Guests: Morton Dean, Av Westin, Marvin Kalb, Gene Jankowski, Armstrong Williams, Will Femia, Leslie Marshall
ANNOUNCER: DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT.
DEBORAH NORVILLE, HOST: Campaign connections? Did CBS play matchmaker between their source and the Kerry campaign?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE LOCKHART, KERRY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: The producer was saying, this guy wants to talk to you. Here‘s his number. You know, call him if you want.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: Tonight, what‘s next in the “60 Minutes” document drama?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS: It was a mistake. CBS News deeply regrets it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We still need a complete explanation of how the documents made their way through CBS News to be on the air and also where they came from.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: The fallout from CBS‘s journalistic blunder, how it could affect the press and the election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To win the trust back is going to be critical here.
RATHER: I want to say personally and directly, I‘m sorry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: From studio 3K in Rockefeller Center, Deborah Norville.
NORVILLE: And good evening, everybody. Tonight, we begin with CBS News and anchor Dan Rather, who apologized for using questionable documents in a story about President Bush‘s National Guard service. Well, guess what? There is more controversy tonight. A CBS News producer helped her source on the documents, former Texas Army National Guard official Bill Burkett, talk with Joe Lockhart, a top aide in the John Kerry campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE LOCKHART, KERRY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I got a call on a Saturday, after they‘d had the documents. And basically, the producer was saying, This guy wants to talk to you, here‘s his number, you know, call him if you want. If you want to call that “arranging” a call, that‘s fine. But it was up to me whether I was going to make the call or not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: Joe Lockhart says that he did make the call but says that the documents never came up in the conversation that he had with Burkett. Burkett has admitted to lying to CBS about where he got those documents. But the CBS role in bringing those two men together raises even more questions.
Joining me tonight to answer some of these questions is former CBS and NBC newsman Marvin Kalb. He was also the host of “Meet the Press” during his NBC days. Also with us tonight, Av Westin, former vice president and executive producer at ABC News. He was in charge of such shows as “World News Tonight” and “20/20.” Gene Jankowski spent 28 years at CBS, 12 of them as president and chairman of the CBS Broadcasting Group. And also with us tonight, former CBS and ABC news correspondent Morton Dean. Gentlemen, thank you all for being with us.
Mort—Marvin, I‘m going to start with you first. The story...
MARVIN KALB, FORMER CBS AND NBC REPORTER: Right.
NORVILLE: ... just got worse. There appears to have been a quid pro quo. You give us the documents, I get you the connection to the Kerry campaign. Doesn‘t this torpedo any pretense of impartiality on the part of the producer?
KALB: I think it certainly raises a very large question. I‘m not really sure that we could jump to that conclusion, though. I think that the producer, if we‘re talking about Mary Mapes in this case, made a fundamental mistake. There was a huge lapse in judgment. She should never have made a contact to the Democratic National Committee, never. There‘s a larger question, whether she should have depended so much upon the word of somebody who has so anti-Bush a background and a determination.
NORVILLE: A lot of people, Mort, are looking at this story and wondering, How is it possible that you could ignore the clear partisan nature of this key source, that the connection could be made to a political party during the heat of a campaign, in such a contested election, and that that not be a big enough flag that someone in the organization say, Wait a cotton-picking minute.
MORTON DEAN, FORMER CBS AND ABC CORRESPONDENT/HOST: A number of people obviously didn‘t do their jobs. There were all these warning lights flashing from the very beginning. Where was the original document? Why couldn‘t they get hold of that original document? Who were these people? Who was Burkett? I think if you went on the Internet and put the name Burkett in, you‘d probably find out an awful lot about him that would raise questions as to whether you go ahead with the story. If you want to go ahead with the story, let‘s get someone else to back it up other than Mr. Burkett.
NORVILLE: But that‘s one thing, to use a source that is questionable and go with the story. It‘s a completely different thing altogether to take an agreement where you will go and make a connection to a partisan campaign. Gene, when you were at CBS, when I was at CBS, when all of us were at CBS, there was a standards book. And my guess is your knowledge of it is intimate enough that you would be able to say yes or no. Is that kind of connection permissible under CBS standards?
GENE JANKOWSKI, FORMER CBS BROADCASTING GROUP PRES.: No. CBS put in the standards book way back in the ‘60s because they wanted to make sure that everybody with a major responsibility of reporting the news always did it with the fair and balance in mind. And that‘s what led to the standards, so everybody would operate under the same rules and regulations. And clearly, there‘s something amiss here when we have this kind of a problem, as Marvin Kalb so well pointed out.
NORVILLE: Is there any way that it would have been permissible for a reporter, producer, someone in the news-gathering end of things at CBS News, to make that kind of connection, to make that kind of agreement?
JANKOWSKI: I would assume you would do that, with the approval of your management, to get a different dimension of the story, but not to do it surreptitiously.
NORVILLE: And Dan said, Mort, mistakes were made. As a reporter, where do you see the biggest ones?
DEAN: Well, I mentioned several of them earlier. I think that they just didn‘t have the story, and I don‘t understand why they felt that they had to go on the air when they went on the air. I think that when questions are raised, you seek out other opinions and say, Look, we‘re having this problem. There are some people telling us that we should perhaps not go ahead with the story right now. What do you think? And I don‘t think that they spread the story around to a wide enough circle of people to get their judgment.
NORVILLE: Av, how is it—answer that question. You‘ve produced newsmagazines. You‘ve been on the heat when you got to get the story. You know the competition‘s on it. We know that “USA Today” was...
AV WESTIN, FORMER ABC NEWS EXEC. PRODUCER: That is precisely...
NORVILLE: ... right on the heels of this same story.
WESTIN: That is precisely the point. We are in the midst of what I would call the death spiral of broadcast journalism, and that is because there is—it has been corrupted by two things, going for ratings and, essentially, getting on the air no matter what. I call it the “out there” syndrome. If it‘s out there, it‘s OK. And whether you source it yourself doesn‘t matter. Somebody else is reporting it. I think what we‘re seeing here is just one more example of how the entire journalistic ethic of the business has been corrupted. The bottom line now trumps the editorial line every single time.
NORVILLE: If this genie is out of the bottle, is there a way to get it back in?
WESTIN: I don‘t think so. I actually think that, for example, the network evening news programs are no longer, in my view, the flagship programs of the news divisions. I think that has been taken over partially by the newsmagazines, which have totally different standards, and the morning shows, which are there because they‘re big money-makers. The Internet, other—niche programming on cable, all of that is going to replace the network news as the—the network evening news as the bellwether of the business. And I don‘t see the genie getting back in the bottle at all.
NORVILLE: Marvin Kalb, did it all happen when someone higher up the food chain at the networks realized there‘s money in them there headlines, there‘s money to be made with those newscasts, and when they realized there was a profit to be had, that became more important than the veracity of the story? And when did that happen?
KALB: Well, I can‘t give you a date on that, obviously, Deborah. But I think this is not new. I mean, I left television news in 1987. It was already quite clear at that time, and it had been clear for at least 10 years before that, that money, the bottom line, the quest for ratings, were all terribly important.
At the same time that this was beg realized—and Av alluded to this a moment ago—the entire nature of news gathering changed. You had cable television. You had talk radio. You have the Internet now. You have this blogosphere, which is dazzling in its potential for damage, as well as enlightenment. And so with all of this taking place, the pressure to get on the air and to reassert your own position must be overwhelming.
But there‘s no going back. There‘s no putting the genie back in the bottle. That‘s impossible. The only thing that can happen right now that would make any sense at all is for somebody simply to level with everyone. Look at what happened during the Republican and the Democratic national conventions. People who are first-class journalists said, Nothing is happening there, really, to cover, as a result of which, we‘ll only do an hour a night three nighs a week. That is an abdication of responsibility.
DEAN: I think the transparency here is very, very important. It‘s very important for this investigative unit that CBS says it is going to put together, look into the situation, and that these people not be biased and the information get out as quickly as possible.
But you were talking about the “white book” at CBS. We all remembered it, and we all revered it. I wonder if there is white book now. And if so, I think CBS ought to get it out there and say, Look, we have rules and regulations, and they weren‘t followed, and then tell us who didn‘t follow them, and if punishment is going to be...
NORVILLE: But you don‘t know that those rules and regulations haven‘t been followed if you don‘t ask the questions. You know, at any point along the way, shouldn‘t someone have said—there‘s an act of trust. You‘re the reporter on the story. I‘m the producer. I go out and get the information. And you say to me, Have you checked it out? And I say yes.
WESTIN: And I believe you because...
NORVILLE: And you believe me!
WESTIN: But this goes back to what we were beginning to talk about,
which is the finances of the business and the ratings of the business. Men
and women have moved into positions now at the network news divisions
having gotten their training, when, in fact, the quest for ratings was more
important than taking the time to do the journalism. All the networks cut
their news staffs back and in fact, are paying less money, which makes it -
· it‘s a career now that there may be top-of-the-line individuals are not necessarily going into.
I don‘t want to impugn all the folks who are working in it, but their ethos is totally different from the days when Marvin was at CBS News, when I was at CBS News and at ABC News. And we are seeing—I‘m repeating myself, I apologize—the corruption caused by the dollars that run the business. And therefore, a junior—a junior reporter does not—is not questioned all the time.
And technology, by the way, has made it possible for people to go on the air without any editing. I mean, the technological ambiance of television news no longer has the script read in by an editor who looks at it. That carries over to the way you do your reporting and other things.
NORVILLE: Some questions to follow up on. Is journalism dying at the altar of Mammon? Is the election going to be impacted by this story? And is CBS‘s apology enough? We‘ll take a short break. More when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: These are serious questions that are being raised and need to be answered in terms of what contacts the people had, what contacts did Mr. Burkett have with Democrats.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS: It was a mistake. CBS News deeply regrets it.
Also, I want to say personally and directly, I‘m sorry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: Dan Rather apologizing to his viewers on last night‘s “CBS Evening News.” I‘m back with former CBS and NBC News reporter Marvin Kalb, former vice president and executive producer at ABC News Av Westin, former president and chairman of the CBS Broadcasting Group Gene Jankowski and former CBS and ABC News correspondent and host Morton Dean.
Gene, you spent a lot of years at CBS. A lot of that time was in charge of the news division. Is that apology enough?
JANKOWSKI: No, it‘s not, and I think CBS has already said they‘re going to conduct a further investigation. First of all, I‘m not going to come down as hard on the journalistic fraternity as some of my colleagues here on this panel. I don‘t see this as the end of network news as we know it. Not at all.
As a matter of fact, you wouldn‘t have this kind of brouhaha going on if there were no standards. It would be another ho-hum day at the farm, and it hasn‘t been. It has caused a big stir in the viewing public that something is wrong and it‘s going to be corrected. And CBS is taking the steps to investigate, and when the time is right, they‘ll come out and tell us what their findings were.
NORVILLE: When do you think that investigation should come public? Because there‘s some people say if you do it before the election, then you run the risk of impacting the election in some way. But if you wait until after, it‘s going to look like you‘ve been dragging your feet.
JANKOWSKI: I don‘t think you worry about the election. I think you‘ve got a serious, well, credibility issue at stake right now with CBS, and they have to get to the bottom of it as fast as they can and let us know as fast as they can. And you—I don‘t think you can disregard what impact it has at all. And I doubt it will have any impact one way or the other on the election.
DEAN: You know what I think? I think that one of the problems, with all due respect to my anchor friends—and I did a lot of anchoring during my career—is that anchors have become all too powerful in this business now, and people are reluctant to question their judgment. Maybe some people do on a higher executive level, but...
NORVILLE: Kind of the 800-pound gorilla?
DEAN: Yes. People who work on the staff—I‘ve traveled, you know, a lot overseas and in this country in the past few years, and people are very reluctant, fearing for their jobs, to question the wisdom of the anchor sitting at that evening news desk.
NORVILLE: And I would...
DEAN: And something has to change there because I think it‘s...
NORVILLE: With all due respect...
DEAN: ... detrimental to the business.
NORVILLE: ... Dan Rather is Superman at CBS. He does the news. He‘s the managing editor. He fronts a couple of magazine shows. And he‘s a reporter.
WESTIN: I think one of the first things that this investigation has to see is the degree to which the staff could deal upward, whether it‘s the associate producer dealing with the producer, the producer, the associate producer, or Dan Rather. Were they in any position, either through fear or concern or just practice, You don‘t go to Dan Rather. You come to—and because they‘re on these stories that these people who were hired to vet the documents claim they told CBS staff. Well, where did that information go? And so, if, in fact, they didn‘t pass it up, that‘s very serious. If they did pass it up, at what level did it stop? And if it got to Dan and he didn‘t do anything about it, I mean, that‘s really reprehensible. What you have also...
NORVILLE: On the other hand, if it didn‘t get to Dan, should he not still be held responsible?
NORVILLE: It was his name on the report.
WESTIN: The captain of the ship, of course, I think always has this -
· has the responsibility to be absolutely certain.
But you know, another thing I thought that you were going to say, Mort, about anchors—anchors and reporters on magazine shows do not do all the reporting.
WESTIN: They have four or five stories at a time. They rely on what their staff tells you. And if you have a staff member, like Mary Mapes, who has got a track record that is unbelievable—if she says, I got it...
NORVILLE: You believe her!
WESTIN: ... you believe her. Partially also because you got a deadline. The executive producer is looking over his shoulder because he‘s scheduled to go on the air with an hour program two nights from now. I haven‘t got time—all that time to go back to kill the story or to take another hour or two. It affects the decision making, the editorial decision making. I know it happened to me when I ran “20/20,” that there were many, many times when you were looking over your shoulder and saying, I got a show that‘s going to go on tonight at 10:00 o‘clock, or tomorrow night at 10:00 o‘clock or two days from now at 10:00 o‘clock.
Happily—and we had a different system at ABC than they had at CBS. I don‘t know what the system at CBS is now, but they used to pride themselves at CBS that they didn‘t let the lawyers in. The journalists were sort of wrapped in some cocoon. At ABC, we brought the lawyers in immediately on every story on the assumption that we would be sued. But therefore, we wanted to be sure...
NORVILLE: That you had the story.
WESTIN: ... that we had, to a lawyer‘s satisfaction.
NORVILLE: Well, I can tell you from personal experience, when I was at CBS working on magazine stories, we did not have a screening without one and usually two lawyers in there.
Marvin Kalb, what needs to come out of this investigation, first and foremost, to restore the credibility of CBS News, which has such a long history in journalism?
KALB: Well, I think it‘s going to be a very, very difficult job. I remember a couple of years ago, maybe it was 10, 15 years ago, that Dan ended one of his programs and then perhaps even a couple of them by saying “Courage. Courage.” and everybody laughed at that time. Well, Dan‘s going to have to have a great deal of courage, and the people at CBS are going to have to have a great deal of courage because this is a blight on their reputation. This is a very serious setback for CBS News, and I think, for all of journalism, by the way. I think it‘s going to have an impact that will trickle down, that will affect even students of mine who want to go into journalism. Why should I go into journalism and get trapped in that kind of an environment?
But one of the things that draws them in—and this gets back to Morton Dean‘s comment about the anchors—everybody believes that being an anchor is so fantastic, you—you know, you get that seat in the restaurant, you get that upgrade on the plane, you get all of this money.
DEAN: That‘s not bad, Marvin.
KALB: That‘s not bad at all. But the fact of the matter is that‘s not where 99 percent of the reporters and the producers are.
KALB: They don‘t make that kind of money, and they sit in the back of the plane. I have a feeling that there has to be much more transparency about the business. People are going to have to have the courage to level with the American public. I agree with Gene. I don‘t think this is the end of the evening nightly news at all. I think it‘s going to go on because it‘s necessary. It is absolutely necessary in this democracy. We‘ve got to have the News.
NORVILLE: And because of...
KALB: We cannot—just a second, Deborah.
NORVILLE: Yes. Sure.
KALB: We cannot depend totally upon the blogs and the Internet and, forgive me, cable news and talk radio. You can‘t do that.
NORVILLE: And because it‘s a democracy, there‘s a real question out there. What impact, if any, does this story and the way it was reported have on the presidential election? This is what Dan Bartlett had to say earlier today, the White House communications director.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN BARTLETT, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: There‘s a lot of communication between the Kerry campaign and Democrats and Mr. Burkett and other parts of this story, and I think it‘s important that we get to the bottom of this, see if this was dirty tricks or this was just a journalism making a mistake.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: Mort, this raises a serious question about whether the news, inadvertently even, was in cahoots with a political campaign.
DEAN: Well, it does. I—look, I‘m not Dan Rather‘s best friend, but I doubt—and I know conservative voices will be screaming at me as I leave this studio, but I doubt that Dan has an agenda, a political agenda. I really doubt that.
But I just wanted to add one thing. I think this is an opportune time not just for CBS to conduct its own investigation into what went wrong, but for every major news organization, television and radio, to begin to look at how its people handle the news.
NORVILLE: Don‘t you think there‘s some network executives at all the networks, sitting there, going, Whew! That could have been us. We could have got caught the same way. And Av, your head is going up and down. You know how it works.
WESTIN: Oh, absolutely. Interestingly enough, in terms of some of the fallout, two years ago, the Freedom Forum was concerned that the public was withdrawing its support for 1st Amendment protections for journalists, and district attorneys were going in without subpoenas and getting outtakes, and people were being sent to jail for contempt and all that. And in the past, the public used to rise up and say, Let that man out, let that woman out.
That is no longer happening. And the Freedom Forum asked me to write a book, which I did, which essentially interview 150 professionals at all ranks, at local and network levels. And I asked them—I gave them anonymity in order to get candor, and what came out is what the real world of broadcasting is all out, and it‘s lousy. That the problem. And the public doesn‘t believe us anymore.
NORVILLE: And how do we get the credibility back? That‘s the question we‘ll take up in just a moment. More with my guests in just a moment. And we‘ll also have more on the memo mess, including what “60 Minutes” stalwart Andy Rooney had to say. Stick around.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDY ROONEY, CBS NEWS: I don‘t like this business. It‘s wrong. We were wrong. And he was wrong. And it has damaged CBS News.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: That was Andy Rooney on Don Imus‘ radio show this morning.
Back with former CBS and NBC News reporter Marvin Kalb, former vice president and executive producer of ABC News, Av Westin, former president and chairman of the CBS Broadcasting Group, Gene Jankowski, and former ABC and CBS News Morton Dean.
Gene, we talked a moment ago about the business of broadcasting and how the pressure to make money is a factor in all of this. How can networks make sure that they still make their profit, but don‘t compromise on the ethics of what they do? Because you were there during the golden years.
JANKOWSKI: Surprisingly enough, since CBS began, it was interested in making a profit. So what‘s going on now is nothing new. There‘s more competition, so it becomes more difficult. But the way to ensure profits keep coming in is to maintain high standards, high standards in entertainment and high standards in your news operation.
And I go back to what I said earlier. The reason why this big brouhaha is going over is because people have obviously someplace violated the standards that were so critical to CBS‘ image. So, this is a big black eye at the moment, but it‘s not the end of the universe. CBS went through it with the winner-take-all tennis thing back in 1978. They went through it with the Westmoreland situation in the early ‘80s, and now here‘s another one of those terrible, terrible things that has crept up that‘s every journalist‘s worst nightmare.
And it happened. Now, the faster they get to the bottom of it, the faster they‘ll get it behind them and go forward.
NORVILLE: And yet those scandals happened during a different time, when the competitive landscape was not as broad as it is now.
You‘re in the media-buying business now. How much is CBS and this
parent company, Viacom, hurt by this black eye that CBS
JANKOWSKI: I suspect probably very little.
As a matter of fact, you might draw the argument that the ratings have gone up during this last week because everybody‘s interested in what everybody has to say about the situation.
NORVILLE: Actually, the evening news is trailing in all but one of the top-10 markets, San Francisco being the exception.
JANKOWSKI: But that has been, regardless of this story.
But there‘s another one-hour discussion on the evening news on the local stations and the loss of affiliates back in the early ‘90s that CBS has still not recovered from. There‘s a big story there with the fact that you don‘t have a big station in a market like Detroit or Milwaukee or Atlanta any longer that has hurt—and CBS, as good as it has become with the prime-time ratings performance I maintain would be even better if it had those strong affiliates throughout the Midwest that became the nucleus of Fox‘s renewed strength.
NORVILLE: Let‘s talk about how we fix it, how we fix the business. If the entire business, Av, as you say, is on a death spiral, to use the phrase earlier...
JANKOWSKI: I disagree with that.
NORVILLE: I know you do.
DEAN: So do I.
NORVILLE: OK. We‘ve got three. Sorry, Av, you‘re outmanned here.
What do you think the problem is, then, Marvin, and how should it be addressed?
KALB: Well, we know what the problem is.
And one central one, I think, is the perception of the public about what it is that they watch on television. I think that, in 1985, it was—according to the Pew poll, it was something like 56 percent of the American people back then trusted what it is that they saw and read. Now it is something like 35 percent. And it may drop even further as a result of what happened at CBS.
That is where the problem is going to be. In restoring the confidence of the American people, that what it is that they watch, what they read in the newspaper, is really a tremendous effort on the part of well-intentioned people to get the news across to the American people. It‘s very difficult to persuade them at this point that that‘s the case, because the latest thing that has happened is that people now turn in—tune in, rather, to a television program not to find out so much what is new, so much as to get confirmation of what it is that they already believe.
And if the news program does not confirm what they believe, they say that‘s bias. That‘s wrong.
NORVILLE: Are we too, quick, Mort, to throw out the bias label?
DEAN: Well, I tend to believe it. And, again, I think many people outside the studio would disagree with me. I don‘t think there‘s as much bias as some people think there is.
NORVILLE: A lot of people think CBS are right now.
DEAN: Well, I know that, and I disagree with that.
DEAN: I think you can accuse CBS of poor journalism, which has, as Marvin said, had a devastating effect on not only the news business, but on the United States of America.
I‘ll just throw out one thing, and perhaps you‘ll all say he‘s carrying this too far, but one of the things you bring when you travel around the world as a journalist, as an American journalist, is the fact that we have freedom of the press here. And I think most of the studies have indicated that something like 90 percent of the peoples around the world do not have even a modicum of freedom of the press. It‘s essential.
NORVILLE: And, Av, last word to you since you are so concerned and used this upsetting phrase.
WESTIN: Well, my colleagues here and Marvin in Washington jump to say they disagree that we‘re in a death spiral. But they at the same time say the same thing, and Marvin cites statistics in which credibility went from 57 percent to 30 percent and maybe lower.
The question of we already know that the public has withdrawn its support. And other forms are taking its place. There will be network news. Don‘t misunderstand me. I‘m just saying that the form that it‘s in now, evening news, is no longer the place people go to get their information and trust that information.
NORVILLE: Well, I hope they come to this program. I hope they trust the discussions we have here are honest and truthful.
JANKOWSKI: ... the ratings for the three evening news broadcasts on the networks, and it‘s still substantially ahead of whatever‘s in second place.
JANKOWSKI: And even CBS, currently in third place, the rating is, what, 10 times larger than any of the single cable channels. So it‘s still a place where the mass audience is still going.
NORVILLE: But clearly cable is a place, too, where they‘re going too for amplification on it.
NORVILLE: And, unfortunately, I‘m going to have to let that be the last word or they‘re going to shoot me.
Gene Jankowski, thank you for being with us. Mort Dean, Av Westin, good to see you. Marvin Kalb, thank you as well.
KALB: Thank you.
NORVILLE: When we come back, we‘re going to the other side of the TV set, your living room. How is the document drama playing out across the United States?
NORVILLE: The “60 Minutes” memo mistake threatens CBS‘ credibility.
How are viewers reacting? Will America keep watching the tiffany network?
Find out next.
NORVILLE: So, how‘s the CBS document controversy playing out across the country?
Joining me now are three people who have been listening and reading what Americans are saying. Armstrong Williams is a nationally syndicated columnist and radio talk show host. He‘s with us tonight, as is Leslie Marshall, who is also a national radio talk show host. And Will Femia is our MSNBC.com communities and opinions editor. He can tell us what everybody in cyberspace has been saying about this.
So let me just go around the horn. Everybody give me a quick line or two about what you‘ve heard or read today.
Armstrong, you first.
ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, people want to know who forged the documents. Liberals are upset because they felt putting this on the air without doing their due diligence, they‘ve hurt Kerry more than they have helped him.
And there‘s just a lot of anger. And even though many people don‘t necessarily like President Bush, they don‘t like the unfairness of this to the office of the presidency.
NORVILLE: Who are they angry at?
WILLIAMS: Dan Rather and CBS. They‘re very angry at Dan Rather. In fact, many feel Dan Rather should resign.
NORVILLE: All right, Leslie, what are you hearing?
LESLIE MARSHALL, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, I have to actually agree I think for the first time in my life with Armstrong on something, that listeners are asking for, unfortunately, 72-year-old Dan Rather‘s resignation, although I‘m really hearing a lot more anger and conspiracy theorists on the right side, the grassy knoll, the whole theory that this was some sort of an attack to get George W. Bush out of office, when, in fact, if that was the case, and I don‘t believe it was, anything but poor journalism, which the left is saying from my listeners, it would obviously have backfired, being that George W. Bush, depending on what day it is, seems to be ahead by a certain margin in the polls against John Kerry.
But the bottom line I‘m hearing from some people on the fence and the moderates is that we need to look at all the good that Dan Rather has done in journalism and we need to look at what was—was this a conspiracy and bias or was this an honest core judgment and really bad mistake on behalf of a veteran journalist?
NORVILLE: So, the liberals are prepared to say it was bad journalism. The moderates say give Dan a break. It‘s the conservatives who say this was all a plot.
NORVILLE: I want to hear from everybody first. Then we‘re going to get into the discussion.
Will, what are you seeing on the Internet sites that you‘ve been trolling today?
WILL FEMIA, OPINIONS EDITOR, MSNBC.COM: You know, bloggers aren‘t ones to really be picking over the dead, so a lot of folks have moved on, but those that are staying with the CBS story are definitely going after—if Burkett was just a passer-oner of the documents, where did they really come from, the whole CBS-DNC connection.
Even lefty bloggers are getting in the mix now that “The Post” came up with that GOP operative who I guess is just rumored to be involved in some way, so definitely that grassy knoll conspiracy crew is hot on the trail.
NORVILLE: Is there a certain amount of crowing going on, Will, on the part of bloggers who say, hey, we did something the network couldn‘t do; that was check the sources?
FEMIA: Without question, there‘s a lot of back-patting.
In fact, just before I came down here, I was reading about a protest that they held outside the D.C. CBS studios. The blogger who I was reading said that 30 people were there, at least, in their pajamas sort of upset at CBS. So, that‘s kind of a funny manifestation of that back-patting.
NORVILLE: What about the credibility of other news organizations? Armstrong, are people painting all journalists with the same brush with which they seem to be prepared to tar CBS?
WILLIAMS: You know, that is actually the good news. The conservatives are stunned at the—at the—just the determination and the vigilance that ABC and “The Washington Post” and “The New York Times,” to their credit, and the cable networks, NBC, in getting to the truth of the story.
They admitted in the beginning, like “USA Today,” they believed the story, but when the bloggers pointed out some discrepancies, especially the proportional spacing, they got into it. Now, I got to tell you something. ABC has been relentless. It is amazing. In fact, one thing they‘ve said, the conservatives have had to admit that at least the liberals networks as they perceive them have been really stand-up guys in this situation.
NORVILLE: And yet, Leslie, when you talk to your people, are they talking about the responsible role that the media is now trying to have? Or are they saying it‘s jumped the shark and it‘s all over?
MARSHALL: Well, you know, it‘s interesting.
Before this whole CBS debacle, I think the American people, especially when you look at Middle East politics and Israelis over Palestinians, have questioned not only the accuracy, but the amount of bias in journalism in this country, especially on television in both the regular network level and on a cable level. There are many people now with the super information highway called the Internet who are looking into foreign newspapers, whether it be in Great Britain or whether it be in other countries such as Iraq.
People today our talk radio listeners, our television viewers, and those who read the papers and have any access to the news are much more informed and are digging deeper to find out the truth. The anger I‘m hearing today is, why didn‘t Dan Rather, CBS, the producers, Dan Rather‘s boss and all the staffing there do at least what many of we, the American people, do ourselves on a daily basis to find out if the news is, in fact, true?
NORVILLE: You know, it‘s interesting that we‘ve been obviously looking at the Internet and seeing what people are saying out there.
And there‘s an interesting one that came from BuzzMachine.com that‘s kind of apropos of what you‘re saying, Leslie.
A blogger wrote: “It‘s bigger than Dan Rather. It‘s bigger than CBS. It‘s about journalism and big media and their relationship with the citizenry and democracy. It‘s about sharing authority with the people.”
Will, when you see these kinds of comments on the Internet, does that give you any sense of how the information delivery system has changed so profoundly?
FEMIA: Oh, it‘s completely different.
And, you know, even when we talk about, oh, the bloggers, you know, uncovered the story, there isn‘t a place where you go and just click on the bloggers, even—not just in terms of reporting the news, but in terms of gathering the news as an audience member, it really is a more active role. And they have to go and look around and look at different sites and look in different perspectives.
The whole—and even it‘s interesting what Armstrong Williams was talking about, the mainstream media members that have picked up now the story and are doing a good job covering it, the role that the bloggers are playing has sort of shifted in the story from being one of uncovering facts and discussing and analyzing facts to aggregating reports from mainstream media. So, now, when I look at whether it‘s the rumor that was in “The New York Post” or “The Tribune” now, a lot of people are talking about there‘s a report in “The Tribune” and how it differs from the “USA Today” piece.
Well, I don‘t read all those papers. I can‘t read through them all. But I know how to look through the blogosphere, through Web logs well enough for them to pick out the nuggets for me, so I can better understand the news.
NORVILLE: Yes, kind of the “Cliff Notes” of the Internet.
We‘ll take a short break. When we come back, more with our guests in just a sec.
NORVILLE: Back now with radio talk show host Armstrong Williams and Leslie Marshall and Will Femia, who is MSNBC.com‘s opinion editor.
Who is checking the bloggers out there? They are out there making all these statements and checking up on everybody. Who is checking on them, Will?
FEMIA: Well, the bottom line is that they check on each other. And as a reader, you sort of check on them the way you would anything else that was being sold to you, although—well, there is a point of pride in bloggers admitting when they are wrong, although they don‘t exactly have the same degree of accountability that mainstream media does either.
NORVILLE: You know, one of the things that is not being disputed in the Dan Rather report is Ben Barnes‘ statement, the former Texas House speaker, who says that there was political pressure to get George Bush into the National Guard and into the right unit.
Leslie, is anybody talking about that part of the story, or has it been lost in all the furor?
MARSHALL: Absolutely, Deborah.
There are many people who are saying today on radio, television, on the Internet, OK, memos not true, but is the story true? It is quite believable that our current president, being a Bush and who is daddy and who his family is, at the time and in that position, that what was said in the memo and situations surrounding that could have been true. There are others interviewed at that time that said that was the way things were done.
As a matter of fact, we know things are still done like that today.
The people who have privilege certainly have a different level of power. But it comes down to not necessarily why was this forged and who did this, but is the story true, despite the fact that the memo is not?
NORVILLE: Are you hearing that, Armstrong, from your listeners?
WILLIAMS: Well, obviously, there‘s an element out there that believes there‘s an issue here that there was something to the story.
But the story is lost, and the story will never have legs again, because the story has become Dan Rather. The story has become Mary Mapes. The story has become Burkett. The story has become, where did these forged documents come from? Where are the original copies? It has become the issue of, can you trust the media? Are we so gung-ho to get on the air with a story that we are willing to forgo—trusting our sources, making sure that documents are authenticated?
I think something else that is being missed here, I saw the interview with Dan Rather, a lot of people saw it with Burkett. And they thought he was pretty harsh. And one of the things that came out of this interview with Burkett is that he made it clear to Mary Mapes and to Dan Rather‘s people that they needed to authenticate those documents before they put them on the air.
WILLIAMS: So he, too, had concerns.
So I think the reason why he is possibly going to sue CBS, because they betrayed his trust and they had to rebuild their confidential source. And so he is also upset.
NORVILLE: Well, are these people going to be coming back to mainstream media, as best you can tell, Armstrong, or do they feel so burned by the CBS report and so unimpressed by the network‘s coverage of the story that they are not coming back?
WILLIAMS: Well, I think CBS‘ ratings over the last week or so is an indication of where people are. I think the only reason that CBS is responding to the story now is because of the marketplace.
I think they have shown extreme arrogance in not closing the door on this story. They thought they could continue to say that these documents were for real. And so the problem is, is that people do have alternatives. There is Fox. There is CNN. There is ABC. There is NBC. There is CNBC.
So they have do alternatives.
But I have got to tell you, I think it‘s going to be a long road to hoe for CBS to regain its credibility. Something has to happen. Either Andrew Heyward has to resign or CBS‘ Dan Rather has to step down within the next three or four months. Something has to happen to show the American people that they can trust this news source and that they are unwilling to allow these kinds of things to happen in their news organizations. And someone has to be fired and heads must roll.
NORVILLE: Well, certainly, the evening news ratings have gone way down since this story was reporting.
We have just a few seconds left.
Leslie, what are your listeners telling you they think needs to happen?
MARSHALL: Well, Armstrong—it‘s so easy to beat up a guy who has made one mistake. And, God, I hope my mistakes are hidden when they come out in my life.
Yes, this was a mistake, a major faux pas, but let‘s look at the facts. CBS‘ numbers are down. They are third. They are third. They are still—the cable networks are still trailing. I would love to be in their position, and that be the losing position. They will come back. Viewers and listeners don‘t remember what they had for lunch two Tuesdays ago. That‘s really what we are looking at, right? We‘re looking at very short-term memories. We‘re looking at a very forgiving audience.
And the CBS loyalists will be back, if they have left, if they are not back already.
NORVILLE: The only thing that is not forgiving is the clock, and it has run out on us.
Armstrong Williams, Leslie Marshall, Will Femia, thank you so much for being with us.
When we come back, the frightening issue of nuclear terrorism.
NORVILLE: We like to hear from you. Send us ideas and comments to us at NORVILLE@MSNBC.com. Some of your e-mails are posted on our Web page. That‘s NORVILLE.MSNBC.com. That‘s also where you can sign up for our newsletter.
That‘s our program for tonight. Thanks a lot for watching. I‘m Deborah Norville.
Coming up tomorrow night, a special Wednesday edition of “HARDBALL” will be in this time slot. But we‘re back with you on Thursday, when we will take a look at the threat of nuclear terror. Just how great is the danger that terrorists could target nuclear reactors in this country or even use a nuclear device here in the United States? We‘ll take an in-depth look at the question. It is a frightening show. You don‘t want to miss it.
Up next, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.”
We‘ll see you later.
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