Megyn Kelly's game plan; behind the Fox debate

This is a rush transcript from "The Five," August 9, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On the Buzz Meter this Sunday, Megyn Kelly, Bret Baier, and Chris Wallace will all be here as we examine how they handled the highest rated Presidential Primary Debate in history.


MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS DEBATE MODERATOR: Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women's looks. Does that sound to you like a temperament of a man we should elect as president?

You really want a mother die, rather than have an abortion?

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS DEBATE MODERATOR: There are several opponents on this stage who get big applause lines in early voting states with this line. "The last thing the country needs is another Bush in the Oval Office."

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS DEBATE MODERATOR: Other than politics, could you explain why in the last two years you've changed your position on a path to citizenship?


KURTZ: Did the Cleveland debate transform the campaign and Donald Trump's role in it? What about the harsh criticism from Trump and some conservative commentators that certain questions were unfair?

We'll also talk to the moderators of the early debate, Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum. And our exclusive focus group, what do ordinary folks think about the coverage of 2016?


FRANK LUNTZ, POLLSTER: Does the media hold Hillary Clinton accountable for her e-mails, yes or no?


LUNTZ: Does the media hold Hillary Clinton accountable for Benghazi?



KURTZ: Plus Jon Stewart's final anti-Fox rant.


JON STEWART, 'THE DAILY SHOW' HOST: To your point of me being an administration stooge, maybe you could have done this. OK, demonstrate my consistency with the president. That's a great way to make your case. I wrongly believe that I'm helping Howard Kurtz with his case against me.


KURTZ: Gee, you sound awfully defensive, Jon. I'll have some thoughts on his swansong. I'm Howard Kurtz and this is "MediaBuzz."

The intensity and excitement when I was in Cleveland was simply incredible, especially with the Trump factor and the country engaged as well, 24 million viewers. Biggest audience in Fox News Channel history, and things got very heated from the start.


KELLY: You called women you don't like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals. Your Twitter account...


KELLY: For the record, it was well beyond Rosie O'Donnell. Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women's looks.

TRUMP: I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. And honestly, Megyn, if you don't like it, I'm sorry. I've been very nice to you although I could probably maybe not be based on the way you have treated me, but I wouldn't do that.


KURTZ: I spoke with the host of "The Kelly File" on Friday night. This was an hour before Donald Trump made his harshest and most personal comments about her. Megyn was in New York.


KURTZ: Megyn Kelly, welcome.

KELLY: Thank you.

KURTZ: When you were crafting the questions and rewriting them and re- jiggering them in that windowless room in the bowels of the Quicken Loans Center, were you trying to exploit each candidate's weak points?

KELLY: Yes and no. Exploit is not really the word I would use. We were trying to drill down to their most vulnerable areas and then give them a chance to explain them, and also give the audience a chance to see how they would handle that. So the job is to actually get passed the talking points and go to the place where they might be most vulnerable with the Republican primary voters, or conversely the place they may be most vulnerable in a general election and then give them the chance to knock that ball back to us.

KURTZ: Let's go through some examples of the balls and strikes. You asked Scott Walker are you willing to let a woman die by denying her an abortion. That sounds pretty personal.

KELLY: No, it wasn't personal at all. I hit him from the left on abortion, I hit Marco Rubio from the right on abortion. So I have no position on that whatsoever in terms of these political debates. But that's what you're going to hear from Hillary Clinton. You can bet your bottom dollar that if he gets the nomination, she's going to come after him and say he's anti-woman and part of the war on women because he's against that exception.

KURTZ: He better be able to handle Megyn Kelly.

KELLY: If you can't get passed me, how are you going to handle Vladimir Putin?

KURTZ: So when you asked Jeb Bush about those who died in your brother's war, when you asked Donald Trump about nasty comments he made about women on Twitter about their looks, when you asked Ben Carson about his inexperience, did you worry about blowback?

KELLY: No. We anticipated that some in the audience might boo us during the middle of our questions. And we knew that might happen. That was OK. They can boo us. And some people are booing us now on Twitter. That's all part of it. I think people feel very passionately about their candidates and I completely understand that. But my job is not to feel passionately about these candidates. My job is to go out there and ask probing questions that are hopefully smart and help the people learn something about this person, and in this context his weaknesses. And I think I did that. And I think for the most part the guys did very well in returning the volley.

KURTZ: They're professionals. Do you remember what you said to Bret and Chris about what to do or not to do if you personally came under attack?

KELLY: I said let me handle it.

KURTZ: Right.

KELLY: Because they're both gentlemen. And so I didn't want them to in any way feel like they needed to come to my rescue and Wallace looked at me and said I know you can handle yourself. I would never. And Bret didn't need that reminder either. But I just didn't want them to feel if anybody started to attack me that I would be wondering where my compadres were in defense, but they knew I didn't need them and thankfully I didn't at all.

KURTZ: Right. There's been huge praise for you and the Fox team from the mainstream media, from some liberal commentators. At the same time, as you know a lot of criticism from some conservative commentators, from some Fox viewers, from some candidates. How do you feel about getting beat up a bit?

KELLY: It's ok. I'm a big girl. I can take it. As I say I understand why people get upset because the stakes are very high here. We're talking about the Oval Office. And they really like the candidate they like. They don't want to see the candidate take any hits. That is the way you feel and get to feel if you are just a voter as opposed to the journalist. We're not allowed to feel like that. We're not allowed to take those considerations into mind when we craft these debate questions. We have to hit them as hard as we can at this stage so the voters can figure out who is our go guy? Republicans trying to figure out who is our guy or gal in the case of Carly Fiorina if she gets it? And then others are looking at it to be on the stage saying I really like this guy. But can he win? I mean, I like this one candidate but I want to find the one that can win, who can beat Hillary Clinton. So in this context, given what we were doing, our job was to help them, and I think the way do you that are by exposing their weaknesses.

KURTZ: So when some allies of the candidates who are commentators say unfair questions, gotcha questions, you had an agenda. And I think the implication you're hurting the Republican Party? How do you respond?

KELLY: I don't think that my history as a journalist supports bias on my part toward either party. And I think I had questions that the left loved last night, and I think that I had questions that the right loved as well. And that's fine. When I'm ticking off both sides, I'm in my sweet spot. I think when it comes to somebody like Donald Trump who complained, that's fine. This is a big night for him. And it was the first time he ever participated in a Presidential debate. So I'm sure the nerves were high as they were for all of the candidates. And he felt attacked. It wasn't an attack. It was a fair question. But I get it. And he's in the arena and so am I. So it's ok with me that there's some consternation. I sure he'll get over that and we'll be fine and so will America.

KURTZ: Well, I'm with you on the point about getting attacked by both sides. Because I regularly get it from both sides and I feel like therefore I'm where I need to be which is in the middle. You have gotten a lot of well deserved media attention. You're on the cover of the New York Times magazine as the only woman out there on that stage on either side of the podium. Did you feel any special pressure or responsibility to probe certain kind of questions, for example?

KELLY: No. But I think the reason it's good to have a panel that is somewhat diverse and people will make this argument in other contexts as well, when it comes to race or religion or what have you. You just bring a different set of experiences with you. So maybe the questions that I came up with were interesting to me because I'm a woman. I don't know. I just asked about things I thought were interesting and would advance the debate, and whether gender factored into that or not. I can't tell you. I think you could have asked that same question I asked on gender even if you were a man. And I think it's a fair question no matter who asks it. But I think it's important to have somewhat of a diverse panel because we all came with different life experiences.

KURTZ: Right. And that's why it's good not to have just a bunch of white guys in a situation like that. And so when you were crafting these questions and it's amazing how many hours and hours of meetings. People think this is glamorous work. You and Bret and Chris went over it, part of what you're trying to do I presume is to kind of cutoff the escape routes because they're all trying to deflect the question and pivot to something they're more comfortable with, right?

KELLY: Absolutely right. So we try to bake all that into the question. Understanding you have done this, I'm still going to ask you about that. And we try to press forward in the question so we can sort of box them in, so that the audience doesn't have to listen to talking points. And I actually think we did a good job of that. That was a successful effort on our part on Thursday night. As for the glamour, I'll tell you, I told this story. You were there.

KURTZ: We didn't know if you were going to make it.

KELLY: I almost didn't make that debate. There was a moment on Thursday afternoon where I said I'm not going make it. They're going to have to have Bret and Chris to ask the questions I have written. And I just started to go downhill. I think it was food poisoning. First the splitting headache came, then I started to feel very nauseous, and then I actually got sick, then I went home to the hotel room to lie down for a little bit and was still sick, and then the beautiful, wonderful savior of my life, Dr. David Silverman, of New York called me in some anti-nausea medicine. Who knew this existed? It's like you don't have to have a stomach virus anymore. I had no idea. To this moment I don't even know what it was. My assistant Abby was dealing with him, feeding me full of medicine, and I was sweating with wash cloth on me, it 3 in the afternoon. I'm not going to make it. And low and behold by 3:47, I was like a ray of light. I feel it. I might be there. And sure enough by 5:30, I was back in hair and makeup and by 9:00 that night, we took a picture of me walking into the arena and it was one of these because I couldn't believe it, the power of modern medicine.

KURTZ: Somehow I knew you would be there if you had to crawl out on that stage. Megyn Kelly thanks very much for joining us.

KELLY: Thanks, Howie.


KURTZ: I know you all have opinions on this. Send me a tweet @HowardKurtz and we'll look at all of them, been getting a lot on Facebook. When we come back, the other two Fox debate moderators, Chris Wallace and Bret Baier, and later our exclusive focus group, why Republican voters feel the media are being unfair to Donald Trump and way too nice to Hillary Clinton.


KURTZ: Bret Baier and Chris Wallace were on that Cleveland stage as part of what turned to be the biggest event in cable TV history.


BAIER: Is there anyone on stage and can I see hands, who is unwilling tonight to pledge your support to the eventual nominee of the Republican Party, and pledge to not run an independent campaign against that person? Mr. Trump.

WALLACE: Why not use the first Republican presidential debate to share your proof with the American people?

TRUMP: So if it weren't for me, you wouldn't even be talking about illegal immigration, Chris. You wouldn't even be talking about it.


KURTZ: I spoke earlier to the anchors of "Special Report" and "Fox News Sunday."


KURTZ: Bret Baier, Chris Wallace, welcome.

You made news in the first minute of that debate. With the question about would anybody rule out a third party bid, clearly aimed at Donald Trump who did not like the question and said it was unfair, why was he being targeted? Why was he being targeted?

BAIER: Well, to be honest it was a question that hovered around this debate for a of couple weeks. All of this talk about a possible independent run if he doesn't get the nod and if he doesn't get the nomination. And frankly, he didn't know who was going to raise their hand or not raise their hand. And I thought that either -- I was really more prepared to have no one raise their hand and say, Mr. Trump, just to be clear you have raised the prospect in recent weeks of an independent run. Are you saying you're making this pledge? But he did raise his hand. And that's when we got to that moment.

KURTZ: The criticism when you asked someone seeking the nomination if they would support the nominee of that party. It's not like some out of bounds query.

BAIER: And he had been asked that numerous times before. We talked about different ways to do it. And we kind of came up collectively with that.

WALLACE: And I think -- and that was one of the things I can't emphasize enough as to what degree this was a team effort. Every question that each of us asked we went over. We knew it was the first question, it was a big question, and it would be controversial. And one of the things was raise your hand if you're going to supporting the nominee of the party? And of course everyone would have raised their hand. And at some point like a house built by a committee, I don't know who came up with it. The idea was raise your hand if you won't pledge to support which created -- I have to say it kind of took my breath away. A really dramatic moment where you saw that one hand go up on the stage. Ten candidates, one hand and he gave that sheepish look.

KURTZ: It was a moment. You pressed him on his companies and some units that went bankrupt and he pushed back hard on that. You said before the debate that this wasn't Fox's intention but it has become the Trump show. And Trump has dominated the coverage of this campaign. So did Fox in effect put him front and center, not just physically but in terms of the questioning because it made for such a cultural and entertaining event?

WALLACE: I don't think that was the reason. First of all, he's the front runner. He's got 20 whatever percent, he's more than double digits ahead of Bush and Walker. So we haven't made him front and center. The American people have made him front and center.

KURTZ: When he hits back on Twitter as he wants to do and says he's unprofessional and unfair and inappropriate, your response?

WALLACE: We're doing our job. And, look, I've been called -- he plays by different rules than most politicians. Politicians like to squawk. We take shots or ask questions at them and they're allowed to shoot back at us.

KURTZ: I watched some of these prep sessions. It was hours and hours and hours of honing and trying to get correct phrasing and cutoff the escape routes that candidates might want to avail themselves. You did it with Scott Walker, you did it with Jeb Bush, and you did it with all of them. At the same time was there a danger to think about appearing as too adversarial or too prosecutorial?

BAIER: We wanted to make sure the questions were fair. We thought that each one of these in dismount was a fair question. It was pointed and especially at the beginning of the show. That was electability. This goes to their specific vulnerabilities and why or how they could get the nomination despite that. We thought that was a good way to start that debate. Each one of them had their own specific issues that we went after and everybody was treated the same. The whole thought that we were targeting one person, we were dealing with ten people.

WALLACE: I have to tell you, Howie, it's funny as he talked about the dismount. I can't tell you how intense this was. I was on vacation the first two weeks of July and I was on vacation sitting there on my iPad writing questions. This has been such a gnawing thing for the last of couple of months and a tremendous sense of responsibility. But we talked about the various topics. We called them buckets. We talked about how you get to the end of the question, the dismount. At one point I said, you know, our tendency was you said this. You didn't want two hours of that. At one point I said we need something like a sorbet in the middle of a meal, like a pallet cleanser. That became a phrase. And the idea was we hadn't mentioned Hillary Clinton much. Let's give a couple of candidates an opportunity to talk about Hillary Clinton. So between buckets, dismounts and sorbet, it was a very interesting debate.

BAIER: We had some raspberries and lemons.

KURTZ: You two are master chefs along with Megyn Kelly.


KURTZ: In a moment, Bret Baier and Chris Wallace react to conservative criticism of the debate. And later, Jon Stewart interrupts his final week of the Daily Show to go after me again. Is he really that thin skinned?


KURTZ: We're now with two of the moderators of the Fox debate, Chris Wallace and Bret Baier.


KURTZ: There has been some pushback in the conservative media, saying Fox being unfair, unfair to Trump, certainly his very strong partisan -- I can see that every time I write or talk about him, some people think that maybe they expected Fox to try to help these Republican candidates. How do you respond to that?

BAIER: I'll start. I think we would have asked those questions to either side of the aisle. I think that we're news side of the house. We ask news questions. And our job is not to be supportive of the party, it's not to also take down the party, it's to illuminate on these issues. I think if you look at the whole of that debate, you learned a lot about these candidates and their ability to deal with tough things. Because if they're going to get to the White House, they're going to face the Clinton machine, they're going to have to have some tough questions along the way.

WALLACE: I have to tell you, Howie that in the course -- and I know a lot of people question Fox from the outside. A lot of people love Fox from the outside. In the course of these weeks of doing it, there was never a single mention of let's hurt the Republicans, let's help the Republicans, it was let's do our journalistic job to help the American people sort out this massive field of 17 people, draw distinctions, talk about their records and things they agree about and things they disagree about. And that was the only thing that went into any of our consideration of how we were going to conduct this debate.

KURTZ: I can verify that having sat in some of these sessions as a reporter and observer. At the same time, lots of praise from mainstream media from liberal commentators to the way you handled these questions, but as we said some pushback from the conservative side. Were the expectations so high that you're all pros and have done this before, but there was a little bit of nervousness about the stakes?

BAIER: Listen, there's no doubt that going into this thing it was getting more attention than any other thing than either of us had been a part of. Nowhere near the five primary debates I did last cycle. It had this own vibe. You felt it. It was almost like a convention in Cleveland.

WALLACE: Bigger than a convention -- look, 24 million people, the biggest non-sports event in the history of cable television.

KURTZ: It was a sports event in a way.

WALLACE: I didn't anticipate that. Not stakes in the sense -- you know, my son sent me at one point, and how many people are going to watch? I said 10 million. And he said what do you think that will that do for your career? I said at age 67, if I do well, I'll be able to keep my job and stay in my house. You're on that stage. Crowd was fabulous. They were so excited. The ten guys get up there on the stage and you feel like you're participating -- you're not just announcing, you're participating in the Super Bowl. For us it was. I can't tell you what an adrenaline rush it was.

KURTZ: Final question, to the extent that Trump feels aggrieved and it was unfair and that his partisans are making that known, as we've seen before with Donald Trump, does this help him if his folks feel the media are beating up on him?

BAIER: So I've stopped predicting. Because I think in this cycle you can't. I think there have been a number of times where he said things, has done things, that people said this is it.

KURTZ: And the pundits have consistently been wrong.

BAIER: And I will say there's a chance that he turns this all around and says we were on the attack and his numbers go up. But I'm not predicting either way. I think that our job was to press him.

KURTZ: Chris Wallace and Bret Baier, thank you very much for joining us.


KURTZ: After the break, our panel weighs in on Fox's handling of the Presidential Primary Debate, and later, Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum on the challenge of moderating the early debate.


KURTZ: Since the Fox Debate, the conservative group RedState dis-invited Donald Trump from a weekend gathering over his comments about Megyn Kelly, and a number of Republican candidates now denouncing Trump's language.

Joining us now here in Washington, Amy Holmes who anchors "The Hotlist" at The Blaze, and Michael Tomasky, a columnist for the Daily Beast. Amy, after the debate, Trump went on Twitter as he is famous for doing and started to say things about Megyn Kelly like she was angry, and then in an interview with CNN's Don Lemon that took place shortly after I had a chance to sit down with Megyn Kelly, he said this.


TRUMP: She starts asking me all sorts of ridiculous questions and you can see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.


KURTZ: So what do you think about Megyn Kelly's questions during the debate and Trump's reaction?

AMY HOLMES, THE HOTLIST ANCHOR: I thought her questions were absolutely fair. This is a public dispute that Donald Trump had with Rosie O'Donnell, the quotes that Megyn was quoting back to him was a public dispute.

KURTZ: It was more than Rosie as she said she pointed out.

HOLMES: And it was more than Rosie. I think Trump actually got the better of the exchange with his one liner even if it was dishonest. But as we know, since then I think he's been in his words a real loser.

KURTZ: Well, he is on the offense, Michael. This morning he called into four Sunday shows, ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN, and wasn't appearing on Fox. Here's a quick bit of what he said on "Meet the Press."


CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: Do you want to apologize?

TRUMP: No, there's nothing to apologize. She asked a very, very -- I thought -- very unfair question. And so did everybody on social media.


KURTZ: And from the media point of view this has become the story of the post-debate period.

MICHAEL TOMASKY, THE DAILY BEAST SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is for obvious reasons. Of course it's the story. He's on the hot seat now and he's going to start getting raked over the coals by the conservative media, not just the mainstream media or the liberal media, but the conservative media. We've already seen it start to happen. Erick Erickson is a very good example of that. I'll be interested to hear over the next few days what the talk radio hosts have to say about Trump. I think Limbaugh and others have been promoting his candidacy. It will be interesting to see if they do any walking back. That'll be an interesting media story in the coming weeks.

KURTZ: Eric Erickson by the way who dis-invited Trump is also a Fox News Contributor and he himself has said controversial things in the past and has apologized for them. Trump going on the offense calling him a total loser. So now you have this stage of the campaign where some of the other Republican candidates have been reluctant to take on the Donald. Carly Fiorina, Jeb Bush, Lindsey Graham and others, Mike Huckabee defending Megyn Kelly, going after Trump's comments about the host of the Kelly File. So my question is this one day story or is this potentially something more serious?

HOLMES: Well, Donald Trump always has the capacity to say yet another vulgar, ridiculous thing. He makes Butthead and Beavis look like models of maturity in all of this.

KURTZ: You don't sound like a Trump fan?

HOLMES: Certainly not a fan of his commentary and his post-debate commentary about Ms. Kelly. I think in terms of this story, it's not going to last that much longer. But Trump likes to tweet as we know.

KURTZ: Trump -- pushed back against Donald Trump saying that even if you buy the explanation that he was just talking about blood from the eyes and he meant to say nose next, and by the way Trump says -- I'm not sure if we heard it there that anybody who thinks he was referring to any other part is a deviant. Even if you just take that, that Chuck Todd said it was a demeaning comment and he's talking about women's looks before and he didn't talk about people like Chuck Todd and his looks. Trump loves to make it personal. But the people who like Donald Trump and don't like the media and don't like the political establishment, they cheer when he takes on these big anchor big shots.

TOMASKY: They do. But is that going to continue into this week? I think that's going to be one of the big questions. Because as I said a moment ago, now the conservative media, some conservative media stars are going to start to turn on Trump and are going to start to hit him harder. And I think some of the Republican candidates are going to start to hit -- only some, not all because they want his votes when he goes. Jeb Bush I don't expect to hit hard. But others will hit hard. So the question is going to be I think this will be an ongoing story and the question is going to be how Trump handles this over the course of the next week.

KURTZ: Ok, let's pull back and look at the Fox debate itself. Some people on your side, Amy, conservative commentators criticizing Fox Anchors and their questions, what do you make of that?

HOLMES: A lot of conservatives cheering on Fox News for putting on a fantastic debate. There was substance, there were moments of intensity and conflict, and real substantive discussions and conflicts. For example, the exchange between Governor Christie and Senator Rand Paul over the NSA, those are real disputes. And viewers, 24 million of them got to be exposed to the Republican Party and their principles and ideas.

KURTZ: And no one expected that kind of audience. You write the Daily Beast the questions were surprisingly tough. Why surprisingly?

TOMASKY: Because they were pretty confrontational. And broadly speaking, there are two categories of debate questions. There's the confrontational, defend your record on this, and there's the more open ended, what would you do about problem X in the world. And there were a lot more questions in the first category than in the second category, and usually there's more of a mix than that. I will say however, Marco Rubio, did get -- and I don't think this is a conspiracy or anything, but it just happened this way. Marco Rubio got more of the second category of questions than the first. I think that's why he came out looking comparatively good.

KURTZ: Main stream media pouring a lot love on the Fox moderators. The New York Times calling -- I never thought I'd write this but hooray for Fox News. So my view is they were acting like journalists. They were crafting questions to try to pin down these candidates, whether you thought the questions were unfair or not, and whether you thought Trump was singled out or not, this is what anchors and journalists do in a debate.

HOLMES: Absolutely. And I guess it's never too even for Frank Broody to become a fan of Fox News. These are the types of questions, the toughness, the directness, that conservatives wish the mainstream media would direct toward liberals, so we'll see how the future debates shake out.

KURTZ: A half dozen debates on the Democratic side. We'll see if people have a different view if similarly tough questions are posed to Hillary and the people running against her. Michael Tomasky, Amy Holmes, thanks very much for stopping by this Sunday. Next on Media Buzz, Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum on how they approach what was dubbed the happy hour debate.

And later, Jon Stewart delivers a huge rant against me and Fox News over criticism of his secret Presidential meetings. Is that how he wanted to go out?


KURTZ: Turns out the 5 o'clock presidential debate which was widely dismissed as the under card, was also a box office hit, drawing 6 million viewers.


BILL HEMMER, FOX NEWS DEBATE MODERATOR: And no one here tonight is going to question your conviction or love for country. Has your moment passed, Senator?

MARTHA MACCULLUM, FOX NEWS DEBATE MODERATOR: So if the people of Louisiana are not satisfied, what makes you think that the people of this nation would be?


KURTZ: I talked to the co-anchors of "America's Newsroom" just minutes after the debate was over in Cleveland.


KURTZ: Bill Hemmer, Martha MacCallum, you just finished the debate here in Cleveland. I was in the cheap seats with the press. Feeling was not a lot of fireworks, kind of subdued, substantive, quiet because there wasn't a big crowd. How did you feel about it?

MACCALLUM: We felt good about it. I felt like they really came to play. They came very prepared. We did as well. But I think the feedback that we're getting is that people were impressed by Carly Fiorina. I think Governor Pataki also sort of put himself a little bit more on the map than people might have thought with some of his answers.

KURTZ: Let's go to some questions. Bill, why did you ask Rick Santorum has your time passed?

HEMMER: He ran in 2012. He's been a little bit out of the spotlight, and so I was just curious to see whether or not you missed your moment. Sometimes you have your moment. And maybe 2012 was it. We'll see. We're exhaling now having just walked off the set. I thought Fiorina came with a decent line about Donald Trump about the telephone call. She obviously thought about that. And I have not heard Lindsey Graham turn that question about war on women to ISIS and what's happening in Syria and Iraq before, and I thought that was a clever turn.

KURTZ: You asked Bobby Jindal, the government of Louisiana, about his low poll numbers in this presidential campaign. What were you trying to get him to justify where they are?

MACCALLUM: A heavy Republican state falling and he has fallen on some pretty tough times. But I thought his answer was interesting as well. When you're trying to do hard stuff, people don't always respond that well. But the fact that it's a heavy Republican state also makes that a tricky answer for him.

KURTZ: Donald Trump is in the other debate. You brought him in, elephant in the room. What was the thinking behind that?

MACCALLUM: I called him the elephant not in the room for this debate. Because he has a ton of political chatter on Facebook, who is a partner in this debate for the evening, and I wanted to put that to them and basically I said, you know, he's eating your lunch guys. You might all be disgruntled about it, but the fact is that he's beating all of you. And they took that opportunity to talk about celebrity and why they think his numbers are so strong at this point. And that was when Carly Fiorina chimed in has said I don't know, has anyone else gotten a phone call from Bill Clinton because I haven't.

KURTZ: You offered opportunities for the candidates to take each other on, mostly they deflected that, they chose not to do that.

HEMMER: I think for the most part, I think the Trump question -- there had to be something in that debate because of the way he's dominated the conversation for the past month.

KURTZ: You couldn't ignore it.

HEMMER: I don't think so. And I think that's where we thought it was appropriate.

KURTZ: Journalists like the candidates to mix it up.

HEMMER: The one question about ObamaCare and whether or not you took federal tax dollars, and whether that was the right call or not, that's still an ongoing debate among Republican governors. That was the one thing you really tried to push. And I think on the third time we got Jindal to say he's proud of what he did and Governor Kasich was wrong in his words.

MACCALLUM: You know, Howie, I think that it's a double edged sword at this stage of the game too, because there are 17 of them out there. They don't necessarily want to be seen as the flamethrower at this point. It will twiddle down. I think over the next couple months you're going to see some of these people drop out. When they really need to go at each other a little more strongly to knock other people out of the ring, I think you're going to see more of that. But it's the first debate. The process is just beginning. I think they want to establish themselves, they wanted to raise their name recognition out there, and get people to go, huh, I might think about that person.

KURTZ: Last question. The fact that this debate inevitably would be overshadowed by the prime time debate, did that change your approach to doing this?

HEMMER: No. The only question that we wanted to make sure got in there was a question about Donald Trump. But all of the other stuff I think is fair game. And I will say, Howie, they have been on the stomp. They are taking questions from voters every day. I don't think anything surprised them. In fact, I think some of their answers were pretty tight when you consider Iowa is still five plus months away.

MACCALLUM: I think the only way that it changed our approach is that their poll numbers are extremely low for the most part. They're very accomplished people. Every one of them has a right to be standing on that stage given their resume.

KURTZ: Another point or two when a couple of them would've been in the other debate.

MACCALLUM: Exactly. So the fact that poll numbers are low, I think changed our approach and that we were saying, really? Are you sure you have a shot at this? What are you doing? That's the question that we put to them in the first round and they handled it fairly well. And at least at this point they're willing to hang in.

KURTZ: You were injecting the realism given their relative standing in this Presidential race. Martha MacCallum, Bill Hemmer, thanks for joining us.

MACCALLUM: Thanks, Howie.


KURTZ: Up next, why ordinary voters are mad at the media over the way they're treating Hillary and the Donald.

And later, I thought my final scrimmage with Jon Stewart was over, but he went after me again. I'll have a response.


KURTZ: Enough with the pundits. What do ordinary folks think about the media 2016 coverage? We have Frank Luntz, the Fox News Contributor and GOP Pollster put those questions to a focus group of New Hampshire Republicans. Most of them enamored of Donald Trump but not the press.


LUNTZ: Is the media being fair to Donald Trump? No? Why are they not being fair?

UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE MEMBER: Because they're making him look like a joke. And he's not a joke. I think he's sincere and he's honest and I think he can help this country.

UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE MEMBER: I disagree. They're dancing to his tune.

UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE MEMBER: He's the only one getting air time.

UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE MEMBER: More air time than anybody else.


KURTZ: But those who are not as smitten by the Donald are clearly frustrated by the way this GOP rivals have been overshadowed.


LUNTZ: Is the press holding Trump accountable for what he says?

UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE MEMBER: Not necessarily. They're giving him what he wants and they're giving him the air time and like I said he's going to implode.

UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE MEMBER: It's good for ratings. Come on, they see it.


LUNTZ: How does the press do its job properly with Donald Trump?

UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE MEMBER: I think that they're not. They're showing way too much attention. So that the other candidates aren't getting anything press.


KURTZ: And yet, there's a fascinating contradiction here that helped explain why Trump is getting so much air time.


UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE MEMBER: Jeb Bush was the front-runner before Trump surged. He was on Channel A and Donald Trump on Channel B. Which channel are you watching? Who's watching Bush? Raise your hands, one. Who's watching Trump? So then obviously it does matter.

UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE MEMBER: Some of these other candidates are so boring. I mean, if the TV put them on for 15 minutes people would be going to the remote after five.


KURTZ: One woman said journalists won't ask Trump tough questions because then they'd have to do the same for their favorite Hillary Clinton.


LUNTZ: Does the media hold Hillary Clinton accountable for e- mails, yes or no?


UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE MEMBER: Does the media hold Hillary accountable for Benghazi?


LUNTZ: Does the media hold Hillary Clinton accountable for the Clinton Foundation?


LUNTZ: But you guys are Republicans, aren't you biased politically?



KURTZ: But here's the really strange thing, we found out about Hillary's private e-mail and the case being referred to the Justice Department through exclusive reporting by The New York Times. And it was the Times and Washington Post that worked with the author of "Clinton Cash" to dig in to possible conflicts between with her work and the Clinton Foundation. When voters really like a candidate they tend to view coverage is unfair. When they can't stand the candidate, they think it's so soft. And our thanks to Frank Luntz.

Still to come, your top tweets. And Jon Stewart signs off for "The Daily Show" with one last blast at yours truly.


KURTZ: Time for your top tweets. Were the Fox debate anchors fair to Donald Trump?

Michael Monahan: Of course they were. The candidate should absolutely expect to be questioned by positions and statements.

Jim McVeigh: Absolutely not. Without Trump, Fox would've had another mediocre review. It's all about ratings, own it.

Wayne Lafoy: Yes, he overreacted to Megyn Kelly's questions and he seems to want to start trouble with Fox News as well as Republicans.

Jon Stewart seemed awfully defensive the other night, responding to my "MediaBuzz" criticism of his secret meetings with President Obama for a second time with an epic rant against Fox. He played a clip of me with television critic, David Zurawik.


KURTZ: Does this dent his halo a little bit?

DAVID ZURAWIK, BALTIMORE SUN MEDIA CRITIC: He has become more and more and more a tool, really of the Obama administration.


KURTZ: I wouldn't go that far. And Stewart, well, he wasn't pleased.


STEWART: They didn't seem to support their assertions with evidence. You like to nail me as a propagandist, you could have just shown a clip of shamelessly pimping for some signature policy like ObamaCare.


KURTZ: Stewart rightly said he's occasionally taken on the administration on such issues such as ObamaCare, which I mentioned in my initial story for "Special Report."


KURTZ: Who has occasionally challenged the administration such over the botched ObamaCare rollout?


KURTZ: And I did cite an example of Stewart mocking Vladimir Putin right after Obama in person lobbied him on the Russian intervention in Ukraine.


STEWART: To your point offing of me being an administration stooge, maybe you could have done this, OK, demonstrate my fealty and consistent suck-upitude with the president.

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: Jon Stewart now mocking President Obama over the Libyan assassination situation.

ERIC BOLLING, FOX NEWS: Sebelius went on Jon Stewart. Got destroyed by Jon Stewart.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: Jon Stewart grilling House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi about the botched rollout.

SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS: If he's lost Jon Stewart -- I'm just saying.


KURTZ: Fair enough. Which actually shows Fox gives Stewart credit when he departs of his self-described liberal views to challenge his side.


STEWART: That's not the end of your search here, Howard and other guy whose name escapes me on the show. Here's where you could have gone. OK, to prove improper collusion, find a memo from me to the president, giving the president advice about my area of expertise.


KURTZ: Come on, there's no memo. It's more subtle than that. It's Jon's liberal world view that prompts him to frame most segments in a certain way, you know, the Bush is an idiot line he pushed for eight years. Well, occasionally expressing mild disappointment in Barack Obama, which was evident in his seven very friendly interviews with the President.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wrongly believe that I'm helping Howard Kurtz with his case against me.


KURTZ: He criticized a story in which I criticized Fox. He cited a story I should say which I criticized Fox. That's right, as a media critic, I challenge all news outlets, always have. Stewart closed with his signature brand of understatement.


STEWART: Adios! Boom!


KURTZ: I'm going to take the high road here. Jon Stewart is a smart guy who deserves credit for changing TV news and highlighting hypocrisy, even though de does this from a liberal perspective. He's a satirist who impacts public the debate. I praised him at times. I've criticized him at times, he swipes back, and we both get mileage out of it. Everyone knows the game. But since he's moving on, I'll say it a little less inflammatory fashion, adios, Jon.

That's it for this edition of "MediaBuzz." I'm Howard Kurtz. We hope you like our Facebook page where we post a lot of original content, respond to your questions, put up videos, and all of that. Follow me on Twitter as well. We're back here next Sunday morning 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Eastern, again with the latest Buzz.

Content and Programming Copyright 2015 Fox News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2015 Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.