Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Why Rathergate Matters

Some people wonder why blogdom is obsessed with the CBS memos when Bush's Texas Air National Guard service 30+ years ago is irrelevant for most voters today. Besides, this is an old calumny, that surfaced in the 2000 election, again this year in February, and in July when the White House released newly discovered National Guard documents.

It has everything to do with abuse of the public trust by CBS in today's election cycle, aiding and abetting a crass effort to discredit the President.

During the Republican National Convention, I watched PBS' coverage hosted by Jim Lehrer (I don't take cable). One commentator made the point that a major purpose of the conventions is to promote their points of view, their world-views, and this year the difference in world-view between the two parties is profound. A voter tends to pick the party and candidate that most matches his view of reality.

If CBS is guilty of "sexing-up" a story to help smear the President, then one has to question how distorted is the world-view presented to the voting public by main-stream media (MSM). Conservatives can easily point to the treatment of the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth versus, say, Kitty Kelly.

The Today show (as of last week) had scheduled Ms. Kelly for three segments this week while giving the SwiftVets zero air time since their story broke big-time in August. MSM likes to poke holes in the reputations of the SwiftVets, while down-playing the fact that the Kerry campaign has had to retract a number of inaccuracies as a result of the SwiftVets expose, (e.g. the Christmas-in-Cambodia fairy tales which were at odds even with his official bio) and admit that Kerry's first purple heart might have been due to an accidental self-inflicted injury.

Fortunately for many, the blogosphere, talk radio and cable news outlets like Fox News, are providing a different POV than TV broadcast news, NY Times, Boston Globe, and LA Times.

I've been scanning blogs and news sites for the past few days. You'd expect, of course, that Bush supporters generally agree that the CBS memos are bad forgeries. Many anti-Bush proponents support the thesis that since the White House has had no official statement on the matter, then the memos must be real; plus they must be true because we all know Bush lies, and lied about his guard service. (Which, coincidentally, is the theme of the new DNC ad campaign "Fortunate Son" that uses clips from the 60 Minutes II show. Hmmmmmmmm.) For example, see the LA Times editorial this morning that ends with the following comment (hat tip to PowerLine):

CBS' real error was trying to prove a point that didn't really need to be proved. It doesn't take documents for anyone to realize that Bush pulled strings to get into the National Guard. And, during the Vietnam draft, nobody went into the National Guard out of passion to defend his country. It also doesn't take new documents to establish that Bush shirked even his National Guard duties when he moved to Alabama and then to Harvard Business School.

CBS may have managed to place Bush's Vietnam-era service off-limits as a campaign issue, after weeks when John F. Kerry's impressive record has been under savage attack. Bush gave a smirky speech Monday to the National Guard Assn., waxing on about the patriotic sacrifices of the Guard's men and women over the years.

Emphasis added. Go read PowerLine's whole piece.

I don't blame the White House for not officially commenting on memos that ostensibly came from Lt Col Killian's private files. How could the WH possibly assert their authenticity? (The WH passed out copies of the memos that CBS faxed to them as a courtesy to the WH press corps.) Commenting one way or the other is a Catch-22 situation: denying the memos would prompt the opposition to claim "cover-up", while confirming the memos would prompt cries of "See, Bush lied!".

Today's take from the NY Times is that even if they are fabrications, they are authentic in meaning. (Can you spell "hearsay evidence"?) James Taranto rips this argument:

All the News That's Fake but Accurate
Today's New York Times has an update on the scandal over Dan Rather's use of fraudulent documents in last week's hit piece on President Bush. Oddly, the Times piece lacks a byline, but it has what may be the greatest headline ever: "Memos on Bush Are Fake but Accurate, Typist Says."

Fake but accurate! If this is the New York Times' new standard of journalism, does it apply to all stories, or only the ones that seek to make President Bush look bad?

Tonight, CBS said they stand by their report, because they wouldn't have used the memos if they weren't authentic. (Hat tip to Drudge Report):

Statement by the President of CBS News, Andrew Heyward:

'We established to our satisfaction that the memos were accurate or we would not have put them on television. There was a great deal of coroborating [sic] evidence from people in a position to know. Having said that, given all the questions about them, we believe we should redouble our efforts to answer those questions, so that's what we are doing'...
They were "accurate"? Even though they are blatant attempts at forgery? Great shades of the NY Times!

Yesterday, Hugh Hewitt called for Congressional investigations. He's concerned that "a network is party to a fraud committed with the obvious intent of influencing an election. Where are the hearings? This is very serious stuff, and the rise of technology capable of influencing elections is a worry on many minds. (See John Fund's new book Stealing Elections.) It doesn't do much good for Congress to arrive to conduct an autopsy. It should act before the fraud spreads."

He invited his old friend Congressman Chris Cox to be on his radio show, and afterwards Cox sent a letter to the chairman of the relevant subcommittee. It reads in part:

"Dear Chairman Upton:

This is a request that you commence a Subcommittee investigation into the continued use by CBS News of apparently forged documents concerning the service record of President George W. Bush intended to unfairly damage his reputation and influence the outcome of the 2004 presidential election.

In February 2001, the Energy & Commerce Committee held hearings calling the television networks to account for irresponsibly (and inaccurately) calling the outcome of the presidential election in Florida before the polls had closed. At those hearings, CBS News vowed that the competitive drive to get the story first would be subordinated to 'making sure we are correct,' given that the stakes --the outcome of the presidential election-- were so high....

Despite the growing abundance of the evidence that CBS News has aided and abetted fraud, the network has declined to reveal the source of the disputed documents. USA Today possesses the same documents, obtained independently from a person representing them to be authentic, and likewise is refusing to disclose his identity.

Given the shortness of time between now and the election which the apparent fraud is meant to influence, and the even shorter time before Congress is scheduled to adjourn, I strongly urge that the Subcommittee move with all deliberate speed to uncover the facts.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter within the Subcommittee's jurisdiction.

Christopher Cox
U.S. Representative"

Hugh has lots more at

Meanwhile, BeldarBlog has a strong indictment of CBS and Dan Rather:

On Thursday, September 9th, I wrote a post entitled, "Burden now on CBS to authenticate its documents lest it become a co-conspirator in fraud."

In hindsight, I was clearly wrong.

I gave CBS News and Dan Rather the benefit of the doubt — the presumption that they did not know the Killian memos were forgeries when they ran their hit piece on "60 Minutes II" on the previous evening. I argued that because of the doubts immediately raised about the authenticity of the memos, CBS ran the risk of becoming a co-conspirator in the fraud perpetrated by whoever forged them.

But Dan Rather and CBS News had become co-conspirators by the time of their broadcast. ABC News has revealed that two of the experts whom CBS News consulted before running the broadcast — Emily Will from North Carolina and Linda James of Plano, Texas — could not and would not authenticate the fraudulent Killian memos, and expressly told CBS that.

Patterico seconds the motion for Dan Rather's dismissal. This story is not going away quietly.