Damage Control Consultant on CBS' Situation

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Sept. 16, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

Watch "Special Report With Brit Hume" weeknights at 6 p.m. ET!


DAN RATHER: Are those documents authentic, as experts consulted by CBS News continue to maintain? Or were they forgeries or recreations, as Marian Carr Knox and others believe? We will keep an open mind and we will continue to report credible evidence and responsible points of view.


BRIT HUME, HOST: News organizations pride themselves on exposing corporate and government scandal. But when the scandal is centered on a TV news network, as is the case now for CBS News, how should they react in order to regain their credibility?

Damage control consultant, Eric Dezenhall joins us to analyze CBS' response to the situation in which it now finds itself.

HUME: Eric, how does this look to you from the point of someone -- if you'd been called in to advise here, what would you have advised?

ERIC DEZENHALL, DAMAGE CONTROL CONSULTANT: Well, first you have to take a look at what the problem is. And the problem is Dan Rather has historically been a radioactive personality. And when a story like this comes out, what it says to all the conspiracy theorists is Dan Rather really is Dr. Evil, you know, sitting in his basement thinking of ways to hurt Republicans. I think that is a bit farfetched.

In fact, I think the real reason why this is such a crisis is you have a deadly dynamic. You have network newscasts, which have been ego and scoop driven, colliding with a new generation of dirty tricksters who know how to exploit that. And what happens is years ago, the media had these huge investigative budgets to check. Now you don't. And when you have an ego-driven personality at the top of it, sometimes these things get out.

HUME: Well, now so what appears to have happened then? Is it -- I mean CBS keeps -- Rather keeps talking about the experts who have authenticated the documents. So far as I can only think of one who authenticated one of the documents, and even he wrote in a professional
journal a couple of years ago such authentications based on copies are not possible. So, is this position that CBS is now taking, one that gets the job done in terms of getting people to accept CBS News again, if they start doubting them?

DEZENHALL: The answer is eventually. The hardest part of my job, the hardest part of crisis management is the stage where we don't know. And because that...

HUME: You don't know what?

DEZENHALL: Where we don't know what really happened. Because what happens is we get accused of stonewalling. And so what happens is you have CBS that's trying to figure out, are these documents real? And if they're real, they will defend them savagely. Or if they are false, someone's head is going to roll.

HUME: Really? You think so?

DEZENHALL: Well, I think something seriously will happen. The problem is, right now everybody assumes these organizations are vastly competent and everybody really knows down in the basement what happened.

What I read into it is they really don't know yet. And because they don't know, everyone is accusing them of stonewalling. And I'm not so sure that's the same thing.

HUME: Well, we do have a situation, which we know that at least two of the four document experts, consulted by CBS, warn them not to go with this. The one that apparently came as close, as far as we know to authenticating the documents as anyone, had written in a professional journal that such authentications are not possible. So you think that somebody might have some suspicions that these things are not quite on the up and up.

DEZENHALL: Well, I think where they're getting into trouble is on one hand, saying even though some of these documents might not be right, we still stand by the story.

HUME: Now, what about that?

DEZENHALL: And that to me is the crux of where they're in trouble, not because I believe they're stonewalling, because I really don't. I think what's happening is Rather personality wise wants to have it both ways, and that's a very hard thing to do.

In terms of what they should do, because that's what you asked earlier on, my hunch tells me that what they're going to have to end up doing is not running from this but embracing this. And by embracing it, I mean you have a blue-ribbon panel, a Walter Cronkite-type of characters comes in and says this is what happened.

And we not only find out who the perpetrators are, but you then begin to not only smoke out the perpetrators, but to talk about what this means in the context of where network news has gone.

HUME: Right. But in the meantime, can you continue to cling to the story while trying to figure out what happened? I mean do you have to, for at least temporarily suspend your belief in the story and your promotion of it, while you investigate to find out what happened?

DEZENHALL: I think what you have to do in the situation like that is often straddled. Because the conventional wisdom is come out and apologize right away. The problem with that, Brit, is when you come out and disown the story when you believe that elements of it are true, it's just like why people are always saying that oh, Kobe Bryant should come out the first day and apologize when if his position is he's innocent, that's not the right strategy. So what they're doing right now is straddling. They're saying we believe in the story but we don't believe in all the documents, but...

HUME: But there's no blue ribbon commission, though. There's nobody doing that.

DEZENHALL: No. But what I do believe is look, CBS and Dan Rather are not one and the same. Dan Rather is the most highly, visible, radioactive symbol of CBS. But there is a lot of very honorable people at CBS who are distressed about this, who are trying to get to the bottom of it. They may not be calling it blue ribbon panel but I don't know anybody at CBS who's
relaxing about this.

HUME: All right. Eric Dezenhall, great to have you. Thanks very much.


Content and Programming Copyright 2004 Fox News Network, L.L.C. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2004 eMediaMillWorks, Inc. (f/k/a Federal Document Clearing House, Inc.), which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon Fox News Network, L.L.C.'s and eMediaMillWorks, Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.