Harriet Miers Gets a Media Makeover

The following is a partial transcription of the October 22, 2005 edition of "FOX News Watch", that has been edited for clarity:

ERIC BURNS, FOX NEWS HOST: This week on "FOX News Watch." Harriet Miers gets a media makeover. Are the media won over?

First the headlines, then us.


BURNS: It is too early to give you the final word on Wilma, but just the right time to bring you up to date on the other big media stories of the week, 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.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to welcome some of my fellow Texans here in the Oval Office. We've got Republicans and Democrats, people who have been on the court, attorney generals.


BURNS: What were these current and former justices of the Texas Supreme Court doing in the Oval Office? Last month they were vouching for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers. It has been described as a new marketing campaign to try to focus on Miers' professional life more than her personal life.

Jim, fair description? Is there a new media marketing campaign? Is that what it's about? Is it working? Can you handle all of those?

Remember, there are other people here who will want to jump in at some point.

JIM PINKERTON, NEWSDAY: I was writing them down as you spoke, so I'm OK.

As The L.A. Times said, Harriet Miers is like the New Coke. -- You remember that brand from 20 years ago that was a big pitch and then fizzled, no pun intended.

I think the media are so clobbering Miers. I've never seen anything quite like it. From the left and the right at the same time.

BURNS: Why are they doing it, Jim?

PINKERTON: I think it's sort of the feeding frenzy, "Lord of the Flies" phenomenon. They just all know they can take a piece out of her and get away with it without ever getting harpooned in return.

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: You know, The New York Times on Friday had what I thought was a pretty fair piece from positive and negative supporters and detractors talking about her preparation for this and yet even there they're pulling the curtain back on the process. The National Review online talks about a conference call where conservatives had been critiquing her performance on the Hill and saying she is not doing well.

John Fund of The Wall Street Journal reported on the conference with religious leaders about her position, her alleged position on Roe v. Wade. You have conservative people beating up on her, I think and reporting on the process and you have the media trying to pull back the curtain. I think it is really regrettable in many ways but the cynicism, I think, comes from the fact that this is a very controversial nominee.

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: All of those points are good. I would add this, that the Bush administration has totally lost control of its media message. The first term it was in complete control. It didn't leak to anybody. It was on message all the time. Every member of the administration put out the same lines to whatever media outlet they were talking to, whether it would be talk radio or a sound bite on a nightly newscast. They've completely lost it. And they seemed to be --well they're just paddling around without an oar.

BURNS: And are they now .


BURNS: Neal, are they now in the process of trying to regain the message and is this new way to try to market Harriet Miers a part of that effort?

NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: Well, certainly they are. But here's when you know when you're in trouble. You know you're in trouble when the media is reporting about you trying to re-brand the person. When that becomes the story, and not the substance of the case, you're in big trouble.

We've had here a tale of two nominations. We saw in John Roberts the media was on the Bush team. This guy walked on water. We knew -- we didn't know what his judicial philosophy was but we knew it had to be good because he was such a smart guy. Now we have Harriet Miers. And in the mainstream media it's kind of taken a step back and focused on the fight within conservative circles. The story is not Miers so much as the fight over Miers.

PINKERTON: I would agree with that. I would also say that the Roberts nomination was kind of the White House's show for reasons Neal suggested. This nomination is kind of the media's show and they're playing it like a reality TV show where they've got the contestant they want to lose. You know she's going to lose and they do the editing and the cutting to make her look bad all the way through this.

They've clearly set the script already for her to withdraw.

HALL: But wait a minute. She was nominated. The conservatives are the ones who have been leading the charge. I don't think you can blame the media for being out to get her .

PINKERTON: Including the conservative media. Including David Frum (search) and Bill Kristol (search). This is a new phenomenon.

HALL: But I don't think --and I'm not sure I agree with Cal --I don't think it's a great thing that the Bush White House was so on message. It may be great for them but I don't think it was so great in the first .

THOMAS: I didn't say it was great, I just said what it was.

HALL: I know, but the media weren't questioning them. They were taking .

GABLER: I think Cal had a point here. We're so accustomed to the right wing media moving in lockstep. David Frum said this, former speechwriter for Bush, in the "Washington Post" that when they're not moving in lockstep and they're not on this and actually driving the story, the mainstream media is not driving the story, the right wing media are driving the story, that the public and the Bush administration are shocked. They can't figure it out.

BURNS: Don't we have to fault the media for this? There was a meeting at the White House before the Miers nomination among the president and his advisors, Republicans and Democrats alike and you got a lot of advice, Cal, to appoint someone who had not been a judge but who had a legal background for a different perspective. Now if this story were out there more then all of these stories about her never having been a judge before and that this is terrible, I think, would have to be pulled back a little.

Bush was advised by a lot of people to have this kind of person as a nominee.


THOMAS: I think that's fine but you have the cronyism problem, then you have the cynical manipulation of religion. Remember, with John Roberts, people were telling the media we can't question his Catholic faith or this idea that there's enough Catholics, quote-unquote, on the bench already.

Well we trotted out her evangelical faith, Harriet Miers, and then when that didn't fly to well, especially when her friend, Judge Hecht in Texas said, well, she can put that aside to rule on cases, leaving the question, what's the point of the faith if you can put it aside. Then they said, well, we're not going to talk about that anymore.

That looks to a lot of conservatives, including the conservative media, like cynical manipulation.

HALL: I think a lot is going to be riding on these hearings and how well she does and maybe that can change people's minds. That certainly would be a big media story.

BURNS: And we'll watch it.

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