- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 21, 2004

CBS violated basic journalistic ethics by peddling falsehoods about President Bush, according to one major press organization, making veritable folk heroes out of the nimble bloggers who caught the network in the act.

“This is not the end of that story; it’s simply the end of the coverup. There has been so much left unanswered by CBS in this monumental scandal,” said Scott Johnson of Powerlines.com, the Internet Web log that first doubted anchorman Dan Rather’s claim in a Sept. 8 broadcast that he had obtained official memos proving that Mr. Bush compromised his National Guard service three decades ago.

“Have we found the unimpeachable source that Rather kept referring to? Are there any other intermediaries? Who is CBS still protecting, and why?” Mr. Johnson asked.

Like old-fashioned reporters, Mr. Johnson and a battery of fellow bloggers relentlessly questioned the authenticity of Mr. Rather’s claims point-by-point, in a triumph of what analysts dubbed “new media over old media.” The bloggers eventually were joined in the chase by major print and broadcast news organizations.

“We tried to make a name for our blog for two years. Now, in a matter of days, we’re on the pages of Time magazine,” Mr. Johnson said.

According to the Indianapolis-based Society of Professional Journalists, a trade organization with chapters in 288 cities, Mr. Rather and CBS have committed a major ethical violation.

“If the trail leads to Dan Rather’s door as the force pushing this story without normal checks for accuracy, then he should suffer the consequences. He took ownership of this story and its validity. Now the questions have to be asked,” said Gary Hill, chairman of the SPJ ethics committee, which has maintained a code of ethics for journalists since 1926.

The most basic tenets of the code apply to CBS and Mr. Rather, whose situation is now a “disaster,” said Mr. Hill, who heads the investigative unit for ABC-affiliate KSTP in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.

The very first clause of the SPJ code states, “Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error,” followed by “identify sources wherever feasible” and “always question source’s motives before promising anonymity.”

Admission of guilt and an apology from CBS is not enough, Mr. Hill said.

“They need to do what the New York Times and USA Today did when their credibility came into question,” he said. “CBS needs to bring in a team of respected outsiders to examine the system failure that occurred and to report to the public on what they found. Until they have done that, CBS is not on the road to restoring its credibility.”

While claiming yesterday that it was misled, CBS said it was “commissioning an independent review” of the report.

“CBS is not the victim here; the victims are the president, his family and the general public that was misled. This issue will only be resolved when the public knows not just why CBS fell for this fraud, but who exactly was behind this smear” cautioned Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center.

The network’s admission of guilt “went far beyond the irritating ‘mistakes were made’ passive voice,” observed Matthew Felling of the Center for Media and Public Affairs. “But it will seem a little bit light to those seeking their pound of flesh.”

Contact Jennifer Harper at jharper@washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.

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