CBS’s blue-ribbon panel on journalistic fraud at the network has extended rather than ended the fraud. Instead of exposing a fraud the panel advances a new one: that Dan Rather’s fabricated National Guard story wasn’t influenced by liberal bias. The panel’s report contains a heading called “Factors that Support a Conclusion that a Political Agenda Did Not Motivate the September 8 Segment.” Guess what the panel puts under it? “The Previous Work of Rather and Mapes.” In other words, the panel considers their previous stories evidence of political neutrality. Are they kidding? The previous work of Rather and Mapes is a glaring factor that supports the conclusion of motivating liberal bias.
Straining at the gnat and swallowing the donkey, the panel produces over 200 pages of Columbia Journalism School-style navel-gazing without bothering to mention the salient fact that Dan Rather has a direct political tie to the Texas Democratic circle from which the forgery came. Nowhere in the report will one find — even in its pro forma “Information that Might Suggest a Political Agenda” section — that Dan Rather had helped raised $20,000 for the Travis County Democrats in 2001. David Van Os, the lawyer for Bill Burkett, the crackpot who gave Rather the fabricated documents, is a former chairman of the Travis County Democrats.
Like a Politburo report exonerating a Communist crook, the panel treats Dan Rather’s denial of bias as dogmatic proof in his favor. “The Panel asked Rather directly to comment on whether he was motivated in any way by a political animus in pursuing the September 8 Segment. He responded, ‘absolutely, unequivocally untrue.'”
Yet the same panel that accepts this denial without question has to admit that it finds Rather’s refusal to disavow his fabricated story “troubling.” In questioning before the panel, Rather stood by his forgery. And so what does CBS do? It sends him back into the field. That’s right: CBS is willing to continue to entrust its anchor’s chair and high-profile reporting assignments to the only journalist in America who still believes those documents could be real.
The report calls the National Guard story “myopic” — a quality on display in the report itself. To blame the story on bumbling bureaucracy and competitive pressures rather than bias is the height of obtuseness. Look at what Mary Mapes wrote when she thought she had George Bush nailed: “Lots of goodies…we are in pursuit…as are Vanity Fair, New York Times, New Republic, various others.” This desire to beat other liberal publications to the punch is obvious evidence of liberal bias. And where did CBS hear inklings of the existence of the fabricated documents with which to smear Bush? From a website with the banner, “Bush Lied, Americans Died.”
And look at CBS’s criterion for determining the credibility of its source for the story, Bill Burkett. Mapes had persuaded CBS’s vetters to accept the fabricated story because Burkett was a “Texas Republican of a different chromosome” and a “John McCain supporter.” This was Mary Mapes’s way of saying: Here’s a Republican you guys can trust. Under CBS’s mode of thinking, a Republican who criticizes George Bush must be credible. And it goes without saying that support for media mascot John McCain confers instant authority on a source.
By a “Republican of a different chromosome,” Mapes didn’t mean what Al Gore meant when he said that conservative Republicans have an “extra chromosome.” She meant that Burkett was a Republican who thinks like CBS. Panel member Dick Thornburgh apparently fits into the category of a Republican of a different chromosome. He was the tame Republican CBS needed to give its white-wash a patina of fairness. Lou Boccardi, a friend of Dan Rather, added another paint layer of “respectability.” This veteran of bias-denying panels had performed the same service for the New York Times after the Jayson Blair debacle. Boccardi contributed to a report that insisted affirmative action played no role whatsoever in that scandal.
But while Boccardi and Thornburgh are skeptical to the point of stupidity on the question of CBS’s political bias, they have no problem dismissing those who first exposed the forgery as “bloggers with a conservative agenda.” CBS’s panel can authoritatively muse on the motives of Rather’s critics while interpreting his motives in the most generous light possible.
Yes, bloggers were “partisan” — partial to the truth. But so what? CBS’s blue-ribbon panelists can turn up their noses at pajama-clad partisans on the Internet, but the fact is they ferreted out a forgery liberal partisans faked up — and CBS’s unpunished star reporter still won’t admit it.
George Neumayr is executive editor of The American Spectator.
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