Donald Trump Jr. calls Russia probe 'disgusting'

This is a rush transcript from "Media Buzz," March 31, 2019. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On "Buzz Media" this morning, the president's son speaks out on his battle with the media during the Russia investigation. The personal toll, why he thinks the coverage is biased, whether he and his dad go too far on Twitter, and his father's enemy of the people rhetoric against the press.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, JR., SON OF PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They did a terrible disservice to this country, to journalism as a profession. I think they've done irreparable damage to the faith that the average American is going to have in terms of mainstream journalism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: A wide-ranging conversation on media, politics, and culture with Donald Trump, Jr.

The mainstream media's leaders mount a counterattack against fierce criticism including from the president that their coverage of the Mueller probe has been overdone, overhyped, and overwrought.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

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.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: The president of the United States has been lying to the American people for years now, lying that he was ever doing any business with a foreign power which was, at the same time, committing criminal acts to help get him elected president.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: This is the first time since Watergate and perhaps even before Watergate that we have had a president of the United States while in office implicated in committing crimes.

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I am outraged by the behavior of these networks.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: OK.

GIULIANI: Collusion, collusion. Collusion, collusion. Collusion, collusion. No collusion.

CUOMO: OK, here's my -- here's my case --

GIULIANI: No collusion.

CUOMO: Here's my case.

GIULIANI: Apologize.

CUOMO: Never.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST: Don't knock reporters at The New York Times or The Washington Post or The Wall Street Journal or the broadcast networks for doing their job right.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

KURTZ: Is the press, after two years of investigations, tone deaf to these complaints?

A former Democratic candidate who says Joe Biden made her cringe with an unwanted kiss takes to the airwaves this morning. Are the media now giving the former VP presidential-level scrutiny?

Plus, Jussie Smollett, who fooled much of the media with his hate crime hoax, gets off scot-free. Why the president is calling that a miscarriage of justice.

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

Donald Trump Jr. has become a highly charged political presence in his own right. Controversial, he really mixes it up on Twitter, a fierce defender of his father, naturally, and until Robert Mueller ended his investigation, a constant target of media scrutiny and speculation in the Russia probe. I sat down with the president's eldest son in New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Donald Trump, Jr., welcome.

TRUMP: Good to be with you, Howard.

KURTZ: With Robert Mueller bringing no further charges, this question: How did it feel to hear yourself constantly described in the media as being in deep trouble and possibly facing indictment?

TRUMP: Listen, it was less than fun. I mean, I guess the reality is I knew what had happened because I was actually there. While I may have been the catalyst for this, I also realized that this was a lot of nonsense that was just sort of perpetrated by the Democrats and by the media and sort of pushed mostly because they wanted it to be true. That said --

KURTZ: But there was an investigation.

TRUMP: There was. And without question, when you see sort of the gamesmanship that has been played over these last three years and, you know, the ambiguity as to how it all started and why, you certainly have to wonder.

There was an element of, you know, relief from that because as a pretty tried and true American, you don't want to hear those kinds of things, you know? Your father is a Russian agent. You know, I'm going to jail for treason. I mean, it was all nonsense and sound bites, but you don't want to hear it and it's been, you know, a pretty disgusting road.

KURTZ: I can see where it would take a toll. You say the media along with the Democrats are collusion truthers, pushing sick and twisted conspiracy theories. I don't necessarily agree with that language, but isn't that a pretty broad brush? Every reporter, every commentator, every major news outlet, nobody tried to be fair?

TRUMP: I think there were some people that tried to actually be fair. When they were actually fair, you'd see the other side just try to just obliterate them, right, even their own following. So, you know, I think there were a couple people who did good reporting, and I don't mean, you know, conservative reporters. I mean actually people on the other side. They were at least unbiased or tried to look at it objectively --

KURTZ: You're saying it was dangerous for them to try to be --

TRUMP: Oh, they lost their followings, they get ratioed to heck, you know, it became a business model for most media to attack Donald Trump and to buy into this narrative. And if you didn't, you upset a lot of people and risked your career, you risked other things.

And so, you know, the people who just bought into this hook, line, and sinker, who were selling it day in and day out, every day, this must be the truth, we've seen the evidence, we've -- they lied to the American public for two years, Howie.

There is no ramification, there is no nothing. But they did a major disservice to the people who did do a good job, small group of people who were, you know, reasonably objective and did a good job.

And more importantly, they did a terrible disservice to this country, to journalism as a profession. I think they've done irreparable damage to the faith that the average American is going to have in terms of main stream journalism. I think it is a blight on our republic, on democracy, and on our constitution that's not going to come undone very quickly.

KURTZ: You said recently Bob Mueller was using an old Stalinist tactic, you show me the man, I'll show you the crime. Now that he's closing up shop, isn't bringing any further criminal charges, do you want to revise that assessment?  TRUMP: Listen, my statement stand as to how all of this started. I mean, you know, this was a witch hunt to end all witch hunts.

KURTZ: I've heard that phrase before.  TRUMP: Heard it once or twice but --

KURTZ: Yeah. As far as how Mueller conducted himself.

TRUMP: You have 19 lawyers, all of them happened to be Hillary Clinton donors -- come on. You know, I think they could have done a much better job putting those teams together. They could have gotten rid of some of the flagrant bias that just screams to you when you look at the way this stuff was set up. The result is fine.

KURTZ: But in the end, was it fair?  TRUMP: I think so because they didn't find anything, but the reality is there was nothing there to find. Now, I don't believe for one second that there's not one person on that team whose dream it would not have been to take down Donald Trump. I stand by that 100 percent. And I think anyone who's a conservative who's seen it and anyone who's an independent and objective probably believes that.

KURTZ: As far as Donald Trump, Jr., with the benefit of hindsight, are there things you would have done differently, for example, taking the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with the Russian lawyer?

TRUMP: You know, you had a Russian lawyer who was trying a case earlier that day downtown in New York City. I'm in business. You take a hundred meetings for something that happened. You listen. You want all the information. So, I don't.

But what's frustrating to me though is that that was the basis of two, three years of investigations, nonstop this, traitor, all of the sound bites that you've heard. But the fact that that person was meeting with Fusion GPS before and after that meeting, that Hillary Clinton and the DNC were paying Fusion GPS for this information, that they paid foreign agents in foreign countries, that's no problem. That merits no investigation whatsoever --

KURTZ: Once that meeting was revealed by The New York Times, could you all have done a better job of getting the facts out?

TRUMP: The reality is this, I mean, people say, oh, we lied -- we didn't lie about it. They asked what the meeting was about. We have no obligation to tell The New York Times in a kill piece more than we want to say. But the reason they knew about it is this, we handed these e-mails over. It wasn't that The New York Times magically discovered this. We handed it over and someone leaked it. But we were being open and honest, as we have been.

You don't think for one second that the, you know, the tinfoil hat brigade, Adam Schiff, spent seven or eight hours testifying. You don't think that he gave my testimony. Those seven or eight hours of the 27 hours, you know, on a 20-minute meeting, 27 hours. You don't think that those guys were giving all of that to Mueller to make sure let's see if he lied somewhere? We were open and honest about this from moment one.

KURTZ: You mentioned Adam Schiff, the House Intel chairman, you also called him slimy, but should we get to a point now the investigation is over where the White House and Congress, where Democrats and Republicans could work together and do some things for the country and wouldn't that require taking a little bit of the --

TRUMP: I said that the other night on Tucker, actually. I'd love to see Republicans and Democrats get together. How about we work on infrastructure? Because the reality is this, look at the numbers, Howie.

Look at unemployment rates, look at your 401 K, look at the stock market, look at rising wages, you know, again, all-time low African-American unemployment, all-time low Hispanic unemployment, all-time low female unemployment. My father's record is impeccable.

KURTZ: You're talking about your father's record. Now, top aides and advisers to him have told me on many occasions that they think sometimes he steps on his own message, distracts from his own agenda with the Twitter attacks and the insults. You ever had that conversation with him?

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: This is a no-win answer, Howie.

KURTZ: I think I've struck gold.  TRUMP: Listen, I think there are times when that certainly happen. I mean, I'm guilty of it myself. You know, I think the reality -- he's a counterpuncher.

KURTZ: Yeah.

TRUMP: But the thing is this. If we lived in a fair world where fine it was 50 percent, you know, left and right and people were trying to be objective, it'd be one thing. But we live in a world where 93 percent negative coverage, of what? Of the record I just described? Of all-time low unemployment numbers, of bringing jobs back to America --

KURTZ: That's on a number of networks, yeah.  TRUMP: It's 93 percent negative on a winning record of getting things done and accomplishing things. So you have to hit back. He's got an incredible platform. He's created that for himself. I always say he plays monkey in the middle with the press because if you leave it to them, they're only going to report their narrative.

KURTZ: OK, but right after we learned no further indictments, nothing on collusion, Mueller didn't make any recommendation of obstruction, president tweeted that the MSM is corrupt and the enemy of the people, I always object to that particular language, enemy of the people, but so he's still on offense. Does that mean he's going to continue to run against journalism?  TRUMP: I don't know that he's running against journalism, he's running against fake news.

KURTZ: He says all of mainstream media.  TRUMP: But they're not even -- most are still not reporting this quite that way. They're looking for the loophole. They're looking for the disk (ph). They report, well, Bill Barr did this on the obstruction piece. No, no, Bill Barr and Rod Rosenstein who is not exactly a Trump fan, OK? I don't think anyone --

KURTZ: He's a Republican. He was appointed by the president.  TRUMP: I don't think anyone actually believes that, OK? They leave those parts out. The mainstream media has been their own worst enemy in all of this because they can't help but push the narrative that they want. Rather than the narrative --

KURTZ: What I'm saying is if the president continues through November of 2020 to talk about the Mueller investigation, how he feels was a witch hunt, he feels that he was mistreated, you know, then that also drives the coverage. Do you want to keep talking -- does your side want to keep talking about this?  TRUMP: I think you do have to talk about -- I mean, you know, I think people heard about the deep state for decades. They read about it maybe a little bit. I don't think they ever gave it all that much credence. But when you look at what is going on in the last two years, you know, that's a big part of it.

And, again, I do believe that a lot in the media -- not all, but a lot, the vast majority, the biggest names are totally complicit in this and in pushing that message. You can see, Howie, I've never as an American experienced a time where I would have thought that the Democrats would be visibly upset that the president of the United States did not actually collude with the Russians.

KURTZ: Right.

TRUMP: I mean --

KURTZ: Partisanship aside, that's a big favor to the country.

TRUMP: That a kind of a winning thing, right? Oh, it didn't happen. You would think they'd be happy about it. They're not. They wanted it to be true. That's what's scary.

KURTZ: Let me ask you about an NPR story about you late last year, I'm sure you remember this, NPR reporting that Michael Cohen's testimony about Russian Trump Tower project raised questions about your truthfulness in congressional testimony. Turns out the wrong project, you actually had talked about the other Cohen-related project, discussed throughout 2016, NPR retracted the story, said it had moved too quickly.

TRUMP: Correct. They were one of the few that did a good job of that. They actually retracted it because there were two different things, and if they read paragraph further in my testimony, they would have realized it. But that's the problem. They saw, oh, here it is, hit it. Hit send. We've got to attack.

If they would have taken fife seconds longer, they would have realized it was very clear and on the same page that they were referring to that it was two different things. Hey, there are other institutions that didn't do that. CNN did the thing where Michael Cohen testified that Donald Trump Jr. told his father about the meeting --

KURTZ: In advance, the Trump Tower meeting in advance.

TRUMP: Right. And Lanny Davis was the source, Michael Cohen's attorney. Lanny Davis --

KURTZ: That's somewhat in dispute, according to Lanny.

TRUMP: Lanny Davis then retracted it, said it wasn't true.

KURTZ: He didn't know whether it was true.

TRUMP: No, no, he said it wasn't true.

KURTZ: Now Cohen testified and he did not say that.

TRUMP: Correct. They don't even make the adjustment afterward. So they know it's false. They have people on both sides saying it's false, and they just leave it out there as gospel because it was the narrative they wanted as opposed to what actually took place.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: More of my interview with the president's son right after this as we get into his battles on Twitter and his dad's testy relationship with The New York Times.

And later, the media is starting to scrutinize Joe Biden as the former Democratic candidate publishes a piece on how uncomfortable he made her feel with a kiss on the hand.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: More now of my conversation with Donald Trump, Jr. in New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: I often say that your father has a love-hate relationship with the press, not that much love lately. So, for example --

TRUMP: You can understand that, I think.

KURTZ:  OK.

TRUMP: If you took the incoming that he took --

KURTZ: He's always railing against the failing New York Times and yet he continues to give the paper interviews, he has invited the publisher, A.G. Sulzberger, to dinner, he talks to Maggie Haberman. Does he want the paper's approval even as he criticizes The New York Times?

TRUMP: Listen, I think the reality is he's going to criticize people when he believes he is being mistreated, but he's going to give them the opportunity to try to make it right. I think in this case perhaps he's given many them too many opportunities to try to make it right.

KURTZ: You're a bit of a brawler. I suggest it may run in the family. Why do you dive into the sort of these other controversies? For example, when Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman were charged in that college admissions payoff scam, you're on Twitter saying, hey, why is everyone in Hollywood so silent?

TRUMP: Because they seem to have an opinion about everything that relates to us. It's always nice to -- again, I've got a little bit of the counterpunching gene. I think it probably took politics for me to realize that I was a little bit more like my father than I perhaps ever thought before this.

Again, it's more about rallying against a lot of the hypocrisy that's out there. Everyone has an opinion on this. The second something happens on that side, it's not news, it's not this, it's covered up. I mean, I think - -

KURTZ: Do you sometimes say in tweets and say, maybe I should have let that one go?

TRUMP: I don't know that I've ever regretted sending one. I've regretted perhaps the response to it. You know, but again I think, you know, there's what you intend to say and the message and then there's the way it's sort of contorted and twisted and turned. I mean, you put something in writing and, you know, certainly I've seen it in interviews, and I've seen this with my father a lot.

He'll be at a speech. Donald Trump said this. And I said, really? When? Yesterday! Where? In Pennsylvania. But I was there with him yesterday in Pennsylvania. He didn't say that. Well, no, but if you take minute number one and minute number 15 and minute number 43 of a speech and you combine it into one thought even though it wasn't, he said it.

I'm like, there's just sort of a lot of dishonesty in terms of the way what is there. I mean, the best is when you see him when he's clearly -- he's got a sense of humor.

KURTZ: Yes.

TRUMP: When you see him have a sense of humor and, oh, my god, he literally asked the Russians to -- like, really? Like they make it seem like he did that in some sort of private meeting as opposed to in front of 27,000 people on live television.

It's a joke and you can't pretend that it's not. Because again, that is another place where the media does themselves a great disservice because any reasonable individual watching knows that he's just having a good time.

KURTZ: You grew up in business here in New York. Did you -- now you're very much in the political arena. Did you ever envision that kind of life for yourself before November of 2016?  TRUMP: Not really. It was really before we announced, June 16, 2015, I probably never envisioned it. And I sort of figured on November 9th that I'd get back to work. I had a lot of e-mails that day, congratulations, buddy, we were with you all along. I'm like, I don't think so. It's funny, I haven't heard from you in two years, but now you're with us.

That's when you realize how crazy some of this thing is but that is also sort of when the attacks started coming and, you know, the reality is I'm a fighter, I'm willing to fight --

KURTZ: Did you enlist or you drafted?  TRUMP: I enlisted.

KURTZ: Don, thanks very much for sitting down with us.

TRUMP: Thanks, Howie.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: When we come back, Michael Avenatti facing criminal charges in two cases. Why did some news outlets build up the (INAUDIBLE) lawyer in the first place?

And later, major media leaders are fighting back against an onslaught of criticism over their Mueller coverage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: When Michael Avenatti now facing criminal charges on both coasts first burst on to our television screams, he was this lawyer pushing Stormy Daniels' case against the president. But he seemed to love the cameras more than the porn star did and the attraction was mutual.

In the space of two months, CNN and MSNBC put him on the air more than 100 times, sometimes several times a day, as he spouted his anti-Trump message and sometimes hurled unsubstantiated charges. These two networks helped turn Avenatti into a folk hero.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY: There have been some criticisms about how our media strategy and how often I'm on CNN and how often I've been on your show and other networks, et cetera, OK? It's all a bunch of nonsense.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: The fame-hungry attorney soon convinced himself he should run for the Democratic presidential nomination, and some anchors and hosts encouraged that delusion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Someone said to me, do you think it would be odd if you were all of a sudden in a few years, do you think you'll be saying, you know, I used to interview that guy as Stormy Daniels's attorney, and now he's the president of the United States?

KASIE HUNT, NBC NEWS CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: There are lot of people who want to run for the Democratic nomination in 2020. How do you think your potential competitors stack up when it comes to taking on the president?

AVENATTI: I've been traveling around the country raising money for Democrats, and I've received an incredible response in every state that I've gone to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: During the Brett Kavanaugh hearings when Avenatti represented the third accuser, Julie Swetnick, he made outlandish allegations and never came close to being substantiated and still got a platform. Now, Avenatti is in the news for a very different reason. He was arrested in one case for allegedly embezzling big bucks from a client and in another for trying to extort $20 million from Nike.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A suit and tie doesn't mask the fact that, at its core, this was an old-fashioned shakedown.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: So Avenatti, who says he was exposing wrongdoing at Nike, showed up in a TV studio.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AVENATTI: I am nervous, I'm concerned, I'm scared.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But you also seemed confident.  AVENATTI: I am confident because I believe the facts are on my side.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Now, even Stormy Daniels says Avenatti was extremely dishonest with her. Let's face it. The media were complicit in building up Michael Avenatti because they couldn't resist the combination of his anti-Trump fervor and his showing pictures of his porn star client. We showed the pictures.

Ahead, the media outrage as charges are dropped against Jussie Smollett. Why did many in the press buy his horrible hoax in the first place?

But up next, two liberal pundits say they're been banned by CNN and MSNBC for defending President Trump during the Russia probe.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Facing stinging criticism about their coverage of the Mueller investigation, some top media executives are pushing back including in a New York Times interview CNN President Jeff Zucker. We are not investigators, we are journalists. And our role is to report the facts as we know them, which is exactly what we did.

Washington Post Editor Martin Baron, our job is to bring facts to light. Others make determinations about prosecutable criminal offenses. And the New York Times Editor Dean Baquet, we heard a lot about Russia. And I have no regrets. It's not our job to determine whether there was illegality.

Meanwhile, two liberal commentators, Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept, and Harvard law professor, Alan Dershowitz, say they were booted aft other cable news channels for defending Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GLENN GREENWALD, THE INTERCEPT: It was continuously on MSNBC, which let me just say, should have their top host on primetime go before the cameras and hang their head in shame and apologize for lying to people for three straight years, exploiting their fears to great profit.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD LAW PROFESSOR: It's time for CNN to issue an apology. CNN banned me from their air because I was being too fair.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Joining us now to analyze the coverage, Emily Jashinsky, culture editor at The Federalist, and Clarence Page, columnist for the Chicago Tribune. So Alan Dershowitz, who voted for Hillary, wrote in The Hill that he was told Jeff Zucker ordered him not to be booked for six months. He says CNN's profits started to grow once it was seen as an anti-Trump network.

The brass didn't want their viewers' minds to be confused by the law or the facts. Strong charge.

EMILY JASHINSKY, THE FEDERALIST: Well, the notion that CNN was trafficking purely in facts over the last two years is absolutely laughable. They had a narrative to push. And same was true of MSNBC.

And so, either of Glenn Greenwald or Alan Dershowitz would have absolutely disrupted that narrative. And there was very little disruptions as someone who watched all of the networks on both of those airwaves of the narrative. It was all narrative, narrative, narrative, driven purely for two years.

And they had very few people willing to disrupt it. And that explains why they didn't have Dershowitz or Greenwald.

KURTZ: It's also true that Dershowitz got a lot more invitations from Fox News when he started defending Trump in this case. Look, the Mueller probe, Clarence, sealed 37 indictments.

But given the thousands of segments, thousands of stories, millions of online posts about Russian collusion and obstruction, which now there'll be no more challenges, shouldn't these organizations or journalists do a little bit of soul searching about whether they went too far with the non- stop coverage?

CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: I don't think our souls need to be searched. It's what you look at in order to determine, if you're being ethical, if you have been moral, if you're being balanced and fair...

KURTZ: Do you believe the coverage was balanced and fair for two years?

PAGE: There's a difference between news coverage and opinion analysis. And that's what has been mixed up, unfortunately, in our media in this era.

A lot of folks look at a commentator or anchor like we have in primetime on cable these days and say, well, he's not being objective. No, he's a commentator. He's -- you know, whether you're talking about Sean Hannity or talking about Rachel Maddow, or others who mix up their analysis with their reporting.

KURTZ: But even in daytime news coverage or newspapers, news stories, forget about op-eds, forget about commentaries, it seems everyone's saying, well, no regrets, we did everything right.

JASHINSKY: Yeah.

KURTZ: That's not how much of the country sees it.

JASHINSKY: No regrets, we're not investigators. It's not our job to determine illegality. And actually, when you look at this, Brian Shelter himself of CNN came out and said speculation has its place in the news media. And what CNN was doing was with speculating for two years.

And even some of the reporting, it wasn't based on fact. They had to retract several stories over the past two years, because what they wanted to be true is what they were pushing. It was difference between just the pure truth and what they wanted to be true. And that's why we saw all this narrative be pushed across their network for two years, basically.

KURTZ: Now, the president is demanding...

PAGE: There was smoke out there, though. There was a lot of smoke. And you've got to follow that smoke. And who knows where the fire is. We haven't even opened up the Mueller report yet.

JASHINSKY: Yes.

PAGE: We've only looked at a cover letter about the Mueller report.

KURTZ: We haven't seen the report. Nobody is saying there shouldn't have been covered, and covered intensively. I'm talking about the nonstop nature of it, the overwhelmingly negative tone.

And, by the way, the president demanding that the New York Times and Washington Post return Pulitzer Prizes they received for this coverage. The fact that nobody -- the fact that there are no further indictments doesn't mean the stories were inaccurate, but there were a lot of high profile blunders made.

Meanwhile, Emily, let me play something that the president said at the rally in Grand Rapids the other night, going off on the media and the ratings.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The crooked journalists, the totally dishonest TV pundits -- and, by the way, they know it's not true. They just got great ratings.

By the way, their ratings dropped through the floor last night, did you see that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: The president went on to say that the ratings surge for our friends, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson. So he's boasting on Twitter that the ratings for CNN, MSNBC, Morning Joe all went down. Maybe that was true for a few days. Joe Scarborough comes back and says, well, our ratings are in an all-time high. And Mr. President, you're 34 percent in New Hampshire. Does Trump measure everything -- the success of everything he does by ratings?

JASHINSKY: Absolutely. And I think, you know, his background speaks to that. He comes from the television world. He loves media attention. And so, of course, yeah, that's absolutely true.

But the ratings -- CNN's ratings were up over the course. And when we're looking at motivations for pushing this narrative, it's because they did see an uptick in ratings when they started to focus on Russian collusion.

And the same is true about MSNBC. Rachel Maddow's show ratings were up big time. And she covered this every night. And you know she covered it in dramatic fashion every night.

KURTZ: So the president...

PAGE: We don't want to be dull in our business.

KURTZ: That is true.

JASHINSKY: Yes, yes.

KURTZ: The president tweeting about the fake news media going crazy, suffering a major breakdown, zero credibility. So I asked this question to Donald Trump, Jr. Is he going to keep talking about Mueller and keep talking about the president until Election Day?

PAGE: Who?

KURTZ: Is the President of the United States going to keep making...

PAGE: Trump isn't talking about Mueller, he's talking about us, the media, you know. I wish he would talk about Mueller. If he had talked more about the Russia collusion charge early on, we wouldn't have had all these suspicions.

The fact is when you gather what facts you've got and then you start to draw some conclusions, when you start speculating excessively, you're absolutely right, there was too much of that mixed up with news coverage, however...

KURTZ: Let me...

PAGE: Returning Pulitzer Prizes, that's grandstanding.

KURTZ: OK.

PAGE: He will go on to those Pulitzer prizes. They're still true.

KURTZ: Now, just breaking more this morning, Lucy Flores, she was the Democratic nominee in Nevada for lieutenant governor, has written a chilling piece in the New York Magazine about how Joe Biden -- who came to campaign for her, I'll let her tell the story. The point is she's out there saying how uncomfortable the former vice-president made her. Here she is on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LUCY FLORES, DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE FOR LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: I feel Joe Biden put his hands on my shoulders, gets up very close to me from behind, lean in, smell my hair. And then plant a slow kiss on the top of my head.

It was just shocking. It was shocking because you don't expect that kind of intimate behavior. You don't expect that kind of intimacy from someone so powerful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Emily, is the press starting to give Joe Biden presidential-level scrutiny, even though he hasn't officially jumped in to the race?

JASHINSKY: Yeah. I think he's polling at the top of the list right now. And so, it is warranted to an extent. I think it's potential, but there are some enemies of Joe Biden, some allies of the other candidates in this race that are leaking this information, or pushing this narrative.

KURTZ: But in the case of Lucy Flores, she says she is not doing it to support any candidate, she felt compelled to speak out. In fact, here's another quote from that State of the Union interview. The reason why I felt compelled to finally say something because it was five years ago, was over the years, this behavior was documented, as it was, frankly, dismissed by the media and not taken seriously.

JASHINSKY: Right. I think she absolutely has a good point about that. If Joe Biden, for instance -- and I don't want hike to play this game, but if Joe Biden were a conservative, he would not have gotten away with this. He would not have gotten a pass from the media for years and years, because this is evidence of him behaving like this, photographic evidence going back years.

KURTZ: Clarence, Biden put out a statement this morning saying, I have offered handshakes, hugs, expression of affections over the years. Not once, never, did believe I acted -- did I act inappropriately. But someone suggests I did. So I will listen respectfully, but it was never my intention. Could all of this negative attention affect his decision to run?

PAGE: It certainly already has, I'm sure. Remember, Howie, we would not be talking about this in these terms right now, if it hadn't been for Al Franken being forced to resign for similar charges. And then there was Kristin Gillibrand -- listen, I think it was a backlash against Democrats, why are you wiping and purging our wonderful candidate?

The same thing is happening now in the party about Biden. Biden knows this. He knew it for a while. So I don't think that'll stop him.

KURTZ: Yeah. I think Biden had figured some of this would come out, but the media at least doing their jobs. All right, panel stay put.

After the break, Ben Shapiro and the president taking some over Obamacare. And how economists smeared Ben Shapiro as an alt-right guy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Let me just tell you exactly what my message is. The Republican Party will soon be known as the Party of Healthcare.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: President Trump drawing plenty of media criticism for moving yet again to abolish Obamacare with journalists arguing and quoting unnamed Republicans as saying that he has no healthcare plan after three failed attempts to repeal and replace the program that he and his party ran against.

I spoke earlier from LA with Ben Shapiro, editor-in-chief of the Daily Wire, syndicated radio host, and author of the new number one New York Times bestseller, The Right Side of History: How Reason And Moral Purpose Made The West Great.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Ben Shapiro, welcome.

BEN SHAPIRO, DAILY WIRE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Thanks so much for having me.

KURTZ: The pundits are nearly unanimous in saying that President Trump, it's bad politics for him to again bring up getting rid of Obamacare. He was riding high after the Mueller report are, after three failed attempts to get it repealed through the Republican congress. Are the pundits wrong?

SHAPIRO: No, I actually don't think they are. I think that the president suggesting there's a plan in the wings is, obviously, not the case. I've spoken to legislators in the Senate and the House. There's no plan that is forthcoming.

The only thing that might be true is that President Trump is planning, essentially, for the Supreme Court to uphold his former statements on Obamacare, uphold Obamacare. And then he can blame the Democrats in Congress for blocking any sort of reform of Obamacare, make them own the status quo as well as the possibility of Medicare For All. That could be a clever political strategy.

KURTZ: Right. But he is, of course, backing a lawsuit that would get rid of Obamacare, pre-existing conditions and all, without any plan in place, as you just noted.

SHAPIRO: Right. And that, again, maybe his lawyers betting that the Supreme Court, which still has the same constituency, John Roberts in the swing vote position will vote the same way they did before. And Trump can say, listen, I did the best that we I could to get rid of Obamacare. I even sided with a lawsuit to get rid of Obamacare. The Supreme Court won't let me do it. That's actually not a terrible argument to the base.

KURTZ: All right. Blame it on John Roberts. In a review of your book, The Economist called you the pop idol to the alt-right, catering to hyperventilating conservatives. The other day, the British magazine retracted that description and apologized. What happened?

SHAPIRO: Well, I mean, I think a lot of people who don't know what the alt- right is, I'll attribute to arrogance rather than malice and ignorance. A bunch of folks on the left seem to think everybody who's conservative is quote and unquote, alt-right.

The alt-right actually has an ideology. It is a white supremacist ideology that suggests that western civilization is predicated not on eternal immutable principles, but is based solely on race. And western civilization is just about white people.

Oddly enough, there are folks on the left who seem to think the same thing. But the alt-right believes what makes western civilization great is that it is a civilization about white people. That obviously is false, it is also stupid.

I've been a long-time critic of the alt-right. I was the number one recipient of their hate in 2016. I sought higher security. Thanks to the hatred from the alt-right.

So The Economist labeling me some sort of pop icon of the alt-right was obviously wrong on its face. And that's why The Economist did the right thing, pulled down the headline. And then called me a radical conservative, which is strange because I don't know what would me particularly radical.

Are there any non-radical conservatives in the opinion of The Economist? But I guess I'm a radical conservative. I can take alt-right was not a thing I was going to allow to stand.

KURTZ: Yeah, you did push back. And you got the apology. From your book you say, we are angry at each other. The anger is palpable, where did it come from?

So my question is you're an aggressive player in the partisan wars. Do you, does cable news, do the media contribute to and fuel this anger?

SHAPIRO: I mean, I do think that, obviously, strong political conversation is going to lead to polarization. But the question is you can have strong political conversations where you disagree and you discuss and still love the person you're arguing with at the end of the day, if you feel you have the same shared goals, if you feel you have the same common base from which you are working.

What seems to have happened is the sort of polarized battle we're seeing on cable news, I think, is a reflection of a deeper underlying unease with the fact that we don't have all that much in common anymore. The book really is an attempt to remind us we have a lot in common, with 3,000-year developmental history in western civilization.

And that right, left and center, we all still should agree on certain basic principles, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, a government that is not empowered to invade our lives. These are concepts that we should all agree on, if we can't agree on those, then the arguments we're having right now actually carry an enormous amount of weight. And maybe we should be angry.

KURTZ: So you see yourself as sort of slamming other people's policy, ideas, or views of ideology and civilization, but not demonizing them. Is that the distinction here?

SHAPIRO: Absolutely. I mean, I hope that -- and I don't always succeed, but I certainly hope I'm attacking people's ideas and not them as human beings, or suggesting that they lack moral fiber, moral character, because we disagree on tax rates.

KURTZ: Right. Now, when you went to speak at Berkeley, famously, protesters showed up. They shouted speech is violence, which is an interesting twist of meaning. You also say that despite the fact that you're an Orthodox Jew, you're routinely castigated as a Nazi. Where does that come from and just personally, how hurtful is that to you?

SHAPIRO: I mean, obviously, on a personal level it is deeply -- it is deeply discomfiting. It is not a nice thing to be labeled a progenitor of the worst mass murder in histories against people who shared a religion with me. That's obviously ridiculous and silly and evil, frankly.

But the general -- you know, the general polarization, it is -- we live in an era where it is very convenient to tear down your political opposition by labeling them lack -- by labeling them morally insufficient, that they have a lack of character. And that is a sign not only of bad politics, but bad underlying motivation.

If you're slandering somebody's motivations without knowing the person, and knowing the motivation, the idea is they are innately bad because we disagree on political matters that we've disagreed on for years, year, and years. But my politics reflects white superiority because we disagree on affirmative action for example.

Then you're not engaging politics. You're engaging in effectively character assassination and a certain form of tribal warfare.

KURTZ: And there's way too much of that in the online sewer that some social media channels have become. I would agree with that.

Ben Shapiro, congratulations on the book. Thanks very much for joining us.

SHAPIRO: Thanks for having me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Still to come, the Chicago Tribune says, the dropping of charges against Jussie Smollett is indefensible. Why the media are furious he didn't even apologize for his hoax.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Much of the media embrace Jussie Smollett when the Empire actor claimed he had been beaten in the streets by two pro-Trump thugs. There was some soul searching. Police charged that he staged the whole thing, and anger in Chicago when Cook County prosecutors suddenly and mysteriously dropped the charges.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL (D), CHICAGO: This is a whitewash of justice. You cannot have, because of a person's position, one set of rules apply to them and another set of rules apply to everybody else.

KIM FOXX, COOK COUNTY STATE ATTORNEY: When I look at similarly-situated people who are charged with the same level of felony without a background, I believe in this case, justice was appropriate.

JUSSIE SMOLLETT, ACTOR: I've been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one. This has been an incredibly difficult time, honestly, one of the worst of my entire life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: I asked Donald Trump, Jr., in our interview about the media criticism he got for saying early on this sounded like a hoax.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, JR., AMERICAN BUSINESSMAN: I had the guts. And, again, I take a lot of heat for it. I'm willing to do that. But I had the guts to question it.

KURTZ: And how do you feel about prosecutors dropping the charges without any apologize from Jussie Smollett?

TRUMP, JR.: I think it's disgusting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: And we're back with the panel. Clarence Page, your newspaper denounced the prosecutor's position to just drop the charges. Is the media achieved greater because of what Smollett put the country through with this racially-charged hoax that generated such emotional coverage.

PAGE: Well, first of all, as in the case of this, there are a lot of questions that still need to be answered. And Jussie Smollett is still insisting on his innocence despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And this was handled badly.

All of a sudden, one day after all the money that's been spent trying to solve this case of Smollett's alleged attack, suddenly it's dropped one morning without much in the way of explanation, after the fact that we got to get an explanation because there was such an uproar over it.

The Tribune's not alone in...

KURTZ: I wanted to cite the local paper. It was also a political scandal, Emily, because Trump saying that the alleged attackers, these two Jamaican brothers, and he paid you know we're saying this is a country. The president announces that the Justice Department and FBI will invest it. Is that payback or perfectly appropriate?

JASHINSKY: I think it's perfectly appropriate. What just happened this last week is baffling and reeks of corruption. The media did latch on to this narrative until the evidence became overwhelmingly against Jussie Smollett.

And I think it's kind of funny right now that so many people in the media are outraged or shocked by the situation that happened because it speaks to just how ridiculous the allegation was in the first place. And I was all for investigating it. But you had outlets tweeting things that, basically, the baked-in narrative, was this happened. Stars rally to Jussie Smollett's side after the attack.

KURTZ: Yeah.

JASHINSKY: The implication is the attack...

KURTZ: Right, right.

PAGE: They were Hollywood stars.

JASHINSKY: Right.

KURTZ: They were two Nigerian brothers, I misspoke. What's most galling from a media perspective is police gather all this evidence and, look, even if he'd gotten community service, I'm not saying he should have gone to prison for 10 years. But prosecutors didn't even make him admit that he was not telling the truth and this was a hoax. Chicago justice?

PAGE: That means a lot to judge's contrition. Former Governor Rob Blagojevich got a big sentence because he was so gregarious about it. The fact is this was the State's Attorney's Office that decided to drop this before it ever got to court. And that is another reason why people are griping about it.

The due process was suddenly circumvented. And why, we note that part of the problem was Kim Foxx, the prosecutor, is a good friend of Michelle Obama's former chief of staff. So, now, the right-wing press especially...

KURTZ: Yes.

PAGE: We see conspiracy everywhere and the Obama's probably knew nothing about this. But nevertheless, it's a big deal. And everybody wants to pay attention to it.

KURTZ: Just 20 seconds here, Emily. It's not clear whether Jussie Smollett's coming back to the Fox Show Empire. TMZ' Harvey Levin thinks the ratings might soar because he's so infamous. But I'm thinking a lot of people aren't going to watch this guy.

JASHINSKY: I think the public has zero appetite for Jussie Smollett. I think people around the country are outraged by what he has put the country through. And they should be outraged. The blame lies with Jussie Smollett, but they should be outraged by how the media treated this when it first came out.

KURTZ: And on that note...

PAGE: I just want to say police sat on this for three weeks before they announced it was a hoax.

JASHINSKY: Right.

PAGE: It wasn't just the media. We responded what's available.

KURTZ: Clarence Page, Emily Jashinsky, thanks so much.

That's it for this edition of "Media Buzz." I'm Howard Kurtz. Hey, check out my new podcast, Media Buzz Meter. You can subscribe at Apple iTunes or Google Play or at foxnewspodcast.com.

Remember also to check out our Facebook page. We post original video and columns. And continue the conversation on Twitter. I like hearing from you most of the time.

We're back here next Sunday, 11 Eastern. See you then with the latest buzz.

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