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CBS Affiliates' Board to Pass on Rather-Bush Flap

January 29, 1988|JAY SHARBUTT | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — The CBS affiliates' board won't complain to CBS brass or take any other action on anchorman Dan Rather's controversial interview with Vice President George Bush, board president Ben Tucker said Thursday.

"What we're going to do is suggest that (CBS') affiliated stations express their views and those of their viewers directly to CBS News," said Tucker, vice president of KMST-TV in Monterey, Calif.

He spoke in a telephone interview from his station after a conference call with board members on Rather's live, combative 10-minute interview with Bush, a GOP presidential candidate, on Monday's "CBS Evening News."

The conference was scheduled after CBS and many of its affiliates were deluged with mostly protesting calls immediately following the verbal clash between Bush and Rather during the latter's aggressive questioning of Bush's role in the Iran-Contra affair.

At least 18,000 calls or mailgrams on the incident have come in so far to CBS or its affiliates, a network spokesman said Thursday.

However, in contrast to the initial blast of more than 6,000 calls Monday night and Tuesday morning, when protests ran 5 to 1 against Rather, the anti-Rather ratio in the total tally now is 2 to 1, the spokesman said.

Tucker, whose board represents the 200-plus affiliates of CBS, said its members decided that "it would be inappropriate for us to take any action as a board" on the Rather-Bush controversy.

Monday's verbal duel was described in some accounts here as "shouting" between Rather and Bush. However, the two men, while arguing in tense tones, never shouted at each other.

Early in the interview Bush complained that CBS had misrepresented what the topic of the interview would be.

Rather abruptly ended the interview as Bush began responding to the anchorman's question of whether he would face a news conference on the Iran-Contra issue before the Feb. 8 Iowa caucuses.

"I gather that the answer is no," Rather interrupted. "Thank you very much for being with us, Mr. Vice President." Then he quickly told viewers: "We'll be back with more news in a moment."

In a one-minute, 13-second "personal note" on his Tuesday broadcast, Rather, besieged all day by calls from reporters, defended the interview, denied that his staff had misled Bush and said he respects both Bush and the office of the Vice President.

He didn't apologize for the abrupt way he ended the interview. Instead, he said that "ending live television interviews under time pressure sometimes isn't done as gracefully as we hope or intend, and last night was one of those times."

When the CBS affiliates' board members discussed the Rather-Bush interview, board president Tucker said Thursday, "the only thing that was in question was the style of that interview. Everybody felt very satisfied with his (Rather's) explanation on Tuesday night."

Asked for his own opinion, Tucker said he thought the brisk end of Monday's interview "made it seem impolite, but I thought Dan Rather asked the questions that he should ask.

"He had tough questions, and they were questions on matters the American public would really want to know."

He also called Rather's Tuesday-night comments on the interview "very appropriate." Live television is dynamic, he said, and "both parties, Bush and Rather, each tried to get control (of the interview.)

"And I think that's what caused the confrontation--and also caused the uneasiness on the part of viewers and station general managers."

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