Guest: Bob Zelnick, Henry Renteria, David Dreier, John Alford
JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST: Tonight, buried alive under floods and mud. Right now, a frantic rescue effort to save the lives of Americans buried under 30 feet of mud. Six are dead, 31 missing, while a community and a nation wait and hope for the best.
As searchers continue to dig hoping to find survivors trapped in pockets of air, we are going to get the very latest from the devastated scene in California. We get an update on rescue efforts from a fire captain who says he still has hope.
And then, halfway across the world, devastating images from the worst natural disaster in modern times.
Plus, Rather speaks, and he says he has learned his lesson, while fired CBS producer Mary Mapes says she is a scapegoat. Should we blame bias or boneheads at CBS?
ANNOUNCER: From the press room, to the courtroom, to the halls of Congress, Joe Scarborough has seen it all. Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.
SCARBOROUGH: Hey, welcome to the show.
You know, record rains have pounded the Southern California area, dumping up to 18 inches in the last 48 hours. Tonight, a frantic search as silence and screams all fill the landscape. You know, at least six are dead and as many as 20 people are missing after the side of a rain-soaked mountain collapsed on a small community in California.
Tonight, blood, sweat, tears, and prayers for a town on the brink of extinction.
NBC’s Michael Okwu reports.
MICHAEL OKWU, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the tiny coastal town of La Conchita, a hillside toppled.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. The kids.
Oh, my god.
OKWU: Damaging more than a dozen homes, while burying others under 25 feet of mud and rock.
KNBC Reporter David Cruz was there.
DAVID CRUZ, KNBC REPORTER: We heard them crying out for help from underneath the debris. I saw one man who was clawing, trying to get his family pulled out.
OKWU: Firefighters pulled some victims to safety. This woman was buried for close to an hour. This man was trying to dig his way to his neighbor’s roof.
After six straight days of torrential downpours, a relentless string of horrible and heroic images. In San Dimas, east of Los Angeles, rescuers lost a six-month-old baby to these raging waters, and then with no tie line to secure himself, one of the men dove in and retrieved her.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole ordeal was about five or 10 minutes.
OKWU: In the pounding rain and wind, teams airlifted this woman from her flooded vehicle, ferried children from a stalled bus. Others were not so lucky. Flooded roads in San Bernardino County have left a hiker stranded in a cave. And in Palmdale, a 2-year-old was ripped from its mothers arms and drowned.
SCARBOROUGH: Michael Okwu, thanks for that report.
Now for the very latest, let’s go live to Jennifer London, who is standing on Highway 101, between the Pacific Ocean and the tiny town of La Conchita, California.
Jennifer, what’s the very latest in this terrible, tragic story?
JENNIFER LONDON, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joe, good evening.
Despite the fact that they have not found any survivors yet today, the search effort continues at this hour. Here in La Conchita, it is happening just behind my shoulder. And just about an hour ago, it was confirmed that they have found another body, bringing the death toll up to six. We are told 13 people remain unaccounted for at this hour. Three of them are children; 10 people have been injured when the slide occurred.
And yesterday, when the mountainside came down and crushed this tiny town, they were able to rescue 10 people. However, that was yesterday. And, as I mentioned, so far, they have not found any survivors, yet they continue to search. They have been searching more than 24 hours. They have 600 people on the scene here from more than 20 agencies.
And joining me now from the Ventura county fire department is captain John Alford.
Captain, thank you so much for being with us.
CAPT. JOHN ALFORD, VENTURA COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT: For starters, explain to our viewers what is happening with regard to the search. How are they looking for survivors right now?
ALFORD: They are using all the technology available to them right now. They are using sound devices, using canine dogs, anything that they have that technology has given us over the last couple of years to search for the victims.
LONDON: And I know that you are calling this a rescue mission right now.
LONDON: That means you are hopeful that you will still find survivors?
ALFORD: Correct. For the next 48 hours, we are still considering this as a rescue operation.
We have been told by our doctors that a person could survive up to seven days. At the same time, we know from the past, from all the earthquakes and floods, that people, the miracle stories that we have, so that’s what we are still hoping on for some of these people.
LONDON: Captain, when you look at what has happened behind us, at the devastation, 30 feet of mud covering these houses, it is hard to imagine that, at this point, more than 24 hours since the mountainside came down, that anyone could survive underneath that. How is it possible that someone could still be alive right now?
ALFORD: Well, they were in the homes. And inside the house, is always—when—a tragedy like this, there’s always open space, a void space.
And if someone is lucky enough to get in the void space, they have a chance. They have fresh air that they can breathe.
SCARBOROUGH: I wanted to ask, from what I understand, Captain, this has actually happened to this town before. A decade ago, this area got hit with a similar devastating mudslide. And they were just...
ALFORD: That’s correct.
SCARBOROUGH: And they were just recuperating from that. Is this town on the verge of extinction after this second devastating mudslide in a decade?
ALFORD: I can’t say that, because people, they want to live where they can live. And there’s homes here. And, yes, they have a mountain that is very dynamic and everything else, but we all live in areas that have tragedies and stuff.
One of the things that happened with this here, the last -- 10 years ago, that the housing practice in this area took a big dip, and people was able to have affordable housing. So, with that in mind, you just don’t know. You just don’t know. That’s something that government people are going to have to deal with, and the board of supervisors and the state of California and go from there.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, you know, Captain...
LONDON: Oh, sorry, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: No, I’m sorry. I was just going to say, at some point, this rescue operation may turn into a situation where you are trying to find bodies, you are trying to find property.
Part of this story reminds me of hurricanes in Florida, where you will actually have a home swept up by waves and wind and actually thrown to another part of a barrier island.
Are there problems with this mudslide coming down and the force of it and actually sweeping homes off of their foundation, moving them to other parts of the area and making it hard to figure out where certain homes are, where certain property is, where certain people may be buried alive?
ALFORD: That’s why they are taking their time and working real hard, diligent, at what they are doing. You have got to understand that the people that’s doing the rescue effort, they have been training for years for a situation like this.
And they are highly skilled, highly motivated to find somebody and make sure at the same time no one gets hurt. Everything you said about the mud moving homes somewhere else, we don’t know what’s up under that mud, but one thing we can do, we can have some—put some effort in trying to find out who might be alive and try to do our best to rescue them.
And that’s what we are doing right now. What you said earlier, the homes shift, whatever, it possibly could have, but we are not concerned about that right now. We are concerned about, if someone is still alive, we are going to try to get them out.
LONDON: And, Captain, I would like to ask you, yesterday, before the mudslide occurred, there was not a mandatory evacuation for La Conchita, yet, given the mudslide that happened in 1995, knowing that this area was susceptible to major mudslides, given the heavy rains that Southern California has seen over the last many days, why was there no warning that this hillside could give way?
ALFORD: I just don’t know. That’s not in our—for the fire department. We don’t do that. We just don’t know.
If you ask about warnings, we tell people this might happen. But you tell people, if they drive on the freeways, they might get hit or die on the freeway. We still do that and everything else. So, as far as the catchall, what could have happened, there’s some things you just don’t know, you just can’t predict. You just react to it.
LONDON: OK, thank you very much, Captain. We really appreciate it.
ALFORD: OK. All right.
LONDON: And that was captain John Alford. He is with the Ventura County Fire Department.
And, Joe, as you mentioned, this community has been hit by mudslides in the past. I spoke with one person who doesn’t live here, but he has relatives who are here. They were not home at the time of the slide, but he has many friends who are still missing. And he says very frankly that he just doesn’t see how this community can recover from this. He said to me, he thinks this may be it for La Conchita as we know it today.
But, in the meantime, at this hour, the search continues. And, as you heard the fire captain say, they are calling this a rescue mission, and they are very hopeful that they can still find some survivors.
SCARBOROUGH: Al right, Jennifer London, thank you so much for that report. We greatly appreciate it.
And, you know, he last question that Jennifer asked, I think, is a critical question that needs to be asked of California state officials. Knowing what happened 10 years ago, knowing about the problems and how mudslides occurred in this area and almost wiped this area out a decade ago, why didn’t they force mandatory evacuations yesterday, when more lives could have been saved?
We are going to be talking about that in a little bit, because, coming up next, we are going to be asking what Arnold Schwarzenegger is doing about the disaster in his state. And we are going to find out from his closest political adviser and right-hand man.
Plus, as Aceh begins to heal from the worst disaster in modern times, we are going to show you the latest shocking, devastating images that you are not soon going to forget.
Don’t go away. We’ll be right back.
SCARBOROUGH: The first major disaster in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s tenure as California’s chief. We are going to be asking his right-hand man how he is handling it.
That’s when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.
SCARBOROUGH: We are talking about tragedies. You can talk about the tragedies that are going on in Iraq right now, but very predictable. The closer we get—and I have been saying this now for six months—the closer we get to Election Day in Iraq, the more violence we are going to have, because the one thing that the small 1 percent minority can’t stand is democracy and freedom.
Now, from tragedies in Baghdad to tragedies at home, I want to bring in California Congressman David Dreier. David Dreier is a good friend of mine from our time in Congress. He also, as most of you know, is very close—I would say probably Schwarzenegger’s closest political adviser.
David, you have been through this countless times. So many people look at the job of a congressman or as a public official as what you do in Washington when you debate, what you do in Sacramento. But what I always found was, and now that I am out of Congress, the times I remember the most are the times that I helped in hurricanes and other natural disasters.
What does Arnold Schwarzenegger need to do to step into the breach and make a difference here and help these people?
REP. DAVID DREIER ®, CALIFORNIA: First, let me say, Joe, that you understand very well, because of the devastation Florida has gone through.
And I think I was on the set with you when we were in Washington when there was a recent hurricane that was impacting your area last summer, I think it was. And it’s just an amazing and tragic irony when, the day after Christmas, I had people here in Southern California talking about the prospect of a tsunami hitting us, after looking at what has taken place in Asia.
And what we need to do is, is, we need to be vigilant. And I think you have asked a very good question. We need to make sure that we have the early warning structure in place. Our congressional delegation has been in touch with the governor’s office. And I know that he wants to do anything he possibly can to provide this relief. Our thoughts and prayers are with Captain Alford and his colleagues.
And I was thinking about the fact that Captain Alford said that there will be a 48-hour continued search-and-rescue effort going on to find people who are alive. And immediately what came to mind was that Sri Lanka man who for about 15 days was buried and then emerged, the guy who was in his early 60s. And you saw him, Joe, certainly. And he survived, and so I think that we need to do everything that we can to ensure that this search effort continues.
And I know the governor is strongly supportive of that and wants to do whatever is necessary.
SCARBOROUGH: What is he doing? What is the state able to do right now to help?
DREIER: Well, obviously, the state is behind and supportive of every single one of those men and women who we have seen in all of those news clips who are out there courageously rescuing people.
I happen to represent San Dimas, where we saw that little six-month baby being carried by that firefighter out of the water. I represent the Lytle Creek area, where we have seen other devastation and loss of life. So, the governor is supportive all the way of what it is these men and women are doing.
And Captain Alford again was talking about how extraordinarily well trained these people are to deal with a circumstance like this. But, again, Joe, you ask the appropriate question. And I think that it needs to be on the horizon. As we look at La Conchita and the fact that exactly a decade ago, there was devastation from mudslides. We need to make sure that, in the future, steps are taken to keep this from happening, at least the loss of life. We are not going to guarantee this.
SCARBOROUGH: Right. Well, you know, David—and, again, certainly it’s not the fire chief, Alford’s, position to warn people to get out of that area.
SCARBOROUGH: As a congressman in Washington, D.C., it’s not your position, but I will tell you this. If my area, if my district in Northwest Florida had been wiped out a decade ago by a hurricane and then the appropriate warnings weren’t given a decade later, I would be mad as hell, and I would be asking whose fault is it.
SCARBOROUGH: So, that’s what I want to ask you tonight. Whose responsibility was it to tell these people, you better get out of town?
Well, it would seem to me that the State Office of Emergency Services, which has focused on this, is going to be asked a lot of questions about it, certainly by the people up in La Conchita in Ventura County. I do think that it’s important, Joe, for us to realize that the Congress, interestingly enough in Washington, has spent some time looking at this. You remember my colleague, your former colleague, Wayne Gilchrest from Maryland.
DREIER: He—when we were looking at the organization of this Congress, talked about the challenge that we deal with, with oceans. And that’s been a priority of his.
And you remember, we have not only seen the tragedy of the tsunami, with the loss of 150,000 lives so far, but we saw the submarine that ran aground. There are lots of questions that relate to the oceans now. And we in the Congress do need to look at that. But specifically in response to your question, I think that the California State Office of Emergency Services, which has spent time dealing I know primarily with the aftermath, I think that there are going to be questions raised as to exactly why an early warning was not provided.
And you know what? That’s not to say that it wasn’t, because I do know that, in the case in San Dimas, where we saw that six-month-old baby, the firefighters were working to extricate the family members from that home, and some people, Joe, you know, refused to leave their homes.
SCARBOROUGH: Right. And, of course, that happens in mudslides. That happens in California. That happens in hurricanes.
DREIER: Hurricanes, sure.
SCARBOROUGH: Happens in Florida.
I want to bring in, Henry Renteria. He’s actually, as you know, the director of California’s Office of Emergency Services.
And I want to ask you the question that David Dreier has asked, that others are asking tonight. Why weren’t these people ordered to evacuate their homes yesterday?
HENRY RENTERIA, DIRECTOR, CALIFORNIA OFFICE OF EMERGENCY SERVICES: OK.
Well, let me, first of all, say that I am not sure that there wasn’t an order issued, a warning order. My understanding, there was some information issued to the residents, but, as you said earlier, not everyone always chooses to leave.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, but let me ask you, was there an order or was there not an order, a mandatory order to evacuate yesterday morning, yes or no?
RENTERIA: As far as I know—I am not sure. I don’t know the answer to that question.
SCARBOROUGH: You are the director, though, aren’t you?
DREIER: I think the question is, who would be responsible for providing that order, encouraging people or ordering people to evacuate their property? Is that within the rubric of the Department of Office of Emergency Services?
RENTERIA: It is not in the rubric of one particular department. First of all, this is a collaborative effort between all responding agencies. You have local first-responders who are the first on the scene.
And you have to remember, we had a state-wide emergency service going on here. This weather system was affecting the entire state, and people forget that. This was not just centered in Southern California.
SCARBOROUGH: But, as far as responsibility goes, though, you are the director of emergency services for the state of California. I have that right, correct?
RENTERIA: That’s correct.
SCARBOROUGH: So, as director, wouldn’t it seem that if, anybody were responsible for ordering a mandatory evacuation, it would be you? So, if you don’t know whether there was an evacuation in place yesterday morning, who does?
RENTERIA: No, I didn’t say I didn’t know. I said I wasn’t sure whether an evacuation order was issued to that area, because there were evacuation orders issued throughout several counties based on the winter storm warnings, whether it were flood related, mudslide related, or other reasons related to that.
So, there very well could have been an order for people to at least be cautious. Whether it was a mandatory order, I do not know at this time.
SCARBOROUGH: David Dreier, a lot of ambiguity.
SCARBOROUGH: We have got 20 seconds, David. Go ahead.
DREIER: Well, let me just ask, would that emanate from those first-responders who are there?
I will tell you that one of the things, we have had tremendous fires in the area I represent along the foothills of the San Gabriel Valley, and we know that mudslides in the aftermath of fires are a very serious problem. And I know that encouraging evacuation—I have been there, not in the last few days, but I have seen when sandbagging and all that has taken place there, and we see those first-responders there encouraging people to leave.
So, I am just wondering if the state has the responsibility to do that.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, I’ll tell you what. It’s a question that’s going to be asked in the future, that’s for sure.
Over the next 48 hours, while the search continues, that’s where the effort is going to be, but after that, a lot of tough questions.
Gentlemen, I want to thank you both for being with us tonight.
DREIER: OK, thanks, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: And our thoughts and prayers are with all of you out in California.
Meanwhile, brand-new home video captures the fury of the greatest natural disaster in modern times, the tsunami that brought Asia and the rest of the world to its knees.
We’ll be right back. That’s amazing.
SCARBOROUGH: Dan Rather responds to the CBS report. We are going to tell you what he said and what producer Mary Mapes said, why she thinks she is a scapegoat. And was it biased? We will be talking about that.
But, first, MSNBC keeps you up to the minute every 15 minutes. Here’s the latest news you need to know.
ANNOUNCER: From the press room, to the courtroom, to the halls of Congress, Joe Scarborough has seen it all. Welcome back to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.
SCARBOROUGH: Hey, welcome back.
Rather responds. Now, earlier tonight, the anchor said of the CBS report: “My strongest reaction is one of sadness and concern for those individuals whom I know and with whom I have worked. It would be a shame if we let this matter, troubling as it is, obscure their dedication and good work over the years.”
Meanwhile, Mary Mapes cried foul, saying she was hung out to dry because CBS only cares about ratings and revenue.
With me now, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.
And, no, Pat, I’m doing the show tonight.
SCARBOROUGH: We got “Newsweek”’s Howard Fineman. And we also have former ABC news correspondent Bob Zelnick.
Pat Buchanan, I think the most interesting part of the story right now is the way Rather is responding and also how CBS and others seem to say that this has very little to do with bias.
Now, this is what the panel said about bias and CBS and Dan Rather—quote—“The political agenda question was posed by the panel directly to Dan Rather and his producer, Mary Mapes, who appear to have drawn the greatest attention in terms of possible political agendas. Both strongly denied that they brought any political bias to the segment.”
And, therefore, the panel decided that there wasn’t bias because they said there wasn’t. Are you convinced?
SCARBOROUGH: How is that for a leading question?
PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they said the real problem is myopic zeal, myopic zeal. And myopic zeal behind what?
The point of this thing, and everybody in America knows it, Dan Rather thought he had a story. He was caught up in it. It was going to possibly bring down the president of the United States. He was going to go out of his career as the Woodward and Bernstein who brought down a president he didn’t particularly like. It blew up completely in his face.
And Joe, the reason it blew up and the reason they got caught in this mess and the reason that they hung on so long is that they had a personal and I believe an ideological investment in the truth of a story which 24 hours after it ran, everyone else could see was preposterous.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, you know, Pat, the thing that has bothered me over the past 24 hours—we talked about it a good bit. Everybody seems to be agnostic about this. When you talk to media types, they say, well, you know, it really had nothing to do with bias. It had everything to do about getting the story right.
But they may believe that on the Upper West Side and L.A., but I will tell you what. Tens of millions of people who have been following broadcast news for years think that’s a crock. They don’t believe it.
BUCHANAN: But, look, Dan Rather has got a long history. He was in confrontations with Nixon. He was in confrontations with the president’s father. He was a big fan of Clinton and Hillary’s, and a confrontation with George Bush.
He is the quintessence to millions of Americans of liberal bias on the network news. They know that. And as one of our friends on this panel said tonight—last night—Joe, as long as Dan Rather is sitting in that chair at CBS News, CBS News has a credibility problem, because Rather is the problem. Mr. CBS News is the problem for the whole network.
And until he goes, I think the beginning of their restoration of their credibility does not begin.
SCARBOROUGH: And I think Andy Heyward should be included in that.
Howard Fineman, a lot of questions I want to ask you, but I was disturbed by something I read in “The Washington Post” today that was written by Howard Kurtz and Dana Milbank, and two reporters that I have great respect for.
This is what they said: “Although the panel’s report found no political bias by anyone at CBS, it was clearly a setback for the mainstream media against an administration that has often stiff-armed or ignored journalists, who Bush calls an unreliable filter between him and the public.”
And, you know, it disturbs me, because, when I read that, it sounded more like these reporters were choosing sides at a football game where their team lost, instead of reporting on one of the great scandals in network news history. Am I missing something here?
HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, I don’t think so. I think it is a great story. And I think there’s still a lot of unanswered questions about it.
You were discussing the one about bias. There’s also a question of who wrote the documents, who put the documents together that they relied on. I mean, there are a million questions here that, if you really wanted to pursue, you could. I have got my own sources at CBS. And I bet you that Andy Heyward is not going to be long in that job. That is the next head that is going to roll. I thought it’s very interesting that...
SCARBOROUGH: What are they telling you, Howard? What can you tell us that, any time frame?
FINEMAN: Well, no, but sooner rather than later, I think, based on the people I know there.
And it was very interesting to carefully parse Les Moonves’ statement, the head of CBS, all of CBS, Viacom, who said no further action will be taken against Rather than the fact that Rather had already decided that he was going to leave in March. Rather didn’t like that. He didn’t like the idea that his departure, which he tried to keep separate from this whole matter, had been linked to it by Moonves in that statement.
So I think Les Moonves is going to use this as occasion to clean house, which needed to be done at CBS for reasons other than this, because their ratings are bad. And he is going to try to think it through from the beginning. The great irony is that Les Moonves, who comes from the entertainment side, who knows all about how to get ratings in entertainment shows, is now going to have the opportunity, if he can use it, to build from the ground up an institution that sorely needs to begin all over again to establish any credibility journalistically.
SCARBOROUGH: And, Howard, you have contacts all across the media world. And you know—well, I don’t want to put words in your mouth. I for one think that Les Moonves could not be more excited about the opportunity that this chaos is bringing about, because CBS News was the golden calf that Les Moonves could never touch.
Now he can go in. He can clean house. If he wants Katie Couric to be the anchor, hey, they are not going to quit at “60 Minutes” because of it.
No, no, the interesting thing, Joe, is that he has got to pick people who have a tremendous amount of journalistic integrity and credibility. There are such people around. He is going to have to find them and put them in there. On the question of bias, if I can just answer that question.
SCARBOROUGH: Sure. That’s the most—that’s it.
FINEMAN: The thing is, there’s no doubt—I look at this as a Texas shoot-out. This goes way back in the dim, dark past of Texas, where Dan Rather grew up, where he learned about politics. It’s the old populist Democrats against the rising corporate culture of Houston that I dare say Dan Rather probably thinks the Bush family embodies.
This is a little guy in the old-fashioned Texas way vs. the big powers, as he saw it, and I think he and Mary Mapes bought into that whole psychology. And it’s clear to me they were out to get the guy. If they weren’t out to get the president of the United States, for some reason, there’s no other explanation for the unbelievable sloppiness of their work.
Now, speaking of sloppiness, the person that a lot of people are blaming is Mary Mapes. And I want to read for Bob Zelnick what Mary Mapes said in her statement released after her firing: “I am shocked by the vitriolic scapegoating in Les Moonves’ statement. I am concerned that his actions are motivated by corporate and political considerations, ratings rather than journalism.”
SCARBOROUGH: Bob Zelnick, former ABC news correspondent. Now, of course, you’re running the journalism department at Boston College.
BOB ZELNICK, FORMER ABC NEWS PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: University.
SCARBOROUGH: Yes, I’m sorry, Boston University. I’m from the South, you know?
SCARBOROUGH: As they said in “Spinal Tap,” Boston, not a college town.
Do you think Mary Mapes is in any position to be beating her chest in self-righteous indignation, when, after all, this really began with her?
ZELNICK: Well, I am not sure it was self-righteous. I think she is availing herself of the only possible defense that she has, that somehow or other, the institution broke down and they are scapegoating her.
But, in point of fact, anybody familiar with magazine shows knows the special role that is played by piece producers on those shows. They get a lot of credit. They advance the story a long way before dealing anyone else in. Certainly, that happened with this particular report. And I feel sorry for her as one human being to another. But I think her defense is transparent.
SCARBOROUGH: Pat Buchanan, respond.
BUCHANAN: Well, let me—I want to get back to the—I think Mary Mapes, I can understand why she is angry about this. But, look, she has had a vendetta on this, five years on this story, that makes Captain Ahab look diffident.
But the question here is about Dan Rather. Look, you remember when he said, boy, if these things are forgeries, I would love to break this story? Why haven’t they broken this story? These guys, as Howard points out, whoever did this, forged, fabricated these documents, fished in CBS News, destroyed Rather’s career. They have destroyed CBS’ reputation. Where in heaven’s name is the outrage?
Why isn’t CBS’ investigative units dragging these guys, collaring them, walking them over to the U.S. attorney’s office? Because they committed a felony in sucking CBS into this thing, which could have changed a presidential election. Forging government documents is a felony. It probably violated the election laws.
Where is the outrage at CBS? You know, it’s not the right wing that is taking Dan Rather down here. It is Dan Rather’s own passion and ideological drive for this story and these guys who sucked him in. Why is he not after these guys?
SCARBOROUGH: Gentlemen, stay with us. We’ll be right back in one minute.
SCARBOROUGH: Let’s go back to Bob Zelnick.
Bob, I want to ask you the question that, again, people keep asking in not only middle America, but across—on both coasts. Do you believe Dan Rather is biased? Do you believe that Dan Rather’s bias led to this report airing? And do you believe that he would have run a similar report attacking John Kerry with such haste, without checking all the facts?
ZELNICK: I believe that Dan, like anyone else, has his prejudices. I think his political orientation affects his prejudices. Yes, he comes to thing from a left-of-center political attitude.
Did it affect his thinking? I think the project was pretty far advanced by the time he assumed an important role in it. And, by that time, I think he was so excited by the prospect of breaking this major story that his political biases were a little bit irrelevant.
SCARBOROUGH: Bob, I don’t mean to interrupt you, but you said he was excited. He came to this story late. We heard from Les Moonves and other CBS officials, well, gee, Dan Rather was busy with a hurricane and debates.
Listen, you wouldn’t put something on the air with 50 days left in a presidential campaign unless you could vouch for the sources, would you?
ZELNICK: I wouldn’t. And I would hope that most journalists wouldn’t.
I think, in this case, Dan Rather’s journalism was deeply flawed. And I think he perhaps deferred to his producer. And, look, I think, for four or five years, they and a lot of other reporters were walking around thinking there’s something in the Bush record in these Texas Air National Guard that’s incomplete, that’s worth developing. There were plenty of other people looking at it. There were plenty of other people writing about it this year.
This was one explanation that Rather could jump on, because his producer, whom he had worked with for a number of years and trusted, said, it’s here. Now, I am not a defender or even a believer in the ignorant journalist defense. I think, if you put your name and face on a piece, you better be assured that it’s authentic.
And I think Rather violated that rule. And I think it became worse once the piece was challenged, because, by that time, he had to know that they had four authenticators, none of whom could authenticate a single page of the four documents they had. Everything that was involved in the cover-up I would lay at Dan Rather’s doorstep. And I agree with the sentiments expressed earlier that CBS will not restore a good measure of its credibility so long as he is affiliated with the network.
But, no, I don’t think this was a classic case of political bias. I think it was a classic case of bad journalism.
SCARBOROUGH: Howard Fineman, you are one of the—I won’t say one of the few journalists, but you grew up in I won’t say an old media culture, but you find yourself between old media and new media. I was with you when you covered conventions with your BlackBerry out, blogging wherever you went.
FINEMAN: That was a little excessive, yes.
SCARBOROUGH: That was a bit excessive, but you were so 2005, Howard Fineman, so 2005.
SCARBOROUGH: But don’t you think this really was a key event, where new media and old media clashed, and we saw that new media, through blogs, through cable news, through other sources, really had the ability to fact-check old media giants like CBS News?
FINEMAN: Yes. It’s not just old vs. new. It’s big vs. little.
But the multiplying power of the Internet, the exponential power of it is amazing, because the bloggers and people out there on the Internet, within minutes, practically, after seeing the actual pictures of the documents, the alleged documents, they were perusing those things. They were examining them. They immediately noticed that it looked like a Microsoft Word superscript, and so forth, I mean, within minutes. It was truly amazing, and I think a very—on balance, a very healthy thing for big media, new or old.
FINEMAN: To be checked in that way.
After all, it’s not so much new and old, because now “Newsweek,” even me, we are all out there in the new—using the new techniques. But it’s easier for us to be kept honest and to be kept on the straight and narrow by all those people out there who can look over our shoulders. I think it’s a very good thing, as long as we are strong enough to stick with our editorial judgments, that is, our journalistic judgments, once we make them.
So, we have to be even more confident of what we are doing now, because we have a whole jury of our peers, so to speak, all over the world watching what we do.
SCARBOROUGH: Pat Buchanan, one final question. You’ve got to be honest with me. This guy kicked Nixon around like nobody. Are you feeling pretty happy tonight?
BUCHANAN: Well, you know, look...
SCARBOROUGH: Come on, Pat. Tell the truth.
BUCHANAN: Dan Rather is going out—maybe he’s going out on a banana peel.
SCARBOROUGH: Don’t be a politician.
BUCHANAN: But let me say this.
Something—Dan Rather’s friends ought to get to him, because he is persisting in this idea that these memos still might be good. He refuses to retract the story, refuses to apologize to the president. I think, from his own standpoint, for his own good, that’s a mistake.
Look, he made a mess of this thing. It’s a bad thing. He is going to have to explain it the rest of his life. But his friends ought to get to him and tell him, Dan, give it up. You were had. You ought to run down who did this to you, who did it to us. Come forward. You don’t like the president. We understand why. Just say, I retract it, Mr. President, and we are glad it didn’t damage you, and I want to take it back and I want to apologize.
I think, if he did it, quite frankly, everybody out there would say, OK, that’s done. Let’s move on. But he is still hanging in there with this, and I don’t think it’s doing any good. And, for that matter, I will tell you, I don’t take any joy in that.
SCARBOROUGH: I was just about to say to Howard that Pat didn’t answer my question, but in the end, he did.
SCARBOROUGH: You are a good Catholic, Pat Buchanan, a forgiving man.
Come to confession...
FINEMAN: Joe, can I...
SCARBOROUGH: ... and forget 30 years.
Well, hey, Howard, we are going to be right back.
SCARBOROUGH: And going to get final thoughts from you and Bob Zelnick when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.
SCARBOROUGH: Tomorrow night in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, Dr. Bob Arnot from Sri Lanka with the latest on the efforts to stop the trafficking of children for sex.
That’s tomorrow on SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.
SCARBOROUGH: Howard Fineman, final thoughts.
FINEMAN: My final thought, Joe, is that I love journalism and I believe deeply in it, in the possibilities of it.
And we have to be able to police ourselves and stand for things that we believe in if we are going to continue doing our jobs. And I think CBS has hurt us a lot. And we need to move on and hope they can repair their own damage, for the sake of all of us.
SCARBOROUGH: Bob Zelnick.
ZELNICK: Well, my thought is that this has been a very sad episode for journalism, but not nearly as sad as if CBS had gotten away with it and affected the outcome of an election with spurious information. That would have been a far greater sin and of far greater damage.
SCARBOROUGH: And you know, Bob, 10, 15 years ago, before we had all these different media voices, I think they may have been able to get away with it.
ZELNICK: One could argue that they did get away with it in the Iraq-gate scandal, which turned out to be a scandal with no culpability at all on the part of the first Bush administration.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, thanks so much for being with us.
That’s all the time we have. Bob Zelnick, Pat Buchanan, and Howard Fineman, as always, we greatly appreciate it.
Now, make sure you catch Imus tomorrow morning. He is going to be talking to Tim Russert about the Dan Rather and CBS report. You’re not going to want to miss that tomorrow morning on “Imus.”
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