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Sunday, September 19, 2004

The wounds to Rather's career are fatal

A thoughtful reader emailed me with a link to an NRO article I'd missed:  Former CBS newswriter and radio network news editor Dennis E. Powell still has, and quotes from, the "CBS News Standards" book in use during his employment in an article entitled "Throwing the Book at Them."  His conclusion:

My copy of the document is in pristine condition. It provides good guidance and is something I've always treated with a little reverence, because it stands for what CBS once strived to be. I'm tempted to send it to Dan Rather, because I think his copy is probably pretty beaten up as a result of having been flung down and danced upon.

But I don't think I will. For I'm sure that the current view at the CBS News Division is that the document is authentic, but not accurate.

Compliance with journalistic standards and ethics requires the exercise of good judgment, and violations of them are likewise judgment calls, but gone bad.  It is therefore quite remarkable that as the facts of the Rathergate debacle continue to come out, no one is defending CBS News' misjudgments in any way — at least, I haven't seen it.  There's no "this was a close call," or "but their source seemed so credible," or "there but for the grace of God go I." 

Hence the metaphoric title of my post preceding this one.  Once roused from its torpor by the blogosphere's exposure of the documents as forgeries, the mainstream media outlets have begun to crowd the tumbling carcasses of Dan Rather et al. as if each is desperate to take home, as a trophy/souvenir to prove its own righteousness, a blood-stained dagger.  The kinder among them have sadly noted or will note Rather's and CBS News' past glories; the less misty-eyed have noted or will note that those past glories were mixed with other scandals, if less heinous ones than this. 

Rather and his cohort cannot be permitted to survive.  "Gracious retirement" is not an option; apologies and contrition, while still appropriate, cannot be sufficient.  It's time, and past time, for Viacom's top management to recognize what everyone else has already concluded.  It's time, and past time, to start the public firings, with the only open question being how many besides Rather, Mapes, Howard, and Howell should be in the first wave.  If this scandal cannot justify such action, then nothing ever could.

Posted by Beldar at 02:46 PM in Mainstream Media, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink


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(1) Glen made the following comment | Sep 19, 2004 4:08:18 PM | Permalink

Heinous adj. - Grossly wicked or reprehensible; abominable: a heinous crime.

I believe it was Ronald Reagan that said the difference between a recession and a depression is that a recession is when your neighbor is out of work and a depression is when you are out of work. So it is with CBS' other scams being less heinous than Rathergate. "Grossly wicked or reprehensible" is a qualitative term, not quantitative.

CBS 60 Minutes has destroyed the reputations of many individuals over the years who were powerless to fight back. Even when they were cleared no one ever knew. Dan Rather prided himself on ambush journalism. He might object to the term, but that is what they practiced. Falsehood was standard operating procedure.

Many years ago, I remember a story that had something to do with meat. Dan Rather, wearing a baseball cap that says "Meat" on it, is getting a tour of a meat locker by a smiling employee. All of a sudden, Dan drops the question, the smile is replaced with anger as Rather is ordered out.

I find it interesting that, at least 25 years later, this is the only thing I remember about this story. I don't know if the meat guy was guilty, innocent, or even what was claimed. I just know that Dan Rather had lied to him and that was why Dan had been given a baseball cap with Meat written on it. One can argue whether or not the end justifies the means, whether lying to this meat packer was necessary to deceive him into being trapped, but when these practices become habitual there is really no difference between the meat packer and the guard story. Dan Rather decided they were guilty and he set out to destroy them any way he could.

These are the CBS scandals, big and small. If 60 Minutes came after you, it wouldn't matter if you were innocent, because no one would ever get to hear your side. It would be edited out and there is nothing you could do about it.

This is why character matters. In politicians, newsmen, even attorneys. With a man of character, it doesn't matter if it is a little guy or the President of the United States, both are treated the same fair way. This time Rather overreached, got caught, and even now is still trying to lie his way out of it, but he is doing the same thing he has always done. Only this time, Rather is the guy in the meat locker and Rocky Balboa is practicing body blows on his ribs.

(2) teethgrinder made the following comment | Sep 19, 2004 4:17:28 PM | Permalink

I'm not holding my breath. Firing Rather and Mapes sounds too much like a reasonable question to ask - which the news media industry seems incapable of doing.

(3) lyle made the following comment | Sep 19, 2004 6:01:45 PM | Permalink

My guess is that after the scandal broke, Rather insisted that he be given the opportunity to buttress the story and clear his name. He probably explained to CBS execs that they owed it to him.

Rather and Mapes are now in Texas trying to salvage their careers. They believe their story is essentially true. If they can substantiate charges of drug abuse and dereliction, that will turn the spotlight away from them and back onto Bush.

Right now they are burrowing through stacks of documents that prove them wrong, in order to find dubious scraps that might validate them. They are discarding credible witnesses in search of self-promoting cranks and loudmouths who will tell them what they want to hear.

I look forward to the next Mapes/Rather installment, if they can put it together and if CBS lets it run.

(4) MaDr made the following comment | Sep 19, 2004 6:08:24 PM | Permalink

Sure would be great fun if Mr Powell would scan his Manual and post it online. Imagine how every move of CBS' could be compared to the Manual - then CBS ripped to shreds!

(5) Ketchikan made the following comment | Sep 19, 2004 6:46:48 PM | Permalink

The MSM has been writing much about the Rathergate memos; how they were detected as forgeries and who might have done such a dastardly deed. And they have been writting much about how CBS got into this pickle.

Yet, has the MSM addressed in depth the issue of CBS ingnoring the Killians, and not even interviewing Gen'l Staudt, who is very much alive?!

My take at this point is that the MSM believes that Bush shirked his TANG duties and the "message in the memos is correct". Like Rather they too want the truth to be what they want it to be. The Killians and Gen'l Staudt only get in the way of their "ethical" duties.

(6) Stephen M. St. Onge made the following comment | Sep 19, 2004 10:35:49 PM | Permalink

    By now, it's clear "what the story is."  Mapes, Rather, and CBS hoped to get proof that Bush was using illegal drugs during his days in the Guard, and skipped out on the physical because he might be found out.  That, in turn, they hoped would turn off enough voters to insure Kerry's election.

    And so, they lied.  They put out a pile of horse dung about how they'd thoroughly vetted the story, dug so deeply, etc.  In fact, they got the documents on Sept. 3rd, five days before the broadcast.  And when they asked for assurances that the documents were genuine, and were told of substantial doubts, they just shopped around till they found someone who'd say more or less what they wanted to hear.  Note the obvious: CBS NEWS EXECUTIVES HAVE BEEN PART OF THIS PROCESS OF LYING SINCE THE MOMENT QUESTIONS ABOUT THE MEMOS WERE RAISED.

    So, Beldar, do not expect Rather to be fired.  Don't even expect CBS to admit that the memos were false.  These people are propogandists and liars.  They'll pull a Hiss, and go to their graves insisting that 'the thrust of the story' was accurate, and that there is considerable doubt that the memos were faked.  Rather will retire with honor, after the election.

    That ain't the way it ought to be, but "That's the way it is," September, 2004.


(7) Birkel made the following comment | Sep 20, 2004 1:02:17 AM | Permalink

And Summer Redstone, CEO of Viacom, sold 341,500 shares of CBS since the story broke. That's a big deal.

Legal ramifications?

(8) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 20, 2004 5:03:20 AM | Permalink

Birkel, I'm inclined to punt this one to Professor Bainbridge. To have even a well-informed gut hunch, I'd need to know more about the size of his total holdings and his pattern of disposing shares over time. Even without knowing that, I'm still be pretty skeptical as to whether anything connected with Rathergate would likely reach the "materiality" standard given the total size of Viacom and the relatively small part of it represented by the CBS News division.

(9) Stephen M. St. Onge made the following comment | Sep 20, 2004 5:47:15 AM | Permalink

      Looks like I may have been wrong above.  Apparently, CBS is going to disown the story.  See Beldar's first post of the 20th.

      But I'll stand by my prediction that they won't fire Rather, and will continue to insist that the story was accurate, despite the evidence being faked.


(10) M. Simon made the following comment | Sep 21, 2004 8:18:05 PM | Permalink

Let us not forget that Rather et. al. helped gove us 30 April 1975.

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