09/24/04 — CBS’s blunder: Network got too friendly with the Kerry campaign

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CBS’s blunder: Network got too friendly with the Kerry campaign

One important point is being overlooked in all of the indignant second-guessing of CBS News for its horrendous blunder.

And there is no other way to describe what CBS did. The reporting of a fraudulent document as if it were real, during a presidential campaign, was nothing less than horrendous, for several reasons.

The most important reason is this: If the story had not been set right by other media, and if it had caused even a relatively few people to vote against President Bush in November, the course of history could have been changed by false information.

Second: The reporting, by one of the biggest and best-financed news organizations in the world, was no better than you might see on a high school newspaper. If someone with a grudge gives a reporter a document that smears the person against whom he holds a grudge, even high-school journalism students know that verification is essential.

CBS News knows it too. And in this case, just a minimum amount of checking would have raised enough questions to keep the story off the air pending further investigation.

But CBS had spent years trying to dig up some mud about Bush’s Air National Guard service. It couldn’t resist taking documents from a disgruntled ex-National Guard officer and presenting them as a trophy of investigative journalism.

Now, any good investigative reporter knows that letting go of a story that is not there is just as important as finding one that is. Truth is served in both ways.

CBS News couldn’t let go. It had too much invested in the Bush-National Guard story, and it had employees and executives with a burning obsession for the story. Those are undoubtedly among the reasons that it violated basic tenets of journalism.

But there is another reason, and that is what all the indignant media handwringers have been overlooking: CBS News, and celebrity announcer Dan Rather in particular, want Bush to be defeated in the election by Sen. John Kerry.

Even before the story ran, a CBS News reporter contacted a high official of the Kerry campaign and told him, secretly, that the man who provided the documents could be of assistance in the effort to defeat Bush. That contact was as serious a breach of journalistic ethics as using the story without properly authenticating it. The person who made the contact should be fired forthwith. Reporters are just not supposed to work for a campaign.

In this case it illustrates the bias of the reporter, a bias that is so prevalent among CBS News bigwigs that the reporter felt safe in thus cozying up to Kerry’s campaign.

Why are most other media not discussing this? Let us hope it is not because they are guilty of the same sort of infractions.

Published in Editorials on September 24, 2004 11:17 AM