Trump, pundits on right hit over shutdown

This is a rush transcript from "Media Buzz," December 23, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On Buzz Meter this Sunday, a rare revolt by some in the conservative media, abandoning President Trump on two crucial issues. Number one, initially averting a government shutdown by not funding the border wall.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE DOOCY, FOX NEWS: There are a lot of people who heard him last week, who drew that line in the sand and said, this is worth shutting down, and if there is not a shutdown, he's going to look like a loser.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK SHOW HOST: This is textbook. It's a textbook example of what the drive-by media calls compromise. Trump gets nothing and the Democrats get everything.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS: I think that not funding the wall is going to go down as one of the worst, worst things to have happened to this administration. Forget Mueller.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: That helped persuade the president to change course, producing a partial government shutdown. Number two, Trump's decision to quickly pull all-American troops out of Syria, leading to departure of Pentagon Chief Jim Mattis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN KILMEADE, FOX NEWS: In a stunning and I think irresponsible move yesterday, the president's blindsided his secretary of defense, national security adviser, people on the outside who have been advising him like General Jack Keane as well as his State Department.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He looks like in fact that he is weak, that he is caving in, that he is bugging out. It's a foreign policy disaster.

NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC: Donald Trump wags the dog and the world is less safe today after the dramatic resignation of the last human guardrail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is so frustrating. This is exactly what Barack Obama did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Why have these issues sparked such criticism from conservative pundits who usually back Trump? Bill Bennett who work for Republican presidents joins our discussion. The Beltway press was virtually certain that Mike Flynn will receive no jail time until a federal judge threatened to put the former national security advisor behind bars.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's stunning to me that this judge who has such a reputation of holding prosecutors to a high standard would suddenly decide he is a member of the prosecution.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Frankly, I think that today was a really good day for the justice system and that this judge really did his job.

DON LEMON, CNN: Don't you think that even at the White House and also the trumpets all over the country, their heads were blown up? They were so mad. They love this judge when they thought that he would believe the conspiracy theories, right?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: How did the media miscalculate the handling of Flynn's guilty plea with some prognosticators even saying the case could be tossed out? Plus, a massive breach of trust by Facebook peddling access to your private messages. Has Mark Zuckerberg's company finally gone too far? I'm Howard Kurtz and this is Media Buzz.

With much of the government shutdown at least through Christmas, with Defense Chief Jim Mattis leaving, with U.S. troops pulling out of Syria, with stock market sharply declining, the media are now pushing this narrative as described by The Washington Post. "Trump single-handedly propelled the U.S. government into crisis and sent markets tumbling."

Politico says Trump allies are privately expressing new levels of concern about the president's erratic behavior. Some pundits on the right joined in the criticism when the president agreed to a stop-gap funding compromise with zero funding (ph) from the wall. And under pressure from House conservatives, Trump then bowed not to sign any bill without that funding, leading to this weekend's partial shutdown.

Joining us now to analyze the coverage: Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist and a Fox News contributor; Sara Fischer, media reporter for Axios; and Philippe Reines, a former State Department official under Hillary Clinton.

Mollie, some stories are saying we have a partial government shutdown because Donald Trump was coward and coerced by conservative commentators on Fox, by Rush Limbaugh, by Ann Coulter who hammered him for initially going along with that stop-gap funding bill, that wouldn't funded the wall at all.

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR, SENIOR EDITOR, THE FEDERALIST: Well, and that's because Donald Trump himself said - he said that he believed border security was important enough, that if it weren't funded, if this wall weren't funded, he would take credit for a government shutdown. And then it sounded like maybe there was some backtracking on that.

So absolutely conservative media pushed back because they wanted to make sure he wasn't backtracking. And here we are. So, it's a good reflection that people's sentiment was somehow expressed in the media either through conservative media or otherwise.

KURTZ: Interesting. It's not every week that Fox & Friends, the president's favorite show, criticizes Trump, in this case on both issues, Syria which we will get to and the wall and the shutdown maneuvering.

Is it that certain pundits on the right are so powerful or are they seen as reflecting the views of Trump's base which as we know are important to him?

PHILIPPE REINES, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAAL UNDER HILLARY CLINTON: Well, from my perspective as a Democrat who comes into the belly of the beast pretty often, it seems to me that what triggers Republican on Republican violence is usually immigration.

And I think the problem is, that Mollie just touched on, is that the president is not hardcore believer in much of anything to the extent that he has no problem coming off these things. So, it happened with DACA where you saw another one of these meetings where --

KURTZ: Compromising --

REINES: Compromising and you see the Republicans in the room are wincing, and you see it with Chuck and Nancy last week. And I think it brings up a larger -- it brings up two, one is the -- but also brings that these are self-inflicted wounds. The president is so used to wanting cameras that he brings them in at times that they shouldn't be there.

KURTZ: And speaking of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, and Mollie just referenced this, question for you, Sara, I want to play this soundbite that is being endlessly replayed by the media, that meeting less than two weeks ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck. I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I'm not going to blame you for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: So now that the president is blaming the Democrats for the shutdown, the media kind of enjoying him being boxed in by his earlier words and the current partisan battle.

SARA FISCHER, MEDIA REPORTER, AXIOS: That's right. Some even comparing this to George H.W. Bush's read my lips, no new taxes. When you verbally promise something to the American people with cameras involved, you have to be ready for any kind of push back when you go back from your word and that's exactly what Donald Trump is facing right now with his base and conservative members of the media saying, wait a minute, that's not what you just did and said last week.

KURTZ: The withdrawal of the 2,000 troops from Syria was portrayed in the press as kind of a shocker. But Trump did say during the campaign and since that, you know, he is opposed to extend it or enlist military entanglements overseas, is he up against essentially a media establishment that favors military intervention?

HEMINGWAY: Absolutely and we saw this - it's actually kind of a crisis. When you are seeing all these stories about pulling back our presence in Syria, you're getting nothing but quotes from people who think that we should have perpetual presence in Syria. It is true that a lot of people in the foreign policy establishment all think the same way. They all supported lengthy intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan which is on 17 years --

KURTZ: Yes.

HEMINGWAY: -- and they are for now that we accomplished our stated mission in Syria, they are trying to change the stated mission from military defeat of ISIS into enduring defeat of ISIS, which is something that could mean that we will be there for 17 years.

So, you are not getting a lot of diversity of viewpoint and it's a serious problem. It is something that media people need to make sure they are getting that viewpoint from people who don't believe in endless intervention in Syria.

KURTZ: You know, president just fight this by saying ISIS has been defeated or largely defeated. Seems to be liberals have to be restrained on this because Barack Obama, you worked in that administration, pulled out of Iraq, got hammered by the right for it, and he also in a way shared Donald Trump's aversion to endless war in these places.

REINES: I don't think this is a high-minded debate about where the U.S. should be deployed. I think this is more simply about congressional Republicans which is basically Donald Trump's firewall, that he has on occasion basically dared to leave him first with Charlottesville, then with -- now with this, with the Saudi killing. He's leaving them no choice but to criticize them. I don't think that's an intervention or non-intervention thing. It is don't trifle with the people who are doing your bidding --

(CROSSTALK)

REINES: -- your back.

KURTZ: By that logic, he is also leaving certain conservative commentators with no choice who believe in differently than he does --

HEMINGWAY: I actually think that one of the problems we have seen in media coverage has been this perception that only - that Republicans only disagree with him. You have multiple senators who are supporting him including Senator Mike Lee and Senator Rand Paul. You have people on both sides of the aisle who do not believe that we should have this perpetual presence.

KURTZ: Is it that the press is playing up the Lindsey Grahams and Bob Corkers who are denouncing Trump?

HEMINGWAY: Of course. But even more than that, only 18 percent of Americans last year supported having troops in Syria and Tim Kaine, my senator from Virginia, has been trying to get a new resolution passed to support this endless situation in Syria and he has had no success. So I think this is a false narrative that is being perpetuated --

REINES: You know, Lindsey Graham said this is a stain on his presidency.

HEMINGWAY: Lindsey Graham has never found the country he doesn't want --

REINES: OK, but Lindsey Graham golfs with the president. He is his biggest defender on Mueller. These are significant things --

KURTZ: Let me move on from Lindsey Graham to Jim Mattis, because look, widely respected. He is leaving a very big story. But is the press going a little overboard in portraying him as the last man standing between Donald Trump and the collapse of the western alliance?

FISCHER: Of course. I mean, we have a large defense department, we have a large defense infrastructure. However, he was viewed as one of the biggest sounding boards in one of the most fundamental rocks when it comes to foreign policy. And so him leaving does scare a lot of people.

Going back to your point though about media and how they are taking a look at this, you now, I was watching CNN this morning. They had Bob Corker on and they had Rand Paul on. I think that we have to make sure that we are watching each individual's show and taking into account which views they put on. It's not always so one-sided.

HEMINGWAY: And just one other thing I want to mention, not all the media coverage has been bad. I think it was a CNN story or somewhere where I read that eight months ago, Donald Trump told General Mattis, we need to be out of Syria within six months, eight months ago. So, learning some of the contexts of the situation --

REINES: But this isn't about chair --

HEMINGWAY: -- Trump who has been for years saying we need to get out of Syria.

KURTZ: I want to take a look at the bigger picture. I didn't know about the 18 percent supporting, remaining in Syria. Things are pretty volatile. It has been a pretty rough week. Washington is pretty rattled. New York is rattled. What about the media just making this all one big bowl of Trumpian chaos?

And watching the banners on CNN, MSNBC, they are all like shutdown looms as Mattis resigns as stock market tanks or stock market tanks as Mattis resigns, a shutdown loom. CNN's favorite is Trump tailspin. What do you make of its all Trump?

HEMINGWAY: With the stock market, the idea that the feds action this week doesn't play a role in that --

KURTZ: Yeah, raising interest rates.

HEMINGWAY: -- even when you take the issue on the shutdown. Yes, it is true that Donald Trump is forcing this issue. It's also true that it has been forced by inaction among both parties, both houses, and this is something that you - by noticing it doesn't mean you're the cause of the problem. By saying we finally have to deal it with doesn't mean you're the cause of the problem. It just means you're saying this has to get done.

KURTZ: Philippe, is the coverage of the Syrian pull out influenced by the fact that essentially Trump's style, he did this against the advice of many White House aides, he overruled Mattis, he didn't tell his congressional allies, he didn't tell allies in foreign capitals, and so does that add to the media sensible arm?

REINES: I think when you couple Syria with the firing of Mattis because they really are the same thing, you have this dynamic that I don't subscribe to that Jim Mattis was some kind of like blankie where it made everyone feel better at night and it shouldn't have. And I think there is some psychology going on.

KURTZ: What forced our general who believes in the defense alliances --

REINES: Two weeks ago, he went up to Senate Intelligence Committee and said there was no connection with the killing and their intelligence --

KURTZ: Well, I'm not saying you have to agree with everything Mattis does.

REINES: No, but I'm saying that they have vested so much in him as the last line of defense against Trump, I think, is more about the people saying that than the reality of it.

KURTZ: Do the media, Sara, reflect the foreign policy establishment's view on many of these issues? We saw this, Mollie alluded to this. Afghanistan, Iraq, now Syria, that more military intervention, more troops is better, it's a good fight against terrorism unless reflecting the views maybe of many Trump supporters which is why are we spending American tax dollars to constantly be in these places for decades. FISCHER: I think absolutely. When you bring on tons of foreign policy experts to talk about what the implications are for diplomacy for us in doing something like that, but you are not bringing on moms and dads or people who are waiting for their kids to come home, I do think it does give you the coverage in that bit to be able --

HEMINGWAY: Well, not just that, but there are many foreign policy leaders who support this idea. You want to bring in those voices as well as average Americans.

FISCHER: Yes. And to your point though about --

REINES: Including Congress.

FISCHER: Yeah, but there are people from Congress --

HEMINGWAY: There are people in Congress who also don't believe --

REINES: But they were all taken by surprise.

HEMINGWAY: And if they wanted to be there, they could very easily pass a resolution saying we should be there and how long --

REINES: But if you're going to criticize Barack Obama for sort of just putting us in there and not having enough discussion about it, you can't say that Donald Trump had an adequate discussion about pulling out. It's not as simple as keeping a campaign promise.

KURTZ: I got to get to a break. This debate is not over by any means. Ahead, Bill Bennett joins us on how the president is at the center of the political wars and also the culture wars. When we come back, miscalculating on Mueller. The media blew it over the Mike Flynn sentencing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: In the run-up to Mike Flynn sentencing, virtually all the journalists and the pundits and the analysts thought the one-time White House official would easily avoid a jail term for lying to the FBI, and some conservative commentators argued the FBI had entrapped him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Almost everyone thought this would be simple. In, out, no jail time.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: We all thought that General Flynn was going to get sentenced today and that it would probably be just a little bit of time. But, oh no, something very different happened.

GREGG JARRETT, FOX NEWS LEGAL ANALYST: Which invites the question, why is the guy who told the truth being charged with the crime of lying?

JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOST: Judge Sullivan can throw out this guilty plea if he concludes the FBI intentionally interfered with their target, Flynn's constitutional right to counsel. CHUCK TODD, HOST, MSNBC: If you watched Fox for the last 72 hours, there was this expectation that this judge was going to martyr, make a martyr out of Flynn.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Not all at Fox, but federal Judge Emmet Sullivan said he was disgusted by Flynn's comments, telling him arguably, you sold your country out. He made clear that Flynn was likely to get some jail time but allowed him a postponement so he could further cooperate with prosecutors. Mollie, would you agree or disagree with what the judge did? The media, left, right and center, as we saw, shocked and amazed that Mike Flynn didn't have a quickie hearing with no jail time.

HEMINGWAY: Right. I do want to point out that Judge Sullivan did immediately walk back those comments. He said - he sort of said he was trying to make a hypothetical argument --

KURTZ: Yes.

HEMINGWAY: -- and he apologized for that. I think that is important to mention. This is a very complicated case. I think what Mike Flynn's lawyers were trying to do was point out that he had been pressured into accepting a plea deal for something that he probably didn't do to avoid all of his other legal problems.

The judge in this case has a long reputation of being someone who says, if you plead to something, you better have done it. And so he gave them every opportunity to pull back on their plea. They didn't do it. He was really testing the boundaries of that plea agreement. And I think a lot of people didn't understand what is happening, but, yeah, so now we don't have sentencing for another 90 days.

KURTZ: Philippe, even some liberals in the media are sympathetic to Flynn. Military man, he cooperated early, doesn't deserve jail time. And I think that may have clouded their view of what was --

REINES: I think I have to honest. I was nervous about Sullivan's ruling. I've had a little bit of experience with him because he was the judge, one of the judges in Hillary Clinton's e-mail matter and was very tough on her.

When he asked to see the FBI notes, it seemed like, oh, he was buying into this notion. But the flip side is he then saw everything that we can't see and had a very strong reaction. But on a larger point as as a crisis communications point, I don't understand why the White House, the president in particular, has ever veered from no collusion.

It is the most effective thing he ever says. Why that umbrella ever expands to Manafort, to Flynn, to any of these guys. It was setting themselves up - -

KURTZ: OK

HEMINGWAY: In part because this Muller probe has not found any --

REINES: But just say look --

HEMINGWAY: -- that is going on to all these other places.

REINES: I don't know what these people are doing. I know what I didn't do.

KURTZ: Let me get Sara here.

REINES: Don't say he wasn't here that much or --

KURTZ: OK. So was this a bit of media group think (ph)? Because everyone in our world said, yeah, you know, prosecution agrees, defense agrees, you won't get jail time, you cooperated, and the judge comes in and he's looking not only at this narrow question of lying to the FBI or not, but other crimes that Flynn wasn't charged with, for example, illegal lobbying for Turkey. He's a senior White House official and he says, hey -- he sees a much darker picture in the way it was portrayed by the press.

FISCHER: Yeah, absolutely. I think the press was dumbfounded to see something that we probably should have been better prepared to see. I mean, look, at the end of the day, as you mentioned, the judge has insight into some of these things that we don't have insight into.

And by the way, we see surprising judge rulings for months now coming out of this administration. So we should be prepared always to have some sort of surprise ruling. I think when you hear things like what we just heard with Chris Cuomo, that this is going to be a damning ruling, based on what the judge said today, that's going overboard as well. We still don't know what he knows, and so we just have to be prepared to acknowledge anything.

HEMINGWAY: And also because of this judge, we now got to see some of these 302s that Congress has been trying and failing to see. And so we did get some transparency. And it does pose some pretty difficult questions about - -

KURTZ: OK, so --

HEMINGWAY: -- what the FBI --

REINES: If they didn't went overboard to say, are you sure that's what it was, wanted to give him a hand.

KURTZ: There was a Wall Street Journal editorial titled "The Flynn Entrapment," and that many conservative commentators on Fox and elsewhere made the case that Flynn either didn't lie or the FBI set a perjury trap. When Flynn's lawyers made that argument, it backfired.

HEMINGWAY: Well, it did, but the underlying facts are true. We had a criminal leak, an illegal criminal leak of a phone call that Mike Flynn had with an ambassador from Russia that never had any wrongdoing in it. That was leaked to The Washington Post. No one has even been investigated for that, much less prosecuted.

The day before the FBI went to interview him and while were they interviewing him, they leaked to The Washington Post that he was in no legal jeopardy. They suggested that he was in no legal jeopardy. They encouraged him not to have attorneys there. These are all types of behavior that are inappropriate. James Comey himself admitted he got away with it. This is not what you want to hear from --

KURTZ: But whether they incorporate or not --

REINES: I think it diminish -- I mean, Mollie is good at what she does. But this is diminishing what Flynn actually did. Flynn is someone who as soon as the inauguration was standing on the podium making deals. He should not have been --

HEMINGWAY: I agree. That's not what he was charged with though. That's what is kind of interesting.

REINES: He is charged with lying. You know what, it is bad to lie to FBI.

HEMINGWAY: You should never lie to any --

(CROSSTALK)

REINES: Don't lie to the FBI.

HEMINGWAY: For instance, when Hillary Clinton said she didn't know how classified systems work. And yet the FBI decided not to prosecute that.

REINES: That's not a lie.

KURTZ: You two have to fix it outside because I want to talk to Sara. Some of the mainstream media kind of selling this as a repudiation of a whole deep state theory, you know, that people are being (INAUDIBLE) like Mike Flynn. But it is a case of somebody who did after all lied to the FBI, pleaded to lying to the FBI, and this notion of well, he didn't know, he was the former head of the defense intelligence agency. FISCHER: Military general.

KURTZ: Yeah.

FISCHER: Highest national security post next to the president.

KURTZ: Right.

FISCHER: You know not to lie to the FBI. In fact, those reports that he was, you know, kind of happy in his demeanor seemed so honest. It means that quite frankly to me, Flynn did something wrong in lying to the FBI, he may not have realized at the time what he was doing, but it doesn't undermine what Sullivan was saying --

KURTZ: I got to go.

FISCHER: -- that it's wrong.

KURTZ: Mollie had more words but she can -- did take it up on Twitter. All right, Philippe Reines, Sara Fischer, Mollie Hemingway, great to see as always. Ahead, some prominent journalists canceling their Facebook account at the latest ethics outrage. Can the social network recover from this one?

But up next, CBS isn't paying Les Moonves a penny as another famous accuser emerges. And the latest pal (ph) to attack a major news outlet is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: It's official, CBS won't pay Les Moonves a penny of the $120 million in severance he wanted after being ousted as chairman. The board says he was fired for cause because of a pattern of sexual misconduct and for misleading outside investigators hired by the network. Moonves told the newsletter this is far from over, and CBS is actually obligated to pay his legal fees expected to run into millions.

Meanwhile, another high-profile accuser has now come forward. Actress Cybill Shepherd says her show was taken off the air in the 90s after she rejected his advances.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHELLE COLLINS, HOST, SIRIUS XM (voice over): How soon after that then did you find that you were having issues with the series?

CYBILL SHEPHERD, ACTRESS (voice over): Quite shortly afterwards,

COLLINS (voice over): No kidding.

SHEPHERD (voice over): Uh-huh.

COLLINS (voice over): Unbelievable.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: While Moonves might eventually force CBS to cough up some cash, the optics of giving him a big payout after these kinds of revelations would be truly awful for the network.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, may be a media darling but she is not shy about sticking it to the press. Politico had reported that according to unanamed sources, she had recruited an African-American to potentially mount a primary challenge to the number five House Democrat Hakeem Jeffries.

Ocasio-Cortez has ripped the media outlet on Twitter. "One disappointed about D.C. is the gossip that masquerades as reporting. This story has not a single named or verifiable source. One one on-the-record comment which is a denial. My had a name for junk articles like this. Birdcage lining."

Ah, gossip, birdcage lining. Who does that remind you of? Politico spokesman Brad Dayspring responded, "it's hard to know what the criticism of the piece is, since the congresswoman-elect doesn't specify not has she or anyone from her staff asked for a correction. We stand by our reporting"

Now, even some conservatives are saying that Ocasio-Cortez kind of reminds them of Donald Trump with her uncanny knock for drawing media attention, her tendency toward fact-challenge comments, and a willingness to pick fights with the press. She accused a Washington Examiner reporter who said her wardrobe didn't match her low income status of misogyny. Birdcage lining may be her version of fake news.

Germany's Der Spiegel has fired a reporter in a massive scandal involving years of fabricated stories and made-up characters. Now, U.S. Ambassador Richard Grenell has written its top editor demanding an outside investigation of "anti-American bias at the magazine that has exploded since the election of Donald Trump."

Grenell, a former Fox News contributor, says Der Spiegel routinely doesn't call for comment (ph) and that the U.S. has lost faith in its editing and fact-checking. Kind of a familiar complaint back home.

Ahead on Media Buzz, some prominent journalists canceling their Facebook accounts. Can the social network recover from this latest ethics calamity? But fist, are some liberal commentators going off the deep end when it comes to the president and the Mueller probe? Bill Bennett is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOWARD KURTZ, MEDIA BUZZ, HOST: The media ripping President Trump for crises that stretch from Washington to Wall Street. I spoke moments ago with Bill Bennett, a former cabinet official, host of the Bill Bennett Podcast on iTunes, and author of the new book The True St. Nicholas: Why he Matters to Christmas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Bill Bennett, welcome.

BILL BENNETT, FORMER CABINET OFFICIAL: Thank you.

KURTZ: Here is the media narrative. And unnecessary government shutdown, disastrous Syrian pull-out, Jim Mattis is the last adult in the room, Wall Street is plummeting, complete chaos. And it's all Donald Trump's fault. Your thoughts.

BENNETT: Well, I mean, he's president of the United States and he's going to attack -- attract a lot of attention. But this is a guy who paints in very bold strokes. You could get another president doing the same thing, but it wouldn't be done in Trump's style. Plus...

KURTZ: That would be.

BENNETT: Direct, bold, straight-forward, in your face, that's it.

KURTZ: Also, at the center of things, the stories tend to be about him.

BENNETT: Yes.

KURTZ: That's partially the media and it's partially the way the president tweets and invites all that coverage.

BENNETT: Yeah. And I don't want to limit my time and my segment right away, but they hate Trump. I mean, Trump is the focus. That's why they want to get Trump. I mean, they just don't like him for any reason. Let's take one of those pieces.

The general, I'm sorry to see Mattis go. I'm really am sorry to see Mattis go. But I remember all the headlines about too many generals. He was hiring too many generals.

KURTZ: Right.

BENNETT: One is leaving now, so maybe that's -- actually, two have left.

KURTZ: Well, let's stay with that for a second, because Jim Mattis has served his country well in Afghanistan and the White House.

BENNETT: Absolutely, absolutely.

KURTZ: But as somebody who has held a cabinet-level post, is the press overplaying the importance of one secretary...

BENNETT: They are.

KURTZ: Even though Mattis played a vital role?

BENNETT: They are indeed. And you serve at the pleasure of the president. And you know, you always got to remind yourself for that. I remember making calls a couple of times, the Secretary of Education, I get a call from the chief of staff about being unhappy. I said how unhappy is he? If he's really unhappy, I will go.

But, you know, Donald Trump is the center of conversation, not just here in Washington. It's really interesting. He's the center of conversation all over the country. He leads every parade. I mean, there are conversations at Thanksgiving dinner. People talk about having a no-politics discussion zone. I have never seen anything like it.

KURTZ: Right. It does seem to sort of dominate every aspect of American life. But when the president abruptly changes course or does something without telling his aides, or blindsides his alleys, does that add to the sense that everything is about him? In other words, does he have some responsibility here even if the press is overdramatizing it at all for the sense that right now Washington is rattled?

BENNETT: Yes, of course, he does, because that's the way he acts. And he acts in this very directive, forceful way, this bold colors' way, he doesn't lean in, he doesn't prevaricate, he says what he thinks. What's that line? I will go to them most counterfeitly (ph). He doesn't go to the public most counterfeitly (ph), he goes quite directly.

And the things he does are sudden strikes. But remember just how largely he looms, not just in the minds of the American people, but the media who are both exhausted by his pace.

KURTZ: Right. Because 6:00 in the morning, the tweets start.

BENNETT: I love our White House correspondent at Fox, John...

KURTZ: Roberts.

BENNETT: John Roberts who always looks like he's work an 18-hour day. That's because Trump is work an 18-hour day. The guy is indefatigable, he's strong, he's direct. No matter what his politics, he would draw a lot of attention. But all the anger has to do with the fact that he's Donald Trump.

KURTZ: But as you were sort of hinting, it goes well beyond the world politics.

BENNETT: Yes.

KURTZ: It's a world of culture.

BENNETT: Yes.

KURTZ: You have Trump versus the NFL, you have Trump versus SNL, you have Trump versus social media, Trump versus Hollywood celebrities. Have we ever had a president more at the center of every single political culture conversation and can that be wearing on the public?

BENNETT: Well, yeah, it's interesting. It's wearing or weary, yeah.

KURTZ: Yeah.

BENNETT: Is there a subject to which he has no interest? Is there a subject to which he's not prepared to declaim? Maybe not. Look, he's an interesting consumer of the culture. But what he's doing is he's like -- more like a regular person than we are used to president's acting with scripts and people explaining it and with very careful language. He talks like someone in your family would talk. And I don't like what they are doing in the NFL. I don't like that song. Why they take that...

KURTZ: Right. He's not getting the nuance and he overstated that, and this is off. But that's part of his appeal. I also try to remind people.

BENNETT: Yeah.

KURTZ: The way that he talks. But he also is not just a voracious consumer of media coverage, he cares a lot about television. I mean, the presidents that you work for, they were spending as much time focusing as much time on how they are played in the media.

BENNETT: Yeah. But he doesn't care to the press. He canceled the White House Press Party.

KURTZ: Yes. He thought that was fine.

BENNETT: He doesn't go to the White House Correspondents Dinner. I think that's great because he doesn't cater to them. They know he doesn't like them. He knows they don't like him. But you're right. He's a huge cultural figure, not just here, but around the world, these conversations about Donald Trump.

KURTZ: Absolutely.

BENNETT: Better known than Nike I was told the other day.

KURTZ: During this partial...

BENNETT: McDonald's, I'm sorry.

KURTZ: During this partial government shutdown, Washington Post's headline, one among many, Limbaugh and Coulter blamed for Trump's shutdown. Suddenly, conservative commentators, in which you have been one, you're an author, you hosted a radio show, have so much power they can tell the president what to do in this new meme because they objected to the initial compromise that would averted the shutdown, but also had zero funding for the border wall.

BENNETT: Yeah, well, look.

KURTZ: Is that powerful?

BENNETT: They are powerful. He listens to people who he only likes and who generally agreed with him. And that's perfectly fine. But he makes his own decision. The press needs to make up its mind. Is it Limbaugh, is it Ann Coulter, is it Laura Ingraham, or is it Donald Trump. Well, maybe there are a lot of conservatives with opinions and strong opinions. But we've never had a president like him. And for all those who complained year after year to the press that you know it's too staged, it's too phony, it's too artificial. This is not an artificial president.

KURTZ: Last question, we've got half a minute. You said a moment ago he does not like the press, the press does not like Donald Trump. Is there a level of which that is not good for the country, this constant warfare?

BENNETT: Yeah, sure. I mean, I think, it sips through the air vents. It troubles people. But at the end of the day what matters to people is whether things get done, so that their individual lives are better. And I think he's making a very good case on that front. We'll see. The American people can stand a lot more than people think. We are not delicate flowers, we can handle it.

KURTZ: No delicate flower here. Bill Bennett, a great conversation.

BENNETT: Thank you, Howard.

KURTZ: Merry Christmas.

BENNETT: Thank you.

KURTZ: After the break, a closer look at Jim Mattis leaving the Pentagon. Was he pushed out or did he quit? And coverage of the president's decision to pull out of Syria.

And later, Facebook breaches your privacy again. And that company isn't sorry.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Jim Mattis is leaving the government after President Trump overruled his Pentagon chief on withdrawing all American troops from Syria. The media have been divided over what's behind his departure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNIFER GRIFFIN, FOX NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The truth is that this was not Mattis' choice. He was pushed out by the president.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Secretary Mattis retiring, no. Secretary Mattis is being pushed out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Despite that reporting, CNN, MSNBC, and other outlets stuck with the narrative that Mattis was quitting in protest.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11th HOUR ANCHOR: Perhaps the most of grave and consequential of the Trump presidency thus far, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has resigned in protest of Trump's policies.

KURTZ: Joining us now, Gillian Turner, our Fox News correspondent and a White House national security official in the Bush and Obama administrations. So, Gillian, Fox News' Jennifer Griffin, CNN's Barbara Starr, two best Pentagon reporters said Mattis was forced out. Others have disagreed. Obviously, he did rebuke the president in his resignation letter saying here's what I believe, you're entitled to have somebody who shares your belief. What's your take?

GILLIAN TURNER, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: I think that both things can be true at once, as this is the case with a lot of senior White House officials, cabinet officials who have policy disagreements with the sitting president, they will negotiate and exit. So it's a little bit of one side wants out, the other side wants them out. And so, they come together and make it happen.

KURTZ: And that matches my own reporting, which is that Mattis while clearly frustrated, has been telling friends, a number of friends, I will never ever quit. He said that out of loyalty to the soldiers. At the same time, Trump had sent signals he would like Mattis to move on. And when he couldn't change the president's mind on Syria and also possibly withdrawing half the troops from Afghanistan, by that point, I think it was mutual. I can't remember another cabinet officer, maybe going back to Jim Baker who was portrayed by the president as being as indispensable as this one.

TURNER: Which is interesting. I mean, it's interesting that we've gotten to the point where Jim Mattis is now perceived by the media as sort of an all- star American hero. Because if you remember back to 2016, when his name was first circulated, it was Jim Mattis, Mad Dog Mattis. He's good on the ground, the troops love him, but is he strategic enough? Can he really make policy, does he have enough policy-making experience? And now, suddenly, because President Trump and he had parted way, he's an American hero.

KURTZ: Yeah, heroism can be situational in the way media cover it. The president tweeting just yesterday, if your favorite president announced -- if anyone other than, excuse me, your favorite president announced we're going to bring our troops back off from Syria after decimating ISIS, they would be the most popular hero in America. With me, hit hard instead by the fake news media. Crazy. That's one view of it.

TURNER: It is one view of it. I think what the president -- I hate doing this, what President Trump really meant to say. But...

KURTZ: He feels he's been unfairly hammered.

TURNER: He feels he's been unfairly hammered. The very obvious reality to anybody that pays attention to military policy is that there is never a good time to withdraw American troops from the midst of an ongoing civil war in another country. But if you don't ever make the decision...

KURTZ: You were there for a hundred years.

TURNER: And so, to me, the very obvious response from the Trump administration to all of this should be, this is a hard choice. It's not an obvious choice. There are risks inherent in whatever decision we make. But we said we would pull out and so now, we're pulling out. There is never a good time to do it.

KURTZ: Right. David Sanger had a fair-minded analysis in the New York Times, writing Trump's view, the American forces cannot alter the strategic balance in the Middle East and should not be there. It's fundamentally shared by his media predecessor, Barack Obama, who of course, pulled out of Iraq. It's being portrayed as Trump is doing this radical thing.

TURNER: This radical thing.

KURTZ: Obama ran against it.

TURNER: I think the media has a really important role to play here at this moment, which is to hold Congress accountable. Congress, both sides of the aisle, are now railing about the president withdrawing. They've never given the president authorization to send American troops into Syria in the first place. The troops that are there fighting in the Syrian civil war are there in violation of U.S. and international law. And I think it's the media's job to point out that Congress is playing wolf and being a bunch of hypocrites.

KURTZ: As you say, there are no good choices here. But I have to say, along with Mattis as a hero -- look, I highly respect Jim Mattis and his service to the country, and the job he did in the Pentagon. There is also this other view that I think is getting -- playing the press, which is a lot of people don't want troops to be there forever. How much can they accomplish in a war-torn country, military crisis like Syria?

TURNER: I mean, name a Democrat in 2020 that is going to run on a platform...

KURTZ: Send more troops. Yeah.

TURNER: Sending more troops to the Middle East. There is no one. Maybe Joe Biden, maybe he would. It seems like he wants to get the job done finally. OK, that's fine, but he's the only one.

KURTZ: I think you have put it in a perspective just with that one observation. Gillian Turner, thanks for joining us this Sunday.

TURNER: You got it.

KURTZ: Still to come, Facebook letting other corporations snoop on your private messages. And the backlash is building. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: This is a Fox News alert, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis who said in his resignation letter that he would stay on through the end of February is leaving as of January 1. President Trump just tweeted this news. He will be replaced on an interim basis, acting secretary, the Deputy Pentagon Secretary Patrick Shanahan will take over. This undoubtedly is a result of the harsh resignation letter that Mattis wrote. The president I think not pleased moving up the date.

All right. Getting back to other news. Facebook has been battered by a series of scandals. But what maybe the biggest and broadest breach of trust, the New York Times reports that the social network made deals with such companies as Netflix and Spotify, allowing them to access your private messages, personal communications that you thought you have every right to expect were safe from corporate snooping.

Joining us now, Shana Glenzer, a technology analyst here in Washington. So unlike all these other investigations, it seems like this hits people in the gut. Private messages, personal, confidential stuff, to me, it seems pretty outrageous.

SHANA GLENZER, TECHNOLOGY ANALYST: People are understandably on edge. They feel like they cannot trust Facebook. And yet, here is another reason why. So, while I don't think it's totally outrageous that Netflix could see messages created on Netflix using Facebook technology, it's really not the point. It feels incredibly invasive. It's feels like yet another betrayal in this year of Russian infiltration and data breaches from Facebook. And people are not being reassured that Facebook gets it, that Facebook understands that they're worried and they're concerned, and maybe deleting their accounts.

KURTZ: Well, I think it's a lot more intrusive. I understand if you are on Netflix and talking about movies with someone else. But why should we believe Facebook that that's all it is? I mean, once another corporation has access -- I mean, I always thought these private messages were sacrosanct, maybe I don't want other people to know what you're talking about or who you are talking to. It feels to me like another betrayal.

GLENZER: Yeah. So the messaging technology is something they loaned out to other companies.

KURTZ: A lot of other companies.

GLENZER: A lot of other companies. They didn't do a good job communicating this. They also didn't a good job this week with any responses to this report. I mean, they missed the mark by miles in again reassuring people. They were super defensive about they did nothing wrong here. And I think people are looking for Facebook to do more than just meet the letter of the law. They're sharing all these personal information on Facebook. They want to be reassured that it's safe.

KURTZ: Facebook has put out a statement saying it wasn't really a breach of privacy, it wasn't a breach of consent decree settled with the Federal Trade Commission. But we can do better. And no apology or video from Mark Zuckerberg -- I think Facebook is just being a little tone deaf here. Even if it thinks it did nothing wrong, they got to understand how much it upsets people.

Now, technology reporter Walt Mossberg who started out at the Wall Street Journal, has worked in other places, announcing he is deleting his account because his values no longer match those of Facebook. MSNBC anchor Casie Hunt doing the same thing. What do you make of that? Is there a growing backlash over privacy issues against the social network?

GLENZER: This certainly seems to be the straw that broke the camel's back for several high profile names like Casie. However, I think most of people have become pretty desensitized to this news. They've heard it over and over again this year from Facebook. It's the new normal relationship with Facebook where they say, listen, I don't trust them. But I'm still going to post pictures of my kids on Facebook. They just come to expect that these things will happen.

KURTZ: I'm not predicting a great wave of people leaving their accounts, unless the younger people think Facebook is no longer hip enough. But doesn't it erode the brand that was once a glittering brand, that of Facebook?

GLENZER: It certainly does. And Facebook will feel the pain of losing some of these high-profile names, less engagement with reporters on Facebook. And a lot -- you know, highly less ad dollars as well. So Facebook will feel the pain. And certainly, it's tarnished much yet again.

KURTZ: The new normal, as you put it. And perhaps something they will need to get used to, many social networks criticized this week on the Russia business. Shana Glenzer, great to see you. Thanks for stopping by.

Well, that's it for this edition of Media Buzz. I'm Howard Kurtz. Merry Christmas to you and your families on this holiday weekend. Check out my new, Media Buzz Meter. We kick around the day's five most important or fascinating or silly or otherwise stories. You can subscribe at Apple iTunes, Google Play, or tune in at foxnewspodcasts.com.

Let's continue the conversation on Twitter, @HowardKurtz. I think a lot of you probably already tweeted at me on a lot of these issues of this past week, whether it is the shutdown, whether it's the stock market, whether it's Jim Mattis and the pull-out from Syria. So I will enjoy reading most of those and responding.

Also, take a look at our Facebook page. I post my daily columns there and a lot of original videos. All part of our efforts to keep communicating with you and making this a two-way conversation.

Despite the holidays, we will back here next week, 11:00 Eastern. We'll see you then with the latest buzz.

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