NEW YORK -- Station managers at several CBS affiliates said yesterday they appear to be a target of a national e-mail campaign placing pressure on the network to oust Dan Rather as anchorman of the "CBS Evening News." The anger stems from Rather's role in a "60 Minutes" report on President Bush's service in the National Guard. CBS has apologized for reporting on documents critical of Bush's service, widely assumed now as fakes, and appointed a panel to investigate what went wrong in the report.
Bob Lee, president and general manager of WDBJ-TV in Roanoke, Va., and head of the CBS affiliate board, said many e-mailers offer the same message: I will not watch CBS News again until Rather is gone.
"To be honest, I'm most concerned when the e-mail is coming from a local viewer," said Gary Gardner, vice president and general manager of WINK-TV in Fort Myers, Fla.
Lee said he can't recall any other issue getting such a big response from viewers.
Station managers take such a response very seriously. They are, in effect, Rather's constituency and several said they're eager to see what former US Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and former Associated Press chief executive Louis D. Boccardi turn up in
their probe of CBS News operations. The campaign appears to originate from a blogger on the website Rathergate.com, who is forwarding e-mails to stations around the country.
"The buck has to stop," said Mike Krempasky of Falls Church, Va., who works for a political advertising company and set up Rathergate.com, as well as the conservative-oriented website Redstate.org.
"He's certainly the face of the story," he said. "He's the one who sneered at anyone who dared criticize him on the story for 10 days. He's the one who put his credibility on the line when he said he believed in the story."
Meanwhile, Rather was not commenting yesterday on a story in The New York Times, quoting sources that requested anonymity, that he was unhappy that Thornburgh was appointed as half of the two-man panel investigating CBS News. Thornburgh is a Republican former governor of Pennsylvania and was attorney general for the Reagan and first Bush administrations.
Thornburgh was the attorney general when Rather conducted a memorably combative interview with Bush as he was running for president.
A Rather spokeswoman said the veteran anchor will cooperate fully in the probe.
In the same Times story, Rather was quoted as pointing out that his boss, CBS News president Andrew Heyward, was fully involved with him in the handling of the story.
In southeastern Virginia, WNIS, a news-talk radio station, dumped CBS News because of listener outrage over Rather's "60 Minutes" report questioning the president's Guard service.
"We had so much outcry from our listeners. They were calling and complaining and saying they wouldn't listen to a CBS newscast anymore," said Lisa Sinclair, general manager of Sinclair Communications, which owns WNIS and four other stations in the Norfolk area, home to the world's largest naval base.
"This is a conservative market, and people felt that CBS was exhibiting a great deal of liberal bias and lost credibility with this situation," Sinclair said, referring to the Sept. 8 story.