Thursday, September 20, 2007

Dan Rather

Triumphalism, thy blogosphere name is Rathergate. Vanity, thy name is Dan Rather - especially because Dan Rather's lawsuit against CBS is so clearly in vain. Beldar has the legal take.

Ironically, I referenced Rathergate, and Dan Rather's blind spot regarding it, only last Wednesday:

In that instance, blogs attracted expertise which almost immediately proved - to 100% certainty - that Rather's docs were fakes. It took some of the MSM weeks to catch on. Some of the MSM (including Rather) never caught on to what is absolute, 100%, scientifically verifiable proof. It was proof - not beyond a reasonable doubt - but beyond a shadow of a doubt - beyond any shred of doubt whatsoever.

It's easy to stand by those words. Facts are facts. A hallucinatory lawsuit is meaningless - except as demonstration of how silly we the people once were to invest large amounts of trust in TV personalities.

In present day, we make up our own minds about the probable accuracy of various bits of information. I judge Beldar's information is more accurate than Dan Rather's. Yet, even Beldar(!) is not invested with absolute authority.

I suspect Dan's Rathergate blind spot is a type of psychological defense mechanism. I suspect Dan's psychology can bear neither the jolt of acknowledging such a sloppily biased mess up, nor the jolt of acknowledging almost everyone in the U.S. knows he acted in such a sloppily biased fashion.

I suspect Dan Rather's life revolves around what people think of him. When his head hits the pillow at night, I suspect he experiences psychological agony. I can empathize, as most of my life revolved far too much around what people thought of me. I've been there. I still, sometimes, slip into old habits.

Here, I was going to recount how Dan Rather falsely claimed credit for breaking the story that JFK had died. And how it worked. Though the truth is widely known among broadcasting insiders: Dallas local CBS reporter Eddie Barker broke the story - via a contact inside the Parkland Hospital Emergency Room, Rather stole the story by refusing to properly credit Barker. Today, Rather is commonly given credit for breaking the story.

I was going to recount how Dan Rather slandered the city of Dallas via the willfully false report that schoolchildren from Dallas' University Park Elementary School had cheered news of President Kennedy's death. In actuality, the children were not told of President Kennedy's death. Having been kept in the dark about ongoing events, the children cheered when they were informed school would be let out at 12:30 that day. Rather knew this, and reported the false story anyway. He sacrificed the city of Dallas - via falsely stoking a nation's anger - for the sake of his own broadcasting career ambition. And it worked. Rather's career zoomed.

A link to a 2005 article about those stories by Weekly Standard's Philip Chalk, a 1974 graduate of University Park Elementary School.

Instead, I wish to consider bias and narcissism.


in this instance, means nothing more than having political views. There's nothing wrong with that. The ability to discriminate is the essence of rational thought. As humans, we cannot not discriminate amongst choices. It is hardwired into us.

News media - and Dan Rather is a champion of this - claim they report political news as if they have no political views. This is simply impossible.

One may report political stories as fairly as possible. One may not report political stories without one's own discriminatory rational thoughts seeping into some of the stories - via subtle characterizations and wording, if nothing else. A reporter, after all, wants accuracy in their stories. If "free markets work" is accurate, then that accurate framing and characterization will appear inside an economic story. If "markets must be managed" is accurate, then that framing and characterization will appear instead.

Journalists, and journalism schools, exhibit a collective blind spot about this reality. The blind spot is made larger via the circumstance of almost everyone in newsrooms and j-schools holding simpatico political opinions. Newsroom and j-school denizens begin to believe their collective political views equate to accuracy - and why wouldn't they, seeing as how every smart person around them thinks in the same way? Reporters often do not recognize bias in their stories. They succumb to groupthink:

It's not bias. It's what every smart person I know thinks - and therefore it's what every smart person thinks! It's accurate framing and characterization.

Reporting can be fair and biased. There is nothing wrong with this circumstance! Every sensible person has opinions. Some bias in framing and characterization cannot be avoided. Reporters have space considerations. They cannot turn 500 words into 2000 words, so as to fully describe the background of all political thought which surrounds the framing of a story.

What could be avoided, by smart publishers, are newsrooms in which 95% of reporters and editors hold identical political opinions. What could be avoided is reporters' and editors' lack of self-awareness about the standing and heft of their own opinions, relative to dissenting opinions.

Political Correctness has something to do with reporters' and editors' ignorance. As a conservative who bounces through blog comment sections, I have an excellent understanding of left-side opinion on the issues of the day. I can usually make the left-side argument as good or better than the lefty. The lefty, otoh, and the news reporter and news editor: do not understand my argument; cannot make my argument for me; and cannot accurately represent my argument in even the most shallow conversational fashion. They don't have to understand my argument. Political Correctness dictates that I hold my opinions b/c I am selfish, uncaring, sexist, racist, homophobic, and, lately, a Nazi. Why would they waste time trying to understand my arguments? I do not waste time studying the opinion of David Duke.

Newsrooms do not need diversity of race and gender so much as they need diversity of political understanding. Why did Dan Rather and Mary Mapes fall for the false Texas Air National Guard documents? Answer: because the documents confirmed their pre-existing bias about GWBush. Nothing is so wonderful as something which confirms one's pre-existing bias. Not one person existed in the CBS' newsroom to say: "Hold on. GWBush has not led a life filled with hypocrisy. Maybe we should check into these documents a bit more." Au contraire. Full speed ahead. No need to seriously, carefully validate the accuracy of those documents. EVERYONE in CBS' newsroom KNEW IN THEIR GUT that GWBush was an unexposed hypocrite. They also knew they were just the newsroom to expose hypocrisy which simply HAD TO BE TRUE, BECAUSE EVERYONE IN THE NEWSROOM SENSED IT WAS TRUE. This is how a major network came to stand behind an infamous explanation:

"Fake, but accurate."

The saddest part is, Dan Rather and Mary Mapes haven't even admitted to the "fake" part.


It's instructive to note how other people view you. It's helpful to have this feedback - as FEEDBACK - not as motivation.

It's misguided to let actions be motivated by desire to have other people view you favorably. It's psychologically agonizing. It's misery. It's shallow. It's not why we were put upon this Earth.

We get lost. We fail to recognize we are born to thrive; to love; to be love in action. We lose our way. We look for validation - not from God, not from the purpose for which we are born - but from the fallible persons of suspect motivation who exist around us. This way lies agony. Separation from God is agony. Looking to fallible, imperfect humans for validation is also agony. Other people can give us feedback - not validation. And we ought examine their feedback at a skeptical arm's length.

I suspect Dan Rather is lost. I suspect he looks to others for validation. I suspect he exists in a state of psychological agony. I empathize. I've been there. And sometimes I return.

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