Monday, June 06, 2005

Accurate Because I Want It To Be

When I'm offering my opinion about matters, I will often, in the absence of documentary evidence state that I believe something to be true based upon circumstantial evidence (which is an acceptable means of deducing facts) but be unable to prove it. What got me over the edge to prove that something was more likely than not? Probably my biases, experience in evaluating similar matters, human behavior, etc. Admissible in court? No way, but those things can help to point the direction to the truth. And then again, they can be lousy compasses.

And last week Dan Rather found himself on Larry King defending his Texas Air National Guard AWOL story about the President. The always insightful Tom Bevan at RealClearPolitics offers this wisdom on Rather's King appearance.

One of the more effective attacks I like to make on an opponent is to get them to use negative language about their own position. It becomes very hard to back out of that. For example, the "nuclear option" wasn't a great term for conservatives to use, but we got stuck with that as the description of the tactic we planned to use. Rather has fallen victim to the same trap.

It's not a good thing to call the documents upon which your final story relied, which destroyed your career, but which you curiously still believe in, as "fraudulent" or "fake". And while he has by all accounts lost the rhetorical war, this misses the larger point.

If you read Tom Bevan's excerpt, Rather gleefully waves about the fact that Dick Thornburgh, a Republican, however paid by CBS, wasn't able to definitively conclude that the documents were fake. Rather presumes that he remains credible until the documents are proved false. But Rather knows as well as anyone that the burden of proof lies on he who is offering the documents, not those challenging them. The journalist has the burden of proving the authenticity of every single document and source.

But as I mentioned before, Rather isn't backing down. While the documents may be phony, Rather still believes in the things they say. But what evidence does he have for that belief? Bill Burkitt's bitter and psychologically unstable ramblings? Mary Mapes' equally subjective belief in the truth of the story? He believes it because he wants to believe it. He dislikes George W. Bush so much that he is convinced that the story is true.

But like the nutty conspiracy theorist carrying duffel bags full of papers to anyone who will listen, Rather most curiously continues to defend this discredited story with a straight face. It's fair to say that he has descended into the realm of the tin foil hat crowd.

And while a pitiful argument like Rather's might get one off of a criminal charge, in real life, it just makes you look like a schmuck.


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