Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Rathergate Roundup

Yesterday I said it was strange that the Rathergate Report, while noting the criticism that followed the airing of the 60 Minutes II hit piece on the President, didn't note the source of that criticism -- namely, the internet and blogs in particular. I was mistaken. I just hadn't read far enough yet.

On page 153, the report identifies the Free Republic message board, Power Line, Little Green Footballs, and The Drudge Report as sources that initially challenged the authenticity of the memos. What may be of interest is how the report characterizes this criticism. The report says that CBS underestimated the "ferocity of the assaults" on the documents, and refers to the "attacks" that followed the 60 Minutes II segment. The report mentions that "further attacks" followed the next day by "bloggers with a conservative agenda." Drudge is said to have joined the "fray" and the "onslaught of attacks" is called "unrelenting." The word "attack" is used four times on that one page to describe the criticism.

It also may be interesting to note that the authors of the report have no qualms about applying a political agenda to the bloggers mentioned, but cannot bring themselves to say that Mary Mapes had a political agenda of her own. There is nothing in the report itself that identifies the critics of the memos as having an agenda toward anything except the truth. But the report has evidence in abundance of Mary Mapes' anti-Bush agenda. (See this post from Captain Ed for a very lengthy examination of the evidence.) The coordination with the Kerry campaign should be more than enough to prove such a thing.

And that makes me wonder if there isn't one more shoe to drop on this story. Two months prior to a presidential election, a television network coordinates with a campaign in order to damage that candidate's opponent. Shouldn't there be some sort of penalty for this?

A few links of interest today.

First, . . . here's a transcript (courtesy of Johnny Dollar's Place) of Brit Hume talking with Power Line's John Hinderaker last night. The discussion centered around two issues. First, that the report never makes the conclusion that the memos were fakes.

HUME: They don't say that, though. The report doesn't say that they were fakes.

HINDERAKER: No they don't. No, right. They don't say it and, frankly, I don't know why not. Because no one could read the report, read its summary of the evidence as it relates to the documents, and not conclude that they're fakes. Why they didn't say it, I don't know.

But the discussion was mainly about Mary Mapes' political agenda:

HUME: Did you find out, let me say this one other question, did you find out anything of importance from this report that you didn't already know and you hadn't already figured out?

HINDERAKER: Absolutely, absolutely.

HUME: What did you find?

HINDERAKER: For one thing, the report includes copies of emails that were sent to Mary Mapes and by Mary Mapes that really document her hostility toward President Bush and her desire to try to influence this election campaign. That may have been obvious to some observers, but certainly not in public before. Another fact that came out that I don't think has been public before is that, in addition to the telephone conversation that Mary Mapes had with Joe Lockhart on behalf of the John Kerry campaign, she also had several conversations with a man named Chad Clanton, who also worked for the Kerry campaign, in which she told Clanton about the story she was working on for 60 Minutes, and asked Clanton what information about President Bush and the National Guard the Kerry campaign might have been picking up from other reporters. So there's real evidence there of, at a minimum, communication, and perhaps coordination between 60 Minutes and the John Kerry campaign.

Next, . . . here's Mary Mapes' statement. (Hat tip: Discarded Lies, which is Charles Johnson's backup blog) Mapes continues in her illusion that the memos are authentic, and takes a swipe at Les Moonves. But note, in particular that as she get booted out the door of CBS, she attempts to bring CBS News president Andrew Heyward with her.

It is noteworthy the panel did not conclude that these documents are false. Indeed, in the end, all that the panel did conclude was that there were many red flags that counseled against going to air quickly. I never had control of the timing of any airing of a 60 Minutes segment; that has always been a decision made by my superiors. Airing this story when it did, was also a decision made by my superiors, including Andrew Heyward. If there was a journalistic crime committed here, it was not by me.

To be fair, Heyward should also be suffering some consequences. But isn't it fun watching these people turn on each other when they get caught?

Next up, . . . at the Weekly Standard, Jonathan Last calls the report a "whitewash" for failing to respond to the central question put to it -- that is, determining that the memos were, indeed, fakes and failing to note the political bias involved.

[I]f the documents weren't forged and Mary Mapes acted with no political bias, then her firing would have been unjust and she really would be a scapegoat.

He's right. Though it's hard to get people like this to call anything "true" or "false" these days. A murderer can be tried, convicted, and executed, and news organizations will still refer to him as "the alleged suspect."

So we shouldn't be surprised at the lack of firm statements regarding the obvious political bias of Mapes, et al, or the authenticity of the memos. It's part of their worldview that there is no such thing as absolute truth, and so they find no compelling reason to attempt to discover it.

Finally, . . . Sue Bob at Sue Bob's Diary notes how the Society of Professional Journalists are characterizing Rathergate. Here's an excerpt of comments from the president of the SPJ, Irwin Gratz:

This is a discouraging case of experienced news people trying too hard to "get it first," before "getting it right." Sadly, the report's findings provide ample support for CBS's action in dismissing four employees involved in producing the segment and overseeing that news production. The lessons taught today are those journalists should learn before they ever do a story: be suspicious, check things out, and if they fail to, do more reporting or kill the story. The shorthand is well known by journalists: "if in doubt, leave it out."

Perhaps the only silver lining is the report's conclusion that the panel "does not believe that political motivations drove the September 8 Segment." However, given the subject matter and the timing, those who believe it was politically motivated are unlikely to be convinced of this.

Go see Sue Bob for more from the SPJ and her comments.

More: One more plug for Sue Bob. She's written a letter to SPJ president Gratz and shares it with her readers.

Regardless of whether the evidence marshaled by the Panel constitutes adequate proof of political bias, the report is rife with examples of where your Code of Ethics was violated—yet you make little mention of specific ethical duties that were violated. To aid you in an analysis of CBS’s conduct juxtaposed with Journalistic Ethics, I invite you to read such an analysis which was written by William Dyer, an Attorney in Houston. His analysis can be found here.

Perhaps you should invite Mr. Dyer to be a speaker at an event during the SPJ’s Ethics Week. I believe that would be of value to your profession as it appears to me from browsing the site that your members exhibit very little concern for the outrageous conduct by a major network of using documents that the overwhelming evidence suggests are forged. (I have not seen one post on this subject in the Discussion Boards regarding this subject—even under the Ethics topic) It is distressing to me that I have heard journalists on television actually try to downplay and excuse using probably forged documents by asserting that, even if the documents are forged, the “facts” presented by the documents are true. Were these journalists trained in the Soviet Union by Stalin?

Ouch! (Hit 'em again, girl!)


At 8:46 PM, Blogger Sue Bob said...

Great blogging on this issue, Drew. I think that the criticisms of the bloggers are totally at odds with the Journalistic Code of Ethics to wit:

Journalists should:

Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.

Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.

Bloggers are the public. Shouldn't the Panel give deference to this section of the code?

At 8:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've got better things to do. Good luck with the blogs.


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