Oct 3, 2007

Return of the Son of Rathergate [LINK]

George Pyle, editorial writer for the Buffalo News, packages up an exceedingly stupid old meme about Rathergate for the benefit of a whole new set of innocents. At least he says he has "no proof," but then why bother?

Here is my theory, for which I have absolutely no proof: Those documents that supposedly proved that George W. Bush ditched much of his service in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War, the ones that were attacked as fakes and eventually got Rather ousted as anchor of the CBS Evening News, were indeed forgeries. They were forged by the Bush campaign, floated second-hand to some overly eager producers at CBS, who put Rather's voice-over on their report and went with it. When the documents were later widely seen as fakes, the story stopped being about Bush and his service and started being about Rather and CBS.

He says that while he usually doesn't go for conspiracy theories, "I like this one mostly, I think, because I invented it." Instead, the text should read: "I like this one mostly because I think I invented it." No, this suggestion that Rove was behind Rathergate is hardly new. At the time, DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe made the same suggestion, and most recently Sidney Blumenthal repeated it in a Salon article. It's a wonder the planets continue in their course now that Rove no longer serves as Bush's adviser, but I suppose he still pulls the strings from the shadowy background.

Pyle's theory is interesting not only for its lack of evidence, but for the main assumption it relies upon: that not only Dan Rather but all the journalists who worked with him on the story -- for the producer Mary Mapes, years -- were so reckless and gullible that they could be relied upon run with such a transparent forgery.

If Rove were to engineer such a scenario, I would think he'd put a couple of tiny, esoteric details that would make it more likely to get past CBS's formidable fact checking apparatus [ha!], but later be exposed as a fraud.

As it transpired, the documents CBS presented were bogus in so many immediately obvious ways that it became difficult to keep track of them all as details emerged in the wake of the broadcast. Anybody who's glancingly familiar with military jargon would have recognized errors in the terminology used. Anyone who has even a weak grasp of typography would have realized that nothing short of an enormous, expensive typesetting system could have produced those documents during the early 1970s, when they were supposed to have been written on an IBM Selectric. Even a little bit of digging would have revealed them to be inconsistent with every other document that genuinely did come from the same Texas National Guard office during the same period, and would have revealed that the officer who supposedly wrote them (since deceased) had retired by that point.

So the Killian documents were effectively on par with a hand-drawn $100 bill. The only reason they made it on the air is that the CBS team, in a transparent effort to affect the 2004 election, desperately wanted to make a scandal out of what otherwise consisted of some gaps in records on Bush's national guard service. (Note that there were similar gaps in records on Kerry's service.)

The current (stupid) discourse has it that these memos were not essential to establish the main story that Bush had been "AWOL," but the fact remains that while his attendence was lower towards the end of his service than before, Bush was certified to have completed his service. Aside from these bogus memos, I'm aware of no evidence that Bush's superiors were actively displeased with his service or that they regarded him as having been "AWOL."

So it's thoroughly appropriate that "the story stopped being about Bush and his service and started being about Rather and CBS," because of the latter's manifest bad faith in presenting the bogus documents as evidence in the first place (against the advice of CBS-hired document experts), and for later stone-walling efforts to validate them. Long after a mountain of evidence had been produced establishing the memos as fakes, it took two weeks for CBS to admit to the possibility.

UPDATE: As proof of how stupid all this has become, here's the relevant portion of Sidney Blumenthal's article in Salon:

Within minutes of the conclusion of the broadcast, conservative bloggers launched a counterattack. The chief of these critics was a Republican Party activist in Georgia. Almost certainly, these bloggers, who had been part of meetings or conference calls organized by Karl Rove's political operation, coordinated their actions with Rove's office.

How could it be possible that such a complex set of information could circulate among so many people so quickly, from which emerged a quick consensus, without prior planning from a malefactor such as Karl Rove? How can one even imagine the possibility? Sarcasm aside, Blumenthal appears utterly ignorant of the Internet's defining feature.

"The chief of these critics" apparently refers to Atlanta attorney Harry MacDougald, who under the name of "Buckhead" was the first to question the memos' veractity on FreeRepublic.com. Thereafter he played no perceivable part in advancing that idea. That he is a "Republican Party" activist, of course, does not imply coordination with Rove.

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