Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Journalistic Ethics and CBS

The Allahpundit reported that CBS is sticking to its guns on Rathergate -- Dan Rather's baseless expose of Bush's alleged failure to follow orders whilst in the National Guard, which rested upon documents that the blogosphere has conclusively shown were forged.

This is reprehensible. Journalism 101 dictates that when you screw up, you issue a correction. Every newspaper, magazine and network knows this. That's why you see "Homer Nods" on Opinion, the NYTimes' Corrections on page 2, the Guardian's Corrections on its edit pages, etc.

Instead, CBS has stuck to its guns even as its story unravels. Thus, the story becomes CBS's failure of integrity. And that story is being picked up not only in the blogosphere (see here, here, here , here and here) but is all over the mainstream press. From the WaPo to the LA Times to the Dallas Morning News to CBS's competitors at ABC News, the mainstream media is reporting on the real issue -- CBS's failures to heed the experts it referred the documents to for forgery analysis who said that the documents were not legitimate in favor of questionable investigative tactics (one person who vouched for the legitimacy of the documents was read portions over the phone and did not see them, CBS never obtained originals, just photocopies, etc.) that supported CBS's agenda to overthrow the President.

The forgeries were so bad that expert ex-forger Frank Abagnale (the subject of the movie [and his autobiography] Catch Me if You Can) said he'd have been caught in two days if his were of similar quality (and considering that Abagnale is one of the preeminent experts in forged documents and runs a consulting business on how to prevent and detect forgeries, it's a wonder CBS didn't contact him immediately).

CBS's reaction has two aspects: (1) the documents are not the only proof of Bush's political influences that allowed him to be in the National Guard and of his questionable conduct (the first concept is unproven and vehemently denied by the Bush family, the second is based solely on the documents with no credible additional evidence) and (2) the gist of the story is true. Neither CBS defense withstands any scrutiny.

First, the only "proof" of Bush political chits that were called in to get the President in the National Guard is the shifting testimony of Ben Barnes a former political opponent of the first President Bush who is now a main fundraiser for the Democrats and Kerry, whose own daughter claims he lied by saying he helped Pres. Bush get in the Guard, and whose story changed so much the NY Times declined to run with it months ago. As noted time and again, the Bush family denies any political string-pulling.

Second, and more devastating, Lt. Col. Killian, the man who supposedly said Bush had failed to follow orders and typed the now infamous CYA memo had agreed with GLOWING reviews of Bush's service. So, quite simply, the gist is not true.

False gist, failure to heed strong evidence that indicates the story your organization is about to run is false -- that's libelous (in writing) and slanderous (when spoken). CBS committed a fraud and deserves every bad consequence.

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