Jonathan Karl at ABC News and Dan Rather at CBS News: What's the fucking difference?

In September, 2004, Dan Rather did a 60 Minutes segment questioning President George W. Bush’s Texas Air National Guard record. Conservative activists challenged the authenticity of the documents used for the report. A number of bloggers analyzed scans of the documents, and rapidly concluded they were forgeries.

On May 10, 2013, Jonathan Karl cited emails that purported to show the Obama administration manipulated Benghazi talking points for political gain. However, Karl’s citations later turned out to be actually from summary notes from a congressional Republican source who claimed to have seen the emails.

In each case, a news division from a major television network was discovered to have advanced a story with evidence that turned out to be completely fabricated.

To me the only difference has been how each network reacted to the revelation that their correspondents were duped.

CBS commissioned an independent inquiry into the matter and several CBS staffers were fired or asked to resign. Of course Dan Rather was forced to resign from *Evening news *soon afterward and not long after that was no longer working for CBS in any capacity.

Whereas at ABC, “he and the network stood by his reporting and story. Karl did not show up on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday to address the issue but instead released a terse statement to CNN doubling down on his contention that the story was solid.” (Salon)

The Salon link has many quotes from journalism professors and media watchdogs who decry ABC’s reaction to this and is worth a read.

This also reminds me of the only other thing different between the two cases aside from how the affected networks reacted and how the key players were treated: the conspicuous lack of outrage on the right.

Despite immediate apologies after an internal investigation, the termination of many news staffers and even the eventual loss of the face of CBS News for the better part of five decades, conservative pundits hyperventilated about “the Liberal media” and to this day, a mention of Dan Rather’s name on some right-leaning Blogs will cause commenters to lapse into literary spasms of laughter and anger.

ABC and Karl have escaped the same kind of scrutiny even as they laughably try and stand by their story and offer non-apologies and shrugs. Does anyone even question that had Rather had a dubious person as a confidential source (as opposed to doctored documents) that the same people who are not even commenting on Karl would have been screaming that Rather reveal his source?

Rather was in his 70s and was about to retire anyway. Also, it’s only been 2 weeks. CBS’s first reaction was to defend the story too.

I do not watch network news anymore. Does this “Jonathan Karl” person enjoy the same level of respect and recognition that Dan Rather had before his targeting of GWB? And does the Benghazi “scandal” seem to be a deliberate attempt to discredit a current presidential candidate during the camapign season?

I do not see where the situations are very similar at all, excepting, of course, that they are examples of attempted grandstanding by American newspeople.

(Dan would have been forgiven if he was able to make his accusations stick.)

There you go.

I know who Dan Rather is. I have no idea who Johnathan Karl is. The Rather thing was obviously a more spectacular error, involving a much more famous journalist at a much more visible time.

I think the difference is Dan Rather was right. Or if you insist, not proven to be wrong. The forensics on the documents are suspect as they were photocopies, not the originals. The thrust of the documents is undeniably true, that Bush used special influence to dodge the draft by getting into the National Guard. Interesting discussion of other Bush’s military shortcomings here.

It was, yes. It’s just kept going since then, in a desperate attempt by the GOP to get something to stick.

There’s no question that this Jonathan Karl person, whoever he is, engaged in pretty shoddy reporting.

Of course, the entire episode is drenched in shoddy reporting. It’s absurd to imagine that either the Secretary of State or the President gets personally involved in security funding for a single outpost. It’s absurd to hold anyone responsible for errors in analysis when intelligence is still being gathered. This whole mess is simply a cynical attack by the right, using the classic tools available to the opposition party: wait until the President’s administration does something that turns out badly and then criticize.

Given, back before the election, but this current “release” of emails is just muckraking.

The difference is that the National Guard documents were obviously fakes. They were provdied by a person who had asked to be put in contact with the Kerry campaign and had made false allegations about this matter before. Two of the four experts who examined the documents thought they had problems and recommended asking a typewriter expert. They were ignored and the story about the documents was broadcast. It was later found that the default settings for Microsoft Word would produce an exact match of the documents, while it was unlikely that any typewriter of the time period could have produced it.
Karl, on the other hand never saw the Benghazi emails, only a summary that was written by the congressman. He accurately reported what was in the summary, which matched the recollection of his source. He may have gotten the story wrong, but he did the best he could.
Totally different circumstances, and the reponse should be totally different.

IBM EXecutive typewriters, in use at the time, did use Proportional Spacing.

And the content of the memos was never proved wrong. Shrub accepted a plum assignment to the Air National Guard in order to avoid an unpleasant trip to Southeast Asia. And he didn’t even go to all the meetings.

Ancient history.

True. But (a) such typewriters were quite expensive and therefore somewhat rare, and (b) more fatally to the claim, while proportional spacing did exist, the Times New Roman font on the memos did not exist for a Selectric keyball.

On the other hand, the default settings of MS Word produce a precise duplicate of the memo.

So… as a member of the “reality based community,” what do you conclude?

No.

Karl’s “best” would have been to accurately report that an unnamed source claimed that e-mails exist which said thus-and-so. By failing to report the arms-length distance by which he learned of the supposed contents, he gave rise to an appearance of confidence in the reporting that did not exist.

This is more like his “lacksadascial.”

There were more than one hundred authenticated memos produced by the Texas Air National guard that were examined by the Washington Post. They were all produced using fixed spacing. Furthemore, the proportional spacing used by IBM typewriters was different than computers use and what was seen in the Bush memos. From Wikipedia

“As Phinney explained, the letterspacing of the Times New Roman font used by Microsoft Word with a modern personal computer and printer employs a system of 18 units relative to the letter height (em), with common characters being 5 to 17 units wide. (The technology allows even finer variability of character widths, but the 18 unit system was chosen for compatibility with the Linotype phototypesetting and earlier hot-metal versions of the font.) In contrast, the variability of character widths available on early 1970s typewriters using proportional letterspacing was more limited, due to the mechanical technology employed. The most sophisticated of these machines, the IBM Selectric Composer, used a system of 9 units relative to the letter height, in which all characters were 3 to 9 units wide. Less complex machines used fewer widths.
Differences in individual character widths accumulate over the length of a line, so that comparatively small differences would become readily apparent. Because of the differing character widths employed, the letterspacing exhibited by the Killian documents (matching that produced by a modern computer and printer) could not have been produced with a mechanical typewriter using proportional letterspacing in the early 1970s. At the time the documents were purportedly created, the matching letterspacing could only have been produced using phototypesetting or hot-metal printing. Since it is not a realistic possibility that Killian would have had these documents printed, Phinney concluded that they are almost certainly modern forgeries.”

In my opinion the really funny part about that whole affair was that given a fuzzy screen capture of the memos they were able to conclusively prove them a forgery, and with the actual yellowcake memos in their hands they were totally fooled. Talk about straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel.

You’re not alone.

I’d never heard of him before this incident, while Dan Rather had to be one of the more recognizable people in America.

I’ll also agree with those who say let’s wait and see how ABC handles this before jumping to conclusions.

Part of what forced CBS to throw most of Rather’s team to the wolves was the case allowed huge number of bloggers to play CSI and it occurred during an election year which meant the stakes were far higher.

For those who don’t remember, the memos were allegedly put forth by one of Bush’s superiors, Jerry Killeen, in which he complains about George Bush getting a bunch of favorable treatment. Killeen was deceased and couldn’t come forward to confirm or deny the memos, but his son and widow insisted that they were fake, that he was a fan of Bush, and most notably, that he couldn’t have been responsible for the memos because he didn’t type. Killeen’s secretary, who hated George Bush(calling him “selected not elected”) said that Killeen couldn’t type and the only way the memos would have been done is if she typed them up and he signed them and she didn’t and would have remembered had she done so.

And of course there were the endless reports purporting to show that the memos had to have been done on a computer not a typewriter.

Frankly, the case that they were forgeries became so obvious and the CBS report was ripped to shreds so quickly I had at least one friend who seriously wondered if it had been a deliberate plant by some conservatives to discredit CBS and garner more support for Bush.

No, I don’t think you can say he accurately reported it. As soon as he used quotes, he was inaccurate since he never saw the originals.

As far as I can tell, a transcript of Karl’s original reporting is here. He said, “ABC News has obtained 12 different versions of the talking points that show they were extensively edited as they evolved from the drafts first written entirely by the CIA to the final version distributed to Congress and to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice before she appeared on five talk shows the Sunday after that attack.”

That’s very different from what he later said, that he was “quoting verbatim a source who reviewed the original documents and shared detailed notes.”

The differences are details, not in the big picture. The ABC report was about emails relating to a nebulous scandal that still doesn’t matter much to non-conservatives; the CBS story was a direct accusation against the president. The release of the full emails discredits ABC and whoever doctored the emails, but conservatives aren’t abandoning the alleged scandal, of course.

In journalism that’s not good enough. Rather reported a story based on documents that were discredited, and no documents means there was no story. Is the general story about Bush getting preferential treatment true? I think it probably is, and I don’t much care. But the Killian report went a lot further and it was based on documents that couldn’t be trusted. Then again at least Rather saw the alleged documents. How do you report a story like this if you haven’t even seen the emails, and if they’re being described to you by someone who has reason to paint them in the worst possible light? Total botch job.

To be specific, he originally quoted the email as follows:

“We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation. We thus will work through the talking points tomorrow morning at the Deputies Committee meeting.”

That is not the content of the email.

I have to say that I’m a little surprised to see posters here who are so typically well-versed in current events, particularly politics, asserting they have absolutely no idea who Jonathan Karl is. The guy has been with ABC News for a decade, and was with CNN for 8 years before that.

Sure, he’s not of the stature of Dan Rather, but to have never heard of the guy before suggests that you’ve never seen or read any US based news content about US domestic politics for over a decade.

My point was that he claimed that he was providing first-hand reporting of the memos, but he never actually saw them himself.