This is a rush transcript from "MediaBuzz," September 12, 2021. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
HOWARD KURTZ, FOX NEWS HOST (on camera): No one can ever forget. No one should ever forget that awful day 20 years ago, the day that America was attacked by hijacked airplanes. We were all riveted mainly to the broadcast networks, Dan, Tom, Peter, which were more dominant on breaking news than they are today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATIE COURIC, FORMER NBC ANCHOR (voice-over): Good morning. America may never be the same and this is why.
TOM BROKAW, FORMER NBC ANCHOR: They unlike any other in a long course of American history a terrorist act of war against this country.
BRIAN KILMEADE, FOX NEWS HOST: There's speculation at this point, but at least three floors taken out creasing to the side of the building.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ (on camera): And the media conveyed a sense of national unity when President Bush grabbed that mega phone amid the ruins of Ground Zero that is sadly missing today. But September 11th, 2001 also spawned fierce controversies that consumed a news business that soon turned more polarized. Heated debates over anti-terror tactics, torture, surveillance of a great (ph) prison, civil liberties, treatment of Muslims, the use of Gitmo to name just a few.
Unfortunately, America hasn't suffered a terrorist strike of the magnitude perpetrated by Osama bin Laden, killed by our military a decade ago.
But as five presidents paid tribute in ceremony yesterday, keep in mind that 9/11 also led to 20 years of dangerous war reporting in Afghanistan and Iraq and endless arguing over forever wars and how long the United States should try to foster democracy in these tribal cultures, which is why the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan even with most of the country saying we should get out, even with the coverage now fading, leaves such a bitter taste. The murderous Taliban back in charge just as they were on 9/11.
I'm Howard Kurtz and this is "Media Buzz."
Ahead, we'll talk to Ari Fleischer about being in the White House on 9/11 and to groundbreaking writer Andrew Sullivan on how the media become far more intolerant, plus the debate over President Biden's vaccine mandates.
The media reflections on 9/11 have been mixed with the usual ideological clashes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Bad actors took advantage of that, rallying a traumatized nation towards what ended up being a whole host of destructive, counterproductive, often screamingly immoral policies.
PETE HEGSETH, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Here we are at the 20-year anniversary that we can't -- that we don't even want to talk about the motivations of the Taliban or al-Qaeda. Of course, it was Islam. Of course, it was radical Islam.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ (on camera): The coverage of Afghanistan today is heavily focused on the Biden administration and the American and Afghan allies left behind.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIT HUME, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: This is an absolute train wreck and all these disputes that we're seeing now about people who can't get out and so on are all a result of the original decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: There has been little coverage of the war on the other cable news networks with some exceptions such as talking about Afghan refugees.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: When they were desperately trying to get people out, you had people on the right having it both ways where they would be saying get them out, get them out, but don't bring them here, can't have those people here. Remember, they're brown, a lot of them are brown.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ (on camera): Joining us now to analyze the coverage, Bill Bennett, the former cabinet official who hosts "The Bill Bennett" podcast, and Harold Ford, former Democratic congressman. Both are Fox News contributor.
Bill, after the surge in patriotism unleashed by the terrible attacks of 9/11, how did we reach this polarized state in which many in the media seem to be yelling at each other over all these issues?
WILLIAM BENNETT, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR, FORMER SECRETARY OF EDUCATION AND DRUG CZAR: You cited a number of the reasons that we reached it. Of course, the media, most of the media likes to heat it up, likes to make it more inflammatory.
We have severe differences now. We are deeply polarized. Someone said we are more polarized than we've been since the Civil War. I think we're actually maybe more polarized, including the Civil War. That was about one issue, one horrible, greatly terrible issue. But we're now polarized about a lot of things.
But look, we looked back yesterday, the whole world, the whole country, at least, in great sorrow at the loss of people. But there's anger. And in my view, there should be anger.
Unity comes around when you have this kind of attack on America. We were unified and should be. You also get unity when you have natural disasters. But what return (ph) is differences.
BENNETT: Human beings have differences. Americans have differences. Liberty is to air what faction is to -- liberty is to faction what air is to fire.
KURTZ: And I have no problem with --
BENNETT: Unity is not the normal state of things in American life or American politics.
KURTZ: I have no problem with healthy debate. Harold, Bill says the media likes things to be inflammatory. Whether it was water boarding or Gitmo or civil liberties and/or debates over domestic extremism, now, the press itself seems at war and that was true under Trump, under Obama, certainly now under Biden, in ways that were not true in 2001.
HAROLD FORD, JR., FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR, FORMER TENNESSEE CONGRESSMAN: There is no question. First of all, happy Sunday morning and happy NFL Sunday morning, first of the season. We are -- I agreed largely with what Dr. Bennett just shared. What I would add to it is this. We are a special and exemplary nation and we are largely that for historical reasons. In my lifetime, I'm 51 years old, it's largely defined by how we responded to 9/11.
Dr. Bennett is right. When natural disaster or war comes about, we as a nation rally behind or when we are attacked, we rally behind our leader, our president and want a full response.
I think, some, as we think about the Afghanistan conflict and war, you know, war is not a finely choreographed Broadway production. It's messy. It is obviously deadly. It is full of uncertainty and sometimes horror. There is no doubt there should be accountability for some of the mistakes that were made and how we exited. Remember, this spans over four presidents.
We shouldn't lose sight of the fact we made great accomplishments and achievements there and we had new threats over these 20 years that have emerged. China, Iraq, Russia, although an irrelevant country in many ways, its leader decided to launched cyberattacks and launched himself into country into relevant conversations.
So we will find our way back to some of this. Toxicity does not define us. It's shared purpose.
KURTZ: I hope you're right about that but there's a lot of toxicity in the system. Bill, the media debate at its core is about how far government should go in trying to protect people here without trampling on civil liberties. President Bush who worked for his father said at one of the ceremonies yesterday, so much of our politics has become a naked appeal to anger, fear and resentment. Is that part of the legacy of 9/11?
BENNETT: Yeah, I think it is part of the legacy of 9/11 and it is part of the legacy of reacting to events as they occur. I'm angry as hell. I mean, yesterday was a day for sorrow and I think we all saw that. I miss the anger.
And yes, Harold is right. There is a fog of war. But Brit Hume is also right. This decision made by President Biden was a train wreck, a disaster. $80 billion in equipment they have, 13 people killed, people in uniform. It looks like the Chinese are taking over Bagram.
One thing I just want to get clear. People say we had to get out of this war. I work in North Carolina. I work in Washington, D.C. The last 10 years, I have never heard anyone say, my gosh, we've got to get out of Afghanistan. I know what the polls say.
BENNETT: This was not on the top of people's mind. We had 2,500 troops, that's it, and they were holding off the Taliban from control of any capital, any provincial capital.
KURTZ: All right. More --
BENNETT: It was working. There was no reason to wreak this destruction on the people of Afghanistan and our own people.
KURTZ (on camera): As you say, the polls suggest differently. But more on the war in a second, I want to raise this, Howard, because at the time, particularly the run-up to the Iraq war, there was a backlash against people who were opposed to either war. MSNBC fired Phil Donahue, the top rated host. Here's what he has to say about it now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PHIL DONAHUE, FORMER MSNBC HOST: They were terrified of the anti-war voice. That is not an overstatement. We were schooled. We weren't patriotic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ (on camera): And Howard, an internal memo from the "Times" said it didn't want MSNBC to become home for the liberal anti-war agenda at the same time our competitors are waving the flag. So it was tough for people who had dissenting views.
FORD: Without question. (INAUDIBLE) Congress at the time and I voted in favor of both allowing President Bush to undertake war efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Iraq decision as we all recall was fraught with also some uncertainty. And as we -- hindsight is always 20/20. It was probably not the evidence to go there to divert resources from Afghanistan to Iraq. But again, we learned from all of these things and it's amazing.
A Republican president was the one that put this in motion in President Trump and a Democrat president, President Biden, is the one who acted it out. Now, we can have a debate about the 2,500, 3,500 troops. I differ slightly from my friend and mentor, Dr. Bennett, on that. But at the same time, I do think hindsight gives us an opportunity to learn from these decisions that were made and to ensure that as we go forward, we don't make the same kinds of mistakes that we may have made over the last 20 years.
KURTZ: When it comes to press freedom --
BENNETT: I'm not making --
KURTZ: Let me ask my question and then you can circle back. When it comes to press freedom, which we take for granted in this country, one of the horrible aftereffects of our withdrawal, which I think everybody would agree, was not well-handled, botched really.
Are these two Afghan journalists, we've seen the pictures from "Reuters," who were badly beaten with cables, kicked, really tortured for covering a women's protest in Afghanistan. That's part of what we have left behind.
BENNETT: And we're going to see more of that, we're going to see more beatings of women, and we're going to see more 12-year-old girls taken to be wives of rough men in the Taliban organization. I'm not making partisan political point here at all. President Trump was wrong, I think, to have an agreement with the Taliban.
Now, he will say and Mike Pompeo will say it was conditions based, we would have never done it this way. I tend to believe that is probably true. But was a big mistake to recognize the Taliban. The Taliban were responsible with their cohorts for 9/11 and now they're fully in charge.
KURTZ: All right.
BENNETT: The treatment of journalists, treatment of women, treatment of citizens, treatment of people with special immigrant visas, it's just beginning. This is a disaster and we've just seen the opening. The main chapter is to come.
KURTZ (on camera): You know, Harold, even as the coverage of the war fades on the other cable news networks, there have been some exceptions such as, we're going to play it for you, MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell interviewing a woman who was the Afghan and Pakistan bureau chief for Voice of America funded by the U.S. government about her colleagues that were left behind. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AYESHA TANZEEM, VOA AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN BUREAU CHIEF: Mentally, they're stressed. They call me every day. They say they're tired of waiting. They cannot understand why they're not out when a lot of journalists around them who worked with international media organizations are out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ (on camera): I got about half a minute. It just seems amazing to me that the U.S. government can't get these people out.
FORD: Look, I think we all are amazed of things that have happened over the last several weeks. I was amazed frankly early on that they projected they could get 100,000 plus out and they did. That being the case, we have left behind some things that need to be repaired.
We should not lose sight of the fact we made great progress here. We decimated al-Qaeda's ability to attack -- Taliban's ability to attack. Technology and military technology and partnerships, including our intelligence gathering abilities, have grown over the last 20 years.
FORD: I bemoan everything that happened to journalists in that country. But we have to be focused on America's strategic national interest as well.
KURTZ: I take your point and I got to go. By the way, we hope that continues to be the case. Without the U.S. Military presence there, that the terrorist threat is diminished.
When we come back, a fierce media debate over Joe Biden moving to mandate vaccines for most American workers. And later, Andrew Sullivan on how liberal newsrooms are out of control.
KURTZ (on camera): The media immediately pounced on President Biden moving to impose vaccine mandates on the vast majority of federal workers and millions of private workers as well, conjuring a clash of safety versus liberty.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: This is not about freedom or personal choice. It's about protecting yourself and those around you. We've been patient, but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has caused all of us.
JESSE WATTERS, FOX NEWS HOST: He's taking that anger out on the un-vaxxed. He's targeting 80 million Americans who don't trust him, don't trust the media for good reason.
STEVE SCHMIDT, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR, FORMER ADVISOR TO GEORGE W. BUSH AND JOHN MCCAIN, POLITICAL STRATEGIST, COFOUNDER OF LINCOLN PROJECT: I think that he should approach this with an iron fist. And I think that the overwhelming majority of the country is going to be deeply appreciative of somebody standing up at long last and saying to the small minority of nuts in this country, enough.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: But you better get the vaccine or Dr. Joe Biden is going to unleash the full force of the federal government against you and your loved ones and your employer, and you will be cancelled in society all together.
JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST: Joe Biden does things that 60, 70 percent of Americans you've got southern governors saying they're going to fight him to the gates of hell to stop what most Americans support.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ (on camera): Bill Bennett, for drugs czar, I'm sure you have strong feelings about the president's new mandates. But are most of the media basically pretty supportive of imposing these rules on workers?
BENNETT: I think pretty supportive. But I'll tell you, our patience is wearing thin? I mean what the hell? Who does he think he is? Our patience is wearing thin. And then that commentator, I don't know who it was, he needs to have an iron fist like --
KURTZ: Steve Schmidt.
BENNETT: -- what kind of country are we living -- whatever. What kind of country are we living in here? Joe Biden posits that we have this terrible spread of the virus, everyone has to be vaccinated. By the way, the caricature that it's mostly Trump supporters who are not getting vaccinated is not really true. The largest group, percentage wise, is African Americans who for the most part did not support Donald Trump.
But we got to vaccinated everybody. I've been vaccinated, by the way. I'm in favor of vaccination. Meanwhile, 40,000 people a week are coming up from the southern border, no vaccination, no check on them at all. If this is a national emergency, why don't you take it seriously?
KURTZ: There is --
BENNETT: Your patience is wearing thin, Mr. President. Your credibility is wearing thin, very thin.
KURTZ: Harold, there is growing media anger at the 80 million Americans who haven't gotten the shots for whatever reason. They may not be saying "F" the unvaccinated as Howard Stern did this week, but isn't that frustrations helping to drive this coverage?
FORD: There is no question it is driving the coverage. I think that rising hospitalization rates and rising death threats, virus infection rates, largely the most unvaccinated is also driving it.
I'm encouraged that over the last several weeks, we've seen three to four times as many people being vaccinated. I think three quarters of Americans now have at least one shot.
If you would have told me a year ago that we would have a vaccine by the beginning of this year in '21 and that only 55 to 56 percent of Americans would be double vaxxed by the end of summer, early fall, I would have probably taken the bet on the other side, saying there's no way we as Americans won't want to do this.
Is Joe Biden, is the president going overboard? Some will argue. I have a slightly different point of view. I'm glad he's being as aggressive as he is. I think he's putting his credibility on the line. He is putting his political credibility on the line because presidents have to be concerned about public health and public safety. We obviously have emerging of those two --
BENNETT: What about --
KURTZ: Persuasion. Again, I want to get Bill back in. Persuasion wasn't working. But there are already major corporations that have these kinds of rules, President Biden said, even at Fox. Well, Fox has a regular reporting requirement for vaccination status as well as weekly tests.
So this is not some off-the-wall idea. At the same time, I'm sure the constitutionality of the president having the power to do this is going to be tested in court, Bill.
BENNETT: It is constitutionality question and also a vaccine question. One shot, two shots, three shots now, booster shots. You remember the questioning of President Trump's credibility by the now vice president of the United States.
But if we have a national emergency, does that extend to South Texas, to this immigrant population coming in, to this illegal group coming in? Why is that not being paid attention to? It seems to be the screams inconsistency on the part of this administration. And they need to address it. They need to talk to it.
KURTZ: And Harold, is there a double standard here, because the media were often up in arms when Donald Trump was in the White House about exceeding his authority, whether it was on the border wall or whole hosts of other issues?
Now, I'm not seeing much in the press much skepticism about whether or not even it was well intentioned that I'm totally pro-vaccine and he is obviously frustrated by the people who for whatever reason have declined to get the shots, I'm not seeing much debate at all about whether or not the president is going too far and exceeding his authority.
FORD: I think some networks are. I think some shows on the networks are. I think you and Secretary Bennett said it well. This will be challenged in the courts. I look forward to hearing the court's decision on this.
I think Dr. Bennett is right. There should be a greater attention and greater focus at the southern border. I'm a believer, a Democrat who is double-vaxxed. I can't wait to get the booster shot when I'm to. I'm a believer that we should build the wall on the border.
But those two issues, they may be fair (ph) a little bit politically. I don't think that should make any American outside of South Texas, be they Black, white or whatever race they might be, from getting this vaccine. So I think what President Biden has done is somewhat controversial. It will be challenged.
But I support him for doing it because I think the one thing that will -- we rally want to tell the Chinese that you were wrong and that thing might have leaked from a lab. Get vaccinated. We want the economy reopened. Everyone should get vaccinated.
KURTZ: Let me just say that some conservative pundits say that Biden is doing this as a political distraction. Well, it may be some benefit. But at the same time, more than 1,600 Americans are dying every day on average from COVID-19 and obviously the fate of his presidency may well depend on this particular war.
Bill Bennett, Harold Ford, great to see you this Sunday. Thanks so much. Up next, Donald Trump and his allies are floating the idea that he may announce another presidential campaign very soon. Is the press buying this? And later, Ari Fleischer on being in the White House on 9/11.
KURTZ (on camera): Jim Jordan's office denied a report on the undercurrent that the congressman said Donald Trump would soon announce a 2024 run for president, until a video surfaced showing Jordan saying that. (INAUDIBLE) says there is a 99 to 100 percent chance Trump soon announces he is running.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONATHAN LEMIRE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: he would likely of course try to stay relevant. He would tease a run as long as he could. But at the end of the day, he wouldn't pull the trigger.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ (on camera): Joining us now, Mike Emanuel, Fox's chief Washington correspondent. Mike, as we just saw, there's a lot of media skepticism about some imminent announcement. But it is producing a lot of coverage. "Politico" did a big piece, is always hiring two operatives in Iowa. So from Trump world's perspective, it's kind of working.
MIKE EMANUEL, FOX NEWS CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, showing once again that President Trump knows how to get the media's attention and to generate lots of coverage. Look, I think the big picture thing for his aides, his supporters is basically keeping team Trump together. You don't want Republican supporters potentially looking at DeSantis 2024, Kristi Noem 2024, Tim Scott 2024. You want to keep them on team Trump.
And so by saying that announcement is coming very soon, you keep people on the hook, keep them engaged, keep them interested because obviously he got wall-to-wall nonstop coverage when was the sitting president of the United States. Former presidents of the United States don't get the same amount of coverage. And so he wants to keep his base engaged. So if and when he decides to run, they're with him.
EMANUEL: And if he decides he doesn't want to run, then he can play king maker on the republican side.
KURTZ: Right. Even yesterday at 9/11 ceremonies, he told a group of New York police officers that he knows what he wants to do but he can't say because of election laws. But you'll be very happy, he said. He told OAN, I believe they're going to decertify the 2020 election. I see zero chance of that happening.
But will there be media resentment if despite all these hints and everything, it turns out to be a head fake and he doesn't announce any time soon or is the press lobbying this because they miss Trump, they miss the ratings and they miss the clicks?
EMANUEL: Yeah, he is great for business. No doubt about it. I mean, look at our competitors. They were thriving under President Trump and now with President Biden they are down in the dumps. And so they miss that constant back and forth between the media and President Trump, the jabbing, the fighting and the constant material that he provides.
And so there may be some resentment but I think our colleagues in the press corps will get over it in time if indeed it turns out to be a media stunt.
KURTZ: Right. Well, I mean, you know, skepticism is fine. After many years on television, before he became president, dealing with the New York tabloids, doing the apprentice, the guy knows how to make television news.
KURTZ: Oddly, in my view, when Virginia officials took down that statue of Robert E. Lee this week, Trump put out a statement saying that the confederate general was considered the greatest strategist of them all, that he would have won the Civil War except for Gettysburg, that is a big if, he would have won the war in Afghanistan if he were alive today. Lots of media criticism ridicule. What do you think the former president is going for there?
EMANUEL: I think it was attention. Hey, it's a big thing in the news. It may fire up some of his supporters. And so by throwing that out there, knows it's too hard to resist for the media. And so he knew that he was going to get lots of buzz about it and that the die-hards in his camp are not going to care one bit about it. They love him. And a lot of other folks will be talking about him.
And so that's -- he's made a career on that basically over the years, Howie. And so I think that's another case of it that this Richmond taking down the Robert E. Lee statue, some folks say it was a mistake because you can't whitewash the history of the Civil War. Others say it was a great thing. And so he stepped into the debate and got lots of attention for it which he is famous for doing.
KURTZ: You are right that former presidents usually get very little attention unless they give a speech or put a book out. But Donald Trump is clearly in a different category. Mike Emanuel, great to see you this Sunday.
Next on "Media Buzz," Andrew Sullivan on the evolution of a British conservative writer and why this author is abandoning the mainstream media.
KURTZ (on camera): -- and why this veteran author is abandoning the mainstream media.
KURTZ (on camera): Andrew Sullivan is a journalistic pioneer who is increasingly appalled by journalism. He practically created modern day blogging, has written for Time, the New York Times magazine, the Atlantic, the Daily Beast, and once editor of The New Republic.
I spoke earlier with Sullivan who writes at Substack and is the author of a new book generating a lot of buzz, "Out on a Limb."
KURTZ: Andrew Sullivan, welcome.
ANDREW SULLIVAN, AUTHOR, OUT ON A LIMB: Thanks for having me, Howie.
KURTZ: You've always defined yourself as a conservative. But on Twitter these days you get questions like when did you become so far right and why have you become a white supremacist, transphobic misogynistic, Eugenicist. And your response to what happened to you has been?
SULLIVAN: What happened to you. That's my question. The way in which liberals have become unbelievable dogmatists and intolerant and hostile to open debate and accusations that ramped up the rhetoric from simply racist or insensitive all the way now immediately to you're a white supremacist or that I'm a transphobe when I spent my whole life fighting for gay and trans a rights, I just draw the line at saying there's no difference at all between men and women which is in fact of biology.
And it's the left that seems to me that has ratcheted this rhetoric up and they're particularly angry that anybody who doesn't fit either their tribe or the other tribe and because they think can put extra pressure on you, if you're not ensconced in conservative media --
SULLIVAN: -- and they can get you fired or intimidated.
KURTZ: But as an example of that, I mean, you came to be a pretty big supporter of Barack Obama, you were a fierce critic of Donald Trump. And yet you were fired last year by New York magazine. What does that say?
SULLIVAN: It tells you that there is no place, unfortunately, anymore in some mainstream newspapers and magazines for a moderate small c conservative. Someone who is prepared to listen at least to the other side. Someone who is prepared to open their minds to countering arguments, who doesn't necessarily buy this entire shift since last summer in which somehow America instantly became a white supremacy when as we just found out today, Gallup shows 94 percent of people support interracial marriage at this point. We are not a white supremacist.
KURTZ: It's ludicrous. But you blame the sort of growing political intolerance on the elite, you say they're sequestered increasingly within one political party and one media mono culture and that the social justice movement now is liberalism is no longer enough. How did the media succumb to this kind of environment?
SULLIVAN: I think a couple of reasons. One is that liberals are terrified of standing up to people on the left and the events of last year kind of upped the ante on that and made it very hard for them to really have the courage of their liberal convictions.
Secondly, we've had a huge influx in the media of very young people who came in when the media was losing money, desperately need a cheap labor and they were out of the elite colleges that had this ideology into them and they spread this ideology into their workplaces.
These weren't working class people coming into newspapers, they weren't the people that always work at these newspapers and magazines. They were a phalanx of vanguard of fanatics who came in. And you know, some of them had good intentions. It's good to have racial and cultural diversity.
KURTZ: Yes, but there's always another side and that became verboten. And so, you know, people have lost their jobs as you know at the New York Times and elsewhere. So, who is in charge? Can management stand up to these left- wing Twitter mobs or are the inmates running the asylum?
SULLIVAN: Well, I think we're seeing a few signs of maybe moving a little bit back towards the center. I said I saw that in fact that the New York Times ran a nuance review of a book about trans issues which was big for them. I see there with the New Yorker ran a piece saying that the left has to start taking genetics seriously this week, that's new for them.
So, I think they're beginning to realize that not only are they sounding incredibly shrill and angry, they're losing a lot of respect among many --
KURTZ: You said --
SULLIVAN: -- people who want to be in this place, these mainstream people a diversity of opinion. And so that we --
KURTZ: You said -- let me just jump in because we're short on time. You said in one interview, we've all lost our nerve. Does that include Andrew Sullivan?
SULLIVAN: Absolutely not. If I -- I was -- I was gotten rid of because I wouldn't succumb to the woke revolution but I moved directly to Substack. The Weekly Dish is now on Substack. And people, the readers, the actual people who want to read things have supported me in incredible ways.
We have over 100,000 people now subscribing to The Weekly Dish and I get to say what I want to say and I also went to change dissent so that we have a variety of opinions within The Weekly Dish itself. So, I think the --
KURTZ: Dissent is -- dissent used to be so central to journalism. Now we're talking about 9/11 this weekend, obviously and you can be pretty tough on yourself. You say that you were terribly wrong supporting the Iraq war after the shock and trauma of 9/11. Explain.
SULLIVAN: Well, I think I've underestimated the enormous difficulties of turning a Middle Eastern country into some kind of functioning democracy. I don't think I remembered my conservative instincts about why culture matters and I think the execution of it we did unforgiveable things like torture prisoners.
I couldn't continue to support a war that was not working and that was increasingly immoral and I lost a lot of friends including your friends at Fox about that but I had to say that. It's what I believed.
KURTZ: You wrote about gay marriage, the case for gay marriage, back in 1989, at the time a lot of people in the media thought you were crazy. You were perhaps ahead of your time. So, the title of your book, "Out on a Limb," right?
SULLIVAN: Yes. Sometimes out on a limb, you're right, you know, and you should listen to people who may be ridiculed, who are saying things that might actually matter. And I'm delighted that that happened. It was part of an open debate about that question. I think we've moved to a more reasonable and moderate position on it in which gay people can just be who they are and not make a huge fuss about it and get on with our lives.
KURTZ: Andrew Sullivan, always good to see you. Hope you'll come back. Thanks very much.
SULLIVAN: I will. Thanks. Thanks so much, Howie.
KURTZ: He loves being out on a limb. After the break, former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer on lessons for the media since that dark day in 2001.
KURTZ (on camera): Ari Fleischer was President Bush's White House press secretary on September 11th, 2001 and has a unique perspective on the war on terror that followed. And that's where we began our conversation.
KURTZ: Ari Fleischer, welcome.
ARI FLEISCHER, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you, Howard.
KURTZ: What did it feel like to be working in the White House that day and what did you see as your challenge with the press?
FLEISCHER: Well, I was in Sarasota with the president and instantly recognized the importance of the day. I started to take very detailed verbatim notes on everything the president did and said. That way I could properly brief the press, brief the country.
But there was so little we were able to say on September 11th and that was the hardest part. Reporters were asking all the right questions, who did it, how many more planes are in the sky, how much more of a threat is there to America? We didn't know any of the answers to those obvious important questions.
And the worst thing you can do when you're the press secretary at a moment of vulnerability is look like you don't know anything because the government didn't -- yet we had suspicions but we weren't ready to say them. So, I didn't do anything on camera briefing that day.
KURTZ: What's even worse is to say the -- what's even worse is to say the wrong thing, of course, and so that was wise on your part. About two weeks after the attacks, you took a lot of flak for saying this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FLEISCHER: There are reminder to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do and this is not a time for remarks like that, they never is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ (on camera): Now I know you were responding to controversial comments by Bill Maher, but your detractors kind of took that as you are somehow trying to suppress dissent.
FLEISCHER: Yes. This really is an urban myth had now. And anybody who is in the White House press corps dismissed it totally because they were there, they got the full context. This was really just some liberal columnists who twisted it.
I was asked about Maher's statement, I said it's unfortunate and a terrible thing to say, and then I reflected back about a congressman named John Cooksey from Louisiana who said if he ever saw anybody with a diaper on their head he was going to pull that guy over.
Anti-Muslim statement in the wake of the attack. And I referred to that I urged everybody to be moderate and a tolerant in their remarks and I said about all people that people need to be mindful, they need to watch what they do, watch what they say. The entire spirit was about tolerance towards people which is great --
KURTZ: And it got flipped into the opposite. Yes.
FLEISCHER: Yes. It got twisted, totally.
KURTZ: And speaking of spirit, I mean, there was a grand sense of national unity after the attacks when George W. Bush grabbed the mega phone at ground zero. We all remember that. What happened to that and how much of a role do you think the media have played in the increasing polarization over the last 20 years?
FLEISCHER: Yes, it lasted about two or three months, Howie, with the press corps. I think for the country it lasted longer. But I will never in January of 2002 the press was not happy that George Bush had a 90 percent approval rating. They were used to a red-hot briefing room where they could really go after someone.
And when Enron collapsed, the White House press corps went hard after George W. Bush, trying to blame it on him even though he had nothing to do with it. That's for me when the goodwill of the press evaporated and turned into the old days. The country, as I said, it lasted a lot, lot longer.
KURTZ: Yes. So, you think the press at that time just got tired of Bush being popular and not being able to go after him more directly. That's fascinating, I hadn't heard that before.
FLEISCHER: They wanted a new story line.
KURTZ: Whether it was the early debates over waterboarding or Gitmo or the more recent media controversies about domestic terror and of course the disastrous exit from Afghanistan, doesn't it feel like -- I'm not exempting anyone here, that for so many in the media you are either taking Biden's side, or Trump's side, or never Trump's side, and demonizing the other side.
FLEISCHER: You know, I've thought about this a lot, Howard. And since I began my career in Washington on Capitol Hill in '83, what the press then was liberal but they tried to do the job and be down the middle. They were mostly liberal. They really did try be fair. And now I would say they're liberal, they're cultural and they're activists.
They're actually rewarded in terms of Twitter followers and getting booked on MSNBC for being activist reporters and journalism schools are increasingly graduating students who object to objectivity and think subjectivity matters more. And this is a terrible fact for journalism. Its lost the trust of the American people. It's been on a 40-year decline and it's been bouncing around its near lows, historic lows about the people who trust journalists to tell us the news fully fairly and accurately.
FLEISCHER: Journalism is in a crisis and it need to fix itself.
KURTZ: Totally. It's in a very serious credibility crisis, I would just say I don't think every single journalist necessarily fits that description.
KURTZ: But finally, the role of the press secretary, I mean, reporters went at you hard when you were at the podium in the White House briefing room, but it was hardly the harsh and personal tone faced by Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
FLEISCHER: Yes, it was a different era. People were just more polite and more civil. It was pre-social media. And I think social media has had a corrupting influence on everybody, but including the press corps. It's made them change from knowing that they're not supposed to take stands and take positions to enjoying taking stands and taking positions and using the briefing room as their studio to go hard against the press secretary.
And it's the coarsening of society and journalists that played and they are coarsening.
KURTZ: Yes. There's a lot of factors to blame, social media being one of them. But I think journalists bear a lot of the responsibility.
FLEISCHER: And it's not all. It's a very important point you made.
FLEISCHER: It's not all. It's some. That's important.
KURTZ: All right. Ari Fleischer, measured as always. Thank you very much for helping us remember 9/11. Always good to see you.
FLEISCHER: Thank you, Howie.
KURTZ: Still to come, a fake news report from Rolling Stone and others, Monica Lewinsky back on the air. And the press ratchets up its attacks on California recall candidate, Larry Elder.
KURTZ (on camera): It began as a news story on the NBC affiliate in Oklahoma City, KFOR, quoting one doctor, and this turned out to be flat wrong, as saying local hospitals were turning away gunshot victims and other patients because emergency rooms were flooded with people who had overdosed on Ivermectin, that's the medicine used in both humans and animals that some patients are taking for COVID-19 although the FDA and many experts insist it's useless for that purpose.
The story quickly went viral with coverage from Rolling Stone which tried to expand it into a national piece. Yes, the same Rolling Stone that fell for a bogus gang rape story a few years back.
There were tweets from Rachel Maddow, The Guardian, Newsweek, Daily Mail, and Daily News, and many others. If anyone had made a single phone call, they would have learned this was B.S. The Oklahoma hospital system associated with that doctor said that not only had its E.R.s not been overrun. It had not treated a single case of Ivermectin overdose. And the doc hadn't worked at that location for two months. Total fake news.
The California recall is Tuesday. And last week's Media Buzz interview with Larry Elder made news as I pressed the Republican candidate on some provocative things he said as a talk radio host, while also making clear he is the target of a national media assault. And that effort has intensified as the vote on recalling Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom draws closer with some pundits seizing on Elder's opposition to vaccine mandates.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOY REID, HOST, MSNBC: California is one executive order by Larry Elder away from having mass death and sickness like Florida and Texas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ (on camera): Mass deaths. Elder dismissed the attacks with me. But what about the lack of coverage of this woman in a gorilla mask throwing an egg on -- at Elder, nearly missing his head. Wouldn't there have been thunderous - denunciations of racism if it happens to a black Democrat?
But the media attacks are taking their toll. Newsom who didn't accept our invitation for equal time is up as much as double digits in recent polls but everything depends on turnout.
Monica Lewinsky out promoting a new FX series on Bill Clinton's impeachment was asked on The Today show whether she'd like to hear from the former president more than two decades after their sexual encounters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, CO-ANCHOR, NBC NEWS: Do you feel like he owes an apology after all these years?
MONICA LEWINSKY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE INTERN: I'm very grateful that I don't have that feeling any more. I don't need it. He should want to apologize in the same way that I want to apologize any chance I get to people that I've hurt and my actions have hurt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ (on camera): Lewinsky is a producer of that docudrama, but to her credit she insisted that the famous incident where she flashed her thong at Clinton be included. Actress Beanie Feldstein said she told Monica she'd be her bodyguard, quote, "I've got your back." So, it has a point of view.
What's clear is that the press ridiculed and bully the one-time White House intern and now in the Me Too era it's obvious she was the victim of her powerful boss.
And some real breaking news, accidentally slipped out on The Five.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANA PERINO, FOX NEWS CO-HOST: Jessica, you're trying new. I mean, you've got something new coming.
JESSICA TARLOV, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. And now the audience knows. So, I'm pregnant. This is not how --
GREG GUTFELD, FOX NEWS CO-HOST: Nicely done.
TARLOV: I really start --
PERINO: You could have said anything -- first of all, I thought people knew. I'm so sorry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ (on camera): No problem, Dana. Congratulations, Jessie.
Well, that's it for this edition of Media Buzz. I'm Howard Kurtz. We hope you like our Facebook page. We post my columns there and we continue the conversation on Twitter. Check out my podcast, Media Buzz Meter. You can subscribe at Apple iTunes or on Google podcast or on your Amazon device.
This was an important program I think given the magnitude of the entire country reflecting 9/11, still affects our media and our politics some 20 years later. And of course, the fierce debate over the vaccine mandates. We'll see how that plays of out. We appreciate you watching. We're back here next Sunday, 11 Eastern. See you then with the latest buzz.
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