Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Eric Boehlert: "Dan Rather Is Right"

Eric Boehlert has a piece up at Media Matters titled "Dan Rather Is Right." Major points:

The memos are irrelevant to the larger story:

The simple, yet apparently elusive, truth is that CBS' report on Bush and the National Guard could have (and should have) been broadcast without the controversial memos. And if it had been, the results would have been exactly the same. Meaning, the documents were irrelevant because they provided texture (the supposed frustration of Bush's commander), not new facts about Bush's service. Yet journalists pretend the memos are the National Guard story and that without them, questions about Bush's military dodge disappear. Why do they think that? Based on the coverage last week, it's clear that journalists who mocked Rather still don't have the slightest clue what the established facts of the Guard story are.

The allegations that Bush reneged on his National Guard obligations are true:
The quick back story: Following his graduation from Yale University in 1968, at a time when nearly 350 U.S. troops were dying each week in Vietnam, Bush managed to vault to the top of a 500-person waiting list to land a coveted spot in the Texas Air National Guard. On his application where the form asked for "background qualifications of value to the Air Force," Bush wrote, "None." Despite a complete lack of aviation or ROTC experience, despite scoring in the 25th percentile on his pilot aptitude section -- the lowest allowed score for aspiring fliers -- and despite having been arrested twice for college pranks, as well as having four driving infractions, Bush was approved for an automatic commission as a second lieutenant and assigned to flight school.

In spring 1972, after receiving $1 million worth of taxpayer-funded flight training, Bush unilaterally decided he was going to stop flying and attempted to transfer from his Houston base to a non-flying, paper-pushing postal unit in Alabama. The request was denied. While Bush searched for a new unit, he took the summer off, never bothering to show up for his mandatory monthly drills. Bush was eventually ordered to report to a flying unit in Montgomery, Alabama. There is no evidence Bush ever showed up there, which means he missed more weekend training sessions. In July of that summer, Bush also failed to take his mandatory annual physical and was grounded by the Guard. In 1973 Bush was supposed to return to his base in Houston but again he was a no-show; his commanders in May 1973 claimed they had no idea where he was. Then between the summer of 1973 to the time he was discharged in 1974, there's little evidence that Bush ever attended training sessions, which means for nearly two years Bush snubbed his Guard duty.

Boehlert also lists 10 discrepancies in Bush's military record "... that would have gotten any other Air National Guard member severely reprimanded, and certainly would have, later in life, derailed any presidential aspirations[.]"

CBS management threw Dan Rather and Mary Mapes under the bus because they were more concerned with keeping the Bush administration happy than with maintaining high journalistic standards:
... Rather was also right last week in claiming that CBS News management panicked in the wake of the Memogate scandal and quickly tossed aside its journalism standards in desperate, blatant attempts to mend fences with the Bush White House. The examples were numerous, yet the press pretends Rather's a conspiracy nut for making the suggestions.

The same political press corps that had spent the month of August 2004 endlessly dissecting Sen. John Kerry's war record in search of evidence to support the bogus claims of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, those same journalists became obsessed in September 2004, with detailing the CBS scandal while willfully ignoring the larger National Guard story. "Everyone in the media wanted to cover CBS, not the National Guard story," wrote Mapes.

And now it's déjà vu all over again: In the wake of last week's lawsuit, everyone in the media wants to cover Rather, not the National Guard story.
Meanwhile, Rather is also correct in his claim that amidst the so-called Memogate scandal, nervous CBS executives capitulated in order to "pacify the [Bush] White House," "appease angry government officials," and "curry favor with the Bush administration."

For instance, there was CBS' shameful decision in September 2004 not to run a previously scheduled, and factually solid, story done by the late Ed Bradley that chronicled how the Bush administration had misled the country into war. Bradley's in-depth investigation, had it aired in 2004, would have been the first by a major network news outlet to devote serious time and energy to investigating the baffling case of the forged Niger documents that were used as a pivotal propaganda tool in the administration's push for war.

But spooked by the unfolding Memogate controversy, CBS abdicated its news responsibility and announced that Bradley's story would not be broadcast. "We now believe it would be inappropriate to air the report so close to the presidential election," a CBS flack announced. So close? The election was six weeks away. And since when was it journalism's job to stay out of the way of current events?

Around the same time, the first presidential debate between Bush and Kerry took place. Immediately following Bush's dreadful, petulant performance, every flash poll taken showed that by overwhelming margins Americans thought Kerry had clearly bested Bush. Yet CBS News viewers were told the debate had been a tie. Even after CBS' instant poll showed Kerry winning the debate in a blowout, by 44 percent-to-26 percent, CBS' John Roberts announced that the televised face-off had been "as close to a draw as you could possibly come."

Just days after the debate, CBS owner and Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone announced he was voting for Bush, insisting that from a Viacom standpoint, "the election of a Republican administration is a better deal."

And keep in mind that in the wake of CBS' Memogate scandal, Bob Schieffer replaced Dan Rather as CBS Nightly News anchorman. CBS boss Les Moonves quickly breathed a sigh of relief, telling reporters, "The White House doesn't hate CBS anymore with Schieffer in the [anchor] chair." Moonves noted Schieffer was looked upon favorably by 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And why not -- Schieffer's brother is a longtime friend and former business partner of Bush's.

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