Transcript: 'FOX News Watch,' December 28, 2008

This is a rush transcript from "FOX News Watch," December 28, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

JON SCOTT, HOST: This week on "FOX News Watch," it's two days after Christmas, so we thought we should take a look back at coverage, the bad and the good.

We chose our next leader, a man named Barack. And he was the story displacing Iraq.

Now, if war being won doesn't rate the front page, then we might examine this media age.

The good guys are winning. The surge quelled the violence. And from the news outlets, you heard mostly silence.

And Hillary Clinton would probably say the primary coverage was tilted away from focusing on her historic campaign.

But can she complain more than, say, John McCain? The story count shows that, as he was trying to get to the White House, reporters were crying to cover the one who created real drama. From long shot to shoe-in, the press chose Obama.

But if there's a story that tops the election, it's the fact that our country is now in recession. Our houses are worth less. The work force is shrinking. While folks point to Wall Street, what were they thinking?

And so as we wait for a year that is new, we find it cathartic to take a review of the one that's now ending, 2008, so let's introduce our panelist slate.

American U. sends Professor Jane Hall. She's a former reporter who's covered it all. Bill Salmon you know from our Washington bureau. In covering D.C., there's no one more thorough. Jim Pinkerton writes with conservative voice, the New America foundation, his employer of choice. And from New York's "Post," our friend Kirsten Powers, her more liberal views seen in lots of FOX hours.

And me, I'm Jon Scott, in case you don't know. Until further notice, I'm the host of this show.

So now let's get to it, our year in review. Has the media done a good job helping you?


PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA: If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.


SCOTT: President-elect Barack Obama on election night.

They're one of the most watched election nights in history, I think, Jim. This thing really changed. Going way back to when the campaign started or even when the year started, this was supposed to be Hillary's year. It was going to be Hillary versus McCain, or maybe Hillary versus Giuliani. What happened?

JIM PINKERTON, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: As William Goldman, the famous movie script writer, who won two Oscars, so he knew his stuff, said about Hollywood, nobody knows anything. And I think that applies equally to politics, at least predictions on politics.

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: I think the media were wrong in their early predictions. I think they were listening to Hillary Clinton's people telling them she was inevitable as the nominee. They weren't noticing a lot of young people were being brought to the Internet. I really think it was probably a generational issue. Then they discovered Obama and then they fell in love with him. But I think early on, there was a misreading of the country.

SCOTT: But, Bill, if the media did, in fact, fall in love with Obama, and there's a lot of evidence they did, is that what changed the dynamic of the election?

BILL SALMON, FOX D.C. DEPUTY MANAGING EDITOR: As badly as the media did fall in love with Obama — and by the way, that sounds like he said all things are possible, I never thought it would be possible for the media to become more biased than it was. 2008 proved me wrong. We hit a new low.

Having said that, I don't think the media gave Barack Obama the nomination. I think once Barack Obama looked like he was going to get the nomination, the media came around behind him. When it came to Barack Obama versus Hillary, they clearly were in his corner. And when it certainly got to Barack versus McCain, they were rooting for him 100 percent.

SCOTT: We've talked about that before, Kirsten. Barack Obama got way more positive articles, way more coverage generally than John McCain did once they got to the election, the general election.

KIRSTEN POWERS, NEW YORK POST COLUMNSIT: I think it speaks to the fact though in terms of them going with Hillary in the beginning and moving over to Obama, they're not really that savvy about politics. They do what people tell them. So they're used to being told the Clintons are this unbeatable machine so, therefore, they're an unbeatable machine.

There are plenty of political analysts — you can count me among them — who were very surprised by Barack Obama. But there were a lot of other people who weren't. There were a lot of people who saw it quite clearly and saw what was happening. I think when you're supposed to be unbiased you need to try to keep that in mind.

HALL: I do think the coverage of Hillary Clinton was — she turned into a hero, a feminist hero. She has had many different lives in the media. Because of the way she was treated, I do think that's one of the worst chapters in the depiction of women in the media, the way she was talked about by some cable news hosts.

PINKERTON: I would say that Hillary was a hero to feminist, not a famine hero.

HALL: More than feminists were voting for her.

PINKERTON: I'm sorry?

HALL: More than feminists were voting for her. Women were outraged.

PINKERTON: I don't think that the outrage lasted very long. And I think that — look, what the media really...

HALL: 14 million votes?

PINKERTON: It didn't last very long. Everybody said all the Hillary voters would stay home because they were so mad. And then they all voted for Obama.

HALL: It went on for months.

PINKERTON: OK, it went on for months. That's nice. Lots of things go on for months. The year's coverage was the media falling for the Obama line, the messiah, the one — they totally fell for that in a way that — I agree with Bill — nobody's ever seen before.

SALMON: The first reaction of conservatives was, hey, Hillary Clinton's getting her comeuppance. Remember when she was the beneficiary of lopsided press coverage, her and her husband in the '92 campaign when the press was in the tank for them. Well, isn't this poetic justice? But as it unfolded, I think even conservatives were horrified by the imbalanced coverage. Conservatives were thrust into the unlikely position of defending Hillary Clinton. Not to the sense that they wanted her to be elected, but just give her a fair shake in the coverage. It was so...


PINKERTON: As Rush Limbaugh said, screw up the Democrats by voting for Hillary Clinton in North Carolina.

SALMON: Exactly.

SCOTT: Let's talk about Republican coverage. You worked on the Huckabee campaign for a while. Talk about how he was covered, how McCain was covered.

PINKERTON: Huckabee is an attractive media personality, as his current gig on FOX demonstrates. But look, the Pew Center did a study on who people thought reporters were rooting for. By a 70, seven-zero, to 9, that's oh-nine, ratio, people thought reporters were rooting for Obama to win the general election. I think it's very hard to argue that obvious fact.

SCOTT: Is objectivity dead when it comes to political reporting?

HALL: I think — let's me defend the media a little. Although, I'm happy to beat up on them, too. They deserve it this time around. He was a phenomenon. To say people — he was attracting crowds, did the media create the crowds, did they create the buzz? I think they were part of it, but he created the crowds. The times created the crowds. I think they were caught up in ways they shouldn't have been, but they aren't solely responsible for his election.

POWERS: That's exactly what I was going to say. I know you guys are going to disagree vehemently with this. Look, I think he is a great leader. And I think he's going to be a great leader. And I think he's done a really good job so far. It hasn't been a long time, but I think there's something behind him. I don't think — I think there is a reason there's positive stories about him. You can't just say, oh, they're so blind.

SALMON: He's a liberal.


SCOTT: We've got a whole year to cover and we have to take a break.

We're going to be back to talk about the year's other big story, the economy. That's next on "FOX News Watch."




PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: This is a pivotal moment for America's economy. Problems that originated in the credit markets and first showed up in the area of subprime mortgages have spread throughout our financial system. This has led to an erosion of confidence that has frozen many financial transactions, including loans to consumers and to businesses seeking to expand and create jobs. As a result, we must act now to protect our nation's economic health from serious risk.


SCOTT: President Bush addressing our country's economic crisis back in September after the first signs of it really began to show up.

All right, Jim, most journalists are not economists but they've been ramping up all kinds of coverage on this issue since then. How have they done?

PINKERTON: I think this was far worse in terms of the quality of coverage and even the political coverage. We just got through saying — at least I did — that was bad.

Look, reporters totally fell for these bogus metaphors about frozen and clogged and they had — and the entire elite in Washington, Republicans and Democrats both, agreed on this stupid, horrible bailout that's not working and reporters fell for it.

A better metaphor would have come from Ralph Gomory, who is a former scientist of IBM, who wrote for the blog called the He said, look, the better analogy was garbage. These were garbage securities that these idiotic Wall Street firms bought and then unloaded on the government for hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars. That's the right image. And if reporters were smarter, they would have covered it that way, and we wouldn't have this disaster we're in now.

SCOTT: Why did we get this kind of coverage?

HALL: I think, President Bush said Wall Street got drunk, I think journalists got drunk. I think there wasn't enough coverage. We now have this trader Madoff, the biggest Ponzi scheme. I didn't know there was that much money people could lose individually. You sort of read this. And we're in love with that story because it's spectacular failure by celebrity bankruptcies. We weren't doing enough coverage of the mortgage crisis. I know Brian Ross at ABC was doing early stories. and The New York Times did it. But everybody was caught up in this. and nobody seems to have been looking at it carefully.

SCOTT: That Madoff scandal is bigger than Enron. Remember the kind of headlines that Enron generated.

POWERS: I think — and we've talked about this before. Most of these reporters don't understand the stuff. And they're intimidated by these people and so they sort of have to look to other people to tell themselves things. They haven't worked in the business themselves. I think probably the better people are people who actually have experience.

But that's not an excuse because it is their job to seek out good sources and to find people that can tell them what's going on. And they should be the ones that are breaking this so we know about it ahead of time. They should be finding out there are things going on.


SCOTT: Have reporters been reacting rather than anticipating?

SALMON: I think reporters have fallen into that old blame Bush game, that the economy's gone to heck, blame Bush. To a certain extent a new president who is in office, is responsible to some degree to the economy. But few reporters went back and looked at the roots of this with Fannie and Freddie, with Chris Dodd, with Barney Frank and their refusal to allow regulation of these two government-sponsored entities, which were at the heart of this meltdown.

They were lazy and then, even after it happened, they didn't really look at it in hindsight with enough scrutiny.

POWERS: But how could they have not seen the mortgage crisis? I mean, I don't understand that.


POWERS: But ringing the alarm bells a little bit more. I mean, we learned so much about the Fannie and Freddie stuff and all that kind of stuff. I just feel like, that's their job.

PINKERTON: But we still have issues like, for example, 60 percent of the expenses for a company like Goldman Sachs are their payrolls. Nobody asked them to cut their payrolls, to cut bonuses, to cut salaries for all these guys who are making $50 to $100 million a year, when they got the bailout. I agree, they missed the tore in Washington, but they're also missing it in New York.

SCOTT: That is an issue, this sort of divide, this gulf between coverage of the auto industry where you have a lot of blue collar jobs, versus Wall Street.

HALL: To be fair, the bailout, which was probably better named bailout than rescue plan, they quickly fixed that. That went through in about five minutes in an election year. And, you know, it wasn't questioned. Now the next guys over the hill — that's what I have though about the auto makers. They're the next guys over the hill asking for money. And they ain't getting it. I think it's questionable whether they should or shouldn't. But I don't think the media have been their friend and they weren't their own friend with flying in the way they did.

SALMON: I agree. It's less about blue collar, white collar than it is about the fact that the financial bailout came first, and was so enormous. And then the auto bailout came second and they exhausted the reservoir of good will and they said no more.

SCOTT: All right, time for another break. We're going to be back to take a look at some of the biggest stories of this year, including the terror in Mumbai and five years of the war in Iraq. Where did the media go wrong on these stories? Or did they? Answers next, on "News Watch."



MATT LAUER, NBC HOST: The recent poll that said some very high percentage of the people in China are happy with their lot in life, something around 80 percent. You compare that to polls in the United States that say only about 25 percent of Americans are. What's the root of their happiness here?


SCOTT: Matt Lauer at NBC got a whole lot of flack for that question during the network's Olympic coverage in August.

Even Kirsten's shaking her head over here.

They were criticized for other things as well.

Jim, you said the media were in the tank for Obama. Was NBC in the tank for China?

PINKERTON: Oh, absolutely, as that interview showed. Look, NBC made a billion dollar bet on the Olympics. And they weren't going to blow it by antagonizing Communists over little things like persecuting Christians or killing Tibetans or stuff like that. It was just shuffled off to the side.

SCOTT: Jane, I know you've got a great interest in China. What did you think about the coverage?

HALL: I thought it was pretty bad. They had a few sort of — before they started, they did a few documentaries. They literally spirited the dissidents out of town, into jail. When they had the earthquake in China, we found that the schools all fell down because of the corruption in the system. I think they really were — I mean, this is serious, serious outcomes for being in the tank. This is bad.

POWERS: I have to wonder if they weren't trying to justify what they did in that interview, sort of saying it's not so bad we're over here because look how happy they really are. It's just a little bit twisted, I think, if you know anything about China to think that's the case. I would say it was a highly suspicious poll probably.

SALMON: It reminded me of the occasional mainstream media foray to Cuba where we're told that they have a wonderful healthcare system. The difference is that those mainstream media stories are motivated by ideology or by — call it what you will. This one was motivated by money. They had the billion dollar bet. They didn't want to lose that money.

SCOTT: Let's talk about another big story. In 2008, the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, a story covered for days all around the world. The question, did the media — were they appropriate in their coverage or did they go overboard?

Jim, give us — Matt — Bill?


SALMON: That's OK, Fred — no, kidding, Jon.

Actually, I didn't have a problem with the media's coverage of Mumbai. People say, are we perpetuating the terrorist message? Are we getting it out there to a wider audience? The reality is, this was a wake-up call to a lot of people who had gotten complacent by the lack of terrorist attacks in a number of years.

Yes, the terrorists used Google maps and cell phones and media technology to make themselves more effective, but that's the reality of it. And we have to cover that as part of the story.

PINKERTON: We also have to keep our eye on Pakistan. At a time when most media outlets are laying people off and so on, only a few reporters and pundits, like Steve Cole and Peter Bergen, are focusing on Pakistan. I think everybody agrees who thinks about this, the next big incident, like this one, is going to come from there.

SCOTT: All right. Let's move on now to the fifth year of the war in Iraq. Compared with previous years, the war did not get the same kind of coverage. A Pew study finds that during the first nine months of 2007, the war in Iraq filled what it calls the news hole 18 percent of the time. That percentage dropped to just 3 percent this year.

Why is it, Kirsten, that good news doesn't sell?

POWERS: That's news. If it bleeds, it leads. That's the sad reality. Nobody wants to do a story every single day about how something good is happening. It doesn't just apply to the war in Iraq.

I get frustrated because I know what these guys are going to say, that it's all ideology, but in the beginning, the reality is the media was very gung ho about the war. And they were very...

SALMON: I will say this. Let me say this. Kirsten is right in that, that is a major element. If things are going well, they don't get as much coverage. The plane lands at the airport. It's not a big story. But if it crashes, it's a big story.

However, another element is the fact that the war was suddenly going well, the surge did well, and the press didn't want to talk about that in a presidential election campaign.

HALL: I think also the economy took over. I talked to news executives. They will tell you it costs millions of dollars. This is one of the unfortunate aspects of this. The security for reporters — we've had reporters seriously wounded. They're hesitant to send people over. When they put stories on, they aren't watched as much. People feel there's a certain fatigue around. How do you do this story differently? There's a lot of other factors besides ideology.

SCOTT: Yet, if peace is breaking out all over, most people aren't aware of it because they're thinking back towards the coverage six months earlier.

HALL: Yeah, that's true.

PINKERTON: It ultimately boils down to news value. If it bleeds, it leads. As Kirsten said, if it bleeds, it leads. If it doesn't bleed, it doesn't lead.

HALL: If it continues to bleed though.

POWERS: Yeah, right. It's not like it's not bleeding. I mean, because still it — yeah.

PINKERTON: I'll go further to clarify — Americans.

HALL: Yes.

SCOTT: But is that — I mean, if you're President Bush and things all of a sudden are going well, and you've still got people hating you for your mishandling of the war, how — I mean, what should he be saying to the media?

POWERS: I don't know what he can say. I think there are a lot of people — I think the fatigue issue is a real issue. I think, look, I don't know how much people want to watch it or hear about it, and that is a factor in what people — how much coverage it gets. The fact of the matter is a lot of people are not really happy that we went over there and they don't really want to be reminded of it.

SCOTT: All right.

We're going to take one more break. When we come back, we'll talk about how our new president will be covered by the press in the new year. Plus, what else might grab media attention in 2009? That's next, on "News Watch."


SCOTT: We've been talking throughout this show about 2008. Now, it is time to jump forward to 2009. What might we expect in a new year? I'll give you a few topics — the inauguration, the first 100 days of the Obama administration, the new Congress. Take your pick. Let's go around and see what you think is coming out in 2009.


HALL: I think the inauguration is going to be an amazing story. Millions of people descending on Washington trying to get a peak. I think they will turn on Obama about February 1st.

SCOTT: Oh, you give him 10 days. You don't give him 100?

HALL: I don't think he likes the media really and that's been a little secret we will see.

PINKERTON: I agree with Jane. I would just point people to Byron York's piece in the National Review in which he made the point that Peter Fitzgerald, who chased after Scooter Libby for years and years, and is still on the Blagojevich case. And he's going to get him on perjury. Not the crime itself but perjury as they talk him or don't talk to him.

SCOTT: Peace is breaking out all over if you agree with Jane.

SALMON: The media has done no favors to Barack Obama by building up unrealistic expectations. This guy walks on water, he is coming into office and there's only one way to go down and it is down. By contrast, Bush used to encourage people to misunderestimate him when he was coming into office. Obama is so high up, there's more to go. and once he starts grappling with the nitty gritty province of governance, the stardust will come off and we will see that he is a mere mortal and start angering certain sections and making other people happy. And his approval ratings will start to tumble.

SCOTT: "Misunderestimated" — I've read a book by that name by a certain author.


POWERS: I think he going to have — we've already seen him sort of running into trouble. and I think that's probably going to be a theme going through next year, is how does he manage the media and does he create more problems like he has with what's going on recently and not releasing information in a timely manner. And will he be...

SCOTT: We'll be here to watch it all as he tries to make that turn.

That's all the time left this week.

I want to thank Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, Bill Salmon and Kirsten Powers.

I'm Jon Scott. Thanks for watching this special edition of "FOX News Watch."

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