Wednesday, September 30, 2009

More Rather Wrangling Over Dubya’s Military Disservice

(And I also posted here.)

As many of us know, Dan Rather’s breach-of-contract lawsuit against CBS was tossed out by a New York Supreme Court appellate division recently (here, which Rather plans to appeal).

At issue is Rather’s claim that “CBS News broke his contract and committed fraud by sidelining him in the wake of a controversial story he reported about President George W. Bush's Vietnam-era service in the Texas Air National Guard,” as the story linked above tells us, with Rather also claiming that “CBS sought to curtail reporting on the story because of pressure from its then-parent company, Viacom.”

And leave it to “Z on TV” to shade all of this as follows (here)…

All of Rather's troubles at CBS stemmed form his disastrous report in 2004 on "60 Minutes II" about the tretment (sp) of George W. Bush in the National Guard. The report by Rather claimed that Bush received preferential treatment during the Vietnam War.

But the report was based on a documents (sic) that Rather did not verify, and when the authenticity of the documents was challenged, the CBS anchorman could not prove their validity. The affair became known as Memogate and led to the end of Rather's career at CBS News.
I think “Z” should stick to posting about “Jon and Kate Plus Eight,” since I’m not sure he knows a whole hell of a lot about anything else.

To me, there were always two issues here, the report and its aftermath. Concerning the latter, Rather is trying to prove that corporate pressure ended his career at the network and hurt his financial prospects. That most definitely happened, though trying to establish that through a paper trail is a Quixotic prospect at best (Rather and his team are trying to get ahold of internal network memoranda which he believes will prove his case).

The former issue, though, is the story from which the latter issue arose (the “disastrous report,” as Zurawik puts it). And concerning it, former CBS News producer Mary Mapes (who was involved with the Bush/National Guard story also) tells us the following (here)…

We reported that since (a cache of documents allegedly written by Bush's former commander were) copies, not originals, they could not be fully authenticated, at least not in the legal sense. They could not be subjected to tests to determine the age of the paper or the ink. We did get corroboration on the content and support from a couple of longtime document analysts saying they saw nothing indicating that the memos were not real.

Instantly, the far right blogosphere bully boys pronounced themselves experts on document analysis, and began attacking the form and font in the memos. They screamed objections that ultimately proved to have no basis in fact. But they captured the argument. They dominated the discussion by churning out gigabytes of mind-numbing internet dissertations about the typeface in the memos, focusing on the curl at the end of the "a," the dip on the top of the "t," the spacing, the superscript, which typewriters were used in the military in 1972.

It was a deceptive approach, and it worked.

These critics blathered on about everything but the content. They knew they would lose that argument, so they didn't raise it. They focused on the most obscure, most difficult to decipher element of the story and dove in, attacking CBS, Dan Rather, me, the story and the horse we rode in on -- without respite, relentlessly, for days.

Soon, traditional media began repeating some of the claims and joining in the attack on the story. They didn't do any real work on the substance of the story; they just wanted to talk about typeface. And that was an empty, unsolvable argument that did nothing but serve the purposes of the Bush administration, which had been fanning the flames of the controversy and hoping to avoid any hard questions.
Mapes’ post details a lot more of the interference with which she and others at the network had to contend as a result, such as former PA governor and Repug honcho Dick Thornburgh (part of a supposedly impartial “panel” appointed by the network to review the story) grilling her on using the word “horseshit” in an internal Email.

Actually, I think that word perfectly sums up the reaction to the very authentic story reported by Rather and CBS, which tells us of one of many travesties perpetrated by our 43rd president. However, the greatest travesty of all may be the chilling effect generated by the interference brought upon Rather, Mapes, and those associated with the story; it will be a loooong time before the network chooses to hold someone to account who is friendly with network management again (to say nothing of other networks following suit in their own organizations).

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