Are Dan Rather and ''60 Minutes'' a bunch of patsies suckered by the Kerry campaign? Not exactly. According to the American Spectator, ''The CBS producer said that some alarm bells went off last week when the signatures and initials of Killian on the documents in hand did not match up with other documents available on the public record, but producers chose to move ahead with the story.''
Hey, why not? Who's gonna spot it? If CBS says it's so, that's good enough for Thomas Oliphant's Boston Globe, the New York Times and the Washington Post, all of whom rushed the story onto their front pages because it met their ''basic standards.'' On Friday morning, Paul Krugman, the New York Times' excitable economist, filed a column called, ''The Dishonesty Thing,'' and for one moment I thought he was about to upbraid CBS for rushing on air with their laughably fake memos. But no, he was droning on about how the National Guard story demonstrated George W. Bush's ''pattern of lies: his assertions that he fulfilled his obligations when he obviously didn't ..."
The tragedy for Rather, Oliphant, Krugman and Co. is that even if the memos were authentic nobody would care. Their boy Kerry had a crummy August not because he didn't hammer Bush for being AWOL in the Spanish-American War but because the senator's AWOL in the present war. Big Media are trashing their own reputations in service to a man who can never win.
As of this writing, the network is said to be investigating the situation. Of course, this is not a real investigation, in the police sense. CBS leaves that sort of thing to fiction, on its CSI programs, for example. What they're investigating is how to minimize the public relations damage. . . .
For someone like Sandy Berger, it is always better to claim sloppiness than evil intent, but for a news organization, the issue is not nearly as clear. It is the job of an organization like CBS to sort out the real from the phony. If they don't do that, what earthly good are they?