Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Don't call him a journalist

I've never quite gotten the appeal of Dan Rather. His social distance from mere mortals coupled with his overall weirdness - who can forget "Kenneth, what is the frequency?" - has always made watching him deliver his newscast an exercise with little payback for the viewer. He's such a wackjob that he often becomes the news. In a media world with bazillions of alternative delivery methods, I think I'll take a pass on Dan.

Well, with his latest escapade in untruth, he's made the jump from just plain weird to pond scum of the journalistic ecosystem. The bottom line to this story is he based a story on documents that were later found to be forged (by bloggers, no less!) When it first became apparent that the docs were fake, he continued to insist they were real. Rather, who is also Managing Editor of the CBS Evening News, denied any wrongdoing until the evidence was beyond damning. Then he lamely apologized - "It was a mistake CBS News deeply regrets ... I want to say personally and directly I'm sorry." Apology not accepted, Dan. You're only sorry that you got caught.

Journalists are responsible for verifying that everything that goes into everything they deliver to the audience is true. And if they mistakenly include some bad material, we expect them to proactively dig deeper and get to the bottom of the story. We don't expect them to lamely hide behind PR mouthpieces, lazily denying accountability. Even I learned that in j-school, Dan. I remember the first day like it was yesterday. I lost count of how many times I heard variations on the phrase, "Check, double-check, triple-check, then do it again. If you get it wrong, it's your name on the line."

It was your job, Dan. You messed up. You failed to take responsibility for your actions, and for the actions of those you lead. In doing so, you tarnished the reputation of an entire profession that has worked doggedly for generations to build trust with its audience. Pathetic doesn't even begin to describe your conduct.

If you retire to your home on the range now, you just might clear the decks enough for those of us who still care about appropriate coverage to begin repairing the damage.

1 comment:

Rich Rosenthal II said...

The author of Bias has to be doing th happy dance. I bet the publisher does a republication media sales tour soon. I can do with out Dan Rather. ABC's Peter Jennings botehrs me too. I remember watching abc on september 11th and dude just wouldnt get off the screen. By the end of the day he just looked terrible and obviously beeded a break but woudln't go.