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In the aftermath of Rathergate, journalism will never be the same

By Carol Devine-Molin
web posted September 20, 2004

This is really gearing up to be a very special election year for the GOP. The Republican Party had a fantastic convention -- couldn't ask for better -- and President Bush has surged ahead of Senator Kerry in his bid for reelection. The latest Gallup poll has Bush leading Kerry, 55 percent to 42 percent among likely voters. And now, another terrific turn of events is playing out before the public eye. The mainstream media is being unmasked as corrupt and exceedingly biased in a spectacular way. In attempts to aid their brethren at the Democratic Party, CBS liberal elites - including Dan Rather and "60 Minutes II" staff - have managed to immerse themselves in a cesspool of their own making involving documents that were almost certainly forged. Moreover, all this is having seismic implications for the state of the mainstream media, which was patently outmaneuvered by bloggers on the Internet.

Dan RatherDan Rather has been a dyed-in-the-wool liberal for as long as anyone can remember. But his urge to slap the Bush family around is even more basic. As former Senator Bob Dole noted, "Dan Rather does not like anyone in the Bush family that I know of, unless maybe one of the dogs." And, of course, his point is well taken regarding Dan Rather's personal animus toward the Bush family. Mind you, Papa Bush publicly scorched Dan Rather during a 1988 interview when the grandiose reporter jumped ugly on him wielding the Iran-Contra controversy. In response, the elder Bush adeptly reminded Rather of his churlish behaviors when he walked off a studio set for seven minutes leaving the audience in the lurch. That unpleasantness has to stick in the craw of thin-skinned Rather. However, the ongoing attempts to somehow club President Bush with his Texas Air National Guard service -- which resulted in an honorable discharge I might add -- are certainly not limited to the efforts of CBS and their anchorman. It involves a gaggle of the regular suspects from the Left.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan summed it up succinctly in a September 15, 2004 briefing, stating: "In terms of the timing of these old, recycled attacks on the President, it's clear that this is an orchestrated effort by Democrats and the Kerry campaign". Moreover, it's being done because Kerry is "falling behind in the polls", and, amazingly, the Left has resorted to beating that same old dead horse -- Bush's military service -- one more time.

Kerry's camp got nothing else to work with since they can't effectively capitalize upon their candidate's pathetic twenty-year Senate record. And repeatedly raising the issue of Bush's National Guard service, and floating the Leftist canard that the National Guard is essentially a refuge for draft dodgers, is going to come back to bite Kerry big time. Veterans and their families are already very upset. The truth is that many members of the National Guard have been called up to serve in wars throughout the years.

Essentially, this controversy represents the politics of personal destruction, coldly served up by liberals without conscience. For them, the end always justifies the means. And besides, the Left is bitterly angry that their candidate is bound to lose. Therefore, Republicans should expect only increasingly vicious assaults, even after Bush wins on Election Day. For these crazed Left-wingers, the controversy over the so-called Bush memos will only reinforce the notion that they'll have to cook up better "evidence" against the President in order to thwart his agenda and, if possible, to destroy him politically. Besides, the Left views these attacks on Bush as retribution for the impeachment that former President Clinton was forced to undergo.
The GOP and its allies in the alternative media have both the Democrats and their surrogate, Big Media, on the defensive.

And, in a watershed event colloquially dubbed "Rathergate", the Right-leaning crowd on the Internet was able to torpedo liberal propaganda-in-the-making by the highly partisan CBS network. This has provided the conservative blogosphere with improving stature -- even a bit of prestige -- as a news source that promptly vets news stories and assiduously researches facts. I have no doubt that the liberal bias, incompetence, and fraud of the mainstream media will continue to be exposed by their legitimate competitors in the emerging alternative media, with the Internet now a prime player. And obviously, the consumers of news will be more inclined to gravitate toward alternative media, as it proves more reliable and relevant than much of what is offered by the media elites. In fact, the Internet and talk radio are creating a wonderful synergy that attracts considerable audience, serving up interesting and lively debate concerning news of the day. Like the pamphleteers of the American Revolution that diligently disseminated vital information, Internet bloggers are today's energetic citizen reporters that work hard to develop accurate stories and put them out for public consumption as quickly as possible. The laws of competition are in full effect, and bloggers that promulgate inaccuracies will soon fall by the wayside.

Given the tremendous bind that CBS now finds itself in, the question du jour is whether a major news organization such as CBS can survive once its credibility and integrity have been successfully challenged. Moreover, it appears certain that significant crimes have been committed here, and CBS is not a victim in this matter -- they're perpetrators. CBS had every reason to question the authenticity of these documents, but chose to ignore obvious red flags. That makes them complicit, plain and simple. In essence, Rather and CBS were hell-bent on airing their "scoop", and they threw caution to the winds. They didn't care that they were smearing a president with forged documents, and with the intent of influencing the outcome of a federal election. Now we have Congressman Christopher Cox (R-Calf.) and others insisting on a congressional probe and demanding that justice be done. And, in a New York Times piece dated September 19, President Bush is quoted as saying to The Manchester Union-Leader, "There are a lot of questions and they need to be answered…I think what needs to happen is people need to take a look at the documents, how they were created, and let the truth come out."

From the get-go, CBS and its employees have been slow to respond to this brouhaha. At first CBS and Rather adamantly defended the documents in their possession as "authentic". They are now engaging in a bizarre sort of rolling disclosure, as they begin to hedge their public statements. In fact, it's absolutely Monty Pythonesque – "No, no, no, definitely not, well maybe, maybe, yes, OK, yes" – as they slowly move down the road of admitting that these blatant forgeries are well, blatant forgeries. Mind you, they haven't said "yes" yet; they're still in the "maybe" stage as of this writing. The president of CBS News Andrew Heyward is now characterizing the documents as "accurate", but can no longer bring himself to use the word "authentic". Remember, it took Heyward an entire day to issue a two-sentence statement, and he managed to misspell the word "corroborating" despite the fact that the statement was almost certainly vetted by a phalanx of attorneys. Nobody thought to utilize the spellchecker? The fact that the President of the United States is now commenting on the matter has got to be cause for further angst over at CBS. It's hard to stop laughing, and as a conservative, I admit there's an element of schadenfreude in my glee.

To continue, Dan Rather has changed his tune as well, and is now underscoring that the "thrust" of the documents is what we should all be focused upon. I know he's trying to finesse the situation, but his approach is so darn lame. Gee, we're still supposed to believe what the documents say, even though they're fakes? Well that doesn't sound like very good journalism to me, or to any other American with basic common sense. Rather has also stated, "If the documents are not what we were led to believe, I'd like to break that story.'' Too late Dan. Everyone else in America already knows that those documents are frauds. This kabuki dance on the part of Heyward and Rather is making CBS the laughing stock of the news industry, and the joke making the rounds is that that the two are engaged in some type of suicide pact. Why else would they have engaged in such idiotic behaviors that are bound to do irreparable harm to their careers, and possibly their personal lives? The fact of the matter is that CBS and Rather are desperately seeking a way out of this mess and out of criminal liability. Sorry guys, forget it, your goose is cooked.

Now, for the background to this gripping tale: The White House has accused Kerry of "coordinating" attacks that allege President Bush received preferential treatment, disobeyed a direct order to get a physical, and failed to fulfill his National Guard service. This is essentially the same recycled twaddle that the Democrats and their surrogates trot out against George W. Bush each election, but with one new twist -- this time, the CBS partisan network had possession of military documents that supposedly substantiated the Left's allegations. One memo in particular, ostensibly authored by Lt. Colonel Jerry Killian (Bush's former squadron commander at the Texas Air National Guard), stated he was pressured to sugarcoat Bush's performance rating. The media elites, arrogant as usual, didn't count on the savvy and sassy Internet blogosphere that promptly vetted the memo(s) and questioned their authenticity. Individuals knowledgeable about computer typography at the Freerepublic, Littlegreenfootballs, and Powerlineblog websites almost immediately realized that CBS was dealing in forged documents created with Microsoft Word. Subsequent evaluations by a number of document experts, conducted at the behest of various media organizations, also appear to corroborate the initial results from the blogosphere.

Personally, I think the talk of the crack-up of the mainstream media is highly exaggerated. It's been weakened for sure, but it's not going to crumble anytime soon. Do not underestimate the power of these huge media conglomerates – such as Viacom that owns CBS -- and their ability to garner support from allies such as liberal politico Senator Hillary Clinton. They despise the Internet because it challenges the official line of the liberal elites. Now we can't have free-flow of information unfettered by gatekeepers, can we? Sure, there's a whiff of fascism to this type of thinking. Liberals are going to continue to shore up their primary propaganda institution – the mainstream media – because propaganda is vital to their cause. Moreover, the Left will certainly be gearing up for ways to discredit and tear down the Internet, of that you can be sure.

My job here is to provide thoughtful analysis that points up the significance of events within the larger context or scheme of things, and to make an educated guess where things are headed. And, of course, my analysis is being filtered through a conservative prism that colors my perspective -- I make no bones about that, and it's salient for those that write political and social commentary to be honest about their ideology. No one in life is truly objective. Our psyches are brimming with all types of baggage. It's pure hubris on the part of the liberal media elites who lay claim to objectivity while spouting their drivel from their ivory towers. Here's the deal for consumers of news: In order to develop informed opinions, it's vital to read, watch or listen to a number of media sources, both mainstream and alternative media sources. Don't let anyone fool you; it's hard work. And in the process, you'll find those sources that you've come to trust and rely upon more than others.

Carol Devine-Molin is a regular contributor to several online magazines.

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