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December 9, 2004
CBS Has Seen The Enemy, And It Is Us

CBS News, reeling under the assault on its integrity, has decided to switch to offense ahead of its report on the fraudulent memos published by its 60 Minutes unit. Tonight, CBS reports on bloggers and their supposed lack of credibility and neutrality, a laughable nit to have picked by a news organization that couldn't be bothered to listen to its own document experts:

While many are must-reads for political junkies, are some Internet blogs also being used as proxies for campaigns? In the nations hottest Senate race, this past year, the answer was yes.

Little over a month ago, the first Senate party leader in 52 years was ousted when South Dakota Republican John Thune defeated top Senate Democrat Tom Daschle. While more than $40 million was spent in the race, saturating the airwaves with advertising, a potentially more intriguing front was also opened.

The two leading South Dakota blogs websites full of informal analysis, opinions and links were authored by paid advisers to Thunes campaign. ... The documents, also obtained by CBS News, show that in June and October the Thune campaign paid Lauck $27,000 and Van Beek $8,000. Lauck had also worked on Thunes 2002 congressional race.

Both blogs favored Thune, but neither gave any disclaimer during the election that the authors were on the payroll of the Republican candidate.

I didn't know that Lauck or Van Beek received payments from the campaigns, but they never pretended to be anything but advocates for John Thune in any case. They claim to have documents proving this, and perhaps they do, but the irony of making that claim seems to be lost on the Tiffany Network. CBS makes a great deal of these payments from the campaign, comparing them at one point to a bypothetical New York Times reporter taking payments from the Bush campaign -- again, an ironic sort of hypothesis, given that the Times practically made itself the Kerry campaign newsletter in conjunction with CBS. (The Gray Lady, you'll recall, wound up breaking the raided weapons bunker story when their CBS partner lost control of it in October.) The difference is that the Times pretends at neutrality, while both bloggers made no secret of their viewpoint.

Make no mistake, though: CBS News intends on using the Lauck and Van Beek to discredit the entire blogosphere. Apparently, CBS couldn't dig up any dirt on Power Line, which ruined Dan Rather's valedictory election campaign, so they went shopping for someone to smear in their place. Even at that, they couldn't find any real malfeasance, such as publishing forged documents, but they darkly reference legal and political action to control the content of blogs. Watch as CBS hypocritically engages in a load of projection:

At minimum, the role of blogs in the Daschle-Thune race is a telling harbinger for 2006 and 2008. Some blogs could become new vehicles for the old political dirty tricks.

As opposed to old vehicles, a perfect description of 60 Minutes in more way than one.

First Amendment attorney Kevin Goldberg called blogs definitely new territory.

[The question is] whether blogs are analogous to a sole person campaigning or whether they are very much a media publication, which is essentially akin to an online newspaper, said Goldberg, who is the legal counsel to the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

Ultimately, I think, the decision will have to come down to whether the public will be allowed to decide whether bloggers are credible or whether some regulation needs to occur.

So now CBS favors regulating political speech? Will CBS, with their vaunted credibility in shreds after the Memogate debacle, agree to allow government regulators pre-screen their content in order to make it more credible? I suspect that ABC and the New York Times may decline to go that far in propping up CBS against the blogs.

Beginning next year, the F.E.C. will institute new rules on the restricted uses of the Internet as it relates to political speech.

I think those questions are going to have to be asked and answered, said Lillian BeVier, a First Amendment expert at the University of Virginia. Its going to be an issue and it should be an issue.

Under any other circumstances, that would prompt screams of outrage at Black Rock, but now CBS wants the government to protect them from the big, bad blogosphere. 'Free speech for me but not for thee' must have become the new mission statement at Viacom.

I suppose that, as a strategy, going on attack against the credibility of bloggers at least makes them look like they're trying. If nothing else, it will keep the rest of us laughing until the Memogate report reminds us what a lack of integrity really looks like.

PS: In case you're wondering, neither Whiskey or I took money from any political campaign or party. (And quite frankly, we're a little annoyed that we didn't at least get an offer.) But if we had, we would have announced it. If we hadn't, though, the blogosphere would have figured it out soon enough, and that would have damaged our credibility, not some FEC regulation or government pressure.

UPDATE AND BUMP, 12/9: CBS seems to have little concern about the unregulated nature of blogs when they serve CBS' interests, however. Ratherbiased has a scoop on the new CBS strategy of using lefty bloggers to promote and support its propaganda efforts:

The owner of Nonviolence.org, Martin Kelley, said he got an interesting phone call yesterday from a CBS News publicist for--you guessed it--Dan Rather's "60 Minutes Wednesday", the same program that carried the infamous bogus memos.

"Yesterday I got a call from a publicist for CBS News's 60 Minutes. They're running a story tonight on 'Deserters,' U.S. military personnel who have fled to Canada rather than serve in Iraq. She was requesting that I talk up the program on Nonviolence. In nine years of publishing the peace site, I can't remember ever getting a call from a publicist before. I've talked to reporters from major news networks and papers, and I've talked a booking agent or two to arranging appearances on radio shows, but never a publicist."

"So now CBS News publicists are courting bloggers. That's great: hey, if y'all want to buy me that new Treo Smartphone or a gift certificate to Gohn Bros I'll say Dan Rather is hotter than an armadillo sunning himself between the yellow lines on the interstate."

So on one hand, CBS warns its readers and viewers that blogs are corrupt, biased, and probably full of cholesterol -- and on the other hand, they want to use these same mechanisms to promote its stories defending deserters from the all-volunteer armed services?

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 9, 2004 7:56 AM

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