What's More Important to the Press: a Big Scoop or National Security?

The following is a transcription of the June 24, 2006 edition of "FOX News Watch", that has been edited for clarity:


ERIC BURNS, CO-HOST: It's time now for our "Quick Takes" on the media.

Headline No. 1: "Making Sense of the Threats"

North Korea seems to be planning to test a long-range ballistic missile that is said to be capable of reaching the United States. In Iran, the president is considering proposals to limit its nuclear capabilities. President Bush speaking in Vienna this week said he wants a response from Iran before August.

Assessing these threats is tough for the government, Neal. These are closed societies. Even tougher I would think for reporters to get a picture of the magnitude of the threats across to Americans.

NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER/AUTHOR: I think you're absolutely right.

I mean, we've had a touch of hysteria in the North Korea coverage. And even NBC reported that the Pentagon said the coverage was a little overheated.

When it comes to Iran, I think we have so little knowledge in the press about the internal dynamics of Iran that we're really kind of at a loss as readers.

BURNS: So what do we do, Jane? What do the media do? Important stories, but not enough facts.

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY JOURNALISM PROFESSOR: It is an important story, and I was surprised to read, being the typical American, that they [the Iranians] may be considering this proposal. It's not just that they're — that they're not thinking about it.

BURNS: "They" meaning the Iranians.


HALL: Right.


HALL: Which made me wonder, how much do I not know? I don't know. You - if you get dissidents in this country, you're not - you're going to get a skewed view.

JIM PINKERTON, NEWSDAY: North Koreans working on missiles — thank God that The New York Times has been praising Ronald Reagan's strategic defense initiative steadily for the last two decades. Oh, wait, wrong Times.

HALL: And maybe wrong idea.


PINKERTON: Terrible idea. Missile defense, what a terrible idea. I — who would want — who would want to defend themselves against these missiles?

GABLER: But just don't launch them, because it doesn't work.

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I thought it was curious that William Perry, the Defense secretary in the Clinton administration, along with his deputy wrote an op-ed piece for The Washington Post suggesting that the Bush administration ought to conduct an act of war and bomb the missile on the launching pad.

Well, Perry went to North Korea and negotiated this phony deal that the North Koreans wound up violating anyway.

BURNS: "Quick Take" headline No. 2: "Her Positions Are as Controversial as Her Gender."

Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was chosen this week as the first woman to head the Episcopal Church in the United States. Bishop Schori supports the rights of homosexuals, including same-sex unions.

Cal, the controversy I mentioned is not just within the church; it is also in the media.

THOMAS: Yes, I wrote a column on this called "Church Lite."

BURNS: I know, that's what I started with you.

THOMAS: Thank you very much.

No, but the media don't like to talk about theology and the nitty gritties of theological differences because they're not well-versed in this and don't have a lot of interest, apparently, in educating themselves on it. So you get stories like, "she has cracked the stained-glass ceiling." Isn't that cute?

But you don't get into the jots and tittles of the theology and the doctrines that are separating the conservative wing of Episcopalianism with a more liberal one that seems to be in the ascendancy. And I think the public loses because of that ignorance — deliberate I believe — by much of the media.

HALL: I think she supports the blessing of same-sex union. I'm not sure she's a big advocate necessarily.

THOMAS: No, she says "God created homosexuals to love each other." That was a statement she made.

HALL: OK, well then I stand corrected on that.

I think the media are not reporting that there's a huge split. I mean, most Episcopalians in — there are many Episcopalians in Africa, a lot of places, that are very opposed to this point of view.

GABLER: The media have reported that. But there are some issues on which there aren't two sides. And barring women and barring gays is an issue now that really doesn't have two sides. Just like race relations.

PINKERTON: Actually, it does.


PINKERTON: In the meantime, since reporters do the first draft of history, reporters should properly cover the split. And the split is this: in the mainstream media, the split is, she supports diversity, and everybody else is a hater.

THOMAS: There you go...

GABLER: Accurate.

BURNS: "Quick Take" Headline No. 3: "Is This News Fit to Print?"

Despite requests by the Bush administration not to print the story, on Friday The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and some other newspapers published information about a secret program — a government program — created to allow counterterrorism officials access to the financial records of those with suspected Al Qaeda ties.

Your feeling about this: should The Times have gone ahead — The Times and the other papers?

GABLER: Well, I certainly don't think that a newspaper is obligated to do whatever the administration tells it to do. But frankly, I don't have enough information from the article in The New York Times to make a determination as to whether they're doing some kind of transgression that will jeopardize the United States. I simply don't have enough information.

THOMAS: Well, I think the White House is right in complaining about this. Up until recently, we had more reticence and more withholding of sensitive information if the White House, if the administration — whatever administration — could make its case that this was injurious. If our enemies now see the way we are going after them on the front page of The New York Times, The L.A. Times, The Washington Post, all they have to do is wait a little bit and counteract our counteracting measures.

BURNS: So you feel that way about the story about the phone records, too? That that information shouldn't be out there.

THOMAS: Yes. But look, I think there are some things that can be reported, and others not. But — but when you give too information to the other side, you're simply setting yourself up for another attack or defeat.

HALL: You know, I think the phone-records story with reportedly millions of ordinary Americans being tapped and considered possible Al Qaeda is one thing. This story, I was a little surprised by it. And I was...

BURNS: Surprised that The Times ran it?

HALL: That The Times — well, that the Times had the information. As a reporter, I always look to see who talked to them. Not to take away from anything — they talked to 20 people — but you read way deep, and it said, some people are concerned about this program, which was temporary and has now become permanent without any discussion of it. That to me is where the story originated.

PINKERTON: One of the same reporters, James Risen, who did The New York Times' NSA wiretap story a few months ago — as I said at the time with that story, it is yet to be shown that we can win a war against an adversary with this media climate and culture in terms of reportage, what can be leaked, what can be revealed.

BURNS: Quickly, do you fault the media for this?

THOMAS: Yes. Say yes.

PINKERTON: If we lose — if we lose the war, that would be bad.

GABLER: But what if we lose all our civil liberties?

PINKERTON: Well, I'd rather — I'd rather lose our civil liberties than lose the war.


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