This is a rush transcript from "FOX News Watch," October 24, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
JON SCOTT, HOST: On "Fox News" watch," Fox News asked questions about the ACORN scandals, controversial czars, the president's health care plan, the future of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. And what happened to the transparency promised during the campaign?
Questions Americans want answered. But instead of answers, the Obama White House attacks Fox News:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAHM EMANUEL, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: It's not a news organization.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: And a failed attempt by the White House to push Fox News out of the news network mix.
Plus, H1N1. Have press reports scared you into no action?
The threat of a bioterror attack, has the press ignored a potential disaster?
And the dramatic story was a hoax. What does it say about today's media?
On the panel this week: Writer and Fox News contributor, Judy Miller; syndicated columnist, Cal Thomas; Jim Pinkerton, fellow, New America Foundation; and Ellen Ratner, talk radio news bureau chief.
I'm Jon Scott. "Fox News Watch" is on right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANITA DUNN, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: What I think is fair to say about Fox is certainly the way we do it is that it's really more a wing of the Republican Party.
EMANUEL: It's not a news organization so much as it has a perspective and that's the different take. And more importantly, it does not have the CNN's and the others in the world, basically be led in following Fox.
DAVID AXELROD, WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: It's not really a news station. If you watch even — it's not just their commentators, but a lot of their news programming, it's not news. It's pushing a point of view. And the bigger thing is that other news organizations, like yours, ought not to treat them that way and we're not going to treat them that way. We are going to appear on their shows and we are going to participate, but understanding that they represent a point of view.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: Well, in case it wasn't clear to you until now, the Obama White House doesn't seem to like Fox News very much. The administration's war with this network took a strange turn on this week, with an attempt to lock out this news organization.
Here is what happened: Fox is a member of what's called the White House pool. So are the other news networks, NBC, CBS ABC and so on. By pooling our resources this way, each network can share in coverage of White House events. The pool covers it with a couple of cameras and everyone shares in the pictures that result.
On Thursday, the Treasury Department approached the network television pool and asked if the pool would shoot interviews for all the members except Fox News. And they also asked if Bloomberg News could share in the pool product, even though Bloomberg is not a pool member. Well, in a unanimous decision the managers of the pool refused. Ultimately, Treasury and, by extension, the Obama administration, backed down.
So, Jim, regarding this decision what do you call that, censorship?
JIM PINKERTON, FELLOW, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Well, I would call it the press sticking up for the principles of the First Amendment and the fairness of the pool system, which has been in place for decades. And I think the White House, not worrying very much about the First Amendment. Instead, looked to Saul Alinsky for inspiration. And one of his key tenants is you isolate your enemy.
SCOTT: So this is the way they practice — tried to go?
PINKERTON: They tried a Chicago organizing tactic, probably a little Mao Tse Tong in there, too.
To the great credit of the other members of the White House Press Corp, they failed.
SCOTT: Here's what Charles Krauthammer wrote on Friday in The Washington Post, Ellen: "While government can and should debate and criticize opposition voices, the current White House goes beyond that. It wants to delegitimize any significant dissent."
I mean, even the president seems to be endorsing the anti-Fox strategy.
ELLEN RATNER, TALK RADIO NEWS BUREAU CHIEF: I'm a liberal. I've been in favor of President Obama, but I've got to tell you, it's outrageous. And as a member of the White House Press Corps, it's a matter of who they let into the morning gaggle, who they let into briefings. I've never seen anything like it. I bashed the Bushes every day on Fox News.
And, you know what, they were kind to me, let me into everything and never excluded anybody.
SCOTT: A thin skin in this White House, Judy, or what?
JUDY MILLER, WRITER AND FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: No, it's a very calculated political strategy. If you can dissuade Fox News from covering stories, clearly, you can't, but you can persuade the mainstream media, the MSM, from picking up and following Fox stories. So you're not going to learn about ACORN, you're not going to learn about the czars who had to be gotten rid of because they weren't vetted. That's what this is all about.
RATNER: That's what the word in the press room is this week, when I talked to everybody. We think they're doing it so that other news agencies don't pick up on Fox News stories if they can discredit Fox.
SCOTT: Some of the other news agencies admitted they were a little slow on the uptake of some of the scandals that really have people roiling right now.
PINKERTON: And the editors of The New York Times said, gee, we wish would he would have been more careful about this. I guess we have to pay a little more attention to Fox. Too late.
MILLER: Never too late.
SCOTT: But is the White House going to work with that strategy. I mean, if they're trying to dissuade others from following our lead or our stories, is pushing FOX out of the press room the way to do that?
MILLER: I don't think it's going to work and I think a blogger in The Baltimore Sun said, the proof is in the pudding. Obama's ratings are 20 percent down and Fox's ratings are 20 percent up. I don't think this is working. It's backfired.
CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I wrote a column on this, this week, if I can promote myself and my own column.
I likened it to what happened during the Cold War when the Soviet Union, especially, tried to jam the signals of "The Voice of America" and "Radio-Free Europe," other entities that were trying to pump truth into the Soviet Union and the eastern block countries, the so-called captive nations. What we have here is an attempt to isolate one network, to give it the mark of Cane, to declare it to be illegitimate so that, as Judy said, these stories that are discovered here — Fox isn't making them up. FOX didn't create Van Jones and his signing of petitions and the defense of a cop killer. Fox isn't doing this. But if it seeps over to The New York Times, The Washington Post, then the rest of the country might find out what's going on.
SCOTT: What if, Ellen — I mean, you mentioned the way you were treated when you were covering the Bush White House. What if the Bush White House had gone after MSNBC, for instance, the way the Obama White House is going after Fox? What would the response have been?
RATNER: You know, I don't know. I would tend to think and hope that there would be those of us that would say, you can't isolate, even though...
Wait a minute.
I know you guys think that the liberal media in the White House — but, no, I think we would have been collegial.
PINKERTON: Look, I think if the White House had gone after MSNBC in the Bush era, the rest of the press would have been outraged like, to their great credit, they have been pretty much on this case. But the huge difference would have been the liberal, all the journalism schools, all of the ACLU's, all of the college presidents, they all would have been signing petitions denouncing President Bush for his stomping on the First Amendment, all over the place.
MILLER: Last night, MSNBC had a lot of Fox News on its air. And the two co-hosts, who have been singled out as kind of pro Obama, were saying, oh, my, they're anti-White House. They were gloating after what had happened to Fox. But these two correspondents, commentators, are the last two people who are taking that view. The mainstream media now understands the name of this game. They've come around, perhaps not to outrage, but at least saying this cannot stand.
THOMAS: Let me tell you what's going to happen. I'll make a prediction here, and I don't do it very often. When his, the president's, ratings continue to slip, and according to one poll they just dipped below 50 percent, and blood is in the water for the media, they may love this guy, but they love their careers and the controversy more. They're going to go after him like a shark.
SCOTT: Even Helen Thomas is telling the White House to back off.
RATNER: I saw, Helen, this week and I said, so, Helen, what's your take on this? She said, Ellen, she said, anybody who gets into a fight with a network is stupid.
RATNER: That's what she said.
SCOTT: And I'm sure she put it quite that bluntly.
Time for a break.
But first, we have some extras for you on our web site, including some of the sometimes heated discussions that erupt in here during our breaks. Go to FoxNews.com/foxnewswatch.
We'll be back in two minutes to talk more about the Obama administration. Is it living up to the president's promises of transparency?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I'll make our government open and transparent, transparent, transparent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Closed door meetings? No access to the press? As the news media takes note of broken promises...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think that he's upheld the promise of transparency.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: And following this hoax, how much trust do you have in the news? Answers next, on "News Watch."
SCOTT: This week, Democratic leaders continued to meet behind closed doors to try to hash out some details on the latest version of the health care reform bill. The White House has promised transparency, but the media have been denied access to these talks.
And then there's President Obama's pending decision about whether to send more troops to the increasingly violent war zone in Afghanistan. The question is whether the White House is on the same page as the Pentagon. At this point, we don't know.
All right, so, Cal, the debate over health care is going on behind closed doors. What happened to those promises of transparency? We were supposed to be right there at the table on C-SPAN watching what the drug companies were doing.
THOMAS: That's what he promised, Jon. The real danger of doing this in secret is that the public is not going to feel it has a role to play in this. And when the media are not getting accurate information about what's going on, a lot of disinformation is absorbed as truth. One example, Romesh Pannuru from National Review, wrote a story this week in which he mentioned a C.C. Connolly of The Washington Post story, in which he said that, if you don't get health insurance, it's going to cost everybody a thousand dollars more. That came from a left wing advocacy web site and has been proven not to be the case. So, if you don't get the facts, you're going to get the misinformation.
SCOTT: Well, would it be a food fight if you let a camera into the room where this is going on, Ellen?
RATNER: You know, on this one I have to let the Obama administration a little bit off the hook, because really the negotiations are really happening at the Senate and the House. And they're the ones that are doing it behind closed doors. Obama actually had a two-day conference on health care and he had people in there. Granted, it was a pooled thing in each thing, and I wasn't that happy about that, even though I was a member of that piece, but I think that on the health care, they're being a — they don't really have a choice.
SCOTT: We were told, Jim, this was going to be the most transparent administration in history, right?
PINKERTON: Pretty much every administration makes that promise.
And they all have the same — look, I worked in two White Houses. Like anything else, including a meeting here at Fox, you can't function if there's a camera on there.
Having said that, reporters ought to be working harder to figure out what's going on, even if the White House isn't cooperating. For example, the huge fight is every the Congressional Budget Office and how they scored these things. And the estimates range from the $800 billion to $2 trillion and nobody knows. And it's pretty clear, as the CBO itself admits, they're kind of making this stuff up under pressure from the Congress, from the White House. That you can cover because even the CBO admits it.
SCOTT: Why would it be so bad to let the media in on some of this, like the CBO thing?
MILLER: Look, I think I have to agree with the first part of what Jim said, and that is that this is the way that every administration operates. You start out with a lot of good intentions, but as they say about legislation, it's like watching sausage be made. You're not sure you want to do that.
What you do want to know is why important provision that people care about are inserted in legislation and not. For instance, when it looks like now we're going to have a public option. Well, how did that happen? Was it just because public support for the public option went up? Was it because Harry Reid had an epiphany one morning and woke up and said, my gosh, I think we ought to put it in. We don't know.
RATNER: There was one line this week that, one — in a way, what I believe was — a blogger found — where they calculated how much if — how much payments were going to cost if they needed public option by a above-the-line deduction or below, and it inserted at the last minute and nobody knew about it. And that calculation can cost a family $4,000.
THOMAS: I think one of the best things I've read in several weeks on this was a Wall Street Journal editorial, which had a convenient chart in there showing government promises for Medicare, Medicaid, hospitalization and what they were projected to be when they were voted on and what they actually were. Sometimes as high as eight or ten times to one. Very useful.
SCOTT: And then there's Afghanistan. We were told in March the president had a new policy and now he's rethinking that. He seems to be at odds with his military commanders, again. Is that something that the press should be looking at?
PINKERTON: I think the press has given Obama a pretty good working over on that. You know, it's — you know and it's — and let's face it, if the press is reporting that President Obama's undecided, it's pretty clear that he is undecided. I mean, you know, this one I think...
SCOTT: And some of the media have taken to calling this Obama's war. And I think that's a name he doesn't much like. He doesn't want that moniker to stick.
MILLER: No. But he was the one that called it the indefensible war, the war of necessity, the good war, the war we have to fight.
SCOTT: Yeah. What happened?
MILLER: We had one review in eight months. Now we have another. And I think that that's what leading people to wonder whether or not there is a kind of foreign policy coherence to this administration.
THOMAS: Nature abhors a vacuum. If they don't fill it, it will be filled by Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld, accusing him of dithering.
RATNER: But what it's also forcing all of us to do is to use all the contacts that many of us have made over the years and try and get those people to talk.
SCOTT: All right.
Time for another break.
But first, if you come across a story that smacks to you of media bias, e-mail us. The address, email@example.com .
We will be back to ask with whether the media are driving flu fears and more.
ANNOUNCER: Swine flu, H1N1, are you frightened? Is the media scaring you?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're tracking H1N1.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Should they?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We love to track it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: And the balloon hoax that popped the dreamer's search for reality. Did this stunt deflate media credibility? All next, on "News Watch."
SCOTT: Hundreds of people lined up in the streets in Rockville, Maryland, and other cities this week hoping to get the H1N1 vaccine. People waiting in line for hours, some lucky enough to score the vaccine, others not so lucky. But maybe it's not such a big deal for Americans. Our "FOX News" opinion Dynamics Poll finds only 44 percent of us say that we plan to get vaccinated against the H1N1 virus. And that's a drop from the 53 percent who said they would get it last month. That was in the middle of September that poll was taken. But a new study from Purdue University finds that 63 percent of the population will get the H1N1 flu. Not only that, the vaccine will arrive too late to help most of those who become infected.
Which goes back to the earlier question or, you know, a refrain of the earlier question, Cal. I mean, if the Bush administration had a thousand people waiting for vaccines and they only had enough for 400 of them, they would have been excoriated. But nobody seems to be blaming what's going on this year on the folks in charge right now.
THOMAS: I think there's a basic mistrust of government. And the media is happening to feed that, particularly some of the conservative media. We've been through this before. In the mid '70s, Gerald Ford promoted a major inoculation against the swine flu then, and a lot of people didn't get it. The idea of "I'm from the government, I'm here to help you," just isn't being communicated to the public through the media. A lot of people don't believe them.
SCOTT: The scientists are saying that more than half of us are supposed to get H1N1. That was the — that poll from Purdue. Are the media making people panic when they hear about the vaccine?
RATNER: I think part of our role needs to be to educate. Two things need to happen. One, we need to educate the public on how to listen to media and how to read media because some people are good and some isn't. And some people need to be educated to come through. And secondly, it's the government's responsibility to say to the media and to the world, hey, this is — this is what we know. This is what we don't know. This is what the vaccine will do and that's the vaccine. And thirdly, the White House should not be excluding people when giving H1N1 briefings, which they did.
PINKERTON: The Internet is simultaneously the best source of information on how to deal with these things and the worse. You've got people like Jennie McCarthy and Susan Somers taking over people's minds and persuading them not to get vaccinated. It's an enormous challenge. I thought Mark Segal, here on this channel, had a good point. He said, listen, the government needs to really think through the information campaign it's launching, for all the reasons that Ellen said, because otherwise people are going to die.
SCOTT: Well, and then, Judy, I mean, both on this and the next topic, which is bioterrorism, you probably have more expertise than any of us. Are the media doing the job on H1N1?
MILLER: Some are. Some aren't. You had some excellent work being done in science. The New England Journal of Medicine, some of the mainstream media, The Spokesman Review, which had a list of myths about this virus — about both the virus and the vaccine. But the bottom line that should be, again, heard again and again and again, and repeated by the media that isn't being repeated, is that, if you are between six and 24, if you're a pregnant woman, if you have an underlying condition, you should be getting this vaccine, if you can get it. You have priority to get it. But that message is not getting through because, I guess, the administration has not given it the priority that message deserves.
SCOTT: If you can get it, the five important words there.
Also this week, the congressional panel report that was titled, "The Clock is Ticking," warns the United States is not doing enough to keep our country safe from pending bioterror attacks.
Have we forgotten the lessons of the anthrax scare, Judy?
MILLER: Well, I really think this conclusion is unfair. The Obama administration has one of the single most bioterrorist experts, head of the FDA, Peggy Hamburg, who had a lot of experience here in New York. The very experience with H1N1 is preparation for a bioterrorist attack. So you don't have to label something bioterrorism in order to have it be part of a defensive mechanism. And I really disagree with the conclusion. I don't think I've seen the reporting on this report.
SCOTT: USA Today had the front page article that we had the headline up a minute ago. You think they were sort of out there alone and nobody else jumped on it because it's not fair.
MILLER: No. The commission concluded that. But I would have expected to see a little more skepticism about the commission's conclusions.
PINKERTON: There are plenty of talented professionals in the public health establishments and that's good. However, the most important bully pulpit obviously is the White House. And as we've seen all week, the White House is busy pounding away on FOX.
Pounding away on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and even pounding away on the Creigh Deeds, the Democratic candidate from Virginia, they clobbered on Friday. Those are their real enemies. Bioterrorism, they don't care about.
MILLER: That's not fair.
SCOTT: We have to take one more break. When we come back, trust in the media and the balloon boy story.
ANNOUNCER: A gripping scene turned hoax. How did this story blur the line between today's media and reality? That's next, on "News Watch."
SCOTT: Two weeks ago, a dramatic story seemed to be unfolding in Colorado with reports of a 6-year-old in a runaway balloon. Here is how it began. The press reports that a flying saucer-like, helium-filled balloon is flying across Fort Collins, Colorado, possibly with a 6-year-old boy inside. The cable channels cover it for hours. The balloon flies high for more than 50 miles, all the while pursued by emergency vehicles that were there for the crash landing.
Here is how it ended.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM ALDERMAN, LARIMER COUNTY SHERIFF: It has been determined this is a hoax.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT: You heard from the sheriff, it was pure hoax. There was no little boy inside. Two weeks later, what has this story done to the media's credibility — Judy?
MILLER: Look, I think the media on this did exactly what they were supposed to do. They covered the story when we thought there was a little boy in that balloon. We went after who the people were that were saying that. We helped expose the fact that was a hoax and that the family was actually seeking a contract on a reality TV show. It's called journalism. You go with what you've got and try to raise questions all the while, but you follow the story. You don't not cover it because it may be a hoax.
SCOTT: A little scary what people will do to get on television and to be famous.
THOMAS: Yeah, look at us.
RATNER: Well, it is scary. First of all, the media did cover — I agree with Judy. It covered a human interest story and there is nothing to be fault. The thing is, if I am going to make a prediction, I wouldn't be surprised if these wackos don't get a reality show out of this.
PINKERTON: Take another case, where the media follows interest. Somer Thompson, this little girl in Florida. Two days later, she was found murdered. You have to think that press scrutiny helped encourage the police to find what unfortunately was the tragic end to that story. It was no hoax. You never know whether it is real or not until you find out the truth, as Judy says.
THOMAS: That's right. This is just an aerial version of a car chase. We love this sort of stuff. It diverts our attention from really important things like H1N1 and like Afghanistan, like the Obama administration is doing. No harm, no fun.
SCOTT: That is going to do it for "News Watch" this week.
Thanks to Judy, Jim, Cal and Ellen.
We'll see you next week.
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