Friday, March 04, 2005

Rather on "Memogate": burden of proof?

On the Letterman show on March 3, 2005, Dan Rather said of the panel investigating Memogate: "Although they had four months and millions of dollars, they could not demonstrate that the documents were not authentic, that they were forgeries."

The question might be asked: was it the responsibility of CBS to establish that the documents were authentic before broadcasting the information? Is it all right to broadcast information merely because it can't be proved to be false? As Abraham Lincoln (and others) have observed, you can't prove a negative. Further, weren't the documents given to CBS on condition that they be authenticated before being broadcasted?

Curiously, there is a related issue in publication of law reviews. All that is necessary for a law review to "cite check" a source is to establish that the source is correctly quoted. Whether the source is truthful and authentic is not contemplated. Thus, quoting inaccurate, but existent, sources is all right in the law review business [as a certain footnote 29 in the University of Chicago Law Review abundantly demonstrated.]

Also from AP:

About half of Rather's "Late Show" guest shot March 3 was spent talking about the story and the independent investigation into how it got on the air despite the use of documents CBS ultimately couldn't vouch for.

Rather, 73, will anchor his last "CBS Evening News" broadcast Wednesday, the 24th anniversary of when he took over from Walter Cronkite.

The story's producer was fired and three CBS News executives were asked to resign for their roles. [As of this date, two have resigned and one has not.] Heyward kept his job after CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves concluded he had been failed by the people who worked for him.

Rather said the people who lost their jobs are "never very far from my mind."

He paused when Letterman asked him whether the CBS News president should have "taken a bullet" and stepped down.

"He's on vacation right now," Rather said, "but when he gets back you can ask him."

Before he became CBS News president, Heyward was Rather's executive producer at the "CBS Evening News."

Rather said that to his mind, two of the panel's most important conclusions were that it could not demonstrate that political bias played a part in the stories or conclusively account for the origins of the documents in question.

CBS's Sept. 8 story began falling apart when experts questioned the legitimacy of documents supposedly written by Bush's National Guard commander that suggested the future president had received preferential treatment.

[Rather] declined to give his opinion of Moonves' decision to oust the four employees.

"It's behind us," Rather said. "We have to look forward at some point. You know, you've had ups and downs in your career, you've had criticisms. Sometimes you think it's justified, sometimes not. But at a certain point you have to say, the panel has spoken, the corporate leadership has spoken, this is how it is."

Letterman warmly thanked Rather for several years of guest appearances. "If it'll help," he said, "I'll step down."

Rather laughed. "You're a profit center, Dave, don't step down," he replied.

UPDATE. from NY Post/AP. March 8, 2005:

-->But Cronkite did not heavily fault Rather for his role in last September's discredited story about President Bush's military service.

"We all know he made a mistake by now," Cronkite said. "I would not be sure that I wouldn't have followed my producers and accepted what they had to offer."<--

An issue is not whether or not a mistake was made in the initial broadcast (Rather follows his producers) but why Rather (and others) made no inquiry in the twelve days following the initial broadcast, during a time of intense criticism.


Blogger Lawrence B. Ebert said...

IPBiz notes how hard the following is to believe, but ...

from the NY Times on 19 Sept 07:

Dan Rather, whose career at CBS News ground to an inglorious end 15 months ago over his role in an unsubstantiated report questioning President Bush’s Vietnam-era National Guard service, filed a lawsuit this afternoon against the network, its corporate parent and three of his former superiors.

Mr. Rather, 75, asserts that the network violated his contract by giving him insufficient airtime on “60 Minutes” after forcing him to step down as anchor of the “CBS Evening News” in March 2005. He also contends that the network committed fraud by commissioning a “biased” and incomplete investigation of the flawed Guard broadcast and, in the process, “seriously damaged his reputation.”

The suit, which seeks $70 million in damages, names as defendants CBS and its chief executive, Leslie Moonves; Viacom and its executive chairman, Sumner Redstone; and Andrew Heyward, the former president of CBS News.

In the suit, filed this afternoon in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, Mr. Rather charges that CBS and its executives made him “a scapegoat” in an attempt “to pacify the White House,” though the formal complaint presents virtually no direct evidence to that effect. To buttress this claim, Mr. Rather quotes the executive who oversaw his regular segment on CBS Radio, telling Mr. Rather in November 2004 that he was losing that slot, effective immediately, because of “pressure from ‘the right wing.’ ”

8:31 PM  

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