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Media in Trump ‘crisis’ mode

I was on Fox News “Media Buzz” with Howard Kurtz to discuss, what else–the mainstream media and their parroting of Democratic, Left-Wing talking points against the President.


KURTZ: I’m Howard Kurtz. And this is Media Buzz.

We’re also hearing that produced hours of speech flying by Democrats, by Republicans and the pundits covering it before the House judiciary panel voted purely along party lines to hold Attorney General Bill Barr in contempt of Congress.

The clash was nominally about Barr’s refusal to provide the unredacted Mueller report. But as lawmakers show up in TV studios, it was clear the real issue was President Trump.


REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): What brought us here is that we have to defend our constitutional form of government.

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): They want to destroy Bill Barr because they don’t like an attorney general who actually does his job and follows the law — and follows the rules.


KURTZ: Joining us now to analyze the coverage, Gayle Trotter, host of the Right in D.C. podcast, Gillian Turner, a Fox News correspondent and a former White House national security official, and Clarence Page, columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

Gayle, are the media pretty much embracing the argument by House Democrats that these subpoena battles are a flow full-blown hair on fire constitutional crisis?

GAYLE TROTTER, POLITICAL ANALYST & COLUMNIST: Yes, for sure, the coverage is picking up that left-wing talking point. And instead, it’s silly to define a constitutional crisis that way. Because you have two branches that are in conflict, now that Congress if they get the information that they want they can appeal it to a court.

And if you had two branches of government being flouted by a third branch of government, that might rise to the level of constitutional crisis but certainly, at this point it’s just part of our federal system and the media —


KURTZ: You say it’s premature?

TROTTER: It is premature. Absolutely.

KURTZ: The media.

TROTTER: Silly and premature.

KURTZ: All right. Now, House Democrats, Gillian, are citing Bill Barr for contempt. Seven years ago, House Republicans voted contempt citation against Attorney General Eric Holder for refusing to turn over documents. And nothing happened, which is all from the way these things fizzle out. But I don’t recall the media treating that early episode as a big crisis.

GILLIAN TURNER, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, they didn’t, to be frank. I mean, the problem here is that the media seems to be echoing congressional Democrats here, which basically says that the congressional Democrats saying there’s two different roles. There’s one rule for Republican’s attorney general and there’s another set of rules for Democrat President Obama’s attorney general.

That’s a line that the media has picked up in this case and is mimicking pretty uncritically. And I think when Gayle and others talk about, you know, it’s premature to call this a constitutional crisis, that’s what everybody is getting at.

KURTZ: Maybe it’s a more dramatic storyline for the press to do that, Clarence Page, the media are right here about one thing, no dispute. There’s a really important constitutional principle at stake. Congressional oversights, separation of powers and all that. But the coverage seems to go so far beyond that in turning it into at least a political crisis, if not a constitutional one.

CLARENCE PAGE, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: This is the big story in Washington, Howard. I can speak for all of the industrial Midwest right now. But the fact is, we’ve had people exciting or either accusing or otherwise speculating a constitutional crisis ever since President Trump came into office and tried to get his Muslim ban through. And what happened? The court stopped it.


TROTTER: It was not a Muslim ban.

PAGE: As long as the court still works — sorry?

TROTTER: It was not a Muslim ban. I do have to jump in there.


PAGE: Well, in a language that’s where we are in about these days.



PAGE: Both the —

KURTZ: Restricting immigration — restricting immigration from countries with predominately Muslim population.

TROTTER: A few countries.

PAGE: But —

KURTZ: A few countries, exactly.

PAGE: As a campaigner President Trump said he want it — or candidate Trump wanted a Muslim ban. He changed the language when he learned yes, that’s not constitutional. So, —


KURTZ: All right. But your point is that we’ve been at —

PAGE: But again, that’s the system.

KURTZ: — eleven for a long time.

PAGE: This is hoe system works. And right now, you see Democrats that’s talking about constitutional crisis. I think they’ve just jump from first gear to overdrive and they kind of start an —


KURTZ: And here’s the ultimate overdrive. What about the coverage of impeachment? Now Nancy Pelosi says President Trump is self-impeaching — interesting phrase — by blocking all these congressional demands.

There’s a whole bunch of committees demanding a whole bunch of things. Do the pundits, especially the opinion hosts at CNN and MSNBC, do they love the impeachment narrative?

TROTTER: Of course, they do. Because that’s what we have seen in the reporting for two plus years of the Mueller report. They thought that the Mueller report was going to lead to the impeachment or convict — you know, indictment and conviction of President Trump and those close to him.

And I think it’s important to see the change in the tone of the Democrats it’s all related to 2020. Nancy Pelosi was trying to hold back on impeachment talk. And because you have 20-plus Democratic presidential contenders who are now saying impeach, impeach, impeach, Pelosi is feeling pressure from advocates of those candidates that she needs to be out there promoting that, too.

KURTZ: Not every Democratic candidate is saying impeach, but Nancy Pelosi, I mean, the press knows full well that Nancy Pelosi does not want to go down the impeachment road. She said so, she needs a bipartisan support. PAGE: Right.

KURTZ: And besides he would be ultimately acquitted by a Republican Senate. So how should journalists cover this much tougher rhetoric by the Democrats? Real or posturing?

PAGE: I haven’t heard any complaints about tough rhetoric going when it comes to getting a media audience, and that’s what we have here. You got —


KURTZ: Is that why we’re having the tough rhetoric to breakthrough —


KURTZ: — the media static by the Democrats?

PAGE: No. Well, you know, every time Elizabeth Warren or somebody else calls for impeachment, they use that as a fund-raising tool. President Trump is using this whole drive as a fund-raising tool as well. This is the way campaigns work.

President Trump violates norms. We know that. But this is because by a constitutional crisis argument. Just because he violates norms doesn’t mean he’s violating the Constitution. And President Trump does everything out in public as he does prove —


TURNER: I think the problem here, though, from a media perspective is that, they — most of the media seems intent on settling a score. They’re very upset that President Trump sort of won the first round of the Mueller report. Right? He got the no collusion headline —

PAGE: Right.

TURNER: that he wanted it.

PAGE: Right.

TURNER: Which he all he needed to run for.

PAGE: But it’s inaccurate.

TURNER: So, if somehow they can continue — if somehow they can continue down this road whether it’s the narrative surrounding impeachment, whether it’s Bill Barr is not being transparent, Bill Barr is being a political hack —

KURTZ: Right.

TURNER: — protecting the president they can give the second round to Republicans and kind of even out — I mean, to Democrats and even out the score.

KURTZ: All right. So inaccurate vindicated just getting that on the record.

TURNER: Vindicated.

KURTZ: Let me play you a sound bite the president talking about Mueller. He has been doing quite a bit even since the report was issued some weeks ago. Let’s look at it.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Bob Mueller is no friend of mine. I had conflicts with him. We had a business dispute. We had somebody that is in love with James Comey. They like James Comey. They were very good friends. Supposedly best friends.


KURTZ: So, in my view, the press doesn’t want to come off the Mueller- related narrative because it’s good for business, good for clicks, good for ratings. It fits the business model. But every time the president tweets or talks about Mueller and the angry Democrats, isn’t he fueling the story as well?

TURNER: Of course, he is. But again, that’s because he got the no collusion headline he wanted, which was all he ever needed to kind of close the circle.


KURTZ: But why not declare a victory and move on? He wants to keep talking about this, something he’s baiting the Democrats to impeach him.

TURNER: Well, something that keeps baiting them I think is the six separate congressional investigations that are going on since the president his campaign still on his tax returns at this point.

So, the president is not making all of this up, he’s not the only one that’s kind of dragging out the headline. It is still an unfolding developing story.

KURTZ: Right.

PAGE: Since this is the U.S. attorney investigations as well around the country.

KURTZ: Right. I’ve got a sound bite for you, Gayle. This has to do with — Axios was the first to report that the Senate intel committee under Republican Chairman Richard Burr has secretly issued a subpoena of Donald Trump, Jr. They want to bring him back to talk about his testimony about the infamous Trump tower meeting during the campaign. And here’s what the president had to say about it.


TRUMP: My son is a good person. My son testified for hours and hours. My son was totally exonerated right Mueller. Who frankly, does not like Donald Trump. Me, this Donald Trump.


KURTZ: So, the dire headlines about this, I think it may have played down or sometimes ignored the fact that the president’s son has testified voluntarily on the Hill more than once.

TROTTER: Right. And I think if you look at the history of the Trump administration, there’s been broad information sharing in furtherance of Mueller and his team, who were shown to be a lot of partisan Democrats that he hired for the team. There’s been broad information sharing.

And it’s a head scratcher to think about why the Senate intelligence committee is subpoenaing Don Trump, Jr. And so, I think the coverage is kind of a head scratcher, too because people don’t exactly know what to make of it.

KURTZ: A source tells me that there’s no way that Don is going to comply with the subpoena. He is not going to show up. H thinks he would just be made a pinata by the Democrats. We’ll see how it plays out.

There are a lot of pundits during this Mueller investigation who went on the air or wrote and said predicted Donald Trump, Jr. was going to be indicted. That didn’t happen. I mention living through that and we — I talked about that with the president’s son when I interviewed him. Now the press seems to love this as a story. The president’s son being dragged back into the middle of this investigation.

TURNER: Well, because the media from the get-go I think has fairly and rightly perceived that Donald Trump, Jr. made himself a political player. In his father’s campaign, in his father’s administration. He put himself in the uniform, he put himself out around the field.

And because of that, the media has decided he should not be afforded — and congressional Democrats —


TURNER: — and some Republicans have decided he’s not afforded the protections and the sort of immunities that presidential children are usually afforded. That’s partially at least of his own making.

KURTZ: Clarence, on the —


PAGE: On norms —

KURTZ: On the Richard Burr thing, the New York Times has reported, Maggie Haberman tweeted from a person close to Don Jr., P.R. stunt from a so- called Republican senator too cowardly to stare enough to his boss – Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the committee. That’s worked in the press because that was widely picked up.

PAGE: Yes. You’re talking now about the —


KURTZ: Somebody saying on behalf of Don Jr. that this is a stunt by Richard Burr. And is he really a Republican?

PAGE: We don’t know if the questions were asked that’s why we have hearings, that’s why Congress has that power to go investigate. And yes, they want to keep the Mueller report of what, 400 somewhat pages and President Trump says no collusion, no objection.

Well, the obstruction part obviously that’s not correct because the — even the executive summary tells you —


KURTZ: You’re saying it’s out of the question.

PAGE: This is why you have hearings. I think Nadler maybe scaling back his push for impeachment. You don’t need impeachment to have hearings to investigate. And that’s the law —


KURTZ: And you know, I got to go. I got to go. And you don’t need hearings to have saturation media coverage as we have just demonstrated.

When come back, the New York Times says Donald Trump once lost a fortune and at times he didn’t have to pay taxes. Should the press be playing that as a big scandal?

And later, how some Democrats are getting special training on how to deal with Fox News.


KURTZ: The New York Times triggered an explosion of coverage by disclosing partial IRS records for Donald Trump for the decade between the mid-80s and mid-90s. The hotel and casino mogul lost more than $1.1 billion during that period. More than any other American the paper said. Generating deductions that enabled him to pay no taxes in eight of the 10 years.

The president tweeted that real estate developers in that era were entitled to massive write-offs and depreciation, and you always wanted to show losses for tax purposes, and almost all real estate developers did this and that renegotiating with banks was sport. And then he added, the very old information put out is a highly inaccurate fake news hit job.

Gayle, is it newsworthy for the Times to reveal that as long as three decades ago, Donald Trump lost a huge amount of money and often didn’t have to pay taxes?

TROTTER: No. This is tendentious in the extreme. Thus, the white whale obsession of the mainstream media. If you look at this report by the New York Times, it’s old information. They put in some different details that were —


KURTZ: They’re saying —

TROTTER: — the basis of illegal leaks.

KURTZ: I take your point on that. It’s fine to say that it’s old information. It’s fine to challenge the story. But tendentious? I mean, it’s a highly detailed news story.

TROTTER: No. Because this is information that if you had paid attention in 2004 when Donald Trump launched “The Apprentice,” he talked about how much money he had lost. He also talked about 1991 as being the nadir of his financial troubles, that was supposedly the news information in the New York Times the exact same year.

KURTZ: On Gayle’s point, Clarence, Trump also wrote a book “The Art of the Comeback” where he talked about having been deeply in debt. He said I love depreciation in one of those debates with Hillary Clinton. So, why was the Times at times they were treated as a bomb shell then?

PAGE: Because of the details, that’s all. We have known all this before. I remember during the debates when he was asked something like, why do you think of all deductions? Because I’m smart.

KURTZ: Yes. He avoids it. He was proud of it.

TURNER: Right.

PAGE: Well, he’s right. It’s illegal. That’s the question. You know, have they found him breaking the law at all. This has all been out in the open. I don’t know why I’ve not heard more, and maybe we will in the campaign trail, I’m sure. More from Bernie Sanders and others, other populous would normally rail against these rich folks in the system that lets him pay less taxes than I did. That kind of line —


KURTZ: Bernie is now a millionaire by the way by selling a book.

PAGE: Thanks to his journalism. A book, right.

KURTZ: Yes. So, in the president’s tweet, he basically said look, I did it. It’s justified. Everybody did it. It’s perfectly fair. It’s perfectly legal. And then he calls the Times story inaccurate and fake news. How can both things be true?

TURNER: Because in a very Trumpian way, both things are true. Right? I mean, the first part of the tweet and the New York Times revelations, the president’s supporters who have embraced his spirit of like, we’re going to shirk the system, we’re going to, you know, get as much out of these people, these Washington elites as we can, you know.

They love that. The idea that you would get as many write-offs as possible and that would be a sport, it’s something that they love. But at the same time, he disagrees with the way the New York Times is reporting as a bombshell.

KURTZ: I see.

TURNER: That’s the part to the president —

KURTZ: Right.

TURNER: — you know, that’s fake news.

KURTZ: So, you made the point. And these are not the actual tax returns but they are IRS summaries or transcripts. And almost no journalist that I saw, a few exceptions, questions whether this leak was a massive invasion of privacy.

TROTTER: I tweeted about that. This week the New York Times and its coverage says that they got the information from someone who had legal access to the information. I think that’s misleading because they may have had legal access to the information for certain purposes.


TROTTER: They did not have legal access to the information to give it to the New York Times.

KURTZ: The supposed political relevance here according to the press, Clarence, is that he ran on his record as a successful businessman and that got him elected.

PAGE: Yes. That’s his public image, of course, that the winner, et cetera. This is quite legitimate. We are talking about the president here for Pete’s sake. You know, he has no privacy. And he’s perfectly free to sue the New York Times. And you know why he doesn’t because then he would be forced in discovery that tells even more like his current tax returns. So, he’s over a barrel in that regard and gets out of it when he usually does by talking his way out.

TURNER: Or maybe they wouldn’t this information wouldn’t have been leaked had the president release his tax returns.

PAGE: Yes.

TURNER: That’s an interesting question to ask.


KURTZ: As every major candidate has in the last 40 years but Donald Trump chose not to.

Hey, let me just put out for fun, this Mad magazine mascot Alfred E. Neuman. Because President Trump this week compared Pete Buttigieg to this guy, mascot of Mad magazine. And Buttigieg had to Google it even though he wasn’t, maybe he’s a generational thing. So Mad put out a statement saying “Who’s Pete Buttigieg?” Maybe it’s a generational thing. Mad magazine. Everybody knows Mad magazine.

Clarence Page, Gayle Trotter, thanks so much for joining us. Gillian, stick around. Up next, a little detour from American politics as the press covers the new royal baby. And a racially charged debate.