Carol Platt Liebau

Monday, January 10, 2005

Here is as adequate a summary as any of the CBS news "Rathergate" report, finally released today.

Hugh Hewitt believes that the report is seriously deficient, whereas Jim Geraghty opines that it has some "good work," even though it chickens out on finding any partisan bias in CBS' reporting.

I come down with Hugh on this one.

(1) There is no way that the report can be credible without releasing ALL transcripts, documents, emails, etc. etc. -- and that hasn't been done.

(2) Thornburgh and Boccardi's decision to take a powder on the issue of political bias renders the rest of the report suspect, at least to me. No, not that any facts have been misrepresented or omitted -- but rather, that there may be subtle interpretations of facts that are designed to allow CBS to maintain its professional credibility by downplaying the issue of partisanship.

Clearly -- clearly -- there was political bias at CBS from the top down. Sources that gave stories contrary to the one that was aired were either ignored or dismissed; Rather has a long history of partisanship, as done Mapes; there is evidence that is never sufficiently dealt with suggesting real coordination between Mapes (at least) and the Kerry campaign.

And here is an interesting mind game: Had someone emerged with sketchy documents of dubious origin purporting to show that John Kerry had deliberately wounded himself to get out of Vietnam early, would those have been rushed to air prematurely, without a thorough vetting, with contrary sources unacknowledged? Not a chance -- remember, one journalist even went to the trouble to interview a former Viet Cong in an effort to disprove the Swift Boat vets' account (which I always found fishy -- how would he have known who John Kerry was at the time?).

So the report is disappointing, but not surprising. After all, what people often forget is that even the "independent" investigators have lives outside the investigation, may know some of the investigation's targets (or their superiors) socially, and thus -- while willing to lay out the facts honestly -- may not have the "fire in the belly" necessary to take the extra step to deal with the partisanship issue. After all, it would be nice to sit on the Viacom corporate board, even if it's in ten years. No, that's NOT to imply that there's any bribery afoot -- I believe in Thornburgh and Boccardi's integrity; it's just to suggest that often, powerful and important people have interests that are subtly and deeply intertwined, and they have to know this, even if the knowledge is on some unconscious level.

So ponder this: CBS could also have chosen someone outside the media elite/Beltway crowd to participate in the investigation, as well -- someone who knows he never has a chance of being accepted in New York/DC "polite society" anyway (say Pat Buchanan?) or someone with a position so secure that there was nothing to gain (say William F. Buckley?). Think about it -- CBS would scream that, with their known political affiliations, there's no chance the outcome would be fair. A little like putting Mary Mapes and Dan Rather on an anti-GWB story.


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