Washington Post reporter freed

Iran releases Jason Rezaian in prisoner swap


This is a rush transcript from "MediaBuzz," January 17, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: This is a Fox News alert: President Obama defending the nuclear deal with Iran at the White House this morning. The President calling it a victory for diplomacy and avoiding another war in the Middle East, Mr. Obama saying we have cut off every possible path for Iran to build a bomb. His critics might view that differently. Only then did the President turn to a second major development, as he called it, the release of four Americans, one of them Washington Post, Former Tehran Bureau Chief Jason Rezaian. The president calling him a courageous journalist for the Washington Post and he embodied the brave spirit of freedom of the press.

A fast-moving day, joining us now to talk about this Kristen Soltis Anderson, columnist for the Washington Examiner, and Kirsten Powers, a columnist for USA Today and the Daily Beast and a Fox News contributor. That sounded like a victory lap from a President who has been hammered by the Republicans for even doing the nuclear deal with Iran, and coming against the backdrop of the release of at least four Americans who essentially have been held hostage.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, WASHINGTON EXAMINER COLUMNIST: Certainly. This as has been a week of President Obama sounding very upbeat and positive about the state of his administration, and of course, Republicans in many ways the polls tell a bit of a different story. Here this was a bit of the mission accomplished moment for President Obama, but let's not forgot in the Middle East you still have nations like Saudi Arabia that are severing diplomatic ties with Iran.

This story is not over.

KURTZ: Kirsten, the president said only briefly the U.S. was releasing seven Iranian prisoners who are not involved in terrorist but are involved in sanction violations and so forth. It sounded to me like he was anticipating and responding to the way he's been getting hammered by the GOP over what is essentially a prisoner swap, though the White House doesn't call it that.

KIRSTEN POWERS, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Right. So he casts it as a day of victory for diplomacy, and I think that's probably right, as it relates to at least the sailors. I don't it's quite as fair to say the release of the prisoners was a victory, in fact it was a prison swap. It was a hostage swap. It was people in Iran being held hostage. They were not actually convicted of anything in any legitimate way, versus the people in the United States who were actually convicted criminals and they were convicted of aiding Iran.

These were people that were sending technology to Iran in violation of U.S.
sanctions, in one case hacking on behalf of Iran. And they were legitimately found guilty, versus the American hostages who were being held hostage for essentially being Americans.

KURTZ: Right. And I want to take a moment to focus on Jason Rezaian, the tragedy of this guy having to spend 18 months in an Iranian prison where he was mistreated, and in declining health, and he was doing his job. The charge we are so bogus, the trial was conducted in secrecy.

ANDERSON: I think for many reporters, it's personal, it feels different than other stories. This could be your colleague, this could have been you. I think that will in many ways reflect the coverage of this story as we move forward and the debate rages about whether the swap was a good deal for the United States or not.

KURTZ: It was interesting that President Obama didn't lead with the release of these Americans, which is a happy story -- I acknowledge what you say, you know the fact it was done to release convicted criminals in the U.S. for people who were essentially taken hostage by this Iranian regime. That's a pretty happy occasion as far as Americans getting their freedom.

ANDERSON: I think he was also determined to cast this as a diplomatic victory, so he's trying to cast this swap as a victory which is a result of the deal. So he's setting up this framework to say, see, we did this deal and good things have come from it, when there's nothing to suggest this deal didn't have anything to do with it. You know it was not part of the deal. The reason they were released is because of this swap. It's not a diplomatic victory. So you know what? I agree with you. It's a good thing. I am glad they're coming home, but he shouldn't cast it as a result of an Iranian deal.

KURTZ: We will have more on this in the program later. Let's turn to the South Carolina debate. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz dominating the stage, and there were some pretty tough jabs.


MARIA BARTIROMO, FBN DEBATE MODERATOR: Senator Cruz, you suggested Mr. Trump, "embodies New York values." Can you explain what you mean by that?

SEN. TED CRUZ, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But everyone understands the values in New York City are socially liberal or pro-abortion, or pro-gay marriage, focus around money and the media.

DONALD TRUMP, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When the World Trade Center came down, I saw something that no place on Earth could have handled more beautifully or more humanely than New York. And I have to tell you that was a very insulting statement that Ted made.


KURTZ: The media often focuses on one moment, and I think that a New York value was the moment.

ANDERSON: I think the reason why the media is so focused on the New York values moment is the media is specifically mentioned in the New York values moment, and so in this way...

KURTZ: That so much of the media is based in Manhattan?

ANDERSON: This is Ted Cruz's words -- that this is all about the media and money. This is one of those moments of conflict where, you know regardless of your policy positions, which issues you, agree with, and was driving a wedge. You had Donald Trump actually having this moment that was particularly strong, which I think surprised a lot of people.

KURTZ: You also have New York Daily News with a cover of the Statue of Liberty giving Cruz the finger for this perceived attack on New York City.

POWERS: Right. I think the media has overplayed this because it was a wonderful moment. And I consider myself a New Yorker. I lived there for ten years. A lot of us lived in New York, we love New York, even people who don't live there, and identity frankly with a lot of the values. The truth is average Republican voters doesn't think that way. They think the way Ted Cruz does. If we're talking about who had the more effective answer, I still think Cruz is the one connecting with the GOP voters.

KURTZ: So much focus on Trump versus Cruz. Now they have finally taken off the gloves, and the nastiness has continued. Yet, the Washington Post front page piece says after the debate, can Donald Trump actually be the Republican nominee? Can the mainstream still really media be asking this question after all these months?

ANDERSON: This has been such a bizarre election, at this point being humble about what we can know is not the wrong strategy. The big question is whether or not these new Donald Trump supporters, folks who have not participated in Republican primaries in the past will suddenly change their behavior, will enter the process. Will this be a change of who normally turns out in Iowa and New Hampshire?

KURTZ: What about Ted Cruz accusing New York Times of a hit piece, in his words for reporting on Goldman Sachs loan that he took out, as much as
$500,000 to help finance his 2012 senate campaign. One of the things I observed he doesn't dispute invite specifics, but he thinks the New York Times is hostile. Did he score points by beating up on the Times?

POWERS: He absolutely scores -- catnip to the average Republican voter.
In fact it wasn't to his piece, but we saw his debate skills, the storied debate skills that we keep hearing about, I think we saw them in this debate where he managed to answer that question without ever addressing what happened.

KURTZ: I asked him today, and he thought it was a nothing story, and that the New York Times blew up way too much. Here's proof of what I have been saying, the media are treating this as a two-man race. New analytics found Donald Trump dominating on Mondays through Thursday with nearly 5,200 mentions in the top mainstream media outlets, way more than Ted Cruz with nearly 3,300 mentions.

Everybody else now far behind, on Friday the day after the debate, Trump doubles to 12,000 mentions, but Cruz triples, nearly catching Trump, Marco Rubio way down at 2,400. You can barely see them on the screen.

All right, when we come back more on the release of the hostages, the President's comments from the White House, including the Washington Post's Jason Rezaian, one of those hostages released after he was imprisoned on very bogus charges.

And later, Chris Christie pushing back against media reports calling hip a flip-flopper in our "MediaBuzz" interview.


KURTZ: Joining us with more on the prisoner swap in Iran that freed the Washington Post's Jason Rezaian and four other Americans is Gillian Turner, Fox News contributor and a national security official in the Bush and Obama administrations. So let me start with Jason Rezaian, is there any question that Iran had used this journalist as a pawn, even as John Kerry said these are two separate matters?

GILLIAN TURNER, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I think there is a possibility this was completely unconnected to the nuclear negotiations. I think it's more likely that the case it that it was a side negotiation the administration carried out with the Iranian regime, under the auspices of the sort of imperatives that were incumbent upon them for this deal.

KURTZ: You heard President Obama earlier today calling this a victory for diplomacy, and defending the Iran nuclear negotiation, and only secondarily talking about the Americans who were freed, that it seemed to you that he was taking a defensive posture or at least trying to preempt -- prisoner swap, as well as the details of the nuclear deal with Iran.

TURNER: This was a fantastic day for the American prisoners, the American hostages in Iran, and their families undoubtedly.

KURTZ: Let's not lose sight of that.

TURNER: It was an even better day for the Iranian administration, for President Rouhani in particular because the implementation of this deal is giving him precisely what he promised the Iranian people, and staked his entire election platform on which was the loosening up these sanctions and the incorporation of Iran back into the global financial economy. This gives him a degree of legitimacy and a mandate that no domestic national election could ever give him.

KURTZ: Ok, so President Obama comes out and makes the case that basically the critics were wrong and the deal worked -- and as a result he didn't tie this directly -- also the sanctions are being lifted and as much $100 billion going to Iran. Do you see the press playing this down the middle or do you think the media very skeptical of whether or not Iran can still have a path to a nuclear weapon -- could be lying about this. How do you see the coverage?

TURNER: I think the coverage has been for the most part skeptical. I think in this situation, the media has an obligation to present that side of the equation to the American people, because the administration, the Iranian regime, the Europeans are certainly not taking that upon themselves, and so I think there's a right to be skeptical here. They absolutely are going to maintain, if not the ability to develop a nuclear weapon overnight or as quickly as they were in the past, remember what they are gaining here is access to hundreds of billions of dollars on the world financial stage, a virtual path on some of their really egregious human rights violations, so it's important to point out those weaknesses.

KURTZ: I'm glad you mentioned those human rights violations. I would include in that keeping innocent Americans behind bars. Could this prisoner swap -- and that is what it is, encourage rogue regimes like Iran to grab more journalists as hostages in the hopes of winning concessions on other issues?

TURNER: Yeah. And that's a huge worry. I think if you break down this swap, it becomes less appealing than on the surface. You know it's always great to have Americans back on home soil, but let's break it down if we're going to be honest about this. The Iranians released four Americans. In the exchange, United States has dropped charges against seven Iranians, three of whom who were already convicted, serving time here in prison in the United States. And additionally agreed to drop charges against 14 other Iranians, so that amounts to a total of 21, additionally, I would point on the where is Robert Levinson, someone tragically and shamefully left behind.

KURTZ: He's been languishing for so long. Jillian Turner thanks very much. Interesting also that economic sanctions that the U.S. was prepared to impose -- perhaps it would be mar the victory celebration at the White House.

Up next, a behind the scenes look at that GOP debate in Charleston with Fox Business Moderators Neil Cavuto and Maria Bartiromo.

And later, has the press finally concluded that Bernie Sanders might derail Hillary Clinton?


KURTZ: A raucous Republican debate the other night was shaped by the Fox Business moderators. I sat down in Charleston with Neil Cavuto who hosts "Coast to Coast" on FBN and "Your World" on FNC, and Maria Bartiromo, host of FBN's "Mornings with Maria" and FNC's "Sunday Morning Futures," which airs right before our program.


KURTZ: Maria Bartiromo, Neil Cavuto, welcome.


KURTZ: The last FBN debate was very civil, this one -- you two were on steroids asking aggressive questions about hot button issues. What changed?

CAVUTO: The candidates. I think we were even mentioning privately today they're more agitated, getting a little more desperate, in a good way.

KURTZ: Did you sense that going in?

CAVUTO: I think in the beginning, we didn't.

BARTIROMO: Well, look, at this at that stage of the game, here we are, you know two weeks before Iowa, a month before New Hampshire, two days after the state of the union, and it was really the first opportunity we had to get the candidates all together to hear their reaction to the President.
On top of that, a lot has changed since the last debate. Let's face it.
You had San Bernardino. You had Paris. You had a number of things in the news. We're beginning the year, the stock market the worse year ever, some things that actually require some real analysis and some real thinking.

So I think that played into it as well. It wasn't saying hey, let's be aggressive with these necessarily, as we were saying, hey, people would like answers.

KURTZ: If your goal was to get Ted Cruz and Donald Trump to slap each other around, you succeeded, maybe they didn't need much prodding. Neil, you asked Senator Cruz so called birther question about his eligibility being born in Canada. There was no way you couldn't ask it, right?

CAVUTO: You're right, and others, to be fair to Donald Trump as well. And Rand Paul, it doesn't help, you know that Senator Cruz has not been a warm and fuzzy figure in the United States Senate, so what comes around goes around. I think a lot of colleagues are pouncing on it and making a bigger deal.

KURTZ: In terms of the pace, did you decide to let them go on...

CAVUTO: It's an inexact science.


CAVUTO: In the beginning we were not doing that, because we thought let it breathe a bit, and then they weren't interrupting each other.

BARTIROMO: I don't think you can plan it.

CAVUTO: No way.

BARTIROMO: We were just very present, waiting -- in fact we would give each other a signal to say, wait a second, I need to follow up. Obviously, we don't want to step on one another, but we also wanted to make sure we got answers. When a follow-up was required, the two of us knew that hold on, don't ask your next question, I need to follow up here.

KURTZ: For example, when you were asking Marco Rubio about guns, and his comments about President Obama wanting to take away the guns, and you followed up, what fact tells us that President Obama wants to take guns away?

CAVUTO: And there's no fact. I do think it's a leap to say that the President now wants to walk into every American's home and take their guns away. But hyperbole works in this campaign, no doubt about it. I think when Maria got into the issue with Donald Trump responding to the whole -- what was it...

BARTIROMO: The New York values.

KURTZ: You pointed out that you were from New York.

BARTIROMO: That's right.


BARTIROMO: Well, I basically said New York values, I am from New York, can you explain this? We want to know what you're talking about here.

CAVUTO: Most angry I have ever seen her. Its like, are you talking to me?

BARTIROMO: Part -- I grew up in Brooklyn, like explain it.

KURTZ: So did I and I get it, probably the signature moment of the debate.

BARTIROMO: I think it was probably one of Donald Trump's best moments because he had an opportunity to show sensitivity, and of course we all remember 9/11, I was there, you were there, we all were there knowing the resiliency that New York has had.

CAVUTO: And I do think, to Maria's credit, I thought that was the signature moment of the debate, because I do think it showed Trump in an entirely different -- he knew probably that question was coming and was ready for it, but his whole tone was recalibrated, very emotional, so people think he's just a bombastic billionaire, that opinion I think shifted.

KURTZ: You asked Ted Cruz about the New York Times story about the campaign loan.

BARTIROMO: That's right. I think that was a question we really had to ask. Whether it was inadvertent or his campaign said it was inadvertent -- I don't not believe him but he needed to explain it because that the American people need to hear from him.

CAVUTO: He immediately turns it on the publication that printed it.


CAVUTO: Whether it's talking about an item in the specifics, where did you get that? Where did you make that leap?

BARTIROMO: Same story with Neil, when Neil bought up the 45 percent tab, I mean Donald Trump said the 45 percent...


BARTIROMO: That week, he walked back, but you kept on pushing and pushing, which is really important. If he didn't believe it, fine.

KURTZ: You two need to take this on the road. You have the chemistry down.


BARTIROMO: Thank you.

CAVUTO: Thank you.


KURTZ: Up next, Chris Christie hits back against press reports he's taking more conservative positions now than he has in New Jersey, and he's got some choice words for the New York Times.

And later, Sean Penn says his Rolling Stone interview with El Chapo was a failure, but not for the reason you might think.


KURTZ: Chris Christie is facing tougher media scrutiny these days and the Governor isn't shy about punching back. I caught up with him in South Carolina.


KURTZ: Welcome.


KURTZ: You told the Washington Post that Marco Rubio was trying to slime his way to the White House. Why such harsh language?

CHRISTIE: I don't think that's harsh. If you're from New Jersey, that's just how you say hello, how are you?

KURTZ: Not a high-five.

CHRISTIE: No, but he doesn't deserve a high-five (Inaudible).

KURTZ: Last time we talked, I said you were kind of going easy, and you said you have to know when it's time to take the driver out of the golf bag, to bring out the driver. Now it seems like you're bonks on the head.

CHRISTIE: A little but. Certainly not as much as I'm being hit, as I've said to you all along, I'll respond -- it's Hillary Clinton, that's what I have been talking about on the campaign trail.

KURTZ: Now that you were doing somewhat better in New Hampshire, do you feel like the media are giving you the flip-flop treatment?

CHRISTIE: Sure. That's the next thing that happens. They never shoot behind, always to the -- and that's fine with the media, a Democratic legislature in 2009. If any of these folks, either the media or my opponents thinking this bothers me in the least, it's just another day.

KURTZ: Let met respond to the specifics, 1993 you're running for legislature (Inaudible) quoted as say on the issue of keeping the state's assault weapon ban -- this is the issue that energized me to get into the race. Nobody needs a semiautomatic weapon. Now your experience as a federal prosecutor changed your view?

CHRISTIE: Absolutely.

KURTZ: But when you ran for governor the first time in 2009, you said then
-- help me understand why you have changed.

CHRISTIE: Because over time what I have learned in my state they're not doing don't abide -- and so from my perspective, first of all it's misnamed, but nonetheless I have changed over time.

KURTZ: Same thing on background checks?

CHRISTIE: No. I am for the background checks in New Jersey now, and I have no problem with that.

KURTZ: Marco Rubio has aid that you once donated to Planned Parenthood.
You say that's wrong, and I take you at your word. A newspaper quoted you as saying there's no secret you're pro-choice, that's not your position today?

CHRISTIE: No. And I said in 1995 when my wife was pregnant with our second child, I went to one of the early visits at the doctor's office.
She was just barely three months. He put the Doppler on her abdomen and I can hear the heartbeat. And as I drove back to work today, I thought myself under position, I thought that was a life, but I thought that sounded like a life to me. I am the first pro-life governor, and spoke to rallies on the steps of our statehouse and defunded Planned Parenthood for the last six years in a row.

This is something that changed in my heart 21 years ago. We want converts.
We want converts. We want to change people's heart. And that's the way I have tried to do.

KURTZ: The journalistic indictment here is that you had certain positions that were a little more moderate, and now that you're running in a national Presidential primary on the Republican side, you have evolved into more conservative positions.

CHRISTIE: Not true. I ran in 2009 as an unabashed pro-life candidate and I was reelected. So that's simply an unfair accusation and untrue. That's ok. You get the chance to explain it. I think most people will understand exactly what I said. I changed my view on abortion in 1995, I ran as an unabashed pro-lifer in 2009, and will continue to be that way the rest of my life.

KURTZ: It wasn't that long ago that New York Times said you were running a vanity campaign, any message for the Times now?

CHRISTIE: Here I am. Here I am. I think I will be in the final four when we get done with Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina and competing with I think Senator Cruz, Senator Rubio and Mr. Trump the rest of the way.

KURTZ: Most politicians don't like to make those kinds of predictions because they're raising expectations.

CHRISTIE: You asked me before it was too early. We're now 2 1/2 weeks away from Iowa caucuses, 3 weeks away from the New Hampshire primary. I think we'll move on and we'll be competing all the way through the convention. I think I will be seeing you in Cleveland in July, Howie, as the Republican nominee for President.

KURTZ: You heard it hear, Governor Christie, thanks very much for joining us.

CHRISTIE: I appreciate it.


KURTZ: Coming up, has the press badly underestimated the Bernie Sanders surge, now that he's ahead of Hillary in Iowa and New Hampshire.

And later, Fox's Trish Regan and Sandra Smith on their role in the Charleston GOP debate.


KURTZ: Bernie Sanders is drawing huge crowds. He's made $73 million, but he's had a problem. The press doesn't think he can win. Some pundits are questioning whether he can derail Hillary Clinton. And the former first lady now aggressively is mixing it up with him.


HILLARY CLINTON, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You're going to go around saying you stand up to special interests, well, stand up to the most powerful special interests, stand up to that gun lobby.

BERNIE SANDERS, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Secretary Clinton obviously now feels herself in trouble. We started this campaign at two percent in the polls. Some polls now have us winning in Iowa and New Hampshire. Let me start off by saying Secretary Clinton is quite inaccurate on both those charges.


KURTZ: We're back with our ladies in red, Kirsten and Kristen. New York Times has the headlines today, Clinton campaign underestimated Sanders'
strength, to which I say, what about every pundit on the planet? Has the media made a huge error -- this was going to be a Hillary coronation?

POWERS: I don't think so, because if you look at hi campaign, it's true he's picking up in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire. He's been polling pretty well there, but if you look down the race, we're not seeing that happening in later states.

KURTZ: I agree if you look at the entire race, it's hard to see how the socialist senator beats the former first lady, but now pundits saying if she loses the first two, it could change the whole nature of the contest.

POWERS: I agree, but if you're looking at people covering the race, he's a phenomenon, he's been covered that way. But it's not reporters' jobs to say, you know, he's going to beat Hillary, when there's nothing showing up in the polls to subject that.

KURTZ: Except Sanders has been blaming the media for the tiny fraction of coverage, do you do you sense a shift that's saying let's take a second look.

ANDERSON: Covering something that is a forgone conclusion it's not interesting. All of a sudden Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, at least in the two states we are focused on are so close, while the Republican race
-- if you look at the chart of where all the these candidates have stood, the lines are all over the place, but the Democratic contest with those two lines coming together at the end, it could be down to the wire.

KURTZ: Tonight, there's an NBC Democratic debate moderated by Lester Holt.
The last two were on Saturday nights, this is up against the football playoffs on the Martin Luther King weekend, clearly the DNC was trying to -
- but I think the networks were complicit because they didn't want to give up their primetime revenue by having something during the week.

POWERS: Like you said, that's the whole point. This was meant somehow to protect Hillary Clinton from any kind of -- and people seeing her challenged or beat up and now Bernie Sanders who is somebody who will raise all sorts of issues about the fact she's not in line with the progressive base as she would like people to think. I think this was the purpose of this and its angered people, frankly.

KURTZ: Some of these were last-minute bookings -- Bernie Sanders is on the circuit. She's been on to MSNBC. She was on Rachel Maddow the other night. Is that a measure that they were worried? It used to be very selective shall we say.

ANDERSON: You're right, this is a big shift. She used to be walled out with many layers of protectors around her. I think it's trying to make the case we do need our supporters to turn out, trying to give the impression we're not taking this primary for granted.

KURTZ: Right. I must say because I noted Chris Matthews had a bit of a -- but Rachel Maddow douse challenged her campaign, now that they were mixing it up more personally, that it's not this high-toned discussion of the issues, does that generate more coverage?

POWERS: Sure. Absolutely, and I think this is more interesting, because it is clear that they are now going to come after each other more, and who knows, maybe Bernie Sanders might be regretting earlier opportunities to criticize her.


POWERS: I think now that he's on the receiving end of some pretty awful attacks, when you have Chelsea Clinton saying also some pretty disingenuous.

KURTZ: That would get some attention. Thank you both for joining us.

After the break, Rand Paul boycotts the Fox Business debate. We'll have more from Trish Regan and Sandra Smith.


KURTZ: This week's under card debate got a dose of drama when Rand Paul was so miffed about being bumped in the main stage based on polls, that he decided to boycott. I sat down with the two FBN moderators in Charleston, Sandra Smith, a co-host of "Outnumbered," and Trish Regan who hosts the "Intelligence Report" on Fox Business.


KURTZ: Trish Regan, Sandra Smith, welcome.


KURTZ: Trish, you got booed during a question on guns when you noted that a majority of Americans in polls support background checks. Why is it back to bring that up?

REGAN: You know I think we're in South Carolina and people are very adamant that they want their guns and it's not a popular thing to say in South Carolina. But it wasn't meant to be anything other than it was. In other words, I was stating a fact that majority of Americans, according to most polls are in favor of universal background checks. So why it is that everyone on this stage has such a problem with the President's proposal.

KURTZ: That was the question.

REGAN: It was the question and they answered it and it that was all good.
But there was quite a response from the crowd.

KURTZ: Did it blow up your careful preparations when Rand Paul decided he didn't want to be in the undercard debate -- boycott?



SMITH: But that's part of the debate process, Howie. It is constantly modifying, update, changing, throwing out, and adding questions. We were doing that right into the final moments. Right before we went on. I mean, at one point I was like, its 5:45 we've got to do.

KURTZ: What is a last minute change you made?

SMITH: Just wording. The structure of the questions, the flow changed.
We thought we'll start with this and he we'll go to that. And we wound up changing that around really at 4:00. But overall, it was really just the wording.

REGAN: And even in the days leading up to the debate, Howie, we were having to shuffle around the issues based on what were the most important issues for the American voter because that was changed, A, significantly since our last Fox Business debate but also in the weeks just leading up to the debate. You know it's been national security, foreign policy, the economy, and so...

KURTZ: It's a real-time event. It's interesting because you had the last two Iowa caucus winners and Carly Fiorina who had been on the main stage obviously everyone wants to be on the main stage but the undercard still gets a big audience.

SMITH: Millions of people.

KURTZ: You mentioned the economy. In the state of the union, President Obama said five percent unemployment, deficit slashed. Did the media paint an unduly gloomy picture of the economy right know?

REGAN: No. I think there's some legitimacy to being concerned. This is what we're hearing from so many experts, investors, economists, on Wall Street right now. They are worried about us slipping back into recession.
And that's why you're seeing volatility in the markets right now. China is in a bad spot, Europe is in a bad spot. It all affects us, and so it's a legitimate concern right now. Sure, a lot of jobs have been created.
They're not great job, wages aren't going up. So people are concerned.

KURTZ: Did you try to reflect that sense of economic anxiety in the way you approached the debate?

SMITH: Look, this isn't something that journalists are just making up out of thin air. Fox News polling this week did reveal that the average American feels worse now about the economy, significantly worse than they did this time last year, so people just aren't feeling great. And even if you are seeing, you know, as the President pointed out added manufacturing jobs, he highlighted some areas of the economy where we've seen growth.

But if the American people aren't feeling good, that is the most important thing because you're not going to spend money, buy a home, and buy a car, if you don't feel safe and secure and confident in the economy.

KURTZ: All right, Sandra Smith, Trish Regan, great to see you. Thanks for joining us.

REGAN: Thanks, Howie.


KURTZ: Fox News will continue to cover the freeing of the American hostages.

Still to come on this program, Sean Penn says the criticism of his somewhat phony Rolling Stone interview of El Chapo came from jealous journalists.
You have to hear this.


KURTZ: We hope we have time to talk about the coming demise of Al Jazeera America after two and a half years, a victim of low ratings and the fact that it just wasn't much of a market what it was doing internal turmoil and anti-American bias. Hired some big names but wasn't able to find a market.

Sean Penn was sharply criticized for that highly sympathetic interview with El Chapo, with Rolling Stone giving veto power over the piece. In a "60 Minutes" interview airing tonight, the actor brushed off ethical concerns "When you get the story that every journalist in the world wanted."


SEAN PENN, ACTOR: I have a regret that the entire discussion about this article ignores its purpose, which was to try to contribute to this discussion about the policy and war on drugs.

CHARLIE ROSE: You're saying there's not much dialogue about...

PENN: My article's failed. Let me be clear. My article has failed.


KURTZ: What may be clear, it failed because it didn't advance your ideological agenda to blame Americans for drug use as much as a mass murdering fugitive, and it failed because the journalist who you dismiss as jealous, green-eyed monsters care about the ethics of granting veto power over the piece to an international criminal, and you obviously don't.

That's it for this edition of "MediaBuzz." I am Howard Kurtz, a lot of breaking news to deal with today. We hope you'll like our Facebook page. Feel free to write to us at, also, DVR the show.

We'll are back next Sunday 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Eastern when we bring you the latest Buzz.

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