Trump takes media flak on Iraq

This is a rush transcript from "Media Buzz," December 30, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On the Buzz Meter this Sunday, with the government shutdown now in its second week, President Trump is drawing media flak on many fronts, even his surprised visit to Iraq.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It took Donald Trump 706 days to visit a zone. And Sam, it sounds like he was pretty concerned about his safety.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, it seems legitimately like he was freaked out about his safety.

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: The president seems to have confused in some way this troop visit with the campaign rally by raising things like the border wall and things that he has done for them.

MARC THIESSEN, RESIDENT FELLOW, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: It's a great day. All credit to the president for making the trip. All credit to him for taking the first lady, which is a historic first.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to give the president credit for doing the right thing. I wish he had done it earlier. I wish we did not have to shame him into doing it.

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: You also just want to know that the boss cares about what you're doing and he cares about the mission. So there's no question that this will be a big morale boost for these young men and women.


KURTZ: Do journalists have a point about politicizing the trip or are they just grasping at ways to snipe at the commander in chief? The partial shutdown and the border wall debate prompting some of the president's media detractors to ratchet up their rhetoric, some even questioning whether he can survive.


JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: This president appears to be unhinged and there are no adults left. He has fired them all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of the sudden, the mainstream media wants to attack this president protecting our borders and the Democrats in Congress, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, have no plan for border security.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So isn't the wall, the semantics game and the politics game, isn't this just about denying President Trump that he campaigned promise he made?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not an ounce of compassion for the many, many people suffering through this holiday grudge match that he has created. This country is in strive because this president has too many temper tantrums.


KURTZ: Are these denunciations based more in his performance or their personal animus? New York Times report that Trump may have gone a bogus medical exemption to avoid Vietnam but did the paper really have the goods? Plus, Kevin Spacey accused of multiple incidents of sexual assault. He breaks his silence by resuming the role of a fictional president.


KEVIN SPACEY, ACTOR: Despite all the poppycock, the animosity, the headlines, the impeachment without a trial, despite everything, despite even my own death, I feel surprisingly good and my confidence grows each day that soon enough you will know the full truth.


KURTZ: Why make such a strange video when his own house of cards may be collapsing? I'm Howard Kurtz and this is "Media Buzz."

The criticism of the president has been building and NBC News captured the media guys with this story, Trump becomes first first president since 2002 not to visit troops at Christmastime. But that was, well, a bit premature. Just hours later, we learned that president and Melania Trump were already in Iraq where the commander in chief spoke to the troops.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: America shouldn't be doing the fighting for every nation on earth, not being reimbursed in many cases at all. So we are not the suckers of the world. We are no longer the suckers, folks.


KURTZ: But his speech triggered headlines such as this one in The New York Times. Trump Iraw visit is called a political rally.

Joining us now to analyze the coverage: Gayle Trotter, a commentator and host of the podcast Right in D.C.; Beverly Hallberg, president of District Media D.C. and a contributor to The Hill and Washington Examiner; and Richard Fowler, radio talk show host and Fox News contributor.

Gayle Trotter, we heard a whole lot of yes, but in the media. Yes, it's good he went to Iraq, but he should have gone sooner. Yes, but he should have stayed longer. Yes, but he shouldn't have talked about domestic politics or border security. Your thoughts?

GAYLE TROTTER, POLITICAL ANALYST AND COLUMNIST: Right. Well, you saw the tweet by NBC News saying that President Trump had not gone to a war zone. That was about almost the same time as Air Force One was touching down in Iraq.

KURTZ: Nobody knew at the time.

TROTTER: No, correct, but then as soon as that happened, they started nitpicking every part of the visit. The campaign paraphernalia being signed, the interactions that President Trump had with a navy seal team, what Melania Trump was wearing at the visit to the soldiers in Iraq.

KURTZ: Major part of the story, that one.

TROTTER: Right, they are not going to let that escape. But Melania was the first woman to --

KURTZ: First lady.

TROTTER: -- first lady to visit Iraq. Her predecessors never went to a war zone and we should see glowing reviews about that, that the bravery of her going to a war zone, even when she is the mother of a small child.

KURTZ: Beverly Hallberg, does some of this fair or unfair, depending on the details, fuel the sense among Trump supporters that their guy can't buy a good headline no matter what he does?

BEVERLY HALLBERG, PRESIDENT, DISTRICT MEDIA GROUP: I think the coverage of this is proof that Donald Trump when he says that the news is fake news, it actually works in his favor. I was even surprised when I -- I shouldn't say surprised, but when I saw the Washington Post, their article and their coverage of this, they didn't get into the who, the how, the when.

They actually started by saying this whole visit was shrouded in secrecy and that there had been so much turmoil in the administration --


KURTZ: -- shrouded in secrecy for security reasons --

HALLBERG: For security reasons.

KURTZ: -- for every president. HALLBERG: And so what we are seeing is reporters actually when they're supposed to be fair straight journalists turning this into opinion journalists, is there a place to give context after you laid out the facts? Absolutely.

But when most of the stories, the first paragraph, the second paragraph is all about their opinion, it does play to Trump's base. You say, he has has been right all along, this is fake news and he can't get a fair shake.

KURTZ: Richard Fowler, the president does open himself up to media criticism, does he not, when he declares on that trip, I have given the military the first raise in 10 years which is not true and that the raise is 10 percent which is also not true?

RICHARD FOWLER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Yeah, I mean, I think the president does open himself up to media criticism. For the past two years, you got to give this president credit for the fact that he has been able to manipulate the media to his benefit.

KURTZ: You have nice to say about --

FOWLER: I know. I did. But here's the thing. Next week, the ball game changes. With Nancy Pelosi as the new speaker of the House, she also is somebody who knows how to play the media to her advantage as she did in December 11th meeting with the president.

So now, not only he has to deal with the media, he has to figure out a way to deal with Nancy Pelosi. That is going to be his biggest challenge in the next year.

KURTZ: And the media has to figure out how to deal with the House Democrats now that they have some power. So, Gayle, you mentioned paraphernalia. So while he was in Iraq, we have some video of this.

The president signed some make America great hats for the troops and that brought plenty of media criticism about him undermining the independence of the military. Go ahead. Go ahead. There is no sound.

TROTTER: Yes. Well, it's interesting because if you want to look at what's political in my view, the media coverage of this visit is political, not the president. We had the AP reporting in 2009 that President Trump successor went to Kuwait and signed campaign paraphernalia. When AP reported that, they didn't criticize President Obama for signing that.

KURTZ: His predecessor?


KURTZ: Barack Obama, right.

TROTTER: Exactly.

KURTZ: You know, in my view, every presidential visit with troops is in some way political because you are sharing (ph) the flag, you are getting good video as commander-in-chief. When George Bush landed on aircraft carrier 'mission accomplished,' that did not do well in terms of that banner.

But to Beverly, the president tweeted about this. He went after CNN. He tweeted CNN and others within the fake news universe -- there is that term -- were going wild over my signing MAGA hats for our military. We brought or gave no hats as the fake news first reported.

Actually, CNN questioned whether the troops were violating military rules against partisanship by bringing the hats then say the White House buys (ph) the hats, but is this media nitpicking?

HALLBERG: I think so. When you look at the facts of it, it looks like these soldiers just wanted to bring this on their own. They wanted to have this signed by the president. It's actually putting the soldiers in a bad light in my opinion to do this. But I wish the president wouldn't even tweet about it.

So there are times when the president does come out and say, OK, I am going to call this fake news, I'm going to call this out. I actually think this story alone showed the bias in it, and he didn't need to say anything. So I find times when he does speak up, I actually think it is more negative for him than letting people just see through it themselves.

KURTZ: He may not need to say anything but he does not restrain himself when it comes on what he sees as unfair coverage. A soundbite for you, Richard, which is -- we saw some clips at the top about the president, was asked by a reporter about the experience, you have to take evasive measures when you land, about that experience and how he felt about it. Let's watch.


TRUMP: If you would have seen what what we had to go through, with the darkened plane with all windows closed, with no lights on whatsoever, anywhere, pitch black, I've never seen that, so did I have a concern? Yeah, I had a concern. But my bigger concern was maybe the people that were with me.


KURTZ: So he could have given a PC answer and said I wasn't worried at all. I thought he gave a pretty candid answer which is it is a harrowing thing to do.

FOWLER: I think he did give a pretty candid answer but every president who visited a war zone has dealt with the same type of --

KURTZ: Right, but he was asked the question. He was --

FOWLER: Right, and I think this is -- as the president focuses on finally visiting the troops in Iraq, I think there is a larger story here. It is the fact that while that is happening, right here at home, our coastguards which also our troops, aren't being paid by the government shutdown.

So this president has to be very careful about how he deals with the politics of going to visit the troops and how the media covers. I think that is the story the media is missing.

KURTZ: Which leads me very nicely to the shutdown and it's now going to continue until early January when the Democrats take over the House. President on Twitter threatening to shut down the southern border. I assume that's a negotiating tactic.

But isn't it easier for the media to blame President Trump for the shutdown because he uttered the words to Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, I will probably shut it down for border security?

TROTTER: Every shutdown story we are reading is trying to assess blame to one side or the other. But in any shutdown situation, you need two parties to tango. And if you want to have fair and balance reporting, you are going to understand that both sides have to compromise.

So each side has something that they want and they are going to have to come together to compromise on this. The story should reflect that instead of trying to blame either side and both sides are doing this.

KURTZ: I have seen conservatives commentators, Beverly, say the president does own the shutdown because of that meeting where he said these words on camera, but it is also true that White House has calmed down on the wall funding demand from $5 billion to $2.5 million.

Democrats aren't moving. So, aren't the Democrats also playing to their base which they feel like they can show up to president on this issue that is so important to him, and is that getting adequate amount of attention from the press?

HALLBERG: I think so. I think Democrats definitely want to speak to their base. But the part about this that I think we are forgetting is when it comes to the shutdown and way it is reported, we are talking about a shutdown based on the main campaign promise that this president have. Shutdowns in the past were often over funding, specific detail issues and budgeting which often get lost --

KURTZ: You're right, but it's not a lot of money. I mean --


KURTZ: -- total budget, but you're saying that this is something the president promised to do and therefore you're saying that --

HALLBERG: For him to own, it's a good thing, because that is what he promised. So I think it plays in his favor.


KURTZ: Well, it might be a good thing, but I think there will be a growing public backlash, Richard. It's kind of weird. I think the media coverage and the reaction to shutdown has been kind of muted maybe because most of the country is on vacation between Christmas and new year. Only a quarter of the government is actually shutdown because of previous bills passed by Congress.

But now I am starting to see -- I think we'll see more stories about the 800,000 federal workers who are temporarily being denied paychecks and they are worried about how to pay the rent or the mortgage.

FOWLER: I think not only the 800,000 workers that are being not paid, the federal contractors who not get paid at all during the shutdown, number one. And number two, I think Beverly is right. There is a campaign promise. The conservatives forgot the second half of that promise.

Remember, there was a wall but Mexico was going to pay for it. Now, we are literally having a debate about how the American taxpayer is going to pay for this wall. I think that is where the president is in a lot of trouble. He doesn't know how to get himself out of that.

HALLBERG: All of a sudden, Democrats seemed concerned about how much money we spend --

FOWLER: No, no, no. We don't seemed concerned about how much money we're going to spend. We are concerned because the president made a promise to the American people that Mexico was going to pay for this wall and we are still waiting for the check from Mexico.

KURTZ: That is your point. You said Democrats and you said also Republicans.

HALLBERG: Republicans also spend far too much money. That is the other part of this. The hypocritical. However, one thing that Republicans and Democrats have agreed on in the past, I wish this was reported more, is that all of them do tend to agree with border security. We disagree on what comprehensive immigration reform should look like --

KURTZ: Right.

HALLBERG: -- but we agree on border security. And so I think if Democrats double down on this too much, if the media harps on this too much, I think there are a lot of independents out there, see the caravan, see some of the coverage, and they have concerns.

KURTZ: Yeah. The issue is not going away and the coverage of the shutdown, I think, will actually intensify next week. Let me get a break here. Remember to check out my new podcast. Media Buzz Meter.

Ahead, why more liberal pundits are openly talking about and is some cases predicting impeachment. When we come back, a look at the wild and crazy stock market swoon and the pundits who are trying to tie it to Donald Trump.


KURTZ: It's become a dramatic daily report with the media increasingly tying it to President Trump. The Dow losing thousands of points while bouncing up and down with record breaking volatility.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: The big lump of coal for investors and the U.S. economy. The markets closing early for Christmas just moments ago when the Dow is down another 639 points at this moment. Today's tumble comes on the heels of the worst week since the 2008 financial crisis.

TRISH REGAN, FOX BUSINESS NETWORK HOST: You are getting a break here from that market, meltdown quite a round and we are seeing it on Wall Street, ending the day up better than 1,000 points. Biggest point gain ever.


KURTZ: Joining us now from New York, Kristina Partsinevelos, a correspondent for Fox Business Network. Kristina, the market came back a bit in recent days but it has been a really crazy ride, down sharply this month.

When some media people say, well, this is President Trump's fault, it's the fault of the tariff over China, it's the shutdown, it's the uncertainty he creates, is that on oversimplification of how markets work?

KRISTINA PARTSINEVELOS, FOX BUSINESS NETWORK CORRESPONDENT: Of course because if you're trying to speak very quickly to a vast audience and explain every single factor that is contributing to these market swings, it's almost impossible.

When I am on air, I have sometimes 45 seconds, 60 seconds to tell a story. And often, I sit here and I think that I'm not doing justice to the viewers because it's so little time but that's the way the news cycle works.

So often you try to simplify, put this three point-bullet list, five-point bullet list, and say it has to do with the government shutdown, it has to do with algorithm, it has to do with the federal interest rate, all these factors.

But of course, I can't say 100 percent whether it is one or the other. And so often media channels, media business reporters all across the networks, not just one particular network versus another, are doing the same thing. They are trying to simply and make it easy so that the viewer can understand, you know, there are some contributing factors, but we are not sure which is the major one.

KURTZ: Right. In television environment, everything has to be bam, bam, bam as you say. Many of these pundits were not giving President Trump credit when the Dow soared from 18,000 to over 26,000, but happy to blame him on the way down. What I always say is presidents get more blame than they deserve for the gyrations of the market.

PARTSINEVELOS: They do have pretty much one of the most important positions in the world. So yes, I would agree with you in that sense. The president is the target when you see the markets go up and down. But then the president also weighs in a little bit more than others.

You know, bringing up the federal chair, Jerome Powell, and commenting on that. It almost comes across as all the markets are down so let me shift the blame to the Federal Reserve. It's not always --

KURTZ: Let me stop you on that because I think it is an importnat point. The president made no secret of the fact that he's unhappy with the Federal Reserve raising interest rates and the chairman, Jerome Powell.

And Bloomberg and other news outlets reported that he was asking people if he had the authority to fire Powell and this led to a tweeted denial by Steve Mnuchin, the treasury secretary. And then Kevin Hassett, chair of Council of Economic Advisers, was asked about this. Take a quick look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice over): Is the fed chairman's job safe?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice over): One hundred percent, that chairman's job is not in jeopardy by this president?

HASSETT: Absolutely.


KURTZ: Is it really unusual and therefore a pretty good media story for president to be openly attacking the fed, especially considering that he appointed this chairman?

PARTSINEVELOS: It makes for a good news story. That's for sure. But will it contribute to market? Should investors really care about this? No. Are they reacting to some of these headlines? Yes. I can this with certainly because I was on the New York stock exchange floor on Monday when that news came out.

I was reporting on the market swing. You saw markets close down 653 points on the Dow. I asked the guys next to me, you know, what is happening? Half of them couldn't give me an answer saying, oh, it could be the positive retail members.

Another guy just said, oh, did you see Kevin Hassett pretty much brought up that Powell's position is 100 percent certain? And so that contributed. These guys are getting so much information on the floor.

KURTZ: Flooded.

PARTSINEVELOS: They are flooded. Exactly. They are flooded.

KURTZ: Well, you're there. You're there at the epicenter. If the traders aren't sure, then how can any of us in the press be sure as well?


KURTZ: Great discussion. Thanks so much, Kristina Partsinevelos in New York.


KURTZ: Ahead, Kevin Spacey sort of breaks his silence about sexual assault allegations, but the fictional president fired by Netflix isn't just weird. You got to see this. Up next, why some liberal media types are hurling new insults at Donald Trump and invoking the I-word.


KURTZ: Well, some of the president's liberal media critics are going there. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman says he now believes Trump should be removed from office. Veteran journalist Elizabeth Drew writes in the Times about the inevitability of impeachment, saying she thinks the Republican Senate might convict him. And media speculation continues about the Mueller probe.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, MSNBC: If the prosecutor will not be stopped and the kids will not fall to him, we see the president's adult children heading to prison. What if he were to say he would let the children walk if the old man does the same?


KURTZ: Gayle, kids heading to prison. I mean, what do you make of the ratcheting up of the already harsh media attacks against President Trump and how personal it has gotten against him and his family?

TROTTER: Right. Well, it seems like their impeachment and resignation rhetoric is reaching a fever pitch. And I think it says more about their bias than it says anything about the believability that impeachment or resignation will happen.

KURTZ: Democratic leadership isn't even saying we are definitely going to impeachment him although obviously some members would like that.

TROTTER: Right. It's a left wing fantasy. Even if you could get the House to impeach, which there is absolutely no basis for that, the possibility that 67 senators are going to vote to remove the president from office is just unbelievable.

KURTZ: That's an extremely high bar. Beverly, it seems to me in a broader sense, the media needs some connective tissue between the continuing government shutdown, the stock market plunge, the Syrian pullout, Jim Mattis leaving, and the death of a second migrant child in U.S. custody. And since we cover Trump all the time anyway, he is the guy, it's all about him.

HALLBERG: All about him, and that's what we are going to see Democrats run on in the next two years or at least talk about. I think we are seeing a foreshadowing of what we can expect the coverage to be for the next three years, impeachment.

But one of the things, I think, the media as well as Democrats need to think through is that it didn't work out well for Republicans who in the House impeached Bill Clinton. It didn't work well. Speaker --

KURTZ: It's a big political backlash.

HALLBERG: They lost houses or seats in the House in the next election. So, you should be careful what you ask for.

KURTZ: I mentioned the death of a second migrant child near the border in U.S. custody. The president tweeted about this late yesterday. Let me put it up on the screen. Any deaths of children or others at the border are strictly the fault of the Democrats and their pathetic immigration policies that allow people to make the long trek thinking they can enter our country illegally.

I mean, these are unspeakable tragedy. We all feel horrible about it. But is the president amplifying the coverage by going back to this and pointing the finger at the other party rather than letting the story sort of play out, play itself out?

FOWLER: Of course he is amplifying the coverage. I think he is doing this intentionally. One, to stir up his base and to keep his base happy with him. But at the same time, I think we need to suspend humanity for just a second and realize what's happening on our southern border.

Number one, there are tons and tons of people pouring across the border. More folks -- most folks come to this country illegally (ph) via visa overstays. And number two, it's not men crossing the border no longer. It's children and women and families who are looking to seek asylum. We had to do a better job --


KURTZ: -- is that why are parents bringing their children, putting them in hard way?

FOWLER: Because of the violence. I mean, there is violence in their home countries. And I think we as a media has to do a better job of covering what is happening in Nicaragua, what is happening in Honduras, what is happening in Guatemala so that the American people really get a sense of why people are risking their entire lives and walking to our southern border.

HALLBERG: What's going on there is tragic. I think where the problem is -- even President Trump's tweet, I am not a big fan of it, because I don't think we should be calling out either party as far as being responsible for why somebody died.

I think we are responsible for having policies that we don't encourage people coming over here. So I think when you are talking about human lives, it's obviously extremely concerning, but I do think that what the media does, what Republicans and Democrats do is they make it very political. And I think what we need to do is sit down and make sure that we have policies that do benefit people and that includes not encouraging people to come here with children when they have --

TROTTER: Why are the media not covering U.S. organizations, agencies under the Trump administration like USAID that are making efforts in these countries that are subject to gang violence? Why are they not covering that?

KURTZ: I'm going stop you because I don't want to get too deep into the policy, but I do think you raised a good question. You both raised good questions about covering the roots of this, not making it overly politicized.

Let me just ask you in our remaining seconds, Beverly. What do you think when veteran commentators like Tom Friedman and Elizabeth Drew are talking about they expect impeachment, they are predicting maybe resignation, Chris Matthews says maybe Trump will make a deal so his kids won't go to jail. Is that reckless?

HALLBERG: I think it is reckless because these journalists know that you have to have a lot of facts behind it. They know the history of how hard it is to impeach someone. So I think it is their own personal preference that they hope he does and that's the reason why they are covering it.

KURTZ: All right. Beverly Hallberg, Richard Fowler, Gayle Trotter, great to see you all this Sunday. Happy new year to all of you. Ahead on Media Buzz, the front page story that accused Donald Trump of a bogus scheme to (INAUDIBLE) the Vietnam draft (ph) with zero firsthand evidence.

But first, increasingly harsh media rhetoric blaming the president for the shutdown. As we have been talking about, the market meltdown just about everything else. Kennedy is up next.


HOWARD KURTZ, MEDIA BUZZ, HOST: After a tumultuous couple weeks and in the midst of a partial government shutdown, many of the media have been slamming the president and that includes some conservatives who usually support him on television. I took that up with the host of Kennedy, which airs at 9:00 Eastern on Fox Business Network in New York.


KURTZ: Kennedy, welcome.


KURTZ: Live and in person.

KENNEDY-MONTGOMERY: Glorious to see you in the flesh.

KURTZ: Headline in New York Magazine, why Fox News made Trump shut down the government. So it's all your fault.

KENNEDY-MONTGOMERY: Thank you very much for that. There are massive swaths of the government that I would like to see shut down permanently.

KURTZ: Really.

KENNEDY-MONTGOMERY: Yes. The government is too big, it's too intrusive, we send too much money, and we're going to pass that bill along to generations, who will be financially, economically hand strung.

KURTZ: You are not terribly upset about this temporary partial shutdown?

KENNEDY-MONTGOMERY: I think it's clumsy. And I think this is the way they do business in Washington. No one really embraces their responsibility and people empower say whatever it takes in order to get elected. And that means giving out free stuff and making promises they can't keep.

KURTZ: Well, when the president was going to go along with the original compromise, you know, fund the government, funding for the wall, he said he will take the wall funding from other programs, you said on the air that is not OK, that is not the way government works, and we would all be up in arms if Barack Obama did that.


KURTZ: So why?

KENNEDY-MONTGOMERY: I agree with that. I think some of us were -- some of us who follow this a little bit more closely as far as government spending, because it's the one area that -- the real bipartisanship is the addiction to spending in both parties. And that's the big fear is that they will come together and create programs, particularly entitlement program that really bankrupt us. We can't afford our expenditures right now. Imagine adding on to that. And, you know, having a president take money from here and put it over there at his or her whim, it's really not acceptable.

KURTZ: You say both parties because it is used to be thought the Republicans sold themselves as the party of smaller government.


KURTZ: When you are in the White House, it's very tempting to head on the goodies and blow up the deficit.

KENNEDY-MONTGOMERY: And when you're in the House or the Senate...

KURTZ: And the Democrats do that as a matter of course.

KENNEDY-MONTGOMERY: Paul Ryan did the exact same thing. And I think it's laughable when he calls himself a policy wonk, and a cost cutter, and someone who has an astute eye for the type of limited government that he claimed to want to be in charge of, when in fact the deficit was larger, we owed a lot more money when he left than when he came into Congress.

KURTZ: What about this whole notion that Trump reversed course and took us toward the shutdown, because conservative commentators here at Fox and elsewhere, Rush and Coulter, are all powerful and told him this is what you need to do.

KENNEDY-MONTGOMERY: Wouldn't that be great? That would be so much fun.

KURTZ: You wouldn't like that.

KENNEDY-MONTGOMERY: If I were the martinet (ph) -- no, I don't want to be the martinet (ph), I want to be the puppet master. I want to be like...

KURTZ: Does the president take it as a warning sign when some people on the right, who ordinarily support him, speak out whether it's the pull out from Syria or whether it's not funding the wall? In other words, is it because he responds to the pundits or is it because of he thinks the pundits might be in touch with the essence of his base?

KENNEDY-MONTGOMERY: I think that's probably it. I think it's the latter, because you have people who base so much of their opinion and world view on -- people like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, because they have learned not to trust mainstream media sources. And they don't feel -- I don't think that the mainstream media lies. And I don't think journalism is dead. But I do think there are clues as to how they want to shape your thought. And I don't think it's dissimilar to the experience of a lot of university students have.

And so, they find people that they're more in line with philosophically and politically like Rush and like Ann Coulter. And they tend to listen to them because they feel like they're getting an unfiltered and unmediated version of the truth.

KURTZ: There is no question that the president had a rough week last week. What's your take on this media narrative that grows louder and more insistent every day that this president has produced utter chaos, you got a government shutdown, you got that over the wall, you got the Syrian pull- out, you got Jim Mattis stepping aside, you got the stock market plummeting, it's all Trump's fault. And it's only going to get worse.

KENNEDY-MONTGOMERY: Well, if the president is going to take credit for a bull market then he has to take some responsibility for the bear market as well. And I think he has a lot of factors, sort of winging against him right now, but the sky is falling, the world is ending, hair on fire, hysteria doesn't always serve us well.

And, you know, when he came into power, there were people who said that the economy was going to tank and that we're going to be in a nuclear war with North Korea.

KURTZ: That didn't happen.

KENNEDY-MONTGOMERY: No, it hasn't happened. And if you look at metrics outside the stock market, we are still in a great period of economic health and growth. Ad I think that's what the president needs to focus on. And it's tough for him to not be reactionary because that is built into his temperamental casserole.

KURTZ: All right, right. Tom Friedman, the liberal New York Times columnist told us along these lines, he wrote that he did not favor removing Donald Trump from office until last week. And he says you have to ask whether we can really survive two more years if Trump is president, whether this man and his demented behavior are going to destabilize our country, our markets, our key institutions. So is much of the liberal press now sort of just going for full on impeachment, indictment, resignation, exile.

KENNEDY-MONTGOMERY: That's what they've been waiting for. They have been waiting for the dog whistle. And you'll see -- you know, they are usually in lockstep with their talking points, whether it's Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi or, you know, members of the media who tend to have more liberal point of view. They've been waiting for the switch, they've been waiting for the signal to go for impeachment.

And I don't think we should be there. I don't think we should live in a country where if you don't like the person who is holding office, we should just extract them and throw them out, because that will happen in reverse...

KURTZ: Right.

KENNEDY-MONTGOMERY: ... when there is a Democrat people don't like.

KURTZ: People said that about the Clinton impeachment. And you're right. If we do this every four years, every eight years...

KENNEDY-MONTGOMERY: And if you nominate someone like Mark Cuban or Michael Bloomberg, or you know, some nontraditional -- Oprah, God forbid. There may be skeletons in her closet, or she may be completely over the presidency after 18 months. And maybe that's the president's doing, who knows.

KURTZ: Well, maybe we should just nominate somebody who we, in the media, think is the most of entertaining for our business.

KENNEDY-MONTGOMERY: It's been great. I mean, you know, people ask me way it's like to work at Fox. It's fantastic, it's so much fun because we are having conversations we've never had. And part of that is in reaction to the president. But I think that's one of the benefits of this presidency, it's taking a nontraditional view of culture and politics and the economy. And there is some good in that. And we have to extract that good and we have to encourage the president to go down that fruitful path and not the chaotic one.

KURTZ: I look forward to co-hosting New Year's Eve. I'm sure it will be wild and crazy.

KENNEDY-MONTGOMERY: It's going to be fantastic. We are going to come right in.

KURTZ: All right. Kennedy.


KURTZ: Thank you so much for sitting down with us here in New York.


KURTZ: Coming up, we'll get an opposing view, fair and balanced. And later, the truly bizarre Kevin Spacey video and the sexual assault allegations against the embattled actor.


KURTZ: Joining us now with another view on the battering the president is taking in the press is Philippe Reines, a former State Department official under Hillary Clinton. Now, it is one thing for you as a Democratic partisan to pummel President Trump. But mainstream media commentators are saying he's unhinged, worst president of all time, he should be impeached tomorrow, he'll resign soon. Can you understand why a chunk of the country feels like they're listening to the opposition party?

PHILIPPE REINES, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I can understand why, but I especially understand why the other half is thinking that when they listen to this half that Trump can do no wrong. And to whatever extent both halves are wrong, it's somewhere in the middle.

KURTZ: Right.

REINES: So, you know, I think the media's responsibility, first and foremost, is to tell us what's going on. I can't go to every baseball game, you tell me the score. I can't be at every press conference, you're telling me.

KURTZ: Right.

REINES: That's what you do.

KURTZ: But they have the pitcher -- the relief pitcher blew it. I'm giving you my analysis.


KURTZ: That is what fuels a lot of that.

REINES: But if the relief pitcher -- if the relief pitcher blew it, I want you to tell me that.

KURTZ: Yeah.

REINES: If the relief pitcher threw, you know, two and a half innings of hitless balls, I don't you to lie to me. So your second job is to tell me whether something is right or not. So I think you have a little bit of situation where Donald Trump needs to take more responsibility for all of this than anyone is giving him on the right.

KURTZ: But if the media blames him for everything, we're just talking about the shutdown, fine, that's fair game, Syrian pull-out, Jim Mattis leaving, stock market going down 10 percent.

REINES: It has been a bad few weeks.

KURTZ: OK. But if the cue of the fact, it's all his fault and all the headlines are pinning on him, it sounds like the press is piling on 24/7 on everything. If everything is an 11, then nothing is an 11.

REINES: I don't think that that's true. I mean, he passed criminal justice reform and some of his...


KURTZ: When he signed that bill, it was on the verge of the shutdown.

REINES: But, you know, I make the argument that he didn't do enough for it. He spent that day tweeting about I don't even remember what other things. We talked about this last time. Donald Trump should have had an event where he was surrounded by people, including Van Jones who was one of the toughest people on him on CNN, who were absolutely fawning over what he got right. But that's not his nature. His nature is to just throw spaghetti on the wall. And then, we are being asked, why are you talking about the spaghetti.

KURTZ: All right. As you know, certain Fox hosts or Fox commentators, who usually support President Trump have been pretty critical of him on a couple of issues, Syrian pull-out and the border wall funding that is tied to the shutdown.


KURTZ: And you've noted that. Where is the comparable breaking from the party line or even temporarily on the Democratic side, on the liberal media size? Where is the criticism, maybe Nancy Pelosi shouldn't have done this, may Chuck Schumer went too far, maybe Bernie Sanders is over the top in his rhetoric? It seems like there is a lot of lockstep saluting on the liberal side.

REINES: To answer that in the way you are asking, I have to buy into the notion that half of the media is in fact liberal and biased.

KURTZ: I'm talking about self-described liberal commentators.

REINES: Well, if it is a commentator, they can say whatever they want.

KURTZ: Right.

REINES: As long as it is clearly defined.

KURTZ: But if you are 100 percent supporting the Democrats, and then -- well, you know, the conservatives for Trump, with the recent weekend, that's not always the case. Where is the breaking from the ideological path on the other side? Is there any?

REINES: It starts from a point of you have to believe Donald Trump does so much good in life and in his job, why isn't it not being covered accurately. And I think a lot of people start from a place that he's doing a lot of not good in his job.

KURTZ: Right.

REINES: You can't run around...

KURTZ: You are ducking the question.

REINES: No, I don't think I am.

KURTZ: Where is the criticism of the Democrats occasionally on some issues?

REINES: I think there is a lot of criticism of politics of the Democratic Party, about whether someone is too liberal.

KURTZ: Right.

REINES: There was a tremendous amount of coverage of whether or not Nancy Pelosi should be speaker again. I would call that totally contrived. I mean, no one even challenged her.

KURTZ: Right, exactly. On Iraq, this is where you sound like somebody who don't give the guy a break. You said on Twitter, he deserved zero credit for going to Iraq.


KURTZ: A transparent stunt.


KURTZ: But aren't all these visits by various presidents, to some extent, photo-ops, designed to make the president look good?

REINES: They are, absolutely. But there is a couple of distinctions. Almost every president, while we've been at war, certainly going back to George Bush and 9/11, has gone very early in their administration, whether it's to war zones...

KURTZ: Fine. You said zero credit, transparent stunt.

REINES: I do. Because I believe that he was ashamed into it.

KURTZ: Ashamed into it?

REINES: I think he's sick and tired about reading about why haven't you gone. If by all reporting, by all accounts, he was very upset about the reporting he got and the decision that was made by John Kelly, when he did not go to the funeral...

KURTZ: To the cemetery.

REINES: To the cemetery of World War I. Second of all, when you go, you are supposed to make it about thanking someone's service, to go and to use that...

KURTZ: The president did some of that.

REINES: He should have done zero of that.

KURTZ: All right. I get your point. Let's talk about the Democrats in our remaining moments.


KURTZ: You caused a stir a few weeks ago by telling Politico...

REINES: You got to be more specific.

KURTZ: Hillary Clinton, it's very unlikely she'll run in 2020, but the chances were not zero.


KURTZ: Since you are close to her and I'm sure you're not there freelancing, why did you crack open that door?

REINES: Because I was asked. And that's the honest answer. I mean, first of all, it's crazy that for the first time for 25 years in public service, no one has just assumed maybe that she was thinking about something. It's a weird time for everyone...

KURTZ: Well, after 2016, it would seem like a long-shot that she would run again.

REINES: But why?

KURTZ: You can make...

REINES: To be honest with you, there is a personal bother to it in that. What is the basis for people being surprised, that she has run before? Well, so has Bernie Sanders, so has Joe Biden.

KURTZ: Twice before, yes.

REINES: Is she old? Well, she is younger than Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump.

KURTZ: I get the case on paper. Were you trying to get some buzz going for Mrs. Clinton?

REINES: No, no. I was definitely trying to make the point that the coverage of her is not fair.

KURTZ: All right. I'll bet you have a lot more to say on that.

REINES: I do back after the break.

KURTZ: Well, you won't be back after the break. I appreciate you coming on this holiday.

REINES: Thank you, Howie. Happy New Year.

KURTZ: Happy New Year to you.

After the break, Kevin Spacey seems to dispute the sexual assault allegations against him in a YouTube video, but he's playing the ruthless president from House of Cards, why this thing is going viral.


KURTZ: Actor Kevin Spacey has remained silent as more than a dozen men have accused him of sexual assault. In fact, he faces a felony charge of indecent assault in Massachusetts early next month. But in a stunning move, the man who played President Frank Underwood in the House of Cards before Netflix banished him from the show released this Underwood-style video completely in character.


KEVIN SPACEY, HOUSE OF CARDS ACTOR: Of course, some believed everything and they've been waiting with bated breath to hear me confess it all. They're just dying to have me declare that everything said was true and that I got what I deserved. But you wouldn't believe the worst without evidence, would you? You wouldn't rush to judgments without facts, would you? Did you?


KURTZ: Joining us from New York, Kat Timpf, a National Review writer and a Fox News contributor. And, Kat, how can Kevin Spacey say nothing for a year after an initial statement by just one of these many cases, then come out playing Frank Underwood and doing the whole you miss me, didn't you.

TIMPF: Right. I watched this several times trying to figure out what he was going for. And I got to say I still don't really know.

KURTZ: Neither do I.

TIMPF: It looked like a weird audition tape for a struggling actor, which I guess he has become, a struggling actor. I don't know what he expected. I don't know if he expected people to say oh, wow, I remember him as Frank Underwood, he was so great, we should welcome him back. No, you've been accused by so many people of sexual assault at this time, you can't just come back. So it looks like he just put on that Santa apron for nothing.

KURTZ: Well, in one sense, it worked in the sense that it has gotten 4.5 million views on YouTube in a few days, all over social media. So maybe he thought he was reminding people that they liked him as an actor and using that skill in a sort of coded way to ask them to withhold judgment.

TIMPF: I suppose that must be what he was going for. And he clearly missed the mark. Because people went from thinking he's a molester to thinking oh, he's a molester who lost his marbles. They don't just think he's a predator now, they also think that he's crazy, because this was an absolutely video. And it kind of shows how much things have changed, because in the past, if you were a powerful man, you used to be able to get away with predatory behavior and accusations of predatory behavior.

And now that the Me-Too movement has happened, things have changed. And he's trying to play by the old rules that don't exist anymore.

KURTZ: Yeah. I think you've kind of nailed it with that sound byte. Now, among the waves of critical reaction, actress Ellen Barkham (ph) said this on Twitter, Kevin Spacey is sending a very disturbing message to his audience, say if you hypocrites love me as a murderer, which he played on TV, why won't you love me as a sex offender. But then, she notes well, one was a fictional drama on Netflix, and the other one is IRL, In Real Life.

TIMPF: Right, exactly. I don't really have a problem with fictional murder because, you know, no one is dying.

KURTZ: Yeah.

TIMPF: I do have a problem with the real-life molesters because people are getting hurt. There is nothing hypocritical about it. And this was just really desperate and pathetic. He tried to avoid his January 7 arraignment in Nantucket...

KURTZ: Yeah.

TIMPF: Saying that he didn't have to go. The prosecutors rejected that. He's clearly used to playing by these old rules of powerful men, and he's now having to play by a whole new set of rules. And a little video YouTube clip where you do the accent of Frank Underwood is not going to be enough to get your old life back.

KURTZ: Not going to be enough. Well, you know, police in that Massachusetts case say there is video evidence of him putting his hand down the pants of an 18-year-old man. His parents say Spacey got the guy drunk. Spacey's lawyers say it was consensual. But, so, finally, is Kevin Spacey trying to bypass through this video, the usual process of apology and possibly redemption.

TIMPF: Yeah, absolutely. He's saying he didn't do it. He's saying he didn't do it. There's no way he did it. But when you have this many people who have accused you of the same thing, sorry, bro, you did it. We all know that you did it. And this isn't going to work. People aren't going to believe you. This is a new time. You can't use and abuse your power to take advantage of vulnerable people anymore. He's clearly trying to by pass an apology...

KURTZ: Right.

TIMPF: And just go on with life as usual. But that doesn't work anymore. And I'm glad that it doesn't.

KURTZ: Yeah, well, he's saying it's complicated. But we got the final word now from Kat Timpf. Sorry, bro.

TIMPF: Sorry, bro.

KURTZ: All right. Sis, great to see you. Thanks so much for joining us.

TIMPF: You, too.

KURTZ: Happy New Year.

Still to come, why the New York Times just blew it with a piece on Donald Trump's Vietnam medical exemption and much more, coming up.


KURTZ: A front page New York Times' story charging that a Queens' podiatrist gave Donald Trump a phony diagnosis of bone spurs to keep him out of the Vietnam draft back in 1968 was fatally flawed. First, Dr. Larry Braunstein who was said to have done this as a favor to his landlord, the president's father, Fred Trump has been dead for a decade. The story itself says this is a possible explanation that, quote, no paper evidence has been to found to corroborate the version of events, really.

To the doctor's daughter's interview, one says the implication from her father was that Trump didn't have bone spurs, and, quote, I don't know if he examined Trump. Hold on here, possible explanation, the implication, I don't know. And both daughters say they are Democrats who don't like the president. Trump like thousands of other affluent kids in that era may have used a dubious medical claim to dodge the draft, but this Time story didn't come close to proving that. There is no question that The Apprentice made Donald Trump a reality show star.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Also, I don't like excuses. You're fired.


KURTZ: The New Yorker has devoted many thousands of words to the notion that the show's editing and its producer Mark Burnett enabled its star to run for president. Well, I don't think anyone would dispute that. While writer Patrick Radden Keefe says he found no evidence for the rumor of some missing tape containing the N word, his language portrays his animosity towards Trump for eviscerating norms, and his animosity for Burnett, quote, his chief legacy is to have cast a serially bankrupt carnival barker in the role of the man who might plausibly become the leader of the Free World. Well, it wasn't some TV script when that carnival barker beat 16 other Republicans and Hillary Clinton to win the White House.

And at the Times Square ball drop on New Year's Eve, the committee to protect journalists will honor press freedom in this year of intimidation and violence against the media. Fox News' anchor John Scott will represent this network joined by such journalists as NBCs Lester Holt, ABCs Martha Raddatz, and the late Jamal Khashoggi's editor at the Washington Post. And you can see that on Fox.

That's it for this edition of Media Buzz. I'm Howard Kurtz. Happy New Year, happy healthy new year to all of you. This is the last show of 2018.

Check out my new Podcast, Media Buzz Meter. We kick around the day's five most important, or fascinating, or buzzy stories. And you can subscribe at Apply iTunes or Google Play or tune in at

You can go to our Facebook page, you can give us a like. We post original videos there and my columns every weekday, a lot of original content. Let's continue the conversation on Twitter @HowardKurtz. A lot of talk about in this year-end show and I bet you have a lot of thoughts on what I and our guests have to say.

Well, we'll see you in the first show of 2019, back here next Sunday. You know the time, 11 Eastern with the latest buzz.

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