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September 20, 2004
About Time?

Finally? Well, no.

Is CBS retracting their fraudulent forgery-based story?

Well, no — no retraction per se — yet. They claim to have been duped, in what I presume is an attempt to relieve themselves of a modicum of responsibility for their slander. But in this case, if CBS was a dupe, it was a willing dupe.

What Dan Rather won't say is what everyone else in the country knows by now, that the documents are forgeries, though he does acknowledge that the provenance of the forgeries is yet an issue:

Now, after extensive additional interviews, I no longer have the confidence in these documents that would allow us to continue vouching for them journalistically. I find we have been misled on the key question of how our source for the documents came into possession of these papers. That, combined with some of the questions that have been raised in public and in the press, leads me to a point where—if I knew then what I know now—I would not have gone ahead with the story as it was aired, and I certainly would not have used the documents in question.

[Interesting speculation on the documents' origin from Allah and Jeff Goldstein.]

Though not (yet?) retracting the substance of the story, they now admit to having no evidence to back it up. Perhaps they think if there are no facts, they can't be fact-checked.

When the first evidence of forgery came out, I briefly (10 seconds, max) had in mind the old saying never attribute to malice that which can adequately be explained by stupidity. Certainly CBS was stupid, but deliberately and maliciously so; the phrase "reckless disregard for the truth" was coined precisely for episodes such as this.

Now having been caught in their obstinate malice, they're putting on their dunce caps. But it's far, far too late for that. We're onto them.

Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.

Of course, not too many years ago, it might have taken weeks or months for a network to make an admission of error, nevermind a full retraction. In an even earlier time, no such admission would ever have come, and the lies would stand as part of the historical record.

That it has taken CBS almost two weeks to even hint that their reporting was flawed says volumes about them and their rooted-in-the-20th-century attitudes towards their audience and its power. The lesson thus far from this entire sordid episode: fraud will not go unchallenged. Reportorial laziness and stupidity will be pounced upon and torn to shreds.

In the future, I expect we'll more frequently hear echoes of a line from Tom Clancy: "Why should I trust you? You're a reporter."

Heads should roll at CBS. I'm not confident that they will — not the right heads, at least. Pity the poor junior staffers.

See also:

Update: Don't miss the commentary at JustOneMinute, either.

Posted by Russ at 03:20 PM, September 20, 2004 in Politics

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