Wednesday, September 22, 2004


There's a reason I usually shy away from making predictions in print: I'm crappy at it. OK, I did predict to my friends this year that the Mariners would suck. But it seems anytime I venture out on a limb and predict the outcome of news events, I'm proven wrong.

That was especially the case with the CBS documents. Especially the line about the network being fully vindicated. Hoo boy. What an embarrassment. Not as bad as CBS's, but still ... Next time I venture out with a prediction attempt, someone slap me upside the head, OK?

Ever since the word came down Sunday night that CBS was backing off the story, I've been contemplating my mistake. Some of it was an excess of rigor: Being an old curmudgeonly editor, it was apparent to me that the vast majority of the "forgery" charges were themselves bogus. As someone who's dealt a great deal in conspiracy theories and debunking them, it was abundantly clear that nearly all of the right-wing bloggers' claims were utter nonsense. They had, moreover, leapt to the conclusion that these were forgeries without anything approaching actual proof. My chief tenet -- and a point that still holds, frankly -- is that it's impossible to declare something a forgery without dealing with original documents, and without establishing proper provenance.

My mistake was to not pay enough attention to what CBS was doing as well. I assumed that they not only had secured some level of authenticity for the documents, they had a firm chain of their provenance. These are, after all, the kinds of practices that are taught in Journalism 101 (OK, maybe 301) in college.

Wrong! Not only did they do a poor job of authenticating the docs, their chain of ownership was absurd. I mean, I could have told them that Bill Burkett was not an unimpeachable source. Did they even bother contacting the person he originally claimed was his source? Evidently not. And that's just pathetic.

There were also plenty of warnings. What really raised red flags for me was that CBS only got around to interviewing Killian's secretary after they ran the story. At that point, I remained skeptical of the forgery claims, but I began having real doubts about CBS's thoroughness.

What was I thinking? After all, it's been apparent to me for some time that major news organizations -- and especially TV news organizations -- no longer adhere to the standards of journalism to which I became accustomed during my career in newsrooms. CBS, in this case, didn't even meet the kind of basic standards that we employed at the Missoulian or Lewiston Morning Tribune.

I understand their thinking: The memos mostly substantiated things we already knew about Bush's record. Contemporaries said the memos certainly sounded like things that Jerry Killian was concerned about, and were consistent with Bush's actual performance (or lack thereof). But it's a basic rule: You don't run with a story -- and especially not a major story -- without nailing everything down. And CBS didn't come close.

In the process, they probably destroyed any chance that there will be a serious discussion of Bush's military record. By bungling the story, they have made it radioactive. That's too bad, though in the end I don't know how much difference it actually will make.

There's an added element here, though, that needs discussing: The whole scenario -- particularly the way the Bush AWOL story has been effectively nullified -- that stinks of a classic Rovian Ratfucking.

This is especially the case if Burkett is telling the truth about how he came into possession of the documents: From a "mystery woman" named "Lucy Ramirez" who gave them to him at a rodeo.

Given that Burkett's credibility cannot be any lower than it is now, it's extremely unlikely that he received any such phone call or talked to any such person.

But on the off chance that he is telling the truth, it raises a question:

Any chance that "Lucy Ramirez" has a more than a passing resemblance to Yvette Lozano?

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