This is a rush transcript from "MediaBuzz," August 10, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
HOWARD KURTZ, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: On the BuzzMeter from Los Angeles this Sunday, President Obama, who vowed to get out of Iraq, ordering limited air strikes against the ISIS militants overrunning the country and killing Christians. Are the media reviving the same old debate with conservative critics demanding more aggressive action and liberal pundits warning about mission creep? The military action coming as Obama shifts his media strategy. Now regularly taking questions from White House reporters, as he did yesterday on the Iraq air strikes and repeatedly in recent weeks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Actually, I wasn't going to take questions, but let me just respond to this particular question because I felt like some of the stories were a little overcranked.
Hold on, guys. Come on now. They are just -- you're not that pent up. I've been giving you questions lately.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Is the strategy working and are the media holding the president accountable? Why has the public utterly lost confidence in the mainstream media? Frank Luntz put that question to a focus group.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANK LUNTZ: Who in this room trusts the media in general? Raise your hands. One, two, three, four, five. Who does not? Six of you. OK. Well, that's pathetic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: We'll ask the veteran pollster why the reputation of the news business has sunk so low. Plus-why the Obama administration rarely puts officials on "Fox News Sunday." do these Sunday programs still have the clout they once did? And is NBC hanging David Gregory out to dry? A conversation with Chris Wallace. I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is "MediaBuzz."
The president cast it as one of his signature achievements, getting the United States out of Iraq. So after launching air strikes against the ISIS terrorists, Obama took questions from reporters yesterday to emphasize the limits of his decision.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you assure the American people that we're not getting dragged into another war in Iraq?
OBAMA: I've been very clear that we're not going to have U.S. combat troops in Iraq again. And we are going to maintain that because we should have learned a lesson from our long and immensely costly incursion in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But has this triggered the same familiar media debate about the U.S. again becoming enmeshed in the bloody strife in Iraq?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL KRISTOL: If we're going to get in, get in big and get in decisively now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly.
KRISTOL: If you go in incrementally in this way you don't have the effect you want to have on ISIS.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Personally, I think that these air strikes are going to lead to no good. In 24 hours we have gone from they are going to be limited air strikes to there is no end date to these air strikes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now to examine the media's coverage in Minneapolis, Lauren Ashburn, Fox News contributor who hosts "Social Buzz" on the Fox website. In New York Amy Holmes, who anchors "The Hot List" at "The Blaze." And here in Los Angeles, Leslie Marshall, radio talk show host and a Fox News contributor. Lauren Ashburn, how have Obama and his team shaped the media narrative here?
LAUREN ASHBURN, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, President Obama basically gave an interview to Thomas Friedman of the "New York Times" where he said, outlining his Iraq policy, other foreign policy, they've chunked that up and put that on the "New York Times" website. Then, meanwhile, the White House aides briefed reporters on background and a lot of what we call in the business tick-tock stories came out, in the "New York Times" and the "Washington Post," and in Politico as well. And so what they're doing right now is they are trying to canvass everybody, get all of the word out. And that is good for the media. That is good for the public. They should have been doing this a long time ago.
KURTZ: Well, there are always the identical details that come out in these background discussions like Joint Chief Chairman Dempsey getting in the limo with Obama. The president was late for his Georgetown dinner with Michelle. And details like that.
ASHBURN: Remarkably similar.
ASHBURN: Imagine how that happens.
KURTZ: Are the media hawks, Amy, who are filling the airwaves now and saying Obama's doing too little and too late, are they in any way out of touch with public opinion that is very wary and a war-weary country of getting further enmeshed once again in the battles in Iraq?
AMY HOLMES, ANCHOR, THE BLAZE TV: Well, you saw that opinion expressed in the "Washington Post" on that editorial page. But Howie, if you'd listen to the clip that you just played of how the question was framed to the president, how do you reassure the American people that we're not getting dragged into another war, I mean, that's a pretty loaded question coming from the point of view of Iraq war weariness, not national security. How do you reassure the people that you will be defeating ISIS decisively? And as Dianne Feinstein warned on Friday, keeping those terrorists from arriving back on American soil. I think the media has also buried the fact, I mentioned Dianne Feinstein, senator from California and chair of the Intelligence Committee, basically giving the president a very hard slap on Friday about his approach to Iraq and ISIS. And you're not seeing the media reporting on that. In fact, Democrats have been harder on this president than the national media.
KURTZ: But Leslie Marshall, why is it a loaded question? This is only one of several that was asked of the president yesterday when he did that presser on the lawn in front of the helicopter. Why is it loaded to say how long is this going to go on, what's the mission here, how do you define success, how do you assure the American people? Because the president keeps bringing that up, that this is not the start of another phase of the Iraq war.
LESLIE MARSHALL, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, I think when the president stands up to speak, as he did yesterday, in addition to Dionne Warwick and her song "Deja Vu" or "Here We Go Again" playing in the background, that clearly is what is on the minds of every American, regardless of what their political ideology is. It also is problematic for the president.
I mean, this is a man who was against Iraq. This is a man who brought the troops home from Iraq. This is a man who talks about the cost and we're not just talking about finances and dollars. We're talking about human lives and the toll that it took. And this is also a man who talks about the fact that Iraq needs to take care of its own security issues with regard to ISIS and that's the end goal. And the American people do need to be assured.
But it's a loaded question because this is an issue that is loaded with emotion. And that's a difficult place for a president to be in because he has to teeter what's best for national security and he also has to reassure the American public, which I think the question was excellent to ask because that's where Americans' minds are at. And that's transparency.
KURTZ: I will say, Amy that the mainstream media, I think, have been slow until the last few days to pick up or give much attention to the threat, the genocidal threat toward Christians in Iraq being carried out by these ISIS terrorists. And the conservative media have been warning about this for some time.
HOLMES: Absolutely. And you know, you can see on websites very graphic images of ISIS, their rampage across Iraq including even beheading children. But this goes all the way back to the 2012 election, when al -- sorry, when President Obama was boasting that Al Qaeda was on the run. The media accepted that uncritically, did not take that claim apart. That was always bogus. Al-Nusra was already through North Africa with attacks including on Benghazi. What we saw was that Al Qaeda was actually splintering and setting up franchises all across the Middle East. And President Obama's claim, his campaign claim, the media as I say accepted uncritically. So while it comes as no surprise to conservatives that we are where we are, apparently the liberal media is just waking up to it.
MARSHALL: Well, I, you know, I don't agree that the liberal media are waking up to it. But I would agree that they're being harder on the president about it. I have to say that, and I have to give credit not just because I'm a contributor here that Fox News has done an excellent job of talking about which could be a religious genocide. And you know, with my background being half Jewish and looking back to the Holocaust, you can't ignore such an issue.
But you know, I don't agree that this is too late by the liberal media or not enough. I think quite frankly it's almost like a dance and they're following the president's lead and of course criticized on both sides for always, they feel delaying when I feel this is a president who just thinks before he reacts.
KURTZ: Lauren, what about the broader media strategy that I mentioned at the top? Has President Obama finally decided he loves the White House press corps?
ASHBURN: I think love is a bit strong and I think even like is a bit strong. I think he's tolerating the press corps. Listen, he made a huge mistake by not giving access to the press corps. And he's finally realized that. And that is what we're seeing right now. And he has had a terrible year. And admitted early on that he had disdain for reporters and didn't want to give interviews. And now that he is I think he's seeing some better headlines than he had been in the past.
HOLMES: What a difference --
KURTZ: He certainly talked to the likes of Ellen DeGeneres and Zach Galifianakis and some of the big anchors, but the B reporters always getting shut out. I'm wondering, Lauren, what are the other reporters being aggressive now that they have this newfound access, the president taking questions about six times in the last three weeks?
ASHBURN: It's actually quite the opposite because now they have the ability knowing that they're going to get more access to the president than just once every three months or six months. They have the ability now to ask him more thoughtful questions. They don't have to ask about the polls and the politics and the scandal of the week. They can really drill down. And that gives Obama the opportunity to answer more substantively than he has been.
KURTZ: Amy, this is a guy who doesn't like being told what to do by the pundits. Go to the border, hold fundraisers, don't play golf. So is he maybe calculating that the likes of, you know, Ed Henry and Jonathan Karl and Major Garrett and Chuck Todd are going to give him a fairer hearing than the more opinionated types?
HOLMES: Well, he doesn't like to do what members of his own party, Henry Cuellar from Texas said, that he should go down to the border. But what a difference a 42 percent approval makes, that the president realizes that he does need to address the public in this way, through the media. But even these pieces on Iraq, as you pointed out, so many of the same details, basically the White House spoon-feeding the story to the media and the media sort of accepting it again uncritically.
KURTZ: You are certainly aware, Amy, you are certainly aware that every administration does background briefings and tries to spoon-feed details to the press. This is not unique to the Barack Obama administration.
HOLMES: No, no. And that's not a criticism of the administration. In fact, it's brilliant. They're getting exactly what they want. It's a criticism of the media that it's taking this uncritically. I mean, Leslie just said that the media is in a dance with the president and the president is leading. That's not the posture or position that the national mainstream media is supposed to be in. They're supposed to be looking at the president critically.
ASHBURN: But Amy, I think we're getting a lot more information, Amy, out of the White House than we have been in the past. And if the president is leading the dance, it's about time. He'd been following before. And reporters were harassing him and trying to get any kind of information --
HOLMES: Hardly -- I'd hardly call the media's treatment of President Obama harassment.
ASHBURN: Now we have -- as a substantial -- we have substantial points of view and questions that happen. I think yes, they were. Jonathan Karl went at the president. Ed Henry has gone --
HOLMES: He's a reporter. That's his job.
ASHBURN: Exactly. That's what I'm saying. That's exactly right.
HOLMES: But I wouldn't say they're harassing the president.
KURTZ: Certainly there have been loud complaints about the lack of access. Let me get Leslie in, in our final half minute. Your side seems to be depressed or something. Maureen Dowd of the "New York times" writing the other day that Obama is whining, he's slacking off, he's coasting into irrelevance.
MARSHALL: Well, I have to tell you, and I wanted to jump in on not the cat fight, but look, historically presidents have had a love-hate relationship with the media. George Washington canceled, what, over a dozen subscriptions to newspapers when he didn't like what they said. And I honestly, as a Democrat, I am -- about time, Mr. President. About time. Use the media. Use the media. Because presidents have shown historically they can also use it very successfully. But I also have to say when you have a president with a low approval rating, when you have a midterm election and you have a Senate that could be flipped to Republican charge, Democrats, what are you doing? You need to report the facts, but you need to back your guy.
KURTZ: Let me get a break here. Send me a tweet about our show during this hour. It's @howardkurtz. And as you know, we read the best messages at the end of each program. When we come back, a "New York times" investigation torpedoes a Democratic senator's career. Plus Frank Luntz asks ordinary Americans why they don't trust the media.
KURTZ: "The New York Times" story on Montana's Democratic Senator John Walsh upended his campaign 19 days ago. The paper said the Iraq war veteran had plagiarized a quarter of his thesis at the Army War College. Walsh denied ripping off the work of other scholars, then told the AP that maybe he had, but was being treated at the time for post-traumatic stress disorder, then clarified to Yahoo! what his doctor had said.
CHRIS MOODY, YAHOO! NEWS POLITICAL REPORTER: He didn't he make that diagnosis of PTSD specifically?
SEN. JOHN WALSH, D-MONTANA: He said there were symptoms of PTSD. In no way did any of that have anything to do with what I did at the Army War College.
KURTZ: And on Thursday, Walsh ended his campaign for a full Senate term. So Amy Holmes, have you gotten over your shock and surprise that a left- leaning newspaper just knocked a Democrat out of office?
HOLMES: Ironic, since the -- him dropping out of the race has been as buried as his political career. Look, if this were a Republican, these would be screaming headlines and the entire Republican Party would be complicit in the senator's plagiarism. But you know what, Howie? I think that this could actually be a --
KURTZ: Wait, wait. I'm not going to let you blame the rest of the media. "The New York Times" did a detailed investigation. Does it deserve credit for taking on this Democratic senator?
HOLMES: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. But the big news, which is that he's dropped out of the race, which could also affect the partisan leadership of the United States Senate, really hasn't been covered. It's been buried. But I was going to say that I think this could be a feel-good story, Howie, because we know that another politician who dropped out of a political race for plagiarizing is now vice president of the United States. Where are those stories?
KURTZ: Okay. Well, the same week, Leslie Marshall, that the "Times" published this investigation, detailed investigation of Senator John Walsh, it also looked at New York's Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo undermining an ethics commission he created and abolished. What does this tell you about "The New York Times" approach to journalism?
MARSHALL: I think they're doing exactly what I learned in college journalism should do, which is report the facts. I mean, when you looked at -- when you look at the information and you look at the facts, in both of these cases it's indisputable. Even though I am a liberal, I'm a Democrat, I want the truth. I want the truth even if it's going to have somebody pull out of the race. And quite frankly, I don't feel it's buried, but I will say that there has been more about plagiarism, for example, than who's dropping out and how it affects the component of the Senate.
KURTZ: And Lauren, what does this tell us about the way reporters and publications that might lean one way or the other approach their jobs?
ASHBURN: Hey, good stories cross partisan lines. And this was a juicy one. Jonathan Martin gets some kudos for digging up information that no one else had. And it does, as Leslie said, go to what my profs said in journalism 101. If you have a V-8 moment, oh, my gosh, then it's a great story, and I think people respect that either way.
KURTZ: Right. I think it was a good example of taking on people of any party, and you know, "The New York Times" comes in for criticism of leaning left, and that's absolutely fair. I think we should recognize the importance of this story. Leslie Marshall here in Los Angeles. Amy Holmes in New York. Thanks for joining us this Sunday. When we come back, Chris Wallace on the clout of Sunday morning talk shows and whether the broadcast networks have a liberal bias. And later, how big-time publications fool you by blurring the difference between news and advertising.
KURTZ: Chris Wallace does battle every Sunday with politicians who want to avoid answering questions. And in the ratings war against "Meet the Press," "Face the Nation," "This Week," and "State of the Union." And sometimes things get a little heated.
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: If it's not political, why have you --
SEN. MARCO RUBIO, F-FLA.: Let me explain --
WALLACE: If I may, sir, if it's not political why have you --
RUBIO: That's not accurate, Chris.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president never said you were going to have unlimited choice of any doctor in the country you want to go to.
WALLACE: Wait, no. He asked a question. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. Did he not say that, sir?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He didn't say you can have unlimited choice.
WALLACE: It's a simple yes or no question. Did he say if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. But look, if you want to pay more for an insurance company that covers your doctor, you can do that.
KURTZ: I sat down with the host of "Fox News Sunday" back in Washington.
KURTZ: Chris Wallace, welcome.
WALLACE: Good to be here.
KURTZ: It's no secret that Fox is often at odds with the Obama administration. Does that make it harder for you to book top guests?
WALLACE: Sure. Absolutely. This year, in 2014, we have had so far two guests from the Obama administration. We had John Kerry just recently. And not entirely pleasantly, because he, you know, did the --
KURTZ: I'm going to come back to that.
WALLACE: All right. And then we had Dan Pfeiffer in January. And no, it does make it harder. They don't have a war on Fox. They're not boycotting Fox. But they will put people on other shows and not put them on Fox.
KURTZ: And so what is the message there?
WALLACE: Well, the message obviously is they're not pleased with the coverage they get at Fox. I will say as just a practical matter, it was a bigger deal in the first couple years of the Obama administration, because they were making big news. Their guests were big draws. That's not -- neither is quite as true now. So while I don't mean to say we wouldn't like to have the secretary of state on, we can live without him.
KURTZ: Well, last time you had the secretary of state on, you played a little clip from between tapings. John Kerry was miked. He made some sarcastic comments about Israel. What was the administration's reaction?
WALLACE: Oh, they were unhappy. By the time the show ended, and I came back to my office, I had an unpleasant note from Kerry's press secretary. I had an unpleasant note from the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest. My reaction is, look, here is the secretary of state in a studio, cameras on, microphone on, didn't say this is off the record, didn't have anybody cut the microphone off, and making comments that were somewhat at variance with what they were talking about at the time, which is this tremendous support for Israel. In fact, he was saying "hell of a pinpoint operation." My question is not why we did it. It's why none of our competitors did it.
KURTZ: What frustrates you the most about interviewing congressmen and administration officials when perhaps they're not being fully responsive to your questions?
WALLACE: Well, I would say over time, and this was always true, but I would say they've gotten very good at talking points. They've gotten very good at their script. They come in, they have a series of things they want to say. And they're going to say them. One of the advantages, one of the joys of doing a Sunday talk show is you do have time. It's amazing how quickly even 10 or 15 minutes --
KURTZ: But you can ask a second question and a third follow-up --
WALLACE: And interrupt just like you --
KURTZ: I was trying do that.
WALLACE: That's exactly right. And oftentimes the first question is just kind of almost a throwaway, and you've got to listen to their answer and you've got to pick up on it and pick it apart. And so the follow-up and the follow-up to the follow-up. And even sometimes when you don't break through, you've made it very clear to the audience he's not going to answer the question.
KURTZ: Are Sunday shows less important than they used to be in the age of a million cable programs and Twitter and Facebook and blogs?
WALLACE: You know, I know that's the kind of going narrative. And maybe on the margins, it's true. But the fact is millions of people tune in to watch the Sunday shows. Between the original play on the network and the replay on the channel, we probably get 4 to 5 million people that are tuning in on Sunday to watch our interviews, and we either finish first or second almost every week in terms of total audience. And that's a lot of people. And it's a self-selecting audience. I mean, it's an audience of opinion makers, opinion shapers, people who are deeply interested in the news.
KURTZ: That's why the shows are important and have relevance, because of the rather elite audience.
WALLACE: Exactly. And you look at the Monday morning papers. Not to say that that is our goal. I don't think it is.
KURTZ: It's one gauge.
WALLACE: But it does really indicate the degree to which the Sunday shows can still set the agenda for the coming week.
KURTZ: You were the moderator a couple decades ago of "Meet the Press." There's a new round of rumors about David Gregory perhaps on his way out after the mid-terms. Not so aggressively denied by NBC. How do you think Gregory's doing, and how do you think NBC is treating him?
WALLACE: I don't have much of a view of the first, because frankly I don't have time to watch him. I have a very strong view of the second, which is I think it's lousy. You know, we all are in this business. We all understand we don't have a right to these jobs. It's a tremendous privilege. On the other hand, I think we do have a right to be treated properly and not shabbily. And if you're going to get rid of David Gregory, and I don't know that they are --
KURTZ: I don't know either.
WALLACE: I don't have inside information. Then they ought to just do it. But this kind of, you know.
KURTZ: Twisting in the wind.
WALLACE: Twisting in the wind. Exactly. To use a cliche. It's unseemly. And I think they either ought to say he's our guy, we're sticking by him, or they ought to get rid of him, but they shouldn't put him in this limbo.
KURTZ: When you were at ABC and when you were at NBC, did you see signs of liberal bias in the news divisions?
WALLACE: You know, it's interesting. I don't know that I was aware of it, because to a certain degree it was sort of in the bloodstream and I was part of the bloodstream.
KURTZ: The culture you grew up in.
WALLACE: Right. But since coming to Fox -- and I don't think it's, you know, that -- I think that you see things from the outside that you don't see when you're on the inside. And it's not like the head of NBC and ABC and CBS are all ganging up together and meeting at 4:00 at the 21 Club and deciding, what's the lead going to be that day? But when you see the coverage of certain things -- gay marriage, for instance. I think gay marriage is portrayed as a civil right, and that to the degree that gays have more rights, that's a good thing. And to the degree that they have less rights, it's a bad thing. And the fact is there is a legitimate other side. I don't think you can simply say it's a cause for celebration. I have my own views of it. You have your own views. But there are a lot of very - people who, you know, of good faith and good standards who feel the other way. And I think that's an example of something that there's very much a liberal bias on.
KURTZ: And their views of course should be reflected in the coverage as well. Since your dad was the late and legendary Mike Wallace, who I had the privilege of interviewing a number of times, when you were growing up, did you ever think you wanted to do something other than be in TV?
WALLACE: Yeah. I thought at one point of going to law school and being a lawyer. Which isn't a totally different profession. But not being on TV. I thought about actually being in government service. Having said that, I can remember as a kid that I used to hold my hand up like this and talk into the mirror and be Chris Wallace at the White House or something like that. So it was in the DNA.
KURTZ: We're happy that you have an actual microphone now to do that. Chris Wallace, thanks very much for joining us.
WALLACE: My pleasure.
KURTZ: Up next here in LA, Frank Luntz and a focus group on the media. How did our credibility sink so low? And later, why do news executives keep defending ads that are deliberately designed to look like their brand of journalism?
KURTZ: Why has public confidence in the media sunk so low? Frank Luntz has been measuring public opinion and helping elect Republican candidates for a long time. During a recent focus group at my request, he turned the questioning from politics to the news business. Take a look.
FRANK LUNTZ: Should we have faith in what we see and what we read?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. They're very biased. They choose what they're going to cover. And the mainstream media doesn't cover the things that shows the president and the Democrats in a bad light, like Benghazi, the IRS, and everything else. Those things aren't even covered. And then when Fox covers it, oh, well, it's Fox so we can't listen to them. That's why everyone hates Fox who's not on their side, because Fox shows the truth and shows both sides.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a balance. We have "The New York Times" and we have Fox. We have the "Washington Post" and we have the "L.A. Times." There is left and right media outlets. But I also think there's a balance.
KURTZ: And Frank Luntz joins me now here in LA. We got killed in that focus group. What happened to the media's reputation for at least trying to do what's right?
LUNTZ: It's happening everywhere. And the problem is partially with the consumers themselves. We don't watch news to inform us anymore. We watch news to affirm us. And so I asked people what news network do you watch? And I can guess with about 90 percent accuracy whether they voted for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. And that's not good. We need a system. We need a situation where people are willing to be challenged, where their beliefs are willing to be challenged. Because the problem, Howie, is that now, we don't even agree on the same facts. We don't even agree on the same situations.
KURTZ: You are saying that the audience has gotten more partisan and has more partisan expectations of the news outlets they watch, read, or download.
LUNTZ: But it's affecting everybody.
KURTZ: Okay. But aren't people like you in part responsible for that? You came up with words and phrases to help elect Republicans and to make Democrats -- put them on the defensive. So are you part of the problem?
LUNTZ: Well, it's a simple question. Is the death tax an accurate description of being taxed when you die? Is it exploring for energy, what oil companies do? Is it opportunity in education in terms of vouchers for school choice? If you believe that the words I'm using aren't accurate, then you've got a legitimate point.
I believe that these are accurate descriptions. That's why the American people seem to support it.
Let's go back to the news media. It is at an all-time low. Television, newspapers, and the web. The last 40 years, we've never seen numbers like this. But so is public schools. So is our health care system. So is our trust in cops. Everything now has reached an all-time low. And my fear is we have no confidence in the institutions that run us --
KURTZ: I would agree.
LUNTZ: It's going to hurt us as a society.
KURTZ: But there are a lot of self-inflicted wounds ranging from sensationalism to in part what people see as excessive partisanship to scandals and fabrication. All of that. You also asked a question in one of these focus groups about the view of Fox News. Let's take a look at that.
LUNTZ: Who here trusts Fox? Who does not trust Fox?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I really believe -- I know no one wants to hear this. Especially here. That Fox is just an extension of the Republican Party.
LUNTZ: I wanted to do that. And I'm glad you showed it, because this network is willing to challenge itself. I've heard you challenge this network. It's important that we are reflective, that we think about what we say and what we do.
KURTZ: Would you or could you have asked that question when you were a contributor at MSNBC?
LUNTZ: I'm glad you asked that, because the answer is no. And in fact, I used to tell a joke that got me in all sorts of trouble. MSNBC, the only news network with more letters in its name than viewers. My God. I can't begin to tell you what happened to me after that.
KURTZ: That's a little ungenerous. Let me play one more clip from you on this question. Fox comes up, MSNBC comes up. And let's show the viewers that bit of sound.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When a major story breaks out, I go to Fox, then I go to MSNBC. I get disgusted. Go to CNN. And then go back to Fox because I know that's the truth.
KURTZ: So you have some Fox fans -- in other words, you have people who think everything Fox says is right and everyone else is wrong. And then you have people who -- a woman said she thinks Fox is just a mouthpiece for the GOP.
LUNTZ: I was given one specific instruction when I joined this network, and that was that I had to have focus groups that look like America. African-Americans, Latinos, young, old, partisanship. That's why on Fox, you let people who don't like Fox News. And the other thing which I'll give credit to, in 2008, when I did focus groups with Obama and McCain, all three of my sessions during the debates had Obama winning, and Fox still devoted six, seven, eight minutes to those focus groups. They have nothing to fear. And I appreciate that about this network.
KURTZ: Half a minute before we go to break. How much of the dramatic decline in trust in news organizations do you think is self-inflicted?
LUNTZ: We expect the most. We have too high expectations. We're only human beings. And there's one or two people like you who hold the media accountable. The problem is there isn't enough accountability. There's not enough willingness to admit when you get it wrong. And in the end, there's not enough focus on covering the entire story, not just one side or another. So I give it significant responsibility. But in the end, it's our fault too, as viewers.
KURTZ: Admitting when you get it wrong, and we all do make mistakes. Very important point. In a moment Frank Luntz on why he and other pollsters keep blowing their predictions when it comes to campaigns. And later, John Oliver accuses the media of practicing deception.
KURTZ: When Eric Cantor stunned the media and political world by losing his Virginia primary in June, Frank Luntz didn't make excuses the next morning.
LUNTZ: Honestly, and I'm one of them, we Republican pollsters suck. We have no ability to be able to analyze the electorate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: You included yourself in that indictment.
LUNTZ: Because I've made mistakes too. I've never made this mistake. I've never made a mistake of 40 points. The fact is his pollsters should not be working in politics. His pollsters should not be hired by anyone. You can't get it wrong. Howie, you can throw darts at a dartboard and come closer to the result than he did.
KURTZ: Should you have mentioned in that CBS interview that you've done some work for Eric Cantor?
LUNTZ: People raised that as an issue. In this case, evaluating the polling for the race, did not seem to me to be appropriate -- or did not seem to require that mention. But I'm an open book. I get introduced as a Republican. But I'm the one guy --
KURTZ: I think you should have because it just would have been leveling with the audience, hey, this is not some stranger.
LUNTZ: But the difference is, I'm the one guy who will challenge my own party. I'm the one guy who will say that Republicans aren't succeeding here. And I've seen that used by Democrats. MSNBC will often take my clips criticizing Republicans as saying you see, here's proof.
KURTZ: In terms of -- let's come back to this question of forecasting. 2012 election, where were you on whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney would win?
LUNTZ: It was the single toughest decision of my life. I had specifically asked Bill Maher don't ask the question when I'm on his show. This is three weeks before. This is after the first two debates. Don't ask who's going to win the election. The first thing he does is, Frank, you're the Nostradamus of pollsters, who's going to win? And for one -- it seemed like forever. I said, to their approval, Barack Obama. Everybody applauded in the audience except for two people.
KURTZ: Well, a liberal audience. And then what happened?
LUNTZ: I took a lot of crap. And I'm cleaning up my language here. I took a lot of crap on my iPhone, in relationships. And it was even a challenge at Fox, because every Fox prognosticator, many of them aren't on the network anymore, were all giving Mitt Romney the win. It just wasn't there. And what we have to do is we have to have the guts and the courage to stand up to our bosses and say, if it's not there, the numbers aren't there, tell the truth. Look the audience straight in the eye and say I'm sorry, you're not going to like the conclusion, but we have to tell you the truth.
KURTZ: I got about half a minute. You gave an interview to "The Atlantic" in which you talked about being very depressed with politics after the 2012 election. To the point where you felt like it was hard to go to work in the morning?
LUNTZ: I shouldn't have done the interview. And I'm going to be candid with you. After what I see globally right now, I feel almost as bad. Look, these guys in Washington, they don't talk to each other. They don't negotiate with each other. We're falling apart globally. Our economy's not getting -- is not improving here domestically. It's a mess. And everyone's angry at each other, and we can't have this civil conversation. It frightens me about the future of America.
KURTZ: It is a mess.
LUNTZ: It is tough to (inaudible).
KURTZ: On that note of agreement, it is a mess. Frank Luntz, thank you very much for stopping by here in LA. After the break, John Oliver says major news outlets are deceptively making corporate ads look like real news. And he's right. Our digital download is next.
KURTZ: Time now for our "Digital Download." It's called native advertising. Or by the slightly more candid name, sponsored content, and it's designed to fool you. Lots of big news organizations posting online ads by corporations that are meant to look and to sound like the journalism on the rest of the site. A subject that John Oliver tackled this week on his HBO show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN OLIVER, COMEDIAN: (inaudible) has created masterpieces of native advertising, such as ten lifechanging ways to make your day more efficient, sponsored by GE, and nine ways cleaning has become smarter, sponsored by Swiffer, and 11 sea creatures who deserve to die, sponsored by BP. Now, that last one is a joke, but is not significantly different from the previous two.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But it's not just news sites like Buzz Feed. Time Inc also features native advertising, as does the "New York Times" and the Atlantic.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OLIVER: The Atlantic published some native advertising for the Church of Scientology.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: The ad is the kind you've probably seen. It's called sponsored content. It is formatted to look like an actual article on their website, and the article lavishly praised Scientology's leader, David Miscavige.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ASHBURN: This is the holy grail, Howie, for advertisers, and I'm all for them making money. I think that's what funds journalism, right, but I have a problem with labeling. These things need to be very clearly labeled, and in a lot of cases they're not.
KURTZ: This is a scam, the whole idea of native advertising is to make the reader click on something thinking this is an interesting piece of journalism, and it turns out it's an ad. If they label it too clearly, and a few sites do label it clearly, then the purpose is defeated. I know these sites have to make money, but come on.
ASHBURN: It is defeated, but what advertisers want right now is to be in content. Because nobody is clicking on banner ads anymore. I mean, give me a break. There was a study that was done by Edelman PR and the IAB, the Interactive Bureau Agency for Advertising. What they said is 60 percent of the people who looked at this stuff didn't know that it wasn't done by journalists.
KURTZ: Yeah, and the instinct is to say, come on, how dumb are these people. But the fact is, if you're clicking and you're surfing and you're doing it quickly, it's not always clear what it is.
ASHBURN: Hey, back up. If the label is really small, the people aren't dumb, they just can't see it.
KURTZ: If the label is really big, then nobody's going to click on it, that is the problem. And it - go ahead.
ASHBURN: What I found interesting about this was that one ad exec actually said, hey, John Oliver's takedown was really cool, because that means that native advertising as a form of making money is here to stay. So John Oliver actually did a favor to native advertising by taking it down. It didn't have the effect that he wanted.
KURTZ: I would think he was being so critical that everybody would rise up and be outraged about this. But you know, it's not just--
ASHBURN: Only dumb people, Howie, right?
KURTZ: All these reputable organizations are running sponsored content or native advertising. They have corporate teams that help the advertisers craft these things, so they look like content that should go in Time Inc or the Atlantic. It just obliterates what we used to think of as the wall between news and advertising.
ASHBURN: Church and state, right. I understand that. But how else are they going to make money? You can't make money on the web. The ad rates are not as high as they were for the newspaper industry. And frankly, people's salaries need to be paid or they're going to be cut.
KURTZ: On that point, I agree with you, we have to find a way to pay for journalism online. Still to come, your best tweets, Rupert Murdoch gives up on buying Time Warner, and the MSNBC correspondent who still seems a little unsure where the president was born.
KURTZ: Here are your tweets on the coverage of President Obama's air strikes in Iraq. Cleveland Pierce Jr., "so many negative opinions from nonmilitary people. The Fox network will change its attitude when there is a Republican president." Larry Kelly, "coverage has a partisan spin as usual, but both sides set on gentle cycle." Michael Langwiser, "For the limited number of strikes, way too much coverage, too much speculation, not enough facts."
As you probably know, Rupert Murdoch has dropped his bid to buy Time Warner. As much as he coveted the company's assets, Murdoch was put off by a strong and hostile response from the Time Warner board, and 21st Century Fox investors weren't wild about the offer, driving down its stock price.
In our press picks, this media fail, President Obama convened a summit of African leaders this week, and that prompted this trenchant analysis from NBC's Chris Jansing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS JANSING, NBC: Yeah, the fact that he's from Kenya and the fact that when he was elected, there were expectations on the African continent that he would do great things for them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Jansing apologized 10 minutes later, saying she had meant to refer to Obama's father. Lauren.
ASHBURN: I was just going to say that mistakes happen in live television like this, and I bet she's her worst critic, and she's beating herself up over making this kind of mistake. But the good thing is, in this news cycle that goes faster than you can blink, it's long forgotten, except for here, and now we'll just move on.
KURTZ: We all make mistakes, we will move on. That's it for this edition of "MediaBuzz" from Los Angeles. I'm Howard Kurtz. Check out our Facebook page, give us a like, we post a lot of original content here. We're back here next Sunday morning, 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Eastern, much earlier here in the West, with the latest buzz.
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