The following is a transcription of the January 8, 2005 edition of "FOX News Watch," that has been edited for clarity:
ERIC BURNS, HOST: This week on "FOX News Watch," we will cover the coverage of what is perhaps the most-covered natural disaster ever.
CBS trying to get along better with the White House. Will it?
Some Navy SEALs sue the Associated Press.
Al Gore becomes a media mogul.
And Armstrong Williams becomes a White House employee. Well, sort of...
We will explain, after the latest headlines.
BURNS: We begin this week with one of the most tragic stories we've ever had to discuss on this program, and you will 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.
BURNS: It's a story that is so big, so awful, that the big and awful statistics don't really convey the scope of it. But try this statistic: according to a British Web site called Media Guardian, more than 200 media people — just media people — are dead or missing as a result of the tsunami.
As it happens, two of our panelists, Jim Pinkerton and Cal Thomas, were abroad this week.
And Cal, I'm curious about whether this story, which I don't think has been politicized very much in this country, has been politicized abroad. Are they covering in foreign papers, not just the disaster, but the way American politicians are reacting to it?
CAL THOMAS, FOX NEWS ANALYST: Yes, the major papers I read were The Times of London, The Daily Telegraph and watched a lot of the BBC. And it seemed that the comment by the human rights commission, guy at the United Nations, in which he charged the initial American contribution of $15 million to the relief effort as being stingy — that's how he characterized it — got a lot more play even after he backtracked and the amount of money given eventually got to $350 million. So there was a lot of that.
BURNS: Jim, you were where?
JIM PINKERTON, FOX NEWS ANALYST: I was in four countries. I was in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and England. And all across the European Union, there was the sense that, Here's how we, the Europeans, will prove our moral superiority to the Americans by being more generous. And they have all these statistics on per-capita basis of how much they've given and so on and so on. Of course, a lot more Europeans were affected. It was, you know, 2,000 people in Sweden alone — a little tiny country of 8 million — were killed.
But if you want a flavor for the overall — this is "50 Reasons" — "50 Good Reasons" — pardon me — "To Hate America." This was — this was a big seller at the bookstores in Paris.
BURNS: Before the tsunami. So the new edition will be 51, at least, no?
Jane, this country. Are you seeing much of that kind of thing?
JANE HALL, FOX NEWS ANALYST: Well, I think that I — there was an interesting moment on "Larry King" the other night where Bill Clinton was on with Bush 41 and King — this was when they announced that they were going to lead a private effort — and Bush 40 — 41 was criticizing the media for this whole stingy thing, and saying it was an inside-the-Beltway question. Clinton said the media has helped get contributions through the footage. And I think the latter is true, but it was an interesting moment.
I think that overall the coverage has been, to my mind, pretty good, given, you know, expectations such as the facts that some of these stories — I think we've been searching too much for the hopeful stories. But overall, I think that this opened up a corner of the world that unfortunately a lot of Americans hadn't even really studied about, partially due to the lack of international coverage. I think it's been pretty good.
BURNS: Neal, may I ask a different question...
NEAL GABLER, FOX NEWS ANALYST: Yes.
BURNS: ...about the tsunami, or do you want to — do you have a comment (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?
GABLER: I'd just like to comment that I don't think it's been all that good, and I'll tell you why.
I think one of the reasons that the media were so slow to react to this is because the coverage has been very American-centric. It's almost as if 150,000 people died to demonstrate the magnanimity of the American people. This is particularly, I think, true of television.
Also, I think television has concentrated so heavily on European casualties, particularly European children, that it's almost as if, you know, Asians, you know, didn't die in this. And I think that that — there's really been a distortion and bias in that sense, in the coverage.
HALL: I don't agree with that.
THOMAS: Well, each country had their own distortions. I know in the U.K., they were focusing mostly on English victims and in Ireland, on Irish victims. They led the news. They localize it. I suspect the same thing happened in France and Sweden.
PINKERTON: But it wasn't just compassion. It was also criticism.
I mean, for example, in the British papers, they were all over Tony Blair because he was on vacation in Egypt, along the Red Sea, when this happened. And much in the same way that Bush was being criticized in the American media for being in Crawford, Texas, Blair was criticized for not getting back to England.
As if it really makes a difference. If you're president, if you're prime minister, you got the communications. Frankly, it's a little...
GABLER: Well, it makes a symbolic difference.
PINKERTON: It does make a — right.
PINKERTON: If we're trading in symbols here of deep symbolism of, you know, like, when — for example, when Lady Diana was killed seven years ago, Queen — Queen Elizabeth was in trouble because she doesn't come back from Scotland to London. She was supposed to be there in Buckingham Palace, I guess, to monitor the laying of flowers in front of Kensington Palace.
I mean, it's a little silly to demonstrate....
PINKERTON: The media thrive on — is sort of this group-grieving, collective, compassion business.
HALL: I think that there's an American bias towards optimism and hope. And I think television is particularly guilty of that. I mean, you had 50,000 children dead, and it's very hard to grasp that.
I would disagree with Neal, though. CNN and CNN International, particularly because they already had a lot of bureaus there — they had Mike Chinoy, they had Christiane Amanpour —- I think Anderson Cooper has done a good job — they had a whole special about children lost there that was just on on Thursday night. I noticed an awful lot of non-white, Indonesian, Sri Lankan children that were — that were part of that.
BURNS: Would anybody here criticize the coverage in terms of its being too graphic? In other words, if you all were news directors — something like that — would you say to your crews out there, Don't get in too tight. Let's not see the suffering too much. Or, When you get footage that's particularly graphic — would anybody do anything different, or are we covering it in terms of showing the full dimensions of the tragedy in the right way?
PINKERTON: I think this — the raw footage got across the magnitude of the disaster. As Colin Powell said, this is like a war. And if you can say that, you might as well see it.
GABLER: This is an awful, awful tragedy. How can you pretend that it's not?
And I think — to pick up on a word that Jane used, hopefulness — I think she's absolutely right. And in fact...
BURNS: That the media have a bias toward that?
GABLER: Towards hopefulness, and particularly in the American media.
Steven Capus, who's the producer of the NBC Nightly News, made one of the most remarkable comments of the week, when he said that, Wed don't want to have too much — too many disturbing images. We want to provide hope, because otherwise, we will threaten to shuck (ph) down our viewers.
This is not a news judgment. This is an entertainer judgment. And it's disgusting.
THOMAS: One of the things that interested me was how long it took the American journalists to get there. It happened during the Christmas season. But also, most of the big networks had shut down their foreign bureaus years ago. We used to have bureaus at NBC in Hong Kong and Bangkok and London, all over the place.
BURNS: And the foreign bureaus that do exist now are not that far flung (ph).
THOMAS: And a lot of the big-time anchors — Brian Williams, Diane Sawyer — took — what? — 10, 11 days to even get to the region.
HALL: You know, I think another thing that's been interesting is, I think, partially comes out of the last election, is the questions anchors are asking religious leaders about how could God let this happen? I don't think you would have seen that had they not had the election results and the Rove evangelicals in this country.
BURNS: Jim, the final word is yours. Too much pressure?
PINKERTON: Well, I'll say this.
You said the one thing that — talking about NBC and the aesthetics of this — is Jon Klein, the new head of CNN, saying that Anderson Cooper — quote — "owned the store," which even Joe Hagen and The New York Observer, said was — quote — "patently absurd."
BURNS: Yes, but they're looking at this as a way to promote your news talent.
PINKERTON: If a star emerges, he or she emerges. But you can't spin it yourself.
BURNS: All right. We have to take our first break. We'll be back with this:
ANNOUNCER: The president of the United States. The president of CBS News. Are they hoping to get along better in the new year? Will they?
Stay tuned for more "FOX News Watch."
BURNS: Last month, CBS News President Andrew Heyward visited the White House, meeting with Communications Director Dan Bartlett. According to the trade publication Broadcasting and Cable, the purpose of the meeting was, in part, to repair the chilly relations between CBS and the Bush administration.
The temperature dropped considerably, you may remember, a few months ago, because of the National Guard memo story.
Neal, CBS confirms the visit, but they say the kind of thing that happens with some regularity, and it wasn't as a result of what may be strained relations between the two.
What do you make of it?
GABLER: Well, even before the Thornburg-Bacardi report comes out that is assessing CBS' responsibility on the National Guard memos, I think this is ground for firing Andrew Heyward. Because what he's doing is, he's admitting his bias.
Since when — if this happens on a regular basis, I think we — this ought to be investigated. Since when does a head of a news agency go to make nice with the White House?
BURNS: What if the purpose of the visit wasn't to make nice, but...
PINKERTON: Well, to keep his job. If he can land some big, huge interview with Bush...
GABLER: You're right.
PINKERTON: ...or the first lady, before the Thornburg-Bacardi report on the Dan Rathergate memo comes out, then he'll say, You can't fire me. I've done a wonderful job. I got the biggest get of 2005.
But it has all the sincerity — Heyward's visit to the White House — of Marie Antoinette working in a soup kitchen, of Donald Trump saying, I'm marrying this woman because of her mind.
PINKERTON: And I hope the White House doesn't fall for it.
HALL: Boy, I got to tell you, this is a White House that controls access to the president better than anybody else, according to a lot of White House reporters, I've ever seen. And this happens all the time. Access is owned by these administration...
BURNS: What happens all the time? The presidents of the news divisions...
HALL: That the media are in this awkward position of needing access to someone — I don't know how often formal meetings happen, but — you know, the White House Correspondents' Dinner. There's all this backing and forthing. You want access; he wants to try to get out front of the report — that's absolutely true. And the source who leaked said — I think was clearly trying to embarrass Heyward, because he said, He's bending over backward to show they're fair and balanced, which he said to me he watches — or she — watches FOX News.
GABLER: But schmoozing is different than genuflection.
THOMAS: That's right.
BURNS: And also...
HALL: But we don't know what happened in the meeting. There was a meeting.
THOMAS: Well look, it looks bad. It really looks bad.
HALL: It looks bad, but it happens, is what I'm saying.
THOMAS: Journalism was compromised a long time before this because we know about the unwritten rules that go on. OK, we'll let you have this administration official if you be nice to them and if you ask the right kind of questions. And if you don't, you don't get them. Well, you need them for your ratings. And so you try to be nice, and you have these little meetings, and it's just incestuous. It's the ultimate violation of church-state separation from a media point of view.
PINKERTON: I think when Neal, who is part of CBS' base, is trashing them, I think the guy's in real trouble. I would — he's off to the Pew Center or some other think tank by the end of this year.
GABLER: Dana Milbank, who covered the White House for The Washington Post, and who recently stepped down, said that — you know, and it was a thorn in the side of the White House — and said that it wasn't partisanship on his part. It was a general hostility to power.
I think that is a very good motto for most reporters to have: a general hostility to power. I don't care whether it's a Democrat or a Republican. And CBS is not doing that.
PINKERTON: Neal is absolutely right. There should be a general hostility of power. It should go both ways, however.
GABLER: Exactly. Exactly.
PINKERTON: And CBS was not generally hostile to Bill Clinton.
BURNS: Do you suppose — and I understand this is just speculation — but a thought that stuck me was, with the report — the Thornburg-Bacardi report due out at any time now — which is going to be a landmark, it seems to me, in TV journalism — I wonder if — if — if there was a thought that, Well — well, here's what I wonder: might one of those two guys have said to TV, One of the things you have to do is mend fences? And I think that before the report comes out, you ought to go over there and see if you can make nice.
BURNS: I wonder if this was not CBS' idea, but part of the investigators.
PINKERTON: For the first time, you're more cynical than I am.
I man, Thornburg and Bacardi are supposed to clean up CBS, and their advice — if, huge if — was to go brownnose the White House, absolutely terrible.
BURNS: I mean, I — I just — I ask that question...
PINKERTON: I'm shocked. Shocked. Shocked. Shocked.
BURNS: Get over it, will you?
HALL: How do you account for these Washington functions, where people — from the White — where the president comes and does shtick in front of the press corps?
There's a lot of backing and forthing like this. It's not pretty, but it happens.
BURNS: We have to take another break. We'll be back with our "Quick Takes," including:
ANNOUNCER: Some Navy SEALS are suing the Associated Press. And Al Gore is about to become a media mogul.
"FOX News Watch" continues after this.
BURNS: It's time now for our "Quick Takes" on the media.
Headline number one: "SEALS Sue Associated Press."
Six Navy SEALS — that' a small, elite group within the Navy that takes on especially dangerous missions — are suing the AP for taking photos off a supposedly private Web site and publishing them. The lawyer for the SEALS says the pictures reveal their identities, which are supposed to be kept secret, and seemed to link them to the prisoner-abuse scandals in Iraq, which, say the six SEALS, they had nothing to do with.
Do they have ground for a suit, Neal?
GABLER: Well, first of all, let's put aside the question for a moment of whether these photos were newsworthy, which I certainly think they were, and whether the publication is protected by the First Amendment, which I certainly think they were.
When I went to law school, there was a principle in equity court that you couldn't seek relief unless you had clean hands. Meaning, if you'd done something wrong, you couldn't ask the court to help you out.
BURNS: Well, they say they didn't.
BURNS: The SEALS say they didn't.
GABLER: Well, there's prima facie evidence here, when you look at these photographs, that at the very, very least they violate the Geneva conventions. They're trophy photos, at the very least.
HALL: You know, the Navy launched an investigation after this reporter from the AP went to them and said, We are looking into it, and it's described as — as — as in some way something that — not in some way, something that the Navy is concerned about. They don't want people taking at least trophy photos, and certainly they don't want another instance of Abu Ghraib. And this seems to be related to that.
I agree with Neal. I don't see, you know, how they — if the photos turn out to tell something completely different, then I think that's a different story.
THOMAS: Private Web site seems to me to be a contradiction in terms. It's like running down the street naked and asking people not to watch you.
PINKERTON: It's the paradox of American power in the media age. We have the most technology, which means we win our wars. However, everybody's got a camera; everybody's got some data-recording thing. And if information wants to be free, we've just got to learn to live with that.
BURNS: "Quick Take" Headline number two: "It's Profitable, But Is it Ethical?"
According to Friday's USA Today, the White House paid a conservative commentator $240,000 to promote its No Child Left Behind program. Armstrong Williams for speaking favorably about the program on his syndicated TV show, and for doing a series of interviews with Education Secretary Rod Paige last year on TV and radio.
Said Williams, "I want to do it" — i.e., promote the cause, accept the money — "because it's something I believe in." Although he does realize that it may look bad. He has conceded.
HALL: OK, that's...
HALL: OK, well, you know, I think they should go to somebody who's opposed to it. If — you know, if they're going to try to pay people...
BURNS: But pay them less.
HALL: Why pay someone that agrees with you? I'm — I'm not endorsing what I just said. I'm being cynical.
BURNS: Try to co-opt an opponent, eh?
HALL: I don't understand this. I mean, it just — you know, I — I think it just is one more instance of people saying, Well, let's manipulate the media one more time. You know, let's do videos that look like they're videos, but they're really government videos. It's the same thing.
GABLER: Well, this is becoming a trend in this administration.
On Friday, the Government Accountability Office challenged the Drug Enforcement Agency for also dispensing false television promos to stations as if they were real news stories.
So, this is a problem. But this is so egregious, however, that I think he ought to be fired for it. Or — on the other hand, I'd take $500,000 in support of any administration...
(CROSSTALK) THOMAS: Well, Armstrong Williams is a friend of mine. I helped him - - I helped him get his syndicated column started. He had a public relations firm and still does — before he started doing the column.
But in my contract as a columnist — and I think in Jim's as well — there is a provision that you're not allowed to take any kind of remuneration from any person or organization or party and then write about it in your column, or you can be fired.
BURNS: All right. "Quick Take" Headline number three — do you know how to pronounce this? I don't know how to pronounce it. But it's supposedly the name of one of the shows on INdTV. That's the new network headed up by Al Gore and scheduled to go on the air sometime this year.
What you do in this show, Jim, is you say — you know, if something bothers you say, well, that's all blank blanked up, and here's why I'm upset. It's a show for ranters.
PINKERTON: I remember as a kid we had rotten neighbors next to us. And I can just imagine them with a camera, either me filming them or them filming me.
BURNS: But speaking of that — with a camera — another one of the shows that's going to be on this network is going to be, like video blogging. You do — it's called Citizen Reporter. You get on the air, you do your own report.
PINKERTON: Something tells me that Al Gore, who is most famous for losing an election that he should have won, is not the guy to re-invent the genre of television news. I mean, something tells me that the news values of getting the store, being accurate, so on and so on, are more valuable than just letting people rant and rave.
THOMAS: Gore rhymes with bore, and that will be the first review. Bore TV.
HALL: Oh, well, wait a minute. Let me sound — let me — this is — seems to me a contradiction. Some of the stuff that was described was — to me, sounded like a page out of Jim Pinkerton's ideas about breaking down the media and you are the media...
BURNS: It's very democratic. Access to everyone, yes.
HALL: ...and young people and all of that. And some of it sounds very interesting.
Of course, there's a lot of ironies. Al Gore's wife was for labeling records, so how are they going to endorse a show with the f-word in it?
BURNS: Neal, we're almost of time. Do you want to comment on Jim's hypocrisy, as Jane just pointed it out?
GABLER: I mean, this is guerrilla television. I think it's an attempt to kind of merge television with the blogs.
BURNS: Real fast.
PINKERTON: I'm all for blogs. This is television, and I don't think they can support it economically.
BURNS: We'll see.
We have to take one more break. When we come back, we will hear from you.
BURNS: We gave some end-of-the-year awards on our program last week, which virtually all of the recipients would eagerly have declined had they known.
But here are some of your responses:
Michael in Chicago, Illinois: "Amen to Cal Thomas's Frequent Flyer Award for reports. I think any national correspondent worth his or salt should be encouraged, if not required, to cover stories that are outside the Beltway or Manhattan or Hollywood on a regular basis."
And about Jim's award to bloggers, here's John from Vista, California, who says: "The blogs might be interesting to journalists, but will not catch on with the public. The public doesn't spend their leisure hours surfing the net for news. Hell, it might seem like everyone you know is a whiz with a computer, but trust me, just learning how to do e-mail is a challenge for most people."
We're glad you met the challenge, John.
And now Rosa from Three Oaks, Michigan, has started the new year with a surprising fashion: "This is the first time I have ever agreed with Neal, and I almost fell off my chair to hear him say that this country is not so divided as the media make it out to be. I knew that. This country is like a family. It is not always together, but we are certainly not apart."
Here is a letter from Rick of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, addressed as follows: "Dear Jane, Snoopy, Sleezy, Sleepy and Doc: The future of true journalism is non-existent. Gone are the days of the reporting of facts. Gone are the logical arguments. What we are left with are agendas and corporate points of view."
Gone also are the days of non-insulting e-mail salutations from Rick in Swarthmore.
Finally, here is a letter from a Jack in Havelock, North Carolina: "Before my head lifted from the pillow last Sunday morning, I had a "Eureka" moment...It seems to me that if the news media were doing their job, as your guests recommend, there would not be a need for your program. Then I could stay in bed longer."
Well, so could we, Jack. But we would rather be productively ignored, if too often ignored by the people we criticize.
Now, here is our address — we hope you'll write to us — email@example.com When you write, please tell us your full name, and let us know where you live. That's town and state.
That's all the time we have left for this week. Thanks go, for another year, to Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, across the table to Cal Thomas and Neal Gabler.
And I'm Eric Burns, thanking you most of all for watching. We hope you'll tune in again next week, when "FOX News Watch" will be back on the air.
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then ahead to 2005 and when we'll all wish you the happiest of new years.