This is a transcript of the Saturday, May 1, 2004 edition of "FOX News Watch" that has been edited for clarity.
ERIC BURNS, HOST: This week, Fox News Watch Segment One: You think Bush is getting bad press these days? Kerry is not doing too well either. Segment Two, ABC's "Nightline" pays tribute to those who died in Iraq or was there more to it than that? And Segment Three: Air America struggles to take off. Are women struggling to find a place in the newsroom? And child adoption goes primetime, controversially. First, the news.
BURNS: We begin today by talking about the bad press John Kerry is getting. Doing the talking will be four people who, despite their many talents, are getting virtually no press: 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.
"The Washington Post" says that "a fierce new attack has been launched against John Kerry in the media. The charge is that Kerry leaves people cold." "The Boston Globe" points out Kerry's "...proclivity for doubletalk." The network evening newscasts are doing stories about Kerry's Vietnam War ribbons. And this week's "Newsweek" wonders whether Kerry's wife is a "loose cannon." If I were younger, the way I would phrase this question is what's up with that?
CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: There's an amazing media piling on here that I'm quite surprised at, frankly, unless you're part of the conspiratorial fringe who believe this is all a setup for Hillary Rodham Clinton to step in at the last minute and parachute into the Democratic National Convention like a "Deus ex Machina," -- a God from a machine -- and rescue the Democrats from themselves.
But it really is amazing. In newspapers like "The Village Voice (search)," a traditionally left-wing paper, there was a column this week saying that Kerry is history. He's not going to make it. He ought to step aside.
"The New York Observer (search)," many other publications are saying the same thing and I wonder what in the world is going on here in the media.
BURNS: Do you have an answer to that question?
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, so much for the liberal bias in the media. I think the media are -- John -- first of all, I have to say John Kerry was silent during the whole 9/11 Commission and Iraq. And a lot of people think he should step up on that more.
But the fact is I think the media has never particularly cared for him. And they are doing to him what they did to Al Gore. I was thinking back -- there was a cover on Al and Tipper Gore that said, "Often Stumbling: Can His Wife Save Him?" It's almost the same cover that "Newsweek" just did. They are pointing out that he is failing before the guy's ever out of the gate.
JIM PINKERTON, "NEWSDAY": Well, Kerry has three problems. One is he's not that likable. And he is sort of a snotty plutocrat type. "The New York Times" had an article about his butler and how he -- whenever the senator needs peanut butter on there, for him to give him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I mean it is not a very flattering article on this.
BURNS: But it did indicate he treated his butler pretty nice.
PINKERTON: Second of all, they -- Kerry does obviously have a credibility problem. This business with the medals back and forth, clearly, has got reporters wrangled because they don't like being lied to. And the third is that Kerry has set himself up all his life to be another John F. Kennedy -- John F. Kerry, John F. Kennedy -- down to joining the Navy, getting on a little -- fast, little boat.
But the thing to remember is that the left never really liked John Kennedy. They thought -- he got us -- he was a hawk. He got us in Vietnam. And so, for Kerry to say that he's another John Kennedy at a time with the Iraq War going the way it is, the reporters on the left are fearful that they're going to get another Vietnam to the 60's.
BURNS: And Neal, tell me if I'm right here, put in very simple terms, the media -- the reporters tend to like Bush personally but they don't like politically.
NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: Yes.
BURNS: They tend to like Kerry politically but they don't like him personally.
GABLER: That's true. However, I do not think that this personal and I'll tell you why.
BURNS: You mean the attacks against Kerry?
GABLER: The attacks against Kerry because they're -- as Jane said, they are exactly the same attacks that were leveled against Al Gore, one smear fits all, four years ago.
BURNS: So why is this being done again?
GABLER: So it's something endemic to political journalism and I think there are several factors. One is that Kerry, like Gore, like most intelligent people in politics, is nuanced. And the press hates nuance. They've got 800 words. It's got to be black or white. Nuance is equivalent of guile for them.
No. 2, they judge candidates not on their positions but on the basis on which how smoothly they run their campaigns. And Republicans always win this because they're better financed, they stay on message, they're secretive. And that's a problem.
And there's a third factor and that is the political press is dependant on the story du jour, the story of the day. Well, the Republican National Committee gets out its spin point. It's amplified every day by Hannity, by Limbaugh, and all the other conservative radio news programs of which there are no liberal equivalents except on the five channels on Air America. It gets amplified on Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNBC, and then it becomes by default the story of the day. And the story of the day is always something negative about John Kerry.
PINKERTON: Hold on. Less what Neal said be taken to be the truth, let's go back to people pounding on Kerry. It's "The Boston Globe." It's "The New York Times." These are -- this isn't Rush Limbaugh doing it.
GABLER: Let's assume that "The Boston Globe" and "The New York Times" are liberal newspapers, which is a conservative.
THOMAS: Oh please.
PINKERTON: They did endorse Gore in 2000.
HALL: But I think.
PINKERTON: . and they will endorse Kerry in this race.
GABLER: The editorial page and the political reporting are two different things completely.
HALL: The fact is Bush -- the Bush Administration -- I agree with you completely. The Republican spin on him is setting the news agenda. The Republican spin on Kerry is what reporters are reacting to. They've been far more successful at that.
THOMAS: Could one of the problems be that Kerry was not the media's first choice? They were all enamored by Howard Dean, this new generation of people who had raised money, who communicated directly with the people through the Internet. And all of a sudden, he was a goner. Maybe that's part of the problem. He wasn't really the media candidate to start with.
BURNS: But I think, unfortunately, what this all means is a proclivity whether you're covering Bush or Kerry toward negative coverage, which bodes ill for all of us who have a lot of journalism ahead of us to see and in our case, to analyze in this campaign.
OK, time for a break. We'll be back to ask this question.
ANNOUNCER: Did Friday night's "Nightline" on ABC honor the American soldiers who died in Iraq or attack the man who sent them there? Stay tuned for more FOX NEWS WATCH.
BURNS: On Friday night, ABC presented a very different kind of "Nightline." Anchor, Ted Koppel, spent virtually the entire programming -- program, rather, reading the names of the more than 530 American soldiers killed in Iraq. The program's executive producer said he got the idea from a 1969 issue of "Life" magazine, which showed pictures of all the American soldiers killed in Vietnam during one week that year. Because that's where he got the idea, Neal, there is the suggestion -- or the suggestion has been raised that this is a political gesture on the part of "Nightline" not a journalistic one, not a true memorial.
GABLER: Well, I can't speak to his motives because I can't get inside of his head. All I can say is I cannot see anything wrong with putting faces to figures, with honoring the sacrifice of these people, with showing that they are mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, brothers and sisters. I cannot, for the life of me, see anything wrong with that.
Now, I know the conservative charges this will somehow undermine moral. Well, let me tell you, if it undermines moral, it's not the fault of ABC. It's the fault of the war. Four hundred thousand people died in World War II and it didn't seem to undermine the moral of the American people when they read those lists every single day in their newspapers of the deceased.
HALL: I did call up the producer of "Nightline," Leroy Sievers, and I asked him about it. He said it was not intended as a political act. And one of the things that I think people forget is that he and Ted Koppel were embedded. They did some of the most interesting reporting, along with Fox and other networks, out of Iraq. And he said we wanted these -- families are dealing with this day in and day out. In fact, some families called in and asked for people who were killed not in combat to be included.
This is a way of memorializing the dead. And even the Bush Administration has said that we should be honoring the dead. I think the difference is people are not sure they really believe in this war. There's a divided public opinion, unlike World War II. So people are reacting as if it's some kind of a political statement. I don't see that it is.
GABLER: Jane, I just wanted to add that they did include.
HALL: They did.
GABLER: .the non.
BURNS: Jim, there's a station group called the Sinclair Group. Sixty some stations, eight of which are ABC stations. The biggest one, I believe, is in St. Louis. It has forbidden its station, its ABC stations -- it did forbid them to run that episode of "Nightline." So it's being perceived as a political statement whether it is or it isn't.
PINKERTON: It is and it's an interesting point because there's the eye of the beholder, as we all talk of. There's also the eye of the bestower. In other words, if you run Pat Tillman, who was killed in Iraq, that's sort of baby hawkish and pro-war and supportive of the Bush Administration. If you run these photos, it's seen as negative. It's not really clear to me that the photos have the effect that the opponents of the war hoped they will and the proponents fear.
The "Life" magazine cover story that was on there a moment ago was June of '69. The war in Vietnam lasted three-and-a-half more years after that.
The -- I didn't' interview Leroy Sievers, but I did read what he said in "The Washington Post." And he said, this decision to the "Nightline" special had -- we weren't even aware that it was sweeps week, which is -- for a producer in television to not know when sweeps week is, when the ratings are determined and the sales are determined is like a Miss America not checking her teeth for spinach before she goes on camera.
PINKERTON: As John Lennon said, "just give me some truth." Just tell the truth.
PINKERTON: . and let the people decide.
BURNS: That's a very good point. Whatever their motives are, you undercut them, Cal, by saying something that ridiculous. There's no such thing as a TV producer.
BURNS: .who doesn't know when sweeps, which is to say the big rating.
THOMAS: Yes, it's like John Kerry trying to make a case to the media that it wasn't medals, it was ribbons. It just doesn't have any credibility. But adults are going to break for commercials. They did break for commercials in the midst of this. And how do you maintain the dignity when you say, "We'll be back with more dead after this from Polident" or whatever the commercials were. It just doesn't ring true.
And then you lack the context. Neal is right. If you put it in the context of this is what freedom calls and this is what is being up to try to help free other people, I think that's fine. But just read them cold. There's no retention other than maybe a Pat Tillman who's been all over the press. But for two seconds that you read a name, how do you remember any of those. I mean at the end of it, I could remember maybe more than one or two.
BURNS: But it's the cumulative effect that they're striving for.
HALL: Well, the point is, I think, again, I'm basing this -- I'm talking to this -- I found it hard to believe that somebody wouldn't know that. And you can be quite sure that the ABC management knew that.
I also think -- I'm not at all sure this thing is going to get a rating. This is hardly a craven, you know, Victoria Secret promo stunt here. This is a serious thing.
GABLER: By the way, PBS, on the "Newshour with Jim Lehrer," has been running the names of those who died in Iraq, you know, every night. But let me just say one thing, it is not the job of the press to either boost moral or undermine moral. And people who talk about it in those terms, I think, have got this all wrong.
BURNS: Jim, quickly.
PINKERTON: Well, just also, "USA Today" is running -- the cover on Friday -- look, the Vietnam memorial is 600,000 names and people think that's terrific.
BURNS: We have to take another break. We'll be back with our "Quick Takes," one of which is about another ABC Friday night news program.
ANNOUNCER: Did "20/20" go too far? Is adopting a child the ultimate reality show? FOX NEWS WATCH looks that into that, and Air America and more, next.
BURNS: Time now for our "Quick Takes on The Media."
Headline no. 1, "Wait A Minute! Isn't `Err' American Spelled `Air'?"
Well, yes. But consider this; the new liberal talk radio network has lost two of its original six stations at least for the time being as well as two of its top executives, including one of its founders, who resigned a few days ago. What do we make of this, Neal? And I should say I guess that you only on this panel have been a guest on Air America?
GABLER: That is correct. Yes, I have. Yes, I think.
THOMAS: It's the person to find it.
GABLER: Now get to the interview. I listened to it when I was on it. I mean I think it's a little early to write the obituary for this network. And I think it's the wrong time to get these things started. But I'll tell you there was a -- the handwriting on the wall for me was in Eric Zorn column in "The Chicago Tribune" where he advised Al Franken to use a shotgun rather than a pea shooter to simplify, not to debate, and in other words, to imitate Rush Limbaugh. And I think, frankly, that liberals are less inclined to want to be entertained by the constant reiteration of their own views than conservatives are.
PINKERTON: That's the second time today that Neal has said, oh, conservatives are stupid. That's why they've.
GABLER: I didn't say that.
GABLER: I did not say that.
PINKERTON: He said liberals are nuance conservatives like black and white. I mean you're saying.
GABLER: I didn't say conservatives like black and white. I said reporters.
GABLER: I don't want to be misquoted here.
THOMAS: It was reporters.
BURNS: I remember. I was listening to that part.
PINKERTON: Look, Michael Harris from "Talkers" magazine said, look, this show was -- the whole network was misconceived. They thought it was a plot to kill Bush and kill Rush Limbaugh and they just forgot to entertain people.
BURNS: "Quick Take" headline no. 2: "So What Happens To Them After They Graduate?"
Well, according to a new study by the American Society of Newspaper Editors (search), 70 percent of all journalism students in American colleges and universities these days are women. Yet, only 37 percent of those in newspaper newsrooms are women, and television newsrooms the number is about 40 percent. So what's happening from classroom to newsroom?
HALL: Well, I'm certainly living this. The newsroom where I teach students get even more and more young women. I think there are a number of factors here. I think we still have the so-called liberal media -- I'll say that for the second time -- have not been all that good at promoting minorities, women, and there's also some lifestyle factors here that I think you have to say. Women -- this kind of life, in some ways, women haven't found a way to move women up as much as it should.
THOMAS: Well, Fox hires a tremendous amount of women. We have women here operating cameras on the floor and management all over the place. But look, here's the real problem with ASNE, the American Society of Newspapers Editors, they do these little things every year. They wring their hands. They have these forms and sessions in Washington, their convention. They never talk about ideological diversity. And there's no difference between a liberal female, an African-American female or a male liberal. It's not about just gender and race and background, it's about ideology. Why aren't we hearing that when we talk about diversity and pluralism?
BURNS: "Quick Take" headline no. 3: "First Prize: A Baby, Mother Sort-of Included."
Friday night's edition of "20/20 (search)," the ABC News magazine, featured five couples competing for a baby, which was being put up for adoption by a 16-year-old mother who says she wants to remain in the baby's life. Said "20/20" co-host, Barbara Walters in promoting the adoption last week, "We were joking about the fact that it's `The Bachelor' or `The Bachelorette'." And then there was a promo, Jim, later in the week, which said, "Five Couples Desperate To Adopt. All of Them Competing" -- a word I just used -- "For a Baby." Barbara Walters has since apologized for that promo. She said something's wrong with the term "competing." What about the fuss being made over how this show has been seen?
PINKERTON: Well, now we know what television's idea of family values is. And look, if they could put Russian roulette on TV or pay-for-view, they'd do it. This is just a billable trend of these reality shows for a long time.
BURNS: Before you speak, Jane, let me say that you are an adoptive parent. I am an adoptive parent and Barbara Walters is an adoptive parent.
HALL: Yes, I was very surprised. This is a woman who did a wonderful special on adoption. There are producers at "20/20" or at least executives down at ABC who are adoptive parents. She, herself, is one. It was amazing insensitive. If she was quoted correctly in saying this was the competition, the elimination round, which is what I read that she said -- I was absolutely shocked. And I think this is a case where a network -- they've done wonderful things about adoption. The show is apparently good. But to sell it this way means people checked out their own life experiences. It makes no sense.
THOMAS: It's exploitation pure and simple. And anybody who would seek to adopt in this manner ought to be declared an unfit parent.
GABLER: Television has a capacity to trivialize everything: marriage, love, now adoption. And there's a reason for it. And the reason is that serious people who can provide a moral and intellectual context are not being allowed to do so on television and we get this. And this is shameful.
BURNS: But you know what, even when a show does have some substance, and we certainly can't trash an entire sixty minute show -- after all the purpose of it extensively was to find a proper parent -- a couple of parents for this child. But even when you do have something that's fairly substantial, Jim, you have to sell it in a trashy manner on television, don't you? Try to hide the substance and get -- and hook people into the substance by having a trashy promo.
PINKERTON: Well, yes, but this is.
BURNS: You're laughing because you agree with the wisdom of.
PINKERTON: Actually, I do here, but the thing is your premise was that this was not trash. And this was trash. And so you could -- you can occasionally turn a sow's ear into silk but this was the sow's ear to begin with and won't change.
THOMAS: To quote the great philosopher, Dolly Parton, "it costs a lot to look this cheap."
BURNS: Jane, would you like to follow Dolly Parton?
HALL: Only as a pundit not as an entertainer. I think that this is really unfortunate because from what I've gathered this is a pretty good show and it's about the issue of open adoption, which of course, is not in the promo.
BURNS: We have to take one more break. When we come back, it'll be your turn.
BURNS: Ralph in Kansas City, Missouri says that the five of us -- well, the four of you missed the point about Bob Woodward's book. "In his '60 Minutes' interview and other appearances promoting the book, Woodward is essentially `sexing up' the book with his comments. Just face it; in the huge wake of the Clarke book, Woodward's is not as critical of Bush, so he has made it sound more critical to help book sales."
About one of the revelations in the book, here' Joe from Ft. Walton Beach, Florida: "Jane Hall was concerned that the Pentagon started planning for the invasion of Iraq only 72 days after 9/11. Me, too. I want to know why they wasted 71 valuable planning days."
About showing pictures of the coffins of soldiers killed in Iraq, we hear from Diane who doesn't tell us where she's from but does tell us that her son rests in peace in one of those coffins -- "It is up to the families on an individual basis to show the flag-draped coffins of their soldiers. The military has shown honor, respect, and reverence for our loved ones. Journalists would do well to follow their example."
And Bridget from Fort McPherson, Georgia, is a disabled Army veteran whose husband is on active duty in the service: "If God forbid, my husband were to someday come home in one of those coffins, it is not the right of the public to see him before his family can. If they choose to invite you to the funeral, then you may take a picture."
About anti-American stories on the Arab TV network Al Jazeera, here's Linda from Hanover, New Hampshire: "Guys and gal, we're fighting a war remember? We should go back and use WWII tactics and jam Al Jazeera broadcasts. We need to make it tough for them to spread inaccuracies that lead to our military getting killed."
About the eventual changing of the guard at the major TV network evening news desks, here's Tony from Henrietta, Texas: "Americans are bored with talking heads. Most people loathe the press because they `filter' the news. The truth is that most journalists are still uninformed, overly opinionated, and angrily liberal."
Finally, here is Glenn from De Soto, Texas: "I understand only three-fourths of your program. Jim talks faster than my grandchildren."
Glenn, we're sorry that your grandchildren talk so slowly, but don't be discouraged. Maybe they'll pick up to pace when they get older.
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That's it for this week. Thanks to Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, 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 on the air.
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