Transcript: 'FOX News Watch,' August 4, 2007

This is a rush transcript from "FOX News Watch," August 4, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


ERIC BURNS, FOX HOST: This week on "FOX News Watch", a bridge collapses and the media turn their attention to preventing the next one. The media react to media baron Murdoch's new purchase. The guilty verdicts pour in on Michael Vick. Hillary Clinton's cleavage gets coverage. Should it? And is it time for Helen Thomas to retire?

First the headlines, then us.


BURNS: On the panel this week are four of the most astute people on television. They're not "the" most astute. We couldn't afford them. But they're up there — Jim Pinkerton of "News Day", 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.

You've seen the pictures by now, and you know the story by now. They are both startling. And will probably be more startling as we expect the death toll to rise because of the bridge collapse over the Mississippi river in Minneapolis.

And Cal, it seems to me, when the actual event has just happened, the media tend to do very well with breaking news, and what they do and should do, is expand the coverage, make the event the starting point and look at the broader picture. Now newspapers all over the country are printing headlines saying, could it happen in our town? And that is responsible and irresponsible.

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED NEWS COLUMNIST: Here's the irresponsible part, and we get into this every time we have a disaster, we had the same discussion after 9/11: why didn't we see this coming?

If the media weren't so absorbed in the base and the trivial that doesn't matter and we cover things like crumbling bridge structures, or as Bill O'Reilly accurately pointed out, the heavier equipment, the SUVs and the big trucks that are on these things contributing to their destabilization, maybe this could have been prevented. But it's not sexy enough to cover what might happen. It's far sexier, and the pictures are better covering what did happen.

BURNS: That's the problem, Jane. It isn't that if we stopped covering Lindsay Lohan so much, we would cover infrastructure problems. If we stopped covering Lindsay Lohan so much, we would try to find out if she had a younger sister going down the road to ruin.

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: It's partially the nature of news and partially the nature of politics. And everyone is doing, could it happen here? And what does it mean? The media have done pictures on crumbling infrastructure. But there's nothing as compelling as here's a disaster. Could it happen here?

Senator Dodd and Senator Hagel introduced a bill to create a bank for infrastructure. But it didn't get much coverage. Because no had happened. Something has to happen, a disaster and that then becomes a focal point.

BURNS: Neal, are these headlines that we're seeing, here's a disaster, could it happen here, responsible? Are they engendering fear? Is that what the media should be doing now a couple days after the collapse?

NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: I think they are doing both. They're responsible in the sense, and I totally agree with Cal. That we ought to be focusing on these issues.

The problem is, it's the function of two things. One, the news stays in the moment. I think Cal is right on that. And the other thing Cal didn't reference is there aren't the resources in the media to do these kinds of stories, that is, to look at infrastructure, to do a long investigation of that. That's what we need right now, not only on infrastructure but a whole series of stories.

BURNS: There certainly aren't in television, Jim. It costs more money to do a television story than a Britain print story. Can we absolve print from sending within person instead of a whole crew out to cover them before they happen?

JIM PINKERTON, NEWSDAY: They should. And I suspect that bloggers and everyone else with a camera can take a picture of a bridge with rusted material. I must say that some of the coverage, there seems to be enough resources to put a political spin on this. And I saw Katie Couric and Mike Barnacle and Jack Cafferty saying, solve the Iraq war.

And I did quick math because the money was diverted from the bridges to Iraq, so they said.

BURNS: But, again, we weren't going to do...

PINKERTON: and I just wanted to do some math, I didn't see any of their packages, and that is that the Iraq war cost about $450 billion. During that same four and half-year period, the federal government has spent about $4 trillion. And state and local governments spent another $7 trillion dollars. And the GPD of the country...

BURNS: On bridges?

PINKERTON: No, no, no.


PINKERTON: The point is there's plenty of money to spend on things if we chose to. And get the politicians — correction, the media has pitted the Iraq war against bridges as if the government doesn't do anything else with this money.

BURNS: They build bridges in Iraq and can't build them here, it's a legitimate news story.

PINKERTON: But you could also say we could refurbish bridges in Minneapolis instead of spending it on health care, welfare, food stamps or Iraq.


HALL: One of the things that is also true is the coverage of federal agencies is not a sexy story until there's a disaster, FEMA, the FDA, our food supply, our water supply. and we ought to cover it before it's a disaster. And the resources are not there.

BURNS: Time for a break. We'll be back with this.


ANNOUNCER (voice-over): Murdoch's $5 billion buys Dow Jones and the "Wall Street Journal", changing the world's media landscape and causing a stir in the fourth estate. Details next on "Newswatch."




NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Tonight, the news is the news. Lawyers are dotting the i's and crossing the t's on a deal that's done — to sell the "Wall Street Journal" to Rupert Murdoch.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: It's one of the great brand names of the print world. And it will only add to a media empire, controlled by the astute native Australian newspaper man who is already responsible for so much of what this nation sees.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE NEWS ANCHOR: Is Rupert Murdoch a white knight trying to save "the Wall Street Journal" or a tabloid tycoon, focused on shoring up his other businesses?


BURNS: Jeez, I don't know.


Do you know, Neal?

Or would you like to put another choice there?

GABLER: Since we're all on Rupert Murdoch's payroll here, to criticize this purchase would be suicidal. To praise it would be sycophantic. I want to focus on the media coverage.


The media coverage was...


GABLER: The media coverage was interesting because I think it depended on how you view the "Journal." If you view it as a public trust, then you tended to criticize Rupert Murdoch's takeover. And if you viewed it as a product, as much of the business journalists did, you praise it and say this was inevitable. What Rupert Murdoch was inevitably doing was saving the "Wall Street Journal". So what we saw was a press divided.

BURNS: What we have here, Jim, is an astonishing amount of negative coverage. Some think he'll take it and make it into something less than what it is now.

But as far as I know, the only comment he's made about the journal that suggests an editorial direction is his comment made a month or so ago that he thinks some of the stories are too long. Other than that, he has said nothing. It seems to me, except to try to put people at ease, that the "Wall Street Journal" will remain the "Wall Street Journal".

PINKERTON: I mean, the "New York Times" waged a desperate campaign to keep this merger from happening and they smeared everybody they could in the middle of this. And I don't think — and including a story in which they quoted at length some random person saying he's the devil. This is like the news angle they had there.

However, I think what was surprising about it, for all the attacks, were the number of people who said, look, we need people who will put money into journalism. And he's giving us 67 percent premium on the stock price when other news organizations to speak of is shrinking and downsizing and laying people off. And the idea of somebody pouring money into journalism is kind of exciting.

And there's a lot of positive coverage on that score.

BURNS: And some of that money is supposedly going into foreign bureaus, and how many times have we lamented on this show, more with television than print, that foreign coverage is insufficient.

THOMAS: Exactly right. And I'm reading the reaction, and the big elite media, and the condescension dripping from the lips of the big shot, big media people who have missed the demographic of Rupert Murdoch and his media properties appealed to, is overwhelming.

Here's all you need to know about Rupert Murdoch. The elite hate him but the people buy his product. If they weren't so out of touch with these people, there would not have been a Rupert Murdoch or a FOX News. There would not have been a lot of this other stuff because they would have been reaching the demographics.

HALL: Can I get in here?

BURNS: Jane, one of the objections that people have — they would call it a matter of principle as opposed to personalities, is media conglomeration. He's a media baron who already owns a lot of properties. He's going to own one more, a big one, an influential one. And that is inherently, no matter who the media baron is, bad for public opinion.

HALL: You know, you can blame the Federal Communications Commission, which never saw a deal they didn't like. We had deregulation. And you can't blame Rupert Murdoch for that, for coming in.

I think one thing I would say as an observe of the coverage, the media pursued this story line, the Bancroft family, good, Murdoch, evil. And there are criticisms in the way they handled it, and praise for them for being a hands-off family.

But he's coming in and going to invest. The editor of the times in London, which he bought, said he kept hands off. People in China noted he eliminated the BBC when he came in to China. There is a mixed record there.

I thought the "New York Times" showed they had an agenda, in the stories they published on this. And I think that's really true.

PINKERTON: Including this effort to elevate the Bancroft family. I don't think anybody had ever heard of them before this. And then they became the big custodians of this great journalistic trust. I think the media wanted to build the Bancrofts up so they could shame them into not selling to Murdoch.


BURNS: Why the "New York Times" agenda against News Corps, which is the parent corporation?

THOMAS: They're part of the elite media.

HALL: They're a competitor.


BURNS: You're saying that this would have happened. The "New York Times" would have gone after anybody who bought the "Wall Street Journal"?

THOMAS: No, I don't think so. He didn't have the right kind of breeding papers, according to the "New York Times". Here's a bigger point. In the "Washington Post", dripping with sarcasm said the reason the "Wall Street Journal" was vulnerable to takeover was because of the ultra right wing editorials. I hope he buys the "New York Times" next for the opposite reasons.

GABLER: I disagree. First the "Wall Street Journal" is an elitist newspaper, number one. And number two, Murdoch has already said he's going to take dead aim on the "New York Times" with the "Wall Street Journal". So that's the reason that the "New York Times" was fighting back.

BURNS: Gee, it's going to get interesting.

GABLER: It will get interesting.

BURNS: Many more topics for us. But not now. Time with for another break. We'll be back with our "Quick Takes" on the media.


BURNS: It's time for our "Quick Takes" on the media. Headline number one, Vick sticks in the news.


R.L. PRICE, PRESIDENT, ATLANTA CHAPTER, NAACP: Vilified by the animal rights groups, radio talk show hosts, and even the press before he has had his day in court.


BURNS: That was the president of the Atlanta Chapter of the NAACP speaking on Monday.

Despite the words of support, it's been a bad week in the media for Michael Vick. One of his accused partners has pleaded guilty and struck a deal with federal prosecutors.

And even his former NFL colleague Dion Sanders was told by the NFL network, where he's currently an analyst, not to write about Vick in his newspaper column.

And that is the thing that surprises me most, that the NFL network would get involved. I read Vick's — rather sander's column, and he didn't say Michael Vick is innocent. He said, in effect, the same thing the NAACP said, can't we wait? Even that opinion about this case seems to be thought of as favorable and people don't want to hear it.

HALL: It does seem — there was another op-ed person who said a shocking thing, which is he may have been accused of raping a woman and not been so censured from the public. That guy's been told not to come back on the air. I think this is such a hot topic. Hot as in hot-potato topic. People don't want to touch it.

GABLER: We can wait to see whether he's criminally liable because a legal process will do that. But that doesn't mean the media have to close their eyes. There's an 18-page indictment and a signed statement that corroborates the indictment, and there's independently corroborated evidence by people like George Dorman (ph) of "Sports Illustrated". And this guy is guilty by evidence that has established outside of the legal process.

THOMAS: I heard an interesting take on the ABC local station in Washington where the host was talking about could dog fighting be part of the African-American culture? I thought that was awfully ridiculous.

PINKERTON: We'll find out then. It does appear lots is going on. After two months of relentless bad press, Vick has got a P.R. operation going with the NAACP. Where were they doing the Duke Lacrosse player case? But we'll let that pass. And a great example of bad crisis management on his part, too little way too late.

BURNS: And "Quick Take" headline number two: is this any way to cover a woman running for president. Here's Hillary Clinton delivering a speech last month, it was about education, but that didn't matter to Robin Givhan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion critic for the "Washington Post." Her topic was the presidential candidates' outfit.

And here's what she wrote: "It's tempting to say that the cleavage stirs the same kind of discomfort that might be churned up after spotting Rudy Giuliani with his shirt unbuttoned just a smidge too far. No one wants to see that. But really, it was more like catching a man with his fly unzipped. Just look away."

BURNS: And people complained that there's not enough sound political analysis.

First of all, would anybody here assign — she's a fashion reporter. Would anyone here assign — she is a fashion reporter — would anyone assign a fashion designer to cover a woman's speech in the Senate?

HALL: That's the thing.

PINKERTON: I would. Why not? Why not?


PINKERTON: Because you have a fashion speech. What is most remarkable...

BURNS: But men wear clothing.

PINKERTON: That's what she does, she covers Dick Cheney. She covers all of them. Wait. I want to make one point. Before we pile on her, can you imagine what would have happened if Rush Limbaugh had said what she wrote in her stuff? Rush Limbaugh would have been run off the air. Instead, she'll get a few bumps and bruises and go on.


HALL: This is a woman, who has made her whole career — I didn't mean to interrupt you, Cal — and this is her thing, and she almost — I mean, Dick Cheney was an exception. She talked about how Condoleezza Rice looked like a dominatrix because she had on boots and a coat. This is insulting and a hell of a lot to make out of a plunging neckline.

THOMAS: This all began, this whole sequence, when Elizabeth Edwards said that her husband was more in touch with women's issues than Hillary Clinton and then made this disparaging remark that Hillary reminded her of a man. And then Bill Clinton goes on "Good Morning America" and testifies to her female side.

Then the next day, she's on the Senate floor displaying a little cleavage. Sounds calculated to me. Let's give Nancy Pelosi her due too. She displayed some, too, so this could be a new Democratic plot to get people more interested in politics. What do you think?

BURNS: Cleavage gets you interested in politics?

THOMAS: It got us talking about it.

BURNS: But we're not talking about politics. And that's the problem.

GABLER: And the bad part is that MSNBC spent 23 minutes of one day taking about her cleavage. If you need further evidence of how idiotic our political Press Corps is, here's another exhibit in that.

And here's my suggestion: since they can't deal with real topics, like health care and infrastructure and the war in Iraq, they focus on the trivia, why don't we just — why don't they all resign. Why don't we fire them all and start fresh again because we need a Press Corps that deals with real issues and real things, not this junk!

BURNS: Jim, fire them all or just some of them?

PINKERTON: Fire some, definitely. I agree this is not can a important story, but...

BURNS: Jim, that's all the time you have.


We have to take one more break and we'll be back with this. Sorry.

ANNOUNCER (voice-over): She's been covering the White House longer than anyone. But has her butter slipped off her noodles? Time for Helen to say good-bye to the White House beat? That's next, on "Newswatch".


BURNS: Happy 87th birthday today to Helen, no relation to Cal Thomas, Thomas, who has been covering the White House longer than any other reporter. Doonesbury cartoon analyst Garry Trudeau recently paid tribute to her by referring to her in a resent strip as "legendary."

In the next panel, he wasn't so respectful as one of his characters said she has been around since the Truman administration and some say she was Truman's lover, to which Thomas replied, "I wish he said I was Jack Kennedy's lover."

Recently Thomas has been making as much news with her opinions as reporting.

Last week, she accused White House press secretary Tony Snow of not speaking English.

Last month she said this at a Planned Parenthood fund-raiser: "It seems now, more than ever, the Supreme Court is prepared to put Americans - - especially women - back in the 19th century, if not earlier."

Actually, Ms. Thomas, the Supreme Court is not aiming at the women's vote. To show you there are no hard feelings, the justices have volunteered to host your retirement party. Tony Snow will be the moderator, Cal Thomas will translate.

That's all the time we have left this week. Thanks to Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, Cal Thomas — I did make it clear enough for you that you're not related, right? — and Neal Gabler. And I'm Eric Burns, thanking you for watching.

Stay tuned to FOX. Keep watching for the latest news and more, coming right up.

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