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Bush to Dan: No interview for you

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George H.W. Bush, Dan Quayle and their spouses at the 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston. Getty Images


Note to readers: The four-day Republican National Convention commences on Monday, July 18th in Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena. Your friendly content provider has been to 10 national party gatherings over the years. For the next four days, we’re taking a look back, beginning with Dan Rather’s major difficulties at the 1992 GOP convention in Houston. This article originally was published on Aug. 20, 1992.

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
HOUSTON -- Texan Dan Rather’s homecoming to Houston was supposed to be triumphant, not an occasion for President Bush to put him in the doghouse.

The veteran CBS News anchor arrived Saturday in jean jacket, jeans and high spirits. KHOU-TV, where Rather got his start more than 30 years ago, showed him gleefully hugging a Republican elephant mascot at Hobby Airport. The Houston Chronicle pictured Rather surrounded by well-wishers at a breakfast hosted by the television station. The Houston Post featured Rather with a full-beam smile in an article headlined, “Rather comes back home.”

That was all before the White House made it abundantly clear, without directly admitting it, that President Bush would not be doing an interview with Rather during GOP convention week.

“We’ve got a lot of requests, not a lot of time,” Bush campaign press secretary Torie Clark explained. “I’d say we’re working real hard to schedule everyone. Some work out, some don’t.”

Rather said Wednesday through a spokeswoman, “I really can’t talk about it.”

The president has accommodated all of the other major network news anchors, as well as at least a dozen local TV stations, since arriving in Houston on Monday.

Rather apparently is paying the price for his fabled Jan. 25, 1988, dust-up with Bush during a live interview on the CBS Evening News. The payback comes as the nation’s media are clustered en masse and hungry for fresh controversies.

“I think they should just sit down and have a beer together,” CBS This Morning co-host Harry Smith said Wednesday. “Dan probably knows a few places he could take the president.”

Absent any Q&A with Bush or his wife, Barbara, CBS scheduled a live interview with Ross Perot on Wednesday night during its convention coverage. CBS News producer Lane Venardos said the network was not playing tit-for-tat.

“It was in our plans two weeks ago,” he said.

The Rather-Perot interview probably would air about 10:35 p.m., Venardos said, while the Republicans were “futzing around before the roll call” to nominate Bush.

Why interview Perot, who ridiculed the Republican National Convention during an interview Wednesday on NBC’s Today?

“Well, he seems to be getting back in the race,” Venardos said. “Before, it was just going to be a general economic discussion, but now it will be more pointed.”

WFAA-TV (Channel 8) anchor Tracy Rowlett, who had a one-on-one interview with Bush on Tuesday, said there is “no question that they’ve (the Bush campaign) decided to throw their weight around a little bit. It’s awfully hard to snub a major network anchor the way they are doing to Rather right now. Personally, I don’t think it’s right.”

Channel 8, which received eight minutes with the president, also provided the camera coverage for the seven other one-on-one interviews the president granted Tuesday at the Houstonian Hotel.

“He’s so well-prepared,” Rowlett said. “In fact, before he came into the interview, he spent a considerable amount of time with his handlers. They were going over the events of the day and they were preparing their positions. He’s done so many of these things. He just sort of kicks in with the campaign theme of the day, regardless of what the question is.”

***Texas Sen. Phil Gramm’s moment in the limelight Tuesday night was judged a lemon by NBC News. The network ended its convention coverage while Gramm was 10 minutes away from concluding his keynote address. News president Michael Gartner made the call at 9:57 p.m., NBC spokesman Curt Block said Wednesday. At 10:04 p.m., anchor Tom Brokaw signed off.

“We had an advance text of Mr. Gramm’s speech and had covered more than half of it,” Block said. “The decision was made earlier in the day that if we thought it wasn’t a compelling speech, and we had covered the essence of it, we would go to the local stations’ newscasts. I’m sure we’ll take some criticism.”

Brokaw also made a snap decision to cancel a planned appearance on NBC’s Tonight Show, where host Jay Leno was ready to joke with him about the night’s goings-on.

“He (Brokaw) felt that having cut the convention coverage short, some people might interpret that as NBC wanting to get him on the Tonight Show earlier,” Block said. “That was not the case, but he thought it was best to pass.”

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net