A very good question. One that CBS will likely never answer! - Sailor
Why do Rather and his boss still have jobs?
Blogs 1, CBS 0.
Or, to put it another way, CBS is down four employees - although it should be down a few more.
Jeff Jarvis, of the "Buzzmachine" blog, recalls that just 18 minutes after CBS News broadcasted the allegations concerning George W. Bush's nonperformance in the Texas Air National Guard, bloggers started chipping away at the authenticity of "memos" that were the basis of the story.
Indeed, the combined efforts of hundreds of independent Web site proprietors generated a "blogstorm," burying CBS under questions it couldn't answer. Within two weeks, all but Kool-Aid drinkers conceded that the memos were fakes.
Now, a report by two outside examiners, former Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh and former Associated Press chief Lou Boccardi, finds that CBS employees showed "myopic zeal" in their pursuit of the story. (And we can translate that zeal as "Damn the fact-torpedoes, full Bush-bashing ahead!") So three employees have been "asked to resign." and one has been "terminated" - a sure sign that lots of lawyers and spin doctors were involved in the final decisions.
This turn of events marks a historic shift in media power relationships. A bunch of bloggers, working mostly at home - the so-called pajama gang - actually nailed the "Tiffany Network." Now, everyone in the journalistic establishment, including this writer, is on notice: The people are not only paying attention, but also providing powerful feedback, whether we like it or not.
But some questions for CBS remain: First, why does Dan Rather still have a job? Yes, he has announced that he will step down from "CBS Evening News" effective March 9, but he will stay on at "60 Minutes" - and it was on "60 Minutes" that he misreported the memo story.
Some have said, in Rather's defense, that he was just reading somebody else's copy on the air last September. But, in polite language, the Thornburgh-Boccardi report says otherwise. It cites the "great deference given to ... the network's news anchor" - that anchor being Rather. And Rather is also, by the way, the managing editor of CBS News, not an insignificant title in journalistic hierarchies. So no housecleaning at CBS News is complete without cleaning out Rather.
Second, on the subject of cleanup, why does CBS News president Andrew Heyward get to keep his job? On Sept. 23, as the blogstorm pelted down on his head, Rather sought to "share" responsibility with his boss, Heyward. The anchorman recalled a conversation with Heyward prior to the "memo" broadcast: "I said, 'Andrew, if true, it's breakthrough stuff. But I need to do something unusual. It may even be unique. I have to ask you to oversee, in a hands-on way, the handling of this story.'" And how did Heyward respond? "He got it. He immediately agreed."
It's possible, of course, that Rather is "Rathering" the record here, but Heyward should answer up. Moreover, Heyward should still be held responsible for the airing of an obviously partisan hit piece less than two months before a presidential election. But, in keeping with the rich tradition of corporate fat cats escaping without a scratch while scapegoating lower-downs, the top dog seems to have survived.
Indeed, Heyward recently visited the White House, apparently to make amends. That visit has all the sincerity of Marie Antoinette working in a soup kitchen. And so the Bushies shouldn't fall for Heyward's kiss-and-make-up schtick, and neither should CBS viewers, nor the American people.
Third, Thornburgh and Boccardi should face questions. Why did it take four months to produce this report, which reeks of lawyer-negotiated compromise, even cover-up? And do they really think that CBS has changed?
Happily, CBS will not get the last word. Those days are over, thanks to blogs. It's not that the blogs are always right, but that the media market is now enlarged by their active, interactive presence. More participation, and more scrutiny, is healthy - not only for news, but also for democracy.
James P. Pinkerton's Email: email@example.com