As headlines read “Triumph of the bloggers” and Reuters posits that American journalism may never be the same, a media watchdog and conservative web group are leading protests today outside CBS’ Washington headquarters.
The event led by Accuracy in Media and Free Republic comes the day after anchor Dan Rather and CBS News President Andrew Heyward issued statements saying they no longer will defend the authenticity of documents used in a Sept. 8 “60 Minutes II” report that raised questions about President Bush’s National Guard service.
Free Republic began as a staunchly conservative web community but has been drawing a broader base of “Freepers,” including libertarians, gays, practicing pagans and others attracted to its interactive forums of “netizens” often well-versed in history and equipped with dry humor.
The groups say the purpose of the protest, scheduled for 11:30 a.m., is to draw attention to the seriousness of the media fraud perpetrated on the American public by the forged document scandal and to call for the firing of Dan Rather, CBS News President Andrew Heyward and Mary Mapes, producer of the “60 Minutes II” segment.
Also, Accuracy in Media is calling for a federal probe into the use by CBS News of forged documents which it says were intended to affect the presidential campaign and the coming Nov. 2 presidential election.
As a precedent, the group cites the FBI investigation of the origin of forged documents in the Iraq uranium matter.
At the time of the uranium controversy, noted AIM editor Cliff Kincaid, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said that the forgeries on Iraq and uranium “may be part of a larger deception campaign aimed at manipulating public opinion and foreign policy regarding Iraq.”
His pressure forced the FBI to announce an inquiry into the origin and distribution of the Iraq documents, Kincaid noted, adding that the forged documents used by CBS News also seem to be part of a larger deception campaign — to defeat President Bush for re-election.
“Nothing could be more serious that a fraudulent attempt to determine the outcome of the U.S. presidential election through the use of fake documents,” said Kincaid.
“And with CBS News now taking the curious position that the White House should have exposed the documents as forgeries before CBS News went on the air with them, it is imperative that the FBI or some appropriate law enforcement agency get to the bottom of this scandal,” he continued. “Both CBS News and the White House should support such a probe.”
Kincaid also pointed out that current federal law prohibits the use of false, altered or forged public records and documents to defraud the U.S. Penalties include up to 10 years in prison.
“If the expectation of CBS News was that the White House should have exposed the documents as forgeries, as reported by the Washington Post, then CBS News should have no objection to a federal probe into where the documents came from and how they came into the possession of CBS News.” Kincaid said. “Indeed, if CBS News has nothing to hide in this scandal, it should forego any First Amendment protections and welcome such an inquiry.”
New York University Journalism professor Jay Rosen is wary of the network’s internal investigation and wonders whether those leading it will all be from “inside the club.” Writing in Pressthink, Rosen sees a “full-fledged credibility crisis” for CBS and anticipates a “political campaign” by the conservatives against CBS “now that the surrender has come.”
Rosen also mused that top staffers at CBS seemed to have a “reading comprehension of near zero” and that yesterday’s announcements were “just one part of a massive institutional failure at CBS, much of it is still to be uncovered.”
Early on, CBS and other mainstream outlets denigrated the criticism of the documents by characterizing it as rooted in partisan conflict. In the Sept. 20 edition of Time magazine, Joe Klein named “conservative bloggers” as culprits in muddling the guard controversy. While it was bloggers who first cast light on the suspect nature of the documents, it was aggressive reporting by mainstream media, especially the Washington Post, which caused the story to reach critical mass.
CBS and Rather were roundly criticized for dissembling, and the Los Angeles Times referred to the sequence of events as a “trainwreck.”
Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post noted, “[W]hen you have a major anchor and the most respected newsmagazine accuse the president of the United States in the middle of his re-election campaign based on memos that turn out to be forgeries, that is a huge development for both politics and the press.”