I, Dan Rather, Or: Rigoberta Menchu II

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.

UPDATE

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.

Say What? (8)

  1. Anonymous September 11, 2004 at 1:12 pm | | Reply

    I think you meant “more fiction than fact.”

  2. John Rosenberg September 11, 2004 at 1:35 pm | | Reply

    You’re of course right. I’ve corrected it. I’ll have to get on my copyeditor about this lapse.

  3. J.R.. September 11, 2004 at 8:59 pm | | Reply

    I watched Rather’s pathetic explanation on CBS last night and was left befuddled. I was yelling at the TV, he didn’t prove a thing, he produced only one ‘so-called’ expert in handwriting of all things. Mentions that superscript was available on some typewriters at that time and then goes to an administrative assistant and the anti-Bush author. What I was left with was that the documents are authentic because I said so and I am Dan Rather. Pathetic.

  4. Fredrik Nyman September 12, 2004 at 12:07 am | | Reply

    I think it’s this simple: CBS’ perspective is

    1. The documents prove that Bush was AWOL, just as everyone already knows.

    2. Since everyone knows Bush was AWOL, it proves that the documents are authentic.

    It’s something we’ve seen many times (Pauline Kael, anyone?) and which we’ll keep seeing again and again. It’s unavoidable. As long as the MSM newsrooms lack meaningful (=more than skin-deep) diversity, the groupthink problems will fester.

  5. jaed September 12, 2004 at 4:07 am | | Reply

    I’m starting to wonder:

    1. Dan Rather was the person who brought the documents into CBS News. If an underling had done so, CBS would have temporized… serious allegations… careful investigation… we’re very concerned… strives to maintain the highest level of integrity… Instead we get stonewalling. I don’t think anyone but Rather has that kind of power over there.

    2. Rather’s daughter, Robin, is active in TX Democratic politics. What if someone used her as a conduit to her father to get the documents into play? (She need not have been aware that they were forged.) If CBS News is not willing to burn its source after the documents have been found to be forged, there must be some powerful reason for it. Is this increasingly bizarre state of denial, in part, an attempt to shield Robin Rather?

    It’s pure speculation, of course, though I think it’s plausible. But I wish someone could ask him a couple of questions about this.

    CBS News has, whether wittingly or unwittingly, presented forged documents to the American public in an attempt to swing an election. We need to track the attempt down to its source.

  6. Roger Sweeny September 13, 2004 at 11:41 am | | Reply

    This reminds me of the flawed evidence of weapons of mass destruction before the Iraq war.

    1) Everyone knew that the guy at the top (George W. Bush in one case, Dan Rather in the other) wanted the evidence to be genuine.

    1a) The guys at the top wanted it to be true because it would help in a greater cause (for Bush, to get rid of Saddam Hussein; for Rather, to get rid of Bush).

    2) Most everyone involved already believed in the truth of the underlying story. There was a tremendous amount of “group think.” Just about everyone at CBS News believed that of course Bush had been treated better than he should have been. Similarly, most everyone in the CIA and related agencies believed that of course Saddam was still working on WMDs. When they received evidence that seemed to confirm their original judgment, they didn’t say, “We’ll have to carefully see if this is accurate.” They said, “Hot d-m-! I knew it all along. Let’s run with it.”

  7. eh September 13, 2004 at 12:03 pm | | Reply

    [Overstated?]

    Uhh, yeah. Seemingly. Just going by what you excerpt here.

    Rather clearly says he’s convinced by “a preponderance of evidence” — not only by the documents whose authenticity is disputed.

    [So, for both Moore (or perhaps “Less”)…]

    You print one simple statement by Moore; how does it warrant this dig?

    [He will thus predictably “stand by the story”…]

    How do you know this is what he’ll do? Here you seem to presume Rather’s future behavior, and then criticise him for it. It being something he hasn’t done yet.

    Which is odd.

    And even in that case, would this be inconsistent with his statement about being convinced by “a preponderance of evidence”?

    [I know that this story is true. I believe that the witnesses and the documents are authentic.]

    Reverse the order of these two sentences; where is the logical problem then? As I understand it, these are oral remarks made by Rather. If I were you, I’d be a bit careful about nitpicking (i.e. an order problem) over such unrehearsed verbal statements.

    […even if it is conclusively proven that the documents are forgeries.]

    Which hasn’t happened yet. Or if it has, I missed it. Anyway, thanks for the reminder.

    Not that Rather hasn’t sullied himself over this — in the ‘appearance of impropriety’ sense, at the least.

  8. Rather … Not April 7, 2018 at 12:54 am |

    […] if your memory of the episode of fake news of which he was the star is a bit dim, take a quick look here for a […]

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