CBS News, the Nation, and more.
From the September 27, 2004 issue: Adventures in "Fake But Accurate" reporting.
Sep 27, 2004, Vol. 10, No. 03 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
The "Fake But Accurate" Media
We can't say when the obituaries of the CBS news division will finally be written, but we now know what it will say on the tombstone: "Fake But Accurate!"
The phrase first appeared in a September 15, 2004, New York Times article about CBS's "exclusive": Texas National Guard memos attesting to dereliction of duty by George W. Bush, memos supposedly typed in 1972 and 1973 but actually produced on a personal computer. All credit to the Times headline writer, but he was only crystallizing CBS's corrupt defense of its bogus story. Dan Rather admitted he'd been chasing the story for five years--proof that there was something in George W. Bush's National Guard record that would convince people not to vote for him. And he wasn't about to let a faked document or two get in the way. As he said when the memos were first questioned, "I know that this story is true."
We don't know, but we suspect, that when Rather wasn't pursuing his Great White Whale of a story, he was watching way too much Celebrity Poker. Because when Rather's memos got laughed out of court by millions of Internet-empowered fact-checkers, he didn't fold. Instead, he grabbed CBS's entire pile of chips and bluffed: "All in."
Bloggers have owned the CBS story from the start, so we'll give the last word here to our favorite, James Lileks: "The whole 'fake but accurate' line shows how tone-deaf these people are; it's like saying a body in a pine box is 'dead but lifelike.' It boggles, it really does: the story is true, the evidence is faked, but the evidence reflects the evidence we have not yet presented that proves our conclusion--ergo, we're telling the truth. . . . Look. They're fake. CBS . . . pursued the story for years, and in the end they lost perspective, just as lousy pilots become disoriented in bad weather and think they're flying level when they're actually heading down at a 45 degree angle. . . . The fruit of the poisoned tree, baked in a nice pie, smashed in the face of the accuser."
Writing in the September 27 issue of the Nation, bestselling author and former CIA operative Robert Baer wants us to know that David Ray Griffin--author of The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11 and a professor at the Claremont School of Theology--is "a thoughtful, well-informed theologian" who "feels he has no choice" when it comes to spreading the crackpot anti-Bush conspiracy theories in his book. However, "the catastrophic failures" of that "awful day" are "so implausible and the lies about Iraq so blatant" that Griffin just had to write The New Pearl Harbor (you know, like the one FDR let happen).
Baer himself hasn't quite ended up out where the buses don't run. His unique contribution to literary apologetics is to blame Bush for Griffin's book--"What's different about this conspiracy theory," Baer writes, "is the degree to which it has been helped along by its main suspect: the Administration of George W. Bush." You see, "By consciously misleading Americans about Saddam Hussein's role in September 11 to justify an invasion, Bush answered the question every good conspiracy theory turns on: Who benefits?"
And so it goes, for 1,400 words, as Baer (we hope) stifles a snort or two at Griffin's claims: that an American missile, not American Airlines Flight 77, hit the Pentagon on 9/11; that the Bush administration knew the attacks were coming but did nothing to stop them; and that it was "impossible" for the Twin Towers to collapse from the plane attacks alone, so they "had to have been brought down by internal explosives."
Still, Baer thinks, Griffin's book is "important," because "someone, after all, should be asking in print why our foreign policy seems to have fallen into the hands of some malevolent band of Marx Brothers." Unfortunately, because he is an "outsider," Griffin "falls back" on "wacky theories."
The Nation's review of The New Pearl Harbor ends on a wistful note. Griffin's theories "will never be put to rest" as long as Bush "refuses to explain why" he "dragged this country into the most senseless war in its history." And, since that's unlikely to happen, "otherwise reasonable" people will continue to think "the Bush administration benefited from 9/11," and "there will always be a question about what really happened on that day."
Next week in the Nation: Alexander Cockburn reviews the "important" new work Protocols of the Elders of Zion: Fake But Accurate!
John Kerry, Racebaiter
John Kerry has revived his most shameless and dishonest talking point: that Republicans disenfranchised black voters in Florida in the 2000 election and are planning to do so again. He made this argument to the NAACP in July. Addressing the National Baptist Convention on September 9, Kerry did it again.
"The other side says that a million African-American votes not counted, continuing acts of voter suppression, and the most tainted election in American history is the best that we can do," Kerry said. "That's W. That's wrong. And we're not going to let it happen again. This time, we will fight to make sure every vote is counted and every vote counts. And we are already on the ground in Florida and elsewhere to make sure that nothing stands in the way."
Leave aside the risible claim that 2000 was "the most tainted election in American history." (What about 1824? 1876?) Kerry's charge that African-American votes were deliberately suppressed in Florida is a serious allegation. It is also a calumny--one that was refuted by the June 2001 report of U.S. Civil Rights commissioners Abigail Thernstrom and Russell Redenbaugh.
Their analysis, a dissent from the Commission's hopelessly flawed majority report, reached these conclusions (among others): Rates of ballot spoilage in Florida 2000 were statistically unconnected to the race of voters. In 24 of the 25 counties with the highest spoilage rates, Democrats supervised voting. There was no racial discrimination involved with the "purge list" of felons who were ineligible to vote. And, most important, no evidence was ever produced that Florida police racially profiled at roadblocks or otherwise hindered black voters.
Maybe John Kerry should read the Thernstrom-Redenbaugh report. But we're not holding our breath.
Great Moments in Lawyering
Lawyer David Van Os explains to the New York Times why his client, whom many suspect of providing the forged Texas National Guard memos to CBS News, is an innocent man:
"If, hypothetically, Bill Burkett or anyone else, any other individual, had prepared or had typed on a word processor as some of the journalists are presuming, without much evidence, if someone in the year 2004 had prepared on a word processor replicas of documents that they believed had existed in 1972 or 1973--which Bill Burkett has absolutely not done--what difference would it make?"
Convinced? Didn't think so.