This is a rush transcript from "FOX News Watch," July 21, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
ERIC BURNS, FOX NEWS HOST: This week on FOX NEWS WATCH, the media report on a bad report about al Qaeda. And they report that the Democrats can't get enough support to get out of Arab. Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick goes to the dogs. Mr. and Mrs. Vitter want the media to leave them alone. And you don't suppose that this woman is smiling about this duck, do you? First the headlines, then us.
BURNS: We have some controversial subjects to discuss on the program this week. There ought to be someone on the panel you agree with. Here are your choices: Jim Pinkerton of "Newsday," media writer Neal Gabler, Jane Hall of the American University, and in for Cal Thomas, the editor of the "Natural Review," Rich Lowry. I'm Eric Burns. FOX NEWS WATCH is on right now.
A report released this week by the White House reveals that al Qaeda is a lot stronger than it was two years ago and could strike again in the United States. A response from White House Spokesman Tony Snow.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: Make no mistake about it, we're determined to get bin Laden. So while al Qaeda is trying to build strength, keep in mind we're building strength at the same item and so are our allies. So to get this all together, obviously we want to get bin Laden, and the sooner, the better.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNS: So Jane, how effective was Tony Snow getting out the White House point of view to counteract the inherently negative press that the report contained?
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: I think he was only moderately effective. Bill O'Reilly said he didn't know who to believe, Tony Snow or this report. It was 16 intelligence agencies and he was critical of the headline in "The New York Times" and then had two experts on, including one guy who was the former head of the "destroy bin Laden" unit who said he agreed with "The New York Times" story. So I think at a certain point, reality sets in and you cannot spin this war and this assessment.
JIM PINKERTON, NEWSDAY: But there is still a question of what the reality is. There's the reality of what these reports say, which is al Qaeda is booming, and there's the reality we haven't been attacked in six years. So the reporters have chosen to cover these reports, which admittedly make the Bush administration look bad and we should at the same time take note that no more skyscrapers in Manhattan have been knocked down.
BURNS: Yes but this is the kind of thing, if we don't cover it, there's an attack in six months and the media get blasted for not paying a lot of attention to a report that said we could be attacked.
RICH LOWRY, NATIONAL REVIEW: Well this is the big contradiction in this debate and coverage in my mind, is that when President Bush says we face a serious threat, I worry about it every day, it's the main thing in my agenda, I'm a war president and the press and the liberals are saying he's blowing it out of proportion, what is he talking about, he's trying to scare us. And then you have a report like this that says look, we have a serious threat, we could be attacked again, and oh, my gosh, this is such a defeat for the Bush administration.
NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: You know, I saw a difference in the way it was covered by television and the way it was covered by newspapers. Television essentially bought the Bush spin and there was very little criticism and almost no interpretation of this report.
Why is al Qaeda resurging? What's going on in Pakistan? What's the difference between al Qaeda in Iraq and the general al Qaeda and the general jihadi movement? All of those things, not covered on television. But if you went to the McClatchy newspapers especially or the "L.A. Times" or the "New York Times" or the "Washington Post," you did see those things covered. So there's a disparity.
BURNS: You mentioned, Rich, Bush being a war president, that was confirmed all the more this week by the Senate, which did not pass a measure which would have called for a troop withdrawal at a specific time. Your thoughts on the coverage of that?
LOWRY: Well, I thought the sleepover in the Senate didn't go over particularly well. Harry Reid himself called it a stunt. And I think there was a fair degree of justified media skepticism about that.
But I think the big arching story here is that the media was trying to help create a stampede away from Bush's Iraq policy that would have enough Republicans going with Democrats on a hard deadline. July is the new September, but it turns out September is September.
BURNS: Jim, the "New York Times" didn't do that, because before the vote, they had a headline that said in effect, the vote is going to go against the Democrats today. And then right above it was a picture of 25 trucks.
PINKERTON: Well look, Rick Klein of ABC called it an antic, what the Democrats were doing in the Senate. However, I think that one blogger, Steve Clemons, who runs something called thewashingtonnote.com, was one of the few who actually got it right, was that the Democrats never wanted to win this fight.
They wanted to lose. They want this to be Bush's war through November `08. And I think the reality is that all Harry Reid and cots and the pizzas were doing were doing were keeping the left wing blogosphere happy so the Democrats would show they're doing something, even while guaranteeing they lose. That's Steve's argument, and I think he's right.
BURNS: And was this the press falling for it, Jane, other than the blogosphere?
HALL: Well you know, I think there was bad reporting on it all around. I think the cots and the pizza made for television. And Diane Sawyer apologized, to her credit, for saying Harry Reid vows to filibuster when in fact it was Republicans filibustering.
I agree with Jim. I think that the media should be equally investigating what the Democrats are up to, what they are doing, are they trying to run out the clock? I've seen a few stories about that. But let's talk about what the Democrats are doing about the war in Iraq.
GABLER: I'm utterly baffled by this discussion, I have to say.
HALL: Are they running up the clock?
GABLER: The Democrats were elected in 2006 to end this war.
HALL: Right, and what are they doing?
GABLER: Trying to end the war, but the Republicans won't let them do it. But let's look at the coverage. I'm astonished by what you're saying. Coverage wise, and Chip Reid I think on NBC was a perfect example. He said what we have on the one hand are the Democrats saying this a challenge to the administration. And the Republicans saying this is a stunt. Well, these are not equivalent and yet he posed them as if they were equivalent. A real challenge to end the war versus the Republican spin saying it's a stunt.
LOWRY: It was a stunt. Harry Reid used the word "stunt." And it served no purpose whatsoever to have those guys up all night.
PINKERTON: And Reid rejected the middle-ground compromise from the Lugars and the Domenicis of the world that would have represented some synthesis. He didn't want that because he wanted the media event.
BURNS: Neal, we have to take a break, are you less baffled?
GABLER: No less baffled. I'm still confused.
BURNS: We'll work on it during the break, after which, we'll be back with this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator David Vitter, his wife Wendy Vitter, both have been bitter about media coverage. Should they be? Answers next on NEWS WATCH.
BURNS: Here's why David Vitter, senator from Louisiana, doesn't want to talk about his phone number appearing in the files of the so-called D.C. madam.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DAVID VITTER (R), LOUISIANA: It might sell newspapers but wouldn't serve my family or constituents well at all because we all have a lot of important work to do for Louisiana.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNS: Vitter's wife Wendy on the media and her husband.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WENDY VITTER, WIFE OF DAVID VITTER: Now I'm going to speak to you as a mother, and I hope you'll understand. It's been terribly hard to have the media parked on our front lawn and following us every day. And yesterday, the media was camped at our church. I would just ask you very respectfully to let us continue our summer and our lives as we have planned.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNS: Jim, let me tell you what I think, which is the way I love to begin segments, as you know. I think unless Vitter confesses or makes a firm denial, that Mrs. Vitter is right. We know about the charge, why get what we call in this business a bee roll of them at church and at home. Get the camera crews away, there's no news.
PINKERTON: I think that Howard Kurtz makes a fair point about not staking out the family.
BURNS: What about me?
PINKERTON: But I think the reporters won't let Vitter off the hook that easily. He's not really answered the questions. I'm with John Hill of the "Shreveport Times" who found an expert that said that Wendy Vitter gets an A-plus for her handling the media. And David Vitter gets a D- minus. David Vitter is no way out of the woods yet on this. The reporters will stay on him until he really confesses.
GABLER: I'm not big on the media invading people's personal lives. That's not a thing I generally approve of. However as David Corn in "The Nation" pointed out on October 29th, 1998, Vitter wrote an op/ed piece for the "New Orleans Times-Picayune," in which he said President Clinton should be impeached and removed from office because he's morally unfit to govern and his leadership will only further drain any sense of values from our political culture. Well?
BURNS: We know that. My point is this shooting of pictures for its own sake without information from Vitter or his wife about the charges.
LOWRY: Now, in fairness to the media, first of all I think their strategy is correct. Scandal 101, attack the media, no matter what. But Vitter had not gone out for a week, so the media was desperate to get to him. I think Jim's right. He has this semi very vague denial about the allegations in New Orleans, and that's just going to keep the media on him for a long time to come.
BURNS: Justly so?
LOWRY: Look, I'm not a big fan of this sort of sniffing people's underwear kind of reporting. I don't like the hypocrisy line, which opens up which people use an excuse to rummage through people's underwear drawers. But when you're having sex with prostitutes, that's a pretty big target.
LOWRY: Yes, escorts. I'm sorry. I don't understand why it's a serious sin though, if you're just being escorted by a woman.
HALL: The wife was extremely sympathetic. You watch that and you go, yes, leave him alone. He has not said what happened. He has not in any way dealt with the media except to attack them and say, leave me alone. And if you're going to criticize Bill Clinton, you're going to have to go out. And I sound like a school mom, but he should have thought about it when he was visiting those escorts.
PINKERTON: Reporters at their best are puzzle solvers. They're not there to interpret. They're there to get the facts. And if it take them a year to figure out what a three letter word for a European black bird is, they'll do it. And this is the case with Vitter. They will go through his credit card records, go through his chronology and make him answer these questions. And I think this frankly what the first amendment of checks and balances is all about.
BURNS: So the crew should stay there until Vitter says something.
PINKERTON: Not the crew, reporters.
LOWRY: And spending a lot of time with escorts in New Orleans trying to get the story.
GABLER: And let me say, everybody is talking about how great Wendy Vitter is. She said, leave us alone, this is a private matter. I would like to know if she said that to her husband about Bill Clinton, was that a private matter? I doubt it. Not in her mind.
BURNS: If you were going to advise Vitter what to do to get rid of the crews?
PINKERTON: The hardest piece of advice to follow is the best advice which is get it all right away, boom. Confess, apologize, then the swing would go towards forgiveness. Now we have to leave him alone now and things like that. But as long as there's a mystery, a pimple to be popped, they're going to do it.
BURNS: And by the way, we have to close the segment on that image. Time for another break. We'll be back with our quick takes on the media.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When it comes to the dark side of sports, do ESPN and others turn a blind eye? And Mrs. Edwards takes a swipe at Mrs. Clinton, but did the press take a pass? Details next on NEWS WATCH.
BURNS: It's time for quick takes on the media. Headline number one, "And in this Corner Fido." Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick is one of four people indicted on charges of dog fighting. If he is convicted, he faces a maximum of six years in jail. And Neal this is one of those rare sports stories that has left off the sports pages and gone everywhere.
GABLER: This is a hard one for sports reporters, because they're accustomed to coddling athletes and just looking at how they perform on the field and saying how great they are, and so this has put them in a hard place. And you saw this actually in Friday's "New York Times" newspaper, where William Rhoden had written a piece about how he thought the prosecution was overzealous towards Vick because again, they're not accustomed to looking at athletes in these terms.
HALL: You know, this is a country of pet lovers. And I think it's turning sports fans off of this team, and what's also interesting is what Nike has done. They're not putting out his new garb. But how far should they go? Should they stand by - there are a lot of different angles here.
BURNS: They're leaving his old shoes.
HALL: His old shoes are on the shelf still. But when you see the video, and it's interesting how much of the video has been played and how much not. It is incredibly cruel and inhumane, there's no way about it.
BURNS: Does it surprise you at all that this has been news as opposed to just sports coverage, Rich?
LOWRY: No, as Jane says, we're a nation of pet lovers. Pet stories sell, and this is a perverse disgusting version of a pet story, so it really catches people's imagination.
BURNS: And certainly the media have convicted Vick.
PINKERTON: They have. They have definitely clobbered him. He does appear to be incredibly guilty. And hats off to PETA and to the Humane Society of the United States, which were on this story long before the media, and helped serve it up to the rest of us.
BURNS: Interesting Neal about your point, a couple days before the indictment came down, ESPN's ombudsman criticized ESPN for its ties to athletes and athletic organizations. She said, "Imagine the `New York Times' owning half of the Broadway theaters whose plays it reviews. Or imagine CNN paying billions of dollars for exclusive rights to cover the war in Iraq."
Obviously if that were the case, you'd have very compromised coverage. I don't think ESPN's coverage by the way, briefly on Vick, has been compromised. I think they have done a good job.
GALBER: ESPN is a tough place, too, because ESPN which is usually smart and droll has been less smart and a little less droll lately because it's so cozy with some of the teams and because its trying so desperately for young audiences. But in this case, I think they've done an all right job.
PINKERTON: But in fairness, Vick is so bad that they've all turned on him. He's the one they can scapegoat and then go back to their usual cushy coverage for the rest of them.
BURNS: Not all the media - excuse me, Jane - not all of the media have convicted Vick. Not all.
Quick take - I'm sorry Jane, what were you going to say? Go ahead.
HALL: I was going to say, according to the articles I read, they canceled the show on ESPN that the NFL complained about, so that's pretty serious.
BURNS: It was a show called "Players" a couple of years ago and it purported to give a realistic look on drug taking, foul language.
LOWRY: It was too realistic, obviously.
BURNS: It was so realistic that the NFL complained and the show was off the hour. OK, may I move on, or do you want to convict him some more?
Quick take headline number two: "Edwards vs. Clinton." Elizabeth Edwards, that is, not John, who recently told Salon.com that she thinks her husband would be a better advocate for women in the White House than the only female Democrat running for the office, Hillary Clinton. But a recent FOX News/Opinion Dynamics poll of women voters indicates that they don't agree.
You know, I'm a little surprised by the coverage of this. I think Elizabeth Edwards' comment about her husband being more of an advocate for women is typical campaign rhetoric. Why wouldn't she say that? But it has become more of a story.
LOWRY: I think it's a little bit more than that. I think it was a pretty harsh attack on Hillary. And I think this represents a very interesting evolution of the candidates' spouse where Elizabeth is basically taking on the vice president's role. You know, you have a vice presidential nominee to rally the base, which she has done with her comments about gay marriage and to go negative on your opponents, which Elizabeth has done on Ann Coulter and now Hillary Clinton.
PINKERTON: I think Rich makes a good point there that Elizabeth Edwards has emerged as the star. The fact of her cancer and the gay rights stuff and now this, she's a major player. However, I don't think she's helping his husband's presidential prospects.
PINKERTON: Because she's driving up the negatives of both Hillary and herself and Hillary has the points to burn and Edwards doesn't.
HALL: It's very interesting if you look at this in story in CBS, the "New York Times," how it splits women's support according to age and also that she's still a polarizing figure. I have to say, we have evolved. We now have a woman running for president. In my mind, it has a little bit of a feeling of an old-fashioned cat fight, though. And I thought it was unbecoming. That was just my reaction personally.
BURNS: Good thing Jane said that! And just a second.
GABLER: I'm in agreement with you, because I think when you look at the comment in the context of the interview in Salon.com where it appeared, it's a very minor point.
But the right wing media picked up on this because it gave them a chance to attack Hillary Clinton. And how did they frame it? They framed this is as Elizabeth Edwards says that Hillary Clinton is like a man, or she's mannish or she's manly. That was the Rush Limbaugh take, the Matt Drudge take.
BURNS: Very quick rebuttal, Rich.
LOWRY: I do think she said Hillary de-emphasizes talking about women because she wants to appear tough. That's something she said.
BURNS: We have to take one final break, we'll be back with this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Art in Paris. Some of it is thoughtful. Some of it is inspiring and some of it is full of hot air. Well, some kind of air. Details next on NEWS WATCH.
BURNS: Finally on this week's program instead of covering the coverage as we usually do, we are going to present some coverage.
A story you probably haven't heard. Why? Well probably because it is a foreign story and a story about culture at its most cultured. The French, of course, are known for culture. Many examples of which reside here in the Louvre, the great museum in Paris.
You can see works of Goya here, the works of Rafael, of course the Mona Lisa and you can see the famed Venus de Milo. And as of recently, you can see the work of Florentijn Hofman in Paris. Who is Florentijn Hofman? I don't know. What did he create? An inflatable rubber coated ducky, about 27 yards by 21 yards by 33 yards. It is floating in the Loire River and according to Hofman and I quote "It doesn't discriminate, it does haven't a political connotation, and has healing properties."
That's the thing about fine art. It always gives you something to think about. Not necessarily to chuckle at, but to think about. That's all the time we have left this week for art and journalism. Thanks to Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, Rich Lowry, Neal Gabler. I'm Eric Burnings thanking you for watching and bidding you to stay tuned for more, coming right up.
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