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August 1, 2005
Dan Rather Tells Us What He's Learned (Not Much)

One would think that the past year has provided many life lessons to former CBS anchor Dan Rather, who lost most of his credibility by presenting faked memos in a smear job on President Bush at a critical moment of the election, and then continued to insist that the documents were authentic (or not proven inauthentic, depending on which day he spoke). Perhaps chief among those lessons would be to authenticate the documents, recheck your sources for their biases, learn how to apologize and admit error ... most people would learn those sorts of lessons from Rather's experience.

Rather gives quite a different list to Esquire Magazine, however. In a strange and utterly superficial bit of fluff, the man who insists that his role as a journalist takes precedence over any other assignment instead channels Larry King in this guest column. Some of his pearls of wisdom amount to little more than inanities:

One good thing about having a birthday on Halloween is that people tend to remember it.

You trust your mother. But you cut the cards anyway.

Always marry a woman from Texas. No matter how tough things get, she's seen tougher.

Some, however, reflect directly on his experience in the news business. For instance, he makes an argument that journalists don't really have an obligation to get a story right as long as they make enough noise:

Many of the people who call it [Memogate] do so for their own partisan and/or ideological purposes. No crime was committed here. The central facts in the story were correct, and they have not been denied. A pillar of support for the story has been called into question and remains in question. We don't know everything yet. More will come out. Whatever mistakesreal or imaginedthat were made were not born of political bias nor of prejudice. Did we do it perfectly? No. Are there things I wish we'd done that we didn't do? Yes.

The press is a watchdog. Not an attack dog. Not a lapdog. A watchdog. Now, a watchdog can't be right all the time. He doesn't bark only when he sees or smells something that's dangerous. A good watchdog barks at things that are suspicious.

Say what? It looks to me that Rather wants us to allow big-dog journalists to bark without ever checking the yard first. That lesson could very well explain why Rather and CBS decided to run with a story that had a single source, with documents that even their own examiners wouldn't authenticate, in order to accuse the President of desertion -- sixty days before an election. Good dogs may bark at suspicious noises, but good journalists check their facts before going to press. And when bad journalists don't bother to do that, the Exempt Media insists that its levels of editorial checks and balances exist to ensure that such stories never see publication.

As we have seen, when everyone fails to do that, a bunch of so-called watchdogs wind up in the doghouse, including the big dog himself. Unfortunately, in most cases, that only happens after the big dog has gone out and taken a big bite of an innocent person's leg.

Obviously Rather wants to continue barking at the moon without addressing the central facts in the case. He just continues to insist that those facts, as floated in these ludicrously faked documents, still stand up to his standards of truth. Those standards, as he explains, don't really involve truth at all, of course, but mere suspicion, making Rather a high-paid and overblown Joan Rivers.

CBS really needs to put Dan Rather out of their own misery, if not Rather's. Every time Rather speaks, he makes himself more and more of a caricature, and he buries the credibility of CBS a little deeper.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 1, 2005 12:00 PM

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Tracked on August 2, 2005 7:03 AM

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