This is a rush transcript from "MediaBuzz," January 12, 2020. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On the Buzz Meter this Sunday, much of the media continues to castigate President Trump for killing Iran's top terrorist, challenging him on the disputed intelligence despite the easing of tensions with Tehran.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A president of the United States, they used to hide from assassination responsibility. This president is bragging about it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are not crazy. We are on the precipice of what many imagined as a worst-case scenario of Donald Trump as president of the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Those worries were not helped today by the bizarre double-take, walk back. Oops we didn't really mean it announcement and then un-announcement from the pentagon that all U.S. troops were leaving Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Many media conservatives rally to the president's side, but there is a definite divide on the right.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A huge success. The world is safer. One of the world's worst, most powerful terrorists is dead. The mob in the media, Democratic Party, they just seem distraught.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trump forces Democrats to reveal themselves in the media. They're so caught up with resisting and hating Trump, for everything he does and breathes, that over the weekend they literally sounded more empathetic to the mourners of an Iranian mass murderer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As recently as last week, most people didn't consider Iran an imminent threat. It seems like about 20 minutes ago we were denouncing these very people as the deep state and pledging never to trust them again without verification. But now for some reason, we do seem to trust them implicitly and completely.
KURTZ: Are the pundits justified in saying Trump spread confusion after the attack as the House was right to invoke the War Powers Act to rein him in? Are the president's detractors to admit that in cold political terms he seems to have won this round? And is the press challenging Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as they accuse Trump of a political assassination?
Plus, much media mockery for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as they step away from their royal duties, but isn't this really about trying to escape the constant carping from the tabloids? I'm Howard Kurtz and this is MEDIA BUZZ. In the aftermath of his deadly drone strike against Iran's top general, the media began slamming the president for sending contradictory signals, what the New York Times called a chaotic brew of conflicting statements, crossed signals, and mixed messages.
It was in that atmosphere that Trump delivered a televised address, beginning with tough and ending with an olive branch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Iran has been the leading sponsor of terrorism, and their pursuit of nuclear weapons threatens the civilized world. We will never let that happen. The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The media reaction was mixed with many journalists, but not all, seeming to breathe a sigh of relief.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was measured by Donald Trump's standards. And I would even argue that it was measured by the standards of any American president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got to bring people together as the president and just continue to take shots at President Obama three and a half years later doesn't make any sense.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a moment for statesmanship. He comes out and gives the cheapest of cheap shots at a predecessor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's sending him a message that America will not be pushed around. You will not cross our red lines. And Iran is now staying within those red lines.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now to analyze the coverage, Gayle Trotter, political analyst in the Wire, who today is launching the podcast the Gayle Trotter show right in D.C. Griff Jenkins, a Fox News correspondent who has reported from the Middle East, and Ray Suarez, former correspondent for the PBS news hour and co-host of World Affairs on KQED.
Gayle, President Trump obviously taking plenty of media criticism for the airstrike that killed General Soleimani. Was it necessary? Did the intel support it. My question is since his speech and since Iran's response was rather puny, has the media environment response softened toward Donald Trump?
GAYLE TROTTER, THE HILL CONTRIBUTOR: I would say not. They're continuing to portray it as chaotic and that there's no long-term strategy. And I think the most important thing in reviewing the media coverage of what transpired this past week is that the media have not shown that -- hasn't reflected this is the anti-Benghazi.
Our embassy was attacked. We responded with lethal force immediately in a very surgical attack. And unfortunately in this week, we've seen that the mainstream media has been schilling for Tehran's autocratic, theocratic regime, and what's surprising about that --
KURTZ: Wait, wait. Let me stop you on that, schilling for Tehran's regime?
TROTTER: The Washington Post called Soleimani the most revered military leader. The New York Times had similarly flattering reports about Soleimani. And they talked about -- the New York Times in particular talked about Soleimani dedicating his life to the Iranian national security, and yet this is the man who's responsible for the deaths of 600 Americans and injuries of thousands --
KURTZ: I would just say some of that was trying to portray how he was viewed in Iran, although obviously there were mixed feelings about him in Iran. I sense a real exhaling, Griff Jenkins, in reporting and the commentating, even amongst some of the president's detractors as the thing deescalating in part due to president's speech.
GRIFF JENKINS, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: I think so. But listen, the job of the media, the press s to hold our leaders accountable whether it's the president or members of Congress. And in this case, the one thing that is going to continue to get interest is whether or not there was an imminent threat. It's -- everyone agrees that Soleimani had killed 600 plus Americans. But the time of which you would clearly raise tensions, that's still an untold story.
KURTZ: And we will come back to that in a moment. But Ray, on the speech, it seemed to me that some of the media said, well, there's a lot of tough talk, stricter sanctions imposed on Tehran, a threat that Iran can never have a nuclear weapon. And by the way, we're open to negotiations.
RAY SUAREZ, WORLD AFFAIRS KQED: It's hard to fathom what the bottom line of American policy in Iran is right at this moment. The president announced he wants to get troops out of the Middle East, but created a situation where American troops must stay close to Tehran in order to enforce American penalties on the regime there.
KURTZ: But the question for the coverage is did he entirely create that situation, or was he also reacting to things like the siege of our Baghdad embassy by pro-Iranian militants?
SUAREZ: Sure. There's a lot of things that lead up to attack on Soleimani.
And, don't forget, a senior Iraqi militia leader. And there, to a degree, free agents, and we don't know yet where that leads, whether they're going to strike American targets or, should I say, continue to strike American targets.
KURTZ: There's a lot we don't know. But what we do know, Gayle, as we showed at the top, there is a divide among media conservatives including here on Fox. Many people are supporting the president's handling of the entire matter, showing strength. But others like Tucker Carlson are saying don't listen to the same people who dragged us into the Iraq war.
And don't automatically believe the intel reports from what had previously been criticized as members of the deep state.
TROTTER: This is not a binary choice. And I think many members of the media want to go into that script of any military intervention by the United States is either Vietnam or another Iraq. But there are many options on the table. And President Trump has these values of America first, stopping endless wars, trying to make sure that he protects Americans.
And there are many options on the table. So where some people might in the media see that it's chaotic or without a long-term strategy, other people on the right and Americans generally understand that it's part -- it's staying true to his values of keeping them guessing.
KURTZ: It would be a lot simpler if it was a binary choice. Griff, it's been 17 years -- I think a lot of the media question it's driven in part by a sense of guilt and embarrassment about what happened in dealing with the Bush administration and the slamdunk in CIA intelligence about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, which turned out not to exist, and a kind of determination not to roll over or be passive when intelligence claims are made.
JENKINS: Exactly. So what you're going to see now is whether or not Speaker Pelosi takes the next step. In her first press release when she said she was going to take this vote on this toothless war powers resolution, she also said she would take at some point vote to repeal AMUF, the Authorization for Military Force, of which we all know was a lie or an inaccurate amount of evidence made by Secretary of State Colin Powell to the United Nations.
Now, you're going to see whether or not they continue to do that. You have, by the way, complicating all of this, and to Gayle's point about where people fall on all of this. You have Bernie Sanders and Mike Lee introducing something in the Senate here in the coming weeks that's going to block anymore more funding for Iran.
KURTZ: Right. You know, the media always complain about Donald Trump's messy process, the way he governs, his style. So for example, the president said we would, if necessary, target Iranian cultural sites. In fact, Secretary Mark Esper said no. Mike Pompeo said we'd follow the law. And they seemed to back off. Much of the public doesn't follow the rhetoric hour by hour --
SUAREZ: There's a difference between messy process and messy messaging. There may be internal logic and coherence in the Trump policy. But when you roll it out and there's five different stories within five days, that's a problem for people who cover this for a living. If you want the story to just be kill bad guy, good, then sure, fine.
We'll get through a couple of news cycles with that. But with all the things that are implicated by the assassination of a high-level foreign official, it gets more complicated than that, and kill bad guy, good, is not going to take you the whole way.
JENKINS: -- you know, do we get enough coverage, Ray, that essentially if you're looking for a doctrine of sorts from President Trump, he did say you kill an American, you cross the line. So it's not just a bad guy, it's a guy that crossed, I presume, from the White House a certain line.
ROTTER: And think about the coverage of Iran downing our drone. And President Trump said there were no lives taken. We're not going to take lives.
KURTZ: -- called off an air strike at the last moment. But let me get you this because I want to play this, the president's interview with Laura Ingraham. And this came, Gayle, as the media criticism built about that Trump had no strategy and, of course, there was the Pentagon letter sent to the Iraqis and disavowed saying we're pulling all of our troops out of Iraq. And of course, Laura Ingraham asked him about what's become the pressing media issue about the intelligence. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't the American people have a right to know what specifically was targeted without revealing methods and sources?
TRUMP: Well, I don't think so. But we will tell you that probably it was going to be the embassy in Baghdad. I can reveal that I believe it would have been four embassies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, there's a lot of media scepticism about what four embassies. At one point he said -- and it wasn't mentioned before by the administration, and apparently this was not given to members of Congress in those briefings.
TROTTER: Great question by Laura Ingraham, great response by President Trump. He's got to protect his personnel who are overseas and doing their jobs as American diplomats and service members. And it was great of Laura to push back on that. But he should not have revealed any more information than that.
KURTZ: I also want to show you some of the questioning of Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, as reporters pressed him because the operative phrase in the administration had been imminent attacks. We acted to prevent imminent attacks. That's why we took out Soleimani. Then they kind of stepped back from that, and then it came back. Here's what happened at the presser.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This morning, you said we didn't know precisely when, and we didn't know precisely where. That's not the definition of imminent.
Did you have specific information about an imminent threat? And did it have anything to do with our embassy? Secretary Pompeo, what is your definition of imminent?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was going to happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And Ray, the Washington Post now quotes two senior officials as saying, yes. There was a vague threat against the Baghdad embassy, none specifically about four --
SUAREZ: The secretary of defense is already pulling back on that imminent threat to four embassies part, saying that he had never been told anything
KURTZ: Right. He's been on the Sunday shows. And Mark Esper said, look, I do believe that these embassies were threatened. But to no specific -- and so you get into the sort of angels on the head of the pin debate about what's specific, what's imminent, and that seems to be a dominant storyline right now.
SUAREZ: If you don't answer the question when it's asked, they're going to keep asking the question, which to some makes them look bad. This is part of what we do. We keep asking the question till somebody gives an answer that you can run with.
KURTZ: Well, they are answering the question. In fairness, they say, you know, they can't prove this because releasing the raw intelligence would compromise sources and methods, which is a feature of over administration as well. I've got about half a minute, Griff. CNN's Clarissa Ward went to one of the sites that was bombed in that retaliation by Iran, which seemed not to kill anybody. And she said what were the Iranians -- there's nothing here. That's, I think, parking lot of the value of on-site reporting.
SUAREZ: Of course it is. And, you know, these missiles -- my own reporting this past week, you know, I talked to some commanders, and they said, listen, the technology that the Iranians have, they could have hit much more pinpointed strikes. This looks like it was a overshoot by intention.
KURTZ: A face-saving effort, I think, by the Iranians and warnings to the U.S. that nobody would be talking if -- at least for now. When we come back, the House passes a war powers bill, as we mentioned, and Nancy Pelosi getting dinged by the press as she finally agrees to send over the articles of impeachment. Plus, the network that bought into Iran's bogus propaganda during its bombing attack.
KURTZ: There's a largely party-line vote that drew heavy media coverage, House Democrats invoking the War Powers Act to restrain President Trump from further military escalation with Iran without congressional approval.
Some pundits criticized the move. Others called it justified, saying the president hasn't adequately explained the killing of Iran's top terrorist.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And now, the Democrats want to, at least symbolically, try to tie the hands of the president. It just seems like in the context of real world events, it seems like a crazy idea.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This dog's breakfast mess of conflicting, evolving, internally-contradictory, vague, and frankly, unbelievable assertions from the president and the administration as to why exactly he launched this strike in the middle of his impeachment.
KURTZ: So Gayle, many in the media, I think, are backing the House Democrats on this, but saying this should be done to reign in on all presidents on war powers and not just Donald Trump.
TROTTER: Well, if it were applied in an even-handed manner, that might be persuasive but it's not. It's interesting that it's being played up as the Republicans are breaking ranks when only three Republicans voted against the war powers resolution. Eight Democrats went against their party. So it seems like it's just fringe elements in both parties that are breaking ranks --
KURTZ: Well, Utah Senator Mike Lee is not a fringe guy. He's a strong Trump ally --
TROTTER: On this issue, he's a fringe player.
KURTZ: OK. Ray, there's a new media focus, I think, on Congress restraining the president's authority to declare war. But this goes back to the Vietnam War when the War Powers Act was originally passed, mostly symbolically at that time to rein in Richard Nixon, and Congress hasn't really done how much in this area since.
SUAREZ: The framers of the Constitution gave war-making power to specific bodies with specific mechanisms, and we now honor it in the breach.
SUAREZ: Well, there hasn't been a declaration of war since Pearl Harbor.
SUAREZ: And we've been in a lot of wars since then. And the problem is that no -- when the president of your party is in, no Congress wants to oppose the executive branch's unfettered ability to use military force.
KURTZ: And then it flips if it's an opposition president. And obviously, any president has to be able to respond in the nuclear age. Let me go now to all the chatter and speculation, Griff, about when is Nancy Pelosi going to send over the articles. CNN and others said it could be Friday. And Friday it was, like, OK, now she actually says it's going to be Tuesday.
There's so much she's going to do, and she's not going to do it. She got annoyed with the questions from reporters a couple of times. Wasn't all that pontification about if and when ultimately pointless? She was going to act when she was going to act.
JENKINS: Look, the media, I don't think, covered quite enough that her gambit to try and force concessions out of Mitch McConnell with the trial that she knew she would ultimately have to give articles of impeachment over -- she lost that. Let's call it like it was. She thought she could how old out, now she's got to turn it over, and so she's saving face.
But at the end of the day, it is worth noting that at the same time we were urgently going to need to get this impeachment trial going. But then she held back. She passes this war resolution that does nothing. It's nonbinding. It doesn't become law. You're not even going to stop the president. So really I think that the coverage of her handling of those two issues at the same time is going to be something that we'll hear more of.
KURTZ: Well, you know who agrees with you on the first part is NBC's Chuck Todd who said on the air that she tried to smoke out Mitch McConnell, and she failed. Now, Pelosi usually gets positive coverage as a master strategist. She's on the cover of Time this week about her gamble on impeachment. But I think since many Democrats have ended up breaking with her on this strategy that nobody could quite figure out.
Even the pundits who are sympathetic were forced to say, well, what did she really accomplish?
TROTTER: Well, it's good that there's mainstream media coverage of, like, you're saying, the Democrats who have broken rank like Senator Dianne Feinstein, who is very esteemed in the Democratic Party, a leader of the Senate. She essentially told Nancy Pelosi to hurry up. And it's good that the media have reported that because, you know, she's managing these two things at the same time.
But the war powers resolution is a symbolic gesture. The impeachment isn't also a symbolic gesture because, obviously, the Senate is not going to convict and remove President Trump. And we're seeing that the confluence of these two events has not worked to Speaker Pelosi's advantage.
KURTZ: Right. Impeachment may be symbolic, but I think that the -- it will always go down in the history books that the House voted to impeach Donald Trump, even though it was almost a uniformly party-line vote. Do you agree that Nancy is Pelosi lost the media battle one, this 23-day delay or whatever it was?
SUAREZ: Well, by the -- by day 23, it was starting to look not so great. But let's go back three weeks when coming right out of the gate after the articles were approved, her delay was looking kind of brilliant when documents shook loose, detailing some of the communications between various executive branch offices over Ukraine and when John Bolton started to do sort of -- to use the old Nixon phrase, a modified hangout. And we started to think, oh, maybe John Bolton's in play --
SUAREZ: But then once the days continued to go on, she probably started to get pressure from her own party, because Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Amy Klobuchar don't want this going on while they're trying to win primaries.
TROTTER: Well, give an advantage to the Senate Republicans too, because Senator McConnell said, you know, you can delay all you want, we're going to take it up. So I think the Senate Republicans also put a lot of pressure, and there was coverage of that.
KURTZ: One-sentence answer. By next week with impeachment, will Iran seem like an old story?
JENKINS: No, because Persians have a long memory. And we should expect there will be another chapter in that. Wherever it is, Ray eluded to it earlier. I think impeachment is going to be gone a lot quicker than the Iran story.
KURTZ: Good two sentences from Griff Jenkins, Ray Suarez, Gayle Trotter, to see you all this Sunday. Ahead, are the media unfairly mocking Prince Harry and Meghan Markle for their kindness and abdication from the Royal Family? But up next, how MSNBC handled Iranian claims that its bombs had killed plenty of Americans.
KURTZ: MSNBC was live as Iran was launching rocket attacks against Iraqi bases housing American soldiers. And Tehran bureau chief, Ali Arouzi, speaking with anchor Chris Matthews, sought it to report what turned out to be completely bogus Iranian propaganda.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This bit, I'm not sure about but Iran state media is claiming that 30 U.S. soldiers have been killed in this attack.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Yes, Arouzi offered the caveat that he wasn't sure about it, but then why report it at all? And Chris Matthews said nothing, offered no qualifiers. Imagine if you had a loved one in the military serving on one of those bases and heard this fabricated report designed by the Iranians to scare the American public. And MSNBC repeated this several times.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were also getting unconfirmed reports from state media saying that they have leveled an Al Assad base in Iraq, and they have killed 30 U.S. troops.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Levelled the entire base? I mean, come on. How do you put that on the air without evidence? Anchor Chris Hayes, to his credit, cautioned viewers about this so-called reporting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just want to be very clear. We don't have independent confirmation of that as of yet. That is a claim being made on Iranian state media.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, it's not unusual for news outlets to report conflicting death tolls from U.S. adversaries or conflicting claims about civilian casualties after an attack. But why would anyone air this garbage from Tehran's state-controlled media during an attack? That's just beyond me. Iran lied about this just as it lied, including to its own people, in denying that it shot down that passenger jet headed for Ukraine.
On a lighter note, it was a historic moment on the Today Show. Al Roker bringing together Bernie Sanders and Larry David, whose impersonation of him is such a slamdunk, because they're just two guys from Brooklyn. You know what I'm saying?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you become president, you've got to be flying back and forth to play him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it's true. It's not going to be easy for me. It'll be great for the country, terrible for me.
BERNIE SANDERS, D-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Getting you a good job for four years and you're complaining.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: There hasn't been a better mind-meld since Sarah Palin hung with Tina Fay on SNL. Little known fact, Larry David and I both went to Sheepshead Bay high school together. I used to be the more famous one.
Ahead, why did CNN settle a lawsuit with a student from Covington Catholic High School? But first, a debate about the coverage and the commentary on President Trump's confrontation with Iran.
KURTZ: More now on our top story on the U.S. military confrontation with Iran with two very different voices. Joining us now from New York, Buck Sexton, a former CIA analyst who has worked in the Middle East, and Jeanne Zaino, who teaches media and government at Iona College. So Buck, let's start with you and let's start with the split among conservative commentators, those who think that taking out Qasem Soleimani was a brilliant move by President Trump.
And those who think it was risky and is being promoted by some of the same hawks who dragged us into Iraq. Does this reflect a political divide on the right?
BUCK SEXTON, FORMER CIA ANALYST: Yeah, it certainly does. And I think what you're seeing are people, especially those who do commentary on this issue in the media, trying to see what the timeline is that we're working on.
Because right now, it's very hard to make the case based on what expectations were of the Iranian response to taking out Qasem Soleimani.
That this has been the disastrous move that many, including some on the right, thought it would be leading us perhaps into a deeper military escalation and perhaps conflict with Iran. People are going to say that we don't know yet, that we have to wait. But just based on what the initial parameters were, this has to be seen as the president establishing a red line that may, in fact, change Iranian calculations going forward. And the huge response from Iran just did not come.
KURTZ: All right. Jeanne, I think liberal commentators are much more united in being against the risks of the air strike against Soleimani, but you had liberal New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who is a harsh Trump critic, saying he killed the dumbest man in Iran. Because according to Friedman, Soleimani threw away the benefits of the Obama nuclear deal to keep fuelling terrorist attacks, there's not unanimity there either.
JEANNE ZAINO, APPLIEDTECHONOMICS SENIOR ADVISER: There's not unanimity there either. And I think what we saw from the media quite generally in response to this was we saw the media still gun shy because of what had happened in 2003. And they felt very much like they had egg on their face for not being aggressive enough with the Bush administration, trying to get to the bottom of questions about imminence.
But yes, in terms of, you know, this sort of foreign policy divide, you see it on the right as was just mentioned, and you see it on the left. And Tom Friedman's piece, everybody should read it. He raises an excellent point about -- in fact, another view of this which was that Soleimani was bad for Iran, that in fact, he had walked Iran to the brink of an economic disaster really with what he was doing with his proxy wars and others.
And in fact, the taking out of Soleimani might not just have benefited the U.S., but in fact, benefited Iran as well. So he raises a different perspective that the media was not focusing on.
KURTZ: As we see with Iranian protesters who are angry both about the downing of that jet and some of them about Soleimani himself, which maybe we didn't fully appreciate. So Buck, let's pick up on what you said earlier, because the tone of the coverage, I think, went from Donald Trump is utterly reckless. The Middle East could be ablaze.
World War III was trending and all that. And now, obviously, the situation has calmed down, has deescalated. Well, now we're hearing, well, he's oversimplified this. He caused the crisis. Are some in the media refusing to give president Trump credit even when something he does turns out pretty well?
SEXTON: Oh, there's no question. There are people that view opposition to Trump as the single most important thing here, much more important than getting this Iran decision and also Iran policy going forward, correct. I think you saw a bit of this with what I think really would be a distillation of Trump derangement syndrome where there were some efforts, including from Democratic presidential candidates and some media analysts more so than straight news anchors who were saying that, well.
Trump was really responsible for the Iranians blowing an airliner out of the sky because of the crossfire that Trump's recklessness created. And that got, rightly so, I think, annihilated by people who were trying to be a little bit fair-minded. Obviously, Trump can't be responsible for the Iranians blowing a jet out of the sky, their own airspace.
So there was an effort to turn this around against him even after it didn't work out the way they thought it would.
KURTZ: At the same time, Jeanne, you don't have to be a journalist suffering from Trump derangement syndrome to report that the Pentagon sent the Iraqis a letter saying we're pulling our troops out. That was disavowed, to report that the administration has struggled to make the case about imminent attacks, conflicting remarks on the Sunday shows today, the report on the criticism of the Obama administration's nuclear deal. Aren't those fair questions?
ZAINO: They're absolutely fair, and there is, we have to say, mixed messages out of the Pentagon and out of the White House on this very point. And journalists are absolutely right to question those. And, you know, I do think that, you know, we also need to recognize that there were also people on the right who were saying things about Democrats, you know, mourning the loss of Soleimani. Those were absolutely untrue as well.
Nancy Pelosi was not mourning his loss. There were questions about whether, in fact, the president had done what he did legally --
ZAINO: -- whether in fact the question of imminence. So those were overstated as well.
KURTZ: All right, 30-second answers from each of you because we're running short on time. The New York Times reports that Donald Trump has said privately that he'd been pressured to take a harder line on Iran. But some of the Republican senators whose support he would need for impeachment, Buck, I don't believe that some media left-wing in charge of the president did this to distract from impeachment, but it was largely blown off the media radar.
SEXTON: Well, it helped Democrats, actually. It helped Democrats because Nancy Pelosi -- this war right now or rather this exchange of military hostilities, we shouldn't call it a war, is distracting from the fact that Pelosi called the articles of impeachment an imminent issue and now has waited over a month to pass them.
And it's just absurd. I think looking at it understands that. So people that are trying to view this as a wag the dog, I think even Lawrence O'Donnell at MSNBC said that now the dog is wagging him or some nonsense like that. It's absurd.
KURTZ: Jeanne, brief response.
ZAINO: Yeah. I mean, I think if you look at the history here and how many times the president resisted responding to Iran's aggressions. I think it's very difficult to make the case that the timing here was to wipe impeachment off the table, which as Buck just mentioned, was actually working in his favor at this point.
KURTZ: All right. Well, both of you stick around. Coming up on MEDIA BUZZ, the coverage of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as they rip the killing of Iran's top general, and later, a royal couple stuns the media world by saying they want out of the Buckingham Palace life.
KURTZ: The two most liberal Democratic candidates are doing more than describing President Trump's airstrike against Qasem Soleimani as reckless. They're attacking Trump for killing Iran's top terrorist.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You made a statement about the killing of Soleimani who, you know, everybody agrees was a killer responsible for the deaths of many American forces.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it was an assassination. I think it was in violation of international law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Elizabeth Warren initially called Soleimani a murderer, then started describing him only as a government official. And on The View, it took Meghan McCain repeated attempts to get her to answer this question.
Was Soleimani a terrorist?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's part of a group --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's not a terrorist?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's part of a group that's been --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So he's not a terrorist?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of course he is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Buck Sexton, should it be a bigger media issue than if Elizabeth Warren had stopped using the word terrorist and had to be pressed about this by Meghan McCain to admit this obvious fact?
SEXTON: Absolutely. You see this from the Democrat candidates who are trying to find some way to oppose Trump on this, even though the only real way that they would have been able to make that case is based on if there had been some massive follow-on retaliation from Iran, which there isn't.
He is a terrorist --
KURTZ: So why isn't that a bigger story in terms of covering the Democrats?
SEXTON: I think because there are a lot of people that want to find a way to make this a liability for Trump, especially in the media, especially those trying to help Democrats at this stage of the primary. Look, I believe that people in the press generally have people that they're rooting for in this primary.
They may not be open about it. And so they're trying to help them as they can, and that means not using the t-word.
KURTZ: Related question to you, Jeanne Zaino. When Bernie Sanders likens President Trump's drone attack against Soleimani to Putin assassinating dissidents, why is that not a front page, top of the newscast story, such a controversial charge?
ZAINO: You know, I think because there's so much going on, quite frankly.
And also, it's not surprising coming from Bernie Sanders. There's one thing you can say about Bernie Sanders. He has been incredibly consistent, unlike Elizabeth Warren who in two days flipped on this, on this issue for years and years.
I think you do see Joe Biden and Mayor Pete coming out and asking what I think are the right questions and the ones that will matter in November if they get that far through the primary process, which is are we safer now.
If Iran turns out in 7 to 12 months to have nuclear weapons, we are not safer, perhaps, they've reenergized this program. Those are the questions Democrats need to ask.
KURTZ: You set up my next question. But first, I think part of the reason Bernie Sanders' comments didn't get much coverage is because that the press doesn't believe that he's going to win the nomination. But he's leading in a new poll in Iowa. Now suddenly, there are starting to be stories about, well, could he win and how would he be as president.
So on that point, Joe Biden, I think -- he has denounced Soleimani. Here he is with NBC's Lester Holt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you give a president -- this president a benefit of the doubt when he says there was intelligence of an imminent attack in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't give him the benefit of a doubt on anything --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't believe him?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's not -- well, it could be true, but I don't give him the benefit of the doubt because he's lied so much about virtually everything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So Buck, with Biden not directly attacking Trump over the airstrike and denouncing Soleimani, does that receive less attention in the media because it's not as incendiary?
SEXTON: Yeah. Because Biden's attack here just seems like he's nitpicking.
It seems like he's trying to get down into, you know, well, I don't know the intelligence. I'm not sure I believe Trump. At the end of the day, what matters is the commander in chief made a very important, a very risky, let's be honest, executive decision to take out a very well-known international terrorist.
Do Democrat candidates agree with that or not? They can't have it both ways. And Biden is trying here to say essentially, Trump's a liar. We can't trust him. He's a bad guy. But I'm not going to say it was a bad move quite yet because a lot of people are look at this and saying actually it wasn't a bad move.
SEXTON: Including Democrats, by the way.
KURTZ: And Jeanne, you mentioned Pete Buttigieg. He also has been more measured in his criticism. This issue kind of plays to his strength as an Afghan war veteran, but again, his comments haven't gotten that much attention. I'm wondering whether Iran -- impeachment coming up this coming week, has in some ways reduced the Democratic campaign itself to kind of a side show.
ZAINO: Well, the impeachment certainly has. We are three weeks out of Iowa tomorrow. And the amount of coverage that the primary is getting is far less than it usually does. But I would just say there's one reason these comments aren't getting coverage. It's because they don't drive ratings.
Unless you come out and call the president something nasty, it's not going to drive ratings.
That's about the media, not what Biden or Buttigieg was saying. What Biden was saying was right. We need the evidence and the facts. That's the right response. And it may not be exciting or sexy or ratings-driven, but it's the right response.
KURTZ: Well, I find that a tad depressing because these are such important issues of war and peace and, of course, impeachment. And I think also that you're right, is when you use a nasty name or go way over the top, that's when you tend to get more coverage. Great conversation, Jeannie Zaino, Buck Sexton, thanks for coming by this Sunday.
SEXTON: Good to see you, Howie.
KURTZ: After the break, are Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stepping back from royal life because of fierce anger at the tabloids and the paparazzi?
KURTZ: The tabloids have already coined a word for it here. Take a look at the New York Post. Megxit, that's the catch phrase for the announcement by Prince Harry and his American wife, Meghan Markle that they want to step back from their royal duties. Split their time between the U.K. and North America, and have told the Queen they want to work toward becoming financially independent.
You've certainly heard about this. Joining us now from New York, Kat Timpf, a National Review writer, Fox News contributor, and co-host of the Greg Gutfeld Show. So Kat, the royal couple are being bashed and mocked by the media because they're seen as they're being spoiled. They are bailing on the palace. They didn't have the Queen's blessing.
That's in part because the story was about to leak to one of the British papers. And I actually feel some sympathy for them. Why has this become such a mega-story?
KAT TIMPF, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Right. It's -- even here in the United States, you know, we had a couple other minor news stories this week that might have distracted from, you know, like impeachment, you know, a couple little blips going on are with Iran, stuff like that. And yet, everyone's talking -- I mean, I thought we won the war.
And we didn't have to be concerned about this stuff anymore and that monarchy over there. But apparently, that's very different. A lot of the narrative of people slamming them is they're saying they essentially want to, you know, have their cake and eat it too, because they're not completely stepping away. They're still going to be getting some of that sweet, sweet cash. They're not -- it's not like they're completely --
KURTZ: Yeah. It's not complete.
TIMPF: They're not going to have to move into a studio apartment and sleep on an air mattress or anything like that.
KURTZ: Let me jump in here, because I think this is mostly about their contempt for the press. Remember, Harry and Meghan have sued London Sun and Mirror over a leaked letter from her estranged father. Harry issued that emotional statement just back in October, saying I have to stand up to the bullying because it destroys people's lives.
I lost my mother, Princess Diana, now I must watch my wife falling victim to the same forces. So they're tired of being prey. And in their statement, they said the royal correspondents engage in frequent misreporting, and they want to grant access to the young and up and coming journalists who don't have an agenda.
TIMPF: Yeah. And I cannot really blame them. The way Meghan Markle was treated, I wouldn't like to be treated by the press that way. I mean, I would like to be covered by the press in general. But, you know, that's goals for, you know, the future. But I completely understand. And I think a lot of people here in the United States that -- there was criticism, of course.
People were very split. But a lot of people in the United States saw this as being awesome and even feminist because we all know this was a Meghan thing. This was her thing. And there was particularly AJ+, the news source, tweeted out this story saying Meghan and her husband. And a lot of people really got a kick out of that because a lot of times, you know, women are defined by who their husband is. And you'd think that particularly would be the case if the husband's a prince, but not her.
KURTZ: Blame the woman.
KURTZ: Look, the level of coverage here in Britain is just almost unbelievable. We just picked out a few headlines to put up on the screen.
The Mail on Sunday, Palace's warning on Harry, millions. Sunday People, Kate and Meghan haven't spoken in six months. Sunday Mirror, they told Elton John before they told the Queen.
And it was the Sunday Times that understood that Prince Harry -- excuse me, Prince William has said I've tried to put my arm around my brother our whole lives. I can't do this anymore. So this is just -- not just a soap opera. It's gone global, right?
TIMPF: It absolutely has. And again, I mean, Elton John versus the Queen, I mean --
KURTZ: Can't make it up.
TIMPF: The press and the tabloids in the U.K. were very, very, very critical of this decision. And I certainly don't really understand it. I mean, even in the United States they were mocked a little bit on late night TV. I know Jimmy Kimmel had a joke. He said what does it mean they're limiting their duties? You know, they're going to wave less?
And Colbert's saying -- Colbert's saying I didn't realize that there were, you know, senior royals and what are the levels here?
TIMPF: Again, it really is, I think, a smart move for them because it opens up the ability for them to make more money --
KURTZ: Well, that could be true.
TIMPF: They're kind of seen as rebels for doing this. I see them as rebels for doing this.
KURTZ: Well, just for balance, I understand people say British taxpayers spent $3 million on their wedding and millions more for renovating Frogmore Cottage. So there is some resentment. I also think with so much more -- impeachment and everything else, it is just a kind of a relief to talk about something like this, a gossipy story like this. Kat Timpf, really appreciate your royal insights.
TIMPF: Thank you.
KURTZ: And still to come, how Nick Sandmann of Covington Catholic High School won his first legal settlement against CNN and plans to sue a dozen more media outlets.
KURTZ: Overshadowed by the Iran story, but CNN has settled the lawsuit filed by Nick Sandmann. He's the Covington Catholic High School student wearing a Make America Great hat who was wrongly portrayed as a disruptive force in a confrontation last year with a Native-American activist at the Lincoln Memorial. A newer side with (ph) comment on the terms but the $275 million suit said it was designed to, quote, deter CNN from ever again engaging in false, reckless, malicious, and agenda-driven attacks against children.
CNN said at the time it was covering a newsworthy event and adding new facts as they developed. Sandmann has also sued the Washington Post and NBC. And his lawyer says more suits are coming against as many as 13 other media outlets. Look, this was an awful episode as most of the media rushed to judgment based on a single misleading video.
CNN undoubtedly paid some sum of money to make the suit go away, given the PR nightmare, of battling a teenager who was intentionally or not unfairly maligned. That's it for this edition of "MediaBuzz." I'm Howard Kurtz. Check out my podcast, "MediaBuzz Meter." You can subscribe at Apple Itunes or Google Play, FoxNews.Podcast.com on your Amazon device.
We also hope you'll like our Facebook page. We post my daily columns, and continue our conversation, our dialogue on Twitter @howardkurtz. I said to my staff, jokingly, maybe we should run the whole show with Harry and Meghan. We rarely see a story take off like that with that level of intensity. Back here Sunday 11 Eastern. We'll see you then with the latest Buzz.
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