The following is a transcription of the February 18, 2006 edition of "FOX News Watch", that has been edited for clarity:

ERIC BURNS, FOX NEWS HOST: On the "FOX News Watch" panel this week, there are no surprises: Jim Pinkerton columnist for 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.

Vice President Cheney accidentally shot his hunting companion one week ago today on the Texas ranch of Katharine Armstrong.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT: My first reaction, Brit, was not to think, "I need to call the press." Katharine suggested, and I agreed, that she would go make the announcement. That is that, she'd put the story out...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: I'm not getting answers here, Scott. And you — I'm trying to be forthright with you. But don't tell me that you're giving us complete answers when you're not actually answering the question. Because everybody knows what is an answer and what is not an answer. And the final.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN: Well, David, now you want to make this about you. And it's not about you, it's about what happened. And that's what I'm trying to...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLELLAN: And I'm trying to provide answers to the questions.

GREGORGY: I have one final question, since that one wasn't answered. Is it appropriate for the vice president to have waited 14 hours after the incident before he spoke with local law enforcement officials?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNS: Jane, let's give that one to you. Was it appropriate?

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: No, I think it was not. And I think even — even former Republican people in the White House who were advisers — Ari Fleischer, Marlin Fitzwater — have all said they were appalled by the way this was handled. I mean.

BURNS: And that's — excuse me, Jane. But the reference there was to law enforcement officials. And what we, I guess, should be talking about here is media. He waited even longer.

HALL: Right.

BURNS: ... to get to the...

HALL: He waited even longer with the media.

BURNS: Yes.

HALL: But I think that the problem with this is, in terms of the media, is that Cheney's first impulse, as he said, was not to speak to the press. And the press is viewing this as a metaphor, and they're viewing it as, "this is what he stands for." And I think, unfortunately, the Republicans are trying to make it about the media, and the media are helping making about the media with a lot of insolent questions.

BURNS: Jim, you're in the media!

JIM PINKERTON, NEWSDAY: And I have a theory about this. The press doesn't like Cheney. And they're using this as an excuse to clobber him.

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Shocked to hear it!

GABLER: Stop the presses on FOX News...

PINKERTON: Look, the Secret Service called the Kenedy County Sheriff's [office] within an hour. The prosecutors aren't interested in prosecuting this. Mr. Whittington isn't mad; his daughter has been quoted...

But I think that the press all over this. And as Sheriff Ramon Salinas told The Corpus Christi Caller-Times: "The press just don't want to believe it's only an accident."

GABLER: You know, I mean, shoot somebody and see if you can wait 14 hours to talk to the media!

But let me get back to the media angle, not trying to take Cheney's coals out of the fire. I think Jim is right; I think the media are angry. And I'll tell you why I think they're angry — and you saw that cause and effect right there, between Cheney and Gregory. Because Cheney has revealed something to the press that I think they found absolutely terrifying...

BURNS: That was — that was Scott McClellan and — and...

GABLER: And David Gregory.

BURNS: And David Gregory of NBC. Yes, go ahead.

GABLER: He's revealed something that is absolutely terrifying to the media. He doesn't believe in this whole Fourth Estate business. He doesn't believe in a free press to which, you know, an administration has to be accountable. He doesn't believe any of that nonsense.

Every other administration in American history has believed that there was some kind of consensus. Jay Rosen of NYU talked about this this week on his blog, PressThink, and I think it goes right to the heart of the matter. And the press finally find themselves kind of bereft. Here's an administration that says, You guys are out in left field. We don't need you, we don't want you, and we don't have to deal with you.

BURNS: And Cal, when he did —something else that I think annoyed the so-called mainstream media, when he did finally release information — or when it was released by Katharine Armstrong — it went through the paper, and Neal mentioned the Corpus Christi paper.

GABLER: It was The Caller-Times, yes.

BURNS: Instead of, you know, The New York Times, ABC, NBC — further upsetting mainstream media reporters.

GABLER: And tweaking them, too. Yes.

THOMAS: Right. Yes, well, this was a press riot, not unlike, but in different respects, of course, to the riots over the cartoons. These guys like Gregory and the rest of them think they should be spoken to first and only. But there was another element to this that hasn't been talked about. This incident — and I agree with Jane, it was bad P.R. Fleischer and Fitzwater were absolutely right. But this incident allowed a lot of people, including Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post and Bob Herbert of The New York Times, to write about a paragraph or two on this, and then jump to other things they want to bash the administration for. It revealed a lot of prejudices, including against this network, where you had somebody like Jack Cafferty on CNN disparaging with the use of the "f-word" to stand for FOX, but really meaning something else, and demeaning Brit Hume as something less than a good journalist just because he got the exclusive interview.

BURNS: All right. Let's talk about...

GABLER: Well, I don't think it was just because of that.

(CROSSTALK)

BURNS: Hang on. Hang on. Let's talk about...

GABLER: It was because they didn't think the questions were hard enough.

BURNS: Let us talk about that, not so much that it was Brit Hume, but that rather than have a press conference, Cheney, it seems to me, Jim had this choice: have a press conference, talk to everybody, or talk to one reporter.

PINKERTON: What they usually do, is they go to Larry King — who is a king, by his own admission, of softball questions — who has no idea he's interviewing. Just simply says, Who are you? And the guy says, so and so, and that's that.

But just to pick up on what Cal said — Jack Cafferty on CNN called FOX "the F-word network." Now, [it's a free] country. But if Bill O'Reilly had said that CBS was the "C-word network", or that NBC was "the N-word network", there would have been a firestorm that would have evaporated this building.

GABLER: I think that's ridiculous.

HALL: I thought that Brit Hume did a very good job. He asked all the questions — they clearly wanted, as they said, a place where he could tell his side of the story. He did ask him about the "Scooter" Libby investigation, which actually, interestingly, a lot of stuff like whether Iran has nuclear weapons, is being pushed off the front page.

I mean, I think this story is important to the American public. And somehow the mainstream media have let this be turned into what McClellan said, which is, "It looks like it's about you," not about, gee, should the vice president of the United States have been off freelancing his whole policy here. I mean, if Bush didn't even know about this, and the White House — McClellan wanted it revealed, how does he get to decide to "The Corpus Christi Caller-Times."

THOMAS: Well, a Rasmussen poll shows only 27 percent of the public believe that it was really an important story.

I think it's a conspiracy, Neal, and you ought to pick up on this. This was a brilliant strategy by the vice president to reveal the pettiness of the press, and once again turn the American people against them. How's that?

GABLER: Well, first of all, Brit Hume did not ask the major question: Why'd you wait 14 hours?

But Jay Rosen also says, this could be a conspiracy, and in this very sense: look at what this did. This got Abu Ghraib off the front pages; it got Chernoff off the front pages. While we're here talking about the idiocy of him shooting his friend, we're not talking about the major, major problems that this administration is having. That's clever P.R. That's not bad PR.

PINKERTON: The sheriff waited 14 hours. The sheriff said, I could have gone that night, but I waited until the next morning.

GABLER: No, he did go that night, and he was turned away.

(CROSSTALK)

GABLER: Now that's not true.

PINKERTON: That's not what The Corpus Christi Caller-Times says...

(CROSSTALK)

GABLER: ...that the sheriff went there, and they were turned away by a Border Patrol guard. And every single account says that.

(CROSSTALK)

BURNS: I understand this is an appropriate time, when we don't have any consensus, but we do have to take our first break. They'll have it out more during the break — we won't bother you with it...

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