'Documents Which Didn't Pass the People in Pajamas Managed to Pass by CBS'

J$P Instant Transcript! Shepard Smith and Eric Burns discussing you-know-what.

From Studio-B with Shepard Smith, January 10 2005:

SHEPARD SMITH [FOX NEWS]: With us in Studio-B is Fox News media analyst, Eric Burns. How did they do with this?

ERIC BURNS [FOX NEWSWATCH]: The document itself, and I've not been able to read the whole thing yet but I've read some of it, the document itself suggests in a couple places a whitewash. For instance, there's a line in there about no evidence of political bias, and a lot of people are going to jump on that line, conservatives are, people who are more neutral who think there was political bias will jump all over that. But forget the document. What's more important than the document is what the fallout has been. I believe Dan Rather lost his anchor position because of this, this and low ratings. Four people were fired, and there was a sixth person who like Rather was reassigned--this is a person whose job it is to read scripts, did not vet this script well enough. So when six people have either lost jobs or been reassigned to other ones, I think you can say that the company that did that took the offenses, Shep, very seriously.

SMITH: They took them seriously and acted accordingly. But one of the questions that we're getting in email today is, Andy Heyward, as the captain of the ship, and Dan Rather, who was reassigned to 60 Minutes, though this was 60 Minutes Wednesday--that distinction is much more, I don't know, marked than it was prior to this.

BURNS: So the question is should something more have happened to Rather, should something more have happened to Heyward?

SMITH: I guess that's what--you know, there are CBS haters out there, just like there are Fox News haters, and they're a different bunch.

BURNS: Yeah, and you know, Rather would not have been reassigned at all if his ratings were higher. I think it was a combination; he's been in third place for a decade. If he had been number two or number one he would have survived this. Should Heyward have survived? I don't think, frankly, anybody outside of CBS News knows about his specific role in this to say that. Is he the captain of the ship? Yeah, but if there's a problem in the Treasury Department let's say, is the President supposed to step down, or just the Secretary of the Treasury get canned? This notion about he's the captain of the ship might sound fine on paper, but captains of ships don't know every detail in every department under them. So I just don't know about Heyward.

SMITH: One thing that seems clear now is they were looking for that last bit. A lot of people over there still believe that the facts of this story are accurate, though the documents were not. And it was the documents which were the last straw they believed to get it to air. Two authenticators said I can't do anything with this, a third apparently said OK, and these documents which didn't pass the people in their pajamas managed to pass by CBS. And you don't read a lot about that.

BURNS: See, this is the problem I have with people who are saying, well, it was a mistake and CBS has come clean. Yes, give them credit for that. But it's not enough, Shep, to say it was a mistake, or it's an error. There's always a reason that you made a mistake. You were inattentive, you were tired, you were drunk, somebody gave you bad information. So we ask here, yes there was a mistake, what's the reason the mistake was made? When the mistake was made over not following through on the most basic elementary of checkup procedures on the authenticity of a source. Now they didn't make a mistake because they didn't know they weren't supposed to check and see who gave these memos to Bill Burkett. They know they're supposed to do that. So we have to ask the followup question why didn't they, i.e. why did they make this mistake. It seems to me the most reasonable assumption is that, as Jim Pinkerton loves to say on Fox NewsWatch, this story was too good to check. Why was it too good to check? It meshed with the political biases of the people involved in the story. I don't think that's a terribly provocative statement to make. You don't follow through on checking sources like this unless there's a reason.

SMITH: Burkett gave the memos to the production team, made up a name as the original source of those, and apparently 60 Minutes, 60 Minutes never went back to check and to find out that that person did not exist.

BURNS: And how hard would that have been? Bill, this Joe Smith gave you the memos? Give me Joe's phone number. I don't have it. Where does Joe live? I don't know. Give me an email address. I don't know. At that point, Shep, you say we can't run the story. That's what I mean. This was basic. You can't say they made a mistake. Why did they make that particular mistake?

SMITH: Now it's your estimation, you said, that this overview of this was thorough, independent, outside, and handled well.

BURNS: Well, I'd like to have a little more time with the document. If I could have given them some advice, and you'll not be surprised to know they didn't ask, I would have said don't put that line in their about no political bias. You don't know. And do we have a moment or are we about to--

SMITH: We have just about a moment.

BURNS: CBS has instituted some procedures here. There's going to be a new person involved, a new executive looking over this sort of thing. From now on sources names in stories like this have to be given to senior management. So maybe the best thing about the report, possibly, if implemented, are these recommendations for making sure nothing like this ever happens again.

SMITH: All right.

BURNS: Do you want more on this subject, maybe in a few days.

SMITH: It's lunch time, but thank you, on the West Coast. Maybe in a few days.

BURNS: Saturday.

SMITH: We have that new 3:00 am program. And then there's this one--

BURNS: Shee, you're slow.

SMITH: Fox NewsWatch, 6:30 pm on Saturday, 11:30 pm on Saturday, 2:30 am I guess that's Sunday out here, that would be 11:30 pm on the West Coast. It's so confusing, especially with the rain and all. Eric will be back this weekend, suffice it to say. Eric, thank you.

BURNS: Sometimes when you ad lib--

SMITH: I know. Sometimes it's scary, isn't it?

posted: Mon - January 10, 2005 at 03:57 PM       j$p  send