Democrats in the House have been trying to leverage the Williams affair into a broadside against the "propaganda" machine of the White House. They cite these tacky "video news releases" pumped out by the Drug Czar's office and the Department of Health and Human Services as further proof of the Goebbelsization of the White House. (The "VNRs" look like real news broadcasts.) I think these things are awful, but, again, spare me the shock. Not only did the Clinton administration produce some 26 VNRs, it took propaganda to an unprecedented level when they offered incentives (aka bribes) to the entertainment arms of the television networks so that they would deliberately change the storylines of TV dramas to reflect messages consistent with administration drug policies. You didn't know it, but "ER," "Touched by An Angel" and others adulterated their scripts to please what amounted to nanny-state censors.
Then, of course, there's Dan Rather. Nowhere does the priesthood mentality reign so absolutely as at CBS News. This week it issued a whitewash of a report that blamed the Memogate fiasco not on bad motives or partisanship, but on the all-purpose blame-cleanser, "haste." Former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, leader of the independent panel investigating the affair, said: "If you're looking for a villain in this story, we have one. It's haste; the haste with which this program was put together."
Note: Mary Mapes, the producer most responsible, had been working on this story for five years. To pin this all on "haste" is like saying a man who suffered a five-year bout of consumption died "suddenly" when his heart stopped.
The CBS report insists that partisan bias was simply an appearance problem, not a reality problem. And it refuses to settle the central issue of the scandal: the patent inauthenticity of the forged guard memos. Meanwhile, the report says Rather's "blogger" critics were driven by a "conservative agenda," even though the vast bulk of their commentary centered on such technical details of vintage typewriters. Translation: Elite liberal journalists never have agendas, even when they're peddling and defending lies. Conservatives always have an agenda, even when they're trading in facts.
Now, the Williams fiasco may be more outrageous, but it's also more discrete and therefore fixable. The payola problem is solved by enforcing the existing laws and standards of full-disclosure for journalists and government alike. As for the systemic failures of the media and the arrogance which perpetuates it, that's a tougher nut to crack.