Media furor as Russians charged

This is a rush transcript from "Media Buzz," February 18, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On the Buzz Meter this Sunday, saturation coverage for a bombshell indictment as Robert Mueller charges 13 Russians with election meddling and news organizations turn the spotlight on President Trump, who has always been skeptical about the hacking by Moscow. The president claims vindication, while the press says the charges prove the Russia probe is no hoax. Who is right?

The horrifying school shooting in Florida sparks yet another media debate about, yes, gun control and mental health and attacks on the president's response. (START VIDEO CLIPS)

MEGYN KELLY, NBC: The NRA is too powerful. Our politicians are too weak. And the guns are too ubiquitous.

S.E. CUPP, HOST, HLN: When it comes to guns, news anchors take off their journalist hats and put on their activist hats. And they do it without shame or disclaimers because they believe righteousness is the same thing as being right.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: Donald Trump knew this day was coming. Donald Trump knows another school shooting is coming. Donald Trump knows another church shooting is coming. More Christians will be gunned down in churches in middle America.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: Once again, we are told to shut up about it. This is no time for politics. Those in the pocket of the National Rifle Association tell us.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Also predictability within hours, democrats, the liberal media, they race as they always do to politicize a tragedy and try to blame believe it or not President Trump and Republicans.

(END VIDEO CLIPS) KURTZ: After so many mass shootings, after so many school shootings, will the media debate once again fade in the face of political gridlock? The journalistic uproar over the Rob Porter mess stretches into its second week as the White House version is contradicted by the FBI.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN: We have been misled and we have been lied to time and again. And for what? To cover up for the guy who allegedly did this?

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS: Apparently, the only acceptable response from the president would have been condemning porter to a life of misery and inviting the wives to the White House for a "me too" lunch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did Rob Porter not get fired and did the White House not take action? Why are we still talking about this?

(END VIDEO CLIPS) KURTZ: And why is the coverage so focused on John Kelly amid disparaging leaks about the chief of staff. Plus, a blockbuster New Yorker story says Donald Trump had an affair back in 2006 with a former Playboy playmate and that the National Enquirer's owner paid her big bucks for her story so the tabloid could kill it. The White House is calling that fake news, but is it?

I'm Howard Kurtz and this is "Media Buzz."

We've got a lot of news to get to today. Joining us now: Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist; Jessica Tarlov, senior editor at -- both are Fox News contributors -- and Susan Ferrechio, chief congressional correspondent for The Washington Examiner.

The coverage of the horrible Florida school shooting has generated a lot of shock and despair and anguish and numbness among journalists, among the whole country, among the whole world, and some political finger pointing. I want to go around the table and get a quick thought from each of you on the coverage. Mollie?

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it is interesting how much the media just immediately focused on gun control. They like to talk about government action and it all seems to focus on gun control, which is a perfectly legitimate area to focus on.

But they do it at the expense of other issues that are also in play when it comes to these mass shootings such as the moral debasement of the culture, social isolation as a result of breakdown in civic institutions that form the intermediary between government and individual, and these are things that would also be good to focus on as well.

KURTZ: Jessica?

JESSICA TARLOV, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I agree we need to have the full gambit conversation that includes obviously mental health and what went wrong with the FBI there.

But I actually felt like this was the fairest coverage of a mass shooting that we have had in a long time. I think the key component to that was the voices of these children, listening to Emma Gonzalez out there.

There were number of students who spoke also, closer to the actual tragedy, and with something like Sandy Hook, where you have 5 and 6-year-olds that were gunned down, they obviously couldn't speak for their peers, but to hear these 14, 15, 16, 17-year-olds out there I think made a huge difference.

Both sides at fault, the AP there with the white nationalist story, the gun control wouldn't have fixed this when we know after Sandy Hook tighter restrictions in Connecticut have helped. Both sides guilty, but those kids made a difference. KURTZ: Just to clarify, a member of white nationalist who claimed that the shooter who we are not going to name on this program, we don't whether this murderer is lunatic, was a member of the group turned out not to be true. Susan?

SUSAN FERRECHIO, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: About the president's tweet where he tied the FBI investigation into himself with the shooting was very hyper-political but also rather interesting because it highlighted the problematic relationship he has with the FBI, but also his focus on the problem that the FBI is having as you mentioned with these threat assessments.

This is not the first time where there has been a threat of a mass shooting. Same thing happened in Florida where they knew about it, they had tips about it or had actual contact, but they dropped the ball and the tragedy ended up happening. KURTZ: Just to button this up, what the president tweeted, it was very sad the FBI missed all the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign. There is no collusion.

All right, more on the shooting in our next segment, but now it was Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who announced the Mueller indictments against the 13 Russians and this was more than just cyber hacking.

The Russians are alleged to have posed as American citizens, stolen identities, committed fraud, and disrupted the American political process starting in 2014 and then the 2016 race. These Russian disruptors who are told to quote, use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest except Sanders and Trump, we support them.

So, Mollie Hemmingway, this led to a political headline and I want to read for everybody. Worries about trump legitimacy resurfaced with Russia indictment. Your take on the coverage?

HEMINGWAY: You said it was more than just cyber hacking but it was actually almost less than cyber hacking because it was internet trolls. These were the indictments of 13 internet trolls who posted memes -- actually nothing -- KURTZ: Impersonated Americans -- HEMINGWAY: The impersonated -- that's whey they were charged. They had nothing to do with the hacks which also I believe to have something to do with Russia and maybe we will get more from Mueller on that.

What was interesting about this is the media immediately turned this into somehow legitimizing their theory that they have pushed for over a year that Russia colluded with Trump to steal an election when in fact these indictments had nothing to do with the Trump campaign, they had nothing to do with any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

And yet a lot of these stories like the Politico one claiming that it somehow cast the election legitimacy into doubt when in fact it specifically said it had nothing to to do with the election. And The Washington Post had a headline that said something like Trump's Russia hoax turns out to be real.

KURTZ: I have it right here. Justice Department deals fatal blow to Trump- Russia hoax. HEMINGWAY: When in fact again, the whole hoax that Donald Trump has complained about that's been pushed in the media is this belief that Russia colluded with Trump in treasonous fashion to steal an election. Now, that may come out to be true at some point. We have been waiting for over a year. But there has been no evidence to support that conspiracy theory as of yet.

KURTZ: To me, Jessica Tarlov, it depends on where you put the media lens. If you put the medial lens on the question of Russian collusion with Trump and associates, it is true. These indictments said that nobody -- no witting cooperation from Americans.

But if you take a the lens and take a broader view where Trump has -- the president has attacked the investigation itself as fake news and as a hoax --

TARLOV: Right.

KURTZ: Then you could -- could you argue that that did support at least that part of the media's take on this lengthy investigation?

TARLOV: Absolutely. The president claims that he never said that Russian meddling was a hoax, but he said it could have been Russia, it could have been China, it could be a 400-pound guy sitting alone in his room, so that implies that he was trying at least to divert us away from the fact that it could have been Russia.

We have H.R. McMaster out there right now confirming what the intelligence community said over a year ago about Russian meddling here. These indictments, yes, were not about collusion, but what the right has done and if you listen to (INAUDIBLE) and Hogan Gidley, gone out there and try to spin this and said, oh, Rod Rosenstein said no collusion at all. He was very clear in these set of indictments, these 13 indictments.

KURTZ: One of the things that the president tweeted, Susan, is that they started in 2014, before he was in politics, that is true. Results of the election were not impacted. That's what the indictment said. That's what the deputy attorney general said. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong, no collusion.

Let me put it up on the screen. He's been on a kind of a tweet storm in the last couple of days. This one showing CNN, you may recognize the anchor though, supposedly takes place in 2038, and it is an aging Wolf Blitzer with a cane saying, update, we should see evidence of Russia-Trump collusion any day now. It is a kind of a finger in the eye against his least favorite network. FERRECHIO: Well, you see everybody retreating to their familiar camps, the people who hate Trump are on one side, and then the people who love him on the other. There's no middle ground here. You are not getting a sense of what's possible here.

The indictments did not say that there was no evidence in the future perhaps. They just said they couldn't find any here that this influenced the election. So in the media, it is reflected the same way, one side you say this is a proof that it was all a hoax.

You have many in media saying that from the right. And on the left, people are saying this shows that the whole thing is actually not a hoax and in fact is tip of the iceberg and there's more coming.

What's missing is I think in the media, an analysis with a little more balance where you get a sense of what the truth actually is. I think there's a lot of noise on either side. KURTZ: One thing that has surprised me, Mollie, while the president is certainly entitled to say this shows no collusion, the investigation has been all about collusion, and to push back and sort of claim a certain measure of vindication, what we haven't heard and a lot of journalists and commentators have pointed this out is the president saying, this is a terrible thing that Russia tried to do disrupt our democracy and interfere with election and we need to take steps to stop this.

It's all been about sort of playing defense on the allegations about him and his campaign.

HEMINGWAY: For good reason. The media has used this story to undermine the legitimacy of Donald Trump and is smart enough to figure that out and he pushes back against that. There's two schools that thought about how you handle Russia's decades-long disinformation campaign.

One is to hype it, play into it, let Russia create chaos and confusion and hyper-partisanship and politicization. And the other is to downplay it. Donald Trump takes the down play approach. The media takes the fall right into Russia's hands and hype it approach. KURTZ: All right. Let me turn to one more subject. That is the Rob Porter case. After days of shifting explanations about the firing of presidential aide, FBI Chief Christopher Wray testified this week that his bureau told the White House about those abuse allegations about two ex-wives last March, much earlier than the White House acknowledged.


CECILIA VEGA, ABC NEWS: Is the White House still maintaining that John Kelly really had no idea about these allegations of domestic abuse until this story broke?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can only give you the best information that I have and that's my understanding. VEGA: Does the president believe the women?

SANDERS: Again, the president takes all of these accusations very seriously.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: We see Sarah Huckabee Sanders in a difficult position there. In fact, Politico reported that she wanted John Kelly and Don McGahn, White House counsel, to brief reporters rather than her being out there taking more fire repeating what they have told her, and there's been obviously a lot of different shifting versions of just what happened with Rob Porter.

TARLOV: Yes, absolutely. I'm going with Christopher Wray though as the ultimate source on this since he has the official dates of when investigation started and when they closed. We have heard so many shifting stories from the likes of Sarah Sanders and (INAUDIBLE) who had the worst (INAUDIBLE), I think, on the podium, first day of her break.

The Rob Porter situation I think refocuses on the fact that Donald Trump does not take allegations of sexual harassment and abuse against women seriously. He has defended the likes of Roy Moore, Rob Porter, and it is not that I'm against due process, but he had the potential to come out against domestic abuse --

KURTZ: Right.

TARLOV: -- from the get go. It took him nine days, I think --

KURTZ: And on that point, I want to play this sound because there was a lot of media criticism that that he expressed sympathy for Rob Porter and hadn't talked about the ex-wives at all, mere allegations until this exchange with reporters.

(START VIDEO CLIP) PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'm totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind. Everyone knows that. And it almost wouldn't even have to be said. So, now you hear it, but you all know it.

(END VIDEO CLIP) FERRECHIO: I don't think the domestic violence label is going to stick on Trump any more than the sexist label and all the other labels because it is not reflected in who he hires. Now Porter was out of there in a couple days, as soon as they saw the pictures.

KURTZ: Right.

FERRECHIO: He's gone. KURTZ: The media argument was that he should have said something. He should have addressed those -- FERRECHIO: Let's -- how much money do you want to wager that past administrations have had people on staff -- I know for a fact that Al Gore had somebody worked in his office who was accused of domestic violence. Nobody fired him. This has happened throughout history. The media is just honing in because they love to sow the idea that the Trump administration is fully incompetent.

KURTZ: Just briefly, Mollie Hemingway. You can argue that the White House really extended this story because it kept changing the story about what happened. At the same time, it could be argued the press has blown this out of proportion having to do with a White House aide that most of the country had never heard of.

HEMINGWAY: Yes. The white House clearly did not handle this well over time. At the same time, the level of coverage of this is somewhat interesting given that the media themselves have had so many stories of mistreatment of employees where they didn't show the same curiosity about how it was allowed that Matt Lauer, for instance, was able to continue on for years at the time.

Every media company out there pretty much has had these similar type stories of mistreatment of women, but they didn't show the same interest that they showed here although the interest is fine.

KURTZ: That is a cogent point. Panel, we'll see you at a bit.

TARLOV: Security clearance is also relevant to this. KURTZ: Security clearance, we didn't have a chance to get to. All right, ahead, a stunning report in the New Yorker about the president and a former Playboy playmate and a six-figure payment by the National Enquirer. When we come back, more on the coverage of Florida school shooting. Are even anchors now pushing for a gun control agenda?


KURTZ: The heartbreaking school shooting in Parkland, Florida left 17 people dead, left journalists as sad and numb as the rest of the country, and quickly turned into a debate about President Trump and the lack of government action.


TRUMP: Our entire nation with one heavy heart is praying for the victims and their families. It is not enough to simply take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference.

SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS: We have all of the resources in the world and we can't figure out why this happens in our country and doesn't happen anywhere else. Forget your political arguments.

Why can't we come together as a society and say we're going to study this, we're going to research this, we're going to bring our best and brightest together, put them all in a room, give them funds and give them whatever they need to figure out why are our children killing each other more in the United States than anywhere else in the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: An emotional debate to be sure. Joining us now to analyze the coverage in Houston, Kristin Tate, columnist for The Hill, and in New York, Cathy Areu, publisher of Catalina magazine and a former Washington Post magazine editor.

Kristin, after the president gave that speech that we just highlighted, CNN commentator Joan Walsh tweeted this, sociopath who can't even manage to mirror real human concern, compassion or grief. That speech, my God, your thoughts on those kinds of comments against the president.

KRISTIN TATE, THE HILL: Unbelievable. The media coverage of the shooting and of Donald Trump's speech the following day is deeply disappointing. Before we knew all the facts about the shooter including how he got his gun, before we had a chance to pay our respect to the families who lost loved ones, before the bodies were even cold, the media used this tragic event to flagrantly push politics.

Journalists, deep hatred of Donald Trump and guns took priority of diligent reporting and the end result was coverage that was flagrantly partisan, irresponsible, and sometimes not even factually correct.

CNN's Brooke Baldwin was demanding a discussion about guns just moments into their live coverage. It is no surprise that only 32 percent of Americans trust the media today, Howie.

KURTZ: All right. Well, I would just add that there have been some good reporting on the ground of what happened in Florida. Cathy, I get that the president didn't mention guns.

It is fair to criticize the speech for offering prayers and condolences but no specifics, but that kind of attack that I just quoted, and it's come up before after the Las Vegas massacre, after the hurricanes, president not showing enough empathy, according to his media critics, your take?

CATHY AREU, CATALINA MAGAZINE: Well, yes, but he didn't. He was opportunistic in that speech. So he did take advantage of the situation by -- he mentioned guns. He mentioned the guns once, the word "gun" once. But he was opportunistic in saying that it was a mental health issue --

KURTZ: OK, hold on, let me stop you there. Instead of critiquing the speech, tell me what you think of the media's coverage of the speech, of his response, and of this gun control debate.

AREU: The media coverage was fine, and then immediately went partisan when the president did give the speech. So he kind of opened it up to the discussion of gun control versus mental illness. So the president led the way into this partisan approach that the media jumped on, so the media has been partisan, but that -- we see that.

We see that in these cases, so it is not just during this administration. We do see that it is a gun control issue versus no guns. People not trusting the government. People not trusting the media. In this case I think the president led it all off by mentioning mental illness before mentioning anything about gun control in his speech.

KURTZ: Well, but there was nothing blatantly political in the speech, it was by omission to his critics that he didn't mention guns. All right, let me hold this up this New York Post coverage put on the screen. This is a conservative pro-Trump newspaper, Mr. President, please act, we need some sensible gun control.

So Kristin, I think it is fair to have some debate, some discussion when this was done with an AR-15, assault-style rifle, and majority of Americans support modest gun changes, but are journalists and commentators going from there to sort of blame Republicans and others who say gun control is not the answer.

TATE: Oh, it is very clear what's happening. This is being used as a political opportunity to demonize Trump, gun owners and the NRA. The narrative on the left seems to be that somehow Trump and the GOP are complicit in the mass murder of our schoolchildren. Of course it is OK to have debates about gun control.

The problem is when you start doing that before we know all of the facts and when the hard news coverage becomes bias. It is a sad day in America, Howie, when we can't trust our news outlets to be factual and nonpartisan in the coverage of a major mass shooting.

We deserve to expect and demand better from our reporters. I mean, every outlet nearly besides Fox News had some sort of partisan spin in their hard coverage of the event, and you know, while the media is focused on politics, the rest of us here in America are trying to pick up the pieces of this horrible event and having a discussion about how we can make our schools safer moving forward. Politics aside. KURTZ: Let me jump in. You know, there were political views expressed on Fox News as well. They may be some views that you were more likely to agree with. Cathy, you know, President Obama in eight years couldn't get any gun control measures through. It is a subject on which Washington seems paralyzed.

So your thought on the media, you know, is it politicization as Kristin and others suggest to say hey, we need to have a gun control debate here after school shootings, after the (INAUDIBLE), after the Newtown, Connecticut, or is it demanding a substantive discussion of an important issue?

AREU: Right. The media covered the facts. The media is preventing the facts. The media is allowing the public, the viewers, the listeners of their outlets to make their choices. So they have laid out the facts and now the opinions are coming out. So this is what the media does. They lay out all of the facts.

It is up to the public to dissect them, understand them, and form their own opinions. And the president did overturn Obama's decision to take away the rights for the mentally ill to get such quick access to guns. That was in 2017. And the media covered it. There wasn't much of a hoopla. Now we are hearing a lot about it.

KURTZ: Right.

AREU: The president brought up mental illness during his speech. It was perfect timing for this issue to come about. The media is pointing out the hypocrisy here.

KURTZ: All right, got to wrap it up here. Kristin Tate, Cathy Areu, thanks very much for joining us. The facts unfortunately are horrifying especially the part about the FBI not following up on that warning.

Ari Fleischer weighs in on how the Trump White House handles tragedy scandal and the media. Up next, some Olympic athletes who show a total lack of classified whitewashing their past or polluting the games with politics.


KURTZ: Shaun White may have won an Olympic gold with spectacular snowboarding performance but he was also dogged by questions about his past namely a 2-year-old sexual harassment lawsuit that included allegations of lewd texts and forced watching of porn videos.

When the subject was raised at a news conference, White was dismissive. Here is what he said, you know, honestly, here to talk about the Olympics, not, you know, gossip. And that came up on "The Today Show."


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have anything you want to say about that and kind of clear the air?

SHAUN WHITE, U.S. OLYMPIC SNOWBOARDER: Yes, of course, you know, I'm truly sorry that I chose the word "gossip." It was a poor choice of word to describe such a sensitive subject in the world today.


KURTZ: I want to (INAUDIBLE) on this guy's Olympic parade but even if you are a gold medal winner, you don't get to outrace serious questions about your nonathletic behavior.

Adam Rippon won a bronze medal in figure skating but a gold in political advocacy picked a fight with Mike Pence who was leading our delegation at the Olympics because he wanted to drag politics into the global game. Rippon who was gay, made it clear he wanted nothing to do with Pence.

When the vice president heard reports of tension, he tweeted at Adam Rippon, I want you know we are for you. Don't let fake news distract you. I am proud of you and all our great athletes and my only hope for you and all of team USA is to bring home the gold. Go get them.

Not good enough for Rippon who according to USA Today turned down Pence's request for a meeting. His argument is that 18 years ago when Pence was running for Congress, his statements on his website supported this instance, quote, to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.

While gay leaders interpreted that as the discredited gay conversion therapy, Pence said in 2016, he doesn't support that and his office now calls the charge totally false. But Rippon chose to stay on offense.


ADAM RIPPON, AMERICAN FIGURE SKATER: I personally don't have anything to say to Mike Pence. I'm very lucky because legislation that he's pushed hasn't affected my life at all. I spoke out because there are people out there whose legislation -- whose lives have been affected by change that he's tried to make.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: Look, Adam Rippon has every right to disagree with Mike Pence on any issue he wants. My problem is that during this one brief sporting moment when the country ought to be united, using his Olympic platform to denigrate the VP, oh, NBC just hired Rippon as a correspondent for the rest of the Olympics. That didn't take long.

By the way, I had a great event at the museum here in Washington yesterday talking about my new book. It is available now. Check it out. "Media Madness: Donald Trump, the Press, and the War Over the Truth."

Ahead on "Media Buzz," former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer on the media treatment of George Bush after 9/11 versus President Trump after the heartbreaking Florida tragedy.

But first, did a tabloid try to buy the silence of a former Playboy playmate who claims to have had an affair with Donald Trump? The White House calls that fake news.


KURTZ: The New Yorker is reporting that former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal had an affair with Donald Trump back in 2006 and the piece by Ronan Farrow has new details on how National Enquirer owner David Pecker, a friend of the president, brought the rights to McDougal's story for $150,000 and never ran it.


RONAN FARROW, JOURNALIST: This is the interesting and potentially troubling dimension, George, these, you know, dirty stories about high-profile individuals would be used as leverage over those individuals. Obviously national security implications here when that happens to be the president.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: You make it sound like the president's vulnerable to blackmail from the National Enquirer because they did him this favor?

FARROW: We don't use that word blackmail but multiple N.I. employees use terms like leverage.


KURTZ: McDougal is quoted on the record in the story as saying she regrets signing a nondisclosure agreement with the Enquirer's parent company, American Media. And Farrow has her handwritten notes about the alleged affair. White House spokesperson told the magazine this is an old story that is just more fake news. The president says he never had a relationship with McDougal.

And we're back with the panel. Mollie Hemingway, let's start with the National Enquirer. Ronan Farrow makes it clear that the Enquirer headed by Trump's buddy bought Karen McDougal's story in order to kill it. There is even a term for this, catch and kill -- shut up her up with this nondisclosure and made all these promises, she'll have a regular beauty column and other projects most of which went unfulfilled.

HEMINGWAY: I think first off, Ronan Farrow has done amazing work this year uncovering a lot of different sexual related stories.

KURTZ: Started with Harvey Weinstein reporting

HEMINGWAY: There's no question that this story isn't taking off and I think it's interesting to see why it's not taking off. There area different media angles. These allegations -- I mean, for one thing Donald Trump bragged about his use and misuse of women for decades. The story itself is old, 12 years old, the more recent update of this payment doesn't involve anything illegal.

And then also the media are not well positioned to litigate this and that they have sort of fully embraced the sexual revolutions, they don't have a strong sexual ethic to come rain down on Donald Trump. And then also they show uneven interest in sexual stories of this nature. We saw that even recently in the 2016 campaign where there was much more interest in Donald Trump than the other candidate and her husbands who were running for president. But there's no question he is kind of getting off easy here. This is a significant story and it should be in any realistic world a much bigger one.

KURTZ: Jessica Tarlov, I want you to respond to that, but first, as a work of journalism, Ronan Farrow has done remarkable work in this area. He has on the record comments from Karen McDougal, but not about the alleged affair, her hand-written notes at the time, the friend who negotiated the deal with Enquirer, several former Enquirer staffers some of them on the record, show it's not like some shotty, you know, the sources say this happened.

TARLOV: No, absolutely not. And I think when the White House is so dismissive about it, I understand why they have to be, it rings kind of hollow there as you said with the Harvey Weinstein breaking that story and, you know, that still unfolding and we may actually see Harvey Weinstein on trial as a result of this. I think he's done incredible work and I'm sure NBC is regretting the fact they didn't want to financially back him in terms of his investigative reporting.

So what Mollie said though in terms of why this isn't a story, it wasn't a story this week because unfortunately we had a mass shooting at a school and we had those indictments from Rob Rosenstein. It is also because we are just used to the fact that this is how Donald Trump behaves. And as you said, Donald Trump hasn't used and misused women for decades and people knew that when they voted for him.

They heard the "Access Hollywood" tape and they voted for him. So unfortunately we are at a point where the president of the United States of America can behave this way or has in the past and the American public was (INAUDIBLE).

KURTZ: But on that point, Susan Ferrechio, we will get to the other case in a minute. I would agree that most of the public is yawning about this stuff because it was sort of baked into the cake, I mean Donald Trump was a celebrity with a playboy image, real estate developer, beauty pageants and all of that. The significant part here it seems to me would create serious problems for most politicians is the allegations of hush money, that using the Enquirer to give her $150,000 so that this story would never see the light of day.

By the way, the Enquirer's parent company American Media says well, she is allowed to respond to legitimate press inquiries about the nondisclosure and that they didn't print the story because they didn't find it credible after spending $150,000 on it.

SUSAN FERRECHIO, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Is anybody surprised the National Enquirer is buying stories and not running them? First of all, newspapers covering up for presidential affairs or politicians' affairs is one of the oldest practices in the business. It's been going on forever. What did the Washington Post have to say about John F. Kennedy's affairs? What did they have to say about Bill Clinton affairs? It took the Drudge Report to print the Monica Lewinsky story.

KURTZ: Well that's a little unfair. Let me stop you on admiring your historical info. Drudge reported that Newsweek had the story. Newsweek spiked the story. The Washington Post then broke the story about Ken Starr and Monica Lewinsky.

FERRICHIO: OK, you just made my point, Howard. OK, you just made my point. They are not putting the story out there --

KURTZ: No, the Washington Post did put the story out there, in 1998. I was there.

FERRICHIO: Well, but the Drudge Report did it first because it had been --

KURTZ: The Drudge Report had it -- all right, I don't want to get (INAUDIBLE). You're saying that this is not unusual.

FERRECHIO: There's a hesitancy to report on presidential affairs.

KURTZ: Yes. Is there a hesitancy to report on alleged pay-offs?

FERRECHIO: Well, it's the National Enquirer too we're talking about.

KURTZ: OK, so let's get to the other case and this is --

FERRECHIO: We know they buy stories and pay for stories.

KURTZ: Around the same time at the end of the campaign, it said that this deal was negotiated with Karen McDougal, Stormy Daniels, you remember that name, the former porn star who also has said in the past interviews that she had a relationship with Donald Trump. There was a Wall Street Journal report that she was paid off. Now, Michael Cohen, the president's long time personal lawyer acknowledging to the New York Times the following, if we can put it up on the screen.

In a private transaction in 2016, I used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford -- that's her real name. Neither the Trump organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly.

A lot of media skepticism about why the lawyer would do this.

HEMINGWAY: Well, that statement is so bizarre to begin with. Although we all want attorneys who pay off our problems and -- but he said something about he facilitated a payment. It almost raised more questions than it answered. At the same time, I'm not sure how to proceed from here. There needs to be legitimate interest in what people are trying to figure out about this payment, and there certainly should be.

KURTZ: But fill in on that, I mean, are these -- now that we're into the financial aspect of it, are these stories going to persist or there is this, the collective shrug that, you know, we may write them but most people don't care?

TARLOV: It may last a little bit longer because it's not just about infidelity which is so blas, these days.


TARLOV: But if you look at all the work that David Fahrenthold did over at the Washington Post, it was the hot ticket for a while and then eventually people said this is all too confusing, too dirty and just really beyond what we can cover when we're also dealing with the Mueller investigation and unfortunately mass shootings in America and the day-to- day, you know, this was infrastructure week or something so --

KURTZ: I think it is like when Bill Clinton was elected in 1992 after Jennifer Flowers. I mean, people knew they weren't getting a choir boy at least in that one area. All right Mollie, we will see you later. Jessica Tarlov, Susan Ferrechio, thanks very much for joining us this Sunday.

Coming up, how has the Trump White House handled the press at a time of tragedy and scandal? Ari Fleischer is on deck. And later, some pundits again mocking Mike Pence for his Christian faith based on Omarosa?


KURTZ: After a tough week for the White House dealing with tragedy and scandal, we turn to our Ari Fleischer, the former press secretary for George W. Bush and a fox news contributor. He joins us from New York.


KURTZ: Ari Fleischer, welcome.


KURTZ: Mixed media reaction to the president's speech after the awful tragedy, Florida school shooting. Now, you have been at the White House of course in times of tragedy. Is it getting harder in these polarized times for this president to rally the country?

FLEISCHER: It is harder, but one of the reasons it is harder is I have never seen an issue where reporters have leaped from reporting to opinionating. How much of the coverage especially on TV has been in demand of gun control? And that's something that's relatively new. There used to be borders before reporters would cross them and go into opinionated reporting. Now those borders have been torn down. And so that's what the criticism of Donald Trump is here. He didn't take the position some in the press wanted him to take.

KURTZ: Right and there's been a lot of criticism on the media on that or are they pushing some kind of gun control agenda, but there was also this sort of (INAUDIBLE) criticism of will the president show sufficient empathy. We saw that also after Las Vegas. Is that a new element in the way presidents are rated by the press or did you experience much the same during the George Bush administration?

FLEISCHER: Well, I remember September 11th, the press was pretty sharply critical of the two first speeches President Bush gave and he was not as good in those first two speeches I have to say as he was later as the September 11th and the events unfolded. But the press can be quick harsh judges and I do have to say Donald Trump's speech after the shooting I thought was very good.

He touched on the right points, made the right points. But look, he is not an emotive president the way some in the press would like him to be. He's much more of a declarative president, much more action-oriented president and a twitter-oriented president.

KURTZ: Right.

FLEISCHER: So, he doesn't emote as well as some of his predecessors. I don't know that that skill alone is what you should measure presidents by.

KURTZ: I do look back and mostly remember George W. Bush rallying the country after 9/11 -- interesting observation. Let's look at the White House handling or mishandling I should say of the Rob Porter mess. How did all the shifting explanations turn what should have been a one or two day story at most into a two-week debacle?

FLEISCHER: Well, Howard, I disagree on that premise. I do think this was going to be a longer story for two reasons. One is the White House believed Rob Porter. They didn't believe Rob Porter's wives. And secondly, the president's remarks when he first spoke did not talk about domestic violence.

Those two facts alone created the feeding frenzy. It was added to it then by the White House not being able to get the timeline straight when it was contradicted by this FBI chief, Chris Wray, up on Capitol Hill. Add al of that up, and that's what created a multi-day story.

KURTZ: Right, that's what I was trying to get at, but as someone who has stood at that podium, who has faced the battering by the Press Corps, has Sarah Huckabee Sanders been in a mere impossible position because she is providing information to reporters that she is being given by White House officials, some of which has turned out to be wrong, some of which has had to be revised, and she then gets the flak for what she has has said from that podium?

FLEISCHER: Yes, it's actually interesting in this case. I think the press gave her a little bit of sympathy because they recognized she wasn't getting a story that was crystal clear. There's two ways press secretary have to deal with when there's conflicting information coming from with inside the building. One is the press secretary should attribute it. They should literally say from the podium I asked the counsel's office, here's what the counsel's office gave me. Let me read this to you.

So the press secretary makes clear she's attributing it to the source, in this case the source of the counsel's office or wherever it may be. The second way is you bring the appropriate news making people who are responsible and involved to the podium. That's another thing press secretaries can do when there is conflicting information and it's hard to run down.

That forces the principals to get together before that briefing and organize their thoughts, go through the time line, tooth and nail, make sure they have got it accurate, and then they go public.

KURTZ: And does it also insulate the press secretary and add to the credibility of the press secretary because you are not out there -- and we got about half minute -- vouchering for something that later gets revised and turns out to be inaccurate?

FLEISCHER: Absolutely. You know, in this case, the press secretary is a bit like a reporter. Their job is to go around the White House and say all right, there's something bad happening, something wrong happened. I need you to tell me exactly what took place. Well, if somebody is involved in something bad or wrong, they are not going to be all that forthcoming.

It is hard for the press secretary to get the truth, to get the facts. And so absolutely, that is a skill press secretary has to have to keep their credibility while also working for the White House. You still work for the White House. It's a tight rope that you walk when there are issues like this.

KURTZ: A lot of people don't realize you do function as a reporter. Ari Fleischer, you have been there, thanks very much for joining us.

FLEISCHER: Thank you.


KURTZ: After the break the press declares open season on John Kelly fuelled by leaks from some of the general's colleagues. Is that fair? And later, why did the New York Times try to hire a columnist with neo-Nazi pals?


KURTZ: It may have started with the bungled (ph) firing of Rob Porter but the media with anonymous help from White House leakers are launching a barrage of negative stories against John Kelly.


RACHEL MADDOW, MASNBC SHOW HOST: Those White House staffers are now rushing to reporters all over Washington to tell them how terrible and incompetent they think John Kelly is. That they think John Kelly is quote, a big fat liar.


KURTZ: We're back with Mollie Hemingway. That quote, a big fat liar, from a Washington Post story quoting an unnamed White House official. Axios quoted an unnamed White House official, the Kelly cover up is unraveling. Do journalists grant anonymity to somebody who is on the president's staff not using their own name to level that kind of charge against the chief of staff?

HEMINGWAY: Well, this whole coverage seems almost gleeful and it's a tank to take down John Kelly. It has moved well beyond anything dealing with Rob Porter and domestic abuse. And the use of anonymous sources, I think it's a good example of how media can get played by anonymous sources. Obviously a big component of the story is people in the White House trying to play politics.

But by just being sort of willful participants in this leak campaign as opposed to bringing back the curtain and showing people how these stories can be used by people to play power politics within an organization. I think it does a disservice to viewers.

KURTZ: Right, you know, Kelly has made mistakes in this case, no question. But as I said last week, it feels like the media are turning on him. And yes, you should report that he may be losing the confidence of staff members in the White House. When you have quotes like a big fat liar and somebody won't put their name to that, it feels like a cheap shot.

HEMINGWAY: Well, clearly many months ago people thought John Kelly would be the adult in the room. They kept on praising him as somehow different from Trump, but then he quickly showed himself to be a reliable supporter of the president and a reliable administrator of his agenda and the media kind of turned on him months ago and you see that in this coverage.

KURTZ: All right., let me turn to -- it seems like every week now Omarosa goes on Celebrity Big Brother and says something nasty about Trump or in this case Mike Pence, and that's how she is the former White House official, I should say, as kind of getting even. So, the other day she said that Pence is extreme. I'm Christian. I love Jesus. But he thinks Jesus tells him to say things. I'm like Jesus ain't saying that. That led to this exchange on "The View."


JOY BEHAR, "THE VIEW": It is one thing to talk to Jesus. It is another thing when Jesus talks to you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Exactly. That's different.

BEHAR: That's called mental illness if I'm not correct -- hearing voices.


KURTZ: What do you make that kind of ridicule by Joy Behar?

HEMINGWAY: Only Christians can handle this type of ridicule. They are used to it, but it is something that's disappointing to see among a lot of people in the media. That's a particularly comedic version of it, but you see this tenor of coverage. Christians along with some people in other religious groups believe that God does speak to them through his word.

I mean the gospel reading for this week is man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. Christians believe that God talks to them through his word. This is a basic Christian belief and not something that really should be held up for mocking or ridicule.

KURTZ: Yes, you know, Joy Behar kind of walked it back. She says she was a comedian, she's joking, but no apology. And you know, Pence has been ridiculed by pundits before for example his business about he doesn't want to be in a room where there's alcohol, with a woman who is not his wife or that sort of thing. And it just bothers me that he's fair game when it has to do with what he believes. We aren't supposed to mock people's religion.

HEMINGWAY: And not just that. He's routinely held up as having these really extreme beliefs that turn out to be held by a lot of people, that example of his belief on how to keep his marriage sacred is a great example. The New York Times ended up putting on a poll showing that most Americans agree with him, that you should treat your marriage in this way. And so when you portray Mike Pence as extreme, a lot of viewers see that as an attack on themselves personally when they share those views.

KURTZ: Great point. Mollie Hemingway, thanks for coming in. Great to see you again. Still to come, why the New York Times hired an opinion writer and cut her loose within hours.


KURTZ: The New York Times hired journalist Quinn Norton for its editorial board and un-hired her seven hours later. The problem? Norton's past tweets saying she was friends with several neo-Nazis including one who helped write The Daily Stormer site but didn't necessarily agree with them. Her tweets using the N word and ani-gay slurs -- it was this re-tweet after Barack Obama's election, if God had meant a -- n word -- to talk to our schoolchildren he would have made him president. Oh but wait, um.

When Norton thought she had the job, she said the Times editors, quote, made it clear they weren't going to be put off by a little weird. As for how weird, well, that's for them to discover. And discover they did. The editors rescinded the offer based on, quote, new information that you have to wonder, don't they have Google? How did much of twitter find this stuff so easily when they couldn't? But Norton to her credit wasn't miffed, re-tweeting as I said so many times to the New York Times. No harm, no foul.

That's it for this edition of "Media Buzz." I'm Howard Kurtz. Thanks for watching. We hope you will check out our Facebook page. Give us a like. I post a lot of my daily columns and videos there. Let's continue the conversation on Twitter, @HowardKurtz. And if you want to e-mail us, If you have other plans on Sundays, you can DVR the show, all ways of continuing our coverage of the media. And boy, what a packed weekend it has been. Sometimes we got to get everything into just 60 minutes.

We'll see you here next week with the latest buzz.

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