Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Three Questions

The news stories yesterday and today about the CBS News internal investigation of last fall's "Rathergate" scandal do not, in my view, make it clear that there really are three different questions in play, only one of which may have been answered by the report released yesterday.
The three questions are:
1) Was George W. Bush derelict in his performance as a National Guardsman?
2) Were the documents aired by CBS News -- which purportedly exposed Bush's dereliction of duty -- authentic?
3) Did CBS News properly vet these documents before airing its story on 60 Minutes?
The first of these questions was raised by CBS in its initial 60 Minutes report on Mr. Bush's service record, in which documents were produced which appear to show that Mr. Bush was given preferential and unfair treatment, at least in having misbehavior covered up by superiors who were keenly aware of his family's political connections.
The second question is that raised by the "blogosphere" in reaction to the CBS report. While I strongly disagree with the politics of the bloggers who raised this question, I will more than happily concede that it is an appropriate and, in fact, extremely important question.
The CBS internal investigation provides at least a partial answer to the third of these questions and says that, no, the documents were not properly questioned and vetted for authenticity. However, it makes clear that there still is no answer to the second, and more important question of whether these documents are authentic. And that means that the documents have no bearing on the still-unanswered first question regarding the President's service record.
And yet, I am willing to bet that the right-wing media will conflate the three, as it has been doing since the original air date of September 8, to claim that the first and more important of these questions has now been "laid to rest". The public should not stand for this misinterpretation, but I am unfortunately more than willing to bet that a large majority will happily do so -- just as they bought the misleading "weapons of mass destruction" rationale for the Iraq war, and just as they may, most distressingly of all, buy the fabricated "crisis" in Social Security that the Bush administration has put forward as justification for its move to "privatize" that system.