Friday, September 17, 2004

CBS and Rather got conned big time

Hello Kari:

The sequence of events of the "Rathergate" unfolded at "internet speed." If people had doubts about the seriousness and weight of the blogosphere, I think this case has sealed the deal that the bloggers are a force to be reckoned with.

I didn't see the 60 Minutes II broadcast but I heard the traditional media talking about it on GMA the next morning while I was still half asleep. I think George S (I can't spell his last name!), you know of whom I write, thought the National Guard controversy was serious but felt it would nonetheless blow over in a few days. It would seem that in his mind even if the documents of the story were true it simply wasn't that big a deal.

Then I checked some web pages during the day and analysis of the documents was popping up on the blogosphere. By 3pm PDT, I turned on Hugh Hewitt, a political talkradio show, and he was interviewing a leading document analyst, Farrell Shiver, by phone who had no politcal dog in the fight. The expert made his statements carefully but from what he saw of the documents on the internet, he explained his doubts about their authenticity.

Hewitt wondered aloud: it has taken the blogosphere a few hours of analysis and him one phone call to come up with questions and serious doubts about the controversial memos. How long did CBS "fact check" their story? They wanted it to be true? They rushed the story onto the air? Hurumph!

This case is definitely going to wind up in journalism classes I hope! And tangentially, I wonder if it is also going to wind up being discussed in virtue epistemology courses?

In the end, my perspective is that Vietnam era politicians have always faced questions about what they did: Clinton exploring options aside from the draft, Quayle signing on with the National Guard, Bush signing on with the Air National Guard, Cheney getting various deferments, Dean getting deferments, Edwards geting a high draft number when the war was winding down.

In my mind, I really don't care all that much what they did at age 18-22. What I want to know is what kind of person they grew into.

Sen. Kerry served in Vietnam. Thank you for your service. If there are questions about the service being raised, answer them and move on.

President Bush joined the Air National Guard. Thank you for your service. If there are questions about the service being raised, answer them and move on.

Military service in of itself tells you very little about a candidate's qualifications for president. FDR with no combat experience led the US in WW2. Lincoln with no combat experience led the US during the Civil War. In recent memory, the only candidate where military service had a substantial bearing on his qualifications for president was Eisenhower.

I just don't know what the Kerry camp was thinking trying to build an entire campaign on 4 1/2 months of Vietnam era service that happened 30+ years ago. Eisenhower was Supreme Allied Commander of Europe in a war that had ended less than a decade before when he ran for President. At least in that case, it made logical sense!

Virginia Postrel who lives in Texas has some interesting perspective in this post. She made the following remark: the memos are forgeries AND George Bush got preferential treatment in getting into the Air National Guard.

She rounded up some comments from readers, one who wrote her said: I have lived in Texas all my life. I became eligible for the draft in 1968. No way, no how could I have gotten into *any* National Guard unit back then. We all knew the Guard was for special guys, and everyone could else was hosed......... Actually, I don't care about any of this one way or the other. I'm voting for Bush because I think he believes *something*, which is more than I can say about Kerry.

Another one of her readers said: The connections necessary were not necessarily the high-powered kind that GWB could bring to bear.

A final reader she quoted said: I haven't read any discussion of this point: while joining the National Guard might have kept Bush out of Vietnam (not a foregone conclusion at the time), training as a fighter pilot is one of the riskier things you can do. If you recall the first couple of chapters from "The Right Stuff," washing out often means a closed casket funeral.

Postrel, ever the hard headed realist and libertarian, concluded: I think the reason this story can't get any traction as a scandal is that nobody thinks George Bush came from obscure poverty. And everyone old enough to care about the Vietnam-era draft knows that most young men were eager to find alternatives not only to Vietnam but, if possible, to the disruption of their life plans by conscription. The draft is a really bad idea, incompatible with both a free society and an effective, professional military.

In the end, CBS really got taken to the cleaners on this one and they kept insisting otherwise for so long. Very strange.

Hopefully, this puts big media on notice and we can return to the issues of the 2004 campaign.

Take care and be well,

P.S. Tangentially, perhaps in some future we could discuss the pros and cons of the draft and some form of national service. I reached 18 years of age in the post-draft-era so all I had to do was fill out a card and drop it off in the mailbox. I'm open to being persuaded one way or the other on that issue.


Seen at Hugh Hewitt's site.


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