'Special Report' Panel on White House's Latest Response to Iran

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from June 17, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the president has been clear that this is a vigorous debate in Iran between Iranians about their leadership.

While at the same time, the president has strongly maintained that there are universal principles, such as demonstrating in peace and not feeling threatened.


BAIER: Well, officials in Iran told the media there, or the word got out that they were accusing the U.S. of meddling in internal affairs, calling it "intolerable." That's the response you heard from the White House press secretary.

And you also saw a glimpse of some of the cell phone video that we're getting from some of those protests, many of them violent. We just don't know the extent of them because the reporting on the ground is still sketchy.

Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for the "Weekly Standard", Nina Easton, Washington Bureau Chief for "Fortune" magazine, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer — Steve?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": We have moved, I think, from the Bush administration's policy of soft regime change to a policy now of de facto regime preservation, which I think is deeply disturbing and shameful.

The president has failed to really offer his support for the protesters at any time, and he has failed to directly question the results of the election.

Then last night in an interview, he said "Well, it doesn't really matter whether Mousavi is declared the victor or Ahmadinejad. There aren't major policy differences between the two."

I think that may have been true before the election. We don't know whether that would be true going forward.

But in any case, it was an awful thing to say, because the protestors who are on the street right now are there largely for one of two reasons — either they are supporters of Mousavi, or they think the election was fraudulent. So by him saying that, he is, in effect, saying what you are doing doesn't matter very much. And I think that is shameful.

BAIER: Nina, as we continue to look at some of these images that are coming out really via twitter and links through twitter to other uplinks, and it is pretty amazing to see this in Tehran.

NINA EASTON, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: It is amazing, although it was snuffed out in '09 — in '99 and '03. We saw protests that were snuffed out. So you have to be careful about where you think this is really going to go.

I'm going to disagree somewhat with Steve, and I know Charles is going to pounce on me, but I do think the president needs to give more — lend more a sense of support to the protestors. I completely agree with that.

But I also believe that there needs to be a certain amount of finesse in all of this, because there is a history with this country of making America the topic of conversation rather than this regime, this very evil regime. And I think it is — you do have to be careful not to insert yourself.

It is — just going back in history a bit, Pope John Paul, who went to speak to Solidarity workers in the late '70's before Ronald Reagan was on the scene and was there with a megaphone, he spoke almost in code to the protestors, so that they knew what he was saying, but he wasn't provoking a crackdown.

And then by the time Ronald Reagan came along, there were some semblance of democratic institutions, civil society in place, and he could do that. You don't have that right now in Iran. You have to be careful.

BAIER: The only issue is the administration at least privately said that that was one of the reasons the president didn't speak up because he didn't want it to be used as a charge that could somehow fortify Ahmadinejad's forces, because he didn't want to meddle.

Now the Iranians are saying they're meddling anyway, so —

EASTON: But I do think what he really needs to do, in addition to lending, I agree, some more support, but also to backchannel, to talk to Mousavi, to let protestors know via backchannels that we are there to support them in any way we can.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: The president is also speaking in code. The Pope spoke in a code which was implicit and understood support for the forces of freedom.

The code the administration is using is implicit to support for this repressive, tyrannical regime.

We watched Gibbs say that what's going on is vigorous debate. The shooting of eight demonstrators is not debate. The knocking of heads, bloodying of demonstrators by the Revolutionary Guards is not debate. The arbitrary arrest of journalists, political opposition, and students is not debate.

And to call it a debate and to use this neutral and denatured language is disgraceful.

Beyond that, the point here is no longer elections. The reason that at least eight have died is not because they wanted a recount of hanging chads in the outer precincts of Esfahan. What they wanted is to no longer live under a tyrannical dictator, misogynistic, repressive, incompetent, and corrupt theocracy. And that's what the demonstration and the moment is all about. It's about the regime. There is an opportunity — revolution is going to happen one way or the other eventually, and this theocracy will fall. It may not happen now, but it ought to be supported, because it might happen now, and it would change the world if it did.

BAIER: If this continues, Steve, this semi-hands-off approach, or some would say, full hands-off approach, what happens on the ground? I mean, we can't look into the crystal ball yet because we really don't know the extent of it. But in your view of what you are seeing, what happens?

HAYES: I think it has been said that this is about the Iranians, not about us. And that is, I think, true, to a certain extent. So I hope this continues, and I hope it continues to grow and to grow in strength as well.

The concern, I think, is when you have the Americans — you know, I would argue not only just as by-standers but, in effect, saying things like the supreme leader is now investigating the results, I mean, that gives credibility to the regime, this terrorist regime. And it can't help inspire the protestors.

BAIER: Nina?

EASTON: I just have to ask both of you, though, what happens if Obama tomorrow came out and said, you know, this election was fraudulent, you know, I'm with the protestors, you know, and they crack down on these protestors?

BAIER: John McCain has said almost as much.

EASTON: Yes, but what goes from there? What happens from there if these protestors are, are you know — I mean, there is already somewhat of a crackdown going, but what if there is a mass crackdown on dissidents?

KRAUTHAMMER: Everybody understands that America is not going to war over this. However, if you are a demonstrator on the street, you want to hear that America is behind you.

EASTON: They know we are behind them.

KRAUTHAMMER: They don't. And they need materiel support with communications and other means as we helped with Solidarity in the '80's, with printing presses and other stuff.

We ought to declare ourselves — no, it looks as if America wants stability, engagement, and negotiations with the existing regime. And when you get that message in the street, it is highly discouraging.

BAIER: All right.

So how would you describe the relationship between President Obama and the mainstream media? At least one liberal paper writer says the press and the president should get a room. See what the FOX all-stars think, next.



OBAMA: I think that actually the reason people have been generally positive about what we try to do is they feel as if I'm available and willing to answer questions, and we haven't been trying to hide the ball.


BAIER: There is the president in an interview with CNBC. He went on to say and charge that FOX doesn't give him any positive coverage about what he's doing.

What is the relationship with the media? Phil Bronstein, the editor at large of "The San Francisco Chronicle," which is not exactly a right wing newspaper, said that the media and President Obama should get a room.

We're back with the panel — Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, look, the media are so in the tank, really, they ought to get scuba gear about this president.

But what's really interesting, the president yesterday has said, he complained about FOX, and he said, I think accurately, that it is the one, only voice of opposition in the media.

And it makes us a lot like Caracas where all the media, except one, are state run, with the exception that in Hugo Chavez-land, you go after that one station with machetes. I haven't seen any machetes around here, so I think we are at least safe for now.

But the rest of the media are entirely in the tank, and it's embarrassing. You would think it would be embarrassment that would deter them.

Obama does u-turns on all kinds of policies — on taking money in campaigns, on rendition, on eavesdropping, on all kinds of issues, and the press does a u-turn, a whiplash u-turn in step.

In the end, what you have to could conclude is that it is, in part, ideological infinity with Obama, but also in part, he's a rock star, and he sells. So it isn't only ideology. It is greed. If you have him on the cover, he sells.

And that is the only defense that the mainstream media have, and it isn't a pretty one — money.

BAIER: The Pew Research Center has done a couple of polls. One was back in the first 100 days where President Obama received almost double the positive coverage.

The other one went back to the campaign where you looked at the networks, the cable networks' coverage of the campaign, and you saw the breakdown of the positive and negative stories. There is FOX News channel on the top, CNN, MSNBC — Nina?

EASTON: Well, I think, I agree. I think there is a level of cooperation and complicity between the media and the Kennedy administration — excuse me, the Obama administration — that we haven't seen since the Kennedy administration, since we saw JFK and Ben Bradley together behind the scenes.

BAIER: Do you think he benefits at taking shots at FOX? He keeps on mentioning FOX.

EASTON: I think he is probably puzzled that you can't — you know, he did try to reach out to FOX to some extent during the campaign, and I think it puzzles him. If you are getting so much positive press, why are these guys out to get you?

BAIER: Are you talking about the O'Reilly interview during the campaign?

EASTON: Yes, the O'Reilly interview. But administration officials came on, Axelrod was on. People came on.

During the campaign, I witnessed the love affair going back to the convention. When you went to the Denver convention, the Democratic convention, it was packed. You couldn't get on a plane. You couldn't get seats. The airport was packed because of editors and reporters and delegates. But a lot of the media came who didn't have to even be there.

When you went to the Republican convention, it was empty. It was like a mausoleum.

BAIER: All right, there was hurricane coverage, I will say that.

EASTON: There was hurricane coverage, but people —

BAIER: I'm fair and balanced.

EASTON: No, but a lot of the kind of elite media that went to the Democratic Convention did not go to the Republican Convention.

BAIER: All right, Steve, is this different? Is this different than what we normally see? Are you seeing something different?

HAYES: It's very different, and it's quantifiable. I think the Pew polls that you showed point that out.

There was another poll by the Center for Media and Public Affairs that found out that the three broadcast networks gave him almost four times the amount of coverage that George W. Bush got at the beginning of the administration, and that 75 percent of the stories on the front page of "The New York Times" were positive stories.

I mean, that is extraordinary. There was never a time when George W. Bush got that kind of coverage, I would argue, even after the days of September 11 when, you know, everybody was sort of pulling for him. So I think this is absolutely an exception.

BAIER: Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: Those are Brezhnev levels of adulation in the press.

EASTON: I would just add that — BAIER: Final word.

EASTON: There is so more coverage because he is doing so much, and he is doing it at such speed that the press almost doesn't have time to cover it.

HAYES: That is true as far as it goes. But there is also more fawning, feature coverage. And that benefits him tremendously.

KRAUTHAMMER: They cheer, and they nod, and they bow.

BAIER: More on this on the online show right after this broadcast. So log on.

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