Media challenge Trump's wiretap claims

This is a rush transcript from "Media Buzz," March 5, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On the buzz meter this Sunday, President Trump launching a new tweet storm accusing President Obama of McCarthyism for allegedly wiretapping the Trump Tower during the campaign. No evidence provided, but this could be tied to the past week stories about an FBI phone over a Trump company server, suspecting to be communicating with a Russian bank. Are the media treating this as a bombshell or a distraction?

Jeff Sessions misled Congress over his contact with the Russian ambassador. The attorney general recusing himself from any investigation involving Russia and the campaign.


BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: Even though the press does want to destroy President Trump, the American people should want to know, we should want to know, if there were any secret dealings with the Russians during the campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But we never had an attorney general who put his professional life, put his entire future in the hands of the Russian ambassador.

ERIC BOLLING, FOX NEWS: I felt that was a weak moment for the attorney general. And I think he could have stepped up and said I did nothing wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is very clear that Sessions is lying. Whether or not he's guilty of perjury, technically, he has lied to the Senate. He lied to the American people.


KURTZ: The Democrats insisting that Sessions' resign is driven by partisan politics. In a stunning development, the media praising Donald Trump over his speech to Congress, even though his harsh detractors on the left, what explains this dramatic reversal. And Jon Stewart reemerges with a scolding for the media.


JON STEWART, COMEDIAN: Obsessing 24 hours, 7 days a week about this one guy. What is Johnny up to, did he say anything about us, do you think he is going to come to our show, do you think he is going to like us?


KURTZ: Does he really think we are scurrying over Trump? I'm Howard Kurtz and this is MediaBuzz.

No one in the media is quite sure how to handle President Trump's explosive charges yesterday given the lack of evidence and the fact that he personally blamed his predecessor. Now, during the uproar over Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from any investigations over his previously undisclosed contacts with the Russian ambassador, President Trump tweeted this. Terrible, just found out that Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower, just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism. Also, how low has President Obama gone through, tapped my phones during the election process, this is Nixon Watergate, bad or sick guy.

Joining us now to analyze the coverage of this increasingly murky story, Erin McPike, White House correspondent for Independent Journal Review, Katie Pavlich, editor of and a Fox News contributor, and Michael Tomasky, columnist for the Daily Beast. All right, so how should the media treat these presidential tweets about wiretapping with incredibly strong language when the president of the United States so far has offered no evidence?

ERIN MCPIKE, INDEPENDENT JOURNAL REVIEW: We have to figure out why he said what he said, where is the evidence? And I think that's what yours seeing from a number of news organizations going after that story. What was it that made Donald Trump tweet? In the tweet that you just showed, he said just found out. When did he find out and what did he find out?

KURTZ: Right. This is tied to past news stories. Katie, we will get to that in a moment. But as I said, it seems murky. And I think the media's position will be well, the president is just trying to distract from the Jeff Sessions controversy, except he is distracting in a direction that takes us back to the whole question of Russia and the Trump campaign.

KATIE PAVLICH, TOWNHALL.COM: Well, I think the president is, as you mentioned, talking about a specific incident, when he find out, just now. But it's important for the media to cover it, in terms of getting some contacts about maybe when did would have happened. There are reports from last summer of the Obama Justice Department and the report asking for a warrant to go into Trump Tower and observe a server there. There were questions about Paul Manafort's involvement with the Russian government. So there are some contacts that needs to be provided.

On the other hand, I think that we have to put the media in a position where they can remind people in what the Obama administration really did. I mean, it's not uncommon that the Obama administration went after their political enemies with the use of the government. Let's not forget that the Obama justice department collected phone calls and emails of reporters and news executives. They also had the IRS go after tea party groups. I mean, this is not something that is out of the question. But the president of the United States, Donald Trump, does have the obligation to provide proof, if he's going to make such a clear -- unclear, but such a staunch accusation about what has happened.

KURTZ: I want to come back to it, but, Michael, the president was apparently spurred by a long in monologue by Mark Levin, a conservative radio host, which was then picked up by Breitbart in a former Steve Bannon website, ran by Bannon. And that seems to be why he went on this Saturday morning tweet storm. Does any of that raise questions for you?

MICHAEL TOMASKY, DAILY BEAST: Sure. The questions it raised are about Trump and his mental processes. I mean, most presidents before they said something like that would want to talk to their FBI, would want to talk to their justice department lawyers, would want to talk some of the officials and try to talk find out the official thing. Trump doesn't roll that way. We know that already. You know, one of the oldest adages in the American political journalism business is if the president says that it's news, so I guess you know Trump said it or twitted it, it is news. It needs to be covered, but it needs to be covered with all the caveats that I saw mostly included.


KURTZ: Right. But one of the questions is that even if the FBI gone through the national security in the course of their investigation about Russia, we actually don't know if the request was granted. But would President Obama personally have had any involvement with that, as a spokesman for Barack Obama putting out a statement saying President Obama nor his administration ever ordered any surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false. And Sean Spicer, the press secretary, twitting just about 10 to 15 minutes before the Sunday shows began today. The reports about this, what he calls potentially politically motivated investigations are very troubling. The president would like the intelligence committees to expand their investigations to include this. And what did the Obama administration do. And then neither the White House nor the president will comment further. It sounds like an effort to shut it down.

MCPIKE: It is. And I would also point out that he didn't just tweet that. The White House put out an official statement from Sean Spicer saying that. I think that was in part to preempt from the press asking questions about this all week long at the briefing because he obviously wants to turn the page.


KURTZ: By the way -- by the way, good luck with that.


MCPIKE: Exactly. I'm sure all those questions will come. But they obviously want to talk about repealing Obamacare, which is supposed to be on the docket next week and some fashion, and the new travel ban.

KURTZ: Right. And we also get accused on we are chasing the latest controversy scandal, but in this case, the president of the United States at play. Let me just play for you, Katie, an exchange on ABC this week, between one administration official who is out there today on the show, that is deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders and Martha Raddatz. Take a look.


SARAH HUCKABEE-SANDERS, DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Let's look into this. If this happened, if this is accurate, this is the biggest.


MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC HOST: The president of the United States is accusing the former president of wiretapping him.

HUCKABEE-SANDERS: I think this is again something -- if this happened, Martha.

RADDATZ: If, if, if, if.



PAVLICH: Well, it's hard to hear for Martha Raddatz say if, if, if. But for the last week, we have heard all these questions about Senator Al Franken when asking Jeff Sessions, what is full of if this is true, if there is evidence, if. I mean, the media runs on if things are true or not. So this idea that the president can't make that accusation is interesting coming from the question that she is asking.


KURTZ: Sarah Huckabee-Sanders is out there saying well, you know, there are questions and they should be investigated, fine, I'm in favor of again.


KURTZ: But what Martha Raddatz and other journalists are arguing is the president stated it as fact. He didn't say allegations.


KURTZ: And this happened. As Michael says you cannot cover it.

PAVLICH: Of course not.

KURTZ: And yet we don't know if there is any anything there-there.

PAVLICH: This is certainly a story the media should be covering. If the media is now going to lecture about covering things when there is no there- there, or accusing the president when they have been covering things for months, but really have no evidence. It doesn't really hold a lot of credibility. Now, when it comes to the White House and what they're saying, the president again, we have been saying this for a long time, cannot just go out and say things without evidence of the claim. And he has put his team into a position where they have to then defend it. And they are saying that they are not going to comment on it because if there is an ongoing investigation, they can't comment on it, because it is an ongoing FBI investigation. There is not a lot of information you can give because people are investigating whether a crime was committed.

KURTZ: The president's team didn't know it was coming. We will put that to his advantage. And at the same time, you know, some of the media is just covering this as if it's a conspiracy theory.

TOMASKY: Look, anybody can accuse anybody of anything, if you are just going to make stuff up about people. Anybody can accuse anybody of anything. The point is both for politicians and for journalists who are in public life and have a responsibility to watch what they say, the point is to make sure there are some kinds of grounds for what you are saying about people, whether you are writing it or whether a politician is saying it about another politician. And the coverage of that when somebody doesn't offer evidence, and doesn't seem to have any basis for it that we know about should be extremely skeptical.

MCPIKE: Let me just add, the president hasn't liked leaked, he hasn't liked all of the stories about what's going on inside the White House.


MCPIKE: But he is adding to that because CNN posted a video of a big fight happening inside the Oval Office. He's is now kind of at odds with his staff. As you said, Sean Spicer putting out this statement trying to shut it down, after the president twitted about this.


MCPIKE: It goes back and forth, maybe there is open war between Trump and his staff.

KURTZ: On the other hand, CNN had a better headline story yesterday. President falsely accuses President Obama of wiretapping. I have no evidence of it happened, but I'm just going to reserve judgment on the details involving the FBI, Russia. And that brings us back to Jeff Sessions, who, you know, there was a sudden firestorm over a Washington Post story reporting, that kinds of despite what he told the Senate confirmation hearing, he had had a couple contacts, one, in his office as a senator, with the Russian ambassador. Here is the attorney general talking about it with Tucker Carlson.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: Do you see this as a witch hunt?

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I don't think what was said about that meeting I had with the Russian ambassador was legitimate. I think it was hyped beyond reason. And I don't think it was fair.


KURTZ: I think the reason Tucker asked that question is that the president said this is a witch hunt, the Democrats lost the elections, now have lost their grip on reality. But when Jeff Sessions who says he didn't intend to mislead the committee, and he was answering a narrow version of the question, not as a campaign surrogate. He said it is hyped, wasn't the Washington Post story accurate?

PAVLICH: The Washington Post story was accurate. I don't think the reporting on this necessarily was the problem. The reporting was about meetings that occurred. Again, there was no context of what was discussed in the meetings. There is no proof of wrongdoing. There is no proof of any collusion between Senator Jeff Sessions as a campaign surrogate and the Russian ambassador.


KURTZ: Yet the attorney general on his own decided to recuse himself because the appearance would be.


PAVLICH: I think he deserves a lot of credit for this because he's loyal to the law, he's loyal to the process. It wasn't that there was conflict of interest or there was impartiality, and said there was an appearance of it and he knew that. And as someone who believes in that not being an issue, he recused himself. I think he deserves a lot of credit for it. But I would say that the reason it got so hyped as Attorney General Sessions talked about is because Democrats went after him. And yet, here we have this long list of Democrats who also met with the Russian ambassador last year, and years before, because part of the job.


KURTZ: The question was, was he completely candid with the senate committee. And, Michael, with a question of hypocrisy, because a lot of liberal pundits did not criticize Loretta Lynch and her meeting with Bill Clinton, while the Hillary investigation election was going on, now they're up in arms. They want Sessions to resign. And conservative pundits are sort of depending on which administration is in the dock on this sort of thing.

TOMASKY: Yeah, I mean, welcome to Washington.

KURTZ: Yeah.

TOMASKY: You know, this is always going to happen. And you know, we have Supreme Court hearings coming up, and we're going to see Democrats doing things Republicans would have done when Obama was president, Republicans doing things vice versa. I mean, this is just politics. And you see political advantage. It's not really shocking or offensive to me.

KURTZ: You are right. Welcome to Washington. But I think it undercuts the credibility of the people who have selective outrage. Let me get a break. You have to email us about the media,

Ahead, a New York times columnist on Trump calling his paper evil. When we come back, pundits on the left and right gushing over the president's speech to Congress, how did that happen?


KURTZ: President Trump's toughest critics in the media had words of praise for his speech to Congress this week, a stunning contrast with the negative coverage of his first month in office.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: The time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights is behind us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the most presidential he has been.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the best speech of his political career, his short political career.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel like tonight Donald Trump became the president of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are a lot of people who have a lot of reasons to be frustrated with him, to be fearful of him, to be mad at him. But that was one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics, period.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said in the beginning he was going to speak from his heart, and I think he certainly did that.


KURTZ: Katie Pavlich, with all of that praise, it really was kind across the political spectrum, with a few exceptions. Was there a tone of we really didn't think he was capable of this.

PAVLICH: Definitely. I mean, based on the social media's relationship with President Trump saying fake news, all that kind of thing, I was surprised to see such openness to the things that he was saying. I think on the president to give him some credit, it wasn't just what he said and the words that came out of his mouth, it was his tone and the things he decided to address. There weren't any personal attacks on his usual foes and what he would call enemies, right. And when you contrast this or you compare it to the campaign, let's not forget, when President Trump and then candidate Trump talked about real issues, that's when he came up in the polls and actually started catching Hillary Clinton. In the last month, we have seen his approval ratings go down because it was a lot of back and forth focusing on petty issues. I think when you look at that speech, he goes back to focusing on real issues that can affect everyone rather than his own personal problems, that he has with certain issues.

KURTZ: CNN's Van Jones was talking about that emotional moment with the widow of the fallen Navy SEAL. But you know even many on your side of the spectrum might call this speech optimistic, uplifting, calling it for unity, didn't really change his positions on much of everything, but very rare praise for this president.

TOMASKY: Yeah. It is true that he didn't change his positions. He just made them sound nicer. But you know, I mean, he deserved credit for that. I wrote a reasonably favorable column about this speech.


KURTZ: Were you grimacing when you wrote that?

TOMASKY: You know, I give it to him. It's fine. I mean, expectations were low and strange. I mean, people expected him, I don't know, to talk about Arnold Schwarzenegger's bad ratings.


TOMASKY: And he didn't do any of that, so he looked like a president for an hour.

MCPIKE: To that point, I wrote a story, I covered the speech, and talked about how it was a hopeful speech. And he reached out to Democrats, as he did, throughout the speech, and enemies and foes. And some of the criticism of the story I wrote was I'm surprised he covered the speech straight.


MCPIKE: Better than expected.

KURTZ: Right.

MCPIKE: I can't believe it actually.

KURTZ: My theory is that this speech was how the pundits and the media in general want Trump to behave, to be reasonable sounding and bipartisan sounding and not engage in all the attacks. And they don't like when he's firing off things on Twitter and it's kind of chaotic, and is attacking the press among others. So that's I think one of the reasons there was, yeah, maybe this could be the president -- and of course, 24 hours later, everyone is talking about Jeff Sessions.

PAVLICH: Well, right. But quite frankly, it's not just pundits or his foes who want him to behave in a more presidential manner. If you talk to Trump's supporters, especially reluctant Republicans who voted for him, they really wish he would just put the Twitter feed away or at least have it be something that is a reactionary tool and more of a proactive thing, not used to attack people in non-substitute issues. So that speech gave him that confidence, but yes, the next day, we were talking about Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which wasn't the Trump administration's doing.


KURTZ: Just briefly, did you get feedback and notice when people say, you D.C. pundits are so easy, one speech and now suddenly, you're all in a kiss and makeup.

TOMASKY: Yeah. Sure, sure, of course. There was a whole lot of that. And there was a really interesting debate playing out over the course of the week over that moment with the Navy SEAL's widow.

KURTZ: Yeah.

TOMASKY: The press are suckers for moments like that. I did notice that some military people tweeted that they thought it was manipulative.


KURTZ: By the way, so as petty fights. The president did tweet that Arnold Schwarzenegger is leaving Celebrity Apprentice. And Arnold blamed Trump for his lack of success on the show. All right. Eric McPike, we will see you later, Katie Pavlich, Michael Tomasky, thanks for joining us this Sunday.

Up next, Vice-President Pence wants an apology from the AP and he isn't getting one. We'll tell you why.


KURTZ: Vice-President Pence is upset with the Associated Press with a good reason. The AP had been covering a perfectly legitimate story about Pence using a personal email account as governor of Indiana to conduct some state visits. But a follow-up piece published a personal AOL address of his wife, Karen, an active account, that now had to be shut. The VP's counsel telling the Associated Press, you should be ashamed of your reprehensible conduct. Joining us now is Susan Ferrechio, chief congressional correspondent of the Washington Examiner. Do you see any justification for printing the AOL address of Mike Pence's wife and not bothering to check whether that is an account that she still uses?

SUSAN FERRECHIO, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: So those are two questions. First is whether it's justified. The AP is reporting that they were both used to conduct official business. And it is a whole transparency cycle, whether Pence should release those emails. He is supposed to by law. He is fighting it in court. So that's a legitimate question. And second is should they have asked first whether the account was still active. In most cases, I know just as a reporter myself, that's something I would have checked. We try to avoid things like posting people's personal addresses.


KURTZ: And that's what it is.

FERRECHIO: And phone numbers, license plate numbers. You can argue she is a private citizen. But she is also the second lady. You can argue she works in an official capacity as well. She has her own staff. She does public events.

KURTZ: I don't think she is a private citizen, but it wasn't like the story said well, here this bombshell email, Karen Pence, said, they just kind of threw in the address. Vice President himself has asked for an apology. The AP said we will standby the story.


KURTZ: No correction, no editors. The AP didn't delete the address subsequent online. And so I can see where that would be frustrating for the vice president and his family. And I don't see what warranted publishing the address. To report she had a personal account, fine.

FERRECHIO: I think it was a mistake. It's an oversight that they didn't check to see if that account was still active. And they admit such when they say we thought it wasn't active. Once when we realized the account was still used, we took it down. Well, too late now, obviously, you always try to draw the comparison what would have happened if it was Michelle Obama or Dr. Jill Biden. You know, I know from reading on Twitter.

KURTZ: Yeah.

FERRECHIO: You got a lot of action, people were declaring this is more evidence that the media is dead set against the Trump administration, that they're willing to put forward the second lady's email address, part of the whole theory.

KURTZ: All right. Well, George W. Bush is back in the news this week, his painting of wounded warriors and veterans. And Matt Lauer, on the Today Show, asked him a question about one of President Trump's signature phrases against the media. This is how it went down.


MATT LAUER, TODAY SHOW HOST: Did you ever consider the media to be the enemy of the American people?

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy, that we need an independent media to hold people like me to account.


KURTZ: President Bush got so much negative coverage, some of it for his problems in his administration. And now, they are saying he wasn't such a bad guy.

FERRECHIO: I wish they would have followed that question up with another question about whether he thinks the media is being fair in general to Republicans versus Democrats. Certainly, if you think back to the Bush administration, lots of accusations. The Bush administration did not view the press as neutral. They saw them as bias, a sort of a special interest group. So it's interesting to hear him now come out and declare that need for a fair -- now, he wasn't on board very much with the Trump campaign, so you can draw.


FERRECHIO: . any conclusion there from the way he responded to that.

KURTZ: Right. And George Bush was very muted in his criticism of Donald Trump. But clearly, he was separating himself from the current president's attack on the press. Susan Ferrechio, great to see you.

Coming up, we got a response from Katrina Pierson, now with the Trump organization. Later, Jon Stewart -- this is shocking. He doesn't think much of how the media are covering Donald Trump.


KURTZ: The president hasn't been slamming the press quite so vociferously this week, but he is talking about a media-driven witch hunt on past ties to Russia. Joining us now from Dallas is Katrina Pierson, former campaign official and now spokeswoman for the nonprofit pro-Trump group, America First Policies. And welcome to you this morning.


KURTZ: We have been talking about President Trump accusing Barack Obama, making this explosive charge of acting like Nixon during Watergate, personally blaming the form president for tapping his phone, for wiretapping Trump Tower during the campaign. Why would he make such a charge without offering any proof?

PIERSON: Well, clearly, the president has information that has not been released yet. And I'm sure the days to come, we will hear more about this. But it's not quite far-fetched to even imagine something like this being done by the Obama administration. I mean, this is the same administration that utilized several agencies to target political oppositions, the IRS, the DOJ which was mentioned earlier on your show. We don't even have to go back too far to see, for example, with the DOJ's aid on Gibson Guitar for using the exact same wood on their guitar as their competitor. The difference is that the CEO of Gibson was a Republican donor.



PIERSON: It is not far-fetched to see that.

KURTZ: right. But to say it is not far-fetched to imagine it and to say that the president probably has information that he's not sharing doesn't rise to the level anybody in journalism or anything else to report this is true, this is arguably true. If the president has more information on this, why would he go to Twitter out and not release that information to make his case?

PIERSON: Well, he specifically uses Twitter and you can refer to his Twitter. He said I just learned. This is something that he was just informed, obviously. He said that in his statement. And I'm pretty sure we'll see more of that to come. But where is the evidence, Howard, where Donald Trump was working with the Russians during the campaign? We have seen this narrative in the media for months now with zero evidence.

KURTZ: I don't dispute that. All these investigations, and allegations and insinuations may turn out to be nothing. And I want to come back to that. But let me ask you this, you have Breitbart doing an article that we know was circulated in the White House, Mark Levin said in the radio, past hints reports New York Times, Guardian, and others about whether the FBI was seeking some kind of approval from the FISA national security court to go after or go eavesdropping in Trump Tower. That's not the same as saying that Barack Obama personally authorized this. So is the president here reacting to an article in Breitbart which is a favored publication at the White House?

PIERSON: Well, if you look at the last administration again, this is the same administration with the president uses an alias to communicate with Hillary Clinton on the illegal server. The statement that came out today with regard to Obama says that they would no way would have interfered with an investigation. We know for a fact that the FBI wanted to investigate the Clinton Foundation and Obama's administration stepped in. So again, these two is not far-fetched.

KURTZ: All right. Now, the Washington Post, as you know, reported this week that Jeff Sessions, had given what we might say was an incomplete answer to the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing during his confirmation about a couple of past contacts with the Russian ambassador. That story as far as we know was accurate and the attorney general on his own made the decision to recuse himself from any investigation involving Russia or the campaign. The president later said this is all a witch hunt and the Democrats haven't accepted the outcome of the election. Why is it a witch hunt to report something that turned out to be true, at least on the press' part?

PIERSON: Because really there is no there-there. Jeff Sessions answered the question that was asked of him in the capacity that he was part of the campaign. Of course, a senator has interactions with foreign officials, and that's not the question that was asked to him. You know, I don't think he should have recused himself. But he did so as he said he would. And looking at each case individually and because he was essentially considered a part of the campaign, he recused himself.

KURTZ: All right. Let me come back to you on a larger point, which is all these stories and investigations and allegations going back to who in the campaign or Trump associates had contacts with people from Russia, including the Russian ambassador. Do you think the media is pursuing this because they have a sense there is a there-there and something nefarious at the heart of this, or just because there are a lot of unanswered questions about these contacts, some of which have not been disclosed until now?

PIERSON: No, I think this particular attack on the Attorney General Jeff Sessions was specifically to remove all the coverage from the amazing speech that the president gave. He gave a speech where you had Republicans and Democrats agreeing, the country was coming together around this president and the media was not going to let that happen.

KURTZ: We talked about that. Do you believe that timing of the story was deliberate?


PIERSON: Absolutely.


PIERSON: Oh, absolutely. The Democrats are notorious for knowing how to change the narrative. They have done this before. And the difference this time is you have a Republican administration that's going to fight back.

KURTZ: Right. I assume, the Democrats somehow were able to push the Washington Post story. I don't know what the sources where. OK.

Finally, Kellyanne Conway, this thing went viral, we can talk about this later. The photos are on the couch. Democratic Congressman Cedric Richmond told a horrible sexual joke about this, something to do with her position, a certain pass, Oval Office scandal. And some Democrats, a few at least, including Chelsea Clinton, denounced that do you believe that the congressman's awful joke about Kellyanne deserved more media attention?

PIERSON: I think it deserved not just media attention, but also all of the women's groups out there should have come out into Kellyanne Conway's defense. If this had been a Republican who said something similar, they would be demanding a resignation, they would be demanding his wife leave him. Because right now, we see Ivanka Trump being targeted for something her dad said over a decade ago. But yet, this congressman can get away with it because he's a Democrat and the media is not going to pursue it.

KURTZ: Well, I for one, think that kind of humor has absolutely no place. And I think it probably did deserve...


KURTZ: Undoubtedly, it did deserve more coverage and more criticism. Katrina Pierson, great to see, thanks very much.

PIERSON: Nice to be here. Thank you.

KURTZ: Ahead, more on the bogus outrage over that Kellyanne Conway photo. But first, the New York Times media columnist on the president's escalating attacks on that newspaper.


KURTZ: President Trump ratcheted up his attack even this week against what he calls the failing New York Times. He told Breitbart that when it comes to the times, the intent is so evil and so bad. And joining us now from Long Island is Jim Rutenberg, media columnist for the New York Times. And, Jim, that word evil is so loaded. Isn't there a natural human tendency by people at your paper to dig in against President Trump when he makes these kinds of attacks?

JIM RUTENBERG, NEW YORK TIMES MEDIA COLUMNIST: I think at this point the answer is actually no. Evil is so over the top. I think it's time it just gets tuned out at this point. You just have to focus on doing the work, but it is a strong word, evil.

KURTZ: You write that Republicans should challenge President Trump about all this, was there ever a moment for government leaders who believe that true information by independent news sources is vital to our nation, to stand up and say this will be it. But, Jim, most Republicans think the press is unfair to their side and have felt that for a very long time.

RUTENBERG: Well, as you showed earlier in the broadcast here, you know, President George W. Bush stepped forward and said you know the press does play a vital role. And believe me, we both know he did not love the press and always thought we had it in for him. But even he saw the role. And I think the point of my column was basically when true information is questioned, through the press, that serves no one. So you can see Republican opponents of President Trump down the line wanting to forward to some true stats or data to make a policy argument. And if true data is knocked down so easily, it under serves them. But I would argue that it under serves the president in the long run, too.


KURTZ: Even if the stories reported by the New York Times and the Washington Post and others are legitimate, the shear volume and I would argue sometimes the tone has been so relentless. Can you really say these newspapers, for example, had the same level of aggressiveness and skepticism towards Barack Obama in his first week in office?

RUTENBERG: I don't know if we saw the same climate at the beginning of the Obama administration. I mean, I think even the Trump administration would say they came in to really shake things up. He has never been in office before, so this has been an extraordinary beginning of an administration. So I just don't know. It's like a complete apples and oranges comparison.

KURTZ: Right. Except when you come to the question of fairness, and you raised this yourself during the campaign, writing in another column, that if reporters view the Trump presidency, at that time just a possibility as potentially dangerous, their reporting would reflect that, they would move closer than they've ever been to being oppositional. And you said, this is back in August, balance has been on vacation since Mr. Trump stepped on to the golden Trump Tower escalator. So that's a question a lot of people have, which is whether reporters think they are saving the world or not, have they have changed the standards reporting on this presidential candidate who is now president?

RUTENBERG: Well, I'm glad you brought that column up because if you read that column down to its conclusion, what it said was report the facts wherever they may lead. And that's our job. So sometimes campaigns, and I have said this, would go for either campaign. And it by no means would it mean going easy at all on then candidate Clinton. Report the facts wherever they take you and it is with it is.

Now, to your point, over the last year, the tone has sometimes been a little hot across the media. Probably, people should be mind -- they report the news in as straight away as they can. But this is an extraordinary administration, President Trump is an extraordinary public figure, and there is going to be a different way of covering him. It is just you know what we are seeing unfold before our eyes.

KURTZ: It is an extraordinary administration where we are also at a time when there are extraordinarily low levels of trust in the media. Some of that is a hangover from the campaign, which the press is totally botched and misread. And so I think we all have to keep in mind that our credibility here is on the line as well. But it seems like we are piling on. Now, let me get you to weigh in on the subject, the presidential tweets accusing Barack Obama of having wire tapped Trump Tower. The way that it is being covered, The New York Times said like today, he offered no proof. And it is true, he did offer no proof. But what is the challenge here for reporting on this kind of presidential allegation?

RUTENBERG: Well, I think it's just that. Here, this amazing, a huge allegation. So we need to drive for evidence. And if there isn't any, we need to say it. Because if you do that headline, and this is a big debate. You see it unfold on Twitter and kind of publicly and I'm sure other shows like this one, if you do that headline, President Trump accuses predecessor of spying on him. That's a very flat statement. And there is no evidence. And I think you have to say there is no evidence. But we'll keep reporting. I think this is going to potentially shake loose some new details and everyone will be interested to find out including the administration.

KURTZ: Right. Well, I'm for reporting, I'm also for fairness. And I think you are saying that, but you see it in a little bit different way. Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times, I really appreciate the chance to talk to you. Thanks very much for coming in.

RUTENBERG: Thanks so much for having me.

KURTZ: Good to see you. After the break, more on President Trump's unproven wiretapping allegations against President Obama. And the phony outrage, I really want to get into this, over that Kellyanne photo.


KURTZ: Where does the media go from here on the story of President Trump's unproven wiretapping charges against former President Obama. All right, Erin, it is a thermonuclear charge. The president has done this before on Twitter without providing evidence. Will the media still be pursuing this a week from now or will there be other controversies and this will just fade into the background?

MCPIKE: Of course, we'll still pursue it because it's part of this larger Russia issue. You know, I think there are a number of questions that need to be answered. One, where is the evidence, is there an investigation going on, and what can we get about that? I also think we haven't heard anything about what the Russians actually think about what's going on right here with this story.

KURTZ: The Russians have not criticized this.


MCPIKE: There is not a whole lot of coverage of what Moscow thinks, of what we're talking about right now.


KURTZ: They're not saying a whole lot.

MCPIKE: I also think at some point, we might hear from President Obama because these allegations have been made against him. You know, President Trump was supposed to be quiet after the new president took over. I think possibly we could hear a little bit more from him.

KURTZ: All right.

MCPIKE: And then there is the question of context. Why were all these Trump associates meeting with Russians?


KURTZ: What do you think about the point made by Katrina Pierson and other Trump defenders that ultimately there is nothing at the bottom here, that maybe you can change all these stuff about who met with who, which Trump associates and how much time they spent with the Russian ambassador. But there is no nefarious conspiracy at the heart of this and the media almost want this to be true.

MCPIKE: They may. But it's clear from the way that the president is acting and some of what he is saying that there is some reason that he's after this story. And he's continuing to have the media chase it. I think the president is complicit in making this a story.

KURTZ: Well, certainly, when he blast out things on Twitter, he makes it more of a story. He fuels it. At the same time, I also think some of this has to do with his foreign policy, that a lot of the bipartisan exploits here in Washington don't like him, taking him to be more cooperative with Vladimir Putin in Russia. And some people see that as raising questions. But he won an election saying those very things.

All right. In the department of stupid stuff, look what happened when this photo of Kellyanne Conway went viral, the Oval Office, on the couch, feet under her. The New York Post, was Kellyanne Conway raised in a barn, the roof, get your feet off that damn White House couch. Kellyanne Conway one Twitter wrote when your staff is straight out of the trailer, come on, give me a break. Did the internet go haywire on various occasions when President Obama did this? I don't think so. Now, Kellyanne addressed her shocking behavior with Lou Dobbs.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT FOR DONALD TRUMP: And I really wanted to thank so many of them for coming to my defense. Because they were in the room and they know I was being asked to take a picture in a crowded room with the press behind us. And I was asked to take a certain angle and was doing exactly that. I certainly meant no disrespect.


KURTZ: This was a meeting of people, why did this go so viral, and why were there so many cheap shots taken, and was there sexism in it?

MCPIKE: I think there maybe, because Kellyanne Conway has been such a big figure in the news of late and has taken a lot of criticism, so people love to continue that criticism. But you and I both are in television. We know that photographers do whatever they can to get the shot.


KURTZ: They crawl over people and so forth.

MCPIKE: That's right.

KURTZ: Right. That's interesting. The fact that she is probably the most visible defender of President Trump in terms of the person who often goes on TV, do you think -- it is true, like she wears something colorful, she gets snubbed. But I guess the media goes along with it because it is hot on Twitter. Everybody wants to be in a viral thing. I mean, it's so bogus. It's just a photo of her taking a photo.

MCPIKE: Yeah. That's right. You know, I'm sure there are people who did a double take when they saw her sitting as she was. But you know she is a controversial figure.

KURTZ: Yeah.

MCPIKE: And there is always something like that. And so that's what people grab on to.

KURTZ: My thought on this is, get a life. Erin, thanks very much. Still to come, our latest Trump trauma, this is a bad one. We got a couple of them.

And Jon Stewart back and mocking the media.


KURTZ: Our latest addition of Trump trauma, Washington Post writer Amanda Erickson doesn't like President Trump creating victims of immigration crime engagement, that's fine. The headline of her piece, Adolf Hitler also published a list of crimes committed by groups he didn't like. Can journalists please, please stop comparing this president to an unspeakable mass murderer?

And Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stevens tweeted this. When will Republicans acknowledge that the president of the United States is mentally ill? Stevens then deleted the tweet saying he is a columnist, not a medical guy, but didn't exactly back off the charge. Couldn't we all just skip the diagnosis and stick to journalism?

Well, Jon Stewart is back, at least briefly, popping up with his one-time backup Steven Colbert on CBS' late show and he has a message for the media.


STEWART: Hey, guys. Hey, media. So I heard Donald Trump broke up with you.


STEWART: Stings a little, doesn't it? I never thought you met your match. A blabber mouth who is just as thin skinned and narcissistic as you are.


STEWART: Now, it's over. Well, good riddance I say, kick him to the curb.



KURTZ: You make it so personal, Jon, like we can't live without Trump, like we're just a bunch of pathetic narcissists. By the way, I notice you couldn't stay off TV and you just had to sound off about Donald Trump. So welcome back to the TV blabber mouth club.

And that's it for this edition of "MediaBuzz." I'm Howard Kurtz. Thanks for joining us. We hope you like our Facebook page. Check it out, give us a like. Post a lot of original content there and respond to your comments. Continue the conversations on Twitter as well, @howardkurtz. Somehow, I think I don't have to invite people to do that because I get plenty of tweets, particularly after each show. And if you happened to miss our program, DVR, set your dials up there, so you can watch it at your convenience. I also appear on SiriusXM radio, 24-7 headlines with the Media Minute. You might enjoy that as well. We continue some of the same things. I work back here next Sunday. See you then with the latest buzz.

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