This is a rush transcript from "FOX News Watch," July 18, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
JON SCOTT, FOX HOST (voice-over): On "FOX News Watch," the secret's out. A plan to eliminate Al Qaeda bad guys has Congress and the press outraged, but why?
A nominee for the Supreme Court gets a grilling from the Senate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D), CALIFORNIA: You are going to be a great Supreme Court justice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: Did the press learn anything?
The presidents' health care plan is making headlines, and they're not good.
Murder in the south shakes a Florida town, and the press plays a roll in the investigation.
The media cheered 40 years ago when Americans landed on the moon. Are they still cheering today?
SCOTT (on camera): On the panel this week, Jane Hall, of the American University; Bill Salmon, vice president, news, and the managing editor of our FOX Washington bureau; Jim Pinkerton, fellow, New America Foundation and "FOX Forum" contributor; and Judy Miller, writer and FOX contributor as well.
I'm Jon Scott. "FOX News Watch" is on right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think that it's behooves the committees to take whatever actions they believe are necessary to get more information on that subject, as to whether the intelligence community was directed by the vice president to create a program and intentionally withhold that information from Congress.
SCOTT: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi there on Monday talking about reports that the CIA had developed an anti-terrorist proposal to train assassination teams to take out Al Qaeda leaders. The plan initially had been hidden from members of Congress, it is alleged, at the instruction of Vice President Cheney.
The Wall Street Journal reported the plan on Monday after CIA Director Leon Panetta informed the Congress last month that he had scrapped the plan. Bill, this plan has been on and off again in the works since 2001. Leon Panetta found out about it and he all of a sudden not only cancels it but immediately it's in the press. Is it any wonder there are people who wanted to keep it secret?
BILL SAMMON, NEWS VICE PRESIDENT & MANAGING EDITOR, FOX WASHINGTON BUREAU: That's true. But it wasn't quite immediately. The timing is this. The Republicans were about to resurrect the controversy over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accusing the CIA of lying to her. They were going to use the opportunity of the intel authorization bill to resurrect this conversation. To head that off, Democrats jumped up and said, you know, a couple of weeks ago Panetta came in and briefed us about secret program and I think it was from Cheney. So all of sudden, the press, instead of focusing on Pelosi, is now is talking about the evil Dick Cheney.
SCOTT: So this is media manipulation, you think?
SAMMON: I think it's media manipulation. The media has swallowed it hook, line and sinker.
SCOTT: Judy, you disagree?
JUDITH MILLER, WRITER & "FOX NEWS" CONTRIBUTOR: I think the media has not bought it. I've been struck by the fact that from the Huffington Post on the left to Andrew McCarthy and National Review, everybody is raising questions about what is the big deal here. This was a plan, not the program. The president signed an executive order. It's been known since 2001. What is going on here?
JIM PINKERTON, FELLOW, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION & "FOX FORUM" CONTRIBUTOR: It was in the Washington Post on October 28th, 2001, six weeks after 9/11. Most Americans, right after 9/11 and frankly to this day, would want to know that we're out there trying to kill bin Laden and all the rest of them.
I think that Bill was touching on it though and that is the real story here is that the Democrats in the House, led by the ultimate San Francisco Democrat Nancy Pelosi, have a hatred for Dick Cheney and the intelligence community overall. This is a mindless attempt to throw bombs at them. They would love to put Dick Cheney in jail. They will settle for blowing up the American intelligence committee.
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Let me try to disagree. I doubt it was that organized. I do think a lot of people — Bob Baer, who is a former Middle East CIA agent, in Time magazine, a lot of people have been saying presidents have been this before. And then when they get caught — you know, and we've had bungled attempts to blow up Fidel Castro with exploding cigars, literally practically. I think Panetta — you know, what about this as a scenario. Panetta finds out about it. There have been some reports that it was becoming more active. He briefs Congress. I'm not sure I buy this scenario that it's all about Nancy Pelosi. I mean, Cheney pushed the CIA, and it's proven.
MILLER: No, it's all about Cheney.
SAMMON: Panetta did not do anything devious. Panetta was asking in good faith. He just heard about it and then he briefed it. It was the Democrats that leaked that to, one, take attention away from Pelosi and, two, to give coverage to...
HALL: How do you know that?
SAMMON: ... Eric Holder so that Eric Holder can move forward with his prosecution of Bush era crimes, about torture and so on and so forth. So the press buys into that and writes these stories about, oh, the tortured Eric Holder. On the other hand, he wants to file a law, but on the other hand, President Obama wants to look forward and not backward. So this gives Obama the opportunity to have it both ways. We're going to have an investigation, mark my word.
SCOTT: Judy is shaking her head.
She brought up this point earlier. Let me read a quote from a former Pentagon and White House official who wrote this week about how leaks happen when it comes to national security intelligence. Here is the line, "Our national security and intelligence world has been turned so upside- down that depending upon the ideology and motivation of the leaker and the paper that reports the top secret information, one can actually win a Pulitzer Prize." That from Douglas McKinnon writing in The Politico on July 16th.
Is nothing sacred any more, Judy, when it comes to national security?
MILLER: Our sensitivity about national security is really reduced every day as the distance from 9/11 grows. You can see that more and more, we're having fights over national security because that memory of what it is to be attacked has faded. The media thinks it's fair game. They write these stories. They run the leaks. It's a new ballgame. We're in the post, post-9/11 era now.
SCOTT: It's — everybody has forgotten it, at least in the media.
PINKERTON: Everybody's forgotten it. It's a lot like what happened in the mid '70s after Vietnam when the Church Committee and the Pipe Committee were investigating the CIA and all this stuff. The difference then is the war was over. The difference now is the war is going on. We are in the process of shutting down our intelligence operations while Al Qaeda is still on the loose.
SCOTT: One of these days, God forbid, if there is another terrorist attack, we're going wake up to headlines saying, what happened? Why didn't we know about this coming?
HALL: I just feel — I think of this in a very different way. First, after all, someone said this hasn't worked usually when we've tried this. We've tried this. A lot of what was done, or tried to be done in the name of national security, actually has undermined our security. You can look at this. I don't agree that Dick Cheney should be getting a pass on this at all. Or he is not getting a pass on this.
SCOTT: All right. We're going to take a break.
We have lots of extras available to you on our Web site, including some of the spirited discussions that erupt during our commercial breaks. You can here them after the show. Go to FOXNews.com/FOXnewswatch.
And we'll be back in two minutes with this.
ANNOUNCER: Senators take sides over a Supreme Court nominee. What side did the news media take?
And an American peak 40 years ago had the press cheering on the heroes. Are they still cheering today? Answers news, on "News Watch."
SCOTT: Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's choice to fill the open seat on the Supreme Court got an awful lot of attention from the media this week as she appeared at her confirmation hearings in Washington.
The conventional wisdom, Jim, was that Republicans wouldn't be able to lay a glove on her because she is Hispanic and she's female, and Republicans need substantial numbers of votes from those groups, if they have any hope at all of coming back as a political party. So did they lay a glove on her?
PINKERTON: I think Senator Coburn did a good job, and Senator Sessions did a good job, and Senator Cornyn did a good job. They weren't mean. They were polite and thoughtful. I think they realized, as we all do, that the media did their best to confirm her months ago for this job. Therefore, the natural opportunities for drama that — weren't there. For example, Frank Ricci should have been the Anita Hill of these hearings, the whistleblower who blows her out of the water on his — as the injustice done to him as the firefighter.
SCOTT: The firefighter.
PINKERTON: Norma McCorvey, Jane Roe, of Roe vs. Wade, should have been an Anita Hill-like figure. They weren't because the media said, oh, no, she is a moderate. Leave it at that.
SCOTT: Yeah. And the Washington Post, Bill, they were compiling how many blinks she gave during certain answers. It seemed like the coverage got a little vacuous at times.
SAMMON: I love the Washington Post lead, on one day it said, Sotomayor sought to reframe critics' portrayal of her as a judge swayed by her gender and ethnicity. Please! She completely contradicted herself when she tried to explain away her "wise Latina" remark by saying she didn't really mean it. Instead of holding her feet to the fire, The Post sort of gently says, well, she sought to reframe the accusations of her critics.
I think the Republicans did a pretty good job of getting their arguments in there. It was predicted that she would be untouchable because you can't criticize a Latina. You'll lose all the voters. People are more intelligent than that. You can make intelligent arguments. Instead of reducing — remember when they had Alito in there. They basically called him a racist to the point where his wife started crying and had to leave the room. Instead of going below the belt, they stuck to the substance, and the cases and her speeches, and it was a respectful, legitimate debate.
HALL: I think the Republicans were undercut by Newt Gingrich and Pat Buchanan and all these people who said, right out of the box, she was a racist. The media ran with this "wise Latina" thing. It was in the first story, out of context. I don't think she really answered. Time magazine had this piece — Stuart Taylor (ph) is a wonderful legal affairs writer — called, "Meet the Sotomayors," which was about both sides. How can she make these speeches and yet her record is judicial restraint. It is true that — you know, I think conservatives — judicial activism is described as liberal, but I think they overplayed it by calling on her as a reverse racist. She was almost, in a weird way, getting a sympathy vote I think in this.
SCOTT: So did the media do due diligence?
MILLER: I think they tried. 583 questions later, we still didn't know very much about her judicial philosophy or that incendiary comment because she just walked away from it. If she said, gee, I don't mean that and it was a rhetorical flourish, one you've made the point that she said it repeatedly, but now she doesn't say it, where do you go with it? The media didn't have any place to go.
PINKERTON: She said it five times.
SCOTT: So after Clarence Thomas was crucified in the media, is that why you don't get anything out of these nominees anymore?
SAMMON: I think every nominee now comes in there with a mind-set of keep it bland, don't answer questions, say this is something I might have to rule on so I can't go there. The other thing she contradicted herself on was that clip where she said that the circuit court is where you make policy. She was confronted with that, and she said, well, no, you just do the Constitution, so she is directly contradicting herself.
I do think the press did an OK job covering this and TV stations kept a lot of these hearings on. I think it was our penance for showing all that Michael Jackson stuff.
SAMMON: We got serious now.
PINKERTON: I was going to say, in terms of media coverage, it would have been nice when People for the American Way smeared Frank Ricci, it would have been nice if some reporter had asked People for the American Way, what contact did you have with the White House, who did you discuss this with in advance, if anybody? But if would have been useful to know whether the White House was involved in trashing her opponents?
SCOTT: It does seem the public show of praise — I mean, we had Dianne Feinstein earlier in the hour, I think you're going to be a great Supreme Court justice. How does she know if Sonia Sotomayor hasn't said anything in these hearings?
HALL: Well, to be fair, I mean, Bill's making the point that Alito and Roberts, and a lot of people think we didn't really get a sense of how they are going to rule. In theory, they are not supposed to tell us how they're going to rule. But this is a political process and people want to know where she stands on Roe v. Wade. I thought Tom Coburn asked a great question about 21st century technology and she, you know, didn't answer, but neither did Alito and neither did Roberts in their hearings.
SCOTT: She talked, Judy, cameras in the courtroom and Internet regulation and I think even Perry Mason. I mean, is she...
MILLER: Nunchaks. Nunchaks.
SCOTT: Yeah. But is she — but when it comes to the media, is she one who is likely to try to regulate media delivery?
MILLER: I don't think we got much of a sense of where she is going to come out on any issue which is why she was such a perfect witness. I you can't pin her down, you can't hold her feet to the fire. And the Republicans, you have got to be — you have to have some sympathy. They were in a terrible position on this one. If you really sock it to her, you're going to alienate every Hispanic voter in the country. Uh-huh, they weren't going to go there. And the media was also was, she's a girl. She's a girl.
HALL: Well, she is also one of the most experienced who has been nominated in recent years. She was — Pat Buchanan tried to say she was an affirmative action hire, and I think that's not true.
SCOTT: She's been on the federal bench for a long time.
All right, time for another break. But first, we would like your help. Story ideas welcome here, especially if you come across a story that you think shows media bias. E-mail us, newswatch@FOXnews.com.
And we'll be back with this.
ANNOUNCER: A chilling crime shakes a Florida town. As the sheriff worked to solve the heinous murders, did the press hurt or help?
Plus, to moon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NASA OFFICIAL: The Eagle has landed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: The media and the first moon landing. It's all next, on "News Watch."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL EDDENS, FLORIDA STATE ATTORNEY: I would like to thank this community and the media for posting the information that the sheriff has released. We believe, the sheriff and I both believe that has been an integral part of the success that we have experienced to date. I want to make sure that the community and the media know how much the sheriff and I appreciate that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: Did you hear that? A rare moment of praise for the media from a public official. In this case, a Florida state attorney talking about the murders of Byrd and Melanie Billings, whom you see there. The couple known for adopting children with special needs, shot to death in their luxury home.
That is a pretty rare moment in journalism, Judy, where they thank the media. Did the media deserve it here?
MILLER: It's the good old days. Yes, I think they helped, and it was a good old-fashioned crime story, one in which is the media played its normal role, which is to dig up facts. In this case, there is a still a lot we don't know. I think they did very well. I'm glad to hear every now and then a good word said about us, because it's very rare.
SCOTT: And they got the story out there, which helped result in some of the arrests.
One journalism professor — you know, that's what you are now. One journalism professor described the story as a crime reporter's dream. Is it?
HALL: I'm a little uncomfortable — I winced when I read that article because, you know, the parents of 17 children died. The media has been covering it. It's a horrifying story. I don't — it's kind of like saying Michael Jackson is a reporter's dream. I get a little uncomfortable. Maybe that's true, but I'd rather not think that.
SCOTT: Yeah, it's I guess never — it's not a choice of words that reads very well.
PINKERTON: Right. But let's also note that the sheriff Escambia County, David Morgan was calling the case a humdinger.
MILLER: Oh, gosh.
PINKERTON: It was odd that someone in charge of investigating the crime is basically touting the news value of whatever revelations are yet to come. It almost makes you think he is looking for a book contract or something.
SCOTT: Here's another story that we've been watching unfold this week in the media. It's about the Democrats' plan for health care reform.
Take a listen to the president on Wednesday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me be clear, if you like your doctor or health care provider, you can keep them. If you like your health care plan, you can keep that too. But here is what else reform will mean for you. And this is for people who have health insurance. You will save money. If you lose your job, change your job or start a new business, you'll still be able to find quality health insurance that you can afford.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: Bill, should we be writing these promises down so if, in fact, this thing gets passed, we can all say, hey, the president told me I could keep my health care if I like it?
SAMMON: Absolutely. I think the press, by and large, supports this measure and is sympathetic to the president.
SCOTT: Does the press know what this measure is?
SAMMON: I was just going to say, in fairness, I think in recent days the press is coming around to the mounting evidence that this bill is in trouble. I think, as much as the press would like to see it pass, they can't resist a good story where Democrats are fighting among themselves over how to pay for this, the deficit is quadrupling, the clock is ticking before the August recess. So I think the journalists are starting to cover this in a good way.
SCOTT: House Ways and Means this week passed a, what, $544 billion plan to pay for it with taxes. Does that deserve a little coverage?
PINKERTON: It does. And it's gotten some. I think Bill is right, I think Washington Post, which has probably got a huge class interest in favor of this thing passing, so that Washington becomes all the more important, took note of the CBO study on what it would cost and said it was a, quote, "devastating critique of this." They put that on the front page of the news story about the news story about this, quote, "devastating."
SCOTT: Judy, the president's poll numbers are starting to drop. One poll in Ohio, pretty important state when it comes to presidential politics, a Quinnipiac poll in Ohio had him at 49 percent approval rating. That's the lowest in any state apparently surveyed to this point. Is it because of health care? Is it because of the tax issue generally?
MILLER: It's because he is far more popular than his programs. That is why this is such an important test for him. I think the media has pointed that out. If he manages to get this through on the strength of his personal charisma and popularity, it's going to be a big win for him.
HALL: I think, in part, it's stimulus fatigue and billions fatigue, billions bilious, meaning, you know, I think the American people — there's huge supported for health care reform. But then comes the next wave of how much is this going to cost, and I just gave Goldman Sachs a big profit. Wait a minute. I'm not sure this will work.
SCOTT: All right, we have to one more break. When we come back, to the moon.
ANNOUNCER: A historical moment, an American success, and the press was along for the ride. Has anything changed in 40 years? That next, on "News Watch."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NASA OFFICIAL: Three, two, one, zero, all engines running. We have a lift off.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: Still gives me chills. Thursday marks the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 spacecraft. This Monday marks four decades since that one small step for man, an American.
NASA OFFICIAL: To (INAUDIBLE), the eagle has landed.
SCOTT: The nation and world watched, riveted, as the United States won the space race, beating the Soviet Union to the moon. And the American press was right there along for the ride.
Some of the headlines from 40 years ago, compiled by the museum in Washington, and the broadcast networks brought it all into America's living rooms.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER CRONKITE, FORMER CBS NEWS ANCHOR: Armstrong is on the moon, Neil Armstrong, 38-year-old American, standing on the surface of the moon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: 40 years later, has the press gone from champions of American achievement to cynics of America motives? In the days of the Apollo 11, were members of the media American's first and journalists second? These days, it seems awfully hard imagine the media getting on board to back U.S. achievements as universally as they did with Apollo 11?
What do you think about that, Jane?
HALL: I think Walter Cronkite was the key figure. He was very much interested in space travel. He wanted to go there even as an old man. I think we had Vietnam, we had Watergate. I didn't grow up thinking the government lied to me. And I think journalists grew up knowing the government lied to us after this.
SCOTT: Judy seems to be shaking her — nodding her head in agreement.
MILLER: I think that is right. Everything has changed. We were talking earlier about national security and a rather cavalier attitude. There was a moment after 9/11 when the press came together and we could all be Americans again. Once again, the role of media is to question. I think, if your mother loves you, check it out. Is it good? Is it good for...
SCOTT: So if the moon landing were to take place today, how would it be covered?
PINKERTON: I think you got a flavor of it from Jane and Judy. They'd assume that it was actually landing on green cheese.
HALL: No, that's not true.
SAMMON: Tom Wolf masterly explained in his book, "The Right Stuff," how NASA co-opted the press to become cheerleaders early on in the space program. I frankly don't think it's changed much. Yeah, the press doesn't like U.S. achievements when comes to, you know, liberating 50 million Muslims overseas, but they still basically provide uncritical coverage of these NASA missions. It's got this "gee whiz" enthusiasm tone to the coverage. And nobody talks about how much it costs or whether that money could be spent else where better. I still think we're all in the tank for NASA.
SCOTT: At least we're in the tank for something I guess.
All right, that's something to think about as we put a wrap on "News Watch" this week.
I want to thank Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, Bill Sammon and Judy Miller.
I'm Jon Scott. We're glad you could join us.
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