The following is a transcribed excerpt from "FOX News Watch," October 9, 2004 that has been edited for clarity:
CORRECTION: In a discussion about ABC News' post-debate coverage, panelist Jim Pinkerton stated that ABC News correspondent Jake Tapper did three "fact checks", one focused on Senator John Kerry and two focused on "President Bush. Mr. Tapper actually did one per candidate. ABC News Anchor Peter Jennings did a third fact check on George Bush.
ERIC BURNS, HOST: This week on FOX News Watch, it's the world series of politics, and it's the media who are picking the winners. Is ABC News picking fairly? What exactly did FOX News Channel's Carl Cameron do and should he have done it?
Then, newspaper endorsements, coffin photographs and one network's "get-out-the-vote" campaign.
Before we cover the coverage of all of it, here are the latest headlines.
BURNS: Forget the presidential debate. Forget the vice presidential debate. It's time now for the media pundit debate with Jim Pinkerton of "Newsday," media writer Neal Gabler, Jane Hall of the American University and, filling in today for Cal Thomas, "National Review" editor Rich Lowry.
I'm Eric Burns. FOX News Watch is coming right up.
And we will get to the debates in a couple of minutes.
First, a new and perhaps building controversy over a memo written by ABC News political director Mark Halperin (search). In it, he refers to the Bush campaign's "stepped-up renewed efforts to win the election by destroying Senator Kerry at least partly through distortions."
Halperin says, "Kerry distorts, takes out of context and mistakes all the time, but these are not central to his efforts to win." And Halperin says, "We," meaning ABC, "have a responsibility to hold both sides accountable for the public interest, but that doesn't mean we reflexively and artificially hold both sides equally accountable when the facts don't warrant that."
The charge, Neal, is that this is an admission of bias.
NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: Absolutely not.
BURNS: Absolutely not.
GABLER: I don't think so, and there's no smoking gun here. Look it, I mean, let's say hypothetically — and this addresses actually an issue I've talked about on the show many, many times, which are the distortions of balance.
But let's say hypothetically — and I'm not saying this is true in this campaign — but one side is lying and the other side isn't. Do you then treat the statements of both sides equally? Of course you don't. You try and deconstruct the lies, and that's what any decent responsible news agency ought to do.
BURNS: Well, but what he seems to say in this memo — what he does say is that Kerry's guilty of a lot of things, but they're not as bad. Or am I reading that incorrectly, Jane?
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, I don't think this is a great memo, and I know Mark Halperin. I know him to be a good journalist.
BURNS: Highly regarded.
HALL: Highly regarded. And he was quoting "New York Times" coverage that he said this. I think Neal's point is good in the abstract, but I don't think it's the business of the news organization, which he says in there has been under attack for its reporting from the Bush campaign.
I don't think it's — they should — he said Kerry should defense himself. Let Kerry defend himself. Don't get into trying to...
GABLER: I totally disagree with you.
JIM PINKERTON, "NEWSDAY": OK. Well, let me totally disagree, too. Look, my first reaction was, wow, what a smoking gun, how can Halperin be so stupid. And then I thought, no, he's a smart guy. He knows what he's doing.
He's got opinions, and he wants to share them. He's tired of being behind the scenes, and he wants to say, as he said in the memo, that Kerry's a liar, but Bush is a much bigger liar, and let's go after him, and, in fact, ABC's coverage did go after Bush much more on Friday night.
BURNS: Well, then how is it you're defending that, Jim?
PINKERTON: I — it's his opinion. I admire people...
BURNS: But if his opinion is being put into what's supposed to be a neutral...
PINKERTON: Well, but...
BURNS: ... journalistic contest...
PINKERTON: But not anymore. I've been saying to write that memo is like a husband who wants to get caught. He wants to get it out there that what he thinks, either for his friends, his peer groups. Maybe he thinks Kerry's going to win the election. He knew this was going to get leaked.
RICH LOWRY, "NATIONAL REVIEW": I don't know, Jim. That's a pretty deep psychological theory, and I think if we had Mark here and gave him a truth serum, he would prefer that this memo did not come out.
Look, Mark — I know him a little bit, too. He's a real pro. I'd like to hear what he has to say about this. But, on the face of it, it's a very embarrassing memo.
BURNS: Rich, let me stop you just for a second.
BURNS: I'll get back to her. But here's what ABC had to say about it. This is not Mark Halperin, but an official ABC statement. "We are not interested in taking sides. We are only interesting at getting at the truth." Please continue.
LOWRY: On the face of it, a very embarrassing memo. And I think it at the very least reflects a media mindset out there that if Bush wins, it will somehow be illegitimate. It will be a product of dishonesty.
We have to do all we can to stop that from happening, and the irony is, as Mark Halperin's daily log, "The Note," which is read by, you know, all the insiders, makes a lot of concessions to the idea that there is a liberal media bias.
BURNS: Well, let's move on from there, and ask Jim if we saw — as a matter of fact, I think you already said this because, often, when you talk, I do pay close attention, and I seem to remember this. You say you saw evidence of this...
BURNS: ... supposed bias in ABC's, what, coverage of the debate Friday night?
PINKERTON: Jennings goes out of his way to say, hey, there's no spin on our network. They don't have spin doctors. And, in fact, they don't have the usual Republican-Democrat back-and-forth, which I think actually is, to coin a phrase, fair and balanced to do it that way and have one and one so the viewer can decide. He said, no, we don't do that. So they had Jake Tapper get up and do three fact checks.
BURNS: Jake Tapper is?
PINKERTON: An ABC correspondent. And two of them were against Bush, and one of them was against Kerry. They had — George Stephanopoulos said that Kerry was "helped more overall" by the debate than was Bush, and then...
BURNS: Can't that be an honest opinion, Jim?
PINKERTON: Well, sure it could. But then they had George Will who's with theoretically the other side who just, as he is wont to do these days, just put a plague on both of their houses. So I think ABC clearly achieved what Halperin wanted them to.
BURNS: But they — ABC did say that — when was the vice presidential debate — Monday or Tuesday?
HALL: Tuesday night.
BURNS: Tuesday, they said, Jane, that Cheney won. That was ABC's consensus there. So not a clear-cut case.
HALL: I think that the media are reacting to the drumbeat that they are liberal in ways that we don't even know yet. I watched CNN after the vice presidential debate, and Wolf Blitzer turned to Jeff Greenfield, and Jeff Greenfield, I think, pretty much said, well, if you were for this guy, you think he won, if you were for that guy, you thought he won.
And then they went on to this Larry King thing, which was so, frankly, bizarre, where he was asking Liz Cheney about the baby she just had as opposed to her position on the campaign. I think people are reacting in ways to this that we don't even realize. I think they're afraid to call it. I think that's what's really going on.
GABLER: Well, I disagree. I think what they're reacting to is something that I've said on this show and that many, many people have said about the media, is they're not truth squadding enough, that they're just being stenographers.
And so what Mark Halperin is saying here is, look it, I'm not just going to be a stenographer. I want to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) truth squad, and that's what we're seeing here.
HALL: But it's not their job...
BURNS: But if you get into a...
HALL: ... to do it for one candidate over the other.
BURNS: You get into a lot of trouble like that, Rich, don't you, because one person's truth is another person's bias?
LOWRY: Sure. The other idea that Kerry's distortion matter less than Bush's is a very subjective judgment to make and not one appropriate to a journalist who styles himself as objective.
PINKERTON: And that's my point. In the old days when it was three networks, news got 30 percent of the audience, they had to kind of play it down the middle. Now they're getting like 7, 8, 9 shares out of 100, so why not be opinionated? Why not...
HALL: But they're not!
PINKERTON: ... take a...
PINKERTON: Well, but they are.
HALL: ... not being opinionated.
PINKERTON: They obviously are! That's the point. They are. And Halperin is just pushing them in that direction.
LOWRY: But then, Jim, we should just abandon the whole idea of objectivity...
LOWRY: ... and everyone should admit they're rooting for one side or the other and...
PINKERTON: Yes, I do. That's exactly what I think.
HALL: I think the...
HALL: I think the bigger point is that I think that there was a cautiousness in all of the post-debate coverage. Now that is a deeper point.
BURNS: Is it fair to say that about both debates? We haven't touched on the vice presidential debate. We're almost out of time. Do we have a new point to mention about that, or does it show the same things that you all have just been talking about?
LOWRY: Everyone is afraid of getting caught out and being wrong with their initial judgment. I think that's the big meta thing going on here.
BURNS: So people are taking a little time, you're saying, to see which way the wind is blowing?
LOWRY: Yes, yes. If you look at the first debate...
PINKERTON: ... Stephanopoulos who said Kerry won.
GABLER: Well, let me make one final point about this, and that is what I hate is the whole terminology of debate, which is who run and who lost. That drives all of the coverage, and it gets us into really bad situations.
BURNS: We'll talk about ABC News and whether there was bias there. There are charges of bias against Fox News Channel's Carl Cameron also in terms of covering the campaign. We will get to that later.
First, a break and then this:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BURNS (voice-over): President Bush's hometown paper endorses Kerry. John Kerry's hometown paper endorses Bush. That kid of thing used to matter. Does it anymore?
Stay turned for more FOX NEWS WATCH.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNS: According to the latest figures from "Editor & Publisher," six newspapers with a combined circulation of 450,000 have endorsed Bush for president. Five newspaper with a combined circulation of 881,000 have endorsed Kerry.
You know, Rich, this used to matter. I remember big news story in one paper about another paper's endorsement. Does it matter anymore? If so, to what extent?
LOWRY: I think it still matters marginally. Each campaign wants those endorsements and would rather have them than not. But it — I think it just matters less and less as we have a proliferation of other news sources, mainly the Internet.
BURNS: Is that the reason that it matters less, there are just too many other people with opinions.
LOWRY: Yes, people can go other places for sources of news. It's not what's showing up in their driveway every morning.
PINKERTON: I think the other reason is, as a former editorial writer, I think most editorials are just by conscious design kind of mushy. I yearn for the days when "The Times of London" was called the Thunderer. They really — when they had things to say, they threw lightning bolts at Churchill or, you know, Gladstone or whoever.
And I think I admire those few papers that really take pugnacious positions. "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page the last 35 years has changed the world with a relentless that you can love or hate, but they're worth reading for that reason.
BURNS: But, you know, Jane, maybe part of the problem here, too, is the predictability. I mean, you know that the paper that has a liberal editorial page on every other issue is going to endorse the liberal candidate. So maybe they don't matter because people think, well, of course, it's proforma, it's to be expected. It's not a thoughtful analysis. It's their position.
HALL: Well, I think both things are true. I think Jim is on to something. Opinions are all over the place now, and these things tend to read as if they were written by committee. They're very institutional. They're often on the one hand/on the other hand. I mean, I think it's remarkable, for example, people talked about how tough Hal Raines was on Bill Clinton at a certain point.
BURNS: He used to be the editor of "The New York Times."
HALL: The editor of "The New York Times" when he was the editorial page. I think when it — I think people vote on local candidates maybe on endorsements. I don't read them, and I'm a voracious reader. I don't vote based on an editorial endorsement.
GABLER: Well, once upon a time, I think newspapers themselves were rabidly partisan, and so editorials were a way to kind of rally the faithful, but after the progressive period — now I'm going to start to sound like Jim.
After the progressive period when journalists became more objective, they separated out the reporting side from the editorial side. They built a wall, and I think that diminished the tone of an editorial because it took out of that heated environment.
BURNS: You and Jim sometimes are determined to get us kicked off Fox and on to the History Channel, aren't you?
HALL: And I'm the academic.
BURNS: The point is well taken. Yes. But listen...
PINKERTON: But there are still some papers that still have names like "Democrat" in the title or "Republican" in the title, and that just exactly expresses what — and, again, what Rich was saying earlier about the Internet is going to come back to that, and I think that's an — entirely a good thing.
GABLER: And there are other papers as well that haven't — you know, that haven't erected that wall, like "The New York Post," where you're going to get editorial opinion throughout the entire newspaper, and I think that does rally the reader and give the reader a point of view everywhere.
LOWRY: If I could try to sharpen, I think, the criticism both of you are trying to make a little bit...
BURNS: Just keep it in the present.
LOWRY: ... it's not...
LOWRY: Don't worry about it. I don't know nearly enough about the progressive era to try to say anything about it. It's not that the editorials are wishy-washy. It's that they're poorly written and lazy, a lot of them, which I think is more the problem.
BURNS: But is part of it, too, maybe that there is such a fear today, Jane, of showing bias because so many people are complaining about bias that maybe you try to make your endorsements more wishy-washy today so people don't just say, oh, of course, that's "The New York Times," it's the liberal paper; of course, it's "The Wall Street Journal," it's the conservative paper? What do you think?
HALL: Well, in — you know, the New Hampshire newspaper that always took a stand, you know. When it matters, I think passion — I think passion is what people are looking for, and, if it's written by committee, it's not that interesting to read.
BURNS: Quick final word.
PINKERTON: "The Manchester Union Leader," front-page editorials, go get 'em.
BURNS: Thanks, Jim.
We have to take another break. We'll be back with our "Quick Takes."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Why are some people upset at FOX News Channel's Carl Cameron? And why are pictures like these the subject of a lawsuit?
More "FOX News Watch" after this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNS: Time now for our Quick Takes on the media.
Headline Number One: "Cameron Kids Kerry; You Weren't Supposed to Know."
FOX News Channel's Chief Political Correspondent Carl Cameron was kidding around the other day. Sitting at his computer, he typed in some fake quotes, parodies, Kerry on how proud he was of his pre-first debate manicure. The quotes were not supposed to appear on the FOX News Channel's Web site, but they did, causing embarrassment and apologies all around.
Can you give us some perspective on this? Was this a show of bias? Was it, in fact, just kidding around?
HALL: Well, from what I gather, there — you know, Carl Cameron is considered fair by the Kerry campaign, and he was tired, and he was punching in quotes, and he was punchy, and they shouldn't have gone up, and...
BURNS: He was doing a — he was doing a dummy script, but...
HALL: He was doing a dummy script.
BURNS: But it needs to be said that he didn't...
HALL: But let me just...
BURNS: ... expect anybody would know.
HALL: He didn't expect it. It's a gaffe. But let me just say, you know, if the tables were reversed — a few weeks ago, I said that Dan Rather (search) feeds his script to people who think that CBS is liberal. This feeds the script of people who think FOX is conservative and biased against Kerry.
PINKERTON: It was a dummy script, but it's a really dumb thing to do -- full stop. However, it's worth pointing out, they retracted it immediately, they slapped Cameron on the wrist for this, and they're not...
BURNS: And the people on the Web site who...
PINKERTON: Right. This is a lesson in terms of damage control. Like CBS, as far as I can tell, is still saying, you know, wait a minute, A, Bush is pushing (UNINTELLIGIBLE) National Guard, and they're still saying, you know, we got it wrong, but, by the way, too bad.
GABLER: He's still covering Kerry. He revealed a bias publicly. It was an ugly bias. I won't even say the remarks he said...
BURNS: But, Neal, isn't...
GABLER: ... and it undermines his credibility in covering John Kerry or George Bush, for that matter, entirely.
BURNS: Wait a minute. Isn't this — but isn't the salient point here that others don't think so? [CNN's] Paul Begala spoke on his behalf on "Crossfire."
GABLER: What are they going to say? He's covering the campaign.
BURNS: Kerry — they're going to say — hold on. "The New York Times"...
GABLER: He's covering the Kerry campaign. Are the Kerry campaign people and the Democrats going to say about a reporter who's covering them, oh, he's really biased. No, of course they won't.
BURNS: Look, I think they would.
LOWRY: There are two things here. One, I don't want to shock you, Neal, but it's not unusual for reporters on the campaign trail privately to indulge in dark, sardonic humor, and this was meant to be private.
LOWRY: Two, this is a blip. Carl Cameron's reputation will stand on his work, which is impeccable, and everyone who works with him knows that.
HALL: Yeah, but we aren't giving Dan Rather the same...
LOWRY: Well, Dan Rather has not had that sort of record.
HALL: He did apologize.
PINKERTON: No, he didn't.
HALL: Yes, he did.
BURNS: No, he didn't. Or, yes, he did.
HALL: He did.
LOWRY: Rather still maintains that he might be accurate, right? He just doesn't know.
BURNS: Quick Take Headline Number Two: "Says the Network, "Get Out and Vote!"
You're right. He apologized. I was just trying to move you on, so I could read this.
The NBC News Web site, msnbc.com, has begun a campaign urging people to vote. It sounds innocuous enough, Jane. But is this a network news division's function? Any problem with it?
HALL: You know, I winced a little bit when I read this. I think, you know, MTV is trying to get out the vote. If it's nonpartisan, it's OK. But the thing that troubled me was they're going to have this voter fraud question, you know, where there's people phoning in and they're going to have exclusive access to these reports. That sounded very odd to me.
BURNS: More than a journalistic organization should do?
PINKERTON: It's supposed to cover the news, not make the news. This is Al Sharpton's way on to TV on Election Day.
GABLER: I couldn't disagree with more. I mean, this is a public service. If they were telling people to put on seat belts in a car, it's the same exactly thing.
Who in the world doesn't want to encourage voter participation? I can imagine some people who might not want to encourage voter participation, but, generally speaking, who would want to discourage that?
LOWRY: But it is...
BURNS: Do you understand the Al Sharpton (search) reference?
LOWRY: I do. I do.
PINKERTON: Calling in on vote fraud is an open invitation to the NAACP (search) to get in there and say we were ripped off and...
LOWRY: Look, if it's — yes, it's a public cause, it's a fairly innocuous one, but if we're going to go to the model that Jim perhaps correctly is advocating earlier of having media outlets that aren't objective and just engaging causes, that's fine. Let's do it that way. If you're objective, don't get involved.
BURNS: All right. Quick Take Headline Number Three: "Professor Prefers Pictures."
University of Delaware journalism professor Ralph Begleiter (search) is suing the Defense Department and the Air Force trying to get them to release to the public photos of the coffins from Iraq. Says Begleiter's attorney, "This is about the public's right to know the implications of U.S. foreign policy and to assess the price of war."
LOWRY: This is disgusting. There's now news value whatsoever to these coffins. The only purpose of it is to provide ghoulish propaganda to pundits of the war.
BURNS: Why not to provide information to people about the war that people are dying?
HALL: You know, I think that this column started out to where a journalism professor saw it — I'll show my bias. I wasn't pleased with that. Begleiter used to be CNN person.
I think it's a valid argument. It's a valid question to raise. I don't think that this showing the results of war means that you are anti- war unless maybe you don't want to show the American people the results of this war.
BURNS: Is it worth a lawsuit, Jim?
PINKERTON: Information wants to be free.
GABLER: I agree with Jim. I don't believe in press restraints unless there's a very, very good reason, and I can't see the reason.
LOWRY: Go to the families and ask them if you can photograph their son's coffin. Do it that way.
GABLER: If these coffins...
LOWRY: If they say yes, fine.
GABLER: If these coffins were individually identified, I could understand the sensitivity issue.
LOWRY: Just some...
BURNS: We have to take one final break. When we come back, it will be your turn.
BURNS: Here is some coverage of us for our coverage of the coverage of the first presidential debate.
Hazel from Houston, Texas, "The most obvious thing about the debate Thursday was that John Kerry spoke only to moderator Jim Lehrer, while President Bush spoke to the audience or looked directly into the camera to speak to the rest of America. Why were you all so blind to this?"
And Donna, Torrington, Wyoming, "The media coverage of the debate was terrible. Who won, how did they look, et cetera. What about what they said?"
About what Congressman Joe Barton said, that he wants to hold hearings on news media accuracy, here's Scamp who claims to be a dog and "does not choose to share his location." "Who to trust — politicians who are accountable to the people through elections or the powerful media accountable to no one? Duh!"
About "The New York Times" suing the Justice Department to keep its sources secret, here's Virginia from Kansas City, Missouri, "Neal stated that news sources should not have to be revealed so that the 'public's right to know' will be protected. How are we then also protected from reporters who either manufacture or alter information from 'unknown sources' to further their own ambitions?"
And Lisa, Watertown, Wisconsin, "It seems to me that most average Americans would rather the bad guys be put to justice over the journalists' wishes."
About the CBS News story which told that people are afraid of a military draft, then pointed out that both Bush and Kerry have said they won't bring the draft back, here's John from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, "Because it's out there!!! Good gravitas. Neal Gabler actually justified CBS News running the gossip about reinstituting the draft because it's out there. I couldn't believe it. What's next, Neal? Reinventing Elvis's sightings?"
Finally, here's Mark from Fittstown, Oklahoma City, "I love Jim. He is always smiling. He has a great smile. Tell him to use it as much as he can. P.S. I'm not gay."
No, Mark, but you're happy, and Jim makes you happy, and that makes all the rest of us happy, too.
Now here's our address: email@example.com . We ask you to write to us, and, when you do, please tell us your full name, let us know where you live, city and state, if you would.
That's all the time we have left for this week. Thanks to Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, Rich Lowry, filling in for Cal Thomas this week, and Neal Gabler.
And I'm Eric Burns thanking you for watching. We'll see you next week when FOX News Watch will be back on the air.