This is a rush transcript from "FOX News Watch," February 7, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
JON SCOTT, HOST: On FOX "News Watch," the president says "sorry" after tax problems plague his cabinet picks. Will he get pounded by the press Monday nights?
We paid big bucks to bail out the banks. But who's following the money? The media watchdogs are, and they keep catching the fat cats as they fritter it all away.
Plus, a swimming sensation's dopey move is caught on camera and the press pounces on Michael Phelps.
From medical miracle to suspicious stories, have reporters changed their tune about the mother of those California octuplets.
On the panel this week: Jane Hall, of the American University; Rich Lowry of the "National Review," Jim Pinkerton, columnist and fellow of the New American Foundation; and writer and "FOX News" contributor, Judith Miller.
I'm Jon Scott. FOX "News Watch" is on right now!
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What became clear to me is that we can't send a message to the American people that we've got two sets of rules, one for prominent people and one for ordinary people. So I consider this a mistake on my part. And one that I intend to fix and correct and make sure that we're not screwing up again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: President Obama there, talking with "FOX News Sunday” host Chris Wallace.
Rich, he made that apology over and over and over again with every successive network anchor. Was that a smart move?
RICH LOWRY, NATIONAL REVIEW: It wasn't ideally what he wanted to talk about in those interviews. He wanted to be selling the stimulus plan. But people like hearing apologies from politicians. Go back to JFK after Bay of Pigs or Bill Clinton after he lost — after his first term of governor as Arkansas, he went on and made an apology. People like hearing it. It's a very conscious effort to counter-program after George W. Bush about whom there was an image he would never admit a mistake.
SCOTT: Did he have to do that? He was supposed to be calling them in there to win over the stimulus. Instead he ends up apologizing for Tom Daschle.
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: I think he has to take responsibility for it. The regrettable thing was — my favorite sound bite was that he and Michelle went to a little elementary school nearby, which was also scheduled the same day. He had these interviews to sell the stimulus, but Daschle was the distraction for sure, because how did that happen, and he took responsibility. He wasn't there to do those interviews about Daschle. He was there to talk about the stimulus.
JIM PINKERTON, COLUMNIST & FELLOW, NEW AMERICAN FOUNDATION: There was a funny little moment. Brian Williams had his interview of the five. And at the end of his broadcast, he say, a funny thing happened. We were sitting in the West Wing waiting to do interview. We got word the president was leaving in a limousine to go to this school trip, which apparently was completely impromptu, leaving these interviewers, anchormen cooled their heels, waiting for him to come back. They waited. Because that's what the president gets to do. But what Obama didn't answer in that question was one standard, for Daschle and Nancy Killefer. But what about Geithner? Was he too big to fail?
JUDITH MILLER, WRITER & FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: He was getting out ahead of the story. He was shaping the story, trying to divert attention through the apology, which I agree, Jane, he should have done.
But it's not just these nominations. He screwed up this week with Zinni offered one job, ambassador to Iraq. Zinni went out complaining, I thought I had this job, and it was offered to somebody else. There was Bill Richardson.
The story should have been what about all this vetting that's supposed to go on. What about the no-drama Obama. Don't we have a competent team here? And all that got lost because he apologized. It was a shrewd good more.
SCOTT: It was also the language he used in the apology. If President Bush had come out two weeks into his term and said, I screwed up, wouldn't he have been roasted in the press?
RICH: Probably. Jim makes a great point. Why was there a different standard with Geithner? It goes to the point that there was still this narrative in place that this was the greatest of all the transitions and the best vetting process that had ever taken place on the planet earth. Therefore, this guy gets through although — he's a tax cheat. He does not meet Barack Obama standards.
SCOTT: Is the White House still rolling on that kind of preconceived notion?
HALL: The media were writing about how this would rival the team of rivals. Everybody gets held up on one metaphor. This is going to be the transition to end all transitions. It seems to have not been too serious, the vetting, and the American people do not want people paying taxes to get them out of this economic crisis. That's just true.
SCOTT: Now, Jim, the president is holding this prime time news conference Monday night. Is that because his whole dog and pony show with the network anchors was derailed?
PINEKRTON: He's got to sell this program. He needs to be better scripted than he was Thursday night when he went before the House Democrats and sort of ranted, to put it bluntly. He needs to get on message, on script, and figure out how to sell his program. So far, he hasn't done it.
SCOTT: So if Jim is right, why sell it with a news conference and not a speech, Judy?
MILLER: Because I think he knows he has an uphill fight with the Senate. I think there's an issue here of kind of Senate envy.
SCOTT: What happened to his popularity? Two weeks in office.
MILLER: A lot of Senators still can't believe this guy, who was there for a nanosecond, is president, and they're pushing back.
HALL: I also thought the honeymoon was declared over by the media. It was like a Las Vegas divorce. It was two weeks of marriage, two weeks of adulation. Now they're declaring he lost control of the agenda. I don't think it's that extreme but that's a lot of the punditry was.
RICH: There's an E.J. Dionne column, a liberal columnist in the Washington Post, that concluded with the great insight that no president walks on water. Given the way the coverage has been with this guy, that's a news flash. That's a headline. That should have been on top of Drudge.
SCOTT: Well, he also seems to be having his problems. And the media are picking up on this. He's having his problems with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.
PINKERTON: Yeah. As every member of Congress will tell you, under the Constitution, Article One is the powers of legislature. Article Two is the president. Because of the media focus on the presidency and the first lady and the first dog and so on, we tend to forget that Harry Reid will wake up every day thinking they should be running the country from Capitol Hill, not from the White House.
MILLER: Aren't they not members of a co-equal branch.
SCOTT: We're going to take a break. But if you'd like to hear what we're talking about during that commercial time, you can hear it on our Web site, www.FOXnews.com/FOXnewswatch. We'll be back in two minutes.
ANNOUNCER: America's golden boy gets caught smoking pot. Did the media protest too much? And big banks getting bailouts? Planned big cat boondoggles. And the press sticks it to them. All next, on "News Watch."
(FOX NEWS BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ContiGroup's jet, or planned jet purchase. And Wells Fargo retreated to win. Both didn't happen because of the diligent work of many in the reporting of these and the outcry that ensued. You don't have to have a rule or regulation to insure that the American people know what to get mad at.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: I think that was a compliment from the White House press secretary. Robert Gibbs there on Wednesday admitting that the media did most of the heavy lifting when it comes to keeping an eye on the way the bailout money is being spent by banks and other financial institutions.
In fact, here's a list of the lavish plans reported on by the press since last fall. Wells Fargo, who received $25 billion in bailout money, cancelled their annual executives' 12-day trip to Las Vegas, that banking capital. Morgan Stanley received $10 billion in bailout. It hosted a conference at a five-star Palm Beach resort. Bank of America received $45 billion in bailout money, paid out $4 billion in bonuses to failed company executives. Citigroup received $45 billion in bailout funds. Now they're reconsidering paying New York Mets $400 million in naming rights for the new baseball park. AIG received $85 million in bailout cash, spent $440,000 on executive spa treatments.
Rich, should the media being congratulated for being such watch dogs?
LOWRY: I think this is the government working at cross purposes. Do you know how many jobs are created on manufacturing of Gulf Stream jets? People work at five-star resorts.
SCOTT: It is true. You cancel one of those conferences and you put a lot of waiters and busboys at a disadvantage.
RICH: Of course.
MILLER: (INAUDIBLE) a big story for the New York Times of the crisis of the private jet makers and how many jobs were being lost.
PINKERTON: See, Jon.
RICH: Obviously, government has its claws in these institutions. So the public, the press, everyone else is going to have a say about how they run themselves and conduct their businesses.
PINKERTON: This is why some of us opposed the bailout last fall because the government simply can't manage all the things it usually does, foreign wars, environmental regulations plus fly-inspecting every line of every budget item of every corporation in America.
Let's face it, the whole point of being a capitalist is get rich and spend money at lavish resorts and things like that. You can't do that if you don't have capitalism. But you can't have the taxpayers paying for it.
SCOTT: Is it a job best left to the media?
HALL: I think the media did a really good job. I don't think it should be left to the media. We talked about this. There was a lot of rah-rah coverage in the media while everybody was celebrating. And the media was part of the problem.
I think it gives people something to hang on to. Brian Ross at ABC broke the story about the automakers coming to ask for money on corporate jets. I think that's a symbol that everybody can see. Having a huge event where you're still getting money, everybody can see the hypocrisy in that. So, yes, the media deserves some credit.
SCOTT: There were charges of hypocrisy, too, Rich, going back to the question of some of these nominees who have had tax problems. If these were Republicans in a Republican administration, they would have been roasted. Have the media given Democrats a break?
LOWRY: I think that's right when it comes to Geithner. I think Geithner got a free pass. The really good reporting was done by "National Reviews" (INAUDIBLE), in New York. and Jon Kyl, a Republican from Arizona, who asked him would you have paid your taxes in '01 and '02 that the statute of limitations expired on, if you hadn't been nominated to the post. That was the key thing that nailed him in my mind as a tax cheat. And it happened on Capitol Hill, not in the press.
MILLER: The president is having trouble getting votes for his stimulus package. The fact that all this money was given to corporations and it was spent in this manner, Michael Shnayerson from the Vanity Fair reported there were $16 to $18 billion in bonuses raises questions about what's going to happen to the stimulus package. Will it be better managed?
LOWRY: That bonus number's. That's not all the companies that received TARP funds. That's an entire universe of bonuses. I don't think that's fair.
MILLER: But it's what people remember.
PINKERTON: One company that will come to mind is General Electric which got a $139 billion loan guarantee. If President Obama means it about the $500,000 caps on senior executives, does that apply to Jeff (INAUDIBLE), who made $20 million in 2008? And there's like another five or six executives, all who made over $10 million. Do they get the $500,000 cap? By the way, what about Keith Olbermann and Brain Williams, Matt Lauer?
SCOTT: Jim Pinkerton, CPA.
Time for another break. We're going to be back to talk about why so many journalists decided to join the Obama administration, and how news of a medical miracle morphs into something quite different.
ANNOUNCER: A woman gives birth to octuplets. The headlines change from miracle mom to ethical failure. Is this story their gain for the media? And Michael Phelps takes a hit from a bong and from the press. Details next, on "News Watch."
SCOTT: By all accounts, President Obama has appeared very comfortable in his new role and with the media. Could that be because so many members of the mainstream media have been taking off their press credentials and putting on the Obama White House press badge? Actually not even a press badge. They're employees.
Here are some of the former media folks who have moved into the White House. Linda Douglas a former Washington correspondent for CBS and ABC. Jay Carney; Time magazine's former Washington bureau chief. Douglas Frantz, the former managing editor of the Los Angeles Times; and Dr. Sanjay Gupta, medical correspondent from CNN, likely to become the next surgeon general.
What do you think about that, Rich? Is it a case of if you can't beat them, join them?
LOWRY: Obviously, it's always been a permeable world between politics and the press. But I do think mainstream media outlets, by and large, the people that work there share the same values, sensibilities and political views as Barack Obama and most liberal Democratic politicians, so it doesn't surprise me to see this.
SCOTT: Anything wrong with it, Judy?
MILLER: It's happened before. It tends to happen less in Republican administrations. But I think there is some question about some people joining the administration getting access to classified information and subpoena power in some cases, and then what happens when they go back armed with that information and that kind of sense of themselves? It is an interesting trend that the media, I don't think, have spent enough time thinking about.
HALL: Well, you know, it is true that Tony Snow and other people have gone into Republican administrations. I interviewed Tim Russert about this a long time ago. His theory was, you can go through the door once. You can't go over and over. You can't go back and fourth. Pat Buchanan has run for office and come back. It is more permeable than it should be, I think.
SCOTT: Jim, you've worked for White Houses. You're also in the media. Is there a problem with this?
PINKERTON: I think talent is talent. If you're good at what you do, why not. Probably the best press secretary ever, Jim Hangerton (ph), Eisenhower's press secretary, he was a former reporter. If you know the media and you know your business and the president wants you to do the job, why not?
LOWRY: FDR's right-hand man, Irving Howell, former newspaper man. It's a long-standing tradition.
SCOTT: Let's switch gears to another story we've been following, the California octuplets and their mother. First, the headlines when the birth was announced January 26. "Surprise, eighth babies marks small miracle." I can't read. That was in the New York Times. As more details came out about the mother — she already has six kids under the age of seven — headlines like this one appeared. "Octuplets mother also gives birth to ethical debate." That mother, Nadya Suleman, is speaking out, giving her first interview to NBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NADYA SULEMAN, MOTHER OF OCTUPLETS: I mean, I feel as though I've been under the microscope because I've chosen this unconventional kind of life. And I didn't intend on it being unconventional. But it turned out to be. All I wanted was be a mother. That's all I ever wanted in my life. I love my children.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: The media narrative has been changing, Jane. What do you think about that? Should the press have asked more questions, you know, from the get-go.
HALL: This is really an ethical dilemma because there are people who say that responsible people wouldn't have implanted a 33-year-old woman with this many embryos and let her bring them to term. Others say she should be allowed as many babies as she can. Now that she's making overtures, or is at least hiring people to pay her for interviews, and wants to be a child care expert, then the cynicism and media are going to report on it and interview her and be glad to have her.
SCOTT: What did she say, "I didn't set out to be unusual, something like that. That's what she told Ann Curry. She left them implant eight embryos.
MILLER: She could have chosen to have fewer children, and chose not to. I think this is the natural progression we're seeing of a story. That is, you get a little information, eight babies amazing. Then you get more information. Then you find out that the taxpayer is probably going to wind up paying for her eight babies. And there is no Mr. Suleman. And all the questions are raised. And I think they're appropriate because of what happened. She's become the ultimate celebrity octu-mom. It will last...
LOWRY: She didn't have a lot of competition.
LOWRY: But self analysis doesn't make a lot of sense to me. One of the things she said in that "Today" show interview was, when she was a child, she didn't feel she had control over her environment. This is why she wanted kids. If there's one thing that's going to create a chaotic environment, is 14 kids.
PINKERTON: I want to investigate the doctors who did this. This strikes me as a slam dunk violation of the Hippocratic Oath. Eight children at once in a womb is not a healthy thing for these children. They're going to have medical problems all their lives most likely.
SCOTT: We have to take one more break. When we come back, how do you tarnish a golden image?
ANNUONCER: Record breaking superstar swimmer Michael Phelps gets dumped in a sea of bad press. Has the reaction been fair? That's next, on "News Watch."
SCOTT: Michael Phelps won 14 gold medals at the Olympics, but is he now drowning in media criticism. In November the golden boy athlete was caught on camera taking marijuana hit from a bomb at the University of South Carolina. Somebody sold the photo to a London tabloid, "The News of the World." Guess what? They decided to run it on their front page.
Did Phelps make a mistake? Yes, he admitted he screwed up and he apologized. That didn't stop the old media from diving into the Phelps pool of good-boy image. The media expects a lot from heroes and they didn't let him off easy.
The photo also created quite a buzz in news media circles. It was all over youtube.com, late night TV commentary and even Twitter. Here's a sample.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not trying to get all — not trying to get all this publicity because he wanted more fans on Facebook, more than Obama.
UNIDENTIEID MALE: Oh, my god. He's 23, on top of the world. And he unwinds a little in his off season by partying with friends and hitting a bong. So (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obviously, he's a guy who spends more time in the library than the library. But that's just (INAUDIBLE) You're not much improving the accuracy of drug testing for going out and testing all of the drugs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were very pissed off on finding out these people on the street are smoking drugs, and stuff, and then it's like Michael Phelps is doing it. And it's like should we be mad?
DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE NIGHT": He's serious. He's going to concentrate and continue to swim. Today he joined the relay team with Cheech and Chong. (LAUGHTER). And then they ate his medal.
JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": The economy is so bad, Michael Phelps had to share a bong. That's how bad it is.
WHOOPI GOLDBERG, ACTRESS: Adult manhood to make an admission and I hope you all are sitting down. I have to say, you know, I have smoked weed. I am sorry — yes?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: On Thursday, Kellogg's announced it would terminate his endorsement deal. But several of his sponsors, including Speedo, Visa and Omega, are standing behind him. We all make mistakes. One of the great things about Americans is they stand ready to forgive just about anybody, except maybe O.J.
But Michael, you're a 23-year-old Olympian who has done things no other human being has ever done. Here's some advice. Next time you're invited to a college party where people are smoking pot and everyone is carrying a cell phone camera, just say no.
That's all the time we have this week.
Thanks to Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, Rich Lowry and Judy Miller.
I'm Jon Scott. Thank you for joining us. Keep it here the FOX News channel. The "FOX Report" is up next. See you next week for "News Watch".
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