updated 1/11/2005 6:26:21 PM ET 2005-01-11T23:26:21

Guest: Les Moonves, Tom Jarriel, Morton Dean, Jane Wallace, Bill Carter, Lee Zeidman, Stephen Battaglio

ANNOUNCER:  This is a special edition of HARDBALL, “CBS News:

Investigation and Fallout.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There was a breakdown in the process.

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ANNOUNCER:  The report is out, and so are four CBS News employees.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is not one of CBS News‘s finest hours.

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ANNOUNCER:  Heads roll, as an independent panel lays blame for a major journalistic blunder.

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DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS ANCHOR:  I didn‘t dig hard enough, long enough, didn‘t ask enough of the right questions.

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ANNOUNCER:  Why weren‘t the right questions asked?  Why were the red flags ignored?  Was there a political agenda or simply a rush to scoop the competition?

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Their practices slipped, and the quality slipped.

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ANNOUNCER:  And what impact might this have on the legacies of the “Tiffany network” and its star anchor?

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think Dan Rather has paid the price that this is going to be high up in his obituary.

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ANNOUNCER:  Tonight, mistakes, misinformation and misgivings.

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RATHER:  I want to say personally and directly, I‘m sorry.

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ANNOUNCER:  Reporting live from MSNBC‘s Washington bureau, Chris Matthews.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Good evening, and welcome to this special edition of HARDBALL.  The long-awaited verdict of the independent investigation into CBS‘s report on President Bush‘s National Guard service, four CBS News staffers were fired today.  But avoiding the axe, CBS News president Andrew Heyward and segment anchor Dan Rather.  Did the right heads roll?

The report found the most serious problems with the report were, No.  1, the failure to authenticate documents discrediting President Bush‘s National Guard service.  Two, the false claim that an expert had, in fact, authenticated the documents.  Three, the failure to scrutinize the provider of the documents.  And fourth, defending the story without checking out criticisms of the story.

Up first, the chairman and CEO of CBS, Les Moonves.  He sat down with the NBC News chief legal correspondent and the host of “THE ABRAMS REPORT” here on MSNBC, Dan Abrams, to talk about the independent investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN ABRAMS, NBC CHIEF LEGAL CORRESPONDENT:  What was CBS‘s biggest mistake?

LES MOONVES, CHAIRMAN & CEO, CBS:  I think CBS‘s biggest mistake was a rush to judgment.  In other words, there was such an overzealousness to get the story on the air that the experts weren‘t authenticated—the documents weren‘t authenticated, and I don‘t think they checked out the sources sufficiently.

ABRAMS:  Is CBS ready to say, We got wrong?

MOONVES:  Oh, there‘s no question about it.

ABRAMS:  We got it wrong?

MOONVES:  The panel, you know, wrote a very in-depth report of 225 pages.  And in my statement about it, I said we were unfair and inaccurate at certain points and times throughout this.  So yes, you should never put on a story where you show a document and can‘t authenticate it.

ABRAMS:  But is CBS now confident that that document was a fake?

MOONVES:  No.  You know what?  It‘s interesting.  The panel never said the document was a fake.  But if you can‘t authenticate that it was a true document, it might as well have been a fake, you know.  You have to put on something that‘s accurate or not.  I don‘t think anybody‘s ever said, Gee, it‘s absolutely inaccurate, but they can‘t authenticate it, so therefore it never should have been used..

ABRAMS:  Four producers either asked to resign or fired, and yet Dan Rather, the face of the piece—and not just the face of the piece, someone who was working on the piece behind the scenes...

MOONVES:  Right.

ABRAMS:  ... no consequences.

MOONVES:  Well, it‘s three producers and an executive at CBS.  Look, the report very clearly states Dan was working on the Republican national convention.  He was working on a hurricane story.  And clearly, when the story went on the air, I think Dan‘s biggest fault was trusting a producer who he‘d worked with before.  Obviously, they had great success together as recently as the Abu Ghraib story.  And he trusted the accuracy of the report because of the producer he was working with.

ABRAMS:  So Dan Rather hadn‘t verified the sources?  Dan Rather hadn‘t asked the tough questions?

MOONVES:  As you know, you can‘t always do that as a reporter.  You trust the people you work with.

ABRAMS:  Do you think it was purely journalistic errors?  Do you think that if there had been journalists, producers with a more conservative bend at the helm, that the result might have been different?

MOONVES:  I don‘t think it had anything do with whether they were conservative or liberal or Republicans or Democrats.  I don‘t think producers checked appropriately.  I don‘t think they vetted the report.  Forget about political bent.  I don‘t think it had anything to do with it. 

I think it had do with not doing their jobs.

ABRAMS:  As the person in charge of CBS, are you more up upset what happened before the story aired or what happened after the story aired?

MOONVES:  Both.  Both.  I wouldn‘t say more.  I was unhappy with the story for of its inaccuracies, and I was unhappy that action wasn‘t taken quicker.

ABRAMS:  But in the aftermath, I mean, it wasn‘t just that action wasn‘t taken, it was this grand defense that went on publicly by CBS of its report.  And the panel really seems to focus on that.

MOONVES:  I think they focused on both.  I really do.  And I think there was errors in judgment on both sides, before the story came out and after the story came out.

ABRAMS:  Andrew Heyward, president of CBS News, retains his job.

MOONVES:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  Why no action taken against Andrew Heyward?

MOONVES:  If you read the report in detail, time and time again, Andrew asked his lieutenants, I don‘t want this report thrown on the air too quickly.  I don‘t want it crashed.  I want every syllable of the report checked out.  I think Andrew is guilty of his subordinates letting him down.  I don‘t think that was necessary, to relieve him of his duties.

ABRAMS:  But as the head of the news division, as the head of a company, don‘t you take the heat for what the subordinants do sometimes?

MOONVES:  Obviously, I didn‘t feel that way, in fairness (ph) to Andrew.

ABRAMS:  And he is safe and secure in his position?

MOONVES:  Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That was Dan Abrams interviewing CBS chairman and CEO Les Moonves.

Joining me rihgt now with their take on the CBS report that came out today are former CBS News and ABC News correspondent Morton Dean, former CBS News correspondent Jane Wallace, former ABC News “20/20” correspondent Tom Jarriel.  And on the telephone, Bill Carter from “The New York Times.”

I want to go to Bill first, the newspaper man here.  Bill, is this the end of the story, what Les Moonves said and the rest of this report tonight?

BILL CARTER, “NEW YORK TIMES”:  Well, you never know, Chris, because in past examples of this, even when top management has been sort of felt to be secure—that certainly was the case in the “New York Times” case—it doesn‘t always last.  And I‘m not sure that Mr. Heyward necessarily is out of the woods.  It sort of depends on how the staff reacts and whether they can put together, you know, the pieces of this.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here we have a statement that came out from Mary Mapes.  She, of course, was the executive producer of the piece.  And she released a statement this evening.  We got it at 6:08 tonight.  Quote, “I never had control of the timing of any airing of a ‘60 Minutes‘ segment.  That‘s always been a decision made by my superiors.  Airing this story when it did was also a decision made by my superiors, including Andrew Heyward.”

Les Moonves, BIll, you just heard say the issue here was rush to judgment.  She‘s passing the blame up the ladder, all the way to the president of the news division, Andrew Heyward, passed Rather on the way.  Will that sell as part of this story?

CARTER:  I don‘t know because the take inside CBS is that Mary Mapes, because of her reputation and the big scoop that she had, was kind of the star force at that show and was pushing that pretty hard.  Now, the people who got fired were fired because they didn‘t exercise judgment in questioning whether that story was ready to go or not.  Their version is that she was pushing to get it on the air that night for competive reasons because they were afraid—I think it was “USA Today” was going to break the story ahead of them.  And that she was one—because of her reputation, she was able to kind of bully that through.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  And yet, Andrew Heyward had warned early on, according to the report by Thornburgh today, that he didn‘t want the producers to be pushing this story, to be steam-rolling the story.

CARTER:  Yes, that‘s what he—that‘s what he said.  And he had an e-mail, I think, to prove that he had said that.  But it certainly seems as though the people on the show were extremely eager to push this story.  I think you have to say that, you know, for CBS, you know, they‘re not the No. 1 news organization anymore, and this was a producer, you know, who was getting them scoops.  And I think that‘s one reason they sort of went along with this.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  They fed the hot hand.  Let‘s go now with our correspondents who are joining us right now.  I want each person to give your comment about where you think the blame should lie, with Mary Mapes, the executive producer, or higher up the food chain.  Tom Jarriel?

TOM JARRIEL, FORMER ABC “20/20” CORRESPONDENT:  Higher up the food chain.  Believe me, in stories like this, executives know, the executive producers know, everyone is watching what‘s happening.  You can‘t say it was an overzealous producer because these people are professionals.  They‘re cool under fire.  They meet deadlines all the time.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

JARRIEL:  And there‘s a lot of responsibility still to go up.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of this “Ted Baxter defense,” Pat Buchanan called it tonight on our earlier edition, that Dan Rather was simply, in the British sense, a presenter of the news and couldn‘t be blamed for this because he was too busy with other stories?  Tom?

JARRIEL:  I think that‘s sort of incredible—I‘m sorry.  I think that‘s rather incredible.  For one thing, Dan Rather has been doing this for most of his adult life that I‘ve seen and known him.  He operates well under pressure.  And I think it would be almost sophomoric for this panel to sit down and say, Well, you were too busy then, you really couldn‘t keep up with it.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s...

JARRIEL:  Dan has a lot of experience in this.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  Let‘s go to Morton Dean.  Same questions to you.  Does this belong, the main responsibility, with Mary Mapes and her associates, or does the responsibility for this screw-up go higher?

MORTON DEAN, FORMER CBS AND ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I would like to believe that the people in positions of responsibility—and I mean Rather and the president of CBS News—had to have been aware that there was some controversy about this piece.  After all, the president of CBS News passed on the final cut of the piece.

MATTHEWS:  So he saw the documents with those little superscripts that said “th” that weren‘t really available on manuel typewriters 37-some years ago.

DEAN:  That he did.  I mean, at least that‘s my understanding and I think the panel‘s understanding.  But as you well know, you have to have trust in a news organization.  If you don‘t trust your people, an organization just can‘t work.  And so what we have here is the president of CBS News trusting his people, Dan trusting his people.

I think one of the big problems, which was pointed out in the investigation, is that Dan was too busy.  And I think that‘s a problem with a lot of major anchors today, that they‘re not only concerned about doing the evening news shows or their own interview shows, but they‘re handling all sorts of assignments for the networks.  I don‘t think that should be allowed to continue.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s come back and talk more with Morton Dean, Tom Jarriel, Jane Wallace and Bill Carter.  Up next in this special edition of HARDBALL, the two people who investigated and wrote the report on CBS News, former attorney general Dick Thornburgh and the former head of the Associated Press, Louis Boccardi.

You‘re watching a special edition of HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back with this special edition of HARDBALL, “CBS News:

Investigation and Fallout.”

I learned today that the creator and former executive producer of “60 Minutes,” Don Hewitt, met with some CBS people today at some kind of meting.  And here he‘s quoted as saying—let‘s hear it right now—he said, “Does anybody really think there wouldn‘t have been more scrutiny if this had been about John Kerry?”

Let me ask you that, Jane Wallace.  Do you think that CBS would have been as fast to judge had this been a Kerry story, a negative story on Kerry?

JANE WALLACE, FORMER CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  If they—they would have been as fast to judge what?

MATTHEWS:  To judge whether he had done something terribly wrong in terms of his special treatment and his lackadaisical attitude towards his duty as a National Guardsman...

WALLACE:  Well, obviously, they didn‘t...

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE:  ... have to judge that in Kerry‘s case because he was a war hero.  Do I think there was political motivation in the way this story was handled?  No.  Do I think there‘s blame enough for everyone to share that was involved here?  Yes.  If you‘re going to do a story that relies on a dead man‘s purported documents, you‘d better have your legwork done.

And by the same token, when you were quoting before about Mary Mapes -

·         she was not an executive producer, she is the piece producer.  She had plenty of bosses.  Someone, in fairness to her statement tonight, did decide that that story was going to air in a hurry.

If you‘re going to take on the record of the president of the United States, particularly in this White House, which guards its image and information very, very closely, you ought to know that you need triple layers of information backup.  And you‘d better be particularly careful if what you‘re going on is a dead man‘s documents.

This is where I don‘t get why you‘d put that story on a crash deadline.  That‘s not entirely Mary Mapes‘s fault.

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think Mary Mapes is still making a point of the fact—quote—in her statement tonight, Jane—“It‘s noteworthy that the panel did not conclude that these documents are false”?  Why is she still clinging to the notion that these are authentic documents she used in the piece?

WALLACE:  Well, I couldn‘t get all the way through the 250 pages, but I breezed it as far as I could.  The truth is, the panel was inconclusive on these documents.  Even if you assume—and I‘ve thought about this a lot, unraveling it from the other end—which is even if you—by the way, this didn‘t happen on Hewitt‘s watch, in fairness to Don Hewitt.  It had happened after he left the ship.

But even if you assume that those documents were forged or that Burkett for some reason, in his own mind, the fellow that passed the documents to Mapes—if you assume they were phony...

MATTHEWS:  You have caught—you have caught Bill‘s Burkett‘s act before, though, haven‘t you, Jane?

WALLACE:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s hardly a credible source.

WALLACE:  Well, he‘s not a credible source.

MATTHEWS:  This is the kind of guy that‘s been on this program and said, I just happened to see George Bush‘s records in the trashcan when I was sitting next to...

(LAUGHTER)

WALLACE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  I just happened to overhear some superior officer pass some word to another officer.  I mean, he seems like Zelig...

WALLACE:  Well, OK...

MATTHEWS:  ... when it comes to nailing Bush!

(LAUGHTER)

WALLACE:  All right.

MATTHEWS:  All right?

WALLACE:  So she should have known better.  But even if he was a pass-along for some documents, somebody made those documents up.  Now, that‘s what‘s still intriguing to me about this story because you‘ve managed then, successfully, at a very key point in a very contested...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

WALLACE:  ... presidential campaign, to take the focus off of Bush‘s war record, or lack of war record, put it back onto CBS.  Kerry then gets blasted by those swift boat fellows and—it is a set-up.  And unfortunately...

MATTHEWS:  Who set it up?

WALLACE:  I don‘t know.

MATTHEWS:  Then how do you know it‘s a setup?

WALLACE:  And unfortunately, Mary Mapes...

MATTHEWS:  How do you know it‘s a setup if you can‘t say who did it?

WALLACE:  Well, somebody faked those documents.  Somebody made them up.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

WALLACE:  Well, that‘s a setup.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, I don‘t know if it‘s a setup or not.  It could be simply that Bill Burkett found somebody or whoever.  He‘s never said where he got the documents.  CBS has never (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the story...

WALLACE:  OK, but somebody sat down...

MATTHEWS:  ... nor did the tribunal headed by Governor Thornburgh pursue the documents.

WALLACE:  Well, because Burkett...

MATTHEWS:  So the strange story here, which you‘re getting to...

WALLACE:  ... wouldn‘t answer their calls.

MATTHEWS:  ... is no one has pursued this story all the way to its source.

WALLACE:  Well, because he wouldn‘t take...

MATTHEWS:  And I find that interesting.

WALLACE:  Even the commission couldn‘t get through to that fellow.

MATTHEWS:  Bill Carter, why did the commission—did it lack resources to determine whether the documents were accurate or bogus or not?

CARTER:  Well, I guess.  I think—I think nobody‘s been able to conclusively find the documentation‘s source.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

CARTER:  And I don‘t know how you do it without finding that source, whether or not—whether you can determine for sure whether it‘s accurate or not.

MATTHEWS:  Well, certainly, you can...

CARTER:  All you can say is...

MATTHEWS:  ... because it‘s one of those questions like the Woodstock

(ph) typewriter or whatever, with the Nixon Alger Hiss case.  You have here

·         I‘m looking at the documents.  They have the little superscript “th.” 

If this was typed on an Olympia manual, which was used back in the early ‘70s, how could it have that little feature on it?

CARTER:  I thought that they had sort of documented that that was barely possible, but was possible.  I mean...

MATTHEWS:  Well, was it close to three years...

CARTER:  ... no one has completely eliminated that possibility.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s within three years of its possible use.

WALLACE:  OK, but let‘s assume it was, Bill, impossible at the time.  Let‘s assume somebody did make those documents up.  They made them up close enough so that Mary Mapes and Dan and whoever else looked at them fell for it.

CARTER:  Yes, they did.

MATTHEWS:  So somebody—but somebody bothered to do that.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you, Jane, since you‘re proposing a theory

here, why did Bill Burkett, a known advocate of Kerry‘s election, a known

serious, passionate critic of the president‘s—why wouldn‘t he tell us

where he got them from, to this point?  What‘s he hiding, if he‘s not part

·         you say a setup.  It sounds to me like...

WALLACE:  In the report—no.  In the report, he says that—you know, the third or fourth one that he floated was this woman, Lucy Ramirez, called him and he rendezvoused with some unidentified man at some kind of a cattle show in Houston.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

WALLACE:  OK.  Now, does that make the man nuts?  Does that make—it certainly makes it fishy.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back and just do a round robin on this because I think if you read the report today, you‘ll find a rather quick dismissal of the idea of political bias by Dan or by Andrew Heyward or anyone else, including Mary Mapes, the segment producer, or Josh Howard, the executive producer of “60 Minutes” Wednesday.  It was a rather cursory judgment by these two men, by Boccardi and by Thornburgg.  They simply said—it seemed to me they simply asked Danu and Heyward, Are you prejudiced or not?  And they got the negative answer.  It sounded like they did no research into comments made in the office, evidence of previous patterns of bias.  Nothing like that found its way into the report.

Tom Jarriel, is it possible to get to the heart of motivation here?

JARRIEL:  It is entirely possible.  And the big question is, why weren‘t questions like that explained and elaborated more in their final report?  How much did they take these guys to the mat?  How much did they give them a good old “60 Minutes” grilling...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

JARRIEL:  ... and say, What was the motive?  Who was behind this? 

What did Mary Mapes say when she wanted to join CBS to make a difference?  Was that political?  Was it journalistic?  That question is one of the ones that is answered very superficially, among a lot.

And let me go back to the matter of these guys investigating the authenticity of these documents.  They‘ve had weeks.  They‘ve had resources.  They‘ve had assistants.  They‘ve had so much time and so much material and resources to do this to answer this one key question, and then to come out with a final report and saying, We really don‘t know if these documents were authentic or not --  that‘s incredible to me.

MATTHEWS:  And then to have the segment producer stick to her guns, insisting they may well be accurate.  You‘ve got CBS—Andrew Heyward saying they can‘t verify the documents.  You‘re right.  I don‘t understand...

(CROSSTALK)

JARRIEL:  ... leave that possibility open.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Morton Dean, why do you think they‘re doing this “Sally go ‘round the roses” here?  Why can‘t anybody get to the heart of this story, finish it up, find out where the documents came from?

DEAN:  Well, I think it answers one of your first questions tonight, Chris, that this story is not over.  This story is going to go on and on and on.  Not only did the panel say that it could not verify the truth of the key documents in this case, but Dan Rather himself said that he still believes—he told the panel that he still believes that the story is true.  So the story‘s not ending with this report.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I mean, we‘re acting like these are the Dead Sea Scrolls, and it‘s impossible to determine their age or veracity.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And they‘re only—they look to me like they‘re written on a recent typewriter.  It seems to me there must be an expert.  Jane, you had this theory that the ultimate source—and I can‘t—we don‘t—can‘t deny a negative.  It could be anybody because we don‘t know who this ultimate source is.  Somebody typed these documents, gave them to Bill Burkett.  He gave them to CBS.  That‘s the chain of custody, as far back as we can get it.  And nobody seems to really, really, really want to find out who the somebody is, Jane.

WALLACE:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Is this going to take a blogger to go find this out or what?

WALLACE:  I suspect it‘ll take a blogger.  A blogger is where the source came from, in the first place.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  How do you know that?  Wait a minute!  You‘re on television now, Jane.  How do you know that?

WALLACE:  It—well, that—it‘s in the—you didn‘t read the report, Chris!

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You mean to complain about the story.  Right.  That‘s...

WALLACE:  No, no, no, not the complaint about the story.  Mary Mapes made one of her original contacts about these documents through a blogger...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

WALLACE:  ... who was an anti-Bush blogger who somehow made the connection with Burkett.

MATTHEWS:  Yes?

CARTER:  And Chris, I think you—one thing you‘ve forgotten, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, Bill?

CARTER:  ... is the fact that even after all of this, Rather goes and interviews the secretary of this guy, who says, Well, that isn‘t what I typed, but it‘s true anyway...

(LAUGHTER)

CARTER:  ... which further completely obfuscates the story.  That‘s the way he felt, according to her.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s just try something really journalistic by everybody.  This is not political, it‘s purely journalistic.  The report by Thornburgh and Boccardi made a very strong point.  It said CBS got into trouble, it got into dangerous territory, when it began to make the argument to itself that, OK, maybe these documents are spurious.  Maybe they don‘t hold up.  But the story is true, therefore, we can run the documents.  What do you think of that, Tom Jarriel?  That seemed to be a main charge here.

JARRIEL:  That is absolutely inexcusable.

WALLACE:  Yes.

JARRIEL:  You do not put something on the air, you do not put it in print, you do not put it out on the possibility that the documents may be forged, using those to authenticate and support your story, unless they are.

MATTHEWS:  Morton?

DEAN:  Yes, it‘s a big screw-up.  I agree with Tom.  I just don‘t understand why they went ahead with the story when they went ahead with the story.  I was around long enough at CBS to remember the revered Mr. Paley saying one time to a small group of us that he never thought it was important to be first, he always thought it was important to be the best, to be right.  And I guess that has not echoed down to the present time.

MATTHEWS:  OK, Morton Dean, thank you very much, sir.  Thank you, Jane Wallace.  Thank you, Tom Jarriel.  Thank you, Bill Carter.  Bill Carter actually will be back with us when we return.  We‘ll be joined by former a “60 Minutes” producer—by a former “60 Minutes” producer.  What does he know about how things work inside CBS?  And to read the CBS report for yourself, log onto our Web page, hardball.msnbc.com.

You‘re watching a special edition of HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back now with this special edition of HARDBALL.

I‘m joined right now by former “60 Minutes” producer Lee Zeidman and “TV Guide” senior correspondent Steve Battaglio.  And joining me again is “New York Times” media critic—or media reporter, rather—Bill Carter. 

Let me ask you, Lee, rather quickly, the Thornburgh commission decided that there was—that there‘s no evidence of political intrigue within “60 Minutes.”  Do you think that is going to sell, that assessment? 

LEE ZEIDMAN, FORMER “60 MINUTES” PRODUCER:  I think it‘s probably true that there‘s no intended bias.  But I think that this is an obvious case of a producer who fell in love with a story.  To pursue one story for five years is a bit of an obsession. 

MATTHEWS:  Why is there such an historic antipathy toward Dan Rather, a much respected anchor and reporter, by the right in this country?  They dislike him.  They challenge him.  They think he‘s up to knocking Nixon, knocking both Bushes.  They believe he‘s got a case to make about the conservatives.  You hear it all the time.  I do. 

ZEIDMAN:  I think it‘s—that part of it, I can‘t address. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

ZEIDMAN:  I think that Dan plays it down the middle for the most part. 

But in terms of what happened here? 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

ZEIDMAN:  The oversight that a correspondent is obliged to make in this sort of a situation?  He didn‘t make.  If he was taken for a ride, he may have gone so willingly. 

MATTHEWS:  Based upon your experience—how long were you with “60 Minutes”? 

ZEIDMAN:  I was there for a couple of years. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Lee, did “60 Minutes” meet its own standards in this case? 

ZEIDMAN:  Absolutely not.

MATTHEWS:  How so? 

ZEIDMAN:  Well, I read the report today.  And I was shocked and stunned at the lack of oversight.  And, actually, I think, if it had been the old show...

MATTHEWS:  You mean the belief they put in this guy Bill Burkett, who gave them these documents?

ZEIDMAN:  No, no, I mean...

MATTHEWS:  What do you think they did wrong? 

ZEIDMAN:  ... the behavior of Mary Mapes, the producer.

MATTHEWS:  The segment producer.

ZEIDMAN:  And the fact that she served as a gatekeeper. 

The only person who showed any cynicism whatsoever about this information was an associate producer that no one would listen to, Yvonne Miller, who is the only person, by the way, who kept her job.  So, somehow, none of this worked. 

MATTHEWS:  So, no one else blew a whistle and said, wait a minute, what do we really know?  We know this guy is a partisan Democrat, Bill Burkett.  He wants to get rid of the Bushes.

ZEIDMAN:  Forget that. 

MATTHEWS:  No.  No.  You don‘t have to forget it, because they‘re relying on the trustworthiness of their source.  And he‘s not a good source, right? 

ZEIDMAN:  They simply violated standards and practices by having documents that they couldn‘t prove were real. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

ZEIDMAN:  They should never have been on the air.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Steve Battaglio.

The two things that came out in the report is, they really didn‘t look into the credibility of Bill Burkett.  In fact, it was transparently not there based upon everything we‘ve seen on this show.  He‘s a partisan guy out there trying to prove that Bush is no good.  And he‘s been doing it for months. 

And, secondly, they never really verified with any experts the documentation they used.  Are these just it?  Is this just the name of the game?  They blew it on the two big accounts? 

STEPHEN BATTAGLIO, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, “TV GUIDE”:  I think they really blew it. 

And—but in terms of the issue of bias, I think there‘s an interesting point that no one has really brought up about Dan Rather and his history.  You know, Dan is—if you look at the ratings for Dan Rather, he‘s the least popular in New York, in Los Angeles and Chicago, three big liberal Democratic cities.  If you look in the red states, his numbers are a lot better. 

So, you know, this buildup, this reputation that Dan has, it seems somewhat unfounded.  It seems based on a few incidents that we see played over and over again on video.  As far as what happened with the story...

MATTHEWS:  But let me stop you there.  If you get up tomorrow morning and listen to talk radio, whether it‘s Laura Ingraham or it‘s G. Gordon Liddy or it‘s Limbaugh or any of those folks of the right, all day long, you know—we can predict right now they‘re going to blasting this report as inadequately banging Dan Rather. 

BATTAGLIO:  And they‘re going to be preaching to the converted.

The fact is, most viewers are not going to care about this story in a couple of days.  Basically, “The CBS Evening News” ratings have been on a slow decline for years now.  But they‘ve been no worse since this whole story broke.  “60 Minutes,” probably the most indestructible brand in television, their ratings are up this year. 

So, again, I think there‘s a lot of media naval-gazing going on here and conservative pundits, who are making a big deal of this. 

MATTHEWS:  But they have an audience.  And the reason they are highly-paid conservative pundits is, there‘s a huge market for such punditry.

And out driving trucks and driving cars across the United States, across Route 80 and Route 90, or Route 70, rather, Route 95 going south, all those highways are filled with cars all filled with the noise from the right, saying, you‘re right.  They‘re wrong.  The big East liberals are all dead.  Look at this guy Rather.  He proves it.  Isn‘t that the buzz out there in the country? 

(CROSSTALK)

BATTAGLIO:  Sure, but they already hate him and they are probably already not watching him.  And on March 9, he‘s going to be gone.

You know, to me, as a taxpaying citizen, I think it‘s much more disturbing that Armstrong Williams was getting paid by the White House to pass him off as a commentator, when in fact he was pushing their agenda on education. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he‘s been cashiered, so we don‘t have to talk much about him, because he has paid the price.  He has lost—he has lost his column, his syndication and credibility. 

Let me go right now to Bill Carter.

Do you think that the country out there beyond—well, “The New York Times” reaches everywhere in this country—behind that Steinbergian view looking out up the West Side across the Hudson to Utah, do you think the people out there see Rather as a liberal? 

CARTER:  Well, Rather is an interesting mix, Chris. 

He is—I think has shown certain liberal tendencies on certain stories.  But the guy‘s a very country guy.  He‘s got this strong sense of patriotism.  I think that also plays a lot.  I think the key here is that Dan did—was the front man.  And that‘s a red flag to conservatives, clearly. 

Mapes‘ background is the thing that people should be looking into, because, clearly, she‘s been covering Bush for a long, long time.  And I think she was consumed by that.  And when a reporter gets consumed by that, I think they lose a little bit of their judgment.  And I think that‘s what really happened here.  And It was OK in a way that she lose her judgment.

It‘s that the rest of the people lost their judgment that I think is the real scandal here.  The reporter comes in with a story that‘s not vetted, that doesn‘t have the proper documentation.  And they let it get on the air. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CARTER:  By the way, taking off a story that was well documented, and then they couldn‘t even run that, for fear of offending the Bush White House after that, because it was also critical of the Bush White House.  That‘s a very bad development for CBS News. 

MATTHEWS:  Boy, it looks like it all fell between the cracks, so much passion, so little checking.

More with our panel in a moment.  And when we come back, Dan Rather, this isn‘t the first time he‘s been in the middle of some hot controversy.  How has he survived before? 

You‘re watching a special edition of HARDBALL to find out only on

MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Is Dan Rather biased?  The independent investigation said no evidence here.  But what‘s his legacy?  Will people remember him as having had an agenda? 

This special edition of HARDBALL continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back with this special edition of HARDBALL, “CBS News Investigation and Fallout.”

Dan Rather says he‘ll step down as anchor of “The CBS Evening News” in March of this year.  He handled, by the way, as many of us know, the most challenging stories in journalism over the years.  But long about before this crisis, he was no stranger to controversy, as we all know. 

Here is HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster with the history. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “CBS EVENING NEWS”) 

ANNOUNCER:  This is “The CBS Evening News.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  While it was unusual and dramatic...

DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS:  Also, I want to say personally and directly, I‘m sorry. 

SHUSTER:  ... drama has always seemed to follow Dan Rather.  He‘s provided award-winning coverage on everything from the civil rights movement to the Kennedy assassination to Watergate, Iran-Contra and U.S.  military operations.

In 1991, he conducted a controversial interview with Saddam Hussein just before the first Gulf War.  But Republicans have been angry with Dan Rather as far back as the Nixon administration. 

RATHER:  Thank you.  Mr. President.  Dan Rather with CBS News. 

(APPLAUSE)

RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Are you running for something?  

(LAUGHTER)

RATHER:  No, sir.  Mr. President, are you?  

SHUSTER:  While that was Rather‘s most famous Watergate moment, Nixon supporters remember Rather pounding the president nearly everyday. 

RATHER:  Could you give us some reason why the American people shouldn‘t believe that that was at least a subtle attempt to bribe the judge in that case and it gave at least the appearance of a lack of moral leadership? 

SHUSTER:  Many Republicans thought this question crossed the line. 

RATHER:  Mr. President, I wonder if you could share with us your thoughts, tell us what goes through you mind when you hear people, people who love this country and people who believe in you, say reluctantly that perhaps you should resign or be impeached? 

NIXON:  Well, I‘m glad we don‘t take the vote of this room, let me say.

SHUSTER:  During the Reagan administration, CBS reporter Lesley Stahl said Rather was a man many in the Reagan White House saw as the devil himself.  When Vice President George Bush was running for president in 1998, Rather tried corner him on the Iran-Contra arms for hostages scandal. 

RATHER:  You said in a meeting in which Secretary Shultz, in the most forceful way, register his objections.  And then you said you never heard anybody register objections. 

(CROSSTALK)

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  If it was the most forceful way—I have heard George Shultz be very, very forceful.  And if I were there and he was very, very forceful at that meeting, I would have remembered that.  I don‘t remember that.

(CROSSTALK)

RATHER:  And how could you explain that you can‘t remember it and the other people at the meeting say he was apoplectic? 

BUSH:  Maybe I wasn‘t there at that point.

RATHER:  You weren‘t there?  You weren‘t in the meeting?

BUSH:  I‘m not suggesting.  I‘m just saying I don‘t remember it. 

SHUSTER:  The year before, Rather had left the anchor desk angry about a network decision to carry a tennis match running long.  The match ended and CBS stations were on their own for seven minutes.  During the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, Rather was highly skeptical of independent counsel Kenneth Starr and the Republicans in Congress. 

And during the Florida recount four years ago, Rather reported, “Florida‘s Republican secretary of state is about to announce the winner as she sees it and she decrees it.”  Republicans were infuriated with Rather.  But the courts agreed with them and the recount continued.  But the courts agreed with them and the recount continues. 

(on camera):  Still, through the years, Dan Rather‘s hard-hitting style has always stood out, sometimes making him a bigger story than whatever he was covering.  And now it‘s happened again.  Only this time, Rather‘s critics are ecstatic. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, that was HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster. 

Back again with former “60 Minutes” producer Lee Zeidman, “TV Guide” senior correspondent Steve Battaglio, and Bill Carter from “The New York Times.” 

You know, that kind of hard-hitting reporting, Lee, wouldn‘t it be nice to have a White House correspondent like that today when we have questions of weapons mass destruction?  And wouldn‘t it be good to have some questioning via correspondents, like Rather used to do?  Wouldn‘t it have helped us get through some of these messes? 

ZEIDMAN:  Well, I wish that Dan had been on tough on his team preparing this report as he was on all the presidents that he covered, because he failed in his fiduciary responsibility.  He didn‘t ask the questions...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You worked there.  Whose fault is it when a big blunder like this gets through? 

ZEIDMAN:  Well, I think there‘s enough blame to go around for everybody, from Andrew Heyward, the president of the division, all the way down. 

But you have to understand, if this is going to happen somewhere at CBS, “60 Minutes” could be the place, because it‘s a producers‘ shop.  It‘s where you want to work if you‘re a producer, because you have the most control over your piece, compared to all the other shows. 

MATTHEWS:  And what is the role of the anchor people, the famous men who worked there and women, like Lesley Stahl?  What do they actually do if the producers do all the work? 

ZEIDMAN:  Well, they‘re busy doing a lot of stories.  They‘re involved and to a different degree depending upon the story. 

But, look, Rather is covering hurricanes.  He‘s covering political conventions.  He‘s running around. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

ZEIDMAN:  And he trusts this producer implicitly, apparently.  And she apparently took him for a ride. 

MATTHEWS:  So it‘s like in that movie “The Insider,” where Al Pacino is the guy doing all the hard stuff? 

ZEIDMAN:  Well, the reporter on “60 Minutes” pieces is the producer. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Bill Carter. 

We talked about this story having legs perhaps.  Dan Rather in the piece we just showed seemed to have had all his fights with Republicans.  Is that a perception out there, that that is his fight? 

CARTER:  Well, I think certainly the Republicans have made that case for a long, long time. 

I think Dan—one of the things you said earlier, would they have done this if it was Kerry?  I think the better question would have been, would they have done if it was Clinton?  Because I think the president—covering the president and having the president involved in a scandal is a big story.  And I don‘t think Rather would run away from a big story that would be critical of a Democratic president.

But, yes, he seems to have had most of his big stories going after Republican presidents. 

MATTHEWS:  And, Steve, that gets to the heart of this.  I have talked about this with people at NBC News, elsewhere, today.  And the judgment is that, when you have the stakes like you had in this case, the president of the United States being the topic here and the target of this probe, and you had the timing of September 8 in the year of a presidential general election, the scrutiny level should have been so much higher than normal.

BATTAGLIO:  It certainly should have been.

But in terms of the timing of the story, what better time to do it?  It‘s during the election.  This was an ongoing issue that other news organizations were going after.  It was a tremendous failing. 

And another point—when I mentioned “60 Minutes” being up in the ratings this year, that‘s the Sunday‘s “60 Minutes.”  Wednesday‘s “60 Minutes” has been a struggling show.  There has been talk about taking it off the schedule at CBS before this scandal happened.  I would say because the ratings have been challenged at that show is one reason why CBS might have let its guard down in letting this story get on the air, because they‘re looking for big scoops.  They‘re looking for numbers.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s the one place in journalism today, broadcast journalism, where there are a lot of jobs available right now. 

More with the panel when we come back. 

You‘re watching a special edition of HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(NEWS BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back with this special edition of HARDBALL, “CBS News Investigation and Fallout.”

Joining me again are former “60 Minutes” producer Lee Zeidman, “TV Guide” senior correspondent Steve Battaglio, and Bill Carter from “The New York Times.” 

Let me ask you something.  Steve, you were a bit skeptical about the legs this story has.  Why do you think it will not be a big story out in the country? 

BATTAGLIO:  It sort of went away during the first phase after CBS made the apology.  Dan went back to work.  He was on every night.  He did election night.  And there weren‘t any further miscues. 

Then—and their numbers have held up.  CBS is doing tremendously well in the prime-time ratings.  It‘s making a lot of money, more money than it‘s made in years, which I think is one reason why it didn‘t go—the punishment didn‘t go all the way up the line. 

So, I think that, once we get past this couple of days, I think CBS could make some news by announcing who the new anchor is going to be.  That offers a fresh start.  And people will move on.  And, once again, I just think it‘s a very media-centric story.  Reporters love talking about themselves and their competition. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about Dan Rather, one of the real gentlemen of this business, as we all know, and really a good guy.  I always say to people, I don‘t care how conservative you are or whatever your views are.  Meet him sometime and you‘ll be impressed what a gentleman and good guy he is. 

BATTAGLIO:  That‘s absolutely true.

MATTHEWS:  What is he going to have to do now?  It seems to me he is the sort of fellow who is going to go out there and try to find a really good story in the next couple years on “60 Minutes” or as a special correspondent, where he can really bang the door down and say, damn it, I can still do it.  I‘m the best. 

CARTER:  That‘s exactly right, Chris. 

And I think that will be Dan‘s response.  Dan has always responded that way.  And, you know, I think what is interesting, you noted earlier how aggressive this guy can be.  He was really aggressive with those presidents.  And you‘re right.  We don‘t seem to see reporters like that anymore.  And I think, if Dan were to go away and not be on TV anymore, it would be a real loss. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I wonder, because I‘ve been a skeptic, as everyone who watches this show knows, about the justification of this war with Iraq and in fact whether it was good for our country, period.   

And it seems to me, no one ever really banged down, whether it was on Sunday television or weekdays or any time, never banged down the door and hit the people hard and said, where is your hard evidence that this guy is a threat to us?  We want hard evidence, not speculation, not conjecture, not history, hard evidence of today‘s threat.  Nobody really did it. 

And then, when we found out there was no case for the war in terms of weapons of mass destruction, nobody pounded down the door and said, don‘t give us any more of that malarkey.  There was no sense of outrage.  I hate to use a phrase like that because it‘s journalism.  But nobody seemed to say, damn it, where‘s the truth here?  And we don‘t trust you anymore.

CARTER:  I think the reason for that is what we‘re seeing with Rather.  There is a chorus out there of critics who go after people who have that opinion now. 

And it‘s much more powerful than it used to be. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CARTER:  I think the one thing Mary Mapes completely underestimated here was what was going to happen with her story that she didn‘t have totally nailed. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CARTER:  To me, it‘s like—I was thinking, you know that expression suicide by police, where you wave—you don‘t really have a weapon, but you wave it in front of the police and then you get killed?  That‘s kind of what happened to her here. 

MATTHEWS:  How many people have been fired at the White House for failure to get the facts right on weapons of mass destruction and taking us into war under false pretenses?

CARTER:  I think they have gotten Medals of Freedom. 

MATTHEWS:  They have gotten Medals of Freedom. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So for the conservatives to complain about this, you‘ve got to wonder. 

BATTAGLIO:  But what has also changed is the clout of the news divisions and of the broadcast news divisions of CBS and Dan Rather. 

I mean, we just have a multitude of choices now.  You know, when it was three networks, they all wielded much more clout.  And now, not only do you have more competition, a diminished audience, but so many more voices, some of whom who can circle around an opponent and overwhelm one opinion against the other. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Steve Battaglio of “TV Guide.” 

Thank you, Bill Carter of “The New York Times.”  Thank you, Lee Zeidman,

who now advises people about how to deal with “60 Minutes” who get targeted

by that program. 

We‘ll be right back.  This is a special edition of HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  On Sunday January 16 at 9:00 Eastern, join Tom Brokaw and myself for a look back at over four decades of inaugurations in a special program, “Picking Our Presidents: Leaders and Legacies.” 

We‘ll see how the promise of a new administration has been matched or missed by the reality. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN F. KENNEDY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.

TOM BROKAW, NBC ANCHOR:  What was so electrifying about the appearance of John F. Kennedy that day is that we would have president who didn‘t seem to be anything other than our grandparents. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Well, he promised youth.  He gave youth.  Youth brought with it perhaps naivete.

(CROSSTALK)

BROKAW:  Well, I don‘t think it was entirely youth.  I think that they were all products of a can-do World War II era in which they had served.  They believed in reaching. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s Tom Brokaw back on MSNBC with me for “Picking Our Presidents: Leaders and Legacies,” Sunday January 16 -- that‘s next week—at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time. 

Thanks for watching tonight.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  See you tomorrow at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Joe Scarborough and “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY” are coming up next. 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2005 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2005 Voxant,Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation

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