This is a rush transcript from "FOX News Watch," July 4, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
JON SCOTT, FOX HOST: On "FOX News Watch," a supreme decision raises questions about the president's pick for the court. Did the press take note?
Helen Thomas takes control of White House briefing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HELEN THOMAS, REPORTER: It's a pattern of controlling the press.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: U.S. troops moving out. Iraqis celebrate the departure. Is the press cheering as well?
Michael Jackson's death sends the news media off the wall. Is it time to beat it?
Want to talk to aliens?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COMPUTER VOICE: We come in peace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
And has South Carolina's governor given too much to the press?
On the panel this week, Marissa Guthrie, programming editor at Broadcasting & Cable magazine; syndicated columnist, Cal Thomas; Jim Pinkerton, fellow, New American Foundation and FOX Forum contributor; and Judy Miller, writer and FOX Forum contributor as well.
I'm Jon Scott. "FOX News Watch" is on right now.
On Wednesday, President Obama held a town hall meeting in Virginia on health care, taking questions from the audience and several online sources as well. Well, it turns out the audience was invited, the questions pre-screened, a scenario which even riled veteran White House reporter, Helen Thomas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHIP REED, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Even if it's a tough question, it's a question coming from somebody who is invited or screened, or the question was screened.
ROBERT GIBBS: WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRTARY: Chip, I've -- let's have this discussion as a conclusion of the town hall meeting. How about that?
H. THOMAS: No, no, no, we're having it now.
GIBBS: Why do we don't have to have it now?
H. THOMAS: It's a pattern.
GIBBS: Which question do you object to at the town hall, Helen?
H. THOMAS: It isn't the question.
GIBBS: Where's the pattern?
H. THOMAS: It's a pattern of controlling the press.
Jim, as the National Review said on Thursday, if you've lost Helen Thomas, you've got to wonder. Is the White House losing the battle with the media here?
JIM PINKERTON, FELLOW, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION" & FOX FORUM CONTRIBUTOR: No, They have plenty of high cards to play, including the promise that Katie Couric will get her own town hall meeting down the road after ABC and NBC got their specials. this reminds me of four years ago when the Bush administration was pushing its Social Security plan and was accused and got caught of planting questions in town hall meetings like that. And they got slaughtered in the mainstream media. And now we'll see what happens in the wake of this story.
SCOTT: There did seem to be a lot of displeasure in the press room against this.
MARISSA GUTHRIE, PROGRAMMING EDITOR, BROADCASTING & CABLE: It goes against every fiber in the journalist's being to feel like they're being controlled. They will immediately rebel against that. I mean, what Helen Thomas said is that, what the hell do they think we are? Puppets. I mean, that gets to it.
JUDITH MILLER, WRITER & FOX FORUM CONTRIBUTOR: Gosh, how could they get that on air?
CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: ... when you say that.
SCOTT: So is it going to make a difference, Judy?
MILLER: I think it's going to make a difference because we've finally, finally seen some signs of life from the press. It was obvious that they were staging questions. He looks at his list, he says, let's see, so-and-so, where are you? And then the question gets asked. So, it was nice that Helen Thomas of all people began to notice.
SCOTT: Yeah, because she's generally pretty favorable for the White House.
MILLER: But she's got a skeptical streak and a sense of tradition and this does not happen in White House press conferences or at least it's not supposed to happen. And it's occurring all the time.
THOMAS: That's right.
MILLER: It invokes Nixon.
THOMAS: Yeah. Kudos to Helen and to Chip for raising this.
The attitude of the administration, you hear it all the time, not only in legislation and programs and things they want to do, but now in dealing with the press, look, we won the election, why are you questioning us. We got a majority of the vote. I think that's very injurious.
And by the way, this isn't the only way, of course, that this White House or even previous ones play this game. The game is played this way. If you want so-and-so on your show, if you want to do an interview, then we want to see some positive coverage. I got the same thing during the Bush 41 administration, when I had difficulty seeing this man I've known for many years. One of his aides said, well, maybe if you write a positive column about him you'll in sooner. I said, don't ever say that to me. And I wrote a negative one just to know they can't play that game.
PINKERTON: So, for example, Suzanne Malveaux...
... has a lot to look forward to. In the midst of all of this Stalinesque fakery at this town hall meeting, when Obama hugged that woman who was a plant -- her cancer was real enough, but her being there was a total artifact of planning. She said, quote, this is a quote, "Bold display of presidential concern," end quote. Just like Stalin putting Ukrainian famine victims on his lap during the 30's.
SCOTT: But is the press -- they know it's happening now. Is it going to make them more critical of this White House as the coverage goes forward?
GUTHRIE: I hope so. Also what's working against the administration is all the hypocritical calls for transparency. Helen Thomas and Chip Reed said you're calling for transparency and screening the questions.
THOMAS: Not only that. The role of the press is to question not just for the sake of questioning, but to present another point of view. But the whole John Stossel special on health care, which had contrary views to the administration, was wiped out by the ABC town hall meeting. Now, we've had -- I don't know if they've rescheduled it or re-put it on again, but some of the information now is coming out on the Internet. The role of the press is not to be a cheerleader. The first African-American president, beautiful family, that's for the tabloids to do. The role of the press is to question so the public can get accurate information.
SCOTT: Let's talk about another branch of government now. All this week, a long-anticipated decision was discussed after it came down from the Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled in favor of 20 firefighters from New Haven, Connecticut. They had sued claiming they were denied promotions only because of their race. The decision overturned a circuit court ruling handed down by a panel of judges that included the Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor.
Here is what one of the firefighters told Sean Hannity about that victory.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEW MARCARELLI, NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT FIREFIGHTER: I think we view discrimination as discrimination plain and simple. We were discriminated based upon our race just like African-Americans were in the past in other issues. So it's just plain old discrimination.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: All right. Marissa, Sotomayor's confirmation hearings begin shortly. Does the fact that her decision got overturned here, does that mean she should expect tougher questioning from the Senators or maybe from the press?
GUTHRIE: I think so. I think she was always going to receive tough questioning on this particular case and on the affirmative action issue. I mean, it's -- this is an issue that's become the -- it's risen to a boiling point, I think. And also, you know, you have opponents of affirmative action pointing to President Obama as the very reason why we don't need it anymore.
SCOTT: Judy is disagreeing.
MILLER: I think the courts are all over the map on this as the best of the written coverage pointed out. And I think that she did not write this decision, and that you could -- and even, look, it was 5-4. It was very close. And there were very good reasons to consider it in context. I don't think this is a big issue for her, I really don't.
PINKERTON: The courts are all over the map, but the country is very strongly against this. John Cosella (ph), of the Examiner had a poll, 4-1 against New Haven, against Sotomayor, against New Haven, Connecticut and against the Sotomayor position. The elites are mixed on affirmative actions and the country is against it. The elites have been winning so far.
SCOTT: All right, time for a break. But first, if you want to hear what's going on during the gaps, go to FOXnews.com/FOXnewswatch after the show. Check it out.
We will be back in two minutes with this.
ANNOUNCER: Independence Day in Iraq, as U.S. troops pull out. Is the press cheering too loudly? And coverage of Michael Jackson consumes the media. Is this a bad sign? Answers next, on "New Watch."
SCOTT: Parades and celebrations in Iraq on Tuesday as U.S. troops begin to withdraw from Iraqi cities, the first major step from withdrawing all U.S. forces from that nation by December 31st of 2011. President Obama has promised all combat troops will be gone with the country by the end of August 2010, a little more than a year from now.
All right, Jim, you've been to Iraq. Has the press ever gotten that story right?
PINKERTON: I mean, Walt Whitman said the real war will never get in the books. And I think it's probably going to take a long time before the truth about Iraq comes out.
I will say this. The press is haunted by the backlash against the media from Vietnam when they've seemed a little too happy that we lost in 1975. This time around, they're just trying to play it cool. I think Martha Raddatz has done some great coverage. He was with the Army officer who was -- got his legs blown off a moment after she left him. So there's a lot of moving coverage that hasn't yet had a chance to really be retrospective.
SCOTT: Well, the war started with the embedding of correspondents, which really seemed to change the attitude in the lottery.
MILLER: It did, for the better. I mean, you began to really get a feel for the war on the ground. And you can argue that America's turned against the war because of that process, which is not, I imagine, what the Bush administration had in mind when they authorized it.
But I'm struck by how relatively good the Arab coverage has been, Iraqi coverage, in a country never had a tradition of the free press. and yet you've had really profound articles questioning whether or not the pullout is too soon, whether or not it's too late, whether or not the Americans should have been there at all. You have the real range of opinion, more so than you do in this country.
THOMAS: Let's contrast the two wars. The first Gulf War, quick, few casualties. Johnnie came marching home. Schwarzkopf was the hero, went on to make six figures in lecture the circuit. And we had the parades. That was all under Bush 41. We have this war, a different narrative and a different president. There won't be any parades. There won't be any warm welcoming home of the troops because Barack Obama is opposed to the war. He's not able to credibly stage a big celebration for the troops when he was against the whole war in the beginning. So that's one of the problems.
Second problem is that the media got slammed for being over patriotic. Tom Brokaw was criticized for not wearing the American flag lapel pin on his suits. So the patriotism is gone. The stories on the front page now, Saddam Hussein, I never had -- in the FBI-translated interviews with him, I never had the weapons of mass destruction. People want it to go away. And I think the media is following that narrative.
SCOTT: Let's talk about one of the stories you brought to our attention, Jim. This out of Washington, I mean, The Washington Post, one of the major opinion leaders in this country. And lo and behold, in the days when the papers are struggling to find new sources of revenue, comes word that The Post may have found one or tried to.
PINKERTON: The Post, as of late in the week, was caught red handed trying to sell access to corporate fat cats and lobbyist to schmooze with members of the Obama administration. They're selling at $25,000 a dinner or a series of $250,000. This is a major scandal. It will be interesting to see what the White House says about how -- what relationship they had in the planning of this.
SCOTT: For viewers who might not know exactly what we're talking about, this was going to be, what, a series of dinners, cocktail parties at the homes of Washington's Post's owners, right?
THOMAS: Owners. The editors.
PINKERTON: Top editors.
MILLER: The publisher.
GUTHRIE: And reporters would be involved.
SCOTT: And a memo went out suggesting that, oh, if you want to talk health care with some of the, you know, top folks in the Obama administration, come over to my house. $25,000 will get you in the door.
MILLER: In off the record, noncontroversial settings, the flyer said, intimate settings.
SCOTT: This wasn't money that was going to be donated to charity.
THOMAS: Not unless you consider The Post a charity, which it may be given its drop off in revenue.
Look, this paying for access, this is an out -- this is a line you do you not cross in journalism. This is one of the fundamental principles. In most-- in my contract, with my syndicate tribune, it's specifically prohibits you from taking any money from anybody and then going and writing the story favorable to those people. That's a firing offense.
SCOTT: All right, so to be fair, they dropped it, right? The word got out and they said, oh, this is just preliminary.
GUTHRIE: And a lobbyist blew the whistle on them, a lobbyist.
SCOTT: A lobbyist. A lobbyist is helping The Washington Post.
GUTHRIE: The lobbyist was so offended by this, that he leaked this e- mail to a reporter.
MILLER: Who used to be a Washington Post reporter?
PINKERTON: Right. Mike Gowan of The Politico, it's obviously -- still has good sources inside The Washington Post, and I think we'll discover there has been more of this going on elsewhere in the media and that will come out soon enough.
MILLER: It's a reflection of desperation.
SCOTT: Lobbyists teaching ethics to journalists, great.
There's going to be more of this on FOXnews.com. We are going to continue to cover that story as you mentioned.
We would like your help as well. Story ideas are always welcome, like that one. If you come across a story that smells of media bias, e-mail us, NewsWatch@FOXnews.com .
We will be back with this.
ANNOUNCER: His sudden death, the question of drugs, the mysterious will and his family affairs, real stories or a media feeding frenzy? And what would you say to an alien? All next, on "News Watch."
SCOTT: "Michael, king of pop dies," that was USA Today's headlines the day after Michael Jackson's death became publicly known. It was the spark that ignited an explosion of media attention worldwide. Then questions about drug use and his death, "The king of pain." More media focus on his family and kids and who would care for them. And then more controversy over Jackson's will. All of this as the buildup continues to the Jackson funeral Tuesday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. One reporter has predicted it will be the biggest funeral of all time.
All right, Marissa, you've been watching the story of this story. This guy sold a lot of CD's, obviously, record albums in the old days.
GUTHRIE: He's back on tops of the charts now.
SCOTT: He is. And he also sold a lot of magazines. Is this one more way for the media to ring money out of Michael Jackson?
GUTHRIE: They're reacting. There's a huge outpouring from the fans and public. To be fair, I mean, his life got very strange and bizarre, but he was -- he did leave a very big mark on music and music videos, et cetera. So, we're seeing sort of the -- in the beginning of the coverage, was sort of laudatory and looking at his accomplishments. And now what we're seeing and going to continue to see is the, you know, the picking of the bones, if you will.
SCOTT: Was it overdone, Jim?
THOMAS: Go ahead. Tell us what you really think.
PINKERTON: I would never speak ill of the dead. So I'll leave that to Linda Stozi (ph) in The New York Post, who called him a man who looked like the "Phantom of the Opera" who behaved like a depraved worm.
MILLER: With a do you mean "ouch?" We're talking about an accused pedophile here. is the message of Michael Jackson, apart from his great contribution to music, which nobody is challenging, but how many times have they mentioned that part of his past, and also the fact that, if you're rich enough and dead enough in America, little things like this don't matter.
THOMAS: Michael Jackson was a cash cow in life and he'll be a bigger cash cow in death. When "Night Line" beats Conan on "The Tonight Show" and David Letterman, 27 million people tuning in. Look, we love our profession, but it's a business first. If you can't make money, then you can't put on things. I may lament the overload, but the fact is. A lot of people wanted to see it. And that's what television is there to do, to satisfy the masses.
SCOTT: The phone rang in my office one day. I picked it up, a viewer who said he was just dialing numbers at random at FOX News channel to complain about the overwhelming Michael Jackson coverage. And this was only 24 hours into it, I mean.
THOMAS: You wouldn't have known if you weren't watching.
GUTHRIE: Well, the polls said two-thirds of public, accord to go a Pew Center poll, said there was too much coverage. Yet, as Cal pointed out, the ratings are through the roof.
MILLER: Why would they think there was too much coverage when there was -- 93 percent of cable news was devoted to Michael Jackson on Thursday and Friday?
GUTHRIE: Because people want it.
SCOTT: And there used to be a line between, you know, traditional media outlets and the tabloids and that line seemed to go away.
GUTHRIE: A long time ago.
SCOTT: Well, I know.
MILLER: A long time ago.
PINKERTON: It probably changed in the late 70s when Roone Arledge transformed ABC and when they hired Barbara Walters, not because she had any news credibility, but because she was a celebrity and an interviewer. And that began a cycle that we still live with today.
SCOTT: And then there were some of the, you know -- well, there were Twitter updates that suggested, you know, that had people crazy because other celebrities supposedly had died.
THOMAS: Everything could get out now thanks to Facebook and Twitter. And why editors are more valuable than ever. You can put anything out there, it will get repeated by responsible sources supposedly because it's exciting.
GUTHRIE: That's what happened to Michael Jackson.
THOMAS: What was that word you used, responsible?
PINKERTON: Anybody remember them.
MILLER: That's what happened, we can't afford to pay them anymore. So we...
GUTHRIE: That's what happened with this story. News divisions are being inundated. People are calling them and saying, hey -- various hangers on and former business associates of Michael Jackson are calling up with all of the tips. And half of them are wrong. There was -- there were a lot of reports that there was going to be a caravan to Neverland and the public viewing, it was wrong.
SCOTT: Can you imagine the funeral coverage? I mean, what is that going to be like?
MILLER: I don't want to imagine the funeral coverage. I may be accused of being focused too much on foreign policy, but really, all Michael all the time. It was only interrupted by the prince of ponzi schemes, from Michael to Madoff. That was the transition.
THOMAS: Michael Jackson's funeral will get more coverage than the second coming.
SCOTT: It's time now for our "Caught in the Web" segment.
Jack the Ripper is back in the news. Well, at least on the web. You can check original reports from the times of London newspaper, on everything from the Ripper murders to the Battle of Trafalgar on the paper's web site. It's been said newspapers are the rough draft of history. Here is your chance to look it over and read all about it.
A scene there from "Mars Attacks" in which seemingly friendly aliens arrive in the U.S. with disastrous consequences. And that got us wondering, how would you greet an alien. The Setty Institute in California, where they search for extraterrestrial intelligence, is asking folks to share their alien ice breakers on a web site called "Earth Speaks." So far, responses on the site mostly fall into two categories: "We're glad to meet you. Let's party. Or "We've got guns. We know how to use them." We report, you decide.
As America celebrates its 233rd birthday today, there will be an extra light in the sky along with the fireworks. Across the country, Americans will be treated to spectacular views of the international space station as it orbits 220 miles above earth. Many locations will have unusually long sighting opportunities, as much as five minutes in some cases, weather permitting, as the station flies almost directly overhead. To find out when to see the station from your city, visit spaceflight.nasa.gov and search sky watch.
We have to take a break. When we come back, one man who was grateful for the Michael Jackson coverage.
ANNOUNCER: South Carolina's governor reveals his affair, but he doesn't stop there. Should he stop talking to the press? That's next, on "News Watch."
SCOTT: What makes headlines one day gets shoved aside the next, especially when a mega-media magnet like Michael Jackson passes away. South Carolina's Governor Mark Sanford and his tale of an extramarital affair was big news, but once the Jackson death suddenly pushed it aside, the governor and his tryst faded from the national spot light. But not so because, no sooner had this governor escaped the press, then he felt the need to tell us more, giving a lengthy interview to the Associated Press. In that tearful interview, he described his former lover as his soul mate, saying he crossed lines with other women before, but only crossed the sex line with one woman. Amid mounting calls for his resignation, he promised to repay taxpayers for his trips to see his soul mate with the tan lines in Argentina.
There you go. He's right back in the news.
The question, Judy, should the press stop listening to the governor?
MILLER: As long as he is governor, we have to cover him. Clearly, he is having a nervous breakdown and it's sad to watch on TV.
SCOTT: On live TV.
PINKERTON: Hats off to The State newspaper for noting that he took 38 trips unescorted by his security detail in 2009 and 39 trips in 2008. That's a lot of explaining and possible refunding to do.
GUTHRIE: He's clearly a narcissist. He can't shut up.
THOMAS: The entertainment media promotes this kind of behavior and lifestyle. And when somebody follows it there are plenty of cluck cluckers around saying, you shouldn't do that. Hypocrites.
MILLER: Cluck cluckers?
SCOTT: That's going to wrap up this special July 4th edition of "News Watch" this week.
Thanks to Marissa, Jim, Cal and Judy.
I'm Jon Scott. Happy Fourth. We'll see you next week.
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