CBS’s fake National Guard memos

CBS’s fake National Guard memos

CBS ran a 60 Minutes documentary about Dubya’s dodgy National Guard service records. The programme was based on some memos which turned out to be forgeries. So much is public knowledge. What is less well known is the role that Bloggers (mainly from the Conservative end of the political spectrum) played in exposing the forgeries. Here’s a fascinating analysis by Jonathan Last. He concludes:

“The questions about the authenticity of the 60 Minutes documents are settled. The evening of September 15, Dan Rather cluelessly told the Washington Post’s indefatigable media reporter Howard Kurtz, “If the documents are not what we were led to believe, I’d like to break that story.” Rather was a week late; Free Republic’s Buckhead had scooped him. And dozens of bloggers, whether in pajamas or three-piece suits, had subsequently filled in many of the details. (CBS could still break one big story–who gave them the forged memos?–but has so far hidden behind an invocation of “longstanding journalistic ethics” governing “confidential sources.” So forgers are now sources?) Bloggers, and Internet-savvy writers more generally, have now proven that they can ferret out journalistic malpractice and expose the guilty parties.

Part of what makes bloggers well-suited for the role of fact-checking is that there are so many of them. With millions of people blogging and reading blogs, you’re bound to find a handful of real experts on any given topic, and these experts can coalesce quite easily. When National Review Online’s blogger Jim Geraghty asked readers about James J. Pierce, a new document expert CBS trotted out on September 15, he was deluged with responses. Within an hour, Geraghty had been furnished with a link to a website showing the sort of low-level expert witness business Pierce usually does. As Little Green Footballs’s Charles Johnson noted, “It’s sort of an open-source intelligence gathering network that draws on expertise from around the world.”

This critical mass creates a buzzing marketplace of ideas. To be fair, many of these ideas are bogus, but they are also rapidly exposed as such, sometimes in mere seconds. For example, an exuberant commenter will note that one of CBS’s memos carries a Saturday date; another, dripping with condescension, will remind the first that Guard members are called “weekend warriors” for a reason–they drill (and keep office hours) on Saturdays. A number of the specific criticisms of the CBS documents on blogs were overstated, too categorical, or simply wrong. These provided aha! moments for CBS and its blogging partisans, but they were shot down just as quickly by commenters on the blogs criticizing CBS. It is not true, for instance, that typewriters couldn’t do superscripts, as some CBS critics too triumphantly generalized. It is true that typewriters couldn’t produce the particular superscripts seen in the memos, and that these same superscripts are automatically produced by Microsoft Word.

As a recent piece in Investor’s Business Daily noted, “In the same way the market sifts and analyzes information stocks better than any individual investor or institution ever could, the blogosphere weeds out the chaff.” Thus, a lone helpful comment at gets quickly elevated into the spotlight, while the multitude of cranky grumblings disappear down the memory hole.

Aside from technological advantages, there seems to be an ideological divide at work, too. The political blog world is arguably more conservative than liberal, though there is a sizable contingent of liberal blogs. But these liberal blogs function more like the old media than do their conservative Internet brethren. While blogs such as Power Line and Little Green Footballs and Instapundit were chasing the CBS story, interviewing experts, posting material as they found it–whether or not it supported the case against CBS–many of the liberal blogs went into entrenched-partisan mode.”