Dick Thornburgh and Lou Boccardi may not believe that there is “persuasive evidence” of CBS’s political bias, but the section in their report (pp. 106-107) on Dan Rather and Mary Mapes’ attempt to include a Bush-bashing interview with Col. David Hackworth in the infamous Memogate segment is unequivocal evidence of their bias.
At some point (neither the report nor the interview transcript, which is Exhibit 9E, indicate a date), Rather interviewed Hackworth as a document expert for the Bush National Guard story. Here’s the important narrative passage in the Thornburgh/Boccardi report:
Mapes said that she asked Colonel Hackworth to “look at the back and forth” in the Killian documents because he had worked in the Pentagon and knew about Pentagon politics. Even though Colonel Hackworth was never in the TexANG, did not know Lieutenant Colonel Killian or any of the other relevant individuals, had no personal knowledge of President Bush’s service in the TexANG and had no personal knowledge regarding the Killian documents, he reached some highly critical conclusions in his interview regarding President Bush’s TexANG service based solely on the purported authenticity of the Killian documents and his general knowledge of the military.
First, Colonel Hackworth concluded that the documents were “genuine.” He reached this conclusion by relating his own experience at the Pentagon during the Vietnam War when he was running the “Army input system for . . . basic training.” Colonel Hackworth said that, while in that post, he received and refused requests by members of Congress and generals to assign certain men to particular units and wrote “cover my own butt” memoranda in many cases to document his refusals. Colonel Hackworth then concluded that Lieutenant Colonel Killian was “in the same kind of pickle that I found myself in” and proceeded to discuss what Lieutenant Colonel Killian was thinking at the time he wrote the memoranda.
Rather asked Colonel Hackworth whether there was any doubt in his mind that the documents were real, and Colonel Hackworth replied, “Having been down that road before I would say that these are genuine documents.”
Second, Colonel Hackworth concluded that, by not taking his physical, then-Lieutenant Bush was “insubordinate” and would have been treated more harshly had he been “an unconnected Lieutenant.”
Third, Colonel Hackworth stated repeatedly throughout his interview that then-Lieutenant Bush was “AWOL” and that a person would have to reach that conclusion when reviewing the documents “unless you’re the village idiot.” Colonel Hackworth appeared to be referring to the fact that he had seen no evidence that President Bush was “present for duty” once he left for Alabama in 1972, although he did not articulate clearly how he reached his conclusion. Finally, Colonel Hackworth concluded that “the bottom line here is — is the abuse of power.” He said that “[I]t’s how people up at the top can . . . lean on the little people.”
Rather thought Colonel Hackworth was a “strong and valuable expert witness.” Mapes also believed that Colonel Hackworth was important for the Segment and included excerpts of his interview in early drafts of the September 8 Segment script. These excerpts were ultimately cut from the final script by Heyward and West.
Unbelievable. Instead of relying on disinterested, qualified document experts, Rather and Mapes (grateful for Col. Hackworth’s invaluable assistance in her acclaimed Abu Ghraib expose, no doubt) ignore the complete worthlessness of Hackworth’s “expertise” and crusade to include his ill-informed, inflammatory interview in their hit piece on Bush in order to show that the Killian documents are “genuine.”
If this isn’t “adequate proof” of the driving political motivation of Mapes and Rather, what is?
Jonathan Last agrees:
Thornburgh and Boccardi view all of these facts and then turn away saying that there is no “persuasive evidence of a political agenda;” and that they do “not believe that evidence exists to demonstrate” that political leanings of the anti-Bush sources influenced the story; and that they “cannot conclude that this proposed use of Colonel Hackworth was part of any political agenda.”
The only counter-evidence the report offers on this score are Mapes’s and Rather’s denials. “Absolutely, unequivocally untrue,” Rather thunders. It was “proximity, not politics,” Mapes demurs.
The CBS report can find evidence of political bias–they admit and document as much; they just can’t reach any metaphysical conclusions about why that evidence exists. The esteemed panel has a journalist and an attorney general. Perhaps they should have included a philosopher, too.
Captain’s Quarters has more.
And Patterico is right:
The report makes a number of technical recommendations, such as creating a senior Standards and Practices position, or maintaining a list of qualified document examiners. These recommendations may be helpful, but they don’t get to the root of the problem. The report’s primary recommendation should have been: Report the truth, whether it supports your story line or not.
Bill at INDC Journal is not surprised:
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The idea that Mary Mapes and Dan Rather had no political agenda is simply ludicrous, but the media and its established analysts need to play the old “vee know nussing” game to maintain the grand illusion of ideological impartiality in journalism. Any admission of bias would be perceived to cross the big invisible line that devalues a news organization’s currency of long-term credibility and neutrality. Such denials are similar to a prison inmate’s requisite protestations of innocence while waiting on the results of eternal appeals: admit guilt and the game is up. Nevermind the fact that we have motive, multiple witnesses and a murder weapon. I suppose this dissonant finding is expected, if disappointing.
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