Thomas Sowell

It was perhaps appropriate that Dan Rather received the prestigious Peabody award in journalism at the same time when Newsweek magazine was finally backing away from its false story about Americans flushing the Koran down the toilet at the Guantanamo prison.

 At least Dan Rather's forged documents didn't get anybody killed, as the phony Newsweek story did. What is even more revealing -- and appalling -- about the mainstream media is that they are now circling the wagons around Newsweek, to protect it from criticism, just as they circled the wagons around Dan Rather last year, and now give him an award this year to put the frosting on the cake.

 If the forged documents at CBS and the phony story at Newsweek were just isolated mistakes, that would be one thing. But media liberals have made themselves accessories after the fact, by springing to the defense of such indefensible misconduct.

 In a sense, that is good. It makes it easier for the public to see that the forged documents and the fake story were not just odd things that happened to a couple of people but were symptomatic of a mindset among many others who sprang to their defense.

 Someone referred to the story about George Bush's National Guard service as "too good to check." In other words, it fit their vision so well, and scored a point that they wanted to score against President Bush, that it hardly seemed worthwhile to check out the facts.

 That is almost certainly what happened with the story about Americans flushing the Koran down the toilet at the Guantanamo prison. It seems unlikely that Newsweek simply made up the story out of whole cloth. But, once they heard it, it was "too good to check."

 All this goes back to a more fundamental problem with the mainstream media. Too many journalists see their work as an opportunity to promote their own pet political notions, rather than a responsibility to inform the public and let their readers and viewers decide for themselves.

 It is not a question of being "fair" to this or that side but of being honest with their readers and viewers.

 Columnists and editorial writers are expected to offer opinions but reporters are expected to report facts. However, that distinction is increasingly blurred, with the front page of the New York Times often providing classic examples of editorials disguised as news.

 What happened to Dan Rather last year and to Newsweek this year is that the disguise fell off when the "news" that they were trying to sell turned out to be fake and all that was left exposed was their animosity toward the Bush administration.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate