A Kerry Connection in the CBS Scandal?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," Sept. 21, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN GIBSON, HOST: CBS is having an independent panel look into the reporting of the president's National Guard service. Is that enough? Can the network be trusted on political stories?

Joining me from Washington, the president of the Media Research Center (search), Brent Bozell, and senior fellow at the Shorenstein Center (search), Marvin Kalb.

Brent, let me go to you first. What about this call from Mary Mapes (search), the "60 Minutes" producer, to Joe Lockhart and then Lockhart getting in contact with Burkett? What does that show you?

BRENT BOZELL, PRESIDENT OF THE MEDIA RESEARCH CENTER: I said 10 days ago on this network that this thing smelled like a dead fish. And every day that goes by, we're learning more and more and more. It really is getting to be quite an ugly situation.

If this is true, then this stuff about an unimpeachable source is nonsense. This stuff about being misled is nonsense. If this is true, then CBS was in collusion with the Kerry campaign to try to undermine the re-election of the president of the United States. And you can't have it any other way. This is serious, serious stuff.

GIBSON: Marvin Kalb, do you think it's as Brent put it?

MARVIN KALB, SENIOR FELLOW AT THE SHORENSTEIN CENTER: No, I don't think it's as Brent put it, but I think that's why you have me on the program. I think that Brent is leaping a bit too far ahead of the facts at the moment. I haven't done any independent reporting on this, but my understanding of what happened is that there was some kind of a deal between the source and Mapes; it had to do with whether these documents would be given by the source to Mapes.

Mapes obviously wanted the documents. She did the source a good turn. She should never, ever have done that. That is a lapse in journalistic judgment; it was a huge mistake on her part. But then to leap way beyond that and to say that there was collusion then between the Kerry campaign and this source I think is way, way out of bounds.

GIBSON: Well, Mr. Kalb, let me put it this way. Mary Mapes is way too experienced for this to be judged a simple mistake. Does it show a bias on her part that she wanted to help the Kerry campaign; put these two people together? I think she's quoted as saying, "Advance or move this story along."

KALB: Yes, well, I think she wanted to move this. I don't know Mary Mapes — never worked with her. But I don't know whether she was trying to do something that had a political tinge to it; I don't know. What I do know from the evidence that I read and that's all I know, that is that she did something that from any news organization's point of view, from the ethics of journalism, is simply wrong. She should never have done it.


KALB: But we can't carry it beyond that because we don't know.

GIBSON: Brent, make the case then.

BOZELL: I think we can.

GIBSON: Brent, I want you to make the case that — because evidently you believe it — it isn't, as Mr. Kalb says, just a mistake, but an indicator of the systematic liberal bias. Why?

BOZELL: Look, here is what we know. We know this fellow Burkett was attempting to destroy George Bush. We know he hates George Bush. Mary Mapes knew this; she has met with him in previous times. She knows who this person is. He has information he wants to give to the Kerry campaign that would do just that and she facilitated it. What more do we need to know about this?

GIBSON: Mr. Kalb, a week ago you said that the issue is not Rather, he's not running for president, George Bush is running for president, and the focus ought to — at least as far as journalists go — be on that, and that the topic of discussion, the facts of George Bush's service outweighs this question of whether there's a phony document.

Do you still believe that a week later?

KALB: Yes, I do. Yes, I do. I do. I do.

GIBSON: You don't believe that somebody purveying a forgery is an important story?

KALB: Of course it is an important story; don't twist what I said. What I said is very simple: There have been two issues from the very beginning. The story and the way in which CBS did it. CBS clearly did it wrong. It's acknowledged that. That's accepted. Let's move on.

What is left is the story. There are six months in George Bush's life below the radar screen. If there's nothing there, put this stuff out, and that would be the end of the story. But it is not being put out. What is being put out is a series of releases that started by the White House in January of this year and it was said at that time that that was the end of it, that was all of the information that the administration had.

But then twice since then, the Pentagon has put out information — just put it out. We knew that in Watergate, just lay it out.

BOZELL: Marvin, with all due respect, you've got CBS putting forward these documents that are forgeries, that are frauds, and then you have a CBS reporter admonishing the president in a national news report for not responding to those documents and those charges. Isn't that outrageous?

KALB: Who was that who did that?

BOZELL: John Roberts. Isn't that outrageous? Wouldn't you agree to that? Or CBS to say that Laura Bush, who said she believed they were forgeries, didn't provide any evidence; to say that in a national newscast. These are things that are...

KALB: What's wrong with that last statement?

BOZELL: Because she was asked, if therefore, she said, "Yes, I believe they're forgeries."

That's all she said and she went on to the next question. Everybody else is talking about the evidence.

KALB: No, I read the first lady's comments. They were at length. She stated obviously...

GIBSON: OK. Mr. Kalb...

BOZELL: It was a cheap shot, Marvin.

GIBSON: ... if I can just wrap this up.

Mr. Kalb, tell me why you think that it is OK at this point, or incumbent upon us, really, to just skip over what appears to be a forgery scandal and move on to what you characterize as the important issues: what George Bush was doing. Why?

KALB: Why? Because he is running for re-election as president of the United States of America.

GIBSON: But somebody is purveying a forgery to try to prevent that.

KALB: Do you believe that a forgery is as important a news story as the re-election of the president? Because if you do, you have a different sense of news than I do.

GIBSON: Wasn't that the theory behind the dirty tricks of the Nixon administration, that that was as important, if not as important as anything else?

KALB: One has to do with fact; one has to do with the personality, the character, the nature of the person we are asking the American people to re-elect. It's a simple issue of journalistic balance.

If you think that the CBS story is more important than the election, fine, then run with it. I don't agree with you.

GIBSON: All right. Thanks to both Brent Bozell and Marvin Kalb. Appreciate it, both of you.

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