Last week Dan Rather relied on the Noble Lie. This week he plays the Noble Victim. No longer speaking of the "core truth" to which his unimpeachable source drew his attention, he says that his source "misled" him.
"I find we have been misled on the key question of how our source for the documents came into possession of these papers," he says. "That, combined with some of the questions that have been raised in public and in the press, leads me to a point where -- if I knew then what I know now -- I would not have gone ahead with the story as it was aired, and I certainly would not have used the documents in question."
Rather says his forgery was in the best traditions of CBS. His "mistake" in "good faith" was undertaken in the "spirit of trying to carry on a CBS News tradition of investigative reporting without fear or favoritism."
Rather's statement might be true if he said "with fear or favoritism" instead of "without." His report was certainly in the spirit of CBS under him -- it is the culmination of decades of gunning for Republican presidents. It is a spirit of reporting with fear of conservatives and favoritism toward liberals.
Last week Rather rehearsed this CBS-is-on-the-right-side-of-history defense in the pages of the New York Observer: "I think over the long haul, this will be consistent with our history and our traditions and reputation…We took heat during the McCarthy time, during civil rights, during Watergate. We haven't always been right, but our record is damn good."
In other words, Rather is saying: Don't shoot at me; I am in the white hat, on the liberal side of history, telling lies to the unwashed for their own good. Moreover, as a CBS producer more or less whined in the Washington Post, it is the White House's fault: they should have alerted CBS to Rather's forgery. Perhaps the White House should have said to Rather and CBS: "Don't go with this report. It is not worth destroying your reputation just to nail the President on a missed physical. Whatever he did or didn't do in the Guard, it paled in comparison with, say, forging government documents and passing them off on the nightly news."
Now we know that Bill Burkett victimized Rather. How could Rather have known that Burkett wasn't an unimpeachable source? After all, Burkett had proven his sterling credentials to Rather with his obviously well-sourced story about finding damning Bush documents in the dumpster behind National Guard headquarters in Texas. And besides, Burkett's lawyer, David Van Os, is a former chairman of the Travis County Democratic Party. Rather knew from personal experience that Travis County Democrats are salt-of-the-earth people: Rather raised $20,000 for them in 2001.
Rather has mused on the matter of honesty, saying an "honest person" can "tell any number of lies." So when Rather says he committed a good-faith mistake while raising money for Travis County Democrats, we'll chalk that up to his understanding of honesty.
Then as now, he had no idea he was being victimized by Democrats, even though his daughter Robin had co-hosted the Democratic fundraiser. She apparently misled him too. Rather's reporting instincts failed him prior to the fundraiser. "I didn't ask the question, and I should have," he said, arguing he was ignorant of the event's fundraising purpose until he got there, at which point his fabled reporting skills kicked in, and he became "very aware that it was a fundraising event" and proceeded to speak anyway.
Rather, as a bona fide Texas Democratic fundraiser, has a direct tie to the Democratic circle from which the forgery came. In the best CBS traditions of playing dumb about bald bias, Rather will say this has nothing to do with the story, didn't influence his verification methods for sources, and so on. After fundraising for Democrats, he said, "I didn't ask the question, and I should have." After using those same Texas Democrats as his sources for a fake story, Rather says the same.
Rather is right. There is a "core truth" here. The core truth is that Bush didn't do anything in the National Guard remotely as irresponsible as Rather's forgery fiasco.
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