Friday, September 17, 2004

CBS's Plastic "Truth"

The New York Daily News reports that Andy Rooney "Indicated yesterday he believes the controversial documents on President Bush's National Guard service are fake and said it could cost Dan Rather down the road. 'I'm surprised at their reluctance to concede they're wrong,' Rooney said, referring to CBS brass."

What CBS has done is plasticize the truth. You have seen this before.

On August 14, 1998, the New York Times ran a remarkable story by Richard Berke. President Clinton was preparing to be deposed under oath by Ken Starr. The following are excerpts from Berke's story:

President Clinton has had extensive discussions with his inner circle about a strategy of acknowledging to a grand jury on Monday that he had intimate sexual encounters with Monica S. Lewinsky in the White House, senior advisers have said.

Although Mr. Clinton has not settled on this approach, discussions have centered on a plan that would allow him to acknowledge a specific type of sexual behavior while still maintaining he told the truth when he testified in January that he never had "sexual relations" with the former White House intern, the advisers said. . . .

For months Mr. Clinton has publicly denied any sexual relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. So politically, an acknowledgment of some kind of sexual encounter poses considerable risk, particularly if it were linked to a legal argument that rests on a narrow definition of sex.

But Mr. Clinton's advisers have said it poses a greater risk to tell anything less than the truth to a grand jury about sex with Ms. Lewinsky. . . .

The advisers cautioned that preparations for the grand jury appearance were continuing and that the strategy could still change as the President continued to examine the legal and political implications of various courses. . . .

Even as the President's advisers review his options, some have prefaced their remarks by saying it is still possible that Mr. Clinton will say again, as he has publicly, that he never had sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky. . . .

Elsewhere in his report Berke noted that "It could be that some of the President's advisers are discussing his possible approaches with reporters to gauge the political reaction." Which is, of course, exactly what the president's advisers were doing. The notion that, since the president was going to be testifying under oath, he simply had to admit the truth, was totally pushed aside. The issue was what strategy he would pursue, not what the truth was.

I know, I know--it's ridiculous to always come back to Clinton. And it is. But in this case it was Bill Clinton who moved us into this post-modern definition of truth, who taught America that if you're going to lie, you don't even need to pretend to believe your own lie anymore. That's because in modern American politics, there is no truth, there's only strategy.

Dan Rather and CBS News have learned Bill Clinton's lesson and found that today it doesn't just apply to politics--it applies to journalism, too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A HYPOTHETICO-DEDUCTIVE EXERCISEJonathan, let's suppose for a moment that Bill Burkett produced the fake CBS 'Killian memos'. Then, clearly, Dan Rather would have known that Burkett was the source of the memos.

Now recall that Rather told television viewers that the 'Killian memos' came from "an unimpeachable source". Consider the implications of that claim:


(1) Rather really thinks that Burkett is an unimpeachable source, in which case Rather is either certifiable himself or else lacks the journalistic judgment of a flatworm;


(2) Rather knows that Burkett has a questonable history and could not by any stretch of the imagination be regarded as an unimpeachable source, in which case Rather intentionally lied to his television viewers.

The dilemma is clear: either Rather is a moron or else he's a public liar about matters of serious journalistic import.

So, assuming that Bill Burkett produced the fake CBS 'Killian memos', on what basis could it be argued that CBS should not immediately terminate Rather's employment?

Beats me ... but I'm only Ann_Observer.