The following is a transcription of the July 23, 2005 edition of "FOX News Watch", that has been edited for clarity:
ERIC BURNS, FOX NEWS HOST: This week on "FOX News Watch," the new nominee meets the New Media.
Maybe it's not such a good idea to give Judith Miller (search ) that award after all.
Is it a good idea for the federal government to protect journalists?
What about protecting London from terrorists?
And is a free press finally coming to Iraq?
First the headlines, then us.
BURNS: I'm Eric Burns, and my nominations for the "FOX News Watch" panel this week, judicial and impartial people one and all, are as follows: Jim Pinkerton of "Newsday"; syndicated columnist Cal Thomas; Jane Hall of the American University; and media writer Neal Gabler. They seem like a pretty qualified group to me, except of course of Cal, because of an attendance record lately.
At any rate, I hope you'll approve them all and "FOX News Watch," which is coming right up.
Now, perhaps you've been listening to "The Beltway Boys" talking this weekend about the politics of the John Roberts nomination. Forget that. Let's talk media.
Roberts is the first U.S. Supreme Court candidate to be nominated in the three-all-news-cable-network era. He is the first to be nominated in the countless-number-of-bloggers era. He is the first to be nominated since talk radio exploded.
And for the coverage of his nomination, Jim, and perhaps other nominations coming up, what does that mean?
JIM PINKERTON, "NEWSDAY": Well, I think that as we go from the three networks to the 50 to 500-channel universe to the 50 million-channel universe we're headed toward that dynamic of utter, complete fractionalization of the media. And that puts a real premium on conflict; it puts a real premium on how you're going to get yourself known if you don't — if you say something just normal and prudent.
BURNS: How is the media outlet (INAUDIBLE) (CROSSTALK)
PINKERTON: Right. How do you — how do you get your mind — how do you get your mindshare (ph).
For example, most experts say that John Roberts is a mainstream, safe conservative. He's not a bombthrower, as some people might call him. And yet, for example, Joe Scarborough, on MSNBC, had to say, Bush swung for the fences; he made it sound like Bush had nominated Clarence Thomas (search) or Antonin Scalia or Edith Jones.
In fact, he picked a fairly safe choice. But the media dynamic is such that many will attempt to scream bloody murder on this case to get attention.
BURNS: Interesting point: the more media outlets, the more controversy.
Does that have to follow, Cal?
CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Absolutely, and what do the media love more than conflict and controversy, which will be fed by the various interest groups on both sides. Because, as Dick Morris pointed out in a very insightful piece in "The New York Post," conflict is essential to these various groups raising money. And because they must have conflict to raise money, and the media must have conflict to attract viewers, it's a marriage made in purgatory.
BURNS: Jane, these are, it seems to me, exceedingly negative views.
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well.
BURNS: I mean, I don't disagree with either. But this is a - this is a perplexing prospect then.
HALL: Well, I think - I would make a difference between the interest groups, which are gearing up - and I agree with Jim, you - it's hard to tell an interest group from a news organization, especially on the Web.
But the coverage that I saw - I think one of “The Factor”s of the three cable news outlets now is that you get immediate analysis of whether he's going to be confirmed. I saw Wolf Blitzer on CNN say, Mainstream Democrats are going to have a tough time going against this. I saw people basically confirming the guy. And.
BURNS: Well, let's back up a step..
HALL: ...and saying that he would be confirmed.
BURNS: ....and talk about Edith Clement being confirmed.
BURNS: She was going to be confirmed!
HALL: A friend of mine made a bad joke and said, "You can't have your cake and Edith too."
HALL: I think the other thing that was interesting to me — I mean, I saw that over and over, and I think it gets very "inside baseball." George Stephanopoulos (search) on ABC was saying, Well, this is a diversion from the Rove case. I want to throw a shoe at people who say that! I was more interested in this story, not the speculation on how it related to another story.
NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: You know, when we talk about the blogosphere — you know, I think we have a tendency to think about it as monolithic. And it is anything but monolithic. I'm talking about monolithic in terms of the general things it does.
And so I don't think that it's appropriate to talk about the effect that the blogosphere is going to have on this nomination. I think you have to talk about the effects.
I think Jim and Cal are right; that certainly is one of the effects, is to make this a much more partisan kind of situation, a lot more conflict between both the — those who oppose the nomination and those who support it.
But there's another effect, and I think it's — it may even be more important. And that is, we're getting more information about this nominee from the Internet than we have gotten about previous nominee. If you want to know every decision that Roberts has rendered, you would never get it on television; you would never get it in a newspaper. But you can go to the Internet and you can read every decision of his.
GABLER: So that's the countereffect here, which is, this — this, I think, helps us become far more informed about this nomination.
One other - one other thing is going to do, particularly with talk radio, is that you're going to have almost instantaneous responses now to anything that is incorrect or that the other side, if you happen to be in favor of this nomination, puts out that appears to be smear. You didn't have that as recently as Thomas or Bork.
BURNS: But the tedious response - responses are just as likely to be erroneous as the instantaneous... (INAUDIBLE)
PINKERTON: That's where the competition comes in.
PINKERTON: Because as I've said before, brands will emerge on this that you can trust.
But Neal's point about paper trail, as it were, metaphorically, is interesting because Roberts has only been on the court for two years. It may well be that in this world where you can retrieve every case, judges, whoever they are, who have decades long records on the bench, will not get picked anymore because they just can't survive 25 years of..
GABLER: Yes exactly.
BURNS: Because people don't have enough time to go through all their - all their decisions.
PINKERTON: If Roberts had been a - Roberts was originally appointed in '92. If he'd been appointed then and confirmed, he might not have been picked now because they would have had 15 years of trail on him.
HALL: I was surprised at how little coverage there was - given all the speculation that it might be a woman, and Laura Bush and other people saying it would be - only "The Washington Post" did a piece where they quoted the Seattle paper on Sandra Day O'Connor saying he's great except for the fact that he's not woman.
That story seems to have just dropped. And I think it's an interesting story.
BURNS: I think those are two fascinating points too: more controversy and more information perhaps because of our New Media environment.
We have to take our first break. When we come back, we will do our best to keep straight faces and tell you about this:
ANNOUNCER: The Conscience in the Media Award. This year's winner was supposed to be Judith Miller of "The New York Times." There's just one problem: she's in jail. What do they do now?
Stay tuned for more "FOX News Watch."
BURNS: The American Society of Journalists and Authors has recommended giving its annual Conscience in the Media Award to Judith Miller of "The New York Times." But Ms. Miller is in the clink for receiving to reveal her source in the Valerie Plame case. And at least one member of the society is protesting that award.
And listen to this woman's reasoning. She says this: "The First Amendment is designed to prevent government interference with a free press. Miller, by shielding a government official or officials who were her apparent sources, has allied herself with government interference with, and censorship of, whistleblowers."
In other words, the objection here, Jane, seems to be that she has - Judith Miller has completely turned the meaning of protecting sources on its back and therefore should not get any kind of award.
HALL: You know, as I've thought of this case, I'm tending to agree with the objection to her, separate from her lousy reporting and wrongful reporting on the war in the Iraq, which is a pretty big except.
I have begun to wonder - first of all, this — "The New York Times" and her going to jail has probably started open season - at least precedent for other people to go after the media. Watergate was about a whistleblower who came forward on a criminal investigation that went all the way to the resignation of a president.
I think there are distinctions to be made. "The New York Times" is taking the stance, We did it right. Trust us.
I disagree with that.
BURNS: And if the distinction were, Jim, that she had gotten this information — and perhaps she did; we don't know absolutely yet — but if she had gotten information not from a government, but from a private individual - then we wouldn't have this issue?
PINKERTON: Well, I mean I guess we — look, I find it crazy to say that because the source for the reporter is the government, that therefore you can blow the whistle on them. I mean, Mark Felt, who was — who was.
HALL: The source of someone who outed a CIA agent.
PINKERTON: OK. The point is, if you play that game of, This source is protected, that source is not protected, obviously nobody will be sure they're going to be protected.
One thing about Judith Miller that you can put in the bank, if you give her a story, she's going to protect it; which is a lot more than you can say about a lot of reporters now who would rather squeal than go to jail.
HALL: But what if the source frees you? I mean, then — at what point are you making... (INAUDIBLE)
PINKERTON: But we don't know the source freed her! We don't know that.
HALL: We don't know that. But it's been reported that it's the case...
THOMAS: The New York Times has got itself with its knickers in a twist, to use the United Kingdom phrase on this. It is editorially now supporting Judith Miller. But it is —some of its —some of its rationale is — has gone on to cheerleading here.
I think they're caught in a conflict of interest. Yes, they want to praise their reporter and the supposed principles for which she stands — and that's arguable as well. But at the same time, at least in the latest editorial about her, they pulled an awful lot of punches in this.
I will say, however, that I think Judith Miller has secured her career at The New York Times. There's no way she'll be fired now. She's gone to jail. If Jayson Blair (search) had gone to jail first, he'd still be working there.
GABLER: She does not deserve an award. She deserves the opprobrium of virtually everyone in the journalism business. Although I hope she's cleared a place, if she does win this award, on the little toilet in the — in the cell.
BURNS: In her cell for the award, yes.
Listen, we have seen the first of the effects, I think, of these decisions that have to do with Cooper and Miller, which is that the Cleveland Plain Dealer, a very fine newspaper in the Midwest — its editor has said that he has decided not to run two stories with — and these are his words — "profound importance for the Cleveland 'Plain Dealer' audience, because they were based on leaked documents."
Now one of those stories, Neal, has since gotten out in some other publication.
GABLER: That's right.
BURNS: But what about the notion now that newspapers might be thinking, we have to have whole different standards of reporting because of Miller and Cooper.
GABLER: I think that the editor of The Plain Dealer was grandstanding here, trying to prove that this is the effect of Miller and Cooper.
BURNS: In other words, try to say to people, here's the danger.
BURNS: ...so you've got to.
BURNS: ...protect people like Miller and Cooper.
GABLER: I mean, the real danger is that the administration and the courts — and the public for that matter — are all hostile to the press. And that's emboldened the courts to act in a different way.
PINKERTON: I'll bet you that half the investigative stories that ever get published in a newspaper in a year come from anonymous sources, oftentimes in the government. And if they aren't protected — if they get busted — and every prosecutor, every mayor, every attorney general — district attorney — would love to shut down the free press and dissent. And if that happens, we're — we'll be like in the Soviet Union.
BURNS: So should we worry less here because maybe this — as Neal suggests, this editor is grandstanding? And in fact, newspapers, Jane, are still going to go ahead and publish stories of — quote - "profound importance" from leaked sources.
HALL: You know, I agree with Jim. And I think that newspapers — that ownership of newspapers also is increasingly, you know, further and further away. Entertainment companies own a lot of news today.
I don't think a lot of owners of publications are eager to do stories that are going to get them in trouble and get their reporters jailed. I mean, both of these things are disincentives.
THOMAS: Going back to something Neal said, about the people don't trust the press, and something you said Eric a moment ago about, "Gee, does this mean the media will have to change reporting standards?" Well, yes! That's the whole point.
If the media...
BURNS: Change them how, Cal?
THOMAS: Well, make them better. There's an awful lot of stuff that gets into the press that's unsourced, unsubstantiated sometimes, where government people are using the media to advance a particular point of view or to smear somebody else. They're never held accountable for it. This is one of the many reasons why people don't trust the media.
BURNS: We have to take another break. We'll be back with our "Quick Takes," including more terror in London, and this interesting twist on what we just talked about:
ANNOUNCER: As the court seemed to be cracking down on journalists, the Senate might be getting ready to protect them.
More "FOX News Watch" after this.
BURNS: It's time now for our "Quick Takes on the Media":
Headline number one: "More Bombs in London, More Worries At Home"
There were four unsuccessful terrorist attacks in London a couple of days ago, as you know. More chaos on subways and buses, although fortunately, no deaths reported of innocent people this time.
And there was more coverage in this country about whether or not it could happen here.
And Neal, that's the thing that I think I noticed that was different from the previous, the July 7 attacks. And maybe it's because what happened in London wasn't as serious this time.
I saw so many reporters in this country, in New York, for instance, going to subway stations, bus stops, interviewing people, Are you worried that this might happen here?
Is that responsible reporting, or is that what you do when you don't have a frightening enough story abroad, you try to bring some fright home?
GABLER: I think it's a little of both, frankly. Although I think generally - I'm going to give some kudos to the press for a change - I thought their coverage of this was generally temperate and proportionate. And the fact that television was showing those photographs, those surveillance photos of four of the suspects was using television in a very positive way.
So, you know, I think — let's give an 'A' to the media on this one.
PINKERTON: I agree. This is — this is cable at its best. And it won't be that far from now we're talking about new media channels. You'll be able to sit — if you want to — at home and watch all day photographs and images from the London subways — or for that matter, the New York City subways - or for that matter, the BART system in San Francisco.
HALL: I think we feel connected when you see those extraordinary photos. I mean, it really is that, "no man is an island." I mean, you're watching and you're seeing people you don't know them but you feel you may know how they feel. It's an extraordinary photograph.
THOMAS: This is the ultimate in all-points bulletin from the old "Dragnet" days; you get the pictures out, the phone numbers to call the cops, massive numbers of people are informed immediately. It's a good thing.
BURNS: "Quick Take" headline number two: "Senate May Yield to a Law To Shield"
The Senate Judiciary Committee (search) held hearings this week and seemed favorably disposed to a federal shield law, which is to say a law that would allow journalists to keep their sources secret in most cases.
Jim, that's the key word I think: in most cases. But interesting, huh? As the courts move in one direction, the Senate seems to be thinking, maybe journalists do, in some cases, need some protection here.
PINKERTON: To the great credit of Senator Lugar (search) of Indiana, Senator Dodd of Connecticut, and also, conservatives should know, to Congressman Mike Pence (search) of Indiana, who is to the right as they come in the Congress. All these lawmakers agree there needs to be some kind of shield law to prevent all these kind of abuses that we've been seeing of late, where the government is stomping on the free press.
BURNS: There is now no federal shield law.
THOMAS: Right, and the Justice Department is opposed to this, in many respects saying that it would — it would keep them from fighting terrorism and doing some of these other things they want to do.
But most states have shield laws. And I think when you're dealing with a federal government which has a predisposition, regardless of the administration or party in power, to withhold information, it's not necessarily a bad thing.
BURNS: Are you in favor or not? Federal level.
GABLER: I'm in favor of a shield law because I think we need clarity. I'm not sure I'm in favor of this shield law because I think it may be too broadly written.
BURNS: "Quick Take" headline number three: "A Free Press in Iraq?"
Well, at least a little freer and at least one press. An Iraqi Web site called Voices of Iraq is now expanding into a full-fledged newswire, sort of like America's Associated Press. Says the editor in chief of the Reuters news service in Iraq, "There now needs to be a local ability to cover the democratic process."
Jane, an interesting statement, including the use of the phrase "the democratic process," which some people, I guess, would have us believe does not exist in any form in Iraq to be covered.
HALL: Well, you know, we talked just recently about the conservatives who went over because they felt all of the story wasn't getting out. I think this can only be a good thing.
I mean, it's interesting. It's Reuters and it's the money from the United Nations assisting this operation. If it's an Iraqi-based, Iraq-generated news source, maybe it'll have more credibility than the American things that may be viewed as propaganda over there in some quarters. I think it's a good thing.
BURNS: But it's got to stay free, which is to say it's got to resist the efforts of those who will want to terrorize it.
GABLER: It's promising. But how promising it is I think is dependent on how professional is. You can't just have a bunch of people just logging; you have to have a professional kind of news operation.
THOMAS: Yes. It can't be terrorized, nor it can it be seemed to be a mouthpiece of the government.
THOMAS: Right now, all you've got is you've got Al Jazeera (search) is the biggest kahuna in the neighborhood right now. And you've got mullahs basically preaching a single totalitarian fundamentalist theology. If you can have some kind of a wire service or information service that is credible and will not be in the pocket of either side, then you've got something.
PINKERTON: We've got new cable operations in the Middle East, also in Latin America, also in Africa. Each of them has to prove that they can be fair and balanced, independent and free.
BURNS: Which takes time.
PINKERTON: Takes time.
BURNS: We have to take one more break. When we come back, it'll be your turn.
VIEWER MAIL SEGMENT
BURNS: About allegations that Karl Rove is the source for the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, here is Chad from Jamestown, Maryland: "If it's a crime to leak the name of a covert CIA agent, shouldn't it also be a crime to publish the name? Shouldn't the focus of the investigation be on Matt Cooper, Judith Miller, Time and The New York Times for publishing it?"
Well, yes, Chad, it should. And that's precisely why it has been. But that hardly means we're supposed to ignore Rove's possible role.
About cell phone video of the July 7 London terrorist attacks, here is Stu from Phoenix, Arizona: "Jim is correct that media organizations provide context, but just as cable has fractured the networks' hold on viewing habits (and context), so does citizen participation in the news gathering process offer consumers more choice. And that benefits us all."
About the BBC's practice of sometimes calling the terrorists "terrorists" and sometimes calling them bombers, here is Tom from Tucson, Arizona: "Why do we continue to validate these people by calling them terrorists? The term feeds their egos. Why not call them what they are, murderers?"
About the multimillion-dollar magazine deal Arnold Schwarzenegger signed with a series of fitness magazines two days before becoming governor of California, here is Pat, since she lives in Vista, California: "Why didn't you acknowledge" - by the way we did - "that Arnold signed his contract. before he was sworn in as governor just as Senator Clinton did for her book?"
Because no one has raised conflict-of-interest charges against Senator Clinton for her memoir, Pat. But those charges were raised against Governor Schwarzenegger when he vetoed a bill that would have regulated the fitness industry in California.
Now finally, from G.K.in Littleton, Colorado, a letter that I chose to read with some reluctance, "WHERE, WHERE, WHERE is Cal? Two weeks without him is not tolerable."
OK, I read it. You buying dinner today?
THOMAS: No. But I might go for lunch.
BURNS: All right. We'll settle for that. But it is nice to have you back.
THOMAS: Thank you, sir.
BURNS: Here's our address: email@example.com . Please write to us. When you do, 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, Cal Thomas, 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.
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