Guest: Doug Forrester, Bob Zelnick, Bob Kohn, Mort Zuckerman, Michael Wolff
(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)
PAT BUCHANAN, GUEST HOST: Dan Rather, the controversial anchor of “The CBS Evening News,” says he will sign off for the last time in March, after 24 years in the chair he inherited from Walter Cronkite. What now?
Was the National Guard story Rather‘s undoing? Did CBS evict him? He says the decision was mutual. We will debate why on SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.
Then, have the bells begun to toll for the Tiffany network? What does Rather‘s departure mean for big media, and where does America get her news now?
ANNOUNCER: From the press room, to the courtroom, to the halls of Congress, Joe Scarborough has seen it all. Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.
BUCHANAN: Good evening. I‘m Pat Buchanan, sitting in for Joe Scarborough.
Dan Rather, for 24 years the anchor of CBS News, is surrendering his chair. Whether he was ejected by CBS or leaves voluntarily is not known. But the successor to the legendary Walter Cronkite departs in the midst of the worst scandal of his career. In September, on “60 Minutes,” Rather charged that President Bush in the Texas Air National Guard disobeyed orders, refused to take a medical exam, and used political influence to escape punishment.
Rather‘s report turned out to be based on amateur forgeries that Internet bloggers discovered in minutes. Friends and admirers say Rather was one of the toughest reporters of his generation, willing to put himself in personal peril to get a story. Critics and even some colleagues say Rather could neither hide nor control his liberal bias. And it was his hostility to Republicans and conservatives that caused him to commit the blunder that brought him down and closed his career.
Tonight, Dan Rather, the man, his controversial legacy, and the future, if any, of network news.
Joining me tonight, Mort Zuckerman of “U.S. News & World Report,” Bob Kohn, author of “Journalistic Fraud,” former ABC News correspondent Bob Zelnick, and Michael Wolff, media critic for “Vanity Fair,” an all-star panel.
Let me start with you, Mort Zuckerman.
What is your take on this? It seems to me Dan Rather‘s exit was hustled up. It was very probably involuntary and it‘s directly related to a report that‘s coming down which is going to be fairly devastating on that story on the National Guard.
MORT ZUCKERMAN, EDITOR IN CHIEF, “U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT”: Well, I think it‘s hard to escape the conclusion that this was a departure that was really in advance of that report.
You know, given his long 40-year career, it would be nice—they once said about Nijinsky that the great leap that he performed on ballet, he was asked how he did it so well. He said, I always left the stage on the way up. Well, Dan Rather did not did not leave the stage on the way up. And it‘s really unfortunate after a 40-year career, but there‘s no doubt but this is clearly associated with that particular scandal and false story.
BUCHANAN: Bob Zelnick, there is an element of sadness in anybody leaving this way. Rather has been a controversial figure, been in a lot of battles with a lot of folks, but he seems to be going out under a real cloud. What is your take on why he went, and do you believe it‘s directly related to the fact of this National Guard report?
BOB ZELNICK, FORMER ABC NEWS PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Oh, I don‘t think there‘s any question about that. I think this was kind of passive misleading to suggest that this would have happened anyway. The report is coming down very soon, probably next week. It‘s going to be devastating. It‘s hard to see how it would not be devastating. It‘s hard to see how Rather could possibly stay with “The CBS Evening News” in the wake of that kind of indictment of his recent performance.
So I just think that whole document that‘s coming down was kind of the 500-pound gorilla in the scene that wasn‘t referred to today.
BUCHANAN: Michael Wolff, for better or worse, if CBS is going to restore its credibility, severely damaged in that case, wasn‘t it almost essential that Rather, who is perceived, whether he is or not, perceived as a real partisan, who has sort of a grudge against Mr. Bush, that he had to go?
MICHAEL WOLFF, “VANITY FAIR”: I think this is only tangentially about CBS‘ credibility. I think it‘s only tangentially, as a matter of fact, about Dan Rather, and I think it is primarily a bout deep ambivalence on the part of CBS, actually the part of the three major networks about whether they want to be in the news business.
And it‘s not really ambivalent. I think they do not want to be in the nightly news business. And this is—I might even use the word opportunity here.
WOLFF: They saw this opportunity to get rid of Dan, and they took it.
BUCHANAN: Well, wait a minute. Let me follow up with you.
BUCHANAN: Look, whatever you say about Rather, he has been a 40-year veteran of CBS. You are saying they threw this guy to the wolves for no sufficient reason because they may be—quote—“moving in a new direction”?
WOLFF: Absolutely. That‘s the business that they are in. The thing that they talk about, they think about, the thing that obsesses them is the business they are in and how to make it a better business for them, how to make it a more profitable business.
And the thing that they do not sit around talking about is the great virtues and the great traditions of CBS News.
BUCHANAN: Bob Kohn, is that your take on it? Is it just that level? Look, how does CBS, or can they avoid a real humiliation? Look, Rather has been their anchor 24 years, longer than Cronkite. He is being hustled out of his chair. You got this report coming down on their heads that cannot be good given that travesty of a story they put on. How can CBS really avoid a real humiliation out of this?
BOB KOHN, AUTHOR, “JOURNALISTIC FRAUD”: The only way CBS can regain its credibility is to have some real serious consequences to what happened here.
And I think there‘s a very disappointing aspect of the story. It‘s one thing that Dan Rather has announced his resignation, all right, but it‘s another that he has been given the job of an investigative reporter for “60 Minutes.” Dan Rather may not have been directly involved, maybe only indirectly involved in the forged memos and the presentation of that to the American public. But he orchestrated the cover-up subsequent during those two weeks after the forged documents were given to the American people.
There has to be some serious consequences. I am very disappointed that CBS would announce that Dan Rather is getting this job at “60 Minutes” before the investigation, before we know the results of the investigation.
BUCHANAN: All right, I think you have got a very good point.
Now, here is Dan Rather on the CBS News just a few hours ago announcing his departure. It was right in the middle of the show, incidentally, not at the beginning or end.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RATHER: After nearly a quarter of a century as the anchor of this broadcast, I have decided it‘s time to move on. I will be leaving “The Evening News” next March. I will not be leaving CBS News, however. I will continue to report to you working full time on both editions of “60 Minutes” and other assignments for CBS News. It has been and remains an honor to be welcomed into your home each evening, and I thank you for the trust you have given me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BUCHANAN: Bob—excuse me—Mort Zuckerman, I want to take up Bob Kohn‘s point, because, look, I have studied that CBS thing. Look, I don‘t believe CBS knew those memos were fabrications or forgeries, but they were. And they not only did not do due diligence on them. There were people that had questioned them, their own experts. They knew Ben Barnes had said one thing long ago and now was saying the other.
They didn‘t give the opposition, in other words, the president‘s side, any hearing at all. That was an attack ad on the president of the United States. And, in the last analysis, it used materials that were criminally forged to destroy his campaign. Now, as Bob Kohn says, for two weeks, Rather defended this thing. He has yet to apologize to the president of the United States. How in heaven‘s name can you move him over as an investigative journalist to “60 Minutes”?
ZUCKERMAN: Well, you are making a lot of assumptions in that, Pat, but I will just say this.
There‘s no doubt but that two weeks that went by without CBS and Dan Rather saying, look, we have just been given some information here, and we are going to take our time and look at this very carefully instead of defending it for as long as they did, that‘s what did the greatest damage to his credibility and frankly to that of CBS News.
Now, as we know, in life, people are always looking—this man has been with them for 40 years. You don‘t just fire him, frankly. And the nature of the way things are, people try and give him as graceful an exit as possible. The fact that he is being forced to leave key position, which is anchor of CBS News, is going to be perceived as a serious punishment for the transgressions of both his producer and, in fact, of his own misjudgment in keeping the story going when it should have been looked at very carefully.
ZUCKERMAN: I don‘t think this is an unfair way of resolving it. We do this all the time in life.
BUCHANAN: All right, Bob Zelnick, let me ask you, because you brought up the point before.
Look, I think this was an attack ad. They didn‘t give the president‘s side any hearing at all. They didn‘t say, look, we have had questions about these memos. They didn‘t say, you know, Ben Barnes did say a couple of years ago there was no influence, but now we‘ve—they didn‘t lay any of that out.
But the important thing to me is a point you made I think on a SCARBOROUGH show. It was a couple months ago. And it was, look, this was clearly injurious and damaging to the president of the United States. And CBS said, we‘re sorry to our viewers. Why was there no apology at all either by Rather or CBS to the man who was injured by what turned out to be forged and false documents?
ZELNICK: I think that‘s—I can‘t answer for CBS. I think that‘s one of the most egregious elements of the entire transaction, along with the fact that there was really no retraction of the basic story. Right to the end, they went down suggesting that there was some truth out there. It‘s just that these documents didn‘t prove it beyond a doubt, as we hoped they would.
WOLFF: Wait a minute. I have to step in here.
WOLFF: I have to step in here.
WOLFF: No, no.
What you are saying here and what the assumption is is that this was wrong, is that George Bush actually had an honorable time, honorable service in the National Guard.
BUCHANAN: Michael, that‘s not it.
BUCHANAN: Hold it, Michael.
WOLFF: I‘ve got to say, No. 1, is there anybody in this country who believes that? And No. 2, let‘s go to the essence of the story. The story was true.
ZELNICK: The news, as you should know by now, is based on facts that you are able to develop and report. If the factual edifice on which your charges stand crumbles, then the charges have to be—you have to go back to square one and start proving the case again.
WOLFF: Actually, that‘s not true. We accept the cumulative proof.
And in this instance, everybody, including—and “The New York Times” did a fine story on this without the use of those documents, in which we know that George Bush was absent without leave.
BUCHANAN: All right, hold it, Michael. You are talking about what you don‘t know about. Let me state what the...
WOLFF: No, Pat.
BUCHANAN: You hold it a second.
WOLFF: You‘re way off the board on this.
BUCHANAN: Will you listen?
Listen, the key charge that was made by CBS didn‘t have to do with Alabama. It had to do with the fact that the president was insubordinate. He refused to take a medical exam that Killian ordered him to take. When Killian was going to try to discipline him, the president got his friends in the Guard to prevent his being disciplined. There is nothing to back that story, which was the core of what the memos were about. It had nothing to do with Alabama, which is what you are talking about.
WOLFF: Well, actually, that‘s not true. “The Times” reported that story also without using those forged documents.
KOHN: Pat, we are talking about Dan Rather here. Now, if you want to bring in “The New York Times,” they did the right thing. They fired Howell Raines almost immediately.
WOLFF: No, no. We are talking about two things here.
KOHN: No, no.
WOLFF: We are talking about Dan Rather and we are talking about this story.
KOHN: OK. Then, this story, Dan Rather went on the air and lied to his audience when he said there was no investigation going on.
KOHN: Yes, he did.
WOLFF: This is appalling.
KOHN: He lied to his audience.
WOLFF: He was not.
KOHN: Yes, he did.
KOHN: No. When he said he had an unimpeachable source, you don‘t think he was lying, when he knew it was this guy Burkett?
BUCHANAN: Threat source was an erratic wacko he was basing the thing on.
We are going to come—wait a minute.
BUCHANAN: Everybody—hold it, Michael.
BUCHANAN: Everybody stick around.
WOLFF: It‘s a surprise moment for me today to say that I am defending Dan Rather.
BUCHANAN: Well, it‘s a surprise moment for all of us, Michael.
Stick around. We‘ll all be back.
BUCHANAN: Will Dan Rather‘s departure from the anchor desk have any impact on the news we watch? A look at the ever evolving big media coming up.
BUCHANAN: Dan Rather, the network news anchor labeled by critics as a liberal is calling it quits. so, is this a victory for right-wing partisans?
We are back with our all-star panel here. We‘ve got Mort Zuckerman.
We‘ve got Bob Kohn. We‘ve got Michael Wolff and we‘ve got Bob Zelnick.
Gentlemen, this thing, this September issue that‘s now being investigated, and CBS is headed for real trouble, probably responsible for Rather‘s departure, Michael Wolff, notwithstanding. But Rather has a career, a long career of being perceived as hostile to Republican presidents and conservative presidents. Let‘s take a look at the most famous of his career, or maybe it‘s the second most famous, that encounter with Richard Nixon, and it was down in Houston at the National Association of Broadcasters in 1974.
And I happened to be present in the audience. Let‘s take a look at it from beginning to end.
RATHER: Thank you, Mr. President. Dan Rather, CBS News.
RATHER: Mr. President.
RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Are you running for something?
RATHER: No, sir, Mr. President. Are you?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BUCHANAN: OK. Now, I think everybody has seen that once or twice.
BUCHANAN: All right, I was in the audience. And what happened was, it was the broadcasters. And Rather gave his name. The broadcasters cheered for him. Others booed. Everybody laughed. It was very funny. And Nixon had a big smile on his face and he knew Rather was controversial, said, are you running for something? Everybody cheered and laughed at that, and Rather gives him this impertinent insult to the president of the United States.
Now, Michael Wolff—well, let me go to Mort Zuckerman. Isn‘t this really sort of beginning the definition of Dan Rather‘s career, a definition he was never able to escape?
ZUCKERMAN: Well, I certainly think it contributed to that. It certainly contributed to his image of being a feisty guy, which he sure as heck was.
But I will also say this. That was 1974. Does anybody remember the
environment of 1974, when Nixon was really sort of tilting against the
press? It was called Watergate. So you can‘t just take all of these
things out of context. All I can say is that when you think about all
this, that we are still arguing about the war in Vietnam I think is just
astounding to me. And all of this controversy at this point to my mind is
by and large irrelevant.
What is relevant is that Dan Rather clearly made a mistake in continuing the story when there was a lot of reason to believe the story was based on bogus documents, which was the whole rationale for the story. On that ground—I don‘t believe he was dishonest. He is not that kind of a guy, but on that ground, I think he got himself into deep, deep, deep trouble, and I am sure that report was what in a sense precipitated his withdrawal.
BUCHANAN: OK, Bob Zelnick, now, you are a journalist. You have stood up there. You have thrown questions at presidents. You have probably had presidents get miffed at you, as they do at other journalists. How do you think Rather handled that himself? What was your take on it at the time?
ZELNICK: My take on it at the time was that it was awkward and a bit obnoxious. But I have never held people responsible for a slip-up. Anybody can make it, particularly in a live situation, particularly in an emotional situation, as that period was.
I do want to say one thing about the punishment or the steps that Rather will be taking. I think we may be reading too much into it to suggest that he is going to be a regular on “60 Minutes.” I think that the solution that was announced today gives CBS the option of seeing how the report plays and what the public reaction is, how it reacts to what Thornburgh and company have to say about the incident.
And if indeed Rather can‘t muster enough public support to stand behind his career, I would suspect he would contribute rather few investigative reports to “60 Minutes” or anyplace else. I look at this as a work in progress.
BUCHANAN: Michael Wolff, I think that‘s very perceptive, especially, as I recall, I think it was Steve Croft of “60 Minutes” took a real shot at Rather over that report.
The other fellow at the end of—what‘s our friend that does the tail end of the “60 Minutes” show? Andy Rooney, he had taken a couple of shots at Rather. Do you really think on Sunday, “60 Minutes,” and you are an expert on journalists, they would really receive him well there coming back?
WOLFF: Well, also, I think we should point out that Dan is 73 years old.
BUCHANAN: Well, that‘s the youth department at “60 Minutes.”
WOLFF: Absolutely. Good point.
But, nevertheless, I think what we have here is a career—I mean, the end of a career. Whether it‘s the end of a career because of the National Guard story scandal or it‘s the end of a career because you are 73, or it‘s the end of a career because the networks don‘t want to do the nightly news anymore, and all of the anchors are on their way to wherever anchors go when they finish the nightly news.
BUCHANAN: We are going to deal with that. We are going to deal with that. It‘s a good point, Mike. We are going to deal with it.
But right now, let‘s take another. Rather showed real hostility for Vice President George Bush during this famous interview about Iran-Contra, which occurred in 1988, as Vice President Bush was gearing up to run and frankly win the election of 1988. Let‘s listen.
RATHER: Mr. Vice President, I appreciate you joining us tonight. I appreciate the straightforward way in which you have engaged in this exchange. Clearly some unanswered questions remain.
RATHER: Are you willing to go to a news conference before the Iowa caucuses, answer questions from all comers?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I‘ve been to 86 news conferences since March.
RATHER: I gather the answer is no. Thank you very much for being with us, Mr. Vice President.
We will be back with more news in a moment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BUCHANAN: OK. I don‘t think that captured really what I wanted to show there, which was the tremendous blast that Bush gave to Rather when he told Rather, you know, you bringing this up repeatedly is like me bringing up the seven minutes when you walk off the set. It was a very belligerent exchange.
Bob Kohn, is this representative? Go ahead.
KOHN: Well, Pat, I think that Dan Rather‘s bias against the Republicans, particularly against the Bushes, may give you some understanding of how this forged document story took place. I mean, earlier, last summer, when the swift boat ads controversy hit the airwaves, Dan Rather specifically said, you know, what happened 30 years ago in a guy‘s war career is not—is meaningless. I forgot his exact words.
And all of a sudden, here comes this story, and he goes ahead and presses it. I want to go back to a point that Bob Zelnick made concerning the consequences, because, under the securities laws, the board of directors of a corporation like Viacom, the parent of CBS, these directors have a responsibility to root out unethical conduct or illegal conduct within its organization.
I would like to know what this negotiation that took place. Did they just give Dan Rather extension of his contract, when he is going to be doing work for “60 Minutes”? If there is an extension to the contract, we might have another Michael Ovitz situation here. So I am really curious to see how this is going to be playing out. CBS could be making some major problems here.
WOLFF: How are we going to have a Michael Ovitz situation? Just play that out a bit.
KOHN: Because Michael Ovitz was—when he was severed, all right, he got this huge severance package. Now, right now, we have an investigation that could determine Dan Rather‘s tenure at CBS. If the CBS management just entered into a contract with him that they have to reverse and then pay Dan Rather a severance that they didn‘t have to pay him before, that could be violation of the securities law.
BUCHANAN: Mort Zuckerman, I don‘t think he‘s going to be getting $147 million. Do you?
ZUCKERMAN: I don‘t think so. In fact, I think you could knock off quite a few zeros.
ZUCKERMAN: I think Dan Rather has done very well financially.
What he wants to do is to continue his career in journalism. And that‘s really what it‘s all about, as we all know. And he has suffered a huge loss by his, in effect, forced withdrawal from the CBS anchor seat.
BUCHANAN: Let me ask you a question.
Mort Zuckerman, look.
BUCHANAN: If an individual moves counterfeit money that he suspects may be counterfeit, he doesn‘t know for sure, he is guilty. Now, not only did CBS move this criminal—I mean, these criminally forged documents to bring down a president. It took them two weeks to say we made a mistake.
They still have not apologized for it. I mean, investigation or not, do you think they have done what you would have done if a couple of your reporters had done this to George Bush?
ZUCKERMAN: Look, let me just say this.
They clearly apologized. You may have wanted them to apologize directly to George Bush, but they clearly apologized for the mistakes in judgment that were there. Now, this doesn‘t mean they didn‘t make those mistakes in judgment. I don‘t happen to believe they did this with deliberate intent to deceive the American public. I think they were deceived by these documents, without question.
BUCHANAN: I don‘t believe—I agree with you, Mort.
ZUCKERMAN: I know you don‘t agree.
BUCHANAN: I do agree with you. I don‘t think they did it deliberately.
ZUCKERMAN: Oh, OK. Right.
BUCHANAN: But why? Rather is not a dumb guy. He‘s a bright guy. And there‘s guys around CBS who must have said, six hours later, look, boys, we may have been had on this thing.
Why do you think it took them two weeks to say—look, everybody in America, 36 hours later, knew he was had.
KOHN: To this day, they haven‘t admitted that the documents are forgeries.
ZUCKERMAN: I don‘t disagree with you on that, but people just generally tend to repeat mistakes over and over again.
They made these mistakes over and over again. It was an encore, one after another. They did it over and over again.
BUCHANAN: That‘s a great line, Mort.
ZUCKERMAN: And it left you breathless. It left you astonished at what they did.
BUCHANAN: People generally tend to treat...
WOLFF: Pat, if I could just introduce another example of forged documents which took them, as my recollection, more than several weeks, almost a month to pin down. And it was the Hitler diaries. That was Rupert Murdoch‘s problem.
BUCHANAN: Well, was it Rupert Murdoch‘s or was it—that was “Newsweek”‘s—it was “Newsweek”‘s problem.
WOLFF: No. Actually, it was Rupert‘s problem in London. This started in London. And that was where it came from.
So I just want to make the point that the conservatives can have a problem with forged documents too.
BUCHANAN: Well, Mort made a very good statement. He said people tend to make mistakes again and again.
Everybody stick around.
When we come back, how will Rather‘s departure affect the future of the old network news? We‘ll debate that coming up.
BUCHANAN: Are old veterans like Dan Rather becoming dinosaurs in the new world of media? Why do so many viewers want news that supports their views? We will try to answer that in moment.
But, first, let‘s get the latest headlines from the MSNBC News Desk.
ANNOUNCER: From the press room, to the courtroom, to the halls of Congress, Joe Scarborough has seen it all. Welcome back to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.
BUCHANAN: Welcome back. I‘m Pat Buchanan.
By the way, Joe Scarborough is out tonight. Joe is still recovering from a painful back problem. He is very grateful for the many letters and phone calls of support. He is expected to return SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY very soon.
With the emergence of cable news networks and the explosion of the Internet, many have come question the need and relevance network news.
I‘m back with a great panel of media experts, Mort Zuckerman, editor in chief of “U.S. News & World Report,” Bob Kohn, author of “Journalistic Fraud,” Bob Zelnick, former correspondent for ABC News, and Michael of “Vanity Fair.” And now we‘re joined by Doug Forrester, former New Jersey gubernatorial candidate and creator of DanRatherMustGo.com.
Doug Forrester, I guess, Doug, that seems sort of self-explanatory.
DOUG FORRESTER, FORMER NEW JERSEY GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Well, looks like.
BUCHANAN: Can you tell us what you had in mind, and why?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was your idea?
BUCHANAN: What was the idea behind this? Go ahead.
FORRESTER: Well, you know, we...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let us think about this for a moment.
BUCHANAN: Go ahead, Doug.
FORRESTER: I had been running a series radio spots and television spots on important public issues. And when we saw the story recording these bogus documents and the refusal of Dan Rather to really come clean on it, we thought it was important to hold him accountable.
And, boy, I will tell you, we put up our Web site, DanRatherMustGo.com. We have had almost eight million hits on this Web site, pushing 100,000 e-mails. The level of intensity is incredible. I have smacked the schoolyard bully. I go into restaurants, people, strangers come up to me and say, are you Doug Forrester? And I say yes. And they shake my hand and grab me and say, I have been waiting for years for somebody call that guy into account. So...
BUCHANAN: Did you put out the word on when Dan Rather stepped down today, resigned, I guess, or indicated he is resigning in March? Did you put that on the Web site? And what kind of response did you get?
FORRESTER: Well, we will get some sort of message out. I think that that‘s appropriate, thank those who took the time to fill out the petition and sent us e-mails, very, very strong response, amazing, amazing.
BUCHANAN: Are you going to shut it down now and take all those names and run for governor again?
FORRESTER: Well, actually, I...
BUCHANAN: Just a thought.
FORRESTER: No, I was involved with a United States Senate campaign against Bob Torricelli.
FORRESTER: And you may recall that.
BUCHANAN: OK, right. I do.
We were very pleased with the response. It‘s something that indicates a tremendous level of concern I think on the part of the public about this format. Dan Rather came into millions of American living rooms for decades, holding himself out to be the standard of journalistic truth. And I think a lot of people feel betrayed, and that‘s why emotions are running so high.
BUCHANAN: Well, you know, and it also raises a question about change.
Let me bring the other panel back in here. The latest edition of “BusinessWeek” asks a question, a penetrating question, about the mainstream media in America—quote—“Is America moving toward a European model, where many leading papers have well known party affiliations? This once radical idea has suddenly gained highbrow intellectual currency based on the theory reporters should show their true colors, rather than pretend to be above ordinary human bias.”
Mort Zuckerman, you publish a magazine. You also publish a newspaper, “The New York Daily News.” As you know, back in the days a century ago, when you Pulitzer and Hurst, parties—the newspapers were identified with parties. It was a party press. Are we moving toward that, and are we moving away from the idea that the whole country gets its news from the big network news, ABC, CBS, NBC?
ZUCKERMAN: Well, we are certainly moving away from the idea that the country gets its news from the big networks. There‘s no doubt about that. They have a very, very difficult business model.
They are dependent entirely on advertising. And, therefore, they need huge audiences in order to survive. The cable networks, on the other hand, they get subscription fees from their subscribers. And they need much smaller audience in order to not only survive, but do very well. So, in that sense, they can survive with a much smaller audience.
The fact is that the cable still gets smaller audiences than the broadcast, because the broadcast networks are free. Having said that, I think the news part of those big broadcast networks is definitely in jeopardy. Now, Bill Paley once said that it‘s shame if the news divisions ever become profit centers. But he could afford it back in those days.
But what‘s going to happen now, in news terms, anyhow, it‘s going to be like “The Saturday Evening Post,” “LOOK” magazine and “LIFE” magazine.
ZUCKERMAN: These are really on their way out in some way as the principal format for news. People who really are interested the news are turning increasingly to cable and to the Internet.
BUCHANAN: All right, Bob Zelnick, I was going to use those three examples. You and I are old enough to have read “LIFE,” “LOOK,” “Collier‘s,” “Saturday Evening Post,” and those magazines all came in there, and the TV, the network TV and local TV took all their advertising away, and they died.
Is this what‘s going to happen to, say, CBS News? Because, look, MSNBC, we are on the battlefield over there in Iraq. Something happens there, we go right to the battlefield. Jim Miklaszewski, he is on “Imus” talking about what happened in the morning. It‘s being done all day long before CBS, NBC, ABC can get to it at night.
ZELNICK: Well, I think that is the reason why we have seen a dramatic decline over a sustained period of time among the three networks. Their audience is down 59 percent from what it was a generation ago, when they were the dominant powers in American news.
On the other hand, perhaps it‘s my residual loyalty to the networks, having worked for one for 21 years. I do think they have a role to play. I do think that they still reach 30 million viewers per evening. And that is a substantial amount, much more than any of the cables, as Mort has suggested. I think they still produce the best produced half-hour of news in television. And I think they still maintain very fine stables of correspondents.
Now, Rather and Jennings and Brokaw have presided over this period of decline. The demographics don‘t look particularly good. The average audience age is about 50 years old. But I still think that they are profitable, and I still think that they will endure a while longer.
ZUCKERMAN: The news divisions are not profitable.
BUCHANAN: All right, we will take up the question with Michael Wolff and Bob Kohn when we come back.
Doug Forrester, thanks so much for joining us.
FORRESTER: Thanks very much for having me.
BUCHANAN: The rest of you, stick around.
We‘ll be back with much more on Rather‘s resignation and why.
Unbiased news organizations may be a thing of the past.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight‘s SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY challenge, who is the only person to anchor for a network in five separate decades? Is it, A, Walter Cronkite, B, Dan Rather, or, C, Peter Jennings?
The answer coming up.
ANNOUNCER: In tonight‘s SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY challenge, we asked, who is the only person to anchor for a network in five separate decades? The answer is C. Peter Jennings first anchored for ABC in 1965 at only 27 years old.
Now back to Pat.
BUCHANAN: Part of Dan Rather‘s legacy will be that millions of Americans believe that CBS, “The New York Times” and other big media lean toward the left. Has the perception become reality?
Back to talk about it are Mort Zuckerman, Bob Kohn, Bob Zelnick and
Michael Wolff of “Vanity Fair,”
Michael, let me go to you on that. Is it your feeling, A, that the network news shows are going diminish in terms of audience, and, B, that people are more and more looking for news about what they want to, but what they are interested in, not only, but the take on it they are interested in?
WOLFF: Well, to the first question, certainly.
I mean, this has been happening now for the better part of a generation. The network news has declined in all of the indicators, I mean, declined in its audience size, declined in its resources, declined in its bureaus around the world. It is in any man‘s language not what it once was, and it is on a slow path to irrelevance, if not oblivion.
BUCHANAN: Well, let me follow on—this is the point, though.
Look, there‘s no doubt about it. Our rivals over there at Fox have hit a niche. And they have got tremendous audience. They lost at the Democratic Convention, because people interested in the Democratic Convention don‘t watch Fox, and Fox people don‘t watch Democratic Conventions. So they got wiped out. And they did real well at the Republican Convention.
Do you think a possible solution for the network anchor chairs, as long as they are there, maybe put someone in there with a conservative edge, but let it known and don‘t deny it?
WOLFF: As a solution to dropping ratings, as a solution to better news, no, I don‘t think it‘s a solution in any respect, not least of all because that is what cable does.
If the network news is going continue, if it‘s going to be a business, it has to figure out how to do something different from cable. And, actually, I am afraid to say that probably the best solution is to do what it has always done. Having said that, however, I think that that‘s probably impossible, because what it has always done is to create this kind of news consensus.
BUCHANAN: All right, Mort, I just heard your voice in the background.
I mean, look, as I said, the basic fact is that the networks cannot survive with smaller audience, and the cable networks can. The cable networks can survive with it because they have subscription revenue from subscribers. They have two sources of revenue, advertising and subscription revenue.
But they have a much smaller audience. A partisan audience in this country is still by and large much smaller than the vast audience that would prefer watch a newscast that doesn‘t seem to tell you what to think about most subjects. So I don‘t agree with you that the audience is going shift dramatically in the way that Europe works. We have had a different tradition. That traditional is solidly grounded, not only in the media, but in the way the public accepts the media.
ZUCKERMAN: Journals of opinion do much worse than the broad-scale magazines or newspapers.
WOLFF: Pat, it‘s important to point out that the difference in the European model from the American model is that, in Europe, news outlets are supported by political parties.
Here, even if there is this new political current in news, it is a marketplace phenomenon.
KOHN: Pat, if CBS and the major networks and “The New York Times” came out and admitted they were liberal news organizations that were slanting their news, at least the hypocrisy would go away, but I don‘t think this would be a good thing, because I think the public has a right to know. They have a right to have accurate news and objectivity is the most important element in accuracy.
BUCHANAN: All right, well, let me speak briefly here for red state America.
The problem we have with “The Washington Post,” “New York Times,” CBS and some of the big networks is not just that they‘re liberal. We know that. It is that they fly a flag of neutrality and pretend not to be. This is what makes exasperates conservatives. I know the fellows downstairs. When we cut on Brit Hume and look on the panel, we know we are talking to guys, neocons and cons.
BUCHANAN: That‘s what we‘re dealing with, but we know it. They tell us.
KOHN: The solution is not to just admit that you are biasing the news. The solution is, is keep your opinions on the editorial page. And keep your news straight and objective as best you can.
BUCHANAN: But how long have you been alive?
ZUCKERMAN: I have to say, don‘t agree with that. I read “The Washington Post” every day. And I have to tell you, their news pages are not biased. You can say that their columns are biased. I just don‘t believe that.
BUCHANAN: OK. Let me ask you a question, Mort.
KOHN: How about “The New York Times”?
BUCHANAN: Is “The New York Post” tilted heavily toward the Israeli or the Arab side?
ZUCKERMAN: Well, they‘re tilted towards the side of truth and justice, as you know, Pat.
ZUCKERMAN: Maybe the Israeli side.
BUCHANAN: Come on.
Well, you know it is. I understand that. I like to read it. But I know what I am getting there, and you know what you are getting when you read—and “The Washington Post,” you know they‘re outstanding journalists, many of them, but they‘re of the left. They vote 90-10 liberal.
ZUCKERMAN: I have to tell you, at “U.S. News,” I have to tell you, we really work very hard to separate news from opinion. And I think so, too, do, not as successfully, so too do “TIME” and “Newsweek.
And a lot of news media, they may not always succeed, but I think a lot work of them really hard at this. And they do try and have opinion columns separated from the news columns. And that is a much better platform to appeal to the American public.
KOHN: Mort, if they really worked hard, we wouldn‘t all be talking about it. There wouldn‘t be organizations that are going and criticizing “The New York Times” and CBS. There wouldn‘t be Web sites called RatherBias.com.
ZUCKERMAN: Well, I don‘t agree with that either.
What you want is them to publish a different point of view. And if you do want a different point view, then watch Fox News. There are a lot of conservatives who want a particular slant on the news as well. And they don‘t agree that any news slant that is separate from theirs is fair.
KOHN: I don‘t think Fox should slanting the news any more than I think “The New York Times” should be slanting the news. Let them report the news objectively.
WOLFF: Look at this another way. Just change the vocabulary here from slant the news to speak to your audience.
KOHN: The way the media business works—I hate to have instruct you guys, but this is it.
BUCHANAN: Well, I don‘t think you are going be able to.
WOLFF: You speak to your audience.
BUCHANAN: We will go right off the air.
BUCHANAN: Speak to the audience, a great thought there.
FORRESTER: Everybody has to find their audience.
BUCHANAN: It‘s a great thought. Hold that thought.
Our panel will be back right after this break.
SCARBOROUGH: Tomorrow night in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, does the show “Desperate Housewives” mock real stay-at-home moms? The debate you won‘t want to miss.
On a scale of one to 10, panel, I want you to tell me how bad a blow this is to Rather‘s overall career and to the reputation of CBS News, what has happened today and what happened in September and what is going to happen when this report comes out.
ZUCKERMAN: Oh, I think it‘s a major blow.
I just want to say one thing. I still think the largest audience in this country are those people who don‘t want the news people to tell them what to think.
BUCHANAN: OK, Bob Zelnick.
ZELNICK: In terms of damage to Rather, I would rate it a 10. I think he is going to go down in judgment, as one of three network news anchors who presided over the decline of numbers and influence of their medium, their medium. And I think that was inevitable, but also the decline in credibility of the medium, and that was not inevitable.
KOHN: I think it was a 10. I think it put CBS‘ credibility into a tailspin. I don‘t think it‘s speaking to your audience to tell them that you have an unimpeachable source for documents that a 4-year-old could debunk.
BUCHANAN: OK, Michael Wolff.
WOLFF: Well, as you might expect, I think you are all wet.
BUCHANAN: All right.
WOLFF: I actually don‘t think this is—first thing, I don‘t think it changes anyone‘s regard for CBS News. For Dan Rather, after a long career, I think Dan Rather will be remembered as one of the seminal figures of network news, an institution that is passing. And will he be remembered for this story, the story he blew? Not a chance.
BUCHANAN: OK. You get the last word there, Michael Wolff. Thank you, Bob Kohn, Bob Zelnick, Mort Zuckerman.
Thanks for joining us. We‘ll be back tomorrow with a great debate.
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