Dear Dan

Dear Dan

: Jay Rosen writes a letter to Dan Rather. Maybe, coming from a respected journalism professor, Rather might actually read it. Oh, no, that’s right: It comes from a blogger. Drat. Well, if he did read it, he’d get damned good advice from Jay, who says Rather should hire a blogger to not only write — putting up the full text of interviews, as Jay suggested earlier — but also read, letting Rather know what is being said about him and his stories so he can actually improve his reporting. Jay begins:

Dear Dan Rather: “Lest anyone have any doubt,” you said in your statement yesterday, “I have read the report, I take it seriously, and I shall keep its lessons well in mind.”

I still have my doubts. Perhaps these would be lessened if, for example, you had bothered to spell out which lessons you saw for yourself, and for CBS News in the review panel’s report.

* Was it the lesson about the deadly consequences of dismissing criticism because you think you know the motivations of the critics?

* Was the lesson that a prudent journalist ought to fear and respect the fact-checking powers of the Internet?

* Or was it that by stretching yourself thin you had stretched thin the credibility of the very network you thought you were serving by taking so many assignments?

* Maybe the lesson is not to apologize when you think you did nothing wrong.

Jay caught on the same head-scratching quote from new/old CBS truth czarina Linda Mason that made me harumph yesterday:

The blogger is a feedback loop and fail safe device. Part of what she does is monitor the online world for what is being said about Dan Rather and his reporting. Such a person, well connected to the discussion, would have been extremely valuable to you during the twelve-day period, Sep. 8-20, 2004. After six months of your blog, statements like this from Linda Mason, your new vice president for standards:
“Dan does think he’s constantly attacked. If we backed off every story that was criticized, we wouldn’t be doing any stories.”

would be rendered inoperative by reason of being inane.

And then comes the knockdown punch:

So I kind of resent your attitude toward your numerous critics who operate their own self-published sites on the Web. They were being more accurate than you were, much of the time.

  • http://www.oliverwillis.com Oliver

    I would think the Rather thing would ring much more true if the bloggers targeting him weren’t rank-and-file partisans of one political calling. I don’t like Rather. I think he and his news org, like all the other news orgs, practice crappy journalism (I, unlike the shocked -shocked — Rather haters lived through the 90s and saw what was done to President Clinton). But the screaming about Rather is oh-so-hollow when the very same people were championing the Swift Boat Liars and egging on Fox & Co.’s sycophantic coverage of their “charges”.

  • Hunter McDaniel

    Oliver, it’s neither practical nor desirable to remove ‘partisans’ from the discussion. I would guess that at least 80% of the voting public are ‘partisans’, defined as citizens whose support/votes are overwhelmingly given to one of the two major parties. And a great many of the remaining 20% are barely engaged, which doesn’t make them the best commentators.
    It’s a good thing that you bring some skepticism to the Rather criticisms based on the leanings of the bloggers who raised them. But this story would not have gone where it did had their evidence not proved to be compelling. And that’s what really matters.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Oliver: First, I’m a Kerry Voter and I Don’t Like Dan Rather (put that on your bumper and stick it). You yourself are a Kerry voter and you say in your next breath that you don’t like Rather. And you know what? That’s not necessarily any more relevant in this case than the politics of the Bush voters who don’t like Dan Rather. The issue here is that we like the truth and Dan Rather didn’t like it enough — enough to listen to people who were closer to the truth than he was. I don’t like Dan Rather because I think he is and has been bad for journalism. That’s not a political opinion. That is a professional opinion as a journalist and a populist opinion as a viewer. The whole world isn’t left-and-right. Sometimes it’s right-and-wrong, too.

  • Angus Jung

    But Jeff, it would “ring more true” if Rather weren’t being criticized by people Oliver doesn’t like. Can’t you see how rock-solid that reasoning is?

  • http://www.oliverwillis.com Oliver

    “we like the truth and Dan Rather didn’t like it enough”
    I’m not disputing that. But what I am saying is the “outrage” of a good portion of the folks who have called for a Dan Rather lynch mob is so much posturing. I see you being honest about journalistic malfeasance, where are they? As a liberal, I have said time and again Rather and Co. produce shoddy journalism, while also criticizing Fox. Any of these people who are suddenly agog about journalistic ethics ever upbraid Fox News?

  • annette

    oliver:
    you sound like my children, ducking punishment and responsibility by pointing to their cousin.
    “Don’t hit your brother Tom!”
    “But Danny hit Susie! Why do I get all the blame?”
    Right now the big story is dan rather. Quit trying to change the subject.

  • praktike

    ” They were being more accurate than you were, much of the time.”
    Bull.

  • Gunther

    Bloggers are like terrorists. They only have to be accurate once to have an impact. Even if the other 99.9999% of the time they’re off-track, wrong, dishonest or all three, their few successes will have an influence that far outweighs their true importance.
    I much prefer Tom Tomorrow’s view of bloggers, who has said (I paraphrase) that the relationship between bloggers and the news is roughly equivalent to that between the deertick and deer.

  • Angus Jung

    Yeah, deerticks don’t know how to draw either.

  • http://www.hfienberg.com/kesher/ Yehudit

    “Any of these people who are suddenly agog about journalistic ethics ever upbraid Fox News?”
    Sure, if they lie or use faked evidence. Got any examples?
    I am still awaiting Oliver’s (or anybody’s) point-by-point refutation of the Swift Vet charges. Most of the charges weren’t even refutable, since they concerned Kerry’s statements and behavior after he came back from Vietnam, which are in the public record.
    Over 250 decorated officers, up to Admiral, in Kerry’s direct chain of command and who worked closely with him in Vietnam, are all liars and paid operatives of Karl Rove. Yeah, right.