Media decry Trump emergency

This is a rush transcript from "Media Buzz," February 17, 2019. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On the Buzz Meter this Sunday, a media uproar in a really wild news conference as President Trump declares a national emergency in an effort to get funding for his border wall, this after a fierce debate over the deal to avoid a second government shutdown with some anchors and commentators accusing the president of selling the wall through falsehood.


CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: Right now the president seems to be pretending to fulfil his campaign promise by pretending to build his wall.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The president is lying to you to get his border wall.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: It is going to be the emperor's new wall by the end of this. He's going to be doing photo-ops in front of empty expanses of desert.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Any Republican that supports this garbage compromise, you will have to explain. KATIE PAVLICH, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: In terms of this deal, it's pretty garbage. I mean, $1 billion for 55 miles of bollard fencing that still allows people to get through it. What's the point of that?


KURTZ: Once the president went to emergency route, the pundits praised him or vilified him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST: This is a direct violation of constitutional rights that our founders gave members of Congress.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: All to keep a campaign promise that the majority of Americans don't want you to keep. What kind of emergency is that?

JESS WATTERS, FOX NEWS POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He has been sabotaged. He has to declare a national emergency. I don't like the idea of a national emergency.

HANNITY: One of the main reasons that the president is supporting this horrible bill is because weak Republicans in the Senate behind the scenes were afraid of the president using emergency measures.


KURTZ: The crumbling claims of actor Jussie Smollett who said he was attacked by Trump supporters on a Chicago street where the press and some Democratic candidates too quick to embrace that shaky story.

I've got exclusive new reporting on the Jeff Bezos-National Enquirer mess. A behind the scenes look at the secret settlement talk.

Plus, long-time NBC sportscaster, Bob Costas, blows the whistle on the network, saying he was benched from last year's Super Bowl because he criticized football for the damage from concussions.


BOB COSTAS, SPORTSCASTER, MLB NETWORK HOST: So I guess that NBC is not sure whether there is a connection between football and brain trauma. And I imagine the next press release is still open to question whether or not the earth is round or flat. OK. I'm good.


KURTZ: NBC isn't even denying this stunning charge. I'm Howard Kurtz and this is "Media Buzz."

With some Republicans publicly dissenting from the president's decision to sign a compromise bill with little wall funding and declare a national emergency at the border, it was fitting somehow that the announcement came at a rumbling, ruckus, and often testy press conference.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will have a national emergency and we will then be sued and they will sue us in the Ninth Circuit even though it shouldn't be there. We will possibly get a bad ruling and then we'll get another bad ruling. And then we'll end up in the Supreme Court and hopefully we'll get a fair shake and will win in the Supreme Court.


KURTZ: Joining us now to analyze the coverage: Ben Domenech, the founder and publisher of The Federalist; Beverly Hallberg, president of District Media and a former television producer; and Philippe Reines, former State Department official under Hillary Clinton.

Ben, the media is covering this emergency declaration as a shocking and outrageous abuse of power that shatters constitutional norms. Fair or unfair?

BEN DOMENECH, FOUNDER AND PUBLISHER, THE FEDERALIST: No, that's very unfair. I mean, the fact is that we have a number of national emergencies going on for a number of different reasons. President Obama didn't have to declare a national emergency when he waved his hands to find funding that was never allocated by the Congress when it came to the Obamacare exchanges which is going to dwarf the funding that is involved in this situation.

The fact is we do have a national emergency at the border. And the fact is that that's sustained by the coverage of the humanitarian crisis that has been going on there for a long time. On the very evening that President Trump gave his remarks in El Paso, we had 1,800 different family units who were coming to border patrol along the border including 316 in one border patrol location west of El Paso where you had an enormous group of family people to the point that the border patrol had to move ATVs out of a garage to find a place for them to sleep at night. It is a humanitarian crisis.

That being said, these national emergency declarations are not things that should happen. The 1976 National Emergency Act should be something that Congress should address because presidents shouldn't have the power to do this kind of thing. But under the law, what the president did is constitutional and is legal.

KURTZ: Of course it will be tested in court. We will come back to you. Beverly, the press is accurate of the reporting that some prominent Republicans, Chuck Grassley, Rand Paul, Susan Collins and others, are opposed to this declaration and felt blindsided. So, that is not just punditry. I mean, that's reporting that people are saying on the record.

BEVERLY HALLBERG, PRESIDENT, DISTRICT MEDIA GROUP: I don't think they are necessarily blindsided. We know that this was a possibility from Trump even when the shutdown happened. But I would agree Republicans look at this and say we don't like it when Obama did it, we didn't like when he sometimes would use executive authority.

And by the way, the media never covered it the same way as we are seeing this coverage now. I think one of the problems with the coverage for President Trump is that actually he changed the news cycle that was very favorable to him. You had what happened in Virginia with the scandals there. You also have the New Green Deal which is very positive when it came to Republicans and Trump because it out the (ph) Democrats in what they really thought --

KURTZ: Well, he had no choice he had a deadline. The government was going to shut down. They're going to find some funding. Philippe, on that point, the press constantly points out that Republican made the very same charge against Barack Obaman when he had the executive order protecting the dreamers, going too far in running Congress. Doesn't that limit the ability of liberals now to criticize this president?

PHILIPPE REINES, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL UNDER HILLARY CLINTON: No, not at all, and I think, you know, Ben did a better job of conveying why there should be an emergency than Trump at all if he missed the sing (ph) song recital of it. The problem here has been what has been for two years now, that immigration is the third rail in Republican politics and Trump keeps touching it.

And a number of the pundits who showed whether it was Sean Hannity or Ann Coulter, they are the ones being most vicious about him. They are the ones who are driving. You can't say that the left or mainstream media is over- covering or being overly critical when all they have to do is show a tweet from Ann Coulter saying that he's --

KURTZ: On the point about the press loved Obama's executive authority when it came to the dreamers because many agree with what he did, many disagree with what President Trump is doing, you don't see a double standard there?

REINES: I don't. I have to admit I don't remember when Obama did it.

HALLBERG: Well, there is double standard here --

REINES: To be verbally honest --

KURTZ: Is it double standard?

REINES: To be verbally honest --

DOMENECH: Seriously, President Obama didn't declare a national emergency when he did what he did with the dreamers. He just did the same thing that he did in so many other areas, pen and phone leadership, that totally washed away the -- the problem here is that for decades, the Congress has been derelict in dealing with the immigration issue because they do not agree with what their base wants to do on this issue.

That is something that President Trump exploited when he was candidate Trump. It was one of the reasons that he is in the White House today and it is the reason that he have to do this again. Because for two years, congressional Republicans didn't want to go along with what he wanted to do, a big priority for him. They didn't want to actually consent.

KURTZ: Beverly, the storyline in the days before the emergency declaration was Trump got rolled. He is only getting $1.3 billion from the Democrats. It is less than he could have gotten before the 35-day shutdown. And yet he was sort of saying, well, you know, acting like it's a victory.

And this is not just on the left. Laura Ingraham on Fox called the measure that the president ultimately signed a total scam. So, are the media right at least on that part that the president put himself in a box and ended up settling for very little money?

HALLBERG: I think many people when he decided to end the shutdown said this is a lost for him, so I think there is accuracy with that. But going back to what Ben said, I think that he is actually dealing with an issue that Democrats want a border security, Republicans have wanted this as well, and he is in a tough position.

But there is a double standard. Let's not go forget that the media did report that Obama did build 97 miles of border fencing. And also in 2014, he came out and actually asked for funding for the humanitarian crisis at the border. His word of crisis is never critiqued by the mainstream media. So, when it is Obama wanting to do this, everything seems fine but not with this president --

REINES: But in hearing that and saying this isn't fair because Obama got away with something bad, you are acknowledging that what Trump is doing is bad.

HALLBERG: No, I'm acknowledging the word crisis isn't even questioned when it comes to Obama.

REINES: The only crisis created here is by Donald Trump himself.

DOMENECH: No, that's ridiculous.


DOMENECH: The Obama administration was negotiating with a leader in Mexico who had literally been paid $100 million by El Chapo to ignore him. It is ludicrous to say that this is something that is Donald Trump's creation. He is a reaction to what has been going on at the border for more than a decade and to the more recent humanitarian crisis of families coming across which is fuelled by the cartels, they profit from it, and they will continue to profit from it until we have --

REINES: Donald Trump's political and media crisis for the last two months is of his own making.

KURTZ: Well, let me jump in here because --

REINES: That is indisputable. I know you guys in your head --

DOMENECH: That is a ridiculous thing.

REINES: You would never script the last two months.

KURTZ: We'll agree to disagree on this. Obviously, the shutdown, I think, for everybody would have hurt the Republicans more. But since we now have anchors and commentators just coming out and calling the president a liar. Let me play a little sound or couple of different instances in the last few days where the president has talked about what is happening now with the wall.


TRUMP: The wall is being built. It will continue. It is going at a rapid pace. I built a lot of wall. I have a lot of money. I built a lot of wall.


KURTZ: So what journalists say is he is building the wall now, supposed to just putting a fencing or replacing fencing. Then why did we have the shutdown in the first place?

REINES: There was no reason that a shutdown in the first place that this is where we are going to end up.

KURTZ: Address the question of journalists saying the president is not telling the truth.

REINES: Well, I think that's a general rule he often does not tell the truth. But to say that we have an emergency when we don't, and again, if you want to say that previous presidents have declared when they shouldn't doesn't mean you are not lying when you declared or when you have said Mexico will pay for the wall. Let's be clear, Donald Trump's campaign promise was not to build the wall. It was that Mexico would pay for it.

KURTZ: All right. We established that. That has not happened.

DOMENECH: But the issue here is not who pays for a wall. Frankly, a wall won't solve this problem. A wall alone is not going to be the thing that actually solves this problem. And the fact is it is totally hypocritical for these anchors to go out there and say the presidents is lying when, you know, three weeks ago there was a headline in The Washington Post by David Nakamura saying that this was a border crisis and talking about it blatantly as being a crisis.

KURTZ: But when journalists say the president is talking about a crisis in illegal immigration, but actually illegal immigration has declined in recent years, or they say, let me just give you a second example, El Paso was a crime-infested city before the section of a wall was built there. Don't they have a point that the president is not always backed up by the facts?

DOMENECH: Of course they have a point that the president will frequently make arguments that go beyond the realm of what should be supported by the facts. But when it comes to the border, I think that what he has actually understood is that this is an issue that the national Republican and Democratic leadership do not want to grapple with because it is inconvenient and because there are lot of things that cut against their priorities.

KURTZ: When the president was taking questions from reporters at that news conference on Friday, Beverly, he did not look happy. It took him a long time to get to the declaration. It was a testy news conference. Obviously, some reporters were testy as well. I just got the impression that he was trying to make the best of a bad situation.

HALLBERG: It is always the Acosta-Trump show when you have those press conferences. He asked a lot of testy questions. I think a lot of reporters do -- I will say I don't think the president did a good job in that sermon. He even said of course a line that everybody is using which is I didn't have to do this, which obviously is not the narrative you want. But here is what --

KURTZ: Right. He said wanted to get the wall build faster and that is why he is doing this.

HALLBERG: But here is what reporters are doing when it comes to those facts, even those questions that are thrown out. They are cherry picking the data that they want. Certain aspects that are true, but it is not giving the full picture. You talk about one of the reasons why there is such an issue. It is the humanitarian crisis of women and children coming over. You have in El Paso, not enough beds for people. So there is a crisis, just reporters don't want to focus on all the facts at the border.

KURTZ: All right.

REINES: But it is legitimate for White House reporter to ask the president of the United States, where are you getting this data?

HALLBERG: Absolutely.

REINES: But it is not legitimate for him to look back and snivel and sneer because he can't provide the facts.

HALLBERG: The problem with the question --

KURTZ: Personalized so no snivelling at that --

REINES: He was sneering.

KURTZ: All right.

REINES: He was sneering.

KURTZ: Let me get a break here. By the way, this is heading to court as the president himself acknowledged. Ahead, the media touting Andrew McCabe's new criticism of the president despite the fact that the FBI fired him for lying.

When we come back, do the press and the 2020 Democrats have been more cautious about the now crumbling claims of actor Jussie Smollett that he was attacked on the street by Trump supporters?


KURTZ: Several Democratic presidential candidates rushed to embrace the claims of Jussie Smollett, a star of the Fox show "Empire" who said Trump supporters attacked him late at night on a Chicago street and stuck to his story on "Good Morning America."


JUSSIE SMOLLETT, ACTOR: I see the attacker, masked. And he said, 'This MAGA country (bleep),' punches me right in the face. So I punched back. And then we started tussling. It was very icy. Then I look down and I see that there's a rope around my neck.


KURTZ: Smollett didn't budge when Robin Roberts asked him about the growing scepticism of his account.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROBIN ROBERTS, ABC ANCHOR: Why did you hesitate to call the police?

SMOLLETT: There is a level of pride there. We live in a society where as a gay man, you are considered somehow to be weak. And I am not weak. I am not weak.


KURTZ: Kamala Harris and Cory Booker both called it a modern-day lynching. But Chicago police now say they shifted their investigation after questioning two suspects who are Nigerian brothers and CNN site sources saying police believe Smollett paid them to orchestrate the assault.

Joining us now is Mara Liasson, national political reporter for NPR and a Fox News contributor. So, we had Kirsten Gillibrand saying sickening and outrageous attack. Booker, a vicious attack. Kamala Harris, no one should have to fear for their life because of their sexuality or color of their skin. They treat it as an established fact and that amplified the story in the media.

MARA LIASSON, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Sure, they amplified the story. I think maybe the cautionary tale here is to just wait before you tweet. You don't have to react to every single thing. What is going to be the real test is once the actual truth is established, then how do they react if it turns out that his story wasn't true and this attack was fabricated --

KURTZ: Right.

LIASSON: -- because what he did if that is true --

KURTZ: Yeah.

LIASSON: -- he undermines the claims of every person who is legitimately assaulted.

KURTZ: That's a really good point. I turned down an invitation to talk about this maybe 10 days ago because I just thought it was too murky.


KURTZ: What else could the media have done? So, actor makes this claim. It is reported. Chicago police are taking it seriously.


KURTZ: That's reported. Now, when discrepancies or problems came up, his delay in notifying the police, his reluctance to turn over his phone, those were reported, and wouldn't it have been reckless on the other side for journalists and commentators to come and say, well, we think this is all B.S. because of these problems in his account.

LIASSON: Just be very careful. This is an evolving, breaking news stories. All the time at NPR, we get cautionary e-mails from editors. We are not going with this. You know, this has not been established. But it is fine to show, to report on the latest wrinkle, the Chicago police are looking into this.

KURTZ: Right.

LIASSON: It is not clear what happened. But even the president weighed in on this.

KURTZ: Right. I'll get to that in a second. Many of us thought the story just did not smell right.


KURTZ: But that is not the same as being able to --


KURTZ: Yeah, to go on TV and say that is not true. So the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., tweeting most of the media not only uncritically accepted his lies as facts for weeks but attacked those who questioned the validity of his false story. Those attacks took place. That is completely not right. But his father, when asked at a news conference, called it a horrible attack.

LIASSON: Yes, horrible thing. Unless you want to say, look, based on what we know now, it is horrible. But you got to update your reaction once new facts come out.

KURTZ: Yeah. For the record, Jussie Smollett's lawyer is reacting to this latest report, saying he has been further victimized by these claims attributing to the alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack. One of them worked on the show, "Empire," with him. Let us also talk about the way the media branding some of these early 2020 candidates. For example, Kirsten Gillibrand, The New York Times says she is a woman running for women.

LIASSON: Look, I am not here to suck up to the host of the show, but I just want to say your lead on your story was so funny. Kirsten Gillibrand, in case you are wondering, is running for president as a woman. Look, this is a big field. It hasn't sorted itself out clearly into lanes.


LIASSON: And the media is trying to explain what's the difference between all these candidates.

KURTZ: Right, but you can't tell through all the policies (ph). So you have Cory Booker.


KURTZ: He is running as --

LIASSON: You come up with these quick cartoonish --

KURTZ: Yeah.

LIASSON: -- labels which I think in the end are going to fall apart because they are not giving a full picture of these candidates. These candidates haven't given us a full picture of themselves.

KURTZ: Right. Let's talk about a couple. Amy Klobuchar is the conciliator. She is a person who is loved by Republicans. The Wall Street Journal editorial page said she could be Trump. She doesn't parrot lefty talking points. Cory Booker is running as the bachelor.

LIASSON: Bachelor, really? He is also the vegan. Amy Klobuchar is also maybe the bad boss based on some reporting. I mean, it shows you how hard it is to put these candidates in a box.

KURTZ: But then Politico has a headline that says, is America ready for a single president?


KURTZ: And those reports about Klobuchar being difficult to work for, Huffington Post and BuzzFeed, all based on anonymous resources. So there is a lot of stuff out there. I think it is hard. But I think also the candidates just briefly cooperate with this sort of thing.

LIASSON: They want to be differentiated. The real debate, I think, will come when there is a candidate of Medicare for All versus the candidate of Medicare buy-in at 50 or the candidate of debt-free college versus the candidate of free college. Then we are talking.

KURTZ: Yeah.

LIASSON: Then we're talking.

KURTZ: And now we'll get ready.


KURTZ: All right, when we get to the policy stuff. Mara Liasson, it is great to see you. Ahead, the Senate Intel Committee finds no Trump campaign collusion with Russia. But if you blinked, you missed it as far as the coverage. Up next, from legal threats to photo-ops, the lead coverage, my exclusive reporting on how Jeff Bezos and the National Enquirer almost struck a deal to stop reporting on his personal life.


KURTZ: After the National Enquirer revealed the affair between Jeff Bezos and television personality Lauren Sanchez, the Amazon founder secretly arranged a ceasefire with parent company, American Media, Inc., according to my sources. Bezos's team cooperated with a sympathetic story about the couple in another AMI publication, Us Weekly, providing codes to (ph) unnamed sources and arranging paparazzi photos of Sanchez.

The intermediary was Michael Sanchez, Lauren's brother, who despite initial rumors has not been found to have leaked the intimate photos of Bezos to the Enquirer. He called that 100 percent false, saying he has been trying to protect Jeff and Lauren's relationship. And the suspect now includes several girlfriends with whom Lauren shared the pictures and texts.

As a sign of trust, Bezos wanted the Enquire to stop this steady drip of texts and photos about him and Lauren Sanchez. To prove they weren't planning a second straight cover on the affair, an AMI executive provided the Bezos team with an advance image of the next week's cover which was about George Clooney's marriage. The breach of security was so unusual that the Bezos intermediary asked AMI whether it was real or fake.

The gesture led to steady stream of calls and messages between the two sides. I've had access to evidence that these were essentially settlement talks although the Bezos side says it was simply responding to extortion. Bezos also ordered his team to stay quiet, stop feeding the coverage. Stop responding to journalists' questions, he said. Stop engaging with the media even if you're trying to correct a bad story.

During this period, my sources say Bezos mused about buying American media perhaps for $1 billion or more, shutting down the Enquirer and beating up other magazines but decided this was too risky. Both sides made legal threats. The Bezos team demanded that no more of his photos and texts be published and that AMI stop smearing Gavin de Becker, his longtime security chief.

AMI wanted Bezos and his Washington Post to stop saying that the Enquirer owned by David Pecker, the close friend of President Trump who as we know can't stand Jeff Bezos, had a politically-motivated hit job in the piece. The billionaire never planned to agree to that. After the Bezos team asked AMI to make a settlement proposal, according to my sources, AMI sent a letter that included the infamous description of below the belt selfies and other X-rated pictures of Bezos.

AMI views that this was simply putting what it had on the table. But the problem is it read like a threatening letter, allowing Bezos to blow up the talks by accusing the company of blackmail. AMI executives denied that. But people on both sides believe that Bezos shrewdly led them into a trap.

American Media would like the story to fade but there is one complication, federal prosecutors are now looking into the matter. You can read my full report right now at

Next on "Media Buzz," Andrew McCabe gets a "60 Minutes" platform to talk about Donald Trump and the 25th Amendment. How sceptical is the coverage? And later, what the president had to say about Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Ann Coulter.


HOWARD KURTZ, MEDIA BUZZ, HOST: Andrew McCabe who was fired for lying as the FBI's deputy director is now peddling a book, recounting questions about presidential fitness for office, just a few months into his administration. And he's getting a big boost from a 60 Minutes interview airing tonight.


ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER FBI DEPUTY DIRECTOR: The discussion of the 25th Amendment, was simply Rod raised the issue and discussed it with me in the context of thinking about how many other cabinet officials might support such an effort, counting votes or possible votes.


KURTZ: The president wasted little time in tweeting disgraced FBI acting director Andrew McCabe pretends to be a poor little angel when in fact he was a big part of the crooked Hillary scandal and the Russia hoax, a puppet for leaking James Comey. And we're back with the panel.

Ben Domenech, so McCabe has got this book out. He goes to Scott Pelley. And he says look, the cabinet actually had discussions about evoking the 25th Amendment against President Trump in early 2017. Should the public believe him and is it important if true, obviously this didn't end up happening?

BEN DOMENECH, THE FEDERALIST: It's possible that it's true. I mean, what we do know about McCabe as you said in your opening is that he is someone who was fired for lying to the FBI. He lied both not under oath to James Comey and then under oath repeatedly to the investigators from the officer -- Office of the Inspector General. And he is a guy, I think, that we have to take everything that he says with a grain of salt.

But keep in mind, what he's really doing in this context, which is he's engaging in public spin to try to boost his image knowing that you know frankly these charges were referred to prosecutors to look for potential indictments. He could be facing criminal penalties for the lying that he engaged in. And I think that really what he's doing here. He's engaging in a public PR campaign...

KURTZ: Yeah, yeah.

DOMENECH: ... to boost his reputation.

KURTZ: Yeah, definitely on the reputation going on, not unknown when people write books. When the New York Times, Philippe Reines, reported that Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, had offered to wear a wire and secretly record the president during the same period, early 2017, Rosenstein kind of dismissed this sarcastically, I wasn't really serious. But McCabe says in the book he was dead serious. And that he and McCabe consulted FBI lawyers about this. Does this vindicate the Times' story?

PHILIPPE REINES, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: I don't know. I mean, in the end, hopefully, they will all write books and we'll be able to find out, you know, basically.

KURTZ: But will this be self-serving?

REINES: Well, that doesn't mean they're not accurate. And I think this is an important conversation about his credibility. And I've seen the same conversation on other networks about he has said this, should we believe him. I would hope Scott Pelley would have straight out said, Andy, why should we believe you, given that you were fired.

Now, that doesn't mean that the next answer just because you're saying is credible, the answer is no. The answer is let's just look at all the facts. And I think when we have all the facts, Rosenstein might have been trying to get himself out of trouble.

KURTZ: So, Beverly, we have sort of a media split among the pundits. On one side, we have McCabe is a proven liar, he was fired versus McCabe is a truth teller, what has he got to lose, he is talking about what really happened in the White House. That's pretty typical in the media these days.

BEVERLY HALLBERG, DISTRICT MEDIA GROUP: And McCabe is hoping that you buy the book and find out for yourself.

KURTZ: Yeah.

HALLBERG: Because I think this is really about him trying to get some money, get some notoriety, because he has a lot of legal cases ahead of him. But what I think is interesting, what he has said so far, he seems to want to throw Rod Rosenstein under the bus. It seems like they're all out for themselves right now. So it's going to -- I think there's going to be more tell-all books. And I think the mainstream media is always happy for someone who is critical of Trump to have them on their show, maybe The View, maybe Good Morning America. So there will be a media tour from this book.

KURTZ: I do think he will be in The View. All right. He's already here. So, Ben, the media treated this as a huge deal when a federal judge ruled that Paul Manafort had lied. Remember, he has already been convicted twice about a meeting, when he was still running the campaign in 2016 with a Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian operative. He's going to prison for a long time. In fact, Mueller's office just recommended a sentence of 19 to 24 years. But it still leaves open the question about whether Donald Trump knew any of this.

DOMENECH: Well, I do think that's an open question still. But I think we have to keep in mind the larger context of this, which is that the public was sold a story about President Trump and his relationship with Russia that we know at this point as simply hasn't been held up by the facts. It does not exist in the format it was sold to the American people. Now, I do think that Paul Manafort was a bad guy, was engaged in a lot of shady characters, and did a lot of shady things.

Frankly, that's not news to anyone who has been in Washington over the past couple of decades about Manafort. And I'm not surprised that we continue to see that he engaged in behavior that you know frankly runs afoul of the deals that he has negotiated, et cetera.

REINES: He said that format originally presented, which by that he means conspiracy by Donald Trump with the Russians. Now, the format originally presented by Donald Trump was that no one in his campaign did anything like this.

So, talk about credibility, it is hard when you make comments about no one around me, no one who worked for me, no one -- I barely knew the guy, then suddenly two years later...

KURTZ: But, Philippe...

DOMENECH: I mean, the ship is sinking and it is the middle of the ocean. I mean, come on, this is ridiculous. The fact is that we know...

REINES: Trump shifted...

DOMENECH: After millions of dollars -- after millions of dollars and years of investigation, we have no evidence whatsoever that the president engaged in anything approaching, even the base level of collusion.

KURTZ: All right.

REINES: On that, you both acknowledge it's an open question.

KURTZ: You two take it outside because I have question for Beverly. It had to do with both the Chairman and the Ranking Member of the Senate Intel Committee, saying they have not turned up any collusion. First, let's play NBC -- MSNBC reporter Ken Dilanian and his report.


KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: After two years and interviewing 200 witnesses, the Senate Intelligence Committee has not uncovered any direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.


KURTZ: And here's the tweet from the President of the United States, hell have frozen over. Thank you to MSNBC says Donald Trump. But how much coverage did those Senate findings get?

HALLBERG: Not much at all. And if you take a look at the difference in coverage of Jussie Smollett and that situation over a hundred hours, very little on this committee hearing at all. Remember, this is a bipartisan committee. Democrats run this as well. Once again, unless the narrative fits that somehow there was collusion with Russia, the mainstream media doesn't want to run with those stories.

KURTZ: All right. It did vanish very quickly.

REINES: Except MSNBC with the clip we just watched.

KURTZ: Well, that was good reporting, a very accurate report.

All right. I'm going to give you each 10 seconds on this, the president tweeting today after SNL did a skit last night, Alec Baldwin saying all is good, we want the wall. Here's the tweet, nothing funny about SNL on fake news NBC. The question is, how did the network get away with these total Republican hit jobs without retribution like other shows? Very unfair and should be looked into. It's a comedy show.

DOMENECH: It is a comedy show, though the comedy has largely been absent in the recent years, unlike when you bring it back.

KURTZ: Right. I mean, there's no question that Alec Baldwin is a liberal who wants to drive President Trump from office, but, you know, again, it's a comedy show.

HALLBERG: He should take a note from Representative Dan Crenshaw, who did go on. And I even think he may have won this race because of the popularity, self-deprecating humor goes a long way.

KURTZ: You say President Trump should go on SNL?



REINES: He did.

KURTZ: I'm going to hold my breath.

REINES: He did. He wasn't funny. I think whoever is in office gets the wrong end of the SNL stick, whether it is a Democrat or Republicans. Bill Clinton was running around eating hamburgers. That's one of the funniest stuffs they ever did.

KURTZ: Yeah. Barack Obama, that's a lot.

REINES: Believe me, if Hillary Clinton had won, I think SNL would be going after her on a regular basis.

DOMENECH: Not at all.

REINES: Come on.

KURTZ: I don't know about that. Philippe Reines, Beverly Hallberg, Ben Domenech, great to see you all this Sunday.

After the break, a really strange press conference on the border emergency, the president was going at it with Jim Acosta and others, and the president of his conservative media allies.

And later, Bob Costas takes on NBC.


KURTZ: When President Trump took to the Rose Garden Friday, it took him more than 10 minutes, at least, to get to his announcement of a border emergency. And then came the inevitable clash with reporters including CNN Jim Acosta.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: What do you say to your critics who say that you are creating a national emergency, that you're concocting a national emergency here in order to get your wall?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ask the angel moms. What do you think? Because your question is a very political question. Because you have an agenda. You are CNN, you're fake news, you have an agenda.


KURTZ: Joining us now here in Washington, Emily Jashinsky, culture editor at The Federalist, and in Florida, Cathy Areu, a contributor to and a former Washington Post magazine editor.

I think the president knows what happens when he calls on Jim Acosta. He is going to get some kind of confrontation. He has done this in the past. But it gives him something to push back on because he knew he had a difficult argument to sell with the emergency.

EMILY JASHINSKY, THE FEDERALIST CULTURE EDITOR: So, there is a reason that President Trump routinely calls on Jim Acosta. And you're exactly right, it's because there's always going to be a clash, no matter what. Because Acosta -- the president is right, absolutely has an agenda. And the agenda is trying to get a clip that he can put on social media, that will be played, and everyone will be talking about it. We'll be talking about Jim Acosta.

With that being said, he is of course right to push the president to come up with a factual basis for his claims. Absolutely. But there's a reason that for both parties, for CNN and for Donald Trump, these press conferences where those clashes happen are good on ends. They both like it.

KURTZ: That's a certain degree of synergy. The same thing happened moments later, Cathy, with CNN contributor Brian Karem who got into a testy exchange. And he said, where do you base your facts on? The president said look, I get my facts from a number of places like Homeland Security. And the numbers I get from Homeland Security are a disaster. So, he did get a kind of an admission that the president -- that he doesn't buy the government statistics.

CATHY AREU, ROMPER.COM CONTRIBUTOR: Exactly. But the reporters in this case were respecting I think the situation. It wasn't like there was a clash. This wasn't typical Acosta, this wasn't typical reporters attacking the president. He was asking for a national emergency, making quite a big deal on words we haven't heard since 9/11. So reporters have a right to ask tough questions.

And he had to answer those tough questions. And his answers didn't even respect the establishment, the press itself. He didn't respect the press with appropriate answers.

KURTZ: Emily.

AREU: He gave no answers. I'm sorry.

JASHINSKY: I would say that was typical Acosta. It may have not been that Acosta. The president -- you know, they are both within their rights. The press should be asking the president tough questions and a lot of people in the country want to see is the president calling him out, when they do come out with an agenda.

KURTZ: Let me jump in and show you this. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell asked the president about how influential his conservative media supporters. Here's part of what he said.


TRUMP: Sean Hannity has been a terrific, terrific supporter of what I do. Not of me. If I changed my views, he wouldn't be with me. Rush Limbaugh, I think is a great guy. He said I could speak for three hours without a phone call. Try doing that some time.


KURTZ: The president answered the question by praising two of the people who are most often on his side.

JASHINSKY: I thought what was really interesting is how eager the president was to answer this question, because it's one of these like talking points that's conventional wisdom here in Washington. People say this is the Coulter presidency -- if this Coulter presidency, the Hannity presidency, the Drudge presidency, this man would have been governing dramatically differently for the past two years.

And so, that's I think why the president is eager to tackle that. Because it's just not true. He consults with them, sure, absolutely. He's happy to admit that. But he's not governing based on that.

KURTZ: By the way, Hannity said it was stupid and inaccurate, that notion, that people on other channels are saying that he tells the president what to do. They talk. I mean, obviously, they do.

All right. So, Ann Coulter, who was a big supporter on immigration, now, she has turned critical on him. So, the president was asked about Ms. Coulter as well. Take a look.


TRUMP: Ann Coulter, I don't know her. I hardly know her. I haven't spoken to her in way over a year. But the press loves saying Ann Coulter. Probably, if I did speak to her, she would be very nice. I just don't have the time to speak to her. So I like her. But she is off the reservation.


KURTZ: And to underscore that point, here is a brief clip of Ann Coulter responding in a radio interview.


ANN COULTER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Forget the fact that he's digging his own grade. Look, the only national emergency is that our president is an idiot.


KURTZ: So, Cathy, is the president right that the press loves to quote Ann Coulter, especially now that she's being so critical of Donald Trump?

AREU: Yes But He did her a huge favor. She is not affiliated with any news organization. She is not affiliated with Fox, CNN. She's an entrepreneur. She is an author and she needs publicity. So for the President of the United States to go on and on about Ann Coulter, and giving her an opportunity to reply and call him an idiot, what a favor, what a wonderful gift to an entrepreneur like Ann Coulter. He did -- he did something so nice for her.

KURTZ: So that similar to Emily's response, when the clashes come, they both get something out of it. The pundits, the commentators get something. The president I think sometimes gets the foil.


KURTZ: He loves to counter punch.

JASHINSKY: He does know that. But this narrative that Ann Coulter has suddenly switched and is now anti-Trump. This has been happening for more than a year. She has been displeased with him for more than a year. And so, anybody who believes that this is the Coulter presidency is not paying any attention to Ann Coulter. And that's why again, I think the president was eager to tackle this head on.

KURTZ: Cathy, I have to praise you for your restrain and embracing the Ann Coulter insult, but instead giving a high-minded answer to Ann Coulter's response.

AREU: I did not call him an idiot. Thank you.

KURTZ: OK. You can't do better than that. Cathy Areu, Emily Jashinsky, thanks so much for cramming a lot into this segment.

Still to come, I spoke to veteran sportscaster, Bob Costas, about his revelation that NBC benched him of last year's Super Bowl because of his criticism of football's damaging effects. That's next.


KURTZ: Bob Costas who spent four decades with NBC Sports has now revealed why he wasn't in the booth during last year's Super Bowl. Costas have told ESPN's Outside the Lines that NBC benched him because of his public criticism of the NFL and the damage many players have suffered from concussions.


BOB COSTAS, AMERICAN SPORTSCASTER: I think the words were, you've crossed the line. My thought was, what line have I crossed? And I remember reminding them of things going back to the 90s of what I had done, what credibility I would have to comment about these things. And their reaction to that was, you're right, you're right. But this puts us in a position that's untenable for us. So you can't do the Super Bowl.


KURTZ: Costas told me he was relieved by the decision. And he had given up football a year earlier. And he agreed he wasn't the right guy to preside over a day-long celebration of football.

Joining us now, Britt McHenry, co-host of un-PC on Fox Nation and a former ESPN reporter. So Costas who has since departed company with NBC, I will be a little consolatory, I think. But NBC has a million-dollar contract with the National Football League.


KURTZ: And didn't like that one of its stars says football destroys people's brains.

MCHENRY: Yeah. And I tend to side a little bit with NBC here because it's no different than the political world. You have your reporters, you have the pundits, and hosts. And as you know, there are different lanes that you stay in.

And I just want -- I don't know who all was dying from this revelation from Bob Costas. I think he's an exceptional broadcaster. And I do think he has a point. A researcher at Boston University just years ago, examines the brains of diseased football players, found 110 out of 111 had CTE instances.

So I do agree with the revelations he is trying to make about the sport. But when you're the TV partner, those networks broadcast the games.

KURTZ: But that suggests that being the TV partner means that you're not really the resident journalism. You're just there to make football look good. And that to me, if you asked NBC Sports, that wouldn't be our job.

Now, NBC told the New York Times that the cross the line comment expressed to Costas was because he had promised not to talk about football and concussions again in interviews without prior permission from the network. But that says to me the networks were trying to muzzle this guy, talking about a really important societal problem in sports.

MCHENRY: Yes. It's interesting because I was reading some of those comments. And one was the buyer here has less control than the seller. The commissioner of the NFL is really dictating what they can and they can't talk about, when you are part of the actual game broadcast, which he was doing pregame commentary. He wasn't calling the game. So they handcuffed him.

KURTZ: I'm interested in you being so sympathetic to NBC's position. I understand it wasn't like he was going on during the Super Bowl and do 10 minutes on concussion. ESPN certainly takes an adversary approach.

MCHENRY: They do, but those reporters aren't on Monday Night Football. You know, that same power play dynamics go on there as well.

KURTZ: Bob Costas have been doing this for 40 years. And he has been mixing other issues that come up like domestic abuse, for example, he would talk about. People would expect that from Costas. And suddenly, they will go like, just stay home.

Let me read you another one that goes to the point. He says, as great a job as network TV does at capturing the beauty, drama, and humanity of sports, it comes up way short in the category of journalism and acknowledging uncomfortable but undeniable truths. Agree or disagree?

MCHENRY: I do agree. I just don't know if that's the platform. And you can say that about any of broadcasting. So you want to hear that when you are watching the actual game? Troy Ackerman starts talking about it while we're just watching the next tackle. I think we all know football is a very dangerous sport. So is hockey. Both are.

KURTZ: What platform if we're talking about the anthem protest, doesn't that come up during the actual telecast?

MCHENRY: It does. And ESPN at one point had refused to air the anthem because of all the controversy a year ago. They said that they weren't going to do that on Monday Night Football.

KURTZ: You are fine with the reporting, but you feel it should take place somewhere other than the game coverage.

MCHENRY: Yes. I mean, feel like that you have investigative journalists.

KURTZ: OK. I think we butted head here.

MCHENRY: Yeah, for the first time.

KURTZ: On the game coverage, you can separate it. Britt McHenry, great to see you.

MCHENRY: Good to see you, too.

KURTZ: And that's it for this edition of Media Buzz. I'm Howard Kurtz. Hey, check out my new Podcast, Media Buzz Meter. We kick around the day's most important or fascinating stories. And you can subscribe at Apple iTunes, at Google Play or

Also, take a look, if you like, at our Facebook page. I post my daily columns there, a lot of original video. I will continue this debate. It happens every Sunday on Twitter, @HowardKurtz. I look forward to seeing your comments.

We're back here next Sunday. See you then 11:30 a.m. Eastern with the latest "Media Buzz."

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