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These Media Screw-Ups Would Make Dan Rather Proud

They think they already know how the Trump–Russia story will end, so they’re rushing past the truth to nail down their version of it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Readers (even including John Podhoretz and the 16 percent of Twitter that literally hates dogs),

In 2004, when Dan Rather stepped on his own johnson like a freshly gelded eunuch told to dance on his own junk like Michael Flatly, Lord of the Dance, I wrote:

Across the media universe the questions pour out: Why is Dan Rather doing this to himself? Why does he drag this out? Why won’t he just come clean? Why would he let this happen in the first place? Why is CBS standing by him? Why. . . why. . . why?

There is only one plausible answer: Ours is a just and decent God.

I was a younger and more immature man then, so I will confess my schadenfreude was so intense I loved that story more than some dead relatives of mine. Any time I could return to it, I would. For instance, three years later, when Rather announced he was going to sue CBS for his “wrongful” termination, I picked up the theme of God’s generosity:

Well, God has not forsaken us. Dan Rather seems divinely inspired to crash more times than a Kennedy driving home from an office party. The multimillionaire semi-retired newsman is suing for $70 million, $1 million for every year he’s been alive since he was five years old. Which is fitting, because that’s what he sounds like.

Now, for you kids too young to know why Dan Rather lost his job, GET OFF MY LAWN YOU HOOLIGANS! And stop with the memes already!

But if you forgot, the basic story goes like this: Just two months before the 2004 election, Dan Rather and his crack news team at 60 Minutes II reported that George W. Bush had been AWOL during his time in the National Guard. He based this on some documents provided by a guy named Bill Burkett. It turned out that the documents were almost certainly forgeries. I put that “almost” in there as a nod to journalistic decorum. I think they were forgeries. What I am certain about, however, is that Rather and his team didn’t bother to authenticate them properly.

Indeed, one of the reasons I was so giddy about the Rather story — aside from the fact that I couldn’t stand Dan Rather — is that the Memogate story was one of the epochal moments in Internet history. Instapundit, the folks at Power Line, Charles Johnson, and our own Jim Geraghty, along with other members of the so-called Pajamahedeen, made their internet bones by meticulously — and often hilariously — dismantling the CBS story in real time. They showed how the documents had to have been made on a word processor.

What made the story so enjoyable is that Rather just refused to admit he did anything wrong. According to Rather, the story was “Fake But Accurate,” as a memorable New York Times headline put it. My favorite bit was a particularly piquant pas de deux of jackassery, when Rather said with a straight face that if the documents turned out to be fake, he’d “love to break that story” too. It was almost like he thought he deserved a Pulitzer for reporting a false story and another for proving his own story was fake. Rather’s dismantling of his own credibility, I wrote at the time, was like watching a robot ordered to take himself apart and put himself back in the box.

The whole thing is such a fond memory that I’m in danger of rambling on like an old-timer around the campfire regaling you with stories of the good old days. “Why sonny, let me tell you about fax machines and why we say ‘dial a phone number.’”

So let me cut to the chase. At no point did I think that Dan Rather and his 60 Minutes II team deliberately lied, at least not about the initial story. Instead, what I thought was obvious then — and now — is that they just wanted the story to be true so badly that they couldn’t see the problems with it. Their mistakes were driven by partisan bias — Dan Rather loathed the Bushes going back to the Pleistocene, and his producers were all chronic sufferers of Bush Derangement Syndrome — and groupthink. As I wrote at the time:

My guess is that Dan Rather truly believes he fell for those forged documents because he was just trying to get a scoop. But no one at CBS raised the necessary objections because they were all eager to nail Bush. No one — not even an idiot — said, “Hey maybe we should take an extra week to make sure these things are real.” Not even after their own consultants said the documents were iffier than a new “Rollecks” watch. If the target had been a Democrat, the usual safeguards would have kicked in. 

I bring this up because the media has been Dan Rathering itself lately. Mark Hemingway has a good rundown of all the screw-ups, which we don’t need to repeat here. It seems obvious to me that the mainstream media are consumed by a similar groupthink. The press, for good reasons and bad, starts from the premise that Trump is guilty of “collusion.” It’s like they think they already know how the story will end, so they rush not to find out the truth but to be the first to nail down a foreordained outcome.

A CONSPIRACY OF DOTS

This is all very bad. But it’s not lying and it’s not a conspiracy. It’s groupthink. I keep seeing people saying things like, “How come these mistakes never go the other way?”

Donald Trump has fueled the idea that the news media deliberately makes stuff up about him. It wouldn’t surprise me if there are some actual examples of this, but I think they’re very rare. Opinions vary on why Trump does this. Some think it’s part of a brilliant master strategy, while others think he narcissistically and dishonestly claims that any inconvenient news is a lie and relies on the fact that his supporters will always take his word for it. I’m in the second camp.

Consider Dave Weigel’s inaccurate tweet about the crowd size at Trump’s recent rally (where Trump campaigned for Roy Moore). The moment it was pointed out to Weigel that the image was from earlier in the evening, he took it down. Hours later, Trump tweeted:

Progressives have become so drunk on their own Kool-Aid that they think they’re sober. Paul Krugman literally thinks “facts have a liberal bias.” I don’t think we would have Donald Trump if Barack Obama hadn’t lied Obamacare into passage — “You can keep you doctor,” etc. But where were all of the self-anointed champions of transpartisan objectivity? They spent their days not just disagreeing with the fact-based arguments of conservatives and libertarians; they were openly mocking them for denying reality.

Again, I agree we’ve got deep problems with tribalism on the right. But that’s just one facet of the deeper problems that America, right and left, has with the corruption of tribalism.

VARIOUS & SUNDRY

The latest episode of the The Remnant is up. In it I address a wide range of listener questions, rant a bit about Roy Moore and Steve Bannon, discuss conservative books and veganism, and yes, do a brief reading of some Donald Trump erotica. Thanks for all the reviews at iTunes, and if you haven’t subscribed, please do. The metrics for podcasts aren’t exactly as scientific as Nielsen ratings, but one thing that definitely counts is subscribing. I really want to keep getting more adventurous with this thing — and I don’t just mean more readings of disturbing erotica. Your support helps in all sorts of ways.

Canine Update: Everything is basically okay with the beasts. Zoë is getting really frustrated with the lack of morning sorties into the woods, but hopefully we’ll get the new dog car soon. Otherwise, she’s the same old dingo, needy and jealous for attention. Meanwhile, one worrisome development is that Pippa has gotten a bit growly when we try to move her. When it’s bedtime, she immediately wants to sleep on my wife’s pillow. If she’s there more than a minute, she believes she has officially laid claim to the spot. But normally she just goes limp like a civil-rights protestor — we call it Rosa Barks mode. The last few nights, she’s tried to pull off being intimidating. She’s not, but I don’t like these kinds of changes in personality. My theory is that she might have a sore leg or something and is protective. On the other hand, she’s been standing up to Zoë a bit more, which Zoë finds immensely entertaining. She’s also becoming more brazen with her demands for in-house tennisball work, which could also turn into a problem. She’s stashed them everywhere. We’re monitoring the situation. They’re good dogs.

Charleston Report: The Fair Jessica and I had a wonderful time in Charleston, despite the weather. A quick review of restaurants: I have to report that I thought Husk was a bit of disappointment. We were seated next to a very loud group of women in town for a wedding. The waiter was very slow to take our drink order and a bit too much of a hipster. The martinis were small. Some of the food was really great, but all of it was terribly clever and small-portioned. It was a very good meal, but it didn’t live up to the hype. We had a fantastic lunch at Xiao Bao Biscuit. The hipster quotient was very high, but the food and friendliness were great. We had to wait a while for lunch at 167 Raw, but the clam chowder alone was worth it. The fish tacos were very good, but the shrimp taco was fantastic. Our finest meal was at Magnolia’s. The food was amazing and I have to say our waiter — nicknamed Pierre, but not a Frenchie — might have been the best waiter I’ve had in years. He gave us all sorts of tips about where to eat, walked us through the menu and wine expertly, and had that perfect balance of conversation and leaving us alone. At the end of the night he gave us a written-out list of places to go on this trip or the next. All in all, it’s a great eating town. We would have done more sight-seeing, but the weather was not cooperative.

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File.

What Trump meant — and didn’t mean — with his “do anything” tweet.

My appearance on the Andrew Klavan podcast.

Will tax reform be the GOP’s Obamacare?

Roy Moore: the aftermath.

The Walking Dead is a hot mess.

My appearance on Glenn Beck to discuss Roy Moore.

Transcript here, if you don’t like listening to me talk.

My latest appearance on Special Report.

A Christmas GLoP.

President Trump is losing Fox News viewers.

And now, the weird stuff:

The secret life of “um”

Woman prefers ghostly lovers

The best heists of 2017

How The Phantom Menace’s climactic lightsaber battle came to be

Most citizens of the Star Wars galaxy are probably illiterate

The un-death of cinema

Switzerland is ready for civilization’s collapse

Drone photos of New York

The Atlantic’s photos of the week

Naked man jumps onto moving truck near Dulles Airport

What can you do without a brain?

Training snow rescue dogs

Basset hound performs mysterious ritual

Basset hound is not a morning person

Corgi snow plow

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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