This is a rush transcript from "MediaBuzz," December 7, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On the Buzzmeter this Sunday, a Rolling Stone story, alleging a gang rape at the University of Virginia falls apart as new reporting undermines the account of the accuser, and even her friends question her version. Now the magazine itself is backing off, saying in a new apology that it made serious mistakes. How does this shoddy piece ever get published?
From Ferguson to Staten Island, the media pounce on another death of a black man in a confrontation with police. But this time, in a choking death of Eric Garner, there was video, and this time many analysts on the right as well as the left are appalled.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREW NAPOLITANO, FOX NEWS: There ought to have been an indictment and it ought to have been an indictment for some form of manslaughter.
AL SHARPTON, MSNBC: And where is the humanity? How does a human being hear somebody say 11 times I can't breathe and you don't stop?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But are some pundits melding these cases into a racial and anti- police narrative?
A woman files a lawsuit against Bill Cosby, saying he sexually assaulted her when she was 15, but that was 40 years ago.
And then, Gloria Allred gets involved.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GLORIA ALLRED, ATTORNEY: The public deserves to know if Mr. Cosby is a saint or a sexual predator.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Are the media now turning Cosby's downfall into a circus?
Plus, a congressional staffer uses her job of using Facebook to rip the first daughters. A terrible mistake, no doubt about it, but are the media unfairly piling on? I'm Howard Kurtz and this is "MediaBuzz."
The Eric Garner case never got that much media attention outside of New York, but with the country on edge in the wake of the decision in Ferguson, a far, far different case, the video of Garner being surrounded by police officers and being grabbed in a chokehold that killed him, is being replayed again and again with commentators across the spectrum agreeing with the gist of this New York Daily News cover, we are breathless.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: I will say that upon seeing the video that you just saw and hearing Mr. Garner say he could not breathe, I was extremely troubled. I would have loosened my grip. I desperately wish the officer would have done that.
ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: Outrage over the case? Pretty simple. A police officer was caught on camera killing an unarmed black man and got away with it. There aren't many Americans out there who think Garner's killing was justified.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And again, the media are debating whether there is a racial pattern.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOY REID, MSNBC: I am no longer shocked by these things. I have come to expect that when a police officer is in a situation like this, they will not be indicted, and if indicted, they will not be convicted.
GERALDO RIVERA, FOX NEWS: A white grand jury puts themselves in the cop's shoes. A black grand jury will put themselves in the victim's shoes. That's the harsh reality of American justice today.
MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: They tell us at least that a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich. Clearly a black man's life is not worth a ham sandwich when you put these stories together.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now to analyze the coverage of crime in America, Sharyl Attkisson, author of the best selling "Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama's Washington." Matt Lewis, senior contributor at the Daily Caller and Richard Fowler, a syndicated radio talk show host. Sharyl, when you get down to it, why are the media so united in the case of Eric Garner's death? When Ferguson was and is so divisive?
SHARYL ATTKISSON, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: I think, like they said, the evidence is different. There is a videotape. And this was an opportunity for people who have been criticizing the message that some saw out of Ferguson, including Fox News, to say we're not just going to treat every incident that involves a white police officer and a black victim the same way. We are looking at the facts, and this was their opportunity to distinguish the two.
KURTZ: Even this morning, the Washington Post has a huge front page story about the Ferguson case, two lives collide, a nation divides. Because there is still debate about it. But one difference, Matt, is that the St. Louis County prosecutor explained -- whether you agree with that decision or not -- why there was no indictment, released all the evidence. The New York prosecutor hasn't explained anything about why there were no charges brought in the Garner case, and so does this explain why some people on your side of the ideological spectrum are being so critical of the handling of Eric Garner?
MATT LEWIS, DAILY CALLER: I think so. But one might assume that the reason they haven't explained it is they don't have much good to explain. The video, if you watch the video, it's really almost impossible to justify what happened. We can talk about look, being a police officer is an incredibly difficult job. I believe the vast majority of police officers are good people trying to do what's right. But if you watch this video, and you are intellectually honest, I don't see how you can justify it. I've been actually very heartened to see a lot of conservatives very proactively speaking out saying this was wrong.
KURTZ: And especially because he was committing this petty crime of selling loose cigarettes, which just adds insult to the injury, which a lot of conservatives commentators, I would say, are inclined to give the police the benefit of the doubt in these confrontations, but not in this case.
RICHARD FOWLER, TALK SHOW HOST: I fully agree here. I think the video was so damning, it's just impossible to sort of see beyond the fact that this guy was sitting on the ground for 11 minutes yelling I can't breathe, I can't breathe, I can't breathe. But I think larger than that, I think sometimes both in this case and the Ferguson case, before there was a grand jury decision, I think that the media took the side of the police more than they should have. And there should have been a more balanced opinion.
But with that being said, I'm proud to see a lot of the folks have come out to speak out against the Eric Garner case, and I think it speaks to a larger narrative.
KURTZ: And what if there was no video? That's what makes this unusual.
Ferguson became a 24/7 story in large measure I would say because of the rights, both when it happened and after the nonindictment. The Staten Island case has sparked nightly demonstrations in New York, also here in Washington and across the country. But you know, there's been arrests, there's been blocked traffic. There has been going, you know, into Macy's on 34th Street in Manhattan, but largely, it's been peaceful. Has that affected the tone of the coverage?
ATTKISSON: It might have, but I also think maybe because people seem to be on the side of the victim in the second case versus the first case. I disagree that people gave police the benefit of the doubt in the early coverage of Ferguson, I think it was the opposite, but in this case, I think people did think there was something wrong based on the videotape that was out. So the protesters maybe didn't feel as though nobody was listening to them. There was already -- their viewpoint was being heard.
KURTZ: Interesting. So Al Sharpton among those expressing outrage, and in this case, I can understand what he's saying, but once again, playing the dual role of being a participant in the case, going to the press conference with Eric Garner's widow and interviewing her on his show on MSNBC. Let's take a look at that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: A cop on the street, Mika, has one job, and that job is to protect the people in that neighborhood. It is not to make a statement that makes prime time people on MSNBC feel better about America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: That was the wrong sound. I was going to play that later. That's Joe Scarborough defending -- saying that a police officer has a tough job, and when he talks about the prime time pundits, he's talking about Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, Al Sharpton. What do you make of that?
LEWIS: I think that was probably before the Garner case. I think that was responding to Ferguson. Which, as we've noted, is entirely different. Look, I think Joe Scarborough has a very valuable role to play at MSNBC, and this was at a time when his network was almost universally taking sides in this case, going to their respective corners. And I think when, look, honestly, when you look at Ferguson, I recommend that Washington Post story. It has not been clear at all what happened. And if you look --
KURTZ: With the one exception that there is no dispute that Michael Brown went into that police car, attacked Darren Wilson, there was a struggle for the gun. We do know that.
LEWIS: And we have forensic evidence that I think shows. So I think what Joe Scarborough was saying was kind of heroic, standing up to his own network and saying, look, police officers do have a very difficult job. They go out every day and put their lives on the line. I've been very critical of the police in the case of the Garner incident, and I think rightly so, but let's not bash the police universally.
FOWLER: Here is the thing. I respect the rule of law. I respect what police officers do, I respect law enforcement, but I think there's an argument to be had that you can't look at the Ferguson case or you can't look at the Eric Garner case in a vacuum, right? You have to take them out of the vacuum and see the larger media narrative that sort of exists, because I think the next one we'll be talking about in the next couple of weeks is Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old who was shot in Cleveland. And as you look at this in sort of a larger vacuum, you see there is indeed a problem to the point where the United Nations is beginning to weigh in. And so I think--
KURTZ: Is that problem reflected adequately in your view in the media coverage and the long-standing tensions between majority white police departments and some communities that are heavily minority?
FOWLER: Well, I think it's starting to, and I think the reason why it's starting to is because you have this endless, consistent protest that you're seeing, and we've had 115 days of some kind of peaceful protests about this, and the more protests you have, the more the media will be forced to focus on this disparity.
And because of that, I think we're making steps in the right direction, but I think we have to have a larger conversation about is there indeed a problem in this country between African American men and police.
LEWIS: I think one problem we have, and we talked about Al Sharpton getting involved in this earlier. Right now we have a situation where we're almost all united in terms of what happened to Eric Garner was wrong, the grand jury should have indicted. And there are solutions, there are body cams, for example, that mandate that I think is going forward.
If this becomes -- if Al Sharpton demagogues this and makes it solely about race, you could have the unfortunate effect of whites retreating to their corner, where they reflexively defend the police, and blacks assuming every time that the police are wrong, and it's just not that way.
KURTZ: I'll play that Sharpton soundbite for you in a moment, the one we failed to get up earlier.
ATTKISSON: Can I say something about the problem as a journalist with covering this story, to me, and maybe I'm alone in thinking this, there's a difference between police officers who may have made really bad mistakes and proof that they made those mistakes because they were racially motivated. And in both of the cases, maybe I've missed it, but I haven't seen evidence of a pattern on the part of the police officer who was accused, evidence that they shouted racial slurs, that they had some sort of thing that we can hang on to that proves why they did what they did.
KURTZ: There is no such evidence, but there is a gut feeling I think that if Michael Brown and Eric Garner had been white, would these tragedies have unfolded in the same way? And you cannot prove that.
ATTKISSON: It's a fair question to ask, advocates can ask it, but I think as a journalist reporting it, you have to be careful to understand what the evidence says and doesn't say.
KURTZ: Want to let you in on that, but let me play this, Al Sharpton. Because again, he is part of the story appearing with Eric Garner's widow and then having her on his MSNBC show. Roll it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: We have been working together since this tragedy happened, me and your mother-in-law. I mean, explain how you feel tonight. You haven't talked to anybody publicly.
ESAW GARNER: No. I feel now, after that verdict, you know, of course I was disappointed, angry. You know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Do you have a problem with -- that we saw this in Ferguson, as well, Sharpton the activist, Sharpton the MSNBC commentator?
LEWIS: Again, I think we know who Al Sharpton is, and I think there's no pretense that there is a journalistic show. It's an activist show. That's where the industry is headed. I'm okay with it, because we know what it is.
ATTKISSON: I'm okay with it, too, for the same reason.
KURTZ: I think you pick one side. You can't cover yourself, which is what he too often is doing. But pick up on Sharyl's point about no overt evidence, no explicit racial slurs, and how that influences the coverage of these cases, or do you really need that kind of evidence, because, in your view, is there a pattern with the way these things play out?
FOWLER: Here is the thing. My mom says it best. Where there's smoke, there's fire, right? And I think in all these cases, you've seen some level of smoke. Yes, you haven't seen racial slurs, but you did see some level of smoke, and I think it's the job of good media reporting to sort of say, well, is there a problem here? Let's look at the statistics, let's look at what the broad brush of statistics say. Is there a problem between African-American men and police? And if there is one, how do we get to the bottom of it? Body cameras is a step in the right direction, but clearly in New York City, that didn't work.
KURTZ: Not a panacea. We want to hear from you. Join our conversation. Go on Twitter. Send me some messages @howardkurtz, and we of course will read some at the end of the program.
Ahead, we'll look at the latest charges and counter charges against Bill Cosby now that Gloria Allred is going after him.
But when we come back, Rolling Stone backs off a sensational article alleging a gang rape at the University of Virginia as the unnamed accuser's story begins to crumble. Did the magazine want it to be true?
KURTZ: The Rolling Stone story that rocked the University of Virginia campus, a tale of a brutal gang rape at a fraternity party, relying on an accuser identified only as Jackie. And the shockingly graphic tale made national news.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC: A major American university tonight has a lot to answer for. Now the claims of a particularly shocking sexual assault have been made public.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: An extraordinary move on one of America's most prestigious campuses. The University of Virginia shutting down all fraternities as it investigates sexual assault claims.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Moving now to the crisis on campus. This after a very disturbing sexual assault allegation at one of America's most prominent colleges.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now that story is falling apart amid mounting criticism of the author, Sabrina Erdely.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SABRINA RUBIN ERDELY, ROLLING STONE: I thought that it was important to tell the story in as graphic a way as Jackie, the main character in my article, tells it. I think that when we talk about rape and sexual assault, we have started becoming very mired in euphemism. We call it sexual misconduct. We even call it sexual assault. What does that really mean? So I thought it was important to show that this is not some form of misconduct, but this is a violent crime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Interesting that she calls Jackie a character. As new reporting, much of it in the Washington Post, blew holes in the accuser's tale, Rolling Stone apologized, but this morning, there is a new apology, dropping language about misplaced trust in Jackie, admitting to, quote, mistakes. "We should not have made this agreement with Jackie and we should have worked harder to convince her that the truth would have been better served by getting the other side of the story."
How significant is it that this investigative piece appeared in Rolling Stone?
ATTKISSON: It matters. I cannot think of a straight news organization that would have thought for a nanosecond that publishing the story in this form. And by straight news organization, I mean Newsweek, Time, maybe CNBC, CBS, Fox, so on. I looked at the reporter's background, and she's written some great pieces for magazines like on her resume, Cosmopolitan, Self, GQ, New Yorker, Mother Jones, Glamour and Men's Health. None of these, including Rolling Stone, are news organizations. And I would just point out that even news organizations with the most rigorous editorial controls make mistakes. So this is something, a whole another story.
KURTZ: No secret that Rolling Stone is a liberal magazine. The owner, Jann Wenner, backs Barack Obama. Do you have any sense that the magazine or this reporter was committed to a narrative about sexual assault being a very big problem on campus?
LEWIS: Rolling Stone is a big deal. It took down General Stanley McChrystal, for example.
KURTZ: You're saying it's done some significant reporting.
ATTKISSON: But even that story had an editorial questionable technique used, off the record, potentially off the record information. And I'm only saying that that would have been viewed differently I think at a straight news outlet.
LEWIS: You may be right. Absolutely. I think that Rolling Stone, this is agenda based, narrative based media. NYU's Jay Rosen tweeted saying that this may be the biggest journalistic mess up since the Dan Rather gate story about George W. Bush's Air National Guard service. What do those two stories have in common? They both confirmed narratives the mainstream liberal media believes. It's what they believe about Southern universities and the fraternity system. It's what they believed about George W. Bush. It's confirming things they already suspected.
FOWLER: Here is the thing. I think indeed in this country there probably is some sort of a sexual assault problem. I mean, I went to a major university. I get that. But I think the Rolling Stone made a big mistake in trying to push forward this narrative. They sort of found a character, Jackie, and they wanted to sort of tell their story through it, but that is bad journalism. But--
KURTZ: So you feel this magazine was sort of committed to the cause, and therefore, obviously, a lot of shortcuts and shoddy technique were used? Which the magazine now admits?
FOWLER: I completely agree there. I think on top of that, what they have now done is they've trivialized rape for the next rape victim. They have made it worse for the next rape victim. And I think they have also now, the victims here in this particular case, is the fraternity. They put the shoe on the other foot here.
KURTZ: I think you've identified a really important point about the impact on UVA, the impact on the fraternity and the potential fallout for women who actually are sexually assaulted or raped.
Richard Fowler, Matt Lewis, thanks very much for joining us. Sharyl, stick around. Up next, we will take an in-depth look at the reporting mistakes in this Rolling Stone piece in our new segment, Media Microscope.
And later, a look at the latest charges and counter charges over Bill Cosby now that Gloria Allred is going after him.
KURTZ: We're back with Sharyl Attkisson talking about this Rolling Stone article on gang rape. So what would you have done if you had a source, the accuser named Jackie, and you believed her, but she said I don't want you to talk to any of the men, the seven men, first she said five, who were involved -- she claimed were involved in brutally assaulting her at the University of Virginia?
ATTKISSON: Well, believing the source, which happens sometimes in stories that you never even air, because you can't go to the next step, is only part of the step. You have to, for the source's protection, for the story's protection, explain to them if they are trying to limit what you're doing as a reporter, that you just can't. If someone like that had suggested to me that you can't contact the people that I've accused of this, I would have said from the start, it's a nonstarter and here is why. Your story won't be believed if we don't have the other side. Once it comes out, the people who are identified will say, gee, nobody asked us what we thought, and stuff may surface later that we didn't include in the story that we should have included.
KURTZ: Right, and it's interesting to watch Rolling Stone, which at first, when this criticism first surfaced, dug in and said no, no, we believe our source, we stand by our story, we stand by our reporter, they started backtracking. Now, today, a completely different apology in which it is acknowledging more mistakes and kind of taking the onus off Jackie. But at the same time, this is such an egregious journalistic train wreck, I wonder if you think people should lose their jobs over this.
ATTKISSON: That's up to them to decide. I do think it's egregious, but I want to read some of the statements they put out. Why they didn't go to the people who were accused. Rolling Stone said because of the sensitive nature of Jackie's story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the men she claimed orchestrated the attack, nor any of the men she claimed participated." Because of the sensitive nature? That doesn't make sense. That explanation makes no sense to me. The more sensitive the allegations, the greater the obligation to contact those who are accused, not less obligation. I don't even understand the explanation.
KURTZ: Having done a lot of investigative reporting myself, I believe there is a tendency, a danger, you might say, to fall in love with the story, to fall in love with the source, the point where you then minimize omissions or conflicting or contradictory elements to it, because you want the story to be true. Whether or not this was ideologically driven, I think Rolling Stone wanted too much for this story. This 9,000 word piece with all these graphic details about shattered glass and she was supposedly bloodied, but now her friends say they did not see any blood, to be true.
ATTKISSON: If you look at all the red flags that were thrown up, say of course in hindsight to say these things, but from what the Washington Post found out after the fact, things that didn't match up, were like you said, she said there were shards of glass in her back, she was beaten about the face. And yet friends that the Washington Post was able to find and talk to said she didn't appear to be injured. And how she repeatedly turned down offers of treatment at the hospital, a chance to file any sort of claim with the university. These things -- even though something probably did happen to Jackie, whatever it was, and even though you may believe her story to be true, as a reporter, you have to say to yours, these are perils with the story that will be used against the story and the effort if they come out.
KURTZ: I'm not saying nothing happened. In fact, one of these friends interviewed by the Washington Post said that she had told him -- we don't know how credible she is at this point -- she had been forced to perform oral sex on a group of men, but that's very different than being brutally attacked and having a bloody dress and debating whether to go to the hospital. All of which is now being disputed or denied.
ATTKISSON: And sometimes as a reporter, you have to back off what you think is the truth and what you think is a better story for the sake of the facts that you have. And --
KURTZ: And there are certain elements that you think are probably true, but you can't quite nail it down.
ATTKISSON: Right. And that should make you say, whether I believe it or not, that's not good enough. And they have other if you want to call them characters in the story that were air-tight. People who have gone on the record and who were named. She could have made a story centered around one of them, but she clearly wanted this story to be the centerpiece, and it was just a sloppy decision in light of -- especially they said toward the end, Jackie was asking not to be included in the article. If someone said that to me before a story, somebody who was supposed to be friendly in a story, suddenly said they may not want to be included, I would be very worried about that.
KURTZ: That is the biggest red flag of all. A lot of credit to the Washington Post reporter T. Reese Shapiro (ph), who went to Charlottesville, was able to talk to Jackie, was able to talk to the friends. But interestingly, the journalistic scrutiny here after this piece had been out a week or two was really triggered by a little known blogger, a buy named Richard Bradley. He is a former editor of "George" magazine, who had been burned by the serial fabricator Stephen Glass. He just wrote an essay that said, this doesn't smell right, and going through why some of the quotes and the scenes seemed too perfect, and that woke up the mainstream media, which had kind of reported this alleged claim, but basically had run with it, to say some of us need to take a second look.
ATTKISSON: I looked at the coverage to see was the mainstream media correct in picking up the story without their own verification, and I concluded -- this is just an aside, by the way -- that once the university actually made it a news story by suspending the fraternity and inviting a criminal investigation, it did invite mainstream coverage, regardless of whether they had done the investigation.
KURTZ: Right. There were now official reactions at the University of Virginia that you had to cover without knowing whether Jackie's story was true. And indeed, I think there's more shoes to fall on this. Sharyl, thank you very much.
Ahead on "MediaBuzz," major news outlets go haywire over a congressional aide who lost her job for trashing the president's daughters. But have they gone overboard? But first, Gloria Allred making the TV rounds as she demands that Bill Cosby wave his right and allow himself to be sued. Really?
KURTZ: Now that Bill Cosby has basically been drummed out of the television business, a woman named Judy Huff (ph) has surfaced, with a lawsuit charging that he sexually assaulted her at the Playboy mansion back in 1974. Cosby has filed his own suit saying Huff extorted him by demanding $250,000 for her silence. Celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred called a press conference, as she is want to do, with three Cosby accusers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALLRED: It could be advantageous for Mr. Cosby to give up the statute of limitations, because there is a huge cloud on his reputation and on his legacy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want Mr. Cosby to face justice for what he has done to me and to so many other women.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So are the media being fair in covering these latest allegations? Joining us now from Seattle, Michael Medved, author and syndicated radio talk show host, and here in Washington, Christina Bellantoni, editor and chief of Roll Call. Michael, now that Gloria Allred has dived into this case, which is already getting lots and lots of media attention, what does his involvement do to the coverage of the story?
MICHAEL MEDVED, COLUMNIST: I think it polarizes it. Anything that Gloria Allred does polarizes things automatically. I think the notion that she's looking out for Bill Cosby's reputation is ludicrous. I mean, obviously, one of the things that you have to say for the Cosby legal team and public relations team, is considering the facts that these allegations have been swirling around for at least 14 years, they've done a pretty good job of fending them off so far. The difficulty right now is there are just so many women, 26 by latest count, that he's begun to have to pull back and, at age 77, his comeback seems to be at the very, very best stalled. He also had to resign from the board of Temple University, his alma mater.
KURTZ: Everybody is cutting ties, he's become a liability. Let me get Christina in here. This is a very serious story. Even some of these women are not telling the truth, 26 women, as Michael says. But has it now become an entertainment story for the media?
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI, ROLL CALL: It's definitely an entertainment story. But your last segment on the Rolling Stone piece and this just really highlight, we are talking about sexual assault in a different way in the media now. Accusers are going public. People are approaching this differently. And so in some ways it's great to have a national conversation about something that remains a very serious problem, not just here, but globally. But then the other way you have it, become this media circus, and everybody is focusing on the he said/she said, when was it, how much money are you going to get out of it. I mean, this is a very serious accusation. It's just so surprising to me how long it took for this to actually become a major national story. I hadn't been aware of it years ago, but many, many reports had been out there.
KURTZ: I think it's fair to say the media for years protected Cosby. At the same time now, almost every time any accusation is made, now are kind of piling on. He can't be sued because of the statute of limitations. So this woman says, well, I was a minor at the time, four decades ago, and I just now realized the pain of being assaulted when I was underage, and Gloria Allred says why don't you voluntarily agree to be sued, and boom, it's a story.
MEDVED: I think a lot of this, at least in part, is inspired by the case which is not that well known in the United States of Sir Jimmy Seville, who was a popular media figure in Great Britain, he was knighted for it. He was the host of "Top of the Pops." And after his death in 2011, 450 credible cases, 28 of them children below if age of 10, of sexual predation, some of them involving drugs as the allegations against Cosby. And now people believe that to be true. The big question with Jimmy Seville, and I think this is a big question with Cosby, is how could the media have kept it quiet for so long when these charges have been swirling around for so long? That seems to me is the real story here. That will people will get to the bottom of it at some point.
KURTZ: But one of the questions for journalists is how you prove these allegations, especially when they happened 20, 30, in some cases 40 years ago.
BELLANTONI: Right. I cover politics, not these types of issues, but I can understand --
KURTZ: A lot of sex scandals in politics.
BELLANTONI: -- how it would be difficult for an editor to say go ahead and pursue this. A lot of people don't want to talk. He has not acknowledged any of this. He's never been really asked about this in a public way, you know, until now.
KURTZ: He was asked by the AP and he tried to get the question and the answer not to be used.
BELLANTONI: Exactly. But in other ways, this was somebody who was really representative of America and American culture for so many years. Somebody said to me recently, that the Senate floor would actually stop and people would go back in the cloak room and watch the Cosby show when it was on.
KURTZ: The image has really changed. One of the women who has been very highly profile, this former model Janice Dickinson. She was on MSNBC and I want to play a little bit of that for the audience.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your response to Marty Singer, again, Cosby's lawyer?
I think that speaks volumes.
JANICE DICKINSON, FORMER MODEL: I want Marty Singer -- what if someone raped your wife, Marty? You've got daughters, Marty. What if Bill Cosby came and dragged their innocence, Marty? And I say to you, Bill Cosby, I've said it before and I'll say it again. You're one sick [ bleep ] puppy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Michael Medved, you're also a film critic. Did this just devolve into bad theater?
MEDVED: No. It's serious stuff. I do think this is going to change things, just like that story you covered about the University of Virginia and Rolling Stone is going to change things. I think we have surrounded our mega celebrities with this sort of cone of protection and affection. That was certainly the case here. I think that is going to be much, much less likely in the future. Particularly as we take very seriously, as we should. When you talk about dropping drugs into people's drinks, one of the things every guy in the country is thinking about is what does he need to do that for? He's Bill Cosby. If he wants to go to bed with some girl in a different place -- it is very, very disturbing, and I think people are going to be much more aggressive in investigating these charges as they arrive.
KURTZ: The brief answer here, are the media, at the same time, guilty of unfairly convicting Cosby without a trial?
BELLANTONI: This is what the media does, right? It's going to continue to be a circus and every tweet he puts out thinking supporters are going to get a lot of coverage, the first interview he ends up giving is going to be a big thing. This is how we do it.
KURTZ: If indeed there is one. All right, Michael Medved, thanks very much for getting up early in Seattle. Christina, stick around. Ahead on the program, Dr. Nancy Snyderman finally apologizes on camera for violating her Ebola quarantine.
But first, the network newscasts are all over the congressional staffer who criticized Sasha and Malia at that turkey pardon. Why didn't they think Jonathan Gruber's Obamacare videos were newsworthy?
KURTZ: Elizabeth Lawton made a very bad mistake on Facebook. As communications director for Republican Congressman Stephen Fincher, she ripped the president's daughters, Sasha and Malia, for looking bored and distracted at the annual turkey pardon session. Try showing a little class, Lawton wrote, and she wasn't done. "Act like being in the White House matters to you, dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar." A story quickly made all three network newscasts, there was a lot of criticism, Elizabeth Lawton lost her job, and Christina Bellantoni of Roll Call is still with us. And joining us now is Susan Ferrechio, chief congressional correspondent for the Washington Examiner. Obviously, a congressional communications director losing her job for going after the Obama daughters is a significant story. But does it deserve that much coverage?
SUSAN FERRECHIO, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: As you've written, aptly so, that it's really easy to suddenly ruin your career on social media these days. It can happen very quickly.
KURTZ: In seconds.
FERRECHIO: This was a Twitter ready story, because you could really tear it down in 140 characters. There were pictures of Sasha and Malia standing in front of their dad, rolling their eyes in their short skirts. It really was perfect for social media. That being said, what isn't television ready about the Gruber story? That came with video. The media didn't pay a heck of a lot of attention to that. So why are we paying so much attention to the Lawton story? I think it has to do with the subject matter, it has to do with the snarky comment she made. The pictures of the daughters. The idea that these kids are off limits. It was sort of perfect for social media, and it took off in a viral way.
BELLANTONI: And it does not need to have an outcome, right? What Jonathan Gruber is talking about is a major health care law that is law and has been upheld by the Supreme Court. That is still an ongoing political debate. That is even happening in Congress right now, whereas this is you can talk about it and show the pictures and it was a slow holiday season.
KURTZ: It's Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving holiday, period. You show the turkey, you show the daughters, you show the Facebook posts, it's a morality lay. But these very same organizations, all three network newscasts covered this obscure congressional aide, who, by the way, apologized within hours, and gave up her job. It wasn't like she wasn't punished. And I think recognized what a mistake she made. It was on the front page of the Washington Post and it was in the New York Times. Well, the New York Times and the Washington Post and the three network newscasts waited anywhere from four, six, five, six, seven, eight -- it's been a long morning -- four, five, six, seven, eight days to cover the Gruber videos in which he called the American people stupid and said Obamacare was deceptively sold. Isn't that kind of a more of an important story?
BELLANTONI: Sure. I don't think you need to conflate the two. It should have gotten more coverage. In Roll Call's defense, we did quite a bit about this in part because we cover congressional staffers. We had done a Hill climber, which is our profiles of up and coming staffers about her just a year ago, learned a little bit about her. She owns her own social media business as well, giving people advice on what to do, and so what this was an area where it was important to talk about what those consequences can be. But you know, I'm sensitive to this too. I am Chelsea Clinton's same age, and I remember very much when she was getting attacked for being an awkward, young lady, which I also was, you know, by Rush Limbaugh and others.
KURTZ: You have overcome that.
BELLANTONI: But it's a difficult situation. And so the media does give it a ton of coverage.
KURTZ: There is a history here. I remember writing about People Magazine putting Chelsea Clinton on the cover and being denounced by Bill and Hillary Clinton, and this was during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which Chelsea was caught in the middle of. And I also question when Jenna and Barbara Bush, when George W. Bush was in the White House, they were busted for underage drinking in Texas, and you had to report that because it was a law enforcement action, but I said some people are going too far and they are bringing up the president's former drinking. So there's a history here about shouldn't a president's kids be off limits to the media?
FERRECHIO: I think they haven't really been off limits. You can go back to Teddy Roosevelt's daughter. This has not been off limits territory, but I think it just depends how far you're going to go. And I think Lawton's comments were considered a step too far. It was a long and critical attack on these girls, and they're very young. I have to say, those dresses are the style, whether you like it or not. So it was a little bit of an unfair attack just on its face. But to put it out on social media, she made it public. These days on social media, you can be your own publisher.
KURTZ: The problem is you don't have an editor.
FERRECHIO: That's exactly right.
BELLANTONI: This was on her personal Facebook page. Clearly somebody who is friends with her, ratted her out. Made the screen grab. Yes, it's possible it could have been found, but somebody sent this somewhere. The girls, in addition to being they're wearing the styles of the day, but they're bored with their dad. The way any girls would be.
KURTZ: We invited Elizabeth Lawton on the show, and she's lying low for the moment. But you indicated that maybe because Elizabeth Lawton is a Republican staffer and the target were the Obama girls, it was treated differently than Gruber. But I'm wondering, though, whether there wasn't a lot of journalists, many of them who were parents, being genuinely upset that the 13-year-old and a 16-year-olds are targets now.
FERRECHIO: I think it's a little of both. I think a lot of young people are journalists who don't have kids and maybe like the idea of going after a Republican staffer or a congressional staffer in general. That could be more of what it's about.
BELLANTONI: And it was so over the top, and just, again, an easy story to cover. Yes, of course, you're going to go after it this way. And then she stretched it out by she stepped down several days later and left the office. It wasn't like that happened immediately.
FERRECHIO: Then they dug into her past and oh, hey, you're going to call them out on the carpet for doing something as teenagers, what about your own history and her shoplifting episode.
KURTZ: She's been vilified online. I think the story is over, we're not going to talk about it again.
KURTZ: All right, Christina Bellantoni, Susan Ferrechio, thanks very much for stopping by this Sunday.
After the break, a mass uprising at the New Republic as the magazine implodes. And CNN is suddenly looking for a new Sunday morning anchor. That's next in our buzz briefs.
KURTZ: The New Republic, which just held its 100th anniversary party, featuring Bill Clinton, has utterly imploded. Dozens of top staffers resigning after owner Chris Hughes, a former Facebook executive, fired editor Frank Foer and announced he's moving the headquarters from here in Washington to New York, cut the number of print issues to just 10 a year, to create what he calls a vertically integrated digital media company whatever that means.
Andrew Sullivan and 18 other former editors at liberal magazines signed a letter saying the New Republic is a kind of a public trust, that is something all its previous owners and publishers understood and respected. The legacy has now been trashed. The trust violated, and the New Republic now won't publish again until February. What a mess.
Candy Crowley is leaving CNN after more than a quarter century and giving up her Sunday show, "State of the Union." Crowley, as you'll recall, drew flack for offering her opinion during a Benghazi exchange in that debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney, and that was unfortunate. But she is a reporter at heart, and most Republicans as well as Democrats regard her as fair. Who will take over her show? My prediction is Jake Tapper, who got Sunday show experience when he was at ABC.
Still to come, your top tweets, Dr. Nancy Snyderman says she is sorry, and the case of the disappearing morning show guest. Buzzworthy is straight ahead.
KURTZ: Dr. Nancy Snyderman returns to NBC this week, after that fiasco where she had contact with an Ebola victim on her team in Liberia, returned home and violated a self-imposed quarantine. Matt Lauer put her on the hot seat on the "Today Show."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATT LAUER, NBC: Critics said your behavior was unacceptable. You have had time to digest it and think about it, reflect on it. What's your response?
SNYDERMAN: I'm very sorry for not only scaring my community and the country, but adding to the confusion of terms that I think came as fast and as furious as the news about Ebola did. We knew the risks in our heads, but didn't really appreciate, and frankly we were not sensitive to how absolutely frightened Americans were. So came back, agreed to a voluntary quarantine in my home, and then 72 hours later left my home.
LAUER: And in your situation, it wasn't about what was medically right to do, it was about breaking a promise.
SNYDERMAN: It was about breaking a promise.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Snyderman was right to personally apologize on the air. She did put herself at risk, and a tip of the hat to Lauer for asking his colleague the tough question.
Now for your top tweets about Rolling Stone running that badly flawed story about gang rape. Bruce Christian, "How could they not question the accused? Poor journalism from the start." Kelly Cryer (ph), "My Theory is, recent big changes, (inaudible) departure, he is the editor, they set different sourcing standards for this story compared to others." Mike Oshinsky (ph), "They're desperate to appear relevant." Dana, "because it made white frat boys look really, really bad."
Some cable shows like to put on a lot of guests at once, and sometimes they get lost in the crowd, or they disappear. That's what happened to Jeremy Peters of the New York Times on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC: Let me get one more story in here. Republicans --
SCARBOROUGH: We got to get Jeremy in here, Dr. Jeremy Peters. Oh, he's gone. Jeremy, that was your best -- did he say anything?
SCARBOROUGH: The entire time?
BRZEZINSKI: He said one thing.
SCARBOROUGH: It was really good, though.
BRZEZINSKI: In the two hours he's been here.
SCARBOROUGH: No, it was really good, though, wasn't it?
SCARBOROUGH: What did he say?
BRZEZINSKI: I don't remember, do you?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: After getting up at 6:00 in the morning, I'm sure Joe will make it up to Jeremy Peters, and Sharyl, I hope you feel like you got the chance to speak on the program today.
KURTZ: That's it for this edition of "MediaBuzz." I'm Howard Kurtz. We hope you like our Facebook page. We spend a lot of time there, we post a lot of original content, we post Web exclusive videos. And you can e-mail us there. And you can email us on our home page.
We're back here next Sunday morning, 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Eastern. Check it out for the latest buzz.
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