The Race Is On! The Media and the 2008 Presidential Elections

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The following is a transcription of the November 11, 2006 edition of "FOX News Watch" that has been edited for clarity.

ERIC BURNS, HOST: "And now the real race begins" says New York magazine." Meaning the race for president in 2008.

And Thursday's Wall Street Journal ran this headline on the front page: "Outcome," (meaning of course, the outcome of the midterm elections) "shakes up '08 calculus for McCain, Clinton and others."

Neal, this immediate emphasis on 2008, is this an example the media getting a jump on a story as they properly should? Putting 2006 into perspective already or is this an example of jumping the gun.

NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: This is an example of absolute bankruptcy of intelligence in the media.

BURNS: That wasn't one of the choices that I gave you, you know.

GABLER: Well, I'm checking "C". It's all they care about -- All they care about is who is in front, what the horse race is. It is because they are not intelligent enough. They do not want to work hard enough.


BURNS: Just a second. Why isn't it fair, after a landmark election in which the Democrats for the first time in twelve years got both houses of Congress, to try to speculate what this could mean for a presidential campaign?

GABLER: Because we have so much time to do that.

JAMES PINKERTON, NEWSDAY: Actually we don't. No we don't.

GABLER: Two years isn't enough?

PINKERTON: Well, it's more like a year and a month or two until the Iowa caucuses. Look, maybe Neal does not like it, maybe most Americans don't like it but for better or worse, lots of people including Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and Tom Vilsack on the Republican and Democratic side plus Hillary Clinton and the rest of them have either announced or are about to announce. And are stumping the country running for president.

Now again, what are the media supposed to do — not cover it?


GABLER: Good answer!

HALL: I think the focus on Hillary Clinton is ultimately probably going come back to haunt her. She is going to be like Britney Spears. Heard too much, too soon. I think it would be much more instructive for the media to get away from the horse race and start talking about what does it means now we have divided government?

The San Francisco newspaper had a very good piece how there can be good things to come out of that. Maybe oversight is not a bad thing. Talking of Clinton and Gingrich and how it was unpredictable how that played out. That to my mind is much more interesting and useful.

BURNS: Don't you think there has been some of that?

HALL: Well, there has been some of that. I do not agree this blanket statement, when you sound like some commentators who decry --just blasting all media. There are a lot of people are writing intelligent stuff. I think this '08 stuff I think is bad. I really do.

THOMAS: The media are also already handicapping some favorites. Barack Obama has something that is almost messianic going on. Cover of Time magazine. On all the big shows. He is on "Meet the Press" and he tells Tim Russert, "I am thinking about running for president now." Headlines all over the place. Nobody knows what he believes or what he stands for.

PINKERTON: All the more reason to cover.

THOMAS: They are creating him.

PINKERTON: They are covering a race. The fact of the matter is the presidency is up for grabs in 2008. It is kind of a big deal. It is sort of important on a dozen different issues. And if the media choose to focus on personality as a way of getting into the story, nobody doubts that if John McCain or Hillary Clinton or anybody else gets elected or nominated, that there will be consequences.

HALL: That is one of the problems with the whole presidential system. People have to raise millions of dollars. Hillary Clinton has been trying to lock it up partially because the media follow the person who's raised the most money.

GABLER: The media's fault is they determine or help determine the outcome rather than just follow it. McCain has already been sainted.

HALL: The presumptive nominee.

GABLER: He is the presumptive nominee, he is a God who works on water.

PINKERTON: Tell that to President Ed Muskie. Tell that to President Gary Hart. The media don't always pick the winner.

BURNS: Isn't part of the problem with starting this early, simply that there is no way to be even a little precise?

I mean, prognostications made, Cal, near the last minute can be wrong. Prognostications made this early...

THOMAS: Right. But there is something else involved here, the more, again, going back to what Neal said, the more we focus on personalities in the horse race, the less time there is for a discussion and debate on policy. Hello? What do these guys believe? And what is the best policy for the United States?

PINKERTON: Cal, you just betrayed yourself. You said, what do these guys believe? It is — personalities drive politics. It's not -- yu don't elect a platform, you elect a person. And what that person...

THOMAS: But you've got to get beyond the personality.

PINKERTON: Believe me. They are covering that. They are saying every nuance of Hillary Clinton about the Iraq War gets covered closely.

GABLER: Tell that to the people who voted for George Bush who thought that he was going to be a "uniter." Please. That is so off base.

PINKERTON: You're saying you don't like Bush. Fine.

GABLER: I don't like Bush, but the fact of the matter is Bush portrayed himself in the media as a man who is going to unite this country.

PINKERTON: All the more reason to cover this.

BURNS: Let me interrupt you to do something moderately shameful which is to plug the 2008 election because the first Republican debate will be on this network. -- I had to do that and we have to take one more break.

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