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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Fallout at CBS
Aired January 16, 2005 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: The fallout at CBS. Dan Rather's going. Mary Mapes is gone along with three top executives. Can CBS news recover from the black eye over its botched report on President Bush's National Guard service? Did an outside panel fall short in saying there was no political bias at the network. Why was CBS News President Andrew Heyward allowed to keep his job? Has the media balance of power shifted to bloggers? We'll ask one of the report's authors, Lou Boccardi, CBS' new standard czar, Linda Mason, veteran network journalist Brian Ross, Phil Jones and Terrance Smith and on the political impact, Democrat Joe Lockhart and Republican Mike Murphy.
ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, this is a special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES with Howard Kurtz.
KURTZ: Welcome to the special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES where today we turn our critical lens on the debacle at CBS News. The Tiffany network reeling from an outside report on that 60 MINUTES WEDNESDAY story on whether the National Guard bent the rules for a young George W. Bush. A stunning indictment of the journalistic practices in Dan Rather's news decision. Bob Schieffer took over for Rather to announce the findings on the CBS Evening News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: Last fall, CBS appointed an independent review panel to investigate how a flawed story about President Bush's National Guard service was allowed to air on the Wednesday edition of 60 MINUTES. Today the panel reported its findings and CBS took disciplinary action against a number of CBS News employees.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: CBS ousted a top executive and the two top producers at 60 MINUTES WEDNESDAY. The network also fired Mary Mapes, Rather's producer on the story. Panelist Dick Thornburgh, the former attorney general and Lou Boccardi, former chief executive of the Associated Press found that CBS rushed the story to air last September, ignoring the warnings of its own document experts that what were called 30- year-old memos written by Bush's late squadron commander could not be authenticated. Led by Rather and CBS News President Andrew Heyward, the network also screwed up by fiercely defending the story for nearly two weeks, making what the panel called false and misleading statements in the process. CBS President Les Moonves made no attempt to defend the news division or the story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LES MOONVES, CBS NEWS PRESIDENT: Well, clearly, this is a bit of a black mark against CBS News and clearly things were done in this report that were unfair and untrue. A red flag wasn't thrown up in the air saying, wait a minute, can we verify the documents? Can we verify the experts? Can we verify the sources and are the sources unimpeachable? And the answer to most of those questions is, no.
KURTZ: We've got a jam-packed lineup this Sunday morning and we begin in New York with one of the panelists, former AP executive, Lou Boccardi. Welcome.
LOUIS BOCCARDI, FORMER CEO, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Glad to be here.
KURTZ: Lou Boccardi, advanced copy of the "Weekly Standard" magazine, holding it up here, the CBS whitewash. There's been a lot of controversy about your panel's report, much of it focusing on your finding no evidence of political bias and the reaction I would say, even among someone on the left has been, if I can paraphrase here, come on. Who are you kidding? You found lots of evidence but you didn't have the nerve to reach the conclusion. Your response.
BOCCARDI: Well, in your introduction just a minute ago, you used a couple of words: debacle and stunning and some others of the same character. I don't know quite how that fits with whitewash. In no sense is this a whitewash, not at all. It's 224 pages that tell a horrific story of how this program, this segment on the program, was mismanaged, rushed to air, inadequately sourced, inadequately verified and then defended through 12 tortured days. And every fragment that we thought relevant to the investigation we asked -- were asked to undertake is there. The question --
KURTZ: Whitewash is not my characterization, but on the political bias which you're going to get to...
BOCCARDI: Right now I'm going to get to it.
KURTZ: Go ahead.
BOCCARDI: But you waved the magazine and teased me a bit...
KURTZ: You should be able to respond.
BOCCARDI: ... with whitewash. So it's not a whitewash, let me just say that. Now, on this question of political bias, we were determined that we would not, in the report, make the same mistake that this program did, which was to say something that when challenged several things, that when challenged, they could not fully prove to anybody's satisfaction. In making, writing this report, we laid out a number of things that were done. We could not find a place to put ourselves that we were satisfied with in terms of being able to prove that the intent of the people here was simply a political hatchet job. The people who put this program together and our report says this, believed that it was true. In doing it, they did some things that were absolutely no question and our report says so, improper and wrong and put any other similar adjective if you want.
KURTZ: Well let me just give you one example of that. In the report, you say that Mary Mapes, Rather's producer, called Joe Lockhart of the Kerry campaign, asked him to play ball with one of her confidential sources. She also talked about a book deal for the source. Perhaps CBS would pay him a consulting fee. She wrote this memo to somebody else. I desperately want to talk to you. Do not underestimate how much I want this story. That's not anti-Bush bias?
BOCCARDI: If every reporter who is guilty of really wanting a story is guilty of bias, you're changing the rules for all of us. And I just don't think you can leap from one place to another. And that's what we were not in this report going to do. We were not going to leap. We wanted to lay out the facts and those who saw bias before September 8th, who saw it on September 8th, or see it post-September 8th are free to use, without anybody's permission, all of the facts that we developed in this report. We did not feel that we could go beyond where the report is.
KURTZ: The panel got some of the same criticism, as you know, Lou Boccardi, on the question of whether those National Guard documents were forgeries. Now your own expert echoed the findings of many other experts in saying that they appeared to be fake, so it could not be authenticated. But again, you did not feel comfortable taking that next step?
BOCCARDI: That's exactly what we said, that there were many many reasons to find on looking at these documents, many, many reasons to find that they were not authentic. But just as I tried to explain our reasoning in not pinning a label of political agenda on the people who did this program, we didn't feel that we had proof that we could go into a courtroom, that's not the framework of the conversation, but proof that these things are forgeries. We said, very early in the report, it's on one of the first few pages, that there were many reasons to doubt the authenticity of these documents. And that's what we found.
KURTZ: You were very critical - I'm sorry -- You were also very critical, as you mentioned a moment ago, about CBS' decision to dig in and fiercely defend this story for 12 long days after that September 8th broadcast. How did CBS News, both in public statements and on the air, mislead the public during that period of defending as it turned out the indefensible?
BOCCARDI: We say that the decision to behave that way through those 12 days was absolutely wrong and a serious mistake. They put the coverage of the media controversy, left it in the hands of the people who had done the original program which we cite as a serious mistake. There were flawed programs put on on September 10, Friday and on September 13th, Monday. So flawed that the executive producer of the evening news on which those two segments appeared on those two dates said, no more. From now on if anything's going to go on my show, we're going to control it. So there were serious, serious mistakes made in all that period, again, fully documented, almost hour by hour in our report. KURTZ: All right. We've got about 30 seconds. How much responsibility does CBS News President Andrew Heyward bear both for the original program airing and also for this 12-day defense that everybody now seems to admit was a serious misstep on the part of CBS News?
BOCCARDI: We described in the report everybody's role to the extent that we could find it. CBS didn't ask us to weigh in on individual personnel decisions and we didn't in the report. And I'm not doing that now.
KURTZ: All right. Good place to leave it. We appreciate your joining us this morning, Lou Boccardi.
BOCCARDI: You're welcome.
KURTZ: A long career with the Associated Press. Thanks for being here.
When we come back, I'll talk with three veteran TV correspondents about where CBS went wrong and the pitfalls of investigative reporting.
And later, I'll ask Joe Lockhart about that call he got from CBS producer Mary Mapes. Does that prove CBS was too cozy with the Kerry campaign? Stay with us.
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. Joining me now to discuss the mess at CBS are three veteran TV journalists. In New York, ABC investigative correspondent Brian Ross, who just won Columbia University's prestigious Dupont award for a report on port security. Here in Washington, Terence Smith, media correspondent for the news hour on PBS, who worked at CBS for 13 years and Phil Jones, who spent 32 years at CBS as a Washington correspondent and a contributor to "48 HOURS." Welcome. Brian Ross, September after the 60 MINUTES story broke, you interviewed two on the document examiners who had been hired by CBS. Let's take a brief look at that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN ROSS, ABC NEWS: Emily Will, a court certified examiner from North Carolina says she saw problems right away with the one document CBS hired her to check in the days before the broadcast.
EMILY WILL: I found problems with the printing itself as to whether it could have been produced by a typewriter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Brian, what convinced you that this was a story, once you interviewed these two women? Did you feel awkward at all about casting down on another news organization's story?
ROSS: I felt very awkward about it. Dan Rather has been really a role model for me or anybody involved in investigative reporting and television and it was a very difficult decision. But once we hear these women, it was just stunning to us that clearly they had told a CBS producer, Mary Mapes, there were serious questions about the documents and that was ignored. Emily Will told us that she was told by Mary Mapes, I'm not going to let some little th get in the way to lose a big story.
KURTZ: And of course it did become the story. Phil Jones, you worked with Dan Rather for so many years. Should he as a guy who fairly or unfairly has been a lightning rod for conservatives since the Nixon administration been the guy to do this story?
PHIL JONES, FORMER CBS CORRESPONDENT: Good question and I think the answer is no, probably. I think someone at CBS management should have said, look, let's assume everything is correct. This is a blockbuster story.
KURTZ: Middle of the election campaign.
JONES: We don't want any distractions from the facts that we have uncovered. Dan, you know if you do the story, immediately they're going to pounce on you. There's Dan Rather going again, the biased guy. And why have that distraction?
KURTZ: You're shaking your head.
TERENCE SMITH, PBS' THE NEWSHOUR: I really am. You can't have a situation where your anchor is not fully able to do any story on any subject especially on the president of the United States. I never disagree with Phil Jones. But I -- you can have --
KURTZ: Was this anchor stretched too thin? This was a guy who had been at the Republican convention. Then he went to a hurricane in Florida and he's thrown into this story and five days later it's on the air.
SMITH: Yes, of course he was stretched ridiculously thin. I blame him for that. After all, he's been around for a while and can schedule himself. But the point I'm trying to make is that no network can have its chief correspondent or anchor disqualified for a story of this nature. If that's the case, get yourself a new anchor.
JONES: That is true. But on the other hand, you -- if you have a story, you don't want any distractions from it. And that's the only thing I was suggesting, that this might have been considered. If you had somebody else doing it, all of these people would not have been able to jump on him.
KURTZ: Brian Ross, investigative reporters are generally a little obsessive, someone using more colorful language. Mary Mapes, the producer on this story, was absolutely convinced that she was right. She still believes that. Is there a temptation as an investigative reporter, all the stories you've done, to fall in love with your story and kind of miss the holes in it?
ROSS: Of course there is and you have to bring a certain zeal to get to where you want to go with some of these stories. They're not easy to do and Mary Mapes saw herself up against a huge effort to discredit what she was doing, I guess by the White House and the right wing and it probably persuaded her more that she was right. What is important is that the news organization have a system in place to make sure that someone like me can't bulldoze the rest of the organization.
KURTZ: Have you ever faced that where somebody said to you, Brian, I know you think this is a great story, but you just haven't got it?
ROSS: On a regular basis, more often than I'd like. But that's the nature of our business. And I think that we should bring all of our efforts to get the story, get the facts and then we have to really prove it to our bosses, our editors and it can't be that I get more respect because I've been there longer than anybody else. I face the same checks and balances that anybody else does at ABC and they're rigorous and but I tell you this, I never worry about a story I don't have that gut feeling like it's going to be wrong. I feel once I've gone through the system we have in place, at least, that it's solid.
KURTZ: Aren't correspondents at the network level also under a kind of a constant pressure to produce the big story, the big scoop, the big hit, the story that's going to be picked up by the newspapers, all of that?
JONES: The big story, the block buster, the story that's going to, you know, and that's what the magazine shows and 60 MINUTES - one, 60 MINUTES WEDNESDAY, that's what they have made their reputation on, on the big stories.
KURTZ: Is that a formula for hype?
JONES: Well, I -- I'm not going into that. But I will say this, over the years, I have looked at 60 MINUTES with great admiration because Sunday after Sunday they have been able to come up with these big stories that are always black and white, good guys and bad guys. And you know, I've, over my years of reporting, I have always found that the deeper I got into a story, the grayer it got.
KURTZ: If I had a little more time to deal with the grays, but they do like that morality play. I just want to pick up with you Terry, the cosmic perspective there. We have been through in the last several years Jason Blair of the "New York Times," Jack Kelly of "USA Today," Stephen Glass at "The New Republic," CNN's own tailwind debacle. Where does this CBS fiasco rank in the great pantheon of media...
SMITH: It ranks right up there in terms of embarrassment, of destruction of credibility, of raising major questions. One of the big questions I have is who or which people really pushed hardest to get this on the air when the story was clearly not ready to go on the air September 8th? Was it Mary Mapes, the producer who said, you know, competition breathing down our necks, let's do it. That usually wouldn't be enough. I suspect it was the combined pressure of a new season with a relatively new broadcast, wanting a blockbuster for their opening show and that all of these things came together. JONES: But the panel itself, in interviewing Mapes, she talked about how she wasn't ready to go and how the management at 60 MINUTES WEDNESDAY pushed her and said, no, we want this story earlier. So she did raise the flag that she was having trouble getting this thing produced in time.
SMITH: But there is in the report some he said/she said and differences of opinion on those conversations.
KURTZ: Given the fallout and the obvious damage to careers here, including to that of Mary Mapes who has been fired, do you think, Brian Ross, that correspondents, maybe even yourself will become more cautious as a result? Will people think twice, three times, four times before taking on the White House with something that could blow up in their faces?
ROSS: Well, I think that's entirely possible although the panel takes some pains to make sure - or suggest that doesn't happen, but of course that will happen. And the checking and double checking will be fiercer and harder. And it won't be for the faint of heart to go into a story like that anytime soon.
JONES: Let me just say, I want to say one word before we go any further about Dan Rather. I've known Dan Rather for almost 40 years. The Dan Rather I know, believe me, had the president of the United States been a Democrat, he would still have pushed to go forward with that story. And for all of these people out there who want to attack Dan as being this partisan Democrat and here is another example, this is not an exhibit, Dan Rather likes a good story.
KURTZ: But the Dan Rather you know...
SMITH: I second that.
KURTZ: All right. But the Dan Rather you know also is the guy who, after the story broke and when bloggers came out and said these documents look awfully suspect to be written on a 1972 government typewriter, for 12 days he and Andrew Heyward, the president of CBS News and everyone else, dug in and defended this story and accused critics of being partisan for nearly, for that period of time. What explain that?
JONES: Dan Rather is loyal to his people. Every producer who has ever worked at CBS loved to work with Dan Rather because they knew that if they got into a situation where the critics were coming at them, that the one guy who would be at their side, as a matter of fact in front running interference would be Dan Rather.
SMITH: Yeah. But he did them a huge disservice by holding on to a flawed story for so long. I think...
JONES: It wasn't Dan's to hold on to. It was the management at CBS. The president of the division could immediately have said --
SMITH: He spoke. He was the public voice. KURTZ: The treatment of the president of CBS News, Andrew Heyward, a lot of people out there saying gee, these top executives lost their job. Andrew Heyward, who has not spoken to the press since this report came out, this past week, approved the story in advance last minute, supervised the defense of it, which everyone now says was a mistake, how come he gets to keep his job while these other heads roll?
SMITH: Well, how come certain commanders in Iraq and planners of that war get to keep their job and go on into the future? Life is unfair.
KURTZ: All right. That's a good place to take a break. Up next, more of the three veteran television correspondents. And later in the broadcast, I'll talk to a CBS executive about how her network plans to fix its news-gathering problems. That and much more in this special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
KURTZ: Welcome back. Terry Smith, when you worked at CBS News, were there rules and regulations that would have prevented this sort of thinking if followed? We'll get into the details about verifying suspect documents.
SMITH: There were when I first showed up in 1985, but that whole system for checking and double checking I think took quite a beating and was largely set aside. But the answer to your question is, yes, there were executes designated to clear the content of every news show that went on.
JONES: The same system. I mean, I was there for 32 years. Yes, the executives make the final decisions. They ask these questions. They want to know who the sources are. You know, you've got to give them some reassurance. I think the system was pretty much the same.
KURTZ: Nobody found out who the ultimate source of these documents was, in other words, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), kept the source gives them to Mary Mapes, but where did he get them from and nobody seemed...
SMITH: Andrew Heyward screened this piece an hour before it aired. If he wasn't happy with it, he could have pulled it.
KURTZ: I want to go to Brian Ross in a minute, but I want to ask you, Phil Jones, is there any significance to the fact that this was basically run out of New York and the Washington bureau wasn't involved, Washington bureau, which might have been more sensitive to the political ramifications here?
JONES: My feeling is yes, that there is an attitude that has been building over the years in New York, that is with far too many executives who they're anti-Washington, they're anti-Washington bureau, they're anti-politician. They're sort of anti-government kind of stories, they resent when they have to put these stories on because they're convinced that the American viewer doesn't have any interest in it. And had there been somebody -- if you look at the makeup of the people who made the final decision, excluding Dan, which is not a small exclusion, but excluding Dan, not one of those people involved had ever worked in Washington, D.C.
KURTZ: Brian Ross, you've done many stories over the years with confidential sources. In this particular case, the source, Bill Burkett turned out not just to be flaky and an anti-Bush zealot, but admitted that he lied to CBS. My question, how do you protect yourself on these sensitive stories against somebody who turns out to be an unreliable source?
ROSS: Well, you ask lots of questions and they're unreliable, then who needs it? I would say that the case of Burkett it's astounding to me that nobody did the kind of background check that would take about 35 seconds on a Google to figure out who he was and they did it way too late at CBS. And for anybody to say, as Dan Rather did, that he's an unimpeachable source, to me was just, just blew me away to read that. I don't understand how that could have happened. That to me is one of the glaring errors in this whole thing was to put all of that trust in Burkett, given his background and a background that could easily be determined.
KURTZ: That was also of course the casualty of the fact that this was rushed to air in five days after Mary Mapes obtained those documents.
ROSS: But even so, in the preparation for the -- that should have come out at some point. That should have come out even before the five-day period.
KURTZ: Brian Ross, you have the last word. Phil Jones, Terry Smith, thanks very much for joining us as well.
Up next after a check of the hour's top stories, a conversation with CBS' new standard czar, Linda Mason, about what went wrong and how CBS can repair the damage.
Also is liberal bias to blame for the CBS scandal? I'll ask Democratic strategist Joe Lockhart and Republican strategist Mike Murphy. And later, a Hollywood breakup that took "People" magazine by surprise.
KURTZ: Welcome back to this special, one-hour edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
The ink was barely dry on the report on CBS' badly flawed piece on the president and the Air National Guard when the pundits started weighing in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST, "HANNITY & COLMES": That's a crime. That is a corrupting of the news and a betrayal of trust on a level that I don't think we've seen in our lifetime.
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC ANALYST: CBS News has a credibility problem because Rather is the problem.
CARL BERNSTEIN, WASHINGTON POST: The idea that Dan Rather goes into this with political bias is absurd.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now from New York is Linda Mason, named just this week as CBS' new senior vice president for standards and practices. Welcome.
LINDA MASON, CBS SR. VP FOR STANDARDS, PRACTICES: Thank you.
KURTZ: Linda Mason, the panel's report, very tough on CBS' decision to dig in and defend this "60 Minutes" National Guard story for 12 long days in ways that the panel says was false and misleading. How did this happen?
MASON: I think actually in the beginning it was a good result. It showed that management was willing to support its troops, that they believed in the story. How did CBS put on the story that wasn't correct? We now all admit that we went on too long.
KURTZ: Well, CBS News President Andrew Heyward told me at the time that he had full confidence that this was going to hold up, tat there is no percentage of possibility that these documents were bogus. Journalists are supposed to be open to contradictory information. Was this sort of a circle-the-wagons mentality that takes over in situations like this?
MASON: Well, it sort of looks that way. And actually, when Andrew said that, he believed that to be the case. As soon -- we, the panel pointed this out and made a recommendation that if there's this kind of firestorm after a story, we appoint a second team of reporters to carry forth with a fresh eye and to see what needs to be done, and that's what we're going to do in the future.
KURTZ: With all of the holes in the story, very visible in retrospect, warnings by your own document examiners, the fact that nobody knew the ultimate source, where these disputed papers had come from. Why was it rushed on the air in five days? Why wasn't it held for further examination?
MASON: That's a question that we are asking today, that the panel raised as well. And something like this won't happen again.
KURTZ: A lot of critics out there, as you know, including some on the left, are saying this is a pure case of liberal bias, that CBS was zealous, that it wanted to damage President Bush at the height of the reelection campaign. Your thoughts?
MASON: That is totally untrue. This was the case of a producer, as has been cited earlier, who was passionate about her story. She would have done the same story about John Kerry. It was a good story. Unfortunately, the way she went about doing it, talking to the Kerry campaign, trying to have them get into touch with her source so that she could get more documents, certainly looks overtly political. And in our standards, that's just not allowed. And relying on a source, Bill Burkett, who was so anti-Bush could raise suspicions as well, but I do not believe it was a function of political bias.
KURTZ: Why did Mary Mapes, who was an experienced producer, who certainly was well-respected at the news division, why did she have so much influence to the point where she'd be on conference calls and other executives would be raising questions about the documents or the sources, and she would issue these assurances and everybody at CBS would go along?
MASON: Well, again, it was loyalty to someone who had broken Abu Ghraib, one of the great stories of the last couple of years. And she had proved her worth, and people believed her, until it started unraveling.
KURTZ: Why have reporters not been allowed this week, since this report came out, to talk to either Dan Rather or Andrew Heyward? It kind of gives the impression CBS is still in damage control mode?
MASON: CBS is looking to the future. And both Andrew and Dan were part of this report, so there was a decision made not to have them speak since they were participants.
KURTZ: I don't quite understand that. I mean, why won't they be allowed to defend themselves, to offer their views? Here is CBS saying it wants to learn the lessons here, and yet your own news division president, who's not shy about talking to reporters, nor is Dan Rather, are being kept under wraps? I guess I don't get it.
MASON: I don't think they're being kept under wraps. They have chosen not to talk at this point. The panel and the report kind of makes it all clear, what happened, and where we're going from here.
KURTZ: All right. I have in my hand here the CBS ethics manual. Who has been in charge of enforcing this until now?
MASON: I have been. CBS has had standards since 1976 under Richard Salant. We were the first network to write standards. I headed a team that rewrote them in 1999, and after this, we're going to sit down and fine-tune it in the next few weeks, and go around to each broadcast and to each bureau to update them on the standards. And in addition, we're going to have standards seminars on a regular basis.
KURTZ: But if you've been in charge until now, then how does giving you a better title, and you're the classic insider, you've been at CBS News for almost 40 years, going to help prevent another blunder of this magnitude?
MASON: It's not just a title. There's a whole new job definition. In addition to the standards, I'm going to be the person who works on all investigative and sensitive stories. And that means that before confidential sources are used, I'm going to be there to talk about them and to verify them. Before documents or handout video or pictures are used, I'm going to be there to document the fact that they are authentic.
And so I'm going to be involved in the beginning, this is on hard news that will be on "The Evening News," as well as the magazine programs, I'll be there from the beginning and through the screening of the piece. And that's a real difference.
KURTZ: But you can't possibly get to every story. And besides, to some extent, and this is true in every media scandal, lots of other news organizations have gone through similar problems -- doesn't the news business run on trust? Don't you ultimately have to take the word of those who are doing the reporting that the sources are who they say they are and the documents are authentic? I mean, how much can you second-guess here?
MASON: OK. Two things. First, you said it's too many stories. I'm talking about investigate and special stories. I'm not going to screen every story that CBS News airs. So it's not too many.
And secondly, it is run on trust. But I think we're going to trust but verify much more than we have in the past.
KURTZ: All right, I've got just a few seconds. Give us your overview, how badly has CBS News been hurt by this, and do you feel like you're already in the process of repairing the damage?
MASON: I think CBS News was hurt greatly by this. We all admit it, we all feel terrible. Most of the producers and reporters at CBS News were horrified when they read the report and saw what had happened. I think making it public -- and then we've gone about -- we have been producing pieces all week. I mean, we produced "60 Minutes Wednesday" and "60 Minutes Sunday" is coming up. "The Evening News" went on every night, the morning news went on every morning. And we're coming out of this, and we're going to do better. We're going to show you day by day, story by story that our credibility has been restored.
KURTZ: All right, well, Linda Mason, it's been a tough week for people at CBS News. We very much appreciate you coming on this morning. Thanks very much for joining us.
MASON: Thank you.
KURTZ: Still to come -- does liberal bias help explain the problems not just at CBS but the rest of the establishment media's political coverage? Joe Lockhart and Mike Murphy face off next.
KURTZ: Welcome back. The turmoil at CBS is reverberating not only in the nation's newsrooms but on the political battlefield as well. Joining us now from Sacramento, Republican strategist Mike Murphy, a top adviser for John McCain, Jeb Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger. And here in Washington, former Clinton White House press secretary Joe Lockhart, most recently a senior adviser in John Kerry's campaign. Welcome.
Joe Lockhart, during the Kerry campaign, you famously got a call from Mary Mapes, the CBS producer, asking you to help her out by talking to her source, former Guardsman Bill Burkett. Did it occur to you that this was kind of something underhanded for a journalist to be doing in the middle of a reelection campaign?
JOE LOCKHART, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I've been doing this for a long time. I've been in politics for over 20 years now. And the standards by which most journalists work now have changed. There is an active role played by parties, both Democrats and Republicans, in digging up information, whether it be positive or negative, on your opponent or on your own guy.
KURTZ: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) information?
LOCKHART: Yes, sure. And a lot of that is done because it's not done by the media anymore. I mean, we have got a different media now, that is more interested in commentary than fact-gathering, which is run like a business. It's -- they're on for more hours, with less people. Something has to give. So...
KURTZ: You had the same interest as Mary Mapes.
LOCKHART: No, I didn't actually. And if you look at...
KURTZ: Which was to damage President Bush.
LOCKHART: My interest was to see what the facts were. But in this particular case, as the report will tell you, I was very leery of having this conversation with her or with him, because as I told her in the one conversation I had with her, you know, things didn't add up, that this felt like someone was being set up.
LOCKHART: And that's why I told her I'd talk to him after any documents were turned over and I'd hear him out. Because what she told me was he just wanted to talk to me. And I said I'd hear him out, which I did. We didn't talk about the documents.
But you know, people should understand that, you know, when a story comes on about politician X at night and something that's potentially damaging to their candidacy, nine times of the 10, it comes from another campaign, not from the hard shoe leather work of the reporter.
KURTZ: I'm sure Mike Murphy will be shocked to hear that. Mike, let's touch on the panel's finding of no political bias, at least no evidence of it at CBS. CBS says no bias. We just heard Linda Mason. Do you buy the idea that Dan Rather and Mary Mapes were just hungry for a scoop and not out to damage President Bush? MIKE MURPHY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I don't think -- this will sound strange coming from a right-wing nut Republican -- I don't think Dan Rather was on a jihad to, quote, "damage President Bush." That said, I think the big media, including and in some ways exceptionally so at CBS, do have a cultural bias that brings them to left and affects coverage. I think I read the report, and I think it was evident, that Mary Mapes in my view did have a bit of an ax to grind, and totally gamed the system at CBS, which was in shambles to begin with, to get a totally wrong story on the air. And then I think we're -- the biggest criticism of Rather, from my point of view, is he decided to defend something that was indefensible in kind of a myopic way, and I think it really damaged his credibility.
KURTZ: Republicans have been saying for years, Joe, that journalists are much tougher on them than the Democrats, and that the CBS story just confirms it.
LOCKHART: Well, let me say, first off, that I, again, I've been doing this for a while and I've known Dan Rather for a long time, and there isn't a more honest and straightforward guy in the business. You know, he will do things to you that damage the person you're working for because the information's right, but he's always straightforward about it. And I have never seen a hint of bias with him. And I think that's important here, because I think he's been subject to a lot of unfair criticism.
I don't think there's a liberal conservative bias. I mean, I went through the Clinton years.
KURTZ: The impeachment.
LOCKHART: Monica and the impeachment. And there was no more harsh coverage of a president by the so-called liberal media.
I think there is a little bit of a bias that sometimes does help Democrats, which is reporters have a bias towards government activism, which is they cover -- there's a problem, they think the government should help solve that problem. And when it doesn't get solved, they want to hold someone accountable. That's what they're about. If something goes wrong, someone should be blamed. Democrats are as a party more activist in their philosophy. Republicans are more market- oriented, we should let the market or other forces take a first crack at fixing something. So there is I think a little bit of a bias there, but it's not liberal-conservative. There aren't a bunch of liberal reporters out to kill conservatives, you know, on a daily basis.
KURTZ: Mike Murphy, not a bunch of liberal reporters out to kill conservatives? You've been in some tough campaigns.
MURPHY: Yeah, I think Joe's about half-right, actually, because I'm talking about the same thing when I say there's a cultural bias. The problem is the average big media newsroom, be it "The New York Times" or CBS, I would say the newsroom is about 75 percent Democratic and liberal. Now, that doesn't mean they're all rooting and trying actively to subvert a Republican, but it means the Democrat arguments, the Democrat idea of what a big story is all makes better intuitive sense to them. And so, the Republican world is kind of on Mars to them. And so I think it makes it harder for them to cover it in a non-biased way.
KURTZ: What about the guy...
MURPHY: And I think it does manifest itself in unfair treatment to a lot of Republican candidates.
KURTZ: What about the guy who you advised, Governor Schwarzenegger? Doesn't he prefers going on "The Jay Leno Show," than, say, being grilled by "The L.A. Times?"
MURPHY: We get grilled by "The L.A. Times" a lot. And I hope they have the next internal investigation, because I think they're a biased paper. That said, I think Governor Schwarzenegger is in all media, all the time, because he's Arnold Schwarzenegger. There was a critical story on him on the front page of the paper in Sacramento this morning. He takes his knocks like any other politician.
LOCKHART: I think -- I don't know. I've never polled the newsroom. It may be 75 percent vote Democratic. But the media has changed. We're not talking about the media that, you know, you had three veteran correspondents on. The business they joined 30 years ago is nothing like the business is now. Media has consolidated. There are very serious corporate interests here. And these guys by and large are not a bunch of raging liberal Democrats who are making ultimate decisions. And they are more and more getting involved in how stories are covered and more importantly, what stories are covered. Because this is now all about ratings. It's a business.
KURTZ: And did you feel that journalists were at times hostile to your candidate, John Kerry, in this past campaign?
LOCKHART: Oh, absolutely. I think in many ways, journalists in the Kerry campaign viewed him in a dismissive way. And there was a bar that we had to get across to show how viable we are and how we could win, and was treated very differently than President Bush.
All of which, though, is fair game. It's, you know, no one gets a free ride in politics. You have to understand what the rules are and try to use them to the best of your advantage.
KURTZ: Mike Murphy, President Bush -- let me just change the topic slightly here -- he's been doing interviews this week before Thursday's inauguration. He was on with Barbara Walters the other night, talked to "The Wall Street Journal," "Washington Times," "USA Today," "Washington Post" did an interview this morning, but usually the president avoids news conferences and says he doesn't even read newspapers. So have Republicans just decided that these guys in the press are hostile and we're going to avoid dealing with them, or go around them, or talk to Fox News, or whatever?
MURPHY: Well, I think any White House wants to get its message out as unfiltered as possible. And I disagree with Joe. I don't think it's a neutrality like that. I think there is some bias. I think the White House tries to work around it a little bit.
I mean, Joe made a good point earlier. All campaign people talk to the media, we all hear all the gossip back and forth. The difference is, because of that cultural affinity, when the Republicans talk to the media, half the time it feels like a deposition. When Democrats do, it's a little bit more choir practice. So I think it's a hard thing to get a tangible handle on, but there is no doubt in our world, the Republican world, we think more often than not we get a harder time. And so we look at ways to go around it, the editors, the Mary Mapeses of the world, who become a filter that is in our view not always very fair.
KURTZ: All right. I'm not done with you two. Stick around. We'll take a look at the role of the Internet in changing the media culture. That's next.
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. Mike Murphy in Sacramento, you now have a Web site promoting your many ventures. Is the Internet becoming a growing alternative to the like of CBS, and CNN, and "The New York Times," despite the fact that there's no shortage of partisan attacks and anger in these online sites?
MURPHY: No, I think that's absolutely true. What the Internet is like unlimited free stance in real instant time. So, you know, in the old days, the corporate power of the media used to be distribution. They owned printing presses, they owned television licenses to broadcast in local communities. Now so much information can just go out through the Internet, which is a great democratizer of information. The problem is, a lot of it is crazy. So, you know, people have to filter through it all. But there's no doubt that the Internet has created a zillion free channels of information, both good, bad and crazy.
KURTZ: I suppose critics would say the problem with the mainstream media is some of it's crazy, too.
Are CBS and the rest of the old media, Joe Lockhart, starting to lose their influence? I mean, it was bloggers who blew the whistle on the suspect National Guard documents before the newspapers could even gear up to ask their questions.
LOCKHART: Sure they are, and if they're going to retain influence, they have to change and they have to change with the times. From a political journalism point of view, there's no campaign, Democrat or Republican, that wants to deal with the filter of the media. We want to talk directly to voters, that's why we do TV ads. The Internet, this was the campaign where the Internet really took shape. The Bush people have an Internet list that has -- with one button, they can talk to seven million people. John Kerry had a list of three million people. That's going to grow, and you're going to get to the point where you can talk directly through the Internet to more people on the Internet than you can through ABC, CBS, or NBC. So those people, the old media, they've got to figure out how to stay relevant. It's been an ongoing issue for 20 or 30 years. It feels like though it's beginning to overwhelm them.
KURTZ: Mike Murphy, you said earlier that "The L.A. Times" is biased in the coverage of your governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. I'm sure the newspaper would dispute that. But is "The L.A. Times" less important now in California politics because you have other ways of trying to reach the public, as Joe was saying?
MURPHY: Yes, far less important. All of the big -- the lesson being learned in the big media right now in campaigns at the state level is a lot of states have one super powerful by history newspaper that is used to running everything, and often with a great deal of arrogance. "New York Times," "Boston Globe," "L.A. Times," all over the country. And they're becoming less and less important and less and less powerful, which is a real kind of crisis of internal confidence for them.
And I think a lot of this, what Joe and I have both been saying about the Internet, going around all that. So the days when the most important person in the campaign was the power broker at the local big newspaper are over now, which is I think good for democracy.
KURTZ: I've got about 20 seconds. You used to work for NBC, ABC, CNN. Little known fact. Would you agree that their influence is declining, and is that a good thing or a bad thing from a political point of view?
LOCKHART: I think it's -- they are declining. And I think ultimately, I do hold on to this idea that the media should stand as an honest broker, that there should be a filter, but the filter's broken.
KURTZ: Of course if you guys don't deal with us, then it's harder for us to play that filtering role, but we will leave it there. Joe Lockhart, Mike Murphy, thanks for joining us.
Just ahead, forget Bush and Rather. How one magazine bobbled a really big story, Brad and Jennifer.
KURTZ: Before we go, two guests said on last week's program that CNN "CROSSFIRE" co-host Paul Begala also receives money from the Democratic Party. "The New York Times," which made this point, has run a correction. Begala hasn't gotten any money from the Democrats since joining CNN.
Meanwhile, you might think that tsunamis, mudslides, Iraqi violence and the mess at CBS are overshadowing every other possible story. You would be wrong. There is still, as always, Brad and Jen.
As "People" magazine told us last week, rift, what rift? After being apart, Brad and Jen enjoy a romantic reunion in the Caribbean. Well, small problem with that scoop. While it was on the newsstands, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston announced their marriage is ending. Not to worry, "People" quickly rushed out a special issue on the split, as did its main rival. "After all," said Ken Brownridge (ph), executive with "Us Weekly," this is our tsunami."
Well, we're out of time. Thanks for joining us at RELIABLE SOURCES. "LATE EDITION" with Wolf Blitzer begins now.
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