On operative double standards in the mainline press

Ross Mackenzie
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Posted: Sep 23, 2004 12:00 AM

So Dan Rather has recanted - sort of.

Initially, Rather was defiantly adamant and standing on the veracity of the bogus memos about President Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard. He was deploring "those people" and insisting he would not give in to "a counterattack (from) partisan political operatives."

Now, saying it wasn't all his fault, he has backhandedly apologized for going on the air with documents whose genuineness he cannot certify and about whose sourcing he was "misled": "We made a mistake in judgment and for that I am sorry."

What's really sorry is Rather's indecency in declining to quit. To salvage what credibility is left to it, CBS ought to do what The New York Times did to its equally ideologized editor Howell Raines in a similar instance - and give him the ax.

Since John Kerry's nomination in Boston, there have been really only two substantive stories about the presidential election - the issues raised about Kerry in connection with the Swift Boat veterans and, later, the bogus Rather memos. Both are related in that they go to the question of double standards, notably in the mainline press.

Let us count the ways.

Kerry, medaled several times over, made his service in Vietnam the centerpiece of his campaign. By contrast, Bush's Guard service has been held up as somehow deficient, the consequence of rich-boy favoritism that kept him out of the Vietnam action. Though Bush was honorably discharged, his Guard service has been a factor in all his political campaigns, yet never more than in this one. Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe - appointed to the post by Bill Clinton - insists Bush has lied about his Guard years and served dishonorably.

With Kerry heading toward the Democratic nomination, the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was launched. Many Swiftees who served at the time Kerry served have taken issue with not only his military record but also his highly visible peacenik activities beginning in the early 1970s. Swift Boat commander John O'Neill has written a best-selling book ("Unfit for Command") about Kerry's war and postwar activities. Recently, American POWs have told how Kerry, Jane Fonda and others extended both the war and the POWs' time in the camps.

How odd, though, that what the Swiftees and POWs have said has been accorded little credence, and correspondingly little serious attention, in the mainline press - especially by network television. For instance, Kitty Kelley's disastrous book about the Bush family received lengthy coverage by, especially, NBC, while O'Neill's book, at least until recently, received practically none.

Bush's Guard records have been the subject of consuming mainline-press attention, while Kerry's largely unseen records have been accepted on faith. And Kerry's refusal to sign military form No. 180, authorizing release of perhaps 100 pages of his military records, encounters little objection. Why?

Questions about those records abound. What's the truth about the Purple Hearts? Former Navy Secretary John Lehman says he never saw, approved, or signed the Silver Star citation that appears over Lehman's signature on the Kerry Website. Kerry claims to have a Silver Star with combat V - a medal not in the Pentagon inventory of military decorations, a medal the Navy insists it never has issued to anyone. Moreover, if that and his other medals are so important to Kerry, then why did he throw them away (or did he?) at about the time he was calling American service in Vietnam "criminal"?

To such entities as CBS, why are Bush's service records so important when Kerry's evidently are not?

Then there's the 527 tie.

When the Swiftees, with almost no money, started making waves, the Kerry campaign, seemingly in tandem with the mainline press, charged the Swiftees were but a front-group for the Bush campaign. Yet curiously, until this week - with suggestions of an incestuous relationship between CBS and the Kerry campaign (through Clintonite Joe Lockhart) - little coverage or attention has been given to the possible links between the Kerry campaign and Texans for Truth. It is a 527 group possibly linked to the Rather memos and apparently funded by George Soros and viciously anti-Bush leftist lobbies.

The Rather memos are but the latest example of operative double standards greatly harsher toward Bush than Kerry. They raise the question: Is the name CBS News or CBS Sabotage? Has Rather's ideology killed his objectivity, and along with it the credibility of CBS?

The mainline, usually leftist, press is being upended by the very press freedom it purports to espouse. That freedom has led to an exploding alternative press, particularly on the Internet, often rife with rumor but now serving as a check on the mainline press with news mainline reporters cannot ignore.

Beyond Internet bloggers, press freedom has forced a greater ideological honesty on the part of mainline outlets through fractionalization elsewhere. Examples: talk radio (where leftists cannot seem to get even a toehold), cable television (Fox News lopes well ahead of its rivals), and book publishers publishing titles that formerly never would have seen daylight now on bestseller lists. (Why is there so little outrage that Clintonite Kerry advisers Paul Begala and James Carville are continuing as mainstays on CNN? How is it that refugees from Democratic administrations routinely land as stalwarts on network news shows?)

Dan Rather's outrageous display of ideological irresponsibility has highlighted yet again the double standards and has driven yet another - the final? - nail into the coffin of the once-proud mainline press.