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Media Buzz

Sony caves on free speech; Bill Cosby's team rips CNN

This is a rush transcript from "MediaBuzz," December 21, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On "The Buzz Meter" this Sunday, Sony utterly caves by deep sixing a movie after threats from the hackers backed by North Korea and tries to shift the blame over this major blow to free speech.

MICHAEL LYNTON, SONY PICTURES CEO: We have not caved. We have not given in. We have persevered and we have not backed down. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Except that is not quite true. But are the media enabling the attackers by running with those gossipy internal e-mails? James Rosen on that.

Jeb Bush drawing fire from many in the conservative media as well as on the left as he slides his way into the presidential campaign. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEB BUSH, FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: A lot of conservatives, a big part of the Republican base don't like his position on common core, don't like his position on immigration. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: It's now Bush against the hard right and a Bush in the race well ahead of it, Clinton. 

Are the media jumping to conclusions about the third Bush now likely to make a run for the White House? 

News outlets swept away by the historic nature of President Obama's decision to recognize Cuba. Are they underplaying the critics who see a cave to Castro? 

Plus, Bill Cosby's camp accuses CNN of reckless one sided journalism for interviewing the women accusing him of sexual assault. By why is Cosby attacking news organizations instead of defending himself? I'm Howard Kurtz and this is "MediaBuzz."

Hollywood is hysterical over Sony's decision to cancel its film "The Interview" that depicts the assassination of North Korea's Kim Jong-un after the hackers threatened violence at theater showing the movie. The stars are unloading on Twitter. Rob Lowe, "Wow, everyone caved, the hackers won. The other incomplete victory for them. Wow." Steve Corell whose own movie project about North Korea was just canceled, "Sad day for creative expression." And Jimmy Kimmel ripped Sony on his ABC show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": I think allowing a ruthless dictator of another country to decide what American people can and cannot see in our own country is against, like everything we're supposed to stand for, right?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Reporters ask President Obama about Sony's move on Friday and the Sony pictures CEO responded on CNN. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did Sony make the right decision in pulling the movie? 

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I think they made a mistake. We cannot have a society, in which some dictator some place can start imposing censorship here in the United States. 

LYNTON: The unfortunate part is in this instance the president, the press and the public are mistaken as to what actually happened. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Well, not exactly. Joining us now to examine this debacle and talk a little politics, Sharyl Attkisson, the author of "Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth against the Forces of Destruction and Intimidation and Harassment in Obama's Washington." Jonah Goldberg, editor-at-large for National Review online and Joe Trippi, a Democratic strategist both are Fox News contributors.

With even President Obama criticizing Sony's decision, how big a blow is this to free expression? 

SHARYL ATTKISSON, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: It's pretty good, but I find it fairly awkward to hear the president lecturing Sony on how not to cave to people who are perhaps threatening violence for something that's free speech. When you look at isn't that sort of what the administration did, with the instance of Muslims video when they called YouTube and said they should pull down that perfectly legal video, an expression of free speech by a director that did absolutely nothing illegal wrong and they promised to hunt him down and have him arrested. In the end, as you know, there was nothing to arrest him for. He was exercising legal free speech and they put -- he was put in jail for something unrelated. To date, the only person really held accountable in the whole Benghazi debacle is someone who is utterly devoid of any sort of fault, ironically. 

KURTZ: What do you make, Jonah, of all this Hollywood hot shots piling on Sony?

JONAH GOLDBERG, NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE: I welcome it. I mean there's a little bit of -- you know, it's rare I'm in the same camp as a lot of these people. But every one of those tweets, I agree with. 

KURTZ: You and Michael Moore are on the same side on this.

GOLDBERG: Yeah. And check to see - the Potomac has turned to blood and it's raining frogs, but it has happened. And look, I think that where I object to Barack Obama on this, and I agree entirely with Sharyl about "The Innocence of Muslims" video, where - is that first of all, he can still talk to the movie theaters. He says I wish they had called me in advance.  He can still talk to them. He doesn't have to - or he can call them from Hawaii. They have phones there. And there's this - this was this -- but more of a decision, this is a systemic failure of the entire political and legal system where everyone had a good enough excuse to be cowardly and no one stepped up and said no, this is not the way we're going to handle this. 

KURTZ: I have a little sympathy, because Sony is under enormous pressure because of the threats of violence, what if actually something happened.  But Michael Lynton, Sony Pictures CEO says the press and the president just don't understand.

JOE TRIPPI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, but they - look, had they - let's go to the other way for a second. Had they released the film into a bunch of theater chains that weren't going to run it and it ran on 18 screens and no one showed up to any of the theaters because of the fear of what would happen, Sony would be on the other side of a media storm that would have been launched. So I'm not - it's not clear -- and the one thing I think that the media really fell down on the job on this one was they didn't -- the whole lot of playing up the -- the e-mails and said nothing to educate the public on the guys that cut into the e-mails were not likely to be able to do violence at 18,000 theater locations around the country. 

KURTZ: More on that in the next segment, but we're also seeing Sony backtracking. It was the first, it was like, we have no plans to distribute this any way, on line, DVD, you name it. 

Now, it's like oh, we are really looking for ways we can get this out.

ATTKISSON: Sony has to make its own decision. I mean I can't tell them what's right, but for the president of the United States, as you said, to pretend like there are no phones in Hawaii, I mean the administration has not hesitated to insert itself in issues in which it's not necessarily even invited. The idea that it couldn't have provided the support prior to Sony making big decisions like this instead of after the fact criticizing them for it is a little ...

KURTZ: And Sony blaming the theater owners for not - for a major change.  But in fact it was planned to put it in about 40 theaters, heavily secured.  Everyone wants to point the finger at someone else. 

GOLDBERG: Right. And Barack Obama did the same thing with the IRS e- mails. The emails - the obvious thing - if only I had known. Well, it turns out, he was sort of notified.

KURTZ: Talk about the (INAUDIBLE) journalist.

GOLDBERG: I agree. But also, I think that, you know, one last point on this, just talk about a proportionate response, right? Rather than -- the only proportionate response, because it's not like we can hack the donkeys that are running the economy in North Korea. The proportionate response is to air this and to figure out the way to air it. And what I'd like to see is a collective stepping up from the entire media to say, we're going to figure out a way to air this. 

KURTZ: Well, I really fault Sony, is in the making of this stupid and reckless film, I mean, it's supposed to be a comedy showing - you know, that's not even thinly veiled fiction showing the blowing up of Kim Jong- un's head and having a debate about how much his hair should be on fire.  It just seems like a really dumb idea. 

TRIPPI: But I mean look, it could be stupid for them to make it, but they can make it and ...

KURTZ: Oh, yeah. 

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: Sony has the right to make (INAUDIBLE) film. 

(CROSSTALK)

GOLDBERG: And I have the right to say ...

TRIPPI: And by the way, it wouldn't be the first time. But that's not -- what really broke down here was, I think, again, what Jonah pointed out is sort of cowardice across the board. It was - this isn't just Sony. This is just the fear caution took out there among the American people, too, about ...

KURTZ: And the legal system that says - it will pay to sue movie theaters ...

GOLDBERG: Right. For when a dictator 8,000 miles away blows up a movie theater.

KURTZ: We have a rare consensus here, which I'm not going to try to blow up by changing subjects.

Jeb Bush inching his way into the presidential race. A lot of people thought he wouldn't run and now he says he's actively exploring. And Sharyl, it was interesting the process here, the media orchestration, because there were leaks from Bush allies, The Washington Post in New York Times on the same day both ran the front page stories, then he gave an interview to Miami television station, then kind of announces on Facebook. Is this a new way of getting into a presidential race? 

ATTKISSON: Yes. And you can tell, I think the public is smart enough to know now, when you see this across the board rollouts of news, that's supposedly quiet meetings that took place that the New York Times found out about, these are media strategies that they've decided are best for rolling out their message and getting a maximum amount of coverage in a positive light and that's exactly what happened. 

KURTZ: Your magazine National Review? I mean kind of a respectful wait and see editorial, but another NR writer Charles Cook said that Bush is the wrong man at the wrong time and in the wrong country. The pundits on your side of the ideological aisle, not very enthusiastic about this Bush. 

GOLDBERG: No. I would think - I think that even people who would consider themselves pro-Bush or pro-Jeb in some other context think this is a bad idea. I think that, you know, Jeb Bush was a fantastic governor of Florida. I don't want him to run. I don't think he should run.

KURTZ: Has he consulted you?

GOLDBERG: He has not consulted me. He's consulted people I know. And I think that ...

KURTZ: So, but - come to the idea of that. You've got all of this conservative commentators. Some of which are - some of whom are lukewarm on Jeb Bush, some of whom are like you, are just like, go find something else to do. Does that hurt him or is he big enough of name and force that it doesn't matter? 

GOLDBERG: I think it matters whether it's enough to stop him. It's unclear. There is an enormous headwind on the right against Jeb. What Jeb has going for them is that the right is going to be diffused across that half dozen or a dozen other candidates and he may be - if he can lockdown the establishment, he can beat those guys. But the conservative press is not going to give Jeb a cake walk on this.

TRIPPI: Part of what's happening is both parties have this where you have establishment candidates and insurgents or someone out of a different wing of the party. If Ted Cruz had done - had announced that he was running or exploring, there would have been pundits in the Republican Party coming out and pointing out all the problems he had and why it's a mistake. Jeb Bush is just, you know, he's a guy to that because of who he is. He represents one wing of the party.

KURTZ: You know, who's giving Jeb a pretty respectful hearing? The liberal pundits, who, of course, like his more modern positions on immigration and education and also thinking he's a grownup in the GOP.

TRIPPI: Well, look, I saw him at George Herbert Walker Bush's 25th anniversary of his presidency down at Texas A&M. I was blown away by the guy not because -- this is not about the Bush name, and all the other problems - but he really had some thoughtful things to say about where the country needs to go. Whether you agree with him or not. Now, I'm a liberal. I think he would be - add to a formidable debate if he was in it.  But I mean ...

KURTZ: There's a headline, Trippi, listen to Jeb Bush. 

TRIPPI: And every time I say this, everybody says of course Trippi wants Jeb Bush. 

KURTZ: OK, one sentence, is it fair or just inevitable for the media to raise the dynasty issue for Jeb's brother and his father were president, is that piling on or is it just part of the state of play?

ATTKISSON: Part of the state of play. And my one sentence says the media may act like it doesn't like that, but I think secretly they would like nothing more than to have a Bush and a Clinton run. 

GOLDBERG: It's totally fair and should be done to Hillary Clinton, too. 

TRIPPI: And you've totally failed to break up the consensus on ...

(LAUGHTER)

GOLDBERG: Oh, well, I was just looking good for a while. Of course it should be done - because another Bush and another Clinton, but we shall see if that's how it develops. Don't forget to send me a tweet during this hour. @howardkurtz. We'll read some of them later on. And we're going to talk in the next blog as well about the horrifying execution style shooting of two police officers in New York City.

But also ahead, Bill Cosby's team goes after CNN. Why is the guy who won't speak about the sexual assault allegations beating up on the media? 

When we come back, media have a brand new heroine, and her name is Elizabeth Warren.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: She's a senator who challenged a budget bill and came close to causing a government shutdown and the media have been hailing her as a big winner. In the words of Politico, Elizabeth Warren is on fire. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, "HARDBALL" HOST: A brilliant political exercise that was.  Her stock is on the rise, she may well be the hero of the progressive left, of the Democratic Party and a lot of other people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: But here is what Chris Matthews had to say about another senator who fought the same bill from the other end of the ideological spectrum. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Ted Cruz's failed legislative stunt over the weekend left his Republican Senate colleagues disparaging him on the record by name. He's worse than useless. He's a problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Do you see a contrast here between the media - of Elizabeth Warren and treating Ted Cruz as a wacko bird? 

GOLDBERG: Of course I do. I mean the whole liberal media bias thing has become such a stale topic because it's so obviously true. I mean forget Elizabeth Warren. The Wendy Davis filibuster in Texas, a state senator filibustering was treated as if she was the Joan of Arc of American politics.

KURTZ: Because it was an abortion.

GOLDBERG: Because it was an abortion thing. These double standards are so obvious now, that it did It's almost - tedious pointing them out. 

KURTZ: Now, there are -- we never want to be tedious, but there are distinctions to be made when (INAUDIBLE) Elizabeth Warren wanted to shut down the government, Ted Cruz and Republicans - part of the Republican wing were blamed for an actual government shutdown last year and more people - more Republicans are mad at Ted Cruz and he apologized. But I can't help but be struck by this contrast, Joe.

TRIPPI: Well, no, no, it's an obvious - There was an obvious bias in the way that it was covered. But, again, she didn't - she made it pretty clear that she wasn't interested in shutting down the government. And I also think, you know, Ted Cruz and a lot of the Republicans that he agrees with are, you know, want -- would like to end all government or like, you know, go to the extreme of like, you know, wrecking the government whereas Elizabeth Warren is the exact opposite of that probably once more. So I mean, I think the media would -- 

KURTZ: And, of course, the media would love for Elizabeth Warren to challenge Hillary, which you said about - Listen to these headlines. "The Hill," Warren makes her mark. Politico, as I mentioned, "Elizabeth Warren is on Fire," right next to that Politico headline. On the same screen, another headline, "Ted Cruz Does It Again," meaning here he goes again. 

ATTKISSON: I disagree a little bit with Joe, you'll be happy to know. I don't think Ted Cruz from what I've seen has provided evidence he wants to wreck government. In general, I think he's given logical arguments for his viewpoints, whether you agree or not. And this is just another example in which some in the media, certainly not all, see a liberal who goes even more liberal as a hero and a maverick, but sees a conservative who goes ultra-conservative as a nut and a crazy, and that's just the way they see it. 

KURTZ: That about sums it up. All right, turning now to the very depressing story, the horrifying killing yesterday of two police officers in Brooklyn, shot down by a gunman who later killed himself, and who apparently posted on Instagram, the bloody message that he'd get a couple of pigs in retaliation for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.  Now, Al Sharpton for one, whom I've been very critical of, he put out a column in the Daily News saying this was a vicious act of senseless violence and tying it to Ferguson and Staten Island is reprehensible. But I'm hearing a lot of voices on cable now blaming anyone who has criticized the police for anything, and that doesn't strike me necessarily as fair. 

GOLDBERG: I don't think it's fair, but I also think there's a point to be made here. We talk about the disconnecting coverage or the biases between the left and the right in the coverage. I remember quite vividly the Tucson shooter being blamed entirely on Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin and the right wingers. 

KURTZ: Yes. And that was wrong. I agreed it was wrong at the time. 

GOLDBERG: I agree it was wrong, and we shouldn't be doing the same thing in these circumstances. At the same time, when you have Al Sharpton's little rent-a-mobs going out there saying, what do we want? Dead cops.  When do we want them? Now. That is a different thing than anything you can ascribe to Sarah Palin's Facebook map, and the way that stuff was covered was much, much different and much less hostile than the stuff we've seen on the right. 

TRIPPI: But the media coverage of this stuff tends to take one action and it's a horrendous one, but take it and start applying lessons from it.  Like who is to blame? This is a guy who shot his girlfriend, went up to New York -- it's not clear that -- I mean, it could be true that he heard these things and decided to do something about it. But it's not necessarily true.

KURTZ: I wrote a column after the Tucson shooting, the next day, saying we should not engage in this guilt by association against Sarah Palin, and I'm going to say the same thing here, but it makes for a -- it's an easy way for television to cover it. Particularly cable news.

ATTKISSON: I say it's a little bit like blaming violent videos for violence. I think those who commit the violence are responsible for the violence, with few exceptions, but if you're going to pick on Al Sharpton, this didn't get a lot of coverage, but Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan last month gave a speech in which he said things like, if they kill one of ours, kill one of theirs. We're going to die anyway, let's die for something.

Again, I don't blame him. I'm just saying in the media coverage that was given to Al Sharpton, there certainly wasn't commensurate media coverage given to Farrakhan.

KURTZ: When somebody uses that kind of language, it should be called out.  Jonah Goldberg, Joe Trippi, thanks very much for joining us. When we come back, are the media guilty of helping the hackers with all the coverage of those Sony e-mails? James Rosen tackles that question. And later, Stephen Colbert or rather his blow-hard character signing off. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Aaron Sorkin, creator of the "West Wing" and the "Newsroom" was among those whose e-mails surfaced when hackers attacked Sony Pictures. In the "New York Times" and on the "Today" show, he ripped the media for publishing such private correspondence. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AARON SORKIN, SCREENWRITER AND PRODUCER: Hackers who have threatened violence because the studio just wants to exercise the same First Amendment right that everybody else does, the studio just wants to release a movie, have stolen this material and now the press is selling it out of the back of a truck. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: And joining us now is Fox News chief Washington correspondent James Rosen. So doesn't Sorkin have a point? Didn't every media outlet who traffic in the gossip from these stolen emails aid and abet the hackers? 

JAMES ROSEN, FOX NEWS CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: First, Howie, I should say I think I bring to this subject a certainly authority insofar as my own e-mails were illegally hacked and published. At first denied, and the culprit in this instance was the attorney general of the United States.  At that time, I don't recall hearing from Aaron Sorkin. It must have wound up on the cutting room floor. 

KURTZ: So perhaps he's more interested in Hollywood type issues than journalists like James Rosen.

ROSEN: Elsewhere, he said the media are doing this for a nickel. If it were only a nickel, the media wouldn't be doing it. The fact is the entertainment industry is worth $700 billion a year. It's almost 4 percent of our GDP. The same market forces that align in order to pay George Clooney $15 million for appearing in something like "Ocean's 13" are what account for the news value of these people and their comings and doings and occasionally their bitchy correspondence. 

KURTZ: Put Sorkin aside, though. We can debate the news value of everybody getting exercised that certain producers were dissing Angelina Jolie as a spoiled brat and so forth, and there were some more serious issues there, as well. Sony Pictures co-chair Amy Pascal and a producer telling racially tinged jokes about President Obama and his taste in movies. But we wouldn't know any of this were it not for hackers who clearly were trying to send very chilling messages to the United States and, yet, people in our business, they couldn't resist the clicks and the ratings and the segments of dwelling on the Hollywood stuff. 

ROSEN: Again, to attribute it simply as a lust for clicks I think is pejorative. This is really of news value. These people command a large portion of our economy. And reporters have different kinds of sources all the time with different kinds of motives. They're not always savory. And in the end, the judgments we make about whether to publish this kind of material has to do with not only the news value, but whether publishing it would wreak some greater damage. It cannot be all right for Hollywood to applaud the publication of the Pentagon papers or Dick Cheney's e-mails or James Rosen's e-mails, but not Sony Pictures. And for them to do that, for big Hollywood to say that Sony Pictures e-mails should be off limits but the government should not is, to my eye, rather surprising that the denizens of Topenga Canyon would elevate private corporations above the government. 

KURTZ: But surely you recognize that bitchy comments, to use your phrase, among Hollywood producers and executives and George Clooney e-mails and Angelina Jolie being dissed is about a million light years away in news value from something like the Pentagon papers or even the Ed Snowden leaks, which, as reprehensible as that was, involved secrets around the world involving the U.S. government. 

ROSEN: Again, this is a function of a market economy. If we want to invest so much money in Aaron Sorkin and Sara Silverman and all the other people who have been sounding off in this regard -- and I love some of these people - I love these actors and actresses too. It doesn't mean they should be making $15 million for their crappiest picture. 

KURTZ: You sound a little jealous on that front. (inaudible). But you keep coming back to the news value. You and I can disagree on the news value. But what is to stop the hackers now, especially in light of the Sony cave, from getting all the emails of the reporters of the "New York Times" or at Fox News or anywhere else, and undoubtedly, it will be embarrassing things where people joke around, and aren't we -- I come back to my original question. Are we enabling that sort of thing if we say, well, anything, it doesn't matter how it's gotten, hackers or not, it's fair game, let's report on it. 

ROSEN: Is it any different from the kind of tabloidy stuff that ran in the Hollywood publication of the 50s, the L.A. Confidential stuff? A photograph can be just as damaging if not more so than an e-mail. The news media have been in this business for a long time. 

KURTZ: It's different because of how it was obtained. You seem just not that concerned. You are basically saying unsavory people get stories, and if the stories are newsworthy, let's run with it and let's not worry about the providence of it. 

ROSEN: Well, the providence is secondary to the news value, I would say that, yeah. And I think that was shown in the case of James Rosen. Right? 

KURTZ: Right. Well, I did not read your e-mails and -- 

ROSEN: Yes, you did. 

KURTZ: I'm glad the attorney general, Eric Holder, belatedly said it was a mistake for that to go forward in a case in which you were protecting a source. James Rosen, thank you very much. 

ROSEN: Thank you. 

KURTZ: Ahead, New York magazine makes a huge blunder reporting on a teenage stock wizard. 

But first, Bill Cosby's camp unloading on CNN and on MSNBC commentators.  Will this anti-media strategy backfire? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

KURTZ: Bill Cosby has a new strategy, beat up on the media. His team's latest target is CNN, which just aired a prime time special featuring five Cosby accusers, and is planning another special with super model Beverly Johnson. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEVERLY JOHNSON, MODEL: And I just kind of cocked my head because at that point I knew he had drugged me. And I was just looking at him and I just asked him the question, that you are a mf, aren't you? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You cursed at him because you were conscious enough to know what was happening and you confronted him. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many of you were drugged, allegedly? All of you. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: In a letter to CNN President Jeff Zucker which was conveniently leaked to TMZ, the gossip site, Cosby's lawyer denouncing the network's handling of this story, saying this reckless approach to, quote, journalism is outrageous. Accusers are being given a national platform by CNN without first exercising the most rudimentary journalistic investigation as to their claims and motivation. CNN should stop it's one-sided reporting.  

Joining us now for the Z Block is David Zurawik, television and media critic for "The Baltimore Sun." It's not like CNN is the only organization that's covered this. And the letter deals with what Beverly Johnson's boyfriend did or did not say to CNN. We don't know what happened. But what do you make of Bill Cosby's team now attacking the network, a network with words like reckless and malicious? 

DAVID ZURAWIK, BALTIMORE SUN: Yeah. They're using the language of libel and slander, and this is the kind of letter that a media institution gets prior to the lawsuit, essentially says stop or retract. And that's what this is. I don't think it's going to be any more effective than any of his other strategies. And if you read that letter carefully, it's from Marty Singer to Jeff Zucker. You read it carefully, there's all kinds of allegations about what the producers did or didn't do and charges, with this and that, and, Howie, it sounds to me like they were just trying to interview a potential guest, but he's - Singer is attributing things to CNN that he has no evidence of.

KURTZ: CNN insiders, regard this as a dishonest publicity stunt. It's also a bit of a brushback. 

ZURAWIK: Totally. Totally, yes. 

KURTZ: But at the same time, whether it's CNN or other news organizations, Fox and everybody else who have covered this story, the coverage has been a little one-sided because Cosby won't speak. And the lawyers won't come on camera. So we just get these statements that don't really address these allegations from, what, 25, 26, 27 women. 

ZURAWIK: That's the amazing thing. You're not talking about one or two allegations and they're saying you're not vetting them properly. This keeps coming and coming and coming. And it's symptomatic of the fundamental problem here, which is the kind of posture Cosby has assumed of lecturing the media. He's lecturing the media. His wife is scolding the media. This is not a good strategy. You know, the fact that you -- 

KURTZ: Since you brought that up, we're going to do this later. But Camille Cosby put out a statement. I want to read it, put it up on the screen. She's actually comparing the coverage to the Rolling Stone rape fiasco. Different man she says her husband has been portrayed in the media over the last two months. It is a portrait of a man I do not know. It is also a portrait painted by individuals and organizations who many in the media have given a pass. There appears to be no vetting of my husband's accusers before stories are published or aired. An accusation is published and immediately goes viral. I sympathize with Camille Cosby, but they're using her to send a message to back off. 

ZURAWIK: Totally. And, again, you cannot -- the tone he has, Cosby uses his lawyers to -- to scold the press, to tell the press how to behave.  It's the mistake he made in that first AP interview when he says, if you want to be -- 

KURTZ: If you want to be serious, if you had integrity you wouldn't show this. I'm glad AP did show that. Let me move you to Michael Eric Dyson, MSNBC commentator. He disagrees with Cosby politically among other things.  He had this to say in the wake of these sexual assault allegations. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: The very kind of men who would rape women allegedly is the same kind of man who would rape an entire black community, poor black people, who are vulnerable before him, using his powerful foot to cluck down on their necks. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: And that brought a letter from another Cosby lawyer that says Mr. Cosby understands that Mr. Dyson does not agree with Mr. Cosby's views, but such mean spirited and reckless rhetoric cannot go unchallenged by responsible people and journalists. Pretty harsh stuff. 

ZURAWIK: Again, it's the same language. This is slanderous. It's malicious and you have an obligation to stop. The interesting thing, again, is Cosby's team is going to the gatekeepers. CNN, NBC News, the world has changed. The media world has changed. Even if he could shut down every gatekeeper, there's 9 million other people that would be publishing these accusations. So it's -- it's a weak, weak strategy by people who don't understand the media world of today. 

KURTZ: You can't shut down this story. You need to be careful about some of these people coming out of the woodwork. But with all these women making all these allegations, do you know what a better strategy would be? Bill Cosby, come on camera and deny it. Instead of having a lawyer send all these statements.

David Zurawik.

ZURAWIK: Absolutely right. Couldn't agree more, Howie. 

KURTZ: Next on "MediaBuzz," the furor over a prisoner swap. And an end to hostility against Cuba. Are the media taking the president's side?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

KURTZ: It was a foreign policy bombshell. President Obama announcing the U.S. will establish full diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time in more than half a century. After an exchange of convicted spies that also included the release of American contractor, Alan Gross. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SCOTT PELLEY, CBS NEWS: It is a beautiful and blustery night here in Havana, where almost no one is talking about anything else other than today's diplomatic breakthrough. 

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Making history, the surprise announcement by the president, the U.S. and Cuba agree to normalize relations after more than half a century, opening up the flood gates for travel and commerce. 

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

KURTZ: President Obama's move not surprisingly touching off a media and political storm. Joining us now, our two Fox News contributors. In Palm Springs, California, Rick Grenell, former spokesman for the Bush administration, and in New York Julie Roginsky, a Democratic strategist.  Rick, would you say the underlying tone of the coverage of a story that most of us did not see coming was that this was a historic, strong, diplomatic breakthrough? 

RICK GRENELL, FORMER SPOKESMAN, BUSH ADMINISTRATION: It was a travel story for most of these reporters. Look, this was a prisoner swap. And you saw Peter Baker in the "New York Times" go out of his way twice saying the White House line, which is Alan Gross was not traded for a prisoner swap.  However, Barack Obama said, when he was talking to Castro, that he was working out the details for Alan Gross. So this prisoner swap story was completely missed by all of the reporters, and, actually, pushed as a positive thing. You saw Tracy Wilkinson in the "L.A. Times" say that the prisoner swap was enormously beneficial to both sides. There was really no discussion of the seriousness of a prisoner swap. 

KURTZ: And Julie, the story of the prisoner swap, I think, soon became superseded by a story of diplomatic relations with Cuba. But the subliminal message of the coverage to me was, well, we do business with China, we do business with Russia, and now this last relic of the Cold War is vanishing and we'll do business with Cuba. 

JULIE ROGINSKY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yeah. It was a historic event in the sense that we have had this relationship with Cuba now since well before I was born, and this is probably going on three generations now that we've had this antipathy towards Cuba that is not in line with our relationships with their number one sponsor over the course of the Castro regime, which is the former Soviet Union, with whom we did have a diplomatic relationship since 1933. Nixon went to China, certainly a despotic regime as much as the Castro regime is. But Cuba has this very romantic notion in our nation's history, not just because of the Cubans living in Miami but -- 

KURTZ: Did that coverage play up the notion of Havana as this lovely capital? 

ROGINSKY: It's in our hemisphere. It's in our sphere of interests, to use an old Cold War relic phrase. So, of course, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban missile crisis, these are all things that affected us. They're 90 miles from Florida. So, of course, of course this is something that is probably much more important to us in the narrative than it would be, for example, re-establishing relationships even with Vietnam with whom we fought a war, but a war that was a very long way away from our shores. 

KURTZ: Right. Rick, every story and every TV segment I saw, at least that first day, quoted or had Marco Rubio, who emerged as the leading critic of the Obama administration deciding to recognize the Castro regime. There was some that went to Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, who has been critical of this. You can't say the coverage has been totally one-sided, can you? 

GRENELL: Yeah, you can, Howie. If you look at Peter Baker's story again in the "New York Times," he didn't say anything about human rights until the 15TH paragraph. The 15TH paragraph of the "L.A. Times" story said the word communism for the first time. This was an atrocious coverage. I don't think that political reporters are equipped to cover a foreign policy breakthrough like this. They missed a whole bunch of facts. The rest of the world has been engaging with Cuba for a long time. We're the last ones to do it. The embargo has been very unpopular around the world, and the pope, this whole angle on the pope, the previous popes and this pope have been against the embargo for a long time. This is nothing new. But you didn't get that in the coverage. This seems like a brand new thing. 

KURTZ: Does Rick have a point in the sense that the communist nature of the Cuba regime and the human rights violations which have been well documented were certainly de-emphasized in the media coverage?

ROGINSKY: You know, if you look at the editorial pages of all these newspapers, you really have the same bifurcation you have. You mentioned Bob Menendez, a strong Democratic and Marco Rubio, obviously a very strong Republican, both agreeing on this particular subject. Rand Paul happens to agree with Barack Obama. So we're living in a bizarro world situation here where it doesn't align politically. You see them in the media coverage.  You see the "New York Times" for example, from the local and a national perspective. The "New York Times" was very much for what the president did, "the Washington Post," their editorial board excoriated him. 

GRENELL: Big surprise. 

ROGINSKY: But wait a second. "The Washington Post," which you would argue also was part of the mainstream media, opposes it. You look at the "The Miami Herald," they oppose it, "The Tampa Bay Times" in Florida supports it. This crosses all lines, and ideological lines. This is really not something you could point to and say, oh, look, the evil liberal mainstream media is in lockstep with the president because they're not. 

KURTZ: That contrast was very interesting. Julie Roginsky, and Rick Grenell, thanks very much for joining us this Sunday. After the break, an indictment of the Ebola coverage and Politifact's lie of the year. Sharyl Attkisson on whether we all went too far, a media microscope, up next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: We're back with Sharyl Attkisson, and time now for our media microscope. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We begin in Dallas where there are new worries tonight. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On our broadcast tonight, Ebola death in this country. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Breaking news, a major scare in New York City tonight with a possible case of Ebola. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Politifact is out with its lie of the year. The award goes to hyped up claims about Ebola, quote, "fear of the disease stretched to every corner of America this fall, stoked by exaggerated claims from politicians and pundits." Looking back, the volume and the tone of the Ebola coverage over what we now know were a handful of cases in the United States, did seem out of control. 

ATTKISSON: I think it depends on how you look at it. The way I look at it and the infectious disease experts I talked to were and remain very concerned about this. If it gets out of control in this country, we will not even be able to deal with it. 

KURTZ: So we should not just be talking about it in the past tense? 

ATTKISSON: I agree. And a lot of the media coverage has gone from overtime to almost nothing since they appointed the Ebola czar. And I don't think that is any accident, I think that's a strategy, but there is still cause for concern among infectious disease specialists. And I would argue, I think there is a good argument to be made, that things were made safer and the reason we don't have a worst-case scenario today as far as we know is because there was media coverage and a public outcry that totally changed the way the government was handling the Ebola crisis, and made it safer by instituting new rules at airports, by setting up SWAT teams, so what happened, the horrible thing that happened to health care workers, hopefully, would not happen again. That is a result, I believe, of the media attention. 

KURTZ: Well, with the exception of the "New York Times," which has aggressively covered the spread of this disease in Africa, you are right.  It went from a million to zero, and I think it's not so much that Ron Klain was appointed the White House Ebola czar and he's now wrapping up his tenure doing that, but it seems to be a story for those of us here when Americans were no longer involved or at least infected and that troubles me. 

ATTKISSON: I think there is some credence to what you say, but I also think, just having the experience and looking at how media coverage is steered, I would say once the Ebola czar came in, they quit putting out the head of the CDC. No more interviews. 

KURTZ: Tom Frieden used to be on every channel, every day. 

ATTKISSON: Someone decided, I think, when we give information, they cover it. If we don't give information, it will fall off the stage. And it largely did. I called CDC not long ago and I said how many active cases are being monitored in the United States of Ebola? I said 1,400. I said where is that on your web site, these updates? They said, we're not putting it on the web. I think there is an effort to control the message and tamp it down. This is public information and we have a right to know, and the media should not hype it, but should cover it. 

KURTZ: You may be right in the sense that the president does help shape the agenda and if he were talking about it or top officials will be made available we would also be talking about it, but I also think if there was still any nurses who potentially had it and they were fighting with their governors over the quarantine rules, we wouldn't be able to resist that story. 

ATTKISSON: Yes, if there are more outbreaks, I think we'll see more of what we had a couple of weeks ago, and again, there's good and bad to the idea of putting all that attention out there. 

KURTZ: From what you told me, at least we can all agree on one thing. The story is not over and we in the media need to recognize that. 

Thanks, Sharyl. 

Still to come, your top tweets. Colbert bows out and a journalistic fiasco to rival Rolling Stone. This one by New York magazine.    

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: A gigantic media fail. How on earth did New York magazine fall for this one? High school student made millions picking stocks, the headline said. The rumor, said the magazine, was $72 million, and it seemed legit. The piece said that Mohammad Islam (ph) confirmed his net worth as being in the high eight figures. More like zero. The kid confessed to the "New York Observer" that he made the whole thing up.  Reporter Jessica Pressler initially defended the article, but "New York" magazine eventually apologized. Saying we were duped. Our fact checking process was obviously inadequate, and we take full responsibility, and we should have known better. You think? A teenager, 72 million bucks? It was obviously a ludicrous tale, a big black eye for the magazine. Sharyl, how does something like this get published? 

ATTKISSON: It's another one of those news organizations that's not really a news organization that did some unthinkable lack of basic journalism. 

KURTZ: It wasn't like there wasn't a giant red flashing light, you better check this out. 

Time now for your top tweets, on Sony pulling its movie and being ripped by all these Hollywood stars. "When Hollywood stars begin to show the tiniest political acumen and moral guts, their positions on this will be relevant."  Shirley Patrone (ph), "these people should be part of the Washington, D.C., politics scene. They're good at pettifogging and lying, about everything."  Thomas Gordon, "Kim Jong-un should be happy. Actor playing him is better looking." That's true. 

When Stephen Colbert ended his run on Comedy Central the other night, he made sure we didn't miss the magnitude of the milestone. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Because I am a transformational historical figure, that is, I have been on TV. Many of the thinkarati out there are asking what my legacy is. Let's not pussyfoot around here. I had a huge impact. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Huge. Whatever, it's been fun to tangle with him. Well, Colbert sustained his idiotic, pompous, right-wing blowhard character for nine long years. But as David Letterman's successor, he'll face a different challenge, being himself for one thing, but appealing to the vast swath of middle America. Middle America, including conservatives who have been turned off by all that mockery by the anchor character. 

That's it for this edition of "MediaBuzz." I'm Howard Kurtz. We're going to I think miss playing the Colbert clips where he attacks us and he responds.  We still got Jon Stewart, I suppose. We hope you like our Facebook page.  We just passed 5,000 likes. We appreciate the support. We post a lot of original content there, videos, and responses to your e-mail questions.  Check us out on Twitter, as well. And also, our home page, where you can follow my columns and our videos. Getting the wrap sign. We're back here next Sunday morning 11:00 and 5:00 Eastern with the latest buzz.

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