- The Washington Times - Monday, September 20, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — With questions swirling around documents used by CBS in a story about President Bush’s National Guard service, Matt Sheffield experienced something unique. His Web site, Ratherbiased.com, crashed because of all the visitors.

It was that kind of week for Dan Rather.

CBS acknowledged questions about memos that impugned the future president’s military record — after partisan news outlets aggressively challenged CBS’ sources ahead of traditional news organizations.

That attests to the influence of these news watchdogs, who have likely fed a growing suspicion of mainstream media and, some argue, made some journalists gun-shy.

Bloggers began buzzing about the documents within hours of Mr. Rather’s Sept. 8 “60 Minutes” story. It is believed that the first news story was posted about midday Sept. 9 by the Cybercast News Service, formerly the Conservative News Service, and was quickly picked up by the Drudge Report.

CNS quoted three experts who suspected the document was produced by a computer, not a 1970s typewriter.

“We’ve done a lot of stories about this because we know a big chunk of our audience that is suspicious of all things liberal, is suspicious of liberal media as well,” said David Thibault, CNS managing editor.

No site watches Mr. Rather more closely than Ratherbiased.com, started in 2000 by a Washington-area Web designer and his brother.

“We felt Dan Rather has accrued an undeserved reputation for being a great and fair journalist,” said Mr. Sheffield, the site’s managing editor. “A lot of times he does good work, but when politics comes into play a lot of times he lowers his standards.”

Conservative-oriented Web sites such as NewsMax.com and Worldnetdaily.com also have a heavy concentration of media stories. The Media Research Center has voluminous files on the networks, and keeps a particularly close eye on ABC’s Peter Jennings.

On the other side, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting monitors media from a liberal point of view, and demonstrators during the GOP convention targeted Fox News Channel.

Yet this is an area dominated by conservatives, and no media figure incites deep-seated suspicion quite like Mr. Rather. If Sen. Edward M. Kennedy is their political bogeyman, Mr. Rather is their journalistic one.

They remember Mr. Rather’s testy 1988 interview with the current President Bush’s father. And they remember Mr. Rather’s ill-considered attendance at a 2001 Democratic fund-raiser in Texas.

So, to many viewers, when Mr. Rather reports on Bush’s National Guard service, it’s an attack, not a story.

Andrew Tyndall, who publishes a weekly newsletter on the content of evening news programs, said he’s seen no bias against Republicans by Mr. Rather.

“It’s always mystified me why they pick on Rather,” he said. “Day to day, on the ‘CBS Evening News,’ I really can’t see it. If I was seeing it, I would be reporting on it. His reputation is so entrenched that his actual work is not going to do anything to change that.

“But, on the other hand, he shouldn’t have gone with those memos.”

Whether fueled by the watchdogs or simply a byproduct of these bitterly divided times, trust in the media is ebbing, particularly among Republicans.

Asked this spring by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press if they believed all or most of what they see on the “CBS Evening News,” 34 percent of Democrats said yes. That’s not great, but it’s roughly the same as the 36 percent who agreed in 2000.

But among Republicans, the number of viewers who believed what they saw on Mr. Rather’s newscast dropped sharply to 15 percent this year from 27 percent in 2000, Pew’s survey said. In general, Democrats are more likely to watch network evening newscasts than Republicans.

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