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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Interview With Bob Woodward; Panel Examines Memogate

Aired September 21, 2004 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, horrific news from Iraq for the second time in two days. Word that an American hostage has been beheaded. This on the same day the president defends his Iraq policy to a cool reception at the U.N.

Meanwhile the CBS News document scandal keeps growing. Will someone have to get fired before it goes away and if so, who?

With us in the hour, Bob Woodward, the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Washington Post" reporter and bestselling author with remarkable White House access.

We also have four of the biggest names in talk radio today, two from the left, two from the right, others, too, all next on LARRY KING LIVE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: We begin with Bob Woodward, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and editor of the "Washington Post." His number one "New York Times" bestseller, "Plan of Attack" will be issued in paperback in about two weeks. There you see its cover. It will out in paperback in about two weeks.

First, Bob, your reaction to two beheadings in two days. What's going on?

BOB WOODWARD, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, it proves President Bush's point, that there's evil out there, and I just don't -- it's incomprehensible. There aren't really good words to describe the horror and the idea of doing that, and clearly, the people on the other side in Iraq or in the war on terrorism feel it will cause people to retreat. Of course, in the case of President Bush, it does exactly the opposite. He's talked about calcium and the backbone, you can't have doubt when you set a course. And that only adds more calcium to the backbone.

KING: What will it do, do you think, politically for him? Does it hurt or help?

WOODWARD: I don't know. Who knows what's in the minds of people who do. It just doesn't compute for me. For people who are not sure about the other side, I'm sure it affirms the sheer madness of what they are doing. I'm shaking my head. Imagine, you know, the families and the people who know these people and the spectacle of it, somebody has a real sense of theater in doing something like this. Ugly theater.

KING: Very ugly theater. We got from the Defense Department this in. 1,037 members in the military have died in Iraq. 7,400 service members have been wounded in hostile action. There's talk of plans of a major push against the insurgents after the elections. What do you hear?

WOODWARD: Well, I think they're definitely going to have to do something at some point. When you say the elections, there are two elections, there's our presidential election in November and then the anticipated elections inside of Iraq which are not as certain. You know, I think very significantly yesterday, when John Kerry really laid down a marker on Iraq and you and I have talked about this for months, and I have been saying I think Iraq is going to be the chief issue in the campaign, the Kerry campaign was working very hard to keep it on the economy, but I think they realized that it's not just an issue, it's a moral issue.

The war. We're in the midst of the war and all these unspeakable things occur, so, it is the issue of the day. It is the dominant controlling issue, and Kerry came out punching pretty hard, you know, saying the president had made mistakes, that it was incompetent, that he had squandered the opportunity after 9/11, and made it pretty clear, if Kerry had been commander-in-chief, we would not have had this war.

KING: The president addressed the U.N. today and Kerry had a response as well. We're going to play clips from both and then get your comment. Let's go to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The advance of freedom always carries a cost paid by the bravest among us. America mourns the losses to our nation and to many others. Today, I assure every friend of Afghanistan and Iraq and every enemy of liberty, we will stand with the people of Afghanistan and Iraq until their hopes of freedom and security are fulfilled.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES: The debate now is whether or not you have a plan to win and whether or not you are facing the realities on the ground in Iraq. Iraq was not the war on terror in the day that the president decided to go. The war on terror was al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan. He took his eye off that ball, transferred troops out from under General Frank, even before he had the permission of the Congress and began to do the build-up for Iraq. That has been, as I said yesterday, in my speech, an enormous diversion from the war on terror. It has in fact, in my judgment, the judgment of many, many experts, made America less safe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Three prominent Republican senators, Bob, raised criticism of Iraq today. Senators Lugar, Hagel and McCain while continuing to support the president for reelection. What do you make of all this?

WOODWARD: Well, first of all, the president's speech, he has said, as he's given those U.N. speeches annually, it's like speaking to a wax museum. You mentioned that it was cool reception. It's not like appearing before an "Ask George Bush" meeting in Kalamazoo, Michigan or some place in Ohio, as the president has been doing. This is a pretty unreceptive audience.

But what the president is good at is staying on message. He is saying -- I listened to that speech, and I think most of the lines I had heard before in other Bush speeches. He's very consistent. Remember the Karl Rove game plan for this election is very simple and he presented it to the president three months before the Iraq war started. It was under the heading persona, the persona that George Bush should project in this campaign. And Item number one was strong leader. That is what they're campaigning on. Senator Kerry now is going right at them, up the middle, and saying, wrong. That there were mistakes here, and he -- I suspect, in the coming weeks, is going to try to take apart the decisions.

KING: If, as you say, Iraq will be the number one issue and the public perception of Iraq might change, might this really be a toss up election?

WOODWARD: Sure. I think it's quite possible. From what I've read, I thought there was an excellent story "The Wall Street Journal" had about polls in that the polls showed different numbers and they gave some explanations about various polling organizations counting different people.

So I'm not sure what the direction in the election is. But, you know, happily, when there is a clash, when there is a difference, the old phrase, somebody's different, not just an echo, it's a better campaign. I think Senator Kerry is going to have to go into the issues about that 16-month period when President Bush decided and debated the war plan and eventually decided to go to war because that's what we know the most about. The part we know the least about in Iraq, obviously, is the future.

Some people have analyzed it and said, well, some of the things Senator Kerry's talking about, President Bush is doing, but clearly, there is a different emphasis. Probably, the strongest component of what Senator Kerry said yesterday, he used it twice in his speech, a fresh start, we need a fresh start. A new set of eyes, a new president, new people to look at this and try to fix it. Maybe that's his best argument.

KING: We'll get a break. When we come back, we'll talk about the mess at CBS and Bob Woodward has certainly been involved in the journalism field for a long time to have some strong opinions about what happened, why it happened and what might prevent it from happening again. Don't go away. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: CBS News deeply regrets it. Also, I want to say personally and directly, I am sorry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I had a long talk with Dan Rather today and he certainly is sorry. All right. Bob Woodward, what do you make of this? The "Washington Post" has had its problems in the past, other major institutions have. The "Washington Post" also in a series of articles said CBS should have seen this coming. What's your read?

WOODWARD: The "Post," Howie Kurtz and Michael Dobbs did some great reporting on this and appropriately. CBS put those documents out as authentic and stood behind them. You've said I've been in journalism a long time and you started talking about messes, I thought you were going to say, and I've been involved in messes in journalism and the answer is I have. And it's very humbling. And you try to put up safeguards, you try to have multiple sources. Going back to Watergate, Karl Bernstein and I got some things wrong. We had multiple sources and had a kind of a two source rule, and that saved us in the end. That was the safety net on this.

CBS did not have a safety net, and as soon as somebody raised the question -- I remember another mess at the "Washington Post" the Janet Cook business, where a reporter made up a story about an 8-year-old heroine addict that did not exist and she won the Pulitzer Prize. When we got the first hint that there might be something unauthentic about this story or the reporter's background, we went to general quarters and investigated. In this case, the mistake was not having safety nets. The second mistake was, as soon as the question was raised, not, say, OK, we'll investigate and we'll let you know what we find out. In the news cycle we live in, you have about 24 hours to conduct that investigation.

KING: Does somebody have to go?

WOODWARD: I don't know. People debate that. When Rather said he's sorry, you said you talked to him. I'm sure he is in absolute agony over this, is that not right?

KING: Sure. Absolutely.

WOODWARD: Well, you know, I think for him to say he was personally sorry and so forth goes a long way. At the same time the White House is going to keep this alive because they know Dan Rather is a target, particularly in the red states. Either fairly or unfairly, he has become kind of a quasi-symbol of the biased media. I don't know that that's fair or unfair but that is his reputation. And so not only do they have to run against Kerry, they can run against Dan Rather also.

KING: But knowing the media as we do, when they do that, doesn't that keep the people like the "Washington Post" and others still looking into what the president did during the National Guard service? Aren't you looking for people who served with him to come forward and say I saw him. So don't you by keeping that story alive, keep the other story alive?

WOODWARD: That's quite possible. Maybe they feel they have nothing to hide on that or maybe they feel no one's going to find somebody who's going to come out with something that will really alter the perception of that. I remember that period. In the sixties, I was in the United States Navy at the time. You knew that anyone who was doing National Guard service either was awfully, awfully lucky or had some sort of connection. That was the way it was. I don't think that surprises anyone.

Another thing that struck me about those documents, they weren't smoking gun documents. They weren't that good and initially, I thought, because they're not that good, that's the best argument, maybe they're authentic. Well, turns out they're not. But I don't think they would have -- if they had been authentic, really would have changed in a significant way the perception of what happened in that period in Bush's life.

KING: What is all this, that plus the other charges about Kerry and his service, what is it going to mean in November, if anything?

WOODWARD: Unless it keeps going...

KING: What's your guess?

WOODWARD: My guess is people will come to their good senses in both campaigns, in our business, and in the public and realize that's great history, and interesting history, but the real question is, as we were talking about earlier, what's going on now, particularly in Iraq.

KING: We're going to take a break, come back and include phone calls for Bob Woodward. Then we'll talk with David Gergen and Howard Kurtz who Bob just credited, he was one of the major figures in working on this story and then four major talk show hosts will go at it. We'll be right back with calls for Bob Woodward right after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL BURKETT, GAVE CBS NEWS SUSPECT DOCUMENTS ON BUSH NATL. GUARD SERVICE: Well, I didn't totally mislead you. I did mislead you on the one individual. You know, your staff pressured me to a point, to reveal that source.

RATHER: We were trying to get the chain of possession.

BURKETT: I understand that.

RATHER: And you said you had received them from someone.

BURKETT: I understand that. RATHER: And we did pressure you to say you received it from someone. And it's true, we pressured you because it an important point.

BURKETT: And I simply threw out a name that was basically -- it was a -- I guess to get a little pressure off for a moment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE LOCKHART, KERRY ADVISER: The content of the discussion was he had some strong feelings about the way the Kerry campaign had responded to the Swift Boat attack, the -- Senator Kerry's record in Vietnam and, you know, the smear campaign that was going on against him. He believed that we should have responded more forcefully. You know, I listened respectfully, I told him I thought it was good advice, and that was the end of the conversation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That was Joe Lockhart denying that he had any conversations about the stories dealing with Bush and service in the National Guard.

Let's go to calls for Bob Woodward. Biloxi, Mississippi. Hello.

CALLER: Good evening, Larry.

KING: Hi.

CALLER: My question is, what goals would the American military have to accomplish in Iraq for us to consider ourselves successful? And also, which of the two presidential candidates would you all think would accomplish that more succinctly?

KING: Mr. Woodward is not going to answer the second part, because he's not going to take a stand on the campaign, nor will I. But on the first part, what does the United States have to do?

WOODWARD: Security, security, security. They have to solve the problem of the insurrection of the people who are not only killing and bombing Americans, but Iraqis. And if that problem is solved, then they can go forward. But the security problem is horrendous. I've talked to people who have been there. And, you know, it is a nightmare many, many times. And that has got to be taken care of.

KING: President Carter on this program last night said he would go to oversee the elections if he was secure in the belief that there was top security there, and none of his people would be in danger.

By the way, Bob Woodward's book, "Plan of Attack," a major No. 1 best-seller, will be out in paperback in two weeks.

We go to Bondville, Vermont, hello. I'm sorry, I have got to hit the button. Bondville, Vermont, hello.

CALLER: Thank you, Mr. King. Mr. Woodward, I wanted to ask you, in your analysis earlier, you indicated that the campaign of Senator Kerry has pivoted off of the economy, getting no traction there, onto Iraq. Doesn't that kind of play into -- and I hate to use the flip- flop phrase -- but doesn't that kind of play into the president's campaign theme of attacking Senator Kerry for just that, switching positions in an opportunistic fashion?

WOODWARD: It may, but in the past months, we've had just kind of one-sentence soundbites by Senator Kerry. Yesterday, and I suspect in the future, he's going to lay out many, many sentences and paragraphs. I think the speech he gave in New York yesterday was almost 50 minutes.

And there's a lot of meat there. And if you lay out -- this is how I look at it. This is what I -- now, some of these questions have yet to be answered, this is what I would do as commander in chief and so forth. No doubt, the White House will say there he goes again, flip-flopped once more, but if it -- you -- substantively gets traction, people look at it, and say, hey, that makes sense. You know, the real audience here is the persuadable voter, somebody who's really not made up their mind, or is listening to the campaign.

And it's amazing. I was at an airport when the president was giving his speech, and not everyone by any means was listening to it. But there were a whole group of people just huddled around, listening to that speech. People followed the campaign. And that group, whether it's 5 percent or 20 percent that's persuadable, is going to decide this. And if Kerry, as some people have reported, will not just let this drop but will go into what he would do or would have done in much more detail in the coming weeks.

KING: By the way, Senator John Edwards will be one of our guests tomorrow night, Senator John Edwards, the vice presidential nominee. Diane Sawyer and the ABC "Primetime Live" news team will also be with us.

Bob, thank you so much for joining us. Always look forward upon calling upon you. Always interested in your thoughts.

WOODWARD: Thank you.

KING: Bob Woodward. And the book, the paperback version of "Plan of Attack" will be published in two weeks. The book was No. 1 on "The New York Times" best-seller list.

When we come back, David Gergen and Howard Kurtz and more on CBS. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We can expect terrorist attacks to escalate as Afghanistan and Iraq approach national elections. The work ahead is demanding. But these difficulties will not shake our conviction. That the future of Afghanistan and Iraq is a future of liberty. The proper response to difficulty is not to retreat. It is to prevail. The advance of freedom always carries a cost, paid by the bravest among us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We now welcome from Boston, David Gergen, the White House adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, professor of public service at Harvard's JFK School, editor at large at "U.S. News and World Report." And in Washington, Howard Kurtz, media reporter for "The Washington Post," the host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES," and a "New York Times" best selling author himself.

David, what do you make of this whole thing?

DAVID GERGEN, U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT: The Rather story is an astonishing one for me, Larry. It's hard to believe that someone who is as experienced as Dan Rather is, and knows how to walk right up to the edge but not go over it so many times, it's hard to believe that he just got into a barrel and went over Niagara Falls. And you know, he's drowning in this right now. I don't know whether he'll survive it or not. We'll have to wait and see. But I do think that they finally, after too long a period, have -- are starting to move toward putting this back together by putting -- starting to put these documents out and apologizing. Had they continued to hold on, I can guarantee you he wouldn't have lasted.

KING: Howard Kurtz, you have blasted anyone you see in sight. You have taken on your own newspaper in a major report on its reporting. Were you surprised at this?

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, CNN'S "RELIABLE SOURCES": It's amazing, Larry. Now that we know more about it, you know, people say CBS has a black eye. I say CBS has two black eyes, first for rushing this story on the air in just five days, despite the advice of their own document experts that these papers could not be authenticated, relying on what we now know was a shaky source at best, this former National Guardsman in Texas, Bill Burkett, and taking a non-denial from the White House, which had only had the papers for a few hours as some kind of green light or confirmation they could go ahead and put this on "60 Minutes."

The second black eye is waiting nearly two weeks to acknowledge that the story could not be authenticated, to apologize, as Rather deserves credit for doing, looking into the camera and saying, I'm sorry, and appointing an outside panel -- which they haven't quite done yet -- to look into how CBS got into this mess.

KING: Does somebody have to go, David Gergen?

GERGEN: I think once they -- down the road, somebody has to be held responsible for these things. I think that's always the case. How high up that's going to go, I'm not sure. I would assume...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RATHER: CBS News deeply regrets it...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GERGEN: There are two things that are coming here, Larry, that what we watch for. And one of them is whether there's anything more, whether the critics of CBS can keep this alive by asking, well, who was it who was behind these documents and how did they ever get into the public domain? That will keep the pressure on CBS.

The other thing, that, you know, inside CBS, they will be keeping a close eye on the ratings. And "The CBS Evening News" has already been in third place. If it were to slip seriously now, or indeed very importantly if their entertainment division were to suffer from this, I think that puts enormous pressure on the whole news division.

KING: Will it affect, Howard, in your opinion, Rather on election night, will he be looked at differently in this supposition that he is a liberal Democrat and somehow involved in supporting Kerry in all of this?

KURTZ: Well, certainly some people will look at Dan Rather differently. And Dan Rather has long been the poster boy for conservatives as an example of liberal media bias, which he would dispute and certainly CBS would dispute.

I think it's inevitable that some heads will roll over this once we get this independent investigation going. You know, the other major media scandals that I have covered that have broken over the past year -- you had Jayson Blair at "The New York Times." Two top editors, Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd, resigned or were forced out over that story. You had Jack Kelley, star foreign correspondent for "USA Today." That resulted in the resignations of several top editors at that newspaper.

I'm not predicting any high level resignations at CBS, but when you make this kind of mistake, when you put on the line the reputation of your star anchor, your gold-plated news magazine and your network itself, it seems likely, I would say, that somebody is going to have to pay a price for that.

KING: David, looking at where buck stops in stories like this? Does it stop with the head of the news division, does it stop with the producer, or is Dan the man out front?

GERGEN: Well, you know, you and I come from a tradition, Larry, as I think Howie does, that even if the mistakes were all made at a lower level, which I -- as they seem to have been made here, the buck does stop at the top. And you know, I also feel, from those who know Dan Rather well, he takes a lot of personal responsibility in situations like this. And if people down below him are forced out, it would not be entirely surprising, it would be very much in his character to say, I'm going to take -- I am going to accept the ultimate responsibility here. And Andrew Heyward might do the same thing. KING: Even before the election, Howard?

KURTZ: I doubt anything will happen before the election. Of course, that's only a few weeks away.

You know, Rather prides himself on not being chained to the anchor desk. He likes to still go up to hurricanes and he likes to report stories. So he was not just somebody who read the copy on this story. He did some of the key interviews. He was involved. He used his judgment, and therefore that's one of the reasons -- and he defended it for days, doggedly, before the apology, and that's one of the reasons that he's bearing some of the heat that he has.

But let's not forget, the story was approved in a final screening by CBS News President Andrew Heyward, by the executive producer of "60 Minutes Wednesday," Josh Howard, who was relatively new at that job, by other CBS executives. So it wasn't like it was all on Rather's shoulders, although clearly he is the face of CBS News and he was intimately involved in this story, which of course was reported, as all TV news magazine shows are, by others, principally in this case, Rather's producer Mary Mapes.

KING: David, does it tinge "60 Minutes?"

GERGEN: It's interesting to see the fallout, the falling out now that's occurring between Sunday night "60 Minutes" team and the Wednesday night "60 Minutes" team. And the 60 -- the Sunday night people said, this would never have happened on our show. This was amateur night over there on the Wednesday night thing. But boy, it sure wouldn't have happened here. Two or three of them have been quoted here in the last 24 hours.

So I think the people over at the Sunday night show, which has been -- it's the crown jewel within the crown jewel. I think they're really deeply concerned about this.

Can I say one other thing, though, Larry? Because Dan Rather is taking an awful lot of heat here, and deservedly so on this. And conservatives are going to try to get him out. They're going to be after him on this. And there are a lot of questions that ought to be raised about biases here that I think are legitimate subjects for discussion.

But I think there's one other part about Dan Rather, just speaking as someone who worked in government. His -- his aggressiveness, trying to find out -- he's very tough on Democrats as well as Republicans -- his aggressiveness over the years is one of the forces that's helped make government more honest. When you have got somebody out there like that looking over your shoulder all the time, looking for documents, people in government tend to pay attention to that, and they tend to be more accountable and more honest. And I think that's the up side of this kind of journalism. But in this case, he made a terrible mistake and he is going to pay a large price for it.

KING: Howie, do you agree? KURTZ: The one thing that I'll give him credit for -- I do agree -- but the one thing I give him credit for is that often, when there are these media scandals, these media implosions, the people responsible, particularly the top executives, they don't want to talk, they hide out. Their companies issue statements. Every time during this what must be a very painful two-week process that I've wanted to talk to Rather, he has picked up the phone and he has given interviews. I think that in retrospect even he would acknowledge that he probably defended the story too long. I think CBS dug itself a hole and kept digging, because even if lots of news organizations, including my newspaper, were raising questions, they were still defending the story.

But at the same time, Rather's a big boy, he understands that when you make an accusation against the president of the United States in the heat of a reelection campaign of this nature, and it turns out your documents can't be authenticated and your source apparently lied to you, that your reputation is on the line. And he understands that he's taking a hit on this.

KING: David, are journalists going to continue to work on the story of the National Guard?

GERGEN: Unfortunately, I think that Vietnam will continue to linger in this campaign. It's -- two things about it. One, it's -- I think it's a disservice to the country we're not talking more about the future and we're talking so much about the past, from the point of view of both campaigners, they are focused too much on the past.

But I have to say, Larry, on this one, you know, it's -- this is a huge gift to President Bush, because not only have his detractors been proven to be liars, which helps him a lot, but there are only 42 days left in the election. Every day that is spent talking about Dan Rather is one more day when John Kerry doesn't get the kind of traction he needs, if he's going to catch up to George W. Bush. I think the race is very likely frozen in place now until the first debate next Thursday night.

KURTZ: It's particularly true -- go ahead, Larry. I'm sorry.

KING: Howard, does it put a pall on other networks? Will they be hesitant now to run with a story that might be a good one?

KURTZ: Well, and maybe they'll exercise a little more restraint, which might not be a bad thing.

Look, I think it sends a message to all of us in the news business, not just the television networks, that you better be awfully careful when you're relying on confidential sources, documents that may not be what they appear to be, about throwing these kind of charges, because everybody in America now is a media critic. And it doesn't take some organized group to find out your story was wrong. People who are bloggers and went online were able to determine within hours that there were serious, serious questions about these supposed, purported, alleged 30-year-old memos. So I think we all need to keep that in mind. Now, I do think that Vietnam will continue a little bit, but I think the whole question of what George W. Bush did or didn't do in the National Guard 30 years ago has been totally overshadowed, if not obliterated, by the controversy about Rather and CBS. And David's right, that is not an unwelcomed development for the White House.

KING: Thank you, David Gergen and Howard Kurtz.

GERGEN: Thank you.

KING: Now, people who don't have controls are generally radio talk show hosts. They are given the widest latitude. They don't even have to have sources, they just run with it. And we're going to run with four of the best -- Al Franken, Janet Parshall, Jim Hightower and Martha Zoller, right after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RATHER: Have you forged anything?

BILL BURKETT: No, sir.

RATHER: Have you faked anything?

BURKETT: No, sir.

RATHER: But you did mislead us.

BURKETT: I...

RATHER: I'll use the word lie. You...

BURKETT: Yes, I did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Senator John Edwards and Diane Sawyer tomorrow tonight.

Let's welcome from New York, Al Franken, the host of "The Al Franken Show" on Air America, "New York Times" best selling author. His last book, "Lies and the Lying Liar Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right" is now out on paperback, a major best seller.

Janet Parshall is the host of the nationally syndicated show, "Janet Parshall America." Co-author of three books with her husband Craig, including "Traveling a Pilgrim's Path: Preparing Your Child to Navigate the Journey of Faith."

Jim Hightower, is in Austin Texas, National radio commentator, columnist, public speaker author of "Let's Stop Beating Around the Bush: More Political Subversion of Jim Hightower."

And in Atlanta, Martha Zoller, host of the radio talk show "The Martha Zoller Show" on WDUN-550, conservative broadcaster and columnist.

AL Franken, what's this Dan Rather thing done to the liberal side of the page?

AL FRANKEN, "THE AL FRANKEN SHOW," AIR AMERICA RADIO: Well, I think it's, you know, a shanda (ph) for the glam, in a way. It's too bad. But I think now that Dan Rather and CBS have come clean, it's time for the president to come clean. You know, he said there are a lot of questions being raised by this. And only he is in the position to answer why, you know, he didn't take the physical, why he lied in this is autobiography about how long he fly? Why when he went to Boston didn't he sign up with an air national guard unit there? Why he never showed up or why no one in Alabama remembers him?

KING: You're not excusing the Rather thing?

FRANKEN: No. I think it's a very serious mistake they made. Agree with what all your guests previously have said.

KING: Janet Partial, what's your read on all of this and does the president still have things to answer?

JANET PARSHALL, "JANE PARSHALL'S AMERICA: Well, let me tell you, when the news becomes the news, that is news. And I think people are talking about this all across the country. It's really made the Kerry/Bush campaign sort of the sidebar story. And the reason it becomes a big issue is because trust, integrity and honesty are the watch words of the American press. Trust is not automatically given it has to be earned. When you know someone now in a major media outlet takes a source who is deemed to be unimpeachable, which we now know is not the case, and they turn around and connect him with someone in a political campaign in election cycle that's bad news for all people, liberal, conservative, Democrats or liberals.

Does the president have something to answer? Larry, my feeling is whether or not Lieutenant Bush years ago did or did not show up for a physical pales in comparison to what the commander in chief has done on his watch and his tenure.

KING: Jim Hightower, what in Austin, Texas is your read on all of this?

JIM HIGHTOWER, NATIONAL RADIO COMMENTATOR COLUMNIST, PUBLIC SPEAKER: I find the people are not talking about this all across America, most folks are sitting at the kitchen table with real problems. You know, this is a case of the media with the cat watching the wrong mouse hole. Here we are -- it's the media looking at its own navel, and thinking this is really important. Of course it was a screw-up, but that's CBS's problem. Not ours.

Nobody died unlike some of the lies we've been told in the past, which actually cost people's lives and horrible maiming of American people, much less the Iraqi's. Let Viacom sort this out. If I had been lied to, if I had been duped and conned as apparently CBS and Dan Rather says they are, whether they were conned by CBS, by Burkett, by Karl Rove, we don't know who. But let them worry about this. I think there are real problems in this country and this is not a giant one.

KING: But it does divert from those problems, doesn't it not, Jim?

HIGHTOWER: Totally. That's my point. Exactly. We're looking at the wrong mouse hole here.

KING: Martha Zoller, what's your read?

MARTHA ZOLLER, HOST, "THE MARTHA ZOLLER SHOW" WDUN-550 ATLANTA: I think the average person moved on from this a week ago when they look at those documents, they were obviously fraudulent. If they are fraudulent documents, then why believe anything that's in them?

And the president is the one of the two candidates that's released all the documents he has, all the military documents. He signed the form to release every document. The average person does not have their own military records in their basement. So, he has released the records, John Kerry won't release all his records. But I will say one thing. I think one thing, because of this, John Kerry's being taken off the front page. And he actually has started to get the message, I'm just not sure if he has enough time or the will to be able to stay on message. That's been his problem throughout this campaign.

KING: Al Franken, why were you shaking your head?

FRANKEN: Because Kerry has released all his records.

ZOLLER: No, he hasn't.

FRANKEN: Yes, he has. And it is very clear...

ZOLLER: He has not signed the release form for all the records.

FRANKEN: I'm sorry, I let.

KING: One at a time.

FRANKEN: Yes, he has. I don't know what records you're talking about. I do know there have been accusations that the Bush people started purging records in the '90s, when they started running against Ann Richards.

ZOLLER: See, that's -- this is what we're talking about today, Al, you're saying accusations of this. Dan Rather is in a lot of hot water because he didn't check out sources. And you know, Larry, indicated there's a lot of latitude as far as talk show hosts. But I don't go on the air unless I can independently qualify something.

FRANKEN: Yes, you did. Yes, you did.

ZOLLER: Hate has independently been shown through the Department of Defense that he has not signed the form.

FRANKEN: Tell me what document he's has not been released. ZOLLER: There are medical documents that hasn't been released.

FRANKEN: That's not true.

ZOLLER: It is true. There are six documents on his Web site, the rest of them have not released.

FRANKEN: That's not true he's been rereads every document.

ZOLLER: That he's given. But there are more documents. The Department of Defense say they have at least 100 documents that they could release if he would just sign the form to allow them to release them.

KING: But radio talk show hosts are not held to the same...

ZOLLER: No, they're not.

FRANKEN: And I wish they were.

KING: We'll all remember the murder of Vince Foster.

PARSHALL: Larry, the president of the United States gave a very important speech before the 59th General Assembly at the United Nations today. It was very important speech because, we have men and women in harm's way in Iraq. We had our second American citizen who was recently beheaded. We woke up this morning at war. And the problem is that speech gets pushed to this little box people are looking at right now. When we know the box is playing dirty games, we don't trust the box anymore. And that's why this story in CBS has become a real issue. And that's why we're also seeing the evolution of American journalism with the advent of talk radio, with the advent of Internet, now what's going to happen is if the box doesn't tell you the truth anymore it's going to get called on the carpet.

HIGHTOWER: Hello. Wait a minute. This is not the first time the box has been called into question. I believe that we got Bill O'Reilly, we have the Fox Channel, we have the president of the United States himself who has lied.

PARSHALL: Who used forged documents? Who used forged documents?

HIGHTOWER: They certainly went strong with a WMD assertion that by god we got to go to war because Saddam's got those weapons of mass destruction.

PARSHALL: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) so did the United Nations.

HIGHTOWER: It doesn't matter who said it the president of the United States said it as well did Cheney.

PARSHALL: And Bill Clinton.

HIGHTOWER: Add him in. I'm not defending Bill Clinton, I'm making the point though, that the box you're now so concerned with has been lying to the American people for years. This is why, you know, reporters...

PARSHALL: You just plead my case.

HIGHTOWER: This is why the media in this country rank below mad cow disease in terms of voter approval. Come on, this is nothing new.

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) We'll be right back with Franken, Parshall, Hightower and Zoller, on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PARSHALL: Your thoughts, please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think they ought to give Dan Rather a pass. Everybody in the news media are trying to give him a pass. And I just don't think that he deserves a pass. I think it's been set up, and he's leaned this way forever. And I think they went in with a blind eye and dealing with political operatives, the whole mess stinks.

PARSHALL: What do you think they should do with Rather?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Certainly, I don't know if it's -- if he actually broke the law, but certainly they should discredit him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: Eliminate all income taxes, just ask Teresa to cover the whole damn thing. Cheney can claim Bush as a dependent. A 100 penalty if you pronounce nuclear instead of "nucular." And George W. Bush gets a deductions for mortgaging our entire future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: John Kerry, having fun on Letterman last night.

Al Franken, concerning Iraq, Bob Woodward said that will be the issue on election day. Do you agree?

FRANKEN: Well, I think that and the economy. You know, Janet talked about the speech in front of the U.N. today, and about apologizing.

Remember, that Colin Powell appeared before the U.N., and said before he made his presentation, these are not assertions, these are facts. And he made about 30 or 35 assertion that were not true. Why aren't we apologizing like Dan Rather is to the U.N.

KING: Let Janet respond.

PARSHALL: Absolutely not. Not only should we apologize I'm so glad we have a commander in chief who showed his leadership once again. We got the weapon -- the weapon of mass destruction...

FRANKEN: Didn't answer my question.

KING: Janet, did Colin Powell -- did Colin Powell present wrong information?

PARSHALL: I don't think so, at all.

FRANKEN: Are you kidding me?

PARSHALL: The weapon of mass destruction was a fellow by the name of Saddam. And maybe you're into -- maybe you're into a guy pushing women into wood chippers, I'm not.

FRANKEN: You aren't answering my question.

PARSHALL: Listen, Bill Clinton said...

FRANKEN: You aren't answering my question, Janet.

KING: Janet, his question was did he present...

PARSHALL: Al, I'm going to try to answer in a more sensitive fashion, just like Kerry wants to fight the war on terror. The bottom line is..

FRANKEN: Your taking that -- he also said proactive and smarter war.

PARSHALL: The bottom line.

Why don't you answer my question, Janet, about the assertions that Colin Powell said were fact?

PARSHALL: Al.

FRANKEN: Why don't you answer that?

KING: All right. Al, let her answer.

PARSHALL: Your method of operation -- your method is rude interruption, Al. So, now that you're done interrupting I'll answer the question, Bill Clinton, said he had weapons of mass destruction. The United Nations said he had weapons of mass destruction. We had how many countless resolutions? The bottom line is at some point folks you win by playing offense instead of defense. The president said Clinton squatted flies, we went in and took him out.

Is it going to be easy -- no. Democracy takes a while to take root. We did the right thing. I'm hailing the changes in Afghanistan and I'm cheering the birth of democracy in Iraq. That is the right thing to do.

FRANKEN: You know why -- you know why you couldn't -- didn't answer my question because you couldn't. Colin Powell said that there was -- that their nuclear program was up. He talked about these aluminum tubes that couldn't have been used to centrifuge aluminum -- uranium.

PARSHALL: Did they bury MiG jets, Al? Did they bury MiG jets?

KING: Jim.

HIGHTOWER: Let me help you out here, Al.

KING: Jim Hightower, you -- we're running short of time. I want to get another word from Martha.

HIGHTOWER: They can't make chicken salad out of chicken manure, and that is what Bush is trying to do, whether before the U.N. or where ever he is doing it. This thing is a mess over there. It is a central issue. Larry, to your direct question in this coming campaign, I think the American people feel they have been used and abused by this administration. Not only in terms of Iraq, but particularly in terms of this economy, that is selling out the work a day middle class people of America for the elites. That's who Bush represents.

ZOLLER: The bottom line is President Bush's record in the last 3 1/2 years, people will decide will he keep them safer or will John Kerry, who's had 10 different views on Iraq and a different point of view throughout his career?

What do we judge John Kerry on his last 20 years in the Senate or what he told us yesterday. The president has a consistent record in the presidency. And leadership means you try to do the right thing, but it also means that you do the right thing. And the people are going to decide and I trust the American people to make the right decision.

HIGHTOWER: Me, too.

FRANKEN: Kerry has had one consistent position. He voted for the resolution to give...

ZOLLER AND PARSHALL: And he voted for the 87 billion after he voted against it.

FRANKEN: Janet, what happened to being rude.

ZOLLER: No, I was the rude one.

FRANKEN: One consistent position, he voted to give the president the authority to use force in order to get the inspectors.

And after that the president blew it. That's been his position the entire time.

PARSHALL: You know what, al, the bottom line this is American people are seeing victory in Iraq, they are behind the president.

FRANKEN: Oh, my goodness.

KING: We're out of time. Franken, Parshall, Hightower and Zoller, thank you all very much.

ZOLLER: Thanks guys.

KING: I'll be back in a couple of minutes to tell you about tomorrow night. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: A spirited discussion tonight. Tomorrow night, Senator John Edwards, the Democratic candidate for vice president, Diane Sawyer and the ABC News Prime time live team.

We don't need a team do we? No, we have Aaron Brown. He doesn't need a team.

It's Aaron "NEWSNIGHT," right. He doesn't need 15 people, he surely has contributors. But it's your baby, this is your platform, your show, you take it.

AARON BROWN, HOST OF "NEWSNIGHT": Not if you keep going?

KING: Don't let anyone tell you any different.

BROWN: Thank you Mr. King, you done?

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