This is a rush transcript from "FOX News Watch," July 25, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
JON SCOTT, FOX HOST (voice-over): On FOX "News Watch," President Obama calls another news conference, taking primetime to sell his health plan. With nearly 200 members of the media present, some asked, "Where was the press"?
The president did make news with this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Cambridge police acted stupidly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: Now, the media takes sides.
The governator goes Dundee on Twitter.
A news legend passes, leaving the question, "Who can we trust now"?
SCOTT (on camera): On the panel this week, Marisa Guthrie, programming editor for Broadcasting and Cable magazine; syndicated columnist, Cal Thomas; Jim Pinkerton, fellow, New America Foundation, and "FOX Forum" contributor; and Kirsten Powers, New York Post columnist and "FOX News" analyst.
I'm Jon Scott. FOX "News Watch" is on right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I understand how easy it is for this town to become consumed in the game of politics, to turn every issue into a running tally of who is up and who is down. I've heard that one Republican strategist told his party that, even though they may want to compromise, it is better politics to go for the kill. Another Republican Senator, that defeating health care reform is about breaking me. So let me be clear, this isn't about me. I have great health insurance. So does every member of Congress. This debate is about the letters I read when I sit in the Oval Office every day, and the stories I hear at town hall meetings
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: President Obama there defending his health care plan in a primetime new conference at the White House on Wednesday night. Nearly 200 members of the media were on hand in the East Room for that event. Only 10 reporters called on Mr. Obama, and just about all questions their questions were on the president's chosen topic.
Given how much confusion the American public seems to have over this issue, Cal, should there have been more questions or maybe more answers?
CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: This was the most controlled news conference I've seen in years. And I've watched these things since John Kennedy. The president comes out, he has his little book. They call reporters in advance to find out if they are going to be there. They claim they don't ask them the question, but every question except the last is on health care. Why weren't they asking about Afghanistan, where more troops are dying than ever before? Why aren't they asking about the transition in Iraq, the economy? This was controlled. It was boring. He gave a filibuster on practically everything and eyes were glazing over. I don't think he conveyed a lot of information that anybody understood.
SCOTT: Kirsten, given the fact the president does have plans to try to revamp health care, 20 percent almost of the American economy, I suppose you can argue the press were proper in asking all those questions. Did we get answers? Do we know any more now?
KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK POST & FOX NEWS ANALYST: This was billed, as my understanding, this was a health care press conference, so it would make sense that that's they would be asking about it. I do think it's possibly the biggest issue on American's mind.
I didn't feel it was particularly edifying. I didn't think Obama was answering the questions he was asked completely. I think the set-up unfortunately is that the reporters don't feel they can be as confrontational with the president as they are, say, with the White House press secretary so he kind of filibusters and then no one gets to really follow up.
SCOTT: Marisa seems to be nodding in agreement.
I wonder if he's gone to the well too many times though. He has had, what, four of these primetime news conferences, that is as many as George W. Bush had in two administrations. How were the ratings?
GUTHRIE: Yeah. The ratings have dropped predictably. This one was down 14 percent from the last one. And that was down from the previous one before that. So what he does with these is he tries to talk over the heads of the reporters...
SCOTT: Right, and go straight to the voters.
GUTHRIE: ... and go straight to the voters. But this is such a morass, this health care reform issue. The interesting thing that came out of that press conference is now he's calling it health insurance reform, which, I think is more relevant to most of us. Because we are fine with our health care. It is our insurance we don't like. That was the only moving of the needle we saw with is.
SCOTT: She used the word "morass," Jim, which brings me back to my point.
Are the press doing a good job of explaining what's at stake here?
JIM PINKERTON, FELLOW, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION & "FOX FORUM" CONTRIBUTOR: One doesn't think so is Mark Plotkin, who is a radio analyst for WTOP in D.C., and is a veteran D.C. political observer. He's no conservative. And he said, quote, — talking about the press corps — "they are not journalists. They're enablers." They are enabling Obama to get up, as we all agree, these filibuster answers.
Look, Obama has outsmarted himself. They've spend all their time focus grouping every word he says. They go through the mail and look for anecdotes that tug on heart strings. And they get it all perfect. The problem is a boring package that — Mary Francis Berry, a contributor to The Politico called it bloodless. She said, listen, they have drained away the interest in this process and therefore it is not doing him any good.
SCOTT: Another interesting thing that caught my eye. Talking about the president trying to go over the heads of the press, he held a meeting with important, in his words, bloggers, some of the more, I guess, more read bloggers out there. And said, "I know the blogs are best at debunking myths that can slip through a lot of the traditional media outlets. And that is why you are going to play such an important role in our success in the weeks to come."
First of all, Cal, blogs are better than traditional media at debunking myths?
THOMAS: No. Let me tell you what has debunk the myths more than anything else. It is not just the bloggers, through some of them have played a role. It is talk radio, from Limbaugh to Hannity to Levine, these guys have read the 1,000-page house bill. They are dissecting it. They are putting out the true information. That's the reason the support for it is in a free fall.
SCOTT: Is it appropriate for the president to be asking bloggers to play an important part in our success?
POWERS: Yeah, they are liberal bloggers. They are on his side, at least ideologically. They may not all be necessarily crazy about Obama, but they want health reform.
I think the bloggers sometimes do debunk things that are overlooked by the mainstream media. You know, they also come up with a lot of conspiracy theories and kind of let those get out of control. But I often find they follow up on things that the mainstream media kind of glosses over.
PINKERTON: Bloggers can be fine. They certainly took apart Dan Rather five years ago on the fake memo business. But the real attention though is that the blogosphere that Obama is catering to is for the single payer plan, way to the left. So the morass issue is this mushy Obama care thing where nobody knows what it is. That, the bloggers aren't excited about. So in the sense that he's pandering to the bloggers, they are going to pull him over toward the left end of the single payer approach, which is not popular with the country.
SCOTT: I'm not sure that we got a lot of answers after the media after that news conference.
But we have to take a break. We have extras available to you on our web site, including some of the spirited discussions that erupt in here during our breaks. You can hear them after the show. FOXnews.com/FOXnewswatch.
We will be back in two minutes with this.
ANNOUNCER: He witnessed the news. He reported the news. To some, he was the pinnacle of television news reporting. Was Walter Cronkite the last of his breed?
Racial tensions make headlines following the president's remarks. Did the news media play a role? Details next, on "News Watch."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER CRONKITE, FORMER CBS NEWS ANCHOR: This is my last broadcast as the anchorman as the "CBS Evening News." For me, it's a moment for which I've long have planned, but nevertheless, comes with some sadness. For almost two decades, after all we've been meeting like this in the evenings, and I will miss that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: And we'll miss him. The face of CBS News for more than 20 years, known as the most trusted man in America, Walter Cronkite died last week. He was 92.
Marissa, will we ever see another one like him?
GUTHRIE: No, and the environment is different. You can't have another Walter Cronkite because there are 5,000 people who want to be in that position. So he occupied that position in a unique period in media history.
SCOTT: And there were only a handful of broadcast outlets when he really cut his teeth. These days you've got umpteen cable news channels, a fractured marketplace.
THOMAS: There's something else too. I was at NBC when he was at CBS. These were dates, in the late 50s, early 60s, when news wasn't required to make money. The network president said the entertainment division will make the money, you just do news. Gulf Oil had a deal with the late Frank McGee at NBC that any time he thought it was important to go on with an instance special, as they called them then, they would sponsor it, no questions asked. Those were the golden days of journalism. Now news is sold like a commodity and it's one of the reasons we get some many tabloid stories, like wall-to-wall Michael Jackson. Different era.
SCOTT: What is the future of, you know, the big evening news casts, you know, on the big three networks.
POWERS: They're kind of a dying breed. The demographics are skewed much old. I think people now seek out people who tell them what they want to hear. And that's not the format they have on those newscasts.
SCOTT: Plus, you can get it any time on the Internet.
PINKERTON: True. I don't doubt Walter Cronkite was a patriot. He was a war correspondent, landing in glider airplanes on D-Day and so on. He was doing all sorts of great things. He was a big fan of the space program, which I approve of. But let's say it — he was a liberal. And he took CBS News as a liberal institution and made it more liberal. Ernest LaFever (ph), who is an expert on these things, way back when, did a study of the coverage in 1972 of the Vietnam War. It was on CBS. It was 1400 liberal stories, dovish, and 70 hawkish stories. A 20-1 ratio, as recorded by one of the few journalists who had the guts to say the truth about Cronkite, Cliff Kincaid, an advocacy in media. I mean, you can love him or hate him, but he was a liberal.
THOMAS: Let's point out one other thing. In the CBS tribute to Walter Cronkite, there was an important clip interview he did in early 1963 with John Kennedy at Hyannisport, where Kennedy said that we cannot win this war for the South Vietnamese, they have to win it on their own. So that's very important. It was Lyndon Johnson who ratcheted up the war against that insight and against the experience of the French. I know a lot of my conservative friends like to blame the media for losing the war, but that war was unwinnable unless it was won by the South Vietnamese. And Cronkite simply pointed out the obvious.
SCOTT: I think Kirsten has rhetoric here.
POWERS: I was curious when you say dovish and hawkish. The war wasn't going well, so dovish mean that they were...
PINKERTON: Actually, the war was going fine in — in 1972, it was going fine.
PINKERTON: We pushed back the Vietnamese invasion, the North Vietnamese invasion in the spring.
POWERS: ... is not liberal. I mean, it happened to be liberals who were talking.
PINKERTON: Does anybody doubt that CBS News led the charge against Nixon on Watergate? Does anybody doubt that they led the charge against...
POWERS: Someone should have. What's wrong with that?
PINKERTON: Fine. The point is it is a liberal network. If you want to agree with them, fine, but that doesn't change the fact that they were obviously left of center.
THOMAS: Yeah, I think it is a liberal network but that doesn't expunge Nixon's guilt. I think Nixon was a crook. Nixon violated the Constitution. To say that is not a liberal or conservative position. I'm a conservative. I'm saying it. It is a fact.
SCOTT: And General Westmoreland, who coordinated strategy during the Vietnam War, had a problem with CBS News.
PINKERTON: He sued them.
There is this a new poll out in Time magazine asked: Now that Walter Cronkite is dead, who is America's most trusted newscaster? Guess who wins? Jon Stewart, 44 percent.
Brian Williams 29 percent; Charlie Gibson 19 percent; and Katie Couric, who inhabits Walter Cronkite's chair, only 7 percent.
Jon Stewart, not even a real news man, folks.
Time for another break.
First, we would like your help. Story ideas are always welcome, especially if you come across a story about media bias. E-mail us at NewswWatch@FOXnews.com
We're coming right back with this.
ANNOUNCER: I knife-welding governor Twitters a message to West Coasters. Did the media react too sharply?
And the president puts race issues in the spotlight. Did the press take sides? All next, on "News Watch."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I should say at the outset that Skip Gates is a friend, so I may be a little biased here. I don't know all the facts. What's been reported though is that the guy forgot his keys, jimmied his way to get into the house. There was a report called into the police station that there might be a burglary taking place. They go investigate what happens. My understanding is, at that point, Professor Gates is already in his house. The police officer comes in, I'm sure there's some exchange of words. But my understanding is that Professor Gates shows his I.D. to show this is his house. At that point, he gets arrested for disorderly conduct.
I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that, but I think it is fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry. Number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home. And number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident, is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That's just a fact.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: With that answer, the president stirred up a hornets' nest of controversy that is still boiling today. He was answering the question about arrest of a Harvard university professor, a friend of his, Henry Gates.
His choice of words getting some pretty strong reaction from the media and from the arresting officer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SGT. JAMES CROWLEY, CAMBRIDGE POLICE OFFICER: I support the president the United States 110 percent. I think he's way off base wading into a local issue without knowing all the facts, as he himself stated before he made that comment. So, again I — I don't know what to say about that. I guess a friend of mine would support my position too.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: Kirsten Powers, you spent some time as a press secretary. When the president was asked that question and when he started to answer, could you just see Robert Gibbs covering his eyes and holding his ears?
POWERS: I don't think there was much wrong with what he said, except for attacking the police department. I think that just went a little too far.
SCOTT: But why — let me interrupt you. Why, after he starts off by saying, I don't know all the facts, why go on from there? Why not just say, let's let...
POWERS: I think he was making a larger point, which is there has been discrimination against African-Americans by police. And so you can understand how this became a heated thing. But he took sides and I think that that's the mistake.
POWERS: He should not have taken sides and he shouldn't have attacked the police department.
SCOTT: Is there some on-the-job learning that needs to be done here when you're president?
PINKERTON: Absolutely. This is what happens when you take the teleprompter away from the community organizer.
This is exactly what — in Chicago they love to hear in the inner city. When the president of the United States goes after blue collar America, this is after Frank Ricci, after Joe the plumber, and now James Crowley, there's trouble. And I guarantee you Robert Gibbs wishes this hadn't happen. And the next day he was trying to say, oh, just because Obama used the word stupid doesn't mean he called him stupid.
SCOTT: Yeah, that was an artful device.
But you seem to disagree.
GUTHRIE: Well, I think his response — his response to the question was human and authentic. I think, from a public relations standpoint, both the police officer, who arrested a Harvard professor after he ascertained that it was a Harvard professor, and President Obama, who criticized the police department, from a public relations standpoint, they both stepped in it. His response about the — about racial profiling in general was a human one and one from his own experiences.
THOMAS: Surely, it was the only spontaneous moment in the entire press conference so, for that, we can be grateful. We have two different issues here. We have racial profiling and the continued dialogue of race in America. I agree that's an issue. That's not what was at issue at the press conference.
SCOTT: I wondered, when Lynn Sweet asked that question, why she bothered. I figured she wouldn't get a response, but she did. And, boy, is it...
POWERS: She knows Obama so she probably had a good sense. And I think people are always looking to stir up the race issue frankly. I mean, they always are hoping to get something going so there can be some kind of controversy and we can talk about it for a week.
SCOTT: Well, we have more to talk about right now. Moving on to another story that involves race and ruffling feathers.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ACTRESS: He's got a knife.
ACTOR: A knife? There's a knife.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: We would imagine a knife like this is acceptable if you are Crocodile Dundee, but if you are governor? Arnold Schwarzenegger, the California governor, held up a huge knife in a video posted on Twitter. He was talking about state budget cuts on Tuesday, said he wanted to thank Californians for providing him with some creative ideas for slashing the budget. Some thought it was pretty insensitive but the governor is defending the video, saying, "Just relax and have a bit of a sense of humor."
Does he have a point maybe, Jim? I don't know.
PINKERTON: I think he does. This mystifies me why this is a big deal. He is making a point and he used illustrations to make your point.
GUTHRIE: We've seen him in his movies with much more...
SCOTT: My personal favorite...
GUTHRIE: We've also seen him half naked with his biceps rolled up.
So I don't get that at all.
SCOTT: My personal favorite was the Mr. Freeze suit from "Batman."
THOMAS: Oh, that was great.
GUTHRIE: And that, yeah.
THOMAS: Nobody can take a joke anymore. Everybody wants to make controversy out of something like, remember Reagan's testing the microphone — "We begin bombing Russia in five minutes." The media all over that for several days trying to portray him as a trigger-happy warmonger.
GUTHRIE: I think joking about bombing countries is probably a little out of line. But I do think people are overreacting to this. It's not like he pulled out an AK-47 or — it is just a knife.
SCOTT: It kind of takes — your thoughts take us back to really the start of this particular blog, which is when you are the president, you have to be careful what you say.
SCOTT: If just seems that when President Obama weighed it in to that controversy involving the Cambridge police officer, I just betcha he's not going to answer those kinds of questions in the future from the press.
POWERS: I don't know. I think that he still can't resist some questions. He can't resist talking about certain things. There's a certain insensitivity there. I think there was a certain insensitivity of this is like my buddy and he's a Harvard guy and I — I mean...
SCOTT: So he must be right. That's what he said.
POWERS: Yeah. And it's like I think there's just a real insensitivity in this guy.
PINKERTON: Let's give his campaign manager for his reelection campaign some credit for saying, look, no more of this if you want to get reelected.
SCOTT: All right.
We have to take one more break. When we come back, another presidential news conference and another chance for late night laughs. That's next, on "News Watch."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE NIGHT": President Obama was on television earlier tonight and held a TV conference earlier tonight. Nice to see the guy finally getting some air time I thought.
UNIDENTIFIED LATE NIGHT HOST: President Obama held another press conference preempting all the major networks again. He does this every week now. It's really — it's time for Oprah to give him a show. And the White House — this is true — rescheduled the president. They moved it up an hour from 9:00 to 8:00 because NBC complained it would interfere with "America's Got Talent." (LAUGHTER). So in other words, the president of the United States moved a show to accommodate a show David Hasselhoff is on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: That's true. He has been in office for just six months and, boy, has he been busy. President Obama called his fourth prime time news conference. Yes, that is the same number that former president George Bush held in his entire eight years in office.
Mr. Obama has also done a fair number of sit downs with the networks. He sat down with CNN at least five times, six times with ABC News, seven times with CBS, nine times with NBC. Just two interviews with FOX News since taking office. We are still waiting for our third opportunity.
Cal, have you had your sit-down with the president yet?
THOMAS: No, I've made several requests. Back when I wrote a column for USA Today, we wanted to do a common ground interview with him, Gibbs says, "It's in the works. We'll see."
SCOTT: Kirsten Powers can move that along.
POWERS: Oh, yeah.
THOMAS: I hope so.
SCOTT: That is going to be 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.
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