Sunday, September 12, 2004

I have been following the Rathergate controversy with some interest. Lacking the expertise of Charles Johnson or the journalistic skills of Hugh Hewitt, I have refrained from commenting so far, as I felt that I had little to contribute.

Reading over some of the reporting from mainstream media sources, though, I was simply floored. It's hard for me to determine whether it is sheer partisanship or simple laziness and incompetence, but a lot of mainstream sources have managed to come up short of even my very low expectations.

I'll give a few of the more egregious examples here. We'll start with this Salon hit piece from Friday, by one Eric Boehlert, who implies that the people behind the Swift Boat ads are the ones carrying out this attack.

But there is clear evidence confirming that the same conservative operatives who have been busily promoting the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth smears of Kerry are now engaged in pushing the story that CBS's "60 Minutes Weeknight Edition" aired forged documents in its Wednesday night report on Bush and the National Guard.

Boehlert veers off into a discussion of some outfit called Creative Response Concepts, which apparently did some work for the Bush campaign. Very interesting, but unless Mr. Boehlert can show some connection between CRC and Powerline, Hugh Hewitt, or INDC Journal, he's yapping up the wrong bush, as these are the people who've exposed CBS's fraud, and detailed the evidence. Note that the charge isn't even relevant -- what difference does it make who exposes CBS's fraudulent reporting?

Boehlert also indicates that, like some of his colleagues, he is confused by the concept of time zones, with this little gem:

Conservative operatives immediately alleged that Killian's memos were forged, posting their charges on the Internet while the CBS broadcast was still in progress.

The emphasis is mine. Boehlert was simply regurgitating an error made by NPR and Media Matters. In fact, the first post that started the controversy -- by a Free Republic.com poster named "Buckhead" -- came two hours after the 60 Minutes piece ended -- more than enough time for him to check out the documents on CBS's web page, spot the decidedly un-typewriter-like appearance, and ask about it, setting off a storm.

Boehlert then demonstrates his own evidentiary standards, and those of Salon:

In April 1972, with 770 days left in his military commitment, and unwilling to have his physical, Bush was suspended from flying and walked away from his required duties. Though he says he subsequently served in the Guard in Alabama, Salon reported last week that according to an eyewitness, Linda Allison, a Bush family friend whose husband was in charge of overseeing Bush's activities in Alabama, Bush never gave any evidence of having done any Guard duty. This week, the Boston Globe reported that after leaving the Texas Air National Guard in 1973 to attend Harvard Business School, Bush again shirked his responsibility by failing to serve the remaining nine months of his commitment with a Massachusetts Guard unit. And to this day, not one member of Bush's Alabama unit has come forward with a credible recollection of having served with the future president.

That's some evidence, isn't it? -- the word of a single alleged eyewitness from 30 years ago, whose sole qualification is having been married to the guy "in charge of overseeing Bush's activities in Alabama." Well, that and the fact that they are unable to find anyone with "a credible recollection" -- again, whatever that means -- of having spent a weekend a month with a National Guard liutenant three decades back.

I am betting that any reporter would have a hard time finding people who went to first grade with me -- it was a long time ago, plus my family moved after I finished the third grade. With the evidentiary standards demonstrated by Salon, I guess one could claim that I never went to elementary school at all!

Another interesting perspective comes from the New Zealand Herald, which seems to have chugged a good deal of ultra-Lepht Kool-Aid:

But within 24 hours the documents were being challenged - raising suspicions that CBS had fallen victim to a hoax by Bush supporters to discredit critics of the President's military record.

Of course. It couldn't be that CBS's own stupid partisanship led them to being taken in by an inept forgery. No, it had to be the minions of Karl Rove!

We're also treated to this little gem of logic:

The Dallas Morning News muddied the waters further, claiming that another officer, said in an August 1973 memo to have asked for Bush's evaluation to be "sugarcoated", had in fact left the military in March 1972.

You got that? By showing that someone retired over a year before allegedly pressuring Killian to "sugargoat" Bush's eval, the DMN muddied the waters. Pointing out yet another inconcistency in this farcical fraud -- that just confused people! Everything was so clear, as long as we just took Rather's word for everything!

Then there is Wired.com, which, in an article attempting to use the controversy only to make the point that computers make fraud easier, tries to give some background on the story. The background, however, is quite basic, and for a publication like Wired.com to neglect giving credit to the bloggers that broke this story, is already unforgivable. But it gets worse: Wired.com only quotes one blog for this entire story, and it is ...The Daily Kos! Kos's amateurish, incomplete, and generally inept attempt to refute Charles's point of dramatic similarities between a default MS-Word doc and a paper allegedly typed in a 1972 office is hardly the best blog-based source of information that Wired.com could have offered its readers, when LGF, Powerline, and INDC, and Instapundit all had more background, more expertise, and far more (i.e., more than zero) graphic examples than Kos's pointless regurgitation of Fonts for Dummies. I don't know if the Wired.com editor limited his linkage to Kos out of sheer ignorance or partisan considerations; neither conclusion is flattering to his competence or professionalism.

Finally, we come to this background piece by Josh Levin of Slate. The article is not altogether bad, giving credit to several of bloggers who really broke this story. He does give too much credit to Kos's ramblings, but given the sheer volume of links to various sources, this can be overlooked. A note of advice to Mr. Levin, however: you work for Microsoft, which has no shortage of font experts. Get a few of them into a room, show them the documents and your collection of links, and see what they think. It would make for one hell of an interesting article. Heck, maybe if you look hard enough, you'll find some software designers in Office that will say they based Word's behavior on a typewriter from the 1970s. And if not, at least you can show them Kos's "explanation" of how you get Word-like behavior out of a 30-year-old typewriter. I'm sure they could use a laugh.

(I recycled some of these examples from my comments on this LGF post.)

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