Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Telling tales

Telling tales
Gene Lyons
Posted on Wednesday, September 22, 2004
If there’s ever a hall of fame for political propagandists, whoever concocted the phrase "liberal media bias" deserves a statue. As a catch phrase, it has everything, allowing GOP activists to avoid unpleasant realities, bully timid media careerists and pose as iconoclasts while cashing big checks from crackpot sugar daddies and whining about how everybody picks on Republicans. Last week saw the perfect fruition of that strategy as the entire howling mob Eric Alterman aptly calls "the so-called liberal media," or SCLM, ran down Dan Rather and CBS like a pack of coyotes hunting a house cat for making a dumb blunder about President Bush’s lost time in the Texas Air National Guard. CBS bungled big time. But what made the suspect documents persuasive was that, whether it was 1972 or last month, whoever wrote them knew the details of the "Mission Accomplished" flyboy’s long ago vanishing act—facts unearthed not only by CBS, but The Boston Globe, New York Times, USA Today and Salon. The White House hasn’t disputed their content.

Anybody who imagines that Bush fully discharged his duty, or that the White House has ever told the truth about it, must be inhaling some of the same, um, incense he apparently liked to snuffle up back in those halcyon days when Daddy’s Rolodex held solutions to life’s vexing problems. "You wonder if you know who George Bush is," Dean Roome, a former roommate, told USA Today in 2002. "Where George failed was to fulfill his obligation as a pilot. It was an irrational time in his life."

But Democrats need to let the National Guard thing go. If 30-year-old controversies matter, Bush is now inoculated against damage. Theories that White House political operative Karl Rove engineered the fiasco are not only too clever by half, they’ll never be proved. How could he count upon CBS’ unwitting cooperation?

If only the press would devote equivalent zeal to learning who concocted the phony documents Bush used to claim that Iraq sought uranium from Niger. Or who in the White House helped columnist Robert Novak unmask Valerie Plame, the CIA covert operative married to Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador who helped unravel the African uranium hoax.

Many Washington journalists already know the answer, but everybody’s protecting their sources....