Thursday, September 30, 2004

They Just Don't Learn!

This story just keeps getting better. And now there are other stories in the sam vein. Read it again, then read the updates.

Originally Posted 10:00 AM September 29, 2004
Thanks for the Memory to Ace of Spades HQ.

OK, I've been trying to find my own material on which to blog, but this one is just so ridiculous, I have to chime in.

One of the hallmarks of intelligence, I am told, is the ability to learn from one's mistakes -- to recognize a causitive relationship between an action and its consequences, and to choose to refrain from that action in the future in order to avoid those consequences.

Let's take a recent example of an action and its consequences, and see if WE can learn anything from them, shall we?

One of the... no, THE biggest story in the blogosphere in recent weeks has been "Memogate," the controversy surrounding Dan Rathers' 60 Minutes story on President Bush's service record and the falsified records used to support the story. I won't link to the story, it's so thoroughly blogged that it's ridiculous.

So what lessons can we learn from this, children (or "Rather," what lessons should CBS have learned)? Specifically, what action and consequences should CBS have observed and avoided in the future? Allow me to make a few suggestions:

The first observation in general is that there are people who are so devoted to their political cause that they are willing to lie and even commit forgery in order to advance their cause. We have also learned that while they are supposed to be impartial and dedicated to verifying the accuracy of their reporting, the mainstream media is at times willing to overlook niggling little concerns regarding their sources in order to get a story out if that story supports their own opinions or beliefs. In the case of the CBS story, that included both the use of forged documents, as well as a reliance on "unimpeachable sources" that have proven to be highly partisan individuals. That is the Action.

The consequences are that in the age of blogs, if you rely on verifiably untrue sources, the odds are very great that you will be caught, exposed, and discredited.

The Lesson, then, would be? Anyone? Anyone? /Ben Stein

The Lesson is to VERIFY your information before REPORTING it.

So let's take the lesson learned and apply it to another story that's been making the rounds and has garnered a lot of attention: The Draft Controversy. There's been an email circulating warning people that the government, and specifically the Bush administration, plans to reinstate the draft in order to recruit troops for Iraq. It has generated a lot of ill will towards the President, and I even read a very angry letter about it in Sunday's Portland Oregonian.

There's only one problem: The email is lying. As a matter of fact, as the FactCheck article points out, only two draft-related bills have been proposed, both were sponsored by Democrats, both were prior to Iraq, and both were stillborn.

So let's take our lesson learned and apply it to this email. IF you were a journalist -- no, if you were a CBS Journalist, how would you approach this issue?

I think you see where I'm going with this. That's right, CBS failed to learn its lesson. Furthermore, not only did they rely on an already debunked document (this time an email), they also quoted a highly partisan source. they just didn't learn.

I don't know what you'd call this -- Hubris, desperation for a story, blind devotion to a cause, or just plain stupidity. But the one thing you can't call this, by the standard established at the beginning of this post, is intelligence.

Again, credit goes toAce of Spades HQ. The man's en fuego.

Bill at INDC has interviewed several representatives of CBS regarding this story. Read the whole report here.

One exchange that caught many readers' eyes, as well as my own, was this one:

INDC: "Probably the main concern with the story is that the e-mails that are shown in the piece are false; they've been debunked on various internet sites long ago ..."

Schlesinger: "The fact is, they were going around. I know several people that got them, and it’s gotten people all riled up. Whether or not there’s any reality to there being a draft, is almost besides the point. Do I think there’s going to be a draft? No. But it's an issue that people are talking about."

In other words (and I wasn't the first or only to pick up on this), "The documents are not authentic, but they're accurate)" Furthermore, if people are riled up because of false information, why, as has been asked, is CBS reporting on how upset people are, instead of letting them know how unfounded their reason for being upset is? Why are they reporting that people are afraid because of a lie, and not on the fact that it's a lie?

They Just Don't Learn.

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