Jewish World Review Sept. 21, 2004 / 6 Tishrei, 5765

Michael Graham

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Dan Rather is the Pete Rose of journalism | Forget partisan politics and media bias and right-wing bloggers and made-up memos. The real question raised by Rathergate is: What the he — does it take to get fired anymore?

Dan Rather is the Pete Rose of journalism, for cryin' out loud, and CBS is still letting him suit up every night like nothing happened. Pete Rose bet on baseball, which undermines consumer confidence in the integrity of the sport, and he's been fired, banned and (most painful of all) been the subject of a horrifyingly bad made-for-ESPN movie.

Meanwhile, Dan Rather hasn't missed a single night of work, even after he and 60 Minutes #2:

  • Ran a story based on documents they got from a known loony, Bush-basher Bill Burkett;

  • Ignored repeated warnings from their own document experts that the memos might be fake;

  • Contacted the Kerry campaign on behalf of Burkett and arranged an introduction with Kerry flak Joe Lockhart, before the memo story ran;

  • Lied about having "experts" (plural) who insisted that the documents were real when, in fact, they had one former typewriter repairman;

  • Lied about having an "unimpeachable source" when they only had loony Bill Burkett, a source already repeatedly discredited by major media outlets;

  • Single-handedly changed the motto of CBS News to "Fake, But Accurate" — the journalistic equivalent of "Celibate, But Pregnant."

All this, and Dan Rather still has a job? If CBS ran major league baseball, Pete Rose would be commissioner today.

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In fact, Rather & Co. insist that they are the victims, not the bad guys. They claim they were hoodwinked, "misled" by the criminal mastermind, Burkett — a guy who, by his own admission, has had at least one nervous breakdown. Last weekend, an interview he was giving USA Today ended when "Burkett suffered a violent seizure and collapsed in his chair."

Yeah, you can practically hear the evil genius Burkett saying to himself "One meeelllioon dollars…."

Meanwhile, CBS News and Dan Rather still haven't admitted the documents are fake. They still haven't admitted that their experts warned them about the forgeries. They still haven't admitted their coverage was corrupted by Rather's anti-Bush bias. And they still haven't admitted CBS's public statements about their sources were untrue.

CBS: Choose a Better Station.

I'm beyond caring about the partisan politics of this story. Of course Rather's producer was coordinating with the Kerry campaign. Of course the Kerry campaign was involved in the 60 Minutes #2 story before it ran — they were already producing their "Fortunate Son" TV ad attacking Bush before the CBS story ever ran. And of course CBS News wants Bush to lose. They're the media — whaddaya expect: Angry, Liberal Newsmen For Bush?

All I expected from CBS was professional journalism. Obviously my expectations were too high.

I'll admit it; I'm a Pollyanna when it comes to the press. I still expect H. L. Mencken and Edward R. Murrow from an industry that brings us Geraldo Rivera and Larry King Live. In my fantasy world of "objective journalism," a reporter who knowingly runs a questionable story based on obviously fake documents for partisan reasons ends his career by being escorted out of the newsroom by a security guard carrying his belongings in a box.

Remember, we're talking about the media. These are people whose fundamental world view is based on the belief that they're better than you and me. When we donate money for a paid political ad that quotes John Kerry's nine different Iraq policies, that's evil. But when CBS runs a three minute news story explaining that Kerry was secretly hypnotized by Karl Rove, that's good.

Journalists, with their inflated sense of self-importance, should be the first to demand Rather's head. After all, h's turned himself in CBS News into a punch line. If that's not a firing offense, what is?

Apparently, nothing. In America, it is impossible to suck badly enough to get fired anymore. The CIA completely misses the 9/11 attacks, but does George Tenet get fired? Bill Clinton was caught red-handed committing perjury and obstructing justice, does anybody care? Janet Reno started her career by burning dozens of children to death and ends it as America's longest-serving Attorney General.

And that's just as true in journalism. Rather will not be fired, and he certainly won't do the right thing and resign. Why should he? Nobody else is. A year from now he'll still be blathering on about politicians who are "crooked as a dog's hind leg," blah, blah, blah and nobody will care. He'll be just another disgraced professional in a disgraced profession, admired and defended by disgraceful fellow journalists as a "good reporter" who just got one wrong.

Why, the whole story probably won't even get a mention when Dan Rather is admitted into the Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

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JWR contributor Michael Graham is a talk show host and author of the highly acclaimed "Redneck Nation: How the South Really Won the War." To comment, please click here.



© 2004, Michael Graham