September 17, 2004

Rather Bad

Since this has been a week during which my blog was dedicated to hating on CBS and Dan Rather for pissing all over the concepts of journalistic accountability, credibility and thoroughness--which is all particularly insulting to me as a journalist--I'll leave you with some thoughts:

What CBS and Rather did was to rely on extremely pathetically crafted forgeries as a cornerstone of a story that could not stand without those memos being genuine.

What CBS and Rather did was to say, when faced with the reality of the forgeries, that "the memos were fake, but accurate," setting a distressing precedent and creating a shameful comedic tagline that will be used to snipe at journalists for a long time to come.

What CBS and Rather did was bad for journalism.

What CBS and Rather did will tarnish the reputations of otherwise good and decent reporters and call down even more scrutiny on their work, which requires enough damned scrutiny as it is, believe me.

What CBS and Rather did, if it had been done here, at an IBM magazine, would have gotten me fired, and probably a bunch of other people, too.

What CBS and Rather did was fucking wrong, and they don't even have the damned common decency to admit it was fucking wrong. They don't even have to say "fucking," they can just say they were wrong.

CBS and Rather are going to hunker down and wait for this storm to blow over, and it's going to do just that, and boy that pisses me off.

Posted by Ryan at September 17, 2004 04:59 PM

But Ryan, how do you really feel about it?

Posted by: Johnny Huh? at September 17, 2004 06:14 PM

Believe it or not, I don't mean this to be as provocative as I'm certain it will be— but the disconnect between your reaction to this situation and your reaction to all the misleading data that the White House used to get us into an actual war is kind of fascinating to me. I mean this is, what, your 4th posting about this topic? But I don't recall ever having seen a single post that said, "The Bush White House took us into a war based on intel that turned out to be completely spurious and also wrong, so Bush should apologize to the entire country and everyone should hate him forever."

I can only assume that you believe the two incidents to be completely different in several important ways (my argument radar is already picking up static on the "Bush's mistake may be excused because the forged documents he passed off on us took longer to discredit and were believed by more people," front). Even so, I'm a little boggled that you think the differences are great enough to warrant this, um, enthusiasm on your part.

Whatever. Cue peehole retort.

Posted by: Joshua at September 17, 2004 06:45 PM

Okay, Joshua, follow along with me now. I went to college, where I earned a mass communications/journalism degree, and I've worked at two newspapers and now I'm in magazines. Through it all, I've had some pretty standard rules that I've had to follow to ensure I keep my job and don't fuck my way right out of my profession, and Rather and CBS, in the past week, have broken pretty much every one of those rules and they're walking away with red cheeks and that's about it. Why do I care? Because it's my fucking profession, that's why. In this case, I don't fucking care about Iraq. I don't fucking care about politics. What I care about is trying to hold on to what pathetic shreds of credibility there is left in journalism, and I just watched CBS and Rather take a big fucking scissors to those wispy shreds.

Posted by: Ryan at September 17, 2004 07:28 PM

Ah, fuck it. Read this, it has some holes, but fuck it. It's late.

Posted by: Ryan at September 18, 2004 12:31 AM

Yeah, Ryan. I get the part about journalism and all that. I think it's based on some assumptions about wht journalism's role is or can be, but whatever. I don't really have a beef with your perspective on that matter.

I'm just saying I see a little disparity between "ready to hang Dan Rather up by his penis and beat him with a stick," versus "ready to vote Bush back into office." I mean, I know Dan works in your field and everything, but Bush is the chief executive of your country.

If you "don't care" you don't care. I'm just saying it seems a little weird to me. That's all.

Posted by: Joshua at September 19, 2004 05:36 PM

Ditto Joshua.

Posted by: Melanie at September 19, 2004 09:38 PM

Yes, Joshua, I suppose, if your entire existence is wrapped up in who you are or are not voting for come November, I guess I can understand why this all seems really weird for you.

For example, my car broke down yesterday, and I have to figure out how I'm going to get it towed into a shop for repairs, and I'm pretty much disgusted by it, but that shouldn't matter, because I have a presidential election to be thinking about, don't I?

I'll be sure to read your response once I rollerblade into work. It should only take about an hour.

Posted by: Ryan at September 20, 2004 08:06 AM

Ryan, I think the argument is about truth. Why do you react instead of make your points? I know the "honor of journalism" bit is close for you but can you step back to see Joshua's argument about truth?
I hope you have a shower at work or you will be stinky after an hour long rollerblade...

Posted by: amelia at September 20, 2004 08:22 AM

What amelia said, pretty much.

Posted by: Joshua at September 20, 2004 11:45 AM

Didn't you say something to the effect that we'll never get an explanation or apology?

I submit exhibit A: CBS Says It Was Misled Over Bush Military Memos. Seems to me like he's admitting some blame. I think he's prepping himself to be hung by his penis and to get beaten with a stick.

Posted by: Johnny Huh? at September 20, 2004 12:03 PM

Yeah, I'm following the CBS "coming out" story today, Johnny. It should not have taken this long to come about though, and I see they're still sticking by the "fake but accurate" nonsense. As Lileks humorously stated:

"many others have wondered why so much time is being spent on the “forgeries,” instead of the hypotheses they would prove, if they were true. So let me take another run at this. Imagine a CBS producer saying this in the Washington Post:

"We understand that there has been some controversy over the newly discovered Michelangelo painting featured in “60 Minutes” expose of curatorial malfeasance at the Metropolitan Museum. Some outside experts note that close analysis of the wood frame reveals the presense of modern staples, and while we agree this is curious – as are the words ‘Abiline Frame Shop’ engraved into the wood – it is hardly conclusive. Others have questioned the use of acrylic instead of oil paints, and the presence of nylon fibers embedded in the brushstrokes have led some to question whether the painting is indeed 500 years old. These are issues worth pursuing, and we will redouble our efforts. But it’s a little bit frustrating to see all this reduced to a debate over slivers and threads, instead of the real question, namely, how did Michelangelo’s “Madonna of of the Dealership” include a 1957 Chevy Bel-Air rendered with such astonishing detail, half a millennium before the car was designed? That’s the issue we think should be the focus of our attention.”

And if it was later proved that someone did send a 1973 LTD back in time, and it showed up in a Titian painting? No one would buy it. Fruit of the poisoned FOREST, at this point."

Good on CBS for finally coming to their senses, but bad on them for being so careless in the first place.

Posted by: Ryan at September 20, 2004 12:10 PM

i'll take a swing at your question. i think it goes something like this; rather gets a story on his desk, verifyed by some documents and quickly goes with it. i'm not a journalist, maybe ryan can add some light into how long this story sat on the stove.

the difference from rathergate to the situation regarding the intel on iraq, i think, is the ease at which the facts could be verified. the rathergate docs were obviously forgeries. the intel turned out to be bogus once the boots hit the ground. but, outside of that, getting difinitive intel is not a sure thing. inspections could have continued, more information gathered, but you still may not have had as clear an answer to the hypothetical WMDs as the examination of rather's documents. bushco may look myopic and niave in some minds, but rather just looks lazy.

Posted by: seed at September 20, 2004 04:38 PM

Yeah, that Lileks analogy is really brilliant because, you know, the idea of George W. Bush having received preferential treatment while in the Texas Air National Guard is every inch as preposterous as the idea of Michelangelo painting a time traveling car.

Except, oh wait a minute, didn't Ben Barnes say he got Bush Jr. the slot in the Texas Air National Guard? I seem to recall having heard something about that. And wasn't there something about the composition of Bush's Guard unit? Didn't it have, like, Lloyd Bentsen III, a relative of Nixon Treasury Secretary John Connally, and Sid Adger's two kids in it? Awful lot of filthy rich people with connections in high places in that Air National Guard unit. But whatever— the very idea that Bush's commander in the Guard was getting pressure from above is on a par with getting suckered into believing in time traveling cars.

Yeah, that Lileks. Keen and incisive isn't the half of it.

Never mind what I said before. I can totally see why you're more bent out of shape about this forged memo business than you were about the WMD stuff. It's just like time traveling cars! Ha! Boy, those CBS guy— what a bunch of chumps!

Posted by: Joshua at September 20, 2004 04:42 PM


I think there's an additional difference between rathergate and the Iraq intel that I think is worth considering. Can you guess what it might be?

Posted by: Joshua at September 20, 2004 04:56 PM

Joshua, you wouldn't be thinking about the differences in verifiability would you? I.e. CBS has a team of fact checkers and George Bush had the entire intelligence community to fact check his intel.

Did CBS screw up good? Yes.
Should Dan Rather be taken out back and beaten with a rubber hose? Yeah, probably.
Should Rathergate in any way shape or form detract from the rather gaping holes in Bush's service record that no one really cares about anymore? Nope. The memos didn't open those holes, it tried to explain them, the holes are still there, still unexplained and yet the Bush camp continues to attack Kerry's record.

I'm ready for something new, I'm ready for Bush to defend the current campaign. I'm ready for Bush to admit to America that he's going to reinstitute the draft after the elections are done. I'm waiting for Bush to be taken to task over his policies and why he thinks he should get four more years when he's accomplished very little laudable actions in the first four years.

If you've not looked at these charts, check them out, Four more years? I don't want four more minutes.

Posted by: Johnny Huh? at September 20, 2004 05:09 PM

you got me inbetween sixpaks here. you're asking me the difference between "rather" and "bushgate" … um, my guess is carnage. If i'm wrong, bust it out. does rather show his cards a bit by jumping at the first story that crosses his desk…yes. his circle of circumstance is much smaller. does W show his inclination, by going into iraq…maybe…the shit about haliburton is twaddle the discourse about a grudge is pedantic. W, may be calamitous and part of making a poor choice; but that choice is not unfounded, when terms of previous action are considered. The guy took his bad intel and decided he "had" to go with it; not just with the intel but with the negotiations in their present state.


Posted by: seed at September 20, 2004 10:12 PM

Seed, don't take the bait. They're trying to equate 12 years of internationally accepted intelligence on Iraq with extremely poorly forged documents that were used as the backbone of a news report. The two aren't even in the same galaxy in comparison, so don't waste the keyboard time falling into such a poorly constructed argumentative trap.

Posted by: Ryan at September 21, 2004 09:40 AM

"I put mainstream media in the same league with comic books. The goal of the media is to sell. When it comes to any message coming from the media, caveat emptor." from SFGate's Two Cents page that lets residents respond to news pieces.

The only real damage I see from this (aside from derailing attention from political issues to out of touch anchormen) is that CBS and Dan Rather have spent all of their credibility.

The WMD smokescreen used to attack Iraq blew away and its turned out that we attacked a sovereign nation without any real cause. All in the name of rooting out terrorists who perpetrated 9/11 upon us. None of the hijackers were Iraqi but the vast majority of them were Saudi's, why haven't there been even some mention of rooting them out in Saudi Arabia?

And the war in Iraq diverted resources from an all-out campaign in Afghanistan. The one where they are actually pursuing terrorists who have attacked us and hurt our nation. But I guess that doesn't matter so much as removing that horrible dictator Saddam.

Can someone please explain why Bush is addressing the UN this morning? And when is he gonna go "Neener, neener, neener"?

Posted by: Johnny Huh? at September 21, 2004 10:01 AM

Seed, don't take the bait. They're trying to (snip) argumentative trap.

I can't even work up the energy to be sarcastic about that.

There's no comparison because Rather made a mistake that embarrassed a gigantic media corporation. Bush made a mistake that killed 15,000 people. Your excuses about "12 years of accepted intel" and all that other shit are just that; excuses. How much more sure would Bush have to be? He'd have to be fucking positive. He'd have to be so sure that he'd be, dare I say it, right. But he wasn't right, was he? No. So however fucking good his evidence was, it wasn't good enough because, when all was said and done, it was incorrect. And his mistake may turn out to be a death sentence for Iraq.

You've justified this a million times, with all those lovely GOP talking points about how many Iraqis would have died under Saddam Hussein— so if you take that number and subtract the number that have died in the war, it still works out to fewer people being killed! Probably! So we actually did a good thing! And I can't really argue with that. Not because there's no argument to be made, but because it's wrong-headed on so many levels, it's actually hard to know where to start.

You know why the criminal justice system is the way it is, Ryan? Because you can't fuck with people indefinitely and get away with it. Part of the justification for democracy is that it's necessary; if you don't give people a certain basic consideration, they will eventually rise up and kill you. So the reason to establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal court and allow the accused to mount a defense isn't just to make sure that justice is served, though that's obviously a consideration— those practices also serve a purely pragmatic end. They keep people from feeling like they're being screwed by the system, and that keeps them from working outside the system.

Nineteen guys. Three thousand casualties. Why'd it happen Ryan? What kind of superheated social environment created those deadly human isotopes?

I remember in the '80s, there was some research that came out demonstrating that if you starve a population of mice, their bodies will actually start to produce new viruses—mouse viruses never seen before. The theory was that the meta-organism produced viruses to thin out the population in order to free up resources for the survivors, and it was speculated that a similar phenomenon might have spawned AIDS— that long-term mass starvation in Africa may have produced a new human virus. In addition to all the other things suggested by that research, there was this simple lesson: it is in everyone's interests to maintain a certain minimum level of nutrition and health in the human population at large.

The same is essentially true of social structures. The more powerless people feel, the more dangerous they are. You have to give people a certain minimum franchise, or they start producing viruses. Viruses like radical Islamic fundamentalism, and suicide bombers. I've seen it with my own eyes a hundred times; I've seen poor white kids turn into skinheads and speed freaks, and poor black kids turn into Crips and crackheads, and the arc of their deterioration is something you can set your watch to.

Whatever. You kind of answered my question; Bush's mistake was perfectly understandable. It's a mistake you'd make. Or maybe it's a mistake you did make, and Bush was just your proxy. And if every day for the next fifty years shows us what a colossal fuck-up the Bush presidency has been, you'll always have that defense: it may have been a mistake, but it was a perfectly understandable mistake.

But that Rather guy. Boy, he sure was a chump.

Posted by: Joshua at September 21, 2004 12:49 PM

RYAN: Wow, Dan Rather and CBS sure screwed up and should admit their mistake.

JOSHUA: And what about Iraq, Ryan?! Shouldn't Bush admit that he made a mistake?!

RYAN: Yuck, I shouldn't have eaten that spaghetti. That was a mistake.

JOSHUA: And what about Iraq, Ryan?! Shouldn't Bush admit that he made a mistake?!

RYAN: Oh, it's raining today. And I forgot an umbrella. That was a mistake.

JOSHUA: And what about Iraq, Ryan?! Shouldn't Bush admit that he made a mistake?!

RYAN: That chick is hot. What was her name? Samantha Take. She doesn't look married. Miss Take.

JOSHUA: And what about Iraq, Ryan?! Shouldn't Bush admit that he made a mistake?!

RYAN: Jeez, just like I thought, I shouldn't have nibbled at that bait Joshua planted in front of me. That was sure a mistake.

JOSHUA: And what about Iraq, Ryan?! Shouldn't Bush admit that he made a mistake?!

And, you know, on and on and on like that.

Posted by: Ryan at September 21, 2004 01:06 PM

JOSHUA: Hey, more people died in Iraq today.

RYAN: Hey, look—a duck!

JOSHUA: Yep. Died screaming in the street, blown to pieces by a car bomb. I wonder what it's like to look down at the place where your legs used to be and just see two bloody stumps. I wonder what it's like to have that be the last thing to go through your mind as you die.

RYAN: Darn, it's raining today. And I forgot an umbrella. That was a mistake.

JOSHUA: American troops fired on some unarmed people at a checkpoint last week. Can't say I blame them. Poor kids, scared out of their minds and heavily armed. That kind of thing's bound to happen. But we're still talking dead women and children. Have you ever seen a kid that's been blown apart with an assault rifle? Pretty gruesome stuff.

RYAN: Yuck. I shouldn't have eaten that spaghetti. That was a mistake.

JOSHUA: No WMD stockpiles. No proof of ties to al Qaeda. I saw some footage last week of this guy digging his kids out of a house that'd been leveled by a U.S. bomb. Jesus, can you imagine digging your own children out of the rubble of your house? And for what? Who's decision? Yours and mine, boyo. Yours and mine.

RYAN: That chick is hot. What was her name? Samantha Take? She doesn't look married. Miss Take.

JOSHUA: *sigh* Yeah.

RYAN: Boy, that Rather guy. He sure screwed up.

JOSHUA: Whatever, man.

Posted by: Joshua at September 21, 2004 01:34 PM

Ryan- the media was already compromised before Danny boy's fiasco. The Right (which owns most of the media) has burned into the collective consciousness of the American populace the assumption/accusation of the media's liberal bias. So media is tainted, we "all" take that as a "fact" (the Right tells us it is so, so it is so) and Rathergate is proof of the liberal bias and they got caught and exposed. See, CBS and Dan helped prove the Right's liberal bias assumption/argument... and oh, Danny Boy and CBS admitted they were wrong!
Now about your unwillingness to face an argument about the reason Dubya took us to war, dividing our allies and uniting our enemies... tell me again?
And are you willing to fight this war? Just wondering...

Posted by: amelia at September 22, 2004 09:11 AM
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