Bill O'Reilly has written a defense of Dan Rather that suggests that he has either not bothered to engage in enough research, or has somehow developed amnesia regarding the events which led to Dan Rather's rather well documented 'mistake'. The mistake is airing of the Texas Air National Guard story when the sources were extremely dubious. Bill O'Reilly might as well lie to his readers for all of the service he is offering here.
First off I would ask Bill O'Reilly or any other defender of Dan Rather to explain to me precisely what made the entire issue newsworthy in the first place?
I do not expect to ever hear or read an adequate defense of running the story in the first place. Most of the big media opinion folks are so full of themselves they are nearly incapable of digging through their own hubris and addressing their audience. There is an automatic defense mechanism which immediately shields the insider news producing commentariat. O'Reilly defends Rather based upon personal relationship, not work product. How is this type of defense acceptable? Dan Rather is not being attacked personally, he is being attacked professionally. O'Reilly's defense is completely inappropriate. The sad truth is that Bush's Guard Service should not have been an issue in his fourth election. He ran twice for Governor of Texas and once for President, if at that point there was no issue with his service, why did CBS believe it should re-manufacture the issue.
Bill O'Reilly also needs to explain, and try to be honest Bill, how it was that the Democratic Party had a 'fortunate son' campaign ready to roll out the morning after the CBS News 60 Minutes story. Is this timing typical? Of course not. The truth is that stories like this are often manufactured by campaigns who keep their distance from potential voter backlash by sending this type of opposition research to sympathetic members of the news media. Bill O'Reilly knows this, yet he somehow finds a way to defend what was a clearly bogus news story. O'Reilly is being incredibly dishonest with both himself and his audience not to acknowledge this fact. It is not, sadly, the only fact that O'Reilly does not factor into his defense. The others are even more damning.
The entire story appeared to be carefully coordinated and rather clearly orchestrated to damage Bush's campaign. FACT: Sources who were unsympathetic to a clearly partisan interpretation of Bush's Guard Service were not televised. Indeed, some were even refused interviews. FACT: Expert sources who told CBS that the memos were likely forgeries were not televised. FACT: Even after the story had been completely discredited CBS News attempted to stonewall and defend the indefensible. Even to the point of claiming that the substance of the story was true without the benefit of any undiscredited source! These are the actual facts surrounding the event. They are not mere partisan opinion regardless of what Bill O'Reilly would have you believe. They are clearly not personal attacks against Dan Rather.
Maybe as O'Reilly asserts, Dan Rather himself did not engage in deliberately misleading viewers but are we to assume then that this standard of care on his part is somehow acceptable? Does Bill O'Reilly himself engage in journalistic practices that are this poor? That is a shocking admission and maybe Bill O'Reilly needs to have some folks take a look at his work product.
The 60 Minutes Story and the clearly inappropriate defenses of the story highlight a growing problem in the news media. Stung by web based opinion sites, the major media outlets rather than reforming and addressing problems appear more interested in cocooning themselves within a safe harbor which attempts to blend, scamble or over symplify some rather serious problems. The truth is this was a very serious breach of the public trust.
Not the elapsed time since the story was broadcast, nor the smarmy 'personal knowledge' defenses like OReilly's are going to change the public's perception about what this story represented. The public did learn the truth, but not from the old media outlets; rather it was from the new media outlets that the truth came out. O'Reilly's defense of the story shares something in common with the original sorry CBS broadcast. From the CBS story large portions of the public learned that sources do exist which were more accurate and trustworthy than the major media. Today that same public may now be learning that they can not rely on the old media to tell the truth about their own errors.
Those same new media outlets exist today and will exist into the future. Bill O'Reilly should have thought a little more before issuing this opinion piece in the face of the truth checkers who are going to rip up his weak defense and poorly reasoned opinion. The remarkable thing about O'Reilly's column is that he has not shown this tendency in the past. Perhaps his quest for even bigger ratings is causing him to seek the partisan middle; even when the middle, as in this case, is an indefensible position to be. There is nothing wrong with reaching for balance, but balance also requires fairness. Sometimes the truth is partisan and reporting it that way is the essense of fairness.
Bill O'Reilly is wrong and he needs to acknowledge that. That is what these new media sites do when we make mistakes. It may be easier for us because we don't lug around huge egos.
Matt Hurley one of the bright guys at Weapons of Mass Discussion is taking the O'Reilly piece and commentary like it in a broader context. He is wondering what makes Republicans roll over to the liberal media.
"What will it take for Republicans to realize that the so-called mainstream media is nothing more than the propaganda wing of the Democratic Party and should be treated as such? The Dan Rathers, Peter Jennings, and Tom Brokaws will never respect Republicans until they are forced to do so..."
After this past election any misconception about the media's bias and the willingness to employ that bias to further a liberal agenda should be laid to rest. The evidence mounted throughout the campaign season that there was both coordination between the media outlets and the Kerry campaign and quite specific story selection bias in nearly every major media outlet (both print and broadcast).
It was not just CBS news and the Texas Air National Guard fiasco...the ABC News memo instructing journalists to be tougher on Bush, the 'missing' explosives story on the eve of the election, The quote from Time Magazine about giving the Democratic candidates a glow that would be worth at least 5 points in the polls, the incompatible treatment of the Swiftboat Veterans with anyone willing to make a smear about Bush (can you say Kitty Kelley?), this list could probably continue until I ran out of storage space on this server.
In the face of this onslaught, Republicans should be providing the media outlets with a one fingered salute, not trying to be conciliatory. I know I advocated cooperation and a strategy of sucking up to the media during the election. Well I was wrong. The media had no intent of portraying Bush as anything but an extremist and were damned sure not going to produce anything that called attention to John Kerry's failings. They are not independent, they are the enemy. They should be treated with all of the disdain that can possibly be heaped on their heads. I have nothing but contempt for the mainstream media's behavior.