This is a rush transcript from "FOX News Watch," May 23, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
JON SCOTT, FOX HOST: On "FOX News Watch," a political duel made for the media. Obama and Cheney go head to head in a national security smack down.
Is he a loose cannon? Is she a political liability? Is he getting fed up?
The king of talk radio double dares the squawking peacocks. Can they meet the challenge?
Brooke Shields is no stranger to tabloid journalism. But this time it's personal.
And the media take time to honor and praise, and so do we.
On our panel this week, Marisa Guthrie, programming editor for Broadcasting and Cable; John Avlon for the dailybeat.com and author of “Independent Nation;" Jim Pinkerton, fellow, New America Foundation, and "FOX Forum" contributor; and Judith Miller, writer and FOX News contributor.
I'm Jon Scott. "FOX News Watch" is on right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're cleaning up something that is quite simply a mess, a misguided experiment that has left in its wake a flood of legal challenges that my administration is forced to deal with on a constant, almost daily basis. And it consumes the time of government officials whose time should be spent on better protecting our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: President Obama on Thursday, there, defending his decision to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay and delivering a blistering attack on the Bush administration. His speech carried live on cable news channels and Web sites as well. Moments later, attention turned to the former Vice President Dick Cheney.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Top secret meetings, about enhanced interrogation, I made my own beliefs clear. I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation program. The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts had failed. They were legal, essential, justified, successful and the right thing to do. The intelligence officers who questioned the terrorists can be proud of their work, proud of the results because they prevented the violent death of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: It was an extraordinary day with back-to-back speeches by a sitting president and a former vice president.
Jim, one writer described them as a "thrilla near the Hilla."
I wonder though is the press got to pay too much attention to the tone of all this and didn't think much about the substance?
JIM PINKERTON, FELLOW, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION & "FOX FORUM" CONTRIBUTOR: No, I think they came to grips with the substance pretty quickly. Josh Marshall, who runs a Web site called talkingpointsmemo.com., which is arguably the most influential, so of elite liberal blog out there said — their summary headline was "How Cheney turned a right wing mean" that's idea, mainstream. In other words, how Dick Cheney won the argument against Obama. That's a substantive liberal, serious-minded blog that didn't like the print, but they printed.
SCOTT: But did Dick Cheney, through all of the talk that he's been— all of the speech making's been doing, did he drive this issue through the media?
JUDITH MILLER, WRITER AND FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I think he really did control it, but his mission, his task was much easier and that is all he wanted to do, Jon, was just attack, attack, attack. In fact, he used that word 19 times. And it was an extraordinary performance that led Larry O'Donnell to call it sleazy. They were really reeling. The president had to explain the policy and justify himself to the left of his party, to the right wing critics and sell himself to the center. All Cheney had to do was attack and he did it brilliantly.
SCOTT: All he had to do was be Dick Cheney.
JOHN AVLON, THEDIALYBEAT.COM: Yeah. I think the way they framed the speeches consecutively did lend itself to a relatively high-minded debate about the philosophy underlying the approaches of the war on terror. Let's not kid ourselves, the reason it got the coverage it did was two fold. One, you had conflict built in. There's not a liberal or conservative bias. There's a conflict bias. So you had everyone retreating to sports metaphors. And the second thing is you've got this unprecedentedly unleashed former vice president, who's got a grudge match in defending his administration's record.
What's being lost in this — and I think one person who did a good job in cutting through a lot of the complexity, New Republican had an essay by a former Bush administration assistant attorney general, who said, look, at lot of differences, at the end of the day, are symbolic. A lot of the substance kept from the Obama administration from the late Bush administration war on terror policies. So a lot of personalities here, but the policy overlap has been underplayed.
SCOTT: Marisa, talk about the stage craft. Do you think there was a reason that President Obama chose the National Archives to make his speech?
MARISA GUTHRIE, PROGRAMMING EDITOR, BROADCASTING & CABLE: Yeah, I actually think he should have chosen the portico of the White House. I think that would have sent a much more powerful message that he's the — in the position of power now. We tried it your way. You left me with a mess, as he put it, and now, I'm here cleaning it up. One of the interesting narratives to come out of this has been a lot of psycho analysis of Cheney and his break toward the end of the administration.
SCOTT: This is a news show. This is not a psycho analysis show.
GUTHRIE: With George W. Bush, as George Bush aligned himself more with Condi Rice. So that's been an interesting narrative to come out of all of this as well.
SCOTT: Would he have been better, Jim, in the White House rather than surrounded by the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence?
PINKERTON: That was his argument. I'm a law professor and lawyer. I've studies these things. I'm in touch with the important documents.
But, Jon, the real lesson here is the convergence if there is any, between the Bush position and the Obama position is because Obama's backed down. He's keeping people detained. He's not doing all — he's not going to wind up closing Gitmo the way he said he was going to. Cheney has won this on the policy merits because the Senate voted 90-6, nine, zero to six against any idea of releasing these prisoners into the United States. Obama says he's going to do it anyway. That'll be a fight.
SCOTT: If he has backed down, has the media let him get away with it?
AVLON: No, I thought Dick Cheney lost this debate within the Bush administration towards the end of the second term. And I think what Obama is doing, he's changing the symbolism, but he's keeping much of the substance of the war on terror, I think, to his credit. And you know, votes in Congress notwithstanding, and I think it makes good sense for people to say, no, there needs to be a plan before you move forward with closing Gitmo.
What is so interesting to be is Dick Cheney is using this and other interviews, and really a full-throated attack also on centrism, which he did in the context of the war on terror debate. But he's made the case within his own party as well. There seems to be a personal grudge beneath — Cheney is being motivated by a personal grudge, which is significant.
PINKERTON: It's interesting how everybody wants to get into Cheney's head. There's a larger issue of more concern to the average American, which is one that The New York Times reports that one in seven of the people released from Gitmo have gone back to being terrorists. That seems more important to average the American than whatever has gone...
MILLER: Has gone to the fight, Jim. We don't actually know, as The New York Times had to correct itself later in its online edition. We don't actually know that those people were involved in terrorism to begin with. So how can they go back?
PINKERTON: It's unlikely they were being...
SCOTT: All right, time for a break.
But if you would like to hear what we're talking about during the commercials, check it out on our Web site, FOXnews.com/FOXnewswatch.
We'll be back in two minutes with a look at more controversy in Washington.
ANNOUNCER: The vice president, the speaker of the house, powerful allies or Obama's weakest links? And has the press figured it out? Plus, Rush Limbaugh issues a challenge to talking heads at MSNBC. Can they do it? Answers next, on "News Watch."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE FALLON, LATE NIGHT TALK SHOW HOST: Joe Biden accidentally revealed the location of the vice president's top secret bunker. That's the truth. Did you hear about that? The guy can't help it. But he did apologized. He said, "I'm so sorry for the mistake. The launch code is 85334.
It will never happen again. It will never happen again. My g-mail password is Robot23. What am I doing? The house key is under the plant near the door step. What am I doing?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: Late Night's Jimmy Fallon mocking Joe Biden there. The vice president becoming an endless supply of material for comedians and the press.
All right, Marisa, when sketches like that draw those kinds of laughs, does that become a problem for this administration?
GUTHRIE: Well, everyone knows Joe Biden is very gregarious. I think it's an annoyance to Obama because it's embarrassing to him, and he's extremely disciplined and exudes a lot of self-control. I don't — but Biden's job is to be gregarious and reach across the aisle. So he is, in some ways, fulfilling that.
SCOTT: I thought his job was to be leader of the Senate.
But, John, there's a new book coming out, a soon to be released book from one of the reporters who followed them on the campaign trail who says that President Obama actually pulled Joe Biden aside to give him a private dressing down about some of these gaffes. Should — is that something the media should be going after.
AVLON: My understanding is it's an unnamed senior aide source, so you've got to doubt the credibility of those off the face of it. but we know just from the joke Biden tried to make about Chief Justice Roberts where you saw the president stiffen up and try to tone him down that this is an issue — look, politics is perception. Biden does have a reputation for being a little loose-lipped, but I think in Washington, that gives him a big — he gets a discount. People see him and go, what's news is what's new. It's not news. Therefore Joe Biden is a little bit sloppy?
SCOTT: If Joe Biden releases the location of the vice presidential underground bunker, everybody says that's OK because it's just Joe?
PINKERTON: It just guarantees there will be a lot of reporters following him around just to wait for the next one so they can learn the launch codes.
But look, I don't — I think Biden is in a lot more trouble than my predecessors on this panel has said. To me he's got Dan Quayle written all over him as just the narrative has been set that he is a guy who will say dumb things. That may be fair or unfair. It's what all reporters think now.
SCOTT: What everybody else is talking about in Washington this week is what Nancy Pelosi has had to say about what she knew about the CIA.
Take a listen to her latest news conference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NANCY PELOSI, (D), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: On the subject that you asked, I've made the statement that I'm going to make. I won't have anything more to say about it.
I won't have anything more to say about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: That was her press briefing on Friday.
Judy, does that end the matter? She won't have anything else to say about it.
MILLER: She's clearly trying to end the matter. If I were Nancy Pelosi, I would want to end the matter too? But the press won't let her end the matter because her series of explanations simply don't hold water. She's contradicted herself 15 ways. The CIA questions her veracity or her memory. She's got the president's attention. I wish he would say something. He has not said something.
SCOTT: He has seemed, in public — in these public events, he has seemed to go overboard in throwing his support behind her.
MILLER: He has not let Robert Gibbs address the substance of the issue. He's not going to get in between Nancy Pelosi and his CIA director. That mistake at least he's not going to make so far.
SCOTT: The speaker of the house actually blamed the press, Marisa, for making this a distraction. Is this a creation of the media?
GUTHRIE: No, absolutely not. I mean, Obama doesn't — he needs Nancy Pelosi to be effective. It's all fine for her to be, you know, a lefty from San Francisco, but when she starts attacking the CIA, who are patriots. I mean, these are people who have dedicated their lives to serving their country. She's made a huge mistake and she risks being ineffective in her job as house speaker. And that's the problem.
SCOTT: Some would say though, Jim, she risks death after thousand cuts by the media because this drumbeat of questions and stories just keeps coming on.
PINKERTON: If they ever put all these people under oath, somebody would have a problem, huh? It's a big mess and the House Democrats are lining up, present and former members, and also senators, to say, oh, no, we were misled by the CIA, too. They've got a good fight going on. The basic problem is Pelosi chose to escalate this. She used the "L" word, lie. She just simply would have been content to say I didn't feel fully informed by the CIA, this story would have been over a few weeks ago.
AVLON: And the other problem is one of merit, right? I mean, hypocrisy is the regular position in politics. Pelosi and other House Democrats were calling for a truth commission. All of a sudden, it seems pretty evident that the house speaker has a truth-telling problem. and it's a pile on. But it's a self-inflicted pile on. Now she's trying to stop digging today. You know, no more comments.
But it highlights a deeper problem Obama has, I think, with Biden and Pelosi, which is he is vastly more popular and the other standard bearers of the party, especially with Independent votes. And that's Achilles heel as he tries to push through a broader agenda.
SCOTT: As Richard Nixon learned in the Watergate debacle, when you try to wall yourself off from the media, try to stop answering questions, it doesn't usually get you too far even if...
PINKERTON: Reporters don't take the hint.
MILLER: Usually, it gets our attention, if nothing else does.
MILLER: And there's no way that she can avoid addressing this further. Except we have heard fewer calls for the truth commission lately from her and from other democrats.
SCOTT: Isn't that interesting?
It's time for another break. But first, we would like your help. Story ideas always welcome, especially if you come across what seems to you to be media bias. E-mail us, email@example.com
We will be back to talk about one star's crusade against the tabloids.
ANNOUNCER: "Blue Lagoon" star Brooke Shields' getting bad press how she treats her mom. But is it fair? And can MSNBC anchors stop saying the L-word? All next, on "News Watch."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: So my challenge is this: To MSNBC, let's see if you can run your little TV network for 30 days — let's see if you can do Rush withdrawal. Let's see if you can run your little TV network for 30 days without doing a single story on me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: There you have it. Rush Limbaugh issuing a challenge to MSNBC on Tuesday. Could that cable network do it?
Here is Keith Olbermann on Wednesday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST: I will go 30 days on this program without referencing what has been done or said or boasted about by Rush Limbaugh provided you go 30 days on your program without mentioning what has been done or said or boasted about by Rush Limbaugh.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: So there you have it.
What about that? Is that a good idea for both parties, Marisa, to this game they're playing?
GUTHRIE: I've always said they both need each other. They get so much, so much oxygen from each other. It's part of the game. It's part of the entertainment.
AVLON: It shows what a pathetically small echo chamber the hyper- partisan comment has been. And it's why more and more folks are feeling fanatic fatigue. That's why you're seeing a huge increase in the number of Independent voters. These folks all reference each other. They create their own little self-referential fights. And it's totally irrelevant to the way most Americans live.
SCOTT: Rush Limbaugh also resigned this week as the titular head of the Republican Party. And take a listen to that and then reaction from the panel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIMBAUGH: I resign as the titular head of the Republican Party. There frankly is someone far more qualified and capable and more in tune with today's Republican party than I to be not only be its titular head but its real head. And that would be General Colin Powell. So I now pass the baton to General Powell as the titular head of the Republican Party.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: Why General Powell, Jim?
PINKERTON: I sense irony in Rush's voice.
Considering the fact that Powell endorsed Obama last year. I mean, look, both John and Marisa have it right, it's a beneficial fight to both sides. MSNBC and Rush Limbaugh are fighting. And the big loser frankly is CNN, which is somewhere in the middle that just is being ignored in this big food fight between the two or them.
SCOTT: Is that a brilliant move by Rush Limbaugh. He's always talking about the drive-by media and how they operate. Is he stage managing all of this?
MILLER: I think probably he may be a little worried about his own standing in the Republican Party, even though Dick Cheney endorsed him. Dick Cheney's numbers are moving up. The popularity is increase, from 25 percent to 34 percent before the speech. I think Rush Limbaugh loves this role. And Mr. Olbermann loves having Rush Limbaugh there. So I agree with Marisa, this is a mutual admiration society.
SCOTT: OK, let's talk about another issue we've been following this week. Actress Brooke Shields, no stranger to the wily ways of the tabloids. She's been in the public eyes since she was a baby after all. New the "Blue Lagoon" star is battling the tabloids over an incident involving her mother. 73-year-old Terry has dementia, and resides in an assisted living facility. Earlier this month, a reporter from the National Inquirer checked Brooke's mom out of that facility, allegedly to take her out to lunch and help her run errands.
Well, the National Inquirer claims it did nothing wrong, that the reporter has known Terry Shields for ten years. Brooke Shields, who was told about the incident by police, says it was reprehensible and disgusting.
John, your reaction?
AVLON: It is reprehensible and disgusting. I mean, when reporters can pick up someone's mother, who has dementia, and take her out shopping, whatever circumstances, it doesn't even begin to pass the smell test. And you know, while the Inquirer deserves credit for getting things like the John Edwards story right, this looks and feels a lot like a new low. You don't cross some lines. They did. It's reprehensible and disgusting.
SCOTT: Marisa, if you're a celebrity, should you be prepared to deal with some of this stuff? Is nothing sacred?
GUTHRIE: In today's media world, no. It's sad. The Inquirer certainly has — does not have a great ethical track record. They don't exactly have a lot of Pulitzers over there. But they have done some stories, the John Edwards story. They also have a very clear track record of this kind of unethical behavior. And all of the — the rise of all of these blogs and all of this other media just make celebrities more of a target for this kind of thing.
SCOTT: So if they've done the John Edwards story, why do they have to do something like this, Jim?
PINKERTON: Because they have to sell a magazine every week. Look stipulating the Pulitzer Prize, no offense to some winners on this panel.
It is an incestuous little thing where they give it to their friends. So the fact that the Inquirer isn't one. And it says more about the snob factor than anything else. But I do agree with John, the Inquirer hit a new low for this particular story.
SCOTT: All right.
Time now for our "Caught in the Web" segment.
Take a look at this video. Shot, edited and produced entirely by the White House media staff. You're looking at footage of the visit by the NCAA championship women's basketball team to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue recently. Reporters were completely shut out during the visit. They weren't allowed to take photos of the president shooting hoops. As ABC's Jake Tapper put it, "Do Obama's White House officials think their media coverage isn't flattering enough?"
During this Memorial Day weekend, it's important to say thanks to our service men and women. You can send an electronic message to the troops, America supports you by going to www.ourmilitary.mil. There will be more on this on our "News Watch" Web page as well. Go to FOXnews.com/FOXnewswatch .
Finally, from our "FOX Nation" page, why won't any radio station in the country play this song?
SCOTT: You can hear the whole song on "FOX Nation," our "FOX Nation" Web site.
We have to take one more break. And when we come back, time to remember what Memorial Day is all about.
SCOTT: We argue a lot on this program about the use and misuse of freedom of the press. It probably seemed like a radical idea when it was proposed in the First Amendment back in 1789. These days, even in the media business, we take freedom of the press pretty much for granted.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT (voice-over): As Marine Corps Chaplain Dennis O'Brien wrote: "It's the soldier not the reporter who has given us freedom of the press."
As we all enjoy the freedoms of this great nation on Memorial Day weekend, try for just a moment not to take a holiday for granted. Pay a visit to Arlington or any National cemetery. Get on the Internet and study those hallowed sites. Think about the men and women at rest here. Think about the Antietam and Normandy, Inchon and Caisson (ph). And then think about those serving right now, those that have calmed the once deadly city of Fallujah, those who will sleep this night in a bunker outside Kandahar. Theirs is not a life of barbecues and golf, baseball and swimming pools. They are fighting for all of us. And, yes, fighting for freedom of the press.
For this reporter, a once distance idea is quite personal. Here is shot of my oldest son in his Army uniform. Right now, it's that of the sprint football team at West Point. I don't think he likes it when I put his cadet photo on TV, so I won't. He's halfway through the U.S. Military Academy. Tomorrow, he heads to a Texas fort to study firsthand the command of troops. He's 20 years old and in a two short years, he could be in one of those bunkers in Afghanistan.
For all of the troops protecting our freedoms and especially for those who have paid the ultimate price, we at "News Watch" say thank you. We honor your service and your sacrifice.
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