This is not déjà vu all over again.
In other words, exactly what I expected.
The Times apparently made a tragic mistake in using documents that turned out to be forgeries or fantasies (or some other “F” word) to buttress their report that rapper Tupac Shakur was killed by cohorts of Sean Combs.
I empathize with the reporters and editors who worked on the story, but I don’t identify with them.
My situation was and is different, despite the fact that a number of news agencies have appeared to equate the two.
In the years since three other producers and I lost our jobs and Dan Rather was hustled out the door at CBS for broadcasting a report on George W. Bush’s abortive National Guard service, a sloppy shorthand has set in about our story. The documents were demonstrably false, we were careless in using them and the heroic investigative journalists of the right-wing website set saved the day.
Blah, blah, blah.
People subscribing to this stuff are either politically motivated or charter members of the Howard Kurtz conventional wisdom club, a group in which I have never participated. If I had been a member, I never would have found or reported the Abu Ghraib story, the truth about Strom Thurmond’s secret daughter or any of the other subjects I covered for fifteen years at CBS News, many of which fell outside mainstream media interests.
But since the LA Times incident has dredged up another round of discussion that touches on my work and my name, I want to weigh in, too.
For the record, when we did the Bush Guard story we did not rely solely on any document, but on reams of research that we (and other news outlets) had done and official records that clearly showed the future commander-in-chief had made a command decision at the height of the Vietnam War to take a hike from the National Guard. We also secured an exclusive interview with the former Texas Lieutenant Governor who helped Bush get into the Guard and had never before told his story publicly.
The documents we used–which were presented to us and to our viewers as “purportedly” from the files of Bush’s former commanding officer–were peripheral to the real center of the story: how Bush got into the Guard and how he dropped out early without penalty. The right-wing blogosphere was able to hijack the headlines and convince just about everyone that the documents were the only element worthy of discussion.