You have to look beyond skin deep to really cover most stories
Life continues to be a lesson for me and most people I know
EVERY SINGLE day. As a result, we should not be surprised
that what usually seems a cinch in covering news stories is
not always the case.
Here are a couple of examples of on-going stories and why
caution and digging should be the order of the day, and then
some info on one story that is about to develop, but you heard
it here first.
First of all, we have the ugly and on-going saga of "what
the heck were you thinking" at CBS and what most people,
including the network itself, now agree were FORGED documents
on the story about George Bush's service in the Texas National
Guard. It is clear that some caution and good old digging
could have averted this blunder.
As news people, we should be angry and embarrassed that the
much-maligned profession we have dedicated our lives to is
being punked (to use current Generation X-Y vernacular) and
soiled by people who know better. Unfortunately for you and
me, the folks behind the CBS debacle are proving they are
more interested in saving their backsides than protecting
the values of truth and journalistic integrity.
The experts whom CBS claimed authenticated the documents say
they warned the network of the forgeries and they spoke up
late last week in order to defend THEIR professional integrity.
Kudos to Peter Jennings and ABC News for doing a good job
in finding and then giving the two forensic examiners a chance
to give us the true info on their role in this caper.
However, the national news icon behind this charade, who shall
remain nameless but his initials are D.R., refuses to accept
the inevitable truth about what he and his colleagues have
done. As a result, D.R. interviewed an 86-year-old former
military secretary on 60 Minutes who ALSO pointed out the
documents used were fakes and that she DID NOT type them.
The only consolation prize that news icon D.R. got out of
the woman's recollection is that more than 30 years ago, she
saw OTHER documents that contained similar information about
Bush's footloose and fancy-free attitude while in the National
Let me ask you this: How convincing, or better yet, how credible,
can an 86-year-old be on a major news network show in recalling
the contents of a letter 32 years ago regarding a topic that
was not a big deal at THAT time? Sounds like another strike-out
for the Black Eye Network.
It's too bad that this story is dragging down the image, in
the eyes of many Americans, of so many dedicated news people,
reporters, producers and anchors. D.R. has become the butt
of late night network comedians' jokes and that's never really
good news for the news profession.
And by the way, I am still waiting to hear an explanation
from D.R. on what he meant when he said, while being challenged
on the faked documents, "I KNOW the story (about Bush's
alleged evasions) is true." We want to know HOW you know,
Dan. Don't hang more news folks out to dry by saying you know
and then not giving us the beef. It hurts us all, damn it!!
Now, does this CBS debacle have tails, as they say in the
political world? I am talking about tails that will cause
more problems, not get more votes or support. I believe the
answer is best answered in a story about to sprout wings over
the next three weeks.
The allegations of negligence or malfeasance against CBS,
assertions it has attempted to perpetuate a gross fraud on
the American public, and that it has been evasive and downright
misleading, suggest to many that this is not the work of a
reputable news division.
Their strategy to batten down the hatches and hope the document
flap blows over and is eventually just chalked up as a "controversial
report," instead of dealing seriously on air with the
doubts and retracting and apologizing, is about to bite them
in the proverbial ass.
This strategy cannot be tolerated by the broader political
and journalistic community. Until CBS cleans its own house,
it cannot be considered just another news organization, in
good journalistic standing. Which brings us to the presidential
The Commission on Presidential Debates has scheduled a debate
on foreign policy for October 13 at Arizona State University.
The moderator the commission has seen fit to anoint for this
encounter is Bob Schieffer of CBS News. In other words, one
of the greatest gifts in terms of exposure and responsibility
in the fall campaign is being handed to a representative of
the CBS News division, Managing Editor Dan Rather's News division.
A movement is developing that says this anointment cannot
be allowed to stand, given the evident disregard CBS has for
fairness and accuracy. Schieffer, they claim, should be replaced
by someone from another news organization. And why not, since
we have ABC, NBC, CNN, and Fox as the four other major networks
and there will only be three presidential debates and one
This is not to say that Schieffer himself is not a decent
guy or a professional, nor is it to suggest that he personally
had any role in the National Guard story. But the CBS controversy
is about more than one stubborn icon, Dan Rather. The credibility
of the entirety of CBS News is at stake. If outsiders are
being stonewalled, it is up to insiders who care about the
reputation of CBS to step up - insiders like Schieffer.
In the meantime, getting bumped from the moderator role would
just be the price Bob Schieffer pays for being affiliated
with an increasingly disreputable and discredited news organization.
This flap has raised critical questions about the objectivity
and increased partisanship of the "EYE" Network
and some of its personnel. Even the old curmudgeon, Andy Rooney,
has labeled his immediate boss, Dan Rather, as a "transparent
liberal". Andy caught hell for it internally, but at
least he was willing to stand up for the truth and for what
he believes in -- INTEGRITY.
Should the Commission on Presidential Debates be asked to
place the INTEGRITY of the debates and the commission itself
at the top of its considerations about the ASU debate?
Schieffer has unfortunately been stained by the actions of
his boss and the production staff at CBS. Further, the failure
of his organization to step up to the plate and do a mea culpa
for its despicable, unprofessional, and inexcusable actions
raises serious questions and concerns about CBS' entire organization,
On the evening of the debate, I believe Americans want to
focus on the questions of the moderator and the responses
of the candidates. I do not believe viewers want to worry
about the nature of the questions, the issue of credibility
of the questioner, or some latent partisanship creeping in
simply because he represents what Jay Leno called the "Cock
and Bull Story" Network, CBS.
If the presidential debate organizers take the same kind of
stubborn stand we see from CBS and put their reputation on
someone from the "BLACK EYE" Network, many people
will wonder why someone from one of the more credible news
networks wasn't call in to pinch hit and swing a more objective
Is it worth the risk for the Commission on Presidential Debates
to hold its nose high in the air and ignore the growing movement
against Bob Schieffer? I think not. Just look at what ignoring
the obvious is doing to the ratings and reputation of CBS
Finally, the media perhaps should do some digging in the political
world as we enter the final five weeks before the election,
especially in California. It is getting interesting to try
and understand the commercials involving some of the propositions
on the November ballot in La La Land.
We'll touch on one in particular right now - Proposition 68,
which would essentially give Native American tribes the opportunity
to expand casino operations into more urban and suburban areas
on land that has NOT previously been designated by the Feds
as long-standing tribal-owned land. So instead of more casinos
being built in remote, harsh areas given to them by the Bureau
of Indian Affairs tens of decades ago, the tribes could buy
a plot of land in downtown Los Angeles, San Francisco, or
anywhere and declare it sovereign Indian land, free of interference
from local and state government.
The majority of commercials tell us Prop 68 is bad because
it will create more traffic, more pollution, more crime, blah,
blah, blah. Is this true? Who knows and who cares? What is
interesting is that we're also told that the Governator is
now also opposing the measure, an obvious effort to convince
voters that if Arnold is against Prop 68, so should everyone
The challenge for the news media here is whether our news
organizations will ever tell the public what the commercials
only barely touch on as part of the full disclosure requirements
of political ads. Will the public ever be told by their news
reporters that the Prop 68 opposition is composed of, and
primarily funded, by the five California tribes who have ALREADY
cut a deal with Governor Arnold to provide more of their revenues
to the state?
As a result - (are you sitting down?) - they oppose Prop 68
because they are trying to kill off any other Native American
competition in California from the remaining 54 tribes who
do NOT either have current casino operations or they did not
cut a deal with Sacramento.
So in what appears to be a cultural version of what is often
referred to as "corporate greed" or "corporate
throat-cutting", the rich and politically-connected Big
Five Tribes are telling Californians that those "OTHER"
Indians from the ratty desert areas and boondocks will bring
more traffic, crime, pollution, etc., to our back yards.
Therefore, they insist, vote against Prop 68 to stop such
a blatant attempt at American Indian entrepreneurship - and
as a result, allow the Big Five Tribes to control Las Vegas-style
gambling in California.
Hmm, I think I see some revealing stories here for Joe and
Sally Six-pack who are trying to get the REAL facts behind
the November propositions, including Prop 68.