Recap of FOX News Watch Saturday, December 4 Edition
The following is a transcription of the December 4, 2004 edition of "FOX News Watch," that has been edited for clarity:
ERIC BURNS, HOST: This week on "FOX News Watch," is the military using journalists in Iraq? Are journalists letting themselves be used? Will network news ever be the same again? The networks are fed up with the FCC's indecency standards. They're refusing to run an ad promoting religious tolerance.
And what has this governor done to a newspaper he doesn't like? First the news, then us.
BURNS: Brokaw has retired. Rather is going to retire in a few months, but don't lose heart. Here are four people who will never go away: 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.
On October 14th, a Marine Corps spokesman appeared on CNN and announced that the Fallujah offensive had just begun. In fact, it would not begin for another three weeks. The Marine Corps apparently used CNN, knowing that the Iraqis in Fallujah would believe the report and wanting to see how they would react so that when the offensive actually did begin, the Marines would be prepared.
First, Neal, can we say categorically, right off the top, that this was not CNN's being duped — just CNN, that any reporter in the field would have taken the word of a Marine spokesman at a time like this?
NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: Oh, I think so. And in point of fact, the Marine actually came to CNN.
GABLER: He invited them to talk about this. So I think anyone would have been in the same boat.
BURNS: So when we're discussing the media here, actually we're discussing, Jim, aren't we, the media's not being fool-hardy, but the Marine Corps, the military using the media?
JIM PINKERTON, "NEWSDAY": Right. Look, we're in a unchartered territory here. I think back to, you know, World War II and the military's Operation Fortitude, which is a fake army set up across from Calais, France. They had General Patton walking around giving fake radio signals, doing everything they could for a year to fool the Nazis into thinking we were going to invade at Calais as opposed to Normandy.
Now what would have happened, you know, if that had leaked out? Overnight, it's a catastrophe for the United States. And what would happen today if we tried to do a similar Operation Fortitude? How long will it take before some blogger, some network, some e-mail person, whatever, lets it out?
I mean, I think we're just still discovering whether or not we can fight a war in this modern media age.
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: You know, I think that's a very good point. I think there's also a different point to be made. "The L.A. Times", which I believe broke this story, quoted sources saying that Richard Myers, the head of the joint chiefs, is concerned about the merging or literally merging Psy-ops and the PR department.
BURNS: Psy-ops meaning?
HALL: Psychological Ops.
BURNS: Psychological operations.
HALL: Thinking that they are losing the war of information, which I think everybody would agree we are losing the war of public opinion in many Middle Eastern states.
I think you play a very dangerous game when you send up your military spokesperson and try to win the war against people who are lying about you by lying yourselves. It's a very bad thing to be doing.
BURNS: And then Cal, the next time the Marine Corps come to you saying that they have an announcement, you're going to be pretty suspicious, I suppose?
CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Jim mentioned World War II. There was a famous moment during the Vietnam War when a spokesman of the Pentagon actually said at a Pentagon press briefing that your government has a right to lie to you. And this was the beginning of the unraveling of trust between the media and the government. And many people believe coupled with Watergate and the lies that were told the press during that, began the slow, really rapid decline of trust between the media and the government.
PINKERTON: But there are three sort of contradictory issues here going on. One is the news judgment and the news values of any given operation. You know, another one is ratings. And you know, will you turn down a scoop if you get one?
BURNS: Yes, you want to be the first to say...
BURNS: ...to say that the offensive has begun.
PINKERTON: And the third one, just by the way, there's a war going on. And I really don't know how those three forces — news professionals and ratings greed and the American desire to win a war are going to sort themselves out.
GABLER: Well, I see two issues actually. One is, you know, do you lie to the enemy? And the other one is do you lie to your own people?
BURNS: Well, but is this a sense of lying to your own people, so that that lie is passed onto the others?
GABLER: Exactly, exactly.
GABLER: Oh, I don't know whether you want to do either one of those things. You know, it always seemed to me that the deal was that the press would not report - had an obligation not to report anything that would directly jeopardize American troops. That the military had an obligation to report accurately because the public needed to have informed decision making.
And this violates both of those things.
BURNS: Would there be any circumstances under which a military official could come to any of you as a journalist and say would you please broadcast an erroneous report? Here's the military advantage to doing that. Can you ever see a circumstance in which you'd say yes?
THOMAS: I don't think you can do that in a free society. I see it happening maybe on al Jazeera and some other things. But the alternative, of course, is to say nothing. Or as Jim mentioned of World War II, you can put out false information as a government person, in hopes that some media will pick it up and the enemy will get it.
But I think lying directly to your own media is really not what people are fighting to protect.
HALL: But you know, this weird thing about this now is when you're lying CNN domestic, you're lying to CNN international.
HALL: And there's a loss of division between us and them in 24 hours news.
PINKERTON: As I said, it's yet to be proven we can win a war in this media environment.
GABLER: And we're selling our credibility. That's the important thing.
BURNS: We're selling it out perhaps. We have to take a break. We'll be back with this.
ANNOUNCER: Going, going, gone. The changing face or faces of broadcast network news when "FOX News Watch" continues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM BROKAW, NBC ANCHOR: That's "Nightly News" for this Wednesday night. I'm Tom Brokaw... You'll see Brian Williams here tomorrow night. And I'll see you along the way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNS: When Tom Brokaw replaced John Chancellor (search), Jane, that was seen as a big moment for NBC. Now that Tom Brokaw's leaving to be replaced by Brian Williams (search), it is seen as a big moment for network news, the whole thing.
Is it? And if so, how?
HALL: I think it is because these roles with Dan Rather retiring, there is a generational shift in news. My students, I don't think, felt as sad as I did watching Brokaw, whom I covered for many years.
BURNS: It's because the network anchors, since there are so many of the sources of news these days, Jane, it seems to me, even broadcast news, just don't have the same eminent position.
HALL: They don't. And the other interesting sort of side issue about this, is I looked at the story I wrote for "The L.A. Times" some years ago, where Brokaw said I don't believe when we go that we will be replaced by three white guys. And guess what?
BURNS: So far.
HALL: So far.
HALL: I think it's not the position. It's not the symbolism of authority that it used to be, but when you look at it from it a feminist perspective, it's interesting to think are we ever going to have a woman as a sole anchor in one of these jobs?
BURNS: Jim, get us back to a male perspective. Since we're all embarrassed with that feminist perspective since we're all men here.
PINKERTON: Right, speaking for the testosterone group, it's not so much the changing of the guard. It's the ending of the guard. I mean, you know, this is like veneration of saints for people who aren't saints. I mean, I really got to you tell you that there's a sort of nostalgia almost for these people.
BURNS: Yes, but Brian Williams' show is going to get ratings three, four, five times bigger than anything on all news cable for a long time. So if it is the end, it's the very beginning of the end.
PINKERTON: Well, OK. It's however Brian Williams mindshare when you include not just cable news, but also radio, blogs, you know, text messaging on your telephones, that mindshare for all of us, frankly, continues to shrink dramatically.
THOMAS: I think depends a lot on one thing. And that is the perspective the world view that these guys have. There's really no ideological difference. They all see the world view the same way, which means it doesn't matter who replaces them, because they will all share the same world view. The big government is good. High taxes are good. More regulation is good by big government. The Supreme Court, rather than the Congress, are deciding certain laws as preferable.
All the polls have shown that most of the media people believe that all of these things are good. And they report on stories that reflect.
GABLER: Yes, I have no idea where that's coming from as far as Cal goes— But my...
THOMAS: The truth.
GABLER: Well, I don't think so. But I think they belong to a different paradigm, a different model. The anchor man was the anchor. He had all this information coming in, and he was the hub. He was the clearance system. He was the middle man. He brought all the information together. And he brought the audience together.
And he spoke to a sense of American community. Now there's a new paradigm. We have cable—-and Jim was talking about, the Internet. We have all this fragmented information coming in. And we are the middle man. We don't need another middle man.
And that speaks, I think, to fragmentation.
PINKERTON: That's a good point. And so, I will disagree with Neal in first point, but not his second point. His larger point I agree with, about the paradigm shift.
But let me just make the point about the ideology of these guys. Tom Brokaw said supply side economic was a "disaster." I mean, these people — I mean, Peggy Noonan had a terrific piece in the journal, where she described Dan Rather and said look, he was the guy from Texas who figured out if he wanted to make in network news, he ought to be a liberal. So he moved that way.
HALL: Wait a minute! Wait a minute....
PINKERTON: And he did match how they lost.
BURNS: We did not have a chance last week, because of the holiday to discuss Dan Rather, who also announced his departure. And Jane, it's been suggested since in a much maligned Matt Drudge column, which is redundant, since everything he ever writes is denied by somebody, that a preliminary report on the National Guard memo story came into CBS. And that was the final straw, that Rather — it was seen Rather had to leave because of that.
To what extent do you think the National Guard memo story forced, if that's the right word, Dan Rather out in March?
HALL: I think it forces him. I think he wanted to get out. He'd been talking about retiring for a while, but I think this is a man who, as Mike Wallace said to me, "I'll leave with my toes curled up. I leave—I die."
Dan Rather probably did not want to leave, but he wanted to get out in front of this report. But I just have to say I really, without going point by point, this blanket indictment of all three of these guys having all three of the same world views, I really think is not true. And it's not valid.
THOMAS: It's not silly. I can prove it. I have the documentation. But look, let's talk about the Rather thing.
GABLER: Very (UNINTELLGIBLE.)
THOMAS: Twenty years worth of broadcasts?
THOMAS: I mean, come on, it's silly. I have it. I'll show it to you. Mary makes the top producer on the National Guard memo thing within, I'm told, by top CBS source, and had a 68 page statement about herself and her own role in this — the Thornburgh Commission that is looking into this issue.
I'm told that there are going to be not only the bvious heads rolling, like ["60 Minutes" producer] Mary Mapes, and Rather is already leaving, but even higher ups and possibly I'm told that Andrew Heyward (search), the president of CBS News, his job might be in jeopardy too, which Sumner Redstone (search), the chairman of Viacom, when asked first of all if Rather's position was safe, he had said "Let's wait `til the report comes out." That's not a ringing endorsement of anybody's behavior.
BURNS: The report, Jim, which, we're told, may come out some time next week.
PINKERTON: Right. [CBS Broadcast group President] Les Moonves, who I think is the smartest guy in broadcast television, is going to jump on this. And I predict he'll jump on this opportunity to euthanize a big chunk of CBS News.
HALL: How are you spelling euthanize?
PINKERTON: With an "e."
GABLER: I think meaning Les may use this as an exit strategy to clean house at CBS, including Andrew Heyward. I agree with you.
BURNS: When you say cleaned out, you don't de-emphasize news at CBS. You mean put a whole new batch of people in there?
PINKERTON: Well, both. I mean, I look — it's a failing paradigm, if you will.
HALL: It's not a failing paradigm. It makes a lot of money or they wouldn't be doing it...
PINKERTON: They would love...
HALL: ...it's [only] losing audience relative to 20 years ago.
PINKERTON: ...to define, to get somebody to really drive — like Katie Couric (search) or somebody out there. And they might not be able to pull her — get her out away from NBC.
I mean, but somebody like that, somebody with a stronger feminine appeal, but not doing hard news.
THOMAS: In other words, they're going to "Hollywoodize" the news, because...
HALL: Now wait a minute, wait a minute!
HALL: All these assumptions. Katie Couric equals fluff? I don't agree with that either.
BURNS: Who is the likely replacement for Dan Rather? Let's speculate...
HALL: I think it's probably John Roberts (search), who is as beautiful as Brian Williams. And I think it should be probably Scott Pelley (search) or Katie Couric.
PINKERTON: Moonves is smarter than John Roberts or Scott Pelley.
BURNS: What the hell does that mean?
GABLER: Let me show you something...
BURNS: I'm sorry, I didn't — just.
GABLER: Before, Jane just...
BURNS: ...we don't have time. Quickly.
GABLER: Jane gets John Roberts. John Roberts is very smart, very quick, and...
HALL: I said he was careful...
BURNS: Cal, what's your position?
GABLER: ...best White House correspondent on television.
THOMAS: I think Scott Pelley would be a better choice. He has a Methodist background. He has a religious experience, which most network anchors don't have. Red States!
BURNS: We have to take another break. We'll be back with our "Quick Takes." And they are controversial this week:
ANNOUNCER: The TV networks fight back at the FCC on indecency standards. And why did CBS and NBC refuse to run this ad for the United Church of Christ (search)? More of "FOX News Watch" after this.
BURNS: Time now for our "Quick Takes on the Media."
Headline number one: "Networks Battle FCC on Indecency"
NBC, CBS, and various civil liberties groups are going to court against the Federal Communications Commission. They want the court to order the FCC to reverse its recent decisions and fines on indecency. Cal, is this to be expected?
THOMAS: Well, I think it's going to be a very interesting case because the FCC and Michael Powell (search) argued in a op-ed piece in "The New York Times" on Friday that the FCC is operating according to statute. It was granted — written beginning in 1934 with the Communications Act, but none of these things have been fully tested in court.
So it's going to be interesting to see what happens. Now if the Supreme Court rules that these laws violate the First Amendment, then the FCC is going to be completely irrelevant, only down to managing wavelengths.
PINKERTON: Which would be good. The FCC is chilling free speech down to the point of freezing. I guess we're just going to have to rely on Levitra, Viagra, and Cialis to keep the — and now the new female patch — to pick things up on network TV.
BURNS: Jane, give us a different perspective, will you?
HALL: Well, you know, I covered the FCC. And most people don't really understand how it is that they regulate broadcasting, but they can't violate the First Amendment. It's a whole long thing.
In some ways, they are irrelevant. I'd like for them to fine stations for not doing [more and better news] than Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction.
BURNS: And speaking of conflicts between government and the media, here is Quick Take headline number two:
"He Can't Really Do that, Can He?"
Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich (search), Jr. has told state officials they are not allowed to talk to two reporters from the state's biggest, most influential newspaper. Ehrlich, a Republican, says "The Baltimore Sun (search)" is biased against his administration.
And he's got a case, Neal. Somebody wrote in the paper struggling to keep a straight face about some testimony that an Ehrlich aide was giving before the legislature. And the guy who wrote that, demeaning this guy, wasn't even there.
GABLER: But the point is, listen, I'm sympathetic to his grievances...
GABLER: As you pointed out, at least one of these reporters was very, very sloppy. And why open yourself up to distortions?
On the other hand, if you hold public office, you have an obligation to make yourself available through legitimate news vendors. And these are legitimate news vendors. And you just have to let the chips fall where they may.
BURNS: Can you do anything more than let chips fall where they may?
HALL: I'm sorry, excuse me.
PINKERTON: Go ahead.
HALL: He was also mad at the bureau chief because they broke stories that he was sort of quietly giving away park land. That— you know, there's difference between a columnist screwing up and a bureau chief who's stories you don't like.
PINKERTON: Look, he's the governor of the state. He can get on TV any time he wants. If he can't win a battle head on, taking— making fun of them, calling them on their mistakes— then he's not a very good governor.
THOMAS: Politicians have tried this for years, canceling newspaper subscriptions, barring reporters. It always come back to hurt them. I agree, embarrass them in public. Call their editor, publisher in, but don't do this.
BURNS: Quick Take headline number three:
"Networks Say No to Religion."
NBC and CBS have refused to run this ad from the United Church of Christ, which is one of the country's more liberal Christian denominations. The ad advocates tolerance in religion and seems to criticize other denominations for refusing to admit racial and sexual minorities to their ranks.
ABC and CBS say it is not their policy to run advocacy ads of any sort.
PINKERTON: Look, Walter Shapiro, who's a reporter for "USA Today" actually goes out there and looks for things. What's the biggest evangelical church in Columbus, Ohio? It's got 12,000 people, 40 percent of them are black.
I think this is a distortion— hitting a strawman— the UCC ad here. However, it's brilliant media manipulation.
BURNS: But the charge here is that, at least by some Cal, that the more fundamentalist religious groups who were not tolerant will not like this ad. And therefore, will make life difficult for the networks that run it.
THOMAS: Well, I like the statement that the networks don't run, you know, controversial things. You know, moveon.org, you got — all the political commercials. And the issues, swift boat ads, all kinds of things, from both sides, during the recently concluded political campaign.
BURNS: So why not this one?
GABLER: Well, I mean, this is mystifying. I think Cal's absolutely right. ABC doesn't run any religious ads. So they're being consistent here.
GABLER: But you know, clearly, CBS and NBC are not being consistent. And I think you're absolutely right. I think they do not want to antagonize the religious right. So they're backing off.
But advocacy ads, they run advocacy ads all the time.
BURNS: Quick, Jane?
HALL: One thing gets them billions of dollars, literally, for their location stations, well their advertising. Another gets them in hot water with the right wing. Which one are they going to run and call controversial? An ad about tolerance? Wow, that's really an advocacy.
BURNS: We have to take one more break. When we come back, it'll be your turn. Good point.
BURNS: About the study showing that more than 90 percent of police commanders in this country believe the media are unfair. Here's Dawn, a retired police officer, from Clarksville, Arizona.
"The media have a never ending supply of adjectives to make a situation seem much worse than it actually was. And they use them religiously. Let a police officer do something correct, and it will never make the news. Let a police officer do something wrong, and you will hear about it and see it until you have dreams about it."
And this from Jane, who is the widow of a policeman killed in the line of duty, and the mother of another policeman, and lives in Mountain Top, Pennsylvania.
"I'm sick of reporters only covering a story about a "victim" of police brutality. Police officers are brutalized every day but you never read a story about it."
Carl from Naples, Florida echoes something that Neal has said on many occasions on this program. "I was a television and radio news director for most of my adult life, until I retired in July of this year. Laziness is a real issue. More reliance on the telephone and less reliance on personal contact is one of the most significant problems in.shallow news coverage."
About our discussion of the best American newspapers, here is Janet from Des Plaines, Illinois. "In naming fair and balanced newspapers, how could you not mention "The Christian Science Monitor (search)? Surely a world class publication with no specific ax to grind should have recognition over and above "USA Today."
Yes, the controversy over the trashy Monday night football opening is an old one, but this e-mail from Robert of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is in my view so perceptive that it's worth, rather, revisiting the subject.
Robert says, "The real issue is not the FCC or even the nudity. It is that a parent who tries to teach his son to have respect for women, or his daughter to have respect for herself risks having that teaching undermined by allowing that son or daughter to watch a football game.
Finally, last week, Cal and I sang a few bars of the Bobby Darin (search) song, "Splish Splash" on the program. And several of you wrote to us about it. For instance, Jerome from Morehead, Minnesota. "Dear Cal and Eric, for the love of all that is good, pure, and holy, do not attempt to sing on your show again. My daughter covered her ears, my dog fled from the room, and I hurt myself diving for the remote."
[Turning to Cal] I told you you should have let me do a solo! — Would have solved everything.
Here's our address. [Again to Cal] Thanks for not rebutting that. I'm surprised I got away with it. Our address is email@example.com . Please write to us. Tell us your full name and let us know where you live.
That's it for this week. Thanks to Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, and Cal Thomas, Neal Gabler. And I'm Eric Burns, thanking you for watching. We'll see you next week when "FOX News Watch" is back on the air.