Recap of August 20 Edition

The following is a transcription of the August 20, 2005 edition of "FOX News Watch", that has been edited for clarity:

ERIC BURNS, FOX NEWS HOST: This week on "FOX News Watch." It was Israeli versus Israeli in the Gaza Strip. Newspaper editors wonder whether they are covering Iraq fairly. This guy is in the news more than Natalie Holloway. Would you buy a joint pain formula from this guy? And controversy over an editorial cartoon supporting same-sex marriage.

First the headlines, then us.


BURNS: The pictures from the Gaza Strip this week have been riveting, dramatic, heartbreaking, but have they told the whole story about what's happening in one of the world's most troubled lands? That is the first question today for 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. You've seen a lot of pictures like these in the past few days; Israeli soldiers forcing Israeli civilians out of their homes in the Gaza Strip. It looks like a nation gone to war with itself. But, Cal, I'll begin with you. Is there more to it than that?

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: It is. I think the pictures and the reporting have focused more than we've seen in recent years what the real battle is all about. Especially the victory chants and demonstrations by Hamas, the statements that don't often get into the American media, about how this isn't enough, we want all the West Bank. We want all of Jerusalem. We want all of Palestinian, by which they mean pre-1967 borders. A lot of good stuff, including some of the sermons coming from the mosques and the Palestinian media, that doesn't regularly get into the American media got in because of this evacuation, and I think that's a good thing.

BURNS: And they've got in probably because the pictures were so compelling as opposed to the information being so relevant, at least in terms of perceptions of journalists in this country?

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: You know I thought it was very interesting, Jennifer Griffin, on FOX, was there for hours and even the montage that FOX ran was very compelling, very dramatic. But I thought it was a difficult thing for television to put the pictures — we talked about this — put these pictures in historical context. John Donovan on ABC almost seemed to be fighting the pictures in this sense, trying to say, there are 9,000 settlers, there are 1.3 million Palestinians, most Israelis supported what was being done.

BURNS: They knew this was coming.

HALL: They knew this was coming.

BURNS: They had time to prepare.

HALL: And it was really hard because the pictures were so extraordinarily dramatic.

BURNS: I think that's a great point, isn't it, Jim. You're fair verbally, but you don't stand a chance against the pictures.

JIM PINKERTON, "NEWSDAY": Exactly, the pictures. For example, some of the settlers were dressed up in Holocaust outfits. I think it is a horrible misuse of that memory. But then some of the reporters, including Jennifer Griffin, on FOX, were saying, Oh, well, this is kind of like the Holocaust. No, it is not at all like the Holocaust. It is not at all like the Holocaust. It was something that a majority of Israeli public opinion, plus the United States, supports happening. There were no — nobody was killed. There were two protesters killed, 21 cops killed, which tells you how much the cops were bending over backward not to hurt anybody. And they're getting hurt themselves, instead. That was not adequately conveyed by the reporters, because the pictures — as you say, and Jane says — dominated the image.

NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: I agree entirely. I mean, the media love clarity. And these images gave you clarity. It's heartbreaking to see people forcibly evicted from their homes. But that's not this whole story. These are images that narrowed the story, rather than broadened it. And it is interesting, watching these reports on the network news broadcasts and even reading the "LA Times", "The Washington Post", "The New York Times", almost nowhere were you told why they were being evicted. Almost nowhere was this put in the context of a large peace process — or as Cal talks about, the other side of the peace process. So this is a story, again, that was very, very limited in its coverage.

BURNS: But was it just because these pictures were so compelling that it was covered this much? Because we have complained on this program about there not being enough foreign news coverage. And we say, occasionally, Cal, that well maybe what you need to do when you cover foreign news is show how it relates to Americans. Well, this story does not have any direct relationship to Americans. Yet, it was that rarity of rarities, a big foreign story that got a lot of coverage.

THOMAS: Well, of course, it does have relevance to Americans.


THOMAS: Not only because of the Jewish population, which is small in America, but also because of our billions of dollars of support for Israel and Egypt and other places in the Middle East, and it is a hotbed of terrorism there. So whatever happens in the Middle East, in Israel, or any of the Arab nations, or among the Palestinians, is in fact of interest here.

BURNS: Yes, so you have to make that point in the coverage, then?

PINKERTON: Also, because let's face it, it is linked to Iraq. I mean, a lot of the argument for the war in Iraq is it would reduce tensions in Israel and Palestine as well.

BURNS: So would you say that that is an important part of the coverage of this story? Not just to make it fair, and to give the context, but also to point out Americans you do have a stake in this.

PINKERTON: I think that was implicit in the fact that it was so heavily covered.

BURNS: All right. We have to take our first break, we will be back with this.

ANNOUNCER: You've written us a lot of e-mails in the past year, questioning the fairness of coverage of the war in Iraq. Now it seems newspaper editors are asking the same question. And how did he get to be one of the week's biggest news makers? Stay tuned for more FOX News Watch.


BURNS: You thought the big Iraq news this week would be a new constitution, but that has been delayed. Instead, the big Iraq news this week has come from American newsrooms. Listen to this e-mail that a lot of newspapers have received in the past few months. "Did you know that 47 countries have re-established their embassies in Iraq? Did you know that 3,100 schools have been renovated? Of course we didn't know. Our media doesn't tell us." Now, that e-mail was a major topic of discussion at a recent New York meeting of editors whose papers get most — or at least some of their news about Iraq from the Associated Press. Here is the headline about that meeting, that appeared in this week's "New York Times". Jim, what should the results of that pondering be?

PINKERTON: Well, it should always be the source of consideration and analysis and introspection (ph), but what — the good-news-from Iraq group, if you will, is up against, is the basic news value, which can be summarized, if you want to say it horribly, if it bleeds, it leads.

BURNS: In every country, about every issue.

PINKERTON: And that's true about local news.

BURNS: Right.

PINKERTON: . in America, across the country.

BURNS: Right.

PINKERTON: And as relentless — and every time somebody says, I want to good news instead of bad news, they get clobbered by the competition.


HALL: You know, there was an interview, Greg Reets (ph) from "Editor & Publisher" did an interview with the Reuters' Baghdad bureau chief, in July I believe, where he said, you know, if there are a lot of stories that we're definitely not covering, I'd like to know. I mean this e-mail has boomeranged around the Internet. I believe the information came from the Department of Defense. And it is certainly true that you can show a bigger picture in Iraq. Part of it is these guys are in mortal danger if they leave the Palestinian Hotel — and even in the Palestinian Hotel they're in danger.

BURNS: In addition to which, another problem is they can't move very freely. It also — Neal, you've made complaints on this show a lot of times about reporters being lazy. It is apparently much easier just to take the figures of casualties than to go out and try to find those other incidents of good news.

GABLER: But let me say, and there was an article in "Atlantic" a few months ago about this. These reporters are not being lazy. These reporters can't go out, because — guess what? They'd be killed. You know, in the old Superman comics there used to be an alternative world, they called it the bizarro world, as opposed to Superman's real world. I mean in the real world, in Iraq, you know, there are 1,000 — 1,100 casualties of Iraqis brought to a morgue in July, the highest number in the history of modern Iraq. There is 50 to 60 percent unemployment, we read. There is intermittent electricity. Again, you can't go out on the street without worry whether you are going to get shot. That's the real Iraq.

BURNS: But wait.

GABLER: In the bizarro Iraq.

BURNS: Wait, wait, wait.

GABLER: There are 3,000 schools being renovated.

BURNS: Why is that the bizarro Iraq? Why isn't that just another part and maybe a less important part, Neal? But another part of the real Iraq?

GABLER: Well, I think, because a less important — look, on the scales of this, and we don't have to be — I mean we're here with FOX — where things, those scales may be weighted a little bit. But look, on the scales of Iraq we know right now — and even people in the administration have admitted this to Robin Wright in last week's "Washington Post" — that we've lowered our expectations. The scales in Iraq are things are terrible. The media are covering the reality. They're not covering the bizarro world.

BURNS: But don't we have to put more things on the other end of the scale, if they're there?


BURNS: And not dismiss them as bizarro?


BURNS: So people have all the information.

THOMAS: Does the media go out and take these polls, the polls are based on perceptions of the people who are getting their news from "The Washington Post", "New York Times" and the major television media. If it is an incomplete picture then their opinions cannot be fully formed. There were 700 embedded journalists at the beginning of this war, there are only about three dozen right now. And what prompted this AP consideration was a lot of soldiers coming back and telling their relatives that they were doing and seeing things and the relatives were saying, wait a minute, we never read that in our newspaper.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Positive things.

THOMAS: Positive things. Building schools, handing out candy to kids. Now look, if it bleeds, it leads might be fine for the local crime story, but this is a world war. It seems to me the media have a responsibility, a journalistic responsibility, to inform the people fully so they can make up their own minds.

HALL: If you're going to do that kind of story, then I think you have to say that reconstruction, according to our own government officials, who talked to Robin Wright, is going much more slowly. We are not getting — we are not meeting the goals. Not only did they not meet us in the streets with dates, which was our first idea that they were going to do, there are tremendous problems. I don't think the media are doing anybody any good by suddenly saying, oh, let's be sure to go cover every good story we possibly can. It needs to be a whole picture.

BURNS: Which in, the Associated Press has appointed someone now. One of the ways they've reacted to this is there is somebody, whose name escapes me, who every 10 days now is supposed to report on an overview.



BURNS: Good and bad, however weighted it turns out to be.

PINKERTON: I've been saying for a long time, I don't think anybody disagrees with me, in the perfect world there would an hour of coverage from Iraq every night.


PINKERTON: And that would include a reporter in Kurdistan, which is kind of autonomous, it's been — there is no news from there because nobody is getting killed — who could talk about what's going on. I mean, the Kurds have been shafted by history since World War I, when they should have been independent — out of an empire and they were not allowed to be. There is a lot — there is a huge story there in Kurdistan, not only with implications for what happens to Iraq but also in Iran and Turkey and parts of Syria, where the Kurds also are. There is a lot of interesting stuff there, just frankly, because nobody is getting killed it is not getting covered.

GABLER: Jim is right. Let me give you one example, this week, obviously the military had approached "The New York Times" about writing a positive story about the police force in Mosul. And Richard Oppel, Jr. was there to write this positive story. What was the story that he ultimately had to write? The story was, by everyone's admission the American troops had to protect the Iraqi police in Mosul, because without that protection they couldn't do their job.

BURNS: No one is saying that information shouldn't be out there. Apparently the AP now is just saying they want more information there. Neal, your analogy about the scales. It is not a matter of how we weight them, but just a matter of making sure that everything that fits on the stand goes and everything should —


GABLER: Of course, we want as much information to get out as possible, but there is a matter of judgment and balance.
BURNS: That's up for the reader and viewer to do, if he has all the information.

THOMAS: Right now we have bad judgment and imbalance.

GABLER: And I disagree.

BURNS: Well, one thing that we can't disagree about is that another break is coming and that after it will be back with our "Quick Takes."

ANNOUNCER: Terrell Owens, football player; Terrell Owens, newsmaker. We know why he attracts defensive backs, why does he attract so much attention? More "FOX News Watch" after this.


BURNS: Time now for our "Quick Takes on the Media." Headline number one, would you repeat that, please, Mr. Owens?




BURNS: That was Philadelphia Eagles' star wide receiver, Terrell Owens a week and a half ago, not commenting on why he was booted out of training camp. Since then he's made a million comments about all kinds of things, including how unfair the Eagles have been to him for not renegotiating his contract, due to pay him more than $3 million this year, but he has returned to training camp.

You know, as I read this, it seems not monumentally important to me, Jane?


This story gets so much coverage. Why is Terrell Owens such an object of fascination to the media?

HALL: Well, I think because there are a lot of people who follow football, money is a sexy thing, and he has been — one of the sports columnists that I read, described him, you know, as this self-absorbed jerk, but he may have a point about renegotiating his contract. People like guys — well, maybe gals, too — when they're acting like jerks and then they can be restored; if he'd only ask forgiveness, he'd have a whole new chapter.

PINKERTON: And that handsome guy who was walking around — happened to be walking around without a shirt on, just when the cameras were there to observe that, huh? I mean, it's a combination of $49 million, plus the fading into —

BURNS: It is a seven-year contract.


THOMAS: It's hard to get along on $49.

BURNS: It's perspective, Jim. I'm giving perspective.

PINKERTON: As Dennis Rodman fades away, we've got this guy.

BURNS: So, the media just loves a — what? — self-promoting, self- aggrandizing?

THOMAS: They had a series once called "Men Behaving Badly", they love that sort of thing. Especially, rich men behaving badly.

GABLER: He's good copy. When a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? If Terrell Owens makes an objection and there are not reporters there to cover it, is it a story? I don't think it is.

BURNS: "Quick Take" headline number two, "Buy two boxes of my product and call me in the morning." Paul Nemiroff is a doctor who reports for KDKA TV News in Pittsburgh. He's supposedly fair. He's supposedly objective. But he also sells Joint Formula 88 pain relief cream on the TV shopping channel QVC. His face is even on the box. You got a problem with that, Neal?

GABLER: You know, some people may see that as an ethical problem there. I don't know whether the joint stuff works, and I know that he's forbidden from even talking about it outside the show.

BURNS: He helped develop it, starting — he's actually started it in 1988, which is why it is called 88.

GABLER: But to me there is a credibility problem here. And that's what I think the station has to address. I mean, if a guy is a salesman, and he also happens to be a doctor, how does the salesman aspect of him affect the doctor aspect of him, in terms of his credibility? I think it is a credibility problem.

THOMAS: We have a clause in our contract here at FOX. I don't know what it is at KDKA, that you can't do stuff like this.



THOMAS: I don't know what you're selling, but anyway. No, I think it is a good thing to have. And you're right about the credibility.

HALLS: You know, what's surprising, his resume was a lot more impressive than the cheesy looking package. And the news director was quoted saying, basically, next contract, I ain't going to do this.

PINKERTON: I like doctors who are actually focused on helping patients anyway they can. The ethical issue is real, but they seemed to have addressed that. And I'm for him with joint issues.

BURNS: You got free cream. Somewhere along the line you got free cream. (LAUGHTER) "Quick Take" headline number three, censorship or choice? Editorial cartoonist Dan Piraro is apparently in favor of same-sex marriage. So in a recent strip he has a doctor say to a male, in a hospital waiting room, "Your husband is in the recovery room. You could go back and see him if you like, but our government-sanctioned bigotry forbids it." Piraro's syndicator, King Features, thought the cartoon would be so controversial that it made him offer a second one for the same day, so the papers could take their pick. It is the same picture, the second cartoon, but the doctor in this case says, "She is going to be just fine. She's quite a fighter. The anesthesiologist has a black eye and I think she may have cracked my ribs." Forgetting about which may be the better cartoon, Jim. What about this notion of what the syndicator did?

PINKERTON: Welcome to the world of market segmentation. In the same way that the News Corporation is the proud owner of both FOX News and FX, and Fox broadcast, you just get different products for different audiences.

BURNS: But can you, in all fairness, hire an editorial cartoonists, who is supposed to express his opinion, and then say, mute it this one particular day?

THOMAS: Well, sure. This happens to me as a columnist on occasion when I have to write something that might possibly — I'm quoting somebody, with words that might offend some people. It is called a trim. And the editor puts an editorial note in the column and then it is up to the editor of the paper to decide whether that language or that situation would be offensive to their readership. We do it with pornography, with local values and customs. Why can't we do it with this?

GABLER: I think it is an example of gutlessness, but not on the part of the editors. I think it is a part of gutless on Dan Piraro's part. You know, we talked about .

BURNS: For actually doing the second cartoon?

GABLER: We talked about Trudeau a couple of weeks ago and he said, you know, I would rather not have them — that they not run one of my .

BURNS: Garry Trudeau.

GABLER: Garry Trudeau, who writes "Doonesbury" — that they not run one of my strips, than have me, you know, to have is sanitized. Well, here's a guy who sanitized his own work and he ought to be ashamed of himself. If they didn't want to run his cartoon, that's fine. Then not run it.

HALL: Well, yeah, and he substituted a sexist, unfunny frame for it. (LAUGHTER)

BURNS: Other than that, you would not have done this kind of thing. What would you have done, Jane, as the syndicator?
HALL: Well, you know, in that series "Boondocks" wrote the offensive things about Condoleezza Rice needs a date and that's why we're in Iraq?


HALL: "Washington Post" pulled for a week. I mean, you're free to pull it but he should not have changed it. I don't think.

BURNS: We have to take one more break. When we come back. It will be your turn.


BURNS: About coverage of Cindy Sheehan, protesting the war in Iraq in Crawford, Texas. Here is Donald, from Colorado Springs, Colorado. "It's deja vu. Last year peace activist Max Cleland was camped out at Bush's Crawford ranch and calling out the president for a face to face meeting. Currently, Cindy Sheehan and several dozen anti-war protestors are demanding Sheehan be granted a second presidential meeting. The predominantly liberal media are salivating over this opportunity to bash President Bush." About Natalee Holloway's mother keeping her daughter's absence in the news, here is Gene from Sedona, Arizona. "I must be in the minority. I used to watch O'Reilly, Hannity & Colmes and Greta every night. Not any more. I am so tired of Natalee Holloway — of the Natalee Holloway story that FOX News has driven me back to regular TV." Well, you are seeing a lot of the story on regular TV, too, Gene. And certainly on all of the other all-news cable networks. About coverage of the death of Peter Jennings. Here is Ed from Spokane, Washington. "You narcissistic folks are interested in Peter Jennings because he was one of you. . He was a news reader. Nothing more." Much more, Ed. Jennings was also a writer and an editor and a reporter, who traveled the world. About the troubled flight and safe landing of the space shuttle, here is Sylvia from Kokomo, Indiana. "There was a comment [on your program last week] about how, a few years ago, NASA was reported more favorably and it was new and exciting. For the likes of me, I can't think of anything that's treated new and exciting anymore. It seems like everything has to be adversarial." Finally, there is this e-mail from John in Austin, Texas. "You people have the most enjoyable program in all of TV." So far, so good, right? Stay with us. "It is hilarious to watch and listen to you people defend a profession where the best members of which are three levels below carnival barkers when it comes to integrity." John, if you watch this program regularly, and you think that what we primarily do is defend journalists? We'd like to offer you, and your entire family, discount tickets to the bearded lady. Here's our address: Please write to us, please tell us your full name, and let us know where you live. That is all the time we have left for this week. Thanks go to Jane Hall and Jim Pinkerton, and across the table to Cal Thomas and Neal Gabler. And I'm Eric Burns thanking you for watching. We'll hope you'll do it again next week when FOX NEWS WATCH will be back on the air.

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