Magazine article The American Enterprise

Rather's Ruin

Magazine article The American Enterprise

Rather's Ruin

Article excerpt

Seldom in the course of a Presidential campaign does a media drama upstage the election itself, but for a short while in September, Americans tuned out politics and tuned in to "The Decline and Fall of Dan Rather."

The drama began when CBS posted forged National Guard documents on its Web site and, that same evening, an attentive "Freeper" (a regular at the conservative Internet site) named Buckhead raised suspicions of fraud.

From there, intrepid bloggers and Little Green Footballs, the Woodward and Bernstein of Rather-gate, began to document the mounting signs of forgery.

By the next afternoon, the country was abuzz. Rather and his supporters denounced those who questioned the credibility of the anti-Bush memos as "partisan political ideological threes." Former CBS News executive Jonathan Klein infamously dismissed the truth-telling bloggers as "a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing what he thinks." But thanks to the cyber sleuths, it was soon obvious that the memos were phony.

Rather then found himself under siege from the most unlikely of sources --other members of the mainstream media. ABC News and the Washington Post catalogued the anchor's duplicity: CBS had ignored warnings from its own experts, failed to interview relevant sources, and discarded any evidence that contradicted its preconceived anti-Bush version of events.

At one point, CBS attempted an our-evidence-is-false-but-our-attack-is-accurate defense. Rather suggested it was not he, but the President, who should answer tough questions. Eventually, CBS offered a halfhearted apology. But the damage was done. Rather's credibility was destroyed.

None of this would have happened just a few years earlier. As Glenn Reynolds, blogging host of and law professor at the University of Tennessee, told one reporter, "CBS would have flashed the documents on TV for a few seconds and no one would have seen them again. …

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