from MSNBC transcripts

"Scarborough Country"

for October 27, 2004

transcript of the 10pm ET show, segment starting 10:30pm

Guests: Bob Kohn, Paul Levinson

PAT BUCHANAN (GUEST HOST): And coming up, the Iraq munitions mystery, is this another case of media bias? We'll talk about it when we come back.


PAT BUCHANAN: Up next, are the media favoring John Kerry, and will that impact next week's elections? We'll talk about that in a minute.

But, first, let's get the latest headlines from the MSNBC News Desk.


ANNOUNCER: From the press room, to the courtroom, to the halls of Congress, Joe Scarborough has seen it all. Welcome back to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

BUCHANAN: Six days left until the election and we are on day three of the missing explosives story. And some are charging that the presentation of the story represents foul play by big media. We will get to that in a moment.

But, first, a new study concludes that, in the first two weeks of October, the critical weeks during the period of the presidential debates, the mainstream media was far more favorable to Kerry than to President Bush. The nonpartisan Project For Excellence in Journalism sampled 817 stories from four major newspapers, two cable news networks and the four leading broadcast networks.

The Project that found three in five Bush stories were negative on the president, while only one-fourth of all Kerry stories were negative on John Kerry. Stories about Kerry were positive a third of the time, while stories of Bush were positive only one-seventh of the time.

Joining us now, Paul Levinson, the director of media studies at Fordham University, and Bob Kohn, the author of Journalistic Fraud.

Welcome, gentlemen.

Paul, let me start with you.

Are you surprised by these numbers, that the stories are negative on the president predominantly and predominantly positive on John Kerry?

PAUL LEVINSON, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY: I'm not surprised at all. I think there's more negative to report about Bush. He, after all, is the sitting president. The country is in a difficult overseas situation in Iraq. There are all kinds of domestic problems. The worst you can say about Kerry is perhaps his Senate record isn't as good as it could have been. But fair reporting would be much tougher on Bush than Kerry.

BUCHANAN: So you think it's a natural product of the very fact that the president is the incumbent, the challenger holds up his failures and the media's job is to report the failures?

LEVINSON: That's precisely what the media's job is, especially in an election period in which we are considering whether or not this president should be elected.

BUCHANAN: We are also considering whether or not he should be replaced by John Kerry, are we not, Bob Kohn?

BOB KOHN, AUTHOR: That's right. You know, when I first saw this story, Pat, my reaction was, well, duh. I mean, there's quantitative bias and there's qualitative bias. And this is another example on the qualitative side how much the press, just by sheer numbers of articles, are biased against Bush.

But it's the qualitative side that's even more important, because this study doesn't take into account the front page of The New York Times. You saw what they did with that bogus front-page banner headline. You didn't see a banner headline about the swift boats. You did not see The Times cover that at all for several weeks.


LEVINSON: Of course not.

BUCHANAN: Let me take that to Paul.

Paul, let me ask you this.


BUCHANAN: Look, I have got to agree 100 percent with that. Look, they dropped this on the president. It's an 18-month-old event. They dropped it in a two-column headline, major, all-out story. The "60 Minutes" - CBS' "60 Minutes" - which decided that the National Guard story of 30 years ago was so important, they devoted a major story to it, and they got caught with all these bogus, falsified, forged documents.

"60 Minutes" was going to drop this 48 hours before the election. Now, is that not using your media power to try to bring about the defeat of a candidate?

LEVINSON: It's using the media precisely as Thomas Jefferson intended. The media is supposed to report news events. The New York Times didn't make this up. This is something that in fact has happened in Iraq. Surely, Bob doesn't...


BUCHANAN: How long ago, Paul, did it happen?

LEVINSON: Let me answer. Surely, Bob doesn't think that The New York Times made up the fact that the munitions are missing. It happened 18 months ago. The New York Times was not sitting on this story for 18 months. We don't know exactly why it took so long for the story to come out. In fact, what I heard is that Allawi was the one who basically broke the story.


BUCHANAN: Well, I heard that it was the IAEA and ElBaradei.

LEVINSON: So is that The New York Times' fault?


BUCHANAN: But that makes a good point, Bob.


BUCHANAN: Aren't we entitled to know who is dropping the dime here and whether the story, frankly, has any merit? Because I don't believe for a second that, after the 101st Airborne came through there, a bunch of Iraqis, a couple hundred of them, went in there with 40 trucks and hauled that junk out over roads which were occupied completely by Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Humvees.

KOHN: Right. We don't know who the anonymous source is who dropped this letter in The New York Times' lap. The speculation is, it is the head of a nuclear agency at the U.N., who is going to lose his job.

BUCHANAN: It's ElBaradei.

KOHN: Right. He is going to lose his job. He doesn't want Bush to win.

So The New York Times has a responsibility and CBS has a responsibility to be very skeptical about this bomb being dropped in their lap at this point in time.


KOHN: To respond to what has been said, and it is very important, because The New York Times did make something up, because The New York Times did not know. It wasn't evident from the letter or anything else that whether the munitions, whether the explosives were evacuated before the troops got there.

The New York Times led the public to believe that this was looted after the U.S. troops got there. And that is something that we do not know today. And that is where they did the slant.


BUCHANAN: OK, let me ask you, Paul. Now, look, let's say the National Guard story was legitimate, this is legitimate. Doesn't The Times also have a duty to say-at least tell you the source is coming from somebody that may want to torpedo the president, that it's 18 months ago, that it is highly unlikely that somebody went in there after the Americans were there, in other words, put this in context, rather than print it as some kind of attack ad on page one?

LEVINSON: The important thing was to print it in a way that got everyone's attention. Obviously, it got your attention. You now seem to have a theory as to what happened.

BUCHANAN: It has got the president's attention.

LEVINSON: Well, good. That's precisely what The New York Times should be doing.


BUCHANAN: Suppose it turns out...

LEVINSON: If it turns out that it is not true?



LEVINSON: If it turns out that it is not true, then The Times was still acting exactly as it should have.

BUCHANAN: Uh-huh. And Kerry is elected and that's a good thing.

LEVINSON: The Times is not an arbiter of ultimate truth.

KOHN: Not when they slant it.

LEVINSON: What a reporter has to do is report information that he or she receives. Of course they shouldn't make up stories. I was one of the first to condemn The Times when Jayson Blair came out with his absurd forgeries, and it took The Times way too long to admit it. And Bob Kohn wrote a good book about that.


KOHN: Thank you.

LEVINSON: But this is a completely different situation. We have an election, a close election, and the people deserve to know the truth.


BUCHANAN: All right, but, Paul, suppose we had not discovered the forgeries in the National Guard story and it cost the president the election.


BUCHANAN: What I'm not hearing from you is any sense that the media are responsible for anything when they are on the very eve of a very tight election.

LEVINSON: That is because you have not heard what I was saying. The New York Times is not the only newspaper. There are other media. And, in fact, in the CBS case, bloggers and Fox News and MSNBC all jumped on CBS.

BUCHANAN: Thank goodness.

OK, Paul, Bob, thanks for joining us tonight.

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Updated Wednesday January 31 2007