This is a rush transcript from "FOX News Watch," March 21, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
JON SCOTT, FOX HOST: This week on FOX "News Watch," bailouts, bonuses, bone heads and the media circus on Capitol Hill. Did the coverage reflect the outrage?
The White House holds a press event without the White House press. Where's the new transparency?
Is a left-wing spin machine, at work in Washington, shaping the media's coverage?
Enemy combatants disappear in a new White House policy. Does our safety go away along with it?
The media remembers the start of the Iraq War and questions the future.
Pope Benedict takes a trip to Africa and the press misses the message.
And good news for CEO's who lost the use of their private jets.
On the panel this week, Jane Hall, of the American University; John Avlon, columnist for the DailyBeast.com and author of "Independent Nation"; Jim Pinkerton, writer and fellow, New America Foundation; and writer and "FOX News" contributor, Judith Miller.
I'm Jon Scott. FOX "News Watch" is on right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EDWARD LIDDY, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, AIG: Had I been CEO at the time, I would never have approved the retention contracts that were put in place over a year ago.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: That was AIG Chief Executive Edward Liddy fielding tons of angry questions from Congress, members on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. Much of the anger directed at him and also at the Democrats running the show on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Here's how President Obama reacted.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ultimately, I'm responsible. I'm the president of the United States. We've got a big mess that we're having to clean up. Nobody here drafted those contracts. Nobody here was responsible for supervising AIG and allowing themselves to put the economy at risk by some of the outrageous behavior that they were engaged in. We are responsible though. The buck stops with me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: So where should the media anger be directed?
Jim, let's talk about the fact that these AIG bonuses, they hit the papers this week but they were in the works for a long time. Is that part of the untold story here?
JIM PINKERTON, WRITER & FELLOW, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Since at least last November, when Tim Geithner was then the chairman of the New York Fed, and is now, of course, our treasury secretary. So when President Obama said nobody here — Geithner standing two feet away from him — had anything to do with these bonuses, I don't think that's a true statement. And The New York Times led the pack on proving that the Treasury Department had constructive notice long ago about exactly the bonuses and lobbied to keep them there because they wanted to help AIG.
SCOTT: So was there a lot of political posturing here in the media?
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: I think so. I mean, I think we can ask a lot of questions of the media as in why was it Andrew Cuomo who revealed this, the attorney general, as opposed to the media. They could have been reading the documents, too. I think Obama now owns the economy and owns the problem. And there are questions about Geithner, questions about Chris Dodd. And the media are actually going after this. I think we haven't heard the last of it.
SCOTT: He may own the economy but he doesn't seem to want to own it.
He reminds us at every turn — and I guess he's trying to steer reporters back, John, that there was President Bush in office eight years before he took over.
JOHN AVLON, THE DAILYBEAST.COM: Sure. He doesn't have to own the economy yet. It's a transition process. And in fact, the AIG contract does go back to November. But I think the American people are having very near a Howard Beal moment here, where they're mad as hell and they're not taking it anymore. And that's partly what they're reacting to. And the media, you know, this is deeper an AIG. Even the bonus scandal is bigger than AIG. It affects a lot of other firms as well.
SCOTT: But if it comes, Judy — a circus firing squad where everybody that has a finger in this mess is pointing to the other guy.
JUDITH MILLER, WRITER & FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Exactly. It's the blame game. It's just what we're used to. It's Chris Dodd telling the media one day I had absolutely nothing to do with this, and the next day saying actually my staff may have had a little something to do with it.
SCOTT: But it's treasury's fault.
MILLER: That's right. That's explanation number three. I think the media's working hard at this point — I agree with Jane — to find out what exactly happened.
PINKERTON: Let's not forget Maxine Waters, that great stateswoman from southern California, piling on not only Dodd but also President Obama. It is not done to be attacking a president of your own party two months into his administration.
SCOTT: Yes. She says he doesn't seem to know what's going on.
HALL: Yes, he wasn't in the list. The other thing funny to me, the Friday editorial in The Washington Post and Rush Limbaugh are in agreement that maybe we are demonizing millionaires. Maybe we need Wall Street barons. This whole mob question is a real legitimate question. And nobody's going to defend these guys today I don't think.
SCOTT: It's been pointed out, a friend of mine, a very smart guy, a businessman formerly with the SEC, says we don't know yet what all of those AIG business guys did. They may have unraveled a trillion dollars worth of debt. If they did that and saved us a trillion dollars, maybe they earned those bonuses.
AVLON: What we do know is that the structure in place didn't have performance standards in place. That's where the anger's coming from. They are realizing that Wall Street is so dislocated. This is a form of entitlements though outpaces anything any welfare queen every perpetrated in the 1980s. In the past, populism has been directed at big government. Now it's going to be back at big business.
SCOTT: Jim, there was that news conference, many news conferences before the president went to California where he said I've instructed the treasury secretary to get that money back! But, again, was it all staged theater for the cameras?
PINKERTON: Roger Simon, the Politico — wrote a great column on this where he said, the difference between Bernie Madoff and AIG is that when Bernie Madoff got caught, he went to jail. And when AIG got caught, they got $170 billion.
And Obama voted for this in the fall. His treasury secretary negotiated these contracts. For Obama to even pretend to be against this is hypocrisy of the highest order.
SCOTT: Are the media explaining what's going on or just feeding public anger?
HALL: I think both. There have been a few stories about how we may need to look further than taxing these guys at 100 percent because it may be good for the country. I think the media are now joining in the outrage, outraging each other. Time magazine had a good cover story on AIG. They said, look, these bonuses are one-tenth of 1 percent of the big problem, which is what are they doing with $170 billion. The media aren't really asking that. These villains are too good. They're too good.
MILLER: That's right. It's much easier to just beat up on AIG than to ask the really tough questions of what is the relationship of the U.S. government to our failing insurance companies, our failing banks, our failing companies. That's a much tougher question for the media. And so they prefer to join in on beating up on AIG.
AVLON: And the much fuller story of where did this money go in terms of foreign banks and what was the relationship between banks and lenders. Beyond AIG, Bank of America accepted TARP money and there's 6,000 bonuses that went out there. Fannie Mae is reporting four execs are going to get over $1 million in bonuses. So the bonus story is a lot bigger than AIG. And the real story of the money is a lot bigger than just this.
SCOTT: Time for a quick break. If you want to hear what we're talking about as the commercial rolls, check out our Web site, foxnews.com/foxnewswatch. We'll be back in two minutes with this.
ANNOUNCER: Managing the media. Is there a left wing spin machine at work controlling coverage of the president and his message? And how will big deal high-flying CEO's get around these days without their private jets? Answers ahead, on "News Watch."
(FOX NEWS BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I have a track record of transparency.
I'll make our government open and transparent.
We'll do it in a transparent way.
I want transparency. I want accountability.
So that the American people can be involved in their own government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: President Obama promises transparency in his administration, but there are few instances in which that claim seems to get a little fuzzy.
Here is an entry from Mr. Obama's official Friday White House schedule. "Later in the afternoon, the president and the first lady will attend a reception with the National Newspaper Publisher Association in the state dining room where they will be presented the Newsmaker of the Year award. This event is closed press."
When "FOX News" asked about press access, the White House explained the event was a special access event which would be covered by the participants.
Anything wrong with that, John?
AVLON: Got to think, when the person typing it, they must have felt the irony.
The hypocrisy is the unforgivable sin in politics. So whenever anything like this comes up, people want to jump on it.
MILLER: Then there's a lot of sin going on.
AVLON: There is indeed.
SCOTT: Well, it's not like we think he's going to be making plans to invade some other country or something at this luncheon.
PINKERTON: That's true. But, look, he was the one who campaigned against the secrecy of Dick Cheney and detentions and renditions and all that stuff. He got lots of points from swing voters for declaring he would be the absolutely opposite of this. And now we discover it is remarkably similar.
HALL: The thing I was thinking is the person typing it may not have seen the irony.
I think you get into that bubble, and what you said in the campaign is different from what you feel, which is, oh, yeah, I said transparency, but I know best, and I'm going to communicate directly with the American people and bypass the press.
AVLON: But let's be honest, this is a small thing.
HALL: It is a small.
MILLER: Also, come on, all of us in the media gets e-mails every single day. The White House floater schedule, that's the first lady, the White House vice president schedule, everything you need to know before, during, after. If I opened all the e-mails, I wouldn't do any reporting.
HALL: I think the symbolism of it...
PINKERTON: If you opened all those e-mails, you still wouldn't know diddly about what they're actually doing. It doesn't really tell you very much that...
MILLER: They tell you what they're doing.
PINKERTON: That Obama is meeting with Treasury Secretary Geithner. If we don't — if only months later you discover that they're giving out goggles to AIG executives.
SCOTT: The other thing that came out of Washington this week is that there is this morning phone call, 8:45 a.m., in which a bunch of groups, primarily liberal groups — let's say all liberal groups, frankly — get together on a phone call and agree to become the Washington echo chamber for administration pronouncements.
Anything wrong with that, Jim?
PINKERTON: Not legally, and not — this is perfectly smart. I think probably the people on the call are smarter than the people inside the White House. Whoever's telling object to do the NCAA brackets and make 31 of the 32 teams and all the fans dislike you as a result of picking them to lose, they could use some of that good advice.
SCOTT: What about that going on "The Tonight Show"? How smart was that?
AVLON: I think that was real smart. I think the power of the presidency is to reach the American people. And you should use nontraditional forms to speak directly to folks who don't watch the news, don't read newspapers. It's a funny way of paralleling what he did with Iran. Honest to god. He spoke directly to the people and went past the government. I think that's a smart strategy.
SCOTT: Judy's shaking her head.
MILLER: I think the last poll — if you remember, John, when you were speaking about the poll of people who objected to Obama saying I screwed up. Those are the same people who say, you know, why should our commander in chief schmooze with Jay Leno. I think he's beginning to get into the over-exposure category. We've seen an awful lot of him everywhere.
HALL: It also looks not serious. He made a joke saying, these guys who are criticizing me. You know, The New York Post said, this is no joke. I mean, I think a lot of people might feel that way. He was out there in California meeting with the governor. He didn't just go to do Jay Leno. I think it's tone deaf. I really do.
PINKERTON: Actually, h e did go just to meet Jay Leno and attended a couple of other events to make it look good.
No, I mean, look, the McCain campaign last year referred to him as Paris Hilton, and that was sticking until the meltdown happened in September. We're seeing a reversion to the essential Obama, which is some guy who would rather be on glad-handing and talking on TV and cracking jokes than solving real problems.
SCOTT: Time for another break.
Before we go, last "News Watch," we took Vice President Biden to task to giving speech to a labor organization that had been closed to the press. I mentioned that we, the media, have no idea what he said. Well, guess what? Turns out the vice president's office heard the howls of protest and did let a few print reporters hear those remarks. The office even put a transcript on the Web a day later. The veil of secrecy had been lifted, but we at "News Watch" weren't aware.
Sorry, Mr. Vice President, we do know what you said.
And we'll be back with this.
ANNOUNCER: President Obama says there are no more enemy combatants. Has this move and others put America at risk? And should the youtube.com site for Congress get yanked for bad programming? Answers next, on "News Watch."
SCOTT: This week marked the 6th anniversary of the Iraq invasion. Most Iraqis say they feel more secure than they did since the war began. And a fledgling democracy is taking shape. Violence still continues in some parts of the country.
Also this week, the Pentagon announced the end of the Stop-Loss Program. The practice of holding troops beyond their enlistment dates. And President Obama has promised that U.S. combat troops will leave Iraq by 2010.
Jane, I gave a speech this week to a bunch of West Point cadets and families. I raised the question, why is it, when the war is going badly, it was front page? And when it's going well, it disappears from headlines?
HALL: I think there are a lot of factors, including how much it costs news organizations, which are hemorrhaging money, to have somebody there and have the security still needed. I think there's a new focus on Afghanistan, which we're not covering enough. I don't see it as ideological. I think people also — I think the American people decided they want out of there and the media are following.
AVLON: But now the important work is actually getting done. The fact it hasn't been front page news since the success of the surge is to the detriment of our understanding. I don't think there's a left or right wing bias here. I think there's a conflict bias. In the absence of conflict we stop covering adequately. That leaves the American people kind of in the dark because what's happening, since the surge, has been a remarkable success and hard-won.
SCOTT: It's related. But there was a piece in the Wall Street Journal op-ed pages this week about the left turn in Afghanistan. President Obama used to say Afghanistan was the good war, so to speak. And it's the one that we had taken our eye off of when we went to Iraq. And now, all of a sudden, there's so many critics in his own party about what's going on in Afghanistan.
MILLER: He was always going to have problems with this issue because Candidate Obama was very eager to show he was no pacifist. He was just, as Andrew Sullivan said, against dumb wars. So now he's got the quote, "smart war," our war. He's committed 17,000 soldiers to it. All of the policy continues. It's very, very intensive. He's actually increased the number of drone attacks in Afghanistan. He's expanding it into Pakistan.
So no matter what they call it, this policy continues. And, of course, it's going to annoy the left wing of his party. He's going to have a lot of trouble on that front.
PINKERTON: I agree with Jane and John that the war — Iraq war is not going to cover as much because it's gone well. I agree with that. But I think what Judy's saying is important.
You notice now they're starting to refer to the AFPAK War, A-F-P-A-K-, Afghanistan, Pakistan. I don't think the American people have quite absorbed yet that we're dealing with 27 million people in Afghanistan and 166 million people in Pakistan.
And The New York Times had the report last week about how they're seriously considering expanding drone attacks into Baluchistan, this giant province. It's like half a country, and boarding Afghanistan. We're on the edge of something really huge here.
SCOTT: Front page news in USA Today this week, John, that 60 percent, I think, of Americans now say the Afghan war was a mistake. Is that because, all of a sudden, the media are turning their attention to it?
AVLON: That seems bizarre, because at the time of course that was — had bipartisan support in the aftermath of September 11th. It has always been the good war. It's interesting that you're seeing a critique creeping up on the far left, the folks who are always against any U.S. military incursions. They're starting to say, oh, but look at this in context. Look at Russia. Look at the British Empire. This is where empires go to die. And it's part of an argument being laid by some on the far left that says there's no logical conclusion but withdrawal from Afghanistan, which, of course, would be a disaster.
SCOTT: Our next topic comes from "FOX News" Religion Contributor Father Jonathan Morris. Father Morris takes issue with the media coverage of Pope Benedict's trip to Africa this week. During the flight there, the pope was quoted as saying, "You can't resolve the AIDS epidemic with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, it increases the problem."
This made headlines and reaction from various groups. But as Father Morris pointed out, what was lost in the coverage was that the pope's statement was specifically a judgment against condom distribution as a solution to the HIV epidemic. In this day of Twitter journalism, are reporters missing the details?
What about that?
PINKERTON: I think there's some question about the translation from the Italian. It's complicated I think, just to step back though, the liberal media comes at the AIDS issue from the world view that sex is good and doesn't really matter whether you're straight or gay or married or unmarried. More sex the better. It's liberation. It's freedom. The pope, shall we say, comes from a different tradition.
Which has a fair number of adherences around the world, including in Africa. And he sticks to his guns. And this is nothing new. If the pres doesn't like it, the pope says — well, you know what the pope says.
HALL: Wow! I'm trying to get my mind around sex and a pandemic that's killing millions of people. No offense. The New York Times said, the pope is entitled to his moral position. But if he was understood correctly, which he may not have been. The translation may have been bad. That's a different issue. If it came out the pope said no to condoms, and he didn't say it, that's wrong.
SCOTT: Time now for our "Caught in the Web" segment. Youtube.com has a place where members of Congress can post political messages. Among the many bizarre presentations, Nancy Pelosi posted an online cat Webcam showing life behind the scenes in the Capitol building through the eyes of two cats.
The Speaker of the House got Rick-Rolled, which is basically a prank in which unsuspecting viewers are tricked into listening to Rick Astley's 1987's hit "Never Gonna Give You Up."
And in case you wanted to see where the roughly 9,000 people scammed by Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme live, you can look at the Madoff map. The map uses colored dots, red for those with many, green for places with few dupes in every state, except for Nebraska and North Dakota. The hot spots are in New York, Boston and Florida.
Finally, The Seattle Post Intelligencer folded this week. Last week, Colorado's oldest paper, The Rocky Mountain News, also came to an end. But the good news is the P.I. is going to try to continue to live on, on the Web. Newspapers which fail in print might have a second life there.
We have to take one more break. When we come back...
ANNOUNCER: Losing use of their private jets has made tough times for high flying execs. But now there's hope. Details next, on "News Watch."
SCOTT: For the CEOs who are missing their private jets, here is some good news.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, executives, there's been a lot of bad news lately. Bad news, like you can't keep that secret seven-figure bonus, or it's no longer economically feasible to fly around in your own private jet.
However, just between us, there is a way to keep those executive perks you deserve. It's called JetBlue. Instead of paying $5000 an hour to fly to Los Angeles, that same flight on JetBlue will cost you way, way, way less. JetBlue can get you to many cities where you already own homes or hide money— Aruba, Vegas, San Martin, Nantucket. They even have service to D.C. so you'll never be late for a congressional hearing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: That's "News Watch" this week.
Thanks to Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, John Avlon and Judith Miller.
I'm Jon Scott.
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