Media furor over Sessions firing

This is a rush transcript from "Media Buzz," November 11, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: This is Fox News alert. You're looking at live pictures of Veterans Day ceremonies. On the left, Washington National Cathedral. On the right, Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. This of course marking 100 years since the end of World War I, the 11th hour of 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.

I'm Howard Kurtz in Washington. Eleven bells tolling at the iconic National Cathedral, going to begin any moment now to mark the end of that bloody conflict. In Arlington, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie is laying a wreath at the tomb of an unknown soldier, which actually is an unidentified soldier from World War I. Let's listen in at the cathedral.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- eternal and everlasting glory.

KURTZ (voice over): The bell ringing ceremony. As you see on the screen, Mike Mullen, Admiral Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will be leading the bell ringing ceremony to mark this occasion at the Washington National Cathedral.

World War I, an incredibly bloody conflict. Nearly 16 million soldiers and civilians were killed. Trench warfare, chemical warfare. It changed the nature of warfare and also changed the present-day map of our world.

On the right at Arlington Cemetery, laying of the wreath in commemoration of this 100th year anniversary.


KURTZ: Very special Veterans Day in Arlington. One hundred years after the armistice ended World War I in 1918. We will continue to bring you these live images of Veterans Day ceremonies as we get them.


KURTZ: And now to Media Buzz. Right after the Democrats won the House, President Trump sparked an absolute media explosion by doing what he has hinted at for more than a year, firing his attorney general and temporarily handing a job to Jeff Sessions chief of staff.


ANDREW NAPOLITANO, SENIOR JUDICIAL ANALYST, FOX NEWS: It is beginning to appear as if this was an orchestrated effort to shake up the Justice Department with such ferocity that the shaking up reaches Bob Mueller.

CARL BERNSTEIN, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: What we saw today is a kind of coup against the rule of law, a kind of action you see in a tin- pot dictatorship.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By appointing Whitaker to oversee this thing, it gives leverage to the president. It signals to Robert Mueller that I'm in charge, I have more control than you do, and let's wrap this thing up.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: So, the man who is now in charge of the Russia investigation offered a blueprint for cutting the legs out from under that investigation.

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, HOST, MSNBC: The new members of the House of Representatives will demand it and they will get it. Impeachment is real now.

TUCKER CARLSON, CONSERVATIVE POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FOX NEWS: For more than a year, the president has publicly criticized and ridiculed Sessions, so it is not very surprising.


KURTZ: Media had been digging into the background of the acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, a former conservative commentator and CNN contributor. Reporters asked the president about his choice outside the White House.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I don't know Matt Whitaker. Matt Whitaker worked for Jeff Sessions, and he was always extremely highly thought of and he still is. And actually, the choice was greeted with rage initially. It still is in some circles. You know, it's a shame that no matter who I put in, they go after them.


KURTZ: Joining us now to analyze the coverage, Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist and a Fox News contributor. Susan Ferrechio, chief congressional correspondent at The Washington Examiner. And Adrienne Elrod, Democratic strategist who worked for Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Mollie, last month, the president said he didn't know Matt Whitaker. He said he didn't know him. I can't imagine he didn't know him. Well, everyone in the media, everyone in the planet knew that after the midterms, Donald Trump is going to fire Jeff Sessions. So, why the enormity of the media explosion?

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR, SENIOR EDITOR, THE FEDERALIST: Yeah, this is not a secret in Washington. The Justice Department has sort of been openly planning for this kind of transition. If not the exact hour, I think the exact date could have been predicted. And this is a very typical thing for presidents to do right after midterm or right after an election. George W. Bush did this with Donald Rumsfeld to make changes --

KURTZ: Adrienne, sometimes the press looks for hidden motives. But President Trump, he has been attacking his own attorney general for a year and a half, calling him weak and making it clear this is about the original refusal of the A.G. to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

ADRIENNE ELROD, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST, FORMER HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN AIDE: Yeah, understatement of the week, right? Look, first of all, we all know that Jeff Sessions did the right thing. He had to recuse himself from that investigation. But the criticism of Matthew Whitaker is warranted.

I mean, this is somebody who has made his partisan winning (ph) on the Mueller investigation very, very well known. So. I think he's going to have a really tough time getting confirmed by the Senate. I think the press scrutiny on this is warranted.

KURTZ: Well, he doesn't have to get confirmed by the Senate unless he is named as the permanent head of the Justice Department.

ELROD: Correct.

KURTZ: By the way, by doing this approximately 12 seconds after that press conference, the day after the midterms when the Democrats won the House, the president changed the subject, Susan.

There is even a legal debate in the press about whether or not as Chief of Staff Whitaker can be named the temporary head of DOJ. George Conway says no in a New York Times op-ed. President was asked by Kellyanne about him because it's her husband.

SUSAN FERRECHIO, CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: This all stems from the Vacancies Reform Act which gives the president the power to appoint someone temporarily in this position.

So the question is, is this sort of a violation of the spirit of that law which is to make this person sort of a placeholder in which case Whitaker will be there temporarily? If he keeps him in for the 211 (ph) days, is that sort of a clouding (ph) that law in spirit by saying look --

KURTZ: But isn't this becoming an issue for the press because journalists don't like this guy, don't think he is qualified?

FERRECHIO: I think what the president said in the outset, there is some truth to that. No matter who he appointed, that nobody would like it. Whitaker is an especially tantalizing target for the press because he has said a lot of things publicly. He was a CNN commentator. He is conservative. He has said things about the Mueller investigation that suggests he would side with the president on it.

KURTZ: On that point, let's play something that Whitaker on CNN last year talking about one way that Bob Mueller could be slowed down substantially.


MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced with a recess appointment. And that attorney general doesn't fire Bob Mueller, but he just reduces his budget so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt.


KURTZ: Now he could do that. But Mollie, the press immediately went into attack mode on Matt Whitaker. Obviously we want to know who this guy is. He was a fairly obscure figure until now. But there is a lot of ammunition, I think, given his very public and repeated criticism of the Mueller investigation including likening a piece that he called a lynch mob.

HEMINGWAY: Well, I think, first of all, Whitaker is extremely well qualified. Rod Rosenstein himself called him a superb choice to be A.G. He was appointed by George W. Bush to be a U.S.A. in Iowa. He was Jeff Sessions' chief of staff.

KURTZ: I'm shocked that Rosenstein was passed over. I thought the deputy would get it. No, I was not shocked at all.

HEMINGWAY: Right. And people are talking about Whitaker having so many problems. They neglect to note that the probe has been headed thus far by Rod Rosenstein who has all sorts of conflicts of interest. He fired Comey and then set up a special counsel to investigate what was going on there. He has obstructed Congress as they try to investigate --

KURTZ: The president fired Comey.

HEMINGWAY: I'm sorry. He recommended --

KURTZ: He recommended it. He was asked to do it, yeah.

HEMINGWAY: -- he recommended that Comey be fired. And then set up a special counsel to investigate that. So, he has all sorts -- and he also signed one of the warrants that was used to spy on a member of the Trump campaign. So he has all sorts of conflicts and he shouldn't be involved. Whitaker actually has none of those conflicts.

KURTZ: Whitaker does have, as you say, Adrienne, very clear views on the Mueller investigation, expressed when he was a commentator, very different when you're the acting attorney general.

Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus calls him a crackpot in part because he has criticized Marbury versus Madison. This is the 1803 ruling that basically laid the foundation for the Supreme Court to be able to weigh in on the constitution of laws passed by Congress. But what the press really cares about is the impact on the Mueller probe.

ELROD: Absolutely. I think you're going to see, you know, we know that the press is looking into his background and his rulings on and what he said about other cases, previous cases in the past. Yes, ultimately, you got a press that is understandably very biased against somebody who had such partisan leaning and partisan statements in the Mueller investigation.

KURTZ: You call it bias as opposed to objective look at this?

ELROD: I am saying that the media -- I understand where the media is coming from in terms of their bias because of his bias.

KURTZ: Whitaker is also (INAUDIBLE), Mollie.

HEMINGWAY: It's just a little bit unfair. I mean, what he said was that Mueller investigation is not limitless. This is actually a way of saying that the Mueller investigation is legitimate. To say it doesn't have limit is the actual outlier perspective that I think some people actually think it should have as much money and as much scope as it wants. He was saying as written, it's not limitless. That's actually a pro-Mueller investigation argument.

KURTZ: Whitaker is also a very active board member of a Florida company that worked with inventors, on patents, and government find this -- the FTC find this out, $26 million. It was shut down as a scam and still being investigated by the FBI. Is that fair game when you are writing about the background or talking about the background of the new acting head of the Justice Department?

FERRECHIO: Absolutely, and kudos to the Miami New Times for exposing that and that he had written this sort of bullying letter to one of the people who complained about this business scam. He was on the board of that.

KURTZ: He wanted money back and he was trying to --

FERRECHIO: One hundred percent legitimate. That is the role of the press here. When someone is appointed to the highest law office in the land, that is our job to go in and see who is this person, who is he about, what he has been doing, is he legitimate. And I think that all of the investigations we are seeing now concerning him are 100 percent our role here.

KURTZ: And here is where I am go to tap on the breaks a little bit. So on the night that this happened, there was an MSNBC banner headline, "the plot to stop Mueller." And the thing is, Whitaker, he hasn't done a single thing to stop Mueller, to slow down Mueller, to impede Mueller. Now he might and that would be very big news. But the coverage is all about he could do this and could do that.

HEMINGWAY: But it is exactly why the coverage is what it is, because people know that he isn't one of these people who is totally supportive of anything that the FBI might do or anything that this Mueller investigation might do. A lot of people unfortunately at DOJ and FBI have been obstructing efforts to find out exactly what's going on in the agency. He is not in that mold. He is kind of an outsider.

So I think that's just a reflection of them understanding that he's different than what they have been dealing with thus far. Sessions was forced to recuse himself, used that honor that he has to take himself completely out of running the department in a couple of the most important things it is doing, the Mueller investigation, but also any investigation into wrongdoing in the 2016 campaign.

KURTZ: Let's fact it, Adrienne, the media furor is built on the notion that Mueller, after all this investigating, may have some evidence that Donald Trump or people very close to him did something terrible. But even after all the indictments and the pleas by people like Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, we haven't seen any evidence.

ELROD: No, because the investigation is still ongoing.

KURTZ: It's absolutely still ongoing but it has been ongoing a while.

HEMINGWAY: Maybe after 20 years, maybe we will find something.

ELROD: No, look, there are signs that the investigation is coming to an end. I think we've actually seen a few weeks -- earlier this week from the Mueller team that they are writing the final report.

You know, look, I think going back to putting something like Whitaker in there, why can't Donald Trump put somebody in who does not have some sort of partisan -- you know, historical partisan background? Somebody who is literally going in to be the law, to rule the --

HEMINGWAY: Did you have a problem -- did you have a problem with Eric Holder being the A.G.?

ELROD: No, I didn't have a -- but I this particular issue, this is one of the biggest issues that the Department of Justice has been investigating, and I think he needs somebody in that who can be an independent arbiter and that is not Matthew Whitaker.

KURTZ: This story is going to go on, although the Mueller investigation maybe could be wrapped up before Whitaker has the chance to do much of anything. Let's leave that possibility open.

When we come back, President Trump drawing flack as he delivers harsh insults to several journalists asking him questions. And later, the White House pulls Jim Acosta's credentials, escalating its war of words with CNN and the media.


KURTZ: CNN's Jim Acosta who's White House credentials have been suspended -- we'll get to that in a few moments -- isn't the only journalists to draw harsh words from President Trump at the same news conference. He hit back at Yamiche Alcindor of PBS News Hour.


YAMICHE ALCINDOR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWS HOUR: You called yourself a nationalist. Some people saw that as emboldening white nationalists. Now people are also saying --

TRUMP: I don't know why you'd said that. That's such a racist question.

ALCINDOR: There are some people --

TRUMP: What you said is so insulting to me. It's a very terrible thing that you said.


KURTZ: And speaking with reporters Friday, the president unloaded on CNN White House correspondent, Abby Phillip.


ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Do you want him to rein in Robert Mueller?

TRUMP: What a stupid question that is. What a stupid question. But I watched you a lot. You asked a lot of stupid questions.


KURTZ: And after repeatedly telling radio reporter and CNN contributor April Ryan to sit down when she tried to interrupt, Trump brought her up on Friday as well.


TRUMP: Same thing with April Ryan. I watched her get up. I mean, you talk about somebody who is a loser. She doesn't know what the hell she is doing. She gets publicity and then she gets a pay raise and she gets a contract with, I think, CNN. But she is very nasty.


KURTZ: Mollie, the president regularly rips the media, but these highly personal insults against those asking questions, stupid, nasty, racist, seemed to get to a new level.

HEMINGWAY: Yeah, he seemed to be in rare form this week, even for someone who regularly criticizes the press. We have just a massive problem here. We have a president who is getting more personal in his insults against the reporters and we have a press corps that is responding by decreasing its journalistic standards

I mean, I don't think this week was a good week for journalism. It wasn't a good week for presidential rhetoric either, and the American public losses out. We are not getting good questions. We are not getting questions that have fair assumptions.

We are not getting press corps that even respects the office. We know they hate the president, but do they respect the office at all? And then you have him behaving this way is just very frustrating.

KURTZ: I wouldn't say that all journalists hate the president, and I think some of the questions at the news conference which went for 90 minutes about were good. But Susan, I will say the president has every right to push back against what he sees as unfair coverage.

When he told Abby Phillip, the former Washington Post reporter, she asked a stupid question, it wasn't. It was a question about Whitaker's impact on the Mueller investigation which was the news of the day. And then he made clear he just didn't like her.

FERRECHIO: Well, I've had plenty of people telling me I ask dumb questions and they say it to me in front of groups of reporters and chew me out based on the publication I work for, and I have seen it happen to other reporters on Capitol Hill, so --

KURTZ: Make it right (ph).

FERRECHIO: No, but it happens, and I think what he was saying is he's fed up with people questioning him about what his effort is to control the Mueller investigation which he doesn't think is legitimate in the first place. You saw the frustration the president had.

I think what he's expressing is frustration that the questions seem to be questioning his integrity. And I think that's what you saw at the press conference with the first question about white nationalism and then about Mueller.

I think there is a sort of fed up quality to the way the president was responding to the press this week which is the most adversarial press for any president that we have seen in our time. And that's the dynamic here.

KURTZ: Before I get you, Adrienne, let me play a response from Yamiche Alcindor. She was a former New York Times reporter who now works at PBS News Hour. As I mentioned, here is what she had to say after that tough exchange with the president.


ALCINDOR: What I was doing was posing a question which is what reporters are going to do. And again, I go back to the fact that there was a white nationalist today tweeting about being at the White House today. So my question was timely and it was fair and it was what I do.


KURTZ: Now, plenty of critics especially on CNN but also elsewhere pointed out that these three women in three days, Yamiche Alcindor, April Ryan, Abby Phillip are African-American women. Obviously, the president has slammed plenty of white males and others, but this was noticeable because it happened in a short period of time. ELROD: Yeah, I mean, it's not lost on anyone the fact that these are three women, three African-American women, and they are all three very, very good reporters. I worked with all three of them throughout my years in this business and I cannot say enough great things about them.

So, it's hard to look at what the president did in his conduct this week and decipher anything differently except for the fact that he's attacking these women because they are black and perhaps they are women.

HEMINGWAY: Oh, my goodness. The most famous altercation he had was with Jim Acosta who is a white male, followed up by the --

ELROD: Why is he going after three women who are African-Americans?

HEMINGWAY: The idea -- it's ludicrous. But I want to also say something about Yamiche Alcindor's claim right there. She was saying that there was a white nationalist tweeting from the White House. I think that's true, but it was a public tour. He was at like, meaning someone (ph) --

ELROD: She was asking a very good question.

HEMINGWAY: Wait, and then to say, actually I don't think so, I mean --

ELROD: It was timely.

HEMINGWAY: I have three problems with the question. One, she doesn't understand what national interest is. Her question reflects misunderstanding of national interest. There is the bias against national interest. And then there is the desire to paint everything that Donald trump does as racist.

These are problems in the assumptions of questions. They don't serve the public because it is a really interesting thing that we have someone who care so much about national interest. That is a very newsworthy thing --

KURTZ: But I -- I at least give her credit for asking the question respectfully. She didn't say, I believe you are a white nationalist. She said there had been criticism as there has.

But you said something that I can't let go and that is, look, I understand why people or critics of the president will say, wow, he seems to get very personal when it comes to certain black people he doesn't like. Amarosa, he called a dog. I get all that. You said he criticized them because they are black.

ELROD: Well, I don't know that, but then why is he going after three women who are all African-Americans this week?

KURTZ: Why did he go after Jim Acosta?

ELROD: Why has he constantly attacked African-American women? It is a bias that he has shown throughout his presidency. We saw this during the campaign as well.

FERRECHIO: April Ryan, for example, who has really set herself up as someone who challenges the president constantly. And then she does --

KURTZ: Particularly not racially-charged issues.

FERRECHIO: She does go on T.V. and talk about it as a paid policy pundit. So, you know, he's making a legitimate point here that --

KURTZ: But Abby Phillip asked about the Mueller investigation.

FERRECHIO: Abby Phillip said, are you trying to do something illegitimate with the Mueller investigation? That was the nature of the question she asked here. I think that's the frustration as he was the president.

HEMINGWAY: Right, it's the assumption. We have people who say, we're literally going to let the Mueller probe go until we find something despite the fact that we have covered this for two and a half years and have nothing. I mean, at some point, reporters' question should reflect that issue.

ELROD: Because Robert Mueller has the freedom to take as long as he needs to take to get to the end of investigation.

KURTZ: You're criticizing -- I'm sorry, I don't mean to step on you -- you're criticizing the substance of the question which is fine, but loser, stupid, you know --

HEMINGWAY: That's my complaint --

KURTZ: I mean, there is that side of it.

HEMINGWAY: Particularly when he has the upper ground by challenging the content of the question.

KURTZ: By the way, Trump also said at the press that he would like the tone of his relation to the media to improve, but he thinks the media should go first. I think that's now out the window, especially with the president saying he might yank other people's credentials, other journalist's credentials, and this is Jim Acosta which we will get to.

By the way, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff said to HBO and Axios that he is planning an investigation of Trump abusing his power versus the media. He mentioned CNN and The Washington Post. This is what happens or could happen or will happen when you have a Democratic House.

Thanks to all of you, Adrienne Elrod, Susan Ferrechio, Mollie Hemingway.

Up next, left-wing protesters target Tucker Carlson's home. This is an appalling tactic for anyone who cares about free speech. And the criticism of two Fox News hosts who wind up on the campaign stage with Donald Trump.


HOWARD KURTZ, MEDIA BUZZ, ANCHOR: Sean Hannity had insisted on Twitter that he was simply going to interview President Trump at his final midterm rally in Missouri and will not be on stage campaigning with him. But the president did summon Hannity on stage along with Fox News' weekend host Jeanine Pirro. And Hannity said that all those people in the back, meaning those covering the event are fake news. The network puts out a statement of disapproval. Fox News does not condone any talent participating in campaign events.

We have an extraordinary team of journalists holding our coverage tonight. And we are extremely proud of their work. This was an unfortunate distraction and has been addressed. Hannity responded to the criticism on his primetime show.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: I gave a tweet that was 100 percent truthful. The president, I had no idea. He invited me on stage. I would be honest, I was honored by the president's request. It was not planned.


KURTZ: He also clarified his remarks about fake news.


HANNITY: I was not and would never refer to my friends, my colleagues at the Fox News Channel, in those remarks. As a matter of fact, they are such a cut above everybody else. And by the way, if anybody construed it that way, I'm totally sorry in terms of the people that I work with.


KURTZ: Now, Hannity and Pirro are obviously paid for their opinions, and are abashed supporters of Donald Trump. Hannity speaks regularly with the president. But while I fully respect Hannity's right to say what he wants on the air, for a cable news host, even though a highly opinionated host to praise the president on a campaign rally stage crosses the line.

It puts Fox's news division and the journalists who try to cover Trump fairly in a difficult position. It creates a big perception problem for a network that is often accused fairly or unfairly as being too easy on Trump. As the top rated host in cable news, Sean Hannity is an important voice for conservatives. It would be better in my view if he stuck to making his case on television and radio.

Two hours before his Fox News show Wednesday night, Tucker Carlson learned that nearly two dozen anti-facetious protestors were outside his Washington home, chanting insults and demanding he leave the city.


CROWD: We know where you sleep at night


KURTZ: Left-wing demonstrators frightened Carlson and his wife. Their four children were not at home and broke his front door. Now, Carlson told me that while he was upset, he would still debate the group on the air, and later, called into his own show.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: What's it like to find out that your wife is hiding in the pantry because people are threatening her? I mean, it's upsetting. You can see why I wouldn't like that and why I feel threatened by it, and why I think that this is a threat to free expression to all of us. And I mean that.


KURTZ: Fox News' CEO Suzanne Scott and President Jay Wallace urging a more civil national conversation called the incident reprehensible. The violent threats and intimidation tactics toward him and his family are completely unacceptable. The group Smash Racism D.C. also made public the home addresses of Carlson's brother and the co-founder of his site, the Daily Caller, creating risk for them.

Carlson drew support even from some liberal voices, who don't ordinarily like him such as Stephen Colbert. Fighting Tucker Carlson's idea is an American right. Targeting his home and terrorizing his family is an act of man monstrous cowardice. But Fox co-founder Matt Yglesias in now-deleted tweets said he felt no empathy for Carlson's wife and it was fine to make his family feel the fear that he and President Trump supposedly inspire and others, just appalling.

Tucker Carlson is a controversial commentator. But everyone should denounce such intimidation tactics. Leave people's homes and their spouses and their kids out of it.

And Ari Fleischer who knows the White House on the increasingly hostile relations between the president and the press.

But first, the war of words between the Trump team and CNN over Jim Acosta's suspension when the president stands with the press.


KURTZ: The press conference confrontation between Donald Trump and Jim Acosta began with CNN White House correspondent debating the president over the migrant caravan and soon led to an extraordinary clash.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: ... that this caravan was an invasion.


ACOSTA: As you know, Mr. President, the caravan was not an invasion.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I may ask one more question.

TRUMP: That's enough. That's enough. That's enough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pardon me, ma'am.

TRUMP: That's enough. I tell you what, CNN should be ashamed of themselves having you working for them. You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn't be working for CNN. Go ahead. You are a very rude person. The way you treat Sarah Huckabee is horrible.


KURTZ: Joining us now from Houston, Kristin Tate, a columnist for the Hill and author of How Do I Tax Thee, and in New York, Jessica Tarlov, senior editor at Bustle and a Fox News contributor. We'll get to the suspension in a second. But, Kristin, did Jim Acosta who is known for grandstanding and for kind of debating and challenging President Trump go too far?

KRISTIN TATE, THE HILL: Yeah, this was just the latest example of Acosta derailing these briefings and making them into a circus. His goal is to debate Donald Trump and put the attention back on himself. He intent was not to seek information. During the briefing, he said, quote, as you know, this caravan is not -- is not an invasion. This is not a question. It's a statement. Acosta specifically put himself in a contrarian position to sort of provoke a response from President Trump.

KURTZ: Right.

TATE: These briefings are supposed to provide information to the public. Acosta is wasting valuable time and he's rude.

KURTZ: All right. So let me set this up for Jessica. We're playing Jim Acosta's response when he was asked about this afterwards on CNN.


ACOSTA: He just didn't like hearing that question. He didn't like being challenged on that point. And he certainly doesn't like being called out for his falsehoods.


KURTZ: So Acosta and CNN say hey, he's just doing his job as a reporter. And whatever you thought of the question, you know, where I had a problem, a serious problem is when he just kept talking and would not give up the mic. It's not how it works in White House news conferences.

JESSICA TARLOV, BUSTLE: Well, he definitely wasn't following the rules. The president does get to decide when you move on. There are a number of reporters though who say, I have a follow-up or they start up by saying I have three questions, Mr. President.

KURTZ: Right.

TARLOV: And then...

KURTZ: He asked about three.

TARLOV: I understand that. Frankly, I think both of them were ill-behaved in this exchange. I felt bad for the intern who was put in an uncomfortable position.

KURTZ: Yeah.

TARLOV: Your boss is saying take the mic. And Acosta is saying politely, excuse me, ma'am, I am not done here. But to Kristin's point about that not being a question, it absolutely was a question, since we saw a radical a drop-off in discussion of this invasion caravan after the election. I mean, we have a couple of segments on it where it was round the clock cable news because the president wants to fear monger his base into voting.

KURTZ: OK. Let me just...

TARLOV: So I do think it was a question.

KURTZ: All right. Well, there are other things going on in fairness including the midterm elections.

TARLOV: The caravan was the story and no, we're not that scared.

KURTZ: All right, all right.

TARLOV: And we had a mass shooting, too. We have Pittsburg synagogue.

KURTZ: Kristin, did the White House go too far in suspending Jim Acosta's credentials because that shifts the spotlight to whether the Trump team overreacted? And I said, I think by doing that, the White House kind of made Jim Acosta into a journalistic martyr. And mostly, they are behind him.

TATE: Acosta should have lost his trespass a long time ago. This has been going on for way too long. He's using these briefings to make himself famous and divert attention away from valuable information that the public wants unto confrontations. And it's not fair. He should have been gone a long time ago.

KURTZ: Let me jump in and ask you. CNN says that Trump's attacks on the press and these include not just the attacks on Jim Acosta, are dangerous and un-American. It's a really strong word. Doesn't that feed the perception that this is getting partisan between the news organizations and the president?

TATE: Well, it has gotten partisan.

KURTZ: Kristin.

TARLOV: Oh, sorry.

TATE: It has gotten partisan. And that's really unfortunate. But Trump has been put in the position where he can either respond to these journalists like Acosta who are out of control, or just do nothing and let it happen. So, at some point, the White House needs to take action.

KURTZ: All right. And, Jessica, what about the White House trying to make this about that briefing where actually we saw between Jim Acosta and this young White House intern who is trying to get the mic, and saying well, he laid hands on her, which Acosta denies. Was that really what the suspension was about?

TARLOV: No. And also, we know they doctored the video. You addressed this earlier in the week. Kellyanne Conway was with Chris Wallace today.

KURTZ: OK. All right. OK, I got it covered. They, the White House, didn't doctor any video.

TARLOV: Oh, Alex Jones did. Actually, t came off infowars.

KURTZ: It was misleadingly edited. And while we are talking about it, let me put up a close-up about you know did he actually chop it. I think looking at the unedited video, it's pretty clear that the contact was incidental. Go ahead, Jessica.

TARLOV: Yeah. The contact was absolutely incidental. And you can tell most people who are karate-chopping someone or not at the same time saying excuse me, please ma'am, if you can give me a second, I'm not done here. That's not how it's done.

They took this -- Sarah Huckabee-Sanders took this off infowars, which is a propaganda site that has been banned by a number of platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Apple. By the way, to your credential journalist's point, the president is more comfortable with journalists from infowars than he is from CNN. And for you to say Jim Acosta should have lost his press pass when he works for CNN, when you look at the kind of people that this administration is fine with, is ridiculous.

KURTZ: Let me jump in here because I want to get to the midterms, briefly. Here is the president characterizing the night on which the Democrats won the House. Go.


TRUMP: I think it was a great victory. I would be honest, I think it was a great victory. And actually, some of the news this morning was in fact that it was a great victory.


KURTZ: Kristin, all politicians spin election results. And yes, Republicans held the Senate, picked a couple of seats. But how does Trump describe this as almost a total victory for Republicans when we no longer have one party government here in Washington.

TATE: Well, in many ways, it was a good week for the GOP. The GOP actually picked up seats in the Senate and the losses in the House were not as bad as they were expected to be. Remember, in 1994, under Bill Clinton, Democrats lost 52 House seats. In 2010, under Obama, they lost 63. I don't remember the media calling that a big red wave at the time when it happened.

KURTZ: No, it was called...

TARLOV: ... shellacking.

KURTZ: Absolutely. I think George W. Bush called a thumping when he lost both House and Congress in 2006. Jessica, I've got about half a minute. I mean, I get the president's argument that he thinks he can work with Nancy Pelosi and it would be easier. But, you know, the Democrats picked up at least 30 House seats. It could be 35.

TARLOV: It could be 38 or 39 now. I mean, in California...

KURTZ: Not as big as the previous. But the point is, the opposition party is in control of one chamber.

TARLOV: It was definitely a blue wave. If you look at what Amy Walter is saying, it's over, et cetera. They're calling this unequivocally a blue wave, state legislatures, seven governor's seats. Yes, he won and we lost Claire McCaskill's seat. We'll see what happens in Arizona and Florida. I feel like Sinema will win and Gillum and Nelson will not in Florida.

But it definitely was a good night for Democrats. This is what politicians do and they spin. But he could you know just recognize the fact that he's now going to have to deal with a strong Democrat majority.

KURTZ: Right.

TATE: He actually praised Nancy Pelosi.

KURTZ: I've got to go. Yeah, he praised Nancy Pelosi. It was interesting. Kristin Tate...

TATE: Nancy Pelosi did a pretty good job getting us through this, I would say.

KURTZ: Jessica Tarlov, thanks very much for joining us.

TARLOV: Thanks a lot, Howie.

TATE: Thanks, Howie.

KURTZ: And with the battle between this the president and the press reaching fever pitch, we decided to call in Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary for George W. Bush, of course, now, a Fox News contributor. I spoke to him earlier from New York.


KURTZ: Ari Fleischer, welcome.


KURTZ: Let's start with Jim Acosta and the CNN correspondent's conduct when the President Trump called on him at the presser. You were there in that room with President Bush. Was this different than the kinds of questions Bush got?

FLEISCHER: Totally different. You know, it's one thing for reporters to be challenging, to be tough. That's their job, they do it all the time. It's another thing for them to use that in the briefing room to espouse their personal policy preferences, their individual points of view.

And that's what Jim Acosta has been doing since Donald Trump became president. And I think that more than anything than that physical altercation which really was a nothing altercation, I think that is the rub of the matter.

KURTZ: But then he kept on talking like I'm talking over you now. He wouldn't give up the mic. But at the same time, was it an overreach or a misstep for the White House to suspend his credentials, because that shifted the whole spotlight from whatever Jim Acosta did or didn't do to whether the White House is being punitive toward the press?

FLEISCHER: In the Bush White House and what I would have done, was I will try to take advantage of that moment and say, well, Jim, I hope you get your op-ed published in the newspaper tonight, and then unto the next reporter...

KURTZ: You mean deflect.

FLEISCHER: Let them ask a question. I would deflect and try to use a little humor and try to make everybody laugh at him for being an obvious editorial writer, instead of a neutral journalist. But the Trump White House does everything differently.

And I'm not going to defend Jim Acosta. It's not the role of White House reporters to express their opinions. He makes other reporters in the room look bad when he's the one out there expressing his opinion, because that type of thing just amplifies unto everybody. The public hates it.

Ask a question, ask a hard question. And you know what, Howie, what he could have done was simply instead of saying, the caravan is not an invasion, Mr. President.

KURTZ: Yeah.

FLEISCHER: He could have said critics clearly say...

KURTZ: I'm debating you. But let me move on now to the media furor over President Trump firing Jeff Sessions, naming on an acting basis this chief- of=staff, Matt Whitaker, who has a history of criticizing the Mueller investigation. Given the sensitivity of that probe, is the media freak-out justified?

FLEISCHER: Look, I think it's appropriate to put scrutiny on whoever is going to be an acting attorney general, especially in this environment, but then, they've gone too far. The fact that he wrote opinion pieces, Tony Snow, the former White House press secretary wrote a ton of opinion pieces, many of them negative about George Bush.

And then, he got hired as his press secretary. There is a history in Washington that people writing opinion pieces, sharing their thoughts, that are not indicative of what they would do once they come into power. And I suspect that's the case here. But you wouldn't know it from the press coverage.

KURTZ: Right. Tony Snow, of course, also was a commentator for Fox News. Ari Fleischer bringing his perspective from the White House podium. Thanks very much joining us.

FLEISCHER: Thank you.


KURTZ: Ari Fleischer.

The national media are just now realizing the full magnitude of the most of destructive wildfires in California history, which go far beyond the 25 people killed so far. A quarter of a million people evacuated. Tens of thousands of acres devastated. Thousands of homes and other structures destroyed.

One monster fire in the north near Sacramento and two in the south were too much of the coverage frankly focuses on the homes of celebrities being burned. Now, from the perspective of someone who has some family there, what is not being captured is the fear. Landscapes filled with smoke, the path of destruction unclear, students trapped at the Pepperdine University as flames move toward that beautiful Malibu campus.

Local news does its best, but for national journalists, it's hard to get near burning trees and forests. Unlike hurricanes, reporters can stand out in the wind and the rain or floods where they can get into boats and cover rescues. They don't allow for up-close and personal coverage. But the human toll is no less real.

After the break, Fox was the first to project the Democratic takeover of the House on election night. That was controversial. We'll talk about that in a moment.



BRET BAIER, MIDTERM MADNESS: The Fox News desk can now project that Democrats will take control of the House of Representatives for the first time in eight years, dealing a major setback to President Trump's legislative agenda.


KURTZ: Bret Baier with the projection, just right after 9:30 Eastern on election night. Joining us from Charlottesville, Larry Sabato, director of the University Of Virginia Center for Politics.

And Fox has taken some heat for being the first to make that projection while voting was still going on in the West. MSNBC was about 50 minutes later saying CNN after 11 o'clock, how do you sit on that news once you are convinced you are right that the Democrats are going to win the House?

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS DIRECTOR: You don't. You know, normally, Howie, I can see where critics are coming from, even if I don't agree with them. On this, I think they are completely wrong. This is not 1980 all over again when Jimmy Carter conceded very early because of the Reagan landslide and probably cost a couple Republican congressmen and a couple of Democratic congressmen in California their seats.

This is -- this is a completely different situation. Fox and A.P. have spent a lot of money to get the second exit poll, which we all want to welcome. Now, we have two sources of information.

KURTZ: Right.

SABATO: We can compare them. So, of course, you would go forward with it as long as you have confidence in it, and they clearly did, and they were right.

KURTZ: Right. And now, all networks don't call races within in the states. Now, it's like calling the presidency. When somebody gets to 270, you can't pretend it didn't happen.

Now, there was a lot of media chatter for weeks, maybe months, about a blue wave, maybe a big blue tsunami coming. But toward the end, I think journalists turned more cautious as the races kind of tighten. And I think they felt badly burned by their own projections in 2016. Do you think their perception were distorted by the fact that in big cities, most journalists were talking to people who like them expected huge Democratic gains?

SABATO: I think mainly it's what you said, Howie. They were still thinking back to 2016 and they didn't want to make the mistake again. I understand that. We kept our estimates very cautious at the crystal ball throughout the year.

And by the way, we hit the numbers on the nail for House, Senate, and for governors.

KURTZ: What did you project in the House?

SABATO: We projected plus 34 for the Democrats. And we said we might be a few seats short. But we are being cautious. And now, it looks like it's going to be between plus 34 and plus 37, somewhere in that vicinity.

KURTZ: That's why they call it the crystal ball. You know, I do think it makes sense to be cautious. In the end, journalists might have ended up underestimating. But, of course, we have to caution that the Republicans picked up a couple seats in the Senate and won some other key governors' races and lost some as well.

So the media is now sort of universally expecting that there will be utter gridlock on Capitol Hill between President Trump and the Democratic House. And I understand they are sort of dismissed pledges of bipartisan cooperation after past elections. But could they be wrong, is this too much of a knee-jerk reaction?

SABATO: The answer is always yes to a question of could they be wrong or could we be wrong. The answer is always yes. Ding, ding, ding. Go ahead, it's Final Jeopardy. But look, they are going to agree on something. Democrats have to have something to show for their new majority in the House, maybe it's infrastructure, maybe it's something else.

But they will come together with President Trump and the Senate on something. We don't know what it is. But I think it will be something substantial.

KURTZ: Right. If it's just going to be two years of investigations and subpoenas, it doesn't necessarily help the Democrats. And so, I think you've hit the nail on the head. Mr. Crystal Ball, Larry Sabato, thanks so much for joining us.

SABATO: Thank you, Howie.

KURTZ: And that's for this edition of Media Buzz. I'm Howard Kurtz. Check out my new Podcast, Media Buzz Meter. We take a few of the top stories that are buzzy, or important, or fascinating. We examine it from different angles and there is no commercial.

You can subscribe at Apple iTunes, Google Play, or We hope you will check out our Facebook page. Give us a like. We post my daily columns there, original video, too. And let's continue the conversation on Twitter @HowardKurtz. No trick there.

I was really glad we had the chance to bring you the moving ceremonies from Arlington, the commemoration of World War I, 100 years ago, such an important conflict, and we are happy to remember.

And we will be back here next Sunday. Hope to see you then 11 Eastern with the latest buzz.

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