Surely, if there’s one piece of advice Cenk Uygur’s Young Turks audience doesn’t need, it’s to “find a commentator whose politics differ from yours. Intellectually honest, even though their values differ from yours.” Staunch grassroots progressives are famous for their thoughtful consumption of opposing viewpoints.
Come to think of it, what’s a down-the-middle fair-and-balanced newsman like Dan Rather doing hosting segments on the Young Turks show, anyway?
Ah well. The Document Dan story: From publishing fake memos to lecturing people about fake news in less than 15 years. What can you say? Becket Adams:
This is good and all, but it’s hard to ignore that these “fake news” tips come from a man who was fired from his lofty position in the press precisely because he peddled disinformation during the 2004 U.S. presidential election. True, the Killian Controversy took place 14 years ago, but the press has not quite recovered from his slipshod brand of journalism.
Honestly, I wouldn’t be so hard on the guy were it not for the fact that he is wholly unrepentant for the fraud he tried to perpetrate. Rather maintains to this day the his disastrous Bush AWOL story was mostly correct, and that the fact that his chief piece of evidence was a forgery is just a small detail.
“To this day.” Adams is right about that and also right that that’s the key point. You can imagine how a more humble Rather might have framed a segment like this. “It’s easy to fall for fake news — take it from me. We all have ideological blind spots. I once let mine get the better of my news judgment. Recognize your own biases and scrutinize news that seems too good to be true exactingly. Because it usually is.” But that’s not Rather. As of 2016, he was still vouching for the Bush National Guard memos:
To this day, he insists his team got the basic story right. “Bush, in his youth, through his father’s political influence, got put in a ‘champagne unit’ of the National Guard that ensured he did not go to Vietnam. After he got into the National Guard, he countermanded an order to take a physical, and then disappeared for a year. The sons of the less privileged were sent into the green jungle hell to die. He got a pass.”
But what about those tell-tale documents? “The process included controversial documents,” Rather says without hesitation. “But no one has ever proved that the documents are not what they purport to be. [Critics] could not attack the basic facts. No one in the Bush family has ever denied the two basic facts. Those who did not like the story picked its weakest point to attack. They changed the conversation.”
The memos’ defenders used to call them “fake but accurate.” Rather’s position was and remains “accurate and not provably fake.” But they are provably fake. The Wikipedia entry about the memos summarizes the many problems with authenticating them nicely. At root, the prevalence of fake news is due to people being over-eager to believe dubious information if it reinforces political prejudices. Rather’s endless apologia for the memos may be the single most glaring example of the phenomenon among major media in the last 15 years. He had his narrative about Bush and he ate up information supplied to him that proved that narrative a little too perfectly. He got taken. But he can’t admit it.
And the reason he can’t admit it, I think, is captured by this clip. He so enjoys being the august newsman, lecturing others about democratic values and how to consume information with critical discernment, that he can’t own up to having been suckered. How could he spout pieties like these if he did? Kyle Smith sized him up well:
“Rather would go with an item even if he didn’t have it completely nailed down,” wrote Timothy Crouse in his chronicle of campaign reporters, The Boys on the Bus. “If a rumor sounded solid to him . . . he would let it rip. The other White House reporters hated Rather for this. They knew exactly why he got away with it: Being as handsome as a cowboy, Rather was a star at CBS News, and that gave him the clout he needed.” Rather’s big Watergate moment, typically, was simply about Rather: At a press conference, the president asked him, “Are you running for something?” and Rather cheekily if nonsensically replied, “No, Sir, Mr. President, are you?” We’ve grown so used to showboating news blowhards making themselves the center of attention that it’s easy to forget where it began.
If you want to know where Jim Acosta came from, watch this clip. God willing Acosta will never have a position of influence as large as Rather had at CBS, but I think Rather occupies precisely the niche Acosta craves for himself in time: The smug elder statesman of news, inexplicably revered by people in his industry despite his undue self-seriousness, offering pieties to whatever camera is pointed at him. God willing Acosta will never have a whiff as big as Rather did with the Bush memos either.
— The Young Turks (@TheYoungTurks) April 3, 2018