Tuesday, September 21, 2004

CBS's Betrayal

The scandal now called "Rathergate" has moved a lot of electrons while I have been away. Kudos to the folks at Power Line , Little Green Footballs, and others for doing the heavy lifting that exposed this thing. I don't have any facts to add to this, but I do have a few thoughts about the fallout. Briefly covered are the Kerry campaign, CBS, bloggers, and the public at large.

First, Kerry and Co. . If it turns out that there were contacts between the campaign and CBS News before CBS broadcast the story, Kerry's poll numbers will sink faster than Michael Moore in a leaky rowboat. Even though President Bush is not what I would call wildly popular with the voting public right now, an opposing candidate involved in a fraudulent smear job on the president will rapidly become the villain. I find it difficult to believe they could be this stupid, but if the docs are traced back to someone in the Kerry camp, it's all over but the postmortems.

CBS. CBS loses on two counts. First they've squandered whatever trust that remained from the days of the big Three networks. Given the degree of sloppiness shown in their rush to get this story on the air, why should anyone trust any of their investigative work? Their eagerness to ignore information that didn't agree with the storyline (Bush was given special treatment, Bush pulled strings, Bush didn't serve honorably) also demonstrates that they do not merit trust as well as showing CBS News to be unprofessional. Second, if it turns out that people inside CBS News were in cahoots with people in the Kerry campaign on this story, then any pretense of the media being objective is finished at CBS. It won't be Fox News that's the poster child of media bias anymore. Oh, and by the way CBS should fire Dan Rather and everyone else connected with the decision to air the National Guard story without vetting the evidence.

Bloggers. A well-deserved pat on the back. I have noticed a few mentions of the idea that the mainstream media is no longer relevant, because of the presence of the citizen journalist/blogger. I just want to caution that most of the factual reporting is still done by what is referred to the mainstream media (newspapers/TV/magazines), henceforth known as the MSM. Interviews with the Killian family, information about the warnings given to CBS by their own document experts, a statement from the Col. Staudt accused of pressuring the TANG denying Bush was given special treatment, etc. were discovered by the professional press, for example. Bloggers have become a very useful adjunct because there are so many people taking an interest in the controversial stories of the day that mistakes made by the press are found fairly quickly (much to the chagrin of CBS). They also provide additonal, often interesting analysis/citicism of the stories produced by the MSM.

The public at large. The days of Uncle Walter are over (if they ever existed). People are going to have to get used to the fact that news organizations are not as trustworthy as once believed. This process has been going on for awhile (Janet Cooke, Jayson Blair, Mike Barnicle, etc.) but this is probably the last straw. This leaves the problem of vetting the news reports (often conflicting or incomplete) that people will see from multiple sources, none of which can be guaranteed trustworthy. How will we know which parts of which reports are true?

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