Our tarnished media

Dan Rather, in a recent interview, says he is worried about the political culture and the bitter divisions within it. I wonder whether he has considered his own unique personal contribution to the bitterness and hysteria of our political discourse.

Donald Trump would have a great deal less credibility dismissing every reality he does not like as “Fake news!” if Dan Rather had not infamously attempted to peddle some actual fake news for the transparent purpose of trying to hurt the presidential campaign of George W. Bush. Rather’s attempt to use forged documents to push a fake story about a Republican candidate for political purposes did more than any other single episode of the past 20 years to undermine the credibility of the mainstream media.

That happened during the early days of blogging and online journalism, and it contributed deeply to the now-pervasive sense on the right that the media is not just sloppy and biased but an actual political enemy acting with malice aforethought. (Which it sometimes is, but less often than conservative populists think.) CBS News executive Jonathan Klein dismissed criticism of the Rather story as the work of “a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas,” a shallow sneer that lives on ironically in the name of PJ Media.

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