Pessimistic Prognosticators: The Press and the Midterm Elections

The following is a transcription of the October 21, 2006 edition of "FOX News Watch" that has been edited for clarity.

ERIC BURNS, HOST: The midterm elections are just 2 1/2 weeks away, and we have been hearing a lot of predictions like this.


BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I would say if the elections were held today, the Republicans would lose the House and probably lose the Senate and it could get worse. I mean the bottom could fall out at the end and you could have a 40-seat Democratic pickup.


BURNS: But what if those predictions are wrong? Some predictions have been famously wrong and some just as wrong but not as famous.

Which, Neal, means what in terms of punditry? Should people like us be refraining from predicting the results of elections? Should we somehow figure out a way to be more accurate? What do we do?

NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: I don't think punditry is about predictions. That's one problem. But you cannot blame the media for predicting a Democratic victory. That is just common sense. — Every poll shows it. Iraq is terrible. They have got the Foley scandal.

BURNS: All right, so if the polls indicate something then the media should publicize those results.

GABLER: Yes, exactly. But I'll tell you what the media is doing wrong, the media is ignoring fundamental and undemocratic advantages that the Republican Party have that could make this election a lot closer than the polls show that the American people want this to be.

BURNS: Let's get some agreement on that point. Cal?

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Oh yeah. I totally agree with all of that, of course.

Look, it is funny because the Democrats do the same thing when they are in power and when in the White House they use the power of the White House. The question is, should people be predicting anyway? This is like a long running Broadway show. Everybody has seen the act and they're looking for some new. The bias aside, which is a major aside, the media is tired of the Republicans. A lot of Republicans are tired of the Republicans. They feel they have abandoned their base and their ideas. And they want a new show in town. That's what this is all about.

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: You know, Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post, the media writer, said you know the Republicans are concerned if Fred Barnes is getting pessimistic because he has been a major supporter of President Bush and I think the Republicans themselves - I mean, I talk to Republicans. They are pessimistic and I think they are trying to lower expectation so if they do better — that is the game that's being played by the Republicans.

BURNS: Is it reasonable to report the pessimism, then, Jim.

JIM PINKERTON, NEWSDAY: It is reasonable but often wrong. I can remember back in 1986 watching The McLaughlin Group the weekend before the '86 midterm when the Republicans held the Senate at 53 seats and all the geniuses on the show, Jack Germond, etc, the range of predictions they had was between zero net loss to Republicans and three. — Zero to three. In fact, the number was eight.

And ever since then, I said I would not worry about what they say. There are too many pundits chasing too few facts and they are filling up the time. This is like a reincarnation of clairvoyance and divination and entrail reading. It's all crap I don't pay attention to any of it and I have a lot of extra time to devote to more important things.

BURNS: Excuse me, more important things, you are watching The McLaughlin Group.


PINKERTON: Twenty years ago!

GABLER: There are a lot of facts out there. There are a zillion polls out there. The problem is if the election is close, let me get back to what I said first. President Bush got 51 percent in 2004 but 59 percent of the congressional districts. If this election is close it's because there's this great disparity and the media not covering that disparity. It's a result of gerrymandering and a whole lot of other things in American politics.

THOMAS: But being wrong means never having to not appear again. You could be wrong every time and next election cycle you get invited on to make more wrong predictions. It's amazing.

BURNS: Jane, what about President Bush trying to make sure that these predictions are wrong by appealing to a very important part of his base, which he did this week, front page picture in The New York Times", he gathered conservative radio talk show hosts, some of whom apparently, like Michael Savage and Laura Ingraham, are wavering on their support for him.

HALL: Well, I think he is trying to bypass people that he thinks are not in favor of him but he also talked to Bill O'Reilly, he also talked to George Stephanopoulos, and I think he is partially trying to write his legacy as best he can and he is trying to prevent a landslide in the other direction.

BURNS: The key point here, is, I guess, he is talking to all kinds of people to get the word out.

PINKERTON: Exactly. People looking for hopeful signs. The fact that Neal dwells so much on election voting regularities and gerrymandering, tells me there is a chance Republicans could do better and Neal's...

GABLER: There is certainly a chance they could do better!

PINKERTON: So maybe the news is not so bad after all. Maybe we can .

THOMAS: Depends on how you look at it.

GABLER: The news could be disastrous!

BURNS: Cal, is President Bush in trouble with conservative talk radio hosts? Because it seems to me that that is the strongest conservative leaning portion of the and if he loses any support among those and we should say that the top two in the ratings, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are apparently still solidly on his side, but if support is wavering, that is very serious, isn't it?

THOMAS: It is. It is kind of a mixed bag. Laura Ingraham, who you didn't mention was in the meeting .

BURNS: I did mention her and I want you listening more attentively so that you know things like that!


THOMAS: Anyway, she attacked the president and some of his policies on a number of occasions. Even Rush Limbaugh who as seen as being in the pocket of the administration has been critical of Republicans not being more like Republicans.

Sean Hannity recently, though he is pretty much a cheerleader for the Republican Party said a few critical things. — So it is not all 100 percent in lockstep from all of them.

BURNS: But that's what I mean. That is a serious problem for the president, isn't it?

HALL: Well, it is. I think when people sense defeat they are going to turn on each other so they are going to be critical.

But let me make a different point. Several people, The New York Times and a lot of other networks, keep saying that national security is winning for the Republicans as if that is received truth. But in fact the polling is shifting on that. And I think that is a mistake that's being made.

GABLER: The media have a winner bias, they're smelling blood. It is not a conservative-liberal bias. It is a winner bias.

BURNS: Jim, wrap it up.

PINKERTON: I was going to say the other issue is immigration. Which I think the Republican Congress has been way ahead of the Republican president in terms of motivating this. If you watch FOX News, immigration on all the time now.

For more information and exclusive content related to "FOX News Watch" go to

Copy: Content and Programming Copyright 2006 FOX News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2006 Voxant, Inc. (, which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon FOX News Network, LLC'S and Voxant, Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.