Remember how Dan Rather’s 44-year career at CBS ended? The essence is that Rather received a document purporting to be evidence that then presidential candidate George W. Bush was absent without leave from the national guard. It turns out that the document was a forgery forcing CBS and Rather to apologize.
There was some suspicion at the time (as I recall) that some right-wing agent planted that forgery to discredit Rather and CBS. Regardless of who was responsible for the forgery it did do two things. First, it did considerable damage to reputations of CBS, 60 Minutes, and Rather. Second, it occupied the air waves and distracted attention from the main story - that Bush went missing for a year and did not honor his obligations to the national guard.
Dan Rather, to this day, believes that those two things are true.
He backs down not one inch from the story’s two pillars: that former President George W. Bush gained entry to the Texas Air National Guard through his family’s political influence to avoid serving in the Vietnam War; and that Bush was unaccounted for for a year of his assigned duty to that Guard unit. And Rather is steadfast in the blame he assigns for the fallout:
“The pressure got on from powerful people, including the White House, and the corporation disowned the story.”
[Producer Mary] Mapes and Rather had just months previous broken the Abu Ghraib story, collecting a Peabody for CBS News. Rather says Mapes was blindsided when the company turned on the team because of the Bush story.
“Mary was really stunned when she was summarily fired. But what really hurt her was, even after she was fired, others were let go and eventually I was let go. There was this under-the-radar effort to discredit her and the rest of us.”
So what happened is simple. A forged document was given to a member of the news media. The document was not properly vetted. Then when it was shown to be fake, the news media was discredited and the subject of the story, the presidential candidate, was off the hook.
It can happen again and it is. Only this time the vetting was, in modern jargon, extreme and revealed the forgery for what it was.
Rachel Maddow explains how an ostensible top secret NSA document submitted through the show’s inbox is likely a fake, and points out the perils of such forgeries to news organizations trying to report out important stories like the Trump Russia story. Duration: 21:06
If you can’t watch Rachel’s video, at least check out the short version by Jen Hayden at Daily Kos who asks Who tried to set a ‘fake news’ trap for Rachel Maddow with carefully forged ‘top secret’ documents?. Here is some of Hayden’s report.
Maddow says her staff received a “top secret” document via their website that was so explosive, so top secret, her staff is reluctant to discuss the details even amongst themselves and MSNBC executives. The document is allegedly relating to the investigation into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to alter our election. Here is a transcript of Maddow describing how this document is so “red-hot” it sucks the air out of the room:
If by any chance this document is real, it is so sensitive, so classified, that I cannot show it to you. I cannot show it to almost anyone. Because of its purported classification level. It’s actually hard to circulate it at all or even to describe it to people. I don’t say that to try to hype it, I say that to let you know that it’s actually logistically difficult to validate something like this.
Because it’s classified at that level, or appears to be classified at that level, you can’t run the document like that by people. The way you would for any other kind of document they might ship to us from some source. People who are in a position to recognize or authenticate this kind of document, people who have worked with things at this level of classification, they typically will refuse to look at a document like this if there’s any chance that it is real. That it is a real classified information that has been improperly disclosed. That’s because the terms of their own security clearance mean effectively they can’t use something like this without it creating legal obligations on them.
So it’s very hard to check this stuff out. Classification-wise, it is logistically very difficult to deal with. Very, very sensitive. But in terms of the political implications of this document, its content, politically this thing is so sensitive it takes all the air out of the room. And all of the nearby rooms as well. People talk about finding the smoking gun. What got sent to us was not just a smoking gun, it was a gun still firing proverbial bullets.
Rather than run with the red-hot story, a cautious Maddow team dug further into the document and discovered it is most likely a careful forgery, using a method the NSA used to track down the NSA contractor who leaked a story to The Intercept in early June. The leaked documents showed the Russian attempts to hack voter files went much further than previously reported. …
… That means someone got their hands on the documents that had not yet been made public, took time to carefully forge a different version with the “red hot” details and put them in Rachel Maddow’s hands. Why? It’s likely an attempt to get Rachel Maddow to take the bait, publish the fake documents and then sit back and watch her career go up in flames.
That’s the why. Now we need to find out who.
The Washington Post picked up Rachel Maddow’s urgent warning to the rest of the media and closed with this message.
It is a credit to Maddow’s sense of fairness that she — as vocal a Trump critic as there is — exercised enough restraint and skepticism to sniff out an elaborate hoax that she might have wished were true. Maddow likely was targeted on the premise that she personifies a press corps so bent on destroying Trump that it will publish any incriminating information it encounters without proper journalistic rigor.
That she didn’t publish is evidence that caricatures of what Sean Hannity calls the “alt-radical-left-propaganda-destroy-Trump media” (catchy, right?) are a bit inflated.
But there is no glory in avoiding a mistake. There is only shame in making one, and it appears that bad-faith sources are working hard to increase the media’s error rate.