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Jewish World Review Sept. 21, 2004 / 6 Tishrei, 5765

James Lileks

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Will anyone trust them again? | Remember when you believed what they said on the evening news? Perhaps you never did, of course — perhaps you were one of those people who threw shoes at the tube every time Eric Sevareid ended a show without unmasking the perils of fluoridation. Most people, however, had a loose and unexamined trust in the evening news. Here comes Uncle Walt down from the mount with the daily tablets: That's the Way It Is.

Over the years, though, you noticed that the news seemed a little predictable. Big Washington News usually led the first segment, unless a hurricane or plane crash rudely upstaged the efforts of our thankless solons. Then a smattering of international news — an earthquake, a coup in one of those big, indistinct African nations, a bus off a cliff in India or a ferry sunk off Thailand. (If ever a bus flew off a cliff and hit a ferry, that might lead the news, if there were enough Western tourists aboard.)

Then part three of a weeklong thumb-sucker, usually concerning some Troubling Development in Flyover Land — a new drug addling dissolute youth in disaffected rural communities, the impact of the bison renaissance on the red-stippled jumping mouse.

Then finally, a heartwarming tale about a girl and her pony. If you could find a little girl who used her pony to bring Indian bus-crash victims to America to push through a Senate resolution defending the jumping rat, you'd have the best network TV news show ever.

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Why, in retrospect, did we watch for so long? Credibility, perhaps. While one may have detected the occasional whiff of liberal bias — and by "whiff" we mean "having an orchid rammed up your nose" — at least they didn't make stuff up or let their biases run them off the rails completely. Until the memos about President Bush's National Guard service dropped in their laps.

Then it all came apart. Dan Rather offered up no substantive proof in the days after the memos were questioned, preferring to rely on unnamed mysterious experts who would presumably burst into flames if exposed to daylight; he blamed those pesky right-wing nuts on the Internet who presume to think that 20 years of experience in digital type makes them more of an expert than a man who's been reading the same old teleprompter font for 20 years. People need to know if their anchorman is a crook, Rather seemed to be saying. Well, I am not a crook.

While the Nixonian stonewalling is telling enough, something else makes you wonder whether the Tiffany network is studded with cubic zirconiums. Yes, it's possible that the memos are genuine. It's possible that a nuclear-powered 1972 Univac Selecto-Composer was able to download font technology from the future, and it's possible that a non-typist like Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian would spend a weekend afternoon crafting personal memos on such a beast. "Won't be home for supper, hon — I blew out 40 vacuum tubes trying to auto-wrap the first sentence. I'm gonna be here all night." It's possible.

But it's more likely that the memos are not just forgeries, but exceptionally bad ones. It takes a twentysomething clueless about the past to think that 1970s memos looked like a modern-day Word document. This is why some suspect that Dark Lord Karl Rove himself planted the memos, and his cloven hooves are dancing a jig over the mischief he's caused. If these hadn't worked, the next batch would note, "Tried to get Bush on cell phone, no luck," just in case no one picked up on the other anachronisms.

How could CBS buy such a crock? Surely someone must have wondered why the visual style of the documents was so minty-fresh. Surely someone recalled the old days of Selectrics or Royal manuals. Why, it's almost as if they ran spurious documents because they thought it proved a greater truth.

Of course, this would have been the first time they did that.

Somebody has to fall on his sword. But who to push? It's obvious; CBS needs to regain not just the trust of America, but its goodwill. Note to CBS: Blame it all on Andy Rooney and announce his retirement.

A grateful nation will be yours.

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JWR contributor James Lileks is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


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08/19/04: Time for Old Media to make like McGreevey
08/12/04: Another Swing Vote: the Sufferers of Sudden Bush Hatred Fatigue Syndrome
08/05/04: Is Kerry's Problem nuance? Or is it obfuscation?
07/30/04: Intimate liability
07/26/04: Sandy Berger's classified wardrobe
07/15/04: Pretty faces, ugly words
07/08/04: Genocide can't happen if we banish the word
07/01/04: Dropping political discourse level
06/24/04: Kerry's Science Buddies and the Silly Sanctity of Life
06/17/04: Behold the Summer of Bill Clinton!
06/10/04: Whatever happened to respect for the presidency?
06/03/04: Tales at the intersection of war and popular culture
05/20/04: Athletes on Notice: Strive Unflaggingly
05/13/04: America likes Rumsfeld, and the Dems can't take it
05/07/04: Kerry Supporters Have a New Take on Vietnam War
05/05/04: New cell phone does everything, but there's a problem...
04/29/04: John Kerry, prisoner of symbolic politics
04/22/04: Shall we grovel? Kerry Plan to Restore America's Place in the World
04/08/04: Sept. 11 Might Have Been Different If ...
04/02/04: Slinging slime or citing facts?
03/26/04: One War, One Enemy
03/22/04: Bloodied Spain Rejoins Old Europe
03/12/04: Why All Those Foreign Leaders Want Kerry to Whup Bush
03/08/04: Introducing the Kerry Doctrine
02/27/04: Introducing the AWOLs: Angry White Outraged Libs
02/20/04: Sifting the headlines of election year 1992
02/18/04: Guess Which Candidate Our Enemies Want to Lose in 2004?
01/29/04: Every Laptop a Truth Squad
01/27/04: When the battle over artistic freedom goes over the edge
12/31/03: For the Left and Right, Some New Year's Resolutions
12/22/03: Dean's black helicopters
12/15/03: Dems Are Mainstreaming the Extreme
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11/24/03: The real story: Most Brits see U.S. as force for good
11/19/03: The Trouble With Al Gore's Screed on Civil Liberties
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09/29/03: Ah-nold & Clark may be on different sides of the aisles, but their supporters are cut from the same cloth
09/19/03: All Hail the Ninth Circuit Court of Surreal
08/26/03: This time, the record industry doesn't stand a chance!
08/18/03: Assessing the Schwarzenegger Factor in Republicanism
08/08/03: No wonder Howard ‘Two Covers’ Dean gets all the buzz
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06/16/03: The real story behind Hillary's book
06/09/03:America's new mission was and remains: Extirpating the flaming nutballs and the societies that nurture them
06/03/03: The Constitution as gag order
05/23/03: Sometimes the theme of world events is chaos itself
05/16/03: Newspapers are only human, after all
05/13/03: What McCarthy messed up
05/06/03: Still think the International Criminal Court was a good idea?
04/03/03: The world is ending, the world is ending! Doesn't anybody care!? Why won't anybody listen!?
03/14/03: Kerry and the Dems are banking on American electorate's tendancy to forget history
02/28/03: Roadmap to peace?
02/13/03: We live in an age where the poet has been cast out from the halls of power --- sob, sob
02/10/03: Found: League for International Justice and Peace talking points
01/30/03: The US can go to war whenever it likes for its own reasons, and all the UN can do is pass more worthless paper
01/23/03: People who'd volunteer for the Iraqi army if they saw Saddam wearing a "Free Mumia" button
01/16/03: One of those head vs. heart things
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11/16/01: Attack of the 'Patriotism police' and other Hollywood fare
11/12/01: From the bleats of dismay
10/30/01: Osama and the Genie
10/08/01: "We can stop the Bush Death Juggernaut"
11/04/01: America, loathe or it leave it
09/25/01: Do the Europeans actually think that the war on murderous zealotry will be furthered by undercutting America?
08/27/01: If the economy is in a funk, why aren't we dancing?
08/14/01: Dubyah's embarrassing presidential vacation
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05/08/01: Republicans want poisoned water
04/23/01: We bleat as we're sheared
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03/26/01: You've been warned
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02/06/01: Can you say 'Ayatollah Bush'?
01/24/01: The new Executive Orders
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01/09/01: Bubba gets his last licks
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12/23/00: Memo to Dubya: Wanna show who is boss? Nuke 'em!
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11/28/00: Clinton knows history isn't written by the victors anymore
11/17/00: Chad's the word
11/08/00: The strangest political night
11/07/00: Get ready to return to the Dark Ages

© 2003, James Lileks