Cop-killing blame game; a year of mistakes and mishaps

This is a rush transcript from "MediaBuzz," December 28, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: This is the Fox News Alert. An AirAsia flight from Indonesia to Singapore has gone missing. The families of the 162 passengers onboard are waiting for some word, any word of what has happened to their loved ones. Amazing that this happened again. Let's get the latest on the search efforts from David Piper. David.

DAVID PIPER, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Howie. Yes, AirAsia's chief executive Tony Fernandez has been holding a news conference in Surabaya, Indonesia. He flew there immediately after the plane went missing. He said at the news conference, the pilot did radio in that they were facing severe weather. He also said the pilot had 20,000 hours flying experience, 6,000 with AirAsia. He didn't, though, have any news on the whereabouts of the plane.

The search for the missing aircraft has been suspended at the moment because of the bad weather here in Southeast Asia. The region has been hard hit by heavy rains in recent days, causing severe flooding in nearby Malaysia. Indonesia air traffic control lost contact with the plane over 12 hours ago. The AirAsia flight was on its way from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore. It had 162 passengers and crew on board. The vast majority of those on board were Indonesian. The Airbus 320 was about two hours into its three hour journey to Singapore when it disappeared from radar screens. Indonesian search and rescue planes have been looking for it in the Java Sea, but so far without success. They expect to go out at first flight again. Back to you, Howie.

KURTZ: David Piper, thanks very much for the update. We'll be continue to follow this story this hour an all day, you can also get the latest updates from the scrolling at the bottom of your Fox News screen.

Now to the rest of our program, the finger pointing began soon after two Brooklyn police officers were shot and killed in their squad car by a deranged gunman who had ranted on Instagram about the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. And quickly killed himself. Suddenly, there was lots of impassioned debate over who else was to blame.


RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: We've had four months of propaganda starting with the president that everybody should hate the police.

JASON RILEY, WALL STREET JOURNAL EDITORIAL BOARD: You know, what we've learned over the years is that when someone like Al Sharpton injects himself into rationally contentious situations, people tend to get killed.

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: To blame the mayor and others, is not what we need. I have instructed our attorneys. Last night, I began receiving threatening phone calls and hate.


KURTZ: So are the media playing an inflammatory role here? And what about Mayor Bill de Blasio attacking the press? Joining us now, Sharyl Attkisson, author of "Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth against the Forces of Abstraction, Intimidation and Harassment in Obama's Washington. Mercedes Schlapp, a commentator and political consultant and former spokeswoman in the Bush White House. And Michael Tomasky, columnist for The Daily Beast. So what do you make of the whole media debate, the whole argument that some people have blood on their hands over these shootings?

SHARYL ATTKISSON, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Well, if that were true, wouldn't some in the media be likewise guilty of the same thing for the kind of reporting that they put on the air? As I said before, I think with few exceptions, people who commit violence are the ones responsible for the violence. Not other people for supposedly inciting them. But there is a delicate balance. And people do look to their leaders for signals and cues which are sometimes misread. I certainly don't think any leaders meant to telegraph that it was OK to commit violence or hurt police officers. I will say, and I'm not - certainly not blaming the administration for inciting violence, I don't think that they did.

But I talked with you on this program about the fact that after Ferguson happened, the president and the attorney general did not come out after the grand jury decision and say in strong terms that maybe they disagree with certain aspects, but they supported the grand jury. Things have been explained, they supported the system. They fell short of sort of endorsing the action that happened in Ferguson.

KURTZ: It is fine to criticize politicians for what they say, or don't say on these sensitive issues. When you have Rudy Giuliani, Bernie Kerik, former New York police commissioner and former convicted felon talking about blood on the hands for de Blasio and Sharpton, and a lot of this has been on Fox, people making this argument. Is it fair?

MERCEDES SCHLAPP, FORMER BUSH WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: Well, I mean what's happening is that you're seeing that it's an emotional debate. I mean this is escalating. Racial tensions in the city. Again, Mayor de Blasio has not been able to - right balance between talking about the police officers and as well as dealing with the demonstrations.

KURTZ: What about the media's responsibility for giving these people a platform?

SCHLAPP: Well, he and guess what - he went right after the media.

KURTZ: We'll come to that at the moment.

SCHLAPP: He did go after the media on this, but you've got to be thinking that he's in a position right now where he's trying to figure out that right balance. And so, it's very easy for all the politicians on both sides to go after - go after Mayor de Blasio and what's happening in New York, but at the end, we need to be thinking - forward thinking. What's going to happen next? How is he going to create that bond between - and calm the city down?

KURTZ: What do you think about the way that the media have framed this story and going back again to former Mayor Giuliani. "We've had four months of propaganda starting with the president that everyone should hate the police. Hate the police? I haven't seen ...

MICHAEL TOMASKY, THE DAILY BEAST SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I haven't seen Barack Obama say that and I don't think anyone has seen Barack Obama say that. But Howard, I was a reporter in New York City for a long time, as you know, and you were, too. We know that tabloid culture pretty well.


TOMASKY: That tabloid culture is rough and tumble. And it's very - it will highlight tensions and it will bring tensions to the surface and make it much tougher and much starker than it would be in cities that don't have tabloid newspapers. It is just a fact about tabloid journalism. And I think tabloid journalism is also ...

KURTZ: Is driving this because of the nature in New York that everybody is pebbled (ph) if you have a sports team is losing and the manager gets pebbled if you have the city that seems out of control, the mayor gets pebbled.

TOMASKY: That's right. And it really - it really heightens this and it really brings it into much darker relief than it would in a city that didn't have this kind of media. And this kind of media drives these conversations in New York. And it needs polls. It needs polls. It needs pro-cop, anti-cop. And that's how It needs to advance its narrative.

KURTZ: You know, my complain is that both sides do this when in time of tragedy. So, I remember just a few years back after the Tucson shooting when Gaby Giffords was wounded, I mean I ripped Keith Olbermann and some other liberal pundits who were saying, oh, it was Sarah Palin's fault because she made a political map with - he was talking about the Democrats who she wanted defeated. I don't think that it was right then and I don't think it's right now. Fine to criticize the mayor, Al Sharpton have criticized on this program a lot, but to tie it to a murder, two murders by a crazy guy seems to me to be over the line.

ATTKISSON: It's somewhat inflammatory. I go back to looking at this whole thing framed in the initial media coverage what happened to Ferguson - in Ferguson. The idea of that, the misreporting not intentionally, but in the heat of not knowing all of the facts, the misreporting that occurred in the beginning, the incorrect narrative that formed. I wonder if we'd be where we are today if that hasn't taken hold in a very beginning, destroy that, you know, he had held his hands up and ...


KURTZ: That Michael Brown was an innocent victim.


KURTZ: And somebody who - We only much later learned attacked Officer Darren Wilson in his police car.

ATTKISSON: If those things had been known earlier, and I'm not saying there is an answer to solved this problem, but if some of those things had been known earlier I wonder if things would have gotten as out of hand as they had.

SCHLAPP: But you know, it doesn't help when the politicians throw themselves in there. For example, it was even President Obama that came out on November 24 saying after the Michael Brown killing that, you know, there were media has a responsibility. You all are the ones targeting these - these, you know, individuals, these protesters and the violence makes for good television. Well, that in and of itself is something that, you know, again, that the media really has to look at and say, you know, they want to present the story, but with Michael Brown, I agree. They went forth and they basically said, you know, he put his hands up and they went with that narrative.

KURTZ: But thinking of the television, I'd like to ask you, it makes the point that in New York City, you know, you have a lot of this driven by the culture created by the daily news and the New York Post. But for cable television, loves argument, loves this emotionally charged, sometimes racially charged crisis, because you book guests with different opinions and they go at it. Isn't that part of what's going on here?

SCHLAPP: Well, I think when you look at the media itself, they did really take an initial role, especially with the Michael Brown case where they went with that narrative of basically saying, you know, he probably put his hands up. In the case of Eric Garner, you did have the video. So, there - I think you found that the media was a lot more unified in how they reported.

KURTZ: Yeah. The difference in the way those two cases were treated was striking because of the existence of that bystanders' video. What bothers me is that it takes the spotlight off the victims in this case, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu and their families and it puts it on sort of war in politicians and pundits.

TOMASKY: It does. And, you know, do you have any suggestions for how to change that? No, because I don't think that can change. And you make a very valid point about cable news. And another thing that has happened with cable news is that it blurs the line between journalists and others. You know, so - you don't necessarily - you need -you need a pro and an anti- -- I'm not saying you personally. I mean cable news needs a pro and an anti-and they don't necessarily have to be and usually aren't reporter that you were on the scene.

KURTZ: There is no law that says that's the only way to do cable news, and I understand opinion cells and conflict cells, but especially at times like this, I wish we could take a slightly more enlightened approach, at least on many programs. All right, we mentioned the mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio. At a press conference he rarely went after the media. Let's take a look.


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, NEW YORK: What are you guys going to do? Are you going to keep dividing us? The few who want conflict attempt that and unfortunately so many times you guys enable that. I don't see reports on the many decent good people. I don't see reports on the every day cops who do the exemplary thing and hold the line and show restraint and discipline no matter what invective is hurled at them.


KURTZ: Does de Blasio have a point?

ATTKISSON: Well, for a politician to be lecturing the media just seems a little silly to me. What he's saying that he didn't see positive stories on police officers doing good things, was he holding a press conference at the time and highlighting positive stories on a city wide scale of police officers that have done positive things? I think that there's plenty of blame to go around, but I think that's a little misplaced for him to be lecturing the media.

KURTZ: De Blasio said one thing that I thought was wrong, which you said there. You all when you are talking to the journalists in that room are portraying that those protesters who were chanting, you know, horrible stuff like dead cops and KKK as the majority. I don't think so. But it's also true that any time you cover a demonstration, you know, we do tend to gravitate toward the most extreme voices. Is that true?

TOMASKY: Yeah, that is true. That is true. You know, I think he made some reasonable points in that little (INAUDIBLE) of his. However, there is no profit for a mayor, for any politician to be doing that. Because you're just not going to win that fight.

KURTZ: And Al Sharpton, you know, I've said, you know, this blood on the hands things shouldn't extend to him. But, you know, I've criticized many times his overlapping roles as civil rights agitator, I would say and MSNBC host, and then the mayor asked all the protesters to just, you know, temporarily delay any more demonstration until after the police funerals, Al Sharpton says no.

SCHLAPP: That's right. I mean he actually, I think he just needs to find his way. He doesn't know exactly what he - he wants to be everything, a jack-of-all-trades. And so, and Al Sharpton, if he really wants to be that nation's next civil rights leader by causing such friction again in a city that's I think right now is just - it's suffering, I mean we - they've seen mass of tragedy, I mean it's out of point that for Al Sharpton himself to put himself in a position where he's basically saying don't, you know, we're not stopping the protests, we're moving forward and not respecting these slain officers and their families.

KURTZ: And, of course, the protests turned track media coverage. All right, Sharyl, we'll see you a little later and we'll keep you posted this hour on that missing AirAsia flight as we try to get some more information about what happened to that plane.

Ahead a look at whether the media went too far in scaring the country over Ebola. But when we come back, did media pressure for a Sony to flip flop and show its controversial film on Christmas day?


KURTZ: Here is the latest in the search for that missing AirAsia flight 8501, which Indonesia says lost contact with controllers somewhere over the Java Sea. 45 minutes after taking off from Surabaya on route to Singapore this morning, dense storm clouds blanketed the area at the time of the disappearance. Air searchers are suspended right now until daylight over there, but ships are still combing the area. Meanwhile, relatives of the 162 passengers on board are waiting for some word, any word on the plane's fate. We will bring you all the latest developments this hour and throughout the day here on Fox.

Sony Pictures - Sony Pictures completed its flip-flop this week, making its controversial film available in a few hundred theaters and online after insisting it couldn't do either of those things. After Seth Rogen showed up at one L.A. premier and greeted the audience with an "f" bomb welcome. All this after Sony had pulled the comedy about assassinating Kim Jong-un on the pressure from hackers aligned with North Korea. And Mercedes Schlapp, Sony said we can't possibly put it into theaters. We have no plans to release it online and does a complete 180 and does both of those things. They said the president didn't understand, the press didn't understand, does Sony need to admit it made a mistake here?

SCHLAPP: Well, I think that first of all, the theaters didn't want the movie "The Interview", right? They were basically like - they didn't want to touch it. In fact, everyone in the business, they don't even want to get near those ...

KURTZ: It's radioactive.

SCHLAPP: Very toxic. So. You know, I think for Sony what's been difficult is that they haven't been able to really come up with a very strong price as communication center. They just hired Judy Smith, which is the scandal inspired Olivia Pope character. And so, they really - you know, I think they were in that shock. They realized, we are in big trouble. We have a natural government going after us. These hackers going after us and they're basically the victims of the cyber-attack.

KURTZ: Do you think Sony did because of all of the media criticism and condemnation about how it had caved and this was all blow against free expression?

TOMASKY: I think the main reason they did it is they started to smell the odor of big cash, if they got it into the theaters.

KURTZ: They're going to lose truckloads of money on this?

TOMASKY: Yeah, I guess it is, but it's going to lose less. But I think there was media pressure. But also, and perhaps more importantly, social media pressure. All that Hollywood people sending out those tweets about how craven Sony was and everything. I mean that probably mattered more than what we think of this official media.

KURTZ: But I can't argue that it may have been in part a financial decision trying to recoup it. But you talk about Sony's PR strategy. I mean in all of this, there was one interview given by Sony pictures CEO Michael Lynton on CNN. Would you have advised the company that was the way to go?

SCHLAPP: Absolutely not. You know, I think there is where you have an opportunity to do a press conference where you're able to really reach out to - and he actually made news in that interview, and so I think the mere fact that he could have made that more broad and explain what Sony was going through, the impacts that the employees were having, you know, I think that there was an opportunity for them to really come out strong and explain the seriousness of the situation.

KURTZ: You're saying it shouldn't have just been on CNN?

SCHLAPP: Absolutely right. I would have encouraged Fox, quite frankly.

TOMASKY: No Fox ...


KURTZ: I've got half a minute. Has this all set a precedent that if hackers don't like some media product, they can get into the e-mails and intimidate a company and make that company cower?

TOMASKY: I'd like to say no, but I think I have to - I think I have to say yes. And ...

KURTZ: It's going to happen to any media or any company?

TOMASKY: We live in a world where the legal departments have too much power and they're always going to advise you to take no chance.

SCHLAPP: And quite frankly, we need the government to be involved in this process. I mean clearly, there is a room for bipartisan legislation to get this law on cybersecurity.

KURTZ: That's the way we will continue. Mercedes Schlapp, Michael Tomasky, thanks very much.

Ahead, as Fox News covers the missing plane from AirAsia today, we take a look back at why the media went haywire over the disappearance of that Malaysian flight 370 back in March.

But up next, Frank Luntz, on whether the media exacerbate racial tensions.


KURTZ: Updating you now on the search for AirAsia flight 8501, the area was filled with dense storm clouds at the 4400 feet, at the time that the plane lost contact with air controllers on the ground. The last message received before the disappearance was the pilot asking to make an elevated turn to raise his elevation to avoid that rough weather. 162 people are on board the airbus A 320-200, that was en route to Singapore. We will bring you the latest developments this hour and throughout the day as we get them.

In the wake of the saturation coverage of police confrontations in Ferguson and Staten Island and now the murder of two officers in Brooklyn, the media have been consumed by racially charged issues. Fox News contributor Frank Luntz raised the subject with a focus group for CBS.


FRANK LUNTZ, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: But I need to ask you are race relations in America getting better or getting worse?




LUNTZ: So you go right to politics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right to politics.

LUNTZ: Right to politics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because we have a president who has made everything political.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can leave right now and walk down this street and police can see me and kill me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not even close to being true. That's not even close to being true. I work with the police every day, OK? And the mandates basically is to deter crime.


KURTZ: And Frank Luntz joins me now from Las Vegas. Frank, when it comes to these racially charged stories, how much are the people that you talk to influenced by the media coverage?

LUNTZ: I think it's significant. And you can tell in the passion and the fact that they go right to politics. I blame the politicians first. Because that's where they go to first. I didn't tell them -- we had not mentioned the word Barack Obama at all. And it was brought up by the group instantly. The second thing that they will complain is that whatever they watch, that they think there's a media bias depending on what network, what program they're watching. And they always assume that based on what they're watching, the other side isn't telling the truth. And so we can't have a civil, normal conversation about an important issue because it just seems like that -- what is being said is deliberately done to provoke.

KURTZ: So you're saying that people who watch Fox News or MSNBC, for example, feel that the other channel or another source that's on the left or the right, or leans left or right, isn't giving them the full picture, so everybody has got their own set of what they believe are the facts?

LUNTZ: And that is the problem. It's that we don't watch news any more to inform us. We watch news to basically agree ...

KURTZ: Reinforce?

LUNTZ: ... with what we already believe, to reinforce. And so you saw that, you saw the intensity there. If there was one issue that we should be able to discuss in a civil, quiet, meaningful way, it is race relations. And that group is the best group that I have ever done. In fact, Howie, I may never do another focus group because they told the truth. They spoke as how they saw it. And the problem was, there is no one or nothing that is bringing people together. There are no threads that bring white and black, bring young and old, bring rich and poor, all those threads that once held society together and the media used to report on it ...

KURTZ: Right.

LUNTZ: ... is now frayed.

KURTZ: It's everybody knows, Frank, that black Americans and white Americans view these criminal justice issues and confrontation with police very differently. But "Washington Post" poll out this morning had interesting statistics, two-thirds saying that ideology plays a role. Two thirds of white Republicans believe the criminal justice system treats whites - as equally, only 30 percent of white Democrats have that same believe.

LUNTZ: And that ideology. But that is the problem is that we're pulling ourselves apart by every possible way. And it's not just the media. It's also social media, it's also the fact that even things we watch on the Web, the people that we talk to.

Howie, we did a survey a few months ago and we asked the question, have you lost a friend because of politics? And over half of Americans say that someone who they've been close to, they no longer talk to because they disagree with them. It never used to be that way. And I don't see a solution.

KURTZ: Yeah, it is a whole different realm now, it's not just people listening to a television set. It's engaging with their friends or sometimes they are former friends online, and that has become the polarizing area, too. A fascinating focus group for this, Frank Luntz, we really appreciate it. Thanks for joining us this morning from Las Vegas.

LUNTZ: It's a pleasure. Thank you.

KURTZ: Coming up, we plunge into the media's mistakes and missteps for 2014. We need another hour for that.

And later, Rolling Stone decides it needs some help to dig out of its journalistic mess.


ERIC SHAWN, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: This is a Fox News alert. I'm Eric Shawn. A packed airliner carrying 162 people vanishes in severe weather. AirAsia Flight 8501 disappearing early Sunday morning. 42 minutes after taking off from Indonesia bound for Singapore. Air traffic control saying the pilot did request a change in the plane's course because of heavy thunderstorms. The airliner lost from radar over the Java Sea, that's between Malaysia and Indonesia. The aircraft is an Airbus 320-200. One of the most widely used in aviation today. And as we wait for answers on the plane's fate (ph), heartbreaking pictures of those families waiting helplessly for news on their loved ones who are aboard the plane.

It is now just after 11:30 at night in Asia, darkness forcing a suspension of search and rescue operations. They are set to resume at daybreak, in about seven and a half hours from now. The NTSB saying it is ready to help in the investigation if asked. We'll have more at the top of the hour. I'm Eric Shawn.

KURTZ: From the Ebola scare to the missing Malaysian flight 370, amazing that we're dealing with another missing plane today, this has been a wild year and sometimes an embarrassing year for the media. That includes plenty of self-inflicted wounds.


BRIAN WILLIAMS: Our broadcast today, Ebola death in this country.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: It's like (inaudible) Ebola.

DON LEMON, CNN: A lot of people have been asking me about that, about black holes and on and on and on. It is preposterous, but is it preposterous, do you think, Mary?

GERALDO RIVERA, FOX NEWS: My favorite theory, the 5 percent theory, is that because of some secret passenger or some secret cargo, the aircraft was hijacked and landed someplace.

ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: I don't think it was a suicide mission. I think this was a well funded, high-tech hijack operation, and it's sitting somewhere in the jungle.


KURTZ: Joining us now to examine the media's performance this past year, Fred Francis, former NBC News correspondent, now with David Zurawik, television and media critic for the Baltimore Sun. And Sharyl Attkisson is back with us. Fred, again, amazing that we're talking about this on a day when there's another missing plane. But that Malaysian plane back in March was a tragedy that became a punchline, as we just saw, with each new false theory or bogus sighting of debris.

FRED FRANCIS, FORMER NBC CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. Don Lemon of CNN saying, is it so preposterous that we could not talk about a black hole? What's preposterous is he's still on that network talking about stuff like that, that's what's preposterous. And it wasn't just Don Lemon. It was the producers of CNN. The graphics that went along with that segment had the twilight zone in it, and gone, you know, lost. It was a whole --

KURTZ: Like a bad reality show.

FRANCIS: It was a bad reality show.

KURTZ: And everybody did it, but CNN was the network that stayed with it for weeks and weeks after most other news organizations had kind of moved on.

DAVID ZURAWIK, BALTIMORE SUN: I think part of it was look, at that period of time with CNN, with a new president, they were sort of doing anything but news. They were looking for new nonfiction formulas.

KURTZ: This was news, just was news that nobody could explain.

ZURAWIK: Except they covered it as world's greatest mysteries or one of the reality kinds of shows. And they thought that formula, whether it's Anthony Bourdain or Mike Rowe, all of these different formulas they're going to of nonfiction programming, this was the one that looked like news, felt like news, but they could treat it like a mystery, like "48 Hours." What happened to this plane? World's great mysteries in aviation. Those kinds of shows that are on the Discovery Channel. I think so when you get to Don Lemon or somebody sitting there, and actually, Lemon got worse at one point when he said do you think it's maybe something beyond our understanding?

KURTZ: Supernatural forces. But let me go to Sharyl, because a lot of people made fun of CNN, and we talk about black holes, but the ratings went up. Which kind of feels that they were giving the people what they want argument.

ATTKISSON: There's a problem with the argument, you're giving people what they want. Because I like to tell people, you know, if you put on topless anchors to read the news, your ratings would go up. But that's not your mandate. At some point, you don't just give people what they want. You have to decide what's really newsworthy and what's good for your audience.

KURTZ: You can say that because you're wearing a turtleneck today.

ATTKISSON: Exactly. But I would argue some of the problem I had with the wall to wall coverage, I mean, there's nothing wrong with asking a lot of questions about this mystery. A huge mystery. But what didn't make the news, and I would even go so far as to argue there are some gatekeepers occasionally who look for excuses if there are controversies that they don't agree with and they don't want to cover. They look for excuses to cover these weather stories or these general controversies like the plague (ph), and they say, oh sorry, we didn't have time to cover these other stories.

KURTZ: I hope we get some answers on this missing plane that was bound for Singapore, and it doesn't turn into another one of these 24-hour day speculation fests. But let me move on to Ebola. I'll come to you, Fred. With the benefit of hindsight, those weeks when it was Ebola, Ebola, Ebola, and not just on television, in newspapers, everywhere, was the punditry out of control?

FRANCIS: In my view, it was not. In my view, it was the only thing wrong with the coverage both television and print was that every story should have started with and ended with you cannot get Ebola unless it's body fluids.

KURTZ: Excuse me, that's a pretty big caveat, because the deafening volume of all that coverage conveyed the impression, if not precisely in words, that this was an epidemic that was going to rage across the United States.

FRANCIS: Agreed. They got carried away on some of it, but they could have muted it by doing that, OK? They made so many other mistakes. I'm ashamed to say that my former network, NBC, made one of the biggest mistakes at the end. They created when Dr. Nancy Snyderman violated the involuntary -- you know, on my --

KURTZ: Her quarantine.

FRANCIS: Her quarantine.

KURTZ: For which she later apologized.

FRANCIS: On my blog, 15 Seconds, we called it a bone headed move, and it was embarrassing for everybody.


ZURAWIK: Howie, if the purpose of journalism is to give information to people, verified information they need to live better lives, I cannot condemn the media for going full boor on Ebola early on. And look it, this is an administration that had given reassurances on other stuff and it wasn't right. We were told the protocols are fine and then we found out they weren't. OK? So in a way, maybe media kicked the administration and some other folks in the butt and limited some of the damage of this. So I agree with Fred, at the end, it went crazy. Snyderman, that's one of the reason people hate the press. The press thinks it does not have to follow quarantines and things like that. There were excesses, no doubt about it, but I don't think -- I think when you look back, it's easy to say overkill, but I think essentially it started out doing its job correctly.

KURTZ: I still think the tone and the volume got out of control. And then the story sort of vanishes. It came back a little bit because there was a mistake in the CDC lab in Atlanta and a worker may have been exposed.

FRANCIS: Only Africans are dying now.

KURTZ: You've made the point. But Sharyl, you believe there was some benefit to the saturation coverage?

ATTKISSON: I agree with my colleagues. They touched upon the idea that there was so much media coverage, made the government do a 180 in what it was planning to do to try to keep Ebola out of this country. They changed their policies at the airport. They created SWAT teams. They weren't going to do any of that but for the media coverage and the public outcry over all of this.

KURTZ: The big story that I don't think got enough coverage was the midterm elections. Yes, it got some attention on cable, but it was amazing. Republicans took control of the Senate, and yet, either because the producers decided that Americans were sick of politics or because the broadcast networks weren't as enthusiastic about a big Republican year as they were back in 2006 when the Democrats took control of both houses of Congress. It was just a default by the network newscasts, very little coverage. We're going to keep an eye on the AirAsia flight that is missing. We'll bring more updates to you throughout this hour and throughout the day. But next on "MediaBuzz," we'll examine the coverage of Ferguson and other racially charged police controversies. Plus, whatever happened to the heartbreaking tale of the VA scandal?


KURTZ: This is the Fox News alert. The NTSB is telling Fox News it's ready to help in the search for AirAsia flight 8501, which lost contact with air controllers over the Java Sea this morning in very stormy weather. Relatives of the 162 people on board were at airports in Indonesia and Singapore awaiting any word on the plane's fate, as we all are. Fox News will bring you any updates on the search as we get them this hour and throughout the day.

We're back with our media report card for 2014, and perhaps no story sparked as much anger and polarization as Ferguson.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go. You can move. Let's move. Let move. Let's move this way. Here's the door.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The people here are feeling like they're occupied on their streets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I need to shoot (inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't need to shoot nothing. Don't resist, I'll bust your head right here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you filming this?


AL SHARPTON, MSNBC: It's time to deal with policing.


KURTZ: David Zurawik, those clips reminding me of the clashes between journalists trying to cover that story after the initial riots and the police in that Missouri town. Looking back, how much of an inflammatory role did the media play, or not at all, in Ferguson and in the aftermath?

ZURAWIK: I think one of the things about Ferguson that we saw, Howie, that was really interesting is the tension between gatekeepers and social media, even with reporters who work for legacy publications.

KURTZ: Like the "Washington Post" reporter (inaudible)?

ZURAWIK: Exactly. That video, that shot on an iPhone shows you exactly, even if the institutions, the legacy publications, play gatekeeper, the reporters and people on the ground -- and we saw this in Gaza, too, we saw this. People posting still photographs on Twitter, raw video finding its way onto the web. That is what we saw there. So I think some of that is going to be inflammatory, I guess, is an okay word for it.

KURTZ: But you also see a positive side, as you wrote in your column this weekend. It's another way of getting out information.


FRANCIS: What I saw was so divisive to the public, the viewers, readers, were so many anchors and people on television as guests use the word Michael Brown was murdered. Even after the grand jury thing.

KURTZ: Even after we knew there had been this confrontation in the patrol car?

FRANCIS: They used the word murdered.

KURTZ: It's the whole hands up, don't shoot narrative.

FRANCIS: Exactly.


FRANCIS: And that got played over and over and over again. And very rarely did we hear the fact that Michael Brown, in fact, committed a strong-arm robbery prior to, which was on video. And I play that juxtaposition to what happened in New York, where everything was on video, and nothing quite --

KURTZ: The Staten Island choking case.

FRANCIS: The Staten Island choking case. And it was not so inflammatory. Still protests, but not riots.

KURTZ: It does seem, Sharyl, that everybody, I shouldn't say everybody, that many in the media seem to choose up sides on these incidents as they happen.

ATTKISSON: Here is a problem, too. If you have any experience at all in journalism, what you've learned, at least what I learned as a young reporter, when you think something is obvious and you think you have everything nailed down in a developing situation, nine out of ten times, there is something you don't yet now that you're going to be wrong about. Things were not couched enough in the beginning I think of the Ferguson coverage. You were right when you said the police weren't telling their side of the story.

KURTZ: We were getting one side from Michael Brown's family and allies.

ATTKISSON: Isn't it the media's responsibility to point out and sort of speak on behalf of those who aren't speaking and start to fill in blanks of maybe reasons why they might not be speaking, other explanations that might be going on to help balance. You don't just let one side overrun the other.

KURTZ: Yes, yes, and yes. Let's have a quick once around this. The VA scandal, there were a lot of scandals this year, was one of those that really touched a lot of Americans because people were dying. The bogus waiting lists, saturation coverage. And then the head of the VA, Eric Shinseki, resigns. And the story is over and the Beltway press moves on to other outrages. Did that bother you?

ZURAWIK: It does. It absolutely bothers me. There was a story this week about Sharon Hellman from the Phoenix VA with the board upholding her firing because she took some gifts, some pretty outrageous gifts.

KURTZ: Not because of the waiting lists, yes.

ZURAWIK: But I was so happy to see any coverage. Howie, what happens with the VA is an absolute outrage. Americans everywhere should be outraged. We tell people to go in the military, we have all these pious things we say to them, and then we don't give them coverage. And worse, the administrators are crooks. They don't do their jobs.

FRANCIS: Frankly, this happens over and over again.


FRANCIS: This actually started before 2000 (ph). There is an IG report covering 2006, 2007. These kinds of stories are going to come and go. I was not upset that this one went away. Guess what? It will be back in a year or two.

KURTZ: But you experienced this when you were a network reporter. Which is there's a great appetite for the scandal du jour, and then it sort of vanishes.

ATTKISSON: I in part blame the idea that I think in this case for example, the administration, when they decide the story is done, they quit providing information, they say we've made a change, and they quit putting information out about it. The media tends to follow their lead. If they're not handed something on a platter, too often they're not digging for the story, when the agenda is not set for them, they're letting the corporation or the government set the agenda and say this is the story of the day. The administration wanted that story to go away at a certain point, thought it solved the problem, and the press went along.

KURTZ: And worse than that, is when the Beltway media decided that when the head of any agency resigns, the story is over. The political part of it may be over, but it is not. David Zurawik, Fred Francis, thanks for helping us with the year in review. After the break, a look at why media credibility continues to crumble and how much of that is our fault.


KURTZ: A massive air search is set at the begin at daylight for missing AirAsia flight 8501 over the Java Sea. That's about 6:00 p.m. Eastern. Air and sea searches so far found no sign of the Airbus A320 plane carrying 162 passengers. Plane had been flying through severe storm clouds, and the last message from the pilot said he was trying to move away from that turbulence. We'll bring you the latest developments as we get them here at Fox.

In today's Media Microscope, we're widening the lens just a little bit to look at the sinking level of credibility this past year. And Sharyl, when you look at the Rolling Stone rape story, and all the problems there, and that New York Magazine story the other week about the high school kid who supposedly made $72 million trading stocks, I think that hurts all of our reputations in this business, even though we don't work for those organizations.

ATTKISSON: I think it does. Everybody makes mistakes, that's true. But some of these are sophomoric, beginning journalism 101 mistakes that are really hard to explain and hard to accept, the idea that basic facts weren't checked, that the other side of a story, someone accused of a crime, was not consulted. These sorts of things are hard to understand, and they're things that a news organization such as yours or CBS, would never -- I don't think they would make those sorts of mistakes. But there are blurred lines now, these other quasi-news organizations are sometimes lumped in with the rest of us.

KURTZ: But these what you call quasi news organizations also are playing a bigger role in breaking stories. Example, one of the biggest stories of the year sparked an intense national debate, was the Ray Rice elevator video, beating up his fiancee. That was broken by TMZ, which paid for the tape, which I don't approve of as an old media guy, but it certainly was a big story and an important story. And the establishment media is not breaking this stuff as often as they used to.

ATTKISSON: I think the establishment media, as I've talked about in my book, has become more hesitant to go after certain stories and controversies. Unless someone else has covered it first. There's safety in numbers.

KURTZ: Somebody has to cover it first.

ATTKISSON: And you know, sometimes it is a Rolling Stone type or a blogger type thing that uncovers something like the Gruber video, for example.

KURTZ: Jonathan Gruber video on Obamacare was broken by a guy whom you've met and I interviewed on the air, Rich Weinstein, who is an investment advisor. There's still good investigative reporting out there. Don't want to leave the contrary impression, but as you experienced at CBS, when it comes to investigative reporting, there is less of it.

ATTKISSON: There's less of it. There's as you say, much still around, but it's harder fought. The reporters are having a harder time convincing the gatekeepers to do the stories and put them on the air. They're being more directed and guided as to what kinds of stories they should put on.

KURTZ: What about people who are leaving the networks, who specialize in this kind of thing, or even the "New York Times" just went through a big layoff, and buyout, big newsroom, but 100 fewer people, including a lot of very seasoned veterans.

ATTKISSON: I would say Armen Keteyian, who is the only investigative reporter in the general mix at CBS in New York left that unit before I left CBS. I was in Washington, the investigative reporter. Lisa Myers left NBC shortly after I left CBS. Michael Isikoff also left.

KURTZ: Two top investigative reporters.

ATTKISSON: This is sort of a brain drain, but there's no real concern. I don't think the networks are thinking they've lost something important. I think they're just as happy to have reporters covering the daily beat news and not coming to them every day and saying we need to do these original stories and we need to dig deeper.

KURTZ: The problem is, investigative reporting, when it's done right, it's important because it holds people accountable and public institutions accountable. Sharyl Attkisson, thanks very much. Happy new year.


KURTZ: Still to come, your top tweets. Rolling Stone calls in some journalistic reinforcements, speaking of debacles, and the station that completely botched a message of a protest against the police.


KURTZ: When "Rolling Stone's" story about the supposed gang rape at the University of Virginia collapsed, I said the magazine needed to get an outside journalist or an ombudsman to investigate how this shoddy piece of journalism was ever published. Well, owner Jan Wenner, breaking a month- long silence, has now asked a Columbia journalism school led by Pulitzer Prize winning dean Steve Coll, to examine the magazine's failure. First smart step of the whole fiasco.

Here is a media fail. WBFF, the Fox affiliate in Baltimore, totally botched a story of a demonstration against police tactics in the nation's capital.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At this rally in Washington, D.C., participants chanted, "we won't stop, we can't stop, so kill a stop."


KURTZ: Actually, what they were chanting was, "we won't stop, we can't stop until killer cops are in cell blocks." A very different message. To its credit, the station interviewed the protester who complained about the mistake, Tawanda Jones, whose brother had died in police custody last year. WBFF said in a statement, "although last night's report reflected an honest misunderstanding of what the protesters were saying, we apologize for the error."

And a media fail by the Huffington Post. After another fatal police shooting of a teenager near Ferguson. The website quoted a guy who claimed on Twitter, on Twitter, to have been an eyewitness, but then ran a correction saying this guy backed off his claim of having been there. The author, Sebastian Murdoch (ph), later saying, "I was misled, and made a foolish error. Thank you all for pointing this out."

Here are some of your top tweets. I asked the question, Do you have more or less trust in the media after 2014? John L. Pitts (ph), "less, much less and I work in media. Why? Ferguson. Drops mic." Upanet (ph), "Fox did not cover a Republican committee finding no wrongdoing in Benghazi. Partisanship." Fox did cover it, maybe not as much as you would have liked. Vikings Rule, "media don't see a story through. Affordable Care Act. Popular story when fading, now succeeding by most metrics, silence. Why?" Another one from Vikings Rule, "media ADD is also a problem. Push for ratings leaves new cycle short. Russia shooting down plane, remember that?" I liked this guy, I thought maybe we should invite him on the show, but then I checked his avatar, if we can pop it up there. There we go. I don't think he'll be appearing here.

That's it for this edition of "MediaBuzz." I'm Howard Kurtz. I hope you had a merry Christmas and a happy Hanukkah and are enjoying this holiday weekend and a New year's weekend to come. Thanks for engaging with us this past year as we take a balanced approach to critiquing the media. And for making us no. 1 in our time slot week after week. We appreciate it.

Check out our Facebook page, give us a like and become part of your buzz, where I respond to your questions and your criticism on a weekly basis. We are back here next Sunday morning, 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Eastern with the latest buzz. And remember, stay with Fox News for all the developments in the search for that missing AirAsia flight 8501 as we and everyone else struggle to find out just what happened to that plane. Thanks for watching.

Content and Programming Copyright 2014 Fox News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2014 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.