Why did CBS coordinate with the Kerry Campaign?

We can finally stop asking “Did they do it?” They did. According to USA Today, CBS arranged for Bill Burkett (the source of the now legendary, hotly disputed documents concerning Bush’s service in the National Guard) to speak with a high ranking aide to John Kerry. The Aide: Joe Lockhart, former press secretary to President Clinton.

Soon thereafter, the Democratic National Committee launched Operation Fortunate Son, a campaign to impugn the President’s service in the National Guard, a campaign which was suspiciously well timed, coinciding with CBS’s breaking story on the uncovered Bush documents. Something was rotten in the state of American Politics.

Far from being just another accusation, Senior CBS News Vice President Betsy West has confirmed that CBS did arrange for contact between the Kerry Campaign and Bill Burkett. According to West, CBS provided the Kerry Campaign with Burkett’s contact information. Why did CBS feel compelled to put the would-be-Bush-accuser in contact with the Kerry Campaign?

According to Burkett, he had requested that CBS arrange a conversation between himself and the Kerry Campaign as a condition of passing along the documents to CBS. This scenario alone would be enough to raise serious ethical questions about CBS’s conduct, but the story gets even worse. According to Betsy West, putting Burkett in contact with the Kerry Campaign “.. was not part of any deal.”

Well, Ms. West, if it wasn’t part of any deal, why exactly did CBS feel compelled to help put potential anti-Bush ammunition, which was as of that point still of unconfirmed veracity, in the hands of the Kerry Campaign?

Although news organizations are in the business of disseminating information, this rarely occurs -before- the story breaks. It is irrational to suggest that Burkett was put in contact with the Kerry Campaign for any reason relating to substantiating the documents, since neither party had any incentive to challenge the veracity of the files. And it does not appear that CBS had any interest in monitoring the communication between Burkett and the Kerry Campaign after putting the two into communication. So why did they do it? Presenting the hotly-debated documents to both campaigns for reaction would have been sufficient, even justifiable and fair, but where CBS went wrong was in aiding the collusion between the Kerry Campaign and Burkett’s own agenda.

The serious ethical implications of this incident are a major blow to CBS. It is one thing to break a story and then allow all involved parties to examine the evidence. It is quite another to help establish contact between a partisan who claims to have “the goods” that can help bring down a sitting President and the very Campaign that seeks to unseat him.

Most damning of all for CBS is how this scandal has helped justify accusations by right-leaning-commentators of a leftward media bias. Rather-gate may go down as the most obvious and pointed example of a clear and willful cooperation between “mainstream media” and liberal political forces. It is hard to imagine any possible motivation, other than the purely political, for placing Burkett in contact with the Kerry Campaign.

Posted by Damon Dimmick at September 21, 2004 12:15 PM