Some of you will recall the controversy over I, Rigoberta Menchu, the purported autobiography of a radical Guatemalan woman that won a 1992 Nobel Prize. The revelation that it contained more fiction than fact generated quite a bit of heated controversy that was summarized nicely by John Leo in a widely read article on hate crime hoaxes. What was striking at the time, and remains striking, is how many professors and others who should know better defended Menchu and her book on the grounds that it spoke a larger truth, even if many of the alleged facts were manufactured to suit her purpose. (I’ve discussed this issue, and quoted Leo, here.) As Leo wrote,
when Rigoberta Menchu’s famous account of class and ethnic warfare in Guatemala was revealed to be largely false, many professors said this didn’t matter much because her book contained emotional truth. The blurring of the line between fact and fiction is far advanced in our university culture. Hoaxes are just one symptom of the truth problem.
Dan Rather (I’d rather call him “I, Dan” from now on) would seem to be another symptom. He and his annointed sources “know” the documents speak the truth about Bush’s lies, so it really doesn’t matter that much if the documents themselves are fakes.
Overstated? Consider again his closing comments in his self-defense program (from the transcript here):
RATHER: It is the information in the new documents that is most compelling for people familiar with president Bush’s record in the national guard. Author Jim Moore has written two books on the subject. [Moore is the rabid anti-Bush writer who has written Bush’s Brain and Bush’s Battle for Re-Election– jsr.]
RATHER: You’ve studied president Bush’s records for 10 years. Are these documents consistent with the record as you know it?
MOORE: They are absolutely consistent with the records as I know it.
RATHER: The 60 Minutes report was based not solely on the recovered documents but on a preponderance of evidence including documents that were provided by unimpeachable sources and interviews with former officials of the Texas National Guard. If any definitive evidence to the contrary of our story is found, we will report it. So far there is none.
So, for both Moore (or perhaps “Less”) and Rather, the documents are legitimate because they are “consistent with” the truth as they know it.
Kerning? Who cares? From this perspective the documents are true even if they are forgeries, just as Rigoberta Menchu’s account of Guatemala was true even though it was false.
I, Dan is the perfect news reader for the politically correct post-modern age. Way to go, CBS.
I, Dan defending the truth of the story and the authenticity of the documents on CNN (via RatherBiased.com):
I know that this story is true. I believe that the witnesses and the documents are authentic.
I, Dan, in short, has more confidence in the truth of the story than in the authenticity of the documents. He will thus predictably “stand by the story” even if it is conclusively proven that the documents are forgeries.
UPDATE II [13 Sept. 11:25 A.M.]
One of the only publicly acknowledged sources I, Dan relied on for his story is Robert Strong, whom CBS identified in the following manner:
Robert Strong was an administrative officer for the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam years. He knew Jerry Killian, the man credited with writing the documents. And paper work, like these documents, was Strong’s specialty. He is standing by his judgment that the documents are real.
“They are compatible with the way business was done at that time,” Strong said. “They are compatible with the man I remember Jerry Killian being. I don’t see anything in the documents that’s discordant with what were the times, the situation or the people involved.”
You will notice that Strong says nothing about the authenticity of the documents at issue.
As it happens a reader of Power Line is a neighbor of the elusive Mr. Strong, and he reports on several conversations with him.
[Strong] said that he believed that the CBS documents were genuine, but admitted that he “cannot vouch for the documents’ authenticity.” Further, Strong said that he doesn’t think it matters whether the documents are genuine are not.
Strong, like I, Dan, knows Bush is guilty (of something), and so it doesn’t really matter to him whether the documents are authentic or not.
Power Line summarizes the results of the conversations as follows:
… Strong admitted that he had never served with or even met Lt. Bush. He admitted further that Jerry Killlian had never discussed Lt. Bush with him. Strong acknowledged that he had “no personal knowledge about Bush’s service.”
Bottom line: Robert Strong is an inoffensive English professor who dislikes, but has never met, President Bush; he has no idea whether the CBS documents are authentic; he never discussed Lt. Bush with Jerry Killian; and he has “no personal knowledge” about President Bush’s National Guard service. The only information Strong actually brings to the table is his confirmation that the CBS documents “turned up” as retribution for the Swift Boat Vets’ attacks on John Kerry.
And this is the best witness CBS News can bring forward in support of its smear of President Bush.