CBS Ousts 4 For Bush Guard Story, Mapes Terminated
The action was prompted by the report of an independent panel that concluded that CBS News failed to follow basic journalistic principles in the preparation and reporting of the piece. The panel also said CBS News had compounded that failure with “rigid and blind” defense of the 60 Minutes Wednesday report.
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 Betsy West. The producer of the piece, Mary Mapes, was terminated.
While criticizing the 60 Minutes team and staff, the report did not conclude that guard memos were outright forgeries. Instead, it "identified 10 serious defects in the preparation and reporting of the story that included failure to obtain clear authentication of the documents or to investigate controversial background of the source of the purported documents, retired Texas National Guard Lt. Col. Bill Burkett."
The report lists the following as the most serious defects in the reporting of the Bush Guard story:
- The failure to obtain clear authentication of any of the Killian documents from any document examiner
- 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
- 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;
- 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;
- The failure to establish a basis for the statement in the Segment that the documents “were taken from Colonel Killian’s personal files”;
- 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;
- The failure to interview a range of former National Guardsmen who served with Lieutenant Colonel Killian and who had different perspectives about the documents;
- 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;
- The failure to have a vetting process capable of dealing effectively with the production speed, significance and sensitivity of the Segment; and
- 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.
While many will see the report as not going far enough, it is certainly not a sugar coating that some expected. After now reading most of the report and skimming the rest I am of the opinion that it was well done [well, better than expected] with a few notable short comings. The biggest, in my mind, was the failure to attach a systemic political agenda to the bias the motivated Rather and Mapes to believe their story was true despite the facts. This, in turn, may have led the Panel to connect the dots to the Kerry campaign.
Michelle Malkin: CBS WATCH: "MYOPIC ZEAL," "RIGID AND BLIND"
Powerline's Hindrocket responds. Here are a couple remarks:
I should add that I don't attach great significance to the authors' failure to state a definite conclusion that the documents were fakes. The report does an excellent job of marshalling the evidence as to content, format and typography. No one (except, perhaps, Dan Rather) can read that evidence without concluding that the documents were a hoax.
BlogsforBush has blogger reactions and Steven Taylor responds to the Panels decision not to brand the memos as forgeries, "You have got to be kidding me. That those documents were produced on modern equipment was plainly obvious."
Update: This shows the genuine culpability of CBS. The reports states that before the airing of the broadcast two document experts expressed concern over the authenticity of the memos and “all four of the examiners told the Panel that they informed Mapes and Miller that they could not authenticate the documents, primarily because they were copies.”
I appreciated the discussion of the "vetting process". The Sept. 8 Segement should have received the highest degree of vetting because, among other reasons, the Segment "was to be released in the middle of a presidential campaign and was highly negative to one candidate (President Bush)." The Panel then concluded that CBS' vetting process was "seriously flawed" and, in particular, identified several previously unknown key mistakes by Mapes and her colleagues.
The Panel concluded that there were substantial and inappropriate reasons in the aftermath why 60 Minutes stood by its story. First, directives of CBS News President Heyward to investigate the details of the examiners’ opinions and confidential sources were not followed.
Second, CBS chose to defend rather than investigate. For example, a respected typewriter expert, Peter Tytell, contacted Miller and Howard and explained in detail why he believed the Killian documents were likely fakes. His views were not pursued or analyzed in part because 60 Minutes Wednesday was searching only for experts who would defend the September 8 Segment.
Third, Major General Hodges contacted Mapes and Rather, telling them he was misquoted and that he now felt the documents were fake.
“Thus, within two days following the airing of the Sept. 8 Segment, 60 Minutes Wednesday ignored significant opportunities to take a fresh look at the reporting that allegedly supported the Segment.”
Update III - A Shocker
The panel was further confused by Rather’s apology, aired on Sept. 20, in which he no longer vouches for the Killian document’s authenticity because Lt. Colonel Burketts, who provided the memos, changed his story. The reason this is confusing is that Burkett was not the basis for the memos’ authenticity as originally reprted.
Rather told the Panel, that he did not fully agree with the decision (to apologize) and still believes that the content of the documents is accurate. "The Panel is troubled by these conflicting statements."
In its concluding remarks, the Panel states,
- Shocked, Mapes Stands By Her Story - Jan 11, 2005
- Rather Stands by His Claim that the Fake Story is Accurate - Jan 10, 2005
- Independent Review Panel Examining CBS Issues Report of Its Findings - Jan 10, 2005
- Finding Courage in Rathergate - Jan 09, 2005
- CBS Report on Fake Memos Set for Release - Jan 06, 2005
- Ten Errors in One Paragraph by WaPo - Dec 28, 2004
- Fake but True Alert - Dec 20, 2004
- Rather Steps Down, Finally - Nov 23, 2004
- CBS Credibility Continues Decline - Nov 16, 2004
- Texas Attorney Launches Rathergate Probe - Sep 30, 2004
Viacom fired 3 mid level execs. None of the top people are gone, including smear master Dan.
Posted by: Rod Stanton at January 14, 2005 4:12 PM