This is a rush transcript from "FOX News Watch," October 18, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

JON SCOTT, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: This week on FOX "News Watch just 17 days before the election. Has the post-debate coverage helped or hurt the candidates?

The front runner and the former terrorist. Are the mainstream media sitting on some of the story?

More sexist coverage of Sarah Palin, this time in the funny pages. Why won't the press give Palin a break?

And Joe the plumber becomes a media celebrity overnight. What's next for this man from Ohio?

And on the panel this week, Jane Hall of the American University; syndicated columnist Cal Thomas; Jim Pinkerton, contributing editor and writer for the "American Conservative" magazine; and Kirsten Powers, "New York Post" columnist and FOX News analyst.

I'm Jon Scott. "FOX News Watch" is on right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-ILL.), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is true that my friend and supporter, Warren Buffet, for example, could afford to pay a little more in taxes...

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-ARIZ.) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're talking about Joe the plumber.

OBAMA: ... in order to give -- in order to give additional tax cuts to Joe the plumber before he was at the point where he could make $250,000.

MCCAIN: You know what Senator Obama ended up in the conversation with Joe the plumber, we need to spread the wealth around. In other words, we're going to take Joe's money, give it to Senator Obama and let him spread the wealth around.

I want Joe the plumber to spread that wealth around. You told him you want to spread the wealth around. The whole premise behind Senator Obama's plans are class warfare, let's spread the wealth around.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT: All right, there it was, the big debate. Perhaps the most contentious of any of the presidential or vice presidential debates.

Kirsten, what do you think about that? Did the press focus -- because this seemed to be the main headline coming out of this -- focusing on the attacks that those two guys had against each other?

KIRSTEN POWERS, NEW YORK POST COLUMNIST & FOX NEWS ANALYST: Yes, I think that you would definitely describe it more as John McCain being on the attack more than on Barack Obama. That's how I perceived it.

SCOTT: Did they focus on the attacks, on the nature of attacks and not so much on the content of the attacks?

POWERS: Yes, but that's sort of the nature of the media. They're more interested in the back and forth in how the candidates interact than they are actually interested in the substance.

JIM PINKERTON, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR & WRITER, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE MAGAZINE: Remember, this is television, and so the reporters were all saying McCain's got to attack, Obama has got to defend it. It's all fight metaphors and they don't do horse racing but boxing. Those are the two choices.

SCOTT: Yes. We heard a lot of boxing metaphors.

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: The other was McCain's last stand, which Drudge apparently got a hold of the talking points of Obama's campaign that they were going to use. And a lot of the media said McCain's last stand. I think a lot of the media gave McCain good marks and said he had done best yet. But then they said Obama finished better, which is another cliche. If I hear game changer one more time -- I mean, they're teeth-grinding cliches at this point.

SCOTT: Who got the best post-debate coverage, Cal?

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Oh, Golly, well, again, I think, playing off what everybody else has said, the media have been in the tank for, first, Hillary, and then Obama almost since the beginning. They wanted a Democrat and they were happy to get behind whoever was going to finish on top.

But once again, we're not dealing with a substance. The "Wall Street Journal" on Friday dealt with a substance, and I wish McCain had brought this up -- he hinted at it a little bit -- of what would happen with a unified government under Democrats with a filibuster-proof senate.

SCOTT: Which is strong possibility.

THOMAS: Which is a very strong possibility. and they listed a bunch of issues that would go through unchallenged. That's what McCain should have hit in the campaign, and do you really want this.

PINKERTON: And McCain is having trouble animating his own base. He had the chance to talk about immigration in that debate. He didn't even finish the Bill Ayers thing. He brought it up and then by the end of his own answer, he was talking about something else. This is the case where television is rewarding Obama for being cool under fire. To pick up another cliche everybody uses, Obama stays cool and the reporters admire him for it. In addition to the fact that they support him just without an issue.

HALL: I do you think it was unfair, all they talk about McCain grimacing and rolling his eyes. Nobody said Obama smiled inappropriately or Obama looked like he was arrogant. and that was his style. And I agree with you, it's kind of like he's Kennedyesque, he cool and James Bondian kind of guy.

POWERS: I think what people are getting at is, in this time we're in right now where people are scared and we're in an environment where things are unsure, his body language and the way he behaved was off-putting it. You want somebody who's cool and seems a little bit more in control versus somebody who is jerking around and making attacks and not finishing his sentences. And I think that stuff really matters when people are watching. I think that Gore's thighs were unfairly focused on as well.

SCOTT: Is this one of those events where maybe if you were --like Nixon and Kennedy, if you were listening on the radio, you might have a different impression than what you were seeing on television?

THOMAS: I don't care if a president is cool. I care if he's competent. and that's what we should be focusing on. I think that McCain's problem is he's living too much in the past. Talking about Bill Ayers, there have been two generations born since Bill Ayers did his thing. He needed to explain why this socialistic attitude, not just the redistribution of wealth, but really eliminating wealth and having a socialistic economic empire is -- we are just one election away from that. That's what he needed to be focusing on. Ayers is a metaphor for people who grew up in the '60s. But most of the people now alive didn't grow up in the '60s.

PINKERTON: There's a Gallop poll that shows do you favor redistribution or not. It's like 84-13 against. And McCain has an enormous reservoir of suspicion of the government, whether government is competent of doing the things Obama wants it to do. But I think McCain was, for whatever reason, was unable to articulate that.

SCOTT: Have the media done a good job of extrapolating what the proposals are from both of these men?

HALL: There have been a couple of pieces recently. "USA Today" had a piece on Friday that basically said here's what we think Joe the plumber makes. I think one of the problems with McCain -- I do think he's ambivalent about going on the attack, if I were a psychoanalyst, having covered him a little bit. He doesn't know if he wants to go into Bill Ayers or Reverend Wright. He clearly doesn't. And so the anecdote, he didn't build it and say, if you make this -- he sort of pulled his punches. I think the media haven't done enough work on what their two tax plans are. But when you look at them, it doesn't look like redistribution of wealth, which is what Jim's side thinks.

POWERS: Yes. I think that's an important point. As much as conservatives see it that way, I guess, it's not redistribution of wealth. And that's what they always say...

THOMAS: That's what Obama said to Joe.

POWERS: And the reality is the tax issue is a good issue for John McCain. I think that is true. But I think this Bill Ayers stuff is just a loser, from beginning to end.

PINKERTON: How do you interpret, quote, "spread the wealth around"?

POWERS: I think it's an unfortunate thing for him to say. He could have meant I want the middle class to get tax cuts so they're having more of a game or something like that. I don't think he was going to take money from the rich.

SCOTT: Real quickly, of the four mediators, who did the best job?

HALL: Bob Schieffer.

POWERS: Schieffer.

THOMAS: I thought Schieffer was great. Jim Lehrer was not bad, but Schieffer was definitely the best.

SCOTT: All right.

THOMAS: Mature leadership.

SCOTT: Time for a break. We'll be back in two minutes with this.

ANNOUNCER: Barack Obama, Bill Ayers and what the press may be holding back about the candidate and terrorist connections.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(FOX NEWS BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Bill Ayers is a professor of education in Chicago. 40 years ago, when I was eight years old, he engaged in despicable acts with a radical domestic group. I have roundly condemned those acts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT: Oh, he's a professor of education? I didn't know that. That's how Barack Obama describes his relationship with Bill Ayers.

Are we getting the story from him, Cal, or from the media?

THOMAS: No, of course not, and what the media has only begun to do, and mostly on FOX and in some conservative circles, is expose not just that business 40 years ago when Obama was eight, but exactly what Ayers believes and teaches now. He's running a hothouse for children to teach them the supposed evils of capitalism, hate America, destroy the capitalistic system. That's what his philosophy is and that's what he wants to do today in government schools all over the country.

SCOTT: I have to go to Kirsten because I see her rolling her eyes over here.

THOMAS: Like Al Gore.

POWERS: No. He's not running for president. I read the things that he said a long time ago, granted when he said them, they're pretty despicable. And the things that he did are despicable. I don't think that is in disagreement. I don't know anybody who disagrees with that.

The issue is, what does that have to do with Barack Obama? They served on a couple of boards and knew each other. If when I worked in politics, all of the people that I had relationships and people could -- the same amount of the relationship with, I would not consider them as people who had great influence on me. I think it has been exaggerated. And I think the media has a double standard on it. If he was an abortion clinic bomber, I think we definitely be hearing about it if he was a McCain supporter. But at the end of the day, the media shouldn't be covering him more than they are because he has nothing to do with anything.

PINKERTON: I would just stop there. The media has a double standard, from the Democrats. That sort of sums up the entire argument there. We all agree if this were David Duke, or an abortion clinic bomber, McCain would be pulverized. Instead...

POWERS: Well, I think that would be unfair.

PINKERTON: OK. But we all agree what happened. We're all here to cover the coverage. And so we're here to say, if it was something that the media doesn't like, you get hammered. It it's something the media does like -- and let's be honest here. Baby boomer reporters have a soft spot for the '60s leftist radicals. They see them as the heroes of the movement that brought down Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey and stuff. And of course, they're going to -- like Tom Brokaw who is going to call Bill Ayers, quote, "a school reformer," unquote. That isn't exactly the totality of Bill Ayers' life by anybody's definition. But with a few exceptions like John Lott and Steve Chapman, of the "Chicago Tribune," the media are eager to sweep the story under the rug.

SCOTT: It was interesting to hear Obama in the debate describe him as -- first thing out of the box -- he's an education professor. How can you be against an education professor?

HALL: I was a little troubled as a professor that he was named a distinguished professor. And I tend to agree with the Chicago columnist who said that the statute of limitations hasn't run out. The man is unrepentant. He's not running for president. I think what this shows is the bifurcation in the media. FOX News has been going at this very hard. A lot of commentators here think it's very important and think the media hasn't covered it.

If you are for Obama, I think that you don't give it as much credence as you should. Politico.com, early on, was one of the few places -- Politico.com, which is not a partisan publication, went and looked and said, yes, they knew each other. I mean, for him to have said...

SCOTT: There wasn't much coverage, Cal, until the "New York Times" did that segment on him earlier this...

THOMAS: Yes, but that was a whitewashed piece. I think that was a "New York Times" effort to say, yes, we covered it, look. But they didn't really, really cover him.

Going back to Jim's point, an excellent point on how the media never really left the '60s. They have the same attitude toward Bill Clinton, sweeping a lot of things under the rug, and saying it was only about sex, had nothing else to do with anything else. Lying under other, it was only about sex, everybody lies, because he was their guy.

POWERS: But the other people who haven't let go of the '60s are the conservatives. And that's why conservatives are so obsessed with this. It's a constant relitigating of things that happened in the '60s.

And as a person who is not burdened by that, thankfully, you know, it really does -- I think it's a generational aspect where you start to say, do we really have to go back and relitigate everything and still be angry about everything that happened in that time frame.

PINKERTON: But it still reverberates to this day. Matt Bai, he writes for the "New York Times," no conservative that I can tell, said that the Bunker Hill of the current culture wars, like the Revolutionary battle, was the campus quad, as in the quadrangle. And so the fact is that the right and the left are both split over the '60s, and if the split is still visible, for example, Bill Ayers, for example, issues like affirmative action and abortion and drugs and so on, these are still hot issues, then of course they're still going to be fought. It's the same way the...

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: ... the issues are different, but I'm just saying that I think it would be OK if John McCain had had a same relationship with an abortion clinic bomber and he was being skewered by the media. I would speak out against that. I don't think it's relevant.

(CROSSTALK)

HALL: I don't think it's fair to say that the media haven't been covering this story recently. They were late to cover it. But they have been covering it.

SCOTT: Take a look at a photo. This is Bill Ayers shot fairly recently, standing on top of the American flag. This was in 2001? I believe so. But again, so much of the coverage suggests that he hasn't -- that he was a bad guy back in 1960, but he's OK now.

(CROSSTALK)

SCOTT: I don't know, should the media be looking into...

HALL: I think the media have been looking into it. I go back to my original point, which is I think it has become so polarized, that even the "New York Times" gives him a break or the frankly commentators on FOX News won't let it go.

POWERS: He's not running for president. I mean, I know I sound like a crazy person here, but it's like, he is not running for president. The idea that Barack Obama is responsible for him? Why does the media go into great detail to cover what a horrible person Bill Ayes is?

HALL: Because they don't want John McCain to win.

PINKERTON: You judge McCain by his associates, including his...

POWERS: No, we don't because if we did would think...

(CROSSTALK)

PINKERTON: Yes, you do. Whether you like him or not, you talk about the Keating Five, you talk about Randy...

(CROSSTLAK)

THOMAS: The question that the press ought to be asking us if Barack Obama is, here's what Bill believes, do you believe the following. And ask him those questions.

PINKERTON: Hold on, Cal. You let him off easy because Obama would just say no. You've got proof in the pudding.

SCOTT: We've got -- We've got 17 days to ask those questions.

We have to take another break. We'll be back with this.

ANNOUNCER: Palin takes a pounding by the press even in the comics. Can the GOP's V.P. gal get a fair shake? Answers next, on "News Watch."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK RADIO HOST: I am positive that you are the most forceful and dynamic speaker of all four candidates on the circuit. Then they said that your forcefulness and opinionatedness and your charisma and your overwhelming ability to say what you mean is driving away moderates. This is an attempt to get you to shut up. This is an attempt by the media to stop you being who you are. What it means is they're really worried about the effectiveness that you have.

GOV. SARAH PALIN, (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, yes, I guess that the message is they do want me to sit down and shut up. But that's not going to happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT: Rush Limbaugh talking to Governor Sarah Palin about an article in the "New York Times."

So, Kirsten, what about that? Do you think that Limbaugh is right in suggesting that the media wants to stop her?

POWERS: No, I think she's a great story. I think they love covering her. And she's very lively and she's the one that creates all of the controversy and she's the one who was saying that he's was palling around with terrorists. And she is one that has been stirring everything up. I think -- as somebody that writes a column, she's great.

PINKERTON: How'd you like getting stuck covering Biden? You never see your own byline.

THOMAS: First of all, the media have done a horrible job of covering Biden. If they did the same standard they applied to Dan Quayle, he would be the star of "Saturday Night Live." For example, Biden said this week that he's all about, he and Obama about a three-letter word, jobs.

(LAUGHTER)

That's Dan Quayle potato all over again. They let it go. He said I have plumbers -- speaking of Joe the plumber -- I've got plumbers and grocers in my neighborhood. I don't think so. Maybe the Scranton neighborhood when he was growing up, but not the one in Delaware.

HALL: She's very engaging. it's very interesting it see -- there was an article I think in the "New York Times" recently, about how the Clinton women were coming home and they were turned off by her, which I found very interesting. You don't get a follow that often in the media. The media are making good money off of her controversy. "Saturday Night Live" is making good money off her. All the news channels say she's a ratings jump. I mean, they're happy with her.

PINKERTON: And it is critical, right?

HALL: I don't think so. I think it's admiringly looking at her.

PINKERTON: OK, I would say that the Doonesbury treatment of her was opportunistic in terms of making money on her, selling comic strips on her. But certainly they would never dare to have done that to Geraldine Ferraro.

HALL: That I agree with you though.

PINKERTON: Or Elizabeth...

HALL: I agree with you about that. But as a story, Sarah Palin is a lot more fun than Joe Biden is.

PINKERTON: But it's fun to attack. That's my point. It's not fun to cover. It's fun to attack.

HALL: She's a gifted politician.

(CROSSTALK)

PINKERTON: She is a gifted politician, but it's still fun to attack her.

POWERS: But Hillary suffered a lot of stuff on the level of the Doonesbury thing. So there's...

SCOTT: You think so?

POWERS: Oh, sure. There was a lot of very misogynist -- actually more misogynist kind of stuff with her.

PINKERTON: But nobody's calling -- when they attacked Hillary, they called it misogynist. When Garry Trudeau does this Palin, everybody laughs.

HALL: Even Rush Limbaugh said that we have a babe in the race, admiringly.

(LAUGHTER)

I mean, he can't very tell the media to shut up.

POWERS: I think the media -- it's true, there is this constant where they treat all conservatives like they're stupid. That's the theme, right?

HALL: Naturally.

POWERS: So the minute they say something that isn't right, that person becomes the joke or becomes stupid. And the same thing -- I mean, there are so many examples of Biden. It's incredible how many things that he substantively has been wrong on.

PINKERTON: I think the word for the show is double standard.

SCOTT: Let's get to Sarah Palin. She's going to be on "Saturday Night Live." Smart move?

THOMAS: I think you have to do it. It's the premier comedic political show. It's close to the election. But if I were writing the script and if I were her I would demand to play Tina Fey, huh? She should open the show and say, hi, I'm Tina Fey, welcome to "Saturday Night Live." That would be hilarious.

SCOTT: We have to take one more break. When we come back...

ANNOUNCER: First, there was Joe six-pack. Now we have Joe the plumber. How did this voter from Ohio steal the show? Details next, on "news watch."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Yes, sir, what's your name?

JOE WURZELBACHER, PLUMBER: My name's Joe Wurzelbacher.

OBAMA: Good to see you, Joe.

WURZELBACHER: I'm getting ready to buy a company that makes about $250,000 a year. Your new tax plan is going to tax me more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT: Well, that's how it all began. Plumber Joe Wurzelbacher asked Barack Obama a question when he showed up in his Holland, Ohio, neighborhood. At the debate on Wednesday, his name was mentioned twenty- six times by the two candidates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: To Joe the plumber.

OBAMA: To Joe the plumber.

MCCAIN: I want Joe the plumber.

OBAMA: Plumber.

MCCAIN: We're talking Joe the plumber.

OBAMA: To Joe the plumber.

MCCAIN: My old buddy, Joe, Joe the plumber is out there.

OBAMA: Joe, too, if you're out there.

MCCAIN: Joe the plumber.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT: It's safe to say, Joe is now the most famous plumber in America and a media sensation. By Thursday morning, one web site already was hoping to be flush with money from selling trinkets like these, a Joe the plumber t-shirt that reads "Joe six-pack, Joe the plumber, Joe mama all voting for that one."

For McCain fans, there's "Joe the plumber for president," modeled after the campaigns country-first logo. And finally, this pithy pin, "Read my plunger. No new taxes."

By now, Joe the plumber might wish he never asked Obama his question. Ever since he did, the media have been parked outside his house asking him all kinds of questions about how he votes and who he is, just because, as a private citizen, he dared quiz a presidential candidate. The press even dug into his finances and found he owes more than $1000 in back taxes.

So here's a suggestion. Maybe all the companies trying to make money off his new-found fame could share the wealth with Joe.

That's all the time we have left this week. But there's still more of Joe coming your way. He will be a guest on Mike Huckabee's show later on FOX News channel tonight at 8:00 p.m. eastern time.

Thanks to Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, Cal Thomas and Kirsten Powers.

I'm Jon Scott. Thanks for watching. Keep it right here on FOX News Channel.

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