Trump says media praise rioters

This is a rush transcript from "Media Buzz," June 7, 2020. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: This is "Media Buzz." I'm Howard Kurtz. As television cameras captured protests spreading to dozens of cities across American and sometimes turning into riots, President Trump, while continuing to express sympathy over the killing of George Floyd, is talking mainly about stopping the violence.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I am your president of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters. Our nation has been gripped by professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsonists, looters, criminals, rioters, Antifa, and others. These are not acts of peaceful protests. These are acts of domestic terror.


KURTZ: The president is also escalating his rhetoric against the media. If you watch fake news CNN or MSDNC, you would think that the killers, terrorists, arsonists, anarchists, thugs, hoodlums, looters, Antifa, and others would be the nicest, kindest, most wonderful people in the whole wide world. And some conservative commentators are backing his indictment of the coverage.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And some media figures, by the way, have aided and abetted the chaos. Portraying those driving the lawlessness as somehow justified in smashing, grabbing, pushing, beating, destroying. These news anchors, that's what you want to call them, they're taking side with anarchists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The media is sour now because they were forced to shoot a photo-op of the president of the United States demonstrating that he's not going to be intimidated by criminals. And they're bitter that they had to film it because it deals a big blow to their lawless side.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He calls them thugs? Who's the thug here? Hiding in a bunker, hiding behind a suit? Who is the thug?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you can't keep a Fox News correspondent from getting attacked directly across the street from your house, how can you protect my family? How are you going to protect the country? How hard are you trying?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is playing the media. He wants to be re-elected come November, and nothing else matters. Doesn't care about police brutality, doesn't care about how minorities are treated in this country.


KURTZ: Joining us now to analyze the coverage, Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist and a Fox News contributor, Griff Jenkins, a Fox News correspondent here in Washington, and Mo Elleithee, a Fox News contributor and former DNC official who runs Georgetown University's Institute of Politics. Mollie, who are these anchors and journalists that CNN and MSNBC, who according to the president, are saying that the killers and the terrorists and the hoodlums and thugs and so forth are wonderful people?

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Right. I think most of the media's support has been in the form of downplaying the violence. But there has been some explicit support for the rioting portion of these protests. I mean, Mara Liasson last night of NPR, and Paul Farhi of the Washington Post, both compared Antifa terrorists, not just to American soldiers, but to American soldiers on D-Day.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, a New York Times Pulitzer Prize winner, said that it was immoral to say that riots are violent and that property destruction is violent. Slate ran an entire piece devoted to the idea that violence is an important tool of the protest moment. The Atlantic is comparing this moment to violent coups that overthrew other countries.

There's no question that the media are showing support here. And I think there's also no question that this is enraging Americans who just a week ago had to deal with the media saying that if you went to school, if you had your job, if you had a funeral, if you visited dying relatives, that you were a public health threat, and now they've turned on a dime and it's an extinction level to note this -- to see what they're doing here in terms of their hypocrisy.

KURTZ: Well, I was going to ask you about the Nikole Hannah-Jones comment, the idea that property destruction is not violent. That was pretty stunning. But I don't see anchors and journalists praising those who are carrying out the destruction. Let me get Mo in here, because there are two issues here. How -- one is how journalists cover the peaceful protesters.

The other is how they cover the minority of violent extremists. But there are media voices on the right arguing that journalists here are on the side of lawlessness, your thoughts.

MOE ELLEITHEE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Yeah. And I think those voices on the right that are saying the media's on the side of lawlessness are further just trying to stoke division. Look, an overwhelming majority of people in the media are able to draw the distinction between those who are rioting, those who are causing violence and peaceful protesters.

I watch -- I consume a lot of news, and watching all of the cable news, reading a lot of it. They are calling out the rioters. They are calling out the looters. They are calling out those who have hijacked the peaceful protest movement and separating them, saying the protesters should be able to demonstrate peacefully and that the memory of George Floyd is being dishonored by those who are looting and rioting.

That's the correct place to be, to call for getting tough on the rioters. 
The problem is while the president, at first, says that he supports peaceful protests. He then, and his enablers are out there trying to conflate the two, and that is very dangerous.

KURTZ: All right, more of that in a moment. But Griff, the president came out to the White House on Friday because he wanted to kind of celebrate a dip in the unemployment numbers. The media thought it would go up. Spoke for about 40 minutes, didn't take any questions, Fox carried the whole thing. MSNBC dumped that after 11 minutes.

CNN didn't cover a word of the president's appearance, which I found striking. But what made news were these remarks by President Trump.


TRUMP: Hopefully, George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that's happening for our country. This is a great day for him. 
It's a great day for everybody.


KURTZ: Now, what I found striking was that on MSNBC regularly, Al Sharpton and others were saying, well, Trump was saying that George Floyd was looking down. He was excited about the jobs report. Was that the case?

GRIFF JENKINS, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, if you look at the transcript, Howie, it -- actually right before those comments, the president was talking about equal justice under the law for every American, that every American, regardless of race, color, creed would be treated the same, and that because of what we tragically witnessed in the death of George Floyd.

We can get to a place, where under law and order, you will have equal justice. That's what he was talking about after already talking about it being a great thing, the economic jobs numbers report. I think one of the things that's dangerous in terms of the media's coverage is that the narrative must not be that law and order, in and of itself, equals that black lives do not matter. And that is something that we should certainly keep our eye on, I think, going forward.

KURTZ: Yeah. The DNC had put out talking points. The president was talking about the jobs report with regard to Floyd. And The Washington Post had to run a correction on that point. Mollie, pick up your broader theme about the coverage. And do you think that the thugs and the looting and the setting of cars on fire and all that, do you think that's getting too much attention?

Obviously, it's extremely newsworthy when it happens. But do you think it's overshadowing what are tens of thousands of peaceful protests in many, many cities?

HEMINGWAY: Well, again, I don't think that it is getting the proper amount of coverage. In part, people might not realize how devastated many cities are because they're banned from going to work in the cities. And the media continue to downplay it. And what I've seen on TV is a bunch of people sort of downplaying and making excuses.

They say, well, we've talked to people who say that they feel forced to do this violence. You saw that on CNN. I saw a Today Show person saying that we're not going to cover these as violent. We're just going to cover them as protests. You had Ali Velshi, I think it was, saying -- standing in front of a burning building, saying these are largely peaceful protests.

And when people see this, it causes distrust in the media. Of course, there are tens of thousands of peaceful people. People understand that. They also know that riot situations are very dangerous. They're dangerous for the rioters themselves. They're dangerous for the police that have to bring protection to the city. They're dangerous for the cities.

And they're dangerous for the innocent people who have nothing to do with the violence. And so we need to have far better coverage explaining the volatility of this situation. And when the media don't report accurately and honestly, it just causes further distrust in what is already a bad situation for media relations.

KURTZ: Let me warn you about some video. I'm going to show -- you may have seen this in Buffalo where two police officers have been arrested for doing this.




KURTZ: That was a 75-year-old protester knocked to the ground, bleeding. 
He's still in the hospital. Mo, there have been other instances where the demonstrations to protest police brutality are showing instances of excessive police force, your thoughts about that part of the coverage.

ELLEITHEE: I'm glad that it's being called out. I'm glad that it's getting caught on camera. I'm glad that we live in an era where everyone can walk around with a cellphone and capture this stuff, because otherwise, we might not know about it. Remember the history of our country. The Civil Rights Movement was furthered -- the march across the Pettis Bridge because TV were there to capture the police brutality and highlight it and spotlight it for the rest of the world that may not have been aware that this was going on.

We're now seeing these protests that are protesting police brutality. And we're seeing it happen. Now, it's not happening everywhere every day. There are many beautiful images of cops taking a knee with protesters, of police chiefs marching with protesters, of officers holding up signs saying stop police brutality. That is happening.

But when we are seeing these cases of police officers overstepping -- again, this was a peaceful gentleman. It's important that that be called out.

KURTZ: All right. A little tight on time, so let me is ask you all for short answers. Griff, we'll go to you first. Former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, telling CNN this morning that he'll vote for Joe Biden, calling President Trump a liar. The president, shortly before airtime, tweeting back that Powell's a real stiff who is very responsible for getting us into disastrous Middle East wars.

The New York Times story today quotes sources as saying that George W. Bush and Mitt Romney will not be voting for President Trump a second term. Are the media trying to create a wave or riding a wave of Republicans for Biden?

JENKINS: Well, I don't know what they're trying to create, but it certainly would seem that they're sort of culling together the fact that there are a lot of Republicans now that think they could be for Medicare For All and possibly undoing the conservative gains made on the federal bench in favor of supporting the fact that they believe Donald Trump lacks character. That will be a story to watch, indeed.

KURTZ: Mollie, there's been a media explosion -- you and then Mo, over Jim Mattis, former defense secretary, telling The Atlantic that President Trump is not even trying. He's only pretending to unite the country. He's actually dividing the country. Would you agree this is newsworthy given that Mattis has had such a long and decorated career and has been silent for two years since leaving the Pentagon?

HEMINGWAY: Just really quickly that George W. Bush's official spokesperson said that that was not accurate, what the New York Times had reported. And Colin Powell, I don't think, has voted Republican since 2004. So I'm not sure how newsworthy it is that he continues to not vote Republican since 3004. But yes, this was very exciting for people to come -- to talk about Jim Mattis who's still smarting about Trump wanting to exit the Afghanistan war after 19 years and not have U.S. troops patrolling the border.

I think what the media are missing is that a lot of people voted for Trump precisely because of these things, and because he won't unite with a radical left and won't just kowtow to them. And that's just missing from the coverage of this Mattis thing.

KURTZ: Mo, just briefly, it's a little harder for the president to demonize Mattis than it is, say, Omarosa or Scaramucci or Michael Cohen or others with whom he's fallen out.

ELLEITHEE: Yeah. I mean, look, he's had a number of serious people who have worked for him that he appointed who are now beginning to openly question him. You're getting a number of significant military officers, high ranking military officers who have worked across multiple administrations, Democrat and Republican, who are calling him out. People are going to make up their own judgment, but it is certainly newsworthy.

KURTZ: All right, got to go. When we come back, a huge media furor over the clearing of protesters outside the White House before the president's visit to that church, did the press get it wrong?


KURTZ: The scene unfolded on live television as military and federal police moved against what journalists described as a largely peaceful protest in Lafayette Park across from the White House and forced demonstrators out of the area.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As teargas is now being fired. You can see what's going on. The police are moving. They're trying to disperse this crowd that has gathered at Lafayette Park. Clearly, they don't want these protesters to be there, even though they were peaceful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know if it's related to the president's claimed remarks. They're not, but it's an incredible militarized presence at what had been a peaceful protest here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's clear he wants to clear out these crowds before he holds his press conference in the Rose Garden. But clearly, some scenes that are people in distress facing pepper gas and teargas as we're speaking right now.


KURTZ: That enabled President Trump to walk to the nearby St. John's Church damaged by fire the day before and hold up a bible in front of the cameras. 
Mollie, you wrote a piece for The Federalist -- praised by President Trump that challenges the reporting of what actually happened. It's true that most organizations said that teargas was used.

There were official denials, saying it was pepper spray or pepper balls. 
Reporters who were there say it was teargas, the park police -- U.S. park police now say, well, we shouldn't have denied it because it's close enough to teargas. Putting aside that, what were your other problems with the reporting of what happened in Lafayette Park?

HEMINGWAY: Well, mostly the focus on it. There have been violent riots in hundreds of American cities. You have 15 people who have been killed in the violence. You have untold city centers that have been obliterated. And peaceful protesters, you know, breached the White House grounds. They set fire to a guard shack. They set fire to historic St. John's Church.

More than 50 police officers in D.C. alone were injured, including some that were hospitalized with head injuries. And the media seem to be focused on the fact that this group of protesters were asked to leave three times over 20 minutes that they refused to do so. And then, they were cleared by the police. Now, you want to make sure that the police don't use too much force.

You want -- that's absolutely important. But the context here has been completely missing. And it is very frustrating for a lot of people to watch when they see with their own eyes the violence and the unrest, and hope that the police will make sure that they protect federal buildings and federal personnel.

KURTZ: Mo, I watched on live television along with everybody else. It did seem from the cameras that the protesters were largely peaceful. And there's been thunderous media criticism, because the narrative is that they were cleared out so that President Trump could come out of the White House. 
Take that walk and go over to St. John's church.

ELLEITHEE: I'm sorry. First of all, to say that the media has been ignoring the riots in order to focus on this just doesn't bear out. If you watch coverage over the past week, every single night was -- everyone was focused on the riots and the lawlessness that was happening there. So they weren't ignoring it. Now, what happened here, to me, is a betrayal of everything Donald Trump said he would do.

He said that he was going to rein in the out of control federal government. 
Here was him militarizing the police to use chemical irritants and other excessive force against peaceful protesters. There's no evidence that these protesters were doing anything illegal, and yet they met --


HEMINGWAY: There is evidence.

ELLEITHEE: No, there isn't, Mollie. I know you said it --


HEMINGWAY: No. I'm saying the evidence would include the testimony from the park police saying that they had bricks, rocks, and frozen water bottles thrown at them at the time that this happened. So you might disagree with that evidence --


ELLEITHEE: You're going to use that, so if we're going to say that when there's an overwhelmingly peaceful protest, that in order to deal with it we are going to militarize the police and use excessive force. Use excessive force when we all watched it unfold live on television before our own eyes? To me, that is a huge overstep. I don't care at all about the photo-op in front of the church, right?

If the president wants to go to a holy place, and that is a place that I have been to many times that many of us have been to many times. And that was tragic that it was set fire to by rioters the night before. I'm glad he went. But to use --


KURTZ: Let me jump in.

ELLEITHEE: The real tragedy is the use of excessive force to go after protesters, using chemical irritants, and then to spend days afterwards denying it. That, to me, is a betrayal of the public trust.

KURTZ: I just want to note, because it was so unusual that Washington's Episcopal bishop, Mariann Budde, put out a statement saying it was outrageous for the president to go to the church because people at the church didn't know he was coming. And then the next day, the Catholic archbishop of Washington, Wilton Gregory, who is African-American.

Also put out a statement after the president had visited a shrine to St. 
Pope John Paul II, saying this was reprehensible and baffling, because the Catholic facility allowed itself to be misused. It's just so unusual when religious leaders speak out against the president. Griff, I want to come to you, because the initial reports were that Attorney General Bill Barr gave the order to clear Pennsylvania Avenue.

So that the president could make that walk, but Barr has since been kind of distancing himself from the decision.

JENKINS: Well, there seems to be this evolving explanation. But I have spoken a lot to sources at the DOJ and the park police as well. Early on Monday, Barr oversees -- approves the decision that is made, according to DOJ sources, to clear the perimeter based on what had happened over the weekend with the violence that occurred.

KURTZ: Yeah.

JENKINS: And therefore, once it began to be cleared in the afternoon, the park police commander gave the tactical order and they did issue this irritant, as Mo says. But it's technically not CS gas. So there's a lot of nuances in the reporting. But the DOJ stands firmly behind the fact that Barr did not do this specifically for the Washington church. But rather, it was a decision made with regards from the violence over the weekend.

KURTZ: I think that's the point that got lost. Great discussion but we're out of time. Molly Hemingway, Moe Elleithee, great to see you as always. 
Griff, stick around. But first, Fox News is drawing criticism for airing a graphic on the stock markets performance after George Floyd's killing, and other cases of racial violence.

Now, Fortune and the Wall Street Journal had already examined that question, but as a TV graphic, it's not surprising it drew plenty of negative commentary. The network said in a statement, the info graphic used on Fox News channel's special report to illustrate market reactions should never to historic periods of civil unrest have aired on television without full context.

We apologize for the insensitivity of the image and take this issue seriously. Up next, are all those camera crews in cities across America spurring on the protesters and the extremists? We'll debate that next.


KURTZ: It's become a staple of cable news coverage with many programmers being anchored or co-anchored from the streets, from New York to Philadelphia, to Washington to Minneapolis to Los Angeles, as they march with the protesters and anticipate the possibility of violent clashes or rioting as darkness falls.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're calling this largely an increasingly peaceful protest during the day with these thousands of people. But at night, they're saying that it is an organized effort among anarchists, amongst outside agitators that are going around. And they're communicating on encrypted apps.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And things are getting tense. I just want to give you a sense of what we're seeing right here. If -- this is the front line. If you look down this line, you can see protesters face to face with these troops.


KURTZ: And we're back with Griff Jenkins. Griff, all these camera crews out on the streets on the seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth day of protests, and I'm not suggesting it is intentional. But it's part of the side effect perhaps to attract more demonstrators and perhaps also some of those who are planning to be violent.

JENKINS: Well, I've covered Ferguson, Baltimore. I've been to Milwaukee when all of these happened. And sunlight is the best disinfectant. That's the saying. And it's really never been more important, I think, Howie. 
Because I have spoken with some of those in the protest crowds, some of them about (ph) Antifa folks, others just simply upset young African- Americans.

All of them saying that something has happened, a straw has broken a camel's back, and it is time to really come out in full force, because what they've done in the past in terms of protesting, trying to get their message across didn't work. And therefore, our cameras need to be there, particularly at a time when you are seeing the self avowed law and order president starting to crack down for the very reasons, as we just played earlier in the show, which what happened in buffalo.

KURTZ: No, of course we have to cover it. And I have no problem with protesters seeking coverage. But I get this sense as we head toward evening every night that there's an anticipation something bad may a happen. And if something bad happens, you know, this sounds terrible. But it's then considered good television and it drives ratings.

So I just wonder whether or not the focus on the streets, we have to be there virtually 24/7.

JENKINS: We have to be there 24/7. Listen, I think the appetite would be driven by the reality TV phenomenon that started years ago. Perhaps people want to see things that are really happening. But this one matters. This is
-- we are at an inflection point in this nation. And certainly, the streets is where the energy is, the streets is where the debate is, the streets is where journalists should be in holding every person accountable.

Whether it'd be a protester, an agitator, a rioter, a looter, a lawmaker, a policeman, or national guardsman, we will be there to cover all of them fairly and bring the story to you. Has it created --


KURTZ: Let me jump in. OK, look, just briefly, Fox's Steve Hilton tweeted the media are making this worse by harnessing the violence for commercial gain. Do not give violent thugs the publicity they crave. So my question is it's been largely peaceful with some exceptions the last few days. Should media be replaying and replaying the more violent episodes if it happened a day ago, two days ago, three days ago, four days ago, or is it time to move on and show what's happening right now?

JENKINS: Well, I think you have to show it days after because we are going to have, starting on Monday, tomorrow, a possible effort in Congress to have this justice for policing. And so, we need to know, we need to be reminded of it.

But I would just take a little bit of disagreement with our good friend Steve Hilton. Listen, whether the cameras were there or not, Macy's was going to get looted and the other instances we've seen. And so --


JENKINS: -- I'll stand firmly behind the fact that we belong there, and we're going to put it on TV whether you want to watch with it or not as a viewer --

KURTZ: All right.

JENKINS: -- that's your choice.

KURTZ: All right. I may disagree a little bit on that point, but great to see you, Jeff Jenkins.

Ahead, the NFL in turmoil again over those kneeling protests, but first, the New York Times does a 180, a staffers revolt over an op-ed from a Republican senator than actually has a different point of view on the nationwide protest.


KURTZ: There's been a staff rebellion at the New York Times over the paper having the temerity to publish an op-ed by Republican Senator Tom Cotton titled "send in the troops to restore order in cities gripped by protest.

Times magazine writer Nicole Hannah Jones who worked on that Pulitzer winning 1619 slavery project tweeted, as a black woman, as a journalist, as an American, I am deeply ashamed that we ran this. Magazine writer Jenna Wortham running this, put black New York Times staffers in danger in solidarity my colleague who agrees.

Op-ed contributor Roxane Gay, his piece was inflammatory. And endorsing military occupation as if the Constitution doesn't exit. Times editor spent a day staunchly defending the piece both wound up apologizing.

Joining us now in New York, Kat Timpf for Fox's Greg Gutfeld show and in Massachusetts Mara Liasson, NPR's national political reporter and a Fox News contributor.

All right, Kat, even during the uproar, because I was reporting on this as it happens, editorial page editor James Bennett insisted he owes it to readers to show them counterarguments to the paper's position. A.G. 
Sulzberger, the publisher also strongly defended the decision to run this piece.

And then just before my piece aired on special report, Sulzberger put out a different statement saying it was a rush editorial process that led to the publication of an op-ed that did not meet our standards. What did you make of that?

KAT TIMPF, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I have a nuanced view here. Not on the op-ed view itself, I want to be clear. I disagree with what Senator Cotton wrote in the op-ed. However, in terms of the pushback, I think, for example, the Washington Post made the point there were some claims in here where you think there should have been a link there backing up what he had to say.

I've been a columnist myself for years, and I know my editors always say source OK, everything, source everything, source everything. So that I can understand. But when it comes down to people saying it shouldn't have been published because of the opinion it's expressing, that's where I have a problem.

Because one place he did cite saying this is a common opinion, 58 percent of registered voters, and that was taken a few days ago. Who knows if that may have changed --

KURTZ: Right.

TIMPF: -- but it is a common opinion. It's not a fringe opinion.

KURTZ: Right.

TIMPF: This is not a random shmuck off the street. This is the senator, and I always am on the side of more speech and not less. And ironically enough, we're talking about these issues now which we may not have been talking about if this hadn't happened.

KURTZ: All right, let me get Mara in. So, the first Sulzberger walk back said the Times needs to boost its fact checking and it's going to run fewer op-eds although there were several rounds of edit to the Cotton piece.

Then Sulzberger told his staff on Friday, Mara, that the piece was contemptuous and shouldn't have been published, so now it's not a factual problem, but what the paper calls a needlessly harsh tone. It sounded to me like the paper's just trying to find a reason to disavow this story.

MARA LIASSON, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: It just sounds like a mess from start to finish. I mean, it sounds like they solicited this piece, they first defended it, they didn't fact check it. There are some, as Kat said, some kind of wild accusations that weren't linked to anything like thrill- seeking rich people were part of the protests, they were driving exotic cars, they saw this as part of radical chic, whatever that all means.

So, I think that the Times just has to kind of get its act together on its op-ed page. Yes, of course there should be divergent opinions, but the Times is the paper of record. It has a really high standard, and every single article, op-ed or otherwise, should be held to the same standard.

KURTZ: But, Kat, when the paper says this was needlessly harsh, I mean, here's needlessly harsh. The liberal Times columnist Michelle Goldberg writes a piece titled "Tom Cotton's fascist op-ed." So now an opinion supported by a lot of Americans, as you say, is fascist.

I mean, in that piece Goldberg writes, there's generally no way to defend the administration without being either bigoted or dishonest. No room, you're either a liar or you're racist if you have another opinion.

TIMPF: That sounds kind of fascist which is what's interesting to me.

KURTZ: I wouldn't go that --

TIMPF: I mean, they're saying, trying to shut down speech. I mean, of course we're talking about not the government, I mean, I get why it's not, but just that view of we need to, the speeches out there or the view is out there, and it's harmful so, therefore, we shouldn't talk about it? I think that we need to talk about it.

If this is a common opinion, which we know that it is, it does absolutely no good to try to cover it up and hide this in the sand. Again, more speech, not less. If you really think this is as harmful as you're saying, you should want it to be out in the open so we can debate it, so we can have these discussions rather than just pretending it doesn't exist because pretending doesn't change the fact that it does.

KURTZ: Right. Senator Cotton told Fox that a child mob is in charge of New York Times. Look, I grew up in newspapers, and op-ed pages routinely ran dissenting views.

Let me switch now, Mara, to the Philadelphia Inquirer where an apology was not enough. Yesterday the executive editor, Stan Wischnowski resigned, and he didn't make any statement which suggests to me it was not voluntary.

This after the paper ran a column by Inga Saffron which ironically said the anger is fully justified, black people have been victims of systemic oppression in America for 400 years, but it also said the property destruction in downtown Philly was wrong and the headline said buildings matter too. And the Inquirer apologized for that. And as I said the top editor has now resigned,

LIASSON: Yes, maybe buildings don't matter wasn't the best headline, but it's hard to see the difference --

KURTZ: Agree.

LIASSON: -- between what that column said and what the mayor of Atlanta said when she passionately, you know, disavowed and criticized violent protesters and looting and the destruction of black-owned businesses. I mean, she was pretty tough too, so there has to be a way to get that point across. Maybe the headline was pretty insensitive and set this off.

KURTZ: All right. Let me quick -- let me quickly go back to Kat. Editor's note said the headline was offensive, inappropriate, we shouldn't have printed it, we deeply regret it, we know that's not enough. But in the protest letter signed by many Inquirer staffers we are tired of being told to show both sides of issues, there are no two sides of.

Again, this impression by some in this other newsroom that there are no two sides to this debate.

TIMPF: Well, the general public would always disagree. There's more than two sides. There's -- we're all individuals, right? This country is based on individuality and individual thought. There's a bajillion different side.

This headline, though, I jut -- I don't -- I don't understand how it was written, and then two editors looked at it and said, yes, let's go with this.


TIMPF: It's obviously incredibly offensive. If you -- black lives matter, some saying, hey, my life matters and then you hear back, well, building matter too?


TIMPF: I mean, it' disgusting. I know it's my job with to have words, but I really don't in terms of the headline itself there.

KURTZ: OK. Got to go. Totally agree on the headline. But the piece itself, you know, did tell both sides.

Next on MEDIA BUZZ, the NFL completely flips on those kneeling protests during the national anthem after George Floyd's death, and that includes an apology from Saints quarterback Drew Brees.


KURTZ: The NFL has suddenly filled with contrition during the nationwide protests over George Floyd's death. It was a massive media controversy. But now commissioner Roger Goodell is apologizing for his crackdown on players who took a knee during the national anthem to protest racial injustice.


ROGER GOODELL, COMMISSIONER, NATIONAL FOOTBAL LEAGUE: We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter.


KURTZ: New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees who said the other day he'd never agree with anyone disrespecting the American flag at football games apologized on Instagram.


DREW BREES, QUARTERBACK, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: I just want you to see my eyes, how sorry I am for the comments that I made yesterday. I know that it hurt many people. That was never my intention. I wish I would have laid out what was on my heart in regards to the George Floyd murder, Ahmad Arbery, the years and years of social injustice.


KURTZ: Kat Timpf, President Trump made this a major media issue three years ago, Roger Goodell crackdown, as I aid, team owner's crackdown, no team would sign Colin Kaepernick who started these protests, and now Goodell jut comes out and says, never mind, my bad.

TIMPF: Yes. And the reception has been kind of like thanks, I guess, from what I've mostly seen. I saw an op-ed on CNN saying, hey, too little, too late. No thanks. There was a lot of pressure for him to do and say this and, of course, these issues are weighing heavily on everyone's mind right now especially after what we saw that video of George Floyd's murder which is of course not the first time that a tragedy like that has occurred.

And then, now also on top of it just the fact that there's coronavirus and quarantine, there's also the added aspect of nobody can really say that sports should focus on the sports, because there is no sports. So, we've seen changing --


KURTZ: Well, there is that too.

TIMPF: -- attitudes of people who --

KURTZ: Right.

TIMPF: -- so people have had to sort of confront these issues and really think hard about that.

KURTZ: Well, Goodell might be mindful of the fact that three-quarters of the NFL players are black. Mara, Washington Post sports writer Sally Jenkins wrote, there is only the knee of protest or the knee on the neck? 
She says the NFL made the wrong choice.

Do you think the coverage is starting to change compared to what it was three years ago in light of the protests and the tragic killing of George Floyd?

LIASSON: Yes. I mean, it wasn't just that President Trump made this a media story, as you said, he made it a part of the culture wars. And all of a sudden kneeling during the anthem became disrespecting the flag. And there's actually a back story here.

There's a veteran, military veteran who reacted to the first thing Kaepernick did which was staying seated during the anthem. And he contacted him and he said, you know what? If you kneel, it would be more respectful. 
It's like kneeling before the gravestone of a fallen soldier.

That would be more respectful if you want to start a conversation and a debate about police brutality which is what Kaepernick was protesting. And that's why he started kneeling.

If we had had a discussion back then a respectful discussion instead of just making it fodder for the culture wars, things would have been different, and Roger Goodell wouldn't be kind of humiliating himself today and looking like he missed the boat.

KURTZ: Just briefly, Kat, Drew Brees must have come under enormous pressure, like the New York Times, to reverse himself. Do you think all the coverage, because he is one of the league's premiere stars, contributed to that pressure?

TIMPF: Yes. And, again, I think part of it was also what I mentioned earlier, this is no sports right now. But I think he seemed really sincere, and I think that a lot of the reception to what he said, he was kind of saying not here's what I think, but also it's time for me to listen, let me hear what you have to say about this issue because I'm a white guy essentially.

KURTZ: Right. Mara, President Trump tweeted that he's a big fan of Drew Brees, but he said the quarterback should not have taken back his original stance on honoring our magnificent American flag. And then he added, no kneeling. Do you think the coverage of the president on this NFL controversy which suddenly has flare up again will be affected by what's going on right now?

LIASSON: Yes, I do. I mean, the president doesn't back down or change his mind, but a lot of other people are. People are kind of thinking deeply about this stuff. The conversation is changing. But the president generally is not someone who changes his tactics or his message ever.

KURTZ: All right. Mara Liasson, Kat Timpf, great to see you. After the break, a look at the coverage of Jim Mattis and other military leaders turning on President Trump over the protest. Fox's Jennifer Griffin joins us next.


KURTZ: The Atlantic's editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg has long been trying to get Jim Mattis to go public with his criticism of President Trump. And after the president summoned military forces to deal with protests in Washington, Goldberg contacted the former defense secretary and tried to seize the moment.


JEFFREY GOLDBERG, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE ATLANTIC: Basically, just said to Jim Mattis, you know, now? What about -- how's now working out? Because I suspected that General Mattis would be offended by a couple of things about the events in the past week.


KURTZ: Joining us now is Jennifer Griffin who covers the Pentagon for Fox News. And, Jen, the president said this is the world's most overrated general, glad he's gone, insists he was fired. How unusual is it that Jim Mattis would kept his silence for two years would choose this moment to accept the Atlantic's invitation and say the president does not even pretend to unite America he's trying to divide us?

JENNIFER GRIFFIN, FOX NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's extremely unusual, Howie, and I can tell you there's been a lot of soul searching here at the Pentagon at the highest levels among active duty four-star generals and others about how to handle this week's, this week's actions by the president and the threat to use the military in the street against protesters.

I can tell you that there was a lot of, this was not an easy decision for someone like defense secretary -- former Defense Secretary Mattis, a four- star general, and also Admiral Mullen and others. But he really, by Mattis coming out and describing President Trump as a threat to the Constitution for General John Kelly to come out and back Mattis and say we need new leadership in the White House, it really shows how very deeply concerned the top levels of the military are.

And in some ways, they gave cover to other retired four-star generals, respected four-star generals to come out and say much the same. But this is extremely unusual. In my 13 years here, I've never seen so many former or current members of the military speak up against a sitting president.

In some ways it's not unusual for Mattis and Kelly, they both were given civilian positions in the president's cabinet --


GRIFFIN: -- but it still is extremely unusual.

KURTZ: Right. And John Kelly, of course, the president's former White House chief of staff. What can you tell us about the current defense secretary, Mark Esper, seeming to reverse himself a couple times on whether or not active duty military should be brought into Washington to help quell the protests?

He said at a press conference they shouldn't, and then he kind of reversed himself, and also he had told NBC he didn't know that he was accompanying the president on that walk to St. John's Church, and later came out and said, well, I did know we were going to the church, but I didn't know what we were going to do there.

GRIFFIN: Well, I think as the week went by, and again, much of this has to do with the incredible backlash that both Defense Secretary Esper and Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs, received from those former four- star generals.

The backlash was immediate. But there are also we didn't know until the end of the week some of the details of how they ended up at the White House, how General Milley ended up in battle fatigues that night. Many of the -- from what we understand now this was -- there was a very heated discussion in the White House about using active duty troops. That is not illegal in terms of the Constitution. That is something that the president can do.

But what these former military officers and both A.G. Barr as well as Milley and Esper were trying to tell the president is that it is the time to do so and this was really an issue not of whether it's constitutionally right, but whether it is morally right. And that's where Jim Mattis decided to weigh in. I know that it was a very difficult decision for him, Mullen and others to speak up as well Tony Thomas, General Dempsey, I mean, the list goes on.

KURTZ: Yes. I think it's particularly hard for even former military people to speak up against their president, although obviously some did, Admiral Mike Mullen, former chiefs of chairman doing this with Chris Wallace today because it is ingrained in them to salute the commander in chief.

And so, this is a moment -- and I'm sure many people disagree with what they're saying, but it's great to have your perspective. Jennifer Griffin, thanks so much for joining us.

And that's it for this edition of "Media Buzz." I'm Howard Kurtz. We hope you'll check out our Facebook page. We page my daily columns there. And let's continue the conversation, and it's a hot conversation in a difficult conversation this week. On Twitter at Howard Kurtz, check out my podcast, we talk about this every day, "Media Buzz Meter." You can subscribe at Google podcast,, Apple iTunes or Spotify. We are back here next Sunday, 11 Eastern. Hope to see you then with the latest buzz.

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