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Congress and the CBS Scandal

Writing in the Weekly Standard, Hugh Hewitt has urged congressional investigations and hearings into the Rathergate memo scandal.  While the subject of “sources” would be a touchy one, he says, an official federal investigation “could provide some information on the workings of a major broadcast network confronted with a juicy story that has been discovered to have been cooked.”  Fortunately, Rep. Joe Barton of the House Commerce Committee has rejected such a probe.

A congressional investigation would play into the hands of Dan Rather and CBS News.  Rather would be able to change the subject from his own malicious behavior to the propriety of Congress targeting an American news organization.  The ACLU and other news organizations would immediately rally to the side of CBS.

One pleasant outcome of the current controversy is that media organizations have subjected CBS News to scrutiny.  News organizations that have investigated the conduct of CBS News include the Washington Post, CNN, Fox News and ABC News.  That’s something that was rarely done in the past, when the three broadcast networks dominated the television news business.  At that time they didn’t want to report on each other’s mistakes and scandals.

Congressional hearings were justified when CBS aired that offensive half-time football show.  In that case, Congress had every right to examine whether CBS had violated federal laws against airing indecency, and whether the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was doing its job enforcing the law.  In rejecting the call by Congressman Chris Cox for a congressional probe of Rathergate, Rep. Barton said, “A news organization’s responsibility is to facts and truth, but the oversight of network news generally is a matter best sorted out by the viewing public and the news media.  I do not personally believe these documents are legitimate, and it seems clear that the press and the two presidential campaigns are properly dealing with that issue.”

Hugh Hewitt said that congressional hearings “would benefit the Bush campaign, just as the forgery scandal has, because it brings into sharp focus the ethics of the Bush opponents and the anti-Bush bias of the mainstream media.”  But that’s precisely why Republicans should reject such hearings.  Using the Congress against the news media would surely backfire against the Republicans.

The liberals have already shown their preference for the use of Big Government against their enemies in the media.  The George Soros-funded MoveOn.org asked the Federal Trade Commission to halt Fox News’ use of the allegedly misleading “fair and balanced” slogan.  If they controlled Congress, they might even urge hearings into Fox News.  The Republicans should not make that mistake in regard to CBS.  This is a matter for the FBI, not Congress.  The use of forged documents to defraud the U.S. can result in ten years in prison.  CBS should welcome such a probe, since it believes it was misled and it wanted the White House to investigate and expose the documents in the first place.  CBS should welcome an FBI probe into its “sources.”