Rather Strange

Sept. 20 - I've been surprised by the lack of attention being paid by European media to the Dan Rather meltdown. I'm going to be lazy for a moment and cite someone else's encapsulation of the story so far:

Earlier this month, CBS aired some documents that were said to reflect poorly on George W. Bush's service in the National Guard. The legitimacy of those documents was very quickly questioned on Web logs, with powerful impact. Within 48 hours of the original broadcast, [CBS news anchor] Rather was forced to defend his story on "The CBS Evening News." Major papers began asking hard questions. Even if the documents are never conclusively proved to have been forgeries, the inability of CBS to validate its claims made it look terrible.

The story has been covered all over the United States. Conservative columnist William Safire offered some good advice to Mr. Rather one week ago, but Mr. Rather chose to flail out angrily at his critics and defend his story because it illustrated a "transcendent truth" that obviated the need for evidence.

That, to me and many other Americans, was the interesting story. Mr. Rather seemed to be saying that his beliefs were more important than any pesky evidentiary standards. That's what you expect to hear from a priest, not a network anchor. Mr. Safire's employer, the New York Times, went to great pains to portray Mr. Rather as more sinned against than sinning by injecting the instant catch phrase "fake but accurate" in a headline about the story. (See the extensive corrections at the end of the article for a sense of where that editorial position brought the Times in the days that followed.)

This startling disconnect almost instantly earned Mr. Rather the title "Queen of the Space Unicorns."

CBS has begun to back away from their formerly strong support for the sourcing of those documents. A headline from this morning's Times says it all: "CBS News Concludes It Was Misled on National Guard Memos, Network Officials Say." But even here, the Times mitigates the perpetration of fraud by praising motive: "Mr. Rather and others at the network are said to still believe that the sentiment in the memos accurately reflected Mr. Killian's feelings but that the documents' authenticity was now in grave doubt."

The meat of the story is not hard to condense: the news anchor for a major American network presented what have almost unanimously been identified as forgeries, or at the very least documents of a highly dubious and untrustworthy nature, to tar the character of a sitting president. Confronted with the flimsiness of his "evidence," the anchor chose to criticize his critics—which by this time included representatives of virtually every other media outlet in the United States—as "partisan operatives," and to declare the story too important to require substantiating evidence.

Remember this is Dan fricking Rather we're talking about, not some bubblehead cable ingenue.

But maybe that explains more than it mystifies. Several years ago Mr. Rather declared on the air to Fox News's Bill O'Reilly that "I know that you consider it sort of astonishing anybody would say so. But I think you can be an honest person and lie about any number of things."

That's like saying you can be a virgin and still have a lot of sex.

But forget all that. It's not important. I only wanted to say that I thought it was strange that the European media hadn't covered this story at all.

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I'm pleased to announce the formation of The Bureaucracy Club™ of Copenhagen, my own small contribution to the Brussefaction of the world. Applications are now being accepted. See site for details.

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Today's birthdays include Sophia Loren (1934), Dr. Joyce Brothers (1928), Arnold "Red" Auerbach" (1917), Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton (1890), and Upton Sinclair (1878).

Happy Monday!

2004, The Moron's Almanac™

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