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Dan Rather Can Blame Himself for Media Failings

By Ronald Kessler   |   Wednesday, 12 Aug 2009 09:57 AM

When it comes to arrogance, Dan Rather has no peer. Back on Sept. 8, 2004, Rather and his CBS show “60 Minutes Wednesday” thought they could get away with airing damaging documents about George W. Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service even though their own experts warned that the documents were probably fake.

Now the same Dan Rather is proposing that President Obama appoint a commission to address “the perilous state of America’s news media.” At stake, Rather says, is “our democratic republic.”

If the former CBS news anchor would look in the mirror, we could spare the cost of a commission and spotlight what is wrong with the media today. The documents Rather and CBS relied on were so crudely forged that they were produced by a computer with proportional spacing that did not exist when they purportedly were written in 1972.

As Howard Kurtz wrote in The Washington Post, five days before CBS aired the documents, “back in the ninth-floor offices of ‘60 Minutes,’ across West 57th Street from the CBS Broadcast Center, warnings about the story began to surface. Emily Will of North Carolina, one of the experts CBS had asked to examine the memos, sent [producer Mary] Mapes an e-mail outlining her concerns over discrepancies” in the signature of the late Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, Bush’s squadron commander in the Texas Air National Guard.

Will phoned CBS and “raised more questions about whether the typography in the memos existed in 1972 and differences with other military documents,” Kurtz said.

Meanwhile, Linda James, another document examiner, was raising similar questions. The two memos she looked at “had problems,” James recalled telling CBS, and she could not rule out that they had been “produced on a computer,” according to Kurtz’s story.

Besides the proportional spacing that did not exist at the time, documents produced by the Texas Air National Guard back then were typed on an Olympia manual typewriter. No typewriter model at the time had the superscript “th” used in the documents to be aired by CBS.

On Sept. 7, both Linda James and Emily Will raised stronger objections to CBS.

“To go at that stage, I just couldn’t imagine,” James later said.

“If you air the program on Wednesday," Will recalled saying, “on Thursday, you’re going to have hundreds of document examiners raising the same questions.”

More than 8.1 million viewers saw the show that suggested Bush received preferential treatment during his National Guard service. As New York magazine reported, Rather had “read multiple drafts of the script for the story (written by producer Mapes), done most of the interviews, and had a thorough knowledge of the story’s content and point of view.”

After the program aired, Dr. Joseph Newcomer, a document expert, began blogging that the documents were “modern forgeries” and pointed out why. The story blew up in Rather’s face. Instead of coming clean, he stonewalled.

“I’m confident we worked longer, dug deeper, and worked harder than almost anybody in American journalism does,” Rather said before CBS pushed him out the door.

While the Internet has led to much of its financial difficulties, most people simply don’t trust the media. Dan Rather is a poster boy for why that is so.

Fox News’ success shows that when offered fair and balanced news coverage, Americans will gobble it up. As outlined in the Newsmax story "Washington Post Has Become a Model for the Media," while The New York Times with its liberal agenda continues to decline in circulation, The Washington Post, which has become a fair newspaper since new publisher Katharine Weymouth appointed Marcus Brauchli executive editor, has seen its decline level off.

We don’t need a commission to study the media. The marketplace is doing the job.

Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
e-mail. Go here now.

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