'There Are No Windows in the CBS Newsroom'

JSP Instant Transcript! Former CBS News editor Dennis Powell on RatherGate.

From Dayside with Linda Vester, September 21 2004:

LINDA VESTER [FOX NEWS]: The new revelations about the CBS scandal are astonishing to some people. A network producer contacting the Kerry campaign on behalf of the man who gave them dubious documents about President Bush. And doing this just weeks before the election. Did Dan Rather know his producer was in talks with Kerry’s campaign? Who else at CBS knew? Dennis Powell is a former radio network news radio editor at CBS. Welcome, it’s nice to have you hear. [applause]

DENNIS POWELL [FORMER CBS RADIO NEWS EDITOR]: Thank you, it’s nice to be here.

VESTER: How the heck could this happen, that a network producer would call a Presidential campaign and say hey, call my guy, he’s my source?

POWELL: It’s kind of in keeping with a long tradition at CBS. The important thing about what happened now actually is that this is the “smoking gun” that everybody’s expected for, eh, 25, 30 years.

VESTER: Really?

POWELL: Well sure. If you go back to 1992 for instance, during the Presidential campaign, Bill and Hillary Clinton were interviewed on 60 Minutes, and it came out afterwards that they were coached ahead of time on how to talk their way around Jennifer Flowers by none other than Don Hewitt. So, if you’re going to do that--

VESTER: And that was really true that he did that?

POWELL: By all account, by every account I’ve ever heard, and I’ve never heard the slightest bit of denial of it.


POWELL: So, yeah, it’s--but now, there is a, boom!, smoking gun right now before, rather than looking way back and saying oh look what happenned.

VESTER: Right.

POWELL: Here’s something that’s underway, and seen in progress.

VESTER: I mean, there are some critics of CBS who are saying, aha, this is proof that CBS wanted to affect the outcome of the election, because it clearly called the Kerry campaign on behalf of the source. Do you believe that?

POWELL: Um, sure.

VESTER: Really?

POWELL: Yeah, but not in a formal, top-down, this is the official policy of CBS, but rather kind of the implicit policy. That was always the case. In 1984, I’m pretty sure that CBS was the only place in the world that thought Walter Mondale was going to win. It was truly, it was just the culture there tends toward that. Not to criticize them; it’s just that the there are no windows in the CBS newsroom.

VESTER: As you know, Dan Rather addressed this at length, the whole controversy at length, last night on the CBS Evening News. Let’s just play a little bit of what he said:

VIDEO OF DAN RATHER: This was an error made in good faith as we tried to carry on the CBS News tradition of asking tough questions and investigating reports. But it was a mistake.

VESTER: Question to the audience: is that apology enough for you, yes or no? [audience response, mostly no] Do you think Dan Rather knew that his producer was calling the Kerry campaign?

POWELL: I don’t know, but I don’t think it would have been seen as that big a deal if that’s what was necessary to get what they were looking for, which was the documents. I mean it’s wrong--


POWELL: --but nevertheless I can see that having happened, sure. And more interesting I think is the way that the non-apology apology came out, is that if they came out and apologized and let everything be known, then everybody would go back and say, aha, and now they have tacitly admitted to this, this, this, this, this--

VESTER: Right.

POWELL: --all of which they’re manifestly guilty of, but nevertheless they’d just as soon not have happened. So they’re trying to hold the floodgates back now.

VESTER: Based on how you know things work inside CBS, would the executive producer of 60 Minutes II know that Mary Mapes, the producer in question, was calling the Kerry campaign? Would he know? Could she have done this totally in secrecy without anyone else inside the CBS heirarchy knowing?

POWELL: Oh, I mean, sure. Whether she would have or not I don’t know, and frankly I don’t know her. But it’s possible for a producer to do--it’s possible for a producer to come up with obviously phonied-up documents and get them on a network newscast.

VESTER: Yeah. I’m just saying, from my own history as a journalist working at Fox, and working at NBC before that, if somebody came to me with that deal, if a source came to me and said I’ll give you these documents, but you have to contact the Presidential campaign of Joe So-and-so, first of all my answer would be no. But second of all, I would tell, I would have to tell my executive producer.

POWELL: You would think, yeah.

VESTER: I would have to tell the legal department of our network. Wouldn’t that have happened at CBS?

POWELL: I don’t know because I don’t know how it is ordered there now.


POWELL: I kind of doubt that all of that happened, and particularly, if as we were told she has been fervently and rabidly seeking this story for five years--


POWELL: --then, when it’s just out there, a little something like ah, come on, I’ll get someone I know at the Kerry campaign to give him a call, blah b-blah b-blah. you know, I’ll get the documents, seems like a very small step.

VESTER: Now let me jump in here. You realize that this was a story they went with, with just weeks before the Presidential election.

POWELL: Right.

VESTER: And we have a viewer Email. Vinnie if you can pull up the one from Silver Lake Washington, this is from Pat Hill:
Dan Rather should be forced to resign or be fired. CBS should not be allowed to participate in any Presidential debate.
Considering the gravity of this story and the timing, a very prominent CBS reporter and anchor, Bob Schieffer, is moderating one of the Presidential debates.

POWELL: Right.

VESTER: Should he have to pull out?

POWELL: Oh, I think so. And I think there’s been, even before last night, there was a growing call for that to happen. If you go strictly on ideology you’d have to wonder why anybody from PBS was there either.

VESTER: But they didn’t have the documents. [TO AUDIENCE] So do you think that CBS should be out of the Presidential debate? [audience response] Mixed; so mainly yes, but some no. But do you think that that will happen?

POWELL: Well, if it’s, I mean the White House is calling for it right?

VESTER: I don’t think it’s the White House, I think it’s Bush, the re-election campaign.

POWELL: The Bush campaign, right. If they say we’re not going to show up for any debate at which Bob Schieffer is moderator, then yeah, they can make it happen.

VESTER: Yeah. How far do you think CBS is going to take this internal investigation it’s now ordered?


VESTER: Honest. Brutally honest.

POWELL: Only as far as they absolutely have to. I don’t think there’s going to be any great bloodletting and beating of the breast the way there was, say, at the New York Times over Jayson Blair or USA Today when they had their problems this year.

VESTER: Yeah, right. Or NBC with Dateline, etc etc.

POWELL: It would actually be interesting to see if USA Today, which also got the documents, is going to conduct some kind of investigation and pursue it from that end.

VESTER: That’s a very good point. Dennis Powell, former CBS newsman, thank you very much. [applause]

posted: Tue - September 21, 2004 at 02:34 PM       j$p  send