Days of Change

Day 398 – My Watergate

December 7, 2009

In 1972, a break-in at the Watergate hotel in Washington, D.C. led to the greatest political scandal of this generation. This was at a time when dislike of the government was at a high due to Vietnam policy. The fact that the administration at the time was essentially covering up a scheme to get reelected made the government untrustworthy as well.

If you look at the mechanics of Watergate, it’s an even sadder turn of events. Nixon did more to end the war in Vietnam than the previous presidents. Also, Nixon was in a much better position to win in 1972 without having to resort to “dirty tricks.” If he had fought impeachment proceedings like Bill Clinton, he would have lost due to members of his own party trying to get him out more than any guilt he had.

Three decades later, I had a Watergate moment. In my case, it was about the media and their capability to lie, to believe lies and to hide lies under scrutiny. I wasn’t naive. I knew that the news networks were biased in their selection of stories. I’ve seen them cut corners on the facts and not use the standards of fact checking they claimed. Still, when National Guard memos regarding George Bush were revealed in 2004, the media fell all over themselves to shame themselves.

The brunt of the blame fell to Dan Rather, his biased producer and the lack of fact-checking involved in taking the “evidence” of a well-known Bush critic on faith. When the memo was shown to be only a pdf CBS obtained from a Kinko’s fax whose original was never examined, things started to unravel. Conservative sites discovered that the fuzzy transfer looked very much like the default Times New Roman font on Microsoft Word that used variable spacing impossible on a typewriter from the 1960s.

In the weeks that followed, CBS went from truth to “fake, but accurate.” There was no physical memo, but it was transcribed word for word from memory. Of course, that didn’t track, either. Other networks ignored the story, (think ACORN or maybe Climate “Gate”) then defended the story, then slowly gave up. Dan Rather kept his job, but he was eventually retired after the election.

Even without people like Penn and Teller, you know that magicians are performing tricks. You may not know how they do it, but you know in your gut that it’s not real. When I hear that I must believe the people on the news, I just think about the fact they can lie and that the Courier font on MS Word could have changed an election.

On CNN, I saw Climate Science being defended by Bill Nye, “The science guy.” Nye is an engineer by trade. If he were a skeptic of global warming, he would be derided by “climate scientists” for not being a real scientist. In the world of global warming, you can only talk with authority if you are a climatologist and you will never become a climatologist if you criticize global warming. Nye defended the scrubbing of e-mails by saying that the FOIA requests were taking too much time and nitpicking could lead to problems.

That’s just too damn bad. Peer review isn’t getting the job done. Considering the public policy at stake, maybe the global warming industry could do with a little second-guessing. Anyone can lie about anything. If enough people support the lie, it can look like the truth, but it will never become the truth.

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