Sunday, October 01, 2006

Fox Chief's Tables Are Turned and Attitude is Different; Roger Ailes Aided Bush 41 in Famous Dan Rather Interview

ABC News
Fox Chief's Tables Are Turned and Attitude is Different
Roger Ailes Aided Bush 41 in Famous Dan Rather Interview

Sept. 29, 2006 — - Fox News Chief Roger Ailes says Bill Clinton's response to Fox anchor Chris Wallace's question about efforts he made to pursue Osama Bin Laden was an "assault on all journalists."

"If you can't sit there and answer a question from a professional, mild-mannered, respectful reporter like Chris Wallace, then the hatred for journalists is showing," Ailes said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday. "All journalists need to raise their eyebrows and say, `hold on a second.'"

But Mr. Ailes is no stranger to interview subjects who fire back at journalists.

The year was 1988. Vice President George H. W. Bush was getting ready to run for the presidency, occupied for 8 years by Ronald Reagan.

Bush had been a good vice president -- meaning he had never gotten out of Reagan's shadow. That's when a big opportunity presented itself.

The CBS News beckoned. Anchorman Dan Rather was offering prime exposure: a live interview on the Evening News for Bush. It was too good to pass up.

And too dangerous not to be fully, and I mean fully, prepared.

So when the hour approached for the interview, Bush sat down with his campaign guru Roger Ailes (Yes, the same Ailes who now runs Fox News) and mapped out how the interview should go. Literally.

As ABC's Howard Rosenberg, then of CBS News, recalls:

"I was co-producer of the set-up piece for that interview. Not only was Ailes cuing then VP Bush, the former President himself told Sam Donaldson in an interview in 2000 that his campaign had a person on the inside at CBS who was feeding them intelligence about what questions Rather was going to ask.

"Bush's feigned surprise at the questioning about Iran-Contra (the scandal involving arms for hostages that almost capsized the Reagan presidency) set up the infamous assault on Rather.

Note: Rather was vulnerable because of his infamous departure from the Evening News set when the network permitted a televised tennis match to run into news time. When the match ended and the network switched to the Evening News, there was no Rather -- for many uncomfortable minutes.

So when Rather pressed Bush on his role, if any, in the scandal, the vice president pounced:

Reading from cue cards Ailes was holding up for him, Bush asked, "How would you like your whole career judged by that seven minutes when you walked off the set in Miami?"

Rather never really recovered.