The following is a transcription of the April 30, 2005 edition of "FOX News Watch," that has been edited for clarity:
ERIC BURNS, HOST: This week, on "FOX News Watch":
Are American TV news organizations doing business with Iraqi terrorists? And why aren't those news organizations paying more attention to the sexual-abuse charges against Bill Cosby?
The Bush press conference: worth the airtime?
The Bush handholding: worth the jokes?
And Prince Harry and the paparazzi.
First the headlines, then us.
BURNS: Here are four people who need no introduction. Actually, now that I think about it, they do: 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.
Some of the pictures of the ongoing violence in Iraq that appear on American television, like this one, are not shot by American television. They are shot by Al Jazeera. And earlier this week, a commentary in The Wall Street Journal byDorrance Smith (search), a former ABC News producer and a former member of the White House staff of Bush 41, raised a very intriguing question: are American journalists helping Iraqi terrorists by showing pictures of terrorist acts provided by Al Jazeera, a TV network that seems to have strong links to terrorists — perhaps even a working relationship with them.
And Cal, before we begin, on the subject of working relationship — as far as we've been able to determine, all of the American TV networks that cover news, including this one, have business relationships with Al Jazeera. We pay them for their pictures or we swap for their pictures.
Is there a problem here?
CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think there is a problem, Eric. I — there's no question that this is a propaganda war. Many on the terrorist side have said that they seek to break the will of the American will by showing some of these pictures.
On the other hand, there could be a reverse problem for those who think that it's going to break our will. It may, in fact, strengthen our will, when we see things like beheadings of Americans and the way they torture and shoot down innocent contract workers that are not military people. So it could work the other way as well.
BURNS: But, Jim, regardless of how it works, are you troubled at all by the fact that we have this — we meaning this network and all the American networks, we think — have these business relationships?
JIM PINKERTON, "NEWSDAY": It was an eye-opener to me to read that article and to really think about it the way Dorrance Smith laid it out.
Look, there's a deep moral hazard any time you're going for a big story, whether it's a reporter going undercover for a crack bust, or going behind the scenes of some narcoterrorist gang or something. They do it all the time; they make an implicit deal with the Mafia or some terrorist gang, they're going to tell the authorities about them.
I think this is an exaggerated case of this, done in a — by a foreign media operation based in Qatar in the Persian Gulf.
BURNS: But the thinking is, there's — we do this because there's a greater good...
BURNS: ...informing the people of our country about exactly what's...
PINKERTON: Exactly. The problem is, now we're confronting a media in some other country that is kind of a free media, but is free and extremely anti-American.
NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: I think Dorrance Smith asked the wrong questions.
News organizations are going to show video if they think it's newsworthy, and we may quibble whether this video is newsworthy or not. But to me — I mean, the real issue is...
BURNS: Can we quibble, Neal, on — on...
GABLER: ...whether it's newsworthy or not. I mean, there are all sorts of things — showing hostages, for example. Is that newsworthy? Do we need to see the footage? Can we just say that there have been hostages?
BURNS: Just get the facts.
GABLER: But let's — yes, but let's put that aside for a moment.
I think the real question is: is Al Jazeera a legitimate newsgathering organization, or is it a propaganda arm of al Qaida? And, does it gather news legitimately, or does it make some kind of quid pro quo, which would be criminal....
BURNS: With terrorists.
GABLER: With terrorists.
Now — but it's not for news media to make those determinations, because they can't make those determinations. It's for the government and the military to make those determinations. And if Al Jazeera is engaged in criminal activity, which this would be — that is, protecting sources, not — who are engaged in criminal activity — then the American government ought to shut them down.
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, you know, they're — they've been kicked out of — out of some places, and we...
BURNS: Al Jazeera has.
HALL: Yes, and we accidentally bombed their offices in Baghdad.
I think this Al Jazeera presents a real dilemma for the United States government. They have interviewed President Bush and other officials. I get the sense that the American officials would like to promote the — the less anti-American sentiment. They are virulently anti-American. But I don't know what the remedy is.
The video of hostages pleading for their lives clearly is designed to make Americans think, We're losing this war and it's a dangerous place to be. And I was surprised, frankly, that FOX, where Bill O'Reilly and other people have basically said Al Jazeera is a terrorist network, is using their footage along with every other network.
BURNS: But I think Cal makes the good point about not knowing, really, how this will play. Does it steel our resolve?
PINKERTON: It's possible. But let's bear in mind, also, Al Jazeera's biggest audience is not America, it's in the Arab world. And you could close down Al Jazeera — I'm not really sure how you'd do that. Qatar is a sovereign country, and the Saudi Arabians would love to buy it and they're not exactly, you know, on our team. So how — how to shut it down?
But let's face it also: people like to watch violence. This would get ratings on a dozen other cable channels or media outlets or Internet Web sites because people love to watch this stuff.
BURNS: And this is important violence.
THOMAS: Well, it is. But another point that Dorrance Smith makes in his "Wall Street Journal" piece is that Al Jazeera would frequently show up at locations before a terrorist act occurred. Clearly, they had advanced information on this. And to use Jim's analogy, this happened to (INAUDIBLE) local station, where the cop calls up — cops call up the local news director and say, Hey, we're about to do a drug bust, do you want to come along?
BURNS: All right. Quickly...
GABLER: ....he ought to write about the proof of his collaboration.
BURNS: We're almost out of time.
If there is collaboration, should the networks — American networks — end their relationship?
THOMAS: I think so, but they ought to — you know, this is a problem with all the bureaus being shut down overseas.
BURNS: That wasn't just dead air; that was indication — that was indication this is a very, very difficult subject.
And while we're on the subject of pictures of violence in Iraq, we have a chance of Pentagon policy to tell you about. In response to pressure from all sorts of people, including, informally, members of this panel, the Pentagon is now releasing photos of flag-draped coffins from Iraq.
It's time for a break. We'll be back with this:
ANNOUNCER: Bill Cosby accused of sexual assault — the media paying almost no attention to the charges. Are they showing restraint, good taste, or something else?
Stay tuned for more "FOX News Watch."
BURNS: Bill Cosby, who is arguably America's most famous promoter of family values, has been accused of sexual assault by a woman who says that 12 other women were also sexually assaulted, and in some cases drugged by Cosby.
The initial story broke on January 21 of this year. Since then, "The New York Times" has run no reports on it. "USA Today" has run no reports on it. "NBC Nightly News" has run no reports on it. And even the tabloid show "Inside Edition" has run a total of two reports on the charges.
I am amazed by all of this, particularly, Neal, that a tabloid show is not covering what seems to be tabloid Nirvana as a story.
GABLER: You would think.
Short answer of why this isn't being covered? Bill Cosby's image grants him protection from intense media scrutiny.
BURNS: But doesn't his image make the media all the more want to get him because we believed this notion of we like to tear down celebrities, as well as bring them up?
GABLER: I think they're afraid that audiences will be offended, unless there is some kind of criminal prosecution.
BURNS: Well, why do they care? What...
GABLER: And there has not been a criminal prosecution here. And so I think they really want a hands-off. Because, again, there are people like Bill Cosby, Oprah — there are many of these people who are essentially immune from this kind of scrutiny because it doesn't — it doesn't, you know, harmonize with how we perceive them to be.
BURNS: But the fact that it doesn't harmonize, Cal, makes it all the more gripping.
THOMAS: I know. I know what you're saying, and I agree with Neal.
But, look, let's — let's mention the unmentionable. Let's mention the race factor.
The same thing happened with Jesse Jackson. There were rumors about his extramarital affairs for years, that the media didn't dare touch. Same with his violating the IRS code, and when he was running for president, raising money in black Baptist churches and violating all of the laws against that. The government wouldn't touch it.
The race factor is a big factor here, along with everything that Neal mentioned.
PINKERTON: I agree with Cal. I think that, however, once there's a chink in the armor — if there is to be. Remember, innocent until proven guilty.
PINKERTON: Were something to be...
PINKERTON: ...litigated and adjudicated, then the media would go nuts; it would be a total, opportunistic, after-you feeding frenzy. And then they would love, also — and this is a — will come — because Cosby is kind of a conservative figure. "The Cosby Show" was kind of conservative...
BURNS: You don't mean politically, you mean in terms of his social views?
PINKERTON: Culturally and socially, yes. Of family values. And then he gave his little lectures about ghetto culture a few months ago.
If — if you could be proven to be a conservative hypocrite, the media would go crazy and destroy him.
HALL: I think, first of all, that no charges have been filed; a civil suit has been filed. And now there are stories that the attorneys are putting forward that they have 12 other accusers that have been filed, that went to police.
I think he is innocent until proven guilty. I also think — and this may be a terrible thing to say — I think that the fact that his son was murdered some years ago, people feel very sympathetic to that terrible loss. Plus the fact that I think some of these other factors come into play: the fact that he played this wonderful sitcom dad for so many years.
I think that people are hesitant, until something's been filed in a criminal proceeding, to go after this.
BURNS: But the media aren't usually hesitant criminal proceeding.
What — all of your answers seem to imply a kind of responsibility and restraint on the part of the media, Jim, that I don't see in most other stories.
PINKERTON: Well, he — he could sue — he could come back and sue. You know, that could be expensive, as one possible reason why the media are going slow. Lawyers are telling them, Look, just take it easy.
Look — and remember, it — the media, they've still got Michael Jackson. They're not really hungry for a tabloid hole quite yet.
GABLER: But that — and that, I think, is significant. Because the media pick and choose their targets.
BURNS: Probably a good point, is...
GABLER: They pick and choose their targets. And, you know, you can, you could, file undocumented charges against Michael Jackson and they get traction because Michael Jackson's a freak and everybody knows he's a freak.
But if you do the same thing to Bill Cosby, without any kind of court proceeding or without people actually going on record — and only two women of these 12 have gone on record and used their names — then, I think the media wants to take a hands-off approach.
HALL: But Neal, Michael Jackson settle for a multi-million dollars something previously. I mean, I don't want to defend Bill Cosby; I don't know. But I think that we're not talking about exactly the same thing.
THOMAS: Yes, Jim is right; the tabloid hole is kind of full at the moment. We got the missing bride this weekend; we got the continuing gift of Michael Jackson.; O.J.'s still on the golf course looking for the real killer. It's kind of a — you know, but some of these will pass and they'll be a hole ready for Bill.
BURNS: Neal, you mentioned we know two names. There are — and we don't know the rest of the names yet.
GABLER: That's right. BURNS: The first woman, whose name is Andrea Costan — her name has been in all the press, who filed the charges — her lawyers want the names of all the other alleged victims to be kept from the media. Bill Cosby's defense attorneys want those names in the media. The fear is, on the part of those who do not want the names in the media, that there will be harassment, things like that.
Should we know the names of everyone who is making these allegations at this stage?
GABLER: Well, I don't — I think they ought to be protected in the same way that people in any rape case are protected.
BURNS: But if it gets to be a legal...
BURNS: ...if we go to court, then do you think the names should be out there?
GABLER: Not unless they are a part of the court proceeding, and then — in which case the judge will make the decision as to whether those names ought to be revealed or not.
PINKERTON: And a future segment on this show will be discussing how those names leaked out into the press.
THOMAS: Right. Just like the Kobe Bryant situation...
PINKERTON: Or, that Matt Drudge, sort of using vaguely pixilated pictures of the accuser in the Michael Jackson case.
HALL: I think people in the media are probably sitting there going, A, he's beloved and B, this could be a he said-she said, although 12 people, you know, adds different weight. I can understand.
I don't think people are having serious journalistic discussions; I think they don't want to get into trouble and they don't want to go there with a man who's this well liked from his whole sitcom history.
BURNS: It's time for another break. We'll be back with our "Quick Takes," including:
ANNOUNCER: Bush gets serious with the media, and the media makes jokes about Bush.
"FOX News Watch" continues after this.
BURNS: It's time now for our "Quick Takes" on the media.
Headline number one: "Communication or Desperation?"
President Bush asked the networks for airtime Thursday for a news conference primarily about Social Security reform. It was the first evening conference of his second term.
And the reason I say desperation is, this president doesn't like the media very much, Jane. Was it, in fact, a desperation move for him to get across some points to turn to the much-unloved media?
HALL: Well, I don't know if I'd characterize it as desperation; I thought he did a pretty darn good job. He clearly would turn to the camera and try to sell his Social Security plan and his energy-conservation moves directly to the American people.
I thought David Gregory asked him a very interesting question, where he distanced himself from the people who say his judicial nominees are being not approved because of their — people are anti — anti-Jesus, practically.
I thought he gave a very good performance, and he looked more at ease than I've seen him before. He often has that deer-in-the-headlights look. And he didn't.
BURNS: You advised his father, Jim, on press matters. What would you have advised the president last night about taking to the airwaves?
PINKERTON: I think he — he had news to make on this new plan on making Social Security entitlements aggressive.
But the real backstory is how the media and the White House tussled over when to pre-empt and when not pre-empt. The original plan was to go at 8:30; they moved it back to 8:00 because...
BURNS: It's sweeps week.
PINKERTON: Because, as Isaac Asimov said, When an irresistible force meets an immovable object, nothing — you never know what will happen. In this case, the White House backed down because — in the face of Donald Trump and "Survivor."
BURNS: But it was better that the White House backed down, because how many people would have been annoyed who wanted to watch Donald Trump or "The O.C." and then saw the president?
THOMAS: Well, the storyline, to borrow one of Neal's favorite phrases — and I like it too — is that, basically, the broadcast networks have ceded these news conferences to cable. They're back.
GABLER: You know, I think the interesting thing here is that here is president with historically low approval ratings, and yet he's not getting bashed the way that Jimmy Carter did when the — when the press wrote his obituary.
"Quick Take" — "Quick Take" headline number two: "Don't You People Have Anything Better To Do?"
"You People" refers to the media — everyone from anchors to late- night talk show hosts who made this picture, of the president and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, the most seen and analyzed picture of the week.
Why did they do that?
THOMAS: Well, I mean, it goes along with the oil prices and everything else. It's very unusual to see a male American president taking the hand of another man. I mean, guys don't do that.
BURNS: But it is — but is a custom in...
THOMAS: It is a custom there, but I understand from some of the reporting that subsequently was done that he was very uncomfortable, the Saudi leader, with this.
This could come back to bite the president, though. I mean, this is - - despite what he says, the Saudis are not our friends. They're still funding that Wahhabi sect in this country at some of their schools; they've still got their hands in terrorism around the world. If another attack comes, God forbid, and it's linked to the Saudis, this picture could be used by the president's opponent to their own political advantage.
PINKERTON: I remember Jimmy Carter kissing Brezhnev in Vienna in 1979, and we Republicans never let Carter let go on that.
We give the Saudis $150 billion a year in oil revenues; they spend about $50 billion of it, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, funding terror.
This — I agree with Cal. This is going to bite Bush big.
BURNS: So it was worth all the attention.
GABLER: Well, I understand the practicing abstinence, which is a good thing.
BURNS: Total abstinence, yes.
HALL: You know, I think it's funny; I think the serious point of the statement that was issued out of this, which is we don't mess with Saudi Arabia's right to have its own repressive regime also was missed.
Jay Leno said whatever starts in Crawford, stays in Crawford, which was very funny. And I think that's — it was funny. It was a funny photograph.
BURNS: But maybe more than that, in the future.
All right. "Quick Take" headline number three: "The Charge Is New, But Still Deja Vu."
A representative of Britain's Prince Harry has charged two London tabloids with endangering the prince's life, because the photographers chased the prince and his girlfriend while they were riding in a Jeep on vacation in Botswana. There could have been an accident, said the prince's communications secretary, in pursuit of pictures like this.
Seven and a half years ago, of course, there was an accident when photographers were chasing the prince's mother through the streets of Paris.
If these charges are true about chasing through the jungle, Jim, they do not seemed to have learned much of a lesson.
PINKERTON: Why did Prince Harry have to go running away? Why couldn't he just stay there and pose with his Nazi swastika armband, like he did last time around?
HALL: Oh, Jim.
BURNS: Well, maybe he wasn't wearing it in...
PINKERTON: Well, maybe he's ashamed of not having his Nazi regalia with him at the time.
HALL: Well, you know, from what I read — first of all, they have some press council complaint thing. I thought, Boy, I bet American administrations would like to have it — it doesn't seem to do much good — that they complain to. I mean, from what I read, they passed him.
I think — you know, I put myself in his place. If my mother died — not due to paparazzi, but died in a chase, I think that's pretty bad.
GABLER: Oh come on, Jane.
BURNS: But the problem, Neal, seems to be that there was...
BURNS: There was an informal agreement in place not to shoot the kids, not to take...
GABLER: Now the prince's minions are shamelessly invoking Princess Di's death to try and send a warning to the media, Hands off. Don't touch these kids.
HALL: Don't trap them and pass them and put their lives in danger. I think that's a reasonable request.
BURNS: We have to take — despite Jane's continuing zeal — a break. When we come back, it'll be your turn.
BURNS: About coverage of the election of the new pope, here is Frank from Dingman's Ferry, Pennsylvania: "As a canine comparison [in newspaper articles] referring to Benedict XVI as God's Rottweiler is hardly apt. As leader of a worldwide flock, the German shepherd would be much more appropriate."
And Raymond from West Paterson, New Jersey: "It was with great dismay that the majority of the press had to report that the answer to the age-old question — Is the Pope Catholic? — is still yes."
About the people who report on new technology for TV news programs and take money from the companies whose products they pitch, here is Clyde from Greenville, South Carolina: "A major congressional investigation with televised hearings on TV product payola will happen as soon as elected officials find some lobbyists to sponsor one."
About the Ann Coulter "Time" cover, here's Sandy from Tampa, Florida: "Ann Coulter's picture is fine. It's the stupid remarks that come out of her mouth that are unflattering."
But Chris in Sequim, Washington: "The pained look on Jane Hall's face over those awful statements common to Ann Coulter's over-the-top satirical writing is exactly why Coulter gives conservatives so much pleasure."
About the ratings' success of NBC's Bible-based miniseries "Revelations," here's Patricia from Nine Mile Falls, Washington: "People tuned in to see if there was something to do with the Book of Revelation. ..We tuned in — and we soon tuned out. Anybody who watched it had NO religion. We thought it might be so; we found out it was, as usual — Hollywood tripe!"
M.J. from Georgia has a question for us: "What is wrong with your show? Are the reporters on your show dumb or just plain stupid?"
We'd like to have a few more choices, M.J., if you don't mind.
Finally, about the fake Jane Hall "Time" cover, here is Gary from Fort Worth, Texas: "Jane is too good-looking to be on the cover of 'Time.' She should be on the cover of 'Playboy.'"
You haven't just made her day, Gary; you've made her decade.
Here's our address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please write to us, tell us your full name, let us know where you live.
That's all the time we have left for this week. Thanks to Jane and Jim Pinkerton and Cal Thomas and Neal Gabler.
Thank you for watching. See you next week.
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