Transcript: 'FOX News Watch,' February 21, 2009

This is a rush transcript from "FOX News Watch," February 21, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETCHEN CARLSON, FOX GUEST HOST: This week on FOX "News Watch," Obama gets out of town to promote his economic agenda. Is he trying to escape from the Washington press corps?

Our new attorney general says, when it comes to race, we're a nation of cowards. What did the media make of his remarks?

Sarah Palin's daughter sits down with an exclusive Greta interview seen all around the world.

The pope and Pelosi. Did the press bury the pontiff's message to the speaker?

Also, the man, the myth, the puppet? Finally, retires from the business.

And the first 100 days, as seen through the eyes of a very special man.

On the panel this week, Jane Hall, of the American University; Cal Thomas, syndicated columnist, Cal Thomas; Jim Pinkerton, columnist and fellow with the New America Foundation; and Kirsten Powers, New York Post columnist and FOX News analyst.

I'm Gretchen Carlson. FOX "News Watch" is on right now.

Could you keep up with him this week? President Obama extremely busy starting in Denver this Tuesday signing the stimulus bill. Then he was in Phoenix on Wednesday, where nearly half of all real estate transactions are foreclosures, to unveil his plan to shore up the housing market. On Thursday, the president made his first trip abroad to Canada to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. On Friday, back to Washington, addressing 85 mayors across the country on the American Recovery and Investment Act.

All right. He was extremely busy. But here's my question for the people we assembled here today for FOX "News Watch."

Kirsten, let me start with you. Is he avoiding the beltway press, to get out of town and avoid all those tough questions?

KIRSTEN, FOX NEWS ANALYST: He may be. And I think it's a good idea. I think a lot of the problem with this country is sometimes the way the media covers things. And I think he's perfectly within his rights to go out and travel around the country and talk directly to American people and even leave the country. He didn't go that far, but I think he probably — he doesn't really have a great relationship with the media as much that people think he loves them.


I've got to get you in here because I know you're champing at the bit. He doesn't like the media?

JIM PINKERTON, COLUMNIST & FELLOW, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: He doesn't like the media but they love him anyway. Dan Gainer, of the Business and Media Institute, which is part of the Media Research Center, did a study of the MSM, main street media, coverage of the stimulus package and found, by a 2-1 ratio, it was favorable. I agree, Obama doesn't like them but I don't understand why he doesn't.

POWERS: I think he got hammered on the new package. I'm sorry to disagree with that.

CARLSON: Hammered in what way?

POWERS: I thought he was very negative. I thought he was being criticized a lot. I'm not saying there was anything wrong with that. But I do think there was a lot of criticism with it.

CARLSON: That could be because two-thirds of it was actually spending.


JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: I think there is something inside the beltway that they want to avoid, which is people out there in the country who said they wanted bipartisanship, post-partisan. Whether that will work remains to be seen. But the pundits declare, what, three weeks in, that was over. He screwed up. The left said he should have reached out to the right. The right said they're going to stand against him. Meanwhile, it's a month in, the American people, I think, do have a different opinion. He's right to get out and try to talk to them. I have been saying for weeks, I don't think he likes mixing it up with reporters. I really don't.

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Every administration has the same view about the press. Somehow we need to get away from Washington and the echo chambers to where real people live. David Axelrod told Frank Rich, of the "New York Times" in his column last week, that the American people understand these things better than the inside-the-beltway people. And yet nobody is more attuned to what people are thinking. The members of Congress, they poll every day. If anybody understands this, then the members of Congress do. Otherwise, they wouldn't be doing this enormous stimulus package.

CARLSON: What do you make of Bill Clinton's comments this past week with regard to Obama's plans? He gave him a grade of "A" as president in his first 30-days. But then said, hey, you're being too critical, Mr. Obama.


PINKERTON: As they say, if I say something nice about you and I put a "but," you don't hear anything before the "but," and you listen closely after the "but." So Clinton says I give him an "A" but — he should talk about HOPE more. Well, gee, I thought Obama's campaign was all about hope.


I mean, it's not like Obama needs lectures from bill Clinton on hope. But Clinton can't resist getting into every story. He knows the way to do it is by slamming Obama.

CARLSON: That's true.

However, some of it may be true because, Jane, in his housing speech in Phoenix, Obama said the word "crisis" 25 times. What does that do to the morale of the people?

HALL: I think he was elected on hope and then he woke up the next morning and was in charge and trying to fix a huge mess. And I think he's been trying to scare people so that people would say, yes, but let's pass these multi-billion dollar deals. He does — I think Bill Clinton was a master at this one aspect which is reaching people emotionally. I think Obama needs to reach back into the campaign bag of tricks. Now that they passed a lot of this, tell people it's going to work.

CARLSON: The people still love him though. Look at this new FOX News Opinion Dynamic poll released this week. It finds a lot of interest in the president's speech coming up this Tuesday night. So most people say, 64 percent, say they are likely to watch Obama's presidential address. 28 percent are somewhat likely, while 10 percent are not going to watch at all. Look at those numbers. That's a huge margin of the American public. Busy people, busy lives, they're going to tune in for President Obama.

THOMAS: The only thing I learned in physics before I flunked tables of contents was about inertia. We're still living politically, and as far as the media is concerned, off the inertia of the campaign. The impact of the Obama policies has not hit. "USA Today" and other media are already saying, not only does he own the war in Afghanistan, he now also owns the economy. But we haven't seen the impact. If it goes well, he'll get the credit. If it busts, he won't be able to blame either Herbert Hoover or George Bush.

CARLSON: You say it's like "American Idol"? He's still that popular that people will tune in, no matter what he says.

HALL: I think that's true. And it's very interesting that "American Idol" is something people are going to vote against to watch Obama. People are going to vote against entertainment because they are scared. They are wishing him well. Republicans should wish him well because we're all in this together. He's the president right now.

CARLSON: Kirsten, I've got to get you in on the action with regards to something Cal just mentioned, which was the troops in Afghanistan. It seems as if Obama's people slipped a little press release in while he was doing the stimulus plan, saying, oh yeah, 17,000 troops to Afghanistan. Did the press really cover that?

POWERS: They covered it a little bit. I think this is one of his campaign promises, so I don't know why people are particularly surprised that he's doing it. He always said he was going to increase troops in Afghanistan.

But, of course, there are a lot of people who don't really want more wars. They complain about us being in Iraq. I think a lot people feel, when we're in a recession and all these other things, it's not the type of news they want to hear about.

CARLSON: So USA Today puts it on the front cover.

Jim, it's below the fold in The New York Times.


If this had been Bush's war, what would have happened?

PINKERTON: The New York Times put itself on record years ago about what they thought about Bush and Iraq and for the most part Afghanistan. I do think, across the media spectrum, there is a deep skepticism about our prospects of Afghanistan. It's hard to talk to a general that doesn't heed the kind of concern the press has about this looking ahead.

THOMAS: Not only that, it's going to be a harder war to cover for a whole lot of reasons, the terrain and the economy. A lot of media people aren't going to be invested in sending correspondents to Afghanistan. And very few correspondents will want to go given the prospects that they might be beheaded.


CARLSON: That's an interesting point about why you might not want to go.

Thanks, Cal.

Time for a break. For the next couple of moments, we're going to take a closer look at a magazine that has a unique look at President Obama's first hours in office. More about that later. But first, there's this.

ANNOUNCER: Our new attorney general says the U.S. is a nation of cowards on race. What did the press say? Plus, in his first 100 days, President Obama has appeared on a lot of magazine covers, but none like this. All next, on "News Watch."




ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Though this nation has probably thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial, we have always been and we, I believe, continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.


CARLSON: Well, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder this past Wednesday. That kind of got a lot of people's attention.

But Jim Pinkerton, did the press cover it?

PINKERTON: They did cover it. ABC News covered it the first night he said it. I'm going to be brave here and say I thought that was a slur against the American people. They elected a black president. What is he talking about? All I can remember is Bill Clinton, Holder's old boss, has this national conversation on race in the late '90s, although it was a big flop, although it made liberals happy. And I can assume that Holder has the same ambition in this decade.

CARLSON: Especially after Obama gave such an eloquent race speech while he was campaigning for president. And the first question that came to mind, to me, Jane, was did President Obama sign off on this for Eric Holder to do this?

HALL: I think not. I think he was way off the message of reconciliation. You know, if you read the whole speech, he was saying — well, when we try to talk about race, that we're cowards. That we don't see each other on the weekends, we're working together. But I agree with you. To a lot of people, it seemed like lecturing from someone who just got elected and with whom he's serving the first African-American president. It's true that it still exists, but it seems like a very strange way — he's bound to have known that would be the sound bite. It's bad, bad P.R.

CARLSON: Really out of touch where the country is. I think there's a generational aspect as well. Maybe in his generation that's how people behaved. But when you get into the younger generations, people aren't like that. There's so much intermingling among the races. It's not the way it is.

But how did the media look at it, Cal?

THOMAS: Well, Wes Pruden wrote a great column in Friday's Washington Times. He said "What are you talking about, Mr. Attorney general? Race is all about what we've been talking about for the last 40 some years." This is a speech that could have been given in 1960 but not 2009. The Washington Times also reported on its front page Friday, there were over a thousand stories on this in the media — newspapers, wire services, cable television, broadcast television and the blogs. It's been all over the place.

I don't know what he's talking about. We've have set asides. We've had busing to achieve racial balance. This country, as Wes Pruden pointed out in his column, has done more to address the horror of slavery than any other nation on the planet.

PINKERTON: Dave Gergen at CNN, who is no conservative, said this is, quote, "tone deaf." But I think that Paul Mirengoff, at Powerline, said it even better when he said, look, Holder doesn't want to have a conversation about race. He wants to silence the people that disagree with him.


HALL: Well, I think I read a lot of blogs at the ABC thing. They reacted — the people reacted very negatively. I agree. I believe generationally — my students, this is not the same issue. But they also pointed out that a lot of African-Americans feel they've personally been victimized and he was speaking to that. We need to say that and not just simply criticize.

CARLSON: So none of you believe this would have been a missive from the Obama administration to get this out to the press again, this same message?


HALL: Absolutely, not.

THOMAS: No, but let's look at Jane's school, my alma mater, American University. There have been stories in the paper, that school and many others, where African-American students deliberately segregate themselves at lunches, in sororities and fraternities because they want to be with their fellow African-Americans. Is this not correct? So racism and segregation isn't just a one-way street, is it.

HALL: That has not been my experience at American University. We have a lot of students who come from multiracial backgrounds. The whole country is shifting. I don't think people voluntarily segregate themselves. I think he was tone deaf. He's out of his — out of his — tone deaf in this, I think.

CARLSON: My goodness. I think, for the most part, we all agree on this one. Holy cow.

Time for another break. If you want to hear what we're talking during our commercial breaks — you won't believe what Jim and Cal do when the cameras go off —, go to our web site,


We'll be back in two minutes with this.

ANNOUNCER: Sarah Palin's daughter goes on the record. How did the liberal media respond to the new mom's interview with Greta? Plus, one magazine's unique take on President Obama's first 100 days. All next, on "News Watch."


CARLSON: FOX News Channel's Greta Van Susteren had a big interview. She was the first to talk to Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin's daughter, Bristol Palin, who is now a young mother. The news that Bristol was unmarried and pregnant caused a controversy during the campaign amid concerns about how it might influence the election.

Greta's interview was in-depth. It aired in two parts. But it was this question and Bristol's answer that got the most attention.


GRETA VAN SUSTERAN, FOX HOST: Now, I don't want to pry too closely, but contraception, it's an issue here. Is that something that you were just lazy about or not interested in or do you have a philosophical or religious opposition to it?

BRISTOL PALIN, DAUGHTER OF SARAH PALIN: No. I don't want to get into detail about that. But I think abstinence, is, like — I don't know how to put it — like the main — everybody should be abstinent or whatever, but it's not realistic at all.


CARLSON: So it's not realistic at all. CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS — this is a sound bite they continued to play over and over again.

Kirsten, is that because Bristol Palin contradicted what her mother, Sarah Palin, has said?

POWERS: Yes, it's that. And it's also because it's the widely held belief of probably what most of the people are choosing what to run, on what to run what they said is true. They like to throw that in the face of Sarah Palin and anybody else that supports abstinence. I think they're sort of like — I watched it on — it was almost a gleeful-like take that, you know, all you stupid people who believe in abstinence.

CARLSON: So, Cal, it was a gotcha moment?

THOMAS: Oh, sure. They love to do that with conservatives and pro- lifers and people who teach abstinence and believe in it, like her mother, do. I think that's absolutely right.

But there's something else. Back when I was a kid, and young women in high school disappeared a few months, usually to a Florence Crittenton and home type of thing. Nobody would go on TV. This was an embarrassment. Now it doesn't matter what you do. Get on TV. Have a kid out of wedlock. It's all the same as if you got married.

I thought it was a terrific interview. And it revealed, I think, a real flaw in our culture, that every lifestyle choice is equally valid. Have a kid after you get married, have a kid before you get married. Frankly, I wish the Palins would leave the stage for a while and get off the air.


CARLSON: I thought it was an extremely candid interview.

Jane, do you think, if she had not answered the question about abstinence in that way, it wouldn't have gotten the international attention that it did?

HALL: I think Kirsten's right because it contradict a lot of what some people are trying to say, which is that you can teach abstinence and that will take care of it.

I was interested, just on a human level, they way we all were, to hear her say she'd like to be an advocate for this, that it's not glamorous. I mean, frankly, as a mother...

CARLSON: She was tired.

HALL: ... I was glad to have somebody say, you know, she wanted people to learn from what I think she views as something she may be — now she is happy to be a mother, I'm sure. But she was sort of saying something else, which is an important message.

CARLSON: I need to move on to the pope and Pelosi, because they had a meeting this past week.

What I found highly interesting, Jim, about this was the Vatican never released a formal photograph. They normally do. Why did they not?

PINKERTON: I think that here we are in an economic crisis and Nancy Pelosi and seven Democrats go over on what would seem to be a junket to Italy. I'm sure they invited themselves to go meet the pope. And then they issued a statement that had no relationship to what was evidently talked about inside the meeting. So I think this requires further inquiry.

CARLSON: Maybe they talked about this. Listen to what Nancy Pelosi told Tom Brokaw on "Meet the Press" last year.


REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I would say that, as an ardent practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctrines have not been able to make that definition.



CARLSON: That's not really what the church says, right, Cal?

THOMAS: That's certainly bogus.

CARLSOLN: But how did the media handle this story? I didn't see it very many places.

THOMAS: The media very uncomfortable about religious stories. Unless they catch somebody in bed with somebody else they shouldn't be in bed with, then they're all over it!


This has a precedent because, when the pope met with Geraldine Ferraro, a previous pope, there were no press releases, no pictures of that. This is the Vatican's way of disapproving of the pro-choice position of the politicians.

CARLSON: Let's move to Sam Donaldson because he's an icon in the media. He announced this week he was retiring from ABC. Of course, the legendary reporter came to fame by aggressively shouting questions at President Reagan. It was his hair too, wasn't it? Well, anyway, he never got the answer he was looking for, did he?


SAM DONALDSON, ABC CORRESPONDENT: Mr. President, in talking about the continuing recession tonight, you have blamed mistakes of the past, and you blamed the Congress. Does any of the blame belong to you?

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, because for many years I was a Democrat.



CARLSON: Well, Hollywood took notice. Check this out. They created this caricature of Donaldson.


RONALD REAGAN CARICATURE: Sam, I'd say you've popped your cork, except that you did that a long time ago.

SAM DONALDSON CARICATURE: Don't walk away from me. Who do you think you are? If it weren't for reporters like me, you never would have been president. I made you!



CARLSON: All right, Jane, Sam Donaldson, obviously a thorn in the side of President Reagan. Do we see reporters like Sam Donaldson anymore and should we?

HALL: We don't see a lot of them. People think Jake Tapper has been pretty aggressive. David Gregory was aggressive with President Bush before he moved off the White House beat. I think they serve a purpose.

I was interested to see that Donaldson said, when Reagan wanted to answer questions — you know when he used to shout in the helicopter, if he didn't want to answer, he went like this, "Can't hear you." If he did, he did. I mean, it's just a symbiotic relationship. We need aggressive reporters.

PINKERTON: I think he was one of a kind, literally with his voice and so on. I will say this. He was a thorn in Reagan's side, but he seems, in later life, sort of an admirer. I went to the premier of the Reagan Biography on Reagan's birthday on February 6th, and Donaldson gave the intro. And he was nice and gracious toward Ronald Reagan.

CARLSON: It's amazing what time can do sometimes.

THOMAS: Reagan and Donaldson were made for each other. They were great. And Reagan always stepped up to the moment when Donaldson was questioning him. Just that clip we saw, he gave a great straight line and Reagan answered with a hilarious moment. There will never be another Sam Donaldson unfortunately.

CARLSON: We have to take one more break. Here's what we're going to be talking about though when we come back.

ANNOUNCER: Is the stress of the office beginning to take a toll on our new president? Wait until you see how one magazine sees our president's first 100 days. Next, on "News Watch."


CARLSON: President Obama has only been in office just a few days, but is it the stress of the job starting to bring him down. Well, we've seen pictures like this one and this one and this. He's still landing on the covers though of some popular magazines too, of course. Here he is on the cover of Vanity Fair.

But as far as we're concerned, there's only one magazine that has been able to capture what the president's first days in office may really be like. Take a look at the latest cover from the one and only Mad magazine.

OK, Cal, who the heck would want to be president anyway, right?

THOMAS: Right. I'm waiting for the first gray hair. I give it about another three months.

CARLSON: Kirsten?

POWERS: Hillary will give him all the gray hairs over the years.


CARLSON: Oh, good comment.

Jane, is this the true depiction of what it's like to be president in 2009?

HALL: I think it is. I think it's a reality TV show in the magazine.


PINKERTON: Maybe he should start smoking again. It would relax him.


CARLSON: He is on the cover here. I'm not sure if he likes the depiction.

But that's all the time we have left for this week.

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

I'm Gretchen Carlson. Thanks for watching us. Keep it right here on "FOX News." The "FOX Report" is up next.

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