CBS has announced that Dan Rather will step down as evening news anchor in March. Rather’s announcement says he will continue working as an investigative reporter–a scary thought. There was no mention of the forged document scandal, and Rather says he agreed with CBS News last summer that he would retire as anchor after the election.
Speaking of Rather, whatever happened to CBS’ investigation? We’ve heard nothing; all I know is that they haven’t contacted us. But why should they, when they have an “unimpeachable source” in Bill Burkett?
UPDATE: The New York Times says the report on the investigation is due early next month:
The inquiry’s two panelists, Louis D. Boccardi, a former top executive of The Associated Press, and Dick Thornburgh, a former United States attorney general, have interviewed dozens of people – from the highest echelons of CBS News to its rank and file, as well as outside it – and are expected to submit their report to senior network executives early next month. Among the central questions they are examining is why Mr. Rather, who anchored the segment, and Mary Mapes, the producer who shepherded it, were so convinced of the authenticity of four memorandums purportedly drawn from the personal files of Mr. Bush’s Vietnam-era squadron commander.
Of course, framing the question that way assumes the answer to the most important question the panel should be trying to answer: were Rather and Mapes victims of a hoax, or perpetrators of a hoax? It is difficult for me to believe that they actually thought the documents were genuine.
AND MORE: Reader James Phillips says that Chris Weinkopf, writing on Dan Rather’s downfall in the current issue of American Enterprise, calls Power Line and Little Green Footballs the “new Woodward and Bernstein.” Which I assume he meant as a compliment.
ONE MORE THOUGHT: Rather’s National Guard story appeared to be closely coordinated with the Democratic Party’s effort to make President Bush’s National Guard service a campaign issue. In another sense, too, one could say that Rather’s fate is intertwined with the Democrats’ defeat. There is no explanation for what CBS, Mary Mapes and Dan Rather did other than Bush-hatred. I think they knew the documents were forged, but, on the most sympathetic interpretation, they were told by at least two experts that the documents appeared to be fakes, and went with the story anyway.
The 60 Minutes broadcast was the culmination of a five year long “investigation” by Mary Mapes. Think about that: five years! That means she was trying to dig up dirt on Bush’s Guard service when he was still Governor of Texas. Before the 2000 election, before 9/11, before the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Mapes’ obsessive stalking of President Bush was, to put it politely, unbalanced. In the aftermath of the 60 Minutes debacle, we wrote this:
When he defended CBS’s publication of forged documents, Dan Rather spoke of the “checks and balances” that ensure the reliability of news coming from CBS, as opposed to news and commentary from the blogosphere. What are those checks and balances? Ultimately, the main check on the danger that a powerful media giant like CBS might abuse its position of trust by deliberately propagating falsehoods is the assumption that the network values its reputation for accuracy and trustworthiness. In the past, most people have assumed that while broadcast networks, wire services like the Associated Press, and newspapers will occasionally make mistakes, and will certainly spin the news consistent with their political biases, concern for their reputation in the marketplace, and even more among their peers, would prevent them from spreading outright falsehoods.
In the wake of the CBS scandal, that assumption must be reevaluated.
Rather and Mapes hated President Bush so much that they recklessly threw away their network’s reputation–already somewhat tattered, to be sure–for integrity and accuracy. But isn’t that a pretty good analogy to what the Democrats did? No one could have made a rational decision that it was a good idea to embrace Michael Moore as the party’s house intellectual, or to launch such strident attacks against President Bush that many uncommitted voters must have wondered whether the Democrats had become unhinged. Like Dan Rather, the Democratic Party hated President Bush so much that it just couldn’t help itself.