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Iraq and the Race for the White House; Hostage-Takers Threaten the Lives of Two Americans, Briton; CBS News Says it Cannot Prove Authenticity of Bush Document
Aired September 20, 2004 - 11:59 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Up first, Iraq and the race for the White House. With Election Day now just about six weeks away, President Bush is facing sharpened attacks from the Democrats amid growing discontent among some key Republicans. The latest blast came just a short time ago from the Democratic nominee, John Kerry.
CNN's Bob Franken starts our coverage. He's covering the Kerry campaign in New York City -- Bob.
BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bush (sic), Kerry has come to the same city where the president is coming to later to make a presidential appearance before the U.N. General Assembly. And Kerry is trying to preempt that appearance to some degree, by coming out with what is regarded is his most aggressive attack against U.S.- Iraq policy thus far.
He called for a four-point program, including guaranteeing elections, reconstruction, and most importantly, calling for a summit that would guarantee improved international support for the recovery in Iraq. Kerry said that the difference between a Kerry administration and a Bush administration is that, number one, the president misled the American people. Number two, made catastrophic miscalculations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president has said that he miscalculated in Iraq and that it was a catastrophic success. In fact -- in fact, the president has made a series of catastrophic decisions. From the beginning in Iraq, every fork in the road he has taken the wrong turn and he has led us in the wrong direction.
Kerry: The first -- the first and most fundamental mistake was the president's failure to tell the truth to the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FRANKEN: And the other mistake, said John Kerry, was that the president just made consistent, bad judgment calls. Judgment calls that a president needs to make. Of course, the judgment call that the American people will make in a day over six weeks is who is going to be the next president -- Bush -- excuse me. I'm sorry -- Wolf. BLITZER: No problem. Bob, the Kerry campaign, where do they go from here? I take it they're going to do Letterman tonight. But what's the next agenda item that they're going to be focusing on?
FRANKEN: Well, number one, he is going to a battleground state tour this week. He is starting in Florida, expected to go to Ohio, possibly Pennsylvania. And of course, there is the question of the debates.
The debates look like there's about to be a settlement, that they're going to have the debates. The first one will occur in a little over a week. Just about everybody believes the debates are do or die for John Kerry.
BLITZER: All right. Bob Franken in New York with the Kerry campaign. Bob, thanks very much.
That first debate scheduled right now. We will see if it happens a week from Thursday night, Coral Gables, Florida, at the University of Miami. That would be a key battleground state of Florida.
Later today, President Bush is expected to defend his Iraq policy and to accuse Senator Kerry of failing American troops by criticizing the overall effort. At the same time, though, the White House is facing some growing discontent on Iraq from the ranks of the president's own party.
CNN's White House correspondent, Dana Bash, standing by at the White House with more on all of this -- Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Bush aides say that certainly Senator Kerry's speech today was more pointed, perhaps, they say, even more coherent than speeches in the past about the president's Iraq policy. But tactically, they think and certainly hope that perhaps it's too late, with just about six-and-a-half weeks left in the campaign.
It comes after months of the Bush campaign pounding at Senator Kerry, labeling him -- at least trying to -- as indecisive. And certainly the polls do indicate that that has had some success. And Bush aides also think that, despite the fact that Senator Kerry did answer some of his critics and present some plans of what he would do as president, they still don't think that it was specific enough and realistic enough to present an alternative that the American people will like better than President Bush when it comes to Iraq.
Now, Bush aides, Wolf, were prepared for Senator Kerry's criticism. Over the weekend, however, President Bush did get a new round of criticism from within his own party. Senior senators in his own party saying that they're not that happy with some of the aspects of the way that the president is handling the situation in Iraq.
The Republican Senate Foreign Relations chairman, Richard Lugar, suggested that this administration is incompetent in only using $1 billion out of $18 billion that they have to -- for reconstruction in Iraq. Senator John McCain, who has been out on the stump with the president, who spoke on behalf of the president's Iraq policy at the convention, he said that the president perhaps is not being specific enough, isn't leveling enough with the American people on the realities on the ground in Iraq.
Now, Bush aides say that the president is going to react to all of this criticism later today in New Hampshire. He is going to, aides say, say that Senator Kerry has a policy that would essentially amount to retreating from Iraq, which would send the wrong signal to allies and to the Iraqi people. And in the end, they say, will make the situation worse and the world a more dangerous place.
Also, Wolf, the president has what the White House hopes will be a powerful symbol with him this week at the U.N. in New York. And here in Washington, the interim Iraqi prime minister will be with him. So, the president can say, if you don't believe me, listen to the Iraqi leaders. They are telling you that the situation is going to get better on the ground in Iraq -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And Dana, two other Republican senators out yesterday on the Sunday shows. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, both voicing their concern over U.S. policies in Iraq now as well.
It's a sort of delicate moment, Dana, for the interim prime minister of Iraq, Ayad Allawi, to be coming to Washington, addressing a joint meeting of the Congress right in the middle of a presidential campaign. The administration, I assume, strongly welcomes this, but from Ayad Allawi's perspective, is he seen as interfering in domestic American politics at this delicate moment?
BASH: Well, certainly, I guess, that would depend on who you ask. It would be hard probably to find many on either side of the aisle who would be that quick to criticize him because certainly he is somebody who is the first interim leader of Iraq, despite whether or not you ask -- if you ask Iraqis whether or not they find him somebody who is credible.
But certainly, the White House, when you talk to officials, they really make no bones about the fact that they do hope that this -- that the interim prime minister, the fact that he will be with the president at the U.N., with world leaders, and, more importantly, here in Washington, addressing a joint session of Congress, that is something that they hope will help persuade the American people just by his presence alone that democracy is starting to flourish in Iraq despite the increase in insurgency, the increase in violence, and the increase in criticism from within the president's own party.
BLITZER: All right. Dana Bash, thanks very much for that report.
In Iraq, meanwhile, a deadline looms on the lives of two Americans and a British colleague abducted late last week in Baghdad. Our correspondent Walter Rodgers is in the Iraqi capital. He begins our coverage with that -- Walt.
WALTER RODGERS, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Wolf.
So far today, nothing but silence on the fate of the two Americans and the one British subject in the hands of radical Islamist kidnappers. Today was the deadline set by the Islamists for their execution.
The three men are -- the two Americans -- Jack Hensley, Eugene Jack Armstrong. And the one British subject, Kenneth Bigly.
Again, they were kidnapped Thursday of last week in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood. They lived in a private house. Their security guard evaporated into the night. He just did not appear that night.
Now, of course, the kidnappers are demanding, as the price for the release of these hostages, the release of all female Iraqi detainees and prisoners. The United States only holds two Iraqi female prisoners. They are considered high value. That is to say, it's believed they worked for Saddam Hussein's weapons program. They're not going to be released.
It's not known how many detainees the Iraqis hold, how many female prisoners. That's just not clear at this point.
To keep track of things, we have eight western hostages, the three Americans -- the two Americans, and the one Briton we just mentioned. Then there's still the two Italian aid workers, women, about whom we have heard nothing, two French journalists, and an Iraqi American businessman.
Again, it has not been a good day in Iraq. More ominous events here. Murders.
Two sheiks, that is Sunni Muslim sheiks, were killed. Separate incidents, both men murdered, and they were both murdered in Shiite neighborhoods. That is the kind of trigger that one fears around here might ultimately precipitate the civil war in Iraq, about which we have heard so much of late.
In Fallujah, U.S. jets were again in action over that city. They bombed heavy construction equipment, a bulldozer and a dump truck. Those were, according to U.S. military sources, being used to build fortifications by the insurgents in Fallujah -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Walt, this whole notion of a civil war, that was raised, as you pointed out, in that national intelligence estimate that came out actually to the president in July. Only word leaking to the news media now about it. That would be a civil war, the worst case scenario between Sunni Iraqis and Shiite Iraqis.
But at the same time, there's some talk that among radical Shiite and Sunni insurgents there's some collaboration going on right now against the U.S., the Iraqi government and their allies. Can you straighten that out for us?
RODGERS: Sure, Wolf. First, it has been rumored -- my colleagues and I, Ben Wedeman and I, have been reporting the prospect of civil war in here since last April. The CIA reported it in June.
Having said that, the unity which you see between radical Shiite Muslims now and radical Sunnis is -- is an alliance of convenience. They unite merely to fight the United States.
They have vastly different political ends. The political ends of the -- of the various Muslim groups in this country are, essentially, the Shiites are a majority, but long oppressed by a Sunni minority.
So, if the Sunnis and the Shias come together now, it's just for the convenience of driving out the Americans. Do not expect them to unify in a later government. Very few expect that would happen.
And remember, it's not just a neat three-way split, Sunnis, Shiites and the Kurds. I mean, that -- you could almost finesse that. That would be tidy. You might have a confederation.
The problem is, there are a thousand clans and sub-clans and at least 10 major tribes in the country. And that -- therein lies the fractiousness and fragmentation which is so potentially disastrous to this society -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Walter Rodgers reporting for us from Baghdad. Thank you, Walt, very much.
This note to our viewers: tomorrow, I'll be speaking with Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi. Among the topics: the future of Iraq, security concerns, how those concerns could affect direct elections scheduled for January. Join us tomorrow at both noon and 5:00 p.m. Eastern for my interview with the prime minister, Ayad Allawi. That's tomorrow.
Joining us now, though, a frequent guest on military matters, especially those in Iraq, the retired U.S. Army general, George Jalwan, the former NATO supreme allied commander.
General Joulwan, thanks very much for joining us.
GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN, FMR. NATO SUPREME COMMANDER: Good to be here, Wolf.
BLITZER: Before we get to the Kerry speech, very quickly, these American hostages, this is painful for Americans to see. They're held, they're blindfolded. They're going to be killed unless concessions are made -- are made. From the military point of view, how do you deal with a painful situation like that?
JOULWAN: It's very difficult. Very difficult on the families. Very difficult on the troops that are involved in Iraq. But this is one of the consequences of this fight. And we have to understand that this is going to occur time and time again.
We should not lose our focus on the prime minister objective in Iraq, which I hope we can talk about, which is a secure environment so that elections and other things can take place. But we're going to have more of these, unfortunately, and not just for the United States, but for other nations as well.
BLITZER: Let's talk about John Kerry's speech today. Tomorrow at this time the president will have already delivered his speech before the United Nations General Assembly.
He made four recommendations for what the president could do right now and what he would do if he were elected. Let's go through those points.
First of all, he said the president has to get -- and I'm quoting now "the promised international support so our men and women in uniform don't have to go it alone." What else can he be doing to get the NATO allies, for example, Germany, France, other countries of NATO, and in the region themselves on board that he's not doing?
JOULWAN: I think much of it has to do with how we're saying it. We have quite a few allies with us on the ground. How to give them some sort of political input into the decision-making, particularly for an organization like NATO, I think is very important.
How we can do that and still maintain our overall interest and overall control of the operations in Iraq is important. But there has to be, I think, some inclusion of these very important allies as we go forward.
BLITZER: The president is trying to do that yet, but so far -- yesterday, I interviewed the ambassadors from Spain and Germany. They're both reluctant to get directly involved, certainly not militarily.
JOULWAN: But look, Wolf, we have already had terrorists attacks in Spain, in Turkey. We had it in Russia now.
This is -- what we have to paint here is this global look at what's going on, and that we should not be in it alone. This affects civilization as we know it. I think the president has got to get on that high ground and get the consensus now of this international community to join us.
NATO declared an Article V on September 12, 2001. We need to work with them in order to bring about this worldwide consensus that we need.
BLITZER: But that set the stage for what happened in Afghanistan, not necessarily in Iraq right after 9/11. But Article V, the first time NATO ever did that.
JOULWAN: But what we ought to be saying now is, whatever you may think about Iraq, right now Iraq is becoming the battleground. What occurred after the fall of Baghdad was one thing. Now thousands have joined in this, not only insurgency, but also from the outside, foreign troops coming in.
This is a true battleground. And our allies have got to be brought into the action. BLITZER: The second step that John Kerry recommended -- and I'm reading it now -- "The president must get serious about training Iraqi security forces." In fact, we have an except from John Kerry's speech. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: Last February, Secretary Rumsfeld claimed that -- claimed that more than 210,000 Iraqis were in uniform. This is the public statement to America.
But two weeks ago, he admitted that claim was exaggerated by more than 50 percent. Iraq, he said, now has 95,000 trained security forces.
Well, guess what, America? Neither number bears any relationship to the truth. For example, just 5,000 Iraqi soldiers have been fully trained by the administration's own minimal standards.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Everybody agrees that getting the Iraqis to do the police and military work is priority number one. They're trying to do that. They have a general, David Petreus, I think you know him. He's very capable, quite adept in training Iraqi forces, but what's the problem?
JOULWAN: Look at the conditions that they are trying to train this force under. I mean, policemen are getting killed. Those that support Americans are being attacked. There is no secure environment in Iraq to allow all this to take place.
So, you're trying to develop a security force under the worst conditions. And what is happening now, as we saw in Fallujah, that some -- if we put them in this environment, the security force, and they fail, that is not productive for us.
So, what has to happen here -- and we've been saying this for the last year and a half -- how do you create a secure environment in Iraq? We didn't do it after the fall of Baghdad. We must do it now.
That question, if you answer that question, then you can get on with saying, how do we develop security forces? How do we do reconstruction? How do we get the oil flowing, et cetera, et cetera?
BLITZER: Well, that flows into his third recommendation, John Kerry, "The president must carry out a reconstruction plan that finally brings tangible benefits to the Iraqi people." But that's related to the whole security question.
JOULWAN: And again here, I hate to get into the political year, but I was in a political year in Bosnia when we first went there. And political years are very difficult -- presidential election years.
But what has to happen is clarity now. What has to happen -- in fact, the secretary of defense talked about porous borders. Well, do we want to seal the borders? Do we want to control the roads?
We're going to have 9,000 or 10,000 polling places in January. Do we want to control the oil fields that are now not pumping what they need to pump? Do you want to disarm the militia?
Those are tasks. And then the military has to say what we need to accomplish it. And if you fall short of that, here is the risk that you imply. That's the clarity that I think we need.
BLITZER: The fourth point put forward by John Kerry, "The president must take immediate, urgent essential steps to guarantee the promised elections can be held next year." Those elections are scheduled for January, which is not very far down the road.
The U.N. is reluctant to send in monitors to help set the stage for the elections. Fallujah, Samarra, also in some other towns in Iraq are so-called no-go zones, where the Iraqi and U.S. and coalition forces don't go in right now. They're expecting, according to "The New York Times," a major offensive in November or December to try to retake those areas.
How can you have elections if whole chunks of the country are no- go zones?
JOULWAN: Very, very difficult. And that is going to be the key issue.
Unfortunately, it's caught up in the presidential politics here. But the military commanders, I think, need to stand up and be counted on what is required in order to conduct free and open elections in Iraq in January.
You need -- that needs to be very specific and very clear to our political masters in this case. This is what we need. And I would hope and pray that is being done. The moral courage has to be there to ask those tough questions of our civilian leadership.
BLITZER: One final point before I let you go, General. The presidential candidate, John Kerry, then goes on to say, "If these four points are implemented" -- and those are big ifs, obviously -- "we could begin to withdraw U.S. forces starting next summer and realistically aim to bring all our troops home within the next four years." He also said, "That can be achieved."
I suspect that's going to be the most controversial part of this speech, uttering this sort of timetable for withdrawal at this really uncertain moment in Iraqi history.
JOULWAN: It's going to be difficult. But again, we need to place our trust and confidence in our senior military commanders who, faced with these decisions, the clarity is there, what do you need to do the job? And we ought to make it very clear that we need that input from them in order to achieve the conditions for the elections and, if that goes right, for the eventual withdrawal of troops.
BLITZER: All right. U.S. troops are still in Kosovo, right? U.S. troops are still in Bosnia, right?
BLITZER: They were only supposed to be there for a year or two.
BLITZER: They're still there, right?
JOULWAN: That's the instruction I received. They're only there for a year.
But this year, the EU, the European Union, will take over the mission in Bosnia. I mean, it's nine years instead of one year, but it has worked.
And so, I think we need to have the clarity here in mission, the moral courage here to really say what is going to be required. And I am very concerned of what's happening in four or five of these towns that we are turning over. What does all that mean for the goal of free elections in January?
BLITZER: Well, we'll watch, and you'll help us better understand. Thanks, General, very much.
JOULWAN: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: General George Joulwan, the former NATO supreme allied commander.
It's the presidential campaign season, as we all know. We're awash in public opinion polls. But what do those numbers really mean? And what issues are most important to voters? I'll talk about that.
Plus, the ongoing controversy over CBS News and those purported Bush National Guard memoranda. Did Dan Rather get the story right? Did the young George W. Bush shirk his duty? Developing details coming up, including our conversation with our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield.
That's coming up next.
BLITZER: There's breaking news on the whole flap involving CBS News. Dan Rather and "60 Minutes." We're going to have details. The bottom line we can report right now, CBS News has just issued a statement saying that the documents -- they were misled by those documents.
They are saying that the documents should not have not aired on CBS. They are also commissioning an independent review right now over the entire matter.
Breaking news on this front. Jeff Greenfield is standing by to help us better understand what's going on at CBS News. We'll take a break. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: CBS News is now apologizing, in effect, for putting on those documents on CBS' "60 Minutes" with Dan Rather, misled over the National Guard memos. "The Washington Post" is reporting that CBS is going to acknowledge that mistake. In fact, they already have acknowledged it in a statement released only a few moments ago.
CBS News said, among other things, "Based on what we now know, CBS News cannot prove that the documents are authentic, which is the only acceptable journalistic standard to justify using them in the report. We should not have used them." The CBS statement goes on to say, "That was a mistake which we deeply regret."
Let's bring in our Jeff Greenfield to talk a little bit about this.
This is in the news media world clearly a bomb shell for all of us who report the news. The fact that "60 Minutes," this highly acclaimed investigative news magazine, invented the television news magazine, has now acknowledged a blunder of this magnitude coming only weeks before a presidential election is very significant. Wouldn't you agree -- Jeff.
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Yes. We've seen this before. NBC with the "Dateline" report years ago involving production problems, we had our own example of this back in 1998 with the Tailwind story.
"The New York Times" fired its executive editor in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal, the reporter who made up facts. You remember 20 years ago, "The Washington Post" gave back a Pulitzer Prize.
This one I think is significant for a couple of reasons. First, because it is six weeks before a presidential campaign. And second, because Dan Rather has been a particular sore spot for a lot of conservatives going back to the Watergate days when he challenged President Nixon. And then, challenged the first President Bush in a famous 1998 interview.
So, for Dan Rather to be the principal reporter on a story that CBS now has to pull back from, at least as -- with respect to the documents, that has a strong political significance.
One more thing, Wolf. The flap over the documents tends to put aside whether or not the charges about President George W. Bush's service in the National Guard have any -- have any weight. And those are two different questions. But yes, there's no question that for the grand daddy or grandparent of all news magazines, one of the most acclaimed, the most profitable news show in history, the one that set the gold standard, for it to have to pull back from its sourcing is pretty significant. BLITZER: Let's go through the statement that CBS News president Andrew Hayward released. Among other things, he said this -- and I'll read it precisely -- "60 Minutes Wednesday" had full confidence in the original report or it would not have aired. However, in the wake of serious and disturbing questions that came up after the broadcast, CBS News has done extensive additional reporting in an effort to confirm the documents' authenticity."
"That included an interview featured on last week's edition of '60 Minutes Wednesday' with Marian Carr Knox, secretary to the late Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Killian, the officer named as the author of the documents. The interview with Bill Burkett, to be seen tonight, and a further review of the forensic evidence on both sides of the debate."
"Based on what we now know" -- and this is the statement -- "CBS News cannot prove that the documents are authentic." And later, they go on to say this: "We will continue to work tirelessly to be worthy of that trust." And they say, "CBS News and CBS management are commissioning an independent review of the process by which the report was prepared and broadcast to help determine what actions need to be taken. The names of the people conducting the review will be announced shortly, and their findings will be made public."
The question, Jeff, is this: Can this save the reputation of: A, "60 Minutes"; B, CBS News; and C, Dan Rather?
GREENFIELD: Well, provided they have a thoroughly independent review, yes. It's what most news organizations do when their credibility is challenged.
The key to this is that the source of these documents, as many people have suspected, turns out to be Bill Burkett, retired National Guard lieutenant who has long charged that George W. Bush got special treatment and that, in fact, people within the Guard tried to cover it up and sanitize his records. So, the idea that he was the supplier of these, rather than some independent, more dispassionate source, I think is a fact that the critics of CBS and Dan Rather are going to zero in on now.
Look, the question of whether a news organization, when it makes a mistake, can recover its reputation depends on how it responds. Depends on whether it opens its doors.
You remember when CNN had to do this after Tailwind. This network hired an outside first amendment attorney, gave him full authority to ask any questions that he wanted, produced a report that was very critical of CNN's reporting. But most of our critics wound up saying, "You know, this is what they should have done." And it's true with any news organization.
Now, whether or not Dan Rather, who has long, as I've said, been in the crosshairs politically, survives this, you'll pardon the bad journalistic cliche, Wolf, but only time will tell. I do think it is going to make the attempt by some Democrats to focus on the president's National Guard service much tougher when the response is going to be, "Well, on what are you basing that? What's your sourcing for this? Look what happened to CBS News."
BLITZER: Bill Burkett is that retired U.S. National Guard lieutenant colonel. In the statement, CBS points out that he admits now -- Dan Rather went down to Texas to interview him over the weekend -- he admits that -- and I'm quoting now from the CBS statement -- "He admits he deliberately misled the CBS News producer working on the report, giving her a false account of the documents' origins to protect the promise of confidentiality to the actual source."
"Burkett originally said he obtained the documents from another former guardsman. Now he says he got them from a different source whose connection to the documents and identity CBS news has been unable to verify to this point."
There will be a full report by Dan Rather on his own evening news broadcast tonight. That's what CBS is saying.
But the fact that CBS yesterday, as recently as yesterday and over the weekend, was saying, Jeff, that the documents may have been not authentic, but the substance of their report was true. In other words, the documents may have been fake, but the allegations against a young George Bush were accurate. Does that -- can that hold water?
GREENFIELD: It seems to me that's very difficult. A lot of news organizations have in the past looked at George W. Bush's service in the National Guard and the timeline of what he did or didn't do. There's a front-page story in "The New York Times" just today, and "The Boston Globe" did this a long time ago.
But I think once you impeach the credibility of a news organization in terms of what it relied on, as an old law professor of mine said, it's like the 13th stroke of a clock, which casts doubt on not only itself, but everything that's gone before.
The other interesting thing about this, of course, has been remarked on, is the whole journalistic story of how these so-called bloggers, these people who dwell online, on the Web, focused in on the documents, people who specialize in things like 30-year-old typewriters and fonts, and stuff that is not exactly the substance of page-one news, and managed to challenge the credibility of one of the oldest established news organizations. And then in turn, that led a lot of mainstream news organizations, "The Washington Post," ABC News, "The Los Angeles Times," to say, hey, CBS News, you've got some serious questions to answer.
And let me tell you something, though, we have not heard the last of this phenomenon in journalism, where people that are not known to the journalistic community hold established media's feet to the fire. I think this is a permanent change in how journalism works, and the optimist in me says it's going to make us check facts harder when we know there are not 10, but thousands of eyeballs out there that we don't know who know exactly the right questions to ask in terms of challenging us.
BLITZER: I hope you are right, that optimist in Jeff Greenfield. But let's talk a little bit about that. CBS news itself is suggesting they were warned by some experts they consulted before they went to press, before they went to air, with their "60 Minutes" report, they were warned, you know what, you've got a problem with these documents, and the day after, you're going to be swamped with criticism. Yet they went to air with it, nevertheless, because the White House did not say to them supposedly the next day when their White House correspondent interviewed Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, he did not raise questions about the authenticity of the documents.
The argument you hear from a lot of conservatives and critics of CBS News is that they were so anxious to report this, they so wanted to embarrass and hurt this Republican president, they didn't care about the warnings that they were getting from their own experts going into the report. A lot of people believe that out there. They just had a mind set, they wanted to rush to press.
GREENFIELD: Look, one of the things I think that is characterized journalism in the last few years is that it's almost a post-modern world, if I can use that cliche, where based on your beliefs, based on your ideology, based on your politics, that's how you judge the accuracy of a report, in the same sense that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were embraced by the conservatives, and when the mainstream press said a lot of what they're saying is just plain wrong, if you were passionate about trying to hurt John Kerry, you didn't much care that the editor of a Chicago paper who was there broke a 30-year silence and said, no, these stories are untrue.
But it's certainly understandable why people would say what was your motive for getting this in the press? If you weren't prepared to listen to the warnings of experts, I think that is one of the consequences of journalism that falls short of standards, is that your motives are going to be questioned.
And as I mentioned earlier, Dan Rather is probably the No. 1 conservative's target, going back all the way to Watergate. Former CBS correspondent Bernard Goldberg in his bestselling "Bias" has some extremely harsh things to say about Dan Rather and his attitudes.
So, you know, would this be different if it were a different journalist? I don't know. If FOX News had run this story, if you can imagine such a thing, would the conservatives have been this dubious? Would they be in a posture of acknowledging error? I don't know.
But I do know that whatever your partisan bias is, it's probably because of my senior citizen status here, Wolf, I mean, you get one question off the bat, is this right? And did you check it out? In fact, I think it's Dan Rather who likes to say at speeches, if your mother tells you this is Monday, check it out. Trust your mother, but cut the cards, these kinds of famous little quips about how journalism should work.
BLITZER: If your mother tells you she loves you, get a second source.
GREENFIELD: I'm sorry. That's the right one.
BLITZER: That would be another one.
All right, let's step back for a minute and take a look at the bigger political picture, six weeks before an election. Dan Rather, CBS News, the president of CBS News, Andrew Haywood, they come out with this statement, in effect saying they were wrong, should not have released these purported documents.
How does it fit into this race right now? The Kerry speech today going after the president on Iraq. Tomorrow, the president will be speaking before the United Nations General Assembly? Is this a blip in this campaign, or is it going to have an impact in the eventual outcome, the CBS flap?
GREENFIELD: Well, I think a lot of journalists, myself very much included, are self-absorbed enough that we can promote our own brand of paper towels. Whether the public cares this much as opposed to the partisans, I don't know. I do think it is going to make it harder to make allegations about George Bush's National Guard Service, or lack of it, unless something emerges that we don't know about.
But I think what you heard today from Senator Kerry, and what I do think will play out much more significantly in terms of how people vote is, are people going to accept people's premise not only that George W. Bush made serious mistakes, because that's a charge that even a lot of Republicans now are embracing, but that John Kerry should be given the power of the presidency because he has an idea how to fix it. And I think in the context of the next six weeks that is going to be a much more significant factor than CBS' embarrassment today.
This certainly was the most systemic and sustained prosecutor's brief against the conduct of Iraq as led by George Bush.
But remember, you know, the public seems to have come to at least temporarily a notion that George -- President Bush's clearer on what he wants to do; we don't really know where Kerry stands. And the flip-flop argument, even with this speech, Kerry says no, why would anyone have gone to war knowing what we know now? But Kerry also said a week or two ago that he would have still voted for the "use of force" authorization in Congress, knowing what he knows now.
He's got a big mountain to climb, not so much in terms of his view of what's happened in Iraq, but on selling America the idea that he is a better steward than the president. That's his big challenge, I think.
BLITZER: And one final note before I let you go, Bill Burkett, the man at the center of handing even these documents, misleading CBS News about these documents, someone, as you would point out and others have pointed out, very critical of President Bush, suggesting a long time ago that he tried to cover up some of his behavior while in the Texas Air National Guard.
I can -- I think we can assume now, based on this CBS statement that the motive for trying to mislead CBS, and therefore mislead the American public about George W. Bush, the motive was anti-Bush, although though it seems to have played into the Bush camp's hands rather dramatically, which underscores the notion, you're never sure where this will lead, in politics being such a strange situation.
GREENFIELD: Yes, but absolutely. I mean, Burkett has been a guy who has held bush in minimum high regard, as they say in England, for years. But you know what, whoever leaks to the press has motives. I mean, the Swift Boat Veterans were not objective analysts of the Vietnam War; they wanted to hurt Kerry.
The test for me, as I said before, is first, last and always, is the information accurate? And is it credible? And is your source credible?
Clearly what the critics are now going to say is, well, if Burkett got them the documents and CBS can attest to the providence of these documents, where they came from, then it leads credence to the idea that somebody typed these things up to make them look like documents. We don't know that. But in this age when the motives of everybody is up for grabs, that's going to be clearly the next wave of assault on CBS -- You guys not only didn't know where they came from, but you used stuff that was probably cooked up to embarrass the president, and -- yes.
BLITZER: Well, it certainly has been a bonanza for the critics of CBS news, Dan Rather and "60 Minutes," in fact, the so-called elite news media. They're going to have a field day as a result of this.
GREENFIELD: Yes, and You know what, even though I work for CNN and I've worked for other news organizations, I think -- this is the optimist in me, Wolf -- I think the fact there is now this ability for critics of mainstream media to get their voices heard, and to be paid attention to, even if they come from the most obscure corners. One of the CBS executives said, and I'm in a statement he regrets, that there's a big difference between established news organization and guys sitting at home in front of their computers in their pajamas. Well, in this one, you know, the guys in the pajamas are the guerrilla warriors and look much better than at was at one time the most prestigious organization in the world. This is the network of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite and that tradition.
And the questions they raised seem to me to look a lot sharper than the defense that CBS News threw up. And if we have to be better at what we do and pay more attention to our critics and to our -- to the eyeballs out there, I think in the long run that's a good thing. I hope.
BLITZER: I think you're right.
By the way, one footnote before I let you go, we're going to continue our coverage on this. Jeff, do you remember the name of the news organization that, before the last election in 2000, reported that George W. Bush was arrested for -- supposedly for drunk driving?
GREENFIELD: Well, one of them was FOX News. BLITZER: That's correct, FOX News. Because you had suggested earlier, if you could imagine FOX News Channel reporting this -- well, they did, to their credit, report that before the last election.
GREENFIELD: All right. Well...
BLITZER: Just a footnote.
GREENFIELD: There's hope for us all.
BLITZER: Yes, that's correct. Jeff Greenfield, stand by. We're going to continue our coverage. We have much more coming in on this story.
Once again, CBS News acknowledging now they were misled by those purported documents on CBS. CBS News's "60 Minutes," suggesting now they should not have put the documents on the air.
Much more coverage on this story coming up right after this short break.
BLITZER: A major black eye for CBS News: The network now saying it can no longer vouch for the authenticity of those so-called documents raising questions about President Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard.
Our Jeanne Meserve has been covering the story for the past -- what is it -- week or two that it's been unfolding. Jeanne is here to update our viewers on what has just happened -- Jeanne?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, CBS News put out a statement just a short time ago. Included in that was a statement from the CBS News President Andrew Heyward.
He says, "Based on what we now know, CBS cannot prove that the documents are authentic, which is the only acceptable journalistic standard to justify using them in the report. We should not have used them; that was a mistake which we deeply regret."
The statement says that Bill Burkett, a former Guardsman who has a long-standing gripe with the guard and also with President Bush, was the source that CBS used for these documents. The statement says he deliberately misled the CBS News producer working on the report, giving her a false account of the document's origin to protect a promise of confidentiality to the actual source.
Burkett originally said he obtained the documents from another former Guardsman. Now he says he got them from a different source, whose connection to the documents and identities CBS News has been unable to verify at this point in time. The statement also says this will be an internal investigation review at CBS News. Also, there will be a statement from Dan Rather. We're expect that sometime this afternoon, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Jeanne Meserve reporting for us. Thanks very much.
Let's get some political analysis, some fallout from this development involving CBS News. For that, we're joined by two guests: Amy Walter is with "The Cook Political Report" here in Washington; Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor. Thanks to both of you.
Ken, I'll begin with you. Is there going to be some actual political fallout on the Kerry/Bush race as a result of what's happened at CBS News?
KEN RUDIN, POLITICAL EDITOR, NPR: Well, again, if we spend more time talking about whether these documents are real or not, they take away the issue that Democrats would love to talk about, and that is the actual dates and service that George W. Bush may have or may not have done in -- while he was the Air National Guard in Alabama.
Plus the fact that it is great news for the right, because the left has been saying all along that it's FOX News that's the enemy. You can't trust FOX News. And the right can say, Well, wait a second. Look at Dan Rather -- you know, his conflict, his battle with Richard Nixon in the '70s, his battle with George Bush, Sr. in '89. And here is another example of CBS bias.
So, this is good news, certainly for the right who have been accusing the media of being liberal.
BLITZER: Amy, what do you think?
AMY WALTER, "THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT": Well, I think in the political term, it helps Bush in that it takes the focus not just off of what the actual record said, but more importantly, it takes the focus off the issues that the Kerry campaign really wants to talk about, which is jobs, the economy, what's happening in Iraq.
Any time that the spotlight is on something other than those issues, I think that tends to help President Bush, keeps the focus on things that Kerry wants to talk about.
BLITZER: Doesn't (ph) (INAUDIBLE) the president and criticism from the left on his service in the Texas Air National Guard?
WALTER: I think for the most part people had made up their minds about this issue. I don't know if this issue, even if we found out that these documents were true, that they would move many voters. I think this is something that had been going on for quite a while.
Voters had made that decision. They were going to move on on that. And again, I don't think it really was going to help Kerry in the long run whether they were true or not, because again, it's focusing on something that happened 30, 35 years ago, not on what the issues are today.
BLITZER: As you know, Ken, Terry McAuliffe, among other outspoken Democrats, for months they've been saying the president was AWOL from service when he was supposed to be in the Alabama Air National Guard. They made this an issue, an issue that seems to have backfired on them, at least right now.
RUDIN: Not every Democrat feels that's the right strategy. You know, you always read these articles about what advice would you give John Kerry. And a lot of the advice is forget about Vietnam -- it was 35 years ago. Focus -- as Amy says, focus on the issues of today, that is Iraq and the economy and the war on terror.
It didn't -- the service in Vietnam did not work for Bob Dole when he tried to use it against Bill Clinton in '96, and apparently it's not working now either.
BLITZER: And we haven't heard lately a lot about John Kerry's Vietnam service. Is that story -- the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, has that story basically gone away?
WALTER: It seems like that has petered out a little bit. But again, we may see more ads on this as we move along. But keeping that focus on Vietnam, away from other issues, still seems to be a strategy that those folks are trying to employ.
Whether or not that's successful -- and look, Kerry, too, has been focusing on issues that don't have to do with Vietnam. He's been talking about the economy and Iraq, et cetera.
BLITZER: You've been in the news media for a long time, Ken -- as have I -- were you surprised that after that initial "60 Minutes" came out and questions started coming up almost immediately by these bloggers and then the mainstream news media picked it up, that Dan Rather was so adamant and insisting he had no doubt whatsoever on the authenticity of those documents, even in the face of serious questions about the formatting, the type size, the font, the language?
RUDIN: Well, having watched Dan Rather as long as I have, nothing surprises me what he does. His activities and his behavior has always been called into question. But he does more than damage Dan Rather here, he damages CBS News, especially by attributing these carping and complains from partisans as opposed to looking within CBS, I think, hurt both himself -- his legacy and CBS.
BLITZER: That initial statement that he made -- you remember, Amy -- he went out of his way to say criticisms coming from, I don't remember the exact words, but basically from critics, from right- wingers, from partisans involved in this debate. And now we know he's had to obviously humbly eat those words.
WALTER: Well, and I think this is going to be a continuing debate that's going to go much past this election, about just how credible do news organizations, how credible are they seen by folks? And that you can get your news now from so many different places, from the Internet, from television and cable sources, that ultimately what we're seeing, for the most part, we have voters who are picking certain places to go to get their news, based on what their own political philosophies are, rather than just having one, or two or three sources to go to. They are seen as the overarching.
BLITZER: Ken, you live, and eat breathe politics all the time. RUDIN: I'm still hungry.
BLITZER: Yes, the national polls, registered voters, likely voters, they seem to be all over the place, a lot of them. More important than the national polls are the state polls in those battleground states. And I looked closely at the most recent ones, as I'm sure both of you have, and the news is not good for John Kerry in a lot of those battleground states.
RUDIN: No, and what strikes me about those numbers is that a lot of these are the states that Al Gore won in 2000, Pennsylvania, which he won by five, six points, dead even. Wisconsin, which Al Gore won in 2000, dead even. A lot of states that John Kerry was hoping to wrest away from George W. Bush -- Missouri, Arizona, Colorado -- seem to be moving in the Bush direction.
So, again, we have six weeks to go. We have the debates, and we know how crucial debates can be. But in today's snapshot, I would say I agree with you, it's not looking good for John Kerry.
BLITZER: And those debates, a week from Thursday, the first one scheduled. I assume it will happen at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. They're both gearing up for these debates. But historically speaking, how significant, how much of an impact do you believe they will have?
WALTER: I think it's very significant. Look what happened with Al Gore last time. He came out of his convention, he was up by as much as 10 points, went into those debates, and it was after that and his performance that was roundly panned, where you started to see his numbers start to slip. He wasn't able to get the momentum back in the next two debates. And you know, go back and look where his plight started, it was with the debates.
BLITZER: I guess both of these candidates should learn don't sigh overly during those debates, and don't look at your watch either. There's a lot of lessons to be learned.
RUDIN: And don't rape or murder Kitty Dukakis,
BLITZER: No, that would be awful in those debates as well.
Amy Walter, thanks very much. Ken Rudin, thanks to you as well.
We'll take a quick break. More of our coverage coming up, including the latest on CBS News acknowledging those documents on "60 Minutes" should not have been aired. More coverage of this when we come back.
BLITZER: In addition to the earlier statement released by the CBS News Andrew Hayward, we now have a statement released by Dan Rather himself. The original part of the statement. He acknowledges mistakes were made, serious mistakes in getting those documents on the "60 Minutes" program. They should not have been used based on the reporting they have come up with.
"But we did use the documents," he goes on to say, and I'm quoting now, "we made a mistake in judgment, and for that I'm sorry. It was an error that was however in good faith, and in the spirit of trying to carry out a CBS News tradition of investigative reporting without fear or favoritism."
Dan Rather adds this, "Please know that nothing is more important to us than peoples trust and our ability and our commitment to report fairly and truthfully."
Dan Rather saying he's sorry that those documents were reported on CBS News.
Much more coverage coming up throughout the day here on CNN. I'll be back later today and every weekday at 5:00 p.m. Eastern for "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS," Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" and "The Washington Post," he'll join me to discuss this entire CBS News "60 Minutes" controversy.
Until then, thank you very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. LIVE FROM with Kyra Phillips is up next.
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