TRANSCRIPT

Is Trump probe a 'witch hunt'?

Special counsel named after press scoops

 

This is a rush transcript from "Media Buzz," May 21, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: All right, back to Saudi Arabia for more on the president's speech, later this hour.

But first joining us to analyze coverage of the extraordinary week: Guy Benson, political editor of Townhalll.com and a Fox News contributor; Erin McPike, White House correspondent for Independent Journal Review and Ray Suarez, former anchor at the "PBS NewsHour."

So this story that have dominate here in D.C. Guy and of course The Washington Post story about the presidential meetings. Leaking classified information about ISIS, and James Comey memo. With White House pushing back, would you say those stories are good journalism?

GUY BENSON, TOWNHALL.COM: I would. Because, it seems like overall, membership of the details of those stories have been confirmed, and White House pushed back has been, muddled, early on saying, well, some of this is true, we've had a changing narrative out of the White House. So, I am not going to defend every single element of every story. But I think yes this is important real journalism.

KURTZ: We add to that, in New York Times adding piece about that meeting with Russia administer, and ambassador. On balance do you agree? What if they are not to be true?

RAY SUAREZ, FORMER ANCHOR, PBS NEWS: I guess it will come out in the wash, and fairly soon. As more people start speaking on the record, this is a tough thing, as you know Howie, to go on unidentified sources when this such big import and potential blockbuster nature of some of these stories. But, you always have to ask yourself, would it be better off if we didn't know this stuff was going on.

KURTZ: Interesting comment there from Bob Woodward the other day saying some journalists are binge drinking the anti-Trump Kool-aid. And that is not going to work on journalism.

ERIN MCPIKE, INDEPENDENT JOURNAL REVIEW: Yes, I think there is a lot of glee about being able to cover the stories that we've covered this week, that is going a little bit too far, but I do agree that journalism has all been good, the stories need to be out.

KURTZ: Let's play a sound bite about president being asked about a story at a news conference this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did you urge former FBI director James Comey to close or back down the investigation to Michael Flynn and also --

TRUMP: No. no, next question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Shortest answer we've heard. But when Donald Trump said this is a witch-hunt, referring to naming of special council, and Robert Mueller and media coverage of that mess, he is casting as fake news. You made the point that a lot of details have not been contradicted.

BENSON: A lot of is real news, fixed in with fake news. There are still members of mainstream media referring to hacking of election by Russia that is nonsense, and then other networks declaring this Comey memo proves who President Trump intended to do, we don't know that. I think there is a frustration on part of president who sees a gleeful file on, sometimes at expense of contact and perspective, you add that Harvard study on media bias that came out just a few days ago about how in first the first 100 days not talking about the last week, the first 100 days, 80 percent of coverage was negative, that is un-president and I think President Trump said this people are out to get me and I can understand that.

KURTZ: What Washington post story that said investigation of whole matter of, a quote person of interest. That troubled me a little bit there.

SUAREZ: This is a thing, this is a highly competitive business, people want to beat other people, but they want to be right, they are humiliated when they are wrong. If that person of interest story is wrong, it is not a metal on somebody's chest, it is taken very seriously inside and outside of the business, there is risk involve and you really would rather go on the record with people who can speak for the record, sometimes you can't.

BENSON: I think the bigger issue on that Washington Post story was using the term person of interest that is a very different meaning legally than target, I think a lot of folks in media quickly conflated those two contemplate those two, just that fact you are talking to someone that could be a person of interest. That is different that targeting someone and I think that is the impression that was left.

KURTZ: There has been a gusher of leaks from the Comey side. And there is a -- I think we have video of it. A story in which Comey described to his pals at FBI that he was trying to blend in with the curtains in a White House ceremony, and Trump saw him, and wanted to have a handshake. My question is, what about the motivation of this guy? Former FBI director, fired in a humiliating fashion. Should that be challenge by the press?

MCPIKE: It is clear it is coming from him. We can't fault the reporters for including details.

KURTZ: Is there skepticism toward Comey?

MCPIKE: I think there should be a higher degree of skepticism most certainly, but as we know m he has kept notes with President Trump, it is clear he has a motivation, because he doesn't to talk about these things when he testifies.

KURTZ: In a lot of interviews, I have seen a lot of this in CNN and MSNBC anchors are asking lawmakers, well would you consider impeachment? We keep hearing that word. Does this go too far given where we are at this story?

BENSON: I don't fault reporters and anchors for asking the question, given this cloud that is gathered, but on the substance of impeachment in requires high crimes and misdemeanor and I think when you have folks whether in media or in Democratic Party or anywhere else, using the I of word in a serious way, the follow-up question should be, is what is high crime, what is the misdemeanor and what is the proof of it, because we don't have those things right now.

KURTZ: Part of the country has the impressions that the press has been against Donald Trump since the campaign and using these stories, some of them are obviously and there is a special counsel investigation using this news stories to try to bring him down.

SUAREZ: Reporters look for patterns of behavior. When they see unusual things happening, it catches their eye. And when they see another unusual thing that is related to it, it starts to looks like a pattern of practice.

KURTZ: President provided other news in form of 9 day foreign speech this morning. They had not been following if closely enough and we breathe the air, Comey, Russia, Comey, Trump.

MCPIKE: Yes, they might not care, however I have also seen a lot of polling that suggestions a large majority of Americans wanted to see a special prosecutor, council, people are paying attention to some degree, obviously I think that a number of issues, American care about more than this, there since drift in the story.

KURTZ: I am saying it may not be with same possessiveness now. Anderson Cooper on CNN it a moment with a panel, a pro-Trump and Jeffrey Lord, Anderson Cooper said this. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFFREY LORD, TRUMP SUPPORTER: He is the president of the United States. If he wants to say that, if Barack Obama wants to say whatever -- if George Bush says I looked in his eyes…

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: If he took a dump on his desk, you would defend it.

LORD: What?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Cooper later apologized for the crude and unprofessional remarks that are what he called it. It shows me where tone of debate has gone into this whole mess. Obviously we are short in time, because the breaking news. Guy Benson, Erin McPike, Ray Suarez -- thank you very much for your debut appearance here. Up next, Brit Hume on how Trump versus Comey battle is playing out in the press.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Vice President Pence in his home state speaking at the graduating class at Notre Dame. And let us bring it back to Washington now. We are going to turn back to the coverage of the extraordinary week here in the nation's capital. What I call the "Trump turmoil" and how that compares to the way other presidents have been treated.

Joining us now is Brit Hume, Fox's senior political analyst, veteran White House correspondent. You covered stories like this before. You started "Special Report" to cover the Monica Lewinsky story. Is there something different in your view in the way the media are covering President Trump and this whole Russia Comey situation?

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS: Yes there is something different in my view. The media as a whole has I think within it a kind of cultural revulsion to Donald Trump. There is a presumption of irregularity in everything that he undertakes. It's through that prism that he is seen. The sense you have is the media that essentially joined the so-called resistance to Donald Trump and the coverage reflects that. It's the most negative I have seen, although there has been plenty of negative coverage of the president and the tone and media coverage of presidents since Watergate has been deiced more adversarial than it was before that, but this on a new level.

KURTZ: Does that undermine the reporting by major news organizations about who said what to Comey? Are you saying there is an underlying assumption of nefarious doings at the heart of this when right now the evidence hasn't taken us there yet?

HUME: The evidence hasn't taken us far enough to justify the comparisons that are being made now to Watergate and other similar presidential scandals. If you think of it in political terms, Howard, this allegation of collusion between the Russians and the Donald Trump campaign has gone farther and less evidence than any scandal I have ever seen. You have got to admire the Democrats for their persistence and determination. They managed by a political alchemy to convert this set of suspicions and guess and contacts into something that people like David Gergen and others -- John McCain are likening to Watergate.

KURTZ: Is it also fair to say President Trump himself fuels some of this not just by firing Jim Comey, by suggesting he might have tapes. Saying he might end the press briefings?

HUME: There is a certain way that presidents in this era of adversarial coverage have kind of learned to cope with it. The first rule is, do no harm. Do not feed stories that hurt you, do not inflame the situation.

KURTZ: That is the standard playbook.

HUME: That is the standard playbook, for whatever reason, this president refuses to play by it. As a result he does a lot of things that make it worse. It seems like he is not guilty of much of anything. But he persists in acting as if he may be. The investigation is a proceeding in place. It's been going on since last July. As far as we know, it's a counter intelligence not a criminal investigation. In the midst of it all he fires the FBI Chief. If you are going to do that you probably should have your nominee in place and ready to go.

KURTZ: Which brings me to the role of Sean Spicer, there have been reports in the New York Times and Politico that the White House press secretary might step back in the daily press briefings or might leave the White House, I don't know if that is true. Does Sean Spicer get an unfair rant for unique challenge of trying to explain and defend his president?

HUME: He has the hardest job that any press secretary that I can remember. There is no press secretary that is capable of compensating for president who fires the FBI Director on (inaudible) with one explanation and then goes out publicly and reverse that explanation or changes it two days later. You can't press secretary your way out of the (inaudible). He has the toughest job in town and I think he got a decent job.

KURTZ: Brit Hume, thanks for stopping by, this has been a busy news morning here in Washington and now we want to go to Saudi Arabia, the president as you know is there on his first foreign trip as commander in chief. Joining us now from Riyadh, Fox News Chief political anchor and special report anchor Bret Baier. Let me ask you about the speech president gave taking a tough line on terror, talking about good versus evil. Do you think there is enough news value in that speech that we in the media will still be talking about and writing about and analyzing it in a couple of days from now.

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: Howie I think so. You know I can't speak for the rest of the media but there is a lot of needs in that speech, but importantly perhaps the commitment by Saudi Arabia and by this other Arab and Muslim nations to sign on to fight extremism and also start to form perhaps a Muslim NATO if you will, to not only go after terrorism and extremist themselves but also fight the funding of that terrorism, you know I think it is receive very well here in Saudi Arabia. I think from Trump supporters there is this feeling of - the story has changed and from senior aides on the White House that could be happier that this stop from Saudi Arabia was the first one, because the Saudis embraced this president so warmly, namely because its geopolitical focus is no longer Iran, but it is fighting terrorism.

KURTZ: I guess the part of its term is the immediate behavior Bret in the sense that when the president (inaudible) the questions is about the is substance of what he has said in Saudi Arabia what he will say in Israel and the Vatican, some of this stuff or as you know there is still so much interest in Comey and the Russians and the Special Counsel Probe and all of that, almost like a split screen of his presidency.

BAIER: Yes, when given the chance it's the major focus. When you talk to world leaders they think it's a big deal. They think it's a turning of the tide in the relationship of these countries, Saudi Arabia and the gulf nations in fighting this threat. I think you are seeing an effort by the White House perhaps, to try to stick to the message of the day. That is why we are not seeing open Q and A's.

KURTZ: Right just briefly Bret, some chatter on Twitter and mostly from the liberal side, they ignored the fact that President Trump did not use the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism." Do you think that is significant or is it semantics?

BAIER: You know he went pretty far. Islamic extremism, Islamic terror in the speech so I think the radical part how he said it on the campaign is getting picked up differently. H.R. McMaster National Security Adviser said -- is said to be behind the softening of tone. He leaves here not only with the pledges of fighting terrorism and also with $350 billion of investment inside the U.S.

KURTZ: All right Bret Baier thanks very much for joining us in Saudi Arabia. You will be moderating a forum called "Tweet" with the president of Unite States and others, great to see you.

BAIER: Yes.

KURTZ: We'll move on now to some other news this week that hit pretty hard here at home. Roger Ailes as you know died this week at 77. He was tough Republican operative having help to elect Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush who then change the phase of cable news.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROGER AILES, CEO FOX NEWS: The Fox News Channel we looked at national polls. 65 to 75 percent of the people in the country said news in America is boring and biased.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Rupert Murdoch called him a brilliant newscaster. He was forced out as chairman last July after mounting sexual harassment allegations made by women at Fox. How should his legacy be remembered? Joining us now from New York Marisa Guthrie, television editor of the Hollywood reporter and Joe Concha, media reporter for The Hill, Marisa will get to some of the problems in a moment but I would say no one can take way from Roger Ailes in that he filled a void in the media most people didn't see.

MARISA GUTHRIE, HOLLYWOOD REPORTER EDITOR: There were only two cable networks. He built a major multi-billion dollar business and changed the face of media and politics that is true. There is more than one way to look at him. I think that there are two sides. The disparity between the interpretations is very striking. There are people who say he was a serial sexual harasser who built this multi-billion dollar bills in part on objectifying women and there is the other part, but he did change the face of media and politics in culture and I think both things can be true.

KURTZ: Joe Concha, will get to the other part in a minute, but looking at the four decade career, I mean Roger Ailes was combative and controversial as Fox was and is, but ideology aside for a moment --

JOE CONCHA, THE HILL NEWSPAPER: He was the most influential media executive ever. Certainly over the last 20 years. Considering what he built here at Fox News as the most dominant cable news network. Charles Krauthammer said it best. Way always said about the genius of Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes, they found a niche audience, half the country. What I always marveled about him most in terms of the way he carried himself in this business, Howie is the way he evaluated talent. He would watch audition tapes with the sound off to see if that person had presence and filled the screen. Look at way he hired about Bill O'Reilly in 1996 from "inside edition."

KURTZ: The lawsuit by Gretchen Carlson. Roger Ailes was accused of some pretty terrible conduct toward women. So I guess my question is that we have to balance that against whatever else he achieved in his long career in politics and media.

GUTHRIE: Certainly, he was different things to different people. And you have people like this network who he -- who have come out and talked about how much he helped them when they were going through family situations, when they were sick. He did those things. Those things cannot be denied. You have other people who obviously who have come out and said that some of them destroyed their careers and created a culture of objectification which by the way is not limited to him.

KURTZ: Let me get you here on this last question. Many assumed he gave daily marching orders. He hired me, and I covered him aggressively on other news organizations. And he never had any contact with me on what to do on this program. Do you think he was too political or do you think that is overstated?

BAIER: I would think after he left the network we would have heard from other anchors that who used to work here who would say I was told what to say. As far as professional dominance as far as not living an exemplary life, you look back at former presidents, former presidents, big time athletes and celebrities. That seems to be more the rule than the exception.

KURTZ: Joe Concha, Marisa Guthrie thanks very much for helping us remember Fox News channel. Another note about the network, Bob Beckle co-host of "The Five" was fired on Friday for making quote an insensitive remark to an African-American employee. Fox News say the lawyer for the I.T. worker who went to service Beckle's computer, say Beckle storm out and said he was leaving because the man was black. After 48 hour inquiry Fox news obtains an apology to (inaudible) Beckle who had rejoined the network just five months ago. We are back with more coverage in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Joining us now Susan Ferrechio chief congressional correspondent for the Washington Examiner, so that Washington post story on President Trump leaking highly classified information, meeting with the two Russian diplomats. National Security H.R. McMaster said it was false and didn't compromise intelligence sources. This is one of the post of Gregg Miller had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that the White House is playing word games to try to blunt the impact of this story.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Your thoughts?

SUSAN FERRECHIO, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: If I were the reporter I would have written that story, it is hard to turn down information like that about a president potentially leaking classified information. The problem with this type of reporting where the people inside the White House are debunking the press, then the price debunking back. It leaves a confusing scenario. The consumer of media loses out. What really happened? Did the president really give up classified information or is this just another attempt by the press who is openly hostile to President Trump putting out another unanimous source story.

KURTZ: I would just say that the story didn't say that the president have compromised the intelligence sources or method and the administration was so concerned about the sensitivity of the information it asked The Washington post not to release the details of this ISIS plot at their request. Now, let us go to the New York Times story, quoting James Comey notes about the president asking him to drop the Mike Flynn investigation. The Times didn't have the notes. They were read to the reporter by a source. Is that a problem right here?

FERRECHIO: We haven't seen the memo yet. The chairman of the intelligence committee Richard Burr didn't even know about it. And they talked to Comey before his firing and he never said he had been pressured to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn. We haven't seen it.

KURTZ: I don't have that gray problem trusting the source.

FERRECHIO: But you know the source.

KURTZ: Right, but here is the thing, with Comey putting out memos. Do we need to have significant continues of accounts here?

FERRECHIO: The media has wrong trusted anyone who is hassle out with Trump versus Trump in the White House. It's very biased against President Trump. The argument is always Trump is the liar and the person telling the truth is the one who has the information about him. We don't know. We'll hear from Comey next week. Why didn't he say something sooner about this when everybody asked him about this.

KURTZ: Despite all the past media criticism of James Comey for his handling of the email investigation. Susan Ferrechio thanks very much for coming in.

That is it for this edition of "MediaBuzz." I am Howard Kurtz, packed news morning here with the president in Saudi Arabia, we carry the speech live and we will continue to cover that and we will see how it impacts the news. We hope you like our Facebook page, give us a little liked there and also continue the conversation on twitter @HowardKurtz. I didn't give the email out, mediabuzz@foxnews.com, see you here next Sunday at 11 a.m. Eastern with the latest buzz.

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