There is no connection between the headline and Matt McKinney’s story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune regarding the event at which Rocket Man and I spoke last night reflecting on our Rathergate experience: “Bloggers exult in Rather departure.” Because the Star Tribune makes its articles inaccessible after two weeks, I’m taking the liberty of pasting in the story below:
The image of Dan Rather airing his final newscast loomed above the diners at a hotel banquet hall on Wednesday evening, the sound of forks and knives clinking on plates as he delivered a quick speech about courage, and then said good night.
But this was not a rosy send-off for the longtime anchor. This was the dinner hosted by the Center of the American Experiment, a conservative think tank based in Minneapolis, and the guests of honor were two of the three men behind Power Line, an Internet blog credited with bringing on Rather’s early retirement.
“We get a lot [of credit for Rather’s retirement],” said John Hinderaker, a Minneapolis attorney and Power Line co-founder. “Probably more than we deserve. We were by no means the only site that was involved in this. We view ourselves as symbolically standing for them all. In our view, the real story is in the medium, in the power of the Internet.”
The 300-person dinner provided the final chapter in a story that began Sept. 9 when Power Line began compiling evidence of flaws in a CBS “60 Minutes II” report on President Bush’s service in the National Guard.
The blog’s readers quickly cast doubt on key documents used in the story and, before the day was through, had assembled charges of fraudulent reporting. Three people at CBS lost their jobs as a result of the fallout. A fourth person is fighting dismissal, and Rather announced that he would retire a year earlier than planned.
Speaking to the diners assembled for Wednesday’s broadcast, Scott Johnson, a Power Line founder, retold the story: A reader e-mailed him the morning after the broadcast with two paragraphs from another thread on the Internet questioning the authenticity of the story. Johnson, at his computer early in the morning, added a link to the documents and left for the office.
“By the time I got to work at 8:30 I had about 50 e-mail messages with additional information of all kinds suggesting that the documents were fraudulent and almost none to the effect that they were bona fide,” he said.
The story led to an investigation of CBS News by an independent panel led by former Associated Press executive Louis Boccardi and former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh. The panel’s recently released report concluded that no political bias drove the story and that the documents, although deserving of serious scrutiny, could not definitively be branded a forgery. The conclusions have done little to quiet the storm of anger over the CBS story.
Hinderaker and Johnson both said that a careful reading of the report would yield plenty of evidence that warranted a stronger conclusion of fault.
“I don’t think CBS would have made the mistakes that it rushed to make to expose a liberal Democratic candidate for president,” Johnson said.
Time magazine named Power Line the blog of the year, but fame has brought some unwanted attention: the crazies on the Internet now assail the site from time to time, sometimes with organized campaigns, Johnson said.
The experience has left Johnson and Hindraker convinced of the power of blogging to make journalists more accountable.
“They are going to have to start saying to their reporters, and to their columnists, that it’s not acceptable anymore to just say something. You’ve got to do what the bloggers do, you’ve got to link to your source. And I think that’s going to have a tremendously beneficial impact on journalism,” said Hinderaker.
A section of the evening was reserved for questions, and members of the audience wasted little time in showing their reverence for the work achieved this year at Power Line:
“You guys are heroes,” said Sarah Mealey, a member of the board of directors at the Center of the American Experiment.
Another questioner wanted to know when the website would challenge the Star Tribune, drawing applause for suggesting an online campaign against the newspaper.
A new blog is created every 7.4 seconds, according to the blog tracking website Technorati. Blogs have arrived and for now have won the plaudits of people such as Abby Ludvigson of Eden Prairie, who, after hearing Johnson and Hinderaker speak at Wednesday night’s dinner, said she finds she can’t trust the traditional sources of news.
“I don’t trust many media sources anymore,” she said. “So it’s really good to see these faces and see that they’re genuine and see that they give their reasoning to back everything up.”
The key paragraph of this story referring to the Thornburgh/Boccardi report leaves out any mention of the evidence of the documents’ fraudulence that the report compiled. It also leaves out any mention of the evidence undermining the substance of the 60 Minutes story apart from the documents that the report compiled. Rocket Man spoke passionately at length about both in his remarks last night.
Our conclusion was that CBS owes President Bush an apology for the thorough-going falsity of its report attacking President Bush’s Air National Guard service. In his eight-page statement responding to the report, the closest CBS President Les Moonves came to an apology was his statement that CBS “deeply regrets the disservice that this flawed 60 Minutes Wednesday report did to the American public…” Will CBS ever find the heart to say it’s sorry to President Bush? Courage!
In the audience last night was the lovely wife of Minnesota National Guardsman Lt. Col. Joe Repya, who at age 58 returned to active duty last September in order to serve in Iraq. In two previous tours of active duty Lt. Col. Repya commanded a rifle platoon in Vietnam and flew helicopters in the first Gulf War. Our only moment of exultation occurred when Mrs. Repya prefaced a question with the statement that Joe would have been at the event last night if he were not serving in Iraq. (Mrs. Repya told me after the event that Joe turns 59 next week. We wish him a happy birthday while we keep him in our thoughts and prayers.)
With respect to the audience question about the Star Tribune, McKinney omits any hint of my answer. I said that we and other local Twin Cities bloggers had regularly found lots of material to criticize in the Star Tribune on our sites over the past three years. Now why would he leave that out?