This is a rush transcript from "Fox News Watch," January 2, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
JON SCOTT, HOST: "Fox News Watch" looks back at a decade of news — the conflicts, assaults, controversy, decisions, politics, scandals, fears, losses.
SCOTT: Justice, the odd, terror, war, the good, the bad, the ugly, the aftermath and change.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT: Congratulations, Mr. President.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: On the panel this week, writer and Fox News contributor, Judy Miller; syndicated columnist, Cal Thomas; Jim Pinkerton, fellow, New America Foundation; and Newsday columnist, Ellis Henican.
I'm Jon Scott. "Fox News Watch" is on right now.
The year 2000, the new millennium, the beginning of a new decade of news and news coverage. The Y2K bug was the big story of 2000. It quickly became a big bust. U.S. agents seized refugee Elian Gonzalez and, after a long standoff, sent him back to Cuba. The USS Cole attacked by terrorists in Yemen. 17 American sailors were killed. Figuring out the winner of the presidential election, delayed due to ballot snafus in Florida. The U.S. Supreme court took on the issue, made a decision and, 36 days after voters had gone to the polls, Democratic presidential candidate, Al Gore, conceded the election to his Republican challenger, Texas Governor George W. Bush. He would become the nation's 43rd president.
Jim, Ellis, if you had to sum up that 2000 election fiasco in a few words, how would you describe it?
JIM PINKERTON, FELLOW, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: I would say the reporters all voted for Al Gore in 2000, but they didn't like him. They liked Bush much better, so Bush perversely got pretty good press in that year.
SCOTT: And was that reflected, Ellis, in the coverage, do you think, of the standoff?
ELLIS HENICAN, COLUMNIST, NEWSDAY: Riveting would be the word I would use. I think it was one of those political stories, Jon, that got people who don't care about politics engaged. A lot of them were angry, but, yes, I think the coverage, by and large, was one of the high points of the decade.
SCOTT: And it just seemed to go on and on and on. It was so strange remembering.
HENICAN: It mattered.
SCOTT: Yes, you didn't know who your next president was going to be for more than a month.
HENICAN: I mean, truly, at the beginning of the decade, maybe the best single political story of the decade.
SCOTT: And then perhaps the biggest story of the decade, in 2001, the September 11th terror attacks. More than 3000 people are killed in New York, Washington D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Was it a high point or a low point for media coverage? I mean, it really was the story of the decade, wasn't it?
JUDY MILLER, WRITER & FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, at that point, I was working at The New York Times, which won, I think, seven Pulitzers for the coverage we did of that lead up to that horrific event. I think it was an amazing period for news, Jon. I think that everybody finally caught up with the story of the formation of militants groups like Al Qaeda, like Jaish-e Mohammed, the names that we now take for granted, that we're seeing all over the world. We began to understand what they were really up to, and it was a moment of incredible challenge for the media. And I think they rose pretty well to it at the beginning.
SCOTT: I remember the feeling of unity that came out of those attacks and it lasted a while.
CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Yes.
SCOTT: It seems to be gone now.
THOMAS: It does, indeed. I agree with everything that Judy said. But I think that it's important to remember that the media had ample opportunities to cover the story, to connect the dots before 9/11. I interviewed Tom Fenton, then just retired from CBS News, who had written a book on this subject about why we didn't know more about what was coming before 9/11. He said he was constantly trying to get on the air with stories about this and his producers in New York said nobody wants to hear about foreign news, we can't even pronounce those names. So he knew and many others knew what was coming, but it couldn't get on the air and it couldn't get in the newspapers because we were preoccupied with other things.
SCOTT: 2002: The Catholic Church gets rocked by sex scandals. "American Idol" debuts on the Fox network. Three weeks of deadly sniper attacks around Washington D.C., 10 dead, three wounded. Trent Lott resigns as Senate Republican leader after praising retiring Senator Strom Thurmond. But the top story of the year, the war on terror continued. And U.S. and Afghan troops continued the largest ground assault in the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan since the war began in October of 2001.
What did you think of the press coverage as the war began there, Jim?
PINKERTON: I think that the Afghanistan war back then was very popular to cover. I think that was, as Cal indicated, that's when the country was really united behind, among other people, President Bush. We all remember President Bush's pitch in the Yankees game in the World Series, late 2001, but that halo of goodwill carried well over to 2002.
SCOTT: Cal, give us your take on what happened there?
THOMAS: Well, I think that the unity was good. And we all celebrated, including the media. And many remember the controversy over American flag lapel pins, not only on this network. Tom Brokaw on NBC had to defend himself about not wearing the American flag pin, and it got to be incredibly silly.
The job of the press, yes, is to sing the praises of America when America does well, but it's also to question authority. And to the extent that it gets on the rah-rah bandwagon, it's not fulfilling its obligations.
SCOTT: Let's talk about 2003. Space shuttle Columbia breaks apart on reentry, killing everyone aboard, and scattering debris across Texas and Louisiana. Elizabeth Smart found in Sandy, Utah, abducted nine months earlier from her bedroom. Martha Stewart, indicted on nine federal counts in the ImClone scandal. Jail was in her future. California elects actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, as governor. And the story of the year, shock and awe, as President Bush declares war on Iraq.
Jim, your thoughts about that, you know, momentous time.
PINKERTON: Again, just to make that list is a reminder how much the media can get lost on stories that frankly aren't that important. Elizabeth Smart was a tragedy to her father and a blurred interest to most Americans, but the Iraq war was a thousand times the importance of that. And I think it's to the media's credit that they picked up on that by 2003.
SCOTT: And the media were accused of giving too much support to the war in Iraq when it began.
HENICAN: It was clear, with the perspective of time, that our coverage was gullible, naive. It was, to use Cal's words, boosterish. And here we are, all these years later, suffering from the fact, Jon, that those questions were not asked in a direct and pointed way as we wandered into these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the most disappointing moment of the media in the entire decade.
SCOTT: And yet, a lot of the history of the war is yet to be written.
HENICAN: It may be 10 years later, we'll have a different feeling. But from where we sit now, boy, we should have been tougher then.
SCOTT: All right.
Time for break.
We have lots of extras available to you on our web site, including some of the discussions that erupt during our break. You can hear them after the show at FoxNews.com/foxnewswatch.
We'll be back in two minutes to talk more about the coverage of this remarkable decade.
ANNOUNCER: A decade of news rolls on as Howard Dean gets excited.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOWARD DEAN, FORMER DNC CHAIRMAN: Ahh!
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ANNOUNCER: Evidence of prisoner abuse goes public. Americans mourn the passing of a favored president. The world mourns the passing of a favored pope. And a killer hurricane changes everything. How did the press shape the coverage? Details next, on "News Watch."
SCOTT: 2004 was not lacking for major news stories. Democratic presidential candidate, Howard Dean, gives a speech in Iowa after coming in third in the caucuses there to Senators Kerry and Edwards that ends in a scream.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEAN: And then, we're going to Washington D.C. to take back the White House. Ahh!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: A wardrobe malfunction turns a half-time program into a peep show. The nation mourns the death of Ronald Reagan at age 93. He had lived longer than any other former president. Senator John Kerry accepts the Democratic presidential nomination. But the biggest story of the year took place in April when CBS Newsman Dan Rather and the staff of "60 Minutes," too, first break the story of abuse by American G.I.s at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq.
Those photos, Judy from Abu Ghraib, very shocking obviously, the press coverage of them pretty thorough. What did it do for coverage of the war and maybe the conduct of the war?
MILLER: I think it began to change the way in which Americans and a lot of reporters thought about the war. Until then, it was — there hadn't been, as Ellis pointed out, a lot of questioning of our need to do it. Abu Ghraib was a shocking, shocking development because it was — we all know that bad things happen in war, but they're rarely caught on camera as this one was. and the tone of the coverage totally changed after that.
PINKERTON: Would you say, Judy, that "The New York Times" might have over-covered it a little bit?
MILLER: Well, it depends on what you mean by over-covered.
THOMAS: That's a Bill Clintonism.
SCOTT: Let's take a look at 2005. President George W. Bush begins his second term. Pope John Paul II, the world's pope, dies. And 17 days later, German Cardinal Ratzinger is elected to the papacy, and taking the name Benedict XVI. Michael Jackson is found not guilty of child molestation. 52 people are killed by suicide bombers in the London Underground. But the top story of the year begins on August 29, when Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans and the gulf coast.
Ellis, we've got to start with you on that one. You're a Louisiana native.
HENICAN: I am.
SCOTT: Tell us about the coverage and your memories of the coverage of it?
HENICAN: Well, I've got to give you two categories on that one. In the early days, marvelous, some terrific reporting in print and television that really did ensure, even though the government responded so ineptly to it, that eventually Americans would need to respond to it.
Of course, we have a short attention span in this country and in this media coverage and, years later, gosh, I wish we could get people interested in it again.
PINKERTON: I agree, the initial story was compelling and astonishing to people that things could go this wrong. They pretty quickly settled into a story line that it was all George W. Bush's fault and that satisfied them completely for the years after that.
SCOTT: 2006, the Sago Mine disaster in West Virginia, 13 miners trapped, 12 died before rescuers reached them. Mel Gibson, he drinks a little too much and gets busted for DUI, looking like we've never seen him before. The crocodile hunter, Steve Irwin, is killed in a freak encounter with a stingray. Saddam Hussein, executed at dawn in Baghdad. And on February 11th, a story that the media still talks about three years later, Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shoots and wounds his 78-year-old hunting partner, Harry Whittington, while on a quail hunt at a ranch in Texas.
The hunting accident, it's sort of the gift that keeps on giving for main street media, isn't it Judy?
MILLER: It really did. We went straight from the pictures of people stranded on roof tops in New Orleans, the inability of the federal government to the Bush administration to respond, straight, straight to Dick Cheney shooting his friend with a rifle. I mean, it couldn't have been better.
HENICAN: There we go. Na, na.
MILLER: So shoot me for not being an outdoor girl.
THOMAS: Plus, the guy was a lawyer. I don't think — it probably helped him a little bit.
MILLER: But really, you know, it really set the tone, the entire tone. Anything was fair game now.
SCOTT: And fair game — was the coverage fair?
HENICAN: It was fair enough.
THOMAS: I mean...
HENICAN: Yes. If no one dies, these stories are a lot more fun.
THOMAS: Yes, look, if Joe Biden had done it, he'd be satired on "Saturday Night Live," too.
SCOTT: All right, time for another break. More on the coverage of the top stories of this decade.
ANNOUNCER: The press focused on firsts, Nancy Pelosi becomes the speaker, Sarah Palin gets the GOP nod, and Barack Obama makes history.
Plus, a big tragedy in Virginia, a big rip-off, and a big scandal at Walter Reed. All next, on "News Watch."
SCOTT: Let's begin this segment with a look at the top-five stories of 2007. Nancy Pelosi becomes the first woman ever elected speaker of the House of Representatives. A federal jury convicts I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff. A shooting rampage by a student at Virginia Tech kills 32 people. A Minneapolis highway bridge over the Mississippi River collapses during the evening rush hour. But the top media story of the year is at Walter Reed Army Medical Center after "The Washington Post" launches an investigation into the mishandling of reports that soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan had received poor treatment there.
That story was such a surprise, Judy. I mean, people like to think that our soldiers, at least for all of their sacrifices, are getting the best care. And the media really blew the lid off of that.
MILLER: It was a great piece of reporting at "The Washington Post." It was really the kind of reporting that everybody could acknowledge. This is — it's obvious what the Pulitzer Prize is going to be this year, because it was such an important story that had such resonance for everyone. and it ran counter to our impressions and our stereotypes about V.A. care.
SCOTT: And most people think that the Army is a pretty well-run organization, you give orders and get things done.
PINKERTON: Exactly. And to the Army's credit, they got rid of the Army secretary and a bunch of officers and officers. So the Army does have a capacity for renewal that you don't see, for example, at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
SCOTT: Let's move on now to 2008. The year, more recent history, obviously, oil hits $100 a barrel for the first time. Senator Barack Obama wins the Iowa Democratic caucus while former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee wins the state's Republican caucus. Obama goes on to beat rival Hillary Clinton in eight consecutive contests and win the party's presidential nomination. After the winning the Republican nomination, Senator John McCain picks Sarah Palin as his running mate. She is the first woman to joins a Republican ticket for the White House. The country finds itself in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression as credit markets freeze and the housing bubble bursts. But the biggest story of the year reaches its climax on November 4 when Barack Obama is elected America's first black president.
Take a look back at it, Ellis, the coverage?
HENICAN: Oh, what a wild ride and what a great story, right? A good human story. It mattered. America has truly gone in a different direction since. You know, you can say some of it was overly emotional and even a little gullible, but nobody could say it wasn't a phenomenal story.
SCOTT: We talked about how the press got on board the Obama bandwagon early. Has that changed?
THOMAS: Somewhat. But let me just return to something quickly. I grew up in segregated Washington and remember when the newspapers of that day in the '50s had black pages. They had news, black news. It was very difficult for an African-American, a Negro, as they were called in the media then, to get the kind of coverage — debutante balls, they were all segregated. There was tremendous progress made. I, as an American, a Washingtonian was very proud that this country would elect an African- American. But, from the standpoint of the media, they focused far more on the color of his skin, than the content of his character.
MILLER: I think they focused on everything about him. And I think the curiosity about Obama and his popularity, throughout the world by the way, is really interesting. American policy is still not popular, but Barack Obama remains popular around the world. And I think he still remains popular with an awful lot of reporters, too.
SCOTT: And now a look at the top stories of 2009, a year we just bid goodbye to this week. Hero pilot, Sully Sullenberger, safely lands his crippled plane in the Hudson River. Bernie Madoff pleads guilty to a massive fraud that apparently stole $65 billion-or0so dollars from investors. Michael Jackson, the king of pop, dies in Los Angeles. Army psychologist, Nidal Hasan, opens fire on military personnel at Fort Hood, Texas, killing 13. But the story that dominated coverage this year began on January 20th when Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States.
Jim, you're champing at the bit.
PINKERTON: I would connect two of those, Obama and Fort Hood. I think that the Obama administration's response or lack of response to the Fort Hood shooting and all the discoveries we've made about Muslim jihadist infiltration into the United States is going to prove to be the biggest story of 2009 and frankly Obama's term in office.
MILLER: I think that the phenomenon of home-grown radicalization will be certainly the national security story of 2009.
I have to agree with you, Jim.
SCOTT: All right, you're jumping a little bit ahead of us because we're going to get into that.
Ellis, your take on President Obama and his year just completed, pretty much.
HENICAN: Well, it reminds you that a really huge story one year can produce an almost as huge story the second year. You know, we're finding this out. It's too soon to have real perspective on it, but you do have to say, from the Noble, to the war issues and the health care issue, all of that goes back to January 2 and back to November as well.
THOMAS: Well, look, the expectation levels were so high coming in, I think he's coming down to earth. People are realizing, even in the media, that he's a human being with, if not feet of clay, then certainly not feet of iron.
SCOTT: What about the White House handling of the press corps? Has there been a major change since the Obama administration took over?
PINKERTON: I don't think they've changed. But I think they — I mean, Robert Gibbs is getting bad reviews. That's sort of astonishing to me that they plain don't like him, for what that's worth.
HENICAN: There's always tension in these relations.
HENICAN: Oh, my goodness, the White House press corps doesn't like a press secretary, is that what you're saying?
MILLER: Are you shocked, shocked, Ellis?
PINKERTON: Well, to go back to — if you've acted like Pierre Salinger for Kennedy — I mean, they loved him. There have been genuine love affairs between press secretaries and White Houses. and this is not one of them.
SCOTT: Judy, your take?
MILLER: I think it's proceeding as one would expect the first year to proceed. He's making some mistakes, some of them he's being called on and some he's not. I think, on balance, what the media is it saying to itself this year is a lot more skepticism. We need to be more skeptical.
SCOTT: We have to take one more break.
When we come back, our panel tells us what they think we can expect in the new decade just beginning.
ANNOUNCER: The new millennium's first decade of news was no snooze. What we can expect in 2010 and beyond? That's next, on "News Watch."
SCOTT: We have spent most of this time period reviewing the first decade of the century. During the past 10 years, we have witnessed the powerful impact of cable news, the Internet, YouTube, Facebook, even Twitter, on the way the media cover stories.
Now a question for each of you. What can we expect from the media in this new decade?
Cal, you're first up?
THOMAS: I think there is going to be growing cynicism about the Obama's policies finally. We've said on this show before...
SCOTT: Media cynicism?
THOMAS: Yes, exactly. That is what I'm talking about. We've said on the show, while many of us — maybe Ellis excepted — believe most reporters are liberals/
What they like even better than seeing their own policies advance is a good fight and a good story. And as the president continues to sink in the polls, I think it will be less positive coverage for him.
HENICAN: Well, Cal is right about the good story part. Some of the other things we may have some quibbles on. But, listen, who is going to tell that story? The thing that I fear is that those print reporters, who still do the vast majority of the reportorial heavy lifting in this business, continuing to decline, continuing to shrink. Their papers are having increasing troubles persisting. Somebody has got to dream up that new model. God, I hope it happens in the next decade, if not in the next year.
SCOTT: Yes, you have to wonder about the survivability of the traditional newspapers.
MILLER: I'm particularly worried about foreign reporting and national security report because that involves a lot of travel, a lot of going to unpleasant places that most people don't want to go to. It's very expensive and it's just not going to happen. Already, newspapers are being forced to take people out of Iraq to cover Afghanistan because they don't have enough money for both.
SCOTT: But can you rely — is there a model that maybe, I don't know, a journalism call among YouTube or Facebook or something?
PINKERTON: I think something will emerge. The government is going to step in, in some way and bail out some of the newspapers — I will predict that — in the next few years.
THOMAS: Terrible. Horrible.
PINKERTON: The reporters will be for it.
MILLER: Not all.
PINKERTON: I think, longer term, we'll see some sort of merger of the networking phenomenon, like Facebook with content. I think you're going to see more people watching the same show on their Facebook page, as a group, like a collective experience, than we've seen so far. Content is still king. And I think, by the end of this decade, we'll see that people are consuming content through the new media-like social networks.
SCOTT: My prediction is that, by the end of the decade, at least one of the big three networks will not be doing an evening newscast. The same kind of thing. The demand just isn't there. People aren't home to watch it. When you have cable news, why put on an expensive nightly news half hour five or seven nights a week? Just a thought.
That is a wrap on "New Watch" for this week.
Thanks to Judy Miller, Jim Pinkerton, Cal Thomas and Ellis Henican.
I'm Jon Scott. We hope you keep watching us for the next decade right here on Fox News Channel.
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