December 17, 2020

A Rather Ridiculous Journalism Award

A new award for journalism pushes the bounds of both sanctimony and satire.

It’s hard to un-see something so shocking, but it makes us newly sympathetic to the New Yorker folks on that Zoom call with Jeffrey Toobin. Still, there it was, hanging from a thick, burnt-orange neck ribbon: a gold medallion with a smugly familiar face on it; a medallion encircled by the words, “The Dan Rather Medal for Excellence in News and Guts.”

It’s perhaps even harder, though, to imagine why the Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas would debase itself, would beclown itself, by publicly announcing such an award. Far better to play it on the downlow and plead ignorance than to broadcast it for all the world to see.

And it wasn’t like this was some prank, some sinister bit of cyber-mischief by a few intrepid CompSci geeks at Texas A&M. No, this award has a dedicated website and the enthusiastic endorsement of Jay Bernhardt, dean of the Moody College of Communication. “Dan Rather is not only a legend,” gushes Bernhardt, “he’s the namesake of new awards honoring his career and the work of today’s journalists. We are thrilled to announce the Dan Rather Medals for News and Guts.”

Hook ‘em, dude.

Rather, of course, was the longtime anchorman of CBS News who was forced to resign in disgrace when he and his producer, Mary Mapes, got caught red-handed trying to throw the 2004 presidential election to John Kerry. They did so by fabricating a story about then-President George W. Bush’s long-ago service in the Texas Air National Guard — service that Rather and Mapes falsely maligned. Their downfall was brought about by their reliance on a deeply suspect witness, a Bush hater named Bill Burkett, and a couple of ridiculously fraudulent military documents — documents that used Microsoft Word features such as proportional spacing and superscript characters that were, of course, unavailable on '60s-era typewriters.

“Within hours of the broadcast,” wrote Power Line’s John Hinderaker and Scott Johnson, “after CBS News posted online PDF copies of four memos highlighted in the segment, the story began to fall apart. The memos looked phony. By the following evening, CBS was in crisis mode trying to deal with the mess. As other news outlets followed up, the story continued to disintegrate. CBS nevertheless hung with it for nearly two weeks. The New York Times provided its own form of encouragement to CBS. In the words of the classic headline over its story of September 15, 'Memos on Bush are fake but accurate, typist says.’ Four Times reporters collaborated on the story.”

That’s it, really. That’s the summing-up of our mainstream media in three devastatingly self-incriminating words: Fake. But. Accurate.

The real journalistic heroes of the day were then-obscure bloggers like Hinderaker and Johnson. Their 2015 piece, “Rather Shameful,” is probably the definitive summary of the Memogate scandal and its aftermath, which included a pathetic attempt by Hollywood leftist Robert Redford to rewrite history with a dud of a film called — we kid you not — “Truth.”

As our Mark Alexander noted at the time, “It’s no small irony that this BIG Lie of a film is titled ‘Truth.’ That was the translated name of the official newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Indeed, ‘Pravda’ was the party’s primary instrument for political ‘dezinformatsia’ from 1912 to 1991.”

Johnson shared some thoughts yesterday about revisionism, which is one of the animating forces behind the Left and its journalistic foot soldiers. “The left simply does not give up in its efforts to rewrite history,” he notes. “The efforts are unrelenting. Memories are short. And the left has highly effective tools of persuasion at its disposal, such as naming an award in honor of one of its disgraced votaries or conferring such honors on leftist fraudsters, as has become something of a tradition with the Pulitzer Prizes.”

He’s spot-on about this, and the hilariously unselfconscious “Dan Rather Medal for Excellence in News and Guts” is Exhibit A. To borrow from Robin Williams: People say satire is dead. But it isn’t dead at all. It’s alive and well and flourishing at UT Austin’s Moody College of Communication.

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