A Wall Street Journal editorial about the CBS News forged documents affair takes the whole incident over into the realm of the debate over the so-called liberal media.
I hope that this does not become that. Dan Rather has a history of being an antagonist of the Bushes, which would certainly raise questions from the right over his impartiality. And, as has been pointed out, the documents really only revived the mostly-accepted idea that Bush skipped out on his duty. This is nothing very new, and the new documents don’t do much to support the story. So motives are suspect, and Dan Rather would have done himself and CBS a favor by waiting for more conclusive proof before going with the story. That’s a lesson for journalism students.
On the other hand though, pundits seem to be celebrating the bloggers for somehow uncovering these forgeries. I need to point out that these documents have not yet been proven forgeries. All the bloggers did was complain and raise some conspiracy theories. And so far, that’s all anyone has on any side: conspiracy theories. The WSJ editorial raised the possibility that the Kerry campaign or the Democrats fed Rather the documents. But the other side of the fence (The WSJ is notoriously conservative) is just as paranoid. In her column this morning, Maureen Dowd talked of rumors that Karl Rove is behind the documents. In this twisted scenario, Rove fed CBS the papers, knowing that they would be discredited, so that people would stop talking about Bush’s lackluster service record, and talk instead about how the Dems planted these documents (see the WSJ editorial).
Neither one of these scenarios is immediately plausible, but they both seem more likely than the idea that Dan Rather or CBS is intentionally duping the American public with false documents. As the media writer Ken Auletta pointed out, 60 Minutes is still the best network TV news magazine, and its heritage certainly points toward good journalistic judgment. And CBS better figure out what happened before some enterprising blogger actually moves from skepticism and punditry and does some reporting. If that happens, then bloggers would really have accomplished something.