FOX News Watch: April 24 Edition

This is a transcript of the Saturday, April 24, 2004 edition of "FOX News Watch"  that has been edited for clarity.

ERIC BURNS, HOST:   This week "Fox News Watch" Segment One: Do the American media have a plan of attack against the president?  Segment Two: Do the Iraqi media have a plan of attack against American soldiers?  And Segment Three: Why are British newspapers furious at CBS News?  Should American newspapers and TV networks be showing you this picture?  And what happens when these three guys are no longer on the air?  "Fox News Watch" after the latest news.


BURNS:  First, it was [former Treasury Secretary Paul] O'Neill and "The Price of Loyalty," (search) then it was [former Bush administration counterterrorism official Richard] Clarke and "Against All Enemies (search)."  Now, it's ["Washington Post" Assistant Managing Editor Bob] Woodward and "Plan of Attack (search)."  What is this, "Fox News Watch" or "Book Notes" on C-SPAN?  Actually, it's "Fox News Watch". There's 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.


There is no way to know how many people have read Bob Woodward's book so far, but tens of millions of people heard him talk about it on TV this week.

Jim, given the -- to me, the book is not as controversial as the coverage of the book seems to make it out. What has been the attraction for this as a news story this week?

JIM PINKERTON, "NEWSDAY":  Well, Woodward is one of the major figures in journalism.  He's had nine No. 1 best-selling non-fiction books.  This is a book that is a war shock test for everybody to look at.  The Bush-Cheney campaign has us on its Web site as recommended reading. On the other hand, Arianna Huffington (search) praises it in her column and says this proves all my points about how much I hate Bush. Rush Limbaugh (search) said that the book makes Bush look like and idiot.  I mean you've got such a wide spectrum of thinking on this that almost anybody can find something that they either have to read to love or to hate.  And Woodward is taking it all to the bank.

BURNS:  Jim, you're making an absolutely fascinating point, but how can it be explained?  How can so many people, Cal, look at that book and see so many different things in it?

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  The big question I have is why in the world the president of the United States decided to sit in the middle of a war for a book with a journalist who has a history of not being friendly to Republicans.  I think the answer to that, if I can answer my own question, is that he really liked the first Woodward book, "Bush At War (search)," which portrayed him as the kind of guy he sees himself as.

Now, there are a lot of factual errors in here, in the book.  Some minor and some of them a little less than minor.  But the interesting thing is that obviously the order went down from the president to Condi Rice (search) to Colin Powell (search) not only to cooperate but even in their correction of the perceived statements or mistakes that Woodward made, they're being nice to him and adding that he certainly is a great journalist.  It's very curious.

NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: May I answer both questions?  I mean.

BURNS:  Leave it to you.

GABLER:  The question, I think, of why they cooperated is Bob Woodward is the court historian of the Bush Administration.  You give him access; he gives you a free pass.  The higher you go in the hierarchy, the freer pass he gives you.

BURNS:  Well, how do you account for all the people, Neal, then who think this book vilified him.

GABLER:   No, it doesn't vilify him.  Then, they haven't read the book.  It does not vilify him.  He walks on water in this book.  And in point of fact, if you read the transcript of the Rumsfeld interview with Woodward, which is on the Defense Department Web site, at one point, Rumsfeld gets testy.  And what does Woodward say to him, Woodward says, "Look it, I have a good relationship with the president and he wants you to do this."  I think that answers that.

Now, answering, you know, I think Jim's question, the answer to that is why everybody looks at this differently is guess what, nobody's read the book.


GABLER:  That's the big -- they just pick up on the spin points that have come out in the press release.

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY:  Well, I have read the excerpts of the book that have been running on the front page of "The Washington Post."  Surprise, surprise.  I think that Neal makes a very good point about the access that he had, but I also think President Bush probably likes it because it shows him being told that -- listening to George Tenet (search), the director of the CIA, in saying, "Is this all you've got?"  I don't think Joe Public is going to relate to how much intelligence we had.  And Tenet says -- he's quoting him -- "It's a slam dunk, Mr. President."

I think -- I read this book and you know, I'm coming to it with my own prejudices, obviously, it -- but I read it as many tragic errors that were made, many people posturing and putting forth things to the president.  And it also reveals that we began to plan for this war 72 wars after September 11.  I think there's a lot of good information and.

PINKERTON: It's even complicated when they planned for the war.  I mean Woodward -- the problem is Woodward, because he is the court historian, as it were, to at least some people there is that when people tell him stuff, he just writes it down.  And somebody -- and then somebody contradicts him, including, in the book or afterwards.  And he says, "Well, they told me."

But look, it is worth noting that Woodward really is the quintessential Washington operator.  I mean going back a ways, he's got all these happenings.  He manipulated or maneuvered with Bush and so on.  But going back to "All The President's Men (search)" and with "Deep Throat," talk about a concoction.  I mean these people have gone through and said how could Deep Throat have done all the things.  How could he have marked up Woodward's newspaper?  How could he have gone and study in Woodward's apartment, looking for flower pots, and signs of meat in an underground basement?  Woodward says I'll release the name of "Deep Throat" after he's dead.  Look that was 32 years ago. -- The guy was a chain smoker then.


HALL:  But he's gone from a young reporter for the metro section of "The Washington Post" who didn't know anybody in power to the guy who is now close to power.  And I don't think that takes away from what he's got in the book, though.

THOMAS: One of the flaws in the book, which I have read and heard him discuss on "60 Minutes" (search) with Mike Wallace, is the way that he deals with President Bush's faith.  There's the implication that there's some kind of direct order from God to go and fight this war.  That's not what Bush said.  It's even what Woodward has to acknowledge under a follow-up question.  But he didn't really say, but in the "60 Minutes" interview, both him and Mike Wallace seemed to be putting down the president's faith.

BURNS:  Quick.

GABLER:  It depends on where you see him because he's very positive toward the president in certain venues and more negative in others.

BURNS:  We have to take a break.  We'll be back to talk about the relationship between journalism and violence.

ANNOUNCER:  A lot of Iraqis get their news from Al Jazeera on TV.  Do a lot of Iraqis also get their hatred of America from Al Jazeera?  More "Fox News Watch" after this.


BURNS:  Al Jazeera (search) is thought to be the most watched Arabic TV network.  It is not, however, the favorite network of coalition forces.  In a five day period earlier this month, the coalition says that Al Jazeera hyped, misreported or distorted events in Iraq a total of 34 times.  Says Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (search ) of one particular Al Jazeera report, " is vicious, inaccurate, and inexcusable."

And Jane, it seems to me that on a list of problems for winning the peace in Iraq, rating very highly is the fact that journalists in that country seem so vehemently opposed to our country.  If we can't get a different kind of press in Iraq, can we even win a peace in Iraq?

HALL:  Well, you know, we're in a battle for the hearts and minds of the people that we thought we were going in to liberate, who don't seem to be viewing this the way we thought we were going to be viewed.  And I think that Al Jazeera is obviously a player.  I mean what I've read about some of the stories, about questions of whether they are on the scene before hand; I mean there are some serious charges being raised.

BURNS:  In other words, are they notified, some people in this country are wondering, before events of violence so they can be there to record them?

HALL:  Well, and then I just want to say one more thing, on American television, however, I think the Iraqi causalities in Fallujah -- you know, whoever is fomenting that, they have -- they were underplayed.  And so, you've got two almost virtual reality views of what's going on there.  And that is a very difficult situation to try to win over public opinions.

BURNS:  Can it be won over?

GABLER:  Well, I think you've got to look at this issue and say is Al Jazeera leading or are they following?  I think they're playing to their audience.  This is what their audience wants to hear and they're giving that audience what they want to hear.

HALL:  But if you say American soldiers are targeting women and children, and then you show pictures of causalities, you are molding public opinion.

THOMAS:  Well, exactly.  And one of the stories that got the coalition and the -- and some of the generals most upset was that Al Jazeera carried one story, showing lots of bodies, some dead and some wounded in the hospital, and claimed that they were the victims -- they were all civilians and that they were victims of Americans targeting them. It turned out the truth was they were fighters.  They were insurgents. They were guerillas who were engaged with combat.  The Marines killed and wounded some. That was just a total factual error and the objection of the Defense Department is that a lot of this stuff is manufactured, as Neal says, to play to the audience not to convey facts.

BURNS:  Jim, this is serious. -- This is a really serious problem.  Is there anything that can be done about this kind of misreporting to our country's disadvantage?

PINKERTON:  Well, Senator [Daniel Patrick] Moynihan used to say that we're all entitled to our opinions; we're just not entitled to our own facts.  This is -- I mean it's hard to imagine what the U.S. government can do to a TV station that's based, I think, in the country of Qatar, which is a sovereign nation  not really all that -- seen politically as hostile to the United States.  I think -- the only thing I can imagine is they're just going to have to go painstakingly through all these incidents and say, look, this is what was reported.  These are facts.  And just hope that the sunshine of disclosure.

THOMAS:  The problem is that information isn't getting on Al Jazeera and getting back to the people.  Maybe a nice power failure would do it.

PINKERTON:  Well, we are.


PINKERTON:  Well, we are seeing here though is we talk a lot about reality shows and how they represent sort of a moral hazard because people are encouraged to do crazy things, you know, on "Survivor" or something like that.  We're now seeing even a greater extension of that where it seems as if people are fighting the war in Iraq or thereabouts in part to get on television. There's sort of a deal being made in the fact between Al Jazeera and combatants.

BURNS:  If you do something visually interesting and anti-American enough, we'll give you air time?

PINKERTON:  Exactly.

HALL:  Well, they've had, you know, the kidnappings. They've had the hostages.  I mean this is very dangerous stuff.  And the American government has been widely unsuccessful at getting our point-of-view across in some sort of government authorized television.  It's not being seen at all.

GABLER:   Let's face it.  They're a product of a news environment in which honesty and fairhandedness, you know, are pass, now. And if we're going to say that they should represent American interests, then we've got to say to some place like Fox News or MSNBC ought to be representing Arab interest, which is patently absurd.  Again, they're playing to their audience.  That's what their audience wants to hear.

PINKERTON:  What's interesting though is that the Webby Awards (search) -- in fact, I looked up the Web site --, just nominated the Al Jazeera Web site for an award for best -- you know, Best Web site.


PINKERTON:  The Webby Awards is an American operation as far as I can tell.  It's an American outfit.  It's sort of virtual organization,  They've given these -- who knows, maybe there will be a prize winner.

THOMAS:  I can't wait to see the show.

PINKERTON:  It may well sort of defy common sense and -- but it's happening.

HALL:  Well, you know, I do think it's useful for us to know, for example, that in many eyes of the Arab world, the United States policy and Israel's policy are getting closer and closer linked than you get something.  You can learn something from seeing how we're perceived over there.

THOMAS:  The one story that Al Jazeera will not do is that the real problem is not the United States and it's not Israel, it's the trillions of petrol dollars that have been transferred to these dictatorships that have not been used to elevate the lives of their own people.  That's where the problem is.  In order for the dictators to get the burden off of them and the guilt, they have to transfer this through their own media to the United States and Israel.

BURNS: You're right.  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Al Jazeera stories.

THOMAS:  That's it.

BURNS:  We have to take another break.  We'll be back with our "Quick Takes" staring the following people.

ANNOUNCER:  Princess Diana, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, and Peter Jennings. Stay tuned.  "Fox News Watch" will be right back.


BURNS:  It's time for our "Quick Takes on The Media." 

Headline Number One: "Good Journalism or Bad Taste?" 

A few nights ago, on its program, "48 Hours Investigates," CBS News (search) aired two photos of Princess Diana taken after the accident that killed her, as she lay dying.  British papers are outraged at this.  And Vivienne Perry (search), a former trustee of the Diana Memorial Fund (search), condemned CBS, saying "The last moments in someone's life are very private.  Whoever you are, these pictures should not be shown."  Is she right, Neal?

GABLER:  Yes.  Bad taste.  You know a few weeks ago, I advocated showing the pictures of desecrated bodies in Fallujah because that was the story. But this is not the story here.  There's no public interest being served here in showing those pictures.  This is sheer exploitation. That's all it is.

THOMAS:  I couldn't agree more.

BURNS:  The way I would put it, Cal, is that there's no information contained in these.

THOMAS: This is pure voyeurism.  It's worse than pornography.  It's worse than Howard Stern.  It's worse than Janet Jackson and her wardrobe malfunction.  I agree with that statement.  At -- a moment of a person's death is extremely private.  If anything's private, that is.  It is outrageous.

PINKERTON:  Well, I always defend free speech and the right of networks and media to show what they want to show, including the right not to show it by the way.  But what I am offended by is what CBS said. They're doing this in the name of journalism.  No, they just admit it. They did it for ratings.

THOMAS:  Exactly.

PINKERTON:  And then, to do nothing but criticized.

BURNS:  Let us say though, Jane, that -- you've seen the photographs, right?

HALL:  Yes.

BURNS:  They are not in and of themselves graphic.  They're not gory.  What's offensive, if it is offensive to people, is the context, knowing what this is a photo of, not that the photo show something in itself that's particularly grizzly.

HALL:  Well, it's hard for me to see the justification of it.  It does sound as if how can you justify.  I know that CBS is responding that this was about the medical treatment she received at the scene and that it was not exploitative.  I think that we're in a culture now where the more you can show the more people are going to watch.  And I do think someone's death should be private.

BURNS:  And in fact, the ratings of "48 Hours Investigates" were considerably higher than usual on the night they showed those photos.

THOMAS:  What a surprise.

BURNS:  "Quick Take" Headline No. Two: "Speaking of Controversial Photographs"

The Pentagon has banned news organizations from showing pictures of the coffins of American soldiers killed in Iraq.  Thursday, some of those photos found their way to a website and Friday, they appeared on TV and in newspapers.  And Jim, the very fact that we saw those photographs has become a controversial story.

PINKERTON:  They didn't ban the news organizations from showing the photographs.  They banned the news organizations from being in the airplane or at Dover Air Force Base or.

BURNS:  But they couldn't take.

PINKERTON:  They couldn't get them.  Right.  Look, information wants to be free.  If you have people working on the bodies as contractors and she's got a little camera with her, they'll take pictures.  If somebody files a Freedom of Information Act like this fellow at (search) did.

BURNS: That's not what got the photos.

PINKERTON:  It's just a lesson.  You can try and keep something secret, but it's just very hard in a multi-portal environment.

HALL:  You know it makes -- I'm thinking of someone listening.  I was thinking aren't you contradicting yourselves.  You don't want Di.  You do want the soldiers in Fallujah.  To me, this is about blaming the messenger.  Soldiers are dying in Iraq and people who are concerned about public opinion in America have not wanted this to get out.

THOMAS:  The Bush Administration has worked overtime to convince people that Iraq is not Vietnam.  But they also understand that pictures coming home every night on American television, showing body bags and dead or wounded soldiers in Vietnam did have a significant effect on the American support for the war.  I think that's what they fear in these pictures.  But I think they should be out there. They're part of the story.

GABLER:  Yes, I think the administration's statement that they want to protect the families is no more persuasive than CBS' statement about Princess Di.


GABLER:  This is the story.  This triggers national debate.  These coffins should be seen.

BURNS:  Did you say this is a multi-portal society?

PINKERTON:  Yes.  There's so many media outlets.

BURNS:  OK.  Your computerese is sometimes beyond me!

"Quick Take" Headline Number Three: "December 2, Beginning of The End?" 

NBC's Tom Brokaw (search) made it official this week.  He will quite anchoring the "NBC Nightly News" on Wednesday, December 1. 

What I wonder, Cal, is when he goes, when Jennings goes and Rather goes, and they will both probably leave their desks within the next few years, does the role -- does the importance of the anchor as a figure in American journalism diminish hugely?

THOMAS:  I think it's already been diminished by not only cable but the Internet.  When these guys all came to their current posts, we had three networks.  Cable didn't really exist.  The Internet wasn't anything.  And they were the filters through which all news was broadcast.  All of that has changed now.  Their politics aside, they all pretty much believe the same thing.  They're pretty much liberals.  That won't change any.  [Brokaw's successor] Brian Williams is not a moderate or conservative.  But I think the explosion of information sources diminished the role of anchors before they leave.

HALL: You know I interviewed Brokaw for the "Columbia Journalism Review" and I think it was the first interview he had done about this.  And he reacted laughing when I said, "This is like being treated like the departure of a figure from Mt. Rushmore (search)."  I mean I agree with Cal.  It's already happened.  He acknowledged.  I mean the news environment has shifted significantly.

It troubles me that we're not growing the next generation of readers and viewers for news broadcasts.  We've talked about that before...  I don't particularly rejoice at the fact that that is happening now.  And I don't think anybody should.

GABLER:  But America has changed significantly too.  We're not the same community we used to be...

HALL:  We're not.

GABLER: ...except for major events like 9/11.

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


BURNS:  Last week's mail segment ended with my pointing out that this program doesn't seem to be able to find tall liberals or short conservatives.  This week's mail segment begins with comments about President Bush's recent press conference.

First, Isabell from Chicago: "I view primetime presidential press conferences as nothing more or less than audition segments for each member of the press corps, an opportunity to show just how tough he or she can be on the president.  In short, a chance to show off for the next potential boss."

And Bud from Hackensack, New Jersey: "After the press conference, I was very thankful.  Thankful that our country is not run by journalists."

About comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam, here is Jim from Plantsville, Connecticut: "There are a million and one differences between the Iraq war and the Vietnam war that are obvious. Their only similarity is that the press hates both wars."

And some topic, Gary, Brooklyn, New York: "Why is it that all these well-educated journalists can't come up with anything other than the same tired, old cliches about Vietnam?"

About Richard Clarke's book being made into a movie, here's Jan from Camden, Maine: "Will the movie of Richard Clarke's book be called `Pulp Fiction II'?"

About this ad suggesting that Donald Rumsfeld be shot, which Neal found distasteful, but one of the unavoidable consequences of real freedom of speech, here's Stan from Chrisfield, Maryland: "Mr. Gabler, take out Rumsfeld and put in the word `Gabler.' This could be you.  I wonder what your attitude would be about the First Amendment right if that were the case."

About the 20th anniversary of Cal's syndicated newspaper column, here's Gary from Galion, Ohio: "Cal's newspaper column shares its 20th anniversary with the Dodge Caravan and the Macintosh computer.  Not bad company."

The Joe from Columbus, Ohio: "The often heard claims about the news media's liberal bias seems to be refuted by the fact that Cal Thomas has the most widely published column in the U.S."

Finally, we hear from Ryan in Columbia, South Carolina: "I'm a short conservative."

Thanks, Ryan.  And you, the tall liberal out there, whoever you are, don't bother writing.  We'll just assume you exist.

Here's our address:  Please write to us and tell us your full name and let us know where you live.

That's all the time we have left for this week.  Thanks to Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, to Cal Thomas, Neal Gabler.  I'm Eric Burns thanking you for watching.  We'll see you next week when "Fox News Watch" will be back.

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