The following is a transcription of the June 18, 2005 edition of "FOX News Watch," that has been edited for clarity:
ERIC BURNS, HOST: This week, on "FOX News Watch," the media in Aruba: are they just making things worse in the Natalee Holloway (search) case?
The media in Santa Maria, California: did anybody get it right in the Jackson case?
The media on Gitmo: journalism or agenda?
What exactly is a journalist? Is he one?
First the headlines, then us.
BURNS: Holloway and Jackson: they are so-called tabloid stories, but they are having a tremendous impact on journalism and those who watch it and read it, and we will begin today by covering the coverage with 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.
Here is Ruben Trapenberg, a spokesman for the Aruban government, who a few days ago was asked this question by FOX News Channel's Bridgette Quinn.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIGETTE QUINN, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Why is misinformation getting out?
RUBEN TRAPENBERG, SPOKESMAN, ARUBAN GOVERNMENT: I'm sorry to say that there's been bad reporting work going on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNS: You know, Cal, it's a frequent complaint: bad reporting going on in this kind of story; government officials make it against the media.
In this case, do they have a point?
CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, they do have a point. But anything you cover 24 hours a day virtually non-stop and require an incessant feeding of the media beast, you tend to throw anything into the hopper that comes along. And so I think you're setting yourself up for this sort of thing.
Real journalism filters these rumors and innuendoes and gossip through an editorial filter so that only the facts get on the air.
BURNS: Which can't function, can it? If you're on, as you say, 24/7.
BURNS: You need some down time.
THOMAS: You got filler. It's the Hamburger Helper of journalism.
NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: And especially when there's no information coming out.
THOMAS: That's right.
GABLER: So, I mean, this is a collision of people incessantly asking for news and needing information and a government that's not releasing any information.
BURNS: And a government that has an extra worry, Jane, because it's a government that depends on tourism, and publicity like this is not good for tourism.
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, you know, I've been reading some blogs from down there, people complaining about how this is ruining the tourism industry.
I think there's a different issue here, apart from whether there's misinformation or no information, which is why are we covering this 24/7. And the only reason is - as far as I can tell - is that people are watching, and that it has this - we've talked about this - we were actually early to talk about this on this show, this white, young woman who has disappeared. A lot of parents, this is your nightmare that your kid would disappear on a trip.
I wonder why are we hearing about this young woman's 4.0 average; why are we hearing speculation about what she was or was not doing that night. Talk about filling the air with — libeling this woman who may be dead.
JIM PINKERTON, "NEWSDAY": Well, I knew it wouldn't be too long before somebody injected the race issue into this discussion of the alleged reverse-racism here involved in this.
Look, this is a great story. It is a damsel in distress. It has been a staple of literature and though since Orpheus and Euripides (ph).
HALL: But we don't cover the black damsels in distress.
PINKERTON: If you want to get the cliches of the covering the coverage, you get to the race angle.
HALL: It's not a cliche. It is - there have been studies that show that the black - there are hundreds of people who disappear. The ones we cover tend to be white.
THOMAS: Let's take it off race and make it gender. More men are missing than women. When was the last time you saw a missing man?
BURNS: More - in fact, statistically more men are missing than are tracked by the FBI, and more blacks disappear than whites, proportionate to their share of the population.
GABLER: Exactly right.
BURNS: So Jim, maybe someone, in analyzing media coverage here.
PINKERTON: I just find it sort of tiresome that this is an ongoing mystery. There's allegations of cover-up, there's new arrests coming, there's at the highest reaches of the Aruban government.
This is a bubbling story.
GABLER: Tiresome but true, and it just so happens that she's blonde, that there's a great photograph of her - look, it helps if you're blonde. It helps if you have a good photograph. All of those things help.
But let me inject something else here. Maybe it's not only that there's this unslakable thirst for this kind of story. Maybe it's that cable news executives and morning-show producers find material that is cheap, that is easy, that is exploitable.
BURNS: Explain why..
THOMAS: .talking about the women or the coverage?
BURNS: Explain why this is a cheap and easy story to cover.
GABLER: Well, because you don't - there's no information coming out, but you can speculate endlessly about it. All you can do is sit there and say, What might have happened? How did this happen? Where might her body be?
So this is something that you can fill 24 hours with. It's great programming.
BURNS: As opposed to great journalism?
GABLER: As opposed to talking about Social Security, Iraq - you know, one could - Darfur. One could go on and on and on and on about other issues that are not going to be covered in the way that this one girl's disappearance will be covered.
HALL: I do think the 24-hour news cycle is a huge issue, because I'm sure if we had producers of different shows here, they'd say, Well, we're not doing too much. But it's on show after show on network after network. It's incremental; it's like a TV movie, except it's true, and someone may have died.
BURNS: Which makes it all the more compelling.
PINKERTON: Yes, I think there's something about the way the media work here.
George Trow wrote a book called "Within the Context of No Context." I know it sounds like a Woody Allen French movie, but in other words he really made that point that in American today, we don't know the names of our own neighbors, but we can become intimate friends with Jessica McClure and Nancy Kerrigan and now this poor girl Natalee Holloway.
BURNS: And so we care, thus, a great deal about her fate.
PINKERTON: Strangely enough.
BURNS: We have to take a break. We'll be back with the verdict heard `round the world. In the United States.
ANNOUNCER: At least 14 broadcast and cable networks carried the verdict live; almost as many people watched it as watched Princess Diana's funeral.
Stay tuned for more "FOX News Watch."
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We, the jury, in the above entitled case, find the defendant not guilty - not guilty - not guilty - not guilty - not guilty - not guilty - not guilty - not guilty - not guilty - not guilty.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BURNS: Did you get that, Neal?
GABLER: I guess he was not guilty.
GABLER: Who were they talking about though?
BURNS: Don't let me put thoughts in your head about the Michael Jackson verdict. But I - I can't remember a story when I thought the media were more guilty of incorrect predictions.
GABLER: Well, first of all, this was not reported as a news story. This was reported - and I'm going to repeat myself from weeks past - this was an entertainment story, and it was reported with the standards of entertainment, not the standards of news. So that he was convicted in the press by anchormen, by commentators.
BURNS: But let me.
GABLER: ...by virtually everyone.
Nancy Grace was disgraceful - I mean she was a hanging judge from the moment this indictment was brought. And even here on FOX - I mean, Shepard Smith did something that was almost unconscionable.
BURNS: Which was?
GABLER: Screaming as the — as the SUV was pulling away — I mean, he was screaming, You're disgusting; you're a freak.
This is unprecedented, as far as I'm concerned.
BURNS: Let me make — as perverse as this sounds, Cal — let me make a case for the bias here, which I think was almost unavoidable because the defendant is so perverse.
After the trial, his attorney says, Well, you know, he's innocent but he's not going to sleep in the beds of kids anymore. Did Michael Jackson (search) compare his acquittal to Mandela's getting out of jail?
THOMAS: Yes. Yes.
BURNS: Maybe the media didn't go into this thinking he was guilty, but he was unsympathetic to most normal journalists, that they couldn't take his side.
THOMAS: But that doesn't' justify the rank speculation.
You had situations where he wasn't seen at the moment as people were coming out of his house to get into those SUVs. People were speculating, Maybe he's fled the country. You had people coming in on cable networks saying, Well, my experience in all of these cases that I've been a part of is that when the jury comes in and doesn't look at the defendant, that's a sure-fire guilty verdict.
These people were saying this with great certainty. They were all wrong.
BURNS: And the funniest speculation to me, Jane, is that - the speculation that the guards knew the verdict in advance; they needed to know it for crowd control. They told attorneys, and that's why Tom Sneddon was walking around very confidently. And that's why Mesereau had his shoulders slumped.
HALL: Right, and people reading a lot into Mesereau looking at his watch - I mean, they didn't have much to go on. Fourteen networks, 2,2000 credentialed journalists.
I think - you know, let me say something slightly in defense of Nancy Grace, because she's been - been criticized here. She obviously had a point of view; she's built a whole cable show on CNN Headline News around the case. But she did ask the jury foreman a question that I thought was a legitimate question, which is what did he think Jackson was doing in bed with those young boys? Some people thought that was too tough.
I think that the media obviously - a lot of people were saying he was guilty. Then they were surprised. Then I thought there should have been more on the jury and the fact that they were so critical of the woman. There was that wonderfully.
BURNS: The woman, meaning the boy's.
HALL: The mother.
BURNS: The boy's mother. Yes.
HALL: The press conference where one of the jurors said, Don't snap your fingers at me. I think the media caved and then were embarrassed and then didn't do any more reporting after that.
PINKERTON: I was in Geneva, Switzerland, and of course..
BURNS: You'll do anything to get away.
PINKERTON: CNN - CNN covered it live, and I - look, I think Nancy Grace does deserve all the disdain she is getting. She has built a career out of assuming everybody's guilty. And I thought the juror came right back to her and said, Look, we're not - the issue at hand wasn't whether Michael Jackson's a creep or not; that's clear enough. The issue at hand is whether he actually, literally, did what the prosecution alleged here (ph). And the jury - jury said no. I think that's worth (INAUDIBLE).
A couple points thought. One, Geraldo Rivera gets credit. He said he'll be acquitted.
Second, Neal Gabler, more than anybody else, explained why - said the defense will throw up so much weirdness and crap into the atmosphere around that trial that no jury will possibly be able to wade through it all and convict him.
So two - two people did get some credit for being right.
HALL: But why does Geraldo Rivera get credit for saying he'd shave his moustache and be - and he was a supporter of his. And Nancy Grace is criticized.
THOMAS: No, let me tell you what's going to happen though. All these commentators who were wrong; all of them who were speculating incorrectly - they'll all be back at the next trial speculating again.
BURNS: Yes, but maybe they've learned.
THOMAS: They'll learn something.
GABLER: But he was exculpated on the grounds that he was a freak, that he was a wacko. And that's what the media had said. And essentially, they said, No normal would do this, and the jury said, Yes, but he's not normal.
PINKERTON: Two more points?
One is, Stephen - Stephen King wrote a piece in "Entertainment Weekly" about what a freak show this was, and then somebody wrote in about the Web site. "Entertainment Weekly" said, Well, you're just jealous you didn't think of this, which I thought was a nice comeback.
Best line? David Letterman saying, Just more proof that a white guy can always get off.
BURNS: And counting. That's four points for you in the last minute of this segment. Way to work them in, Jim.
We have to take a break. We'll be back with our "Quick Takes," and here are some of the questions that we will ask:
ANNOUCNER: Is he a journalist? Is he? And do journalists want Gitmo to be shut down?
"FOX News Watch" continues after this.
BURNS: It's time now for our "Quick Takes on the Media."
Headline number one: "Gitmo Must Go."
So says former President Jimmy Carter about the Navy's Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, which has been defended recently by the president and secretary of defense, among others, which was the subject of hearings this past by the U.S. Senate, and which, some charge, has become the subject of a journalistic vendetta, as illustrated by this week's Time magazine cover story.
Any point to that, Cal? Any truth to that? Are journalists real - we were talking about journalists taking sides in the Michael Jackson case. What about in the what-to-do-with-Gitmo case?
THOMAS: Hell hath no fury like a journalist scorned.
Listen, this is the big makeup for "Newsweek" screwing up, and so journalists are kind of coming together and saying, Let's - let's do a "Three Musketeers" "one-for-all, all-for-one" bit and we'll - the problem is not "Newsweek" getting the Koran-flushing story wrong. The problem is Gitmo itself.
Now one thing about being journalist is never having to admit that you know anything. Where are you going to put these people? Where are you going to - how are you going to deal with them to get information out of them? They're talking about water dripping, being tortured - the media is carrying stories about this. What kind of torture does the other side do?
And this isn't torture at all. These are normal, investigative techniques to get information out to save American lives.
PINKERTON: I think there have been - clearly been abuses at Guantanamo, and they should be dealt with harshly by American authorities.
However, I do think there's a deep confusion here among journalists. For example, Tom Friedman, of "The New York Times," said they ought to close down Gitmo, joining the liberal crusade against that. Then he also said we ought to double the number of troops in Iraq. I mean, it just - you can't be both a dove and a hawk at the same time.
I do think, however, there's a - reform needs to be made about this. And I think they should put camera - like Web cams in each cell to guarantee nobody's being tortured.
GABLER: I think, in some ways, Cal is half right. I think there's a - there's a kind of penance being paid, but it's the penance for not getting on the Abu Ghraib story earlier.
BURNS: "Quick Take" headline number two: "We Report, You Deride."
According to the Annenberg Public Policy Center, a lot of Americans think a lot of journalists aren't really journalists. Seventy-nine percent think Peter Jennings is a journalist; only 19 percent think George Will is. More people think Bill O'Reilly is a journalist than think Bob Woodward is one. And more people think Woodward than think Rush Limbaugh is one.
Got that, Jane?
HALL: I've got that, and.
BURNS: What does it mean?
HALL: I think it speaks to the fact that opinion and news are merging rapidly. Most networks still try to say, Well, so and so is a commentator and so and so is a news person.
BURNS: But they both are journalists.
HALL: My old - my old - well, my old definition is a journalist is a person who goes out and talks to people. Now, Bill O'Reilly does talk to people; Rush Limbaugh basically tells you his opinion. For him to be seen as a journalist says there's a disconnect between what the public thinks and what the mainstream thinks constitutes journalism.
THOMAS: I think we need something like a Better Business Bureau, a Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Anybody can practice journalism, but it seems to me that it ought to be your calling; it ought to be your profession. You shouldn't be part of a revolving door in and out of government; you shouldn't be doing talking points for your respective political party.
And if you can practice journalism — but those who are really committed to it as a calling and a profession maybe could get some kind of stamp of seal of approval that would separate them from the gaggle and the clamor of the other people who are just playing the game.
GABLER: Yes, I mean, I think this study is worthless. I mean, the definition of a journalist is so broad, and there's nothing really imputed either positively or negatively in the definition. So, I mean, what's the point of this?
PINKERTON: Journalists should be anybody who calls himself a journalist. I really don't like the idea of making a category within categories. Just — Rush Limbaugh — they're all content providers.
HALL: Well, but.
BURNS: Sorry. Sometimes journalists get cut off.
"Quick Take" headline number three: "He Reports, San Francisco Decides."
"The San Francisco Chronicle," which earlier hired Sean Penn to report for it from Iraq, has not hired Penn to do some reports from Iran.
Jane, I will try to make amends by asking what you think about this hiring decision.
HALL: Well, let me — let me just say, We wonder why people are confused about the definition of a journalist, and Phil Bronstein, the editor of The Chronicle, hires Sean Penn.
I mean, I think he — I think he went to acting school, not journalism school. Not that he can't do it, but this is what's going on. I mean.
BURNS: Can it be defended, "The San Francisco Chronicle's" asking for reports on a major, serious news story from an actor?
GABLER: Absolutely it can.
THOMAS: I want to act in Penn's next movie, but I don't think he'll be asking me.
GABLER: It can be defended.
First of all, Sean Penn is going over there. He's on the front line, where a lot of reporters are not on the front line. He's conducting interviews. He has access that a lot of reporters wouldn't have. And if you heard.
BURNS: Because of his fame?
GABLER: Yes. And if you heard a story at the rally of women in Iran, protesting for their right, they surrounded Sean Penn and said, Tell us - tell the world our story. Sean Penn is in some ways uniquely equipped to tell the world that story because nobody else is.
PINKERTON: I think he has a right to go. But I think the best commentary on - on his trip was done by Stephen Schwartz at techcentralstation.com, which I also write for, in which he said.
GABLER: And which is a conservative site.
PINKERTON: It's a libertarian technology.
GABLER: Conservative site.
PINKERTON: Conservative site. And he said that, Look, while they're busy pursuing left-wing causes in San Francisco, the Writers Guild, all the newspapers out there are neglecting the basic issues of wages and hours.
BURNS: We have to take one more break. When we come back, it'll be your turn.
BURNS: Neal Gabler's beverage preferences were not a topic on last week's program. Nonetheless, two of you wrote to us about them.
Doug from Jacksonville, Texas: "Huh? The press is not sufficiently critical of Bush? Neal, please check the expiration date on your herbal tea."
And Mark, Annapolis, Maryland: "Whatever flavor Kool-Aid Neal Gabler is sipping, I want some. If I can't to feel as he does - that President Bush and his administration have been given a pass by the media in spite of Memogate, Korangate, Gitmogate, slanted `Washington Post' and `New York Times' front page headlines, and those nasty press conference questions - why then I could stop sending checks to the GOP."
About all the coverage of the Michael Jackson trial, here is Tom from San Jose, California: "In the 90s, thanks to totally irresponsible" — Main Street - "mainstream media coverage, America was glued to the O.J. trial while Usama plotted 9/11. Will the media finally wake up when they suddenly realize that what they should have been covering instead of Jackson was the Islamofascists in America's own mosques, plotting another 9/11? Sadly, I doubt it."
And Kathryn from Palm Harbor, Florida: "Whose life is better for the thousands of hours of `news' time [devoted to Michael Jackson]? Vampire mites have killed 50 percent of the bees in the U.S. Now there's a story with impact."
About product placement in TV shows so shamelessly demonstrated for us last week by a member of this panel, here's Maureen from Lawrenceburg, Indiana: "I would much rather have product placement throughout the show than deal with the constant interruptions of commercials."
And now, it's time to read some of the many e-mails we got from men, who so warmly and tenderly expressed the extent to which they missed Jane, who was not here for last week's program.
First, Bill in - what's that, David? We're out of time? Oh. Sorry, Jane.
Here's our address.
BURNS: Newswatch@foxnews.com. Please tell us your full name, and let us know where you live.
Well, as I indicated - and I'm sorry about it - but that's all the time we have left for this week. Thanks and apologies to Jane Hall.
HALL: Thank you. Thank you for writing.
BURNS: Just thanks to Jim Pinkerton. Thanks to Cal Thomas, Neal Gabler.
And I'm Eric Burns, thanking you for watching. We'll see you next week, when we'll try to time the show a little better. And we'll be back on the air and we hope you will be here with us then.
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