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The Dan Rather Scandal: The Beginning of the Mainstream Media Meltdown?

Tuesday, 14 September 2004 12:00 AM

Anchorman Dan Rather says all who question the authenticity of his supposed scoop are “Bush supporters.”

Media outlets have been snookered before. The so-called “Hitler Diaries” and the Clifford Irving account of Howard Hughes come to mind. Not all dead-end news stories are the result of deliberate fraud. The New York Post got a “tip” from a source that was obviously misinformed that John Kerry would pick Richard Gephardt as his running mate.

When a newspaper, book publisher or broadcast news operation is led down a blind alley on a story that is just plain wrong, the honorable thing to do is to say, “Hey, we goofed, we’re sorry” and then move on.

Not so with CBS at this writing. Given that Dan Rather has to understand that this misstep in and of itself is not a career-ender, one has to wonder why he refuses to acknowledge he and his producers were misled.

It is difficult to argue with ex-CBS Newsman Bernard Goldberg who said this is what happens when you want a story to come out a certain way, and then fail to do adequate fact-checking.

Years ago, a widely circulated columnist named Drew Pearson gained a reputation for indulging in sensationalism, always with a strong leftward tilt. He was known for rushing into print without making that one final phone call that could ruin a good story. Many of his colleagues disrespected him as a “gossip monger.” Pearson died a few years before the Watergate scandal of the Nixon years. After that story hit the front pages, some who had little use for him when he was alive began to say that maybe Pearson was “just ahead of his time.”

By then, Washington had developed the scandal habit. The major networks, which had previously claimed the higher road — above the journalistic muck inhabited by the Drew Pearsons of the world - now were adopting much of his approach. They had the scandal habit, and like Pearson, with a flair for going after Republicans and conservatives (Iran-Contra) and smoothing over Chinagate, Travelgate, Filegate and other multiple scandals that led to the impeachment of a Democrat Bill Clinton.

Again, this gets us back to the Bernie Goldberg charge in his two books (“Bias” and “Arrogance”) that many of the producers, writers, reporters, and anchors live in a “comfortable elite liberal bubble” that puts them out of touch with reality.

Monday night on “Hannity and Colmes,” Goldberg challenged his former employer to “give some information” about the source. Not that he expected the network to “burn its source,” but at least to say whether the source came from – for example — the Kerry campaign or some respected nonpartisan official of the National Guard. That could make a huge difference.

When about 90 percent of the employees and supervisors of a major news outlet act alike, do alike, and think alike, they will reinforce each other’s prejudices. That’s human nature. When their leftward tilt combines with the scandal habit, it is hardly surprising that they should also carry on the Pearson tradition of failing to make that last phone call that would ruin a juicy story and trash all the time and money they spent working on it.

That raises the issue of “diversity.” Newsrooms spend a lot of money sending their executives to conferences of journalists where the focus is on “diversity” of ethnicity, race, sexual preference, or whatever. Never do we hear about conferences focused on diversity of worldview. Such conferences would be a service to a public that wants its news straight.

That won’t happen as long as the networks and major metropolitan dailies are in denial about “bias” and “arrogance.” Until such time as that kind of diversity is explored, the slow drip, drip, drip of the meltdown of the major media will continue, as Fox News, the Internet and talk radio fill the void. Unless the “old media” clean house, more viewers and readers will suspect that something is at work here beyond living in “a comfortable, elite, liberal bubble.”

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Anchorman Dan Rather says all who question the authenticity of his supposed scoop are "Bush supporters." Media outlets have been snookered before. The so-called "Hitler Diaries" and the Clifford Irving account of Howard Hughes come to mind. Not all dead-end news...
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2004-00-14
Tuesday, 14 September 2004 12:00 AM
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