'Quick Takes': President Bush Unveils New Media Strategy

The following is a transcription of the July 8, 2006 edition of "FOX News Watch" that has been edited for clarity.

ERIC BURNS, HOST: It's time now for our "Quick Takes on the Media."

Headline number one: "Damage Control or Damage Denial?"

First came The New York Times story about a secret bank-monitoring program designed to catch terrorists. Then came the uproar over the story. Then came a letter to readers, issued by the paper's executive editor Bill Keller. Then came this, in a TV interview with Keller on the CBS news program "Face the Nation." One of the things Keller said was this:


BILL KELLER, NEW YORK TIMES EXECUTIVE EDITOR: This is the most secretive White House we've had since the Nixon White House, I think, by -- by general acceptance. And I -- I think they're a little embarrassed that they've had so much trouble holding on to their secrets.


BURNS: Something else Keller said was this:


KELLER: Beating up on The New York Times is red meat for the conservative base.


BURNS: OK, Jim: beat them up.

JIM PINKERTON, NEWSDAY: Well, beating up on Bush is red meat for The New York Times' base. It works both ways.

The only point to be borne in mind here is that there are laws concerning what's a secret, what's not a secret. And we should give some consideration to whether those laws are being obeyed.

NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: Yes. The New York Times doesn't beat up on Bush too much, remember Elisabeth Bumiller?

Look, this is not a security issue. So let's get that -- not for the administration, and not for The New York Times. This is an issue about executive power. The New York Times thinks the executive has accrued too much power; Bush wants to accrue as much power as he possibly can. Unless The New York Times can redefine the issue that way, they're going to lose this media battle.

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Keller's only going on those programs where he's going to get sympathetic treatment. You couldn't get him on a FOX show. You couldn't get him on a lot of talk radio shows. That's number one.

Number two: The New York Times is so adamant in defending its secret sources, you can't get them to reveal anything. They had Judith Miller who went to prison for this. They've had other reporters get in legal trouble because of this. So it's a little hypocritical to be talking about the secrecy of the administration when The New York Times is secret about its sources.

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: I think The New York Times has decided that they have a role to play in this. And I think that they may have been watching "FOX News Watch" where we said they hadn't done a good enough job of explaining why they were doing this story.

I still think they haven't explained why they feel have to do this -- yet.

BURNS: "Quick Take" Headline Number Two: "Bush Takes His Show on the Road."

The White House has come up with a new strategy for dealing with the media. In a word it's "accessibility." The president held a news conference in Chicago Friday. He will hold other news conferences in other cities in the weeks ahead, even if Cal continues -- as he just did while I was reading -- to chuckle.

THOMAS: It was the accessibility. I'll be glad when they start returning my phone calls and e-mails, yes.

This is campaign strategy; it's an election year. Bush did this during the 2000, 2004 races. You go out and you get huge local media coverage. The president comes to town, he'll be the lead stories on all the local stations in Chicago.


BURNS: What will do for his poll numbers, Jim? Anything?

PINKERTON: No, it can't hurt. -- It probably won't hurt them.

This is fresh. It's the Hawthorne effect. -- Doing something different always helps. -- But he certainly, in Chicago, covered himself. "I went to the Museum of Science and Industry, and I went to this restaurant and that restaurant. I want to thank the mayor." Every one of those people are going to like Bush better. That's for sure.

HALL: I think in his opening remarks, he really showed, you know, how I think he may really feel, which is he thought it would do the White House press corps some good for him to be elsewhere. I'm sure he's sick of, you know, feeling that he's asked a whole bunch of questions he doesn't want to answer. And he probably assumed maybe it'd be a fresh approach to be out there.

GABLER: Yes, another example of your brain-dead press corps. I heard so many times repeated in the last couple of days, "Bush wants to go out and listen to the people and hear what the people have to say." How in the world does standing at a podium and talking to a bunch of reporters get a feeling of what the people think?

BURNS: He didn't just stand at a podium! Didn't you just hear Jim?! He went to restaurants!


BURNS: People eat in restaurants!

GABLER: Real people, exactly! Talking to the real people...

PINKERTON: He had lunch with the -- dinner with the mayor. That counts.


GABLER: There you go. There you go.

HALL: I think the assumption is that Chicago reporters are real people.

BURNS: Oh, they caught me on camera trying to stop you, Jane.

HALL: Sorry.

BURNS: It eventually worked.

"Quick Take" Headline Number Three: "Lay's Legacy."

Enron founder and former CEO Ken Lay died on Wednesday of coronary artery disease near Aspen, Colorado . Lay was convicted earlier this year for his role in one of the biggest business-fraud cases in U.S. history. He was scheduled to be sentenced in October.

Jim, in life he was, especially after the court verdict, portrayed as a villain. How is Ken Lay being portrayed in death?

PINKERTON: Worse? Without saying -- I mean, he was a con man. But without -- he still didn't deserve what Henry Allen wrote about him in The Washington Post when he said, "I wish that he had lived long enough to be raped in prison." If Ann Coulter had said that about a regular, run-of-the-mill prisoner or a Gitmo prisoner, she would have been pilloried for that.

HALL: I think that the Henry Allen was over the top. But it was - it was the exception. I mean, I saw him compared to Icarus , you know, who had wings that melted. I mean, I thought that people had covered him so much who wrote these stories -- Kurt Eichenwald and other people who had been on this story for a long time. I thought he got pretty darn sympathetic treatment. It didn't quote people who were laid off, lost their pensions or the California utility company.

BURNS: He...

HALL: ...that he built.

BURNS: He did not get sympathetic headline in a lot of newspaper headlines, Cal. The New York Post about the coffin: "Check He's In It." The Daily News: "Enron Boss Dodges Jail By Dying." The Washington Post: "Ken Lay's Last Evasion."

THOMAS: Yes. The media have a love-hate relationship with capitalism and with rich people. And this was, again, a scenario they'd like to have seen played out, because here was the big rich guy ripping off an awful lot of other people. But what they didn't tell you is that a lot of people who got taken were equally as greedy. There were stories when Ken Lay began to fall of these mergers in these companies and people taking their life savings out of things and going on the fast track, thinking they could double, triple, quadruple their money.

So they weren't all victims, although many were. Some of them were greedy themselves.

GABLER: I mean, the people who are consuming electricity in California were victims of Ken Lay.

I thought you saw the two sides of the coverage in NBC's coverage which -- the first night -- which ended with a woman saying, "he loved his family and he was a religious man." And then CBS saying, I'm sorry that he evaded punishment.

I think "he evaded punishment" became the main story the following day.

BURNS: In an obituary, should the tone be a little more modified about a man who is portrayed as villainous otherwise?

GABLER: Well, Jim and I, we had this discussion a long time ago about [Walter] Annenberg. And I say no. I don't think so. I think that the man ought to be judged.


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