Ed Driscoll

The Liar's Poker School Of Journalism

In Liar’s Poker, Michael Lewis’ brilliant, Plimptonesque look back at his mid-’80s tour of duty with Salomon Brothers, Lewis wrote that when necessary, he and his fellow bond traders would “jam” bonds down their customers’ throats. These were typically corporate bonds with lower yields or credit ratings, and Salomon’s sales managers would encourage their salesmen to use as much verbal force as appropriate to make a sale. As Lewis wrote:

“I had made the mistake of trusting a Salomon Brothers trader. He had drawn on the pooled ignorance of myself and my first customer to unload one of his mistakes. He had saved himself, and our firm, $60,000. I was at once furious and disillusioned. But that didn’t solve the problem. . . . Bellyaching would. . . make me look a fool, as if I had actually thought the customer was going to make money on the [bonds]. How could anyone be so stupid as to trust a trader? The best thing I could do was pretend to others at Salomon that I meant to screw the customer. People would respect that. That was called ‘jamming.’ I had just jammed bonds, albeit unknowingly, for the first time.”

Beginning, arguably, with Walter Cronkite’s calling the Tet Offensive a military failure, the mainstream media has had a long history of jamming news stories–frequently with a poor credit rating of their own in terms of their honesty attached to them–down their audiences’ throats, rather than living up to their self-proclaimed motto of being objective and unbiased.

That’s what CBS tried to do last year with a story that ultimately boomeranged so badly against them, it was dubbed “RatherGate”, complete with superscript “th”, to remind readers of Dan Rather and producer Mary Mapes’ folly.

Lewis would occasionally refer in Liar’s Poker to the out-of-touch “ozone layer” of Salomon’s management, clueless as to what their salesmen and traders needed to succeed. The quotes yesterday from Mapes and Rather are a reminder at just how clueless the ozone layer of CBS’ then-management was. As for Rather’s what’s-the-frequency remarks, Duane Patterson has fisked them within an inch of their life. To the point where he feels sorry (“Elder Abuse” is the name of Duane’s post) about deciphering the mutterings of a now aged man who for decades has made Ted Baxter seem like Edward R. Murrow.

But let’s take a look at Mapes’ classic quotes, including this one, describing her “incredulous” reaction to the response of the Blogosphere, and Internet forums like Freerepublic.com, to the 60 Minutes II show that she built around forged documents:

Within a few minutes, I was online visiting Web sites I had never heard of before: Free Republic, Little Green Footballs, Power Line. They were hard-core, politically angry, hyperconservative sites loaded with vitriol about Dan Rather and CBS.

Has any individual, or any organization, ever been called “hyperliberal” by any reporter or anchorman at CBS?

Is Mapes aware that she’s ceding half her show’s potential audience by tossing aside the complaints of the Freepers, the Lizardoids, the readers of Power Line, and by extension, everyone else who considers him or herself a conservative? Is she aware of out of touch she makes herself sound, when she claims she hasn’t heard of any of these sites, three quarters of the way into an election year dominated–even before RatherGate–with Internet and blog-oriented stories?

And you cannot claim to have an anchorman who is free of bias and not “loaded with vitriol” when you let him go on the air and say things like this, in an editorial-masking-as-reporting was delivered seemingly as “the first draft of history” to millions of Sunday viewers watching the second half of NFL doubleheaders–viewers of all political persuasions, not the readers of The New Republic or The Nation, where Dan’s editorializing would have been perfectly appropriate and right at home with its bias.

But that was back in November of 2000. Let’s return to Rather’s producer’s words from this year concerning her efforts last September:

Our work was being compared to that of Jayson Blair, the discredited New York Times reporter who had fabricated and plagiarized stories.

Yes, that’s precisely right.

This is the one instance where Mary is spot-on, and she has no idea how accurate she is about the connection with another big media fabulist who masqueraded as a reporter. As Mark Steyn writes:

Yes, the US media is overwhelmingly “liberal” but it’s also slow, dull, arthritic and bureaucratic. Hence, Ms Mapes’ bewilderment at how the rest of the world managed to identify within seconds the obvious fakeness of her documents despite the “months” of “analysis” CBS devoted to them.

What Mary and Dan still don’t seem to understand is that when you try to jam news stories these days via the press or television, there’s now a whole nation of citizen journalists–some who are amateurs, some who are pros, many of whom are bloggers, but some simply members of online forums–who are examining your efforts, and determining whether they’re fair, or you’re trying to play liar’s poker with us.

Update: Welcome readers of Hugh Hewitt and his producer, “Generalissimo” Duane. Please look around; we’re sure you’ll find plenty of other posts you’ll enjoy.