This is a transcript of the Saturday, August 7, 2004 edition of "FOX News Watch" that has been edited for clarity.
ERIC BURNS, FOX ANCHOR: Are the media playing politics with terrorism? It is an important question, and it's our starting point on today's program.
Then, is it the media's fault that Kerry didn't bounce in the polls? How has journalism changed in the three decades since Watergate?
We'll tell you about the first reality-based TV show ever in Iraq, and we'll ask how long sex has been an Olympic sport.
First, two minutes of the latest news.
BURNS: Terrorism is the government's business, and it's the military's business, and it is journalism's business. It is the business of this program to ask how journalists are doing when they cover terrorism.
And here we go: Jim Pinkerton of "Newsday," media writer Neal Gabler, Jane Hall of the American University, and radio host and Fox News Contributor Monica Crowley in this week for Cal Thomas.
I'm Eric Burns. FOX NEWS WATCH is coming right up.
The media have been reporting this week on increased threats of terrorism against five buildings that house financial institutions on the East Coast of the United States.
Neal, they have been reporting. Have they been questioning those reports? Should they be?
NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: Well, you know, I have no idea how credible these threats really are, how real these threats really are, but if I were a reporter, given the track record of this administration — weapons of mass destruction, anyone? — given the timing of this right after the Democratic Convention, given the fact that Tom Ridge politicized the announcement by saying that they got this intelligence because of the great leadership of President Bush, I would be very skeptical, and I think skepticism should run as a parallel story to the story of the threats themselves.
BURNS: But if you're skeptical without any information other than this circumstantial information to make you skeptical, doesn't that make your reporting biased, Jane?
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, I think it's a very difficult situation for everybody. I mean, we've just come out of the 9/11 commission report which said the agencies should talk to each other. We should have more information rather than less.
I tend to err on the side of giving this administration, even given some of their track record, the benefit of the doubt. I mean, I think all you can do — as a reporter, you cannot know what else was in this report. All you can know is what the administration is telling you that they know. Unless you're going to be — there's no way to independently verify a lot of what was threatened.
I think that the administration should be taken to task for not saying the date of this information. That's legitimate. But to question whether they're doing this for political reasons, I think, readers should draw their own conclusion on that.
MONICA CROWLEY, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: And even...
GABLER: Well, that's why I say there ought to be two stories, two parallel lines.
CROWLEY: Well, even the Democratic candidate for president, John Kerry, backed away from Howard Dean's initial assertion that this was put out for political purposes.
I was on the air on the radio when this story broke last Sunday afternoon. We carried Tom Ridge's announcement live, and then I went through an analysis of it.
I agree with Jane. This is a very difficult situation for everybody involved because you're dealing with top-secret information, so the public's right to know does come into play. Journalists' right to go and investigate what's behind this material can only go so far because you are dealing with highly secret intelligence documents.
And so it — you know, really you do have to take the administration at its word, whether it's a Bush or Kerry administration. When they go out and warn the public and the press then reports that, you do have to take it at face value, I think.
BURNS: The reason you do, Jim, is, it seems to me, the fact that because this information is so top secret, you know, there are people in the government who don't know — don't have all this terrorist information — terrorism threat information. Reporters, more than likely, aren't going to be able to get at the truth, if the truth is something different from what the administration's saying, right?
JIM PINKERTON, "NEWSDAY": Right. And that's where they have to ask the same question over and over again in different angles because they are clearly fooled on hearing an announcement on Sunday, oh, big attack plan, and then they find out the information's four years old. That was something that keeps every reporter on his toes.
Look, in this day and age, stipulating that there are people out to kill us, it pays to be kind of — to lean paranoid because, if you're right, you hit the jackpot, and, if you're wrong, you get credit for just asking the tough questions that need to be asked and so on and so on, and I think that's the pose, frankly, that is sort of justified by events.
CROWLEY: You know, this story came over two days: The initial story Sunday, which went into Monday's news coverage, which was, look, we have this new terror alert based on this credible, specific information; the second day's coverage was, oh, look, yes, the information may have been a couple of years old.
And then the third day's coverage was Tom Ridge had to come out and do a little damage control, which the press then picked up, but not to the extent it should have, which is, yes, some of this information is old, but it just had been accessed starting in January by al Qaeda, in other words indicating there was a renewed interest by al Qaeda in using this information.
GABLER: But the evolution of the story is very suspicious. Let's just take a step back. What earthly purpose is served, unless you're telling these people do not show up to work, by the press reporting this, by even the administration putting out this?
BURNS: You mean people who read these stories aren't going to behave any differently anyhow?
GABLER: Well, unless you tell us that there's something we ought to be doing that we ordinarily weren't doing, then what is the purpose of this other than to...
BURNS: Scare us?
HALL: Well, I think...
GABLER: ... fearmongering?
HALL: Well, I...
HALL: I'm sorry. I think there's a difference, in my opinion, and I think there's a level of skepticism that is lower this time. I mean, Tom Ridge has been criticized for these, made fun of on the late-night talk shows. How many times have we had purple code green? If you don't give — I think they were trying to be specific.
I heard a very interesting discussion on NPR with a bunch of experts, including a risk analysis person who said it helps people to be more specific. Whether it's good foreign policy or policy against the terrorists is a whole other...
BURNS: To what end?
PINKERTON: But there's — well, first of all, if they guard the Citibank building and the World — if they'd done that and put a bunch of guards there and hadn't said why, that would have been kind of weird.
GABLER: Weird, but...
PINKERTON: I mean — and, also, media have a kind of Heisenberg uncertainty effect, which is the more you talk about the Citibank, that's like the one place they won't attack, and so there is an odd spin on this.
CROWLEY: There were also subsequent stories, too, this story over the course of the past week indicating all of these arrests, not just in Albany, New York, but also in Great Britain, indicating that these al Qaeda suspects had, in fact, recently accessed this kind of information on these five specific buildings.
GABLER: Well, there's a difference between updating and downloading. We don't even know what they actually did.
BURNS: And we can't get into it now, Neal, so keep it to yourself.
BURNS: We have to take our first break. We'll be back to bring some history up to date.
(voice-over): It's been 30 years since Richard Nixon resigned the presidency. Journalism then, journalism now — it's a very different business.
Stay tuned for more FOX NEWS WATCH.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD M. NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I shall leave this office with regret at not completing my term, but with gratitude at the privilege of serving as your president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNS: Richard Nixon spoke those words 30 years ago this weekend, as he became the first president of the United States ever to resign from office. In his last years of life, Monica Crowley worked with him.
Monica, forgetting the politics of this for a moment, it seems to me that we have had in the last 30 years or so no event which has changed journalism as much as this. Now you're not on the show a lot, so you might not want to disagree with me in one of your rare appearances.
BURNS: How do you feel about that?
CROWLEY: Smart, Eric. Smart.
BURNS: How do you feel about that?
CROWLEY: You know, I think there were two seminal events in the late '60s, early '70s that converged to change journalism in a very serious and profound way: First was the Vietnam War which got journalists sort of thinking about questioning authority, questioning a presidential administration; and then, of course, you had Watergate, and that really gave birth to serious investigative journalism in a way we had never really seen before.
Journalists prior to Watergate — and really prior to Vietnam, I think, too — would sort of take what an administration had to say at face value. The Watergate crisis gave birth to this new form of journalism, serious investigative journalism, but I also think that there was a downside to that in the personality-driven investigative part of journalism here where it's the "gotcha" kind of politics.
And we've seen it through every presidential administration since Richard Nixon where the Washington press corps — and the national press corps, too, to some extent — is always after the president. It's a very adversarial...
CROWLEY: And Neal may say that that's a good thing, that it's a "gotcha" kind of approach...
CROWLEY: ... but I don't think it's necessarily healthy.
BURNS: Or, actually, Jane, after anyone in public office because I think one of the inadvertent lessons of Watergate was that if you're a reporter, the way you rise to stardom is by bringing down the political history on whom you're reporting maybe.
HALL: Well, I think that there was a very interesting piece that's in the new American Journalism (ph) that Mark Foutstein (ph) wrote sort of challenging the orthodoxy, so to speak, that Woodward and Bernstein were the David and Goliath story, that they alone brought down Richard Nixon, and I think there's debate on that, whether the government would have investigated this without their reporting.
I think there's a different lesson, which is that they spent a lot of time, they had multiple sources. If you compare that, as some people have done, to the Monica Lewinsky story or some of the — we have cable news now. I don't know that we would have the patience for the month it took for the unraveling and the multiple sourcing of the story.
PINKERTON: I mean the — I just went and downloaded the Nixon enemies list, you know. It includes two pages of reporters who the Nixon — the Nixon White House — Chuck Colson and John Dean — sat around and cooked up a list of all the enemies and wanted to audit with the IRS and otherwise generally stick it to.
I mean, this has got to be the nadir of what a White House is supposed to be doing at this time when they're dreaming up — the reporters were the enemies, by the way, but you're not supposed to use government power against them.
The other big effect of the Nixon White House — I agree with everything but the rise of investigative reporting, and even the budget cuts have not cut it back down again — was the rise of an anti-liberal backlash in the media which has been bulging for 35 years now.
Spiro Agnew — when he said, "nattering nabobs of negativism" about the report in 1969, that struck a chord. A woman named Edith Efron wrote a book called "The News Twisters," which was sort of a proto-debunking, you know, book of that moment. It — ever since then, there's been a two-media culture, and that's a healthy thing.
GABLER: Let me challenge the conventional wisdom here. I think it had very little effect when you think of the confluence of things that had to come together to topple Richard Nixon — two intrepid reporters, Ben Bradlee, the editor of "The Washington Post," supporting them, the publisher Katherine Graham supporting them, almost working single-handedly here, not with the entire media culture.
And then on top of all of that, you need the president of the United States to have to tape-record his conversations. That's the only way you could have brought down a president. The main effect, it seems to me, is not investigative journalism, of which we have none today.
We — don't forget we just went to war, the president of the United States misleading us into war. I didn't see the investigative journalists there. The only effect it seems to me that it's really had — and Monica alluded to this — is that it's made stars out of media figures, and it's made reporters aspire to be Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford. That, to me, is the primary effect of Watergate.
CROWLEY: You know, I remember President Nixon — during the last four years of his life when I was working for him, he made a very interesting point. He said the media is on the left, and they certainly do have an agenda, but they will never forego a story.
So when the Bill Clinton stories and those scandals started to come up, that sort of resonated with me that they will always go after a story. But I think with the proliferation of news outlets as well, you have this fierce competition to get it first, not necessarily get it right, and with that compared to the — or coupled with the "gotcha" politics, you sort of have this boiling cauldron in reporting.
HALL: Absolutely not. I don't think that...
GABLER: I don't think it's boiling.
HALL: I think that the concentration of ownership in the media mitigates against giving people the time to do investigative reporting, and I think that making journalists stars who are constantly giving their opinions as opposed to reporting is not necessarily a good development.
PINKERTON: Richard Nixon also proves, as Monica says, the media will always follow a story. So Richard Nixon's comeback in the '80s and the '90s was a major story, and the press loved it.
CROWLEY: It was.
GABLER: But doesn't anyone honestly believe that a Republican president, with Fox News, with "The New York Post," with Rush Limbaugh, could ever — even if he murdered somebody on live television, ever get removed from office? I think it's impossible, and that proves that things haven't changed that much.
CROWLEY: No, no. I disagree.
PINKERTON: I think all 5 percent of the media that Fox, "The New York Post," and Rush Limbaugh represent — 5 percent of the media...
BURNS: Let's hash this out during the break so nobody can hear us.
We have to take another break. We'll be back with our quick takes, and we're going to cover a lot of ground...
(voice-over): ... all the way from the media and Kerry's bounce to condoms and the 2004 Summer Olympics.
FOX NEWS WATCH continues after this.
BURNS: It's time now for our "Quick Takes" on the media.
Headline number one: "Did Media Pounce on Kerry's Bounce?"
John Kerry seems to have gotten less of a bounce in the polls after his party's convention than any other presidential candidate in recent memory. The three major broadcast networks spent less time covering the Democrats than they ever did before, covering a major party convention.
Neal, is that cause and effect?
GABLER: Partly. Few people watched, number one. Number two, the numbers were actually very, very good for Kerry, if you look down the list of things outside of his head-to-head race with Bush: health care up 16 points; terrorism up 15 points; Iraq up 14 points; taxes up 12 points.
But there's another problem, and that is that you can never tell what the bounce is because the margin of error in all of these polls is actually very large, usually about 4 percent, which means there could be an 8 percent swing with only about 95 percent reliability.
PINKERTON: You also just never know what other events are going to come along. For example, we're having (unintelligible) in the categories now. Old media was doing what Neal is saying. The new media — the newest media, like the Internet, was killing Kerry on this swift boats business.
I watched this little commercial on the Net on all his fellow officers calling Kerry virtually a traitor. That had...
GABLER: Not fellow officers. Let's...
PINKERTON: Yes, they were. They were fellow...
GABLER: They did not serve on his boat.
PINKERTON: I said fellow officers.
GABLER: Did they...
PINKERTON: There's one officer per boat. There are other swift boat commanders.
HALL: OK. Let's talk about the media subject here, which is — I think this is a game where the near count's going to Matthew Dowd, whom I've interviewed. He's a very smart Bush-Cheney chief strategist who set the bar at 15 points for his opponent to meet, and then, when he didn't meet it, all the media said he didn't meet the bounce. So they set the expectations.
BURNS: All right. "Quick Take" headline number two: "Who's Going to Win the Gold Medal in the One-Night Stand?"
A condom manufacturer is donating 130,000 condoms to Olympic athletes in Greece next week. The company also plans to donate 30,000 packets of lubricant — and I'm quoting here from the company's press release — "to smooth the performance of the world's elite sports people in the arena and under the covers."
CROWLEY: I knew you were coming to me first there, Burns.
BURNS: ... if you were writing a column about this story, how would it begin?
CROWLEY: "As if they don't get enough exercise, Olympic athletes arriving in Athens, Greece, next week will be offered free food, free beverages, and free condoms. Prophylactic manufacturer Durex has donated 130,000 condoms, which will be available without charge to the athletes and officials gathered for this summer's Olympic Games. No one's preaching abstinence here. Toned glistening bodies compete by day and frolic by night — it gives new meaning to 'Let the games begin.'"
BURNS: Jane, what's your beginning?
HALL: I begin with the fact about 130,000, and then I say, "Talk about a tie-in. If I were an Olympic athlete, I might be offended by this. The assumption is that when they're off the field, Olympic athletes aren't training or resting, they're having sex with each other."
PINKERTON: "The media fall for these stunts all the time, but not me. The July 30 'Wall Street Journal' featured an article on how AFLAC, the insurance company, managed to get itself and its famous duck on the air on a mere $45 million annual advertising budget by putting its duck in stunt situations, even arranging a joint appearance with Ben Affleck on the Regis & Kelly show. But I'm not going to fall for promoting this condom ad. Whoops."
BURNS: How — you knew, of course, we're talking about condoms, and he spent the whole time on a duck.
Neal, you're writing — you write a lot of op-ed pieces. What would your op-ed piece be about?
GABLER: Well, the — as a news report, though, I would say "The International Olympic Committee announced today that it had found a large cache of biological weapons of mass protection"...
GABLER: ... "or WMPs. Vice President Cheney said it at a press conference that the rubber tubes were the right size and shape for one purpose only. He also said that the discovery proved the link between male Olympic athletes and laddie magazines. Meanwhile, President Bush announced that, if the IOC did not act, his administration would invade Athens unilaterally."
BURNS: All right. "Quick Take" headline number three: "At Last, A Reality Show That Isn't Really Stupid!"
It's called "Labor and Materials," and it's the first reality show ever in Iraq. The winners get an extreme home makeover, new furniture, new appliances, new windows, new walls, all of it to repair the damage done by fighting in that country.
PINKERTON: This is the most encouraging news I've heard out of Iraq in a long time. If the Iraqis fall into the same yuppie consumerism trap that we have, maybe they really will become a liberal democracy.
BURNS: And maybe the best news we've heard, Monica, out of reality TV in a long time, too.
CROWLEY: Well, yes, clearly, and this is the best reality show going somewhere — anywhere in the world. I think this is a great idea, and the fact that it's getting huge ratings in Iraq is a positive sign, that people are looking toward the future here.
HALL: If I were a cynic, I would say lacking a foreign policy, we're going to entertain these people to death, the way we entertain the American people to death.
GABLER: So this is Halliburton's rebuilding strategy?
BURNS: Well, I don't know that Halliburton is necessarily behind this.
We have to take one more break. We'll be back. When we come back, it will be your turn.
BURNS: Much of our program last week was about coverage of the Democratic Convention. So was much of our e-mail this week.
We begin with Kathy who did not tell us where she's from. "The networks, especially Fox, did a horrible job of covering the Dem Convention. Nothing but complaints and petty, ridiculous remarks and personal attacks on the speakers and the whole convention."
Richard from Evansville, Indiana, "As a political junkie, I was not disappointed by the lack of coverage during the Democratic convention, aka pep rally. There was no news. Watching it drone on and on while listening to the pundits reminded me of watching a NASCAR race with a three-hour rain delay."
About the Teresa Heinz Kerry "Shove it" comment, here is Bill from Spring, Texas, "What I want to know is why every reporter there wasn't asking her to clarify her remarks? She accuses someone of un-American activities and gets a pass from the press? She became a political player the moment she opened her mouth. The press should start treating her as one."
About pictures of her husband in the so-called bunny suit, here is James from Plantsville, Connecticut, "The overcoverage of Kerry's bunny suit was not the fault of the media or the Republicans. It was Kerry's campaign managers' fault who, when confronted with the pictures, said they were 'unauthorized and leaked,' instead of just laughing them off for what they were."
Now for the personal comments about the panel part of our program, here is Hughes from Santa Monica, California, "Jim Pinkerton, it's interesting how Neal always has to comment after you or interrupt you. I can tell that you really get under his skin. For that, I thank you profusely."
Doug, Raleigh, North Carolina, "Cal's bright orange outfit sent stabbing pains through my retinas. How is anyone supposed to take him seriously while he's dressed as the Great Pumpkin?"
And Ricardo, Boise, Idaho, "Jane Hall is the brightest light on this panel. The rest of your are very low wattage."
Well, of course, we are, Ricardo, but use your head. Why do you think Jane looks so bright? It's because we're a bunch of 60s to her 100.
And here's our address: email@example.com. Please tell us your full name and let us know where you live.
That's all the time we have this week, both to analyze the media and praise Jane. Thanks to Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, to Monica Crowley, to Neal Gabler, I'm Eric Burns thanking your for watching.
Did you have something to say?
We'll be back next week, and we hope you will tune in with us.
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