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.