This was followed on the morning of September 9 by further attacks, mostly by bloggers with a conservative agenda, challenging the authenticity of the documents. These included stories on Powerlineblog.com and littlegreenfootballs.com. Finally, by about 3 p.m., Matt Drudge, the author of the widely read Drudge Report website, had joined the fray, and, thereafter, the onslaught of attacks on the authenticity of the Killian documents was unrelenting.
“Bloggers with a conservative agenda”? How dare they? How about “bloggers who care about the truth”? Or “bloggers who care about reforming journalism”? Or “bloggers who can pound sand in a rathole, unlike Mr. Rather”? And how can they object, then, to people characterizing Rather — antimatter to bloggers’ matter in this case — as someone with a liberal agenda? What’s good for the goose is good for the goosed.
And how does the commission handle just that questionof CBS bias?
The Panel does not find a basis to accuse those who investigated, produced, vetted or aired the Segment of having a political bias. The Panel does note, however, that on such a politically charged story, coming in the midst of a presidential campaign in which military service records had become an issue, there was a need for meticulous care to avoid any suggestion of an agenda at work. The Panel does not believe that the appropriate level of care to avoid the appearance of political motivation was used in connection with this story.
I, of course, will take this a step further, believing in the need for and benefit of transparency, as I do. So don’t call it “bias.” Don’t call it “liberal.” Instead, we should expect Rather to give us his “perspective.” Do you like George Bush, Mr. Rather? Do you respect him? Do you think he is a good President? Do you believe he gave his full service in the military? That perspective unquestionably colors coverage and unless Rather and the producers are open about it, people are free to assume what their perspective is based on their actions. That’s the issue, guys.
It’s simplistic and insulting and wrong to dismiss the bloggers as people with a political “agenda.” And it’s also simplistic and insulting and wrong to expect the public to believe that you have no agenda.
Lots of people have agendas. The worst kind are the hidden ones.
: The other problem with trying to sum up either side in this in one word — “liberal” or “conservative” — is that it misses the far more subtle and important issue of the quality of the journalism, the credibility of the reporting, the service to the public. I had an email exchange with a CNN news producer I’ve come to respect after many long brainstorms about many stories and she said:
these are people who are good people who did their job less well than they should have but are NOT ideologically driven. i know mary murphy and betsy west well. josh howard is a mensch. what the bloggers don’t consider in covering this story is that all news now moves faster than the speed of thought. these people did an inadequate job in a very frantic and competitive environmnet. yes, they were making charges about a sitting president and i don’t condone their work. but mary and betsy have worked in news for many many years and their failure to ask the right questions in a timely fashion should not obscure their enormous contributions over the long haul. at the end of the day these people are– like everyone else– just people. they weren’t on top of their game. they engaged in group think. but the one’s i know are not partisans. and to have this story become a defining moment for them and for the network they work for seems to me to be wrong.
There are bigger issues here — and bigger lessons to learn! This is also about improving and protecting the service of journalism.
: This producer said — just as the Brigitte Quinn said when we were off-camera on FoxNews this morning — that we’ve all made mistakes in our careers. So on the one hand, that makes us loathe to pile on Rather and the CBS producers. But on the other hand, it’s all the more reason to be open and transparent about the mistakes.
CBS’ and Rather’s real sin — and too often journalism’s real sin — is hubris: the belief that we’re right and we don’t make mistakes and we don’t need to explain ourselves. That is precisely what is wrong here.
If — as I’ve said before — Rather had come out as soon as the bloggers caught the apparent — obvious — forgery and said, “Thank you; let’s get to the truth together,” people wouldn’t necessarily like him any better, but they’d respect him more. If these producers and their bosses — the finger-pointing, buck-passing ones still employed — had come out immediately and acknoweldged their screw up, I’ll bet they’d all be not only wiser but still employed today. But they didn’t. They hid behind their hubris and the belief that they don’t make mistakes. We all do. The sooner we own up to them, the better it is for our credibility.
: LATER… Chicken: Drudge says Rather is taking the day off.
: LATER STILL… I’m scheduled to be on Hugh Hewitt’s show re Rather at about 8:40p ET.