Dan Rather Cries on Letterman Show

This is a partial transcript from The O'Reilly Factor, September 18, 2001.

BILL O'REILLY, HOST:  In the Unresolved Problems segment tonight, it is estimated that 28% of the American people watched at least a part of the terrorism coverage on the initial day.  We here at the Fox News Channel had our highest audiences ever.  There has been some controversy, however.

Last night on the "David Letterman" program, CBS News anchorman Dan Rather actually broke down while discussing the story.  Rather -- Letterman consoled him.  The audience sealed to be very sympathetic to Rather in the situation.

Also, some radio talk show commentators have been criticized for injecting politics into the situation.  Rush Limbaugh being one of them. 

Joining us now from Los Angeles is Mark Schwed, a columnist for TV Guide and here in our New York studio, Dirk Smillie, a reporter for Forbes magazine and a former director of the news research group. 

All right, Mr. Schwed, we'll go to you first.  how about Dan Rather? What did you think?

MARK SCHWED, TV GUIDE:  Hey, the guy has been holding that one in for decades.  If you're going to -- you know, they're not supposed to cry and they're supposed to remain calm and remain objective, keep their cool, but he's not the only one, and he's the, in fact, only one who did it on an entertainment show.  He didn't do it during the news. 

I'll tell you, Peter Jennings broke -- just while I was watching, four or five times, the guy just, you know, he couldn't keep it together.

You can understand in a story like this how that might happen...

O'REILLY: Is it -- this is a tough question, but is it the duty of a national anchorman whom people  are looking to for information, but also for kind of calming the waters; is it their duty not to be as emotional as Dan Rather was?

I didn't see the Jennings thing that you're referring to.  Is it their duty to be -- to compartmentalize it and adopt a demeanor that's, you know, for example, I mean, President Bush got a little teary-eyed but if he had broken down like -- if he had broken down like Rather, I'm not sure how that would have been received. 

SCHWED:  Well, I mean, did he break down like Rather or not?


SCHWED:  He came close. 

O'REILLY:  Right, a little teary-eyed.

SCHWED:  And he was choked up. And a lot of people were choked up by this, on the air.  But to answer your question, they shouldn't be, you know, easy to say but they should not be crying on the air.  They should not be breaking down when they're trying to cover a story, especially a story like this, when it was so important, the information that they were disseminating, information that probably saved a lot of lives, too.

O'REILLY:  All right.

SCHWED:  So they should not be crying, but you can forgive the guy, you know?

O'REILLY: Oh, absolutely.  Mr. Smillie, how do you see it?

DIRK SMILLIE, FORBES:  Well, I agree, Bill.  I mean, I think you got to cut him a little bit of slack considering he spent more hours on the air...

O'REILLY: You're talking about Rather now. 

SMILLIE:  Rather.  Yeah, I mean, I think of the three anchors, Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, and Dan Rather, Dan Rather spent the most number of hours on the air.  I mean, he was spending upwards of 16 hours a day clear through the weekend last weekend. 

So, you know, he -- he is a journalist first, but journalists are human, and I think that given the fact he was on an entertainment program, an entertainment format, he wasn't in the line of fire, he wasn't in the midst of delivering breaking news, I think we can cut him that much slack.

O'REILLY: Yeah, and the audience was clearly sympathetic and I don't know how most Americans feel.  We'll get the e-mail tomorrow.

Now, on the other front, Mr. Smillie, we've had some controversy, and I can't reveal my source, but it's impeccable and very high up, that we're criticizing some of the national syndicated radio talk show hosts for injecting politics into the situation.  Trying to, not exactly point fingers, but in -- and we've done this a little bit, too; in explaining the story and how things got to the point where he terrorists were able to do what they did, you have to basically lay blame somewhere, because, obviously, we didn't stop them.

Did you -- have you seen an over amount of this, or is anybody at fault here?

SMILLIE:  Well, injecting politics into this kind of debate is just the very thing that people turn to political talk show hosts for.  So, I don't think that they're doing anything that their audiences don't expect them to do and they're oftentimes platforms for what their own audiences are saying. 

O'REILLY:  Yeah, well, I don't know about that.  Some of them stayed away.  Mr. Schwed, what do you feel?  I mean, Rush Limbaugh got in a little bit of trouble, not a little bit of trouble, but raised some controversy because he was saying, you know, the politics of the Clinton administration led up to this and that kind of a thing, although he did come down very hard on Jerry Falwell.

SCHWED:  Yeah, another guy who kind of opened up his mouth but, you know, these guys are paid a lot money to express their opinions, unlike newsmen, whose job it is, news people, whose job it is to do exactly the opposite.  And, you know, sometimes the more outrageous the opinion, the better.

O'REILLY:  Not in this kind of a case, though.  I got to tell you.  I mean, I'm a news analyst and I'm paid to express my opinion, but I had to really adopt and think about how I'm going to present the material, even when it was my opinion.  And I thought about every single word that I said the last week. 

SCHWED:  You're a wise man. And what I was about to say is, sometimes when you're a loud mouth, it's a lot easier to stick your foot in your mouth, and, you know, anybody who is pointing a finger at anybody other than the people responsible for attacking the United States of America, thinks they're nuts.

O'REILLY:  All right, Mr. Smillie.  What do you think?

SMILLIE:  Also, can I say, radio talk shows have become part of the media food chain, and, you know, there was a report recently about Arab-Americans who supposedly cheered after this incident happened last week and, you know, that was picked up by one of the networks.  I don't think there's been any evidence to show that that actually happened, but someone on a political talk radio show called that information in, and it was taken as...

O'REILLY:  Well, it's like the Internet.  I mean, but I think radio talk shows are much more important than most people do, because they give the folks a chance to, you know, interact and give their opinion, and I know they've been denigrated but I don't see that.  But I do believe that all of us commentators, journalists right now have to temper, have to think about the tone of what we're going to say.  We shouldn't censor ourselves, but we should be thinking about the tone.

I'll give you the last word on that, Mr. Schwed.

SCHWED:  You should be thinking about that all the time.  Obviously right now the tone, it's much more delicate and it's -- you know, you've got to be sensitive, but you should always be thinking about what you say and especially when you're a guy like Rush Limbaugh or Howard Stern, who is actually telling people -- saying that we should be nuking Afghanistan.  You have a responsibility and...

O'REILLY: Well, that's true.  But we can -- in certain situations you can be a lot more demonstrative and you can be a lot more outspoken and angry.  In this situation you have to take into account all the people who are suffering. 

Any final word, Mr. Smillie?

SMILLIE:   No, I completely agree.  I think, you know, freedom of the press comes with responsibility, particularly at a time like this. 

O'REILLY: Right.  OK, gentlemen, thanks very much.  We appreciate it.

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