Memo to Rather: Out-Fox the Critics—Go Left, Old Man!

Dear Dan Rather: Well, it’s over. The documents are fakes, the forger has been unmasked, your sources are retractin’ their statements, claimin’ they were misquoted and generally headin’ for the hills faster than a West Texas cattle rustler lookin’ down the business end of a double-barreled shotgun.

Even Marian Knox, the 86-year-old typist who was channeling the thoughts of Mr. Bush’s superior officer, Lt. Col. Jerry Killian—a man who’s been dead for 20 years—yes, even ol’ Marian turns out to have previously told The Houston Chronicle that she had no “firsthand knowledge” of Mr. Bush’s time in the Guard.

Yes, Dan: You got duped. But it seems like you wanted to get duped. And it ain’t helping that you’re out there now on TV, talkin’ about the way you uncovered the hoax here—which, to my way of thinkin’, is a little like an arsonist bragging about the way he put out the dance-hall fire.

Sorry, but this ain’t the stuff of Pulitzer prizes.

I mean, I don’t want to pick on you here, but this story wouldn’t have flown at my college, let alone high-school newspaper, where we used I.B.M. Selectrics, I.B.M. Composers and an I.B.M. Executive typewriter during the 1970’s. I knew those machines; I suspected your documents were fake the minute I saw them. And I’m not some partisan “wing nut” typing this in my pajamas. (Full disclosure: I actually am typing this in my pajamas. But they’re inhabited by a registered Democrat.)

Yes sir, Dan-O: The “essential truth” is that your credibility is now lower than a piece of armadillo road kill, flattened by a blogger driving an 18-wheeler out on I-20 somewhere west of Abilene.

Or, to use one of your more colorful Dan-isms from the last Presidential election: The chances of CBS and Dan Rather coming out of this with their reputations intact are somewhere between slim and none—and Slim just left the state.

And with all due respect here, sir: All this—for what? To prove that a Congressman’s kid got special treatment in the National Guard? Hell, that’s not criminal. It’s practically the American Way. Look at the news business, publishing, movies, union jobs in Detroit—even most of our recent Presidential candidates. There’s always been nepotism, privilege and somebody pulling strings for somebody else’s kid. No, it’s not right. And it’s certainly not fair. And surely we’d all be better off if you’d used CBS’s resources to focus on some of Mr. Bush’s present-day sins—like the way we’ve just lost control over huge swaths of Iraq.

But as your former colleague Walter Cronkite used to sign off at the end of his broadcast every night: “That’s the way it is.”

In short, Dan, this dog don’t hunt. But as they say in Texas: When you’re up to your neck in jalapeños, you’ve gotta find a way to make jalapeño dip.

So how do you pull yourself out of this quagmire? How do you prevent yourself from being invited to be the headliner at the Disgraced Journalists Lollapalooza tour (“Hubris 2004”), splitting speaking fees at junior colleges with Jayson Blair?

Well, perhaps you’ve heard of the Irish writer Jonathan Swift, who published Gulliver’s Travels in 1726. Turns out that he sent me a fax over the weekend, from that Kinko’s in Abilene (damn, that joint must be jumpin’!), where he asked me to pass along the following “Modest Proposal.”

Go left, young Dan.

Give up the ghost, stop ridin’ that dead horse. Come out of the closet, drop this objectivity thing, and take the only sane, rational course: Turn CBS into the antidote to Fox News.

—Starting Monday night, retitle the CBS evening news The CBS Essential Truths.

—Co-opt the Fox News slogan: Instead of “We report, you decide,” try “We decide, the bloggers report.” (Just think of the money you’ll save on forensic document experts.)

—Bring back Edward R. Murrow. Sure, he’s dead. But I hear his secretary’s grandaughter’s second cousin (twice removed) knows exactly what he thinks about John Kerry (war hero) and George Bush (draft dodger).

—Continue the CBS Evening News tradition of news by anecdote: Nobody will complain any more when the Bush administration’s economic figures point up—and you manage to find the one guy in Elkhart, Ind., who’s just lost his job, house, wife and dog.

And you’ll finally be able to show up at Democratic fund-raisers not just in Texas, but all across this great nation, without a whiff of controversy or guilt.

There are also loads of advantages for the network itself:

—Nobody will be upset when Janet Jackson has a “wardrobe malfunction.” With CBS as the liberal network, they’ll expect it.

—You’ll be able to remake that too-cute-by-half Ronald Reagan bio—this time not only with James Brolin as Dutch, but Barbra Streisand herself as Nancy. And you’ll be able to get an Oscar-winning director to do it. (Think Michael Moore.)

—There would have been no need to fire the executive producer of Hitler: The Rise of Evil for describing the miniseries as a cautionary tale about the Bush administration. (Hell, you’d promote him—make him head of programming.)

—And as long as you’re channeling Murrow and Jerry Killian, you might as well answer some of the other key questions of the day: What would Jesus drive? What did he think of the Mel Gibson movie? What does he say in his e-mails to George Bush? And how does he format them? (I can’t reveal my sources on this, Dan, but I’ve got it on High Authority that he prefers proportional font spacing. And for obvious reasons, he’s not too keen on Times New Roman.)

I know this is a thorny decision, Dan. Tough as Texas mesquite. But consider the ratings bonanza: Fox has the 40 percent of the country that’s Republican red. You’ll get the 40 percent that’s Democrat blue. Tom Brokaw will pick up the 20 percent who are undecided, and Kofi Annan will be left as the sole viewer of Peter Jennings. You can even begin your broadcast with the words “There’s a new sheriff in town.”

In the end, I have one word of advice for you here, Dan. It begins with a “C,” but it ain’t “courage.”

Cynicism, Dan. All it takes is a little cynicism. Memo to Rather: Out-Fox the Critics—Go Left, Old Man!