This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," Nov. 23, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
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ALAN COLMES, C0-HOST: After 24 years, Dan Rather (search) is calling it quits. He'll step down in March as the anchor of "The CBS Evening News" in a move that he says has been in the works since last summer.
But did the Memogate scandal and the ensuing investigation hasten his departure? And will we ever know what really went on behind the scenes of the now debunked National Guard story?
Joining us now is former CBS News correspondent, the author of the best selling books "Bias" and "Arrogance", out now in paperback, by the way, Bernie Goldberg (search).
Bernie, welcome back to the program.
BERNIE GOLDBERG, AUTHOR, "BIAS": Thank you, Alan.
COLMES: I just want to start by putting up a story that appeared in "The New York Times" awhile ago in 2003, at the end of 2003, about Dan Rather stepping down.
It said, "Though his hold on one of the most prominent jobs in journalism remains safe for the immediate future, the phone call that Mr. Rather so obviously dreads — the one telling him it is time to step aside — could well come next year, several people inside the network say."
Now, this is before Memogate.
GOLDBERG: That's right.
COLMES: So the idea that this is tied to Memogate, I just wonder if you believe that's true?
GOLDBERG: No, I think that's a very good point you just made. I think this is mainly, overwhelmingly about ratings and not Memogate. If Dan Rather had the No. 1 evening newscast, there would be no memo scandal big enough to bring him down.
Where Memogate fits in this, Alan, is in the timing of his departure. By announcing his departure now, before the investigation is completed, and by the way, the Warren Commission took less time investigating the assassination of President Kennedy.
COLMES: We don't know how accurate they were, but they took less time, yes.
GOLDBERG: Right. When this — if he had resigned or pushed out is what happened — after the commission came back with its investigation and its findings, then you'd have to connect the dots and say it looks like he was kicked out because of Memogate.
COLMES: So what you're really saying, if he was going to step down anyway around that time but not to make it look like there was a link, they decided to do it now?
GOLDBERG: That's right. It's a public relations thing. They're ahead of the story now. If they did it after the investigation was completed, they'd be — they'd be answering questions about whether Rather was going to have to go because of that.
It's mainly about ratings. As I say, if Dan Rather had better ratings, we wouldn't be talking about this.
COLMES: But he's been — he's been pretty much — he hasn't had great ratings for about a decade, right? I mean, so why now, all of a sudden, do ratings matter if he hasn't had those numbers for a number of years?
GOLDBERG: Right, exactly. This is where the memo scandal does play into it.
The CBS executives must have some inkling that the investigation is not going well for Dan Rather and CBS News. So if they push him out now, rather than afterwards when the investigation says, let's say, Rather was sloppy and he wasn't paying enough attention or whatever it might say, then they're going to be spending all of their time answering questions about Rather and his supposed — his liberal bias and things like that.
If you get rid of him now before the investigation is complete, you don't have to deal with that.
And by the way, just FYI, I've been hearing on cable television all day today that the investigation is going to be complete any day now, maybe even as early as the end of this week.
I can — I'm speaking now as a reporter, not as a commentator. I can tell you that's not true. The report will not be issued this week and almost certainly not next week either.
COLMES: It's kind of a shame in a way, isn't it? That here's a guy who had a great career in many ways, Afghanistan, Nixon, Watergate, Kennedy. And yet this is what we're talking about as his waning moments as anchor of "The CBS Evening News" is happening.
You've got to acknowledge his successes and not just focus on this one issue?
GOLDBERG: I do. I totally do. Dan Rather is not only a courageous reporter. He's in many ways — he's a very good guy. I mean, I worked with him for 28 years. I worked directly for him for about 15 of those years.
He's funny. He's a good guy to talk to. He's incredibly generous. And as I say, in terms of being a reporter, he's first rate.
But he's got — we all have flaws. Let's state the obvious. We all have flaws. But his is that he seems unable to take serious criticism about the media and about his particular broadcast seriously. And that's a major problem.
If — the subject of liberal bias around Dan Rather, you might as well be talking about, you know, Rather robbing banks or something.
SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: Hey, Bernie.
GOLDBERG: He seems incapable of dealing with this central issue that the media has been under attack about, and that is bias in the media. That's not — that's not good at all for him.
HANNITY: How are you doing, Bernie? Good to see you, my friend.
GOLDBERG: Hi, Sean.
HANNITY: You're way ahead of the curve every time these stories come out.
But you know, I met Dan Rather during the convention. He couldn't have been nicer. On a personal level he was a very nice man. And I mean that sincerely.
But let's just go down a path for a second here. Imagine, 50 days out of an election, somebody gave me documents, little old radio and TV talk show host Sean Hannity, that turned out to be forged documents about John Kerry (search), and similarly, they had connections to the Bush campaign. Would I be here tonight talking to you?
GOLDBERG: Well, you might be here or you might not be here, but every liberal in America would be all over you and all over FOX.
And liberals are, if not defending Dan Rather, they're saying things like, "Well, let's not judge him by that," and things like that.
Listen, if Dan Rather got documents from his, quote, "unimpeachable source," and that unimpeachable source was somebody who came from the right instead of the left and was out to bring down John Kerry and his campaign instead of George Bush and his campaign, there's no way Dan would have ever proceeded with that story.
HANNITY: But the fact is, Bernie, but they dropped the case. Nobody talks about this anymore. We were 50 days out of an election, Bernie, 50. This could have turned the election, had Ben Barnes' daughter not come forward and Colonel Killian's son and wife had not come forward and tell the truth.
GOLDBERG: And all those bloggers — and all those bloggers in their pajamas in their living room, as the new head of CNN domestic put it on FOX one night, that these bloggers are just a bunch of guys in their pajamas, you know.
Well, these bloggers in their pajamas got the story right, and CBS News, with all its checks and balances, got the story wrong.
HANNITY: Well, I think that's the thing. I think the fact that it tells a story — I think that the media — this election, a major change has taken place. And because of issues like this.
And I think if people are scratching their wooden heads, why is FOX so successful, because we have both sides. That's why Alan is here. That's why we offer both sides on debate — on a debate program.
Or talk radio's success or Drudge's success or the bloggers' success is because they have failed, haven't they?
GOLDBERG: Well, I once said to one of your colleagues — I won't mention his name now to protect him from — that he knows me. But I said to one of your very high-profile colleagues once that you need to send a case of champagne to Rather, Brokaw and Jennings with nice little notes saying thanks for sending all of those viewers over to FOX. I think one of reasons for FOX's success, which is absolutely concurrent with the declining ratings of the three major networks...
It's not simply a coincidence that FOX's ratings go up each month and the network evening newscast ratings go down each month. There's a direct relationship between the two.
And I think that many people who have left the old media — CBS, NBC and ABC News — I mean, some people who left like FOX because they like the fighting, the give and take, the energy, and I say "fighting" in a good sense.
But many people left, because they get more points of view. They get intelligent liberal points of view along with intelligent conservative points of view.
GOLDBERG: And I think — I think the networks don't get that. And I think that's a central problem not just for the networks but for Dan Rather in particular.
GOLDBERG: Any time anybody criticizes, he says — he attacks the critics.
In my 28 years at CBS News, Sean, never once did anybody in a position of authority say that I was — that I had a political agenda or I was a political activist. But five seconds after I wrote about bias in the news, I was somebody with a political agenda...
GOLDBERG: ... and a political activist. That's what they do. That's what they do to their critics, and it's costing them.
HANNITY: I said this — I said this to you when your book first came out. And I read it.
And you know something, Bernie? We have to always and continually respect our audience and never take them for granted and always bend over backwards to give them a good show and be fair and offer all points of view, I think. And if we don't, then we risk becoming like them.
But I remember telling you at the time that, if they would only listen to you, they would be able to salvage what they had left.
And you know, let me quote a study here. The Center for Media and Public Affairs (search) analyzed this election, Bernie, and they came to the conclusion, quote, "John Kerry got the most favorable network news coverage of any presidential candidate in the last 25 years."
They've gotten worse, in other words.
GOLDBERG: Yes, in many ways they have. There have been slivers of sunshine since "Bias" and "Arrogance" came out, but — but I didn't call — I didn't call my second book "Arrogance" by accident. I mean, that's what they are. They just — they circle the wagons.
What was the first thing that Rather did after everybody and their dumb cousin knew that the memos were forgeries? He said it's political partisans that are out to get him. They circle the wagons the way a cheap, crooked politician circles wagons.
COLMES: Hey, Bernie, let's get — I want to talk about...
GOLDBERG: That sort of arrogance is going to bring them down.
COLMES: Let's talk about the Rather issue in terms of Memogate, as it's been called.
You've been a reporter. You know that often a reporter flies in, voices a story, goes to another city to do something else, does a second story, isn't involved in every aspect of the production of the story. You've done it. You've been there.
Is it fair, then, to blame Dan Rather to the extent that he's been blamed on this particular issue, knowing how these packages are put together?
GOLDBERG: Well, that's a very interesting point. No. 1, that's the dirty little secret of network television news, that producers do almost all the work.
COLMES: Yes. A lot of people in the control room are applauding right now.
GOLDBERG: Right. And the producers make — you know, do all the work, and they get paid a tiny fraction of what the correspondents make. They ought to revolt. If the producers all walked out...
GOLDBERG: ... the correspondents would be sitting around...
COLMES: But people see Rather and they put all the blame on him. He gets the glory, but he also gets the blame when something like this happens.
GOLDBERG: That's right. But here's the thing. And let's not be too kind tonight.
If Dan Rather didn't want this story to be true as badly as he did, bells would have gone off. There's no question he did not know, did not know that these documents were fabrications. He did not know that.
But if he was taken for a ride, he was a willing passenger, because he wanted this story to be true so bad...
COLMES: You don't know exactly what's going on inside his head and he did offer an apology at some point.
GOLDBERG: Well, I do know — I do know this. I do know this. That if a story like this came out about John Kerry, Dan Rather wasn't going to do it 55 days before the election. I'm pretty — pretty confident about that, Alan.
HANNITY: Bernie, we've got to run. Listen, Bernie, it's always good to see you, my friend. Happy Thanksgiving to you. Thanks for being with us.
GOLDBERG: Same to you.
HANNITY: And appreciate you being on board.
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