John Podhoretz writing in the weekly standard provides an excellent, and succinct summary of how the blogosphere brought down CBS and Dan Rather. A media revolution is taking place.
Stockholders in Viacom, the parent company of CBS, may want to grill network president Leslie Moonves about fiduciary responsibility. Not because CBS has been forever tainted by the scandal, though it surely has been. Simply put, there was no reason for Moonves to spend half a million dollars of the network’s money on a report that could have been written for free by an intern with a dial-up Internet connection and a decent knowledge of how to use Google effectively.
A brief recap: Just after 8 p.m. Eastern time on September 8, 2004, Dan Rather reported on 60 Minutes that CBS possessed documents written in 1972 and 1973 by George W. Bush’s superior officer in the
Texas Air National Guard. The documents, procured by superstar producer Mary Mapes, indicated that young Dubya had defied a direct order from his superior-an enormously serious charge to level against a commander in chief in a time of war. CBS posted photographs of the documents on its website. Less than four hours later, at 11:59 p.m., an Atlanta lawyer named Harry MacDougald dropped a comment onto a long chain of complaints about the show on the conservative website freerepublic.com. (It doesn’t cost anything to read freerepublic.com.)
MacDougald said he believed the memos were forgeries because they
appeared to be typographical anachronisms. His cursory examination of
them revealed that they were proportionally spaced-like this very line of type you’re reading right now. But while proportional spacing is something that word-processing programs on personal computers do as a matter of course, conventional typewriters in use in 1972 could not do it at all. (MacDougald didn’t charge anyone for his analysis.)
Two people emailed his remark to another conservative website, powerlineblog.com, which gave it wider distribution early the next morning. (Power Line is run free of charge.) A few hours after that, a jazz musician and website designer named Charles Johnson printed out one of the CBS files and retyped the text on his own computer using the default settings of Microsoft Word. When he printed out the CBS file and then his own Microsoft Word file and layered one on top of the other, Johnson discovered they were identical. Later, Johnson went to the trouble of making a little animated movie showing how the documents blended together exactly and posted it on his website, littlegreenfootballs.com. (The price Johnson charged to watch his movie: Nothing.) Johnson posted his finding on littlegreenfootballs.com at 1:24 p.m., September 9. This was nearly irrefutable evidence that a supposed 1972 memo had actually been typed on a computer using modern word-processing software. A mere 8 hours after the broadcast, CBS was (in the now immortal capitalized word of the network’s own chief PR flack Gil Schwartz) “TOAST.”