This is a rush transcript from "FOX News Watch," March 28, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
JON SCOTT, FOX HOST: This week on FOX "News Watch," President Obama on TV again — and again and again. Is the White House controlling the media?
Everyone's playing the blame game over the economy. Are the media playing along?
Tensions heat up on the Mexican border and so does the coverage.
No more "war on terror," says the White House. What say the press?
Plus, Comedy Central's Colbert uses the Internet to put his stamp on the space station. And that could put the heat on NASA.
And late night laughs thanks to Mr. Obama.
On the panel this week, Marisa Guthrie, programming editor for Broadcasting and Cable magazine; syndicated columnist, Cal Thomas; Jim Pinkerton, columnist and fellow, New America Foundation; and Kirsten Powers, New York Post columnist and Fox News contributor.
I'm Jon Scott. And FOX "News Watch" is on right now.
President Obama held his second primetime press conference this week taking on questions about the economy, and this question about his delayed reaction to the AIG situation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: On AIG, why did you wait days to come out and express that outrage? It seems like the action is coming out of New York and the attorney general's office. It took you days to come public with Secretary Geithner and say, look, we're outraged. Why did it take so long?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It took us a couple of days because I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: Well, two days later, Mr. Obama did something similar, except this time he answered hand-picked questions on some of the same topics in front of a hand-picked audience.
Jim, I guess the question of the week is, is his pitch working?
JIM PINKERTON, COLUMIST & WRITER, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Jewel Johnson is a pretty well known Democratic operative who said that Barack Obama is our, quote, "first hi-def" — as in high definition — "president." I think that's pretty accurate, but it cuts both ways because on the one hand it's kind of cool and sharp, and on the other hand, it's warts and all.
SCOTT: Kirsten, are the media questioning his budget or playing along?
KIRSTEN POWERS, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR & COLUMNIST, NEW YORK POST: I do think the media questions him much more than people say. People always try to pretend he's getting this free ride. I just don't see that. I think if you look at a lot of the questions at the press conferences, there's a lot of hostile questioning, including the one you just showed. I do think they are asking questions but I also think often they're going down the wrong track as they did with AIG.
SCOTT: Marisa is giving you a nod of agreement.
MARISA GUTHRIE, PROGRAMMING EDITOR, BROADCASTING AND CABLE: I agree with Kirsten. It's fine to try to talk over the heads of the media directly to the public by using the media's platform. But I think he is getting dangerously close to overexposure here. And I think you saw some of that in the press conference. He was snippy with the AIG question. When he was snippy during the campaign with Hillary Clinton, it didn't do him any favors.
CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Exactly the point that is made by Susan Fields in her Friday Washington Times column about overexposure. You're quite right. Listen to this. This is amazing. If I can read the small print. As comfortable as the president may look on CBS, "60 Minutes" and the Leno show, he is — and a prime time press conference, he's sending valuable emotional and intellectual capital with the relentless exposure in the modern media.
There is so much that you can extend of yourself as president of the United States. And my view is that he's losing dignity in doing this. People don't want a royal class like the English. They don't want a president who's down and dirty with the public at the basketball games. They want somebody a little bit higher than themselves with a little more dignity to go with it. And that's what he's in danger of losing.
SCOTT: And, Jim, one observer suggested that the online press conference was sort of a do-over to his...
(LAUGHTER)... the big primetime one.
PINKERTON: I think he'll do anything to get away from answering questions from The Washington Post and The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and the names on the big papers he neglected in his press conference. Obviously, he didn't do it on his online thing either.
But, look, he's running some risks here. You go on Jay Leno and then Jay Leno is further legit mated a commentator. So when Leno says that stimulus is our word for Marxism, that didn't help very much. But again, Leno's all the more credible as a spokesman.
POWERS: There's not enough time to disagree with everything everybody just said.
I really just disagree. I think a lot of it is thinking the way things used to be as compared the way things are now. I don't think he's dragging down the dignity of the office at all. In fact, he's very in tune with where the country is in terms of communication and knows how to use TV and Internet and different things.
In terms of, like, the dig about him being afraid of The Washington Post and New York Times, because he didn't call them, he didn't call on them the last time. I think the questions he got this time are much tougher from what he got from the Times and The Washington Post in the last press conference.
PINKERTON: But as Mark Tapscott, in The Washington Examiner pointed out, support for the budget plan is falling, according to Gallop.
THOMAS: I think it's a good thing he's going around to the Stars and Stripes, Washington Times and some of these papers and publications that hardly ever get any questions.
SCOTT: Let's talk about the questions he got on "60 Minutes." He appeared on that show on Sunday. He laughed so many times during the interview while discussing the economy, the host, Steve Kroft, asked him this question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE KROFT, HOST, "60 MINUTES": You're sitting here and you are laughing at some of these. Are people going to look at these and say he's sitting there making jokes? How do you deal with it? I mean, explain the mood in your laughter.
OBAMA: Oh, no, there's got to be a little gallows humor to get you through day. Sometimes my team talks about the fact that if you had said to us a year ago that the least of my problems would be Iraq, which is still a pretty serious problem, I don't think anybody would have believed it. But we've got a lot on our plate and a lot of difficult decisions that we're going to have to make.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: Marisa, that clip got a lot of air play this week. What did you think of the question, first of all? Was it hard hitting or is it just friendly banter?
GUTHRIE: It was banterish, but it was a serious question. The problem's so enormous. I actually think that interview actually humanized Obama. Look, the complaints about Obama when he was running was that he didn't show emotion, that he was too removed and aloof. Now he is sitting courtside, drinking a beer, talking with Jay Leno, laughing with Steve Kroft, and now we're complaining he's too exposed.
THOMAS: I'm amazed at what passes for tough questions now. What I'd like to see, Steve Kroft and some at the news conference asking is, well, Mr. President, you said the following during the campaign. First of all, that George Bush had a $400 billion budget that was intolerable. And now you're multiplying it ten times. How is that not more intolerable? That would be a tough question.
POWERS: Chip Reed asked — he asked the deficit question. So I have to disagree with that.
THOMAS: Yes, but deficit and debt are two different things.
SCOTT: We're going to have to take a break. But if you'd like to hear what we're talking about, and this discussion wraps up during the commercials, go to our Web site, FOXnews.com/FOXnewswatch. We'll be back in two minutes with this.
ANNOUNCER: Why is the White House playing the finger-pointing blame game on the economy? And is the media letting them do it? Plus, Stephen Colbert's latest prank is out of this world. Details next, on "News Watch."
(FOX NEWS BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As I recall, I'm inheriting a $1.3 trillion annual deficit from them. That would be point number one. Point number two, both under our estimates and under the CBO estimates, the most conservative estimates out there, we drive down the deficit over the first five years of our budget, the deficit is cut in half. And folks aren't disputing that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: Well, some are. President Obama, responding Tuesday to a question about passing debt on to future generations.
The economic blame game continued in Washington this week. In fact, it was continuing in our studio here during the commercial break.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner released part of his plan to get the economy back on track and got grilled by lawmakers about the AIG bonuses and other economic questions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DON MANZULLO, (R), ILLINOIS: I'm asking the questions. Do the people who took out insurance with AIG to insure their retirement plans get reimbursed a hundred percent so they suffer very little loss? Yes or no?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER, SECRETARY OF THE TREEASURY: It depends on the nature of those specific contracts. It depends on the nature of those contracts. But what the critical thing is, the damage to the average American pension fund...
MANZULLO: No, you did not answer the question. The average American person has already lost 40 to 50 percent of their insurance plans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: All right. So that is the blame game that continues in Washington.
Jim, is the president buying into it?
PINKERTON: I think the press has a pretty deep investment in not only President Obama but also the bailouts, which was overwhelmingly supported by the media then, and frankly even now to a substantial degree.
SCOTT: The Bush bailout?
PINKERTON: Well, the Geithner, Paulson bailout. Again, Paulson was treasury secretary and Geithner was chairman of the New York Fed.
POWERS: I don't think we watch the same, like news.
PINKERTON: Well, OK, fair enough. Fair enough. That's why we have a show where we get to express our opinions.
And it seems to me the media now are sort of climbing down off of their slavish support for bailing out Wall Street. And when they wake up and realize that these pirates are now taking millions and billions and taking it back to Greenwich, Connecticut, with them.
SCOTT: All right.
POWERS: They didn't climb down. They jumped down. They were leaving — fanning the flames of this entire populist hysteria. They were just as bad as the members of Congress. Everybody made a fool of themselves as far as I'm concerned. Everybody pretends Geithner, even in this question and answer that we just watched, that somehow was trying to reward people for doing bad things when, in fact, he was trying to save the economy. That's what happened. Instead, everyone is pretending like Geithner was actually like, oh, let's give bonuses to people because they did such a good job. It's like, no, it was a tiny percentage of money, let's get this done.
SCOTT: Cal, Secretary Geithner released part of his plan to shore up the financial system. The stock market seems to like it and he got a lot of good press.
THOMAS: Yeah, there was great nervousness too when he praised the head of the Bank of China as a man of integrity. And, gee, maybe this one- world currency is a good idea. There were at least four columns in The New York Times raising serious questions about Obama and whether the faith that a lot of liberals have put in him is well placed.
I would say that is a disturbance in the liberal force when you get four columnists in The New York Times wondering about some of Obama's policies. I think if things start to go south quickly, and a lot will depend on whether this bailout and the stimulus business works, you're going to see a lot of people turning on him quickly who were very supportive of him.
SCOTT: Maria, the New York Times also published that "Dear AIG, I Quit" op-ed piece this week.
GUTHRIE: Yes. I found that rather self-serving quite frankly. If you read the comments on The New York Times Web site about that, they were overwhelmingly negative. That, oh, you know...
SCOTT: With all the death threats against AIG executives and the bus tours and things, I mean, are some of the populous backlash...
POWERS: Because the media — the media was a little late to the game on this. I was watching some news today, and reporters saying, well, perhaps there's been an overreaction, and perhaps AIG wasn't treated very well. It's like, really? Well, who do that? The media.
PINKERTON: Well, AIG wasn't treated too badly if they got $170 billion.
POWERS: But all of those people shouldn't be punished for the behavior of a few people.
SCOTT: We're going to take another break.
First, we'd like your help. Story ideas are always welcome. If you come across a story about media bias, especially, e-mail us at newswatch@FOX.com. Back with this.
ANNOUNCER: Terror on the border gets attention from the U.S. press. But is the coverage off target? And how did Comedy Central's Colbert hijack the space station? Answers next, on "News Watch."
SCOTT: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on a diplomatic mission to Mexico this week. The news media used her trip to highlight the continuing chaos in that country.
Some, including The New York Times, putting the blame on us for the problems south of the border. Quoting the Times, "Mexico's economy is being dragged down by the recessions to the north. American addicts have turned Mexico into a drug superhighway. And its police and soldiers are under assault from American guns. NAFTA proved 15 years ago that Mexican trucks would be allowed on American roads. But Congress said that they were unsafe."
Mrs. Clinton echoed that position.
All right, Marisa, give us your take on that. Mrs. Clinton suggested we are part of Mexico's problems.
GUTHRIE: Yeah. I think that people aren't going to be buying into that argument. I mean, I think Mexico is an abstraction still. We're a little desensitized to it. Hollywood's been making fun of the Mexico-U.S. border for ever. People here have their own problems. They're not interested in Mexico. They're interested in what's happening in their own backyard.
SCOTT: So how fair is the coverage, Jim?
PINKERTON: I think the way that New York Times editorial reads it's just pure blame-America-first. Why would the Congress not want to have Mexican trucks rolling freely into America, considering the fact that 70,000 people have been killed in the drug war in the last 16 months? Can't think why Congress would think that's a bad idea.
SCOTT: Kirsten, your take on the coverage?
POWERS: I tend to think it's not as bad as a lot of people make it out to be in terms of how it impacts the United States. I think it's definitely really bad. But I do think a lot of conservatives over blow it because it's part of the immigration debate and the demonizing of...
SCOTT: Is it part of the immigration, Cal?
SCOTT: I was wondering if the drug murders and so forth have given media something new to cover rather than the border wars and so forth.
THOMAS: Yeah. I think it's all a part of the same package. I agree with Kirsten. Former governor, now Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano was talking this week about, if there's a huge collapse of authority of the government in Mexico, we could have even bigger numbers of people coming over the border.
From a media perspective, there's been so many cutbacks in the bureaus in Mexico and Central and South America. There are revolutions threatening to take place in Nicaragua, in Bolivia. There's already one in Venezuela. And Ahmadinejad of Iran is funding some of this business. But the bureaus are closed down there and there's very little coverage.
SCOTT: Here's another story making headline this is week. War on terror, a phrase which rose out of the 9/11 attacks, a phrase pretty much clear on the meaning, on Wednesday we saw headlines like this: "Out went the phrase global war on terror, in with overseas contingency operations," after the Obama administration decided against using war on terror anymore.
Jim, what's wrong with the war on terror?
PINKERTON: I thought it was kind of a good phrase. It captured what we were doing. But I think if George Orwell and H.R. Lincoln, trying to make fun of liberal P.C., were drinking one night, they would come up with phrases like this and say that's ridiculous. That makes liberals look too stupid to use.
THOMAS: Yeah, I haven't noticed that Ahmadinejad or the Taliban are saying, well, let's not call it death to America anymore, and America the Great Satan. Let's call it instead of death to America, how about paralysis to America. And we'll call them, you know, the Great Demon or something.
SCOTT: Well, does it suggest — I mean, some have said that America is to belligerent. If you take war out of the headline, does it translate better in Farsi or something?
GUTHRIE: I don't know. That's a very good question, Jon. It's clearly semantics. It is farcical. I don't think anyone in the media is buying it. I don't think they're even buying it over at MSNBC.
SCOTT: Do you see that headlines are going to change as a result of the decree from the Obama administration?
POWERS: No. I think this was superficial. It was something to try to appease the liberal base, who's unhappy with the fact that he's holding on to more of the Bush policies than they want him to. So he made this superficial change that nobody's going to actually — like the "New York Times" is not even going to write "overseas contingency operation." So I think it's just superficial.
SCOTT: Time now for our "Caught in the Web" segment. A C-plus for the Obama administration's version of the White House Web site. That's what The Washington Post is reporting. According to the paper, five experts who were asked to assess whitehouse.gov on such areas as transparency, accessibility and engagement were not dazzled. They could only muster a slightly above-average grade.
Well, C-plus or not, this is one very Web-savvy White House. Remember all those e-mail addresses generated during the campaign? And it seems like everyone has a blog at the executive mansion these days. Even the president's prompter.
Of course this is a spoof, but Barack Obama's teleprompters blog has made us laugh out loud. Here's Friday's entry when the president announced his plan for Afghanistan. "I wish our press people wouldn't use gambling metaphors when they're talking about the war effort. Even I, a common computer, understand the gravity of it all. This isn't Big O's war. It's America's war. And it's also General David Petraeus' war. He clearly knows what the hell he's doing. As the Big O has said several times in the past few days, 'That man is going to save my heiny.' And, boy, do we all know it and appreciate it."
Comedian Stephen Colbert has won a NASA-sponsored contest to name a new module on the international space station. Fans of "The Colbert Report" bombarded NASA with votes when the host urged them to submit his name. And, guess what, he's won. NASA is supposed to be the country's king of technology. Could it be the power of this new-fangled thing call the Internet sort of got away from them? The space agency will have the final say on the module's name. NASA was pulling for something like Serenity, but Colbert won the online voting. And the agency says it will be considered.
We have to take one more break. President Obama has been everywhere this week, TV, radio, the Internet. The late night comedians took notice. We'll explain.
SCOTT: President Obama's media blitz started last weekend on ESPN, making his picks for the NCAA basketball tournament. It just keeps on going. The late night comedians couldn't help but notice. Take a look.
JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": Boy, President Obama is everywhere, isn't he? I mean, last week, he was on our show. Sunday night, he was on "60 Minutes." Tuesday night, he held a primetime press conference. Last night, he was on "Lost" trying to sell his economic plan to the people on the island.
DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE NIGHT": Now, here's an example of political nitpicking, because nobody really knew how to criticize what the president is doing because, first of all, the task ahead of him is impossible. And he's at least out there trying. So what can you say wrong? Listen to this. critics are now criticizing his overuse of the teleprompter. (LAUGHTER). OK, maybe he should think about stepping down. (LAUGHTER). Overuse of the teleprompter. So we put together a piece tonight entitled "Teleprompter Versus No Teleprompter." Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: This was the time when we performed in the words that are carved into this very chamber, something worthy to be remembered.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: (INAUDIBLE).
ANNOUNCER: This is "Teleprompter Versus No Teleprompter."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LETTERMAN: That's exactly what I'm talking about.
SCOTT: That's a wrap on "News Watch" this week.
Thanks to Marisa Guthrie, Jim Pinkerton, Cal Thomas and Kirsten Powers.
I'm Jon Scott. Thanks for joining us. The "FOX Report" is up next.
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