The following is a transcribed excerpt from 'FOX News Watch,' August 28, 2004:
ERIC BURNS, HOST: We begin our program today with a big question in the media: Is John Kerry a war hero or a war faker?
Then to the Republicans: Will the protests get higher ratings than the convention?
And the father of a murdered Iraqi hostage blasts "Good Morning America."
Janet Jackson charges a vast right-wing conspiracy.
And should this guy have been fired for swearing on TV? He didn't mean to.
First, the latest news.
BURNS: This week on FOX NEWS WATCH, the old familiar faces, some new and important questions, for 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.
Also coming right up, John Kerry on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE DAILY SHOW")
JON STEWART, HOST, THE DAILY SHOW: I watch a lot of the cable news shows, so I understand that apparently you were never in Vietnam.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's what I understand too, but I'm trying to find out what happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNS: Cal, what about the wisdom for Kerry, or, if you choose, lack of it, of addressing a serious issue on that program?
CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, in modern times, Bill Clinton, of course, played the saxophone with his sunglasses on the old "Arsenio Hall Show." Kerry has been on "The Tonight Show." This, the consultants tell you, is the way you reach that younger demographic, show you're a regular guy, you got a sense of humor. But I saw.
BURNS: But Clinton -- excuse me, Cal, but Clinton and Kerry were just normally campaigning in those other venues.
BURNS: Here, there is a serious charge against him, and he chose that program to talk about it.
THOMAS: I read the whole.
BURNS: And talk about it very little. I won't interrupt you anymore.
THOMAS: Yes, exactly -- well, you're making the points I was going to make, so keep going. No, I'd read through the whole transcript, saw some of the clips, and none of those were addressed. Kerry was allowed to get in his primary talking points about the economy and the way the administration has performed. But there was no cross-examination. Jon Stewart never did get to the point of was he in Cambodia? He alluded to it and turned it into humor, but if you're going to have a presidential candidate on, at least you can do is ask a couple of substantive questions and demand an answer. That was not done.
BURNS: But Neal, I wonder if the reason for Kerry choosing this show was that he does not want this issue to be a big issue. He wants the charges to be a joke, so he goes on a fake news show.
NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: No, absolutely not. I think, you know, obviously he went there to attract a young audience, but he also went there for another reason. If you watch this show regularly, as I do, this is the only place in the entire media -- certainly on television, but I would say in the entire media -- where Jon Stewart has called the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth what they are. He has repeatedly.
JIM PINKERTON, NEWSDAY: What you think they are.
GABLER: No, no, not what I think they are. There's, I mean, lookit, I don't want to get into the -- debate this, but repeatedly on his program, repeatedly, he has shown clips of them saying one thing, and then abutted it to a clip of them saying something exactly opposite. He's done it with Elliott the night Kerry was on. So Kerry knew, frankly, that he was in friendly territories, because…
BURNS: It would be a friendly audience.
GABLER: ...he was getting people who were going to call the administration and call the Swift Boat Veterans on this issue.
BURNS: Right, right, got you.
PINKERTON: Neal just said two things. One is, that his characterization of the Swift Boat Veterans, and then, two, friendly audience. And that's exactly what it was. I mean, look, Kerry is in a kind of a tough spot, and he can't really be blamed, from his point of view, from going into a place where Jon Stewart will tell jokes and laugh it up. I do tend to think that Kerry would love to say, well, see, I sort of was on the Jon Stewart's show and talked about this, as opposed to being before, say, Tim Russert, let alone Bill O'Reilly on this topic.
So I think Kerry did a pretty good job, given the nature of the show, but I don't think it's answering all the questions, and I don't think reporters, especially other people who wanted the interview, will decide this way.
BURNS: We have just demonstrated on this panel, Jane, the problem with covering this issue. Disagreement here about who's telling the truth. With that as a given, there is disagreement -- what do you do if you're in the media? You cover this story a lot, but always make sure you give both sides? Do you say these are allegations, we don't know? How do you cover this story fairly?
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, I think it's a conundrum for the media, and I think that he went on this show as opposed to going on "60 Minutes" because they would be on the one hand, on the other hand. "The Washington Post" did an independent story about this, and they ended up sort of on the one hand, on the other hand. "The New York Times" has taken the tack of they've done an investigation, other places have done one, and they are putting in their news stories that many of these people had been contradicted, that Kerry's accounts are supported by the facts.
I have to say that these attacks, which had been perpetuated on cable television news, which is why I think Stewart's comments were right on, when he turned to him and said, well, forget about your health care, were you or were you not in Cambodia? I think Kerry has not technically done the right thing by keeping this alive, and the media don't know how to not continue to keep it alive themselves.
THOMAS: The media can make the same demand upon John Kerry that they made upon George Bush, show us the records. Let's see about that Alabama National Guard service. They were demanding dental records, and finally got them. All John Kerry has to do is sign a simple disclosure form, and to release all of his records, and this will be to put to rest the results.
HALL: But you have people who have been disproven by records are going on shows uncontradicted.
THOMAS: Well, Bob Novak had a great column on Friday. He actually talked to a retired rear admiral, who had been silent up until now.
THOMAS: . and said.
HALL: Media are perpetuating it.
GABLER: . we're doing exactly what the Swift Boat Veterans and Karl Rove want us to do, which is to act as if this is a legitimate story. And in point of fact, Rob Codry (ph), also on "The Daily Show," put it perfectly. "I'm a reporter, Jon," he said. "My job is to say half the time what one side is saying, and the other half of the time what the other side is saying." Well, Jon Stewart said, "well, what about the truth?" He said, "Jon, the truth?"
BURNS: But we have to on this show, Neal, on this show, if the charges are being made -- maybe they're unsubstantiated -- we have to.
HALL: Maybe (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Maybe they're lying.
BURNS: Yes, maybe they're lying.
HALL: What do we do with.
GABLER: . every single person in the boat and the person in the boat behind him, and the wife of the person in the other boat.
BURNS: That's the question. That's the question. What do we do, Jim?
PINKERTON: I think it's nice when reporters reach the truth and struggle for it. However, it is fair to say that given the diametrically opposite testimony of lots of credible witnesses.
GABLER: Who are not credible. Don't throw that word "credible" in there.
THOMAS: It's like the Warren Commission. A lot of people said they were all lying. And you're going to say Earl Warren, Gerald Ford, all these people were lying? Were they all lying? I don't think so.
GABLER: It's politics, bottom line. And the media ought to blow the whistle on it.
PINKERTON: Bob Dole put it well. He said, they can't all be Republican liars.
GABLER: And they can.
THOMAS: Only if you're a Democrat.
BURNS: Are you done?
We have to take a break. We'll be back with this.
ANNOUNCER: The Republican Convention has not yet began. The protests have. Which will turn out to be the bigger story? The delegates or the card-carriers? Stay tuned for more FOX NEWS WATCH.
BURNS: The Republicans might not make much news with their convention next week, but people protesting against the Republicans are making news this week. In this segment, we cover the un-coverage.
And Jane, protesting naked is a good way to get the media's attention. It seems to me, though, that it's a bad way to get the media to treat you seriously.
HALL: I think that's probably true. This was an AIDS protest, as I understand it. There were some people who rappelled down the side of the Plaza Hotel. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that visual -- naked bodies are very appealing visually -- is going to get the attention of the media. I think, and I hope this isn't the case, but I think if the protests turn unruly, we may have a situation where executives are going to be faced with a 1968 situation, where you had the protests outside the Democratic Convention, split-screened -- not literally, because they didn't have that technology, but going back and forth, which will only help the Republican Party, between those images and the convention.
BURNS: You're nodding. Why would it help the Republican Party?
THOMAS: I agree with that.
BURNS: Sympathy for the Republicans who are being besieged?
THOMAS: Absolutely, absolutely, and there's been talk of actually confronting on the streets some of the delegates. Now, the first delegate that's hit in the face with a fist or a tomato, all this stuff is going to be recorded. The Republicans are going to have their cameras out there. "The whole world is watching," the demonstrators chanted in Chicago in 1968 -- indeed they were, and Richard Nixon rode that to the White House, because it was seen as the culture clash that continues today. You have your Whoopi Goldbergs and other people at Radio City using profanities, and you've got the nice, well-dressed, family values Republicans inside. It's going to play well on television in middle America.
PINKERTON: Just a point of order here. The Democrats were the incumbent party in 1968.
THOMAS: That's right.
PINKERTON: So if the incumbent party is associated with riots, that oftentimes breaks badly for the incumbent party. However, I do agree that violence is -- first, say that, but I think Jane and Eric, you're sort of missing the point about the modern media, in terms of visuals. People of the Ethical Treatment of Animals made their name on "I'd rather go naked than wear fur" ads, you know, with Cindy Crawford on them. Visuals are what this media thrive on, including television, including them saying -- it makes an effect -- it gets -- it gets the message across. I think the Republicans are going to make a huge mistake if they let the daytime of the convention be filled up with protesters doing colorful things -- maybe violent things but certainly colorful things -- and say -- and wait -- and save their fire for the night of speeches. This means with 24 hours -- the Republicans should be putting a speech on at 8: a.m., and then 11 a.m., then 2 p.m., just to take attention away from the protesters.
BURNS: Neal, is it likely that these -- that the journalists will be especially receptive to covering these protests, not because of political bias against Republicans, but because of bias against the fact that a convention is a dull television show?
GABLER: It's boring, exactly, and this is counterprogramming. And that's exactly how the protesters see it. But it also depends on how they're covered. For example, you could say that here is a demonstration of democracy in action, on the one hand, particularly if they're peaceful, or you can say that these are America haters rather than Bush haters, and that they're, you know, radicals, and that, you know, they're awful, and you can disparage them in that way.
And I think, you know, I have a feeling of what news outlets are going to cover it in that second fashion. We don't know which ones are going to cover it in the first fashion.
But it's not just covering it. It's how it gets covered, I think, that's going to make a difference and an impact.
THOMAS: One of the ways to, I think, to gin up more interest in the conventions is they've got to do something different. Since the post-
Watergate rules redid the way we select the candidates, they're dull, they're boring, they're predictable. We've said that. I'd like to see some debates. I'd like to see a prominent Republican come to the Democratic Convention and do a debate with one of their leading people. And the reverse. I'd love to see a prominent Democrat, some with respect, not just some grandstander, to come in and do, you know, a "HANNITY & COLMES" type thing or a "CROSSFIRE" kind of thing.
BURNS: You mean before the whole hall.
THOMAS: Yes, and before a national television audience. I think this would gin up the interest among the people, who are, after all, going to vote if patters continue, only half of the eligible people will be voting.
BURNS: Let's talk about that a little here. We're talking about how protests might be a better show than the convention. Forgetting the protests, how -- or is there a way, Jane, to make a political convention these days into a more popular television show?
HALL: I think they are limited in what they can do. As Cal said, nothing is really going to be decided there. These are photo ops. You have articles about the stage on which President Bush is going to be making his speech. There's not going to be that much decided.
I think the networks should, you know, I am old school about this. I think they should carry John McCain, the broadcast networks. I think they should carry Rudy Giuliani. And report around that. I'm not sure that the debate -- and these are the converted in each situation. What you've got is Michael Moore commenting. You had Ed Gillespie commenting on the Democrats. I don't think that's very useful.
PINKERTON: But they won't cover him, and that's why they should put John McCain on at 9 a.m., just to get the day going right.
BURNS: Maybe what happens, Jim, if you have a big name early in the day, is he's not such a big name, because people are not going to watch and he doesn't draw.
PINKERTON: Well, they're not going to see him if he shows at 8 p.m. At all. At all. But, look, what they should do is realize if the Republicans are sitting in a fortress in Madison Square Garden, and there's protesters outside, they should send their own -- the Republicans should send their own protesters out there, protesting the liberal welfare state. You've got to fight fire with fire.
GABLER: Let me make a dissenting voice here -- or be a dissenting voice. I like conventions. And if you watch them on C-SPAN, where you don't have to hear pundits constantly narrating it, you actually get some real interesting stuff. And it's a chance for the parties to present themselves to the public. I think that's valuable for a democracy.
THOMAS: Naked delegates will draw more viewers.
BURNS: Cal, I have something so interesting to say about what Neal said, and you bring up naked delegates. We bring up another break. We'll be back with our "Quick Takes."
ANNOUNCER: The father of an American murdered by terrorists lashes out at one of America's most popular news programs, when FOX NEWS WATCH continues after this.
BURNS: It's time now for our "Quick Takes on the Media."
Headline No. 1: Guest Blasts Host.
Remember Nick Berg, the American who was beheaded by al Qaeda-linked terrorists a few months ago? Well, his father is irate at ABC's "Good Morning America" for not allowing him to criticize the war in Iraq in an interview on the program earlier this summer, either verbally or sartorially. Mr. Berg wore a t-shirt saying "bring the troops home now." He says, "Good Morning America" wouldn't show the shirt on the air.
Says a "GMA" spokesperson: "While our hearts go out to the Berg family, Mr. Berg's claims are unfounded."
Neal, your view.
GABLER: Well, they wanted human interest here. They wanted him to retell how he felt about having his son beheaded, so the people who are making orange juice at home and breakfast, the housewives, can say, oh, gee, so that's how it feels. When he said how it felt, and how it felt was that he held the Bush administration responsible, and he felt that the war should end, whammo, that was the end of it.
BURNS: But that's the key point, Jane. He did say it. I read the transcript, and he did get a sentence or two in against the Bush administration.
HALL: He did, and I agree with Neal, it didn't fit the script. They wanted a touchy-feely, they wanted him to commiserate with the family of the other man, Paul Johnson, who was beheaded.
I think, you know, these shows do five parts on somebody's movie. If a guy wants to wear a t-shirt, let him wear the doggone t-shirt.
PINKERTON: I mean, all I can say is, what was going through ABC's mind when they put -- this man is an expert on one thing, his own grief. He's got no more opinion on the South Korean or the other Americans, or whatever -- it's just (UNINTELLIGIBLE) exploitative, and ABC deserves what it got.
THOMAS: I agree with Neal. I think it's all touchy-feely, they were asking how can you relate to the other family -- I mean, it's all -- I've stopped watching those shows years ago.
BURNS: Quick take headline No. 2: We Haven't Talked About Janet Jackson for a While, So.
Janet Jackson now says the reason her Super Bowl halftime wardrobe malfunction got to be such big news is that the Bush White House wanted to distract the country from the war in Iraq. Explaining further, Jackson said, "I mean, it's all a bunch of bull."
Well, does she get her own political analysis show on cable soon, Jim?
PINKERTON: Two words: Brain malfunction.
BURNS: Do we -- should we in the media, Cal, pay any attention to her comments, even as a sidebar, even as a minor matter?
THOMAS: The Jackson family, all of them, have been a train wreck in the culture for years. She's been grasping, trying to get her career back, even while her sister and Michael are trying to do the same thing. Now they are trying, I guess, to ride the coattails of Michael Moore as some kind of credible political commentator. I think they ought to retire and do something else.
GABLER: Well, if the nipple ring fits. I mean, after all -- I mean, after all, the Bush administration will do anything to divert attention from the Iraq war and from the economy, and.
BURNS: This? This?
GABLER: Well, the media are the Bush administration's enablers, and I think what -- and they enabled -- look, this was one millisecond of a scarcely seen breast that got two full months of coverage.
PINKERTON: The question is, did the Bush administration orchestrate it?
GABLER: No, they did not orchestrate it.
PINKERTON: Well, OK, then.
GABLER: They knew, I think the Bush administration.
GABLER: . play the media like an organ.
PINKERTON: . take back the criticism, then.
HALL: I think she was -- I think she was off base in talking about the Bush administration and Iraq. What it did foment was a lot of people who wanted to go to the FCC and weren't happy about TV in general, that's what it did.
THOMAS: I got a name for you. Sister Souljah, Jesse Jackson. The Democrats can play the game the same way if they want to.
BURNS: OK, we don't have time to explain that. I hope you know what it means.
Speaking of things objectionable on the air, here is quick take headline No. 3: Aren't' We Getting a Little Carried Away Here?
A Texas TV sports anchor, Robert Flores, was taping a report recently, muttered the f-word when a loud noise interrupted the report, and then taped the report again. By mistake, the wrong tape got on the air. Flores was heard saying what he never intended anyone to hear him saying, and was fired. Should he have been?
THOMAS: No. I think it's outrageous. He has a young wife and child. His whole career has been tainted. It wasn't his intention. I see stuff worse on "The Sopranos," and the same word, by the way.
BURNS: And it wasn't his fault. You want to fire somebody, fire the engineer who got the wrong tape.
PINKERTON: I hate to say too much about this, because I think it ought to be in litigation. But I will say this: If it ever got to this, we'd all be speaking with our hands, charades, and avoiding doing anything dirty with our sign language.
BURNS: We'd all be speaking with our hands? Would we, Jim?
PINKERTON: Yeah, what I'm saying, we'd only speak this way.
BURNS: Only with our hands.
PINKERTON: Right, right, right.
BURNS: OK. Jane?
HALL: Well, I don't know, maybe Pinkerton, maybe in language would be a good thing. I think this -- from what I've read, and I've only read both sides, this is like, you know, wrongful dismissal. I don't want to be subpoenaed, but that's what it looks like.
GABLER: This is absurd, but it is what the FCC has wrought.
BURNS: Well, that's a good point, right? In the climate of the times, this is the kind of thing that's happening.
We have to take another break. Well, I knew. I knew what we had to do. When we come back, it will be your turn.
BURNS: We got a lot of mail about last week's discussion concerning whether courts should order journalists to reveal their sources. Our mail is not good news for journalists.
Don from Woodland, Texas: "All decisions on what the public interest is, especially involving national security, should be made by appointed and elected officials who answer to the public, not by the pretentious pismires of the press, who answer to no one."
A pismire, by the way, is an insect, an ant.
Don from Marion, Illinois: "You cite husband/wife, doctor/patient and minister/worshipper confidentiality and say it should extend to press/source. You ignore one difference. The first three protect the people involved from public exploitation. The press/source is often used for public exploitation."
And by the way, Matt Cooper, he's the "Time" magazine journalist we talked about last week who was threatened with jail for not revealing his source to a Justice Department special investigator, won't be going to jail after all. His source told him it was OK to talk to the special investigator, and Cooper has. The matter has apparently been dropped.
About the media's ignoring good news, concentrating on the bad, here is Patrick from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. "I think that Cal Thomas was absolutely correct that the public generally likes to tune into the garbage rather than the good news. Even in the past, with FOX NEWS WATCH'S coverage of the lack of coverage of the improvements made in Iraq, the story was focused far more on the failings of the media for not fairly covering the good news than it was on the good news itself."
Well, of course it was, Patrick. We cover the media, not the news on this show.
About the makeover for the cover of "Martha Stewart Living" magazine, here is Bill from Raymore, Missouri: "'Living' magazine didn't have to make Martha Stewart's name smaller. All they had to do is print bars over it!"
Finally, Neal braces himself, and I read this e-mail from Jim, who did not tell us where he lives. "When I was 12 and my father was 47, he referred to me as `the greatest collection of misinformation ever assembled in the history of mankind.' For 40 years, I never knew how to respond to his comment. I do now. I am urging him to watch Neal Gabler on FOX NEWS WATCH."
Well, just so you urge him to watch. We'll settle for that.
Here is our address if you want to respond to us. It is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please respond to us, and when you write, tell us your full name and let us know where you live.
That's it for this week. Thanks to Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, Cal Thomas, mail-inspiring Neal Gabler. And I'm Eric Burns, thanking you for watching. We'll see you next week.
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