Comparing Blogger Political Agendas With CBS's Lack of an Agenda.--

The CBS Panel "does not believe that political motivations drove the September 8 Segment." Further, after mentioning political agendas and bias, the Report says: "the Panel will not level allegations for which it cannot offer adequate proof."

Given those sentiments, the Panel is pretty quick to charge those who exposed CBS's fraudulent documents as having a political agenda. The motivation to seek and expose the truth is a pretty powerful one by itself, and motivations are complex. As I have said many times before, first you determine if the facts that someone is asserting are true or not. Only if they are false do you begin to ask why they would be putting forward false information, whether pushing false information might be the result of political bias.

I can understand ignoring the probable political bias of people who are making substantive, rational arguments (even if mistaken), or I can understand attributing political motives to people who act recklessly, repeatedly making statements that they know to be false (such as that CBS's experts authenticated the documents or that they came from "an unimpeachable source"). What I can't understand is that the Report appears to use a double standard on whether someone has a political agenda.

Here are some of the Report's discussion of political bias:


At the same time, some people on the Internet, at first primarily supporters of President Bush with their own conservative political agenda, started to question the authenticity of the documents. By the next afternoon, however, it became clear that the criticisms were no longer simply partisan. Mainstream media, including ABC News, The Associated Press, The New York Times and The Washington Post, were investigating whether 60 Minutes Wednesday had used fake documents in the September 8 Segment. Thereafter, and continuing well after September 20, 2004, when CBS News issued its apology and stated that it could not vouch for the Killian documents' authenticity, CBS News and 60 Minutes Wednesday were under continuous attack by the media, political personalities and others. Indeed, CBS News advised the Panel that between September 8 and October 13, it received nearly 109,000 e-mails related to the September 8 Segment, most of them negative. ...


The attacks on the September 8 Segment began virtually immediately. One of the first came on, a website:

[E]very single one of these memos to file is in a proportionally spaced font, probably Palatino or Times New Roman. In 1972 people used typewriters for this sort of thing, and typewriters used monospaced fonts. The use of proportionally spaced fonts did not come into common use for office memos until the introduction of laser printers, word processing software, and personal computers. They were not widespread until the mid to late 90's. Before then, you needed typesetting equipment, and that wasn't used for personal memos to file. Even the Wang systems that were dominant in the mid 80's used monospaced fonts. I am saying these documents are forgeries, run through a copier for 15 generations to make them look old.85

This was followed on the morning of September 9 by further attacks, mostly by bloggers with a conservative agenda, challenging the authenticity of the documents. These included stories on Powerlineblog.com86 and Finally, by about 3 p.m., Matt Drudge, the author of the widely read Drudge Report website, had joined the fray, and, thereafter, the onslaught of attacks on the authenticity of the Killian documents was unrelenting. . . .


H. Political Agenda

The Panel is aware that some have ascribed political motivations to 60 Minutes Wednesday's decision to air the September 8 Segment just two months before the presidential election, while others further found political bias in the program itself. The Panel reviewed this issue and found certain actions that could support such charges. However, the Panel cannot conclude that a political agenda at 60 Minutes Wednesday drove either the timing of the airing of the Segment or its content.

Given that the Panel does not believe that political motivations drove the September 8 Segment, questions likely will be raised as to why these massive breakdowns occurred on this story at an organization like CBS News with its heritage and stated commitment to the highest standards of journalism. The Panel heard from many that the Rather/Mapes team was a formidable force at 60 Minutes Wednesday. ...



There has been widespread speculation in the media that the September 8 Segment was motivated, in whole or in part, by an anti-Bush political agenda. Thus, after the Segment was aired, the following types of comments appeared in print media:

Rather has long been criticized by some conservatives as being emblematic of the liberal news media.116 Rather's involvement in the politically charged story has led some Bush allies to challenge the network's general credibility.117 "I'm really heartsick she made that call [to Lockhart]. It has the air of some kind of conspiracy behind it to help Kerry," said Sandy Socolow, a former executive producer of the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather and his predecessor, Walter Cronkite. "She was trying to manipulate the political process in some way that's not clear to me."118

The question of whether a political agenda played any role in the airing of the Segment is one of the most subjective, and most difficult, that the Panel has sought to answer. The political agenda question was posed by the Panel directly to Dan Rather and his producer, Mary Mapes, who appear to have drawn the greatest attention in terms of possible political agendas. Both strongly denied that they brought any political bias to the Segment. The Panel recognizes that those who saw bias at work in the Segment are likely to sweep such denials aside. However, the Panel will not level allegations for which it cannot offer adequate proof.

The Panel does not find a basis to accuse those who investigated, produced, vetted or aired the Segment of having a political bias. The Panel does note, however, that on such a politically charged story, coming in the midst of a presidential campaign in which military service records had become an issue, there was a need for meticulous care to avoid any suggestion of an agenda at work. The Panel does not believe that the appropriate level of care to avoid the appearance of political motivation was used in connection with this story.