This is a transcript of the Saturday, July 17, 2004 edition of "FOX News Watch" that has been edited for clarity.
ERIC BURNS, HOST: This week, FOX News Watch Segment One: Are the media campaigning for Kerry and Edwards? Segment Two: A new documentary blasts FOX News Channel for right-wing bias. Segment Three: The mother of a soldier who died in the Iraq war blasts Michael Moore for his documentary; Al-Jazeera has a new code of ethics; and why isn't anybody covering AIDS anymore? First, the latest news.
BURNS: In a week in which Martha Stewart (search ) was sentenced to prison and responded by asking people to buy her magazines because they're really good, we turn our attention to other matters. We are Jim Pinkerton of "Newsday," syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, Jane Hall of the American University and media writer Neal Gabler. I'm Eric Burns. FOX News Watch is coming right up.
"Inside Washington (search )" is a TV show seen on the CBS station in Washington and on various PBS stations across the country. Here is what "Newsweek" editor Evan Thomas said on "Inside Washington" last week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EVAN THOMAS, EDITOR, "NEWSWEEK": Let's talk a little media bias here. The media, I think, wants Kerry to win. And I think they're going to portray Kerry and Edwards — I'm talking about the establishment media, not Fox — but they're going to portray — they're going to portray Kerry and Edwards as the young and dynamic and optimistic and all this. There's going to be this glow about them this summer, that is going to be worth - collective glow, the two of them, that's going to be worth maybe 15 points.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNS: Cal, you can refer to the gratuitous comment about Fox later. What about the major point there? He is either accusing the media of bias, or admitting that bias already exists, and will, in fact, be worth 10 to 15 poll points.
CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, I don't know if I'd go that high, but you know, to employ an old biblical verse, by your fruits you shall know them. You don't have to go further than "Newsweek (search )" magazine, for which Evan Thomas, no relation thankfully, works to see how this works out. The cover story of these two guys, Kerry and Edwards, was totally worshipful. The language chosen to contrast them with Bush and Cheney.—"Cheney comes from the cold country of Wyoming and has a cold personality to go with it." I mean, he's just outed, if we need any more evidence, the entire media establishment as being exactly what some of us have thought they were for a long time.
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: I think I'd resist the gross generalization that was just made, although I do think the language in the "Time" and particularly the "Newsweek" cover story was very gushy. But I have to say that there's always a trend like this. They will — they were the same media who were declaring John Kerry dead. They didn't do John Kerry any favors when they were declaring him dead and over. They didn't do Howard Dean any favors. I think that this is cyclical. There were stories a year before the election that had George W. Bush that said, "Sun rising. President Bush?" Nobody has seemed to say that showed Republican bias.
THOMAS: It didn't matter then. It matters now.
HALL: Well, no, but it didn't prove your point.
JIM PINKERTON, "NEWSDAY": Now, I agree that the media are fickle. They were Dean and you know anti-Kerry for a while. But they've been anti-Bush for quite a long time, and that's pretty steady on this.
Look, what — the big thing that has changed is that Kerry gave — pardon me — Kerry gave the media exactly what they wanted, which was Edwards as vice president. The media — and Howard Kurtz (search ) of "The Washington Post" said more than once, the media didn't want Gephardt. They didn't want Vilsack. They did want Edwards. And when Kerry picked Edwards, Kurtz's headline was "The Media Get Their Man."
BURNS: Neal, if — I'm sorry, you go ahead.
NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: Well, yes, I mean I want to say that yes, they got their man because, as I said on the show last week, it gives them the opportunity to talk about hair rather than about policy. But what Evan Thomas really didn't address is the fact that reporters always, always, always take the path of least resistance. And I disagree with Jim on this. Sometimes, in fact very frequently, the path of least resistance is simply reciting the administration's spin.
BURNS: Well, what is it in this case? Why is — why is what Evan Thomas said an indication that the media are taking the path of least resistance?
GABLER: Well, because it's easy to write about style. It's easy to write about hair. It's easy to write about, you know, youth. It's easy to write about all of those things that aren't substantive. But when it comes to something substantive...
THOMAS: I agree with that.
GABLER: ...the press can't deal with it.
PINKERTON: It's also easier to write...
GABLER: And that helped the Bush administration, because on so many areas of substance, you know, they take the administration's spin. It's easy to report lies. It's very difficult to correct them.
BURNS: I just — everybody wants to jump in, but I just have to sympathize with Cal, who hears Neal say something that he agrees with. And no sooner do you say, "Good point," that Neal keeps talking and says something that you can't abide.
THOMAS: But we are a non-substantive state. There is a non-substantive nation. Look at the coverage of the Martha Stewart verdict. My goodness, you'd think it was some great State event. "We've got live coverage outside!" "She's sentenced to five months..."
BURNS: "There's her car... She's leaving the courtroom..."
THOMAS: Yes, how's her hair look and all this. We are a non-substantive nation. So naturally, the media would respond to that.
BURNS: So Jane, does this mean we have two factors here that maybe there's a — well, Evan Thomas says there is a bias in favor of this ticket. But there's certainly a bias towards superficial kinds of coverage, and that the two are here collaborating?
HALL : They're collapsing onto each other, I think. I think we have a very unfortunate trend in coverage of politics today, which is the storyline. "Al Gore is a liar."—We repeat that 4,000 times. "George W. Bush is a man of faith"—Until the media, in many ways, have turned against him on the war in Iraq. "Howard Dean is a screamer." I mean the storyline is written before and then the person either conforms, so they say, gee, he didn't really meet our expectations. John Edwards was the media's candidate. He was also the candidate of a lot of people who were Democrats who thought he was the best candidate.
PINKERTON: Just so we remember what was the real point here, is it is now July. The storyline for the election is written. A senior official in the media, Evan Thomas, says the media are pro-Kerry-Edwards, and it's worth 10 or 15 points to them. I think that's the bottom line, and it's worth quoting the guy, remembering exactly what he said.
GABLER: But that in itself is Republican spin. What you've just given is Republican spin. You see how the media are ganging up on Bush? They love Kerry and Edwards so much that it's going to give him a 15 point bounce.
BURNS: But didn't Thomas say that?
GABLER: Evan Thomas might have said it, but I'm not — you know, how do you know which side of the street Thomas is coming from? How do you know — how do you know that Thomas is a Democrat? So you're making that assumption.
BURNS: No, no, I'm not.
PINKERTON: I have a conversation — I actually know Thomas somewhat. He said in the — going back to the '84 campaign, and he remembered thinking all the standard things that were said about who Reagan was. And then he went out on the trail and was actually kind of impressed and said hey, these are sort of good looking people and nice people in terms of like quality, and they seem to think Reagan is OK. So maybe I have to rethink what I've learned inside the Washington Beltway.
GABLER: So you're suborning your own point here, Jim?
PINKERTON: I'm saying that he comes out of the liberal culture of...
GABLER: In 1984, 20 years ago, he came out of the liberal culture. But we have no idea where he is now, and that's my point. Let's not impugn things on people that we don't know.
BURNS: Well, Neal, wait a minute. I did not mean to do that. I'm simply trying to raise the question of whether Thomas was admitting bias or accusing others of bias. And that's what we don't know.
THOMAS: You were talking about spin. Let's take a look at the Elizabeth Bumiller (search) front page story [in the "New York Times"] not based on any substance at all, that Dick Cheney (search ) is somehow going to be dropped from the ticket because he's changed doctors. Now, that's something written out of whole cloth. The left, which includes "The New York Times," would love to see that because he is a substantive man.
BURNS: I'm sorry. Did you have something else to say? [Turns to Jane Hall]
THOMAS: See, it's an irrefutable point.
HALL: I never thought — and you know I never thought I would see a story about a rumor on the front page of "The New York Times." I have to say I was shocked by that story. But I think it's the climate we're in. I mean, we're not dealing with their [Bush and Kerry's] positions on health care. We're not.
BURNS: And I never thought you would pause that long before your air time!
We have to take our first break. When we come back, we will hear some serious charges against this network.
ANNOUNCER: Charge: FOX News Channel is a — quote — "Republican network." Charge: FOX News Channel's claim to be fair and balance is — quote — "ridiculous." Those charges and more in a new documentary when FOX News Watch continues.
BURNS: "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism" is the name of a new documentary that accuses FOX New Channel of right-wing bias. The producer of "Outfoxed" hopes that it will do to the news channel what Michael Moore hopes "Fahrenheit 9/11 (search )" will do the Bush re-election campaign.
Before we discuss it, let me make two points. First, this documentary is unlikely to have the same impact as Michael Moore's because it — at least as of right now, is not going into theaters and will not be on television. It's available on DVD. And we admit right at the start, this is a tough subject for all of us here to discuss. We all take paychecks from this network.
That being said, Jim, let's do the best we can.
PINKERTON: Well, I mean it's — I mean "Fahrenheit 9/11 (search)" was funny and vivid. This is sort of dull and didactic. Look it, it's really three movies. The first part says that the corporate media, including the News Corporation but also all the rest of them, Viacom (search ), ABC and so on, are depending on who's doing the talking, either worse than the Mafia that ran Cuba in the 50's, or worse than the Soviet Union. Those are the two arguments made in the beginning and the end of the movie. Then, there's some funny stuff of O'Reilly blowing a stack and temper tantrums and so on. That's just amusing. That's like a blooper reel for somebody's Christmas party. And then, the third part is a small — for a company that's been around for seven or eight years now, two or three really very disgruntled employees who are willing to go on the record and trash their employer. Look, I've worked in a lot of different places. I could make a movie out of disgruntled employees anywhere I worked.
BURNS: But there are also clips, Neal, which seem to show or which Robert Greenwald, the producer, says show that — what — this is not a conservative network. It is a Republican network.
GABLER: Yes, I mean I think attacking the movie in some ways is a distraction because it's not all that good a movie.
BURNS: And it's not all that fairly put together. There's a lot taken — a lot taken out of context.
GABLER: But let's look at the larger issue that it does raise, and that is, I mean, look, to say that this network promotes the Republican view, not the conservative view, but the Republican view is like saying that the pope is Catholic. It's self-evident.
GABLER: And this is also a network that the overwhelming plurality of viewers are self-identified Republicans. So it programs to that group. And I think this is pretty much undeniable. My question is, so what? What's the big deal about it? I mean, yes, this is a network that has straight news, some not so straight news, many opinion programs.
BURNS: Which are clearly identified as such.
GABLER: Yes. "FOX and Friends," which might be subtitled "FOX and Bush Friends" — but the major players here are Sean Hannity, who's equated liberals with Al Qaeda, Bill O'Reilly, who's a Republican spinmeister largely, not always, but largely, Brit Hume , who's a Republican spinmeister. It's undeniable that this is a Republican-oriented network, and designed for Republicans who watch it.
THOMAS : Here's an example, I'm in this movie or whatever it is briefly. They took a clip from an editorial I do at the beginning of every show in which I said something critical of Kerry as part of their evidence. But what they ignored is the many Democrats I've had on my show, "After Hours," if I can plug it here — Charlie Rangel, Harold Ford. We're doing a whole show just before the Democratic Convention that features Democrats talking about the '64 convention. I try to be fair on my show. I've been trying to get Ted Kennedy (search) on for some time. He said he's going to come on.
I think that the reason this network looks so — quote — "Republican" or conservative is by contrast on what the others do. If you went and did, as the Media Research Center (search) has done, clips of what is said on the broadcast networks, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, you would find an enormous tilt to the left. So by contrast, it looks conservative.
HALL: I think there are a couple of points that I want to add to this. One is I think it was flawed in that it left out — I mean, it's really almost funny. There's [liberal commentator] Ellen Ratner and a conservative talking, and they leave out any evidence to the contrary. I mean, I'm on this network. A lot of people are on this network who criticize...
BURNS: Neal Gabler.
HALL: Neal Gabler, Jeff Cohen, who was one of the people.
GABLER: At least for the time being!
HALL: ...who was co-founder of "FAIR" [Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting] — was on this show for five years. So I think they left out the reporting. That's what I really fault it. They leave out all the people who report. And they also didn't get [FOX News Chairman and CEO] Roger Ailes or anybody else to comment and respond.
But I do have to say it seems to me that they're on somewhat solid ground when they talk about — if you look at some of the talk shows, the conservative hosts are much better at demonizing the Democrats than the liberal hosts of those shows.
PINKERTON: The most insightful commentary on this whole documentary was by Tina Brown (search ) of "The Washington Post" who said, "Look, the real secret to FOX is energy and passion." And I think that she is auditioning for her own job, because she could do a much better job running CNN or MSNBC than the people they've got now.
BURNS: All right. Let's take a break and try to get our energy level back up. When we come back, it'll be with our "Quick Takes" starting with this:
ANNOUNCER: The family of a soldier killed in Iraq is angry about "Fahrenheit 9/11." They say it exploits their grief and distorts their views. FOX News Watch will be right back.
BURNS : It's time now for our "Quick Takes on The Media."
Headline Number One: "Family Wants Less of Moore"
In his movie, "Fahrenheit 9/11," Michael Moore (search) shows some footage of the funeral of Major Gregory Stone (search), who was killed by grenades in Kuwait at the beginning of the Iraq war. Major Stone's family did not give Moore permission to use the footage, and they're irate about it. Says the major's aunt, "There's no way he would ever let himself be associated" — affiliated, rather, was her word — "with Michael Moore." How should Moore have preceded here, Jane?
HALL: Well, you know, I guess if I were making this film, I would ask the family's permission. But if you're trying to tell a story about the causalities in Iraq, I think an Arlington National Cemetery (search ) service from a distance is a public event in a public place.
BURNS: But this wasn't a news story, Neal, it was a documentary made to make a political point, which seems to me that Moore should have said to the family involved, do you agree with my point so that I can fairly use this video.
GABLER: Well, that might have been appropriate, though it certainly wasn't obligatory. As Jane said, Arlington is a public place. It's unclear whether funerals there are public. It's unclear where this footage came from. Presumably, it was news footage. News footage is out there. So you know, I think that in an ethical level, he should have performed differently.
THOMAS: Yes, I agree with that. But of course, all those body bags coming out of the jungle during the coverage of the Vietnam war and nobody questioned whether they were.
BURNS: Yes, but this — excuse me, Cal, but in this case, Major Stone was clearly identified. You know, it wasn't just one anonymous coffin or body.
THOMAS: I understand. I agree. I think it was bad taste, but hey, there's a lot of bad taste out there. And the family did get their point across and so, fair and balanced.
BURNS : All right. "Quick Take" headline Number Two:
"Al-Jazeera Says It Will Be More Fair, Balanced."
Al-Jazeera (search) is the leading Arab TV network, and it has many times been accused by the U.S. of being anti-American in its coverage of the war in Iraq. This week, Al-Jazeera adopted a new code of ethics. It says it will now take into account Western sensibilities when deciding whether or not to broadcast more violent images of war and one supposes, Jim, of terrorism. Are you still watching Al-Jazeera?
PINKERTON: I'm not able to watch it. But...
BURNS: Do you believe the claim that it is about to be different?
PINKERTON: Well, we'll see. I mean, they didn't, as I understand it, offer the film of a Bulgarian who had his head cut off. So now, they're (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It might be that as Al-Jazeera seeks to expand and go public in terms of an initial public offering, that they might actually develop a higher journalistic sensibility. I can't witness to that. I just hope it's true.
GABLER: Talk is cheap, but we'll see if the Arab audience diminishes, whether they still hold to this new code of ethics.
THOMAS: There is no completely free media throughout the Arab world. I doubt it seriously.— If they become too balanced, they run the risk of being called infidels and having one of their executives beheaded.
BURNS : "Quick Take" headline Number Three:
"Whatever Happened to AIDS?"
As a news story that is, not as a disease. You're looking at the FOX News Watch's Jim Pinkerton at the International AIDS Summit in Thailand earlier this week.
Jim, that summit got some coverage, but by and large, AIDS does not get much coverage anymore. I'm wondering why it doesn't, why you think it doesn't, and whether it should be getting coverage.
PINKERTON: Well, it gets less coverage in the U.S. as the disease has gone from a killer with no cure to a sort of a — more of a chronic illness that afflicts hundreds of thousands but isn't as deadly as it used to be.
BURNS: So less coverage in this country is a fair reflection of the state of the disease?
PINKERTON: Well, it is. But I think what the media are missing is that the coverage that I saw — obviously, I was there and so I've seen a great deal of it — extremely critical of the U.S. You'd never know from the coverage, that the U.S. spends two-thirds of all — the entire amount of money for AIDS worldwide.
BURNS: Critical of the U.S. for what?
PINKERTON: For not spending enough. I mean (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the AIDS quilters booed. Hank McKinnell, the CEO of Pfizer (search ), was booed off the stage. You would never know — and I believe that the real story is that a combination of price controls on pharmaceuticals and eliminating intellectual property for these pharmaceuticals is killing prospects for a cure completely.
HALL: Well, that's a point of view. I mean, there are also other people who are critical for the United States for saying everything has to go to through the FDA, as I understand it, in terms of drugs, for not — Colin Powell has been advocating for lower pricing in Africa. I think there's an element of racism. I hate to say it. This is a disease that has been in Africa for years.
BURNS: But the media don't cover it more because there is a racist...
HALL: Because America — but because I think Americans are Amero-centric and...
HALL: ...and the Chinese and the Africans, we think of as, you know — as not much more important than one state in this country.
THOMAS: The most successful anti-AIDS program on the African continent is by President Museveni (search ) of Uganda. It's abstinence.—It's getting under covered.
BURNS: We have to take one more break. When we come back, it'll be your turn.
(VIEWER MAIL SEGMENT)
BURNS: About media coverage of John Edwards as the selection of the Democratic vice presidential nominee, here is Danny from Shreveport, Louisiana — "It is not the media's business to like or dislike John Edwards as Kerry's running mate. The media's job is to report, not influence or make the news in this country."
And Jeff from Amherst, Massachusetts — "Am I to understand that some of you found the news media's superficial coverage of the Kerry/Edwards campaign nauseating? Now you know how I felt in the run-up to the second Gulf War."
About Arab media coverage of that war, here is Susan from Oxford, Pennsylvania — "I was stunned by Jane's opinion that the Arab press hates the U.S. because we went into Iraq. Looking back over the past 20 plus years, I'm wondering if the Beirut embassy bombings, the Marine barracks bombing, the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, the first World Trade Center bombing, the African embassy bombings, the attack on the USS Cole, the 9/11 attacks, Usama bin Laden's 1996 declaration of war against the U.S., and various other hostile acts against Americans didn't show Arab animosity prior to March 2003. Maybe I'm just more sensitive than Jane, but I haven't been feeling the love for quite a while."
About FOX News Watch grammar, here's Peter from San Augustine, Florida — "Can we start by establishing the fact that 'media' is the plural of the noun `medium'? You discussed William Buckley tonight; he would never make the mistake."
It's may we start, Peter, not can.
BURNS: About "The New York Post's" Kerry Picks Gephardt headline, here's Dave from Fairfax, Virginia — "Come on, guys, you're dismissing the significance of 'The New York Post's' blunder on Kerry's VP pick was really embarrassing. If it was 'The New York Times' who made the error, FOX News would have called it the blunder of the millennium."
Finally, from Charlie of San Jose, California — "Coming on the heels of `The Beltway Boys' 'News Watch,' save for Cal Thomas, is a politically correct, boring program and anticlimactic."
But at least it's over for this week, Charlie. Look at the bright side.
Now, here's our address, firstname.lastname@example.org. Please write to us and when you do, let us know your full name, also let us know city and state, where you live.
That's all the time we have left for this week. Thanks to Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton. Thanks to Cal Thomas and Neal Gabler. And I'm Eric Burns thanking you most of all for watching. We'll see you next week when FOX News Watch will be back on the air.
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