Citizen journalists bring CBS to heel

Balance of 'information power' shifting after bloggers pounce on memo fiasco

Sept. 25, 2004

by David Kopel

At the Battle of Crecy in 1346, a magnificent army of French armored knights lined up against an English army only a third as large. Yet in the first five minutes of battle, Englishmen fired over 30,000 rapid-fire arrows from their longbows, wiping out the French knights and their horses. Aristocratic knights had dominated warfare for hundreds of years, but at Crecy, they were destroyed by ordinary Englishmen who were paid six pence a day. When the knights lost their military superiority over ordinary infantry, their social and political superiority likewise began to erode.

Today, CBS, formerly lauded as the "Tiffany Network," is reeling from a defeat in a journalistic Battle of Crecy. The Blogosphere Revolution is doing to journalism what the Infantry Revolution did to warfare, and destroying the hegemonic power of a small elite, as information power now spreads to the citizenry at large.

The weblogs that helped uncover the CBS National Guard hoax were run by citizen journalists, most of them not even paid six pennies a day for their weblogs, including Powerline, Roger L. Simon, AllahPundit, Captain's Quarters, Instapundit, and Hugh Hewitt.

Although CBS News anchor Dan Rather even now claims to have acted in "good faith," the evidence is overwhelmingly to the contrary.

CBS asked a document expert to verify the documents, and when the expert warned there were very serious problems with the documents, CBS aired the story anyway.

CBS claimed that another expert had verified the document. But it turned out the expert had verified only the signature (which can be pasted into a document with programs such as Photoshop) and not the documents themselves. The expert's own book said that signatures could not be verified from a photocopy; yet CBS had only photocopies, a fact CBS admitted only after the hoax had unraveled. When the scandal broke, CBS asked the expert not to talk to the media.

As the evidence poured in, CBS insisted that the documents came from an unimpeachable source; in fact, the source was an ex-guardsman named Bill Burkett with a very public record of mental illness.

Burkett told CBS that he got the documents from fellow guardsman George Conn. But as The Boston Globereported on Feb. 13, Conn had already accused Burkett of lying about Bush's guard records. CBS said that it could not contact Conn, who now works in Europe, but after his name became public, ABC was able to find him, and he denied giving Burkett any documents.

On Sept. 9, CBS told viewers that it had interviewed "individuals who had seen the documents as they were being written." This appears to another outright lie, since Burkett has never made such a claim.

CBS offered pathetic claims that the documents were real - such as the fact that the Times New Roman typeface in which the documents were printed had been invented in 1931, or that a few extremely expensive typewriters from 1973 could duplicate some (but not all) of the typographical features in the documents.

As CBS defended the documents on the air, the network refused to address the undeniable evidence of forgery, such as the fact that the alleged National Guard documents typed in 1972-'73 used kerning, a sophisticated typesetting process which no typewriter of the time could perform. (In kerning, some letters are moved closer together; for example, if an "F" is followed by an "e", the "e" is pushed to the left so that it slightly underhangs the top arm of the "F".)

The weblog littlegreenfootballs. com retyped one of the documents using the default settings in Microsoft Word, and produced an identical copy of the document supposedly typed in 1973; no one has ever found a typewriter from any period which can reproduce that same document.

And CBS' other source for its attack piece on Bush? Ben Barnes, who CBS refused to tell viewers has raised over $400,000 for Kerry, whose statement to CBS contradicted his prior sworn testimony, and whose own daughter said that he was lying.

Furthermore, CBS never revealed that is had talked to the family of the deceased man who was supposed to be the author of the documents. The family had told CBS - and did tell the public - that Jerry Killian never typed, never wrote memos for his own personal file, and never had a bad word to say about guardsman George Bush.

In short, CBS attempted to influence a presidential election by perpetrating a fraud. CBS attempted to stonewall and to perpetuate the fraud for two weeks thereafter.

Once the weblogs broke the story, several traditional media outlets - particularly The Washington Postand The Dallas Morning News- did an admirable job in advancing the story and investigating additional facts. There are still plenty of traditional media journalists who, whatever their personal political views, are appalled at CBS for attempting to defraud the American people.

CBS has sunk to the level of fraudmeister Michael Moore: consumed by hatred of George Bush, and unwilling to trust the American people to make decisions based on the truth.

 

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