The following is a transcription of the June 4, 2005 edition of "FOX News Watch," that has been edited for clarity:
ERIC BURNS, HOST: This week, on "FOX News Watch," the ultimate anonymous source anonymous no more. He was Hal Holbrook (search) in the movie; he is, at least officially, Mark Felt in real life.
And also in real life, Sharpton takes to the airwaves against Limbaugh.
Condom ads in primetime.
And worse in the San Francisco 49ers (search ) locker room.
First the headlines, and then us.
BURNS: The secret is out. The whispering has stopped. The speculation is over.
Deep Throat is not Jim Pinkerton of "Newsday," media writer Neal Gabler, Jane Hall of the American University or Bob Lichter of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, who is filling in this week for the vacationing Cal Thomas.
I'm Eric Burns. "FOX News Watch" is coming right up.
Mark Felt. In the early 1970s, he was the No. 2 man at the FBI and the No. 1 man in the hearts of Woodward and Bernstein, their main source for the story that ultimately brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon.
First of many questions about this: Jane, do we believe that? That he was, in fact, the main source for bringing down Richard Nixon, that he was Deep Throat?
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, I think we believe it, because at first The Washington Post didn't confirm it ---- because they'd made this promise to him. He says it; they have confirmed that it's true.
I think it's believable. I think that it's very interesting to look back; this was a high point of journalism, and I went back and looked at some of the stories. And I won't go into the whole detail here, but this really was a widespread criminal cover--up, and it's one of these times when journalism really performed a public service. And Mark Felt is now being criticized on the air by people who went to jail over this, which I find somewhat surprising, frankly.
But it's not just nostalgia. It was a really fine story.
JIM PINKERTON, "NEWSDAY": For the liberal mainstream media, Watergate was like World War II. It was the good war. You can go back and watch "Saving Private Ryan" or read a Stephen Ambrose (search) book and enjoy it one more time as the forces of good, which is to say the media, conquer the forces of evil, which is Hitler -- I mean, Nixon. Same thing in the media's mind.
However, in the course -- like all historical events -- it has been grossly and wildly embellished. Barry Sussman (search), who was The Washington Post editor -- Woodward and Bernstein's kind of boss, if you will, for the series, said in 1997 that Felt "barely figured" in the investigation. He was a "feeble" source, and that, in fact, he misdirected Woodward over and over again to cover up for John Mitchell (search) inside the investigation.
So I think the whole story here is a million, million--dollar hustler and publicity stunt, which is going to make Felt, Woodward, all of them rich.
BURNS: Which means, Jim, that the truth is what? That he wasn't -- Felt wasn't a source? He was one of many sources?
PINKERTON: He was a minor on the story that Woodward concocted -- this is according to Sussman -- to sell books.
BURNS: And he's also either, according to what people are saying these days -- he's also a hero or a villain or, as The New York Post, in one of its wondrous headlines put it, "Hero or Creep?"
He may, Bob Lichter, fall somewhere it seems to me in between those two. Where do you place Mark Felt, if in fact he was a major source for this story?
ROBERT LICHTER, CENTER FOR MEDIA & PUBLIC AFFAIRS/GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY: Oh, I think the "CREEPs" were the other guys, the Committee To Re--Elect the President (search ), on the other side.
Well, actually, I think we're all going up in the wrong direction in talking about his motive. A lot of this is this, you know, hero or villain? Was he noble? The key here is not the man, but the act. What is it an appropriate act, whatever his motives? Because anonymous sources always have somewhat base motives.
BURNS: And your answer to the question?
LICHTER: And the answer is, extraordinary times sometimes call for extraordinary actions. And here you have the president of the United States and all the president's men involved in a genuine criminal conspiracy, trying to keep the Justice Department and the FBI from investigating them. And in those circumstances, absolutely it's appropriate.
BURNS: Closer to hero than creep?
NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: Well, I couldn't agree more with Bob, although I think it's very, very interesting how the media has framed this. I mean, no sooner was the story out then we got this typology: he's either a hero or a traitor. Very, very interesting. And it speaks to how polarized this media environment is. In fact, I think Jim gave us an example of it -- an object lesson in it before -- when he talks about the liberal media, as if they were attacking Richard Nixon. As if Richard Nixon had done nothing. In fact, Jim, in one of his own columns, said that Nixon's crimes really in the larger scheme of things weren't all that great.
But I think it's interesting now that the right-wing is using this for revisionism. And they are the ones who are gaining from this hero-or-traitor typology.
PINKERTON: Let's focus on what Felt said himself. He said, I am going to make all the money I can by my revelation..
PINKERTON: Hero, traitor -- also a get rich quick...
BURNS: But wait a minute. The ultimate question here is not, is he going to make money from his revelations, but are the revelations true. And Jane, no one has ever suggested that anything Woodward and Bernstein published about Deep Throat or about Watergate was untrue.
PINKERTON: I just got to suggesting it. And so did Sussman.
BURNS: Anything major?
PINKERTON: Sussman says he was a minor source.
HALL: They wrote the book and there's bad blood between the one person that you're citing, as far as I know. I don't want to get into this.
I think the point is, the only thing that I have ever heard that they said that he did not say the line, "follow the money." That that -- they were asked about that on "Larry King" this week. They said, He all but said that.
I think the point that Neal is making is a very good one. There's a real lack of a sense of history. A lot of people weren't even born when this happened. But to see some of these people go on the "Today" show and other shows who were part of this and point the finger at Felt and say Felt made money, when they went to jail and made money from books they wrote.
BURNS: But look, let's.
HALL: They were uncontradicted by the people that were asking them questions.
BURNS: Let's concede the point that, as I believe, that there was a lot of embellishment. You know, with the flower pot, Jim, there's certainly inconsistencies in how Woodward supposedly signaled Deep Throat. He was said to be a smoker.
But ultimately, when I said Jim that nothing was contradicted, I meant nothing was contradicted factually about what Richard Nixon did. And isn't that the standard that we have to judge all this by?
PINKERTON: Well actually, no. We can judge Nixon as a guilty man. And I said in my column last week that Nixon was guilty of things.
But we're talking here about Deep Throat. And if Deep Throat turns out -- Woodward didn't call him Deep Throat at the time. That -- as you pointed out on this show, Eric, awhile back, that came out of his editor..
BURNS: Well, I believe that, actually.
PINKERTON: You believe it came out of his editor.
PINKERTON: That's what editors do. They — to coin a phrase -- "sex up" stories to help sell books.
HALL: But you're pointing the finger -- you're not talking about the substance of the story. On this show.
PINKERTON: Jane, we're not here to talk about the substance. We're here to talk about Deep Throat.
HALL: But wait, we're talking about the media coverage.
HALL: .including on this show, said that Deep Throat was a composite. People have not been willing to believe this, and that is also a very interesting thing. People who think Richard Nixon somehow was not guilty are still trying to prove their case today.
BURNS: And perhaps he remains a composite that, Bob, perhaps the largest component of the composite was, in fact, Mark Felt.
LICHTER: Yes, I think that's a reasonable assumption.
But, you know, it's interesting: the media have made this a conflict, good guy or bad guy.
LICHTER: They've also made it about personalities, which the media always do.
BURNS: We have to take a break. We'll be back to talk about what all of this means for that most disdained of journalistic figures: the anonymous source.
And then a little later:
ANNOUNCER: Rush Limbaugh's got competition. His name's Al Sharpton. And Limbaugh's even offered to help him.
Stay turned for more "FOX News Watch."
BURNS: If not the birth of the anonymous source, Bob, it seems to me that Deep Throat was the sanctification of the anonymous source. It was the making of the anonymous source into a kind of journalistic hero. And he is not remained that, a hero anymore, the poor anonymous source,
LICHTER: No, I think in many ways what -- what Mark Felt did was good for the country, bad for the journalism.
You know, with the Center for Media & Public Affairs, we actually go and count these kinds of things, and we found that by the time Ronald Reagan entered office in 1981, on the front pages of the Post -- "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" -- all political coverage, one out of three sources was unnamed, was "a senior official."
BURNS: And do you think it's fair, Bob, to say that this was inspired by the glamour of Deep Throat?
LICHTER: Oh, sure. Because it became an -- instead of being an unfortunate necessity to have an unnamed source, it became something glamorous: your very own Deep Throat.
GABLER: Yes, right.
HALL: You know, one of the things that's wrong with the parlor--game aspect of people guessing for 30 years is that they had other sources. They knocked on the doors of something like 50 members of the Committee To Re-- Elect the President. There was multiple sourcing. "Newsweek" got into trouble because they had one source and they said, "sources said." And I think that's forgotten.
Deep Throat, as I understand it, was their check. He confirmed what they already had. And they had other people, and they — and part of the problem with this whole cult of personality is there were a lot of people that helped them on this story, and there's a lot of reporting they did that was pulling string.
GABLER: Yes, I think any right--thinking person is in favor of restrictions on anonymous sourcing, because it's gotten out of hand, as Bob said.
But I think we have to look at two things: the people who complained about "Newsweek" and the Iraq story didn't complain about Richard Wolf, who's practically a Bush publicist, using anonymous sources all over the place for his cover stories saying how wonderful Bush is. You never heard that.
And number two, anonymous sources are important when -- in getting to the real scoop on an administration, whether it's the Bush administration, the Clinton administration, or any other administration. And if we don't use anonymous sources, we put ourselves at the mercy of the people in power.
BURNS: And in fact, Jim, it `s been pointed out -- some of the people who have commented on anonymous sources this week -- have done so -- some of the journalists -- very proudly, because they think that Mark Felt is the ultimate sanction.
PINKERTON: Isn't it interesting that "Newsweek," which is owned by "The Washington Post," causes an international catastrophe with their retracted, Koran--flushing story, and then miraculously, a couple weeks later, "The Washington Post," produces this story, which shows how wonderful anonymous sources are.
LICHTER: A conspiracy.
PINKERTON: I really -- if somebody wanted something good to investigate, they would study the sequence of events there, and really study whether it's a complete coincidence that the Felt thing comes along to completely, they hope, cover up the "Newsweek" Koran--flushing story.
HALL: OK. How about Michael Isikoff breaking the Monica Lewinsky story? How does that fit into your paranoid scenario?
HALL: I'm talking about the difference in my (INAUDIBLE)
BURNS: I have never shown you a trace of paranoia, and he lives it.
PINKERTON: And why do I have paranoia -- if Nixon -- they said Nixon was paranoid. Obviously he had good reasons to be paranoid. The entire FBI (INAUDIBLE)
HALL: Henry Kissinger said even paranoids have enemies, oddly.
LICHTER: But that doesn't make them any less paranoid.
But, you know, very quickly, the -- you know, the interesting thing is, it's journalists lately who have been complaining about unnamed sources. They've been complaining that officials won't go on record and that they're stuck with this because it's become institutionalized. And in fact, our study found that there's a third less anonymous sourcing today than there was a quarter century ago.
BURNS: We have to take another break. We'll be back with our "Quick Takes," including:
ANNOUNCER: Condom ads on primetime TV. And naked women on the VCR in the locker room.
"FOX News Watch" continues after this.
BURNS: It's time for our "Quick Takes" on the media.
Headline #1: "The Limbaugh of the Left"
That's what the Rev. Al Sharpton hopes to be, as he is scheduled to begin hosting a nationally syndicated radio talk show this show.
Does he have a chance? Neal, what do you think?
GABLER: Well, I don't even want to address that. Can I address another question? Let me be the Jon Stewart here — what Jon Stewart did to "Crossfire."
Rush Limbaugh so coarsens and degrades political discourse that the last thing we need is in this world is a Rush Limbaugh of the left. We don't need either one of them.
LICHTER: Well, that's.
GABLER: What we need is someone who elevates political discourse in this country.
BURNS: That's sort of an answer to my question. Just not the one I was expecting.
PINKERTON: Nobody would do more to degrade the discourse than Al Sharpton, who -- Fred Siegel, who's an important historian of New York City, recalls that Sharpton led protests that stirred up -- in Harlem 10 years ago -- that stirred up so much anger and hatred, that a man -- a deranged man broke into a store, killed seven people. Now, that some of blood -- not legally, but at least morally, is on Al Sharpton's hands. That man should not be on the radio, or any other medium for that matter.
HALL: You know, Jim always brings up the very serious point, and then I'm left feeling foolish saying Al Sharpton is funny the way Rush Limbaugh is funny. And I think -- you know, I always think that the left doesn't stick to its talking points as well as the right, and that's one of the problems why they never succeed with these shows.
LICHTER: Well, I think Jim's right. On the one hand, you can't go much lower than Al Sharpton, if that's the idea, to go toward the bottom. On the other hand -- you know, the left keeps coming up with answers to Rush Limbaugh, way back to Mario Cuomo, Jerry Brown. They always fail because they're politicians trying to do radio shows. They really need a great radio personality who can do politics.
BURNS: "Quick Take" Headline #2: "And You Thought the 49ers Were Just Awful on the Field!"
The publicity director of the San Francisco 49ers recently made a tape to instruct young players how to deal with the media. "Embrace diversity when you talk to reporters," the tape tells the players, and illustrates the point by showing lesbians embracing frantically as they get married. The tape also includes sexual jokes, racial jokes and more nudity.
This is a puzzling thing to me, Jane. But one of the reasons we're talking about it is there's a lot of criticism of the San Francisco -- is it Chronicle?
BURNS: I just blanked for a second -- for running this very explicit video on its Web site.
Do we credit the people for doing this because it exposed this tacky tape? Or do we criticize the paper for its taste?
HALL: I think we can do both, because.
HALL: .they got something like 200,000 hits or something on there.
BURNS: About the most hits it's ever had.
HALL: And if you go to the Web site, as I did, just to research this, it says, Disclaimer, disclaimer, you have to be 18. You know, I never knew I had to be 18 to read "The San Francisco Chronicle."
I mean, I think the tape is pretty appalling, and it's bizarre that this was to make serious points. I don't know that I'd criticize them. It embarrassed the team. It was done. It does call into question what they were thinking.
PINKERTON: I think there was a germ of a perfectly valid idea here. I mean, everybody in the public eye, including athletes, needs media training. This guy got a little carried away and forgot the basic lesson, that information must be free. You can't keep something like that secret.
GABLER: I think what this illustrates -- because it got so much defense from the sports writers -- is the cozy relationship between sports writers and athletes, and the way that sports writers accept the values of athletes.
BURNS: "Quick Take" headline #3: "I Know, Let's Run it After the Viagra Ad!"
This week, condom ads debuted on primetime TV in the 9:00 hour on the WB, in the 10:00 on NBC. Says a spokesman for Trojans -- that's the name of the condoms -- the emphasis in the ads is on safety more than pleasure.
And Bob, given the other kinds of ads we have on primetime TV these days, I guess a condom is in context.
LICHTER: Well, not just the kind of ads. You know, primetime television is a general ad for the joy of sex these days. We've done studies that find more than one sex act per minute on primetime TV. So if you're going to advertise the joy of sex, you might as well advertise how to avoid the dangers of sex.
BURNS: The joy of safe sex, eh?
HALL: Well, WB and other networks, you know, particularly target young people, and I think this is -- this is fine to do. I remember years ago this was completely unheard of when people first talked about this. I think this climate of primetime is such that it should be on there.
BURNS: Don't just smirk. Speak!
PINKERTON: "Desperate Housewives (search)" desperately need safe sex. I can't resist though saying that the Trojan -- the PR guy said, Oh we're not doing this to sell condoms. We're doing this to fight STDs. Well, sure. I mean, please. Spare us the lies. Make money if you want to, but spare us the lies.
GABLER: Television is way too sexualized. And I think parents ought to be able to watch television with their children without being inundated by ads for erectile dysfunction and -- and even ads like this.
BURNS: But now when you watch ads with your children, what you're doing is you're having a sex--education course in the home. I mean, that's the curriculum. You're forced to have this course in the nature of watching TV with your kid.
GABLER: And I don't think you ought to be forced to have it if you don't want to.
HALL: But there's a public health issue. If you can reach young people, you can help prevent AIDS. I mean, that's a public health service.
GABLER: It's broadcast television, Jane.
HALL: Not anymore.
BURNS: We have to take one more break, whether Jane wants to or not. When we come back, it'll be your turn — and that includes you, Maria from California, despite how bizarre your suggestion was.
BURNS: About the media and the military, our lead story on last week's Memorial Day edition of "FOX News Watch," here is James from Virginia Beach, Virginia.: "I am an American serviceman and I feel the press has an ingrained mistrust of the military, Pentagon and soldiers alike. You cannot deny bias and make it go away, you have to change the way you report."
And Robert, a sergeant first class from Tampa, Fla.: "While I don't believe that the media hate the military, I think there is a slant that only bad news is news. Warts and all is the best policy for news coverage of the military, with the emphasis on the all and not the warts."
About whether or not local TV news is racist because of focusing on black perpetrators, here's Dallas, a local TV reporter from Raleigh, N.C.: "Crime is overcovered on local TV news not because of race, but because of cost. It is a lot cheaper to cover crime than it is to examine the important issues of the day. A few shots of the crime scene, photo of the victim, package at 6. Cal got it right. The way to provide balance is to make an effort to use minority experts when possible."
And Mark from Loris, S.C.: "Local news reports crimes not because of their entertainment value, but because we in the community want to know what's going on in our communities. Imagine that."
And about the Paris Hilton ad for the West Coast hamburger chain, here's Jeffrey from Atlantic City, N.J., who is sympathetic to Ms. Hilton's plight: "OSHA should be informed about her illegal working conditions. Besides forcing Paris to perform at their car wash under slippery, unsafely clad conditions, Carl's Jr. obviously isn't adhering to federal lunch and break rules. Poor Paris has to hazardously eat as she fulfills her duties."
And finally, Maria from somewhere in California: "I'd like to see Cal do the Paris Hilton commercial."
Be careful what you wish for, Maria. Be very careful what you wish for.
Here's our address: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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, Jim Pinkerton, to Bob Lichter, Neal Gabler.
And I'm Eric Burns, thanking you for watching. We'll see you next week, when "FOX News Watch" is back on the air and Cal Thomas will rejoin us, unless he finds out what we did with his head.
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