In foisting the Memogate hoax on the American people, CBS' Dan Rather was motivated by the desire for ratings, revenge, and power. (For two excellent chronicles of how Rather misled his audience, see the reports here and here by Andrew Alexander, my editor at Intellectual Conservative.)
Any journalist worth his salt wants to reach everyone, and blow away the competition. Anyone who says otherwise, is either lying or in the wrong business. The best way for a journalist to reach the largest possible audience is with scoops on scandals. It's good journalism, and it's popular journalism. One of the reasons why the pc journalism of the socialist mainstream media (SMSM) and even some of the older, Republican mainstream media (RMSM) have been losing audience share in recent years, is because editors kill or ignore scoops that expose corruption among protected minorities and women, or make those few reporters willing to report such corruption endure the death of a thousand cuts. The best chronicle of such SMSM corruption I know of, is William McGowan's book, Coloring the News: How Crusading for Diversity Has Corrupted American Journalism.
Regarding the RMSM, consider National Review. In an interview last year with Enter Stage Right's Bernard Chapin, NR contributor John Derbyshire observed that in the magazine's attempt to revitalize its subscriber base, the younger, affluent Republicans it had attracted will not tolerate articles that criticize blacks.
"They laugh with us when we lampoon the more outrageous kind of black race hustler -- a Sharpton, a Farrakhan, a Johnny Cochran. They are, however, determined to make the multiracial society work, they believe it can be made to work in spite of the hustlers and liberal guilt-mongers, and they are unwilling to read, say, or think anything that could be construed as unkind towards people of other races. The pessimism and cynicism on this topic that you rather commonly find among conservatives -- including NR readers -- born in 1930, or even 1950, are profoundly unappetizing to these younger conservatives."
There is an abundance of scoops involving protected groups that are easy pickins for anyone willing to do the work, and willing to endure the hate mail from black and Hispanic racists and white leftists, and willing to face the danger of one's work being found "profoundly unappetizing" by certain affluent Republicans. In addition to the moral outrage of the corruption itself, I write so much on corruption by members of protected groups, and the policies of police departments, newsrooms, schools and universities that protect the groups in question, because the stories are there for the telling, and MSM reporters won't tell them. Often, cowardly, lazy reporters from the RMSM refuse to tell them, as well, or don't know about them, and don't want to know. I've made a personal cottage industry out of the "racist, incompetent, black journalist" genre.
Double-standards and protection from scrutiny guarantee corruption, which among human beings requires little encouragement, to begin with.
The SMSM have sought to compensate for their indifference and even hostility towards so much news, by generating audience share through fabricating "scoops" targeting safe groups (white, heterosexual, able-bodied, particularly conservative males) that are either hoaxes or wild exaggerations.
The most common genre of such phony "scoops" is the race hoax. In recent years, one of the two most notorious, media-generated race hoaxes has been the claim by racist black leaders and organizations and alleged journalists that white police engage in the "racial profiling" of innocent black males. This hoax, which has been around in one form or another since the 1960s, took its contemporary form in 1999. The other most effective contemporary race hoax has been the myth of the 2000 disenfranchisement of black Florida voters, which was fabricated the day after George W. Bush won the election.
The classic recent case of creating a scoop via hype and the perversely dishonest interpretation of facts would be the Abu Ghraib prison "scandal," which was manufactured by none other than CBS News' Mary Mapes, the same producer who gave us Memogate/Rathergate. In the Abu Ghraib story, journalists demanded that the public see a little sexual degradation of prisoners as "torture." In any previous American war, including Vietnam, no self-respecting producer would have seen a story in Abu Ghraib. That Mapes will probably win every award in the book for it, is an unwitting statement on the moral collapse -- or should I say, "transformation"? -- of American journalism.
The "interpretational" aspect of the Abu Ghraib hype resided in outlets such as the New York Times lying about the Geneva Conventions, in insisting that terrorists, who are expressly denied Geneva Convention protections, were entitled to them.
Yet no matter how many frauds the SMSM perpetrate on the backs of heterosexual, white men, they continue to hemorrhage market share.
Note that Mapes could not have sold Abu Ghraib as a "scandal," were it not for an SMSM subculture which is prepared to interpret anything and everything connected to a Republican administration as ... well, scandalous.
Consider, for a current example of hoax through hype, the attempt, beginning in August by the New York Times, to conjure up a campaign by Florida law enforcement officers to intimidate elderly blacks out of voting. In what had all the earmarks of a coordinated campaign, within days of each other, columnists Bob Herbert and Paul Krugman and the Times editorial board insisted that when detectives interviewed the old folks in their homes as part of a voting fraud investigation, they weren't really trying to accommodate the senior citizens by relieving them of the need to travel to police headquarters (which would have been much more intimidating), but were actually trying to scare them to death. And how did the intrepid Timesmen know this? Because the detectives were carrying guns under their suit jackets! Imagine that, gun-toting detectives.
And so, the Times was not only inventing a race hoax, but piggybacking on top of the older, discredited, Florida 2000 race hoax. Imagine a convicted perjurer saying on the witness stand, "If you liked my former perjured testimony, let me give you some new stuff!" -- but without the irony.
As the newspaper's coordinated campaign last year to revitalize the Sally Hemings hoax had already shown, the Times has developed a specialty in reviving discredited race hoaxes.
To return to CBS News, for years it had been in a distant third place, behind NBC and ABC. At 11 p.m., CBS' New York affiliate has long been beaten by Seinfeld reruns! And then, with the coverage of the Republican National Convention, Fox beat all of the Big Three in the ratings, but it whipped CBS worst of all. Rather was livid about that beating.
The Fox media empire, known as News Corp., is the creation of 73-year-old, Australian-born mogul, Rupert Murdoch. (Since being a foreigner was a hindrance to Murdoch's empire, in 1985, he became a U.S. citizen.) Fox News started broadcasting on October 7, 1996; it was founded and is still run by 64-year-old, Ohio-born Republican Roger Ailes, who was media guru to presidents Nixon and Reagan. In 1988, while working for Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush, Ailes laid a trap for Rather. Ailes and Bush offered Rather an exclusive interview, but stipulated that it had to be live. As I wrote on July 31, 2001:
And then there was the Black Eye at Black Rock of the Bush interview. In 1988, media guru Roger Ailes suckered Rather into conducting a live interview with Vice President George Bush, then the Republican presidential candidate. Journalists don't like to conduct live interviews, because they then lose the power of the final cut. Being able to cut a story means being able to shape it. Instead, Ailes and Bush did the shaping, with Bush, in a politician's fantasy come true, going on the offensive, attacking Rather.
Dan Rather didn't know what hit him.
If you don't think Rather hasn't sought ever since to avenge himself against Ailes, then you haven't left Kansas. And as the Web site RatherBiased.com has shown, Rather has long been openly hostile towards George Bush the Elder, going back to before the 1988 interview. That hostility extends to the current President Bush.
But that doesn't mean Rather would knowingly participate in a hoax, just to harm the President. It does mean, however, that in his desire to continue his Texas vendetta, he let down his guard and his standards. My experience is that most people can be pretty vindictive (and yes, that applies to yours truly in spades), but powerful people are much more vindictive than the rest of us, and are able to give vent to their vindictiveness.
As former ABC News reporter Bob Zelnick wrote on September 29,
Without the documents there was no heart of the report, only thirty year-old hearsay. Without them the report would never have made 60 Minutes, or the Evening News, or for that matter, the Podunk Press. What was on display at CBS appears to have been a "get George Bush" mentality -- colleagues said Ms. Mapes had been working the story for five years -- compounded by the abdication of editorial responsibility by those who turn meek in the presence of Mr. Rather.
Indeed, Rather and his CBS colleagues are so openly hostile towards the President, that on September 23, at the height of Memogate/Rathergate, when Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi held a press conference in the White Hose Rose Garden, ABC, NBC, Fox and CNN covered the story, but CBS boycotted it.
Rather also wanted the power of having broken the story that would decide the election. Again, although he is a socialist, that doesn't mean he saw himself as John Kerry's personal "plumber" (though Rather's 60 Minutes producer, Mary Mapes, may be another story). And yet, any reporter who succeeds at unearthing a major scandal, in which one of the major candidates is implicated, might just tip the election in the other candidate's favor, and guarantee the reporter a place in journalism's pantheon -- as long as the scandal implicates Pres. Bush!
Now, this may sound contradictory, but I believe that Rather sought to cost President Bush the election; not, however, in the sense of consciously seeing himself as a Democrat operative. Rather, he was -- along with many of his colleagues at CBS, ABC, and NBC -- engaging in self-deception. Many of the alleged journalists of the SMSM don't see themselves as helping John Kerry win the election because they are socialists in journalistic drag, but because they believe that this is simply what any decent person in the same position would do. That is how hermetically sealed off from the world their corrupt subculture is.
At the same time, though, many alleged journalists from that world do see themselves as political operatives, an attitude that is rooted in tradition. For a little historical perspective, the Founding Fathers were aware of the inherently political nature of the press, but felt that its positive contribution, in permitting public political discussion, and exposing corruption, outweighed its defects.
To my knowledge, America's first journalistic hoax, which was also her first race hoax, was perpetrated in 1802, by scandalmonger and extortionist James Thomson Callender against Thomas Jefferson, when President Jefferson refused to yield to Callender's demand that the latter be named postmaster of Richmond, Virginia. That was the Sally Hemings Hoax, whereby Callender claimed that Jefferson had fathered a child with a slave mistress, a hoax which 202 years later, still has "legs."
During roughly the first half of the 20th century, the terms "journalist," "publicist," and "propagandist" were used interchangeably in the U.S. and Europe. It was only due to the Nazis and Josef Goebbels' Reich Propaganda Ministry, that the term "propaganda" became a pejorative term.
For an example of how today's SMSM subculture operates, during the late 1990s, ABC News reporter Bob Zelnick started working on a book on then-Vice President Al Gore. Since Zelnick was not a socialist, and thus could not be relied on to write a book with the "correct" omissions, evasions, and conclusions, his bosses at ABC News ordered him to cease and desist from writing the book. Zelnick, a 22-year veteran of the network, had to resign from ABC in early 1998, in order to complete the book.
That's called "zero tolerance." Such repression would never have occurred, had Zelnick been working on a book on a powerful Republican. Had anyone at ABC News sought to muzzle such a book, the entire industry would have risen, outraged, in Zelnick's support. Instead, there was silence.
By the way, though Zelnick was involuntarily "retired" from journalism, he did manage to get work as the head of the journalism program at Boston University. As reported by Howard Kurtz in the September 21 Washington Post, Zelnick said of CBS' handling of Memogate:
"'There's one word I haven't heard so far: retraction. They've yielded inch by inch on the authenticity of the documents and the reliability of the source, but without the documents there was no story.' Until CBS retracts the story and apologizes directly to Bush, 'it mitigates the potential beneficial effect of an independent board.'"
The young Dan Rather would not have done the Memogate story. Memogate is a product of a time in which the media routinely publish as "news" insane accusations and baseless rumors, and specifically of an election season in which alleged journalists, often in collusion with Democrat party operatives, have engineered fraudulent "October surprises" on a monthly, and sometimes weekly basis. Over the past several years, journalism has been continually defined down, so that the difference between a fraud and an expose has largely been lost. Dan Rather was just going with the flow.
New York-based freelancer Nicholas Stix has written for Toogood Reports, Middle American News, the New York Post, Daily News, American Enterprise, Insight, Chronicles, Newsday and many other publications. His recent work is collected at The Critical Critic.