Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Wrapping Up Rathergate

On Monday, CBS finally released its report on the investigation into last September's bogus 60 Minutes II story on President Bush's National Guard service. Four CBS employees have been sacked as a result of the investigation, including story producer Mary Mapes. The full report is available from the CBS web site, in PDF format. Wizbang has created a paginated HTML version.

Instapundit has a good roundup of blogger reactions. John Hinderaker of Powerline, one of the blogs that was instrumental in exposing the fradulent nature of the documents upon which CBS based its story, has a mixed response:

In general, the Thornburgh report is better than I expected. It criticizes 60 Minutes harshly, and is a treasure trove of factual information. However, while the report is damning, the question is whether it is damning enough.

As Hinderaker notes, the report finds no basis for saying that the CBS story was politically motivated, yet "the authors completely fail to address the evidence of political bias that their own report contains, especially with respect to Mary Mapes." In fact, as Hinderaker points out, "Mapes was told that no influence was used to get President Bush into the National Guard, that there was no waiting list for pilots, and that Bush actually volunteered to go to Vietnam." Yet she continued to pursue a shoddy story based on the flimsiest of evidence from less than credible sources, eventually putting it on the air in the heat of a presidential campaign. As passages cited by Hinderaker show, the election was very much on Mapes' mind. To argue that political bias was not a factor in the actions of Mapes and her colleagues defies belief.

Journalism, like librarianship and academia, has become an overwhelmingly left of center profession. As in my own field, this has led to the phenomenon of groupthink, in which almost everyone shares the same beliefs, and as a result those beliefs are never challenged. Mapes, Dan Rather and company, like most of their colleagues, are almost certainly anti-Bush liberals. As such, they just knew that Bush's National Guard service was a privileged sinecure enabled by favorable treatment, and no amount of evidence to the contrary could persuade them otherwise. When they obtained the fradulent documents, they rushed to believe them, because the documents said exactly what Mapes and Rather wanted to hear.

The report also fails to come to a definitive conclusion as to whether or not the documents were fradulent. Hinderaker for one is not disturbed by this. As he points out, "(t)he report does an excellent job of marshalling the evidence as to content, format and typography. No one (except, perhaps, Dan Rather) can read that evidence without concluding that the documents were a hoax." The Weekly Standard's Jonathan V. Last has further details, though he is rather less charitable than Hinderaker regarding the CBS report's conclusions.

Should the report have been tougher and drawn firmer conclusions? In my view, probably so. Still, even if the conclusions were softened, the details of the report are quite damning. They show very clearly that Mapes and her colleagues had a preconceived agenda, and behaved in an unprofessional, partisan fashion. While not completely satisfied, I do credit CBS for taking action, and regard the Rathergate affair as closed.

The ultimate impact of Rathergate lies in its overall effect on the media environment. It was, in many ways, the coming of age of the Blogosphere. A multi-million dollar media giant found itself humbled by ordinary citizens who express themselves on the Web in their spare time. While some in the elite media have arrogantly sneered that "(b)loggers have no checks and balances . . . [it's] a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas", it took blogs such as Little Green Footballs only a few hours to determine what Dan Rather in his out-of-touch hubris still refuses to admit: that there is no way the documents cited by CBS were composed on a typewriter, or match in form or content genuine documents from George W. Bush's service record. Thanks to blogs and other Web sites, thousands of people relying upon their cumulative expertise and simple common sense were empowered to make this point in a surprisingly rapid fashion. Within 24 hours the CBS story had been largely debunked. Thanks to the Blogosphere, the media environment has now been democratized, and the days of the elite media's monopoly on the news are over.


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