CBS Docs Flap Effect on Elite Media

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," Sept. 20, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: Now some might consider that media bias in favor of John Kerry (search). As always, you can decide, but before you decide, consider this. The New York Times has run 12 front-page stories on the swift boat controversy, all of them either pro Kerry or neutral. Some of the headlines. "Bush Dismisses Idea That Kerry Lied on Vietnam." "Lawyer for Bush Quits over Links to Kerry's Foes." "Veterans' Group Had GOP Lawyer." "Kerry TV Ad Pins Veterans' Attack Firmly on Bush." "Friendly Fire: The Birth of an Attack on Kerry."

Now come on. If you can't see that The New York Times (search) and many other so-called elite media are rooting for John Kerry in their hard news pages, then you're a moron, with all due respect.

Both "Newsweek" and "TIME" magazines are investigating memogate. Joining us from Washington, Michael Isikoff, an investigative correspondent for "Newsweek," and here in the studio, Nancy Gibbs, editor at large for "TIME" magazine. So where am I going wrong here, Nancy, in my analysis of this deal?

NANCY GIBBS, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, you know, it is certainly true what you say about "The New York Times," but in a way, this also hurt John Kerry to the extent that he's kind of running to be president of The New York Times. You could say that so much of his campaign has assumed that the old traditional media are the arbiters of this race. And if CBS teaches us anything, it's that the arbiters are anyone with a modem or a book contract or a video camera.

O'REILLY: So your opinion is that the Kerry campaign has relied on what some believe. And I believe it's true. Our allies in the elite media, that they lied on that. And they overlooked the danger of the new alternative media.

GIBBS: I think that they relied on the old media to act as umpires. And when the Swift Boat (search) controversy erupted, one of the reasons the Kerry campaign didn't do anything about it initially was they thought, "Well, the mainstream media is going to cry foul and this is all going to go away. And it wouldn't go away. And so we shouldn't address it and elevate it."

Of course we saw that that's not at all what happened.

O'REILLY: Right. So are you sure the Kerry campaign thought that way?

GIBBS: Within the campaign, there was a lot of debate about whether to answer it. In fact, they focus grouped whether to answer it. And what they learned was that swing voters don't like negative campaigning. And they didn't want to have...

O'REILLY: That's interesting.

GIBBS: You know, he was on the attack.

O'REILLY: Do you see it that way, Michael? Or am I off base as usual?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, "NEWSWEEK" MAGAZINE: Well, you're slightly off base.

O'REILLY: Mm-hmm.

ISIKOFF: Look, the mainstream media aggressively investigated CBS' story. There were some pretty groundbreaking stories, not just by bloggers on the Internet, by The Washington Post.

We, at "Newsweek," first outed Bill Burkett last week and identified him as a principal source for the story and raised questions about his credibility, which were known on the record from when he first went public last February with his allegations about the destruction of Guard records. So, I don't think there was any protecting of John Kerry here or...

O'REILLY: No, I didn't say there was, but I your colleague, Evan Thomas, made a statement that he believes 80 percent of the elite media — maybe I'm misquoting the percentage — but the vast majority favors Kerry. And that's my thesis here that, yes, you're right. The Washington Post, even The L.A. Times, The Dallas Morning News all got in and said something wrong with this story, but they didn't break it. It was broken by bloggers on the Net. And then it was chatted up by 24-hour cable and talk radio. Talk radio, I'm on talk radio. I want to get away. I can't.


O'REILLY: What Nancy is saying is, look, the Kerry campaign from word go has underestimated the brave new world of the media in this country. And now with the disintegration of CBS over this — now I don't mean the whole organization, but that has taken away from the Kerry campaign. You'd think Dan Rather was running for president.

ISIKOFF: There's no question. This is a huge blow for CBS and Rather, obviously, and I think for investigative journalism overall. I mean, it actually makes me quite angry when I look at how apparently slipshod the checking was on this story and how determined they were to defend it, even when there were legitimate questions being raised from the get-go about this.

I just want to come back to the point that you say, "You know, the 80 percent or whatever of..."

O'REILLY: I didn't say that. Evan Thomas.

ISIKOFF: I don't know what he said. But the fact is: The bottom line is most of us really are professionals. Most of us really try to be honest brokers on this...

O'REILLY: All right, then explain The New York Times Swift Boat vis-à-vis the Guard for Bush. Explain that to me.

ISIKOFF: Well, I'm not going to...

O'REILLY: No, you can't explain it. Nobody can.

ISIKOFF: But I will say I read plenty of stories in The New York Times just in the last two weeks raising questions about these documents.

O'REILLY: Yes, on page 23.

ISIKOFF: This is not the same guys who were doing...

O'REILLY: No, no. Not on page one. On page 23....


O'REILLY: ...they work.


O'REILLY: Now look, they get 12 Swift Boat stories, all neutral to favorable to Kerry on page one. And then they bring up this Guard story. There's no news in that. Come on, Michael, you know what they're doing over there. They've been doing it since the word go. I'm not trying to impugn everybody.


O'REILLY: I'm just saying — and The New York Times sifts the coverage for a lot of the network news. You know that.

ISIKOFF: You're right. Well, look, I do think that one consequence of the CBS debacle here is that it's going to take the sting out of the liberal charge that there's conservative propaganda machine exemplified by Fox News...

O'REILLY: Oh, absolutely.

ISIKOFF: ...that's been attacking...

O'REILLY: They're the big winner here. Absolutely.

Are we? Isn't Fox News the big winner in all this?

GIBBS: There are a lot of winners in this.

O'REILLY: I'm talking about the big winner.

GIBBS: OK, yes, we're the big winner.

O'REILLY: Thank you, ma'am.


O'REILLY: Well, we are, because we've been accused of that x, y, z. We'd never do anything like this.

GIBBS: But listen, we're getting none of those. Really out there, all by himself, I think, was not in making a mistake, which all of us has made at one time or another.

O'REILLY: Correct.

GIBBS: But when he was confronted with the mistake...

O'REILLY: He did not...

GIBBS: First thing that he did was to challenge the motives of the people confronting him. Now you know, quite apart from the bloggers on the Internet, National Public Radio and The Washington Post are not card-carrying members of the vast right-wing conspiracy.

O'REILLY: Well, that's true. But I didn't even see that. I just think they should have said, "Look, we'll get to the bottom of it."

All right, Michael, who's this Burkett guy? What do you know about him? And is this going to be a bigger story?

ISIKOFF: Well, it's already a big story, but Bill Burkett actually first surfaced last February when he went public with these allegations that he was witness to the destruction of Guard documents in 1997 under the orders of Joe Allbaugh, who was then Governor Bush's chief of staff.

I interviewed Bill Burkett at some length in February of this year. And, frankly, I thought he sounded credible. He clearly had some very serious charges. And I took them very seriously and then set out to investigate them at the time.

And the problem was that I couldn't substantiate key aspects of his story and...

O'REILLY: Was it the same stuff that he peddled to CBS?

ISIKOFF: No, he did not. No, no, he did not claim to have documents. What he was talking about was his personal observations about being — witnessing the destruction of these documents.

O'REILLY: All right. But what's important now is this. Are they going to be able to link Burkett into the Kerry campaign at any level?

ISIKOFF: Well, we do know that he was posting Internet postings on a Texas Democratic party Web site. Anybody could do that.

O'REILLY: Right.

ISIKOFF: We do know that he called up former Senator Max Cleland and offered some valuable information to the Kerry campaign about President Bush. But we don't know that it went any further than that.


ISIKOFF: I've talked to people in the Kerry campaign. They are quite insistent that they never had any contact with...

O'REILLY: And we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

ISIKOFF: And I have no evidence that they did.

O'REILLY: Right. Just as we gave the Bush administration the benefit of the doubt in the Swift Boat thing, that they didn't orchestrate that. We'll do the same thing with the Kerry campaign.

Now Nancy, you don't have anything else on Burkett, do you?


O'REILLY: OK. You interviewed President Bush earlier this summer, correct? I'm going to talk to him this week. You write that President Bush — and this is in this week's "TIME" magazine — this 3.5 years in office. He's only given 15 press conferences, the fewest of any president in 50 years. And he hasn't talked to The Washington Post or The New York Times in three years, but he's coming on "The O'Reilly Factor."

Now I'll submit to you that he doesn't trust the elite media with good reason. He just doesn't trust them.

GIBBS: Well, the real advantage that the Republicans have in this race, and we're seeing this week how it is working, is that they've never relied on the mainstream media to get their message out.

O'REILLY: Right.

GIBBS: This goes back 50 years. And so, it's not an accident...

O'REILLY: If you were President Bush, would you talk to media that time and time again don't give you a fair play?

ISIKOFF: I'd like to see a president talk to everyone. I know how much we learned at "TIME" by getting to talk to him.

O'REILLY: But you wrote a fair article. I thought your article was fair to him. You didn't get any jazz from the White House, did you, afterward?

GIBBS: No, they thought it was fair. They said we don't agree with everything, which...

O'REILLY: Right.

GIBBS: know, but that it was fair.

O'REILLY: But I mean, look, people said, "Well why did you get it?"

I said, "Because I interviewed Bush the last time around and I gave him a fair cut. He had a fair cut. So that's why he's doing it."

He doesn't trust these guys. And then, the evidence we just presented I think shows that, as Evan Thomas said, 80 percent of the elites are rooting for Kerry. Would you disagree with that?

GIBBS: I don't know that anyone has even identified who exactly qualifies as the elites much less has...

O'REILLY: The national press, basically.

GIBBS: But you know, the problem is actually is not how the press identifies themselves or what they think. The issue right now is what the voters and the viewers and the readers and what they think as they either watch this meltdown at CBS or as they watch your program or as they listen to the radio and where they're getting their news and how polarized even the sources of information are, much less the debate about what the information means.

O'REILLY: Right. No, absolutely. Michael, last question for you. I can't get away from this story, this CBS story on talk radio. I can't. The lines are jammed every time I go on the air. I try to shift the subject. They want to come back. Do you see this having more legs? Does this continue throughout this week?

ISIKOFF: Well, it certainly has more legs because there's a lot of unanswered questions about how CBS went about this story, who actually provided these documents in the first place. We understand Burkett has now changed his story about where he got the documents. Well, where did the documents come from? I mean, somebody created these documents.

O'REILLY: Right.

ISIKOFF: And I think until we know the answer to that, the story doesn't go away.

O'REILLY: And for CBS, they have put a whole bunch of reporters, I think 12 reporters. And they're the ones — they need to find out who it is. I mean, they're the ones who need to break that story.

GIBBS: I agree. Yes.

O'REILLY: All right, Michael, thank you. Ms. Gibbs, as always, nice to see you.

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