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Monday, January 10, 2005

Could This Be the Source of the "Fake but True" Rif?

One of the basic themes in the CBS Report is that the mistakes and misjudgements that resulted in Rathergate were "driven in significant part by competitive pressures" within the news industry. Much is made, too, of the fact that, while all of the principal broadcast journalists involved in producing the segment were veterans of CBS, neither the executive producer nor the senior broadcast producer "had an extensive working relationship" with anchor Dan Rather or producer Mary Mapes prior to working on the Bush national guard segment.

But both of these two possible explanations ring hollow precisely because everybody involved had worked at the highest levels of broadcast news reporting for so long. These are people who know the basic tools for qualifying a source: The person must have been in a position to have first-hand knowledge of the issue being reported and he or she must provide relevant facts that are independently verifiable by at least one other contemporary source.

But consider how the CBS Report describes why Lt. Robert Strong should not have been used in the segment attesting to the accuracy of the documents. Note that Strong appeared on camera saying the documents "are compatible with the way business was done at that time. They are compatible with the man that I remember Jerry Killian being. I don't see anything in the documents that are discordant with what were the times, what were the situations and what were the people involved."

Here's the CBS Report's conclusion on the use of Strong: "The panel finds this use of Lt Strong's statement to be misleading. Lt. Strong told the panel that he resigned from the TexasANG in March 1972, two months before the date of the earliest Killian document used in the September 8 segment, that he had no personal knowledge of Lt. Bush's service in the TexasANG and that he did not have any personal knowledge of the documents."

In other words, Strong was useless as a source regarding the president's service in the TexasANG, and it absolutely defies logic and common sense to say Mapes and her colleagues either didn't know Strong was useless or they did know but put him in front of a camera anyway to beat the competition. It just doesn't wash.

More to come.