Transcript: 'FOX News Watch,' January 31, 2009

This is a rush transcript from "FOX News Watch," January 31, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

JON SCOTT, FOX HOST: This week on FOX "News Watch," the first sit-down interview with our new president goes to an Arab TV network. How did that go over with the media in this country?

Disgraced and disgruntled, Blagojevich takes his plea to the people through the media, and the press eats it up. But did it doom the now ex-governor?

And as President Obama tries to mend the economy, are the media watching and reporting or trying to help him succeed?

What did this guy do to get on the White House black list?

Super Bowl Sunday is here. Do you care?

And after his first full week in office, you get a chance to rate the president. We'll tell you how.

On the panel this week, Jane Hall, of the American University; syndicated columnist, Cal Thomas; Jim Pinkerton, columnist and fellow for the New America Foundation; and Marisa Guthrie, programming editor for Broadcast and Cable magazine.

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


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we are looking at the region as a whole, and communicating a message to the Arab world and the Muslim world, that we are ready to initiate a new partnership, based on mutual respect and mutual interests, then I think we can make significant progress.


SCOTT: His first television interview since moving into the White House. It was a huge get, but it didn't go to Brian, Katie or Charlie, nor did it come here, to the top-rated cable news channel, also the most powerful name in news. No, this new president bestowed the honor on the Arab language network, Al-Arabiya.

Cal, apparently, according to Time magazine, there was a lot of debate in the White House abut whether or not to do that interview, especially with Al-Arabiya. Was it a smart thing?

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: This contrasts — I think when Ronald Reagan did this, he tried to speak over the heads of the Soviet leaders on Russian television, Pravda and others, but he was able get the message out of America's values and the principles of freedom. I didn't see that in this. I think the writer in the Wall Street Journal had it right, basically, the president was sending a message to Arab dictators, that, "Hey, you are safe. Unlike the Bush administration, you don't have to worry about being toppled from power." I think it was a mistake and it will come back to bite him.

SCOTT: Marisa, what it a positive message to the Arab world?

MARISA GUTHRIE, PROGRAMMING EDITOR, BROADCAST AND CABLE MAGAZINE: I think so. I think he purposefully picked Al-Arabiya because it is moderate. It is viewed as moderate in the Arab world.

SCOTT: Yeah, it is not Al-Jazeera.

GUTHRIE: It is not Al-Jazeera. He is trying to, as he said in his inauguration speech, open a dialogue with the Arab world.

SCOTT: Jane, if you want to tick off American reporters, you do something like that, right?

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, you know, I think — I guess, yes and no. Apparently, there was debate and some feeling that Matt Lauer might be the first one. So yeah, I would be angry, in a way just personally upset. But I think it is clear that it was a political agenda. It depends. Cal views it one way. Other people think that some of the actions of the previous administration have increased the danger in the world. So if you believe that, then, to reach out and say I respect the Muslim world. Apparently, from what I've seen, the Muslim world, in many ways, not unilaterally, but people were glad he did this message.

SCOTT: Was he reaching out, Jim?

JIM PINKETON, COLUMNIST & FELLOW, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: He certainly was. It reminded me of Carter in 1977, who came in replacing alleged Cold Warriors, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, and said we no longer have the inordinate fear of Communism. He made that early speech in his presidency. Obviously, the Soviets didn't play ball. I have the same feeling with Iran's leader, Ahmadinejad, who was one of the few prominently saying, I don't accept what Obama says, we are still waiting for the American apology.

SCOTT: The other big story out of the White House this week involves the president's lobbying efforts for the stimulus package. The House passed it Wednesday night, the Senate still wrangling. Our FOX News Dynamics opinion poll finds 45% of Americans believe this plan will help the economy. 18% say it will do more harm than good. 29% think Obama's plan will make no difference at all.

How would you rate the coverage this week that the plan got to, Cal?

THOMAS: I think the coverage has been lacking, with the exception of talk radio and some conservative columnists, about the exact content of this. What the administration is doing is trying to pull a fast one on the country by communicating through a lot of big media that this is really going to produce jobs, that is going to help the economy. But only on talk radio and some of the columnists and web sites are you getting full details, which are barely seeping through in the mainstream media about what this money is going for.

SCOTT: Jane, we talked about how reporters don't do economics well sometimes. Is this a case where we don't understand it?

HALL: I read a lot and I don't understand it. I read the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post. I would like to see somebody — you know, the problem is everybody has a bias. Republicans are saying they took a principle stand. Other people are writing that the Republicans — and I do think this is the spin — the Republicans are failing to cooperate. The Bush — you know, still going back to the old days of the previous administration. I don't know which is true, honestly.

PINKERTON: Speaking of bias, Betsy Stark on ABC News said the economists have studied this and conclude that a dollar of spending is $1.50 of stimulus. Got that? And a dollar of tax cuts is only 75 cents of stimulus. That is not the settled opinion by a long shot. The Cato Institute put 200 economists on the front page — a full-page ad in the New York Times denouncing that. But she jut treated it as a fact, like everybody knows it and only dummies don't think we can spend ourselves rich.

THOMAS: That's right. And if you are opposed to it, then you are opposed to making the economy better. That’s the line that is out there. You get no debate in the media, the mainstream media anyway, of the benefits and the shortcomings of this proposal.

SCOTT: Let's also9 listen to the president this week. He had a few words for Wall Street executives, who got some nice paychecks. Take a listen.


OBAMA: That is the height of responsibility. It is shameful. And part of what we're going to need is for the folks on Wall Street, who are asking for help, to show some restraint, and show some discipline and show some sense of responsibility.


SCOTT: Talking about those big Wall Street bonuses, Marisa, here in New York, a lot of Wall Streeters were defending those bonuses, saying the president doesn't understand how Wall Street works. Do they have a point?

GUTHRIE: They have a point. Aren't they taxed 50%? Don't we need the tax money here in New York? They have a point. I think his — he had to react that way to that question, because of his — the unpopularity of the stimulus so far. But it was, I think, a knee-jerk reaction.

SCOTT: All right.


PINKERTON: Tom Gardner, of Motley Fool, made the simple point that Wall Street lost $35 billion last year. That's minus 35. Yet they paid themselves 18 in bonuses. You have to be deep in the Kool-Aid for Wall Street in the current financial system to think that is fair. I'm with Obama on this.

SCOTT: Time for a break.

That may be a first. Jim's with Obama on something.


If you want to hear what we are talking about during our commercial break, got to our web site,

In two minutes, we'll be back with this.

ANNOUNCER: The disgraced Illinois governor takes his show on the road, spinning his story to all takers. But did Blago's media blitz backfire? Answers next, on "News Watch."




ROD BLAGOJEVICH, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ILLINOIS: It's a kangaroo court, Geraldo. They are basing an impeachment on a criminal allegation that their rules don't allow them to prove up and, even worse, they don't me to disprove by preventing me from calling witnesses. Then my lawyers and I believe that to be part of a process like that is to dignify a fraudulent impeachment process that sets a dangerous precedent for governors in Illinois and governors across America.


SCOTT: If you didn't get an interview with Rod Blagojevich this week, you might be the only person in the country.


That was him speaking there with FOX's Geraldo Rivera on Monday.

We have made mention, Jim, of the fact that you are from Chicago. Did that media blitz, did it do anything for him at all? He's out of a job.

PINKERTON: Exactly. No offense to all the press secretaries, and spin doctors and P.R. people, but all their good works on behalf of Blagojevich got him nothing. He was impeached almost unanimously, one vote in both legislatures in his favor, one out of 200. And it did him no-good whatsoever — all the "Oprah Winfreys," all "The Views," all the everything. The legislature in Illinois said, you are guilty, out.

SCOTT: So much for the case for taking your argument straight to the people.

HALL: Well, you know, I think this proves that you can take something serious and match it with a guy whose hair defines narcissism, and take a serious allegation and make a joke out of. In my opinion, he's great TV, but you know, Barbara Walters was among the few people who even asked him anything on "The View." Most people wanted to muss his hair, let him compare himself to Nelson Mandela. I think they should have said no. His facts aren't even right.

GUTHRIE: But they are suffering with falling ratings. They can't say no. They have to say yes. And he's great theater.

SCOTT: You cover broadcasting and cable. Should one of these hosts have said, no, we don't want you? We are not going to let you on the show?

GUTHRIE: Jane's right. Barbara tried to take a stand. It was funny, the way he was sitting in front of that screen, because she was in California — like the bad child in the principal's office. But she tried to really hammer him on the questions. He refused to answer any of the questions. He knew his 15 minutes were coming to a close. Maybe he's trying to angle for a book deal. Maybe he wants a Judge Blago show or something. He knew how this was going.

THOMAS: Court TV would be the only place he could go.

SCOTT: It is true TV.

THOMAS: Look, the media love exhibitionists, whether a politician, or Madonna or a streaker they can't help themselves. But my favorite sub-headline on this was in the New York Times, very un-New York Times. It said, "Both Blago and Elvis Have Left the Building." I loved that.

SCOTT: Did anybody win?

PINKERTON: We are not done with the story yet. There’s a criminal trial coming and he has a lot more right there is in the courtroom. And the thread that is waiting to be pulled is back to the Obama administration. He said flat out that Emanuel was — I won't say conspirator — but was in it with him in doing things. And if they subpoena Rahm Emanuel from the White House or Valerie Jarrett or the president himself, who knows? This story could take on another life in a few months.

THOMAS: Hooray!

HALL: I think he said, they are only giving me bleeping appreciation, is the way I remember what he said.

GUTHRIE: What he said is Rahm Emanuel knows I didn't do anything wrong. On the "I didn't do anything wrong" media tour.

PINKERTON: Right. It's nice of both of you to defend the White House in advance.


HALL: The facts need defending.

PINKERTON: Hold on. I'm just saying that this is a media show, not a legal show. I'm saying the media circus surrounding Blagojevich's trial will be the size of this.

SCOTT: What is next for him? You said he was great TV. Does he seriously have the prospects of some kind of a television show, at least until he goes on trial?

HALL: He might. I don't know. I don't see how this helps. The logic used to be, you either go, you go on a forgiveness tour, which is premature, or try to get a talk show out of it. I don't know somebody is going to want to put him on a talk show. I'm not sure he would be great in that way.

SCOTT: They sure wanted to put him on the news. Take a look at how he was surrounded as his impeachment case was coming to an end.


BLAGOJEVICH: Let me ask you a question. So if I asked you guys to cover me, if I want to say something, will you do it?


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Depends on what you are going to say.


SCOTT: The laughter there is, I guess, what was so interesting. He became a joke. And yet, we're talking about the governor of the fifth largest state, you know, potentially trying to sell the powers of his office, and the media are laughing about it.

THOMAS: It's media incest, Jon. they need each other. Blagojevich needed the media and the media need Blagojevich.

GUTHRIE: And I think they gave up. They just gave up. He just went on — he unspooled his spin, every show he was on. I think they thought, OK, well let's muss his hair and play along. He's good entertainment.

PINKERTON: They only wanted him for the ratings.

THOMAS: That's right.

SCOTT: I guess those ratings may be over because his career is.

There's a lot more we have to talk about this week, including the battle between the popular new president and the nation's most popular radio talk show host. Was bashing Rush a bad idea?

ANNOUNCER: The new president takes a shot at Rush Limbaugh. And the mandarin of talk radio reacts. Is there a back story to this?

And Super Bowl weekend is here. But will anybody watch. All next, on "News Watch."


SCOTT: Here are congressional leaders after they held a meeting with President Obama last week. At that meeting, the president offered this council to Republicans. He said, "You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done." Well, that sentence ignited a war of words between the president and the talk show host and their respective supporters. It gave Rush a lot of good material.

What about the wisdom of that? You know Rush. Was it smart for the president to go after him?

THOMAS: The Democrats have needed to have an enemy in the past. Some will remember Newt Gingrich and Time magazine's cover, the "Gingrich who stole Christmas," when the Republicans were anything. I'm surprised that given the huge majorities that the president has in the Congress that he feels the need to demonize Rush Limbaugh. And if members of Congress are spending three hours of the day listening to Rush, I'm wondering why they are not doing any work.


SCOTT: Smart politics?

HALL: Let's remember who took the first shot. I believe Rush Limbaugh said, "I hopes he fails," on Hannity.

THOMAS: Oh, now you're making it a contest.

HALL: I mean, hello. Then Rush Limbaugh says he's making it about me! I mean, you know...

SCOTT: He said he hoped he failed at his liberal policies.

HALL: OK, All right.

THOMAS: That's the big difference.

HALL: But it was a very provocative statement. And for him to act like he's victimized by this. I thought that was a very strange response.

PINKERTON: I think it's very clear that the Democratic administration sees the conservative media as more of a threat than the Republicans in Congress. So whether it is Ann Coulter they're after or pushing the Fairness Doctrine or some sort of local content provision for talk radio or going after Limbaugh, they are doing their best to diabolize their real enemies in the body politic. And it is going to be an interesting test of the conservative movement, whether they rally around the people who are walking the plank for them.

SCOTT: One of the questions I guess is who is leading the conservative movement these days?

PINKERTON: Look, back in 1994, Newt Gingrich gave Limbaugh an award for being a, quote, "majority maker" back then. In the media world, the smartest, most articulate voices go to the top. And that is, Limbaugh, and not the congressional Republicans.

SCOTT: Is this a few that is maybe good for both sides?

GUTHRIE: It's great for Rush.

SCOTT: I mean, you know, Rush gets his listeners energized and the people who voted for President Obama think that he's really taking on the right wing.

GUTHRIE: I think it was a mistake for Obama to engage him. U.S. Rep. Gingrey went and apologized — he was supporting what Obama said. And he even invoked Sean Hannity and others, and then had to go on — and then was getting all these calls at his office and had to go on Rush Limbaugh's show and grovel and apologize.

THOMAS: When the president of the United States talks about a talk show host, he elevates him even further to a level of equality with the president of the United States!

GUTHRIE: Exactly. Exactly.

SCOTT: Some have said there are a lot of issues on the front burner. You've got the economy in the tank. You've got Iran. You've got everything else going on. Should taking on Rush Limbaugh be the president's top priority?

HALL: I think, Jim — I want to agree with Jim on something. That will be a surprise here today. I do think there's a perception maybe that the congressional Republicans are afraid to take on Obama. They know how big a margin he got.

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