The media and the race card; Pulitzer winner on Ed Snowden's leaks

Pundits illuminating or inflaming the situation?


This is a rush transcript from "Media Buzz," April 20, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On the "Buzzmeter" this Sunday, the finger pointing is getting ugly. Conservative commentators accusing Barack Obama and Eric Holder of exploiting race to their advantage.

Liberal commentators accusing the conservatives of race fading.


BRIT HUME, FOX SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But to those two men, race has been both a shield and a sword that they've used effectively to defend themselves and to attack others.

REVEREND AL SHARPTON, ANCHOR, "POLITICS NATION": And today the right wing media is proving the point, one side accused the Attorney General of, quote, playing the race card. Fox News accused him of playing the victim and whining about how he's treated.


KURTZ: Are the media illuminating or inflaming the situation?

A federal confrontation with the law-breaking Nevada rancher becomes a major media story, mainly on Fox. Was it actually big news?

Ed Snowden has a bizarre question and answer session with Vladimir Putin as his NSA leak leads to Pulitzer prizes for two newspapers. Has the fugitive's conduct overshadowed the awards, we'll ask one of the winners "The Washington Post's" Bart Gellman.

Plus, more of our interview with ex-CBS correspondent Sharyl Attkisson as another investigative reporter leaves NBC in frustration. Is this vital work in decline? I'm Howard Kurtz and this is "Media Buzz."

Happy Easter, everyone. It began with Attorney General Eric Holder getting grilled on the Hill and complaining about his treatment at Al Sharpton's annual convention. Now, that brought sharp criticism from pundits on the right who in turn were hammered by pundits on the left. Both sides declined the use of race.


ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: What attorney general has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment?



HOLDER: What president has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment?

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Do you think that the House committee called him in and, say, let's get the black guy today? Is that what they did? Does anybody believe that? Let's get the black guy today.

ED SCHULTZ, AHCHOR, "THE ED SHOW": Well, Brit Hume, as I see it, is race baiting by presenting the position, Goldie, that both Barack Obama and the Attorney General Eric Holder have used races, both a shield and a sword.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: I am sick and tired of your friends you're your party playing this B.S. race card. It is mean. It is evil. It is divisive. And it is slanderous.

BOB BECKEL, CO-HOST, THE FIVE: If everybody who is racist in America, and there's certain percentage out there are, voting against Barack Obama in 2012.


KURTZ: So, are the media making matters worse? Joining us now, Lauren Ashburn, Fox News contributor, the host of Social Buzz on the Fox Website. Jim Pinkerton, Fox News contributor and a contributing editor at "American Conservative Magazine". And Keli Goff, special correspondent for "The Root." So, what explains the media's fixation on racial rhetoric and race cards?

LAUREN ASHBURN, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's like catnip for journalists. Because when you do discuss it, ratings go up. It reflects a divided country. It reflects a divided media, for example, Huffington Post, Holder says he isn't playing the race card. Newsmax, Holder plays the race card. And then Jonathan Chait from "New York" magazine says that race has been the real story of Obama's presidency.

KURTZ: When it comes to this latest incident involving Eric Holder, Jim, who didn't actually mention race, although he brought it up in the context of speaking to a largely African-American audience, are conservative commentators themselves injecting race into the political dialogue by bringing it up in this fashion?

JIM PINKERTON, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think that the way -- the tone that Holder took in front of the National Action Network was clearly playing for sympathy in front of that audience. And I think what I would focus on if I were the media editor, if there were such a thing is why is Al Sharpton, the go-to person for racial discussions, including on MSNBC? This is a man who recent revelations show that he was -- informative to the FBI and ...

KURTZ: Because he was helping to catch bad guys.

PINKERTON: Interestingly enough, the allegation that he was an FBI informant and busted on cocaine wrap goes back to 1988. It was reported in "News Day" back then, and then re-reported in 2002 and then for part of his presidential campaign, now, again, why wasn't he knocked out of the box as a credible authority on anything decades ago is beyond me.

KURTZ: Now, this is a lot broader than Reverend Al. And I'll turn the question around for you, Keli. Are liberal commentators injecting race by denouncing some of these conservative pundits for what they are describing as race baiting. Since like everybody is talking about race.

KELI GOFF, THE ROOT.COM: Yes, everyone is talking about race. No to your first question. Your initial question when we started this segment was, does the media make things worse? The answer is yes. A resounding yes, Howard. Here's how. There are lots of stories having to do with race that should be covered, that are not. Because we end up wasting time, arguing over things like that. Colbert, Paula Deen, what did this person mean? When we have all of this horrible statistics regarding race in terms of racial discrimination in housing and the workplace, all these sort of things that don't get the coverage they should.

KURTZ: Because they're not sexy enough.

GOFF: Because they're not sexy. You took the words out of my mouth. But I will say this, you know, I think that in terms of who's inflaming who here, the reality is that I've done countless stories, Howard, on GOP efforts to try to reach out to black voters, which I'm rooting for. Because I don't think it benefits black voters when one party seems to think they have a lot better vote. However, what's frustrating is that this whole perception that liberal media bias or liberal commentators are the ones who are stoking this (INAUDIBLE) about racism is simply not true. "New York" magazine did a slide show a few years ago about the number of racist comments, or jokes that have been made by Republican elected officials about this president. The real obstacle for the GOP reaching out to black vote is not liberal media bias. It's not Democrats. It's stupid things Republicans say that are racially offensive, that are rarely covered in conservative news outlet.

KURTZ: I assume you mean stupid things that some Republicans say.

GOFF: Definitely some Republicans say.

KURTZ: OK. But I sometimes wonder as I listen to this sort of echo chamber, whether there's the media world which as you say likes to pounce on these stories and the real world, I mean lots of average Americans talking about these questions, what does Eric Holder say? What did the pundits say about what he said?

ASHBURN: I think this is mostly an inside the beltway, a very political story. There have been polls that show that people in the country the fly- over country as we like to say are concerned about jobs, they are concerned about putting food on the table. And yes, maybe there are -- they are discussing racial topics but it is not the primary agenda.

PINKERTON: I agree with that. And I would just add to it what Keli said. If you want to take an issue where I think African-Americans and Republicans could potentially make kind of cause - the school choice and charter schools, Republican politicians like Eric Cantor and Rand Paul have really gone out way out of their way to push and advance the issue of charter schools. And they won major victories, including in New York City, and yet I agree with Lauren, it's much more fun for the media to cover the latest food fight between ...

KURTZ: Much more fun, but is it less responsible?

PINKERTON: And less responsible.

KURTZ: That seems to be the consensus here.

PINKERTON: More fun and less responsible. You Typically is a case for - you know, I can't look at this thing and not think of the Easter candy sweeps (ph) or chips or whatever they're called.

GOFF: Peeps. They are called peeps.

PINKERTON: All right. Thank you, peeps.


PINKERTON: This is the story for - the racial baiting stories are the peeps of the media.

GOFF: And can I say one thing, too, also, echoing this, which is that that's where the issue with school choice, where Republicans and Democrats, including of different races have worked across the aisle, which I think is one of the reasons it gets less coverage.

KURTZ: I'm all ...

GOFF: You know, because it's too Kumbaya that everyone is getting along and trying to do something.

KURTZ: I am all for more coverage of inner city problems, housing and a lot of issues where race discrimination may be a factor or where the problems affect people of all races and ethnicities, but what about the conservative argument that we sometimes hear, that anyone who criticizes Barack Obama, Eric Holder is branded racist.

GOFF: Well, let me say this, Howard. I do think that the word racist is thrown around too casually and too cavalierly. And what I find frustrating about that, is that it takes the power out of it when there are true instances of racism and people like me try to write about them, and the people go, wow, how do we know that that was - but you know, what other word is turned around too much? Race card and race baiting. Colin Powell, one of I think, the greatest men who served our country was called a race baiter because he said some of the criticism of the president is racist. I don't think anyone thinks that Secretary Powell is some crazy liberal radical activist and to say that he was playing the race card because he mentioned race, proves that that term is thrown around too much. The race card and race baiting.

ASHBURN: You have to agree with Bill O'Reilly. I mean he's making sense when we saw on the clip that he said, that people didn't decide to go after the black guy today. They decided to go after the attorney general. And I think that the controversies that we cover, the controversies as we call them, are ginned up, because people don't like what Eric Holder or anybody else who's a person of color has to say. It automatically becomes this race issue in the media which then explodes.


PINKERTON: If Eric Holder wanted to be a hero to Republicans, he could look into Solyndra and Benghazi, for example. They'd love him for that.


PINKERTON: He won't do it for some strange reason.

KURTZ: Well, I'm certainly not saying he shouldn't be criticized, but it does seem like if you go back to your first answer, that it becomes sort of catnip, and everybody pounces on it and then the argument itself fuels cable ratings.

I want to turn to a slightly lighter topic but one that just stunned me with all this political punditry about Chelsea's baby, Chelsea Clinton announcing the other day, with her mother, that she's pregnant. And you have all of these smart analysts saying what is the impact of this on 2016? Are we perhaps overanalyzing, overthinking what ought to be a routine, joyous occasion? The daughter of a woman who yes, who will probably run for president is pregnant with her first child.

ASHBURN: You've been in this town for how many years and you don't have a cynical bone in your body? I think a lot of reporters think maybe this was planned.

KURTZ: Maybe this was planned?


KURTZ: You don't think that Chelsea Clinton and her husband are entitled to try to have a baby whenever they want?


KURTZ: They looked at the political calendar. And by the way, if it was going to be planned, it would be planned for next year when the campaign might actually be under way.

PINKERTON: Well, it could be that the pregnancy was a happy providential event, and then the mainstream media trying to help Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign decided to make this baby the royal baby. As be on a royal - (INAUDIBLE) who was married to a top Democratic official (INAUDIBLE) to say. By contrast, news busters pointed out look, the bush first grandchild got no attention at all to speak of.

GOFF: Can I just say that if we're talking about media conspiracy theories here, about our planning about something, I think the only conspiracy is that people have seen how much coverage the Kate Middleton and Prince William's baby has gotten. And they know that there's - that's a story. That's a friendly "People" magazine story that people love to click on. And that's why news outlets ran with it. And I'm just going to say, Howard, I think ...

PINKERTON: He is the (INAUDIBLE). This is Chelsea. She's not running for anything.

GOFF: I know. But people have been doing the whole royal America's royal baby. Let me say, that was this story overanalyzed and overcovered as you initially asked? Absolutely. Am I pleading guilty? Absolutely.


GOFF: Because I was in the room that day - I was in the room that day when she made the announcement. And I've gone there to cover the event, and then I thought to myself, well, what happens when I leave here not covering the one thing that everyone considers the news.

ASHBURN: You do have to realize that this is Hillary Clinton. She's most likely running for president. It hasn't been good for her. A lot of people say she's too old.

KURTZ: Wait a second. Wait a second.

ASHBURN: And so, there is coverage, Howie.

KURTZ: OK, you know what? You know the guy who ran in 2012, Mitt Romney, he was a grandfather. How much coverage did that get?

ASHBURN: But people didn't say he was too old to run.

KURTZ: Isn't this kind of sexist? Come on.

ASHBURN: Yes. Or, are you baiting me?


ASHBURN: What is that called, sex baiting or sexist baiting?


KURTZ: Grab the bait. Is it ...

ASHBURN: No, of course it's not.

KURTZ: You're wrong.


KURTZ: And we have to get a break. Send me a tweet about our show during this hour. @Howardkurtz. We'll read the best ones at the end of the program.

When we come back, an armed standoff of the Western rancher becomes the stuff of TV drama, or was he turned into a hero?

And later, with Washington - "The Washington Post" reporter who won a Pulitzer thanks to Ed Snowden.


KURTZ: When federal authorities got into a tense confrontation with a Nevada rancher named Cliven Bundy, who had failed for years to pay grazing fees on his land, it was all over Fox News. Bundy even granted an interview to Sean Hannity. And that prompted some criticism from the left.


ANDREA TANTAROS, CO-HOST "THE FIVE": This comes just days after hundreds of people showed their support for the rancher, saying this battle is not about his cattle or unpaid grazing fees. But states' rights and government overreach. It looks like the government is bullying this cattle farmer, Mr. Bundy, who I'm very sympathetic with. He's just trying to make a living.

BECKEL: I don't feel sorry for the guy at all. He's a tax dodge.

SEAN HANNITY, ANCHOR, "SEAN HANNITY SHOW": What would happen if they came in the early morning hours one day to your ranch?

CLIVEN BUNDY, NEVADA RANCHER: Get your Army away from my ranch and our Clark County public land and keep it out. And if they come, we'll deal with them tonight. That's what we have got to do, we'll just deal with you. Whether you guys get enough guts to do it, come on.

ED SCHULTZ, ANCHOR, "THE ED SHOW": Fox News and Sean Hannity should be ashamed of their coverage of this law breaker. I think Sean Hannity is cheerleading for armed conflict with the federal government.


KURTZ: Those are pretty strong words, Jim Pinkerton.

PINKERTON: They are strong words. And I think the mainstream media have done their best to slime Bundy. "The New York Times" keeps calling him a deadbeat, deadbeat deed over and over again. And I think that the larger issues here, the media are ignoring. Like why does the government own all the land in Nevada? You know, where is it written that everybody in Nevada, every farmer and rancher had to be a federal tenant in the first place? How did that happen?

KURTZ: Is this notion that Fox has become a champion for Clive Bundy, fair or unfair?

PINKERTON: I think Sean Hannity clearly has been a champion, no doubt about it. And I think he speaks to - a lot of people who think that something (INAUDIBLE) and when something erupted in the '70s and the '80s in the West and it became an important part of the Republican coalition. Now with fracking and this energy thing, the stakes are a million times higher. The Institute for Energy Research has a study showing that there's 128 trillion, with a t, trillion dollars and oil and natural gas under federal lands. And it's not - anything that's being used because there are exactly restrictions that Bundy is up against.

KURTZ: Right, but that's, of course, not driving the coverage. Keli Goff, in your view, is Fox overplaying this story?

GOFF: This is a new story. This is not a major news story, and it's not to be covered as wide. And I think that's the criticism here. As it's being treated like, you know, it really is -- I can't even look at the war coverage or something that warrants that level of attention. And it doesn't. And I think that that's what is the misfire here.

ASHBURN: It's very similar to what we were talking about at the top of the show, which is race. I mean this shows, this story about the Bundy shows the divisive media culture, right? So, you have Rachel Maddow of MSNBC who is saying, well, no one was shot. And I bet Fox News was really disappointed about that. I mean that's a horrible, horrible, horrible thing to say. And the fact that she would say it just shows that she wants to do the blame game and not really cover the story. Because that's the sound bite that was covered.

KURTZ: But I don't think I can recall another incident where a guy who everybody basically acknowledges is a law breaker who hadn't paid his grazing taxes or fees for 20 years, has been -- even if there was and it appears that there was, a severe federal overreaction has been made into, if not a hero, maybe a sympathetic figure.

PINKERTON: Well, I think part of it has to do with the fact the Bureau of Land Management's attempt to manipulate the Endangered Species Act, to use the desert tortoise ...

KURTZ: But do you think bringing up these other issues.


PINKERTON: I keep bringing them up because the essential point is if you put the guy in a box of - listen, we're going to wipe out your livelihood, and now deal with it, because we are the government, we have got to decide. Yeah, he looks bad. If you say why did the government own the land and why did the government use the Endangered Species Act to crush this guy, those are legitimate questions, too.

KURTZ: Bundy said in one interview that he doesn't recognize the U.S. government. He only recognizes the government of the state of Nevada. Now, if it had been some left winger environmentalist who said that, do you think the coverage would have been different?

GOFF: Of course.


GOFF: Oh, I can deal with it better, Howard. I've read the stories about, you know, plenty of poor men, some of them minorities who have been wrongfully charged with child support they don't owe, whether the kids turned out not to be there, or as the word turns out they were serving their country somewhere, and I don't see those people being treated as national heroes, and those are people who are legitimately getting dealt a bad hand. This is someone who fits the demographic they are trying to reach of people who feel - illegitimate by the government, and who probably feel like this country is no longer the country they wanted to be, which is becoming more urban, it's becoming more racially mixed. And that's who the story is targeting. And it's not a major story. And that's why I think this is really egregious here.

PINKERTON: But there's a major story in the Salt Lake City. "The Salt Lake City Tribune" has a piece about rushing lawmakers getting to talk about why the governments only own the land. That's nothing to do with that at all. It's practically just reality.

KURTZ: Jim Pinkerton. Keli Goff, thanks very much for joining us this Sunday.

Up next, if Ed Snowden broke the law, how did two newspapers win journalism's highest honor based on his leaks? "Washington Post's" Pulitzer winner Bart Gellman, in a moment.



KURTZ: Bart Gellman and "The Washington Post" won a Pulitzer Prize this week reporting on NSA spying as did Glenn Greenwald and "The Guardian." But so many attention focused on their source, Ed Snowden was involved in a bizarre spectacle this week when he called into a Russian TV show and asked a question of Vladimir Putin, giving a little speech about negative reviews of President Obama's massive surveillance program in this country.


EDWARD SNOWDEN, NSA LEAKER: They also found that they unreasonably intrude into the private lives of ordinary citizens, individuals who have never been suspected of any wrongdoing or criminal activity. Does Russia intercept, store or analyze in any way the communications of millions of individuals?


KURTZ: And joining me now from New York is a three-time Pulitzer winner, Bart Gellman. Welcome.

BART GELLMAN, WASHINGTON POST: Thanks for having me.

KURTZ: Let me start with this fundamental question. Any hesitation at the beginning in publishing documents, NSA documents that somebody who broke the law to give them to you?

GELLMAN: We had all kinds of hesitation about what to publish and when in terms of verifying the information, in terms of considering the security impact. The fact that our source was not allowed to give us the material - - am I supposed to pretend I don't know it? One of the most significant consequential stories of my lifetime and I certainly wouldn't hold it back because someone gave it to me without authority. No one has. Scoop after scoop over the last decades has depended on people who broke the rules or broke the law in providing that information to reporters.

KURTZ: It's certainly true, the journalists often deal with disreputable sources. But some, there's been, as you know, some criticism of the Congressman Peter King calling you and Glenn Greenwald Snowden enablers and saying the prizes were disgraced. And even people who don't go that far, question whether the two newspapers, "The Guardian" and "The Washington Post" should have published these secrets on the theory that it hurt the country and hurt the administration's anti-terror efforts.

GELLMAN: A great majority of the commentators, and majority of Americans think that it has strengthened the country to have this debate. The president said so himself. We have two Supreme Court justices who say that the legal challenges raised merit Supreme Court consideration. A federal judge found part of the program unconstitutional. Silicon Valley is pretty much on fire with criticism of what the government is doing and taking active efforts to thwart it. You could go - well, Congress has introduced all sorts of legislation to change the boundaries between secret intelligence and public accountability. And between secret intelligence and the privacy of ordinary Americans. It's hard to say that this debate shouldn't have happened. And in fact, I know very few people who say it shouldn't have.

KURTZ: Now, you're not Snowden's spokesman or his advocate, but when he pulls a stunt like he did with Putin, it's obviously staged a bit of political theater where he criticizes the U.S. program, and I think gave Vladimir Putin a propaganda clue. Does that make you -- does that make you reconsider your opinion of him?

GELLMAN: It's completely irrelevant to the coverage, to the quality of the material that he gave me. And that he gave other journalists, whether - you know, what his conduct is, whether he broke the law. Whether he is helping Putin and I'm not his advocate. But, you know, there have been a lot of pretty loose statements about Putin - sort of about Snowden as a Russian agent or Russian enabler, that have no supporting evidence. What he did on Russian TV is open to debate, but it is most often debated by people who want to deflect attention from the story that he uncovered.

KURTZ: Yeah, some people view this as a kind of a document dump, Snowden hands the secret documents electronically, at least, to you and to Greenwald and you publish them. It is not that simple. Can you talk a little about the challenges of turning this into a story that could be published?

GELLMAN: Sure. I mean first of all, he didn't want, according to him, and I didn't want, to just put it all out there. There are many thousands of documents, nothing like that quantity has been made public. It's hard to understand them. It's hard to understand the significance of them and what I in "The Washington Post" have been looking for, are stories that raise big public policy questions. Is it OK for U.S. government to be sweeping in large quantities of content and data about content of ordinary Americans? Is that a bargain we even knew we were making? After 9/11? The answer to that is no. There was absolutely no evidence on the public record that the government was sweeping in this vast volume of communications that the government was breaking into the private data links of Google and Yahoo!

KURTZ: Let me jump in, Bart ...


KURTZ: Because we're a little short on time. You eventually interviewed Snowden in Moscow for some 14 hours.


KURTZ: But at the beginning, Glenn Greenwald went to Hong Kong where he was initially hiding out to talk to him. You decided not to go. Were you concerned about boundaries between reporters and sources, and perhaps getting too close to Ed Snowden?

GELLMAN: Well, I'm certainly very concerned about boundaries between reporters and sources and I would not have done something that crossed the line. My role is to receive information, to vet it, to check his motivations, to check his accuracy. And not to do something else. I'm not saying anything else happened in Hong Kong. I made decisions for my own reasons, among them that by staying in New York where I live and work I had more time to go through the material and prepare stories for a publication.

KURTZ: Right. All right. Bart Gellman of "The Washington Post," now three times Pulitzer winner, thanks very much for sharing your views today.

GELLMAN: Thanks for having me.

KURTZ: Good to talk to you.

Meanwhile, there's a big spat over another Pulitzer won by the Center for Public Integrity on coal miners being denied black lung benefits. ABC News which teamed up with the center says the hard work of Brian Ross and other reporters should have been recognized, even though TV networks aren't eligible for Pulitzers. The center says that that word by ABC was limited - is limited and mainly geared toward producing a television version of the story. ABC says it was thrown under the bus. The center says it won't be bullied by ABC. It's too bad that the digging by both sides ended in this kind of squabbling.

After the break, Sharyl Attkisson made news here last week when she talked about battling CBS News and the Obama administration. What about the hacking of her computer? That's next.


ERIC SHAWN, FOX NEWS: Live from America's news headquarters. I'm Eric Shawn. New bloodshed in eastern Ukraine. At least three people are dead and others wounded after a shootout at a checkpoint manned by pro-Russian separatists. Ukraine and Russia trading blame for that attack. It's apparently the first armed clash since that deal was reached on Thursday to try and ease tensions in Eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian gunmen have seized government buildings in at least ten cities.

Pope Francis celebrating Easter Sunday in front of an overflowing crowd in St. Peter's Square. More than 150,000 of the faithful turning out to the mass of the holiest day on the Christian calendar. The pope calling for peace in Ukraine and Syria and an end to terrorist attacks against Christians in Nigeria. He also called for more attention to the hungry and the neediest here closer to home.

I'm Eric Shawn. I'll see you at the top of the hour on "Inside America's" news headquarters at 12:00 Eastern time. Now back to "Media Buzz."

KURTZ: We had a tremendous reaction to last week's interview with Sharyl Attkisson on why she felt compelled to leave CBS News and the difficulty she faced reporting on the Obama administration. I also asked Sharyl about the overall decline in investigative reporting. But we begin with a lingering mystery from her tenure at CBS.


KURTZ: There was this mysterious episode where your computers were hacked, never resolved as far as I know. You suspect it was the NSA or some outside organization?

SHARYL ATTKISSON, FORMER CBS CORRESPONDENT: I'm still at the point where I'm letting my lawyer only speak to this, and he's not ready to speak to it yet. But I do think there will be more information about this before the end of the year.

KURTZ: Is it fair to say you're suspicious?

ATTKISSON: Well, fair to say that numerous independent analysts have confirmed what we had said earlier, the unauthorized intrusions by sophisticated entities of both my work, computer and my home Apple computer, which I consider hugely offensive and problemsome and we are -- there are a number of investigations going on right now. And I think they'll be more information to be heard about that. We're making progress.

KURTZ: Let's talk a little bit about the state of investigative reporting. Is it easier now for big news organizations who want stories to go viral online or a piece of videotape to get a lot of clicks? To pursue lighter stop (ph), Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian, popular lists, then to do the hard digging, or you, know, the other part of doing investigative reporting, almost by definition, it is controversial. Somebody's making a charge. Maybe there are sources that can't go on the record. What do you think?

ATTKISSON: If you don't have the stomach as a manager to support and defend investigative and original reporting, it's just a lot of trouble for you. It's nothing more than that. And I can see it from the viewpoint of someone who is not committed to it. That it's much simpler and easier and there are fewer headaches to doing the celebrity stories and the day of air stories and the weather stories that they tend to rely on. So, I kind of get that. But I've always felt like, you know, part of our job is to serve the audience by giving them information, material, that they're not getting elsewhere. That's what the guys, the reporters on the ground that aren't doing the very day of air stuff are supposed to be doing, digging up better information.

KURTZ: Isn't that how news organizations make their name?

ATTKISSON: That's what you'd like to think, yes.

KURTZ: Right.

ATTKISSON: But I do think there's just been this whole turnabout where the lighter stories, the copied stories from other media, the ones that get the clicks, the ones that they see on the Web, you know, on popular websites, those stories are rewarded more when you bring them to the table. They don't draw any negative feedback by and large. And it's just an easy way to cover the news. I'm just not sure that's news. And I'm not sure that's serving the public in the best way.

KURTZ: Do you think in the case of television networks and television stations that have to worry about the FCC, get license renewal, obviously that's a powerful tool. It was abused during the Nixon administration. Under this administration there was a study about bias that was later pulled back about how a lot of intrusive questions I would say about how newsrooms operate. Do you think that acts as a kind of a break on aggressive reporting?

ATTKISSON: Well, it's true to say that corporations that own news divisions have relationships with politicians and advertisers and other corporations.

KURTZ: Was there lobbying for breaks for the company?

ATTKISSON: So, they have these relationships outside of the news division that it's hard to imagine don't in some ways at some times impact what the news decision - the news division decides to do. Whether it's explicitly said or understood, I do think that comes into play and there are reporters, that other networks and then local news, that if they speak frankly, will tell you that they've seen evidence of this. And that when I go to investigative reporting conferences, the last few years, some of them feel like it's been more heavy-handed in the last couple of years than prior years.

KURTZ: How about newsroom cut backs? Investigative reporting almost by definition is time consuming. It's expensive. You might not come up with the story in the end. You have got to deal with the lawyers. And I wonder whether or not that aspect of it -- because I can remember a time when the networks routinely broke big stories that the big newspapers had to chase. And now not so much. So, is there an economic aspect as well?

ATTKISSON: I don't think so. Not in my case. I don't spend a lot of money. I don't have a big staff. I work with one producer. We're extremely productive because we can do short-term things while we are working on long-term projects. So, I don't think it's necessary to spend a lot of money and use a lot of resources to do great investigative journalism. There's some aspect to that in some cases, if all resources are removed, if producers are withheld and cameras aren't assigned, of course, you can't - you can't really do a great story.

KURTZ: Sharyl Attkisson, thanks very much for joining us.

ATTKISSON: Thank you.


KURTZ: We'll pick this up in the next segment. Is investigative reporting at the networks in decline? And is it true the conservatives won't watch Stephen Colbert when he takes over for David Letterman?


KURTZ: Sharyl Attkisson isn't the only high-profile correspondent to quit her network in frustration. Two top investigative reporters Lisa Meyers and Mike Isikoff have left NBC News with Isikoff saying the network is moving in a direction that will give him fewer opportunities. So, is there a trend here? Joining us now from New York is Joe Concha. A columnist for Mediates. So, you heard Sharyl Attkisson. When you look at the manual what network news shows have to offer you, think investigative reporting is becoming more of an afterthought or even perhaps, they think, a liability?

JOE CONCHA, COLUMNIST FOR MEDIAITE.COM: Well, Howie, and Happy Easter by the way. You know I love numbers a lot. And let me give you a couple here. In 2007, Lisa Myers NBC News, Sharyl Attkisson, CBS News logged about 160 minutes of air-time on CBS and NBC. In 2013, that dropped to 43 and 54 minutes respectively. Two third of air time gone. Why is that? Probably because investigative reporting, unfortunately, is no longer a profit center. And what's easier to do, Howie, to take a reporter, producer, technician, hire security if you're going to a dangerous part of the world, satellite uplinks that cost thousands of dollars and maybe come back without a story or put four or five people around the table and give opinions on news that already exist. It's simply a matter of profits because more corporations are in the news business, Howie.

KURTZ: Right. I'm also told it was frustration in getting investigative pieces on NBC particularly more in recent years. But I don't think it can only be explained by the fact that it's more expensive. I have a sense that maybe there -- because it's controversial, as a mentioned in my interview with Attkisson, that there's a skirting away from this. What do you think?

CONCHA: That's true, Howie. If you look at Michael Isikoff's exit interview, so to speak, here's what he said, quote: "it was increasingly clear they were moving in directions, in which there were going to be fewer opportunities for my work." Unquote. So, Michael Isikoff 33-year veteran saw the writing on the wall. His reports simply aren't getting on the air. Maybe because they are not profitable, and he had some big stories that he broke. So, you can't say the eye balls weren't coming. Perhaps there is a headache aspect to this as all. Like we don't want to have to deal with all the backlash we may or may not receive.

KURTZ: Right. Exactly. All right. Let me switch to Stephen Colbert. You've written about him taking over David Letterman's spot next year. And there are some on the right who say that conservatives are just not going to watch this guy on CBS. One of those, Bill O'Reilly.


BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: He's more than a comedian. I mean he's a mouthpiece for the far left.

It would be hard to fathom that 40 percent of Americans who describe themselves as conservative will watch Colbert. And that's a lot of folks to lose from the jump.


KURTZ: Now, wasn't Colbert -- isn't Colbert on Comedy Central playing a conservative bombastic bloviating buffoon?

CONCHA: He is. And when he goes to CBS, though, that character will be retired. So, I don't know what CBS thinks they're buying here. They're getting a Stephen Colbert, Howie, that's hosted zero late-night talk shows during his career. And he's playing from behind as Bill O'Reilly said. I'm not saying that 40 percent of the country is going to tune him out based on principle. But even if he loses ten percent of people that say he's a liberal, I'm not even going to give him a chance. That could be the difference, Howie, between first place and third place in the late night talk show wars, when -- particularly when your opponents are Fallon and Kimmel, two guys who play apolitical, the Jimmy Carson rule of being equal opportunity offenders. It broadens their audience. It broadens their guest list as well. So, Colbert is going to have to move to the center, so to speak, if he wants a bigger audience.

KURTZ: I do have to point out that Dave Letterman doesn't exactly hide his left of center views.

CONCHA: All right, and he's in third place.

KURTZ: NBC is teaming with (INAUDIBLE) news. CNN is teaming up with Twitter to produce 15-second videos, news videos for people to download and so forth. Let's take a look at one from NBC.




KURTZ: I guess I should give you a 15-second answer. Is this the future?

CONCHA: Seven in ten young adults between 18 and 29 get their news on their phones. Digitally. All right? The problem is you're fighting for screen space there. I don't know if you've been to a restaurant with 18 to 29-year-olds, being on the cusp of this demographic, I can probably speak intelligently to this, Howie. Basically they're on their phones, they are texting during dinner, they are getting that important e-mail or God forbid they're taking a phone call. You need 15 seconds there, and that's all you're going to get before that next e-mail or that next text message comes in. This is how you get to them, but you're fighting for a lot of space there on those phones. This is the future, Howie.

KURTZ: Got to go, as you say. I prefer 30 seconds myself.

Joe Concha, thanks. Coming up, the X-rated tweet from U.S. Airways in response to an angry customer. How come nobody has been fired for that?


KURTZ: Time now for our "Digital Download." When a customer complained about the service at U.S. Airways, she got back the most offensive tweet ever sent by a major company or pretty much any company.

ASHBURN: Offensive doesn't even begin to describe it. Not safe for work doesn't begin to describe it. The Twitter posting featured a pornographic picture of a woman with an airplane.

KURTZ: That is a polite description. Now, I'm not buying that this was some mistake. How stupid does US Air think we are?

ASHBURN: Are you kidding? Yes, it was a mistake. Why would they tweet that out? It hurts their brand, and it is just showing that they don't get social media. You can't go that quickly on social media that you allow something like this to be tweeted.

KURTZ: Because some staff member was ticked off at the complaint and thought this would be funny or amusing?

ASHBURN: No. I don't think so. The problem with social media and tweeting is that there's no editing, right? Nobody -- a copy editor isn't standing over your shoulder going, wait, let me double check that. It has to go so quickly, and you want to stay in that conversation that big mistakes like this are made.

KURTZ: Airlines are increasingly using Twitter to deal with customers who get flights delayed or canceled and have to rebook. This is flipping the bird at an angry customer. And I think the person should have been fired. You cannot make a mistake like that.

ASHBURN: Kenneth Cole, lots of other companies have made mistakes like this. You look at the war in Syria, and Kenneth Cole wrote - tweeted -- the company tweeted "boots on the ground? What about heels and loafers?"

KURTZ: That was dumb.

ASHBURN: That was dump. I think that happens all the time as you're trying to stay current.

KURTZ: What about some of these bomb threats?

ASHBURN: This is very troubling. You have a 14-year-old girl who claims to be from al Qaeda, saying that she -- that there is a bomb on board, and the airline tweets right back saying we take these threats very seriously. We're going to the FBI, and we are getting your IP address, and all of a sudden there's this -- she just has a meltdown and says wait, wait, I'm just a 14-year-old girl from, you know, someplace else. I'm not from Afghanistan. She was Dutch. And I didn't do it and please don't hurt me, but they did arrest her.

KURTZ: American Airlines did the right thing. As stupid as that was, I am a little troubled by arresting a 14-year-old girl, but what really got me was the explosion of copycat tweets.

ASHBURN: Right. Some of the copycat tweets were something like, "a bomb goes o-f in three hours," so not exactly a grammar genius there. Ahmed tweeted, there's a bomb on the Paris flight. That is why the airlines have to take this seriously. I'd love to continue this discussion online @laurenashburn, because I think people are split about whether or not you should arrest a 14-year-old for just playing around, but with bombs and planes, you don't just play around.

KURTZ: 14-year-olds need to wise up, this is one area where you don't fool around. Still to come, your best tweets, and a pink slip for the airline expert that CNN made famous.


KURTZ: A few of your top tweets on the two newspapers winning Pulitzers for the NSA leaks from Ed Snowden. Bill Brian, "Stain on the Pulitzer Committee, in my humble opinion. Neither paper distinguished itself. The important story was the only reason for the award." Steve says "not surprised; the surest way to get a Pulitzer is trash America." Mike DeJurio (ph), "Fellow conspirators ought not to be given prizes," and Mike Merck (ph), "after the Vlad and Ed show on Russian TV, I'm thinking even less about "The Guardian's" role in the whole thing."

ASHBURN: You just interviewed Bart Gellman, from the "Washington Post" who just won a Pulitzer, who basically said, look, he's trying to raise public policy questions. He's not in the tank for him, and that it came to put President Obama in the hot seat who had to answer some very serious questions.

KURTZ: And who had to change a policy, but Ed Snowden has become a real Russian pawn.

Talk about click bait. The banner headline in "the Huffington Post" warned "Supreme Court crisis coming this fall?" But it was only a link to a New York magazine opinion piece, saying that if Republicans take control of the Senate and if there's a high court vacancy, the GOP could refuse to confirm an Obama nominee, even though that sounds, quote, implausible. No one was quoted this, just pure speculation, hardly the stuff of screaming headlines.

Now, I'm not going to poke fun at CNN for running a breaking news banner on anniversary of the sinking of the "Titanic," because who knows, maybe some people hadn't heard about it yet -- but a sad development from the land of the perpetually missing airplane. Mitchell Cosado (ph), who spent all those hours showing CNN's Martin Savidge how things are done in a flight simulator has been fired by his Canadian employer. Cosado was cited for being late for work, but his boss at YouFly (ph) was also quoted as saying, "Even though I let him be on TV, he shamed us Canadians and shamed my company with the way he was dressing like he was 15 years old. People were complaining. It wasn't professional at all. If you go to any plane, you don't see them in shorts and sandals. " Wait, wait. Just a minute. He was pushed out over plaid shirts? What a setback for CNN and the world.

ASHBURN: And this is in a city of Toronto, where the mayor is Rob Ford. Doesn't exactly dress like a pro, trips over fire hydrants, and was caught lying about smoking crack.

KURTZ: I wondered how you would fit that in.

ASHBURN: He was fired for wearing short sleeves, he's not really in a plane, he's not really flying, it's a simulator.

KURTZ: Yes, but if the company had a problem with his attire, why didn't they just hey, guy, put on a tie next time as opposed to just canning him?

ASHBURN: You don't know that they didn't do that. It is his company. He's allowed to fire him if he wants to, but I think it's pretty lame.

KURTZ: Apparently it's more dangerous work than actually flying a plan. That's it for this edition of "Media Buzz." I'm Howard Kurtz. Hope you're enjoying this Easter Sunday. Go to our Facebook page and give us a like. We post original video there and on And let us know what you think on Twitter. We're back here next Sunday at 11:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Eastern with the latest buzz.

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