September 28, 2007

If there's anything sadder than Dan Rather's lawsuit against CBS (which, from the technical aspect of contract law, may not be entirely meritless, particularly if representations were made to Rather about future employment), it's the pathetic defense of the report about George Bush's "service" in the Air National Guard that inexorably led to his ouster at the network. For some lefty bloggers, the bogus documents are what global warming and/or WMD's are to the right, a claim that must never be conceded to the other side, in the face of overwhelming facts to the contrary. Truth is always the first casualty of war.

It is true that the documents highlighted on the 2004 60 Minutes II report have never been "proven" to be forgeries. No eyewitness has come forward to claim that they witnessed a third party drafting the letters on a Dell Computer, nor has anyone admitted to having been the forger. The only evidence that exists that the documents were forged is circumstantial. In that respect, saying that the forgery was unproven is like saying O.J.'s guilt in the murder of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman is "unproven." After all, nobody saw him do it, a jury hearing the case in a criminal court acquitted him, and he claims he's still looking for the real killer. The blood of the victims in his car, on his clothing, and at his house is nothing more than the kerning and the raised font of the TANG letters.

Of course, there are still wingnuts on the right who insist that the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" weren't similarly discredited, who insist that the multiple contemporaneous accounts of John Kerry's bravery in Vietnam were less credible than the memories of middle-aged men, warped by partisanship and anger, three decades after the fact. The desire to believe the absolute worst in your enemies is a very human one, and is unaffected by one's opinion on providing universal health coverage or supporting preemptive wars. It is so much easier to stick to one's guns to the bitter end.

But in the end, I prefer the truth. In this case, the truth is that the documents in question were almost certainly forgeries. That doesn't mean that George Bush fully performed the terms of his service to the Air National Guard, or that Robert Bullock, the Kerry for President campaign, or Karl Rove were behind the forgeries, or that everything Dan Rather or Mary Mapes ever reported on is discredited. And it shouldn't have any bearing on whether Rather's lawsuit against his former employer has any merit, since it is based on representations made after the validity of the documents had come into question.

It simply means that the juiciest portion of the infamous broadcast back in the late summer of 2004 was based on fraudulent evidence, evidence that would never have been broadcast had CBS News performed adequate due diligence. These were not counterfeit documents, reproduced copies of genuine letters, "fake but accurate" evidence, like a medieval monk's careful reproduction of an ancient text that he couldn't read. If it is the duty of a progressive to speak truth to power, to be a critic and opponent of injustice, then the tactics of a partisan hack cannot be followed.

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