Covering a war president; Pentagon video floods TV

Many pundits muting their criticism


This is a rush transcript from "Media Buzz," September 28, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On the BuzzMeter this Sunday, as President Obama expands the war on ISIS to Syria, the media debate turns more serious, the criticism more muted. On the right as well as the left.


JONAH GOLDBERG, NATIONAL REVIEW: I agree entirely that the strike was politically and diplomatically valuable and important and for all the reasons that have been said. Militarily, I think this was basically a light show.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: Will this new line (ph) sell with the anti-war forces here in America? Are people like me going to buy it?


KURTZ: Let us know when you decide, Chris. So are more pundits now backing the commander in chief in this war on terror? And will journalists continue to ask tough questions about whether the administration's military strategy can succeed?

The White House insists on editing some pool reports that correspondents distribute to each other after presidential events. Is that over the line?

Lois Lerner finally breaks her silence, but still refuses to answer questions about the IRS scandal. Was her interview with Politico revealing, or did it just create sympathy for a woman who has taken the Fifth?

Plus, Jon Stewart kills some footage after ordinary folks interviewed on the Washington Redskins name controversy complained that they were sandbagged.


JON STEWART, DAILY SHOW: We learned later that some of the individuals who participated in the piece, they didn't enjoy the experience.


KURTZ: We'll tell you why "The Daily Show" was forced to put conscience over comedy. I'm Howard Kurtz and this is "MediaBuzz."

The pundits have been hammering President Obama on foreign policy for years. But since the bombs started dropping over Syria, there's been an unmistakable change, even among conservatives.


OBAMA: Last night on my orders, American armed forces began strikes against ISIL targets in Syria.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need, Republicans and Democrats need to come together and support our commander in chief.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's the toughest language that we've heard yet from President Obama on radical Islam I think to date. So I was very happy to see it.


KURTZ: Even many of those criticizing the president, like former Bush White House spokesperson Dana Perino, are supporting his military moves.


DANA PERINO, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So the president basically does the same thing he could have done two years ago, but meanwhile, 200,000.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree with you on that.

PERINO: I'm all for these strikes. Go for it, bomb the heck out of them.


KURTZ: And the anti-war skeptics at MSNBC, they held their tongues or focused on side issues.


ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: You can make the legal case that the president's legal authority to attack ISIS under this law is shaky at best.


KURTZ: Joining us now to examine the coverage, Rich Lowry, editor of National Review. Joe Trippi, long-time Democratic strategist. Both are Fox News contributors. And Christina Bellantoni, editor in chief of Roll Call. Rich Lowry, are most conservative commentators kind of muting their criticism because at bottom, they like what President Obama did in unleashing these air strikes?

RICH LOWRY, NATIONAL REVIEW: Yes. This is a bipartisan policy. So of course the debate over it is going to have a different tone and character than more partisan, ideological policies. And when President Obama sounds like President Bush, you'll have conservatives nodding their heads.

KURTZ: Is there still some knee-jerk criticism on the right, would you say?

LOWRY: I think there is legitimate criticism. I think the media has actually done a good job of airing this, just how complex Iraq and Syria are on the ground and how unlikely an air-only strategy is to succeed.

KURTZ: All right, so you think they've done a good job. So we won't be hearing from you the rest of the segment.

LOWRY: It pains me to say it, Howie.

KURTZ: On your side, even the anti-war people, some of the folks at MSNBC, they are barely criticizing the president for launching all these air strikes. Given what they did under George W. Bush, how is that not hypocrisy?

JOE TRIPPI, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I don't think that's true, actually. I think the initial response always is for everybody to pool around the president. That's just the way it is when military action like this gets into frame, that's what happens.

How long is this going to last? That's a different story. But I think the press is -- there haven't been that many adults in Washington. There's basically been a lot of playing politics with these issues. You can't do that anymore, not when there are troops not on the ground, necessarily, but at risk. And so I think you are seeing -- the media is just covering what's happened. They are covering it's not politics right now to take a stand on this. Even in these tough Senate races, you don't see either side getting out there and either hammering the president or strongly supporting, because they don't want that to happen.


KURTZ: I want to come back to that. Christina Bellantoni, Joe set me up. Is Barack Obama, who has been hammered so long for leading from behind, now being treated like a war president?

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI, ROLL CALL EDITOR IN CHIEF: In some ways. One thing I'm taking a look at is what happens with the liberal media. When you talk to actual liberal voters and a lot of Democrats who were already sort of frustrated with the president, they're now unhappy that he's sounding like George W. Bush. When you have a network like MSNBC, that has that large of an audience feeling that way, are they going to have to take a shift and go after him when he's using terms like evil and you know wanting to destroy them?

KURTZ: Why are we not hearing that now? Is it because there is a sort of an instinct among these liberal commentators to support the Democratic president?

BELLANTONI: It's also still very early, and we're in the middle of midterm elections. You are 37 days away from this, and so obviously partisan networks do have a little bit of an aside there. And you are also hearing the difference in what voters are saying on the ground. If you start hearing, seeing protests or seeing those visuals of people going after Obama, the media is going to take a shift.

LOWRY: It's in large part partisan hypocrisy. Not entirely, but in a large part, the anti-war moment during the Iraq War was an anti-Bush movement. So you remove Bush from the equation, and all the energy goes out of it. One thing the media should focus on more is the statement the president has made repeatedly, that Al Qaeda is decimated, it's on the verge of defeat, it's on the run. And now we've seen country after country, Al Qaeda is on the rise. This should be treated just like President Bush's mission accomplished statement and get all the derision, we should be reminded of it constantly, and we're not.

BELLANTONI: I think the media should be looking at the costs. You just passed an emergency supplemental to fund this right now. And they're going to have to continue to spend money. Don't forget, we're operating under sequestration with all these defense cuts. That's where the media should be looking at.


TRIPPI: I think the biggest reason there's muted criticism from all sides is it's working, and it's hard to -- I know it's anathema, you can't say that, but hey, the first screaming was about the people on Mount Sinjar. They're fine. They're not up there anymore. Then it was Irbil was going to fall because the president is weak and he's not doing anything. Guess what? Irbil is standing. Then it was he'll never get Arabs to rally and do anything against the Sunni extremists. He did. So that is starting to mute this. And the coverage of that, that it's the coverage of that that I think and the response -- if you're in the political environment in Washington is to back off. You don't want to get out there. And that's creating--


LOWRY: Joe, we got them off one dam, OK, but they hold all the same territory they have. The New York Times had an excellent report this week, about how we've been bombing Iraq now for weeks and weeks and weeks and not moved them at all because it's extremely difficult and perhaps impossible to get an insurgent group out of cities entirely from the air.

TRIPPI: I'm not talking about the efficacy of the policies. I'm talking about why the coverage is the way it is. People got way out--

LOWRY: You're saying it's working and it's clearly not yet.


KURTZ: That was a good story in the New York Times, pointing out that not a lot of progress had been made in Iraq. But not so good was the correction that took two weeks to get, in which the Times had been -- you're talking about Bush and Obama -- had been comparing the two military conflicts, and here is the correction. The approach Mr. Obama is taking is similar to the one Mr. Bush took. It is not the case that, as the original story said. Unlike Mr. Bush and the Iraq war, Mr. Obama has sought to surround the United States with partners. There are allies. But there were allies in the Bush --

LOWRY: And there were more allies the first time around. That coalition of the willing, again, was treated as a term of -- made into a term of abuse, and now President Obama has a much smaller alliance and he's getting credit for being a great diplomatic genius in the press.

BELLANTONI: (inaudible) about what Congress decides to do if they end up coming back to try to vote on authorization. You've seen some Democrats really pushing that. So that coverage, when you're watching it in Britain, of course.

KURTZ: What about the media discovered and all of us discovered this outfit called the Khorasan group. There was a military strike against the Khorasan group, said to be plotting an attack on either the U.S. or Europe. And the reaction I thought was like, how can this be a threat if we've never heard of it before?

BELLANTONI: The media is not doing the best job educating people about the facts on the ground. You see terrible videos of people being executed, you see the president speaking, you see people criticizing him or saying we support him. There's not a lot of education involved here.

TRIPPI: The other thing is the media gets stuck on the big, hot items. Clapper talked about this group. Others had talked about this group. The administration talked about it. But after the beheading footage became available and the media went into hysterical hyper drive almost, just focusing on -- I don't mean -- there is good reason to be hysterical, but I mean hyper drive just focusing on ISIL, and there are other groups out there that the administration has been saying are a more imminent threat to the United States.

KURTZ: This reminded me of the debates that went on during the Bush years, because there were conflicting reports from the administration itself and reflected in the media on whether or not an attack was imminent. Or they were just trying to get into a more advanced phase. The same thing happened when the Iraqi prime minister said there was going to be an attack on the New York subways, and that was knocked down, some of the media played it up and some were skeptical.

LOWRY: It is very hard for the media from the outside to determine how legitimate these threats are. And how you fine tune, what term you apply, whether it is imminent or not. But the Khorasan group, one of the reasons we didn't hear about it, it is basically is a dubious existence. It is a faction within Al Qaeda in Syria, and I think the administration made such a big deal out of the so-called Khorasan group, because, again, they don't want to admit Al Qaeda in Syria is a huge problem, when we've been saying Al Qaeda is defeated and decimated for so long.

KURTZ: There was a fair amount of flack about a couple of jokes told on "The Five." I want to play some videotape, first when we learned, after the initial wave of air strikes against ISIS in Syria, that one of the pilots from the United Arab Emirates was a woman, let's roll it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The first female pilot piloting for the UAE, there she was, leading the strikes, dropped the bombs on ISIS on Monday night. This is really incredible.

ERIC BOLLING, FOX NEWS: Would that be considered boobs on the ground or no?


KURTZ: After that joke by Fox's Eric Bolling, he apologized the next day. And then on Friday, he gave a more lengthy expression of regret. Let's look.


BOLLING: Fox News has received letters from viewers, including from women in the military, and I've taken them to heart. Therefore, let me speak clearly and sincerely. I'm sorry for what I said. I believe that Major Almansori (ph) is a hero. She is courageous, brave, and she deserves our praise, not inappropriate jokes.


KURTZ: Christina Bellantoni.

BELLANTONI: Well, you know, I'm the girl on the panel so I get the question. You know, it's a stupid joke and it would be super whether it was on television or whether it was around your dinner table. You just shouldn't talk about anybody and their gender in that way, especially in a time of war. It's insulting.

KURTZ: I think the reason it resonated is because this woman, as Eric Bolling belatedly said, is a hero. Here she is risking her life. And the gender term, as you said, came out--


KURTZ: Let me get a break. Don't forget, as we do every Sunday morning, send me a tweet @howardkurtz. We'll read some of your messages later this hour. Ahead, CNN's Fareed Zakaria accused of plagiarism. How serious are these allegations? When we come back, the White House tries to tamper with pool reports written by the press corps? Is that kosher?


KURTZ: The White House pool is a rotating group of journalists who cover the president and share their reports with the rest of the press corps, but the Obama White House has insisted on editing some of these reports according to Washington Post's Paul Farhi. When a White House intern fainted at a press briefing, an official insisted that be deleted from the report because it would smear the woman. And when the president talked about press freedom and a Washington Post reporter contrasted with the administration's limited access to photos ops on the trip, press secretary Josh Earnest objected and the reference was removed.

So Christina, how serious are these instances of the White House fiddling with some pool reports?

BELLANTONI: I've written some of these reports before. And I think it's important to point out that they requested that changes be made. They weren't actually changing them themselves. And in my instance, I covered an event once with the first lady. And I wrote in my pool report they hadn't been checking bags of people going in. This was at the Interior Department. And they viewed that as a security issue. They let it stand, but they were angry with me afterwards.

What is weird about this is the actual process. The reporters send the reports to the press person, who then emails it out to everybody.

KURTZ: It's just a distribution channel.

BELLANTONI: It's a strange distribution channel. Unlike how the radio pool does it or the television pool does it. And also how they don't do it in foreign media. They actually send it to one another. So when you have that possible filter when they're reviewing things, it opens up a lot of trouble. And the White House is very, very image conscious.

KURTZ: The White House says there were only a handful of incidents, something like Michelle Obama working out, and officials felt that should be off the record. And they would be happy to have the press handle its own distribution. But do any of these instances trouble you?

TRIPPI: Look, the White House is always going to try and influence what's getting out. And if it's in the hub of distributing it, it's going to try to get its way. So I think it's wrong that they have that ability, but I think the way to solve it is to remove them from the hub. The White House correspondents should be able to get the pool report distributed to everybody without going through the White House.

KURTZ: But does this indicate a mind-set of trying to pressure reporters to delete things seen as negative?

LOWRY: Yes, I think so. In the practicalities, and I agree with everything that's been said here, a relatively minor -- we know Michelle Obama works out. We've seen her arms, right? This isn't a state secret. But it's the principle of the thing, and it's the way it is set up creates the opportunity for the White House to exercise prior restraint, and to litigate these matters. The reporters, it's not hard to create an e-mail list where you blast this out yourself and cut the White House out of the process.

BELLANTONI: And to be bullies. It gives you a sense of maybe if they don't like your pool report, you're not going to get the answers you're looking for on something else. There is an element of pressure. Every White House has done it, but the Obama administration has definitely done it.

KURTZ: Let's talk about one of the biggest stories of the week, probably as big as the war, and that is Barack Obama doing what was called the coffee cup salute, which was an awkward mistake. But did it deserve as much coverage as it got on cable news?

TRIPPI: No. Look, every one of these guys gets off that chopper with a dog or a cup in their hand once in their presidency. And they walk out and all of a sudden there's Marines saluting them. And I should have left that cup or the dog back there. It doesn't work that way.

KURTZ: It looked bad, but did it indicate disrespect for the military?

LOWRY: It was a pretty crummy salute, I have to say. But this is a story made for the new media. It involves a very short video clip. It's kind of funny, and at the end of the day, it's not that important.

BELLANTONI: And it's all about, oh, and the liberals want to show that picture of Bush with Barney, when he was kind of doing it. But it's crank up the umbrage meter. The more important thing, I've actually seen a lot of just everyday people not involved in politics posting this photo saying, look at how disrespectful this is in a time of war. People are actually noticing this and unhappy, and so again, it goes to why they're image conscious, for that very reason.

KURTZ: Right. And the White House itself actually posted the footage on Instagram, I believe.

Couple of notes before we go. The dumb tweet of the week, the New York Times before the official announcement Eric Holder was stepping down as AG, tweeted live video, Obama resignation press conference. I think they missed a detail there. And the New York Post this morning has a cover about Chelsea Clinton's baby with a headline that really bothered me. If we can put it up, "Another liberal crybaby for Democratic Clintons." Then of course it says party pooper. I get that it's supposed to be funny, but don't you get a one-day break when your daughter has a baby? It just seems tasteless.

All right, Joe Trippi, Christina Bellantoni, Rich Lowry. Rich Lowry and I did a little video debate on the NFL coverage and the issue of domestic violence. You can check that out online tomorrow.

Ahead, why did ESPN suspend sports guru Bill Simmons for rather colorfully calling the NFL commissioner a liar? But up next, should Politico have given Lois Lerner a platform when she's still refusing to talk about her role in the IRS debacle?


KURTZ: It was a coup for Politico to land a two-hour interview with Lois Lerner, the former official at the heart of the scandal over the IRS targeting mostly conservative groups for special scrutiny. Lerner hasn't, of course, said anything since pleading the Fifth.


LOIS LERNER: I respectfully exercise my Fifth Amendment right and decline to answer that question.


KURTZ: As part of the arrangement with Politico, Lerner wouldn't answer questions about the substance of the scandal. The piece began with a strikingly sympathetic tone. Quote, "employers won't hire her. She's been berated with epithets like dirty Jew. Federal agents have guarded her house because of death threats."

Joining us now from Palm Springs, California, Rick Grenell, former Bush administration spokesman, and in Los Angeles, Leslie Marshall, radio talk show host and Fox News contributor.

Rick, this was a big exclusive. I don't think many news organizations would have turned it down. But should Politico have agreed to the terms knowing Lois Lerner was not going to answer any substantive questions about the IRS scandal?

RICK GRENELL, FORMER BUSH ADMIN. SPOKESMAN: Well, I think they should agree to the interview, but they don't necessarily have to publish it. If you send in a really good reporter, maybe you can get something out of the individual, and I think that should happen all the time. But what Politico did here and what Rachel Bey (ph) did is really conduct an interview and publish an interview that should have never been put forward, because it just wasn't newsworthy. It was kind of like interviewing Monica Lewinsky and not asking about her affair with the president. Lois Lerner had three lawyers in the room with her. And the most we got out was basically that she rescued stray dogs. It was a terrible interview.

KURTZ: Well, Leslie, but was it newsworthy in the sense that, we found out, even from her own self-interested point of view what her life has been like, the fact that she and her husband spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, despite the gaping hole at the center, which was not talking about her role in the scandal?

LESLIE MARSHALL, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, absolutely. We all know in the media that if you interview somebody with a big name or certainly when their attorneys are flanking their side, there is an arrangement that is made, which is you will not ask this. If you plead the Fifth in D.C. before members of Congress, you're not going to have the big reveal with Politico or anybody else. But I do think that should be published. There are things that I didn't know about her. Not that we're saying, oh, this is a kinder, gentler, softer, but I think she reiterated -- and for many people who may not have been aware of why she did what she said she did, why she maintains that, and quite frankly, a glimpse into other facets of Lois Lerner. It's also a name that would get people to Politico and to read this. I think they did the right thing in doing that. You get a big name like that, you do what you can. You know you're not going to be able to go certain places.

KURTZ: Rick.

GRENELL: Look, I don't think we found out anything, Leslie. What did she find out other than she is broke and she rescues stray dogs. The heart of why she took the Fifth is not answered here. If there was some sort of interesting news, then I would say go ahead and publish it. But this was so sympathetic to a woman who took the Fifth. And in Washington, here is the problem for me. It's Washington, D.C. media thinking that taking the Fifth about going after Republicans with the IRS is just kind of, you know, not really something that you should investigate. You look at the Washington Post and others, they've known that this was a targeted going after conservatives, and yet the investigation part has completely been a nonstory.

KURTZ: In fairness, the piece did include some other reporting, I'm sorry to interrupt, Leslie, we're a little short on time, about what her colleagues thought of her, she was short-tempered, that she could be difficult to deal with, but also kind of laid out what her defense might be.

I want to move now to a website called Our Bad Media, which has posted many allegations of plagiarism and barred language against CNN host Fareed Zakaria. Some of them I think are minor, are misdemeanors; others I find troubling. Given his high profile, why do you think this story has gotten such little coverage?

MARSHALL: Well, first of all, ISIS would be one reason, I just think that quite frankly, and that's perhaps why Politico had Lois Lerner. It's like hello, pay attention to us on something other than ISIS. I also think, quite frankly, although sadly Americans are a bit desensitized by this. I think that we hear about plagiarism all the time. This is the second allegation, I agree some more troubling than others when you look at the evidence, but quite frankly, it's not bleeding, so it's not leading.

KURTZ: Rick.

GRENELL: I don't think so. I think this is all about Fareed. He's like the rock star of the D.C. media. People love him. They think he's an intellect. And if it was any other person, then they would absolutely go after this story. But because he's at CNN and because he's invited to all the right parties, it's just hands off. It's clear -- this is the way the D.C. media works.

KURTZ: Well, actually, he's in New York, but I guess you could say the New York Acela corridor, D.C. media. I want to mention that CNN President Jeff Zucker says he has complete confidence in Fareed Zakaria. The network said it looked into these allegations and are satisfied. A source close to the CNN program tells me that of the questionable scripts from the CNN program, not his outside writing, that these were written by producers and later approved by Fareed Zakaria. That's not unusual in television. He did apologize a couple of years ago for one instance in which language was very similar to a piece in the New Yorker.

All right, Rick Grenell and Leslie Marshall, thanks for checking in from California this early in the morning. Coming up, former NBC correspondent Fred Francis on whether the media are swallowing Pentagon propaganda by running all that shock and awe footage of the air war against ISIS. And later, Jon Stewart caves in after complaints that his show misled Native Americans and Washington Redskins fans by staging a confrontation.



KURTZ: We've all seen this spectacular footage of the air strikes against ISIS in Syria. The dazzling images of bombs bursting in the air. Helpfully provided by the Department of Defense. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow sees that as a problem.


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: But if you wanted to get an independent, objective assessment about whether or not things were successful, there is not a way to get that right now. It is an uncomfortable thing to be relying on one single stream of information that is directly from the Pentagon as our sole source of data in terms of what is happening.


KURTZ: Joining us now, Fred Francis, former NBC Pentagon correspondent and now with the firm

Does it trouble you that television has run these government-supplied shock and awe pictures again and again?

FRED FRANCIS, FORMER NBC CORRESPONDENT: That particularly doesn't trouble me. It's the fact that it just comes from the Pentagon. During almost any military engagement I've been involved in over the years, they always rush to get reporters to the scene of either the air base or the missiles launching cruiser. I was on the first cruiser that launched the first missile into Kosovo. They wanted us there. So sure, we used their gun camera footage, and it's wonderful stuff. But you need to be there to talk to the sailors, to talk to the airmen and talk to the soldiers.

KURTZ: At the same time, it's understandable why there aren't any independent journalists in Syria. Because of the beheadings of journalists James Foley and Steve Sotloff. It is extremely dangerous. But just one follow-up. Does this footage make it look like there were massive bombing raids and huge damage when it's actually a fraction of what was unleashed at the height of the Iraq war?

FRANCIS: The fact is, we're not going to know -- unless you're in a control room, unless you're on the base and you can hear the feedback, unless you can talk to the pilots and find out, you know, why can't they do that? They can't do that because the White House is controlling the message.

KURTZ: On that point, Fred Francis, I know you've been doing some reporting on this. What do you make of the conflicting messages about the strategy of this war coming from the Pentagon, the building you used to cover, across the river, and the White House.

FRANCIS: There's no question, after talking to four reporters over the last 48 hours, you have a combined 95 years experience covering DOD. The one message you get from them is the White House is controlling the message. It has an iron grip on what the Pentagon is saying. And thus has an iron grip on what reporters report, what access they have. I'm not saying that they're lying. I'm not saying the White House is lying at all. Listen, we tell our clients in 15 seconds, tell the truth all the time.

KURTZ: But you're not troubled by it?

FRANCIS: Yes, of course, because they're not telling the whole truth. Example, the Pentagon says we are not targeting ISIS leadership. Oh, they're actually not telling the whole truth. The CIA is targeting ISIS leadership with drones. It's just like we are not targeting with our particular aircraft. Why can't the American people know that? ISIS knows that. Why can't the American people know that?

KURTZ: You're also suggesting that the people who are running this war, of course, there is civilian control and Barack Obama is the commander in chief. But the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Hagel are not really at liberty to say what they think?

FRANCIS: That's exactly what I'm saying.

KURTZ: There have been leaks from the Pentagon, and the lack of confidence in any strategy that doesn't include U.S. boots on the ground.

FRANCIS: The fact is, there haven't (ph) been very many leaks, because after 14 years of war, the Pentagon has figured out how to tighten up the leaks. Even the finest reporters covering it have fewer and fewer people that actually see the communications between CentCom and the battlefield commanders. Very tight.

KURTZ: To the extent that there have been leaks, is it out of frustration with what you described as the White House controlling the message?

FRANCIS: Exactly. Military officers I spoke to say everyone knows you cannot win this war against ISIS with just air power. And they're frustrated that they're being forced to talk that talk.

KURTZ: Okay.

Back to the coverage, the other day MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell ripped CNN for what he called war hysteria. Had to do with a banner, we checked, and one of the banners CNN put up was new homeland security alert. A couple days later, on MSNBC I saw an on screen headline that said, "U.S. on alert." Obviously there were some threats and police departments have to be on the lookout, but that's not the same as a color coded orange upgrading of the terror threat. Do you think there has been a little bit too much hysteria, dramatization of this?

FRANCIS: The fact is there has been. But this is what happens when there's a dearth of news. This is what happens when reporters don't have free access to what's going on and be able to report to the American people. Speculation. It blooms. And then it dies.

KURTZ: So just in the last half minute, you would like journalists, experienced military journalists to be able to be on some of these warships, talk to the pilots. Do you have any expectation that will happen?

FRANCIS: No, I have no expectation at all it will happen. If that happens, the White House loses its iron fist control on the message. What is the message? The message is very simple. This is a little war. People don't have to worry about it. It's not going to last very long, and if it lasts very long, you'll get tired of looking at the gun camera footage, and then it's not really a war presidency.

KURTZ: The White House does say, the president has said that the war will go on even when his term in office is over with. But certainly little war is an interesting way to put it.

Fred Francis, thanks for stopping by this Sunday.

Straight ahead, is coverage of the air strikes in Syria helping or hurting Democrats in the midterms? And later, Jon Stewart says his program tries not to mislead people. So why did "The Daily Show" do just that in pitting Native Americans against Washington football fans?


KURTZ: In the clutter of midterm election ads, one commercial has broken through the static. It's financed by a wealthy Republican and his group, Americans for Shared Prosperity.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Smart, handsome, charming, articulate, all the right values. I trusted him. But by 2012, our relationship was in trouble. But I stuck with him, because he promised he would be better. He's great at promises. I know I'm stuck with Barack for two more years. I get that. But I'm not stuck with his friends.


KURTZ: Joining us now is a team from the Hill, Bob Cusack, editor in chief, and reporter Elise Viebeck. Elise, some pundits have ripped that ad as weird or offensive. Do they have a point?

ELISE VIEBECK, THE HILL: I think it is a little sexist, frankly, to see a woman like that gushing to the camera about her prior vote for Obama, and then talking about he's disappointed her. It's just a strange way to introduce these issues to women voters. But it does show that conservatives and Republicans are going after those single women who are so important for the midterms.

KURTZ: Which sets up my question to Bob, which is Republicans obviously want to make these midterms about Barack Obama. Are the media playing along with that?

BOB CUSACK, THE HILL: I think so. This ad gets a lot of attention. That is what campaign ads have to do. You want to get on shows like this, talking about it. That's what they want, and they get a lot of free media. I think it was an unusual ad, but it's like a columnist. You want to provoke some outrage a little bit. I think to Elise's point, they have to go after minorities and single women. Republicans are really hurting in those areas.

KURTZ: It's not a news flash that the coverage of the air strikes against ISIS and Syria dominated the news this week. Which party does that help?

VIEBECK: It's hard to say right now. I believe it's going to be a wash for the midterm elections for Republicans and Democrats. We do see quite a bit of a rally effect for President Obama right now. His poll numbers have gone up a little bit.

KURTZ: Is that because of the heavy coverage? I mean, other than the coffee cup salute--


VIEBECK: I do think so, but I also think it's a product of the Washington consensus that's gotten behind President Obama. You see House Republicans in particular being quite a bit more friendly to him because of their resolution to fight ISIS, as well.

KURTZ: This is the first time in some years that President Obama has gotten somewhat positive press coverage on foreign policy?

CUSACK: Yes, I think so. He got some bad coverage in August because he had a bad August saying we don't have a strategy on ISIS. But the news was dominated by him this week.

KURTZ: And he got criticized for playing golf and seeming not to be engaged.

CUSACK: And his speech I thought this week was much better than his address to the nation. But I do think this issue overall helps Republicans. They like talking about this issue. Democrats like talking about minimum wage and other issues. Those have been crowded out.

KURTZ: Crowded out by the heavy media spotlight?

CUSACK: Yes, exactly.

KURTZ: So to the extent that it's been crowded out, what about, for instance, Obamacare, which we spent so much time covering? Is that off the radar?

VIEBECK: Basically, it's wallpaper, that's what we've talked about. It's baked into the political effects. We're going to see this midterms. I think it's likely to help Republicans in some ways, but certainly it's not the key issue. Right now we're looking at national security.

KURTZ: So all of the commentators and media geniuses who some months ago said this is going to be the top issue in the poll, were they, what's the word I am looking for -- wrong?

VIEBECK: They were wrong, yes. They were wrong. They didn't realize how long the midterm cycle happens. We could see new issues come out prior to November. We've still got some time here. It's likely to be national security. But you never know what could happen.

KURTZ: And beyond Obamacare, Bob Cusack, what about the economy? Still the issue that voters say they care about. The president moved this week to restrict companies like Burger King, which is a big colorful example from avoiding taxes by moving other countries. I would say it got about two minutes of coverage.

CUSACK: That's right. And that is a problem for the White House. And as far as Obamacare, if it's out of the news, that's a good thing for Democrats. You see these Republicans, Republican governors, they're expanding Medicaid. They're embracing Obamacare. So that is a good thing for this White House.

KURTZ: But how many coverage is that getting in the scheme of things?

CUSACK: Not much. Overall, this White House, if we're not talking about Obamacare, that's actually a good thing, I think, for Democrats.

KURTZ: But if we're not talking about the economy, if the media aren't focused on the economy, that maybe is not such a good thing for Democrats?

CUSACK: Yes. And the problem for the White House is the economy has gotten a little bit better. But polls show that people don't think it's gotten better. And that's a huge problem and a boon for Republicans.

KURTZ: All right. We're at that point where I'm going to ask you, who won the media week in terms of the coverage? Which party was helped (ph) least?

VIEBECK: I think it was Democrats this week. President Obama delivered several speeches at the U.N. that helped boost his party. Also, Eric Holder's resignation means that the news is in their corner this week. We're talking about legacy issues. That's typically good for Democrats.

KURTZ: Despite all the criticism from the right of Holder's tenure?

VIEBECK: Yes. I do think so, because all of that is basically baked in at this point. We've heard these cases made by Republicans already, but right now, Eric Holder, they're talking about legacy.


CUSACK: Last time I said Republicans. I'm going to say Democrats this time. Why? Well, Republicans haven't been able to knock out these red state incumbents. Look at Mark Pryor. He has got a fighting chance to win. Four years ago, Blanche Lincoln was down 20 points at this point.


KURTZ: You're talking about the progress or lack thereof in the state and local races.


KURTZ: Is the coverage now saying hey, the Democrats might not lose the Senate after all as a result of some of this movement?

CUSACK: Yes. I think the coverage about a month ago was it's a fait accompli, Republicans are going to win. Now even people like Karl Rove are saying we may not win it.

KURTZ: All right, well, this is the first time since we started this segment that both guests have said the Democrats won the week. We'll see about next week. Elise Viebeck, Bob Cusack, thanks very much for joining us.

Ahead on "MediaBuzz," ESPN taking heat for sidelining a sportswriter who dared call out the NFL's Roger Goodell. But first, lots of bleeping in this edition of video verdict, including a TV reporter who committed an ethical breach and then resigned with an F bomb.


KURTZ: Time now for our video verdict. Charlo Greene, a reporter for KTVA in Anchorage, Alaska has very strong feelings about marijuana. So after reporting on a pro legalization group, this is what she did.


CHARLO GREENE, KTVA: I, the actual owner of the Alaska Cannabis Club, will be donating all her energy toward fighting for freedom and fairness, which begins with legalizing marijuana here in Alaska. And as for this job, well, it's not that I have a choice, but [ bleep ], I quit.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. We apologize for that.


KURTZ: That was pathetic. I mean, it got a lot of attention, a zillion hits online because of the dropping of the f-bomb. Greene didn't only betray her station, she betrayed her job as a journalist because she reported on a group that she herself was involved in, and then there was this big self-promotional stunt. It was awful. But it must be a virus, everybody seems to be dropping f-bombs today, take a look at this promo from WGN Morning News in Chicago, which at least employs a little humor.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our best message came from Ish Kapur (ph). She writes, "(EXPLETIVE DELETED) you. You guys suck in the morning. Nobody watches WGN."

WGN Morning News, the highest rated morning show that nobody (EXPLETIVE DELETED) likes."


KURTZ: That's not the promo that I would have devised, but that's kind of funny. You guys suck in the morning (inaudible) taking the heat that you get on Twitter and turning it into something promotional. Still to come, your best tweets, Jon Stewart has to change a "Daily Show" segment after complaints of foul play, and should ESPN have suspended a top sportswriter for calling Roger Goodell a liar?


KURTZ: It's not often that Jon Stewart has to back down, but he had a big problem when "The Daily Show" had staged a confrontation between Washington Redskins fans and Native Americans over a controversy about the team's name. After the Washington Post interviewed folks who felt ambushed, who had been assured that there would be no such confrontation. The comedy show deep-sixed most of that footage.


STEWART: We take the complaints seriously. We generally don't want people who participate in the show to have a bad experience. We work very hard to find real people who have real beliefs and want to express those beliefs on television. And we work hard to make sure that the gist of those beliefs are represented accurately. Albeit sometimes comedically on our program. If we find out that someone in a piece was intentionally misled, or if their comments were intentionally misrepresented, we do not air that piece.


KURTZ: The negative coverage prompted Jon Stewart to do the right. All right, your top tweets. How are the media covering Barack Obama differently, or are they now that he's a wartime president? Peter Martin "the media have continued to throw soft balls since the Iraq invasion. This is sad. But this is the game if they want the job."

Len J. Lemmer, "I don't think the mainstream media will accept the fact that Obama is a wartime president."

Should Politico have interviewed Lois Lerner, who wouldn't talk about the IRS scandal? Diane Lee "no, it's just another chance to say I didn't do anything wrong while taking the Fifth legally."

Finally, ESPN's Bill Simmons really went off on Roger Goodell in his podcast. He said he didn't believe the commissioner's insistence he did not know the contents of the video of Ray Rice punching his fiancee, then the popular sportswriter dared ESPN to mess with him.


BILL SIMMONS: Goodell, if he didn't know what was on that tape, he's a liar. I'm just saying it. He is lying. I think that dude is lying, if you put him up on a lie detector test, that guy would fail.

And --


SIMMONS: To pretend they didn't know is such [EXPLETIVE DELETED] bull (EXPLETIVE DELETED). It really is. I really hope someone calls me or emails me and says I'm in trouble for anything I say. Please, call me and say I'm in trouble, I dare you.


KURTZ: I dare you. Well, the sports network took that dare, suspending Simmons for three weeks for failing to quote, "operate within ESPN's journalistic standards." But what exactly was Simmons's offense? Calling Goodell a liar? Lots of pundits have doubted Goodell's account. Using obscenities? He bleeped those words in advance. He's done that before. I don't want to suggest that ESPN was overly sensitive because of its gazillion dollar contract with the National Football League. But Simmons was hired to dish out provocative opinions. That's why people click. That's why he is valuable to ESPN. That's why he's a franchise player. I've got to blow the whistle here on ESPN for an absurd penalty.

That's it for this edition of "MediaBuzz." I'm Howard Kurtz. I hope you'll like our Facebook page, where we post a lot of original content in response to your questions. We're looking out for you on Twitter as well. We're back here next Sunday, 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Eastern with the latest buzz.

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