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Ethics and Journalism in America Fingers point at Dan Rather for being a better journalist than Fox
by Bryan Zepp Jamieson
Zepp's Commentaries
September 22, 2004

When 60 Minutes interviewed Bill Barnes, a retired Texas politician, I paid only scant attention to the memos Dan Rather said they had received that showed that Putsch was a screw-up who received preferential treatment and incurred the disdain of his superiors and fellow pilots as a result. It was, after all, no secret that he secured the position despite finishing 24th out of 25 for the one position open, and it was also no secret that he refused to take a mandatory physical and was dropped from flight status as a result, and a few months later, he vanished altogether as far as the Guard goes.

None of this is supposition. It is all part of records that Putsch himself has provided.

So the memos only provided some confirmation for what we all knew, and raised the question as to why a guy who had cost Uncle Sam over a million 1972 dollars had decided to just refuse direct orders to take a physical, and been taken off that very expensive flight status, wasting a million dollars and defying military authority, and then, a year later and after going awol for at least four months, getting an honorable discharge.

"60 Minutes" didn't even provide definitive answers. They just simply showed a couple of building blocks in the story of a wastrel son who received preferential treatment in order to avoid serving his country while appearing to do exactly that, and who screwed even that up (as he has everything else in his life, including the Presidency). He got further preferential treatment when, too stoned and drunk to take the mandatory physical, he somehow didn't end up in the stockade or on the ground in Vietnam, but instead simply vanished, and eventually got a rather whorish honorable discharge.

Bill Barnes gave a damning interview. I knew the right would be in a frenzy to distract, and when the first rumbles about the memos showed up, I figured that would be the distraction. It wasn't until the next day that I saw PDFs of the documents and realized that I was looking at a fourth-generation Xerox of a word processed document. I said publically that no 1972 typewriter could produce that, and several people assured me that such typewriters existed. "Fine," I said. "All you have to do is tell us the make and model, and have someone recreate the memos on one of those typewriters, and make sure it's a system that could plausibly be in a backwater national guard office."

Of course, in the nearly two weeks since, we've established that the documents were forgeries, and Dan Rather and CBS have admitted that they were had, and apologized. Rather said, "[...]We made a mistake in judgment, and for that I am sorry. It was an error that was made, however, in good faith and in the spirit of trying to carry on a CBS News tradition of investigative reporting without fear or favoritism. Please know that nothing is more important to us than people's trust in our ability and our commitment to report fairly and truthfully."

The right wing howled its derision, branding Rather, and CBS, liars, insisting (with no evidence at all) that Rather knew the documents were forgeries when he showed them, and touting the incident as evidence of the Ślibrul media' being out to "get Bush."

It was a hurricane of gleeful triumph and vitriol, a howl of ersatz rage and genuine joy, one that only the profoundly sanctimonious and dishonest can deliver.

But many questions remain. Who did the forging, and why?

Why such a clumsy forgery? There is a true type font called "typewriter" that is a non-proportional courier that has characters that ride off the baseline, with broken ascenders and descenders, even varying weight. It would take a microscope to tell the difference between a document done on a laser printer with this font, and one banged out on a 1972 Smith-Corona typewriter. Two generations of copies, and even a microscope wouldn't help. I could have knocked out a copy in twenty minutes, starting by downloading the font and finishing up at the copy machine. Word Perfect could take care of the superscript easily, and I could even scan Killian's signature at high resolution (the copier would obscure the microscopic pixellation), give it a convincing warble in Ulead's Photo Impact, and it would look like the signature, varying only insignificantly from the original, but enough to convince someone it wasn't just a copy.

Mind you, this is using equipment standard on any 21st century desktop, consumer-end software, and using knowledge available to any second year student at a secretarial school. A bright ten year old with an interest in computers could do it.

CBS at one point noted that they "simply stopped fact-checking" the documents when the White House acknowledged them and didn't question the content. A stupid move on CBS's part, to be sure, and they will pay a price for that sloppiness.

There was nobody in the White House who could tell the difference between Times New Roman and Courier? Really? Where's Donna Moss when you need her?

It's hardly any surprise the White House didn't contest the contents of the memo. After all, they only supported what was already common knowledge; in 1972 Putsch was a worthless drunken slag, too much of a fuckup to even handle a rich-boy's cush position, and he needed daddy's help both to get in, and to get out after he screwed it all up. It's a pattern that, 32 years later, is unchanged.

But the White House didn't question the provenance of those memos at all. How odd.

Was CBS sandbagged, and was the White House complicit in that piece of fraud?

Why didn't the WH say anything, when allowed the opportunity to examine the documents and respond prior to "60 Minutes" broadcasting them?

The sanctimony of the rest of the media is galling. CBS pulled a massive screwup. Having done so, they've apologized, and vowed to do better. It did damage to Dan Rather's already shaky reputation. Greg Palast, one of the few real journalists left, quoted Rather's craven statement, "George Bush is the President. He makes the decisions. He wants me to line up, just tell me where," uttered when explaining that, in the wake of 9/11, newsmen had an obligation to be Americans first and journalists second, which meant that they would do a poor job of being either. CBS's reputation was affected, also ­ like the rest of their once-proud news department wasn't pretty terrible already.

Waggling fingers appeared from Faux, the only network in American history to sue -- successfully -- for the right to lie to the American people. CNN, equally sanctimonious, was doing their usual job of simplifying the news into right wing mush, meals for morons. The day before Rather made his apology, I happened to catch Headline news talking about the Navy's decision to not re-investigate whether Kerry got his medals properly or not. Not only did they omit the Navy's reason for the refusal -- that the investigation had already been done and no reason for any further investigation was needed, but they didn't name the "public interest group" that the navy "refused." It might have been embarrassing to mention that this group was the notorious and rabid gadfly outfit, Judicial Watch.

Bill O'Reilly has spewed a constant stream of lies, about the memos and pretty much everything else. Rush Limbaugh has lied his head off. So has Wolf Blitzer. So have Joe Scarborough and Ann Coulter and Matt Drudge and Tucker Carlson and all the other scummy little propagandists who run around pretending to be journalists.

This excrement is what passes for "mainstream journalism" in once-free America.

What a disgrace. What a fucking disgrace.

Thirty years ago, when America had a free media not controlled by fascist corporations, "60 Minutes" was considered the very finest in broadcast journalism.

Today, that's still true. It's just that they have to reach a much lower standard to achieve that.

Posted: September 23, 2004


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