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"An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last."
Sir Winston Churchill

11.03.2005

News Flash: Teflon Praises CBS News

I'm tough on the media in this country, by any measure, since I believe that the journalists representing America to Americans and the rest of the world ought to be, well, Americans first and foremost, not political hacks with axes to grind for the unwillingness of most Americans to elect whom they think we ought to elect.

When the LWM gets something right, honesty and credibility require that I call your attention to it.

In this case, I want to praise Vaughn Ververs, the unbudsman at CBS News, the outfit that brought us Rathergate. Here's what he had to say in a courageous Public Eye column about that scandal:

My biggest quibble with the [Thornbugh-Baccardi] report concerns its finding that they could not find a political bias behind the story. As in the case of the documents, the lawyers found that a lack of absolute proof left them unable to make that charge. But there are several things that make a pretty convincing circumstantial case of some type of bias to me.

1. The story itself has dubious value. The panel found that competitive pressure was the main force behind rushing the story to air since other news organizations were actively pursuing the same story. But that fact does not make the story worthwhile. Perhaps I was too close to politics, having covered President Bush since he first ran for governor of Texas. But as an analyst, I failed to see tremendous importance in the story. If, in running for a second term, a story happened to turn up of an extra-marital affair, President Clinton engaged in 20 years before, I would have felt the same way — as, I suspect, would most of the public.

I don’t think there are many people who would be surprised if someone told them President Bush had gotten into the Texas Air National Guard with a little help from his family’s high-placed friends. I don’t think it’s a secret that many young men at that time benefited from similar connections. More newsworthy perhaps, as detailed in the report, was the revelation that some interviewed by Mapes said Mr. Bush had volunteered to go to Vietnam but was turned down.

Any big break in the story that proved that Mr. Bush had not honorably completed his service or had manipulated the levers of power would have been big news. Even had the “60 Minutes Wednesday” story been airtight, it contained nothing that moved the story to that level. Given some of President Bush’s statements regarding his service, was this story of some worth? Yes. Was it worth cutting corners and “crashing” it to air? No.

2. Mapes’ zeal in chasing this story is striking. It is not out of the ordinary for producers and reporters to work on a story for years before getting the break they need to nail it. But this instance carries an air of obsession. What struck me in reading the report was Mapes’ use of the words “holy grail.” When she learned of the possible existence of new documents, she “and her team speculated that the document was the ‘holy grail’ for which they had been searching” (pg. 70 of the Thornburgh-Boccardi report). Later, when Mapes interviewed Maj. Gen. Hodges, a colleague described her as believing he was the “holy grail” (pg. 114 of the report).

Perhaps I’m making too much of it, but those words suggest a quest beyond professionalism to me. And it seems, in the midst of a quest, it’s tempting to look for the things that help you in it and shun those that don’t. And that, according to the panel’s findings, is part of what Mapes did.

3. Mapes’ contact with the John Kerry campaign is troubling by itself but more so when the contradictions are added. Mapes says she contacted Kerry spokesman Joe Lockhart to ask him to contact Bill Burkett as a condition of obtaining the documents. According to the panel, Mapes claims the subject of the documents was not discussed, nor was the story she was working on. Lockhart remembers it differently, saying Mapes told him about the story and the documents, going so far as to describe himself as feeling uncomfortable about the conversation.

The report does not find that political bias was a factor in rushing this flawed story to air in the heat of a hotly contested presidential campaign. I find it hard to believe some kind of bias, political or otherwise, did not play a role. I urge everyone to read the report before coming to their own conclusions. You can read the full report here and the supporting documentation here.


That takes guts. There is nothing more insulting than when some smarmy member of the Hair Helmet Hamas like Dan Rather lies to your face and does so in a way that strongly indicates that he thinks you're too stupid to notice. By admitting what is obviously true, Ververs preserves his own credibility and buys some goodwill to boot.

Defending the indefensible is counterproductive and a waste of time to boot. If more journalists simply admitted the obvious regarding the liberal bias in the media, it would be a more respected profession, even amongst conservatives.

Kudos to Ververs for reporting the truth, however unpleasant it might be to his colleagues.

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