The following is a transcription of the April 23, 2005 edition of "FOX News Watch," that has been edited for clarity:
ERIC BURNS, HOST: This week, on "FOX News Watch," the new pope is conservative. Did you know that?
And a new TV series based on a Bible book is a big hit. Did you know that?
Is there a new scandal in the TV news business?
Is this any way to sell a news magazine?
And Larry King for the defense in the Michael Jackson (search) trial?
First the headlines, and then us.
BURNS: I repeat: Is this any way to sell a newsmagazine? I'd be more likely to buy it if the cover looked like this. [Mock up of "Time" magazine cover with Jane's picture on it.] But then, I am partial to Jane Hall.
That's Jane Hall of the American University, whose other admirers include syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, Jim Pinkerton of "Newsday," and filling in for Neal Gabler this week,Ellis Henican (search) of "Newsday." We have "Newsday" product placement today.
I'm Eric Burns. "FOX News Watch" is coming right up.
The "Time" magazine cover later.
But first: have you seen enough pictures of chimneys to last you for awhile?
Actually, this one is the only one that mattered; the white smoke signifying that Joseph Ratzinger of Germany is now Pope Benedict XVI (search).
Do we have a Catholic on the panel?
ELLIS HENICAN, "NEWSDAY": Right here.
BURNS: This week we do.
HENICAN: I will hear your confession later.
BURNS: I have nothing to confess.
HENICAN: That's a Catholic joke, incidentally.
BURNS: May I go on now?
HENICAN: Go ahead.
BURNS: The — I didn't see a story, Ellis, about the choice of the new pope that did mention the word conservative.
My question to you: is that fair journalism?
HENICAN: You know, I don't think conservative is an insult, so, yes. I think it's part of this guy's background; he has this huge new job, and I think people have an absolute right to want to know where he's coming from.
JIM PINKERTON, "NEWSDAY": Which is especially striking in the way the media look at the Catholic Church. I mean, just — which is the presumption that, obviously, these guys are a bunch of medieval retrogrades who will eventually see the light. That's the media view.
BURNS: Which is to say, that's why...
PINKERTON: ...they're conservatives, Ratzinger's a conservative. But, as Brian Williams said on the day that Benedict XVI was picked, he said, The Catholic Church is not yet — note the word yet — ready for big change.
And Jim Maceda, in the same report, said, The Catholic Church is unyielding, but there's a chance that — quote — "new ideas could emerge" — unquote.
So that — they just have to stay conservative, but of course, someday they'll see the light and become liberal.
CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: There's another presumption as well that comes through in all of the media coverage that I've seen, in addition to the labeling — "conservative God's Rottweiler enforcer" — sounds like a Mafia hit man of some kind; there's a presumption in much of the media that somehow the Catholic Church — indeed, God — ought to rubberstamp whatever people what to do: same-sex marriage, abortion.
How — how conservative and out of the mainstream the church is, instead of being a light and being a — a barricade against cultural death.
BURNS: But Cal, what you mention is — is — is — is a — is actually verified by polls.
For instance, the Associated Press, this month: "Should priests be allowed to marry?" Catholics: 60 to 36 percent say yes.
Another poll: Gallup/CNN/"USA Today": "Should Catholics be encouraged by the pope to practice birth control?" 78 to 21 percent, yes.
THOMAS: Well somebody mentioned, Eric, in another context, the Ten Commandments, not voluntary initiatives.
BURNS: I understand that, Jane. But if these polls show — yes, that's a good point. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have run over that.
If these polls show that there are certain attitudes among Catholics that the new pope doesn't seem to reflect, isn't it only fair for journalists to reflect this disconnection?
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: I think it is only fair, and I would counter — counterweight what Jim saw on NBC — Bill Blakemore (search) on ABC said, These are his positions and a lot of people think that this is strong Catholic ideology.
I agree that there was a storyline, and it was interesting to me — I mean, many American Catholics are — are polling differently from — from what he stands for. And I thought there wasn't — wasn't as much as some other people here seem to be saying, of a discussion of — of how his views compare, what his role was. I mean, they didn't make up the phrase about his being a Rottweiler. That's the role that many people thought that he played here to fore.
PINKERTON: Actually, they did make up the phrase he's a Rottweiler (search). He didn't call himself a Rottweiler.
HALL: No, but people in the church call him that.
PINKERTON: ...liberal, secular reporters' talk about the Catholic Church reminds me of W.C. Fields reading the Bible. He says, "I'm looking for loopholes." Looking for ways out.
The emerging storyline to come, however — you're going to see it — is they're going to go through and interview every German who was alive with Ratzinger and are saying, Now is he a Nazi? Was he a Nazi? Did he join the Hitler voluntarily?
PINKERTON: They won't get across the fact that the Nazis were actually — were pagans who were extremely anti-Catholic.
HENICAN: This is an important journalistic principle here, though. And this — this is a guy who is in charge of a very important institution, and we ought to treat it the same we cover other important institutions: report the news...
BURNS: Secular institutions.
HENICAN: Secular institutions.
BURNS: In other words, we don't...
HENICAN: And, in fact, other religious institutions, I would say the same thing about. Let's have controversy; let's express opinions; let's debate it. What's wrong with any of that?
HALL: You know, I — I was talking Tom Byrd (ph) of — our executive here about the coverage, and we were talking about the pool coverage that the Vatican provided and how good it was. I mean, it was incredibly colorful.
I think the networks — I mean, I saw students at American University — everybody was watching this live because it was beautifully produced television. The Vatican gets PR points for — for the way they produced this.
THOMAS: The media continue to talk about what American Catholics think, and — and the polling. But the real growth in the Catholic Church is in Africa and in portions of Latin America. And there are hardly any polls taken there about what they think.
Church growth and commitment to Catholic doctrine is greatest in these areas, and the scandals right now in the Catholic Church are coming in the United States.
BURNS: Jim, let me go back to what you said before about journalists hammering away at the new pope's background, particularly as regard — as regard to Nazism.
Isn't that fair? I mean, we seem already to know why he was a member of the Hitler Youth. But still, it's a jarring thing to hear, and I think Ellis is right.
PINKERTON: It's perfectly fair to investigate it. I'm just — well, I was saying, it was the emerging storyline will be that they're going to interview every German alive back then. And the Pulitzer Prize beckons for whatever reporter can truly or not truly — and I happen to think that Pope John Paul II, being the best friend of Ratzinger, demonstrates pretty decisively that Ratzinger was not a Nazi, because a Pole who suffered so much under the Nazis, wouldn't like the Nazis — wouldn't like Ratzinger if he had been a Nazi.
BURNS: We have to — I'm sorry Jane, do you have got a quick word?
HALL: A quick thing is the British press is doing that. I think the American press has said this was compulsory, and they've given him a pass on this.
BURNS: It also, by the way, is the British press, emphasizing the Rottweiler, not the American press.
BURNS: ....and Papa Ratzi, yes. Wait! Just wait! Boy, when we break in new people....
BURNS: We have to take a break. We'll be back to tell you about something that some journalists are doing that might cost you money.
ANNOUNCER: A technology reporter recommending products for you to buy on a TV news show. But has someone bought him?
Stay tuned for more "FOX News Watch."
BURNS: This is Corey Greenberg (search), the "Today" show's expert on high-tech products. A lot of times he appears on local newscasts to pitch products claiming to be objective. But he has received a lot of money from the companies whose products he pitches.
Kathleen de Monchy does the same thing on local news shows and "Good Morning America" and has also been on this network's "FOX & Friends," although not paid by "FOX & Friends."
And "Child" magazine's James Oppenheim did the same thing on local news shows, and then he got fired for it.
OK, I guess I ought to start with you this segment.
Ellis, paraphrasing what all these people seem to say in their defense is, Well, we would only take money from a company whose product we believed in anyhow.
How does that strike you?
HENICAN: Got you. Hope you don't believe that.
I mean, there are not that many rules in our business, as you know, Eric. But one of them is that you don't take money from the people that you are covering, whether it be in print or on television. This is a cardinal sin; it's been clearly violated here. Those people ought to be drummed out of our business, I think.
THOMAS: We've saw — we've discussed this before on the show. We've seen this happening ever since the bridge, the wall between the church of the newsroom and the state of the advertising department crumbled some years ago.
This was inevitable. I saw "The New York Times" on Friday; it's moved beyond television and this kind of product endorsement. "Sweet Charity," which is being revived on Broadway — there's a line in the show about having a drink of scotch; it's been changed to tequila to sell the brand of tequila that the people want to sell. And more than that, on the stage now there are steps with the logo of the tequila manufacturer.
So it's all advertising all the time.
BURNS: And behind all this, Jane, is the fact that remotes and TiVos have made television a less productive medium for advertising who are looking for any other means to get their message across.
HALL: Yes, I'm waiting for the day we're asked to do endorsements here on our — on our couture.
But I think that Ellis is right, and I also think, from what I gather from what NBC has said so far, I think Corey Greenberg is too good to fire, to paraphrase an old too-good-to-check thing.
I mean, I — he's very good and I don't see so far that he — they're taking an action against him.
BURNS: But Jim, here's the problem: we — when we criticize people, and we often criticize politicians in this business — it's not just for impropriety. It's for the appearance of impropriety, which is very important.
Why don't these people realize that whether they're being true to their own beliefs or not, the image is wrong and you can't do it for that reason?
PINKERTON: Well, I — I — I'm not even sure he's sorry, from what we're saying. And, I mean — look, he says he told NBC about this, and obviously he never told the viewers, so he violated — he kept faith with NBC, but broke faith with the viewers.
However, I'm not sure if he had disclosed or simply said, Here's what I'm — I'm getting paid by Sony or iPod or whoever to do this — but here's how it works, and here's why it's good — I think a lot of people would be grateful. Half of the stuff you buy you can't figure out how to use when you get it home. So if somebody would explain to you, it would valuable to you.
By the way, hats off to The Wall Street Journal for breaking the story.
BURNS: And when these kinds of things happen, to me, Cal, it's a two- step problem. First step is the behavior itself. Second is the way TV executives rationalize it.
David McCormick, NBC, good friend of mine for 30 years — he is now the executive producer for broadcast standards — do you know what he said about Corey Greenberg doing this? He said, Some products that they — people like Greenberg — talk about might be quite topical, and to avoid them would be peculiar.
But to let somebody who's not on the take discuss would be even more ethical. What a defense...
THOMAS: ....the slug at the bottom of the screen says "TV Payola?" For those not old enough to remember or do not the history of broadcasting, payola refers to record pluggers paying disc jockeys back in the 50s to promote songs. This produced a federal investigation; there were congressional hearings on this. I doubt if this is going to come to that...
HENICAN: But, you know, disclosure is an important tool here, because if we have to step forward and say, Let me tell you what I'm doing to the viewers, we're going to be embarrassed by that and it's going to make us do things that are a whole lot smarter.
BURNS: OK, not if what we're doing is smart to begin with.
Yes, but I don't think disclosure worked — oh, you have a solution?
HALL: Well, yes.
Do you remember those old — and now plugging Isuzu Troopers here — I hope I'll be all right.
HENICAN: Are you being paid?
HALL: Remember those commercials where they said liar underneath? I mean, we're going to start to have those...
BURNS: Oh, Joe Isuzu, yes.
HALL: Joe Isuzu: liar, you know?
BURNS: Well, no. Well, you don't have to say liars. There's "Joe Isuzu paid handsomely..."
BURNS: Paid handsomely for his objectivity.
HALL: Right. Right.
PINKERTON: Full disc — full disclosure — I think we all agree on that. I agree with Cal: product placement is the wave of the future. But I will also add that Sony has received a patent for beaming information directly into your head. They're doing it for video games. I saw it on (INAUDIBLE)
BURNS: Through video games?
PINKERTON: Well, they're going to do it for video games. But if you can do it video games, you can do it for everything else.
THOMAS: This could be an answer to the failed public school systems.
BURNS: It depends who's beaming the information.
HENICAN: It's good that Jim was not paid to say that, right? You weren't, were you? Were you?
PINKERTON: I don't think so.
HALL: He's going to be a content provider in my brain shortly.
BURNS: Jim — well, he already is in all of ours for more than he should be.
Jim, do you really think that disclosure — that people would go ahead and buy these products if there were disclosure? If — it seems to me that — that — that at least some viewers, if there is — disclosure doesn't work, because if you've disclosed, you discredit yourself.
Isn't the solution, don't hire these experts from outside your company and put them on the payroll; use one of your own network-news correspondents who you assume is objective.
PINKERTON: That's pretty good. However, it just might not be what happens. And people might not care.
Look, there's plenty of sort of quasi-advertising, quasi-news outlets like CNET and ZDNet and so on online. They're plugging products all the time — you know, I loved this product; I love iPod; I love Apple's Compaq, whatever. It's hard to tell anymore, and frankly, if it's just information, you're somewhat grateful to have it.
THOMAS: Well they used to have...
BURNS: Be quick.
THOMAS: ..."Consumer Reports (search)" people come on and objectively review some of these products. But obviously, the advertising people said, Hey, we can make more money if we just come on and plug them.
BURNS: It's time for another break. We'll be back with our "Quick Takes."
ANNOUNCER: Ann Coulter: cover girl and not happy about it.
Larry King: witness for the defense in the Michael Jackson case, and not saying how he feels.
"FOX News Watch" continues after this.
BURNS: It's time now for our "Quick Takes" on the media.
Headline number one: "My Own Mother Would Not Even Recognize Me!"
So says Ann Coulter about the picture of her on the cover of this week's "Time" magazine. She goes on to charge the magazine with bias against conservatives for a photograph that she says distorts her face and elongates her legs.
Well, we put your picture there on that body a little while ago. Do you agree? Does it distort and, more important, because of conservative bias?
HALL: Well, I think they were trying to be provocative. I mean, she is known as a beautiful woman with very long legs, and I think they were trying to do a fish-eye lens.
It is an unflattering picture. I think inside it's a puff piece, and I — and fair.org, The Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting group, put out a very good thing that talked about — I mean, the guy starts out the article saying, I was deep into a bottle of wine with Ann Coulter. I mean, it start out that way; give her pass on a lot of very hateful remarks she's made.
PINKERTON: I polled around female colleagues and asked them, Do you like this picture? Don't like this picture? It was about half and half. So I don't think by any stretch it was a vicious attack on her at all, the photograph.
But I will say this: there was obviously two sets of opportunists here: "Time" magazine figured they could sell some magazines with this issue, and Ann Coulter, who is — she posed for that picture. I mean, she was there.
BURNS: Well, she might now have known...
PINKERTON: I suspect she knew somehow they were lower than she was — than the photograph. I mean, it's clear that it wasn't a total ambush photograph.
PINKERTON: Now, she's trashing it to make more news, is what I'm saying.
BURNS: And it's working.
PINKERTON: And it's working.
BURNS: The magazine seems to be selling well, Cal.
THOMAS: Yes. Well, sure.
Well, conservatives aren't used to success, it appears. I mean, who wouldn't want to have their picture on the cover of "Time" magazine?
BURNS: So Ellis, briefly, she has no right to complain about bias? HENICAN: I think the complaint is just all part of the shtick. I don't think she believes that anymore than she believes we should invade France.
BURNS: "Quick Take" headline number two: "It's Not 'American Idol,' But..."
NBC's miniseries based on the Biblical book of Revelations is a hit in the ratings. In fact, the premiere episode did better against "American Idol" than any other NBC show in three years, which tells us what, Jim, about religion in primetime?
PINKERTON: It tells you that a bunch of atheists in Hollywood could still have their prayers answered.
THOMAS: Good line. Well, first of all, it's the Book of Revelation, and not a plural, to tell you one thing.
BURNS: I'm sorry.
THOMAS: The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (search) spoke of cheap grace. And this practically free grace. It takes a — a little clip from the Book of Revelation and it turns it into a whole storyline. I think I'll go to the original cast for my Biblical truth.
HENICAN: Finally, we've found someone more popular than Clay Aiken: it's God.
BURNS: Well, no, actually "American Idol"'s ratings are a little bit better than...
HENICAN: Well, moving in on an "American Idol."
BURNS: Closing in, yes.
HALL: May I just interject what a rabbi in "USA Today" said and an Episcopalian minister who's a friend of mine said, which is"The Simpsons" (search) is the best portrayal of integrating religion... and the way people go to church and the lessons that the family wants to learn there; it's a lot better than this stark vision.
BURNS: All right. "Quick Take" number three: "Couldn't You Just Pull My Fingernails Out Instead?"
Now, Larry King did not say that after he found out that he had been called as a defense witness in the Michael Jackson case.
But he must have thought it, Cal, don't you think? I mean, you're a journalist or you're called a journalist, and you're supposed to do this as your civic duty?
THOMAS: Well, I don't think I've ever heard Larry referred to as a journalist, but apparently the subpoena is the result of a conversation he had with Michael Jackson's lawyer, and the lawyer allegedly told Larry over breakfast or some kind of a meal, about something that he had heard.
BURNS: Yes, important point: this is not Larry King directly wanting to say, I know Michael Jackson; he's a great guy.
THOMAS: Right. I don't know what — I mean, it's hearsay evidence, and as we all know from watching court drama on television, hearsay cannot be presented in a court. So I don't know he's going to be able to give the kind of testimony that's acceptable.
BURNS: But it's kind of embarrassing thing, Ellis, you must admit. And Larry King is saying, Well, if they call me, I'll come. That' s my duty.
Is that the wise and proper response?
HENICAN: Well, most of us don't really like to be witnesses in criminal cases. I don't think there's anything, though, that would stand between Larry and those cameras.
BURNS: Even in this case?
HENICAN: Maybe even in this case.
BURNS: Well, there are no cameras in the courtroom, though. He could...
HENICAN: On the way in and the way out.
PINKERTON: This is going to require Larry King to remember something that happened awhile back and know the names of the people involved. I think it'll be very — and to have an opinion. This will be very stressful for him.
BURNS: Great. Well, this will give some letter writers a little topic for next week. Jim, thanks.
Jane, what do you think?
HALL: Let me just say that if all the journalists who were doing shows about Michael Jackson were under a gag order, there wouldn't be a lot on television lately, including a lot of Larry King and a lot of other places, so I think that's an interesting point.
BURNS: It's all right. I loved you on the cover of "Time" magazine.
HALL: Thank you.
BURNS: We have to take one break. When we come back, it'll be your turn.
BURNS: About coverage of the ethics charges against Tom DeLay, here is Gayle from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and she wants to make a larger point: "Congressional ethics will always be an oxymoron, while our media ignore the transgressions of their favorites."
About citizen reporters for the Greensboro, North Carolina, "News & Record" and other organizations, here's Debbie: "I am a resident of Greensboro and I have not read the News and Record for years because it is a horrible newspaper. Maybe if the citizens are writing articles for the newspaper, I will actually read it now. Maybe our citizens will actually get the facts right."
And Richard from Uvalde, Texas: "Mr. Burns, you said that anyone who might be interested in being a citizen reporter might have an ax to grind. But is not this a problem with many mainstream journalists as well?"
About Mitch Albom's writing a newspaper column with some fiction in it, here is Susan from Houston, Texas: "Integrity is the only thing a journalist has to sell, and when Mitch A. relinquished his, with the article on the Final Four game, he now has nothing to sell. Journalists obviously have very low standards. No wonder we don't trust them."
But from Dave in Lathrop Village, Michigan: "Albom issued a full apology in the same space he made the mistake. I made a mistake once too. Please forgive both him and me."
At the end of the program, I asked those of you who e-mail us to tell us exactly where you live. Ted in Lake Charles, Louisiana, I didn't mean that exactly.
Finally, here is Michelle from Beverly Hills, California: "Is there something going on with Jim Pinkerton's hair? Is it different colors/styles every week? I am more excited to hear what he has to say, I just keep getting distracted by his hair."
Isn't that funny, Michelle? Jim?
PINKERTON: It's television. There's both an audio and a visual component.
BURNS: I'm always excited to see his hair, I just get distracted when he talks. See?
Here's our address: It is firstname.lastname@example.org . Please tell us your full name and approximately where you live.
That's it for this week. Thanks to Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, Cal Thomas, Ellis Henican.
I'm Eric Burns, thanking for watching. We hope you'll do it again next week. We'll back then.
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