Media's Ebola blame game; tuning out the midterms

This is a rush transcript from "Media Buzz," October 19, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On the Buzz Meter this Sunday the Ebola news gets worse, the coverage turns more alarming and the media plunge into that pathetic Beltway ritual, the blame game.


GLENN BECK, TV AND RADIO HOST: The president should be cautious, safety first. But we're doing political correctness first. I think this is mass incompetence and arrogance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a pattern with this administration. Don't worry, it's not as bad as it looks.

SHEPARD SMITH, REPORTER: Do not listen to the hysterical voices on the radio or on the television or read the fear provoking words online. The people who say and write hysterical things are being very irresponsible.


KURTZ: Is Shep right? Is the saturation coverage fueling fear? And have the media pushed the president into being more visible and naming an Ebola czar?

The midterm elections heating up with the press pounding Kentucky candidate Alison Grimes for refusing to say whether she voted for Barack Obama and Texas candidate Wendy Davis for using a wheelchair ahead against her disabled opponent.  Are the journalists now driving the agenda?

A conservative commentator says something nice about President Obama and faces a backlash.



KURTZ: What does it say?

BILA: That I'm a RINO, that I'm a closet progressive, that I'm a closet leftist, which anyone who knows my politics knows that I'm libertarian leaning. I'm just not interested in the petty kneejerk reactions.


KURTZ: Jedediah Bila on the challenge of staying independent.

Plus MSNBC sinking in the ratings, putting up its lowest numbers ever and at CNN 10 years ago to the day after this memorable showdown --


JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": Here's just what I wanted to tell you guys.


STEWART: Stop. Stop, stop, stop. Stop hurting America.


KURTZ: The network cancels "Crossfire" again. Good riddance?

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


KURTZ: As cable news devotes hour after nerve-wracking hour to the dangers of Ebola, some commentators are blaming the Obama administration. Bill O'Reilly says CDC chief Tom Frieden should resign and he gets pushback from other folks at FOX.


BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST: Believing that civilian airport people in JFK or Newark or Dulles Airport can spot Ebola that is dormant, believing that is stupid and irresponsible and puts all Americans at risk. It's a dumb and dangerous ruse and Frieden is the chief propagandist. He knows better.

KIRSTEN POWERS: I'm not going to call you hysterical. But it's bordering on hysterical.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: I disagree totally with him. I think Dr. Frieden has done a good job and I want him to continue to lead this and I think Bill O'Reilly is dead wrong on this one.


KURTZ: Some liberal commentators turning the focus on the Republicans after the head of the NIH told the "Huffington Post" the agency likely would have discovered an Ebola vaccine by now if not for congressional budget cuts. And some of them touting an attack ad by a left-wing group.


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: It essentially blames Republicans in Washington for cutting the parts of government that we're now counting on to fight against Ebola.









JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM: I think that this one party that's been screaming for the government to do more is the party that has hampered the government's response.


KURTZ: And one of the strongest voices for media restraint, FOX's Shepard Smith.


SMITH: I think we both know there's no widespread panic across the country. And I think we both know -- but I think we know that. And I think we also know that if there is widespread panic, it's not based in fact. And it's not based in reason. And I think more than anything those are just words that people on TV sometimes use.


KURTZ: So are the media turning this into a partisan slugfest?

Joining us now, Ed Henry, Fox News chief  White House correspondent; Matt Lewis, senior contributor at The Daily Caller and Ana Marie Cox, contributor at The Daily Beast.

Ed, the lead story in The New York Times yesterday, beneath his calm exterior, President Obama is seething, he's angry, he's frustrated over Ebola.

Why does a story like that get --

ED HENRY, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: No-drama Obama is so mad. He's so mad. No. It gets out there because the White House realized too late that they had to show the president was mad about this. And he was mad as hell, so mad, Howie, that what he told his staff was, guys, this is not tight. I've never heard something so angry in my entire life.


KURTZ: Unnamed White House aides had given you that story, would you have gone on the air with it?

HENRY: I would have certainly used that information to say, well, how they are pushing back on the idea that he's been adrift and that he's not paid attention and that's important.

But I mock it a little because I just think it's sort of like the media buying a storyline that all of a sudden the president is mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore.

First of all, what took him so long?

It was after days and days coverage of this that they finally said we have to change course. And they did. They told us for days and days in the briefing that the idea of an Ebola czar was silly and all of a sudden Friday, OK, here's an Ebola czar.

KURTZ: I'll come back to you, but I want to ask Matt about the Beltway blame game, as I'm calling it.

Has the media narrative moved from calling for CDC's Tom Frieden to be fired to demanding an Ebola czar? So the critics blasting the choice of Ron Klain, the former Joe Biden aide, as the new czar?

MATT LEWIS, THE DAILY CALLER: Yes. Well, look, I think there are two things happening here. One is irresponsible and I think one is perfectly legitimate. The irresponsible thing I think is spreading the fear and the worries that this is going to be a contagion that will spread like wildfire. We know that it's very, very, very difficult to get Ebola.

On the other hand, I think it's perfectly legitimate to raise public policy questions. On the Left it's perfectly fine to say should we be spending more money on the CDC or other NIH or whatever? And for conservatives and Republicans I think it's fair to question like, OK, they finally have a czar, is this guy a political operative?

KURTZ: Well, he is a political operative, there's no question about that.

LEWIS: And is that appropriate?

KURTZ: Well, they had a lot of doctors at the various agencies. We can debate whether Ron Klain is the right choice.

LEWIS: Operative was my nice word.

KURTZ: Matt says it's OK to question the level of spending. But what some liberals are doing is saying it's because of Republican budget cuts, some of which had to be approved by Congress --


ANA MARIE COX, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes, I was going to say I think it's OK to question the amount of spending. The NIH's budget is a billion less than it was in 2004. So I think it's perfectly legitimate to say we don't spend as much as we should on infectious diseases.

It's also legitimate to say that infectious diseases -- flu is the only infectious disease in the top 10 of killers of Americans. And I think Matt is half right. So it's good to discuss the spending. I think the discussion about how the president feels, or if he's angry enough, I mean that's not incredibly relevant.

The question that I see all the time --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wait, wait, wait, where is Matt half wrong?

COX: Like sort of --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obama, we should criticize Obama but I'm right that we should criticize --


COX: Who we should criticize is the actual policies being put in place. The czar thing, I think he gave into pressure. That wasn't a right move. I think Ron Klain is -- I don't feel safer.


KURTZ: Do you feel safer today?

COX: No, but I want to say something. What's wrong is to have this discussion about whether Obama is doing enough. There is an empirical answer to that question. There's an empirical scientific answer as to what we should do to prevent the spread of Ebola. If you have an R or a D after your name, you should not be talking about this. If you have an M.D. after your name --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, what about to prevent the spread of the fear of Ebola? And I think --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- well, I think the media's been partly to blame. But you could also say that President Obama and his administration with the way they handled it, with the way that they initially pooh-poohed anything, oh, this is no big deal. We don't need it, yes.

KURTZ: Picture being, the headline, I should say, being better than a thousand words.

Let me put up the "New York Daily News" cover from the other day. There's the President of the United States, and it says, for God's sake, get a grip. Obama, do something.

But coming back to your point, Ed, with the president now doing televised briefings about the state of the Ebola effort and cancelling fundraisers, which has been an issue in the past, has the White House now caved to the media argument that some optics matter when it comes to showing --

HENRY: They were telling us over the summer when the jetliner was shot down over Ukraine, you can be president from anywhere. Of course if events dictate he needs to be in the White House he'll go back.

In this case he could have done these briefings, these secure phone lines on Air Force One. He's continued fundraising throughout all kinds of things.

The Benghazi attack back in 2012 right before the presidential election, within hours, the next day, September 12th, I believe it was, he went to Las Vegas for a political rally. So he can move forward and often does.

This week they realized the narrative had changed drastically and when it changed was the second nurse getting infected. And we found out that she went on a Frontier Airlines jet and people started freaking out a bit.

Now the White House in that position has to do something to calm everyone down. The schedule changing, that was just part it. The broader issue was they had to focus now 110 percent on it.

KURTZ: Here's my thesis. This is what people hate about Washington and the media, that the scoring of points seems to take precedence over dealing with an actual public health crisis, depending on how much of a crisis you think it is.

True or false?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's absolutely true. People hate that. Because democracy is messy. And again --

KURTZ: But they're talking about the way in which we in this business are blaring this 24 hours a day.


COX: I think --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- first, score keeping, I don't know if that's what we're doing or not. What we're doing generally was challenging the president's words, Dr. Frieden's words. That's what journalists do.


COX: I agree. That's different than how does he feel. Where does he --


COX: And it's also the reason the public cares about that is because we care about it. If we didn't cover how angry the president is or what this looks like I'm not sure if the American people cared. If we empirically covered what's being done. What money is being spent. Where is that money going.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would say that optics do matter, though.

COX: They matter because we make them matter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, but not the superficial optics part that people talk about.

COX: -- other than superficial optics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's leadership. There's the fact that a president, part of a president's job --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- part of a president's job is to inspire confidence and trust in the nation that we believe that he can get things done that the administration can get things done. Part of that is showing up and looking like you know what you're doing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They do matter. They are not everything, I agree with you. But --


KURTZ: It's good to be seen as a leader.

But I want to bring us back to this question of the volume and the tone of the coverage.

To do that I want to play some of it, compiled by that noted media critic, Jon Stewart.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Another case of Ebola in America.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A new case of Ebola.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A Texas health care worker does have Ebola.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shocking hospital officials.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fears that Ebola could spread.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now I'm scared again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The CDC still doesn't know the point of contact.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The big question now is how did she get it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How did she get it?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: How could she possibly contract Ebola?

STEWART: What is wrong with you people?

She was a nurse in the Ebola unit. She was -- she took care of the Ebola man.



Would you concede that some of this coverage is getting out of control?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, some of it was.

But on the other hand, Jon Stewart does a great job of making fun of journalists except, in that case, Wolf Blitzer is asking a legitimate question. Of course I would assume Wolf knew that she got it because she was handling the patient, Mr. Duncan, right?

But what Wolf I think was trying to get at we were told by the government again and again that the health care workers would be protected, they had these special suits on. And I think it's a legitimate question to say, what the heck happened? The government's repeatedly told us it was fine.


KURTZ: -- these questions needs to be asked.

But when we turn this into a 24/7 story, every news conference, every development, every update, (INAUDIBLE) reported, doesn't it convey a sense of crisis?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. I think we could have this conversation about almost any issue.

Is cable news overblowing the controversy and the answer is always yes because that's what they have to do.

COX: Yes. It's always yes. I think, you know, this has been said before the comparison between Ebola and the flu. There was a great "Onion" headline, was I'm worried about Ebola, says man who refuses to get flu shot. Like 3,000 people on average die of the flu every year.

So far one person in America has died of Ebola. You're twice as likely to get flu. If you're exposed to the flu, you're twice as likely to get it than if you're exposed to Ebola.

And you know what, like under Bush, three times as many people died of flu in a usual year.

Did people ask if Bush was doing enough?

Was he leading hard enough?

No, and 13,000 people died in the worst flu epidemic we had in the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- defend everything; that's not why I'm here. Everything that cable news does, all the networks, including FOX.

KURTZ: Including the live video of the car taking the nurse to the airport --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here's what I would say, though. The serious point would be that it can also be a reflection of how people are feeling. We shouldn't give into the worst idea and fuel it more, I agree, and we shouldn't scare people. But by putting information out there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The danger is the boy who cried wolf.

KURTZ: That's a very good point, Ed. There's a tremendous public interest and concern about this. And I think that we have to reflect that.

At the same time I think we have to refine that balance where we don't scare people. Interesting point is that media were initially slow on this story.

There's a good piece in The Washington Post showing that even in June, when the World Health Organization said this is one of the deadliest outbreaks ever, more than 200 victims at that time in three countries, very little coverage. It didn't make the front page of The New York Times until July 28th, which is the day after until an American was infected.

And I think it's OK to have, not be super serious all the time. But a CNN producer -- I don't know if we have that picture -- tweeted this picture of the set of the morning show, "New Day," where they were all kind of pretending to be afraid of Ebola. That was quickly deleted. That was a good move.

All right. Let me get a break here. Send me a tweet about our show this hour at this hour @HowardKurtz. We always read your tweets later on. And if you want to be part of your buzz, where I answer questions on video, e- mail us @mediabuzz

And why are MSNBC's ratings hitting record lows? But when we come back, the battle for control of the Senate. Why some pundits say it's an election about nothing.



KURTZ: The coverage of the midterms is heating up but some media folks think it's a big fat yawn. New York Times columnist David Brooks, "The 2014 campaign has been the most boring and uncreative campaign I can remember. Democrats cry, 'My Republican opponents is an extremist loon.' Republicans cry, 'My Democratic opponent once shook hands with President Obama.'"

And here's The Washington Post columnist, Chris Cillizza, "It's become clear that the center of this election is a whole lot of nothing."

Matt Lewis, is this a relatively boring election?

And is that because Republicans are running against Obama and have not created a national platform?

LEWIS: Well, look, there's interesting stuff happening in Kansas and in states where weird things are happening. So no, it's not that.

But look, aside from 1994, midterms are usually not about big grand ideas. Right?

So what do they want?

Does the media want this -- do they want sex scandals? Would that make it more exciting.

I think so. Yes.

KURTZ: Note that I was nodding my head.

Ana Marie Cox, is this a boring election and is that in part because Democrats are whacking their opponents, running away from President Obama and don't have a national platform?

COX: I don't think any election is boring. I'm weird.


KURTZ: You're a civilian.

COX: I don't think so. I think there are always issues that are happening. I think it's completely irresponsible of columnists to say it's boring or about nothing because it's concretely about things.

There are issues that get decided that affect people's everyday lives.

If you tell people it's boring, if you tell people this election doesn't matter, they won't show up. As someone who would like to see more liberals in office that suppresses the independent and usually the more liberal vote and conservatives turn out. Anyone who calls this election boring are doing a service to the Republicans.

LEWIS: (INAUDIBLE) this one to be boring about. That's why they've nominated these serious candidates who aren't saying stupid things.


HENRY: I think Matt is about 22 percent right.


HENRY: You know what I think? I think it actually ties into the last thing we were talking about with Ebola. And I'll make it very quick, which is that sometimes where we do err in the media, I would acknowledge, is overcovering one story to the detriment of another.

So everyone will think, oh, this is a campaign about nothing. You know what, a couple of days ago there was a story about how now ISIS is flying planes so they can figure out whether they can either start dropping bombs or use those planes as terror weapons.

And we've been covering ISIS a lot but everyone kind of dropped ISIS to move on to the other crisis, Ebola. That's a big issue in the midterms.

Who has a better plan to deal with the terrorists? That's a pretty big issue.

KURTZ: I totally agree.


HENRY: -- talking about.

KURTZ: But has Ebola now swallowed this election (INAUDIBLE) candidates on one side or the other saying we need to this, that or the other thing about Ebola and of course that's an important national interest. But look what happened to the economy, which the polls show people really care about.

HENRY: And a couple of days ago we had the lowest budget deficit since 2007. The president can't do anything to tout that because everybody is talking about Ebola or something else --

HENRY: And he has just tried a million different ways to talk about the economy and it just doesn't break through because yes, there are signs that it's gotten better, a lot of Americans are not feeling it.

COX: And I know Ed Henry is the White House correspondent for FOX. You'll personally be covering the serious issues and none of the noise.

HENRY: I didn't say that nobody is covering serious issues at all and I take your point. Of course sometimes we get in a horse race and all that, but we actually do try to cover these serious issues like the economy --

COX: But it's cyclical and it's hard to break. Which is that, you know, we talk about it. So the public thinks about it. And they ask the questions of the candidates and we ask questions of the candidates. And then that issue becomes even more important. But some people have to individually break through the noise. I'm not entirely kidding.

KURTZ: I've got 15 seconds for everybody here to weigh in on this.

LEWIS: I could say so much. But let's call out journalists. The fact we think that this has to amuse us I think says something more about journalism than it does about politics, that it's not exciting enough. Where are the sex scandals?

HENRY: You're about 80 percent right now.

KURTZ: Are you using a fan?

LEWIS: Yes, I'm using a fan.

KURTZ: Ana Marie Cox, Ed Henry, thanks very much for joining us this Sunday. Up next some tube talk with MSNBC's ratings sinking and CNN cancelling "Crossfire" again and later Jedediah Bila on the audience backlash over her comments on President Obama and why she won't back down.



KURTZ: The New York Times noted this week that MSNBC fell behind CNN in the third quarter ratings, even its biggest star Rachel Maddow posting her lowest ever numbers in the key 25-54 demo.

And that prompted this in my sit-down with Bill O'Reilly.


O'REILLY: What I'm amazed at is that MSNBC just doesn't pull the plug. Once you fall behind CNN, which they have, CNN is now beating them, where is there to go on this thing? They won't be successful.


KURTZ: MSNBC won't pull the plug but can the cable channel climb out of this hole?

Joining me now from New York, Joe Concha, a columnist for Mediaite.

So any network can have a bad quarter. But what in your view is behind the longer term slide in the numbers at MSNBC?

JOE CONCHA, MEDIAITE: Well, Howie, there was once a time when MSNBC was relatively successful. First quarter 2009, for instance, they had 400,000 in the primetime demo, 25-54; latest quarter, 125,000. Think about that, 70 percent of your audience is gone.

So why did that happen? Partially because or maybe mostly because last year MSNBC president Phil Griffin said that they no longer did breaking news and the strategy was to go to more opinion. Now the problem with going to more opinion is outside of the morning show which does have some dissent and diverse views from 9:00 am to about 11:00 pm, outside of Matthews and Maddow, it's impossible to discern one show from another. It's like listening to a Milli Vanilli album. Every song sounds the same. So I think when you don't have dissent it doesn't make for compelling television and people especially liberals are moving away in droves as the numbers indicate, Howie.

KURTZ: Right. You don't have as many NBC reporters appearing on MSNBC. You have mostly with some exceptions, left leading hosts having mostly left leaning guests. Plus Michael Steele, so there's less surprise. And I think also people are tired of politics and you're doing politics all the time, that doesn't help.

But you reported this week, you broke the news of a possible cancellation at MSNBC. Tell us about that.

CONCHA: Yes. So that's Ronan Farrow. That's the son of Mia Farrow, of course the actress, possibly the son of Frank Sinatra. Obviously a lot of hype went into this show. Ronan Farrow gets paid $650,000 -- Chelsea Clinton money, in essence, to do a 1 pm show on a cable news network. A lot of hype. He was on Jimmy Fallon before it launched.

The New York Times did a feature on him. A lot of magazines were saying this could be they guys that saves MSNBC, the golden boy.

And what happened? Well, I think, Howie, when you give a kid in his 20s who never even hosted so much as a community access show one hour on a national news network, it's going to be two things. It will be awkward, it's going to be uncomfortable and the numbers bore that out.

Unfortunately, the first impression was that Ronan Farrow should not be hosting a show at this time. They should have given him some training wheels, put him on a pundit show like "The Cycle," and maybe get some at bats that way and maybe in a year or two give him a show.

Instead, they threw him right in. They put him on at 1 o'clock in the afternoon when no Millennials are watching. And this is your result. He lost half the audience that was occupying that time slot a year before when Andrea Mitchell was hosting a show at 1:00 pm.

KURTZ: Right. And MSNBC of course, has not confirmed this but somehow it leaked out, at least to you.

All right. Let me turn to CNN because not -- I guess it's roughly a year ago or so the resurrected franchise, "Crossfire," came back on the air with folks like Newt Gingrich, Stephanie Cutter and S.E. Cupp. And let's take a look at that program.


NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: Both agree that this is one of the most tumultuous periods of change I can remember.


KURTZ: So. I think we jumped cut there a little bit.

CNN now cancelling "Crossfire."

Why do you think the reconstituted version was a flop?

CONCHA: Well, Howie, when you go under the rule that I use, which is you can't kind of get a girl pregnant, you can't kind of put a show on the air, Howie, and that's what CNN did in this case. It was on for a couple of months, then it would be preempted for whatever reason. Then it was on for a couple of more weeks. Then the Malaysia Airlines jet goes missing and you don't see it again for again, not days, not weeks, but for a couple of months the show was gone.

So how do you build an audience when people at home don't know when a show will be on?

The irony here is that 10 years ago to the day that this current version of "Crossfire" was announced it was going to be cancelled that's when Jon Stewart appeared and did that evisceration of Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson on --

KURTZ: And that's why we played that, because I couldn't resist.

Joe Concha, thanks very much for joining us.

CONCHA: Thank you, Howie.

KURTZ: Ahead, NBC papers over a huge blunder by Dr. Nancy Snyderman, who has been ordered into mandatory quarantine over Ebola. But coming up, Jedediah Bila rips predictable kneejerk pundits across the political spectrum.


KURTZ: Cable news likes to pigeonhole its pundits. These folks are on the right, these folks are on the left. Let's book 'em and let 'em fight. But sometimes commentators don't fit neatly into such slots. I talked about that in New York with Jedediah Bila, a FOX News contributor who appears on "Outnumbered."


KURTZ: Jedediah Bila, welcome.

BILA: Thank you for having me.

KURTZ: President Obama gives a short speech when he launched the airstrikes into Iraq and Syria. You said some nice things about his remarks. And you're saying many in the FOX audience did not like it. What was your response?

BILA: I thought he was direct. I thought he said exactly what needed to be said. And there's this kneejerk reaction, Howie. There are some in the conservative community that feel they need to criticize President Obama at all times --

KURTZ: And that includes --

BILA: -- whether he's saying something that needs to be criticized or not.

KURTZ: And that includes Fox News?

BILA: I think it includes everyone at some point or another that feels compelled. They are Republican. They feel like they're out there, they should be spewing Republican talking points. They're waiting. There are people that literally wait with bated breath on Twitter, watching the president. And you can just tell. They're waiting to pick on something.

This president does a lot of stuff wrong: ObamaCare, foreign policy. I can name a ton of things that people have legitimate reasons to take issue with.

But don't be that person sitting at home waiting to pick on him no matter what he says. Give him a chance to speak. Let's see what he has to say.

KURTZ: So what happens when you say something nice, you say relatively rare occasion and you get some pushback from the audience that sort of like, what, you're off the team?

BILA: Oh, I get hate mail. I get tons of hate mail.

KURTZ: What does this hate mail say?

BILA: That I'm a RINO, that I'm a closet progressive, that I'm a closet leftist which anyone who knows my politics knows that I'm libertarian leaning. I'm just not interested in the petty knee-jerk reactions. I don't think it does anyone a good service.

I saw my friends on the left for years do that to President Bush.

KURTZ: You just explained my next question.

BILA: Yes. Well, see, I can read your mind.


KURTZ: You wrote a column about this on And you said that some of your liberal friends couldn't wait to criticize George W. Bush no matter what he said.

BILA: No matter what. The man could be talking about the weather and they could make it into a discussion how he didn't care about climate change. They would stretch. They would be sitting in my room watching the television waiting for him to say something so they could run with something that had nothing to do with what he said.

So what I'm saying to people left, right, center, I don't care where you are. Listen. Form an educated opinion. You know, if you have a problem with something the president is doing, fine. But it's not your job to every minute of the day sit and search for something because you're supposed to, because a Republican strategist or because someone you used to work for told you that that's your job.

KURTZ: But let's be candid.

Isn't much of cable news built on predictable partisan talking points?

When bookers call, they get a guest on the Left, a guest on the Right and they expect them to fight over whether Obama is terrific or terrible.

BILA: That's not what they get when they book me. And they know it. They know that I'm an independent. I'm not registered with a party. And I think good television actually -- FOX News, I think, has a lot of independent minded people that get on television.

I do a show called "The Independents" on Fox Business all the time. I think there are a lot of people that don't spew the talking points. And I think that's why we rate very well, because there's a lot of people who are highly unpredictable like myself.

For example, I support gay marriage. I'm a strong fiscal conservative. I have certain opinions about our educational system because I taught for years. So when you book me you don't really know what I'm going to say about any issue and I think that's good TV.

KURTZ: I hate predictable talking points. They put me to sleep. You can figure out what they're going to say before they say it and I'd rather have candid opinions, whether pro or con. You're a conservative but -- you're libertarian leaning, excuse me. But you also wrote a column chiding the Republicans, saying where is that alternative to ObamaCare?

BILA: Exactly because I think Republicans oftentimes are viewed as the party of no because they allow themselves to be. So if you are going to criticize ObamaCare for years, which is what they have been doing, where's your alternative?

If you're going to have a problem with all these policies and you should in many cases. ObamaCare is a disaster. There should be a pro-growth, pro- free market alternative to that. But if you don't have a solution, then the public will sit back and say, why is that the better alternative? Why should I vote that guy over what we have already?

KURTZ: So in half a minute, when you get this kind of pushback, hate tweets, as you put it, from the audience, on a personal level, does it bother you?

BILA: It doesn't. But you know what? I grew up in New York City. I'm a conservative and I live in New York. I worked in academia for heaven's sake.

KURTZ: You mean you're used to people on the street saying, hey, you don't know what you're talking about?

BILA: I love the challenge. And I love to be able to call people on that and say, hold on a second, what's your problem what he said again? What exactly have you taken issue with? And I think that's what people need to do, challenge those people who are having those knee-jerk reactions because either we will change hearts and minds and get people to understand why conservatism matters and why these policies are important or you're going to turn people off.

So make a decision. Who do you want to be? Do you want to be that person that opens other people's minds or do you want to be that person that shut minds down? I want to open minds.

KURTZ: Jedediah Bila, see you on Twitter.

BLITZER: Absolutely. Thanks.


KURTZ: And on "MediaBuzz," a Matt Lauer's emotional interview with a nurse at risk for Ebola. But first, Alison Grimes and Wendy Davis at war with the press over campaign blunders. Midterm media madness is next.


KURTZ: National media have pounced on some high-profile midterm races this week. In Kentucky, Alison Lundergan Grimes running against Mitch McConnell stumbled over this question from the "Louisville Courier-Journal" and then as the pundits hammered her, she doubled down.


QUESTION: Did you vote for President Obama in 2008, 2012?

ALISON LUNDERGAN GRIMES, SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: You know, this election isn't about the president. It's about --


GRIMES: -- making sure we put Kentuckians back to work.

QUESTION: Why are you reluctant to give an answer on whether or not you voted for President Obama?

GRIMES: Bill, there's no reluctance. This is a matter of principle.


KURTZ: So how much is the coverage driving these contests? Joining us now, Bob Cusack, editor in chief of "The Hill" and Susan Ferrechio, chief congressional correspondent for "The Washington Examiner."

So Susan, let's stipulate that Alison Grimes made a dumb move and this was a self-inflicted wound. The media have decided this is her defining issue.

Fair or unfair?

SUSAN FERRECHIO, CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Absolutely. In fact I this was one of the best questions of the campaign. Her entire campaign hinged on defining herself as not Barack Obama. So an editorial board asks her the question. In 2012 did you vote for the president? This is just a private citizen voting.

KURTZ: It's not a gotcha question.

FERRECHIO: The sanctity of the ballot box. This is about whether or not she endorsed the policies and the legislation that the president approved of during his first presidency. If she voted for him, that's an endorsement. That's saying I support his policies. Fair, I think.

KURTZ: Chuck Todd, moderator of "Meet the Press," said this was disqualifying for Alison Grimes and he wound up in a Mitch McConnell ad.

Should a commentator go that far?

BOB CUSACK, EDITOR IN CHIEF, THE HILL: I think it's OK because I think from -- in every campaign at most you remember one thing. This is going to be the thing we're going to remember. I think this was the gaffe of the cycle. And you have to be straight.

KURTZ: It's not that the media made it the gaffe of the cycle?

CUSACK: No. People were talking about it. She doubled downed on it. Everybody knows that she voted for Barack Obama. And it's interesting that she doesn't want to talk about Barack Obama but now we're talking about Barack Obama and Alison Lundergan Grimes and that's part of the reason Democrats are no longer investing in that race.

KURTZ: Interestingly, the Grimes campaign say the national media are fixated on this but the local media after that debate, which we showed you the little snippet of, led with issues such as coal and so forth.

All right. Let me turn to the other candidate I mentioned, Democrat Wendy Davis in Texas, running for governor against Greg Abbott. Here we have the focus being on an ad and then we have a further doubling down when Wendy Davis appeared on MSNBC. Let's take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A tree fell on Greg Abbott. He sued and got millions. Since then he spent his career working against other victims.

ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC HOST: Do you think that the graphic showing the empty wheelchair, focusing on his being wheelchair bound, crossed a line?

WENDY DAVIS, TEXAS GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Andrea, this ad really is about one thing and one thing only. He has been working to kick that ladder down and deny that same opportunity for justice to other people.


KURTZ: I found the Wendy Davis ad offensive and somewhat misleading because I looked at the substance of the claims against Abbott's record as state attorney general and Supreme Court justice. One of my pet peeves is that no one looks at the substance of these ads.

But is it worth a week of coverage?

FERRECHIO: Well, she's back double digits. And so part of the reason there's been a week of coverage is that she's doubling down. People are asking questions about a big campaign mistake, the image of the wheelchair. There's a way she could have made that argument without the campaign ad looking the way it did.

So she double downed, violating a cardinal rule in the campaign, which is don't go back and remind people of the mistake you just made and I think that's what she did. I think they felt they had a great point here. They wanted to portray her opponent, Greg Abbott, as a hypocrite and someone that the voters can't trust.

But instead it just turned all the negativity on her. She's back so far anyway it's a Hail Mary pass.

KURTZ: So when Wendy Davis goes on MSNBC and repeats the same talking points, is she daring the media to keep coverage it? She must be -- knows she's keeping it alive.

CUSACK: Yes, because she knows that the media is going to continue to hound it. If you apologize and say maybe we went too far, the story goes away. And in this situation, I think that the claims -- and I agree with Susan, in the last 25 seconds of that ad could have been made, but you need to be a little more subtle than the first five seconds of that ad.

KURTZ: Too much national media focus on these gaffes like, you know, Charlie Crist, the Florida governor's race, insisting on using a fan and Governor Rick Scott refusing to come out for a debate and -- I mean, we love this stuff.

CUSACK: Right. But Jon Stewart also loved it and I think that fanned the flames. And I think that was such an unusual --


CUSACK: -- so to speak, exactly.

KURTZ: All right. Let me get to our scores for who won the media week.

Susan, why don't you go first.

FERRECHIO: Well, first of all, the Democrats can't seem to get a win lately. Has a lot to do with the president. This week I think the nation was looking for leadership from the president on Ebola. And we saw conflicting headlines. On the one hand you see the president saying, look, public don't give into the hysteria on Ebola. On the other hand, he's leaking these stories to The New York Times about him seething behind the scenes about the ineffectiveness of his own administration.

KURTZ: (INAUDIBLE) White House officials --

FERRECHIO: -- makes him looks indecisive, which the public is already --

KURTZ: You'd give it to the Republicans?

FERRECHIO: Absolutely.


CUSACK: I'd give it to the Republicans, partly because when we had that big press conference earlier this week about the second Ebola patient, no one from the federal government there was. And that dominated the week. And then also you had polls showing Republicans doing better. The coverage of the Alison Lundergan Grimes issue and Democrats pulling out of Kentucky. Republicans won the week.

KURTZ: All right. We have unanimity. Thanks very much, Bob and Susan.

After the break, Dr. Nancy Snyderman breaks her Ebola quarantine.

Did her apology go far enough?

And Matt Lauer's interview with a nurse from that Dallas hospital who is worried about her own safety. Our video verdict is next.


KURTZ: Dr. Nancy Snyderman put herself and her NBC crew into voluntary confinement after a freelance cameraman they were working with in Liberia came down with Ebola, but then she made an embarrassing mistake, going out with a man in a car to pick up take-out food that prompted New Jersey authorities to put Snyderman and her colleagues under mandatory quarantine.

Here's how NBC's Brian Williams reported on "NBC Nightly News."


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST (voice-over): And our chief medical editor, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, has been on the news herself these past few days.

We spoke with Nancy earlier today during which time she said, quote, "While under voluntary quarantine guidelines, which called for our team to avoid public contact for 21 days, members of our group violated those guidelines and understand that our quarantine is now mandatory until 21 days have passed.

"We remain healthy, and our temperatures are normal. As a health professional I know that we have no symptoms and pose no risk to the public, but I am deeply sorry for the concerns this episode caused."


KURTZ: You know what happened right there?

NBC gave Nancy Snyderman a pass because in the apology it said "members of our group." It wasn't members of our group. It was Dr. Nancy who went out with a guy to pick up the takeout food. She's a smart journalist who did a dumb thing. And you have to give her credit for leaving the friendly confines of 30 Rock and going to Liberia and taking that risk. But "Nightly News" should have reported exactly what happened. It had already been in the papers and not run a sanitized apology.

Well, "Today" show landed an exclusive interview with Briana Aguirre, a nurse in the Ebola unit in that Dallas hospital who blew the whistle on many of its mistakes and at one point Matt Lauer got personal.


MATT LAUER, NBC HOST: You are now saying things are going to make a lot of people at that hospital look very, very bad.

Are you worried about the fallout here for you personally?

BRIANA AGUIRRE, NURSE, TEXAS HEALTH PRESBYTERIAN HOSPITAL: I'm very concerned about losing my job. It is -- it's the best job I ever had. I'm the breadwinner of my family and I'm terrified.

LAUER: If you were to start to experience symptoms of Ebola, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital would be the recommended hospital for you to go to for treatment.

How would you feel about that?

AGUIRRE: I would try anything and everything to refuse to go there to be treated. I would feel at risk by going there. If I don't actually have Ebola, I may contract it there.


KURTZ: That was a very moving interview with Briana Aguirre. And Matt Lauer I thought handled it very skillfully, elicited a lot of information about the mishandling of the Ebola patient at that Dallas hospital.

And you have to admire this woman, this nurse for, despite her nervousness and the Skype interview going on national television, risking her job because she had such heartfelt concern about what was happening at that hospital and fears for her safety and those of her colleagues. So I thought that was a good job.

Still to come, your top tweets. The New York Times is selling trips with a reporter to Iran. This one is bizarre.

And Neil Young strikes a rather discordant note with Stephen Colbert.


KURTZ: Here's what I'm buzzed off about. The New York Times is offering folks a chance to accompany a veteran correspondent to Iran for $7,000 to discover the ancient secrets of Persia, touring through beautiful landscapes and stay in luxurious hotels.

No mention of Iran's nuclear program, its support of terrorism or its threats against Israel. No mention that the State Department warns that U.S. citizens may be subject to harassment or arrest.

Reporter for the Jewish paper, "The Algemeiner," called up and was told you can't go on this trip. Your passport shows you've been to Israel, and best not to say if you're Jewish.

This is a truly awful idea.

Here are a few of your top tweets. As the media's Ebola coverage pushed the president to being more visible, naming a czar and weighing a travel ban.

Rich Unger: "A combination of media frenzy and public sphere, he finally stepped up enough to show his actions."

Ricky Babaloo: "It's pushed Obama into naming a czar so the press will blame someone else rather than him."

Micheline Maynard, former New York Times reporter, "Absolutely. From a U.S. medical standpoint, none of this was necessary. From a political one, it became necessary."

Dave Robertson, "One question taken by POTUS on Thursday. Was czar question planted by White House? Would the media tell public if it were?"

That question wasn't planted. The media had been clamoring for days and days to know if the president would appoint an Ebola czar.

Neil Young has always mixed politics with his music, going back to "Four Dead in Ohio," his song about the Kent State killings during the Nixon administration and he's still doing that as in this incident with Stephen Colbert.


STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: The last time you were here you tried to get me to sing a song about impeaching the president, who, at the time was George W. Bush, and you wanted to impeach him over getting us into the war in Iraq.

Now that Obama is getting us into a war in Iraq, are you up for impeaching him, too?




COLBERT: Well, then you're a double hypocrite.


COLBERT: Yes, really?

You don't care? You don't care this time?

YOUNG: No. I think we should impeach him for fracking.


KURTZ: I'm a big fan of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. And Neil's entitled to push his ultraliberal views. But does he want every president to be impeached?

Has he heard of the phrase, high crimes and misdemeanors? In fact, most fans (INAUDIBLE) his songs and his stances. And Colbert in comedic fashion nailed him.

That's it for this edition of "MediaBuzz." I'm Howard Kurtz. Hopefully you'll like our Facebook page. We post a lot of original content there and if you want to chat with me on Fridays in a Google Hangout write to We're back here next Sunday at 11 a.m. 5 p.m. Eastern with the latest buzz.

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