Are Two CBS News Icons Out of Control?

This is a partial transcript from The O'Reilly Factor, March 5, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST:  In the "Impact" segment tonight, for decades, CBS News (search) has been charged with a liberal tilt by some conservatives, a charge the network firmly denies.  But two CBS icons, Walter Cronkite (search) and Andy Rooney (search), both continue to make very provocative left-wing comments.

In an interview with "The San Francisco Chronicle," Cronkite calls religious opposition to gay marriage obnoxious and says he would have been happy to marry a man.

And in his column -- weekly column, Rooney wrote the same thing he said on Don Imus' radio program, that he would not see the movie "The Passion" because he doesn't want to spend $9 for, quote, "a few laughs."

With us now are Liz Trotta (search), former CBS News correspondent and current Fox News analyst, and Jonathan Klein, a former CBS News Vice President and current CEO of "The Feedroom," an online news service.

Let's go with your first, Mr. Klein, because you used to manage these guys.


O'REILLY:  Sometimes.  You add to the mix, Bill Moyers (search), a left-wing bomb thrower, if there ever was one, and you have three very prominent presences at CBS that are coming out of the closet as real far left guys.  Did you know they were that far left when you were working there?

KLEIN:  Well, I didn't overlap with Walter at all.  Walter...

O'REILLY:  He was on the board of directors, though, when you were...

KLEIN:  Yes, but I mean I came into CBS in 1982, and Walter had left there in 1981.  So he really wasn't a figure with any kind of center of gravity there as soon as he got off the air.  He may have been on the board of directors, but he really didn't have an influence anymore the way that, you know, all -- his successors and the people who came in after him did.

O'REILLY:  Right.  But still he was revered by CBS and put up there as the stalwart for many, many years.  Are you surprised at this left-wing tilt he's taken?

KLEIN:  Well, I'm not sure if it's left wing.  It's...

O'REILLY:  Well, let me read you -- are you sure you want to go there, Mr. Klein?  I've got 15 quotes.  You know, I  mean listen to this.  "I think very" -- this is Walter Cronkite.  "I think very definitely foreign policy could have caused what has happened on September 11.

"The problem is this great division between the rich and the poor in the world.  We represent the rich."  I mean our foreign policy caused 9/11?  This is about as far left as you get.  This is Noam Chompsky stuff.

KLEIN:  If you take stuff out of context, but, in the whole, I think the whole has probably uttered more words in public than any human ever, and I think, on the whole, you can look at what he said over time and know pretty much that, you know, the guy lives in a townhouse, you know, sails a yacht, lives the good life.  He's hardly what I would think of as a bomb thrower.

O'REILLY:  He wasn't married to a man when you were...

KLEIN:  Not that we know of.


What do you think, Liz?

LIZ TROTTA, FORMER CBS CORRESPONDENT:  Oh, this is hilarious.  I mean, you know, Walter is a -- is not a homosexual man.  He's a heterosexual man.  But he's also an older man now, and I think he was caught on the fly.  I think he said it in jest.  And I think he also said it because there's a sort of fashionable liberalism about it, and he is an old-time liberal.

O'REILLY:  OK, but that's the point.  Is he?

TROTTA:  Yes.  Classic.

O'REILLY:  All right.  So he's...

TROTTA:  Old-time.

O'REILLY:  ... a classic old-time liberal, all right?


O'REILLY:  And Rooney is what?

TROTTA:  Rooney's a freak.

O'REILLY:  What does that mean?

TROTTA:  Well, Rooney, is -- you know, has made a whole career out of trying to be a professional curmudgeon, when, in fact, there's quite a mean streak there, especially when he goes on Imus and says that everybody has invented God so they can tell their problems to somebody.

O'REILLY:  Well, he's an anti-religionist.  I mean...

TROTTA:  Well, it's a sort of fashionable paganism, which permeates network news, by the way.

O'REILLY:  Would he -- would Rooney be a left-wing guy, in your opinion?

TROTTA:  Oh, I think he -- well, he would die if you said that to his face, but, you see, these people all live in an echo chamber, and nobody thinks they're left wing.  They just all think the same way.

O'REILLY:  All right.

KLEIN:  But I mean Rooney's insulted women.  He's insulted blacks and Native Americans.  He's -- you know, he's insulted a rainbow coalition of Americans.

O'REILLY:  Yes, I understand, but what I'm trying to get at is I think there's some validity to the charges over the decades that CBS News was primarily a left-wing-driven organization.

KLEIN:  Well, this we know.  We know that you think that.

O'REILLY:  OK, but is that true?

KLEIN:  I don't think so.

O'REILLY:  You don't?


O'REILLY:  OK.  So you've got a Moyers, you've got a Rooney, you've got a Cronkite.  Rather -- I think Rather is more interested in being a reporter than an ideologue, but his daughter is a big Democrat in Texas and -- you know, come on.  So why would you not think it?  If everybody's quacking, why wouldn't they be a duck?

KLEIN:  Well, you have to ask who everybody is, first of all, because these guys...

O'REILLY:  Well, these are three powerful guys.

KLEIN:  These guys are -- Andy is a commentator, and he's paid to have outlandish opinions, and so, you know, in fact, without an Andy Rooney, there wouldn't be a bill O'Reilly today having a place in a network news environment.  The others have, you know, long passed through the halls of CBS and gone on to other things.

But I think, actually, what it is -- if you want to get a glimpse inside the workings of these networks, and you and I are both veterans of CBS News, along with Liz, you know that most of these people -- I'll admit there's a cult of radicalism, but it's radical narcissism more than anything else.  You know, people...

O'REILLY:  I agree with that.

TROTTA:  No, it's more than that.

O'REILLY:  Go ahead.

TROTTA:  I think it's more than that.  First of all, these people -- you mentioned Rather, for example.  These people don't live like average Americans, nor do they have contact with average Americans.

One of our favorite sayings among the correspondents when I was there -- and I like to think it was part of the glory days was -- God, does any of this stuff ever leave the building, or is it closed circuit?  And well, you know, this is really what we believe about everything.

Now take the abortion story, for example.  There is no way in the world that anybody could defend NBC or CBS or ABC on coverage of the abortion center.  I'm sorry.  It was simply a left of center approach.  Most of the people they had were radicalized feminists who were the producers working on this stuff.

KLEIN:  But you...

TROTTA:  That is the single most paramount example of where their politics come from.

KLEIN:  I won a Peabody Award at CBS news for coverage of Randall Terry (search) and the Right to Life movement, a one-hour "48 Hours" (search) episode that I reported with my friend, Bernie Goldberg (search), and...

TROTTA:  Who is conservative.

KLEIN:  ... we -- yes, exactly.  So he gave them a lot of air time...


TROTTA:  ... conservative, and so I was.

KLEIN:  ... and we made sure of it, and we won awards for it.  So I never sensed, either as a producer, which I was for 12 some odd years, or as an executive, any kind of agenda setting.

O'REILLY:  I felt that -- and I only worked there a short time -- that there was an exclusionary bias at CBS, that if you brought a story in that was praising a pro-life person, it would never make the air, and, if you brought a story in, as I did, a very controversial story about gays in Provincetown acting out on the streets and the Portuguese people who live there were appalled, it never ran.  Howard Stringer (search) killed it with the blessing of Dan Rather (search).

TROTTA:  Well, he's the epitome of what we're talking about, but, again, these people have dinner with, shop with, socialize with -- they don't go to church, for the most part.  They only do this with people of the same level or above.

O'REILLY:  Of their own...

TROTTA:  That's it.

O'REILLY:  All right.  Are Cronkite and Rooney -- are they past their prime and just saying stuff to get attention?

TROTTA:  I mean, you know, if you -- what bothers me is that there's a whole bunch of people out there in America who really believe he is a funny, little, nice-hearted, warm-hearted curmudgeon.

O'REILLY:  You're talking about Andy Rooney.

TROTTA:  As for Rather -- I think, you know, Rather knows his days are numbered.  I think network news' days are numbered.

O'REILLY:  What about Cronkite who's still put up as the epitome of the American anchorman?

TROTTA:  Well, the thing that surprised me is when Cronkite said just recently in the same interview that he came out against the war on Vietnam because CBS urged him to.  I think that was rewriting history a little.  There's no question in my mind he did it on his own, and it changed the whole face of opinion in this country.

O'REILLY:  Right.  And that actually was not a bad thing because the Vietnam War at that point...

TROTTA:  Well, I thought it was a very bad thing.

O'REILLY:  Did you?


O'REILLY:  Because I thought that war was really a destructive war.

TROTTA:  Well, we'll have to talk about that on another show.

O'REILLY:  Oh, sure.  OK.  Well, there you go.  And we tried to keep it fair and balanced, but Walter wants to marry a man, and Andy thinks the crucifixion is funny.

All right, Liz, Mr. Klein, thanks very much.

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