Saturday, September 11, 2004

However improbable

In The Sign of the Four, published in 1890, Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes advises his faithful Dr. Watson that "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

The forgery has been established. So why is Dan Rather risking his own reputation, and CBS News' reputation, rather than to admit to conclusions that are evident to any reasonable observer? Only fools defend the indefensible, and whatever faults Rather might possess, he is not a fool.

A possible explanation suggests itself. It is not an assertion of fact; merely a scenario that has not yet been disproved.

Recall that more than three years ago, in March 2001, Rather was harshly criticized for speaking at a Democratic party fundraiser in Austin, Texas. On April 7, 2001, an "On the Media" panel discussion broadcast by the New York NPR station WNYC debated Rather's conduct. From the transcript of that program, panelist and ethics guru Bob Steele:

"Dan Rather and, and all other journalists in this country have an obligation to guard their credibility and that of their news organizations. They should not do anything which raises the perception of a ideological bias. This situation is complicated to some degree by the fact that Dan Rather's daughter is active in Democratic politics in Texas as I understand it and was part of the, the fundraising evening. Dan Rather is not the first journalist to be in a difficult situation where an immediate family member is involved in politics, but in those situations the journalist must accept that he or she had to honor journalistic principles."

One report describes Robin Rather as an environmentalist and "a likely candidate for Austin Mayor in 2006." Another report states that she lives in the same congressional district as the former Texas lieutenant governor and heavyweight Democratic contributor Ben Barnes. He is the man behind most of the charges about President Bush's service record. Potential mayoral candidates and heavyweight campaign contributors tend to mingle. And according to that second report, Robin Rather and Barnes worked together on Democratic party fundraisers--perhaps including that March 2001 event described above.

Dan Rather refuses to disclose the provenance of the forgeries, and CBS claims that they came from Lt. Col. Jerry Killian's "personal" files, which his widow and son deny. So where did they come from? And why is Dan Rather stonewalling--despite the terrible risk both to himself and to CBS News?

"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

Did the documents come from Barnes? If so, how did they make their way to Dan Rather? Was Robin Rather the conduit, either for Barnes or for some unknown party? If so, then Dan Rather's seemingly inexplicable conduct suddenly makes sense. If the disclosure of certain facts could be expected to cause his daughter severe damage, what father would not risk everything he had to attempt to insulate her?

Is that what happened? Who knows? I don't. There are too many ifs. Ask the Rathers.