Prove it!

In his Washington Post column today on the Rathergate Report, Howard Kurtz quotes report panelist Louis Boccardi on the question of the possible political motivation underlying the fraudulent 60 Minutes story:

Louis Boccardi, the former Associated Press chief executive who headed the panel with former attorney general Dick Thornburgh, said they “didn’t feel we could say, ‘We accuse you, Mary Mapes, of having a political bias and we can prove it.’ Instead we said, ‘Look, here are the things these folks did, that the program did.'” This, Boccardi acknowledged, “won’t satisfy anybody who thinks anything short of outright condemnation, a finding of political bias, was an act of cowardice…that we didn’t have the nerve, courage, wisdom, insight to say it.” But, he added, “bias is a hard thing to prove.”

Dorothy Rabinowitz is the Wall Street Journal’s Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer and columnist. In her column on the report for the Journal today, she supports Boccardi’s rationale for the report’s agnosticism on the questions of political motivation for the 60 Minutes story and of the authenticity of the documents on which the story was based. Rabinowitz summarizes the television interviews of Thornburgh and Boccardi on these points and comments on them:

The panel’s authors otherwise used their media interviews to their advantage, not least in their responses to the most often raised questions put to them: Why had they come to no conclusion about the authenticity of the documents on which CBS relied for the segment? And why had they decided they could find no basis for political bias? Their answer to both questions was clear–they had no wish to emulate the producers responsible for the “60 Minutes” report by making allegations for which they could offer no proof.
It would be difficult to argue with this position, however tempting it might be. The panel’s report did take note of the producers’ clear failure to avoid the appearance of political motivation in the Bush National Guard story.

Here Rabinowitz usefully states the extreme version of the report’s apparent standard of proof on the issues to which she refers: metaphysical certainty. On the question of the authenticity of the documents, Rabinowitz does not even bother to elaborate the rationale or explain why it applies.
The report offers no evidence supporting the authenticity of the documents. Against the overwhelming evidence of actual fraud set forth in the report, the report posits the purely theoretical possibility that the documents might on the other hand be authentic. On this basis the report withholds judgment on the documents’ authenticity.
Dorothy Rabinowitz to the contrary notwithstanding, a standard of proof requiring metaphysical certainty and the withholding of judgment so long as contrary conclusions are theoretically possible is ludicrous. Indeed, it is a standard that the report applies nowhere else other than to the sensitive issues of document fraud and political motivation.
On the question of the competitive pressures that purportedly caused CBS to rush the 60 Minutes story to air on September 8, for example, and the responsibility for its airing on that date rather than later, the panel heard conflicting evidence. On pages 94-95, the report states:

The impact of this increase in interest by other news organizations in the TexANG story on the timing of the September 8 Report is a matter of dispute. Mapes told the Panel that she had insisted to her superiors that she wanted more time to prepare the Segment, but that Howard decided to run it on September 8 despite her wishes. Howard

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