Dan's big black eye

Dan Rather with black eye

Pride goeth before the fall

When Dan Rather broadcast a story on CBS's 60 Minutes II last Wednesday about George W Bush's service in the National Guard during the Vietnam era, he was sure he had scored a coup — he had documents to prove his case. Only problem is, the authenticity of the documents has been pretty convincingly questioned. Oops!

The first salvo of doubt came on the basis of technical esoterica about fonts: kerning, proportional spacing, and superscripts. Then ABC got into the game and thought to interview the document authentication experts consulted by CBS and learned that they had expressed reservations and caveats. These had been ignored by CBS, it seems, preferring to believe it was, in the words of ex-CIA director George Tenet, a "slam dunk."

At first Dan and CBS tried to stonewall and "stand by the story." When that position proved untenable, they backtracked and said that even if there were questions about the documents, the conclusions in the story were still good. They finally interviewed the secretary of the supposed author of the documents who said most definitely that she did not type those letters. The best she could do to help Dan out was to attest that the sentiments expressed in the documents had been salient at the time. (See CBS News)

Sorry Dan, if your documents are fake, you don't have a story. All you have is an allegation. And that's not news. And sorry, Dan, but you're guilty of doing exactly what you rightly condemn politicians for when they screw up, namely trying to spin their way out of trouble. Admit you screwed up and get over it.

All of this leaves Dan and CBS sporting big shiners.

But here's the real point — it's all a distraction from the serious stuff. The Vietnam war is over. Get on to the here and now and the future. What's the plan for getting us out of the spectacular mess we've made in Iraq? What's the plan for dealing with North Korea's nuclear ambitions, and those of Iran? How are we going to pay down the debt we've amassed and afford the explosion in costs that everyone knows is coming when the baby boomers start to retire in droves?

Both candidates owe us serious answers, and neither one has been forthcoming.

And the media need to do their part. If the candidates won't focus on important stuff, the media must. The obsession with the "he said"/"he said" back and forth and with minute-by-minute fluctuations in poll numbers simply allows both candidates to spin and dance.