Man Without Qualities

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Big Media Rot In Action

The Washington Post reports:

CBS News anchor Dan Rather has interviewed the retired lieutenant colonel widely believed to have helped provide "60 Minutes" with the disputed National Guard documents about President Bush that have created a credibility crisis for the network, and CBS plans to air the interview in the coming days.
CBS News' allowing Dan Rather to conduct this interview is a just a bad joke on the few people who still watch and/or trust CBS News. It's Big Media rot in action.

This is apparently supposed to be an interview that is to help salvage the credibility and reputation of CBS News. The New York Times reports that CBS will claim it was "deceived" - so the big questions will concern how gullible, negligent and willing to be deceived the CBS News operatives actually were:

CBS News officials have grave doubts about the authenticity of the material, network officials said last night. The officials, who asked not to be identified, said CBS News would most likely make an announcement as early as today that it had been deceived about the documents' origins. CBS News has already begun intensive reporting on where they came from, and people at the network said it was now possible that officials would open an internal inquiry into how it moved forward with the report. Officials say they are now beginning to believe the report was too flawed to have gone on the air. ... Officials met last night with Dan Rather, the anchor who presented the report, to go over the information it had collected about the documents one last time before making a final decision. Mr. Rather was not available for comment late last night.

.... CBS News officials had said they had reason to be certain that the documents indeed had come from the personal file of Colonel Killian. .... But officials decided yesterday that they would most likely have to declare that they had been misled about the records' origin after Mr. Rather and a top network executive, Betsy West, met in Texas with a man who was said to have helped the news division obtain the memos, a former Guard officer named Bill Burkett.

Mr. Rather interviewed Mr. Burkett on camera this weekend, and several people close to the reporting process said his answers to Mr. Rather's questions led officials to conclude that their initial confidence that the memos had come from Mr. Killian's own files was not warranted. These people indicated that Mr. Burkett had previously led the producer of the piece, Mary Mapes, to have the utmost confidence in the material.

It was unclear last night if Mr. Burkett had told Mr. Rather that he had been misled about the documents' provenance or that he had been the one who did the misleading. .... In the coming days CBS News officials plan to focus on how the network moved ahead with the report when there were warning signs that the memorandums were not genuine. .... In examining where the network had gone wrong, officials at CBS News turning their attention to Ms. Mapes...

.... Several people familiar with the situation said they were girding for a particularly tough week for Mr. Rather and the news division should the network announce its new doubts.

One person close to the situation said the critical question would be, "Where was everybody's judgment on that last day?"

So CBS News will be acknowledging that the judgment, procedures, honesty, competence, reputations and future positions of Dan Rather and his team have become major issues - perhaps the major issues - in connection with the forged Killian memos regarding President Bush's National Guard service. One consequence of those big stakes is that Dan Rather and his team have whopping conflicts of interest (or, in the terminology of the fraudulent memos they have wielded, "CYA" motives).
Of course, because the reputation and credibility of CBS News itself is ultimately at stake, no CBS News interview of Mr. Burkett can avoid all of these conflicts. But nobody has more or more intense conflicts in how Mr. Burkett's story comes out than Dan Rather - he is absolutely the wrong person to be the interviewer. What is more, although CBS News employs many other potential interviewers, Mr. Rather has far too much power over their futures. Assuming Mr. Burkett is The Source, nobody can reasonably expect Mr. Rather or anyone under his sway to ask the tough questions an follow-up questions that need to be asked, especially concerning the confidentiality agreement of CBS News with The Source and the facts leading up to Mr. Burkett's providing the documents. One might begin with the weird notion that the documents were supposed to have come from "Mr. Burkett's own files." What the heck is that supposed to mean, anyway? Mr. Burkett has been making these charges for several years and never produced such documents previously.

CBS News needs an interviewer beyond Mr. Rather's control and influence, beyond the control and influence of the CBS News hierarchy. In short, CBS News needs an "Independent Interviewer," analogous to the "Independent Prosecutors" who investigated Republican presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush--prosecutors who were all found worthy by Mr. Rather of admiration for their tenacity and fearlessness (Ken Starr, for some reason, was an exception and did not warrant admiration). I suggest Sean Hannity but I'm open to all suggestions.

UPDATE: Drudge is reporting that Dan rather has abandoned the memos. Perhaps that will mean more focus on the other outrageous aspects of the CBS News libel (er, I mean "story") - such as its dependence on an interview on the obvious liar Barnes.

Will CBS News now aggressively track the provenance of the fraudulent documents? Will they keep tracking even if the trail leads, as many - including the formidable Tom Maguire - see evidence it does, back to Kerry-Edwards and DNC related sources? Don't count on it - but, perhaps. Depends on how mad CBS is over being snookered and all-but-destroyed by Democrats. One could almost feel pity.

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