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Guest Says CBS Victim of a Big Con While Host Says FOX Reporters Must Do What They're Told

Reported by Marie Therese - January 12, 2005

If it wasn't obvious before, it certainly is now! FOX News despises Dan Rather. Their coverage of the so-called Memogate scandal has been wall-to-wall invective mixed with glee and self-righteous calls for Rather's head on a plate, even though he will retire in March. What would the ultimate goal of such an attack be? In my opinion the FOX's masters at the White House want to scare CBS into replacing Dan Rather with a more conservative host.

Now that NBC's Tom Brokaw is gone, replaced by the "amber waves of grain-Mom-apple pie-my country right or wrong-nice guy" Brian Williams, the next target had to be the CBS Evening News anchor's chair. Perhaps the GOP hopes that CBS will recruit Jim Angle, Chris Wallace or Greta van Susteren from FOX News. Or possibly Tim Russert from NBC/MSNBC. Or maybe it will be Wolf Blitzer of CNN. [Feel free to use your comments to make other suggestions.]

However, there is one voice that has been raised suggesting that CBS was "set up" by person or persons unknown who hoped that CBS would take the bait and fall flat on its face. That voice is Reese Shonfeld, co-founder of CNN. He introduced this rather startling idea during an interview with John Gibson on Big Story January 10, 2005. (My long report follows.) During the same discussion, John Gibson admitted - at last - that FOX News reporters have little freedom and are required to follow edicts from on high.

During this broadcast Gibson devoted three segments to the CBS story: First there was a report by FOX reporter Todd Connor from New York, then a panel discussion featuring three media commentators and finally a Market Movers segment on Wall Street's reaction to the CBS scandal. During the first two segments, which lasted about 10 minutes, FOX ran 20 Big Facts in the lower third of the screen which formed a running sub-story, featuring nothing but negative comments about Rather. As we learned from our monitoring for OUTFOXED, these printed "facts" form a subtle subliminal commentary on the story. They can reinforce a negative image (as they do in this case) or they can offer FOX viewers positive facts to counter-balance a story unfavorable to the administration.


Gibson started the show off with what was obviously the theme of the day, CBS's "black eye." Those two words were picked up throughout the day by various hosts and guests.

GIBSON: "... Three executives and a news producer out the door, but Dan Rather escaping the sharp edge of the ax."

Todd Connor delivered a report from FOX Headquarters in New York. He noted that Dan Rather had not repudiated the actual content of the memos because Rather believes that the content of the documents is true. According to Connor, Rather said that "The facts are right on the money." He then launched into one of the mantras for the day: "As far as political motivation at CBS, the Panel found certain actions that could support such charges. However, it said it cannot conclude that a political agenda drove either the timing of the segments - about two months before the election - or its content."

This report segued into a panel discussion featuring John Gibson, Reese Shonfeld (co-founder of CNN), Eric Burns (host of FOX News Watch) and Alex Jones (Director of the Shorenstein Center at Harvard).

Shonfeld came right out and said that CBS had been "suckered" and in their eagerness to be the first to break the story, they allowed themselves to be sloppy in how they vetted it. He went on to say that Dan Rather "should have resigned because he embarrassed CBS the day it happened just as ... Don Rumsfeld should have resigned the day Abu Graib was announced."

FOX's Eric Burns said that CBS wanted to believe the story so badly they believed Bill Burkett, their source for the memos, and that Burkett "made up a name because he didn't have a source or, at least, a source he'd reveal." Burns said "I believe they wanted to believe the story because it satisfied certain political inclinations."

When Gibson asked what else but a political agenda could explain CBS's mistake, Alex Jones of Harvard replied: "If you believe that a political agenda drives the news entirely, then how do you explain the press going after Bill Clinton so ferociously?" He continued by noting that media and people make mistakes because they are driven by the need to beat other media outlets to the story in a highly competitive marketplace. The pressure was intense at CBS because ratings put them in third place. Jones concluded that if "all the elements for putting the kind of super pressure to get something on the air" were present than, "... they did not live up to their own standards. I don't think that it's fair to think that politics played no part in this but, to ascribe it all to politics or even mainly to politics, I don't really buy it."

Gibson turned to Burns for the FOX News spin and asked: "Eric, it seems that what we're talking about is a system that didn't work .. but does that explain it?"

Burns dutifully took issue with Jones on the issue of mistakes. "There's always a reason for a mistake - because you're tired, you're drunk, someone gave you the wrong information." However, Burns contended that it is up the media watchdogs to figure out why CBS made this particular mistake, saying "That's why I think - and I'm not suggesting, as Alex said, that there's a whole system of political bias here that explains everything that's done in the media - it seems to me it's the only reasonable answer for this particular question."

Gibson asked "Was this a story that was just too perfect to check?" to which Shonfeld replied in the negative. Shonfeld went on to contradict Burns' earlier statement about how Burkett got the documents. "Burkett said he got the documents from a guy at a gun show down in Texas. I believe he probably did. I think they - somebody - set CBS up, gave them the documents, let them look them, knew this was a story they wanted to believe and they got what they deserved."

Gibson pounced on this one: "...Are you saying someone set them up?"

SHONFELD: "I'm not gonna ..

GIBSON: "What do you mean you're not gonna go there? ... Are you saying that people who wanted to expose CBS for what those people thought CBS was, set ‘em up or somebody just wanted to get Bush?"

SHONFELD: "... I think it's the other way. People, who felt that CBS could be tempted very easily to do a story like this, slipped them the documents and just sat back and waited. And Dan was suckered, the whole department was suckered, and they went on the air with that kind of stuff." [COMMENT: If Shonfeld's suspicion is correct - and it is only a supposition , not proven fact - the most obvious perpetrator would be the person who got all the publicity. That would be Harry W. MacDougald, the lawyer who uncovered the forgery within four hours of the story being aired. MacDougald is a conservative activist who pushed to disbar Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky case.)

Eric Burns pointed out that all CBS had to do was check out the guy at the gun show, track him down and verify the authenticity of the documents.

JONES: ".. the Senior Producer of that show [Mary Mapes] was the 800 pound gorilla at CBS at that moment, because she'd broken the Abu Graib story. She had a long history. She was trusted. She was respected. And she put her own personal credibility on the line for it. She said it's absolutely the case ... It was not good enough ... You did not have to identify the guy first. All you had to do was listen to your own experts."

Gibson asked vehemently how Ms. Mapes could possibly have ignored orders from her own boss.

JONES: "It explains it because in a culture of trust, people get trusted. That's why you have procedures and editors and they did not do their job. That's why this thing has been such an embarrassment. They didn't do what they should have done but, I mean, my god, you work for a news organization. Do you think there's any institution in the world where people don't screw up? They did. They screwed up bad and they paid a terrible price."

GIBSON: "Well, I work for a news organization and, when an order comes down from the top - "Do the following things" - if you don't do it, I guarantee there's going to be trouble." Gibson went to to say: "You were a head of CNN. You know the pressures to get things on the air. When the story is about a sitting President, attacking him on his military service, in the middle of an election campaign, how does the rush to get something on the air trump the weight of the allegations?"

SHONFELD" "I don't think you give a damn about whether he's the President or not the President. When you get a story that you can't run down, that you can't check, you don't put it on the air, whether it's about the President of the United States or somebody collecting garbage. .. The guy was suckered. They did a bad job and .. what's happening to them, they truly deserve."

The following BIG FACTS flashed on the screen during the preceding 10 minutes, from 5:00 to 5:10 PM EST



Sept. 8: Story on Bush's Guard Service Airs on "60 Minutes"

Sept. 8: W.H. E-mails Memos to Reporters and Editors

Sept. 9: "60 Minutes" Report Is on Front Page of NY Times

Sept. 10: Rather Says No Evidence Memos Were Forged.

Sept. 15: CBS Promises to Probe Memos Authenticity

1974: Rather Is Flippant with Watergate-embroiled Nixon

1981: Rather Succeeds Walter Cronkite, Ratings Plummet

1986: Rather Punched by Man Asking "What's the Frequency?"

1987: 6 Minutes of Dead Air When Rather Misses Post-Tennis News

1988: Rather Attacks Bush in Iran-Contra Period Interview

1992: Rather Denied Access to Bush at Convention

1994: REM Hit Commemorates "What's the Frequency?"

Sept. 2004: Rather Admits Natl Guard Docs may Not Be Real

Rather Will Leave "CBS Evening News" March 9

Rather Has Served Anchor for CBS Since March 9, 1981

Memos Questioned Bush's Service in the Natl Guard

CBS Claimed to Obtain Docs from Bush's Squad Cmdr

Memos Suggested Bush Had Favorable Treatment

Docs Suggested Bush Didn't Meet Performance Standards

From 5:57 to 5:59 PM EST John Gibson interviewed FOX Senior Business Correspondent Terry Keenan on the topic of CBS's stock.

GIBSON: CBS admits that mistakes were made by their news department but it doesn't seem to be hurting the parent company's bottom line ..."

KEENAN: "[CBS] is doing very well, John.... While financially while "60 Minutes" is a very valuable franchise, it's not like "Dateline" in the sense that it doesn't really support the entire network lineup and, of course, back in 1993, when "Dateline" had it's own scandal, it had much more of a ratings impact. This seems to have no ratings impact. In fact, "60 Minutes" itself added a million new viewers in what was its 37th year in 2004, so the viewers are not leaving "60 Minutes" either.

GIBSON: Well, what about the "CBS Evening News"? I mean, "60 Minutes" is doin' well. Even "60 Minutes Wednesday" doin' well. CSI - doin' well. But the "CBS Evening News" is seeing some shockingly low numbers.

KEENAN: Yes. In the basement. Continues to be so. Dead last. In 3rd place there. Some of the other CBS News programs, most notably their morning program, is benefitting kind of on the coattails of the evening lineup, so "CBS Morning News" is doing pretty well. Still "Evening News" [is] in the basement - one reason why the replacement for Dan Rather is even more important, though Les Moonves, the head of CBS, maintains that "CBS Evening News" continues to be profitable.

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