- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 22, 2004

In his thermonuclear attack on the Bush policy in Iraq, John Kerry this week called for “a great honest national debate” on what has happened there on Mr. Bush’s watch.

Just a word or two, before we all double up in laughter at the idea of an “honest” debate centered on Iraq. Mr. Kerry supposes we have the information for such an undertaking? “Disinformation” looks more like it. I’m talking about the way the environment for civilized discourse has been poisoned by hack partisanship in the media.

The day Mr. Kerry’s call went out, CBS News apologized for the Dan Rather/National Guard/forged-documents debacle. Whoever forged the documents, we now know they were delivered to the network by a Democratic partisan. Going public with them, confesses CBS News President Andrew Heyward, “was a mistake, which we deeply regret.”

Dan Rather, who reported on the documents and then defended his reporting for days on end, acknowledges he was “misled.” Had he known earlier what he now knows, he “would not have gone ahead with the story as it was aired.” He invites us to consider all he ever had in mind was “trying to carry on a CBS News tradition of investigative reporting without fear or favor.”

Has anyone out there been wanting to throw up dismayed hands over this whole dreary affair? Here is the transcendent moment. “Without fear or favor” — what a whopper. It is too much, probably, to assume Dan Rather was lurking in the shrubbery, awaiting the very opportunity his informant afforded him — that of rising and laying low the much-detested George W. Bush. On the other hand, it takes little imagination to see Mr. Rather — in Aristotelian terms — suspending his disbelief upon inspecting documents that many a blogger saw through at the first opportunity. Was this just too big a chance to miss? It manifestly looks that way.

The national media’s reputation, such as it is, for fairness and objectivity goes into a slump about this time every year (sometimes more often). The gentlemen and ladies with the reporters’ pads and cameras may try hard, but they don’t really cotton to conservatives or Republicans. It’s the way they were raised: the schools they went to, the environment they grew up in, the company they keep.

A good number try hard to be fair, but the general deficiencies of their approach go far toward explaining the success of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. The media are liberal, by and large, and it’s too bad. As bad, in fact, as if they were (fat chance) massively conservative, putting out for general delectation a single view of life and politics.

The media aren’t wholly to blame for the poison now in the atmosphere — a topic people discuss with me at least as often (given my 40 years in the media) as they try to draw me out on the politics of the moment. A rancid smell fouls the political air. We don’t just “oppose” anymore; we hate, we despise, we abhor. Especially if we’re liberal and talking about “W.”

For which I don’t hold the “liberal media” — Dan Rather included — uniquely responsible. We’re all out there throwing haymakers these days. Part of the problem is the liberal media far outnumber the conservative variety, especially with the accession of — pardon me while I hold my nose — the exquisitely self-esteeming and self-serving Michael Moore.

With all the stench, you would think Mr. Rather and such would mind their manners better, seeking to restore some balance. Nope. Too many of truth’s self-denominated transmitters continue showing signs of partisan gullibility in the first degree.

Given Dan Rather’s age, 72, you might think his sense of vocation would be more elevated. Could that mean it’s time for a new vocation — writing an autobiography, whittling wooden spoons on the front steps?

William Murchison is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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