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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel on White House Fox Bashing and Afghanistan Elections

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from October 19, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAHM EMANUEL, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I suppose the way to look at it a nd the way the president looks at it and we look at is that it is not so much a news organization so much that it has a perspective, and that's a different take, and more importantly does not have the CNN's and others in the world basically be led and following FOX.

DAVID AXELROD, OB AMA SENIOR ADVISER: But a lot of their news programming, it's really not news. It is pushing a point of view. And the bigger thing is that other news organizations like yours ought not to treat them that way, and we're not going to treat them that way.

We're going to appear on their shows. We're going to participate, but understanding that they represent a point of view.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, HOST: Well, here is Fox News senior vice president Michael Clemente's response to that -- "Surprisingly, the White House continues to declare war on a news organization instead of folk focusing on the critical issues that Americans are concerned about, like jobs, healthcare and two wars.

The door remains open and we welcome a discussion about the facts behind the issues."

OK, the back and forth. Let's bring in the panel: Steve Hayes, senior writer for "The Weekly Standard," Juan Williams, news analyst for National Public Radio, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Steve, have you thought about what the strategy may be with the White House and what they are talking about? Again, another Sunday in which they bring this up.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, I spend a lot of time thinking about it, and I remain per flexed. It does not make any sense as a part of a strategy. And I thought that it might have been mistake initially when Anita Dunn said these things.

But clearly, I think, given the comments from both Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, and the fact they said much the same thing, this was a planned response from the White House again this Sunday.

But here's the Irony. Axelrod goes on ABC News. He makes the argument that FOX is too ideological, and he makes a plea that "legitimate news organizations" like ABC News not follow Fox into sort of partisan journalism.

And he makes the point in response to a question from the host, George Stephanopoulos, who was Bill Clinton's media hatchet man for years. I mean, the irony is incredible.

As it happens, I watched George Stephanopoulos. I think he is doing a terrific job, for the most part, and the conservative gripes about when he was given the job were overblown.

But George Stephanopoulos last week was just named the fill-in anchor for ABC News World News Tonight that. That would be like Karl Rove filling in for you. It doesn't happen here. I think the irony is I think rather amazing and it's incredible he didn't see it.

BAIER: Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS, NEWS ANALYST, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: The question that occurs to me is you hear David Axelrod talking about Fox pushing a point of view. And I think this is true if you look at our primetime lineup, you get people who are, in fact, strong in terms of their opinions, and opinions are batted back and forth.

But I think to myself, also, that means what goes on let's say at MSNBC with Maddow and Olbermann and Schultz, that's not a point of view? I think it is a point of view. Or Lou Dobbs on CNN, that is not a point of view? Or Sanchez or any of these other people?

It seems to me they're saying no. What the problem here is we don't like Fox's point of view, that Fox's perspective is aggravating to them. And I think, gee, that seems so petty and small as opposed to engaging.

And of course, it doesn't speak to the broader universe of news coverage that goes away from those kinds of personality and opinion-driven programs.

BAIER: Well, lift the curtain here. Is this because they're getting attacked from the left on a number of different issues, from Afghanistan and the public option to Gitmo and interrogations? Is it because they need a foil and Fox News happens to be it?

WILLIAMS: I think they need a foil at this moment. I think there are lots of people on the left, but it has been particular independents.

And remember, Fox has a huge audience. And so Fox has the ability, I think, to introduce points of criticism. And they are, right now, feeling as if people are moving in the other direction, and they want to make sure whatever they can do to somehow neutralize Fox.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Look, the great thing of Fox News is it broke the monopoly of the liberal media. That's the reason why it is so wildly successful.

I once said years ago that the genius of Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch is to have discovered a niche of American broadcasting audience in news, namely, half of the American people.

And the other consequence is that it angers the Obama administration, which is used to, particularly after last year, wall to wall adulation.

I mean, this is almost comical if you look at the lineup. On the one hand, in the tank are NBC, ABC, CBS, NPR, PBS, CNN and MSNBC. Some of these like MSNBC are so in the tank they need scuba gear. Some of them occasionally emerge for a breath of air, but only occasionally.

And FOX stands up and refuses to bend a knee, and that's what they can't stand.

Look, CNN was patted on the head by the Obama administration as objective. CNN is an organization that a few weeks ago had a fact checking on a "Saturday Night Live" skit that was mildly critical of Obama, but did no fact checking on wildly grotesquely, libelous, racist statements allegedly made by Rush Limbaugh which were not made by Rush Limbaugh.

It gives you an idea of the difference in how they treat things, and that's not a matter of sloppiness. That's a matter of ideology.

BAIER: White House Communications Director Anita Dunn has responded to a piece of tape that first aired on Glenn Beck's show in which she is seen speaking to high school graduates here in Washington in June of this year.

This is her response, first of all, to the tape where she references her admiration for Chairman Mao, a former communist leader of China, "The Mao quote is one I picked up from the late Republican strategist Lee Atwater from something I read in the 1980's, so I hope I don't get my progressive friends mad at me.

The use of the phrase ‘favorite political philosopher’ was intended as irony, but clearly the effort fell flat."

Well, here is the actual clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANITA DUNN, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Two of my favorite political philosophers, Mao Zedong and Mother Teresa, not often coupled with each other, but the two people that I turn to most.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: "I turn to most"? Or does she mean Lee Atwater turns to most? I didn't hear the Atwater reference in that speech. All of a sudden it is discovered, and he is appropriately conservative and a Republican.

I don't know if it was a joke. If it was, she has no future in standup. But she is speaking to high school audience of graduates who may not get the irony, and speaks rather seriously about it. And it's not just invoking Mao, but the idiocy of it -- she actually used him as an example of individuality on how you want to choose your own path in life. He was the biggest collectivist in the history of the world and he killed a lot of people on the wayside. Her political philosophy is ignorant as an aside. So I'm not sure how she defends herself on this other than to expose herself to utter ridicule.

BAIER: Juan?

WILLIAMS: Actually, the quote that comes afterward, she says Mao said "Go take on your enemies," rather vanilla, like go to the fight. But the idea that you would somehow advertise Mao to the larger audience --

BAIER: For a high school.

WILLIAMS: Yes. Mao Zedong was a mass murder and abused children sexually. He is not someone that you would hold up to that -- even in China now they are not exactly celebrating Mao, so that's different.

And remember, it's interesting to me, Bret, they started this conversation by saying they were upset at Beck having called the president a racist. They're upset that the Fox broadcast site had not carried are the speech to the joint session. Now it has shifted to, gee, those guys make a good argument for the right.

BAIER: Quickly, Steve, this hasn't picked up in a lot of places.

HAYES: That was my point in closing. The irony, of course, is that she says this, and nobody else is covering it. You have got basically the White House communications director praising someone responsible for the death of 40 million plus individuals, and nobody else seems interested in it.

BAIER: And she speaks openly about how they controlled the news last year. That's not news?

BAIER: So do we need another election in Afghanistan? And will that hold up a decision on more American troops going in? We'll talk about 245 when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, (D-MA) SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: It would be entirely irresponsible for the president of the United States to commit more troops to this country when we don't have an election finished and know who the president is and what kind of government we're working with.

JOHN THUNE, (R-SD) SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I think we will be dealing with some government in Afghanistan under any circumstance. What's important to me and I think what's important to most Americans is that we have a strategy that can succeed and that it be properly resourced.

And I think that's the decision the president needs to make, and I hope he will make it soon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Well, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is expected to announce tomorrow who he plans to proceed after this U.N. backed group invalidated tens of thousands of votes in the election this summer.

He is reportedly, according to wires, indicated in private meetings that he may be open to a runoff election. But what about putting in more troops before that is all determined? We're back with the panel -- Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: Two points. First of all, General McChrystal and Petraeus are as aware as anybody in Washington about the irregularities in this election and the damage it did, and still recommend troop surge as a way of saving Afghanistan.

Second, the administration acts as if this Afghan election, the flawed Afghan election is sort of an act of god sprung out of nowhere. It's been on the books for a year. The Obama administration was in power for almost eight months when it happened.

We have envoys here and there, special envoys, ambassadors on the scene. Where is all the smart diplomacy exerting all kind of pressure, diplomatic, economic, et cetera, to achieve our ends?

If there has ever been a regime in the world dependent on the United States and subject to American influence, it's the one in Afghanistan. If we withdraw, these guys will end up hanging out of trees.

And yet it is not just a failure of Afghanistan this election, it is the failure of our diplomacy. Our guys ought to be in there and telling Karzai either you have a runoff and soon, or you and your opponent Abdullah Abdullah, will make a coalition government right now and no need for any further elections.

BAIER: Juan?

WILLIAMS: I don't think we're in a position to run Afghanistan. I think it has been tried and failed before.

And the second thing to say here is that when you think about the fact that we have been in that country for eight years, we have tried to stabilize that government. We put everything in place for a legitimate election in August, and still the corruption overflowed.

It then leads to the question -- can we have sufficiently strong partner to battle Al Qaeda? And that's what is necessary for General McChrystal's strategy to work. General McChrystal laid out that strategy before the election. He has stuck with it, as you say, but he is a military man, and he is saying this is what I'm going to need on the ground once we have a stable government to work with.

So he is looking for either a new election or a coalition government to be formed with Abdullah Abdullah and Hamid Karzai, but that pushes back the White House's decision making.

And that's the problem. How long does the president really have before winter comes and we have a delayed election -- certainly we can't have this decision delayed until spring.

BAIER: You heard Senator Kerry there. I was a common theme on the Sunday talk shows, and here is the White House chief of staff and how he phrased this decision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EMANUEL: It would be reckless to make a decision on U.S. troop level if, in fact, you haven't done a thorough analysis of whether or whether, in fact, there is an Afghan partner ready to fill that space that the U.S. troops would create and become a true partner in governing the Afghan country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Steve, "reckless" about troop levels?

HAYES: When my editor Bill Kristol heard that comment, he took to The Weekly Standard Web site and criticized Rahm Emanuel, giving four points, that that was a bogus point to be making.

McChrystal has since heard from somebody close to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates saying that Gates was surprised that Rahm Emanuel said that on the Sunday shows. So making news, it suggests to me that clearly the White House is in some level of disarray over are how to proceed on this. And the second point I would make is that Rahm Emanuel spent a lot of time on the Sunday shows talking about the failure of the Bush policy, the failure of eight years of policy. They didn't ask the hard questions. And yet the Obama White House is actually using the Bush White House's top policymaker on Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, to talk to Karzai about the possibility of participating in a runoff.

KRAUTHAMMER: The idea that the administration today is shocked, shocked to discover corruption in Afghanistan is absurd. This is not a new situation. This is obviously a fig leaf that the administration on a certain amount on Afghanistan is trying to create if it wants to retreat, and it is not a credible one.

BAIER: That's it for the panel.

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