- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 19, 2004

Of all Dan Rather’s loopy statements in the 10 days since he decided to throw his career away, my favorite is this, from Dan’s Thursday interview in The Washington Post: “If the documents are not what we were led to believe, I’d like to break that story.”

Hel-looooo? Earth to the Lost Planet of Ratheria: You can’t “break that story.” A guy called “Buckhead” did that, on the “Free Republic” Web site a few hours after you and your money-no-object resources-a-go-go CBS News “60 Minutes” crew tried to pass off four obvious Microsoft Word documents as authentic 1972 typewritten memos about George Bush skipping latrine duty in the Spanish-American War, or whatever.

The next day, Charles Johnson of the “Little Green Footballs” Web site drove a stake through your phony ‘70s memos by overlaying them with modern MS Word documents, whose automatic word wrap is amazingly an exact match with Lt. Col. Jerry Killian’s “typewriter.” Every document expert agreed with Mr. Johnson your memos are junk, including your own analysts.

And by now just about everybody on the planet also thinks they’re junk, except for that dwindling number of misguided people who watch the “CBS Evening News” under the misapprehension it’s a news broadcast rather than a new unreality show in which a cocooned anchor, his floundering news division and some feeble executives are trapped on an isle of delusion and can’t figure how to vote themselves off it.

So the only story you’re in a position to break right now is: “Late-breaking news. Veteran newsman announces he has recovered his marbles.” And, if last week was anything to go by, you’re in no hurry to do that.

Instead, Dan keeps demanding George Bush respond to the “serious questions” raised by his fake memos. “With respect, Mr. President,” he droned the other day, “answer the questions.” Mr. Bush would love to, but he’s doubled-up with laughter.

I was prepared to cut the poor old buffoon some slack a week ago. But Dan’s performance has grown progressively more outrageous, to the point where it’s hard not to conclude he is colluding in the perpetuation of a massive if ludicrous fraud. Dan has been play-acting at being a reporter for so many years now — the suspenders, the loosened tie, and all the other stuff that would look great if he were auditioning for a cheesy dinner-theatre revival of “The Front Page”; the over-the-top intros: “Bob Schieffer, one of the best hard-nosed reporters in the business has been working his sources. What have you managed to uncover for us, Bob?,” after which Bob reads out a Democratic National Committee press release. Dan has been doing all this so long he doesn’t seem to realize the news isn’t just a show.

About the middle of last week, he was reduced to shoring up his collapsing fantasy with Bill Glennon, a Cliff Claven figure who was a typewriter repairman in the ‘70s. But, because every other CBS expert had abandoned Dan’s sunken ship, Bill suddenly found himself upgraded to “document expert.” This guy has been insisting that you could produce Dan’s bogus memos on a 1972 IBM typewriter: “The Model D had a lever that when pushed put a rubber stopper in front of the keys so they did not strike the paper. You centered the paper using the paper scale, put the carriage on the middle mark of the front index scale, typed your heading and then made note of the number it stopped on. You then moved the carriage back to the corresponding number on the left side of the index scale and retyped your heading and … .”

Yeah, right. Every time I want to type a memo saying Mr. Bush is unfit to be president, that’s what I do, too. Look, if Dan thinks this guy’s theory is correct, let’s put him and his IBM Model D and me and my computer in a room at CBS News for an hour and see which of us emerges with the closest replicas of these four documents. I’ll give him 10,000 bucks for every memo he reproduces exactly, and round it up to an even 50 grand if he gets all four right. Any takers, CBS?

So the question now is why won’t Dan and Co. just admit their docs are crocks and let it go? On Wednesday, CBS News head honcho Andrew Hayward, in a slippery statement, announced: “We established to our satisfaction that the memos were accurate.” Note that word: not “genuine,” but “accurate” — ie, if Lt. Col. Killian had had one of those IBM Model Ds and been willing to remove the carriage return and replace it with a rubber stopper on the front index scale while turning the crank, etc., these are the memos he would have written. Mr. Rather and Mr. Hayward adopt the rogue-cop defense: The evidence is planted, but the guy is still guilty. Or as the New York Times headlined it: “Memos on Bush are fake but accurate.”

Why has CBS News decided it would rather debauch its brand and treat its audience like morons than simply admit their hoax? For Dan Rather? I doubt it. Hurricane Dan looks like he has been hit by one. He is still standing, just about, but, like a battered double-wide, more and more panels are falling off every day. No one would destroy three-quarters of a century of audience trust and good will for one shattered anachronism of an anchorman, would they?

As the network put it last week: “In accordance with longstanding journalistic ethics, CBS News is not prepared to reveal its confidential sources or the method by which ‘60 Minutes’ Wednesday received the documents.”

But, once they admit the documents are fake, they can no longer claim “journalistic ethics” as an excuse to protect their source. There’s no legal or First Amendment protection afforded a man who peddles a fraud. You would think CBS would be mad as hell to find whoever it was who stitched them up and made them look idiots.

So why aren’t they? The only reasonable conclusion is the source — or trail of sources — is even more incriminating than the fake documents. Why else would Mr. Heyward and Mr. Rather let the CBS News Division commit slow, public suicide?

Whatever other lessons are drawn from this, we should at least acknowledge the privileged position accorded “official” media and the restrictions on the citizenry by McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform are wholly unwarranted.

As for Messrs. Heyward and Rather, the other day I came across a rare memo from April 20, 1653, typed on a 17th-century prototype of the IBM Selectric. It’s Oliver Cromwell’s words to England’s Long Parliament: “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing … Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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