Friday, September 17, 2004
ratherbiased.com: Memogate Harming Rather's Ratings.
--Many CBS observers inside and outside the network have long suspected that Dan Rather would not be forced out over Memogate but there is one development that could change that. Despite having been in last place nearly 15 years, Dan Rather's ratings have fallen even lower since questions began emerging about the Sept. 8 60 Minutes report which used forged documents to prove that President Bush evaded his military duties during the 1970s.
Since that time, in the face of highly critical coverage of CBS's story on the internet and in the traditional media, CBS's news division is facing a serious public backlash. A recent poll showed that just 27 percent of the American public believes that the CBS memos are authentic.
But the bad news doesn't stop there. Now, according to the Drudge Report, ratings for the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather have fallen even further.
The ratings drop is due almost exclusively to Memogate, one CBS source told Drudge:
"The audience appears to [be] polarized. Rightly or wrongly, we're being perceived as 'anti-Bush,' which I do not think is fair to Dan, who is a fine journalist... of course we do not like to see the ratings coming back the way they are this week."
The ratings drop, most of which has come among loyal viewers offended by CBS's sloppy production, has been enough of a concern to network officials that CBS made up an advertisement which it began running on Wednesday's Evening News boasting of the broadcast's fairness.
"Some people talk about fairness and balance. Other people talk about covering the issues, but it's just talk. CBS News is actually doing something about it," the ad says.
Although the ratings freefall (which in some cases has Rather earning almost cable-level ratings) may finally put in motion Viacom's plan to retire the 72-year-old anchor, there are some indications that this may take a while and that Rather will not be forced out in the aftermath of CBS News's worst scandal in its history.
One factor in helping Rather hang on to the head anchor chair is that he has such tight control over the CBS News management and has succeeded in stopping CBS's younger correspondents from acquiring the needed name recognition to replace him.
"Going out and covering all of the best breaking news stories himself instead of allowing the other guys to do them is the smartest thing that Dan Rather has ever done," says one CBS producer.
Another strategy working in Rather's favor is that the blame for Memogate has been spread around within CBS quite widely--and not by coincidence sources familiar with CBS's management of the scandal tell RatherBiased.com.
"There's a big reason you keep hearing the names like [news president Andrew] Heyward and [Memogate producer Mary] Mapes being thrown about," says one source. "Rather is trying to get this story all over as many people as possible to preserve his viability. The more people's fingerprints on the documents, the easier it is for Dan not to be isolated."
Rather is a master of office politics and has great success at getting his way over the years, outmaneuvering his rival Roger Mudd into CBS's head anchor position; ousting people who got in his way including his former co-anchor Connie Chung as well as two news presidents Ed Joyce and Van Sauter; and managing to hang on to Evening News anchor desk for seven more years than Cronkite did.
Leno on Memogate II
--You can generally tell when a story has reached the attention of a majority of Americans when jokes about it start appearing on the late night shows. This has been the case with Memogate and continues to be.
Last night, NBC's Jay Leno made a barrage of jokes about the scandal:
"A lot of new shows premiering this week. CBS has a new news magazine coming out..it's called "Dan Rather's Believe It or Not."
"You all know CBS, which stands for 'Can't Believe Story.'"
"There seems to be more and more evidence that those documents about George Bush's time in the National Guard that they showed on 60 Minutes might be fake. In fact, on Nightline, Ted Koppel said the Kerry campaign put this stuff out forgeries would be 'unbelievably stupid.' You know what this means? Bush is the smart one."
"What do you call CBS News after they lose all their credibility? Fox News."
One of our readers also discovered the following Letterman "Top Ten" list which, though delivered nearly 10 years ago, is oddly appropriate, particularly item No. 1:
Top Ten Things Dan Rather Would Never Say On The CBS Evening News
10. I'm Dan Rather, your love anchor.
9. Connie, mind if I borrow your mascara?
8. Wanna buy a fake Rolex?
7. And now a report from our White House correspondent, Howie Mandel.
6. Maybe Letterman ought to spend some of that big-time TV money on better wigs.
5. That's the news, I'm Oprah Winfrey.
4. Hey, let's bomb Alaska!
3. Honey, I'll be home soon--have the tequila ready.
2. Good evening. I'm Dan Rather and I'm not wearing pants.
1. I made that last story up.
--From the Late Show February 8, 1995.
WCBS Interview With Rather.
--As we reported earlier, CBS's New York City affiliate WCBS had conducted an interview with its political reporter Marcia Kramer. This interview was distributed to CBS affiliates. Part of this interview is now available on the internet via the WCBS web site.
White House Speaks Out on Memogate; Disputes Latest CBS Source
--The following exchange occurred at today.s White House news briefing with press secretary Scott McClellan:
QUESTION: Scott, can you talk a little bit about last night's remarks by Dan Rather? He seemed to almost personally challenge the President to answer the questions. And he also urged the media to sort of set aside concerns about whether the documents were forgeries and focus on the President's -- on questions about the President's service. Did he watch it? Did you watch it? What's your reaction?
SCOTT McCLELLAN: No, he didn't watch it. I did see it. I did see it. Well, CBS has now acknowledged that the crux of their story may have been based on forged documents. And they have determined that they will follow other news organizations and look into the serious questions that have been raised. There continue to be a number of questions raised about these documents. And you've heard what I've said repeatedly, that these are serious questions and they ought to be looked into fully. And a number of media organizations have been doing that. And now CBS has decided to do so, as well.
QUESTION: As for the -- Dan Rather's, you know, direct challenge, which we saw in The New York Observer yesterday, the interview in The New York Observer, he said: Answer the questions; with respect, answer the questions.
Was that appropriate for Rather to say and --
McCLELLAN: Well, I think it's always best for journalists to stick to reporting the facts and not trying to dispense campaign advice. Did you have another question about last night or --
QUESTION: No. The only other thing was, you know, he spent a lot of time interviewing this 86-year-old former secretary and seemed to -- while acknowledging the possibility that the documents were forged, he seemed to cling to the essence of the accusations in the documents, even if they were phony. What did you think of that?
McCLELLAN: So now some are looking at feelings and not the facts. You know, we don't have to rely on the feelings of a nice woman who has firmly stated her opposition to the President. We can look to the facts. And the facts are that the commanding officer at the time has categorically stated that what had been asserted simply was not the case.
A Look at the Role Players
--Let's take a look at the ideologies of the role players in the Memogate saga.
There is Dan Rather, who appeared on the air to proclaim that CBS had obtained these "previously unknown. documents.
There is Mary Mapes, the controversial CBS News producer who obtained the memos.
There is Bill Burkett, the former National Guardsman who lives 20 miles away from the Kinko.s drop-off point in Abilene, TX.
Last night Rather interviewed Marrian Knox, a former secretary in the National Guard office of Jerry Killian. Rather chose to interview her because she believes the contents of the memos are true, although not the documents themselves.
Rather, ironically, shares two beliefs in common with her. The first is that they both believe the contents in the documents are true. The second is that they both believe George W. Bush was "selected. president.
According to the Washington Post, Knox said Bush was "selected, not elected" president. Rather said the same thing to David Letterman after the disputed 2000 election. Every president has the right to choose nominees "once you're elected or selected, whichever word you prefer."
The embattled newsman has also denounced the Swift Boat Veterans for truth when they were first formed in May.
"Playing the Vietnam card. How an experienced and successful Republican operation made up of veterans is attacking Vietnam war hero John Kerry. We'll give you the inside story."
Of course, if you wanted to go back far enough, there.s that statement Rather made at Sam Houston State Teacher.s College: "I'm madly for Adlai [Stevenson, the Democratic candidate for President] first and foremost because I'm a Democrat. I believe in the principles of the Democratic party and believe those principles have given this nation the most prosperous years."
Ms. Mapes is the controversial CBS producer who worked for two months two try and obtain the naked pictures used in the Abu Ghraib scandal. She told Charlie Rose that ""We ended up chasing it, chasing it halfway around the world and back again." Gary Killian, son of the man Rather claims (claimed?) wrote the memo, told Sean Hannity that Mary Mapes ignored what he had to say--which was in support of Bush--and ignored all the former Guardsman he recommended to her would be good to put on 60 Minutes.
Mapes also is likely the one who received the documents from the fax machine. Certainly she saw the Kinko.s label.
She is also a dedicated liberal, according to her father. Mapes worked at a CBS affiliate in Seattle and acquired quite a reputation.
John Carlson hosts a radio show in Seattle and told WilliamWeb that he "worked at KIRO when Mary was there, and interacted with her regularly. At the time I was a news commentator representing the conservative side of a regular .Point Counterpoint. feature. Mary Mapes was actually more liberal - and much more emotional - than the guy I debated with."
Even more, when Carlson speculated on the air that Mapes was behind Memogate, her father called the show. Carlson said he "was being somewhat critical of her lack of impartiality when her father called in. I assumed he was going to grill me for having the audacity to criticize his daughter on the air. But to my surprise he actually said he was 'embarrassed. by his daughter. They haven't spoken in years. There is some bad blood there owing both to political and personal differences."
According to the Associated Press, the retired National Guard officer "says he was present at Guard headquarters in Austin in 1997 when a top aide to then Governor Bush ordered records sanitized to protect the Boss."
Ironically, Burkett complained of fraud in 2001. President Bush tried to appoint Gen. Daniel James III to head the Air National Guard. But Burkett sent a letter to the Senate Armed Service Committee in an attempt to block his appointment.
According to the Dec. 21, 2001 Dallas Morning News:
"Bill Burkett of Abilene, who retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1998 after 28 years in the Army National Guard, said he has given the committee complaints involving Gen. James. 'I have submitted two very, very specific allegations of fraud in which I have first-hand knowledge,' he said. Mr. Burkett said before his retirement he had been asked by Gen. James to develop a strategic plan for the Guard. During his review, Mr. Burkett said, he found widespread 'corrupt activity, including lying about readiness reports, falsification of personnel data' and other violations -- all of which he said were ignored by the general..
Also worth noting is that Burkett (pronounced BURR-kit) was never in the Air National Guard but the Army National Guard. During her interview with Dan Rather last night, the secretary who worked in the office in which Killian did said that the the CBS documents used words and phrases used by the Army, not the Air Force:
"And there are words in there that belong to the Army, not to the Air Guard. We never used those terms," Marion Knox said.
All three are dedicated liberals, and as Bernard Goldberg told RatherBiased.com, "They wanted the story to be true, so they apparently minimized or ignored any information that contradicted their preconceived notions."