Courage, Dan. Courage.
Richard Cohen/NY Daily News
That word, once used by Dan Rather as a signoff, perfectly describes what he needs now. He has made mistakes. He has not handled himself well. He probably prejudged the story, maybe working backward from the conclusion, and for too long put up his dukes and got into a defensive crouch. Still, the fact remains that he and CBS are guilty of making a mistake. It can happen - bloggers and others, take note - when you commit journalism.
Mistakes are what happen to aggressive new organizations. It is no coincidence that scandals being recollected at the moment are all associated with first-class newspapers or TV networks. It is a yearning to break the story, to make news, to bang the pot and change something for the better.
Rather did not concoct the apparently phony documents showing that President Bush was something less than a punctilious member of the Air National Guard. Someone else did. Rather was not trying to put something over on CBS or the public. He was the first one snookered.
Yet on the Internet and in the right-wing press, calls shrill with false indignation have been issued for Rather's scalp. It is alleged, it is insinuated that Rather is some sort of liberal apparatchik or personally in cahoots with the Kerry campaign - and he should retire instantly. It beggars belief that some of this is coming from the Murdoch media empire - the New York Post and Fox News - which, really, reports everything but the weather with a slant, and even then I wonder...What's ironic here is that more and more Americans are getting their news through partisan filters - talk radio, Web logs (blogs), Fox News and the like. We are preselecting, favoring those news outlets that already favor us. But some news ought to be upsetting. Some news ought to intellectually upend you and, if possible, make you uncomfortable. This is a journalist's sacred duty.