The following is a transcribed excerpt from 'FOX News Watch,' September 11, 2004:
ERIC BURNS, HOST: Bush National Guard, Kerry swift boat. The conventions are over. The media are covering the campaign. Then, a tale of two trials. Can Michael Jackson get a fair one? Is it because of the media that Kobe Bryant won't get one at all?
The biggest fine ever from the FCC. A big mistake about Bush supporters from the Associated Press. And nature is coming back into the news.
First, the latest news.
BURNS: Hoping to get a bounce in your polls, here are 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.
Before we talk about the "60 MINUTES" memos, read this along with me. "Bush's bounce, can he keep it going?" Well, the answer, Jim, is probably yes because it was so minimal, I think three points. And Kerry's bounce was two.
What happened was the media, and I think this is the first time this ever happened, did polling during the convention. Numbers were way up. 13 percent bounce, 11 percent bounce. And not true. Did you know that?
JIM PINKERTON, NEWSDAY: I don't think...
BURNS: Why are you stumped, Jim?
PINKERTON: I don't think I agree with you on this, Eric. I mean, I realize you're the host. And so, I have to at least accept your premises.
Look, anybody in Washington will say that Bush got a huge surge out of the convention, that the Kerry campaign has deflated, that the Bush campaign is up.
BURNS: But the polls don't show that.
PINKERTON: And some polls show that, including the battleground states, like in Missouri and Ohio. So - but maybe we'll just agree to disagree on this one.
BURNS: Jane, not the Fox News/Dynamics poll, which puts Kerry and Bush about even in terms of bounce?
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, I hate to gang up on you, chief, but I - the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll that I saw showed a lead overall, which I think is more important.
HALL: "The New York Times" and "Washington Post" both who had stories about how the Republicans very successfully framed - out of the convention have framed this as a debate against John Kerry. He's a flip-flopper. And we'll keep you safe. Those are the issues that Bush is strong on. They succeeded in getting a message through relatively unfiltered through the media. And they're ahead because of that.
BURNS: I - OK, listen, I'm not - I want to change the subject because that's 0 for 2 for me. You have something you have to get in on this?
NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: All I would say is I think the laziest form of journalism. And margin of error is incomprehensible.
GABLER: So when you put these two things together, who knows?
BURNS: That, Neal, may be a great segue. Lazy form of journalism. How do we explain the fact that, Cal, "60 MINUTES" released these - the memos that were very critical of George Bush in his National Guard days? And now it seems as if those memos are not authentic? Seems?
CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Eric, if this is - if this turns out to be fraudulent documents, I think it's going to remove whatever trust that CBS News remains.
It is unbelievable that so-called experts couldn't see the difference between the little curly-Q quotation marks that Microsoft Word has on its new Times Roman font, and an old Royal typewriter, which I used to use in the ‘70s, which were singular quotation marks.
And plus you have the testimony of the son of the now deceased alleged memo writer....
BURNS: This is my dad.
THOMAS: And the wife, wouldn't write...
BURNS: This kind of thing.
THOMAS: And his wife said he didn't even type, which you know...
BURNS: You could get a secretary.
At this early stage, what do we make of this, Jane?
HALL: Well so far, they're standing by their reporting.
BURNS: CBS is.
HALL: CBS is. And I think there's a deeper issue, which is what's happening I think in this campaign? We're getting involved in font size, with all due respect, to Cal. Fox News is going after this. They're saying Ben Barnes, who was on "60 MINUTES" is a known, you know, terrible person.
The point is how much of his service did he show up for? And there are a lot of questions about that. I personally think we shouldn't be debating.
BURNS: That's - wait a minute. That's the big political question. The big media question, though, is CBS did it.
PINKERTON: Look, there's a new acronym born. MSM, mainstream media, which is a term of derision, almost contempt, expressed by the whole so- called blogosphere of web bloggers out there...
BURNS: Who initially caught this.
PINKERTON: Exactly. This was on CBS Wednesday night, all day Thursday, the bloggers - like web - one called Powerline.blog were going crazy on this. They went to the font. They went to typists. They looked at everything - it was like Linux the way that...
PINKERTON: The Linux software program is written - hold on. And it took until - and Friday, "The Chicago Sun-Times" Tom Lipscomb and John Potterhorst (ph) of "The New York Post" got this. It took exactly two days for this story to be annihilated.
BURNS: And supposedly, Neal, CBS researched the authenticity of the memos for six weeks.
GABLER: Yes, and forensic experts.
BURNS: What do you make of all this?
GABLER: What I - I don't want to get into the merits of this. This is what I make of it. I think that the press behaved so disgracefully in the swift boat situation, and knew it, that they felt that they had to do penance. And this is...
BURNS: You mean that consciously? Well, we blew...
GABLER: I believe that. I believe that.
BURNS: ...we were wrong here and so we'll be wrong on the other side?
GABLER: Well, no - well I know it's true they're wrong here. In fact, I mean, you can talk about type font. You can look at Eric Bolder's (ph) piece in "Salon." Seven pages of point by point analysis of Bush's record and you will see that Bush has been dishonest and probably didn't serve his full term. And actually - but that's not the...
BURNS: No, it's not.
GABLER: ...issue. The media issue here is that I think when a referee in a basketball game blows a call, you know, oftentimes he'll go down to the other end of the floor and compensate. And I think that's what we're seeing here. I think it's compensation by the media.
PINKERTON: I think Neal's on to something there. I mean, the media do have a consciousness. In fact I heard - like going from one side of a ship to the other side of a ship all at once.
THOMAS: You know what they ought to be doing is say look, we were wrong and we're going to try to connect it. It's a clich,, but two wrongs don't make a right. And to say that we screwed up or did badly with one guy, so we're going to do it to the other to be fair, how about being fair to both?
BURNS: Let me briefly ask you this. The White House spokesperson, a spokesperson for President Bush, Jane, very upset because two of the hosts of CNN's "CROSSFIRE", Paul Begala, James Carville are at least unofficial Kerry advisors. They say it doesn't bother them that they're partisans hosting shows. It bothers them that there are quasi-campaign officials hosting shows.
Is the Bush administration right?
HALL: I think that they have a point to raise it, but the revolving door in politics and the media is spinning so fast, it's off the hinges. This network has a lot of people, not hosts, who are working for the Bush campaign night and day. And I think it's just a different world.
BURNS: Jim, quickly.
PINKERTON: The key point as hosts, this is an embed between CNN, TIME Warner and the Democratic party. And I think it's corrupt. And I think that if Bill O'Reilly were moonlighting at the Bush campaign, they would clean him.
BURNS: It's time for a break. We will be back with...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Michael Jackson is going to trial in January. Kobe Bryant, it turns out, is not going to trial at all. FOX NEWSWATCH covers the coverage after this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNS: There is yet another preliminary hearing for Michael Jackson next week on charges of lewd acts involving a minor, among other things. His trial starts next year.
And we've known this for so long, Jane. And there's a question we've never gotten to on this show. Can Michael Jackson get a fair trial?
HALL: You know, I think this is a great question. I asked a colleague of mine on the faculty, who's a journalist and a lawyer, and I said, give me a big answer? And he said, yes, of course, he has no money. And I thought, that's a very academic and wonderful, quick answer.
BURNS: Is that...
HALL: There's more money. The guy drove a plane up to his arraignment the last time I saw. I think - the point is a poor defendant with a court appointed, overworked defendant is in a different category.
BURNS: Maybe it's no, he doesn't get a fair trial.
HALL: No, yes, he could.
BURNS: He gets a fair trial that benefits him unfairly maybe.
THOMAS: Well, if you could get a show trial because this has been a media circus from the beginning. And it all depends on the jury, as we saw in the O.J. Simpson thing. All of the evidence, circumstantial and otherwise, seem to point to his guilt, but the jury and much of the media, consider his acquittal.
BURNS: That's a great point. Maybe we can't answer this question, Neal, about fair trials of celebrities these days because the O.J. trial showed us that we can be astonished by a verdict?
GABLER: Well, again, it's fairness to whom? And I think that's the issue here. In this country, we are so idolatrous of celebrities, so worshipful of them, that I think there was a celebrity immunity.
I remember the celebrity lawyer, Raoul Felder, saying celebrities never get convicted. And although they might get convicted of petty offenses, you know, in a large case, I think that's a pretty good rule of thumb. They do not get convicted.
PINKERTON: You might be right. In worst case, the media are playing a valuable function, which is warning parents about Michael Jackson. The only parents now putting their kids in Michael Jackson's direction are the ones who want the money.
HALL: Well, I think sometimes - I mean, Martha Stuart got convicted. Sometimes your celebrity can be used to make an example. And you and I think she probably suffered from that to some degree.
BURNS: Well, a celebrity who is not going to trial, as we know, is Kobe Bryant, which we found out a few days ago. Is there any extent, Cal, to which the media kept Kobe Bryant from standing trial in this sexual assault case?
THOMAS: Oh, without question. I mean, look at all of the stuff they dumped out there about the woman, the accuser, her sexual history, all of the implications that she was a slut.
BURNS: In other words, the implication you're making is that she might have been so afraid...
BURNS: ...because of all the publicity.
THOMAS: Exactly. They put so much stuff on her, that to out herself and to testify openly and publicly would have given her, I guess in her own mind, a kind of mark of Cain. I think the media was complicit.
GABLER: And she said as much.
PINKERTON: The same Internet that we just talked about, taking apart CBS News, took apart this poor girl, including the carelessness of the courts in terms of putting stuff on the Web site.
The profusion of information made it impossible for this girl to go forward with the trial.
HALL: You know, I think that's probably true. But at the same time, I've seen a couple pieces, including one by Tim Retton in "The L.A. Times" this week about the secrecy that judges - they're so afraid of trying to have an untainted jury pool in this environment, that they're trying to close the selection of the jury. They're trying to have practically secret trials, which is not a good thing.
GABLER: I think that's ridiculous. I mean, I think that the media sees these not as trials, but as reality programming.
And if they kept the advantage of the continuing cast of characters, who everybody knows, they're familiar with them. And they've roped in the entire judicial process into this reality program.
And as you saw in the Kobe Bryant trial as you know we've heard here...
THOMAS: Kobe Bryant trial?
GABLER: No, well, the Kobe Bryant pre-trial, I should say.
THOMAS: Right, right.
PINKERTON: It lasted like a year or something. It managed to create fodder for celebrity lawyers and celebrity everything else.
BURNS: Maybe that's why they didn't have a trial. It would played as a poor sequel to all the pre-trials.
GABLER: Because people was always a disappointment.
HALL: Then we had the prequel of the Kobe Bryant trial. I mean, I agree that this woman probably backed out because of the publicity, but I do think there's another issue about whether the prosecution, you know, maybe they were also dazzled by the celebrity. That certainly seems to have happened in the O.J. Simpson case.
You know, they were not able to deal with the celebrity of the people they were trying to prosecute.
BURNS: Is the next step here, Neal, the playing of the media by Kobe to try to get some vestige of reputation back?
GABLER: Well, he was doing that all the way through this process. And his attorneys were doing that all the way through.
I mean, lookit, there are two trials. There's the trial in the court of public opinion, and there's the trial in the courtroom. And we see these acting simultaneously all the time, absolutely.
PINKERTON: Paying a lot of money, though.
PINKERTON: I predict.
BURNS: We have to take another break. We'll be back with our quick takes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), did they boo or did they coo? And maybe they should name birthdays after reporters. Stay tuned for more Fox NEWSWATCH.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNS: It's time now for our "Quick Takes on the Media." Headline number one, "FCC Sets Record." The Federal Communications Commission is planning, it hasn't done so yet, but it is planning to fine CBS $550,000 for last year's Superbowl half-time show. If it does, it'll be the highest single fine ever by the FCC for indecency, but not high enough, Jim.
PINKERTON: Actually, once again, I'm - I don't agree.
PINKERTON: The FCC is evil. They are growing fangs. They are going to sink it in the neck of the First Amendment. And when Hillary Clinton is president, and they try and do this to Rush Limbaugh, conservatives who are now cheering are going to come to regret this.
BURNS: Could you go back from that leap he just made?
THOMAS: Well, no, I want to continue with the devil analogy, because the FCC has been toothless for so long, that they are trying to recover by overreacting. The NFL has already said at the start of the - this year's football season it's basically going to have a family values season, and virtually promised in advance the moral equivalent of Walt Disney at the half-time shows. We're going to be back to marching bands, which is not a bad thing.
BURNS: Let me try this transition. You're writing a biography of Walt Disney, Neal. So?
GABLER: Listen, the country was so traumatized by that one-ten- thousandth of a second of seeing that breast, that CBS ought to pay. I mean, this is a way - this is a way to play for the Bush administration, via this FCC, to play to its base. If Bush isn't responsible for the mess in Iraq, I don't see why CBS is responsible for the mess during half-time.
BURNS: Well, forgetting the analogy, why should CBS be responsible? CBS officials didn't make up a wardrobe malfunction?
HALL: Well, I think this is one of those cases where the Superbowl, which is a bit of an amazement, is right up there with Thanksgiving as a national holiday. People watch this, you know, ritualized aggression as a family event in this country. And they were shocked, shocked to see this thing that they weren't expecting. And it became, you should pardon the expression, the focal point for a lot of unhappiness. And Congress said we got to do something. And so...
BURNS: Does anybody here think there should be a $550,000 against CBS?
GABLER: No, absolutely not.
BURNS: OK, quick take headline number two, "B is an Important Letter." At a recent campaign rally, President Bush extended to Bill Clinton "best wishes for a swift and speedy recovery," that's a quote, from heart surgery. Bush said the former president, and here's another quote, "is in our thoughts and prayers." And the crowd at the rally booed, at least that's what the Associated Press reported. A few minutes later, the AP retracted the statement. It turns out the crowd at the rally ooh'd.
Have we returned to our previous theme here of lazy journalism?
GABLER: Well, I'm not sure it's lazy journalism. Karen Hughes, apparently, the president's press spokesperson, you know, attacked the reporter. He then canvassed the other reporters. He thought he heard boos. They said no, they weren't really boos.
But listen, it's a little disingenuous, after eight solid years of bashing Bill Clinton, to say oh, we were actually cheering the fact that he was recovering from his heart disease.
PINKERTON: Well, I understand what you're saying there. Are you therefore trashing the people of West Allis, Wisconsin in terms of their...
GABLER: No, what I'm saying is that if you impute to this man that he was - that this reporter, Tom Hays, that he was being fraudulent, I think that's...
HALL: You know, I think...
PINKERTON: I think that they were clearly careless. And that's just a - I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. They were just careless, but they - again, it's a credit to an alert public that they nailed them on us, just like CBS...
BURNS: Jane, Jane, what I would have done, I would have thought it was so unlikely that people would do this, whether right or wrong, if I were the AP guy who got the report, that I would call my man or woman there and say, are you sure about this? In other words, before having to do a retraction, I would have done the canvassing.
HALL: Well, I think this is a kind of thing given how politicized the climate is, you daggone well better get it right. I saw the clip. I said, was that boos or ooh's? You know? And you would go ask what he did say was the - Bush did not contradict the crowd. And that is where it was a mistake.
THOMAS: It got through because it plays into the prejudice that Republicans are mean - and mean spirited, and hate Clinton plays into the media prejudice.
But look, Howard Dean had a legitimate complaint, too. He wasn't really screaming. He was trying to be heard over the audience. So it works both ways.
BURNS: Quick take headline number three, "When Reporters Are Literally All Wet." For the third time in recent weeks, a hurricane is expected to blast Florida and to affect weather as far away as New England this weekend.
Cal, these are very, very serious and harmful events, but do the media take them as seriously as they should? Or to some extent, are these chances to show off manliness or womanliness, is there womanliness?
HALL: I think so.
BURNS: Personliness by being out there, grabbing onto to a tree...
BURNS: ...and letting your hair get...
THOMAS: Well, sure. It's great pictures. And even though you could substitute a lot of destruction for any other hurricane, people are interested in this sort of thing.
Plus, information is extremely important. We, I mean I used to cover hurricanes in the ‘70s. And we didn't have a lot of the satellite stuff and everything. We had to use landlines and other stuff. We have instantaneous information, saves a lot of lives. And people are interested in these stories of great human triumph or tragedy.
BURNS: But do you need the reporter grabbing onto a tree trunk, Jim, as one of the tree huggers?
PINKERTON: I think there's a lot of human interest here, including what reporters look like without hair and make-up.
HALL: You know, the famous quote from Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather got his start up to his back side in alligators. There's more a more alliterative phrase that Cronkite used in Houston. I mean, this is how people make their reputations, but I think the newspapers, we shouldn't forget, also, you know, perform admirably. And they didn't have people out on the storm. They just had people trying to deliver their newspapers.
GABLER: These are important stories, but the coverage is a cliche and a concession to entertainment. It's just getting good pictures out there.
BURNS: We have to take one more break. When we come back, it'll be your turn.
BURNS: Our whole program last week was about the Republican convention. So our whole mail bag is about the convention this week.
Janet from Pismo Beach, California, "Eric Burns questioned if Republicans simply put on a better show than Democrats at their convention. If Hollywood endorses Sen. Kerry, why didn't Democrats have a better production? Substance, perhaps?"
Stacy, Columbia, Maryland, "You were all so complimentary about the Republicans skill at presentation at their convention. I worry that you seem not to see any danger lurking in such skill. Look at the hospitality of the good burghers and military staff in Austria that led to the rise of Hitler. Bombastic rhetoric, demonization of internal enemies, lit stages with parades of faithful worshippers, distortions and untruths - all the elements of good presentation."
And D.L, Albuquerque, New Mexico, "I'm a loyal Fox viewer, but during the RNC, my TV was turned to C-Span. I wanted to hear what the speakers had to say, not the pundits."
About Michael Moore reporting on the Republicans for "USA Today," here's Roger from Bristol, Tennessee. "With Michael Moore in attendance at the Republican National Convention last week, I really did see a rich, white fat cat who is making easy money off the war and the tragedy of 9/11."
About the Zell Miller-Chris Matthews on air confrontation, here's Jim from Tampa, Florida. "Zell was great! Matthews deserved that spanking. He's lucky that dueling isn't used much any more! The old man can probably shoot like Matthews can talk!"
Finally, here is Angela from Santa Clarita, California. "Your panel amazes me. Jim amazes me because he is the least predictable in his analysis of each topic. Jane (amazes me because she) seems sincerely to believe there is no liberal media bias. Then there is the amazing Neal, the embodiment of liberal media bias. Cal is an amazing gentleman. He sits next to Neal every week and yet somehow is able to refrain himself from smacking him. Eric amazes me most of all by keeping this group on topic, week after week, and still keeping a full head of hair. I would have pulled mine out long ago!"
This is my 14th transplant. Angela, I'm delighted that you were fooled.
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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 thanking you for watching. We hope to see you next week when Fox NEWSWATCH will be back on the air