Tuesday, September 14, 2004

what liberal media?

i haven't done much political or news blogging recently... there's just so much to keep up with. but this is a story about blogs, so...

a month or so ago, the "swift boat veterans for truth" came out with a campaign ad accusing john kerry of lying about his service in 'nam. "i know, because i served with him," they say in the ad. of course, this was all fairly easily debunked by bloggers, more "legitimate" news outlets, and even the daily show (which pointed out that when the veterans say "i served with kerry" they simply mean "i was in the military at the same time). but despite this, the story "had legs" as they say & we had to hear about the swift boat buddies day after day for at least a month, with only the occasional story acknowledging that the swift boaters had yet to make a single allegation stick against kerry. the allegations were fed into the "great right-wing echo chamber" because, true or not, they were damaging to kerry, & that's all that really matters to them.

last week, 60 minutes aired a story featuring former texas politico ben barnes, who confesses that he personally pulled strings to get bush into the natl guard (this in itself is not a new allegation, but not one that's been covered much because barnes had been reluctant to talk to the media). the story also referenced four memos cbs says it acquired from an impeccable source:

The first memo is a direct order to take "an annual physical examination" – a requirement for all pilots.

Another memo refers to a phone call from the lieutenant in which he and his commander "discussed options of how Bush can get out of coming to drill from now through November." And that due to other commitments "he may not have time."

On August 1, 1972, Col. Killian grounded Lt. Bush for failure to perform to U.S. Air Force/Texas Air National Guard standards and for failure to take his annual physical as ordered.

A year after Lt. Bush's suspension from flying, Killian was asked to write another assessment.

Killian's memo, titled 'CYA' reads he is being pressured by higher-ups to give the young pilot a favorable yearly evaluation; to, in effect, sugarcoat his review. He refuses, saying, "I'm having trouble running interference and doing my job."

damaging stuff, to be sure. but this time around, the right-wing echo chamber, from freepers and bloggers at the bottom straight up to limbaugh, drudge and the like at the top, were not trying to hear that. so within hours, the allegations start popping up that these memos are fake. their argument: the memos could not have been written on typewriters of the time, and were most likely composed in MS word and then repeatedly photocopied to give the appearance of age.

according to IBM, the idea that the memos couldn't have been made with typewriters of the era is "just totally false"... but that didn't stop many, many people from running with it, and within hours the focus in the media had shifted from the content of the story to whether those four memos had been forged (despite the fact that everyone pretty much knows the story is true, regardless of the memos' authenticity).

bob novak, who so proudly stands by his "journalistic integrity" by refusing to say who leaked cia operative valerie plame's identity to him (setting off a major scandal and govt investigations), was quite happy to insist that cbs should name its confidential sources because... well... it's damaging to kerry, and that's all that really matters. he was not alone in this, but he was the only one to be quite so hypocritical about it.

quickly, other stories in the media focused on the power of bloggers in affecting the news so quickly:

"The mainstream press is having to follow them," said Jeffrey Seglin, a professor at Emerson College in Boston. "The fear I have is: How do you know who's doing the Web logs?

"And what happens when this stuff gets into the mainstream, and it eventually turns out that the '60 Minutes' documents were perfectly legitimate, but because there's been so much reporting about what's being reported, it has already taken on a life of its own?"

even blogger.com has a prominent link to a story that uncritically compiles all the stories alleging that the memos are fake... because, hey, this is good PR for blogging services, right?

to be fair, though, blogger also links to the daily kos, which has been diligently debunking the so-called debunkers. hunter at the kos points out most of the stuff people claim was impossible was extremely possible using IBM typewriters of the time, as well as points out the virtual impossibility of proving anything definitively using such cheap copies of the memos (you will note that most experts cited will claim that they can't really authenticate using such copies, but that doesn't seem to stop the other "experts" who say they "know" the memos are fake).

is it possible that the memos are fake? sure. is it also possible that they're legitimate? yes, of course. some are saying this story proves the power of blogs... but it seems to me that it only proves the power of right-wing blogs, because the blogging community had also thoroughly (arguably more thoroughly) debunked the swift boat veterans, but that story was still played out ad nauseam for weeks, but nobody seemed to notice...

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