Compare and Contrast

Let's assume that CBS got snookered and publicized fake documents which basically say true things about LT. Bush missing medical exams he should have taken and the mysterious holes in his records. Is this not-as-bad-as/the same as/worse than all the media which accurately repeated the falsehoods peddled by the Swift Boat people?

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15 Responses to Compare and Contrast

  1. All of the above. It is not a simple question to answer. For example, I doubt any of major networks (including Fox) would have accepted similarly dubious documents about Kerry’s Vietnam service as readily as CBS (apparently) accepted the Bush memos. This makes CBS worse. Note, also, that a number of news agencies ran with the Bush memos ball, following CBS’s lead. Something similar happened with regard to the Swift Boaters.

    While the Swift Vets themselves are public, we don’t really have nearly as much information (especially initially) about who backs them. On the other hand, we have no idea who provided the documents to CBS or where they came from. Both seem pretty bad to me, though I doubt anyone but Fox would keep those who back the Swift Boats anonymous.

    In both cases, much of the media has reported both controversies as a “he said/she said” affair. Rather than attempt to weigh the evidence and actually take a position as to which side is right, the media prefers to simply report what two people on opposite sides of the issue have to say. So, this makes the errors very similar. In many ways, I would say that is probably one of the worst aspects of the modern media, and everyone is quite guilty. This is, I think, is the major failing for both.

  2. I honestly don’t know what to make of it. I would much rather the broadcast media discuss real issues. I don’t care so much about the history. I care more about the present. That’s what the media is refusing to cover (probably to avoid angering corporate advertisers and underwriters).

  3. Identical. Both involve an act of dishonesty, sure, which is a bad thing. But worse, both involve an utter failure by the media to do their homework before throwing this kind of fuel on the fire. Whether its fear of being scooped resulting in immediate release, or simply an unwillingness to do the job right, you can’t really escape the fact that these are just the two cases, lately, where the media has proven itself to be merely a repeater of gossip, rather than a finder of truth…and just imagine how many there were that no one caught?

    Its like the Stephen Glass story all over again. Who was worse, him for faking a dozen articles? Or the new republic for allowing a reporter’s notes to hold the same weight as corroborative evidence…ask me, and its the magazine…you have to know people will pull crooked stuff like this and be prepared for it.

  4. Um, well, I have to start saying that CBS is starting to look real, real, real bad.

    Honestly, I find it difficult to believe this is true, but ABC News is reporting it and CBS confirms they hired the experts cited. Still no word on any experts CBS hired who stand by the authentication.

    http://abcnews.go.com/sections/WNT/Investigation/bush_guard_documents_040914-1.html

    Two of the document experts hired by CBS News now say the network ignored concerns they raised prior to the broadcast of 60 Minutes II about the disputed National Guard records attributed to Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, who died in 1984.

    Emily Will, a veteran document examiner from North Carolina, told ABC News she saw problems right away with the one document CBS hired her to check the weekend before the broadcast.

    “I found five significant differences in the questioned handwriting, and I found problems with the printing itself as to whether it could have been produced by a typewriter,” she said.

    Will says she sent the CBS producer an e-mail message about her concerns and strongly urged the network the night before the broadcast not to use the documents.

    “I told them that all the questions I was asking them on Tuesday night, they were going to be asked by hundreds of other document examiners on Thursday if they ran that story,” Will said.

    Here is CBS’s response:

    “CBS News did not rely on either Emily Will or Linda James for a final assessment of the documents regarding George Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard. Ms. Will and Ms. James were among a group of experts we consulted to assess one of the four documents used in the report and they did not render definitive judgment on that document. Ultimately, they played a peripheral role and deferred to another expert who examined all four of the documents used,” the network said in a statement.

    “Most importantly, the content of the documents was backed up by our reporting and our sources who knew the thoughts and behavior of Lt. Col. Jerry Killian at the time,” the statement said.

    This is beginning to look like a gross violation of journalistic ethics. I really cannot fathom what CBS was and is thinking.

  5. I just don’t understand why there’s so much controversy about this… the White House even released the documents after CBS did, and gave them validity by saying they proved “…Bush served and was honorably discharged.”

    If Bush and the White House won’t go after the documents, why is this getting so much negative press?

  6. Dem says:

    Ernest is correct, it is looking really bad for CBS. The lone expert they cited has said that all he examined was the signature. They’ve offered no other validation. Meanwhile, WaPo and ABC have expressed serious concerns, not just about the format but also the content.

    But then, there are those people who worked with Killian who have said that the memos themselves are consistent with the discussions they had around that time. NY Times has an interview with the secretary who even said that a) the memos were forged because they never had that kind of typewriter, but b) she remembers real memos that said what those say.

    I feel like this is some sort of shaggy dog story and we are waiting for the next plot twist.

  7. Mojo says:

    That’s why I love this blog, people who can think beyond the “yes he did” “no he didn’t” stage. Ernest Miller and Christopher Chopin are right on when it comes to the basic problem with the media over the past decade or so. Everybody is so afraid of being accused of bias that they don’t do any real reporting any more. They just make sure they include two extreme positions and figure they’ve done their job. That’s why they really love “debunking” stories, the first position has already been put out there so they only have to repeat the assertion and then find somebody to deny it and they’re automatically “balanced”. Half their work is done for them. That’s also what makes mud-slinging so effective now. The media can just quote the attack and the defense (but never more than a couple sound bites each so that nobody can really assess the issue) and their story writes itself plus they can go in the next day with somebody supporting the original statement and back and forth until the next sensational slime hits.

  8. John Nicholson says:

    This may be slightly off-topic. Apologies.
    I’m British, and driving to work this morning I heard on BBC Radio 4 the opinion that President Bush was going to get re-elected because the American people thought that the situation in Iraq was largely under control. The speaker, a relatively respected politician named Shirley Williams, contrasted the US Media coverage of the Iraq conflict with that of the rest of the world.
    If this argument has merit, then your media problem is serious. Could it be true, as this speaker was implying, that US domestic perception of the world situation is materially different to the rest of the world’s, because of some political/cultural bias in (or forced on to) the media?

  9. Brett Bellmore says:

    Yes, John. But I suppose your media isn’t beyond fixing.

    Look, the key point that the lefties seem to be missing, is that it doesn’t matter if in this particular instance 60 Minutes was advancing a fraud to help your candidate. If they’re willing to rely on documents they have every reason to believe are forgeries, if they’re willing to LIE to the public, then they’re not going to restrict their lying to just trying to elect Democratic candidates. They’re going to do it whenever they see advantage in it.

    60 Minutes can no longer be considered a safe source of information. On ANYTHING.

  10. CBS’s conduct is much worse than that of media who reported the allegations made by the Swift Boat people. It isn’t so much that CBS was duped into relying on a forged document as partial support for its story. Anyone can make a mistake. The problem is that after it became apparent that the documents are fakes, CBS continues to vouch for them, and offers arguments that just seem crazy (a computer is not capable of using a lower-case “l” in place of the numeral “1”?). This just shows that CBS cannot be trusted.

  11. Bricklayer says:

    Focusing more on your actual question:
    “all the media which accurately repeated the falsehoods peddled by the Swift Boat people?”

    I think that the question itself is flawed, to the point where I believe you are trying to make a point by simply posing it. Either that or trying to save Rather’s ass, I guess you must admire him.

    The specific flaws in your question stem from your use of the words “all” when refering to the media, “repeated” when characterizing the actions of the media, and “falsehoods” when characterizing that which was “peddled” by the swifties.

    Let’s talk about “falsehoods” first. It is somewhat vague exactly what you meant by “peddled”. I have not paid the greatest of attention to the swifties, but I have gathered they have done two things. One, they produced a commercial (I only saw one) that contained, as far as I could tell, entirely opinion testimony. Two, a particular swifty put out a book that contained alleged facts.

    By definition, unless the swifties in the commercials are lying as to their opinions, these opinions cannot be falsehoods. I admit I don’t have a transcript in front of me, and may not have seen all the commercials. Generally speaking however, I think it safe to say the commercials are merely opinions, albeit strong ones.

    The book (o’neil?) is another matter. It leads us into your use of the word “repeated.” The book may indeed contain falsehoods. It may indeed contain truths contrary to Kerry’s allegations. But the reporting surrounding was of two kinds. One that the book in and of itself was a fact. Fair enough–a swifty wrote it. Secondly, some reporting investigated the allegations contained within. Most of this investagatory journalism was critical and suspicious of the facts claimed in the book, and when presented to the public included responses from the Kerry camp. If I’m not mistaken, even Bill O’Reilley was/is one of the swiftie’s skeptics. Your use of the word “repeated” is misleading. It implies that facts from the book were presented without critical analysis. That implication is false.

    I have to run to class, so I’ll skip the discussion of your use of “all.”

    CBS did not treat the documents with criticism or skepticism. Unlike the swiftie book, which had a living and breathing author, the documents could not prima facia be considered truthful facts in and of themselves. They should have been viewed with the same skepticism a judge would have for a purported will that leaves the entirety of a decedent’s estate to the will’s proponent. The substantive information within the documents was arguably viewed with minimal skepticism, but I think we all know who Dan Rather would like to see in the White House.

    If what Rather did were a crime, you’d make a great defense lawyer for him. Like Prof. Graham says: “If you can’t when on the law, try the facts. If you can’t win on the facts, try another case!” But I don’t think you have the right venue for that tactic here; from reading your blog and its comments the past few days, it is clear to me that you have a very intelligent readership.

  12. Michael says:

    Actually, my point was simple: in both cases it appears there was documentary evidence contradicting a story (in the CBS case, the typography, in the all-the-media case, the service records and citations of the sailors involved in the events). CBS appears to have done at best an incompetent checkout; in the Swift Boat case, no one seems to have checked anything out before running with the allegations.

    What I’m asking – really asking – is how much checking out media should do before running with scandal. If Joe Schmoe publishes a book accusing a candidate of arson or rape, and will go on TV to affirm it, what checkouts of Schmoe are due? Of the candidate’s whereabouts in the period in question? Or is the fact that Schmoe is willing to say it – with whatever tiny risk of libel there is when a public figure is the target – sufficient?

    I don’t actually know the answer to these questions for sure. But it would seem to me that if CBS’s original account of its investigation — experts confirmed authenticity to the limited extent they could, a live anonymous informant confirmed it too, still others said it was consistent with their recollections — then that’s about all you can ask in real life. [Of course, now we’re hearing a different story, in which some experts claim they raised red flags — either that’s CYA on their part, or CBS was very misleading in its report, and shoddy in its rush to broadcast.]

    And, it seems to me that the checkouts of the Swift Boat accounts of the events in Vietnam (which is what they led with, and it wasn’t just the book; the Kerry as war protestor commercial was very much the second round), were in most cases revealed to be hearsay, and ran up against voluminous and unanimous contrary documentary evidence, not to mention the testimony of most actual eye-witnesses. The major media were very slow to notice that — should they have done a little research before running with the story?

  13. Michael,

    I couldn’t agree with you more.

    If CBS made an error, they made an error. Fine. It happens. Who hasn’t believed erroneous facts based on poor judgement at one time or another? You’re right, if CBS’s original account of their investigation was correct, then they were probably in the ballpark of what we can expect of journalists.

    However, once credible questions regarding those facts are raised, it is incumbent upon those who are disseminating them to investigate further. This is the thing that really frustrates me with CBS. Even if they didn’t err in the deciding to go with the original broadcast (which is looking questionable right now), they have certainly erred in their response to valid criticism.

  14. Bricklayer says:

    You ask “should [swifty reporters] have done a little research before running with the story?”

    If there is a hard and fast rule you are looking for, I doubt there is one. But a key factor is for the news organization to ask, “How are people going to take this?” If there is natural skepticism of potentially scandalous material, then research requirements are lessened. But if the public is likely to accept the allegations because the source has an aura of credibility or because the public is generally ignorant of the source, then research requirements (and disclaimers) are heightened.

    No research was necessary in the swifty instance because the swifties and their organization had already been reported on before their ads ran, had already been accused of partisanship and of being puppets of the Bush campaign, and most knowledgeable members of the public would naturally take their story with a grain of salt. To amplify this last point, their ads ran during election season, were “political” in nature, and therefore most people would expect some puffery and spin. If you believe everything you hear in political ads, then there is a nice bridge in the everglades I’d like to sell you.

    To further illustrate, consider if the media need research everything a defense lawyer announces in press conferences (“my client is innocent of these scandalous charges!”) before reporting on it? Of course not, because the public knows he has a stake in matters and is going to naturally receive his statements with a critical ear. The same of swifty reporting.

    On the other hand, the Bush memos were supposedly the product of an impartial source, and supposedly written at a time when a Bush presidential campaign was a non-issue. Therefore, the public (including myself) would tend to accept the validity of those documents as legitimate, because we were never put on explicit or implicit notice that any bias should be associated with the documents. We encounter political speech and salesmanship every day. We do not have people trying to slip fake documents by us every day.

    CBS had a duty to be skeptical on our behalfs. For most of us, we never encounter situations where false documents are presented to us. But news organizations probably deal with this problem daily, and should have known better.

    The truth in this approach is found by simply looking at what has unfolded in the light of both exposures. As some of the swifty allegations have been shown false or exagerrated, the public has responded as if to say, “well we never believed those guys 100% anyway.” But people are really outraged and expressing a sense of betrayal when it comes to CBS and these memos.

    In closing, I must once again point out your use of language to frame the issue. Your use of “running” instead of “reporting” again has implications contrary to what actually happened. As a practical matter, the “running” was done in a skeptical manner and is better characterized as “meandering.”

  15. Ed says:

    If I was a liberal, I’d say that the real meaning is being missed, that these events actually took place, but that CBS used the documents because they knew the “facts” but wanted the “evidence” of the “facts” so badly that the ignored the “reality” of the “evidence”.
    (…not as bad as)

    If I was a conserative, I’d be jumping up and down with glee, because FOX news viewership has probably got more people watching it now for “fair and balanced” reporting.
    (infintely worse….because swift boat veterans are speaking the truth!)

    But alas, I”m a moderate… and I say…who cares!

    Move on to some real news like how another america hostage has been killed, or how a german neo-nazi political group now has representation in the state legislature.

    Then maybe people like me will actually start watching again instead of getting most news from places like Google NEWS, where we can sample all sides.

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