Transcript: 'Fox News Watch,' January 16, 2010

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This is a rush transcript from "Fox News Watch," January 16, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

ERIC SHAWN, Fox GUEST HOST (voice-over): On "Fox News Watch," a new political tell-all gets published. Its authors making the media rounds. But as the press dissect the details, the biased coverage hits hard.

And Senator Reid's big news gets ignored.

Sarah Palin signs on to her new gig at Fox News.


SARAH PALIN, Fox NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I'm so appreciative of the opportunity.


SHAWN: So how do you think the liberal press reacted?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The time they picked her, but the time...

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: How can she be a pundit? She doesn't know anything.



CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": Hello there, I'm Conan O'Brien, NBC's employee of the month. Isn't that nice?



SHAWN: NBC's late-night mess gets the media attention. And everybody takes their shots at the flailing peacock.




SHAWN: No news here. So why is it making news?

And disaster in Haiti, as images of the devastation and despair tell the tragic story. And the news media is challenged in the coverage of this crisis.

(on camera): Well, on the panel this week, Fox News analyst, Kirsten Powers; syndicated columnist, Cal Thomas; Jim Pinkerton, fellow, New America Foundation; and News Day columnist, Ellis Henican.

I'm Eric Shawn. "Fox News Watch" is on right now.


JOHN HEILEMANN, CO-AUTHOR OF "GAME CHANGE": Her foreign policy tutors are literally taking her through. This is World War I. This is World War II. This is the Korean War. This is how the Cold War worked. This is the new war on terror. They're trying to teach her everything, because Steve Schmidt had gone to them and said, ‘she knows nothing.’

A week later, after the convention was over, she still didn't really understand why there was a North Korea and a South Korea. She was still regularly saying that Saddam Hussein had been behind 9/11.

And literally, the next day, her son was about to ship off to Iraq. And when they asked her who her son was going to fight, she couldn't explain that.


SHAWN: Well, that's John Heilemann, one of the authors of the new book that's making a lot of news, "Game Change." He was appearing on "60 Minutes" and answering Anderson Cooper's questions about Sarah Palin; just one of the many politicians discussed in the book.

But guess what? Let's take a close look at this segment. A Fox News analyst of that segment shows it ran 13 minutes and three seconds. Well, Palin is first mentioned 30 seconds into the intro and she's the focus of the piece basically for five minutes and 20 seconds. Hillary Clinton is then discussed for 30 seconds; the president, 58 seconds; and then it's back to Palin for another four minutes and 44 seconds. The segment ends with one more mention of Hillary Clinton, totaling one minute.

Look at that.

Jim Pinkerton, let me start with you. Ninety percent, Palin, Palin, Palin. Is that fair?

JIM PINKERTON, FELLOW, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: You would think there was no other news in the book, like, for example, Harry Reid or — or things that needed more explanation, like the Bill Clinton — saying that Obama would have been getting coffee, that sort of quotes that would have ended the career of a Republican like, for example, Trent Lott, or other media figures, like Jimmy the Greek and so on. Instead, they just pass right over it and so they go back to beating up on Palin.

SHAWN: Why do you think they did that? Are they kind of slanted?

PINKERTON: I don't think they like Palin very much. And I do think they want the Democrats to keep their majority in the Senate and they're terribly afraid about Harry Reid losing later this year.

SHAWN: Cal, where's the media outrage on this? By the way, on Monday, I asked "60 Minutes" for a comment. They still — still waiting.

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: You know, I don't particularly like these books. They're good for the tabloidization of politics. They haven't really been any good post-election books since Teddy White used to write these, beginning with "JFK." Those books contain substance. This is all he-said, she-said. This is about Elizabeth Edwards, wife of John Edwards, supposedly baring her breast at outrage against her husband. I mean, this is — this is the stuff of TMZ. And it doesn't solve any problems. It doesn't fix the economy. It doesn't fight the war on terrorism.

SHAWN: But it isn't supposed to do that. I mean...

KIRSTEN POWERS, Fox NEWS ANALYST: What it does — what it does reveal is what a sloppy job the press does, I think, and the fact that there are certain things — for example, it actually is relevant that Elizabeth Edwards was not the Saint that she was portrayed in the media. And I often was frustrated by that because I had known many people who had worked for John Edwards and had told me exactly what she was like and what a menace she was on the campaign. Now we find out — they report on this and it's there.


POWERS: Instead, they were allowed to present this image of this happy couple, which they were not. You know, and they...

SHAWN: If people knew it, why didn't we find out about it during the campaign?

POWERS: Exactly. That's the problem.

THOMAS: It's back to what Jim said. They wanted the Democrats to hold power.

POWERS: That they — that's what I'm saying is that this shows is that the media sort of selects what they're going to talk about. They decide to talk about the fact that John McCain had an affair that he didn't have on the front page of The New York Times. But they ignore things that they don't like. That's a problem, I think.

SHAWN: Ellis?

ELLIS HENICAN, COLUMNIST, NEWS DAY: You know, I don't feel sorry for any of these guys.


And I don't understand why you all are weeping such tears. You know what? Presidential-level politics is a voluntary arena. Nobody makes you play. And when you decide to do it, you do make a deal with the devil. And I don't mean the kind that Pat Robertson is talking about.


You give us some privacy for the potential shot at some power. These...

SHAWN: But how about the way that it's done?

HENICAN: You know what? Who cares?


SHAWN: Right at the beginning, they say they conducted 300 interviews in person.

HENICAN: Poor baby. Poor baby.

SHAWN: They call it de-background. What is de-background?

HENICAN: You know what? It doesn't mean anything. I mean, don't talk to reporters if you don't want it in a book.

POWERS: Yes. I don't feel — I don't think anybody feels sorry for them.


POWERS: I don't feel sorry for them. And I think that — you know, look, I've work with Mark Halperin on the other side and he's a very respectable reporter, and I've never known him to misquote or anything like that.

SHAWN: Do you think this stuff is true? Most of this stuff is true in this book?

POWERS: I do think it's true, absolutely. I would be — and it jives with everything I've ever heard.

SHAWN: Jim, what's so stunning also, the book is full of cursing.


SHAWN: In private, the politicians — you know they do, but you don't see — you don't read it.


PINKERTON: I've worked in four presidential campaigns, so I can say that that part is certainly accurate.


I mean, I think that — look, Michael Wolf, who writes for Newser and Vanity Fair among other places, had a good point. He said, ‘Look, this book represents the transition of tabloid journalism, which he used to work over John and Kate and TomKat and whoever else. Now it's moved to politics.’ It's the same style, the same everything.

HENICAN: But don't we — don't we...

PINKERTON: And it doesn't mean that it's false, by the way. And Cal's got a point. It's not overly perspectival (ph) in terms of big issues of the day. But I think they clearly got a lot...


SHAWN: Cal...


SHAWN: But, Cal, that's right, it's gossip, right?

POWERS: It's not tabloid.

THOMAS: Well, let me go back to a point that occurs to me, which I think is a very good one. I think it was the A.P. that sent 10 or 12 reporters to Alaska to dig out whatever dirt they thought they could find on Sarah Palin. They investigated her family. They passed around rumors that the Downs Syndrome baby she had might now have been hers, all kind of scurrilous stuff that they never had to take credit for.

But yet, with the Edwards, who are really a dysfunctional family, zero until this book.

HENICAN: Well, that's the failure. I mean, let's complain about stuff the media misses. Let's...


PINKERTON: Ellis, would you concede there's a double standard? Republicans get one kind of treatment...


PINKERTON: Oh, you wouldn't concede that. OK.

HENICAN: We go for good stories.


PINKERTON: So that's why the media went after John Edwards?

HENICAN: Including trash.

SHAWN: Raise your hand, who says it's a double standard?


All right, we've got...


POWERS: Come on, how can you not say there's a double standard when the John Edwards...


POWERS: The John Edwards was a perfectly good story.

HENICAN: It was a missed story...

POWERS: They didn't even pursue it.

HENICAN: ... that a supermarket tabloid did the good work. Let's credit them.


SHAWN: Well, it's all in this book, whether you like it or not. And it's pretty amazing, true or not.

Time for our first break. You can go to our web site, and after the show, you can see what happens on the set during the breaks at

We're back in two minutes to talk more about the press and Sarah Palin.

ANNOUNCER: Sarah Palin joins the Fox News team and the liberal press can't stop sneering. Are they out of touch with America?

Plus, a late-night nightmare for NBC, and the media takes turns at plucking the ailing peacock. All next, on "News Watch."



ED SCHULTZ, HOST, "THE ED SHOW": Isn't Sarah Palin going to work for Fox News like just a godsend to anybody who wants to have some comedy on the radio?

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST, "COUNTDOWN": She had a pesky little problem with the truth. No irony that day. These headlines came out, Fox News snatches her up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe she will like it a lot being a pundit on Fox News. But at the time they picked her, at the time...

MATTHEWS: How can she be a pundit? She doesn't know anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unfortunately, there's just going to be one more ignorant right winger at Fox News.



SHAWN: Wow. Well, that was some of the reaction from some folks in the media on the announcement that Sarah Palin has joined Fox News as a contributor.

But the comments didn't stop there. Interest continued to grow. Even the broadcast networks assigned correspondents to cover the news.

ABC's Jake Tapper talked about that with Don Imus this week.


JAKE TAPPER, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: It was riveting television, I have to say. I mean, Sarah Palin. That was the coup — I can't even think of the last time I was assigned a story — "Good Morning, America" asked me to cover Sarah Palin's debut on Fox News when she went on the flagship show with "The O'Reilly Factor." I can't even think of a time when a different network assigned a reporter to cover a new pundit on a cable network. It's unheard of. In that way, you have to say it's a marketing coup.


SHAWN: Well, he says it's a marketing coup. Jake Tapper talking about that.

Ellis, does he have a point, the fact that you are assigning a major correspondent to cover a contributor on a rival network?

HENICAN: He has a point to this extent, they didn't cover my arrival with quite the same drama.


I welcome her. She still has to prove herself though. I have to say — I am going to try to say it delicately. She has not yet shown herself for her verbal dexterity.


But you know what? Come on in, the water’s warm. There's room for everybody.


SHAWN: And, Cal, the knives are out. Look at what Jake said, some of the quotes we just heard from others, saying she doesn't know anything.

THOMAS: Look, this is breaking news for you, Eric. Television is about ratings. Ratings are about advertisers. And advertisers are about money. This was a start move by Fox. She's the most visible conservative out there in a party that really doesn't have a national leader at the moment. So, she’s going to get conservatives who love her tuning in to see what she is going to say. She's going to liberals who hate her tuning in to see if she makes any mistakes. Answer equals, ratings gold.

SHAWN: Why do liberals hate her so much?

Kirsten, you're from Alaska yourself, right?


SHAWN: Do you think they will like her more the more they see her on television?



No. I don't think — I think that liberals hate her the way conservatives hated Bill Clinton. She is the person who is carrying the flag for the conservative movement. She goes out and says the things that conservatives believe and that drives liberals crazy. The fact that she gets more attention and she gets more and more successful, I guess, drives them crazy as well.

But I think that watching the reaction to her of the clips you just played, there's something disproportionate about it. I know that there are men who liberals don't think are as smart as they should be, and I have not ever seen that kind of talk about them.

SHAWN: Well, one man, Jim, is Karl Rove. He came here, he didn't engender that type of reaction.

PINKERTON: And Jake Tapper didn't have to cover him either.


PINKERTON: I think that Kirsten is right. They hate Palin with a special passion. I think it's because she proves how grossly far away from the working class the Democrats are today. It makes them mad because they like to pretend they represent the working class. Palin does and they don't.

But the example of just how over the top it is, Joy Behar, who is now at Headline News, said something, that if you said that — if a Republican had said that or a conservative had said that, they would be gone. She said that the Palin family is passing around their children — this is almost a quote — like joints at a Grateful Dead concert. That was reported by News Busters' Jason Nedtedi (ph).

SHAWN: No one has really heard that...

PINKERTON: And News Busters picks it up and nobody else does. That would have ended the career...

SHAWN: Double standard?

PINKERTON: Absolutely, a double standard.

And, Ellis, you tell me that's not a double standard.


HENICAN: I'm sure what it means.


PINKERTON: I'll say it again, passed around like a...


HENICAN: They were lighting them on fire? What does that mean?

PINKERTON: ... the kind of insult leveled at two babies, including one who is a special needs child. And the fact that that doesn't get a reaction out of Ellis is proof of a double standard.

HENICAN: But I still don't understand what it means.


SHAWN: I guess it got a reaction. Katie Couric won the DuPont Award, one of the most prestigious awards in Journalism, for the interview with Sarah Palin.


HENICAN: Come on, that was a good interview.


THOMAS: It was only a good interview because of the answers, not because of the questions.

POWERS: No, that was a great interview.

HENICAN: She did something brilliant in that interview that was she asked total softball questions. There was not a mean question in the gang.

THOMAS: That's true.

HENICAN: And it truly revealed a character and it has an effect on the world. That's good interview journalism.

SHAWN: All right, well she is here and she is very nice. We have seen her in the hallways, I must say, and Todd too.


HENICAN: Welcome aboard.

Time now for another break.

When we come back in a moment, we will talk about the late-night wars at NBC and the fate of those two comedy titans.

ANNOUNCER: A late night disaster at NBC.


O'BRIEN: I am Conan O'Brien. I may soon be available for children's parties, so.



ANNOUNCER: As everyone else pounces on the peacock.

And devastation hits Haiti. The news media's role in disaster recovery. All next, on "News Watch."



O'BRIEN: Everybody knows NBC and I are having a little tiff right now. Little lover's quarrel, if you will.


There's a rumor — this came out today. There's a rumor that NBC is so upset with me, they want to keep me off the air for three years


Yes. My response to that is, if NBC doesn't want people to see me, just leave me on NBC.




SHAWN: Well, Conan O'Brien, adding to a week of bitterness as he and Jay Leno took their shots at NBC for that primetime mess over there.

The bitterness and comedy didn't end there. The competition joined in as well. Here is Jimmy Kimmel.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": My name is Jay Leno and let it hereby be known that I am taking over all of the shows in late night.


Conan O'Brien, today, announced he is leaving NBC. He released a statement today that said, "I won't participate in the destruction of the 'The Tonight Show'."


KIMMEL: Fortunately, I will. I’ll burn it down if I have to.


SHAWN: He's pretty good, isn't he?

Ellis, this is amazing to me. The media loves to kick everybody when they are down.

HENICAN: Those shows have never been more fun than they were this week. Hello?


Come on, they should do this every week.


Are you surprised, though, honestly, that late-night television is a ruthless ratings game? If any of these guys are, they don't belong in that business.

SHAWN: But why kickoff and start this — and the whole point. I mean, you've got "The Tonight Show," they want to move to 12:05 in the morning, which would make it the tomorrow show.


THOMAS: I think Maureen Dowd had a terrific column this week in "The New York Times" on this in which trashed, and properly so in my judgment, Jeff Zucker, the president of NBC, who has taken a once-proud network and basically had the peacock commit suicide.


I don't know of any other management person who could can make the kinds of wrong management decisions he has made and still get a contract renewal and presumably a pay raise.

And by the way, I thought Kimmel's impression of Barney Frank was excellent. Very, very good.


SHAWN: Let me read something from Maureen Dowd that we have now on the screen. "An NBC family drama bloodier than the Tudors, more inexplicable than 'Lost,' a tragedy about comedy featuring an imperious emperor and his two dueling jesters in a once mighty and now blighted kingdom."

Kirsten, they really seem to be dumping on the peacock network.

POWERS: Yeah. I think that's what makes it so fun to watch is that you're watching those people on their network trashing their bosses. There is something that I think is entertaining about that. I don't watch late night television, except I have been following this because of that.

SHAWN: Because of this?

POWERS: Yes. Yes, so I...

SHAWN: Well, Kirsten, is that one reason you are watching?

POWERS: Yes, I never watch — I mean, I don't really watch — I watch news. I am kind of a one-dimensional person unfortunately.


SHAWN: But what does this say, Jim, and everyone, when the boss is trashed? You look at the — Dick Ebersol, one of the giants of NBC. He said, what this is really about is an astonishing failure by Conan. He doesn't mention Leno, of course. Because Leno...

PINKERTON: And Ebersol doesn't mention, as Cal did, Jeff Zucker, who's idea this was five years ago, six year ago, to do this.

THOMAS: Exactly.

PINKERTON: "The L.A. Times" estimates it will cost them $200 million to clean up all of this wreckage on this. And what's interesting, of course, is that NBC-Universal is in the process of being sold by General Electric to Comcast. You have to wonder how Comcast feels about the new product it bought.

SHAWN: We have another announcement that made headlines, switching from that this week, and that has to do with Maguire. Listen.


MAGUIRE: The only reason I took steroids was for my health purposes. I did not take steroids to get any gain for any strength purposes. All I want to do is come clean. I've been wanting to come clean ever since 2005. And, you know, I didn't know where, when or how. I have just been holding this in.


SHAWN: But that news wasn't really a surprise to the media and the press, was it? We've been expecting something like that for quite a while.

Cal, he starts to cry and, you know, that gets to everyone's heart strings.

THOMAS: I'll tell you, if Pete Rose had done this about gambling, he would be in the Hall of Fame.


This just — come on, this doesn't cut it. The sports writers — we have talked about this on the show before. they knew this was going on. The owners knew this was going on. They wanted the home runs. They wanted to put people in the seats. Sports Illustrated enjoyed this because it made big sales for them. They were all in it together.

SHAWN: But, Ellis, you're a reporter. Are they trying to hide this stuff?

HENICAN: No. In fact, we are the heroes. We told you the truth. He's the liar. He’s the one who should feel bad. The only thing worse, by the way, about weeping politicians is weeping sports guys.



PINKERTON: Maguire — given everything, he did, I think, a pretty good job of — as Cal said, he apologized, which is more than most of them do. Barry Bonds got indicted instead.

HENICAN: A little late.

PINKERTON: And he did a few classy things. Like he called the widow of Roger Maris and said, in effect, I stole your husband's homerun record.




SHAWN: And also, kudos to the MLB network and to Bob Costas who conducted that interview.

Well, we have to take one more break. When we come back, we will take a look at how the media covers the scenes of horrible tragedy.

ANNOUNCER: Heartbreak, catastrophe and hope, a look at how the press is helping as it tells the story of the tragedy in Haiti. Next, on "News Watch."


SHAWN: The earthquake in Haiti brought the collective attention of the world's media on the coverage of the crisis there, bringing us the images of destruction and despair, a challenge for reporters on the scene to cover this very difficult story.

That challenge, witnessed here when Fox News' Steve Harrigan, who has been everywhere, sets the scene on the ground for Shepard Smith.


STEVE HARRIGAN, Fox NEWS CORRESPONDENT: This woman lost four of her children inside the initial quake and then lost her fifth and final child at the hospital. These two people are pretty much holding her down when she gets up and starts to scream. It's a real example of someone who has been driven to the point of insanity by the suffering, and is really not getting much help outside of her immediate family.

SHEPARD SMITH, Fox NEWS ANCHOR: You know, in the past, when I have seen these situations, Steve, there is a shock that so many people you know are dead. And people go through that in a sort of together way and get by it. But as the days go by, the oldest and most infirm, and the youngest who have the greatest need, start dying around them. That's when the desperation seems to set in.

HARRIGAN: Yes, the desperation is like something that is really hard to image. I have a pretty thick skin and I have seen a lot of stuff and can ignore a lot of stuff. But when we were sitting there this morning and watching that woman wail -- there is nobody for her. Her husband is just trying to hold her down on a mattress in a field, just from going insane from her loss. That kind of loss is horrific in any culture, but in a culture where you are utterly -- where you are alone -- it just makes it all the more difficult.

SMITH: Steve Harrigan, amid it all with folks on top of a pile that includes human remains below, and very, very difficult days ahead.

I think "alone" might have been the word. It's hard from a couple of thousand miles away to look at a woman who has lost four children in an earthquake and a fifth children (ph) in the aftermath, who has noting and no prospects for anything. It's hard enough to watch it from here. Imagine watching it from there, and smelling it.

If you are ever been to a horrible disaster, if you've been unfortunate enough to do so, it's often that sense that people elsewhere cannot have that brings you back to that place. For instance, New York, 9/11, it had a smell. It was metallic. It was fuel. It had its own thing. You will never forget it. New Orleans had its own thing similarly. Haiti is going to be, for everybody who covered it and everybody who lived through it, the smell of death. And it will not go away for weeks or months or years, because you see the process of excavating. It's very slow. And quite frankly, I am told the looters follow behind. The uncovering of the dead becomes a show, with a lack of anything else to do and lack of water and food.

This is a story where the pictures are going to look the same over the days ahead. And we are all going to get bored with it, because we always do, and then they will all be truly alone.


SHAWN: The thoughts and prayers of all of us are now with the suffering people of Haiti.

That's all for "News Watch" for now this week.

I'm Eric Shawn. Stay tuned for Fox News for continuing coverage of the situation in Haiti.

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