- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 11, 2005

CBS News yesterday fired three news executives and a producer after an independent investigation found “60 Minutes Wednesday” violated 10 journalistic standards when it used forged documents to attack President Bush’s Vietnam-era National Guard service. Investigators said CBS failed to authenticate the documents and to investigate the background of their source. They also determined that the story was not politically motivated. “There were lapses every step of the way,” CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves said yesterday. “The bottom line is that much of the September 8 broadcast was wrong, incomplete or unfair.” But it was not enough to get CBS News anchor Dan Rather or CBS News President Andrew Heyward fired. Both were involved with airing the story. Mr. Rather, who already has announced he would leave the anchor desk on March 9, personally delivered it. He will remain on staff as an investigative correspondent. “Dan Rather has already apologized for the segment and taken personal responsibility,” Mr. Moonves said. “He voluntarily moved to set a date to step down. … We believe any further action would be inappropriate.” Mr. Rather did not anchor last night’s evening news, which led with a four-minute segment on the investigation. The investigation — ordered by CBS executives on Sept. 22 and supervised by former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and former Associated Press President Louis Boccardi — denied partisan interests but criticized CBS’ failure to question the credibility of the documents. “The panel cannot conclude that a political agenda at ‘60 Minutes Wednesday’ drove either the timing of the airing of the segment or its content,” they noted in the 224-page investigation. They concluded a “competitive rush” led to the mistakes. The story was broadcast two months before President Bush was re-elected, prompting some Republican lawmakers to say it was a hatchet job on Mr. Bush meant to sway voters in the close presidential race. Based on six documents, the story claimed Mr. Bush received preferential treatment in the National Guard and later disobeyed a direct order to appear for service in 1972. The authenticity of the documents was disputed by Internet-based writers and then by the mainstream press, many of whom concluded that the story had been rushed to broadcast at a critical time during the 2004 presidential election. After the investigation was complete, CBS fired Mary Mapes, the story’s producer; Josh Howard, executive producer of “60 Minutes Wednesday”; Mr. Howard’s top deputy, Mary Murphy; and CBS News Senior Vice President Betsy West. The probe found that Miss Mapes claimed that the documents were authenticated when in fact she had found only one expert to vouch for a single signature. They said she also failed to question the background of her source, retired Texas Air National Guard Lt. Col. Bill Burkett, who had a history of criticizing both Mr. Bush and the National Guard. The panel also said they were unable to establish the authenticity of the documents, which independent analysts at several news organizations, including The Washington Times, said were forged. The CBS investigation drew critics. “An independent group has underscored what we already knew: CBS failed to uphold its most basic responsibility to its viewers when it aired a false and scurrilous story that deceived the American people and impugned their president,” House Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri said yesterday. “Now it is time for CBS to take the responsible step and formally retract the story. Certainly President Bush, after four months, deserves an on-air retraction,” Mr. Blunt said. White House spokesman Scott McClellan was not as critical. “CBS has taken steps to hold people accountable, and we appreciate those steps. We also hope that CBS will take steps to prevent something like this from happening again,” Mr. McClellan said. The network has adopted a set of seven new journalistic rules to ensure its credibility, and hired a new vice president of “news standards” to oversee them. But the problems are deeper, some say. “CBS News hasn’t gone far enough in addressing the institutional problem of liberal bias within its ranks,” said Brent Bozell of the Alexandria-based Media Research Center. “Both CBS News President Andrew Heyward and Dan Rather had to sign off on the anti-Bush story that CBS’ own panel has concluded was inaccurate and unfair —and yet neither man has been held accountable.” Mr. Bozell called Miss Mapes “a scapegoat,” adding that CBS fully intended to destroy Mr. Bush and that “Mr. Rather and Mr. Heyward were complicit in this action.” But some think CBS has suffered enough. “Everybody’s been punished here — punished by firing, or by demotion. It’s a public disgrace for Dan Rather and Andrew Heyward. They’ve been put through the ringer,” said Alex Jones of Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center for Press, Politics and Public Policy. “This is a cautionary tale, mostly about the destructive nature and competitive environment of getting a scoop on the air to attract viewers, regardless of whether it is a worthy story or not,” Mr. Jones added. Indeed, CBS admitted “myopic zeal” to get the story out first and to later offer “rigid and blind defense of the segment.” Michael Paranzino, who organized a Maryland-based viewer boycott of CBS, called for Mr. Rather to be fired, adding that the investigation did not solve the “fundamental problem — CBS News is dominated from page boy to president with Manhattan liberals who are out of touch with mainstream America.” Greg Sheffield, editor of Ratherbiased.com — one of several Web bloggers who initially faulted Mr. Rather’s story — thinks the case isn’t closed until CBS fires Mr. Heyward for his approval of a “public relations strategy of stonewalling and lying.” Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie praised CBS for its investigation, then applauded “a vigilant public” and journalists who “are hardworking professionals who practice their craft with honesty and integrity.”

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