Dan Rather's defenders

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on November 28, 2008

It's been more than four years, and the attempts to rehabilitate former CBS newsman Dan Rather's reputation continues. Rather is currently suing CBS for violating his employment contract and that the investigation that led to CBS determining that it could no longer stand behind the National Guard memos which purported to show that President George W. Bush had disregarded orders and been AWOL while serving in the Guard in the 1970s.

The latest on the story comes from The New York Times which points out that when CBS decided to investigate the reporting that went into the ill-fated "60 Minutes" report, that it spent time considering who to put on the panel that Republicans would respect.

Using tools unavailable to him as a reporter — including the power of subpoena and the threat of punishment against witnesses who lie under oath — he has unearthed evidence that would seem to support his assertion that CBS intended its investigation, at least in part, to quell Republican criticism of the network.

Well, duh. Seriously. This is some sort of scandal. After all the reporting on the issue that occurred in the blogosphere at places like Little Green Footballs and Powerline, why would they think they had to worry about Democrat skepticism?

Some of the documents unearthed by his investigation include notes taken at the time by Linda Mason, a vice president of CBS News. According to her notes, one potential panel member, Warren Rudman, a former Republican senator from New Hampshire, was deemed a less-than-ideal candidate over fears by some that he would not “mollify the right.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Thornburgh, who served as attorney general for both Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, was named a panelist by CBS, but only after a CBS lobbyist “did some other testing,” in which she was told, according to Ms. Mason’s notes, “T comes back with high marks from G.O.P.

Another memorandum turned over to Mr. Rather’s lawyers by CBS was a long typed list of conservative commentators apparently receiving some preliminary consideration as panel members, including Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, Ann Coulter and Pat Buchanan. At the bottom of that list, someone had scribbled “Roger Ailes,” the founder of Fox News.

Asked about the assembly of the panel in a sworn deposition, Andrew Heyward, the former president of CBS News, acknowledged that he had wanted at least one member to sit well with conservatives: “CBS News, fairly or unfairly, had a reputation for liberal bias,” and “the harshest scrutiny was obviously going to come from the right.”

Say what you will, but Heyward is no fool. How does the obvious become scandalous?

The Times report garnered little notice at the time, until Edward Wasserman at the Miami Herald wrote a column on the subject describing it as a "scandal" that a media organization investigating journalistic malpractice directed at one political party would want to make sure that the victim of the malpractice would have faith in the investigation itself.

But CBS test-marketed the panelists. Before Thornburgh was named, the network had one of its lobbyists learn from Republican sources whether he would do. Yes, apparently. Other conservatives considered included Ann Coulter, Pat Buchanan and Rush Limbaugh. Republican ex-Sen. Warren Rudman was rejected because, a CBS official wrote, he wouldn't ``mollify the right.''

So, a panel is convened by one of the country's most powerful news organizations to scrutinize the journalism that produced a scathing portrayal of the dubious military record of a sitting president. And the panel is assembled to the specifications of the president's most zealous supporters.

That the panel was "assembled to the specifications" of the extreme right of the GOP is laughable. If they'd chosen Limbaugh or Coulter, Wasserman would have a point. Thornburgh is hardly a rabid right-winger.

After calling common sense a "scandal," Wasserman then goes into the dishonest defense of the "60 Minutes" report.

Journalists mention Rather with the same contempt reserved for such villains as Jayson Blair of The New York Times and Jack Kelley of USA Today. That's low company. Both were frontline reporters who fabricated, plagiarized or both.

The September 2004 Bush report had problems, but it wasn't even remotely in that league. It presented a compelling case that George W. Bush's record with the Texas Air National Guard was marked by favoritism and dereliction. It was based on a number of interviews and, notably, on several documents -- chiefly memos from Bush's squadron commander -- whose authenticity was immediately challenged.

Rather did little reporting for the segment, but led the defense. Within three weeks the network caved and said it shouldn't have relied on the documents. That concession was viewed as acknowledging fundamental problems with the segment's veracity. So were the conclusions of the review panel headed by Thornburgh and Boccardi.

But their 223-page report did no such thing.

The interviews in the CBS report were of anti-Bush partisans. It was the (fake) memos which gave their charges credibility. Without the (fake) memos, CBS doesn't have a report that it can run with.

Though sharply critical of the network's strident dismissal of critics, the panel never concluded the broadcast was wrong -- that Bush's military record wasn't marked by favoritism and dereliction. Nor did it ever say the disputed documents were bogus. Instead, the panel concluded the documents couldn't be proven genuine, and for a simple reason: They were photocopies. And experts are reluctant to vouch for the authenticity of any document when they can't inspect its paper and ink.

What's more, the panel said, the producers failed to ascertain precisely how the documents got to them -- the ''chain of custody'' -- and therefore weren't justified in using them. In an extraordinary passage, the panel scolded the producers for not knowing ``the background, identity, credibility, motivations, biases and other relevant information about the sources of the documents.''

To paraphrase Shakespeare: Givest thou me a break. Wasserman would have his readers believe that the issue with these documents was the fact they were photocopied? To refresh your memory, here's Charles Johnson's famous animated gif.

The panel, which Wasserman describes as a "scandal," even with Thornburgh was a whitewash. Wasserman says it's the fact that CBS had a photocopy, but as you can see, the documents exactly match what you can do with Microsoft Word's default settings -- a company and a program not in existence when the memo was purportedly written in 1973. Rather's defenders have yet to discover any typewriter that ever existed -- let alone the ones Killian's secretary said she used at that air base -- that can produce the above memo.

Wasserman is either dishonest or a fool. He claims that Rather's report was good journalism, but bad legal practice, which is why the panel of lawyers sided against Rather. But in presenting his case, Wasserman's analysis is that of a defense lawyer, not a journalist.

For the record:

Edward Wasserman is Knight professor of journalism ethics at Washington and Lee University.

If I were one of Wasserman's students, I'd want my money back.


Powerline's Scott Johnson discovered Wasserman's lame apologia when the Star-Tribune felt it worth publishing. His take on the tripe can be found here.


Welcome fellow Lizardoids! Please feel free to look around.

0 comments on “Dan Rather's defenders”

  1. The funny thing about the scandal is the seperation between the computer users and the TV watchers/newpaper readers. The .gif hammers it home, but anyone could open up Word and see the exact same auto formating taking place as they typed the words in the memo. The only people who could even believe that there was ever a debate are those with no exposure to a computer, the fact that the newpaper writers would attempt to continue the false narative is just mind blowing. It's as if they have just completely written off an entire generation by shreading their credibility in such a foolish fashion.

  2. It's not really mind blowing John. The left has decided, and they did this starting with Lenin and Stalin, that they will determine the narrative. That they will put out what they want you to believe and they will repeat it regardless of fact. What is so surprising about Rather? Is that not what they did?

  3. I have heard and read of different people typing the so-called documents out in New Times Roman font, putting the paper over the so-called document, and they matched letter for letter, space for space. The real documents would have been typed on a typewriter because the computer hadn't been invented yet. That is enough for me. THEY ARE FAKE.

  4. What gets me is this passage from the story:

    "In an extraordinary passage, the panel scolded the producers for not knowing “the background, identity, credibility, motivations, biases and other relevant information about the sources of the documents"

    Last time I checked the above list would be known as using Journalistic Integrity, something a Journalism Professor ought to know.

  5. I tried it myself, and so can anyone with a copy of MS Word for the Macintosh. The documents aren't just forgeries, they are INCOMPETENT forgeries. Rather got what he deserved.

  6. I have a co-worker who is a devout leftist. He is a 25 year veteran in the IT field, which is also my area of expertise. Yet he was somehow able to convince himself that the Killian document was genuine, or as he put it "had not been proven false."

    I am a conservative because I believe in objective truth. Leftists do not believe in objective truth. They have somehow worked their way into a state of mind in which they profess to be the arbiters of something that they do not believe in: the truth. It is a sad state of affairs when this type of mentality becomes more than a fringe minority. Our civilization is decaying. The left is not so much the cause as they are the symptom. There will always be leftists, just as there will always be fascists and communists and all the rest. It is only when one or more of these groups comes to prominence at the expense of philosophies based upon reason and honesty that things go off the rails.

  7. I'm a hard core conservative who shares the exasperation of most of the Right with the biased reporting of the liberal media. However, I thought that this bias was honestly gotten, that the lefty journalists who turn out biased articles really believed them but were unaware of their slanted coverage the same way fish don't know they're wet. This scandal changed that for me.

    I was flipping through Mary Mapes book which gave her account of the scandal. Now, I have to admit that I was surprised to find media people who didn't appear to be very computer literate. After years of using Word, I expected the same level of experience in journalists. So it came as a surprise how little the big time journalists knew about fonts, which is something anyone who uses Word intensely picks up over the years. When you see how the Rather document matches the same document in Word, it is completely obvious that it is a forgery.

    So I was astonished to read in Mape's book that she claimed that the typewritten font in the document had been converted to Microsoft Word Times New Roman font by transmission through a fax. She couldn't possibly be so dumb as to believe that. You can run a document through a fax a zillion times and it is never going to exactly match some other font. It may get blurry or unreadable, but it won't change fonts.

    Mary Mapes was lying, and it was a bad lie at that. As much as I hold the media's reporting in contempt, this genuinely shocked me. They weren't misinterpreting events, they were lying about them, and lying about them with fierce determination.

    It was if discovering that an obnoxious uncle was actually a member of the mafia. Such sloppy lying comes from a zone of comfort of never being challenged. How many other articles were just flat lies that had not been challenged? The media's brand was forever tainted by Mapes and the view she provides into the ethics of the liberal media. You simply can trust nothing they say. Nothing.

  8. The right wing blog sites who started the forgery nonsense, most notably The Free Republic, Powerline and Little Green Footballs, were just being malicious morons -- a wee bit of research shows proportional printing as being a common feature in pre-Selectric typewriters and early word processors, which IBM was actually making more money selling than typewriters by *1971*. And all the other supposed evidence of forgery that was added was just as dopey, like the position of that Mother's Day crap. As far as replicating them in Word, not only was Johnson's effort just an approximation with telltale signs that the memos used a Times-like font, but not Word Times (New) Roman, but that trick fails completely with the other 3 memos that CBS used. But blog sites have no real journalistic purpose -- the so called mainstream media that let the bloggers drive the "story" had no such excuse. Where was the research into common early 70 office tech? Where were samples of other early 70's military memos for comparison? (Such memos are not archived, have a different format from official records, and most from that era and earlier found on the Web *are* proportionally printed). The Washington Post, as well as that incompetent, dishonest, scapegoating CBS panel, couldn't even get the correct position of the signature block right. While the original CBS story was sloppily researched, Rather is easily not the villain in that whole, still unresolved mess.

  9. There are none so blind as those who will not see. BC, I work with typography on a daily basis -- it's my day job. I tried reproducing that document using Adobe InDesign CS at the time and with all of the tracking and kerning options available to me in that program, it took me hours to duplicate what Word's default settings did automatically.

    Please continue to ignore the simple fact that the base commander's secretary testified as to what model typewriters were present on the base and none of them did proportional spacing. Also continue to ignore that no one has been able to identify any typewriter ever to exist that can produce that document like Word can. You want to prove the documents aren't forgeries, produce the typewriters that made them. Until you can do that, go sell crazy somewhere else.


To be clear, it's still a 1A violation even as they supposedly intended it. But their rush to pass it made it encompass all sorts of stuff.

The judge should not take them at their word that they will "fix" it. The judge should issue the preliminary injunction we requested.

16-year-old Lola Fitzgerald has been racking up skeet shooting championships in and out of her home state. Now a new California law has shut her out of the sport and is threatening her Olympic hopes. https://thereload.com/the-california-gun-law-dashing-young-female-champions-olympic-dream/

In a just world, SB 918 and its New York counterpart would make the Supreme Court* say: "well, we tried to let you keep shall issue, but you morons just couldn't help yourselves, so now constitutional carry is the law of the land".

*Hopefully it doesn't need to go to SCOTUS.

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