NBC's Brian Williams crisis; gruesome ISIS videos

This is a rush transcript from "MediaBuzz," February 8, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On the buzzmeter this Sunday, Brian Williams is actually suspending himself yesterday, taking a leave from NBC Nightly News after being forced to retract this false story of about being on an Army helicopter that was hit by enemy fire in Iraq.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Two of our four helicopters were hit by ground fire including the one I was in.


WILLIAMS: . RPG and AK-47.


KURTZ: The NBC anchor saying, he's sorry after Army veterans knocked down his account.


WILLIAMS: I want to apologize. I said I was traveling in an aircraft that was hit by RPG fire. I was instead in a following aircraft.


KURTZ: But with mounting questions about that apology, other Williams' stories and now the brief leave of absence, can face of NBC News survive this credibility crisis?

A national furor over vaccinating kids has the mainstream media scold some Republican candidates for suggesting that parents should have a choice.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: This is sort of pandering that can be dangerous because, you know, Rand Paul is a doctor. I don't know where he's getting that data from.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think that we should be engaging people in this paranoia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what you are, you measle no (ph) people. You non-vacciners. You're science deniers.


KURTZ: But is it fair for the press to tie the anti-vaccination movement to conservatives. Plus Rand Paul rips a CNBC anchor during a very contentious interview.


KELLY EVANS, CNBC ANCHOR: What about 2016?

SEN. RAND PAUL, (R), KENTUCKY: Part of the problem is that you end up having interviews like this where the interview is so slanted and full of distortions that you don't get useful information.


KURTZ: Was the senator treated unfairly or did he overreact? Well, go to the videotape in our new segment Media Buzzsaw. I'm Howard Kurtz and this is "Media Buzz."

Brian Williams told his staff yesterday, it's become painfully apparent that he is too much a part of the news due to his own actions but will return to Nightly News after several days of leave. This dramatic development rooted in the invasion of Iraq when Williams is on Army helicopter grounded by a sandstorm and he recounted what happened to another chopper.


WILLIAMS: On the ground, we learned the Chinook ahead of us was almost blown out of the sky.


KURTZ: But his story kept changing. And by 2013, the NBC anchor was telling this version to David Letterman and to Alec Baldwin.


WILLIAMS: Two of our four helicopters were hit by ground fire including the one I was in.

LETTERMAN: No kidding.


LETTERMAN: What happens the minute everybody realizes you've been hit?

WILLIAMS: We figured out how to land safely and we did. We landed very quickly and hard and we put down and we were stuck.

ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR: Did you think you would die?

WILLIAMS: Briefly, sure.


KURTZ: Last week, he repeated the false account in a ceremony honoring a veteran that aired on "NBC Nightly News."


WILLIAMS: The story actually started with a terrible moment a dozen years back during the invasion of Iraq, when the helicopter we were traveling in was forced down after being hit by an RPG. Our traveling NBC News team was rescued, surrounded and kept alive by an armored mechanized platoon from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry.


KURTZ: But Army veterans on that mission told the Stars and Stripes newspaper, Williams was not on the Chinook that was hit and this week he acknowledge the story was simply untrue.


WILLIAMS: I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago. It did not take long to hear from some brave men and women in the air crews who were also in that desert. I want to apologize. I said I was traveling in an aircraft that was hit by RPG fire. I was instead in a following aircraft.


KURTZ: The veterans who spoke to Stars and Stripes, they were just fuming.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are these guys who were actually there think is going on here? Think he's been doing with the story?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, they think that he wants the glory. He wants to share glory of this war story.


KURTZ: Now even the apology sparking new questions. Joining us now, Sharyl Attkisson, former CBS News reporter and author of the best selling book "Stonewalled." David Zurawik, television and media critic for the Baltimore Sun, and Paul Farhi, media reporter for the Washington Post.

Let me take a moment to update you on some exclusive details I reported last night on FOX.com. Brian Williams stepped aside voluntarily, he was not pushed or plotted (ph) to do this by the NBC brass (ph). There is no NBC internal investigation into this matter, it's a fact gathering inquiry to help NBC answer questions. There's not going to be any report on his conduct, and he is considering an invitation to go on David Letterman Show where we saw that clip Thursday to discuss this further.

Sharyl, you've had a little experience flying on military aircraft, take a step back, what is the magnitude of Brian Williams' mistake about Iraq?

SHARYL ATTKISSON, FORMER NBC REPORTER: It's a large mistake because unless you have been on so many missions and shot at so many times that maybe you've confused which mission on which you are shot at and which once you weren't, you know. But what strikes me is an even larger glaring thing is that a lot of other people know too. The people who were with you know that you weren't' shot at, the crew knows you weren't shot at, your family members know you weren't shot at, and the network who -- where you work at that time knows that you were not shot at.

So, as he was telling the story, there a lot of people around him who I think knew it was not the case for quite a while.

KURTZ: And Williams already told America that he was in another helicopter that was hit as we've shown in that brief clip from 2003. David Zurawik, the big question, what should NBC News do now faced with this crisis?

DAVID ZURAWIK, BALTIMORE SUN MEDIA CRITIC: Well, you know, A, I don't know what -- of course, none of us.

KURTZ: (Inaudible). What do you think should happen?

ZURAWIK: Listen, I think he should no longer be managing editor and anchor of their leading newscast. And I wrote this the first night, Wednesday, if they care about credibility, this is a serious, serious that -- why would you trust anything this man says? How it isn't just that he lied. It's the kind of lie he told. There are so many people in this country who are either part of military family or served in the military, who lived everyday with the wounds and the scars of those battles.

Here's this rich anchorman who's over there for a little time and he tries to steal some of the honor they earned. How in the world could anybody in the military or military family not look at him on television and have contempt for this man? I think they should do it. Will they do it? This is a test of NBC's moral character at this point.

KURTZ: Well, by the way, I give Brian Williams credit for going to Iraq. This was the week of the invasion, putting his life at risk which makes it a little more inexplicable to me why he felt the need to gravely embellish a story. And Paul Farhi, NBC News president Deborah Turness issuing the statement about Brian Williams' apology, but no word of support there, not exactly standing by her man, how, in your dealings with -- and I know you've covered this everyday, how is NBC handling this?

PAUL FARHI, WASHINGTON POST: Well, they're trying to get beyond it. If they can, it's -- the real question is can they get beyond it? The lack of statement of support for Brian Williams is striking in itself, but Brian Williams apparently did not want a particular statement of support because in the case of David Gregory, they supported him on Meet the Press at what happened to him. They do not want this kiss of death thing.

KURTZ: A source told me it would be the kiss of death and yet a lot of people asking why NBC, you know, it was not until late Friday that any statement at all was put out, and I just find that given the magnitude of this problem.

Now, Sharyl, you covered for CBS, the story of Hillary Clinton -- this is during the 2008 campaign, she was recounting what happened when she landed in Bosnia back in 1996, let me play a brief clip for the viewers and (inaudible) the question on the other side.


ATTKISSON: That's Senator Clinton talking to me on the military flight into Tuzla, and these are the pictures we recorded of the greeting ceremony when the plane landed. Compare that to Senator Clinton's account.

HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I remember landing under sniper fire.


KURTZ: Hillary Clinton says she landed on under sniper fire. You were on the trip. You have the video. There was no sniper fire, she later backed off. You see any similarities between these two cases?

ATTKISSON: Strange similarities, if not -- the least of which is 12 years after the facts in both cases, just sort of coincidence of time.


ATTKISSON: Also once Hillary Clinton's misstatement was exposed, she doubled down instead of doing sort of an apology. She actually said, "Yes. I shook hands with the little girl but then I ran and duck and run for cover," so we did a second night story that showed, "No, she post for pictures with some 7th grader, she visited the troops."

That, like the Brian Williams' story remains very unexplained. She didn't explain -- had she convinced herself that it happened, weren't there people around her such as Chelsea, her daughter, who was on the trip saying "Mom, we weren't shot at." Celebrity Sheryl Crow and Sinbad were on the trip weren't, you know -- wasn't she afraid other people would be able to say we were not shot at.

KURTZ: Right. The question everybody is asking, you know, since this is one of the stories everybody is talking about at the grocery store and in the water cooler is -- it's such a self-inflicted wound, why would Brian Williams feel the need to do this? He had been to Iraq. His helicopter was not shot at, why would he feel the need to do this? Any idea about that?

ZURAWIK: Howie, the one thing I have avoided steadfastly is to try to psyche away.

KURTZ: Right.

ZURAWIK: If you try to do what's going on in Brian Williams' head.

KURTZ: It's a question that none of us can really answer.

ZURAWIK: No. I don't think any of us can answer. But if you look at his career since he took the anchor seat of branding himself, of promoting himself, and that's part of the industry today.

Here's where I think the sin of this is, is that he never took the journalism part of his job once he became anchor and managing editor as seriously as he took the celebrity portion.

KURTZ: I don't think that's fair.

ZURAWIK: It's -- no.

KURTZ: I don't think that' fair.

ZURAWIK: Listen.

KURTZ: Wait. Let me.



KURTZ: Yes. This is a guy who's guest hose with Saturday Night Live. He goes on the Daily Show. He uses his sense of humor to be more than just a reading of the prompter anchor. But, you know, he also has traveled around the world. And when you say he didn't take the journalism part, seriously, what are you basing on?   ZURAWIK: You know what? When they gave him a prime time network magazine show, he showcased Chelsea Clinton as a special correspondent at $600,000 a segment, Howie, that's what I mean by it.

FARHI: Let's not try to parse the journalism because this isn't ultimately about journalism per se, it's about the promotion of the journalism.

ZURAWIK: Yes, yes. That's exactly what I was saying.

FARHI: It's about what Brian has said in the -- many years, since he reported this story, there's not a real question around what he reported, it's the way he's characterized its sense. And part of Brian's charm is that he gets on his shows and he sells his charm, he sells himself, that's why he's the number one anchor in part. But the question now is, did he go too far in doing those?

KURTZ: Right, yeah. He's got nine million viewers for NBC Nightly News. Now, you made a point to me, I want to put up some video from the airing of NBC Nightly News at the ceremony of New York Rangers' hockey game about the way it was edited. And this was when Brian Williams was still (inaudible). Take a look at that, there's the -- what do you think about that?

ATTKISSON: It appears to show him on the Chinook, the way they wrote it and the way he spoke over it. And it appears to show afterwards them looking at the RPG injury to the Chinook as if he were on it. And what I was saying is whoever look at the video, producers, editors, and so on, at some point, down the line, I would think would know that he was not on that Chinook because the way.

KURTZ: So they can.

ATTKISSON: Well, my question is who did know this and were they force to cut the video in a way that supported the story that they knew not to be true, were there complaints internally about this and so on.

KURTZ: Right. The big problem with the apology is I'm told Brian Williams now recognizes, when he said he was on the following aircraft, he said like you know, he's 20 feet behind the chopper that got hit. In fact, he was in a different helicopter company that did pass this other group of helicopters, one in which was fired on and he's going in a different direction.

Now, briefly it seemed, when CNN reported, based on an interview with the guy who said he was the pilot of Williams' chopper, that there was small arms fired, people say, "Well, maybe, he only exaggerated the story a little bit." In fact, let's play a brief clip of pilot Rich Krell on CNN.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: . in the helicopter you were in, that Brian Williams was in, take any RPG fire, did it take any small arms fire?

RICH KRELL: We were flying at 3:00 and I was on the second aircraft and Mr. Williams is onboard my aircraft, we took small arms fire.


KURTZ: Krell's now retracted that and in fact was not, he doesn't even appear to have been the pilot on that chopper. Should CNN have been more careful?

ZURAWIK: I think CNN should have been more careful, Howie. In this sense, when Stars and Stripes reported this story, they had a wall of people who were there talking about it.

So all of a sudden, on Wednesday or Thursday, one guy comes out and is going to contradict everything. You really have to vet that. If this is discipline of verification, they did almost none of that.

And as you reported, the next day, he recanted totally -- he said he didn't want to talk about it anymore and disappeared, and CNN had to go on. They called it a revision. They said they were (inaudible), it was a retraction.

KURTZ: Yeah. It wasn't Jake Tapper, it was another CNN reporter. And I think one of the problems with Brian Williams right now, we're going to put up this New York Post cover from the other day, headlines calling him Lying Brian, the Pinocchio nose growing. It's become sort of a cultural story and a story that everyone makes fun of and that is not a comfortable place for an anchor to be.

We're not done with this. Send me a twit during this hour, @HowardKurtz, we'll read some of your messages later and you can e-mail us as well.

When we come back, more on the Brian Williams saga with new questions being raised about his Hurricane Katrina reporting, is this just piling on?

And later, we'll look at the coverage of the vaccination uproar and whether some politicians are being treated unfairly.


KURTZ: There are also new questions about Brian Williams' reporting on the Hurricane Katrina. He was in the Superdome in New Orleans when the devastating storm hit.


WILLIAMS: When you look out at your hotel room window in the French Quarter and watch out a man float by face down, when you see bodies that you last saw in Banda Aceh, Indonesia and swear to yourself that you would never see in your country.


KURTZ: The (inaudible) New Orleans Advocate says it doesn't believe Williams saw a floating body because he was in the French Quarter, most of that area was dry and then hopefully if he -- he got this (Inaudible) either. But yesterday, in New Orleans Times Picayune, a pretty respected newspaper, according to a couple of people saying that there was some water there and a couple of other people had seen dead bodies. My question is this now piling on every story being dredge up.

ZURAWIK: Well, I think, you know, that's what's really going to be tough I think for Williams and NBC is everybody is going to go over every inch of this looking for every story he's told this way and it's going to fact- check that way, you know? I mean, I though on this one, I thought, well, when I first heard it, I thought, well maybe you can find out -- there is a fact, either there was water there or not, let's find it out before publishing it. Do you know what I'm saying? So, I think in some case, there's a tendency to do that.

KURTZ: I was and I'm skeptical for this reason. I went to New Orleans with Brian Williams some months after Katrina while I was reporting on book. He showed where he saw the first body. He told me about the floating body. He spent -- you know, he was very emotionally invested in this story. I went back to New Orleans eight or nine times that the rest of the media had moved on. And so, this didn't ring true to me.

FARHI: The floating body story is actually the least questionable element of what he has said about his Katrina coverage. He said that gangs were over running his hotel. No, the hotel was a staging area for law enforcement. Very, very unlikely that there were gangs overrunning that hotel. There were other claims as well. And all of them add up to a record, not a piling on but a record that needs to be examined.

KURTZ: Now we've reached the point where some media outlet said, well, you know, of course Brian is famously, was a New Jersey volunteer fireman. At one time, he said, he saved a puppy from a fire. Another time, he said, he take took two puppies from the fire. So obviously, he, you know, indulging yet again and it's getting down to that level. So how much -- this comes back to the question of the anchor credibility and what NBC News deals -- how it deals with it.

ATTKISSON: Maybe the biggest problems is not just the examination of what's been said in the past but how he moves forward in the future? What sort of things can he cover now, let's say there's another military conflict that he tries to cover. There will be these lingering questions in the backs of people's mind that will get in the way.

KURTZ: But just briefly, I mean, he's got a 10-year career. Some people like Brian Williams, think he's funny. Some people don't like him, they think he leans to the left. But is that career, you know, just sort of wiped out by these one egregious, terrible mistake, that record?

FARHI: I don't know that it's wiped out. He's actually been a very good reporter over the years. The question is, is his credibility so damaged that you can't watch Brian Williams deliver the news and believe what he's saying. That's what anchormen sell, they sell both persona and credibility. Does he still have it?

ZURAWIK: And if he losses a piece of that audience, Howie, that's a big difference. If he's two or three instead of number one, that's huge.

KURTZ: We got to go. But it's a financial decision as well. David Zurawik, Paul Farhi, Sharyl Attkisson, we'll see you a bit later. Thanks very much for joining us.

Ahead, with the ISIS butchers putting out that video of burning a Jordanian pilot to death, how should the media handle those horrifying images? But up next, President Obama causes a furor by bringing Christianity into a discussion of ISIS, but some media outlets don't think that's news.


KURTZ: President Obama made some very controversial remarks at a White House Prayer Breakfast this week, but the covers has been remarkably spotty. Here is what the President said.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism -- and lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.


KURTZ: Joining us now, Nina Easton, senior editor at Fortune Magazine and a Fox News contributor, Jim Geraghty, contributing editor at National Review, and Mara Liasson of National Public Radio, also a Fox News contributor.

Jim, the president makes these very controversial remarks. The cameras are rolling at the White House, everybody is talking about it. And a number of network news cast (ph) devoted zero minutes to this story, why is that?

JIM GERAGHTY, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR AT NATIONAL REVIEW: Because these are embarrassing remarks for a president. The week begins with us -- the whole world watching ISIS setting a guy on fire, and at the National Prayer Breakfast, he thinks the highest priority is the high horse of American Christians, all right? There was -- most Christians will look at this and say, "Why are you giving me grief? Who is the straw man saying we're perfect?" But the fact that Obama chose to focus on that at a week where everybody is kind of recoiling in horror over what the extremist Muslim world is doing is embarrassing. So they don't want to talk about.

KURTZ: Are you suggesting that because this was embarrassing for the president, I know some people find it offensive, other people thought it was a legitimate historic analogy, that that's the reason it didn't make air at networks?

GERAGHTY: For strange -- now, people are much more interested in the gaps and bad remarks and embarrassing comments of their opponents than they are to the people they like.

KURTZ: Washington Post put the story on the front page, Mara, New York Times stuck it inside, very least, whether -- however you view these remarks. Isn't it a story?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I think it's a story. I think there might have a been a lot going on this week, but it is a story. And it's true, the Ku Klux Klan burned crosses. I mean the president is technically, you know, factually correct but there's been so much coverage of the president's, you know, unwillingness to call ISIS radical Islamist or to say Islamic extremism. And I actually thought that one of the interesting things in that speech was that he was willing to call them a vicious death cult. That's he's kind of.


LIASSON: Yeah, ISIS. He's kind of easing, tiptoeing his way to describing them, that they have an ideology, they're not just criminals.

KURTZ: Right. So he's got vicious death cult. You got the president going back 800 years to talk about the crusades. A lot of people thought this was offensive, other people have a different view. But even if you wanted to sort of defend it, again, isn't it worth (inaudible).

NINA EASTON, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR AT NATIONAL REVIEW: I think just the -- focusing on that term offensive, that wasn't what it was just about. Even in the New York Times seems to think that it was just a bunch of Christians on the right who were offended by it, because it's a broader story here. It's a question of whether the president is downplaying the terrorist threat, and it's a question of whether he is trying to disconnect the word Islam from the word terror. And actually the Washington Post did a good job of pointing out how he -- in a story about the Prayer Breakfast, how he is trying to do that. And he has now recently said, this is not Islam, this is a perversion of Islam. And that this was going even further.

The other thing about the press coverage was it didn't challenge the president. You talk about the Ku Klux Klan, well, what Christianity's role in the Civil Rights movement, Martin Luther King, there was no push back from the print -- these papers that actually covered it.

KURTZ: Right. Well, I mean when you don't cover at all, you don't get any analysis or context which is why I find this one really, really puzzling.

Coming up, a huge slap over presidential contender saying childhood vaccination should be voluntary. But there are some in the media portraying this as a problem for Conservative Republicans. And later, Rand Paul denounces a CNBC anchor for loaded questions. Was the interview fair?


KURTZ: The question of vaccination is suddenly infecting the presidential campaign, the New York Times states out one point of view calling the controversy, "a twist on an old problem for the Republican party. How to oppose matters that have been largely settled amongst scientists for not widely accepted by conservatives that you were rebuked from NBC's Matt Lauer.


MATT LAUER, NBC HOST: Becomes a hot potato the New York Times, the liberal New York Times puts it this way in an article this morning and even as I read that, Chuck let's make it clear this does not breakdown neatly between the right and the left.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. Everyone wants to paint this is the right way thing, it's not just a right wing thing.


KURTZ: Still there were strong criticism across the media and political spectrum over interviews with two likely 2016 contenders. Chris Christie and Rand Paul.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) NEW JERSEY: But I also understand the parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well. So that's the balance of the government has to decide.

PAUL: I've heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who round up with profound mental disorders after vaccines. I'm not arguing vaccines are bad idea I think they are good thing, but I think the parent should have some input. The state doesn't own your children.


KURTZ: You know, is the New York Times justified in saying this is a political problem mainly for conservatives who don't like science.

EASTON: It's so outrageous because what it is I mean it's the anti-vaccine movement grow out of the liberal community not from the right. And in fact they're have been mapped done showing that the best where there's the anti- vaccine movement that's taking hold is our liberal bastions. So that's outrageous first of all.

Second of all, in terms of the campaign and the presidential politics, it's a gotcha cycle now. So, if you're running for president you've got to be prepared and you've got to be -- know what you're going to say. And to me the winner this week was Hilary Clinton. What she does is she stays out of the news on controversial things like that until she can control it. So she controlled it with a twee (ph) which is what the other candidate should be saying which is saying vaccines aren't good is like saying the sky isn't blue.

So, its in -- you really have to be prepared I think a good -- a candidate's answer to that should have talked about the research that shows that there is no disconnection between say autism and vaccines.

KURTZ: And I think the media have a responsibility to say that there is no such connection and others are minority people who feel passionally otherwise. But in so many reports did say that some very conservative parents and some very liberal parents have not been invaccinating their kids. So what do you make it a coverage on that.

GERAGHTY: This was a cynical and just ingenious tone to be coverage this week because there is a wide agreement that you should have your kids vaccinated typically amongst the political class, people in office where there is serious disagreement -- all right if a parent says no I'm not going to vaccinate my kids. What do you do what's the response should the government go in and take them? Should your child be --Should the government force your child to be vaccinated? How about the Amish they're having a measles outbreak out in Ohio.

Now do we want to go to the Amish and say all right you beard and Mennonites, we're going to take your kids away from you and we're going to inject the medicine into them. Well it's usually whether you like it or not.

KURTZ: It's usually than by not letting kids into school and so therefore people have chosen to home school if they don't want to do that. Now when Rand Paul, the Kentucky senator says he's been told of kids as we've heard on the clip who developed mental disorders after vaccination and then later measles he wasn't endorsing that view, is that a legitimate controversy for the press?

LIASSON: Yes. I mean, he's a medical doctor the one study and that was said there was a tie between autism and vaccinations was retracted and debunked and withdrawn in 2010.

I think its definitely legitimate nobody is saying they're going to take their kids and forcibly vaccinate them. They are saying if you want to go to school in a public school where there are other kids that might have depressed immune system.

KURTZ: Might be at risks.

LIASSON: Yeah, they can be at risks but what I thought this whole thing showed was the state of play in the Republican 2016 rates because the two guys have been having some problems Paul and Christie couldn't get there act together, configure out what they wanted to say on this.

The two guys who are having a great moment Scott Walker and Jeb Bush were concisef they said yes vaccinate period over and out. They didn't get involved.

KURTZ: Well here's how where Rand Paul handled it the next day we can put up the tweet. He went for a vaccination shot. He was photographed, he took a New York Times reporter with him which is a very interesting media technic, but then Nina the senior editor of the DLEB Justine Miller tweeted F-U Senator Paul -- Senator Rand Paul and he didn't use the initials he didn't respond to our request to come on. He did apologize for the insult what the?

EASTON: Yes, I think Rand Paul is in a difficult position to try to walk back what he said because.

KURTZ: What did it say about this senior editor at the (inaudible)?


EASTON: Yeah, that I mean not stay.

GERAGHTY: A lot of allegedly mainstream journalists effing hate Republicans. They hate Rand Paul, they hate the entire field and they believe that there's utter contempt for everything for them, their voters, their supporters in the whole base.

And every once in a while it comes through on Twitter. Twitter is like alcohol it doesn't change you it only reveals you.

KURTZ: And especially if you are using alcohol while your on and I just thought that that was reprehensible.

All right. I want to use our remaining time to talk about what we talked about the top of the program, Brain Williams the crisis in NBC news.

Let's just go around have -- I'd like to hear from all of you what do you think about the magnitude of the mistake that Brian Williams has now apologized for, and what do you think about the way NBC is handling it, Nina?

EASTON: Well the way NBC is handling it, I suggest there could be more, right, because they are taking him off, they're investigating and sometimes when.

KURTZ: So they didn't take him off.

EASTON: They're taking -- he's voluntary stepping aside. But I think what's, you know, the network was warned about this a year ago so presumably there are conversations between network executives.

KURTZ: I haven't seen that confirmed, and I'm assuming (ph) why they reported.

EASTON: OK, but.

KURTZ: You think NBC is being cautious because.

EASTON: I think they are being cautious because sometimes when there is that kind of behavior could there be that kind of behavior on and other incidents and then it becomes more -- much -- then it becomes a bigger explosion for them.

GERAGHTY: Yeah. I really wish from the very moment this came forward he said, I really screwed up on this. I'm taking a leave of absence -- an unpaid leave of absence for an extended period of time to get my stuff together and to realize what I've done wrong.

That initial, well I'm sorry I mixed up which helicopter I was on, but it is in the nightly news doesn't even come close to fixing it. And its kind of really -- they're also saying the cover up is worst than the crime that (inaudible) really doesn't do justice to what he did on the circumstance.

LIASSON: You know, five years ago I would have said the sky is going to lost his job, he cant survive this, but so much has changed in the new environment and anchors are more immediate celebrities than they are journalists that I really think maybe he has a chance if they find nothing else like this.

KURTZ: But hasn't so much also changed in terms of social media where his getting battered on Twitter.

LIASSON: Yes. That's a really problem for him but I don't know the NBC -- he's a very important part of the NBC franchise, they're going to have to make a decision if that so undercut his credibility then he can continue.

KURTZ: Yeah, you know, I was with Bill O'Reiley and he said, you know, people don't care, it's a flop, it'll remove him, he wasn't justifying in any way and then clearly, I mean, you know, Brian Williams understands how badly he screwed up. By the way I don't take any joy in this, you know, it's hard to see somebody go through this when they've worked hard over again whether you like Brian or if you don't like Brian Williams, but this is a self-inflicted crisis.

EASTON: And I think if it is -- I think you guys might be right. I mean, if it's limited to this, if its just this it can blow over, our attention span are so short on all of these crisis but if it goes beyond that he's in trouble.

GERAGHTY: It's a really terrible time for NBC news regarding promos of Michael Douglas saying there are somethings you never forget.

KURTZ: OK, I guess we have to change the promo for Jim Geraghty, Maria Liasson, Nina Easton. Thanks very much for stopping by ahead.

What should the media do when ISIS terrorist put out a video a burning a man to death. Is there a compiling reason to show it? I'll put that question to Sharyl Attkisson.

And later, the depressed like a President get away with a flub as he served beer to NBC's Savannah Guthrie.


KURTZ: Most news organizations are refusing to carry the barbaric ISIS video, the terrorist burning a Jordanian pilot to death.


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN HOST: CNN has chosen not to show these images, two- fold reasons, they are terribly graphic and cruel but also they are of high propaganda value to ISIS members and that is not something that the United States has any interest and/or broadcasters in helping to propagate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are not showing any pictures of those moments, but this time a whole new level of brutality.


KURTZ: But a few papers like the New York Post have published a fiery image of the video Fox News, on a couple of occasions is also put still images, photos from the video on the air. And anchor Bret Baier explains why.


BRET BAIER, FOX ANCHOR: The images are brutal. They are graphic. They are upsetting. You may want to turn away, you may want to have the children leave the room right now. But the reason we're showing you this is to bring you the reality of Islamic terrorism and to label it as such. We feel you need to see it.


KURTZ: Sharyl Attkisson, this is a very difficult decision from news organizations.

ATTKISSON: I think both sides make important points and I'm certainly glad I'm not in the position of having to make that decision. I do think people can go seek out the video lest the news organizations decide that it's too distasteful and too propaganda-like to show it. I understand that argument.

But it can be found in other places and maybe that's where it should stay. Where people can seek it out if they choose to see it on the internet. On the other hand I do agree with some people who argue if the American public is in to some degree exposed to the brutality and the level of brutality of the terrorist acts. How are they really to make judgments.

KURTZ: Right. Showing the evil that is ISIS and that's why it's such a close call because there are strong arguments on both sides.

Now, foxnews.com and the Blaze have started controversy by putting the full burning video as very carefully produced by ISIS online. In the case of Fox Executive Vice President, John Moody says we wanted to give the readers the option to see for themselves the barbarity of ISIS and how that outweighed legitimate concerns about the graphic nature of the video.

And I'm a little more sympathetic to that because people can now choose to click or not click on those videos.

ATTKISSON: Agreed. That's probably the way to do it if you had to make a choice, let people voluntarily seek it out in a controlled environment if they choose to, but don't force them to run across and if they happen to be just watching television.'

KURTZ: Right. And that's the thing and television might just be walking by this ad and suddenly this pops up and so it's why I think everybody in - - and the mean faces instilled in with the beheading images as well, we should one point we're so ubiquitous how much do you show and are you doing what ISIS wants.'

All right. Let's go back to our lead story on Brian Williams and because a lot of people have been responding on line by saying, well, it doesn't really matter if he is not in that chair not because anchors are basically news readers. But he also has an important title of managing editor, talk a little bit about that.

ATTKISSON: Well, this maybe one reason to take a look at this trend in which the network even news anchors are also given the title of managing editor, does that mean that in cases where there are controversies and there have been more than -- there's been one on one controversy that they are separated from sort of an independent look or an independent viewpoint of somebody who might be able to say to them should you really be doing this or asking questions versus when they're in charge.

I can tell you these networks sometimes, these network anchors are surrounded by what we call (inaudible) and you ask people who won't tell them the hard truths or raise questions because they are in essence in charge of the show technically, they're in charge of the personnel who wants to tell the emperor that he's wearing no clothes.

KURTZ: Right. I mean, titles aside, you know, but anchor like Brian Williams, you know, making more than $10 million a year when he is the franchiser, it's hard enough. I guess people say this about a president too being above all and surrounded by people telling you how great you are.

And so, even this business about NBC not conducting internal investigation instead it's just a fact-gathering process but a lot of people are saying well why not have an outside ombudsman or investigator look into this. I mean, it comes back to what you're saying, you got to figure out who is the anchor, the managing editor, the celebrity, the face of your news division. You are on the payroll, it is hard to take that person on whether that person's right or wrong.

ATTKISSON: And people are laying on as to whether that person will survive and if that person survives, the controversy of those underneath him, or working for him don't want who've been on the wrong side and be punished for that later.

I agree with you about an independent look, perhaps if I were in charge and I shouldn't be, but perhaps if I were I would think of bringing in somebody like the Poynter Institute or ask a neutral journalist organization comment and help with this to lend an air of credibility into the inquiry.

But then, you are stuck. You've invited an outsider to come and look at your organization and if they find things that are embarrassing or damaging, there's not much you can do about it in it.

KURTZ: Well, I would say, too bad, because you at least are showing that you're going to be open, that you're letting somebody who has an independent judgment investigate and it's not the chips for where they may and when people forget that after Dan Rather in 2004 and the retraction of the story about President Bush and the National Guard. It was some months until he lost his job. But CBS brought in two outside people to conduct this.

ATTKISSON: They did. And I would say somewhat belatedly. There were calls to do that sooner, but yes eventually they did bring out independent people to look into it.

KURTZ: All right. Sharyl, thanks very much.

After the break, well now with new segment called, Media Buzzsaw, we've taken the fairness of TV interviews with candidates and politicians starting with that very contentious Rand Paul sit down on CNBC.


KURTZ: We're launching a new segment called Media Buzzsaw, where we're looking how the journalists and politicians held T.V. interviews and we'll try to hold both sides accountable.

Rand Paul sat down this week with CNBC anchor Kelly Evans and it was contentious from the opening seconds.


KELLY EVANS, CNBC HOST: Did you really just say to Laura Ingraham that you think most vaccines in this country should be "voluntary"?

PAUL: Well, I guess being for freedom would be really unusual. I guess I don't really understand the point why that would be controversial.


KURTZ: What would Rand Paul said about vaccines was controversial, but by starting with "Did you really just say," Evans seems to have a chip on her shoulder. She then asked about Paul's proposal to offer tax incentives for companies to bring home overseas cash.


EVANS: Senator, I'm sure you know that most of the research on this indicates that these actually cost more money over the long-term than they save. Are you saying this time will be different?

PAUL: Well, that's incorrect. That's -- you're -- let's go back again. Your premise and your question is mistaken, OK?

EVANS: All right.


PAUL: Let me finish. Hey, let me finish -- hey, Kelly.

EVANS: I'm sorry, go ahead.

PAUL: Calm down a bit here, Kelly.


KURTS: OK. Shushing a host, especially a woman, did not exactly look gentlemanly, but Evans sounded condescending which she said, "I'm sure you know," as if there were not other possible evidence or contrary view. Well Kelly Evans then asked about a newspaper story on Paul, once organizing a protest group of ophthalmologists to change the rules on certifying doctors, and that carried over to her final question.


EVANS: Speaking of conflicts of interest, any response to the Washington Post piece about the, sort of, self-appointed board of colleagues and relatives that were part of your ophthalmology group in Kentucky?

PAUL: Well, yeah. Once again, you're mischaracterizing and confusing the whole situation.

EVANS: I can tell you're fired up, I apologize for the extent to which -- the reason for that, but what about 2016?

PAUL: Well, part of the problem is that you end up having interviews like this where the interview is so slanted and full of distortions that you don't get useful information. I think this is what's bad about T.V. sometimes. So frankly I think if we do this again, you need to try to start out with a little more objectivity going into the interview.


KURTZ: The substance of the questions was legitimate, but Kelly Evans really aggravated the senator with her tone, and it was good that she apologized that he got a bit testy and came away feeling the interview was slanted. There are ways for journalists to be very aggressive without utterly alienating the politician who is, after all, your guest.

Still to come, your top tweets and a boozy claim in aSavannah Guthrie's Super Bowl session with President Obama.


KURTZ: FUSION T.V., a joint venture between ABC and Univision, just got out of poll with the headline "Young People will hit the polls in 2016, and they want Hillary", but the survey was done by Joel Benenson, a Democratic pollster and former Obama adviser, who's just been tapped as the pollster for Hillary Clinton's campaign. Seriously? Couldn't Fusion have found a neutral pollster to avoid this embarrassing conflict? And that wasn't even disclosed except for the fact that Benenson was doing the survey.

Getting a lot of tweets about Brian Williams, here are some of them. What should NBC News do about its anchor pacing the cage? Fire him. Or they prove that today's journalism is just worthless dribble.

Joanne (ph) add, Brian Williams' loyal viewers would believe if he said the sky was falling. They don't care about the truth. L. Rutherford (ph), Williams reflects the progressive liberal face of NBC and MSNBC, it does not matter. Mark Conrad (ph), Williams should continue his acting career. His excellent in all phases, movies, game show host, late night talk. Ouch.

All right, maybe you saw this last weekend, Savannah Guthrie's live Super Bowl interview with President Obama took place in the White House kitchen and was rather chatty with the tougher questions reserved in the pre-tape for next morning's Today Show.

Now the NBC anchor approached with wide topics as whether the President prefers wings or chips with guac, and then, there was this.


OBAMA: We make beer. The first president says George Washington to make some booze in the white house. So let's taste it.


OBAMA: It's been well reviewed.

GUTHRIE: OK. Has it? OK.

OBAMA: Absolutely. Let's see what you think.

GUTHRIE: I'm going to take a tiny sip.


KURTZ: I don't care if they were drinking beer, but almost everyone in the media missed Obama's gap. George Washington wasn't brewing things up in the White House because it wasn't built yet. Maybe all the journalists were busy imbibing at their own Super Bowl parties and kind of missed that.

Well, that's it for this edition of "MediaBuzz." I'm Howard Kurtz. Hope you'll like our Facebook page. We post a lot of original contents there. Your Buzz videos, we answer your questions, and you can always e-mail us at mediabuzz@foxnews.com. We hope to hear from you, make this a dialogue. Let us know what you are thinking about our show and about these media issues.

We're back here every Sunday, next Sunday morning, 11, and then 5 o'clock Eastern with the latest buzz.

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