This is a rush transcript from "Fox News Watch," June 19, 2010. This copy is may not be in its final form and may be updated.
JON SCOTT, HOST: On "Fox News Watch," the oil disaster continues to plague the Gulf. And as the situation grows more dire, the president tries to convince America and the media he's in control and fighting mad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Make no mistake, we'll fight this spill with everything we've got for as long as it takes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: Did his prime time performance sway the press?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Mr. Hayward, do you know what the constructs are?
Do you believe BP failed in its obligations?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: The media's oil spill villain, BP Chief Tony Hayward, gets pummeled by Congress, the president and the press. Can he say anything to make things better?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY HAYWARD, CEO, BP: I simply was not involved in the decision- making process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: Alvin Greene shocks Democrats in South Carolina, winning their prized primary. How did the mainstream media miss this guy?
A teen sailor took off on a round-the-world adventure. The media yawned. But then her tour took a dangerous twist and so did the media's interest. Did it come too late?
And a tug-of-war breaks out over which reporter will get Helen's front-and-center seat in the White House briefing room.
On the panel this week, writer and Fox News contributor, Judy Miller; Fox Washington Managing Editor, Bill Sammon; 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)
OBAMA: We've directed BP to mobilize additional equipment and technology. And in the coming weeks and days, these efforts should capture up to 90 percent of the oil leaking out of the well. This is until the company finishes drilling a relief well later in the summer that is expected to stop the leak completely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: President Obama making his first Oval Office address since taking office, trying to convince the nation he's on top of the situation and in control.
The next day, Mr. Obama met with BP CEO Tony Hayward after weeks of pressure from the press to do so.
I want to go over, Bill, some of the media reaction to Mr. Obama's speech. "Running on empty," says Mother Jones Magazine; "O-bomb-a, O-B-O-M-B-A," from the Philadelphia Daily News. And from Salon.com, "Just words: Obama's Oval Office speech fizzles.” And even at MSNBC, the thrill up the leg is gone, it seems.
BILL SAMMON, FOX WASHINGTON MANAGING EDITOR: Chris Matthews said he would, "barf" if Obama mentioned one more time that his energy secretary, who's working on this problem, has a Nobel Prize. That's even wearing a little thin.
I think the takeaway, Jon, is that this is finally the point where both the left and the right now agree that Obama has had a lackluster performance, to say the least, when it comes to responding to this oil spill. And I think there's this growing realization that Obama just isn't going to have a bull-horn moment. Remember, that bull-horn moment when President Bush stood in the rubble three days after 9/11, said, “I can hear you.” It electrified the nation. His ratings, approval ratings went to 90 percent. Obama's are less than half that now, and they're falling, because people feel that he's helpless to stop this thing.
SCOTT: Let's get your take on that, Ellis. You're from the Gulf Coast. Do you agree?
ELLIS HENICAN, COLUMNIST, NEWSDAY: That is right. I mean, he is helpless to stop it. You have to count on BP. The bad news for Obama is that the tone has been lackluster, including in the speech. The good news is that, when we feel frustrated with him, there are far worse things from other players. You've got a Republican congressman apologizing to the head of BP. You've got the company saying another series of stupid stuff. So the good news from the White House point of view is let the others keep talking.
SCOTT: There was another moment this week where the president invoked 9/11 to compare to the gulf oil spill. He said, to Politico, "In the same way that our view of our vulnerabilities and our foreign policy was shaped profoundly by 9/11, I think this disaster is going to shape how we think about the environment and energy for many years to come."
Did the media buy into that comparison?
JUDY MILLER, WRITER & FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: No, I think many, many commentators, Jon, were extremely critical of Mr. Obama for wrapping himself in full-metal jacket, for using those military metaphors in order to look tough. It didn't fly. It didn't play well. No one is convinced.
SCOTT: Is that what you get, Jim, when you hire a 27-year-old speech writer, chief speech writer?
JIM PINKERTON, FELLOW, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: A 27-year-old speech writer who has had several YouTube early moments, if anyone is curious, about him, what he thinks of Hillary Clinton or playing beer pong with his friends. Yes, there is — there's much to be said for having Ted Sorenson or Arthur Schlesinger as opposed to this kid writing speeches.
What was most interesting to me about all — and speaking of the speech, was what Dan Froomkin, of the Huffington Post said — who is a fan of Obama — as is the entire Huffington Post, and said, the most depressing thing about this speech, to him, was that Obamans really believed internally that it would change everything. They called it an inflection point. They said it would change everything. And, in fact, as Froomkin said, it didn't change a thing.
SAMMON: As Obama has done so often, he builds up his own expectations so high as to be unrealistic, and you can inevitably only fail to deliver that.
I think, as for this congressman that said — that he got in trouble because he said that the White House had done a shakedown of BP, well, yes, everybody's going crazy, ripping on this guy. But you know, the New York Times had a front-page story talking about the raw arm twisting of Obama and the governmental overreach of Obama, and they dress it up in this intellectual sort of high-fluting prose, and sort of examined it as a power grab. And nobody bats an eye. But when some hapless congressman inelegantly phrases this, everybody goes nuts, including his fellow Republicans.
MILLER: He recanted his own apology.
SAMMON: I'm not — I'm not defending what he's saying. I'm talking about the hypocrisy and the double standard.
HENICAN: And one of the biggest hits of the Obama administration is they've been too cozy and too agreeable with BP. My goodness, this is the most powerful person in Congress on Energy issues for the Republicans. And he makes the Obama people look like they're swinging baseball bats at Hayward.
PINKERTON: It was interesting, in a media-cycle environment, and it took about two hours before Boehner, Cantor, Pence, all denounced the guy, Congressman Barton, and they said they'll strip him of his chairman — strip him of his ranking membership. I mean, the damage control the Republicans did on this was, I think, from a technique point of view, excellent.
HENICAN: And it's still out there. They're still talking about it.
MILLER: That's because Obama...
PINKERTON: Not anymore. No, it's not.
MILLER: Obama is rescued time and time again by the fact that the Republicans do not have a coherent message. That's what saves Obama from the worst speech he's given so far.
SAMMON: But, you know, there's an eagerness, there's an eagerness on the part of the press because they don't like to blame Obama and are sort of tired of beating up on BP — how much more percentage is there in that — to see a Republican that could be a villain and over eagerness, this a-ha, some Republican said something dumb. Let's make him the villain.
SCOTT: Plenty of villains here. It seems like there's nobody liked — a Rasmussen poll, Ellis, asked, when they, the media, write or talk about President Barack Obama, what are reporters trying to do? According to results, 48 percent think most reporters are trying to help the president pass his agenda. 27 percent say most reporters are interested in reporting the news, in an unbiased manner. What do you think of those stats?
HENICAN: Well, I don't know those numbers are so different from what we've seen for a long time. But let's remember, one of the things that this last week does, is it undermines the argument going forward that outfits like MSNBC and Salon and some of the places that you guys love to bash, you know what, they slammed at that guy so hard. You can't claim any of those folks are in the tank anymore the way...
PINKERTON: Ellis, did I hear you right, saying this is like nothing new? Because I don't remember the media trying to help the Bush administration pass its agenda.
HENICAN: But clearly, notice the rhetoric in the last week from the so-called horrific liberal media. I mean, they're not in the tank anymore.
PINKERTON: Well, there is an element to which they're playing for the left as opposed to the Obama administration. They think that Obama is deviating from the left.
HENICAN: Sure. And...
PINKERTON: Walter Shapiro, who is a terrific guy, had a column where he said that Obama should be more like Jimmy Carter, and he meant it.
HENICAN: And let's understand though that Obama was never quite the extreme leftist that some folks were warning about.
PINKERTON: And that's why he'd break hearts.
SCOTT: Time for a break.
But first, the discussions continue in here, onset, during the breaks, and interesting things are said when the cameras aren't rolling. Catch what you don't see on TV, www.FoxNews.com/FoxNewsWatch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HAYWARD: And the resulting oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico never should have happened, and I'm deeply sorry that it did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: BP heads facing the wrath of the president, Congress and the press. Will the hard hitting coverage sink the oil giant?
And a teen sailor shoves off for round-the-world adventure with little media attention, until it all went bad. Details next, on "News Watch."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN DINGELL, D-MICH.: Can you tell us how much money BP saved by not using the proper number of centralizers?
HAYWARD: I can't recall that.
DINGELL: How much time was saved?
HAYWARD: I don't recall that either, I'm afraid.
DINGELL: How much would this test have cost BP?
HAYWARD: I can't recall that number, I'm afraid.
I can't answer that question because I wasn't there.
I'm afraid I can't recall.
I'm afraid I don't know that either.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: Just a small sampling there of BP CEO Tony Hayward answering or not answering questions and facing pointed criticism from lawmakers looking for answers as to the Deepwater Horizon spill and its cause. Unfortunately, as most in the press noted, while saying he was deeply sorry for the devastation his company brought to the Gulf Coast, Hayward seems pretty clueless, when it came to providing answers.
He's become, Ellis, the poster boy in the media for BP and the Gulf oil disaster. Are they right?
HENICAN: Exactly right. You can see why I think Barack Obama's a stirring orator compared to Mr. "I do not recall."
Listen, he's got the most expensive P.R. representation in America. Why we can't or someone can't feed him some better lines than that, because, God, the sound is horrible, isn't it?
SCOTT: There was a bit of U.S. versus Britain rhetoric going on in the media this week.
Headlines for you to consider, Bill, "BP's toxic Tony, can't we cap him," that in the Los Angeles Times. And then from the U.K.'s Daily Mail, "The gushing geyser of Obama's anti-British rhetoric that now urgently needs to be capped."
SAMMON: Well, I mean, obviously, people in Great Britain are worried because, if Obama completely destroys BP, it's not going to have any money to pay out to the pensioners. So there's a lot of worry that the pensioners in England aren't going to have pension payments.
Look, BP screwed up royally. There's no question about it. And they deserve the lion's share of the blame. OK, let's be clear about that. Yet, there's something too easy about villianizing big oil, which is already right out of mainstream media central casting for the villain, is big oil.
And yet, you have this chairman guy, from Sweden that came out the other day and said, we're going to make it good for the small people. And everybody jumped on that and said, oh, he's calling us small people. It was an idiom. If he'd said "the little guy," no one would have batted an eye. But because he's Swedish and doesn't have the complete command of the idiom in the English language, the media took a cheap shot and said he was pulling a Leona Helmsley, you know, that only little people pay taxes, and just crucified him. So there's a little bit of over eagerness to villianize BP
SCOTT: The president, Judy, criticized Tony Hayward, the CEO, to no end. Then, finally, they held had a meeting with him, it seemed, after he got all kinds of media pressure to do so. When they hold the meeting, they essentially give Tony Hayward the media equivalent of the perp walk into the White House.
In fact, did that work?
MILLER: Well, no. it worked in terms of BP coughing up $20 billion as a down payment in a fund that's going to be administered, not by BP, but by an, "independent person” to settle claims. But I think, look, Obama is in an impossible position. He's reliant on BP, no matter what happens, unless he takes over this crisis. And if he takes over the crisis, he's totally responsible for it.
SCOTT: Well, he already said...
MILLER: He's got no place to go with this. This is a losing issue for him.
SCOTT: Well, he's already said publicly he's responsible, right?
PINKERTON: Right, but the problem we face is the media sees this as a dramaturgy with Hayward and Svanberg and his people. And we all assess, quite rightly, the quality of their P.R. spin and things like that.
And Obama seems to have gotten elected and thinks he can govern just giving speeches with teleprompters and stuff, and nobody, either the media has the technical capacity to do what matters most, which is fill up this oil spill and then stop the next one from happening. That discussion is not of interest to the sort of theater critics in Washington and New York.
SCOTT: But — but...
SAMMON: But as Jon said, Obama himself said, I'm in charge. I'm responsible. It's clear to everybody that BP can't get this thing stopped. They did the junk shot. They did the cap. Nothing has worked. And Obama has rightly said, I'm responsible, I'm the commander-in-chief. I'm going to get this thing...
SAMMON: And so he has — he does bear that responsibility.
HENICAN: Let me defend the concept of villianizing villains. These are the people who did it.
We don't need to feel sorry for them.
HENICAN: ...the blame.
SCOTT: All right, time for another break.
Coming up, a young girl sets sail into a sea of media controversy.
ANNOUNCER: Adventure on the high seas for a teen sailor takes a dangerous turn. Then the media pay attention.
And this guy gets on the ballot, then wins. Why was he such a surprise to the press? All next, on "News Watch."
SCOTT: This is Alvin Greene. He could be the next U.S. Senator from South Carolina. He just won that state's Democratic primary. His victory a surprise to his fellow Democrats and baffling to the press.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALVIN GREENE, D-S.C.: And they identify with me because I'm more in touch with the constituents of South Carolina than any of my opponents. I am — they relate to me and I relate to their struggles and their issues, you know, better than any of my opponents.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: OK, Jim, here is a guy who got no attention from the press before the primary. And now he's getting all of this attention. Why?
PINKERTON: Well, I mean, I think we're now seeing what happens when most of the media kind of lays off their local political reporters. Zero people knew who this guy was. And they just saw his name on the ballot and they voted for him. And now we pay a price for that, as Americans.
SCOTT: Is this adding to the excitement, if you will over what's going to happen in November?
SAMMON: Well, sure, but, you know, I look at how the media treats this guy. Whenever a Republican does something inflammatory or says something inflammatory, the press says, is this the face of the Republican Party. Sharron Angle, in Nevada; Dick Cheney; Rush Limbaugh, whenever they say something crazy, that's the face of the Republican Party. When a Democrat is arrested on obscenity charges, it's, well, he's a Republican plant. Without a shred of evidence!
SCOTT: Ellis wants to say something crazy, but we have to move on, Ellis. I'm sorry.
SCOTT: Moving on to a teen girl's quest...
HENICAN: How do you know?
SCOTT: ...for adventure and fame. It all ended in a sea of controversy and perhaps shame. Abby Sunderland, the California teen who wanted to a break the record and become the youngest person to sail around the world alone. Pretty much ignoring her quest in the media, that is, until she ran into trouble in the Indian Ocean and had to be rescued in an expensive operation paid for by the Australian government. And then we all learned that Abby and her parents had, at least discussed, what else, a TV deal. And she was supposed to appear in a reality show after she came home.
Surprise you, Ellis?
HENICAN: No, and the media handled it exactly right. It wasn't a story when nothing happened. And then it got to be a pretty good story. And now it's a fascinating, twisted media story. Yes, we should be covering it now.
SCOTT: So — all right, Judy, you're shaking your head.
MILLER: Yes, and I want to see the story that explores whether or not it's legally possible to take custody away from that father.
I haven't seen it yet.
SAMMON: Aren't 16-year-olds supposed to be in school?
SCOTT: Well, I think they were all home schooled in that family.
All right, here's something interesting. Did you know that YouTube is in the news business? YouTube, you know, the Internet site, famous for piano playing cats and other quirky videos, is testing a new feature called "News Feed, videos from both citizen journalists and professional news outlets, with 24 hours of video footage uploaded to the site every minute. There is also all kinds of news being reported or at least uploaded.
So is this the future of news gathering?
SAMMON: I think there's some good stuff coming out of these kinds of things, although I see this project is being headed up by the Berkley Graduate School of Journalism. So I'm sure just as fair and balanced as the rest of the mainstream media in their story selection.
SCOTT: Is there a slippery slope?
PINKERTON: There's obviously an editorial issue there. But, look, they're providing news from Kyrgyzstan, which is one of the most important stories that no reporter that I know of is covering because they can't afford to anymore.
Yes. And the good news is that there's some actual reporting on this sight. Most of what we see from so-called citizen journalists is a lot of people with uninformed opinions. And I say, go cover some stuff, guys. Maybe we'll learn something.
MILLER: Yes, but if everybody is a journalist, then nobody ultimately is a journalist. And none of us will be covered by a shield law to help us to protect our sources if we go down this direction. So I find it worrisome. And also, potentially interesting, but worrisome.
SCOTT: Well, there's also the possibility, obviously, of fakery. You can do an awful lot with an Apple laptop and a home video.
PINKERTON: That's why you eventually have to turn it into brands. It's got to be a trusted brand. So-and-so presents the news from X, and you trust them or don't trust them. It has to be built up over time.
SCOTT: If you're a congressman, you've got to look out. Everybody's got a camera. There was a Democratic congressman walking down the street outside our Washington bureau the other day. A kid holds up a flip camera and asks an innocent question, and the guy grabs the kid by the back of the neck. And that got all over the YouTube. And now he has been forced to apologize. So you've got to watch. Everybody's got a camera. Everybody could be a journalist.
SCOTT: All right, we have to take one more break.
When we come back, time to play musical chairs in the White House briefing room. One very special seat is up for grabs. When the music stops, who gets to sit there? That's next, on "News Watch."
SCOTT: Let the musical chairs begin. Journalist Helen Thomas resigned last week after some offensive comments about Jews in Israel. That leaves open a prominent space in the White House briefing room. And though her empty seat is cold for now, the battle for front-and-center is heating up. The hot seat up for grabs, leading contenders are Fox News, currently in the second row, and Bloomberg News, currently just to the left.
So let's go to the Washington expert, Bill Sammon.
How does the process work? How do they pick?
SAMMON: I need the leg room. So I need to sit in the front — no.
I'm not going to advocate here on behalf Fox News, because I am doing that privately to the board. But I will tell you how the process works. The White House Correspondents Association board makes the decision. It's not the White House. Robert Gibbs has nothing to do with it.
SCOTT: Who moves from up then from the second row or wherever?
SAMMON: That opens a whole can of dominoes, where...
SCOTT: So Ellis could get that seat.
HENICAN: It is possible. It is possible.
PINKERTON: Keep hope alive.
SCOTT: Wow! Let's start a letter writing campaign on your behalf.
HENICAN: Thank you, Helen.
SCOTT: You heard it first here on "News Watch."
That is a wrap on our program this week.
Thanks to Judy Miller, Jim Pinkerton, Bill Sammon and Ellis Henican.
I'm Jon Scott. See you next week.
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