FOX News Watch: August 14 Edition

This is a transcript of the Saturday, August 14, 2004 edition of "FOX News Watch"  that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN SCOTT, GUEST HOST: This week on FOX NEWS WATCH. Segment one: it's a high profile murder case, and it was Amber Frey's turn to tell her tales. But has the media played fair when it comes to the other woman?

Segment two: Kerry and his swift boat mates, overplayed or overlooked?

And celebs who think they're journalists. Why do they get attention?  New Jersey's governor invites us to his outing, but was the press blinded by love? Plus, a Web site hoax that should cause heads to roll.

First, the news.


SCOTT: Since we learned her name, she's been the most anticipated witness in the high profile case, and this week Scott Peterson's former secret lover, Amber Frey, took the stand in his double murder trial. Has her treatment in the press been fair? We'll ask Jim Pinkerton of "Newsday," syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, Jane Hall of the American University, and media writer Neal Gabler.

I'm John Scott, sitting in this week for Eric Burns. FOX NEWS WATCH is coming right up.

This is a headline about Amber Frey before she was sworn in as the prosecution's star witness. And this is a headline about Amber Frey from this past week after testifying about her steamy affair with Scott Peterson. Did anything change in the way the media has covered this story?  Jane Hall, let's go to you first. Have you noticed an evolution there?

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, I haven't noticed exactly an evolution. I've noticed more and more intimate details. I've been trying to live in an Amber Frey-free zone in the past (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and had to look at the coverage sort of.


SCOTT: It's the first thing that Cal turns to.


HALL: "Jose Mercury News" had eagerly anticipated witness. I mean, this is a -- I hate to say it, this is a woman who was caught up in yet another TV reality movie. I have now read, having done my research, about the phone calls, et cetera, et cetera. I think the terms are interesting.  Steamy affair, one-night affair. I mean, this is a woman who is a witness for the prosecution, basically, and I do think they're even raising questions about whether she was involved in the murder. That, I do think, is a serious thing to be raising in a.

SCOTT: Jim, what about the fairness issue? Are the media being fair to her?

JIM PINKERTON, NEWSDAY: I think they gave her a terrible ride. She's exactly what the media loved to have done, a white, working class person, she's a massage therapist, single mother, you know, spent more time worrying about her hair than read the newspaper. And then, after being pummeled for all these months, she turns out that she did exactly the right thing, she worked closely with the police, she turned out to be a good witness, and even while they're evaluating her testimony, in the trial, they say, you know, she really wasn't a very good mother. I mean, they just can't resist playing the class warfare thing on, looking down on people like her, even when she turns out to be a hero.

SCOTT: Neal, would it make a difference if she were brunette?

NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: Oh, absolutely. I mean, let's face it, this is a soap opera, as Jane said, and the press has to tweak her to make her fit her role in the soap opera. So, blond certainly helps, but in her being blond, she has, you know, I don't want to insult Amber Frey, but she's a moderately attractive woman, but she's turned into the press into a beautiful, blond -- hussy originally -- and now, after her testimony, she's morphed into a wronged woman, who was -- who loved too well, but not wisely. And so I think the fact that she's blond, the fact that she's moderately attractive, the fact that they had sex, obviously, all of these things become plot elements in this ongoing soap opera, and the press loves to play that story up.

SCOTT: And she's part of the reason that it has become such a soap opera, just because of her looks.

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, sure, but the media waited a long time for the trial. If you remember, the time between the missing Laci Peterson, the arrest of Scott Peterson, there were several months with virtually no new information, and the media had to concoct a lot of stuff, a lot of what ifs, a lot of psychiatrists and psychologists and behavioral experts on, just to keep the interest pumped up until the trial started.

Now, the trial has started, and we hear all the -- look, this kind of behavior used to be known in my grandmother's day as tramp, but of course, we don't use those kinds of things because they're too judgmental today.  But here is a woman who was having an affair with the guy. OK, she didn't know he was married. First night, first date, karaoke bar, she's got a babysitter for her 2-year-old daughter, and she's out getting it on with some guy.

Now, in most countries, the social worker would come in and taker her away, but the media never discuss any of this, of course, because it's too good a soap opera story.

PINKERTON: You just did. You just brought it up. I mean, look.


PINKERTON: She's a witness in a trial. She is not accused of anything, but she's gotten dragged through the dirt. Cal just did it again, I mean.

THOMAS: I didn't drag her through the dirt. She got into dirt herself. I am just pointing out she's been lying.

HALL: She did not -- according to her testimony -- I mean, the fact that we are debating the merits of her morality, exactly, I think proves Jim's point. And I really think, you know, "USA Today" (UNINTELLIGIBLE) put this next door to the Kobe Bryant case. This witness is truly being dragged through the mud, and is accusing a man of rape. She's still having her whole life dragged through the mud by the media on this.

THOMAS: She wouldn't have had to -- neither one of these women, since you brought up the Kobe Bryant coverage would have had to be in these positions if they did not voluntarily behave in a way that.

HALL: Oh, Cal.

THOMAS: . put them in these positions.


THOMAS: And the media has had a field day of playing both sides.  They play the morality side, and then they play the victim side.

GABLER: Let me just be a killjoy here, and bring in another issue that I know will dampen things here, but it tells you something about human calculus that this trial gets more attention than 300,000 people whose lives are in peril in Sudan, which tells you that, according to the media, the life of one white California woman is worth more than the lives of 300,000 black Africans.

SCOTT: Well, it is odd, the cases that make our front pages, and there are other missing women, probably other missing pregnant who have disappeared that don't get the attention of the Laci Peterson case, and is it because of characters like Amber Frey that this case gets all the attention that it does?

HALL: Well, you know, the media didn't know about Amber Frey. I mean, they first knew about Laci Peterson, and I've said this and I really feel, I mean, I think the media are feeding at a story about someone who was murdered who happens to have been a cute young woman who was murdered, and we don't know how, but this is a dial-stopping story. This is -- people with their clickers being stopped, watching for the next installment, when, as Cal said, maybe nothing is even happening on this story.

SCOTT: People like to know that good-looking people, who seem to have everything together, sometimes have problems. And that's part of what is driving it, isn't it? All right.

Up next, what has the press done or has the press done its duty on the issue of John Kerry's swift boat duty and his accounts of that duty?

ANNOUNCER: What John Kerry did or didn't do in Cambodia in 1968? Are the media over- or under-playing this story? More when FOX NEWS WATCH returns.


SCOTT: The media buzz about Senator John Kerry's 1968 swift boat service in Cambodia has hit almost every media outlet, from ABC's "World News Tonight" to his home town paper, "The Boston Globe." Kerry's account of how he spent his Christmas that year, claiming to be in Cambodia, apparently is not quite right. Now, an affidavit signed by a group of swift boat veterans reveal some deceptions about John Kerry's service in Vietnam and after.

Jim, is this becoming Nam-gate for John Kerry?

PINKERTON: Look, I think there are three stories running through all this here. One is, the full disclosure about what actually happened in -- was he in Cambodia, how did he get his Silver Star, how did he get his Purple Hearts? Those are all true/false questions, pretty much, and Kerry would help by authorizing the release of all his documents, and probably would eventually have to, between now and election day.

The second story is sort of the politics of this. What gives with the 527 accounts, what goes -- who's funding Swift Vets for Truth and so on.

The third story, which I think is in the minds of a lot of reporters, especially of us baby boomers is, every presidential candidate we've had who was born in the ‘40s, vice presidential candidates, on the national ticket, Dan Quayle, Clinton, Gore, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, now Kerry has gotten caught in this Vietnam sort of retrospective quagmire. What did they do? What didn't they do? Why didn't they go? That combination of sort of curiosity and guilt has made this story, which is absolutely got the reportorial press corps fascinated.

SCOTT: Well, Jane, what obligation does the press have to go back and try and verify a bunch of stories that are sort of still buried in the murk of a rice paddy in Saigon?

HALL: Well, I think the press has some obligation. I think the press -- you raise a very interesting question -- I think the media are really caught in this one. You have this group, I've seen a few stories, the Associated Press looked into who this group was; they are the same people from whatever ad who went after John McCain in the smear campaign.  President Bush ahs refused to disavow this, although John McCain has urged him to. There are a lot of questions about these people. And you know, the other side of this is that President Bush's whole showing up or not showing up -- I mean, he was thousands of miles away from Vietnam. You know, John Kerry may have been 55 miles away from Cambodia. And you know, if he did or did not win these Hearts, let's -- you know, and all these awards, then let's go there, but let's don't have a group which is probably falsifying stuff get out there with ads that we never investigate, but we talk about all over cable television. I don't think -- I think the media do have an obligation to verify this.

THOMAS: Well, you know, it gets to the -- the center point of all of this is motive. And if you're going to make this the centerpiece of your campaign, as Kerry has done -- he's talked virtually nothing at all about his 20 years in the United States Senate, any legislation passed, any great causes that he has been behind -- he has made his Vietnam service the center point of his campaign, even taking pictures of himself, movies, during that time, that somehow apparently in his mind he knew he was going to show later during a presidential run.

GABLER: Well, you don't know that for a fact.

THOMAS: Well, I mean, why else would you do it?

HALL: It's (ph) a reunion of the people who fought there.

PINKERTON: How do you know that the swift boat -- swift vets, quote, "probably falsified their stuff?" How do you know, how do you know that?

HALL: Because one of the lead guys from the story I read in "The Boston Globe" took it back, said he shouldn't have signed on to this.  There are a lot of questions about this.

PINKERTON: But then he took -- then everybody else but.

HALL: Then he signed another affidavit.

PINKERTON: No, everybody but "The Globe" says he didn't take it back.

HALL: This book, that's getting a lot of attention on this network, is published by a press that has an agenda. I think that this deserved an unbiased look both ways.

PINKERTON: But is it unbiased to say, probably lying?

HALL: I said, I said that there are a lot of questions about these people. One of these people took it back. Now, he's -- I mean, what would you think if somebody who -- many of these people are only surfacing now.  How come they.


GABLER: . supported Kerry in his 1996 campaign. If anyone wants to know whether this ad is accurate or not, there is a very simple way of doing it. There is a nonpartisan site, run by the Annenberg Center, called Go to it, and it will have the affidavits of all these swift boat men, and analyzing all of their charges, and proving them, in this case, false. But let's get to the media angle, because all we do here is talk about politics, and in doing so, we're playing into what I think is journalistic rope-a-dope.

The Republicans are counting on the fact that the media are transcribers, not examiners. The media simply will retail what you throw after them, without examining it. And Karl Rove and his minions are counting on the fact that the media will not examine these.


GABLER: And let me say something else here.

SCOTT: And John Kerry's side is not?

GABLER: We're talking now about this. I'm not talking about John Kerry. I think everything ought to be subjected to scrutiny by the press, but the press is too lazy, the press is too indifferent, the press is too stupid, the press is too unknowledgeable to do those things.


GABLER: Very interesting as well, let me just.

HALL: . afraid of accusing Bush administration or any public official of lying. If they're caught up, they -- they are -- they do not know how to deal with it.

PINKERTON: Maybe you both missed Thursday's "HARDBALL," where Chris Matthews had John O'Neill and John Hurley, but it was really Chris Matthews versus John O'Neill. It was like half an hour -- one of the longest things you'd see on cable these days -- half an hour of Chris O'Neill -- of Chris Matthews cross-examining, inquisiting John O'Neill.


PINKERTON: OK, but I'm saying it's not as if the media are credulously just taking whatever the Republicans are.


GABLER: This is an advertisement that has barely aired, but in journalistic rope-a-dope, you don't even have to air the thing. It's getting so much attention on cable news and elsewhere that it's getting more attention than the ad itself is getting.

SCOTT: We -- we have to move on, and we'll talk about the New Jersey governor's abrupt resignation, next.

ANNOUNCER: Star power or a means of getting their message out?  Celebrity journalists, next on FOX NEWS WATCH.


SCOTT: Time now for our "Quick Takes on the Media."

Headline number one: Celebs Take on Journalists' Roles. They're usually the focus of a story, but now some stars are turning the tables, asking the questions, writing the stories, and using their stature to get their points of view in the press. Should we care, Jane Hall?

HALL: Well, you know, I probably should have gone to acting school instead of graduate school in Columbia University in journalism. I think, you know, some people, if you can write and you can act, I suppose it's OK, but they're not being asked to do writing because they can write, they are being asked because they have some fame, some notoriety.

PINKERTON: I'm not so much interested in them themselves as their ghost writers. I mean, when I saw Bruce Springsteen in "The New York Times" talking all about how he was going to go play music on behalf of Kerry because of his faith in God, I thought maybe this is a little bit.


SCOTT: So you don't think these are all legitimate?


GABLER: But don't you think Bruce Springsteen isn't a good enough writer? I don't know about that.

THOMAS: Listen, I got -- if I read something that's written supposedly by Ben Affleck, I'm still remembering one word, "Gigli."

HALL: Yeah, but he also wrote "Good Will Hunting." Let him (ph) write. He was darn good on television during the convention.

GABLER: As a professional writer, I'd like to make them a deal. I promise I will not act if they promise not to write.

SCOTT: Quick Take headline number two: He's Out. Thursday, New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey resigned from office just after he told the world he was gay and had an adulterous affair with another man. It was the homosexual affair and its complications which apparently led to McGreevey's decision.

My question, Jane, is, this topic apparently has been sort of whispered about in Trenton and all over New Jersey for months. Did the media have an obligation to say something about this before now?

HALL: Well, you know, it's very difficult. I mean, someone's sexual preference I think is a separate issue from the fact that this man allegedly hired a guy for homeland -- this person with whom he allegedly had the affair, for a homeland security position. Yeah, I think somebody - - I would -- if I were in New Jersey, and people might die because somebody hired a friend, I think I'd look into it.

SCOTT: But that's where press responsibility comes in.

THOMAS: Yeah, well, of course, New Jersey is a snake pit for equal opportunity, but mostly Democrats, since they've run the state for years, sleaze. They've had politicians go into jail, they've had people indicted, a lot of people. I think the media did a good job pointing this out, that he tried to play the gay card. We've heard of the race card -- he tried to play the gay card, somehow wrapping himself in this protective shield of my sexual orientation, to have to at least for the time being keep from confronting the allegations and the scandals that are part of his only two and a half year old administration.

PINKERTON: If a straight politician had hired his girlfriend and on a payroll in a completely corrupt deal, as it seems to be, and the press promptly would have presumably gone all over it -- if they held back because there was a gay angle as opposed to a straight angle, that is an indictment of the press.

SCOTT: There is going to be a lot more to come, I'm sure. The media feeding frenzy on this story has just started.

GABLER: Yeah, we're still early in this, but I agree with Jim. You know what, here I think they've treated him somewhat delicately because it's a gay issue, rather than a heterosexual issue. Now, whether that continues or not remains to be seen, but early on they kind of had a kid gloves approach to it.

SCOTT: Quick Take headline number three: Does the Web Influence the Media? Maybe in all the wrong ways. The Internet gives us quick and fast access to stories around the world. A professor plays a really bad hoax and airs what appears to be a beheading of himself on the Internet. He plays it off as if it were an American hostage. But in the game of competitive media, that video was released, without checking the source.  The joke was on us.

Cal, did he, in a weird and sick way, did he prove a point?

THOMAS: Well, this is a liberal professor going for his own beheading, I think this is a trend that should be encouraged in our universities, but beyond that -- no, I think this is a problem. We no longer have the kind of editors and fact checkers anymore. Whatever is available, whatever pictures are there, we rush on, we throw whatever is out there and see what sticks. I think this was terrible.

PINKERTON: There is a saying in journalism, "too good to check." But you're actually supposed to check anyway. "The Boston Globe" got nailed when they ran a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) picture, and they thought this was a rape of an Iraqi woman a few months ago. This is another example, and it makes us all look bad.

HALL: I do think it's competitive pressure. People have pointed out "The Globe" got beat on the Abu Ghraib story by "The New York Times" and "The New Yorker," and that may have been why they said, oh my goodness, let's put this on here, let's get in on this story. I think that's a factor.

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


SCOTT: OK. I wasn't here last week, but your letters were all about Neal and condoms.

Let's start with Tom from Derry, New Hampshire. "The group's discussion of the recent alert was disappointing, particularly Neal Gabler.  Lost in his conspiracy wonderings, he overlooked the fact that the purpose of the alert was not politics but was to alert all the good folks that would come to work on Monday morning, not to be shook up by the new machine guns, uniforms and scanners that would greet them. There could have been panic. Of course, the background source information was not revealed. It was not a tell-all of government secrets. Had they not announced the change, Neal would be among the first to moan that the government surreptitiously did it. Let's investigate!"

Dave in Mims, Florida writes: "It does not surprise me that Mr. Gabler would be suspicious that the president would lie to the public about the current terror situation for political gain. Most liberals would, so Mr. Gabler probably thinks that everyone else would too."

About 130,000 condoms being handed out to Olympic athletes, our panelists were asked to write a lead paragraph for a newspaper column.  Susan from San Diego had this to say about their take on going for the gold: "I really enjoyed those opening paragraphs you had everyone do.  Normally, I think of Neal as a pain in the neck, but his paragraph was cute, albeit wrong. And so now I like him, even though for the most part Neal is, well, delusional. Delusional, but cute."

Ron from Englewood, Colorado: "I have to give Monica an A. Neal a B+, and both Jane and Jim a D- on their respective stories. In particular, I found Monica's presentation the best. That pretty face announcing that we should "let the games begin" was most arousing. Cal Thomas would not have done nearly as well.

Speaking of Cal being on vacation, here's Pat from San Diego. "I enjoyed FOX NEWS WATCH more than I usually do. I'm not sure if it was because of the absence of Cal Thomas or if I enjoyed Monica Crowley's blonde hair. This week, could you have Cal wear a blonde wig so I can make up my mind?"

Well, this is as close as we can get to Cal with blond hair.

THOMAS: I don't have a short skirt, though. I would never make it on Fox.

SCOTT: All right, Cal, here's our address:  Please tell us your full name, let us know where you live. You don't have to send us a head shot.

That's all the time we have this week. Thanks to Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, Cal Thomas and Neal Gabler, and most of all, thank you for watching. See you next week, when Eric Burns will be back here.

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