Published February 04, 2005
The following is a transcription of the January 15, 2005 edition of "FOX News Watch," that has een edited for clarity:
ERIC BURNS, HOST: This week on "FOX News Watch, CBS News, the report is in. Four people are out in what might be the biggest scandal ever to hit TV journalism.
Also, is there a reason for all the tsunami coverage we don't know?
Should this behavior have been covered the way it was?
And what's he doing on a classy program like "FOX News Watch"?
BURNS: First the headlines and then us.
BURNS: According to the body count, it may be the biggest journalism scandal ever: four people fired, two people demoted, including the anchorman.
Four people who still have the same jobs at FOX News are eager to discuss it all for you right now. 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.
I think, Jane, after this week we're not going to have CBS News to kick around anymore. So if you want to kick, if you have a few more kicks left in you, this is the time.
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, you know, I'm about ready to kick on this one. I have — have read this report thoroughly, and I — I'm beginning to agree with the people who think that Andrew Heyward and Dan Rather maybe should have suffered more consequences from this and that it may prove bias.
Not at CBS News, not the way the right wing wants to beat up on the whole (UNINTELLIGIBLE) operation, but it is hard to imagine how Mary Mapes, the producer, could have not vetting this, could have defended it, could have pursued this and — and you — I think there is an accountability there that should come to play.
BURNS: Is there anybody here who would like to submit the right wing beat up on the whole thing point of view? Cal?
CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think we have plenty of evidence that it wasn't the right wing that did it. Van Gordon Sauter (search), the former president of CBS News, wrote a piece for the "Los Angeles Times" in which he said there is liberal bias. It was there when he was there. He hardly watches the network anymore because of that.
You had Bernard Goldberg, a former correspondent of CBS News has written a couple of books from the inside on bias at CBS. You have Bob Zelnick (search), formerly of ABC, saying the same thing.
I mean, I don't know how much you need, how many witnesses you need before you reach this conclusion.
NEAL GABLER, MEDIA CRITIC: Well, I think there are — there are kind of three agendas here for this report. One is the journalistic agenda, to kind of clean up journalism and CBS specifically. One is CBS' agenda, which is essentially to repent. And the third is the right wing agenda, which is to humiliate CBS.
And I think, you know, it's difficult to say whether these agendas have been fulfilled, but the last one certainly seems to have been fulfilled. And that's one of the things, really, that drove this — this whole panel, that drove CBS' desire to get this panel, is to try and appease the right wing.
JIM PINKERTON, NEWSDAY: Well, let's talk about this panel a little bit. This is, you know, the former governor of Pennsylvania and this former executive at A.P., who I believe were brought in to do a partial discovery and a partial cover-up.
I think they found interesting things about CBS' five-year effort to nail Bush on this National Guard story.
GABLER: Now, wait a minute. That's — that — the report never says it was a five-year effort. They started in '99, 2000...
PINKERTON: They did some reporting, and then they didn't...
GABLER: ... and it didn't come up again — so let's not — let's not...
PINKERTON: ... OK, but also the communication between the Kerry campaign and — and CBS is also of interest. However, they lawyered a document to say these four people — and, oh, we're looking for bias. We can't find it — any.
As Peggy Noonan (search) has said, if there had been anything — anything short of a memo from CBS saying, "Here's how we kill Bush," they would have not discovered bias, because they were clearly looking the other way at obvious tell-tale signs of bias and political partisanship.
BURNS: So in other words, if this report was meant in part to be a cover up, what you're suggesting is that it's covering up political bias?
PINKERTON: It — that's the one thing CBS can't admit to. And they paid millions of dollars to get a report that didn't force them to admit to that.
THOMAS: I reject the notice that — the contention that the right wing was trying to humiliate CBS. They did it all on their own.
But there was another very interesting column by Tony Blankley of the "Washington Times" about Richard Thornburgh that I did not read anywhere else. Thornburgh, in addition to being one of the co-chairs of this committee, is also a lawyer for CBS.
And Blankley's position was that maybe he fudged some of this stuff, because it was acknowledged that anybody at CBS knew that these documents were false it could put them in — in legal peril.
BURNS: Legal difficulty, yes.
HALL: You know, I — having beaten up on CBS, I'd like to say — I mean, I know Betsy West. I know some of these people who lost their jobs. And they're the people that are sitting around in a liberal cabal.
Unfortunately, I think there probably was bias on the part of Dan Rather and Mary Mapes. It is hard to say otherwise. But the whole network is being targeted.
I'll tell you one thing that's going to be an unfortunate result. I mean, if you're going to go after a story like this, you'd better have the goods. I'm not defending the report, but I don't think you're going to see more investigative reporting out of TV networks out of this report.
BURNS: But you know what should be investigated, Neal? And it seems to me that the biggest question about this whole incident is not yet answered, and it's the criminal question, not the journalistic one. Where did those memos come from?
Wouldn't it be a great idea for CBS to make that its next big investigative report, in part for the public service it would provide and in part to help clear his image? Don't journalists now, no matter who they work for, have to go after this? Because this is criminal, whoever did this.
GABLER: One of the things that's interesting in the report as just a sidelight, is that Burkett, who was the channel through which these documents came to CBS, himself didn't apparently know the origins of them and said, "You've got to authenticate these things. You must authenticate them." I thought that was kind of interesting.
PINKERTON: It takes a lot to get me to believe anything that Burkett says. But yes, I'm still waiting for, like, the Sandy Berger socks investigation. That one — that one seems to have dropped from the radar screen.
BURNS: Predictions about ratings. The scandal broke, of course, several months ago, and both "60 Minutes II," which does not have — "60 Minutes Wednesday," whatever it's called, which did not have ratings to — good ratings to begin with, and "The CBS Evening News" have stayed about the same. Maybe CBS is going to get away without any numerical damage, Jane, as a result of all of this.
HALL: I don't think that's true. I think that, first of all, it's going to affect whom they go after for Dan Rather's replacement. There was a report Friday in "The New York Times" saying "60 Minutes II" isn't getting a rating, they may kill it off.
BURNS: Yes, and they said that Rather would go to "60 Minutes II," if it still exists.
THOMAS: Wouldn't this be something? He promised retirement, and he doesn't have a show to go to.
BURNS: He has an earlier and more complete retirement than he anticipated.
At any rate, we have to take our first break. We'll be back with this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: CBS didn't just fire people as a result of "Memogate." It came up with four ways to make sure nothing like it ever happens again. Will they work? Stay tuned for more "FOX News Watch."
BURNS: The report on CBS' "Memogate" scandal makes for recommendations for preventing such a problem in the future. They will hire somebody to oversee all investigative reporting. They'll report a separate team of people to look into any report that is challenged. Reporters will have to reveal the names of their sources to top management people. And everybody at CBS News will be urged not to prize accuracy over speed.
That would be a good job to have, wouldn't it? You're the guy who goes into a network news operation and says, "Please slow down. If NBC gets it first, it's OK."
GABLER: You've got it exactly right.
BURNS: What do you make of these, Neal? Are any of them solid, good ideas? GABLER: Well, I think they're all good ideas, and the first three, it seems to me, are fairly easily implemented. There are institutional changes and changes in practice. It's the last one that's going to be the difficult one to implement, because the real problem here is a matter of psychology.
You can talk about bias all you want, but ultimately, this is about ratings, the ratings business.
BURNS: And not just — not just at CBS. This is what we do in journalism. We hurry to get the story on the air.
PINKERTON: All right. Let's talk about bias. I think — I think that box shuffling is worthless, frankly. I think the same people in different boxes won't make a hill of beans worth of difference.
BURNS: Well, this is some new boxes, Jim. They're proposing some new boxes.
PINKERTON: OK. I don't think it will — I think the beans will still be there.
GABLER: The same beans (ph)?
PINKERTON: And I think the most telling element of this to come out in the report was Dan Rather's statement afterwards. He apologized half- handedly back in September, but when the statement came — report came out, he issued a statement. No apology, no "sorry." He said, "My strongest reaction to these four — four people, my friends, who are getting canned here."
If Rather stays, and also Andy Heyward — and I don't really think they will by the end of this year, by the way — but if — as long as they stay, then the message to CBS is keep doing it; just don't get caught.
HALL: I'm not sure that's the message. I think the message is that people at the top didn't — didn't walk off the gangplank. And that's a bad message. That's bad for the morale of the network. Although I know there are circumstances described in the report about Andy Heyward warning, et cetera.
I think, you know, we need to be realistic about what is going to be, regrettably, a chilling effect. I mean, if you look at "Dateline" and other shows, I mean, they're not doing, week after week, hard hitting investigative reporting. They're doing consumer reporting. That's about the level of their investigative report.
BURNS: So you think...
GABLER: Amber Frey.
HALL: Amber Frey, you know. Let's talk, you know, one more sob story. I mean, there's not a lot of...
BURNS: So Jane, when you say chilling effect, you mean when a chilling effect against investigative reporting?
HALL: First of all, "60 Minutes I," you know, the original "60 Minutes" continues to do very good reporting and should not be tarred with this. I think, regrettably, this — if you want to do investigative reporting on a news magazine on networks today, people are not welcoming that anyway. And now it's really going to be, "Well, my gosh, we don't want to go near that one."
THOMAS: I brought in a Watergate analogy in my column that I wrote this week on the subject. One wonders that — if CBS would have been satisfied, if Richard Nixon, after learning about the break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters had said, "You know, in order to keep these break-ins from happening again, we're going to have a new super structure here of oversight." I don't think so.
BURNS: What would you do, Cal?
THOMAS: I think what has to be done at CBS, and here Neal will jump on me, is that the problem is ideological. The reason they're losing ratings, the reason cable and bloggers and all the others are doing so well, is because CBS has a singular mindset: "We can't possible be unfair and unbalanced, because we all believe the same things. And I don't know anybody who voted for George Bush."
BURNS: But Cal, if that's true, what you're saying is the only way CBS can get back on the beam is to fire everybody.
THOMAS: Not fire everybody. They have to bring in some other people with different points of view, as part of the pluralism and diversity we hear so much about.
GABLER: It's not about polling sources (ph). I mean, they should be going down the middle, which is what every network, broadcast — broadcast network ought to be doing.
THOMAS: That would be an improvement.
GABLER: But the problem here again, it comes down to ratings. "Sixty Minutes II" was described, even in the report, as being a younger and jazzier version of "60 Minutes." This is the problem. You want a younger and jazzier version? Then I think standards are going to decline.
PINKERTON: It's always an issue and always a tension, but I do think investigative reporting is still going on. I think the oil-for-food scandal has been a major discovery that's been made by reporters just because they're still looking for scoops.
I think on — just on NBC, I saw a thing on the interior — the federal interior department, a big thing with lobbyists in Arizona. That was with hidden cameras. It was exactly the same stuff. If you get your facts right, you're free to run.
BURNS: We are done kicking. We have to take another break. We'll be back with our "Quick Takes."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Should this be as big a story as it is? And is he the great new hope for liberal talk radio? "FOX News Watch" continues after this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNS: It's time now for our "Quick Takes" on the media.
Headline No. 1: "Cynicism, or Accuracy?" On this, the big weekend of the telethon for tsunami relief on the various NBC networks, we asked a question first asked by "Connecticut Post" columnist Edward Crowder.
Did the media make the tsunami into such a big story because it happened during the week between Christmas and New Year's, which is a very slow news time? Did they make it into such a big story because there was so much dramatic video? After all, says Crowder, in 1991 more than 138,000 people were killed in flooding in Bangladesh, and nobody paid nearly as much attention.
Does he have a point, Cal?
THOMAS: Yes, he does. That's not to say that it wasn't a great story from a journalistic standpoint and a tragic story from a humanistic standpoint. But yes, I mean, it was the ideal time for a news story of great magnitude, and there was over coverage.
BURNS: And another possible motive, Jane, is that it was a story that had no political controversy attached to it. The media could give it a lot of time without anybody being too critical. Is that a valid criticism?
HALL: I think it has to do with the world being more of a global village since 9/11. I think it has to do with our interest, perhaps, the U.S. government's interest in helping a Muslim nation. I think that the video and the fact that Europeans were on the beach also was a factor.
I also think we're racist, still, when it comes to Africa, where a lot of people die. And we ain't covering it.
PINKERTON: I — too much for a "Quick Take" to really react to there. Both what you said, Eric, about the politics. There's tons of politics from the get-go, including Jan Egeland's comment that the U.S. and the West are stingy. And I disagree with Jane on racism, but we'll talk about that some other time.
GABLER: I would say acts of God are better than manmade disasters like Darfur. And things that happen in one swoop — one fell swoop are better for the media than things that happen drip-by-drip like AIDS and malaria.
PINKERTON: And now George Clooney and Bill O'Reilly, together.
BURNS: Are they — O'Reilly has agreed?
BURNS: Apparently. I love it when the previous week we have a "Quick Take" for next week already.
"Quick Take" headline No. 2: "Is it Really Mooning if Your Pants Are Still On?" Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss pantomimed mooning after he scored a touchdown in a playoff game last week, about which FOX Sports announcer Joe Buck said...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BUCK, FOX SPORTS: That is a disgusting act by Randy Moss. And it's unfortunate that we had that on our air live.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNS: The owner of the Vikings, Red McCombs, said that Buck's comment "suggested a prejudice that surpassed objective reporting." And McCombs asked FOX Sports to remove Buck from the announce booth in future playoff games. FOX said it wouldn't.
Several angles here: what Moss did, what Buck said, what McCombs did. Pick one.
THOMAS: Oh, well, let's wait for the FCC statement on this one. How much are they going to fine FOX? And whether it's...
BURNS: By the way, Moss has been fined $10,000 by the NFL.
THOMAS: Well, that whole — I saw the thing, and I didn't even think about it as mooning.
GABLER: Five thousand for each cheek, Jay Leno said.
THOMAS: I didn't even think about it as mooning until it was described. I mean, if this is disgusting and we're sorry we put it on our air, there was no problem up to the point of the FCC fine for the famous Janet Jackson breast baring.
PINKERTON: A lesson in media relations. This guy gets fined 10 grand. He makes $5.5 million a year. He's now much more of a household name than he ever was before. This is a total good career move for him.
BURNS: Well, you know, he's already publicly scoffed about 10 grand and said that he may do something this weekend to get him an even bigger fine.
HALL: I think, you know, it looks to me like it was a playful thing. I mean, there is so much junk out there, to pay attention to this I think is really kind of silly. GABLER: I think Buck's comment was reasonable and appropriate. I mean, what he did is he called a jerk a jerk.
BURNS: And McCombs? What about McCombs? Does he have any grounds whatsoever to say to FOX Sports, "We don't want this guy on?" First of all, I think he's suggesting racial prejudice. You know, what is that line? He said, "There's more to it here than just" — I mean, he's making more of it than — than anybody else, maybe even more than Buck made of it.
PINKERTON: This is what lawyers are for in terms of what the contracts say about the NFL's contract with FOX, which I don't know, I confess.
THOMAS: Well, on local stations there are — there is a more of a relationship between the play-by-play people and the local team. But at a network there isn't. These are independent sports journalists and not — it's none of the business of the team owner what they say or don't say on FOX.
BURNS: "Quick Take" headline No. 3: "And You Don't Have to Be a Transvestite to Call In." Jerry Springer begins hosting a three-hour daily radio talk show on Monday. At first it will be on just in Cincinnati, but the hope is that it will start being syndicated nationally next month. As the "New York Post" put it, "Notorious — notorious host reinventing himself as Limbaugh Lefty."
Perhaps I should have said, Jim, it's not necessarily everybody's hope that he'll be nationally syndicated. But what about this? Does the left finally have its Limbaugh?
PINKERTON: One way to find out. But he'll have a hard time figuring out how to throw chairs on radio.
THOMAS: The question is whether white trash sounds as good as it looks. That's the big question.
BURNS: But you understand that this guy used to be, what, used to be the mayor of Cincinnati. And so he knows something about politics.
THOMAS: The greatest Jerry — the greatest Jerry Springer story: here's a guy who paid a prostitute with a personal check. Now that alone is worth tuning in to here.
BURNS: But it tells us nothing — it's a good story, Cal. It tells us nothing about how he might do as a political talk show. You know, he's very glib. He's — when you listen to him being interviewed, he's very entertaining. I love the guy.
HALL: We'll see. I'm very happy. I hope the two of you have a happy time together. I mean, liberals, you know, I guess can use all the help they can get, but I would hardly think of him as a liberal talk show host. I mean, they've got — you know, it's very interesting. And that is not the way he's, certainly, had his television career.
GABLER: I think he's right when he says he may be the liberal equivalent of Limbaugh and Hannity. I mean, he's a loud-mouthed ignoramus who will debase, you know, political discourse. And why not do it on the left instead of on the right? Why not?
BURNS: I'm sorry, we don't have time for that rebuttal, Jim and Cal.
THOMAS: I'll let that lie.
BURNS: Until next week's mail segment. We'll get to it then.
THOMAS: We actually will.
BURNS: We have to take one more break. When we come back, it will be this week's mail segment.
BURNS: About media coverage of the tsunami, here's Sharon from Rochester, New York: "The coverage of the tsunami disaster needs to be graphic and truthful to chronicle what happened. To sugarcoat the images diminishes the lives of the victims. If the coverage upsets some people, they are free to turn it off."
Kim from Los Angeles: "Both Jane and Neal stated that American coverage of the tsunami has been biased toward hope. But with 150,000 people dead, what else is there?"
And Marla, Kansas City, Missouri: "Eric, have you screened the panel for substance abuse? I'm concerned for their health and safety. Do you really think the media have a bias toward hopefulness? In our dreams!"
Mary from Charlottesville, Virginia, changes the subject for us: "Neal Gabler, seconded by Jim Pinkerton, said reporters should have a hostile attitude toward an administration. This is just as wrong and slanted as having a fawning attitude toward an administration. Reporters should be neutral. If anything, they should be hostile toward, or at least wary of, their own biases."
About commentator Armstrong Williams taking over a quarter of a million dollars from the federal government to promote the No Child Left Behind program, here is Matthew from Palmdale, California: "The unethical payment of $240,000 to promote the No Child Left Behind Act simply demonstrates the ineptitude and the unethical behavior of the media."
And Rock from Bellville, Illinois: "Reference the Armstrong Williams controversy. What are your panelists being paid? The core issue is disclosure."
OK, Rock, here's the disclosure: we're not getting paid anything from any organization to promote any particular point of view. We're getting paid by FOX News Channel for whatever our points-of-view happen to be.
Finally, here's Granny Grace from Zebulon, North Carolina: "Dear Eric: Your program is a big hit with us. Every Saturday, Gramps and I clear away the supper dishes and sit right down in front of the TV to enjoy your crisp discussions while we eat our pudding." Granny Grace.
That's great, Granny, and we thank you very much, but we also hope we've got some viewers on solid food.
Help me, Neal.
Here's our address: NewsWatch@FoxNews.com . Please write to us, 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 and Neal Gabler. Especially to you, pal, for troopering (ph) through with a really bad cold. — Very courageous job.— Can tell we had some time to fill?
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then ahead to 2005 and when we'll all wish you the happiest of new years.