Editorial: Rather confusing facts with opinion in documents story

September 17, 2004

If Sen. Hillary Clinton needs a vice presidential running mate in 2008, she might give Dan Rather a look: They apparently have the same view of the world.

When her husband, President Bill Clinton, was under attack for his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, then-first lady Hillary Clinton laid the blame on a "vast right-wing conspiracy."

Now Rather is blaming questions about his "60 Minutes" story on President Bush's National Guard record on a similar kind of partisan conspiracy.

Rather told USA Today that no one has disputed "the heart" of his report last week, but complained that a "thick partisan fogging machine seeks to cloud the core truth of our story by raising questions about the messenger, methods and techniques."


It's that kind of comment by the veteran CBS News anchor that shows he belongs in politics rather than journalism. In politics, point of view is everything. In journalism, facts are paramount. Clearly, Rather can no longer see the difference between facts and point of view.

His interview on "60 Minutes" Wednesday night with Marian Carr Knox, the former secretary of the late Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, who was purportedly the author of the documents, is a good example of Rather's confusion.

Knox told Rather that she did not type the documents but, in her opinion, they did represent Killian's view of Bush. Afterwards, Rather told the Washington Post he was "relieved and pleased" by her comments that the disputed memos reflected the sentiments of Killian, but that "I take very seriously her belief that the documents are not authentic."

How Rather can claim that "the heart" of his report has not been disputed when his own interviewee questioned the authenticity of the documents is beyond us?

For a journalist, "the heart" of the matter has to be the facts, not the opinions. If the documents are fakes, there is no story - except perhaps one about how Rather's own partisanship so fogged his judgment that he became the victim of a journalistic hoax.

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