Published on Wednesday, March 16, 2005 by the Press & Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, N.Y.)
Bush Team Has Little to Fear From CBS Now
by David Rossie
Everyone from his old CBS mentor Walter Cronkite to The New Yorker's Ken Auletta has been putting the boots to him.
It can and will be pointed out that Rather brought it on himself; it being his departure as anchor of the CBS Evening News a year before he'd planned to leave. That accelerated departure was the result of the now famous 60 Minutes expose of George Bush's questionable Air National Guard service; an expose that wound up with Rather playing Wile E. Coyote to Bush's Roadrunner.
Even so, the glee with which his detractors, some of whom had been masquerading as friends, greeted his fall from grace was unsettling.
The New Yorker piece was especially cutting, including the full-page color head shot of Rather that makes him look like one of the characters from Night of the Living Dead. In the article, Mike Wallace tells Auletta that he doesn't watch Rather do the news. Morley Safer tells of meeting Rather in Saigon during the Vietnam War and finding a reporter tricked out like Indiana Jones, complete with a shoulder-holstered pistol.
And Auletta goes on at length about Rather's obviously contrived efforts to inflate his role in the daily news meetings to impress him. Overall, we get a profile of a man who does actually fancy himself as an Indiana Jones type.
Cronkite's remark that replacing Rather with Bob Schieffer was a step long overdue was apparently payback for having, himself, been squeezed out as anchor to make way for Rather 24 years ago. Cronkite, his courage in coming out against the Vietnam War aside, is an establishment type. He was an unabashed cheerleader for NASA, and when the Bush One administration muzzled the news media during the first Gulf War, "the most trusted man in America," by then semi-retired, declined to join the news people who spoke out against that government censorship.
If anyone has cause for celebration in Rather's departure and Schieffer's ascendance it is the Bush tribe, which has long despised Rather. Schieffer's brother Tom was part of the group that created the Texas Rangers baseball team and brought Dubya into the fold, not for his baseball knowledge, of which he had none, but for the family name. As a result, a chronic business failure became a multimillionaire, without ever lifting a finger, except to shake hands with visitors to the ballpark.
Bush, a man known for his loyalty, made Tom ambassador to Australia and has nominated him to be the next ambassador to Japan. And how will this affect Schieffer's coverage of the Bush administration? Not to worry, says Bob Schieffer. We'll see.
And if you've watched Schieffer's Sunday morning Face The Nation programs, you've probably already seen. Whenever a guest has the temerity to question the motives or credibility of our 43d president, Schieffer tends to puff up like that drawing of the Wind God that appears in the corner of old maps.
Last fall, during the presidential campaign, Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAullife, in an appearance on the show, made bold enough to tick off a list of Dubya's on-the-record exaggerations and flat-out falsehoods about Iraq.
Schieffer immediately went into his Wind God mode. "Are you calling the president of the United States a liar?" he blustered. McAullife, taken aback, muttered something noncommittal, when "You're damned right I am," would have been an appropriate and accurate reply.
More recently, Sen. Ted Kennedy became the target of the Wind God's wrath when he referred to some of Bush's Social Security claims as "ridiculous."
"Are you calling the president of the United States ridiculous?" Schieffer demanded. I was hoping he'd say, "I'm shocked, shocked, do you hear?" but he disappointed me.
The Bushies can relax. They're not likely to find this CBS anchor to be a drag.
Rossie is associate editor of the Press & Sun-Bulletin. His column appears on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.
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