Attorney Lanny Davis breaks silence on CNN story

This is a rush transcript from "Media Buzz," September 2, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On our Buzz Meter this Sunday, President Trump calls for CNN president Jeff Zucker and NBC News chairman Andy Lack to be fired. A stunning and extraordinary step.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But the word is they are firing the head of NBC. What a great thing to do. How smart.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: But is that crossing the line for the president of the United States. Trump's twitter attacks come as CNN continues to stand by a disputed story saying Michael Cohen is accusing the president of lying even though one of its anonymous sources, Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis, has outed himself and says the allegation that's all been the Trump Tower meeting is false.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is just such a mistake by CNN. I really can't understand it. Everybody has retracted their story except CNN.

GERALDO RIVERA, FOX NEWS: I like the guys involved in CNN. I think they've made a mistake. They are reluctant to withdraw it because there is an animosity towards this president that is unprecedented. I think it's clouding their judgment.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

KURTZ: Lanny Davis who admits he made a mistake in dealing with the press will be here in a "Media Buzz" exclusive. A week of glowing media tributes to John McCain becomes a vehicle for taking shots at President Trump. Why was a farewell to this war here transformed into a Trump story?

Pope Francis tells reporters he won't comment on an extraordinary accusation that he helped cover-up a massive sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. This after a right-leaning Catholic news outlet ran a letter from the archbishop demanding that the pontiff resign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS: Tonight, there is rare silence from Pope Francis making a point not to weigh in after explosive allegations were leveled against him by a former top Vatican official who claims he told the pope about abuse allegations against an American cardinal years ago and the pope did did nothing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Are the media being skeptical of the archbishop's letter and portraying this largely as a political attack from the pope's critics?

Plus, the president says Google is biased against him, against Republicans, against conservatives. Is that true? I'm Howard Kurtz and this is "Media Buzz."

Whether you agree or disagree with the President Trump calling for the firing of CNN president Jeff Zucker and NBC News chairman Andy Lack, it is big news, but not on those networks, nothing on CNN. And the only MSNBC comment we could find was on "Morning Joe."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC: Not only is he attacking NBC's chairman Andy Lack, our boss, with stupid rumors, but also he's going after the truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Despite mounting criticism, CNN continues to largely ignore the controversy especially on the air is standing by this story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN: Sources with knowledge tell myself and Karl that Michael Cohen claims that then candidate Donald Trump knew in advance about the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: The president tweeted that CNN's hatred and extreme bias toward him has clouded its thinking, and then addressed CNN's new parent company. "Little Jeff Z has done a terrible job, his ratings suck, and AT&T should fire him to save credibility."

One of the CNN reporters on the story is Jim Sciutto, a political appointee in the Obama administration. The other, is Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame who has called Trump an authoritarian.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This is the greatest journalistic challenge of the modern era, to report on a malignant presidency.

What we are watching in the Trump presidency is worse than Watergate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: After the president criticized Bernstein, CNN hit back, "Make no mistake, Mr. President, CNN does not lie. We report the news. And we report when people in power tell lies. CNN stands by our reporting and our reporters."

Joining us now to analyze the coverage, Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist and a Fox News contributor; Susan Ferrechio, chief congressional correspondent for The Washington Examiner; and Philippe Reines, former State Department official under Hillary Clinton.

Mollie, I say Donald Trump has every right to hit back at what he sees as unfair media coverage including, perhaps especially this flawed CNN story, but is the president of the United States go too far in calling for two executives at private companies to be fired because he doesn't like the media coverage by those companies?

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: Well, and I'm not sure if he's calling for their firing simply because of that. He's pointing out the series of failures that both of those media outlets have had. It's not just about calling for firing. It's also the language he used in that tweet, which as a mother and is someone -- is something I don't like to see some of the language that's being used.

There are all sorts of lines being crossed. There really are problems. Obviously, CNN is having a rough go of things right now, but also with regard to Andy Lack, you know, he is someone who's been rumored to be central to so many of the problems they are facing there, allegations --

KURTZ: Those were rumors so.

HEMINGWAY: Yes, well. But I mean, it's an interesting story but I don't think it's appropriate for the president to be weighing in just -- it diminishes him.

KURTZ: Susan Ferrechio, Jeff Zucker who obviously is recuperating from heart surgery has said in the past because these attacks have gone on for a long time, that Donald Trump is trying to delegitimize journalism. What do you make of the tone when CNN hit back at the president's tweets?

SUSAN FERRECHIO, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: I think that the president is trying to delegitimize journalism because journalists have tried to delegitimize the president in unprecedented way. I don't think there is any way to question that at this point -- the attacks, the number of attacks, the types of attacks by the media.

The way a lot of them had to be retracted, corrected. A lot of them have not been corrected. They see him as I think as Carl Bernstein said, on the leniency and so that's the way they treat him as a president. So I think all's fair here for both sides. Whatever CNN says, whatever the president says, it has devolved to a boxing match at this point and now the gloves are off, and that has happened.

KURTZ: And when I said on the air this week (inaudible) if President Obama, who took lots of shots at Fox News, had said hey, Fox News, you ought to get rid of Roger Ailes because I think the coverage is so unfair, what would have been the reaction on the right?

PHILIPPE REINES, FORMER HILLARY CLINTON ADVISER: Well look, the relationship between the White House media and the media (inaudible) with any president is going to be tense and adversarial.

KURTZ: Sure.

REINES: I saw Alan Dershowitz the other night say that that's a problem. It's supposed to be adversarial to an extent and that's not to be bitter and hateful, but if you look at what's going on with Jeff Zucker and Andy Lack, there's a problem in the sense that he -- the president is constantly trying to muddy the waters for both of those -- is due with Andy Lack.

Mollie is right. Andy Lack might have separate problems or rumored problems, but he's going after Andy Lack because now it's fitting his narrative of the Lester Holt interview was wrong.

KURTZ: I'm going to comeback to that.

REINES: On Jeff Zucker, I mean, the problem of calling Jeff Zucker's firing is actually a subset of a problem of him trying to scuttle or insert himself into the AT&T Time Warner merger. This is something he's been doing. Frankly, Donald Trump should send Jeff Zucker flowers for everything he has done for him for the last 15 years.

KURTZ: Let me turn to Carl Bernstein because he's one of the two main reporters on this disputed CNN story, and the president really went after him personal terms. If we could put up on the screen -- he called Bernstein sloppy, a man who lives in the past and thinks like a degenerate fool, making up story after story, is being laughed at all over the country.

Carl Bernstein defended himself in his own tweet, "I have spent my life as a journalist bringing the truth to light, through administrations of both parties. No taunt will diminish my commitment to that mission." Mollie, what do you make of that?

HEMINGWAY: Well, there is this fantasy that is spewed by people on the left, either in the media or not, but the media hold Democratic administrations accountable. The problem is that many Americans were awake for the previous eight years and they saw how the media treated the Obama administration. Only rarely adversarial despite many opportunities.

And in fact, the need to hold that administration accountable. So Carl Bernstein is also saying this. That he has an image of himself but I'm not sure is matched by reality. CNN has major credibility problems with that story. They have had a source who had admitted he was one of their sources. They claimed he wasn't a source. They put that in the original thing that said he declined to comment.

KURTZ: And we'll talk to Lanny Davis in a few minutes. Go ahead.

HEMINGWAY: And they have not done anything near what they need to to deal with the problems with that story. And now they are trying to strongly suggest that their other story is Michael Cohen himself, which is also kind of inappropriate to reveal sources if you're sort of playing both sides of the game. And they need to restore credibility. They have a pattern of false stories on the Trump administration and this is just the latest one.

KURTZ: Some of which had to be corrected. Does CNN have some responsibility to be more front than having -- putting out a one-sentence statement essentially this is to standby our story, to address problems with this Trump Tower story after Lanny Davis, a pal of your friend Hillary Clinton, denied it -- and to report on the president's attacks on the network. I mean, its news, may be uncomfortable, but it's news that the president was using that rhetoric.

REINES: Well look, every media outlet whether it's CNN or Fox, has a responsibility to first call balls and strikes when covering what they think is the news. Obviously, I disagree with Mollie's describing how the Obama White House -- Susan's description, but CNN said they made a mistake. The source made a mistake. You don't see that often and I'm sure CNN's frustration right now is saying, we're getting killed for admitting a mistake.

HEMINGWAY: CNN is standing by its story.

REINES: I know, but --

HEMINGWAY: They are saying that despite what everybody knows about that one of their sources --

REINES: They are saying they have another source. I don't know better. I don't know any different that when you report something, but they made a mistake. I mean, the most parallel thing to me is when Fox was reporting on Seth Rich and it took months and months and months before anyone acknowledged that there was a mistaken in --

KURTZ: The online story about Seth Rich, which was the young DNC staff who was killed, was retracted, not months later. It was retracted and apologized for. I want to move on to NBC. I'm not sorry that you brought that up. So, Trump says the good news about Andy Lack -- he puts a Y, Andy Lacky -- is about to be fired -- question mark -- for incompetence.

And what's worse, that is purely a rumor, I just want to clarify that. And then he went on to the Lester Holt interview. This was last year, two days after the president fired Jim Comey of the FBI. Let's take a brief look at that interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Regardless of the recommendation, I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it. I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: The president treats, "When Lester Holt got caught fudging my tape on (inaudible) were heard badly. There is no credible allegation that NBC did anything in terms of misleading editing. And in fact, the whole interview was posted online.

FERRECHIO: And the transcript, it's all there. If you do read the transcript jut see at some point he said he didn't care about the investigation. He says things that kind of undercut that statement we just watched. But right, he's trying to make it look like they fudged a story but they really didn't.

But at this point, you know, each side is accusing the other of fake news and lying all the time that he probably can convince some of his base or people who follow him on twitter that there is some truth on that even though it's really completely false.

KURTZ: Let me turn to some other news this week. So, we have Don McGahn, White House counsel leaving. Trump announcing it by tweet without telling him in advance. This is 11 days after a "New York Times" story saying that McGahn spent 30 hours talking about Mueller's prosecutors and kind of suggest that he was cooperating.

The media also seemed quite sympathetic, Mollie, at Jeff Sessions after new taunts from the president. The implication that he is lashing out to his own attorney general. Interesting that the media are taking Sessions' side.

HEMINGWAY: Right. It is very good to cover the fact that Donald Trump is dissatisfied at his attorney general. The problem with the media coverage is that they go beyond that into actually deciding that it is somehow inappropriate for the president to make decisions about who his attorney general is or is not.

They should just cover the story and they should make sure they explain why people are upset with Attorney-General Sessions. He recused himself from most of the problems that are going on with the FBI and the Department of Justice and it is causing some major problems for people who want to see rule of law equally applied, and that's an important story too.

KURTZ: Philippe, "Washington Post" reports that the president was again pushing to fire Jeff Sessions which he has every right to do obviously. Lawyers were said to have talked him out of it until the Mueller investigation ended. Then he told Bloomberg that Sessions is safe until after the midterms whatever that means. Everything leaks in this White House. I mean, all these backstage struggles just sort of play out on twitter and on the tube.

REINES: If he wants to fire him, fire him. I mean, we don't have to read about this everyday for six months. The president has not fired anyone since Jim Comey on this matter because he knows how horribly that went for him. He could fire Jeff Sessions right now, but it will not go well for him tomorrow.

And it's not the media that is pressing him on that. It's Republicans in Congress who are saying this is not a good idea. The fact that now Lindsey Graham and Charles Grassley have changed their tune shows you how long it has bent Republican Congress has been saying to him, sir, don't do this. It's not going to go well.

KURTZ: Just a brief comment.

HEMINGWAY: In fact, media coverage is such a big part of the story. I agree with what was said about fudging the Lester Holt interview, but the way that that was portrayed as obstruction of the Russia investigation instead of frustration with (inaudible) Russia investigation is a perfect example of how the media control the conversation in a way that is not helpful.

REINES: But Mollie, it's a straight out lie to say that that tape is not real. And now 35 percent of America believes it.

HEMINGWAY: You can also have media coverage that is inaccurate and very wrongly inaccurate.

REINES: But that's not an example.

KURTZ: We have to (inaudible) have you guys. Thank you south side (ph). Ahead, as I mentioned, exclusive interview with Lanny Davis about his role in the CNN story on the Trump Tower meeting that has drawn such harsh criticism for the president.

But when we come back, a week of media praise after John McCain's passing. But why did many pundits turn that into an attack on Donald Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: The speakers at John McCain's funeral yesterday at the National Cathedral, George w. Bush, Barack Obama, his daughter Megyn not only praised the man but implicitly seemed to rebuke the man who wasn't there. All week long, an emotional hero sendoff from most of the media kept straining it's a criticism of Donald Trump especially when the president initially refused to praise his bitter rival.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN: To watch the president with the president of Kenya twice, you know, not saying anything about this hero, this lion of a man -- it's despicable. It's despicable.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: McCain despised Trump. Trump for his part despised McCain right back, and to their credit, neither man ever pretended otherwise.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

KURTZ: Susan, we talked the show last week to spend an hour on the life and legacy of John McCain. Political lead story this morning, Washington mourns John McCain and its own demise under Trump. Has there been too much focus on President Trump initially being holding back on anything positive and the whole business about the flag, I mean, at half staff and coming back up and then coming back down?

FERRECHIO: Ridiculous and I think the Tucker quote was perfect. They did hate each other. McCain not only hated Trump, he really doesn't like the people who follow Trump, the tea partyers, that's why the reason -- that's why Sara Palin was shut out of the whole funeral and all that stuff.

It really was, you know, the two of them were enemies basically. So to expect the president to go on and on about what a hero McCain is, remember, McCain also went to get the dossier and bring it back and give it to the FBI --

(CROSTALK)

FERRECHIO: -- creating a huge investigation (inaudible) his presidency. That's never factored in here. It's just ridiculous.

KURTZ: Mollie, I saw a lot of pundits say John McCain was a man of great character and principle and obviously he was a war hero. So, of course, he was totally opposed to Trump. I mean, this is how they worked it in. They would sort of pivot and almost as if you couldn't praise the senator and his life as a warrior and a lawmaker without bashing the president.

HEMINGWAY: It was just a shame because this man who is a legitimate American hero and who people regardless of their political views can respect and appreciate. It was a little difficult to see some of the coverage this week because I think people going to remember what happened when he ran for president, when he was not treated as a lion or hero by the same media who now say he was a lion and a hero. They remember --

KURTZ: It was in 2000 when he running against George W. Bush. He got extraordinarily good coverage. I was there. In 2008, no so much as you said.

HEMINGWAY: This is hard to take it seriously that people can switch so violently from one extreme to another.

KURTZ: Right. So, Hillary Clinton praised McCain as did Obama, as did Biden, as did all kinds of Democrats. Given that McCain had this extraordinary life over many decades and Donald Trump the president or, you know, a little more than a year and a half, were the media doing something of a disservice by making so much of this about the contrast with President Trump?

REINES: I mean, I think at the end of the day only the McCain family can really say whether this got away from them or not.

KURTZ: You can say what you think.

REINES: What I think is the man is dead and to start, you know, putting it on a equivalency of what the president did last week and what John McCain couldn't do this past week -- put the flag up. Put it down to half-mast. This stuff is silly. And if you're going to bite your tongue, which Donald Trump is unable to do, do it one week. Just do it one week. Just try it.

FERRECHIO: If he has (ph) his tongue, what has he said this week that's negative about McCain? Nothing. He actually -- I think he did the right thing. He lowered the flag. That was the protocol. What he could have done said don't put it back up, hold it. And then he pretty much went radio silence on McCain despite all the attacks.

KURTZ: Now, it is true that when you have a funeral and you have two former presidents with the sort of an implicit rebuke of Trump's style of politics while praising McCain, you have to report that that was part of the story, Meghan McCain as well. But I'm talking more here about the commentators, Mollie, who -- it almost became like the two stories were intertwined, you know.

Washington used to be such a good bipartisan place. That was the John McCain that we loved though he wasn't always easy to get along with as we've said and President Trump has changed that. Is it Donald Trump single- handedly change the entire culture --

HEMINGWAY: Well, and that really is a legitimate viewpoint for, I think they put it forth because it does very much represent what Washington, D.C. thinks. The problem from a media coverage angle is that this a very complex story and one where there are some things that people disagree with that are happening politically in D.C. that haven't been well represented this week.

KURTZ: All right, Susan Ferrechio, Philippe Reines, great to see you. Mollie, we'll see you a little later in the program. Ahead, Lanny Davis on why he outed himself as an anonymous source in that hotly disputed CNN story. But up next, the president says Google is rigged against him and conservatives. We'll search for the right answer.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: President Trump is giving it to Google tweeting that its search process is very dangerous and possibly illegal. "Google search results for Trump news shows only the viewing/reporting of fake news media. In other words, they have it rigged, for me and others, so that almost all stories and news is bad, Fake CNN is prominent."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think that Google and Facebook and Twitter, I think they treat conservatives and Republicans very unfairly. I could tell you that I have personal experience.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Joining us now, Shana Glenzer, technology analyst and commentator here in Washington. So, Google may have flaws in the way it tweaks these algorithms, but could the company be consistently rigging all searches against Donald Trump and the Republican Party?

SHANA GLENZER, TECHNOLOGY ANALYST: The short answer is no. There has been time perhaps where because there are human beings behind the technology some biases has resulted, I'm sure. But, you know, there is a set of rules based on like 200 factors that Google considers when it is showing you the news results.

And, you know, sure Google could prove that it's not biased by, you know, opening the kimono (ph), showing you the algorithm. But you can even imagine how many people would exploit that? You know, I can assure you --

KURTZ: Game the system.

GLENZER: Game the system -- I can assure you it would not lead to a more balanced list of news articles in your search.

KURTZ: So, this 96 percent figure that the president cited in his tweet is based on a blogger at the conservative site PJ Media who ran a test, Trump news and found that most of the hits where from what she calls left-leaning sites. It so happens I ran the same tests. Trump news -- Fox kept popping up one or two out of three so I guess it depends on when you do it and how you framed the search and all that. So is that enough to warrant this sort of presidential blast?

GLENZER: I understand his position here. I mean it certainly, the article struck a chord with people who have been following recent news coverage about bias at big tech companies and the concerns but what concerns me is that there, you know, is that there was this woman.

That, you know, sat behind a few different computers and plugged in a few different words into Google news and it's caused such an uproar, you know, from complaints to, you know, from about censorship to calling for federal investigation. I feel like it's a little mismatched to the actual study that was performed.

KURTZ: Right. And this call for government regulation which in my view would be worse because who is going to test the government to somehow fair and unbiased way to decide the perfect balance in all news searches. But it seems to me that, you know, when CNN or "Washington Post" or "New York Times" pops up in these ranking, I mean, doesn't Google reward the most popular websites whether the president happens to think that those are hostile to him or not?

GLENZER: Yes. Yes, they do, I mean --

KURTZ: Explain how it works.

GLENZER: It's really hard to translate the journalistic values into like a set of rules that they use and apply to every one, but you know, we've seen that Google really does weigh original content, it weighs traffic to sites, and that plays against these smaller sites with maybe a handful of reporters putting out, you know, a few stories a day versus dozens of stories being put out by, you know, "Washington Post" or other mainstream media organizations.

KURTZ: At which have hundreds of reporters. So you are saying Google rewards that and it's not necessarily an ideological decision that there so much more content and people click on it therefore Google deems it must be relevant.

GLENZER: I'm saying yes, there's probably truth to a little bit of the, you know, suspicion but it's not a nefarious reason behind the bias. It is because of the rules that they set in place.

KURTZ: Yes. There is a reason people don't trust big tech and maybe isolated some (inaudible) but in Google's case, I'm not sure the case has been proved. Shana Glenzer, ghreat to see you. Thanks for stopping by this Sunday.

Ahead on "MediaBuzz," an explosive charge against Pope Francis in the church's sexual abuse scandal. Some of the press rushing to the pontiff's defense, but first, Lanny Davis, Michael Cohen's lawyer, sits down with me exclusively on the lesson he says he's learned from the CNN controversy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOWARD KURTZ, MEDIA BUZZ, ANCHOR: Lanny Davis, the lawyer for Michael Cohen, had been making the rounds saying that his client who now pled guilty has more information about Donald Trump that could interest Robert Mueller's prosecutors. His role became highly controversial after CNN went with the story that Cohen knows the president had advance knowledge of that Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer offering dirt on Hillary Clinton, which Davis now flatly denies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON SOOPER, CNN: So Michael Cohen does not have information that President Trump knew about the Trump Tower meeting with the Russians beforehand.

LANNY DAVIS, MICHAEL COHEN'S LAWYER: No, he does not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: And joining me now is Lanny Davis, the veteran lawyer who represents Michael Cohen. His book, "The Unmaking of a President 2016," comes out week with a new afterword. So you had a rough week, which we'll get to in just a second.

In the afterword of the book, you say Rudy Giuliani has openly admitted his purpose is to appeal to the Trump base, undermine Mueller's credibility, and get ready for an impeachment battle. He said it on his program, which is on fighting the court of public opinion. When I was covering the Clinton impeachment 20 years ago, that's exactly what you and your allies tried to do to Ken Starr.

DAVIS: And it looks like we were successful in molding public opinion and certainly in the November elections of 2000 -- of 1998.

KURTZ: So how do you criticize Rudy for using similar tactics?

DAVIS: I don't criticize him for using tactics if his concern is about impeachment. I say that they're not successful because we were talking about a subject that most people had forgiven the President Clinton about, which is personal indiscretion. This is about a unanimous verdict by the intelligence community that President Trump has denied that there was an effort by the Kremlin to influence the American people to vote for Donald Trump. And he has denied that.

And Rudy Giuliani could focus on the evidence of collusion or lack of evidence. But instead, he's making personal attacks on Mueller. And the late senator john McCain reminded me attacking the motives of Mr. Starr was a mistake. And from that moment that he told me not to do that, I followed that advice.

KURTZ: Yeah, you said look, I have my regrets by too many attacks on Starr's motives. All right.

DAVIS: Yes.

KURTZ: So you turned down a whole lot of invitations just to appear on this program. We appreciate it. You said -- you've told me you made a mistake in your dealings with CNN. Where did you go wrong?

DAVIS: First, I want to say I respect CNN. I have known Jeff Zucker for many years. I certainly respect revere -- the role that Bernstein played in Watergate and respect them as a journalist. I took this responsibility because I was unsure about the issue of the Trump Tower meeting. And I thought there were other people that could have been in the room and that it was up to journalists to go look at that.

KURTZ: Well, let's stop that there. Did you ever confirm to CNN reporters this allegation about the Trump Tower meeting off-the-record?

DAVIS: I was never sure in my confirmation. I was uncertain. And in fact, I expressed my uncertainty, but not clear enough. So I can understand that they interpreted what I said as a confirmation and I have not blamed CNN. I blamed myself for not being more clear that in my mind I did not know the details about that meeting. And I should not have encouraged any reporter. The lesson that I've learned, if I'm not certain even on background, I should not be asking reporters to do investigative work when I'm not sure.

KURTZ: Does did bother you that some of the reports have sort of conflated a lot of this and say Lanny Davis confirmed that there was advanced knowledge by the president in this meeting, and then backed off and recanted? You said you never.

DAVIS: It does bother me because recanting isn't easy. And I disclosed myself as a source, seeking reporters to confirm something I was unsure about. And I was very unclear in that. So yes. But I thought it was important not to blame CNN, not to blame anyone other than myself. I even wrote a book about taking responsibility.

So this hasn't been an easy week for me. But I do think -- for everybody who deals with the media in my position, this is a lesson, maybe a teaching moment. Don't even float stories on background, which is our expression for anonymously, unless you have a certainty of the facts and you are asking reporters to go look, to confirm those facts.

KURTZ: Lanny, you've also drawn from flak -- for an interview with Anderson Cooper in which you said, you appeared to say you were not a source for CNN, was that untrue?

DAVIS: So in my mind, again, I apologized for saying something that was not intentionally a misleading sentence. But in my mind, I wasn't sure of that story that was published, so I didn't think of myself as a source for that story. But I left that impression and I am very sorry I didn't explain myself better to Anderson Cooper. I have really no excuse, other than it was a long day and I should have expanded on my sentence. I was not a source for that particular story, because I couldn't be certain. But I don't blame either Mr. Bernstein or Mr. Sciutto (ph) for doing whatever they did in interpreting what I said. I should have been more clear and it certainly is a learning moment for me.

KURTZ: But also to be clear with CNN sticking by this story, you are saying now, as Michael Cohen's lawyer, that you don't believe your client had any direct knowledge that the president allegedly, supposedly, extensively knew in advance about the Trump Tower meeting with the Russian lawyers, am I right on that?

DAVIS: Again, you can't -- I can't tell you what Mr. Cohen has told me, except that I can say to you that I'm not sure he did, and that it requires additional reporting. And I'm not sure he did not. I know that there is a lot of fuzzy memories here. There are people in and out of the room with Mr. Trump all the time. I've heard somebody -- maybe close to Mr. Trump or used to be a Steve Bannon say, of course he knew, his son would have told him ahead of time.

KURTZ: That's an assumption.

DAVIS: That's the key mistake.

KURTZ: Yeah.

DAVIS: And I take the responsibility. An assumption is not a fact.

KURTZ: So you are coming forward and you're saying you made a mistake. And that's pretty rare in Washington. But is there a difference in the way things get processed by the media between a mistake and a lie?

DAVIS: So that's really an important question, Howard. But I wrote in my book on the election and I saw Jim Comey through data as the decisive reason for Donald Trump being president and an illegitimate presidency if it was the result of an intervention 11 days out by James Comey.

KURTZ: Illegitimate through characterization.

DAVIS: Yes, illegitimate and that the data shows that after October 28, Hillary Clinton's polls plunged.

KURTZ: There are a lot of the reasons she lost. Anyway, your point about mistake.

DAVIS: Mistake is that when I wrote the book, I didn't use the word lie because lie is an intentional willful misstatement. That was not me when I talked to Anderson Cooper or when I talked to CNN. It was a mistake, but not intentional. In this case, James Comey knew what he told Congress, not that I will disclose something even 11 days from the election. I will take a look first.

KURTZ: Yeah.

DAVIS: And he has never admitted to that. And during this interviews, he never said I'm sorry, I made a mistake the way Donald Trump will never say I'm sorry I made a mistake.

KURTZ: All right.

DAVIS: The way I'm saying I am sorry, I made a mistake.

KURTZ: Finally, you know, your critics say you are a big Hillary Clinton booster, you wrote a book about how she got screwed out of the presidency, a long time friend of the former first lady, that you took on Michael Cohen's case to use him against the president where you clearly dislike and to get revenge. In other words, that your representation here has a political motive.

DAVIS: Well, there is no question that I believe that Donald Trump is an extremely divisive and harmful president. And when Michael Cohen came to me, it took me quite a while to listen to him as to why he had changed his mind about Donald Trump. And I took on the representation because he was ready to speak what he felt about Donald Trump. So certainly that was part of my motive.

KURTZ: What was it that he said to you in just -- we have about less than half a minute...

DAVIS: OK.

KURTZ: ... that made you decide yes, I, a lifelong time Democrat, want to represent Donald Trump's former lawyer.

DAVIS: Well, it's a matter of public record when he spoke to your staff and office as your answer. He suddenly saw Mr. Trump denouncing the intelligence community, questioning the fact that indisputable intervention in his behalf, that I knew that his now conversion, a true transformation was important for the country and I would help him get those facts out.

KURTZ: All right. Lanny Davis, not an easy thing to do, a difficult week for you, thanks very much.

DAVIS: Thank you, Howard. Thank you.

KURTZ: Coming up, why Pope Francis deflected allegations that he hated the sexual misconduct cover-up by asking journalists to investigate.

And later, the fury over the leaking of the president's off-the-record comments on Canada.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Pope Francis has been very media savvy, but when reporters on his plane asked him about a stunning memo accusing him of covering up some of the church's worst sexual abuses, he sides step and turned it back on them, quote, read the document carefully and judge it for yourselves. I will not say one word on this.

The memo was written by the former Vatican ambassador to the United States Archbishop Carlo Vigano who was recalled by Francis. He charged that ousted former cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, whose alleged sexual abuse of children and young adults has been extensively reported by New York Times was actually punished earlier by former Pope Benedict. And that Vigano told us that Pope Francis who ignored the sanctions, he says, and perpetuated the cover-up.

And here is the key media angle. Archbishop Vigano took his charges to Italian journalist Marco Tosatti, who helped him write the letter. There was no documentation. And then provided it to the National Catholic Register owned by a right-leaning Catholic news company, which is often critical of the Pope. Joining us now, Fr. Tom Reese, a Jesuit priest and commentator for Religion News Service, and former religion reporter, Mollie Hemingway, is back with us. Father, why would the Pope tell reporters on his plane to check out the document full of accusations, knowing full well that that would be seen as not denying the allegations?

FR. THOMAS REESE, RELIGION NEWS SERVICE: Well, I think the Pope made a mistake. You know, I think he was correct in telling the reporters hey, look at the document, analyze it, and try and fact-check it. Because frankly, if that document had been written by a journalist and given to their editor, it would never have been published, because it was full of allegations without any evidence and proof to support the allegations.

KURTZ: So what was the mistake in your view?

REESE: His mistake was you know he said he met with the Pope and told him about these sanctions, and told him about the abuse, the seminarians by Cardinal McCarrick. All the Pope needed to do was either verify that that, say yes it did happen, or no, it did not happen. That's what he needed to do.

KURTZ: Mollie, there is a cultural war going on in the church with Francis, seen as taking a more tolerant approach, to gays, to divorce, opposite factions seeing Vigano as part of that. But what do you make of this New York Times' headline, Francis takes High Road as Conservatives Pounce, Making Criticisms Public?

HEMINGWAY: I was going to mention that headline because I thought it was so inappropriate. What reporters need to do is look into the allegations that have been made. They are happy to work with anonymous sources who provide no evidence, as the previous segment just showed us. But when they have allegations coming from someone on the record that can be checked out, their job is not to put it in the context of a culture war, although that is also interesting, it is to check out the allegations. Don't assume Pope Francis is guilty, don't assume Archbishop Vigano is lying. Get to the facts and report. People have the right to know whether -- what is going on here.

KURTZ: Father, do you find anything questionable that an Italian journalist helping Archbishop Vigano write this memo, he turned off his phone when he went to the guy's apartment, so he wouldn't be tracked, giving it to the National Catholic Register, and Vigano first conferring with the conservative board member of the register's parent company, EWTN? Does it look a little bit like collusion?

REESE: Well, Italian journalism is very different from American journalism. There is no big distinction between you know the editorial page, the commentary, the op-ed page, and news stories. You know, the papers have strong ideological biases, one way or the other. So that a reporter did this in Italy is not a surprise at all.

KURTZ: You said, Mollie, look, it's fine for journalists to take a skeptical attitude towards Vigano's charges. He himself has been accused of obstructing investigations, he denies that. But how could we have a situation where Pope Benedict supposedly secretly imposed sanctions against Theodore McCarrick, who is a major figure here as the head of the Catholic Church inch D.C. and nobody knew about it?

HEMINGWAY: Well, I think the allegation is that McCarrick knew about it and he was told to keep -- to lay low. And he declined to do it.

KURTZ: Right. New York Times reporting this morning that he went to a lot of public events for the church:

HEMINGWAY: Yeah. But I think that's actually what is interesting here. People, instead of thinking about which team they are on, at best, Benedict took a very light punishment to someone who had we now know very credible allegations of abuse.

KURTZ: Yes, horrible abuse.

HEMINGWAY: So it's not like he even looks particularly good, even if he might look better than Francis for lifting that light punishment, which is validation being made. But again, we just have so much we need to know.

KURTZ: Yeah, in this case, tangled because McCarrick's successor here in Washington, and this Cardinal Donald Wuerl, is also under pressure to resign because of the devastating Pennsylvania grand jury report on all kinds of -- decades of sexual abuse. And Wuerl was accused of rehiring or reassigning priests who had already been found guilty of sexual abuse when he was in Pittsburgh. What gets lost in all of this, I think I fear is the unspeakable toll on young boys and young men over 50 years now.

HEMINGWAY: And that is what people should be caring about so much. Two years ago, there was an Academy Award for Best Picture given for the movie about the journalist uncovering abuse at the Boston Globe.

KURTZ: Spotlight.

HEMINGWAY: And now, it seems like they're running interference for the current situation, to not hold people accountable. You look at what happens, you know, even with this media rollout that you're talking about, well, even when people are trying to bring attention to these things, they get so such resistance from people, even in the media. That is very unfortunate to see when people should be caring a lot more about systematic corruption in the Church and how to avoid it in the future.

KURTZ: I have been reading anguished pieces by Catholics columnists who are grappling with this, one from there saying he has left the church, E.J. Dionne, a noted political commentator saying he's struggling to answer the question why do you stay in the Church? And so, journalists covering this, commenting on it, but those who are Catholics are in anguish.

REESE: Absolutely. I mean, this has been a real challenge to everybody in the church. But again, the focus has to be on the victims. They are the ones who are really hurt by this, tragically scared. And the church needs to respond to that and reach out to them.

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: I believe the focus has to be on the victims and the focus also have to be on not just to call for Pope Francis to resign, which is what Vigano wants, but holding accountable those who are responsible for this horrible views.

REESE: Absolutely. There is no question about that. We have to have systems in place, that if there is an accusation of cover-up that the bishop isn't protecting children, it needs to be investigated. It needs to be tracked down. And if it's true, he needs to lose his job.

KURTZ: Fr. Tom Reese, Mollie Hemingway, thanks very much for joining us on this very difficult subject.

Still to come, a report that President Trump wanted to buy up all the National Inquirer's secrets about him that goes back decades.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: President Trump made some off-the-record comments about nasty negotiations with Canada in an interview with Bloomberg News, which didn't report them. But the Toronto Star, not bound by the agreement, found out the president said he wasn't going to compromise, but it would be insulting to Canada, if he said so publicly.

The leak disrupted the trade talks. Justin Trudeau had to respond. And Trump blamed quote, dishonest reporting, saying wow, I made off-the-record comment records to Bloomberg concerning Canada and this powerful understanding was blatantly violated. Trump wants Bloomberg to apologize. But Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale says he's smearing the Bloomberg interviewers and they were not his source. I'm not saying who his source actually was.

The National Inquirer buying and burying that story of former Playboy model Karen McDougal may just be the tip of the iceberg. Now, that Inquirer publisher and Trump pal, David Pecker, has been given immunity by prosecutors. The New York Times reports that Donald Trump had a plan to buy up all the so-called dirt that the tabloid supposedly vacuumed up on him since the 1980s. That would be pretty expensive, no. But the deal never happened.

And by the way, New York's Village Voice, which was a pioneer of the sort of alternative weekly culture, in its hay-day had published an awful lot of groundbreaking investigative reporting. It was certainly liberal, but it was also the model for similar papers around the country died this week, a victim of all kinds of trends that have hurt print publications and at the same time, a lots of these other city papers have either shrunk, shriveled, or gone away. And so, RIP Village Voice.

That's it for this edition of Media Buzz. I'm Howard Kurtz. I hope you're enjoying this Labor Day weekend. You know, ratings go up and down, but I want to take a moment to thank all of you. This program had more viewers in August than any CNN show in primetime, in primetime, or any time. We appreciate that. And for loyal audience to make this possible, let's continue the conversation on Twitter and on our Facebook page, where you can see my daily columns and original videos. And you can comment and I'll comment right back.

You might want to subscribe to my new podcast, "Media Buzz Meter." We kick around the day's five most important or fascinating or buzzy stories. You can subscribe at Apple iTunes, Google Play, FoxNewsPodcasts.com, wherever quality Podcasts are sold or rented or whatever you do with Podcast.

Thanks again for watching. Enjoy the holiday. We'll be back next Sunday with the latest buzz.

Content and Programming Copyright 2018 Fox News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2018 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.