The television networks have been criticized for filing the airwaves with erroneous reports on the shooting of President Reagan. CBS's Bill Plante explained TV reporters had to go with unfounded reports because the White House press office took too much time double-checking the facts . -- News item
ANNOUNCER: We interrupt this minuet recital to bring you this important bulletin. Now, Dan Rather.
RATHER: The War of 1812, already growing increasingly unpopular as it drags on into the War of 1813 and the War of 1814, took a new and ugly twist today with reports that British warships are sailing up Cheasapeake Bay and are about to attack Philadelphia. Now, for more details, here's correspondent Richard Roth on the steps of Independence Hall.
ROTH: Uh, actually, Dan, I'm in the town of Bladensburg, Maryland. The British troops have landed and are marching toward us now. If they can't be stopped here, they'll go right on into Washington.
RATHER: That's an interesting sidelight, Richard. See if you can get confirmation on some of that. Now, in a minute, we'll go live to Philadelphia's Independence Hall, but first, let me stress that there is no danger to the nation's capital at this time. I repeat, there is no danger to the nation's capital. We have no idea of the British commander's plans, of course, but there is no danger to Washington. Now, here's Susan Spencer in Philadelphia, on the steps of Independence Hall.
SPENCER: Actually, I'm on Capitol Hill, Dan. There seems to be some cannon fire and smoke in the distance . . .
RATHER: Thank you, Susan. Check out that smoke report and get back to us. Now, here's Bill Plante at the White House. Bill, it's true, isn't it, that there is no threat to the nation's capital? The British are marching on Philadelphia, right?
PLANTE: I can't confirm anything, Dan. President Madison is not in the White House, and the White House press office keeps telling us it wants to double-check the information it does have to make sure it's accurate.
RATHER: Don't they know this is television, Bill? That we can't wait for doublechecks?
PLANTE: Never heard of showbiz, Dan. Anyway, I did hear from a congressional aide I know who was drunk in Gadsby's Hotel that a sixth-level White House aide he knew had heard from a passerby that the British are not marching on Philadelphia but are going to Baltimore to surrender.
RATHER: Well, let's go with that, Bill. We have to go with what we have. This is television, after all. The American people are waiting. And I would stress to the American people this, though we don't know for sure, Washington is not in danger. I repeat, though that is unconfirmed, WASHINGTON IS NOT IN DANGER. Now, I understand that at last we have someone in Philadelphia. It's Nelson Benton, with Sen. Daniel Webster. Nelson, tell us what it's like there on the scene live in Philadelphia.
BENTON: There's absolutely nothing going on, Dan.
RATHER. Well, what is Sen. Webster doing there?
WEBSTER: I'm just visiting some banking friends here.
ROTH: If I can cut in, Dan. We've had a major battle here in Bladensburg. President Madison and Secretary of State Monroe took command personally, but it was a rout! We're all retreating back to Washington!
RATHER: Yes, now we'll go to Bladensville, Ohio, and Richard Roth. Richard, I thought all the British had been driven out of Ohio by Gen. Perry.
COCKBURN: dan, this is Admiral Cockburn, the British commander. Your correspondent Roth has fled back to Washington with President Madison. If I catch up with them there, I'll tell them you're looking for them.
RATHER: Thanks, admiral. Now, here's Susan Spencer at the Capitol.
SPENCER: Dan, there's been a tremendous battle and there are some wounded . . .
PLANTE: Wounded? That ties in with the rumor I picked up from a passing ragpicker that President Madison was interested in reports of fighting. Dan, I think we'll have to face up to the possibility that the president may have been wounded.
WALLACE: Uh, this is Chris Wallace, and I have this exclusive! I have it many seconds before any other network! President Madison is undergoing open heart surgery in Philadelphia!
RATHER: You've got the wrong network, Chris. This is your father's network, CBS. Wait, here's Richard Roth again. Richard, don't bother us unless it's very important.
ROTH: The president isn't undergoing any king of surgery, Dan. He and Dolly have gathered up a few belongings and have fled Washington. The British are burning down the White House, Dan.
RATHER. Can anyone confirm that? Leslie Stahl, you're standing there on the White House lawn as usual. Can you confirm that the British are burning the place down?
STAHL: From where I'm standing, Dan, I can't.
RATHER: That's because you're looking at us and the cameras, Leslie. If you turn around, I think you'll see a lot of flames.
WALLACE: Maybe it's open knee surgery. They seem to have cut his pants off at the knees.
PAPPAS: This is Ike Pappas, on a British prison hulk in the Patapsco River. One of my exclusive sources in the British high command informs me they've taken an American lawyer named Francis Scott Lock prisoner, and that he claims to have written a national anthem called "The Star Spangled Banana."
RATHER: Give everything you have to Nelson Benton in Philadelphia, Ike. Ladies and gentlemen, the possibility now exists that the British may not be marching to Baltimore to surrender after all. And those of you fleeing Philadelphia may return home.
PLANTE: I just want to say that the White House press office is to blame for everything. If they hadn't wasted so much time double-checking the facts we could have had accurate stuff on the air sooner.
RATHER: Couldn't agree more, Bill. Wait. Hold on, ladies and gentlemen, live from his yacht on Long Island Sound is retired anchorman Walter Cronkite.
CRONKITE: Dan, what the hell is going on there?
RATHER: Walter, the president is undergoing gall bladder surgery. . . .