Monday, September 20, 2004
Rather's blather: I just watched this evening's CBS News mea culpa and must say I am solidly unimpressed. The Mudville Gazette (temporary home to RatherBiased.com updates) has a transcript of the CBS Evening News piece here.
A few things jump out at me as a viewer and an editor.
First, the past week and a half of stonewalling and increasingly lame defenses are not apologized for -- just the initial report.
Second, Bill Burkett gave you a name as his source of the documents and you don't reveal who that individual is. Why? Did he give you the name of a dead person? This is unlikely because then it would pinpoint Burkett as the forger.
Therefore he gave you the name of an individual who is alive. What did CBS News do with that name? Did you interview that individual? If not, why not? And if that person didn't verify the provenance of the documents then why did you go ahead with the piece? If that person did verify the provenance, then why aren't you putting them on the news broadcast? Why are we dealing with the middleman?
Third, you report that CBS News approached Burkett about these documents -- who directed you to Burkett? If not a name, at least give us some vague identifying information -- a source inside the White House (Karl Rove?) or maybe someone over at the DNC or the Kerry campaign.
This was not nearly good enough. Try again, Dan.
On a related note: About the most embarrassing thing a news organization can do is make a mistake in a correction. Rather does the same, when he identifies Burkett as a former Air Guard member -- he was a member of the Army National Guard.
*UPDATE* The Wall Street Journal answers one of my questions in this report. [link for subscribers only]
In an interview, Mr. Rather said that Mr. Burkett intially refused to say who gave him the documents, but after being pressed by CBS, gave the name of another former guardsmen. Mr. Rather said this other guardsmen, who he declined to identify "was a real person who would have been in position to have gotten the documents." But CBS was unable to track down this person to verify the papers and when the backlash against the story began, CBS and Mr. Rather went back to Mr. Burkett, who told them this past Thursday that the guardsman wasn't the real source. [emphasis added]
This is typical of CBS News' bass ackwards journalistic practice as it relates to this story. They thought about going to Burkett's alleged source to verify the papers after the story blew up in their faces and not before?
On Monday night's newscast Rather claimed that CBS News had reported this story in "good faith." The more we know about how CBS approached the story, the more it becomes apparent that Rather is unfamiliar with what exactly constitutes "good faith."