Monday, February 14, 2005

Blasts From The Past, And Other Places Part 5

Dan Rather needs to reexamine his journalistic roots.

The first, and only, daily newspaper I worked for as a reporter taught me the basic journalist tenet that nothing else matters except accuracy. The Martinsville Bulletin is a small paper that covers two counties in rural southern Virginia. It is not the Washington Post nor the N.Y. Times, but a well run, family owned enterprise that prides itself on putting out the news properly. When I was there in the early 1990s the staff consisted of four news reporters, two sports reporters and a couple of editors.

I sat across from the city editor, a fellow named Louie. Louie had worked on larger papers in his past, but for some reason he found himself plugging away in scenic Martinsville. He would question me on every fact, name spelling and title in each of my stories. He was brutal, scary and more than a little annoying. When he caught an error he was merciless. He would berate a reporter in front of everyone, basically making the person feel like an idiot.

Perhaps his demeanor was the reason he was no longer at the Miami Herald, I don’t know.

What Louie did do was force me to admit my mistakes. If I misspelled a name, I had to confess that the copy was wrong or stick by my guns and then look like a fool when it would be printed and the person in question would call up and complain.

As a journalist I am amazed that a journalist would risk his career in order to bash a sitting president. This is not the stuff of Woodward and Bernstein. They had their secret sources, which they vetted and quadruple checked before taking the story to their editor, the famous Ben Bradley. He would then pull a Louie and question every aspect of the story before running it. (I can’t imagine being stared down by Bradley.)

Dan Rather has forgotten this. When he unveiled documents that questioned President Bush’s National Guard career he knew he was dealing with a potentially explosive document. Yet he was willing to go with it instead of properly checking the source. Now that the document has been questioned and Rather’s credibility is at stake. If they checked out then run with the scoop, if not go back to the drawing board.


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