ROVE SLAMS DAN RATHER: NOT A 'SERIOUS' REPORTER
President Bush, for the first time, is hailing the rise of the alternative media and the decline of the mainstream media, which he now says “conspired” to harm him with forged documents.
“I find it interesting that the old way of gathering the news is slowly but surely losing market share,” Bush said in an exclusive interview for the new book STRATEGERY. “It’s interesting to watch these media conglomerates try to deal with the realities of a new kind of world.”
[STRATEGERY was ranked #5 on AMAZON.COM's sales chart early Tuesday morning.]
For example, journalist Dan Rather left the anchor chair at CBS News after Internet reporters revealed he had used forged documents to criticize Bush’s military record in September 2004. The forgeries, which Bush now calls a conspiracy, ended up helping his reelection campaign, he acknowledged in the Oval Office interview.
“It looks like somebody conspired to float false documents,” the president tells author Bill Sammon. “And I was amazed about it. I just couldn’t believe that would be happening [and] then it would become the basis of a fairly substantial series of news stories.”
He added: “Then there was a backlash to it. I mean, a lot of people were angry that this could have happened. A lot of Americans are fair people and they viewed this as patently unfair. So in a funny way, I guess it inured to our benefit, when it was all said and done.”
The episode, known as “Memogate,” inoculated Bush against further scrutiny of his National Guard record for the duration of the presidential campaign.
“It also, frankly, gave us an opportunity, frequently, when things came out in the media that we didn’t believe or didn’t like, to say, ‘It’s another CBS story,’” said Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, who was the president’s campaign manager. “I mean, it gave us a serious response to bad news.”
Although Memogate was initially expected to harm the president, it ended up backfiring spectacularly on the press.
“The guy that it hurt most was Dan Rather and the executives at CBS,” White House strategist Karl Rove said in an interview for STRATEGERY. “It further disgraced a network which is third in ratings and, if you look at the demographics of their consumers, it’s like 70 percent Democrat.”
Rove said Rather’s eagerness to broadcast obviously forged documents proves he is “no serious reporter.” As for Rather’s insistence, to this day, that the documents are real, Rove said: “That’s really bias.”
Memogate has helped accelerate the decline of the mainstream media, generally defined as CBS, NBC, ABC, The New York Times and other establishment news outlets.
“I think what’s healthy is that there’s no monopoly on the news,” Bush said. “There’s competition. There’s competition for the attention of, you know, 290 million people, or whatever it is.
“And the amazing thing about this world we live in is that there’s a kind of free-flowing, kind of bulletin board of ideas and thoughts out there in the ether space, sometimes landing on somebody’s desk and sometimes not, but always available. It’s a very interesting period.”
Having long been pilloried by the mainstream media, Bush now finds the rise of the alternative media nothing less than revolutionary.
“It’s the beginning of the twenty-first century; it also happens to be the beginning of—or near the beginning—of a revolution in newsgathering and dissemination,” he said. “Not in newsmaking—that tends to be pretty consistent.”
Rove considers Memogate a watershed in the rise of the alternative media.
“The whole incident in the fall of 2004 showed really the power of the 'blogosphere',” he said in his West Wing office.
“Because in essence you had now, an army of self-appointed experts looking over the shoulder of the mainstream media and bringing to bear enormously sophisticated skills,” he added.
Still, Rove cautioned that the Internet’s political potential has a darker side.
“There is so much ugliness and viciousness and fundamental untruths that the blogosphere transmits,” he lamented. “It also is a vehicle for ugly rumors, for scurrilous personal attacks, an avenue for the creation of urban legends which are deeply corrosive of the political system and of people’s faith in it.”
Rove said Rather and his producer, Mary Mapes, were gunning for the president and trying to help his challenger, Sen. John Kerry, by broadcasting the forged documents in the heat of the presidential campaign.
“From her body language and his body language, their enthusiasm for this story was in large measure fed by the belief that they were playing a constructive and perhaps determinative role in the presidential campaign,” Rove said of Mapes and Rather.
“They made a decision in this instance – I think quite prematurely and quite unfairly – to pursue a story that attacked the president,” he added. “And I thought it was, to me, one of the most incredible examples of how fundamentally unfair it was.”
Rove expressed astonishment that CBS ignored the warnings of document experts hired by the network to authenticate the National Guard memos.
“It goes back to the failure of the mainstream media, in this instance, to honor their own experts,” he said.
Rove is not the only senior Bush adviser who considers the mainstream media biased against the conservative president. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card was outraged that the TV networks refused to declare Bush the winner on Election Night, even after all the votes were counted in the pivotal state Ohio and it became obvious Kerry could not win.
“Some of the talking heads,” Card said, “were rooting for a crisis in Ohio. It wasn’t just that they were afraid to admit we had won.”
Card became particularly incensed when Bush’s Ohio lead reached 120,000 votes, which was mathematically insurmountable.
“Nobody wanted to call it so that we had won,” he said. “It was like, c’mon, are they just afraid to say it?”