Has Journalism Really Changed Since 9/11 Terror Attacks?

The following is a transcription of the September 9, 2006 edition of "FOX News Watch" that has been edited for clarity.

ERIC BURNS, FOX NEWS HOST: The big story of these few days is five years old. But in the news business, it is as important and relevant as ever. Here to discuss are 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 on right now.

9/11: It's four syllables, one phrase, but it is volumes and volumes and meaning. We leave it to other programs to decide how it changed America. We begin today with some thoughts on how it changed journalism.

I should say you begin today with some thoughts on how it changed journalism, Jane.

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: I think that it brought to a period of extraordinary seriousness. The day of, you had anchors on all the networks serving virtually as priests, telling people there still was a United States of America. It was a moment of unity in the country and appreciation, I think, for what many serious people in the media have tried to do that day.

I think where I would fault the media is that in the follow-up, the dull stuff — how is homeland security working? Do we have enough airport security? Those kinds of stories are not being done enough. You can turn on cable news, and the night before this starts, I think you're going to see a lot of crime victims, a lot of new tabloid stories. And I think we're entertaining ourselves to death with that.

BURNS: How'd we change, Neal?

NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: Well, we were told at the time, This is an event that will change everything. We're going to have a new sobriety. Well, yes, that last for about two weeks, maybe two months.

But it really didn't change very much at all. The media reverted to form. We don't see that the news is any more substantive than it was, you know, before. It's actually just as frivolous as Jane said. We don't say that the news media are challenging things to get to the bottom of story any more than they did before. In fact, they may be doing that last. So — so I think that ultimately, this had very little effect on the way we get news.

BURNS: You know, we didn't have a shot of this, but a remarkable thing happened while you were talking: Cal Thomas was nodding in agreement.

GABLER: Oh my God. And I didn't see it.

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I was nodding, actually. I was taking a nap.


THOMAS: No, he's absolutely right. There's something else, as well. You know, we've had hidden cameras going into places like the Food Lion and discovering bad meat and all of these other things that — that the networks have done. We haven't had any hidden cameras — we haven't had any investigative reports on the proliferation of the Wahhabi-funded mosques and schools and some of the hate messages that are still being taught and preached in these places, in our country. I'd like to some journalism go into these places, and expose what's going on within our own borders.

JIM PINKERTON, "NEWSDAY": I think there has been — as Jane said, — a greater seriousness. I mean, let's face it: there's wars going on now. And a lot of journalistic careers are being made in war zones. I mean, new stars like, you know, Richard Angle, for example, of NBC stands out, who I think snuck into Iraq to cover it, and then spoke Arabic, and I think distinguished himself as a result. I also think there's a greater appreciation for the role of the media and terrorism: the realization that terrorism is a press conference, if you will, for murders. And that there's some realization — look, you just can't cover the events and just do the spectacle of it. You got to really get in there a little bit and understand why they're doing this, and the attempt they're making — oftentimes effective — to manipulate public opinion through terror.

HALL: I will say, you know, I would like to put in a commercial for some the print publications that get beaten up a lot — New York Times, Washington Post are often beaten up in this newly politicized atmosphere. They have been covering have been covering some of these agency stories, and they're often criticized for being anti-American for covering them.

BURNS: Didn't we, at least initially, Neal, change our coverage in the sense that patriotism became a more overt part of journalism than it had ever been before?

GABLER: Again, I think that was very short-lived, except on cable, and particularly on this network. But everywhere else — we were told at the time — let me get back to my first, you know, comment. We were told at the time, Now we're going to have a lot more foreign coverage. Instead, they're collapsing foreign bureaus all over the place. You know, and I'll get on another subject here.

We were told after the 9/11 Commission, when we had all of these recommendations, that, you know, the media was going to follow up, the media was going to focus on the implantation of these recommendations. So instead of getting that focus, we get nothing. We've had almost no coverage.

PINKERTON: But Neal, in fairness though, let's not make it sound like it's just the American media that we have a limited a choice to. Anybody who's curious — and that should be a lot of people — can go to foreign networks, foreign channels — now, the BBC, you know, people have had problems with the politics of the BBC. People certainly have problems with the politics of Al-Jazeera. But if you're curious about the world — and a lot of people are — and you want to see stuff, including this new media phenomenon of the performance video of beheadings and IEDs blowing up and so on, there's lots of stuff out there. And I do think that a lot of people are being changed by it. I think a lot of people are absorbing it, albeit not from the American media.

GABLER: But Jim, it's a public trust, and I think the media failed that public trust.

PINKERTON: I agree with you.

THOMAS: You brought up the patriotism thing, and in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, people on all the networks were wearing the lapel pins. In part this was a reaction to the public's perception of the media's left-wing, anti-America. I think they went overboard on that, and now we're back to where we were before on most networks.

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