The following is a transcription of the July 30, 2005 edition of "FOX News Watch", that has been edited for clarity:
JON SCOTT, GUEST HOST: This week on "FOX News Watch":
The shuttle blasts back into space. Was there too much cheering and not enough concern?
A bold new television series takes on the Iraq war, but the drama may be too much.
Sony BMG charged with payola after getting caught bribing radio stations.
And Scotland Yard takes aim at ABC News.
Also, could these Hollywood hunks be out of the picture in Britain?
We'll explain after the headlines.
SCOTT: The space shuttle Discovery is back in space, and I'm back in this space for Eric Burns, of course. I'm Jon Scott.
I'm joined today by Jim Pinkerton of "Newsday"; syndicated columnist Cal Thomas; Jane Hall of the American University; and media writer Neal Gabler.
"FOX News Watch" is coming right up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three, two, one and liftoff of space shuttle Discovery.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: A dramatic moment for television on Tuesday morning when NASA launched the shuttle Discovery into space two and a half years after the Columbia disaster. The picture-perfect launch was covered live by all four broadcast networks and all three major cable news channels. I was there for this channel, and it really was a television event.
But Jim, did the drama of the moment sort of get in the way of some of the coverage of the critical questions?
JIM PINKERTON, "NEWSDAY": Well, I mean, given the trouble that the launch had afterwards in terms of the foam coming off and so on, I think it does put the burden on all reporters, including here at this network, to have put more scrutiny on this. I --only afterwards did they go back and discover that on July 17, which is nine days before the launch, the AP quoted Wayne Hale, who is the deputy shuttle manager, saying, This shuttle has been kind of rickety. Quote --"reminds me of an old truck I owned" -- unquote.
And that should have been the tip off to a lot of us to say, Hey, we got to do more digging as to what might potentially go wrong.
SCOTT: But --but you don't seriously expect a journalist to write an article that says, Don't launch the shuttle because.
PINKERTON: Well, it might have saved some lives.
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: You know, I - I think that we are - it is a little bit in the area of, Now they tell us. There are now stories appearing saying they considered redesigning it. Advisory people said this thing may not work. I went back and read testimony from an expert I've seen on TV lately, Alex Rowland, who's the former NASA historian, who's a big critic of the shuttle saying, Maybe we shouldn't even be doing this. And the whole politics of "why are we doing this?" --is it man's ego that we have to have manned flight?
I think a lot of this should have been raised, and I'm not sure between the last disaster and the launch how much good reporting there was even on the Rogers Commission (search), other people's recommendations. It fell into a hole until the launch, I think.
CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: From a media perspective, the space program, since its inception in the late 50s with the right stuff and all of this other stuff, has been one of the few things that have united the public. And I think even the media take --takes a look at this. And yes, they mentioned some of these problems, and yes, they went back and it's the x-number of years anniversary of the Columbia disaster and the rest --but even the media needs to take a breather every now and then. And the heavy politics, heavy negativity --this is a win for most of the media. It's a ratings win, and I thinkit makes everybody feel good.
So I don't mind so much that they're not constantly questioning things up to the moment of launch.
NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: It's a kind of a strange beat, actually, because so many reporters are not just reporters of space --I mean, they are space junkies. And I think in some ways that may cloud their judgment.
Also, I think, as Cal said --you know, there are no sides in this. Everyone, reporters and the public, have the same rooting interests: to want to see this thing succeed. And I think that also changes the way the story is covered.
We just sit there with bated breath hoping, keeping our fingers crossed that it's going to get up there and that everything's going to be OK.
HALL: I think once you get to the launch pad, so to speak, it would look ghoulish to show --you know, as some people were accused of showing -- too many replays of the disasters.
But before then, we were spending millions of dollars to make sure this things works, and the one thing that they spend millions - I read there were 100 million computer simulations. I mean, again, there's something between the disaster and the launch that I think the media could have been reporting on.
PINKERTON: I think that Neal and Cal touched on something, which is -- I don't call it patriotism; I call it "space-riotism" --just the enthusiasm people have. This is a human destiny; this is, you know, entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos (search) and Richard Branson (search) are doing programs on this. Ron Howard has got a reality TV show coming out on space. People want this desperately to succeed.
However, you can't ever let enthusiasm get in the way of, as Jane is saying, critical judgment on this. And it's clear that as the --as Admiral Gehman, who did another one of these commissions said, We told them to look at this foam issue, and they began to and didn't finish and they sent it up anyway. That's carelessness and what will hurt a great cause.
GABLER: And even in the aftermath, Jim, I think it's interesting -- this is very narrowly focused. I mean, all of the attention has been focused on foam. But as Jane pointed out, we haven't look at, Why are they going up there? How little attention on the fact of, Why is this going up there? What's going to happen to the shuttle in the future? What is the future of the entire space program?
There is a whole context and with this -- in which this operates, and almost no one in the media is dealing with that context. They're talking about a piece of foam.
THOMAS: Well, we're going up there to keep the practice going and to keep in shape for going to the moon. The president said we want to go back to the moon, we want to the space station, we want to go to Mars. So you got to keep in shape, as it were. You just don't go out and get involved in a prizefight without training for it.
HALL: But Cal, there are some people that are saying this is the wrong - the wrong horse to ride.
GABLER: Yes. Exactly.
HALL: .that this is the wrong vehicle. And I think they - there hasn't been enough questions saying, Should we be doing this?
I mean, it was launched with 1970s tech - you know, technology. I mean.
THOMAS: You mean you don't still have your 8-track in your car?
HALL: No. Actually, I don't.
SCOTT: A lot of the planes you fly are 1970s technology too.
SCOTT: We have to take our first break. When we come back, we'll answer these two questions:
ANNOUNCER: Why is Scotland Yard mad at ABC News? And can this ad improve the image of American Muslims?
We'll explain when "FOX News Watch" returns.
SCOTT: You're looking at photographs of the unexploded bombs left behind by the July 7 bombers who killed more than 50 people in London. Britain's Scotland Yard (search) not happy about these images being broadcast by ABC News and now by us and everybody else.
But we've seen cell-phone video taken inside one of the London subway cars after it was bombed by terrorists on July 7. What's wrong with ABC broadcasting these pictures.
Neal, did ABC have an obligation to comply when Scotland Yard said hold up?
GABLER: I don't believe so.
I think anytime the police authority tells a media outlet, Don't report this, the media outlet has an obligation to analyze its motives and the motives of the police authority. And it also has an obligation to look and see what the possible outcomes might be, the possible negative outcomes.
I assume that ABC did that, and I assume they came up with the - with the conclusion that there was no reason not to show these things. And I suppose we'll know in the future whether this has interfered with the investigation.
SCOTT: Well, Jane, one of the concerns: copycats, you know? People -- people building the same kind of bomb, leaving them on street corners.
HALL: Well, they also -- Scotland Yard said they thought it might hurt future prosecutions.
I mean, I have to say, it was absolutely chilling. I guess this shows, you know, the empathy that you feel when you see this. I mean, I'm not sure we should be getting so much description of how easy it is. I've seen people saying, Oh you can get this stuff in your bath tub.
Seeing those nails, and knowing they were designed to maim was so chilling, and I think if it's easy to make, I think I'm not sure that we should be showing how to do copycats.
THOMAS: You can get this stuff on the Internet, of course. These bombs have been used in Israel on buses and the rest; there's no mystery about any of this.
Let me take you - tell you what I think was a responsible response by the media. When Sky News, our sister station in London, was requested by Scotland Yard during the -- the Friday arrests and the tracking down of some of these suspects, not to carry live coverage because it was an operational event. They complied. I thought that was a responsible response to - to Scotland Yard's request.
PINKERTON: But the cops would shut down all press coverage if they could.
PINKERTON: Just for - just for their own - for their own convenience. (INAUDIBLE) life easier for them; one less thing to worry about.
That's not the way it works. I think this news story is so important, showing them and including the vividness of the nails, just reminding us what we're up against. And I believe that energetic press coverage is critical to our national survival on this issue.
For example, The Daily Mail reported about the terrorist ... the guy from Eritrea, that he came as a refugee on a humanitarian thing, got $60,000 in welfare over the last decade, and now is trying to kill people in Britain.
Only press scrutiny will help us think through the related issues of homeland security and immigration.
SCOTT: What about -- does anybody think that just the images of these things - because some of them didn't look like milk bottles sitting on corners; some of them looked like, you know, pancakes that had been pressed flat. Putting that out there, letting people know what some of these devices looked like - is that potentially a public service?
THOMAS: No, I think it is, and it helps the public. You know, they've put out these pictures of these suspects because they wanted people to look for them. Putting these things out -- when you're riding along on the subway or a bus or something, maybe you'll see one of these jars and it'll trip something in your memory, something that looks like it - it's not somebody's science project - a little thing with formaldehyde and bugs in it, like we used to do in a high school science thing - this could be a terrorist thing. You call the authorities. I don't see a problem with that.
HALL: I'm not arguing for secrecy -- you know, the government to put secrecy out. But I think to argue that because this stuff is available in blueprints on the Internet, we should print whatever we know, which is the argument I think that's being made.
I'm not a broadcast (INAUDIBLE)
PINKERTON: That's not the argument I'm making. I'm making the argument they're trying to kill us.
PINKERTON: .and as Cal says, we need to know how they're going to do it.
HALL: But I don't think saying it's available on the Internet means that the broadcast networks don't have some responsibility to make the case as to why they felt they had to air this.
GABLER: That's why I say you have to analyze your motives.
SCOTT: And sometimes, Neal, I wonder whether, you know, police don't want these things released - because it's fairly clear that somehow they leaked out of Scotland Yard. I mean, who else is going to have a lot of these pictures?
GABLER: Well, I mean, I think Jim is absolutely right. I mean, the police would have nothing escape if they had their druthers. And I don't think that serves the public interest.
SCOTT: All right. Another topic this week, an ad placed by the Muslim-American community of New Jersey in the state's largest newspaper condemned the recent terror attacks in Britain and Egypt.
Can this ad or any ad help balance the negative image of Muslims -- Cal.
THOMAS: Well, I think this is one of the things that they want to do.
I do not deny and I certainly believe that there are a lot of peaceful Muslims who are appalled by this sort of thing. But they're not running the show.
I would have felt a lot better if we had seen ads like this appearing in some Islamic republics around the world, and if some of these Islamic leaders in these republics issued fatwas and public service announcements and the rest denouncing this. We only see this in American and Britain, and if you look at the history of Islam and its confrontational approach throughout history, you see that this is part of a strategy in nations where they are not in control to use the media, in this case, and a lot of other things, to lull people into a sense of security and safety.
So I don't - I'm not questioning the motives of these people. I do think that it would be more effective if they came from Islamic republics where those people are in charge.
SCOTT: Is an ad going to do the job, Neal?
GABLER: Well, actually, the media has been doing the job because, commendably or not, the media has tread very lightly when it comes to the Muslim community. And in fact, there was a poll this week that showed that Americans are more favorably disposed toward the Muslim community now than they were previously.
So I think that, you know, ultimately, the media has kind of taken a hands-off approach in making the connection between Islam and terror.
PINKERTON: It's a little late, almost four years after 9/11.
PINKERTON: But better late than never.
SCOTT: Yes. And are readers and viewers separating, you know, the fanatics from the peaceful practitioners?
HALL: I think they are, and I - let me be unpolitically correct, or politically incorrect: I'd like to see more reporting on what's being said by some of the clerics in some of these mosques.
HALL: .that apparently are inciting people. Now that may not be something people on report on; I'd like to see more of it.
SCOTT: Time for another break. We're going to be back with our "Quick Takes."
ANNOUNCER: One government wants to replace these pretty boys with overweight, balding, middle-aged men. Find out why when "FOX News Watch" returns.
SCOTT: And time now for our "Quick Takes on the Media":
Headline number one: "Is That All it Takes To Get a Free Trip to Las Vegas?"
Sony BMG Music Entertainment, the world's second-largest music company, agreed to a $10 million settlement this week. The company admitted to bribing radio station programmers just to get its music played on air.
Jim, should we be surprised?
PINKERTON: Well, let's stipulate it's wrong to break the law. But let's also stipulate, in this case, the law is an ass.
Eliot Spitzer, who's soon to be - the attorney general of New York State, who is likely to be the next governor - is another Ralph Nader in the making. As Dan Gross in Slate.com put it very well, the whole laws against payola are ridiculous. In a world of iPods and satellite radio and every - podcasting.
SCOTT: You scratch my back, I'll play your record?
PINKERTON: But who cares? There's so many choices in media now, the idea of aggressive promotion - if you can some way -- adidas sneakers for this - it's just ridiculous.
SCOTT: I can tell Jane agrees with you.
HALL: Oh, yes. There's so many choices: Clear Channel, BMG, Sony.
GABLER: That's right. Yes.
HALL: Four or five companies have been allowed, thanks to the Federal Communication Commission -- which is supposed to be regulating radio -- to own this. They can muscle their way in. It's a $10 million fine; he's an ex-Giuliani, actually, I think - probably a guy who's going to run for office.
I think this is a valid story, and it's -- behind the story is this fact that there are four or five companies -- program radio in this country.
THOMAS: Yes. Gene Robinson of The Washington Post had a good column on this this week in that newspaper, and he - had made a point that Jane is making: the - the consolidation of big media companies. We talk about all these channels and everything else, but the big corporations decide what is going to be played.
And the other thing he said was the lack of good music education in our schools is also responsible for a lot of - he said, Let's go back to Ella Fitzgerald (search) once in awhile and see what real singing is all about.
SCOTT: All right. "Quick Take" headline number two:
"Will Over There Work Over Here?"
Steven Bochco, the guy responsible for some of the most famous television dramas of all time, including "Hill Street Blues" and "L.A. Law" - well, he unveiled a new series this week on FX. Set in Iraq, "Over There" is the first television drama to examine a war that's not even finished.
Neal, good idea?
GABLER: Well, you know, I was struck watching this about how little we get the feel of this war on television, as opposed to, say, the Vietnam War. Because, obviously, reporters can't really go out in the field now and record this.
And I think that's the reason that a series like this is possible, is because we don't really know - we know but we don't really feel the texture of what's going on in Iraq. And I think this kind of - is an attempt to fill that void.
THOMAS: I'm not sure exactly what the point of this was. I watched most of the first one, and I think a lot of conservatives were looking for a --- kind of a bias, an anti-war angle. I didn't really see that. But I'm wondering where this is going. That's only one episode but - what? - are we supposed to identify with certain people? Is it a -- some kind of a war-like soap opera? I don't really get it.
I mean, it's very well produced.
PINKERTON: Some people asked that about the war in Iraq.
I mean, look - and look - and we should also say this is a -- FX is owned by the News Corporation, which also owns us. But anybody who thinks that the News Corporation is pro-Iraq war ought to watch this TV show, because it really makes you not want to go.
SCOTT: All right. Jane, quickly.
HALL: One thing that I've noticed -- a couple of stories recently said that people "over there" are saying, Why isn't there more of a sense of sacrifice in the country at large? And maybe this will help in that way.
SCOTT: "Quick Take" headline number three now: "Goodbye Pretty Boys.Hello Baldy!"
George Clooney and Brad Pitt, considered two of Hollywood's sexiest men - both stars are featured in alcohol ads in Britain that trade on their sex appeal. But in an effort to curb binge drinking in England, the country is taking the unusual step of cracking down on TV ads that portray alcohol as an aid to seduction.
This week, one drinkmaker was ordered to replace the handsome guy in its ad with an unattractive, overweight member of the species.
Cal, what do you think?
THOMAS: Well, I think - you know, to keep this news from young people, that alcohol is separated from seduction - I don't this secret is going to be held very long.
Actually, I like the Heineken commercial especially, with Brad Pitt - especially when he's followed by all of these paparazzi are falling all over themselves trying to get to him. It's very cleverly done.
HALL: I'd like to see equal opportunity for, you know, middle-aged overweight women draped over some car to sell it. I don't think we'll be seeing it in anytime soon.
PINKERTON: Normally I'm against nannystate regulation of things like this, but if they eliminate all the sexist (ph) symbols as possible candidates, I'm available.
HALL: Are you going to say you're not sexy to fulfill the requirement?
SCOTT: Wait a minute. And which - which government officer is going to decide that you're ugly enough to be on TV?
GABLER: This would be the end of American capitalism, if it were set in this country.
SCOTT: All right. One more break. When we come back, it will be your turn.
SCOTT: Barbara from Palm Harbor, Florida, gets us started in our viewer-mail segment this week. She has this to say about media coverage of President Bush's Supreme Court pick, Judge John Roberts: "I would love it if the press would go back to telling us what has happened and quit telling us what they think is going to happen."
Same topic, Loren from Creve Couer, Missouri, asks, "Will be the media be disappointed if the Democrats behave in the Roberts confirmation? I think so."
About media coverage of the incarceration of "New York Times" reporter Judith Miller, here's Phyllis from Michigan: "I think Judith Miller isn't protecting anyone from the BUSH administration. I think she is the source.She is probably a friend of Ms. Plame and her defamed husband. Maybe, just maybe, she is writing a book? What publicity."
Regarding our discussion of a proposed federal shield law designed to protect reporters and their confidential sources, Walt from Tucson, Arizona, has this to say: "I want to see a federal shield law that protects whistleblowers (and the media that use them) but not those in power (government or industry) who try to punish or stop whistleblowers. In particular, I want a law that protects Ambassador Wilson (the whistleblower), but not Karl Rove (anti-whistleblower). This path might just lead to the truth, a respected media and the good society."
And Tom in Durango, Colorado, echoes that sentiment, but with a more a cynical perspective: "I believe confidential sources should be protected. Unfortunately, I also believe that 90 percent of the time, the words `confidential sources say' should be substituted with, `this reporter's opinion is.'"
But Tommy in Houston, Texas, tells us: "I hope the government never passes a law protecting you people from disclosing your sources. There is nothing that makes me madder than some two-bit reporter writing an article and giving credence to an `unidentified' or `very reliable' source. It should be against the law to cite a source without giving their name."
Finally, here's Jim from Dimondale, Michigan: " I want to let you know that I really enjoy watching `News Watch.' It is a well-mixed group, they say what they think, don't always agree, and I think give a `balanced' viewpoint of the major news items each week."
Well, Jim, thank you very much. I guess that means that all of our group therapy is money well spent.
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, Cal Thomas and Neal Gabler.
I'm Jon Scott, sitting in for Eric Burns this week. Thank you for watching. We'll see you next week, when "FOX News Watch" is back on the air.
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