'They Tried to Throw an Election'

J$P Instant Transcript! More RatherGate reactions from Carl Bernstein, Paul Burka, Ceci Connolly, Verne Gay, Deroy Murdock, Marvin Kalb, Eric Burns.

From Fox News Live, January 10 2005:

PAUL BURKA [TEXAS MONTHLY]: They've probably gotten to the people who probably were the primary people who made the mistake. To what extent Rather was a perpetrator or victim it's hard to say. I think it's certainly appropriate to see if someone forged the document. Some of the allegations about the forgery, for example that the font of type that was used was not available on typewriters, apparently is not clear that that's the case. So I think there's still facts about this that are really unknown, and he probably ought to get to the bottom of it. CBS had an interesting comment in its release; they said that the two-person committee did not find conclusive proof that the documents were forged. Of course there's a lot of hedging in there. Something can be true and yet be forged, and what we always look at is, is it accurate? Do we have a sense, is it accurate? The minute that I heard that it was something that was essentially sent in from a Kinko's in Abilene I thought, my goodness what are they thinking about? The rule here is very simple: it's tell what you know, and know what you tell. And I think they breached it.

CARL BERNSTEIN [AUTHOR]: Obviously there was a systemic failure at CBS. That happens in news institutions, it happened in the Washington Post with the so-called Janet Cook fabricated story a number of years ago that won the Pulitzer, it happened at the New York Times. Like all professions we are susceptible to systemic failures and we need more protection internally against them....Dan Rather is a great television journalist, whose contributions to broadcast journalism are enormous, who made a big mistake on this story--we have all made mistakes--who is not a biased reporter. I worked at CBS as a consultant on the Lewinsky/Clinton story, and let me tell you, Dan Rather was as aggressive with that as he was with this story. Now on this occasion, he erred and those above and below him erred. And the process has to be checking, double-checking, being very rigorous with the people in your own institution.

BERNSTEIN: The other really important thing to look at here is the response, finally, of CBS. Late? Yes. Did they go into a bunker mentality which they should never have done? Yes, although many institutions do it. I'd be amazed if, say, the White House, having made a series of systemic errors in Iraq or elsewhere, would go into a kind of self-examination with an outside panel, and then fire everybody from the top down except the president....You don't see that in Washington. You see it in our business....I don't know Mary Mapes, I don't know the inside of her mind. I know those working with her should have stopped her. That's what I know, and I think that they've been held accountable. But I think to expect that news institutions, whether it's this one or CBS or the Washington Post, are not going to occasionally make a grievous error, is itself a big mistake. Indeed, CBS should be held accountable by its viewers, and particularly in terms of its response which was belated. But now it seems to me they have done what ought to be done here. They've cleaned house to some extent, and also I think there are really huge problems in television news, of which political bias is about the least. I think our failures of reporting, in broadcast journalism particularly, are mammoth, and they rarely have to do with the question of political bias. It would be great if there were more choices in terms of detailed reporting, of real reporting like you used to see or still do in newspapers. There's enough available airtime to do it; none of the networks do it enough.

ERIC BURNS [FOX NEWSWATCH]: I would go a step further than Carl did. I don't think it's a sufficient explanation to say an error was made. Whenever an error is made, there's a followup question one asks: why was the error made? Was it laziness? Was it bias? Was it that the error was forced upon the news organization by a fraudulent source?...I don't know how you conclude anything else in this particular case than that the error was made because this story, as people in this business sometimes say, was too good to check. That it too nicely dovetailed into the political biases of the people putting it together.

BERNSTEIN: I didn't say an error was made. I think a systemic failure occurred in an institution, and though I don't know the motivation of the reporter involved, Miss Mapes, I know that she failed in every respect in her job, which is not much different from what your analyst is saying. I'm not ready to attribute a political motivation, and particularly to the people who put the story on the air ultimately. Their interest was a good story, and they too failed for whatever internal reasons that were systemic, that were about a competitive atmosphere, and we have too much internal competition between news organizations, without being thoughtful enough to check our stories as much as we should. We've got a lot of this that goes on in the business, and this time it really rose to the top....The bias that you find at a news organization, this one or any other, usually is toward a good story. And sometimes there is too much zeal to get that story on paper, and on the air, and that's when you need great executives. And the executives at CBS failed.

MARVIN KALB [SHORENSTEIN CENTER]: The statement put out by Leslie Moonves, whose the head of everything at CBS, he said that Heyward was at least trying to do it right, and Rather was very busy and couldn't do it right. And I think that really touches on something Carl Bernstein spoke of: the systemic problems at network news today, where big-foot journalism is allowed, where the anchor comes in at the very last minute and does everything on camera, and all of the real reporting is done by the producer. And in this particular case, CBS's Rather obviously allowed Mary Mapes to run with the story. Mary Mapes has a magnificent tenure and career at CBS...so Rather simply trusted her. And this is something that Dan now knows, he shouldn't, he could not have done.

VERNE GAY [NEWSDAY]: I think a lot of people are surprised Mr Heyward wasn't one of the folks shown the door, and part of the speculation on that subject is--well, if you take it at face value that he was exonerated, that he had nothing to do with it, and that he attempted to get one of the executives to clarify or at least determine if this had been vetted properly. And I think secondly, some people say that it would have been really very very difficult to fire these four, in a couple of instances, very senior people as well as the president of CBS News. So I think there was a sense that it was just possibly too much.

KALB: I haven't a clue as to who's going to replace Dan Rather. I just look toward the innards of network news today. It is extremely important that we respect facts once again. Stay away from opinion. Stay away from being pressured to do a story because there's an election coming up in a month or so. You have to have in your gut that it's the right story.

DEROY MURDOCK [NATIONAL REVIEW]: I think it would have helped CBS if they'd had more people on staff, I don't know if they had any, who had the more free market conservative instincts....If people on staff had that perspective, they might look at that story and say hey, I think we're going a little too fast. Let's look at this more carefully. So I think having more intellectual or ideological diversity, if you want to look at it that way, in newsrooms really would be helpful for CBS.

CECI CONNOLLY [WASHINGTON POST]: I don't think this was a problem of ideology or intellectual mix in a newsroom. I find most of these large news organizations have all sorts of interesting, diverse people within their staff ranks. What this panel really zeroed in on was that there was intense journalistic pressures that made them really force this story onto the air so quickly that it did not get the kind of solid journalistic vetting that we look for. And that you also had producer Mary Mapes really sort of deceiving some of her colleagues and bosses about how solid the information was that she collected. This seems to me to be a journalistic problem, not one of ideology.

MURDOCK: Mary Mapes spent a long time on this, almost like Captain Ahab chasing after Moby Dick, she spent a lot of time trying to find this story....Even if she didn't have any bias, she'd be more likely to see a story like that and believe it and suspend her sense of skepticism or be insufficiently skeptical, than if she happened to have a different ideological perspective.

CONNOLLY: It's now a fact of life that our industry has gone through dramatic changes like many others. And much of it has to do with the fact that I'm now sitting in my Washington Post newsroom live on your cable station....There is now this constant pressure to be out there first with the 24-hour news cycle, the internet. And it takes good solid journalism to resist those urges and those pressures, and it looks like in this instance at least, all of those checks and balances sort of fell by the wayside.

MURDOCK: These documents did not invent themselves. Somebody created these forgeries, and there's something called the federal fraud statute that I think kicks in. I think people ought to be indicted who deliberately made these documents. They tried to throw an election.

posted: Mon - January 10, 2005 at 03:00 PM       j$p  send