updated 9/21/2004 11:16:42 AM ET 2004-09-21T15:16:42

Guests: Jon Meacham, Tom Shales, David Gergen, Dorothy Rabinowitz, Tony Coelho, David Frum

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  A dark day at Black Rock as CBS News admits it cannot prove the authenticity of documents used in a report about President Bush‘s National Guard service.  And longtime CBS anchor Dan Rather says he no longer has confidence in the documents and can no longer vouch for their authenticity.  We‘ll talk about the fallout at CBS News with “Washington Post”/TV critic Tom Shales, Dorothy Rabinowitz of the “Wall Street Journal,” and David Gergen of “U.S. News & World Report.”

Plus the political backlash against CBS.  Will the damage spill over and hurt the credibility of the mainstream political press?  We‘ll talk to Democratic strategist Tony Coelho and former Bush speechwriter David Frum.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Tonight in his evening news broadcast, CBS‘ Dan Rather said he no longer has confidence in the documents he used in a CBS News piece criticizing President Bush‘s service in the Texas National Guard.  He said the network will undertake an investigation of its use of documents whose authenticity it cannot now defend.  HARDBALL election correspondent David Shuster is here with me with more—David.

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL ELECTION CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, it was the announcement tonight from Dan Rather and the CBS Evening News that journalists at that organization had feared was coming. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER (voice-over):  In a blow to its credibility, CBS News said today that when it used these documents to question President Bush‘s National Guard service, the news organization was misled.  CBS president Andrew Heyward issued an apology saying, quote, “based on what we now know, CBS News cannot prove that the documents are authentic.  We should not have used them, that was a mistake which we deeply regret.”

Adding to the drama was Dan Rather who first reported on the documents, who has been anchoring the “CBS Evening News” for 23 years. 

DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS ANCHOR:  The failure of CBS News to do just that, to properly fully scrutinize the documents and their source led to our airing the documents when we should not have done so.  It was a mistake.  CBS News deeply regrets it.  Also, I want to say personally and directly, I‘m sorry. 

SHUSTER:  On the September 8 edition of “60 Minutes,” Rather reported that in 1972, George W. Bush failed to meet Texas National Guard standards and refused a direct order.  But the documents were questioned almost immediately by experts watching from home.  The problem, said the Internet bloggers, was that the typeface appeared to match computer word processors and not the kind of typewriters used by the military in the early seventies.  At first, CBS strongly defended its story. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But CBS used several techniques to make sure these papers should be taken seriously. 

SHUSTER:  And last week, even after a crucial secretary said the memos were fake, CBS argued nobody had disputed that George W. Bush received preferential treatment.  Today, however, after re-interviewing Bill Burkett, the source for the documents, CBS announced it had been misled.  And the White House pounced. 

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Why did CBS rely on Bill Burkett, a previously discredited source, for this information.  CBS said that he was an unimpeachable source.  The fact is he was not unimpeachable source.  He was a discredited source from the past and someone who has been very involved with Democrats. 

SHUSTER:  For many Republicans, Dan Rather‘s apology is about as glorious as it gets.  Rather has been infuriating the G.O.P. ever since Richard Nixon and Watergate.  But today it is Dan Rather who has given his longtime critics all the ammunition they need. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER (on camera):  CBS News says it is launching an internal investigation, an investigation that will examine the mistakes verifying the documents, but one that will also undoubtedly try to piece together how an organization as proud as CBS News could have made itself look so foolish -- Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.

Andrea Mitchell is chief foreign affairs correspondent for NBC News, and Jon Meacham is the managing editor of “Newsweek.”  CBS didn‘t quite take all the responsibility.  Let‘s start with you, Andrea.  They said they were deliberately misled by their source, Bill Burkett.  Now we‘ve had Bill Burkett on this show before making all kinds of accusations about cover-ups, of George Bush‘s failure to work and things like that as a National Guardsman.  Can they pass the blame? 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  I don‘t think they can.  The other thing is that Bill Burkett acknowledged that he has known Dan Rather, Dan Rather has known Bill Burkett, they‘re Texans, for 30 years.  This was a trusted source.  And this was clearly a source with an axe to grind.  The first lesson, and everyone feels terrible about what has happened.  This is really a black eye not only for CBS but for all of journalism.  That‘s the way people out there are going to interpret it. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re not going to say that we‘re all guilty. 

MITCHELL:  No, we‘re not all guilty but we all have to take another hard look at ourselves.  There have been too many of these incidents but the first thing that you do with a source is find out what is the axe that that source has to grind, what is the bias of the source before you assess whether that person‘s information is trustworthy. 

MATTHEWS:  But Jon, last week we showed a whole clip of Burkett, the main source for this document, this apparently forged document showing—making accusations all over the place.  He saw something in the top of a trash can.  He just happened to be there.  And there was George Bush‘s records on the top of the trash can.  He overheard a conversation on the phone by two people with Bush connections.  He happened to be passing by a couple of times when some general was passing orders to somebody about covering up the president‘s misbehavior, lack of service during his Guard period.  Why would you trust a guy who is so loose with accusations as that, as Bill Burkett?

JON MEACHAM, “NEWSWEEK”:  Right.  I think that‘s a central question that CBS still has to answer is whether—is exactly how the reporting trail happened.  And I think that‘s not been fully explained yet.  And I think for a lot of people in the country, that‘s going to be the question. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll tell you the big thing I think—let me (UNINTELLIGIBLE) as a question.  These bloggers out there, the new news source for a lot of people, they‘re the ones that put the heat on Rather, put the heat on CBS.  If they hadn‘t put the heat on CBS, would they have ever come clean? 

MITCHELL:  Well, immediately people like Michael Dobbs at the “Washington Post” and other traditional journalists saw the documents and thought there was something wrong with them.  So it didn‘t only take the blogers to bring people‘s attention.  I think it would have been caught.  But the bloggers have certainly accelerated the time frame for us.

MEACHAM:  It took—you know, Michael Isikoff at “Newsweek” broke the Burkett connection to begin with a couple of days after.  So in this world where Bush accusations are being trafficked, it was fairly clear pretty early on to people who really knew the subject that that is where the trail might lead. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think, Jon—you have to deal with reporters all the time, you have to tell them, can you back that up?  Do you have a source on that?  Do you have two sources on that?  Do you know the person?  Can you count on them?  Are you staking your reputation on them?  Why would the producers for CBS, “60 Minutes” which is a Tiffany network product if there ever was one, why would they bank their entire reputation and Dan Rather‘s reputation on a piece of paper that they apparently got through a Kinko‘s in Abilene, Texas.  Why would they bet everything on one piece of paper without having it authenticated and they never did?

MEACHAM:  That‘s true.  They would argue that they weren‘t banking everything on the piece of paper.  But what really—the great question journalistically has to be—somebody was saying in the papers this morning, there is that moment where you shut the door and you say, now let‘s do a really gut check here.  Are you really, really confident that this is right because all of these great franchises, whether it‘s CBS or “Newsweek” or the “New York Times,” whatever it is, all we have is our trust with our readers and the fact that what you see or what you read you‘ve done your best to authenticate.  And that‘s reporting 101.  It is nothing more complicated than that.  And that‘s going to be a great question out in the country because a lot of people who are predisposed not to trust CBS and the networks are going to say, see, I told you.  They make it all up anyway. 

MATTHEWS:  But there are millions of people watching right now who are coin collectors, stamp collectors, antique collectors, they buy old cars, they buy all kinds of things, they buy dogs, they want to see the papers.  They buy it and they say, yes, that looks very nice.  I think it looks right.  I would like to have that on my wall, that signature (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and they turn over the back and there‘s a—somebody has to certify that this is in fact, has the providence that they claim.  Bill Burkett was CBS‘ source for where this document came from?  All they had to do was watch HARDBALL last February, they would have seen the guy has a lot of claims to make. 

MITCHELL:  And in fact you didn‘t have to have that kind of paper for a story like this.  Take a look at the “New York Times” which did a really fine job of just tracking what did George Bush do in 1972, the key year in question.  And without any papers, they interviewed people.  They interviewed people who knew him, who were with him, who dated him, who were in the Guard, who were out of the Guard.  And you can create a mosaic and produce a credible piece of journalism without this kind of documentation.  But in this case, they relied too heavily on documentation that they had not checked as you point out.

MEACHAM:  Part of the psychological surround here I bet is that basically people who are against President Bush believe he is a fortunate son who has gotten away with murder his whole life.  And those people are going to say, he‘s gotten away with murder again here because these documents, sort of like the Bible, in some cases, may have been true but they weren‘t accurate which was CBS‘ defense for a while.  On the other side, people are going to say, well, it‘s the liberal media doing it again. 

MATTHEWS:  If you‘re willing to trust this president to take us into Iraq, to protect us against 9/11, to take our entire army, frankly, into Iraq, to make a decision of that import and to defend it, you‘re going to vote for him, why would you not vote for him because he didn‘t show up for a physical 30-some years ago?

MITCHELL:  The bottom line is that people don‘t care about what happened 30 years ago.  They‘re past that.  What people want to know is, how is this person, Kerry or Bush, going to lead us out of Iraq, lead us into economic prosperity.  That‘s the bottom line. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s get back to reality here beyond media criticism, et cetera and I think this is a big story about Dan Rather and that‘s why we led with it.  But the horrible reality is that we‘re in Iraq right now.  We‘re having people picked off, Eugene Jack Armstrong just beheaded today by Zarqawi, the guy from the Iraqi, the al Qaeda organization in Iraq.  What is that going to tell us about where we should be in the world?  Is this going to be a case for staying or a case for leaving? 

MEACHAM:  Well, there is going to be a remarkable debate, I think, in the country in the next six weeks, and it‘s not going to be about memos or Kinko‘s.  It is going to be about Iraq.  We report this week that in fact Kerry wants to make the last month of the campaign about Iraq, and say that George Bush is losing the war and I would win it.  And whether or not the country agrees with Kerry or not, at least there is this chance that there is going to be a substantive conversation about life and death. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think with the beheading of Jack Armstrong, horrible, and probably more to come in that area of horror, that the French and the German will say, oh, now we‘re going to go in.  We were wrong last year.  We‘re going into Iraq now under Kerry‘s leadership.  Why would they want to go into the war under Kerry‘s leadership rather than under Bush‘s? 

MITCHELL:  Well, that is the greatest fallacy in the Democrats‘ argument right now, because they‘ve not made that case.  And in fact, this does hark back to the horrors of Beirut, when we all saw how the Reagan administration was grappling with this.  Once you have hostages—and of course, the Jimmy Carter administration in Iran.  Hostage taking is an evil, evil form of terror.  Because it is so, you know, random, so hard to prevent, and you‘re not dealing with a military situation on the ground, which is what we know how to confront. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, anyway, thank you very much, Andrea Mitchell.  Thank you, Jon Meacham.  Much more on the CBS story.  When we come back, we‘ll be joined by “The Washington Post‘s” Tom Shales, “The Wall Street Journal‘s” Dorothy Rabinowitz, and document expert Emily Will.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Joining me now is Tom Shales, TV critic for “The Washington Post.”  David Gergen, editor at large for “U.S.  News & World Report,” and Dorothy Rabinowitz, panelist on PBS‘s “Wall Street Journal Editorial Report.”  Thank you all for joining. 

I want you all to take a pass at this.  This is a big night in journalism.  It‘s been described as a dark day at Black Rock, the headquarters for CBS in New York.  I don‘t accept we‘re all guilty, so let‘s start with narrowing it down here.  What went wrong here, Tom?

TOM SHALES, WASHINGTON POST:  Well, the system screwed up again.  And we‘ve seen it happen before.  Every news organization seems to get its turn at it.  And it couldn‘t have happened at a worse time, in a way, and the fact that it was CBS, which the conservatives perceive as being, you know, this recklessly liberal place, the fact that it was CBS makes it all the worse.  And then Dan Rather, who they love to beat on Dan Rather.  They have their little bumper stickers, “Rather Biased,” and they have Web sites and all this stuff.  So Dan—the fact that Dan is associated with it—even though he can‘t really be blamed for it, it just gets...

MATTHEWS:  He can‘t be blamed for it?  Why not?

SHALES:  I don‘t think so.  I mean, the title managing editor is sort of honorary, isn‘t it?  I mean, and he was assured by others that the memos were real.  He didn‘t go snooping around down in wherever the hell they came from...

MATTHEWS:  So why did he go in with both feet and defend the report?

SHALES:  Because he is a team player, and he wanted to support the team.  You know, it would have been more honorable for him to say, well, I don‘t know, we got some pretty weird people working here, maybe they‘re wrong.  You know, he stuck to the guns, and tried to defend the group behind him.  So you can hardly blame him for that.  It‘s just that he walked—he waded right into the quicksand.

MATTHEWS:  David Gergen, your take on this.  What does it mean?  Who was the bad guy?  Who is going to get hurt?

DAVID GERGEN, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT:  Well, I think journalism got badly hurt, but CBS and Dan Rather in particular got hurt.  I agree with everything Tom Shales said up until the point when he said that Dan Rather doesn‘t share responsibility in this.  I think he, as managing editor, as the man who goes on the air, you do share responsibility.  The president of the United States shares responsibility when things go badly in Iraq.  I think Dan Rather shares responsibility here when things go badly for CBS.

MATTHEWS:  What did he do wrong?

GERGEN:  I think there are two mistakes—two mistakes...

MATTHEWS:  David, what did he do wrong?

GERGEN:  Two mistakes.  I mean, they rushed into print, as Howie Kurtz and “The Washington Post” I think made very abundantly clear in his long analysis, with others there at “The Post,” that they—at a time when they could have double-checked and they should have knowing that this was the president of the United States they were talking about, in the midst of a political campaign, when this is a story that could badly damage a president, it behooves a news organization to be doubly cautious, and instead they rushed into print.  When Dan Bartlett, the communications director of the White House, said, we don‘t question these documents, we simply don‘t know, they took that as a sign the documents were legit, and they rushed.  So that was error number one.

And then secondly, once they published it, and all sorts of legitimate doubts were raised by a number of news organizations, as well as by the bloggers, they tenaciously hung on and insisted that it was true, and that the doubters had to prove that they were unauthentic.  They went way too long.  They made two mistakes.  First, they dug the hole and then they kept digging, and now I think they‘ve got a huge problem.

They‘re on their way to recovery.  They‘re on their way to healing.  Tom is right, that many other news organizations have gone through the same thing.  “The New York Times,” “USA Today,” “Washington Post,” you can go down the list.  But this is a serious blow to Dan and to CBS.

MATTHEWS:  Dr. Rabinowitz, your take on this?

DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, WALL STREET JOURNAL:  My take on this is that there are two words we ought to get removed from these discussions.  One of which is mistake, and the other one is the system.  You can‘t miss the extraordinary quality of this story.  When you have a news organization and Dan Rather saying, look, we think we can‘t stand by the documents, maybe they‘re false, but the story is true, you know how far they‘ve been committed to this blunder.

So I think what we had here was—I‘m not one of those people, I should say, who think Dan Rather is an enemy of the republic, or that he‘s some (UNINTELLIGIBLE) left-winger.  No.  I think this is Dan Rather‘s career is all about breaking news.  This is hubris.  This is overweening pride combined with fear.

MATTHEWS:  Why, Dorothy, have they refused, CBS, to discount these documents even now?  Their statements simply say they can‘t prove their authenticity.  Why are they still holding on to the possibility that they‘re authentic?

RABINOWITZ:  Because they live in the same house.  There is this—look, there are the conspiratorial theories that somehow, the real source behind these documents may be the Democratic—some Democratic Party big wig. 

There is another issue.  They have all behaved in the same way, the same psychological digging in deep.  Nobody reading this closely, just as those bloggers read those documents, can miss the fact that there is a little loophole in there, called maybe it will turn out to be true.

MATTHEWS:  I read that loophole, but let me ask you, I think you misspoke.  You said they‘re hoping at CBS, you‘re saying, that there were Republicans behind this.

RABINOWITZ:  I‘m sorry...

MATTHEWS:  That they think it‘s a sting operation.

RABINOWITZ:  Yes, Democrats, and there is that...

MATTHEWS:  No, Republicans?

RABINOWITZ:  Republicans?  Oh, no, that‘s the double-double conspiracy theory.

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re hoping—you‘re hoping—that CBS, you believe, is still hoping that they were mouse-trapped into this...

RABINOWITZ:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  ... by Democrats, who wanted to dump on Bush?

RABINOWITZ:  Well, I think that‘s one of the stories out there.

MATTHEWS:  But that‘s no more exculpatory than if they took it from a guy named Bill Burkett, is it?

RABINOWITZ:  Well, but Bill Burkett is saying, look, I deliberately did this.  I deliberately—what does deliberately mean?  He wants you to think deliberately means, I am protecting someone.

MATTHEWS:  OK, we‘re going to come back with Tom Shales, David Gergen and Dorothy Rabinowitz.  And later, how does CBS‘ admission today affect the presidential race?  We‘ll get answers from Democratic strategist Tony Coelho, and former Bush speechwriter David Frum.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Tom Shales of “The Washington Post,” David Gergen of “U.S. News & World Report,” and “The Wall Street Journal‘s” Dorothy Rabinowitz.

You know, a week ago, or last week, we replayed an interview I had with this guy, Bill Burkett, who was the source of these documents, the forged documents, apparently, early in the year.  And clearly, this guy had a lot of claims to make.  I mean, he claims he happened to be sitting somewhere.  There‘s a big trash can with a whole pile of stuff that was being burned, that had to do with George Bush‘s service in the National Guard that was being covered up.  He just happened to be sitting there.  He just happened to be sitting there when Karen Hughes and Joseph Allbaugh were on the phone, all part of a cover-up plan.  He just happened to be there when a general walked past a lower ranking officer and gave them the word about how to cover up this guy‘s record. 

This is a guy, Bill Burkett, who was the main and only source for CBS‘ statement that this was an accurate document.  I don‘t get why they would believe in a guy who had so many claims to make before, Tom. 

SHALES:  Are you sure that they didn‘t double, triple, quadruple check this thing? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, if they‘d simply know how many claims he had made. 

Now, according to their report here...

SHALES:  Yes.  They should have known he was unreliable. 

MATTHEWS:  Their statement tonight says that they believed in Bill Burkett and he misled them. 

SHALES:  Yeah.  But as far as, you know, this withholding it, double-checking it, it‘s a very competitive business.  And they had every right to believe that if they had these memos, NBC, ABC and you know, MSNBC had them, too.  So you can sit around just so long.  Plus, CBS got burned, and “60 Minutes,” very badly for being too cautious with the tobacco guy.  Remember?  They sat on that one, and they blew it the other way.  They were -- they withheld a story from publication, and they ended up looking like sellouts. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think, knowing Dan Rather and covering him all these years, do you think Dan Rather has a bias against the Bush family? 

SHALES:  I think he would have a right—almost have a right to have a bias against the Bush family.  But I think...

MATTHEWS:  Well, why so?  Why do you say that? 

SHALES:  Well, they‘ve been picking on him.  I mean, that thing with George Bush 41...

MATTHEWS:  He knocked him for taking the eight minutes off.  That thing.

SHALES:  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  That was a dirty kind of a trick to do. 

MATTHEWS:  That started the war. 

SHALES:  Yeah, I guess so.  And ever since then, I don‘t know.  There has been—but I think it goes all the way back to Nixon and him saying, you know, I‘m not running for anything...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... are you?

Let me ask you, Dorothy Rabinowitz, is it your sense that Dan Rather is biased against the Bush family and the Republicans? 

RABINOWITZ:  I don‘t think—no, I don‘t think so.  It is a very boring take on the story, I have to tell you...

(CROSSTALK) 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m just trying to start (ph) here, I‘m trying to get something going, Dorothy. 

RABINOWITZ:  It really is.  Because the psycho drama played out here is so much more profound, you know?  There are an awful lot of news people who are biased, and we can guess how they vote.  Dan Rather‘s life...

MATTHEWS:  No, that‘s not what I‘m saying.  I‘m asking if you believe he acts on it?  Does he behave in a way that suggests bias?

RABINOWITZ:  I don‘t.  My short answer is, I don‘t believe that.  I believe that Dan Rather is behaving in the way he has his whole life.  His whole life has been about breaking big stories.  This one was just too wildly tempting.  So it wasn‘t the system.  It was Dan Rather.  And I think we really ought to keep our eye on the strangeness of this story. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK.  We‘re coming right back with Tom Shales, David Gergen and Dorothy Rabinowitz.  And later, how will CBS‘ admission today affect the presidential race?  And that is a question.  We‘ll ask Tony Coelho and David Frum.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, CBS News will no longer vouch for the authenticity of documents used in reports about President Bush‘s military service.  What does that mean for the presidential election?  Plus, more with Tom Shales, Dorothy Rabinowitz, and David Gergen. 

But, first, let‘s check in with the MSNBC News Desk.

(NEWS BREAK)  

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We‘re back with Tom Shales of “The Washington Post,” David Gergen of “U.S. News and World Report” and “The Wall Street Journal”‘s Dorothy Rabinowitz. 

Let me go back to David.  Do you think this news today—and a lot of people are going to be greeting this with great festivity—it is going to be Michael like “Monday Night Football” certain people.  It‘s the proof that the establishment is wrong, that the conservatives were right about Dan Rather.  And the whole institutional question is do you trust the establishment is now in the negative tonight. 

Do you think this is going to have an impact on the campaign?  Will this denigrate news coverage negative toward the president, for example, between now and Election Day? 

GERGEN:  I think it has already had an impact on the news coverage, Chris. 

My sense is that, because of the Dan Rather—when this whole thing started blowing up two weeks ago, and then the Kitty Kelley book and then the Sy Hersh book came in the wake of that, that a lot of news organizations played down the Kitty Kelley and played down the Sy Hersh book in part because they could see how controversial and how sensitive these issues were.  And I think that they saw how—that Dan Rather might be in very serious trouble. 

I think it has had a dampening impact.  I think there‘s no question it is a gift to the president.  I think Dorothy is actually right, that this is much more about Dan‘s desire to break the story, CBS‘ desire to break the story than it is about his bias.  But it will confirm people‘s biases. 

Let me say is—that torrent start of argument that Dan Rather is terribly biased, there‘s a case to be made out there.  But I do want to say one thing about his reporting over the years, having worked in government.  One of the things that an aggressive reporter like Dan Rather does, and CBS does, they keep government more honest over time, because you know they‘re out there watching over your shoulder every minute of the day. 

And over time, it actually does produce a more honest government.  In this case, they made a terrible mistake. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is it a mistake?  Or was it—did it show not a mistake in behavior? 

Let‘s go back to Dorothy.  She doesn‘t like the word mistake. 

GERGEN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Dorothy, why don‘t you like the word mistake? 

RABINOWITZ:  Because it‘s one of those weasel words for something much larger.  Mistakes were made.  OK.  They didn‘t use that locution.  But it‘s not a mistake.  It is a desperate plunge into the unknown, hoping you‘re going to get the trophy. 

That is not a mistake.  That‘s a big dare.  They dared wrong. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Dan Rather would have taken the same plunge in a story he was tracking against Kerry, Dorothy? 

RABINOWITZ:  Yes.  I thought about that.  And I actually think he would have done it, perhaps with not as much delight and fervor.  But I don‘t even know that. 

All we know is that the big story is, the president in power, unseated, the sitting president, you had these terrible documents proving something against him.  He‘s going to go with that story.  But that‘s ordinary stuff.  What is completely abnormal, what would be remembered for very long eons is the behavior of CBS in the advent of being undone. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you all—I‘m sorry, Dorothy.  I have to move ahead.

RABINOWITZ:  Go ahead.

MATTHEWS:  Dorothy, you pick up on this first.  I think—my judgment is that if he had had the story, if he had a document which was—that had the right providence and was an authentic document that showed the president sloughed off back in those days and in fact he hadn‘t taken a physical, he was supposed to do under orders, that, if you added up all that together, that hodgepodge, that farrago stuff, it still wouldn‘t have changed many votes, because the big issues of this campaign, the war in Iraq, especially, are so paramount. 

RABINOWITZ:  Yes.  I quite agree with you. 

It would not have only not changed anyone, it would have had the same effect that Kitty Kelley‘s biography has.  Everybody will write it off as gotcha.  And it‘s much too late in the game for that.  I doubt that there are a handful of undecideds out there left anymore. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Excuse me.  I‘m sorry. 

RABINOWITZ:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  Tom, why did Dan Rather pay such a big chance with such low stakes?  Had he gotten the story, had he scooped everybody with this document, it wouldn‘t have been a—this isn‘t a trophy, this.  Is it worth the risk he took? 

SHALES:  Yes, I think so. 

And I still don‘t think he was reckless.  I don‘t think we should rule out the booby trap theory that Dorothy seemed to be floating. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Who set the trap?

SHALES:  The one that Republicans typed up these

(CROSSTALK)  

MATTHEWS:  No, her theory is the Democrats

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Your theory is the Republicans did it. 

SHALES:  My theory, they could very well have put the little “th” with the wrong thing knowing exactly which mistakes would be found, slip to some guy who is a little unhinged anyway, and there to CBS. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SHALES:  Because it is like such a gift to the Republican Party and to

George W. Bush.  I mean, it is like Christmas

(CROSSTALK) 

MATTHEWS:  But here, again, there‘s a risk factor.  If they were

caught putting this little—setting up this sting operation that Dan fell

·         that first Burkett and then Dan fell victim to, that would have been a much more colossal story.   

(LAUGHTER)

SHALES:  Well, but somebody has got to break it.  Somebody has got to prove it.    

MATTHEWS:  I mean, Nixon was trying to prove that Howard Hughes was paying off Larry O‘Brien.  Nobody cares what he was trying to prove.  They just care he broke in to do it, or his people did. 

SHALES:  Nixon didn‘t get caught until after he was reelected.  Maybe Bush won‘t get caught until after he is reelected either. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  David Gergen, David Gergen, when you teach your class up at Harvard, what‘s the lesson here? 

GERGEN:  The lesson is, it‘s the classic lesson in journalism.  Get it first, but first get it right. 

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN:  It‘s a classic violation of the rule.  You can call it a mistake or you can call it a plunge into—a reckless plunge. 

But what we‘re facing, Chris, and what I think is astonishing to all of us is how many news organizations and how often our own government is plunging into things without first thinking it through. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You mean like the war in Iraq. 

GERGEN:  Enormous number.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Like the war in Iraq with no weapons of mass destruction. 

(CROSSTALK)

RABINOWITZ:  Let‘s not get off the subject. 

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN:  I agree with that. 

But how is it we‘re getting so—how is it professionals are so often getting it so badly, so desperately wrong?  What is it in our culture that causes people to do that?  I think Dorothy is right.  They were under—and Tom is right about the enormous competitive pressures they‘re facing. 

But this is still a professional news organization after all.  And here‘s the tiffany of the broadcast networks suddenly with egg all over its face.

(CROSSTALK)  

GERGEN:  Could it be that after years of being talked to from a moral high plain, whether it‘s the Catholic Church or it‘s CBS, wherever it is, Americans get a big giggle out of the fact that the guys who are telling them what the truth and assume a moral superiority and an intellectual superiority got it wrong? 

Tom, isn‘t there a big giggle there for America? 

SHALES:  No, I suppose, yes.  It‘s a kind of sad giggle.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s the priest thing.  The priests get in trouble. 

They‘ve been telling us what to do for 50 years and now they‘re getting caught. 

SHALES:  Well, I don‘t think Dan Rather lied.  And I‘m not so sure you

can say that about

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Nobody said he lied. 

RABINOWITZ:  Nobody said he lied.

SHALES:  Nobody said he lied.   

(CROSSTALK)

SHALES:  Dan Rather wouldn‘t lie.  George W. Bush would.  So I still think Dan has the moral high ground. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Dorothy, your last word.  That was a tough statement.  Do you want to respond to that? 

RABINOWITZ:  Yes.  My last word is when you see two guys standing in CBS in suspenders with their sleeves rolled up, the way the tiffany network‘s representative did, proving their integrity, you have to giggle.  That‘s No. 1. 

And, No. 2, what were the lesson of Watergate?  Tell the truth.  Tell all of it.  And don‘t wait.  And all of the people who came out of Watergate have simply forgotten this, all of the reporting people, that is. 

That‘s the lesson we learned.  They didn‘t tell the truth.  They hung on to

this unraveling story.  For what?  So

(CROSSTALK)   

MATTHEWS:  You‘re right.  It‘s like fish.  The longer you keep it, the more it stinks. 

RABINOWITZ:  Exactly. 

(CROSSTALK)  

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you very much, Tom Shales, David Gergen, and Dorothy Rabinowitz.

Coming up, how will CBS‘ admission today change the presidential race?  It is going to.  Democratic strategist Tony Coelho and former Bush speechwriter David Frum will be here.

And don‘t forget, sign up for HARDBALL‘s daily e-mail briefing.  Just log on to it, our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, now that CBS News admits it can‘t vouch for documents used in reports about George Bush‘s military service record, what‘s next for the presidential race?  Tony Coelho and David Frum join us when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re joined right now by former Bush speechwriter David Frum and former Democratic Congressman Tony Coelho. 

Let me ask you this, Tony Coelho.  The thought was advanced by Dorothy Rabinowitz of “The Wall Street Journal” just a moment ago that maybe the Democrats this information on to CBS and therefore there may be some partisan play here. 

TONY COELHO, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  That has to be rather a strange, strange attitude coming from Dorothy or anybody else after this episode. 

I think what is really strange here, Chris, is that I‘m sure that Republicans will now talk about how CBS rushed to judgment without knowing what they were going to do when they got there.  And yet, we have this war in Iraq where somebody rushed to judgment without having properly planned on how to get out and what to do when we got there.  But they are not going to see that. 

They‘re going to argue the other way, that Dan Rather did this deliberately and the Democrats did it and so forth.  It is just a campaign year that has been a strange one.  And it just gets stranger as we move along here. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Ed Gillespie, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, said, “Did Bill Burkett”—he‘s the guy who was the source for the CBS story, the bogus documents—“Democratic activist and Kerry campaign supporter, did he pass the information to the Democratic National Committee?  Did he work with Kerry campaign surrogate Max Cleland?”

It is all about trying to the Democrats—are you sure the Democrats weren‘t involved? 

COELHO:  Oh, I know they were not involved.  If they were, fire them immediately, whoever it was.  It‘s just ridiculous. 

This is a story—I happen to like Dan Rather a lot.  I think he‘s been an excellent journalist.  I thought David Gergen had some good points, that having an aggressive press, be it from the left or be it from the right, is good for our system.  And so I think having an aggressive press is exactly what a democracy needs.  But you also have to be responsible.  And you have to be responsible for your mistakes, as well as being responsible for the time that you uncover things. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to David Frum.

Do you see this as a mistake by the CBS organization and Dan Rather particularly or does it suggest a bias? 

DAVID FRUM, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR PRESIDENT BUSH:  Well, as Dr.

Freud taught us, that sometimes our mistakes reveal who we really are. 

Of course it was a mistake.  They would never knowingly put have something false on the air.  But why were they so easily fooled?  It was not just a forgery.  It was a crude forgery.  By the way, that‘s why I agree with Tony Coelho.  I don‘t think anybody in the Democratic Party was involved in this.  I think they would have had—aside from the decency, which I hope they have, they would have had the brains to go get a typewriter. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What about Tom Shales‘ theory?

(CROSSTALK)

FRUM:  It‘s a mistake that tells us a lot about CBS.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m sorry to interrupt, David.  Tom Shales was just on a minute ago and he thought the Republicans might have been involved here in a sting operation to set up CBS and make them look stupid. 

FRUM:  No, I think it was the Masons.  I think that would be a better response to Tom Shales.  What a stupid thing to say. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you

(CROSSTALK)

COELHO:  That story is moving around all over the place.  But I think it is ridiculous.  I happen to agree with David on it. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, David, the same thought about this whole political thing here.  If Dan Rather is perceived by the right, like most conservatives, as a liberal, does this help build the case against believing the establishment media between now and Election Day? 

FRUM:  Well, look, the establishment media were in trouble before and

for deep, deep reasons.  But here‘s I think one

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What were those reasons? 

FRUM:  Well, the loss of—everything that builds your industry, the cable news network and the move to the Internet and the fragmentation of the audience.  All of that stuff, we know. 

But here I think is its immediate short-term impact.  Everyone who has watched this election has noticed the difference in intensity between Democrats and Republicans, that the Republicans like George Bush.  They don‘t hate John Kerry and they want to go cast a vote for Bush, whereas the Democrats are really determined to go cast a vote against somebody.  And that‘s always a strong force in politics.  This incident now gives the Republicans a thing to vote against. 

They are going to vote against Dan Rather.  They‘re going to vote against CBS.  And I think this incident has equalized the intensity cap. 

MATTHEWS:  So, Tony, do you agree with that?  It gives the Republicans that old underdog spirit?  We have got to take on the big boys? 

COELHO:  Well, I find it interesting.  David forgets how much the Republicans hated Bill Clinton for so many years.  But it is interesting.  I don‘t think this gives the Republicans any more enthusiasm.  The evangelical right is who Karl Rove has targeted.  That‘s who he wants out.  This is not going to help them one way or the other. 

This is a really kind of a story for today and tomorrow and maybe into later on in the week.  But after that, everybody is going to forget about it and move on.  This isn‘t that big of a story.  It is a huge issue for Dan Rather and for CBS.  But for American politics, it‘s not even a blip on the radar screen.  It‘s just—it‘s not an issue.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you. 

Tony, hold on for a second. 

Thank you, David Frum.

More with Tony Coelho when we return.  And we‘ll be joined by MSNBC‘s Pat Buchanan.

And don‘t forget, you can keep up with the presidential race on HardBlogger, our election blog Web site.  Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Democratic strategist Tony Coelho.  And we‘re joined right now by MSNBC‘s Pat Buchanan, author of the new book, “Where the Right Went Wrong.”

Pat, your take on the Rather mess today.  It is a mess for CBS and for Rather. 

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think what Dan is exhibiting today is the modified limited hangout.  It is extraordinary that he would make a statement, we haven‘t been able to authenticate these documents. 

These documents are fakes and forgeries.  CBS has been a witting or unwitting partner to what is a criminal felony, forging documents to bring down a president of the United States.  And they‘ve got to get to the bottom of this.  And I think, to be truthful, CBS has only started to come clean.  And I think they need a lot of apologies out there.  And I think we‘ve got to get to the bottom of how this all came about. 

MATTHEWS:  Why would they trust this fellow, do you think, Bill Burkett?  We‘ve had him on our program.  You‘ve seen him.  He is not—he‘s hard to believe. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, he‘s not credible and he has said some things that are not credible.  The reason they went with it, I believe, is because of Dan Rather‘s desire and will to get the Woodward-Bernstein award, to bring down the president of the United States, arrogance and hubris.

And, as someone told me today, CBS doesn‘t have a bias.  They have an agenda.  I think they saw themselves as being the big players in this campaign.  This hits after Bush‘s convention, knocks him flat on his back. 

MATTHEWS:  Would they done the same thing to Kerry had they the same document in hand? 

BUCHANAN:  Of course not.  Can you imagine, say, if somebody had a—swift boaters gave a document to Fox News which was forged that Kerry somehow got his first Purple Heart by lying, the press would be all over this thing.  They would be run out of business.

They‘re cutting slack for Rather because CBS is really, you know, a senior member of this whole establishment media. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it biased toward the left? 

BUCHANAN:  CBS, incredibly.  The big media is biased toward the left, as some conservative media is biased toward Bush and the conservatives. 

MATTHEWS:  Tony Coelho, do you accept the fact that there‘s a dichotomy between, say, call-in radio and perhaps Fox and on the side, there‘s people to the other side just as dramatically, like CBS?  Do you accept that?

COELHO:  Well, Chris, let‘s take who owns NBC.  GE.  Where does GE put their money?  It‘s not with us Democrats. 

I find it interesting what Pat says.  Fox is as biased to the right as anybody I‘ve ever seen.  They openly acknowledge.  The president of Fox was so biased, one, he had to apologize for being so much out there.  I can‘t even think of his name.  That‘s how important it is.  But I think—the press is—it has some biases.

MATTHEWS:  Who was that?  COELHO:  Pardon?

MATTHEWS:  Who was the president?  Who are you talking about?  I‘m sorry, Tony. 

COELHO:  Oh, the guy who used to work for papa Bush. 

BUCHANAN:  Roger Ailes. 

COELHO:  Roger Ailes. 

MATTHEWS:  I never heard him apologize for being

(CROSSTALK) 

MATTHEWS:  He argues his network is fair and balanced. 

COELHO:  No, this is after—fair and balanced came after the apology when he got too involved in one of the elections, advising and so forth.  And he had to back off. 

I think that, to a great extent, what Pat is saying is interesting, because I don‘t think—I think most of the people in the press tried to be fair and balanced, as to opposed to what Fox is doing.  I think they try to go out there and put out the stories as they know it.  And this guy that put out this story that CBS took ahold of, I will tell you, Chris, we had knowledge of that in the Gore campaign when I was there.  And we dismissed it as it couldn‘t be true.  And we dismissed it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You had knowledge of Bill Burkett? 

COELHO:  We had knowledge of the information that they are talking about at that time, and we didn‘t pursue it.  We listened to it and we did not pursue it. 

BUCHANAN:  All right, look, here‘s the thing.  CBS has been pursuing this for five years.  There‘s not only the connection between Burkett and Cleland, possibly.  Ben Barnes was set up to go on that...

MATTHEWS:  The former lieutenant governor. 

BUCHANAN:  The former lieutenant governor who was the golden boy of Texas politics, was going to be a future president.  He was set up to go on that Dan Rather show and to say—reverse what he had said before under oath and say that he used influence to get him in the Guard. 

Who is Barnes?  He is a Nantucket neighbor of the windsurfer, Mr.

Kerry, up in Nantucket. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, how—you say he was set up by CBS. 

BUCHANAN:  Sure.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How do you know he wasn‘t operating on his own volition because he wanted...

BUCHANAN:  Let‘s say he operated all on his own volition.  How did this all come together at that one time in that one hit piece that CBS did?  It had no countervailing—this was straight prosecution, Chris, had nobody coming in and saying, that‘s wrong.  That‘s wrong.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re saying that CBS‘ producers and Dan Rather as the leader were able to get the former lieutenant governor to say that he put him in the champagne unit, that he was the instigator behind this, Dan Rather? 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  I think he volunteered.  But rather knows Barnes.  And Barnes is a neighbor of Kerry.  And John Kerry should be asked a simple question.  Mr. Kerry, did Ben Barnes tell you he was going to do the CBS show ahead of time and did you know this was coming? 

MATTHEWS:  And what should Kerry have done at that point? 

BUCHANAN:  No.  Well, if Kerry knew, it suggests there might be a little bit of collusion. 

MATTHEWS:  No.   But, if he told Kerry, then Kerry is not responsible, because Kerry would have believed him, obviously.  You think he might have told Kerry, hey, I‘m willing to lie now and say that I helped the president get into the Guard. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Look, all I‘m saying is, when you have got a neighbor of John Kerry, a Nantucket neighbor who said...

MATTHEWS:  You have said that three times now.  It doesn‘t exactly establish guilt here. 

BUCHANAN:  No, no.

MATTHEWS:  Is Barnes telling the truth or not? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, look, his daughter says he is lying. 

MATTHEWS:  So you say he is not telling the truth. 

BUCHANAN:  I suspect he‘s not telling the truth.

MATTHEWS:  Fair enough.  Fair enough, because his daughter said he is not being consistent, right.

BUCHANAN:  Not being consistent.  She‘s saying he‘s lying.

(CROSSTALK)

COELHO:  But to tie that to—but to tie that to John Kerry is really

·         is really a stretch, Pat.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me get it straight.  Ben Barnes had said something different before.  He now says that he helped the guy get in the champagne unit.  That‘s the issue. 

BUCHANAN:  All I want to know—no.  Did Ben Barnes tell Kerry this is coming right after the convention?  That‘s all I want to know. 

MATTHEWS:  If he had done that, then what would be the consequence? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, that would suggest that Kerry knew something was coming and the timing of this was being done by CBS with a political motive in mind.  Right after the good convention, you take him down.  This is politics, pure and simple.  And it is timing.  It‘s handling.  The dismissal...

MATTHEWS:  So CBS is enormously competent politically, but not journalistically? 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s an amazing assertion you‘re building.  Do you notice how much confidence you‘ve given to CBS there?  They are incredible ringleaders.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Tony, I‘m sorry to let you go off, but we‘ve got to go off.

BUCHANAN:  I‘m blinded by the possibilities.

COELHO:  Pat, Pat, Pat.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Tony Coelho. 

That theory was too strong for me to let pass.

Thank you, Tony Coelho.  Thank you, Pat Buchanan. 

Tomorrow on “Imus in the Morning” here on MSNBC, Andy Rooney will join Don Imus to talk about the CBS story.

And join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Senator John McCain will join us, plus our HARDBALL-“Newsweek” special report on religion and politics under God, Bush-Kerry and the faith factor, all that tomorrow night.

Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.

END   

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