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September 21, 2004
Newsday Columnist Calls For Rather's Resignation

Newsday became the second mainstream media outlet to run an columnist's call for Dan Rather to step down. James Pinkerton tells his readers in today's edition that under any set of journalistic guidelines and precedent, Rather has to go:

By any fair reckoning, Rather should resign. As a big shot at CBS News-in addition to being anchorman-in-chief, he has been the managing editor of the CBS Evening News since March 1981-he deserves to be held to the same standard as Howell Raines, the executive editor of The New York Times, who was forced to resign last year in the wake of a news-fabrication scandal.

Some might argue that Rather was just a duped news reader, that he was simply following orders. In which case, following the precedent established in the 1998 "Tailwind" scandal-in which CNN's Peter Arnett was forced to quit after he read phony copy about Americans using poison gas in Laos-Rather should still be forced to take his leave.

That's exactly correct, and Rather isn't the only CBS employee who should be hitting the bricks. Andrew Heyward, Rather's boss, had the responsibility to ensure that Rather and the rest of his staff operated ethically and truthfully, and instead of investigating when serious concerns first appeared about the forgeries, he continued to stonewall and support Rather's attacks on critics of the story. Mary Mapes will be fired -- she'll go first, in all likelihood, to attempt to put off firing Heyward and Rather -- as she not only solicited the documents from a known kook, she acted as his political pimp. Coordinating with the Democrats may strip away only the illusion of CBS' objectivity, but it's the illusion on which they trade.

Pinkerton takes a longer look at the sea change in news distribution, likening the advent of the bloggers and their victory over CBS to the Gutenberg press:

The past tells us that techno-change is tectonic change. Prior to the 15th century, the Catholic Church maintained its monopoly in part by controlling Bible production. Bibles were not only scarce but were hand-scribed in Latin, which only priests could read.

Then came Johannes Gutenberg, who used movable type to mass-print Bibles, eventually in local languages. Soon ordinary folk were reading the Bible for themselves and thinking for themselves. Protestantism was born. What followed was a century of religious war, but the world was transformed. One of those transformations was the radical new reality that technology would continue shaping events.

Just as with the rise of Protestantism, the blogosphere will force the "magisterium" of the Old Media to adapt or die. Once they owned the presses and the transmitters, and all we could do is read and watch what they produced. Now we all have the transmitters in our houses, and the presses are almost obsolete. Dan Rather, Andrew Heyward, and Mary Mapes misjudged the power of an army of fact-checkers and their ability to make themselves heard in spite of the derision and scorn of the Old Guard. For that reason as well as Pinkerton's, it's time for that troika to fade to black.

UPDATE: Via Memeorandum, I see that Slate hasn't quite reached the point of calling for Rather's termination. They're calling for him to be committed:

In reponse to these brouhahas and the National Guard story, conservative media critics have demanded blood. They charge that Rather's careless muckraking belies a liberal bias, but it's actually much worse than that. Rather isn't a liberal hack. He's bonkers.

What other reporter could get away with the spontaneous fits of rage and the homespun corniness that are his trademarks? ... In 1981, Rather decided that he couldn't occupy Walter Cronkite's chair, so for his first Evening News broadcast he read the headlines while crouching behind the desk. When a rival TV journalist ambushed him outside of CBS headquartersa favorite tactic of the 60 Minutes gangRather instructed the reporter, "Get the microphone right up, will you?" Then he barked, "Fuck you." The clip played on television for days. Then there's Rather's odd penchant for costumes. He once trekked across the Afghan border on foot and returned with hours of dazzling reportingall of which he undermined by wearing a ludicrous peasant disguise on camera. TV critics lashed him with the nickname "Gunga Dan."

Bryan Curtis makes a compelling and thoroughly entertaining argument for the straitjacket, but I don't think Dan is insane: I think he's full of himself. The Dan does not have to answer critics: The Dan is the truth. Le verite', c'est moi.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 21, 2004 7:38 PM

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Tracked on September 21, 2004 9:37 PM

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