Media Against Kerry?

Donald Sensing thinks we might see it:

[T]he mainline media are now going to be very wary of dirt slung by the Kerry camp because CBS was so badly hoodwinked by the Kerry campaign. One thing I learned about the news media in my years of media relations management: when they turn on you, they use sharp knives. Kerry’s camp has committed an unpardonable sin: it has made them look like fools. That’s why so many outlets, including other networks and major metro newspapers, were so quick to pick up on this blog-generated story, a source they formerly have shown great skill at ignoring.

My prediction: media post-mortems about this scandal and its sourcing withing the Kerry camp will not be kind, in fact, will be quite negative. It’s going to be a rough September for John Kerry in the mainstream media.

An interesting thesis. Indeed, he’s right about one thing: the quickness with which the mainstream press picked up the blogospheric reaction on this story is unprecedented. Even anti-Republican stories, like the Trent Lott affair, have usually taken a few days to catch on. This one made it in time for the evening news.

Update (0835): Don is right, too, that CBS is embarrased. Matt Drudge reports:

CBS NEWS executives have launched an internal investigation into whether its premiere news program 60 MINUTES aired fabricated documents relating to Bush’s National Guard service, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned. “The reputation and integrity of the entire news division is at stake, if we are in error, it will be corrected,” a top CBS source explained late Thursday. The source, who asked not to be named, described CBSNEWS anchor and 60 MINUTES correspondent Dan Rather as being privately “shell-shocked” by the increasingly likelihood that the documents in question were fraudulent. Rather, who anchored the segment presenting new information on the president’s military service, will personally correct the record on-air, if need be, the source explained from New York.

Unlike many on the Right, I’m pretty sure Rather thought the documents and the story were legitimate. He’s more predisposed to believe stories unfavorable to Bush than those that would hurt Kerry, to be sure, but he’s a journalist before he’s a partisan.

Wretchard has a solid after-action review of this kurfuffle and distills quite eloquently an argument that I’ve made for some time:

The echoes of the big Internet bang which annihilated a 60 Minutes story in under 12 hours are still resounding. The key riffs apparently started at the FreeRepublic and Powerline and as Samizdata notes, the distributed intelligence of the Internet took over. Under the scrutiny of thousands of analysts, the CBS story began to melt down. The idea that the intellectual resources of a major news agency are always superior to the blogosphere is given by lie by citing these two separate lines of analysis which, though proceeding from different starting points, both led to the conclusion that the documents which Dan Rather relied on to question the Bush National Guard record were faked.


While there is no doubt that there are competent professionals at CBS News, how many of them have extensive experience in the arcana of military forms or writing DTP software in assembler? None of this is to argue that the mainstream media is always wrong or that the blogosphere will always be right. Blogs, including this one, are often wrong. But there is no reason why bloggers should ipso facto be dismissed as amateur analysts when compared to the Mainstream Media (MSM). The traditional news model is collapsing. It suffers from two defects. The “news object” can no longer be given sealed attributes in newspaper backrooms. The days when the press was the news object foundry are dying. Second, the news industry is suffering from its lack of analytic cells, which are standard equipment in intellgence shops. Editors do some analysis but their focus is diluted by their attention to style and the craft of writing. The blogosphere and other actors, now connected over the Internet, are filling in for the missing analytic function. And although the news networks still generate, via their reporters, the bulk of primary news, they generate a pitiful amount of competent analysis. Put another way, the classic media outlet generates data and entertainment but they don’t generate much information. Because of this, the MSM will stumble into these pitfalls time and again. [links omitted]

Exactly right. Individually, any of the major press outlets have a big advantage over any blog in covering the news. They’ve got more resources, more access, more manpower, and so forth. But, collectively, the blogosphere simply overwhelms the MSM. We’ve got thousands of law professors, former military officers, political scientists, historians, and so forth looking at things through the lenses of our vast combined experience. There’s simply no way a traditional media outlet could be expected to compete.

Update (0852): Kevin Aylward questions the timing of the document emergence. He notes that the WaPo story on the flap has this passage:

CBS officials insisted that the network had done due diligence in checking out the authenticity of the documents with independent experts over six weeks.

Kevin muses: “What was going on in the presidential election 6 weeks ago?” He points to a certain Drudge story that broke on August 5.

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, Media, , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    If rather thought they were legit, then he never did even the slightest investigation. the forgeries are so laughably bad anyone who has spent any serious time in front of Winword would recognize what the documents were.

    Your final para hits home but misses one major point; The blogs have one more thing the MSM doesn’t; people willing to dig, and who know what they’re talking about…. and at least a smattering of people who aren’t trying to con America into voting against George W Bush… and so wrapped up in that goal they forget they’re suppsoed to be news people.

    Personally, I’ve called for a federal level criminal investigation. Last I knew, trying to throw an election by means of this sort was a crime.

  2. BigFire says:

    The rumor according to the Prowler over at American Spectator, Kerry Campaign’s opposition research turn up the document 6 weeks ago (right ’round the time Swift Boats gaining trackion). They weren’t too certain of its authenticity, but pass it on to CBS. CBS went ahead and ran with the story.

    Spectator’s website is getting DDOSed by all of the people trying to get Prowler’s column.

  3. Bithead says:

    I’ve posted it in full at my place, since I managed to grab it (auto scrape) before Drudge and the Kerry partisans started pounding Spectator’s server.

  4. vnjagvet says:

    Talk about “the timing”.

    What is telling here is that not one of the pro Kerry forces in the MSM and in the blogosphere has come out yet with even a reasonably decent argument, technical or otherwise, vouching for the authenticity of these documents.

    Lest we forget, the pro Kerry camp has plenty of resources in this regard.

    Does the term “all hat and no cattle” bandied about by Kerry and his merry men last week not seem to be delicious irony this week?

  5. Sandcrab says:

    Rather ain’t no journalist. He reads what’s handed to him and makes up the rest. The same can be said for Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw and the rest of those turds.