- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 18, 2004

Mounting evidence suggests Dan Rather was misled in his now celebrated “60 Minutes II” broadcast. News articles have questioned Mr. Rather’s sources and methods in presenting President George W. Bush’s National Guard service.

The larger fact is Mr. Rather may have been influenced by CBS TV News’ “liberal” tradition dating back to the avuncular Walter Cronkite.

Using false sources is always wrong. But twisting the news to advance a political agenda is also wrong.

CBS TV News has a long record of using its evening broadcasts to advance its political views. Of course, CBS presents hard news, but by selective reporting and omission it sometimes skews the message. Filtered through its liberal prism, the news often reflects a visceral distrust of American power and influence abroad.

This liberal tendency was and still is personified by Mr. Cronkite, the aging dean of electronic journalism succeeded by Mr. Rather several years ago. In a recent interview, Larry King introduced Mr. Cronkite as “a legendary eyewitness to history,” perhaps the greatest broadcast journalist ever.

A smiling Mr. Cronkite promptly warned against the dangers of U.S. military power and was highly critical of the Bush foreign policy. In the same interview, Mr. Cronkite told his worldwide audience our problem is not terrorism, but “greed which is overrunning our civilization.” America, he added, spends far too much on the military and not enough fighting poverty.

It is easy to attribute such sweeping criticisms of the Bush presidency to the quirks of an old man. But during his active life as a broadcaster, Mr. Cronkite expressed similar views.

During the Cold War, Mr. Cronkite’s evening news show was very critical of U.S. military spending. He demonstrated this bias by reporting dovish opinion (reduce military spending) 15 times more often than hawkish opinions (increase spending).

Asked in 1974 to explain this disparity, Mr. Cronkite said: “There are always groups in Washington expressing alarm over the state of our defenses. We don’t carry those stories. The story is that there are those who want to cut defense spending.” For him, the opinions of George McGovern and Teddy Kennedy were newsworthy, the carefully researched studies of the Committee on the Present Danger were not.

Inexplicably, Mr. Cronkite once said he didn’t think that it “is any of our business what the moral, political, social or economic effects of our reporting is.” Speaking of CBS, he said: “We’re big. And we’re powerful enough to thumb our nose at threats from government. I hope it stays that way.”

In a June 1973 Playboy interview, Mr. Cronkite was uncharacteristically candid when he said most newsmen, including himself, tend to be “liberal, and possibly left of center as well. … They come to feel little allegiance to the established order. I think they’re inclined to side with humanity rather than with authority and institutions.”

With humanity on his side, Mr. Cronkite had considerable influence on American opinion. Fortunately, the mainstream views of our presidents and the American people prevailed.

Yet, in his better moments, Mr. Cronkite acknowledged journalists “should not decide what is good and what is bad for the people,” a sound sentiment that lost its punch every time he ended his evening show with, “And that’s the way it is.”

Ernest W. Lefever, author of “TV and National Defense: An Analysis of CBS News, 1972-1973,” is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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