President Bush's Bad Reviews

The following is a transcription of the January 13, 2007 edition of "FOX News Watch" that has been edited for clarity.



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.

MEREDITH VIEIRA, "TODAY" CO-HOST: Good morning. "Mea Culpa." In a primetime address, President Bush admits his administration did not send enough troops to Iraq, as he commits more than 20,000 additional Americans to the war zone. Today, he's off to sell his plan to the military and the public.


BURNS: One example, Neal, of many of the coverage of the president's address. The president did not say "mea culpa."


BURNS: Not in those words.

Was what Meredith Vieira said on the "Today" show fair coverage to get into their more detailed coverage?

GABLER: I think it was fair. I mean, this is a president who once said he couldn't think of any mistakes that he'd made. So when he in some ways grudgingly admits that he might have made a mistake, I mean, that's news.

But let's face it, public opinion on Iraq is already formed, and the media doesn't swim against the tide. So they weren't buying pretty much any thing that the president said in this speech. First of all, they think the policy is wrong, because most of the American public think it's wrong. They don't think it's new. And that's pretty much what they said.

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, this is chicken and egg again. Of course, I think that the media have driven a lot of the perceptions. They go out and they do the negative coverage —everything's failing;, everything's a disaster. Chris Matthews likened it to the Alamo of all things. And then they go out and take a poll, like CBS did, and say, Gee, everybody agrees with us.

First of all, this campaign of the president is too little and too late. It's come three years too late. Headline in Friday's USA Today: "Sales Job Kicks Off for Bush Iraq Plan." This sales job, if that's what it is, should have started three years ago. What in the world took the supposed great communicators in this White House so long to convince the public that their policy was correct?

BURNS: You are, then, in other words, not criticizing the media, at least.

THOMAS: No, but I do say — look, they said for months, Bush has never apologized, Bush has never apologized, or never admitted a mistake. So he admits a mistake, and say, Ah ha, he admitted a mistake.

GABLER: But you were criticizing the media earlier in a sense for misreporting the war.

THOMAS: I didn't say misreporting.

GABLER: Public opinion changed on this war because things went bad.

BURNS: Excuse me,

THOMAS: It was a two-fer!

BURNS: And speaking about two-fers, there are two sides to this table.

THOMAS: You're going to go to those people now?

BURNS: And we're going to this one now.

GABLER: All right.


JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: OK. I think the focus on mea culpa is not really necessary, although "The Washington Times" did it, too.

I think that public opinion has shifted. I think that the media were cheerleaders for two years, and they should be thinking about that now.

But the more important thing, I think, is that it's a situation where Congress is against them. The Fort Worth — I looked at a lot of newspapers. His home state newspaper — The Fort Worth Star Telegram is opposed. No one wants to send their son into the middle of a civil war with our own military commanders questioning it. And I think the media are simply reflecting reality.

BURNS: Well, and they're reflecting it, Jim, in editorials in the nation's major newspapers. The L.A. Times, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, all of them. So we're not talking here about isolated pockets of disapproval or disagreement. We're talking about some thing very widespread throughout the media.

JIM PINKERTON, NEWSDAY: I agree. I think it was actually one of Bush's better speeches. He was more candid and more honest, admitted mistakes, which I think was a key — I think we all kind of agree that was a key element in the way the media have been covering this. — They wanted the president to say "I was wrong," and he finally did. And so, I mean, I thought the speech was good.

I thought however that was obviously about the worst coverage of any week of this presidency.


PINKERTON: Because the news is bad, and the media have kind of — and admittedly much of the public — have united around the idea that this war is not going very well.

However, what remains to be seen though is the future. And that's I think what nobody wants to talk about. They're happy - they're happy to settle the argument now.

THOMAS: Absolutely.

PINKERTON: .Bush is terrible, the Iraq war is terrible. However, as Sen. Lindsey Graham said, What happens if we lose? And what happens with Iran? Nobody can quite deal with those. So they're still sort of enjoying the orgy of clobbering Bush...

THOMAS: Precisely!

PINKERTON: ...on the reality now.

THOMAS: Exactly the point I was going to make.

No reporter yet, no commentator, has asked any of these figures, Republicans now who are increasingly critical, or Democrats, what happens next. This isn't a, Sorry, we made a mistake. Let's all go home.

HALL: That's not true!

BURNS: Pulling back to the speech for a second —It seems to me — and Neal, you tell me what you think, as opposed to what you were going to tell me previously — that maybe there was a kind of mea culpa here in a speech which also said that troop strength is going to go up maybe 20,000. It seems to me this has been the point that the media have seized on most in what the president said.

GABLER: What? The mea culpa or the troop strength?

BURNS: No, the fact that the two don't together, or don't seem to go together.

GABLER: Well, I think that they really see as the crime is what they see as a failure of policy.

But I agree here with Jim and Cal, and this will surprise you, because what the media has not done is they have not invested the premises of the change in policy. First of all, the idea that Al Qaeda is our real enemy in Iraq, which we know is false. But second of all, the idea that if Iraq fails, our security is directly threatened. That is not self-evident. And the media ought to be going and talking to a whole lot of people and examining, What does happen if Iraq fails? Does any thing really happen, to us, if Iraq fails? That's important.

THOMAS: It is.

HALL: I don't — I'm willing to beat up on the media — I don't think you can get consensus or predict the future of that.

BURNS: Yes, it's a pretty speculative point.

GABLER: We couldn't get debate, Jane!

HALL: Wait can I finish my point?


BURNS: No, I just wanted to say, Jane, it's some thing you're asking the media to do, but obviously what you're asking them to do is speculate.

HALL: Well, but I would.

GABLER: No. Debate.

HALL: Wait — can I finish my point, please?

I would rather go and talk to people, General Petraeus, the manual about how many troops they wanted. Is this going to be enough? Again, that's speculative. The Iraq Study Group — people went sort of and talked to [Leon] Panetta about this. There are people who are on the record saying this is a bad idea.

I think we didn't see enough reporting on that, and that is speculation we should have more of.

GABLER: No, that's not speculative because Petraeus explained how many troops he needs for an insurgency and we're not putting in enough...

HALL: ...and the contradiction with Maliki is also not being played out.

THOMAS: Part of the problem here is we have Desert Storm, or the 100-Hour War. Everybody came home; there were victory marches, General Schwarzkopf leading. The press was full of stories. We finally got the Vietnam monkey off our back.

Now we are used to the very quick action. It's not going to happen, except thank goodness, Jack Bauer is coming back to make it happen on "24." That's what we're waiting for.

BURNS: Jim, final words?

PINKERTON: I was going to say, I think that it's not even clear who the enemy is in Iraq. I mean Al Qaeda is one enemy. If we wind up fighting Moktada al Sadr, you know, that will be another enemy. And I'm not sure the American people have really come to grips with two fronts at the same time.

BURNS: And I have to stop you. We have to take a break. I need some time to apologize to Jane for being a little too interruptive to her. So let me do that now, while we take a break.

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