Not our problem
Posted by aogTuesday, 14 September 2004 at 22:43 TrackBack Ping URL

One question that haunts the fake memo issue is why the White House passed on the documents. My view is that the White House knew the documents were faked but didn’t see much upside to getting involved.

If the White House had disputed the memos (instead of the pajama clad horde) then the story would have been about the White House. I think there’s little doubt that had the White House lead the charge the Old Media story would be about the dirty attack politics of the Bush campaign instead of the mendacity of CBS and Dan Rather.

On the other hand, given the triviality of the charges and the irrelevance to the Bush campaign, even if the forgeries weren’t detected it’s difficult to see the effort as being particularly damaging.

Finally, the memos are such weak fakes that the White House may have figured that it was very likely to break anyway.

Overall, that adds up to a very weak case for getting involved, with little upside (derailing a insect bite attack) and a significant downside (getting distracted and dragged in the mud of forgery accusations). Given how things worked out, it was clearly the right strategy for the Bush campaign.

UPDATE: I was just talking about this with She Who Is Perfect In All Ways and she asked the obvious yet unanswered question — why did CBS think they’d get away with it? I gave the stock “because they’ve done it in the past” but then something else occurred to me. Did CBS consider the options I describe above and think that they had a fork on the Bush campaign? I.e.,

  • If the memos are disputed by the White House, the story line is about the dissent crushing dirty politicing Bush campaign.
  • If the memo’s aren’t disputed by the White House then the original “President Bush was derelict in his duty” story line plays out.

The key point is that the idea that someone other than a major player would get involved isn’t considered. A bit of a rude shock if that was the scenario.

UPDATE 2: More here.