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CBS Blames the Whitehouse (again)

I'm starting to smell CBS's hand at crafting the news surrounding the documents story. Compare the Howard Kurtz piece from the WaPo to the LA Times piece Kevin blogged below.


In the early-morning hours of Sept. 8, Dan Rather was preparing to fly to Washington for a crucial interview in the Old Executive Office Building, but torrential rain kept him in New York.

White House communications director Dan Bartlett had agreed to talk to "60 Minutes," but only on condition that the CBS program provide copies of what were being billed as newly unearthed memos indicating that President Bush had received preferential treatment in the National Guard. The papers were hand-delivered at 7:45 a.m. CBS correspondent John Roberts, filling in for Rather, sat down with Bartlett at 11:15.

The dispute over memos of President Bush's National Guard record centers on the technology available in the early '70s, when the documents would have been typed.

Half an hour later, Roberts called "60 Minutes" producer Mary Mapes with word that Bartlett was not challenging the authenticity of the documents. Mapes told her bosses, who were so relieved that they cut from Rather's story an interview with a handwriting expert who had examined the memos.

At that point, said "60 Minutes" executive Josh Howard, "we completely abandoned the process of authenticating the documents...

It was 11 a.m. on Sept. 8 - nine hours before "60 Minutes" was to air. But as news executives debated whether to broadcast a story on newly obtained paperwork offering fresh evidence about President Bush's National Guard service, a big question hung over CBS News' Westside headquarters: Were the photocopied documents real or fake?

Suddenly, the answer seemed to materialize, and from an unlikely source - the White House itself.

John Roberts, the network's White House correspondent, called to report he'd just completed an on-camera interview with Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director. Bartlett, it appeared, had no quarrel with the authenticity of the documents.

That was the turning point.

"If we had gotten back from the White House any kind of red flag, raised eyebrow, anything that said, 'Are you sure about this stuff?' we would have gone back to square one," Josh Howard, the program's executive producer, told the Los Angeles Times in an interview Friday. "The White House said they were authentic, and that carried a lot of weight with us."


Clearly CBS is trying to get ahead of the story... As laughable as that mental image seems.

They are switching to damage control mode. Somehow blaming Bush for not stopping them from slandering him is not going to get them many converts.

I strongly recommend the Kurtz piece, it is an extraordinarily damning look at the thought processes [such that they are] within CBS News. Never in their wildest imaginations could they consider these documents were fake. They hired 2 document experts who both told them they were fake but they completely ignored their own experts' concerns. They saw the mountain of evidence produced by the blogospehre and the MSM and were still not swayed. To this day, I bet many of them believe the documents are real.

What is even more unbelievable is the incredulous arrogance of the whole staff. If this is CBS's idea of positive spin they are more out of touch with reality then their harshest critics have ever claimed.

I risk no exaggeration when I say that having people this clueless running a network news organization is truly a troubling thing.


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Comments (12)

Watching this whole thing g... (Below threshold)

Watching this whole thing go down has been amaziing--that a Big Media could screw up so bad--and kind of frightening, because other that the WaPo and ABC, it seems all the others are giving Rather a pass.

If the start of this was Murdoch's "NY Post" they would have ate the child alive.

Why was CBS expecting the W... (Below threshold)
Rob:

Why was CBS expecting the White House to confirm or deny the authenticity of a set of memos written by a National Guard officer to his personal file over 30 years ago? Who, aside from Killian and a few close associates, could?

The White House did exactly what they should have done. They didn't object, they let CBS proceed and gave themselves time to get the memos verified. Thankfully, bloggers were able to do that for them within hours of the broadcast.

Actually there are several ... (Below threshold)
Charlie:

Actually there are several other papers that are not giving Rather a pass. This includes the NY Post, The Chicago Tribune, and the Chicago Sun Times.

Granted several "fake but accurate" papers are still drinking the Kool-Aid.

You'll also notice that CBS... (Below threshold)
Scott:

You'll also notice that CBS seems to be scrambling to fill their web presence with "less than flattering" reports about Kerry and his platform (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/09/17/opinion/main644097.shtml (Kerrynomics Explained) http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/09/14/politics/main643438.shtml (Top Dem rips Kerry)).

That I believe is the second prong of their defense. They realized they've pissed off a good portion of the vocal bloggers on the web and some part of them figures that if they go after Kerry a bit that maybe the bloggers will pull some of the heat off of them.

I'm very disappointed in th... (Below threshold)

I'm very disappointed in the length to which you're willing to risk exaggeration. "Truly a troubling thing"... that's as far as you can go?

- That Elephant isn't going... (Below threshold)
Hunter:

- That Elephant isn't going to fly. The first five full days the WH, even in morning gaggles, simply stated they had no way to determine if the documents were authentic or not. That was repeated any nimber of times in press and media.

- I like to think McAuliffes blood pressure went up with each passing hour as the silence from the white house was deafening. He realized very soon on the WH wasn't going to give him an out. Same as the days and days the Pres. refused to condemn the swifties ... heh

I'm starting to wonder if t... (Below threshold)
Richard Johnson:

I'm starting to wonder if this whole documents thing wasn't a big
rope-a-dope by the Whitehouse. I think maybe this guy Burkett
may have been passing the memos out to anyone who'd take one
and the Whitehouse got ahold a set and spotted them as forgeries.
After that they just waited for someone dumb enough to try to use
them. When CBS called and said they were running the story the
Whitehouse said "Hey, do what you gotta do." and the rest is
history.

Some in CBS may indeed beli... (Below threshold)
oino sakai:

Some in CBS may indeed believe that the documents are authentic. We know many do not.

I believe that CBS News doesn't care one way or the other. These people are convinced that Lt. Bush failed to go see a doctor in 1972. They think that failing to see a doctor then means that Bush should not be re-elected now. Failure to go see a doctor out-weighs any other concern in national politics or national security.

It is the news judgment of CBS News that should be more in question than these documents.

hunter, I keep thinking of ... (Below threshold)

hunter, I keep thinking of a schoolyard punk:(McAuliffe) who just can't get his target to throw a punch.
McAuliffe: "Well? What you gonna do about it?"
White House: "About what?"
McAuliffe: "You know!"
White House: "I know what?"
I think he a ready to asplode very very soon.

Their hunkering has convinc... (Below threshold)
Jumbo:

Their hunkering has convinced me that they think there is something worse than taking all this abuse. That is, they're stonewalling because if they have to reveal that the leads and the docs came directly from Team Kerry, they're eternally screwed and tattoed as pimps for the Dems..."not that there's anything WRONG with that."

I was annoyed by this also.... (Below threshold)
VR:

I was annoyed by this also. My take is that CBS was repeatedly taking non-denials as evidence FOR the memos. I have to wonder what the White House could have said that would have made a difference. I doubt anything short of "They're obvious fakes and here's why ..." would have mattered.

The "They didn't tell us they were fake so it is their fault we didn't do basic research" argument is just astounding. I'm amazed, again, that they actually are willing to make themselves look so incredibly stupid. This thing would already be out of the news if they had just admitted they screwed up and were going to make changes.

Shouldn't this level of Jou... (Below threshold)
under-the-radar:

Shouldn't this level of Journalistic negligence prompt an evaluation of all Dan Rathers' stories using "anonymous sources".

Why are we letting CBS limit this to a single story -- the story is so much larger. I recall as a kid thinking how unfair '60 Minutes' was in its attack journalism and its Michael Mooreish editing style. There is such a long history of half-truths and self-serving edits.

What other stories has Dan Rather used his bully-pulpit?




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