Virtually every news agency in the country is politely calling him a sucker. But CBS anchorman Dan Rather is still sticking to his story: He says the memos he showed last week on 60 Minutes II, attacking President Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard, are authentic.
The problem with these petulant little notes, allegedly written more than 30 years ago by the late Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, Bush’s commander, is that they were apparently, unmistakably generated by a desktop computer, which, as of the dates on the memos, had yet to be invented.
CBS’s explanation is that a $20,000 typesetting computer that could create such perfect-looking text was on the market at the time, and the Guard office could have had one for cranking out memos. But don’t you think that would have been a bit much, for ordering potatoes for the mess hall and telling guys when to report for drill? I’d say it’s equally likely that the Guard HQ also placed scented hankies in the barracks latrine.
If Rather and CBS didn’t know the memos were fake when they aired them, they surely know it now. Rather’s recent statement that critics shouldn’t focus so much on the physical memos, but on “the fundamental truth of the story” suggests this. Why is he still trying to bluff this one out? Possibly because he’s been preaching to his choir so long that he’s lost touch with reality.
Since 1993, with the advent of cable and the Internet, the audience for the notoriously left-leaning evening-news shows on ABC, NBC, and CBS has dropped by 34 percent. The “believability” of network news in viewers’ eyes has dropped by about the same percentage. I don’t know precisely why, but this may be a clue: On election night in 1994, when it became clear the voters had thrown out the Democratic majority in Congress, ABC’s Peter Jennings described the decision by our electorate as a “tantrum.”
For 23 years, Dan Rather has been anchoring the CBS Evening News with a liberal slant so unmistakable that there are bumper stickers and websites with names like “Rather Biased” and “Rather Not.” Rather is in last place among the three big broadcast networks with eight million viewers. The upside for him is that most of the people still watching probably agree with him.
As it has shrunk, his audience has also grown older, according to TV Guide. 60 Minutes II, the show on which Rather revealed the alleged Killian memos, has a median audience age of 60, and an abundance of commercials for painkillers and geriatric drugs. (By contrast, Fox News viewers have a median age of 36.)
In addition, Rather’s audience is one that has access to fewer sources of information than most. According to the Census Bureau, less than 40 percent of those older than 50 use the Internet (compared with 60 percent for those under 50). Most of Rather’s over-50s probably didn’t see his memo story mercilessly debunked on the Internet within hours of its debut.
You might consider it ironic that liberals, who think of themselves as the party of fiery youth, have grown up to be out-of-touch old peaceniks who read the New York Times and are set in their ways.
In CBS’s comfortable little TV world catering to liberals in their living rooms, a felony has been committed: falsifying government documents. Dan Rather, or someone who works for him, probably knows who committed the forgery. Anyone who impedes the investigation, even after the fact, also becomes an accessory, and could go to jail.
And by the way, even if you’re a journalist, the right to forge documents isn’t covered by the First Amendment.
–Duncan Maxwell Anderson is president of High Tor Media, Inc., a New York book packager.