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Thursday, September 16, 2004

Perhaps fake, but accurate. That's what CBS' defense of the memos amounts to. The content of the documents, though forged, reflects what really happened.

OK, then, should Karl Rove produce a series of memos similarly "proving" John Kerry's legislative record? The best part is that no forging would be involved, because the memos would be completely blank (it being the Bush position that Kerry has no legislative achievements). The documents would be "less fake" than Rather's laughable memos, since they would involve no actual words. And they reflect what the Bush campaign believes to be what really happened. That would be enough according to CBS to run to air with the documents to attack Kerry using what amounts to a campaign stunt by the other side. Is that the standard used by CBS?

I love the line where CBS says they're going to try really really hard to authenticate the documents.

Authenticate them? Mr. Rather, that ship sailed long ago. You should have done what you now plan to try prior to your initial broadcast. And when you couldn't, you should have round filed them. Your failure to do so was a large mistake. Your subsequent appeals to authority and ad hominem invective (We're CBS. We have editors and such, so we must be right. Our critics are "some guys in their pajamas.") were a bigger mistake.

The bottom line? CBS has basically admitted that the documents cannot be authenticated. Their own witness (the late Colonel Killian's secretary) says so, even as she says that the sentiment they express is true. Therefore, at the very least, its source enlisted CBS News in general, and Dan Rather in particular, in an attempt to manipulate the election based on forgeries. Why does that source deserve CBS' continued protection?

Certainly not based on journalistic ethics, as claimed by CBS. At least no journalistic ethics that I've ever heard of. Your source burns you, you burn the source. Automatically. Failure to do so invites future attempts by indicating that there is no cost to providing CBS with forged documents, even ones where the forgery should be obvious to anyone with an ounce of sense.

And that gives rise to what is, to my mind, a most intriguing question: If the protection of the source is not based on journalistic ethics, WHY IS RATHER CONTINUING TO STONEWALL ON HIS SOURCE? His career and his legacy are both at stake. He has pledged them both to protect a source that gave him fake documents.

There are three logical possibilities:

1. There is no source. Rather himself (or someone at CBS) fabricated the documents. Probability? Zero or something approaching it.

2. There is a relationship between Rather and his source that causes Rather to want to protect the source. I can't see Rather literally throwing his career and reputation away to elect John Kerry, so Rather's position is not explained by assuming that the source is the Kerry campaign, even though Kerry was the intended beneficiary of the scam. No, this possibility is likely only if the source is a family member or something like that, which is itself unlikely. Probability? Unlikely.

3. Rather believes the source to be extremely weak. I think this is the most likely of the three possibilities. In fact, I think that it is very likely to be true. Assuming the source of the documents has problems other than the documents themselves that can be or have been used to impeach his credibility, disclosing his identity does not solve Rather's problem.

Indeed, it makes it worse. The reaction would be, "You relied on __________????? You put the reputation of CBS News and its 60 Minutes flagship at risk based on __________'s say so? How stupid can you get?"

Therefore, Rather might as well try to continue to stonewall and change the subject. If successful, he suffers less damage than he would by disclosing the source. But that damage control effort will probably only be temporary (although just how temporary is impossible to estimate). The one thing that I believe to be near certain is that the source will be disclosed or discovered, eventually. Deep throat would not be able to remain anonymous in the age of the internet while continuing to provide information to Woodward and Bernstein.

And certainly not if he had attempted to bring down a President with forgeries.

UPDATE: on Friday morning, I read Opinion Journal, as usual and find this editorial by Bernard Goldberg, saying pretty much the same thing as I did. Pretty good company, no?

Caution: Patting yourself on the back can be painful.
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