Spicer says tapes gambit worked

Defends fewer televised briefings


This is a rush transcript from "Media Buzz," June 25, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On the Buzz Meter this Sunday, Sean Spicer on President Trump finally admitting he has no secret tapes and whether televised press briefings are in jeopardy, and the president's latest attack on the media.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We will never be intimidated by the dishonest media corporations who will say anything and do anything to get people to watch their screens or to get people to buy their failing papers.


KURTZ: And the media acting shocked and horrified over the president revealing he never had any tapes of James Comey.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN: Was it bluster witness intimidation, the desire to pressure Comey to be as truthful as possible? Either way, the plan seems to have backfired.

JONAH GOLDBERG, NATIONAL REVIEW: I always thought it was a bluff. To me, it's a perfect example of how he tries to run his presidency like a reality show.

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC: It was Donald Trump's deeply held twisted view of the world and everyone in it that made him tweet James Comey better hope that there are no tapes, because the president isn't either ignoramus in matters of law and governing.

KAT TIMPF, FOX NEWS: To say that he lied here is a lie. He never said I have tapes.


KURTZ: As a reaction been over the top, news outlets pouncing on the controversial senate bill to replace ObamaCare, some depicting it as heartless and the process too secretive. Is the press playing it straight on the healthcare debate?

With Democrats demoralized after losing their much high gorgeous special election, some of the media are targeting Nancy Pelosi. Is the press making her a scapegoat?

Plus, Uber CEO forced to resign. We'll talk to the tech journalist who exposed the company's sexist culture prompting threats to dig up dirt on her personal life.

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

With tapes and briefings, very much in the news, I spoke earlier with the president's press secretary at the North Portico of the White House.


KURTZ: Sean Spicer, welcome.


KURTZ: The media are on fire over the president saying no, he doesn't have any secret tapes of Jim Comey after having raised the prospect and tweet weeks ago. Do you think and you said Friday that the president was trying to enable that the truth should come out...

SPICER: That's right.

KURTZ: ...but by raising that prospect, didn't he - and the price of that is that he insinuated something that wasn't true.

SPICER: No, he said I hope that there's not because I think he knew that the truth would come out and I think he's glad that the truth is coming out that he had said very clearly that on three occasions, he was told that he was under investigation. There was no obstruction...

KURTZ: Right.

SPICER: ...and he was right. And I think that having Director Comey come out and admit it under oath in testimony proves that the president was right, I think it was clear...

KURTZ: But you said with some justifications that the media spends way too much time covering Russian Investigation...

SPICER: Right.


SPICER: Right, but think about the lead up to that testimony though...


SPICER: ...other networks were insisting that it was going to be that Comey was going to come to the...


SPICER: ...and undermine the president.


SPICER: And yet - and yet, exactly the opposite happened.

KURTZ: Right.

SPICER: Director Comey came and admitted that the president was right that on three separate occasions he admitted to him that he wasn't under investigation.

KURTZ: But in terms of the amount of media oxygen that is consume that you're being asked about it at many groupings...


KURTZ: ...isn't that the kind of distraction that the White House says it wants to avoid so you can...

SPICER: Well, again at the end of the day more than anything, obviously we want to cover the president's policies and agenda. But, also we want to get the truth out there. And when you have a bunch of media organizations falsely implying and stating something that's not true, I think that to have us probably to be able to resolve an issue such as that is helpful because it allows us to move past it. You get to the issues and the agenda that the president is fighting for.

KURTZ: The president has said he wants a more generous senate healthcare bill that would have spent more money and provide more coverage, how do you reconcile that with the big Rose Garden Ceremony here he had for the more stringent house bill?

SPICER: Well, because I think that there's a process that legislation works on. We continue to seek input and ideas and opinions as how to make it the best bill possible. The president has made it clear from the beginning that he wants a bill with heart.

He understands how important healthcare is to individuals and families and he wants to make sure that we do this right. He knows that ObamaCare is dead. It's not serving the American people and that he has an opportunity to deliver on the promise that was made to the American people almost 10 years ago.

KURTZ: Right.

SPICER: And do it in a way that it should been done in the first place. It gives people that peace of mind.

KURTZ: You've been criticized as you know for...


KURTZ: ...holding fewer briefings and for moving some of the more (ph) cameras, so for example on this past week on the days when the president was in town, one of the four briefings was held on camera.

SPICER: Correct.

KURTZ: The president is so frustrated by the spectacle (ph) of these television briefings that he is trying to shrink the number?

SPICER: No. First of all remember, that's - that narrative is not true. We haven't held a fewer briefings. We held the briefings almost every single day in some way, shape, or form.

KURTZ: The number has gone down from March...

SPICER: No, it hasn't. No, no, because here's the - because remember on days of the president travels...

KURTZ: Right.

SPICER: ...going back to, you know, I don't - at least four or five presidents, if the president is travelling...

KURTZ: No, I'm not counting that.

SPICER: OK, but if you're not counting that, I think with the exception of the day that there was a congressional shooting, that we had a briefing in some sort every single day except weekends.

KURTZ: All right, now I'm not...

SPICER: But even when on our important trip...

KURTZ: I'm not somebody who says that every briefing has to be televised.

SPICER: Right.

KURTZ: ...understand business gets done with these off-camera goggles but when you have that, many of them and a couple of instances not even allowing the audio to be recorded,...

SPICER: Well, remember...

KURTZ: ...what are you trying to accomplish?

SPICER: ...just remember.


SPICER: That again it's a very one-sided discussion that's occurring now. We've allowed the audio to be used today the other day. What happened was a couple days ago when we laid down some ground rules, networks like CNN broke through those ground rules and aired it anyway. And I think that they had asked and other networks to please clarify the ground rules.

So, we had to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Once, we got clarity as you know, for the last couple of weeks, allowed audio to come in and use it. But I think that when you look at the last couple goggles they called them, they are off-camera, they've been I think very substantive. The president speaks on those days.

On Friday of this week, he gave a very extensive speak on the veteran accountability that he's -- law that he signed into - in a law that I think is going to help so many veterans get the care that they need and the accountability from the workforce here in Washington. That is what has traditionally been done when the president speaks...

KURTZ: I understand.

SPICER: ...then the press secretary doesn't...

KURTZ: But he...

SPICER: know, try to compete with the president.

KURTZ: But going in a different direction here, speaking of CNN Correspondent, Jim Acosta, you've entangled with a few times, said that he's got kind of a campaign against. He said the briefings are now kind of useless. The White House is stonewalling, why should reporters bother attending?

SPICER: Well, it's sad that if he believes that if it doesn't occur on TV. I think some of these reporters are more interested in their YouTube clips than there are in getting factual news. When you look at the number of questions getting asked over and over again just so a reporter can get a clip of themselves saying something or yelling at someone...

KURTZ: But the cameras make it repetitive.


SPICER: I think it not only makes it repetitive, but again there's a mix. I think cameras are fine and there's an opportunity to have that, but I think you can equally on days (ph) when the president is speaking have an off-camera briefing where you have a substantive engagement on policy issues, but to suggest that somehow if it's not on television is somewhat nonsensical.

Many of these reporters use anonymous sources and write up things and yet I can make an equal argument to that, it doesn't sound like news to me. We engaged with the press corps very robustly from early in the morning to late at night. The briefing is one small part of what these extensive staffs does.

KURTZ: Not a very visible part given...


KURTZ: ...the millions have tuned in to what Sean Spicer show, what is there how could be (ph) standard show. You've taken some heat for saying on one of the briefings that you haven't had the chance to ask the president whether he believes...


KURTZ: ...that the Russia hacking - Russian hacking had an impact on the election, a lot of people criticize that...

SPICER: Well, the president made - well, look, here's the reality, the president made comments in January where he said it was probably Russia and that we had to do everything we could to safeguard our electoral system - the integrity of our electoral system. I was asked actually, have you, has the president, you know, updated - had his change of thinking.

I hadn't asked him since he made his initial comments. I think it is my job to make sure that to the best ability that I can I represent the president's thinking. If I haven't spoken to him recently about an issue, it would be highly irresponsible to go out and say here's what he thinks if I don't know what he thinks. And so...

KURTZ: Have you spoken to him about this since then?

SPICER: I have and I addressed it in a briefing on Friday.


SPICER: Because again, my job is to go in and say, hey, we've got these questions, can you answer? He did in that case. I had an opportunity to speak to him about that particular question and so I updated the press corps. But, the alternative is that I say something that I don't know isn't his current thinking.

KURTZ: ...about you.

SPICER: ...right, or that it's not just irresponsible. It's not - he's the president of the United States. If I need to, as his spokesman, my job is to make sure that I accurately in timely - in a timely manner reflect his thinking. And if I don't have the best information at hand, I shouldn't comment.

KURTZ: Sean, several news organizations, as you know are reporting that you may be moving into a management role, there might be a new press secretary over somebody hailing the briefing, I know you're not going to confirm that, you've been asked this before. But, having some scars, accumulated some scars, are you a little weary of the televised combat?

SPICER: Well, I think look, I'm in -- it's an honor to have this job. It's truly a privilege for me to be able to do this on behalf of the president of the United States.

KURTZ: But you are enjoying...

SPICER: I love what - I mean I think...

KURTZ: ...the back-and-forth with the correspondents with the like - with the camera is on.

SPICER: What I like is doing my part to help advance the president's agenda. I think he's fighting hard every day and if I can go out there and help amplify his message then I'm going to do that to the best of my ability.

KURTZ: Last question, special election in Georgia, the media drumbeat (ph) was referendum on Trump...

SPICER: Right.

KURTZ: ...referendum on Trump -- referendum on Trump. When Democrat, John Ossoff lost, did the tone of the coverage changed? And what have...


SPICER: Oh, I don't think it existed.

KURTZ: You're saying that once the Democrats failed the caption at...

SPICER: For the fourth time in a row they lost a special election...


SPICER: ...for a fourth time in a row, the second that they - that they - that it was called they stopped talking about it because they've had four attempts that quote referendums on President Trump. He succeeded every time and I think that you've heard them walk away from that narrative right away. So, he's four now and I think that that is - if that's a referendum then we'll take it.

KURTZ: On that note, Sean Spicer, thanks very much.

SPICER: Thanks, guys.

KURTZ: the White House.


KURTZ: In a kind of subtle protest at Friday, CNN sent a sketch artist, let's put this up to the off-camera briefing just in case you had no idea what it looked like, there is Sean Spicer according to this rendering by the sketch artist those pictures are also bought by Fox News.

And let's bring in Shannon Pettypiece, she is the White House Correspondent for Bloomberg News. And Shannon, you're at these briefings. You're at the White House everyday. You deal with Spicer, is the move toward more off- camera goggles positive or negative in your view?

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, I guess without getting into the whole should it be televised, this is good for the public information, just as a reporter in the room, I just feel like this week, you know, there was a noticeably different mode or tone in the room not having the cameras there Friday.

I think it cools the temperature a little bit. I think it was a lot more relaxed with Sean. I think the reporters felt a little bit more relaxed. Now, that does not have anything to do with the public, you know, right to know and the public, you know, need to see this televised, but I do think it definitely had an effect on the mood, and I think that's what the White House was going for.

KURTZ: You do see some value in that. All right, let me get a break. Let us know what you think, When we come back, our panel weighs in on the president's latest criticism in the press then later CNN retracts a story about a top Trump advisor and apologizes.



TRUMP: I don't have any tapes and I didn't tape. But when he found out that I, you know, that there may be tapes out there whether it's governmental tapes or anything else, and who knows, I think his story may have changed.


KURTZ: President Trump on Fox in for suggesting a benefit to his original tweet that Jim Comey should hope their conversations were in tape.

Joining us now to analyze the coverage Bloomberg, Shannon Pettypiece is back with us and also on the panel Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist and a Fox News contributor, and Ray Suarez, a former correspondent at the "PBS News Hour."

So, I strongly presume Shannon and I think most American strongly presumed that there were no secret White House tapes of Jim Comey, so why the media gone haywire over the president finally announcing this?

PETTYPIECE: I think part of the problem was they weren't able to give a straight answer, I mean, you know, shortly after as to why there as this tweet, you know, the president called out publicly the FBI Director saying you better hope there are not tapes on Twitter. That then, you know, created the question. Well, are there tapes?

Do you know anything about tapes? They weren't able to answer that and it seems the only reason they did finally answer is because the congressional investigations gave them a deadline on Friday to actually answer this question whether or not there were tapes.

KURTZ: Mollie, it was a bluff maybe a bit of taunt and I think the president was enjoying all the media speculation he created but journalistic critics are casting this as a severe character flaw.

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Right, I think this is actually a great example of how media struggle to understand President Trump no matter how many months they are now into covering him. When he tweeted that, what he was clearly doing was accusing Comey of leaking because in the previous day the "New York Times" then published a story about a conversation he'd had with Comey, so clearly Comey was getting the word out...

KURTZ: Which we now know was leaked.

HEMINGWAY: Yes, and we now know that Comey...

KURTZ: Right, the former FBI Director.

HEMINGWAY: general, but he's identifying him as a leaker and he's saying stop telling stories where you're the hero and you're not telling the full truth. And in point in fact, when he was under oath, when he gave his testimony, his characterization of even that story that he's leaked to "New York Times" was much fuller and was much more balanced. And he did come out and admit that he told President Trump three times that he wasn't under investigation and various other things.

KURTZ: Ray, is part of the media harsh reaction because the idea, the - even the prospect of tapes had such echoes of Watergate and also that the president let this go on for so long more than a month of media chatting about it?

RAY SUAREZ, FORMER CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWS HOUR: It's important to remember that having this conversation as if we don't live in a country where a presidency was ended by the existence of tapes, tapes that also were denied to even exist in the first place until they turned out to really exist.

So, yes this -- to say that you may have or hint that you may have taped your own FBI Director's conversations with you in the White House is pretty big stuff and then to cavalierly dismiss it, first to not answer the question straight up and then a month later say, oh, yes we don't have any tapes is really graphs outside the normal behavior of the last 44 guys who had this job.

KURTZ: But, he did hint it. He didn't say it he kind of dangled it out there knowing full well the media will take the bait, Mollie.

HEMINGWAY: Again, I think it's a clear example of what he was saying wasn't picked up on by many people in the media. They focused on the tapes because it's easier to focus on the tapes than the actual story which is the fired FBI Director is trying to undermine the president was leaking and was leaking as part of that campaign. That's a really interesting story that the media have not been terribly interested in so they focused on the tapes instead.

KURTZ: Yes, well to the extent that it was a distraction for the media, I tried to press this with Sean Spicer that it's a distraction that the president created. No, he is very media savvy. He knew what the reaction would be. Does the president neutralize some of this media criticism by doing what he did this week at this Iowa rally we showed a little bit at the top?

He also criticized the phoney NBC Network because he said some of its commentators on MSNBC; actually, you know said, well rain might have dampened the turnout in that Georgia Special Election. When he punches back and continues to punch back, does that help his case?

PETTYPIECE: I don't know if it helps, but I think that's what he's going to continue to do. Those who know this president well, has known him for years, say he leans into controversy. He is not shy on controversy. He is not afraid of it and so expects him to keep fighting, expect him to keep punching. Everyone keeping -- hoping or talking about this shift, you know, is there going to be a Trump pivot? No, it's not. This is the way it is. Get used to it.

KURTZ: But to the extent that he is punching the press in a way it would have been vehement that no president has before, is it losing its effect at all because he does it so often or is it just really rally is...

SUAREZ: I don't know, another 36 months like the last five is going to be pretty exhausting for all parties involved, I think.

KURTZ: Yes, but it is fair to point out that the press also loves this because it generates a lot of clicks and cable news and so forth. Let me get a break here. I had the journalist targeted by Uber for exposing its sexist culture, a culture that led its CEO ouster.

But up next, why is the press making Nancy Pelosi, the symbol of the Democrats lost in that Georgia Special Election?


KURTZ: Democrat, Jon Ossoff lost in that much hive special house race in Georgia, many pundits seem to blame Nancy Pelosi.


CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: It is Pelosi who remains a pretty big drag for Democrats at the polls in certain districts particularly this one should a much bigger presence in this race than President Trump was.

MARC THIESSEN, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Getting rid of Nancy Pelosi is like treating cancer with a Band-Aid, OK? She is a symptom of the problem, but she is not the problem.


KURTZ: Mollie Hemingway, some Democrats are speaking out against Pelosi, but this seems to be a real media drumbeat about whether she can stay in that job. Why is she suddenly such a big target for the press?

HEMINGWAY: I think it is there for the media to focus on her. She was a factor in the race that Republicans used her in their messaging to help Karen Handel win that election. At the same time, I do think it's a little bit of -- she's being a bit of a scapegoat here. She has overseen losses for a long time. She, in fact, 2010 was the worst party lose that anybody has had since World War II...

KURTZ: Right.

HEMINGWAY: ...she's still in office. She is the leader, though and it's totally fair to focus on her.

KURTZ: Ray, when the House Minority Leader holds a press conference and the first question from the reporter is will you stay in your job, you know, the media are making that an issue and you got a political problem?

SUAREZ: But, they are making it an issue because it's a legitimate issue. When Nancy Pelosi became speaker of the house, the Democrats had 233 seats in the House of Representatives. Now, they have 40 fewer and she's been the leader all during that time. So, it's a legitimate line of inquiry, you know, whether it's the first question or the second question...


SUAREZ:'s going to come up eventually.

KURTZ: OK, but you know, I wonder if the media always need someone to blame because Nancy Pelosi resigned tomorrow, and look I know she is in her late 70s, she's been around forever, and she's a San Francisco Liberal so she's a big fat target for the GOP, but she resigns tomorrow. I don't know the Democratic Parties promise will be solved. So, is it a little bit of fake media drama because she's not going anywhere for the rest of this term.

PETTYPIECE: Probably not. The speaker though, Majority Leaders, they always end up in the cross there, so I mean a little bit of few months ago, Paul Ryan was in the target when it looked like the house was going to struggle to get a healthcare bill passed everyone is moaning, you know, if Paul Ryan going to be around, so...


PETTYPIECE: ...I think it's part of the nature of the job and listen she's got 2018, so you know, maybe she didn't have a great week in Washington. But, there's a long road ahead and a lot that could happen between now and then.

KURTZ: Right. And plus, it's almost nobody had ever heard of Joss Ossoff, so it's not that much fun to kick around for losing, but I wonder if the media also sort of overdramatized the importance of these special elections. I mean, this was a heavily Republican District and the Atlantis Suburbs who is always going to be a long shot in the media and yet the media said referendum on Trump. As I said, despise her and that became the narrative.

HEMINGWAY: It's a referendum on Trump until Karen Handel won. At which point, it was no longer a referendum on Trump which was a funny change in the media direction.

KURTZ: Well, some in the media said, yes. It showed that Trump is able - that Trump's party is able to win the election.

HEMINGWAY: But the one...

KURTZ: ...the largest kind of move on.

HEMINGWAY: The thing here is I think a lot of people in newsrooms don't realize how out of touch the entire Democratic Party is with a huge slot of Americans and that's not a Nancy Pelosi problem, that's a - that's a party- wide issue. And, I think that part of the reason why that's not covered well is because in newsrooms, these views that the Democrats have don't seem so radical whether they're on abortion or how to treat Christians in the public square. These messages don't resonate very well with average American.

KURTZ: So, you think that the focus on Pelosi is a kind of a short-hand for not understanding the problems of Democratic Party?

HEMINGWAY: Again, it's easier to focus on Pelosi...


HEMINGWAY: ...than deal with some pretty big issues...


HEMINGWAY: ...that the Democratic Party should be dealing with and it would be nice actually for the media to help facilitate some of that conversation.

KURTZ: We love to personalize these issues. We've got a break here. All right, ahead on "MediaBuzz", CNN tries to link a top Trump adviser to a Russian Investment Fund and has to delete the erroneous story, but first Ed Henry weighs in on the non-existing Comey text (ph) and the battle over Sean Spicer and the White House briefing.


KURTZ: When the White House held an off-camera briefing and barred the media from using even the audio, CNN, Jim Acosta accuse the administration of stonewalling the media and suppressing information.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN: Well, the White House press secretary is getting to a point, Brooke, where he's just kind of useless. You know, if he can't come out and answer the questions and they're just not going to do this on camera or audio, why are we even having these briefings or these goggles in the first place?


KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about this instrument is Ed Henry, Fox News Chief National Correspondent and author of the new book "42 Faith, the Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story."

ED HENRY, FOX NEWS: Good morning.

KURTZ: Ed, good morning. Jim Acosta really went after Spicer in the White House there, briefing is kind of useless. He also complained in one of these things...


KURTZ: ...that he didn't get a question, he's tangled the President Trump, is Acosta crossing a line here?

HENRY: I think he is and look, I think everybody frankly is overreacting to this whole issue of White House briefings getting lost, you know, kinds of side issues. The real issue is the credibility of the white house Press Secretary, but frankly the credibility of correspondents as well.

So, yesterday on "Fox and Friends", I mentioned that Jim Acosta is a friend of mine. I got people on Twitter saying, he's a jerk, throw him out. I mean, people are just overreacting to this. So, I will repeat, Jim Acosta is a friend. I like him as a colleague, but I'm going to be honest and direct, Howie he's over -- overdoing this.

He compared the White House to Pravda this week. This is not the Soviet Union and if you're going to be a reporter, you're going to be a correspondent. His opinions are now no longer coming from pundits. It's coming from White House correspondents. And he had another tweet saying that this is about the constitution of the United States of America.

There's nothing in the constitution that says the White House has to have a televised briefing every day. Having said that as a journalist, I of course believe in the principle that Jim Acosta and others do, which is that wake up Sean Spicer, this is 2017, the American people expect transparency.

And so, for him to tell you how that ends very (ph) well, Tuesday, we had audio only and Wednesday. Look, get in front of a camera and answer the tough questions.

KURTZ: But what about the augment, you know, Spicer said to me that when the cameras are on, you know, we saw for year about how there's a lot of grandstanding on both sides, Spicer says...


KURTZ: ...well, I want to increase their number of YouTube clips that maybe more business gets done off-camera, I'm not certainly not saying there shouldn't be televised briefings, but...


KURTZ: there a bit of overreaction here after a week and it was three out of a four when the president was in town were in fact off camera?

HENRY: Yes, I just think that's kind of a weak argument from the White House. There's always, go back to Sam Donaldson, right and the Reagan years with Sam Donaldson, a grandstanding, Mr. President and shouting everything, I mean that's how he made his name.

Isn't it unfortunate that sometimes people do that instead of substance, yes. So, if you can get more business done with off-camera briefings, do it. TV networks won't like it, but I'm off for that. Well, the point is it's about credibility, it's about transparency doesn't always have to be on camera.

But look, think about this, think of Hillary Clinton had been elected and she is still under investigation, fires James Comey and then the Clinton White House decide let's shut down the White House briefings in terms of the cameras for 8 days. Republicans who are saying this is not a big deal would be screaming from the roof tops and rightly so.

KURTZ: All right, so clearly you feel that there has been a retreat here and it would have been called out much more very seriously (ph) by the other side...

HENRY: Yes, put it out there, but I think Sean has a point there...


HENRY: Yes, people - people do go - reporters go in there. I've done it myself, I'm not perfect, you go in there, but -- and I used to press Jay Carney and he thought I was overdoing it and I was doing gotcha questions but what...

KURTZ: And you're confessing that you over did it, right? You were playing to the cameras, right?

HENRY: Of course, I mean - again, I'm not perfect. Sometimes, you can win there. You've got a hard hitting question...


HENRY: ...but you know, what I didn't really get along with Jay Carney. He's always whining, calling my boss is, he's unfair. But, I will say to Jay Carney that at least he never said, I'm going to shut down the briefings. I'm not going to answer your questions. I'm going to turn off the TV cameras.

So, I just think for all sites, everybody calm down, and let's just get back to answering questions, do it on camera which is sort of the norm, number one. And number two, yes reporters should be more fair.

The other thing I haven't said, what I agree with Sean Spicer on in general as a reporter, as a - well, I try to be a non-partisan fair journalist is that much of the press corps has been very, very unfair to this president.

Just look at most of the newspapers every day. But, that doesn't mean you shut down the briefings.

KURTZ: Well, since I've got you on camera, I've got one more tough question for you, you know, seriously. Isn't it -- has it been kind of awkward for Sean Spicer to go out of these briefings and people say, then, well, there are always reports by news organizations that you're...


KURTZ: ...moving up to a management role, he says, I'm still here and yet, you know, it's been clear that White House officials have been reaching out to other potential press secretary, maybe that's the way he wants it, but has that created a certain awkwardness for the incoming press secretary?

HENRY: It makes it awkward, but I think again, the bigger issue is not whether it's televised or not. It's about the credibility of the press secretary. He did not do himself well at that first briefing way back at the beginning when he insisted on camera, by the way, it was on camera...

KURTZ: Right.

HENRY: ...and he said, these are the largest inaugural crowds ever. That wasn't true, that made him look bad. But, look, as I travel the country on this book or basic that I hear from a lot of people who support Sean Spicer and say that the reporters are all out to get him, they're out to get the president and he is trying to stand his ground.

So, there are people who back him up as well, I think you're right it's been more awkward by the fact that people don't know if he has the credibility of the president and he has FaceTime with the president. Sean Spicer gets in front of the camera sometimes and says I haven't talked to the president about that.

Previous press secretaries in both parties have been able to go into the oval office and speak with credibility about what the president is doing and not doing.

KURTZ: I think I've heard that from other press secretaries as well, I don't want to answer question or get out ahead of the president. And, by the way, I'm pretty sure...


KURTZ: ...the decisions on briefings and moving some off-camera and so forth are being made at the president level, not at the press secretary level. Ed Henry, great to see you...

HENRY: Exactly.

KURTZ: ...good luck with the book.

HENRY: Good to see you, buddy.

KURTZ: All right, now in an embarrassing retraction, CNN has deleted a story suggesting that Trump Adviser, Anthony Scaramucci is under investigation. The CNN story which attempted to link Scaramucci to a Russian Fund was knocked down by Breitbart news.

And the story said the two senate Democrats had asked treasury to investigate whether Scaramucci, in a January meeting when an official from this Russian Fund, have promised the White House he would lift U.S. sanctions against Russia.

But Scaramucci has been nominated for an ambassador-level post based in Paris told me yesterday it wasn't a meeting that he had given a speech on Donald Trump's behalf at Davos and the official came over in a restaurant to say hello and they briefly chatted, no discussion of sanctions.

The network now says in a statement, published a story connecting Anthony Scaramucci with investigations at the Russia direct investment fund, "that story did not meet CNN's editorial standards and has been retracted. CNN apologizes to Mr. Scaramucci." Good retraction, after a terrible mistake?

Scaramucci visited Russia only once as a 25-year-old student told me, I was disappointed the story was published, it was a lie. But, he says, I accept the apology. People do make mistakes, moving on.

Coming up the press pouncing on the senate health bill for its substance and its secrecy, is this a fair debate about replacing ObamaCare?

And later, why the Wall Street Journal fire a top reporter for ethical violations?


KURTZ: The healthcare debate has seized the media spotlight, now that senate Republicans have finally unveiled their veil with many news outlets criticizing both the substance and the secretive process. We're back with the panel.

Mollie Hemingway, New York Times headline, shifting funds from poor to rich is key for the health bill, you know, many other headlines like that. Do you have the impression the mainstream media don't much like this senate health bill?

HEMINGWAY: Yes, they're letting it be known that they are very opposed to it. It is good though to have coverage that is tough on major pieces of legislation. It's something that was actually kind of missing.

The first time we debated this under ObamaCare where no matter what was said in favor of the bill, it was kind of accepted reflexively that it was deficit and neutral, that it would lower healthcare costs. If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.

Those things were presented as facts as opposed to having media pushback. So, media pushback is good, it just should probably be a little more balanced.

KURTZ: Ray, it's fair of course to point out the cuts to Medicaid and the fact that there are projections that millions could lose their coverage on this legislation, but is the press downplaying ObamaCare today and the problems with that legislation in how in some states many insurers have bailed out?

SUAREZ: Part of the problem is the public doesn't understand the mechanics and never has partially because...

KURTZ: And whose fault is that?

SUAREZ: ...the Obama Administration did a terrible job educating the public about how the mechanics of the bill was supposed to work...


SUAREZ: ...and the news business...


SUAREZ: ...covered the politics more than they cover the operation of the bill, so it setup a perfect storm. We're now where kind of flying blind, which is great if you have somebody who is a good instrument-only pilot.


SUAREZ: But, I'm not - I'm not sure that's the situation we're in.

KURTZ: President Trump on "Fox & Friends" this morning confirmed that he had privately called the house bill mean. This has been reported by the AP and never been confirmed that president repeating he wants a bill with heart come out of this process. But, given that he had a Big Rose Garden Ceremony to celebrate the passes of the house bill in articles (ph) mean, should that get more media attention?

PETTYPIECE: That he call...

KURTZ: ...get inside baseball.

PETTYPIECE: Well, that he called it mean, I think it says that the president's thinking is on this and despite this big Rose Garden Ceremony, everyone high-fiving around the house bill, a lot of members of the house, even those who voted for it were hoping that the senate was going to make some adjustments to it that they weren't thrilled with it, but they knew that's what they could get and that, oh, the senate will start from scratch, they'll do over. The senate bill looks remarkably like the house bill.

SUAREZ: But, what do you think Ray's point that we, in general, maybe television in particular does less than stellar job on the complicated substance of healthcare as opposed to the politics of can they get 50 votes by this coming week where Mitch McConnell wants to have a vote on this thing?

PETTYPIECE: Well, I was a healthcare reporter for about a decade, so I think I spend a lot of time covering ObamaCare and that legislation and I and my colleague now, you know, every time someone pulls out of an ObamaCare exchange, they write about it, but they also write about the Medicaid program, the problems with it, the good problems with it. So, I think outside of Washington, there is a lot of substance coverage on healthcare right now.

KURTZ: All right, now Barack Obama who has rarely commented directly on his successor went on Facebook and said this bill has mean at its core, like that prompted the "Fox & Friends" question to President Trump.

Hillary Clinton tweets, "forget death panel", which was something that was aimed at ObamaCare, "if Republicans pass this bill, they're the death party".

Now, of course that's news, but do you see anyone in the media saying, gee, maybe that kind of rhetoric goes too far especially a couple of weeks after the awful shooting of Steve Scalise for the people?

HEMINGWAY: Right, and it's not just Hillary Clinton. You saw these types of messages coming out from Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and many other prominent Democratic politicians.

And it is something that I think should be of interest to the media when you're using that kind of highly charged rhetoric accusing a party of being murderers or death agents or what not.

We are in a time when members of congress have been targeted for their political views by political opponents and it is I think completely within the - within the proper realm of the media to ask some questions about whether that rhetoric is appropriate.

And you know, they would be doing it if the parties were switched.

KURTZ: Yes, I mean, she's fine to criticize it but death party that should at least be questioned.

PETTYPIECE: Yes, the death panel, obviously was questioned when Republicans...


PETTYPIECE: ...came up with the...

KURTZ: The death party is even worse, even just like you're pro-death.

SUAREZ: But, if nobody reports it, that's malpractice. You knew about it, Howie.

KURTZ: No, no. It has been reported but I didn't see the next paragraph which is some said perhaps the former first lady went too far in using that kind of inflammatory language.

HEMINGWAY: And it's not just about reporting it's about how you report it. So, every time some random Republicans say something in the hinterland, every Republican is asked about it at a national stage.

It becomes a two- or three-day story because you keep asking you keep pushing and having larger conversations about rhetoric and what not.

In this case, we have literally, the woman who just ran for president and a bunch of other prominent people doing it and you're not seeing a - you're not seeing big media discussions of it.

KURTZ: We'll get one of the question in which is the press has focused on the Senate Republicans keeping the bill secret until just a few days ago not having any committee hearings, having a limited amount of time for debate, all of this is fair game. Is it also what the press did when - not exactly comfortable when Barack Obama tried to push through his legislation pretty much on a party-line vote.

SUAREZ: Of course, it's comparable...


SUAREZ: ...but, the parallels are a little flawed and there was a lot more discussion in committee of the various pieces of ObamaCare before the legislation came to a vote.

KURTZ: Both parties have seems to me are very hypocritical when it comes to parliament procedure (ph), filibusters committee...

PETTYPIECE: Really? You think? You think?

KURTZ: ...the other side, yes. But, I think the media still needs to call it up?

PETTYPIECE: I agree and I mean I can't speak for everyone but I certainly know that my colleagues have, but you know, as far as the transparency around this bill does the process really matter to the American public? I don't really know if people are worried about losing their healthcare, but having covered...

KURTZ: Yes, yes.

PETTYPIECE: ...having covered ObamaCare the first time, it was, you know, it was an exhaustive amount of hearings, discussions, debates...


PETTYPIECE: ...and that's, you know, what the...

KURTZ: All right, great discussion, Shannon Pettypiece, Mollie Hemingway, Ray Suarez, thanks for joining us this Sunday.

After the break, with Uber forcing out the chief executive this week, we'll talk to the Silicon Valley journalist who blew the whistle on him three years ago.


KURTZ: It was three years ago that Silicon Valley journalist, Sarah Lacy reported on sexism at the ride-sharing giant Uber and found herself targeted in return. She has kept up the pressure and this week came the breaking news.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN: The giant tremor in the force in the tech world, the CEO of Uber is out.

TRISH REGAN, FBN: Well, the guy who co-founded Uber, you know, the ride-sharing app, Travis Kalanick, he is stepping down as the CEO of the company. The embattled executive, he has been facing a whole host of problems, announcing his resignation following a string of scandals including claims of sexual harassment and misconduct.


KURTZ: And joining us now from Palm Springs, California, Sarah Lacy, the founder and editor of So, Sarah, briefly set the scene for us. In 2014, when you were reporting on - first reporting on sexism at Uber, you got a phone call related to a top Uber official named Emil Michael, what happened?

SARAH LACY, AUTHOR, BLOGGER, SPEAKER: Yes, I was in London on work and I got a call late night at an Indian restaurant from "BuzzFeed" Editor, Ben Smith who I never met and he just said I need to talk to you and like most people when someone as powerful as that in the media world says that, you'll get a little scared.

And he basically detailed this strange dinner party he was at. And this was, ironically one of the several times that Travis Kalanick went out to the media to try to reboot his image and look like a kinder gentler Travis Kalanick who wasn't this guy that have been depicted in the press.

At that dinner, with journalist like Arianna Huffington and Michael Wolf and Ben Smith, Emil Michael detailed this plan to "go after journalists by giving them a taste of their own medicine" and in particular targeting their families and particularly targeting me and my family.

KURTZ: Right.

LACY: He detailed for Smith a precise head count he wanted for this team, at budget for this team. He detailed many ways he was going to try to, you know, basically ruin my life and smear my professional reputation...

KURTZ: Right.

LACY: ...and try to make my - try to hurt my family.

KURTZ: Well, that's...

LACY: I mean it was shocking.

KURTZ: Yes, it's shocking and a chilling phone call to get. Now, you said that all of your aggressive reporting and that of your colleagues on Uber and Travis Kalanick hurt you and your company, Pando, how?

LACY: Well, so after the Emil Michael thing and, you know, we very loudly exposed that because I wanted it known what this person had done to me. I did not want this Uber to be able to say, this didn't happen. I didn't want Emil Michael to say, oh, I was just drunk and angry and blowing off steam, so we were very loud about that story.

I wanted the next a woman to come out for her to get the benefit of the doubt that this is a company that targets women this way. But, after that, they did back off my personal life as far as I know, but then they started going after my business.

So, Uber threatened several of our six-figure advertisers. We had to change our business model from advertising to subscription because they would have run us out of business.

KURTZ: Wow. Now, Travis Kalanick, for those who have not been following the trials and tribulations of Uber, I mean he is referred to the company as "Boober" because it helped him get more women, he said and they - Uber promoted its hot chick drivers in France and use an app - the Uber app to track the personal data of a female journalist.

Why over the years until it - some of the things, you know, really hit the fan, did so few in the tech press aggressively go after this sexist culture at Uber?

LACY: You know, I mean it's somewhat of a mystery to me. I like - but, I think one part of this is Travis is incredibly charming and very persuasive. I mean this is a man who is raised nearly $10 billion at unprecedented valuation in Silicon Valley history even during the dotcom bubble we didn't see stuff like this for a private company.

He is obviously a good salesman. And I think a lot of really great journalists simply got duped. I think beyond that, there is also this access journalism piece. You know, when it comes to a journalist like Kara Swisher from Recode who is usually very fearless and very feared, you know, she really gave Travis a pass because in my view, she needed him to be on stage at her conference.

I sat through an interview after a lot of wrongdoing have been exposed about Uber where she just loved him softball after softball and that was certainly not the Kara Swisher that I knew coming up in this industry. I think the business models of a lot of these younger media sites, if you're reliant on events to pay your bills and you need the biggest names in tech at your event, you know, and they're going to withhold being on stage...

KURTZ: Fast...

LACY: ...if you write certain things about him, what do you do?

KURTZ: Fascinating, that just journalism not just a problem in Silicon Valley. I've got half a minute, after your long battles with a guy who tried to put you out of business, how do you feel about the fact that he has been kicked out as CEO of Uber?

LACY: Well, look I think there's a lot of work to do. I think what's great about this, is it's a victory for Susan Fowler. I mean I was targeted and I through a lot, but I was doing my job. She risked her job in coming forward...

KURTZ: She is an engineer who wrote the first person piece about all the sexism that she and sexual discrimination that she had encountered at the company. So, yes that definitely changed the nature of the story. Sarah Lacy thanks very much for sharing your story with us and telling us about the difficult journalism that you have done on this company.

LACY: Thanks, Howie.

KURTZ: Great to see you.

Still to come, a troubling dismissal at the "Wall Street Journal", and why the editor of Bloomberg News Torpedo the story about a writer?


KURTZ: The Wall Street Journal has fired its chief foreign affairs correspondent, Jay Solomon. The paper told the AP that we are dismayed by the actions and poor judgement of Jay Solomon.

We've concluded that Mr. Solomon violated his ethical obligations as a reporter. The AP found an email showing that, Farhad Azima, an Arabian-born businessman, who has been involved in weapon sales, offered Solomon a 10% stake in a fledgling company that plan to sell arms to foreign governments.

Now, Solomon had texted about their promising opportunities, but told the wire servicing, he never actually entered into business with Azima. "I clearly made mistakes in my reporting and entered into a world I didn't understand but I understand why the emails, the conversations I have with Mr. AZima may look like I was involved in some seriously troubling activities. I apologize to my bosses and colleagues at the Journal who were nothing, but great to me."

Bloomberg News spent months on the story about Fox Business Network which has surpassed CNBC in the ratings, but Editor-In-Chief, John Micklethwait killed it, a spokesman told the raft, "our longstanding policy has been to avoid writing feature stories on direct competitors in order to avoid a conflict of interest".

Well, I'm a little bit skeptical after all those interviews were done with top FBN folks and if that is the policy, it's a misguided approach for a website that purports to cover business.

By the way, that Megyn Kelly interview with radio host, Alex Jones, she did a pretty aggressive interview after all the controversy before it aired. But, the NBC show ended up finishing last in the ratings behind America's Funniest Home Videos. But, we all may be judged that a little too quickly in advance.

That's it for this edition of "MediaBuzz," I'm Howard Kurtz. Let us know what you think Stick to the media. I hope you like our Facebook page, we have a dialogue there and we post a lot of original content. Talk to me on Twitter, talk back @howardkurtz, I don't have to encourage that. We're back here next Sunday. See you then 11 o'clock Eastern with the latest buzz.

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