60 Minutes of what?
Is the media fair in its portrayal of George Bush and John Kerry regarding events that occurred over three decades ago? And are those events even relevant today? Let’s examine both issues.John Kerry’s combat record is important to the extent that if he embellished it as his detractors say, he could be branded as an opportunist – but then aren’t many politicians opportunists? And regardless of whether John Kerry’s combat record was inflated, the senator served in Vietnam and faced enemy fire. I also think we can chalk up John Kerry’s “seared memories” of Cambodia to a young man taking poetic license. In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter if John Kerry was in Cambodia or 50 miles southeast of the border? However, Senator Kerry’s testimony before Congress making it appear that “atrocities” were the norm in Vietnam are another matter altogether. Those actions can rightfully be categorized as being irresponsible at best, and perhaps even reprehensible, depending upon one’s point of view. That said, the senator admitted to Tim Russert on “Meet the Press” that his comments “May have been over the top.” “Over the top” is clearly an understatement from a politician downplaying a less than dignified period in his life. But regardless of the senator’s admission, the fact remains that he did cast aspersions upon millions of Vietnam veterans who did not commit acts the he accused them of.But what of President Bush’s actions as a young man. What should rightfully be examined four years after he won election to the presidency? He freely admits to a profligate youth, but who among us hasn’t sown wild oats? In addition, the president has credited John Kerry with military service more courageous than his own because John Kerry served in the line of fire.Regardless of one’s position on these issues, the manner that the press has chosen to handle these stories may be of greater concern than the issues themselves. The Swift Boat controversy has been thoroughly dissected in the media. While partisans continue the debate, I believe that the coverage has been fair because both sides have been allowed to voice their opinions. Now CBS has created a mini-firestorm about whether George Bush fulfilled all of his flying commitments in the Air National Guard. The question raised by many is whether this matter is being handled fairly.News as we’ve come to know it in this country is the presentation of facts. Commentary is opinion predicated upon facts. And investigative journalism is a process of ferreting out facts and presenting them in an unbiased manner. Last week, “60 Minutes” presented a story purporting hard evidence that George Bush did not fulfill his obligations in the Air National Guard. Assuming this story meets the criteria to label it newsworthy, the real story is whether CBS presented all the relevant facts and opinions in an unbiased manner.”Sixty Minutes” interviewed former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, who claims to have helped George Bush gain a billet in the Texas Air National Guard. But Mr. Barnes’ comments have been discredited by his own daughter. Yet CBS investigative staff chose not to allow Amy Barnes any air time to refute her father. Ms. Barnes has told several other news organizations that her father fabricated the claims that he used his influence to get President Bush into the Texas Air National Guard. “I love my father very much, but he’s doing this for purely political reasons,” she said. “He is a big Kerry fund-raiser, he is writing a book, and the Bush story is what he’s leading the book off with. In 2000 he denied that he did get Bush out of Vietnam service and now he’s saying he did.””Sixty Minutes” also presented as “prima facie’ evidence several documents indicating a failure on the part of 1st Lt. George W. Bush to meet certain standards while in the Guard. These documents, which form the underpinnings of CBS’ allegations, were allegedly written by the commanding officer of then 1st Lt. Bush’s squadron, the now deceased Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian. But those documents have come under scrutiny because the word-processing software that created those documents may not have been in existence in 1972, and both the son and widow of Lt. Col. Killian have stepped forward saying that the alleged documents contradict everything their father-husband ever said about George Bush. Nevertheless, CBS again chose not to give air time to those with conflicting opinions, i.e. Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian’s son and widow. Right-leaning FOX News consistently offers opposing ideological points of view on controversial topics. The “O’Reilly Factor,” “Hannity & Colmes” and Greta van Susteren all give equal time to divergent opinions. CBS producers certainly knew that there were opposing opinions because they had interviewed these people prior to airing the story, but they made a conscious decision not to allow opinions that were at variance with their “news” story.”Sixty Minutes” and Dan Rather presented a single point of view. There is nothing wrong with journalistic opinions so long as we realize what they are – opinions. But representing a “news” story from a single point of view when other salient evidence and testimony are readily available is reminiscent of the former Soviet Union’s clarion of objectivity – Pravda.Before I’m accused of comparing CBS to Pravda, let me be clear. CBS has for years been a fine news organization. But regarding this story, I think they’ve allowed their journalistic standards to slide into very dangerous ground, which is far less than what Americans should expect from a major news source.Butch Mazzuca of Singletree writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at email@example.comVail, Colorado