It appears likely that CBS News based a blockbuster report on George W. Bush’s National Guard service on faked documents. If so, either through negligence or malfeasance, it has attempted to perpetuate a gross fraud on the American public. In its defenses aired so far, it has been evasive and downright misleading. Needless to say, this is not the work of a reputable news division. The strategy that now makes most sense from the perspective of the selfish interests of those responsible at CBS is to batten down the hatches and hope the document flap blows over and is eventually just chalked up as a “controversial report,” instead of dealing seriously on air with the doubts and retracting and apologizing if–as appears likely at this point–the evidence shows the documents to be forgeries.
This strategy cannot be tolerated by the broader political and journalistic community. Until CBS cleans its own house, it cannot be considered just another news organization, in good journalistic standing. Which brings us to the presidential debates. The Commission on Presidential Debates has scheduled a debate on foreign policy for October 13 at Arizona State University. The moderator the commission has seen fit to anoint for this encounter is Bob Schieffer of CBS News.
In other words, one of the greatest gifts in terms of exposure and responsibility in the fall campaign is being handed to a representative of the CBS News division. This cannot stand, and Republicans in particular ought to scream about this choice, given the evident disregard CBS has for fairness and accuracy.
Schieffer should be replaced by someone from some other organization. This is not to say that Schieffer himself is not a decent guy or a professional, nor it is to suggest that he personally had any role in the National Guard story. But the CBS controversy is about more than one stubborn icon, Dan Rather. The credibility of the entirety of CBS News is at stake. If outsiders are being stonewalled, it is up to insiders who care about the reputation of CBS to step up–insiders like Schieffer.
In the meantime, getting bumped from the moderator role would just be the price Bob Schieffer pays for being affiliated with an increasingly disreputable and discredited news organization.