Friday, January 14, 2005

Dan Rather ruins it for the rest of us

I was going to spend time today discussing the aftermath of Rathergate, but I’m losing interest in the story. Four CBS News staffers were fired last week following the release of an independent investigation about how Dan Rather and left-wing cohorts orchestrated a pre-election smear campaign about President Bush’s military service that relied on forged documents.

The story of the firings made the front pages of many of America’s newspapers, which is surprising considering that most big newspapers were just as guilty of biased coverage of the 2004 presidential campaign. I guess the newspapers were trying to show they’re not run by the liberal elite. Then again, the investigation shredded what little credibility was left at CBS News. Newspapers love to report bad news about television, which many editors and publishers see as the main cause of declining newspaper circulation.

CBS fired Mary Mapes, producer of the "60 Minutes Wednesday" report and three other top news division executives, but Dan Rather escaped with nary a scratch to his already tarnished reputation. I guess his announcement that he’s stepping down as anchor of the "CBS Evening News" in March was viewed as punishment enough by the authors of the 224-page report, former Republican Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and Louis Boccardi, retired president of The Associated Press.

I’m sure Thornburgh and Boccardi were rewarded handsomely for producing the report, but it doesn’t contain any revelations that anyone with a passing interest in partisan politics and an ounce of common sense didn’t know three months ago.

I wrote about the connection between fanatical Bush-hater Mary Mapes and the John Kerry campaign in an October column called "The Kerry-Rather Conspiracy Exposed." And if you’re shocked to learn that Dan Rather slanted CBS news coverage in an effort to unseat George W. Bush, check out another column I wrote last year called "An Insider’s View of Liberal Bias." That one was about two books written by Bernard Goldberg, a 24-year veteran reporter with CBS News. Goldberg details decades of Rather’s left-wing agenda in both "Arrogance" and the aptly titled, "Bias."

What’s been bothering more than the release of the CBS report is a recent Gallup Poll that ranked reporters among the least trustworthy professions. In light of Dan Rather’s inexcusable ethical misconduct, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. It only takes a few highly publicized cases of ethical violations to give the entire profession a black eye. Rather knew better. He’s been doing this for more than 50 years. He gets paid millions of dollars to do his job.

But it’s not just arrogant anchormen who ruin it for the rest of us. The journalism field has been rocked in recent years by scandals at the New York Times, USA Today, the BBC, the Washington Post and CNN. It’s noteworthy that all five of these news organizations are among the most liberal.

But back to the Gallup Poll. The annual survey on the honesty and ethical standards of various professions ranks reporters at the bottom, alongside lawyers, auto mechanics, politicians and used car salesmen. And this is the part that really bugs me. Newspaper reporters are even less respected than their TV counterparts.

Here’s a news flash for you: The talking heads on TV news programs are usually runner-ups from regional beauty pageants or ex-game show hosts. I would never use the word "journalist" to describe the blonde, blue-eyed Bambis and Bridgetts or the square-jawed Stones and Shepherds of TV land. They get paid to smile, keep their hair in place and read from a TelePrompTer. That’s not journalism.

There are bad seeds in every profession. I’ve worked with hundreds of reporters and editors at five different newspapers over the past 22 years and I can personally vouch that newspaper reporters and editors are among the most ethical, honest and hard-working people you will ever come across. It’s one of the few professions where ethics are debated on a daily basis as part of the job.

So let’s say good riddance to Dan Rather, his arrogance and his bias and let’s get back to work.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

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