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Lady Liberty

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Sunday, September 12, 2004

Sorry Dan, That's the Way It Is
posted by Bathus

Today's post begins with two observations. Forgive me if they already seem rather too obvious. (No pun intended.)

1) Bloggers have established beyond reasonable dispute that the Killian memos are inept forgeries.

2) In so doing, bloggers have also established beyond reasonable dispute that, with the aid of ordinary citizens who funnel them ideas and information via the internet, they have forever altered the terms under which the Mainstream Media (MSM, acronym of the day) shall disseminate its product to the larger public. The revolution is over. The bloggers (in their PJs) have won. The world is a better place for it.

Toward those two already well-established truths, the MSM navigates its way hesitatingly, cautiously, grudgingly, tardily. Yet though the MSM consults its own interests more than it considers the public good, the MSM shall arrive at the first truth within a few weeks at most. As to the second, the journey will take longer, but the destination is no less certain.

The question now is: When, if ever, will CBS concede that the Killian memos are forgeries?

It's bad enough that CBS's malicious bias rendered it susceptible to such blatant deception. [Note: Previous link probably won't work in Internet Explorer browser.] Yet both the defect of malicious bias and the error it wrought, if acknowledged early on, would be curable. But by continuing to vouch for the forgeries in spite of crushing proof to the contrary, CBS has become an accessory-after-the-fact in the original deception and a party to a continuing deceit. By refusing to admit a reckless error, CBS has transformed that error into an ongoing premeditated journalistic crime.

But let us put aside the question of what journalistic integrity demands, a quaint concept with little motive influence among CBS's decision-makers. Instead let us focus on a question to which they are more attentive, the question of CBS News' current and future standing as a credible news organization. CBS News' credibility among Republican viewers now stands at a paltry 15%. The powers-that-be within CBS and its corporate parent must be capable of the calculation that, aside from CBS's actual integrity, its perceived credibility--already significantly diminished--will evaporate altogether if CBS long continues in its irrationally stubborn attempts to defend the forged documents.

In trying to whistle their way past the graveyard, CBS and its few allies inevitably will stumble into new difficulties. Until CBS acknowledges that these documents were fraudulent, any further explanation CBS gives will properly be perceived by the public as a self-interested deception designed only to paper over its previous falsehood. Dan Rather, an experienced observer of scandals, understands at least that much. So he has indignantly announced that he has nothing more to say on the subject.

This indignant silence is almost halfway virtuous: Although Rather still stubbornly refuses to admit his prior mistake, he dearly wishes to avoid drawing further attention to the offense with new falsehoods. The only possible way to avoid new falsehoods is to say nothing at all. And so Dan Rather has taken a pious vow of silence, from which he swears he can be disturbed by nothing less than "definitive proof":
Until someone shows me definitive proof that they are not [authentic], I don't see any reason to carry on a conversation with the professional rumor mill.
(Rather prefers information manufactured in the amateur rumor mill.)

By the way, was "definitive proof" the standard CBS applied when it chose to foist these specious documents into the public discourse? No, the standard CBS says it followed in reporting the existence of the memos was a "preponderance of evidence," a much lower standard than "definitive proof." Aside from what's lately been discovered, even the purported "preponderance of evidence" that CBS relied upon at the time has proven to be at best unreliable and at worst intentionally distorted. Is it any surprise that the actual standard CBS applied was the "hotness" standard? The memos were "too hot not to push."

CBS and Rather are now learning a thing or two about "hotness."

And so Rather's rant continues:
My colleagues and I at '60 Minutes' made great efforts to authenticate these documents and to corroborate the story as best we could. . . . I think the public is smart enough to see from whom some of this criticism is coming and draw judgments about what the motivations are.
Yes, the public is plenty smart enough to draw judgments about motivations. That's why Rather's job and CBS News' ratings totter on the precipice.

If more "definitve proof" really were still needed, the corner offices at Black Rock would obviously be a good place to begin the search. Therefore, to reduce the risk that yet more "definitive proof" might come to its attention, CBS has announced (contrary to earlier reports) that it has no plans to conduct an internal investigation:
Contrary to some rumors, no internal investigation is underway at CBS News nor is one planned.
One would think that a company ostensibly engaged in journalism would possess enough collective experience of the traditions of that fine profession to know that a scandal like this one can't be brought to a halt by indignant stonewalling denials. CBS might have briefly consoled itself with the hope that other news organizations might give it a pass as a matter of professional courtesy. And they did--for about twenty-four hours. Yes, lest CBS somehow turn the tables against them, NBC, ABC, Fox, The Washington Post, The LA Times, The Dallas Morning News, et al, will be somewhat more cautious than usual in pursuing this story. But to its journalistic competitors CBS presents both a more enticing and a more vulnerable target than other companies that have found themselves the subject of the media's delicate attentions. CBS is a more enticing prey for obvious competitive reasons. And a more vulnerable one as well because, notwithstanding CBS's announced decision not to conduct an internal investigation, it is all too tempting for newsmen to let things slip while downing a few beers. There must still be at least a few professionals at CBS News, and they can't be too happy about the mess Dan Rather has poured over their heads. Ditto for the few media outlets which, having precipitously taken up CBS's defense, now find themselves sharing in its humiliation.

No matter how much Dan might wish it otherwise, the grand poobaahs at CBS cannot be so abstracted from reality to believe questions like the ones now being raised about CBS's forged memos will simply go away. How can CBS save itself from further damage? The obvious answer is, CBS must:

1) apologize for its error;

2) acknowledge the truth as it is now known, including information CBS is still withholding;

3) make an honest effort to discover whatever truth remains untold about the memos, including the failings within CBS News that led it to become a party to the deception;

4) undertake institutional reforms to prevent future offenses.

Oh, but how to apologize? That's always the tricky part. Dan Rather seems to have carried himself beyond the point of no return. And the most contrite apology in the world won't save Rather and the network from plenty of much deserved ridicule. Perhaps his superiors in the CBS hierarchy will be so merciful as to offer him the opportunity to apologize now, retire in two or three months, and thereby spare himself the ultimate humiliation of an immediate, unceremonious dismissal. But if Rather can't bring himself to 'fess up, the execs at CBS will spend a few days or weeks working out their damage control strategy, and then they'll cut him loose "quicker than a trout fisherman unhooks a channel cat."

posted by Bathus | 9/12/2004 09:00:00 AM
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is only right and proper to come to the defense of the much maligned CBS news operation, so I submit the following: Just because something is reported by CBS news doesn't mean it is false.

7:02 AM, September 13, 2004  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An "apology" Never! A limited retraction at best. After which a full fledged counter-attack that the message, ie issued raised about Bush's service are no less valid.

Gunga Dan will keep spilling more than he delivers, but hey, the Tiffany Network has been that way for some time.

MaDr (TypePad)

11:18 AM, September 13, 2004  

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