- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 12, 2005

In life, we all discover, there are things we just, y’know, know. The next pull of the slot-machine lever will produce a cascade of coins. Never mind stopping for directions; the house we’re looking for is two streets to the right.

There is something of this unconscious certainty at the heart of the Dan Rather/”60 Minutes”/George Bush/phony documents scandal — the scandal that at the start of the week led to a high-profile house cleaning at CBS’ news division.

This same certainty is of a different cut, nevertheless. It is ideological. The CBS people just knew George W. Bush had sloughed off in the National Guard during Vietnam, as newly discovered documents seemed to prove.

They were wrong. Or, to put it as kindly as possible, such proof as they adduced fell short. Accordingly, they not only are wrong but, now, shamed and out of work. And it’s too bad, I think a journalist has to say, because executing a header as they fled from grace and authority, they showered mud over a profession already well bemired.

The special committee investigating the Rather flap of last fall found the CBSers had been afflicted with “myopic zeal.” They couldn’t have seen an exculpatory explanation for Mr. Bush’s National Guard record had it bitten them. Their “zealous belief in the truth of the segment seems to have led many to disregard some fundamental journalistic principles.” In their “credulity and overenthusiasm,” the CBSers failed to run all their traps or even to cock a quizzical eyebrow at this story, which — courtesy of a Bush-despising ex-National Guard commander in Texas — had landed at their feet. The people who mattered knew the story was true.

Why, though? Why did they just know? Evidently for reasons such as misled dopey Michael Moore last year: The president was a bad guy, and a conservative, if that wasn’t merely a synonym for “bad guy.”

Liberals have this way of believing the worst about conservatives, few of whose beliefs they share or even appear to understand.

The worst effects of this sanguine attitude (“We’re just telling the truth, aren’t we?”) undermine their effectiveness in reporting the news. The news media today are top-heavy with liberals and liberal notions.

The kind of news that gets reported in terms of “World to end Friday” is, often enough, the kind liberals like. The kind of news that gets reported with finger over lips, if reported at all, is, often enough, the kind liberals dislike.

Liberals in the media, especially the East and West Coast media, have over the last 40 years shown repeatedly how they just know nonliberals and nonliberal ideas make no sense. Let the quibbles go, they seem to breathe reassuringly. Trust us.

And get another National Guard documents story rammed down innocent throats? Fat chance.

The liberal problem, in media terms, is that media liberals can’t get away with what they once got away with. There’s too much competition — hooray, hooray. Technology affords some hitherto impossible checks and balances. The Weblog, a k a the “blog” — the online diary/commentary that literally millions of Americans now operate — undercuts pretensions to exclusive custody of the news. It helped undercut the CBS story — as did, it is fair to note, the skepticism, perhaps the competitive instinct, of “old media” outlets like The Washington Post.

CBS almost immediately lost custody of its own story. The news marketplace performed like a true marketplace, with hordes of purveyors scrambling for advantage. CBS’ “myopic zeal” convinced few outside the circle of the already convinced.

One may hate to see Dan Rather, who solemnly vouched for the documents story, go out this way, or the other careless specimens at CBS lose careers. On the other hand, they saw no hand other than the one pointing to what they just knew was true. They got carried away. It couldn’t go on. Happily, for the sake of the glorious old First Amendment, it didn’t.

William Murchison is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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