Tuesday, November 30, 2004

De-Spinning the No-Spin Zone

Captain Ed deconstructs Bill O'Reilly's recent editorial defending Dan Rather here. O'Reilly sometimes gives the impression of a man who takes bizarre positions simply to make himself noticed. The utter vacuity of his defense of Rather leaves little room for any other conclusion. Excerpts from O'Reilly are in italics:

Bill O'Reilly issues a scathing editorial on all those who dared to criticize Dan Rather over the forgeries used in the 60 Minutes story on George Bush's Air National Guard service. According to O'Reilly, Rather's torment at the hands of critics using (gasp!) the First Amendment to speak out against him shows that the American system of innocent until proven guilty has been utterly discarded. What a load of horse puckey.

The ordeal of Dan Rather goes far beyond the man himself. It speaks to the presumption of guilt that now rules the day in America. Because of a ruthless and callow media, no citizen, much less one who achieves fame, is given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to allegations or personal attacks. The smearing of America is in full bloom.

The presumption of innocence relates to criminal proceedings, Bill, not media criticism. Criticism doesn't equate to legal action, and the cure is either countercriticism -- which CBS News and Rather apologists delivered in spades -- or admitting the obvious: the documents were forgeries and CBS screwed up. To this date, Rather has only done the former.

That smear came on the heels of the "Swift boat" attacks on John Kerry, an ordeal that may have cost him the election. While some of the Vietnam vets had valid points, more than a few of the accusations against Kerry were simply untrue.

We hear this a lot, but no one who makes that suggestion ever comes up with a single argument from the Swiftvets that was proven false, let alone "more than a few". O'Reilly doesn't back this up, either, making himself a hypocrite for at least the first time in this piece.

Right-wing talk radio in particular pounded Kerry and also bludgeoned Dan Rather for his role in another smear incident - the charges against President Bush about his National Guard service. Again, Rather was found guilty without a fair hearing.

Fair hearing? Rather used the broadcast medium of CBS to constantly defend himself, hardly a mismatch against Rather.

Charges that he intentionally approved bogus documents that made Bush look bad were leveled and widely believed. It was chilling.

Perhaps that's because he told the nation that he personally vouched for the authenticity of the documents, Bill. Even today, after we've found out that CBS's own experts warned them the documents could not be authenticated and every accredited expert in the field has thoroughly debunked them, Rather and CBS have yet to admit they're forgeries. They only admit that they aren't "thoroughly authenticated". Issuing bulls**t statements like that and stonewalling the critics got Rather and CBS in the hot water they're in.

It may be true that Rather did not vet the information supplied to him by producers, but few anchor people do.

Rather is more than the anchor at CBS News, he's also the managing editor. Isn't he supposed to be responsible for what gets broadcast on CBS News? Or is that just a phony title, meant to build up his credibility through fraud?

But holding a political point of view is the right of every American, and it does not entitle people to practice character assassination or deny the presumption of innocence. Dan Rather was slimed.

Oh, grow up. If Dan Rather can't take criticism about how he performs his job, then he should have gotten out of the media business a long time ago. And to reiterate the point, Rather hasn't been charged with a crime, he's being criticized in the same manner that he and his cohorts at 60 Minutes have made careers off of doing to others. As has Bill O'Reilly, for that matter.

Let me ask you something: In the future, do you think potential public servants and social crusaders are going to risk being brutally attacked within this insane system?

Dan Rather is NOT a public servant. He has made a very lucrative career appearing in front of a camera and pretending to be a journalist. If free speech is an "insane system", perhaps you'd like to tell us what you'd replace it with, Bill. Would we all need licenses to dare offer criticism of Dan Rather? Or do you believe we should all sit quietly and watch whatever CBS tells us without a hint of dissent?

Dan Rather did not get what he deserved in this case. He made a mistake, as we all do, but he is not a dishonest man. Unfair freedom of speech did him in. This is not your grandfather's country anymore.

"Unfair freedom of speech" ... I wonder how many of your victims would have said the same thing, Bill. George Bush could certainly make the same claim after the TANG story. If that's your position, then Dan Rather should have been tried for his participation in the story and possibly jailed, or at least silenced by the government, for his role. Is that what you propose for America, Bill?

Get a grip and a clue, O'Reilly. If Dan can't handle the criticism, then perhaps he shouldn't have sat behind the big desk in the first place. If he hadn't personally vetted the material as you say, then this "honest man" lied to the American public when he told us he personally vouched for its authenticity. He still can't bring himself to admit that he lied and his producers knowingly aired a story based on documents that they had been warned were not authenticated. Only through the efforts of Rather's critics did the truth finally come out.

That's what should interest you, Bill -- the truth. If your first priority is to Dan Rather instead of the truth, you're in the wrong business and you should get out. Now.

Viewpoint would add only this: In stating that "Dan Rather is [only] guilty of not being skeptical enough about a story that was politically loaded" O'Reilly demonstrates a marvelous facility for missing the point. The problem with Rather's use of fraudulent documents wasn't his lack of skepticism so much as the reason for that lack. Why did Rather suspend his skepticism? Why did he run with these documents even after having been cautioned against it? The only answer that makes any sense isn't very flattering. Rather wanted so badly to crucify George Bush that he threw caution to the wind, believed what he most earnestly wanted to be the truth about the memos, and then refused to face the facts when they became so apparent that only an obsessed partisan zealot could have failed to see it.

It's this reckless betrayal of journalistic standards in Rather's Ahab-like pursuit of the President that makes his conduct so reprehensible. For O'Reilly to be unable to see this strikes us as peculiar. Might he have been using the treatment Rather received over this affair as a surrogate for the treatment he feels he unjustly received when the sexual harassment suit was filed against him? Just wondering.

Conservatism and Liberalism

Here's a good column by Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online on the use of the labels conservative and liberal. The heart of the piece:

Consider a story last week in the Financial Times about the views of Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer. According to the FT's Washington correspondent, Scalia speaks for "radical Republicans" because he wants to interpret the constitution literally. Meanwhile, Breyer represents the "moderate Democrats" because he "offers a more pragmatic vision: Judges should consider not just ancient words but modern consequences, he said, adding that courts should try their best to interpret the law in ways that 'are consistent with the people's will.'"

This has, um, exactly everything wrong. Saying that the courts should follow the Rousseauian General Will of the people isn't "moderate" at all - indeed, it's a form of radicalism. Meanwhile, saying that we should follow the strictures of our written constitution and laws is definitionally conservative. And conservatism and radicalism are opposites.

In 1957, Samuel Huntington wrote a fabulous essay titled "Conservatism as an Ideology," in which he noted that conservatism lacks an inherent ideal. "No political philosopher has ever described a conservative utopia," wrote Huntington. Unlike socialism, Marxism and Islamic fundamentalism, conservatism merely aims to preserve that which is deemed worth preserving in a given society. As Huntington noted, bona fide "conservatives" in America, Great Britain, and Portugal each want to conserve very different things. A "conservative" in Saudi Arabia wants to preserve their crapulent monarchy. Similarly, a "conservative" in the Soviet Union would want to preserve the rule of the Politburo. Meanwhile, someone in contemporary Russia who wanted to restore the Soviet system would properly be called a "reactionary."

But here in America, a conservative is someone who wants to preserve those institutions and ideals enshrined in the Constitution. For example, a "conservative" at a liberal university would be someone who wants to preserve what they love about that university. Pym Fortuyn the gay libertine politician who was murdered in Holland for saying he wanted to limit immigration from Muslim countries so he could keep the party going was, in effect, a conservative. Similarly, this is why Huntington and philosophers like Friedrich Hayek argued that America might be the only place in the world where conservatives were the real defenders of liberty because they wanted to preserve our classical-liberal institutions.

Good stuff.

The Cost of Citizenship

The Chicago Sun-Times has a sad article by Mary Laney about Steve Gardner. Gardner was a swift vet who served on under John Kerry in Vietnam and who spoke out vigorously against the prospect of having Senator Kerry elected Commander-In-Chief. Now this father of three finds himself in very difficult straits under very suspicious circumstances. Here are some excerpts from Laney's column:

This is the story of a military veteran whistleblower. He spoke out against someone he thought was dangerous for the nation, talked to local newspapers, and appeared on talk shows. In return, he was vilified by reporters, threatened by a political operative, fired by his company, and now he's broke.

"I had confrontations with him [Kerry] there. He nearly got us rammed by the VC one night because he wasn't watching the helm. I heard the motor coming close, turned on the spotlight, and the boat was only 90 feet away, coming fast. The VC was aiming an AK47 at us. I shot him out of the boat. We pulled a woman and a baby off the boat."

"Kerry wrote it up that we captured two VC and killed four more on the beach. None of that was true. The only thing true on Kerry's report was the date. The woman was catatonic and wouldn't call her baby VC and there were no VC on the beach. If we had seen that report before Kerry sent it up the chain of command, he would have been court-martialed and never allowed to run for office. And that's just the San Pan incident. There was much more. He is a self-aggrandizing bold-faced liar. I believe he caused the extension of that war."

Gardner told this story and others to radio stations and he wrote a piece for the local paper. Then, he says, he received a phone call from John Hurley, the veterans organizer for Kerry's campaign. Hurley, Gardner says, asked him to come out for Kerry. He told Hurley to leave him alone and that he'd never be for Kerry. It was then Gardner says, he was threatened with, "You better watch your step. We can look into your finances."

Next, Gardner said he received a call from Douglas Brinkley, the author of Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War. Brinkley told Gardner he was calling only to "fact check" the book -- which was already in print. "I told him that the guy in the book is not the same guy I served with. I told him Kerry was a coward. He would patrol the middle of the river. The canals were dangerous. He wouldn't go there unless he had another boat pushing him."

Days later, Brinkley called again, warning Gardner to expect some calls. It seems Brinkley had used the "fact checking" conversation to write an inflammatory article about Gardner for Time.com. The article, implying that Gardner was politically motivated, appeared under the headline "The 10th Brother."

Twenty-four hours later, Gardner got an e-mail from his company, Millennium Information Services, informing him that his services would no longer be necessary. He was laid off in an e-mail -- by the same man who only days before had congratulated him for his exemplary work in a territory which covered North and South Carolina. The e-mail stated that his position was being eliminated. Since then, he's seen the company advertising for his old position. Gardner doesn't have the money to sue to get the job back.

We're reluctant to be too quick to conclude that this was a political hit job by despicable low-lifes who would rob a man of his livelihood and jeopardize his family in order to gain revenge on him for exercising his rights and duty as a citizen. It may actually be a coincidence that all this happened to him when it did and in the manner that it did.

And maybe there really is a tooth fairy.