Transcript: 'FOX News Watch,' December 29, 2007

This is a rush transcript from "FOX News Watch," December 29, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

ERIC BURNS, FOX NEWS WATCH HOST: This week on a special end-of-the-year edition of "FOX News Watch," from General Petraeus and the war in Iraq to Paris, from the race for the White House to tragedy at Virginia Tech, from Larry Craig to Anna Nicole, how did the media perform in 2007? And what can we expect in 2008?

First the headlines, then "FOX News Watch."



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the top story of 2007 is basically the ongoing news with the Iraq war, weapons of mass destruction, note weapons of mass destruction, the continued pouring of resources in the area and minimal improvement, I would say.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think they represented the war as intensely as it really was. We were unfortunate enough to have a son in that situation, and it was not all that he said it was.


BURNS: By they, Jane, she is referring to how the media represented the war, and I found that an intriguing comment. One of the things that we've heard very little of in the press in 2007 is that the media aren't showing how bad things are over there sufficiently.

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, that's an unusual opinion. I think that we don't know yet about media coverage because media coverage turned away from the war, according to Pew, in the latter part of this year. General Petraeus with the surge got a lot of positive press, and yet the American people, according to polling, still call for withdrawal, and so there's a disconnect there.

BURNS: Jane refers to the media turning away from the war somewhat.

Here are the two versions for their doing that, Jim. First of all, things are going better there, so there aren't as many stories, at least not as many compelling stories -- version "A." Version "B" -- the media are biased. They are left-wingers. They are opposed to this war. So now that the news is better, they won't cover it.

JIM PINKERTON, NEWSDAY: I think version "A," if it bleeds, leads. It leaves is an unfortunate reality for news coverage. There's some evidence for version "B," but I would add version "C," which is there is another front of this war opened up at home. And Jane alluded to General Petraeus. changed the tone of American politics with the famous General Betray-us ad, which electrified the country in terms of outraged and forced you to ask what side are you on, are you on the side of the troops or on the side of MoveOn. It was a cleavage and I think a big boost for the Republicans.

BURNS: I want to ask a question of somebody with a blue shirt on.


I'm stumped. Cal?

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Again, this is not a war like Vietnam that bears any resemblance to how we have fought wars in the past. The American people do not like protracted events whether it is war or long television shows. We're into short sound bites, short wars, and move on with it. I think "A," "B," and "C" can all be correct. I think there is bias, but at the same time, positive stories, soldiers handing out candy to children, reconciliations such as it is going on, don't provide the kind of pictures and excitement that we have been continued to see.

BURNS: Another example, Juan, that occurs to me of a positive story that we didn't see but we heard the negative version of, conditions at Walter Reed for the soldiers returning home. When they were bad -- and I assume they still are to some extent -- filling the television newscasts. Now I assume things are somewhat better, but I don't remember seeing any "here's a good news story" about a guy who came home, got a lot of superb rehab and now is back in his old job.

JUAN WILLIAMS, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I think what it brings to my mind, we can go beyond "A," "B," "C," "D," and we can go all the way to "Z." My "Z" version is the American people have made up their mind about this war. They don't like it, and they want American troops out. When you look at that reality, then you come to the second point, which is when it comes on TV, they turn away from it because they've got their minds made up. They find the whole thing pedantic, repetitive, and somewhat unsavory. They'd rather pay attention to things that are connected to their lives.

Again, we haven't sacrificed. The American people sometimes don't know the troops personally. That's why the Walter Reed story touches our hearts. We say you know what? We should treat those young men and women better than we have. We react to things to the Minnesota bridge collapse. We react to stories here at home, things that are in our faces. That's what makes a difference. That's the power of media to really touch us.

PINKERTON: I'm happy to talk about bridges, too, but I would just offer a correction to Juan and Jane. I think the polling shows the American people do not want to lose. They do not want to withdraw. They want peace with honor. There's a difference.

BURNS: Let's move from tragedy overseas to tragedy at home. Virginia Tech was probably of all the mass shootings we've had this year -- isn't that awful? You can sit here on a show like this any time in the last ten years and maybe in the next ten and begin a sentence of all the mass shootings we've had this year, you know. That was probably the one that gripped us the most. I think the total number of deaths was 33. And I find this is the kind of story that the media do well on, generally sensitive, generally understanding, but sometimes inevitably annoying people who were touched by the story.

HALL: I was thinking about that story. I'm a college professor, so there's been a lot of talk about whether campuses are safer. I think, you know, in retrospect, "NBC's" decision to run that video on the young man, the shooter sent to them, was a mistake. We recently had a young man shoot up a bunch of people and himself in a mall and he said he was going out in style. I think there's an inevitable glorification issue that the media hasn't grabbled with. NBC should have flushed that video and not run it.

BURNS: Even if the coverage, even if the words aren't glorification, even if the person is savaged by the anchorman, the point is it is glorification because of the attention you get.

THOMAS: Look at the entertainment programs on cable, the "Sopranos," for example, was a terrific example of glorification. Many of the entertainment programs that show shootings in slow motion with blood and bullets emerging from the body, yes, it's fake, but to a twisted mind, they see this as somehow giving meaning to their lives, that they can go out and do the same thing. A lot of these notes you see played over and over by the media, you see these twisted people see significance in their lives -- I'll be famous, I'll be known for something now, I'll stand for something. So yes, we do glorify violence at every level in our culture.

PINKERTON: As they same about fame and notoriety, just spell the name right. I agree the media does have some introspection to do on this question of making these people famous, putting their pictures on there, giving them literally what they want and what they'll kill for.

WILLIAMS: That sounds so old school to me. You can't restrain yourself and say we're not putting that tape out. It's going on the Internet. You know what? The information and the letters and the suicide, they're all going on the Internet. If you think the media can act as gatekeepers, you're wrong.

BURNS: An interesting irony, Jim mentioning fame and notoriety. They are in the dictionary, antonyms. They are, in practicality usage today, synonyms.

It's time for a break. We'll be back talk about politics in the year past. First though, one more person's view of the year's top stories.


REPORTER: What do you think was the biggest media story in 2007?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, man, you're putting me on the spot, aren't you? Oh, man. Turn that off.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think all we're going to hear about is the presidential elections. Hopefully, it won't be all about Hillary Clinton's pantyhose or her pearls.


BURNS: Well, has she got a chance, Cal, to get her wish?

THOMAS: I must say with some sympathy I think the standards are completely different for women politicians than men.

BURNS: You mean the way they're covered?

THOMAS: The way they're covered, yes. The picture that made the rounds near the end of the year on the Drudge Report showing Hillary Clinton with deep lines in her face. I mean, it's not about appearance. It's about ideology, and to the extent that we continue to focus on externals and not what they really think -- although thank goodness some of talk radio, especially Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are doing this -- I think we trivialize the process and demean it. I think it's unfair and it's unwise.

BURNS: Before we move on, would you like to comment on the service that you think Sean and Rush are providing?

WILLIAMS: Well, I thought when Rush went on about, gosh, Americans aren't going to want to watch a woman age in the oval office. I thought it was a shot at Senator Clinton. And I think it was unnecessary. I think it was, you know, an attempt at a veiled attack because he could say you know what, I'm just talking about how Americans are prejudiced against women, and seem as if he was high-handed. I think it was really taking a shot at Senator Clinton

HALL: I agree. The "New York Times, for the second time -- I was wondering how often they've done this -- printed a shot of Bill Clinton looking at her heels as if she were a powerful woman grinding a heel in her husband's face. The "New York Times" has run it twice. I think we're still screwed up about powerful women in this country and the media are reflecting that.

PINKERTON: Wow. I saw that photograph. I didn't get that impression at all. I thought it was kind of a clever photo, but I guess it shows what a male chauvinist pig I am.


THOMAS: I thought he was checking out her ankles actually, myself.

BURNS: Why didn't, as some pundits -- although I don't think anyone on this program predicted -- why didn't the Larry King homosexual sex scandal, if it really was that...

THOMAS: Did you say Larry King?

BURNS: I'm sorry, Larry Craig.

HALL: That would be news.

PINKERTON: Bloopers.

WILLIAMS: Ladies and gentleman, I thrust to your breaking news.

BURNS: I'm sorry, the Larry Craig sex scandal, if, in fact, he did what he's accused of doing. That seems, Jim, to me, to have had no effect on the campaign despite a lot of predictions that this was more dire news for the Republicans

PINKERTON: Right. It was one of those pre-Labor Day stories that filled the need for something to do before the campaign season got going. Look, the Republicans dealt with Craig fairly harshly. They knocked him off his committees. They made it clear they wanted him out. Nobody thinks that the Republicans are counting in and saying what Craig did was OK. On the other hand, they can't make him resign, so admittedly, a lot of people predicted he would be forced to leave office. He didn't. It appears he'll finish his term.

BURNS: I also think, Jane, the coverage died out pretty quickly, too. That's an indication that maybe -- I don't want to go to far with this -- I'm tempted to say that sometimes the media turn to substance in their political coverage but -- that's a joke, right?


HALL: Not the local papers. I began to feel that once he was basically out of the picture as opposed to, you know, continuing this -- I mean, they are continuing to find people who claim to have had sex with him and have posted audio of interviews. I think once they've reported it, they don't need to keep going after this guy.

PINKERTON: He stopped denying it

HALL: OK, but they're trying to force him to say...

PINKERTON: That's a lesson about the press. If you give them a mystery to solve, they'll sit there forever and try to unravel it.

BURNS: Once we have candidates, nominated candidates, how does the coverage change or does it?

THOMAS: Well, I can't let this continue without a terrific quote from Karl Rove in Thursday's "Wall Street Journal," which speaks to your point, "The process side of politics is now undermining the intellectual side."

And I think this is going to go on in 2008, even after the primaries and the candidates are selected. The horse race and the externals are far more important to much of the media than examining the health care policy, foreign policy. And it's mostly in sound bites and is superficial. The public is being harmed by this lack of interest by much of the media in the substance of their political positions.

WILLIAMS: You've got to blame, I think, the audience. The audience really doesn't watch. The audience wants titillation, wants the kind of attention to how people dress. Look at the "Washington Post." They give prominence to how people appear, down to cleavage, right. I think it's ridiculous.

THOMAS: Women, anyway.


THOMAS: Thank you.

WILLIAMS: You've got to say at some point the audience is responsible for what they get, and what they watch right now is attention to guess what? The horse race, the process, as you called it, how people dress, if they make a negative or snarky comment about each other. That's what gets the publicity.

THOMAS: Where is our responsibility in this? Are we supposed to be giving them sugary cereal or oatmeal?

WILLIAMS: Our responsibility is to cover the news. What you see is - - this is so interesting because the process becomes how you present yourself. You present yourself in such a way as to get that kind of attention because that's what plays in the media. It's a cycle.

BURNS: Juan is right. When these kinds of stories -- and I think the superficial ones play, in large part, not because of titillation, but because it's easy to understand. It's easier to understand which candidate's uglier, not which one has a better policy.

Juan makes an excellent point. You'll seldom hear that again. I don't think it's good policy.

But let's talk about the audiences', the news audiences' responsibility.

HALL: I think the audience does have a responsibility, and I don't actually have a problem with the horse race when you're talking about Iowa and New Hampshire, important caucuses. I think when we get into focusing extensively whether John Edwards did or did not have a $400 haircut. They were, like equal opportunity for appearance police. It's not important.

BURNS: Quickly, Jim, Don Imus is back on the air. He was a major political player before he was off the air. Will he be a player in the campaign?

PINKERTON: I think he will. I disagree with all of you on this issue of superficiality. I think people are issued in the issues. Imus, for better or worse, gets real people on his show and talks about important topics of the day. He, in his own way, is a kind of a hard news guy. He's got a spin and a commentary and an attitude, but he deals with real subjects and people listen, and they'll listen to him again.

BURNS: It's time for another break. We'll be back to talk about the top celebrity stories of 2007. But first, another view of this year's top story. Take a look


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess the stop story of 2007 is this: The first hotdogs on the (inaudible). That, for me, is the top story of 2007.




REPORTER: What do you think was the top story of 2007?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you want my honest answer?

REPORTER: Yeah, sure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Britney saga. Every time I turn on the news, that's all you see. All you hear about is celebrities in the news.


BURNS: On behalf of everyone in the media, I'm offended by that person's response.


Seriously. What about Anna Nicole? What about Paris Hilton? What about O.J. Simpson?

Of all of these, Juan, what we call tabloid -- let's call them celebrity stories -- was there one that really did have some meat, that deserved the amount of time? Was that a bad pun?

WILLIAMS: Yeah. You know...

BURNS: Was there one that deserved, if not all the time it got, a fair amount of time.

WILLIAMS: It depends on what you -- this goes back to my earlier point. That's what the audience wanted. They want more Britney Spears and Lindsey Lohan. It's the kind of thing that becomes our community gossip, you know. It's as if we're all back in "Payton Place," and this is somebody in the neighborhood we can gossip and yap about. Much happier talk than the talk about the war in Iraq.

BURNS: So it's, in one, sense relief?

WILLIAMS: I think it's distraction.

PINKERTON: I actually disagree. I think as a soap opera, there's an element of moral instruction, however you define it, that can be gained from this. The Britney Spears thing, absolutely power corrupts absolutely. Anna Nicole Smith, don't take drugs. Paris Hilton, the law should apply to everyone, and Jamie Lynn Spears, Britney's sister, who announced she's pregnant at the age of 16? The opportunity she has to offer a pro-birth, pro-baby, pro-natality message to the country is kind of powerful. Obviously, we wish you were married.


THOMAS: Not pro-marriage.

PINKERTON: Not having an abortion is pretty profound. I think it will have a huge effect on young women as we think about what happens to them if and when they become pregnant.

HALL: Wow.

WILLIAMS: And this Christmas, let me say, you do see the good where others might see a problem?

HALL: Wow. "OK" magazine paid her $1 million for a pro having your baby message. I don't think so. I think it's an interesting theory. I did hear girls talking about Paris Hilton as a cautionary tale.

The problem is that I think we all are TMZ, the new website was one of the most visited web sites, the celebrity sites that's paying people. To see the inside of Anna Nicole's refrigerator, you know -- there is an element of all of us, as you said, it's gossip, it's voyeurism, it's oh, my god, I hope I'm not living my life that way, which I think is part of today's point.


THOMAS: It makes us all feel better compared to them, but I give you the ultimate commentator on this, Cole Porter, who wrote, over 60 years ago, "In olden days, a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking. Now, heaven knows, anything goes." I rest my case.

BURNS: One of the things that's going in terms of publicity value, I think there's been a bit of a change in the celebrity culture in the coverage of it. Maybe it's because we have so many celebrities we can't just keep covering premiers. We try.

Juan, it seems to me that it's the celebrity who gets in trouble who is more newsworthy than the celebrity who is promoting, you know, the year's biggest Christmas release or something like that. There are too many celebrities. We have to narrow down our standards. And we've narrowed them down to if you're in trouble, if you jump on Oprah's couch, even, if you do something silly.

WILLIAMS: Now, you're going to catch me at a weak moment because, like, the star of "24" drunk driving, Kiefer Sutherland or the other celebrity who is getting drunk in front of his children and...

PINKERTON: David Hasselhoff.

WILLIAMS: You know, but you go on with these. That's why the...

THOMAS: That's good, Jim. We're going to put you on a quiz show.


THOMAS: Celebrities for 2007, Alex?

Juan is the one most defending this kind of coverage, but he doesn't pay attention enough to know the names involved.

WILLIAMS: Actually...


HALL: ... but we know the people's names?

PINKERTON: You make a good point. That is celebrity coverage used to be the premiers, and some canned photo shot of them in their swimming pool with their darling children and so on. Now, it's much more, their life stories. Part of this is the nature of cable news, 24 hours a day to fill up. It's not just their bad news. It's also people having their lives, like the media chose to focus on, like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. They don't have to do anything bad. They just have to walk across the street to get on the cover of "People" or...

WILLIAMS: We have more programs that focus on celebrities and drive up the premium for pictures of them behaving badly or not wearing underwear.

BURNS: But Angelina Jolie when she behaves well -- I think we can say that some of her adoptions -- I mean, that's certainly not an anti-social act, gets negative coverage often.

PINKERTON: I think she's in many ways the most admired woman in the world according to some polls. The point is it's just their lives, good, bad, up, down, whatever. It's like a soap opera and we're watching it in real-time on TV. And obviously, as Juan says, we're enjoying it

HALL: It's also our standards. Jennifer Love Hewitt had to say she was not fat when she was photographed. It's what we're aspiring to and what we think is beautiful. It's kind of scary.

PINKERTON: (Inaudible)

HALL: Well, maybe so.

BURNS: She was talking kind of generic.

Cal, final word?

THOMAS: I think we focus on the trivial, like the cartoon character Garfield said, "Eat your dessert first so you'll have room." The trivial is not substantive and the trivial won't perpetuate our lives in meaningful way.

BURNS: That's all the time we have left this week and this year.

Thanks to Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, Cal Thomas, Juan Williams.

I'm Eric Burns, thanking you for watching and wishing you a very happy New Year. Stay tuned now to FOX for the latest news and more coming right up.

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