As The Other Charlotte notes below, the revelation by bloggers that CBS had relied on almost certainly forged documents to get President Bush was “a moment of triumph, the Agincourt of the pajama brigade.”
Well, yesterday was the French Revolution: heads rolled at CBS. But, as with the real French Revolution, a few heads won’t be enough, now that the floodgates have been opened. NBC News asked on its web site if CBS’s report yesterday had gone far enough in getting to the root of the problem. Last time I checked, 62 percent of the ten thousand plus respondents said: nyet. This is not good news for CBS.
The CBS report on how the network made perhaps the most embarrassing mistake in network news history was a whitewash. The report showed obvious discomfort with the issue of whether political bias was behind the mistake and unconvincingly ascribed the mistake not to bias but to a “myopic zeal” to get the story on the air quickly.
But the networks fight hard to get sensitive and complicated stories on the air before their competitors scoop them 365 days a year. What led to the myopia in this particular story? Why did this one bomb so spectacularly?
If you have any doubts what impelled the network in this case, an email from a fellow producer to Mary Mapes will dispel your doubts. It was eight days before the story aired, and the producers were trying to get Bill Burkett, who wanted a book deal, to cough up the documents:
“Today I am going to send the following hypothetical scenario to a reliable, trustable editor friend of mine…
“What if there was a person who might have some information that could possibly change the momentum of an election but we needed to get an ASAP book deal to help get us the information? What kinds of turnaround payment schedules are possible, keeping in mind that the book probably could not make it out until after the election.”
Mapes relpied that “that looks good, hypothetically speaking, of course.”
(Thanks to Powerlineblog, a key player in Rathergate, for a close reading of the report that turned up this gem.)
I noticed that the expert brought on to discuss the report on NBC switched from talking about CBS to speaking about how “we” have to get the story right. Call it class solidarity. Yes, all members of the mainstream media know what this is really about: their bias. That’s why NBC, a competitor which theoretically should be enjoying CBS’s discomfort, is all to quick to blame the mess on “the rush to publish.” More like the rush to judgment.