Jonah Goldberg

The growing backlash from bigwig liberal journalists and the Kerry campaign over the Dan Rather story reminds me of story about the renowned physicist Wolfgang Pauli. Presented with an unimpressive paper by a lesser physicist, Pauli famously complained, "It's not even wrong."

Basically, the liberal media establishment is falling back on a dual argument. First, bigwigs like Vanity Fair's Michael Wolff are hewing to the "fake but true" defense. The second comes from the journalism school graybeards who insist this monumental foul-up was the result of CBS' desperate pursuit of ratings and ad revenues - but perish the though media bias played a role.

Journalism professor Phillip Meyer, writing in USA Today, asserts: "Dan Rather was not out to get George W. Bush. He was out to get a good story. And the desire for a good story, in the face of competition from all of the varieties of new and old media, is a powerful - and sometimes blinding - incentive." CBS insiders have echoed this version, saying it was a sprint to break the story and score ratings that forced these unfortunate errors. How convenient: Liberal journalists blame capitalism for their mistakes.

Such soaring assertions are weighted down by the ballast of too many inconvenient facts. Mary Mapes, the very liberal producer whose career is going the way of the dodo, has been working on the Bush Air National Guard (BANG) story for five years - more than a year longer than Bush has been president. That's not a sprint, it's a marathon. Meanwhile, as Tim Graham of the Media Research Center has documented, Dan Rather has a long history of saying Vietnam is irrelevant - when such issues hurt Democrats and very relevant when it hurts Republicans. For example, in August - when John Kerry was getting shellacked by the Swift Boat Vets for Truth - he told Broadcasting & Cable: "In the end, what difference does it make what one candidate or the other did or didn't do during the Vietnam War? In some ways, that war is as distant as the Napoleonic campaigns. What's far more import is this: Do they have an exit strategy for Iraq? If so, what is it? How will they address the national deficit? And what are the chances their plans will work?"

Of course, at the time, Dan Rather was working very hard on Bush's activities during the Napoleonic campaigns, er, I mean Vietnam War.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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