The ordeal of Dan Rather goes far beyond the man
himself. It speaks to the presumption of guilt that now rules
the day in America. Because of a ruthless and callow media, no citizen, much less one who achieves fame, is given
the benefit of the doubt when it comes to allegations or personal attacks. The smearing of America is in full bloom.
Weeks before the election, Kitty Kelley put out
a book defaming the entire Bush family. The allegations were primarily
made by anonymous people, but that didn't stop the media from gleefully recounting all the sordid accusations.
Some newspapers even put them on page one.
That smear came on the heels of the "Swift boat"
attacks on John Kerry, an ordeal that may have cost him the election.
While some of the Vietnam vets had valid points, more than a few of the accusations against Kerry were simply untrue.
It didn't matter though - his war record became a negative.
Right-wing talk radio in particular pounded Kerry
and also bludgeoned Dan Rather for his role in another smear incident
- the charges against President Bush about his National Guard service. Again, Rather was found guilty without a fair hearing.
Charges that he intentionally approved bogus documents that made Bush look bad were leveled and widely believed. It was chilling.
As a CBS News correspondent in the early '80s,
I worked with Rather and have known him for more than 20 years.
Listen to me: There is no way on this Earth that he would have knowingly used fake documents on any story.
It may be true that Rather did not vet the information
supplied to him by producers, but few anchor people do.
They are dependent on other journalists, and this is a huge flaw in the system.
Dan Rather is guilty of not being skeptical enough
about a story that was politically loaded. I believe Rather, along with
Andy Rooney, Walter Cronkite and other guardsmen of the old CBS News, is liberal in his thinking. That is certainly a
legitimate debate - how for years CBS News has taken a rather progressive outlook. But holding a political point of view
is the right of every American, and it does not entitle people to practice character assassination or deny the presumption
of innocence. Dan Rather was slimed. It was disgraceful.
But you'll be seeing more of this kind of thing
in the future. All famous and successful Americans are now targets.
Unscrupulous people know that any accusation can be dumped on the Internet and within hours the mainstream media
will pick it up. It will be printed in the papers, discussed on radio and TV and become part of the unfortunate person's
résumé whether he or she is guilty or not. A click of the Internet mouse can wipe out a lifetime of honor and hard work.
Just the accusation or allegation can be ruinous.
Let me ask you something: In the future, do you
think potential public servants and social crusaders are going to risk
brutally attacked within this insane system? I don't. I think many good people are simply going to walk away from the public arena.
Dan Rather did not get what he deserved in this case. He made a mistake, as we all do, but he is not a dishonest man.
Unfair freedom of speech did him in. This is not your grandfather's country anymore.
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