Friday night topic: New media and CBS hoaxgate

— 8:49 PM on September 10, 2004

I've been watching with fascination the furor over CBS's apparently hoaxed documents about Bush's National Guard service. Campaign politics aside (and seriously, I couldn't care less about the Guard service issue), this is a significant moment for the media.

If you haven't heard, CBS News' 60 Minutes aired a story, anchored by Dan Rather, based on documents that purportedly showed GWB was delinquent in his Guard duties. Once images of those documents became available online, some folks with a humble blog web site began raising questions about the documents' authenticity. You see, these documents were supposedly produced in 1974, but they were proportionally spaced, in the Times New Roman font, with a superscript "th" after a numeral and the sort of curved apostrophes that would be produced by Microsoft Word. Within 24 hours, CBS's story was being questioned widely across all types of news media, forcing CBS to scramble for an explanation.

Obviously, the lil' ol' Internet has changed the balance of power in the news media. James Lileks thinks that's a good thing:

I think the number of people who regard the evening news as straight truth delivered by disinterested observers, can be numbered in the high dozens. Blogs haven’t toppled old media. The foundations of Old Media were rotten already. The new media came along at the right time. Put it this way: you’ve see films of old buildings detonated by precision demolitionists. First you see the puffs of smoke – then the building just hangs there for a second, even though every column that held it up has been severed. We’ve been living in that second for years, waiting for the next frame. Well, here it is. Roll tape. Down she goes. And when the dust settles we will be right back where we were 100 years ago, with dozens of fiercely competitive media outlets throwing elbows to earn your pennies.
Is that about right? Discuss.
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