“Memogate” Is No Conspiracy”

The CBS/Dan Rather “memogate” incident begs several interpretations and subplots. To wit:

*Given the three-way communication among CBS producer Mary Mapes, John Kerry senior adviser Joe Lockhart and long time George W. Bush critic and memo enabler Bill Burkett, conspiracy theorists have some traction. The real outcome: Left-leaning CBS and its anchor/executive news editor Dan Rather, who three years ago actually spoke at a Democratic fund-raiser in Texas, weren’t so much snookered as found out.

*Given the Machiavellian reputation of Karl Rove and some amateurish forgeries, contrarian conspiracy sorts think it was the perfect storm of pre-emptive Republican damage control. The strategy: Concede the message of 30-year-old National Guard favoritism — but assure that the messenger and its manner of conveyance were trashable. The presumptive result: end of National Guard story — and beginning of biased media as “the” story. Running against John Kerry and Dan Rather is not without benefit.

*Given Dan Rather’s reputation for grandstanding — especially at the expense of Republican presidents, including a contentious session with George H.W. Bush — it’s likely the 73 year old was just going to the GOP character-assassination well one last time.

What is certain, however, is this. Too much time and focus have been spent by the media on an issue that warrants virtually none. The result was a distraction from the real issues and a disservice to candidates, the voting public and most media.

What is also inescapable is this. CBS is guilty of unconscionable shoddiness when it comes to vetting sources and authenticating evidence. It is also at fault for unprofessional ethics by involving itself directly with a Kerry campaign operative. And it arrogantly stonewalled for a fortnight before Rather’s belated apologia. The (oft-violated) media mandate to “Get it right, get it first” was shamelessly transposed and disgraced.

As for Rather, who has never been confused with Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite, he wasn’t so much biased, as he was enamored of the prospect of another big score before he turns in his talons. He obviously hasn’t retired his journalistic hubris yet.

Perhaps the debates will get us all back on task as we await this most pivotal presidential election.

Perhaps.

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