The White House Press Corps

Anna Marie Cox is critical of the White House press corps, describing the White House briefing room as “where news goes to die.”

Name a major political story broken by a White House correspondent. A thorough debunking of the Bush case for Iraqi WMD? McClatchy Newspapers’ State Department and national security correspondents. Bush’s abuse of signing statements? The Boston Globe’s legal affairs correspondent. Even Watergate came off The Washington Post’s Metro desk.

While the real news on Watergate came far more from journalists like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, at least White House correspondents such as Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw did put some pressure on Richard Nixon. Watching the softball coverage of George Bush in recent years was very disappointing when compared with these White House correspondents of the Watergate era.

Dan Rather Showing Progress in Case Against CBS

Before being forced from CBS News, Dan Rather exposed how George Bush had avoided going to Vietnam and fulfilling his National Guard commitments. Even if the controversial, and possibly faked, memos are ignored, Rather still had a strong story based upon other evidence. In his suit against CBS, Rather is showing that instead of being a bastion of a supposedly liberal media, CBS was, as Editor and Publisher puts it, “acting mainly to get the GOP off its back.” The New York Times reports:

So far, Mr. Rather has spent more than $2 million of his own money on the suit. And according to documents filed recently in court, he may be getting something for his money.

Using tools unavailable to him as a reporter — including the power of subpoena and the threat of punishment against witnesses who lie under oath — he has unearthed evidence that would seem to support his assertion that CBS intended its investigation, at least in part, to quell Republican criticism of the network.

Among the materials that money has shaken free for Mr. Rather are internal CBS memorandums turned over to his lawyers, showing that network executives used Republican operatives to vet the names of potential members of a panel that had been billed as independent and charged with investigating the “60 Minutes” segment…

Some of the documents unearthed by his investigation include notes taken at the time by Linda Mason, a vice president of CBS News. According to her notes, one potential panel member, Warren Rudman, a former Republican senator from New Hampshire, was deemed a less-than-ideal candidate over fears by some that he would not “mollify the right.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Thornburgh, who served as attorney general for both Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, was named a panelist by CBS, but only after a CBS lobbyist “did some other testing,” in which she was told, according to Ms. Mason’s notes, “T comes back with high marks from G.O.P.”

Another memorandum turned over to Mr. Rather’s lawyers by CBS was a long typed list of conservative commentators apparently receiving some preliminary consideration as panel members, including Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, Ann Coulter and Pat Buchanan. At the bottom of that list, someone had scribbled “Roger Ailes,” the founder of Fox News.

The News Media in the News

The media has been making much of the news the last couple of days.

Randi Rhodes has quit working for Air America, deciding she’d rather quit than apologize for calling Hillary Clinton a “f*cking whore.”

Some portions of Dan Rather’s suit against CBS have been thrown out,  but three of the seven counts will go on. This includes  $70 million claim for compensatory and punitive damages  for breaching his contract.

Besides facing this suit from Rather, things are not going well for CBS News. There is speculation that Katie Couric will be leaving as anchor at CBS after the election, with ratings remaining poor. CBS News, once a major news organization, is also talking with CNN about outsourcing some of their news gathering to them.

Dan Rather Might Call George Bush to Testify

In discussing Dan Rather’s suit yesterday I noted that the validity of the charges against Bush, even if the questionable memos are ignored. I wonder if Bush isn’t as much a target in the suit as CBS. There’s speculation that Rather will call George Bush as a witness:

Former CBS “Evening News” anchor Dan Rather choked back tears on several occasions today when discussing his decision to file a lawsuit against CBS and he left many audience members with a sense that he may call President George W. Bush as a witness should the lawsuit proceed to trial (and Rather said he hoped it would).

When asked by Carol Joynt, host of the “Q&A Café” held at Nathans restaurant who worked with Rather at CBS in the 1970s, whether “he’d like to” call President Bush as a witness in the trial, Rather paused, then said “I’d like not to answer the question,” leaving both Joynt and audience members wondering whether the newsman has Bush in his sights.” Joynt later told Yeas & Nays, “From the look in his eye — and he gave me a definite Ratheresque look — I got the impression he will call the president as a witness. Possibly both of them: 41 and 43. He implied the suit is not against them, but what the suit is about stems directly from his antagonistic relationship with them.”

It would be interesting to see George Bush testify under oath about his National Guard experience and have to respond to the ten discrepancies quoted in yesterday’s post. If Bush were to answer honestly and verify the story, this would vindicate Dan Rather. If Bush were to lie under oath, and this could be proven, would this be any less grounds for impeachment than Bill Clinton lying about an affair in the Paula Jones trial?

The Forgotten Truths of the Dan Rather Case

Dan Rather’s law suit against CBS was a much easier matter for the right wing blogosphere to jump upon than for liberal bloggers to discuss. This is a situation where there is fault on both sides. As Rather’s critics from the right are far more concerned with making political points than discovering the truth, it was a simple matter for them to repeat their usual attacks. In doing so they continue to ignore an important point. Although those who defend Bush pretend that the memos constituted the major evidence against Bush, the story about George Bush’s National Guard service was correct and stood up on its own without the questionable memos. It also remains strange that the White House never questioned these memos when given this opportunity to review the evidence before the story aired.

Dan Rather and some others continue to argue that the memos were not forgeries. A number of questions were raised, such as whether a typewriter at the time could have prepared documents in the font used. Rare typewriters from the era were found to be capable of this, but too many questions remained as to the legitimacy of the memos. Rather would be on much stronger ground, and the story would have been more effective, if it was run without use of these memos. Rather does deserve his case in court and it will be interesting to see if he does present further evidence as to the legitimacy of the documents. Even if the memos were forgeries, his entire career should not be judged on a single episode.

Rather’s defense that he had a marginal role in the development of this story also does not place him in a good light, but this is also the reality of network news. In such a case, CBS does share responsibility for any problems here and this does make Rather look like a scapegoat. Many of Rather’s complaints come down to matters of his contract and very well would best be settled in court.

While I have little concern with the details of Rather’s contract with CBS, there are matters of importance here. The most important is that it does appear that CBS did back down in the face of opposition from the Bush administration and attackers from the right. Many of the problems we currently face are partially a consequence of the media failing to do its job and investigate the false claims of the Bush administration, such as those made during the run up to the war. This raises questions as to how the media will respond in future situations where the government and right wing object to an investigation. As Eugene Robinson wrote:

The point is that when the next set of Pentagon Papers comes down the pike, how will our corporatized news media react? If such documents happened to be delivered into the hands of CBS News, would Redstone do what the Sulzbergers of the New York Times and the Grahams of The Post did back in the early 1970s? Would he put everything he owns at risk in the service of the public’s right to know?

That hope is “as thin as November ice,” Rather would say. Or maybe “as thin as turnip soup.” Take your pick.

CBS should have apologized for any error in using the memos but stuck by their story. Eric Boehlert reviews the case in depth at Media Matters. His post includes “10 discrepancies that would have gotten any other Air National Guard member severely reprimanded, and certainly would have, later in life, derailed any presidential aspirations.”

1. Upon entering the Guard, Bush agreed that flying was his “lifetime pursuit” and that he would fly for the military for at least 60 months. After his training was complete, he owed 53 more months of flying.

Bush flew for only 22 of those 53 months.

2. In May 1972, Bush left the Houston Guard base for Alabama. According to Air Force regulations, Bush was supposed to obtain prior authorization before leaving Texas to join a new Guard unit in Alabama.

Bush failed to get the authorization.

3. On his transfer request to Alabama Bush was asked to list his “permanent address.”

He wrote down a post office box number for the campaign where he was working on a temporary basis.

4. According to Air Force regulations, “[a] member whose attendance record is poor must be closely monitored. When the unexcused absences reach one less than the maximum permitted [sic] he must be counseled and a record made of the counseling. If the member is unavailable he must be advised by personal letter.”

There is no record that Bush ever received such counseling, despite the fact that he missed drills for months on end.

5. Bush’s unit was obligated to report to the Personnel Center at Randolph Air Force Base whenever a monthly review of records showed unsatisfactory participation for an officer.

Bush’s unit never reported his absenteeism to Randolph Air Force Base.

6. In July 1972, Bush failed to take a mandatory Guard physical exam, which is a serious offense for a Guard pilot. The move should have prompted the formation of a Flying Evaluation Board to investigate the circumstances surrounding Bush’s failure.

No such Flying Evaluation Board was convened.

7. On Sept. 29, 1972, Bush was formally grounded for failing to take a flight physical. The letter, written by the chief of the National Guard Bureau, ordered Bush to acknowledge in writing that he had received word of his grounding.

No such written acknowledgment exists.

8. Each time Bush missed a monthly training session he was supposed to schedule a make-up session, or file substitute service requests. Bush’s numerous substitute service requests should have formed a lengthy paper trail with the name of the officer who authorized the training in advance, the signature of the officer who supervised the training and Bush’s own signature.

No such documents exist.

9. During his last year with the Texas Air National Guard, Bush missed a majority of his mandatory monthly training sessions and supposedly made them up with substitute service. Guard regulations allowed substitute service only in circumstances that were “beyond the control” of the Guard member.

Neither Bush nor the Texas Air National Guard ever explained what the uncontrollable circumstances were that forced him to miss so many of his assigned drills during his last year.

10. On June 29, 1973, the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver instructed Bush’s commanders to get additional information from his Alabama unit, where he had supposedly trained, in order to better evaluate Bush’s duty.

Bush’s commanders ignored the request.

Update: Rather may call on Bush to testify. Will Bush confess or risk action for perjury?

Bloomberg Says He Will Not Run But Pressures For Alternative Remain

Maybe its because everything looks more real on high definition, but Michael Bloomberg’s statement that he doesn’t plan to run certainly sounded like he meant it when he was interviewed by Dan Rather on HDNet Tuesday night. For those who do not receive HDNet, Reuters provides a summary. I always suspected Bloomberg would not run because of not wanting to spend his money on a campaign he probably could not win. Hearing Bloomberg cite his belief that “Nobody’s going to elect me president of the United States” provides a convincing argument that he does not plan to run.

Ask me next January or February, after we have the nominees from the major political parties, whether Bloomberg’s decision is a good or bad thing.

In 2004 there was little talk of third party candidates as most people were either determined to attempt to throw Bush out of office or to reelect the person whey were conned into thinking was keeping them safe from terrorism. At this point in the election cycle, without a candidate as polarizing as George Bush, there is far more talk of third parties than in a typical election.

When there isn’t talk of individuals such as Bloomberg, Unity 08 has dominated much of the consideration of third party bids. Unity 08 looks like a backwards idea based upon choosing a candidate from each party for President and Vice President. The problem is that until they have such nominees there is no ideology for the party. A pair of from each party could turn out to be better or worse than the actual candidates of the two parties.

For a third party movement to make sense there must be ideas behind it which are not adequately represented by the major parties. If the party has the right ideas it could then seek out candidates, with current party affiliation not being crucial.

It appears to be a safe bet that the Republican nominee will be from the far right. Whether there is a need for a third party will therefore depend more upon what the Democrats do. In recent years, culminating in 2006, there has been an increase in support for Democrats among college educated professionals, small businessmen, and suburbanites. It was easy to find common cause with more traditional Democratic voters in opposing the war and the social conservative policies of the Republicans. It will be harder for these groups to agree upon policies once the Democrats are governing.

Of the candidates currently seeking the Democratic nomination, so far only Barack Obama and Bill Richardson have shown an ability to unite both traditional Democratic voters, new Democratic voters, and independents. It remains unclear as to whether Hillary Clinton can accomplish this. Beyond his fellow trial lawyers, few educated professionals or others who have achieved success will accept John Edwards-style populism. If that had been possible, the Edwards have burned that bridge with the exclusionary nature of their campaign rhetoric.

Should the Edwards campaign recover from its recent melt down and win, a large number of independents and new Democratic voters may not have an acceptable choice, leaving the possibility for attempting to develop a new political party. Running a third party candidate would only make sense if the ultimate goal is the development of a new political party considering the low likelihood of success in 2008. It was never clear that Michael Bloomberg, with his reputation for supporting the nanny state, ever was the best candidate for such a third party. The forces which drove consideration of Bloomberg persist regardless of whether Bloomberg himself is a candidate.

The two party system requires that divergent groups be able to unite despite their differences. The Perot vote, as well as the amount of talk of a third party bid in 2008, are manifestations of the inability of either party to satisfy a significant number of voters. In recent years many of us independents saw no alternative but to support the Democrats after the Republicans moved to the extreme right. The question now is whether the Democrats can keep the divergent groups who voted for them in 2006 satisfied or if we will see a major third party candidacy.

Karl Rove, CREEP for Nixon

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BM0zJl9Bxk8]

George Bush is often compared to Richard Nixon, and we find a connection with Karl Rove. This video of Dan Rather reporting on The Committee to Reelect The President shows a young Karl Rove as a GOP College Director just over four minutes into the story. I wonder if Karl was responsible for my favorite Nixon reelection campaign slogan: “Don’t Change Dicks In The Middle Of A Screw–Reelect Nixon in ’72.”

Dan Rather: What We in Journalism Need is a Spine Transplant

For several years the media has given the Bush administration a free ride, failing to adequately question them during the run up to the Iraq war, and repeating Repubican talking points without critical examination. Dan Rather gave a keynote speech at South by Southwest Interactive, discussing the role of the internet and the failings of the news media:

“The Internet is a tremendous tool for not just news, (because) its potential is unlimited for that,” Rather said, but for “illumination and opening things up.”

But he spent most of his time on stage talking about why he thinks many people have lost faith in journalists.One reason for that, Rather said, is that a sense has developed that questioning power, especially at a time of war, is perceived as unpatriotic or unsupportive of America’s fighting troops.

That’s “a very serious charge in this country,” Rather said.

“We’ve brought it on ourselves,” he added, “partly because we’ve lost the sense that patriotic journalists will be on his or her feet asking the tough questions. My role as a member of the press is to be sometimes a check and balance on power.”

Indeed, Rather’s ascendance to the pinnacles of power in journalism came as a result of his reputation for asking very tough questions and–as Hampshire pointed out–not being afraid to ask follow-up questions, of powerful people like President Richard Nixon, the first President George Bush, current President Bush, Saddam Hussein, and many others.

“In many ways,” said Rather to loud applause, “what we in journalism need is a spine transplant.”

Rather then reiterated his feeling that many journalists today–and he repeated that he has fallen for this trap–are willing to get too cozy with people in positions of power, be it in government or corporate life.

“The nexus between powerful journalists and people in government and corporate power,” he said, “has become far too close.”

You can get so close to a source that you become part of the problem, he added. “Some people say that these powerful people use journalists, and they do. And they will use them to the fullest extent possible, right up until the point where the journalist says, ‘Whoa, that’s too far.'”

Therefore, it is incumbent on journalists to be willing to risk their access to power to search out the truth behind a story, he said. And they shouldn’t be willing to water down the truth to protect their access to power.

Rather also said that the consolidation of power in a small number of media companies has hurt the search for the truth in newsrooms across the country. As media conglomerates get bigger, the gap between the newsrooms and the boardrooms is too big and the goal becomes satisfying shareholders, not citizens, he said.

Therefore, Rather supports increased competition between media companies and between journalists, he said.

“So next time someone says, ‘I believe in the capitalist system,'” Rather said, “tell them Dan Rather says ‘Amen.'”

Rather reiterated the journalist’s role as a watchdog.

“Not as an attack dog…But what does the lapdog do, he just crawls into someone’s lap,” he said. “A good watchdog barks at everything that’s suspicious. I submit to you, the American press’ role is to be a watchdog.”

Dan Rather Returns Tomorrow Night

Dan Rather returns to television on a regular basis tomorrow night when his news show on HDNet premiers at 8:00 p.m. EST:

Headquarters for his new production company is a small high-rise suite just a block from Times Square. The paint is dry. Furniture and state- of-the-art production equipment are in place. Any further refinements can wait.

“Right now, trying to get this program off the ground, I have about all I can say grace over,” Rather says in his comfortable but no- frills new office, where his own high-def flatscreen (he points out with a chuckle) still isn’t operative.

Not only is his team – fewer than two dozen overseen by Rather and executive producer Wayne Nelson – focused on opening night, but after that: another 41 weekly hours in the coming year, plus additional documentaries.

Exactly what viewers will see Tuesday won’t be locked down until the last minute, Rather says, with portions likely to be aired live.

“I want us to be right up on the balls of our feet, able to shift in a nanosecond if we have to,” he says, listing three areas to concentrate on: investigative stories, in-depth interviews and “hard-edged field reports.” Favourite subjects are likely to include the nation’s fighting forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, the economic squeeze on middle-income families and politics.

“I see this as a pioneering experience,” Rather says. And he could be right. Here is TV news issuing not from a huge organization, but, uniquely, from the vision of one guy.

“When I first talked to Mark Cuban, he told he that he was prepared to give me total, complete and absolute editorial and creative control,” Rather says. “Now stop and think about that for a moment: do you know any journalists past and present (with such an arrangement)?”

Yeah, but for most of his run at CBS News, wasn’t Rather the reigning presence, the 900-pound gorilla?

“I was responsible for the ‘Evening News’ and accountable for the ‘Evening News,”‘ he allows, “but I had to, and did, answer up.” He ticks off the steps of the corporate ladder that ascended even higher than his lofty perch on West 57th Street. “There are people above you.”

Not now. According to Rather, Cuban “only asked two things of me: ‘I want you to strive for excellence, and be fearless.“‘

Dan Rather To Report on Elections–Takes Step Up From CBS

While CBS, the network of Murrow, Cronkite, and Rather has degenerated into the Katie Couric Show, Dan Rather will get a shot at covering the elections with the best this year. Many times Jon Stewert has out performed the real journalists. Tonight Dan Rather will be joining Stewert and Stephen Colbert at Comedy Central:

This is not a joke.

Dan Rather will analyze election results with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert tonight at 11 on Comedy Central’s live, hour-long Indecision 2006 special.

“It’s a risk, I guess, but what the hell,” says Rather, who covered every national election since 1962 for CBS before being drop-kicked in June. Now he’s global correspondent for Mark Cuban’s HDNet.

“J. Stewart and company offered the chance, and I’ve taken it,” Rather, 75, says. “I don’t do comedy, I do politics, which sometimes is one and the same.

“Certainly, one can’t cover politics and not have a sense of humor about it. Let’s face it, politics is often a theater of the absurd.”

Equally absurd are the corny “Ratherisms” he dragged out during many election-night marathons.

Among our faves: “If a frog had side pockets, he’d carry a handgun.” And: “This race is tight like a too-small bathing suit on a too-long ride home from the beach.”

Don’t look for such classic nuggets on tonight’s Midterm Midtacular, Rather says. (Color us disappointed.)

“Don’t expect many Ratherisms, if any. If any occur to me, I may use it, but I intend to be myself, report a bit, and have them take it from there. I’m told I will be expected to ‘play it straight,’ and then they’ll bounce off it. We’ll see.”

Rather has never been a guest of The Daily Show or Colbert Report, but he’s grateful to them for giving him a platform from which to keep his 44-year string of election coverage going.

“I’m hoping this old wreck of an anchorman and political reporter may yet have some wee something to contribute,” he says.