Trump loves Putin, hates media; NY Times softens Obama story

Hits Tom Brokaw, Campbell Brown


This is a rush transcript from "MediaBuzz," December 20, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On the buzzmeter this Sunday, my sit-down with Donald Trump on the firestorm over his tough talk on Muslims and immigration, and his bear hug from Vladimir Putin.


KURTZ: Could Putin's praise signal to voters you're not taking a tough enough approach toward Russia?

DONALD TRUMP, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It could and the smart people would say that's a great thing.


KURTZ: His controversial call to fight terror by cracking down on the Internet.


KURTZ: "Only foolish people would raise concerns about freedom of speech..."

TRUMP: Only stupid people. I'll go a step further.


KURTZ: And his most candid comments yet on why he can't stand the media, calling out journalists by name.


TRUMP: The press is very dishonest.

KURTZ: You've gone from calling journalists scum to sleazebags.

TRUMP: Well, those aren't strong enough.

I am not a fan of Tom Brokaw. Never was a fan.

It wouldn't matter if I were Abe Lincoln doing the debate. Krauthammer will say negative.


KURTZ: We'll look at the CNN debate and the coverage of Ted Cruz versus Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush versus Trump, and media interest in last night's Democratic debate surges after Bernie Sanders improperly obtains data from Hillary Clinton's campaign but he quickly apologizes. Will the press tune out this race once again?

Plus, the explosion of "Star Wars" hype. The real reason one network is going gaga. I am Howard Kurtz and this is "MediaBuzz."

Donald Trump is still driving the campaign debate, still leading big in the polls, still smacking the around. In his only face-to-face interview this weekend, we sat down at Trump Tower.


KURTZ: Donald Trump, welcome.

TRUMP: Thank you.

KURTZ: Jeb Bush went after you in that Las Vegas debate, and he now has an ad. He seems to think he can revive his campaign by attacking you, your response.

TRUMP: I thought he was very weak in the debate. He had a couple sound bites giving to him by his people, I guess his pollsters. He hit me a couple times and I hit back harder. Look, he's a low-energy person, he's a weak person, and honestly that's not what we need. We need somebody who's strong who can get things done. He's a weak person. You can't have that.

KURTZ: You choose your insults very carefully. Again and again, you say Hillary Clinton doesn't have the strength and stamina to be President.
You're 69, she's 68...

TRUMP: I am not talking about age.

KURTZ: Are you suggesting she's frail?

TRUMP: I am suggesting that she does not have the strength or the stamina.

KURTZ: What does that mean?

TRUMP: She sees you guys for about ten minutes, she sees you for a little while, it's all rehearsed and staged. They'll pick a couple people out of the audience. She'll still a little ants table and she goes around for five or six days and you don't see her.

KURTZ: Are you suggesting health issues.

TRUMP: No, no, I am saying she's not strong enough to be President. We need a President that can go 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. She can't do it. Look, Hillary Clinton goes away three, four, five days. You have a very good guy, Mr. Henry, right? Good man.

KURTZ: Ed Henry.

TRUMP: Ed Henry. He sees her, and all of a sudden she's gone. She just goes away. You need somebody that can go all the time.


TRUMP: We don't have the choice of saying let's take five days off.

KURTZ: Vladimir Putin bear hugged you, practically endorsed you, said you're an outstanding -- talented and welcoming your call for tighter and deeper relations with Russia. Could Putin's praise signal to voters that you are not taking a tough enough towards Russia?

TRUMP: It could and you know, the smart people would say that's a great thing. What do we need problems for? Obama and Putin don't get along.
What do we need problems for, Howie? He even called me brilliant. Isn't
that nice?

KURTZ: You said that was an honor.

TRUMP: I think it's an honor. Hey, I complement people sometimes, maybe sometimes you don't mean it, but I think he meant it. I tell you what.
What's the purpose? I do feel that Russia, instead of being this group that we don't talk to, we're always -- I think they can be used for the good. We want to knock out ISIS. They want to knock out ISIS as much as us. They're knocking out airplanes that are Russian-owned airplanes.

KURTZ: Russia has troops in Ukraine. Russia is propping up Assad in Syria. Do you want a friendly relationship with Russia or an adversarial one?

TRUMP: Let's start off with Assad. First of all, we're fighting Assad and ISIS, and Assad is fighting ISIS. We've got all these fights going on, and we don't know what we're doing. We have to get rid of ISIS. We have to do it faster, powerfully and get it done. As far as Assad, you just wait.
Russia is on the side of Assad, so are Iran and other people. I just think our first -- the first thing we have to do is knock the hell out of ISIS.
Assad is a bad guy, but you know what? The people we're backing might be worse. We've seen that between Libya and Iraq and all these people. We get rid of the so-called strong men or dictators or whatever you want to call them and it ends up being ten times worse.

Had we spent zero dollars in Iraq and all of the places over there, we would have been in much better shape. Right now the Middle East is a powder keg. Whether you like Saddam Hussein or not, he was great at one thing, he killed terrorists. They were executing terrorists on a daily basis. Now it's the harbor of terrorism. You want to be a terrorist, go to Iraq. We have really messed up the Middle East.


TRUMP: By the way, I think Russia can be a positive force and ally as opposed to always fighting with Russia.

KURTZ: Let's talk about some of the journalists not in the opinion business, Tom Brokaw, a dangerous proposal that overrides history, the law, and the foundation of America itself.

TRUMP: Do you want me to comment on Tom Brokaw? I am not a fan of Tom Brokaw. Never was a fan. When I did the Apprentice he came over with me, and said thank you, Mr. Trump because I had the big show on NBC and it was good for him with his newscast, and now all of a sudden the first chance he gets, he attacks me. But he came over -- thanks me so much, thank you for doing such a great job because it was so successful. Tom Brokaw -- and I understand somebody has to bring up when there's a problem. There's a problem. There's something wrong. Something is going on. There is a level of hatred there, whether it's a 25 percent group or 10 percent group, there's a level of hatred. We have to figure out what's going on.

KURTZ: Let me read you some others -- Campbell Brown, telling her colleagues in the TV business, for one week don't say his name. Let's stop being complicit in promoting his hateful and harmful demagoguery.

TRUMP: You know what's interesting about Campbell Brown? For years I haven't heard of her name. I didn't even know she was still alive, but I guess she is.

KURTZ: Ben Smith -- Buzzfeed he told reporters it's ok to call Trump a mendacious racist. The Daily Beast Executive Editor Noah Shankman says people should boycott your businesses because he thinks you're a racist and neofascist. What do you make of this combined...

TRUMP: I am the only one who speaks my mind and tells the truth. I have great friends who are Muslims -- some of them are not so thrilled, but at the highest level, they called me and said what you did is right, there's a problem, and we have to get to the bottom of it. There's a level of hatred and viciousness that we have to find out what we're going to do about it.

KURTZ: You have a bit of a pattern that some people find offensive. You initially said complete and total shut down of Muslims coming into the United States, and then you backtrack a little bit say well...

TRUMP: I always sell very temporarily.


KURTZ: You had to know when you said that there would be a media explosion, that you would be attacked, many in the Republican Party tagged you -- Democrats obviously, many in the media, but then it puts you at the center...

TRUMP: And many agree. By the way, you don't say that. Many agreed with me.

KURTZ: Many Republican primary voters agreed with it.


KURTZ: Roughly half and half.

TRUMP: Whatever, but many agreed.

KURTZ: But is it part of your strategy to dominate the campaign coverage by putting things out there that you know will get this tremendous media reaction that even though a lot of it will be negative.

TRUMP: I had no strategy. You know my strategy is, honesty. I say it like it is, like your old friend Howard Cosell. I tell it like it is. The fact is there's a problem. The way we're going to solve the problem is air the problem. I aired the problem. Very -- about a week and a half ago and I took incoming from everybody. I said, wow man, three days ago later, people are saying, well, we've got to discuss it, I am not talking about just here, and they're talking about it all over the world. Now people are saying Trump's got a good point, we have to sit down and have to discuss it, because there are real problems.

I am not only talking about in this country, I'm talking about in many other countries.

KURTZ: You told Chris Wallace that Ted Cruz is a bit of a maniac in the Senate, not qualified to be President, and in the debate you said his temperament is fine, you two get along, but why did you call him a maniac?

TRUMP: I do like him. He said something about me and I said something with a little smile, and frankly I -- we had a lot of fun at the debate. I got to know him well over the last three days, I said he's fine. He's actually a very nice guy. I tell you about Cruz -- he's the one person -- and Ben Carson also, but then he hit me and I hit him, he retreated a bit -
- not retreated. I really like him, and I really like Ted Cruz. A lot of people don't Ted Cruz. I like him. He's the one person that when I said things were right but controversial. A lot of things I say are correct, but controversial, because our world is so politically correct. You say correct things, all of a sudden they say basically they're basic statements, but Ted Cruz would back me 100 percent, I guess virtually every time. You cover it better than anybody.

KURTZ: But after the maniac comment, two powerful voices in radio, Rush Limbaugh (Inaudible) generally supportive of you, said -- criticized you for taking on Cruz. Did that make you rethink it a little bit?

TRUMP: Well, I like those two people. They've been very, very supportive, and it made me think about it a bit. Because Mark and Rush have been so nice to me, and -- and -- I did think about it a bit.

KURTZ: You said the CNN moderators were stirring up, Trump said this, said that, you want to respond. You're the front-runner by a lot, you would say.

TRUMP: By a lot.

KURTZ: Of course, a lot of the questions are going to revolve around you.

TRUMP: I didn't think it was that -- the first debate, if you look at the first big portion of the show was Donald Trump said this, Donald Trump said that, and I said what's going on? Even my wife commented, this is sort of terrible, like stirring up trouble, and here's poor Jeb, getting killed in the polls, very ineffective candidate and they asked him a question -- Donald Trump said, the poor guy is standing there, and he gave a sound bite.

KURTZ: He said you can't insult your way to the presidency.

TRUMP: And then I killed him after that. It was so easy. But they shouldn't have done that to him. It was actually unfair to him, but they gave him a Trump thing, and I thought it was unfair to him. To be honest with you, I thought it was inappropriate.


KURTZ: We'll have more of my sit-down with Donald Trump later in the program. When we come back our panel weighs in on the interview, and later on Hillary, Bernie and the Democratic debate.


KURTZ: With Donald Trump continuing his crusade against the press, as you just saw, perhaps some equal time for media folks. Joining us now Mercedes Schlapp, a U.S. News Columnist, Political Consultant and an official at the Bush White House, Betsy Woodruff, and a Reporter for the Daily Beast, and Molly Ball, a Correspondent for the Atlantic. What did you think about the way in the interview he pushed back against Tom Brokaw and Campbell Brown, and kind of deflecting the conversation back to his war against ISIS?

MERCEDES SCHLAPP, U.S. NEWS COLUMNIST: Well, it's one of his most effective mechanisms are saying -- on the Tom Brokaw case for example, rightfully so, Tom Brokaw when he did that piece on him on the Muslims and basically in essence calling Trump a racist, really Trump had to punch back and respond. On Campbell Brown, I thought that was fascinating. He said he didn't know who she was -- still alive.

KURTZ: Very much alive.


SCHLAPP: She left the media also because she was raising two kids at the time. I think he fought hard on both cases, and he wins that debate.

BETSY WOODRUFF, DAILY BEAST: What how he talked about Rush Limbaugh and mark Levin. I think that's the only time he's actually taken a step back from -- and the only time he's shown deference to media figures.

KURTZ: I thought he was saying he had nothing -- and he said those guys made me rethink...

WOODRUFF: He conceded, and I think the reason why is he understands what most don't understand which is that talk radio has displaced a lot of traditional old media, and -- as far as a way to get primary voters to like you. If he loses them, he's in huge trouble. He has to keep them happy, and that's what he's doing.

KURTZ: Molly, what did you think on his answer about Hillary's stamina?
She's pushing back.

MOLLY BALL, THE ATLANTIC: That's a very interesting talking point that is evolving, similar to the whole low-energy attack on Jeb Bush. He is clearly preparing for a general election -- it's a little rich for a guy who couldn't get through a three-hour debate without looking like he would wilt.

KURTZ: Of course, he's interviewed every 12 minutes.

BALL: He's much more accessible to the media than she is. He's much more accessible to the media than any other candidate.

KURTZ: Possibly in history.

BALL: I think it's absolutely commendable for a Presidential candidate to expose themselves to that many questions from the media, but he has a real love/hate relationship for that reason. As Campbell Brown was saying, the media is his oxygen. He says outrageous things, and the media covers it.
He needs us, he doesn't need to air TV ads, but at the same time he's obviously critical of the press, easily one third of his hour-long speech is bashing the press, and often very crudely and by name.

KURTZ: How can we complain when the front-runner is willing to subject himself day after day to journalistic questions -- I have always said the candidates should do?

SCHLAPP: Well, I think the media is becoming Trump's super-pac. After the Las Vegas debate, for example, he was one of the few candidates who went back to the spin room and talked to every single reporter, including a local reporter in Las Vegas. There's not a bias in that sense. He's willing to go on MSNBC Hardball. His message is not necessarily going to change. The reason he's been so dominant is being able to dictate what the news organizations are covering and at the end it's helped his poll numbers.

KURTZ: People who don't like Donald Trump are going to pick up on your super-pac comment. Let me get a break here. You can always let us know what you think @HowardKurtz on Twitter,

Ahead, more of the Trump Tower interview as the Republican front-runner takes on internet security, Jeff Bezos and Fox News, but first we'll weigh on the CNN moderators trying to goad the candidates into fighting and the media aggressively fact-checking Ted Cruz.


KURTZ: Wolf Blitzer and his CNN colleagues tried to draw Donald Trump and the other candidates into slamming into each other and eventually drew Trump's wrath.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN: Governor Bush, you called Mr. Trump unhinged when he proposed banning non-American Muslims from the United States. Why is that unhinged?

DANA BASH, CNN: Mr. Trump, just this weekend you said Senator Cruz is not qualified to be President because he doesn't have the right temperament and acted like a maniac when he arrived in the Senate.

TRUMP: I am gotten to know him over the last three days, he has a wonderful temperament. I think it's very sad that CNN leads Jeb Bush, Governor Bush down a road by starting off virtually the entire question, Mr. Trump this, Mr. Trump -- I think it's very sad.


KURTZ: Betsy Woodruff, there was some criticism of CNN's (Inaudible), how do you they did?

WOODRUFF: I think it's -- why the comment was unhinged basically before that everybody was explain was the -- that said, I think his question was totally valid. If you dramatically change the way you talk about them, why would you use such radically different terms.

KURTZ: I thought it was a serious debate, and what is wrong with saying you said this privately at a fund-raiser or publicly and now say it to this guy's face?

SCHLAPP: I think its fine to let it all come out. I don't think the CNN debate became character infighting. There were a lot of substantive questions. Actually the interesting question was a Hugh Hewitt questions to Ben Carson which raised a raised a lot of eyebrows...


SCHLAPP: -- killing innocent civilian lives.

KURTZ: So you're ok with killing hundreds of thousands innocent children?

SCHLAPP: I think that's where CNN missed the mark particularly on that question.

KURTZ: But the sharp exchanges that everybody replayed between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz that was the product of questioning, trying to contrast their positions on immigration and what happened in 2013, as well as NSA surveillance.

BALL: And that was very substantive. I think we learned a lot about what distinguishes the candidates, and that's what the debate was supposed to be for. There was a bit of name-calling, but I think there was less of that actually than at a lot of the other ones, and I think that's why there -- there was that one moment, but if you recall a couple debates ago when they were all attacking the moderators all at once.


KURTZ: Let me pick up on this with Ted Cruz. There's been a lot of fact checking about what he meant or what he now says he didn't mean in 2013 when he offered an amendment to the compromise immigration bill spearheaded by Marco Rubio in which he, Senator Cruz, at the time said he wanted the bill to provide and not a path to citizenship, but to legalization to get them out of the shadows.


BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: You repeated later in Princeton if my amendment were adopted, this bill would pass. It sounded like you wanted the bill to pass.

SEN. TED CRUZ, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Of course, I wanted the bill to pass -- my amendment to pass.

BAIER: You said the bill.

CRUZ: It doesn't mean -- what it doesn't mean I supported the other aspects of the bill, which was a terrible bill.


KURTZ: Good fact checking by the media?

SCHLAPP: Yes, I think so. Senator Mike Lee came out and basically in defense of Senator Ted Cruz, saying I was with him for three weeks during this whole process. In no way is he supporting amnesty. This is about choosing words very carefully from legalization to amnesty, it's very important to distinguish that especially in the view of conservatives.

KURTZ: We can't know what was in Cruz' mind, but we can say here's what you said in 2013 and here's what you're saying now. That seems like a good function of journalism.

BALL: It's a good reason -- and Ted Cruz has been trying to have it both ways on immigration and largely getting away with it for years.


BALL: Because of good fact checking and the common issue. I think that was an excellent fact check, but there are two explanations for what Ted Cruz did with that amendment. Neither looks good for him. There's his explanation now that it was sort of a poison pill. That looks disingenuous, or the other explanation is that he didn't mean it and that there's a conflict between what he said then and now.

KURTZ: I hope to have a chance to talk to Senator Cruz about that, but in looking at major media outlets, new analytics said Trump dominated to more than 13,000 mentions. Cruz plummeted, I don't quite get this. Marco Rubio had a sizable jump from up 2,800 to almost 4,800, and Ben Carson dropped by more than half, down to just 1150 barely on the media's radar.

Time for another break, but coming up Donald Trump in our Media Buzz interview, on why he really spends so much time denouncing reporters and pundits by name.

And later, Bernie Sanders apologized to Hillary Clinton, but is the press just tuning out that race?


KURTZ: Freedom of speech versus national security. That was also on the agenda during our sit-down with the Republican front-runner at Trump Tower.


KURTZ: You said that you would talk to people like Bill Gates about closing up that internet...

TRUMP: No, no, not closing the internet.

KURTZ: Those are your words.

TRUMP: For ISIS, take those sections where ISIS is, knock out the internet.

KURTZ: You say only foolish people would raise concerns about freedom of speech.

TRUMP: Only stupid people. I would go a step further. Can you imagine freedom of speech for ISIS? I am not talking about closing it up on Miami Beach.

KURTZ: How do you accomplish that?

TRUMP: You do it technologically. These are very smart people. These are the inventors of the internet. We have the investors of the internet. The smartest people on Earth, they invented it. ISIS uses the internet better than us. ISIS recruits -- ISIS is recruiting our children using the internet. This was one point I am saying about the internet. I couldn't believe it. I could see there was a little rustling in the audience. You said you have to be kidding, freedom of speech for ISIS? What I am saying is they are recruiting our children and the children of other countries to go fight for them. And I am saying either close it up or would what I like actually better is to infiltrate the ISIS internet.

KURTZ: I would love to see terrorists deprived of those online tools, but it may be complicated.

TRUMP: I was referring to ISIS.

KURTZ: I understand that. But in reaction to Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos, tweeted you a one-way ticket on one of his company's rockets.

TRUMP: I wouldn't go on his rockets. I don't like that world. I've seen too many exploding before they get off the ground. But you talk about Jeff Bezos. He bought the Washington Post, and he bought it as a thing to buy influence so that he doesn't have to pay tax at Amazon. That's my opinion.
He has power now.


TRUMP: Of course it does, Howard. Of course, it does. He bought it privately so he can influence people not to tax Amazon. Come on, I thought you were smart, ok? The only reason I say that is the Washington Post treats me terribly. If I did 12 good things in one day, I would have 12 bad stories. It's terrible, but the press is very dishonest.

KURTZ: You've gone from calling journalists scum to sleazebags.

TRUMP: Those aren't strong enough.

KURTZ: You also this week -- that's not strong enough, you want to give us another adjective? You said that CNN treats you better than Fox. In terms of the commentators, Charles Krauthammer, George Will, and Rich Lowery -- they have ripped you...

TRUMP: Though Rich Lowery is coming along nicely, because he's getting it.
He gets it.

KURTZ: You hit him back in speeches, in interviews and on twitter. Would you say Fox is unfair in its news coverage?

TRUMP: It doesn't matter. They do a story -- Krauthammer is crazed, George Will is crazed. He starts to shake.

KURTZ: They don't think you're a real conservative.

TRUMP: You know what I am? I am a winner. I've been winning all my life.
They're not winners. Number one, they said I am not going to run.

KURTZ: And you said you would be a summer fling.

TRUMP: Ok, now...


TRUMP: Not only did I run, but I ran well and I ran smart. Everybody who's come after me is gone. They're gone. They've disappeared from the Earth. Either gone or down to zero, and I mean Jeb Bush was supposed to win this thing and he's like reduced to rubble.

KURTZ: You talked about CNN. It wasn't that long ago that Sara Murray is a terrible journalist Katy Tur...


TRUMP: I said is that Howie?

KURTZ: I just tried to be fair.

TRUMP: You weren't fair there. You weren't good there. More importantly, about you guys, I am not treated well when they do a story and then I get Krauthammer commenting or George Will, Steven Hays, they mentioned Trump, and he goes -- it's like he becomes like a shaking monster. I've never seen anything like it. The level of hatred is incredible. I am pretty much on their side on most of the issues.

KURTZ: Bill O'Reilly said you were petty and thin-skinned. I say you have every right to hit back when you're criticized, but you almost seem obsessive about it. My question is that you can't restrain yourself? Or is it a strategy because a lot of your supporters despise the media?

TRUMP: It's neither. I don't mind a bad story when I do something wrong.
When I do something wrong, a bad story doesn't even bother me.

KURTZ: You said you're controversial. People think you're divisive.

TRUMP: I don't like a bad or false story or a false critique when I do something good. They don't give me the credit I deserve, which is not only
-- I'll take something good, do something amazing, and they'll make it negative. So they're very biased. It wouldn't matter if I were Abe Lincoln, Krauthammer will say negative. It wouldn't matter who I was, they have the critique written up about me long before the debate even takes place.


TRUMP: They're dishonest people.

KURTZ: Dishonest because they disagree.

TRUMP: And it's good when I fire at them. First, it makes me feel good.
Second of all, it takes away credibility. You have to fight for yourself.
That's a problem with our country, we don't fight for ourselves. We're not respected anymore as a country. Look, again, if they critique me and I thought they were right, I wouldn't be upset by it, but when you do something great and they try and belittle you, you've got to fight.

KURTZ: Donald Trump thanks very much.

TRUMP: Thank you very much.


KURTZ: After the break, the panel reacts to Trump, and New York Times engages in some stealth editing. Was the paper trying to protect President Obama?

And later, why has ABC given such a booster rocket greeting to the new Star Wars film?


KURTZ: We'll get to a very questionable case of New York Times editing in just a moment, but we're back with the panel to talk about our Donald Trump interview and the coverage of this race.

So Mercy, the first time I heard Donald Trump say that he attacks journalists because it makes him feel better, and he thinks it undermines their credibility. Is that a good strategy?

SCHLAPP: Well, first of all, I think that Trump is the ultimate consumer of news. He's the one watching carefully where the pundits are and what they're saying and not saying. For Donald Trump, he believes he has to fight, if its fight against the GOP establishment or the media, it works.
They're saying if the media is not supporting my candidate, we're not going to like them.

KURTZ: Molly, he used the word hatred at one point. At the same time, it was interesting the way he drew that line from I am fighting them, and the country needs a fighter.

BALL: Well, and that's his whole campaign in a nutshell. As Mercedes just says, people love Trump, because he fights. He never backs down, he never takes the high road. He gets into it with anybody, no matter how big or small. He does have a bit of a point that the media treat him differently than they treat any other candidate. They would never go after a mainstream politician the way they go after Trump, even ostensibly straight reporters. That's because he isn't a mainstream. He is different than any other candidate and so the media treat him differently.

KURTZ: Look at what he pivots to the -- and he questions whether he bought the Washington Post to help Amazon.

WOODRUFF: All he does is go after the credibility, which cover him. I think it's easier now, because people have so many different media options.
You can understand the basic gist of what's going on, and not watch the network news. You can get most of it from reading twitter. From Trump, he can attack these guys.

KURTZ: He can broadcast on twitter.

WOODRUFF: And Republican primarily voters feel the media treats them the way they see the media treating Trump and they relate to it.

KURTZ: New York Times story was published online Thursday about an off- the-record meeting that the President had with some columnists. Mr. Obama indicated he did not see enough cable television to fully appreciate the anxiety after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. The paper comes out, the print edition, that paragraph is gone, a couple of paragraphs were edited. Does it feel like an effort to protect the President?

SCHLAPP: It really does, especially when you read the New York Times last week and the other story that they had was a puff piece about him with bear, and then they did it because of space reasons but added even more verbiage. My guess is the White House called the New York Times and take this out... --

KURTZ: We don't know that.

WOODRUFF: It's possible that the reporting was inaccurate. The fact they disappeared.

KURTZ: Saying it's untrue, they portrayed it as a routine editing thing, and then also had the headline. And the paper comes out, and we have it right here. Obama defense his response. What's your take?

BALL: I think as Betsy said, it's perplexing they have not explained this, either the headline or the editing. There needs to be a correction -- clarification if there was a reason behind it. I think that's truer for the editing. Headlines get changed all the time and there are space considerations in print, but taking out that paragraph is perplexing and potentially damning.

KURTZ: We have a consensus on that. By the way, the New York Times got scolded by the public editor for a story about the San Bernardino attacks, the female terrorist Malik, the paper posted she had posted her views and everybody picked this up, and it turns out they were private messages not so easily detected. So said this was a failure of suspicion, skepticism at every level of reporting, using anonymous sources. Even the editor said it was a big mistake.

Up next, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley just debated on ABC, but are the media just treating that race as a coronation?


KURTZ: Another Saturday night, another Democratic debate. And the media didn't much care until Bernie Sanders fired a top staffer for improperly obtaining Hillary Clinton's voting data from the DNC, and then sued the Democratic Committee. ABC's David Muir raised the issue in a very court question last night, but the topic didn't last long.


DAVID MUIR, ABC NEWS: Does Secretary Clinton deserve an apology tonight?

BERNIE SANDERS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes. I apologize. Not only do I apologize to Secretary Clinton and I hope we can work on an independent investigation, I want to apologize to my supporters.

CLINTON: I very much appreciate that comment, Bernie. It really is important that we go forward on this.


KURTZ: Betsy Woodruff, the press was treating this like a digital water gate. In the old days you broke into an actual office. But Bernie apologized, Hillary said its fine. It's barely mentioned. Why is that?

WOODRUFF: Because Bernie apologized. And it shut down. He fired two campaign people and it is a digital Watergate if it happened the way the Clinton campaign says it happened. It got some attention, but of course the fact they have these debates Saturday at 8:30 p.m. It's not going to get the attention it should.

KURTZ: And you know the last Democratic debate was Saturday night. A lot of people think the DNC is protecting Hillary by keeping these out of regular primetime. But the networks maybe don't think there's much ratings in it or don't want Hillary in the spotlight.

BALL: It's a chicken and egg question (Inaudible).

KURTZ: The networks lose more money if they preempt their primetime program during the week for debate.

BALL: It's also true this is a really boring race.

KURTZ: You came out and said it.

BALL: It is a boring race. Hillary is the frontrunner by a mile and a half. There aren't a lot of characters. The Republicans are fun, exciting. And there are some Democrats who worry about that, who think that even if this is the DNC, it's actually having the opposite effect because the Republicans get all the attention and voters are tuning in to a degree not seen in previous Presidential campaigns at this early stage, and what you're really doing is just making Hillary disappear and she's pretty good at the debates.


SCHLAPP: She's pretty good at disappearing, too.

KURTZ: Some journalists say, boring race, Hillary is obviously going to win so why should we cover it? A lot of other people think, Hillary Clinton has a shot of becoming the next President of the United States and are the media at this moment giving her a pass.

SCHLAPP: I put the blame on DNC. And Debbie Wasserman Schultz said it's really the networks pushing the timetable dates we agreed to. I don't know if that's absolutely true because they're part of that negotiation process.

KURTZ: How do you think Martha and David did as moderators?

SCHLAPP: I think Martha was perfect. I think she did a very strong job as being able to ask the tough questions. She was able to bring out especially on the issue of ISIS and whether they would go in with ground troops or not. I think she was very effective. I think part of it is because she's on this on the ground global correspondent as well.

KURTZ: Exactly. She has the foreign policy knowledge to drill down Hillary Clinton.

WOODRUFF: I took issue with this race doesn't deserve coverage because it's not exciting. The reality is Bernie Sanders has gotten more donations in the year than any other candidate in history. Their base is energized.
For reporters to ask like Bernie Sanders supporters don't get a say in what we cover, we should ignore that block I think is a mistake.

KURTZ: I think a lot tuned out when Bernie decided not to make an issue of Hillary Clinton's e-mails. People say he's not running to knock her off.

BALL: That's the problem. I do agree we shouldn't be ignoring it. But when Bernie backs off like that, it doesn't look like he's serious.

KURTZ: All right, Molly Ball, Betsy Woodruff, Mercedes Schlapp, thanks very much.

Still to come, Star Wars soaring to stratospheric heights especially with a network with a vested interest.


KURTZ: An explosion of tweets about my interview with Donald Trump. The best, most honest Trump interview to date, here's another, Donald Trump is right, the establishment Republican pundits are in full panic mode.

The new "Star Wars" movie is a story of intergalactic importance. The movie has been mentioned 200 times on ESPN and ESPN2 and ABC News has kicked into overdrive.


LARA SPENCER: We have been counting down to "Star Wars." It's been so great having all the stars with us. I got to sit down with one of them, the new face of the dark side.

ROBIN ROBERTS: Her role has been kept so under wraps we barely know what her character looks like.

ROBACH: We're so thrilled to have the original space cowboy, welcome and good morning, Harrison Ford.



KURTZ: So let me solve the mystery. Star wars is produced by Lucas Films, which three years ago was bought by Disney which owns ABC and ESPN, so there's a lot of corporate synergy when it comes to the Star Wars gang, the force is with them at ABC, but the movie also breaking all box office records. That is it for this edition of "MediaBuzz." I am Howard Kurtz.

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