Terrorists target journalism; press sees Romney rerun

This is a rush transcript from "MediaBuzz," January 11, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On the buzzmeter this Sunday, it began with the massacre at a Paris satirical newspaper that left 12 people dead, a vicious act of terrorism, rooted in the mockery of Islamic extremists. It ended with two bloody shoot-outs that killed the terrorists. A drama that unfolded on the airwaves and hit home hard for the media.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: On our broadcast tonight, massacre in Paris. The deadliest terrorist attack on French soil in half a century.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Breaking right now, a terrorist standoff, a major operation under way as police surround those two brothers suspected in the deadly attack in France.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: NBC, it's reporting there has been another shooting in Paris. French radio is reporting gunfire at a kosher supermarket in Paris and reports of one wounded and possible hostages, as well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the last 30 seconds, we heard four, possibly five large explosions. Now I'm hearing gunfire. Multiple shots. Automatic fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Breaking news now from the standoffs in Paris. The siege is over. At least six hostages reported freed. Four other hostages now reported murdered. Three terrorists are dead.


KURTZ: Are the murders an assault on journalism itself? Will the slaughter lead to self-censorship? How did NBC and MSNBC get some of the facts so wrong? And should news organizations be supporting Charlie Hebdo by running the anti-Islam cartoons? We'll have a live report from Paris.

Mitt Romney weighing another presidential bid, at least according to some leaks to the press. Are journalists trying to draft him or being used?

Plus, Bill Cosby's TV wife fights back, even as new accusers surface. And NBC allows Maria Shriver to report on her own movie. I'm Howard Kurtz and this is "MediaBuzz."

Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French newspaper, is now an everlasting symbol, the media defying terrorists after the vicious shootings at the paper's Paris office that left 12 people dead. The paper was known for mocking Islam and other religions, and after a cartoon poked fun at the Prophet Muhammad three years ago, terrorists firebombed the paper's offices. Editor Stephane Charbonnier refused to be cowed.


STEPHANE CHARBONNIER: We can't live in a country without freedom of speech. I prefer to die than live like a rat.


KURTZ: And front pages around the world paying tribute to this courageous man and his staff.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE U.S.: The fact that this was an attack on journalists, an attack on our free press, also underscores that these terrorists fear freedom of speech and freedom of the press.


KURTZ: A debate emerged on cable news about just how the president and his aides were describing the attack.


JONAH GOLDBERG, NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE: There is a long history of this White House being very, very reluctant to talk about terrorism, to call something terrorism, but they pretty quickly called it terrorism, because it was so obviously terrorism.

What they haven't done is called it Islamic terrorism.

HOWARD DEAN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF VERMONT: I stopped calling these people Muslim terrorists. They are about as Muslim as I am. I mean, they have no respect for anybody else's life. That's not when the Koran says.


KURTZ: CNN's Christiane Amanpour used a very strange word that was picked up from an earlier comment by Charbonnier.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN: On this day, these activists found their targets, and their targets were journalists. This was a clear attack on the freedom of expression, on press, and on satire.


KURTZ: Activists? How about terrorists, murderers, jihadists?

Joining us now, Fred Francis, former NBC News senior correspondent. KT McFarland, Fox's national security analyst and former Defense Department official in the Reagan administration. And Mara Liasson of National Public Radio, a Fox News contributor.

Fred, let's take a moment as up to a million people are gathering on the streets of Paris today in a unity march. We don't usually cast satirists as great champions of free speech, but the journalists at Charlie Hebdo proved that wrong.

FRED FRANCIS, NBC NEWS: They were champions of free speech. I don't think it would work in this country. I found it offensive most of the time when I saw it. But that's part of the joy of a democracy. That you can do this. That you can be offensive, be cruel, be racist, if you want. They were, very often, that way. And so we've lost them, but in losing them, look what's happened here. We have a million people on the streets of Paris right now. Maybe there will be some change.

KURTZ: We've lost certainly the individuals who were killed, but the paper plans to publish next week, it's interesting --

FRANCIS: We'll see how long they go on.

KURTZ: Charbonnier's girlfriend said in an interview that they didn't marry or have kids because he knew he would -- KT, there's been a media debate, driven in part by Fox. President Obama has fallen short, we saw a little bit of it earlier, because he won't refer to these killers as Islamic terrorists. Is that linguistic question a more important issue right now?

KT MCFARLAND, FOX ANALYST: It's a fundamental question. Because unless you call it what it is, you don't know how to go after it and get it.

This is an assault against western values, and the targeting of journalists in Paris, that's very similar to what ISIS did. They targeted journalists, they captured journalists in Syria and Iraq. They beheaded journalists and then put videos out about it. Why? Because they wanted to show the world, don't mess with us. Don't report on what we're doing. Don't offend us. This is how we respond.

KURTZ: It's an important debate, no doubt. Mara Liasson, but in terms of what happened in France this week, even French leaders admit this was a failure of French intelligence, and yet there was this whole debate, important debate, a healthy debate about President Obama's role. Is that misdirected?

MARA LIASSON, NPR: I don't think it's misdirected. I think something very important happened in the reaction to this event. You now see today European leaders from all over the place converging in Paris, marching in this march. They are calling this radical Islamic, the ideology that gave root to this. And I think that at this point for the president, he doesn't even have to cross some kind of line. He can lead from behind. He can state the obvious now and join the rest of the world in naming this what it is.

But in terms of the strategy and how you go after this and the failures of French intelligence, this is going be a huge debate. These people were on lists, they were being followed, but according to the French officials, there just wasn't the resources to track every single one of these people all the time.

FRANCIS: This is not just a failure of French intelligence. This is a failure of intelligence throughout Europe. They have dropped the ball. They are overwhelmed by radical Islam.

KURTZ: And do you think the coverage is adequately reflecting that?

FRANCIS: No. No one has even spoke of it. The fact is that you cannot cover as an intelligence agency radical Islam in Europe, because it's so overwhelming. They have not spent the money to do it, neither the French nor the Germans. And until they do that, we're going to have what we had here.

KURTZ: Let me move you to another part of the media reaction. That is there has been a great debate about whether or not news organizations as a gesture of solidarity should run these cartoons, Charlie Hebdo. And let me play for you something a Fox contributor, Ralph Peters, said the other day. And we'll get your reaction on the other side.


RALPH PETERS, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: The correct response to this attack, by all of us in journalism, we pretend to be so brave. If we had guts, those cartoons would be reprinted on the front pages of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the L.A. Times tomorrow. They won't be. We will cry, but we're going to continue to self-sensor.


KURTZ: The Washington Post did run one of the cartoons, but K.T., is it cowardly not to run these cartoons?

MCFARLAND: I understand individually why organizations don't want to do that, because they're worried they're going to put their own people out there at risk. If everybody did it, if everybody ran these pictures and said this is what incited the violence, this is the excuse radical jihad (inaudible), then I think it would be a very strong statement. What do we have, we have all the journalists talking moral high ground. We stand with Charlie. But they're not doing it themselves.

LIASSON: We've seen those cartoons reprinted in a lot of places. And Denmark I think is a really good example of this. The publication that first published the cartoon that got the Danish journalist killed and Charlie Hebdo reprinted it and got firebombed. Every paper in Denmark apparently is now publishing them, except for that one who says they have to protect their own people.

KURTZ: Before we go, let me run through some of the explanations. Fox News is not running the cartoons. Fox is saying the safety of its correspondents and questions of taste are at issue here. CNN President Jeff Zucker says he's torn, he wants to run them, but he told his staff, protecting and taking care of the safety of our employees around the world is more important right now.

FRANCIS: I agree with that. I don't agree that you run these. If you are a worldwide news organization and you're standing on the street in Belgium or you're in Beirut and it says CNN or you're the New York Times, you are a target. You are a big target if you run these things. And I feel safe as a journalist in this country. I don't have to worry about that in this country. But overseas --

KURTZ: But you have correspondents around the world.

FRANCIS: If you have overseas correspondents, you need to be worried.

KURTZ: The New York Times explanation, by the way, we do not normally publish images or other material deliberately intended to offend religious sensibilities. And by the way, there are consequences here. Last night, a newspaper in Germany, this is the Anberger Morgenpost (ph), was the subject of an arson attack, that paper had run the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.

MCFARLAND: I completely disagree. If there is any guts, if there is any courage, if there is any role that a free media has, it is to go out and call it what it is. If we're already self-censoring, if we're already cowering under the desk, because oh, we're afraid of this, we're afraid of that, then you know what, free speech is already lost.

FRANCIS: K.T., you've never been the journalist on the front line where you have got guns from one faction over here and guns from one faction over there, and they know you represent America, they don't know that you representative NBC News or Fox News, you represent America, you're a target. I say don't run the cartoons.

KURTZ: Why is it more than a symbolic gesture? In other words, what I would like to see in response to these heinous acts is more and continued aggressive reporting on Islamic terrorists, commentary, even mockery. But to run the cartoons, some of which are offensive to various people's religious sensibilities. There is a cartoon that showed toilet paper labeled "the Bible, the Torah, the Koran," all religions in the toilet. I will defend Charlie Hebdo's right to run that stuff, but I don't know that I want it in my column or on my air.

MCFARLAND: Then the responsibility is to go into the no-go zones, to go into the no-go zones throughout Europe, in France and Germany and Switzerland and Sweden and Britain, and report on what's going on. Those are places where journalists don't go.

LIASSON: But also I think there has been in the press this week the beginnings of something that I hope continues, which is a reporting on the Muslim community and how radical Islam fits in, what the Muslim community is doing to expel it or not doing to expel it. And that I think is one of the most important things to solve this problem, and that has to be a serious, concerted effort on the part of journalists.

FRANCIS: That's happened this week because it's a hot story this week.

LIASSON: Yes. It has to continue.

FRANCIS: Well, I'm sorry, but it's not going to continue next week. I don't believe it. I don't believe that moderate clerics are going to take up this cry. They haven't. They've had plenty of opportunities since 9/11 to do so. They haven't.

KURTZ: I would just add that we also need to look, and we're seeing some stirrings of that, at anti-Semitism in France. It's no accident that a kosher supermarket was picked as one of the places where hostages were taken. But, you know, again, to come back to the courage of the people who ran this Charlie Hebdo newspaper, the office was firebombed in 2011 after the paper ran a Muhammad cartoon that offended many Muslims. And I don't want to in any way suggest or imply that the newspaper was responsible for this barbaric act, but there was an ongoing argument, and it had been criticized by some French officials, by the Obama White House in 2012, that the paper was being unnecessarily insulting or provocative towards religion.

LIASSON: But this has changed that.

KURTZ: Is it out the window?

LIASSON: This has transcended that. I think it's out the window.

FRANCIS: You can't blame the victim.

LIASSON: Now is not the time to have this debate. Now it's about a principle of western values.

KURTZ: But you were very candid in saying that some of this stuff you find offensive or racist and you don't want to defend it.

FRANCIS: No. I defend their right to do it, but I can't --


MCFARLAND: -- I'm offended by what you say, but I will die for your right to say it.

LIASSON: And they do every day.

FRANCIS: But, in fact, the French don't. Okay? If we see a million people on the streets of Paris today, are they willing to put troops on the ground to go after radical Islam?

LIASSON: They are putting -- that's why the terrorists said they were attacking Charlie Hebdo, because French troops were in the Middle East.

FRANCIS: Serious numbers of troops on the ground. We're talking about actually going -- if they want to be martyrs, let's make it so. We haven't seen the French do that.

KURTZ: I think the most important point here is that this is a hot story now, but we all know how the media run from one crisis to the next. This cannot be forgotten about. And the other, overarching measure that I take away is that freedom of speech means freedom -- you have to protect odious speech, offensive speech, otherwise it is meaningless.

I'm sure you have a lot of opinions out there. Tweet me @howardkurtz. We're going to read some of your messages later. Ahead, we'll talk to Washington Post cartoonist Tom Toles about the risks of satire. But when we come back, NBC's colossal mistake on the Paris terror attacks. How did this happen?


KURTZ: As the manhunt for the Paris killers intensified on Wednesday, "NBC Nightly News" reported a dramatic development, and that continued on MSNBC.


AL SHARPTON, MSNBC: We have breaking news. NBC has just learned that one of the suspects has been killed and two are in custody.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC: A senior U.S. counterterrorism official tells NBC News that at this hour, one suspect has been killed and two other suspects are in custody.


KURTZ: But seconds after Chris Hayes delivers that news, NBC's Pete Williams, who reported the original story, started backing off.


PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: To be fair here, we just don't know exactly what the situation is in France tonight, well into the middle of the night. There have been conflicting reports all afternoon about whether an arrest had been made.


KURTZ: And the next night, a retraction for those who were relying for -- NBC relying on those unnamed U.S. officials.


BRIAN WILLIAMS: -- and while these sources have been reliable in our previous reporting, the intel they passed along to us last night turned out not to be correct.


KURTZ: K.T., Pete Williams is usually a very reliable reporter. But to report that one of the killers had been dead and the others taken to custody -- this is Wednesday, remember -- that's a big mistake.

MCFARLAND: And I think we're going to see more of it. Why? Because traditional media is dying. Newspapers are dying. News magazines are dying. People are still watching television, but increasingly getting their news from the Internet. That means instantaneous. 24/7. Every few minutes, you refresh your page. So the push will be for the mainstream media to try to get out there and be fast, too. And they make mistakes as they have now. In the good old days when I was with the Pentagon, when we did the Grenada operation, we took guys like Fred and we put him on a boat and we sent him out in the middle of the water until the operation was over so there wouldn't be any leaks.

KURTZ: Fred, you worked for NBC News for decades.

FRANCIS: Let me make this point. Pete Williams is the finest reporter, one of the finest reporters in this town. I've known him and worked with him for 30 years. He had -- and I've done some reporting on this. He had multiple sources from multiple agencies within the U.S. government getting information from French intelligence and French law enforcement over a period of a couple of hours before he reported that. And his reporting has been so accurate over the last two decades with the same sources in the U.S. government, you would have to go with that information. And he did, because it was -- but the information was bad from France. It was not -- the French were telling U.S., the FBI, the Justice Department and the CIA the same thing.

KURTZ: That's the risk. Now, we saw this with CNN's John King, erroneously reporting there had been another arrest in the Boston marathon bombing. But here is the risk that Pete Williams took, John King took, and others have taken -- it's happened on Fox and elsewhere -- even if you are right, what is the great scoop in getting that 10 minutes before everyone else? I know we're all competitive in this business, but the risk is tremendous.

LIASSON: I think the risk is greater than the benefit of being right. Who cares? Like K.T. said, people are looking at the Internet every second. What does it matter if you beat another network by 35 seconds?

FRANCIS: It matters, Mara.


FRANCIS: Not just -- with social media today, if a tweet goes out that NBC News has a break in the story, people switch to NBC News.

LIASSON: But it's not worth the risk is what I'm saying. In other words, the benefit of that is not worth being wrong.

FRANCIS: My point to you is that in 23 years, it is rare that somebody like Pete Williams makes a mistake like this.

KURTZ: And I said that at the top.


LIASSON: Overall, the reporting on this was good, overall.

KURTZ: Different question.

FRANCIS: No, it hasn't been good, I want to make a point here. The French reported there was a third guy, the 18-year-old. He's released now. The French reported that Hayat Boumeddiene, whatever her name is, was a suspect in the grocery store. She wasn't even in the country. So a lot of bad news is beginning to come down.

KURTZ: There are conflicting accounts as to whether she was in the country. I can't resolve that right now. Is there anything in this story we're missing?

MCFARLAND: Here is -- everyone missed the big story. If it bleeds, it leads, right? We're all focused on Paris. We're all focused on the million man march. The real story of the week was the president of Egypt came out and he went to the top religious university in the Muslim world and he said to the imams, to their face, you need a revolution. It is your fault that we are hated throughout the world. Radical Islam, I lay it at your feet, you have to change. That has had earthquakes in the Arab world.

KURTZ: The question I would raise is whether or not when we go to this nonstop coverage that the world is watching, whether on some level, we're giving the terrorists what they want, which is to go out as they would see it in their twisted way, some blaze of glory. Thank you very much this morning, Mara Liasson, KT McFarland, and Fred Francis.

Ahead on "MediaBuzz," we'll go to Paris for a live report on the challenges of covering this fast-moving story.


KURTZ: It was amazing on Friday to watch the deadly drama in France unfold on cable news. Hours of tension and piecemeal information had culminated in police assaults on the two hostage locations, the death of three terrorists, some hostages being freed while others unfortunately were killed.

Fox News' Greg Palkot covered it live and he joins me now from Paris. Greg, as up to a million people gather on the streets of that city to unity march, you lived in that city for several years. Talk for a moment about the role of Charlie Hebdo and its controversial role in French culture, if you would.

GREG PALKOT, FOX NEWS: That's amazing. Yes, Charlie Hebdo really made a splash here. It was hard to describe to our audience back in America the impact of that newspaper and the cartoonists. The best way I could describe it is if, say, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Jon Stewart and a bunch of other comedians were in the same office, and they all got assassinated. It's almost the equivalent of what the folks here in France feel. They love satire, they love their cartoonists. This was a huge blow in a lot of different ways, Howard.

KURTZ: Wow. That's a striking analogy. So when you were covering the unfolding events live and we knew very little, even initially, whether the two hostage situations were connected, there were a lot of false rumors floating around. I mentioned the erroneous report on NBC. There was another report that you were chasing from BBC and Sky Television. Talk a little bit about how you decide what you can report, what you can confirm and what you cannot.

PALKOT: Howard, it was a real challenge. This was a breaking story, breaking on all sort of fronts. But in fact, that's what we're paid to do, to sort it all out.

The French government, not all that bad. They were pretty slow in getting information, but they were coming up with some information. Access, not great, but we're talking about safety.

I listened to your prior segment, and I agree with your panelists. The Twitter-sphere, very dangerous. It can be a big help, but it can lead you down the wrong way.

I think at the end of the day, in this kind of story, it takes experience, it takes knowledge of this country, it takes people who know it. Cicely Bedintzef (ph) has been my producer here in France for 15 years. Before I would go with anything I would see that looked tempting on the Twitter- sphere, I would say, call the police, call the interior minister, get it nailed down. And once we got it nailed down, then we can come out with it. I agree with the point made by one of your panelists, it is better to get it right than to get it first and not correct.

Also, I think important, Howard, to add is the context. The breaking news, very, very important. But putting it in context, what this means to France, the population here, the problems with unemployment, et cetera, very important to understand.

One more note from my experience here, Howard, the French people are pretty reticent to give their emotions, to show their emotions, but in all my time here, I've never seen them so open and so willing to talk about what they're feeling. A big blow, and a big story here in this country, Howard.

KURTZ: Really important words here, more important to get it right than to get it first. And that is why you, for example, didn't go with those reports about a gunman being loose near the Eiffel Tower. Greg Palkot, doing great work for Fox News, thanks for joining us.

Coming up, we'll talk about the impact of the Paris massacre with the Washington Post cartoonist Tom Toles.

And later, the media say Mitt Romney is considering a third run for president. Really?



KURTZ: Tweets are pouring in. Here is Brook Bollok (ph), "It's crucial that journalism doesn't become a victim of censorship as a means to prevent terrorism."

Tom Toles, the Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist of the Washington Post made a statement after the Charlie Hebdo massacre with this cartoon showing an automatic weapon and a pen labeled "free expression." I spoke to him earlier from the paper's newsroom.


KURTZ: Tom Toles, welcome.

TOM TOLES, CARTOONIST: Glad to be here.

KURTZ: This cartoon really sends a message. What message were you trying to send?

TOLES: Well, cartoons are supposed to be very, very simple. And this one mostly is. So I'll give you the simple version first. It was my immediate reaction to the tragedy of this past week, and obviously it was not just an attack on specific cartoonists, it was more generally an attack on freedom of expression, generally.

So I wanted an image that portrayed the factors here. There was -- on the one hand, there was the automatic weapon fire that was used in the terrorist attack and murders. And on the other hand, there's the lowly pen of a cartoonist, which I labeled as free expression.

What I wanted to do was to take off on the idea that the pen is mightier than the sword. OK, that's the simple part. The caption of the cartoon is, the pen will endure. That's the simple part. I'll stop there.

KURTZ: So let me jump in and ask you whether you worry at all that the murder, the massacre of the journalists, that it could lead to a softening or self-censorship among commentators and cartoonists?

TOLES: Well, actually, that's on my mind after this incident. It's always on my mind. It's an ongoing issue in journalism. And then opinion journalism in particular. And the jury is still out. There was a heartening, a very heartening response globally to this tragedy. The overwhelming public outturning in France and in the United States and around the world of people taking just the opposite of a cowering stance. The we are not afraid. And it's --

KURTZ: Very encouraging.

TOLES: It was a public recognition of the importance of free expression. Now, that having been said, it remains to be seen what happens going forward, what kind of -- I mean, freedom of expression is a very complicated thing. And it happens across a variety of media, and editors, and market forces, we will --


KURTZ: When you draw a cartoon, because you're in the satire business, do you ever think to yourself, well, this is funny but maybe it crosses a line, maybe it will be too offense to some people?

TOLES: It's an interesting cultural difference between European cartooning and American cartooning. I'm not sure everyone understands quite what that difference is. The standards of what is normal visual discourse and cartooning in Europe is a little bit different than in the United States. They're more freewheeling. They go more for vulgar, very confrontational imagery. So automatically, right off the bat when I draw a cartoon, I'm working in the American context, which is more visually circumscribed. But what I ask myself is -- is not so much am I crossing a line of offensiveness. The thing I'm always asking myself is does this cartoon reflect what I really want to say. And does it convey that effectively? I don't censor myself. My editor does not ever try to censor me in terms of content or opinion expressed. There is a question of, you know, the images that are selected. That is a matter of discussion, but as far as content, no, that doesn't -- that doesn't enter my mind.

KURTZ: The pen is still a mighty thing. It's a little known fact that Tom Toles and I both worked at "The Spectrum," the student paper at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Tom, great to see you again.

TOLES: Great. Thank you, Howie.


KURTZ: Sharyl Attkisson filed suit this week against the Justice Department. The former CBS News reporter has been a frequent guest on this program. She says she has evidence that the department is connected to the hacking of her home and work computers. The Justice Department has been denying for two years that it had any involvement in the hacking, which the suit says was verified by three forensic investigations, or knew anything about it. Attkisson, who was then reporting on such administration stories as Obamacare and Benghazi, told me she's pursuing the $35 million invasion of privacy suit to show that people victimized by this sort of practice aren't powerless to fight back.

And on "MediaBuzz," Bill Cosby's TV wife seems to dismiss all those women accusing him of sexual assault.

But first, the media say Mitt Romney may have changed his mind about running. Did they hype a so-called coup at the same time against John Boehner?


KURTZ: When reporters have asked Mitt Romney about running for president, his answers again and again has been the same.


MITT ROMNEY, FORMER GOVERNOR OF MASSACHUSETTS: I have nothing to add about my own. I'm not running, not planning on running. And I'm not going to add to the story beyond that.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: But you're not saying you're done?

ROMNEY: What I'm saying is that I'm not running, I am not planning on running. That's all I've got for you, Chris. No more than that.


KURTZ: But now the Wall Street Journal reports that the two-time candidate told a meeting of donors Friday that he's considering another White House bid in 2016, according to those present. And Politico quotes a source who recalls Romney saying everybody in here can go tell your friends that I'm considering a run.

Joining us now, Christina Bellantoni, editor in chief of "Roll Call," and Lauren Fox, who covers the Hill for "The National Journal."

Christina, the press doesn't seem to want to take no from Mitt Romney -- no for an answer from Mitt Romney. Is this the latest example of just kind of trying to drum up a Romney candidacy?

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI, ROLL CALL: It is an easy story for the press to do. We often talk about this on your show. Because you've got all of this footage, not just from his 2012 failed presidential bid against President Obama, but also his failed primary bid in 2008. And so there are ways to just get back into the story, and the press loves tension and big personalities. The Washington Post story on the front page this morning by Phil Rutger (ph) and Robert Costa (ph), it's really well written, really interesting, but it gets at all of this drama between the Bush family and the Romney family legacies going back 50 years.

And this is something that the media can easily focus on. You've got all the sound bites. You've got the drama, you've got the tension, it's a great story.

KURTZ: But with Jeb Bush very clearly getting into the race, Lauren, and Mitt just making some comments behind closed doors, is there any sense that you have that he may just be trying to get his name out there?

LAUREN FOX, NATIONAL JOURNAL: Well, it certainly will make a difference, though, heading into the 2016 election. I mean, already folks up in New Hampshire are saying, well, this may put a freeze on hiring for a couple of weeks while we really get a sense of whether or not Mitt Romney just made an off-the-cuff statement or whether or not he's really --

KURTZ: I want your take on how seriously, right now, based on what we know, the media should be taking these rumblings.

FOX: If he's going to make an announcement about running for president, he's going to tell donors before he tells the press, perhaps.

KURTZ: Or he's going to tell donors to tell the press.

FOX: Right. This could be Mitt Romney just wanting to stay relevant. Certainly we saw in 2014 that that was part of his strategy. He was in a lot of these Chamber of Commerce ads, helping folks who were running for Congress. So I think Mitt Romney definitely wants to stay relevant.

KURTZ: So no sooner are these organizations going nuts over this, "Time" magazine runs a piece saying top advisers, these would be political advisers, discount the possibility of him actually mounting a campaign as opposed to talking about mounting a campaign.

BELLANTONI: You do have to take him seriously. This is someone who would be able to build up an infrastructure fairly quickly. Yes, there's a question of how many advisers have already gone on to work for others. But he could. If he wanted to run, he could be there, and the Republican Party has tended to do this. So yes, I think the media should be--


KURTZ: It's not that I don't take Mitt Romney seriously, although it's interesting, the press didn't particularly like Romney in 2012, didn't particularly give him great treatment, and seems to be rooting for him to run. You have these headlines. Today you mentioned Washington Post, Politico. Mitt, Jeb, ready to rumble?

FOX: It's an interesting news story. It's a fun news story. And unlike 2012, when Mitt Romney was one of the only really establishment candidates late in the race, I think the press is hungry for a story where they get to put more and more conservative establishment candidates up against each other, obviously Bush and a guy who has run twice already for president is a really good example, especially if you're going to have donors fighting it out.


KURTZ: It's a juicy story, but I am going to be skeptical about whether he actually gets in.

All right, this week, John Boehner easily reelected as House speaker. But you had a lot of media attention on what was called a coup attempt or a mutiny, because 25 Republicans ended up voting against him. Was that hyped for the sheer drama of it?

BELLANTONI: I will defend this coverage. Obviously, "Roll Call" does quite a bit of it; Congress is our business. But you had way more Republicans voting against Boehner than ever before. You know, he had a certain number of dissidents. I believe it was 12 or 13 in his last run for speaker. And so you had a bigger effort, you had Republicans that gave him a heads up saying, look, I'm from deeply red districts, and if I don't vote against you, I'm going to get a primary, and then you saw him punish people. This is actually a story about power dynamics on Capitol Hill.

KURTZ: Right. But at the same time, you will quickly agree that he was never seriously threatened.

BELLANTONI: No, he wasn't ever seriously threatened. And the way we covered it was always looking at there are insurgents who are agitating to get rid of him. They are not going to be successful, but here is how they're trying to do it, here is what they're working on, and here is what they'd like to see.

KURTZ: Republicans often say the left leaning media in their view exaggerate the party's divisions into a civil war, the Boehner battle gave -- was a good opportunity for this.

FOX: Certainly. And one thing that I thought was interesting about the coverage, it was a serious number of people, but it was never a serious effort. I talked to Scott Rigell, who is a congressman from Virginia. He's more of an establishment congressman. He said look, I didn't even know that we were actually going to run a serious candidate against him, like Daniel Webster. He said I decided to change my vote against Boehner last minute.


KURTZ: Congressman Louis Gohmert announced he was getting into the race on "Fox and Friends," he got three votes.

FOX: And people were voting for themselves on the floor. If there was a real serious effort, it would have been more organized than just the morning of or a few days before.

BELLANTONI: And there is a lot of consternation, it was in the Democrat Party, as well. And we've covered that extensively with those arguments against Pelosi and the tension there.

KURTZ: Right. Well, I think the underlying tension is a better story than the pretense that Boehner might have lost his job. And now he's got to do the job. Christina Bellantoni, Lauren Fox, thanks very much for stopping by.

After the break, Alan Dershowitz goes on the offense against a murky allegation of sexual abuse. And Phylicia Rashad stands by her ex TV husband, Bill Cosby. Our video verdict is next.


KURTZ: It's a heck of a sex scandal that is generating all kinds of media coverage because of the celebrity names involved. Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire convicted of solicitation of prostitution back in 2008, was friendly with Britain's Prince Andrew, who has denied allegations in a lawsuit that he had sex with an underage girl, also denying such a charge on the "Today Show" is Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.


MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: Your response to the allegations that you had sex with an underage girl all those years ago, what is your response?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD: Totally false and made up. She claims I had sex with her at Jeffrey Epstein's island. The records will show I was on that island once with my wife, my daughter.

LAUER: Did you have any contact with Jane Doe number 3 at all, Alan, did you ever meet her?

DERSHOWITZ: No, I don't even know who she is.


KURTZ: Now, that is an unambiguous denial. In response to some hard questions from Matt Lauer. And there's been some coverage and some media chatter about Bill Clinton, who was friendly with Epstein and rode on his jet some years ago to a private Caribbean island owned by the tycoon, but the media needs to make clear that no one has alleged any improper conduct by the former president.

Three more women, if you're keeping count, surfaced this week with allegations that Bill Cosby raped or sexually abused him. And although Cosby's wife has already defended him, now his TV wife has stepped forward, Phylicia Rashad speaking to ABC's "Nightline" and denying comments attributed to her by the entertainment blog Showbiz411 about Cosby's accusers.


PHYLICIA RASHAD, ACTRESS: What I said is this is not about the women. This is about something else. This is about the obliteration of a legacy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do want to get your initial reaction to the allegations.

RASHAD: Well, my initial reaction to the allegations was, hmm, someone has a vested interest in preventing Mr. Cosby to return to network television.


KURTZ: I get that Phylicia Rashad wants to stand by her man, so to speak, and must be disappointed that TV Land has dropped reruns of "The Cosby Show" in which she played Mrs. Huxtable. But 30 women have now told harrowing tales about Cosby. And while he hasn't been convicted of anything, Phylicia doesn't seem to have anything to say about them or what they allegedly went through.

Still to come, your top tweets and why did NBC let Maria Shriver report on her own movie?


KURTZ: In our Press Picks, this was over the line. When NBC Nightly News did a feature on the movie "Still Alice," a new drama about Alzheimer's disease, Brian Williams went to one of his most famous correspondents.


BRIAN WILLIAMS: There's already talk of an Oscar nomination for its star, Julianne Moore, and the film is something of a passion project for one of its producers, Maria Shriver, who of course watched her own father, Sergeant Shriver, slip away in the clutches of Alzheimer's.

MARIA SHRIVER, NBC NEWS: A lot of people are comparing this to "Philadelphia." What "Philadelphia" did for AIDS, "Still Alice" can potentially do for Alzheimer's.

SHRIVER: Her performance bringing new attention to a devastating disease. Maria Shriver, NBC News, Los Angeles.


KURTZ: But why would NBC have the woman, who is an executive producer of the project, report -- and I use that word loosely -- on her own movie? The newscast did mention Shriver's $15,000 fee, which as the Washington Post noted, she is donating to charity. But if NBC believed this film is worth precious air time, they should have assigned the story to anyone other than Maria Shriver.

CNBC is still the number one business network, but it's been on a ratings slide for a decade. Its daytime Nielsen numbers down 13 percent last year alone. The network's solution, dump Nielsen. CNBC has hired another firm called Cogent (ph) after complaints that Nielsen doesn't fully capture its out of home audience in places like offices. But it's not a move you'd make if your ratings were going up.

Here are a few of your top tweets. Should media organizations run those Charlie Hebdo cartoons in support of the paper? Instapundit, that's law professor Glenn Reynolds, "Yes, standing up to intimidation is more important than protecting people's feelings." Carl Gottlieb, "Strong stance on issues always offend someone. The New York Times offended Christians and Jews by showing senseless artwork." 8bitjerk, "A lot of people are also pretending not to run the cartoons because they're offensive, when they're just afraid." Desiree Hill (ph), "Media outlets should A, adhere to their norms; B, explain to audiences why they're choosing to run, not to run, or to blur images."

Finally, two television comics turn rather serious this week over the slaughter at Charlie Hebdo.


JON STEWART, HOST, DAILY SHOW: I know very few people go into comedy, you know, as an act of courage, mainly because it shouldn't have to be that. It shouldn't be an act of courage. It should be taken as established law. But those guys at "Hebdo" had it. And they were killed for their cartoons.

CONAN O'BRIEN, TALK SHOW HOST: All of us are terribly sad for the families of those victims, for the people of France, and for anyone in the world tonight who now has to think twice before making a joke. It's not the way it's supposed to be.


KURTZ: Those were important moments for people who make their living by the laugh. Helping the rest of us deal with this trauma by reminding us that even in the age of terrorism, we will all laugh again.

That's it for this edition of "MediaBuzz." I'm Howard Kurtz. We hope you'll like our Facebook page. We post a lot of original content there. We respond with your buzz to your questions on video and in the comments. So check us out there. Check me on Twitter: @howardkurtz. And remember, we're back here next Sunday at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Eastern with the latest buzz.

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