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Monday, September 20, 2004

The higher they rise...

What was Dan Rather thinking? Media critic Jack Shafer attempts to answer this question in today's Slate.

Shafer writes: "The broadest explanation for CBS News' reluctance to correct the record applies, unfortunately, to all journalists, especially investigative journalists: Once journalists commit themselves to a version of events or to a point of view, they are all too often unwilling to change their minds... Investigative reporters also expect their scoops to be attacked, especially if the story's subject is powerful or shady, so they're emboldened rather than discouraged by the first round of criticism."

In the midst of a war in Iraq and genocide in Sudan, why has this become such a big story?

Shafer writes: "The Bush document hoax has become such a big story because TV journalists usually act as though they're infallible. When was the last time you heard Rather or any other network anchor issue a correction or a retraction? It's as rare as rain on the moon. Compare CBS's imperious behavior to that of the Times, which issued 2,867 corrections in 2002. With no systematic way to address errors, the network has no built-in safety valve that allows it to correct the record. It has only two choices: Stand by its story completely, or fold completely."

Shafer concludes: "Many are calling for Dan Rather's resignation today, but not me. Obviously, CBS News needs to rethink its approach to journalism if it hopes to restore viewer faith. A weekly corrections segment on the CBS Evening News and on its various newsmagazines would be a good place to start."

To read Shafer's full assessment, go to Slate.


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