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CBS and the Philosopher's Stone

What the CBS Report has to say about Dan Rather, Mary Mapes, and their political agenda.

11:20 AM, Jan 10, 2005 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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IN A DOCUMENT shot through with agnosticism, perhaps the most agnostic section of the CBS Report is a six-page segment toward the end titled, "Whether There Was a Political Agenda Driving the September 8 Segment."

The Panel acknowledges that some sectors of the media had imputed political bias to Rathergate. So diligence required that the panel ask both Dan Rather and Mary Mapes, directly, whether or not they had been politically motivated: "Both strongly denied that they brought any political bias to the Segment."

Surprising? Not really. It seems unlikely that either Rather or Mapes would even perceive their own political bias--and even more unlikely that they would cop to it if they did perceive it. Yet for Thornburgh and Boccardi, their denial is enough, since "The Panel will not level allegations for which it cannot offer adequate proof." And here the CBS Report continues its modus operandi: It enumerates, in damning detail, CBS's mistakes, and then throws its hands in the air.

To wit: The report tells us that Mapes and Rather had pursued the story for five years; that they used a number of anti-Bush sources as key components of the story; that they tried to use a "gratuitous" and "inflammatory" interview with Colonel Hackworth; and that Mapes attempted to put Bill Burkett in contact with the Kerry campaign.

Thornburgh and Boccardi view all of these facts and then turn away saying that there is no "persuasive evidence of a political agenda;" and that they do "not believe that evidence exists to demonstrate" that political leanings of the anti-Bush sources influenced the story; and that they "cannot conclude that this proposed use of Colonel Hackworth was part of any political agenda."

The only counter-evidence the report offers on this score are Mapes's and Rather's denials. "Absolutely, unequivocally untrue," Rather thunders. It was "proximity, not politics," Mapes demurs.

The CBS report can find evidence of political bias--they admit and document as much; they just can't reach any metaphysical conclusions about why that evidence exists. The esteemed panel has a journalist and an attorney general. Perhaps they should have included a philosopher, too.

Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard. He also runs the blog Galley Slaves.