Dan Rather vs. The World
July 23, 2001 10:22 AM   Subscribe

Dan Rather vs. The World (NY Times link) -- While the conspiracy theorists and much of the mainstream media were jumping down Gary Condit's throat, Rather and company held firm and kept the "news" off the Evening News. Despite airing a few reports, they intend to keep a comparatively low level of coverage in the future. Is this how we'd like to see the media behave, or is this just a more notable example of The Media's Liberal Bias™ showing through?
posted by mrbula (31 comments total)
The Faces of Liberal Media. The Horror.
posted by tiaka at 10:43 AM on July 23, 2001

Good for Dan Rather. It's called "news judgment" and is directly opposed to "pack journalism." There's no reason in the world CBS should be covering that story merely because everyone else is.

In my opinion as a former journalist, I believe the CBS news judgment is valid in this case. There's no way this story merits the kind of attention it's been getting. It is, in my opinion, a missing person case and nothing more, until proven otherwise. If I were running a media outlet in Washington I might give it this kind of attention. I were running the New York Times or similar, national media outlet, I would give it slightly less attention. Any other media, particularly local, non-DC media, should be running the equivalent of a couple paragraphs off the wire somewhere on the inside.

The abuse Rather has been taking in the New York tabloids and elsewhere points out exactly how corrupt and bizarre their own news judgment is. This is, so far, a non-story.
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:58 AM on July 23, 2001

There is a lot of gray area between completely ignoring a story and obsessing about it.
posted by revbrian at 11:05 AM on July 23, 2001

(while previewing my comment below, I see Mo Nickel's comment says exactly what mine does...sorry, but I will still post my comment. Mo: great minds think alike, eh?)

Good for Dan Rather. I was a Broadcast Journalism major at Syracuse's Newhouse School, and while I'm not in the news business anymore, I do follow the coverage of stories with as much interest as the stories themselves. He deserves credit for drawing a line and standing firm. To answer mrbula's question above, this is how I'd like to see the major media outlets (CBS, NBC, ABC, NY Times, etc.) behave. There are plenty of other ways in today's connected world for the more lurid details and discussion of stories such as Condit-Levy. mrbula, good post & link. I might have missed this NYT story without your link.
posted by msacheson at 11:06 AM on July 23, 2001

I think CBS should cover the Condit story, right after they're done with global warming, energy policy, stem cell research, the privatization of water, the Alzheimer's vaccine, gene research, the crisis in Indonesia, the Israel/Palestine conflict, the coup attempt in Burundi, arms control, the uprising in Nepal, Iceland's attempt to resume whaling, the fighting in Macedonia, the controversy over genetically altered foods, toxic waste, the DeCSS trial, the Microsoft antitrust case, human rights abuses in China, the failure of the War on Drugs, the failure of international development efforts, why people are protesting against 'globalization,' Jazz, indie film, whatever Lars von Trier is doing, World Cup soccer, pro wrestling, and about 100 other things I can't remember right now.
posted by tranquileye at 11:31 AM on July 23, 2001

I've never been in the habit of watching news on CBS, but if I had known for the last month or so that The Evening News was taking the high-road on this issue, I would have watched every night, instead of shunning television altogether for fear of being bombarded by FOX News' hourly repetition of everything that has happened in the case so far.

Dan Rather gets high marks for his actions in my book, but what will probably happen is that nobody will really get punished for bad journalism in the inevitable wake of all of this.
posted by Hildago at 11:39 AM on July 23, 2001

I read about it on a different site. this part of it got me thinking Rather is starting to make sense.

Rather said he didn't want to repeat the mistake that "a lot of people" made on the Olympic Park bombing case, when security guard Richard Jewell was identified by the FBI and in press reports as a suspect and was later exonerated.

The media has the power to make and break people.

More often then not they break people and like our seriously flawed Judaical system; They make mistakes.
posted by Qambient at 11:42 AM on July 23, 2001

This is a member of the House of Representatives, one who sits on one of the most important and powerful committees thereof (House Intelligence) who has been accused of improprieties -- I'm not talking about the sex, I'm talking about withholding information from a law enforcement body in the course of an ongoing investigation. That is practically a given, and that's big. It is inexcusable to lie to the police and hamper a missing person search, and the only reason to do so is if you have something to hide. The question is -- with this taint on Condit's credability, how do we know if the affair is all that he wanted to hide? There could be much more. This is a story, whether Rather, et al, wish to report it, or not.

Does it warrant hours a day of coverage? No. But it shouldn't be ignored, either. This is not an everyday occurence, and regardless of whether or not anything is currently "proven" the American public ought to be informed when there are such serious questions about someone who sits in such a powerful seat. It doesn't matter what the foundations of the scandal are (sex, drugs, money, whatever) it matters that the story exists, and CBS has chosen to pretend that it doesn't. That is an inexcusable failure.

Of course, anyone who continues to watch but one of the network newscasts and considers themselves "informed" is deluded, but that's an entirely different discussion.
posted by Dreama at 11:43 AM on July 23, 2001

I don't watch TV or anything, but didn't CBS get scooped? Maybe it's sour grapes.
posted by gleemax at 12:09 PM on July 23, 2001

I'm not talking about the sex, I'm talking about withholding information

Christ's sake, Dreama, again with the "It's not about the sex, it's about the lying!" nonsense!

You are completely ignoring the nature of "scandal": scandal is not something a person does- you can't "scandal" down the street, you can't wake up in the morning and say "Hm, think I'll scandal today". Scandal is by definition the reaction to a story- regardless of whether that story is true! Condit is NOT a suspect yet, and the only people raising the "serious questions" (y'know, "serious questions" like whether Condit really was riding around DC on his motorcycle with gay Haitian male prostitutes) are the media itself, resulting in the scandal-mongering "pack journalism" that is an embarrassment to democracy. Maybe Condit wasn't forthcoming with details- to the police or the media, neither of whom he is under oath to or legally required to assist at this point (and using his 5th amendment rights is not an admission of guilt- remember the Constitution, Dreama?)- precisely because he was originally hoping to avoid the messiness of a scandal that is entirely a media invention. And lookee here, guess what's happened!

Or hadn't you seen this (the letter at the top of the page) wonderful, shining example of media responsibility?
posted by hincandenza at 12:15 PM on July 23, 2001

I thought CBS should have covered the story at the point it was revealed Condit was having an affair and possibly lied to the authorities, before that it was a non-story, after that point they (CBS) looked silly to me.

In a macro-view, the nightly news broadcast is becoming increasingly irrelevant in a 24 hour news world.
posted by owillis at 12:20 PM on July 23, 2001

gleemax, I doubt that's the case. Sour grapes don't go far when ratings are at stake.

Mo Nickels and msacheson, glad to hear your comments. As a former journalist myself, it's refreshing to see someone like Rather stand up against a frenzy like this.
posted by mrbula at 12:27 PM on July 23, 2001

Does anyone actually watch network news?

Here's what we think is important for you to know about, presented in neat little sound bytes that will confuse the issue. Look at the silly monkey!

I used to like to watch The Channel 2 news out of Oakland before Channel 2 was bought by Fox. Dennis Richmond: stupendous badass.
posted by Kafkaesque at 12:31 PM on July 23, 2001

Maybe Condit wasn't forthcoming with details- to the police or the media, neither of whom he is under oath to or legally required to assist at this point ...

He deliberately misled police about the nature of his relationship with Levy in the first interview. That made it news -- he richly deserves the ongoing media gangbang.
posted by rcade at 12:52 PM on July 23, 2001

he richly deserves the ongoing media gangbang.

Maybe so, but what the hell did I do to deserve it?
posted by jpoulos at 1:04 PM on July 23, 2001

Right now anything that breaks up the mass media's pack mentality is a good thing. The relentless emphasis on this story is just tedious, and it's not like there aren't other things happening that could be covered instead. Of course anything Springeresque is easy to sell, and that's what we want, right?
posted by aflakete at 1:47 PM on July 23, 2001

Maybe so, but what the hell did I do to deserve it?

Hmm, what's that there knob on the TV for? [shrugs, scratches head...] :)

I don't find myself plagued by ongoing Levy stories at all. When I find myself watching something that irritates me, I change the channel. Do it, you'll feel better, I promise. Exercise your ultimate right as a consumer of TV news: watch a movie :)
posted by UncleFes at 1:54 PM on July 23, 2001

The Condit Affair is a story; it just isn't an important story. CNN has been sucking this one off every time I turn it on, to the point where I won't watch it anymore. This is yet another dumb sex scandal, something to occupy our time between ads.
posted by tranquileye at 2:02 PM on July 23, 2001

When I find myself watching something that irritates me, I change the channel.

That's not the point here: you may change the channel, but the news-gatherers won't change the story. The proliferation of news sources means that reporters can't help but become participants, especially in a place like DC. And when you get such a concentration of the oxygen of publicity, the slightest spark becomes an inferno.
posted by holgate at 2:05 PM on July 23, 2001

you may change the channel, but the news-gatherers won't change the story.

Ah, but if a lot of us change the channel, they will. Rather and company are taking the tack that we don't want the extended "coverage." They are reacting to perceived consumer demand.

If no one was watching, do you think this would be a story? No. The media may think it's about them, but it's about us, it always has been.

Remember that news is a business, not a service.
posted by UncleFes at 2:13 PM on July 23, 2001

Actually, UncleFes, news viewership continues to decline and one could make a compelling case that much of the voter apathy in politics as well as news viewership stems from a recognition that we the people just aren't getting anything worthwhile.

You make the mistake of assuming any complex message can be sent in the marketplace by simply not buying what is being sold. However, not tuning in doesn't tell the networks why you aren't tuning in at all! In this case, turning off the TV may to you mean "I don't like the fact you aren't covering real news" but may end up being interpreted by the networks as "I want more scandal coverage, and I'm not watching till I get it!". So naturally, the news organizations try to out-entertain each other with more and more yellow journalism, which only continues the downward spiral.
posted by hincandenza at 3:56 PM on July 23, 2001

hincandenza: Maybe Condit wasn't forthcoming with details- to the police or the media, neither of whom he is under oath to or legally required to assist at this point

Good lord, man - don't you think Condit had/has a MORAL or ETHICAL responsibility to tell the truth? First of all, he does - it goes with (a) being an adult and (b) being an elected official who holds public trust - along with public pursestrings and national security issues. Secondly, he does - because had he told the truth, it is possible that Ms Levy MAY have been found by now.

Also: Christ's sake, Dreama, again with the "It's not about the sex, it's about the lying!" nonsense!

Damn right. Extramarital sex, while offensive, immoral, or just plain wrong to many, is perhaps not cause enough to label Condit a disgrace, or worse. Hell, even lying about it (to family, constituents, press) may not be worthy of being labeled "scandal." But in the context of the missing persons investigation, with the life of a woman possibly at stake, then YES, lying about it is wrong, immoral, etc.

Face it: if it was YOUR child (regardless of his/her age), I'd wager that you'd be beating down Condit's door, and possibly his face.
posted by davidmsc at 3:57 PM on July 23, 2001

Face it: if it was YOUR child (regardless of his/her age), I'd wager that you'd be beating down Condit's door, and possibly his face.

Yes: that's what happens in the real world. But isn't it an indictment of the media's role as detective, judge, jury and executioner, that both Chandra Levy's family and Gary Condit's office have been fighting a PR battle? This is the kind of investigation that could do without the pressure of having to generate two minutes a night for the evening news:

As any savvy public relations operation would do, the Levy team at Porter Novelli hasn't released all its juicy tidbits at once. It's doled them out day by day, slowly ratcheting up the pressure on Condit, and ensuring that the media won't lose its taste for the story.

You have to ask questions when police investigations are run like marketing campaigns. And it's that kind of "strategising" of the evidence, I think, that repels old-school hacks like Dan Rather: the knowledge that there's a carefully orchestrated agenda being set by both sets of publicists, in a bid to seize the headlines. It's reminiscent of nothing less than an election campaign, where parties and candidates declare "education days" and "taxation days", except here it's "phone conversation days" and "string of mistresses" days.
posted by holgate at 5:47 PM on July 23, 2001

Whenever a little big man like Condit gets scoped and shrunk, it is a good thing. Remove the threat of overblown coverage, of sensationalism, and half the House would install X10s in the interns' bathroom.

It's not as if other news coverage has suffered - it would've sucked anyway. The Condit Chronicles have not starved a news-hungry, involved public - just given the sleepy admass something they can wrap their tiny brains around as fat meets hot tub.

The Rather thing is a grandstand, and an ill-chosen one. CBS earns no points for travelling its silly little high road. The decision was a disingenuous as it is ineffective. In soundbyteville, "Creeps in Congress" is as worthy a seg as anything else. I love watching little Gary squirm around in the petri dish. It's fun. He deserves every prod and poke.

He's fallen from grace. Splat. And anything that revitalizes the notion of grace - that highlights the idea that grace and integrity might be better than their opposites - is not a bad thing for today's junk journalism to amuse itself with.

I don't give a shit about his sexual adventures. But stupid super-cowards kinda irritate me.

"Yeah, I've been tupping the wench, but I dunno where she is". How fukkin hard would that have been? Guy's a jerk, and his advisors are jerks, and his lawyer is grade-A weasel.
posted by Opus Dark at 6:37 PM on July 23, 2001

Christ's sake, Dreama, again with the "It's not about the sex, it's about the lying!" nonsense!

Easy to derride when you quote me out of context. I said that Condit had been accused of improprieties and defined that as the hampering of the investigation, not the affair. The affair is sleazy, but it isn't the reason for Condit's public credability, integrity and honour being at question. I wasn't talking about the scandal that's been spun, I was talking about specific acts of Condit which reflect poorly on his character. Period.
posted by Dreama at 9:12 PM on July 23, 2001

Condit never had any credibility to lose.
He has pandered to the very kind of journalism that is currently working to bring him down.
A double edged sword.
I remember his (Condit's) words during the time this same press was fixated on Clinton's zipper and couldn't understand why America didn't give a damn.
He deserves no better. The man held himself up as some sort of model "Christian" man while all the time he was committing adultery. Hypocrisy has a price. Karma happens.
posted by nofundy at 7:37 AM on July 24, 2001

I agree with Dan Rather's decision not to "follow the herd," so to speak. WHY do the rest of jump-on-the-bandwagon media really CARE what CBS/Dan Rather covers, anyway? It's kinda like in high school, when, if you didn't hang out with the cool kids, you were nerd. Apparently, the media bandwagon thinks they're too cool for school, and have too get on Dan's case about not covering this gossip/rumormongering! I say Good for you, Dan, keep up the good work!

Having said that, I completely agree with nonfundy that Gary Blue-Dog-Conservative-Democrat-Holier-than-thou Condit deserves everything that he gets! Squirm, baby, squirm... (somewhere Bill Clinton is smiling...)
posted by Rastafari at 3:40 PM on July 24, 2001

Rather reminds me of a misguided slogan I once heard from a local news station: "All the news we think you should know"

When I tune in to the news, I don't want to hear what Dan Rather thinks is important. I don't want his opinion on global warming. I don't want his opinion on anything.

Journalists are supposed to find a story, get to the truth, tell others. That's all.

Unfortunately, very few journalists do that anymore.
posted by catscape at 6:15 AM on July 25, 2001

You act as if there's some kind of objective truth that journalists can tap into, Catscape. There isn't a journalist in existence who doesn't exercise his judgment in what stories to report and what stories to ignore. That's all Dan Rather and CBS Evening News did, and even if he's wrong about the news value of this story, we should applaud any instance where a member of the media breaks out of the herd. If it happened more often, the media's popularity would soar.
posted by rcade at 7:37 AM on July 25, 2001

I meant to mention earlier that I also agree with Dan Rather's decision to not run with the pack. Cheers for Dan!
posted by nofundy at 8:06 AM on July 25, 2001

yes, rcade, the truth is out there.

I won't comment on the left-leaning media, as that has been covered ad-nauseum and it's not even debatable.
posted by catscape at 10:55 AM on July 26, 2001

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