September 24, 2004

RICHARD COHEN is defending Dan Rather for making an honest mistake: "Mistakes are what happen to aggressive news organizations."

Yes, and so is fixing them when it's obvious that they're mistakes, instead of stonewalling and calling those who point them out partisan hacks. Even if the error was in good faith -- which some would certainly dispute -- the response wasn't.

And this sounds like political maneuvering more than journalism:

Newsweek's Howard Fineman argued that CBS News producer Mary Mapes became "obsessed," with trying to prove that George W. Bush got special treatment in the National Guard, because she wanted to "save the world from a George Bush presidency, and in the last five years, she's tried to find that smoking gun that would allow her to do that." Appearing on MSNBC's Imus in the Morning on Wednesday, Fineman fretted that due to the CBS scandal, it is getting "increasingly difficult to prove" that the rest of the media strive for "objectivity" and want to be "fair" and "even-handed." Fineman also predicted that "if Roger Ailes and Fox had done something like this, you know, the world would be on fire."

I'm guessing that Richard Cohen wouldn't be defending them as vigorously, either. (And when some blogger blows it this way, I'm guessing that Cohen will write an I-told-you-so column rather than a bend-over-backward defense like this one, though I could be wrong.) But the damage has been done, and defenses like Cohen's -- which pretend that hit jobs intended to influence an election, based on documents that any reasonable person should have recognized as likely false, constitute "committing journalism" -- probably explain why media credibility is at a low point today.