Some CBS critics would be satisfied with only this:
OK, here's the deal. I got a guy who cooked up fake memos, another guy who will lie about their credibility, and a retired general who will back up the story. He's dead, but we have the seance on tape. (Morley did the voice. What a ham!) The Kerry campaign is ready to go with the "Fortunate Son" ad campaign to piggyback on the AWOL theme. You end the segment by saying, "And the story is, as they say in a one-hour Texas Photomat, developing." That'll be the cue for everyone to wipe the hard drives. Oh, and I had the guy who faked the memos "disappeared" in a scuba accident. Don't worry, I outsourced it and billed it as "catering." Love, Mary
You are as hard-working as an Oklahoma toad in a button-polishing contest, and I'm happy as a horse who inherited a peanut butter factory. After 17 attempts to smear Bush with a fabricated charge, it looks as if we may finally have something that sticks like Juicy Fruit on the Alamo wall. Keep in touch. Dan
Anything short of that? WHITEWASH! Such critics will never be satisfied.
But maybe that's good. Maybe skepticism should be the final reaction to CBS' internal report on Memogate.
There's also room for a little gratitude: It wasn't quietly sneaked out on a Friday night. It named names and collected scalps. Four CBS employees were heaved out the window. Some sort of commission will be set up to safeguard the precious remaining ounces of the network's credibility, which are now in a vial in a safe. Win-win. Move along.
If you wish. But consider what we've learned.
What caused CBS to run with this story? A raging, untrammeled desire to see George W. Bush driven from office in a hail of jeers and dead cats? Oh, heavens no.
"Myopic zeal," as one CBS executive put it. A desire to get the story out quickly. Not that they had any intention of affecting the election -- such a thing was unthinkable. It was just good business to get the story, because there might be another nut out there with another set of forged documents, talking to ABC. No bias here! If we're guilty of anything, it's good ol' fashioned enthusiasm!
This is hard to swallow. In 2004, "60 Minutes" was a showcase for anti-Bush authors; you wouldn't have been surprised to see Barney the Dog show up touting a bark-all book called "He Feeds Me Cigarettes: Observations on a Cruel Master."
The report would have been satisfying if it had squarely faced the issue of bias, and ferreted out every last contact between producer Mary Mapes and the Kerry campaign. But its authors didn't dare, either from unease with the truth or disbelief that journalists might have agendas. Those Fox guys, sure. And Armstrong Williams, it now seems.
But Dan Rather? The man's so fair he rotates his metaphors to reflect all 50 states!
The report did note that some who helped unmask the forgeries had agendas of their own. Which is relevant how, exactly? If an atheist proves that the face of the Virgin Mary on a Krispy Kreme was actually drawn with a Sharpie, this doesn't mean the doughnut's holy.
True, pro-Bush bloggers may have been more suspicious than those who think Bush spends his days leashed and curled at Karl Rove's feet -- but they were right, and that's what counted in the end. If partisanship made some unusually suspicious, might it also have made others unduly credulous?
Naaah. There's no evidence the critics were right, you know.
The CBS report can't bring itself, even now, to say the documents were unquestionably bogus. Rather himself told the investigating panel that "no one had provided persuasive evidence that the documents were not authentic." This is like floating in the North Atlantic, clinging to a White Star Line life preserver, and asking for proof that the Titanic ever existed in the first place.
Dan, please. Be grateful the report went as far as it did, because it ended the story for all practical purposes. Be grateful it didn't go further, lest CBS News be seen retrospectively as the entertainment wing of the Democratic National Committee.
Remember the heading on those damning memos? SUBJECT: CYA.
"A" stands for "anchor."