Recap of FOX News Watch 12/17/05 Edition

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The following is a transcription of the December 17, 2005 edition of "FOX News Watch", that has been edited for clarity:

ERIC BURNS, FOX NEWS HOST: This week, on "FOX News Watch," [Newsweek cover of President Bush in a "bubble"] it's not exactly the most flattering shot of a president ever to appear on a magazine cover.

This movie ["Brokeback Mountain"] about two gay cowboys has been getting some of the most flattering coverage of any movie of the year.

Dr. Phil in trouble. Can he advise himself how to get out?

And should a 7-year-old girl's 911 call have been played on television?

First the headlines, then us.


BURNS: They don't make cowboy movies like they used to, pardner. But before we get to that, we will get to Bush in a bubble with 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.

"Bush's World" says the cover of the - this week's "Newsweek." "The isolated president: can he change?"

But he wasn't especially isolated this week. He gave major interviews to FOX News Channel's Brit Hume, NBC's Brian Williams and PBS' Jim Lehrer. And he gave two speeches about U.S. strategy in Iraq.

Which leads me, Jim, to this question: the media charging the president with being isolated - are they complaining because he is isolated just from them, to the extent that they would like to have access?

JIM PINKERTON, "NEWSDAY": Well, he definitely doesn't like "Newsweek." I can tell you that from a previous personal incarnation in the Bush.

NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: Well, he doesn't read "Newsweek" he said this week, so.

BURNS: Yes, but all you've got to do is look at the picture not to like it, so.

PINKERTON: A little background on this. In - in - I worked in the Bush 41 presidential campaign in the late 80s. And in 1987, "Newsweek," the same magazine, put Bush 41 and the question "The Wimp Factor" was the cover headline.

BURNS: I remember.

PINKERTON: And I can remember then George W. Bush comma private citizen just being infuriated by that cover. And I don't think there's been good blood ever since. Not without reason.

BURNS: But the charge of isolation, Cal.

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, look, they've made the same charge against Ronald Reagan early in his first term.

The problem with the media is they like to see themselves as part of the action. They want to be consulted; they wanted to hear their ideas bounced around. And Bush goes to bed at 9:00, 10:00. He says he doesn't read most of their stuff. They're insulted by that. So they claim that he's in a bubble because they're not talking to him.

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, you know, I know good Republicans, good supporters of President Bush who have felt that he was in a bubble, that they were - there was a disconnect between a growing unease in this country and the dropping popularity. That's what these speeches were about, was to try to shore up American support for the war in Iraq.

And I also think it's very interesting - this is a media thing - I thought that Brit Hume and Bill O'Reilly with Donald Rumsfeld did a much better job because they were more aggressive and seemed to - to be more willing to do follow-up than Brian Williams, who seemed very deferential.

GABLER: But before we tap the media, let's look at where the source of these things.

Richard Wolf of "Newsweek" has been in the tank for Bush from the inception, and most of these bubble stories started about two months ago, with Tom DeFrank, who's a very sympathetic reporter at The New York Daily News.

So what it leads me to believe is that people within the administration were leaking to DeFrank because - for self-serving reasons they wanted to say, Look it, we're not getting any access to this president. This president really is isolated, and we want more access to him.

PINKERTON: Well, I do agree that the -- a lot of the stories -- the negative press on Bush in the last few months has come from within the administration. I think that clearly the White House had a counterstrategy to that, which - let's face it, they do respond to the media. Even if Bush isn't reading their magazines, they are responding to the media overall.

The speeches, the Q&A sessions, the interviews, clearly Bush coinciding with the Iraqi elections, deciding to get back on the offensive. And I think it worked, by the way.

BURNS: But interesting to me, Jane, one of the ways he chose to get back on the offensive - now granted, he did these interviews with major anchors - but he's given, how many speeches recently? Three?


HALL: Four.

BURNS: Four.

GABLER: Four major speeches.

BURNS: But he's given every one of them, I think - correct me if I'm wrong, but be gentle, because you know I - my ego bruises - I think every one of them has been in the morning, certainly during daytime hours.

Why hasn't he - if he's trying to get out of the bubble, if he's in a bubble, if he's trying to get a point across, why is he giving speeches at a time when the viewership is down?

HALL: Well, I think that they were reaching out, to use a political phrase, to think tanks, to Johns Hopkins University. I think it was a venue in which he could give a speech, not take a lot of questions, not have to worry if he got a primetime audience.

BURNS: You can do that - you can do that in primetime.

HALL: And you still get the.


HALL: You still get the coverage. I think it is in some ways indicative of their trying to show that they were going to places where they have - they might be criticized, that might not be a natural home. Think tanks, that sort of place. I think it was a good call. I think for him to try to get primetime audience on a restatement I think would be difficult.


GABLER: That's exactly right.

BURNS: It might make him look bad if the viewership was low.

THOMAS: And if got turned down. If he got turned down by the networks saying, There's nothing new here.

GABLER: He was also gaming the system. Let's face it, he and Rove knew that if they went on this oops tour, Oops, I made a mistake, that the press would then kind of accept his apology and not be too critical. And it's worked. As Jim said and as Jane said, it's worked. They haven't been very critical. They haven't held him accountable.

BURNS: Do we share - do we see T-shirts at some time, the 2005 woops tour?

GABLER: Woops, I made a mistake. We went to war. Sorry.

BURNS: Quickly, Jim.

PINKERTON: Robert Hillman in "The Dallas Morning News," he really put his finger on it, that Bush, by taking a little blame for the WMD decision, has actually lanced the boil of a lot of the press hostility, at least for now.

GABLER: You are absolutely right.

BURNS: It is time for our first break. When we come back, it'll be with this:


ANNOUNCER: They love it in L.A., but will it play in Peoria?

JAKE GYLENHAAL, ACTOR: What if you and me had a little ranch somewhere?

ANNOUNCER: The gay cowboy romance "Brokeback Mountain" is getting a lot of attention. But why? That question when "FOX News Watch" returns.




HEATH LEDGER, ACTOR: The bottom line is, we're around each other, and this thing grabs hold of us again in the wrong place in the wrong time and we're dead.


BURNS: "Brokeback Mountain," which is about two cowboys who surprise themselves by falling in love, is one of the most critically praised movies of the year. But two cowboys - that's boys - falling in love?

Neal, shouldn't this movie be controversial than it is?

GABLER: Well, we don't know yet. I mean, look it, it's very, very early. What we've got are the reviews. But it's very early in the larger media campaign about this movie.

BURNS: Do you expect there will be a campaign by some against the movie, because of its theme?

GABLER: What - I think the interesting question here is, Is this a litmus test or is it a movie? And my suspicion is, to answer your question, I think it's going to be a litmus test.


GABLER: Well, on the one side, Hollywood is going to say, It's a litmus test for tolerance toward - toward homosexuals. And on the right- wing side, if indeed they take the bait, they're going to attack the movie and say, This is another way of - of advancing the so-called homosexual agenda.

THOMAS: Well, let me take the bait. But I won't go in the direction you're thinking of.

I've been reading the reviews on these, and they're really interesting. You compare this movie with, for example, "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," which just premiered two weeks ago, took in $67 million in its first weekend. Now we were treated prior to the release of the Narnia movie to all kinds of columns, including by Peter Steinfelds in "The New York Times" and other mainstream venues, that this had a subliminal religious message. Lock up your children. They might see Jesus! Oh my goodness, it's terrible what's going on out there. And that's the kind of coverage and reviews that they got.

This thing, breaking new ground, a love story, you should go see it. So the difference has an agenda attached to it.

GABLER: And that's why it made $60 million on its opening weekend.

BURNS: And actually, you can't see it everywhere, Jim. It's in very limited release.

Were you daunted by the fact that it's in limited release?

PINKERTON: Actually, I was ordered to see it by FOX News.

BURNS: Yes, that would have been my e-mail?

THOMAS: That's why you're vouchering for it.

BURNS: Jim, I don't want to make you a movie critic, but.

PINKERTON: It is well done. It is well acted. Heath Ledger, who you saw there, great as a cowboy.

However, it is also Manhattan's view of what the West must be like, which is, the average cowboy may be OK, but when you get to issues like, What are - what's religion like, what's the family life like, well, that's just the Dark Ages, and it's unflattering. And, of course, the audience I saw it with in Manhattan loved it.

BURNS: Isn't it fair to say, Jane, there - I don't know what the percentage is - I tried to find that this week - of people in this country who are - who are gay. But there is some percentage of people.

HALL: I think it's about 10 percent.

BURNS: It's about 10 percent? I've seen as low as 5 percent. Certainly 10 percent of the movies aren't about gays. Ten percent of the TV shows, "Will and Grace" notwithstanding, aren't about gays. Shouldn't - shouldn't - shouldn't the reaction to this be on the part of virtually anybody, This is part of the human fabric, so let's have a movie about all parts of the human fabric. This is one of them.

HALL: Well, you know, from what I've read, it's a terrific movie. And I'm from Texas, and I remember -- I was thinking about this -- about this movie. My grandmother had a Victrola record about a "lavender cowboy." And I have wondered, thinking about that, if that wasn't about --I mean, I'm sure there were gay cowboys. And there probably are gay cowboys.

The Wall Street Journal had a very funny line that said, "Are we ready for Marlboro Men who love men?" I mean, the West has had a lot of stories about male bonding. This is certainly something I think a lot of people are going to be uncomfortable with. I saw the trailer in a Washington, D.C., movie theater. And you could sense people were somewhat uncomfortable. The question is, Is it a movie about sex, or is it a movie about love? And I think that's what's the real key question.

PINKERTON: It's more about love. But I don't think the 10 percent figure holds up at all. I've seen as low as 1 percent of the population of the -- percentage of the population is gay.

But the movie does argue -- and this is, again, the pandering to the Manhattan East Coast audience - that actually gay men are better than straight men. They can do everything straight men can do, and they can also be gay.

THOMAS: There is never a problem for Hollywood with the homosexual lifestyle or anything related to it. For example, the front page -- it made front page when the first civil union occurred in Vermont, these two women getting married. But this week, it was announced that they were divorcing and one of them beat up on the other one. Buried, at least in the newspapers I saw, way in the back.

With the way Hollywood covers religion, it is stereotypical and outrageous. The movie "Saved" was about a hypocritical, oversexed, kids in high school. An unbelievable bigoted thing. This thing is a -- is a wet kiss - -you should pardon the expression -- to the gay community.

GABLER: Well, that's partly because Hollywood is playing to its audience, and those religious [citizens] are generally not its audience.

But there's another issue here, and I just want to say it briefly. Most stories we think of as being covered as, on the one hand and on the other hand. It's civil rights on the one hand -- black people deserve civil rights. On the other hand, they don't -- you shouldn't go too fast; they shouldn't be too uppity about it.

Well, there are some stories on which there is no on the other hand. And I think we're increasingly seeing that maybe the story of tolerance for homosexuals is not an on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand story.

BURNS: Well, we're seeing it in this movie, certainly.

It's time for another break. When we come back, it'll be with our "Quick Takes."

ANNOUNCER: Dr. Phil makes a deal to push some pills. But something went wrong. The details next on "FOX News Watch."


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

Headline number one: "Shape Up, Dr. Phil."

Actually, "Shape Up With Dr. Phil" was a 2003 weight-loss campaign featuring a line of weight-loss products, a primetime TV special, and a book. Now, America's most famous shrink for alleging making false statements about those products.

Neal, those products have been, as a result of these charges, taken off the market.

GABLER: I love Dr. Phil's defense: What? I'm no expert on diet pills, he says in his own defense.

I mean, look it, Dr. Phil is an all-purpose guru. We've got many of them in this culture now; he's one of them. You know, he can solve your marital problems, and he can solve your weight problem. But this is now Dr. Phil's problem, in my estimation. This is a social problem. THOMAS: Yes. The target audience, of course, for Dr. Phil, is women with problems. And what is the biggest problem that so many women have from watching these shows? Their weight. Their appearance. So you get them on, you get them crying, you attract a bigger audience, and you give them a solution, which is more than just advice. It's pills in a bottle. And he got his overweight posterior in a wringer on this one, it appears.

GABLER: Because it costs $120 a month, apparently.

THOMAS: Oh my, my.

BURNS: And I think I read, Jim, you had to take something like 22 pills at a sitting.

PINKERTON: Well, as.

BURNS: That's why you lose weight; you're taking all those pills, so you can't eat.


PINKERTON: To underscore what Dr. Phil said, he said - quote - "I have no expertise on this topic." And yet he was shameless about endorsing this stuff. Without risking challenge in the entire culture of celebrity endorsements, which underscores television overall, I can say that you -- everybody watching should ask, Does this person use, know, or recognize the product that he or she is pitching on TV?

BURNS: But it -- but it's worse in this case, Jane, because this -- Dr. Phil is not a celebrity who just entertains us. He -- he gets us through life. I mean, I know if I only see it three times a week, the pressure is too great for me.

The serious point is, he's not a singer. He is someone who some people think has a lot of -- a lot of expertise in a certain area. And so it really matters to people what he says. He has much more responsibility than -- than -- than some singer or actor to get it right when he endorses a product.

HALL: Well, I couldn't agree with you more, and I think.


BURNS: Do you want me to move on?

HALL: But let me add on to it, because I think - I think he's got, you know, perfectly good credibility as a therapist. But he clearly did this whole book -- he did a book, and then he added a line of products. I mean, he's -- he was a -- reportedly, according to the attorneys for the other side, rewriting commercials, and yet say, I'm no expert.

I mean, it kind of reminds me of book authors who - who have researchers write their books. I mean, if he's going to stand behind something, he should stand behind it.

And the other thing I wanted to say is, years ago for "TV Guide," I did a thing about diet doctors on television. They put these guys on; they never question whether this is medically sound or not.

GABLER: May I just add he's not exactly skinny?

THOMAS: Exactly. That was my point.

BURNS: "Quick Take" headline number two: "Right Call by the Media?"


OPERATOR: 9-1-1 emergency. How can I help you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My mom was killed by my brother and I'm scared.


BURNS: That's just the beginning of a call placed by a terrified young girl to a 911 operator in Melbourne, Florida, after her mother had been shot to death by her half brother. One of the TV stations in nearby Orlando ran the call on the air, and one of its anchors started to cry afterward. Two other Orlando stations chose not to play the call.

Said the news director of one of those stations, "We made the editorial decision that running the tape would have been exploitative of the little girl."

Would it have been? Was it for the station that ran it?

GABLER: Yes it was.

I listened to this tape, all 10 minutes of it.

BURNS: It's.

GABLER: It is absolutely riveting; there's not question about. It's heartbreaking, but to use it in this fashion is to my mind, taking a tragedy, and converting it into entertainment. Without that tape, this would have simply been another police blotter story. It was the tape that gave it that -- that kind of "frisson" that these stations exploited. And they shouldn't have done it.

BURNS: One station.

GABLER: One station, yes.

THOMAS: I agree with that 100 percent. We've taken bottom feeding to a no level - a new level. Just when you think nothing can go lower, this does. This is not only exploitation, it is invasion of privacy. It is obscene. It is voyeuristic. It is disgusting. Kudos to the two stations that didn't run it. Condemnation through lower ratings to the one that did.

PINKERTON: Nobody has argued more times on this show than me, I don't think, that information wants to be free, that we should let everything out there. In this case, though, I do agree with Cal and Neal; this was over the top. That 7-year-old girl has got enough problems, to put it mildly, without this, too.

BURNS: Jane, unanimous?

HALL: It's a total invasion of privacy, and absolutely obscene to air it.

BURNS: We have to take one more break. When we come back, it'll be your turn.


BURNS: Most of you who wrote to us this week were pleased at the way Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld blasted the media not long ago.

Hank, from Browns Point, Washington: "The fact is, Rumsfeld is well justified in pointing out the unbalanced and biased reporting by our liberal-dominated media."

John, from Nashville, Tennessee: "Don Rumsfeld hit the nail on the head. The president should not be under attack by the media PERIOD, if it is our troops that will pay the price for their attacks."

And about comments that the Bush administration is doing a lousy job of getting its message across about Iraq, here's Jay from Lubbock, Texas: "The last I heard, reporting to the media on the Iraq war was not the reason I elected George W. Bush and help pay his salary. I expect the executive branch of government to do just that, govern, not create counter- propaganda for perpetually negative war-bashing."

"Regarding your segment about Howard Stern and Sirius Satellite Radio," begins Howard from Birmingham, Alabama, and he then goes on to say this: "Satellite radio is where I listen to FOX News when I am in my car. Do not discount this new medium too quickly. Guess it does say something about the value of entertainment. Stern gets $500 million and the News Watch crew gets???"

Less. Howard didn't leave us much.

About the return of the Victoria's Secret fashion show, here's Joe from Columbus, Ohio: "The media never mentioned that there is no empirical evidence indicating children are harmed by viewing nudity. Americans need to get over their silly prudish about the human body and focus on the serious problems facing the U.S."

About rumors that Katie Couric might be the new anchor of "The CBS Evening News," here's Dick from Martelle, Iowa: "You have no idea how we in flyover country do not care whom the networks select as anchors. Out here, network news is considered an oxymoron."

And finally, Doyle, from Orange Park, Florida: "I don't care if CBS could bring back Marilyn Monroe and she sang `Happy Birthday, Mr. President,' I wouldn't watch CBS."

How about if they brought back Dan Rather, and he sang, "Happy Birthday, Mr. President"?

Just a thought, and just an address for us. Here it is: Please write to us. Tell us your full name, and let us know where you live.

That's all the time we have left for this week. Thanks to Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, to Cal Thomas, and Neal Gabler, who this time last week was on a gondola in Venice.

GABLER: This is correct.

BURNS: And I'm Eric Burns, thanking you for watching. We'll see you next week, when "FOX News Watch" is back on the air.

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