Friday, September 10, 2004

Escaping the Kill Zone

Dan Rather's defense (courtesy of Glenn Reynolds) of his 60 Minutes accusations against the Bush National Guard record, coupled with this CBS Press Release (hat tip: Roger Simon) may indicate the direction in which story is developing. When caught in an ambush the first two rules are to exit the kill zone and lay down a curtain of return fire so you can make your getaway. Both the Rather interview and the CBS Press Release suggest that the network is trying to move the controversy onto broader grounds. They will refocus the question onto George Bush's National Guard record and will support it with evidence -- interviews, collateral research etc -- that their opponents have had little access to -- and therefore be unable to criticize. In particular, Dan Rather listed out four questions which are probably going to be the strongpoints of the new redoubt: the most important are whether GWB disobeyed a direct order, whether he performed to standard, whether he made his physical.

By leaving the kill zone of fonts, kerning and proportional spacing and rallying on their new position CBS achieves two things. The near effective fire raining down on them will be transformed into far ineffective fire, simply because its Internet critics will need a whole 12 hours to start raising new questions about the additional CBS allegations. By covering their repositioning with intensified attacks on GWB they will with any luck, restart a stalled story and reclaim the offensive.

There are two dangers, both to the attacker and the defender, arising from this situation. The first is that CBS' Internet critics will run into a kill zone of their own. CBS is likely to present its bastions hoping for their opponents to expend themselves on its strongest points. It's important to realize as a tactical matter, that some aspects of the CBS story might be true. It's unlikely to be entirely false. No fraud, however egregious, is ever without some modicum of credibility, although the importance of the subject matter is questionable. But the danger to the defender is even more grievous. I suspect that the bastions that CBS will shelter behind will have chinks whose existence they never even suspected. They are, after all, being forced into a relatively hasty displacement. Something will be forgotten. The pursuit is close on their heels and they may not shut the door behind them. The closest devil behind them is the charge that CBS obtained the documents from the DNC. Any CBS-nik caught outside the defensive perimeter will be raked over the coals on this, therefore they are likely to restrict authorized comment on this matter to make sure the action is kept in-perimeter.

The one factor remaining outside CBS's control is the asymmetrical configuration of its opponents. Baldly put, any Internet source can afford to be discredited by CBS but not vice versa. One leaker and 60 Minutes is in the kill zone all over again. Interesting times.