What follows is the story leading up to the interview, followed by a video of the exchange. Follow along as the Bush Team and Roger Ailes of Fox News notoriety sniff out the scheme at CBS, and prepare Bush to give Dan Rather the ass whooping of a life time.
CBS started with the setup from which they hoped to spring the trap:
When CBS requested an interview with Bush, the following letter was sent to the Bush campaign:What follows is the story of the lead up and the climax of the interview.
"Part of our early coverage of the 1988 presidential election has been a series of candidate profiles produced for 'CBS Evening News.' We purposely saved your profile for last. Dan Rather is very interested in your profile, and has decided to do it himself."
Copies of the letter were made and distributed throughout campaign headqurters. Bush was given a copy and handwrote the following on his:
"I feel comfortable with Rather. Make sure this guy gets reply soon."
[Dan Rather] was the living symbol, in conservative circles, of the power and presumption of the media....Rather had been working on an inquiry into the story of the veep, the Ayatollah and the Contra comandantes, and in January CBS put in for an interview with Bush — an extended sitting, the network said, to be edited down to five minutes or so of tape for a “profile” of the vice president.Reactions about the interview from members of the Bush family and staff, as well as quotes from members of the media can be found here. What follows is a video of the exchange courtesy, Media Research Center and Newsbusters.
“Ab-so-lute-ly no!” [Roger] Ailes exploded in a staff meeting. You could never trust TV guys in a tape situation. They weren’t on your side; they could edit your guy into oblivion. “Jesus,” Ailes said. “No, no, no!”
The request was rejected, and after fitful negotiations Bush’s men followed up with a counteroffer: Rather could have his interview, but it would be live or nothing.
Not all of them celebrated when the network said yes. Lee Atwater, for one, didn’t like the smell of it. He was a medley of tics and twitches even in repose, all flittering fingers and jouncing knees, and the Rather interview looked to him like a setup.
“I’d really watch that guy,” he said when Bush phoned in from New Hampshire the day of the telecast.
Bush laughed. You’re wrong, he said; he had known Rather since Texas, twenty-five years before, when Bush was in oil and Rather in local news.
“He’s a fair man,” the vice president said.
“All right,” Atwater answered. He was still nervous.
Ailes wasn’t. [Pollster Bob] Teeter had alerted him the night before that they were caught in a classic bait-and-switch; the word was around that the subject would be Iran-Contra and that CBS was going to open up half the show for it, Rather’s piece first, then the interview. Ailes made some calls, confirming the rumors; one mole told him people were running around the network boasting that they would take Bush out of the race. The warrior in Ailes wakened, and when Air Force Two landed in a snowstorm at Andrews Air Force Base that Monday evening, he and [Bush aide Craig] Fuller were waiting.
The limousine ride to town was the only chance they would have to prepare Bush for the likelihood that, as Ailes predicted, Rather would be coming at him like a mad dog.
Bush seemed insufficiently worried. “I’ve answered the question five hundred times,” he said. “I don’t see any big deal.”
“This is a big deal,” Ailes said. “All they have to do is press you on dates and bullshit that you haven’t had time to review, and you’re gonna look like you don’t know what you’re talking about. If somebody asked me what I had for lunch last Thursday, I wouldn’t know, but I’d look guilty trying to think about it.”
“No, no,” Bush said. “Dan Rather is a good newsman. He won’t do that.”
“Hey, “ Ailes said, “his job tonight is ratings. His ass is on the line. He doesn’t care about you. If he thought he could get away with it, he’d shoot you.”
The message registered, and Ailes used their time in the car to get Bush ready for combat. “Don’t accept anything Rather says to you,” he said. “Don’t accept the premise of any question — I don’t even care if it’s right. Stay on offense the whole time and wear him out.” He studied Bush. The guy wouldn’t fight unless he got mad, and what dependably would get him mad was the feeling that he was being treated unfairly.
“Watch that opening piece,” Ailes told him. “That’ll get you up.”
As it happened, Ailes had thought about what to fight with: a notorious incident several months earlier when Rather, on location in Miami, had got sore at having his newscast held up by a tennis match and had walked off his set to call New York to bitch about it.
The tennis match had ended in his absence, and CBS, with nothing else to put on the air, had gone to black — an empty screen — for six minutes. It was the ultimate embarrassment for a network, as Ailes reminded Bush; Rather would deny afterward that that had been his intent, but he caught heat for it.
“Look,” Ailes said, “he’s trying to judge your whole vice-presidency by this stuff. That’s like judging his whole career in broadcasting by six minutes when he acted like an asshole.”
It's fun to watch the trap sprung, then quickly fall apart as Bush would not back down. Rather received a lot of heat from his peers, as well he should! All of the questions that Rather attempted to ask had been asked and answered repeatedly, and most under oath. The answers were available, but Rather was attempting to make Bush look guilty by getting him to hedge on an answer, or stating that he was unable to remember. In the end, Bush came out on top.
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