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Media Buzz

The media's tortured debate; rape claims under fire

This is a rush transcript from "MediaBuzz," December 14, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On the buzz meter this Sunday, a tortured debate, as the Senate committee spells out the brutal techniques against detainees during the Bush administration. Media outrage on both sides of the issue. At the CIA for the use of torture and allegedly hiding the details, and at Dianne Feinstein for allegedly jeopardizing the lives of Americans by releasing this report.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC BOLLING, FOX NEWS: I think the torture, I'm sorry the enhanced interrogation techniques, I think they serve their purpose, I think they made us safer.

ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: Enhanced interrogation, better known as torture, goes against everything this country stands for. Every American should know the key findings of this report.

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: At one point, this report describes interrogators pureeing food of one detainee and inserting it in his anus, something the agency called rectal rehydration. Is that torture?

FORMER VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I don't know anything about that specific instance. I can't speak to that. I think -- I guess the question is what are you prepared to do in order to get the truth about future attacks against the United States?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: A look at how the media are framing this crucial argument and whether they're fighting the last war.

As Rolling Stone's story on an alleged gang rape on campus virtually collapses under the weight of new reporting, HBO's Lena Dunham admitting she made up the name of an alleged campus rapist, and her publisher offering one man a legal settlement. And if that weren't enough, more women surfacing who accused Bill Cosby of long-ago sexual assault, with supermodel Beverly Johnson saying her drugged her, too.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEVERLY JOHNSON, SUPERMODEL: I just started to swear at him, and then I just continued to call him a series of names. He was getting angry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Plus, Jon Stewart apologizes for a big mistake about a deadly police confrontation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON STEWART, DAILY SHOW HOST: My stupidity, my sloppiness. I did this to me! Can become an opportunity to negate that entire conversation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: And Stephen Colbert goes easy on Barack Obama. What happened to truthiness? I am Howard Kurtz and this is "MediaBuzz."

When it comes to the long running debate over torture, it all depends on where you shine the media spotlight. For much of the mainstream media, the dominant news in the Senate report on CIA interrogations was in the stark details.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was a program. This was a despicable program that when you read about, you are sickened to hear about this, and the sexual humiliation of these people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stripped naked and diapered. One detainee chained to a wall for 17 straight days in a standing position. Another threatened with a drill. One left to die in a cell from hypothermia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: As former CIA Director Michael Hayden made the television rounds, he got questions like this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC: What if you, God forbid, members of your family, had to undergo some of the treatments we are reading about in this report?

MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Look, Brian, we're people who, like you and all your viewers, we have a soul and a conscience, too. We knew, as bad as these people were, we were doing this to fellow human beings.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: But others in the media shining a spotlight on the Senate Democrats and the risk of making these sensitive findings public.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: But if Americans are killed as a result of this report and they tell you that, I assume you would feel guilty about that.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, D-CALIFORNIA: I would feel very badly, of course. I mean, what do you think, Wolf Blitzer?

MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS: Even if it's going to endanger the lives of the intel community and the operatives who are still working on our behalf right now.

ANDREW NAPOLITANO, FOX NEWS: The report is not going to endanger lives.

KELLY: Yes, it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Joining us now to examine the coverage of this terror and torture debate, Lauren Ashburn, a contributor at The Hill, Steve Hayes, senior writer for the Weekly Standard and a Fox News contributor, and Juan Williams, Fox News analyst. Lauren, nice to have you back.

LAUREN ASHBURN, THE HILL: Nice to be here.

KURTZ: You just saw those interviews. What do you make of those confrontational faceoffs with Dick Cheney, Michael Hayden and Dianne Feinstein?

ASHBURN: I thought they were all very good. I thought the journalists held their feet to the fire. Wolf said Dianne was a friend, and yet he continued in that interview to push you. But what I think is missing here is the overall context. That's not easy to do on television. In 2002 and 2003, Americans were petrified about what al Qaeda would do, about the next strike, about whether or not they had a nuclear weapon. And that doesn't come through. It doesn't come through that we were very upset and terrified.

KURTZ: A country very on edge. Steve, I know you think this Senate report is inaccurate and partisan. My question is, have the media covered it fairly, warts and all?

STEVE HAYES, WEEKLY STANDARD: No, I think they haven't. Part of the reason is that the media buys the basic narrative that is put forth in this Senate report. You didn't have the media do the kind of detailed analysis of this report that you have had the media do on other things. So you have --

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES: Very few. You had some in the conservative media, I would say, do this kind of breakdown. But you didn't have very many at all. In fact, you didn't even have the media asking the most basic questions or making the most basic points. It was possible, for instance, to read a front page story in the New York Times about the report that never once mentioned that it was produced only by Senate Democrats. Can you imagine a scenario in which only Republican staff produces a report and that is nowhere mentioned by anybody in the media?

KURTZ: I think it's a fair point. It was also interesting to me, Juan, we watched NBC's Richard Engel as a correspondent say that this torture program was despicable, but at the same time saying the CIA was following the orders of the White House doing what the White House wanted. What about Steve's point that the report was not presented as a partisan document? Or is it a partisan argument?

JUAN WILLIAMS, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I think it is a partisan argument. I think it undercuts the power of what was presented. So you know, when you say it's a partisan argument, I think it kind of contradicts the idea that I think it was an 11-3 vote in the panel for the release of this report. So most of the Republicans on the committee said get it out, and then they issued a minority report that says, in fact, that they think there are flaws, serious flaws within the report.

But to come to the media angle of this, Howie, I think what strikes me is that the everybody continues to use the term enhanced interrogation techniques.

KURTZ: No, I disagree with you. I've been struck by the fact that New York Times and networks are now using torture, when in the Bush administration, they shied away from that under pressure from the administration.

WILLIAMS: I think even now when I read those stories, I see more EIT, you know, than I see torture.

ASHBURN: I tend to disagree. NPR is not using torture, and there are several other outlets that are not using it, either.

WILLIAMS: That's what I said. No, I think they're not using torture.

KURTZ: I think we can disagree about whether or not these techniques were permissible, even the current head of the CIA says some of them were abhorrent, but some of this, the common sense word I think is torture.

OK, I'm having a sense of deja vu here. Are we having this great big media war over practices that President Obama banned six years ago?

ASHBURN: Of course we are. Because torture goes to who we are as a people. Of course we should be having this discussion. It's not something that is just six years old and we're going to forget about it. President Obama is going to leave in two years, and a new president will come in who could change the policy. It's something that we need to discuss as a republic.

KURTZ: Steve, even the commentators who think this was a one-sided report, and who think that the techniques are defensible, and Lauren made the point about this was after 9/11, but also you know, did we get useful information out of these -- that's a debate that can't fully be resolved. But are they side-stepping the moral question here about the values of Americans doing things that perhaps we think our enemies are doing?

HAYES: To a certain extent, I think they are side-stepping the values debate, because we're really not having it. The conclusion has been, at least among most journalists, this was immoral or amoral and shouldn't have ever been done.

I think the important -- the relevant debate is to make the distinctions between what was done as part of the program and what was done outside of the program, that was abusive. For instance, I would defend the very limited use of these techniques that were authorized. Having said that, the rectal rehydration that was described, that's torture. And I haven't seen many reporters makes that distinction. I think the valuable distinction -- people of good will can have a serious debate about the moral character of the country and about the morality of these techniques that were authorized. We haven't had that debate, because everybody has rushed to condemn everything, without making those important distinctions.

WILLIAMS: You know what strikes me about the media coverage here is it's almost after the fact. All of us at the table, in our audience, we knew what this had happened. President Obama, not only did he say no more torture, I think on his second day in office, but he also -- he and Eric Holder, the attorney general, made the decision there will be no prosecutions, there was going to be no truth commission on this issue.

So in a sense, I think the Democrats -- and to me, that's part of the media story -- made the decision, look, we were scared, as Lauren said, as a country, and we did some things that maybe were not attractive. But then they wanted to like, move on. This report has brought it back to light. That's why I think it's interesting that the media has pretty much just played this as Steve would have us play it, as it's a partisan -- I think this is a really serious debate.

HAYES: Where has the media been? On one particular issue of this, the Democrats were fully briefed about this. There are records coming back. Republicans have made this debate, other people have reported this. And yet where is the scrutiny on Democrats who were briefed about this, who approved it, who in some cases were enthusiastically supportive of these techniques?

WILLIAMS: You're right, but let's say I say you're right, does that mean that that was good to torture people? I don't think. This reminds me that we have to hold even -- even our champions, even the CIA has to be held to some standard, Steve?

HAYES: That's not the argument. The argument is should that be part of the broader story? If you had public officials, elected officials, who enthusiastically endorsed some of these techniques, and now want to have everybody believe --

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: Let me jump in here and rule in favor of Steve, yes, that should be part of the journalistic scrutiny here, as well as the techniques themselves. Who knew about it? Was the White House fully briefed? Some of which we learned some new information.

But, you know, there's another part of this Senate report, Lauren, that dealt with the CIA's use or attempts to use the media. If we can put it up on the screen, there's an email or a memo from the deputy director at the time of the CIA's counterterrorism center, who said "we either get out and sell the program or we get hammered, which has implications beyond the media. Congress reads it, cuts our authorities, messes up our budgets. We need to make sure the impression of what we do is positive. We must be more aggressive out there. We either put out our story or we get eaten. There is no middle ground."

ASHBURN: Oh, my gosh, there's spin going on in Washington? I can't believe my ears! Of course they're going to do this. Why do you think Bill O'Reilly starts his show every day by saying you're entering the no- spin zone? Because everybody and their brother spins.

KURTZ: This is the shadowy CIA, which we don't ordinarily associate with sort of working the press.

ASHBURN: Oh, come on, you don't think they really work the press?

KURTZ: Of course they do. But I said that's not necessarily the image.

ASHBURN: Well, they have a lot of images. And I think that those other images trump that. But I think, look, ISIS is waging this amazing social media and public messaging campaign that outshines anything that any other terrorism organization has ever done. They are recruiting kids from the Midwest, from Denver, from the West Coast, girls, teenagers. They have a campaign targeted against our teenagers. So if they have a propaganda, we should, too. If they have a propaganda machine, we should, too.

KURTZ: Very quick exchange on this. The report also says the CIA leaked classified information at the time to the New York Times and to author Ron Kessler, and of course, the administration, every administration gets very upset about classified leaks. Except when they're trying to make the agency look good or make the program look good. Any problem with that?

HAYES: Look, the CIA does this as a matter of course. The CIA spins stories, not always in a honest way, people will not be surprised to find out.

But remember, Dianne Feinstein's report, at 11:05, shortly after this report was released, you had 3,000 word stories by a few select news outlets that had this in advance. So she's criticizing the CIA for doing exactly what she just did to advance her agenda.

WILLIAMS: I'm just shocked, shocked that the CIA is spinning. But the fact is, don't forget, they not only destroyed tapes because they didn't want them leaked and played here in the media, but also tried to get inside the Senate Intelligence Committee's computers and block them access.

KURTZ: I've got to get a break. Let's go on to Twitter. I want you to be part of the conversation, send me a message @howardkurtz. We always read some of the best ones later on.

Ahead, we'll talk to the journalist who cracked open the badly botched Rolling Stone report on alleged gang rape.

And when we come back, some embarrassing Hollywood emails revealed in hacking of Sony Pictures, but isn't this stolen property?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: The massive hacking at Sony Pictures is serious business, with personal information revealed about 47,000 staffers and ex-staffers. Lots of speculation the computer attack is in retaliation for Sony's new film "The Interview," a comedy about an assassination plot against North Korea's Kim Jong un, but the media now consumed by the uncovering of gossipy and (inaudible) emails. Producer Scott Rudin to Sony Pictures co-chair Amy Pascal over his frustration with Angelina Jolie, "I am not destroying my career over a minimally talented spoiled brat." Pascal joking about whether she'd ask President Obama about his favorite films, "Should I ask whether he'd like 'Django'?" Rudin, "'12 Years as a Slave.'"

Juan, did you think this kind of private joking around about the president's favorite films was racist?

WILLIAMS: Yes, I thought it had strong racial overtones. And for me, having worked in a liberal media environment at NPR and being fired for saying things, I thought it was a reminder of kind of liberal hypocrisy when it comes to racism. Normally you're always all over Republicans and conservatives. But in this instance, what you see here is that these very liberal Hollywood elites, who give money to Democrats, are condescending to the president of the United States, a Harvard educated lawyer, and say oh, no, his interest in movies is going to be confined solely to him on the basis of race, and he's going to have this interest in kind of working class slap stick comedy.

KURTZ: One, they were joking around. That doesn't excuse it. Amy Pascal has apologized, Scott Rudin has apologized. Let me bring in Steve. I mean, it's a fair point, but we've all feasting on these gossipy e-mails. It's all stolen property, and, I don't know, that makes me uneasy.

HAYES: Let me say something I don't think I've ever said in my entire career. I agree entirely with everything Juan just said, and it was brilliant. Yes. Start over, Juan.

That's my problem with this story is these are e-mails that we shouldn't be seeing. I think the content of them is indefensible. Even if they were joking. But these are emails we shouldn't be seeing. It was a crime. There is no question about it. It makes me uneasy even to talk about it as a topic. I thought Morning Joe actually handled it pretty well earlier this week where they raised the issue, they presented and they went around the table and everybody said in effect, we shouldn't be talking about this.

KURTZ: This does confirm -- I agree. I kind of wanted to take a shower after reading some of this stuff, but this does confirm the stereotype of Hollywood hot shots as being sort of backstabbing and duplicitous.

ASHBURN: What it also confirmed is Hollywood is not in Barack Obama's back pocket, as we thought they were.

KURTZ: Amy Pascal is a supporter of the president.

ASHBURN: It doesn't matter. What president would get respect? Doesn't get that kind of respect? His poll numbers are down, even his base is attacking him and being racist.

KURTZ: There are also some e-mails that spilled out involving New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, as you know, telling Amy Pascal, the Sony Pictures co-chair, "I would make sure you look great" if Pascal would give Dowd an interview and promising to show an advanced copy of the column to Pascal's husband, who is a former New York Times reporter.

ASHBURN: Outrageous. The first thing people learn in journalism school is you don't show your product to your source or to whoever else is interested, has a vested interest in this until it's written. That said, she came out and said I did not do this.

KURTZ: Right. But then there was the exchange afterwards of she gets the interview and Amy Pascal writes to Maureen Dowd, you're my favorite person. And Dowd writes, you're mine, you're amazing. Is that how you deal with the head of a studio?

ASHBURN: Then the New York Times defends it. Her boss defends it by saying, oh, it was just an air kiss, you're great, I'm great. She's writing an article about this woman. You know, yes, there's a certain way to thank you for the interview, great talking to you, but it's not -- you don't do that.

KURTZ: All right, panel, air kisses all around. Maybe not for you two.

(LAUGHTER)

KURTZ: Lauren Ashburn, Juan Williams, Steve Hayes. Thanks for stopping by.

Ahead, a supermodel with a moving tale adds her name to the growing list of women accusing Bill Cosby of sexual assault.

But up next, the Washington Post reporter who found glaring contradictions in "Rolling Stone's" account of a gang rape at the University of Virginia.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: A badly botched "Rolling Stones" piece on an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia is crumbling even further, the Washington Post raising new questions about the account by the accuser named Jackie after interviewing three of the friends who were with her on the night she said she was sexually assaulted at a fraternity party. Some of those friends also speaking to CBS this morning with one questioning the motives of Rolling Stone reporter Sabrina Erdely.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The reporter chose Jackie's story because it was more extreme.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was looking for a piece that would easily be sensationalized.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jackie and I aren't really close. I know that she is a very good storyteller. So I'm a little confused. I wish I knew sort of why she decided to portray everybody who tried to help her as somehow horrible, sort of "Animal House" frat boys.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Joining us now is Taylor Rees Shapiro, the Washington Post reporter who first uncovered many of these contradictions. Welcome.

You talked to three of the friends who are now on the record who were with Jackie that night. She says they got from her the name of the guy she was dating, who brought her to the party where she says she was attacked by him and some of his friends. They even were texted a picture of this guy. What did you find?

TAYLOR REES SHAPIRO, WASHINGTON POST: The name of the person in the picture is not the same as the person that she has identified as her date. In fact, he was an entirely different person that she had known since high school. When I spoke with him, he said he did know Jackie, but they didn't really have very many interactions together, and he said in fact they hadn't even sat at the same lunch table.

KURTZ: And what about the name of the guy who she originally told this group of friends was the person who lured her into this alleged sexual attack?

SHAPIRO: That name is a different name that she later gave to friends in the recent days as the name of her attacker.

KURTZ: And you got in touch with this new name, this other fellow?

SHAPIRO: The second person, correct.

KURTZ: What did you find there?

SHAPIRO: He said he had never met Jackie in person, but that he was a lifeguard at the AFC, the Aquatic Fitness Center.

KURTZ: She described the guy as a lifeguard.

SHAPIRO: Correct, in the Rolling Stone article, but he said that they had never met.

KURTZ: What was the demeanor of these people who are Jackie's friends, but sharing their grave doubts with you? Was it hard to get them to talk?

SHAPIRO: It was confusion for them. They were happy to speak with me. I reached out to them and all three agreed to speak first on the condition that we use the pseudonyms they were given in Rolling Stone. Now they're speaking publicly about it. They felt the way they were portrayed was not correct, that the Rolling Stone article did not accurately capture what really had happened that night. That's why they wanted to talk.

KURTZ: So they felt, and we saw in the "Animal House" comment, that one of them gave to CBS, that not only did they have doubts about Jackie's story, but they were being maligned as sort of uncaring, because I guess we should explain to people that in the original Rolling Stone article, it was suggested -- no, explicitly stated that these people had told Jackie, allegedly the victim of a brutal attack, she got a bloody dress -- not to go to the hospital because it might hurt her social standing.

SHAPIRO: Correct. But that's not at all what they said happened. In fact, they said as soon as they found her, she was in trauma. She had clearly been affected by something very horrific. She was crying, saying something bad had happened, and they encouraged her at that moment to seek the police. They wanted her to speak to the authorities about it, and they wanted to help her out. None of the comments that were given in Rolling Stone were accurate.

KURTZ: You spoke several times to Jackie. You're the only other reporter I know who has talked to her. She basically sticks to the version she gave Rolling Stone, correct?

SHAPIRO: She does.

KURTZ: What was her demeanor at times you had spoken to her?

SHARIRO: She was outgoing, she seemed very smart, very intelligent, was very nice, very kind. And she related to me the almost the exact same details of the story she had given to Rolling Stone.

KURTZ: Does she have any resentment toward Rolling Stone? We did learn later that she had asked to be taken out of the article, which of course put her at the center of this national media storm.

SHAPIRO: She told me from the very beginning that she stood by the story that was given to Rolling Stone. In subsequent conversations she and I had together, she told me that she did feel manipulated. She tried to put her story out there and then decided she wanted to pull back, and that the writer had told her that that wasn't going to happen.

KURTZ: Did she explain why she felt she was manipulated?

SHAPIRO: She did not explain, you know, specifically, why she felt that way, other than she had just determined that she no longer wanted to participate in the article.

KURTZ: A lot more for us to find out about this tangled tale. But your reporting has been exemplary and has helped explain some of the things that didn't happen and bringing in some other voices to the story, which, in my view, people Rolling Stone should have been interviewing in the first place. Taylor Rees Shapiro, thank you so much for coming in.

SHAPIRO: Thank you.

KURTZ: Coming up, our panel digs deeper in the Rolling Stone's handling of this train wreck of a story, and actress Lena Dunham facing possible legal action over her own account of campus rape. And later, Jon Stewart says he's sorry for a major mistake, but milks it for comedy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

KURTZ: So in light of new reporting by the Washington Post and CBS, has the Rolling Stone rape story basically collapsed? And what about new questions involving Lena Dunham's account of campus rape?

Joining us now here in Washington, Susan Ferrechio, chief congressional correspondent for the Washington Examiner, and in Minneapolis, Ana Marie Cox, contributor for the Daily Beast.

Susan, when you hear Jackie's friends and these interviews with the Washington Post reporter we just spoke to, blowing holes in her account, I have to ask, why couldn't Rolling Stone find these people?

SUSAN FERRECHIO, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: That's a great question. I looked at Sabrina Rubin Erdely's LinkedIn account. She talks about her reporting involving doing thousands of interviews for stories. Well, you know, if you're that kind of reporter and you're the one who likes to dig and dig and look for things, I think instinctively, you would go out looking for these friends and want to make sure you got everybody.

I saw some reports suggesting she may have just interviewed the periphery of those friends and not the actual people who were in direct contact with her. I just find that hard to believe. If she's going through the advocacy group on the campus, she's going to have contact or ability to reach out to these people. I really find it difficult to believe it was impossible to find them. The Post found them very quickly.

KURTZ: That is the thing that is so striking, in a matter of days. And Ana, so many contradictions now, going beyond was there a party on that particular weekend, were there five attackers or seven? Now she sends around a picture, according to her friends, Jackie the accuser, in this University of Virginia story, sends around a picture of the guy that says he's the one. And it turns out it's not even him, it's the high school friend. And brings us back to the Rolling Stone question, why publish this without even going to the alleged assailant to see if there's another side?

ANA MARIE COX, DAILY BEAST: I just want to be clear on something. Jackie's story has fallen apart, and that's true. And you picked out a lot of really glaring inconsistencies there, but the UVA rape story has not fallen apart. The fact that UVA has a problem with sexual assault, the fact that it's being investigated by the Department of Education and Department of Justice about its handling of sexual assaults. The Bush administration Department of Education found it in violation of federal law in the way that it handles sexual assaults in 2008.

KURTZ: Let me jump in because do you hear people in the media --

COX: Very, very important to point this out, very important to point out that UVA has a problem.

KURTZ: Let me jump in. Do you think that there are voices in the media as a result of this one story, which you say which most people leave with we don't know what happened, but has basically fallen apart, that there are voices in the media saying oh, campus rape is not a big issue and campus rape at the University of Virginia --

(CROSSTALK)

COX: Oh, there are people saying that. There are people on the conservative side saying that. I get that on my Twitter feed all the time. And not just randoms. There are people that are -- I'm not going to say prominent, but there are a lot of people out there who think that because Jackie's story fell apart, that that's a symbol of the overreporting of rape. And I think as you well know, rape is underreported.

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: Let me get Susan to jump in here. There are also people who say Rolling Stone, ultimately a liberal magazine, had an agenda in pushing this story, not because sexual assault is not a problem, but needing to find the most dramatic, extreme case it could, and, of course, now the story has fallen apart.

FERRECHIO: Yes. And it highlights, I think, a big question that it would be incumbent upon the media to start looking into. What is the status of rape on campuses? There seems to be a dispute here. This week, the Justice Department came out with some numbers showing there are a lot of unreported rapes, for sure, but that this one in five figure that they had been putting out, it is actually much smaller, it looks like six in 1,000.

So I have a question myself after all this reporting, the Rolling Stone, the Justice Department, how big is it an epidemic? Or is it a problem? And I think that's what this highlights.

KURTZ: Let me go to another case, but first, I want to say that Rolling Stone has a huge credibility problem here. It needs to hire an outside ombudsman or an independent journalist to find out how this happened. Not just what happened at UVA, but how this monstrosity of a story was published.

Now, Lena Dunham in the news because she wrote a book for which she was paid nearly $4 million. She said that she, when she was at Oberlin College, had been the victim of a rape, and she said the guy's name was Barry. And then a real former Oberlin student named Barry threatened to sue. Random House, her publisher, offered to pay this man's legal fees and said, no, Barry was not the real name, it was a pseudonym. Ana, does this tarnish Lena Dunham's credibility at all?

COX: Yes. I don't think there's a question about whether it tarnishes her credibility as a storyteller about true events. She is a storyteller in another way. She is a very, very talented storyteller. I think she made a huge mistake with the way she went about handling this in her memoir. I think memoirs are a tough genre to begin with, especially if you're 28, probably, when you don't have -- when you're 28, let's say. There's a lot of reasons why it's a tough genre at 28. And I wish she had handled it differently.

I think the outcome as far as it goes is about as good as you can expect in terms of the way they had handled the aftermath.

KURTZ: Right, OK, just to be clear, for people who have not read anything about this, Lena Dunham says she was drunk that night, she was coked up, she took this guy to her apartment, and then she wasn't happy with him being rough with her. And so later she now said it was rape, and another point in the book, she said she's an unreliable narrator.

To get her side in, here is her statement, something she wrote on BuzzFeed, Lena Dunham says "I've been attacked online with violent and misogynistic language. Reporters have attempted to uncover the identity of my attacker. Despite my sincerest attempts to protect this information. My work has been torn apart in an attempt to prove I am a liar, or worse, a deviate myself, but I don't believe I am to blame. I don't believe any of us who had been raped and/or assaulted are to blame." Susan.

FERRECHIO: Again, I think a lot of the blame actually falls on Random House, the publisher. They've got lawyers, they have got people to vet these books. To make -- this is a nonfiction book. And she did not clearly identify the -- Barry as a fictional name.

KURTZ: She said he was the campus conservative.

FERRECHIO: Correct. He was easily identifiable. Even when checking out Barry, he doesn't quite match the full description. There are a lot of questions about who was this person, really? Was he some kind of -- was she adding parts to a description that were somewhat fictional, too?

But still, Random House has a responsibility. They have to go through these books, fact check. Where is the fact checking? That's what I'm questioning. Why not try to find out if this really happened.

KURTZ: It's a misnomer to say that if you don't name somebody, you're not necessarily slandering or libeling them, because if there are enough identifying details, that can be a problem. I think we we can conclude by saying, Lena Dunham, that this is a self-inflicted wound since she put this in her own book.

All right, let me go to commercial. More, after the break, more Bill Cosby accusers. More lawsuits. Is television encouraging them to come out of the woodwork?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: I've lost track of how many women have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault, but this week, after another lawsuit filed against the comedian over a long-ago incident, a groundbreaking supermodel named Beverly Johnson joined the chorus, first in Vanity Fair and then on television.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you think he was trying to do?

JOHNSON: Well, I -- I knew he was trying to take advantage of me. But I knew this goes above and beyond, you know, making a pass at a woman. You don't make a pass at a woman by drugging her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Beverly, what do you want to see happen to Bill Cosby?

JOHNSON: I -- I don't want to see anything happen to Bill Cosby. What I want to see happen is that women come out and speak their truths.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Ana Marie Cox, does Beverly Johnson, the first African American woman on the cover of the U.S. edition of Vogue, does her getting into this take it to another level?

COX: I don't know if it takes it to a different level. It was a pretty high level to begin with. I think that what she does is -- I don't know, I assume you've actually read her piece in Vanity Fair. It is very thoughtful. It talks about her struggle in deciding on whether or not to come out with this information, and I thought her answer in that interview was very articulate. Sometimes when people say, like, as survivor of sexual assault, what do you want to have happen to the person that did this to you, that's not the responsibility of the person who is the victim. The person who was the victim of the assault, their responsibility is to come out and tell the truth.

We have a justice system that makes a decision about what's going to happen. And I think to take that out of it, and to just talk about coming forward and speaking her truth, I think that is a very brave thing for her to do, very noble. I really have a lot of admiration for her.

KURTZ: Right. Because there has been chatter about some of these accusers, about whether they're trying to get something. Indeed, there have been two lawsuits now using convoluted (ph) legal options to try to get some money out of Cosby, but here is Beverly Johnson writing in that Vanity Fair piece, "for a long time, I thought it was something that only happened to me and that I was somehow responsible."

FERRECHIO: Here is the most troubling thing about that. Which is it's just something we're just really learning about in 2014. This is decades of incidents and it's trickled out in the press.

KURTZ: In past years, there have been some allegations--

FERRECHIO: There have been.

KURTZ: -- about a handful of women. Now it just seems like lots and lots of women, and you almost wonder, more than 25 accusers, are we reaching a tipping point in this story?

FERRECHIO: Only in the sense that it is the tipping point for Bill Cosby's career, for his life. But I think when you look back on the media, I think it's opening up a new window, and, really, did we ignore an important story? That's my question. It sounds like the media did for questionable reasons. That's a big part of it.

KURTZ: I think that the media has kind of shielded Bill Cosby for a long time for most of this. But now you wonder whether the pendulum is going the other way, CNN devoting a prime-time hour to putting five Cosby accusers on. There have been no criminal charges against this guy had we not convicted him in the media.

COX: Well, it's tough to cover a story like this without saying you've convicted someone in the media. I think it's probably a responsible thing to interview the survivors of these assaults or the people that say -- the women that say they've been assaulted. It's how you cover it. I mean, you know this very well, it is sort of how you frame it, how you cover it. I know that people have gone to Bill Cosby for his side of the story, definitely. This isn't the case like the UVA one. We know what his side of the story is, which is that he doesn't say very much.

So I don't know if it's fair to say that we're trying him in the media. I think we're going to have to see that special. I think there is a tendency for pendulum swings, for us to try and make up for things that we've done wrong in the past, in the media, to try and over-cover when we've under-covered. But I'm not sure -- I think it's up to the individual news organization to try and retain some sense of responsibility and context for what they're doing. But I don't see anything wrong with now going after this story pretty hard.

KURTZ: Right. Well, this special -- the women basically told their stories on CNN in a way that, you know, it's always more compelling on television.

I've been really struck by Cosby saying nothing, his lawyer, Marty Singer, putting out statements. But now we see a little squid in the New York Post on page 6 in which Bill Cosby tells a reporter, "I only expect the black media to uphold the standards of excellence in journalism. And when you do that, you have to go in with a neutral mind." So he is saying something and it sounds like he maybe feels betrayed by African-American news outlets?

FERRECHIO: What's interesting to me too is the way the story unfolded. And I wonder if the media would have come down so hard on him and if the black community would have come down so hard on him if he wasn't out on tour lecturing the black community. I think there's a real connection there.

KURTZ: The political aspect there. And do we have to remember this happened at a time when he was trying to restart his career, had a deal with NBC, had a deal with Netflix, reruns airing on TV. All that has now gone away because of the mounting allegations here. Susan Ferrechio, Ana Marie Cox, thanks very much for joining us.

Straight ahead, Jon Stewart berates himself for getting the facts wrong. And Stephen Colbert goes a bit easy on President Obama. What happened to the search for truthiness? Our video verdict, comedy edition, is up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Time now for our video verdict. Jon Stewart made a serious mistake in a segment on police shootings the other day, lumping in a case in San Bernardino, California with the police shootings of unarmed black men.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was so wrong about those facts. They did not shoot him, they tasered him, after he had committed a burglary and he was attempting to assault a deputy sheriff.

STEWART: District Attorney Ramos is right, we were wrong. So I'm sorry about that. We shouldn't have done that. Dah! I [ EXPLETIVE DELETED] hate making unforced errors like this. I hate it! I get so mad at myself. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Coming up on the program, Jon Stewart uses his show to slam the cops.

STEWART: No! And I can't even fight back! And I deserve that!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: He did deserve that, and good for him for putting the apology front and center. Yes, he turned it into comedy schtick, and yes, he later lashed out at another Fox commentator, but I know how he feels. I get really mad at myself when I make a mistake, and the important thing here is Jon Stewart owned up to it, but it's a comedy show so he did it in humorous fashion.

In other Comedy Central news, it was supposed to be an epic clash. President Obama versus that bombastic right-wing blowhard Stephen Colbert, but this time Colbert the nice guy showed up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT: Are you still president after the midterms? Because the Republicans are quite surprised that you're doing anything at all.

OBAMA: The election didn't go as I would have liked.

COLBERT: Do you like the job?

OBAMA: I love the job. It's an incredible privilege, but when you're in it, you're not thinking about it in terms of titles.

COLBERT: Do you do normal things like leave your socks on the floor and stuff like that?

OBAMA: I do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: The president leaves his socks on the floor. I found that a letdown, because Colbert could have used his bombastic idiot character to have a funny interview with the president but also to press him on some of these issues. He could ask one or two substantive questions. But look, Colbert is wrapping up this week. He's going to be David Letterman's successor, and so I think he went a little easy on the president.

Still to come, your top tweets, and yet another rape drama, but this one is fictional as HBO's "Newsroom" comes under fire for a controversial scene.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: First, a sad note. Dominic Di-Natale, a veteran correspondent for Fox News and other media outlets, has passed away. His death being ruled a suicide. Di-Natale reported from Pakistan after U.S. forces killed Usama bin Laden, covered the Iraq War and the Egyptian uprising, and more recently, the unrest in Ferguson. One colleague told us, he could light up a room and light up the screen. Di-Natale was 43.

Here are a few of your top tweets about how the media are covering all these disputed rape allegations. Anthony Cosgrove, "in looking for the story, they sometimes presume guilt before investigating facts. Where is the followup on false accusers?" Rick Dennis, "only one disputing the story is the lawyer. Silence from the Cosby (inaudible) silence." John Gaffy (ph), "to be clear, Lena Dunham rape story not disputed at all. Inaccurate to suggest otherwise." But her publisher is expressing regret for the way it was handled in her book. Master Chief PO 117, "why isn't anyone talking about how these bogus stories will make it difficult for victims to report real rape in the future?" Actually, there has been some discussion about this, including on this program.

A big flap involving HBO's "Newsroom" and a controversial scene this week portraying a college student telling a reporter she was raped.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you believe me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do I believe you? Of course, I do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Seriously.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not here on a fact-finding mission.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm just curious. Be really honest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. I've heard two competing stories, one from a very credible woman who as far as I can see has no reason to lie; the other from a guy I judge to be a little sketchy who has every reason to lie, and I'm obligated to believe the sketchy guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Now, a writer for the show, Alena Smith, took to Twitter saying she had objected to the scene in the script. I ended up getting kicked out of the room and screamed at, Smith complained, but "Newsroom" creator Alan Sorkin telling the Huffington Post he listened to her objections, rewrote the scene and she supported it. And he said he was sad she had violated so casually the most important rule of working writers, which is confidentiality.

And we end with a bit of good news. Eric Holder has decided that New York Times reporter James Risen does not have to reveal his confidential source in the trial of former CIA officials, almost certainly sparing him the possibility of a jail term. After the backlash over the Justice Department's snooping on the AP, and Fox's James Rosen, it seems the attorney general has belatedly learned his lesson.

That's it for us. I'm Howard Kurtz. We hope you'll like our Facebook page, where we post a lot of original content. Go to our home page. "After the Buzz" this week, we'll be talking about Ann Compton relating a conversation with President Obama in which he used profanity and beating up on the press.

We're back here next Sunday morning, 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Eastern with the latest buzz.

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