Will Zarqawi's Death Refocus Media Coverage of the War on Terror?

The following is a transcription of the June 10, 2006 edition of "FOX News Watch", that has been edited for clarity:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At 6:15 Baghdad time, special operation forces, acting on tips and intelligence from Iraqis, confirmed Zarqawi's location and delivered justice to the most-wanted terrorist in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JON SCOTT, GUEST HOST: President Bush there speaking to the nation on Thursday morning, June 8.

And this was the scene in Baghdad, when news of Al-Zarqawi's death was announced.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT: The comparison and contrast there pretty interesting, Rich Lowry. I mean, the White House was almost a "no-gloating zone," and yet the reporters in Iraq are cheering. Why?

RICH LOWRY, GUEST PANELIST, NATIONAL REVIEW EDITOR: Yes, absolutely. You give those reporters in Iraq about another 10 years and they'll catch up with our reporters in terms of being jaded and cynical and know it's so gauche, and they never should ever exult in a national victory the way they did that day, that morning.

SCOTT: Should the White House take heart, Jim Pinkerton, in that reaction?

JIM PINKERTON, NEWSDAY: Well, absolutely. And I — but I think that the White House made such interesting - and the Iraqi forces made such interesting choices in the way they presented this news to us. I mean, the - the photographs of Zarqawi dead - interestingly enough, with a gold frame around them — is kind of like a — like a little bit of an iconography. I don't think they really meant it that, but it's the way it came out.

And I think they did that because they wanted to show the Arab world that he's really dead, eliminate the conspiracy theories, which is an important goal in these things. And then also show the American people that, you know, he was dead, and that we'd actually won a victory.

But the problem is that it with him photographed in death like that and in repose, you sort of get a sympathy vote for any deceased person.

NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: Well, I don't think you'll get much sympathy.

PINKERTON: You won't, but unlike — as opposed to if they'd shown him in his beheading video, or something.

GABLER: OK.

PINKERTON: You showing him that way was a - was a choice that I think will reverberate.

SCOTT: Jane, was it a mistake to release the pictures so quickly?

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: I don't think so, because I think that — I think they had to have some dignity so that they didn't — you know, remember the uproar over Saddam Hussein's photographs in his underwear and how undignified people thought that was. I mean, I think you're trying to play the external and internal audiences. And a lot of people don't believe that we wouldn't create a corpse that didn't exist — that the United States wouldn't do that.

I think it was a tremendous psychological boost, after a stream of seemingly endless bad news. The other thing I noted in the media — NBC, for example, had a wrap-up that talked about how he had personally beheaded Nicholas Berg. I mean they did show footage of that. They did remind people that his — many of his own people had turned him against.

GABLER: Yes, it was a boost. But I remember how much of this was symbolic. I mean, you have to wonder whether there was some kind of collaboration among Zarqawi, who obviously wanted to elevate his status; the administration, who wanted to elevate his status because they were waiting for this day, when they were going to get him and they could boast about it; and the media, who wanted to elevate his status because he became the poster child in a sense for terrorism. And in some ways, that turns this into a kind of media event. A symbolic media event.

PINKERTON: There's a term in political science called "objective allies." I mean, obviously, George Bush and Zarqawi didn't like each other. But they both sort of benefited from it.

LOWRY: But they were only objective allies when he was dead! Now that he's dead, they're — they...

(CROSSTALK)

PINKERTON: The problem that will come though, now — is that now if the violence doesn't decline, then people will say, Well, he wasn't that big a deal after all.

SCOTT: ...and the White House seems to be trying to tamp down expectations that his death is going to make a huge difference in Iraq.

LOWRY: That's smart. But this is one problem I have with the coverage is that when the news is bad out of Iraq, the media tells us the news is bad. When the news is good, what do they tell us? It's going to get bad! You know, the headline in The Washington Post the day after we got Zarqawi is: Oh, it's going to be terrible again!

Now it may be true. But why don't we let our troops and our effort in Iraq have one good, unadulterated moment? Just one! Why not, Neal? Just one, once!

(CROSSTALK)

GABLER: Because of experience. Experience has taught us in the past we were going to be exulting about elections, or about the capture of Saddam Hussein. Inevitably, the doom comes.

LOWRY: How about the day after tomorrow, though?

(CROSSTALK)

GABLER: To ignore experience would be foolishness.

LOWRY: Why don't we just say this is great news, and let it go at that? For once...

HALL: I think you're partially attributing motives to the fact that newspapers — I noticed that, too — but I also think since it was all over cable all day long, they had to do a sort of a "what next?" because people knew it.

SCOTT: The newspapers kind of missed their deadline.

HALL: I mean, I do agree that — and I do think the speculation about who's the next "CEO" of Al Qaeda in Iraq is a little little bizarre, and I think that is one I would fault the media on.

PINKERTON: It's definitely premature, because this guy — his name is Al Masri they're saying - there's no picture of him. So he.

(CROSSTALK)

PINKERTON: He's not quite at the Bonnie and Clyde status yet.

LOWRY: We haven't caught him yet. Why haven't we caught him yet?! It's been 48 hours and he's still on the loose!

GABLER: Well, speaking of catching, I do want to people that Jim Miklaszewski, if I pronounced that correctly —it's a mouthful —on NBC in March of 2004 talked about a Pentagon report in which the Pentagon told the administration that they had Al-Zarqawi in their sights three times and the Pentagon wouldn't — or the administration wouldn't let them get him because they felt it would undermine the cause of war. And I think that's an important think to remind us of, that no one in the media — including NBC — talked about this last week.

SCOTT: There was also a fairly extraordinary press conference on Friday where media representatives were asking the general, who was telling the whole story of how this bombing went down, asking whether or not we tried to save Zarqawi's life.

Now is that sympathy? What is that, Rich?

LOWRY: Well, it's —the media, I think, is easily criticized for nitpicking, if you look at those kind of press conferences — very niggling questions and criticism it seems. But that's a legitimate question when it came out that he was actually alive after the initial hit. That's something I wondered. You know, were their any efforts, strenuous efforts made to keep him alive? It actually would have been in our interests to keep him alive, because it potentially would have been a treasure trove of information.

PINKERTON: I was waiting for some reporter to ask him if they had read him his "Miranda rights"!

SCOTT: All right, time for a break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK).

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