Would you (Dan) Rather?

Passing judgment on any person is a difficult task to do. When that person is in the public sphere and subject to words being taken out of context, that judgement becomes even harder to execute. Based on this, my analysis of the Dan Rather situation needs not to be taken as the end all be all and rather one interpretation of an undoubtedly complicated situation.

Difference in Killian Memo’s between actual and Microsoft word uploaded on Wikimedia

In the run up to the 2004 election between John Kerry and George W Bush, Dan Rather on 60 minutes aired a segment about Bush’s service in the Air National Guard. During that report several documents claiming to be from the desk of Lieutenant Colonel Killian, were utilized to show how Bush was unable to complete his service. Over the next week, the authenticity of the documents were questioned online and were picked up by media outlets.  In response, CBS ran a for the record that included Killian’s secretary who confirmed that documents were in fact false but the information was not.

So what can we take away from the actions of Dan Rather and his interview with Killian’s secretary? Based off what we learned in class, we see that sometimes a journalist can falsify crucial information in order to get the perfect story. It seems to me that Rather is in that boat. Rather has been noted as having a strong liberal bias and without questioning his ethical composition, anyone in that situation could have been suspect to taking documents that may have been falsified in order to strengthen his story. However, what seems to be most likely to me is that an anonymous source gave him the true information, as confirmed by Kilian’s secretary, and in an effort to legitimize it either the source itself or whoever was working with Rather decided to create a document. In application it seems to me that if it was Rather who helped create the document he is guilty of unethical journalistic actions whilst attempting to bolster a political position. Regardless of what someone believes when you are in the positon of someone like Dan Rather you can not utilize a questionable document for any reason.


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