FOX News Watch: March 6 Edition

This is a transcript of the Saturday, March 6, 2004 edition of "FOX News Watch"  that has been edited for clarity.

ERIC BURNS, HOST:   This week, Fox News Watch Segment One, charges of liberal bias against women in the media.  Segment Two, executions on television, would you like to see them?  And Segment Three, the media don't have the primaries to kick around anymore.  What we can expect from them in the 2004 campaign?  What affect do commercials like this have on your kids?  And what's coming soon to a cell phone near you?  First, the news.


BURNS  In a few days, there will be a huge new controversy in the media.  We'll get it started early.  Jim Pinkerton of "Newsday;" syndicated columnist, Cal Thomas; Jane Hall of the American University and media writer, Neal Gabler.  I'm Eric Burns.  Fox News Watch is coming right up.

This new book, "Spin Sisters," (search) was written by Myrna Blyth (search), the former editor of "Ladies Home Journal" (search) and here is some of what it says: "There is an overwhelmingly liberal bias in women's magazines."  One result of it, liberal celebrities are much more likely to be featured in women's magazines than conservative celebrities.  There is an overwhelmingly liberal bias among women on network TV.  Prime examples, NBC's Katie Couric (search), ABC's Diane Sawyer (search). Women's magazines scare their readers unnecessarily with tales of one malady after another like stress. And women's magazines paint an overwhelmingly negative portrait of American women at the same that American women have more money, privilege and choices than ever before.

Jane, you're an American women and that's a long bill of indictments.

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY:  Well, you know, it's very interesting.  It was written by Myrna Blyth, who, you know, started a magazine I've written for, called "More."  I've written for "Family Circle."  It's very interesting to me what she has to say.  And you do wonder if she felt this way why didn't she say it when she still was at the magazines.  But I don't see it as a liberal bias.  I see it as a bias towards telling American women that they need to buy the products that are advertised in these publications, beauty products, that sort of thing.  I think there is an attitude about celebrity writing.  I've done some celebrity profiles for these magazines, so they have a formula and they tend to be wanting a certain kind of article.  And they don't really get into the substance of the views of some of these people.

I think a bigger question though is why don't they have stories about women's health when they advertise cigarettes.  You never see articles about lung cancer in any of these magazines.

JIM PINKERTON, "NEWSDAY":  But Myrna Blyth is to women's magazines what Bernard Goldberg was to the networks.  He was in -- she was on the inside.  She saw it up close and she's got abundant footnote and documenting of the favoritism for Hillary Rodham Clinton, Gloria Steinem, Jordan (UNINTELLIGIBLE), to complete neglect of women who sell lots of magazines like Ann Coulter (search) or Laura Schlessinger (search).  The fact that in the year that women were so prominent in the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Dixie Chicks were the heroes of the magazines that year and so on.  So she's got them dead rights on their political bias.

However, you can't flip through these magazines for more than two seconds and get frostings like they're all articles about sex, about moan zones, carnal crannies, sexy sectors, lusty landscapes.  They really aren't about politics.  They really are about sex.

BURNS  But if there is a political bias, Neal, it's a very important charge.  I looked at circulation figures and just the five top women's magazines alone have a circulation of more than 25 million.  So these ideas, if in fact, there are political ideas being inculcated, are reaching an awful lot of people.

NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER:  Well, that's -- that if is a mighty big if.  You know, as Jane is, I am highly skeptical of somebody who suddenly gets religion after being in apostate for 20 years and working at these magazines.

BURNS  Well, you can't cheat from your own firsthand knowledge of years of reading "Ladies Home Journal?"

GABLER:  Well, the -- actually, these -- some of these magazines do come into the house.  And they do emphasize stress and problems in women's' lives.  But they also then reassure women that they're not alone, that lots of women are going through these things.  And let's face it...

BURNS  That's good, isn't it?

GABLER:  ...this isn't liberalism.  We call this capitalism.  This is the way to sell magazines as Jim said.  What are you going to do, have magazine after magazine after magazine, article after article after article say your life is great, nothing's wrong, things are perfect?  That does not sell magazines.

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  Well, there are two things here.  First of all, there's an incestuous relationship, as she points out in the book, between the advertisers and the magazines.  There's one story she tells about "Vogue" requiring Oprah Winfrey, the most successful woman in America and one of the richest in the world, second, I think, only to the Queen of England, had to lose 20 pounds before they would even future her.  The women featured in these magazines don't bear any resemblance to reality to any women in my family, to any women I know.  They have no body fat. They are perfect looking.

The headlines, as I check them out in the supermarket checkout stand, you think all women in America are nymphomaniacs, hate their boyfriends or husbands and are related to men who are abusers and promise breakers.

BURNS  Well, no wonder they're stressed.

HALL:  Well, they are stressed.  So I mean I think that Cal makes a really good point.  I just keep coming back to the other part of this, which is you can solve your problems by buying the following beauty products, by flying -- going to this hairdresser that we are featuring.  I mean they're setting up values. They're setting up insecurity in women.  This is why I don't see it as liberal or conservative.  It's 10 ways to please your man, this presumption being he's not already pleased with you.

BURNS  A conservative women wouldn't care about that.


PINKERTON:  I think what we're saying that if you look at any part of the media, you think what a distorted view of the world.  I mean most people in sitcoms live in million dollar houses.  They have kitchens that are the size of my apartment.  I mean they -- most people, they live a different life.  And it is -- also seems apparent that women sort of enjoy articles about suffering.  They see the, you know, soap operas, and Lifetime and...

BURNS  But that's not...

PINKERTON:  ... and for that matter, going all to Withering Heights.

BURNS  That's not nearly as serious a charge though as this charge about political bias.


PINKERTON:  The political bias is clearly there.  However, it's a small part...

GABLER:  Let me...

PINKERTON:  ...of their overall message.

GABLER:  Let me just say something about the illogic of this.  She says that the majority of women in America are conservatives and then she accuses them -- this is a quote -- she accuses the so-called spin sisters of being "incapable of independent political thought" as if it's -- you know, this is a bizarre notion that only being conservative is being independent.

THOMAS:  Well, first of all, there were stories in "The New York Times" and I've written about this in my column some years ago, about meetings in New York among these spin sisters and they are determined to keep any of the pro-life position, just to pick one issue, from a fair and accurate presentation in any of their magazines.

BURNS  WE have to take our first break.  When we come back, we will discuss the ultimate in reality television.

ANNOUNCER: Would you watch a person be put to death on television?  Would you pay to watch him be put to death?  More Fox News Watch after this.



BURNS  According to a poll that was commissioned by the Trio Television Network, two-thirds of Americans are in favor of televising executions.  Twenty-one percent, about one-fifth of Americans, say they would pay to watch Osama bin Laden's execution.  Surprising?

GABLER:  No, it really doesn't surprise me although, you know, I think that any right thinking person would like to see bin Laden dead.  But we say it metaphorically.  I don't think most of us mean it literally.

And what disturbs me about this poll is that turning an execution, even the execution of bin Laden, which we would all welcome, into a reality TV program, in some ways to me coarsens us.  It mixes death and entertainment and I do not think that this is a good thing.

BURNS  Well, historically, that's been done.  I mean in England among other places, hundreds of years ago, that was probably the highlight of the month in terms of public entertainment, the inviting people to come in and see the execution.

PINKERTON:  And we like to think we've evolved a little bit beyond that with (UNINTELLIGIBLE) slavery and bear biting -- bear-bathing and so on.  So there's been certain progress here, but look, on this -- and also Saddam Hussein, we should mention him too.  I suspect the numbers would show somewhere as well.  But I do worry a little bit about this specific issue of Islamic martyrs.  If they get to do it in public, is this going to be an attractive recruitment tool for others to do the same thing?

BURNS  Well, what about -- Jane, what about the idea generally, televising executions?  Now, among the people who have wanted executions to be televised recently, Phil Donahue, who tried very hard to get the rights to televise one particular execution and Timothy McVeigh wanted his own execution televised.

HALL:  Well, I think you're pointing at the fact that they are two different schools of thought here.  One is people who probably oppose the death penalty or who think we should at least see it as a country if we're going to have it happening.  That's...

BURNS  It will horrify people so much that...

HALL:  That -- you know that's certainly something I've seen Ted Koppel talk about on "Nightline."  "60 Minutes," I believe did something with Jack Kevorkian.  I mean there's that, but then I think we're talking about people who have seen enough of everything else, what's left.  Death.  And I think that is really -- you know, are we satiated on stuff, is it going to be entertainment?  I think it does caution us.

And the other things that's kind of strange about is I saw an e-mail on a Web site that said, "Let me get this right.  We don't want to see people having sex, but we really want to watch people getting killed."  What does that say about us as a...

GABLER: And how long will this take before this becomes a regular TV show?

THOMAS:  When Phil Donahue wanted executions televised, it was for the purpose of outlawing the death penalty.  He wasn't for the televising of it.

My point at the time was and remains, if you're going to do that, then you ought to show pictures of the person or people that they condemned has brutalized in all -- in all of their bloody gore so we would have fairness and balance.  But I do think that television tends to demean and diminish almost everything.  And it would, in this case, to -- and be sued for purposes beyond the immediate gratification that people might have that somebody was getting their just desserts and I got to see it.

BURNS  Is anybody here in favor of televising executions?

PINKERTON:  I wouldn't forbid it, but I also point out you need a government entity to cooperate.  I don't think the U.S. -- President Bush is going to allow the execution of bin Laden or Saddam Hussein on TV, but I wouldn't put it past the Iraqi government.


BURNS  It's not just bin Laden we're talking about here.  Two-thirds of the people in this poll, Jim, want to see executions on television.

PINKERTON:  Well, we've come pretty close in terms of, you know, reporters in there describing moment by moment.  And I guess if some prison said it was OK, I certainly shouldn't use the government to squelch that being televised or more to the point, the Internet.

THOMAS:  There was a big uproar a couple of years ago when Jack Kevorkian actually dispatched somebody on "60 Minutes."  You saw the person die. There was a huge controversy about this.

GABLER:  In -- back in the 1920's, Ruth Schneider, who was a murderer, was executed in the electric chair and a photographer for "The New York Daily News" smuggled in a camera, photographed it.  It ran on the front page of "The New York Daily News," which was the highest regarded newspaper, I believe, in the history of the United States.  And that signal issue was the highest selling issue in the history of "The New York Daily News."

BURNS  Jane, you were hinting at something earlier that I think is a good point.  Maybe 30, 40 years ago, if you televised an execution, it might have a deleterious -- I mean that is to say it might have the kind of affect that you want, which is to say that people would be horrified by it, that it might start a real debate and it might, in fact, make some people less willing to kill.  These days, the celebrity culture, being what it is, there are a lot of people, I think, out there of diseased mind who would love that chance for celebrity.  And it -- as perverse as this sound s me, if we did this in our culture, it might encourage some killings, it seems to me, that wouldn't have happened otherwise.

HALL:  Well, I think that's a very interesting point.  I know when I worked at a certain point at "People" magazine.  And there were debates there about should we put somebody on the cover -- if you put somebody on the cover, it means they're admirable.  And if you put some murderer on the cover, you put somebody on the cover and you kill them, I agree with you.  Some deranged mind may decide they want their hour of prime-time.  I mean, you know, there have been books written about it.  I'm sure people want to see themselves killed.  I mean who was -- you know, the Unabomber, that kind of thing, those people would probably love to have the rights to their death sold.

BURNS And maybe for that reason more than any other, this is something that we as a society, Neal, should consider.

GABLER:  Well, I -- well, to me, what it does to the soul is the issue.  I mean there was maybe deterrence. There may be other reasons.  But it does something to the human soul that I don't think is possible.

BURNS  All right.  It's time for another break.  We'll be back with our "Quick Takes on The Media."

ANNOUNCER:  It's Kerry versus Bush.  Will it be the media versus both of them?  What can we expect from the coverage now that we know the candidates?  Stay tuned with Fox News Watch.


BURNS  It's time for our "Quick Takes on The Media."  Headline No. 1, "The Primaries Are Over.  Long Live the Campaign!"  The media don't have to speculate about President Bush's opponent anymore, so, Jim, what will they do between now and November?

PINKERTON:  I think a major topic of fascination would be who is guilty in the media's mind of negative advertising.  I think that there's a great burden now on the campaign not to be the first to go negative.  So what the candidates will all do, Bush and Kerry both, they will deny they're going to negative, denounce the other guy for going negative, and then go negative.


GABLER:  Yes.  I don't think that's going to be an issue.  I think milk (ph) belongs to the media.  This is the way I look at it.  It's been in the voters' hands, now it's the media turn to write the storyline for this selection.  And there are a number of storylines from which they can choose.  Is it going to be Bush is a disastrous president or is it going to be that Kerry is unlikable?  It is going to be that Bush is destroying the economy or is it going to be that Kerry is arrogant?

BURNS  How will -- if the media have a lot of choices, Neal, how will they decide?  On the basis of their biases or on the basis of events that happen in the campaign?

GABLER:  I don't think it will be on the basis of events that happened in the campaign.  They write the storyline...

BURNS  Isn't that the way it's supposed to be?

GABLER:  Well, but that's not how it works.  Look, if they're not going out there and doing all this great legwork, what they do is ultimately there's a heard mentality and somehow an idea -- the media coalesce around an idea.  How it happens is a very interesting process.  We don't have the time to discuss it here.  But they're going to coalesce around something and whatever they coalesce around is going to determine the outcome of the selection.

THOMAS:  In the 2000 race, the media coalesced around the idea that Bush couldn't possibly be telling the truth about all of these positions he had. He must be pandering to the right wing.  And then when he got in and he decided to cut taxes and do some of these other things, and then the 9/11 came along, they couldn't believe that he actually followed through on what he had promised.  Now, the line is going to be about Kerry, the flip flopper that Bush is going to charge, that that's not really relevant.  Bush is really being negative about Kerry's record.

BURNS  Quick Take headline No. 2, "APA Is Fan of Ban."  The American Psychological Association says there is unequivocal evidence that children eight years of age and younger cannot distinguish between TV programs and commercials. For that reason, the APA thinks the government should consider banning commercials on programs aimed at those children, one whom is yours.


HALL:  I do research on this every day and my daughter just two nights ago asked him why videos don't have commercials.  So she's clearly aware that there are commercials.  And we've discussed how PBS does and does not have commercials.

BURNS  Key issue, should a ban be considered in light of these APA findings?

HALL:  I'm not in favor of a ban, but I did do a lot of writing and talked to a lot of experts about children's television when I was at the "L.A. Times" and I think that there should be some way of disclosing to children in some way, you know, whether it's a little thing under the fast food thing or something, the way you have to disclose about some other products.

GABLER:  Not sufficient.

BURNS  But little kids wouldn't pick up on that.

GABLER:  Exactly.

THOMAS:  They're not going to read the crawl at the bottom of the screen.

HALL:  Well, I don't mean read the crawl, but say, for example, they don't allow beer commercials to use cartoon characters.  There are things you can do without banning them outright.

PINKERTON:  They should allow the advertising but hold the advertiser responsible for what they do in terms of -- especially, take issues like obesity.  That's wrong and somebody should say so.

BURNS  Well, yes, Jim, but you can't make a direct link between a McDonald's commercial and obesity.  You'd never be able to prove that kind of culpability.

PINKERTON:  I think that -- in fact, McDonald's was backing away from super sizing suggests even McDonald's (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

GABLER:  Kids have diminished capacity.  In the legal principal, they have diminished capacity. This is taking advantage of children.  I think they ought to ban advertising for kids.

THOMAS:  They'll never -- they'll never have the cartoons on.

GABLER:  You've got subscription PBS and there's such a thing called public interest that broadcasters ought to fulfill in broadcasting to children.

BURNS  Quick Take No. 3, "Ah, For The Good Old Days of Tin Cans and A String!"  It will soon be possible to get tabloid news on your Sprint cell phone.  Isn't that great?  Celebrity scoops will be provided by "The National Inquirer" and details of Big Foot's sexual encounters with aliens will be provided by the "Weekly World News."  You have a cell phone.  You're on it all the time.  Does this sound like a good idea to you?

PINKERTON:  It strikes me as inevitable.  I think -- I predict Fox News has this same feature in six months.

BURNS  Good idea, bad idea, inevitable idea?

THOMAS:  Well, I think when life is discovered on Mars and to come to visit it and explore the planet Earth and dig up several generations through the straight to civilization and find this, they will shake their head at our idiocy.  I mean this is just, you know -- it's the marketplace to decide, but...

BURNS  Interesting, Jane, isn't it that the first outlets for this are going to be tabloid news sources as opposed to something like reruns of Fox News Watch?

HALL:  Well, you know, there are people who are going to carry reruns of Fox News Watch.  There are people who get headlines from news on their cell phones.  What's interesting to come is the complete merging of news and advertising.  That's all this is going to be.

BURNS  And phone calls.

We have to take one more break.  When we come back, it will be your turn.


BURNS  About media coverage of same sex marriages and in particular Rosie O'Donnell's in San Francisco, here's Chris from Hartford, Connecticut: "I don't think a lesbian TV star/comedian having an unlawful 'wedding' is the big story.  I think having a movie star governor that will not put a stop to these so-called marriages is."

About the newspaper in Munsey, Indiana that publishes the pictures of sex offenders in the area on its front page, here's Don from St. Augustine, Florida: "It is a known fact that sex offenders cannot be cured.  Therefore, a newspapers is not going to ruin a sex offenders' life by publicizing his whereabouts."

And Steve from Detroit, Michigan: "The paper should then show the pictures of drunk drivers on probation."

About Howard Stern and Bubba The Love Sponge being suspended and fired respectively for indecent language on the radio, here's Dan from Greenville, South Carolina: "To have the government pass any laws regulating the filth in media is ridiculous.  If, indeed, the population wants cleaner programming, the demand of the market will influence the media in the right direction.  It's called capitalism."

But from Pat in New Rochelle, New York: "So, my question to your panel is exactly what channel or radio station is a family supposed to go to, since most of them already have too much sex, violence, and foul language?"

About "The Passion of The Christ," here's Susan from Brevard, North Carolina: "As for 'The Passion,' with their feet and wallets, Americans are saying to the secularist media and Hollywood, we don't care what you think. That is a good thing."

Finally, here's what I think is the most complementary e-mail we've ever received on this program.  Those of you who don't like us and don't want to hear it should now turn to the National Geographic rerun on MSNBC.  Paula from Concorde, New Hampshire: "I would like to say that I hate the mail that talks about how liberal or conservative any of the panel members are.  All of your panelists are too insightful to fit conveniently under either banner.  Your discussions transcend labels. So enough with the mail about how liberal or conservative anyone is. Get back to substantive stuff like how attractive Jane is."

That's two weeks in a row, Jane.  I'm not reading another one of these messages.

Here's our address:  Please tell us your full name and let us know where you live. That's it for this week.  Thanks to Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, to Cal Thomas, Neal Gabler, and most of all, as we always do, we thank you for watching.  We hope you'll do it again next week when Fox News Watch is back on the air.

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