January 11, 2005

Nope, No Bias Here. Move Along.

At the risk of adding nothing new, I have to post my opinion of the RaTHergate report. Like many, I was stunned with its clarity and thoroughness. I expected a quick whitewash, released Friday at 5. And it is not that. As the WSJ Ed Page says (paid site):

CBS promised last fall to get to the bottom of Dan Rather's discredited September 8 broadcast on President Bush's National Guard service. Yesterday's report by the independent panel charged with investigating the "60 Minutes" segment fulfills that vow. It is a thorough, no-holds-barred look at how it happened. If only it were as good at explaining why.

It was a thorough report, providing proof of serious allegations. But, stunningly, its conclusions are preposterous! More WSJ Ed:
It pins the blame instead on Ms. Mapes's "myopic zeal" in pursuit of a ground-breaking story that other news organizations were also pursuing. So we are supposed to believe that the flawed CBS segment was the result of overeager journalists' desire to be "first" with a will-o'-the-wisp of a story that was at least four, and arguably closer to 10, years old -- and, by the way, that it was merely coincidental that these eager beavers pushed the story out after Labor Day amid a bitter election campaign.

The discussion on motives includes a section titled "Factors that Support a Conclusion that a Political Agenda Did Not Motivate the September 8 Segment." And the No. 1 example is "The Previous Work of Rather and Mapes." Really.

As we saw it, the last election included the most one-sided political reporting we've ever witnessed, including the coverage of Richard Nixon circa 1972-74. Most of the established media outlets favored John Kerry -- which is fine by us if they would only admit it. CBS's reporters made the further mistake of letting that bias so color their judgment that they were willing to believe phony documents from a partisan source without proper authentication. Good for CBS for coming clean about the process, but good luck convincing its viewers about the lack of partisan motives.

The best roundup is probably Glenn's column on glennreynolds.com:
And that "no political agenda" bit is why CBS is only half-clean. So a network noted for its anti-Bush sentiments airs a story based on obviously bogus documents (How obvious? Just look at this animated gif comparing the allegedly typewritten memos CBS relied on with the same material typed into Microsoft Word using its default settings.) runs with a story just in time to swing the election, but there's no politics involved? Well, short of the Vulcan mind-meld, I guess there's no way to be absolutely certain what's in people's minds. But on the other hand, as law professor Jim Lindgren notes, CBS's panel is happy to level accusations of political motivations at its critics.

Nope, no bias here. That cannot ever be admitted I guess. But, like "Hindrocket" says at PowerLine:
True enough, but let me offer this alternative theory: the fundamental problem that led to the downfall of 60 Minutes and, perhaps, CBS News, was the fact that no one involved in the reportorial or editorial process was a Republican or a conservative. If there had been anyone in the organization who did not share Mary Mapes's politics, who was not desperate to counteract the Swift Boat Vets and deliver the election to the Democrats, then certain obvious questions would have been asked[...]

Competitive pressure. Not bias. Just another casualty of Michael Barone's "Hard America." They will admit everything but the obvious. And the story was obviously driven almost entirely by liberal bias at CBS. The Swift Vets provided better scoops, but they were on the wrong side.

UPDATE: Larry Kudlow weighs in:

The shocking thing is that Andrew Heyward did not lose his job. Had Heyward been fired, it would have suggested that CBS is reevaluating the biases and blindnesses that led them to air the report in the first place. It's clear, now, that CBS will be doing nothing of the kind. (The report goes so far as to explicitly deny that political motivations were primary for the CBS team, insisting that competitiveness with other news outlets drove them to it.)

The good news is that the MSM has lost its monopoly.

Posted by jk at January 11, 2005 10:06 AM

The CBS "investigation" employs a similar strategy as the 9/11 report - one which has become de rigueur for such political introspections - namely, to make a complete and thorough accounting of all the facts and information that can not be denied and then to pull a rabbit of exoneration out of the hat with an illogical, unobjective and fanciful conclusion. It's the same M.O. as junk science except that the issues involved are so simple than any lay person can see the emperor has no clothes... if he chooses to look.

Most abhorrent of all though, is the shameful attempt to blame the capitalist motive of competition for their misdeeds. These schmos wouldn't know competition if it knocked them on their butts.

Posted by: johngalt at January 11, 2005 01:25 PM

Amen -- like they would push just as hard to get an anti-Kerry story out!

It does boggle the mind. The proof of your no-competition claim is the soft treatment of this story by their competitors: ABC and NBC soft pedaled this story, FoxNews hit it pretty hard.

It seems Fox is in competition with MSM more than they compete with each other.

Posted by: jk at January 11, 2005 02:31 PM

I think this is the real two Americas, not the one John Edwards or the Red State/Blue State folks talk about. It is a polarization of ideas brought about by one sided views continually reinforced as more and more people only tune in to ideas they already agree with. In my view Fox has always been more slanted than the big three MSM's (which of course could just be my biased myopia, I can almost hear JK's teeth gnashing) but this is something I took as a David vs. Goliath type response. To be heard above the din of the big guys with mild liberal bias Fox had to respond with a little more conservative bias. The question is where this leads. It looks to be shaping up as a real dividing line, not only are your core viewers likely to share your bias, thus reinforcing your reason for having it, but so too will your reporters, commentators and even interview subjects. I already see that liberal and conservative politicians tend to only appear on shows with their bias. So what is wrong with a little bias? Nothing really, we all have it to some degree and all need to learn to have a discerning view of what we take in, mindful of its source, but I wonder where compromise will go. Intelligent compromise requires thoughtful discussion which in turn requires some sort of common ground for a starting point. The more we separate into two camps the less likely this becomes.

Posted by: Silence Dogood at January 11, 2005 04:53 PM

You have good hearing, Silence. My teeth were gnashing.

For what it's worth, I think that that Fox is exactly as biased as any of the big three. Not measurably more or less. This bias I cite is that of the producers and anchors. The stories chosen benefit the right, and Brit Hume cannot help but telegraph his inner feelings when he reports.

I will take exception to your second part, and say that where Fox does do better is the airtime given to other views. All manner of lefties are given serious airtime on FoxNews, both on the opinion and journalism shows. You see fewer conservatives on MSM, and they are always labeled as such. Every one of Brit Hume's broadcasts ends with the "all star panel" which will include either Juan Williams or Maura Liasson from NPR, or Cici Connelly from WaPo (sp? on all names).

The idea of a forceful conservative challenging Dan Rather or Peter Jennings at the end of the show is too incredible to imagine, yet it happens every night on Fox.

Lastly, I think Hinderocker is right that there is such a paucity of Conservative voices at CBS, bias is never challenged. There are several liberal voices at Fox, and I think this prevents the myopia that facilitated RaTHergate.

Posted by: jk at January 12, 2005 09:18 AM

No teeth gnashing here over your reply, but a quibble none the less. Much of the serious airtime given to liberals on Fox is the pairing of forceful hard conservative with a soft spoken moderate liberal, a class to which I would put both Liasson and Williams. The Hannity and Colmes show is the epitome of this.

Posted by: Silence Dogood at January 12, 2005 02:52 PM

I can't defend "Hannity & Colmes" but Juan Williams is a forceful voice, almost always orthogonal to Brit Hume's or Fred Barnes's. Maura and Cici are a little more soft spoken, but they provide a quieter, intellectual voice along the lines of Bill Kristol's.

And, we are comparing the voice of Williams or Liasson or Connelly to whom? There is NO voice on Dan Rather's, Peter Jennings's or Tom Brokaw's broadcasts. My buddy John Stossel somehow climbed the ladder at ABC (kudos to ABC) but a conservative voice on the nightly news broadcasts would be a huge step up for the MSM.

Posted by: jk at January 12, 2005 03:35 PM
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