January 18, 2005

Big media and the left: A shameful parternship

Before European colonists came to the New World, American Indians had mastered the art of warfare with the bow and arrow. A favorite strategy—and one that worked well for them—was to encircle the opposing army and to shoot from all sides.

Then the Europeans came and introduced the musket. According to legend, the Indians continued with their old-fashioned encircle-and-shoot strategy, with disastrous results: The longer-range muskets sailed past the enemy, to friendly soldiers across the circle.

Over the past four to six years, the face of American news dissemination has changed dramatically. In the Clinton era, most people got their news from newspapers and broadcast TV. The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Sun-Times, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and their cronies ruled the news world. If it wasn't from Reuters or the Associated Press, it wasn't news. The media giants ruled the political world. They spun stories and toppled politicians.

Mainstream media became dull, arrogant, and slow through years of dominance. Their former objectivity and vigor atrophied as years passed without competition. Liberal journalists and anchors slowly sunk to tacit parroting of the Democratic party line. The liberals controlled print and broadcast media and, therefore, the news.

However, the technology began to change rapidly. More and more newspapers and news shows published articles online. Fox News emerged and steadily grew in popularity.

Also, the blogosphere came into being. Dozens of amateur and professional weblogs popped up, and countless interpretations demanded readership. Competition arose and flourished—quietly, persuasively.

On September 8, 2004, the Democratic Party tried to attack President George W. Bush with a weapon that had worked for them each time in the past: CBS's 60 Minutes II with Dan Rather.

But the Democrats did not realize the changing face of warfare. They had not accounted for evolving technology. They were fighting a musket war using bow-and-arrow strategies.

The week of September 8 marked a political watershed. Democrats launched a public relations war against Republicans and lost.

Mary Mapes, Dan Rather, John Kerry, and the rest of the CBS-Kerry team found a mentally ill former National Guardsman with a longstanding grudge against the President. The CBS-Kerry team ignored the fact that their sole source, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Burkett, had been hospitalized for depression following a nervous breakdown; that he blamed the President for the National Guard's failure to cover his medical bills; that he had an extensive collection of UFO photographs; that he claimed his source was Chief Warrant Officer George Conn (who had contradicted Burkett before when Burkett had tried to use Conn as a source); and that, as compensation for his documents, he demanded money and direct contact with the Kerry campaign. CBS also ignored the fact that memos that were supposedly written on a 1972-era typewriter were, in fact, written in proportional font on Microsoft Word.

The Democrats had been jaded by years of successful creation of news. When confronted with legitimate, substantive criticisms of the forged memos, CBS responded as they were accustomed to doing: by denial, dissembling, and throwing up smokescreens. Confronted with damning evidence that the memos were forgeries, CBS denied and denied in the events comprising what the Independent Panel affectionately termed "The Aftermath."

It is always painfully sobering to send all your troops into battle only to find yourself hopelessly outmatched. The 60 Minutes II production team, armed with hordes of experts and decades of experience in media-political sleight of hand, was defeated by "a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing," as CBS executive Jonathan Klein contemptuously described the bloggers who promptly felled Dan Rather and indicted all of CBS. From that point on, the victorious bloggers were affectionately known as the Pajamahadeen.

"The Aftermath" consisted of one disastrous bow-and-arrow strategy after another. First Rather defended the authenticity of the documents, trying, wholly without irony, to blame "partisan political operatives." Then CBS stipulated the documents' forgery but defended their accuracy (as if the accuracy of fake documents were the important question). They hemmed and they hawed and they continued reporting Democratic Party propaganda as if it were news.

CBS decided to seek, after the alternatives had been exhausted, the truth. Or at least an approximation thereof.

CBS grudgingly accepted the services of an Independent Review Panel. They requested, and received, a very thorough investigation, which was preferable from their point of view because they wanted to put as much time as possible between Memogate and the release of the investigative report, and they wanted something very long, legalistic, and dully worded that few people would have the heart to read and to quote.

After four months and 234 pages, the report was probably the best for which 60 Minutes II could have realistically hoped. The report claimed, incredibly, that they could "not find a basis to accuse those who investigated, produced, vetted, or aired the segment of having a political bias."

Despite its attempts to exonerate partially the 60 Minutes II crew, the report was forced to condemn the initial reporting as well as the actions comprising the Aftermath (which culminated in the infamous "fake but accurate" mantra). The Panel reported: "This marked a continuation of an apparent strategic tactic by 60 Minutes Wednesday and CBS News that was a complete failure."

"It would have been better," the report continued unnecessarily, "to ‘lose' the story on the Killian documents to a competitor than to air it short of investigating and vetting to the highest standards of fairness and accuracy." Presumably even poor Mapes realizes that by now.

Anyway, on January 5, CBS gets this punch-pulling, prisoner-taking but nonetheless extremely damning report. They post it as a PDF file—it's an Independent Panel Report, so they have to release it—but then some stuffed shirt realizes that the bloggers are going to quote it gleefully in all their blogs. So CBS takes down the report and replaces it with another PDF file, only this time copying and pasting are prohibited.

Still using the bow-and-arrow strategies! Will CBS ever learn?