September 24, 2004
Does CBS News Have a Political Future in This State?
The affiliates are hearing it. There's a campaign to get Bob Schieffer dumped from the debates. William Safire is asking about criminal charges. And some of the worst ever numbers for media trust were just released. From the CBS truth commission we need something... dramatic.
There are signs that the controversy is hurting CBS and anchor Dan Rather at the local level. Bob Lee, general manager of WBDJ-TV in Roanoke and president of the CBS Affiliates Association, said he has heard from many stations and “we’re all being battered.” —Howard Kurtz, Washington Post, Sep. 23
Two days ago, CBS announced its two-person truth commission. Richard Thornburgh, Attorney General during parts of the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, and a former governor of Pennsylvania. Louis D. Boccardi, former chief executive of the Associated Press, where he worked for 36 years. (Press release.)
Not well known to the public, Lou Boccardi is a natural choice within the industry, and a proven commodity— “one of three outsiders who served last year on a committee with reporters and editors of The New York Times that investigated the repeated fabrications of a former reporter, Jayson Blair,” said the Times.
The Thornburgh appointment is the fascinating part. A politician. Former federal prosecutor and snarling TV commentator Victoria Toensing told Kurtz that Thornburgh is a good choice for CBS “because he’s a Republican, so it doesn’t look partisan the wrong way.”
Partisan the wrong way. Hmmm. Well, why name a politician at all? Why a Republican and why this one? Why not a Democrat? Why not a Democrat and a Republican? Isn’t balance a watchword anymore? What’s the thinking here, CBS? “CBS executives declined to elaborate on the selection of Mr. Thornburgh,” said the Journal Sep. 23. Not in a sharing mood, I guess. Mike Wallace had some thoughts, however: “It occurs to me that on the team of investigators should be someone who has experience with how a television piece is put together,” Wallace said. “He has none, as far as I know.”
It has seemed to me since the first weekend of this crisis that CBS was in political danger because of something that had gone wrong with its journalism. It had to fight a war for legitimacy and reputation, and that’s a political struggle, but since the news division was the one involved in the fight, CBS had to also claim that it had no politics at all. This is not a recipe for clarity.
It is the ruling fiction at a network news division: we’re professional news people, and we don’t “do” politics. Just the other day this was said. Spokeswoman Kelli Edwards on Sep. 21: “It is obviously against CBS News standards and those of every other reputable news organization to be associated with any political agenda.” She was reacting to news that Joe Lockhart of the Kerry campaign had been involved in a deal to secure the memos from CBS’s source, Bill Burkett.
It would be routine for CBS News to identify former Governor Richard Thornburgh as a Republican in any reporting it did. After all, he is one. But he’s not a Republican in the CBS announcement of the review committee. That word does not appear. One reason, I guess, is that CBS would have to provide Boccardi’s party affiliation if Thornburgh’s were given. And Boccardi doesn’t identify that way. He’s a newsie.
See the tension?
Because of that tension, which is at the very heart of this scandal, Thornburgh and Boccardi have a shot at pulling CBS through, but it will be very difficult given that we’re in a tense election. The first big decision they have to make is whether to finish a report before Election Day— a very tough call. A political decision, in fact.
But then so was the decision to have a review in the first place. For reasons not made clear at the time, Andrew Heyward, president of CBS News, and Leslie Moonves, chairman of CBS Television and co-president of the CBS parent, Viacom, were allowed to define the scope of inquiry into events where they are implicated— heavily so.
Look at the charge that Heyward and Moonves gave the Committee, as per the CBS announcement on Sep. 22:
to help determine what errors occurred in the preparation of the report and what actions need to be taken.
This begins in the logical place: where were the screw ups in the story? It ends in the logical place: what do we do now to fix it? And it pretends that twelve days in the calendar don’t exist.
That would be the period from Sep. 9, when problems first emerged, to Sep. 20, when CBS announced that it no longer had confidence in the report it aired on President Bush and his National Guard service. Ernest Miller has a detailed timeline in two-parts: here and here. Only by reading these posts, and clicking through to the links, can an observer fully appreciate CBS’s stonewalling and why it matters.
My NYU colleague Adam Penenberg, writing in Wired, summarizes what went down:
At first, Rather refused to consider the possibility that CBS had been duped, brushing off both journalists, who he called “the professional rumor mill,” and bloggers, whose “motivations” he questioned.
Feeling the heat, CBS produced experts to buttress its story, only to have them recant. Some claimed they had warned CBS about the documents. Others believed they had been misled or their findings misinterpreted. Meanwhile, the Associated Press retained its own expert who concluded the memos had most likely been word-processed. ABC, CNN, NBC, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and USA Today weighed in on the growing media scandal — all of which prompted CBS to announce its own investigation.
What happened between those two dates (Sep. 9-20) is critical to the politics and the journalism of the story. And, of course, we find some critical actions taken—or not taken—by Heyward, as Dan Rather’s boss, and Moonves, head of CBS. Here are five clusters the review panel should investigate:
- Who’s idea was it to allow the network’s star anchorman and public face, Dan Rather, to keep deepening his—and the brand’s—exposure to massive credibility loss by maintaining a pose of absolute certainty, and going out of his way to demean challengers or dismiss them as political hacks?
- What did CBS hope to gain by having Rather explode in frustration across the news pages, simultaneously showing that he was mildly to wildly out of touch with his enviornment and with the status of a breaking story? (Most memorably when he said to Howard Kurtz on Sep. 15, “If the documents are not what we were led to believe, I’d like to break that story.”) If someone at CBS wanted to have Rather publicly destroy himself, then for that purpose the network made the correct moves. But why would someone want to do that?
- Who made the decision to say publicly there is no investigation underway at 60 minutes, when the only responsible option CBS had at that point was to investigate?
- How did it come to pass that a group of employees at CBS News, associated with one program, 60 Minutes Wednesday, were allowed to use the CBS Evening News, another program, essentially to shore up the thesis for a story of theirs that was being attacked in a public controversy that had itself become news? Didn’t this turn the nightly newscast into an advocacy program? Isn’t that against the rules?
- Michael Dobbs of the Washington Post put it this way in an online chat with Post readers Tuesday: “I had serious suspicions about the authenticity of the documents on the morning after they were aired. I find it difficult to believe that people in CBS did not develop similar doubts soon afterward.” What happened to those people within the organization, and why they did not get through to decision-makers? Jim Rutenberg, Sep. 19: “One mystery among CBS staff members is why network officials remained so confident for so long about the documents as so many questions arose.”
(I was trying to get the same point across in a post that asked: Did the President of CBS News Have Anyone in Charge of Reading the Internet and Sending Alerts?)
All five of my clusters ultimately involve judgments made by Heyward, as Rather’s boss, and Moonves, as Heyward’s. The investigation has to go there or it avoids many of the story’s scariest parts. But look at the official charge: “What errors occurred in the preparation of the report and what actions need to be taken.” To me it’s clear: Heyward and Moonves tried to tell the Review Committeee to skip their part in a sad parade.
Of course this was noticed right away. (Transparency not being a CBS strong suit, the people there don’t seem to know when they are being transparent.) Ernest Miller at Corante pointed it out: “If this panel is not going to look into the terrible errors that took place after the broadcast, it is clear that CBS News is not truly interested in resolving this matter and holding itself to the highest standards of journalism.”
Jeff Jarvis (I nominated him for the committee, but that suggestion was not taken up) complained too: “CBS is charging them only to look into how the forged docs got onto the air, nothing after, nothing more. Big mistake. Muffed opportunity. Frightened and frightening lack of vision.”
They were right, but spoke a little too soon. The politics of the review situation are starting to work. The Wall Street Journal quotes Boccardi expanding the commitee’s charge, showing that he and Thornburgh are the ones in charge. Miller, a Yale law school fellow as well as a blogger, has the passage:
Mr. Boccardi, who retired from the AP in 2003, said the panel would study not only the process by which the Sept. 8 report anchored by Dan Rather was prepared and broadcast, but also the network’s reaction to questions challenging the piece after it aired. CBS and Mr. Rather initially stood firmly behind the story and the documents and that has generated almost as much criticism as the report itself did. “That is very much part of what we’re going to look at,” Mr. Boccardi said.
That Heyward and Moonves are not happy with the larger investigation is probably what’s behind this bit, also from the WSJ:
A CBS spokeswoman said the primary focus of the panel is the reporting of the story itself, not the aftermath. While there is no timeline for the panel to conclude its investigation, she said the hope is “it moves along at a good pace.”
Dan Rather understands what the presidents are doing. Listen to him widen the net of responsibility, getting on the record early with how involved the higher-ups actually were. (New York Times, Sep. 23)
In an interview on Monday, Mr. Rather said that on learning that Ms. Mapes had obtained the documents, he called Mr. Heyward.
“This is not verbatim,” Mr. Rather recalled. “But I said: ‘Andrew, if true, it’s breakthrough stuff. But I need to do something unusual. It may even be unique. I have to ask you to oversee, in a hands-on way, the handling of this story, because this is potentially the kind of thing that will cause great controversy.’
“He got it. He immediately agreed.”
In other words, the two men knew they were about to make a political decision. I wonder how many at CBS will get it and immediately agree with Roy Peter Clark of Poynter, a man with political imagination, who has a very good idea:
The independent investigators, now identified as Dick Thornburgh and Lou Boccardi, should conduct public hearings on the CBS scandal. These should be televised by CBS.
He’s not kidding— the CBS hearings televised on CBS. Something like this is needed if the network is going to get the public service mantle back quickly. You have to perform a big public service… on yourself. (Jeff Jarvis had a similar idea.) Clark’s vision of it:
Imagine a week of televised hearings in which the investigators would question Dan Rather, producers and reporters from “60 Minutes,” other news executives, and rank and file journalists from CBS. Perhaps other players outside the network could be called to shed some additional light: Political figures, press secretaries, other journalists, even ethicists. Thornburgh, who served as attorney general under President Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, would ask questions that shed light on our law and politics. Former president of AP Boccardi would help us measure the performance of CBS against enduring and emerging journalistic standards. Along the way, hundreds of other voices would weigh in, from talk radio, cable television, letters to the editor, and blogs.
My own judgment is that something dramatic is called for— like a week of televised hearings, but it could be some other creative idea. Let’s not forget there are CBS affiliates hearing from a lot of angry people. (See this.) There’s a campaign to get Bob Schieffer dumped from the debates. William Safire is asking about criminal charges. And some of the worst ever poll numbers for media trust have just been released.
A spectacular act of public listening might allow CBS to re-claim some initiative here.
Now Political Man—in the person of Dick Thornburgh, a Republican—will sit down with a career News Guy (Boccardi, party unknown) and they will sift through Dan Rather’s fallen tale of the Texas Air National Guard. They will have to reach a common understanding, which might be the most valuble “product” the review has. This is about politics. This is about news. This is about the politics of news, and such things as political ambition “in” journalism, which is not the same as partisan purpose, even though partisan purpose is involved too. And this is also about a raw attempt to discredit CBS, and Dan Rather— a long-held dream among some on the Right.
At stake are some big things: does CBS News have a political future? Will it run again? And can it ever win in this state?
After Matter: Notes, reactions and links…
Big Fallout: ‘60 Minutes’ Delays Report Questioning Reasons for Iraq War (New York Times, Sep. 25):
CBS said last night that the report on the war would not run before Nov. 2. “We now believe it would be inappropriate to air the report so close to the presidential election,” the spokeswoman, Kelli Edwards, said in a statement.
In a way that’s the network’s biggest admission yet: we don’t have the credibility now to run that story.
Wall Street Journal: “It is possible that the choice of Dick Thornburgh sends a signal to Republicans in terms of the desire by CBS to have legitimacy with this review panel,” said Bob Steele, a member of the ethics faculty at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla. However, Mr. Steele noted that Mr. Thornburgh “carries a political pedigree in a story that is so politicized that it seems debatable, and perhaps even unwise, to heighten the politicizing element of what is going on.”
Complications in the liberal media: Sumner Redstone says he is a liberal democrat who supports the Republicans. Why? They’re good for Viacom. Opinion Journal: “Guess Who’s a GOP Booster? The CEO of CBS’s parent company endorses President Bush.” Plus: Redstone quoted in the New York Post: “The investigation is ‘appropriate — and the consequences will be appropriate,’ Redstone told the business magazine Forbes at a conference in Hong Kong.”
New twist on the bias debate: JD Lasica, Google News: Unintentionally skewing to the right? (Online Journalism Review.)
Vaugh Ververs in the National Journal (Sep. 24) says the Bush team has already rejected the idea of dumping CBS’s Bob Schieffer as debate moderator.
Why do you care if CBS goes under? A PressThink reader, Richard Frost, asked me that in the following note:
You seem very concerned that CBS News may be de-legitimized. I must confess, I don’t understand why this possibility should be so distressing to you. The press (and society) have long supported investigations, both legal and governmental, of business for any number of possible abuses; stock manipultations, environmental damage, sexual harassment, pension management, and insider trading come to mind. Proven wrongdoing can result in penalties, both civil and criminal, in which businesses may suffer tremendous loss of credibility or even be put out of business.
Why should CBS, or any media organization, be exempt? We are generally skeptical of proposals by any industry to regulate itself, especially when there has been a history of problems or an important breach of trust. We also think that harsh penalties are effective deterrents to serious wrongdoing by other players. Is there some reason to think that similar logic does not apply to the press? Or, if it does apply, is there some mitigating circumstance or fact that should take precedence?
Dorothy Rabinowitz, commentary in the Wall Street Journal: “… journalists might do better, in short, to wish Mr. Rather and company well in this hard time, and then declare the obvious. Which is that there are some things in human experience that ought to be granted their own uniqueness. On the grounds of its mysteries alone, the CBS-National Guard story deserves to be one of them.”
Jeffrey A. Dvorkin, NPR ombudsman on the blogs and the Rather story: “we must acknowledge that the blogs have truly arrived. It is hard for journalists who have led a sheltered life without public accountability to acknowledge that those days are over.”
Culmination of a 40-year-long indictment? Fascinating history of the conservative movement’s claims against the liberal media, tracing things back to Goldwater in 1964. John Podhoretz in the Weekly Standard: Dan Rather’s Day of Reckoning:
From the bloggers who blew the whistle on the fabrications to the millions of Internet news consumers who could not get enough of every twist and turn in the unbelievable unfolding story, there was a definite sense that history was turning on a dime, that the exposure of CBS’s infamy by non-journalists with a new ability to communicate through the Internet heralded the dawn of the New Information Age.
That’s why, even though the precipitating event was a genuine outrage—CBS News’s breathless use of forged documents accusing George W. Bush of disobeying a direct order from his National Guard superior in an all-too-obvious effort to sway the opinions of voters only 48 days before the 2004 election—the outrage has been accompanied by a spirit of giddiness and exhilaration almost from the moment the onslaught began.
This is a moment that’s been a very long time coming. For four decades now, conservatives have been convinced, with supreme justification, that the institutional, ideological, and cultural biases of the mainstream media represented a danger to the causes in which they believe and the ideas they hold dear. What has happened over the past weeks isn’t the beginning of a transformation. It’s the culmination of a 40-year-long indictment that has, at long last, led to a slam-dunk conviction.
Here’s a good round up of blog reactions to the CBS surrender on Sep. 20 from Joe Gandelman of The Moderate Voice.
Eric Boehlert in Salon: Too much about memos, too little about war. “As the election nears, will TV news finally get tough and really cover the Iraq war?”
Bruce Benidt in the Star Tribune: “The bad journalism isn’t just not checking out the possibly doctored documents — it’s breathlessly chasing the flashy story to begin with. CBS was hoist on its own petard. 60 Minutes and its spinoffs and imitators have reveled so long in their ‘gotcha’ approach that they’ve crossed from journalism through entertainment and into pandering.”
Scott Rosenberg of Salon, Bloggers and Journalists — Border crossings:
The challenge for professional journalists today is to understand how their role has changed. Their readers and their sources and their subjects now have access to an open microphone. And much of the time, it’s good stuff on that mike — amazing stories and smart people and valuable information. Ignoring all that isn’t just a missed opportunity; it’s bad journalism. Only a hack could believe that ignoring the “amateurs in pajamas” is a smart course.
Bloggers, meanwhile, lose out if they choose to stand off and lob spitballs at the media machine instead of engaging with it in creative ways. They have an unprecedented chance to insert new information and ideas into the clotted and previously inaccessible media bloodstream. Blogging for its own sake is its own reward, to be sure. But blogging to set records straight and change minds and influence the public sphere — that’s too valuable to pass on.
How blogs work.
Let’s say you’re a Talking Points Memo fan. News breaks on Valerie Palme. Oh, I want to hear what Josh Marshall has to say about that. It’s the most basic act in public affairs blogging. A few clicks and there’s Talking Points Memo lighting up the screen, the familar picture of Josh, thinking. Ah, he has a post up about the latest news. This is gonna be good…
And at that point we’re off, reader and writer have connected. The blog is working. A rhythm is established through reaction. With big news, more people react and come hunting for views. The big news on my beat has been Dan Rather. It dawned on Thursday Sep. 9, that there might be a real problem with the memos. Friday night I reacted:
Weekend Notes with Forgery Swrling in the Air. (Sep. 11)
Followed by some Big Think, lending context to the Rather events:
Stark Message for the Legacy Media. (Sep. 14)
The story grew. So did the blog’s explanations:
Rather’s Satisfaction: Mystifying Troubles at CBS. (Sep. 18)
And then… On Sep. 20th news strikes. CBS admits its story has come apart. The cycle starts over with same day reaction:
Did the President of CBS News Have Anyone in Charge of Reading the Internet and Sending Alerts?
Posted by Jay Rosen at September 24, 2004 12:47 PM
It had to fight a war for legitimacy and reputation, and that's a political struggle, but since the news division was the one involved in the fight, CBS had to also claim that it had no politics at all.
It seems to me that CBS puts their legitimacy and reputation on the table as ante when deciding to air this story, and that they have done so in the past (more on that later). In other words, they were looking to play the trump card in a political game but got caught either cheating, or forgetting what suit was trump. I think it is important to recognize:
- CBS was engaged in a political struggle with this White House before they aired this program,
- the political ramifications of this story were part of their decision (which you state later in the essay: "In other words, the two men knew they were about to make a political decision.")
- they lost this hand and were thrust into what should have been a predicted (and not entirely unfamiliar) political struggle to defend thier seat at the table, and
- they are low on credibility chips.
What makes this especially damaging for CBS is that this is not simply a political battle between a news organization with a consistent record of being adversarial with whomever is the current White House administration. Dan Rather is arguably the least trusted
of the broadcast news anchors, CBS News the least watched
and perceived as the most biased
. So the claim that "it had no politics at all" is also low on credibility.
Thornburgh is not there to balance Boccardi, who is being sold as neutral, but to balance the perception of CBS' political bias. It's a tacit recognition, if not an admission, that their critics and the public (according to polls) hold the "liberal bias" opinion. Thornburgh is there to balance that opinion, buttressed by the Barnes/Burkett/Cleland/Mapes/Lockhart connections.
Which brings me to the inside baseball, the office politics, that I had not thought about until reading your essay: If someone at CBS wanted to have Rather publicly destroy himself, then for that purpose the network made the correct moves. But why would someone want to do that? That's an interesting contrast to your insight into Rather's thinking (Rather's Satisfaction). It's an implication that not only did Rather get "played" by Mapes into thinking the story was "nailed down", but was then perhaps "played" into destroying himself and, in the process, the credibility of CBS News - spreading the conceit like a virus to other shows as you say.
There seems to be a Master Narrative, a framing, or perhaps even a conventional wisdom developing from the meme that this is an isolated event. That CBS hasn't been through other scandals and the same people making the decisions to air this story and then defiantly and arrogantly stand by it haven't weathered criticism and scandal in the past. Did they handle it differently then? Were these decisions and reactions unique for CBS and these personalities, or in character?
And this is also about a raw attempt to discredit CBS, and Dan Rather-- a long-held dream among some on the Right.
Wow. I really wish you had expanded on this point. A raw attempt to discredit CBS - BY WHOM? By the person that created the fraudulent memos and forged the signatures? By someone at CBS in charge of framing the story or deciding to air it?
In other words, CBS is discredited. They discredited themselves when they aired a political hit-piece despite all the questions from experts, by misleading Hodges and others, and despite the doubts expressed by Killian's family and others in interviews. They discredited themselves when their producer unethically asked the Kerry campaign to call Burkett and Lockhart did CBS the favor!! They further discredited themselves by acting like politicians caught in a scandal.
"The Right" could sit back and watch their "long-held dream" come true - or help it along by keeping the pressure on CBS to finally admit the truth - and it would not change the fact that CBS is responsible for discrediting themselves.
Perhaps an even more interesting question is why The Left has risen up to defend CBS and Dan Rather? To attack and discredit the critics of this story? To attempt to distract, to shift blame, to diminish its relevance?
Isn't that part of the political struggle? If CBS has no politics, why has The Left picked up its banner and rallied behind it?
Radio station drops CBS News over Guard flap
I have to chime in on what Mr. Ehrenstein said.
None of us should pretend that this episode is in any way unique. Sure, the way it blew up was pretty special, especially if you're a Repblican wingnut; but that doesn't change the fact this kind of flubbing-the-facts is perfectly normal in mainstream corporate journalism today.
Starting a couple years ago, the press, including the unfortunate Mr. Rather, did, with great enthusiasm, take a leading role in selling the nation a war we all know (and many of us knew) was based on lies, obfuscation and perfidy. Thus far, tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians are dead along with the nearly 1,100 American soldiers.
In that case, the result was mass murder. So, where is the great investigation paneled with faux-macho Republican activists pretending to give a hoot about the truth?
Does anyone here really doubt that a truly professional press corps, doing it's job the way we learned in school, would have prevented this horrible crime? If the truth mattered in the least, even to Mr. Rather, this war probably would not have happened.
In this latest case, the result is a comic soap opera Alfred Jarry would greatly admire. Pa Ubu lives!
Who was damaged by all this? Dan Rather. If anyone should be outraged, it would be him. Did anyone die as a result of this "terrible crime?"
CBS will, as most monolithic corporations do, weather this little dust-up, but Rather may not.
The Republicans can lather themselves up in faux outrage as much as they like. It changes nothing.
This whole episode is one of the saddest commentaries on our national press corpse I've ever witnessed. Not because someone goofed, got taken to the cleaners and made a huge series of mistakes. It's happened before and it'll happen again.
Nay, it's all this pretense that somehow the truth matters when it clearly doesn't. Not to CBS, or any other major corporate outlet. Not anymore, and not in many years now.
So while people are dying in a war that was foisted upon us by a lying, meretricious press, we act like this latest scandal is somehow more significant than all those corpses rotting in a roiling desert.
In a sense, I tend to see all this ridiculous navel gazing as proof of just how corrupt the business is. So, I think, do a lot of other people. This is all about managing perceptions and damage control.
Mr. Rosen, for as much as I admire your work, there seems to be a vast ocean seperating journalism as an academic discipline and "journalism" as a corporate business model. It rather seems to me that in order to WORK in journalism today, the first thing that has to go is all that "book learnin'" about truth and integrity. At least that is the case in a good many outlets that wield real power. I would love to be wrong on this point, by the way.
TV news audiences have been shrinking for years, save a smartly produced war or hurricane on occasion, and hardly anyone seems to think that just maybe it's because Americans are sufficiently media savvy to know they are being BS'd.
In the end, all this is just about distracting people from real life and death issues. It's a clown show that won't save anyone's life or prevent us being spoonfed the next strategic disaster in the Middle East as "liberation."
Thanks for indulging my Howard Beale moment....
Patterico: I think it is equally--not "more," but equally--important to examine what went on before the story aired. But that was included in the charge to the Committee and everyone is expecting that kind of inquiry.
Seth: Assume a sufficient level of cynicism in or about others, and any series of events, no matter how fantastic, can be shrugged off with a "what did you expect?"
Being "in denial" may describe the CBS crew, but it doesn't explain anything. Why were they in such denial?
"This is a bunch of wingnuts and Republican hacks, we can afford to ignore it" may account for the first 24 hours. But we have 12 days to account for. Within 24 hours the people that CBS people do care about, and pay attention to--other journalists from national news organizations--were having their doubts.
I refer you again to Mike Dobbs of the Washington Post: "I had serious suspicions about the authenticity of the documents on the morning after they were aired. I find it difficult to believe that people in CBS did not develop similar doubts soon afterward."
I agree with Dobbs. It stretches credulity to believe that there weren't people inside CBS, including people in executive positions, who saw what Dobbs saw. You must realize: journalists think alike. As soon as the first expert relied upon by CBS came out and said, "well, I can't testify to that, no..." the story was in crisis-- and anyone with journalism experience who was paying attention knew that.
Some were in denial, yes, and emotionally committed to the story. But why were they in charge of CBS's response to the story? Some saw what was happening. Why were they silent or disempowered?
I have been interviewed by a lot of reporters the last two weeks-- at least 20 times. Each time I try to gauge their level of shock, and they have a hard time believing what happened. In itself that proves nothing. But I think it's an indication that there's something off here.
Tim: I consider it highly possible that the target of the fraud was CBS, and the purpose was to discredit CBS News. Likely? I wouldn't say that. Just very possible. Nor is there anything resembling proof.
The most tantalizing piece of evidence, to me, is Buckhead's membership in the Federalist Society. Doesn't prove anything, could be just a coincidence. Any competent investigative reporter would be interested in that little detail, however.
I grant that it's amusing to hear people on the Left describe the memos as Rove's work for sure. But it would be naive to say we know the memos were forged to help Kerry.
This leads to an interesting question in this whole mess. Was this a successful plot? Or unsuccessful? Remember all those bloggers who were saying in the first few days, "the memos are not only fakes, but obvious fakes." Let's say they were right. Where does that lead?
But the main reason I wrote... And this is also about a raw attempt to discredit CBS, and Dan Rather-- a long-held dream among some on the Right was simply to note that those who have long had it in for Rather and CBS and the liberal media sense a chance to go for the kill--to fully discredit their targets--and they are trying to apply political pressure to make that happen.
The fact that CBS discredited itself with its original report and response does not change any of that. I say some on the Right are excited by the "gift horse" they have been given. They intend to milk this for every discrediting point that can be won. That's how politics is played. You can't seriously object to me mentioning it, when I have written 10,000 words in five posts about how CBS discredited itself.
I agree with you that the Left does not know what it's doing, saying, conceding when it decides to "support" CBS. It is simply reacting--unthinkingly--to what I said above. "Our opponents are attacking CBS; if we rally to CBS's defense then we are fighting our enemies and that's what we want, right?"
For people who are unable to think politically, such reactions are routine.
Jay: This leads to an interesting question in this whole mess. Was this a successful plot? Or unsuccessful? Remember all those bloggers who were saying in the first few days, "the memos are not only fakes, but obvious fakes." Let's say they were right. Where does that lead?
France? Italy's SISMI? OK, kidding.
Right now it leads to Burkett. Either Burkett is the originator of the documents or the conduit for the documents. Either Burkett chose the media outlet - or in your terminology, the target - or was instructed to give the documents to CBS (specifically Mapes?). Does that fit the storyline as we know it so far? Applying Occam's Razor, does it seem more likely that this was an amateurish attempt to hurt Bush?
You can't seriously object to me mentioning it, when I have written 10,000 words in five posts about how CBS discredited itself.
I don't object. In all the rhetoric and emotion from both sides, I found the names being used to refer to this scandal interesting. Sure, there were the -gate terms ... Rathergate, Memogate ... but the most interesting one to me was Danron. Who would argue that Enron didn't deserve every discrediting point their critics won? Are Danron and Enron on the same scale? No. Was there journalistic malfeasance here? Yes. Was there criminal conduct in creating fraudulent government documents and forging Killian's signature? Don't know.
So how many discrediting points have Dan Rather and CBS News earned? Are there still earned discrediting points that have not been won? Is it the function of Republicans/conservatives to make sure all of them are "won" and Democrats/liberals to make sure no unearned discrediting points are collected?
Is there a need for a thoughtful, respected, media critic to interrupt that kind of automatic thinking?
After 12 days, we finally have an admission by CBS that the documents' authenticity can not be proved. We have an apology from Rather for not being as good as he should have been on this story. We have a two person panel appointed by CBS with unclear instructions and little understanding of how they will conduct themselves. We have a possible lawsuit against CBS by Burkett. I suppose there could be other lawsuits brought in the near future.
There are still many questions about the origin and provenance of the documents. There are still many questions about Burkett's role. There are still many questions about the web of connections. About motivations.
I strongly believe that the best way for CBS to stop giving away discrediting points is to become the most aggressive in uncovering and exposing the answers.
But CBS, and their defenders, seem less interested in burning everyone involved in this "raw attempt to discredit CBS" (I remain skeptical that CBS was the target) and more interested in a PR attempt to build sympathy (those mean right-wingnuts have always had it in for us) and play down the importance of the story (certainly opposite from their position when they rushed the story to broadcast).
By doing so, they are earning more discrediting points that need to be won until CBS News is no more. And that has always been within CBS' control.
Jay, there's of course a logical problem with "denial", but it's an explanation. I've been reading "wingnut" blogs over the past two weeks, and it seems all the time they have some lie, some mud, some smear to throw. It's a numbing chorus: "wolf. Wolf. Wolf! WOLF!! *W*O*L*F*!!! **WW**OO**LL**FF**!!!! ..."
I'm not at all perplexed at how the aftermath developed. If some of these people said the sun rises in the east, I'd wonder if the Earth had flipped over.
Look at the remark on Sep. 15, "If the documents are not what we were led to believe, I'd like to break that story.". This is exactly the sort of personal statement that stems from deep, deep, denial. All the contrary evidence is ignored.
Sure, some people at CBS would have developed doubts. They had doubts at the start. But who wants to tell the Emperor he has no clothes?
In fact, I'd say that's the way to think about this. In the "Emperor's New Clothes", the interesting process is how the Emperor is led to walk around naked. Once he does that, it's not hard to believe that nobody want to tell him to his face that he's naked, and even so, he doesn't want to listen ("If the clothes are not what we were led to believe ...").
Here's Dan Rather "bigfoot", vouching for the story. Why would anybody below him stick their neck out? The rest was the classic unfolding of error:
1) "We stand by our story" (and it's all smoke from our enemies)
2) He said/She said, dueling experts, moral equivalence, nobody knows
3) Let's move on to important issues
4) Oops ...
But critically, going through it won't tell us anything we need to know (except perhaps as an exercise in how power can cloud people's minds as to truth).
mikem: There's been a campaign to discredit Rather and CBS for a long time. Now it's kicked into overtime because its chance has come: thus, "let's get Bob Scheiffer dumped from the debates, even though he had nothing to do with it."
There is such a campaign. That is what I said. That is what I meant. It happens to be true. If you don't care for me mentioning it, tough. What I called "unlikely, but quite possible" is my own speculation that the memos were forged to hurt CBS.
Now what was it I lied about, mike? You lost me on that one.
Owl: I admire your ability to know Rather's motivations with the same certainty that we know when the sun will set tonight. That's one skill I haven't developed yet, and I doubt I ever will.
Lee: I agree that Romenesko has a mainstream news mind-- that's his audience. He was slow on this story, and seemed reluctant to grant it much importance at first. However, it is not true that when he got into the swing he ignored the most critical accounts emerging from the national press. He did ignore almost all the bloggers, though. You're right about that.
Tim: As is usual, I have had my go 'rounds with the Left and the Right on this one. I may write something on the Left and the Rather memos, since there is a lot of confusion in the responses of liberals and progressives. Just curious if you agree that the campaign to dump Schieffer is fair and just.
Brian: I agree with pretty much everything you wrote.
Seth: The "bigfoot" factor is a big one. But that is why my post focused on Heyward and Moonves. They are bigfoot's boss. They have responsibility. If the question is, "but who's gonna tell Dan Rather that he's in denial...?" the answer is: they are!
I agree that Rather's "I'd like to break that story" is deeply revealing of how out-of-it he was. It's already famous, that line, and for good reason.
Finally, Seth, one thing we're going to learn is just how prejudiced against and ignorant of the Internet people at CBS were. Way, way beyond the fact that they weren't reading Powerline. I'm talking about people who run media companies or news divisions and don't know what Romenesko is, haven't looked at their own site (CBS News.com) in months, maybe don't even understand the difference between the Net and the Web, who are living and thinking in a circa-1998 world.
Seems to me that's worth knowing. But again, if you adopt enough cynicism, it's... "what did you expect?"
Jay: It is a very political decision, and, from the point of view of a free press, also very disturbing. "Would not be appropriate," says spokesman. Yes, but why?
I'm not sure if that refers to Schieffer or the CBS story postponement.
On Schieffer, I think we should not be naïve about his role in the debates, or disturbed about a "free press" in questions about dropping him. The debates are political theater, scripted in a way not too dissimilar from a nominating convention. In fact, one might think of the presidential debates as joint conventions.
So, rather than be troubled by efforts to remove Schieffer, maybe we should be troubled by the co-opting of "free press" celebrities as hosts, or emcees, of these tightly controlled political events? Besides, "free press" never meant free from commercial, political or social pressures - or an unaccountable press. It just meant no congressional legislation inteferring with it.
On the decision by CBS to bump their fake documents story for the National Guard story, and now postpone it until after the election, I put that in the "stop digging" category after realizing the depth of the hole you've put yourself in. I also find it informative that this is not a story that CBS considers competitive. In other words, no other "free press" organization is seeing what 60 Minutes saw and threatening to scoop them.
Based on what has been leaked about the story, I think it might be wise for CBS to re-examine it and make sure they "nail down" the details.
Eric: ... you'd rather consider the word of an Army general, Lechliter ...
This Lechliter? I encourage you, the DNC, and the Kerry campaign, to spend all your energies, time and money researching and educating the rest of us that "don't know the AWOL story" right up to the day of the election. Really. Focus. This is vitally important.
Ban me if you want, but this post is just fucking hilarious on so many counts:
1) You engage in rank speculation (with plausible deniability and weaselling in the comments of course) that it's all an evil Roveian plot.
2) You try to make hay out of the fact that a poster on a conservative message board is *gasp* a Republican! You know, I've done some digging and I've found that the calls for Trent Lott to step down were driven by a partisan Democrat named Joshua Micah Marshall, as well as e-mails by a man named Syndney Blumenthal who had ties to the the Clinton administration! Wheels within wheels man! Oh, and Robert Sam Anson beat you to this angle by at least a week. Don't you read NYO?
3) I love how, as part of your conspiracy theory, you make approximatley a zillion references to discrediting CBS being a long-term goal of the right. First of all: Quotes? Citations? I'm totally a VRWC member and I never got this memo. I mean, I ain't a big fan of the librul meeja, but my number one goal was always to kick Michael Moore in the nuts. I woulda thunk that having a press which followed minimal fucking standards of fucking journalism would've been sort of a bi-partisan cause. Far be it from me to make spurious accusations based on minimal data, which I know you would like totally never do, but I can't help but thinking your constant association of the wish to discredit CBS with "the right" is an attempt to, how you say, discredit the idea of discrediting CBS?
4) I love how you discredit the first 24-hours of blogging about the memos, in which multiple bloggers had contacted multiple non-partisan typography experts, as so much partisan froth, but somehow the story became legitimate when big meeja got into the game and started belatedly contacting many of the same experts and doing the same thing.
5) Could you please just shut the fuck up and step the fuck out of the way? I mean, I understand your goal of saving the hides of those in your social/political/cultural class and maintaining the same hierarchical structure that allows you to have your powerful, easy job with all its prestige, but you're really just postponing the inevtiable and making it worse for yourself in the long run. Read this piece by conservative Republican Hugh Hewitt. Despite the fact that he's a Republican, which apparently means we should discredit every word that comes out his mouth, I think a lot of the changes he's talking about will realistically happen, and your arrogance and defensiveness will only exacerbate the situation.
6) Fuck you
PS- I have an arrest warrant faxed to me from a source I find "unimpeachable" (meaning, of course, that he has a job in which impeachment by congress is not a possibility) showing Professor Rosen's arrest for giving hand jobs for crack money in the Port Authority men's room. I know that some have questioned the authenticity of these documents, but they're all Republican political operatives and it's most likely a plot by Karl Rove. Even if the documents are not authentic I still stand by the essential truth of my story. Now stop questioning me you partisan wingnuts!!
PPS- Okay, so they weren't real, but at worst this was a minor snafu and a distraction from the real issues. With respect, Professor Rosen, Answer the questions! We know that discrediting those who seek to discredit Professor Rosen has long been a goal of the left. Is that possibily where the documents came from?
So, in other words, as per usual you ignore the substance of an opposing point-of-view to focus on some issue of guilt-by-association or some issue of tone or style. The words you write, filled as they are with sleazy insinuations and partisan political attacks, are of exactly the same level of spuriousness as mine. Yet, you couch them in this "nuanced" language of pseudo-objectivity while surreptitiously making points that are exactly as partisan and filled with exactly the same degree of "hatred" and partisanship. In short, you comport yourself in the exact same manner as the "MSM" or "legacy media" that you pretend to critique but in reality reflexively defend, with pro forma denunciations of some individual reporters and stories thrown in order to feign objectivity. So, here are my points, phrased less colorfully so you can't duck and run this time.
1) You are indulging and baseless speculation that "the right" is involved in the production of fraudulent memos, with CYA weasel words thrown in.
2)Your attempted character assassination of "Buckhead" by virtue of guilt-by-association is a McCarthyite tactic and is contemptible.
3) You assert that "discrediting CBS" in particular is a long-term goal of "the right". First of all, you offer no concrete evidence of this. While there is definitely built-in opposition between the center/left MSM and those on the right, just as there is tension between the hard left and the MSM, the idea that CBS was an especial target of conservatives is, at least, arguable. Also, I question what relevance this fact has. It seems you are trying to spin an interest in having a free press which meets minimal standards of journalism as partisan issue and trying to dismiss criticism of CBS/Rather as partisan, right-wing criticism, much like Rather himself has as you note.
4) This one stands as it is. You're incorrect, factually, and you should correct the post.
5) Since you seem to think that everyone's political/social/cultural/professional affiliations are so relevant, I can only note that you are both an MSM reporter and a J-School professor. That is, you are a member of two priestly castes which you rightly point out are threatened by this story. Hence, you do not have standing to comment according to your logic. The linked Hugh Hewitt piece I think points out the direction things could realistically go and most of your response to these changes I find to be akin to standing athwart history yelling "stop!"
6) Still stands as is.
"To Syl, Lechliter is but one source. Marty Heldt is another. Paul Lukasiak is another still. In contrast, no one on your side of the debate can answer the questions of where Bush was for 4-6 months and what was he"
You are dealing with serious people and we assume you're serious too. Here's how it looks from a conservative perspective.
1) Why does Bush have to prove anything? Doesn't that put the burden of proof on him to establish his innocence in the absence of evidence? Produce the evidence, not forgeries, and then let the chips fall where they may.
2) No one cares what Bush did in the TANG. That was 30 years ago. Since then he has been governor of Texas for four years and President for three years. People can judge him on his record in the most trying of times, not on what he did as a 24 year old aviator.
3) Why doesn't Kerry release his own service and medical records? To use the logic of the left, he's clearly guilty because he's hiding something.
4) Why doesn't Kerry run on his record as Bush is running on his own? What has Kerry done in the Senate for the last 20 years that should inspire Americans with confidence that he will foster productive legislation on the crucial issues of our time?
5) Why doesn't Kerry put forward substantive proposals instead of engaging in increasingly hysterical ad hominem attacks on the President and on our allies?
6) Do you know why the left is fixated on Bush's TANG service? Because the left has nothing on Bush. Zilch. Nada. The employment rate matches the Clinton years. Interest rates are low (pace Carter). There have been NO terrorist attacks here. The left is bankrupt of ideas, of issues, and of character. Their desperation is breaking out on the faces of their proxies, the MsM.
7) The whole TANG issue has been godwinned: it's the equivalent of saying "Bush is Hitler." It's a desperate attempt at smear by association. In this case, it's particularly pitiful because the left has only it's own rhetoric to offer as proof.
It's all so pathetic. Let's talk issues. Show that you're serious people and not just hysterical, postmodern, truth-challenged, logic-lacking, smear machines.
The Bob Schieffer apologists are out in force, but let's let some pesky *facts* intrude here for a moment:
Bob Schieffer quote, 8 days after original story (at this point, even my 3 year-old knew the documents were fake):
"I think this is very, very serious," said Bob Schieffer, CBS's chief Washington correspondent. "When Dan tells me these documents are not forgeries, I believe him. But somehow we've got to find a way to show people these documents are not forgeries."
And it gets worse....
9/17 (9 days later!) he was quoted using the confidential source excuse for not admitting the documents were fake:
Bob Schieffer of CBS News said, "I think we have to find some way to show our viewers they are not forgeries, I don't know how we are going to do that without violating the confidentiality of sources."
So it's a fair question to ask if he should be in control of the final debate, based on his words alone, not even counting his 20+ years as a Friend of Dan and his 30+ years at CBS News.
One other point: yes, we are getting right-wingers and Bush voters joining BoycottCBS.com; but we are also getting a lot of angry moderates who feel that basic fairness has been knowingly violated by CBS News. In that way, it is just like the Reagan miniseries protest. The Left chalked it up to the 'hard-Right,' but it was middle America that was in revolt, and THAT is why Les Moonves caved on that one and shipped it off to the graveyard that is Showtime.
Jay: I am starting to think that the bigger divide in this country is between those who are capable of doubt, and those who have no doubt.
sbw: But back to your point about unwillingness to doubt. I've have droned on about that most important journalistic characteristic -- humility. It leads one to constantly revise one's fabric of the world, weaving in the wisdom of your critics -- except We Don't Teach It In Schools.
Change and doubt are powerful forces pushing the human psyche out of the muddled middle and toward the ideologically structured extremes. Humility in the press is vitally important, not just in admitting error but in reporting context (such as discussed here and here). The greatest harm being done to the public by the press is the confidence of a Master Narrative based on conventional wisdom. To that end, there may be value to this discussion in Jarvis' The advantage of bias. A comment I left there (no permalink):
Jeff, there may be an additional advantage to "perspective" transparency than just the credibility it brings to judging individual stories (such as an unexpected outlyer in this case, or the "what did you expect" story context).Jay
That is being able to discuss changes in perspectives, refinements and blatant admissions of having been wrong. It makes visible learning, maturing, social evolution, etc., and should - in the process - make it acceptable. Pig-headed partisanship becomes foreign, abnormal, to what mass communication is putting on display.
In other words, the component missing from the press is "I don't know for sure", "This is my interpretation from my perspective", "I could be proven wrong in the future", "Your guess is as good as mine", "Here's a different perspective from mine", "I wasn't expecting this outcome when I began researching it" and "This is contrary to everything I know about my worldview, but seems to be true".
: Here's an article on the theme, with reference to our political situation today-- if you're strong enough.
Right-wing demagogues applying Goering's Law during the cold war seduced their electoral base by exaggerating, while accusing liberals of ignoring, if not abetting, domestic subversion by Soviet agents and their American accomplices. The strategy was so effective that the liberal avatars of the northeastern Democrats who courageously led the country to war against the Nazis over the objections of midwestern Republican isolationists are still seen as unpatriotic inheritors of a culture of appeasement, "weak on national security" as they had once been "soft on communism," while heartland politicos in cowboy hats and boots, having exploited the September 11 catastrophe as Goering recommended, wrap themselves in the flag and issue terrorist alarms of diminishing credibility to an increasingly confused if still largely faithful populace.
I think it will be interesting to look back in 20 years and discuss how the Left in America became impotent, lazy, small-minded cowards while the greatest liberal reformations took place under Republican "neoconservative" administrations. Can anyone seriously argue that the collapse of the Soviet Union is not one of the greatest liberal reforms of our time, and not since the Kennedy/Johnson administration has the American Left been a vocal force for progressive liberal reform for the people living in murderous autocratic and orthodox regimes. Instead, the Left's propaganda assured us that communism was no threat, and that reports of mass murders were the work of right-wing extreme fascists engaged in the paranoid style. Alger Hiss was an American patriot. The Rosenberg's were framed and murdered by the state. And with increasing frequency, the Left repeated the ominous innuendo of influence by Jews and Israel.
Today, there is an historical reformation taking place in the Middle East toward liberal ideals. In Afghanistan. In Pakistan. In Iraq.
Arabs in these regions are working, fighting and dying for a liberal cause and a representative government. Americans are standing shoulder-to-shoulder working, fighting and dying with them. And contrary to the angst being generated and exploited for commercial and political purposes, this revolutionary liberal reform in the Middle East has been amazingly bloodless.
It may not work, but liberals have been betting against democracy and liberal reforms in the world for 30 years now in favor of paralysis through internationalism and a world bureaucracy (see Dafur, Sudan). So it is the neoconservative Reagan administration that is credited for the collapse of Stalinist communism. And it will be the Bush administration that is credited for initiating liberal reform in the Middle East.
Could it be the failure of liberal reform in Vietnam and Southeast Asia that immasculated the American Left and turned them into cynics and defeatists toward their fellow man? If so, why engage in a defeatist's agitprop for the Middle East? Why turn to Goering and chant imperialism, occupation, when so many Arabs, Americans, Britians, Italians, Poles, Spaniards, Ukrainians, Bulgarians, ..., are working for liberal reform and have died for that cause?
Again, from the article:
So it turned to a domestic substitute by demonizing the latte-drinking, Volvo-driving, school-bussing, fetus-killing, tree-hugging, gun-fearing, morally relativist and secularly humanist so-called liberal elitists, whose elders had been "soft on communism" while they themselves coddle criminals, women, and same sexers, eat brie, drink chardonnay, support Darwin, and oppose capital punishment in defiance of the "moral values" of ordinary, god-fearing, flag-waving, assault gun–carrying Americans.
It seems that as a person ages, you get to watch the generational pendulum swings in the culture war. If only for the good ol' days when the Left could successfully "Goering" the Right as: beer-drinking, SUV-driving, home-schooling, misogynistic, planet-killing, gun-loving, bible-thumping and puritanistic so-called fascist overseers, whose elders had been "Nazi collaborators" while they themselves oppress criminals, women, and same sexers, eat meat, drink tap water, oppose Darwin, and secretly wish they could be the ones pulling the capital punishment switch.
In fact, weren't those the days when the Left could convincingly use terms like "Goeringed" and "paranoid style" with teflon credibility? When euphemisms could be used without criticism in an age of tolerance trumps truth?
I guess those days are long over?
Tony Blair on terrorism and modern media
I agree that the Karl Rove plot angle assumes an incompetence at CBS that would make them deserving of whatever they got.
I take issue, however, with your point about Rovean Machiavellianism and Bush administration incompetence straining credulity. On the contrary, this is the conclusion credulity demands.
Rove's history since the 70s (he was nearly kicked out of the REPUBLICAN party for rigging an intraparty election! See Bush's Brain) and Bush's years in public office repeatedly demonstrate strategic brilliance in character assassination from the "rat-fucking" Nixonian school Rove was trained in, coupled with raving incompetence and cronyism in nearly every policy area Bush managed to turn his attention toward ("Blue skies" approval of more and faster mercury pollution, "predominantly middle class tax cuts" that shift the tax burden to the middle class, invasion of Iraq in the name of saving us from terrorists in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, "medicare discount cards" that cost seniors more than buying drugs from Canada and which refuse to negotiate prices with industry, thereby rejecting the market forces Republicans rhetorically embrace for the purpose of creating the cartels their policies consistently strive for).
All of this is generally combined with a rhetorical claim of doing precisely what his policies preclude (this is where the recent McCarthyite allergy to facts comes from. Bush and Rove's electoral success combined with steady and consistent real world failure seems to have changed the rules such that media incompetence not only allows, but REQUIRES lying to win. Lies and forgeries are Bush and Rove's stock in trade. Facts don't seem to stop Bush and the press doesn't seem to much care as you yourself have recognized. Coverage of the Allawi disinformation campaign is the latest exhibit along this line.)
It would seem that the Rovean method of programmatically governing with lies is an integral part of the administrative incompetence. The lies are taken more seriously than the policy disasters they routinely create. The lies are what they actually care about and work to sustain. That is the sole recognizable purpose of this administration, to fog, obfuscate, and misrepresent. And this is the only goal they can point to that they have effectively and consistently met.
Of course, we could only be upset with their performance if we entertain the possiblity that they might actually mean what they say.
There is an extraordinarily strong case for Rovean expertise in espionage and Bushian incompetence as a policy maker and administrator.
That is the record they have to run on. They should get credit for their accomplishments.
You are ditching the consideration of fact question you have yourself been calling for.
Have Daschle's misrepresentations recently made the air I breathe more polluted? (I will concede he was complicit in the Boeing-Air Force Tanker rental scandal. Does that mean he's corrupt? Yes. Does that mean he's philosophically mistaken about all policy and lies about nearly EVERY bill he proposes in the same systematic way as Bush and Rove? No. This ties into the flame post above about Tom Frank, What's the Matter with Kansas? If the unwashed masses are really with Bush and Rove, why does the administration have to lie about every policy initiative they propose?)
I would gladly vote for a principled third party if we had one that was competitive. Does their absence or the Democrats unforgivable incompetence make Bush and Rove any less dangerous? No.
Have the Democrats recently led my country into a war that I oppose on pretenses that were known to be false before the war started? No. They showed themselves to be spineless dupes, intimidated by Republicans and McCarthyism.
Journalism calls for priorities. Lies from the people in charge clearly have more immediate relevance to the welfare of the country.
Which previous administrations have withheld EPA studies on competing bills? Withheld budgets before votes? Fired scientists from ethics committees for religious reasons? Promoted known disinformers of convenience like Chalabi? (The CIA and the State Department both had him pegged for the lying scumbag he is years ago. The "nobody knew" defense denies the known facts and the willful ignorance/maliciousness of the president and the advisors he trusts.)
Your non-response dogmatically assumes an answer to the question before investigating it.
This is an example of "he said, she said" journalism at its worst.
How will we know if a party is lying us into the abyss if we have concluded before we even check out the story that "they all do it." That is precisely the cynicism that lets Rove and Bush play the game they play. A refusal to take them at their word and hold them to it. "Everybody does it, so Bush and Rove are never responsible for their rhetoric OR their actions OR the surrealistic gap between the two."
Bush and Rove systematically govern through misrepresentation. They have set a new standard.
I gave you an iron-clad example that we could have had a detailed and informative discussion around concerning how the misrepresentations were handled by the press. You're not interested. Instead of responding, you change the subject.
Republicans are justifiably not satisfied with a defense of CBS that says "they all do it" so no one is responsible for CBS' actions.
I am asking a principled question about how the Bush/Rove disinformation machine operates through the MSM and that's closed for discussion? Why the defensiveness? Why the double standard?
Well geewilickers Jay, have you and your oh-so-enlightened cohorts ever thought to doubt, thought to fucking question for a fucking second, any aspect of your master narrative that the Bush administration is either: a)A bunch of moronic, inept bumbelers, or b) A bunch of evil geniuses capable of engineering complex conspiraces.
You see, the reason I ask is that, above, there is this discussion in which some of you are able to somehow wrap your refined, doubting minds around the concept that the two descriptions are mutually exclusive. What's funny is that, because of your fear of doubt, because of your absolute fucking self-regard and puffed-up egos, you don't for a second entertain any doubt over your original self-constructed master narrative.
Maybe neither is true? Maybe the reality is a bit more complex, a bit more, you know, nuanced?
Or is that too much doubt for this crowd?
And MQ you are full of massive willful partisan blindness if you think the Democrats don't have the better attack dogs: Michael Moore, Terry McAuliffe, Howard Dean, Tom Harkin, Ted Kennedy, Al Franken, the Daily Kos, Atrios, JaneAne Garofalo, Ted Rall, James Carville, Paul Begala and on and on and on and on . . .
The Democrats have been nastier, more partisan, and more on the attack for the entire time I've been concious of politics (since the mid 80's). The hard left controls the universities and Hollywood. The Center left controls the MSM. Yet you still lose elections and the average Americans whom you claim to speak for for the most part can't stand you.
Did you ever entertain for the slightest second the idea that maybe it's your ideas that are wrong and not some issue of style or tactics? Or are you one of those who are afraid of doubt?
Let's see. We were talking about journalism when Ben chimed in accusing Karl Rove of mendacity and George Bush of incompetence. Ben further digressed trying to substantiate his conclusion by invoking what he called mislabeling of the "Clear Skies Initiative", further suggesting it did nothing of the kind, accompanied by links.
sbw: pointed out that the press can address spin and gave spinsanity.org as an example.
Ben: returned exhibiting his highest dudgeon demanding the press respond to Bush lying by naming a proposal "Clear Skies Initiative."
sbw: refused to follow that red herring, pointing out that Democrats mislabel with the best of them.
David: invoked a debating gimmick to ignore that Democrats mislabel with equal skill.
Ben: then maligned Bush ("philosophically mistaken about all policy and lies about nearly EVERY bill"). He continued. "Bush and Rove systematically govern through misrepresentation." Ben then claimed, "I gave you an iron-clad example that we could have had a detailed and informative discussion around concerning how the misrepresentations were handled by the press."
Iron-clad, Ben? Sorry. You argued about a policy name and I called you on it, to no avail. Then because I didn't care to pursue your gambit, you falsely conclude you were correct. Not so. Your gambit was illogical since it disregards completely what level of a chemical is socially, politically, scientifically and economically sensible.
You have no doubt. You assume mendacity and stupidity for that which you may disagree with or might not understand. That is to your disadvantage, because it cuts you off from other people's wisdom. There maay be mendacity or stupidity there sometimes, even often, but you are quick to assume it.
And MG, you're wrong. Doubt is not for the academic or the seminar room. Doubt is the counsel of practical experience. Our task is to get people to experience it sooner. I start with second graders on tour at the newspaper and expand on that with older kids.
What a thread, great ideas, sometimes mixed with a bit of trolling insults, and lots of responses from Jay, including a good thought that open minded people have "doubt".
I think, even more important than doubt, is a willingness to accept that some certain future facts can prove a chosen policy wrong.
I'd guess you were an anti-Vietnam war protester, thinking, like Kerry, that fighting in Vietnam was wrong. Preferring peace.
Peace, and commie victory, over more fighting, killing, dying.
Peace and genocide rather than fighting evil, when fighting evil includes killing some innocents.
Do you think Kerry, Rather, or any other famous anti-War protester has doubts about whether it was good or bad 1971 policy advice to ask for Peace Now?
The facts of the Killing Fields should have resulted in a consensus that staying and fighting was better, was morally superior, than leaving and letting evil commies win. Since 77 or so, the Vietnam debate should have been: we were doing a bad job at nation building, but we should have stayed to avoid the chaos of US leaving.
And the debate, then, should have been on how to do Vietnamization, the policy Nixon started but Kerry badmouthed (fairly accurately, I think). But that un-debate is very pertinent now, and it's terrible we don't have it. We don't have it because the PC Leftist press censored the debate, by assuming moral superiority with "Peace now" (never mind the genocide), and no questions. Vietnam? Nixon, Nixon, bad, bad, bad.
Of course, Kerry denied that commies were any more evil than US soldiers--and it is this equal-evil lie of Kerry, and other anti-War folk, which decreases the willingness to fight evil. Yes, My Lai happened; humans are fallible. Killing civilians wasn't the liberal Kennedy's, or liberal Johnson's policy; nor the conservative Nixon's policy. That some are confused about Vietnam being a "liberal" failure is indicative of a lack of education.
Kerry's Winter Soldier lie, for the "higher moral good" of policy change, is exactly similar to Rather's pushing fake documents for the higher moral good of changing an administration.
Please Jay, tell me whether you think the 1971 policy, or later, should have been Peace or War.
CIA rattled by Bush Prevarication
Is CIA at war with Bush? Robert Novak
A few hours after George W. Bush dismissed a pessimistic CIA report on Iraq as "just guessing," the analyst who identified himself as its author told a private dinner last week of secret, unheeded warnings years ago about going to war in Iraq. This exchange leads to the unavoidable conclusion that the President of the United States and the Central Intelligence Agency are at war with each other.
Paul R. Pillar, the CIA's national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia sat down Tuesday night in a large West Coast city with a select group of private citizens. He was not talking off the cuff. Relying on a multi-paged, single-spaced memorandum, Pillar said he and his colleagues concluded early in the Bush administration that military intervention in Iraq would intensify anti-American hostility throughout Islam. This was not from a CIA retiree, but an active senior official...
This story raises two issues I'd like to see more press coverage of. First, much of what the right has preferred to see as adversarial, anti-Republican criticism of the Bush colonization of Iraq has actually been spoon-fed to reporters by angry CIA and State Department officials appalled by willful administration ignorance and incompetence. Thus, government in-fighting between intelligence professionals and neo-conservative partisans has frequently been mistaken by the right and the mainstream media for a two-sided partisan political tug-of-war (with Karl Rove's encouragement and blessing). As Richard Clark demonstrates, most of these guys scapegoated by the administration are Republicans.
Secondly, given this open rift between different branches of our government, isn't it time to retire the "conspiracy theory" charge which Republican correctness uses to try to distract you from what's in front of you? We have a major legitimation crisis in this administration.
It's about time the press started covering the story as a policy professional vs. Bush Republican dispute rather than with the nonsensical Republican-Democrat story line they've generally followed so far. It's basically the CIA vs. the American Enterprise Institute and the Project for a New American Century. Where is that story line?
This is not a Republican vs. Democrat story. The Kissinger-Scowcroft Republicans are just as appalled as the CIA. Many of the disaffected CIA folks probably ARE Kissinger-Scowcroft Republicans.
CBS has stated it is too busy doing ideological penance to the Republican party to touch the truth as it affects the future of the country before the election. We won't see this on PBS two or three years after it doesn't matter anymore.
Is it so crazy to imagine a responsible media that seriously cared about the future of the country and an informed populace would be on this BEFORE the election? And would at least periodically filter the disinformation that has blocked it out for two years now?
AN INDEPENDENT TRUTH COMMISSION
Let's See Some Logs
I am reminded of some excellent advice to a President Kerry, as he works to bring fiscal sanity back into government...
Create a 9/11 type commission whose task is that of creating non-partisan, constructive solutions to the financial shock and awe he will inherit.
It may be the only way to keep the country from flip-flopping between one half-measure and another half-measure.
Similarly, CBS may opt to carpe the diem, go whole hog truth, examine themselves and FOX, NBC, CNN, CBN and every other television news organ. But do it by creating a commission of spotlessly impartial sages whose entire lives have been guided by a search for truth. (Seek outside the box.)
It is like Harry Beckwith once said (and I paraphrase.): Turn a disgruntled customer into a loyal customer...by not only righting the wrong, but also by going way beyond, in order that the customer winds up far better than he started.
Don't just can Dan . Rather you shoot yourself in the foot by doing that to a legend like Mr. Rather...who is right there, among the pantheon of Murrow, Cronkhite, Schorr...and who was the broken heart of America after 911...lest we forget.
If you can commit to the truth, all and nothing but the truth...and produce...you will have a virtual monopoly on truthseeking eyeballs. (Forgive my apostrophizing.)
Don't just fix what's bad. Improve on what's good and true.
The mote in CBSs eye is nothing compared to the logs in the eyes of nearly all the others.
Let's see some logs.