Howard Kurtz, Michael Dobbs and James Grimaldi have a piece in this morning’s Washington Post which recaps how the CBS scandal unfolded. It doesn’t contain much that is new for those (like our readers) who have followed the story closely, but does provide an inside look at what was happening within the CBS organization.
What jumps out at me is that Dan Rather, Mary Mapes and the 60 Minutes staff behaved not as objective journalists, but as opposition researchers for the Kerry campaign. They had been trying for years to dig up dirt on President Bush so as to prevent his re-election, and were beside themselves with glee when Bill Burkett, or whoever it turns out to be, gave them the opportunity to use forged documents as a pretense to air their anti-Bush story.
The Post also reveals that the warnings CBS received from the only qualified document examiners it consulted were even stronger than had previously been reported:
Emily Will said she called the network that Tuesday and repeated her objections as strongly as possible. “If you air the program on Wednesday,” she recalled saying, “on Thursday you’re going to have hundreds of document examiners raising the same questions.”
The other interesting point that emerges is CBS’s heavy reliance on the fact that Presidential spokesman Dan Bartlett didn’t object to the documents’ authenticity:
“This gave us such a sense of security at that moment that we had the story,” Howard said. “We gave the documents to the White House to say, ‘Wave us off this if we’re wrong.’ “
Bartlett responds, reasonably enough, that he had no way to verify the authenticity of the documents in three hours, and never said anything about their genuineness, one way or the other.
My only quarrel with the Post’s recap is that it downplays the importance of the internet to the story, focusing on the belated response of the mainstream media. For example, the Post writes that “major news organizations” began questioning the story on Friday, September 10. In recounting the events that occurred between Friday and Monday, the Post says:
A new problem surfaced when reporters found that the man cited in a 1973 memo as pushing to “sugarcoat” Bush’s record, Col. Walter B. “Buck” Staudt, had been honorably discharged a year and a half earlier.
In fact, we reported this critical fact by the middle of the day on Thursday, based on a tip from a reader, and millions of people knew about the Staudt retirement issue before the mainstream press finally tumbled to it. “Reporters” didn’t “find” this issue, they read it on Power Line and other blogs.