The following is a transcription of the August 6, 2005 edition of "FOX News Watch", that has been edited for clarity:
JOHN GIBSON, GUEST HOST: This week on "FOX News Watch"...
More U.S. soldiers die. Do the headlines tell the whole story?
A young girl fights off a man who grabbed her. Did the media teach her what to do?
Russia to ABC News: Get out and stay out! Did ABC play Russian Roulette with coverage?
Death of a king: how will this affect coverage of the Saudi royal family?
And John Bolton (search): new man at the U.N. Was the media caught by surprise?
Answers after the headlines.
GIBSON: President Bush is off on vacation this week, and so is Eric Burns. Hmm... And so is Robert Novak, but for a whole other reason!
I'm John Gibson, filling in for one of them. With me, 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.
More than 20 U.S. soldiers were killed this week in Iraq. On Monday, six Marines from an Ohio-based battalion were lost. On Wednesday, 14 Marines from the same company were killed by a roadside bomb in one of the deadliest attacks on American troops since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Neal, what is the criticism of the media coverage of - of this terrible day in Iraq for American soldiers, particularly those from Ohio?
NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: Well, I haven't seen a lot of criticism, although I'll issue some right now.
GIBSON: Well, I figured you would. That's why I went to you.
GABLER: I'll tell you, you know, the press is always reactive except when it's gossiping who's going to be on the Supreme Court.
There were stories that should have been reported that weren't reported that I think would have assisted our troops and assisted the American public. One of those stories is the fact that the inspector general in June issued a report that the Marines were ill-equipped, underequipped. Only "The Boston Globe" printed that story - I think it was picked up by "The San Diego Union-Tribune." That story got no traction whatsoever.
Secondly, I don't see any analysis of the wisdom of the strategy of sending our troops into the - the - essentially the Wild West of Iraq. These are stories that should have been covered, that weren't covered.
GIBSON: I hear Jane trying to get in on this.
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, you know, I think there were some stories, and I think the media, unfortunately, with U.S. troops' families, were first to report that we were lacking body armor for a lot of these soldiers - I mean, not body armor, but the armor.
GIBSON: That's an old story, isn't it?
HALL: But I give them points on that.
But I think Neal has a point. "The New York Times," after this story happened with the Marines, pointed out a terrible story, with officers talking about the bomb-detonation squads, and that these people are getting more and more sophisticated, and that the charges seem to be coming from outside this country. And that was a very disturbing story to read after the fact.
GABLER: After the fact.
JIM PINKERTON, "NEWSDAY": Well, also, in USA Today, there was a discussion of the Amtrack, which is a - yet another one of these military vehicles that we're driving around in Iraq. And apparently, it was meant for amphibious landings. It is made out of aluminum. That's what the Marines in -- from Ohio were all killed, when they were riding around in. It is not hardened, if you will, for this kind of urban warfare, which -- it makes you think -- again, it's a little bit, as Jane's saying, that we got to step back and think about the military strategy of defense and offense.
GIBSON: Now, do you believe -- if Neal -- and we assume Neal's right in his facts -- that this inspector general's report came out, and it said X and so, and maybe something should have been changed, if the media doesn't cover it, does the Pentagon ignore a report like that?
CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: No, I think it does. Sure. And we've said on this program before that - or at least Neal has, and I'm tending more and more to begin to agree with him on this.
GIBSON: I'm shocked by that.
GABLER: So am I.
THOMAS: The administration has stuck to a single line on this: we don't need anymore troops. It's responded to all questions about this from journalists, the policy's fine, everything is going fine.
It's not going fine. And I think it would behoove the Pentagon and the administration to at least acknowledge it's not going fine and to tell the media and tell the public how they are going to retool. And not just with more body armor.
GIBSON: OK. On another subject in Iraq: this week, journalist Steven Vincent was also killed. He became the first American journalist to be executed in Iraq since the Iraq war began.
Now, Neal, this guy was out there operating alone.
GABLER: Yes, he was. Freelance.
GIBSON: And he had -- he was traveling with a female Iraqi translator.
GABLER: That's right.
GIBSON: He was uncovering bad stuff going on in Basra.
Was he a little - was he doing what he should have been doing to protect himself?
GABLER: Well, obviously, after the fact, you can say, No, he wasn't.
But he did that intentionally. He didn't want to be surrounded by -- even if you could afford them, which you couldn't -- you didn't want to be surrounded by a whole phalanx of bodyguards, because he thought he couldn't get the story that way.
But -- you know, and on top of that, Basra is supposed to be one of the safe areas of Iraq.
GIBSON: Yes, but he -- but he knew he wasn't. It wasn't.
GABLER: He - well, I mean, I think the interesting thing about this story is his death, and what it says about Iraq. Steve Vincent was a conservative journalist who believed in this war and who got disillusioned, and whose death speaks volumes about how safe Iraq is right now.
THOMAS: One of the important points that he made in one of his last stories was how the Basra police were members of some of these religious fanatical groups that had spoken out against the American involvement in Iraq. And the question he raised quite properly in that story -- and I haven't seen it anywhere else -- is, how loyal can we expect them to be to the U.S. objective?
PINKERTON: His blog, which was called "In The Red Zone," as opposed to In The Green Zone -- you know, where it's really - at least theoretically safe -- was must-required (ph) reading. It was featured heavily on National Review Online.
And he also got into the -- some of the stuff. He said, Look, what we're really seeing in Basra, which was a Shia area, is -- quote -- "self- defeating behavior" -- unquote.
GIBSON: Jane, what do - what are students taught about the danger of this profession.
HALL: Well, more and more, you know, we have to talk to them about - I mean, I have students who want to be foreign correspondents. And we have to talk more and more about the dangers. More than 50 journalists have been killed recently. And journalists are risking their lives.
I mean, one of the things that was true of Vincent was he stayed. I saw a piece by a "Newsday" reporter who said, I was there for less than a week and I was under armed guard. How can you report a story like that?
GIBSON: Time for a break. When we come back.
ANNOUNCER: Russia retaliates against ABC News after it airs an interview with a notorious terrorist. Did ABC go too far?
"FOX News Watch" continues after this.
GIBSON: Last week, it was Scotland Yard. And now this week, the Russian government strikes out at ABC News after it aired an interview on "Nightline" with Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev. He's a terrorist believed to be responsible for the Beslan school massacre, where 200 children and adults were killed last summer.
Here's FOX News' Dana Lewis with more from Moscow.
DANA LEWIS, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: John, a very interesting case on a couple of levels here.
First of all, how far does the media go in allowing terrorists a platform to speak out openly on television. And then also, if governments are not pleased by that, do they take this action that Russia has now done and ban the media outright, ban that news organization? In the case of ABC News here in Russia, all of this in the framework of a country that is not very open to a free press in the first place.
Here's the background: the interview was done with Shamil Basayev, a notorious Chechen terrorist, who has admitted to, among other things, organizing the Beslan school massacre last year. Hundreds were killed, most of them kids. He was also behind the Moscow theatre-hostage taking. Again, many people killed there.
ABC News doesn't get an interview with him. What they do is they take an interview from a Russian journalist who as in Chechnya, a journalist well known to be sympathetic to the Chechen cause. In the interview, Basayev says, Sure, he's a terrorist. But he also accuses Russian authorities of terrorism in Chechnya.
And he threatens to carry out more attacks. In fact, he basically says that more attacks are almost certain.
Russian reaction to the broadcast: they are absolutely furious. They banned ABC; they are withdrawing the media accreditation for their staff here. And they say that ABC News will not have any access to any Russian government officials in the first place.
ABC News doesn't apologize. In fact, if anything, they've gotten some positive publicity from all of this, because it puts their program on the map in a big way, because of all of the controversy that the Russian authorities have stirred around this now -- John.
GIBSON: Dana, were -- was ABC was surprised that they got kicked out?
LEWIS: Well, if they're surprised, I would be surprised, because I can tell you my Kremlin sources say that they knew this broadcast was coming out two weeks before, and they were in constant contact with ABC, asking them not to run it.
And here's what a Kremlin spokesman told me this morning; he said, Dana, we're not angry so much that the interview ran. What we're angry with is the context that it was used in. Why didn't they explain properly who Basayev was? Thirty percent of their angry is directed at the fact that the interview ran; 70 percent, they say, is the fact that they just allowed this interview to run without any sort of checks and balances, and that they almost gave Shamil Basayev bragging rights on ABC News, bragging rights on American television about his acts of terror. And that is what has infuriated them. And to use the words of the Kremlin spokesman, "insulted the government of Russia."
GIBSON: Dana Lewis in Moscow.
Jim Pinkerton, was ABC out of line?
PINKERTON: Well, look, let's stipulate that Vladimir Putin (search), the head of Russia, is a Stalinist who would love to reconstitute the Soviet empire.
However, let's also stipulate that their -- Paul Williams, who's written several books on this topics, says the Chechens have probably got 20 or 30 suitcase nukes floating around. That may or may not be true. But if it is true, or even if it might be true, the risk is so enormous - and if I were the Russian government, I might just call on ABC and say, Look, you're helping the terrorists. We're going to arrest your guy, and we're going to make him tell us where he interviewed this guy.
I think this is serious enough situation where if Moscow becomes a crater, I might just take a little - a second look at the First Amendment.
GIBSON: A lot of nodding around here. Jane, you're nodding?
HALL: Well, you know, I find myself in an odd position.
Ted Koppel said, You know, we questioned him, and the reporter who got the story said that if he had told the authorities where he had been, that they would have arrested him, which is probably true.
But I have to say, What if the Russians got an interview with Usama bin Laden? And what would - what would the United States' attitude be? I don't know the answer to the question.
GIBSON: We'd run the -- we ran Zawahiri's tapes this week, and we...
HALL: OK. I mean, generally, the idea is that information - to quote Jim Pinkerton - "wants to be free." But this is a man who has a $10 million bounty on his head. I'm not sure they put in enough context.
GIBSON: But is the - is the issue the terrorists, Neal, or ABC? Was ABC saying to the Russian government, We just double-dog dare you?
GABLER: In some respects, I think they were, because of the nature of this journalist.
Look, I think the Russian government is - its reaction, I think, is - it overreacted, but it was right to ask the question: does this journalist have an agenda? Was this propaganda or was it journalism? Those are appropriate questions to ask.
THOMAS: Yes, I agree with that. But I think it's going to come back to haunt Russia and the Russian government. It's not something that looks good if you're trying to promote democracy and a new Russia and a free and open society. I agree with Jim; it looks like the repression of the past.
GIBSON: But was ABC trying to say, Cal, Look, we're bigger than a Russian government. You may be a Russian government, but we're ABC News. We'll show you.
THOMAS: Yes. But you know, it used to be, when some of us were growing up in the business, that the networks did not use second-hand secondary material. This was second-hand; it was secondary.
I do agree with Putin that they did not put it in the proper context. And as Jane said, how would we feel if, say, the Russians came over here and did an interview with a terrorist here, and put it on Russian television?
PINKERTON: (INAUDIBLE) the right to do what they want to do, but the Russians have a right to protect their own homeland.
GIBSON: There you go.
OK, time for another break. We'll be back with our "Quick Takes on the Media."
ANNOUNCER: Did the media coverage of these missing girls help this little girl save her own life? We'll explain when "FOX News Watch" returns.
GIBSON: Time now for our "Quick Takes on the Media"
Headline number one: Saudi King Dead & Buried..Now the Truth?
The country's ruling monarch was buried this week in a simple, unmarked grave in a public cemetery. Now the question for the media: will the king's passing also spell the death for superficial coverage of the Saudi royal family. We certainly hope so.
Neal, the U.S. media - is it doing enough to bite the hand that feeds it, since we all live on Saudi's oil?
GABLER: Absolutely not. Look it, when it comes to Saudi Arabia, the American press is so passive.
Now here's an occasion, as you pointed out, where they could investigate the relationship between the Saudis and terrorism, or at least fundamentalism, which they certainly fund; the Saudis' relationship to anti-Semitism.
GIBSON: You don't think we do that?
GABLER: Oh, please. I mean.
GIBSON: You don't watch enough FOX News.
GABLER: Well - oil - oil, you know, covers everything.
PINKERTON: According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the Saudis spend $50 billion a year on foreign aid. And if that's not.
GIBSON: Madrasa aid.
PINKERTON: Madrasa aid.
PINKERTON: It's not being adequately investigated. The only journalist I can think of who's been consistently on this story effectively has been Stephen Schwartz for "The Weekly Standard," who wrote a book called, "The Two Faces of Islam."
Other than that, it's mostly, as Neal says, it's puffery.
THOMAS: There was a piece in "The Washington Post" this past week on the proliferation of new mosques in the outer suburbs of Washington, D.C. I read through the whole story; no journalist asked the question, Where'd the money come from? Well, if it's like a lot of the other mosques that are being built in America, it came from the Wahabi extreme wing of Saudi Arabia.
GIBSON: Of course it is. So are we teaching this in journalism school, follow the money?
HALL: Well, follow the money is always a good rule. But I have to say that, you know, when our own government is looking away at democracy, or the lack thereof in Saudi Arabia.
GIBSON: We just put a guy in jail for life out of one of these madrasas in Virginia. What do you mean look the other way?
HALL: OK. But - but I mean, oil has been the great - the great solvent for these guys. Whether that's going to change in terms of our policy and our media, I think is a question.
GIBSON: Quick headline number two: Maybe Some Good Does Come from Bad
That's MicKenzie Smith right here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICKENZIE SMITH, FOUGHT OFF WOULD-BE KIDNAPPER: I just didn't really want to have happen what has happened to every - like, all the kidnappings that you hear about, that they - bad things have happened to. I didn't want that to happen because I have dreams that I want to fulfill.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIBSON: OK, as I was saying, that's MicKenzie Smith, a very brave 12- year-old Utah girl who fought off a man trying to kidnap her recently. He was grabbing her and forcing her into the back of his truck.
Apparently, media coverage of missing children, especially Elizabeth Smart's abduction, was firm in her mind.
Now who's like to go first condemning all the Natalee Holloway, Elizabeth Smart (search), Jessica Lunsford coverage? Maybe Cal?
THOMAS: No, no - look, I - this - as you said, a very, very brave young woman. But a lot of people over the years have been all over the media advising women on this, the various rape experts and crisis experts. You know, it's very dangerous to fight off these guys.
So the other way to look at it is, OK, all the media coverage gave her the chutzpah to fight them off. But the other question is, What about all the others who may do this, and may get their throats slit? You never know.
HALL: I have a suggestion. How about some public service announcements by.
GIBSON: Who pays any attention to public service announcements? How many smokers' public service announcements..
HALL: I'm being facetious. But I'd like to see more stories -- I've seen a few stories on ABC and a few other networks..
GIBSON: That isn't how.
HALL: .talking to girls.
GIBSON: That isn't how.
HALL: No, talking to girls and boys about if a guy says, Help me with my puppy, run the other direction.
GIBSON: But Jim, stories, shmories. Isn't the way that kid learned things is watching talk television talk these subjects to death?
PINKERTON: I think that's exactly right. I think that she said so.
Look, television can help you model bad behavior. It can also help you model good behavior. This was a -- this really worked out nicely.
GABLER: Talk about a rationalization.
GIBSON: "Quick Take" headline number three: "Come On, We Saw This Coming!"
President Bush appointed John Bolton as U.N. ambassador on Monday. Judging from the reaction of many in the media -- ah! -- the appointment came as a surprise.
Neal, for gosh sakes, that was no surprise, was it?
GABLER: Oh, I was absolutely shocked.
No, of course. Everybody knew this was going to happen. You know, and the problem with the media is that the media cannot deal with nuances. They can only deal in broad strokes.
So you have Andrea Koppel (search) on CNN saying, You know, John Bolton had been demonized by the Democratic Party. But what you don't get are the - you know, why he was demonized: You know, the intercepts at the State Departments; the exaggeration of intelligence.
GIBSON: Being a (INUADIBLE) meanie. Say it.
GIBSON: He was demonized because they didn't want him to get the job.
GABLER: They didn't want him to get the job because of the things that were in his background.
HALL: You know what I thought was interesting? FOX News had a piece that talked about all the people that been recess appointments by Democratic presidents, as if to say, This has been done before...
GIBSON: All right. We have one more break to take. When we come back, it will be your turn. You don't want to miss that.
GIBSON: David from Harrisburg, Illinois, gets us started in our viewer mail segment this week. He has this to say about our discussion last week of press coverage: "Oh, for cryin' out loud! What is wrong with you people (read: journalists)? The space program, and hence the shuttle, is just a continuation of what this country was founded on: pioneerism. Yes, space travel is dangerous, but so was traversing the Appalachians in wagon trains."
About Scotland Yard getting mad at ABC News after it decided to air photos of unexploded bombs found by police in London, Findlay from Bunbury, in western Australia, writes: "ABC News shouldn't have aired those pictures, and Scotland Yard, who have a fair bit on their plate at present, have every right to be angered by ABC's actions."
On the same topic, bomb - Bob from Mobile, Alabama, says: "Jim was right when he said that the media needs to show us that there are people out there that want to kill us. Why, then, are all the news outlets not showing the 9/11 videos on a regular basis? With the public's short attention span, wouldn't this be a much better use of airtime, say, than Jude Law's escapades?"
Regarding this ad placed by American Muslims condemning the July terror attacks in Britain and Egypt, Joseph in Toms River, New Jersey, writes, "I congratulate American Muslims condemning the recent terror attacks.I hope Saudi Arabia's largest newspapers will also run similar ads." Yeah, right.
"If not? Then at least that proves we have a very big problem that's only getting" worser and worser.
About our discussion of the new TV drama series "Over There," Rich, an ex-Army man from the Vietnam era writes, "This show is a joke. Poorly written, badly acted, silly in its premise, lacks any military basis other than uniforms, and in short is just another mainstream-media attempt to show us in a bad light!"
And finally, from another military man, there's this from Richard, who is currently stationed in Iraq. It's about our discussion of a bad in Britain on attractive men appearing in alcohol ads: "I've always had a saying that expressed a different opinion - `Sexy men don't cause you to drink, ugly women do.'"
Man, have you got problems, Richard!
Do you have something you want to say to us? Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please tell us your full name, and let us know where you live so we can send those hit squads out for you.
That's all the time we have left this week. Thanks to Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, Cal Thomas, Neal Gabler.
I'm John Gibson, filling in this week for Eric Burns. Thank you for watching. We'll see you next week, when "FOX News Watch" is back on the air and Eric is here.
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