The following is a transcription of the April 9, 2005 edition of "FOX News Watch," that has been edited for clarity:
ERIC BURNS, HOST: This week on "FOX News Watch": the pope's death. But did he use the media to send a message in the last days of his life?
The prince's wedding and his bitter comment about the people who covered it.
Jane Fonda speaks out on Hanoi Jane.
Car-chase coverage and copycats.
And at ABC, Koppel's departure, Jennings' battle.
First the headlines, then us.
BURNS: The funeral of Pope John Paul II (search) was the biggest funeral in the history of the papacy. But there was something unusual on the air a couple of weeks before the funeral — or was there?
Here are 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.
In the last days of Pope John Paul II's life, we saw him on the air struggling to speak. And we saw him on the air in apparent pain, or at least discomfort.
And Jim, I thought those pictures were absolutely remarkable, and I'm wondering why the Vatican — so media savvy — put pictures like that on the air as the pope progressed toward death.
JIM PINKERTON, "NEWSDAY": I wondered about it too, and I would have been mystified had I not read Peggy Noonan's article in "The Wall Street Journal" in February in which she said, in a very Catholic way, that the pope is making a counterintuitive point about suffering and dying.
They know the value of being made up and looking nice and so on. But they know the value of doing the opposite if you're trying to show Catholics and others the right way to die in terms of dignity, but not extraordinary — extraordinary means as part of the culture of life. It's also a culture of death at the right time.
BURNS: And you have to accept that.
PINKERTON: And you have to accept that, and that was Peggy's point. And I think the pope knew what he was doing in those agonizing last days.
BURNS: I wonder, Cal, if it was also a Terri Schiavo-related point too, because of the timing.
CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Yes, well, of course nobody had any timing effect over any of this. You couldn't — you can't plan the circumstances of your own death, and certainly Terri Schiavo had no control over the circumstances of her own death.
But one of the things, from a media perspective, that interested me the most: the Vatican for decades, centuries, had been like the old Soviet Politburo. They were very stingy on their information. When "Comrade Brezhnev has a cold" when he may be dying of lung cancer or something. They never told you anything until the person in question had died.
This time, they were all over the place with updates — medical updates and then an e-mail to all journalists at the moment of his death, or shortly thereafter. Amazing thing. Amazing change.
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: You know, I think that — that Jim is right. I think he was determined to show that suffering was a part of life.
And in all the coverage that you saw — the covers of "TIME" and "Newsweek" and all the stories about him as a young athlete, and then as a very vital man. It — the contrast was even all the more striking.
NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: Apparently, there was some disagreement within the Vatican about whether he should be shown this way.
But I think as we head ad nauseam this week, he was an amateur actor when he was young. And I think this — he saw this as a kind of performance. He was staging his death in a way, and it became the passion of John Paul II.
BURNS: To make this particular point?
GABLER: To make this particular point.
BURNS: Let's talk about the coverage of the funeral, Jim, and the events leading up to that.
There is a lot of politics in being a pope these days. Was there also a lot of politics in the coverage of his — his death?
PINKERTON: Well, I think the media, it's fair to say, over the last few decades, have been pretty tough on the Catholic Church. And I think in terms of the — most reporters are pro-abortion or pro-birth control — they got — they pounded the Catholic Church pretty hard.
But at the moment of the funeral and the death, I think the coverage — with the exception of Christiane Amanpour (search), who could never resist putting little digs in: pope's too conservative, pope's too this, pope's too that — on the whole, it was pretty reverential, because of the visuals are so strong. All those uniforms and outfits and churches and so on.
HALL: You know, I'm not sure I'd agree with you about Christiane Amanpour.
But rather than going to that — I mean, how about Tim Russert (search) showing himself and his wife and baby being blessed by the pope? This was a great moment to his career, when the "Today" show went there. Cokie Roberts doing commentary; she's a Catholic — her mother doing commentary.
I think the so-called irreligious media were — were talking about their own faith. And also I think that there was extraordinary coverage of the pope. In fact, I think it was probably, maybe, so reverential that we didn't even know that he — there was controversy within the Catholic Church about some of his points of view.
BURNS: Is it fair to say, Neal, that the ideal time to get into the controversy would be now or next week, as the process begins to — for a successor. That's when you talk about the coverage, because you talk about the issues.
I — it seems to me that his successor will be chosen the way we choose in this country a Supreme Court Justice. We will be asking, What's his position on...
BURNS: ...women in the church? What's his position on abortion? And that's when you get into the pope's political legacy maybe.
GABLER: But — but this — this was a very complex papacy, and it was not treated that way by the media.
I think what — the coverage of the funeral showed all the deficiencies of the media: their sycophancy, their reliance on clichés — if I hear one more time that he was a rock star, I think I'm going to barf.
GABLER: And above all, their simplification of issues.
BURNS: But why not get more complex later? Do you disagree....
GABLER: Because there's not going to be the opportunity. Then they'll be talking about the horse race of who's going to be elected pope.
This is the time. This is the time to put some assessment on this papacy, not to say how long the lines are. We got endless chatter about that, but we got very, very little assessment of who this pope was and what his legacy will be.
THOMAS: This is a good story for the media because, as I think Jim suggested, it allows them to deal with the perception of their anti- religious bias. And there's a lot of form, a lot of pictures, and they don't have to get into substance.
You talk about some of the words you sick of; I'm tired of pilgrims, and I'm tried — tired of "the faithful."
What we could have used on this is a deeper discussion of Catholic theology and how it — since, really, Martin Luther (search), or even before that, Henry VIII (search) — the division between the Catholic Church and so much of the rest of the religious world. We didn't get that.
BURNS: You made a prediction the last time this program was on, that somebody would — would predict the pope's death or announce it before it happened. And in fact, that did happen.
PINKERTON: I said that in a world of cell phones and BlackBerrys, that the pressure — the competitive pressure to get the first on the air the pope had died, would get the best of somebody. And unfortunately, it got the best of FOX. We were the first ones to say prematurely and incorrectly — although they apologized immediately — that the pope had died.
BURNS: We have to take our first break. We'll be back with a ceremony of a very different kind.
ANNOUNCER: Prince Charles in love with Camilla Parker Bowles (search) and finally marrying her; Prince Charles disgusted with reporters, wanting to divorce them...
Stay tuned for more "FOX News Watch."
BURNS: Prince Charles is now married again; the wedding postponed a day because of the funeral of the pope. The media were everywhere.
A few days ago, the prince and his sons were skiing and the media were everywhere. And the prince was overhead saying this to his sons, about the media:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRINCE CHARLES: Bloody people. I can't bear that man. He's so awful, he really is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNS: Now, Neal, he's saying he can't bear that man, that particular journalist.
But the royal family has no affection for the media on the whole.
GABLER: No, they do not.
BURNS: Why not?
GABLER: Well, you know, I — I think they — there's a basic misunderstanding here.
They're — the cliché, is that American celebrities are the royalty of America. But really, it's the reverse: royalty are the celebrities of England. And they get treated like celebrities. And their job is to be celebrities, which means now that the real job is to provide tabloid fodder.
I don't think that Charles has ever gotten himself acclimated to this notion that that's what he does.
BURNS: And you know who got blamed for that in part, is the guy who owns this network, Rupert Murdoch (search).
BURNS: Because in 1969, he — he founded his first newspaper in England. And he's a colonial, as an article I read said, you know?
So as an Australian, he didn't care that much for the Empire, and he supposedly said — this is conjecture — "let's treat these people with a little less veneration. I'm from Australia, damnit!"
PINKERTON: Well, I think that — I think that's true. I mean — I mean, the Australians were not British and therefore, not British — weren't as loyal, and so on. And actually, Rupert Murdoch's father trashed the British Empire during World War I. So it goes way back.
PINKERTON: However, they did play favorites. This is important — I mean, you know...
BURNS: Who played favorites?
PINKERTON: The media. The British media, especially. They loved Princess Diana; that's pretty clear. And they've taken out all their inverted love of Camilla, and they're just beating the crap out of her for — for 20 years.
GABLER: Well, Di was a great celebrity.
BURNS: Let me give you a suggestion — or, an example of one headline about this marriage. This was in the London paper, Jane, "The Star":
"Boring Old Gits To Wed" — a "git" is, I guess, an expression for old fogeys. But that's a newspaper headline about this in London.
HALL: Well, that wasn't the worst of it.
You know, I would like to strike up one for Middle Age love here. You know, there's a lot of commentary...
THOMAS: She's looking at you, Eric...
HALL: Not with you personally.
BURNS: I understand.
HALL: With someone else...
But let me just say that I think the coverage of her has been ageist and sexist; in this country and abroad.
I mean, you can love Princess Diana. But guess what? That fairy tale didn't turn out so well. You can blame him for what he did; you can blame Camilla for what she did. But it is incredible to me that people are beating up on her for being over 50. And I think the media in both countries should really be ashamed of themselves.
THOMAS: The remarkable thing about this: you know, they have libel laws in England. And you can't say certain things about politicians without being hauled into court. This is like, all restraints are off. I'm seeing stuff I can't believe, and especially from women. I mean, I'm standing — it's like, Roller Derby. It's like female wrestling. It's like a train wreck. You could stand back in awe at some of the unbelievable things that are being said — personal appearance and all kinds of ugly things.
GABLER: But they're not being excoriated because they're old and unattractive, although that doesn't help. I mean, they're really being excoriated because they're joyless, they're repressive, they're self- important. And ultimately, all of those things smothered Di; they victimized Di, as Jim said. And this is the press's revenge for Princess Di.
BURNS: Well, it sounds as if you could have written some pretty nasty headlines (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
PINKERTON: And I would just add the British media are, as Cal suggested, something else. In other words, the reporter for "The Sun," which is another Murdoch paper, took a truck, put a package written — with the words "BOMB" written on it, and drove it right into the royal compound.
BURNS: He was trying to test security, Jim. It was investigative reporting. You know that.
THOMAS: Well, they had pictures of them on the — I think it was the front of the — the front page of "The Sun" with devils' horns on — on both of them. It's amazing.
BURNS: And you know, it's too early yet, Jane, to know about the ratings for this. But I would suspect — the media did love Diana. They don't love Camilla.
I would think, in this country, people would watch for a little while because of the pomp. But not because of the personalities involved, who don't engage us terribly.
HALL: Well, I know. And there isn't going to be, you know, a fairy tale carriage going through the streets with a beautiful woman. And the photo editor of "People" magazine told me that they could put Princess Diana at — in her time — on the cover every week, and the sales would never drop. There was something...
BURNS: In fact, wasn't the most....
HALL: She was the most frequent cover.
BURNS: Cover subject, yes.
HALL: There was something extraordinarily beautiful about her.
But this is a different story. I've seen a few stories with matchmakers saying, Well, this will encourage people, you know, in some way — maybe they'll come to accept her in Britain.
I think that there won't be a lot of ratings for it. It's not the myth that people think they like. But again, I don't think the marriage with Diana was all that happy. It's the beauty of Diana — the alleged...
BURNS: But it was a great story...
BURNS: And then, actually, became a great story afterwards too, because it's a terrific story to know that something that looks so idyllic, Jim, in fact has fishers below the surface.
PINKERTON: Oh, they'll be more on this. I mean, look, there's lots of kids — there's lots of children involved. He has a couple, she has a couple. They're not stirring the pot.
GABLER: This is marriage noir. That's how I look at this marriage.
BURNS: It's time for another break. We'll be back with our "Quick Takes on the Media."
ANNOUNCER: Jane Fonda, then and now.
And Koppel's departure, Jennings' struggle.
That and more when "FOX News Watch" continues.
BURNS: It's time now for our "Quick Takes" on the media.
Headline number one: "Fonda on Hanoi Jane."
Jane Fonda is on TV a lot these days, plugging her new autobiography. In it, she has this to say about this photo, taken on her tour of North Vietnam in 1972: "That two-minute lapse of sanity will haunt me until the day I die."
Jane, for those who were appalled by this and who have stayed appalled for a lot of years, will it strike them as a suitable apology? Did she need to make one?
HALL: I think she did. This is her chance to say what happened and that it was a mistake and she regrets it and that she's tried to do other work on behalf of soldiers.
I think people who feel that is a symbol of the Vietnam War and the complicity of people who were opposed to the war are still going to retry this, as Bill O'Reilly and "Hannity and Colmes" and other people will be doing.
PINKERTON: The John Kerry-Swift Boat campaign reminded us that the Jane Fonda issue still has resonance.
By coincidence, she has a movie coming out, her first in 15 years. And so I think she needed to get clean, if she possibly could, with audiences in advance of that release, which is in May.
BURNS: So is she clean, because of that sentence or two?
THOMAS: Well, most people have forgotten it, apparently. But she apologized for that trip 20 years ago on "The CBS Morning News."
I think there's a difference between regret and remorse or repentance. Regret is, well, it's been bad for me, bad for my life, or whatever. But try remorse and repentance is something much deeper than that. Leave it to the reader to define what she is doing.
However, she did say she regretted sitting on the anti-aircraft gun seat. But she didn't regret making the trip and speaking on Radio Hanoi. I think that's splitting hairs, perhaps.
BURNS: Quickly, Neal.
GABLER: No statute of limitations, as far as that right wing is concerned, for youthful indiscretions by liberals. So, she's going to be incarcerated.
All right, "Quick Take" headline number two: "Car Chases, and Copycats?"
Does all the coverage of car chases inspire people to get into them? Does that mean there should be less coverage of them on TV, or do the cameras in the sky provide too great service to people in the neighborhood?
Why do we ask that question this week, you say, Cal? Because one day this week this network had two car chases on the air in one afternoon.
THOMAS: Right. Including one that apparently was designed specifically for the cameras. I think that some of the information we get from the police report — this one guy was waving the flag outside the window and looking up at the helicopter.
There's no point in these things. Unless there's some kind of OJ factor involved, or people are shooting guns, it's ridiculous.
PINKERTON: I — I've defended car chases in the past as news. But now it's clear it's becoming a kind of performance art. This guy with a purple flag — a cape or whatever it was — proves it. They should stop covering it like they stopped covering streakers at athletic events.
GABLER: This is programming — I remember a long time ago there was one motorist who spread a banner on the highway so that the TV helicopters could get it.
THOMAS: I miss the streakers.
HALL: The police need to reconsider their policy on whom they're going to chase because innocent people have been killed in some of these instances.
BURNS: I think there's a good chance no one heard you actually say I miss the streakers.
THOMAS: Well, I do. Yes, I miss the streakers. They were fun.
BURNS: "Quick Take" headline number three: "Koppel To Leave ABC News."
He will do it at the end of the year when his contract expires, after 25 years of anchoring "Nightline." "Nightline," I guess, Jim, along with "60 Minutes" have been the two supposed hallmarks of quality in television journalism.
What does Koppel's departure mean? I guess I should say ABC is not saying whether "Nightline" will go.
PINKERTON: ABC has made it clear they would love to have — they would have to have David Letterman; they're looking at Ellen DeGeneres...
BURNS: In that time period.
PINKERTON: ...as replacements.
Look, this is part of the long migration we talk about a lot on this show of news from broadcast to cable.
THOMAS: If I were George Stephanopolous I wouldn't be too happy about this because ABC let it leak that they had offered Koppel the Stephanopolous on Sunday morning, which is nobody is watching, virtually. So I wouldn't feel too good about that.
GABLER: I think they were dying to get rid of Koppel to seize this back for entertainment. And it — what it shows is that there is very little room for intelligent programming on television, especially broadcast television.
BURNS: So Neal, at this point, when ABC is saying we don't know whether "Nightline" will continue or not, you don't believe that. You believe they've made up their minds: get rid of serious news at 11:30 Eastern Time?
GABLER: Absolutely. They're being disingenuous. I mean, what they really want to do is make money from that half hour. And they'll do anything to get that half hour back into the entertainment division.
PINKERTON: The horror!
BURNS: Jane, you think they'll — the entertainment division will take that half hour back?
HALL: I think so. I mean, they're trying a couple of — you know, younger, hipper, hour-long shows. I mean, "Nightline" has done some of the best programming that's been on network television or any kind of news in 25 years.
But I have to say — I'm not sure I would blame the news division as much as I would blame the owners who demand that their networks make profits, that their news make profits. It used to be that it didn't matter whether you got a rating for news; it was a public service. But that's....
GABLER: This is a sad day.
BURNS: Finally, in this segment, we have a few words about, and from, someone else at ABC News. These words were spoken last Tuesday on ABC's "World News Tonight."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER JENNINGS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: As some of you now know, I have learned in the last couple of days that I have lung cancer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNS: We on this program hope that Peter Jennings' absence from the anchor desk will amount to nothing more than a quick take.
When we come back, it'll be your turn.
BURNS: About all the recent coverage of the pope, in life and in death, here is Steve from New York:
"Despite Cal's reflexive defensiveness, the pope's record has to be considered mixed at best, and is rarely subjected to the dispassionate media scrutiny appropriate to the vast resources and influence of the Vatican."
Dave, from Centerville, Virginia: "I am pleasantly surprised at the positive cable coverage regarded the papal condition and death. Virtually all of the coverage has been tactful and affirmative. Only once have I heard reference to the sex scandal within the U.S. church."
But Marlin from Salem, Illinois, believes that in one sense, the coverage was too affirmative: "Many of us are not Catholic and feel the pope is being treated as a second Christ. As good as he was, he is not."
Ed from Whitesboro, Texas, writes about what he calls the pope-a-thon: "The deathwatch countdown was utterly boring after seven or eight hours. I think it is agreed by all that the pope was a really nice man. He lived, he grew old, and he died. That's pretty much the way of things for all of us."
Cynthia from Corpus Christi, Texas, criticizes the word choice of some anchors, both here at FOX News and elsewhere: "The pope, as a head of state, is lying in state. He is not on display."
And finally on this topic, and another, Rich — who did not tell us where he was from — compares coverage of the pope's last days to coverage of Terri Schiavo's last days: "We prop one dying person up for the world to see, yet we starve another. Are media to blame? I think not. For it is the lust for information that feeds the fire."
About a score — a story, rather, we discussed two weeks ago that Oprah Winfrey is heading for the ghetto for a month to tape her experiences for a documentary, here is June from Eldersburg, Maryland: "Give me a break. Oprah makes $300 million and she wants to lay another guilt trip on the two-parent income, hard-working taxpayers about ghetto life? If she could only find it in her compassionate heart to live on, say, a mere $100 million a year, she could alleviate the problems of at least ghetto with the other $200 million she earns. Paleezzzzzzzz!"
Paleezzzzzzzzzz write to us. Our address is email@example.com. When you do write to us, 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 go, as they always do, to Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, to Cal Thomas, Neal Gabler. And to me. Why not for a change?
Especially to you for watching. Thank you. We'll see you next week, when "FOX News Watch" will be back on the air.
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