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 V.13 No.39 | September 23 - 29, 2004 

Payne's World

Bye, bye Ms. CBS eye ...

Rathergate and the slow death of "mainstream" journalism

Dan Rather is biting the big one for foisting fake Texas National Guard documents on the country. The "Rathergate" scandal, which has engulfed CBS News and Rather's reputation as a reporter, stems from a 60 Minutes II feature that claimed George W. Bush was derelict in his duties while a member of the National Guard.

Only problem? The documents the allegations were based on—and that were supposedly typed in 1972 or 1973—were produced on a personal computer. My history may be rusty, but I'm pretty sure Windows 2000 wasn't an option during the Nixon administration.

However, instead of claiming they were duped, CBS officials have gone "Nixon" to the bunker and are sticking to their fiction. The New York Times, no less, produced a headline crystallizing Rather's attitude: The Guard documents are "Fake, but Accurate."

The Washington Post—no bastion of conservatism—reported extensively on the willful disregard of Journalism 101 that led to Rather's report, writing, "CBS rushed the story onto the air while ignoring the advice of its own outside experts, and used as corroborating witnesses people who had no firsthand knowledge of the documents."

The bottom line: Rather wasn't "duped" or "had." He was an active and willing participant in a story he wanted to be true, even if it wasn't.

The Rather saga is just another nail in the coffin of "mainstream" journalism. What the public has figured out over the past couple decades is that most reporters aren't interested in the truth, per se. What passes for "objective" journalism is the reporter's slant on what he or she (or their editor) believes reality should be. If facts prove an annoying hindrance, then the inconvenience is ignored or rationalized away.

Bias masquerading as fairness is just one reason more Americans get their news from someplace other than one of the three major networks—and why old-line print publications are stagnating. In 1980, roughly 75 percent of Americans got their news from the network trinity of ABC, NBC or CBS. Today that figure sits at under 40 percent.

Overseeing this decline is Rather, who for years has held himself up as the most serious of journalists—heir to the legacy of Edward R. Murrow. Always invoking the lofty principles of “CBS News,” Rather—like most reporters—has been basically immune to accountability. Until now.

Now it's clear that Rather—and his news show—has an agenda, and a political one at that. While many of us have known that for awhile, Rather removed any remaining doubt with the phony National Guard memos. FOX News might not be all that "fair and balanced," but neither is this future PBS and Air America employee.

But not to be outdone ... Unfortunately, the spirit of Rather is alive and well at the Journal Center Biosphere. Following are two of the latest examples of how a story's slant or bias affects coverage.

Judge Wendy York and Contributiongate. The Saturday, Sept. 18, edition of the Albuquerque Journal carried a front-page story on the decision by District Court Justice Wendy York to knock Ralph Nader off the ballot in New Mexico. But the real story was buried in the final paragraph on page A-6: Judge York contributed a $1,000 to the John Kerry campaign.

It's no surprise Republicans want Nader on the ballot and Democrats want him off. What is surprising is that York would rule on an issue she has such a clear conflict of interest in. In this state, $1,000 is a lot of money and shows real commitment to a candidate. Even though York ultimately had a change of heart and backed off the case, the fact is the Journal buried this story.

The "fair and balanced" world of David Alire Garcia. The next day, Journal columnist David Alire Garcia penned a half-page Sunday edition missive against Congresswoman Heather Wilson. Alire Garcia objected to Wilson's portrayal of herself as an "independent" voice in Congress and delved into the number of times Wilson votes with the Republican leadership compared to other Republican District One congressional members of the past, namely Steve Schiff and Manuel Lujan.

What Alire Garcia, who also served as an Alibi columnist a few years ago, failed to mention was his job as the former executive director of the New Mexico Democratic Party. That partisan flack background may be the reason Alire Garcia hasn't bemoaned the lack of crossover votes by Democrats in the New Mexico Legislature—a branch of government they've held for the past 70 years—and why he has such heartburn with Republicans.

Republican bills and proposals are routinely shafted in the Roundhouse by the ruling Democratic leadership simply because the sponsor is Republican. Enabling that "independent" approach to public policy is Wilson's opponent: Democrat congressional candidate and State Senate Pro Tem, Richard Romero.

Will Alire Garcia wring his hands over partisanship run amok in the Roundhouse? Sure ... right after Dan Rather does.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. Payne, a former city councilor, can be reached at greg@alibi.com.

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