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": It's been one year since Barack Obama was elected. The press was cheering then. But are they cheering now? With a shortage of major accomplishments, has the sparkle gone?
Two big wins this week for the GOP. Voters tossed out the old and welcomed the new. But did the media use the news to target the winning party?
Karzai retains his role in Afghanistan, but still no decision from our president on his plan for our troops in that region. Are the news media interested?
In the war on religion, a top church leader fires a shot at The New York Times. And could the chilly relationship between the White House and FOX News be warming?
On the panel this week, Kirsten Powers, FOX News analyst and New York Post columnist, conservative columnist and author S.E. Cupp, Jim Pinkerton, fellow, New America Foundation, and Newsday columnist Ellis Henican. I'm Jon Scott. "Fox News Watch" is on right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONAN, O'BRIEN, "TONIGHT" SHOW HOST: A year ago today, Barack Obama was elected president. It's been a year.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
O'BRIEN: It's been a year. Can you believe that? Yes. A lot's happened. Yes, in one short year, Obama's slogan has gone from, "Yes, we can" to, "Wow, this is freaking hard."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: It's been a year since Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. But jokes aside, what's the serious media think of Mr. Obama one year later? Do the headlines foreshadow an end to the honeymoon?
Take a look at what's appeared of late. From The New York Times, "No walk in the park for Obama one year later. It's the slog of governance." From the Web site Politico, "Change has come, or has it?" And from CNN, "Months into Obama's presidency, promise of change is a slow go."
All right, Jim, the late night comics, obviously, are having a lot of fun with it, but what about the mainstream media? Are they still in awe of this president?
JIM PINKERTON, FELLOW, NEW AMERICAN FOUNDATION: I don't know they're in awe anymore. I think that they are still glad that he defeated McCain and they look forward to voting for him in 2012. But I think that the media narrative, if you will, is that Obama's a good guy, but the right wing is just so powerful, so mean, so hateful, so Michele Bachmann-ized that this poor fellow, Obama, is having a very hard time, which plays to what liberalism really thinks about most, which is victimology. Obama's a victim, and so, frankly, is the mainstream media.
SCOTT: Is the narrative going to change, Ellis, with the new unemployment numbers we got yesterday, 10.2 percent?
ELLIS HENICAN, NEWSDAY: Well, no, that's just a little more of the same (INAUDIBLE) It's inevitable that the poetry of politics gives way to the prose of government. This stuff is hard, especially if you're taking on health care, a couple of wars and about 60 other things. It is just absolutely inevitable that it ain't quite as much fun anymore.
SCOTT: And speeches have been his favorite way to approach the problems that he has had. You know, you got a problem, give a speech. But that doesn't seem to be working so much.
KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST: Well, I mean, what goes up must come down, and that's always the case with the media, too, so you could have predicted — I frankly think no matter what happened, they were at some point going become critical of him, and I think that they — I would say during this period that they've actually been pretty dead on. And if you look at the coverage, I just don't see the coverage that Jim's talking about. I think for the most part, they've said, you know, that Obama is having a hard time, that it's a difficult environment, and that's the fact.
SCOTT: S.E., what about, you know, a couple of the big decisions that this president has promised? Closing Gitmo doesn't seem to be as easy as he thought it was going to be, and we still don't have this Afghanistan policy.
S.E. CUPP, CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST: Right, not to mention ending "Don't ask, don't tell," military tribunals going — going in the garbage.
SCOTT: And is the press pressing for answers on those things?
CUPP: I think the press is largely — you saw with that New York Times piece, CNN piece, as well. The mantra they're going with is, Well, the change is coming, but it's a little slow. I think that's a little sanguine, frankly. The change has come. It's come in huge and sweeping ways. I mean, the expansion of government, the dismantling of the CIA — I think these are huge changes that most people in the mainstream press are a little reluctant talk about.
PINKERTON: To me, the big story, though, is the swine flu vaccine. As Ann Geracimos at The Washington Times pointed out, they were claiming they'd have 160 million doses. They've actually got about 25 million. That's an 85 percent shortfall. It shouldn't just be The Washington Times raising that as an issue of gross governmental malpractice.
ELLIS HENICAN, NEWSDAY COLUMNIST: But you know, I'm confused here. There's either too much change or not enough change. One thing we know about, those of us in the media. We may love you, but we're not going love you forever. And the short attention span is getting even shorter, and so these things flip (ph) more quickly than they ever have. And that's what you've seen, I think.
SCOTT: What about the health care debate and the tea party coverage? Did that change the way that President Obama is viewed by the media?
POWERS: Oh, I don't know if it's changed the way that he's — he's viewed by the media, but winning tends to move people — tends to move the media with you. And so the fact that he's been up against this headwind with health care I think has made people sort of take a step back and look at it — and look at him critically. I think on the tea party issue, the rest of the media outside of the conservative media totally missed the story. I mean, they really — I think it was really downplayed, and I'll even count myself as one of those people that really saw it as sort of a fringe thing and didn't really pay attention to it as something — as a real movement that's bubbling up and...
SCOTT: Well, and it's still portrayed that way...
SCOTT: ... in the press, don't you think?
POWERS: And I think it is actually having some influence. You know, it remains to be seen how great the influence is, but it's a real — it's a real phenomenon.
PINKERTON: We shouldn't let the week go by without taking note of the most important media event of all, which was the TV show "V"...
PINKERTON: ... on ABC, with this smooth-talking, multi-racial person coming from outer space to give us all free health care. And you have to keep watching to discover what he's really like.
SCOTT: On that note, we're going to take a break. But first: We have a lot of extras available to you on the Web site, including some of the discussions that erupt in here during our break. You can hear them after the show at foxnews.com/foxnewswatch.
We're back in two minutes to talk about Tuesday night's election results and how they were covered.
An off-year election delivers big wins for the GOP, and a chance for the mainstream media to pull apart the party. And could the icy White House be warming to FOX News? Details next on "News Watch."
SCOTT: Too big wins for Republicans in two states that Barack Obama carried last year, governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey drew national attention from the media, but many in the mainstream media used the election results as an opportunity to try to drive a wedge in the Republican Party with talk of a civil war among conservatives.
Why did these races get so much coverage, Jim? I mean, off-year elections normally don't bring that kind of attention from the press.
PINKERTON: Well, I think that even reporters who like Obama have to acknowledge that the parallels between 2009 and 1993 are just so overwhelming. And of course, '93 led to the big '94 takeover of the Republicans in the Congress. And again, I think, must as they hate to admit it, we're seeing history repeat itself.
SCOTT: Ellis, I know you're on Twitter. There was an interesting tweet from Mike Murphy, who was a guest on MSNBC, sent out a tweet on Tuesday night, MSNBC even more unwatchable than usual tonight.
SCOTT: Mistake to ever let Olbermann host election night. The mega- crazy gets in the way.
HENICAN: Right. And recently, Mike was on the NBC payroll. I'm just happy to see someone else does things that are reckless...
HENICAN: Both analyses are legit, I mean, the one Jim just gave on the governor's race and then the one about the fight inside the Republican Party. But let's remember, from the media point of view, we need to recognize that both of them are self-interested analyses designed to promote a particular point of view. Let's be skeptical of both of them.
SCOTT: S.E., what about the take that the media had on this civil war among conservatives? It seemed that once the two governors in New Jersey and Pennsylvania — I'm sorry, New Jersey and Virginia were going to be going Republican, they focused their attention on the fact that the Republicans have huge intra-party squabbles that are going to cause all kinds of problems down the road.
CUPP: That New York 23 race was very convenient, once it looked like New Jersey and Virginia were going to go Republican. And that was surprising. I mean, like you said, these are states that Obama carried. They're states that go Democrat, and Obama campaigned heavily for both of them. Very convenient to focus on 23, and sort of the drama the reality show drama of Scozzafava leaving and backing the Democrat and this, you know, interesting young, you know, new conservative face, Conservative Party.
It was an interesting story, but frankly, I don't see either the conservative race — you know, the New York 23 race or the gubernatorial races having huge implications either way. I think the press made both of those out to be a much bigger deal.
SCOTT: What's your take on it, Kirsten?
POWERS: Well, that's exactly what I was just going to say. I think that you can — the (INAUDIBLE) job of the media to overplay things, you know, and to make things into news. It wasn't a referendum on Obama, and it was essentially — you know, it was essentially informative, interesting, can tell you a few things — you know, you can look at — what I — I took away from it, look at what the independents are doing. But it's not predictive of what's going to happen in the future. It doesn't — it doesn't really tell you anything definitive.
SCOTT: Jim, do you agree, not a referendum on Obama?
PINKERTON: I think it was a referendum, whether or not Obama chooses to change, like Clinton did, and try to get reelected in '96 after the '94 mid-term or whether he goes the way of, say, Jimmy Carter or David Dinkins, that is a question that, again, historically-minded reporters will — will be chewing on. But certainly, I mean, ask Creigh Deeds whether he thinks that having Obama as president as opposed to John McCain made a difference in his election.
POWERS: But what it told us was what issues people are concerned about, and it told us that the economy is the number one issue. It wasn't health care. It wasn't — I mean, it — you know, granted, and health care's not so much an issue, I guess, at that level, but the economy is what people are really worried about. That's what it told us. I mean, when those states went — you know, went to the other party when George Bush was in power, nobody said it was a referendum on George Bush.
PINKERTON: Of course they did!
HENICAN: Aren't we being suckers, though, if we buy too closely into that storyline? I mean, it's so obviously designed to promote one political view or another. The media — we ought to be taking the jump and say, Well, you know, while Obama might have had a little to do with it, and yes, there is something pretty interesting going on inside the Republican Party between the moderates and the conservatives, but let's don't just swallow that stuff.
PINKERTON: Reporters are supposed to identify and put thing into an historical context. And the fact remains that since the Virginia governor's race has gone the opposite way of the White House for, like, 36 years in a row, that tells you pretty decisively that the voters in Virginia are reacting against who's ever in the White House. This time, it's Obama.
SCOTT: S.E., we are — we heard from Robert Gibbs, the presidential spokesman, on Wednesday. He came out and said, Oh, the president wasn't really paying attention to these returns.
SCOTT: He was watching the HBO documentary...
SCOTT: Now, maybe that's the one thing that could pull him away from — from election returns.
CUPP: The spin job was laughable! I mean, really laughable. I get it. I mean, that's what you have to do in politics. They really had no choice. But Kirsten said two right things. Kirsten said two right things. It's not predictive. Neither of those are predictive, and that's what we need to think about, really. And two, people are thinking about, to quote — to quite Joe Biden, it's a three-letter word, J-O-B-S. People are thinking about jobs right now, and that joblessness number that came out yesterday — I mean, that's a big deal.
SCOTT: And we...
POWERS: The spin job was the exact same spin job that Ari Fleischer did. You know what I mean? It's, like, that's what's so funny...
POWERS: ... Obama White House came up with. It's what every White House says when they lose a race.
HENICAN: Well, shouldn't we be skeptical of that stuff? I mean, this is just a little morality play here. We know the moves already.
SCOTT: Talking about that jobs number, though, Ellis, this administration came out and said, We're going to hold unemployment to 8 percent because we've got this massive stimulus plan. We're looking at 10.2 percent now.
HENICAN: That's right.
SCOTT: Are the media making enough of that?
HENICAN: No. I mean, it's a legitimate story. Obama's got a weasel (ph) on. And you're right, he said some stuff that he now regrets. I mean, that's the way politics works. It's — it's messy, it's sticky. And who heck knows how high it's going to go?
SCOTT: And shouldn't the journalists be doing a lot more...
PINKERTON: ... go back to me and my historical precedents. I was in the Reagan White House during — when unemployment went over 10 percent. And every night, it was Reagan as Hoover. Tip O'Neill said that Reagan was, quote, "evil." And — I mean, and the media were all too happy to agree, and it was just like the next Great Depression, whereas now people are saying, Look, the leading indicators are up, or whatever. They come up with all these little secondary measures to prove an optimistic case.
HENICAN: And you guys said Reagan went to bed early and didn't see the numbers, right?
SCOTT: Is that the White House putting out spin that reporters are picking up on, or is it reporters not doing their job?
PINKERTON: I think it's reporters not wanting to look at the bad side of the Obama presidency.
SCOTT: All right. Time for another break.
But first: If you come across a story that smacks to you of media bias, e-mail us at Newswatch@foxnews.com. We'll be back to talk about New York's top Catholic taking on The New York Times, and much more.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We must never forget, this is not a war of choice, this is a war of necessity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: Has the war of necessity turned into something else? And what's the press saying about this guy? Plus, the war on religion takes another turn when the New York archbishop fires back at The New York Times, all next on "News Watch."
SCOTT: Afghanistan back in the headlines this week after the country's former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, announced over the weekend he was pulling out of the country's scheduled run-off election. That left President Hamid Karzai as the de facto winner, and it raises more questions in the media about our Afghan strategy.
Here are just some of the headlines that caught our eye. From The Los Angeles Times, "Karzai gets a warning from the U.S." From The New Jersey Star Ledger, "Karzai win ramps up pressure on Obama." And from The Washington Post, "Karzai is wild card for U.S. strategy."
What about those headlines, Ellis? Is this signifying that the media are interested in a particular outcome in Afghanistan?
HENICAN: Well, yes, but it's kind of hard to avoid. I mean, this guy's in a mess. The other fellow dropped out. I mean, I hate to get those Vietnam analogies, but I mean, there's some little hints that are popping up. Can't ignore them, I don't think.
SCOTT: After eight years, are the media tired of writing about Afghanistan?
HENICAN: Well, I think the American people would like an answer, don't want it to go on forever. I don't see, honestly, much more than just frustration and a short attention span.
SCOTT: He used the Vietnam word again.
PINKERTON: I got to tell you, it is hard to find a pundit who's not on the U.S. government payroll who thinks that what we're doing in Afghanistan is a good idea and or is going to work out well. It is sort of like Vietnam, and the intelligence, you know, it doesn't think that the Johnson administration or the Nixon administration back then is handling it now, and they don't think Obama's handling it very well right now.
SCOTT: Well, what about it, Kirsten? He announced back in March that he was — he was bringing out the new strategy and it was kind of a final strategy. I mean, it was the be-all, end-all. But now we're back to thinking it all over again. Are the media paying enough attention to, I don't know, this process?
POWERS: Yes, I think they are, and I think there's a lot of question of what — what's taking so long. You know, he — why did he appoint this general and he's not following that strategy. I think the questions have been asked, and I think the answer is that conditions on the ground are different than when he was campaigning. Now, I don't know why he came out and gave that speech if he wasn't ready to follow through on it. But it's a valid question of, Why are we in Afghanistan? And I think they have to figure out whether they want to continue in this direction, or you know, pull the plug.
SCOTT: Well, and S.E., in every war, the enemy has a vote, and the enemy is reading the coverage.
CUPP: Well, sure, and that's why this is so important still. I think it's important that we stay and that we — we at least leave with some kind of victory. It doesn't have to be this big hurrah, but the situation there is wholly untenable, this state of limbo. And the hesitancy on the part of Obama I think is making everyone worried, and I think his loyalists in the mainstream media are now worried about his legacy. So I think that's why they're pushing for some kind of end game.
SCOTT: Here's another story we're following this week. It looks like lawmakers are getting close to strengthening protections for journalists who do not want to reveal their confidential sources. In September, it looked like the White House would block shield legislation, but that all changed recently, according to The New York Times, which reports the Obama administration, leading Senate Democrats and a coalition of news organizations have reached a tentative agreement on legislation.
Do journalists need a shield law like this in the age of terrorism, Ellis?
HENICAN: You bet we do! And it's inevitable, sadly, that politicians on both parties always resist that when they get into office. Yes, we need this one, and we need another one that's a lot stronger, too.
SCOTT: All right. Should we take on face value, Jim, what we're hearing from the Obama administration about this law?
PINKERTON: That they are desperately trying to keep the Pentagon happy on one side and the media happy on the other side. Yes, we should absolutely believe that they are paralyzed about making somebody mad at them.
SCOTT: Let's move on to our next topic. On October 24th, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote about an investigation by the Vatican into women's religious orders in the United States. Here is some of what she wrote. "The church enabled rampant pedophilia, but nuns who live in apartments and do social work with ailing gays — sacrilegious. The pope can wear Serengeti sunglasses and expensive red loafers, but shorter hems for nuns — disgraceful."
Well, those words didn't sit too well with New York archbishop Timothy Dolan. He first tried to send an op-ed piece to The Times, then he fired back on his own blog on the FOX Forum at Maureen Down. Here's some of what he wrote. "In a diatribe that rightly never would have passed muster with the editors had it so criticized an Islamic, Jewish or African-American religious issue, Dowd digs deep into the nativist handbook to use every anti-Catholic caricature possible, from the Inquisition to the Holocaust, condoms, obsession with sex, pedophile priests and oppression of women, all the while slashing Pope Benedict XVI for his shoes."
All right, S.E., what do you make of it?
CUPP: Well, I got — to be perfectly honest, I've spent the last six months researching this topic for a new book, the media's attack on Christianity, and he is just scratching the surface in this. It's not just The New York Times, which regularly skewers both Catholics in sort of the general population and in the church, and the whole of Christianity. It's Newsweek. It's MSNBC. It's The Huffington Post.
Christians have become the new acceptable target, and I'm glad that someone from the church is finally standing up and saying, This is not right, this isn't fair.
SCOTT: What about that, Kirsten?
POWERS: I think that the liberal media tends to — I don't know if I would call it an attack on Christianity. It's more often ignorance. Sometimes it's just snobbiness. They think it's stupid and they look down on it. But then I would say in the conservative media, I often encounter the exact same thing towards Muslims. And so it's — you know, I Just — I feel like it's religion in general, and it just sort of depends on where you're coming from.
SCOTT: All right. We have to take one more break. When we come back, a media mystery.
Who is that with FOX's Major Garrett? Could it be — find out next on "News Watch."
SCOTT: It has been an astounding week in Washington. Maybe you missed this. Those were pigs with wings we saw flying above the White House.
SCOTT: Why? Well, we asked (ph) because a very vocal campaign to try to freeze out FOX News. The president's senior adviser, David Axelrod spoke with our own Major Garrett about the election results on Tuesday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: The New York 23 race was the one race that was really a microcosm of the national debate. The other races in Jersey and in — and in Virginia were really state races, very much focused on state issues. In Jersey it was very much focused on Governor Corzine. But in New York 23, the issues that we're discussing every day in Washington were very much on the ballot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: Jim, just a couple of weeks ago, the White House was talking about denying access to its top people, like David Axelrod, to FOX News. What happened?
PINKERTON: And The Chicago Tribune reporter that they're still chasing after Democratic consultants for going on the air on FOX and threatening them if they go on. But when they really want to get a message across — and FOX had four million viewers, which was 60 percent more than MSNBC and CNN and Headline News put together — I guess they go to FOX, as well.
SCOTT: Is the White House calling you and wondering what you're doing on this program?
POWERS: ... and kiss and make up. No, I mean, I don't have any problems with the White House. They're very helpful to me, and I don't — so it's — I actually — I saw that news story, and it's a little improbable, actually.
HENICAN: They should come on!
POWERS: I mean, I find it very hard to believe.
HENICAN: They should come on. I mean, I'm on all the time. How hard could it be?
SCOTT: All right. And we love having you.
SCOTT: That's a wrap on "News Watch" this week. Thanks to Kirsten, Jim, S.E. and Ellis Henican. I'm Jon Scott. Thanks for watching, and we'll see you next week.
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