Dan Rather caught with his pants down is the biggest firestorm at CBS since Janet Jackson with her top off. And local network affiliates like WKRC-TV (Channel 12) in Cincinnati are the first to feel the heat.
"We're getting a lot of e-mails and phone calls,'' said WKRC general manager Christopher Sehring, underlining "a lot.''
Anchorman Rather was forced to admit Monday that CBS could not prove the authenticity of a memo used on 60 Minutes II to accuse President Bush of shirking National Guard duty.
"We don't have any influence over CBS,'' Sehring said. "But all of the e-mails I get are being sent directly to New York (headquarters) with a note that says, 'Look, this is what our viewers are feeling, and they're feeling betrayed.' ''
In Roanoke, Va., a CBS affiliate manager told Variety, "Stations are being hammered, and we are taking a beating.''
In Columbus, the CBS affiliate was picketed.
Sehring wants local viewers to know that "we got the message - and we got it right from the start.''
Affiliates scorched CBS for the Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction'' at the Super Bowl, and Wednesday, the FCC fined CBS $550,000. If affiliates get mad enough about "Rathergate,'' heads could roll.
"I'm sure it will be discussed at the affiliates board meeting'' on Oct. 5, Sehring said. "If it's like the Janet Jackson episode, we will let them know that they have put us in a very difficult position.''
Rather has long been a flaky national poster boy for media bias - despite stiff competition. He personally attacked Vice President George H. Bush in a 1988 interview, kissed up to Saddam Hussein, made excuses for President Clinton's lies, and "broke'' the lunatic 1992 election-eve story that President Bush disrupted the wedding of Ross Perot's daughter.
Now the 60 Minutes stopwatch is ticking on Rather. "He's had a long career and done a lot of good things, but I feel our viewers aren't satisfied yet,'' Sehring said. "I don't want to see his head on a platter, but CBS needs to do more than say, 'We were misled.' ''
Good point. "We were misled'' is nearly as misleading as the questionable memos. CBS and Rather ignored stoplights flashed by their own "experts,'' left out denials by the family of the alleged writer of the memo and relied on an avowed supporter of John Kerry, Bill Burkett, who had been peddling the story for years.
"This one didn't pass all the filters,'' Sehring said. "I can't imagine on a local level that it would even get this far. We stay non-partisan and check our stuff.''
It gets worse. Rather's producer, Mary Mapes, contacted a Kerry campaign official to put him in touch with Burkett and his "documents'' - yet CBS refused to divulge Burkett as its source for 13 days.
"We all know that's not right,'' Sehring said.
Mapes has been called an outspoken liberal who loathes the Bushes. She is a disgrace to journalism. But Mapes and Rather shot themselves in the foot with the smoking gun for liberal-media bias, which reeks worse with every presidential election.
How can anyone trust CBS campaign coverage when the news is Rather biased? He should apologize to Bush and resign, but don't hold your breath.
And don't blame Sehring and WKRC. He urges viewers to complain directly to CBS bosses in New York via e-mail at: email@example.com or 60II@cbsnews.com
"CBS is a great network, and I'm proud to defend it,'' he said. "But it's hard to defend this.''
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 768-8301.
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