How the Blogosphere Took on CBS' Docs

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Sept. 14, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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JONATHAN KLEIN, FORMER CBS NEWS EXECUTIVE: It's an important moment, because you couldn't have a starker contrast between the multiple layers of checks and balances, and a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing what he thinks.


HUME: That is a moment from "The O'Reilly Factor" in which a former CBS News executive is being critical of those people who run their own Web sites or blogs with names like Instapundit, Little Green Footballs (search) and Power Line. And where they say whatever they please and post whatever responses and links to other such Web sites they choose. These Web loggers or bloggers, as they are called, are the ones who first sent up the alarm about those memos Dan Rather (search) reported on "60 Minutes II" last week. The rest, as they say, is history.

So who are these guys and how do they operate? Women too. For answers, we turn to one of them, Scott Johnson, sponsor of the Power Line (search) blog, which he does in Minneapolis.

Mr. Johnson, welcome. Tell me about how you go about your work for the Power Line blog every day?

SCOTT JOHNSON, POWER LINE CONTRIBUTOR: Brit, I do pretty much what you described. I get up early in the morning and take a look around at news and politics sites around the Internet, try to find items that are of interest and apply some analysis to them and share them with our readers.

HUME: As you heard there from the former CBS executive Mr. Klein, as being guys in their living rooms and their pajamas. Is that a fair characterization at times?

JOHNSON: Well, whenever they let me out of the living room, I tried to put on a coat and tie, Brit. I think it's not a fair characterization. There are many of us, like the three of us who write for Power Line who are professional folks who...

HUME: Well, what do you do? What's your profession?

JOHNSON: I've been practicing law for 25 years. And also teach law school here in Minneapolis once a week.

HUME: So when did you get started doing this?

JOHNSON: I've been writing, with my former law partner John Hinderocker, articles for newspapers and magazines over the previous 10 years before we started Power Line between 1992 and 2002. We started the site over Memorial Day weekend in 2002 with — really with 9/11 in mind, wanting to cover events relating to the war and political items related to the war without the kind of, oh, lag time that's involved in submitting 750-word columns to editors and waiting to hear if they are of interest to them. So we appreciated the freedom that a site on the Web afforded us and the ability to pursue our interests at leisure.

HUME: Let me ask you about this particular story about which you and other Web loggers have made what appears to be a clear difference. Describe what happened? You're home? You're watching CBS News. What's going on? What happened?

JOHNSON: You know what happened is I read in The Boston Globe early in the week that the Kerry campaign was rolling out a theme called "Operation Fortunate Son," to run a kind of round three of attacks on President Bush's Air National Guard service. So I started following the stories related to that in The Globe. "The Globe" had one on Wednesday, which I linked to and wrote about on Power Line. And then on Thursday, I read The Globe story about the "60 Minutes" report that had been on the television the night before. I hadn't seen it. But I followed The Globe story to the "60 Minutes" site. Read the story and looked at the memos on the "60 Minutes" site.

And it struck me that the memos were an incredibly convenient fit with the announced Kerry campaign theme of last week. And I wrote a little bit about that on our site. But before I posted it, I looked at the e-mail that we had received that morning. And we had, in fact, received an e-mail from a reader who suggested that that document bore the earmarks of a computer-generated word processing rather than a typewritten document. And I posted that together with the links to the CBS story in The Boston Globe story.

HUME: So you just put this stuff up on your site. Just like posting notices on a bulletin board.

JOHNSON: That's exactly right. I put that up at 7:50 a.m. and left for work. And I thought, "Gee, if that's a mistake, I'll hear from a few readers who will set us right. And I'll post that information. And if we're right, we'll hear from a few readers who will supply some additional information. We'll post that."

Well, by the time I got to work, we had 50 e-mails from experts of all kind around the country, supplying additional information. And we kept updating our post with that information through the day.

HUME: So, what do you say to those like Mr. Klein and others who say, "Look, you guys are just out there? You're independent actors, you don't have editors, you don't have checks and balances; you don't have the layers, as you heard Mr. Klein described it, of verification. And so you can't be trusted."

What do you say to that?

JOHNSON: You know, I think it's a little bit funny to hear that in this context, where CBS, according to your guest of last Friday worked on a story for four years and produced these documents that are just obvious forgeries.

You know, Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs re-created that critical August 18 memo in a few minutes on the default settings of his Microsoft Word processing system after he read the post on our site. He posted that on his site so we could all take a look. By 10:30, those documents looked like a joke. And yet, now here's CBS, five days later still in the middle of a Watergate-style stonewall. It's just incredible.

HUME: Well, but let me go back to this question. Clearly CBS has stubbed its toe here. But what about the charge that you guys are not subject to verification? How do you answer that? And is there indeed a form of verification in the response you get?

JOHNSON: I think that's exactly right. The only reason we have serious readers of the kind who engage with us on our site is that we have a track record of the past 2 1/2 years of putting up information, with links that readers can check out for themselves. And when we occasionally make mistakes, we instantaneously post corrections. There's no lumbering process of days and weeks where people arguing with us. If we make a mistake, we post information; we let readers take a look for themselves. That what we have to offer as to act as an honest broker of information. I think that's what we did in this case.

HUME: Well, it certainly is clear that you and the people at Little Green Footballs, and other Web sites as well, were factors in this equation.

Mr. Johnson, thank you very much for taking the time. Very interesting story you've told us.

JOHNSON: Thanks for having me, Brit.

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