The following is a transcription of the October 29, 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.
The media wait for indictments, and wait, and wait.
Did the media make up Miers' mind for her?
The 2,000th American soldiers dies in Iraq.
In this country, the death of a 92-year-old woman who changed the course of history.
And the governor of Florida storms at the media.
First the headlines, and then us.
BURNS: Good news everyone: none of the four people you're about to meet have withdrawn their names from consideration for the "FOX News Watch" panel - Jim Pinkerton of "Newsday"; syndicated columnist Cal Thomas; Jane Hall of the American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.
The media wondered this week whether Karl Rove would be indicted in the CIA leak case. The media wondered whether Scooter Libby would be indicted.
While they wondered, the presses rolled anyhow. They said, White House on "Pins and Needles." They said, the White House has taken on "A Bunker Mentality." They said, the White House has "A Major Political Crisis."
At the end of the week, we got our answers: Rove wasn't indicted; Libby was.
But before that, Jane, we got all of that wondering. And - and how - how - how reputable was it for the media to be speculating to the extent that they were before we learned our answers?
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, you know, we learned about Monica Lewinsky's testimony before a supposedly secret grand jury. And, you know, I think because of 24-hour news and because of the pressure on - from "The New York Times," on "The Washington Post" and "The L.A. Times," you had people at the end leaking about a leak. I mean, there were these admiring profiles of Fitzgerald for being leak free, which I love - it sounds kind of like Depends, actually.
But that was the media were sort of admiring. And then I think the pressure got so great that people began - "Hardball" had a thing that had "Libby and Rove - Question Mark" A lot of people had question marks, you know, as if that was going to let them off the hook if they were wrong.
CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I like the media buildup on the special counsel, Mr. Fitzgerald. He was a nonpartisan guy; he was a saint; he was a - a model of rectitude and opprobrium, as opposed to - we might remember Ken Starr, who had a dirty mind and was enjoying his revelations of sex and other activities by Bill Clinton.
The media set up these people as part of a bigger story that they create in advance. And the template through which they then filter all of the information once the facts come out. Heaven forbid we should wait for that.
BURNS: And that bigger story was?
NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: Well, I mean, let me pick up on something Cal said. I think what you see - all the worst tendencies of the media in this story.
I think, first of all, they see their love of drama and suspense, which is one of the reasons they were milking this story. You see the imposition of a narrative frame - I mean, I don't entirely agree with Cal because they were some newspapers that made Fitzgerald out to be, you know, Inspector Javert - you know, this overzealous inspector. Others, obviously, made him out to be an incorruptible seeker of justice. But what you had was, hero and villain - hero or villain.
And then you had, as Jane said, this vacuum - because there was really no news. Fitzgerald wasn't leaking. So what you had was endless speculation, endless rumor in the place of what should have been news reporting. But there was no news to report.
BURNS: I have the sense of a different take.
JIM PINKERTON, "NEWSDAY": Well, I mean, in fairness to us, we do have to justify our existence, don't we? I mean, we can't just let somebody else have all the news.
I mean - I mean - Look, this proves - like it's "The Field of Dreams." If you build it, they will come. I mean, people will show up and dream.. (CROSSTALK)
BURNS: If the grand jury's in session, reporters will come.
PINKERTON: Make up stuff and scenarios and (INAUDIBLE) - and there was a certain letdown that Rove wasn't indicted. That was kind of the great white whale they were all harpooning.. BURNS: So far. We don't - we don't know what might happen.
PINKERTON: Right. Right. Right. Right. Right. Right.
But let me just say that there's some hope for Scooter Libby, as they figure out of a Le Carre novel - a John Le Carre spy novel. When he writes to Judith Miller in that sort of open letter, "Out West, the aspens are turning. They turn in clusters because the roots are connected."
Now, if that doesn't lend itself to close textual analysis.
BURNS: But what if.
PINKERTON: .into what hidden signal he was sending to Judith Miller or..
BURNS: Why did it lend itself to being mentioned on this program is my question.
PINKERTON: Because it's fascinating. Because if Rove fails as an indictment target, and Libby is there in the news for the next couple years, we - we have plenty to do.
HALL: I just want to add one other thing, which is if you look at the video - if you go back - and I'm sure someone could embarrass us by looking our video - but if you look at a lot of the video, it is really amazing the dueling talking points.
Wilson was not covert. She had been above ground (ph). Yes she was, et cetera, et cetera.
Bill Kristol was asked if it was a victory if Rove wasn't indicted. Which he said, Well, I don't think that's exactly the case.
BURNS: How is this whole matter, no matter how it ends eventually, Neal, going to change journalism in any way? Is it? Is it going to change the relationship between Washington, reporters and their sources? Is it going to have a salubrious effect? Is it going to have a bad effect?
GABLER: I think it will - I don't think we can determine that. I think what we see.
BURNS: Well, I'm asking you to speculate. What's the matter.
GABLER: Speculation is what the media do.
GABLER: We talk about speculation, but we don't do it ourselves.
GABLER: But I - I think one thing that we've seen here is that one of the reasons that the press has jumped upon this - and let's not this forget this - is they were wrong. They got snookered on the war, and this is expiation for their guilt.
PINKERTON: Let me speculate a little bit on that.
I think there has been a piercing of the shield of press coverage and press protecting their sources. And I think that is ominous for the future, no matter what happens in this particular case.
BURNS: Quickly, Jane.
HALL: Let me agree with Cal on one thing. When Fitzgerald was after reporters, he was treated a lot more negatively than when he's been after Bush people, I think.
BURNS: It's time for a break. Here's what's on our minds when we return:
ANNOUNCER: Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers says "no thanks." Was the decision forced by a negative media firestorm?
BURNS: Harriet Miers is no longer a candidate for a seat on the Supreme Court. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, at least in part, blames the media.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA), JUDICIARY CMTE. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Miers' qualifications were subjected to a one-sided in news releases, press conferences, radio and TV talk shows, and the editorial pages.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNS: Good point?
THOMAS: Well, sure. But they all do it now. You've got the special interest groups on both sides.
But here's the.
BURNS: No, but he's saying it was a one sided.
THOMAS: Well, sure, because the left was happy to see the conservatives beating up on somebody. It gives them permission to do it for the next nominee.
But here's the problem when - for the administration, any administration. When you name somebody who doesn't have a record, you allow that blank slate to be written upon by anybody. And they are constrained from talking to the press during the period between the nomination and the Judiciary Committee hearings, allowing them to be defined by anybody and everybody.
GABLER: But Roberts didn't have a record either, and it didn't make any difference.
THOMAS: Well, yes, but he had a - he had more of an intellectual base that people could.
GABLER: That's not a record.
HALL: I find it a little ironic - Arlen Specter said she needed a crash course in constitutional law. I don't think he helped her by saying that. So to turn around and blame the media - it's just a classic political thing to do.
I mean, what's interesting is that people like David Frum and Laura Ingraham and Bill Kristol.
BURNS: Conservative journalists.
HALL: Conservative journalists - immediately came out against here, immediately were - were against her and went with it. And why the White House was that surprised is a story I would love to see.
PINKERTON: There will be plenty of - an autopsying of this nomination as time goes by.
I think the point was this is the first controversial nomination - in the sense that Roberts was kind of a smooth sailing - that occurred in the new media era, in the world of blogs and talk radio and the - and cable news and so on. And also the first one that was - where the conservative movement - as Cal said, it was entirely a battle within them.
BURNS: And Jim, isn't it your thinking that the blogs really initiated the opposition that was picked up by more mainstream, often conservative sources in this case?
PINKERTON: I mean, I think - to my knowledge, the first people to really get out there - there were two - were Manuel Miranda and David Frum, both of whom were on the Internet. Blogs I'm not sure, but they were certainly online within an hour or two.
THOMAS: Yes. Frum was first. Frum was first, and he set - he — and Miranda second, the former top aide to Senator Bill Frist. Both of these guys had the credentials of being insiders, and so they were not just outside political hacks or part of interest groups. Frum was a former speechwriter for President Bush. And, again, Miranda was a top legal guy for Senator Bill Frist.
So I think, at least from a media standpoint, as they got the debate rolling — really one sided at that time - that they had more credibility than some of the others who came late.
GABLER: But this - this to me - and Jim alluded to this several weeks ago - this is a signal moment in the history of the media. Because it shows this: that when the mainstream media just sit back and kind of do their job, just reporting on what's going on, they create a vacuum. And that vacuum was filled here by the blogger, by the National Reviews of the... They created the drama; they created the agenda. They did it all.
And what it proves is, that once the press sits back, the extremists from both sides, from the right and the left, are going to move in, and they're going to have veto power.
PINKERTON: Actually, I don't agree with the extremist part. I'll make a different point.
GABLER: Of course you wouldn't.
PINKERTON: But the point is - like, "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" wrote, There is - oh, Harriet Miers, you know, is born in Dallas, Texas, 1945 or whatever - who cares? Frum and Miranda and all sorts of other people got right into the heart of it, which was, She's not qualified to be on the court, in their view at least. And that was a much more - there was much more incisiveness in the coverage.
GABLER: But that's exactly my point.
HALL: But wait a minute.
PINKERTON: But it's not extremism, it's just - it's just - it's just.
GABLER: There was extremism here.
PINKERTON: It's just - it's just focused on the real element (INAUDIBLE)
PINKERTON: The story - the story of Miers is not that she's not a corporate lawyer in Texas. The story of Miers is that she's Bush's crony and wasn't qualified.
GABLER: Wait a minute.
PINKERTON: And the blogs got to that truth.
HALL: I want to make a point, which is.
BURNS: Yes — yes, Jane can make a point.
HALL: If you're The New York Times or The Washington Post, we would be criticizing them for not treating her evangelical Christianity seriously. I don't think you can say they left a vacuum. They tried to treat it straight; she didn't have the credentials.
BURNS: Quick as you can, Neal.
GABLER: The vacuum was that there was no drama, and that's my point.
HALL: Yes, but if - if they had not.
GABLER: That the blogs created drama.
HALL: .treated her seriously, the conservatives would have been all over him.
BURNS: But if I tell him as quick as you can, you can't respond.
It's time for another break. We'll be back with our "Quick Takes."
ANNOUNCER: Our military continues its mission in Iraq, as the media mark a milestone. Is the coverage fair and balanced?
And Jeb Bush thinks these intrepid reporters are nuts.
The details next on "Newswatch."
BURNS: It's time for our "Quick Takes" on the Media.
Headline number one: "Real Milestone or Artificial Mark?"
According to some in the media, an unfortunate milestone was reached this week in Iraq: the death of the 2,000 American soldiers - soldier, rather.
On Tuesday, a military spokesman in Iraq sent this message to reporters there covering the war: "The 2,000 service members killed in Iraq supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom is not a milestone. It is an artificial mark on the wall set by individuals or groups with specific agendas and ulterior motives" - Jim.
PINKERTON: I don't agree with that.
I think that the mind naturally gravitates towards numbers. That's why we have anniversaries and lucky numbers. And we create a whole mythology around that. And that's just the way our minds work.
BURNS: And how about the foolishness, Neal, of this statement from the Pentagon, which is not going to be what they think sit, a pre-emptive strike. It's going to infuriate writers who now have their leads for their columns about the 2,000th.
GABLER: Well, writers in the mainstream and on the left. I mean, people on the - for people on the right, including some people right here at FOX News, this is an arbitrary number.
But I think Jim is absolutely right. I mean, 2,000 is not an arbitrary number; it's a milestone. We don't look at other milestones like how many Iraqi civilians have been killed, how many wounded we've had - which is over 15,000. We take numbers seriously because we take death seriously.
THOMAS: Far more people were killed in a single day in World War II than in this. I think it's artificial; it's phony. I agree with the colonel who made the statement.
GABLER: That's arbitrary to compare those two.
BURNS: "Quick Take" headline number two: "Warning: Don't Try This at Home, Kids!"
Scenes like this, of reporters covering recent hurricanes, have Florida Jeb Bush in an uproar.
Here's some of what he said about Wilma coverage earlier this week: "My wife and I woke up at 5:00 this morning, and we see these characters on television . putting themselves in harm's way. That doesn't do much good either, creates a bad example of others. It isn't fun. It's very dangerous."
I think he means it's dangerous for viewers, Jane. Obviously, it's dangerous for reporters/.
Is there something harmful about this kind of coverage, if you're - if you're watching it.
HALL: Well, you know, Al Roker, from what I understand, fell over after being held - held down (ph).
THOMAS: He wouldn't have done that in his previous body, however.
HALL: Right. Right.
Anderson Cooper, you know, had - I think coming out of Katrina, there's this daring-do image - Dan Rather made his reputation, as Walter Cronkite memorably put, Who's that guy down in Texas up to his backside in water moccasin snakes? It's a way to make a career; it's kind of a child of the foreign correspondents in the trench coat.
I agree with Governor Bush; it's dangerous to set an example like that.
THOMAS: Well, I don't know. I don't know how many people - I don't know if you could prove this. People sitting at home - Oh, look, so and so is there reporting, let's all get on our surfboards and go try the waves.
PINKERTON: Let Jeb Bush worry about getting re-elected. Let reporters worry about getting ratings. They're just different spheres and they should stay separate.
BURNS: "Quick Takes" headline number three: "Rosa Parks Dies at 92."
Forty-nine years and 11 months ago, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus to a white man. For that act, and its repercussions in the past half century, she has been called the mother of the civil-rights movement. She died earlier this week, and the media have been honoring her.
Neal, enough and accurately?
GABLER: I think generally accurately, and yes, enough.
What I find interesting about this is that 50 years ago, this boycott was barely covered in the media. And now 50 years later, her death is covered everywhere, which - which shows that there's penance in the media, number one. And shows that while the media is not in the forefront of justice, eventually, if you give them enough time - like 50 years - they may catch up.
THOMAS: Here was a woman of great dignity who committed a courageous - singularly courageous act with no television cameras around, no media hype. Today, there would have been a press release saying, In two days, I'm going to do this on the bus. And you would have had all your supporters from the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons in, doing their thing.
This was an individual, courageous act of great power and influence, and she is properly remembered and commemorated.
PINKERTON: But again, she is a hero. And as her death is worth noting and recalling, but it's still a little bit arbitrary. There was hundreds of people, thousands of people involved in the civil rights movement, but we've chosen to pick her - not unlike the number 2,000th, just because it's one thing we can get our minds around, as opposed to a more diffused movement.
BURNS: A symbol for something larger.
HALL: But it was the spark that started the Montgomery bus boycott. Martin Luther King was a 26-year-old minister. It went all the way to the Supreme Court. I think it was a signal movement.
And I agree; she was such a dignified heroine, and it seems to have been a genuine moment of saying, Enough. I mean, there's even a rap song, and children do hear about her. I think she is a legitimate (INAUDIBLE).
GABLER: Rosa Parks is the Rosa Parks of the civil-rights movement.
BURNS: Neal, it didn't take the media 50 years, though. Because shortly after that, we saw those horrifying images of the fire hoses, of Bull Conner and other people turned.
GABLER: Not shortly after; nearly 10 years after that.
BURNS: Was it that long after?
BURNS: But not 50 years. Not 50 years.
GABLER: No. But it took a very long time for the media to catch on to that story, and that is not to the credit of the media.
PINKERTON: I don't agree with that at all. I think the media were all over that; that's one - the high-water mark of the media in the minds of the left was the 50s and Edward R. Murrow and the civil-rights movement.
The police dogs was 1963, so it was later. But there was not shortage of coverage in between about the issue itself.
THOMAS: You talk about danger on hurricanes. It was dangerous, especially in the South, as a journalist, to go and cover these things, because the Klan and other racists said, Reporters were communists. I was in the middle of some of that. It was a very dangerous time.
GABLER: Look at the coverage. That's all I can say.
BURNS: We have to take one break. When we come back, it'll be your turn.
BURNS: About a federal shield law for journalists, on behalf of which The New York Times' Judith Miller recently testified, here's Warren from Tavernier, Florida: "After all the scandals of fraud and false reporting by journalists in the last few years, it makes no sense to give this particular group a more special privilege than current laws provide."
Ray from Winston-Salem, North Carolina: "So Judith Miller claims that without having such a law, and being forced to divulge her sources, she'd be out of a job. That right there is the best reason I can think of for not having such a law."
And Mike from McLean, Virginia: "Thinking the exorcism of `The New York Times' would be complete by removing Judith Miller, is like pulling a single quill from a porcupine and calling it a billiard ball."
About the trial of Saddam Hussein, which will resume next month, here is Denise from St. Charles, Missouri: "Are we interested in watching Saddam's trial? Absolutely. Some of us actually have long memories." But here's a different take, from Gus, in Moriches, New York: "Saddam Hussein is no Hitler. In that regard, he's an invention of Bush propaganda to justify an ugly mess of a war that didn't have to be waged."
But, same topic, from Bill in Winter Springs, Florida: "No one on your panel mentioned the media's Michael Moore mindset that prevents emphasis on any story that might justify the war in Iraq, and thereby provide aid and comfort to President Bush."
Finally, about the funniest moment on a television news program that I can ever remember, here is Michael from New York City: "The panel and all the other media types missed the whole point of that NBC reporter covering the flood in New Jersey. It's quite obvious she was trying to make a point of the Supreme Court case: Row vs. Wade."
Great line, Michael, despite Jane's moan. Thanks for sending it to us.
For those of you who want to send us other messages, here's the address: it is firstname.lastname@example.org. Please write to us. When you do, tell us your full name; let us know where you live.
That's all the time we have left for this week. Thanks to Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton. Across the table, thanks to Cal Thomas and Neal Gabler.
And I'm Eric Burns, thanking you for watching. We hope that we'll see you again next week, when "FOX News Watch" is back on the air.
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