Monday, January 10, 2005

Conservatives Say Otherwise, But Panel Finds CBS News Sloppy, But Not Guilty of Bias

An independent panel found that CBS News' September report raising questions about President Bush's Vietnam-era National Guard service should never have been broadcast.

The panel -- Louis Boccardi, former chief executive of The Associated Press, and Dick Thornburgh, attorney general for the first President Bush -- concluded that CBS, in a rush to beat competitors, did not undertake rudimentary fact-checking, failing to authenticate documents and, after the story aired on the Wednesday edition of 60 Minutes, failed to conduct an internal inquiry ordered by CBS News president Andrew Heyward.

The segment had raised new questions about Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard in the early 1970s. It presented four documents, described as "memorandums" from the files of his commander, suggesting that then-Lieutenant Bush had received preferential treatment. The panel said that the documents "had not been properly authenticated."

Mary Mapes, the producer in charge of the segment, was fired. Resignations were demanded from three others, including Betsy West, a senior vice president.

***

While the panelists said they could find no evidence that the network prepared and broadcast the report to hurt the president's re-election campaign, they cited one questionable move by Mapes that may have "created the appearance of a political bias." In that decision, Mapes telephoned the campaign of Democratic Presidential Candidate John Kerry and asked that it contact Bill Burkett, the former National Guard officer who would later be identified as the source of the documents.

"The panel reviewed this issue and found certain actions that could support such charges," the panelists wrote. "However, 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."

According to The New York Times: "several CBS employees said they took heart that the panel had found that no political bias existed within the ranks of the Wednesday edition of "60 Minutes" -- a charge that had been widely repeated on the Internet." Because CBS News anchor Dan Rather, who narrated the 60 Minutes story, has long been criticized as left-leaning by the right, the 60 Minutes story became fodder during the presidential campaign for supporters of President Bush, and those pundits who propagate the concept of "liberal media bias."

***

The panel portrayed Rather as "distracted" by other stories he was covering, including the series of Florida hurricanes last August, and reported that Rather did not even watch the completed report before it was broadcast.

But the panel was critical of Rather's initial defense of the flawed report, and further criticized Rather's on-air apology on Sept. 20, in which he criticized Burkett for misleading CBS.

"The panel finds this statement confusing, since "60 Minutes" Wednesday had never verified the original source from whom Lieutenant Colonel Burkett initially said he received the documents," the report said.

The panel report also found fault with those network executives who, they said, failed to press Mapes to verify a document trail. The panel suggested that instead those executives deferred to the "celebrity" of Rather and the "track record" of Mapes.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

People can believe what they want. Seems to me there is no question that the people involved were lax somewhat due to their exhuberance over a great story and also somewhat due to a great story that can hurt Bush. You cannot tell me with a straight face that, if this had been about Kerry, more than passing scrutiny would have occurred. Even if the initial airing was a mistake, the followup defense by Rather and others, in the face of evidence to the contrary, was telling. So believe what you want, bloggers, but sometimes the gut is correct. Its not like any of the parties involved were Bush supporters who said "oops, sorry." I am not suggesting that someone here maliciaously tried to turn an election on its head....but to suggest that the political views of the participants did not color the efforts in reporting accurately and especially the aftermath, well....i have a bridge to sell you.

2:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The investigators had no problem pointing out the political biases of the bloggers and critics that initially gave rise to this scandal, but were unwilling to even consider that there may have been an underlying political motivation for those that engaged in the shenanigans. Rather apparently had done them a favor by announcing his retirement, and to this reader, it seemed to allow the investigators and CBS to brush aside what should have been harsh criticism of his role. Glad, glad, glad it is finally over.

Now, if Mapes and Rather would quit that "forgery but true" defense.

9:12 PM  

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