- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 12, 2005

RALEIGH, N.C. — CBS Chairman Les Moonves stated the obvious Monday, when he pronounced, “This is a rude awakening for CBS News, and the CBS News culture has to change.” However, Mr. Moonves’ solution — to delete four key news-department employees — did not include CBS News President Andrew Heyward. Perhaps it should have, if he genuinely believes the customs of the newsroom must change.

An independent panel’s report condemning an inaccurate “60 Minutes Wednesday” segment about President Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service led to the dismissals of segment producer Mary Mapes; the show’s executive producer, Josh Howard; his deputy, Mary Murphy; and a news division senior vice president, Betsy West. All were directly involved in the production of the deeply flawed piece.

But Mr. Heyward not only was aware of the “culture” that bred the Bush/Texas Air National Guard, which was underpinned by falsified documents claiming the president’s military record was “sugarcoated,” he enabled such an environment. The proof is in his actions before and after the Sept. 8 airing of the report, as well as in his history of defending CBS News against outside criticism.

The first indication of Mr. Heyward’s culpability shows up on Sept. 7, when he asked Ms. West “to become more deeply involved,” according to the independent panel’s report. Former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh and former Associated Press chief executive Louis Boccardi, the report’s co-authors, said the unusual move with Ms. West “evidenced [Mr. Heyward’s] recognition that this was an important and potentially controversial story.” Further confirmation that Mr. Heyward knew what was to come was revealed in an e-mail to Ms. West and Mr. Howard that day, cautioning the two not to be “stampede• ” and that “we’re going to have to defend every syllable of this one.” What does this imply? That Mr. Heyward was mindful that a “stampede” from Ms. Mapes was a possibility, if not a certainty.

Mr. Heyward also appeared to distinguish this story from others, seemingly placing a higher threshold of veracity upon it (“every syllable?”). Why? Was Ms. Mapes a purveyor of earlier questionable stories that CBS didn’t feel compelled to defend as vigorously? Or did Mr. Heyward realize immediately that he was dealing with shaky evidence? The latter is probably the case. According to the panel report, “Ms. West typically did not get involved in the vetting process until the story was ready for a final screening.” On this story, Mr. Heyward required that she participate throughout the last two days of the process, vetting scripts and screenings.

Despite the fact that Mr. Heyward considered Ms. Mapes capable of a “stampede” to get her story aired, everyone took her at her word about her sources. Problems existed in the verification of the chain of possession of the falsified documents, yet CBS employees who were designated to vet Ms. Mapes’ sources didn’t pursue their own independent corroboration. Even Ms. Mapes herself couldn’t confirm the original source of the documents that were given to her by Lt. Col. Bill Burkett, an anti-Bush activist.

“It appears to the Panel that a crash to air the story was under way without effective consideration of the chain of custody,” Messrs. Thornburgh and Boccardi wrote.

Two days after the Bush story aired, Mr. Heyward, “concerned about mainstream media’s increasingly critical reporting about the Segment,” told Ms. West to investigate the document examiners’ opinions and the confidential sources for the story.

“Don’t we have to come up with or share more evidence rather than just ‘stand by’ our statement?” he asked Ms. West in an e-mail.

However, this instruction was not carried out, and indeed Ms. West told another executive producer at CBS that “We’re working on a statement to strongly deny the idea that we’re conducting an internal investigation.” CBS continued to defend its Bush/TexANG story for another 10 days. That subordinates showed such disdain for Mr. Heyward’s orders, when the organization was under fire, further demonstrates the problems with the “culture” at CBS.

It appears that Mr. Heyward was of a double-mind during the post-Sept. 8 turmoil surrounding the CBS report. While he wanted to defend his employees, he clearly had doubts from the very beginning about the material they reported.

Mr. Heyward has become too accustomed to sticking up for the often-embattled news division. In 1998, he defended the decision to air a lethal injection administered by Dr. Jack Kevorkian on “60 Minutes.” He also justified the network’s request for an exclusive interview with Jessica Lynch, which hinted at possible commercial opportunities elsewhere at CBS. In late 2003, he vigorously backed a two-part “CBS Evening News” investigative report linking homeschooling and child abuse, which 33 congressmen had severely criticized in a letter. And for years he has continued to back Dan Rather, despite the consistent low ratings for “CBS Evening News” and persistent complaints about the anchorman’s liberalism.

Since 1996, Mr. Heyward has led the network news division down paths that often defend the indefensible. It’s what he has taught his underlings to do. That policy and practice caused CBS to defend the Bush/TexANG report far longer than it ever should have, as proven in the Thornburgh-Boccardi report.

All the more reason that Mr. Heyward is part of the CBS News “culture” that needs to change.

Paul Chesser is an associate editor and media analyst for the John Locke Foundation.

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