'There Are More Shoes Going to Fall'

J$P Instant Transcript! Reaction to the RatherGate report from Jeff Jarvis, Jim Pinkerton, Eric Burns, Mort Zuckerman, Bob Zelnick, Bill Kristol, Jim Warren.

From Fox News Live, January 10 2005:

BILL KRISTOL [THE WEEKLY STANDARD]: I don't think this fundamentally changes the fact that CBS aired what were obviously false documents, or aired a story based on obviously false documents. It took forever to retract, attacked its critics, and I think this will go down as a big moment in the decline of the credibility of the big networks, the mainstream media, and a kind of healthy decentralization of authority on matters like this. The bloggers, alternate media outlets, really weighed in, and the big networks are never going to have the status they had twenty years ago....It's funny how these mainstream media presidents never seem to get fired when there are these scandals. And I shouldn't say, we've made mistakes at the Weekly Standard and I haven't been fired, so I suppose we all have to be grateful for a certain amount of tolerance. But they sure don't apply that to the president, do they, or Alberto Gonzalez?

KRISTOL: [Rather] was a major figure in the media when it was a major, respected institution. And as that respect declined, I suppose respect for him declined. The decline was certainly punctuated by this episode. It's amazing, though, how the mainstream media still doesn't want to acknowledge the new reality. The Columbia Journalism Review had something on its website last week, maybe it was in its magazine too, in effect defending CBS, saying they still couldn't be sure the memos were forged, attacking the blogs, attacking media critics. The degree to which I think the days of the mainstream media's dominance are numbered, they are already perhaps over, but the degree to which they're going to go down fighting and try to cling to their standing as kind of gatekeepers, and they're going to try to discredit others as not real journalists somehow, that's going to continue for quite a while I think.

JIM WARREN [CHICAGO TRIBUNE]: This comes hard on the heels of some very high-profile scandals, as you guys know, New York Times Jayson Blair, and also USA Today, and I think it certainly will feed, unfortunately, the sort of visceral suspicion, even rage, a lot of folks have there against the media. When in fact, I think by and large, most days of the week, most people in these organizations try to do a good solid job. And in fact you don't have too many institutions in this society, as some of the high level media organizations we've seen in the last few years, who will come so clean so quickly with their dirty laundry. But clearly, CBS screwed up.

JIM PINKERTON [NEWSDAY]: Most reporters are hardworking and diligent, however, it is also true that most of the big media establishments covering Bush last year were out to beat him. Evan Thomas from Newsweek said that he thought the liberal media bias on behalf of John Kerry was worth 15 points.

ERIC BURNS [FOX NEWSWATCH]: The way things tend to work on magazine programs...is that the correspondent does a kind of cameo, that is to say, he comes in, he's handed a packet of research, he does an interview, but he doesn't have an intimate involvement with the piece. Actually, when I mentioned this on Fox NewsWatch several weeks ago, I think Jim Pinkerton was quite chagrined, because he thought I was letting Rather off the hook. In fact, because Rather didn't do any of the research, and because he has a full-time job anchoring the evening newscast, I think it was fair that he was not dismissed for this. Now, he would have done more research if this piece had not played so well into his biases....When I hear who these people are [who are being dismissed]...frankly it seems reasonable to me. I would not have made it more extensive, and I would not have made the list smaller.

BURNS: You know what they say, it's what you have done most recently that is in the forefront of most people's minds. Rather's had a long career and there have been a lot of noble moments in it. He's had a long career and he's had a lot of strange moments in it too. I think anybody looking back fairly on him will recall more than one thing. But the superficial impression that he leaves the non-news-junkie with, is that, whatever the excuse was, he in fact left under a cloud of suspicion.

PINKERTON: The report says the producers gave great deference to their network news anchor in terms of why the story was able to go forward like this. In other words, they're clearly saying, being polite about it, that Rather was pushing for the story too. So I disagree politely with Eric, my fellow panelist on Fox NewsWatch, that Rather was just there to read copy. I think that more exploration will show that Rather was very much involved in the creation of the story. So it was smart for him to resign last October, which is why he's not getting fired right now, or he's out of the crosshairs. But I think it's pretty clear he was deeply involved in the creation of the story, not just the production.

BURNS: The fault lies with the fact that, in my view, this story so suited what we all believed to be his political biases, that he did not follow it through as much as he should have on the research....The salient point here is that he did not do some of the things he should have done to track down the accuracy of this story. How many times, Jim, have you said on Fox NewsWatch, when we wonder about certain kinds of bizarre stories get on the air, "it was too good to check". I think this memogate story was too good for CBS to check as thoroughly as they should have.

PINKERTON: Les Moonves, the president of Viacom, who oversees all this, still hasn't picked a successor to Rather, and there's probably going to be a serious rethink about the whole future of CBS News as an institution...The broadcast networks are losing market share, they're probably dogs in many ways in terms of what else CBS could be doing with that airtime, so I suspect you'll see a more radical change in replacing Dan Rather as the chief anchor than most people imagine.

WARREN: The real legacy of this, sadly, is the way it's going to taint the vast majority of hardworking folks at radio stations, tv stations, newspapers around the land. Because I think folks out there don't have a terribly nuanced sense of how we work day after day....This has been an awful, awful negative patch for all of us.

PINKERTON: The blogs are no more necessarily right or wrong than anybody else, but they're active, there are a lot of them....I think that all of us have to face the fact there's probably 100 people watching right now who are about to file a story if you will, on a blog, about whether what we said right here is smart or dumb. I think that's actually healthy.

WARREN: The broadcast news networks are basically in a position right now of managing decline; they're trying to do it adroitly. If there's anybody out there in the broadcast networks who might benefit from this, it's my friend Brian Williams at NBC, who I think was sort of downplayed, seen as not necessarily ready for prime-time. But I think he and NBC are looking pretty good right now, particularly with an aging anchor at ABC who's probably not long for the world.

JEFF JARVIS [BUZZMACHINE]: Dan Rather built himself a pedestal and forgot to build the stairs back down. His worst mistake was that he didn't listen to the public he was supposedly there to serve. 18 and a half minutes after he was on the air, bloggers at places like Little Green Footballs and PowerLine saw that this was fishy--it smelled fishy, and they said so....What Rather should have done immediately was say thank you, good, we want to get to the truth, let's find this out together. Instead, he waited two long weeks, he dissed the bloggers, producers dissed the bloggers, and this process too has not been an open process. A big, high-powered panel comes out with a report. It should have been more transparent. News has to become more transparent. We've got to be open to people....There's an inherent political bias in most news, I think we have to start to admit. I think that Fox News, though, would say it's not right or left, but at least say that yes, there are opinions here and there are viewpoints here that are made clearer. I think that all news has to do that, make their viewpoints clearer, and then the public will judge what they say on that basis....News has to change. We have to have a new relationship with the public we serve.

JARVIS: Bloggers are out there with news and video. The citizens are reporters. We're witnesses to news, we analyze the news the same as any pundit can. I'm a professional journalist and also a blogger and I'm proud of that relationship to the citizenry....The bloggers are read in network newsrooms. However, look at this report again. It doesn't say, let's listen to the public. It says let's create some other level between the public and us. What they should be doing instead is taking those levels away, and talking directly to the people. And so they're not doing that.

BOB ZELNICK [BOSTON UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM]: It was obviously a serious investigation with hard conclusions reached...I was quite surprised that Rather wasn't more forcefully dealt with because he seems to have been a key player and certainly took responsibility for the broadcast. To stop at allowing him to step down from the CBS Evening News and moving on to 60 Minutes will strike a number of people as odd, and I don't think we've heard the last of it. There was a certain degree of inoculation involved there, as we say, but again, I think an attempt to draw the line where they drew it may not be successful in the long run, particularly when he winds up by going back to the very program that was injured....This is page one of what's going to be a multipage story, and I think there will be repercussions beyond those which CBS is trying to organize at this point. Heyward may be an ultimate casualty of this, and I still think there are more shoes going to fall in the case of Rather.

JARVIS: [Rather] had a ridiculous quote in the Times today saying the tsunami is the kind of story you want to come along. You don't want the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people to come along so you can go out on that note, instead of RatherGate. He'll be remembered for his silly down-homeisms which I've never liked; he'll be remembered for lots of coverage. The story is bigger than Dan Rather. The story is CBS News, the story is bigger than that. It's about news. We have to change the view of news in this country. News should be a conversation. We've thought in the business that once we do the news it's fish wrap, it's over, we've said it, it's done. It's not. That's when the questions come; witness this whole story....The mistake of Dan Rather was he sat there and said I don't make mistakes. And he said that for 12 days after the story. That was his biggest mistake. He should have said I'm human. He covered Richard Nixon. He should have learned from that, but he didn't....I sat next to Garrick Utley, renowned tv journalist some time ago, and he said oh yeah, it all started going down hill about ten years ago. Because he saw that the change was here; this conversation was starting. And that the people have things to say; we've got to find new ways to listen. Network news is not going to do that. Cable can do that; the internet certainly does that.

JARVIS: There was a lot of buck-passing here. Rather tried to pass the buck to Heyward, Heyward tried to pass it to these guys. At the end, they've got to take responsibility for the credibility; the only asset they have is credibility. And Heyward is responsible for that....Let's take the loaded word of bias out. Let's just say that we have perspectives. That Dan Rather should say whether he likes George Bush or not. He clearly doesn't. And you know what, if he said that, people would trust the rest of what he says more. It's a lie by omission....Network newscasts will get smaller and smaller and smaller and they will become marginalized. Maybe one will go off the air, someone will give up the ghost here, and network news will become a commodity. That's the problem with news. News is starting to become a commodity, and we have to do things that are special. And I don't think network news can do that because it's got to scram all the news in 22 minutes. And that's impossible.

MORT ZUCKERMAN [US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT]: When you look at what they say about the handwriting experts and the document experts who were called in to authenticate it, there were real questions about it. And the four so-called experts they had, only one of them had any reasonable way to conclude any authenticity to it, and they said Xerox copies cannot authenticate these documents....It's a devastating report, particularly for the producer Mary Mapes, because there is no justification for the way she handled it. She had a sterling record and she had a lot of credibility in that place. But still, when you look through this thing in any kind of detail, it's really quite shocking that a very experienced organization like CBS would fall into this trap.

ZUCKERMAN: The part that distresses me about it, is I don't know how many people know about the fact the she was sort of involved with the Democratic National Committee in terms of getting involved in politics. And she put the Kerry campaign in touch with the so-called source of these documents. So you could not do that without understanding that there was going to be an association there with a political motivation. And that, frankly, is unacceptable. If I had known that with anybody in my operation that would have been totally unacceptable....CBS did what they had to do, they fired the people that they had to fire. This is not an easy thing for anybody to do, so I give them credit for that. But it really was, for CBS, such an esteemed news operation, an enormous black eye.

posted: Mon - January 10, 2005 at 12:22 PM       j$p  send