January 10, 2005 CBS Memo Scandal Results in Firings (The National Ledger / Scribe Journal)
CBS News announced on Monday morning that it had asked three executives to step down and has fired producer Mary Mapes. The announcement was the result of a near four month investigation into a story that aired in September by CBS news anchor Dan Rather that claimed George W. Bush received preferential treatment in the Texas Air National Guard.
In part, the story was based on memos that were quickly challenged in the new media as fraudulent. Within minutes a poster on a Free Republic message board with the screen name of Buckhead made challenges to the authenticity of the memos. By the next morning several members of the blogosphere were dismantling the memos piece by piece. Michelle Malkin has a nice round up of the history of how the story was covered in the new media.
The fact that the story was discredited nearly instantly didn't seem to matter to Dan Rather who defended the story for 12 full days. He stubbornly refused to acknowledge his mistakes and still demanded that President Bush answer the "charges" even though the story was falling to pieces. From CBS, "The panel finds that once serious questions were raised, the defense of the segment became more rigid and emphatic, and that virtually no attempt was made to determine whether the questions raised had merit." That sounds about right as with each passing day Dan Rather appeared more partisan in defending the story. Whatever credibility he had left was now gone. The CBS network finally agreed to appoint this panel headed by Dick Thornburgh and Louis D. Boccardi to investigate exactly what went wrong in mid-September.
I've yet to read the entire 234 page report and digest it, but this conclusion by the panel seems accurate and devastating. The panel first states that CBS has a myopic zeal to be first with this "story" and then cites four factors that contributed to airing the flawed report. "The combination of a new 60 Minutes Wednesday management team, great deference given to a highly respected producer and the network's news anchor, competitive pressures, and a zealous belief in the truth of the segment seem to have led many to disregard some fundamental journalistic principles."
Michelle Malkin has the "10 defects identified by the investigative panel" posted:
--1. The failure to obtain clear authentication of any of the Killian documents from any document examiner;As it stands now it seems as the firing of Mary Mapes is a good thing. The three "suits" asked to resign were Senior Vice President Betsy West, who supervised CBS News primetime programs; 60 Minutes Wednesday Executive Producer Josh Howard; and Howard's deputy, Senior Broadcast Producer Mary Murphy. I guess that was necessary but one troubling aspect of this report so far is the way CBS anchor Dan Rather skates with hardly any repercussions. He is currently overseas covering the aftermath of the tsunami for the network and will be presumably be on the TV sets of those who still watch CBS newscasts tonight. Mr. Rather is seen by many news observers as nothing more than a bitter partisan hack and he comes out of this pretty clean.
--2. The false statement in the September 8 Segment that an expert had authenticated the Killian documents when all he had done was authenticate one signature from one document used in the Segment;
--3. The failure of 60 Minutes Wednesday management to scrutinize the publicly available, and at times controversial, background of the source of the documents, retired Texas Army National Guard Lieutenant Colonel Bill Burkett;
--4. The failure to find and interview the individual who was understood at the outset to be Lieutenant Colonel Burkett's source of the Killian documents, and thus to establish the chain of custody;
--5. The failure to establish a basis for the statement in the Segment that the documents "were taken from Colonel Killian's personal files";
--6. The failure to develop adequate corroboration to support the statements in the Killian documents and to carefully compare the Killian documents to official TexANG records, which would have identified, at a minimum, notable inconsistencies in content and format;
--7. The failure to interview a range of former National Guardsmen who served with Lieutenant Colonel Killian and who had different perspectives about the documents;
--8. The misleading impression conveyed in the Segment that Lieutenant Strong had authenticated the content of the documents when he did not have the personal knowledge to do so;
--9. The failure to have a vetting process capable of dealing effectively with the production speed, significance and sensitivity of the Segment; and
--10. The telephone call prior to the Segment's airing by the producer of the Segment to a senior campaign official of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry - a clear conflict of interest - that created the appearance of a political bias.
In fact, the report even makes mention that "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." While a conclusion may not have been reached, it will take more than this to convince most that CBS is nothing more then a liberally biased dying old media dinosaur. That said, what I've read so far seems pretty devastating. More to come...
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