This is a rush transcript from "FOX News Watch," October 31, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
JON SCOTT, HOST: On "Fox News Watch," one year since Barack Obama was elected president...
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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Change has come to America.
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SCOTT: ... does the media love fest continue?
And it's Election Day on Tuesday with two important races. Will the mainstream media spin the results?
Economy troubles, sputtering health care reform, no plan for our troops, our commander-in-chief has become chief fundraiser. Has the press noticed?
Distracted at 30,000 feet, two Northwest pilots missed the runway by more than 100 miles. Did we get the facts? Is the press flying in circles?
And the World Series is on and so is the trash talking by the press in both cities.
On the panel this week, writer and Fox News contributor, Judy Miller; Rich Lowry, editor of The National Review; Jim Pinkerton, fellow, New America Foundation; and columnist and Fox News analyst, Kirsten Powers.
I'm Jon Scott. "Fox News Watch" is on right now.
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OBAMA: I'll always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.
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SCOTT: Barack Obama on election night there, just about one year ago. Fast forward to this week, what are the media saying.
Here's the cover of USA Today on Wednesday: "Obama's election, one year later, the question now, how patient is America"?
From Rich Lowry's National Review: "Obama in charge?" The president there, pictured in his P.J.'s. And Newsweek: "Yes, he can, but he sure hasn't yet, a liberal's survival guide."
All right, Rich, your cover and the others included, is the love affair over?
RICH LOWRY, EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: I wish I could say our brilliant cover is representative of the media's treatment of Obama in its entirety. Of course, it's not. Look, I think the ga-ga...
SCOTT: Judy liked it.
LOWRY: The ga-ga phase of the relationship is over, but there has been a certain cooling. But they're still smitten with the guy, although wondering if the relationship is going to end up where they want it to. Two of the big factors driving the coverage of any politician are poll numbers and the herd mentality. So if you actually see Obama dipped for a significant amount of time into the 40s, then you'll really see the tone of the coverage change in a way it hasn't yet.
SCOTT: One of the big issues, obviously, facing this president is Afghanistan, the war he described as the war of necessity when he was on the campaign trail. Now, there seems to be months, maybe, of indecision at the White House. And the question is, should the press be covering that?
JUDY MILLER, WRITER AND FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I think the press is trying as hard as it can, Jon, to find out what's going on behind those closed doors. On Friday, we had our 7th meeting on this, and this one, including the military. There have been leaks from both sides. Obama seems to be setting the stage for a kind of splitting the difference. In other words, giving less — fewer troops than McChrystal wants, that's the 40,000 request, but some additional, say 20,000. And you see the leaks that are indicating that that's the way he's going.
SCOTT: And by leaking, Jim, you sort of inoculate the public for what's to come, is that how it works?
PINKERTON: You see what seems to float with the intelligence and so on, but I think some of the public events as well. The president going to Dover Air Force Base. I think he — everybody was saying let's — and I'm sure it's true, this changed him a lot. This gave them a lot to think about and so on. The dove argument was reinforced by that. And also, I think Secretary of State Clinton going to Pakistan and blaming everything on the Pakistani government sort of sets the predicate for, look, why are we fighting in Afghanistan when bin Laden and the Taliban and al Qaeda are operating out of Pakistan? So I think there's optics in place for — something what Judy is suggesting, way less than McChrystal wanted.
SCOTT: Let's talk about the trip to Dover Air Force Base. And I do not want to question the president's motives at all. He is the commander- in-chief. I have a son who is going to be in the military and I just — but what do you see as the useful purpose served? Was it just for the education of president Obama?
KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST & FOX NEWS ANALYST: Well, I don't think you can ever think with any politician that it's ever just — you know, it's not philanthropy. It's not — it's always for themselves. It's always because there may be two motives actually. And I think that there's a — there are the optics that Jim is talking about that I think are part of that. And look, he has a huge decision coming down the pipe that he has to make and I think they're sending messages through things he's doing.
SCOTT: And I sometimes wonder, Judy, the military, as you know, is a dangerous place in peace time. We lose a lot soldiers through accidents and everything else. and I sometimes wonder whether the president even gets the correct message when he's there with 18 caskets coming home? I mean...
MILLER: That's clearly a message that's meant to say war is bad, war is dangerous, people get killed, and I'm here demonstrating my personal solidarity. I'm not saying he shouldn't do this. But this, coupled with The New York Times story how the president of Afghanistan's brother is on the payroll of the CIA, the message of that story is, this is a corrupt, awful place, we shouldn't be there or we shouldn't be there in any great numbers. They are setting the stage for split the difference on the troops.
SCOTT: Let's talk about the upcoming elections. We've got a couple of big governor's races on Tuesday, Rich. Is it a sign — I mean, should we read the results? Some in the press are saying, whatever, however they turn out, they have nothing to do with — they're not reflective of the mood of the country. What do you think?
LOWRY: I think they are. And especially in Virginia, which I think is already being written off by the media because it's pretty clear that the Republican candidate down there is going to win a sweep, not just in his race, but down the ballot. In Virginia, all of a sudden they're saying, oh, it's a red state. Republicans win there. When Obama won that by six points, you had two Democratic governors in a row. You had the Democrats take the state Senate a year or two ago. That's a big deal, I think in a weather vane that's not going to get the attention it deserves.
SCOTT: What about it, Jim, should we read the tea leaves based on what happens on Tuesday?
PINKERTON: Well, if you go back to history, say 1993, when the Republicans won the governorships in Virginia and New Jersey, and followed up a year later with a huge, historic takeover of both houses of Congress, one could certainly make that argument. I think the other race to mention is New York 23, the election there to fill the vacant House seat on the fellow McCue who went into the Obama administration. There's a real chance that the tea party candidate, a guy named Hoffman on the Conservative Party line in new York, could actually win that race, which would be seismic, not only for the Democrats, but also for the Republican establishment.
SCOTT: Some in the media are picking up on that. That race has gotten a fair amount of attention.
POWERS: Yes, it's gotten a huge amount of attention because I think it's reflective of what's going on in the country, particularly in the Republican Party, where there seems to be a real lack of leadership that I think conservatives can relate to. and so, this — this race really reflects how it seems that if a conservative, a real conservative is in the race, that they can garner a lot of attention over the so-called Republican.
SCOTT: Real quickly, Rich, health care was to be the president's domestic priority. Here we are in the middle of this huge battle over it. Are the media as confused as everybody else?
LOWRY: One, I think they're buying too much into the idea that this is inevitable, which you hear coming out of the White House now, the Democratic leadership. I don't think that's the case at all. and two, you're seeing an interesting and shrewd effort on the part of the Democrats to dishonestly, I think, get a top-line number that plays well I the headlines, under a trillion dollars, supposedly paid for, just to get that top, top of the line kind of news treatment. And they've managed to do it with the Senate and House bills.
SCOTT: In the meantime, as The New York Times was helpful to observe, it would seem that if they can't run the swine flu program and they can't get the vaccine there, they ought to focus trying to do little things before they try to do enormous things.
SCOTT: All right.
Time for a break. And get your swine flu shot.
We have lots of extras available to you on our web site. If you'd like to listen in on some of the battles that break out here in the studio during our breaks, check them out after the show at FoxNews.com/FoxNewsWatch.
Back in two minutes with this.
ANNOUNCER: The press and the president, compared to coverage of Bush 43, has the mainstream media adopted a kid-glove approach to President Obama?
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ANNOUNCER: And a high-flying mystery gets big-time coverage. Did speculation outpace the facts? Answers next, on "News Watch."
SCOTT: Check out this statistic. President Obama has played 24 rounds of golf since taking office in January. He snubbed the Dalai Lama, the first time since 1991 that the religious leader came to Washington and didn't meet with the president. Earlier this month, he made a four-hour stop in New Orleans, his first as president, on the way to a $3 million fundraiser. He's also taken heat for freezing out a television network — this one.
That's quite a list. And this week, an article on the web site Politico asks the question, what if George W. Bush had done that.
So what about it, Jim? What if George W. Bush had mounted this list of accomplishments?
PINKERTON: I think that Josh Gerstein at the Politico deserves enormous credit for a genuinely smart, trend-setting piece. And I would add to that list, what if George W. Bush presided over a four-million person increase in unemployment, and then said, oh, but actually, we saved or created 640,329 jobs according to this phony-baloney stimulus package, the media would have criticized him. Instead, you're just getting arguing back and forth from the press room.
SCOTT: You're getting a nod of agreement from Judy.
MILLER: Well, I think the general point is correct. And I loved Ed Gillespie's observation, that we need a web site called "IfBushhaddonethat.com." However, The Atlantic pointed out in its blog that there were some things that they same that Obama hadn't done that actually — that Bush hadn't done that he did. For example, his chief of staff, his political guy, Karl Rove, was in some of those national security meetings that Axelrod is being accused of invading, that he has no place there. The standard, they say, says The Atlantic, is not quite as double standard as it seems.
SCOTT: But on balance, there are two different kinds of coverage here?
POWERS: Yeah, I think the one most egregious, maybe I think because I work here.
The fact — the way that the White House came out against Fox News and also, liberals are arguing, well, the Bush administration attacked MSNBC. It's apples to oranges. It's not the same thing. They sent a letter to the head of MSNBC, whereas the White House came out and declared war on a network and said it's not legitimate, which is a very different thing to complain about specific coverage and then....
SCOTT: And said, we're going to keep the president and...
POWERS: And told other reporters not to listen to anything they do. There's just no comparison. If George Bush had done something like that, he would have been called like a totalitarian dictator.
SCOTT: But it hasn't worked here. But it also hasn't worked. It backfired.
POWERS: Well, I mean, of course, it's not going to work, but that's not the point. The point is that the rest of the media just sat by silently while essentially the whole media was being attacked. They just didn't realize it. That the idea that the White House can choose who is legitimate is a very chilling thing in my opinion.
LOWRY: And also what's going on here, obviously, it's just liberal bias as an element here. But it's also what narrative attaches to a politician and the media thought George W. Bush was an unserious goof-off. So every time he rode his bike, it was something to guffaw about. And they don't think about that of Barack Obama so he can play golf as much as he wants.
If you go back to Afghanistan, depending on your view of Obama, if you think he's a weak guy who's vacillating on his own strategy, you'd play the whole review one way. If you think he's Mr. Thoughtful, well, if he's reconsidering a strategy he announced in March and doing it in public in an embarrassing way, there he goes being so damn thoughtful again. And that's basically the way the media is playing this.
POWERS: But the media does this on all sorts of things and I do always get in a disagreement. It's always called a liberal bias. Often, they just have a bias, it's not necessarily liberal. As Rich is saying, they like the story line and they like the mean. So, with Al Gore, the sighs, whatever it is, they pick up on things, and especially on people they don't like.
LOWRY: And that's true, but also the bias plays into what they consider the narrative. They thought Bush was an unserious goof-off because they tend to be liberals and didn't particularly like him to begin with.
PINKERTON: Or to put it another way, the narrative goes into the bias.
And since Judy got me stirred up during the break by defending...
... the administration on this slightly, let's just talk about this again. Gerald Ford arguably lost the 1976 election because the swine flu technology was much more primitive then. He very personally, courageously got the shot, got it on television, and then other people, obviously, following this died. And Ford, in the admission, got the blame for it. It there are long lines of people under George Bush not getting the vaccine, the press would say that's because he's fighting foreign wars and so on. They would have clobbered him over it.
MILLER: That's true. That doesn't mean they would have been right either time.
SCOTT: And then there's the golfing thing. President Bush decided that golfing was something he was not going to do anymore once he sent the soldiers to Afghanistan. He just felt it was a little bit frivolous, I guess, for the president. President Obama, what, 28 rounds of golf?
MILLER: Right. 28 rounds, not 28 fundraisers versus six for George Bush during his time in office, and five for President Clinton at that time.
POWERS: Plus, Bush raised much more money in those six than Obama raise in those 28.
MILLER: But 28 fundraisers at a time when you have a few things on your plate.
POWERS: Well, I mean, even if he raised more money — yeah. I mean, he needs to raise more money. And on the golf thing, he's gotten attacked for golfing only with men. So there has been...
MILLER: No, no, that's playing basketball only with men.
POWERS: Well, yeah.
SCOTT: Well, he did play golf with a woman. Kirsten's right. The most egregious one is the attack on FOX. It would be the dark night of fascism descending on America if Bush had done something comparable.
And the second most egregious is the back-room deals with the health care special interests to get them to go along and actually spend money on advertising for it, at the same time, you're pretending you're attacking the special interests and they're resisting you with every fiber of their being. The media usually loves hypocrisy and inconsistency, and there's not a better example than that.
SCOTT: Wait until they go after the National Review.
Time for another break.
But first, if you come across a story that smells to you of media bias, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org
And we'll be back with this.
ANNOUNCER: The House health care bill gets the spotlight as the so- called public option gets a new, shinier, more appealing name for the same old thing. Has the press paid attention?
And two wayward pilots make headlines when they miss their mark. Details next, on "News Watch."
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SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF.: In our legislation, we are mandating that individuals and businesses take out health care insurance. We're not throwing them to the wolves of the insurance industry without an option for them to choose, which is what I would call, not the public option, but the consumer option.
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SCOTT: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week continuing the trend of politicians rebranding certain words that develop a bad rap. And then on Thursday, the speaker unveiled legislation put together by Democrats in the House that she says will give the health insurance to 36 million Americans who don't have any.
Jim, you've been following this health care debate very closely. It's now the consumer option?
PINKERTON: Hats off to Ron Rosenbaum, writing in Slate, who says that the original phrase, "the public option," is quote, "the bastard child of inbred wonk culture and fashionable framing theory." That framing from people like Drew Weston and George Lakapo (ph), who told Democrats, look, if we just come up with the right words, you can do the same old liberal stuff and get away with it and...
SCOTT: That was a poll tested phrase, right, public option?
PINKERTON: It was conceived in the laboratory of spin. And it doesn't seem to have worked, as Rosenbaum points out.
MILLER: Well, it's — but it's going to get even better because Congresswoman Debbie Schultz said, let's call it the competitive option.
So I think they're still trying the new rebranding terminology.
SCOTT: And just in that, Rich, you work with words all day long, and just in the way the press picked up the public option ball and ran with it, should they be more honest in describing what it is?
LOWRY: I don't know. I'm a little bit of defender of the public option wording in this sense. If it were up to me, I'd call it the nationalizing health care option, of course. But the Republicans want to call it the government option. And Democrats want to call it the consumer option or the competitive option or whatever. The public option is a pretty good compromise to me and plus it's just a label that's going to stick. And it's hard to change the labels once they're in the public mind.
SCOTT: Kirsten, seems to have a thought on that.
POWERS: I think it should be something that's descriptive of what it actually is. A conservative would see it that way. I think they should describe it as a public health insurance option or something that implies some meaning to what it is. And the idea that you hear what they're coming up with the alternatives that are just — they're just about as worse as what they have and so —
LOWRY: Since no one knows what it does, it's very hard to come up with a label of what it is.
POWERS: But no, I mean, it's essentially Medicare, but for people who don't have insurance. There is a way to explain it that's not so confusing.
MILLER: How about it you called it the anti-insurance company strangle-hold on health care option.
PINKERTON: I think the best most useful piece all week was from David Broader who made the point that this opt-out part of the public option, the option out of the public option point is a reversion to states rights, which liberals were always opposed to when it came to voting rights and Social Security. And now they're bringing back a concept they trashed decades ago...
LOWRY: That's because they know that no one with actually opt out. The whole thing is a fraud.
SCOTT: Well, yeah, there's that...
LOWRY: The fraudulent government takeover of health care option.
SCOTT: We'll be covering this story in weeks to come, I'm sure.
Let's move on to another one that caught the attention of the media, the story of the wayward pilots from Northwest Airlines. They dropped out of radio contact while flying from San Diego to Minneapolis, then wound up overshooting their destination by 150 miles.
Here is what happened when reporters spoke to them:
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RICHARD KOHL, CO-PILOT: There have been groups of you all day long here. I can't say anything until after I've had meeting with the NTSB and the FAA.
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SCOTT: That was Richard Kohl, one of the pilots. Both saw the FAA revoke pilot's licenses and each suspended from the airline.
Is this a situation, Rich, where the press did something right? I mean, by focusing so much attention on this story?
LOWRY: Yeah, I think that probably helped smoke this out. It's such a great story because it's equal parts frightening and hilarious. And most people think, you're telling me I have to put my tray tables up and you have the pilots asleep or not paying attention in the cockpit?
SCOTT: They were working on crew schedules.
The Pew Research Center did a poll, Judy. They found that 44 percent of Americans were paying close attention to this story, more than most of the others last week. Why does it grab so much attention?
MILLER: Because everybody flies and nobody likes to be told to put their tray table up and take your shoes off before you even get on the plane only to find out your pilot is either sleeping or having a kind of set-to with his computer over the flight schedule. It was a great story that the media did a great job on. And congratulations to the Christian Science Monitor, which says, here are the other questions we need to be asking about this incident.
PINKERTON: I was also interested, by Peter Garrison, who is a pilot who had a piece in the L.A. Times, in which he said, listen, the act of flying one of those big airplanes is incredibly boring. It's all silence and nothing going on. And I think there's a real policy, technical issue there. It's like when they built the New Jersey turnpike and it was all straight and people fell asleep driving on it and they had to make it curved just to keep people awake. And you have to think through how the technology is used, otherwise people will die.
SCOTT: And then there's the fact, some of the questions the media haven't been asking, the FAA, apparently under the post 9/11 rules, is supposed to, you know, be alerted when things like this happen. And none of that stuff seemed to happen.
POWERS: Yeah. It seems like there should be reporters that would be following that kind of stuff regardless of something like this happened, who would be on top of, you know, what are the protocols now that 9/11 happened that they've put in place. There's also some things that should have happened and we don't ever real here about that. So then it takes something like this to alert people that clearly not a lot has changed.
SCOTT: It was a good story though.
We have to take a break. When we come back...
ANNOUNCER: It's a battle of a different kind as the New York press and the fourth estate in Philly show their true colors.
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SPORTS ANNOUNCER: Yardley (ph) is going deep again.
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ANNOUNCER: That's next, on "News Watch."
SCOTT: The world champion Phillies against the New York Yankees in the World Series, and Philly fans against Yankee fans in the streets.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to try to broker this now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good luck. Good luck.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, no trash talking. It'll give you each. We I say, go. Give it your best shot. Go.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yankees are going to kick their butt. We got A- Rod, Jeter. We got Nick Swisher, Phil Koch (ph), Andy Petitte.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, you may be the best team that money can buy, but you don't have heart. When you don't have heart, you can't win.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Heart? We have the best heart you've ever seen. We've been here 26 times...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many times since 1960?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: From 1960, it doesn't matter. We have 26 rings, baby. You can't do that one on your finger.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, you can buy every — you can buy them off, but we have the last ones.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But we have the one right now. (YELLING). Go Yankees.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not yet. You've got to take it from us first.
SCOTT: All right. What leads to this kind of good-natured hostility?
Maybe headlines like these. Take a look. From The New York Post, our sister publication, "Gotham trembles, the Frillies are coming to town." From The Philadelphia Daily News, "Yankee doodle daddy." Finally, this cover from the New York Daily News, "Pity Silly-delphia for thinking they can beat New York."
You've got to love a New York headline.
That's a wrap on "News Watch" this week. May the best team win. You know who you are.
Thanks to Judy, Jim, Rich and Kirsten.
I'm Jon Scott. See you next week.
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