Vice President George Bush today compared his confrontation with CBS anchorman Dan Rather to combat, but the newsman brushed aside criticism, claiming that he was just doing his job.
"It's kind of like combat," Bush said. "He's got to do his thing; he's got to do it his way and I've got to defend my record and get my case to the people."
"If you get yourself out there in the public arena it's important that you defend your interest," said Bush, who objected strongly to Rather's questioning him Monday night on Bush's knowledge of the Iran-Contra affair. (Story, Page 6.)
After the broadcast, CBS affiliates around the country reported they were flooded with calls, the vast majority complaining that Rather had been disrespectful.
Today in New York, Rather defended his conduct during the combative, live interview.
"It's important to me that everybody understand . . . that I respect the office of the vice presidency," Rather told reporters in the lobby of the CBS broadcast center.
"There are situations that happen on every campaign trail in which there are spirited questions, some spirited answers," Rather said. "That is sometimes difficult for the questioner, sometimes difficult for the people answering the questions . . . especially I think for a vice president who is also a candidate. He wears many hats."
'No Big Running Fight'
In Cheyenne, Bush said: "I don't want to have a big running fight with Dan Rather or anybody else. I have no hard feelings about it. Tomorrow it'll be something else. I have to keep plugging away with what I stand for."
He commented at Cheyenne's Central High School during a campaign trip to Wyoming today.
Earlier, in Washington, Bush spokesman Peter Teeley said, "Our phones in Texas, Iowa, New Hampshire, all over the country just went wild" after the televised interview.
"One out of 10 calls was an offer to give money," he said.
Rather's handling of the interview was defended today by Howard Stringer, president of CBS News.
"That's what Dan does for a living, that's what a great reporter does for a living and while I understand some people in the audience may be uncomfortable by that, that is part of the political process."
Several other media spokesmen were critical of Rather.
"Rather went too far," ABC correspondent Sam Donaldson told USA Today. "He had a legitimate reason to try to press Bush. But in the give-and-take of these things I don't think we can get to a situation where we make--on our own authority--accusations."
Monday night, Bush took exception to the focus of the interview on the Iran-Contra affair.
"It's not fair to judge my whole career by a rehash on Iran," Bush told Rather, then added a gibe about Rather walking off the set last year when a sporting event ran up against the evening broadcast.
"How would you like it if I judged your career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set in New York? Would you like that?" Bush asked.
According to a report in the Washington Post that quoted unidentified sources, Bush boasted after the interview that he was the victor in the confrontation.
"The bastard didn't lay a glove on me," Bush was quoted as saying to campaign personnel and CBS technicians in his office. A videotape machine was still rolling and recorded Bush making the remark, sources said.
Bush's chief GOP rival, Bob Dole, said after the Bush-Rather confrontation: "The bottom line is that this issue's not going to go away. And the Democrats are going to use it if Bush is the nominee. From that standpoint, it's another indication this issue's going to continue to dog the vice president."