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Tuesday, September 21, 2004


Sticking it to CBS and Kerry

The Drudge Report claims that Bush officials want CBS News correspondent Bob Schieffer removed as the moderator for the final (Oct. 13th) Presidential debate.

If true, this would appear to be a clever move to keep the story about the CBS forged document scandal in the public eye, while simultaneously punishing CBS for it's biased and shoddy journalism.

But characterizing it as merely a “clever move” misses the underlying genius. It would be a BRILLIANT political move, simultaneously skewering CBS and the Kerry campaign.

Let's look ahead and see why.

There are only three ways to remove Bob Schieffer as the debate moderator:

1.        The Commission on Presidential Debates can replace Schieffer.

2.        The Kerry and Bush campaigns can jointly agree to replace Schieffer.

3.        Schieffer can voluntarily withdraw, or CBS can order him to withdraw (and fire him if he refuses).

Option #1 is highly unlikely. The Commission would have no grounds to replace Schieffer, since he isn't personally implicated in the 60 Minutes II document forgeries and cover-up. For the Commission to act would be seen as violating its own neutrality and siding with the Bush campaign.

Option #2 requires the Kerry campaign to concede that CBS is now a tainted and biased network whose correspondents can no longer be trusted to be fair. The Kerry campaign will oppose a move to replace Schieffer for the following reasons:

·         Kerry and his staff reflexively oppose everything Bush does.

·         The Democratic hard-core base remains convinced that the contents of the CBS story are accurate (i.e., Bush is a "Favorite Son" who received preferential treatment to get into the National Guard and later disobeyed orders so as to avoid some of his required service and get out early). These Democrats believe that Dan Rather is a hero for forging ahead with the story [pun intended], and they will be extremely pissed if the Kerry campaign stabs CBS in the back.

·         Agreeing to drop Schieffer makes Kerry look weak. He'll be seen as desperate to keep the debates on track, because he's way behind and they're his last remaining hope.

·         It will be seen as an attempt to distance Kerry from the CBS forgery scandal, which in turn will feed speculation that Kerry and/or the DNC were significantly involved.

Option #3 would seem to be a logical course of action, especially if CBS truly is biased towards Kerry: Let Bob Schieffer fall on his sword to enhance Kerry's election prospects. But this has it's own set of gigantic problems:

·         Schieffer will strongly resist. This is a plum assignment in his career, and he'll consider it highly unfair for him to be tarred, even indirectly, with Dan Rather's forgery brush.

·         This neuters CBS as a news organization. It shouts to the entire world that CBS has lost all legitimacy and its correspondents can no longer be trusted.

·         CBS affiliate radio and TV stations around the country will scream bloody murder.

That last item is the key factor! Until now most CBS affiliates have tried to stay out of the line of fire, referring viewer complaints to CBS corporate headquarters while stressing their own independence. But if Bob Schieffer is removed as moderator, either voluntarily or involuntarily, the new "Schieffer precedent" will instantly be applied to local CBS news organizations.

Republicans around the country will start excluding CBS reporters and yanking their credentials to events, on the grounds that CBS is no longer a trustworthy and unbiased news organization. Local CBS affiliates will see their reputations and their news reporters' access and their financial bottom lines directly impacted. They won't stand for that. They will apply enormous and irresistible pressure on the CBS network to completely clean up the Dan Rather mess.

So here's the likely scenario:

Bush officials become publicly more insistent that Schieffer be removed as a debate moderator. They goad the Kerry campaign into publicly resisting. Once that happens, it becomes a hundred times more difficult for the Kerry campaign to reverse its position (re-emphasize all the reasons under Option #2 above).

CBS adamantly refuses to withdraw Schieffer as a moderator, due to the horrible consequences.

The third debate approaches, and Bush indicates that he will not attend if Schieffer remains the moderator. The Kerry campaign tries to paint Bush as being afraid to risk another debate. But the Bush campaign trumps that by asking why Kerry is so insistent on keeping Schieffer? What secret information does CBS have implicating Kerry and the DNC in the forgery scandal, that CBS is using to keep the Kerry campaign in line?

Media coverage of the Presidential race fixates on that third debate, to the exclusion of all other issues. Will Schieffer be removed? Will Bush show up? Will CBS get another black eye? Why is Kerry defending CBS? Oh, and while we're at it, let's review the entire forgery scandal for the umpteenth time.

Finally, just days before the event, the CBS suits crack under the force being applied by their affiliates. They announce that they are doing a thorough house-cleaning. Dan Rather is fired, 60 Minutes II Executive Producer Josh Howard is fired, Mary Mapes is fired (if she hasn't already been), CBS News President Andrew Heyward is fired, and dozens of other heads roll.

The new President of CBS News issues a groveling apology to everyone who was harmed by the forgery scandal, with special mentions to the Killian family, Brig. Gen. Walter B. Staudt, Laura Bush, President Bush, the CBS “family”, critics who were proven right, and the general public whose sacred trust was violated. CBS agrees to reveal every scrap of information it has on the source of the forgeries. Furthermore, CBS announces new formal written guidelines for maintaining strict objectivity and non-slanted reporting in all future news and news-magazine coverage. An internal commission or ombudsman will be established within CBS to monitor all coverage and enforce the guidelines in a transparent manner.

In response, the Bush campaign thanks CBS for coming to its senses and doing the right thing. Apologies are graciously accepted, hopes are expressed that CBS (and indeed all other major media organizations) will live up to the new fairness guidelines, and Bob Schieffer is welcomed back as the debate moderator.

And Kerry is left standing out on the limb that CBS has now sawed off.

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