Skip to comments.Rather Confused - And Irritated
Posted on 09/16/2004 1:52:34 PM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
I had to wait until after lunch before sharing my thoughts because, quite frankly, I was so baffled at the CBS Evening News With Dan Rather "story" September 15, and a companion "report" on 60 Minutes II over the controversy about that network's prior "journalism" on alleged National Guard documents concerning George W. Bush.
For some reason - and fellow colleagues in the press have chided me for this - I expected Rather to not only do his own reporting on the nightly news (which he did not) but also to apologize for his prior reporting if only to say that he had inflated whatever news he thought he'd stumbled upon.
Then watching Rather later on 60 Minutes II, I must confess, I was stunned by the anchor's line of questioning, commentary and verbiage. Most especially concerning Rather's repeat of a line that Bush failed to honor his commitment to the National Guard based on 1) a disputed memo that Bush failed to take a physical exam and 2) that the gist of the disputed memo was accurate and therefore Bush shirked his obligation.
Believe me, I'm no stranger to glare that comes from investigative journalism, hard-hitting stories and sensational reporting. But I've always tried my best to lay out the information in context - including the denials, criticisms and basis for my articles. It just comes with the territory - politics notwithstanding.
To hear Rather tell "his" story, however, the attacks on the so-called Bush documents are an attack on him - and by extension, on CBS - as opposed to the gist of alleged facts raising one or two questions about Bush's service. Baloney.
And I'm saying this not only as a reporter, investigative newsman and editor but I'm also saying this as a consumer of news. Rather blew it - big time.
And folks I've spoken with at CBS agree and are shocked that upper management hasn't pulled Rather off this so-called story and has failed to issue a correction and an apology - if not to President George W. Bush then certainly to the viewers of CBS and those who read it's online sister web site.
The issues involved are not about Rather the man but about Rather the reporter - any reporter. And CBS - or any news outlet.
But, according to Rather, it's a vast conspiracy amongst jealous colleagues that he broke a sensational story, they didn't, and folks aren't interesting in the "news value" of the story itself even if it's based on discredited or otherwise disputed documents.
What a sad set of defenses made worse by Rather's ongoing comments that the focus should not be on him but on Bush who has failed to answer "the charges" contained in the apparently forged and fake documents.
If one of my reporters or editors had said such things I'd tell them flat out they were being dishonest and they were full of BS.
First off, when a reporter breaks what he believes is a big story then the onus is on the reporter and his news outlet to back up what he says. And equally important, before going with the story, to assemble all the pros and cons on a story and report that information in context as best as possible, including in follow up stories.
Consider that, according to press reports, Rather did not reveal in the first report CBS aired that one or more of the experts they had assembled disagreed over the validity of the documents.
Moreover, one or more of the experts were not as expert as Rather suggested, e.g. the experts were not necessarily expert on all aspects of the documents that themselves were several generations of copies thus rendering proof-positive conclusions damn near impossible.
So why wasn't this reported by Rather in the first and second stories?
Also: What basis did Rather have to proclaim, as he did again in the 9/15 60 Minutes II report that even if the documents were fakes, the gist of the contents was accurate and thus Bush did not fulfill his commitments to the National Guard?
Not even CBS has gone that far - to accuse Bush of failing to meet his requirements. A statement from CBS says that if the gist of the story is correct, then Bush long ago may not have fulfilled some of his requirements. But this is poppycock too - called CYA.
A reasonable person - even a newsman - should have the common sense allegedly attributed to us reporters (mostly by ourselves, by the way) that just because "we" have one document that doesn't provide a basis to make far-reaching conclusions ... as Rather has claimed.
The best that could be said of the so-called smoking gun documents Rather obtained is that they provided a snapshot of a specific time that raised the ire of a commanding officer for whom we do not have documents either prior to or after that helps put context to Rather's central charge against Bush - that the young aviator DID NOT fulfill his National Guard commitment.
That is one hellva sweeping charge to bring against someone -- especially the president of the United States and during a hotly contested election year. If this was one of my reporters, you can bet the farm that they had better had much more "proof" before I'd allow them to make a blanket statement such as did Rather.
Granted, I'm no rocket scientist but from what I've read, been told and researched, Bush put in his required points for each year of service and was given an honorable discharge. Isn't that fulfilling one's commitment? According to Rather, apparently not.
Not only did Rather not put his alleged documents into context, he failed to inform his listeners (and subsequent readers) that despite whatever documents he thought he had, Bush did receive an honorable discharge so, apparently, things must of gotten straightened out.
I mention this because wherever the CBS News anchor (and managing editor for news) got his information - God forbid it's just from the now-questionable documents - then he needs to back up his claims that Bush failed to meet his National Guard commitments.
It's not Bush who needs to "answer the questions." It's Dan Rather and his bosses at CBS - they made the charges in the face of overwhelming evidence previously reported and it is they who relied on one set of documents to frame an entire National Guard service record of young Bush.
Contrary to the BS swirling amongst the media and Internet, nothing about the original stories Rather aired has anything to do with Rather the man or news anchor per se. Sure, the guy uses some goofy language at times and has done some strange things, as a former colleague said recently.
It has everything to do with what the reporter/anchor actually reported - including that monumental claim that Bush failed to live up to his National Guard commitment.
If Rather had simply reported that CBS had obtained some documents that some but not all of its experts believed had elements of validity, e.g. signatures or language, and that these suggested that Bush ran afoul at one time with his commanding officer over a physical to maintain the aviator's flying status then that would have been okay.
In reality, that would have been a pretty weak story given that Bush has said he opted to deactivate his flying status to go to Alabama and work on a Senate campaign. (BTW: This is something that during the wind down of the war bunches of National Guard and Reserve pilots did to pursue other post-military interests. Again, something that Rather and CBS failed to mention or even attempt to suggest.)
At least if the stories had been reported straight - and in context - then, were I Rather's editor I guess I would have allowed it to be aired if the reporter really wanted to do the story and I felt there was some news value in it. (But as I've suggested, I don't think so.)
Rather finally got around to interviewing a Marian Carr Knox, the former secretary to Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian who in the early 1970's was Bush's commanding officer and the alleged author of the now infamous CBS documents. Knox, apparently a registered Democrat, boldly disputed the validity of the memos Rather previously relied upon in two CBS reports and in statements to other press.
She also went on to say, based on her opinion, that the sentiments contained in the "forged" documents probably were true at the time. She didn't seem to get the chance to offer an opinion on whether her boss from so long ago also felt that way about other guys in his National Guard unit because Rather kept cutting her off with breathless glee.
In any event, Knox suggested that Killian was irritated with Bush at one time for not promptly reporting for a physical check up and for top brass asking commanders like Killian to apparently go easy on guys like young Bush - you know, guys from privileged families.
That's the big deal? Who the hell cares? Such back and forth has gone on in the military since time immortal and continues to the present day.
What matters is whether Killian and Bush ultimately worked out an arrangement, Bush got his act together, Killian signed off on the actions and Bush met the requirements necessary to obtain his honorable discharge.
And to the latter two points, there is no dispute. Ergo, Bush and Killian (feelings towards each other aside) managed to work things out. Period. End of story. Nada mas concerning the smoking documents.
No wonder then that people are talking, including Rather's friends and colleagues who have spoken with me about their concerns and the reputation of CBS. These guys and gals simply said that Rather -- and CBS -- blew it.
As to Rather's mantra that other news outlets are just out to get him and folks should be asking President Bush to answer those darn questions, well here's a news flash: The president has answered those questions as has his staff... several times. So what's with this carping about asking Bush?
Like I've said, it's phony baloney garbage.
The focus is exactly where it should be - on Rather and on CBS.
At best, they misreported the context of the documents they (I guess) thought were real.
They misreported the content of the documents.
They failed to report that their own "experts" were unsure about the validity of the documents (or parts thereof).
They failed to tell viewers (and readers) the specialty of the experts used (such as handwriting only).
They made the charges that Bush did not meet his military requirements without noting (at least) that Bush did.
They failed to note that Bush received an honorable discharge.
And last but not least, they failed to then follow up on such matters all the while Rather continues to pontificate that Bush failed to meet his military commitment to the National Guard.
And Rather wonders why people are asking him questions?
Hmmm, Dan old boy, maybe it's because of not only what you do report but also what you don't report or otherwise dismiss.
For example, the charges raised by SWIFT boat vets concerning John Kerry's service records, a Silver Star with a Combat V that could not have been issued by the Navy, the fact that Kerry met up to three times with communist agents in Paris after his active duty service in Viet Nam but while still in the reserves (which is against the Military Code of Justice regulations), that some former vets have recanted and repudiated a Kerry-led campaign that included sworn testimony before Congress that American military personnel were committing criminal acts in the field such as raping, pillaging, burning villages and the list goes on.
And while Dan ponders such potential stories, what about Kerry's military records not being fully released despite flip flops by the senator and his campaign staff that everything has been released ... or not.
The points raised here boil down to a simple fact in journalism: Whatever the story pursued then there needs to be a single standard applied. So whether going after Bush is fair or not from a partisan perspective, the same exact standard must be applied to Kerry.
I'm waiting for Rather to say (breathlessly or not) something about Kerry possibly having broken his military oath that some view as possible treason while still in the reserves because of his meetings in Paris and anti-war protests...
Maybe if Rather would just report the news straight and apply equal standards to hold Bush and Kerry accountable then folks might cut him - and CBS - a break.
But make no bones about it you non-press people - the pounding Rather is getting isn't because it's poor old Dan being chased by jealous newsies and partisan attack dogs.
Dan Rather is being hounded because he didn't do his job and report the story straight - warts and all. And then he failed to follow up with the pros ... and the cons.
The fact that he's a celebrity newsman only magnifies the scrutiny but it should not blind either Rather or CBS that he and it are in the spotlight because a reporter told a story without getting his facts straight - and he/it failed to put context to the facts they thought they had now made worse by subsequent reports that were defensive, off kilter and repeating questionable facts upon which Rather - and CBS - continue to lay claim as the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Talk about not meeting commitments. Whew...this stinks.
This is better entertainment than anything Hollyweird could have conjured up. It just too good. The only thing I'm not doing is tuning into SeeBS as I don't want to accidentally improve their ratings -- we the viewers/product being sold to their sponsors need to act appropriately and not watch to keep the pressure on.
Until then, keep the popcorn popping, the beer flowing and the bloggers blogging!
Add to this the poll listed on the side of the article - at the time I clicked, 65% voted to "fire the guy". Entertainment indeed.
This reminds me of a line in a Dick Van Dike show, "Everyone was trying to take a shot at her."
Thank you for mentioning the poll. I missed it.
Wonderful editorial. Bravo!
Breathtaking, wasn't it? So filled with hatred and vile.
It was as close as I've ever seen to a reporter "calling out" a sitting president.
Good posting. Rather didn't have to be as careful with this story because the memos were written by someone deceased. He didn't figure that the memos themselves could be so obviously false because he trusted the source, (probably this guy Bartlett...)
Power corrupts.. and Rather is corrupt. He needs to go....
Excuse me, I mean't to say Burkett...
If O'Reilly were a FReeper, I'd sure as hell ping him to this editorial...maybe then he'd get a clue.
We WILL get to the end of this. It will not be swept under a rug. Dan Rather will be gone. CBS will be in fourth (?) place. And the whole MSM will be limping. Not a bad day's work for some folks in their jammies.
If you haven't already joined the anti-CFR effort, please click here.
All that said, Rather set out to smear Bush with falsehoods, fabricated evidence and half-facts. Rather should be fired. Period.
Someone should make a movie about all this. It ought to do as well as "Erin Brokovich" or "All the President's Men". :)
We all know who Rather is, where he stands ideologically and what he is willing to do in furtherance of his agenda but in focusing on Rather's actions, are we missing the bigger (and much more damaging) story? The blogesphere has done a superb job of outing the bogus memos, perhaps it's time to focus the same efforts and energy in ferreting out the obvious coordination between the DNC/Kerry Campaign and CBS on the Bush/National Guard story. Is it a coincidence almost simultaneously we have the Estrich threats, the CBS story and the launch of "Operation Fortunate Son"? We need to find evidence of collusion.
Dan has simply lost his mind.
This is better entertainment than anything Hollyweird could have conjured up.
Just wait, coming soon we may see "RATHERGATE: THE MOVIE"
I note that Robert Byrd and Dan Rather have been afflicted with the same hatred and ugly tactics against GW Bush. It is time for them to undergo a brain scan for dementia.
Megakudos to you. That rumbling, groaning, rock crusher like sound that is increasing all around us is a critically important paradigm shift taking place. Fasten your seatbelts rats, it's going to be a bumpy ride.
Well, I know he's lost his soapbox.
Thank you for the LINKS.
It would seem that Rather is getting some good satisfaction out of making the White House squirm and twist and contort on this, so I can't imagine that he showed ALL he was going to show just last night.
Dear CBS News and Dan Rather: THANK YOU !!! Thank you for standing up to the misinformation that is being presented to the American people on a daily basis from the White House and every level of government. As I news junkie, it has been disturbing to watch the decline of journalistic integrity.
I thanked him and told him I was a typewriter repairman and that the doc's looked authentic to me.
We love you Dan, and a large group of us here are rooting for you (we're all Deaniacs....so you know how intensely we feel about cleaning up the media!) I think you are displaying genuine integrity, and it is this we admire above and beyond whatever the final validity of these documents turns out to be. We trust you, (at the moment, ha!) because of this integrity, and so much of America is aching for this right now!
With CBS acting like the only broadcast media with a spine, I'll wager the far right is afraid of what else they may have found. Keep in mind that the opposition seeks to destroy the messenger, not the message. Witness the focus on the authenticity of paper and ink, rather than the information contained.
I truly appreciate the integrity CBS News has shown in covering these recent stories regarding Mr. Bush's National Guard duty.
Here is my take on this....CBS has the originals, Rove sent the fakes to Rather, Rather knows these are fakes, but these fakes are being used to smoke out Rove. I find it strange that Rather would interview the secretary on his program for her to say she thought these documents were forgeries. Actually, Rather asked her more then once about the forgeries, then she mentions a diary. Maybe CBS has the diary. Although the secretary verified the information I think Rather is too smart to know this is not enough after all he has been investigating this for four or five years. I think Rather wants to prove that Rove sent these so called papers to him -- he is giving every opportunity to allow Rove and company to say these papers are forgeries. My impression he was emphasizing the papers were forgeries just as much as the contents. He also knows there are some documents missing -- proof now the WH has more documents available after I don't know how many times, they keep saying they turned them all over but all of a sudden more are found. When interviewing the secretary Rather was very confident (almost smug). I believe he is holding a lot back. Go Dan Rather!
the docs he's allowing to be broadcast probably are fake in an effort to trip up bushco, but I doubt that Viacom's lawyers would let him go to air with bullshit and risk the financial hit to the stockholders. There is too much money at stake to be that reckless. And Rather isn't like the cable-cabal... innuendo, insinuation and speculation passing for evidence... We don't know all there is to know, so it's too soon to be howling about fakes---Rather hasn't tipped his hand yet.
i suspect that these forgeries are, in fact, forgeries. i suspect that they were leaked by the GOP in order to create the belief that CBS is untrustworthy on not only this issue, but any others in which they have criticized the administration in the past. this all just seems way too intentional to me.
Dang, Congersman, I had to break down and wash my jammies today.
Subtitled "All the Pseudo-Reporter's Men"?
Oh, the irony.
I would do that myself, but I have a stepdaughter in the house with good eyesight and a delicate digestion. There are some things a young woman should not see until she's been married. For about thirty years.
I have a vague recollection of a TV shot of W at the 1988 Republican convention needling Rather about his interview with 41. Maybe this is Rathers last opportunity for payback.
Excellent. You touched all the bases.
NETWORK NEWS PART TWO - starring Dan Rather as the egotistic network newscaster
Like the old question, "Have you stopped beating your wife?" add "What about these documents that say you didn't complete your anger mangement course? It doesn't matter that the documents are forgeries, how can you control your temper without completing the course? "
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