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Sunday, March 06, 2005

There are none so blind

I won't blame the Houston Chronicle's Mike McDaniel for the ridiculous headline on his story today about Dan Rather: "Rather climbing down from the pinnacle." But it's fair to say, I think, that the editor who wrote it and Mr. McDaniel both fall into the category of "those who will not see."

If the "pinnacle" in question were meant to suggest the highest point of arrogance, incompetence, barely-concealed bias, and willful duplicity, I'd agree that Dan Rather once stood at the top of that mountain. But that's clearly not what Mr. McDaniel or the headline writer intended. They used "pinnacle" to mean a lofty, admirable, well-earned and -regarded position in the world of mainstream media journalism. To suggest that Dan Rather "climbed down" from that position presumes that (a) he was ever there to begin with, and (b) he came down of his own accord. Neither of those premises is true, and the second one is laughably false.

Just how clueless is Mr. McDaniel? A quick indicator is when he refers to last fall's controversy as "Memogate." A quick Google search does indeed produce 55,000 hits, but "Rathergate" produces more than five times as many. It's not a trivial distinction: That someone would forge (ineptly) a set of memos to try to blacken a presidential candidate's reputation is neither surprising nor of cosmic significance by itself. That the "face" and principal symbol of a major network TV news organization would actively conspire to spread the fraud, and then to conceal that conspiracy, is of cosmic significance.

Mr. McDaniel buys into Dan Rather's spin bigtime:

Rather initially stood by the report. Twelve days after it ran, he issued an apology. He's been tight-lipped about it since.

Rather's is the most public face of that report, and his many critics think he championed it. An internal investigation came down hard on CBS but spared Rather and CBS News President Andrew Heyward.

"This is my personal view, but there are two things that have not gotten the attention they deserve," Rather says. "One, this panel found that whatever mistakes were made, they were not born out of political bias. No. 2, after spending four months and $5 million trying to establish that the memos were 'forgeries,' as so many have called them, the panel was unable to do that.

"I think it's fair enough to say that the documents weren't conclusively authenticated. I've acknowledged that, said I'm sorry and taken steps to see it doesn't happen again."

Oh, please. Even for a puff-piece, even for an op-ed, this string of distortions would be beyond the pale, but Mr. McDaniel's article is published as "news." Rather's defiant self-defenses outnumber his "apologies" by a huge margin, and he's been anything but "tight-lipped." The panel report inexcusably stopped short of saying that the documents had been conclusively proved fraudulent; Rather turns that on its head to say that they weren't "conclusively authenticated," and Mr. McDaniel signs on to that distortion without comment. The panel likewise refused to draw a conclusion, one way or the other, on whether Rather and his team's motive was self-glory or craven political bias; Rather paints that as exculpation and a ratification, and Mr. McDaniel swallows and then regurgitates that line of crap just as eagerly. Mr. McDaniel writes that CBS "spared" Rather and CBS News president Andrew Heyward, as if they were exonerated when in fact they've hung onto their employment by their fingernails and linger on in disgrace (which, itself, is another disgrace).

That Mr. McDaniel can quote a Rather phrase like "'forgeries,' as so many have called them" without blushing or refutation puts Mr. McDaniel quite near the pinnacle that Rather actually occupied.

If the panel had written, "Dan Rather is unquestionably the worst disgrace to journalism since the invention of the printing press," Rather would have spun it as "The panel compared me favorably to my peers from the classical ages of Greece and Rome!" And flacks like Mr. McDaniel would nod and smile and applaud — as the American public collectively rolls their eyes in disgust, and leaves in droves to look for other sources of news and commentary.

Reading a piece like Mr. McDaniel's, I'm left with equal parts of outrage, revulsion, pity, and regret. What's missing from my reaction is any sense of surprise.

Posted by Beldar at 12:48 PM in Mainstream Media, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink


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(1) Carol Herman made the following comment | Mar 6, 2005 2:21:35 PM | Permalink

The MSM uses words without thinking words have meanings. You can substitute pinhead, for pinnicle and get a better derivative. Did you know Rather took joy in knowing that Nixon's guts were ripped out? Maybe, in newspeak, now, we're not supposed to know that Rather sat on the sword to perform Hari Kiri. Maybe, he's reacting, now, searching for the sword handle? Nixon was way more the mensh, for having stepped down. Rather didn't. And, thereby hangs the difference in exit strategies.

(2) Patrick R. Sullivan made the following comment | Mar 6, 2005 4:52:30 PM | Permalink

Dan Rather, and his defenders, are the Inspector Clousseau's of journalism.

(3) Rick made the following comment | Mar 7, 2005 10:50:42 AM | Permalink

The only problem with the pinnacle you suggested is that it is obvious Rather has not descended one angstom from it.

(4) Boger made the following comment | Mar 10, 2005 12:14:41 PM | Permalink

NY Observer had a piece by Joe Hagan on the CBS Rathergate investigation. Pretty interesting, actually, on a number of levels. Found the bottom line particularly interesting. It still is not known who manufactured the fake ANG docs. From the Observer piece it ostensibly wasn't Burkett--he claimed one Lucy Ramirez provided them. The Observer piece ends with the Burketts firmly believing they had been set up ("They set a trap. They set us up."). What they mean is that Ramirez was a ringer, simply a conduit to get material into Burkett's hands, whom the person/s behind Ramirez knew had an axe to grind and would be susceptible to a later call by CBS. The person/s behind Ramirez then put the bug in CBS's ear that if they wanted major dirt on Bush they could start by calling Burkett. Bingo: just let nature take its course. Pretty slick. Kind of reminds me of that Bush 2000 video tape or document (can't remember which) operation, wherein thet gal that was planted insde the Bush campaign sent purloined material to a sympathetic media outlet. Think about it.

Anyway, it looks like the mystery of who did the ANG forgeries is going to join Deepthroat in journalistic lore. Sounds like a good retirement project for reporter (not) Danny boy. Dust off that old bush jacket, what?

(5) Robin Roberts made the following comment | Mar 10, 2005 6:15:28 PM | Permalink

Given the bizarre nature of Burkett, I don't feel any need to believe his story of "Ramirez". Add in that some of the terminology he used was erroneously Army NG instead of Air NG when Burkett was Army, and I think we've got at least a prima facie case that he created these docs.

(6) Boger made the following comment | Mar 10, 2005 11:08:27 PM | Permalink

RR: Respectfully, I extend more credibility to Burkett than you do.

Burkett admitted to both CBS and US Today that he had initially lied about the source of the documents. (Originally he had said the docs came from George Conn, a former Texas National Guard colleague who worked for the U.S. Army in Europe). He then replaced that story with one about a call from a Lucy Ramirez. Ramirez was able to say the right words, that she had seen him on Hardball lambasting Bush, that she had docs from Killian's "correspondence files" and she wanted the information to get out. Burkett agreed to meet her at a livestock show in Houston. Per Burkett, Ramirez did not show up at the livestock. Instead he was approached by a man who handed him an envelope and quickly departed. Hagan's Observer piece is based on CBS's subsequent investigation by a three person panel headed by Richard Thornburgh. The Observer piece provides a slightly different slant: "In the Sept. 18 interview and thereafter, [Burkett] has maintained instead that a woman calling herself Lucy Ramirez phoned him—from a number later traced to a Holiday Inn in Houston—and instructed him to attend a livestock show [in Houston], where he was handed the papers in an envelope." Interesting that he was told to come to the livestock show, and not that he had been planning to attend and suggested the meeting take place there. So, per Hagan's piece, there are phone records supporting that Burkett received a phone call from Houston in early March. It has also been reported that a female acquaintance of Burkett verified that he asked her at the livestock show if he could store some papers inside a box she used to safekeep records of purchases. Thin, but corroboration nonetheless.

My position is that I have seen nothing to suggest that Mr. Burkett is smart enough to build such supporting detail for a cover story meant to hide the fact that he actually had forged the four documents--a cover story that he didn't even use in the first instance, to boot.

I believe them. I believe the Burketts were dupes, pawns, in a very clever scheme.

(7) Howard made the following comment | Mar 17, 2005 7:50:33 AM | Permalink

Don't be too shocked by the Houston Chronicle's writer. I dropped my subscription to this "liberal rag" about 8 years ago (after subscribing for over 15). This paper leans so far left it should be printed on red paper and added as an apendix to Mao's clasic work...

(8) Al Bee made the following comment | Mar 17, 2005 8:52:10 PM | Permalink

If one has the sense to step back and view the descent without prejudice he is not climbing down as much as having impaled himself on the pinnacle.

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