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Changing the Subject From CBS

The drama over the release of the CBS internal probe of Rathergate had several acts. In the first act, nearly everyone acknowledged that the actual "news" gathering by CBS was amazingly unprofessional. But most news accounts also recounted - without giggling - that the panel had uncovered no evidence of political bias at CBS.

By Act II, the Left was trying to change the subject, suggesting CBS's dishonesty was not as serious as that of the Bush White House. It's the kind of twisted logic that fuels the rabid left these days.

On MSNBC, Bush-bashing Chris Matthews complained to New York Times media-beat reporter Bill Carter: "How many people have been fired at the White House for failure to get the facts right on weapons of mass destruction and taking us to war under false pretenses?" Carter replied: "I think they got Medals of Freedom!" That gibe went through several reruns on cable TV.

Maybe those who helped us liberate Iraq deserve the Medal of Freedom because they struck a blow for...freedom? Liberals making these disparaging wisecracks betray their utter lack of compassion for the human rights of the Iraqi people, not to mention their ongoing contempt for the U.S. military.

Other angry people on the left, like the zealots at "Media Matters for America," suggest that unlike the clumsy CBS shooters who were dismissed, New York Times reporter Judith Miller was not fired for her reports underlining the possibility of Iraq's WMD. Do we really need to point out there's a difference between the search for WMD and the search for Bush's missed flight physical?

It's apparent that Miller was not served well by her sources in intelligence agencies and the Iraqi exiles, but she was not a zealously partisan Republican. On its editorial page before the war, the Times was moderate: they supported military action if necessary to disarm Saddam, but they were also begging for an international coalition like the first Gulf War. Ultimately, the Times did a big mea culpa on their WMD reporting, in part because there are a lot of liberal critics of this reporting within the Times building.

It's awfully hard for the left to insist that the New York Times in general was a wild-eyed group of Bush supporters. But it's easy to show that the CBS "60 Minutes" crew exposed themselves on air all last year as aggressive and persistent Bush haters.

Begin with the long list of "60 Minutes" segments that rocked the media loaded with another-problem-for-Bush overtones. There were three weeks of Abu Ghraib reports; former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and former terrorism czar Richard Clarke attacking Bush; journalist Bob Woodward knocking the intelligence of Bush; Gen. Anthony Zinni declaring Iraq a disaster; and Michael Moore attacking Bush (complete with a 55-second "Fahrenheit 9/11" excerpt). That's all before the two segments on "fake, but accurate" Bush records.

How did "60 Minutes" dig into the Kerry record? They didn't. Kerry was interviewed twice. In January, Ed Bradley touted Kerry's Vietnam medals and then asked: "Do you see a parallel with Iraq?" In July, Lesley Stahl asked Kerry, John Edwards, and their wives the toughies, like "How do you think the honeymoon is going?"

Last fall, when CBS belatedly appointed an internal panel to investigate the collapsing Dan Rather "scoop" on Bush and the Texas Air National Guard, many conservatives (including this writer) predicted failure. The CBS investigation had to answer four questions: 1. What did CBS do wrong? 2. Who's responsible? 3. Why did CBS get it so wrong? 4. How would CBS correct the problem?

Refreshingly, the reviewers did a respectable job answering the first two questions. Predictably, they completely punted on the last two. CBS would not accept a report finding egregious political bias, because that would mean CBS would have to address the possibility of correcting the problem of liberal bias. Instead, they blamed it all on "myopic zeal," as if that is altogether different from bias.

On the bias issue, reviewers Richard Thornburgh and Louis Boccardi have decided to put on their see-no-bias blinders - and keep them on. Over the weekend, Thornburgh told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "Political bias is an easy charge to make but a difficult one to prove, because you've got to get into somebody's head." Boccardi echoed that on CNN, saying they could not "prove that the intent of the people here was simply a political hatchet job."

Baloney. You don't discover CBS's primary "unimpeachable" source was a guy who likes comparing the President to Adolf Hitler on the Internet, and then find there was no anti-Bush bias in the source selection. Finding a political bias isn't just about intent, but content. This scandal didn't require the investigators to hire a psychic. It required, to borrow from Dan Rather, courage.