1/11/2005
 
Biased For And Against Bias In "Rathergate"
CBS has issued it's report (authored by Dick Thornburgh & Louis D. Boccardi) regarding Rathergate and the blogosphere is going wild. The blogosphere seems to be doing a much better job of disecting the report than the MSM is and though most of the blogosphere is biased one way or another, most also deny it. Michael J. Totten in a comment on an excellent blog entry by my good friend Marc Cooper notes:
The most insidious bias, I think, is bias which is denied. NPR is as liberal as Fox News is conservative. They both deny it, and they both insult my intelligence when they do it.

There is a bias, sometimes by the organization, sometimes by the individuals within an organization. I admit my bias is to the right, I'm a conservative (small c) and I don't deny that. Most of my postings have a decidely conservative bias. I have an occasional post that is liberal in some ways (too many ways according to some of my more conservative friends, not liberal enough by a long shot according to some of my liberal friends).

Some of the more conservative blogs are howling that the report didn't go far enough, some of the more liberal blogs are curiously silent. One exception to this "silence" is Marc Cooper. But then, Marc is a professional who doesn't mind tackling anyone on the left or right even though he is decidely on the left of the political aisle.

In his blog, Marc states,

"…those who think the 224 page report proves that a “liberal bias” infects the major networks are completely, utterly clueless. And they reveal an ideological mindset as incurable as the one they are convinced contaminates the Big Media. I've worked inside CBS News and -- believe me -- that is NOT a secret club of liberals."

Marc is 100% right about that; he is also 100% wrong in that while an organization may not be biased, some people within the organization may have a bias and their actions underscore that bias. Jim Lundgren writing in The Volokh Conspiracy states,

"The CBS Panel "does not believe that political motivations drove the September 8 Segment." Further, after mentioning political agendas and bias, the Report says: "the Panel will not level allegations for which it cannot offer adequate proof.

"Given those sentiments, the Panel is pretty quick to charge those who exposed CBS's fraudulent documents as having a political agenda. The motivation to seek and expose the truth is a pretty powerful one by itself, and motivations are complex. As I have said many times before, first you determine if the facts that someone is asserting are true or not. Only if they are false do you begin to ask why they would be putting forward false information, whether pushing false information might be the result of political bias.

"I can understand ignoring the probable political bias of people who are making substantive, rational arguments (even if mistaken), or I can understand attributing political motives to people who act recklessly, repeatedly making statements that they know to be false (such as that CBS's experts authenticated the documents or that they came from "an unimpeachable source"). What I can't understand is that the Report appears to use a double standard on whether someone has a political agenda."

The issue then is whether or not the Rathergate episode was biased, and anyone reading the Thornburgh/Boccardi report has to agree that the Wednesday 60 Minutes episode had the intent of sabotaging the Bush re-election effort and whether Mapes, Rather et al knew that that was the intent. No honest observer can say that it wasn't.

Other blog entrys range from straight reporting, Michael King of Rambling's Journal, to further questions as to bias such as entered by Lorie Byrd of PoliPolipundit and Ms. Byrd's excellent posting here.

That bias exists cannot be denied. The extent of the bias, and the direction the bias takes and who the bias is directed against can be debated extensively (and no doubt will be), but that the bias is there is a fact. Deal with it folks, deal with it!

UPDATE (11:24 CST) Mary Mapes is clueless. This woman is still defending the documents as "nothing that was false or misleading." Read the whole thing:

"I am terribly disappointed in the conclusions of the report and its effects on the four of us who will no longer work at CBS News. I am disappointed as well for the entire organization. It has been my second family and I will miss my colleagues there.

I am shocked by the vitriolic scape-goating in Les Moonves’s statement. I am very concerned that his actions are motivated by corporate and political considerations — ratings rather than journalism. Mr. Moonves’s response to the review panel’s report and the panel’s assessment of the evidence it developed in its investigation combine not only to condemn me, but to put all investigative reporting in the CBS tradition at risk.

Much has been made about the fact that these documents are photocopies and therefore cannot be trusted, but decades of investigative reporting have relied on just such copies of memos, documents and notes. In vetting these documents, we did not have ink to analyze, original signatures to compare, or paper to date. We did have context and corroboration and believed, as many journalists have before and after our story, that authenticity is not limited to original documents. Photocopies are often a basis for verified stories.

Before the Bush/Guard story aired, the newly found documents that supported it were thoroughly examined and corroborated. The contents of the new documents mesh perfectly, in large ways and small, with all previously known records. The new documents also were corroborated by retired Gen. Bobby Hodges, the late Col. Killian’s commander, who said that the documents showed Col. Killian’s true sentiments as well as his actions in the case. After the broadcast, Marian Carr Knox provided the same corroboration in her televised interview. Yet, despite the panel’s recognition of the heretofore unchalleneged integrity of my work in the past, the panel was quick to condemn me here on the basis of statements of people who told my associates and me very different versions than what they told the panel.

I cooperated fully with the review panel, provided them with more than 1,000 pages of reporting and background materials and answered each and every one of their questions completely and truthfully. To the extent that my answers differed from others’ statements, I can only emphasize my own honesty and integrity in attempting to reconstruct the details of the days leading up to the story’s airing.

It is noteworthy the panel did not conclude that these documents are false. Indeed, in the end, all that the panel did conclude was that there were many red flags that counseled against going to air quickly. I never had control of the timing of any airing of a 60 Minutes segment; that has always been a decision made by my superiors. Airing this story when it did, was also a decision made by my superiors, including Andrew Heyward. If there was a journalistic crime committed here, it was not by me. Those superiors also made the decision to give the White House little time to consider or respond to the Killian documents. Contrary to the conclusions of the panel, I vetted all aspects of the story with my editors. In fact, as I have always done with my editors, I told them everything.

I believe the segment presented to the American people facts they were free to accept or reject, and that as those facts were presented, there was nothing that was false or misleading. I am heartened to see that the panel found no political bias on my part, as indeed I have none. For 25 years, I have built a reputation as a fair, honest and thorough journalist. I have had 15 wonderful years at CBS News and four very bad months. I love and respect the people there and I wish them every good fortune."
UPDATE (11:29 CST): Rathergate.com shows that Mr. Rather himself is either clueless or so biased he cannot recognize it when he sees it. Maybe a combination of both.




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