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Ernest Miller Ernest Miller pursues research and writing on cyberlaw, intellectual property, and First Amendment issues. Mr. Miller attended the U.S. Naval Academy before attending Yale Law School, where he was president and co-founder of the Law and Technology Society, and founded the technology law and policy news site LawMeme. He is a fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. Ernest Miller's blog postings can also be found @
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« The Fingerpointing Has Begun at CBS | Main | Rather's Statement »

September 20, 2004

This Isn't About Dan Rather, It Is About CBS News

Posted by Ernest Miller

There is a rumor that a former colleague of Dan Rather at CBS Evening News has said, after speaking with executives at CBS News, "the consensus is that Dan Rather may be forced to fall on his sword." See, Mickey Kaus Degradation Spreads!; Colby and Beyond! Rather's colleagues: Rather "to fall on his sword"; Mayflower Hill Blog ***CBS EXCLUSIVE***.

I have no idea whether this rumor is true or not, but eventually the question of Dan Rather falling on his sword will be raised.

Two points.

First, if Dan Rather has to fall on his sword it won't be because he erred in the original report, unless the problems with his involvement in vetting the story are overwhelmingly clear. If he has to fall on his sword it will be because of the stonewalling after the fact. Rather's vigorous denials that the criticisms were valid, the stories' critics partisan, after-the-fact expert shopping to support a crumbling story, and insistance that the story was true, though the documents might be forgeries will be what has done him in. In Greek tragedies, they called it "hubris."

Second, my personal view is that this isn't about Dan Rather so much as it is about CBS News as an organization. Dan Rather clearly plays an important role as the narrator and overly-aggressive defender of the report, but CBS News is too large an organization for even a single prominent individual, like Rather, to be entirely responsible. The producer of the piece, Mapes, will certainly be scapegoated, but all of CBS News is implicated in the stonewalling. Are there no editors at CBS Evening News? Who vetted and interviewed the second string experts Glennon and Katz? Dan Rather was not the anchor on the CBS Evening News on Saturday the 11th, when the show misleadingly seem to claim that a respected document examiner, Philip Bouffard, had changed his mind about the authenticity of the documents. Who was in charge of that report?

There are many other questions about CBS News' response to be answered in the coming days and weeks.

UPDATE 2220 PT

The NY Times reports that CBS News is ready to acknowledge that the documents are forgeries (CBS News Concludes It Was Misled on National Guard Memos, Network Officials Say):

Those officials, who asked not to be identified, said CBS News would most likely make an announcement as early as today that it had been deceived about the documents' origins, and that it was mounting an intensive news investigation of where they came from....

People at the network said it was now possible that officials would open a formal internal inquiry into how it moved forward with the report, which officials now say they are beginning to believe was too flawed to have gone on the air.

An investigation into where the documents came from and how they got on the air is only part of the solution. An investigation into how and why CBS News lowered its standards in order to steadfastly defend the documents after valid and credible criticism had been raised must also be part of the investigation if CBS News is to regain its credibility.

Comments (5) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism


COMMENTS

1. Wax Teeth on September 20, 2004 05:46 AM writes...

"The producer of the piece, Mapes, will certainly be scapegoated"

Didn't I read that she has been researching this story for 5 years? If she gets injured in the process I would say that she knew what the chances were...

Permalink to Comment

2. Seth Finkelstein on September 20, 2004 06:29 AM writes...

To engage in a little pop-psychology, Dan Rather's actions in the wake of the story are a classic illustration of the oft-bandied term "Denial". While that's usually just a rhetorical bludgeon, this seems a true instance.

As to CBS News, well, cheerleading is always a far safer course than contradicting people in power. In fact, had a staffer said "These are forged, and you'll kill us by going forward with them", they'd likely have been at best ignored, or even attacked themselves - and see the document experts' account:

"Emily Will of North Carolina, one of the experts CBS had asked to examine the memos, sent Mapes an e-mail outlining her concerns over discrepancies in Killian's signature. She also phoned CBS and raised more questions about whether the typography in the memos existed in 1972 and differences with other military documents. "They looked like trouble to me," Will said."

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3. Only Natural on September 20, 2004 06:50 AM writes...

All this talk about internal this and CBS that is missing the BIG picture. They slandered the President of the United States of America no matter how little they think of him. They will have to pay, All of them. Indictments from Texas are gonna happen. Rather in Dan-ial can break that story too.

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4. old maltese on September 20, 2004 08:09 AM writes...

According to Max Cleland (9/18 N.Y. Times and Washington Post), the story went from Burkett to Cleland, who advised Burkett to contact the campaign (no mention of CBS). Mixed stories from the campaign -- message received, forwarded, and set aside, or no record of message.

Permalink to Comment

5. Tom Brokaw on September 25, 2004 06:56 AM writes...

"Mapes, will certainly be scapegoated"

WTF? "scapegoated? The crazy dishonest, deluded bitch in this up to her freaking eyeballs.

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