This is a rush transcript from "FOX News Watch," February 14, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
BILL HEMMER, GUEST HOST: This week on FOX "News Watch," President Obama works hard to sell the stimulus. Did it work with the press?
Plus, is the White House effort to over the census a play to control the vote? And did most of the major media miss this major story.
What's the real story behind Judd Gregg's dropout?
More economic news hits the headlines, but is the coverage causing people to panic?
Then, a feeding frenzy after A-Rod says he used steroids. Were his civil rights violated by a press leak?
Here she comes. Happy Valentine's Day, the S.I. swimsuit issue is here.
On the panel, Jane Hall, the American University; syndicated columnist, Cal Thomas; Jim Pinkerton, writer and fellow, New America Foundation; and Marisa Guthrie, programming editor for Broadcasting and Cable magazine.
I'm Bill Hemmer, in this week for Jon Scott, and FOX "News Watch" starts right now.
It's been a busy week for President Obama. On Monday, he sold his stimulus plan at a town hall meeting in Elkhart, Indiana. That night, he appeared on television taking questions in his first prime time press conference. Tuesday, off to Florida for another town hall meeting; Wednesday, Springfield, Virginia, at a highway construction site; Thursday, East Peoria, Illinois, to a Caterpillar factory.
That's when this bombshell hit. New Hampshire Republican Senator Judd Gregg announced he was withdrawing his nomination for commercial secretary. Listen here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JUDD GREGG, (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: The president asked me to do it. I said yes. That was my mistake, not his. Well, maybe it was his, depending on how you look at it. But it was my mistake obviously to say yes because it wasn't my personality. After 30 years of being myself, it would have been hard to assume another role where I couldn't have been 100% all the time, the team player that he needed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HEMMER: The team player said he couldn't give 110%. He's out.
Time for our panel. That's topic number one.
Jim, what about this topic?
JIM PINKERTON, WRITER & FELLOW, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Certainly, it says something bad about the cabinet, doesn't it? You go from being a Senator to being a lackey in his view. There's a lot of truth in that about the cabinet reference.
I think the real story here is what made Gregg change his mind.
HEMMER: Stimulus or census?
PINKERTON: I think — remember, everybody knew what President Obama's stimulus package would be like two months ago, three months ago, and Gregg didn't mind that. What clearly got under his skin was the issue of the census and the clear realization, as Republicans were pointed out to him, that the census, the biggest thing the Commerce Department has to do — the Commerce Department is not exactly the most important agency we have. The only most important function they have is the census. And for Gregg to be told that Rahm Emanuel is going to be running that from the White House and changing the numbers around, I think was too humiliating.
So he was very gracious. Again, a lot of this, I made a mistake stuff going around now, which to their credit to the people who apologize, and I think Gregg had no choice.
HEMMER: Everybody's saying their sorry these days.
Marisa, why isn't television covering this story?
MARISA GUTHRIE, PROGRAMMING EDITOR, BROADCASTING & CABLE: Well, they were just slow to get to it. On Thursday when Gregg withdrew, there was barely a mention of it. And he downplayed it. Their reaction...
HEMMER: Specifically, on the census, there's no coverage.
You've seen it on the "FOX News" channel but nowhere else, Cal.
CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: The real cat came out of the bag when Barbara Lee, Congresswoman, part of the Black Caucus news conference, advocating for the White House. She had been assured, she said, that the White House was going to handle the census. At that point, it appeared that Judd Gregg said, wait a minute, a major thing to be taken away from me. We've got the news conference.
Let me tell you something else that's going on here. Not only the terrorist, our enemies, sense weakness in America, so does the Congress. The Congress has run this show since the day of the inauguration. Obama has not demonstrated — and that's why he's going on this magical mystery tour. He ought to be in Washington governing, not out doing photo ops.
HEMMER: You're say the Democrats on the House and the Senate side are doing that.
Jane, why is it so important for the White House to have control over the census? What does it gain them?
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: It's who's counted and who gets to vote. Unlike some people, I don't think that is the only reason or even maybe the main reason Gregg resigned. It was a principal decision for him to withdraw. According to the Obama people, Gregg sought them out. He withdraws. They get another person back in the Senate, they get the votes for filibuster. That is also a factor. Let's be honest.
HEMMER: How do you think the media handled his departure this week, Jim?
PINKERTON: First, we have to sort out a few things. According to the Obama people, Gregg wanted the job. According to Gregg, an intermediary approached him. The clear story here is missed.
Look, I think the media just didn't pay attention to this all important issues. I think it was The Washington Post that first mentioned...
PINKERTON: That's where you read it. I haven't seen it on television anyway
PINKERTON: That's where I read it. It's a little tiny squib. Certainly wasn't on the front page. I think the reporters were slow to realize — for example, what I remember when I worked at the Bush 41 White House way back when, the Detroit census of 1990 came in at like 990,000 and Coleman Young called up and said, I demand we be a million because there's a new category of urban aid.
HEMMER: Sometimes that's the way it happens in this.
PINKERTON: That's exactly how it happens.
HEMMER: We know how critical it can be.
PINKERTON: And who do you want to call. You want Rahm Emanuel to answer the phone or some career bureaucrat in the Census Bureau? You'd much rather have Emanuel is you're a Democratic member.
HEMMER: Let me move on.
PINKERTON: Hold on! I'm not implying — hold on...
HEMMER: I'm losing at the moment.
PINKERTON: I'm accusing.
HALL: You certainly are.
HEMMER: On Monday night, Marisa, you had $50 million people watching the prime-time press conference. What did you think of the 13 questions asked by the White House press corps?
GUTHRIE: They were mostly predictable. There were a couple of interesting questions. Major Garrett's question about what exactly Joe Biden was talking about when they were talking about the 30% wrong, 70% right. I don't think Obama expected that one. And the question about the flag-draped coffins. But all the other questions were predictable. He answered in long, deliberate sentences.
HEMMER: First answer was 13 minutes long.
THOMAS: It's like he's doing a speech. The White House press corps is going to rebel at this eventually. He pre-selected the people he was going to call on. Then he had no idea where they were.
HEMMER: But that's typically though, right?
THOMAS: No, not necessarily.
HEMMER: But there's a list on the podium and he knows who to ask.
THOMAS: There's a list, yeah. But previously, Bush 43 had a diagram of where they were. He said, ah, ah, where are you. Helen Thomas was the only one he recognized because she was sitting right there in the front. But they're not going go for this for very long.
THOMAS: No follow up either.
HALL: I have been saying on this show for a couple of weeks — and I thought the press conference really proved it. He does not enjoy mixing it up with the press. I mean, he makes George W. Bush look like a guy that loved the media. He called on people. He didn't know who they were. He gave a ten-minute answer. He gave very accurate answers clearly designed to go right over the heads of the media and try to make the appeal to the American people. I thought it was really amazing.
HEMMER: I thought it was amazing that 50 million people watched it. Really. Truly, there is curiosity out there still. And there is fear, too, with the economy.
HALL: And it's important for him.
HEMMER: Listen, we're off to a good start, but I got to get a break, OK?
Time for a break. And if you want to hear what we're talking about, head to our website, www.FOXnews.com/FOXnewswatch. We are back in two minutes with this.
ANNOUNCER: We're all socialists now? Is coverage of our economy helping or hurting America? And it's that time of year. The "Sports Illustrated" swim suit issue is here. All next, on "News Watch."
(FOX NEWS BREAK)
HEMMER: "We're all socialists now," that is the headline of the cover of Newsweek magazine. It got a lot of attention this week. It's all part of the fear stalking Americans as the media struggles now to cover the economic situation here in the U.S.
Back with our panel now. Cal Thomas leads the segment.
THOMAS: I'm so honored.
HEMMER: You should be.
HEMMER: How do you think, in general, the press handled this? Have they fanned the flames of the economic situation or is that even our job?
THOMAS: It is a great question. One of the questions at the president's news conference was, Mr. President, do you think you're contributing to the economic turmoil by talking down the economy. There are a lot of hopeful stories out there. Look at the guy who piloted the U.S. airplane. He's been all over the place. People want hope, positive stuff. People don't just want to hear the song we shall overcome, they want to see people who have overcome.
So in the midst of going to — for the photo op and the news conference in Elkhart, Indiana, why don't we hear about the people who, through difficult times, have overcome? Where's the sun will come out tomorrow? Where's Annie when we need here?
HEMMER: Jane, is he talking down the economy for his own benefit?
HALL: Roger Simon, in Politico, had a pretty funny line where he said, Obama's got to scare us to death and reassure us.
He's got get this thing passed.
HEMMER: That's a big job.
HALL: It's a big job. Unlike FDR, he's in a 24/7 news cycle. We're in dire times. He is obviously trying to push the message that we need to act so he can get Congress to act. And the media, I think, are reflecting most people feeling about this economy.
HEMMER: Do you think the media's been responsible on the economy?
PINKERTON: I think they are struggling with an unbelievable amount of information. People have been making the facts about how long it would take to read the stimulus package. It would take a week of solid reading. Congressman Shimkus figured out — a good example of the media-friendly factoid — how much money per word the stimulus package represents.
HEMMER: I would love to know that. You've got a thousand pages in that thing.
PINKERTON: I think that — look, I think the real undertone here is the kind of skepticism and pessimism about this stimulus package among reporters. David Korn...
HEMMER: Can we all admit that nobody knows what the right answer is here? It doesn't matter if you're on Wall Street or a politician down there?
PINKERTON: We can't admit that. But we can also — even, I think, a lot of liberal reporters think that this stimulus package, written by the House Democrats, is just same old stuff. And there's just a great deal of feeling they have this is not going to work.
HEMMER: I want to talk about Tim Geithner. He's part of this, too. He gave a speech on Tuesday. The media panned him. His speech was less than convincing, Maria.
GUTHRIE: It got very bad reviews.
HEMMER: Why do you think that was the case?
GUTHRIE: Because it was so vague. And, you know, here we are on the brink of a second disaster in the banking industry, and he comes out and he doesn't say very much that's reassuring or forceful enough. And I think he was roundly excoriated for that performance.
HEMMER: I think it was more than the lack of specifics. I think it had to do with performance.
HEMMER: President Obama is really good at reading the teleprompter. But a lot of people can do it, but not every member of your cabinet can do it.
HEMMER: He tried it, the Treasury Department and it...
THOMAS: This is a guy who was sold by the administration as the only man in America who could fix the economic — the only person qualified to be treasury secretary. And he comes out there and does the old Jackie Gleason bit on the "Honeymooners," humma, humma, humma, humma. Not very confidence building.
HALL: Obama said, wait, wait, I'm not going to answer your questions about this, wait for Tim Geithner. He'll be terrific. It's kind of a bad buildup.
HEMMER: I was wondering if Obama even knew what the specifics would be the next day because there were so many side steps on that issue, Jim?
PINKERTON: The real joke about Geithner is he's taking the Hank Paulson plan and doing it again, only three or four times bigger. The TARP was a big disaster last fall, and I think the fear, again — a lot of reporters — Slate.com was all over this — had the same feeling this is more of the same, which is to say, not good.
HEMMER: On "America's Newsroom," which is a show I normally host Monday through Friday, with Meagan Kelly.
THOMAS: Nice plug.
HEMMER: 11 a.m. eastern standard time, we like to find the silver lining in the economy. And you can find it here and there. You have to look for it, given all the headlines we're seeing so far. But we try and find it every day, by the way, Monday through Friday.
HEMMER: Cal liked that.
Time for another break. Back to talk about a new "Dateline" show that aims to catch a war criminal. True story, after this.
ANNOUNCER: He did it. Baseball's Alex Rodriguez admits he used steroids.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEX RODRIGUEZ, MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PLAYER: I'm sorry. I'm sorry for that time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HEMMER: And the media had a field day.
Plus, magazines having a tough time these days, but this one is still sitting pretty. Next, on "News Watch."
HEMMER: Who is this woman? Chances are you've never heard of her. She's is Selena Roberts, and she's been described as A-Rod's worst nightmare. She's a reporter for Sports Illustrated. She and her colleague, David Epstein, broke the news that baseball superstar Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids back in 2003. The news appeared about a week ago on Saturday on the S.I. web site, set off a media feeding frenzy that has not stopped.
There is this cheeky cover from the New York Post and the S.I. as well — Sports Illustrated.
On Monday, after years of denying steroid use to Katie Couric and others on "60 Minutes," the press, and Alex Rodriguez — or Rodriguez appeared, rather, with Peter Gammons in an extended interview on ESPN. Here's part of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RODRIQUEZ: I did take a banned substance. And, you know, for that I'm very sorry and deeply regretful.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HEMMER: All right. So our conversation then goes, first off, to the reporter, Selena Roberts. Should she have given up this information? I thought in the end, that grand jury testimony was top secret. Apparently not.
HALL: Well, you know, the San Francisco paper, I believe, got the grand jury testimony about Barry Bonds. It was old information. And I think she portrayed it accurately, as this is what we know. What's interesting to me, he then goes on trashing her, saying she's stalking him, because she went to his home in Florida. I don't think that's going to play too well.
PINKERTON: It's important to put it right here that the police say they have no record of Rodriguez complaining about any stalking at the time. So one is most likely to conclude that the multi-hundred million dollar P.R. operation that exists around A-Rod was making stuff up to smear and discredit her. And hats off to Sports Illustrated for standing by her and her colleague.
HEMMER: All right.
GUTHRIE: Also, if he is doing something that is clearly against policy of Major League Baseball and then gets caught, he really doesn't have a lot of ethical ground to stand on and criticize the reporter for doing her job.
HEMMER: Who is throwing stones, Cal?
THOMAS: Look, we kicked this subject around. Jane mentioned Barry Bonds, there was Barry McGuire. I was Barry McGuire wasn't it?
HEMMER: Mark McGuire.
THOMAS: Pardon me, Barry McGuire was a singer with the Beach Boys.
THOMAS: Anyway, one of those. I get them a little mixed up.
Anyway, there is a little conspiracy going on here, actually a big one, between the media, the baseball owners, players and agents. They need to put behinds in the seats. They need to have big ratings on television. They want the big home run hitters to knock them out in the park. That's what brings in the ratings and the commercials. So everybody's in this together.
HEMMER: I thought it was a smart move for Rodriguez to do the interview on ESPN and get it behind him before spring training starts in just about a week's time.
HEMMER: I want to turn quickly to another story we're watching through out the week. NBC News, which brought up the "Dateline" franchise "To Catch a Predator" is now branching out. It was a hugely successful program. Producers are working on a new series aimed at — brace yourself — war criminals living here in the United States.
The New York Times reports this last week that at least one instance, producers travel to a college campus with a prostitute out of Rwanda to confront a professor on charges of genocide. The Department of Homeland Security has concerns about this and, in a statement, they say, "We have significant concerns that a program of this kind could negatively impact law enforcement's ability to investigate and bring cases against the perpetrators of these horrible crimes." The network's response, "NBC News is engaged in an independent investigation of alleged war criminals and terrorists living in the United States and elsewhere. Any contact with foreign government has been consistent with acceptable journalistic practices."
Marisa, that's the background. Do you have an issue with this? Or is it the media's job?
GUTHRIE: I think it's a terrible concept, very flawed. If you're taking the word of a prosecutor from a third-world country ruled by one tribe and you're working with them, you need to be a little skeptical about what they're saying. War crimes are very murky. These aren't pedophiles.
HEMMER: The previous segment went very well with viewers. It got them in a little bit of legal hot water along the way too, Jim?
PINKERTON: Right. There's much to be said for catching war criminals wherever they are. However, I think the moral hazard here for NBC to say, look, we've got somebody. We've we got footage of them, video. and if he turns out to be innocent, as happened in the John Danaya (ph) case 20 years ago, well, we're still going to do it anyway, because we got so much video of this guy looking guilty. I don't really trust NBC to say, well, gee, we were wrong, wasted a whole year of investigation because the guy didn't do it.
HEMMER: One more breaks. We'll be back in two minutes with this.
ANNOUNCER: In a bad economic year, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue has a lot more than bikinis riding on its success. We'll explain next, on "News Watch."
HEMMER: There has been a lot of bad news regarding our economy the job losses, drop in retail sales and the sinking stock prices. But with all of our economic problems, is there a surefire way to turn a profit in this economy? The New York Post in the headline of the week: At last a real stimulus is here. Put a gorgeous woman on a government magazine in a barely-there bikini and turn it into a marketing machine.
This year's Sports Illustrated swim suit issue is now here, and the magazine is using new techniques to bring in the money. Check it out. This year, Time Warner, which owns "Sports Illustrated" has turned its own promotional efforts in the magazine into moneymakers, a move expected to bring in about $3 million for this issue alone. That's what some people familiar with the programs say.
For example, the magazine teamed up with Pepsi's Sobi drink brand, which is sponsoring YouTube videos of the women featured in the issue frolicking on the Canary Islands and in Naples, Italy, as well as other exotic locations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to figure out these fourth-quarter sales numbers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HEMMER: $3 million for the magazine, we say.
In addition, check out the airplane. Southwest Airlines, a plane emblazoned with the swimsuit model, Bar Rafeli. 100 people, including two dozen models and VIPs flying on this jet to attend a launch party for the swimsuit issue in Las Vegas. The airline plans to use the Boeing 737 dubbed S.I. 1 on regular routes for the next two months. Bar is not included.
You can find some of the magazine's beautiful models online. Si.com has more than 1500 pictures from the photo shoot, an effort that generated more than a half a billion page views from last year's swimsuit edition.
So is there a media lesson here, it could be that even in a tough media market and there are still plenty of ways to build buzz and create revenue. Of course, selling sexy images of women on the beach certainly helps.
And that's where we leave this show this week.
Thanks to Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, Cal Thomas Marisa Guthrie.
I'm a Bill Hemmer. Think you are watching. Keep it right here on the "FOX News" channel. The "FOX Report" comes your way next.
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