Monday, September 20, 2004

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Open CBS postmortem thread

Feel free to comment on the admission of error on by CBS on its 60 Minutes II story on Bush's National Guard duty -- and its ramifications for the election, the mediasphere, and the blogosphere -- here.

Joe Gandelman has some commentary that's worth excerpting:

[B]y issuing this statement CBS has at least stopped the massive bleeding -- but not the bleeding. It waited so long it's credibility has been damaged; this wasn't just a case of bloggers but other key media outlets going after the veracity of CBS. If it had just been a case of bloggers CBS' retraction wouldn't have come. In fact, many journalists were dismayed by how this story ever got on the air, given the strict standards of confirmation on major stories practiced by not only most news outlets (including local papers) but also taught in journalism schools.

PREDICTION: This will likely increase interest in the media for more information on George Bush's military history. There were two issues here: the validity of the documents and whether forgeries were being held up as real, and questions about Bush's military history.

I'll only add two thoughts:

1) The statement implies that the documents got through the process because their source -- Bill Burkett -- lied to CBS about their provenance. This fails to mention the fact that their own document experts raised serious doubts.

2) CBS can mock the blogosphere all it wants, but it's worth pointing out the partisan (meant in the best sense) Kevin Drum recognized the dubious quality of Burkett as a source long before the nonpartisan staff at CBS: "I talked with Burkett at length back in February, and speaking as someone who believes his story about Bush's files being purged, I still wouldn't trust him for a second if he suddenly produced a bunch of never-before-seen memos out of nowhere."

UPDATE: One of the ironies of this case is that earlier this year Jack Shafer had praised CBS and 60 Minutes in Slate for admitting error in a prior report. Of course, that was Lesley Stahl instead of Dan Rather.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Laura McKenna has a must-read post on media and blogger biases.

posted by Dan on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM


I haven't really followed this story too closely, but I think the image of a legit document next to a forged one that the times or the post printed was pretty damming. It was pretty easy to tell from that, that there were a lot of stylistic differences. Of course, what really damned CBS was the fact that they just couldn't admit a mistake for like a week. I never understand, why people just can't say "we have confidence in the memos, but we are looking into the concerns others have raised, and will address them shortly". Or something non-commital. In the end though, its a rather pointless story, because the narrative on Bush's guard story remains the same.

With the success on the CBS memo, I eagerly await the wing-nut blogosphere's investgation of the forged Niger memo that accidentily sent the country to war. I know, Rathergate is a significantly more important story, but now that its over, perhaps the wingnut blogosphere can take a short rest and get cracking on another memo of at least slight consequencce.

posted by: Jor on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]


News outlets will scrutinize news-gathering methods and issue reports about CBS's methods and journalistic methods in general. Headlines will cleverly reduce issues of integrity, fact-checking, sourcing, anonymity, honesty, and trust. Articles will address facts and opinions regarding CBS's missteps and the organization's attempts to regain credibility. Op-eds will be written attacking and defending various employees of CBS.

Citizens will read some of it, shrug, and wonder why news outlets can't stop talking about themselves long enough to report the candidates' stated positions on various issues and policies.

The Daily Show's ratings will rise further and professional pundits will continue to hand-wring about why the public is so cynical about the press.

posted by: brent on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]

Con: CBS lost credibility and respect.

Pro: CBS dominated news over the last 2 weeks. I've got to believe ratings were high, as were profits.

In this season of sleaze and opportunism (who DOESN'T have a tell-all book out?), did the Cons seriously outweight the Pros? Is the man on the street saying CBS blew it, or that the "media" blew it?

posted by: wishIwuz2 on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]

"I know, Rathergate is a significantly more important story, but now that its over, perhaps the wingnut blogosphere can take a short rest and get cracking on another memo of at least slight consequencce. "

Lol. If Fox had run a bogus document about Kerry written on Word provided by some nutcase with ties to the RNC i can only imagine the meltdown of conspiracy theories that would come pouring out of the fever swamp. Say what you want about the Swifties, they arent manufacturing evidence. Nor is one of the most famous newscasters in the world vouching for their credibility.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]

This whole affair has been one gigantic canard. Every second spent hunting down different interpretations of "kerning" was time wasted from the real issues of the day.

Dan Rather's crime was not his naivety. His crime was trying to titillate viewers by capitalizing on a non-secret: President Bush wasn't all he could be during Vietnam.

posted by: JR on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]

The documents are forged, but it doesn't change the story: GWBs dreadful avoidance of Vietnam service. And if it were a one-off exercise of privilege we'd all smile at it. But the persistent avoidance of duty by todays admin and congressional leaders and their children is really offensive. To me, at least. It is really sickening to see men and women of power and position telling others to send their loved ones off to war while exerting every effort to protect their own. And that goes for Laura Bush, too.


posted by: bliffle on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]

The story is not about what happened 35 years ago. It's what happened this year when the mainstream media and the DNC coordinated "Operation Favored Son" along with the 60 minutes hit piece based on crudely forged documents in an attempted takedown of a seated president.

posted by: Matthew Cromer on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]

Just so I'm clear. How was the DNC involved in this story?

posted by: brent on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]

I'm not at all surprised at bliffle's response.
"The facts don't matter. The story is STILL

Of course to a member of the Left when the
facts are true - Swift Boat Veterans - the
story must be FALSE.

As opposed to the Clintonista's I will be in
a GLOAT FILLED ZONE on November 3. Kerry is
going to pull the entire democrat party down.

With any luck Roe v. Wade can be overturned
by the next Supreme Court.

posted by: pragmatist on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]

MC - "Operation Favored Son" was part 2 of a summer long trash effort. The Swifties provided part 1. Both efforts were a sorry departure from a discussion of real issues.

But these charges WERE sensationalized, and DID dominate the news during their runs. So, with the weight they currently carry, is there any chance these discussions will also be brought up during the debates?

posted by: wishIwuz2 on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]

Its idiotic to argue that a major network news team trying to foist forged documents on the public 2 months before the election isnt a huge story. The left (and CBS) want to treat these documents like they are some kind of accident or misunderstanding. They arent. They are fraud. How can tracking down the purveyer not be a majorly important issue? How can figuring out just how and why so pathetic a fraud made it past the supposed gate keepers of truth not be critical? Anybody that is arguing that whatever Bush did in the NG 35 years ago is more important than either the bias driven incompetance by CBS or the outright fraud that could well be tied to the DNC (however tenously) is kidding themself. As I said, if this had happened the other way around this would without a doubt be the #1 lead news story on every media outlet in the country, and Karl Rove would be unable to walk down the street. As it is Karl Rove still gets accused by supposedly responsible journalists and pundits. Madness.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]

Every second spent hunting down different interpretations of "kerning" was time wasted from the real issues of the day.

Partial amen. Yes, it's good that the non-liberal media got slapped down. Yes, it's good that the blogosphere had some effect. Yes, it's a big story.

However, it would be much better if some of that energy had been expended on something that really matters.

For example: foreign consuls driving around the U.S. handing out ID cards the FBI calls unsafe to their citizens who are here illegally. And, our largest banks and the Bush administration is helping.

Slapping down Dan Rather is fine, but sovereignty and security might be a bit more important. Let's see some twenty-link posts about that.

posted by: The Lonewacko Blog on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]

Consequences -- Election. This was two weeks where Iraq did not end up dominating news and discussions. Instead, the focus was on how someone forged documents to do a number on Bush. All in all, not very good for Kerry. If Rather had admitted error earlier, the focus would have blown over. My guess is that this lessens the time Kerry has to connect with voters. We'll see if that turns out to be significant.

Mediasphere: Hard to say. It was the blogs who started this ball rolling, but it was ABC and Newsweek and the Washington Post that pushed this story to its ugly end. I take away from this that media competition is alive and well, when it is prodded. It wouldn't surprise me if a lot of MSM primarily looks at the world of the blogs as a great source of news tips.

Blogtopia: Oddly, the story probably has the least impact on blogs -- which will continue to function as they have. I've yet to see anyone start a blog for the money.

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]

Internet 1

posted by: Mike Ward on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]

I posted the following comments here awhile back re the Dan Drezner's paper, "The Power and Politics of Blogs."

Those comments are still relevant here. And BTW I still haven't heard the Lame American Media Establishment (L.A.M.E hat tip to CERDIP at TCP), say anything about the Iranian Mad Mullahs recent hanging of the poor 16 year-old girl. I guess they decided this was not of any importance to the American people. Go figure!


Hey I think you guys are onto to something. See my post below to Henry’s blog site.

Needless to say I believe the American people are hungry for real information that the mainline media has failed to report. Without objective reporting the American people can’t make informed decisions in the presidential election.

The media has failed to educate the American people on the War On Terror. The American people need to understand this is a war of ideologies and cultures. This is a war against transnational terrorists who share a common bound of Islamofascism. Their fanatical religious mission is to kill or convert everyone of us.

In the end this is a war they will lose because Islamofascism is a failed idealogy. The question is at what cost to the free world. Our media’s “rooting” for the enemy only emboldens and prolongs this war. They [enemy] don’t understand our freedoms and interpret our public debate as a sign of weakness. In fact our freedom is at the core of why they hate us so much.

The media is reporting a distorted view from Iraq, with its “doom and gloom.” For a sense of perspective read the reports (blogs)coming from native Iraqis. These brave souls are the true foreign correspondents of this war. Their perspective is much different than what is being reported here.


Here’s an interesting thought as to the potential political power of the blogosphere. Bloggers can focus the world’s attention on Iran. The ruling theocracy every day is growing smaller and smaller. The “Joyless Generation,” is growing more restless by the day. If the light of the free world shines on Iran its represive government may implode. Yes, there is a metaphorical reference here to the, “Trilogy of the Rings.”


The media as we know it may be replaced as the main source of information by the Blogosphere.

See two recent pieces on our site:


(2nd reply under this topic)

The blogosphere just may be the key element necessary to implode repressive regimes. The free flow of information now transcends political boundaries and without the constraints and biases of media editorial and conglomerate boardrooms.

The endless power of the truth and objective information is what is needed to crush the failed ideology of Islamofascism we are at war with. The power of the great lie no longer controls. Final solutions can no longer occur in secret.

Ron Wright, Moderator
HPSIG Forums Site

posted by: Ron Wright on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]

Sorry to CERDIP the correct reference should be "Legacy American Media Establishment" (L.A.M.E.)


posted by: RonWright on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]


I have in my a hand an official document naming you as a child molester. No, no, don't try to quibble about whether the document is "real" or not -- doing so would obviously be a transparent attempt to distract attention from the real issue: Can you prove that you are, in fact, not a child molester?

Let's keep our focus on the issues!

posted by: Burkett on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]

Rather and Co. weren't "misled"; they were caught. Their own experts told them the documents weren't authentic, and Rather himself refused to relent on this until the pressure (from CBS affiliates and Viacom shareholders, most likely) became overwhelming.

Ask yourself whether they would have relied on such a low threshold of verification if the story were directed against Kerry against Bush, and you see that the real story here is the continuing slide toward an openly partisan press on the British model.

Pinch's NYTimes has already become a longer version of the New Republic and The Nation, with a lot of gay and fashion world frou-frou thrown in as part of their national marketing strategy.

Given that the CBS News logo has lost much of its integrity and thus its brand equity, if I were a Viacom shareholder I'd want Redstone to just keep going down the partisan path and make the News division into the liberal antidote to Fox. That's the smart marketing strategy. The FCC's a shameless whore, anyway-- not as if they'd revoke the CBS license.

posted by: lex on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]

"the nonpartisan staff at CBS"

As soon as I saw that line, I expected to see a David Thompson comment mocking it. Is he on vacation or something?

posted by: Xavier on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]


It is really sickening to see men and women of power and position telling others to send their loved ones off to war while exerting every effort to protect their own.

I know Kerry doesn't realize this, but I would hope you do: Vietnam's over. You're fighting the last war. Nobody is sending anybody else's kids, and nobody needs to exert any effort to protect their own. There's no draft anymore.

posted by: David Nieporent on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]

To David,

Well, there is no draft, but the fact is we have a political class that has fewer and fewer members with any experience of the military or family in the military. That, in my book, is one group of people sending another group of people to fight their wars. All it takes to confirm this fact is a look at the lists of the dead. Look at the hometowns. These aren't kids from Ann Arbor or the Upper East Side or the Hamptons, or 'P-Town' or West LA or Newport Beach CA. They are from East Kakalacky , as a Marine friend of mine likes to say.

Oh, I know, for Libertarians and psuedo's, class doesn't exist in America. Right!

Also, consider the amount of lying that goes into a typical recruiter's spiel. How many of these national guard guys thought they would even deploy outside the country, its the 'National Guard', not the Iraq guard.

posted by: stari_momak on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]

The one thing I hope for out of all this is that reporters and producers who present a story with lousy sourcing, and end up having the story blow up, pay a steep price for their professional malpractice. The Rathergate story has done a number of things:

1. No 60 Minutes/CBS Scoop is credible.

2. The great discussion on Iraq -- which has to be ground zero of this campaign -- has been delayed. Maybe it's starting again, with beheadings and Kerry's rather good speech.

3. CBS and its producer and Rather himself, in their desire to get dirt on Bush, assisted their source in his now very public self-destruction. This kind of exposure shouldn't happen to anyone, and is far worse, on a morality scale, then what Bob Novak did to Valerie Plame.

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]

Myonly comment is this: It's not done yet, nor will it be soon. There's still the issue of the source of the documents, as well as the role the Kerry people played in all this mess.

Democrat Dirty tricks have been exposed... and this investigation will not go away. I suspect and suppose it will end up in the lap of Kerry's people very quickly... Joe Lockhart for example... and likely higher than this.

posted by: Bithead on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]

Anyone who uses "it's" when "its" is correct is not in a position to discuss credibility.

posted by: beloml on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]

Until it is generally accepted that, over the past 15 years, the media has moved from overall liberal bias to overall conservative bias, our democracy is in trouble. Certain conservative figures admit this (e.g. Bill Kristol) but the overwhelming noise from the right is that there is still liberal bias. I post here a link that indicates otherwise; only one network "fisking" Bush for his claim that Kerry thinks we'd be better off with Saddam Hussein; the others all quoting Bush without comment.

Even ABC News, praised here by Media Matters not for a left bias but simply for putting Bush in context, has some right-biased elements -- notably its producer Chris Vlasto, who has often done Ken Starr's bidding in the past among other things.

posted by: Daniel on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]

Don't mess with us money guys. Not nice to play with my stock price, Danbo.

posted by: William Randolph Redstone on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]

Until it is generally accepted that, over the past 15 years, the media has moved from overall liberal bias to overall conservative bias, our democracy is in trouble.

well, liberals are, at least.
America, is doing fine, thank you.
And no, there is no conservative tilt to the MSM... which is why viewerships constinue to fall like millstones.

posted by: Bithead on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]

Momack and Biffle,

Christ - you people. How many times does it need to be said

"Nobody is sending anybody else's kids, and nobody needs to exert any effort to protect their own. There's no draft anymore."

And Nieporant - *you * only get half credit for writing that.

NOBODY *sends* ANYBODYS "kids" to war in this country. Adults *decide* on their own if they choose to serve the people of the United States in the Armed Services. So stop with the feigned concern.

posted by: Tommy G on 09.20.04 at 03:13 PM [permalink]

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