Dan Rather, Journalist?

Andrew Sullivan, wearing the “sweatpants and a tank top” of a TNR senior editor rather than the pajamas of a blogger, gets to the root of the recent blogs vs. mainstream media clash:

Journalism is not a profession as such. It’s a craft. You get better at it by doing it; and there are very few ground rules. By and large, anyone with a mind, a modem, a telephone, and a conscience can be a journalist. The only criterion that matters is that you get stuff right; and if you get stuff wrong (and you will), you correct yourself as soon as possible. The blogosphere is threatening to some professional journalists because it exposes these simple truths. It demystifies the craft. It makes it seem easy–because, in essence, it often is.


CBS News has failed on all these counts. It did shoddy reporting and then self-interestedly dug in against an avalanche of evidence against it. Rather can blather all he wants about the political motivation of some in the blogosphere–but what matters is not bias but accuracy. His attitude, moreover, has bordered on the contemptuous; and the blogosphere has chewed him up and spat him out. He has acted as if journalism is a privilege rather than a process; as if his long career makes his critics illegitimate; as if his good motives can make up for bad material. The original mistake was not a firable offense. But the digging in surely is. It seems to me that when a news anchor presents false information and then tries to cover up and deny his errors, he has ceased to be a journalist. I’d like to say that Dan Rather needs to resign from his profession. But, judging from the last few days, he already has.

Sadly, yes. He’s been around long enough and earned enough points over the years to get away with some sloppiness here and there. All he had to do was acknowledge that he got snookered, preferably using some apt Texas analogy (“like a blind rented mule in a hurricane without his boots on” or some such), and move on. The cover-up is worse than the crime, as they say.

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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:

    I tend to doubt he got snookered.

  2. Ripper says:

    Any fresh Texasisms during the scandal?

  3. Matt says:

    Hugh Hewitt (hughhewitt.com) is trying to get people to call or write congress to have CBS investigated for broadcasting false news stories to try to influence the national election. As he points out, congress already had hearings on Howard Stern, why not this?

  4. Dodd says:

    “like a blind rented mule in a hurricane without his boots on”

    Actually, that fits really well, come to think of it.

  5. Funny how your commentary on Sullivan’s article has no mention Sullivan’s observation that the charges are essentially true, as pointed out in a recent US News piece (no friend of Kerry’s):

    “The U.S. News analysis also showed that during the final two years of his obligation, Bush did not comply with Air Force regulations that impose a time limit on making up missed drills. What’s more, he apparently never made up five months of drills he missed in 1972, contrary to assertions by the administration. White House officials did not respond to the analysis last week but emphasized that Bush had “served honorably.”

    Some experts say they remain mystified as to how Bush obtained an honorable discharge. Lawrence Korb, a former top Defense Department official in the Reagan administration, says the military records clearly show that Bush “had not fulfilled his obligation” and “should have been called to active duty.””

    As Rather has pointed out, whatever comes of the documents, the charges that Bush did not complete his service are true. The White House has not attempted to deny the charges, just muddy up the water so no one notices things like the US News piece.

  6. Ripper says:

    Forgery by Rather is the Mud. There are no charges in the documents, they are imaginary, fake, bogus. They say nothing and are signed by nobody.

    Killian’s first draft includes a long description of Curious Stranger’s Mother’s carrer as a prostitute, refute those charges now or speak no more Curious Burkett.

  7. I would expect nothing classier. You represent your positions well.

    Bush did not fulfill his guard obligations. US News has confirmed this using the documents the Bush campaign has released. He owes time, and according to signed contracts should have been called up to active duty as a result.

    You’re on target when you say the forgeries are the mud though. A nice plant if ever there was one. Hats off to Mr Rove. Unfortunately for the Bush campaign it doesn’t change the cold hard facts revealed in their own documents. Their attempts to resort to Enron-esque accounting tricks to make the books balance should be expected, but not believed.

    Don’t be a dupe of the dope.

  8. Ripper says:

    I accuse you, Curious, the forged cover letter contains your signature and orders to your mother to deliver a lap dance and these documents to Mr. Rather.

  9. The echo chamber walls are thick it appears. Perhaps impenetrable. I hope for all of our sakes their not as thick as you.

  10. Ripper says:

    Our fates are not joined, Curious, you champion lies. You side must lose both for America to prevail and for America to be worth defending. Rather’s methods are evil, if his kind prevail no child growing today will be safe from forged persecution cooked up by the raving Maoist Cleland’s who would betray our liberty and crush our souls.