Recap of FOX News Watch Saturday, January 22, Edition

The following is a transcription of the January 22, 2005 edition of "FOX News Watch," that has been edited for clarity:

ERIC BURNS, HOST: This week on FOX News Watch, he got sworn in, she got sworn at. Well, sort of. Are we on the verge of a media scandal bigger than "Memogate"?

Guess what they're learning before they go to war? Why are the editors of this paper calling readers who canceled their subscriptions?

And we introduce you to a new star of French TV journalism.

First the headlines, then "FOX News Watch."


BURNS: Here are the best four people we could find anywhere to cover the coverage of the week's big stories, so help me God. 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.




REHNQUIST: ... do solemnly swear...

BUSH: ... do solemnly swear...


BURNS: At which point a lot of John Kerry supporters not so solemnly swore. Cal, we know some of them are in the media. How do you feel those people who would have preferred Bush lost, and who work for network news divisions, did yesterday in covering — I'm sorry, on Thursday in covering the inauguration?

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, I'd contrast it with the Clinton inaugural of 1992. Most of the Republicans had their little private parties, licking their wounds, and the media didn't cover any of those private parties.

And there were no protesters in the streets, as I recall, you know, saying that Clinton was illegitimately elected. Now there have been some - - may have been some arguments later. And the media pretty much took it as democracy in action.

This one, however, it seemed to start with the protesters and all of the questions and the ABC web page suggesting that anybody who was planning a funeral for a lost loved one as a result of the Iraq war let us know, because we'd like to give it some coverage on inauguration day. There's always this negative thing when Republicans win, as if somehow they're illegitimate.

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: I — wow, I don't know if we were watching the same network. And I also would disagree, as I think many people would, with your premise there that all the people who work in television and print news all voted for John Kerry.

BURNS: Jane, I didn't say that at all.

HALL: You said that those who didn't — you said...

BURNS: I said did those who vote for him give unfair coverage.

HALL: OK. All right. Well, I stand corrected.

BURNS: Misquoted on my own show.

HALL: I stand corrected, but you were implying there are a lot of people who didn't vote for him on — the inauguration.

BURNS: I said there were some.

HALL: OK. I couldn't disagree more with Cal. I mean, I watched that and thought that this was a pomp and circumstance, that the networks went out of their way, at least in the live coverage — let me finish — to give President Bush his day to the point that there was very little indication coming out of the speech until the next day Peggy Noonan in the "Wall Street Journal" talked about what a sharp, broad, expansionist idea — ideals that he was proposing.

What Rich Lowry (search) and sort of the few people on FOX who says this, his speech was tinged with utopianism, which is an interesting phrase for it.

JIM PINKERTON, NEWSDAY: Just to help Jane along here, I would say that three-fourths of reporters voted against Bush. They either voted for Nader or...

THOMAS: On what basis do you say this?


PINKERTON: Your instinct is — but that's — yes...

BURNS: OK. Your question is — your question is what did we see on the air on inauguration day?

PINKERTON: Twenty-five years of living in Washington. That's my — but I think a lot of the coverage was just sort of plain dopey. I mean, Chris Matthews had Tommy Lasorda, that great political expert, to talk about...

BURNS: He is?

PINKERTON: The Dodgers. Yes.

BURNS: Can you tell me why?

PINKERTON: No, I can't tell you why. I watched it, too, and I was looking for one. However, there was clearly, as Cal said, a snarkiness to this. Chris Jansing on MSNBC said, "I've never seen so many fur coats in my life." You know, there's a lot of that kind of stuff.

BURNS: But — excuse me, but among the other people who were on, Neal, NBC had two men of the cloth on yesterday, James Dobson (search), who is a conservative, and Jim Wallis (search), who is a liberal. What did you make of the fact that these two people, and as far as I know, men of the cloth have never before provided commentary on inauguration day. What did that gesture from NBC indicate to you?

NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: To me, capitulation.


GABLER: I mean, to — well, capitulation to the right wing. This is another example of this kind of — of demagoguery that...

BURNS: Jim Wallis is not a right wing...

GABLER: No, no, no. But the whole idea that you have to talk about faith because of course, the next line is George Bush is a man of deep faith, or that red states are real and blue states are somehow unreal, as if the people who — the soldiers who come from blue states who die in Iraq don't die as — as severely as the people from red states. Or that if you don't support the war in Iraq, somehow you don't support our troops.

All of this is part of a script, and I think NBC, in having Wallis and Dobson on, were capitulating to the script. And I agree with Jane. I think most of the coverage yesterday was really kind of supine to — to the Bush administration.

THOMAS: First — first of all, Jim Dobson is not a man of the cloth. He's a Ph.D. He's a psychologist. But I think this increases and elevates the level of discussion on this issue, instead of the bomb throwers from both sides. I salute NBC for doing this.

BURNS: The other controversial coverage of the week was, of course, Condoleezza Rice's hearings, and the complaint I have heard about those most often is that when the newscasts showed clips from it, they showed more often than not, Barbara Boxer (search), who was the toughest interrogator of Condoleezza Rice (search).

Jim, it seems to me that that is not an example, as some people think it is, of political bias. It is an example of the media going for controversy, for the best picture, for the most provocative sound byte.

PINKERTON: Right. It's sound bytes. It's the old joke about the orchestra pit. You know, the guy who got there and won a Nobel Prize but falls into — off stage while he's getting it, that's the coverage.

BURNS: That's the lead.

PINKERTON: But the news for, just you know — news goes for bad news on this. And I think frankly — however, I will say this. The media and its live coverage — I think it's 12 hours on that first day — are an enabler for this kind of stuff. If you want politicians to go on and on and on and on forever, put them on live television. It's a trap that we fell into.

HALL: I was surprised to see not only people like Andrew Card and Newt Gingrich on this network, talking about how they viewed this as petty politics. I saw Jack Cafferty on Friday, who's the CNN morning show host, talking about how it was petty politics, they should just confirm her already. I think that was the tone of a lot of the coverage of this.

BURNS: Thoughts on this side of the table?

GABLER: Well, I thought — you're absolutely right, they fastened on the television moment, without fastening on the larger issue that Barbara Boxer was raising, which is did Condoleezza Rice lie? Was she a hypocrite? Can we trust her? They fastened on that one segment without looking at the broader context.

THOMAS: To borrow Jim's snarky line, I thought one of the most outrageous questions, Paula Zahn of CNN asking Senator Joe Biden, "Well, when do you think she'll be able to speak for herself instead of just basically being an ideological prisoner of the president?"

How about loyalty? How about believing in the policy? Has that ever crossed their minds?

BURNS: We have to take our first break. We'll be back with this.


ANNOUNCER: The FCC is investigating a new kind of indecency: government money, your tax dollars, paying off journalists.

Stay tuned for more "FOX News Watch."


BURNS: As we told you two weeks ago, commentator Armstrong Williams has acknowledged that he received $240,000 from the U.S. Department of Education to promote the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind program. Now, the FCC is investigating the matter.

Neal, before I ask you your opinion, let us mention that there is an intermediary in this matter. The Department of Education gave the money to a P.R. firm...


BURNS: ... to dispense with as it chose. But apparently, the Department of Education knew Williams was getting it.

The main question on my mind here is — and I know it's speculation — but are we right to at least suspect that this is not the only case? And might we be on the verge of something really dramatic in this journalism business?

GABLER: This could be the tip of the iceberg, and I'll tell you the source: Armstrong Williams. Right here at FOX, he told David Corn of "The Nation" that he was not the only one accepting money. Now he has not then gone forth and told us who the others are, but I think that arm is going to be twisted.

We've got to know if this is one — a single instance or whether there are a number of so-called pundits and journalists who are being paid by the administration to advance their cause.

BURNS: Because if there are, Cal, it's a two-pronged scandal. It's scandalous that the government is using our tax dollars for this, and it's scandalous that journalists are taking this money for their views.

THOMAS: Well, two things, or maybe three, to borrow one of Neal — first of all, I talked to Armstrong about this, and he said he — he actually doesn't know of anybody else. But...

BURNS: But he said he did.

THOMAS: Well, he said he did, but now he said he doesn't. No. 2, the FCC probably doesn't have standing in this case, because his programs were on cable. However, the Justice Department does. And I think it's a serious problem.

But No. 3, all government agencies have media and P.R. arms. Why aren't they already being paid by tax dollars, using that money to promote the administration program of whatever administration it is? Why do they have to hire a P.R. firm?

And we also learned this week that, in addition, they hired a P.R. firm to check out which journalists are more favorably disposed to the policy.


THOMAS: I think that's an outrage and a misspending of tax dollars.

PINKERTON: I worked in the Bush 41 White House, and I wish, as we were losing the election, somebody told us, "Hey, you can just hire — hire Maureen Dowd and put her..."

BURNS: I really don't mean to be offensive to Armstrong. Oh, sorry.

PINKERTON: But I have more. Look, three quick points here.

BURNS: Three?

PINKERTON: I'm sorry.

THOMAS: I only get two.

PINKERTON: It's my turn. No. 1, the government ought not to do this. Full stop. Second, Williams should have disclosed. Full stop. And then third, the FCC has no business — I agree with Cal — no business investigating this. We do not need an inquisition run by the government of the media. This is one thing reporters in their own perhaps tighter (ph) way, are more than happy to do.

BURNS: But they're not doing it yet. And I wonder if, Jane, at any big newspaper or TV network, anybody has been assigned yet to dig into this story. In other words, to find out if there are others who are taking money from the government.

HALL: Well, it's interesting that he apparently said this in defense. You know, I think we need to — certainly, it would be interesting to know if anybody else is doing this. But I think we're focusing on Armstrong Williams and what he did wrong.

And I think we might as well look at the secretary of education, the department governing. Please look into, you know, $1,000 screwdrivers. The Government Accounting Office looked into that. This is not money even well spent, much less payola, if that's what it turns out to be.

Let's look and see where else the government is giving money. I mean, I look at the government more than I look at the recipient, although the recipients are a very sexy story.

BURNS: And the recipient in this case — no offense intended — is someone, Cal, who has a very tiny audience. It seems to me, cost effectively, this was not cost effective.

THOMAS: Well, there is — there's a political element, too. I was interested to read that the FCC received over 1,000 complaints about this. Now where are these complaints coming from? You know, we talk about — Neal has talked about, and rightly so, would the right get exercised about something they don't like, something sexy on TV, a bare boob. And these mail campaigns started — that's M-A-I-L — to the FCC. One wonders if they're orchestrated. And that's a good question. I wonder if this is orchestrated.

BURNS: Jim, do you really think that no government agency, since it's government money that is being spent on this, should be involved in this? That reporters by themselves would ferret this out? Because if you do, I'd like to wholeheartedly disagree with you.

PINKERTON: I don't mind the — I don't think the FCC, as I understand it, is going to investigate Williams. They're going to investigate networks, whether or not they violated the payola rules. That's not — they're not investigating other reporters.

I will say this, though. There's nothing new about this, unfortunately. And that's why I do think there's probably more to come somewhere.

I was at the New York Public Library the other day, and there was an exhibit by the printer James Gillray from Napoleonic times. I said, "Oh, and by the way, he was on the payroll of George III."

THOMAS: I saw you there, Jim. Glad to see you.

BURNS: But more of that then than there is now. And now there is simply no defense, Neal, is there, in any manner for this kind of behavior? And we do stand apprehensively, wondering how much more we're going to talk about this issue.

GABLER: A scandal waiting to erupt, I agree with you. And I also think that it's a much larger issue in the way that the Bush administration has twisted the arms of people in the Social Security Office, for example, to support them. I mean, this goes all the way through this administration.

BURNS: And if it does, we'll talk about it more. Right now, though, another break. We'll be back with our "Quick Takes."


ANNOUNCER: Military training now means media training.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking French)

ANNOUNCER: And what's he talking about? And who's he talking to?

"FOX News Watch" continues after this.



BURNS: Here are our "Quick Takes" on the media.

Headline No. 1: "Ready, Aim, Fire off Those Talking Points." The trade publication "Editor & Publisher" reports that since October, all American soldiers heading for Iraq have been taking media training as part of their military training.

Since there are so many embedded reporters these days, the military is embedding its soldiers with the right answers to the media's questions. Similar to what we just discussed.

GABLER: Yes, here's Exhibit A of what I was talking about. This is a pervasive aspect of the Bush administration. Now they want to get soldiers to give their talking points.

The problem for this is that, in giving Bush talking points, they will not be giving the truth. And the public in a democracy needs the truth.

HALL: I think this is probably not the first time this happened, but — in the previous war in Vietnam. But the truth will out, and you can't have talking points for somebody who's in the middle of a war, I hope.

BURNS: Actually, Jim, in the middle of the talk show, has one.

PINKERTON: Yes. Well, I have one here that says, "We're a values based, people focused team that strives to uphold the dignity and respect of all."

BURNS: Now, that's one of the talking points?

PINKERTON: I really have a hard time believing that a lot of G.I.'s are actually going to — I think if Willie and Joe from the "Bull Muldoon (ph)" cartoons were going to talk like this. What's wrong with just plain old "no comment"?

THOMAS: Yes. Well, what's wrong with having appointed people in the military to speak for that particular unit or whatever? I think this is going to come back and haunt the Pentagon. I think it's a lousy idea.

Although it is a media war.

BURNS: "Quick Take" headline No. 2: "Don't Hang Up, I'm Not a Telemarketer!" Editors at "The Philadelphia Inquirer" are calling people who have canceled their subscriptions to the paper and trying to get them to change their minds. In particular, they're trying to get back subscribers who canceled after the paper ran a series of 21 editorials supporting John Kerry for president.

Said one editor, "If the people I call say, 'Yes, I was mad at your editorial,' I ask them to come into the office and talk about it."

So they're concerned, Jim, about the effect of journalistic matters on subscriptions.

PINKERTON: I think this is a great idea. I think — I think that this is exactly what all well-run companies do. They have the people at the top actually getting next to customers.

BURNS: But if the customers say, "Yes, we were upset that you supported Kerry," do you support Bush?

PINKERTON: Well, no, that's — that's for them to decide. Something tells me "The Philadelphia Inquirer" is not going to radical change its ideological stripes. However, management, by walking around, actually seeing, going to the shop floor, going to the store floors, is a great idea. I think they get valuable feedback.

HALL: I think that they should know about the readers before they cancel their subscription. They should know what — what opinion is. If you take an editorial stance — I mean, I disagree with Jim. The climate is shifting dramatically, and I would bet somebody in the business office is recommending they support President Bush the next time if they've lost readers over supporting John Kerry.

BURNS: Actually, Cal, what they have found out is that very few of these people who canceled did cancel because of the editorials. But they were concerned with finding out the impact of them anyhow.

THOMAS: Well, 21 editorials is beyond excessive. It is propaganda. It is flacking for a particular campaign, whether it's on the Republican or Democrat side.

I think this is a good trend, though, to call people and find out, because it is a business, after all. And I would recommend to "The Philadelphia Inquirer," if they wanted more fairness and balance, they should take back my column, which they canceled a couple of years ago.

HALL: That's why they lost readers.

GABLER: I think this is an awful idea. I know this is not fashionable to say this. But any journalist who thinks of his newspaper as a product and thinks of his reader as a consumer ought to be in another profession.

BURNS: Bring back Cal. Bring back Cal.

In the meantime, "Quick Take" headline No. 3: "Cut the Anchor, Give a Listen."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking French)


GABLER: This cartoon character, seen here in a small format, anchors a 10-minute daily newscast for children on the Web in Paris. He intros the stories, and then the reporters report them. It's the same format used by non-cartoon character anchors.

And we have talked on this show a lot, Jim, about how young people are getting into the habit of the Internet to get their news, to entertainment shows, as opposed to TV newscasts. Is this a good idea? PINKERTON: I — again, I think it's a good, innovative approach to making news more user friendly to people. And hopefully — hopefully, from our point of view, hooking them into a lifelong learning. And I hope they do it here, too.

THOMAS: One more reason to hate the French.

PINKERTON: No, I think it's good.

THOMAS: ... was interesting in the news, even from the left wing perspective of the French, more power to them.

HALL: You know, my daughter gets "TIME for Kids" in her school. I used to read the "Weekly Reader," which is still around. I think anything that...

BURNS: Anything.

HALL: ... creates a news consumption habit is generally a good thing.

GABLER: I would agree, but with one proviso. If you have to compromise the news in order to get young consumers of the news, which is usually what you have to do, then there may not be — no reason to attract them.

BURNS: We have to take one final break. When we come back, it will be your turn.


BURNS: About the CBS News "Memogate" reporter, here is Bill from Albertville, Alabama: "No one should be surprised at its incompleteness. After all, who paid the investigators? CBS did. Should you hire an agent to testify in your behalf in a court case, you can be assured the testimony will be slanted in your favor."

On the other hand, here's Ray from Bloomington, Illinois: "OK, so let me get this straight... CBS is fair game for charges of liberal bias from people (Hi, Cal) working on the FOX network? Give me a break! Tell you what, let's monitor 24 hours of news programming between FOX and any of the other networks, and I bet I can find a 25:1 FOX conservative bias v. the other's liberal bias."

About reasons for all the tsunami coverage, here's Nancy from East Hampton, New York: "You and some of your listeners have forgotten a key component for the extensive tsunami coverage: the disaster didn't decimate lives in just one country. It took the breaths away of countless foreigners visiting 12 countries. Clearly, a tragic event that affected the world's nations."

Here is in defense of Randy Moss, although not for a mock mooning. It's from Mary Ann from Flippin, Arkansas. "Gabler said Moss is a jerk. I do not think he knows what he is talking about. Have you ever seen Moss give a football to a child in a wheelchair when he makes a touchdown? Well, I have."

About Jerry Springer as the great left hope for talk radio, here's Steve from New York City: "Actually, Jerry has periodically made the political talk show rounds in recent years, and is a far more effective and reasoned advocate of Democratic positions, and indeed, unspun common sense, than all but a few of the regular denizens of the circuit."

Finally, we have a little encouragement, sort of, for Jane. "Thank God for commercials. I was watching the playoff game (last Saturday) and switched over during a commercial to hear Jane admit there was bias at CBS. The wonders never cease. Now if she'd just take a hard look at CNN, "The New York Times." Baby steps, Jane, baby steps."

Here's our address. It's . 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, who took it well, Jim Pinkerton. Thanks, too, Cal Thomas, 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.

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.