Media Responsibility

I’ll leave further analysis of the factual issues to others. There however is an interesting media responsibility issue which should be discussed. If it turned out the CBS relied extensively on forged documents it is obvious that they should issue a very public correction. But what of the source that provides forged documents? Shouldn’t the news agency expose that source?

This could be especially important if, as seems somewhat likely, the source ends up being connected in some way to the Kerry campaign. But it could also be critical to decision making if, as some have suggested, the documents were provided by someone connected to the Bush campaign in some sort of misdirection ploy.

The normal explanation for maintaining confidentiality about sources, even when there might be other social concerns which would normally lead to disclosure, is that to reveal the source would discourage other useful sources from making themselves available. This would decrease the quantity and quality of the information available to the press and by extension to the public.

It seems to me that this explanation does not apply to sources who provide forged documents. Revealing them would tend to discourage anonymous pseudo-sources from providing false documentation and from providing false information to the public through the media.

Perhaps the source did not know that the documents were forged, in which case some of the original explanation may hold. But it doesn't seem obvious that all the normal resolutions to questions of journalistic confidentiality apply in the case of a source who provides forged documents (at least if he identifies them as authentic).

I can't add anything definitive on the possibility that CBS News has torpedoed its credibility by showcasing forged documents in a suspiciously partisan fashion. The factual issues are dealt with quite well at Powerline, hereand here as well as mainstream media sources, here, here and here.

Especially interesting is this from the family of the memo's alleged author (the alleged author has been dead for decades). As reported by abcnews:

Marjorie Connell widow of the late Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, the reported author of memos suggesting that Bush did not meet the standards for the Texas Air National Guard questioned whether the documents were real.

"The wording in these documents is very suspect to me," she told ABC News Radio in an exclusive phone interview from her Texas home. She added that she "just can't believe these are his words."

First reported by CBS's 60 Minutes, the memos allegedly were found in Killian's personal files. But his family members say they doubt he ever made such documents, let alone kept them.

Connell said Killian did not type, and though he did take notes, they were usually on scraps of paper. "He was a person who did not take copious notes," she said. "He carried everything in his mind."

Killian's son, Gary Killian, who served in the Guard with his father, also told ABC News Radio that he doubts his father wrote the documents. "It was not the nature of my father to keep private files like this, nor would it have been in his own interest to do so," he said.

"We don't know where the documents come from," he said, adding, "They didn't come from any family member."

Connell said her late husband would be "turning over in his grave to know that a document such as this would be used against a fellow guardsman," and she is "sick" and "angry" that his name is "being battled back and forth on television."

Her late husband was a fan of the young Bush, said Connell, who remarried after her husband died in 1984. "I know for a fact that this young man was an excellent aviator, an excellent person to be in the Guard, and he was very happy to have him become a member of the 111th."

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at September 10, 2004 3:00 AM