Topic: The Media
Follow-Up: Who do you trust? What happened to CBS?
A few weeks ago here - September 12, 2004 - Bush's Bad Day at Black Rock (CBS) - Just Above Sunset covered the September 8 CBS broadcast which presented memos on "60 Minutes II" allegedly written by a colonel concerning how George Bush behaved in the Texas Air National Guard. The reporter was Dan Rather, the managing editor of the CBS evening news.
According to the memorandums, Bush refused to obey orders and had a "bad attitude." One Lieutenant Coronal Jerry Killian, now dead and gone, also said the future president could not qualify to fly jet planes because he did not show up for his physical, disobeying a direct order. But the memos have been questioned and appear to be forgeries. Killian's secretary, who did all his typing and is still with us, said she didn't type the memos - though she told CBS they were the colonel's thoughts. Weak stuff.
It seems handwriting experts hired by CBS said they warned that the documents might not be authentic. And there was a lot of this and that on whether the memos were typed in the seventies on an IBM Selectric typewriter, or created with word-processing software at a Kinko's in Abilene, Texas. (A good discussion of that matter is here.)
On the 14th Dan Rather in his evening news broadcast finally acknowledged that there are serious questions about the authenticity of the documents he use on the initial broadcast. (A summary of that is here.)
If you follow the news you've seen the reaction. Rather should resign and there should be a congressional investigation. Joe Scarborough on MSNBC on the 23rd devotes his entire show to a discussion of whether Rather and CBS have committed some crime - something like trying to unlawfully influence an election through the use of forged documents. The liberal media is evil, and so on and so forth.
From the Democrats we got this on the 21st -
Stone won't comment - so no denial. (More background on Stone, a prot?g? and long-time friend of Karl Rove is here - years ago Bob Dole fired the guy after this business about Stone and his wife and the sex clubs hit the news. Juicy stuff.)
Did Dan Rather and CBS try to subvert democracy by presenting, as news, documents they knew were false, and slander a sitting president in an attempt to get him voted out of office? Or did Karl Rove and his crew from the White House set up CBS to make them look like either fools or devils, and thus drive everyone to trust only Fox News - those patriots who back the president no matter what and say those who oppose Bush in any way hate America and are committing treason?
Stay tuned, or don't.
Well, Dan Rather is the one taking the hit. And there is an obvious irony here. As Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, Comedy Central's faux news program, pointed out as he opened his show recently - "We begin tonight with a simple, indisputable fact: as a young man, President George W. Bush benefited from family connections to get a place in the Texas Air National Guard, thus avoiding service in Vietnam. As you would guess, this has led to calls for the resignation of Dan Rather."
Ah, yep. These were additional supporting documents of something fairly obvious.
So what happened with CBS?
I've never much liked Tina Brown - when she ran the New Yorker for those few years she turned it into a magazine of style, sex and gossip and it's only now recovering - but lots of commentators are saying her column this week may be the definitive one on this CBS, Dan Rather business. Brown talks about the pressure in news these days. "Every editor, producer and reporter knows that the warp speed of the news cycle means we are all only one step ahead of some career-ending debacle." And that may be true. Rather lost a gamble.
See Breaking the News, Then Becoming It
Tina Brown - The Washington Post - Thursday, September 23, 2004; Page C01
Fleshing out her contention we get this -
Ah, conflict! And a bad decision made under pressure.
And news folks all know that pressure, from the competition and now from bloggers -
Well, it's a tough business.
And Brown does say this really is pretty much "Karl Rove's wet dream: a living, breathing example of ostensible liberal media bias with which to bludgeon the rest of the press into an even deeper defensive crouch."
And echoing Stewart she adds this -
Is he? I fear she is right. The press will be good little girls and boys from now on out. It's a dramatic lesson in being extra, extra careful.
But Brown has an idea that the whole thing boils down to the "romance of news reporting," such as it is.
Ah, bitter medicine.
Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, agrees with Brown -
That makes sense too.
And Hersch has been on fire, and CBS sleeping, but this is one hell of a way to wake up.
Hersch on fire? Just Above Sunset has noted that.
May 2, 2004 - It is all a matter of having the right attitude...
May 16, 2004 - Responsibility - Military Style... and legal issues
May 23, 2004: Notes on the War Scandals
July 18, 2004 - Hollywood Feels Like Steamy Florida
This CBS scandal - be it an honest but stupid mistake, or a nefarious but incompetent plot to damage George Bush, or a sinister plot to undermine the mainstream press and make them all behave more like Fox News - is taking up much of the available air in the room; that is, a lot of column inches and broadcast and cable hours have been devoted to it. And with how things are going now in Iraq, that can only help the Bush campaign.
It is most curious. I have no theory. I report. You decide.
Tina Brown does say this all is "Karl Rove's wet dream: a living, breathing example of ostensible liberal media bias with which to bludgeon the rest of the press into an even deeper defensive crouch."
It works - as the Associated Press reports here (Saturday, September 25, 2004) -
So CBS, sensing this would make it look like they were picking on Bush, will withhold the piece until after the election.
The expected liberal reaction from Kevin Drum here - "...the resulting debacle has now convinced CBS that they shouldn't air any negative stories about George Bush for the next six weeks -- even if they're true. That's some courageous journalism for you. If this is the liberal media, conservatives can have it."
Rove is giggling. The press is being rolled. The press will indeed be good little girls and boys from now on out. As least CBS has been taken care of.
Footnote on the New Yorker -
As I said above, when Tina Brown ran the New Yorker for those few years she turned it into a magazine of style, sex and gossip and it's only now recovering. I thought she did damage.
Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, said this -
I will admit I always liked it too, but I was an English teacher and when Tina Brown cut back on the fiction and poetry and upped the trendy and the sexy, I missed my old read. But yes, she increased the geopolitical, and that was good. But those odd, long essays on the history of the orange or whatever were my intellectual comfort food for years.
Footnote on Fox News -
"All of the traditional media is against us. The traditional media in this country is in tune with the elite, not the people. That is why we're not liked by the traditional media. That's not us."
- Rupert Murdoch here
"Far be it for me to contradict the saintly Mr. Murdoch, but when his usually unnamed minions spend their days trumpeting their volume of viewers and readers (100 billion flies can't be wrong) and anonymously kicking the shins at every rival and every critic in a way that would embarrass Robert Novak, I'm afraid he's going to have to face the horrible truth: he is the "media elite."
- Keith Olbermann of MSNBC here
Tip of the hat to BartCop for the quotes ...
Footnote on Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta -
Rick finished working for CNN in 1985, although he did publish his TV News Journal after that, until 1988. We've known each other since the mid-sixties and I consider him an "old school" journalist sort - one of the guys who actually knows what fair and balanced really means. There are not many of them left.