Dan Rather’s apology

One of the most established journalists in the United States has admitted to reporting a false story.

On Sept. 8, Dan Rather ran a story on CBS’s 60 Minutes purporting to show that President George W. Bush received special privilege during his time in the Texas Air National Guard more than 30 years ago. When complaints about the accuracy of the story surfaced almost immediately after it aired, CBS and Rather stuck to their story and insisted the source was legitimate.

However, a few days ago, CBS and Rather conceded the story’s accuracy cannot be independently verified and that it should not have been broadcast in the first place. Rather has offered a public apology.

The entire debacle is a serious blow to the credibility of CBS and Rather. It should not be soon forgotten. Journalists are expected to adhere to high ethical standards when researching and reporting the news.

Sadly, those standards were simply not met in this case.

Before Rather recognized that the story was indefensible, he defended it, in part, by suggesting that it provided a counterbalance to what he said is a pro-Bush bias in the American media, especially since Sept. 11. While this is no excuse for his poor journalism, it does shed light on a more general problem with the shallowness of American mainstream media.

The error made by CBS and Rather might have been avoided altogether had the media as a whole spent less energy focusing on what the two main candidates for president did—or did not do—many decades ago.

The media should be doing more to address present-day issues instead of focusing so heavily on John Kerry’s record in Vietnam or Bush’s record in the National Guard. If this is what passes for quality news in America then it is no wonder political satirists like Jon Stewart seem to be more popular now than ever before.

CBS and Rather have made a colossal blunder. They, like all media, have an obligation to be entirely honest at all times. Rather’s apology is a good first step toward redemption, but if he truly desires the public’s forgiveness then he must recognize that a demanding onus is on him to ensure that such an avoidable error is never repeated.

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