Saturday, September 11, 2004

Media Bias - MSM Coverage of the CBS Hoax

Jay Ambrose, director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard Newspapers, in a guest editorial in The Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News ( Get-Bush time at the networks? - via Real Clear Politics) smells bias at CBS (over the Killian documents) and NBC (over next week's three-day Kitty Kelly gab-fest on Today).

His conclusion:

I've been in the news business for 38 years and love it and think it mostly honorable and know that any generalization about the "media" will only apply to some news organizations, not all, and not to everyone within any of those organizations. I do think some major news outlets do make judgments that look suspiciously biased at times.

I've been writing about two of them.
Ambrose also points out the role of the blogosphere in uncovering the apparent hoax at CBS:

Meanwhile, it's worth noting that the people who first started catching onto something wrong weren't professional journalists. They were Internet bloggers. If curious citizens can come up with these questions, why wouldn't the experienced hands at a major news organization like CBS do a better job? They had to have known, after all, that their story could have an impact on a Presidential election.
Good question.

Meanwhile, at The Washington Post, Rather Defends CBS Over Memos on Bush:

"Until someone shows me definitive proof that they are not, I don't see any reason to carry on a conversation with the professional rumor mill," the CBS anchor said. "My colleagues and I at '60 Minutes' made great efforts to authenticate these documents and to corroborate the story as best we could. . . . I think the public is smart enough to see from whom some of this criticism is coming and draw judgments about what the motivations are."

If Mr. Rather is telling the truth about the "great efforts" CBS took to authenticate the documents "as best they could", then it appears that they were grossly incompetent since they were picked apart by the "professional rumor mill" in about five minutes. Also note the components of Mr. Rather's defense:

1. Anyone who questions me is politically motivated, and
2. Anyone who listens to those questioning me is an idiot.

I guess when you don't have too many facts to support you, this is what you have to rely on. CBS did trot out their document expert, Marcel Matley who said that a "60 Minutes" executive had asked him not to give interviews. If CBS were confident about the authenticity of the Killian documents wouldn't they want their expert out there talking to everyone? From this perspective, it looks like they have something to hide. According to the WaPost article, Matley concluded the documents were authenticate "after comparing Killian's signature on the memos to other undisputed documents".

Unfortunately, much of the criticism stems from the characteristics of the font the documents were written in, not from the signatures, therefore, Mr. Matley's authentication doesn't answer the questions being raised. Additionally, since CBS has admitted they don't have originals, it appears unclear how Mr. Matley can rule out the possibility that someone photocopied a signature from an authentic document and pasted it into the fake.

People at CBS uninvolved with the story are also a little nervous about Rather's stonewalling:

Some CBS employees, who asked not to be identified while questioning their bosses' actions, expressed concern that the network had issued only a terse statement Thursday, when the authenticity of the documents was first questioned and until yesterday had refused to name any of the experts it had consulted or provide an on-the-record spokesman. One staff member, who has examined the documents but did not work on the "60 Minutes" piece, saw potential problems with them: "There's a lot of sentiment that we should do an internal investigation."

If these documents are conclusively proven forgeries, Rather's insistence that no further investigation was needed is going to look suspicious.

ABC News is carrying a similar story, CBS Stands by Memos on Bush Guard Service, that provides additional details:
CBS can state "with absolute certainty" that the disputed memos could have been produced on typewriters available in the early 1970s when the memos are purported to have been written, the network said. Rather said the typeface and style of the memos were available on typewriters since well before the 1970s.
This has been contradicted by multiple expert sources in the blogosphere and in the MSM, as the story goes on to note:
Several of the document examiners said one clue that the documents may be forgeries was the presence of superscripts in this case, a raised, smaller "th" in two references to Guard units.

Rather said typewriters were available in the early 1970s which were capable of printing superscripts. CBS pointed to other Texas Air National Guard documents released by the White House that include an example of a raised "th" superscript.

That superscript, however, is in a different typeface than the one used for the CBS memos. Document examiner Sandra Ramsey Lines of Paradise Valley, Ariz., who examined the documents for the AP, said she was "virtually certain" they were generated by computer.

Lines said that meant she could testify in court that, beyond a reasonable doubt, her opinion was that the memos were written on a computer.
Rather's assertion would carry a little more weight if they actually did reproduce the memo using 1970's equipment. Surely an organization the size of CBS could manage this if it were possible. But again, even if they did dig up some advanced composing system from 1972 that could manage this, would someone who, by his widow's testimony, could not type, use it? CBS has a much bigger problem than fonts on its hands.