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Read about Jay Rosen's book, What Are Journalists For?

Excerpt from Chapter One of What Are Journalists For? "As Democracy Goes, So Goes the Press."

Essay in Columbia Journalism Review on the changing terms of authority in the press, brought on in part by the blog's individual--and interactive--style of journalism. It argues that, after Jayson Blair, authority is not the same at the New York Times, either.

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Read: Q & As

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Five years later, Chris Lydon interviews Jay Rosen again on "the transformation." (March 2008, 71 minutes.)

Interview with host Brooke Gladstone on NPR's "On the Media." (Dec. 2003) Listen here.

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Video: Have A Look

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Recommended by PressThink:

Town square for press critics, industry observers, and participants in the news machine: Romenesko, published by the Poynter Institute.

Town square for weblogs: InstaPundit from Glenn Reynolds, who is an original. Very busy. Very good. To the Right, but not in all things. A good place to find voices in diaolgue with each other and the news.

Town square for the online Left. The Daily Kos. Huge traffic. The comments section can be highly informative. One of the most successful communities on the Net.

Rants, links, blog news, and breaking wisdom from Jeff Jarvis, former editor, magazine launcher, TV critic, now a J-professor at CUNY. Always on top of new media things. Prolific, fast, frequently dead on, and a pal of mine.

Eschaton by Atrios (pen name of Duncan B;ack) is one of the most well established political weblogs, with big traffic and very active comment threads. Left-liberal.

Terry Teachout is a cultural critic coming from the Right at his weblog, About Last Night. Elegantly written and designed. Plus he has lots to say about art and culture today.

Dave Winer is the software wiz who wrote the program that created the modern weblog. He's also one of the best practicioners of the form. Scripting News is said to be the oldest living weblog. Read it over time and find out why it's one of the best.

If someone were to ask me, "what's the right way to do a weblog?" I would point them to Doc Searls, a tech writer and sage who has been doing it right for a long time.

Ed Cone writes one of the most useful weblogs by a journalist. He keeps track of the Internet's influence on politics, as well developments in his native North Carolina. Always on top of things.

Rebecca's Pocket by Rebecca Blood is a weblog by an exemplary practitioner of the form, who has also written some critically important essays on its history and development, and a handbook on how to blog.

Dan Gillmor used to be the tech columnist and blogger for the San Jose Mercury News. He now heads a center for citizen media. This is his blog about it.

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Fishbowl DC is about the world of Washington journalism. Gossip, controversies, rituals, personalities-- and criticism. Good way to keep track of the press tribe in DC

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Novelist, columnist, NPR commentator, Iraq War vet, Colonel in the Army Reserve, with a PhD in literature. How many bloggers are there like that? One: Austin Bay.

Betsy Newmark's weblog she describes as "comments and Links from a history and civics teacher in Raleigh, NC." An intelligent and newsy guide to blogs on the Right side of the sphere. I go there to get links and comment, like the teacher said.

Rhetoric is language working to persuade. Professor Andrew Cline's Rhetorica shows what a good lens this is on politics and the press.

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Susan Crawford, a law professor, writes about democracy, technology, intellectual property and the law. She has an elegant weblog about those themes.

Kevin Roderick's LA Observed is everything a weblog about the local scene should be. And there's a lot to observe in Los Angeles.

Joe Gandelman's The Moderate Voice is by a political independent with an irrevant style and great journalistic instincts. A link-filled and consistently interesting group blog.

Ryan Sholin's Invisible Inkling is about the future of newspapers, online news and journalism education. He's the founder of and a self-taught Web developer and designer.

H20town by Lisa Williams is about the life and times of Watertown, Massachusetts, and it covers that town better than any local newspaper. Williams is funny, she has style, and she loves her town.

Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing at is a daily review of the best reporting and commentary on the presidency. Read it daily and you'll be extremely well informed.

Rebecca MacKinnon, former correspondent for CNN, has immersed herself in the world of new media and she's seen the light (great linker too.)

Micro Persuasion is Steve Rubel's weblog. It's about how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the business of persuasion. Rubel always has the latest study or article.

Susan Mernit's blog is "writing and news about digital media, ecommerce, social networks, blogs, search, online classifieds, publishing and pop culture from a consultant, writer, and sometime entrepeneur." Connected.

Group Blogs

CJR Daily is Columbia Journalism Review's weblog about the press and its problems, edited by Steve Lovelady, formerly of the Philadelpia Inquirer.

Lost Remote is a very newsy weblog about television and its future, founded by Cory Bergman, executive producer at KING-TV in Seattle. Truly on top of things, with many short posts a day that take an inside look at the industry.

Editors Weblog is from the World Editors Fourm, an international group of newspaper editors. It's about trends and challenges facing editors worldwide. keeps track of developments from the British side of the Atlantic. Very strong on online journalism.

Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

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September 20, 2004

Did the President of CBS News Have Anyone in Charge of Reading the Internet and Sending Alerts?

My initial statement on the CBS surrender: A clerk who understood the Net, read the blogs and followed the press could have seen the danger signs accumulating day-by-day. But CBS made statements and took actions that showed a reading comprehension score near zero. The outside reviewers should pick up the plot from there. But who gets appointed: only insiders?

“Today’s announcement is just one part of a massive institutional failure at CBS, much of it still to be uncovered….”

One person close to the situation said the critical question would be, “Where was everybody’s judgment on that last day?” — New York Times account, Sep. 20.

CBS News, having now admitted that documents it relied on were inauthentic, will have troubles graver than a retraction of Dan Rather’s account and an official apology to President Bush, to CBS viewers and to the American public. For starters:

  • Restive affiliates, and political pressure on those affiliates to be restive. The significance of this lies in the possibility of two fronts in a war to de-legitimate CBS News, which is quite likely to happen now, I regret to say. Like in a political campaign, you will have local chapters in a national effort. Direct pressure on the network in New York, pressure on the affiliates, which may be felt in New York.
  • Beyond that, we will see other Internet campaigns to more or less officially discredit CBS, taking unknown course because we are in unknown territory. First target: getting Bob Schieffer kicked out of the presidential debates. (See this too, and see
  • We’ll have an independent panel that will come back with a devastating report quickly made public, although such a report will also by its nature work to contain the devastation. Look for a quick announcement on who the examiners from without are to be— without much time for reflection and debate on that very matter. Who should we get to review these events?
  • CBS, if it continues on its course so far, will suggest establishment figures who see each other at awards dinners. No one from outside the club, in other words. If someone who is from outside the club gets on the CBS Truth Commission, that may signal they’re starting to get it. (See details on the review committee here.)
  • Today’s press release said: “CBS News and CBS management are commissioning an independent review of the process by which the report was prepared and broadcast to help determine what actions need to be taken. The names of the people conducting the review will be announced shortly, and their findings will be made public.” I hereby nominate as one of the reviewers Jeff Jarvis on this basis of this bio, this blog, and this berating of CBS.
  • There will definitely be calls for Congressional hearings given boost by today’s events. Rationale: interference in the election. If the ultimate source of the forged memos is unknown or remains anonymous, this will be more dangerous for CBS.
  • How far will any of it get? I don’t know yet. Some of it may be successfully contained to the margins. But it would be foolish to deny the political and cultural passions out there, which in a sense have been building since November 13, 1969 when Richard Nixon’s Vice President, Spiro Agnew, told an audience of Republicans in Des Monies, Iowa that he had come to focus their attention “on this little group of men who not only enjoy a right of instant rebuttal to every Presidential address, but more importantly, wield a free hand in selecting, presenting, and interpreting the great issues of our nation.” In that speech, which mentions CBS, Agnew said, “The views of this fraternity do not represent the views of America.” The story of today’s events begins there.
  • It all adds up to a full-fledged credibility crisis—and corporate agony—that is complicated not only by the roaring campaign for president, but by the political campaign that will be undertaken, by the Right, against CBS itself now that the surrender has come. Many feel that this is what the charge of bias in the liberal media has been leading up to— a chance to damage beyond recognition one of the big players. (I’m sure some of them are saying: let’s wait until after the election.)

In my initial view and there is more to come….

Today’s announcement is just one part of a massive institutional failure at CBS, much of it still to be uncovered. When the case is complete, the thread that will seem extraordinary, and most inexplicable, is the ignorant, reflexive and high-handed reaction to the doubts that began to accumulate on the Internet shortly after the broadcast aired. From there they jumped to the news media, which began to find disturbing weaknesses in the memos that CBS claimed were real. (See the Washington Post’s recap here and this timeline of events, perhaps the best resource we have so far.)

The strangest part to me and many others who were watching it happen is that the coming apart of CBS’s case progressed publicly, step by step on the Internet, and in the national press, but without the leadership of CBS seemingly able to read this development, and react intelligently to it. There was a default in basic awareness exhibited, in a form that is extreme for a “communications” company. Some will say this is easy to explain, but I think not.

Tim Rutten in the Los Angeles Times was right: “Watching Dan Rather unravel over the past week has been something like watching a train wreck unfold: You know it’s all going to end badly, but you just can’t look away until you’ve seen how many cars ultimately go off the rails.” There must have been people within the company who were watching right along with Rutten.

Why no one in charge for CBS was able to see what these people saw is a big mystery at the moment.

It’s one thing to explain how a team of dedicated people misjudge a story they have tracked for years. I think we all sense how that happens. It requires another leap of imagination to grasp that the network bosses in New York, including the news division led by CBS News President Andrew Heyward, were unable to examine critically their claim to have already authenticated the key documents in the story.

The people who reacted publicly on behalf of CBS—Rather, Heyward, Josh Howard, and a few other spokespeople—were actively hostile to voices on the Internet who were trying to point out what the network admitted today. This group was permitted to shore up the case for a failing thesis on CBS News programs that followed the original broadcast, thus compounding the error and extending it over more air time.

On September 20th, CBS News said it “cannot prove that the documents are authentic, which is the only acceptable journalistic standard to justify using them in the report.”

Intelligent, inquisitive people (granted, some were enemies of the network) were saying just that—“you guys cannot prove the documents are for real”—within hours of the broadcast on September 8th. And they began making a case that journalists from other news organizations were able to pick up on within 24 hours.

Thus, for twelve days the posture of CBS News and network management did not reflect what was actually happening to their cause— in the press, which began to pick off the experts CBS said it had used, and the blog sphere, where a far more elaborate and detailed examination was underway.

This successful act of scrutiny included the kind of distributed fact-checking made possible by the Internet, a new development in journalism but one that savvy people at CBS should have understood.

Any bright CBS intern who understood the Net, read the blogs and followed the press could have read the danger signs accumulating day-by-day. But CBS made statements and took actions that showed a reading comprehension score of almost zero. Did the President of CBS News have anyone in charge of reading the Internet and sending him alerts? I think the commission might begin right there in its effort to unravel this.

There was a crisis of verification at CBS, it involved the memos, and part of it was that the crisis had gone undetected at the top. Therefore for twelve days there was a leadership default getting worse and worse, adding to the failures in quality control and professional judgment.

I should make it clear: I am not in favor of any hearings, and I think they would be dangerous to a free press. (And a political carnival.) I am against attempts to discredit an entire news organization, including this one with all its glaring faults. I regret that a dangerously politicized war on the mainstream media has come to this point. And I find it impossible to defend what CBS did in this episode, especially the corporate response to growing criticism of its reporting.

From August 9th until today the network has been digging itself a deeper hole with this story. Today, at least, CBS stopped digging and looked at where it was.

Earlier Rather coverage at PressThink:

Rather’s Satisfaction: Mystifying Troubles at CBS. (Sep. 18) “Dan Rather and CBS took the risky course, impunging the motives of critics, rather than a more confident and honorable one: Let’s look at our sources and methods. What can explain such a blind reaction? Here is my attempt…”

Stark Message for the Legacy Media. (Sep. 14) “Journalists find before them, with 50 days left, a campaign overtaken by Vietnam, by character issues, attacks, and fights about the basic legitimacy of various actors— including the press itself, including Dan Rather. It’s been a dark week. And the big arrow is pointing backwards….”

Weekend Notes with Forgery Swrling in the Air. (Sep. 11) “By Monday morning, we should know a great deal more about whether CBS News peddled forged documents as the real thing in its recent investigation of President Bush’s National Guard Service. Here are some quick thoughts— not about the charges, which seem serious to me, but about the general atmosphere and what’s at stake if this turns into a political scandal…”

This certainly adds another dimension, and begins to explain, perhaps, some of the CBS bluster: CBS arranged for meeting with Lockhart from USA Today. And here’s the AP account: “Joe Lockhart denied any connection between the presidential campaign and the papers. Lockhart, the second Kerry ally to confirm contact with retired Texas National Guard officer Bill Burkett, said he made the call at the suggestion of CBS producer Mary Mapes.”

“The time has come…” Jeff Jarvis, who appeared on MSNBC’s Deborah Norville tonight, writes at Buzzmachine when he gets back:

Tonight on Deborah Norville’s show, there was too much talk for my taste about CBS as the Tiffany network and the gold-standard of TV journalism. That’s not only a terribly outdated perception of CBS — which is just another news company — but the attempt to harken back to those alleged golden days also continues to separate journalism from the people. It tries to keep journalism behind stone walls, cathedral or palace, priesthood or monarchy.

As the Rather affair shows, journalists are nothing if not human, and nothing if not fallible.

The time has come for journalists to admit that. The time has come for them to take Dan Gillmor’s words to heart and realize that the audience knows more than they do.

“A sort of generic, fossilized authority…” Salon’s Scott Rosenberg has it right (warning: he plugs this post at the end):

What really hurts, for CBS and the rest of the networks’ news operations, is that, at this late date in media history, trust is the only advantage the broadcast networks can claim. They no longer deliver the news faster than rivals, they certainly don’t deliver it in more depth or from more viewpoints or with more style. Their only remaining edge has been a sort of generic, fossilized authority. More people get their news from us than through any other channel, the broadcasters’ unspoken claim went. That makes us the arbiters of the news. And we take that responsibility seriously — you can count on us to get things right.

Betsy Newmark: “Incredibly, the CBS people seem to be sticking by the ‘fake but accurate’ defense. Don’t these people read the blogs. They should assign someone to be reading all the blogs and checking out that info. But, that would be too much acknowledgement of the pajama brigade.”

“Error made in good faith…” From Dan Rather’s statement today:

… if I knew then what I know now, I would not have gone ahead with the story as it was aired, and I certainly would not have used the documents in question.

But we did use the documents. We made a mistake in judgment, and for that I am sorry. It was an error that was made, however, in good faith and in the spirit of trying to carry on a CBS News tradition of investigative reporting without fear or favoritism.

Please know that nothing is more important to us than people’s trust in our ability and our commitment to report fairly and truthfully.

“Because of faith…” At Dead Parrot Society, journalist Ryan Pitts on the Rather mea culpa:

No one believes this error was made in good faith. People believe that the error was made because of faith — you believed in the documents because they fit the narrative — but that’s quite a different thing. Nothing that’s come to light about CBS’ pursuit of this story suggests that good faith and lack of favoritism were part of the process at all. In fact, everything suggests that the real principles of journalism were pretty far down the list of priorities.

Stonewalling, spinning, whitewashing… Rhetorician and blogger Cori Dauber on Rather’s apology.

This would have been adequate a few days in, as an apology for making the initial mistake of going with bad documents. We can all understand making a mistake of that sort.

But this completely ignores the way CBS handled what happened once the story went south. Attacking critics as partisans. Reporting the attacks in a partial way and only selectively interviewing experts supporting their point of view. Stonewalling, spinning, whitewashing.

They don’t seem to understand that their credibility has been hurt, not nearly as badly by the initial mistake, as by everything that’s happened afterwards.

Emboldened by criticism… Says Slate’s Jack Shafer (Sep. 20):

Investigative reporters also expect their scoops to be attacked, especially if the story’s subject is powerful or shady, so they’re emboldened rather than discouraged by the first round of criticism. We must be getting close to the marrow if they’re screaming this loud! they think. If the criticism comes from the competition, they’re particularly nasty, as Dan Rather was, when he fended off questions about the documents’ authenticity by saying that the rest of the media should go after Bush’s military record instead of ripping CBS News.

…TV journalists usually act as though they’re infallible. When was the last time you heard Rather or any other network anchor issue a correction or a retraction? It’s as rare as rain on the moon. Compare CBS’s imperious behavior to that of the Times, which issued 2,867 corrections in 2002. With no systematic way to address errors, the network has no built-in safety valve that allows it to correct the record. It has only two choices: Stand by its story completely, or fold completely.

“I’ve got to presume they were real…” Wall Street Journal reporters Joe Flint and Greg Hitt: (Sep. 21)

Mr. Bush’s communications director, Dan Bartlett, said the White House requested copies of the disputed documents from CBS the night before Mr. Bartlett was to be interviewed about them, but was told no. Officials said a CBS representative did read the documents to the White House that night. But the actual documents were delivered the morning of the interview, and Bush aides were given three hours to review them.

“The presumption was they were real,” Mr. Bartlett said yesterday, adding it was “not the obligation” of the White House to verify the material. “How in the heck could you expect a person in three hours to question the validity of a dead man’s documents? I’ve got to presume they were real, and respond.”

Robots and bullies… According to Jessie Walker in Reason magazine back on Sep. 15:

Cyberspace offers many rewards, but it’s also filled with partisan robots and knuckle-dragging bullies, with would-be reporters who don’t understand the concept of evidence and would-be analysts who can’t be bothered to comprehend the views they’re critiquing, with would-be stylists who rely on clichés and would-be satirists without a trace of wit. Worse yet, it’s filled with disinformation and fog, especially during a presidential campaign and a war. It’s tempting to recoil from all the contradictory claims and to despair of ever learning the truth.

Dan Rather’s career:

Born: Oct. 31, 1931, in Wharton, Texas
1950: Reporter for United Press International
1952-59: Reporter for several radio and television stations in Houston
1962: Joins CBS News as chief of its Southwest Bureau in Dallas
1963: Gains national attention covering Kennedy assassination, also covers civil rights movement
1968: Clashes with security personnel at turbulent Democratic National Convention in Chicago
1968-72: Serves as CBS bureau chief in Saigon and London, and as White House correspondent in the Johnson and Nixon administrations
1974: Famous confrontation with Richard Nixon: “Are you running for something, Mr. Rather? No, Mr. President, are you?”
1981: Named anchor and managing editor of CBS Evening News
1985: Senator Jessie Helms (Rep., NC) urges conservatives to buy CBS stock and become Dan Rather’s boss.
1987: Rather walks off the set of CBS Evening News, believing his program had been pre-empted. Network goes black for six minutes.
1988: On-air confrontation with Vice President George H.W. Bush: “You made us hypocrites in the eyes of the world!”
1990: First American journalist to interview Saddam Hussein after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait
1995: Reports from front lines in the Bosnian war
Sept. 11, 2001: Serves as live anchor of CBS coverage of terrorist attacks
2003: Exclusive interview with Saddam Hussein on brink of the Iraq war

Posted by Jay Rosen at September 20, 2004 2:39 PM   Print


By all accounts so far, it seems that CBS News will look into the source of the documents and how they were "misled." It isn't clear how deeply they will look, certainly today's statements aren't very encouraging that they are serious about really digging into the problem

It seems clear to me that more pressure will be necessary for CBS News to acknowledge that their response to legitimate criticism was at least as flawed as the initial reporting if not more so. However, since the response to criticism implicates many more than simply those involved in the original broadcast, CBS News will be extremely reluctant to take this necessary step.

Congressional hearings would be a mistake on too many levels to be taken seriously, I believe.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 20, 2004 3:05 PM | Permalink

I agree that hearings in congress would not be a prudent step. Allowing politicians of either party to use this as a bully pulpit would serve no ones interest. The sheer hubris that seemed to drive both the management and news division at CBS is shocking, if one assumes they were aware in detail of the level of scrutiny the documents were subjected to in the blog sphere. I don't belive they were. They probably had some intern give them a summary of the critques and issues raised in the blog spheres, and blew them off as a few 'partisan crackpots' without ever really looking into the issues raised, or the fact that the blog sphere eventually corrected many of it's initial allegations regarding the documents, (no proportinal spaced type writers existed in 72-73, documents were 'kerned', lack of superscripts in typewriters that existed in 72-73) and eventually with the freelance help of experts proved (to a preponderance of evidence) that they were in fact made on a recent version of MS Word. I personally think the only way CBS will regain the trust of their viewers (and will stop a further loss of trust in viewers of the MSM in general) will be to have a open transparent investigation and ask for at least a few resignations (or voluntary retirements if you will).

Posted by: Chris at September 20, 2004 3:37 PM | Permalink

There might be a lesson here.

When one is in the media eye, it appears there is a price to pay for admitting to have made a mistake.

Rewind back to President Bush's April 13, 2004, press conference where he refused to fall into the media trap of admitting to have made a mistake. The media were all over him in spades. They made the lack of admission the agenda. Bush was damned if he did and damned if he didn't.

Media manufactured the news and wouldn't themselves admit to having been the architect.

Now CBS News is caught in an identical trap for having been unwilling to face the media frenzy initially. So how much of the problem was CBS hubris and how much was CBS' cold, hard experience appreciating how the jackals tear at a wounded animal. [CNN is gleefully tearing away as we speak.]

Yeah. CBS has to learn its lesson. But the rest of the press will overlook that it has lessons to learn, too.

It would be fruitful, bloggers, if during your glee, you counseled yourself that World War II happened because the victors demanded too much in reparations after World War I.

Posted by: sbw at September 20, 2004 3:39 PM | Permalink

For the conservative partisans, there is glee. For me, I'm actually sad. Initially, after the first credible questions were raised, CBS News wouldn't have had to do too much to quench the initial fire.

First, if they had done their job initially, they simply could have pointed to their experts and said, "Here are our experts who vouched for the authenticity of the documents. We're sure they will be able to answer all your questions." CBS News could have said, "Due to the poor quality of copies on the internet some people may, understandably, have doubts about the authenticity of the documents. Here is a pristine copy of the documents we have in our possession, the same quality of copy we provided to our experts to verify. Please check them and we are sure you will find they support our conclusion."

Is that demanding too much?

But CBS News didn't and one has to ask the question, why? Why didn't CBS News make its experts and quality copies available? Is it because they realized right away that their authentication process was flawed? Or was it because they were too arrogant and didn't think they should be questioned in the first place? Both? Is there another explanation?

Their actions, having given rise to these questiobns, now require CBS News to answer for them. This isn't about reparations, this is about trying to help a flawed news organization fix itself.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 20, 2004 3:51 PM | Permalink

Without judicial or congressional oversite, how will we ever have a responsible press? The press has shown over and over again, that the rules do not apply to them, they are special and we should just shut up and not question them. Where is the accountability? Would any other business get a pass like CBS has? What if Ken Lay said "OK I'm personally going to "break the story" of Enron malfeasance"? Would MSM buy that? Would any of us?

Posted by: paladin at September 20, 2004 4:13 PM | Permalink

Ernest This isn't about reparations, this is about trying to help a flawed news organization fix itself.

It's more than that. If it is only to help a flawed news organization fix itself, not enough has been fixed.

Jackals are jackals whether they belong to big media or blogging. And we do not want to be jackals. We can be better than that.

We can hold their feet to the fire and still have enough brain cells to contemplate that journalism did not have to extort "I'm sorry" from either Bush or CBS. Far better to ask the question "How can we do better next time?" Which, you might note, is not exactly the tone of the 9-11 commission report.

Hmm, do I sense a theme?

Posted by: sbw at September 20, 2004 4:14 PM | Permalink


Every despot in the United Nations has been trying to do what you suggest. Why? Control. The benefit is not worth the cost.

Posted by: sbw at September 20, 2004 4:16 PM | Permalink

[I'm going to pay for this ... I know it ... I know it ...]

Did the President of CBS News have anyone in charge of reading the Internet and sending him alerts? I think the commission might begin right there to unravel this.

I love it. I must say, I keep breaking out in giggles imagining this scene.

Commissioner: "Mr. CBS President, do you mean to tell me you didn't have someone in charge of reading Free Republic, and Little Green Footballs, and all the wannabees etc. etc. - JUST FOR THE OFF CHANCE THEY MIGHT SAY SOMETHING RIGHT???" (Err, maybe "right" isn't _le bon mot_ there ...)

Jay, you've reinvented the position of "Court Jester". Which, objectively, is not a bad idea. But wow, would that make for an interesting line of inquiry :-)

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at September 20, 2004 4:19 PM | Permalink

An independent panel that will come back with a devastating-style report, ...

This is the only way to buy time with the jackals. Anything short of a credible panel and the jackals will again be at the wounded beast that is now CBS News. And rightly so. This is also a good way to ward off congressional hearings.

I happen to think that CBS News people were well aware of Daily Kos, Power Line and LGF by Friday the 10th. I also wonder how CBS found Katz and Glennon? Very interesting Kevin Drum posts here and here.

What is most disappointing about the statement today is that it would have been sufficient had 60 Minutes/CBS News reacted differently last week by announcing that they took their critics' concerns seriously and would subject the documents to additional scrutiny.

But they didn't. Now THEY are the bad guys along with Burkett and whoever else was involved in producing and delivering the fraudulent memos and forging Killian's signature.

CBS News became complicit, coconspirators, in the public eye. They certainly must have known Burkett's history. How could they have made such claims as an "unimpeachable" source? How hypocritical to try to discredit their critics based on partisanship to protect a story based solely on Burkett and Barnes, with any dissent or concern left on the cutting room floor.

Too bad. Very bad judgment overall. Not just bad news judgment.

Posted by: Tim at September 20, 2004 4:56 PM | Permalink

Seth: Obviously no, but tools like Bloglines, Technorati, Feedster et. al. can give you the big picture of Internet meme activity just fine. Such a huge spike of meta activity over the memos would be enough of a reason to look into any of those analyses deeper since they are obviously ringing true with readers. There is a definite web of influence you can map out in the blogsphere, and a news outlet, at this point, should certainly be tracking it. Basically, if these people are willing to use story leads via the Internet, they should be open to everything else...

Posted by: noah at September 20, 2004 5:05 PM | Permalink

Several points:

  • Dan Rather got jobbed. Why is this more significant than the Niger-Iraq forgeries, particularly as even the White House appears not to contest the content of the CBS documents, but only (and rightly) their provenance? Imagine what would have happened with the former documents if they'd hit the web after, say, the 2003 State of the Union address.
  • Dan Rather, fearless reporter, speaking in 2002 on press self-censorship: "It starts with a feeling of patriotism within oneself. It carries through with a certain knowledge that the country as a whole - and for all the right reasons - felt and continues to feel this surge of patriotism within themselves. And one finds oneself saying: 'I know the right question, but you know what? This is not exactly the right time to ask it.'"
  • The Guard documents aren't a case of political bias; they're a case of Dan Rather trying to recover his justifiably damaged self-respect. Oops.

  • Why is this story more debilitating to CBS's credibility, or any other outlet that might have carried it, than the failure to adequately cover the runup to and aftermath of the Iraq invasion, or missing the Abu Ghraib story until a network, CBS, provided documentary evidence of it?
  • "A U.S. war against Iraq is now a given. United Nations proceedings are a charade that gives the United States time to get its strategic assets in place throughout the region. This should be done by Dec. 15 and the war is expected to begin early in the New Year." That's Arnaud de Borchgrave writing in the Washington Frickin Times on October 21 of 2002. Media bias?

    I'm not disagreeing with your prognosis, Jay. I think it's clear, though, that this is an honest but painfully stupid case of bad reporting as opposed to bias. And while I don't know whether CBS has anyone assigned to monitor the web, it's also clear that a number of CBS reporters and producers were ringing alarm bells at least by the morning after the broadcast, and they were ignored if not actively squelched. I would expect the same to have happened to the Vice President of Blogistan Coverage if there was one.

    Should Dan fall on his sword? Yes, not because his producer screwed up and he bought it, but because of what he said two years ago. He should have resigned then and taken the editors of most major newspapers and the news division chiefs of the cable and broadcast news outlets with him. He still should.

    CBS should figure out how they got so badly jobbed. CBS should also continue to pursue the Guard story; if it was newsworthy before they screwed up, it's newsworthy now too. These are grownups. They're supposed to do good reporting. If they have to rely on Republican attorneys named Buckbeak to teach them how to do their jobs, they're already useless.

    Should the press in general pay more attention to web commentary? Absolutely, but the value of it isn't, or shouldn't be, to find out when they've been had. It's to find out what stories they've missed and to do better, more forceful reporting. And, although I don't know why anyone with an unlimited Nexis/Lexis account should need this, blogs also offer a really good historical perspective on reporting of specific issues over a long time.

    I keep thinking back to that AJR piece on Abu Ghraib reporting, and the Washington bureau chief of the LA Times finding out that his own paper had done a 15-inch piece on the story that he had somehow missed. Numerous other examples, too. The press are missing stories, which I think is extremely important to realize and internalize, and they're not doing particularly well on the ones they don't miss.

    So I don't really see this as a blogging issue other than that bloggers were used, I think, as a cutout, in much the same fashion as Drudge is. It's still a matter of bungled reporting; if it hadn't been Buckbeak to the rescue, if there were no web, it would have been a RNC blast fax the next day.

    Posted by: weldon berger at September 20, 2004 5:16 PM | Permalink

    Oh, and one other point: Congressional Hearings??? Give Me A F**king Break! Is it possible that there might be more pressing matters ripe for investigation?

    Posted by: weldon berger at September 20, 2004 5:24 PM | Permalink

    Noah: Why "Obviously no."? I think Jay is really on to something here. After all, the Court Jester served an important social function. What good will a panel do, harrumphing about journalistic standards? What will that change?

    No, no, as part of real reforms, CBS should *immediately* announce the creation of the position of Official Wingnutter! The Wingnutter will have direct access to the CBS President or anyone else. He or she will be someone not in the direct career path, so like their medieval ancestors, they may speak honestly in the face of power.

    Their job, their sacred duty, will be to scour the Net, and like questers of old, report back any truth, reflected in the Mighty Right-Wing Wurlitzer.

    It's a dirty job. But somebody's got to do it.

    Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at September 20, 2004 6:00 PM | Permalink

    Not seeing the forest for the trees.

    CBS News is "the" target, but not the only target, and everyone seems to be ignoring collateral damage. Journalists across the spectrum, political and prestige/size, better be seen as actively rooting out the source and distribution of this fraud or everyone loses. Will any objective observer, at this point, believe that Burkett alone misled CBS and he needs to protect his source's confidentiality (and the investigation stops there)? Knowing his history, will anyone be convinced that Burkett is an "unimpeachable source". You can sit in denial or slay this dragon, before everyone's credibility has been reduced to - "CBS has learned...."

    Posted by: MaDr at September 20, 2004 6:04 PM | Permalink


    [I'm going to pay for this ... I know it ... I know it ...] [drumroll] No, no, as part of real reforms, CBS should *immediately* announce the creation of the position of Official Wingnutter! ... Their job, their sacred duty, will be to scour the Net, and like questers of old, report back any truth, reflected in the Mighty Right-Wing Wurlitzer.



    Will any objective observer, at this point, believe that Burkett alone misled CBS and he needs to protect his source's confidentiality (and the investigation stops there)?

    Perhaps, if CBS does create a panel and investigate, scrutiny should shift to USA Today? Who was their source of these same six memos? What's their story?

    Posted by: Tim at September 20, 2004 6:48 PM | Permalink

    Excellent post. I agree that press credibility was certainly shot by their promotion of the disinformation campaign that took us to Iraq if not long before. Even court jesters were treated like serious people back then. Where is the outrage for that fiasco?

    Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 20, 2004 7:31 PM | Permalink

    CBS News Video

    WCBS reporter Marcia Kramer Interviews Rather
    Rather Interviews Burkett

    One correction: Rather states Burkett was a commander in the Texas Air National Guard. Burkett was in the Army National Guard.

    Posted by: Tim at September 20, 2004 8:35 PM | Permalink


    Lockhart said Mapes asked him the weekend before the story broke to
    call Burkett. "She basically said there's a guy who is being helpful
    on the story who wants to talk to you," Lockhart said, adding that it
    was common knowledge that CBS was working on a story raising questions
    about Bush's Guard service. Mapes told him there were some records
    "that might move the story forward. She didn't tell me what they

    Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 20, 2004 8:39 PM | Permalink

    I hope Rather is embarrassed enough to keep digging and uncover the story of how they were duped and by whom. A story of dirty tricks remains to be told.

    Anybody can be a victim of a hoax, of course. The entire US of A has been had by the Iraq warmongers, to mention just the most recent egregious example.

    If the press in general were doing its job, everybody in the US would know that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11 (including the half of the population who have been led to believe it), we'd have a clearer picture of the fire-and-blood nightmare that Iraq has become under Bush's management, we'd have a better view of the Homeland Security Dept. boondoggle and the failure of the Bush Administration to do what it should have to improve defenses against future terrorist attacks, etc.

    Most if not all of this shrill anger at Dan Rather might be better translated into introspection and reflection on the part of the journalists who are now squawking the loudest. As the man said, take the log out of your own eye before worrying about the speck in your neighbor's.

    Posted by: pynchonoid at September 20, 2004 9:01 PM | Permalink

    And let's not forget Janet Jackson. It's part of a pattern of failed judgement. And sex. Or something.

    Posted by: Sven at September 20, 2004 9:17 PM | Permalink

    Can you say "ethically challenged"? I knew you could.

    Burkett told USA TODAY that he had agreed to turn over the documents to CBS if the network would help arrange a conversation with the Kerry campaign.

    Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 20, 2004 10:01 PM | Permalink

    Haven't Dan and CBS been fooled before--in the CBS Reports: The War Within on messed-up VietNam Vets? Is Dan sleeping with Mary--why else not fire her, right away? Does Mary have an agenda?

    Posted by: Rachel at September 20, 2004 10:50 PM | Permalink

    I hate to be cynical, but you don't fire her immediately because she will then spill all the beans. You gotta keep her close (and close-mouthed). That's just the cynic in me coming out.

    Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 20, 2004 11:00 PM | Permalink


    USAT will avoid the spotlight. Since you're post, CBS has announced the intent to convene a panel, but the story has taken on even greater, more ominous dimensions. Mapes to Lockhart to Burkett. In addition, we find out Burkett was directed to Kerry Campaign oppo research. The Cleland connection was already damning enough, but within two days we might be revisiting Watergate.

    As more information comes out, maybe we can get a better read as the timeline gets filled in. We have several projects all converging at the same time, and employing the same connections? Texans for Truth, Fortunate Son, 60 Minutes, and numerous Kerry/DNC spokesmen all making appearances and statements that are eerily similar. As my baby sister's Olde English Sheepdog, Murphrose, says "Something doesn't smell right here".

    Unless CBS' panel and/or the rest of the media aggressively track this, even into the Kerry Campaign and the DNC, there's going to be more blood in the water than just that around CBS.

    Posted by: MaDr at September 20, 2004 11:28 PM | Permalink

    I doubt we are looking at Watergate. However, this certainly has the potential of knocking the Kerry campaign off the tracks during a crucial couple of weeks and distracting everyone even more from the important issues Americans will decide in November. Although, let me note, I trust that Americans will take the issues seriously when they cast their ballots.

    Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 21, 2004 12:06 AM | Permalink

    I see alot talk of equivalence between the CBS hoax and the president's case for war with Iraq. Let's not forget (well, too late), that whatever you think of the administration's case, Iraq was clearly in violation of UN resolutions and Saddam had his own disinformation campaign going--to convince his neighbors he had weapons and to convince the inspectors he didn't. The tension between those warring claims established the case that there was only one way to be sure, and that was removing the regime that was doing everything to obscure the situation. Glib pronouncements that it was all a hoax concocted by shadowy neocons is a simple answer to a complex situation (as I'm told Kerry supporters like to say of Republican proposals). And then there's the fact that the Clinton administration appears to have been largely in agreement about the threat posed by Iraq--but perhaps they too had been infiltrated and tricked by the dirty neocons. Well it makes for a ripping yarn anyway.

    I share the disappointment with others that CBS still thinks it can weasel its way out of this. "Oh we were fooled" is belied by everything CBS said publically this past week.

    And there's this: now that even CBS admits (more or less) that the documents are fake, will it give a full accounting of the documents' source(s)? After all, how could protection of sources include protecting a source that lied to advance a dirty tricks campaign? I wish I had the kind of job where I could make any old wild claim to advance my agenda and then just say, "Well I don't reveal my sources." Somehow that only works for journalists, though.

    Posted by: Brian at September 21, 2004 12:10 AM | Permalink

    Brian -- well said. CBS is solely responsible for this debacle, and if the GOP and BC campaign take advantage of it, there's only CBS to blame for giving them such a rare opportunity.

    It'll be extraordinarily interesting to watch the CBS insiders try to cannibalize each other in the coming weeks. I can't say it saddens me. It's hard to believe Rather et al. could have been "jobbed" by something this ham-fisted. It's more likely that Rather et al. were driven by animus to try to swing the election, and were so blindly partisan in that pursuit that they suspended any normal skepticism. Their defensive reaction to questions about the story is certainly consistent with this reading of events.

    Whether the underlying story is one of deliberate fraud or unbelievable incompetence (the only possibilities), CBS would be smart to make a clean sweep of everyone involved as soon as possible. If it does not, the story of CBS's misdeeds may be a gift that keeps on giving -- to Bush.

    Posted by: Mike at September 21, 2004 1:07 AM | Permalink

    I am against attempts to discredit an entire news organization, including this one with all its glaring faults.


    Would you feel the same way if we replaced the words "news organization" and replaced them with "Presidential Administration", or "corporation" which had similarly "glaring faults"?

    Posted by: Eric Deamer at September 21, 2004 1:20 AM | Permalink

    Why would CBS do something like this? For the same reason the folks at Enron did – they thought they could get away with it.

    What, exactly, they thought they were getting away with is still to be determined. Were they completely in the tank for Kerry, as some claim? Well, it’s plausible, given the connections now coming out. Were they just desperate to break a big story and stop their ratings skid? Yes, could be, money and pride – or the loss of either – can do that. Maybe Rather, Mapes and Co. were just so completely convinced the story was true and so thoroughly frustrated that no one seemed to care they felt they just had to, had to, get the message out, and if that called for a little fabrication, hey, why not? They’re not the first (NBC Dateline, anyone) to do so. That last is especially worrisome to me, considering how much emphasis there seems to be in journalism today on “framing” a story. Or on bagging a trophy (another unfortunate legacy of Watergate).

    The stonewalling indicates this was a scam and not a simple mistake. CBS knew they’d been caught, and thought maybe they could shamelessly ride it out.

    Jay, I don’t think it would be a bad thing if this resulted in the end of CBS News. It would serve as a useful reminder to anyone else who thought they could get away with it. Plus, they’ve been a sad spectacle for a while now anyway – especially Dan Rather and the whole 60 Minutes franchise, which epitomizes sleazy ambush journalism. 60 Minutes could do a report on a funeral home that bilked the elderly out of their pensions and the average viewer would end the segment wondering which outfit – 60 Minutes or the funeral home – was more odious.

    Posted by: John Hawkins at September 21, 2004 2:16 AM | Permalink

    Rather said "It was an error that was made, however, in good faith and in the spirit of trying to carry on a CBS News tradition of investigative reporting without fear or favoritism."

    This is a LIE It was NOT good faith -- it was a smear campaign. Rahter is a Bush-hater, blind to the problems of Kerry. Just as no number of problems of Kerry excuses Bush problems; no Bush problems should excuse Kerry's problems. See the JANUARY article about Kerry in NRO:

    Contrast CBS Bush-hate investigation versus their looking into the claims of the Swifties.
    Kerry LIED about Christmas in Cambodia. Where's the CBS story?
    Kerry LIED about the first Purple Heart (Dec 2) -- or else he LIED in his Tour of Duty biography where on Dec 9 he sailed w/o having been shot at.

    Notice, also, that the Kerry defense against the Swifties is basically "they're Rep attack dogs" (therefore we can ignore the facts). Similary, the Sept 18 Dan Rather and CBS took the risky course, impunging the motives of critics.

    And of course, while the facts are important, no number of facts can answer the important questions.

    Was it good that Bush booted Saddam?
    Was it good, after 1971, that America left Vietnam?

    What is worth fighting for, killing for, killing innocents for? Facts don't ever answer this question. But we in America are in a Moral Superiority War, trying to answer that question.


    Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at September 21, 2004 7:07 AM | Permalink

    NPR trundled former CBSer Marvin Kalb out to try to draw the eye back to Bush receiving favored treatment 30 years ago to get into the National Guard. It was, he said, still an important story.

    Excuse me? Seems to me that there is a good possibility that 30 years ago any number of people got special treatment. Hell, 140 years ago during the Civil War the privileged got other people to serve for them. Someone please tell Marvin and NPR that this is 2004.

    If an eye needs to be drawn anywhere, it is:

    The value of blogging is that one individual can start an idea rolling that gathers enough substance and support to give (CBS and) the world a collective dope-slap to bring them back to consciousness.

    And isn't it the case, that that is the single, most worthwhile characteristic of democracy -- any individual has the opportunity to convince others that there may be a better way of doing things.

    Posted by: sbw at September 21, 2004 9:01 AM | Permalink

    I just read USA Today's new story on the story. I encourage you to read it, it will have you in stitches. Burkett--who comes off as completely bonkers--now claims a mysterious "Lucy Ramirez" gave him the documents and he just passed them along. Is this a news report or an SNL skit?

    Burkett could be trying to cover for George Conn, the first person he named as the source. The whole crazy/seizure act USA Today describes is interesting, reminds me of how Mr. Fawlty would always seize up and refer to his shrapnel wound when he got caught in a lie. The guy strikes me as just a hair more sane than Oswald, though.

    I guess Burkett will be CBS News' key to further escaping blame (that their whole story hinged on this nutcase is still reason enough to throw a few bodies out the window). Didn't CBS talk to Conn (who is now suspiciously terse about his "non-involvement") before they went with the story? If they didn't it's just one more journalistic lapse in a story that is filled with them. This has practically become a textbook case in how to screw up every responsibility you have on a news story.

    Posted by: Brian at September 21, 2004 9:09 AM | Permalink

    Good summary from Jessie Walker in Reason magazine:

    Cyberspace offers many rewards, but it's also filled with partisan robots and knuckle-dragging bullies, with would-be reporters who don't understand the concept of evidence and would-be analysts who can't be bothered to comprehend the views they're critiquing, with would-be stylists who rely on clichés and would-be satirists without a trace of wit. Worse yet, it's filled with disinformation and fog, especially during a presidential campaign and a war. It's tempting to recoil from all the contradictory claims and to despair of ever learning the truth.

    Posted by: Jay Rosen at September 21, 2004 9:44 AM | Permalink

    The only important issue here is where did these
    documents come from? This has Karl Rove written all over it. Let's see if these Blog experts get get that story right!!

    Posted by: Kate Cooper at September 21, 2004 9:59 AM | Permalink

    Cyberspace offers many rewards, but it's also filled with partisan robots and knuckle-dragging bullies, with would-be reporters who don't understand the concept of evidence and would-be analysts who can't be bothered to comprehend the views they're critiquing, with would-be stylists who rely on clichés and would-be satirists without a trace of wit. Worse yet, it's filled with disinformation and fog, especially during a presidential campaign and a war. It's tempting to recoil from all the contradictory claims and to despair of ever learning the truth.

    So this is different than the MSM how? I'm not being flip here. IMO, that paragraph, in every particular, would be a completely accurate description of the MSM as well. If you think that makes some meaningful point about "cyberspace" (whatever that term is supposed to mean, as even the MSM puts their stuff on the internet) then you "just don't get it man" (as the kids say). I also find it funny that Walker, who is nothing if not a Libertarian partisan robot, is complaining about "partisan robots".

    Posted by: Eric Deamer at September 21, 2004 9:59 AM | Permalink

    sbw (and anyone else),

    OK, I have to ask. I understand this may read as a tweak, but I'm sincerely curious.

    Isn't a panel just a "High bench. Robes. Powdered wigs. Parsing nuances. Pontificating. Telling us what "is" is... or ought to be." (here)

    Is the difference between a National News Council/Minnesota News Council and a CBS selected "independent" panel analogous to the difference between an International Criminal Court and a UNSC War Crimes Tribunal - not in severity of the charges brought, of course, but in the permanence, independence and scope of purview?

    And what do we expect this panel to do and who should be on it? Can we learn from previous attempts to correct the course of CBS and these News Councils?

    Jeff Jarvis recommends:

    That commission could include not just news priests but also bloggers and news sources and news subjects (including those who've been wronged) and competitors ... just plain viewers aka consumers aka citizens (the people who should matter most).
    [Yes, what went wrong,] But how much better if they started imagining a new view of news that involves the wisdom of the people. They should examine not just what CBS did wrong but what CBS could have done right.

    Some perhaps relevant highpoints (or lowpoints?) in history:

    CBS Shareholder Resolutions, February 1975

    1. The committee should consist of 9 members, three to represent management, three the affiliated stations and three the public.
    2. The committee should be appointed by the Board of Directors.
    3. The committee should be asked to investigate thoroughly the charges of bias and distortion made bv Dr. Ernest W. Lefever in his book, TV and National Defense.
    4. The committee should be asked to investigate other charges of bias and distortion in the presentation of news and public affairs by CBS, and it should consider what steps might be taken to improve performance and remove the impression indicated by the Phillips-Sindlinger poll that CBS News is the most biased of the three networks.
    5. Among other things, the committee should consider recommending the adoption of a code of ethics similar to the one recommended by the Society of Professional Journalists and the appointment of an ombudsman to provide inhouse criticism, as suggested recently by: Sig Mickelson, former president of CBS News.
    6. The committee should prepare a report to the shareholders for submission prior to the 1976 annual meeting.
    1. The ombudsman would be assigned the responsibility of receiving and investigating complaints from the public about unfair or inaccurate programs.
    2. The ombudsman would be allotted time on radio and television to report to the viewing and listening public on action taken about valid complaints.
    3. The ombudsman would have direct access to top management of RCA as well as NBC.
    4. The ombudsman would be given responsibility for devising a workable code of ethics for NBC New"s, similar to the code adopted and recommended by the Society of Professional Journalists.
    5. The ombudsman would prepare a report for distribution to shareholders on his activities and accomplishments annually.

    CBS Head Lauds Blast at Rather, June 1988

    CBS Reports: The Wall Within, June 1988

    Previous 60 Minutes fakeries, actual and supposed

    60 MinutesRudy Camacho Fraud, 1997

    Anna asks: Does CBS have an ombudsman? Assuming the answer is "no", would it have made a difference if they had?

    CBS does not have an ombudsman that I can find, and I don't think it would have made a difference in whether or not this story was aired. I do think it may have made a difference in CBS' handling of criticism in that a decent ombudsman might have at least been a better PR man to spin the underlying attitude stupidly expressed by Rather and Heywood. And I think that's a big learning point in the current relationship between Old media and New media right now. The blogs are not just "involuntarily outsourced fact-checkers". They are the ombudsmen (and women) doing post-mortem fact-checking and critiques. They are being emailed with complaints about news articles instead of the news organization or its ombudsman. These truly public ombudsmen then write about it, publish it, and may contact the news organization's PR person, uhhh, ombudsman, to bring attention to it - "Here's MY analysis Mr. Ombudsman, and the many complaints I'VE received, and look at my comment section." (Do TV News Channels Need An Ombudsman?)

    I see these roles (News Council/Ombudsman) tied into the disconnect between today's information providers and their readers, AND mysteries of the developing link between Old and New media.

    Where do readers go to complain? Ombudsmen are not independent. They are employees of the offending organization and often perceived as advocates of that organization not the public/readers.

    How should Old media be responsive to the public discussion/debate, some of which is being published in blogs?

    And why are recommendations from 30 years ago addressing this problem still, if not more, applicable today?


    On a different angle. Much speculation has been offered as to CBS' and Rather's ideological bias motivating airing this story despite its obvious weaknesses. Giving greater credence to Democratic and Bush-hating partisans than their independent experts, Killian's family or other Guard officers.

    OK, that may all be true. But is there a structural bias also? Did Rather and CBS News "rush" the story? Why? "Seconds Count"? Competition? (When did USA Today get the memos and did CBS think they might get scooped?)

    Posted by: Tim at September 21, 2004 11:05 AM | Permalink

    Self-editing late, sorry:

    Heywood -> Heyward

    When did USA Today get the memos and did CBS think they might get scooped? "About an hour after the 60 Minutes story aired, Burkett also gave the documents to a USA TODAY reporter who had flown to meet him in Bozeman, Mont., where he said he was visiting friends.", according to USA Today.

    Posted by: Tim at September 21, 2004 11:39 AM | Permalink

    "Good summary from Jessie Walker in Reason magazine..."

    It's all true, Jay, but wouldn't it be an accurate description of the traditional media as well? Here are examples of the archetypes named in Walker's article:

    Partisan robot: Dana Milbank
    Knuckle-dragging bully: Bill O'Reilly
    Would-be reporter/analyst: (cast of thousands reporting on science issues)
    Would-be stylist: Maureen Dowd
    Would-be satirist: Garry Trudeau
    Source of disinformation and fog: NYT

    Posted by: Mike at September 21, 2004 12:31 PM | Permalink

    When it Goes Both Ways: A Blogger for the Liberal Media Thesis Meets Contrary Evidence at the LA Times

    Patterico was on to something at his weblog; it was politics, it was journalism, it was blogging. I had written a lot at PressThink about "watch" blogs, and here was one about to break news because it was watching.
    Jay, I think this essay is relevant to this event for two reasons: 1) the historical thread that you have developed about the public media watchers/ombudsmen, 2) your question about the missing reciprocal watchfulness by Big Media (to borrow one of many terms) of these watchers.

    And I have a question for Seth F, Ben F and weldon b: What's the difference between a Big Media Ombudsman, like the ones we have today, and a Court Jester or "Official Wingnutter!"?

    Posted by: Tim at September 21, 2004 1:17 PM | Permalink

    Broken link above fixed: When it Goes Both Ways: A Blogger for the Liberal Media Thesis Meets Contrary Evidence at the LA Times

    Posted by: Tim at September 21, 2004 1:19 PM | Permalink

    The next paragraph after the one Rosen quotes:

    But that disinformation and fog were there in the old days as well. They're just more obvious in this more transparent age, when the voice of Dan Rather is no longer enough to soothe a viewer's doubts. You're worried you'll never learn the whole truth? Welcome to the human condition, my friend.

    I think it's a necessary counter-balance to the penultimate one, which is in context more of a "weblogs aren't all bliss and wonder, BUT..." qualification.

    Posted by: Brian at September 21, 2004 1:29 PM | Permalink

    News Councils: the Case for...and Against
    CJR (Punishing the Press)
    March/April 1997
    Interviews by CJR's Evan Jenkins of Mike Wallace and Joseph Lelyveld.

    Saving the press from itself
    The Nation
    Richard M. Cohen

    Posted by: Tim at September 21, 2004 2:06 PM | Permalink

    It seems a bit odd that in a thread discussing an eggregious journalistic election fraud perpetrated by one of the largest organizations, people are complaining about blogs.

    One of the main problems is that blogs are diverse. They range from information on which the blogger is a genuine expert to raw news information (such as soldier blogs from Iraq) to discussion blogs to personal diaries to... whatever. This means that almost any generalization about them will be wrong. It also means that one has to spend time learning and stying in touch with blog space to get value out of it, although Glenn Reynolds is a major help.

    CBS, however, is not diverse and neither is the MSM seen be the average consumer.

    Conservatives have been unhappy with MSM for a long time. The persistent biases are the case. For example, the treatment of stories about gun control has been almost universally technically incorrect - CBS and others, always in a manner that favors anti-gun legislation. It is consistent biases like this that cause us to cheer as Dan Rather is taken down a notch or five. I still wait to hear a TV reporter explain the differences between an assault weapon and what was banned under the "assault weapon" ban. Of course, at this point it's moot.

    Posted by: John Moore at September 21, 2004 4:33 PM | Permalink

    [cross posted at Rhetorica]

    I have to question whether the parallel between CBS/Rather and the Bush administration is being applied correctly and with intellectual honesty.

    If you believe that the Bush administration was misled into a war in Iraq (Chalabi, Niger forgeries), was it because of an ideological bias (neocons?) or because of a structural bias?

    For example, was it the Master Narrative about Iraq, WMD and terrorism that developed over a decade since Desert Storm or at least since Kamel's defection in 1995?

    And depending on your answer, then was CBS News/60 Minutes (Heyward's/Rather's administration?) misled into airing this story based on an ideological bias or their Master Narrative about the character of Bush's National Guard service?

    Or both? Did one enable the other?

    Posted by: Tim at September 21, 2004 5:36 PM | Permalink

    ABC has 400 Googling monkeys working for The Note.
    CBS needs some Googling monkeys to keep track of breaking news on the Web.

    Posted by: Steve at September 21, 2004 6:14 PM | Permalink

    Actually, yes, CBS News was aware of the internet:

    The first sign of trouble came the next afternoon, when a staffer told Howard that a Web site was questioning whether the Killian memos could have been produced on an early 1970s typewriter. In fact, the Internet was buzzing with such critiques. Howard asked Mapes about one of the charges, that typewriters of that period did not use superscripts, such as a raised "th," that appeared in the memos. She came back with military documents that used a small "th," but the letter combination was not raised above the rest of the type, as true superscript would be. Howard said he believed some of the outsiders' questions about superscript and proportionate spacing were "kind of silly."

    Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 21, 2004 8:10 PM | Permalink

    "What's the difference between a Big Media Ombudsman, like the ones we have today, and a Court Jester or "Official Wingnutter!"?"

    It's the difference between Meet The Press (Ombudsman) and The Daily Show (Court Jester/"Official Wingnutter")

    Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at September 21, 2004 8:11 PM | Permalink

    "It's the difference between Meet The Press (Ombudsman) and The Daily Show (Court Jester/"Official Wingnutter")"

    That's a great answer.

    Posted by: Tim at September 21, 2004 9:30 PM | Permalink

    And I have a question for Seth F, Ben F and weldon b: What's the difference between a Big Media Ombudsman, like the ones we have today, and a Court Jester or "Official Wingnutter!"?

    I'm afraid you're on your own there, Tim. I don't recall mentioning any of those things. If you're looking for work, I could probably write you a letter of recommendation for at least one or two of the three positions.

    Posted by: weldon berger at September 22, 2004 12:04 AM | Permalink

    If you're looking for work, I could probably write you a letter of recommendation for at least one or two of the three positions.

    That would be great weldon, thanks. I put it in my super-secret "personal file"/time capsule next to the one from Bill Burkett. I'm sure it will come in handy 30 years from now.

    Posted by: Tim at September 22, 2004 10:25 AM | Permalink

    I'm a little bit surprised that there isn't a single mention of FOX in this entire page of discussing journalism standards, self-examination, culpability, influencing other media outlets, dupability and telling lies like they were truth.

    Am I missing something here?

    Posted by: KarlSW at September 22, 2004 10:33 AM | Permalink

    CBS joins list of news media scarred by missteps

    An independent panel will examine what went wrong, determine who will pay the price and probably issue a “to do” list for executives. But for now, CBS and 60 Minutes have joined a club of media outlets that includes NBC's Dateline, ABC's Primetime Live, CNN's NewsStand, The New York Times and USA TODAY. Their reputations were tarnished by flawed stories, lying reporters or both.
    Jay Rosen, a New York University journalism professor, says that CBS News should expect a continued pounding from well-organized groups that have long charged that the network and Rather are liberal and pro-Democrat.
    Rosen says that CBS affiliates will be pressured to be “restive” and that the Commission on Presidential Debates will be pressured to dump CBS' Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer from the upcoming debates. “How far will any of this get?” Rosen asks. “I don't know yet, but it would be foolish to deny the political and cultural passions out there.”

    Posted by: Tim at September 22, 2004 11:29 AM | Permalink


    Would you consider adding a few dates to Dan Rather's career in the AfterMath? Perhaps some quotes from his interviews with, or statements about, President Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and/or Ken Starr? They seem to be noticeably absent. Or his appearance at a Democratic fundraiser?

    Wikipedia's Dan Rather: Notable Incidents,
    MRC's For Clinton, Dan Rather is Putty in His Hands,
    Dan Rather's Outrageous Liberal Bias

    Posted by: Tim at September 22, 2004 2:05 PM | Permalink

    This may be -- probably is -- another example of the Rovian "distraction" ploy. CBS' faux pas has nothing to do with the central issue.

    CBS is embarrassed. A dirty trick may have occurred. It's a mess.

    But Bush may STILL be guilty of having evaded his military service requirements. I believe his is.

    Keep your eye on the prize.

    Posted by: Bob Jacobson at September 22, 2004 2:15 PM | Permalink


    Do you really think that in today's world weather a guy in the National Guard 30 years ago fulfilled the letter or spirit of his requirements is "the prize". That's just depression. I want way more out of my Crackerjack box than that paltry reassurance.

    Posted by: Brian at September 22, 2004 3:29 PM | Permalink

    Dude, I don't believe CBS has admitted that the documents were inauthentic... a quote from you, above, see here:

    "CBS News, having now admitted that documents it relied on were inauthentic, will have troubles graver than a retraction of Dan Rather's account and an official apology to President Bush, to CBS viewers and to the American public."

    What CBS has admitted, more precisely, is that they can't vouch for the authenticity of the documents. It is a logic leap that does not follow to say that means the documents are inauthentic.

    In other words, there are quite a few documents in this world whose authenticity (unbroken chain of possession) can be vouched for authoritatively... but that does not necessarily mean that they are all inauthentic. I'd trot out the Aristotilian Venn diagram, but I don't want to be pedantic.


    Posted by: Christine Boese at September 22, 2004 5:29 PM | Permalink

    Building on what Jeff Jarvis wrote and my comment here, imagining myself in a position to give guidance to the CBS commission, knowing what I know now, and what I want to know from reading their report:

    1. The Independent Producer: Field Work - Describe, explain and identify what can/should/needs to be fixed. (Mapes, Smith & assistants)

    2. The Black Rock Vetting Team: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. (Rather, Heyward, Howard, ...)

    3. The Catastrophic Response: Ethics, culture, communication .... Within communication:

    • between Mapes and Rather/Heyward/Howard/et al.;
    • between 60 Minutes and CBS News/CBS;
    • whoever was shoveling it to spokespersons Kelli Edwards and Sandy Genelius to shovel to us;
    • and most importantly the broken "a two-way relationship".
    4. Finally, a review and discussion of historical recommendations that constantly resurface, such as Ombudsman and News Council.

    Posted by: Tim at September 23, 2004 4:16 PM | Permalink

    Wow, weird. Tim seems to have linked to me.

    Tim? What were you trying to say? Losing yr signal a bit..


    Posted by: Darwin at September 24, 2004 3:54 AM | Permalink


    How does the saying go? More American 20-somethings get their news from The Daily Show than from any other source? ;-)

    We were discussing the role of Court Jesters in informing newsies, execs and the public.

    Posted by: Tim at September 24, 2004 9:12 AM | Permalink

    It is a sad day when reporters do not care what is true. They just want to throw stones.

    Posted by: Mary Jane Roseberry at September 24, 2004 11:51 PM | Permalink

    From the Intro