Media Matters

Having Said That

Andrew Heyward’s statement digs CBS into a deeper grave.

By 9.16.04

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WASHINGTON -- CBS had everyone waiting with bated breath yesterday for a momentous statement on what is now dubbed "Rathergate," the scandal over the false Bush National Guard memos. This announcement was initially set for noon, then was pushed back to 5 p.m., and was finally released sometime after six o'clock. The following is what had everyone hanging:

We established to our satisfaction that the memos were accurate or we would not have put them on television. There was a great deal of coroborating [sic] evidence from people in a position to know. Having said that, given all the questions about them, we believe we should redouble our efforts to answer those questions, so that's what we are doing.

I'd call that gobbledygook, but that would slander the term. This is barely worth deconstructing, and I'm only doing it because it is a lonely Wednesday evening for me.

We established to our satisfaction…

And that satisfaction threshold is so low it needs a trip on the Space Shuttle just to tie a midget's shoelaces. I'm sure Richard Nixon established to his satisfaction that paying off the Watergate burglars was the right thing to do. I'm sure Howell Raines established to his satisfaction that Jayson Blair was a competent reporter. When you get caught with your pants down, don't expect us to take you seriously when you say that you established to your satisfaction that nudity was appropriate.

…that the memos were accurate or we would not have put them on television.

Fake, but accurate. In other words, CBS had some doubts about the memos' authenticity, but they reflected what some other shlubs like Ben Barnes had said, so they went with them. Think about that. CBS's standard on fake evidence is that it is okay to report it as long as someone else says it reflects actual events. Well, I've found a new memo from Dan Rather, showing that he didn't give a damn about the accuracy of Vietnam vets as long as they told harrowing stories. Of course, I made it up, but hey, we know that it is supported by actual events.

There was a great deal of coroborating [sic] evidence…

And we've put so much thought into that sentence that we misspelled a key word.

…from people in a position to know.

Who are those people, aside from Ben Barnes? This requires the reader to take huge leap of faith. Having bungled in authenticating the memos, CBS wants us to believe they really have a lot of good sources. Sorry, but it doesn't work that way. If you violate our trust in such a big way on one major aspect of a story, you can't say "trust us" on all of the other aspects of it. In short, this is another CBS attempt to keep its sources hidden.

Having said that…

Why is there a need to say anymore? The memos are accurate, if not real. People "in a position to know" have confirmed their accuracy. That phrase is the tip-off that "those in the know" at CBS know that they have messed up in a big way.

…given all the questions about them, we believe we should redouble our efforts to answer those questions, so that's what we are doing.

That is the most misleading part of the statement. CBS can only redouble its efforts if it was making a serious effort to answer "those questions" in the first place. So far CBS has done nothing but stonewall and question the motives of those raising "those questions." The blogosphere will probably feel patronized by that line, and rightly so.

Finally, "those questions" is intentionally vague, because one of the questions is surely, "Who was the source of the memos?" CBS wouldn't have to redouble its efforts to answer that question -- indeed, it would take no effort at all. But by using the phrase "those questions," if a CBS executive is ever pressed on the source, he can say that wasn't one of the questions they had in mind.

The statement reflects an organization that is arrogant, bullheaded, and in denial. It is an organization whose credibility is shot, and whose reputation will soon lie in ashes.

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David Hogberg is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.  Follow David Hogberg on Twitter.