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Donald Trump is an unconventional candidate who is willing to go where others will not go. Ignoring the normal rules has fueled his success. Last week we saw Mr. Trump use asymmetric warfare against his competitor Senator Ted Cruz. Soon followed an unsubstantiated story unflattering to Sen. Cruz. Did the media make an unwise choice to cover these stories or was it too tempting? I joined panelists Ashley Parker of the NY Times and Fox News contributor Julie Roginsky on MediaBuzz with host Howard Kurtz to discuss.

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FNC Panel Targets Media Coverage of National Enquirer’s ‘Unproven’ Cruz Story

By Matthew Balan | March 28, 2016 | 3:40 PM EDT | NewsBusters

Sunday’s MediaBuzz on Fox News Channel critiqued the media’s attention on the National Enquirer’s cover story about multiple alleged affairs involving Senator Ted Cruz. Howard Kurtz noted that “the dilemma for the press here is whether to run with these unproven allegations.” The Daily Caller’s Gayle Trotter asserted that the press “shouldn’t run with it, because the story itself shows that the National Enquirer has a complete lack of evidence.” Ashley Parker of the New York Times underlined that Cruz’s “unprompted” response to the story “makes it more complicated,” as the media reports on what the candidates say. [video below]

Kurtz introduced the issue by revealing that his program was “not planning to touch this story about Ted Cruz and the National Enquirer…because this particular story right here offers no concrete evidence of Cruz supposedly, allegedly having multiple affairs. But as the piece started to get media attention, the senator was quick to denounce it.” He first turned to Trotter for her take on the press coverage of the controversy. After suggesting that the press shouldn’t pay attention to it, the Daily Caller contributor claimed that the media was “taking something that is not sourced; that does not have evidence; and trying to insert it in the presidential campaign.”

The Fox News host underlined that “many news organizations — not all — were trying to ignore it. But then…Senator Cruz — at a meeting with reporters, and not in response to a specific question…brought it up.” He asked Parker, “So, how does that, or should that, change the equation?” She replied with her “makes it more complicated” line, and underlined that “those rumors have been around for a while in Washington, and a lot of media organizations did nothing with them.”

Parker added that “when Senator Ted Cruz come out and he brings it up unprompted, we do report on what the candidates say; and he’s now using it to attack Donald Trump; and, again, assail his character. So then, it sort of becomes injected into the discussion.”

Fox News contributor/Democratic strategist Julie Roginsky, who also appeared during the panel discussion segment, pointed out that Cruz “could potentially be defaming Donald Trump for saying that Donald Trump or his allies planted a story that he has no evidence that he planted — although, we all suspect he probably did.” Kurtz interjected, “Wait, you all suspect? That’s not good enough, as a journalistic standard.” Roginsky acknowledged that this was the case. She also highlighted how the National Enquirer story was distracting from more substantive issues, such as Trump’s weekend interview with Maggie Haberman and David Sanger of the New York Times.

Kurtz ended the segment by spotlighting how the Boston Herald’s Adriana Cohen specifically named former Cruz flack Amanda Carpenter as one of Cruz’s alleged mistresses on CNN’s At This Hour on Friday. Trotter went after CNN and the program’s anchor, Kate Bolduan, for “allowing her to go on national television, on a station like CNN, and republish that defamation.” The Fox News host gave Bolduan the benefit of the doubt: “It’s hard to react in a moment, so I’m sympathetic. But Kate Bolduan should not have let it go on.” Roginsky sided with Kurtz, and added, “Adriana Cohen, frankly, owes this woman a humongous apology.” [video below]

The transcript of the relevant portion of the panel discussion segment from the March 27, 2016 edition of Fox News Channel’s MediaBuzz:

HOWARD KURTZ: Let me turn to this other matter now. We were not planning to touch this story about Ted Cruz and the National Enquirer — not because the Enquirer hasn’t done some good reporting in the past, along with some high-profile errors — but because this particular story right here offers no concrete evidence of Cruz supposedly, allegedly having multiple affairs. But as the piece started to get media attention, the senator was quick to denounce it.

SEN. TED CRUZ, (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let me be clear: this National Enquirer story is garbage. It is complete and utter lies. It is a tabloid smear. And it is a smear that has come from Donald Trump and his henchmen.

KURTZ: Now, we have the opposite problem. There is no evidence that Trump or his campaign was behind this story. Trump says, in a statement, he has no idea whether the piece is true; did not know about it; had absolutely nothing to do with it.

So Gayle, the dilemma for the press here is whether to run with these unproven allegations that use words like ‘rumors,’ quoting snitches — saying things like ‘supposedly.’

GAYLE TROTTER, DAILY CALLER CONTRIBUTOR: They shouldn’t run with it, because the story itself shows that the National Enquirer has a complete lack of evidence. Under the law, a public figure has to have a much higher standard to prove defamation. And that’s why if you look at the article itself, it conceals the identity of the five women in this story. And so, for the press to run with this, it shows that they are taking something that is not sourced; that does not have evidence; and trying to insert it in the presidential campaign.

KURTZ: I think many news organizations — not all — were trying to ignore it. But then, as we just played, Senator Cruz — at a meeting with reporters, and not in response to a specific question, Ashley — brought it up. So, how does that, or should that, change the equation?

ASHLEY PARKER, NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER: I mean, I think it makes it more complicated, certainly, because I think — you know, those rumors have been around for a while in Washington, and a lot of media organizations did nothing with them — didn’t even try to report them out. They appear in the Enquirer, and I think — the morning begins, and everyone is kind of thinking, we’re going to steer clear of this muck. You know, it’s unproven; there’s (sic) no names; there’s — you know, no named sources.

KURTZ: So the New York Times was not planning to follow up — as far as you know?

PARKER: I don’t think it was something we were going to report on — no. But then, when Senator Ted Cruz come out and he brings it up unprompted, we do report on what — what the candidates say; and he’s now using it to attack Donald Trump; and, again, assail his character. So then, it sort of becomes injected into the discussion.

KURTZ: Right. This is the flip side of what you were all saying in taking issue with Trump blaming Ted Cruz for the independent PAC’s picture. And this morning, on ABC, Trump said he thinks that Cruz campaign may have bought the rights to the picture and given it to this small PAC. I don’t see any evidence of that. But Cruz is making a very serious dirty tricks charge here against — by blaming it on Trump — that it seems to me that he doesn’t have any evidence to back up.

JULIE ROGINSKY, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: He doesn’t, and I’m not — Gayle’s the lawyer here — but to me, defamation goes both ways, right? He could potentially be defaming Donald Trump for saying that Donald Trump or his allies planted a story that he has no evidence that he planted — although, we all suspect he probably did.

KURTZ: Wait, you all suspect? That’s not good enough, as a journalistic standard—

ROGINSKY: Exactly right; exactly right. But look at what Donald Trump has done so brilliantly to the press — and this is a great example this weekend. He did a very detailed story with Maggie Haberman and David Sanger of the New York Times, where he talked about his vision for the country if he were president.

KURTZ: For over an hour and a half.

ROGINSKY: For over an hour and a half—

KURTZ: Yeah—

ROGINSKY: Full of detail that, frankly, were head spinning to a lot of us. Nobody is really focused on that. Instead, what we’re spending time about is talking about whether Ted Cruz may have had affairs with one to five women; whether this is a Hulk Hogan situation where, somehow, Melania Trump’s picture got bought by him — despite the fact that it’s obviously in the public domain, because it belongs to GQ — or whoever it belongs to, where she posed for. And so, this is why he’s so brilliant at playing the press. We’re not talking about substance. We’re not talking about what he’d do as president. We’re talking about essentially what Hulk Hogan was talking about in his Gawker trial. It’s incredible to me.

KURTZ: You know, by the way, the Enquirer denies being influenced by anybody other than its reporters and editors in pursuing this story. And, you know, it is true that Trump is friendly with the CEO of the Enquirer’s parent company, David Pecker; and it’s also true that Roger Stone, who had been a, kind of, an unofficial advisor to Trump — is not anymore — is the only person quoted on the record, as Cruz pointed out, in this piece — just saying, well, these rumors have been out there. Well, that’s not good enough, I think, for journalistic standards.

You know, I’ve done a lot of reporting on the Enquirer over the years. The Enquirer was right in the O.J. Simpson case, and John Edwards having a love child, and Tiger Woods’s multiple mistresses. Sometimes, it runs a rumor is heating up story as a way of getting sources to come out of the woodwork. It doesn’t have the story nailed down, but it hopes to get to a more definitive story.

We’ll come back to that, but I want to play a moment that — this is before most news organizations were acknowledging the Enquirer story. It was exploding on Twitter and online. This is a moment on CNN, and there were two guests. One was Adriana Cohen, who is a Boston Harold columnist who happens to support Donald Trump; and the other guest was Amanda Carpenter, who is a CNN contributor who had worked until fairly recently for Ted Cruz. Look at what happened.

ADRIANA COHEN, BOSTON HERALD COLUMNIST (from March 25, 2016 edition of CNN’s “At This Hour”): I would like Ted Cruz to issue a statement whether or not the National Enquirer’s story is true — that he has had affairs with many women, including — you were named, Amanda. Will you denounce this story, or will you confirm it? (Carpenter laughs)

KATE BOLDUAN: Let me just be very clear: it will come as no surprise to our viewers. CNN has no reporting on what you’re talking about coming from the National Enquirer. Amanda, go ahead.

AMANDA CARPENTER: What’s out there is tabloid trash. If someone wants to comment on it, they can talk to my lawyer. It is categorically false. You should be ashamed for spreading this kind of smut.

KURTZ: Gayle.

TROTTER: I’m just speechless thinking about CNN — and Bolduan, the anchor — allowing her to go on national television, on a station like CNN, and republish that defamation. I mean, it is really shocking that she didn’t cut off the discussion right away.

KURTZ: Yeah. It’s hard to react in a moment, so I’m sympathetic. But Kate Bolduan should not have let it go on. I mean, then, she had to give Amanda Carpenter a chance to respond—

TROTTER: Yes — absolutely—

KURTZ: And she did very forcefully. But it kind of made me cringe that this — you know, unsubstantiated allegation was repeated to the face of a woman who is a CNN contributor who happened to formerly work for the senator.

ROGINSKY: You know, Howard, we’re setting a precedent where somebody can turn to somebody else on television and say, when did you stop beating your wife? And you have to respond to this kind of allegation. I mean, inexcusable — I don’t — I have a lot of sympathy for Kate Bolduan. I’m sure she didn’t mean for this to happen—

KURTZ: And she didn’t know it was coming—

ROGINSKY: And she cut it off—

KURTZ: Yeah—

ROGINSKY: Adriana Cohen, frankly, owes this woman a humongous apology. But this is where we’ve gotten to in this cycle. This is what we’re talking about. What we’re talking — accusing women of having affairs with each other. It’s insane.

KURTZ: Can’t argue with that.

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