|If I may digress from the Terri Schiavo saga for just a moment...
Last month, The American Conservative magazine, Pat Buchanan's bi-monthly that has become the bain of the neocon right, published an article by Scott McConnell called "Hunger for Dictatorship," in which McConnell critiqued charges made by fellow conservatives, and anti-war libertarians, about the "brownshirting of American conservatism," and offered his own warnings about the militaristic, statist, authoritarian tinge of the current federal government (as if the federal meddling in the Schiavo case wasn't evidence enough). (Read the full article here -- trust me, it's worth it).
So now, there's this from the NY Observer, which profiles former White House press stooge Ari Fleischer opining that while CBS did itself some good with the Bush White House, they must do more in order to gain "trust and credibility" with the Bush White House. See if you can channel Joe Stalin with me:
“Karl Rove started talking to me again,” John Roberts, CBS News’ White House correspondent, said of President Bush’s chief political advisor and deputy chief of staff for policy at the White House.
That was fast.
Dan Rather left the CBS Evening News March 10, and now that the White House has gotten what it wanted, history has started over. Kind of.
“With the departure of Dan Rather, this is a good opportunity for CBS to reach out,” said Ari Fleischer, the former White House press spokesman. “This is almost a curtains-up for CBS to improve relationships.” Mr. Fleischer—the former Presidential press secretary who has published his Bush explication memoir, Taking Heat: The President, the Press, and My Years in the White House—was considering CBS News now that Mr. Rather, the bête noir of the conservative class, has departed the CBS Evening News.
Mr. Rather’s early retirement was good, Mr. Fleischer said. But it wasn’t quite enough. “
Dan Rather became a symbol,” said Mr. Fleischer, who remains close to President Bush. “That’s why this is a new opportunity for CBS. But there’s a lot more to it besides who was in the anchor chair. There’s CBS as a larger organization. There is still largely a Democratic tilt that goes in their journalism.”
Dan Rather was a good start. But the White House wanted more.
“A new chapter has opened up at CBS,” Mr. Fleischer said on March 22, “but we don’t know what’s in it yet.”
Adam Levine, who was the assistant White House secretary in charge of television news until January 2004—and who, like Mr. Fleischer, remains close to the Bush administration press office—said CBS News still had “a lot of work to do.”
To measure the relative credibility of news networks with press officials at the White House, Mr. Levine suggested a scale of one to 100: he put Fox News at 90, NBC News at 80 and CBS News at “about 10.”
Asked about that assessment, a current White House official, who declined to be named, said that figure was “probably generous given what happened.”
“It depends on where they go from here,” said the official. “Contrition is always nice, but it all depends on what gets on the air. That’s the true test.”
“Bowing and scraping is not going to please this White House,” said Mr. Levine. “Results are going to please the White House.”
Results? Like what? "Positive" stories about the president? Does Bush work in Washington or Stalingrad?
In any case, at least one 60 Minutes employee was still in good stead with the White House: Scott Pelley, the silver-haired newsmagazine correspondent and a dark horse candidate to replace Mr. Rather as anchor of the CBS Evening News. Mr. Levine said Mr. Pelley had remained well-liked, especially given his longtime friendship with Karen P. Hughes, who was recently named Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy in the White House. Since 2000, Mr. Pelley has had three sit-down interviews with the President; by contrast, Mr. Rather has had none.
“It’s human nature that if someone was unfair or biased, they wouldn’t get access to the President,” said Mr. Fleischer. But even Mr. Pelley had challenges with access that were beyond his control. The calculus for the White House in granting interviews, said Mr. Levine, was more than just the fairness and balance of the network—it was a combination of “reach, fairness and enjoyability.”
He described the latter as “the respect factor,” in which an interviewer showed due deference to the office of the Presidency, thereby making it a more appealing experience for Mr. Bush.
By this calculation, Mr. Schieffer, the CBS Evening News interim anchor, had “the respect factor” going for him, said Mr. Levine.
And one last bit, demostrating the proper way to develop a "relationship" with the Bush White House -- quickly distance yourself from any story which displeases the president.
Read the full story for yourself. Here's a hint to the ending: Mapes isn't backing off the gist of the Rathergate report ... the question is, is there a media outlet anywhere in America that will stand up to the new, brownshirted GOP? (And you wondered where Vladi Putin gets all his smashing-good ideas...!)
Mr. Levine said that during his tenure, “NBC was a much more effective tool for us.” He said press officials in the White House liked Meet the Press host Russert, but not because he tossed softball questions.
“Nobody is going to tell you that Tim Russert is easiest,” said Mr. Levine. “He’s by far and away the toughest. But he’s fair.”
Mr. Levine declined to comment on the present standing of Mr. Roberts, as did the White House source. But Mr. Fleischer commented: “John is feisty. John is smart. And I had a good relationship with John.”
During the scandal over the suspicious National Guard memos, Mr. Roberts was eager to distance himself from his role in the segment. On the morning of Sept. 8, he had been the one to confront press secretary Dan Bartlett with the documents purportedly written by Mr. Bush’s squadron commander, Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, which cast a negative light on Mr. Bush’s service.
In the panel report, Mr. Roberts was quick to point out that had he known that former National Guardsman Bill Burkett was the source of the documents, he would
have advised against using them. Mr. Roberts had interviewed Mr. Burkett for an earlier story about Mr. Bush’s service. Luckily for him, Mr. Roberts is not mentioned in a 24-person “Cast of Characters” listed in Ms. Mapes’ book proposal, which lists Mr. Rather and Mr. Bush as characters No. 1 and 2.