Media furor over GOP memo

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This is a rush transcript from "Media Buzz," February 4, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On the Buzz Meter this Sunday, the media combat over the release of the House intel memo is fiercely partisan with the rights saying it undermines the Russia investigation and the left calling it irrelevant.




MADDOW: That's all they got.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS: What the memo makes clear, there was collusion after all, you bet. The collusion was between the Comey FBI, the Obama Justice Department, and the Hillary Clinton campaign.

JOY REID, MSNBC: After all that suspense and weeks of buildup worthy of an episode of "The Apprentice," the reviews are in, and Congressman Nunes' memo was a dud.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN: It's an absolute disgrace. It is an embarrassment to the United States Congress. It is part of an effort to discredit the investigation of the president of the United States.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: The highly classified FISA abuse memo has now been released and it is absolutely shocking. It is stunning. This now is the biggest abuse of power, corruption case in American history.


KURTZ: There are also questions about the ex-spy who wrote the so-called dossier and his leaks to journalists. Sean Spicer, the former White House spokesman, joins us on the battle over the FBI and his experience during battle with the press.

And there is all out media warfare over the Mueller investigation, the role of Hope Hicks, the ouster of the FBI's number two man Andrew McCabe and the president supposedly demanding loyalty from him.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN: It's tough to imagine a previous president overruling an FBI director, especially about something like this where the FBI director saying this memo is full of falsehood.

JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS: This guy McCabe needs to be taken out in cuffs. They should not be paid by the American people. He shouldn't be able to dictate when he is going to leave.


KURTZ: With the plot thickening and tensions rising, is the rhetoric getting too overheated on both sides? Mix media reviews for the president's state of the union with some pundits dismissing the appeal for unity as just words. Are these verdicts as polarized as most of the coverage surrounding this president? Plus, the sudden focus on Melania and the marriage. Is the press going all-out tabloid?

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

I was on the couch on "Outnumbered" on Friday when the Devin Nunes memo was released and President Trump wasted no time in reacting.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think it's terrible. You want to know the truth. A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves and much worse than that.


KURTZ: Before we actually receive the document on the set, Fox's Catherine Herridge was on the air with exclusive excerpts.


CATHERINE HERRIDGE, FOX NEWS: For we understand is that a senior law enforcement official testified during a close classified session to this House committee that without the dossier, this is the dossier that was funded by the DNC in Clinton campaign and compiled by Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm, they would not have been able to obtain at least one surveillance warrant for a member of the Trump campaign.


KURTZ: Joining us now to analyze the coverage: Rachael Bade, congressional reporter for Politico; Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist and a Fox News contributor; and Jessica Tarlov, senior editor at, also a Fox News contributor.

We have some technical difficulties here. The look is a little different, but Mollie, Fox News, The Washington Examiner, and The Federalist where you were all got advance excerpts of the memo in the moments before it was released, the memo written by Republican committee chairman of course, and this fueled criticism that it was a partisan exercise. Fair?

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: It's interesting that you say that because The Federalist did not get an advance copy. One of our reporters was searching on house sites to see if he could get a copy as soon as it came out and he found it through the old practice of reporting.

Sometimes you can get things without them being leaked to you which is something I wish more people in this town understood.

KURTZ: Well, thank you for clearing that up. Jessica, but there were certain leaks, and if a democratic committee chairman had written a memo and it appeared on MSNBC before anyone else had it and the nation, you know, conservative pundits would cry foul.

JESSICA TARLOV, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, they absolutely was, so when a Democrat memo comes out, please don't leak it to anyone because that makes my job a lot more difficult here, and that can happen.

KURTZ: Rachel Bade, you were at the republican retreat the other day at the Greenbrier. How much were the media focused on this about to be released memo?

RACHAEL BADE, POLITICO: They were obsessed with it, to be honest. I mean, I was sitting in the gallery when Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell came out for a press conference. They were supposed to sort of be talking about tax reform and talking of the agenda in 2018.

Seven out of nine questions were about this memo, and it was sort of funny because one of those questions was, Speaker Paul Ryan, do you think Devin Nunes who wrote the memo should step aside for, you know, the way he handled it? And he said no, but listen, tax cuts are working and the transition was particularly hilarious.

KURTZ: Nice effort to stay on message. You know, the level of pre-game hype here was certainly almost at super bowl levels. Mollie, as I was reading the Devin Nunes memo, what jumped out at me was former British Christopher Steele, the author of the Russian dossier, it was said in the memo, lied to the FBI about his contacts with the media.

And he was quote, desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and passion about him not being president. But, it's not like the president built up Steele as the man of great credibility, so how much of it that tell us?

HEMINGWAY: In fact, the press had built up Steele as a man of great credibility. They said the whole reason why the dossier was to be taken seriously or had been taken seriously within intelligence agency is law enforcement was based on this man's credibility and what we learned.

But this memo was the first time that we got an information that wasn't based on anonymous sources. We actually got some hard data with people putting their names behind it. For a year, we have been subjected to anonymous leaks and little snippets of information here and there.

And here we learned that this guy was considered dishonest by the people who used his credibility to secure a wiretap. And that part of that dishonesty was related to how he had been talking to the media.

Many of the stories that we got on the Russia narrative were in fact planted by the same people who were creating the Russia narrative and getting it into the FBI. This is a really interesting media story as well as an interesting legal another story.

KURTZ: Right. I have always referred to the dossier as unverified and unsubstantiated. Remember, no news organization against BuzzFeed published it when it was being leaked or circulating. But Jessica, New York Times headline today, "One of Many Trump's Unparalleled War on Law Enforcement."

The president going on Twitter, claiming total vindication in light of how --

TARLOV: Right.

KURTZ: -- the memo which of course was released over the objections of the FBI director. But the press is painting this as President Trump versus DOJ and FBI.

TARLOV: Yes, I think that's exactly what this is. It was very clear from the beginning that President Trump was dead set on making sure that he got in the way of the Mueller investigation no matter what. He doesn't want Rod Rosenstein there anymore.

I don't think he is going to be able to do this on the backs of it since there are many Republicans who are talking about this memo as -- hate in the term but saying kind of nothing burger about it, even though I personally do think there is interesting information there that we absolutely did need to see.

First of all, that the Steele dossier was not the only thing that the FISA warrant was based upon. We know that there were four judges that approve this, Republican appointees at that who would never have done the straight off of the Steele dossier.

We know that the investigation began when George Papadopoulos in June 2016, that's before the Carter Page re-up of the warrant. And we also now know that Carter Page in 2013 said that he was an adviser to the Kremlin.

KURTZ: Right.

TARLOV: So I think that the FISA court had good reason to be looking at him whether he worked for Donald Trump or not.

KURTZ: Well, let me jump in and ask you a political media question, Rachael, which is the Democrats argue, and you see this in the media coverage and especially on some liberal shows and liberal websites, that the memo itself is misleading and has important omissions, a couple of which Jessica just touched on about, how much other evidence was presented to this special FISA national security court to obtain that surveillance warrant.

Has all of this kind of muddied the waters for what Republicans hope would be this bombshell revelation?

BADE: Absolutely. I think there was just as much coverage and sort of bucking at the process by which House Republicans released this memo without having the democratic rebuttal, without approval from the FBI beforehand as there was about the actual content of the memo.

It was interesting, I was watching it all play out, I just came back from the West Virginia republican retreat on Friday, and I was watching Chris Stewart who is a Republican from Utah who was on House Intelligence Committee voted to release this memo. He was on CNN and he was talking about this.

They were asking him mostly questions about why he didn't release the democratic rebuttal. You were so confident, they were saying, you shouldn't have done that. They were saying, you know, you sort of -- you made this typically an oversight bipartisan process partisan when you left the Democrats alone.

And, you know, which is interesting because we didn't hear a lot about the content of the memo for a couple hours. You know, he at one point was like, listen, why aren't we talking about what's actually in this memo, which is this oversight question about whether or not the FBI can go to the court and present this information without saying it was from a democratic opponent of the president.

TARLOV: There is reporting now that they actually did note that it was backed by a political entity. So, that argument --

KURTZ: Right, but --

TARLOV: -- (INAUDIBLE) Republicans.

KURTZ: Let me just jump in. Let me just jump in. Yes, it was reported that the FISA judges did know that, but not specifically that it was a Democratic National Committee or the Clinton campaign.

Let me move back to the media -- there was an explosion of media reaction. Mollie, I want to get you in on this. So, after this memo comes out, Carl Bernstein on CNN says, we haven't seen such dark days for American democracy since the days of Joe McCarthy, calling the president demagogic, authoritarian.

And on MSNBC, Donny Deutsch says, our democracy is under siege. People need to start taking to the streets. This is a dictator. What do you make of that kind of rhetoric?

HEMINGWAY: Well, there was very extreme rhetoric about the idea that if you were transparent about the way that the Department of Justice and FBI secured a wiretap on someone, that you are threatening the republic. That is itself not healthy to have that attitude there.

There have been so many false thing said about the memo, and you see him repeat it throughout the coverage, even, you know, these claims that the memo was somehow inaccurate. The FBI did review the memo and had the opportunity to say if anything was inaccurate. They absolutely did think that Carter Page's facts should be in there, but they don't dispute the facts of the memo.

So when certain people come out and say that facts are in dispute, I think reporters have an obligation to verification that before they just run with that claim.

And in general, everyone should take a step back and think about what this memo says, that a Hillary Clinton-funded opposition document invented, you know, through the Hillary Clinton campaign, made it to the highest levels of our government and was used to spy on a Trump campaign affiliate even though it is still unverified and still justice unverified as it was when they took it to the court and claimed that it had cooperating evidence that it did not have.

KURTZ: Right. Carter Page, of course, the Trump people used to say he was a low-level volunteer and essentially comes back to the spotlight. Now, Jessica, one of the things that really struck me was a Yahoo! story by reporter Michael Isikoff was actually cited in the memo as having been presented to the FISA court judges.

And it was also revealed that Christopher Steele who was sort of peddling these news outlets have met with Isikoff at Yahoo! And Isikoff was on CNN yesterday and said he was as surprised as anybody, that he went out and confirmed the information that Steele gave him. Besides Isikoff, the FBI already knew what he was reporting.

Your reaction to the use of the media or attempted use of the media at that time.

TARLOV: Well, it's obviously concerning. I thought that Catherine Herridge did a good job on Friday. I was sitting on that "Outnumbered" couch with you --

KURTZ: Yes, you were.

TARLOV: -- and explaining what circular reporting is and how dangerous that can be when everyone is just going around and try to find an outlet to confirm what it is that they have already said. I thought that Michael Isikoff did a great job in explaining what actually happened there and to the larger point about the Steele dossier and what happened that getting to the FISA court.

This information was corroborated elsewhere. They didn't just show up and say, oh, this is good enough for me, the nature that they were multiple sources. So this idea which Republicans are basing all of this on, that only an unverified salacious dossier was the backbone for a FISA warrant on a guy who is bragging about being a Kremlin advisor by the way is just unsubstantiated.

KURTZ: Let me get --

HEMINGWAY: This is again something that the FBI doesn't dispute.

KURTZ: -- let me get to Rachael -- hang on. Let me get to Rachael on this, because you have this other development I just want to touch on. So, Andrew McCabe forced out this week. Number two, the FBI reports that the president asked for his loyalty.

You have The New York Times reporting that Hope Hicks, communications director, said on conference call with the president about that Donald Trump Jr. meeting with the Russians that the e-mails with the president's son would never come out. Her lawyer flatly disputes that, even though she did say it doesn't mean there is any kind of obstruction.

So, some journalists are saying, you know, whatever the revelations about this FISA dispute and Carter Page, it doesn't really affect the current Mueller investigation. Is that a fair argument?

BADE: I think there are actually a lot of Republicans who are making the same argument here. The interesting thing about the coverage this week on the memo is that there really are two extremes here. You have people on the far-right saying look at this memo, you know, it undercuts the entire Russia investigation. Even the president has suggested this, you know, that the whole investigation is a witch hunt, pointing to this memo.

And then you have Democrats saying oh, Republicans are just trying to undercut this investigation. They want it to go away. They are trying to protect the president. Maybe there's actually a middle ground here.

Speaker Paul Ryan, Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy, they said this is an actual oversight question.

KURTZ: Right.

BADE: What exactly do you have to present to the FISA court in order to get a warrant? I mean, obviously you don't know --

KURTZ: I know you have a lot more to say but I got to get a break here.

BADE: Sounds good.

KURTZ: Now, you may have seen me on Fox a few times this week talking about my new book, "Media Madness: Donald Trump, The Press, and the War Over the Truth." It's available now at Amazon bookstores if you are so inclined.

Ahead, Sean Spicer weighs in on the media storm about his former boss and the FBI. When we come back, the state of the union get some grudging praise from many pundits and then, drops off the radar.


KURTZ: Banner headline in the Washington Post first edition described President Trump's speech to Congress this way, "A Call for Bipartisanship." But the partisan reaction from the left was so negative. The paper tweeted out its final headline which offered a more neutral quote, "A New American Moment."


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When the president is talking about unity, and he's talking about record low unemployment across every demographic, how are you not applauding that?

STEVE SCHMIDT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: And more than anything, it was a speech delivered almost from an alternate reality.

HANNITY: Then you have the liberal mainstream media. They are in full breakdown freak out mode over the president's successful state of the union address. You can't make this up.


KURTZ: Rachael Bade, what's amazing to me about the media reviews of the state of the union, positive or negative, after this huge buildup is how quickly the whole thing vanished from the media radar. Your thoughts.

BADE: Yes, I think by Wednesday noon, I mean, the Republicans on the way to the retreat actually were in a train accident, so everything quickly changed to that. And then as to retreat, I also was expecting we will have more talk about the state of the union. You know, were the Republicans OK with the president laying out a 1.8 million undocumented immigrants to become citizens?

That's a big question facing the Republican Party right now, but again, that memo just soft of affect everything up. The state of the union, it feels like it was two weeks ago right now.

KURTZ: Yes, but you know, even before the speech, MSNBC in the 8 p.m. hour leading up when usually talk about what the president is going to say and analyze it, much of it was about the Russia investigation.

So, Mollie Hemingway, some pundits made critical comments as we heard there. Others said yes, it was a nicely well-crafted speech with some nice Reaganesque moments, heroes in the crowd, but he's not really bipartisan, he doesn't really govern that way. Your thoughts.

HEMINGWAY: Well, you know, you mentioned the change in the Washington Post headline from their first edition to later edition. They originally had a call for bipartisanship and then they changed it to a new American moment. I actually thought that -- and a lot of conservatives were upset because they seemingly changed that under pressure from liberal readers.

But in fact, I think a call for bipartisanship is kind of what you get out of every state of the union. Well, this was a dramatically different speech. It had big scenes, big pictures, a new American moment, I think captures that a little bit better and that maybe some of the push back they got was inappropriate, but it was obviously a huge successful speech, 75 percent of the country thought it was a really good speech.

When there is good coverage for Trump, I think you do see people eager to move on from that on to the ground that a lot of reporters are more comfortable on which is just a lot of hostility to Trump.

KURTZ: Jessica Tarlov, is it true that the instant poll showed that the public by large majority like the speech? It does strike me as an example of the press either grudgingly giving this president credit or not giving him the benefit of doubt when he does have a good performance.

TARLOV: I think it's very difficult to grade Trump for people on both sides of the aisle here, especially for liberals who got caught up in many moments where, you know, people like Fareed Zakaria and Van Jones saying things like, today is the day he became the president, and then the next day he's tweeting something crazy and he is absolutely not the guy you saw on (INAUDIBLE) from the teleprompter the night before.

You could see this especially in Van Jones commentary after on CNN where he instead of saying oh, he did a great job, you know, he read very well from a teleprompter, there were big scenes et cetera, said that he was delivering sweet-tasting candy with poison in the middle and then talk about the vilification of immigrants in that speech, which I completely agreed with that point.

But overall, I actually think that the coverage of the state of the union was quite fair. I didn't see a lot of people saying he did a terrible job there. And I also did see a lot of people from my own side criticizing Democrats for their sour reaction to everything, not even getting up and applauding when he walks into the chamber (INAUDIBLE) had a great piece about that.

KURTZ: Yes, they look very sour.

TARLOV: Well, there are plenty of conservatives who have looked sour when they were with Obama --

KURTZ: All right. Sweet and sour speech. Let me mention some numbers here. Trump got a very big audience. And 11.5 million of those people watched on Fox News far more than any other network. NBC, CBS seven million. But then he said it was the largest state of the union audience ever, Mollie Hemingway, although Bush, Clinton, Obama at various times had more.

Why make that claim when it's certain to be knocked down by the media fact checkers?

HEMINGWAY: You know, I remember when he tweeted that, I wanted to look into not just the TV or streaming viewership, but other ways of viewing it as well and I didn't again look into it. Donald Trump cares a lot about crowd size as we are learning in this presidency. It was a well-viewed speech.

And the way to response to that as media people is just to provide the facts and not just the ratings but all the other ways that people might have viewed online or otherwise.

KURTZ: It is true that there are a lot more ways to watch these events these days. Thanks for pairing with us under the circumstances. Wish you were here on the set with me. Rachael Bade, Mollie Hemingway, Jessica Tarlov, have a great time.

Ahead on "Media Buzz," Sean Spicer on his rocky White House tenure and whether he made some mistakes. Up next, why President Trump is skipping the Super Bowl interview and it involves the network carrying the big game.


KURTZ: It's Super Bowl Sunday which means the country is again divided between those who hate the Patriots and those who worship Tom Brady. But the big game between New England and Philadelphia won't include the traditional pre-game presidential interview. President Trump is blowing it off, and the reason, in my view, is that NBC is carrying the game.

Trump, who often points out that he made a bundle for the network at "The Apprentice" just has a thing about NBC. It was an NBC story that once prompted him to say, some network should have their licenses pulled, though the FCC doesn't license national networks.

The Super Bowl interview would have been done by Lester Holt and the president is not happy with last year's interview with the NBC anchor, when Trump acknowledged his firing of Jim Comey didn't depend on findings by the Justice Department.


LESTER HOLT, ANCHOR, NBC NEWS (voice over): (INAUDIBLE) accepted their recommendation. You already made the decision.

TRUMP: I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.

HOLT: So there was wiggle room.

TRUMP: He made the recommendation.


KURTZ: And an off the record session with network anchors this week, Trump complained to Holt about the editing of that interview saying his best comments were cut out. NBC says that portion of interview wasn't touched at all.

President also took a more good-natured swipe at another NBC anchor, Chuck Todd, saying he was a nice guy in person but on air he turns into a monster.

By the report, I report in my book, "Media Madness," that the two men have had off the record sessions at the White House that starts with the president yelling at Chuck and the "Meet the Press" moderator yelling back followed by a civil conversation. Sometimes, the president just likes to work the wraps (ph).

Speaking of wraps (ph) and football metaphors, why would Trump give up the massive Super Bowl audience that prompted even Barack Obama to sit down with Bill O'Reilly? He may not want to be peppered with questions about Russia but it is more than that.

Donald Trump especially with his Twitter megaphone is a 24/7 news making machine. More than any other modern president, he doesn't need the Super Bowl to get his message out. So Trump will be watching the game like the rest of us, except he will be at Mar-a-Lago.

Coming up, Sean Spicer on media resentment towards his former boss and whether he has got some scars from his former White House duty.

And later, is it news or gossip when major news organizations focus on Melania Trump and her marriage?


HOWARD KURTZ, FOX NEWS MEDIA BUZZ SHOW HOST: In the midst of a fierce media debate over the Russia investigation, the role of the FBI, the release of that hotly disputed Republican memo and the State of the Union, I was in New York when I spoke with Sean Spicer, the former White House press secretary.


KIURTZ: Sean Spicer, welcome.


KURTZ: Much of the media are painting a picture of a president leading and extraordinary attack on the FBI and the Justice Department for the sole purpose of undercutting the Mueller investigation. Why are they wrong?

SPICER: Well, I think, look. The president has a right to make it clear what his position is on issues and I think based on some of the things that have come out regarding text messages between top investigators at the FBI, there seems to be at least some degree of merit to the president's concern. I think if you are going to be investigated, you have a right to make sure that people understand the full context of what's going on. And then especially in light of those text messages, clearly there were people who had been very clear about their dislike of the president.

KURTZ: You know, will you concede there is some partisanship on both side? If Barack Obama was under investigation and he was pushing for the release of classified information and opposed by leaders of the FBI and Justice and you were at the RNC, you would be going bonkers.

SPICER: Sure, I'll give you that. But at the end of the day, and that's the job. I mean the DNC folks, I don't know that they have the money to have staff these days, but if they did I think that they should be going after and that's their job. You're the opposition party. I think that's what you do.

The difference is that I think you have to as a citizen and as a journalist to some degree, people have to be able to sit back and figure out, OK, call balls and strikes. If you are a fan of a team, you know, when your pitcher is out there every pitch looks like a strike to you. And that's why we have umpires.

KURTZ: Was it awkward for you as the White House spokesman when the president was very publicly and repeatedly criticizing his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions and you had to stand there and kind of navigate those difficult waters.

SPICER: No. I mean, there were a lot of difficult things, I probably wasn't -- that wasn't on the list.

KURTZ: OK. Now, the state of the union got sort of mixed reviews in the media. Here's what the president had to say about it the other night.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THEN UNITED STATES: Because even the haters back there gave us good reviews on that one. It's hard for them to do. They came up with fake polls, you know. They had fake polls, but the fake polls were even good.


KURTZ: Excuse me. Haters? Fake polls?

SPICER: Well look, I think the funny thing about this was, you know, you look at CNN did its own poll. And I think it was 70 percent of independents thought it was a really good speech. And they found ways to talk about how it wasn't a great speech. At some point, if you are going to do a poll and the people in the poll say that they are for or against something, you know, what's the point of doing it if everyone on air is going to talk about how -- that they throw out all that and start talking about how bad it was.

I was actually surprised, I have seen dial test polls from CNN, CBS, other outlets that said it was well received, and that's the bottom line. I think that it was amazing to me to watch so much of the hand wringing from the mainstream media. He gave a really good speech.

KURTZ: Let's clear up something from my book "Media Madness" involving Jonathan Martin, the national political reporter of the "New York Times." My account is now based on four firsthand sources but Jonathan Martin is denying it. When you were at the RNC, he had a conversation with a staff member who worked for you. What were you told that Jonathan Martin said to your colleague?

SPICER: The staffer related a story that in the midst of a discussion, they had been told by him that by being a spokesperson and supporting the president, then candidate, and his policies, they were complicit and being a racist and they were very concerned with that accusation.

KURTZ: Now is this true you called then called an editor with the "New York Times" and then you got a call from Jonathan Martin. What did he say to you and what did you say to him?

SPICER: I did, I did call the editor expressing concern that that is not - - I didn't think appropriate behavior by someone who is supposed to be an unbiased reporter and express my concern and you know, a few minutes after that I did get a call back from Jonathan saying that he didn't find it acceptable that I had gone to his editor to express my concerns.

KURTZ: And you said?

SPICER: I said I have every right. I think that your -- this behavior and these accusations that you launched towards a staffer were highly inappropriate, uncalled for and I have every right to call an editor to express my displeasure.

KURTZ: All right, let's take a broader look. So the president used the term "haters" in describing the media. I don't think he means everybody, every single journalist who covers him. I have been advancing your argument that some of the opposition or certainly the overwhelming negative coverage of the president that you worked for it is not just really the ideology, some may privately oppose his policies but there is something cultural about it.

There is something about Donald Trump as a candidate and as a president of the United States gets under their skin. What did you come away with after all those months of doing combat in the White House?

SPICER: Well I think that's true and the Pew poll which I think is fairly well-regarded shows that the negative coverage of Trump is three times that of even anyone close and that I think it was 5 percent of the coverage was positive, which is significantly less. And I have always been a believer that the press' job is to be tough, but it's also to be fair and to acknowledge, you know, getting back to my analogy for a moment ago, you called balls and strikes. I think, you know, here is what the policy is, here is what the actions are, but I think the media has always had a very big conservative bias. It's a fact. It's not disputable but with this president --

KURTZ: A bias against conservatives, you mean.

SPICER: Correct.


SPICER: I know they whine and they moan but, you know, all of the objective data backs that up. And it's not just what gets covered, it's what doesn't get covered that I have always been more intrigued by.

KURTZ: So, does President Trump contribute to the hostile relations with his attacks on fake news and individual journalists?

SPICER: I think so but I also think he has a right to call out when a story is false or a narrative is misleading. I keep reading these stories, Howie< and that's the reason that I'm writing the book, "The Briefing" that's out for pre-order now in Amazon, but part of the reason is because I think that when you get questions -- look, let me give you an example. A reporter calls and goes some people are saying that the president's actions are, it's like, OK, who?

Most of the time, I don't think it is some people. I think it's the reporter that is their own source and saying and I, the reporter don't like what I'm hearing and so they're going to couch (ph) it in some say or people are saying. It's not people. Who are those people? Say it. You know, I've talked to 18 voters, here they are. This is what they say.

But reporters these days I think make-up narratives that fit what they believe and I think that's different. The problem is this, and to put a pin on it, what makes the difference is that while reporters have always had an anti-Republican and anti-Conservative bias, what makes the difference is that there has always been this regardless of party, this desire for Republicans and Conservatives to kind of develop the relationship recognizing, hey, I need you so let's try to be friends and reporters will tolerate Republicans and Conservatives.

The difference with Trump is that because of social media in particular, he doesn't need them like other politicians have needed the press in the past.


KURTZ: Interesting point. In a moment, Sean Spicer on whether he made mistakes as the president's spokesman. And later, some journalist caught up in an expose of who's buying fake twitter followers.


KURTZ: More now of my conversation with former press secretary Sean Spicer, but first a quick look back.


SPICER: I appreciate your agenda here but the reality is -- no, no, hold on. No, at some point report the facts. The facts are that every single person who has been briefed on this subject has come away with the same conclusion, Republicans, Democrats, so I'm sorry that disgusts you. You are shaking your head.

KURTZ: When you were White House press secretary did you at times get too personal in going after reporters and combating reporters? And did the president encourage you to take such an aggressive tone?

SPICER: I would say there is definitely moments where I regret some of the interactions that I've had and regardless of whether they were deserved or not, in other words, I'm not saying that it wasn't without merit sometimes that a reporter I think crossed the line or went too far. But I often sort have said I should have been the better person in that moment so, absolutely.

There have been times that I look back and say, you know what, two rights don't make a wrong and I should have been the bigger person in that instance and not, you know, kind of lost my cool or my temper or what have you.

KURTZ: Were you under pressure from your boss to be as combative as you were?

SPICER: No, no, there were times when he might have said, you know, we need to correct this or this is ridiculous, and I think I took that as let's go charge the hill and sometimes, you know, it should have been more carrot than stick or something like that, but it wasn't any kind or it was never a direct order to go out and attack this guy like that. I think sometimes I got into the moment because of what we would perceive as or what was not just perceived, but what was false reporting or false narratives that were being created.

KURTZ: As you've been making the rounds, do you have a sense now that some of your skeptics in the media want to see contrition from you, wanted to see you say you were sorry, want to see you say, boy, I really screwed things up.

SPICER: Oh, absolutely. I mean there's this, you know, it's interesting. I've never seen, and again, I think it's because it's Trump and because it's conservatives. Everybody who has ever had that podium has made mistakes. I probably made them on a little bigger stage than others in the past and gotten a lot more attention for them. But it's amazing how many mistakes reporters make and don't ever correct them.

I made mistakes absolutely, but it's this, to your point, the sense that there has to be this, you know, absolution that I need to go seek. I'm proud of the job that I did. I am proud of the policies and agenda the president is continuing to pursue. Did I make mistakes? Absolutely. But we all make mistakes and I think this idea --

KURTZ: We all make mistakes and I think we can agree on that. Let me close with this.


KURTZ: Now that you are not working for the White House, you are writing this book, you are coming on television, can you be an independent voice and would that include occasionally criticizing the president if you think he has done something wrong?

SPICER: Well sure. I have been out there and again, I made a comment the other day post state of the union, I think the speech was really, really good. I think that them not entirely 100 percent focusing for those following the days only and exclusively on the content and policy of that speech is a mistake. I continue to be a big fan of the team that's there and the president and the first lady, but like anyone else, I think I can be helpful in suggesting how things could have or should have been done differently.

KURTZ: And now that you're no longer at the White House you don't even need the tie.

SPICER: That's right.

KURTS: Sean Spicer, thanks very much for joining us.

SPICER: Have a great Sunday. Go Pats.


KURTZ: And after the break, more on the House GOP memo. Plus, it's starting to (INAUDIBLE) gossip until the "New York Times" started writing about whether Melania Trump is unhappy. Do we need to go there?


KURTZ: It's a tabloid tale that somehow found its way into the "New York Times" under this headline, Melania Trump, out of sight since report of husband's infidelity, to attend state of the union. And then in the hour before the state of the union speech, there was chatter on CNN with this onscreen headline, First Lady traveled to Capitol, separately from the president. Really?

Joining us now to scrutinize the coverage, Gayle Trotter who writes for and The Hill here in Washington. And in New York, Cathy Areu, publisher of Catalina Magazine and a former "Washington Post" magazine editor. Gayle, should major news organizations be reporting Melania looks bad, Melania didn't go to Davos, and just sort of fanning rumors, sheer rumors about the marriage.

GAYLE TROTTER, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. This is an area though where the media seems like they can't help themselves from covering it and right, wrong or indifferent, they are going to probably keep doing it and that's just the way it is. Breitbart's coverage of her outfit when she went to Florida was much more relevant when we think of first ladies like Jackie Kennedy. That's what the American people want to see about someone who is 100 percent apolitical.

KURTZ: More coverage of the outfit, that's your position. Cathy, perhaps we can agree after the endless media chatter over the years about Hillary Clinton's marriage that the press doesn't need to go there.

CATHY AREU, PUBLISHER, CATALINA MAGAZINE: The press does need to go there because these women are part of history and Melania is part of U.S. history. And if she breaks in tradition and not going to the state of the union address with her husband as previous first ladies have done then, yes, this is history so, they should be talking about it and the "New York Times" had every (INAUDIBLE) and to report on history. It's the American thing to do, right.

KURTZ: We'll agree to disagree on that because I want to move on to the House GOP memo from the intel committee. The "New York Times" reporting, Gayle, that it fell well short of making the case promised by some Republicans. Now we have evidence that would cast doubt on the arguments of the Russia investigations and possibly undermine the inquiry. That seems to be the media's take away. What are your thoughts on the coverage?

TROTTER: Well, the surprising thing about the media coverage this week is that they didn't cover the explosive facts that this memo revealed and instead they dwelled on procedural issues to the exclusion of the information that the memo came out. Everyone should be very --

KURTZ: Well hold on, hold on. You say they didn't cover, I mean, it was covered in every news organization. You might say the emphasis was wrong but it was certainly reported.

TROTTER: They covered the procedural objections of the Democrats. They did not have headlines on every website and on every newspaper that said the FBI used a document commissioned by one presidential campaign to spy on another presidential campaign. That should have been the coverage.

KURTZ: Cathy, "Washington Post," just to give another example, Christopher Steele, the ex-spy who wrote the dossier, it's an open question whether Steele's bias matters -- he obviously hates Trump -- if the information he provided was sound. In other words, the argument there is that the Nunes memo doesn't discredit Steele or the investigation itself.

AREU: Right, but we are seeing a discrediting. We're seeing a breakdown in all institutions. We're seeing a breakdown in the media, we're seeing a breakdown on people's trust of the media, people's trust of the GOP, people's trust of the Democrats, people's trust of the FBI, and people's trust of the president with this memo. People are confused. They don't quite understand and it's the media's job to dissect it and explain it.

And at the moment, no one is quite understanding what's going on with this memo. So I think all institutions right now are having a problem with a trust issue with the American people and how the media is going to handle this in the future is going to determine how people are going to feel about it, and what seems very left and very right.

KURTZ: The memo has certainly -- let me jump in -- the memo has certainly gotten caught in the media partisan crossfire.

AREU: Right. Exactly.

TROTTER: And Gayle, you know on MSNBC, anchor Chris Hayes rarely uses the logo "the plot to stop Mueller." Now obviously, Republicans and some conservative media folks are trying to undermine the special counsel investigation, but it doesn't mean that their information isn't accurate or relevant.

TROTTER: That's right. And the former director of the FBI, James Comey said that the dossier was salacious and unverified. I disagree with you. I think that this is very clear. It's not confusing. The FBI used a document that was commissioned by one presidential campaign to spy on another presidential campaign. This is not Watergate, this is ocean-gate.

KURTZ: All right, just 20 seconds Cathy. Did the memo -- has the memo lived up to the media hype release the memo hashtag and all that?

AREU: Right. I mean, we don't know, but we do know that the president has used the memo to try to discredit the FBI, so that's what he's using it for. So, this memo is going to hurt the FBI. It's going to hurt a lot of people. We don't know what is going to come out of it so, yes, it's living up to its reputation at the moment and it's definitely showing the sides so it's showing two sides right now.

KURTZ: Right, but the press clearly focusing on the rule of battle between the president, FBI and Justice Department which is rather unusual even by Washington standards. Gayle Trotter, Cathy Areu, thanks very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good to be with you.

KURTZ: Still to come, some praise from reporters who exposed the horrible wrongdoing of Olympic doctor Larry Nassar and how some media people are showing out with Twitter followers.


KURTZ: Let's start with a shoutout for some good reporting. Brenda Fitzgerald, head of the Centers for Disease Control resigned one day after "Politico" reported that she bought shares in a tobacco company just a month after taking over the health agency. Part of her job of course is to push for reduction in tobacco use.

And kudos to the reporters at the Indianapolis Star who exposed the horrendous conduct of Larry Nassar, the monstrous doctor for the national gymnastic team who was accused of abusing Olympic athletes and more than 100 other girls. Reporters doggedly pursued documents and evidence in 12 states and Nassar has been sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison.

One of Harvey Weinstein's most famous alleged victim is telling her story to "New York Times" columnist Ms. Maureen Dowd. She quotes, Uma Thurman is saying the Hollywood mogul after putting her in that movie "Pulp Fiction" attacked her in his London hotel room, quote, he pushed me down. He tried to shove himself on me. He tried to expose himself and that she was like an animal wriggling away. She later warned Weinstein who is not disputing part of the account and part of this a very powerful column by Maureen Dowd.

There is a media fallout after a remarkable story in the "New York Times" on a company that sells millions of fake followers on Twitter. The "Chicago Sun Times" has suspended columns by movie critic Richard Roeper after a disclosure that he bought 25,000 followers from this shadowy firm and that many of those who follow him are fake accounts. Two thumbs down. And you know what Twitter needs to do? Require that people can't join, can't sign up unless they use their real names and photos.

That's it for this edition of "Media Buzz." I'm Howard Kurtz. My thanks for all the people who got us on the air today. I'm kind of in the dark here in studio one. Big power outage at the bureau and nevertheless, they managed to figure out how to keep the show going. We hope you'll like our Facebook page. Check it out. We post a lot of original content there. Let us know what you think @HowardKurtz. Come at me at Twitter. I don't really have to encourage this since so many of you do from both sides.

And if you want to write to us, is the e-mail address. We hope you will DVR the show if you happen to have other plans. Super Bowl Sunday of course, ready for the big game. We are back here next Sunday with the latest buzz.

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