASHBURN: But I also think the fact that President Obama decided now to cut the budget of our federal military spending, got Americans interested in this topic.

ARAVOSIS: I don't think so. I think, honestly that's been a Republican argument. Not from you, but I'm saying we've had budget cuts during the Bush years. You go to the Defense Department website, and you still see them bragging in Dick Cheney's bio. By how much he cut the defense budget.  Check it out. It's hysterical, but it's on the website. I think the bigger issue is it's a crisis. There's an invasion going on, and that's - I'm not even sure Americans are focusing yet on this crisis, to be honest.


ARAVOSIS: Well, the media are.

KURTZ: Well, the media certainly are. And it's interesting to watch the different arguments being made by commentators on the left and the right.  Let's take a look at a couple of examples.


CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: When Obama says and Kerry also did in Kiev that this is a sign of weakness in that strength, you've got to wonder what cosmos our president and secretary of state are living in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is this central awkwardness about the United States government trying to lead a response of international outrage to that kind of violation when we're a only a couple of years out now from our own near decades of war in Iraq. Which is a war that was, of course, also launched on a trumped up false pretext.


KURTZ: What do you make of a media turning this into who lost Crimea and is President Obama to blame?

ASHBURN: We always like the blame game here in Washington, but in this case, I think it's justified. And I think that even "The Washington Post" editorial board said so. They said that his foreign policy was fantasy and the reason behind that is that he's been played by Putin over the chemical weapons in Syria, over the amnesty of the ability of Russia to keep Edward Snowden. And we don't trust what he wants. The editorial board said President Obama is operating in the reality that he wants to operate in and not the reality of what the world is today.

KURTZ: And this is a liberal newspaper, although more hawkish on foreign policy than some. But Judy, is it a fair way, of course, President Obama's record on this should be scrutinized, but does this sort of it's his fault, it's not his fault, does it account for, for example, factors outside of America's control?

MILLER: It really doesn't. And I think part of the problems the Republicans have when they attack the president on this one is George W. Bush in Georgia, the invasion of Georgia in 2008. He didn't have an answer. The Russians are still sitting in Georgia and Bob Gates is now predicting that the Russians are going to stay in Crimea, as well. So, it's a big challenge, and it's easy to criticize the president, but I don't see the Republicans coming up with any alternatives and that's what the liberal press are focusing on.

KURTZ: So, do you see this as sort of the default setting of the media because this is complicated? I mean look, there's a whole history of different countries and factions controlling Crimea going back centuries.  But the easier thing to do is put a couple of people in the studio and saying, so, Obama's fault, not Obama's fault.

MILLER: Absolutely. That's the easy story to do. And it's only when troops actually move into a country that you have to send your own reporters to find out what's going on. If you look at the European press, Howie, The Financial Times has been superb on this. The New York Review of books had an excellent article on Russian nationalism and the nationalism - right wing nationalism in the Ukraine. But the American press has really not delved into the ties between Russia and the Ukraine.

ARAVOSIS: But I don't think it is - I think it's a fair point to ask, though. I think it's natural to look and say, look, we have got a potential war going on, have our leaders handled it correctly? I think the media has been pretty fair about it to the degree that just this morning on another network, I was just telling Judy, Dick Cheney was on. And he got pressed about Georgia and how ...

KURTZ: On "Face the Nation."

ARAVOSIS: On "Face the Nation." And they handled it. And he kind of stumbled for a minute trying to explain the difference - well, we had troop movement versus what Obama did. I think the situations are very similar, and I think both administrations are having a hard time because no one expected them to move in either place. No one serious.

KURTZ: One thing that got a lot of attention this week was resignation on air on the Kremlin owned network RT, Lis Wahl. We're going to show you a little bit of that. And then and interview that she had with Fox's Neil Cavuto when she was asked what she thought she was doing working for a network ...


LIZ WAHL, RT ANCHOR: Personally, I cannot be part of network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of Putin.

LIZ WAHL, FORMER RT AMERICA ANCHOR: I understood the geopolitical stance of Putin. I didn't realize -- I guess I wasn't aware of how much of his views would actually be pushed in the news cast.


ASHBURN: This is absolutely ridiculous. I'm sorry, you're working for Russia Today, which is owned by the government. This is a great resume reel for her if that's what she's trying to accomplish, although I wouldn't hire her. If she's going to go renegade like that on television instead of airing her complaints in private first, she'll do it again.

KURTZ: Well, RT says it was a self-promotional stunt. But why couldn't it - She gave up her job. Why could it not be seen as an act of conscious?

ASHBURN: You know, it could be seen that way. But it's obviously not.  This woman wants another job. She is going to do what she's going to do.  There was a great example in the "Daily Beast," of fabulous shoe leather reporting. A reporter went, stood outside Russia Today and asked people coming out of Russia Today whether or not what they thought about things and then the Ukraine protests, came by and he was talking to them about what happened. RT is right near the White House. We actually learned something from that. We didn't learn anything from Liz Wahl saying I'm not going to do this anymore!

KURTZ: Anyone wants to briefly on this?

MILLER: I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. I mean you may think that up until a certain point you can live with a line. But she finally did the right thing. She stood up, unlike Abby Martin, who criticized what Russia was doing in the Ukraine but continues to work there. So I'm willing to give her -- and by the way, it's tough out there to get a job, and I think she had to think about that.

ARAVOSIS: And she also -- I saw her plea right after it was done on Youtube, and she made a very impassioned speech about how her family is Hungarian American, Hungarian-American, and her grandparents came over because of the Soviet invasion of Hungary. To put down the revolution, that is. And I was very moved by it. I think she was naive as hell to suggest --


ASHBURN: -- change it from the inside? That's not going to happen.

ARAVOSIS: I think sometimes you have to take a stand on principle. And even though she will not change the world and she will not change RT, it mattered to me personally that she did that. I was very impressed she did it, even though I think she was a fool to have worked there in the first place.

KURTZ: Let me touch on other area of media accountability, and that is you all remember during the 2012 campaign, that Mitt Romney was widely dismissed and even mocked by many in the mainstream media for saying that Russia was the No. 1 geopolitical foe of America. President Obama made fun of it. Half of MSNBC made fun of it. Your former newspaper, Judy, New York Times editorial page, "Romney's comments displayed a shocking lack of knowledge of international affairs. Just craven politics, reckless and unworthy of a major presidential contender." Maybe the media were wrong?

MILLER: We were in full reset flowering. And that was then --

KURTZ: Referring to the restoring (inaudible) by the administration? The button, the Hillary Clinton--

MILLER: Exactly. And by the way, the embarrassment of being told that they had mistranslated the Russian word for reset. But nevertheless, people were willing to give Russia the benefit of the doubt. We were still working together in areas. Now it's very hard to make that case. Nobody does.

KURTZ: And John, the media didn't expect Russian troops to go into Ukraine. But didn't that reflect the sort of D.C. foreign policy establishment consensus? Which is not just Democrat, but some Republicans, as well?

ARAVOSIS: Another way of saying D.C. foreign policy establishment perception is called the experts on the issues. Who else -- I'm sorry, but I'm not going to go to a regular guy in Iowa to find out whether the Russians are going to invade Crimea. And the experts didn't think this was going to happen. People obviously didn't also predict that Putin was going to invade Russian Georgia or former Soviet Georgia, either.

ASHBURN: But it wasn't just the experts, John. It was Arianna Huffington, it was Lawrence O'Donnell.


ASHBURN: It was Lawrence O'Donnell, it was Rachel Maddow, it was Arianna Huffington all coming out and saying the same thing. Are they foreign policy experts? Absolutely not.

ARAVOSIS: But I think he was wrong, and I think even today, he plays this game of I didn't say threats, but I said foe, and this kind of thing. And I think China is our long-term threat/foe, geopolitical strategy, whatever you want to call it.

KURTZ: You will have to have the geopolitical argument on another channel.  Let me get a break in here. Remember, send us a tweet during this hour, @howardkurtz. We're going to read some of your messages a little later in the program.

When we come back, Sarah Palin grabs the limelight at CPAC. Is she more of a politician these days or a pundit? And later, Bob Costas's take on the media culture.


BOB COSTAS, NBC: You have to have an outrage of the day and a villain of the day. And even if that person has to by caricatured in order to make the discussion easier and more heated, that's what happens.



KURTZ: Sarah Palin took her obligatory shot at the media at the CPAC conference just outside Washington. She wasn't alone, but let's take a look at her, with apologies to Dr. Seuss.


SARAH PALIN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: I do not like reporters' smug replies when I complain about their lies.


KURTZ: A great applause line at CPAC. Judy, is it a smart strategy when you need the media to get your message out?

MILLER: It's the tried and true Sarah Palin blame the media strategy. We heard a lot of it at CPAC. Yes, I know we are unpopular, often for good reasons, but come on. It didn't work the last time, it's not going to work this time.

KURTZ: It's interesting, John, Sarah Palin is a Fox News contributor.  She's starting a new reality show on the Sportsman Channel. So was she there as a pundit, an entertainer, or somebody who, as she told Greta Van Susteren, might want to run for president if nobody else suitable does?

ARAVOSIS: I think she clearly has aspirations to go somewhere. Maybe it's like Hillary in the sense where she herself hasn't really decided, but she's keeping the oven warm so to speak to move in.

I do think there's a -- Palin is in an interesting position, because I think the media does not take her seriously, because most of America doesn't take her seriously. I don't think Republicans looking for foreign policy analysis turn to Sarah Palin.

KURTZ: But she has a very passionate following.

ARAVOSIS: She does, but I think that's her dilemma. Is that I don't think she is very serious, other than to a very specific segment of the Republican Party.

ASHBURN: We used to do that about Rand Paul, too. I was at CPAC. I was at CPAC, and the three people who got everybody up and down, up and down with applause were Sarah Palin, Ron Paul and Ted Cruz. And those are the three people--

KURTZ: Rand Paul.

ASHBURN: Rand Paul, sorry, Rand Paul.


ASHBURN: I didn't mean his daddy. But those -- to that base, it's red meat. Anti-media is red meat. Even Chris Christie came out and said the media is really bad. Surprise, surprise.


KURTZ: Fox News carried Palin's speech live yesterday. CNN did not.  MSNBC was running some prison "Lockup" thing.

OK, here is the governor of New Jersey taking his swipe at the fourth estate.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, R-N.J.: We have to stop letting the media define who we are and what we stand for.


ASHBURN: This is a guy, we all have to remember, at the center of bridgegate, who has been pummeled by the left and by the right. It makes sense for him to attack the media.

KURTZ: So is this a product of his own personal bruised feelings, that he's doing this in front of a very conservative audience?

ASHBURN: No, I actually happen to think that it is part of what Republicans are doing. To Judy's point, it might not work. But they are trying to bash not only the media, but they're trying to stay, as I was there watching, on message with ObamaCare.

KURTZ: Christie as a blue state governor has never been a favorite of the conservative wing of the Republican Party, but now I think there's more sympathy for him because he's been getting beat up by the press. So the shorthand I've been using is, if MSNBC doesn't like him, he must be okay.

ARAVOSIS: Maybe. But he showed up this year at CPAC, didn't show up last year, I guess because he wasn't invited. I read he got one point higher in the CPAC poll this year for showing up, it was still something like 7 percent. The guy isn't exactly a favorite of the right in the Republican Party. But, you know, I think it's of his own doing. Even the Republican governors that he visited those states in the last few months, the governors didn't want to see him.

KURTZ: You know what's interesting, there was all this media bashing at CPAC, and that's kind of become a staple, but it's the media that have turned this into a major event, have taken this conference and given it all this coverage. Even the meaningless straw poll, which this time was won by Rand Paul, used to be his father who was winning it.

MILLER: Exactly. And the message that I've seen come out of CPAC is according to Washington Post, the New York Times, is the continuing divisions within the Republican Party. That's going to be the message, more than whether or not the press is popular with these candidates.

KURTZ: I suspect you are right. Judy Miller, John Aravosis, thanks very much for joining us.

And this is a Fox buzz alert. Checkbook journalism is back. This time in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial. "The Today Show" just happened to land an exclusive interview this week with the mother of Reeva Steenkamp, the girlfriend who the Olympic sprinter shot to death. This after NBC agreed to pay Steenkamp's family for its cooperation.


JUNE STEENKAMP, MOTHER: I wanted to see Oscar face to face.


KURTZ: NBC says the family was paid a modest licensing fee through a British subsidiary. Whatever the amount, paying for interviews is bad business. In fact, it stinks.

Up next, Bob Costas says his critics at Fox and elsewhere are wrong to paint him as an apologist for Vladimir Putin. He has got plenty to say about the media in just a moment.


KURTZ: Bob Costas is one of the most recognizable names in sportscasting and one of the most controversial. He touched off a media storm during NBC's coverage of the Sochi Olympics with his take on Vladimir Putin. Why does Costas keep stirring things up with his political comments? We sat down for a conversation in New York.


KURTZ: Bob Costas, welcome.


KURTZ: You have a knack for hitting hot button issues. And you have become a lightning rod for many conservatives, including here at Fox --


KURTZ: -- who seem to feel that you are way out there on the left.

So is Bob Costas a wild-eyed liberal who happens to have a deep voice and a love of sports?

COSTAS: No, no, I would be disingenuous if I said that generally speaking, I don't lean somewhat left of center. I'll use an imprecise example, though, that might be relatable to the Fox audience. To the extent that I am liberal, I'm like a Juan Williams liberal, who will call out the excesses and the contradictions of the extreme left. And to the extent that I am conservative, I'm like a Bernie Goldberg conservative. I think there are certain common-sense issues on which I would agree with him. On the other hand, the know-nothing part of the spectrum, where people just reflexively defend a Phil Robertson type person, I'm not in that camp and never in that camp.

KURTZ: You're not a "Duck Dynasty" conservative?

COSTAS: No. I think a lot of people who watch Fox would be surprised at how much George Will I read, how much Charles Krauthammer or Rich Lowry or on and on, and how often I nod in agreement, and how much I respect those voices.

I don't respect the heat over light voices, which can be found in some corners of Fox News, and can be found on the radio, as well.

KURTZ: Let's talk about Sochi. On opening night, many people are aware that you had some things to say about Vladimir Putin.



COSTAS: Just in the past year, Putin brokered a deal to allow Syria to avoid a U.S. military strike by giving up its chemical weapons. It helped bring Iran to the negotiating table over its nuclear intentions.


KURTZ: You were pounded by conservative commentators. For instance, Daily Caller. "Few other than Bob Costas and Russian state media would portray him as a peacemaker."


KURTZ: Fox's Kimberly Guilfoyle. "Costas apparently has a gigantic man crush on Vladimir." Now, I know this was a set-up piece to a discussion, but they were your words.


KURTZ: Criticism, fair or unfair?

COSTAS: Unfair, because out of context. All it was was a set-up to a discussion, in which he would immediately be described as an autocrat, and it would immediately be explained by experts on Russian history and present-day politics, including the Pulitzer Prize winner, David Remnick, that A, he is an autocrat; B, he doesn't care what we in the West think; C, he has his own agenda, which includes where necessary suppressing his own people and possibly flexing his muscles. We kind of foreshadowed what happened in Ukraine. That would follow immediately--

KURTZ: But you know that we live in a soundbite culture and you provided the soundbite. You can say it's out of context. Interestingly, the other line of criticism was that you were just kind of spouting the NBC corporate line.


KURTZ: Eric Bolling on Fox said you were reading something by the political arm at NBC, as if it wasn't your words and you should have edited it.

COSTAS: This is most important to me. To make it clear about my colleagues at NBC. NBC Sports is not an extension of MSNBC, no matter what anyone may think about MSNBC. In fact, through the years, I think the administration and many of the broadcasters at NBC would be more conservative -- although that may not come out on the air -- maybe more conservative or moderate than liberal. There is no corporate and was no corporate marching orders. And if, in fact, they were beholden to Putin, afraid, as someone put it, Putin's prisoner for a couple of weeks, they never would have said, had David Remnick say or allowed me to say -- either in direct statements or indirect questions -- any of the things, let alone the dozens of things which we said or asked about Vladimir Putin's Russia.

Back to the set-up piece. This is a cut and paste kind of thing. People looking to be outraged, looking for something that they can extrapolate incorrect assumptions from. If they cared about fairness and facts, they would have taken a look at all the things that I said in prime-time, all of which were then posted on, it was all out there. Any one of two of which, let alone two dozen of which, would have completely given the lie to that characterization, because nobody who felt that way about Putin would then turn around and say this is a government and this is a regime which et cetera, et cetera, you know what I said.

KURTZ: Let me get to that. But let me stick with this idea that the outrage is in your view manufactured. Now, if that's the case, and I've certainly seen other examples of it involving lots of subjects and people beyond you. If there is -- if commentators are looking to jump on a chance to be outraged, to point fingers, and if that is true of some commentators at Fox--

COSTAS: And to a take a tiny strand and ignore the mountain of evidence on the other side that would contradict it.

KURTZ: And if that is true of some commentators at Fox and maybe you felt the brunt of that, isn't it also true of many commentators on MSNBC?

COSTAS: Yes, I believe it is. Bernie Goldberg made an excellent point in the discussion of this very topic, and he didn't refer to Fox or MSNBC. He referred to ideological media. When you have ideological media, and it has to be fed 24/7 -- it isn't that there aren't people with valid points of view, very insightful people, in some cases brilliant people on either side of the discussion. But a lot of it runs on heat rather than light. And you have to have an outrage of the day and a villain of the day. Even if that person has to be caricatured in order to make the discussion easier and more heated, that's what happened.

KURTZ: Towards the end of the Olympics, you took on the Russian regime.


COSTAS: While in many significant ways, Russian citizens have better lives than Soviet citizens of a generation ago, theirs is still a government which imprisons dissonance, is hostile to gay rights, sponsors and supports a vicious regime in Syria, and that's just a partial list.


KURTZ: For all of the attacks on you for the opening night remarks, whether they were out of context or not -- you believe they are, critics might disagree -- I saw very little coverage of what you said towards the end of the Olympics. Why is that?

COSTAS: Well, actually, that was covered in a number of places. It just wasn't covered here. It wasn't covered here. Because it would be --

KURTZ: By here, you mean on Fox?

COSTAS: Yes. Or places where the general tone is akin to the general tone at Fox. Because there's no payoff in that. It doesn't feed the narrative.  There were two dozen things at least that would have given the lie to that characterization. But that was inconvenient. So here is the thing which we can misrepresent, which was said in a mere set-up piece. OK? Here are all the things he said, in direct questions, sometimes contentious, with the president of the IOC or you can say what you want about where David Remnick and the New Yorker lean, David Remnick is under no illusions that Vladimir Putin is a good guy. Read what he's posted on the New Yorker's website just this past week.

KURTZ: After the military invasion of the Ukraine?

COSTAS: Absolutely. We laid out the backdrop against which these Olympics were taking place. And forgive me for taking your time here, but I want to make it clear about my colleagues at NBC Sports. They did not run scared from Vladimir Putin. They said, Mark Lazarus, who runs NBC Sports, and all my colleagues, not only did a beautiful job of presenting the Olympics as sports, but where appropriate and judiciously, they did what we said we would do, which was frame the issues against which this unique Olympics took place.

KURTZ: And then cover the games.

COSTAS: And cover the games, but if something came up, like when members of Pussy Riot ran into difficulties, we noted it right away.


KURTZ: More Costas after the break. Where he went wrong in the gun debate, and whether he should be using sportscasts as a political soapbox.



KURTZ: More now of my conversation with NBC's Bob Costas as we move on to such sensitive subjects as gun control.


KURTZ: This goes beyond the Olympics. You waded into the controversy over the Washington Redskins name. You said it's an insult, a slur no matter how benign the present-day intent.


KURTZ: Why insert yourself in the middle of that politically sensitive controversy in which a name that offends many Native Americans?

COSTAS: Yes. It is -- it overlaps politics. But it's a football issue.  Washington was playing Dallas on our air that night. I was asked by NBC -- I didn't just walk in there and go, I'm going to do this. It doesn't work that way. Many conservatives, including Charles Krauthammer; Kathleen Parker, who leans right; Tony Dungy, on our own air; Phil Mushnick, a sportswriter but who often writes about social issues and is perceived as conservative; Tom Cole, who is a Native American Republican Oklahoma -- a long list happened to agree with me on this. And I made a distinction between political correctness, which is generally stupid and gets in the way of a reasonable conversation. I went out of my way in the first half of it to say this ain't political correctness. Objections to names like Chiefs, Braves, Warriors, generally are just political correctness, unless some of the rituals are insulting. 

KURTZ: I'll accept that was a football controversy, but perhaps your most explosive controversy was when you weighed into what you described as the NFL's gun culture. And of course, that happened in the wake of Jovan Belcher of the Kansas City Chiefs killing himself and his girlfriend. And you had the half-time commentary, and again you were accused of injecting politics into halftime. And Fox's Greg Gutfeld said you were a hypocritical buffoon, because you're in New York and you're surrounded by armed guards, and you don't have to worry about safety.

COSTAS: Well, in truth, Greg was accurate if you consider 180 degrees from the truth to be accurate. I have never had a personal bodyguard a single day in my life. There are security people at NFL games that the NFL employs. And there is always massive security at an Olympics, and there is NBC security. I have never had personal security, armed or otherwise, in New York, St. Louis or any place I've lived a single day of my life.

KURTZ: Did you also fumble that commentary? Because -- and you and I talked about this before. You chose to quote the words of columnists rather than saying, I, Bob Costas, believe we need some kind of sensible move towards gun control, and taking on what you described again as a gun culture in the National Football League.

COSTAS: As I said to you then, as I said on Bill O'Reilly's show, as I said with Dan Patrick on the radio, and I went all over the place, Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC -- I could have done a better job. Part of the blame of this is on me. I don't regret taking on the issue, but I wasn't as effective and clear as I think I generally am. I'm a pretty good broadcaster, and generally I get my point across as I intend it.

KURTZ: You've been doing it a while.

COSTAS: Yes. In this case, I didn't have enough time, and I bit off more than I could chew.

There's a big difference between 50 seconds and two minutes, where you can lay things out. In retrospect, and I said this at the time, here is what I wish I had said. If we want to really get some perspective on this, we ought to have a conversation that will ensue now and continue about, A, domestic violence. And are those who play a violent sport more inclined toward it. B, the effects of football. We already are learning more about the long-range effects. But what about in the here and now? Effects on impulse control and aggression, especially when mixed with possibly performance enhancing drugs or alcohol, and then three, athletes and guns?  And I should have said not talking here about anyone's responsible legal exercise of their legitimate Second Amendment rights, but I am talking about a gun culture which pervades sports.

It was that gun culture in the NFL that I was talking about. It was misunderstood as something hostile to the Second Amendment or a gun control speech. I never used those words. But part of that was on me, because the time was too short, and I didn't realize how truly sensitive and volatile the issue was. And I should have taken greater pains to lay the whole thing out.


KURTZ: Still ahead on "#mediabuzz," that self-promotional selfie that Ellen DeGeneres took at the Oscars highlights a new form of advertising.  But first, a brief final word on Costas' red-eyed struggle at the Sochi Olympics.


KURTZ: A few last words here from Bob Costas on the one Olympic development that had everyone buzzing.


KURTZ: For my money, the most riveting development in Sochi was your battle against pink eye. How frustrating was that?

COSTAS: You know, it was frustrating because my colleagues worked so hard.  Some of them worked 18, 20-hour days, and I worked with a lot of them for decades, and they looked forward to this. And in many cases, they propped me up. You know, I get credit for work that is 90 percent the work of a producer. You know? I may contribute something to it.

I'm kind of carrying the ball for them. And for five or six days, I wasn't able to. I hung in as long as I could. If I had a bad back or a stomach ache, I could have just kept on going. But not only could people see it, but it got to where my vision was so blurry and I was so light-sensitive--

KURTZ: But you were like a skier who trains for four years for the big event. And I know you didn't want to be sidelined.

COSTAS: Yes. Although this was my 11th Olympics. If it was my first or second, personally it might have hurt me more. You know, I've done many of them. There will be at least one more that I will do. So it's just kind of an odd chapter in a big story.


KURTZ: That's what everyone has been asking me, how did his eyes look?  I'm happy to report that Bob Costas' eyes look fine, and he has disappeared on vacation.

Coming up, it's called native advertising, and it's designed to fool you.  How Ellen's endlessly tweeted Oscars photo is part of a booming business.


KURTZ: Time now for our "Digital Download." When Ellen DeGeneres used a Samsung phone to take that celebrated selfie at the Oscars, it was an advertising bonanza for the phone company who was a major sponsor of the broadcast.

ASHBURN: But Samsung has plenty of company when it comes to product placement or what is now called native advertising, and lots of major media companies are embracing it for the cash.

KURTZ: It's fascinating because Samsung spent $20 million on real ads for that broadcast. I guess there were 3 million plus retweets of the (inaudible). But then it turns out Samsung officials were there helping train Ellen on how to use that phone, but she really has an iPhone. So this was sort of product placement at its finest.

ASHBURN: Of course, and that's what people want. They want things that are subtle. You have seen it in movies for a long time.


ASHBURN: But I think people don't mind it as long as they know what's happening. I don't think people realized what happened with Samsung. But I think they understood it once Samsung kept coming up, and up, over and over again.

KURTZ: This whole area of native advertising. Which I find Orwellian.  It's actually sponsored content, meaning you are paying to have your story on our website. Now even the New York Times is doing it, and "Vanity Fair" and Buzz Feed.

ASHBURN: Everybody is doing it. The Washington Post, AOL, Huffington Post.

KURTZ: Let's put up on the screen a shot of Mashable, the tech site, and we'll give you an example of what we are talking about.

There we go. So these are all regular stories, and the one that we have circled in red, presented by esurance, Mashable readers show us the field (ph) that gets them going, it's in the style and tone of everything else on that page. 

ASHBURN: Well, and you can look over to the right of that, and you see a clear Samsung ad. You know that right there is an ad. It says it.  Samsung. But you have to look right here where it says presented by esurance. And I think a lot of people would just glance over that. And because it says Mashable in the title, think that it was Mashable content.

KURTZ: Right. And I saw one study that said 99.8 percent of all banner ads, the one like the Samsung here, are ignored. People don't click on them, except sometimes by mistake. I've done that.

ASHBURN: Those are display ads, the banner ads that go across the top.

KURTZ: Right.

ASHBURN: And I have done that, too, or my mouse sort of rolls over it.  But Comscore says that 46 percent of display advertising people don't even click on, so how are news organizations, which hire editors and reporters, going to get additional revenue?

KURTZ: Well, I understand the need the revenue, but let's face it. This is designed to be a little bit deceptive, to make you think that it is a real story you click on. And now media companies, and I understand they need cash and somebody has got to pay for all that recording. They are actually assigning teams to help the Samsungs of the world, to help corporations design stories that will not look like advertising.

ASHBURN: But, Howie, digital advertising does not pay the bills. How do you expect to get news content unless you come up with some sort of unique way? The problem that I have is that it has to be clearly delineated. You have to know. It should have a red box around it, but it doesn't. You have to know that content is not editorial content.

KURTZ: Having a red box would defeat the purpose.

ASHBURN: Correct.

KURTZ: The idea is to make you think that, hey, this is another interesting story. But you seem comfortable with it. I'm still uneasy.

ASHBURN: No, I'm not comfortable with it. But it needs to be actually, you know, highlighted. I understand from working at a major corporation that owned a lot of newspapers, that the money just isn't there anymore.  So how do you pay for the content? You have to figure it out. I'd love to continue the discussion @laurenashburn on Twitter.

KURTZ: Still to come, from smoking crack to cracking jokes, how Rob Ford has become fodder for the likes of Jimmy Kimmel.


KURTZ: Here are a few of your top tweets. On my Bob Costas interview, Rob O'Brien, "Costas is a sportscaster, when did he get a sense of self- importance to lecture us on the social and political ills of the world?"  David Barr, "how would Bob Costas characterize what Rachel Maddow or Chris Matthews do on MSNBC when he talks about creating villains?" And on the coverage of Ukraine, Caroline Shuster (ph) says, "disjointed, mediocre.  Not enough context in relation to last two U.S. administrations. Press is dull or protective of their favorite administration." And then we talked about Sarah Palin at CPAC. Tim Allen III (ph), "Your guests are way off base with Palin. The MSM is responsible and really no longer needed to win an election."

ASHBURN: I think that's absolutely not true. We heard the guests say that, but at CPAC and across the country, people respect Sarah Palin, believe it or not, for the GOP people who are inside the Beltway, for what she stands for.

KURTZ: She's got a passionate following.

Finally, will American television ever get tired of Toronto's hard- drinking, crack-smoking mayor? Rob Ford did the usually funny bits this week with Jimmy Kimmel, but then he got a little tough love.


JIMMY KIMMEL: If you are an alcoholic, which, you know, listen, if you are drinking enough that you can try crack in your 40s and you don't remember it, maybe that's something that you might want to think about, like talking to somebody.

MAYOR ROB FORD, TORONTO: I wasn't elected to be perfect, Jimmy. I was elected to clean up the mess I inherited. That's exactly what I had done.


KURTZ: Nice message, Jimmy. I don't think the mayor will be checking into rehab any time soon. But aren't media people enabling this troubled man by talking about him --

ASHBURN: We are.

KURTZ: By treating him as a celebrity?

ASHBURN: Of course, that's what happens. Look at Marion Barry, when he was the mayor of D.C. and had a crack smoking problem. He became the brunt of jokes non-stop. What's different about this is that this is a guy who is from Canada, and we're spending all of this media time on him, in part, because it's funny.

KURTZ: Yes, we made him the most famous politician in Canadian history. I just think there is a serious side of this story. He seems out of control as a mayor, and yet he's a late-night fixture.

ASHBURN: Here's a guy who is walking into fire hydrants and rambling at some chicken place, and we just keep taking it. You know, I think in small doses, it's okay. It's the desert part of the meal. But he is from Canada. Why are we doing this?

KURTZ: Irresistible. That's it for this edition of "#mediabuzz." I'm Howard Kurtz. Check out our Facebook page and give us a like there. We continue the conversation on Twitter on our new home page, We are back here next Sunday morning, 11:00 Eastern with the latest buzz.

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