Monday, September 13, 2004

Dan Rather's Oops...
By now only a hermit hasn't heard of the sturm und drang caused by a recent episode of 60 Minutes II in which documents were presented which implied that:

1) G.W. Bush did not fufill his obligations as a member fo the Texas Air National Guard, and
2) G.W. Bush managed to finagle Guard duty (and subsequent preferential treatment) because of his political connections.

It took all of about 45 minutes for the documents to be debunked by what one pundit has called "a guy sitting at home in his pajamas", i.e., the blogosphere. The documents, it appears, are a forgery, and very bad one at that.

Why would CBS do such a thing? Was this a deliberate attempt to smear GWB (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)? Was this sloppy reporting at it's worst? What the hell went on here?

I'm not going to analyze the chain of events vis-a-vis on how the story got aired. It's obvious that CBS (and particularly Dan Rather) has an axe to grind with the Bushes and, let's face it, a major corporation that DIDN'T have a political agenda would be as rare as a rooster that laid crocodile eggs. CBS has been carrying water for John Kerry (or most democrats, for that matter) for decades, so let's not even go there. It's a given that CBS, or at least the people that run it or have power within it, lean democratic in their politics. Their actions and their slant proves it everytime you turn the evening news on.

What gets me about this entire thing is the arrogance. Not the arrogance that comes from brazenly defending a story you know isn't any good -- you'd only expect CBS to do that unless it was threatened by a lawsuit it couldn't win. No, the arrogance I'm talking about is the belief that no one would check up on them.

If I had to guess, CBS knew what it had, and knew that it was bad juju before they aired it. They were prepared to defend a rotten story to the bitter end because of where they expected the attack to come from --- Bush and Republicans. That defense would have been easy, with CBS simply saying that the other side was, of course, partisan, and they would be expected to have their panties in a bunch. The next logical step would have been to have Bush release all of his military records (something John Kerry won't do at all), and even if the original story was proven wrong by that, there might be something else in those records to make hay out of.

However, the attack did not come from Team Bush. It came from the Blogosphere. This is a segment of the population that most major news organizations routinely dismiss as a lunatic fringe. As far as the media is concerned, if you never went to J- school you're not a journalist, and so, not worth listening to. However, people DO listen to the blogosphere. The same people who no longer watch CBS. Or ABC. Or CNN, for that matter. They no longer watch because they know, instinctively, that the major media outlets never report "news", just their version of what constitutes news, complete with the reporter's biases and prejudices.

That the forgeries were revealed so quickly and so thoroughly threw CBS into a tizzy. They never expected to be checked up on, nor did they expect that within minutes, and before the next "news cycle" started, that they would be a laughing stock.

So now CBS is doing what Bill Clinton used to do when he got caught red-handed: brazen it out.
However, there are thousands of people, right now, pecking away at the story, one little piece at a time, and at the rate things are going CBS will be lucky if people still tune in to watch The Price is Right.

The new press (the blogosphere) has many advantages over the established media. Unlike a newspaper, items can be updated on the fly, minute by minute. Retractions in the event of mistakes do not have to wait for the next day's editions to hit the stands --- they are instantaneous. Unlike TV news, people are not presented with merely one side of a story: the side the news team decides to show. Every side of an issue can be immediately aired out, in real time. Information travels in the blogosphere, literally, at the speed of light.

CBS, if they had any decency or shame, would apologize to the public, and GWB, for making such a critical error. If CBS had any courage, they would come out and stop the pretense that they are an objective news outlet. If CBS weren't such a powerful organization, with a gazillion lawyers in it, they would have been dragged into court the day after the report aired.

But CBS doesn't have any shame or decency or courage. They definitely don't have journalists, either. Real journalists would have been damn sure of their facts and sources before they presented such a lousy story. Don't they teach that in Journalism 101 at Columbia J-school?

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