Friday, October 15, 2004

Speaking to a media conference thrown by the financial giant Goldman Sachs last week, CBS boss Les Moonves gave his view from the mountaintop about the Dan Rather forgery scandal and how the network’s independent investigation would proceed:

“Obviously, it should be done probably after the election is over, so that it doesn’t affect what is going on.”

What? Dan Rather and CBS try to destroy the Bush campaign with a file of phony military documents, and now they think it would be politically sensitive to release an independent critique of their bias before the election. Obviously, CBS and Mr. Moonves think what Dan Rather tried to do with the forgeries wasn’t intended to influence the election.

How would the media react if President Bush declared Charles Duelfer’s report on missing stockpiles of WMD in Iraq would be released after the election because of political sensitivity? Dan Rather, for one, would be apoplectic. So why is CBS trying to squelch the release of its own investigation? So it need not offer a pre-election apology or retraction to George W. Bush.

But there’s more to it than that. If the Kerry campaign was intimately involved in creating, or passing on, or otherwise coordinating release of the phony documents about Mr. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard, voters should know that before going to the polls. Conversely, if the Kerry campaign was not involved in the forgery flap, voters should also know that before voting. Absentee voting has already begun in the presidential race, but CBS management is trying to hide in a closet with its fingers in its ears.

CBS spokesmen later backtracked for Mr. Moonves, insisting the review panel of former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and former Associated Press executive Louis Boccardi would decide when to release the report. They would hardly be “independent” otherwise.

Sad to say, the inquiry is doomed to failure. To get to the bottom of the CBS scandal, the reviewers must answer four questions: (1) What did CBS do wrong? (2) Who’s responsible? (3) Why did CBS get it so wrong? (4) How will CBS correct the problem?

Whatever the reviewers conclude, and however strong and credible their report is on the first two points, CBS will not want in any way to address Questions 3 or 4. They simply won’t concede the obvious and only logical answer to the “why” — blind Bush-loathing bias — and they never will accept that the only way to solve the problem is to completely overhaul this politically corrupt “news” organization.

When they do conclude, Mr. Thornburgh and Mr. Boccardi should demonstrate how Dan Rather violated his own precious journalistic principles. In his 1994 book, “The Camera Never Blinks Twice,” Mr. Rather lectured: “A serious journalist can’t run with a story without confirmation. Two sources at the absolute minimum. … This is how your narrator made it through Watergate. If I’d gone off half-cocked, if I’d gotten my facts scrambled, if I’d run with unconfirmed leads, I’d be selling insurance right now.”

Mr. Rather, a failed salesman for a fly-by-night scam with the address of a Texas branch office of Kinko’s, would not qualify to sell insurance today.

Even sadder has been Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw circling the wagons around Mr. Rather’s flagrant violation of journalistic ethics, responding in extremely political tones.

Mr. Jennings said you can’t judge Mr. Rather by this one little mistake. It’s sort of like saying you can’t judge Richard Nixon by one minor burglary at the Watergate.

For his part, Tom Brokaw was back to blaming the real villains, including this narrator: “Brent Bozell has, you know, an entire organization devoted to doing as much damage, and I choose that word carefully, as he can, to the credibility of the news divisions.” In Mr. Brokaw’s cartoonish view of the media bias debate, there are the right-wing bullies on one side, and on the other, “These three aging white men are stuck somewhere in the middle trying, on a nightly basis, to give a fair and balanced picture of what’s going on in the world.” And these anchors think George W. Bush is living in a fantasyland?

It is not encouraging that CBS wants to bury its own probe. And it’s certainly not encouraging that since CBS appointed Mr. Thornburgh and Mr. Boccardi, the “news” they put out has been even more hostile to President Bush, even worse than all the other network news operations. CBS is not acting apologetic or defensive. It seems to be sailing full speed ahead with the slogan: We have not yet begun to smear.

L. Brent Bozell III is president of the Media Research Center.

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