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Mollie Hemingway, Sara Fischer and Juan Williams examine the discrediting of the BuzzFeed story alleging that President Trump encouraged

January 21, 2019

xfdfx MEDIA-BUZZ-01


<Date: January 20, 2019>

<Time: 11:00:00>

<Tran: 012001cb.269>

<Type: Show>

<Head: Mollie Hemingway, Sara Fischer and Juan Williams examine the

discrediting of the BuzzFeed story alleging that President Trump encouraged

perjury by Michael Cohen, now disputed by Bob Mueller, along with the

coverage of Trump and Nancy Pelosi and their political maneuvers against

each other during the shutdown. Mollie Hemingway, Sara Fischer and Juan

Williams criticize various aspects of BuzzFeed story on President Trump

supposedly encouraging perjury, but disagree on how the media reacted to

the story before Robert Mueller called it not accurate>

<Sect: News; Domestic>

<Byline: Howard Kurtz, Juan Williams>

<Guest: Mollie Hemingway, Sara Fischer>

<Spec: BuzzFeed; Donald Trump; Michael Cohen; Perjury; Obstruction of

Justice; Robert Mueller; Nancy Pelosi; Government Shutdown; Furloughed



HOWARD KURTZ, FOX NEWS HOST: On “Buzz Media” this Sunday, BuzzFeed gets a black eye after reporting the allegation that President Trump told Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about the Russian Trump Tower project but Bob Mueller’ office says the story is not accurate. Hear it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Folks, this could be a game changer. If this report is true, it appears to be the clearest evidence yet of obstruction of justice.

JOHN PODHORETZ, EDITOR, COMMENTARY MAGAZINE: If the BuzzFeed story is correct, we are like not only at another level, we are at impeachment.

LAWRENCE O’DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: And essentially here is the president of the United States in the Oval Office, presumably, on the phone, telling Michael Cohen to commit federal crimes and do it right there in the House of Representatives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do I have my doubts about BuzzFeed? Absolutely. And to hear as we did this morning that the reporter who broke the story apparently now says he didn’t see the actual documents that substantiate it is a big red flag.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was a total phony story. I think that the BuzzFeed piece was a disgrace to our country. It was a disgrace to journalism.


KURTZ: Did the rest of the media rush to judgment over a story based on unnamed sources that now appears to be falling apart? This, after Rudy Giuliani appears to back off his defense on campaign collusion with the Russians.


RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The amount of false reporting about this case is despicable.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Mr. Mayor, false reporting is saying that nobody in the campaign had any contacts with Russia.

GIULIANI: Well, you just misstated my position. I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign.

CUOMO: Yes, you have.

GIULIANI: I have no idea -- I have not. I said the president of the United States. There is not a single bit of evidence the president of United States committed the only crime you could commit here, conspired with the Russians to hack the DNC.


KURTZ: Did the CNN confrontation just spread more collusion confusion? Nancy Pelosi essentially disinvites Trump from delivering the State of the Union. He retaliates by yanking a military plane for her overseas trip and the pundits praise the speaker as a badass. Is the press taking sides here? How was Trump’s compromised offer yesterday being portrayed?

Plus, the media mockery of Donald Trump for serving college athletes McDonald’s and Burger King and Wendy’s. Why they are making (INAUDIBLE) mistake. I’m Howard Kurtz and this is “Media Buzz.”

The White House responds to BuzzFeed’s alleged blockbuster, charging that the president urged his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to commit perjury about their efforts to build a tower in Moscow came down to two words. Categorically false.

But once Robert Mueller’s office took the extremely unusual step, this never happens, folks, and saying the piece was wrong, that it had no documents or testimony to support the allegation that Trump urged Cohen to lie. The president offered a rare bit of praise.


TRUMP: I appreciate the special counsel coming up with a statement last night. I think it was very appropriate that they did so. I very much appreciate that.


KURTZ: Joining us now now to analyze the coverage: Juan Williams, co-host of “The Five”; Sara Fischer, media reporter for Axios; and Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist and a Fox News contributor.

Let me just say we have been evacuated to Fox’s Washington station WTTG because of a fire that has now been put out in the Fox Washington bureau. So, here we are. We appreciate it.

Mollie, this BuzzFeed story based on two unnamed law enforcement sources basically blew up in 24 hours. How does a news outlet go with that story without being able to quote a single e-mail or text message or document?

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR, SENIOR EDITOR, THE FEDERALIST: Yeah, it seems that this would be basic due diligence. But if you’re going to claim something major about any individual, you would really make sure you have the goods. When you’re talking about the president of the United States, you would hope that the editors and people involved would have an even higher standard for making sure that what they were saying was accurate.

The story itself did not have good evidence. It had no evidence. It had anonymous sources with nothing to support it other than claims of a treasure trove of material that they hadn’t even seen. It contradicted known facts. It also just told the story in a very biased way about business dealings with Russia.

So there were many reason why people should not have taken it -- have not run the story. There are also many reasons why people should have run with the story and said oh, if it’s true, this means major things. They should have shown more -- more thought.

KURTZ: You have set up my question to Juan which is how many times do we hear if it’s true, if it’s true? Just heard Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC say this is -- if it were fact, presumably. So, pundits Russia on the air and they say the House will now definitely move to impeach President Trump.

But Michael Cohen was not a source. He wouldn’t comment for the story. And Mueller’s office which never comments on news reports felt compelled to put out a statement. Everybody here looks bad. Your thoughts?

JUAN WILLIAMS, FOX NEWS HOST: I don’t think there is much doubt about what you said, Howie, that it’s so unusual for the special counsel’s office to come out and say the story is wrong. It had tremendous power in terms repudiating the story. I will say this as someone who was a daily journalist much like you, that stories from anonymous sources and not seeing the document are not bad journalism.

We think back to the most famous investigation in our town, Watergate, Woodward and Bernstein and Deep Throat. They didn’t see any documents per se. They were relying on him and secondly relying on confirmation sources. If you have two sources preferably independent of each other or testifying to the same thing, almost every major news organization in America goes with that story.

What’s interesting to me is that in fact Buzzfeed says they contacted the special prosecutor’s office to say we’re running the story and the response was zero like --

KURTZ: Well, on that point --

WILLIAMS: Then you had the special counsel under pressure from the Department of Justice say oh yeah, we are going to now repudiate the story. This is very political.

KURTZ: On that point, we -- BuzzFeed provided the e-mails asking Robert Mueller’s office to comment to The Washington Post. The e-mail said we’re going with the story that Michael Cohen was directed by President Trump himself to lie to Congress. Nothing about that he had said this to Mueller’s office. Nothing about Mueller’s office supposedly have documents and testimony to support this.

So that made it easier, I think, for the spokesman just to do the typical way we decline to comment. Wouldn’t that -- wouldn’t you want to give more information before making this explosive charge?

SARA FISCHER, MEDIA REPORTER, AXIOS: You would. So in this type of situation, if you’re BuzzFeed News, you got to make sure that you’re crossing every “T” and dotting every “I.” One, you need to be transparent with your sources about what it is you’re going to go forth with so that they can help you get the best version of the truth. That’s what we’re all all trying to do.

And two, you have to be transparent with the reader about how you got the information you got. After this report came out, that’s when we started to learn OK, they didn’t see the documents, they are relying on sources, let’s see the documents. They needed to be up front with the reader from the start so that everyone knows exactly how you’re getting that information.

KURTZ: One of the two BuzzFeed reporters say he didn’t see the documents. The other one said on another network that he did see the documents but it’s not clear what the documents are. Is it enough for Ben Smith, the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News, to say we stand by the story 100 percent, which he does, and call on Mueller to clarify his objection?

FISCHER: I think for now it works. I don’t know if it’s necessarily enough but we’ll see what happens. What other position is he in to do? You want to defend your newsroom, you want to support your journalists. They have broken other stories in the Russia investigation.

But at the same, he can’t come out fully and say hey, this denial doesn’t make sense because the denial itself is a little bit ambiguous. So for now it’s a holding thing.

WILLIAMS: I just want to say to something that you pointed out, Howie, that how we are as in a media nation divided, right? So you see in the liberal echo chamber leaping on the story and sometimes not informing the viewer reader or listener that there are reasons to have doubts. And in the conservative media echo chamber leaping on it much the way President Trump to say ah, all the media false. This confirms that I think that’s way --

KURTZ: I don’t think the conservative media organizations tried to knock the story down. Some individuals may have until after the Mueller statement.


KURTZ: But Mollie, talk about few of people go on the air and say it. So GQ writer, Julia Ioffe, went on MSNBC. This is after the Mueller statement which if it doesn’t knock the story, it certainly raises questions about the fundamental truth of it. She said the New York Times did corroborate this part of the BuzzFeed story, that Donald Trump Jr. was briefed on this ongoing deal and sounds like he lied to Congress.

I have not been able to find -- I talk to people a lot of time -- any story that says that. That would be seen as corroboration for BuzzFeed after the point where we didn’t know that the Trump Moscow Project was still being discussed. So people just went on there and said anything.

HEMINGWAY: And Julia Ioffe has a history of saying outlandish things. I also think there’s a problem --

KURTZ: About the Trump family in particular, yes.

HEMINGWAY: There’s also just a problem of people not being very well informed about the story. For instance, that Donald Trump Jr. did testify at length and extensively about Russian dealings. That’s actually why we know a lot about them. That was one of the things that was contradicted -- that contradicts the BuzzFeed story.

But this idea that this is just BuzzFeed when in fact there have been dozens upon dozens of stories that are false, that had to be pulled back, had to be corrected. Just last week, New York Times botched a major Russia story. It happens with alarming frequency. In fact, the entire narrative is the problem, that the media have just poured themselves into for two years.

They throw caution to the wind. Rarely if ever does anyone get held accountable. We had a couple of resignations on just one of CNN’s many false stories on the Russia probe. They have sometimes not even explained their errors. They have gotten stories just flat-out wrong, never held anyone accountable, never explained, never retracted.

The American people are absolutely sick of the narrative that has been pushed without evidence. At the same time, there is a lot of evidence supporting the idea that the FBI and Department of Justice behaved improperly by putting spies against the Trump administration, by wiretapping people, putting spies against Trump campaign affiliates, wiretapping them.

These things that are based on hard facts, actual testimony, actual evidence get downplayed or ignored by many people in the media. Both of those things are major problems.

KURTZ: Well, here is my take, and that is, you know, it may -- I know that Michael Cohen, his lawyer, has said in court filings that Trump directed him to do everything, so maybe more to learn here. But you cannot, even in this anti-Trump environment, go with the story that says the president of the United States suborned perjury without having it absolutely nailed down.

The media want to DEFCON 1 (ph) over these blizzard of segments and stories saying, you know, we must move to impeachment, this is terrible. Very little skepticism despite the fact that it was unnamed sources and even as no other news organization could confirm this. Usually it is a big scoop if somebody else manages to get a confirming source.

So this is not just, I think, humiliating for BuzzFeed but it really is a kind of black eye for every organization. Not that it shouldn’t have been covered, but that just blanketed it with lots of punditry and denunciation without knowing essential truth of it.

Sara, let me come back to you. We played the clip earlier about Rudy Giuliani with CNN’s Chris Cuomo. He said, no, I never said there as no collusion in the campaign with the Russians, just behalf of President Trump. Then he put out a clarification saying his words have been misinterpreted. Any time you put out a clarification, it is not a good.

FISCHER: It is never good. Look, I think what we are seeing with Rudy Giuliani is that he’s trying to be the president’s attack dog. But sometimes it’s hard to be the attack dog when the details are just so fluffy. And so he’s getting himself into situation where he is becoming the story. That’s exactly the thing you want to avoid when you’re the spokesperson for the president.

KURTZ: You know, what’s get lost in this environment is another Michael Cohen story reported by The Wall Street Journal. This one has been confirmed by Cohen on the record. That he hired some I.T. guy in 2014 to rig online polls to make Trump look better, polls by CNBC and Drudge. Then he, according to the story, didn’t pay them $50,000.

And Cohen came out with a tweet and said, you know, yes, I did it at the direction of the president. I truly regret my blind loyalty to the president. But the president or the people on his behalf are denying that he knew about it.

WILLIAMS: I don’t know what to say about this one.

KURTZ: Right.

WILLIAMS: It is such a (INAUDIBLE) story because apparently Cohen delivers the payment and brown bags, Howie, and puts cash in it. It’s not enough cash, right?

KURTZ: It’s right out of a movie.

WILLIAMS: Yes, it’s very straight (ph). But, I mean, the whole idea -- and this is something about us as media. We rely heavily on polling and we grant authority to polls. We don’t go into detail with the audience and say well, we’re not sure about this.

There are some polls out there that are less than good because they rely on, you know, phone calls as opposed to -- robocalls as opposed to direct phone calls. But I will say in this case, the hilarious part of the story was Cohen was also paying to say that he was sexy.


WILLIAMS: He wanted people to think that he --

KURTZ: Somebody for a -- he’s a kind of a Pitbull and -- OK, I guess -- I hope he got his money. Look, I am just making the point that there is so much blizzard of information that it’s hard for even journalists to keep up and that was a story, as I mentioned, by The Wall Street Journal.

Let me get a break here. Ahead, Kirsten Gillibrand uses Stephen Colbert to jump start her 2020 candidacy. How did that work out for her?

When we come back, Nancy Pelosi trying to block the State of the Union. President Trump tried to derail her trip to Afghanistan. Guess which one the press thinks is at about (ph).


KURTZ: With the shutdown showdown now 30 days old, Nancy Pelosi has been riding a wave of positive press for taking on President Trump especially for telling him not to show up at the House for the State of the Union.


GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This was kind of a badass move. Pelosi hasn’t budged. In fact, I loved it today when she called it a housekeeping matter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The way that Nancy Pelosi right now is like -- she is like torturing the president today. She is using her power. She is not just flexing muscles for the sake of it but is -- I mean, this is a move of exceptional cleverness and sadism in a way.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: It’s time for another edition of petulant and pathetic politics with Nancy Pelosi. Well, Speaker Mimi is trying to pull a fast one and telling Trump to delay his State of the Union address, how convenient.


KURTZ: Mollie, let me read to you some of these badass headlines about the House speaker. Politico, she’s satin and steel. Pelosi wages a war on Trump. Washington Post, she wields the knife. GQ, Nancy Pelosi has the president outmatched. The Week, the genius of Nancy Pelosi’s snub. Your thoughts?

HEMINGWAY: Well, I’m someone who actually likes it when Congress asserts its authority.

KURTZ: Uh-hmm.

HEMINGWAY: She had every right to do what she did. The constitution requires State of the Union address to be given but it doesn’t require to be in public.

KURTZ: To be in writing, yeah.

HEMINGWAY: So, if she were to do this, I think it’s -- I don’t know if the opinion needs to be there, but there was no question that she had the right to do it. Clearly, it made people very excited that she asserted that authority.

KURTZ: Juan, the president, of course, retaliating by grounding Pelosi and affect congressional delegation, trips to several countries including Afghanistan. So some of the same pundits that were praising Pelosi’s political acumen for the State of the Union maneuver turned around and said, well, the president did something really awful here.

Chris Matthews, for example, called it a political dirty trick. I see hypocrisy. I mean, either they are both blatant partisan political movers -- moves or they’re not.

WILLIAMS: Well, I think they are partisan political moves and blatantly so. I will say this. I thought Nancy Pelosi was deceptive and blaming it on security issues. I thought --

KURTZ: Yeah, that was a fig leaf.

WILLIAMS: Because I think the reality is the best argument would have been, listen, the country -- the government is shut down. People are not getting paid. We are not normal. This is not the time for you to be standing and pretending. And secondly, to have a forum in which to attack Democrats on immigration issues. She should have been up front.

But I will say this. I think it was beyond petty for the president not only to cancel the flight at the last moment but potentially to reveal, which is her argument, the itinerary that would have put those people in danger.

KURTZ: Right because the trips to war zone are always kept secret. It’s fair for the press to point out that Nancy Pelosi is a veteran lawmaker, a very skilled political strategist. That’s OK. But if John Boehner had disinvited Barack Obama for State of the Union, you think we would gotten all these puffy profiles about the Republican speaker?

FISCHER: Absolutely not. This is a very different situation. I think that we see the press coming to Nancy Pelosi’s side. In some cases, you are are kind of injecting opinion where you don’t really need to be injecting opinion. It was a smart political savvy move. It’s her right to do it. It doesn’t necessarily mean that she outsmarted Trump.

And quite frankly when you see Trump with that same move even though -- you’re right, there are some danger effects here with revealing where the security might be, he’s kind of coming at her in the same way. It kind of makes the press a week before look a little bit, you know, one-sided there.

KURTZ: One-sided --

HEMINGWAY: Security wasn’t revealed. The trip wasn’t taken. But it’s also important to remember, the State of the Union is mentioned in the constitution. Congressional junkets are not.


HEMINGWAY: If you’re going to favor one power move over another, you should probably think that it was worse to infringe upon a modern institution as we’ve had in all the State of the Union --

KURTZ: OK, all right, so yesterday, the president gave a televised speech. He offers this deal. He wants to launch the $5.7 billion for the wall but he will extend by three years not deporting any of the dreamers who are here under DACA and some other things.

The Washington Post headlines, Trump speech gets thumbs down from the Democrats. MSNBC declared it as dead on arrival as soon as he was off the screen. Now, it is true that Democrats came out and rejected it. But did you see anything or anyone in the press giving the president credit for at least attempting a compromise?

HEMINGWAY: I don’t think I have seen anyone in the press give President Trump credit for anything in a few years. But it is just also one of these things when people talk about the political dynamic or the power plays involved.

What is more important is we have a shutdown and at some point, people need to get to the table. I don’t see a lot of pressure being applied -- you know, the president makes offers, they are rejected on arrival. Well, who is going to actually get the government open?

KURTZ: We’ll talk about the shutdown on the next segment. Juan, maybe it was a bad compromise the president offered, maybe it was just trying to put pressure on the Democrats by going publicly rather doing it behind the scenes. But the stories all say Trump or White House aides say he was -- it was cast as a compromise. It’s a fact. He offered something he hadn’t offered before. Why can’t the press just say that?

WILLIAMS: I think they should say that high. I think that we also have to keep in mind, the president has the bully pulpit. He spoke to the American people. And so it was clear that he was doing this. I think, to your point, he was doing this as a point of political leverage. He knew that they weren’t accepting it.

And so for the press to say oh, this is going to be a breakthrough or this could be the end the shutdown, I think that would have been bad reporting.

KURTZ: Well, when you say he knew they weren’t going to accept it, I mean, they could come back and counter and say OK, we’ll take --

WILLIAMS: I think that’s what’s going on now with Pence and Kushner meeting with people like McConnell. They are looking at both sides. But that’s behind the scenes.

KURTZ: Right.

WILLIAMS: This was a public demonstration by the president to embarrass the Democrats.

KURTZ: Well, I think it is fair to say it is not going to be solved in front of the television cameras. All right, we are going -- I teased this a moment ago. We are going to talk about -- in the next segment, we are going to talk about the actual effects of the shutdown which are starting to get more media attention.

Also ahead, later on, The Atlantic’s new cover has a one more headline, impeach. Are liberals now just openly demanding the president’s ouster?


KURTZ: The shutdown story has taken a bit of a turn as journalists have aimed more of their spotlight at the 800,000 furloughed federal workers. Here, for example, are couple of interviews by CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Fox’s Shep Smith.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This last weekend, I didn’t wear my insulin pump at all. I just took it off because I was so frightened about what little insulin I did have left and we couldn’t afford the $300 co-pay to buy anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I’ve actually had a breakdown. I’ve had to drive away to the corner store just to cry in my store so that my children couldn’t see me. Because from one day to the next, you don’t know how you’re going pay your bills.


KURTZ: Sara, the story in Washington, I think, is too often covered as a political game, rhetoric, maneuvers and all of that. These interviews and now we are seeing more of them because it is a month now, I think, show that there is real pain and suffering among many of these families.

FISCHER: Yeah. One of the big consequences of this is that working for the government has always had a really good reputation of being reliable, of having a sustainable paycheck, getting great benefits throughout your life.

I mean, you hear people struggling like this. One of the biggest reactions from them is I worked so willy (ph) to the government because I thought that this would be stable. I never dreamed I would go weeks without a paycheck. That damages the P.R. quite frankly for working for the government that has been great for decades.

KURTZ: I think, Juan, in the beginning, there wasn’t that much of this because there was the sense that the shutdown won’t be over a week, so it’s like a pay vacation and so forth. Now that we -- who knows when this thing will end? People missing more paychecks. So, are journalists -- is it smart for journalists to now put more of the focus on the people who -- no fault of their own and caught in the middle?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think you have to do it. That is good reporting. My worry is that this becomes partisan because it could be viewed as bad coverage, adds pressure specifically on the president because he said he would take responsibility for the shutdown, pressure on him and not pressure on the Democrats.

KURTZ: Why wouldn’t the coverage add pressure on both sides?

WILLIAMS: It should be pressure on both sides.

KURTZ: Whoever you blame, both sides will not come to a deal here.

WILLIAMS: Correct. Clearly, the American people overwhelmingly -- all the posts show blaming the president. And so the question is --

KURTZ: A majority, not overwhelming. A majority. Let me get Mollie in.

HEMINGWAY: You do want to make sure that you’re covering the plight of the one-quarter of -- you know, three-quarter of the government is not shut down, one-quarter is. You want to make sure you are covering the plight. There are some low-income workers.

You also want to make sure you’re telling the accurate story that the average federal employee makes something like $130,000 a year in salary and compensation. That far exceeds the average employee in the United States.

You want to make sure you are telling the full story. But there are people who are at the lower end of that who are going to be facing some --

KURTZ: And the larger story is that it is starting to impact the economy. Even the White House has had to double the estimate on the economic impact. It could be as much as a half percent off of growth per month. Now, we are at the one-month mark.

All right, Sara Fischer and Juan Williams, thanks very much for coming to our temporary studio here. Mollie, we will see you in a few minutes.

Ahead on “Media Buzz,” even as the president’s nominee for attorney general strongly backs Robert Mueller, liberal pundits slammed him anyway. But first, House Republicans punished Steve King for racial inflammatory comments but the media have another target.



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