Editorial by John Ziegler

Why Dan Rather Should Be Fired

9/17/2004

WHY DAN RATHER SHOULD BE FIRED

As someone who has become an expert on what it takes to be fired in the media business, I am amazed and depressed that Dan Rather has so far survived the recent 'memo-gate' controversy and very well may be able to ride it out until the end of his contract. When one looks at what we have so far learned about this scandal, you have to ask the question, 'What the hell does it take to get fired as a network anchorman'!?

To fully appreciate the magnitude of the Rather disgrace, you need to first remember how the 'mainstream' media handled questions about John Kerry's Vietnam service. By and large, they completely ignored the myriad of specific and well corroborated allegations that the Swift Boat Vets for Truth detailed in a book that was signed off on by over 60 decorated veterans. They ignored the charges despite the fact that the issue that was extremely relevant because, unlike George Bush, John Kerry had never been Commander in Chief and most of America knew almost nothing about him (not to mention that he has pointed to his Vietnam service as a major reason to elect him).

On those rare occasions when the networks did acknowledge the reality that the best selling book in America and a series of well-produced TV commercials was raising very serious questions about whether Kerry was 'Unfit For Command,' the focus was almost entirely on the fact that the group got most of its original funding from a rich Texan who also is a major contributor to the Republican Party, and that there were some tenuous 'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon' type connections between the Swiftees and the Bush campaign. In short, the standard had been set that when it came to issues about service in Vietnam, if those making the allegations were funded or even advised by people who had a political incentive to see the story be told, that the account was to be looked at as being suspect at best. As absurd as that rule is, the coverage of the Swift Boat Vets had established it, at least when it comes to attacks on a Democrat.

With that as the backdrop, the actions of Dan Rather and CBS can be seen in their properly disturbing context. The human star of the '60 Minutes II' piece was Ben Barnes. Even without the bogus memos that followed, Rather's interview with Barnes should have been enough to provoke outrage. Barnes is a life-long Democrat who is a vice-chair of the Kerry campaign. Right away, according to the 'Swift Boat Rule,' he should have been deemed not credible enough to even talk to, especially since the nature of his allegations were not nearly as new, important, documented, or as relevant as what the Swift Boat Vets have said about Kerry.

But there were other reasons why Barnes should not have been allowed on the air to tell his story of helping George Bush get into the Texas Air National Guard. First, his allegation was NOT that Bush or his father asked him for help, but that a friend of the Bush family did. Even if what Barnes was saying was true, it is difficult to understand why it is relevant regarding a man who has already been Commander in Chief for almost four years. Secondly, Barnes statements to Rather contradict what he said under oath on this matter several years ago and what he told his daughter in 2000, though neither fact was even mentioned in Rather's report. Thirdly, in 2001, Rather, at the urging of his daughter, inappropriately spoke to the Democratic Party of Travis County Texas, in which Barnes is active.

Then there are the infamous memos. It is now clear to everyone but Dan Rather that they are clearly fakes. They are so obviously frauds that one immediately must question why Rather was, at best, so willing to be duped. No serious person is suggesting that Rather knew for sure that the memos were fake when he ran with them, however, based on what we now know it is obvious that Rather's incompetence and bias in evaluating their authenticity was so great as to almost reach the very same level of offense.

We now know that two of the experts CBS used before the report told them that they had serious problems with the memos. Even more damaging (though largely ignored by the media) was the revelation that the one expert that Rather used on camera during his first feeble attempt to justify his report was blatantly misrepresented by Rather as having verified the documents, when all he really did was tentatively confirm the signature on one of the four documents he only had faxed copies of.

We now also know that CBS ignored both the widow and son of the man who allegedly wrote the bogus memos. Both are almost certain the memos are fake and not only have neither of them appeared on CBS as of yet, but they have both reported that they gave names of other people who could further verify what they said. and the son has indicated that the CBS producer told him that if they were Bush supporters she wasn't interested in what they had to say.

While the son and widow of Col. Killian were ignored by CBS, Rather laughably relied on his 86-year-old secretary to pathetically prop up his quickly disintegrating credibility. Marian Knox told a clearly disappointed Rather that she was positive the memos were fake. But Rather's interest was suddenly heightened when, with the anchorman virtually holding her hand like a defense lawyer leading the only witness he could find that says she saw his client somewhere else other than the murder, she told him that the story related in the fake memos was 'true.'

What was the evidence she provided for this hilarious assertion? Nothing other than her vague memories and her 'feeling' that the story is true. At one point in the interview she even admits, 'but that is all just supposition.' Never mentioned in Rather's kid glove report on Knox was that she herself had made statements about President Bush ('he is unfit to serve,' 'selected not elected'), that, had she made them about Senator Kerry, would have clearly disqualified her from making any accusations against him. Instead, this aspect of her past was not even mentioned by Rather during a report that, if it had not be in reponse to the controversey would not have even come remotely close to passing even Rather's suspect standards for an on-air allegation. (Ironically, in 2001 Rather spoke in detail on Fox News Channel about how careful he was in not falling for the claims of the haters of an incumbant President, apparently those rules only apply for Rather when that President is named Clinton, not Bush.)

It is in the realm of political agendas that Rather's real bias has been exposed. Time and again during this saga Rather has allowed verified Bush haters to spew their unsubstantiated feelings and theories all while engaging in the ludicrous charge that those who questioned his reporting are 'partisan political operatives.' While the L.A. Times has identified (after the Rather allegation) one of the the dozens of those largely nonpolitical bloggers that broke the story of the fake memos on the internet happens to be a strong Republican, the fact is that they just happened to be absolutely right. So far, there has been no apology from Rather for this outrageous charge.

Now comes word that we essentially know who was Rather's source for the fake documents. Herein lies what should be the final nail in Rather's coffin. If the source really was "unimpeachable" as Rather stated when questions were first raised about the memos, many of Rather's other transgressions could have been theoretically rationalized and perhaps even forgiven. However this rock solid source turned out to be softer than ice cream in the summer sun of Texas.

It now seems certain that it was former Army National Guardsman Bill Burkett who gave CBS the memos. There are many reasons why the circumstances surrounding the receipt of those memos show that, at best, Rather and his producer showed an abject incompetence and bias that should disqualify them from holding their positions as allegedly objective news people.

First, CBS relied on faxed copies of these memos from a Kinkos in Abilene, Texas. Huh? Why? The only explanation for why they would accept such a shoddy and suspect delivery system is that they badly wanted to believe what the memos said. Secondly, Burkett is a verified Bush-hater who has compared him publicly to Hitler. Thirdly, he has a history of mental problems that has retracted theatrical tales in the past which have deemed him to be not credible even in the opinion of the liberal Boston Globe. Fourthly, both he and especially his lawyer have strong ties to the Democratic Party in Texas and he had attempted to "sell" the faked documents to the Kerry campaign (which apparently realized they weren't actually real) is a process that was open enough for CBS to have found out about it if it had bothered to try.

All this should have made CBS extremely suspect about the memos from the start, but apparently, because they liked their content so much, they decided to ignore all of the warning signs that they were in the process of perpetrating a fraud on both the American people and the electoral process.

Since the news business has become much more about the ratings than the truth, perhaps you are thinking Rather is surviving because the CBS Evening News is still doing well with viewers. However, that is hardly the case. Rather's evening newscast has been dwelling in last place for years and the early indications are that this scandal, despite the theory that all publicity is good, has nosed dived in nearly every major market since the scandal broke. Things are so bad that at least one CBS radio affiliate in Houston has already dumped Rather's newscast.

Had Rather simply admitted that he was "had," this would probably not be a fireable offense, but instead he delayed, distorted, and lied while making politically charged and groundless accusations. Like Watergate, the cover up here is worse than the crime.

So, how in the world is Rather keeping his job so far? Long before 'memogate' conservatives have thought that Rather must have some very incriminating photos of members of CBS management types, but the damage of this episode is so great that it now defies even that remote possibility. My guess is that CBS does not want to get rid of Rather before the election, partially because they feel it will both make them look even worse than they already do while also helping Bush win reelection. At this point, no other rational for Rather's survival seems plausible.

CBS is seemingly willing to take a huge hit to its prestige, credibility, and ratings at least in part to promote or protect a political agenda. If that is indeed that case, it is incumbent on all of us to make that 'hit' as strong and as hard as we can muster until CBS finally decides to reenter the world of the potentially trustworthy by doing the right thing and finally firing Dan Rather.

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