- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 22, 2005

CBS Chairman Les Moonves stated the obvious last Monday when he said, “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 Mr. Moonves genuinely believes the newsroom’s customs 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 dismissal of segment producer Mary Mapes; the show’s executive producer, Josh Howard; Mr. Howard’s deputy, Mary Murphy; and a news division senior vice president, Betsy West. All were directly involved in producing the deeply flawed piece.

But Mr. Heyward not only was aware of the “culture” that bred the Bush/TexANG debacle, which was underpinned by falsified documents claiming the president’s military record was “sugarcoated” — he enabled such an environment to exist. The proof is in his actions before and after the Sept. 8, 2004, 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 showed 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 Miss West “evidenced [Mr. Heyward’s] recognition that this was an important and potentially controversial story.”

Further confirmation Mr. Heyward knew what was to come was revealed in an e-mail to Miss 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 a “stampede” from Miss 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 Miss Mapes a purveyor of earlier questionable stories CBS didn’t feel compelled to defend as vigorously? Or did Mr. Heyward realize immediately he was dealing with shaky evidence?

The latter is probably the case. According to the panel report, “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 her to participate throughout the last two days of the process, vetting scripts and screenings.

Even though Mr. Heyward considered Miss 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 designated to vet Miss Mapes’ sources didn’t pursue their own independent corroboration. Even Miss Mapes herself couldn’t confirm the original source of the documents 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,” Mr. Thornburgh and Mr. Boccardi wrote.

Two days after the Bush story aired, Mr. Heyward, “concerned about mainstream media’s increasingly critical reporting about the segment,” told Miss 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 Miss West in an e-mail.

However, this instruction was not carried out, and indeed Miss West told another executive producer at CBS, “We’re working on a statement to strongly deny the idea that we’re… conducting an internal investigation.”

CBS continued defending 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 Mr. Heyward was of two minds 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” report linking home schooling and child abuse, which 33 members of Congress had severely criticized in a letter.

And for years he has continued backing 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 resulted in defending 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 Mr. Heyward is part of the CBS News “culture” that needs to be changed.

Paul Chesser is an associate editor and media analyst for the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, N.C.

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