Spinning a Trump-less debate

Pundits declare Ted Cruz the loser


This is a rush transcript from "MediaBuzz," January 31, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST:  On the Buzz beater from Des Moines this Sunday. We're down to the wire before tomorrow's Iowa caucuses after a high stakes battle between Donald Trump and Fox News that produce a crucial debate without the republican frontrunner.


BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS:  Would you say that right now Donald Trump, all right, is a person who can let petty things -- and that's what I think this is all about, this petty things, influence him to the extent that he doesn't do what maybe he should do?

DONALD TRUMP, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, let me put it a little differently. I don't like being taken advantage of. In this case I was being taken advantage of by Fox, I don't like that.

MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS:  I mean, what's interesting here is Trump is not used to not controlling things as the chief executive of a large organization. But the truth is, he doesn't get to control the media.

KATY TUR, NBC NEWS:  I think he's playing a game of chicken with Fox and I think Fox is not necessarily the network to do that, they're not necessarily going to back down. They've been backing Megyn Kelly in this throughout the entire campaign.


KURTZ:  Is Trump's boycott hurting or helping him and what's the impact on Fox? Was his decision really about Megyn Kelly? And...


SEN. TED CRUZ, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I'm a maniac. And everyone on this stage is stupid, fat and ugly. And Ben, you're a terrible surgeon. Now that we've gotten the Donald Trump portion out of the way.


KURTZ:  What about the debate? With Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and their rivals. We'll talk to the moderators Bret Baier and Chris Wallace.

Hillary Clinton hit by damaging new headlines about her e-mails just as she's trying to avoid an embarrassing upset here, while Bernie Sanders ripped The Washington Post. Is the press finally taking this race seriously?

Plus, in the midst of the media invasion here, why do we all grant this small rural state so much power in choosing a president?

I'm Howard Kurtz and this is "MediaBuzz".

There's no question that Donald Trump stole the spotlight before the Fox News Google debate here in Iowa, monopolizing the media coverage as the pundits argue about the last minute boycott and the potential audience for a Trumpless debate.


GERALDO RIVERA, FOX NEWS:  What Donald did is make this line in the sandwich was preposterous for him to do over Megyn Kelly - - what was Megyn Kelly going to do? Go up there and, you know, whack him around? It's ridiculous.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  Well, look, he's gotten what he wanted to get which is blanket wall-to-wall coverage of him. Wiping out everything else going up to the debate. That I think was well played.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC:  Who's going to watch a debate between the two Cuban guys? Who's going to watch the debate between Rubio, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz? Who cares?


KURTZ:  When Cruz, Rubio, Carson, Bush, Christie, Paul, and Kasich took the stage here in Des Moines, Trump was doing a veterans fund-raiser across town while Megyn Kelly began the debate talking about the elephant not in the room.


TRUMP:  Fox has been extremely nice and at the last number of hours actually. And they wanted me there and they said how about now? When you're treated badly, you have to stick up for your rights.


KELLY:  Donald Trump has chosen not to attend this evening's presidential debate. What message do you think that sends to the voters of Iowa?


KURTZ:  Trump had made a last minute offer to show up if Fox donated millions to the veteran's charities. More on that later.

Joining us now on Iowa to analyze this media warfare, just one day before the caucuses, Mercedes Schlapp, a columnist and political strategist who worked for the Bush White House, Kirsten Powers, a columnist for The Daily Beast and a Fox News contributor who worked in the Clinton administration; and Heidi Przybyla, senior political correspondent for USA Today.

All right. So, Trump pulling out of the debate after instigating this war of words against Fox, was one more crazy twist in a crazy campaign. What was the impact on the media coverage this week?

MERCEDES SCHLAPP, COLUMNIST & POLITICAL STRATEGIST:  Well, first of all, talk about taking out the natural order of politics and media. How could a frontrunner not show up to a debate, but he pulled it off. It was a win-win I think for both Fox and for Donald Trump.

Donald Trump obviously got covered by CNN and MSNBC, they got about two million folks watching. And I think the MCNBC host Chris Hayes was -- I think he was so defeated having to share a split screen with Donald Trump.

With that being said, it was probably a smart strategy for Donald Trump. You avoided the ugly confrontation with Megyn Kelly if you would have gone too far in a situation like that and a smart tactic by Fox News that those video footages of these candidates which kept folks or these candidates on and off their game a little bit. That would have been interesting to see how Donald Trump would have reacted.

KURTZ:  We'll come back to that. But Kirsten, so did Trump win or lose the media coverage for the week by blowing off the only debate here in Iowa, the only chance for Iowans to see him in his home state -- in their own state on the eve of the caucuses? Some pundits said, wow, it was brilliant.

KIRSTEN POWERS, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR:  Yes. Well, I think when he first announced it, most people had the feeling of, well, this probably wasn't a great idea because this is his last chance to make his closing arguments to people who haven't make a decision. But I think by the time the debate had ended, most people start to feel that Trump was probably winning.

And, you know, because he was able to -- look, frontrunners don't like to do debates for the most part because when you're ahead, there is no reason to go into the situation where people are coming after you.

And so, in that sense he didn't have to deal with that. He didn't have to have people coming after him whether it was Megyn, which I don't think it's quite fair. I really think she goes after him but he used to think that she does. Or whether it was Ted Cruz who had had some really -- had landed some punches on him in previous debates. And so, you know, I think the media sort of come around to saying that this probably is probably going to work for Donald Trump.

KURTZ:  So, let me get over my shock here, Heidi. I until media reaction was this was a terrible moves by Donald Trump, and then as it plays out it was a very good move by Donald Trump.


KURTZ:  Have we seen this movie before?

PRZYBYLA:  Let me share with you directly because I was in the room, the media genius of Donald Trump and how he pulled it off. What has Donald Trump always said...


KURTZ:  You were in the room at his counter event?

PRZYBYLA:  I was in the room at the counter event. Yes.

KURTZ:  Yes.

PRZYBYLA:  What has Trump always said, if I bailed it on your debate, you would lose advertisers, you would millions of viewers. Well, that didn't happen. And yet for us, media members who were in the room, this is what he did.

First of all, he gave a pre-interview to CNN, then once he got into the room, he said, look, all of the cameras are here, they're all covering me. Ailes is still calling me on the phone. This is where the energy is. To the point where, as a reporter I'm tweeting out, I'm asking, folks, is this still being covered live? I don't know. But he's pulling it off. He's pulling it off, everybody.

And that is, you know, the kind of the snowball that got rolling. And then the first part of the debate was on Trump. And so, it was off to the races.

SCHLAPP:  Which to give Fox News credit. I mean, the mere fact that its ruined 12.5 million viewers, it was a substantive debate, they were able to talk about issues as opposed to having some of this personality conflicts. So, again, they got...


KURTZ:  But speaking of the press who know -- yes. I do want to come back to, you know, Trump has conducted this sort of on and off war of words against Megyn Kelly and she has not hit back. She has not to engage, she has tried to, you know, stick to her role as a journalist, but she's been flooded this week with online abuse of a nature that is a very troubling.

SCHLAPP:  Which Donald Trump has actually re-tweeted a couple of the comments of calling Megyn Kelly a bimbo or one of the Trump supporters calling her a bimbo. Which again, attack her if you want on the -- on the style of her journalism, let's say or about how she -- her line of questioning, but, you know, here it is.

Donald Trump he's got a wife, he's got daughters. I don't think he would appreciate anyone calling his wife or -- and his daughters a bimbo. I mean, it's insulting and it's just I think it's unfortunate that Donald Trump has to go ahead and insult Megyn Kelly that way.

KURTZ:  No, obviously he's not responsible for everything that his supporters say online. But you know, I know women are a target of a lot of these things. There was a web site called Vocativ that looked at the thousands of comments posted about Megyn Kelly, leaving aside the pictures. The words most often used, bimbo 404 times, bitch 423, ugly, whore, and skank. Nothing to do with her journalism or her training as a lawyer, any of that it was all personal and appearance based.

POWERS:  Right. Well, and this is, I mean, this is misogyny, just pure straight misogyny. And I think any woman whose online has experienced it, right? Megyn has experienced it times a million. And tThis is what happens when people don't like what you're saying and, look, and liberals do it too. People want to say it's not just Trump supporters or it's just not true.

I mean, I've had Keith Olbermann do it to me, you know, online. So, it's not, you know, people want immediately go to the fact that you're a bimbo or you're stupid or your other words that, you know we don't want to say to see forward and so forth.


KURTZ:  That we don't want to repeat, yes.

POWERS:  But Trump has done is that he calls her a lightweight. And so, he's taking it, you know, which is like another word for bimbo. And it's not accurate. You know what I mean? And then he's re-tweeting bimbo.

So, he's not actually saying the word, but he's letting people know that like, this is what I want people to think about her. When, like, whatever you want to say about Megyn, and I don't -- this is some kind of work here, because I work here. I think anybody who watches her, you know, yes, argue about some substantive problems with here but there's nobody who's actually has two eyes and a head and a brain who could possibly think that she's a lightweight.

KURTZ:  The -- he specifically said, Trump did on Twitter that he was not going to call her a bimbo and it wasn't politically correct, but then he used word lot alike.


KURTZ:  In terms of him skipping the debate, let's takes this a little bit out of realm of Fox, there were some people who believed that Trump didn't really want to do this debate. One of them voiced this view, MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell. Take a look.


LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC:  Donald Trump is afraid of Megyn Kelly. He has spent months proving that, but he is more afraid of Hillary Clinton and he is more afraid of Bernie Sanders and that is why he pulled out of the Fox News debate.


KURTZ:  Well, the idea that he's afraid to debate, he's had six pretty successful debates and then he's going to use that to duck any fall debates against any nominee if he wins?

PRZYBYLA:  You know, I think -- I don't Donald Trump is afraid of anybody, but I do think he's a frontrunners and there's an old truth to him when it comes to frontrunners which is it doesn't benefit you to do a debate when you're in the lead. And Trump had effectively neutralized Cruz, who had come up on him and was even leading him in the polls. He knocked him back on his heels. And there was no strategic reason why he would want to be in a debate. That's why we're seeing right now Bernie Sanders fight with Hillary Clinton over doing a debate in New Hampshire. He doesn't want to debate.

KURTZ:  So, do you think he use the disagreements with Fox as a kind of pretext?

PRZYBYLA:  He picked the fight with Fox as I understand it, right? Like, he pick to losing fight with Fox. He knew Fox isn't going to pull back their anchor. And then I have to say, I'm sorry, but when Fox issued that statement it gave him the perfect cover to say you are mistreating me. This is about my dignity and I'm not going to show.

KURTZ:  Let's go a little broader here, Kirsten. A lot of commentators see this as a kind of a war for supremacy on the right between Trump and the people who love him and his candidacy and a guy who's taking on and trying to whip the republican establishment, and Fox News, which is pretty influential on the right.

POWERS:  Yes. Well, I mean, what's interesting about it, is now Fox which has always been this sort of the outsider organization that's fighting against, you know, the rest of the media which is very bias in favor of liberals and now being cast as the establishment as if Fox is NBC News or something.

I mean, it really being treated that way by Trump supporters. And so, we have moved into this kind of bizarre world that Trump has created, you know, where if you disagree with him and somehow you are the establishment.

You know, and it's like, and by the way, it's not even that anybody is to disagree with, they're just asking him questions. They're not -- he's just being asked questions like any other candidate would be asked.

KURTZ:  Well, Trump does get criticized frequently on Fox by some of the more prominent conservative commentators.

POWERS:  Sure.

KURTZ:  When he is at Fox O'Reilly, Krauthammer, Will.

POWERS:  Running for president.

KURTZ:  Yes. You know, Jonah Goldberg, Steve Hayes. And then there's National Review and Rich Laurie which, you know, devoted a whole issue to try to say that he's not really a conservative. But those aren't the only conservative voices and some are sympathetic to Donald Trump.

POWERS:  That's right.

SCHLAPP:  But this is very simple. The simple formula, the Trump supporters who are not -- if he -- Trump is not happy with Fox, the Trump supporters are not going to be happy with Fox. And so, what's happening is, for example, like Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, they have been more sympathetic...

KURTZ:  Breitbart.

SCHLAPP:  ... and Breitbart -- towards Trump and what Trump's populous movement is doing and that's impacting the electorate. And so, in essence what's happening is that you have just as conservative grassroots base that really -- they're listening to the talk radio. They're mad at Fox. Especially those Trump supporters when Trump is not happy with the network.

KURTZ:  And just recently, Heidi, I mean, Trump doesn't only running against Fox, he's running against the New York Time, and Politico, CNN, I mean, singles them all out for harsh criticism when he feels he's being treated unfairly.

PRZYBYLA:  That's true. And like Mercedes said, it's almost as if anyone who disagrees with him automatically becomes the GOP establishment. And on a humorous note, did you know that one of the highest Google searches the night of the debate was GOP establishment? Because I think now so many people now don't even know, what is GOP establishment? It's basically anybody who disagrees with Trump.

KURTZ:  I think the establishment is down to about 12 people with gray hair. So much fun doing this in Iowa. When we come back, how the media played the Trump-free debate especially the grilling of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

And later, Bret Baier and Chris Wallace weigh in on behind the scenes drama of preparing for two scenarios with and without the Donald.


KURTZ:  We're back here with the panel in downtown Des Moines. Let's turn now to the Fox debate itself. So, Kirsten Powers, the journalistic consensus is that Ted Cruz lost despite Trump's absence which might have been an opportunity. Because he was on the defensive about immigration and got into a couple of spats with Chris Wallace.

POWERS:  Right. And I also think that he just -- and I saw the foil a bit earlier. I think that Ted Cruz is best when he has Donald Trump as a foil and somebody that he can really show his debating skills and in the last debate sort of got under Trump's skin which we have seen in a video. So, in a weird way, having Trump not there which should have given him an opportunity actually hurt him.

KURTZ:  Yes. And, Heidi, the journalistic consensus is as well, is that Marco Rubio won. But he was also on the defensive part of the night over immigration and he was also the subject of the video montage which resulted that showing that series of shifting statements on the subject of illegal immigration.

PRZYBYLA:  Yes. I think that was a great montage, but Marco Rubio won because attend of the day he was so fast on his feet that he did not get pinned down on what is absolutely true, which is that he definitely he's changed his position on immigration.

And I think that Cruz, you know, we, as the media, we'd like to bring in the winner and a loser. And even though Marco Rubio may not have been the most victorious winner, Ted Cruz was the loser. If you saw like the Des Moines Register headline the next day.

KURTZ:  Yes.

PRZYBYLA:  And so, Marco Rubio, you know, Trump wasn't there. Marco Rubio is the guy who's the next, you know, highest in the polls, and he got a lot of air time. He became the winner.

KURTZ:  Right. You know, this is really getting nasty. I was just handed this. And Neil Cavuto did an interview with Senator Rubio that's going to air in a special at 1 p.m. Eastern today, a special edition of Your World, in which Rubio is complaining about a new Ted Cruz ad and happens to be on campaign ad and he says that the ad is frankly, quite deceitful.

So it's really getting up there. Now, as far as the way the winners and losers things play, I think this was a hard debate to pick winners and losers. A lot of people said that Jeb Bush had a great night.


KURTZ:  At the same time, it wasn't like a slam dunk for any of them. I think it was hard for the press to score it.

SCHLAPP:  I would say, well, I think the press did feel that Jeb Bush did a good job and I think for the most part his campaign should be thinking, thank goodness, why didn't -- why didn't he show up on that first debate?

KURTZ:  Yes. Where was that guy?

SCHLAPP:  And where in the world he did this time? So, but again, the press is covering it as Rubio has the momentum here in Iowa, it's fairly with that whole for...


KURTZ:  Even though he's in third place in Quinnipiac poll?

SCHLAPP:  But he's strategy of really honing in on his faith and Jesus saying us savior and...

KURTZ:  Right.

SCHLAPP:  ... really done is something that they're looking at is, you know, based on crowds and enthusiasm, that Rubio is doing very well in Iowa. And a strong third to maybe or second place.

KURTZ:  I should mention the gold standard The Des Moines Register poll which just came out, Trump with a five-point lead over Cruz's 28 to 23 percent. The democratic side we'll talk about later, Hillary with a three- point lead over Bernie Sanders. That's pretty tight.

Let's go around quickly in the time we have remaining. This was a largely civil debate except for a couple of patches. Very much based on the issues and then some journalists said, well, it was tepid, well, it was vanilla. Has Trump changed the rules of the game so that people now want, you know, the kind of more raucous reality TV version?



PRZYBYLA:  I think when you look at the Twitter -- Twitter him -- you know, the postings. Again, like the social media barometer was that even though Trump wasn't there, he was getting the most mentions on Twitter.

And even though he didn't have the audience either like you said. Like, he had 2.7 million viewers, Fox had like way more. People were kind of missing that. Even Jeb Bush at a certain point seemed to add that he's missing Trump.

SCHLAPP:  Well, and this morning it is Donald Trump was saying how incredibly powerful Twitter and Facebook has been in his campaign. His ability to drive the message. And that has worked incredibly well for Trump.

KURTZ:  It's like he has his own television station.

POWERS:  Well, I feel like he should -- if this presidential gig thing doesn't work, he should buy his own news organization and call it through Trump's eyes only and I think that could actually work for him.

KURTZ:  My name for the channel would be huge news. All right. All right, Heidi Przybyla, thanks very much. Great to have you. You, two, I will see you a bit later. Ahead on this special edition from Iowa, the press also gearing up for the Hillary/Bernie showdown in a democratic race that was supposed to be a cake walk. Ed Henry joins us on that.

But up next, a deep dive on the coverage of this crazy week.


KURTZ:  Let's drill down the strange events of this week, leading up to Donald Trump's disappearance from the Fox News debate stage. And according to my reporting, Trump and his campaign are happy, almost giddy about skipping the Fox debate, pleased that in their view, FNC's ratings weren't as high as hay could have been.

Of course, Trump's campaign manager had predicted the debate would only draw one or two million, but the actual rating 12.5 million, the second highest rating in FNC history. The Trump team is also pleased about avoiding moderator Megyn Kelly, who the candidate view as unfair, although they later said it was a sarcastic Fox press release about his filling his cabinet with Twitter followers, which Fox says was intended to be humorous that push Trump into boycotting the event.

But that statement came in response to Trump's repeated attacks on Megyn, and of course, Fox had to uphold the core principle of journalism not letting a politician dictate the questioners.

In the last minute conversations with Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, Trump said, he would show up after all if the company donated $5 million to veterans causes. This was the Donald as the negotiator. Trying to get something that would allow him to declare victory, but as Fox said, quote, "We explained that was not possible and we could not engage in a quid pro quo, now could any money change hands for any reason."

One clear winner in the debate itself, Megyn Kelly who Washington Post writing sorry Donald Trump, Megyn Kelly is a fantastic debater. Politico calling her the star of the show, the liberal web site Salon, Megyn Kelly just crushed the GOP debate. So, now it's history. And Trump's interview over the weekend with Chris Wallace suggests that the Trump/Fox war may have proved to have been just another skirmish.

Now let's go to our media microscope. Look at this, Trump dominated the coverage with his debate boycott in the first four days of this week. Let's put up on the screen. Drawing almost two-thirds of the media attention in top mainstream media outlets according to the new analytics company.

Ted Cruz, you see him that smaller column, got one-quarter of the mention. Marco Rubio, less than 5 percent. But on Friday, the day after the debate, Trump was down 10 points to 56 points, Cruz was down five points to percent and Marco Rubio's coverage more than doubled to 12 percent.

Plus, the media coverage got less negative Rubio a bit more negative for the other two but Donald Trump still dominating whether he's on the debate stage or not.

Next on "MediaBuzz," Chris Wallace and Bret Baier, on why they used those video clips in the debate and what they would have done if Donald Trump showed up.

And later, Bernie Sanders rips The Washington Post as he starts to face some more intense media scrutiny.


KURTZ:  Once the pre-debate drama was over, Megyn, Bret, and Chris unleashed two hours of questions such as why Marco Rubio was once describe as the GOP savior and at times, things got a little testy.


KELLY:  Within two years of getting elected, you were cosponsoring legislation to create a path to citizenship in your words, amnesty. Haven't you already proven that you cannot be trusted on this issue?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  No, because if you look at the quote and it's very specific and it says blanket amnesty.

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS DEBATE MODEARTOR:  But if you look at the recent average of polls in your home State of Florida you're in third, trailing Donald Trump by 24 points. If the people who know you best have you there, why should the rest of the country elect you?

RUBIO:  Well, let me clear about one thing. There's only one savior and it's not me. It's Jesus Christ who came down to earth and died for our sins.


CRUZ:  Chris, I would note that the last four questions have been Rand, please attack Ted, Marco, please attack Ted; Chris, please attack Ted. Jeb, please, attack Ted.


CRUZ:  Let me just say this.


CRUZ:  Well, no, no, a debate actually is a policy issue, but I will say this. Gosh, if you guys say -- ask one more mean question, I may have to leave the stage.


KURTZ:  I sat down here in Iowa with Bret Baier, the anchor of Special Report and Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday.


KURTZ:  Bret Baier and Chris Wallace, welcome. This was surreal. Up until 15 minutes before this debate started, you didn't know whether or not Donald Trump would swoop to the stage at the last minute. What did that do to your weeks of preparation?

BAIER:  I mean, it all came crushing to that end right before the debate and we literally had two stacks of questions. One that said without Trump and one that said with Trump. And we were carrying them to the stage, and the most surreal conversation was when we turned to each other and said, well, maybe we'll just ad-lib it. And that didn't go over too well. We had to work it out a little bit.

KURTZ:  On a human level as all this was swirling around you, would he show up, wouldn't he show up, the last minute sniping between Donald Trump and Fox News was it a big distraction?

WALLACE:  A big, no. Distraction, absolutely. And we had spent at least two weeks preparing for a Trump debate. A debate including Donald Trump. For two days, we had spent intensely preparing for a debate without Donald Trump. There were about two hours in mid-afternoon, where suddenly there were lot of late maybe he would... KURTZ:  Yes.

WALLACE:  ... or whatever. Now it turned out to be wrong. But, you know, there were conversations going on, and we suddenly were -- where were the Trump questions that I threw out two days ago?

KURTZ:  It's got to be here somewhere.

WALLACE:  I can feud here and well, what would I ask him if? I mean, it was really like playing three dimensional chess trying to figure out, what's my plan, if there -- if he's there, what's my plan, if he's not there.

BAIER:  And you know, these things are choreographed. I mean, you want it to be fluid and breathe, but we have slots. We ask questions in a certain order. And when you throw a different puzzle piece in there, it changes the whole thing.

KURTZ:  How did you feel, Bret first, as Megyn Kelly's friend and colleague, as this week went on and he continued to hammer her?

BAIER:  Well, listen, Megyn handled it I think wonderfully. She took the high road all throughout. I think -- you know, it's tough to read some of that stuff and the tweets and you feel like piping up. But Megyn's a big girl and she defends herself. And I think obviously she was prepared either way.

KURTZ:  You've interviewed Trump, you've interviewed Trump, I've interviewed Trump, we all try to be fair to him. But it's an unusual situation when it gets so personal between the presidential candidate and one of your...


WALLACE:  Well, that's what I was going to say.

KURTZ:  Yes.

WALLACE:  Lord knows any political reporter who does their job gets...


KURTZ:  Flushed.

WALLACE:  ... slapped by candidates. I remember in 2011 asking here a question -- I still think it was a perfectly legitimate question of Newt Gingrich about why is your campaign is such a mess, everyone was quitting, they were losing money, and he said I'm tired of your mickey mouse 'gotcha' questions and 3,000 people behind me...

KURTZ:  Went nuts.

WALLACE:  ... I was bait sort of booing me.

KURTZ:  Yes.

WALLACE:  Nothing I remember just go well.

BAIER:  I remember it well.

WALLACE:  And remind me of it often. But the point is this has taken on a completely different level of personal vitriol. And that's made -- has made it so different and so uncomfortable. I'm sure for Megyn I can't even imagine what she's had to go through and for all of us, you know, who love and respect Megyn and don't want to see it happen to a colleague.

BAIER:  And she's a pro.

KURTZ:  Absolutely. To me, the most the most dramatic stretch of the debate was when you play the video montages of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and apparently shifting statements on immigration reform over the years. Was there some unease, hesitation, debate about whether playing the video clips was the way to go?

BAIER:  Yes. I think there was some hesitation, whether they would be heard the right way, whether they would be edited the right way, whether it would come off the right way. And to Megyn's credit, she said I think this is going to be an important part of asking the question.

We then saw the clips and said, you know that is powerful in and of itself. And everybody signed off on it. I think, you know, there was one for Donald Trump had he...


KURTZ:  You anticipated my next question.

BAIER:  ... had he appeared. And I don't know. We may play it on Special Report. We'll see.

KURTZ:  It becomes harder for the candidate to brush it off when it's not you describing his words, but everybody you're seeing his own words. I'm not sure I've seen them in the debate.

WALLACE:  I actually think and I was not -- I'll be honest, a particular plan of the idea because it seemed to me you're going to be singling people out. Even though we were going to do it to three candidates, Cruz, Rubio, and Trump. I think it's a game changer.

I think it was so effective and got such a conversation going and allow the viewers. You know, it's something we do routinely on "Special Report" or "Fox News Sunday."


KURTZ:  "Fox News Sunday," yes.

WALLACE:  The idea, well, wait a minute, senator, here's what you said two weeks ago. But I have not seen it in the debate. And I think it's a game changer. I would be surprised if you ever see a debate without it.

KURTZ:  You got into a couple of times with Ted Cruz. As we just saw on one occassion he was complaining that you were inviting other candidates to criticize or attack him and you pushed back.

WALLACE:  Well, yes. I kind of laughed. I said it's a debate, sir. And then he came back and he said, yes, but, you know, it's not personal attacks, it should be about policy. What I had been asking about was foreign policy and votes he had taken and statements he had made on the floor. I don't know what could be more policy than that.

KURTZ:  And then he told that joke about well, maybe I'll just leave the stage. And then it was not a great...


WALLACE:  It was not -- it was not a great moment for him. You know, look, and I think the general review, a conventional wisdom, it was not a good night for him -- for Ted Cruz. Rough night for Cruz was the headline in the Des Moines Register...

KURTZ:  Yes.

WALLACE:  ... Friday morning, and I think part of it was because of that. That he was the lead dog. He was the frontrunner in the room and he didn't seem to step up.

KURTZ:  In the room without Donald Trump.

WALLACE:  Right.

KURTZ:  Both of you and Megyn Kelly I think were tough on all of the candidates. And even though you've done this several times this campaign or the last campaign, there was still some buzz out there, Fox News is aggressively questioning the republican candidates and the audience and the Fox audience don't like that.

BAIER:  I think they're used to it now.

KURTZ:  They should be.

BAIER:  And this team has worked well together and all candidates are pressed. And I think we balanced it out well with substantive policy and also pointing out electability issues. I mean, these are things that if they don't come up now, they would come up in a general election. Maybe in a much different format.

WALLACE:  I was going to say, anybody who was surprised by our tenor and the way we held these candidates' feet to the fire are people who don't watch Fox News. I would argue that perhaps the toughest single interview in this election cycle has been Bret's interview on Special Report...


KURTZ:  With?

WALLACE:  ... of Ted Cruz.

KURTZ:  Yes.

WALLACE:  Look, we treat all these guys the same, republicans, democrats. The only problem is that a lot of the democrats won't come on our air. And, you know, yet, we'd be tough on them, but no tougher than we are on republicans.

KURTZ:  Chris Wallace, and Bret Baier, thanks for joining us here in Iowa.

BAIER:  Thanks, Howard.


KURTZ:  Well behind the scenes of the debate ahead from Des Moines. We'll talk to the top reporter for WHO TV about the local coverage of the race. But first, is the press expecting even rooting for a Hillary Clinton loss here in Iowa?


KURTZ:  Hillary Clinton was hit with the barrage of negative headlines just as she's trying to stave off an up said victory for Bernie Sanders in tomorrow's Iowa caucuses.

The Obama administration confirming reports on Fox News and in The New York Times that 22 of the e-mails she had on her home server are so damaging they cannot be released. That news breaking shortly after the sit down with NBC anchor, Lester Holt.


LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS:  Anything can happen, why shouldn't people as they weigh the electability question worry about this hanging over your head as you move ahead?

HILLARY CLINTON, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Because the facts have remained the same. There was never any information sent or received that was marked classified to me.


KURTZ:  Joining us now here in Des Moines is Ed Henry, the Fox News chief White House correspondent who covers the democratic campaign. Mercedes Schlapp, and Kirsten Powers still with us.

Ed, the e-mail scandal has been dogging Hillary Clinton all year.


KURTZ:  But the initial she's confirming in this 22 super top secret e- mails that can't be released is this a dramatic news story or more of an incremental one?

HENRY:  I think it's more incremental, but where it makes a difference is Hillary Clinton later in that interview and other interviews keeps saying this is the republicans out to get me. These leaks are targeting me. Hang on a second. This one came from the State Department which last I checked is run by democrats.

Number one. Number two, that short clip you played where she said the facts will remain the same, go back to the transcript last March of the United Nations or the first conference on the server. A few facts have changed since then, Howie.

KURTZ:  Mercedes, Hillary Clinton said in the interview in the last few days that, yes, she was sorry this happened.

SCHLAPP:  Right.

KURTZ:  But not because she had done anything wrong. But because her critics had made such a huge fuss about it. Remember, that was the whole drama for month, would she apologize, or not she apologize? And that she seems almost to be walking back the apology just a little bit.

SCHALPP:  Hillary Clinton wants this to be a process story, right? So, she wants to blame the intelligence community, it's the intelligence community going amok. So, for her that's where her strategy is. She does not want to claim responsibility for these e-mails in any way.

KURTZ:  And she wants to neutralize the coverage.

SCHLAPP:  And she's trying to keep the space. Absolutely. She's trying to neutralize the coverage with the media outlet.

KURTZ:  This was a bad mistake. And look at what a big role this played in her presidential campaign. But do you think some conservative commentators are going overboard in the way they describe this situation?

POWERS:  Well, people who keeps insisting that she's going to be indicted, this is something that you hear, you know, on the right that it's just a matter of time before she's indicted. I don't think at this point the facts bear that out. And if you're going to look at it really objectively.

And people keep bringing up David Petraeus. And they say, look at what happened with David Petraeus. Well, David Petraeus knew that the information was classified. Now Hillary may have known, but we have -- you have to get into the state of mind with her.

And at this point I don't think we can show for sure that she did know it was classified, especially some say it was classified after the fact. Should she have known? That's a different question.

KURTZ:  Right. But another -- yes.


POWERS:  But I just want to say one more thing, even if she is charged, David Petraeus was charged with a misdemeanor. He did not go to jail. This idea that Hilary is going to be that worried...

SCHLAPP:  But he's wasn't running for president.

POWERS:  No, no, no. This is a legal issue, though. The idea that she's going to be in the orange jumpsuit...


KURTZ:  OK. But just narrative -- is this narrative one that you hear more on Fox or do you think this is now echoing throughout the mainstream?

POWERS:  It's much more of a narrative on Fox than more of a narrative on...


KURTZ:  Well, but I will...

SCHLAPP:  Well, the New York Times is covering it.

POWERs:  They are not saying she's going to be in orange jumpsuit. I mean, we're talking about different things that covering the issue, they're not saying that an indictment is around the corner.

HENRY:  Well, but democrats are also privately. You probably know better than I, are saying, well, wait a second. She might just edge past Bernie Sanders here in Iowa. He might win New Hampshire, it will be a wash. And they'll go down south and I think with the African-American vote shall win. But then if, and I underline the word if five time, if she's indicted, what happens next? A lot of democrats in Washington are talking about that, are they going to be left holding the bag?

KURTZ:  Do you have the sense that the press, not because the journalists don't like Hillary Clinton or they love Bernie Sanders, but they'd love to see an upset here in Iowa and perhaps in New Hampshire? Because it makes this thing and everybody said was inevitable coronation into a real race?

SCHLAPP:  Well, I think to a certain extent. Because when you look at the editorials of The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Des Moines Register, obviously they're endorsing Hillary Clinton.

KURTZ:  Right. But that's opinion.

SCHLAPP:  Right. It is opinion. But with the coverage, yes, I think they do want to see if Bernie Sanders -- if he's real. If this movement is organic, if it's really going to be not just energy and enthusiasm but it translates into vote.

KURTZ:  You set me up for the next question, which is Senator Sanders was at a Bloomberg politics breakfast and Ed Henry was there and ask them about a pretty stinging Washington Post editorial that it said that many of his policy proposals were based on fiction, here is Bernie Sanders's response.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The Washington Post to express concern that the middle class was shrinking. In my view we're going to create an economy that works for the middle class and whether The Washington Post likes it or not that's what I intend to do.


KURTZ:  This is some of the harshest criticism that Bernie Sanders has gotten. Some sort of criticism from a mainstream media outlet.

HENRY:  Yes. And then The Washington Post the next day came back with another editorial saying it's not that we think you're radical, we just think your ideas make no sense.

And so, I think of this to take a step back is Bernie Sanders is pretty fired up. He's a more serious candidate than The New York Times or Fox thought he would be six months ago. So, people are looking at him more closely. But also, they're scrutinizing what he's actually for.

I mean, you have may think that single payer health care is a wonderful idea. How much is it going to cost? It's a lot of money.

KURTZ:  To which I would say, Kirsten, about time. I mean, all this tings and this is not pro or anti-Bernie, but 52 percent top tax rate.

HENRY:  Right.

KURTZ:  Government run health care, raising taxes on the middle class although he says that would be balance by paying less insurance. Journalists didn't really, really seriously scrutinize this. Because they thought he was a helpless long shot.

HENRY:  Right.

POWERS:  Right. Well, I mean, I do think he's not -- even if he's a hopeless long shot, he is a serious candidate and he is one of the two major democratic candidates. So, they should have been paying more attention to him. I don't really think it's...


KURTZ:  But he's drawing huge crowds.

SCHLAPP:  But the selection about is personality over policy.

KURTZ:  Yes.

SCHLAPP:  Nobody really wants to get into the details of the policy.

HENRY:  And, you know, the Clinton -- the Clinton people didn't take him that seriously either. I'll give you a quick behind the scenes tidbit, which is typically at the end of Iowa, so Monday night around midnight, Clinton will come out, Sanders will come out, either victory or loss speeches and then typically, the frontrunners especially will have a charter and take her press corps.

So, I was planning to fly with Hillary Clinton to New Hampshire because at 1 in the morning you're not going to get a commercial flight.

KURTZ:  Well said. There was a snowstorm coming.

HENRY:  All of a sudden, we heard from the Clinton camp this week there's not going to be plane. Sanders camp heard that. They said, we're doing a plane. You can fly with Bernie Sanders to New Hampshire. Then two days later, the Clinton camp said, we're going to have a plane actually. So, there's a little cat and mouse game going on behind the scenes.

SCHLAPP:  Not only they are courting the voters or courting the media as well.

HENRY:  By the way, we pay our own fare. We pay our own fare.

KURTZ:  Yes. I'm so relieved that Ed Henry had him on transportation. Ed Henry, Kirsten Powers, and Mercedes Schlapp, thanks for joining us here in Iowa.

Coming up, what does the national media mention look like for Iowa journalist? Veteran Des Moines anchor Dave Price joins us in a moment.


KURTZ:  For journalist here in Iowa covering the caucuses every four years, well, it's like the Super Bowl and the World Series wrapped into one.

Joining us now is Dave Price, political director and weekend anchor at WHO TV 13 here in Des Moines. So, how is the way that you and your station cover this race different from what you see in the constant national media coverage?

DAVE PRICE, WHO TV 13 POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  I mean, we have to drill it down. You don't have any choice here. I was a great purple state. You know, we can elect Barack Obama one near George Bush and the other year.

KURTZ:  That's why you got the purple tie.

PRICE: Exactly. I play down the middle here.

KURTZ:  Right.

PRICE:  So, I mean, we really had to drill in. SO, for us here ethanol, you know, they may not get a lot of play at nationally but that ended up being a huge, huge story here where Governor Branstad, who says he is neutral in this race, comes flat out and told me that he wants Ted Cruz defeated because of previous opposition to...


KURTZ:  So, does that means that some of the things that Donald Trump says that the national media obsess on get less attention here in Iowa?

PRICE:  Well, if you look at the crowds...


PRICE:  I would say probably not. I mean, Trump is still leading the newscasts all over the place. So, I think he still gets a lot of attention.

KURTZ:  Well, that's very interesting for me. Because while Donald Trump doing the big rallies and he does them across the country, then obviously he has done some in Iowa and has done in the last few days in Iowa, and the importance of the TV debates, isn't this eroding this sort of retail campaigning, candidates going to 99 counties, going to the coffee shops, going to the county fairs does that kind of justify the Iowa caucuses?

PRICE:  If you look at the candidates who have been here the most this cycle, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Martin O'Malley, none of those three win the Iowa caucuses. So, it seems like this year, that retail isn't the same. Bernie Sanders can come and get an enormous crowd and he's starting to do a little bit of every retail maybe, but not in the same way we've seen. Trump definitely doesn't do it.

Now that Cruz has, though, he's been doing some of that. You know, to kind of push towards that 99 counties. But no doubt it's blown up the cycle.

KURTZ:  It's blown up and maybe it will change for future campaigns as well as people look at what worked and what didn't work in this television age. Now you've heard this before, you have written a book on the caucuses. This is a small rural mostly white state, kind of an unrepresentative state. Why should the media give so much weight to who sins the Iowa caucuses who finished the second just because your state by tradition goes first.

PRICE:  It does. And you know, it has a mixed track record in the past perhaps it's better from the democratic side than the republican side. People from Iowa will say, though, that if you look at George Bush and Barack Obama, the last two two-term presidents they won to Iowa caucuses first.

KURTZ:  Other people come back and say Huckabee, Santorum won Iowa caucuses and didn't go on.

PRICE:  Didn't become president either.

KURTZ:  Right. Right.

PRICE:  So, that's how people here will look at it. I think the one thing that the caucuses doing, you know they like to say it went as a field here.

KURTZ:  Yes.

PRICE:  But you do get so see how these candidates interact one on one like this. You know, Giuliani is kind of beat up for how he ran in '08, where he maybe is doing some of the things perhaps that Trump is doing now, coming and give a big speech.

KURTZ:  Yes.

PRICE:  In fact, he did one in this building, where he showed up an hour late, didn't really apologize to people and didn't go over that well.

KURTZ:  I agree with you that one of one contact with people who take this really seriously as they do in Iowa as they do in New Hampshire is a good thing. I also think that's been eroded as we just pointed out this time around.

Dave Price, great to see you. Thanks for stopping by from WHO.

Still to come, why I'm buzzed off about the media's failure on the toxic water supply in the Michigan town of Flint. Stay with us.


KURTZ:  I am buzzed off about poison water supply in Flint, Michigan, which is a national disgrace and hardly the media's finest U.S. hour. Local journalist Curt Guyette did the most to uncover this outrage but he was working for the ACLU, not the news organization.

Now the New York Times has searched credit for an article almost a year ago, and has fecal bacteria which showing up in the water supply. And the MSNBC touched on the problem on later. The Times ran two follow up pieces in October.

The public editor, Margaret Sullivan says the paper dropped the ball. Had there been serious digging, says Sullivan, public officials might have been shamed into taking action before they did. The Times, she says, could have prevented human suffering. While the paper has limited resources in the Midwest and elsewhere, some of those resources were spent on clip page such as, Lumbersexual and the Free the Nipple Movement.

Good for Margaret Sullivan for challenging her paper and really all of us to do better.

Well, that's it for this special Iowa edition of "MediaBuzz." I'm Howard Kurtz. I have really enjoyed being here. It was a word has gotten out that Fox is broadcasting from the embassy suites a lot of people have come down. I had the chance to meet many Iowans and they are very sophisticated about the candidates and about the media. And it's been really kind of an education.

And this is one of the reasons that these caucuses in New Hampshire primary really our due service for democracy for all of our focus on horse race, and who's going to win, who's going to finish third and let be better than expected.

It's nice to meets folks who really care about the substance of the candidate's edition.

OK. Give us a like on our Facebook page. We post a lot of original content there. We will respond to your questions, We'll be in New Hampshire next week, live from Manchester in the eve of that stage crucial primary. That's next Sunday, 11 a.m. Eastern, 10 a.m. here in Iowa. Again, at 5 Eastern we'll see you then with the latest buzz.

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