from MSNBC transcripts

"Scarborough Country"

for February 16, 2005

excerpted transcript of 10PM ET show segment

Guests: Bob Kohn, Paul Levinson, Pat Buchanan,
Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Kellyanne Conway

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST: Tonight's top headline, news flash: CBS News still hasn't fired the executives responsible for the Dan Rather Memo-gate scandal.

Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, where no passport is required and only common sense is allowed.

Dan Rather is stepping down in three weeks, but the other top producers implicated in the scandal are still there. What is CBS President Les Moonves waiting for?


ANNOUNCER: From the press room, to the courtroom, to the halls of Congress, Joe Scarborough has seen it all. Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

SCARBOROUGH: So, tonight, there's new information about the scandal over at CBS News on the report on President Bush in the National Guard service.

And there's word in today's New York Observer newspaper that more than one month after Dan Rather's network delivered its mea culpa, the key people responsible for the scandal are still at CBS News. And you know what else, friends? They are still getting paychecks.

Now, you've got to remember, this all began last September 8, two months before the presidential election, when 60 Minutes aired a report on how George Bush had tried to avoid service in the National Guard. And within hours, bloggers had discredited the story, and CBS knew it was in big trouble. But Dan Rather and the brass at CBS News spent the next 12 days stonewalling, still clearly in denial.


DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS: Today, on the Internet and elsewhere, some people, including many who are partisan political operatives, concentrated not on the key questions of the overall story, but on the documents that were part of the support of the story.


SCARBOROUGH: "Today, on the Internet and elsewhere." Whatever.

Dan Rather finally apologized almost two weeks later, and CBS launched an investigation. Now, on January 10, the independent inquiry resulted in a 224-page indictment of that story and of CBS News. But now we learn, almost six months after that story aired, the key CBS employees involved in this scandal still have their jobs.

Now, in three weeks, on March 9, Dan Rather is going to sign off from his anchor chair for the last time. With us now to talk about the latest implosion at CBS are Bob Kohn. He's the author of Journalistic Fraud: How The New York Times Distorts the News and Why It Can No Longer Be Trusted. And we also have Paul Levinson. He's the director of media studies at Fordham University.

Gentlemen, thank you for being with us.


SCARBOROUGH: Bob Kohn, CBS conducts an investigation. After the internal investigation comes back, they are told to get rid of four people. They fire one. They keep three, ask them politely to resign. Those people are still there. Now, you and I both know, if GM had done this, if Exxon had done this, if Enron had done this, if Microsoft had done this, and refused to fire the people that were told to be fired in an internal investigation, CBS, 60 Minutes would scald them alive. Whats going on here?

KOHN: Well, if any of those corporations did this, the CEOs would be gone from those corporations. That would mean Les Moonves, I think, or Andrew Heyward, who is the president of CBS News.

But I think what is going today with Josh Howard, one of the CBS employees who has refused to resign. He was asked to resign and refused. Well, either he is sincerely trying to clear his name and reputation or its all about his package. I should say severance package, that is, how much you pay off a former employee or an employee to keep their mouth shut after they leave. Now, The New York Times...

SCARBOROUGH:: Wait. Wait a second. Hold on a second, Bob, though.

This shouldn't be about this guy deciding when he is going to leave.

KOHN: Well...

SCARBOROUGH:They had an independent inquiry. The independent inquiry said there were four people responsible for this scandal, responsible for smearing the president 50 days before an election.

KOHN: Right.

SCARBOROUGH: And CBS is allowing the employee that put that on the air to decide his severance package and when he is going to leave? What don't I get about that?

KOHN: Yes.

Well, they are also looking at the legal issues here. And we haven't seen the contracts that Josh Howard or any of these other employees have with CBS. They might be concerned about breach of contract. And if they got breach of contract, they get a lawsuit. With a lawsuit, you get depositions. You get to look at the e-mails, and this whole thing falls apart.

So, CBS management has to be careful in how they let these employees go. Ideally...

SCARBOROUGH: Because, if they upset these employees, and all of a sudden you have a lawsuit, and you get to see the e-mail trail, then you will find out that CBS is lying about it.

KOHN: Right.

SCARBOROUGH: You find out that maybe Andy Heyward knew a lot more about the story.

KOHN: Right.

SCARBOROUGH:: You find out that actually Dan Rather knew a lot more about the story.

KOHN: Right.

SCARBOROUGH: You find out that people going to the very top of CBS News and CBS Inc. lied to the American people. Come on. That's really what's going on here, isnt it?

KOHN: That's exactly right, because it's not going to be the journalists now or the bloggers trying to find out what the truth is. Its going to be lawyers who are going to be finding out.

And you know what? That independent investigation, when they had all of those meetings at CBS, they didn't have any transcript of those meetings. It wasn't recorded. It wasn't videotaped. They didn't have a court stenographer there. It was all handwritten notes, so we really don't know what the truth is. And until this lawsuit occurs, we won't know.

SCARBOROUGH: Professor Levinson...


SCARBOROUGH: Professor Levinson, let me ask you to respond.


SCARBOROUGH: To the point I made earlier.


SCARBOROUGH: Let's say, for instance, Microsoft had a lawsuit...

LEVINSON: Well, let me...

SCARBOROUGH:Hold on a second.

Microsoft had a lawsuit against them. They were told to get an internal investigation started up to find out what happened. They conduct an internal investigation. It comes back that they should fire three or four of their employees, and Microsoft refuses. What would CBS, NBC, ABC, and other news outlets do to that big corporation?

LEVINSON: Well, let me give you a real example, rather than a hypothetical example.

You know, the 1968 election was between Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey. And a little bit before the election, Drew Pearson, a very well-respected columnist, found out that Nixon had been seeing a psychiatrist over many years. And Drew Pearson didn't quite have as much testimony and explicit proof of that as he wanted, so he held up on the story until after the election. It turned out the story was true.

It turned out that Richard Nixon was elected president. And guess what? Most historians now agree that part of Nixon's problem as president, which led to Watergate, is he in many ways was psychologically unfit to be president.


SCARBOROUGH:: Professor, what does that have to do with my question?

What does that have to do with my question?

LEVINSON: Well, what it has to do with your question is, your approach to CBS is to assume that they are completely wrong, that they lied to the American people.

SCARBOROUGH:: Its a forged document.


LEVINSON: The document may be forged, but we don't know whether the story is true or not. Are you interested in whether the story is true?

SCARBOROUGH: Wait. Wait. Hold on a second. So you are actually going back to the beginning and you are actually saying that this story may end up being true?


SCARBOROUGH:: You sound like Dan Rather.


SCARBOROUGH: You go to cocktail parties with Dan Rather on the Upper West Side of Manhattan?


KOHN: Joe.

LEVINSON: I am flattered that you think I sound like Dan Rather, because Dan Rather has been a great journalist.

And the fact is, we don't know whether the story is true or not to this day. The report that mentioned...


SCARBOROUGH: Bob, we have got to go back to the beginning, Bob Kohn.

KOHN: Right. Exactly.


SCARBOROUGH: ... true or not.


KOHN: Joe, I think if Paul is making any point at all, it's that the cover-up is more important than what originally happened.

We know that Mary Mapes and Dan Rather, they were politically motivated to get out and to believe these memos were true documents, OK? But I think that's beside the point. What has happened today is really Josh Howard's complaint about what happened in the 12 days after the story broke and after everyone realized these were forged documents. I don't think we can go back to square one. These were forged documents. Everybody knows it.

LEVINSON: Yes. Excuse me. The issue...


KOHN: What is important here is, Josh Howard has to clear his reputation.

LEVINSON: Well, the issue is not whether they were forged documents.

That's just one of the issues.

The ultimate issue is whether the story is true or not, and I think the American people are interested in that.

KOHN: Look, without the documents, there's no story.


LEVINSON: No. There was a witness who said that the documents were false but the story was true...


KOHN: That's all conjecture.


SCARBOROUGH: Hold on a second. Hold on a second, guys.

Professor, I am interested in the truth.


SCARBOROUGH: And I would like you to answer my question.


SCARBOROUGH: Let's say that Microsoft or General Electric - the parent companies of this network - let's say those two corporations were involved in a scandal. They decided to have an internal investigation to figure out who was responsible. And three, four five executives were cited.

Let's say these two corporations decided, the heck with it, we don't care what the internal investigation says. We are not going to fire them. You and I both know that CBS, 60 Minutes, NBC, ABC would rip them apart. Why should it be any different for big media than it is for other big corporations?

LEVINSON: Good question. I will answer you.

CBS, like all other media, is trying to report the truth to the American people. They and their reporters...

SCARBOROUGH: How do you know that?

LEVINSON: ... may make mistakes. Well...

SCARBOROUGH: How do you know that?

LEVINSON: How do I know that? Because I have been watching CBS for 40 years, and this is the first time where there's ever been an allegation that they haven't reported the truth in a major way.


KOHN: No, it's the first time they got caught.

LEVINSON: Well, you know that. I don't.

I don't know that there's any other time that anything like this has happened. And so I think it's completely appropriate that, when you want to encourage...


SCARBOROUGH:: Why don't they fire the four employees?

LEVINSON: I will tell you why.

Because there are two kinds of errors that a journalist can make. One is publishing a story that is false. The other is sitting on a story that is true. And CBS is right to be very careful about not making either kind of mistake. And to just wholesale fire people is not always the best answer.


KOHN: That's not the issue.


SCARBOROUGH: All right, gentlemen.

LEVINSON: Well, I think it is the issue.

SCARBOROUGH: OK. We are going to have to leave it right there.

The bottom line is this, friends I promise you.... Bob Kohn and Paul Levinson, we appreciate you being here.

But, friends, I promise you this. If any other big corporation in America, be it Exxon or Enron or Microsoft, had an internal investigation, we are told by those that they called to conduct the internal investigation to fire four people, they didn't fire those four, the media would be all over them.

But for big media, there's hypocrisy. Look, why am I telling you that? You know that. But big media doesnt know that. So, if you are listening tonight, CBS News, this is why middle America hates big media. Play by the rules that you try to make others play by.


SCARBOROUGH: It's time now for our discussion of all things political, where nothing is off the table and everything is fair game.

With me now tonight, Katrina Vanden Heuvel. She's the editor of The Nation magazine. We also have Republican strategist Kellyanne Conway from The Polling Company. And we have MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.

Now, Pat, you got to see CBS and Dan Rather up close and personal in the Nixon administrations and the Reagan administration. Do you think that CBS News may be not holding themselves to the same high standards that they have been holding Republican administrations to for years?

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I didn't think the standards were all that high for CBS News back then, Joe.

But let me say this. I think CBS is damaging itself very badly with the way it's conducting this thing. The mess goes on. Dan Rather is still in the chair. But the big unanswered question that still puzzles me and should puzzle everybody, Joe, is who fabricated those documents, who forged them, who committed that felony to try to bring down the president of the United States? We know CBS was taken in by it. But who perpetrated the crime?

SCARBOROUGH: Katrina, you heard about The New York Observer...


SCARBOROUGH: Yes. I'm sure...



SCARBOROUGH: He's already been blamed for the Osama bin Laden tape. (CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL: But, Joe, seriously...

SCARBOROUGH: Katrina, hold on a second.

The New York Observer today... just, again, to reiterate, The New York Observer today said that CBS News has refused to fire the three executives that were responsible for the forged document story. Don't you think they should be fired at once?

VANDEN HEUVEL: I don't. I think the scandal around this story is the way the report was handled, the inquisition at CBS.

I think the story, what CBS should have done, is continue to do as much reporting... thats what the Edward R. Murrow network would have done in the good old days. They would have reported the hell out of the story, because you know what? Most news networks which have reported on Bush's National Guard record know that the document might have been forged -and thats still not clear - but the story is true about the favoritism he received, about his absences.

We need to get the truth. At this point, the larger issue, it seems to me, is the double standard of accountability. You have an administration which took a nation to war on lies, no accountability. The people who took us to war have been promoted. And yet, at CBS, people who made a mistake, some bad journalism, should be forced to continue reporting the story. We need the truth.


SCARBOROUGH: Well, Katrina, what about a double standard with CBS News, that would absolutely rip a major corporation apart if they had launched an internal investigation, the internal investigation said these are the people responsible, you need to fire them, and then they didn't fire them? What if Enron or Exxon or IBM had done that? And you know CBS News, 60 Minutes, they would be all over them.

VANDEN HEUVEL: There are a lot of problems with the report. I refer people to a very good piece by James Goodale, a First Amendment lawyer, in The New York Law Journal.

He pulls apart the way that that investigation, the internal investigation of CBS was run, the failure to call in people who could tell more. And the whole issue of documentation is still unexplained. Many stories... I would refer people to that article. And, again, I come back to the accountability issue.

SCARBOROUGH: All right, Kellyanne Conway, have these people been sent up the river? It sounds like Katrina is saying that, you know, maybe the document was forged, maybe it wasn't. Whats the big fuss here?

CONWAY: The big fuss is that they probably broke the law. Someone did. So we need to know who.

I mean, the Democrats are the first to try to investigate - investigate who released Valerie Plame's name, the CIA expert, that 99.99 percent of the country still doesnt know who she is, but somehow that put her in jeopardy. They want to investigate, investigate, investigate.

But here someone clearly forged a document with a Word Perfect or, you know, a modern word processor that could not have existed back at that time. And I have to say, people don't need to read that article, Katrina. They need to read last year's election results to know. And they need to read the ratings of these major networks to know.


CONWAY: Wait. Americans are leaving them in droves.

SCARBOROUGH: But let's talk about them not firing them, Kellyanne.

CONWAY: Pardon?

SCARBOROUGH: Well, Kellyanne, why isn't CBS firing these executives that they were told to fire in the internal investigation?

CONWAY: Because...


BUCHANAN: They will try and sue, Joe.


CONWAY: Because those executives have more tenure than public school students.. public school teachers.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Oh, thats ridiculous, Kelly.

CONWAY: You can't extract them out of there.

Katrina, you know that if CBS were being run like any corporation, beholden to shareholders, these people would be history. But you know what is going on? The people who probably are charged with firing them, as they well should, are people who are nervous about what else lies underneath. You think this was the only incident where there was a conclusion in search of evidence?


SCARBOROUGH: Well, I was just going to say, you know, what they are worried about is...


SCARBOROUGH: No, no. Hold on a second.

VANDEN HEUVEL: One of those producers did the Abu Ghraib story. And that was an important story.


SCARBOROUGH: Hold on. Katrina, Katrina, Katrina...

VANDEN HEUVEL: The Abu Ghraib story was reported by Mary Mapes.

SCARBOROUGH: So that allows...


SCARBOROUGH: Katrina, so that allows them to lie? That allows them to make up documents?


SCARBOROUGH: That allows CBS to conduct internal investigations and then turn a blind eye to it?



SCARBOROUGH: You and I both know... hold on a second. You and I both know the reason why they are not talking about this, the reason they're not holding these people accountable...

VANDEN HEUVEL: I don't know that.

SCARBOROUGH: ... is because they are afraid that it will go up to Dan Rather, it will go to Andy Heyward. These people will end up being the ones that actually have mud all over their hands.

VANDEN HEUVEL: I have no brief for Andy Heyward.

BUCHANAN: Joe, what is going to happen...let me get in on this.


VANDEN HEUVEL: I have no brief for Andy Heyward or Dan Rather in this.

I have a brief for the fact that the White House launched a campaign to chill the media in this country, and that is what we are seeing, the larger issues coming out at CBS... poor journalism around the story.


SCARBOROUGH: The White House can't make them lie. The White House can't make CBS lie.


VANDEN HEUVEL: We still don't know the full story of the White Houses involvement.


BUCHANAN: All right, let me respond. Let me... Joe, here's what's happened.

They don't fire these guys for a simple reason. You fire them, and then what is going to happen is these people will all sue CBS. Then you will have full disclosure and discovery and all these things. This whole thing will be reopened. It will go to court. Dan Rather will be brought into court. The people that did the investigation will be brought into court. They don't want it to happen.

These guys are playing hardball. I don't blame these three folks who were bounced out of there for fighting for their good name and their career. I don't know the ultimate details, but I can tell you, CBS didnt fire them because it doesn't want to fight in court with them.

SCARBOROUGH: And because they know, if they fight in court, there's discovery. There are e-mails.

BUCHANAN: Exactly.

SCARBOROUGH: There are paper trails.


SCARBOROUGH: They know they are in trouble. They have been lying to us about the cover-up, and they know they will be busted.

BUCHANAN: Joe...I have been there, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH: So, they're not going to fire them.


SCARBOROUGH: I know you have, Pat.

CONWAY: And, Joe, this is not an isolated incident. This is not an isolated incident.

SCARBOROUGH: Now, lets turn from CBS to PBS.


SCARBOROUGH: Under fire for spending public money on a cartoon show that also featured a real-life lesbian couple, PBS president Pat Mitchell says she is going to step down next year when her contract expires. Mitchell had been the subject of the controversy over an episode of Postcards From Buster, in which a cartoon rabbit visits a Vermont friend who has lesbian parents.

Mitchell initially stood by the program, but then reversed course after receiving a letter from Education Secretary Margaret Spellings expressing concerns about the cartoon.

Pat, shouldn't young kids be able to see cartoons about lesbian couples in Vermont?


BUCHANAN: Here's what ought to be done.

Look, PBS, there was, they claimed, a need back in the 60s and 70s for alternative programming. I wrote Nixon's veto, urged him to veto it a second time. It would have killed it. They say they needed it then. It ought to be phased out. All government funding ought to be phased out. Then PBS, like us, Joe, ought to be allowed to do what it wants to do, put on the programs it wants, as long as we the taxpayers are not paying for it. And I think that's the solution to PBS.


VANDEN HEUVEL: There is a crisis...


SCARBOROUGH: Let me ask a question, Katrina. Do you think that this is going to have a chilling effect on people who will follow in this lady's footsteps in the future at PBS? Do you think they are going to be too scared to put anything on that may ruffle the feathers of members of Congress?

VANDEN HEUVEL: I dont think just this episode, Joe. I think there has been a relentless right-wing, conservative campaign ....


CONWAY: ... right wing watching PBS?

VANDEN HEUVEL: falsely brand PBS a leftist conspiracy.

CONWAY: So ridiculous.

VANDEN HEUVEL: I know Pat Mitchell. She is a decent woman, but she came under enormous right-wing pressure, because of her good support...

CONWAY: Who is this right wing, Katrina?

VANDEN HEUVEL: ... for Bill Moyers, who did something very different than the partisan, ideological, taxpayer-funded program we now have on PBS, Wall Street Journal.

You have Dow Jones, a billion-dollar company, having a program funded by taxpayer money. I think that is the real danger. And I think we do need to rethink the role of public television in America.

And I think Pat Mitchell will contribute to that debate, but she can also contribute to the stories of how she came under enormous right-wing pressure. It has been a case, as Pat just mentioned, for decades in this country.

SCARBOROUGH: Kellyanne, respond.

CONWAY: This endless banter about the right wing, the right-wing, the Christian right, the Christian right.

Katrina, this is why your party is in complete disarray, because you just dont get it. Did you not read the last election results? Same-sex marriage failed in places like Oregon and Michigan, which Kerry carried handily. It's not the right wing. It's people saying not right vs. left, but right vs. wrong. They dont want their kids looking at a cartoons with a bunch of lesbian mothers.

Are you attacking this nation's parents? It's not Jerry Falwell writing letters to PBS. It's regular Americans standing up and saying, I fight hard all day. I work hard. I pay my dues. I try to protect my kids from outside, external influences corrupting their minds and their bodies.


VANDEN HEUVEL: Kelly, do you have lesbian friends? Do you have lesbian friends?

CONWAY: Of course I do. Of course I do.

VANDEN HEUVEL: So why not represent the diversity of America on our television screens?


CONWAY: In a cartoon? In a cartoon?

VANDEN HEUVEL: The Democratic Party is not in disarray over the moral values issue.


CONWAY: In a cartoon on PBS? Thats ridiculous.

BUCHANAN: Joe, let me get into this between these ladies. Look, Katrina has got a point.

SCARBOROUGH: Pat, do you have lesbian friends?



SCARBOROUGH: Katrina has got a point.

Taxpayers shouldn't fund Wall Street, whatever it is, that show. Taxpayers shouldn't fund the lesbian, whatever they are. Pat Mitchell, I knew her, too. I used to be on her show 30 years ago. She is a nice lady.

Get the tax dollars out of it and let them be free to run ads, do whatever they want.


BUCHANAN: As long as we are not paying for it, Joe, I'm happy.

SCARBOROUGH:We're going to...



VANDEN HEUVEL: Last word. There isn't going to be...

SCARBOROUGH: We're going to have to leave it there. Katrina Vanden Heuvel, I'm sorry. We've got to go. Kellyanne Conway, we are going to have to leave it there. And, Pat, thanks for your time.


That's it for tonight. Thanks a lot for watching.

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