This is a rush transcript from "FOX News Watch," November 2, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
JON SCOTT, FOX HOST: This week on FOX "News Watch," your votes won't all be in until Tuesday. But has the press already called this election for Barack Obama?
Two years of campaigning and coverage, but did the candidates get the most influential media time from "Saturday Night Live"?
Plus, reporters have made a lot of mistakes as they covered the candidates. We'll show you some of the best or worse.
Then, three days and counting. How should the media cover election night?
And forget the polls and the pundits...could these cups predict who will be our next president?
On the panel this week, Jane Hall of the American University; syndicated columnist Cal Thomas; Jim Pinkerton, columnist and fellow, New America Foundation; and Kirsten Powers, New York Post columnist and FOX News analyst.
Me, I'm John Scott. FOX "News Watch" is live, right now!
January 20th, 2009, what an Obama presidency would look like, this week's cover of New York magazine. Now, can you read the fine print, I mean the really tiny fine print way down there in the right-hand corner? Let me help. It says, "If current predictions hold." On to The Economist — it's time. And finally, to the front page of The New Mexico Sun News, which reads Obama wins.
With headlines like these you'd think the election was over. Why bother with all that troublesome voting business on Tuesday.
What about it, Jim? What gives with coverage like this?
JIM PINKERTON, COLUMNIST & EDITOR, NEW AMERICAN MAGAZINE: I'm sure you would agree, if McCain were ahead by seven points, according to most polls, that the press would declare this election over. And don't — don't no Republican go better to vote. As Howard Kurtz said in The Washington Post, as far as the media is concerned, so much for the formality of the election. I have three wards to say in response: Dewey beats Truman.
SCOTT: It does seem like the press has sort of picked their guy.
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, it does seem that. And it's likely it's going to happen. I think when the history's written on this campaign though, that it really is bad, that the perception of the public is something like 70 percent, I think, believe, according to the Pew poll, that the media want to elect Obama. That's not good for the country. And I predict, if Obama wins, the media may turn on him. Or he may turn on them.
SCOTT: That's an amazing statistic. Not that the media have said — not that they've diced it and sliced it and said 70 percent of journalists say one way or the other, but the public perceives media bias?
CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: It would appear that Jack Kevorkian is advising the media. They are committing suicide all across the spectrum, television, newspapers. This is the only business that apparently doesn't care what the consumer thinks. They're ruining themselves just to get Obama elected.
SCOTT: And here's Kirsten Powers nodding, I think, in agreement with you.
KIRSTEN POWERS, NEW YORK POST COLUMNIST & FOX NEWS ANALYST: I think that the — what I keep thinking about though, what could possibly fix it. Because there's nothing that you can really do because there's nobody that could force them to do it any differently. They know what the public thinks about them and they continue to do it. It's very concerning. It's very scary. I start to think are we sitting here five years from now and it's just going to be ten times worse? Is there anything to do to make it better?
PINKERTON: And the main street media will be about ten times smaller than it is now if present trends continue.
But, look, last week we all said one of the problems reporters have is they can't do math. I think somebody has to explain to them, to all you reporters, you can't all be press secretaries for president Obama. We're sorry.
HALL: It's one thing to have been taken with Obama, to have been taken with the enthusiasm of young people. But there has been a double standard. If you look at the Sarah Palin "Newsweek: cover, her mole, and Obama in a halo. It is so blatantly unfair that it really is I think going to come back to haunt a lot of people in the media. You can't even say with a straight face any more that it's been objective.
SCOTT: And it turns a lot of viewers and readers off.
Cal, the other big flap of the week, this L.A. Times — apparently has this tape of Barack Obama praising a guy who was formerly a PLA spokesman at a dinner or something. The papers say it has an agreement it cannot release the statement. Is that the right decision?
THOMAS: Well, Bill Sammon of Fox and the Washington bureau said that journalistically that was probably an OK thing. They've done that before. Let me put it this way so you and the viewers can understand it. Let's say it was John McCain who had dinner at the home of an abortion clinic bomber or sympathizer. I guarantee that tape would be out.
SCOTT: Double standard, Kirsten?
POWERS: I don't know if I agree with that analogy because I really that this person in contention is not like an abortion clinic bomber. He's somebody who actually says he wasn't a spokesperson. He's a respected scholar. He is somebody who is seen by people...
POWERS: No, he is. He's very moderate even in — and very fair. Even when they had this problem at Columbia with the anti-Semitism, they were saying he was the one that wasn't doing it.
PINKERTON: What is striking is that the L.A. Times had this story in April. And where was the press? In fact, where was the McCain campaign talking about this? It's a little late in the game now to bang the drum on this leak, on this — demanding of the revelation of this tape, a week before the election, as opposed to six months ago.
HALL: I think it's fairly clear, you know, first of all, the people talking about this tape. I think leave out the fact Obama was quoted as advocating restraint and good relations with Israel. People are using these guilt-by-association things because Obama didn't have that much of a record. It's pretty clear it's not sticking, apart from the ethical issue. Bill Ayers didn't stick. Reverend Wright hasn't stuck in a lot of ways. It's not what people are voting on.
PINKERTON: Once again, Bill Ayers was just revealed by iblast.tv, which is out of the Media Research Center, to have dedicated a book to Sir Hand Sir Hand, the guy who assassinated Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. Again, where was this stuff six months ago? Why are they discovering this now on the eve of the election?
SCOTT: Another story that happened, another flap this week, Kirsten, you wrote about it. Barack Obama's campaign kicked three reporters off its plane, says it doesn't have space for them anymore. It just so happens they all work for The New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, The Washington Times, all papers that did not endorse Barack Obama.
POWERS: I actually don't think it had anything to do with the endorsement. I think it's pretty clear where these papers are without the endorsement. Not big Barack Obama fans. And that they needed to make space for fawning coverage on the plane, and so they decided to get rid of them. But, look, the people that they're leaving on the plane, they have a couple glossy magazines that are dedicated out to African-Americans, who are in no way swing voters, which was the reason that was given for having them make space, while they're taking off news reports.
PINKERTON: Kirsten, what was the adjective you used in the headline...
PINKERTON: No, in the headline?
POWERS: I don't write the headlines.
PINKERTON: The New York Post: said Nixonian. Folks, if we elect Obama, that's what we have to look forward to.
THOMAS: Look, if you want fawning coverage, you have already got The New York Times, The Washington Post and the L.A. Times.
SCOTT: All right.
SCOTT: It's time for a break. Here's what we're going to be talking about when we come back.
ANNOUNCER: From cable to current, to laugh-out-loud funny, who's had the biggest impact on the presidential campaign? That's next on "News Watch."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: I have to tell you, you know, it's part of reporting this case, this election, the feeling most people get it when they hear Barack Obama's speech. I felt this thrill going up my leg. I don't have that too often.
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC NEWS CORRESPONDNT: Steady.
MATTHEWS: No, seriously, it's a dramatic event.
SCOTT: There you go, one of the most talked about moments during all of the political coverage this year. Cal loved it.
THOMAS: I loved it.
SCOTT: That was MSNBC's Chris Matthews, making his feelings known after hearing a speech from Barack Obama.
All right. So, Kirsten, first of all, how much influence have the cable nets had on the campaign, and MSNBC in particular?
POWERS: That's a great question. I don't know we necessarily know the answer. I can certainly say, during the primary, I feel like they had a lot of influence and the Hillary Bashing — I mean, MSNBC was ground zero for Hillary bashing. And certainly, it's something the Democrats watch. And it sort of filters out, I think. But at the end of the day, it could be — I can't remember who wrote the article in the The Washington Post about how the debates really shaped things more than anything else, which was the unfiltered, the candidates talking to the people.
SCOTT: Yes, that was Robert Kaiser.
POWERS: Yeah. That really probably had more of an impact than anything else. I tend to think that's probably right.
HALL: I think we're sort of in a situation now where you get a bifurcation in the media among pundits on various networks. And I think it's — the question is, do you go watch MSNBC because you already like Obama or are you convinced to like Obama, or do you listen to Sean Hannity be critical of Obama and you agree or not? I think in some places, that "Saturday Night Live," because people didn't expect it, had a lot of influence because they called this Obamaness, and then people had to respond to it.
SCOTT: Were they the most influential media outlet of the campaign?
THOMAS: I think there were two major punches thrown that landed in this campaign, at least the general election.
One surely was Sean Hannity, using the Reverend Wright, discovering that and putting that out, that tape. And the Bill Ayers business. Also, Katie Couric, with the second major interview behind Charlie Gibson, of Sarah Palin. The McCain campaign made a big mistake throwing her out, untested and untried and really just minimally briefed, to the liberal wolves. The Katie Couric interview is one of the worst interviews ever done by a leading political figure in the history of modern American politics. And she's never fully come back from that, in my judgment.
SCOTT: Was she sandbagged by Katie Couric?
THOMAS: It was selectively edited, sure.
HALL: I thought Katie Couric did a really good job. I thought Charlie Gibson did look like a professor trying her out to see if she knew what the Bush doctrine was, which I think a lot of people were turned off by. Katie Couric listened and asked, and I thought she did her own self in on that.
PINKERTON: Katie Couric did her in by listening to her.
HALL: Yes, by listening to her and by asking her good questions in a judgmental way.
PINKERTON: I think we have to say though, that if you think about the fact that a year ago today, Barack Obama was 30 points down in the Democratic primary behind Hillary, and then Keith Olbermann and all these MSNBC types took up the Obama cause. And if, this is an if — if Obama having gotten the nomination now wins this election, I think you've got to give it to MSNBC. They carried the guy across the finish line.
POWERS: I don't think Olbermann actually came — got on — he was pretty fair between the two of them for a while and then sort of, as Obama caught on, sort of moved over to him. I don't know how much you can say they actually were the ones.
PINKERTON: I think they pumped — look, I admit, in the last few months, they absolutely pummeled Hillary. I can still remember in June, Olbermann going on for ten minutes in a rant against Hillary over the Bobby Kennedy thing.
THOMAS: Here's the big question though. If Obama wins, will the media hold him accountable for wrong decisions?
Now, Joe Biden already said a couple weeks ago, it's going to be apparent, you know, if we're attacked or something, the new president might make some wrong decisions, but they won't really be wrong. They've got a lot invested in this guy. Will they be critical of him? And if so, how soon?
SCOTT: What about his infomercial the other night? It ran on a bunch of networks. Has it had the kind of impact you think he was hoping for?
HALL: I don't know. I read a cute story. His wife said his daughter said, you're not going to be on the Disney Channel, are you, Daddy."
SCOTT: It does sound a little contrived, that story?
HALL: It's a cute story. I think a lot of people, again, it depends on how you feel about him. It's like he has $3 million burning a hole in his pocket. It was very well done. I'm not sure it swayed anybody. I think he was trying to close the deal.
I want to say one thing though. I think the history of McCain and the press has been very underreported. Why was he loved in 2000 and why did they get into such difficulty in 2008.
I know what Jim is going to say!
HALL: But is any of it self inflicted?
SCOTT: All right, let's give Jim a chance to say it.
PINKERTON: They loved him in 2002. He was the anti-Bush can't. They loved him in 2004 because he was actually flirting with the Democrats. Then, when he became a real Republican, they turned on him.
HALL: How about the fact that he may have had a very bad campaign?
THOMAS: They really thought he was going to lose, which is why "The New York Times" could endorse him during the primary and turn on him during the general. Simple as that.
SCOTT: Another case of the media picking its favorites and then...
SCOTT: Oh, sure. I don't think they ought to be endorsing anyway. They can talk all they want about a wall of separation between editorial and the news room, but the public doesn't buy it.
SCOTT: What about the debates overall. You've got a pretty huge audience for those three debates, the Obama-McCain debates. Did that have an impact? I mean, there were...
HALL: Oh, I think so.
PINKERTON: Look, Obama learned a lesson of television, which is stay cool. Television rewards the calm. And Obama was calm. And let's face it, McCain was a little bit...
HALL: I think, you know, there's been a couple of comparisons to Reagan and Carter, you know. I think Obama was very skilled at it. I watched — Larry King's interview with McCain this week was the best I've ever seen McCain. I wish they could have run that as an infomercial for him.
SCOTT: All right, we have a lot more to talk about. Here's what we'll focus on when "News Watch" returns.
ANNOUNCER: The election 2008 just days away. How should it be covered? And what can we expect? Answers next, on "News Watch."
SCOTT: Back before Mike Huckabee, or back when Mike Huckabee was a presidential candidate and not a FOX News Channel host, he said this: "I'd like to thank the elite media for doing something that quite frankly, I didn't think could be done: unify the Republican Party and all of America in support of John McCain and Sarah Palin."
The former Republican presidential candidate said those words as he spoke to the Republican convention back in September.
All right, so, Kirsten, media bashing seems to do a candidate good. I mean, everybody loves to bash the media. Have there been equal opportunity barbers in this campaign?
POWERS: Yes, I think at some point pretty much all of them complained. Obama has done the least amount of complaining. And when he complains, it's typically directed in one direction.
SCOTT: And maybe he has the least to complain about.
POWERS: Yes, exactly. I think that — but I think it definitely can work. When Hillary complained — when she referenced "Saturday Night Live" about — and said, oh, I always get the first question, a lot of people cringed and said she shouldn't have done that. But after that, I noticed a very different tone in the coverage and they actually started, at least try to cover it a little more fairly.
SCOTT: Do the voters care? Do the voters care if the media are being fair?
HALL: I think they do and I think — I think there's a strong strain of anti-elitism and populism in this country. And I think a lot of people felt that Sarah Palin sort of typified that. I will say the flip of that is, any journalist who questioned her, was attacked. I don't think — that's like a reverse of a reverse. I don't think it's fair to say you shouldn't ask about her credentials. But to say that somebody...
PINKERTON: Well, I just...
HALL: Wait. Can I finish — to say that somebody who comes from somewhere else is not part of the elite, I think that resonates with a lot of people.
PINKERTON: I'm not aware of any reporter who hesitated to ask Palin about her credentials.
HALL: But they were attacked for it as if they were Communists for asking.
PINKERTON: Well, of course they were attacked for it because the press, as we spent two segments talking about, are heavily biased against McCain and Palin. Why wouldn't the McCain-Palin campaign hit right back?
THOMAS: Look, the media do what the media do. People complain about the media the way the losing football team complains about the refereeing. If you're winning, it's no big deal. If you're losing, then it's everything. I think that only works up to a point. If you don't have a message, if you're not resonating and connecting with the public, then the media says so.
PINKERTON: If Harry Smith interviews Obama and compares him to Lincoln, would you call that bias for Obama?
THOMAS: But Harry Smith isn't going to influence me.
Look, John McCain has not run a good campaign. He has all these other things going against him, the economy, unpopular president, unpopular war. This isn't the Republican year. Still, he's close. That is the story.
SCOTT: He's also been outspent two or three to one.
SCOTT: Would you agree Sarah Palin has gotten the worst media coverage of the four presidential and vice presidential candidates?
HALL: Well, yes. Except I think she got initially positive coverage and it turned. And then when she did those interviews, I think it never turned back. When she did the Katie Couric...
POWERS: I don't remember...
(CROSSTALK & LAUGHTER)
HALL: There is some initial — there was some initial, you know, about her life and her kids.
POWERS: I thought it was very little. I though it was very little.
SCOTT: Is she owed an apology?
POWERS: Nobody's going to apologize to her. I thought they way they treated her when she first came out — I'm just, for the record, not a big fan of Sarah Palin, but the treatment of her I thought was absolutely horrific and embarrassing.
THOMAS: Yeah, there's a double standard.
POWERS: And I do that, whether or not people pay attention to the media or not, they have a responsibility. There was a time, at least in my lifetime, when they were respected and people actually had expectations that they were going to tell the truth and at least try to be objective. I think when they behave that way, it's demeaning.
THOMAS: One of the things we found out is it's really not about women and breaking the glass ceiling and leadership. It is about liberal women. That's what it's about. And if you're a conservative woman, you're somebody like Sarah Palin with all these children and a Down Syndrome child last, who believes in life and not aborting the Down Syndrome child, then you're evil and must be destroyed.
SCOTT: So let's turn our attention to election night itself.
Jim, pretend that you're producing coverage for one of the major networks. What should that coverage look like?
PINKERTON: Well, let's just hope for a close election that lasts for a day or week or month.
PINKERTON: Like the 2000 election did. I mean, look, this is a case where you have to be guided by stories. Again, everybody's got their tricks and projections and things like that. I would just remind people that at 5:00 on Election Day 2004, the exit polls showed that John Kerry was beating George W. Bush by 10 or 12 points. That was 5 p.m. of Election Day. So this enormous humility, not a common trait among the TV world, is what's called for here.
HALL: I think people are going to be — you know, having read, having heard, having had things told to them, they're going to be on the air kind of with a grin or whatever, saying, we can't really tell you, but we're trying to tell you. And I think that, after the exit polls, a lot of people said we shouldn't even look at those exit polls. We aren't going to call it. But it's going to very bizarre. It's either going to be close or maybe it's going to be a landslide. And then what are we going to do? That's the question.
SCOTT: What happens if there's a clear winner fairly early on?
THOMAS: Exactly. You've got four states, all the Eastern Time zone: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida. McCain can't afford to lose too many of those. Probably not more than two, depending which two there are. If all or three out of four go for Obama, the media can't just say, gee, there's 46 other states we've got to wait for.
PINKERTON: Why couldn't they?
THOMAS: Well, they could, but it's not going to happen.
SCOTT: Then what happens. They put the pundits out and start talking about what's going to happen.
SCOTT: And Obama...
THOMAS: And that will suppress the votes as you move west without question. People will see this — oh, it's over. I won't bother to vote. So it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
SCOTT: Should projections, Kirsten, be banned?
POWERS: I don't know. I think people have to use their best judgment. It goes back to whether or not people want to have creditability in the future. You have to try to do it as fairly as possible. And I think they should use their best judgment of looking at the situation. and, you know, if you know there's a pretty good certainty that it looks like there's no way he can make it up, I think that's a fair thing, to call the election.
SCOTT: All right. In this economy we want to help our advertisers boost their sales. Here's what we will bring you after we accomplish that.
ANNOUNCER: When it comes to picking the president, which polls are the most accurate? You'll be surprised. That's next, on "News Watch."
SCOTT: We've already talked about polls in the presidential contest tonight. But could the race for the White House all come down to a cookie or a cup or a whole bunch of kids. You might be surprised by the accuracy of some rather quirky presidential polls we've seen this presidential season.
Forget the talk about battleground states close look at the "Family Circle" magazine cookie vote. This year, Cindy McCain's oatmeal butterscotch cookies beat out Michelle Obama's shortbread cookies by a 10- point margin, 54 percent to 44 percent. Now, the winner of this contest has gone on to bake cookies at the White House since Bill Clinton ran against Bob Dole back in 1992.
And there's more. The "Weekly Reader's" presidential election poll has been going on for 52 years. Since 1956, more than eight million kids have voted in this election and they have picked the winner 90 percent of the time. This year, they chose Barack Obama.
And then there is 7-Eleven's cup contest. At 7-Eleven stores, anybody who buys a 20-ounce cup of coffee can choose a red cup to support McCain or a blue cup that has Obama's name on it. This unscientific poll has been remarkably accurate. In 2000, the Bush coffee cup outsold the Gore cup by just one percentage point. In 2004, President Bush beat John Kerry's cup by two points. This year the results are a little different. So far, the chain reports 60 percent of the cups filled for Obama, 40 percent filled for McCain. I'm guessing even John McCain would like to take the buyers of the Obama cups and do a little income redistribution.
SCOTT: But remember, there's always the Electoral College.
That's going to be "News Watch" for this week.
We want to thank Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, Cal Thomas and Kirsten Powers.
Remember to go out and vote on Tuesday, if you haven't already.
I'm Jon Scott. Thank you for watching. Keep it right here on FOX News channel. The "FOX News Report" is up next. We'll see you next week.
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