Huckabee's Fox advantage; Obama's media comeback

This is a rush transcript from "MediaBuzz," January 4, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On the first "BuzzMeter" of 2015 this Sunday, Mike Huckabee with a bombshell announcement that he's leaving Fox News to explore a presidential campaign.


MIKE HUCKABEE, FMR. GOV. OF ARKANSAS: I'm not going to make a decision about running until late in the spring of 2015. But the continued chatter has put Fox News into a position that just isn't fair to them.


KURTZ: Which means he's running. Why else would Huckabee give up a lucrative TV career? And how much has the Fox gig boosted his chances?

A mini media comeback for President Obama. Getting positive press from the left on immigration, on climate change, on Cuba, and for an improving economy that Slate magazine called the Obama boom.


ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: There has been so much effort put forward by the Republicans to trash the economy, to obstruct everything President Obama dreamed of doing with this economy. We are living in the Obama economy. And the results are astonishing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today for the first time in six years, Americans feels good about the economy. That's probably because it's growing fast.


KURTZ: But does the president deserve that credit? And are the mainstream media trying to give him a boost?

One of the Fox's most outspoken commentators on how he makes up his mind. Difference between writing and TV punditry, and his relentless criticism of the president.


CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: On a column, you can correct yourself. When you are on live television, you're a Walenda on the high wire.


KURTZ: A conversation with Charles Krauthammer.

Plus, "Good Morning, America" is the number one morning show and it's packed with stories like these.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The shocking videotapes one mall did not want you to see.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: We begin with the Colorado man charged with killing his wife by pushing her off a cliff.


KURTZ: Has the program moved away from serious news?

I'm Howard Kurtz and this is "MediaBuzz."

Mike Huckabee has been pretty openly organizing for a second run for president, and last night, he took the plunge, announcing on his show that he's quitting Fox News.


HUCKABEE: As much as I have loved doing the show, I cannot bring myself to rule out another presidential run.


KURTZ: So how much has the Fox platform boosted the former Arkansas governor? Joining us now, Chris Stirewalt, Fox's digital political editor. Mara Liasson of National Public Radio, a Fox News contributor. And Susan Ferrechio, chief congressional correspondent for the Washington Examiner. Huckabee talked about speculation and chatter about him running, but Fox executives questioned him a couple of months ago, because he was hiring operatives and looking for office space. So put you on the spot here. Did things reach the point where Huckabee was so openly exploring the campaign that he had to leave Fox?

CHRIS STIREWALT, FOX NEWS DIGITAL POLITICS EDITOR: I don't know. And I'm glad I don't. But I will say this, you couldn't persist in the direction he was heading. There was no way, and he was pretty straightforward about that. It was an untenable space. He had to go, and kudos to him for making the jump.

KURTZ: I've talked to Huckabee about this, as have other reporters going back to 2011 and 2012 when he decided not to run then. He is not a wealthy man, he was enjoying making millions of dollars for the first time, being able to build a house in Florida. This is not a decision that Mike Huckabee would reach lightly, to depart Fox News.

MARA LIASSON, NPR: No. No. It means he's really serious about exploring another run. That doesn't mean he can't come back in the future. The revolving door works both ways, and we've seen that happen in the past. But there is a rule, you can't run for president and have a show on a network that is going to be fair and balanced, and he had to go. I think it was pretty cut and dried.

KURTZ: Right. A lot of potential candidates try to extend that run for the exposure. But on his farewell program on Saturday night, Susan, Huckabee talked about God, he is a former minister of God, telling him or - - not putting him on this earth just to make money, and he also talked about learning to govern during his decade in Little Rock. Should Huckabee have been able to use this Fox show to make that announcement? Is that like an infomercial?

SUSAN FERRECHIO: It is, in fact. He's got more than a million viewers. This is his base he's talking to.

KURTZ: Let the record show that -



FERRECHIO: It's been week after week, too. Last night was when he discussed it formally, but there have been hints along the way, and I think he's boosted where he stands with voters just by being on Fox every week. So you could make that argument. This is happening at all the networks, where politicians are moving in and out of the role of TV anchor, and then suddenly they're running for something. And it's been going on for years now, and there is a question about whether this is really campaigning on the air.

KURTZ: Right. And it certainly is a great way of keeping yourself in the public eye, Chris. And Fox is drawing some criticism for being kind of a launching pad for Republican politicians in 2012. You had Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, who were contributors who left to run for president. Ben Carson this time. Left when he decided to get more serious about a presidential run. Scott Brown before his New Hampshire Senate run was at Fox and he came back to Fox, and CNN used to do this all the time with Pat Buchanan, who was in that revolving door.

STIREWALT: Well, sure. Things didn't end very well with former Speaker Gingrich and Rick Santorum, former Senator Santorum, vis a vis Fox. That was not from their point of view. They felt that their coverage - and I heard it from both of them individually - that they thought the coverage they received from Fox was not as good as the people whose Fox was supposedly briefing against. Let me say this, the amount of time and effort that is put into misunderstanding the way the political unit and the political coverage at the Fox News Channel goes is enormous. And everybody thinks they can read the tea leaves and everybody thinks that they know. But I'll tell you, right now, absolute truth, there is not a secret agenda. There is no secret thing, and whether you're a contributor or not a contributor, our political team is doing it the right way.

KURTZ: Just to follow up, you're saying that obviously when Gingrich and Santorum were featured as Fox contributors, they basically got to come on and say what they wanted. They felt afterwards that they were not treated fairly? Or their expectations were wrong?

STIREWALT: They made no secret of it. They lit a garbage fire in the town square screaming about the fact that they were mishandled by the Fox News Channel, and they were wrong.

KURTZ: Of course Gingrich ended up going to CNN after his (inaudible).

LIASSON: But you know what, the bottom line is, being on Fox is an incredible boost for any conservative politician who is thinking about running for office, regardless of how they might wine and complain about how you covered them afterwards. It's worth its weight in gold.

STIREWALT: Stipulated.

KURTZ: You agree with that?

FERRECHIO: I agree completely, but I also think the money factor also plays in heavily. A few years ago, Governor Huckabee decided not to leave the show for the exact reason we were just discussing. He didn't want to give up that salary. So I do think it shows how serious he must be to walk away now versus four years ago.

His poll numbers are pretty good right now. He sometimes rates at the top of the polls.


FERRECHIO: So this has been nothing but a boost for him. However, walking away, he risks never getting the show back. There are other eager people willing to fill the air space. Then again, if he runs well and he does well, he may be more valuable.

KURTZ: It's a great platform. I just want to say, the media completely underestimated Mike Huckabee in 2008. He barely got any coverage until about a month before the Iowa caucuses, which he ended up winning.


KURTZ: He went on to win other states but of course didn't win the nomination.

All right, let me move on to another aspect of political coverage. Time now to look at the Obama boom, where we've been flooded with stories and segments on how the president was ending 2014 on a high note by taking bold and historic action on immigration and climate change and Cuba, and how his own stock was rising.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN: A brand new CNN Opinion Research poll showing a surprising jump in President Obama's job approval rating. Let's get some more on the eye-opening shift.

AL SHARPTON, MSNBC: The economy's roaring back, with the Dow closing today at nearly 18,000 points. These numbers don't lie. And the president isn't done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The economy is booming.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 5 percent growth in the third quarter. What's the last time a Republican pulled that off?



KURTZ: Good argument there. So if Barack Obama had gotten blamed for years of a lousy economy, an anemic recovery, should the media now say he's entitled to credit because unemployment is lower and gas prices are lower?

STIREWALT: They can do whatever they want. Presidents are broadly, uniformly overcredited or overblamed with the economy, as if somehow the president woke up and said, you know what we should do? We should have expansive exploration of shale gas across the Permian basin. We should just do that. No, he is fortunate, but the other thing that's happening is, after a terrible year, I mean a brutal year, I would say there are many, especially some of the folks you were showing there, that wanted to help the president have a good close to the year. We're looking for good news, eager to grab it.

KURTZ: It seemed to me that MSNBC, I was watching, took a couple of days off, segment after segment, along with some liberal magazines, on how this great president has brought us back to economic salvation, and Chris is right, presidents are overpraised and overly blamed. But now that the numbers are looking better, you would expect the coverage to get a little better for Barack Obama?

LIASSON: The coverage is getting better only -- and put MSNBC aside because they are boosters of the president, just like you find many critics of the president on Fox, the fact is that the president's approval rating generally closely tracks the economy. And the economy is getting better. And it's no surprise. And he came out of his torpor and started doing a lot of things at the end of the year. And people like it when the president is active.

KURTZ: In 2009 when the stock market, when the Dow was below 7,000, Sean Hannity talked frequently about Obama has tanked the markets, and the Obama bear market - well, now the Dow is over 18,000. Naturally people who like this president are going to try to give him some of the credit.

FERRECHIO: What is new in media these days versus, say, ten years ago, is there are more cheerleaders on both sides. If this was a Republican president, maybe Sean Hannity would be out there talking about a comeback for that president. But what's new now, is that you have outlets like MSNBC and then you have new shows like say the Hannity show or others, Daily Caller, versus Huffington Post, where there are platforms to boost whoever they favor in the White House. And you're definitely seeing that in the coverage that you described.

KURTZ: Surely Hannity's show is an opinion show. Nobody would deny that.

FERRECHIO: Sure. He can promote him on that platform.

LIASSON: But, you know, a good economy and a president's rising approval ratings presents a real challenge to conservative media and to Republicans in general. Because what kind of context are they going to put that in? Do they want to talk down the economy when people are feeling better?

STIREWALT: They're mad enough about immigration, they're mad enough about a whole host of other issues, that they don't need to be going shopping for issues to be upset.

KURTZ: But now comes the question of bias because these steps the president is taking unilaterally, particularly on immigration and particularly on Cuba, Mara's NPR colleague, Steve Inskeep, asked the president in an interview, do you feel liberated by the election? The underline there is not why are you thumbing your nose at Congress and doing these things on your own? I think the media likes these actions on immigration and Cuba, and therefore it becomes --


KURTZ: -- a bold move.

STIREWALT: That's right. The Cuba one there, there was a full tizzy in Washington. But I'll tell you this, we are on a little vacation from the norm. The norm is the president has an approval rating between about 43 and about 47 percent. He was at 48. He slipped back into the bandwidth. Next year is going to be about, guess what? The president fighting with Congress over control of how we spend money in the United States. That's what it's been since 2011, and that's what it's going be in 2015. Take it to the bank.

KURTZ: Right, OK, prediction right here. And it's certainly true, Chris, that the president has had the stage to himself in some of these unilateral actions. And as the stock market has gone up and so forth, he's got a good few weeks, but I think some folks lost perspective because he did not have a good 2014. Remember that shellacking in the midterms?

STIREWALT: I remember it well.

KURTZ: Let me get a break and you can send your Twitter messages here. @howardkurtz. We always look forward to reading them on the program. And I read them after the program.

Ahead, a wide raging discussion about politics and punditry with Charles Krauthammer. But when we come back, the uproar over Congressman Steve Scalise, and a long-ago speaking invitation to a racist group. Has the president gone overboard?


KURTZ: The Steve Scalise story was broken by a liberal blogger. A Louisiana law school student named Lamar White Jr. (ph), and it quickly mushroomed in the media. Scalise the number three Republican in the House, expressed regret, for speaking a dozen years ago to a racist group ran by David Duke, the one-time Louisiana gubernatorial candidate. Mara Liasson, not surprisingly, a lot of liberal pundits have been jumping on this, because it has got all the hot button issues of race and David Duke. Maybe some of our younger viewers don't remember who he is, but a very divisive figure because of his history of inflammatory statements.

LIASSON: I think that's true. But you know what, overall, I think the Scalise story has been handled pretty well. Of course liberal media outlets are going to jump all over it. But if you put aside the predictable responses of the left and right media, I would say the Scalise story has been put in context. People are not saying he's a racist, that he was -- he agreed with what this group was doing. They put it in the context of how much damage will this do, how much did he know about it at the time. I think this is an embarrassment for Republicans. But they were lucky that it came during Christmas, when not a lot of people are paying attention. I think the story has been covered relatively fairly.

KURTZ: News flash, media act responsibly.

LIASSON: In general.

KURTZ: What's mildly surprising to me, Chris Stirewalt, is that you expect conservative commentators to say, oh, this happened 12 years ago. Why are we dredging this up? And yet you had Erick Erickson of Red State ripping Scalise, you had Fox's Sean Hannity saying not just Scalise but John Boehner should resign over this.

STIREWALT: I think that Sean Hannity believes that if the waffles are overcooked today, John Boehner should also resign. I think all circumstances -

KURTZ: It doesn't take a lot.

STIREWALT: It doesn't take a lot to get him to Boehner should resign.


STIREWALT: That's right, go. Here is the thing. The media mishandling of this story was interesting. I agree in large part with you, Mara, but it was interesting. So a blogger says Scalise spoke to a David Duke group. Scalise eventually says, I'm sorry, I didn't know. And then somebody says, well, actually, he didn't even talk to that group at all. He talked to a group that was meeting in the same place that had a guy, and it really wasn't that group.

KURTZ: And even David Duke said in a CNN interview he's not sure.

STIREWALT: Right, he's not sure. And so the story just at the moment the full feeding frenzy was about to absolutely rip Scalise limb from limb, it's sort of -- there was an Emily Latella moment like, oh, never mind.

LIASSON: Why didn't Scalise say that?

STIREWALT: Because he didn't know, and he was afraid that he would wrongly deny.

FERRECHIO: I disagree. I think there's more to it.

I think the reason he's waffling on this, to bring up waffles again, is that there's more to the story. The press did its job here. This was like a drop in the water. The rings formed. We got more information, because reporters started digging. And new media comes into play because you can dig up old blog posts and old stories really easily. We find that in the past, Scalise has walked this very fine line of trying to appeal to David Duke voters, and there are a lot of them in Louisiana, without being tied. So he's trying to walk that fine line. That's what you see here with him speaking to this group and his association closer than has been reported with some of the people involved in this white supremacist organization.

KURTZ: I do think it's interesting, Susan, that journalists who have covered him say they've never seen any other evidence of racially charged or questionable remarks by him. So I think that helped him. But I think the media were also driving this story because there was a sense that when Scalise said he didn't know what kind of group this was, that it wasn't plausible. In other words, it wasn't so much the act itself, but the way that he was spinning it.

FERRECHIO: That's right. And that's where you see both sides really coming after Scalise on this. If you're going to say you don't know, then that shows you're incompetent. And if you're going to say, well, I was just a young politician, and I didn't know, well now we find there are other associations that show this is a little bigger than just having spoken to a group that you thought was a civic organization.

KURTZ: Don't go far, panel, we'll have you back a little later on the program. Ahead on "MediaBuzz," some of our most scintillating media interviews this past year. But first, GMA, the most popular morning show in America, is that because of all the stories about crime and scary subjects?


KURTZ: "Good Morning America" broke the "Today" show's 16-year winning streak in 2012, and the ABC program has been on top ever since. But it's hard to miss the fact that George Stephanopoulos and Robin Roberts and the gang are devoting less time to traditional news and much more time to murder and kidnappings and consumer stories that are just plain scary.


STEPHANOPOULOS: On alert, the hunt for a tiger on the loose. Hundreds of police and helicopters searching for the big cat.

ROBIN ROBERTS, ABC NEWS: Also we'll have the shocking story of a young woman suing her estranged parents for college tuition.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We begin with that shocking home invasion, two lawyers charged with stabbing and seriously injuring a Virginia couple in a savage attack.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Also coming up, we do have a dramatic 911 call as the family pursues their stolen iPhone, telling the police they are tracking the bad guys. This is a warning for everybody. Listen up.


KURTZ: Joining me now for the Z block, David Zurawik, television and media critic for the Baltimore Sun. Look, David, America has voted. Based on ratings, that is a winning formula.

DAVID ZURAWIK, BALTIMORE SUN: It is. It's beyond tabloid. It's really interesting to see George and Robin, I think two of the smartest people on network news, so comfortable. At first I thought this is really tabloid. It's beyond tabloid. But the interesting thing about it, Howie, is and you saw it in one of those clips, where it said viral videos. The videos are driving. You know, I just wrote a piece for year-end about raw video driving our national agenda. This is what it looks like on a daily basis when video is driving what you do. And it's astonishing. I saw a segment two weeks ago where they showed an SUV stuck on the freeway and then cars slamming into it at 60, 70 miles per hour. They just kept playing it over and over and over.

KURTZ: And you kept watching.

ZURAWIK: I did. OK, Howie, but this is the interesting (ph) part. They then said, hey, if you see a car stop, you should try to go around it. One of the anchor women actually said, that is a very good idea. That's news you can use. It was like the worst local news in America.


KURTZ: On Friday, it was a man who killed a sleepwalking neighbor who was thought to be an intruder. But look, "GMA" does some good journalism and some good interviews, of course, but I was shocked, and we saw some of this, how often the story begins to talk about shocking video, shocking consumer warnings, and somebody must have research showing this is what gets people to stay put.

ZURAWIK: Oh, this is right out of a consultant's handbook. But it's also where we are in terms of technology. This is win, win, win. You show this on air, people watch it, but it also translates to your online products. So you're already driving an audience to online to want to go see this video. And this is the name of the game. These kind of videos, these viral videos, as you know, this is the coin of the realm across all media now. Legacy newspapers want it on their web sites.

KURTZ: Right. You have George Stephanopoulos, who is so steeped in politics, that when he got the "GMA" job and also keeping "This Week," he talked about trying to do more in-depth, and instead he's tossing to pieces about sensational murders. It kind of seems like a waste of his talent.

ZURAWIK: You know, he's making a salary, they're number one. So --

KURTZ: It's hard to argue -- in television, it's hard to argue with being number one.

ZURAWIK: I wouldn't judge that. But Howie, the American public is being cheated, when you ask what stories aren't they doing because they're doing these? And when you don't use the wisdom of Stephanopoulos and Robin Roberts, and you have them introducing pieces like these, that anybody could introduce, you're wasting it. And, really, I don't want to overstate this, but when you talk about dumbing down a country, dumbing down a national discussion, this is in the morning. You talked to their producers and they'll tell you, we give people the news and information they need to get through the day. You really think that's the news and information you need?

KURTZ: Just briefly, the "Today" show now in second place. Matt Lauer it seems still lands big interviews like the Ray Rice interview. "CBS This Morning" is in third place, but some modest increase in the ratings there, with a little bit more of a hard news approach. So at least people have a choice.

ZURAWIK: Yes, the "Today Show" still goes to celebrity interviews and performances, Garth Brooks, Nicole Kidman. That's what they are promoting all night in the football games this weekend and this week on "Today."


ZURAWIK: CBS - look, you don't hire Charlie Rose and then have him -- maybe Charlie will be doing these videos pretty soon. There you go, that's the formula. There it is, CBS, Charlie Rose doing tigers chasing people.

KURTZ: You're giving me the perfect out. David Zurawik, thank you for stopping by this morning and getting up early to watch these shows. After the break, Charles Krauthammer weighs in on the art of punditry, the meltdown at the New Republic, and whether he ever worries about seeming too partisan.



KURTZ: He's a one time Democrat, a doctor by training, a newspaper columnist by trade, a fixture on "Special Report" and a rather unlikely TV star. But what makes Charles Krauthammer tick? I sat down with the author of "Things that Matter," which has sold more than a million copies.


KURTZ: Charles Krauthammer, welcome.


KURTZ: You always seem so certain in your opinion. Do you ever look at an issue and say, gee, I'm not sure what I think about that. Is that allowed?

KRAUTHAMMER: When you're young.


KRAUTHAMMER: I've been at this for 30 years. And it isn't as if new issues keep popping up. I mean, new forms of old issues. But I've been in so many debates for so many years that I sort of have the rhythm of it. But I mean, there are a lot of things that come up where I'm ambivalent, or I could go either way. For instance, the normalization with Cuba. In principle, I could see the argument. I think the way it was carried out is problematic. But when that happens, I try to express my ambivalence.

KURTZ: Television doesn't love ambivalence. But tell me this, what is the difference for you between sitting down to write a column and sounding off on TV?

KRAUTHAMMER: On a column, you can correct yourself. When you're on live television, you're a Walenda (ph) on the high wire. And I like the immediacy of television, and it's also great fun. Writing is painful, television is fun. But when you write, as you know, you get to go over it. And the way I do it is I spend all my time editing. First, the draft I do within 15 or 20 minutes. Then it's just editing over and over. So smooth out the edges. It's like sandpapering a sculpture.

KURTZ: Good writing is rewriting.

KRAUTHAMMER: It is. And it's fun. I like that part.

KURTZ: You've been critical of President Obama on so many fronts. Do you risk being seen as overly partisan when it comes to the president?


KURTZ: It's a risk you're willing to take?

KRAUTHAMMER: Look, I had one rule - I started out life as a doctor and I quit to do -- to get involved in some way in public debate. And I did it for one reason. I just felt, you know, there were a lot of things happening in my time, and I wanted to have some small part in the -- in the development of things. So I did this because there were things I wanted to say, things I believe in. If I don't say what I believe and what I really think, then this whole career is pointless.

There's one other point. If you try to tailor what you say to fit or you worry about people would say I'm overly partisan, you don't remember the stories you make up. There is a great line in a Graham Greene novel where he's talking about a spy. He says, he preferred to tell the truth. It was easier to memorize. That is my motto.

KURTZ: You talked about ambivalence on some issues, or maybe a good word is nuance. Immigration, a very thorny issue. In a 2006 "Washington Post" column, you said border fence plus amnesty. Yes, amnesty, you used the word, shock and awe, full legal normalization, just short of citizenship, in return for full border enforcement. I'm sure some Fox viewers don't like hearing the word amnesty from you.

KRAUTHAMMER: No. I've said it on the air. I put that column in a book I put out last year, a collection of myself. I could have left it out. I wouldn't change a word of the column, and I believe today the way I did then. It's less popular now than it was in the Bush years. It was a Bush idea at the time. But just because the fashion has changed, it's no reason I should.

KURTZ: So you don't feel like you've shifted your position on this?

KRAUTHAMMER: Not at all. It's the same. You give me enforcement, I'll give you amnesty. Short of citizenship. I don't think the generation that came across illegally ought to pilot or have a voice in our political evolution. In the vote. But legalization, work, staying here. Yes, sure.

KURTZ: The New Republic just suffered a mass resignation under its owner Chris Hughes, a FaceBook zillionaire fired the editor. It's a liberal magazine, but it once employed you and Fred Barnes and Andrew Sullivan and other conservatives. What do you think of the meltdown there?

KRAUTHAMMER: I think it's become less relevant. When I happened to be there in the 1980s, as you well remember, that was a heyday. And in part, it was because we had this kind of mix, an eclectic mix. It was in essence a liberal magazine. I was more liberal than I certainly am now. I had been a Democrat in my 20s and I spent my 30s at the "New Republic."

KURTZ: So you're a recovering Democrat?

KRAUTHAMMER: I was getting mugged by reality. It was a slow motion mug. And I came out of it intact as a conservative about a decade later. But on foreign policy, I did most of the writing on that, and I was always conservative on that.

People don't remember that in the 1970s, there was a strong conservative wing of the Democratic Party. Pat Moynahan, Hubert Humphrey, Scoop Jackson, they were the Coalition for a Democratic Majority, Committee for the Present Dangers. So there were a lot of hard-liners. That is where I came out of. Joe Lieberman is the last of those Mohicans. Obviously he had no home in the end.

KURTZ: But can a print magazine, whether it's the New Republic or something else, focusing almost exclusively on policy and politics, even break even anymore in this age of free stuff on the Internet?

KRAUTHAMMER: In the past, The New Republic never did.

KURTZ: Right.

KRAUTHAMMER: I think the joke -

KURTZ: Proudly lost money.

KRAUTHAMMER: Exactly. I think the joke was they were in the black one year and had a pizza party to celebrate, and that put them in the red.

KURTZ: But as a supporter of intellectual discourse, is it at all depressing that it is harder for print publications of this kind -- not the kind that put celebrities on the cover, certainly, but this kind to make it anymore?

KRAUTHAMMER: I'm not sure they ever had an easy time. They always had angels. The Nation has an angel on the left. The Weekly Standard. I'm not sure any of them really make money. The National Review. You try to break even so you don't ruin your benefactor and bankrupt him. But it's always been that way.

KURTZ: Last question. You were trained, as you mentioned, as a doctor. Does that influence your political prognostications? (inaudible) the sanity of the people in the public arena, perhaps?

KRAUTHAMMER: Oh, no, it never does. However, my training as an M.D. has made me particularly open to empirical evidence. And when you talk about my evolution from a liberal to a conservative, it isn't that I had an epiphany. You know, the clouds parting and a shaft of light in the sky. I was open to empirical evidence, on the war on poverty, the Great Society, which I believed in, and I saw it didn't work, at least the evidence I read, and I changed. So that is the major influence on my life.

KURTZ: Thanks for letting us put you on the couch, Charles Krauthammer, thanks very much.

KRAUTHAMMER: Good to be with you.


KURTZ: Ahead, how the media handled the latest missing plane. But up next, Mike Huckabee is shaping the 2016 race by leaving Fox News. Does it matter whether reporters like him or Jeb or Rand or Hillary?


KURTZ: We're back with the panel with Mike Huckabee leaving Fox News to explore 2016. Whatever one thinks of Mike Huckabee and his brand of social conservatism, Chris, most reporters like the guy and find him unpretentious and accessible. How much does that buy you in presidential politics?

STIREWALT: It gets you attention at the beginning when you need it. He won't have any trouble getting earned media. However, ask John McCain what happens over a long period of time?

KURTZ: John McCain, who famously rode on a bus-


STIREWALT: My base, as he called us. But the point is, over time, that degree of scrutiny and attention, they tire of you and they bite the hand that feeds you, and it's probably a negative in the long run.

KURTZ: A number of reporters have Jeb Bush's e-mail address. I don't, Jeb, by the way. He's hardly a remote figure to the press corps like Mitt Romney was. Mitt Romney always felt like an outsider to the press.

FERRECHIO: Absolutely. This really matters, you know, the connection with the press. When I worked in Florida for The Miami Herald, I would get regular calls from Charlie Crist on Saturday morning. Just to check in. These things go a long way. I think it softens the media a little bit in my opinion. And I see the way they're much harder on the candidates who keep them at arms length. I saw that with Michele Bachmann's campaign.

KURTZ: Hillary Clinton. When I worked in New York, I used to get hour- long calls from Mario Cuomo when he was governor. Sometimes he would yell at you, but he certainly was engaged. Rand Paul gives lots and lots of interviews. Even to liberal sites like Salon. And Time says he's the most interesting man in politics. I think that works.

LIASSON: Rand Paul is riding a wave of warm media feelings. In the end, of course, reality sets in, and you don't win a primary just because the media likes you, but there's to doubt that Rand Paul is in a nice place with the media right now. Hillary Clinton, I think not so much at the moment.

KURTZ: And that is what I was going to come to, which is Hillary had a famously testy relationship with the president in the '08 campaign. And some of those scars go back to her time as first lady, and I think it hurt her. I don't know how she will approach the media this time around.

STIREWALT: It's indicative also of an attitude that says, you know, basically what they would like to do with Hillary Clinton it seems is put her in a protective bubble and float her through the process. But that's not what works, because people want to know and trust you. Every election is a character election. Every election is a trust election. If people don't get to know you and see you in real life, it's not going to happen for you.

LIASSON: And that bubble, that floating her in the bubble, is the same thing as an inevitability strategy, which everyone knows, including the Hillary team, is the wrong approach.

KURTZ: I'm sure some people are watching saying who cares whether reporters like these people or not. Just do your jobs. But the fact is, journalists are human beings. And if they're flying around the country, and they have no access to the candidate - all right, you're not so sure you agree.


KURTZ: It does matter at the margins and also was conveyed I think in the tone of the profiles and that sort of thing.

FERRECHIO: Absolutely. In the headlines, the types of stories reporters will write about, what you see in terms of how much do you want to investigate one candidate versus another. We certainly saw that in the general election with McCain and Obama. The press, I think anyone here could say, was in love with President Obama and he got the more favorable treatment during that campaign. So it definitely matters.

KURTZ: We'll see what happens with Huckabee's treatment by the media as of tomorrow morning, when he's no longer a Fox News host. All right, Susan Ferrechio, Mara Liasson, Chris Stirewalt, thanks very much for doing double duty this Sunday.

After the break, from Michael Strahan to Bob Costas, to the founder of TMZ, some of our buzziest interviews of 2014.


KURTZ: Time now to look back at some of our most intriguing interviews over the last year. We talked to Bob Woodward the day after legendary editor Ben Bradlee died. And I asked him about the risks that he and Carl Bernstein took in reporting the Watergate story.


BOB WOODWARD, WASHINGTON POST: You're publishing these stories, you're not naming the sources. You believe you've got good sources. But we don't have documents, we don't have tapes, we don't have videos. You go home with a lump in your stomach. And it's a kind of -- it's not doubt. It's - - as Katharine Graham said, when is the whole story going to come out? And we kind of thought, maybe never.

I think there's a great lesson in all of this for older reporters like you and myself. And for younger reporters, the facts. You know, who are the witnesses? How do they know this? Do they have an ax to grind? It is a reality now in my view that in the Obama administration, there are lots of unanswered questions about the IRS, particularly. If I were young, I would take Carl Bernstein and move to Cincinnati where that IRS office is and set up headquarters, go talk to everyone.


KURTZ: I love that. Go to Cincinnati, young man.

I had a rather spirited exchange with TMZ founder Harvey Levin after his site obtained those videos of Ray Rice punching his fiancee, and we soon got to the question of checkbook journalism.


KURTZ: When you get these exclusives, do you think that it's helping to change the image that some people have on TMZ as kind of being a raunchy tabloid operation?

HARVEY LEVIN, TMZ: We have been around for nine years. If you look at all the stories we have broken, they are stories literally that every newscast in America has put on their air. I would take issue with the way you are describing it, because if that's the case, you guys have been spoonfed this stuff over at Fox News as well as everywhere else for nine years, and you have been taking all of our stories. I guess I will just rest on that.

KURTZ: We all live in TMZ's world now. I had a Fox anchor ask me on air, so how much do you think TMZ paid for those Ray Rice videos? Now, I don't know if you paid in this case or not, but you have acknowledged the general practice. Does that tarnish TMZ at all? Are some sources primarily motivated by money?

LEVIN: Let's just get down to it. Howie, you work for a news operation that pays for video, okay? Let's just acknowledge that right now. Fox News Channel pays for video. So does ABC and so does NBC, and so does CNN, and so does every news operation in America. Newspapers, too. When you use pictures and you use Gette images, you pay for it. When you use Splash video, you pay for it. When a stringer comes along and says I have got a picture --


KURTZ: But those are professionals.

LEVIN: You pay for it. No, they're not.


KURTZ: I see it very differently. But Harvey is a good debater.

Ever wonder why most interviews with athletes are so boring? Michael Strahan, the football star turned morning TV star, had some insight.


KURTZ: So on this question of handling the media, why is it that in so many interviews, you see the athlete say, well, just taking it one day at a time. We just beat a very good football team. I'm just trying to keep my focus out there. In other words, it's almost like they are trying to be boring.

MICHAEL STRAHAN: Guys are trying to be boring because no one wants to have the coach say, come into my office, son. Why would you say this, or why would you do that? You don't want to be the soundbite guy. You're almost scared into not being yourself. That's the hard part about dealing with the media is to be yourself but not be afraid of that. But also being smart enough to know how to craft your answers and not get yourself in trouble.


KURTZ: Bob Costas, the NBC sportscaster, has a nose for controversy.


KURTZ: You have a knack for hitting hot-button issues. You have become a lightning rod for many conservatives, including here at Fox.


HK : Who seem to feel you are way out there on the left. Is Bob Costas a wild-eyed liberal who happens to have a deep voice and a love of sports?

COSTAS: No, no. I would be disingenuous if I said that generally speaking, I don't lean somewhat left of center. I will use an imprecise example, though, that might be relatable to the Fox audience. To the extent that I am liberal, I'm like a Juan Williams liberal, who will call out the excesses and the contradictions of the extreme left. And to the extent that I'm conservative, I'm like a Bernie Goldberg conservative. I think there are certain common sense issues on which I would agree with him. On the other hand, the know-nothing part of the spectrum where people just reflexively defend the Phil Robertson type person, I'm not in that camp and never in that camp.

KURTZ: You're not a "Duck Dynasty" conservative.

COSTAS: No, I think a lot of people who watch Fox would be surprised at how much George Will I read, how much Charles Krauthammer, or Rich Lowry, or on and on, and how often I nod in agreement and how much I respect those voices.


KURTZ: We'll put some other 2014 interviews on our website. And we look forward to another year of pressing people about the media.

Still to come, your top tweets and the media pouncing on another missing Asian jet, but this time steering clear of the black hole of speculation.


KURTZ: First a sad note. ESPN anchor Stuart Scott lost his battle with cancer at age 49 this morning. Former colleagues said he didn't just push the envelope, he bulldozed it. It seems fitting somehow to bid Stuart Scott farewell with his signature line, boo-ya!

As we came on the air last Sunday ready to look back on television's absurd performance after the disappearance of Malaysian flight 370, we found ourselves dealing with another jet that vanished in the same region. And while CNN again went almost wall to wall with the AirAsia flight that took off from Indonesia, there was precious little speculation about terrorism or hijacking or a mysterious black hole.


CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: Good morning. We start with some breaking news. And a search is under way after an AirAsia flight carrying 162 people from Indonesia to Singapore lost contact with air traffic controllers.

KURTZ: This is a Fox News alert. An AirAsia flight from Indonesia to Singapore has gone missing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A nighttime search at sea now suspended. More than 13 hours now, we are looking at our clocks. After a passenger jet with 162 people onboard went missing in Southeast Asia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At the moment they still don't know if it's in one piece or broken up. The person from CNN who spoke to them said he could not confirm the report that the plane is turned upside down.


KURTZ: Why the outbreak of sanity? There was a likely cause, a pilot trying to avoid a bad thunderstorm, and obviously parts of the wreckage were found after about two days. But I suspect something else was at work, a collective desire to avoid a replay of all those conspiracy theories that made the media look ridiculous.

Here are a few of your top tweets. Should the media give President Obama credit for the improving economy? Kason 90 (ph), "This is the Obama economy. If he gets blamed when it's bad, he should get credit when it's good." Steve writes, "hello, give it to the American business people to keep finding a way to do business in the Obama world." Tom Squeegee (ph), "Give Obama credit? Only if he takes the blame for all his failures. As he never does wrong, he gets no credit from me." Graham Edgler (ph), "no, the media shouldn't give credit for things, but report fairly and accurately and leave conclusions up to readers and viewer." We live in an opinionated media world, but I know a lot of people just want the facts.

Well, that's it for this edition of "MediaBuzz." I'm Howard Kurtz. Happy new year to all of you. I hope many of you got a break and are ready for a great new year ahead. We hope you will like our Facebook page. We post a lot of original content. E-mail me. We'll respond on video and on Facebook and on Twitter. Be part of the segment we call your buzz. We are back here next Sunday morning at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Eastern with the latest buzz.

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