Media Cannibalization

What’s most astounding about the feeding-frenzy behavior of the media over what’s become known as “Rathergate” is the realization that none of the reporters, commentators, or anchors so eager to pick at the flesh of Ol’ Dan seems to think it could ever happen to them.

Rather’s been on the right’s hitlist for years, but he’s managed to cling to the anchor chair nonetheless. If he gets forced out of that position over the fiasco surrounding the memos about George W. Bush’s Air National Guard service, it’s only going hasten the end by a couple of years at most. The people in the media calling for his head, though, some of them have careers that could be much more adversely impacted.

If the right thinks they can bring someone with Rather’s reputation down with a campaign of letter-writing, calls, and gas-bagging on talk shows — whether they actually do so or if they merely give CBS an excuse to pry Rather’s grip off the anchor desk — they’re hardly likely to stop with Rather and CBS. CBS has already proven itself susceptible to attacks of this type, by moving the Reagan biopic to Showtime last year and pre-emptively postponing the story they bumped from 60 Minutes II for the Air National Guard story — about how forged documents and other suspect intelligence were used to justify the war in Iraq — until after the election.

ABC, NBC, CNN, and MSNBC don’t give equal treatment to opposing sides of issues now — that’s why they’re not under the gun the way CBS is. They rarely invite invite people with truly liberal (as opposed to not-conservative) viewpoints on, much less someone wacky who was as far to the left as Ann Coulter is wacky and to the right. (I can’t think of anyone for that role, nor do I want to.)

But once CBS is sanitized (it won’t end with Rather), you can bet the same firehose of pressure is going to be applied somewhere else. Rather’s not exactly a flaming liberal, but the right sees him as one. They see anyone who criticizes them as a liberal/traitor/commie/terrorist. Columnists like Maureen Dowd who view themselves as protected and above the fray, able to make snarky comment on Democrats and Republicans alike, are going to find themselves in a whole new world, one where any criticism of the right leads to their own downfall.

Am I saying that journalists should have circled the wagons to defend Dan and the Memos That Time Forgot? No. But the gleeful rush to judgment over the memos obscured a legitimate story about Bush’s Guard service that wasn’t exclusive to CBS and exposed how little faith the media has in its own credibility, which is something the media’s enemies will exploit for years to come, no matter who wins the next presidential election.