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Rather Liberal?

Aired November 23, 2004 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: For many, he's the personification of the -- quote -- "liberal media," CBS News anchor Dan Rather. Now he's leaving the anchor chair. His critics says he has an agenda and point to examples such as this election year's controversial story questioning President Bush's National Guard record. Dan Rather's story turned out to be based on documents that couldn't be authenticated.

Is Dan Rather too liberal? And just how liberal is the news media at large?




ANNOUNCER: Live from the Georgia Washington University, Donna Brazile sitting in on the left and Tucker Carlson.


Weeks after he disgraced his network in a scandal over phony documents, Dan Rather has announced he's leaving the anchor chair at CBS News after almost a quarter of century of subverting the news. His legacy? Millions of viewers who believe the rest of the media are as liberal as Dan Rather is. Are those millions of viewers right? That's our debate.

James Carville and Paul Begala have taken the day off today. They're with Barbra Streisand at Whole Foods shopping for tofurkey.


CARLSON: Sitting in on the left, one of our all-time favorites, former Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile.

And now the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

DONNA BRAZILE, GUEST HOST: Well, Tucker, unlike the election four years ago, this time around George W. Bush didn't have to rely on partisan election officials in Florida and a conservative Supreme Court to put him in office.

Republicans immediately began to claim that this meant he had a mandate to pursue an ultra-conservative agenda. Not so fast. According to a new poll "The New York Times" CBS News, nearly two- thirds of voters, including 1 percent of Republicans, believe that -- 51 percent of Republicans -- believe it's more important to reduce the deficit than to cut taxes. And check this out.

A new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll shows that more than twice as many Americans say that Mr. Bush does not have a mandate to advance the Republican agenda. Hopefully, these findings will serve to humble Mr. Bush and the far right cronies. But guess what? Don't hold your breath.

CARLSON: You know, the good thing about Bush is, agree or disagree, he's pretty straightforward. If you voted for it, you pretty much knew what you were getting. And that's probably what we're going to get.

Moreover, I think history judges presidents better when they kind of govern out of what they really believe in and do bold things, rather than get-along-go-along-type presidents. I bet Bush will be probably pretty aggressive in this second term.

BRAZILE: Well, let's see if we get an intelligence bill. Let's see if we can reduce the deficit. Let's see if we can find those jobs that have been missing now for the last four years.

CARLSON: I'm not sure that is what he ran on. I think he ran on like privatizing Social Security and seeing through Iraq to the end.


BRAZILE: Oh, well, I don't think he'll get a lot of support that way.

CARLSON: All right.

Well, Howard Dean once dreamed of lobbing Capitol Hill from his residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Alas, he never got there. But these days, he's begging for votes to succeed Terry McAuliffe as the head of the Democratic National Committee. Yesterday, we learned that Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack and former Clinton Labor Secretary Alexis Herman were pulling their names out of the running for that job.

Today, "The New York Sun" reports that Dr. Dean is lobbying congressional member who supported his presidential bid to weigh in on his behalf. Dean argues that he is just the man who the pick the Democratic Party up out of the doldrums and that he has proven his fund-raising prowess. And he's right on all counts, of course. Dean is just the person to lead a directionless party. Democrats, heed the scream. Howard Dean is your man. No apologies. Howard Dean for DNC chair.

Don't you agree, Donna? BRAZILE: Well, Dean is a doctor. And what ails a Democrat? Perhaps we do need a doctor. But I think we need more than a doctor, a mechanic or a cook. We need even more than a quarterback. We need a whole team, so that the Democratic Party can come fighting back.

CARLSON: You need someone with limited self-control, an unattractive personality and a really loud voice. And Howard Dean is all of those things.


CARLSON: Howard Dean is the physical embodiment of the values of the Democratic Party.

BRAZILE: I thought you were describing Rush Limbaugh.




CARLSON: No, no, I'm serious. I'm serious. Howard Dean is just your man. Howard Dean is, again, the physical embodiment. He's Mr. Democrat.


BRAZILE: If this was based on physical characteristics, Howard Dean would be a great chairman. But, look, we have a deep bench and we'll see what happens.

CARLSON: I hope he gets it. I'm praying for it every night.


BRAZILE: I know you are.

CARLSON: Yes, the whole thing.

BRAZILE: You couldn't wait. You can't wait.


BRAZILE: It's no secret that AM talk radio thrives on being outrageous and controversial, but the recent comments by a Wisconsin radio host about Dr. Condoleezza Rice were over the top under any standards.

The host used a term "Aunt Jemima" to describe Rice and went on to indicate that she's unqualified to get the job that she's getting. And because she's black, of course, he thought he could use that racial epithet. Well, not only are those comments appallingly racist. They're also wrong. Even if you disagree with Dr. Rice politically -- and I object to some of her views -- there's no question that she's smart, brilliant, and eminently qualified for the job. CARLSON: I agree. And I think you might want to point out that the radio show host in Madison, Wisconsin, who attacked her is a left- winger and a good friend of Senator Russia Feingold.


BRAZILE: And that's why Kweisi Mfume went after him, I went after him and a number of others went after him.


CARLSON: Then I wish Kweisi Mfume and the rest, including you, would go after the critics of Justice Clarence Thomas who refer to him as an Uncle Tom, who make racially disparaging remarks from the left at him constantly and have for 13 years and no one has said anything about it. Actually, the race-baiting is on the left, isn't it?


BRAZILE: Let's go after all of the race-baiting on the right as well. What I'm saying is, race-baiting should be wrong on both sides of the aisle.


CARLSON: Well, good for you for pointing it out.


CARLSON: But I will say, seriously, black Americans who are conservatives who deviate from the Democratic Party line tend to be attacked on racial grounds by liberals.


CARLSON: And it's disgusting. And I'm glad you pointed it out.

BRAZILE: Well, liberals who stand their ground are also demonized by right-wingers as well.

CARLSON: Not that I've noticed, but I would denounce it if I did.

Well, just about everyone agrees that George W. Bush won the election three weeks ago at least in part because he won the debate over values. A lot of voters, it turns out, seem to think that liberals are hostile to organized religion. The question is, wherever did they get that impression? Well, maybe from the Democratic stronghold of Maryland, possibly the most liberal state in America, where schoolchildren have been forbidden to learn about God.

We're not making this up. According to this morning's "Washington Times," Maryland public school teachers are required to teach the history of Thanksgiving without talking about religion. The only problem is, Thanksgiving started as a religious holiday. The Pilgrims were a religious minority. When they gathered to give thanks for the first time, they gave thanks to God, not to the State Central Committee or to the American Civil Liberties Union or even to the benevolent and peaceful Native Americans, who showered them with love, not arrows, but instead to the highest power. This is history.

Maryland schoolchildren ought to know it. But because of liberal censorship, they don't. And I'll tell you what, Donna. The first Democratic presidential candidate who denounces silliness like this, who denounces political correctness, who embraces a balanced conversation about religion will win.

BRAZILE: Well, look, praise the lord.

I mean, look, I'm a liberal. I just said it. So guess what? No one struck me down. I don't think there's a problem with teaching not only religion, but also the truth about how this holiday came about.

CARLSON: Well, that may be because you're from Louisiana, which is not at all a mainstream Democratic state. But in Massachusetts and Maryland and California and like liberal strongholds, no, verboten to talk about God.

BRAZILE: Well, that's just a stereotype, that liberals are somehow or another godless. And that's not true.

CARLSON: They're just annoying, not godless.


CARLSON: Well, what is the impact of Dan Rather's departure from the anchor desk? He was known for being folksy and in some cases very liberal. Did Dan Rather have a political agenda? Of course he did. And just how liberal is the media in general?

Also, so many celebrities, so little inspiration. Who has been chosen as the least intriguing and least inspiring of all celebrities in Hollywood? We have the answer. We'll tell you later.



CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Today marked the end of an era at CBS News and informal celebrations around the country, as Dan Rather announced he's leaving as anchor of the evening news. He's long been seen as a standard bearer for the traditional liberal media. So could his departure be more than just a changing of the guard?

Joining us is Bob Garfield, host of National Public Radio's "On the Media." He's in our Washington bureau. Here on the set, Rich Noyes of the Media Research Center.


CARLSON: Thanks for joining us. Bob Garfield, Dan Rather -- when the people talk about the liberal media, a lot of times, they're really talking literally about Dan Rather the man. I could give you 1,000 examples. I just want to give you my absolute favorite example of Dan Rather's political feelings coming through on the air. This is from a broadcast, "CBS Evening News," March 16, 1995, at the very beginning of kind of the Republican revolution in Congress.

This is how he led the broadcast -- quote -- "The new Republican majority in Congress took a big step today on its legislative agenda to demolish or damage government aid programs, many of them designed to help children and the poor."


CARLSON: Now, do you think that's a straight news lead or does it sound a lot more like a political ad?

BOB GARFIELD, HOST, "ON THE MEDIA": It sounds like a Republican push poll, to tell you the truth.

But, you know, I hope we're not going to go into indict Dan Rather and all of the media for, let's say, one infelicitous phrasing in one lead. He has become the poster child for the liberal media. The media are by and large liberal. But there's a huge difference between a person's political position somewhere left of center and flogging that ideology in the news, which I'm pretty sure that Dan Rather and the rest of the so-called liberal media seldom do.

This is opposed to, for example, Fox News Channel, which does it for a living.


CARLSON: Well, that's actually, I think a thoughtful point. One of the reasons people watch Fox is because they believe the rest of the media are liberal. And one of the reasons they believe that is because of Dan Rather, who clearly is liberal. Isn't that a problem itself, the perception?

Just to back it up, I could give you, again, many examples of his colleagues calling him liberal. Andy Rooney recently on this network, on "LARRY KING LIVE," said, I think Dan is -- quote -- "transparently liberal." Everyone knows he's liberal. Doesn't that hurt the rest of us in the press?

GARFIELD: The rest of us? You're lumping yourself in?

Tucker, Tucker...

CARLSON: Yes, I am, because I think it devalues the...

GARFIELD: Look, of course, the answer is yes.

CARLSON: ... the notion of objective news. And that hurts everyone who works for a news organization. GARFIELD: You know what? Here's the thing. And it's such a simple concept and yet apparently so difficult for so many people to grasp.

The values -- and that's a popular word these days -- the values of journalism happen to overlap the values of liberalism, suspicion of authority, distrust of government, seeking reform, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable when in transparency in our political process. They happen to overlap. So that's why it's natural that people in journalism also happen to be arrayed for the most part on the political left.

But once again, that is not an indictment of journalism.

CARLSON: That may be the most arrogant thing I've ever heard.

GARFIELD: I'm sorry?

BRAZILE: Well, Bob, thank you for redefining not only liberalism, but what journalism is all about.

Look, Mr. Noyes, it is so true that the way many of us liberals see the news media right now is that there's no such thing as a liberal bias. Instead, what you have are anchors or reporters trying to get the best story out possible. Your organization has made its name, its reputation on attacking people like Dan Rather, attacking the so-called liberal bias. Now that Dan Rather is stepping down, who's next?

RICH NOYES, MEDIA RESEARCH CENTER: Probably whoever he picks because there's an awful lot of liberals inside CBS. John Roberts, who has been named as somebody who might replace Rather, is somebody who's got a length of quotes almost as long as Dan Rather. His career isn't as long, but he's almost as liberal.

BRAZILE: So if you're quoted as saying something that seems to be attacking the president or attacking a conservative, attacking a Republican, you're liberal. You're biased.

NOYES: No, you're not. It's when you do that and then, when it comes to a Democrat, you offer supportive coverage, defensive coverage, coverage that tries to play the part of dismissing any attacks on them and you give two different standards for coverage, one for Republicans, one for Democrats.

Mr. Garfield just taught about how journalists are supposed to comfort the afflicted. Well, one of the big scandals this year has been the oil-for-food scandal at the U.N. "CBS Evening News" with Dan Rather has not dug into that at all. He may be supposed to comfort the afflicted, but he's not really digging into that one at all.

CARLSON: Isn't that a big point, Mr. Garfield? You just said a second ago that it's natural a lot of journalists are liberal, because liberalism and journalism share a lot of the same values. I would argue that libertarianism shares a lot of the values that you just enumerated. But one of the values you mentioned was an instinctive distrust of authority. The problem with Dan Rather was, he sucked up to authority when he agreed with it. For instance, 1993, May 27, he had the following exchange with then President Bill Clinton, who was -- congratulated Rather on his partnership with Connie Chung.

Rather said -- quote -- "Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. President. If we would be 100th as great as you and Hillary Rodham Clinton have been together in the White House, we would take it right now and walk away winners."

That's not comforting the afflicted. That's sucking up to power. That's throne-sniffing.

GARFIELD: Look, Tucker, you can't argue by anecdote. That's silly.

But if you want that anecdote, I'll give you another one. And that's Dan Rather on the David Letterman show in tears vowing to support the president in any way in the fight against terrorism. The man wears his emotions on the sleeve.

And, listen, I'm not arguing that Dan Rather should not have made this decision. It appears -- and, again, we can only presume -- it appears that an unflattering report about the way this "60 Minutes II" story was produced is going to bring a whole heap of unhappiness on the CBS News division, and that Dan Rather is right in front -- or right in the middle of the problem. And maybe this was the right decision.

But, you know, he has been made -- let me put it to you this way. Rich just a moment ago talked about, there's a whole lot of liberals in CBS News, like Joe McCarthy talking about a list of communist in the State Department.

CARLSON: Oh, come on.


GARFIELD: Since when does liberalism -- is that some sort of indictment on a person's integrity?

CARLSON: Let's just back up here a second. You dismissed -- you dismissed the phony document scandal as -- by referring to -- quote -- "an unflattering report."

It's not clear to me how can you even imply a defense of Rather's action in that. He allowed a document whose providence he didn't know -- they didn't know where the document came from. They don't claim to ever have known where it came from, that was, according to a number of experts they consulted and paid for, probably false. He put it on the air anyway. That's evidence he's not simply liberal. He's a lousy journalist. Doesn't that bother you?

GARFIELD: I didn't say it doesn't bother me. And I'm very unhappy about many aspects of that story, first, the way CBS handled it, and, secondly, by the way, the way this Dan Rather-gate got in the way of the larger story, which was whether the president did or did not evade service during the Vietnam era.

That story has been entirely lost in the fuss, maybe all Dan Rather's fault, but, nonetheless, the fuss of whether this was shoddy journalism or not. I think that's most unfortunate. And if the man has to fall on his sword, he has to do so. But, once again, this does not indict the media. Dan Rather's -- his excesses or his failings, does not indict the media as some sort of negative force in America.


GARFIELD: I want just want to remind you that one of the values that the media reflexively support is civil liberties and distrust of government, which was just part of the founders' whole idea. This is not the Marxist manifesto we're talking about. We're talking about the Bill of Rights.


BRAZILE: Bob, you're so on point, but I have to go back to Mr. Noyes about this whole issue of bias.

And I think the point of Memogate was lost because of the so- called forged documents. But the actual stories behind the document, I didn't hear anything different on the cable news or on the other network news. Everyone was going after those documents, but not the truth behind the story itself.

NOYES: Well, but the story that Rather was trying to push with those forged memos -- and it would have been a one-sided, biased story if there hadn't been any forgery involved -- was a...

BRAZILE: What's the bias?


BRAZILE: What's the bias when there's a...


GARFIELD: That's preposterous.

NOYES: They put together a news magazine story that was based only on the testimony of Democratic partisan Ben Barnes, a former lieutenant governor of Texas who had it in for Bush. That was his entire premise of the story, plus these documents.

BRAZILE: So when Democrats speak out, it's biased.

NOYES: There was that story.

Then there was a story of what John Kerry did in the Vietnam War. CBS didn't touch the Kerry story or defended Kerry. They decided to spend four years going after George Bush. There's a huge difference there. It shows they had an agenda to go after Bush and an agenda to protect Kerry. If that's not bias, I don't know what is.


GARFIELD: You have special powers.

CARLSON: Hold on. You just said a second ago that most journalists distrust government. Is that's true, then why does every survey done show that the vast majority of journalists support liberal Democrats, who, of course, favor an increase in the size and power of government? Those two concepts don't go together.

GARFIELD: Now, hold it a second. Now you're playing with words.

Government that you're talking about is federalism, the ability of the government to create social services and programs to help its people. That's government in that sense. Then there's government in the sense of elected officials running our country for us and making important decisions for us for reasons that are not necessarily transparent.

CARLSON: That's a distinction without a difference.

GARFIELD: In that sense, of course we are suspicious of authority. And you're playing very -- word games there, Tucker.


CARLSON: It's not a word game. Actually, it's a pretty simple concept. Let me repeat it, so maybe you will get it this time.


CARLSON: It is that, if journalists are suspicious of misuse of the power of the federal government, why, by their votes, do they support giving more power to the federal government? Simple question.

GARFIELD: Once again, you're conflating two -- the same word, but dissimilar ideas.

Yes, people -- liberals want to -- typically want to have more federalism, not less. That's true. At the same time -- and try to hold two ideas in your head at the same time that, at the same time, they want to make sure...


CARLSON: All right.

GARFIELD: They want to make sure that the government is spending their tax dollars properly, that they're not abusing their authority, and they're not...


CARLSON: I'm sorry to cut you off. What you're saying bears no resemblance to the liberals in my neighborhood. But we can talk about it in just a second when we come back after a commercial break.

BRAZILE: It's called transparency. You probably haven't heard of that word either.

CARLSON: Next, in "Rapid Fire," Dan Rather is not the only liberal in the media. We'll ask if some reporters are showing their stripes with their political donations.

And what is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld saying about accusations he has been fighting passage of the intelligence reform bill? Judy Woodruff has the latest right after this.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Judy Woodruff reporting from Washington.

Coming up at the top of the hour, Dan Rather stepping down as anchor of "The Cbs Evening News." What's behind his announcement?

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld says he supports intelligence reform, but the Joint Chiefs can speak for themselves.

And Oliver Stone talks with us about his new movie about Alexander the Great.

All those stories and much more just minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Time for "Rapid Fire," where we ask questions a lot faster than Dan Rather bothers to apologize for airing a phony news report.


CARLSON: Joining us again from our Washington bureau, Bob Garfield, co-host of NPR's "On the Media." With us here in Washington, Rich Noyes of the Media Research Center.

BRAZILE: Well, contents still matter. First Brokaw, now Rather. What is the future of network news?

NOYES: Oh, I think it's declining ratings. I think we learned over this election cycle that people found cable to be their primary source of news. Fox News Channel, which is not a conservative network, but simply a nonliberal network, actually won the ratings for the conventions and for election night. And it -- you know, I think more and more people are going to go to cable because news is there 24/7 when they want it.

CARLSON: Bob, you work at NPR, obviously a pretty liberal network. Does it bother you that all of the political donations given in this last cycle went to Democrats, not one to Republican? And if you really care about diversity, why don't you hire some Republican donors, too?

GARFIELD: Now, I always freeze up during the lightning round, but I really have no idea what you're talking about. There are two NPR...



GARFIELD: I think two NPR employees, one of them in the news division, gave a personal donation.



GARFIELD: OK, so it's six. But this is an organization with I don't know how many thousands of employees.

CARLSON: It doesn't bother you?

GARFIELD: I'll give you a no on that.

CARLSON: You're supposed to be representing America. Shouldn't there be some Republicans? Fifty-one percent of the country voted for Bush.

GARFIELD: I don't even work for NPR. They distribute our show. I'm not going to presume to speak for that organization. But I don't think that's an important question, so my inability to answer probably won't hurt.

CARLSON: Or an answerable one, obviously.

BRAZILE: They're probably giving secret donations. We just don't know, like most Republicans.


BRAZILE: Mr. Rather, you wished him well. In your press release, you wished him well in his perhaps new gig with "60 Minutes."


BRAZILE: What do you hope to see him cover on those shows?

NOYES: Maybe he can keep trying to track down who the ultimate forger of these documents was. "60 Minutes" is where he actually committed the worst transgression of his career. And that's going to be the resting ground for retirement? That's an odd place.

CARLSON: He's going to find the real killers.


CARLSON: Rich Noyes, Bob Garfield, thanks a lot for joining us. We appreciate it.



CARLSON: Well, celebrities exist to be intriguing, apparently. What if you're a celebrity who has been named least intriguing of them all? We'll tell you who won that dubious honor next.

We'll be right back.



CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

You might have thought that, if there was one place left in America where filmmaker Michael Moore still actually had some credibility left, it would be Hollywood, but no. Sorry, Mr. Moore. It turns out that, even in Hollywood, he is a joke. Moore tops's "Frigid 50," an annual list of Hollywood's -- quote -- "least inspiring, least intriguing celebrities."

The editors advise Moore -- quote -- "Lose the chip on your shoulder" and suggests that he support a Republican in the next presidential election. It would take a gesture that dramatic to make Michael Moore interesting again. Even then, I would not be interested.

BRAZILE: Well, Abe Lincoln is dead. I don't know what other Republican he could support. And I'm sure right now he's laughing his ugly, unpopular butt all the way to the bank.

From the left...

CARLSON: That's true. You know what? I'm glad you admitted it's all about money. You're an honest woman, Donna. That's why I like you.


BRAZILE: Happy Thanksgiving.

CARLSON: Happy Thanksgiving.

BRAZILE: From the left, I'm Donna Brazile. That's it for CROSSFIRE today.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again next time -- I think after Thanksgiving -- for yet more CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now. Have a great night.



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