Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

CBS really didn't do anything that wrong, says the LA Times

If you want to read an impressive apologia for CBS's (and Rather's) reprehensible behavior, check out this article in the LA Times, which purports to explain how the whole debacle happened. According to them, there was no malice whatsoever; just the usual hustle-bustle of a big city journalist:

In a series of interviews and in the 224 pages of the independent panel's report, a portrait emerges of what is an inherently messy business — a television news operation "crashing" to quickly land a big story. The description of breathless news- hounds on the hunt might have been drawn from any of the nation's big newsrooms, were it not for a series of troubling patterns that ultimately crippled the CBS production, including: a glaring inattention to alternative points of view; the pronounced detachment of top news managers; and, especially, an extreme reliance on just one trusted individual to get the story right.
I'm not sure, of course, how this view of things accomodates Mapes' five year-long obsession with the story. Of course, the LA Times does regret the story as much as anyone else, since the hoo-ha about it obscured the fact that, while the story was false, it was accurate:
The segment, titled "For the Record," had another ironic consequence: It aided President Bush. The roar of condemnation aroused by CBS' use of unverified documents drowned out other news accounts that exposed Bush's spotty service as a young pilot.
These two conclusions are followed by a hagiographic portrait of Mapes as the strawberry farm girl who made good, an apple-cheeked maiden who had the skills to make it in the big city:
Raised on a strawberry farm in rural western Washington, she had begun working in television in Seattle without having finished her communications and political science studies at the University of Washington. Like other front-line producers, Mapes thrived by perfecting myriad skills — buttonholing sources for information, conducting interviews, writing scripts and assembling graphics and videotape. *** Colleagues and friends used such words as "intense," "driven" and "high-octane" to describe Mapes, whose salary was pegged at $200,000 to $300,000 by those familiar with the industry. "She radiates intensity about journalism," said Steve McGonigle, a Dallas Morning News reporter. "She is a very professional and serious person."[Hmm, says I, they left out "unethical."]
Of course, in the run-up to the election, despite statements like this -- "In early August, she messaged Howard: 'There is a strong general feeling that, this time, there is blood in the water.'" -- the LA Times assures us she wasn't biased, just your ordinary aggressive producer.. The writer of the article, like so many liberals, seems a bit confused by the whole concept of circumstantial evidence:
Mapes had already delved into then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush's military records during his 2000 White House run. She heard reports at the time from a few veterans that the state's National Guard units had been used "as a haven for children of privilege at the height of the Vietnam War," as she wrote in an e-mail to her bosses at the time. Republican partisans viewed such statements as evidence of political bias. They joined some independent analysts in faulting the review panel for not concluding whether liberal political sentiments tainted CBS' story. But a review of months of provocative internal CBS e-mails uncovered no messages that attacked Bush directly.
Considering that George Bush was the only candidate who fell into the "children of privilege" category, a more naive person might actually think that she was gunning for Bush. Silly me. The LA Times article acknowledges Burkett's bad rep, but has an excuse for Mapes: she was too busy to discover it.
Mapes explained to the review panel later that she initially was too busy to pay much attention to the Burkett stories, according to the panel's accounts of her statements. She said she was too immersed in her reporting on Abu Ghraib.
Again, I'm so silly. As a lawyer, I can guarantee no judge in the world is going to forgive me if I confess that I was "too busy" to discover that the statute on which I'm relying to make my case was criticized, overruled, or superseded. There's no such thing as "too busy" with sources, especially when you can Google to an answer in about (what is Google says of these things?) 0.35 of a second. The LA Times likes the idea that the real problem is that the documents were photocopies, not originals:
About midday Friday in New York, Associate Producer Yvonne Miller received a tough assignment from Mapes: Find four document experts to authenticate the memos — over the holiday weekend. They planned to air the story of Bush's Guard service the following Wednesday, near the start of the new television season. Miller somehow found the experts, but all issued a caution: It would be difficult to give a definitive answer without the original memos.
They seem oblivious to the fact that the concept of a typewritten "original" is sort of archaic, since replication of a typewritten document will preserve all the indicia indicating either the typewriter or the software used. Indeed, most evidence codes accept typewritten documents in lieu of "originals" for precisely this reason. This is a far cry from the old days when a document in one person's handwriting would be copied into another person's -- hence the former emphasis on the importance of an original. But back to the LA Times story. Does this sound like sufficient authentication to try to destroy a Presidential candidate?
CBS flew handwriting expert Marcel Matley from San Francisco to New York on Monday, Labor Day, to tape an interview with Rather. He alone had scrutinized all of the Burkett memos. As soon as Rather had finished "CBS Evening News," he interviewed Matley. Everyone present agreed the taping did not go well. Matley seemed uncertain. He would say later that he could pass judgment only on the one memo that contained a complete signature. A retaping of the Matley interview satisfied Rather and some of his colleagues that all four memos had been authenticated. In later interviews with the panelists and other journalists, it became clear that Matley was not nearly that certain.
Of course, perhaps to these obsessive partisans, this half-hearted effort was good enough:
Mapes took the conversation with Hodges as confirmation of the memos. The next morning she e-mailed a superiors that the memos were "not just juicy. They're TRUE." CBS News President Andrew Heyward recalled later that at about the same time, Rather assured him he had not "been involved in this much checking on a story since Watergate."
If Rather is accurately expressing the research standards at CBS, it's no wonder CBS is generally such an embarrassing station to watch. It's also generally worrisome, because I would tend to doubt everything CBS reports, since it's clear that they are incapable of even the most basic quality review. I'll stop here -- it's clear that the LA Times story, even as it tries to whitewash these pathetic people, only throws into high relief what a shoddy, vicious job they did. And lest you think I'm putting my own conservative spin on this article, it's significant that the article does not mention a single word about Mapes' correspondence with Michael Smith, a Texas journalist. As you may recall, he sent her an email asking "What if there was a person who might have some information that could possibly change the momentum of an election but we needed to get an ASAP book deal to help get us the information?" (Emphasis mine.) She responded by saying "That looks good, hypothetically speaking, of course." (Emphasis mine.) Interesting that the LA Times article does not even try to defuse the manifest import of that correspondence. Shoddy, shoddy, shoddy, both at the LA Times and at CBS. My only hope is that the American people are able to see through this type of game-playing and continue to abandon the ostensibly impartial, but truly highly partisan MSM.