Skip to comments.Texas Press Drops Ball on CBS Memogate
Posted on 09/20/2004 3:52:29 PM PDT by SwinneySwitch
Dan Rather and CBS News decision to build a story on documents that are almost certainly fake may signal a new low in sloppy and suspiciously partisan reporting.
But the big five newspapers in Texas the Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, the San Antonio Express-News, the Austin American-Statesman and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram have violated a larger rule of journalism with the document scandal. They didnt go after the story.
Rather admitted he was duped in his report on President George Bush's service in the National Guard, but the Texas press has no excuse for failing to pick up the ball. Virtually every player in the fascinating drama of the forged documents is a Texan, including Bill Burkett, the former Texas National Guard officer and Bush hater who seems to have spawned the CBS story. Many Texas political journalists know Burkett is an unreliable source.
All the old National Guard officers who have been quoted in news reports are Texans, of course, along with dozens of other former Texas guardsmen who might have helped solve the puzzle raised by the CBS story if reporters had contacted them.
Any cub reporter would have known to make the first call to Earl Lively, former Director of Texas National Guard Operations, but it was the London Guardian, not a Texas paper, that rang up the old officer. Lively ultimately provided the quote that could end up as the book title for the memo scandal forged as hell."
The elderly National Guard typist, Marian Carr Knox, made national news when she told reporters that the documents were phony. Knox, who lives in Houston, told the Washington Post and Matt Drudge that she had called the Houston Chronicle to tell her story, but they didnt call her back.
The first interview with the folks at Kinkos in Abilene, where the fake documents were originally sent to CBS, wasnt done by the Dallas Morning News or the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The kids behind the copy-counter talked to the Washington Post.
ABC News was the media outlet that got retired National Guard Col. Walter Staudt to finally agree to an interview, even though the San Antonio Express-News and the Austin American-Statesman are both located less than fifty miles from his New Braunfels home.
The Texas press did do a little original reporting on the forged documents story. The Dallas Morning News plowed through their old Bush files and reported on September 10 that Staudt, who is named as a Bush critic in one of the CBS memos, actually retired from the National Guard a year and a half before the memos were supposedly written.
The Morning News was also among the first to report that National Guard general Bobby Hodges had pronounced that the memos appeared to be forgeries. CBS had cited Hodges to confirm their report.
The big Dallas paper went looking for typist Marian Carr Knox and smartly put their report online shortly after she told reporters there that the documents were fake. Laudably, Dallas Morning News writer Pete Slover reported high-up in his story that Knox also expressed great contempt for President Bush. Rather neglected to include that detail when he interviewed Knox on television.
The Houston Chronicle also published an important piece on Burkett, who has been a bitter and frequent critic of Bush over the years. The Chronicle noted that many of Burketts charges failed to check-out. Demonstrating how far off a national news report can drift, on September 17 the Washington Post published a piece on Burkett entitled Suspected CBS Source is Well-Regarded Texan." The much better researched story about Burkett ran in the Houston Chronicle the same day. It was headlined Texan has history of attacks on Bush."
More of this kind of reporting from journalists who knew the players and their backgrounds would have saved the national media a lot of time and surely resulted in some glory for the Texas press.
But the Lone Star State papers coverage of this decidedly Texas story was extremely spotty.
On September 12, when the story of document fraud was raging, Austin American-Statesman reporter Ken Herman filed a report that ignored the furor and repeated some gossipy allegations from a web magazine.
In San Antonio, Express News reporter Gardner Selby filed a September 10 story attributed entirely to an unnamed source who charged that the former President Bush had lied when he said hed not asked for help in getting the current president into the National Guard.
Neither story was corroborated or followed-up.
The big Texas papers did not seek out former Texas National Guardsmen who could have responded to questions about flight training, transfers, policies for physicals and other issues the CBS report raised. The Texas press even passed on a chance to correct Rush Limbaugh.
Picking a note off the White House Bulletin on September 17, Limbaugh characterized Burketts lawyer, David Van Os, as a big player in the Texas Democratic Party, linking him to the Travis County Democratic Party fundraiser that Dan Rather notoriously attended in 2001.
Texas reporters know that Van Os, a State Supreme Court candidate, has not lived in Travis County since 1999 and can be more accurately described as a fringe Democrat than a big-time mainstreamer. In 2002 he made a kamikaze run against the Chair of the State Democratic Party and that same year filed a lawsuit against his local county chairman.
Just before CBS admitted they had been duped, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times reconstructed a chronicle of events inside the network that led up to the phony document report. But no Texas paper took on the job of reporting the story from the home court fleshing out the movements of the Texas players in the media scandal drama from the retired military and the big-time partisans to the bit players with old grudges.
The fact that the big Texas papers stepped back and let the big dogs take over surely bodes more ill for good journalism than Rathers lapse. Theres no greater threat to a healthy and free press than editors and reporters who ignore a good story.
Sherry Sylvester is the Director of Texas Media Watch, a non-partisan project that monitors the states metropolitan daily papers.
What's happening to Texas?? I expect that kind of thing here, but I've always had higher expectations from the big T.
It's sad but simple...media in Texas is as liberal and lazy as anywhere else.
The Big Five Fish Wraps are all Dem boosters all the time. No Texan in his right mind believes...or buys...these leftist propaganda sheets. Someone could make a TON of money by publishing a conservative Texas statewide paper that would run these sorry outfits out of business.
They're probably like Texas banks. Not owned by Texans.
The Houston Chronicle is a joke of a newspaper. They are losing subscribers by the boatload. They revamped the whole style of the newspaper because they thought they needed a facelift. The style is a lot worse and the liberal bias is the same.
Big Old Media is dying.
After Nov. 2, 2004, the Republican takeover of Texas politics will be complete, as the Congressional delegation will convert from a Dem majority to a Republican majority.
Unfortunately, a similar Republican takeover is unimaginable in the Texas press.
We Texans will just have to depend on the New Media and the California-based Free Republic to give us the news that matters.
That's the only thing it's good for. I find they have a Comics section on the Internet from which you can create your own comic page and download the comics everyday.
Excellent factual report.
Now for the editorial that examines WHY the Texas newspapers dropped the ball on this big play.
The Dallas Morning News is owned by Belo Corp., a Dallas-based company.
Oops, Sherry Sylvester did fail to mention that David Van Os is a current candidate for office in Texas. I can't remember which one (judge?) but I've seen campaign signs with his name.
I even tried to help out by sending the Austin Statesman an email early last week to look into the connections with Robin Rather and Ben Barnes and Dan Rather.
Guess they thought it was a non-story, or one they didn't want to cover.
Van Os is running for the Texas Supreme Court.
If you decide to, I'll invest...
Sincerely, your Houston Chronicle
I read Fr for news and have gotten many other to stop buying the Dallas Morning news.
Its not fit for fishwrap
The "press" here has become more and more liberal over the years. Just like it has everywhere else.
Sad but true.
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