Recap of Saturday, Sept. 18

The following is a transcribed excerpt from 'FOX News Watch,' September 18, 2004:

ERIC BURNS, HOST: Did CBS News deceive the American public? Did document analysts deceive CBS News? It's the biggest media story in a long time, and we'll get right to it, with 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.

Senators are talking about it on the Senate floor. Congressmen are writing letters about it. "60 Minutes" is still reporting on it. And the "CBS Evening News" is still trying to explain it

Most remarkable thing to me about this, Neal, the three major network news divisions, a gentlemen's club, yet ABC reported this week on this, and said that two of the document analysts employed by CBS News had warned CBS News not to go with the story.

What's remarkable, that ABC did a piece on CBS, and that CBS apparently rejected some advice not to go with the story.

NEIL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: No, CBS denies that. We should say that CBS denies that these two advisers said what they said, and that they're really kind of CYA, as the memo goes.

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I guess that settles it, then. CBS denied it, must be true.

GABLER: Look, this story, this story, I mean, where do you start with this thing? Clearly CBS did not thoroughly vet these documents, and the reason they didn't thoroughly vet them, one can only speculate, is that they wanted the scoop, and the scoop overwhelmed their judgment.

You know, secondly, it seems to me that, you know, the media have been focusing on the story of the story, and not on the substance of the charges. Thirdly, there are obviously two standards of proof here, one if you attack Kerry and one of you attack, you know, George Bush.

And fourthly, it seems to me, why are we concerned about this issue? Who cares about Vietnam?

BURNS: Hang on, he might have a fifth one.


PINKERTON: I think it was number two in that list, but I'm not sure. Look, Dan Rather made us (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Watergate 30 years ago, and is now, this is a Watergate-like situation, through all the details of cover- up and lying through his teeth and so on. But what is most revealing in terms of the parallel, and shows you that we're in a -- it's a -- to coin a phrase, to the last days...

BURNS: Last days of?

PINKERTON: ... of Rather -- is the way other media organs are now picking at it. They now, as you said, the other networks are going after him. On Thursday night in Washington, on the channel 9, the local CBS affiliate, said, during Rather's broadcast, Stick around later, because on the local news, we're going to have our own discussion of the Rather coverage. And they had a nasty piece that pointed out, for example, that Rather's ratings were last in the crucial New York City market.

So the other insane way that Nixon was undone when Barry Goldwater and other Republicans said, Look, Dick, you got to hang it up, I think pretty quickly people like Bob Schieffer, who've already said that we made a mistake on this, pretty much, are going to go to Rather and say, Look, Dan, you're going to kill this network if you don't resign.

BURNS: But the interesting thing, Jane, is, I mean, you know how these things work. Dan Rather didn't have a whole lot to do with this piece. Dan Rather has a full-time job anchoring the "CBS Evening News." He stepped in, he did the interviews, he was presented with research by other people whom he trusted. So we have to say, however you blame Rather for whatever you blame him for, he didn't have a lot to do with putting this story together.

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, and he is taking the fall for it.


HALL: I mean, he, I suppose he could say, I didn't have a lot to do with it, which wouldn't make him look very good. I think the terrible thing about this is, obviously, they should have said, We may have been snookered, we're going to look into it, we'll let you, we will, we will do that.

And what they did, I, he's right, it was Nixonian, they stonewalled. And every conservative who thinks that Dan Rather was out to get George Bush has lots of evidence as days go by.

THOMAS: Yes, it's never the crime, it's always the cover-up. How many times have we heard that?

I was amazed at the two-page statement, I think it was, that CBS News put out about this, in which it used the delicious words "unimpeachable sources." Ben Barnes, the former lieutenant governor, who was involved in a Sharpstown bank scandal when I was a reporter down there for the NBC affiliate in Houston 30 years ago, was a man who was on the fast track to be president, he was Lyndon Johnson's handpicked successor to himself. Johnson used to say he's the next Texas president.

He's one of their main sources. And yet his own kid says that he's lying, and Barnes himself gave a different statement, I think to the New York Times, just a few months ago.


PINKERTON: ... don't agree, Eric, with you when you said that Rather doesn't have much to do with this. I mean, first of all, it did, that excuse didn't work for Peter Arnett when he got fired from CNN, didn't work for Howell Raines when he got canned from (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

BURNS: Jim, that's the way this business works.

PINKERTON: ... but, but I'm not sure I agree that somebody that powerful and that prominent in CBS said, Oh, this is a script, I trust you guys, I'll just read it. I think that Dan Rather's record as an active Texas Democrat suggests that he was eager to run this story.

BURNS: Yes, but that's not the same thing as saying that he checked on it and verified himself.

Let me go back to this memo, though, that you point out, because another word that struck me in there was the word "preponderance." Neal, CBS's most recent statement is that the preponderance of evidence supports our point of view. Well, that's a weak thing to say. Preponderance means majority. What are they saying, that 60 percent of the evidence supports our point of view, and maybe 40 percent doesn't?

Your preponderance, if you go on the air with a big story, has to be 99 percent or higher.

GABLER: Look, this is sheer stupidity, because they had three independent sources, that is, they were not connected to one another, saying that the, that the substance of these documents was accurate. Why in the world did CBS even go for these documents? What were they thinking? And didn't they think? Didn't they realize that they were going to be attacked from all sides?

Even if the documents were legitimate, they were going to be attacked. So this is carelessness. This is stupidity. And, I agree with Jim, Dan Rather put his, himself on the line for this. He endorsed this, and he has to take responsibility for it.

BURNS: And he will.

HALL: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), yes. I think it's really unfortunate, because people are saying, my good friend Cal wrote this week, whatever credibility CBS is gone now. The whole news organization has been smeared with this. And I don't think that's a fair thing.

BURNS: And dissension there, because the folks at the Sunday "60 Minutes" -- this story broke on the Wednesday "60 Minutes" -- are now calling TV reporters and saying, Hey, listen, remember, we're a different show, we're a different staff, it's not our fault.

THOMAS: When vultures see a carcass, they do not discriminate.

BURNS: Jim, California Republican Representative Chris Cox wants there to be a congressional investigation of this.

PINKERTON: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), look, my own First Amendment instincts say, don't do that. This, this will get covered adequately and uncovered through the media without Congress getting involved.

HALL: You know the astonishing thing, though, is that Dan Rather is now the issue, not Iraq...

BURNS: Exactly.

HALL: ... not their respective service of the two candidates. It is amazing...


PINKERTON: ... that we're that media...


PINKERTON: ... that CBS, which in 1982 smeared General Westmoreland, in 1988 did a documentary with Rather smearing Vietnam veterans, they, 20 years later, they still can't help themselves from doing it.

BURNS: And you have to wonder at some point if we're ever in this campaign going to cover issues at the campaign. Consider that a rhetorical question.

We have to take our first break. We'll be back with a story that might be related to the one we've just been discussing.

The era of network news is over, so says the head of one of America's most prestigious journalistic organizations. We'll tell you why when FOX NEWS WATCH continues.


BURNS: The Project for Excellence in Journalism is a highly respected group of journalists whose goal is to raise the standards of the profession. A few days ago, Tom Rosenstiel, the director of the group, said this. "What happened this summer is likely to be recalled as the end of the era of network news. At the very least, mark this as the moment when the networks abdicated their authority with the American public."

Jane, he's referring to two things, I think, the fact that cable did so well, FOX NEWS CHANNEL beating broadcast networks in the ratings, and also that the three major networks did not spend much time covering the convention at all.

Does he go too far with the end of the era of network news?

HALL: Well, you know, I thought when I saw those statistics that it was ethical. I do think it marks a shift. And, you know, Fox did very well, cable covered these conventions. And his point in the whole piece is that broadcast news was -- has in the past been a very serious place. It continues to be a serious place, you know, much against the glee of a lot of people who are glad if the network newscasts die.

I won't be among them, because I think his point is, the owners of these networks, they don't care, and the civil rights movement, a lot of big national stories, got on the national agenda in the era of network works...

BURNS: Well, but now...

HALL: ... that's not a bad thing.

BURNS: Now they might get on the agenda through cable news.

THOMAS: Well, I think what we're seeing now journalistically is the media equivalent of the fall of the Berlin Wall. For decades now, the big media organs have been the insulators and isolators of information. They will tell you what you need to know. They will define what news is.

Now we have cable, we have the Internet, we have bloggers, we have all kinds of people who are ready, willing, and, as we have seen in the Dan Rather situation, able to puncture the pontificators and to get news and information out beyond the gatekeepers.

PINKERTON: I think even more broadly, in terms of this, what you're seeing is the technological ubiquity and the collapse of barriers to entry. In other words, when Gutenberg invented movable type, and you could make the printing press, that killed the monopoly of mostly the Catholic Church in terms of priests just writing the -- copying the Bible all -- all of it...

THOMAS: Could you move this along a little faster, please (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Gutenberg is a long time ago. Let's get to the Internet.

PINKERTON: Well, the thing is, it's my job to do that...


BURNS: Thank you for jumping in.

THOMAS: Thank you, I could sense that.

PINKERTON: Broadcast cable is to cable -- broadcast is to cable what -- and the Internet what the parchment was to the printing press. And...

GABLER: I totally disagree. Couldn't disagree more. First of all, network news is not killed by cable. It's committed suicide. And committed suicide because the -- it's a (UNINTELLIGIBLE), it became a profit center. And when you make something a profit center of a network, it affects how you cover news, and, as we saw in the conventions, it affects what you cover.

But if you think that cable news is a replacement for network news, then you don't watch cable news.

BURNS: Why, why would it not be?

GABLER: Network news is news. Because network news is news...

THOMAS: Oh, no...


GABLER: There is a smattering of news on cable...

PINKERTON: Point of order...

GABLER: ... and there is primarily opinion on cable.


PINKERTON: Point of order. Since Neal interrupted me the first time, I get to interrupt him back.


GABLER: Go right ahead.

PINKERTON: It is a replacement in terms of this what people watch to, if they're curious about the world. And the ratings for the Republican convention that Eric began the segment with prove that. They are watching something different. You might not like it, but it is, in fact...


GABLER: ... million people watch network news. Nearly 30 million. Two million watch "O'REILLY," which is the highest-rated program on this network. And I don't want to...


PINKERTON: ... main point here -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE), again, please, just to remind Neal of what we were (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

BURNS: I did not have the numbers, Jim...

PINKERTON: Well, but...

HALL: There...

PINKERTON: ... just the point was...

GABLER: That's about the convention.

PINKERTON: ... cable, cable beat broadcast.



PINKERTON: ... networks did not cover the convention.

HALL: Wait, wait, there's a different point, if I may. If I may make another point here, I think that cable is largely talk. It's very interesting talk. Clearly the just-the-facts-ma'am attitude is something that people are not going for as much.

But I say again, I mean, the network newscasts do very good, by and large, work, very objective, by and large, work. And I don't say that that's a good thing that they're -- they may be pulled off the air because they cost a lot of money.

BURNS: But wait a minute, nobody, these shows aren't going to be pulled off the air. Doesn't anybody...

HALL: One of the networks will gladly get...

BURNS: Doesn't...

HALL: ... out of the business of doing news.

BURNS: Doesn't anybody here think that Rosenstiel...

HALL: They don't need any (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BURNS: ... might have gone too far?


BURNS: That's a pretty dramatic phrase, you know, end of the era of network news?

PINKERTON: Absolutely end of the era. And it also be the era when Americans routinely are watching the BBC or Al Jazeera or who knows what channel, because they're all the same now. It used to be just channel 2 through 13, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) had to go to UHF. Now it's cable, and it's just a bunch of clickers, so you can watch 100 news stations from 100 different countries. But it's...

GABLER: It will die with a whimper, not with a bang. I think what we're going to see is the slow petering out over the next few years, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BURNS: Well, it's a topic we've -- we have got to get back to, and we will.

Right now, we have to take another break. We'll be back with our quick picks.

Charges of liberal bias in reporting on the economy.

And which would you rather do, vote for president, or watch the leaves change color?

Stay tuned for more FOX NEWS WATCH.


BURNS: "Quick Takes" headline number one, bias in business news. According to two economists at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, there is a liberal bias in business news. Among their examples is this one. When 308,000 new jobs were added to the economy last March, the Associated Press headline read as follows. "Bond Prices Tumble on Jobs Data."

Now, Cal, it -- they didn't just do this anecdotally. They said they studied 389 newspapers for more than 13 years to come up with these conclusions. But they went into it with their own bias, conservative bias.

THOMAS: Well, look, bad news is good news for much of the media. I remember the homeless crisis was a terrible thing during the Reagan and Bush administrations. But when Clinton came in, the homeless disappeared.

(UNINTELLIGIBLE) famously, many of us recall that the media were talking about the Bush 41, George H.W. Bush, recession, which they then acknowledged had ended a lot earlier than they had said it had ended after Clinton had won the election.

So there's a wealth of data to demonstrate even business news bias if it doesn't fit into the prism of many of the lefties in journalism.

PINKERTON: Kevin Hassett and John Lott at the AEI are two of the more serious-minded think-tank types in Washington. Lott in particular changed the argument about gun control in this country over the last 15 or 20 years almost single-handedly. And I think they're going to have a similar effect with this study.

GABLER: I don't want to attack the two of them, because there's a lot to be attacked on. This study is deeply flawed. But it raises an interesting issue, and I think it's this. Reporters are not equipped to deal with economic issues, and so they are highly susceptible to spin.

BURNS: It is a good point. It's one of the most arcane of all subjects, and general assignment reporters, Jane, don't know economics very well.

HALL: Well, that's true. And, you know, look at the Enron story. There was a lot of go-go journalism that missed the point about what was going on there. Don't worry your pretty head about those statistics either.

BURNS: Quick take headline number two. Too many polls? Virtually every major news organization in the country these days conducts polls on presidential politics. New poll results are released every day or two or three, including these, by a marketing group called TNS, which finds, yes, 54 percent of Americans are excited about the leaves changing colors this fall, 48 percent are excited about the upcoming presidential election.

Is this the final bit of proof, Jim, that we have too many polls?

PINKERTON: Well, I think it's -- a similar that I was making about the proliferation of news outlets. The technology permitting you to take a poll, it's a little computer software program, an automated phone call thing, and they may be making it up on top of that, just, you're totally fantasizing it.

It just permits everybody to do a poll now, and I don't really believe any of them.

BURNS: Well, there is a more serious point here, Jane, isn't there, which is that the extent to which news organizations follow polls, report poll findings, because they -- it's their polls, as real news.

HALL: Absolutely, and it sets up the expectations. I mean, if the polls say that George W. Bush is ahead this far, or so-and-so didn't get the bounce he expected, they also have a proprietary interest in these, and so you get the ABC News-Washington Post poll. It has to, you know, the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- what the pool is in these things, is it likely voters, is it people who happened to wander into the shopping mall?

I mean, it -- you know, you -- it's very little -- it gets back to your point about numbers. Journalists really don't know how to write about it.

THOMAS: Yes, and it's all about the horse race as well. And the more time they're focusing on polls, the less time they have to focus on issues. And once again, we have the case we made is that most reporters, the understanding of most issues has the depth of floor wax.

BURNS: So Neal, does this reinforce the point you often make about journalists being lazy...

GABLER: I -- exactly.

BURNS: ... because what a poll does is just lay out numbers without a journalist having to dig, is that...

GABLER: Exactly. And it plays to the journalists' prejudice and to their laziness. It's the laziest form of journalism.

I would also say that from the reader's standpoint it's a form of narcissism.

BURNS: But that poll we started with, you know, I mean, it is -- the fall foliage change. All right, never mind.

HALL: I think...

BURNS: Are they red and blue...


BURNS: ... those leaves?

PINKERTON: That's good, red.

BURNS: Oh, good, that's good, yes, I got that, thank you.

Quick take headline number three. Do people who subscribe to Playgirl even watch the news? Playgirl magazine has conducted a poll to find the sexiest TV newsman in America. In third place was CNN's Anderson Cooper. In second place was FOX NEWS CHANNEL's Sean Hannity. The winner, the sexiest newsman in America, according to the Playgirl constituency, was MSNBC's Keith Olbermann.

Why are you laughing?

GABLER: Well, I voted for you.

PINKERTON: Good answer.

BURNS: You're a Playgirl subscriber?

GABLER: No, but I thought you needed that support, and I wanted to lend it to you.

BURNS: Well, it didn't help me much.

GABLER: Yes, it didn't. But I'll say this, you know, this is a ridiculous thing, but it does show how we think of newscasters now in entertainment terms. Can you possibly imagine Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, or Frank Reynolds as the sexiest newscaster?


PINKERTON: I'm still recovering from Kevin -- from Andy Rooney being on the list.

HALL: That was the AARP Playgirl edition.

BURNS: Let's take some time to recover, huh? It is amazing. He was, I think, fifth or something like that.

Anyhow, we have to take one more break to recover. When we come back, it'll be (UNINTELLIGIBLE).


BURNS: About the Bush National Guard memos, which we talked about last week too, here is Robert from Lubbock, Texas. "I think it is absurd that CBS not only apparently doesn't have the original documents and got them claimed as original, but that they claim that George Bush got into the National Guard using political pull. In Texas in the late '60s and early '70s, it was so Democratic that no Republican had enough pull to have fixed a speeding ticket. P.S., that has changed."

About the Associated Press's erroneous report that Bush supporters in West Alice, Wisconsin, booed the president's good wishes for former president Clinton, here is Louise from Delafield, Wisconsin. "My husband attended the Bush talk in West Alice and was shocked to hear a report that said people booed at the announcement of President Clinton's surgery. He said it was a very clear 'Aaah' and could not possibly be confused with a boo. People in Wisconsin have class and compassion. We are not like the Michael Moores of this country."

Last week, we asked whether Michael Jackson can get a fair trial. Doris, who did not tell us where she's from, answers. "I don't think he can get a fair trial. He is just too weird for that. He may be found not guilty, but will live just like O.J. Simpson has."

And last week we also asked whether reporters covering hurricanes are showing off as much as reporting. Russell from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, "Your panel took several shots at reporters who seemed to want direct experience in bad weather and show up in the middle of a crisis. I agree with your panel. But please don't overlook Fox's own Geraldo Riviera and Oliver North."

OK, we won't.

And finally, and strangely, here is an e-mail with two sentences in it. In the first sentence, Helen from Belton, Missouri, asks a question. In the second sentence, she answers it. I think. "How come you only have one woman? Males are more opinionated."

Helen, I've read your e-mail at least once every day this week since Monday, when I first saw it. I still don't know what the hell you mean.

HALL: I do.

BURNS: Here's our address, Please tell us your full name and let us know where you live.

That's all the time we have left for this week. Thanks to Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, across the table, thanks to Cal Thomas, Neal Gabler.

And I'm Eric Burns, thanking you for watching. We hope you'll tune in again next week when FOX NEWS WATCH will be back on the air.