Published January 14, 2015
The following is a transcription of the November 27, 2004 edition of "FOX News Watch," that has been edited for clarity:
ERIC BURNS, HOST: This week on an all viewer mail edition of FOX News Watch, here's what you want to talk about: The media and the red states. Are reporters out of touch with the people they cover? And if so, why?
What do cops really think of reporters?
What's the difference between a liberal journalist and a conservative?
And what is she do.
First the news then answers to everything.
BURNS: On this Thanksgiving weekend, we present an all-viewer mail edition of FOX News Watch and we begin with Michael from Perkasie, Pennsylvania.
"I think your program is exemplary in demonstrating that liberal, conservative and other views can be discussed constructively and amicably. Is it different behind the scenes or when the cameras are off?"
Michael, here is what happens on the FOX News Watch set during commercial breaks. Jim Pinkerton of "Newsday" checks his Blackberry for messages. So far he hasn't gotten any.
Media writer Neal Gabler, in Los Angeles this week, brushes up on his ad libs for the next segment.
Jane Hall of American University does her impersonation of Curly from the Three Stooges.
And syndicated columnists Cal Thomas and Eric Burns break into a few bars of a hit song from the `50s.
CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST AND BURNS (Singing): Splish splash I was taken a bath, `long about a Saturday.
BURNS: Let's try to get the audience back. FOX News Watch is coming up right now.
We hope you like us better on the air. Our second email today is one of two that ask about the media and the aftermath of the election. First, Steve from Louisville, Kentucky.
"With the media asking if Bush will reach out to Democrats, the bigger question is: will the media reach out to the red states? Instead of catering only to the blue states, the media need to start reporting the issue perspectives from the red states."
Jane, is that a worthwhile point?
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, a couple weeks ago we got an email saying I should go to a tractor pull and I just want to say I am from Abilene, Texas, I've been to cattle feed lots, haven't been to a tractor pull, but I've seen a tractor.
I think that the media in many ways did miss the whole moral values question, although I think now they are rushing to say, "Moral values? What are those? Let's go find some people with those out in Iowa someplace. Where are they located?" I think that it is true that people in the media tend to get isolated, they tend to talk to people on the East Coast or the West Coast. It would be good - the rest of the country is not flyover country, as my friend Cal talks about.
THOMAS: That's right. But we see stories occurring after every election. It's the same thing. Gee, what did we miss and why did we miss it? This goes back to these whole moral values, religious things, at least to the 1976 campaign where Jimmy Carter came out of the closet and declared himself born-again. And John Chancellor got on the NBC Nightly News and said condescendingly to millions of red state Americans, you know, we've looked up this born-again business and it's nothing new.
Well, the two coasts were laughing it up but the middle of the country that goes to church, that reads the Bible, that worships an authority higher than the government, were shocked at this kind of condescension and it's still going on. They refuse to study it. They refuse to understand it.
BURNS: So, Neal, that is to say, I think, that the argument here is that a political bias in the media might begin with a geographic bias.
NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: Well, first of all, I don't believe in this red-blue dichotomy. I think that's ridiculous. I think it's a narrative. I think it's spin. But if you're saying, "Should reporters be in the trenches, finding out what people are doing and thinking?" I am absolutely in agreement with that. I think there is a disconnect between ordinary American people, I don't care if they're red or blue and media elites.
JIM PINKERTON, "NEWSDAY": I think a lot of it is cultural signals. I mean, I notice FOX [News Channel], for example, does bumpers, does little interludes between commercial and the show, with a little country music playing to it. You don't see that on CNN. I think, however, the media are facing more options now. They don't have to appeal to the entire country to make a living anymore. If you get a rating of a 2 or a 5 you do just fine in this new multichannel universe. So if you want to think of it that way, you can say, look, I just want to appeal to blue states or red states or purple states or whatever.
You don't have to pretend to appeal nationwide.
HALL: I think like a lot of constructs of the media, though, we force things into false dichotomies. I think that the American people are more nuanced on a lot of these issues than the media casts them on talk shows unlike .
GABLER: My point exactly, Jane.
BURNS: Well thanks, Neal.
HALL: Thanks, Neal.
BURNS: Good to have a coda from you out there.
Here's another email about the post-election media. It is from Mike in New York City.
"Question for you and your brilliant and witty colleagues:" You can be in on this, too, Cal, if you want.
THOMAS: Thank you.
BURNS: "Do you feel now that the election is over that the media have learned their lesson?"
Let's say that the answer is yes, that the media have learned a lesson or some lessons from the coverage of this election. What lesson or lessons?
THOMAS: I was going to ask the question hoping it wouldn't be rhetorical. In addition to the subjects we just mentioned. Most people don't want to censor the other point of view. They want to feel included in this pluralism and diversity and rich mix of ideas. They see the media as a filter in one way, not only keeping out of discussion of those views, but in the other way, not allowing them to adequately express them. So the only time most people in the - again, the red states — see national journalists is during a campaign. How many people hang out in Iowa when it's not an election year.
BURNS: So to you the lesson is, "Let's encourage more news that we don't normally hear covering an election."
PINKERTON: Look, Frank Sesno (search), former CNN reporter, now is a teacher, said that most reporters, quote, "live on the moon," quite frankly. And that's a poor place to find an audience.
BURNS: Neal, if the media did learn something from coverage of this election, what is it?
GABLER: Well, I'm not sure whether they learned a lesson or not or what they were supposed to have learned, but if the lesson was that you don't repeat, you report, you don't allow yourself to be spun, then they did not learn that lesson. I will continue my mantra, lazy and stupid in 2004, lazy and stupid in 2005 and lazy and stupid on and on and on because that's the problem with the media.
BURNS: Neal. You know what, Neal? You've got a big hit bumper sticker there. Although in Washington and New York and Los Angeles it won't be .
GABLER: I don't think so.
BURNS: . of course. Have a lot of media people.
Jane, what's the lesson? Is there a lesson?
HALL: Well, I disagree and I don't want to be depressed for the next four years about the lazy, stupid stuff I have to look forward to from the media, so I think that the media did try to do reporting on the issues and I think that it was drowned out and I think they need to figure out how to cover the ad wars.
BURNS: Drowned out by?
HALL: ...drowned out by the Swift Boats, Move On.org .
PINKERTON: Hold on.
HALL: Wait, let me finish. I think that they need to figure out how to cover these ads in the next time around and they didn't know what to do with them.
PINKERTON: The Swift Boats were an issue. Jane doesn't like that issue, but they were an issue .
HALL: I said Move On, I said all of them. You're distorting what I just said. I said Move On, Swift Boats, all of that.
PINKERTON: I'm saying the Swift Boats were a bigger issue than you wanted it to be and that's why you don't like them.
HALL: That's not what I said.
BURNS: Let me reply again to our letter-writer that we opened the show with. How we actually get along with - We do have moments like this occasionally. Other than that it goes pretty well. All right. We have to take our first break. We'll be back with more from us responding to more from you.
BURNS: We begin this segment with an email from Jim who tells us that he is the vice president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police.
"Here's an item that may interest Jim, Cal, Jane and Neal: According to the 16th annual survey of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, an overwhelming 92.2 percent of U.S. police commanders believe the news media are not fair and balanced in their coverage. These are men and women who deal with news people on a daily basis."
Neal, your reaction to that finding?
GABLER: My reaction is that fair and balanced is a great slogan but it is a terrible journalistic practice. Fair, yes. Balanced leads to distortions because it assumes that all facts are created equal, every story has two sides and in point of fact not all facts are created equal. Not all stories have two sides. I think balance is really, really dangerous and the good journalist knows the difference. If we try to balance a story .
BURNS: But Neal, specifically - specifically, why would chiefs of police have this problem with journalists to such an overwhelming degree?
GABLER: Well, I don't know what his particular situation is or the situation of police generally, but I think this is something that is rampant in the media. I think the media really have a problem with getting facts and assessing facts. That's the problem.
PINKERTON: I can help you on this one.
GABLER: Thank you, Jim.
PINKERTON: They might be thinking - the police might be thinking back to the Rodney King video which ran the way al-Jazeera runs atrocities, every ten minutes for a year back in 1991 and it turned out to be deeply distorting of the facts and I don't think the media have ever recovered in terms of their credibility on law enforcement issues from the massive distortions and the rioting and trouble that came out of that and gross irresponsibility on the media's part.
THOMAS: When I was a local reporter we had a full-time police reporter and that's all he did. Not only did he report on the police, he hung out with them, he played poker with them, he smoked cigars with them.
BURNS: Maybe he went too far the other way, Cal.
THOMAS: No, he knew these people in the other context, but he understood how the police work. I find that a lot of local stations now, with the cutbacks in budgets and certainly at the national level nobody covers law enforcement full-time, that there is nobody who really knows the police officer anymore, they just blow in when there is some kind of blowup and try to cover it and they don't really know what the police face every day putting their lives on the line, making split-second decisions just like our military, life or death situations and that too often they come in and stereotype them as kind of killers or insensitive racially.
BURNS: Because they don't realize enough, Cal, you are saying, about the pressures that they might be under so that they don't present a balanced enough view?
THOMAS: Yeah, well the pressures and the day-to-day life of what it means to be a police officer and usually women but less so now at home, the wives who worry every day when they send their husband off to work as a police officer, whether they are going to get them home at night for dinner or in a box.
HALL: I don't disagree with that. I'm wondering - I assume local police chiefs are dealing with local news and I think there should be more regular coverage. I mean, you .
BURNS: It's not more. It's .
HALL: Well, I'm not sure what the complaint is and I'm not sure compared to what. Is this on the rise and who are they speaking of? I would take it seriously if I were local news directors if this is a 92 percent survey, that's something to wonder about.
PINKERTON: Here's an example. If anyone claims police brutality, there is a distinct chance it will wind up at the top of the news, on the front page of the paper.
BURNS: Our next email takes us into the realm of political philosophy somewhat. It's from Roger in Houston, Texas.
"I have long been perplexed at how conservatives and liberals could look at the same event and come away with different versions of the truth concerning the event. I now realize that conservatives believe that there is an absolute reality and truth and that liberals believe there are a variety of realities and truth based on one's subjective perspective. Thus, conservatives are unable to imagine any reality other than what they perceive to be the truth and liberals feel free to interpret reality to suit their own preconceived notions."
Neal, I was going to start with you, but that's kind of a - sort of a pompous email, so let me start with Jim.
GABLER: Wait a minute, I was about to say how bright our viewers are. On the other hand I completely disagree with his analysis. I would say .
BURNS: I'm sorry, Neal, what I want to get at, and Jim, I'll give it to you. Is there a difference between the way someone who is a conservative journalist or a liberal journalist begins to approach a story.
PINKERTON: I think there are differences in rules (ph). I think the letter-writer is exactly correct. I am reminded - speaking of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the novelist, who wrote in 1851, "The Godhead is broken up like the bread of the supper and we are its pieces." That the modern, liberal worldview is dispersed, broken up, as opposed to the conservative of natural law. I think there is a huge difference. I think the writer is exactly correct.
BURNS: And how then would that - anybody answer this. How then would that manifest itself in .
PINKERTON: It manifests itself in cultural and moral relativism.
HALL: I think .
GABLER: Well let me disagree with Jim.
HALL: . the letter was fascinating. I didn't think it - no offense - I didn't think it was pompous.
BURNS: I didn't think it was pompous, I just wanted to say something negative to Jim.
HALL: OK, so Jim quoting Nathaniel Hawthorne, that was .
THOMAS: Everybody - I'm sorry.
HALL: I want - I think it's very interesting. I think - Let me confirm some stereotypes here, first of all, OK? I think that liberals, now I am a little uncomfortable with liberal journalists because I like to think people approach stories with not a bias but I think that in general people who are liberal believe that the government has some role to play in people's lives and may come at it from sort of a do-good perspective and before the deficit went crazy I thought conservatives were for a lesser role of government.
THOMAS: It all begins, as you say, with worldview, and I think if you view government as an ultimate savior and do-gooder and improver of everybody's life, you approach government in one way. If you believe in the free enterprise system, personal responsibility and accountability, you approach a story another way.
BURNS: Neal, quick final view from you?
GABLER: Yeah, let me get down to the media itself. Conservatives believe that everybody is biased therefore the mainstream media is spinning liberal and you've got to spin back. Liberals believe that they are afraid of being regarded as liberals so they have to prove that they're not.
BURNS: We have to take another break. We'll have more for you and from you after we do.
BURNS: Steven from Lakewood, California says that he, "just wanted to write to let you all know how much I love FOX News Watch. In fact, I think of you all as a modern, minimalist version of the classic 1970s sitcom "All in the Family." Cal is Archie, Jane is (of course) Gloria, Jim makes a great Edith and Neal is perfect as the Meathead. Unfortunately, I'm not sure what role Eric plays. Anyhow, I just wanted to say thanks for a great show. I love it. Keep up the good work."
We'll try to do that right now with the help of Norman from Chagrin Falls, Ohio, who asks simply and directly, "What national newspaper do your panelists consider the most objective news reporting?"
Jim, let me broaden it. Newspaper and/or network television show. Objective news reporting.
PINKERTON: Well, I would say, newspapers, if the "New York Times" tilts left and the "Journal," at least on the editorial page, tilts right, "USA Today" does its best to cover the country in a moderate, centrist way .
BURNS: TV show?
PINKERTON: Boy, is this a trick question?
BURNS: It may be a difficult one to answer.
PINKERTON: It is a difficult one to answer and - so I am going to turn it over to Jane.
BURNS: Let's not wait for you to stumble, let's give it to someone who has an answer.
HALL: OK. Well, I think among the three broadcast evening newscasts I'm a fan of "NBC Nightly News." I think they play it pretty straight. I think they've been - I'm not a big fan of those surveys, but I think most surveys would show that they play it pretty straight and .
BURNS: A newspaper?
HALL: Well, let me take a radical stance and say "The New York Times." That will get me some mail in the following weeks.
GABLER: Oh my God!
HALL: I think that "The New York Times" is still a fine paper and I think that they're reporting, and they just this past - recently had a piece about - some of their reporting out of Fallujah I think has been terrific and flies in the face of all these people who think they are anti the soldiers there.
GABLER: Objectivity is not the issue for me. Truthfulness is. I don't think any national newspaper is very good but the most truthful and hardworking, the best of a bad bunch I think is "The Washington Post." As far as television, I think day in and day out the "News Hour with Jim Lehrer" gives you the most in-depth analysis of issues and of course I love "The Daily Show" because it rips through the cant.
THOMAS: Well, for television I want to say what I can positively about "Nightline" on which I have appeared many times. I think that Ted Koppel goes out of his way to try to get all viewpoints represented. I am very sorry that it continues to be in difficulty and Disney looks like it ready to chop it at any moment.
BURNS: They may pull the plug on it soon.
THOMAS: I think it is one of the - It is intellectually stimulating. Ted Koppel has great credibility. As far as the newspaper is concerned, David Brinkley said once it is impossible to be objective so we must try to be fair. But in terms of the best newspaper in the country that actually covers the news — and gets all viewpoints sooner or later represented— I have to go with "The New York Times."
BURNS: Our final email today comes from Todd in Los Angeles and I am just going to read a phrase of it to you. At one point in the note, which goes on about some other matters, Todd refers to "the general public, who may be, like myself, far batter informed than [journalists] since we live in the real world and have real conversations with real people who have real jobs."
Neal, I think this is one of the criticisms, although it's phrased a little differently here, that we get most often on this show about journalists is that because they live not necessarily in a red state or a blue state, forget the earlier topic, but because they communicate so much with each other they really don't have the sense that the job demands they have of the world on which they report. Fair point?
GABLER: I think that's a legitimate complaint. There is, as I said earlier, there is a disconnect, I think, between the media and the people of this country and it's not a matter of red or blue. But I think the media is not only out of touch with people, I think the media are also out of touch and ought to be in touch with facts, with knowledge, they ought to look closer, they ought to dig deeper, they ought to be sharper, I think that's the mandate of the media.
HALL: You know, I think there is a class element. I think that people resent the media. I mean, really, it is pretty astonishing that this is the most consistent complaint that you hear and yet there are many things I think - there are a lot of good people doing a lot of good work so I resist this as a generalization but I think in specifics people do need to get out more and yet with the cutbacks at some news organizations it's not like they're saying, "Yeah, go take three weeks and go to Iowa and cover some issues."
BURNS: I think the criticism, Jim, is not just that the media tend to hang around with other media people, but at least the so-called elite media people make a lot more money than the average person, too, so that might be an extra reason that they are out of touch.
PINKERTON: Not all bad.
BURNS: Surely you're not the elite media, are you?
PINKERTON: Look, there is - Obviously you want grounding and values in the country you are covering. However, just to be difficult here, sometimes the issues are difficult and complicated. Iraq, the budget, science policy, whether it's stem cell or global warming or whatever. You really want experts. You just - let's face it, it takes years, decades, to learn languages, to learn expertise, that's not the same as simply .
THOMAS: Well, giving poll results.
PINKERTON: ...giving accurate poll results.
PINKERTON: Obviously the press are the best and the worst but I do think there is something to be said for expertise.
THOMAS: On the rare occasion when someone makes a mistake and sends me an invitation to a social function in Washington or New York and I show up I hardly ever see anyone, or very few people who share my values or my views. The place is drenched with people of a singular worldview and if that doesn't send a message, the lack of understanding and reach out and internalizing the values and views of other people different from this elite, I don't know what does.
BURNS: We are going to do another all-viewer mail show on Christmas Day and we hope that you'll be a part of it as you were for this one. If you would like to be a part of it here is the address to get in touch with us. It is firstname.lastname@example.org . Please get in touch. Tell us your full name and let us know where you live.
That's all the time we have left for this Thanksgiving weekend. Thanks to Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, Cal Thomas and out in Los Angeles Neal Gabler. And I'm Eric Burns thanking you for watching and about to join Cal for a few more bars of our song...