[ Rush had predicted this to happen all along and again , he was and is right , as always. ]
Dan Rather's retirement marks a welcome change in American journalism
FOR conservative America, it just keeps on getting better. A mere 20 days after the Republicans' clean sweep of the White House and Congress, the American right celebrated the retirement of one of the hated grandees of liberal journalism, Dan Rather. "It's as if the voters just keep on voting,) says one conservative. "And our side just keeps on winning.)
The right has been after Mr Rather's scalp for decades. The CBS veteran made his name beating up Richard Nixon in the Watergate era and has kept CBS News on the liberal straight-and-narrow as its longstanding news anchor. (Accuracy in Media, a conservative-watchdog group, first started its "Can Dan) campaign 16 years ago.) Mr Rather's career highlights include a shouting match with George Bush senior over Iran-contra and an interview with Saddam Hussein shortly before last year's American invasion. Now the 73-year-old has announced that he will be retiring from his anchoring job next March.
Next March will be exactly 24 years since Mr Rather took over from Walter Cronkite. But Mr Rather's reputation has not recovered from a "60 Minutes) documentary (made by CBS) which tried to raise questions about George Bush junior's service in the Texas National Guard. Mr Rather claimed to have documents proving that Mr Bush had violated a direct order to take a physical examination, and also that his superiors had been put under pressure to "sugarcoat) his evaluation. But within 14 hours internet sleuths had shown that the documents were forgeries. Mr Rather stood by his story for 12 excruciating days, while his supporters arrogantly contrasted the network's rigorous fact-checking with "a guy sitting in his living room in his pyjamas writing). But the pyjama guy turned out to be right.
Mr Rather's retirement epitomises two broader shifts of power. First, the old media are losing power to the new. And, second, the liberal media establishment is losing power to a more diverse cacophony of new voices.
For most of the post-war era the American media were dominated by a comfortable liberal consensus. The New York Times was the undisputed king of the print news, while the network anchors lorded it over TV news. That consensus is now under siege. The attacks are partly coming from the cable networks—particularly from conservative Fox News. (Charles Krauthammer once quipped that Rupert Murdoch had spotted a niche market—half the country. Sure enough, Fox is now America's top-rated cable news network.) But old media also face a newer and more unpredictable source of competition—the blogosphere. Bloggers have discovered that all you need to set yourself up as a pundit is a website and an attitude.
All through the recent election campaign, the new media outsmarted the old media when it came to setting the news agenda. Republican strategists admit that the Swift Boat veterans' attacks on John Kerry, largely ignored by the old media, would never have got anywhere without the online Drudge Report. Drudge was also instrumental in turning the "60 Minutes) story into an embarrassment for the Democrats, not Mr Bush. Local bloggers also had an effect; in South Dakota, for instance, they repeatedly highlighted Tom Daschle's partisan record in Washington, DC, something that the Democratic Senate majority leader's friends in the local print media had never laboured to expose.
The bloggers have often been at their most devastating when they have been criticising the old media for bias. Their favourite target has long been the New York Times, where they helped to remove the paper's previous editor, Howell Raines. But CBS is also a juicy target. Why, the bloggers are now demanding, is Mr Rather being allowed to keep a full-time job working for "60 Minutes), the very programme whose reputation he has besmirched? "This is not a victory,) proclaims Rathergate.com, before declaring its intention to keep attacking CBS.
I'd rather not be Rather
Given America's fractious politics, it is easy to look at Mr Rather's retirement merely in terms of a left v right scorecard. But, more fundamentally, it is about choice.
Mr Rather's announcement of his (partial) retirement comes just a few days before Tom Brokaw resigns from his job anchoring NBC's evening news. That leaves ABC's Peter Jennings as the only survivor of the long-established triumvirate. But nobody imagines that the arrival of new blood at CBS and NBC will revive the fortunes of the network news. Most Americans now get their news from an ever-proliferating range of sources: not just Fox or CNN, but also foreign newspapers and even the innumerable original documents that are now available at the touch of a button. And fewer people regard any single news source—be it CBS News or the New York Times—as the embodiment of truth.
The erosion of the old media establishment probably does entail some shift to the right, if only because so many of the newer voices are more reliably pro-Republican than Mr Rather. But the new media are simply too anarchic and subversive for any single political faction to take control of them. There are plenty of leftish bloggers too: such people helped Howard Dean's presidential campaign. And the most successful conservative bloggers are far from being party loyalists: look at the way in 2002 that they kept the heat on the Republicans' then Senate leader, Trent Lott, for racist remarks that the New York Times originally buried. It is a safe bet that, if the current Bush administration goes the way of previous second-term administrations and becomes consumed by scandals, conservative bloggers will be in the forefront of the scandal-mongering.
Mr Rather's passing does not mean that the liberal orthodoxy is about to give way to a new conservative one. It means that all orthodoxies are being chewed up by a voraciously unpredictable news media, which is surely all to the good.
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Rather and ole "Baghdad Bob" look a lot alike. Maybe Baghdad can replace Rather, he is much more believable.
You know -- the dope charges? LOL