- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2005

Dan Rather, the HNIC of CBS News. As Head Newsie In Charge, he did not merely make a mistake. Like Jayson Blair, formerly of the New York Times, Mr. Rather gave journalism a seeping black eye.

Asking the media to call the media to task for errors in judgment is like asking CBS to investigate itself. (No joke.) My criticism of the media in my Dec. 17 column brought mostly benign reaction. The column was about the lackluster coverage of a violent event at the Vibe Awards show. One reader simply thanked me for recognizing the incident. Most of the others merely said they hadn’t read or heard any other words about the incident.

But one reader said, “Right On!” He also encouraged me to keep “policing the media.” I had forgotten his comments until news of the CBS “independent” panel report and the Armstrong Williams scandal broke.

A disclaimer: Armstrong is not a personal friend. He is a colleague in the struggle, an adviser and, most important of all, my brother in faith.

Allow me this, too: Armstrong is not a journalist.

Armstrong is a businessman and a commentator — a pundit, as we in the newspaper business like to call them. We call them pundits because they often make the biggest names for themselves by commenting on what journalists — hard-working editors and reporters — report. While even pundits and commentators are part of the news-disseminating business, they are not news-gatherers, which is the essence of being a pure journalist.

It is that very dividing line that created a deep rift in the National Association of Black Journalists. There are many of us, especially those of us who helped start in 1975 and nurture the now-4,000-member strong organization, who did not want the pundits and PR folks to become full members. We wanted NABJ to be an organization of, by and for print and broadcast journalists and photographers.

Reporters and editors do the hard part of journalism — all the leg work — and then people like Armstrong Williams, Al Franken and Rush Limbaugh get paid huge bucks to comment on it. The hard work of gathering the facts and the sources, and checking the facts and the sources has already been done.

You don’t really think Rush Limbaugh and Al Franken and Ann Coulter and Anderson Cooper, for example, are running around to press conferences with little notebooks and microphones in their hands, do you? You’d be surprised, I think, at the countless “journalists” especially those who position themselves on your radio dials and TV screens — who get paid big bucks by special-interest groups to give speeches (their opinions) and then expect you — and me — to believe that they still are giving us “fair and balanced” coverage of the news. You can see what I mean by Googling Washington Speakers Bureau, Premier Speakers Bureau, Leading Authorities and other Web sites.

Grab a Diet Coke (or Tanqueray and tonic) and peruse the lists. I guarantee the names (and the fees) will leave you saying, “All this time, I thought she was being objective.” Commentators make the big bucks because they are higher on the media food chain. But you know, we all have opinions. Mine is hardly as rabid as Ann Coulter’s and I’m certainly not as close to the conservative pulse as Armstrong (and that just might be because the blood in his conservative Republican veins runs three generations deep, and mine run one generation shy of that).

Tribune Media Services dropped Armstrong’s syndicated column. “America’s Black Forum” dropped him as a moderator. It is their loss, and a loss for conservatives in general and black Americans in particular who need a voice like his. Like Mr. Limbaugh, Armstrong gives it to you straight and he gives it to you strong. No one, other than Armstrong himself, has come to his defense.

As for Rathergate, CBS News allowed — indeed encouraged — its employees to drop some of the balls that must be juggled day in and day out by hard-working journalists. Journalists and the media police are making all kinds of excuses on behalf of CBS.

If you believe that pundits are objective, then you really believe that poor Dan Rather was tuckered out when it came time to triple check that fake story about President Bush and his Guard service. Perhaps, just perhaps, Mr. Rather’s age is showing. But don’t believe for a solitary moment that he can’t keep up and that his poor judgment won’t leave any scars on the Fourth Estate. Indeed, it was because CBS News definitely got the story first and fast. The problem facing the Fourth Estate is that CBS News failed to get it right.

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