Journalism professor Chris Hanson begins his piece in the Washington Post by taking Newsweek to task for its handling of the Koran-gate story. However, he quickly shifts his criticism to conservative blogs, and then implies that Drudge (which he calls a blog of sorts) is the real cause of Newsweek’s error.
Hanson’s attempt to portray bloggers’ handling of the Dan Rather and Eason Jordan stories as particularly noteworthy instances of the rumor-mongering that got Newsweek into trouble is preposterous. In the case of Rather, bloggers carefully examined every facet of the document-authenticity issue — the document format, style, and substance — before reaching their conclusion, to which CBS had no answer. Hanson claims that “no one has demonstrated conclusively whether the documents are fake.” That depends, I suppose, on what one accepts as a conclusive demonstration. But for present purposes, the point is that, unlike Newsweek, bloggers presented the available evidence carefully, systematically, and openly, and reached a conclusion that seems unassailable.
The same basic analysis applies to the Eason Jordan story. Bloggers interviewed everyone present for Jordan’s remarks who was willing to discuss them. They also pressed for the tape of the proceedings, but to no avail. Bloggers laid out openly everything they learned. Contrary to Hanson’s assertion, rumor and conjecture never blurred. The entire process was transparent. The absence of complete certainty is not the same thing as rumor-mongering, especially when it results, as happened in the Jordan case, from the unwillingness of an organization to release a tape.
I wonder whether Hanson teaches his journalism students that Watergate and the role of journalists in that affair are still open issues because no one ever proved conclusively that Rosemary Woods didn’t erase the famous tape by accident.
Mark Tapscott, the excellent “reformed” journalist, has more on Hanson’s piece, including the observation that Hanson’s analysis inadvertently shows “why the MSM is probably wholly incapable of arresting its two-decade slide from one of America’s most respected institutions to one of its most discredited, or of even grasping the reasons underlying that slide.”
JOHN adds: The bloggers made me do it! This is one of the lamer excuses of all time. For what it’s worth, to my recollection Drudge didn’t “scoop” Newsweek on the Monica Lewinsky story. I believe that Newsweek had made a decision to kill the story before Drudge ran with it. It wasn’t a question of speed, it was a question of editorial judgment as to whether the story was newsworthy. Amazingly enough.
Hanson’s accounts of both Rathergate and the Eason Jordan saga betray a lack of familiarity with the details of either story. This evening, I sent Hanson the following email:
I read your article in the Washington Post today, and was astonished by your assertion, concerning the 60 Minutes documents allegedly relating to President Bush’s National Guard service, that: “Many people think the documents were proven to be forgeries and the gist of the report false. But in reality, no one has demonstrated conclusively whether the documents are fake, or whether or not Bush disobeyed orders to shirk flight status as alleged.” Perhaps you are privy to information that no one else has. What is your rebuttal to the opinion of document examiner Peter Tytell, who concluded without qualification or reservation, in an appendix to the Thornburgh Report, that the documents are fakes? Tytell listed a number of reasons for his conclusion, but one of the simplest is that the documents are all produced in Times New Roman, which was never licensed for use on any typewriter, but is common in contemporary word-processed documents (like your article in the Post, if I am not mistaken). Can you explain how Times New Roman font showed up on Texas Air National Guard typewriters in the early 1970s?
Also, how do you explain the fact that one of the 60 Minutes documents, which purports to be dated August 1973, refers to “pressure” being exerted by Brigadier General Buck Staudt–who had retired from the Texas Air National Guard in April 1972?
Further, how do you explain the fact that another 60 Minutes document, supposedly dated May 4, 1972, purports to order Lt. Bush to take a flight physical no later than May 14, when in fact, under TANG regulations, the earliest date on which Bush could possibly have taken his physical was May 2 (90 days before his birthday) [Ed.: I should have said, 90 days before the last day of the month in which his birthday occurs], and he had until July 30 (the end of the month in which his birthday occurs) to do so?
The source of the 60 Minutes fakes was Bill Burkett, a notorious Texas Bush-hater and crank with a history of mental problems. He first said that he received the documents from a Mr. Conn, who promptly left for Europe. When the story started to fall apart, and Dan Rather traveled to Texas to interview Burkett–for the first time!–Burkett changed his story. He now said that he had gotten a phone call from someone named “Lucy Ramirez,” a name with which he was not familiar, who instructed him to go to the Texas Livestock Show. He said that he went to the show, and a man he had never seen before walked up to him, handed him an envelope, and disappeared. Burkett says that the CBS documents were inside the envelope. He says that he took them home, made photocopies, and then burned the originals. Do you think that Mr. Burkett’s account of the documents’ provenance is credible?
As to your assertion that President Bush may, indeed, have “disobeyed orders to shirk flight status as alleged” in early May 1972, how do you reconcile that statement with the fact that Lt. Bush’s evaluation dated May 26, 1972 said in part: “Lt Bush is an exceptional fighter interceptor pilot and officer. He eagerly participates in scheduled unit activities. During the past year he participated in several target force deployments and an F-102 aircraft element deployment in Canada. His conduct and professional approach to the mission were clearly exemplary and apparent to observers. His skills as an interceptor pilot enabled him to complete all his ADC intercept missions during the Canadian deployment with ease”?
I suppose you could be a radical philosophical skeptic who believes that we can never really “know” anything. As a trial lawyer, I do not find this approach particularly useful. It seems to me that if anything in the world can be known–and we all act, every minute of every day, on the assumption that a great many things are known–then the fact that the 60 Minutes documents are fakes has been proved and is known.
I will reproduce any response you make to the questions in this email on Power Line.
I’ll post any response I get from Professor Hanson.
In the meantime, Redstate has a good summary of the relationship between the MSM and the bloggers:
The fact of the matter is that most bloggers have what some people call “day jobs.” We blog for fun or pleasure, and occasionally a little profit. The MSM serves a news gathering function that we will never adequately serve. The reality is not that the MSM is concerned that we will be so quick at gathering facts that we will scoop them, the reality is that we are so quick at confirming or falsifying facts that the MSM has already dug up that is really putting a burr in the MSM’s saddle. Should we really believe that Isikoff floated this story without further confirmation because he was concerned that John Hinderaker might beat him to the punch?
As long as the MSM continues this incredible myopy about the danger that the blogosphere really presents to their existence, their continued existence will be a dubious thing. Newsweek didn’t get in trouble because they floated a sloppy story out of concern for being scooped. Newsweek got in trouble because they floated a sloppy story without the proper concern for the fact-checking power of the blogosphere. The Blogs don’t present a threat to the MSM, the MSM is a threat to itself, and it’s the bloggers who are just now alerting the public to the fact.
SCOTT adds: William Campenni is the Virginia engineer who served as a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard contemporaneously with President Bush. Mr. Campenni has emailed the following postscript to John’s message to Hanson:
On your May 22 critique of Hanson’s story in today’s Washington Post, add the following rebuttals:
Or that one fake memo required Bush to report for his physical on a date when the base was closed (14 May 72, Mother’s Day)
Or that no officer serving in the unit at that time (like me) and working every day with Jerry Killian could support any of the memos produced
Or that the memos contained non-Air Force terminology and acronyms like OETR, billet
Or that Marian Carr (later Knox) was NOT Killian’s secretary, but a pool secretary
Or that Burkett relied on phone conversations, email, and weblog postings of Paul Lukasiak, a Philadelphia gay activist, for the source data for all six of his fabrications
Or that all six memos can be traced to their genesis to specific documents Bush released in February 2004, hence the “meshing” claimed as a defense by Mapes, CBS, and Thornburgh-Boccardi
But you did point out the Staudt retirement was a year earlier, a fact first pointed out by me on Fox News (Special Report with Brit Hume) on Sept. 10.
Let’s face it – the Left is living in a world of willing suspension of disbelief. They are best described by the medieval philosophical and theological term “invincible ignorance.” Hanson follows the examples of John Goodale and Corey Pein and others who will be putting out this fiction that “no one has proven the memos false” for 50 years until, like UFO stories and the grassy knoll, it becomes truth.
Mr. Campenni addressed the subject to similar effect in a Washington Times column last January: “Exposing CBS.” I should add that we pointed out the retirement of General Staudt in Update 12 of our “Sixty-first Minute” post on September 9.