This is a transcript of the Saturday, May 8, 2004 edition of "Fox News Watch" that has been edited for clarity.
ERIC BURNS, HOST: This week, Fox News Watch Segment One: The photographic evidence, this is what Americans have done to Iraqis. This is what Iraqis did to Americans. We'll cover the coverage. Segment Two: are both of these people being indecent on the air? [Videotape of Oprah Winfrey and Howard Stern] And Segment Three: Michael Moore blasts the president and claims censorship. Who was the Showtime TV Network's candidate for president? And a journalist is arrested for being a radical environmentalist. Fox News Watch after the news.
BURNS: On all news cable this week, these pictures have been worth hundreds of thousands of words. The most perceptive are still to come from Jim Pinkerton of "Newsday," media writer Neal Gabler, Jane Hall of the American University, and host of her own radio show and Fox News contributor Monica Crowley in this week for Cal Thomas.
I'm Eric Burns. I'm always here. Fox News Watch is coming right up.
Well, CBS's "60 Minutes II" was the first to show these pictures of American soldiers mistreated Iraqi prisoners of war. These pictures are one side of the story. These pictures are the other side. This is reportedly an American engineer in an Iraqi prison. This is one of the American contractors whose bodies were brutalized after they were killed by Iraqis a few weeks ago.
Neal, what did I just do? Put this whole matter of pictures into perspective or muddy the waters?
NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: Well, I think you framed it exactly. The Bush Administration would like it to be framed and the right wing would like it to be framed. But if you're asking me is the media hypocritical because they hold our soldiers to a higher standard than blood-thirsty terrorists? My answer is no. I don't think that's hypocrisy.
But let's put that aside for the moment. Let's examine the media's performance on this issue. I think it's remarkable that on January 16, General Kimmitt announced publicly that there was an investigation of abuses in the prison. The previous July, Amnesty International had released an important report about abuses. More recently, Human Rights Watch released a report about abuses in Afghanistan at that ran prison. January, July, you know, last month. It took until last week for the press to be curious enough to start examining the issue.
BURNS: Well, actually, it could have happened, Jane, as we know two weeks earlier but "60 Minutes II," at the request of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, held on to their report for a couple of weeks. Was that a proper thing for them to do, to go along with the military because they feared the reaction to the story?
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, from what I've read, he asked them partially because of what was going on in Fallujah. I guess it was OK two weeks ago. A long time to wait.
I agree with Neal in his criticism. The International Red Cross is also saying that they were reporting, at least to the Bush Administration not to the media that they saw many of these same abuses. I come away with two things. One is thank goodness for serious -- that there's still one serious news magazine, "60 Minutes II" and thank goodness for Sy Hersh who had the story of General Taguba's report in "The New Yorker."
BURNS: Well, can we answer this question you've raised as to why the media waited so long when the information was out there?
JIM PINKERTON, "NEWSDAY": Well, I think that Neal's criticism about the tardiness and maybe the laziness of reporters is well taken and they could have more alert to this and so on.
But I think there are a couple of points in terms of the context here that are worth dwelling on. Number on is there aren't too many countries in the world where this would have achieved the kind of splash it had across all the media and where the U.S. government would have reacted as quickly as it did, I mean in terms of...
BURNS: And as contrite as it did once the details emerged.
HALL: ...once this was revealed in the media!
PINKERTON: Well, OK, that's something about our system though, that within a few days, the president of the United States is going on Arab TV and apologizing.
GABLER: No, no, no, he didn't apologize.
PINKERTON: Well, yes, he did the second time. He did the second time. Yes, he did.
GABLER: Not when he went on Arab TV.
PINKERTON: OK. He went on Arab TV, then apologized to King Abdullah, another Arab, the next day.
The second point is -- and this is, I think, critical as we go through this whole motion and cycle of investigation and so on and so on, is we need to get a little more careful about the language. It is commonly said that the prisoners in Abu Ghraib (search) prison were tortured. OK. I don't know exactly what the right word to use is, but torture -- you think of it as being whipped and flogged and having your fingernails pulled out. These men were...
PINKERTON: ...evilly mistreated, degraded, sexually humiliated. But we have -- if we call everything torture, then we're going to lose our capacity to identify what is real torture and what is simply something horrible but not quite as bad.
MONICA CROWLEY, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: And I also want to pick up on something that -- a point that Jim is starting to make here, which is the use of this sort of inflammatory language too. In talking about the prisoners were mistreated, nobody is making excuses for that. However, we have to make the distinction of how they were -- how -- in what context all of these events took place. I think one of the reasons why the media -- and this was a public investigation, as you, Neal, pointed out. General Kimmitt had made this announcement back in January. One of the big reasons why the media didn't really move on this initially was there was a lack of pictures.
Now, not excusing...
GABLER: Exactly right.
CROWLEY: .their laziness, but the reason this story broke so internationally so fast and so furiously was the fact that it was accompanied by photographs.
BURNS: And, in fact, there has been a second wave of photographs. A couple of days ago, "The Washington Post" released a new batch of photographs of soldiers -- American soldiers, we think, abusing in some way or another Iraqi prisoners of war.
But then the "Post" said this -- "The new pictures appear to show American soldiers abusing prisoners." But the "Post" could not eliminate the possibility that some of them -- meaning some of the pictures were staged. Neal, do you go with the pictures with this caveat or if you have the caveat, if you're worried about the possibility they were staged, do you not just hold back on the pictures?
GABLER: Well, I saw the pictures in "The Post" and you know, I don't know what they proviso was for because we saw, you know, Private Lynndie England (search) right there, you know, the same person that we saw in other photographs, you know, the photograph of the man with the dog collar. So, you know, it seems to me that this proviso was perfectly appropriate. It was also appropriate to show the pictures.
HALL: I think that it is all about the pictures. President Bush, in the interview that I read, with Al Arabiya, one of the Arab networks said, "We know it's true. We saw the pictures." And I think that is what we're dealing with. I was on the O'Reilly Factor the other night and Sy Hersh from "The New Yorker" was on there and he was making a very good point, which is this is a generation that is taping this, that is sending it around on CDs. And I think that we all believe it, including the president of the United States, who reportedly only saw these pictures when they were in the media.
CROWLEY: The whole idea of the photographs just had me floored. I mean the idea that our soldiers -- and again, the United States is known for a certain set of moral values. We are better than the terrorists. I mean there is a double standard. The Arab media is not outraged about the acts of terror that their fellow Arabs engage in, but they're outraged about this. But this whole idea that any American solider would be that stupid, (a) to engage in these acts, and (b) to put them on film, is outrageous to me.
BURNS: A quick, final word.
PINKERTON: Also -- we're also known for broadcasting and televising and picturing sex all over the world too, which is hurting us badly now.
BURNS: We have to take a break. We'll be back to talk about the continuing struggle to define decency on radio and TV.
ANNOUNCER: What's the difference between Oprah talking about sex on the air and Howard Stern talking about sex on the air? The FCC's latest indecency debate when Fox News Watch continues.
BURNS: The Federal Communications Commission (search) has fined Howard Stern (search) for indecency several times for his radio discussions about oral and anal sex. Now, it's trying to decide whether Oprah Winfrey's televised discussions about oral and anal sex are indecent.
Monica, can there be a distinction? Or is the problem simply the topic, not who discusses it and how it's handled?
CROWLEY: I'm blushing here based on this topic.
BURNS: Should I start with somebody else?
CROWLEY: No, I think there's a distinction to be made, but it might be a distinction without a difference here. Look, Howard Stern's radio show is -- whatever you think of him, whatever you think of the show -- it's geared for a certain demographic and that's men from 18 to 54.
Oprah Winfrey's audience is a different kind of audience. It's mostly women and mothers, for example. So the difference between Stern and Oprah is the context. It's the audience.
In Oprah's case, the discussion of sex was in a so-called educated context. Howard Stern's discussions of sex are largely gratuitous and entertainment-based.
GABLER: May I make another distinction? Howard Stern is a pariah in much of American, obviously not among his audience. And Oprah Winfrey (search) is beloved. And so what we've got here is essentially Howard Stern calling the bluff of the FCC. That's really what's going on.
BURNS: Right. The FCC is considering this because Stern brought the issue up.
BURNS: ...and said Oprah talks about the same thing.
GABLER: Yes. But -- so what Stern is saying is look, if you come after me and now let's see if you're coming to come after Oprah, who's not like me.
BURNS: But is it fair to make a distinction, Jane, between someone's who using -- I'll paraphrase Monica here -- someone who's using these topics to make jokes at someone like Oprah, who, whatever you think, is trying to get at something educational here?
HALL: I think there is a distinction to be made. And you know, as the weeks go on, I'm finding myself -- dare I say it -- a little more sympathetic to Howard Stern than I was because, you know, I -- first of all, we should say this letter writing campaign appears to be orchestrated by his fans.
BURNS: To the FCC, we're talking about?
HALL: ...to the FCC. The Oprah show aired in October. It was a show about teen sex. It probably informed a lot of parents who needed to know what was out there in the world of teenagers. I think you can make a distinction but it was also interesting to me to, this week, read in "The New York Observer" that they called [Senators] Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, other New York officials. Nobody is coming to Howard Stern's defense. And he is, in some ways, being used as a whipping boy for what is becoming a serious First Amendment issues.
PINKERTON: Let's be clear about this, Howard Stern and Oprah Winfrey to talk about sex in their own different ways for the exact same reason, to get ratings, to make money. If Howard Stern gets prosecuted and -- has been prosecuted and gets fined, he gets run off the air, and Oprah Winfrey gets nothing because nobody will criticize her and the FCC doesn't dare do anything to her, then that proves the horrible and terrible precedent that's going to be set here when the FCC uses its arbitrary power -- and they're now saying now, in the wake of the Bono case, where first the FCC said when Bono used the f-word as an adverb, they said oh, no big deal. Then the pressure came down. They said, oh, we changed our mind. Now, we're going to fine him. That arbitrary power is to be feared. It's going to cut the throat of the First Amendment.
CROWLEY: You're right. It's arbitrary and it's also very subjective. The FCC, right now, does not have a universal standard to apply to all of these broadcast shows, whether it's television or radio. So we have a bunch of bureaucrats sitting down in Washington at the FCC trying to decide what's obscene and indecent and what's not. And then this is why you get sort of this fuzzy area where Oprah is educational and Oprah's demographic is different. But Howard Stern is doing this gratuitously, so he should be fined and Oprah should not be.
BURNS: But why can't that be a valid distinction that certain material is intended for educational purposes and certain material is intended to make 18 to 54-year-old men laugh?
CROWLEY: Make that clear. Make that clear then, Eric. The FCC currently does not have a universal code of standard.
PINKERTON: You make me laugh when you say Oprah is trying to educate people about oral and anal sex. I mean please. My friend, Greg Punchinello (ph) is a First Amendment lawyer in Los Angeles. He makes a point when he says, look, these Abu Ghraib prison photos, when they ran on broadcast TV, they could be deemed obscene. I mean if the FCC were really out to be censorious and they might in some future administration, they could say, look, ABC and NBC get huge fines for showing that sort of pornography.
GABLER: Look, let's get to the bottom line. This is all about politics. It's an election year. The FCC and the Bush Administration want to play to their base. And one of the things that Howard Stern has done besides calling the bluff on the FCC is he has shown how easy it is to orchestrate a letter writing campaign.
BURNS: Jane, do you have a final word?
BURNS: Oh, I thought you did.
BURNS: Usually, what I say doesn't make you laugh, right? Usually it informs you. That was just that one comment about Oprah that makes you laugh.
PINKERTON: Yes, when you call Oprah educational TV I laugh. Do it again.
BURNS: [To viewers] But during a break and you won't hear it.
After the break, we'll be back with our "Quick Takes on The Media," including Michael Moore versus George Bush in a sequel, and the Republican candidate for president, the Democratic candidate for president and the Showtime candidate for president. Stay tuned for more Fox News Watch.
BURNS: It's time for our "Quick Takes on The Media."
Headline Number One: "No More Moore, At Least For Now."
The Walt Disney Company is not allowing its Miramax division to release a new documentary by Michael Moore. The film blasts President Bush for his actions, both before and after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Jane Hall did not have a final word in the last segment, but she has the first word with this topic.
HALL: OK, send me in coach, I'm ready!
This is really interesting. You know Michael Moore has genius for self-promotion and I frankly wish more liberals had the same kind of genius. We often are out-matched in this area here. But I think a couple of things are interesting. First of all, Disney should be ashamed of whatever reason they're pulling this film through Miramax. It's a whole inside Hollywood story. He is an interesting filmmaker. He's going to make a lot of money especially when it comes to the controversy.
BURNS: Why doesn't Disney have a right to attach its name to whatever film it wants to attach it to?
HALL: They have a right to do that.
HALL: But it's -- you know they're under no obligation to distribute the film.
GABLER: But we don't know that for a fact. There are contractual issues here that are not yet resolved.
HALL: But the other thing that I think is very interesting about this is that everybody in the media reported this same line, that this had to do with tax breaks and Jeb Bush. I haven't seen anybody really investigate whether that's true. There were...
BURNS: I have. "The Orlando Sentinel (search)" did and said it's not true. Disney is not getting tax breaks.
HALL: But you had "The New York Times" editor place him -- writing about this.
PINKERTON: Well, that might be evidence that "The New York Times," including [columnist] Maureen Dowd, weren't checking their facts very well because this guy, Mike Thomas at "The Orlando Sentinel" did.
Look, Disney ought to have its head examined. What are they doing with Miramax as a company? They put out movies like "Kill Bill." If they're trying to be a family brand, they got Disneyland and Disney World and the cruises and stuff to defend, why are they putting out all this...
PINKERTON: ...for money and now they've gotten caught with this movie, which is so obviously anti...
GABLER: Well, wait a minute. They haven't gotten caught? Let me take up a Jim Pinkerton line here. Isn't this exactly what critics of media concentration have warned us against, that the big companies will be cowed by a government like the Bush Administration and reign in free speech?
CROWLEY: Wait a minute. I don't think this is about being cowed by the Bush Administration. I think that the Walt Disney Company is a -- has a family-oriented image. They are accountable to their shareholders and their public. They do not want to be associated with this kind of film and it's their right to call it quits.
BURNS: And Michael Eisner has pointed out it's very likely that someone else will distribute this movie.
CROWLEY: Of course.
BURNS: ...if Disney doesn't.
"Quick Take" headline Number Two: "Is Journalist Guilty of Mountain Lyin'?"
[LAUGHTER] Thank you. John Richardson was writing a story for "Esquire" magazine about the radical environmental group, Earth First, which was trying to disrupt a mountain lion hunt in Arizona. Richardson was arrested for doing some disrupting of his own. He has been charged with trespassing and disabling several traps for mountain lions. Richardson, though, says he was just an observer on the mission not a participant.
Jim, we don't know the truth of this, but we do know this is an issue that we discuss with some frequency, the extent to which a reporter should get involved in an activity.
PINKERTON: All reporters looking for big stories are now in this moral hazard situation. Shoot somebody; we'll put it on Al Jazerra. Break up a hunting expedition and we'll get it on "Esquire." It's a temptation that I think a lot of reporters are falling into the trap of.
HALL: It's very difficult to get access to this kind of environmentalism. He was -- it sounds as if he was an observer there. As long as he does not participate, I think that he's on safe ground.
CROWLEY: Well, that's the burden on the prosecutor. Since this man is arrested, they're going to press charges. The burden on the prosecutor is to prove that he was actually participating in this event and trying to disable these traps. If they can't prove it, he's Scott free.
GABLER: Yes. Did he break the law is one question. There's another question here, and that is is it some times -- are there certain situations where one can break the law because there's a larger public issue to be served. For example, if there was an Al Qaeda cell inside of that park and this guy went in and wanted to expose it, don't we say that trespassing was worth exposing the Al Qaeda cell? So it's not so easy to just say if he breaks the law, that's it.
PINKERTON: If he broke up an Al Qaeda cell, I don't think they would bust him for trespassing.
BURNS: All right.
CROWLEY: They'd put him on the CIA payroll.
BURNS: "Quick Take" headline No. 3, "Do You Think He'll Get More Votes Than Ralph Nader?"
The Showtime (search) TV network is producing a new reality show called "American Candidate (search)." Twelve contestants will face off against each other in a series of challenges designed to test their presidential mettle. The winner gets $200,000 and free air time on Showtime to give an address to the nation.
PINKERTON: This is another reality show and so, it's quite likely to be stupid. However, there's a good idea buried in here. There's two professors, James Fish (ph) from the University of Texas, and Bruce Ackerman (ph) at Yale, who have an idea of "deliberative democracy," which is to spend more time thinking about the issues, getting voters aware of them and then making a decision -- not just having people who don't know enough about the issues voting. We should still have the elections, but this is an interesting take and this might emerge into this deliberative democracy model.
HALL: I think if it gets more people involved, it's good. Also, given how little coverage the media gives to third parties and anybody else, maybe he'll get more coverage or she.
BURNS: We have to take one more break. When we come back, it'll be your turn.
BURNS: About the bad press that John Kerry is getting these days from some presses, here's Wanda in Jessup, Maryland: "Did it occur to you that John Kerry is causing his bad press? He has the charisma of Lurch. Please, at this point, I would enjoy a Dean scream?"
And Gene, Dickinson, Texas -- "I almost spilled my glass of Merlot when I heard Neal Gabler say that the Dems have trouble with their message because their candidate is nuanced. Nuance is not what Senator Kerry has, he has chronic multiple position syndrome."
But John from Ladson, South Carolina thinks that "Kerry is not the only target for the fourth estate until the convention, unless Bush does something really stupid."
About the "Nightline" show listing America's dead in Iraq, here's Larry from Riverside, California, who tells us that his son's name was read that night by Ted Koppel -- "I did not find this to be a particularly political program. I accept Mr. Koppel's position that his intention was to honor the memory of those we have lost and put the show above the petty political wranglings of those opposed to or in favor of the conflict in Iraq."
About the ABC "20/20" adoption special, here's Tom from Rosalyn Heights, New York: "It seems to me that most journalists grow in grace and stature as they age. Cal Thomas is a fine example of this. What has happened to Barbara Walters? It's a long way down from conducting interviews with presidents to essentially hosting a game show in which a human infant is the prize."
But here's Mike from Cleveland, Ohio, and he says he is the stepfather of Jessica, whose baby was up for adoption on the program: "I was both angry and surprised by your trashing of what I consider a responsible and selfless decision by my daughter to do the best for the future of her baby. I thought your coverage was neither fair nor balanced."
Finally, about our discussion last week of the percentage of women in newspaper and TV newsrooms these days, we hear from Rudy in Chester, Connecticut: "How about `The Beltway Girls' or `The Beltway Women'?"
Come on, Rudy. Would you watch a show like this?
Here's our address. It is firstname.lastname@example.org . Please write to us. When you do, please tell us your full name and let us know where you live.
That's all the time we have for this week. Thanks to Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, Monica Crowley, and 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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