Memogate: What's Going on at CBS?

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," Sept. 15, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: CBS News is an enormous company with almost unlimited power. In the early '80s, both Liz Trotta and I were CBS correspondents based here in New York City. Now we both work for FNC. I better keep that right or I won't be working here much longer. Liz Trotta (search) joins us now.

CBS just released a statement saying they're going to stand behind the story for the time being, but they are going to redouble their efforts to answer any and all questions about it.

Now we hope, because we've been negotiating with CBS to have Dan Rather (search) come on this broadcast tomorrow, to be fair to him, and answer some questions about it. How does it work inside? They've been doing this all day long. But who has the power at CBS right now?

LIZ TROTTA, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: The lawyers probably have a lot of power now, but he is their brand name. He's close to retirement, of course, but he's the brand name. And if the brand goes bad, they're in big trouble. There's no way in the world that they can admit any wrongdoing, especially...

O'REILLY: You mean they can't even say that they got snookered?

TROTTA: Well, they might want to say that, but no one's going to believe that. I think the opportunity to tell all and say, "Look, we got snookered," or "We misunderstood that," or "We trusted somebody who was inexperienced..."


TROTTA: ...which is probably what happened.

O'REILLY: But I mean, look, this is a complicated situation. You got a million experts throwing a million things at everybody.

TROTTA: That's right.

O'REILLY: The public's not going get into that. They're just going to get the overall impression. And the overall impression, according to the polls is that CBS used bad stuff.

TROTTA: Yes, yes. You see, and it's not the first time. In 1982 when they took on General Westmoreland (search), so much so and practically destroyed the man, Westmoreland sued. They settled out of court, but they broke practically every one of their CBS standards, which used to be the Ten Commandments.

O'REILLY: All news examinations, including this one, make mistakes.


O'REILLY: And it just happens. CNN had the Tailwind deal.

TROTTA: Exactly.

O'REILLY: You can do that because it's complicated process. But you believe that Dan Rather is holding most of the power at CBS or do you think that Moonves and these guys...

TROTTA: He is the emperor. And the way it usually works and I'm probably telling you what you already know is that you get an assignment. The main deal if you're working for the evening news, you're working for "60 MINUTES" is to make sure that you get things good for Dan. And Dan wants things good and he wants them pretty fast.

O'REILLY: But Rather trusts his producers, though. See, Rather doesn't go out and look at these documents.

TROTTA: Yes, but there's where the weak link usually is. Arnett at CNN...

O'REILLY: Right, Arnett, very savvy reporter.

TROTTA: Right. But he had a mindset towards being against the war in Vietnam.

O'REILLY: Right.

TROTTA: So he was more than willing to believe what an inexperienced reporter...

O'REILLY: So you believe that Rather had a mindset to want to believe the documents were real?

TROTTA: There's one other thing I want to say to clarify that: There's a big difference between being a reporter and a producer. And you know that from being in television.


TROTTA: And the public is not aware of that. But the reporter normally, the way CBS started working not so many years ago is that the producer became the reporter, which is a whole different kind of animal.

O'REILLY: And the reporter reads the script.

TROTTA: And the reporter reads. And they have to fight to even write the script. And here's a reporter that is a very special set of skills sort of sidelined. Or if he's...

O'REILLY: Well, that's what I was trying to get across.


O'REILLY: Dan Rather does the "CBS Evening News" and then he gets plugged into "60 MINUTES" pieces.

TROTTA: That's right.

O'REILLY: So he doesn't do the "60 Minutes" research himself.

TROTTA: That's right. That's right.

O'REILLY: Now with all of the chaos here, wouldn't it be better for CBS to say, "We're going to do an internal investigation and put Don Hewitt in charge of it, somebody like that?"

Somebody who's got a very, very good reputation and "We'll see how it shakes out?"

TROTTA: OK, they did that in 1982. They put a man named Burton Benjamin, who was a model citizen, a great American, a great newsman. And he handed them their hat. He said, "You did it all wrong."

O'REILLY: So they don't want that...

TROTTA: So, they'll never do it again. We'll never do it again.

O'REILLY: Really?

TROTTA: Oh yes.

O'REILLY: 22 years later they'll hold on to that, huh?

TROTTA: I don't think you can conclude otherwise, do you?

O'REILLY: Really? Because I think that that would be the way to go here, unless CBS within the next day or two can produce documents to say it's strong.

TROTTA: Right.

O'REILLY: But in the meantime, by the time an in-house report is done, there was a victim. And the victim in that case was General Westmoreland.

You know, as that Reagan official said one time, "Where do I go to get back my reputation after they've ruined it?"

O'REILLY: Yes, but Westmoreland had lots of money. All right, well, we're hoping that Dan Rather will be here tomorrow. And we promise we'll be fair. I think we've been fair so far. And I would like to hear what Mr. Rather has to say. Liz, thanks very much. Nice to see you.

TROTTA: Thank you. Very nice to see you.

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