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January 14, 2005

Rathergate: Hackworth's Credibility Blown, Thornburgh's Weak Conclusions Explained

Michelle Malkin notices that that the Thornburgh Report on Rathergate has details of how Mary Mapes used David Hackworth, noted retired colonel and web person, as a consultant on the Rathergate story. This is a big blow to Hackworth's credibility. He assured Mapes that the documents were genuine (not "any doubt in his mind"), and made other confident, extremely strong statements about military procedures ("then-Lieutenant Bush was 'AWOL' and that a person would have to reach that conclusion when reviewing the documents 'unless you’re the village idiot.' ") Parts of this interview were in the first draft of the 60 Minutes Story, but were cut before the final version.

The blogosphere has commented at length on how the Thornburgh Report, while clearly and elaborately laying out the dishonesty and managerial incompetence of various executives at CBS comes to two surprising conclusions that are contrary to all its evidence: (1) there is not convincing evidence that the documents are genuine, and (2) there is not convincing evidence that CBS was biased-- haste to get a story out quickly is enough to explain the story.

As everybody knows, this is silly. (1) Does anybody really believe the documents might be genuine? No. Certainly you could not find a single expert witness to say so. (2) Does anybody really believe that CBS is not biased against Bush? Maybe some liberals do not believe that, but the evidence is overwhelming. In fact, in both cases, I think the evidence is "beyond a reasonable doubt," the jury standard.

There, however, may lie the key to the Thornburgh Report. Could a libel case be brought against CBS? First, there must be a false and hurtful statement. Clearly there was. But that is not enough. If it is a public figure that is libelled, the case must also be proved (by a preponderance of evidence, I would guess) that the liar is heavily to blame for saying something false and hurtful-- that it is more than just negligence. I forget the exact standard. It may be that the plaintiff needs to prove that the lie was deliberate and intentional, or it may be he just needs to show that it was the result of reckless disregard for the facts.

Now look back at conclusions (1) and (2) of the Thornburgh Report. If it had come to the opposite conclusions, and said that the documents were indeed false and that CBS aired them because of political bias, that would be potent evidence in court in a libel suit, because Thornburgh is acting as CBS's lawyer here. So, as a good lawyer, Thornburgh is being discreet.

Posted by erasmuse at January 14, 2005 08:35 AM

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You may be right but the real issue is how Dick felt about the Bushes before he was hired by Viacom. He has a 13 year history of sueing and being sued by the Bushes and their folk. Viacom hired him because of his bad feelings about Bush. The reason his report does not tell the truth is his personal animosity to Bush.

Posted by: Rod Stanton at January 17, 2005 04:53 AM

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