Why the media were slow on VA scandal; Mariel Hemingway hits O'Keefe on sting

This is a rush transcript from "Media Buzz," May 25, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On the buzzmeter this Sunday the mainstream media ripping the Obama administration for its bungling of the gut-wrenching scandal at VA hospitals. And outraged that the White House says the president learned about it from the press.


BILL O'REILLY, HOST, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": It is lunacy to have Shinseki, who is overseeing the VA debacle, investigate anything. Lunacy.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: And I think the president needs to step up. I think heads do need to roll at the VA.

ANDERSON COOPER, ANCHOR, "AC-360": The question is what on earth has taken everyone so long to address them?


KURTZ: But were the media too slow to jump on these disclosures about secret waiting lists and patient deaths? And why has the story now gotten such traction when other scandals have faded? Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts snagged the first interviews with Hillary for her new book. But as the media machine cranks up could this kind of sort of candidate become overexposed? The New York tabloids calling the city's first lady a bad mom because she spoke candidly about the frustrations of child rearing. Did Mayor Bill de Blasio's wife deserve to be savaged? And the story we broke about James O'Keefe's video sting against Mariel Hemingway and Ed Begley Jr. involving a fake Mid-East oil man and an environmental documentary. Was this dastardly deception or did it catch the Hollywood stars in hypocrisy?


MARIEL HEMINGWAY, ACTRESS: They say that they set themselves up as a person -- as an entity that finds out dishonesty. You know, they're trying to like find who's being dishonest or hypocritical. And yet they do this and they have a secret guy with, you know, a fake guy? That's not dishonest?


KURTZ: An exclusive interview with one of the targets, Mariel Hemingway. I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is "MediaBuzz."

The story began in April with a local news report about problems at the VA hospital in Phoenix. It went national two weeks later with this investigative report about the Phoenix facility on CNN.


ANDERSON: And doctor who's left the hospital says that managers were actually keeping two waiting lists -- a sham list that made the hospital look like a model of efficiency and a secret list that showed the deadly reality.


KURTZ: It took more than two weeks before the network evening newscasts latched on to this story.


DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: So, now we turn to the growing national outrage about what has happened to American veterans inside VA hospitals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Critics say backlogs are spread across the country and the VA has been covering up the problem.


KURTZ: Not until the last few days as the media's coverage reached white hot intensity with some pundits and politicians calling for Veterans Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign.


SEAN HANNITY, HOST "HANNITY": The White House knew. Now, the "Washington Times" is reporting that the Obama administration was notified about scheduling problems and delayed care at multiple Veterans Affairs hospitals more than five years ago.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it, period.


KURTZ: But some are still saying the VA mess is kind of an old story.


RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": It feels to me like it's the media coming upon a problem in progress and calling it a scandal rather than something brand new being uncovered.


KURTZ: Joining us now on this Memorial Day weekend, Lauren Ashburn, Fox News contributor who hosts social buzz on the Fox website. David Frum, senior editor at "The Atlantic" and the former speechwriter for President Bush. And Craig Crawford, publisher of the "Trail Mix Blog" and a former columnist for congressional quarterly. Why is it that it took so long for this story to explode?

LAUREN ASHBURN, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I think one of the problems is that we don't pay attention to beat reporters all across the country. There is a real value in these reporters, especially as local newsrooms are cutting and slashing budgets. There were stories out of Pennsylvania and Georgia and South Carolina that were very heart-wrenching, yet no one wove together all of those stories until CNN came along with its one-year investigation.

KURTZ: But which newspaper initially broke this story about the Phoenix facility?

ASHBURN: "The Arizona Republic" out of Phoenix. And it was a Gannett- owned newspaper. And, you know, my hat really goes off to the reporter who took on this story. But there was also a whistleblower who came in and said hey, you really have to examine what's going on here. And he did that after he retired.

KURTZ: So, I want to take a moment to recognize Drew Griffin, investigative reporter at CNN, because he is not one of the famous, you know, anchors or commentators or loud mouths, but who's been on this VA story for a long time, but even then Fox did jump on it the next day, it was on every primetime show, but weeks have gone by, David, and only this week did "The New York Times" and "The Washington post" put this VA story on the front page. Why?

DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE ATLANTIC": This is a scandal that's been hidden from sight by another scandal. The VA story has been so disappointing for so long that there's this whole extra dimension that in fact it's not just a matter of bureaucratic bungling, but actually conscious malfeasance. That was a hard thing to penetrate. People are used to bad news about the VA. Now here's worse news.

KURTZ: And Craig, it seems that television can only focus on two or three stories at a time. And maybe now some other things have faded and there's room to focus more heavily, as we should have all along, on what's happening in these VA facilities.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, PUBLISHER, "TRAIL MIX": Well, frankly, a lot of this story's been user driven. I think the public seeing this has risen up in such a way. We've all been getting e-mails, lawmakers, and stories, anecdote after anecdote. So finally the media just couldn't ignore it. I mean I think when it comes to Obama sometimes the media has kind of a wait till the roof caves in approach, you know. Maybe it will go away. But then all of the sudden the roof caves in and they can't ignore it.

KURTZ: And yet there is something different I would say about this story. Let's take a look at a couple of interviews on national and local television that I think will explain why this one resonates.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... has a final word, but I'm saying working at this hospital to make my dad suffer the way they did for a whole year. My dad was a really strong man, a very brave man.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I grabbed his hand. I said, papa, no matter what, I'm not going to let this ride. I'm going to fight till the very end with you. As he was dying, he says, don't stop. Let the whole world know they let me suffer.


ASHBURN: I don't know about you guys, but how can you listen to this and not just feel this horrible pain for them? These stories are heart- wrenching. So I think it's really the human dimension here that adds to this. Everybody has a VA hospital. Right? Most people know someone who's a veteran who has had to go through this system.

KURTZ: I was really moved watching those interviews and other interviews by the pain that people suffered because somebody couldn't get in their dad, their -- another family member couldn't get into the hospital. And yet look at the IRS scandal. Most people don't have 501C3s they have to worry about being audited or being - not getting preferential tax treatment, but everybody can relate to the VA.

FRUM: Well, look. With the IRS, a lot of our discussion turns into a soap opera, in which the president is the central star. So if the story does not seem to be about the personality of the president, whoever the president is, it's less interesting to watch in a New York-based media. Meanwhile, the things that actually matter, the lives of millions and millions of people, tend to get short shrift. And the VA is not - there are a lot of other stories we could tell. Extended unemployment insurance still lapsed all these months after it let lapse. We give that very little attention. We have a media that pays attention to the problems of very affluent people. If a plane goes down, we're interested because we and people who consume our product are plane riders. If a VA hospital is delivering bad care, our viewers and we tend not to be consumers of that kind of product.

CRAWFORD: We've got to remember what the VA is facing. I mean we've got 3 million new veterans from 12 years of wars in two places that costs $2 trillion. We don't think about these consequences when we go into these wars. And here it is. And the resources have been drying up. The Senate Republicans last February, you know, blocked a bill to build two dozen new VA medical centers. Where's the accountability for them?

KURTZ: OK. Well, we're starting to ask questions, as we in the media should, about why did this go on so long. I mean there are GAO reports going back ten, 15 years talking about this. But I think David raises an interesting point, Craig, which is this one doesn't feel at least so far as politicized. You have liberal columnists like "Washington Post's" Dana Milbank and "Times'" Joe Klein denouncing Obama's apparently slow reaction to this. And it's not being treated as some others are as a "phony scandal" by people on the left.

CRAWFORD: Right. I mean we are seeing liberals now not so quietly acknowledging that while his rhetoric still inspires them this presidency has turned out to be a case of serial incompetency. I mean, going back to the stimulus bill and the shovel-ready projects that weren't ready for ten months. And you mentioned the IRS, Benghazi. It goes on and on. There is a management problem with this president. He was a great campaigner. And that's one probable way we pick presidents. We don't elect them to govern. We elect them for their rhetoric.

KURTZ: The way the beltway press treats this, so now we have this media drumbeat. Eric Shinseki, should he go, should he stay, will he resign. And is there anything that bothers you about that? I mean, of course, it's a legitimate question to ask, but.

ASHBURN: Of course, everybody wants someone's head to roll for something like this. And we look to the person whose head is at the top of it to sort of impersonate or look at the top. It's actually for this whole scandal. And the problem is that a lot of people just want him to resign and then want the story to go away, I think. And if you look on Google, I don't know if anybody's googled this, but google Shinseki and resign. You get more than 30 pages of pundits of both stripes, everyone calling for his head.

KURTZ: Does this remind you of Kathleen Sebelius and HHS?

ASHBURN: They're going to have a lot harder time with him because he's a long-time soldier. He's a Vietnam veteran. And he has a disability. So I think we're going to have a lot harder time getting rid of him than we will ...

CRAWFORD: One day this week Shinseki, he beat out Kim Kardashian in the Google search.

KURTZ: That's an accomplishment.


FRUM: Resignations in politics are not just about cases of doing justice to people. There's a symbolic effect. The next Veterans Administration head and the next head of any cabinet department is going to learn from this ask more questions. If not to say, well, I didn't know and I wasn't responsible, those aren't good answers. Because you're actually -- the reason he needs to be -- to resign or be fired is to encourage the next person to do a more careful job.

KURTZ: I agree with you that there's a symbolic value and also this is traditionally how presidents have shown that they're on top of it. I'm demanding the resignation today of so and so. But, you know, if Shinseki resigned tomorrow, it doesn't fix the problem. My question to you, though, David, as somebody who has some political experience is, former Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters on Fox a couple of times this week saying where was the outrage in the Bush administration about the same problems which have festered now for what - ten or 15 years?

FRUM: There was outrage. And I remember the Walter Reed scandal. It was a gigantic firestorm. And it was a very - by the way, it became together with Katrina to create an image of incompetence around management of the Bush administration that did so much damage in the elections of 2008.

ASHBURN: What happened there, right? Where is Walter Reed now? That's one of the problems with journalism is that we don't follow up. Have things improved at Walter Reed?

FRUM: Well, Walter Reed's been converted into housing, I think. It is going to be no longer a hospital. It's going to be a big new development ...


KURTZ: That was a great expose by the "Washington Post." But I think because there are so many VA facilities around the country -- haven't we all become inured to this, oh, VA is a mess, we've all known that. And then I think until we got the secret waiting lists and the suggestions of skullduggery and cover-up, that's what the story had been lacking.

CRAWFORD: But, you know, in defense of the VA, again, going back to all they have to deal with so few resources, they don't do such a bad job in the aggregate. I mean the marketing studies that have been done show that the average patient of the VA give it pretty high scores. In some cases higher scores than civilian hospitals. And ...

KURTZ: I know a lot of veterans can't get in. Not that the care is altogether lousy. It's the lack of access.

CRAWFORD: Well, a lot of the problems is the rules for getting access, getting benefits are almost Kafkaian (ph). And that needs to be streamlined. But that's a separate problem from those who are not in the system not getting service.

ASHBURN: Well, you have to also look now that there's been a decision made to go to private hospitals. And that is starting to get some coverage.

KURTZ: Right. And just to pick up on your point and close the segment, when President Obama kind of praised Eric Shinseki, it was kind of a heck of a job, Brownie, moment, and we'll see how the politics plays out here and whether or not the short attention span is also going to be a factor. Go to our Facebook page and give us a like. We interact with you there. And send me a tweet about the show during this hour. It's @howardkurtz. We're going to read some of your messages at the end of the hour.

When we come back, Hillary picks Diane and Robin for her first interviews. We'll look at the coming media wave. And later, a "MEDIA BUZZ" exclusive, Mariel Hemingway on how she got entrapped in an undercover video sting.


KURTZ: There was a fierce competition to land the first interview with Hillary Clinton about her new book. And the winners are ABC's Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts. So David Frum, as we get ready for another huge Hillary wave in the media, I would say that perhaps there's a media obsession with the former first lady. Is she in danger of being overexposed and the media fostering that?

FRUM: She is very cleverly using scarcity to ensure she never faces difficult questions. The Clinton operation, since Bill Clinton left office, is just this morass of financial, ethical scandals. The idea that Bill Clinton was giving speeches in foreign countries and often to foreign governments while his wife was secretary of state, it's almost post-Soviet. And yet that is not going to be discussed. And when you raise it, people's eyes roll. Oh, that old story. You know, that's all been disclosed. It's been disclosed, but you don't care.

CRAWFORD: I don't think Diane Sawyer's going to ask those questions.


CRAWFORD: She once called Hillary Clinton dazzling. Said she actually dreamed about Bill Clinton.

ASHBURN: I also think that she's also a good reporter and a good interviewer. But she does have that softer side to her. And I think that the reason that the Clinton campaign or the Clinton group has picked her is because they also want that softer side that Diane and Robin Roberts can bring to the interview.

KURTZ: Robin Roberts, coincidentally or not, was hand-picked by the Obama White House for the interview in which Barack Obama decided he was in favor of gay marriage. So they're clearly expecting, what would you say, a sympathetic reception?

ASHBURN: I don't know if it's sympathetic as much more as a lighter touch in some areas.

KURTZ: By two women.

ASHBURN: By two women. I think Diane is becoming the next Barbara Walters, the person that you come to, as she's exited the stage, the person you come to sit down with and have that sort of intimate, very intimate --


CRAWFORD: I think you call it relentless empathy.

FRUM: Soft questions can often elicit interesting answers. In fact, often with politicians they're so prepared for the hard question that the soft question can surprise them and catch them. But you have to deal with the appropriate topic areas. And if you ignore these, you'll never find out anything.

ASHBURN: And I don't think she does.

KURTZ: Since you ignored my opening question we'll try Craig on this. We debate the state of her brain, we debate her becoming a grandmother, every joke, full-time beat reporters assigned to Hillary Clinton, who as of this moment, is not running, although of course she probably is. She may not like the press very much, but could the press make people sick of her because you know, we've got 2 1/2 years to go in this campaign?

CRAWFORD: I think that's why she's so careful about the interviews that she does. I think they're very aware of that.

KURTZ: Now we have the book tour.

CRAWFORD: Then there will be that. But at the same time I'd like to see her do some interesting interviews. Go on with O'Reilly. Get some interesting contentious exchanges going, let's see what she's made of. I'll tell you, for the sake of Hillary supporters if she is again going to run on above the clouds, play it safe, I'm an inevitable campaign, I don't think she is a guarantee for the nomination.

KURTZ: Okay, fine. But right now she doesn't want to be in campaign mode.

ASHBURN: Frank Rooney had an excellent article in the "New York Times" where he talked about the fact that she doesn't have anything new to bring to the table. We know a lot about Hillary Clinton. She has been covered ad nauseam for the last 20 years. So I think one of the things that she's going to have to break through here is to find something other than the woman card to put out there.

KURTZ: Well, she's going to have a grandchild. But I predict that will change. David Frum, Craig Crawford, thanks very much for stopping by this Sunday. Ahead, Mariel Hemingway takes on James O'Keefe over the secret video of her meeting with a bogus Middle East oil tycoon. But first, the New York tabloids go after the city's first lady as a bad mom. And my next guest is ticked off about that.


KURTZ: And we are getting a ton of tweets about the VA story from veterans, VA nurses and others. Keep them coming.

As tabloid headlines go, it doesn't get much worse than this. "I was a bad mom." That was "New York post's" screamer about the wife of Mayor Bill de Blasio. The "Daily News" put it this way. "Didn't want to be a mom" on its front page. Had Chirlane McCray committed some horrible act of child neglect? No. She told "New York" magazine that she felt torn and ambivalent when her daughter was born. Quote, "I was 40 years old. I had a life. Especially with Chiara. Will we feel guilt forever more? Of course, yes, but the truth is, I could not spend every day with her. I didn't want to do that. I looked for all kind of reasons not do that. I love her. I have thousands of photos of her, every one-month birthday, two-month birthday. But I've been working since I was 14, and that part of me it is me, it's taken me a long time for me to get into, I'm taking care of kids and that's what that means." Mayor de Blasio denounced the tabloids.


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, NEW YORK CITY: The "Daily News" owes Chirlane an apology. I think they owe all of us an apology for absolutely misrepresenting what she said and for caricaturing a reality that I think so many women face.


KURTZ: I spoke earlier with "New York" magazine's Jennifer Senior in New Hampshire. She's the author of "All joy and no fun: the paradox of modern parenthood."


KURTZ: Jennifer Senior, welcome.

JENNIFER SENIOR, AUTHOR: Thanks so much for having me.

KURTZ: I was a bad mom. That's practically an indictment. What was your reaction to that "New York Post" headline?

SENIOR: It wasn't practically an indictment. It was unambiguously an indictment. And my reaction was that it was preposterous. I mean, based on the immediate contents, the stuff that they isolated in the "Post" story itself, and based on the overall, you know, context of the story.

KURTZ: So admitting to some ambivalence about the burdens and frustrations of child rearing somehow in the tabloid parlance gets translated into being a dysfunctional parent?

SENIOR: Well, exactly. Being more specific here, what she said was essentially look, I was 40 when I had my first child. You know, I had an entire kind of work life. I had this free-wheeling, autonomous life beforehand, and then suddenly I had a baby. Guess what? It doesn't make you a bad mom to actually say that was a really difficult transition. There is a very robust body of literature talking about the transition to parenthood that goes back 50 years talking about precisely this thing. I write about it at great length in my book.

One of the best and most intriguing and most kind of delightful papers in a way because it's so surprising was published in 1957. And the author was quoting new moms, who were probably about 21 because that's how old new moms were in 1957. And one of them actually said "I knew what a baby was but I didn't know what they were like." That's all you need to know. The transition to parenthood has always been a big deal.

KURTZ: Dads go through this too. But I have to say because a lot of people are saying yes, it was an inflammatory headline, an unfair headline. I agree with all that. But these were Chirlane McCray's own words. So there's no unnamed sources here. She's the mayor's wife. So to some extent, didn't she create this controversy perhaps by being a little too candid?

SENIOR: Well, I don't know. Is there such a thing as being a little too candid?

KURTZ: In politics there is.

SENIOR: I'm not sure that there is such a thing.

KURTZ: In politics there is.

SENIOR: Well, you know -- well, I think that you can be indiscreet. I don't think it's indiscreet or you're committing any major indiscretions. I think you're doing everyone a favor. Every parent a favor by being honest about the difficulties of parenthood. That's what my whole book is about. I think obfuscation in this case and kind of airbrushing what parenthood involves isn't doing anyone any real favors. And if you've got the mayor -- the first lady of New York saying something that in my mind is banal. I don't think it's inflammatory. I think it's the opposite of inflammatory. I actually think it verges on dull.

KURTZ: It may have. Well, it wasn't dull the way "The New York Post" and "The New York Daily News" cast it. It may have a little more resonance because the de Blasios' daughter has struggled with drug addiction, and it also is clear that the "New York Post" is no fan of Mayor Bill de Blasio. But when you say dull and banal, it seems to me that even when you're not the mayor's wife, are there a lot of women who want to talk publicly and openly about the fact that sometimes being a mom and a mom with a new baby is drudgery, they'd rather get to the office, it's a hard thing for them to do? Parents all know that's true, but isn't it hard for people to talk about?

SENIOR: You know, here's the thing. They've been telling social scientists this for like 50 years. They told this to me repeatedly in my book with their names on the record. They are now hard-bound between like two covers. I'm not sure it's that weird.

KURTZ: Did you have some of those feelings when you gave birth?

SENIOR: I found the transition like very startling. Who doesn't?

KURTZ: Well, this is why your book is useful. Jennifer Senior, thanks very much for joining us.

SENIOR: Thank you. Thanks a lot.


KURTZ: Up next, Mariel Hemingway on the hot seat after James O'Keefe accuses her and Ed Begley Jr. Of being environmental hypocrites in a video sting. Our exclusive interview in a moment.



KURTZ: The two Hollywood celebrities thought they were just helping out a friend raising money for a documentary. But Mariel Hemingway and Ed Begley Jr. wound up walking into an undercover sting orchestrated by James O'Keefe, the conservative activist whose past targets have included NPR and ACORN. Hemingway and Begley attended a lunch with a man posing as a Middle Eastern oil tycoon, an actor hired by O'Keefe who said he was offering millions of dollars to fund an anti-fracking film being made by their friend, liberal director Josh Stickel (ph), who told me candidly "we were punked." O'Keefe says this as Hollywood hypocrisy. Here's a bit of the surreptitiously recorded video from a lunch in late March at the Beverly Hills hotel.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Washington, D.C. continues fracking, America will be energy efficient, and then they won't need our oil anymore. And you're in with us on this, right?

ED BEGLEY JR.: Oh, yes. Only where the money comes from.


KURTZ: There was a misleading bit of editing there. Begley was not responding to that statement about American dependence on oil, but to a point about social media minutes later. Now, as this video was surfacing, I pressed Mariel Hemingway in Los Angeles about what it felt like to be on the receiving end of a scam.


KURTZ: Mariel Hemingway, welcome.


KURTZ: With the benefit of hindsight, and I know that's easy, should you have gone to this meeting with a guy who said he was a rich Middle East oil person?

HEMINGWAY: First of all, I've got to tell you, I didn't even know he was a rich Middle East oil person. I knew that he was somebody from the Middle East. That's all I knew. And I was doing this for a friend. I was going to help a friend. And to get money for a documentary about anti-fracking. And I thought, oh, okay, I'd help a friend. And that's -- you know, I'm that person. I help people. And I happen to love the earth and the environment. So I said sure, I'll show up. But should I have done my due diligence and figured out who this guy was? Probably yes. And I shouldn't have trusted that my friends had actually vetted this guy properly.

KURTZ: When you walked into this meeting in the Beverly Hills hotel, Ed Begley was there and you met the guy who said his name was Muhammad. Were you suspicious what was going on?

HEMINGWAY: Well, first of all, he was an hour and a half late. He showed up, and he wasn't at all what I expected. I thought, you know, Middle East, probably would show up with an entourage. Anyway, there was just things about it that felt weird and awkward right from the very beginning. And I just sat back being polite and listening to his story. It wasn't my meeting. It really had nothing to do with me. I was helping my friends try to raise money and seeing if this person was interesting.

KURTZ: Just to be clear -- just to be clear, you have no financial interest in this anti-fracking documentary.

HEMINGWAY: Absolutely.

KURTZ: Right.

HEMINGWAY: Absolutely. I'm not an executive producer. I'm not in the film. I'm not an adviser. I'm nothing. I was a friend celebrity who could show up at the polo lounge on a particular day, and it turned out to be bizarre at best, because when he left, I just thought, that -- I actually said, there's no way that guy was a real anybody, anything. It seemed like he was not a real person.

KURTZ: So we now know thanks to the recording, and of course you didn't know you were being surreptitiously taped, that Muhammad, the guy playing Muhammad, was of course an actor, says you won't tell anybody, will you? Using Middle East oil money to fund this documentary. And this is going to help my country's oil business. And you kind of played along?

HEMINGWAY: He never said -- as far as I could tell, he never said that. He didn't say -- first of all, I've got to say right off the bat, I am not a political person. That is not my format.

KURTZ: So James O'Keefe, who was behind this sting, says this shows that Hollywood environmentalists and celebrities are hypocrites because they're willing to take oil money -- I know money wasn't intended for you, but you were at the lunch, and not reveal where it's coming from.

HEMINGWAY: Well, here -- first of all, again, I'm not the filmmaker. So I just politely, you know, okay, I won't say anything. I'm not the filmmaker. Who am I going to tell about where this money is coming from? I'm not a person who's going to go through my life thinking that people are going to be deceptive and secretly filming me. I mean, that's just a very sad way to go through life.

KURTZ: When you found out that was the case, how did you feel? Did you feel duped?

HEMINGWAY: Well, to be honest, I thought, are you kidding? That was something? I mean, to me it was so preposterous even in the situation, waiting all that time, he shows up, he doesn't look like he's an important person at all from anywhere and saying things in an inappropriate way. It was at one point during the lunch his, you know, handler said, you know, Muhammad has an audition in an hour. And I thought to myself, an audition? And then he goes, I meant a meeting. So I think there was just -- I felt like this is the silliest thing I'd ever heard.

KURTZ: So it sounds like a bad Hollywood movie.

HEMINGWAY: It's a bad Hollywood movie. The other thing I find ironic is that Project Veritas, that's how they do business. It's not how I do business. But they say that they set themselves up as a person -- as an entity that finds out dishonesty. You know, they're trying to like find who's being dishonest or hypocritical. And yet they do this and they have a secret guy with -- a fake guy, that's not dishonest? You know, Ed Begley and I showed up to just be kind and support a friend. And we didn't -- there was nothing dishonest about what we were doing or hypocritical.

KURTZ: So you have a real problem with the tactics that James O'Keefe uses through Project Veritas, which invariably involves somebody posing as someone else to entrap his targets.

HEMINGWAY: Well, I think it's very -- it's a waste of everybody's time. If he didn't have the courage to just come out and have a meeting with us and say, you know, I'm against you. Good. Let's get face to face. You know, I happen to not like fracking or -- and I do. And I want to support -- you know, I want to support whatever, locally. Or in this country. Just say it. Be up front. Be honest. And that is not honesty. And that is being deceptive. And that's trying to hurt somebody that hasn't done anything wrong. Ed and I did nothing wrong. We showed up to have lunch. And by the way, I just ate salad. And somebody sees this video, they're going to see me eating salad. And you know that's my message. I just want people to eat more salad.

KURTZ: Talk about finding a silver lining. Finally any lessons in this whole episode for you in the future?

HEMINGWAY: Well, though I'm not going to be a suspicious person, I probably will vet people and not go to secret lunches or something.

KURTZ: All right. Anybody wants to take Mariel Hemingway to lunch, you've been warned. Mariel Hemingway, thanks very much.

HEMINGWAY: Thank you.


KURTZ: James O'Keefe has told me in the past he views himself as a citizen journalist taking on liberal targets and that these videos are a form of guerrilla theater. But my problem is that he uses deception in a way that undermines his case.

After the break, we declare our winner in the spin war over the "New York Times'" firing of Jill Abramson. And later, spare me. Someone's making a movie about the missing Malaysian plane?


KURTZ: Newspapers love to cover political spin, but the best spin battle around was at "the New York Times" after Jill Abramson was fired as executive editor. And it's clear that Abramson won the PR war, even if she is out of a job. By cleverly putting out word that she'd been paid less than her male predecessor, Abramson shaped the media narrative. By the time publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. started issuing statements saying that with bonuses, Abramson had actually been paid more than the man she replaced, he was on the defensive, while she was on the "New York Post" cover with the perfect image, in boxing gloves. And despite complaints about her brusque management style, she seemed all too human this week during a commencement address.


JILL ABRAMSON: You know the sting of losing or not getting something you badly want. When that happens, show what you are made of.


KURTZ: When reporters, including Lauren Ashburn, approached Sulzberger at a First Amendment dinner in New York and started asking questions, he said "no comment." Not a great strategy for a publisher. Sulzberger did do an interview with "Vanity Fair," confirming what I and others reported last weekend, that he feared Abramson's deputy, Dean Baquet, would quit over being mistreated by her, and instead elevated Matt Kay (ph) to the top job, and that Sulzberger offered Abramson an amicable parting but that quote, "Jill said no." And on the unequal pay issue, he declared "I'm not going to let lies like this lie." But quotes in a magazine can't compete with sound bites. So Sulzberger lost more ground by staying away from the cameras. And Abramson will wind up just fine because with those boxing gloves, she punched her way to victory in the spin war.

Coming up, Anderson Cooper gets even with a Dallas talk show host, and this footage of strippers. Hey, it's part of the story. Our video verdict is straight ahead.


KURTZ: Time now for our video verdict. When a Dallas TV commentator named Amy Kushner said she was disgusted by that footage of NFL prospect Michael Sam kissing his boyfriend and stormed off the set, it triggered quite a reaction.

ASHBURN: Anderson Cooper of CNN was less than pleased, and he used his CNN show to tell the world that, well, Amy Kushner isn't always opposed to public kissing.


AMY KUSHNER: He has every right to do what he wants. And that is not my issue. I just don't want it in my face.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: Look, she has every right to express her opinion. She just wants us to think of the children. And she has a point. If we don't take action, TV could become a Bacchanalian free-for-all, replete with half-naked men and indiscriminate kissing.

KUSHNER: -- starting at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are still available right now. If you're the fourth caller, you could take home a calendar. Yes, you do. Stay tuned.

Okay. You guys, don't move.

COOPER: It's okay, she was kissing strippers, and she didn't even really know them. It's not like two guys who are, actually, you know, in love.


ASHBURN: Wow. That's part of his Ridiculist. Can you say sting?

KURTZ: Yes, he really stuck it to her. Look, Anderson seems to be speaking out more on gay issues, and look, a lot of people were offended by how much the media replayed the Michael Sam kiss but what I found fascinating was the way Anderson used videotape of this woman's own program, how unfair is that, to show a little bit of a double standard.

ASHBURN: Sure. I think what he did was very entertaining. Whether or not you agree with whether or not you should be showing these kinds of kisses on the air, so I would give it a 7, just for the video clip.

KURTZ: The video clip, of course, which we just replayed, was so good that I'll give it a 9.

ASHBURN: Whoa, okay.

So on to the endless media coverage of the missing Malaysian airliner has finally faded, but now comes a truly awful idea, making it into a movie.

KURTZ: Truly awful. The man who wants to make this film was interviewed naturally on CNN, which showed a preview.


ASHBURN: That is a trailer for what is being billed as the untold story of the missing Malaysian plane called "The Vanishing Act."

KURTZ: This is such a horrible idea to make this exploitative movie so soon after the tragedy that I'm not even sure CNN should have shown it. The anchors did give the director Rupesh Paul a hard time.

ASHBURN: They did. Don't you find it a little bit ironic that CNN is talking about this coverage ad nauseum, going on about the plane, when they did all of this coverage of the plane, but you do have to give it to John Berman, the anchor, who did ask some very specific questions about it.

KURTZ: What about making this movie? Just can't get over it. The director apologized to the families, the grieving families, but he's still making the movie.

ASHBURN: He is still trying to get, you know, money to make the movie so we'll see what happens on that.

KURTZ: What's your score?

ASHBURN: 5, I give it a 5.

KURTZ: I'm giving it a 1. This is pathetic.

ASHBURN: It is disgusting, you're right.

KURTZ: Still to come, your best tweets and Brian Williams lands an interview with the fugitive from American justice, Ed Snowden.


KURTZ: Here are a few of your top tweets on the VA scandal. David B. Cohen, "The problems might be old, but the story isn't. We now have evidence of how ridiculously short the president has fallen in his promise to vets." KingLou54, "Did they hold Bush accountable?" Steve, "they were slow, but in part it has been an old story the media has heard for a long time. They never look deeper to see deaths." Clyde Watkins, "old story going on for years. Will take fundamental reform to fix. Media won't cover a story that long."

ASHBURN: It has been an old story that has been covered a little bit, and I don't know if the media will continue to cover it, but any little bit helps.

KURTZ: Like to see the media suspend their ADD on this and stick with this story for a very long time.

Finally, Brian Williams took a secret trip to Russia this week to interview Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker who some people consider a traitor.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC: A lot of people would say you have badly damaged your country. Have you performed, as you see it, a public service?


KURTZ: Here's the back story. The interview was arranged by Glen Greenwald, who won a Pulitzer for publishing Snowden's leaks, and who has just written a book and will also be interviewed. NBC signed a, quote, "collaboration agreement" with Greenwald's new outfit, First Look Media. It was Williams' NBC colleague David Gregory who asked Greenwald last June whether he should be charged with a crime for working with Snowden. When Greenwald returned for a "Meet the Press" rematch last weekend, Gregory didn't interview him, the man now collaborating with NBC. That was left to a reporter. We'll find out in a primetime special this week how aggressive Brian Williams is with Snowden.

ASHBURN: It is a good get for Williams, it's good for Greenwald who has a book, and no matter what you think about him, whether or not you think he's a hero or traitor.

KURTZ: He's certainly a fugitive.

ASHBURN: Right. We'll get some interesting information out of it, which is a win for the American people.

KURTZ: Right. I'm sure Brian Williams will ask a lot of questions, but I am sure that will be critiqued as well, and we'll probably talk about it next week.

That's it for this edition of "Media Buzz." I'm Howard Kurtz. I want to take a minute to thank all the veterans out there who have given their service to our country, how much we appreciate it on this Memorial Day weekend. We're back here next Sunday morning, 11:00 and 5:00 Eastern with the latest buzz. Hope you go to our Facebook page and also our home page, foxnews.com/MediaBuzz. Thank you for watching.

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