This is a rush transcript from "Media Buzz," January 26, 2020. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On the Buzz Meter this Sunday, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham joins us live as the Senate impeachment trial dominates the airwaves, the media clashing over the strength of the Democrats' case against Donald Trump and the performance of the president's lawyers.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They hammered it at home. They proved it nine ways to Sunday. And there hasn't been any effort by the Republican side to contest the fact that the president has done it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have got hours and hours and hours, literally of the compromised corrupt, congenital liar Adam Schiff, from frankly watching him today, he's a lunatic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He told out America's interest for a cheap political gain of some dirt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you don't think that's important, it seems to me that a problem as a citizen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it is pretty clear that House Democrats are operating under the assumption if they can make just these tremendous leaps of logic -- seems to be if at first you don't persuade, lie, lie again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought it was devastating for the president of the United States both short-term and long-term.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you watched today, you know that parts of the impeachment proceedings have been stultifyingly boring.


KURTZ: Does the commentary reflect a shear partisanship of impeachment itself? Why are the ratings dropping and the more networks cutting back? And a newly released video tape from indicted operative, Lev Parnas, in which Trump tells him the ambassador of the Ukraine, must go. How does that square with the president's insistence that he doesn't know Parnas.

Hillary says nobody likes Bernie. Trump says nobody likes Hillary, a look at the feuding that is riling up the Democratic race heading into the Iowa caucuses. Plus, some personal thoughts on the passing of Jim Lehrer, an icon of unbiased journalism. I'm Howard Kurtz and this is MEDIA BUZZ. President Trump is strongly denouncing the impeachment trial, and in the process unloading on one of his favorite targets, the media.


DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: The fake news media is believable. People got Pulitzer prizes for their coverage of me, and it turned they were totally wrong. Other people -- Sean Hannity, Rush-baugh, a lot of great people, a lot of great writers, they got it right. They didn't get Pulitzer prizes, but they got it right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you concerned about getting a fair trial?

TRUMP: These people are crazy. They have gone totally nuts.


KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about this very intense week is Stephanie Grisham, the White House Press Secretary. Welcome.


KURTZ: Why is the president again aggressively going after the media during this impeachment saga when it's the House Democrats that brought these articles of impeachment and are prosecuting the trial in the Senate?

GRISHAM: I mean, I think the video that you showed at the top actually is a very good example. We were in Switzerland at Davos at the World Economic Forum. The president was touting the country's economy. He was touting the Phase One China deal. We were talking about the good things we're doing for this country. We did a press conference.

And I think he got two questions about what we were there for, and the rest was all impeachment. They just won't -- the obsession with it won't let up and it's to the detriment of the country because they're not hearing about all the great things that are happening for the country.

KURTZ: Well, in fairness he doesn't shy away from talking about it. Your boss has been tweeting this morning. Number one, the impeachment hoax is a massive election interference, the likes of which has never been seen before. But even though this was a party line vote, it is, thanks in part to Alexander Hamilton, in the Constitution. So why does he say massive election interference?

GRISHAM: Well, because they're trying to stop the next election. They're trying to stop him from being the next -- president for the next four years. This is clearly -- I mean, they've said it with their own words. He must be impeached. They've been saying it since the day he was inaugurated. They tried it with Russia and that didn't work. And now they're doing this obsessive little dance, and that's what he's trying to say.

KURTZ: Also this week, the president called one of the House managers, Jerry Nadler, a sleazebag. And this tweet from just an hour or two ago, shifty Adam Schiff is a corrupt politician and is probably a very sick man. He has not paid the price yet for what he has done to our country. That sounds like a vague threat.

GRISHAM: I disagree. I think that people -- and this has been a theme throughout actually -- this process, people put meanings behind what he says. The president speaks in a very unique -- unique ways, very, very -- he's a counter-puncher. He's saying what's on his mind. He's --


KURTZ: What does he mean Schiff has not paid the price?

GRISHAM: I haven't talked to him about it yet today. But I think he means he will not -- he hasn't yet paid the price with the voters. He hasn't paid the price yet with the people of this country who see that he's been lying and very obsessed, and quite frankly just -- I mean it seems like he's having a little bit of a mental issue when you sit on the floor for hours and hours and hours. He is obsessed with this president and trying to take him down.

KURTZ: Well, Congressman Schiff said on Meet the Press this morning that he believes it was intended to be a threat. But you're saying political and not some -- kind of law enforcement.

GRISHAM: Of course, and the fact that he said that, that was grandstanding. That's ridiculous.

KURTZ: OK. You talk about obsession, but just as when Bill Clinton was brought to trial in a Republican-led effort two decades ago, the impeachment of a president, fairly or unfairly, is a very, very large story. Do you have a beef with how the press is covering this trial?

GRISHAM: I have a beef with the way that it's very biased and one-sided. I've even noticed that during the breaks after the Senate trial it seems that Schumer and the Democrats are getting all of this airtime and not the Republican side. I think that you see a lot of the networks saying, well, this is what he obviously meant. This is what they obviously -- it's clear he's very guilty.

That's not true. In a court of trial, obviously, you're innocent until proven guilty. These people, the media, have said he was guilty of everything, from Russia collusion to now this from the very start. And yeah, I have a problem with that.

KURTZ: Well, Chuck Schumer has been holding a morning news conference everyday as well as going on shows, and he's the Senate minority leader.

GRISHAM: He's made it to the cameras quicker than anything I've seen. I'm wondering if he's knocking folks down after the breaks to get out there to the cameras. It's amazing. And he and Joe Scarborough seem to have something going on every single morning, so that's great.

KURTZ: All right. We don't have any reports of anybody being knocked over. Now, let's talk about these indicted operatives. Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, now they were at a private dinner, we can put a picture up of this, with the president at the Trump Hotel here less than two years ago. And Parnas has now released the videotape that was first reported by ABC. Let's take a look.


LEV PARNAS, AMERICAN BUSINESSMAN AND ASSOCIATE OF RUDY GIULIANI: I think where we need to start is we got to get rid of the ambassador. She's still left over from the Clinton administration.

TRUMP: The ambassador of the Ukraine?


TRUMP: Get rid of her.


TRUMP: Get her out tomorrow. I don't care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out, OK? Do it.


KURTZ: And they're talking there about Marie Yovanovitch, then the ambassador to Ukraine. And let's be clear. The president can fire any ambassador he wants for any reason at any time. And in fact, Yovanovitch was not recalled until a year after that dinner, which was surreptitiously videotape. But anchors like Chris Cuomo and Erin Burnett and other journalists are saying this shows the president lied when he said he did not know Lev Parnas.

GRISHAM: Well, again -- I mean, consider where those two are from, what cable channel they're on. But the president sits at many, many dinners, at many, many roundtables with people that he does not know. Now, if somebody comes to him and says, hey, you know, somebody's doing something. They don't support you, etcetera, etcetera.

And you have to remember, President Zelensky himself said that there was a problem with this ambassador and that she was not supporting the president's policies. So if the president's hearing that, he's going to then turn to somebody who's next to him and say let's get her out of there. I think that's perfectly in line with anything he has the right to do. And it's something that he does constantly.

KURTZ: Well, here's the president, asked about this at Davos, he says I don't know him --


KURTZ: Other than that, he's sort of like a groupie. He shows up at fundraisers, OK? I don't know anything about him. He's also called him a conman. He is under indictment, of course --


KURTZ: -- and that has to be factored in. But they're having a conversation -- like Parnas is talking about wanting to go into the energy business in Ukraine. He also gave a lot of money to a pact to be able to be at that dinner. So isn't it more accurate to say the president maybe doesn't know him well, but certainly knows who he is?

GRISHAM: No. I disagree with that. Again, I believe that he was there with Rudy Giuliani, somebody that the president trusts. And the president has said that many times. So if somebody that the president trusts has somebody else with them and he's giving you -- him information that he had already heard -- and again, from the president of another country, I think it's very reasonable that the president would listen to that.

No matter if he knows him or not, and then give a directive that it's probably time for her to go.

KURTZ: Now, even some of the people who are defending the president and saying that none of this rises to the level of impeachment. Some of them say, well, what happened with Ukraine, the phone call, the pressure campaign, the testimony from the career officials in the House was not good, perhaps troubling. But it doesn't warrant removal from office.

And yet, the president, his lawyers, you seem to believe that there's nothing of substance here.

GRISHAM: Well, there's not. And the witnesses that you talk about, even career witnesses, they all said that everything was their opinion, what they thought was right, what they thought wasn't right. And they all ended up saying they didn't see that he did anything wrong. They had no proof. They never heard directly from him. And again, the president has released both of those transcripts on his own.

All of this is based on something he released on his own. So it's true. And I would say that from yesterday, our legal team, I think in two hours they were able to undo the 24 hours of what the Dems did on the floor of the Senate. And I think that Monday and Tuesday it's just going to get better, and it's just going to show the American people truly that there's nothing there.

KURTZ: Right. They have more to come this week. They just did a kind of a preview yesterday.


KURTZ: But it's more than just the career officials' opinions. Some of them had contact with -- a lot of contact with Rudy Giuliani, who's the president's personal lawyer. One overheard a phone call from the president. Some said there was a quid pro quo --


GRISHAM: They say they heard it -- they say they overheard a -- I mean, again, these are people --


KURTZ: But to dismiss it merely as opinions -- I mean, these are the people whose job it was to deal with Ukraine and who were affected by what some are calling a shadow foreign policy.

GRISHAM: No. These people who it was their job to deal with Ukraine have said they did not like the policy. They did not like the president's policy, and that's a real problem. Career officials are not. When you work for an administration you need to carry out the policies of the president. They have said -- a couple of them said they were not sure and had real concerns about the policy here. That is not an impeachable offense.

KURTZ: You see this as a policy disagreement as opposed to --

GRISHAM: One thousand percent, that's what this is.

KURTZ: All right. Now, even National Review, conservative magazine, says it's embarrassing for Republicans to argue -- and by the way, the National Review is not saying the president should be removed from office. Quote:to argue that presidents cannot be impeached for any abuse of power unless that abuse took the form of a criminal violation of a statute.

Of course, there has been argument from your side. There's got to be a crime. There's no crime committed, therefore, it's irrelevant.

GRISHAM: Yes, I agree with that. You just answered that question.

KURTZ: Well, that's the argument. The National Review is not buying it.

GRISHAM: Well, I'm sorry. That's just the case. There was no abuse of power. There was no obstruction of Congress. I still don't understand what that means. I would say again Nancy Pelosi is the one who obstructed Congress by holding on to these silly impeachment articles for so long.

KURTZ: Even some liberal commentators like MSNBC's Ari Melber have said they thought the second article was much weaker than the other one. We'll have more on this later. But as you know, this has become a bit of a flap in Washington. NPR's Mary Louise Kelly says that Mike Pompeo, after an interview -- radio interview where she pressed him about Ukraine, delivered an expletive filled tirade which he says was off the record.

She says she never agreed to that. Is that a proper response to a journalist who was asking legitimate questions in an interview?

GRISHAM: Well, I don't know exactly what happened. I don't know if there was expletive filled. I would say though that there's a real problem with the media. When you agree to ground rules for an interview and then go off of those ground rules and ask questions that, you know, the person wasn't anticipating, that's not OK.

KURTZ: Just to stop you. What were the ground rules that were agreed that only a certain topic --

GRISHAM: It was just one topic to be discussed, and then she went, you know, off topic and talked about Ukraine. Now, I agree that reporters should be able to ask questions of any topic, and certainly Ukraine is the topic right now that would be discussed. But if ground rules were set, then she shouldn't have broken those ground rules.

And if he wanted to talk to her about his frustrations off the record, she should not be talking about what was said. I don't know if it was expletive filled, but we are finding this to be a real, real problem. People are going off the record constantly in the media.

KURTZ: Just briefly, Kelly says that Pompeo said to her do you think Americans care about blank Ukraine? Do you?

GRISHAM: No. I think that if you look at the viewer-ship going down, clearly they don't. I think that people forget that out in this country people have jobs that they are going to do. They go home. They're cooking dinner for their families. They're picking up kids from day care. I think that people are tired of it, and I certainly think they are not paying attention.

I'm having a hard time paying attention during the day, and it's my job to pay attention to it.

KURTZ: All right. Let me get a break here. More of Stephanie Grisham in just a moment, as she responds to media criticism of how she does our job. And later, the bombshell allegations that a Saudi prince was tied to the hacking of Jeff Bezos' phone and what is now so much more than a tabloid scandal.


KURTZ: And we are back now with Stephanie Grisham, the White House Press Secretary. The New York Times and the Washington Post recently ran pieces questioning what it is that you do since the daily press briefings have been abolished, saying you appear mainly on Fox and you're largely unknown to the public, your response to that criticism?

GRISHAM: Half true. I do get invited to do other cable networks and I do those. I also get turned down a good amount. So I think people need to understand that. Yeah, the Washington Post and New York Times both have turned a kind of a weird obsession into this. Something I think that people forget, again, is that I have three roles at White House.

But also, if you look at some of my past predecessors, I won't name names, but there was somebody in a different administration who got made fun of for constantly saying I refer you to here. I refer you to here. I'll get back to you. No information is being done there. Sarah, you know, she would go out there and answer everything as honestly as she could and she was branded a liar and became an SNL character.

So I think because none of that is going on with me, I may be doing it right. Also, I just had a stat this morning given to me that the president has tweeted or re-tweeted more than 300 times in the past 5 days. So that is people, not just the media, but the American public hearing directly from him every single day several times a day.

There is no way that the president isn't saying -- I could say anything better than what he's saying on his own. And then again, he's always doing press conferences. He's always doing --


KURTZ: That leads me to my next question. And it's true that you've been spared the SNL parody, but --


GRISHAM: Yes, so far.

KURTZ: So I fully get the argument that this president provides extraordinary access to the press, constantly talking virtually every day. And the reporters would rather talk to the president of United States than the press secretary. But the counterargument is that he can sidestep questions more easily against the roar of the helicopter.

And there's just no chance for journalist to follow up details of contradictions with the top spokesperson at the White House.

GRISHAM: Well, he did a press conference three days ago and was able to answer all those follow up questions. He does pool sprays in the Oval and the cabinet room all the time. And those have follow-up questions. We put subject matter experts at that podium all of the time that can answer follow-up questions. I would probably be -- I would refer you to Treasury rather than having cabinet Secretary Mnuchin out there.

So I think that people are just hyper-focused on potentially 3 times a week, 20 minutes a day press briefing when I think the way we are doing it is actually better. And I think the American people and the media are being served a lot better.

KURTZ: And finally, you apparently get a lot of hate mail.


KURTZ: Breitbart reported -- just to give you some examples, brain-dead lying twit, pretending to be a press secretary a-la Fox News, treacherous B-word, despicable piece of S, and a whole lot of stuff that I can't read on the air. Do you see a connection between this vile stuff and the way that you're covered?

GRISHAM: The -- lately, lately. Because the pressure has somehow gotten a lot more -- the pile on has gotten a lot more. The hate mail and threats are definitely increasing. So it's dangerous. And I recognize -- yes, of course, it bothers me. It bothers me for my family. It bothers me for me. I know that the media, they get threats as well.

I'm not saying that this isn't -- this is just me. But I definitely see a correlation with the pile on and with the threats increasing.

KURTZ: Stephanie Grisham, we very much appreciate you being here, thanks.

GRISHAM: Thank you.

KURTZ: Thanks very much for joining us, good to see you. Up next, more on that war of words between Mike Pompeo and an NPR reporter, was it really off the record?


KURTZ: Mike Pompeo, as we mentioned earlier, was doing an interview with NPR when host Mary Louise Kelly began pressing the Secretary of State of whether he tried to block what she called a shadow foreign policy toward Ukraine. Pompeo said that he ran the policy and the interview quickly ended. Kelly says an aide summoned to the secretary's private living room and he berated her.


MARY LOUISE KELLY, NPR HOST: He shouted me for about the same amount of time as the interview itself had lasted. He was not happy to have been questioned about Ukraine. He asked, do you think Americans care about Ukraine? He used the F word in that sentence and many others. He asked if I could find Ukraine on a map.


KURTZ: Pompeo says in a statement that Kelly lied to him after agreeing that conversation was off the record. She denies making any such agreement, and NPR questions her integrity and says the network won't be intimidated. Now, it's not that unusual for a top official to be ticked off at a journalist's line of question. But Kelly's questions were fair and not exactly unexpected.

The tabloid scandal that surrounded Jeff Bezos' affair with television personality Lauren Sanchez has burst back into the news with an extraordinary report. U.N. investigators say an account belonging to the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, allegedly used to hack the Amazon founder's phone. Though, there's no proof that this is how the National Inquirer wound up with naked photos of Bezos' steamy texts picturing him and his girlfriend.

The Saudi foreign minister dismissed allegations that MBS, the Crown Prince, hacked Bezos' phone as absurd and absolutely silly. But the U.N. findings first reported by The Guardian that Bezos and MBS exchanged phone numbers at the 2018 dinner right after Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and columnist for Bezos' Washington Post, wrote a piece criticizing the prince's regime.

Four months later, the prince sent Bezos a WhatsApp message containing malicious code. And the flow of data out of Bezos' phone immediately increased by nearly 30,000 percent. Khashoggi was brutally murdered six months later, which the regime initially denied but has since sentenced five Saudi nationals to death in connection with that crime.

A month later, the prince's account sent Bezos a photo that looked like his girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez. The Inquirer expose ran at the beginning of 2019. And Bezos' response, this week he tweeted a picture of himself and others at a memorial service for Jamal Khashoggi. Ahead, my thoughts on the remarkable legacy of Jim Lehrer who I interviewed so many times.

But first, our team weighs on the polarizing coverage of this marathon impeachment trial.


KURTZ: They've held for hour after hour, day after day, House Democratic managers led by Adam Schiff and getting much less airtime. This week, President Trump's lawyers led by Pat Cipollone in the third presidential impeachment trial in American history.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president places himself beyond accountability, above the law, cannot be indicted, cannot be impeached, it makes him a monarch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Frankly, they have no charge. When you look at these articles of impeachment, they're not only ridiculous. They are dangerous to our republic.


KURTZ: Joining us now to analyze the coverage, Mollie Hemingway, Senior Editor at the Federalist and a Fox News Contributor, and Mo Elleithee, former DNC official and Fox News Contributor who runs Georgetown University's Institute of Politics. We'll get to trial in a minute. But the tape released by Lev Parnas, first reported by ABC, shows President Trump telling this now indicted operative to get rid of Marie Yovanovitch as ambassador.

It didn't happen until a year later. But that's not the point. Presidents can recall ambassadors as well. Some of the media saying Trump lied when he says he didn't know or barely knew this guy.

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, he's spoken a few times about knowing him or not knowing him. And each time he kind of says I don't know him. I mean, I have met him, or I don't know him. I mean, he's kind of a groupie. He kind of hangs around, so he's saying at the same time that he doesn't know him, I think he's conveying he doesn't know him well.

And I don't think this video tape necessarily says anything contrary to that. But do I think it's interesting that we are focusing on the video tape and we're focusing on that issue, and about kind of these underlying issues. One of the big problems with the impeachment coverage is taking bigger picture look. You know, think of what is said in this video.

He's being told that she's telling foreign people to wait for his impeachment. You wouldn't want an ambassador to be doing that. And, you know, yes, she's been removed from the ambassadorship. She still works at the State Department. This is not the only negative thing he's heard about her. You might remember in the transcripts there's a reference to Zelensky saying that she undermines him as well.

KURTZ: Right. Well, there's worse testimony that some of this was a smear campaign. Some critics in the press, Mo, pointing to Trump saying take her out. This is gangster talk. But more important I think is the apparent contradiction the president's denials.

MO ELLEITHEE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Yeah. I mean -- look. The president says he doesn't know him well. That's fine. I kind of have an issue with the president sitting down with someone who he doesn't know very well at all and talking about incredibly sensitive foreign policy issues, right? It calls into question judgment. For me, but this president -- and a big underlying theme throughout this entire trial has been, you know, can the president -- question the president's credibility. And this -- it's more ammo for those who find his credibility questionable.

KURTZ: Let's look at the trial coverage. This is not exactly a shock. But left-leaning news organizations that have been portraying the trial this week is -- stunning portrayal of incriminating evidence, and right-leaning news organizations saying, well, it's a boring rehash. It doesn't prove anything.

HEMINGWAY: Well, we've had the media really leading this impeachment effort going back years now. So they kind of own this impeachment. And they clearly care very deeply. They very much want to support Adam Schiff who is sort of their political ally. And what's part about that is they have become really unreliable narrators.

I think the proof is kind of in the pudding when you look at ratings and what not. It's not particularly compelling. You have senators falling asleep. Other people are struggling to watch. You don't see that kind of balance in the coverage, not just on those issues but really on the strength of the cases. They clearly favor one case, and they almost ignore completely any type of defense from the president.

KURTZ: Right. Well, of course, the defense by the president's lawyers just began yesterday. In a couple of hours, they'll do more this week. But when Pat Cipollone, of course, said on behalf of the White House that it's Democrats trying to perpetrate the most massive interference in an election in American history. The president tweeted this similar language. That drew media scepticism, not applause.

ELLEITHEE: Because that claim has drawn scepticism from the intelligence community as well. There's nothing to back that up. Look, I think the coverage of this trial reflects the very tribal nature of our politics today. You know, if you're inclined to support the impeachment of the president, you're going to tune in to certain media outlets.

Reach certain newspapers and sort of get the case you want to hear. If you're inclined to not approve of the impeachment of the president, there are places you can go, right? This network hasn't been covering during primetime the full impeachment trial at times, right?


ELLEITHEE: And I'm not saying that critically, other than to say that the media coverage has reflected, right? That's different than what we saw, for example, during the Watergate hearings when there was only there networks. Everyone tuned in.

KURTZ: And that was more of a bipartisan impeachment. I have a couple of things I want to get to before we have to take a break. Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, has ripped Fox three days in a row this week, says he wants a complete narrative, not filtered through the kaleidoscope lens of Fox News where best things are left out and worse things are terribly distorted -- excuse me, in one reference to the Fox evening shows. Why is he making this making this about Fox?

HEMINGWAY: Well, mostly because Fox has great ratings and has a ton of viewers and what not. But I actually think that it's time for people to really be more honest about what's going on here. We have other networks that have just completely lost the plot when it comes to showing things in a balanced way. You have some hosts at other networks saying they refuse to have anyone representing the tens of millions of people who voted for President Trump on their shows.



HEMINGWAY: Yeah. And here at Fox you do get panels with different perspectives. And by the way, that does anger Fox viewers sometimes it's just not everybody who's, you know, representing the range of opinion on the right. And you have hosts who are clearly marked as opinion hosts versus news hosts. And I don't even know who has supposed to be a news host at some other networks as they get more and more partisan --


KURTZ: On that point, MSNBC basically the anchors have been Chris Matthews, Nicolle Wallace, both of whom can't stand Donald Trump. But in addition to Brian Williams, there's been former Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill. But one quick point on Senator Schumer, I have known him since he was a Brooklyn congressman. If he thinks Fox is so evil, why has he appeared on Fox News at least 75 times since 2005?

Joe Lockhart, Bill Clinton's Press Secretary during the impeachment, now CNN contributor, tweeted over heard convo between two Republican senators who only watch Fox News. Is this stuff real? And then later he said, well, OK, maybe I made up the convo, but you know exactly -- that's what they're thinking and then he apologized.

ELLEITHEE: Yeah, I know Joe. And we are living in an era where it is very dangerous to try to take satire to Twitter. Going on Twitter and making a satirical point, people take it out of context.


ELLEITHEE: The same people who take the most umbrage of what Joe did were -- are also the same people who defend the president's many inaccurate statements as well. You know the point he's trying to make. Don't take him quite so literally, right? So again, it's a very tribal thing when you attack the people you don't like when they do it.

KURTZ: Back with both of you in a second. Coming up, how is impeachment playing as a television show with Adam Schiff, the lead actor this week, and does that matter. And later, Bernie Sanders, getting tougher media scrutiny now that he's surging in the polls.


KURTZ: And Adam Schiff, the lead House prosecutor in the impeachment trial delivered his opening statement. It drew extremely high praise from plenty of pundits.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought it was dazzling. It was the best second courtroom address since -- like a courtroom that I ever heard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought Adam Schiff's opening was brilliant. It was riveting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was a virtuoso performance that drew praise from all sides.


KURTZ: But some Fox commentators scoffed at such reactions on CNN and MSNBC.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were too deep in bliss to the mouth breathers on cable television, and Adam Schiff's speech is like a brain stem massage, surging waves of ecstasy flood the central nervous system.


KURTZ: So Mollie, we have media conservatives agreeing with President Trump who tweeted this. This is lying, cheating little Adam shifty Schiff. And then you have all the media praise. We just showed a small fraction that he's drawn in his role as a House prosecutor.

HEMINGWAY: Well, I think what's more concerning is you saw some people who present themselves as straight news reporters, praising Adam Schiff. These people must have no pride whatsoever. This is a man who spent years falsely claiming that he had evidence as chair -- ranking member of the Select Committee on Intelligence of Donald Trump colluding with Russia to steal the 2016 election.

That was dangerous. And that was damaging to the country in terms of our foreign policy and the administration of government. He had access to the same information that Devin Nunes had about the FISA applications. He told people there's nothing to worry about. They're beyond reproach. He lied about his relationship with the whistleblower.

He lied about the transcript. On the day that he started his hearing, Politico said he misrepresented evidence in this situation as well. Journalists need to hold this person accountable. There has been no accountability for Adam Schiff's dangerous and damaging lies that have hurt the American people.

KURTZ: Just looking at the role he played this week on the Senate floor, you had all of these people heaping praise on him. Is it in part because they agree with him? Because you don't see many, many journalists going on the air and say, well, Pat Cipollone did a great job.

ELLEITHEE: Yeah. Well, I think we'll see how people react to the president's team. And I think it's very predictable how they well (ph), right? And it goes back to the conversation we were having in the last segment. In certain places, the president's team is going to be hailed as the best orators in a generation, and in other places they will be vilified.


KURTZ: The ratings on the first day, 11 million, not a great number, lower than the beginning of the House impeachment trial. The next day, it was under nine million. Fox was number one throughout the week. This is a serious Constitutional matter, but is it working as a television show?

ELLEITHEE: No, it isn't. Now, and I think that's for a number of reasons, right? When -- during the Watergate hearings, there were three networks. It was new. We haven't seen anything like this before. The country was riveted by it. Although, it took a while to get there, it took about a year for people to finally get interested in it.

You saw still a lot of interest in the Clinton impeachment, but less so. I think this is now, as we progress through history, as there's more news outlets, as people become more entrenched, as social media makes every piece of news more ubiquitous, people are tuning in to traditional television coverage a little bit differently.


KURTZ: Now, you have the broadcast networks cutting back to maybe two or three hours a day, and to the extent the Democrats are using with graphics and video clips as a form to move public opinion. If it's not working as television, maybe it's not working.

HEMINGWAY: Right. I don't think it's just about what's happening in this current moment, because not too long you had explosive ratings for Robert Mueller's testimony or James Comey's testimony when people still believed there might be something to the Russia collusion.


HEMINGWAY: Right. These really are soul-crushingly boring. I mean, we've had to sit and watch these. It's very difficult to watch. And it's not just about the topic which is very complicated and that people kind of have seen. They have already made their decision. Either they think there's something good here or there's something wrong.

But the way that the prosecution has chosen to just repeat, and repeat, and repeat and repeat, for all day -- into the wee hours of the night, normal people respond to that and say I have heard this 14 times. I don't need to hear it again.

ELLEITHEE: I do think -- and this is not an argument for -- I do think if there were witnesses you would see ratings go up. I do I think if there was new faces and new information being added in you would see more --


KURTZ: So on Thursday, for example, we did a check. MSNBC ended up carrying nine hours of the proceedings the whole day. CNN just under eight hours, Fox which have been airing night time opinion shows just under four and a half hours. And that's drawing criticism, is that short-changing the hearings even if people think it's -- the hearings are boring.

HEMINGWAY: You know, it's hard because normally an impeachment would be such a serious and grave issue. And what do you do when someone just trivially puts forth an impeachment that doesn't have much substance? Do you just have to be beholden to them hour after hour after hour? And I think a little bit of this is on our politicians as well.

They should know that this is an important power. They should be wielded carefully and not to just abuse it and use politically for the purpose of hurting Trump in the 2020 election or whatever the other political goals are.

KURTZ: You know, I'm torn about this, Mo. Because I want to say this is so vitally important and every word should be carried on cable news. But at the same time it is very repetitive, 24 hours of Democratic arguments. And I find myself taking breaks or lowering the volume, and I do this for a living.

ELLEITHEE: I would once again make the point that some of the people who justify decisions to cut away from coverage are also the same people who get frustrated when other networks cut away from a presidential press conference or a presidential rally where the president is just being repetitive and repeating a lot of the same problems.


HEMINGWAY: -- when there was the inspector general hearing, which was very fresh, very new, and kind of a conclusion to years of false coverage about the Russia hoax. A lot of people didn't cover it like they should have. You know, they gave that story ammo everyday when it was on the other side. But once it was shown to be false, they didn't cover that.


ELLEITHEE: Look, I think this should be covered. I think it should be covered gavel to gavel. Let the viewers decide how repetitive it is, how boring it is, but this is a big news story.

KURTZ: Yeah. They can always go watch Netflix. Apparently some are. After the break, Hillary, Bernie, Donald getting into an argument about who is likeable with eight days to go before the Iowa caucuses.


KURTZ: Hillary Clinton is taking some flack from even liberal commentators since she took a sharp shot as part of a Hulu documentary at the man she beat in 2016, Bernie Sanders. Here's a quote: Nobody likes him. Nobody wants to work with him. He got nothing done. He was a career politician. It's all just baloney.


BERNIE SANDERS (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know she said that nobody likes me, right? I mean, this is not the kind of rhetoric that we would need right now when we are trying to bring the Democratic Party together.

DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: When Hillary says nobody likes him, nobody likes her. That's why she lost. I mean, nobody liked her.


KURTZ: Now, I was surprised by how much media attention was focused on Hillary Clinton's swipe at Bernie Sanders. But then the president weighed in, and everybody went to town.

HEMINGWAY: I mean, likeability really is one of these issues that really matters, but it's so subjective. I think the media need to be careful. I think there's truth in with what she's saying. She knows that when she was in the Senate, she worked with other people and got legislation passed. And he hasn't. He seemed so likable to voters and it's a hard argument to make.

What she's probably trying to say is that among elites, or among the people who control the Democratic Party, they don't like him. It's kind of something similar to what you would have heard Republicans say about President Trump as he was winning that nomination.

KURTZ: From the media point of view rather -- analyzing Medicare for all, nobody likes him. Well, nobody likes you. It seems though kind of middle school.

ELLEITHEE: Yeah, look --

KURTZ: But does have it have an impact?

ELLEITHEE: It might have an impact. Who knows? Right now, it -- I mean, we are days away from the Iowa caucus. It's hard for these candidates to breakthrough right now, which is hard to fathom that in the final week before voting starts, it's hard for candidates to breakthrough because of all the noise here in Washington right now.

Bernie is surging right at an important time in Iowa. But he -- arguably, you could say has been challenged the least on what he is out there proposing, on price tags of any of the candidates.

KURTZ: And so you set me up for this question, which is a Fox News poll out today has Joe Biden 26, Bernie Sanders 23 nationally. It's the closest Sanders has been in the polls that I have seen. And then New York Times poll has Bernie Sanders up seven in Iowa, CNN poll has him up nine in New Hampshire. Elizabeth Warren did get the Des Moines Register, the coveted Des Moines Register endorsement.

But Sanders also had to apologize for Biden for an op-ed by his supporter, calling him corrupt, and admit to his campaign using a misleading video about Biden's social security. Has it been a rough media week for Bernie?

HEMINGWAY: Well, kind of. And one of the things I don't like about horserace political coverage is you don't get to take a bigger look at some of these things. And the story I want to read is why does Bernie Sanders always pull his punches right at the end. He did this in 2016. He was doing a really good job. And then he said he was going remove any question about Hillary Clinton's emails.

You know it's going to be taken off the table. Here you have someone saying that Joe Biden has corruption problems that would make it hard for him to run against President Trump. Whatever you think -- you know that's a good point and he apologizes for it. Why does he not go for the jugular right at the moment where he's on the cusp of victory. I think that it's something I would love to read about.

KURTZ: There was even a story this week about a 1985 letter that Bernie Sanders wrote his mayor in Burlington, in which he called the Democratic Party intellectually bankrupt. People forget he was an independent all of his career. And we're talking in the break, CBS' Norah O'Donnell pressing him. How much your program is going to cost, and he kind of struggle to give an exact figure.

Those are the kind of questions that Bernie Sanders had not been getting until now because I think there was a collective feeling in the media that, look, he's got a really strong following but he's not going to win the nomination. That is starting to shift, so is that leading --


ELLEITHEE: That might be part of it. But it might also be that the press kind of focused on whoever was surging at the moment. Remember earlier this cycle, Elizabeth Warren was surging --


KURTZ: Why does the journalists wait until, you know --


ELLEITHEE: That's my question. I mean, it's been pretty clear for a while that you have a top-tier of Democratic candidates, maybe four, five, or six people deep. Focus on all of them. Ask them all the same tough questions.


HEMINGWAY: And tough questions aren't necessarily bad. They help you actually separate yourself from the pack.

ELLEITHEE: That's exactly right. That's exactly right.

KURTZ: Yeah. Hitting tough questions, I call hitting major league pitching all candidates have to demonstrate if you're getting mostly softballs and that sort of thing. It is harder to breakthrough, as you say, in this environment. And I continue to say that while the outcome in Iowa will be huge, it is getting so much less coverage of impeachment and four candidates who are senators who are stuck here for another week for the trial. Mo Elleithee, Mollie Hemingway, thanks so much for coming by this Sunday.


KURTZ: Doing -- working overtime. Still to come, some personal reflections of Jim Lehrer's impact on television, on presidential debates, and his place in journalistic history.


KURTZ: Jim Lehrer was best known as a presidential debate moderator. He did far more than anyone else. And as he was retiring in 2011 from PBS, Lehrer told me he was finished.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have done enough of them and I feel good about it. I feel, you know, I survived. You know I have psyche scars in me.


KURTZ: But as I predicted, he agreed to one more debate, and drew criticism for losing control and not pressing candidates.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor Romney, do you have a question that you'd like to ask the president directly about something he just said?


KURTZ: That was his style. And despite the criticism, Lehrer returned my call after the debate, told me had no apologies that his job was to stay out of the way. The PBS NewsHour which he founded with Robert McNeil back in 1975 offered its highest tributes.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're heartbroken here at the NewsHour. Jim's remarkable legacy of journalism is with us everyday.


KURTZ: It was an accident of history that Lehrer had a Bill Clinton interview scheduled on the day the Monica Lewinsky story broke.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kenneth Starr, independent counsel, is investigating allegations that you suborned perjury by encouraging a 24-year-old woman, former White House intern to lie under oath. Mr. President, is that true?

BILL CLINTON, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: That is not true. That is not true.


KURTZ: Lehrer was certain that Clinton was going to cancel but he didn't. This is a guy who found time to write 20 novels. He was an icon of unbiased journalism. And he could joke about criticism that his news cast was rather dull. And by the way, he had his own set of rules.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And finally, I am not in the entertainment business.


KURTZ: I just love that line. Jim was always so gracious to me and other journalists. He touched so many lives. Jim Lehrer was 85. That's it for this edition of "Media Buzz." I'm Howard Kurtz. Check out my podcast, "Media BUZZ Meter." You could subscribe at Apple iTunes, Google Play or We'll look for your feedback on Facebook and on Google.

So much to cover these days, my interview with Stephanie Grisham, impeachment, Iowa, we'll listen to it all. Back here next Sunday with the latest Buzz.

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