September 13, 2004
Rathergate: PJ's trump Suits
A defensive Dan Rather went on the air Friday to complain of what he called a "counterattack" from "partisan political operatives." In reality, traditional journalism now has a new set of watchdogs in the "blogosphere." In the words of blogger Mickey Kaus, they can trade information and publicize it "fast enough to have real-world consequences." Sure, blogs can be transmission belts for errors, vicious gossip and last-minute disinformation efforts. But they can also correct themselves almost instantaneously--in sharp contrast with CBS's stonewalling.As Fund describes this:
A watershed media moment occurred Friday on Fox News Channel, when Jonathan Klein, a former executive vice president of CBS News who oversaw "60 Minutes," debated Stephen Hayes, a writer for The Weekly Standard, on the documents CBS used to raise questions about George W. Bush's Vietnam-era National Guard service.This is the problem with centralized media: you get single points of failure, as with Dan Rather, who can delude himself that it is the bias of others, not his own, that is distorting reality here. Decentralized media, aka the blogosphere, has no such structural design flaw. It may have other flaws, but the folks at CBS underestimate its strengths at their own peril.
Mr. Klein dismissed the bloggers who are raising questions about the authenticity of the memos: "You couldn't have a starker contrast between the multiple layers of check and balances [at '60 Minutes'] and a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing."
He will regret that snide disparagement of the bloggers, many of whom are skilled lawyers or have backgrounds in military intelligence or typeface design. A growing number of design and document experts say they are certain or almost certain the memos on which CBS relied are forgeries.
Mr. Klein didn't directly address the mounting objections to CBS's story. He fell back on what high school debaters call the appeal to authority, implying that the reputation of "60 Minutes" should be enough to dissolve doubts without the network sharing its methods with other journalists and experts. He told Fox's Tony Snow that the "60 Minutes" team is "the most careful news organization, certainly on television." He said that Mary Mapes, the producer of the story, was "a crack journalist" who had broken the Abu Ghraib prison abuse story.