Poor Dan’s Almanac
“We cannot authenticate the documents.”Poor Dan Rather. Has there ever been a more pathetic attempt to weasel around the simple truth? (Well, actually, yes, of course – but let’s not get into that right now.)Poor Dan was trying to admit without admitting – retract without retracting, apologize without really apologizing – that CBS had based a “60 Minutes” report on what turned out to be forged documents.The report in question was about President George W. Bush’s embarrassing record in the Air National Guard. Just in case you’ve been out of sight or sound of a newspaper, television or conservative talk-radio show (and I suspect everyone in the country can hear Rush Limbaugh … even without a radio), here’s the short version: “60 Minutes” broadcast a story that was supposed to reveal new details about how Bush got special treatment in the Guard.And it turned out that the documents on which the story was based were pretty clearly fake.So Dan apologized and allowed as how CBS never should have run the story because they can’t “prove the documents are authentic.” Can’t prove they’re authentic? Dan, everyone in the country knows they’re fake. Come on! Say it!I do feel sorry for Dan. We’ve all been there. We’ve been wrong – clearly wrong, wildly wrong, obviously wrong … but we can’t bear to admit the total depths of our mistake. We’ve all fallen into that trap, thinking it’s somehow better to admit only half the mistake. We’ve done it to our lovers, we’ve done it to our friends. Those of us who have the privilege of making blatant mistakes in front of a larger audience have done it in front of hundreds, thousands or – as in Rather’s case – millions of people. What’s particularly sad, of course, is that there was really no reason to run the story in the first place.Everyone knows the truth about George Bush and the National Guard, don’t they? George Bush used his family connections to get out of going to Vietnam by jumping to the front of a long line and landing a safe spot in the Guard, which pretty much guaranteed that he could stay here in the USA without having to puncture an eardrum, shoot off one of his toes, fake insanity or go to jail.And, once in the Guard, like a lot of other privileged rich kids, George Bush took the whole thing pretty lightly, skipping out on his “obligation” when it suited his needs – knowing that he wasn’t going to get in any trouble for it.If you’re honest, you know that’s the way it was back then.But, more important, you also know that it doesn’t matter now.It doesn’t matter to the people who love George Bush, because they’ve already made up their minds that what he did in the past doesn’t count. And you know what? They’re right. I mean, I don’t love George Bush. I really, really, really do not love George W. Bush. But the things he did in the past don’t matter. It’s what he’s doing right now that concerns me.Which is as it should be. George W. Bush is the man he is, right now, doing the things he’s doing, right now. Love him or hate him, we know his character … right now. And that’s what makes it so sad. CBS got so excited about a story that didn’t matter that it skipped right over a lot of journalistic principals that really do matterAnd why did they do that? Why did they make it seem clear that they really are a conscious tool of the liberal media conspiracy (as Rush Limbaugh insists they are)?I think they did it to make up for the fact that they rolled over and played dead back when it really mattered – back in the days before the war began.Back then, they didn’t have the courage to investigate the stories that were being told to justify the war – stories that turned out not to be true. So they tried to make up for that journalistic failure with another journalistic failure – rushing to air a hatchet job based on documents that turned out to be forged.How could they have allowed themselves to be fooled by crude forgeries when they were dealing with something as important as a national news program? Especially after their experts warned them that the documents probably weren’t real.Why, it’s almost as bad as rushing to war, based on crude forgeries of documents claiming Iraq tried to buy uranium in Niger. Especially after their experts warned them that the documents probably weren’t real.It was very wrong – even if they sincerely believed that the documents, though forged, told the truth.In both cases.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is email@example.com
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