Jewish World Review Sept. 20, 2004/ 5 Tishrei, 5765
CBS defense of Rather hints at bigger story
''If the documents are not what we were led to believe, I'd like to break that story.''
Hel-looooo? Earth to the Lost Planet of Ratheria: You can't ''break that story.'' A guy called ''Buckhead'' did that, on the Free Republic Web site a couple of hours after you and your money-no-object resources-a-go-go ''60 Minutes'' crew attempted to pass off four obvious Microsoft Word documents as authentic 1972 typewritten memos about Bush's skipping latrine duty in the Spanish-American War, or whatever it was.
The following day Charles Johnson of the Little Green Footballs Web site drove a stake through your phony '70s memos by overlaying them with modern MS Word documents, whose automatic word wrap is amazingly an exact match with Lt. Col. Killian's ''typewriter.'' And every document expert agreed with Johnson your memos are junk, including your own analysts.
By now just about everybody on the planet also thinks they're junk, except for that dwindling number of misguided people who watch the ''CBS Evening News'' under the misapprehension that it's a news broadcast rather than a new unreality show in which a cocooned anchor, his floundering news division and some feeble executives are trapped on their own isle of delusion and can't figure out a way to vote themselves off it.
So the only story you're in a position to break right now is: ''Late-Breaking News. Veteran Newsman Announces He's Recovered His Marbles.'' And, if last week's anything to go by, you're in no hurry to do that.
I was prepared to cut the poor old buffoon some slack a week ago. But Dan's performance has grown progressively more outrageous, to the point where it's hard not to conclude he's colluding in the perpetuation of a massive if ludicrous fraud. Dan's been play-acting at being a reporter for so many years now -- the suspenders, the loosened tie, and all the other stuff that would look great if he were auditioning for a cheesy dinner-theater revival of ''The Front Page''; the over-the-top intros: ''Bob Schieffer, one of the best hard-nosed reporters in the business, has been working his sources. What have you managed to uncover for us, Bob?'', after which Bob reads out a DNC press release. Dan's been doing all this so long he doesn't seem to realize the news isn't just a show.
Round about the middle of last week, he was reduced to shoring up his collapsing fantasy with Bill Glennon, a Cliff Claven figure who was a typewriter repairman in the '70s. But, because every other CBS expert had abandoned Dan's sunk ship, Bill suddenly found himself upgraded to ''document expert.'' This guy's been insisting that you could produce Dan's bogus memos on a 1972 IBM typewriter: ''The Model D had a lever that when pushed put a rubber stopper in front of the keys so they did not strike the paper. You centered the paper using the paper scale, put the carriage on the middle mark of the front index scale, typed your heading and then made note of the number it stopped on. You then moved the carriage back to the corresponding number on the left side of the index scale and retyped your heading and . . .''
Yeah, right. Every time I want to type a memo saying Bush is unfit to be president, that's what I do, too. Look, if Dan thinks this guy's theory is correct, let's put him and his IBM Model D and me and my computer in a room at CBS News for an hour and see which one of us emerges with the closest replicas of these four documents. I'll give him ten thousand bucks for every memo he reproduces exactly, and round it up to an even 50 grand if he gets all four right.
Any takers, CBS?
So the question now is why won't Dan and Co. just admit their docs are crocks and let it go? On Wednesday, CBS News head honcho Andrew Heyward, in a slippery statement, announced that ''we established to our satisfaction that the memos were accurate.'' Note that word: not ''genuine'' but ''accurate'' -- i.e., if Lt. Col. Killian had had one of those IBM Model Ds and been willing to remove the carriage return and replace it with a rubber stopper on the front index scale while turning the crank, etc., these are the memos he would have written. Rather and Heyward are adopting the rogue-cop defense: The evidence is planted, but the guy's still guilty. Or as the New York Times' headline put it: ''Memos On Bush Are Fake But Accurate.''
Why has CBS News decided it would rather debauch its brand and treat its audience like morons than simply admit their hoax? For Dan Rather? I doubt it. Hurricane Dan looks like he's been hit by one. He's still standing, just about, but, like a battered double-wide, more and more panels are falling off every day. No one would destroy three-quarters of a century of audience trust and goodwill for one shattered anachronism of an anchorman, would they?
As the network put it last week, ''In accordance with longstanding journalistic ethics, CBS News is not prepared to reveal its confidential sources or the method by which '60 Minutes' Wednesday received the documents.'' But, once they admit the documents are fake, they can no longer claim ''journalistic ethics'' as an excuse to protect their source. There's no legal or First Amendment protection afforded to a man who peddles a fraud. You'd think CBS would be mad as hell to find whoever it was who stitched them up and made them look idiots.
So why aren't they? The only reasonable conclusion is that the source -- or trail of sources -- is even more incriminating than the fake documents. Why else would Heyward and Rather allow the CBS news division to commit slow, public suicide?
Whatever other lessons are drawn from this, we ought at least to acknowledge that the privileged position accorded to ''official'' media and the restrictions placed on the citizenry by McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform are wholly unwarranted.
As for Heyward and Rather, the other day I came across a rare memo from April 20, 1653, typed on a 17th century prototype of the IBM Selectric. It's Oliver Cromwell's words to England's Long Parliament:
''You have sat too long for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of G-d, go!''
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JWR contributor Mark Steyn is North American Editor of The (London) Spectator and the author, most recently, of "The Face of the Tiger," a new book on the world post-Sept. 11. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.