Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Desperate Newshounds

It's been an interesting few days for the media, between the Armstrong Williams payoff and now, the hammer dropping on CBS's fundamentally flawed story on George W. Bush's National Guard service in the 1970s. As a result of an independent panel's investigation (You read it - it's 224 pages), the heads of four CBS News staffers (one producer, three executives) rolled yesterday.

Dan Rather escaped relatively unscathed - at least in the panel's report - but if he wasn't already retiring in March, would he also be unemployed today? (Andrew Sullivan thinks Rather needs to step down now, regardless.) It's hard to believe the face of CBS News wouldn't have taken a fall, as well, though he was busy covering the Republican National Convention and hurricanes in Florida while the accuracy of the Bush report was being largely ignored.

I'm sure some would say this exposes an alleged liberal bias at CBS News. (I was waiting for Bill O'Reilly to level that accusation last night on "The O'Reilly Factor," but he seemed refreshingly even-handed on the matter - at least during the first segment of the program I watched.) CBS was certainly guilty of sloppy journalism, doing what many people see as a problem with today's media: rushing to get a story on the air, before doing the necessary research and fact-checking to ensure accuracy. (At least three forensic experts told CBS the documents questioning Bush's National Guard service were likely false.)

In the end, CBS News was a desperate news department, eager to crawl out of third-place ratings and decreasing relevancy. They just wanted this scoop too badly, and disregarded the usual checks and balances. It'll be interesting to see how long the egg stays on its collective face.