Journalists on the front lines

This is a rush transcript from "Media Buzz," June 14, 2020. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: This is MEDIA BUZZ. I'm Howard Kurtz. I want to take a moment here to focus on a serious threat to journalism. This is not a partisan critique. And it's one I offer with great sadness, really. It's bigger than the overwhelmingly negative coverage of President Trump. Sometimes he deserves the criticism.

But it began with the decision by numerous journalists that Trump was so dangerous, such a threat to democracy that it was their duty to conduct a crusade against him. Now, the old rulebook has been thrown out again. I reported in detail on The New York Times forcing out editorial page editor, James Bennet, how both he and the publisher AG Sulzberger defended their decision to post an op-ed on the protest by Republican Senator Tom Cotton only to have Sulzberger denounce the piece under intense pressure from black journalists and others at the paper.

The Philadelphia Inquirer's top editor, Stan Wischnowski, was also pushed out even after apologizing for one admittedly bad column headline, buildings matter too. Now, I understand the anger and the frustration of black journalists sparked by the brutal killing of George Floyd and decades of police brutality. But there's a growing pattern of imbalance and intolerance at some of our top news organizations.

And for many journalists, that's just fine. They don't want contrary opinions published. Fox News takes its share of knocks. There are a number of prominent conservative hosts here. But you get many points of view on this network every day. The new approach is even being touted as a business model. Most readers at The Times are viewers at CNN or MSNBC are liberal.

So these outlets make more money by keeping the base happy. There's a sense of mission as they slam Trump. Embrace black lives matter, and now demand apologies and resignations if their bosses allow opposing views any daylight. There are still many journalists, perhaps the writing is old fashioned, who believe as I do that for all our many flaws, fairness and balance are our highest values.

But these latest developments at The New York Times and elsewhere suggest we are losing to the social justice warriors in what I view a battle for the soul of journalism. Ahead, Chris Wallace offers his take on these thorny questions. But joining us now to analyze the coverage, Guy Benson, host of Fox News radio's Guy Benson Show, Gillian Turner, a Fox News correspondent here in Washington, and Ray Suarez, host of KQED's WorldAffairs and Washington correspondent for Euro News.

Guy, what is your takes, not just on The Times pushing out James Bennet, he unfortunately didn't read the Tom Cotton piece in advance, and AG Sulzberger said there had been other editing lapses, but this broader question of how the result was forced by a bunch of staffers who felt that this was just unacceptable, couldn't even be published.

GUY BENSON, THE GUY BENSON SHOW HOST: Yeah. It wasn't the readers of The New York Times. It wasn't the far left stable of columnists and editorial board members at The New York Times. It was the journalists of The New York Times who decided that an op-ed from a sitting senator that used precedent and law to back up an argument that happens to be supported by roughly half, if not more than half of the country was too far.

It was not just too far, in fact. It was dangerous is the word that's been used. It was dangerous to the safety of journalists. I think that that is actually dangerous. That's the dangerous thing, the conclusion that they came to. And it's actually frightening to see because, Howie, when you look at what they have published on those op-ed pages for years, they said there was not enough editing. Nonsense, they said it was too incendiary and vitriolic.

Had they read a Paul Krugman column ever, this was obviously back-filling brand-new standards to satisfy a mob that was not outside the building, but inside the building.

KURTZ: All right. Well, Gillian, Times columnist Brett Stephens writes that the paper lost its nerve and calls it an invitation to intellectual cowardice. My question to you is there seems to be a growing newsroom culture. We saw this at the Philly Inquirer as well, of one mistake and you're out.

GILLIAN TURNER, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. That seems to be the growing trend these days. No room for explanation. No room for consideration of how the decision was arrived at to publish this op-ed. A quick note here, though. This may have been a revolt by journalists at The Times that got the column reneged, got Bennet pushed out.

But it's not the first time that The New York Times has really capitulated to mob pressure, even in the last year. Remember last August, the news division had a front page headline altered after they got backlash on social media. People accused The Times of misrepresenting something President Trump said in his speech. It turned out to have been taken almost verbatim from his speech.

So they're making these decisions on the editorial side and on the journalism side. So it seems to be, you know, the paper -- this is a concerted effort. It's not something that is happening piecemeal. It's a definite direction that the paper as a whole is moving in. Also, if we're at the time now where Americans can no longer have their own opinions, the moment is much more dangerous than we even think as we're battling a global pandemic. It's more dangerous.

KURTZ: I'm trying of underscore that here. Ray, Senator Cotton has certainly been using this backlash. Let's take a quick look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This all goes back to the publisher and his unwillingness to stand up to a bunch of 20-year-olds and 30-year-olds who are raised on social justice seminars on our campuses.


KURTZ: So great fodder for Tom Cotton. But should a group of liberal reporters or black reporters or any kind of reporters be able to dictate, Ray, what's an acceptable op-ed.

RAY SUAREZ, WORLDAFFAIRS PODCAST HOST: Well, dictate might not be the word that I would use. But it seems to have been played very badly, both internally and externally, by The New York Times. If there's a United States senator who wants to put troops on the streets of American cities, I think I want to know that. And even though I might have guessed, in the case of Tom Cotton, it's not a bad thing for me to see it in black and white.

There has been an interesting handling of this by The Times in that they also ran subsequent pieces by other opinion journalists in-house, ran editorial page disclaimers and explanations. I think any time that you run a piece by a senator who makes no bones about the fact that he thinks your paper is a junkie paper, and then he gets to both get his piece in America's most prestigious newspaper.

Knock the paper, and get a propaganda win afterwards. It's a win all around for Tom Cotton. He gets everything he wanted and nothing he didn't want.

KURTZ: Hold on. Hold on. We're running a little tight on time. We'll come back -- sorry, Gillian. And Guy, on the news side, New York Times Pentagon correspondent, Helene Cooper, who is African-American, said on Meet the Press this morning it's preposterous to think that President Trump could play a constructive role in this emerging racial debate on the opinion side. Sure The Times and The Post have conservative columnists, but they're all anti-Trump.

BENSON: Of course, they're all anti-Trump. I mean, this is not a secret. Even the right leaning columnists at The Times hate Trump. This isn't about Donald Trump. This is about a newspaper making a decision based on pressure from within to spike ideas not to respond. Because you -- we heard in the last answer from Ray, there were follow-up columns and editorials and letters to the editor and a huge controversy over what Cotton wrote.

And people went crazy over it. The response is if you don't like something that ran in the paper, write a piece. Call is fascist if you want to, which is what one our columnists did the next day.

KURTZ: All right.

BENSON: Don't apologize for running a piece that was by -- I think almost any standard within the bounds of reasonable debate.

KURTZ: Ray, just briefly, as a minority journalist. Do you think that the mainstream media have invited this overall backlash by not giving enough responsibility to black and Hispanic reporters and perhaps not covering the police brutality and racism as thoroughly as they should have?

SUAREZ: Well, after 40 years in the business, Howie, you can imagine my surprise to find out just how powerful black and brown reporters are. It is a novel idea, one that I don't subscribe to.


SUAREZ: It's more of a generational difference than an ethnic and racial difference, more of a generational difference.

KURTZ: All right. Got a get a break here, when we come back, is the press portraying the president as out-of-touch on these protests and on these racial issues? That's next.



PHILONISE FLOYD, GEORGE FLOYD'S BROTHER: I'm tired of pain, pain you feel when you watch something like that. I'm here to ask you to make it stop.


KURTZ: As a Washington Post poll says, 74 percent of Americans support the nationwide protests, including a bare majority of Republicans. The media are casting President Trump as out of step, a New York Times headlines says. As Americans shift on racism, Trump digs in, the story saying the president but from some Republican and military leaders. And that debate is reflected on the air waves.


DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: We have to work together to confront bigotry and prejudice wherever they appear. But we'll make no progress and heal no wounds by falsely labeling tens of millions of decent American as racist or bigots.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president is probably the person who is doing the most harm when it comes to race relations, police relations in this country right now, because he is simply behind the times. Not only is he not in 2020, he's not even in 1968.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is obvious right now that an alliance of media, political and radical forces are trying to demoralize millions of law abiding Americans who believe in equality and justice for all and who also support President Trump.


KURTZ: Guy, this -- certainly, we're seeing a big shift in public opinion. But the president has certainly stressed law and order. But other media or some in the media going too far as depicting him as a relic who is out-of- step with his party.

BENSON: Yeah. I think the media almost always goes too far in their criticism of President Trump on almost any subject. I think there's a case to be a made. And the polling is showing us that the American people, as you noted, including many Republicans are more open than ever to the need for reform when it comes to policing, are more open minded to the complaints that have been aired for years by African-Americans about the way they're treated in this country.

People are saying, well, hang on. All right, let's really listen here perhaps for the first time ever. That's a strong majority position. So you can say some of the president's rhetoric maybe lagging behind that. I find it interesting then to watch the decision many in the media have made and certainly many on the hard left.

And that's sometimes one in the same to pursue one of the least popular ideas in the country, which is de-funding the police. So it does seem that at a moment where there's an opportunity for actual reform and progress in this country, you have people on both sides running into corners that are polarizing.

KURTZ: Right. We'll come back to de-fund the police. But Ray, the president has repeatedly expressed shock and horror about George Floyd's killing. He must've seen the terrible video as we all have. So is it fair for a Washington Post news story to say he's taking divisive stances on policing, confederate symbols to energize his mostly white supporters.

SUAREZ: I don't know why the president would take to Twitter to associate the names of brag (ph) AP Hill (ph) and poke (ph) and others with victory and winning. He only has to explain it subsequently to say that he meant that people left those places to go win wars elsewhere. Who knows? Who knows? I think this is a moment where legacy media is being outpaced and overrun by the fact that media is no longer those big institutions.

But it's tens of millions of people walking around the United States with a high def video camera in their pocket, which is part of their telephone. We're seeing all kinds of things from all kinds of places inspiring, deflating, horrifying, shocking, and wonderful, all in the same set of days. And this is a story that's very hard for the conventional legacy media to get its arms around. And it may be falling back on old ideas and old tropes about how to cover this thing.

KURTZ: Right, right. By the way, the Atlanta police chief has resigned after the fatal shooting of a black man who appeared to be resisting arrest. And that led protesters to burn down a Wendy's in that city, and a CNN crew was attacked. Gillian, do you think the relentless media coverage since George Floyd's killing has moved the needle on public opinion?

Is it part of the reason that we are seeing these big changes in polls is because we collectively, perhaps imperfectly, are now grappling with this.

TURNER: I would like to think so. I don't know that that's the case in the sense that coverage of the death of George Floyd, the killing of George Floyd, and then coverage of the protests has not been monolithic for all the criticism about how a lot of journalists have maybe been overly sympathetic towards protesters, have been too much in cahoots with liberal outlets covering the story.

I think that it has been -- there's been a pretty diverse showing of events on the ground. Whether it's local or national outlets, I think we've seen these protests now from every angle. We're getting -- we -- even the reconstruction that was done of the killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day, we got that view from multiple cameras, civilian cameras, security cameras, in real-time, on different angles.

So we are getting more information in that sense. I think part of the problem covering stories like this for journalists, is it's very difficult to set your human empathy aside and just talk about what you're seeing in any given moment. It's very hard not to talk about protesters without contextualizing their struggles. So that's what you're seeing with these -- the racial protest coverage across the country.

KURTZ: Right. Well, empathy has been part of the conversation. All right, quick once around here, Guy, you mentioned de-fund the police, the left wing movement. Are some journalists trying to explain that away by say -- it doesn't really mean de-fund the police, it means redirecting money, blah, blah, blah?

BENSON: Yeah. You have a bunch of liberal journalists anxious about that phrase, because they probably know deep down it's not going to popular. So they got out in front of it with a bunch of columns and explainers, saying that's not what those words really mean in this context. And then a bunch of people on the left said actually that is precisely what it means.

And The New York Times ran a column to that effect this weekend, saying we literally want to take money, all money away from police departments, which I would argue could be more dangerous if implemented than an op-ed from Tom Cotton, but what do I know.

KURTZ: Right. That was an op-ed contributor to The Times. Ray, Joe Biden was asked about this on CBS News. Let's take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think if you take de-fund the police literally, it is an insanely radical and impractical proposal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We should not get caught up in the word. We should get clear about the demand. And the demand is for transformation of policing.


KURTZ: You obviously didn't see Joe Biden there. Could I have that sound bite, please?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you support de-funding the police?

JOE BIDEN (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No. I don't support de-funding the police. I support conditioning federal aid to police based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness.


KURTZ: So Ray, with Joe Biden saying he doesn't support de-funding the police, but with the Trump team trying to sort of tar him with by saying many people around him and many Democrats do. The journalists have to make these distinctions.

SUAREZ: Well, as the presumptive Democratic nominee for president says he doesn't believe it, I don't think I can side with Guy in finding it more significant than an op-ed columnist in The New York Times did. Opinion plots across a broad continuum, all the way from, yes, literally ending policing to something that looks a little bit more like the police reform that came out of the 1960s and 70s. It is all over the place. But elected officials have been very cautious so far.

BENSON: But Ray, just quickly, there's a new YouGov poll that shows Democrat voters split almost down the middle on the proposition of de- funding the police. That's a sea change and that's significant, in my opinion.

KURTZ: All right. Let me get Gillian back in just briefly. The police reform is the hot story right now. But when the protests fade and the 24/7 coverage fades, that could fade as well, your thoughts?

TURNER: Yeah, it will. I don't also don't think, in this instance, it is journalists or media writ larges fault for the discrepancy, the debacle, over the word de-fund. I think the core of the problem there is that the activists who chose this name are themselves divided. Some of them want the police de-funded entirely.

Some of them only want the police force's budget transformed, whatever you want to call it. That's what the media's coverage is reflecting here. We can't hang on --


TURNER: Guy mentioned The New York Times op-ed. It was an op-ed saying we really want the police to be completely de-funded. That's not what all the activists want. They need to coalesce around a strategy themselves.

KURTZ: All right. We will continue this conversation on the other side. But first, The Seattle Times has criticized a photo collage on the Fox News website involving the autonomous zone set up by protesters in that city, calling it a mash-up of different pictures taken on different days. An editor's note says the collage did not clearly delineate between these images and since has been replaced.

In addition, a recent slideshow depicting scenes from Seattle mistakenly included a picture from Saint Paul, Minnesota. Fox News regrets these errors. And these are so unfortunate on such a sensitive subject. Ahead, Chris Wallace weighs in on whether major news organizations are being pushed to the left. But first, the press calls it a conspiracy theory as the president tweets about the alleged police assault on a 75-year-old Buffalo protester.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think that that's an appropriate move of the president at this moment?

SEN. KEVIN CRAMER (D-ND): I just saw the tweet. And I know nothing of the episode.


KURTZ: Many Republican senators ducking reporters' questions about President Trump's tweet 75-year-old Martin Gugino. You've all seen the video of him being shoved to the ground by two Buffalo police officers who have been charged with assault. President drawing thunderous media condemnation for tweeting a conspiracy theory, saying Gugino could be an Antifa provocateur, was appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment that he fell harder that was pushed, could be a setup.

Gillian Turner, this began on an anonymous vlog. It was picked up by One America News. And then it was blasted out by the president to 82 million Twitter followers.

TURNER: Well, it was then made worse when a reporter asked Kayleigh McEnany about it in a press conference. And she responded by saying the president has every right to ask the question. Now, first of all, the tweet itself, President Trump's tweet did contain a question. But it very clearly contained an accusation. The first sentence in that tweet said this person could be an Antifa operative.

So there was an accusation and a question. Second of all, just because the president has the right, of course he has the right to ask any question he wants and level any accusation he wants. The question is, as Lisa Murkowski put it, why. Why fan the flames? Why say something like that? And that's the key question for journalists to look at here. We don't have an answer to it yet.

We don't know why the president decided to do it. But it was only harmful, not helpful to anybody.

KURTZ: Guy Benson, Martin Gugino has now been diagnosed with a brain injury. He is still in the hospital. His lawyer calls the president's comments dark, dangerous, and untrue accusations. Now, I understand why President Trump hits back hard on Twitter against people who are his political opponents, even if he goes too far against some cable news hosts. It's hard for me to understand why you would do this. Do you think the media criticism is justified?

BENSON: Yeah, definitely. This is along the lines of the Joe Scarborough murder conspiracy theory that the president can't help but amplify and perpetuate on his Twitter feed. We saw the video of what happened. There was -- even if you think this was an Antifa guy doing bad things with his phone or whatever, trying to scan the police. He was knocked over.

He hit his head and was bleeding on the street from his head. And they callously walked past him, the officers did. And to try to turn that into some sort of nefarious thing or a sinister thing on the victim's behalf I think is preposterous and certainly beneath a president of the United States, peddling in that sort of nonsense.


TURNER: But he's also not Antifa. And there was no evidence at the time showing that he was Antifa, so the president of the United States should have a higher threshold.

BENSON: Agreed, fully agree.

KURTZ: OK. Well, I just wanted to go to Ray Suarez, because as Gillian mentioned, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany say he has the right to ask those questions. And of course, he does. But not providing any specific evidence of it is I think what is fuelling a lot of the media outrage.

SUAREZ: Well, the press secretary's answer was clearly disingenuous and an attempt to deflect. I doubt in their war-gaming the president's messaging in the media shop, they rubbed their hands together in glee on him blasting out conspiracy theory reporting that has no basis. In fact, that makes him look callous and dismissive of a man who was clearly injured.

It was not a win for the president. And, you know, presidential prestige and presidential credibility is a real thing. And you don't want to fritter it away on something like this. I -- some days, I just can't believe it.

KURTZ: Well, again, you know, the president gets savagely attacked by the media. And he has the right to punch back. And he often does that effectively. Why he would go after this elderly protester is something I'm having trouble understanding. Ray Suarez, Gillian Turner, Guy Benson, great to see you all this Sunday. Next on MEDIA BUZZ, today's newsrooms are torn between traditional editors and staffers demanding social justice. Who is winning this war? Chris Wallace is on deck.


KURTZ: Back now to our top story, the emerging crisis in journalism and constant clashes over dissenting views at major news organizations. Joining us now is Chris Wallace, the host of "Fox News Sunday" and author of a new book "Countdown 1945: The Extraordinary Story of the Atomic Bomb and the 116 Days That Changed the World." Welcome, Chris.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Good to be with you, Howie.

KURTZ: Is journalism becoming more intolerant? I mean 10 or 20 years ago, we have seen the publisher of The New York Times completely flipping and criticizing a conservative op-ed that he had defended because a bunch of newsroom staffers didn't like it.

WALLACE: You know, it feels like the inmates are running the asylum. You know, I've been critical sometimes of the Times and I think that their liberal tendency tends to bleed out on to their news coverage. Some people have accused Fox of the same thing in terms of our tendencies.

But I thought that what happened in the last week at the Times was just extraordinary. So Tom Cotton writes this article about sending the army, sending the military to quell the protests at the height of all of the violence, and it's in the op-ed page, the op-ed page where you get columns and various views of various political stripes.

And there was a tremendous blowback from inside the Times and so much so that the publisher, as you say, Mr. Sulzberger, decided that he had to defend it, and then there was so much more blowback that he caved.

KURTZ: Right.

WALLACE: He then said it was bad. The paper said it was bad. They apologized for it. And the op-ed editor, a pretty distinguished journalist named James Bennett -- I'm not quite sure whether he quit or was fired. It was a profile in a lack of courage.

KURTZ: It's clear that he was forced out. Given the long history of racism and police brutality in this country, crystalized by the killing of George Floyd, does it now seem to you that there are many people in newsrooms, this goes far beyond The New York Times, who just don't believe that dissenting views, let's say sending in the military to control riots, should be aired at all, that it's just too offensive to them?

WALLACE: Yes. I mean, clearly, if you read some of the tweets, some of the online statements that members of The New York Times, reporters in the Times said, that's exactly what they were saying. Look, there are not two sides to every issue. Racism, there's not two sides. There's not a well, yeah, but here's why racism is good. There are not two sides to Adolf Hitler. That is why Hitler has been misunderstood.

But there are two sides. Certainly, it's not over the line to even discuss the issue of how you put down violent protests. And that's what Tom Cotton was doing. He was saying send in active duty military. I'm not sure I agree with him about it and it certainly would have been an extraordinary step.

KURTZ: Mm-hmm.

WALLACE: But it doesn't seem to me that it's so far over the line that there aren't two sides to that argument. You can object to it. You can say it's absolutely wrong if you're a reader or a reporter at the Times. You can write a counterargument. I hope that they publish it.

KURTZ: Right.

WALLACE: But to suggest that it was improper -- this is a U.S. senator -- to suggest it was improper for him to even express that opinion, boy, that's not good.

KURTZ: It's called debate. It's called free expression. My view is that this new double standard, this new woke (ph) standard, has its roots in part in candidate Trump. That there were many journalists in this country who decided they would just toss out the old rule book of standard and fairness because they deemed Donald Trump to be such a threat to the country.

They wanted to stop him from winning the White House, then they want him to get him impeached, and now they want to see him defeated in November. Do you think -- do you agree with me and do you think that's a slippery slope?

WALLACE: Yeah, I absolutely do. But I think it's even worse than that. It didn't start, in my opinion, with Donald Trump. I will just put it in personal terms. I get complemented a lot when people see me -- they're not seeing me very much right now with the quarantining -- I get complemented for being fair.

While on the other hand I like compliments, I actually find it fairly depressing, because as you and I know, you're not as old as I am, but I will call us both old timers, it used to be that fairness was what kept you from getting fired. That was the minimum requirement for a reporter is that you're fair. You know, you got complimented if you're a good writer, a good reporter, but fairness was --

KURTZ: Yeah, you didn't get a medal for being fair.  WALLACE: Yeah. But today, I think that it's gotten so polarized whether it's on cable news, whether it's in newspapers, that fairness is kind of unusual and that is a terribly sad reflection on our of business.

KURTZ: Indeed. Now, there's another side to this. You gave a speech a few months ago in which you said that President Trump was engaged in the most direct sustained assault on freedom of the press in our history. But you also fought at the conduct in some of the media. Explain.

WALLACE: Well, I did, and I think that Trump calling the media the enemy of the American people speaks for itself. I think it's outrageous. But having said that, I think -- again, I don't know whether he is the cause or it was happening. I think it was happening before him. You see some reporters now who have become advocates. I see it in the press briefings now.

You know, I was pretty tough in the press briefings with Ronald Reagan and his press secretaries in the 80s but we were basically trying to get information. Some of the press briefings now, I see the White House press corps is supposed to be one of the top jobs in journalism. It's more playing gotcha, more just trying to get arguments and advance their point of view. That's not what we're supposed to be doing. That's what I see too often among my colleagues in the media.

I'm not holding myself up as something grand, but I think too many reporters have fallen into the role of being advocates. And frankly with this president, anti-Trump advocates and -- you know, we got to be neutral. We got to play it straight and, you know, call balls and strikes whether it's something the president does that's good or of bad, whether it's something that Joe Biden does that's good or bad. I don't think we can be taking a side in this argument.

KURTZ: Yeah. Unfortunately, I think taking a side, if you're catering to the anti-Trump side, has become a business model for many organizations. But final question on this, you know, it's easy for younger journalists to dismiss you call us old timers, to say your brand of journalism doesn't change anything, your companies weren't sensitive enough to black frustration and anger over the years, and that's why what matters now is social justice, not some abstract notion of objectivity.  WALLACE: I think that the truth -- you know, what's the line? The truth shall set you free. I mean, it was actually predated me, you know, that it was the journalism, the 60s and 70s, the coverage of the civil rights movement, the coverage of the brutality of southern sheriffs and beating people on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, that nothing has done more to advance the civil rights movement than just shining a light of reality.

I think when reporters start advocating -- reporters -- look, editorial pages, opinion people, they want to advocate, that's what they're trained to do.

KURTZ: That's different.

WALLACE: But when reporters start taking sides, I think that's very dangerous.

KURTZ: Well put. All right. Stick around, Chris. We'll have more with Chris Wallace in a moment on the agonizing decision to drop the atomic bomb in 1945, and the media's role during those tension-packed days.


KURTZ: More now with Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace and his book "Countdown 1945," about Harry Truman and the (INAUDIBLE) decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan.

Chris, in July 1944, you write Harry Truman had no idea he would be FDR's running mate. It echoes Joe Biden making a decision today. And then he becomes president. He is told about the secret bomb project and he meets with his war cabinet and there's quite a debate. Explain.  WALLACE: Well, one of the things -- the best review I got about my book, somebody said, I knew what happened in 1945, but this book reads like a history thriller. That's just the point of what I was trying to do, countdown, 116 days. And one of the things I was trying to do is put you in the scene with all of the uncertainty, all of the arguments back and forth at key stages in the process.

So, for instance, you're quite right, Harry Truman had been vice president for 82 days. Roosevelt dies on April 12th, 1945. And after Truman is sworn in, Henry Stimson, the secretary of war, takes him aside and says, Mr. President, I've got to tell you about a project. Truman knew nothing about the Manhattan Project to develop the bomb.

When he's having his first war cabinet meetings in June of '45 with people like Secretary Stimson, General of the Army George Marshall, there's a big debate about invading Japan. Invading Japan was going to be blood bath. The estimates were it was going to continue the war for another year and a half and there were going to be a half million American casualties and a million Japanese casualties.

And at the very end of the meeting, John McCloy, assistant secretary of war, says -- because it hadn't been brought up -- says, you know, I think we ought to have our heads examined if we don't discuss dropping the bomb, using the atom bomb, which hadn't been tested yet. So, you're in the middle of that debate.

KURTZ: Right.

WALLACE: Meanwhile, the scientists are trying to make sure the bomb will work. It wasn't tested until three weeks before it was dropped on Hiroshima. And the flight crew, even when they're flying to drop it on Hiroshima, doesn't know whether the aftershocks will knock the plane out of the sky.

KURTZ: Yeah. What struck me was a New York Times science reporter named William Laurence, who was brought in to behind the scenes. He was sent to Los Alamos. He disappeared for months. He got all the inside information about the super-secret Manhattan Project. He actually was on the second plane when they dropped the bomb on Nagasaki. How could the government trust a reporter with such a sensitive secret?  WALLACE: Well, there wasn't all the social media. So once he was under -- you know, inside the bubble at Los Alamos and then to Tinian Island and then on the plane that dropped the second bomb, he didn't have any way to get out his story if he wanted to. It's not like he could have tweeted something. But it speaks to a bigger issue, which was how different the culture of the country was then.

Leslie Groves, the general and the head of the Manhattan Project, went to The New York Times and said, I want your best science reporter, William Laurence had won a Pulitzer prize, I want him to come behind the screen, he's going to get the whole story of the development of the atom bomb.

But he can't write a single thing until we've dropped the bomb and the story breaks and the Times trusted the Pentagon, the Pentagon trusted the Times. And first of all, he was the one who coined the phrase the atomic age. But there was also this sense of unity in the country then of pulling together for a common of cause. We just don't have today.

KURTZ: I've got half a minute. There was a test, as you write, in New Mexico. People could see it from miles around, the atomic bomb. What did the military tell the Associated Press when it said what's going on here?  WALLACE: I think they said -- they lied about it. They said that there had been some ammunition dump or something. You know, I don't like that part of the story too much. I'm never in favor of the government lying. But obviously they couldn't say we just exploded the first atom bomb in history and have the technology to end the war.

KURTZ: Right. I have to say, this is prodigiously researched, it's an absolute page-turner. Congratulations on the book. Chris, great to see you.

WALLACE: Howie, thank you.

KURTZ: After the break, from old movies to TV shows to confederate monuments, the cancel culture is suddenly delivering swift verdicts, but is it out of control? That's next.


KURTZ: HBO Max has temporarily yanked "Gone with the Wind," the classic 1939 film set on a southern plantation in Atlanta during the civil war era. The company is saying the movie features racist depictions that were wrong then and are wrong today. But that's not all. Such TV shows as Paramount's "Cops" and A&E's "Live P.D." have been axed, and even the Nick Jr. cartoon "Paw Patrol" is under fire.

Joining us now is Clarence Page, columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Clarence, does some of these cancel culture or even the K9 cartoon figures of "Paw Patrol" are being criticized because it is too favorable to police reached the point of absurdity?

CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Well, it always happens that these things will get to that point. I think that what has happened -- what disturbs me about it is that as far as the cops shows, for example, that's the most successful franchise in prime time TV and the complaint is that they show the cops in too positive of a light.

I personally always preferred the wire because the wire always had that nuance that all the cops aren't good and all the criminals aren't bad, which is the way life it. In this case, it's finally taken root with the, I should say, the cancel culture, ever since the killing of George Floyd.

We have seen a big traumatic shockwave that's gone through our society including our media and that's why we've got the kind of controversy you're talking about this morning.

KURTZ: Yeah. Well, HBO says it will bring back "Gone with the Wind" but has to have a racial discussion first. Look, are there also positive benefits - -


KURTZ: -- which they won't even release except for academic purposes. CBS has been sitting on that for over 50 years.

KURTZ: Yeah. Good point. Look, you also have people like Vogue editor Anna Wintour of "Conde Nast" issuing an apology to her staff for mistakes of not hiring enough black employees, for running material that was considered intolerant or hurtful. Is that a positive side effect of this whole debate?  PAGE: A surprising side effect to me, but I think it's healthy in the long run. What struck me was Andre Talley, an African-American who ran the magazine with her for several years and one of the highest ranking black folks in major media, compared her statement to Roger Goodell apologizing for the NFL without mentioning the name Colin Kaepernick, who after all is the reason why there is (INAUDIBLE) in NFL right now.

Anna Wintour didn't go into details, just kind of gave a general generic apology. It's probably not the best way to handle the situation but it does show how management is taking these complaints seriously now.

KURTZ: Right. I also want to touch on NASCAR banning confederate flags at its events. You have protesters defacing confederate statues. And military leaders, although President Trump says he's not considering it, want some of those bases renamed that are named for confederate generals. This has been brewing for a long time. Why has it caught fire now?  PAGE: As you know, I'm an army veteran. I'm accustomed to these kind of controversies. It is always a puzzle that we have bases named after officers who fought against the United States. Why now? I go right back to George Floyd. There is a sense across the country now that you can't just argue these things away like a lot of previous stories because of the video. It was so striking, watching Floyd's life get squeezed out of him.

Now, everybody is taking a new look at our attitudes towards race and that includes the military. Either President Trump is going to win this argument because he's president, he's commander-in-chief, but the argument is going to --

KURTZ: Absolutely. I'm happy to have this army veteran's opinion. Thank you very much, Clarence Page, for joining us. And we'll be right back.


KURTZ: The media are finally focusing again on the coronavirus, a story that was practically abandoned during the nationwide protests against racism and police brutality. COVID-19 cases are rising in 22 states including Texas, California, Arizona, North and South Carolina, sometimes the new highs, largely because states are reopening their economies.

But I think the lack of media interest also sent a signal to frustrated Americans that the pandemic was all but over, that it was history, which unfortunately it is not.

And talk about double standards, the media rarely raised the virus risk of the packed protests after George Floyd's death because they mostly supported the cause, but they are ripping President Trump's decision to hold an Oklahoma rally next week where, by the way, those attending have to sign a release saying they won't sue if they get infected.

The press fell down on the job when a hotter story with better ratings came along. And we have to do a better job of informing people of the risks from a deadly disease that unfortunately hasn't run its course.

That's it for this edition of MEDIA BUZZ. I'm Howard Kurtz. Hope you like our new graphics and music. We hope you also like our Facebook page. We post my daily columns there. We can continue the conversation on Twitter at Howard Kurtz. Check out my podcast "Media Buzz Meter." You can now subscribe at Pandora and Spotify, as well as Apple iTunes and other places, or on your Amazon device. We are back here next Sunday.

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