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Dan Rather has always been sure there was "more than meets the eye" on Iran-contra. Rather had CBS investigate extensively into the scandal in hopes that possibly Ronald Reagan or George Bush were involved. On January 25, 1988, Dan Rather interviewed Bush in a now-infamous interrogation. The interview is now considered so much a part of history by C-SPAN that it sells video tapes of the confrontation on its Web site.
In the interview, Dan Rather kept trying to implicate George Bush, trying to get Bush to say that he was involved in Iran-contra. Over and over again, Rather would ask Bush a question about his knowledge of the imbroglio. When Bush wouldn't concede that he had prior knowledge, Rather would interrupt him and ask him another question about whether he knew. This went on until Rather interrupted Bush for the last time and ended the interview. The interview caused a stir. A number of CBS affiliates called the Bush campaign to apologize for the anchor's behavior. Sam Donaldson, known for his own confrontational interviews, said, "Rather went too far." Mike Wallace, a fellow CBS reporter, said, "The style was wrong. Dan lost his cool."
This section is comprised of reactions to the interview, from George Bush, Sam Donaldson, Bush's wife, and others.
Read the transcript or watch the interview (from the Media Research Center).
"I was doing the Rather live program from my office right in the Capitol.... There
were four minutes of clips -- all questioning my word. It was
a mean, tough interview. Dan came on, and he and I got right with it. I tried
to keep cool.... But I'd be damned if I was going to let this guy walk all over
--George H. W. Bush in his diary, January 25, 1988, included in All the Best, George Bush.
"I won the battle with Dan Rather that night, but he won the war. His coverage
of my campaign and presidency was consistently negative."
--George H. W. Bush in his 1999 book, All the Best, George Bush.
"...he was at the very least skirting the truth about his involvement in sending
some of America's best technology to the Ayatollah Khomeini."
--Dan Rather to Chris Mathews CNBC's Hardball, June 28, 1999.
When CBS requested an interview with Bush, the following letter was sent to the Bush campaign:
"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."
"Rather went too far...I don't think we [as journalists] can get to a situation
where we make -- on our own authority -- accusations."
--Sam Donaldson of ABC News, 1988.
|The Day After: Dan Rather defends his interview with Bush before the press.|
"I thought about that time, 'Look, he was doing he felt what he had to
do as a politician trying to position himself to get the presidency.' I was
doing what reporters do, and that is asking the tough questions and keep pressing
it either until he answered or until it was clear he wasn't going to answer."
--Dan Rather to Chris Mathews on CNBC's Hardball, June 28, 1999.
After the interview, Bush made a comment when he thought the microphone
"The bastard didn't lay a glove on me." "He makes Lesley Stahl look like a pussy."
Bush later apologized at a South Dakota campaign stop:
"If I had known the microphone was on, I wouldn't have done it."
"Journalists of integrity ask questions. We don't come to conclusions
before getting what can be considered reasonably honest answers. Especially
when an interview subject is involved with allegations of serious wrongdoing
in public office, it is the responsibility of an ethical journalist to ask direct
questions--and keep on asking them until the subject answers, or until it is
clear he refuses to answer."
--Dan Rather in his 1994 book, The Camera Never Blinks Twice.
"A substantial proportion of the public enjoys seeing reporters shut down when
they get aggressive because they see journalists as arrogant."
--William Adams, professor of public policy at George Washington University and a specialist on the mass media about why Rather's attack on Bush actually helped the 1988 Bush campaign.
President Bush gave a speech about his campaign:
"The toughest part, for me, was the debates. Some time has passed, so I want to take a moment to recognize my opponent. He was strong, tough, tenacious, a real fighter. I gained a newfound respect for Dan Rather." [laughter]
--George Bush at the Bush-Quayle Campaign Reunion, January 18, 1990.
"President Bush and Dan Rather, the CBS anchor, had become mortal enemies as a result of their live interview during the 1988 presidential campaign. Rather is a self-proclaimed liberal whose weekly radio show on CBS openly condemns conservative policies and ideas. He clearly hoped to damage Bush in the TV interview, rehearsing all day, taping a prosecutorial lean-in about Iran-Contra, and turning over much of his regular newscast to others so he could concentrate on the interview. He immediately went on the attack about Iran-Contra, and Bush countered, asking Rather if he would like his entire career judged by the time he walked off the set during a newscast and left the network dark for seven minutes. Rather was stunned, looked in shock, and came back with shrill and ugly questions. The consensus afterward was that Bush had won big, destroying Rather and establishing himself as a tough competitor. Rather, of course, hated Bush after that."
--Former Bush press secretary Marlin Fitzwater in his 1995 book, Call the Briefing.
"Well, I had my say, Dan. [Rather] makes Lesley Stahl look like a pussy. The worst time Iíve had in twenty years of public life.
But itís going to help me, because that bastard did not lay a glove on me. I'm really upset. You can tell your goddam network that
if they want to talk to me, they can raise their hands at a press conference. No more 'Mr. Insider' stuff."
--George Bush to CBS after the interview.
"Trying to ask honest questions and trying to be persistent about answers is
part of a reporter's job, and however it may seem at any given time, the intention
of even persistent questions in a spirited interview is to do an honest, honorable
--Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News, January 26, 1988, the day after the interview.
"We owe him a debt of gratitude."
--Bush aide speaking of Rather and his interview of Bush. Bush's campaign benefited from the interview and Rather's Evening News lost ratings during Election '88.
Howard Kurtz, media critic of the Washington Post, asked Dan Rather
about why he interviewed George Bush harder than Bill Clinton:
KURTZ: You were also very aggressive with Vice President Bush when you interviewed him on CBS during the Iran-contra affair. But when you interviewed President Clinton a couple months ago, after this long impeachment ordeal, you asked him such things as: "How is the first family holding up?" "Did the past year have a moral?" "What can parents tell their children about this whole episode?" Why didn't you ask him, you know, "Mr. President, with all due respect, you put the country through a terrible ordeal, you lied to your friends and closest advisers, and how can anyone trust you again?" Were you pulling any punches?
RATHER: No, I don't pull punches. I go into each interview thinking to myself, "How can I make this the best interview I've ever done, and how can I make the best interview he's ever done?" But the question is fair. First of all, he'd been asked a version of those questions at news conferences and at other forums -- that's number one. Number two, you know, I've learned that there are three things that every man at CBS News thinks he can do better than any other man: one is to judge a Miss America contest, two is coach the Knicks, and three is to do big interviews. Everybody has their idea about how the interview should be done. I sized up the moment -- the news moment, if you will, sized up President Clinton, and I thought the interview was as revealing as anything he had done. On another day he might have done it a different way."
--Howard Kurtz interviewing Dan Rather on CNN's Reliable Sources, June 26, 1999. Note: Bush had also been asked the same questions by other reporters as well.
"I honestly believed at the time that Bush would be eager to answer the
questions, as fully and as often as it took to get them over with, set aside,
and, if possible, out of the way of his campaign" "I was wrong, about
that and much else."
--Dan Rather in his 1994 book, The Camera Never Blinks Twice.
"The style was wrong. Dan lost his cool."
--Rather's CBS colleague Mike Wallace on the interview, 1988.
"I don't want to have a big running fight with Dan Rather or anybody else,
but if you get yourself out there in the public arena, it's important that you
defend your principles. And that's what I thought I was trying to do." "I have
no hard feelings about it." "I did what I thought was right, and you have got
to do that."
--Bush during a 1988 campaign stop in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Rather went through the day's news, and at the end:
"Now, a personal word, if I may, about last night's interview with Vice President BushCBS did not mislead the Vice President about the subject of the interview."
--Dan Rather the next day on the CBS Evening News, January 26, 1988.
Before the interview Bush made a comment:
"They aren't going to talk about Iran-contra, are they? If he talks to me about the Iran-contra affair, they're gonna see a seven-minute walkout here."
"What my life is about is covering stories," "I'm going to try to keep on asking
--Dan Rather the next day on the CBS Evening News, 26, 1988.
"One of the best decisions Bush made in the 1988 campaign was to go live with Dan Rather.
If he had taped, Rather's editors would have spiked the devastating segment where Bush took the
anchorman on for leaving the screen blank during a petty spat he was having with the sports
department. A live interview, if promoted properly, is also inherently much more dramatic than
a canned one."
"In the 1988 campaign we saw a striking example of how helpful an enemy can be. Nothing did more to eliminate George Bush's wimp image than his televised confrontation with Dan Rather. The media should have learned a lesson from the same event. When a commentator wants to hurt a candidate, he should not take him on frontally. A fight draws an audience and the audience usually backs the candidate or official under attack rather than his interrogator. A better way to hurt a candidate is to make the programs as dull as possible."
--Richard Nixon in his 1990 book, In the Arena.
"George was scheduled to have an interview with Dan Rather before the President's speech. It was billed as a political profile, which they had done on all the other candidates and which had been benign stories devoid of controversy. However, CBS opened with a six-minute 'exposé' on George's alleged role in Iran-contra that was filled with false assumptions. It was just plain ugly. Then came nine minutes of Dan grilling George. There were raised voices on both sides. At one point George sad: 'You have impugned my integrity...if this is a political profile for an election, I have a very different opinion as to what it should be.' George rarely gets angry, but Dan kept on about Iran-contra with the most vicious slander, never listening to an answer. At one time George interrupted Dan and said: 'It is not fair to judge my whole career by a rehash on Iran. How would you like it if I judged your whole career by those seven minutes you walked off the set in New York.' (He was referring to an incident several years earlier when Dan had done just that, resulting in dead air.)
"After the interview each side accused the other of an ambush. Our campaign felt CBS purposely misled them on the content of the interview; CBS said that the Bush campaign deliberately planned an attack. I do believe we came out the winner: CBS reported getting complaint calls; ours were of support.
"I was there and, believe me, there was no plot or plan to attack. But you can just take so much. I really do feel that CBS news programs often start an interview with an unflattering opener, and in this case, an untrue one. This puts many interviewees on the defensive. George often has to remind me of that when I see an interview featuring a political opponent and I'm taking some comfort in their unease. George forgives to a fault, but he will never trust Dan Rather again."
--Barbara Bush in her 1994 book, Barbara Bush: A Memoir. print_file('footer'); ?>