Dan Rather has famously based a 60 Minutes II report criticizing President Bush’s National Guard service on what nearly everyone agrees are forged documents. Rather has yet to explain adequately his conduct. He can start by answering these questions:
You say you want to be the first to “break the story” if the documents are forgeries. Has it occurred to you that perhaps that story has already been broken?
Two of the experts consulted by CBS warned that the documents might be fake. CBS executives complain that these dubious experts didn’t make their concerns starkly enough. So, for you to doubt the authenticity of documents, it is not enough for someone to say, “They might be forgeries”; they have to say, “They might be [expletive deleted!] forgeries”?
One expert you consulted, Marcel Matley, vouched for the accuracy of the signature on one of the four documents. But in your Sept. 10 report defending yourself, you portrayed him as vouching for the authenticity of all the documents. Will you run a correction that accurately reports his views?
You haven’t put on air any of the critics of the documents in your follow-up reports about the controversy related to them. Isn’t that sort of one-sided reporting?
You say that CBS has been working on this story for five years. Yet the man CBS has called its “trump card” in buttressing the authenticity of the documents, retired Maj. Gen. Bobby Hodges, was consulted about them only over the phone and only two days before CBS aired the report. Was there not time to consult him about this sometime during the prior four years and 363 days?
Why are you protecting the identity of the source of the documents, since he lied to you and, by extension, the nation?
Which of these Ratheresque folk sayings most aptly captures the situation: (a) Your critics are knocking you around “like a hockey puck”; (b) you have put CBS executives in a position so uncomfortable it’s like they are wearing “too-small bathing suits on a too-long car ride back from the beach”; (c) your reporting is no more accurate “than your grandmother’s big toe was at predicting the weather”; or (d) the testimony of innumerable document experts is the “big enchilada, or if not that, at least the big taco” discrediting your story?
Mike Wallace and others have a vested interest in the credibility of CBS News, which you are so trashing. What do they think? Are you getting any funny looks around the water cooler?
CBS News did countless stories based on the claims of Bush critic Joe Wilson, who has been shown to have lied about his key contentions. What is it about CBS that makes it so susceptible to the frauds of Bush haters? CBS News barely noted the subsequent discrediting of Joe Wilson. What is it that makes CBS News so reluctant to clean up after the frauds of Bush haters?
How do you define, per libel law, “reckless disregard for the truth”?
You suggest it is only Bush partisans who are criticizing your reporting. Please provide evidence of the pro-GOP bias of the Washington Post and ABC News, the two news organizations that have been most aggressive in poking holes in your work. Please use only original documents.
You have argued that the documents must be accurate because the White House has not denied them. Is this the new standard for accuracy that should be taught at the nation’s journalism schools? You haven’t denied being a Republican plant long-ago embedded in American journalism to discredit the liberal media from within. Is it therefore true?
Do you now view Richard Nixon, cigarette makers, and innumerable other targets of 60 Minutes through the years in a new light? Maybe deceiving the public isn’t so bad after all.
Have you heard of the Internet? Have you noticed the power it has to debunk the work of sloppy and stilted mainstream journalists? Isn’t it a bummer?
–Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.
(c)2004 King Features Syndicate