The following is a transcribed excerpt from 'FOX News Watch,' September 4, 2004:
ERIC BURNS, HOST: The president got cheered and Michael Moore got booed, and neither was a surprise. But there were some surprises at the Republican Convention, and we will cover the coverage of the protesters and the delegates, of the media and the manicurists. And of all the convention's big names, like the president and the governor, we will listen to the shouting and we will have even more. First, the news.
BURNS: It is my pleasure to introduce to you four people who, having now had their appetites whetted by Democrats and Republicans, can't wait to cover their first Nader for president rally. 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.
Inside Madison Square Garden, for four days, the convention. Outside Madison Square Garden, for more days, the protests. Jim, tell me your thoughts about the balance the media struck between covering the protests and covering the convention.
JIM PINKERTON, NEWSDAY: Well, I think the protests came on strong early. They had their best shot with the nude protesters...
BURNS: Which was before the convention even started.
PINKERTON: That was before the convention. And then they had a pretty decent protest on Sunday, and then they kind of fizzled. But the New York City cops kept the streets clean, if you will, of protesters, and so I think, a lot of the expectations, including mine, I must confess, that the protesters would be much more dominant in the convention, were proven - - were proven wrong.
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, you know, there is nothing like arresting 1,500 people, as "The New York Times" reported on Friday, to sort of to squelch and cause the protests to fizzle. I think the media gave sort of joking coverage, as did the, you know, there seems to be that this is a joke that people were protesting. Fifteen hundred people were arrested, and there were people who were saying they were held, and it was only when a judge issued an order, if I understand this correctly, that we got a lot of coverage of what was actually going on to diminish the protests.
CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: The whole purpose of protests in the media age, of course, is to get media coverage and get your point of view out. In Boston, during the Democratic Convention, they were complaining of being in cages, and they literally were separated from the main action. But even then, they got some coverage. But as Jim said, when you arrest a whole bunch of them, you kind of diminish the availability of protesters, and they pretty much went away after the first couple of bursts.
NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: The protesters were also the media's worst nightmare — they were peaceful.
THOMAS: That's a good point.
BURNS: What can we say generally about — or can we? Can we make distinctions between the media's attitude toward the one convention and the media's attitude toward the other?
GABLER: I think the Republicans got slightly more favorable coverage, but not because of any political bias, but rather because of proclivities in the media that the Republicans exploited better. For example, I mean, the media were in stenographic mode. They were just reporting. They weren't vetting anything. And the Republicans, in order to take advantage of that, frankly throwing out a lot of distortions, a lot of misleading stuff, sometimes even some lies, some flat-out lies, and they knew they weren't going to get caught on it.
Number two, the media, as I said on this show many times, love nothing better than someone who manipulates them well. And the Republicans manipulate the media much better than the Democrats, so they get a lot more praise for doing so.
PINKERTON: Stipulating that probably 90 percent of reporters are going to vote for Kerry, and then maybe another 5 percent will vote for Nader. I will agree, the media had a kind of grudging respect. Maureen Dowd called the Republicans "ruthless but effective" and Brendan Bernhard in "The L.A. Weekly" said, look, one Arnold Schwarzenegger is worth a thousand Tim Robbins and a thousand Sean Penns. I mean, the Republicans simply — and the media do care about this — as Neal says, put on a better show.
HALL: Well, I think there were a lot of — even in "The New York Times," there was sort of a joking article about how — making a baseball analogy, and saying, you know, the Republicans chuckled at the idea that they got in as many hits as they did. I think this points to a serious problem, though, when you get to a speech that reaches back decades, as "The Washington Post" actually reported, into John Kerry's record, and is uncontradicted.
I mean, Republicans, as Brit Hume noted, allowed very little time. I mean, they seamlessly had people come on, one right after the other. I know we're going to talk about Zell Miller's speech, but there is a man who said a lot of things that never were vetted by anybody, except when they turned to John McCain, as Tom Brokaw did, and he talked about it.
THOMAS: Right. Well, speaking of Zell Miller, who we're not going to do until the next segment, but there was an interesting contrast that we pick up on him, but it compares to both conventions. In '92, when Zell Miller was the chief speaker — what do you...
THOMAS: Keynote speaker at the Democratic Convention bashing Bush, then one of the networks called him, this was in the historic tradition of political campaigns, but this time, it was harsh and vindictive and mean- spirited. And you got a lot of that from all of the networks.
BURNS: Wait a minute, but this time...
HALL: But not that night.
PINKERTON: Just to punctuate it more — in '92, they neglected Zell Miller's segregationist past, which 12 years more recent then than it is now. Now, they're all ready to say, Lester Maddox, Lester Maddox, and all these other racist type of...
BURNS: Neal, let me move you back to a point you made earlier, or a word you spoke earlier, manipulation. At the convention, if you were a delegate, you could get — at the Republican Convention — a manicure, a facial, gift certificates, espressos and cigars, because of various corporate sponsors. I don't think there were nearly as many corporate sponsors of the Democratic Convention...
GABLER: There were not.
BURNS: ... as there were at the Republican. Is this something to smile over, or is there something a little insidious about these (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?
GABLER: You said the delegates could get that, and they could, but what's more important...
BURNS: I'm sorry, I meant to say...
GABLER: ... the reporters...
GABLER: ... who report these things, and reporters complained about the fact that there were better goody bags at the Republican Convention, better toilets, better facilities at the Republican Convention than the Democratic Convention.
BURNS: But that kind of thing is not going to show up in coverage.
GABLER: Oh, yes, it did.
THOMAS: On this very network, on this network, Brian Wilson, it was very funny, but he did a piece on this with himself at the center, getting a massage and getting a manicure.
PINKERTON: I was afraid to go because I was worried about hidden cameras. But look, the Republicans did a better job.
HALL: It absolutely shows up in coverage.
BURNS: We have to take a break. We'll be back with the personalities of the convention, specifically...
ANNOUNCER: What he said at the convention. What he did at the convention. What they did in the broadcast booth. More FOX NEWS WATCH after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Certainly not a disingenuous filmmaker. That line was so good I'd use it again — certainly not a disingenuous filmmaker...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNS: The line was a bit hit at the convention, Cal. It was a reference to Michael Moore, who was there working for "USA Today." Why is it that a journalist, which is what he was, at least the convention, was worthy of a couple of references in a major convention address?
THOMAS: I would have ignored it. I think when you do something like that, you're a United States senator with the kind of resume he has, and Michael Moore is just a thorn in the flesh — McCain elevated him to a new level of respectability. Moore is up there making the "I love you" hand sign that the deaf folks use, and he's just loving this stuff. Plus, he gets a platform in "USA Today." I think it was totally driven — they had Jonah Goldberg of "National Review" covering the Democrat Convention, and his coverage was more point by point and to the issues, and Moore was more mocking and political advocacy.
BURNS: And Goldberg is more a conservative journalist...
THOMAS: Yes, right.
BURNS: As opposed to Moore, who was more of a propagandist.
PINKERTON: ... reporters, and especially in that convention, so carefully managed, live for, which is that spontaneous moment. I don't think McCain knew that Moore was up there. And by the way, I think this means "loser," at least in Michael Moore's mind.
And so that spontaneity, and this was exciting. That's what people hope for in a convention.
HALL: You know, given that we think these speeches were vetted by somebody, you know, John McCain, that reference didn't actually sound like John McCain to me. But I think that it was put there because they feel that the speech has — that this movie has had impact. They were trying to respond to the movie.
GABLER: Let me just say one thing on it. John McCain has not seen the film. And he admitted that. So this was put in the speech by someone else.
BURNS: Let us take a look at another piece of tape from the convention. This is a little hard to understand too, but don't worry about the words, just pay attention to the volume.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, HARDBALL: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
SEN. ZELL MILLER (D), GEORGIA: If you're going to ask the question...
MATTHEWS: ... it takes a few words.
MILLER: Get out of my face. If you're going to ask the question, step back and let me answer them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNS: That's Chris Matthews on MSNBC, Jane, and the aforementioned Zell Miller. Is this an example of a journalist going too far with his questions? Is it an example of a politician being too sensitive about the questions? Or is it something altogether?
HALL: I'll take one from column A and one from column B. Before Zell Miller did that, he was being questioned on CNN, before he went and did that interview, that's right after this very controversial speech. They said to him, did you know that President Bush had used the phrase "occupying" for the Army, and he was thrown by that. And Matthews was very...
GABLER: He denied that the word "occupation" had ever been used by...
HALL: Right, he didn't know that President Bush had used that word.
I think that this was probably over the top, but frankly it was the one time when he asked, in the moment, about the speech. I don't agree that the media did commentary on this the night of. Mostly, they did not. It was the next day.
PINKERTON: Again, a spontaneous moment. That's why we're talking about it. They were actually in remote locations, and when Zell Miller said, I might just come and challenge you to a duel...
THOMAS: Oh, that was great.
PINKERTON: Matthews said, well, come on over. I'm sure that Matthews would have loved to have Zell Miller punch him in the face on TV. That would have made him a star.
GABLER: Well, what's interesting about this also is that Matthews said, come on over, because my ratings will go up. And isn't that the whole point?
THOMAS: Right. Well, his are in the basement, they have a long way to go to go up, but an interesting point, when Miller said "get out of my face," now the NBC, MSNBC platform was in Harold Square outdoors, and they obviously had probably more people in the audience outside than they did have watching the program. There was a huge cheer that went up. You don't hear this kind of language much more. All of these statements are coached by politicians and media manipulators. This was a wonderful, spontaneous moment. Duel at 30 paces. Choose your weapon. I love it. That would be big ratings.
BURNS: Let us talk about some non-spontaneous moments, and the most notable moment, of course, Jane, of the whole speech would have been the president's address, his acceptance speech on Thursday night. Media coverage of it. Fair?
HALL: I think it was fair. I think, you know, the headlines said, Bush calls for strong nation. I think it was respectful of him. One article that I saw said his proposals for the future were vague. But I think he was given a lot of respect. And the picture, again, in the so- called liberal "New York Times" is about this big out there in front of the American flag.
PINKERTON: Any president will get that on the day after their speech. Look, it was a beautiful production. I mean, I don't want to dwell too much on — except we're on television here — that was a beautiful set, the way the presidential seal there (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And let's face it, Jon Meacham at "Newsweek" gave him an A+.
BURNS: To what extent, Neal, do we demean the whole political process by talking as much as we do about appearances? Or have appearances become so important that they are the political process?
GABLER: I think the latter is true. But — but, in all fairness, they always get A-pluses. Has David Brooks ever heard a speech by a Republican that he doesn't think is an A+?
PINKERTON: I said Jon Meacham.
GABLER: I know, I know that. What I'm saying is that they set the standard very low, and then the speaker always rises to the occasion.
BURNS: The media seemed, Cal, or at least it seemed to me, to have found Arnold Schwarzenegger the big hit of the convention. Agreed? And what are your thoughts about the coverage there?
THOMAS: Sure. Because Arnold Schwarzenegger has a personal story. It resonates with a lot of people, and not just immigrants. We don't hear that kind of story anymore, and we certainly don't hear many speakers at these conventions or on television anywhere anymore talking about why they love America. Nobody — everybody — everybody is bashing America, our so- called allies, Arnold Schwarzenegger got up and said, I love this country.
GABLER: And I love Richard Nixon.
THOMAS: That was a...
GABLER: My God! You love America because of Richard Nixon?
BURNS: We have to take another break, Jim, and I'm very sorry that we do. Tell me during the break, and if it's worth mentioning — we'll be back with our "Quick Takes." We've got something different for you today, so please don't go away even during these commercials.
BURNS: It's time now for our "Quick Takes on the Media." Headline number one: Jane...?
Both conventions over, Jane. This is supposed to be an even more election than usual. What has the media not covered sufficiently at this point in this important year?
HALL: Well, call me old-fashioned, but each candidate's record. John Kerry and George W. Bush.
BURNS: Not military, you mean political record.
HALL: What they voted for, what they said they were going to do, in Bush's case. There's been very little reporting of what Bush said he was going to do and what has happened since.
And also, let's look at John Kerry's real record, instead of having the Swift Boat Veterans define him. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) media look at what these people did and what they're going to do.
BURNS: Actually, even during this convention week, Jane, there was, to my perception, at least, a kind of surprisingly high amount of swift boat coverage, given everything else that was going on.
HALL: Well, again, see, I think it's very interesting. This is a story that the media are reacting to, and this is a story that is being propelled on 24-hour news, and it's not going away. And a lot of people believe a lot of the charges, and it's — it's a big issue.
BURNS: All right. Here now is Quick Take headline number two — Cal...? Same question, your time.
THOMAS: I think the rise of Fox News Channel and I have made this speech to broadcast news executives for years before Fox came into existence, that there was a large demographic out there that felt ignored, and that the first network that paid attention to them, not just conservative and Republicans, but independents who wanted to hear another point of view, without it being stereotyped or fashioned to fit whatever the questioner or the program host happened to believe.
"The New York Times" recently began to do some reporting on this phenomenon, but they're missing the main point, as broadcast executives tried to dismiss it as only Republicans watching. This network killed all of the others, including the broadcast networks during the convention coverage.
BURNS: Yes, that's the specific point. For the first time ever, when they were covering the same kind of things, more people watched Fox — when was it, Tuesday night and Wednesday night?
THOMAS: Tuesday night and Wednesday night.
BURNS: Than watched NBC, CBS or ABC.
THOMAS: Yes. Nearly six million.
BURNS: Quick take headline number three — Neal...?
GABLER: Well, I think conventions create an alternative reality. And one of the things that I think the media is very poor at doing is penetrating that alternative reality and talking common sense. Giuliani said that as he saw people falling from the World Trade Center, the first thing that came into his mind was, "thank God we have President Bush." Don't you think that somebody in the media would say, this is the first thing you think of when you see somebody falling from a building?
Compassion night. They all buy into compassion night. There's compassion one night out of every four years in the Republican Party. But we don't have the media analyzing what's being said and what's being done. Again, they're stenographers, instead of vetting the truth, which is what they ought to be doing.
BURNS: You don't think the analysis comes a little later and they're simply giving, as they did perhaps, with both conventions, a little grace period before they start coming in and attacking and analyzing?
GABLER: No. There is no analysis, and there is no grace period, because we're right on to the election right now. So we don't get the kind of hard, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), tough analysis of every single speech, at both conventions, that we ought to be getting. And the truth is not being served.
Ted Koppel made a sophistic distinction between facts and truth. He said, they report the facts. What they have to do is serve the truth.
BURNS: All right. Quick Take headline number four...
PINKERTON: Speaking of — oh.
BURNS: I was just going to ask you to speak along with me, but you know what it is. Take it away, Jim.
PINKERTON: Look, I don't think the media are doing a very good job of covering this 527 issue. They love to pound away on the Swift Boat Vets, and yet they neglect the infinite number of connections between the Democrats and their 527 account committees, which aren't getting the kind of ink and exposure, but Ben Ginsberg, who was the counsel to the Bush campaign and also worked for the Swift Boat Vets resigned to avoid any looking of conflict, and then wrote an op-ed in "The Washington Post," which didn't get a lot of attention, I don't think, elsewhere, where he pointed out that Bill Richardson, Jim Jordan, Harold Ickes, Bob Bauer, a whole slew of big-foot Democrats are wearing double hats with the Democratic Convention or the committee or the Kerry campaign, and 527s, and nobody is asking them to resign. Nobody is pummeling them the way they pummeled Ginsberg, who was smart enough to step back out of the fray.
BURNS: Is it one of those stories that doesn't get covered more because the media think it's too complicated, all the financial and legal details of it, Jim, or do you think it's...
PINKERTON: I think it's worse than that. I think the media were all for MoveOn.org pounding at Bush, and when the Swift Boat Vets went after Kerry, the media blew the whistle.
BURNS: Don't you wish there was time for you to rebut?
GABLER: Oh, God, I do.
BURNS: We have to take one more break. When we come back, we'll get to your thoughts.
BURNS: "Is Neal really that liberal, or does he just make those ridiculous comments to be different?" Asks Teresa from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. And she goes on. "His insinuations that the swift boat veterans are all lying is pretty close-minded for a liberal."
I'll make it up to you, Neal, right now. Tony from Dixmore, Illinois sends you this message: "It's about time someone stands up to those Republicans shills. Cal Thomas and Jim were lying about the swift boat guys, and without saying it, you pointed it out and shut them down."
I'll make it up to you, Cal, right now. This is Vera from Monroe, Connecticut. "So far, Cal Thomas is the sharpest one of the lot, as he states that all Kerry has to do is file Standard Form 180 to reveal all of his records, not just the ones on his Web site, in order for the greater truth to be known."
Sorry, Jim, no one stuck up for you.
Finally, on the swift boat issue, here's Janice from Fort Collins, Colorado: "I'm tired of hearing news commentators chew on the swift boat ads issue. Why has no one been bright enough to realize that neither President Bush nor John Kerry is the same man today that he was 30 years ago? They have 30 years of life experience under their belts since their military service. They have hopefully gained insight and wisdom as they have aged."
About Robert Flores, the sportscaster in Texas who was fired because the wrong tape of his report got on the air, a tape in which he used an obscenity, here is Kristen from Amarillo, Texas. "I would seriously look at some sort of sabotage, since Mr. Flores checked beforehand that the proper tape was in the playback machine. Why was the engineer not fired for this, since he was in the programming room with it?"
And our last email this week. It is from Tom in Sarasota, Florida. "I only watch one talk show on the cable news networks, and it is NEWS WATCH. A couple of reasons: 1. You intelligently discuss issues from all sides. 2. You seem to get along with each other. But last week, you all must have had double espressos. I almost turned you off when you all were getting hot and heated over the swift boat ads. Don't make me come up there!"
We will try to calm down, Tom, no matter what the issue. We will try to drink decaf. You stay in Sarasota and monitor us from there, OK?
Here is our address: email@example.com. We ask you to write to us, please. When you do, tell us your first name, your last name, and let us know precisely where you live.
That's all the time we have left for this week. Thanks to Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, Cal Thomas, Neal Gabler. And I'm Eric Burns, as I always do, thanking you for watching. We'll see you next week when FOX NEWS WATCH will be back.