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From Ben Bradlee to Dan Rather


I see that CBS is gonna stand by its story, as well they should. To do otherwise would sabotage the high values of modern journalism, which include the stern injunction to never tell the suckers what is really going on.

It calls to mind the highest achievement of modern journalism, which as we all know was Watergate. If you read the self-encomium by Woodward and Bernstein–”All the President’s Men”–you will discover, after the confessions of tampering with a grand jury and illegally obtaining telephone records, the story of a very bad day for our heroes and for their editor Ben Bradlee. WoodBern had run a front page story that day, and by noon they had been ravaged by Nixon’s Press Secretary, Ron Nessen, who denied it all and called them liars and frauds. They checked with the Delphic Oracle, then plying his trade under the pseudonym “Deep Throat.” He confirmed Nessen’s claims. The story was wrong. The Post had lied. So WoodBern went to Bradlee, who wrestled with his conscience and quickly won: “F**k it,” he said, “let’s go stand by our boys,” and he wrote an editorial reasserting the Post’s confidence in the story.

So of course Rather and CBS will stand by theirs.

Yesterday Rush pointed out that Jeff Greenfield had complained that the politicization of the tv audience was sabotaging CNN’s ratings, which is to say his own. And yet it apparently does not occur to him that at least part of the collapse of public confidence in CNN is the result of his own actions a few years ago, when he presented a “documentary” purporting to prove that US forces had used chemical weapons on our own boys in Vietnam. After a while CNN fired the producer, but my old friend Jeff (we shared an apartment one summer at the University of Wisconsin long ago, when he was young) never apologized, and apparently doesn’t see the need.

That’s why Old Media is dying. As I said the other day, the American people have long known they were being lied to, but they didn’t know where to go to get the truth. They can now go online, and if they work at it, they can probably sort it out. At least there’s a chance. They are convinced there’s no chance with the Old Media.


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