Skip to comments.Reagan Poked Fun at Rather; Anchor Grilled Reagan on Iran-contra, Sure of Bush's Guilt
Posted on 06/07/2004 3:13:52 PM PDT by RatherBiased.com
Dan Rather and Ronald Reagan only met together once for an interview, one in which Rather had to share the president with Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, and Bernard Shaw of CNN.
Reagan was not generous with his time when it came to reporters, as Rather was allowed to ask only one question.
But during two black-tie dinners of the White House Correspondents Association, in Apr. of 1984 and '86, Reagan brought up the CBS anchor. The annual roast, attended by every president, is an opportunity for the chief executive to get back at the reporters who covered him for the past year.
Reagan's first roast of Rather, from April 13, 1984, was about an embarrassing episode in Rather's career. The anchor had always been perceived as stiff, reluctant to smile. In order to "soften up" his image, he tried wearing sweaters under his suit jacket. The experiment didn't last long, but the jokes did.
Speaking to the gathered reporters, the president said:
"Incidentally, I know that some of you -- you talk a little bit, and you're critical about what you say is my living in the past.' But I think that's because a lot of you don't just realize how good the old days were. You know, then you looked forward to seeing Lana Turner in a sweater, not Dan Rather. [Laughter]"
Lana Turner was a film actress from 1930-70.
Reagan's other roast of Rather occurred on April 17 two years later:
"I understand ABC's having some budget problems. The news division has already laid off three hair stylists. [Laughter] Well, they aren't alone. That sweater Dan Rather wears came from Goodwill Industries. [Laughter]"
In 1987, the media was caught up in the Iran-contra scandal. The president wrote in his diary on Nov. 12, 1987, "This whole irresponsible press bilge about hostages and Iran has gotten totally out of hand. The media looks like it's trying to create another Watergate."
Surely enough, that's what Dan Rather attempted a month later during his only interview session -- though shared with others -- with the president.
The event occurred on Dec. 13, and when it was his turn to ask a question, the anchor said:
"Vice President Bush has said a number of times that he gave you some counsel about the secret shipment of some of our best missiles to the Ayatollah and sending the Ayatollah a birthday cake and that whole thing. But he hasn't said what it was. Don't you feel -- or do you feel that the American people are entitled to know, given the fact that Vice President Bush wants to be president, what that advice was and will you tell us?"
Rather's perspective on the matter had apparently already been set, since he wrote in his 1994 book, The Camera Never Blinks Twice, that "the CBS Evening News investigated the Iran-contra debacle," and the findings "led us to the possibility not only that George Bush knew from the start, and was kept informed, but that the diversion actually ran through the office of the Vice President."
Reagan gave a lengthy response to Rather's question:
"Well, Dan, George and I -- not every Thursday now, but for several years every Thursday until this campaign got underway -- we have lunch together, just the two of us. And we discuss, as you can imagine, all the things that are going on and so forth. And he does not hesitate, when I ask, to give me his opinion on something. But here again, you've tempted me into another direction. Because again, that misunderstanding out of the Iran-contra so-called affair -- that missiles to the Ayatollah -- the people that contacted us from Iran -- the people we were dealing with -- if the Ayatollah found out, they'd be dead before nightfall. We weren't dealing at all with the Ayatollah. Now, I think he's as big a satan as he thinks I am. . . .
"The thing that's been overlooked in all of the examinations was that when all of that was happening virtually every day you and others in the press were commenting on how long the Ayatollah was going to live. It sounded as if he wouldn't be around by the next week. And there was factionalism rising in Iran as to who then was going to take over. Well, this is what this operation was about. These people were an element that wanted to have the kind of government that we once were closely allied to in Iran. And this was why we started doing business with them.
"Now, when they asked for that token shipment of arms to verify and so forth our credentials, we turned around and cited that we didn't go along with governments that supported terrorism. They made it pretty plain they didn't support terrorism either. And we then -- or I said, well, all right, let them prove their good faith if we do this in using whatever influence they have to see if they could get those terrorists to release our hostages.
"Never at any time did we view this as trading weapons for hostages, because we weren't doing anything for the kidnapers. But we knew someone that evidently might have an ability to open a door, and they did get two of them out. And when the news broke that blew the whole thing over, we were expecting two more in the next 48 hours that are still hostages."
After this, Reagan was interrupted. Peter Jennings still hadn't got to answer a question. But the president wasn't finished with Rather yet.
"Well, wait a minute. Let me just finish, and then I will -- but what you said about George. I don't think it'd be right for me to discuss what his position was on things. But there was a disagreement among our people that they -- not that I was trading arms for hostages, but that that, if it became known, what we were doing, it would be viewed as that. And those individuals were absolutely right, because everybody has viewed since and misconstrued it that we were trading, as a ransom, hostages for arms."
The subject of Rather was brought up one last time with Reagan during an informal exchange with reporters. The issue was a confrontation the night before between his vice president and CBS's star anchor.
Rather, sure of his beliefs about George Bush and Iran-contra, grilled the then-vice president on Jan. 25, 1988 in a controversial interview that made headlines for its bellicosity. The blood pressure rose for both men as they both exchanged barbs.
Bush angrily brought up an embarrassing episode in Rather's career, when the anchor walked off the set after a tennis match went over time and started to eat into his 6:30 ET time slot. When the network finally switched to his desk, there was no one there, and CBS went black for six minutes.
Said the vice president, "I don't think it's fair to judge my whole career by a rehash on Iran. How would you like it if I judged your career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set in New York?"
A stunned Rather went silent for a moment, but a little while later fired back. "You made us hypocrites in the face of the world. How could you sign on to such a policy?"
Time magazine put the event on its front cover, and news of the confrontation made its way to the President's informal exchange with reporters.
On Jan. 26, Reagan wanted to discuss contra aid to the Nicaraguans with the assembled journalists.
But one reporter wanted to talk about something different. "What do you think about last night's encounter between Vice President Bush and Dan Rather?"
The president, though, was reluctant to discuss Bush and his relationship with Iran-contra.
"I am only going to talk about the other encounter -- contra aid. [Laughter]"
Asked another reporter, "Do you think he upstaged your State of the Union last night? [Laughter]"
Queried again, "Do you think Rather was too tough on the Vice President?"
"That's, again, no comment."
"Well, could you tell us what the Vice President said to you in confidence and help clear up some -- [Laughter]. You could get him off the hook, Mr. President, by telling us what the Vice President urged you about the Iranian arms sales."
Reagan explained why he provided "no comment"s, and it was the same explanation he gave to Rather a year before.
"I think he has been exactly right, that that would set a precedent with regard to private conversations between Presidents and Vice Presidents, and I don't think we have a right to do that."
Gee, if Rather wanted to know all about Iran-Contra, why didn't Rather just ask John Kerry?
Rather has been consistently against every republican in high office, starting with Richard Nixon.
Oh, I know :) But I still wonder why he just didn't ask John Kerry, who was running his very own little Iran-Contra investigation.
Thanks for posting this.
Not too shabby for Reagan, given his oncoming affliction.
This just proves my point to myself in that the spirit overcomes the vehicle in which it resides.
While that may partially work for me, clearly Ronald Reagan was annointed to continue his mission until the end.
Kind of off-topic, but can anyone refer me to a good book or article that can fill me in on the whole Iran-contra scandal? I'm afraid I really don't know a lot about it other than the major media spin and I would like to find out the whole story. Thanks.
When you believe you are bigger than you really are...you become a fool. In Rather's case...an OLD fool trying to look young. His time has come. He is finished and so are brokaw, jennings and their ilk. They are old hat.
There are too many young guns out there (real young guns who don't need BOTOX AND PLASTIC SURGERY TO LOOK YOUNG)...they ARE YOUNG!!! They will forge ahead and they have many, many outlets that allow them to do just that. No one NEEDS the networks anymore. They just don't! It's bye, bye to the stale, stuffy, mothball arrogance of those network anchors. Guess they want to keep their jobs forever and not let anyone else have a career. Yes, good name for them. Anchors. Holding everything down and going nowhere!
All I can say after all the nasty, classless and unprofessional behavior they have all directed towards others is: "GOOD RIDDANCE and don't let the door hit you in the rear end on your way out."
This just proves my point to myself in that the spirit overcomes the vehicle in which it resides.
Why would his oncoming affliction have affected him at that time? If I recall the timing correctly, he wasn't diagnosed with even the earliest signs of Alzheimer's until mid-1994, which was a good 6 years after he had left office.
BINGO!!!!! That was a goodie!
Reagan was not the first official to mistake emissaries from Iran for "dissidents" -- it's a ploy the mullahs have used over and over again, though that was one of the first times.
bump for later...
Rather got famous bitching about Vietnam and when it ended, Nixon was his next target. That was about the time when the news became opinion and advocacy. It started the trend where the anchor would come on before the president's speech and announce what he was going to say. Started a whole new genre.
Under Fire by Oliver L. North.
Bob, I wouldn't know.
Do you think Alzheimer's strikes suddenly? I should have written ongoing, rather than oncoming.
Where I was going with this is that I believe that once President Reagan's body died, he experienced release and his spirit regained full facillity.
Nothing to argue about.
Cohen would only say that the conclusions were unclear about whether Reagan knew.....blah blah blah.
What do you expect from someone who posed for pics with Castro and Saddam? If Osama gives an exlusive interview Rather will be the first reporter on his knees.
Well I know why one Id rather be contemplating. :-)
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