Monday, June 23, 2008

Gunga Dan

Dan Rather brought his illustrious career to a dramatic high by exposing President Bush's time in the National Guard to be about like everyone else's. If different it was that as a pilot he put in 2 years full-time in training - not sure if it was contiguous or in several stretches. He put in more time, not less. But Rather knew more. He produced documents that showed that he skipped scheduled drills and was absent for long stretches that current records showed him present. And Rather's coup de grace was producing copies of signed originals. The nation was stunned. For 12 hours. The same evening a blogger, Robert Johnson, replicated the documents in Microsoft Word. He even replicated the fonts used in the 1960s, 40 years before. How could Johnson do that and so what? He did it with the default settings of Word. If Johnson could replicate them in less than 12 hours, could someone else have done the same thing during the 12 months build up of the election campaign? The top journalist in the country of the decade might be brought down by a lower-ranking peer, but not by a guy in his pajamas. This spark started the fire that spread rapidly. Weeks later Rather was defending himself. Then an investigation. Then Dan wasn't fired; he quit. Before they could do it. Then ... he sued his employer. Some might have thought that the 2004 election scandal would have ruined the career of Dan Rather. Instead, he was given his own show at HDNet.

Accuracy in Media
Now, four years later, Rather’s show, Dan Rather Reports, offers viewers a glimpse into what the former CBS news anchor considers good reporting: not citing sources, overlooking conflicts of interest, and sensationalizing material to promote marxist class-warfare perspectives. All this is touted as news, even when Rather relies solely on anecdotes and ignores publicly-available statistics.
That's the Dan some of us got to know over his 2 decades on the throne and others did in 2004.
“And college admissions also strike at some of the most controversial issues facing the country—questions of race, wealth, privilege, and economic class,” said Rather in a recent episode of his show, Stress Test. “Fact, fiction, or hard to tell that the current system clearly favors wealthier students?,” he asks his star guest, Lloyd Thacker. Thacker answered yes. Lloyd Thacker is the President of the Education Conservancy, a non-profit which opposes the growing commercialization of higher education. Aware of Thacker’s activist agenda, Rather describes him as an activist who “leads a movement to change the status quo,” starting with the ranking system. Like Thacker, Rather is intent on demonstrating that the system of higher education is broken and governed by elitist, wealthy interests. Rather claims that these views are widely shared among the educational community. “The process of applying to college has become so tortured and demanding that many people—students, teachers, and experts—say the system is broken,” he asserts. But Rather’s “analysis” amounts to little more than the repackaging of quotes and the careful casting of Thacker’s supporters as independent sources. The mother he interviews is reacting to one of Thacker’s speeches. Rather doesn’t deign to show the question she’s actually answering, however.
Another dimension:
Other sources promoted by Rather have given large sums of money to Thacker’s organization. Three of the four college presidents invited to Rather’s roundtable discussion preside over schools which donated between $2,500 and $5,000 dollars to the Education Conservancy. Two of these four colleges, Earlham College and Kenyon College, have staff on the Education Conservancy’s advisory board. Did Rather know this beforehand? “Thacker is supported by contributions from over a dozen universities and foundations and one recent success was this May 2007 letter labeling the current ranking system misleading...,” he said during the show. Clearly, Rather had some prior knowledge of Thacker’s financial backing.

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