This is a rush transcript from "Media Buzz," December 1, 2019. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On our Buzz Meter this Sunday, President Trump stuns the press by announcing Taliban peace talks on a surprise trip to Afghanistan, and Newsweek fires a reporter who wrote he would spend the day tweeting and golfing. The media keep pressing their saturation coverage of impeachment, and the president ridicules it, even though public opinion hasn't budged after those high-profile hearings.
TUCKER CARLSON: Instead of destroying Trump, impeachment to have made him even stronger, like Godzilla.
MALE SPEAKER: Trump claimed that he would, quote, "love to have Mike Pompeo, Rick Perry, Mick Mulvaney, and many others testify," though that's preposterous and would be a bit more credible if Trump himself weren't the one blocking them from testifying.
FEMALE SPEAKER: Because the evidence was so compelling, and because people saw it play out by all of these public servants who stepped forward and had an amazing story to tell, you really have to keep the momentum going.
MALE SPEAKER: After two weeks of hearings, has the needle moved at all in the direction of convincing the American people that he ought to be removed? And the answer is no.
KURTZ: We'll examine these stories. The New York Times; the president knew about the whistleblower complaint before deciding to release the frozen military aid to Ukraine.
MALE SPEAKER: The reason he released the aid is he got caught. He got caught in this illegal or improper or wildly inappropriate enterprise of trading taxpayer money for dirt on Joe Biden.
MALE SPEAKER: So, he waits at least 12 days to do something. So, it doesn't really support that "he got caught" theory.
KURTZ: Washington Post and New York Times; Rudy Giuliani was in talks with Ukraine's top prosecutor for a $200,000 contract even as he was working with Yuri Lutsenko to dig up dirt on Joe Biden. But with Jerry Nadler starting new hearings this week, is the story running out of gas? Plus, MSNBC's Joy Reid calls the Republican Party a racial cult. How is that any less inflammatory than the kind of Trump rhetoric that draws so much criticism from liberal pundits? I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is Media Buzz.
President Trump continues to denounce the media and the Democrats over impeachment, in some cases, as in a Florida rally this week, with an expletive.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And they're pushing that impeachment witch hunt, and a lot of bad things are happening to them. Everybody said, "That's really bull [expletive]."
KURTZ: Joining us now to analyze the coverage, Guy Benson, host of The Guy Benson Show on Fox News Radio and political editor at Town Hall; Gillian Turner, a Fox News correspondent here in Washington; and Richard Fowler, radio talk show host and Fox News contributor. All right, let's have a no-BS discussion here, everybody. [laughter]
GUY BENSON, TOWN HALL: I'll try.
KURTZ: Ukraine and --
GILLIAN TURNER, FOX NEWS: That'll be hard [laughs].
KURTZ: -- impeachment has been the dominant media story for about two months now. Are the media invested in impeachment, and after these hearings, has this story kind of hit a wall?
BENSON: They are definitely invested in impeachment. They've been invested in impeachment since word one, and I think they're going to continue to try to push that story along. And it is a real story, right? Tomorrow we're going to have, I think a vote, or Tuesday, in the Intelligence Committee, then it'll kick over the Judiciary Committee, and maybe this thing will end up in the Senate. There's a lot of runway still here for the media to cover. In terms of hitting a wall, I think that the media once again has done itself a disservice. From the very beginning of President Trump's administration, they have been declaring almost, it feels like, weekly some giant bombshell that was a turning point in the presidency, and there arguably were a bombshell or two during the impeachment hearings, but they didn't really detonate in a way that the public opinion polls shifted that much. And I think people have become inured to this sort of claim from the media, and here we are where things have happened, it's all out on the table, and public opinion is basically static.
KURTZ: Well, it's a polarized country obviously. And Guy kind of stole my question for you, Gillian, so let's just expand it a little bit. When you combine Ukraine with the two-year Russia investigation and this sort of fixation on Donald Trump and scandal and this sort of constant "Well, wait until the Mueller report, or wait until Mueller testifies, or wait until Michael Cohen has testifies, and that's really going to be the turning point," and then it doesn't move the half of the country that strongly supports the president, is there continuing to be a disconnect between the Beltway world here and the rest of the country?
TURNER: I think Guy is right in the sense that public opinion on impeachment, on the "i-word," is pretty static at the moment, but almost a better question for the media to be asking members of Congress rather than what is public opinion is to be asking them, "Do you care about public opinion, and are you tracking it?" Because from my vantage point, both sides of the aisle are going full-steam ahead and have been since day one regardless of what any Americans think. And I don't know yet of a member that has really dug down into public opinion polls in a way maybe in other eras members of Congress did here, meaning I don't think members of Congress have the same wariness and the same consideration here of what the American public think, which is sad.
KURTZ: These recent polls, as you know, Richard, show about 50 percent of Americans, mostly Democrats, favor impeachment and removal. Is it frustrating for journalists who think this is a lawless and dangerous president that a major chunk of the country simply does not agree and continues not to agree even in the face of impeachment?
RICHARD FOWLER, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, listen, I think that all the media can do is report the facts, and it's on the American people to decide how they want to interpret those facts, I think what we have here, though, is you have two camps. On one camp, you have some members of the media who are reporting, you know, government officials going down, putting their careers on the line to talk -- to tell the truth about what happened in this July 25th call with the Ukrainians; on the other hand, you have some journalistic outlets reporting about how this is a conspiracy theory and these are all Never Trumpers. And I think these two storylines have collided with the American people finding stories that they like that sort of support their viewpoint without sort of looking at the facts, that Gordon Solomon, for example, the E.U. ambassador, was somebody who gave Donald Trump a million dollars, and he's not a Never Trumper. And so, I think because you have these two camps, and these camps are so isolated, truth is sort of missing.
KURTZ: People and -- well, as well as journalists -- can find the investigation they like, the storyline they like. I think there's a lot of that but let's go to some of the specifics, Guy. The New York Times report Trump told of the whistleblower complaint before in early September, he decides to release that aid to Ukraine. Does that show what the media are clearly suggesting, which is that he was engaged in a bit of a coverup?
BENSON: Maybe, right? We don't know. Because there is another piece to this which was word got out on Capitol Hill that the aid had been held up and a lot of senators in particular across both parties were very angry about that and were ratcheting up their pressure on that question. So, there's a totally plausible story that the pressure from the Hill came and that is what did this in. The other story is he realized that the jig was up, that there was congressional pressure and a whistleblower coming and he's like forget it. Let's release the aid. Either one could be true. I'm not going to engage in conjecture because I feel like there's a lot of that these days.
TURNER: Well, one fair point of conjecture here really quickly is do we really imagine knowing what we know of President Trump that he would really be rattled by the idea that there was a Deep State as he calls it whistleblower complaint in the works? I can't really foresee him.
FOWLER: That's a fair point.
TURNER: Changing his game plan.
KURTZ: Are the media overplaying the judge's ruling this week which has some strong language about presidents, they're not kings, that Don McGahn, the former White House counsel must testify and then potentially others, although it's on appeal, since House Democrats have made clear they're not going to wait for these court battles, they want to impeach the president before Christmas?
FOWLER: I think the media is overplaying this and here's why. I mean, I think what we've seen over the past three years under the Donald Trump presidency is how many judges he's put on the courts. So, the courts will likely rule in his favor just because of how many judges he's put on the court. And so I think with that being said the media's overplaying whether or not Don McGahn's going to testify, whether or not John Bolton's going to testify. Will these testimonies add color to this impeachment? Absolutely. But the truth of the matter is we can sit here and wait for these testimonies. This could prolong a process when I think the facts seem to be in play.
BENSON: Why not? So first of all, just because you appointed or nominated a judge doesn't mean they're going to be a lap dog and rule in your favor on every single issue or controversy but secondly, if this is not about politics as Nancy Pelosi says over and over again, if this is about getting to the truth and defending the Constitution why wouldn't the media be saying --
KURTZ: I'll tell you, Guy, because there's a political calendar. Yeah, I know.
BENSON: I understand that but that contradicts what she says and I feel like she's out there saying it every day it's good -- for the good of the country but what Richard just said was a political timeline, which I agree with.
FOWLER: No, no, no, no, no.
TURNER: And impeachment's not going to be decided in the courts no matter which way you play it.
KURTZ: It's not and I want to get to John Bolton, which Richard brought up. I mean, he cryptically tweeted this week, former national security advisor, of course, and former Fox News contributor, "Our country's commitment to our national security priorities is under attack from within." Now, is this again a journalistic fantasy? If only Bolton would testify and if he would turn against Trump, this would be the death knell for the White House.
TURNER: It's probably a fantasy to think that anything John Bolton is going to say here is going to move the needle. We've seen over the last three weeks just how hard it is to do that unless John Bolton has some new scathing piece of evidence that nobody's ever heard of before, it's unlikely to move the needle. However, he remains a really important, crucial witness. I think right now his hands are a little bit tied by this lawsuit that he's in. You know, he's -- his lawyer asked the courts to rule on whether or not he needs to testify. I wouldn't expect to hear anything from him while that suit's still going through the system.
KURTZ: Yeah. I want to get to Rudy. I'll come back to you in our remaining time and so that is these newspaper reports that Rudy Giuliani while he's working as president's personal lawyer and while he is working with his former top prosecutor in Ukraine, Yuri Lutsenko to find unflattering stuff on Hunter Biden and the Biden's generally, admits now that he tried to get a $200,000 contract from Lutsenko, a $300,000 contract from the Ukrainian government but he says he realized that looked bad. He never took a penny. Does this change the Giuliani story in a fundamental way?
BENSON: I don't think so but that's not a defense of him. I think there is just an enormous stench emitting from Rudy Giuliani involving all of this stuff and there has been for a long time and these are just more details that explain why that stench is so strong.
FOWLER: I think the stench is strong and I think the stench is directly connected to the White House and that's because in this transcript the White House released, where the president asked us to read over and over again, even at rallies, he indicts Rudy Giuliani. He says go talk to my buddy Rudy so he can help you find this information. I'm paraphrasing.
KURTZ: Right. So therefore what do you make of the president telling Bill O'Reilly in a phone interview about Giuliani, well I didn't direct him to go to Ukraine? That was a trip that was later canceled. He has other clients. You'd have to ask Rudy. He's a warrior. Are there media right in saying the president is distancing himself? Because I'm not so sure.
FOWLER: I think the president's trying to but to no avail because I think if you're watching this case carefully and you're paying attention to the facts, it's very clear that he sent Rudy to engage in this behavior.
KURTZ: You said he sent Rudy.
FOWLER: Right. Whether --
KURTZ: What are you basing that on?
FOWLER: I'm basing that on the fact that I think whether he sent Rudy or he indicts Rudy or he tells you to talk to his buddy Rudy, however you want to put it, the president is clearly involved with Rudy Giuliani.
KURTZ: He certainly inserted Giuliani into the foreign policy process as far Ukraine, but I just want to make sure you're --
FOWLER: But Rudy was in it before. Remember, he was involved in the Mueller hearings. So, Rudy is an integral part of team Trump and he's an integral part of making sure that team Trump's goals get fulfilled.
KURTZ: Now, Giuliani says that his critics in the media and Democrats, as well as these southern district of New York prosecutors who were investigating him, that's the office in Manhattan of course that he used to run are trying to knock him out with these leaks and these investigations as the president's lawyer. The media also give him a tremendous platform to go on the air and make his case, including on this program.
TURNER: Through the present day. You know, he continues to get a tremendous amount of air time, of print space, you know, on -- across all sectors of the media. In many ways, Rudy Giuliani is, you know, the brain child of the media. This is all of the sudden for a lot of mainstream media networks that don't get a lot of access to this administration have seen for months and Rudy Giuliani a way to like, you know, go straight to the vein of the administration by getting him on the air.
KURTZ: Yeah. Well, he is the president's lawyer and of course television is the way that the president likes his supporters and surrogates to communicate. When we come back, how the press is covering the president's surprise visit to Afghanistan and reopening talks with the Taliban and later, how offensive is this? MSNBC's Joy Reid calling Donald Trump's Republican Party a racial cult.
KURTZ: President Trump made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Thanksgiving Day, speaking to American troops and announcing that he is resuming negotiations with the Taliban, less than three months after declaring the talks dead and underscoring an American demand.
TRUMP: The Taliban wants to make a deal, and we're meeting with them. And we're saying there has to be a ceasefire.
KURTZ: Guy Benson, we can all agree it's a great thing that the commander-in-chief went to Afghanistan and served turkey to the troops. Is there media skepticism about him reopening these talks, when there was this huge uproar about the president canceling an invitation for them to come to Camp David after a terrorist attack?
BENSON: Yeah, I think there's some skepticism, but there probably shouldn't be. I think this has been President Trump's -- one of his priorities on the foreign policy track since he was a candidate, right? I personally have some disagreements with him when it comes to his foreign policy views, but he's the commander-in-chief.
BENSON: He ran on this sort of de-escalation, trying to make deals -- including with some enemies -- and wind down conflicts like the one in Afghanistan. So, this is very much on par, on brand with what he's been telling the American people for a very long time.
TURNER: Well, except he's moving down -- he's moving on with the winding down even without a peace agreement in place.
KURTZ: Well, there's -- he --
TURNER: So, it's not an either [inaudible] --
KURTZ: -- seems to want to --
TURNER: -- you know, [unintelligible] -- [speaking simultaneously]
BENSON: But he wants the agreement, obviously.
TURNER: -- one is not contingent on the other.
KURTZ: He seems to want to reduce the American troop presence in Afghanistan from 12 or 13,000 to about 8,600. The Taliban could just wait. On the other hand, as we've talked before, he has run against endless wars, and these troops have been in Afghanistan for 18 years.
TURNER: Yeah. And there's 12,000 troops on the ground now. They want to get down to 8,400 by the beginning of next year.
TURNER: That's on track, no matter what happens with the peace agreement. The problem with this was, while it was wonderful he was bringing, you know, his support direct to the troops -- that's always an amazing thing to see -- he created some confusion when he said peace talks have been ongoing, because as far as the American public is aware, those peace talks came to a very abrupt end two months ago. And so, the question everybody is asking now, including troops on the ground, is -- are there some kind of secret talks going on? Is the president planning to restart talks and just never announced it?
FOWLER: Or indirect talks?
TURNER: It's -- or have they been going on, you know, behind the scenes --
MALE SPEAKER: But here's the thing --
TURNER: The troops on the ground need to be very clear on that.
KURTZ: Here's the thing, Richard. The president says we still have to have a ceasefire in advance. And the Taliban, he says, really wanted [unintelligible] open to that. But then, the Taliban come out and say, "No, no, we haven't changed our position at all on a ceasefire." The Afghan government doesn't know anything about a ceasefire being in the works. On MSNBC, retired colonel Jack Jacobs said this was a campaign ploy. Is that fair criticism?
FOWLER: Listen: I think all of these are fair criticisms, because you can't look at Afghanistan in a vacuum. Over and over again, as part of President Trump's foreign policy, we see this sort of strong-man Art of the Deal character go around the world and says he wants to strike up these deals.
KURTZ: As with North Korea.
FOWLER: As with North Korea, as with Iran --
FOWLER: -- as with Syria, as with --
FOWLER: -- Turkey. The list is long --
KURTZ: And the problem -- so, what's the problem?
FOWLER: And -- there are no deals. He promised that North Korea would be -- would have no nuclear weapons. They still have nuclear weapons. He promised that he would get a better deal in Iran and he's willing to sit down with the Iranians.
MALE SPEAKER: Yeah.
FOWLER: Haven't sat down with them yet. He promised he would have a ceasefire in Afghanistan. We're still waiting.
BENSON: Well, that's --
FOWLER: The clock is ticking.
BENSON: -- a fair criticism.
KURTZ: I would just say, there are no deals yet. Obviously, sometimes these things take time. Now, this comes on the heels of kind of an uproar at the Pentagon -- as you know, Gillian, because the president ousted Defense -- excuse me, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, because he tried to block the president from intervening in a disciplinary proceeding against the accused Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher, who was accused of war crimes and was facing a demotion. Spencer wrote a Washington Post op-ed saying the president has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military, to fight ethically. Does this help move that away, because he is seen with the troops, and he is seen as commander-in-chief, and he is seen trying to strike a deal on behalf of the country and the military?
TURNER: It probably helps with U.S. public perception, but I would argue what really matters is the perception of the troops on the ground in various countries around the world that are serving.
TURNER: I think that anything the president can do to really solidify his relationships, his presence at troop bases overseas right now, throughout the holiday, would be hugely helpful to him. If I was an advisor, I would be telling him that every single day.
KURTZ: Quick thought?
BENSON: I think that the media -- this is an interesting story for the media to be following, because there were denials, and public statements, and private assurances. And now --
BENSON: -- he's out, and there seem to be some contradictions in the official story. So, I don't think we've heard the entire thing yet.
KURTZ: All right.
FOWLER: Look, I'll say one point on this. I think that the trick to the military -- what makes it great is the chain of command. The moment the president goes in and destroys that chain of command, it weakens our military overall.
KURTZ: I understand that criticism. He also is the commander-in-chief, and that debate will go on. Richard Fowler, Gillian Turner, and Guy Benson. Great to see you this Sunday. Ahead, the press is suddenly down on Elizabeth Warren and just realizing that Medicare for All is a huge liability. But up next -- Bloomberg News takes a hands-off approach to the boss as he runs for president; why that decision is damaging its reputation.
KURTZ: Bloomberg News has been getting absolutely pummeled, and rightfully so, after a crucial decision when its boss launched his presidential campaign. With a single memo, the global media giant, with 2,700 journalists around the world, handcuffed its staff in covering Michael Bloomberg's White House bid and undermine -- fairly or unfairly -- its reputation for independence. Now, Bloomberg News has always had a relatively hands-off attitude toward its founder, including during his 12 years as New York's mayor. When Mike Bloomberg flirted with running for president in 2016, and the news service was forced to restrict its coverage, Kathy Kiely resigned as political editor. Here's what she told me.
KATHY KIELY: I think that when you're running a political operation, as we were, that you should follow every story aggressively. And I felt that we weren't able to follow this story aggressively. And that, I thought, compromised us as an organization. I certainly felt it compromised me as an editor.
KURTZ: Now, editor-in-chief John Micklethwait has told the staff, "We will continue our tradition of not investigating Mike and his family and foundation. That prohibition extends to Bloomberg's rivals, because we cannot treat Mike's Democratic competitors differently," says the memo. But the company will continue to investigate President Trump as head of the government. On what planet is that fair? The company will largely limit its coverage to Bloomberg's speeches, policies, and overall polls. If another outlet runs an investigative piece, Bloomberg News would summarize it. There is more. Tim O'Brien and David Shipley, the top editors at Bloomberg Opinion, are taking leaves to join his campaign. And the section is barring any op-eds at all about the 2020 campaign. Former Bloomberg Washington bureau chief Megan Murphy says the policy is ridiculous and not journalism, and she's right. Other media companies routinely cover billionaire owners, such as The Washington Post examining Jeff Bezos and Amazon, or their corporate owners, ABC and Disney. CNN and Time Warner, now AT&T. I do it with Fox. It comes with the territory. This isn't without precedent. William Randolph Hearst used his newspapers to blatantly promote his 1904 presidential run, but his empire is dwarfed by Bloomberg News. Look at this way. What is Mike Bloomberg afraid of? So what if his company does a couple of investigative pieces on him? He's going to have to withstand a lot more than that to win the nomination. Ahead, a black writer denounces Pete Buttigieg on racial grounds and gets a call from the mayor. But first, Ed Henry on the challenge of interviewing Rudy Giuliani and Joy Reid's racially charged attack on the GOP.
KURTZ: Interviewing Rudy Giuliani is, well, something of a challenge, I can personally attest to that, and his most recent TV sit-down with Ed Henry keeps being replayed as the coverage increasingly focuses on the president's personal lawyer being under investigation and as he tries shifting the spotlight to the Bidens.
ED HENRY, FOX NEWS: Are you afraid, Mr. Mayor, that you could be indicted?
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S PERSONAL ATTORNEY: Oh, wow. How often -- how long have you known me, Ed?
HENRY: I've known you several years.
GIULIANI:You think I'm afraid? You should have jumped all over this in 2015 when this awful conflict was mentioned, and it was hidden and suppressed by the Washington press.
HENRY: But you know that --
GIULIANI:The reality is I'm embarrassing you because you didn't do your job.
KURTZ: And Ed Henry, who follows his four hours on Fox & Friends Weekend by anchoring America's News Headquarters at noon Eastern because he loves being on television --
HENRY: Yeah, why not?
KURTZ: -- joins us now from New York.
HENRY: Thanks, Howie.
KURTZ: So, you had this contentious interview with Rudy Giuliani, as I did a few weeks ago when he kept trying to talk over me. What do you make of him saying to you the media failed and you personally failed in the story about the Bidens and Ukraine, which first broke in 2015?
HENRY: Well, I actually think some people overplayed that in the sense of there was a lot of commentary that he was lashing out at me personally. I've known the mayor a long time. I don't think he was. I've since spoken to him since the interview; I'm convinced that he was not personally attacking me, but if he was, so be it. You know, we have to take the heat when we ask tough questions. The whole point of my new show at noon Eastern is to say, "We're going to hear from all sides." I mean, today we've got Tony Sayegh on, exclusively. He's the White House impeachment spokesman. We're going to ask him tough but fair questions. But every single show, like you do, we have Democrats on, and we're pressing them about the fact that Nancy Pelosi said she wasn't going to move forward on impeachment unless she had bipartisan consensus. Guess what? She's moving forward this week without that bipartisanship. So, I think the mayor deserves tough but fair questions right now. He's in the middle of this world. There's a lot of tough questions for him --
KURTZ: And does it --
HENRY: -- about he handled it.
KURTZ: Does it surprise you -- and I've known him for 35 years, and we also talked after our contentious interview -- that he's still willing to go on television even as he himself has had to hire a lawyer in this Ukraine investigation?
HENRY: You know what? I'm not surprised in a way, Howie, because I think Rudy Giuliani is like the president. They each believe they're their own best communications person. Sometimes it doesn't work out; sometimes it does because they both have the fighter's instinct. And by the way, I just think in general what the mayor was saying to me was, "You should be embarrassed," as in you, the media. I was just the fall guy. He wasn't saying I personally failed.
KURTZ: Yeah, that's how I felt about myself as well.
HENRY: But I think, look, he and the president, for better or for worse, are going to punch back no matter what, and that's what a lot of the president's allies and supporters like about the two of them.
KURTZ: Yeah, and they have every right to do that. Now, yesterday on MSNBC, the host Joy Reid was talking about a poll by The Economist which said that among Republicans, more felt that Donald Trump was a good president than Abraham Lincoln, and here's what she had to say.
JOY REID: There's a lot of evidence that it was a racial and religious cult of personality in which his base is solidly among the white evangelicals that almost worship him and say that he's the chosen one of God.
KURTZ: Now, a lot of Trump-bashers have said, "Oh, it's a cult. It's a cult of personality." Why say "racial cult?" Why go there, especially from somebody who often accuses, like many of her fellow liberal pundits, the president of being racially divisive?
HENRY: Frankly, I don't understand why she injected race. I don't think race applies. Certainly, the vast majority of the president's supporters are white, but I think we've seen in recent weeks and months he's making a strong play for more and more black voters. We'll see if he's successful, but when you've got black unemployment at historic lows right now, and you have a president who's trying to reach out to people of all backgrounds and say, "I want your vote; I need your vote," I just don't understand why race is part of the conversation. It just doesn't apply. And I think some people like to project themselves, their own anger at the president, their own criticism and read into what he's doing or saying rather than just focusing on what he's actually doing instead of projecting, "This is what he really means. We're going to divine it." A lot of times it's a lot of bunk.
KURTZ: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it's perfectly fair to say most Republicans are white and that he has strong --
KURTZ: -- the president has strong support among evangelicals.
HENRY: Doesn't mean it's a cult.
KURTZ: It doesn't mean it's a cult, but I guess that's become a kind of a common phrase on the left. All right, so she mentions in this about Trump being the chosen one. He had, a bit tongue-in-cheek, referred to himself that way in a rally speech.
HENRY: [laughs] He pointed to the sky.
KURTZ: Yeah, and this came up in your recent interview with outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and it generated a lot of headlines. And let me play what Rick Perry said.
Rick Perry: I said if you're a believing Christian you understand God's plan for the people who rule and judge over us on this planet. You didn't get here without God's blessing.
KURTZ: Now, that generated a whole lot of headlines and segments, but what was left out was this other thing that Perry said, which we'll play right now.
Rick Perry: You know, Barack Obama didn't get to be the president of the United States without being ordained by God. Neither did Donald Trump.
KURTZ: What did you make of all the coverage and criticism of your Perry interview?
HENRY: It kind of plays in perfectly what you're saying about Joy Reid, who was like, "Let's just take something that one of the president's Cabinet secretaries says and twist it every which way that fits our narrative," and the narrative was that Donald Trump thinks he's the chosen one, and now Rick Perry's agreeing. What they left out in many times when it was played on other cable channels was the bite you just played where Rick Perry in my exclusive said, "By the way, I think that Barack Obama was ordained by God." There's a reason, he said, why we had our first black president, and he was Barack Obama. Here's the big picture, is that Rick Perry was telling me he handed President Trump a one-page memo before leaving the Cabinet to say, "Look, I believe you are imperfect, Mr. President, as a Christian, but there are a lot of imperfect Christians." We all are imperfect no matter what our faith is, and Rick Perry's point is he thinks that God sends imperfect people to do great things, including Barack Obama.
KURTZ: Including Barack Obama, which should have been mentioned.
HENRY: But that didn't fit the narrative in the media.
KURTZ: All right, we've got about a half a minute left, Ed. A lot of media mockery online when Donald Trump tweeted or retweeted this photoshopped picture of himself with Rocky's body, Sylvester Stallone. Do Trump supporters view this sort of thing very differently than the media which love to make fun of him?
HENRY: They do. First of all it was probably a joke. The second thing that they left out is that the Sunrise, Florida rally I think last Tuesday the president was talking about his unscheduled visit to Walter Reed and that some suggested he had chest pains. He said, "I have a gorgeous chest." And I think this was an extension of that, a joke about the gorgeous chest.
KURTZ: But the Trump campaign criticized --
HENRY: Who cares? It's a joke.
KURTZ: I don't care but the Trump campaigned criticized The Washington Post for saying this was a doctored photo. I mean, it's not exactly his real chest, right?
HENRY: It's like was if The New York Times that went after the president about the doctored photo of the dog with the medal? I mean, some of this gets so ridiculous it becomes a caricature of its own and by the way, one quick point on Rick Perry, there are millions of evangelicals in this country who agree with Rick Perry. There may be others who disagree. But when you mock Rick Perry, you're mocking millions of evangelicals who agree with him and I think there are many in the Democratic Party and many in the mainstream media.
HENRY: Who missed that and that's something the president has to --
KURTZ: I think that's a really salient point and by the way, I don't think Trump was trying to deceive anybody with the Rocky picture. Ed Henry, great to see you. Thanks very much.
HENRY: You, too.
KURTZ: All right. Coming up we'll talk to the former CNN contributor who was dumped because she took over a conservative website. And later, should Newsweek have fired a reporter who wrote a Trump Thanksgiving story before anyone knew he was headed to Afghanistan?
KURTZ: The pundits had all but declared Elizabeth Warren the Democratic frontrunner, but now that she's dipped in a couple of polls they're really downing her. Take this Politico headline, "Elizabeth Warren Loses Her Mojo in Iowa." So, is the poll-obsessed press just being fickle? Joining us now to analyze the coverage, Eliana Johnson, editor of the Washington Free Beacon and a former Politico reporter, and Mara Liasson, NB -- NPR's, excuse me, national political reporter and a Fox News contributor. Eliana, I would suggest that Elizabeth Warren's embrace of Medicare for All really hurt her and that the media are pretty late in understanding the impact, the negative impact, for her of this gargantuan $20 trillion proposal.
ELIANA JOHNSON, WASHINGTON FREE BEACON: I think that's right and we're seeing the impact in the polls now, but it's not only that, Elizabeth Warren, there are quite a few things. There was first her fiasco with claiming Indian heritage. Then there was Medicare for All, which she was widely criticized for, and she wouldn't just tell people yes, your taxes are going to go up and she was perceived, I think, as not being straightforward on that. And now she's saying oh, you can opt in in the initial two years.
KURTZ: Yeah. She changed her position.
JOHNSON: And she was perceived as a candidate who had solid plans and I think she's taken a hit for that.
KURTZ: Washington Post front page today, Mara, "Health Care Dilemma Consumes Warren Campaign as She Goes Down in the Polls." New York Times has a piece saying many Democrats are vocal about Medicare for All being a political liability. It isn't like she wasn't asked about this but she always slid by in the debates and it's a huge problem not maybe now but in any fall election if she were to win.
MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Absolutely and there always was an undercurrent of worry among Democrats that Elizabeth Warren was too left to win a general election. So, she comes out with her mandatory Medicare for All plan, gets rid of private health insurance, and then that bursts into the open and makes her poll numbers go down.
KURTZ: Right. Well, I just think the media were certainly covered it and mentioned it but they're catching up now.
LIASSON: Yeah. They're catching up now.
KURTZ: All right. Pete Buttigieg, so there is a writer for an African American website called The Root. His name is Michael Harriett and he wrote a piece titled, "Pete Buttigieg is a Lying" MF and it was because back in 2011 before he was even mayor of South Bend, he had said basically that we need more education for children of color, but if they don't have positive role models in their community, that could be a problem. Buttigieg reacted by kind of taking a step back, kind of walking it back a little bit. Take a look. Pete Buttigieg: What I said in that comment before I became mayor does not reflect the totality of my understanding then and certainly now about the obstacles that students of color face in our system today.
KURTZ: How can one angry writer's piece with that headline so quickly ricochet across the media echo chamber? Isn't that something that Buttigieg said that was so terrible?
LIASSON: Because there's -- what the media tends to do, at least some parts of the media, is they have a pattern that they impose on reality. What's the pattern for Buttigieg? He doesn't have support in the black community. He's at zero among African American voters in South Carolina.
KURTZ: So, even --
LIASSON: So, anything that fits into that pattern that's kind of a metaphor for that, that gets to be --
KURTZ: So, maybe he did something rare. He called the writer. This guy Harriett says yeah, it was mostly me ranting at him and him trying to get a word in to try to -- he had an 18-minute substantive conversation about that and I think that underscores the way Buttigieg deals with the media, which he tries to be pretty accessible and does a lot of interviews.
JOHNSON: That's right. I mean, this is another narrative out there that Mayor Pete is accessible. You know, good for him for taking the criticism head-on. Is it going to make his numbers go up with African American voters without which he probably can't win the nomination?
JOHNSON: Probably not.
KURTZ: That political reality does not change. All right. This is kind of starting to go viral. I think it's going to be a big story by tomorrow. Some conservative websites are already going after Joe Biden. Let's look at a picture. He's at a rally and his wife is kind of waving her hands and he kind of nibbles on her fingers there. Not a terribly important moment, but you know, that kind of picture do you think it will become this media -- the media flap du jour?
LIASSON: A flap du jour and then the next du jour we won't be talking about it because everything gets blown up.
LIASSON: And then we move on. It's just another goofy Joe moment, although it does fit into that narrative.
KURTZ: Ah, see.
LIASSON: He's goofy. He nibbled on his wife's finger. There he goes again.
LIASSON: Like, to me --
KURTZ: For somebody else it'd be like well, it's pretty sexy, right?
Now, Eliana, I want to ask you because you are a White House reporter --
LIASSON: That's if you're into finger nibbling.
KURTZ: All right. Fair enough. You were a White House reporter for Politico and you were also a CNN contributor. And then you changed jobs. You have now taken over as editor of the Washington Free Beacon conservative website and suddenly you were dropped or you were sort of taken off the air by CNN and a CNN executive said that well before you'd been breaking significant news and now you're pursuing a different career path. What was your reaction both to your being taken off the air and those comments?
JOHNSON: You know, my reaction was that I think CNN which has a roster of paid contributors is entitled to have any contributors that they'd like on their air. What I took issue was -- with was that their spokesman characterized my move as pursuing a different career path. I'm still in journalism. I take issue with that change. I did write that person and ask, you know, for a retraction of that statement, and I got no response. And I consider that unprofessional. I would at least like an explanation for that characterization, or a retraction of it.
KURTZ: Well, it's hard to divorce it from the ideology involved -- in other words, let's say that you have become the editor of a liberal website. Do you think CNN would have dropped you then? And does this indicate kind of a distaste for someone who they now suddenly -- before, you were a perfectly good reporter, and now you're conservative.
JOHNSON: You know, I don't want to speculate on what the reasons were for their doing, but I --
KURTZ: Does it feel that way to you?
JOHNSON: You know, I don't want to talk, necessarily, about my feelings. But I can comment on, you know, what the words were of their spokesman, which I considered, you know, unprofessional and I take issue with them.
KURTZ: As if you had gotten out of the news business?
JOHNSON: Exactly. I think that's absolutely wrong. And I said publicly that the Washington Free Beacon is committed to reporting. And in many ways, this was a promotion. I went from being a beat reporter to running an organization, and I'm the first female conservative editor-in-chief of a website. And you know, that wasn't how CNN characterized or treated it.
KURTZ: All right. Fair enough. Now, after the break, why Newsweek canned a reporter who wrote that Donald Trump would spend his Thanksgiving tweeting and golfing, before the world learned of the secret trip to Afghanistan.
KURTZ: Newsweek published a piece Thursday morning with the headline, "How is Trump spending Thanksgiving? Tweeting, golfing, and more." Well, that turned out to be untrue as the press learned four hours later the president was on a secret mission to Afghanistan, making the Newsweek story even look kind of dumb. And now the magazine has fired the reporter who wrote it. So, Eliana, the story was kind of snarky. It was posted about 10:00 in the morning. Everyone in the news business thought he was at Mar-a-Lago. There were tweets coming that had been previously scheduled. The White House announces at 2:00 that he's in Afghanistan. Newsweek assigns that to another reporter, doesn't update the original story until 6:00 -- which is kind of malpractice. But should the reporter have been fired?
JOHNSON: I think it's probably not a firing offense. And good on the reporter, who sent out a tweet and said it was an honest mistake. I think that's right. Tough to comment on, you know, what happened internally there. But I think -- you don't see reporters coming forward very often and saying, "Hey, I made a mistake" and owning up to it. Good for her.
KURTZ: Right. Let's put that Tweet up. Jessica Kwong was her name. And she told the Washington Examiner that her editor assigned her to do the Thanksgiving story, and she apologized on Twitter. But how is she supposed to know that the White House was understandably keeping this top secret --
FEMALE SPEAKER: Yeah.
KURTZ: -- for security reasons until it actually --
LIASSON: Yeah, that doesn't make sense to me.
KURTZ: -- was made public?
LIASSON: It's almost like pulling an obit off the shelf and airing it by mistake when the guy is still alive. [laughs] I mean, these things happen. They should be corrected, which she did -- and apologized for. Maybe there's something else going on, but it was mystifying to me, why that was a firing offense.
KURTZ: Right. I mean, Newsweek said in a statement that she was terminated after the magazine had investigated the failures that led to the publication of the inaccurate report.
FEMALE SPEAKER: Not the editors?
KURTZ: Now -- well -- [laughter] -- that's the thing. I mean, who was ultimately responsible --
KURTZ: -- for assigning this in the first place, and for not updating the story for four hours? So, the president took a shot, Tweeting, "Oh, I thought Newsweek was out of business," and Donald Trump Jr.: "It wasn't an honest mistake," he said, addressing Jessica Kwong, "because you tried to dump on" -- excuse me -- "dunk on Trump, and you ended up dunking on yourself, because you couldn't resist." Now, there's no question that Newsweek has been hostile. This incarnation Newsweek to the president had a cover called "Lazy Boy." This was in his first year. But I still want to come back to this question, because I'm wondering if this could happen to any of us, where you write a story --
KURTZ: -- that then looks stupid when other events happen. And was Jessica Kwong made a scapegoat here?
LIASSON: Seems like it.
JOHNSON: It seems like it. But you know, we don't know --
LIASSON: Yeah, we don't know.
JOHNSON: -- all the details. And -- but I can say, having covered the White House, these trips are kept incredibly secret for security reasons. And so, it does seem, from an outside perspective, understandable that this was an honest mistake. I think the story -- yes, you know, was snarky. It's emblematic of a lot of the stories written about this president. Some right -- he does spend a lot of time on Twitter and doing things that, from the outside, you know, don't seem particularly good use of the president's time.
JOHNSON: But also, honest mistake.
KURTZ: Well, sometimes using Twitter is part of, you know, the president's messaging. But when -- as you know, when there is one of these secret trips, only the -- a certain pool of reporters are notified.
LIASSON: Oh, absolutely.
KURTZ: And they're not even allowed to tell necessarily their news organizations or --
LIASSON: Look -- and they're not -- I was on --
KURTZ: -- [unintelligible] their family.
LIASSON: -- call on Thanksgiving, getting ready to cover his 3:00 event in Mar-a-Lago, and I find out that our own reporter is the pooler, and he's in Afghanistan.
KURTZ: But you did not know.
LIASSON: No, I didn't know.
LIASSON: That's what I'm saying.
KURTZ: That's how this thing --
LIASSON: I had no idea.
KURTZ: Thereby underscoring the fact -- [speaking simultaneously]
JOHNSON: They're also not allowed to say it until they've arrived in Afghanistan.
JOHNSON: So, they spend 12 hours on a plane going over there --
LIASSON: And their phones are confiscated.
JOHNSON: They're not -- exactly.
KURTZ: Yeah. So, it's understandable, why this was kept secret. Newsweek ended up looking kind of dumb. But again, I think the firing is -- was way overreaction. Mara Liasson, Eliana Johnson, thank you for coming by. Still to come: a major blunder by the Chinese video site TikTok. Why it suspended a teenager for calling out the Chinese regime.
KURTZ: TikTok, the Chinese-owned video site that's insanely popular among teenagers, including one I know very well, has engaged in some heavy-handed censorship. The company suspended the account of Feroza Aziz, a New Jersey high school student who's Muslim, after she embedded a political message while offering makeup advice.
Feroza Aziz: The first thing you need to do is grab your lash curler; curl your lashes, obviously; then you're going to put them down and use your phone that you're using right now to search up what's happening in China, how they're getting concentration camps, throwing innocent Muslims in there, separating their families from each other, kidnapping them, murdering them.
KURTZ: TikTok, which has denied deleting material that would offend the Chinese government and which said Aziz was suspended for another video showing Osama bin Laden -- it was actually a dating satire -- has now unblocked her and publicly apologized, but the 17-year-old told the Washington Post, "TikTok is trying to cover up this whole mess. I won't let them get away with this," and I say good for her. This was a colossal blunder, and it's inspired others -- teenagers and others to do similar things, you know, fiddling with your makeup while announcing a political message. And that's what supposed to be free speech on a website. That's how it works.
Thanks for watching. This is -- that's it for this edition of Media Buzz. I'm Howard Kurtz. We hope you are having a great Thanksgiving weekend. Check out my podcast, Media Buzz Meter. We riff on the day's hottest stories, and you can subscribe at Apple iTunes and Google Play or FoxNewsPodcast.com. We also -- you'll also like our Facebook page. We post my daily columns there and continue the conversation on Twitter, @HowardKurtz. See you here next Sunday, 11:00 Eastern, with the latest buzz.
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