Sunday, October 3, 2004
New York While acknowledging mistakes in CBS anchor Dan Rather's "60 Minutes" report that questioned President Bush's service in the National Guard, competing news anchors Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings offered support Saturday for the beleaguered newsman.
Brokaw blasted what he called an attempt to "demonize" CBS and Rather on the Internet, where complaints about the report first surfaced. He said the criticism "goes well beyond any factual information."
"What I think is highly inappropriate is what is going on across the Internet, a kind of political jihad ... that is quite outrageous," the NBC anchor said at a panel on which all three men spoke.
Rather declined to comment, saying news executives had asked him not to talk about the report while an investigation was under way.
The Guard story, aired on Sept. 8, was discredited because it relied on documents impugning Bush's service that apparently were fake.
"I don't think you ever judge a man by only one event in his career," said Jennings, anchor on ABC.
The panel, part of The New Yorker Festival, was one of the last times all three anchors were expected to appear together in their current roles. Brokaw is stepping down Dec. 1.
Neither Jennings nor Rather have said when they would leave.
The three broadcasters, who have all anchored their networks for at least two decades, also discussed the run-up to war in Iraq.
Rather said he did not ask enough questions before the war or conduct enough follow-up reporting.
"If the country is in dire peril, as the president of the United States says it is ... I want to be a patriotic journalist," he said.
"You know that the role of the patriotic journalist is to put your fear aside, stand up, look them in the eye, ask the rough questions. But you also know that when you do that, you're going to get hammered ..." Rather said. "So what happens is, you just say ... maybe tomorrow."