The hired hands CBS picked to investigate its “60 Minutes” debacle may deny it till the cows come home. But liberal bias ruined the career of Dan Rather—and CBS News.
The CBS of Walter Cronkite’s salad days is gone. And the beginning of the fall of network news can be traced to that era, right down to the day and month.
After his address to the nation on Nov. 3, 1969 that called on the “silent majority” to stand by him for peace with honor in Vietnam was savaged by network anchors and commentators, an infuriated Richard Nixon ordered his staff to respond.
Vice President Agnew was sent to launch the counterstrike. On Nov. 13, in a speech in Des Moines that Teddy White called one of the most masterful forensic discourses in U.S. history, Agnew tore into media liberal bias and demanded to know why a tiny handful of men, elected by no one, were deciding the news for the American people.
Broadcast on all three networks, the speech was a sensation. Tens of thousands of telegrams poured into the networks and their affiliates, applauding what Agnew said. By Monday, Newsweek and Time had the network anchors on their covers. The issue of liberal bias cohabiting with immense media power was on the table. It never came off.
A week later, Agnew launched the second strike on the Washington Post and New York Times. The White House was now in a mortal struggle with the self-styled “adversary press.”
Teddy White retells the story of that five-year battle in his Making of the President, 1972. In that year, as White reported, Nixon triumphed over the media. But in 1974, he was broken by Watergate. As he said in exile, “I gave them a sword and they ran it right through me.”
By 1975, the liberal media establishment could claim to have played a central role in bringing down a president and ending—or losing, depending on your point of view—a war. But the secondary explosions from Agnew’s attacks had impacted.
What he had done was to strip the false flag of neutrality from Big Media and expose it as a co-belligerent in the political wars, no longer entitled to any immunity from attack. Reed Irvine’s Accuracy in Media came into being to monitor the liberal press.
Then, beginning with the New York Times, newspapers yielded to the attacks on their fairness by creating op-ed pages and adding conservative columnists to prove to readers they were unbiased. The networks began running Left-Right debates.
Then came the talk shows. “Agronsky & Co.” in Washington had tilted left. The new “McLaughlin Group,” with this writer and Robert Novak joining Jack Germond and Mort Kondracke, tilted right.
In 1981, the Washington Post’s dominance of the capital was broken by the Washington Times. Republicans and conservatives now saw their concerns raised in the Beltway press and could read a dozen columnists who shared their convictions and opinions.
Then, suddenly, Ted Turner’s all-news cable channel was on the air. While CNN did not live up to its billing as an alternative to the Big Three liberal networks, its all-day format insured the Right would get a hearing, “Crossfire,” first of the national Left-Right daily interview-debate shows, was launched.
In the 1970s and the Reaganite 1980s, many AM stations went news-talk. Conservative commentators became popular, then dominant. In the 1990s, Rush Limbaugh exploded onto the national airwaves.
Today, there are dozens of nationally syndicated radio talk shows and scores of well-known local radio commentators. Almost all are conservative, populist, or libertarian.
The 1990s saw the breaking of CNN’s monopoly of cable news with the birth of MSNBC and Roger Ailes’s Fox News, which is as receptive to conservatives as Howell Raines’s New York Times was to liberals.
At the same time, the Internet came into its own. Now, millions of Americans have favorite websites and blogs they read before even picking up the morning paper or tuning in to Katie Couric.
All the while this was happening, the audience for network news was shrinking, and the steady barrage of criticism of its liberal bias from cable and conservative critics and columnists of the Right was continuing.
In September, Dan Rather, using fabricated and forged memos, fired a head shot at the president of the United States. The gun blew up in his face. The rest is history. At CBS, they know today that their power is disappearing, their audience is departing, and their credibility is shot. Conservative perseverance exposed the liberal bias, and technology killed the monopoly.
Somewhere Richard Nixon is smiling. Somewhere Spiro Agnew is laughing. I will not ask Dan Rather where they are—as he and CBS are just not “fair and balanced” on this question.