covering the story: a glimpse of the press in action

Ah yes, the summer and autumn of 2004. The beaux jours of rightwing horseshit, back when an actual neocon disinformation job was targeting a short who’s who of blogging. It seems to be time for some of those years’ shit to float up to the surface. Here’s Dan Rather, suing CBS.

Rather contends not only that his report was true – “What the documents stated has never been denied, by the president or anyone around him,” he says – but that CBS succumbed to political pressure from conservatives to get the report discredited and to have him fired. He also claims that a panel set up by CBS to investigate the story was packed with conservatives in an effort to placate the White House. Part of the reason for that, he suggests, was that Viacom, a sister company of CBS, knew that it would have important broadcasting regulatory issues to deal with during Bush’s second term.

Among those CBS considered for the panel to investigate Rather’s report were far-right broadcasters Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.

I had an interesting experience with CBS after that, which may bear repeating. Quite suddenly, some time in the early summer of 2005, I was contacted by a CBS Correspondent, regarding the Viktor Bout-to-Iraq issue. We discussed it by e-mail; they read huge quantities of the blog from a wide range of locations that presumably mapped onto the organisation chart of the CBS journo-octopus.

Could they see primary documents? Surely they could. I shot over a gaggle of DESC fuel contracts. CBS e-mail didn’t eat more than 500KB at a go; we did it again. We conspired in pubs. They were delighted to learn I was….an actual journalist, not some anarchist drug-chimp off the interwebs. Better, a trade journalist, so not someone on the nationals… Credit and cash were offered. Lunch was called at Villandry, conveniently not far from my office.

A top CBS was summoned; I hauled in a box of docs on the train and the tube and my desk, as well as all the digital. Unlike MI6, I didn’t lose them. He came supposedly direct from Iraq, with photos of various aircraft at Baghdad Airport. I identified them, wondering what the point was – there were plenty of VB jets photographed there?

There was a brief period of expectancy, before the correspondent eventually called back to say that after the Rather/Kerning Krisis they couldn’t do anything like it, for political reasons. Perhaps they needed a signed statement from Viktor? I had a similar experience with the pre-Murdoch Wall Street Journal, without the lunch. Now, it all makes much more sense.




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