Transcript: 'FOX News Watch,' September 12, 2009

This is a rush transcript from "FOX News Watch," September 12, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

JON SCOTT, FOX HOST: On "FOX News Watch," the president makes a last- ditch effort to gain support for his health plan, suggesting opposing views be ignored.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed.


SCOTT: And the mainstream media cheer him on.

An Obama adviser with a checkered past quits his post after bad press. Why did most in the press miss this?

9/11, the day America changed. Is the press responsible for keeping the memories of that tragic day alive?

On the panel this week, Jane Hall of the American University; National Review editor, Rich Lowry; Jim Pinkerton, fellow at the New America Foundation; and writer and FOX News contributor, Judy Miller.

I'm Jon Scott. "FOX News Watch" is on right now.


OBAMA: It's worth noting that a strong majority of Americans still favor a public insurance option of the sort I propose tonight. But its impact should not be exaggerated by the left or the right or the media. It is only one part of my plan and should not be used as a handy excuse for the usual Washington ideological battles.


SCOTT: President Obama there giving a passionate speech on health care reform Wednesday night. His speech, the 28th of his presidency. It got mostly glowing reviews from the Democrats and the mainstream media, but there were some left-leaning media saying the president failed to honestly answer all the questions about an overhaul. The New York Times specifically saying the president was not forthcoming about actual policy changes, cuts to Medicare and abortion funding, all tied to the Democratic bills.

Rich, even after the speech, the polls indicate at least half of the citizens of this country have some serious questions about this health care bill. Are those questions being reflected in mainstream media?

RICH LOWRY, EDITOR: NATIONAL REVIEW: Now, I think largely they are not. In the initial reaction to the speech, I think the press threaded the needle the way they always do between simply adoring and the embarrassingly lickspittle.


They always get right in the middle. But then they ignore basic things that he says that are false and aren't true and don't reflect what actually is in any legislation on the Hill. Like they're supposedly paid for, no one is going to be bumped off their current insurance if they like it, and it will cut costs. None of those things are true in actual reality.

SCOTT: And why doesn't that get reflected, Jim?


JIM PINKERTON, FELLOW, NEW AMERICAN FOUNDATION: Maybe because most reporters support President Obama and voted for him last year. But I do agree that the press coverage fell a little flat. I think Rich has thought of something they didn't — they would call him a liar. But as The Washington Post wrote two stories on Friday saying details — the headlines were details are lacking or details are hazy. That's their way of saying we are not going to call him a liar, but we don't see the truth here.

SCOTT: Jane, you've been covering this debate forever, obviously. Is the media's reaction to what the president has had to say, is it helping or hurting the White House?

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVESITY: I think the stories that said — Candy Crowley on CNN said this was designed to stiffen spines among Democrats. That became sort of the thread line that I saw in The New York Times. The Democrats feel he has given them some cover. They were certainly shout outs to John McCain, shout outs tort reform. I think the left is actually unhappier and you see that reflected in the left media.

I thought it was very interesting that David Axelrod came on O'Reilly and that O'Reilly had the highest ratings. I think FOX has certainly been questioning how much this is going to cost, and a lot of things that a lot of people do question. So I think you get kind of a left-right split in a lot of the coverage.

SCOTT: The president talked about the time for bickering being over. I mean, this is more than bickering. This is a huge policy change that the entire country is going to be subjected to. It sometimes seems like it does get portrayed in the media, Judy, as just, oh, somebody doesn't like this idea.

JUDY MILLER, WRITER AND FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I think that, Jon, part of the reason for the speech, was let's rally that base. Let's get them out there. Walter Shapiro, writing in "Politics" said, this is the best speech he's ever given since 2004. On the other hand, the left-wing commentators did say how are we going to pay for this? It was left to the Carl Roves to point out that, of the $900,000,000-plus dollars that this program is going to cost, $622 million of it are going to come from Medicare and Medicaid. I think there are legitimate questions that the press finally, finally, honeymoon over, feels it's time to look at.

SCOTT: And wishing doesn't make it so. Is that reflected in, for instance, that article from The New York Times we mentioned earlier today?

HALL: And The New York Times also had an article about the man who said, "You lie," and that he's very popular and that running against Obama in South Carolina is popular. I mean, I think the media are covering the fact that — I mean, this was largely portrayed as his last chance. That's what the intro to this piece said. So I think they were holding him unaccountable.

PINKERTON: Since you mention Joe Wilson, the congressman from South Carolina, I think what's clear to me is that if the liberal media had a choice between seeing health care get enacted or blaming the failure of health care on Joe Wilson and Sarah Palin, they would much prefer the latter.


They would much prefer the role of cultural critics denouncing the right wing than they actually care about the health care of the average American.

SCOTT: It does...

LOWRY: The amazing thing about the Joe Wilson thing, I think it was a serious breach of decorum. He should've have shouted that out. But he is portrayed in the press as this irrational dishonest guy trafficking in this lie of Obama-care that it might end up covering illegal immigrants. And then you have Democratic Senator saying, you know what, we're going to go back and change the legislation to make sure it doesn't cover illegal immigrants.


So every time the Republicans cannot with some lie — Sarah Palin lied about the plan, Joe Wilson lied about the plan — they change it to reflect the gravitas of...

SCOTT: And we've also been told this plan is not going to add one dime to the deficit. How does that happen, Judy?

MILLER: It doesn't happen. That's why...

SCOTT: And who's asking that question in the media?

MILLER: I think everybody is now asking that question in the media.

SCOTT: Are they?

MILLER: I think that's why you had the piece in The New York Times. That's why you had people on the left and right saying, wait a minute, how are we going to pay for it, because poll after poll shows that's what's on the American people's minds.

SCOTT: Jane?

HALL: I think that Obama let his message get hijacked by the right. And you know, the town halls, and he really didn't seem — for a man who knows new media, they missed a lot of stuff that was out there.

PINKERTON: Most devastating headline of all those was in The Politico, "Echoes of Clinton in Obama Speech." That was Thursday. In other words, this is a rehash of Clinton's 1993 pitch, and we know where that went.

SCOTT: All right, time for a break.

First, we have lots of extras available to you on our web site, including some of the rather heated discussions that can erupt in here during our breaks. You can here them after the show at /foxnewswatch.

Back in two minutes with this.

ANNOUNCER: An Obama "czar" quits his post after his questionable past is posted in the press. But is the mainstream media missing more?

And images of a dying American soldier causes a media firestorm. Details are next, on "News Watch."


SCOTT: Van Jones, President Obama's so-called green jobs czar quit his post last weekend. Jones was supposed to help shape and implement job generating climate policy, according to his job description. But he came under fire after it was revealed he had called Republicans a very bad name. And something else turned up. Jones signed a petition suggesting the Bush administration was involved in the September 11 terror attacks. Jones quit after less than six months on the job.

Judy, The New York Times where you used to work, blamed their slow start on...



SCOTT: ... on the Van Jones story on the fact that it was the Labor Day weekend and they couldn't really get up to speed. What you think about that?

MILLER: That's just ridiculous. This was a major story out on the right wing where conservatives, blogosphere, for weeks if not months, but they were not alone. Come on, guys. ABC, CBS, NBC, other newspapers in the mainstream, nobody covered this story until it hit them in the face, except for FOX News. And in terms of mainstream cable news, this story just was driven by independent journalists on the right. We have to acknowledge that.

SCOTT: Why was it ignored by the mainstream media?

PINKERTON: Because the mainstream media likes Van Jones. Thomas Friedman, at The New York Times, three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, the absolute pinnacle of the establishment media, wrote a column on October 17, 2007, all about how great Van Jones was. Called him, quote, "passionate and funny," close quotes. That's all the vetting that the Obama White House ever did.


Tom Friedman likes him so he must be OK.

SCOTT: It does raise the question, Rich, the White House didn't exactly look into his background, apparently, because he is one of these czars.

LOWRY: Also, they knew of his work, as Valerie Jarrett said, and they liked it. Tom Friedman also blurbed his book. The New Yorker in January, rather long glowing profile of this guy. Judy is right. All the major media ignored the Marxist connections, they ignored the truther thing, until he had apologized twice. Then it showed up in The Washington Post and I think one broadcast outlet. And The New York Times didn't cover it until he resigned.

SCOTT: So we have 33 czars remaining, Jane, in the Obama administration. Should the media scrub their resumes like the White House apparently isn't?

HALL: Well, you know, I imagine that, given the success with Van Jones, given how there was footage on Sotomayor three minutes after she was nominated, people are scrubbing it, whether the administration is scrubbing it is the question. People on one side or the other are going to scrub this. They will look for whoever has the video. I mean, the Obama administration should say to people, is there's any video we need to know about you.

LOWRY: They are delegating their vetting effectively to Glenn Beck.


And let me say this about Glenn Beck, the Van Jones thing wouldn't have come out without him. If this were a Republican administration, and you were exposing people in that administration with an extremist background, he would be a hero of muckraking journalism. Instead, he's being reviled as a modern-day McCarthyite.

PINKERTON: Hats off to Phil Turpin of the Americans for Prosperity, who I think was the first one to raise this issue on the "Glenn Beck" show back in July. Not that the mainstream media were paying attention until, as Rich said, he resigned.

MILLER: Look, the whole point of a czar is not to have all of that information out there, that a congressional panel has to say yeah or nay on. And I think that's why it was pointed out that six of the czars actually were in the economic area where the Obama administration felt it really needed people in place to handle a crisis. This raises a broader issue about czars, confirmability and how long it takes.

SCOTT: All right, Jim, so if Judy's right about that, and Judy is always right, I'm sure.




SCOTT: It seems like somebody in the media should be saying, wait a minute, let's look at these people who wield tremendous power.

PINKERTON: Like they take John Holdren, who is the science czar, who was actually confirmed by the Senate when the Republicans weren't paying attention. He's the mad scientist who is calling for mandatory euthanasia and sterilization and population control and so on.

MILLER: How...


PINKERTON: No, he was. This is true. In a book that he co-authored with Paul Ehrlich, "The Population Bomb" back in the '70s. I mean, they were completely asleep at the switch, which is why, as I mentioned last week, Cass Sunstein, who is to be the regulatory czar, if he gets confirmed by the Senate, is now finally getting the scrutiny he deserves on animals suing people and organ harvesting and so on.


SCOTT: All right, on that happy note, we have to take another break.


First though, if you come across a story that you think shows media bias, e-mail it to us,

We'll be back with this.

ANNOUNCER: Since the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, Matt Drudge's Drudge Report has been a top-dog of Internet news. But is he old news now?

And what is the media's role in recalling the horror of 9/11? All next, on "News Watch."


SCOTT: Here's a controversy that brought quite a bit of controversy in the Green Room — quite a discussion, I should say, in the Green Room before taping today. At least 20 newspapers and several Web sites showed this photo as seen on The New York Times photo blog here. It shows U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard following an attack in southern Afghanistan, the wounded Marine being tended to by his fellow Marines. He died from his wounds shortly after the photo was taken.

Both Joshua Bernard's family and Defense Secretary Robert Gates asked the Associated Press not to distribute the photo of the mortally wounded Marine. Secretary Gates said, "Your lack of compassion and common sense in choosing to put this image of their maimed and stricken child on the front page of multiple American newspapers is appalling."

But the director of photography defended the decision to release the photo, saying, quote, "We feel it is our journalistic duty to show the reality of the war there, however unpleasant and brutal that sometimes is."

Rich, you are editor of the National Review. If you were running the A.P. and you get that kind of request from the defense secretary that says, please don't run this, what do you say?

LOWRY: I'd never run it. It was a loathsome act. My understanding, from what we've seen of the reporting about these embed agreements, is that you have to get the permission of the next of kin to show a picture like this. The A.P. apparently broke that agreement. There is no news value to this. We know people are getting wounded and killed every day. Just because you are a journalist doesn't mean you have to check your public spiritedness and your indecency at the door, which is what the A.P. did in this case.

SCOTT: Jane, you teach journalism. What would you tell your students?

HALL: You know, I would have to say it's a tough call. I know that there has been a rule that the family has to be notified, and I believe there has been a rule that the person has to have died. And I believe he was still alive.

But at the same time, the government of the United States during World War II would not allow pictures of mortally wounded people. And then to build public support, did allow pictures of wounded people. We didn't allow caskets in the early part of the Iraq war. So not justifying what they did, I think it's a tough call. I don't think you want the government telling you what you can and cannot run. And I don't think that's good for the country.

SCOTT: What about the family though, Jim? What about their consideration?

PINKERTON: I think they have great rights in this case, certainly moral rights if not legal rights. Look, let's not be naive about information wanting to be free in the digital edge. This picture will get out. It will be all over the place. It will be on Al Qaeda Web sites. It will be everywhere. But it seems to me that, if in war time, if the secretary of defense and the family ask a journalistic agency not to do something, they ought to seriously consider it. It's not like the fact that we're having a war in Afghanistan is a secret. It's the feelings of this family and this young man. And I think the A.P. did the wrong thing.

SCOTT: Are anti-war activists going to use this photo to push their agenda, do you think?

MILLER: Well, I think both sides always use information in this way, which is why this is, as Jane said, and I think we all agree, a very, very tough call.

LOWRY: I don't think it was a tough call. It's not a touch call at all.

MILLER: No, Jane and I would agree. I think the far greater danger is to let the government and the Pentagon decide what images we can and cannot see. We have to be reminded of what's going on there every single day, because there is a tendency to forget.

LOWRY: Just because the Pentagon tells you not to run it, doesn't mean you have to run it.

MILLER: No, not have to.

LOWRY: And as Jim points out, the family has an extreme interest here that the A.P. just totally ignored. Again, there's no news value. Does it really surprise you that people are getting killed by rocket-propelled grenades in Afghanistan and getting their legs blown off? That's news to you?

HALL: Can I — well, let me just point out that a number of people who ran it, ran it on their Web site.

MILLER: That's right.

HALL: A number of news organizations. When I did a survey about media in Iraq, a lot of news organizations decided not to put something on their front page. I mean, you can still question that, but that is a sort of middle ground.

SCOTT: Is there a danger though, Jim, of the government or military sanitizing what's going on out there.


SCOTT: We do want to know...

PINKERTON: There absolutely is a danger. And that's why we...

SCOTT: We want to know what our soldiers and what our Marines are facing.

PINKERTON: We should have vigorous reporting of what's going on over there. I think this photograph is a special category of an image of — when it is identified as an American soldier and so on, and you know who it is, it's just the wrong thing to do. It's — there's a — as George Will said, in a much different context, the foremost important words in the English language or "up to a point." Not every idea is a good idea all the time.

LOWRY: You also don't have to embed. If you want to go around publishing pictures of grievously wounded soldiers, do it on your own. Do it without the protection of the military.


PINKERTON: Go get kidnapped.

HALL: That's unrealistic.

MILLER: Go get kidnapped and then more people will have to get rescued.

PINKERTON: Hold on. Why is that unrealistic?

HALL: Because people are targeted.

PINKERTON: So in other words, maybe reporters aren't brave enough to go do it by themselves. Fair enough.

MILLER: Oh, come on.


LOWRY: If you don't want to cooperate with the government, don't sign the agreement, and don't work with the military in that way.


SCOTT: We're going to wrap up this discussion and move to another story that caught our eye this week. The Drudge Report was an Internet pioneer, breaking news about the Clinton-Lewinski scandal in the '90s. But that site has fallen to 115th among the most popular Web sites.

Jim, they use it to link to your Newsday columns. What you think about the Drudge Report and what's going on?

PINKERTON: I'll confess. It's still my homepage. I think that this summer on the town halls, the Drudge Report, more than any other institution, probably including FOX News, drove the story to its crescendo of Obama's plan cratering. So I think Drudge is frankly as powerful as ever.

SCOTT: So despite the fact that it is way down there on the list...

PINKERTON: The right people are looking at it. It doesn't matter.

SCOTT: All right.


HALL: I know a lot of reporters who used to have it as their homepage. And he linked my stories when I was at The L.A. Times. A lot of people — he was setting a lot of the agenda. I'm not as current on this, but at the time, he still had impact on people in the media.

SCOTT: All right, we have to take one more break. When we come back...

ANNOUNCER: Remembering 9/11. Is it up to the press to keep the memories alive? That's next, on "News Watch."


SCOTT: 9/11, 2001, a horrible, tragic day in this country, as a terrorist plot to attack our nation unfolded, often on live TV, in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. The unimaginable events and the heart-breaking images brought our country together, brought the nation's media organizations working together to cover the unfolding story. Eight years later, the images have not dimmed. The emotional scars are still there. But it often seems like the country and the news media that cover it have sort of parted ways when it comes to 9/11.

What do you think about that, Judy? You wrote this week that our nation has forgotten 9/11. Do you think that the media should be doing more to keep the memories alive?

MILLER: I think that it is easy to remember on a day like today or Friday. It's easy to remember on the anniversary. When it counts is day in, day out, when we have daily news reminders of 9/11, the continuing terrorism, the right against terrorism. It stations like FOX that have been covering that story and that's what I mean by remembering, not just on one day, but all the time.

SCOTT: Has the media done something right since 9/11, do you think, Rich?

LOWRY: Well, first of all, I endorse that sentiment entirely. I think that's exactly right. Well expressed.

I think on the day, not surprisingly, I like what FOX does. I mean, they devote most of the day to it. Another network, cable network, that won't be named, reruns four hours-worth of their live coverage from that day, which I think has a certain power. So the media should be doing all that it can to keep the memory fresh of the atrocity and how we felt about it when it happened on that day.

SCOTT: And yet, it seems like much of the impact has been forgotten. I think we have forgotten as a nation how angry we were on September 11, September 12.

HALL: Well, I think it's hard to sustain that kind of trauma and that kind of feeling. But I think one function of the media is a ritualistic function. I think it was a great moment for the media, and a horrible tragedy with the live coverage. All of the networks the day of played a role — I've said this before — almost of priests. There still is a United States of America. I think the role of the media is not only to remember but also to look into what — how safe are we? What are we doing about port safety? Are we vulnerable? What are the agencies — I find that nobody is really covering federal agencies. What are we doing? Apart from the war on terror, what about our safeguards here in this country? You see very little investigation in that.

SCOTT: What about that, Jim?

PINKERTON: I certainly agree that the media should be studying Homeland Security. Terry Jeffrey had a piece saying that there's been no net increase in the building of a fence across the U.S.-Mexico border in the last year. They've stopped doing it. That's a terrible breach of security when you think about what's going on in Mexico now. That's not al Qaeda, of course, but it's still danger to America. And we're ignoring it.

SCOTT: What has the media done wrong, Judy, in your view since 9/11?

MILLER: I think it has really dropped the ball on continuing to investigate some of the agencies, some of what we are doing. But look, we had a very polarizing divisive war in the name of fighting terrorism. And the media spent a lot of time and effort looking at that as an appropriate or inappropriate response to what happened to us on 9/11. That, too, is an appropriate role for the media.

SCOTT: That's a wrap on "News Watch" this week.

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