News Vet Dan Rather's Credibility at Stake

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," Sept. 16, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: Now for the top story tonight, two differing views on the media shift. Joining us from Washington, Tom Shales, who writes about television for The Washington Post. And here in New York, the editor of The Wall Street Journal's online editorial page James Taranto.

Do you really believe that this is it for the dominance of the elite liberal media?

JAMES TARANTO, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, I think this is something that's been a long time in the making. We had the rise of talk radio in the late '80's. We had the rise of Fox News channel in the mid '90's. And now we have the rise of the bloggers.

And the bloggers were all over this story within hours of CBS running the story. Bloggers identified this as an obvious fraud. And then the rest of the media got on board. The Washington Post, Mr. Shales' paper did a brilliant job reporting this. And what we see is a much more competitive media marketplace than we had 20 years ago.

O'REILLY: What are the implications then if The New York Times, because they were always the agenda setter. They would write something and then the network news would read it and pick up on that theme. Now if that's not going to happen anymore, what is the implications for the country?

TARANTO: I think the implication is that there will be a lot more voices out there. It's going to be a lot more competitive. And I think that serves the cause of...

O'REILLY: Will it be a lot more confusing? Won't the truth be harder to come by because you're going to have all this innuendo and rumor and stuff floating into the discourse?

TARANTO: Well, who put the innuendo and rumor into the discourse last week? It was CBS News with these phony memos. And you know, for every innuendo and rumor you can point to on the Internet, you can point to some in the mainstream media as well. And different voices act as checks on each other.

O'REILLY: Let's let Mr. Shales reply to that?

TOM SHALES, WASHINGTON POST: Well, I love the idea, first of all, that The Wall Street Journal isn't part of the elite in this country. They always take the side of giant corporations. And their editorials are usually laughed off because everyone knows exactly what position they'll take on every issue.

To try to extrapolate from this unfortunate incident and say that there's some sort of sea change in America, and that the liberal elite is no longer setting the agenda, and I don't think that it ever was true in the first place, is ridiculous. And I think we should remember that this is something -- also, he spoke with such conviction that the memos are fake. We still don't know. I mean, one person says yes. One person says no. There's a little "th," there's not a "th."

One woman said...

O'REILLY: Yes, but the evidence is getting overwhelming.

SHALES: woman said the memo's a fake, but what they say is true. Now what the hell does that mean?

O'REILLY: Well, look, I'm going to go out on a limb here, Mr. Shales...

SHALES: Well...

O'REILLY: ...and tell you that in the next segment, we have somebody who looked at those, an expert...


O'REILLY: ...and was going to tell you that at least four of them are bogus. And I think that'll turn out to be true.

But the point of it is that you don't believe there's going to be a power shift. You don't believe that? You don't believe that Fox News and talk radio and the Internet has cut into the influence of, say, The New York Times and the network news. You don't believe that?

SHALES: Yes, certainly there have been changes. CNN itself was a change when it came along all those years ago. But you're a journalist. Do you sit around thinking about how much power you have? Do you think about...

O'REILLY: No, but I know that Fox News -- we've been on the air eight years now come early October.


O'REILLY: And we have -- we wield a lot of influence now. And the elites don't like that. You don't like it that much, I don't think.

SHALES: Well, the elites...

O'REILLY: Am I wrong?

SHALES: You're wrong by Rupert Murdoch (search). I mean, he's not exactly the common man.

O'REILLY: Yes, we'll just a little cable -- scrappy, you know, a little scrappy cable network.

SHALES: Part of a gigantic worldwide media empire. Rupert Murdoch is a globally...

O'REILLY: Well, that's not -- look, Rupert's not anchoring any of the programs here. It's just me...

SHALES: Yes...

O'REILLY: ...this barbarian bully, me.

SHALES: I wish you would tell him to turn up the air-conditioning while he's at it.

O'REILLY: We got to pay our bills.

SHALES: Let's remember, this is something, excuse me, this is something that has happened to Dan Rather (search) if indeed the memos are false, not something Dan Rather perpetuated. I can't quite see him sitting at home in his study at midnight, you know, trying to ...

O'REILLY: I agree with you on that. I agree with you. You know what the problem is here, and I want you speak to this, Mr. Taranto, Dan Rather is stretched too thin. He does a nightly newscast. He does, you know, documentaries. He does "60 Minutes." They hand him stuff. He reads it, but the mistake was that they stood behind the story that's falling apart.

TARANTO: Yes, and I think they went after the story. And they believed these memos, in part, because they wanted to believe it, but there's...

O'REILLY: Do you believe that, though?

TARANTO: Oh, sure. I think they...

O'REILLY: Do think you believe that they wanted to believe the story and didn't vet it firmly enough?

TARANTO: I think there's no question about that. If you look at some of the reporting that The Washington Post among others have done, some of the experts CBS consulted said they had raised red flags about these memos and they were ignored. CBS went...

O'REILLY: Well, we're going to play one of them in a minute. But if that's true, if they wanted to believe it, they would be almost self-destructive in doing so, because I don't believe that Dan Rather's going to come back from this. I think that this will always be on him. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's what -- you know, it's almost a self-destructive thing, is it not?

TARANTO: Well, I think it is. I don't think they realize that it was, any more than Jayson Blair realized that he was going to be discovered and...

O'REILLY: It's a different thing, though.

TARANTO: But there's a great power for denial. You know, Bill, I think Dan Rather probably still believes he's going to survive this.

O'REILLY: All right, I want to ask Mr. Shales, because you've been covering CBS for a long, long time. You know how it works. Do you believe that Dan Rather's going to recover from this in the perception mode here among the American people?

SHALES: Well, it's funny about Dan. He's a larger-than-life personality. A lot of people use him as a kind of bette noir or whipping boy. You know, they'll blame Dan Rather for the evils of the world because he's such an activist anchor.

I think if Tom Brokaw (search) had broken this story, there wouldn't have been nearly as much of a...

O'REILLY: Oh, yes.

SHALES: ...a hullabaloo about it.

O'REILLY: Well, all three of them are lightning rods. They are.

SHALES: Yes, but Dan more than the others. Don't you think he stands a little taller?


SHALES: He's gotten into these controversial...

O'REILLY: Particularly with Bush the elder and then the shootout that he had with him. But right, I think that this goes with Rather now forever. I don't think he ever gets out of it.

SHALES: Well, I think they said that about the incident when he wasn't there when the tennis thing ended early and caught him offguard.

O'REILLY: Well, this is more than that.

SHALES: I think that Dan Rather can come back from anything if he levels with people. And I think he will.

O'REILLY: Absolutely.

SHALES: He's a moral man and an honest man. And I think he'll survive.


SHALES: And so will the republic, actually.

O'REILLY: Yes, but I think -- I agree with Mr. Taranto. It's much better to have all these voices checking each other. And gentlemen, very interesting discussion. We appreciate you both coming on in.

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