Monday, January 10, 2005

A contrast in ethics

Jan. 10, 2005

The contrast takes my breath away.

One headline tells the sad story of CBS News. The co-president of Viacom, its parent company, today fired the longtime CBS producer who prepared Dan Rather's flawed special report during the election campaign on President Bush's National Guard record. And the Viacom executive called for the resignation of all three CBS News executives who had overseen the segment, right up to the division's senior vice-president.

Like it or not, Viacom clearly took tough action. It didn't stop with a single scapegoat even though no one in this case was accused of making up sources or intentionally distorting the news. But an independent investigation did find CBS' once-vaunted news division was incredibly sloppy in rushing to air an erroneous report about Bush's already disputed record of service. Its special report severely undermined the network's credibility and allowed the Bush campaign to deflect criticism away from itself and onto CBS news during the closing weeks of the campaign.

Now for the other headline, the one you likely didn't ever read. "White House has nothing to say about the actions of Armstrong Williams." You likely didn't read this because few in the news media bothered to report it. You recall the story of Williams. He was paid $241,000 by the U.S. Department of Education to promote the Bush Administration's "No Child Left Behind" law. The problem is Williams was posing the whole time as a journalist, a syndicated columnist, a position from which he's been fired as well. What hasn't happened is any kind of reprecussions at the Department of Education. The White House has said nothing. It hasn't issued an apology for acting as if journalism in this country is routinely for sale. No one has been sacked. If anyone has been disciplined, the administration isn't saying.

The day before the CBS bloodbath, the network's chief Washington correspondent, Bob Schieffer, had this to say about the Williams incident: "Trying to corrupt the news media with bribes is wrong. If the Department of Education people haven't figured that out, then the president should educate them. A good lesson plan might include firing those responsible. Then he should promise the rest of us it will never happen again."

Sort of like CBS did. But Schieffer really should know better. Far as I can tell, the White House hasn't fired, demoted or arrested anyone for torture but for a few grunts too stupid to realize they'd been turned into animals by their actions and shouldn't record them for posterity in pictures. The president continues to laud Donald Rumsfeld as a great public servant although he's ultimately in charge of not only the torture apparatus but the entire failed war in Iraq. And he's bestowed a huge honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, on George Tenet, the former CIA chief whose agency's flawed intelligence got us into this mess in the first place.

No Bob, I wouldn't expect an apology from the White House. My guess is it's too busy concocting its next propaganda campaign and assailing the news media for their lack of ethics.


Blogger Nadine said...

How can we expect our president to act on his sense of "ethics" now when he has built his entire career on an utter lack of ethics? Corruption within society can be traced to the highest level of power. This is a man who despises the media, unless it is serving as his mouthpiece. But I'm ranting to the already know all of this :-)

January 13, 2005 at 7:25 AM  

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