Dear Mr. Rather,
It's really sporting of you to break the news that your memos are phony, only a week and a half after everyone else knew it, but there are some questions left unanswered. We'll grant that broadcasting forgeries that try to damage a president in the middle of a hotly contested wartime election is the sort of bad luck that might happen to anyone, but there are a few things we would still like to know.
We want to know how it is that the fact-checking part of your renowned operation managed to certify as authentic a collection of papers that thousands of people on the Internet who troubled themselves to look at the documents critically were able to establish as probable fakes within minutes. We wonder whether you always go "expert" shopping when you get the wrong answers from the first experts you consult and they try to warn you away from a story. Is this normal operating procedure, or do you make a special exception and waive standards when you want to rush on the air with something you think can damage the president? Either way, we would like to know.
We would also like to know something more about the way your stories are structured. We understand that numerous people disputed both the content and authenticity of these disputed memos, talked to you repeatedly, and referred you to others, none of whom ever appeared on air. We wonder if anyone ever told you that when there appear to be two sides of a story, it is common to mention them both. There are two situations in which it is customary to present only one side of a disputed story, and neither one is called journalism. One is in court when making a case to a jury, and the other is when making a case for a candidate in a campaign. Which did you imagine yourself to be in this case, a prosecutor or a campaign official?
We bring up this last point because it seems sometimes that this . . . er, one-sidedness, applies to your network as well as yourself. You may have noticed that over the past year 60 Minutes has become a Book of the Week Club for Bush-bashing volumes. We have no objection to your bringing on people who challenge the president, but sometimes these challengers need to be challenged. Sometimes too, people write books that challenge the Democrats, but these other authors somehow never get time on your airwaves. Do you see yourselves as consultants, making commercials for Democrats? If not, please explain.
Please understand that at this moment there seem to be only two explanations for your recent performance: (1) You have no standards at all, and throw anything you want on your airwaves, in which case you cannot be trusted, as you are too sloppy and careless; or (2) you have standards, which you waive when you have a chance to hurt a Republican, in which case you cannot be trusted, as you are partisan hacks. Please get back to us, before the phrase "Phony as a CBS newscast" replaces "phony as a three dollar bill" in the national argot.
If you have a third explanation, please let us know.
Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.