Media Coverage of Cindy Sheehan's Vigil

The following is a transcription of the August 13, 2005 edition of "FOX News Watch", that has been edited for clarity:

ERIC BURNS, FOX NEWS HOST: I could have sworn I had another week of vacation left. But since I don't, what better way to be welcomed back than by Jim Pinkerton of "Newsday," syndicated columnist Cal Thomas; Jane Hall of the American University; and media writer Neal Gabler. I think they look welcoming.

Casey Sheehan (search) was killed in Iraq last year. After joining other parents of slain soldiers and meeting with the president shortly after his death, Casey's mother, Cindy, was now camped out in Crawford, Texas (search), wanting another meeting, wanting more personally to express her opposition to the war.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, I sympathize with Mrs. Sheehan. She has every right in the world to say what she believes.


BURNS: Now that was the president a couple days ago, as he continues his vacation in Crawford with Cindy Sheehan (search) out there. And Cindy Sheehan lately has been getting a lot of company. Or, Jane, has she just been getting a little company and a lot of coverage?

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: I think she's been getting a little company that may be growing. She's getting a lot of media coverage. She has managed, I think by being in Crawford, certainly while the press corps was down there with the president, and by his not responding — I think that they probably made a mistake in terms of media coverage by not speaking to her, and not at least acknowledging her.

BURNS: You mean initially?

HALL: Until he did. She has become a symbol for growing public unquiet about this, and the it's very interesting to me that the conservatives went after her and starting saying, she changed her story, et cetera, et cetera. But I think she is now getting a lot of coverage because now she's being criticized and people are embracing her.

JIM PINKERTON, "NEWSDAY": Christopher Cooper had an interesting article in "The Wall Street Journal" last week where he mentioned, In the past, the Bush White House loved having the president down at Crawford because reporters were stuck there and they'd have to swallow the message of the day, like the Waco economic summit from two years ago, and so on.

But now the opposition, if you will, has figured out the same gambit, which is reporters are sitting down there bored to tears; they'll jump at any story and beat it to death — forgive the awkward phrase — on the Sheehan story. Now she's there, and the reporters have nothing to do but cover everything she does.

BURNS: But the real question here, Neal, is, Is it coverage or is it exaggeration? And how do the media play it? Because this is really a big story if what Cindy Sheehan and the other protesters are doing is representative of millions of other people in this country, then it is a big story. But how do you play this?

NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: Well, I think you put your finger on it. I mean, and so did Jane, I think. This is a kind of litmus test, Ms. Sheehan is, for the media and how you feel about the war, how the media feels about the war.

I mean, Look it, the media for years ignored her and ignored anti-war protesters. Now, all of a sudden, they're all over her, because they know that public opinion has changed from recent polls, and she symbolizes that change. And then there's always a reactive. So here they are reacting. How do we tell that story about the change of public opinion toward the war? Well, we'll focus on Sheehan.

On the other hand, the right wing, as Jane said, are emptying their guns at this woman. I mean, they are smearing her, attacking her on a daily basis, in some ways inexplicably to me. But what you see here is, the mainstream press and the right-wing press having their own little war in terms of their attitudes towards the war, and using Sheehan as the vehicle.

BURNS: Which means, as Jim points out, Cal, it's a much more interesting summer in Crawford for the reporters than it usually is.

CAL THOMAS, HOST OF 'AFTER HOURS': It's slow in August, the stage is empty in Washington, and they've got to do something. But look, her local hometown paper in California printed a story in June of last year that said she was very supportive of the president, the president met with her as a grieving mother and was very kind to her. Now, it's not a right-wing thing; this is just a fact that was reported.

GABLER: But she was not supportive of the president. That's not true, Cal.

THOMAS: It depends on the way you read it, Neal.

GABLER: She says she opposed the war. She said that in that article.

THOMAS: Well, yes, but...

GABLER: Yes, but, what? You oppose the war but you support the president?

THOMAS: I'll finish if you allow me. Michael Moore (search) is in on this now, all of the left-wing Web pages. The woman is being exploited, and Drudge reported that a number of her relatives have written a letter to him in support of the effort, in support of the dead boy and in support of the president. This is not getting any coverage.

BURNS: But Jane, the real issue for the media here is how representative those people — and we think now it's more than 100 who have joined Cindy Sheehan in Crawford.

GABLER: Including five mothers who lost their sons.

BURNS: The real issue her for the media is to determine how representative this is of sentiment in the country, or whether this is an aberration that's being exaggerated. That's the problem.

HALL: Well, I think the question is, Do you question the moral authority? I mean, a person whose son was killed has some authority to speak on this subject. And I frankly think — I've seen stories — Margaret Carlson (search) had a piece that said that the thing that Cal was citing left out paragraphs. She said she was too intimidated at the time. I think to go after her only adds to her authority. I don't think the media have to determine whether she's representative, because she's a symbol of people who are concerned about the 1,800 soldiers who've died.

PINKERTON: There's a sharp clash between journalistic values here, and sort of political values. Every reporter would love to see the president meet with Miss Sheehan a second time to talk about whatever she wants to talk about: the war and so on. But on the other hand, it's hard to make sense for a president to meet with every KIA family in a war from now on, let that be a precedent.

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