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Saturday, September 25, 2004

Help CBS News' Rathergate rogues line up for the scaffold

While driving the other night, I was listening to the fourth movement of Hector Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique — an old favorite that I'd performed (in a transcription for military band) with the Longhorn Concert Band while I was in college.  This symphony is perhaps the most famous example of romantic "program music": 

Under the influence of opium (in the 1855 version), a young and sensitive artist (Berlioz himself), experiences a series of visions — the different movements of the symphony — in which his beloved figures as a theme, the idée fixe, which recurs in every movement, though each time in a different form.

The fourth movement, called "Marche au supplice," contains a rousing, self-confident, and indeed arrogant march — quintessentially French, and featuring the wonderfully ominous, repeated thirteen-stroke drumrolls of a public execution.  It was written to portray "the artist, led to execution for murdering his beloved," strutting defiantly along despite his impending and well-deserved doom.  Only after mounting the scaffold does he remember his beloved, however — represented by a short, sad solo clarinet passage sounding his beloved's theme — and then "the melody is abruptly cut off by the fall of the guillotine and the concluding uproar." 

Now why did this wonderfully evocative music make me suddenly think of — Dan Rather?

Today's Los Angeles Times includes an article by staff writer Elizabeth Jensen headlined "From a Who Did It to a Who'll Get It," with this subhead: "With careers in jeopardy, 'the knives have come out' at CBS News. Rather's job seems safe, but he's fighting to keep it." 

I suspect that my blogospheric friend Professor Stephen Bainbridge must have spat out a mouthful of excellent wine when he read these paragraphs:

And for conspiracy theorists who have speculated — with no proof — that Republican tricksters are behind the possibly fake documents, Thornburgh has a connection to Karl Rove, a longtime Bush strategist.

Rove, who denied this week to the Washington Times that he had anything to do with the documents falling into CBS' hands, worked on Thornburgh's unsuccessful campaign for a Pennsylvania Senate seat in 1991.

Well, yes, Rove and Thornburgh do indeed have a "connection" — one that ended up with Rove successfully suing the former Attorney General and winning a judgment for an unpaid $170,000 consulting fee (presumably plus costs, interest, and attorneys' fees).  As Professor Bainbridge has pointed out,

By all accounts, Thornburgh is an upright guy, so I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. It doesn't change the fact, however, that he has a perceived conflict of interest that will forever call into question his impartiality. CBS would have been better served to find somebody with no such [anti-Rove] taint.

(Personally, I'm satisfied with Thornburgh's appointment, and applaud CBS News for picking someone with the stature of a former Attorney General as the legal representative for the inquiry.  Let's just be glad that they didn't pick Ramsey Clark.)

The LAT article provides yet more information about who inside CBS News was involved in the Rathergate fiasco, and in what degree:

Whether or not Thornburgh is predisposed to blame Rather or CBS for the report, many inside the network nonetheless are questioning why Heyward was allowed to choose the panel along with CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves. [CBS News president Andrew] Heyward, they argued, could just as well end up taking the blame for oversight procedures that might have gone wrong in the reporting of the story.

How deeply Heyward got involved was unclear.

Rather, in an interview Monday with the Los Angeles Times, said it was difficult to pinpoint blame for the lapses, "given the number of people involved in this, directly involved in the news-gathering, vetting and approving."

"There were a lot of people, including myself," Rather said.

The New York Times reported that Rather had said he had specifically asked Heyward to have hands-on involvement in the story from the beginning.

Other executives have said Heyward wasn't present at any of the meetings where the decisions were made about whether to use the documents, with Betsy West, the division's senior vice president, overseeing the process instead. Genelius said that Heyward would have no comment.

"Dan and Andrew speak several times a day every day," Genelius said. "It is not contentious, and both of them are looking forward to having the panel report its findings. There will be full cooperation."

Friends and neighbors, the Rathergate scandal surpasses any previous shoddy episode in the history of American journalism.  NBC's "Dateline" making a GM pickup truck explode as a special-effects presentation wasn't remotely as wicked and corrupt, yet as NRO's Byron York reminds us, that scandal resulted in the forced departure of everyone from NBC News president Michael Gartner on down through the story's  executive producer, senior producer, segment producer, and on-air reporter.

The LAT article concludes by noting that

Rather's future may end up determined less by the outcome of the report than by the reaction of CBS' affiliates around the country, some of which have been urging CBS to make a change for some time in order to boost its third-place ratings.

A number of affiliates this week reported being inundated with calls and e-mails advocating getting rid of Rather, many of them the result of an organized campaign.

Oh yes, let's continue to nudge the affiliates.  You can write a free, uniquely personalized email to all of the roughly 200 CBS affiliates via this handy link at Rathergate.com.  Yes, the campaign is organized, but the specific message will be yours.

Strike up the Berlioz, I say!  Mr. Rather, that short, plaintive clarinet solo was your one-time beloved, the Muse of Journalistic Truth — and you and your cohort murdered her.  On to the scaffold with you all, I demand!  And let the guillotine do its bloody, very necessary work!

Posted by Beldar at 10:37 PM in Mainstream Media, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink


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Tracked on Sep 27, 2004 9:39:23 PM


(1) Roundguy made the following comment | Sep 26, 2004 4:57:34 AM | Permalink

How colorful. To think an attorney is a fellow musician. I can almost hear "The Rite of Spring" as he is marched to the guillotine. He's definitely hearing "Mars" from the "Planets" as this process marches on. Is Beldar "Parsifal" perhaps or better yet "Siegfried"?

(2) MaDr made the following comment | Sep 26, 2004 8:39:34 AM | Permalink

The article tries mightily to lay the groundwork for the eventual (MSM) conclusion that the panel's report will be biased. Leaving out the anti-Rove tid-bit was a giveaway of this reporter's (just can't bring myself to say 'journalist's') slant. Hard to believe she didn't know; another LAT reporter (Ruttan) has reported it.

(3) Allan Yackey made the following comment | Sep 26, 2004 10:54:17 AM | Permalink


In Dan Rather’s continuing efforts to expose the Bush family, he is working on a new story. Based on heretofore undisclosed memos that appear over the signature of the Elder George Bush’s commanding officer, Rather believes that he can prove that the Elder Bush also shirked his duty during WWII.

Please note that having learned a lesion from the memogate affair, CBS has affirmed that it can “absolutely” prove that these new memos were created on an IBM Selectric Executive typewriter.

Stand by for further developments on this breaking story.

(4) mezzrow made the following comment | Sep 26, 2004 4:08:30 PM | Permalink

Try another Eb clarinet solo ending in the demise of the protagonist. Think about Till Eulenspigel - what a pain in the keister HE was... Much more in line with the Rather situation than the dignity maintained by poor Berlioz, despite the drugs.

(5) Old Grouch made the following comment | Sep 29, 2004 12:08:51 PM | Permalink

Given CBS's continuing pattern of setting up dumb reports to be knocked down by the blogosphere (c.f. Tuesday night's [9/28] "Bush Is Bringing Back the Draft" report), wouldn't a soundtrack by Carl Stalling be more appropriate?

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