Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Media Midway

I know I'm way behind the curve on the forged Killian documents story. I didn't think it was going anywhere when I first read about it and by the time I started taking it seriously (about 24 hours later) it had gotten so big that I didn't have time to write anything coherent that hadn't already been said multiple times.

But it looks like I am still ahead of Dan Rather. Having given his personal apology for airing the discredited documents (after stonewalling for over a week) Rather is now qualifying that statement:

Do I think they're forged? No," Rather said. "But it's not good enough to use the documents on the air if we can't vouch for them, and we can't vouch for them."

Rather said he had no regrets for his defense of the story.

"I believed in it," he said. "I wouldn't have put it on the air if I hadn't of believed in it. And what kind of reporter would I be if I put something on the air in which I believed, and as soon as it's attacked and under pressure, you run, you fold, you fade, you side-wind? That's not the kind of person I am, and it's not the kind of reporter I am."
(Memo to Dan: If you still think you are in front of this story, try facing the other way!)

Tony Snow once characterized the Clinton administration's approach to scandal as, "We didn't do it, it wasn't wrong, and we'll never do it again." Most people realized at the time that this sort of micro confession -- admitting error a little bit at a time in order to diffuse the full impact of the admission -- wouldn't have worked in an environment in which the press was doing its job. It is disturbing to see a member of that very press adopting the same tactics to diffuse his own scandal.

I look at this moment as analogous to the battle of Midway in World War II. After that battle, the Japanese never regained their domination of the Pacific theater, but the war was far from over. In the same way, I think this scandal has been a decisive defeat for the elite press, but I don't look for the consequences to be immediately apparent. Dan Rather should resign or be fired, but I don't expect that to happen. Like Pharaoh in the book of Exodus, he is too attached to his own power to let it go over a question of integrity. I predict that he -- and the Old Media that he represents -- will weather the current storm but that history will show that this was the point at which their lack of credibility began to be generally recognized.

(Via Allah, who has been particularly akbar on this story and hasn't really gotten the credit he deserves.)

UPDATE: If I am behind the curve, where the heck is Newsday?
The Republican National Committee operates its own 24/7 anti-news network to monitor coverage and orchestrate a rapid response. Salon reports that the story casting doubt on the documents was first pushed into the news stream by Creative Response Concepts, a Republican public relations firm. Then, selected bloggers went to work led by an Atlanta lawyer who helped get President Bill Clinton disbarred and was the first who called the memos fakes. His charges spread like a prairie fire through the rabid conservative grapevine and amen corner. The goal: Focus the media on Rather, not Bush. CBS initially stood by the documents, then hedged, saying that even if they were flawed, the story that Bush had disobeyed his commander's order to have a physical was accurate in essence. But it finally had to concede it was a mistake to run the story.
780 words and not one mention of the fact that CBS aired forged documents in support of its case. And I love the line about "selected bloggers". Sheesh!
(Also via Allah.)

UPDATE: OK, that last piece wasn't by Newsday's editorial staff, it was an op-ed by Danny Schechter. Protein Wisdom gives the column a fisking.

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