Florida Media Circus

The following is a transcription of the February 24, 2007 edition of "FOX News Watch" that has been edited for clarity.



BILL HEMMER, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Let's start this morning in Florida, with an American soap opera playing out live.



MEREDITH VIEIRA, "TODAY" SHOW CO-HOST: It is a legal circus that just keeps getting more bizarre.



JUDGE LARRY SEIDLIN, PRESIDING JURIST IN ANNA NICOLE SMITH CASE: There's no circus here, my friends. There's no circus here.


BURNS: Jim, let me overrule the judge --


Say there was a circus here. Speculate as to why.

To me, there has, maybe as long as we've been doing this show, there's never been a story that's had so many tabloid elements. The death of a beautiful woman, unexplained so far, battle over her body, DNA testing. This story has more to it than virtually any story we discuss on this show.

JIM PINKERTON, NEWSDAY: I agree. It is an occasion for vultures circling overhead.

However, when you watch the vultures crack open the bones, you're kind of curious to see what's inside. I mean, this is a case--there's real suspense in the courtroom and what the outcome was and this horrible judge who --and I support televising court room proceedings, except in this guy's case. I want to retroactively throw him off.

But I will admit it was - it was morbidly fascinating for the entire week.

BURNS: Well, you know, and according to some blogger, this judge has previously tried to get his own show. If this is it.

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: No, I think we got problems. I don't think it's going to get that big a rating.

You know, in this business, we talk about stories that have legs. This is a story that's a centipede.


As you said, it has so many legs to it.

But it also says something more about us. It's fascinating; there was a Pew poll that found that very large segments of the public, while condemning the coverage of this as overbearing and overwrought, still are watching it. It reminds of an old Listerine mouthwash commercial years ago where they said, "You hate it, but you use it twice a day."

BURNS: Cable news ratings, Jane, according to one poll that I came across, up 55 percent since this story became what it is.

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, you know, I think Cal's right.

I mean, it's like asking people if they would watch a train wreck or a car accident. People do.

And I do think that this has -- you know, everybody's trying to justify it -- It does remind me - I'll be literary like Jim Pinkerton today -- it reminds of "The Great Gatsby." This self-invented woman, now this paternity suit, these people.

I mean, the problem is, it's amusing until you begin to see video allegedly that I saw on one of the shows, of her cavorting with both Howard K. Stern and Larry Birkhead and maybe a doctor who was giving her illegal drugs, if it's accurate. That looks a little different from, "Yes, your honor, I really want my - my loved one to have a good burial.'

I think it's going to get uglier, and we're not going to want to watch it much.

BURNS: You know, Neal, I remember reading a line many years ago an editor named Arthur Brisbane, who worked for William Randolph Hearst, was asked the definition of news. This is the turn of the 20th century. He said, "News is anything that makes you say, 'Gee wiz.'"


BURNS: If that's true, this story has as many "Gee wizzes" as a centipede has legs.

GABLER: Yes, but there's another aspect to this, Eric, if you'll permit me to quote my own book, "Life: The Movie." In that book, I talk about how the media transforms everything into entertainment, and with the effect that everything then transforms itself into entertainment.

And this has been Exhibit A. I mean, this was not just a legal proceeding. This was a deliberate, self-conscious effort, particularly by the judge, to create a show for our viewing pleasure. So this wasn't just the media capturing something. And it's not entirely the media that's culpable. The entire system is culpable.

Maybe Anna Nicole got the trial she deserved. After all, as Jane said, she was somewhat self-invented, and this was a show that matched that self-invention.

But the system failed in making itself ludicrous, not just the media. The media were just there to capture the show.

PINKERTON: And let's also give due credit to South Florida.

BURNS: For what reason, Jim?

PINKERTON: As Dave Barry, who lives there -- Dave Barry said, Listen, this is a South Florida weirdness magnet in action, magnetically pulling all of these crackpots from around the world to come there to do their stuff on TV, as Neal says.

BURNS: But it's more than South Florida that's interested.

Jane, if ratings did go up 55 percent -- and this is a democracy, and we're supposed to respond to what most people want - then we, meaning cable news, should be giving it all this coverage. Shouldn't we? People want to see it.

HALL: Well, it's tricky. Because I think that the people who decided not to cover it are looking at ratings and going, 'OK, well so I decided to cover the war in Iraq, and I got killed, you know, in the ratings.'

I think it's hard. People are interested, but I don't think it means you give it to them 24/7.

THOMAS: The political left is a little upset, as expressed by Bob Herbert in The New York Times. He thinks all of this coverage is keeping people from examining the failures of the Bush administration and how badly the war is going in Iraq. Can I get an amen, Neal?

GABLER: It's distorted priorities, and you'll get an amen from me.

THOMAS: Thank you.

BURNS: You're just upset because you didn't think of that as an idea for a column of yours, that's all!

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