Plenty of people have taken apart Corey Pein’s lousy revisionist history in his Columbia Journalism Review piece on the CBS forged documents scandal. Much of the criticism focuses primarily on details relating to typography. I’d like to focus on a couple of non-typographical points.
The first point is one I have not seen made elsewhere. It focuses on this passage from the article:
The very first post attacking the memos — nineteen minutes into the 60 Minutes II program — was on the right-wing Web site FreeRepublic.com by an active Air Force officer, Paul Boley of Montgomery, Alabama, who went by the handle “TankerKC.” Nearly four hours later it was followed by postings from “Buckhead,” whom the Los Angeles Times later identified as Harry MacDougald, a Republican lawyer in Atlanta. (MacDougald refused to tell the Times how he was able to mount a case against the documents so quickly.)
That last sentence is an excellent example of the art of insinuation. You could put it in a textbook. But it’s not journalism.
Buckhead/MacDougald has already publicly explained the circumstances of his early suspicion of the documents. Buckhead explained to me in an e-mail (quoted in the update to this post of mine) how he accessed the documents. And the details of Buckhead’s “case” against the documents are as transparent as they could possibly be: they’re right there in the very post in which Buckhead first expressed his concerns. What more does Pein need to know?
Apparently, Pein doesn’t want to know. He clearly feels more comfortable with making dark insinuations than he is doing research.
Second, let’s please get over this idea: “Dan Rather trusted his producer; his producer trusted her source.” Poor Dan Rather; poor Mary Mapes. Their only crime was that they got suckered.
Dead wrong. This analysis ignores the fact that the folks at CBS ignored a mountain of evidence that was staring them in the face before the story ever ran, and gave no meaningful broadcast time to the dissenters. They were not duped — they tried to dupe their viewers. And they do it all the time. I’ve covered this ground before, in detail. RatherBiased.com has a nice summary as well.
The fact that a piece like this appears in a publication associated with this nation’s top journalism school speaks volumes about the state of that profession.