None of these developments were allowed inside Dan Rather's hermetically sealed news bubble in his on-air defenses on Sept. 10 and Sept. 14. The ultimate insult to the viewing public came on the next edition of "60 Minutes," a week after CBS aired the original fraud. The only guest was Marian Carr Knox, a secretary and typist for Lt. Col. Killian. The new CBS line, manufactured after the network flew Mrs. Knox to New York for a sitdown with Rather: Here's a single guest on camera who says our procured documents are phony, but she says the substance of them are true. And since that's all that counts, we continue to stand by our story.
What a complete dodge. A fake is a fake. Journalism schools don't teach that it's OK to fake a document to smoke out a larger "truth." (Would CBS endorse police departments planting evidence on criminal suspects who they believe are guilty for the larger "truth"?)
They may still pretend to dismiss conservative critics, but CBS and others will probably pay the most attention to the bottom line, and that broadcast news ratings meltdown continues. In 2001, the American Journalism Review reported the "CBS Evening News" lost half its viewership from 1981 to 2001. Last week, the show averaged 6.7 million viewers, which still looks powerful next to everyday cable news ratings, but hardly represents the old hegemony of the Big Three over the political process.
When I titled my book "Weapons of Mass Distortion: The Coming Meltdown of the Liberal Media," I had no idea Dan Rather and CBS would provide such a blatant show-and-tell to prove my point. In its early days, the Big Three ruled the roost, and critics were treated like gnats -- a small annoyance, easily ignored.