Monday, January 10, 2005

The Great CBS Whitewash

CBS has finaly released their report on Danny's forged documents. Looks like Danny gets off the hook and the underlings get fired. Though Manes should have been fired a long to me ago since she has a history of trying to push stories with no credible evidence to support the allegations made. Still, Danny gets off the hook and continues with a cushy position on 60 Minutes II. With this basic whitewash, CBS News loses what little credibility they had. Now, if CBS is really serious about rectifying their errors, they will air a full retraction. I will not hold my breath waiting though. - Sailor

Monday, Jan. 10, 2005 10:55 a.m. EST

CBS Fires Four 'Rathergate' Employees

Four CBS News employees have been ousted in connection with CBS's flawed, inaccurate "September surprise" story questioning George W. Bush's National Guard service.

The departing CBS staffers include Senior Vice President Betsy West; "60 Minutes/Wednesday" Executive Producer Josh Howard and his deputy, Mary Murphy, all three of whom were asked to resign, press reports said Monday morning.

Mary Mapes, the producer of the segment on George W. Bush's National Guard service, was fired. Equally as important as who was fired is who was not fired: CBS News President Andrew Heyward will remain in his job, something that will upset people who believe that Heyward is a key player in CBS's allegedly biased reporting.
Dan Rather, who reported the Bush-bashing piece, is retiring in March.

The independent panel asked to investigate the "60 Minutes Wednesday" report said that CBS, in its "myopic zeal" to be first with the story, sacrificed accuracy and did not meet CBS's internal standards.

"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," the report concluded.
The timing of the story - coming as it did on Sept. 8, about two months before the November election - and the questionable source of the story (it was based on faked documents) further damaged the credibility of CBS News and led to charges of political bias.

On Sept. 20, CBS News finally admitted it had been "misled" by the story's main source - former Texas Guard official Bill Burkett, who opposed the re-election of President Bush. CBS said it could not prove that documents Burkett provided were authentic - weeks after many Americans judged those documents to be fraudulent, based on their modern typeface and format.

"We should not have used them," Andrew Heyward said in the Sept. 20 statement. "That was a mistake, which we deeply regret."

In a separate statement on Sept. 20, CBS News anchor Dan Rather finally admitted that he no longer had confidence in the documents on which his report was based. "I find we have been misled on the key question of how our source for the documents came into possession of these papers," Rather said.
"That, combined with some of the questions that have been raised in public and in the press, leads me to a point where -- if I knew then what I know now -- I would not have gone ahead with the story as it was aired, and I certainly would not have used the documents in question," he said.

"But we did use the documents," Rather said. "We made a mistake in judgment, and for that I am sorry. It was an error that was made, however, in good faith and in the spirit of trying to carry on a CBS News tradition of investigative reporting without fear or favoritism."

©2005 All, Rights Reserved.

CBS Statement on Firings
Monday, Jan. 10, 2005

CBS issued the following release Monday morining:

Four CBS News employees, including three executives, have been ousted for their role in preparing and reporting a disputed story about President Bush’s National Guard service.

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 Mary Murphy. The producer of the piece, Mary Mapes, was terminated.

The correspondent on the story, CBS News anchor Dan Rather, is stepping down as anchor of CBS Evening News.

The panel said a "myopic zeal" to be the first news organization to broadcast a groundbreaking story about Mr. Bush’s National Guard service was a key factor in explaining why CBS News had produced a story that was neither fair nor accurate and did not meet the organization’s internal standards.

The report said at least four factors that some observers described as a journalistic "Perfect Storm” had contributed to the decision to broadcast a piece that was seriously flawed.

"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," the report said.

The piece was aired during a tight and hotly contested presidential race between Mr. Bush and Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry. The timing of the story prompted charges of political bias against CBS News.

While the panel found that some actions taken by CBS News encouraged such suspicions, "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.”

The story, which aired last Sept. 8, relied on four documents allegedly written by one of Mr. Bush's Texas Air National Guard commanders in the early 1970s, Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, who is now dead. Questions about the authenticity of the documents were raised almost immediately.

After a stubborn 12-day defense of the story, CBS News conceded that it could not confirm the authenticity of the documents and asked former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and former Associated Press President Louis Boccardi to conduct an independent investigation into the matter.

Their findings were contained in a 224-page report made public on Monday. While the panel said it was not prepared to brand the Killian documents as an outright forgery, it raised serious questions about their authenticity and the way CBS News handled them.

The panel 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 producer of the piece, Mary Mapes, was also faulted for calling Joe Lockhart, a senior official in the John Kerry campaign, prior to the airing of the piece, and offering to put Burkett in touch with him. The panel called Mapes’ action a "clear conflict of interest that created the appearance of political bias.”

The panel noted that the Guard segment was rushed on the air only six days after 60 Minutes Wednesday had obtained some of the documents from Burkett and that preparation of the piece was supervised by a new management team of executive producer Josh Howard and senior broadcast producer Mary Murphy.

A key factor in the decision to broadcast the piece was a telephone conversation between Mapes and Maj. Gen. Bobby Hodges, Killian’s commanding officer. Mapes told the panel Hodges confirmed the content of the four documents after she read them to him over the phone.

Hodges, however, denied doing so. He also told the panel he had given Mapes information that should have raised warning flags about the documents, including his belief that Killian had never ordered anyone, including Mr. Bush, to take a physical.

Hodges said that when he finally saw the documents after the Sept. 8 broadcast, he concluded they were bogus and told Rather and Mapes of his opinion on Sept. 10.

"This alleged confirmation by Major General Hodges started to march 60 Minutes Wednesday into dangerous and ultimately unsustainable territory: the notion that since the content of the documents was felt to be true, demonstrating the authenticity of the documents became less important.”

Mapes’ telephone conversation with Hodges was part of a vetting process that the panel concluded was wholly inadequate, largely because it had to be done so quickly. The key executives vetting the piece were West, Howard, and Murphy.

After rushing the piece to air, the panel said, CBS News compounded the error by blindly defending the story. In doing so, the news organization missed opportunities to set the record straight.

"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,” the report concluded.

The panel believes a turning point came on Sept. 10, when CBS News President Andrew Heyward ordered Betsy West to review the opinions of document examiners who had seen the disputed documents and the confidential sources supporting the story.

But no such investigation was undertaken.

"Had this directive been followed promptly, the panel does not believe that 60 Minutes Wednesday would have publicly defended the segment for another 10 days,” the report said.

The panel made a number of recommendations for changes, including:

Appoint a senior Standards and Practices Executive, reporting directly to the President of CBS News, who would review all investigative reporting, use of confidential sources and authentication of documents. Personnel should feel comfortable going to this person confidentially and without fear of reprisal, with questions or concerns about particular reports.

Foster an atmosphere in which competitive pressure is not allowed to prompt airing of reports before all investigation and vetting is done.

Allow senior management to know the names of confidential sources as well as all relevant background about the person needed to make news judgments.

Appoint a separate team, led by someone not involved in the original reporting, to look into any news report that is challenged.

Verne Gay
Off Camera
Whither Dan now?

January 11, 2005

What about Dan?

During a long, dark day at CBS News that was wracked by anger, remorse and disbelief, this was the one inescapable question that emerged from the Memogate wreckage. What about the man who has been the symbolic leader of this diminished news division for the last 24 years -- its public face to the world and, for all intents and purposes, the reigning soul of this once mighty machine?

Depending on who was doing the asking, the question took on different shades of meaning throughout the day. To some, Rather, who anchored the Sept. 8 report on "60 Minutes Wednesday" should not have escaped with a mere slap on the wrist when other careers had imploded so dramatically. But to others -- most likely the majority -- "What about Dan?" had a mournful rhetorical ring to it.

As in: So this is how one of the great careers in television comes to a final, sad, and perhaps inevitable conclusion?

Rather was off the air last night, resting (his spokeswoman said) after a long flight back from Asia where he had covered the tsunami tragedy. But the question of his fate has undoubtedly floated around in his brainpan for weeks.

On a human level -- that would be, on Rather's level -- yesterday's report had a Shakespearean pathos to it. The report's overall portrayal was of someone who was so stretched that he didn't know whether he was coming or going -- and the report often seemed to suggest that he was doing both. Exhausted after covering the Republican National Convention in New York, drained after rushing back from covering Hurricane Frances in Florida, Rather only seemed to vaguely recall certain conversations, or completley forget others. He never even saw the original report before it went on the air -- but stubbornly defended the "60 Minutes Wednesday" report on "Evening News" a couple of nights later.

He also seemed to have fought rearguard skirmishes with the president of CBS News, Andrew Heyward, who told the panelists Rather had told him the story had been "thoroughly vetted."

But the words "Rather had only a vague recollection" (P. 71), or "Rather... did not recall" (P. 81) or "Rather did not recall being told at any time... " (P. 93) float through these pages like ghosts of King Lear. The import, of course, is that the heart and soul of CBS News had no clue what was going on, and had put his trust in those who did not deserve it. In the end, it may have been this cluelessness that exonerated him, but it may also be this misbegotten image that dogs him to the day he finally exits stage right in March.

"Great trust was placed in Mapes" by Rather, the report's authors dolefully wrote, while later declaring that his "detachment may have been due in large part to his considerable other work his reliance on Mapes."

"Dan Rather comes out badly," says Alex Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Cener on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. "He's a man of great pride, and I'm sure this is something that will gnaw at him, but he's got more years to demonstrate that this is not that the last chapter of the career of Dan Rather."

More years, unquestionably, but this is one memory that he will not so easily shake. Nor will others.

Investigators Blast CBS for Rathergate

Phil Brennan
Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2005

If you believe CBS’ report it was all producer Mary Mapes fault – Dan Rather was not much more than an innocent bystander in the scandal that now bears his name: "Rathergate."CBS would also have you believe there was no evidence that politics played a role in CBS airing of a story based on forged documents. CBS, for that matter, still won’t say the documents were forged.

This last conclusion is convenient for CBS and the “independent” panel they appointed to investigate Rathergate. If the documents are forgeries -- which almost everyone agrees is the case -- there are several felonies involved that could cause some people to go to jail -- including sources used by CBS in creating and airing a fraudulent story.
For sure, the report offered little shelter for Dan Rather and CBS News. The report concluded that CBS failed dismally to meet its own standards that calls for its personnel to adhere to published internal standards based on two core principles: accuracy and fairness.

Most of the panel’s findings focused on the CBS “60 Minutes” staff’s dereliction in failing to verify the charges made in the explosive segment dealing with President Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard.

"While the focus of the Panel’s investigation at the outset was on the Killian documents, the investigation quickly identified considerable and fundamental deficiencies relating to the reporting and production of the September 8 Segment and the statements and news reports during the aftermath," the report states.
Myopic Zeal
"These problems were caused primarily by a myopic zeal to be the first news organization to broadcast what was believed to be a new story about President Bush’s TexANG service, and the rigid and blind defense of the segment after it aired despite numerous indications of its shortcomings."

At the heart of the network’s failure to adhere to established journalistic standards of fairness and accuracy was producer Mary Mapes.

Mapes has been described by the Associated Press as a dedicated liberal who has used journalism to push her agenda.

Wall Street Journal columnist Dorothy Rabinowitz wondered how Dan Rather, Mapes’ boss, and Mapes "had conceived such bottomless trust in the good faith and objectivity of their source, Bill Burkett, (CBS source of the forged documents) a Texan well known for the depths of his active hatred for George W. Bush and the Bush family, as well as a rage at the National Guard for allegedly depriving him of medical benefits."

Rabinowitz added that Mapes "a producer who has worked and waited five years, building a new version of an old charge about George W. Bush's National Guard service, and who stood teetering at the brink of consummation – a chance to deliver the bullet just weeks before the election – isn't going to be inhibited by any such guff about standards."

The Panel report bears this out abundantly, stating that the most serious defects in the reporting and production of the September 8 Segment were:

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. This episode was indicative of Mapes’ utter failure to trace down the source of the alleged documents.
Her story boggles the mind: Mapes told the panel that once she obtained the first two Killian documents, she pressed Burkett for information about his source, claiming she discussed with him the importance of the chain of custody and that she needed to know "whose hands" were last on the documents.
According to Mapes, Burkett eventually told her that Chief Warrant officer George Conn, a former officer in the Texas Army National Guard and a long-time friend, had given him the documents.

Could Not Be Reached

He told Mapes, however, that she should not call Conn because he would deny it. Burkett also said that Conn was on active duty and could not be reached at his Dallas home. Once Mapes obtained this information from Burkett, she did not ask for more details regarding how he got the documents from Conn because she thought she had "pushed Burkett to the wall." Mapes said that it concerned her when Burkett said that Conn would not corroborate his story, and she was also aware that Conn had denied in February 2004 having knowledge of the "scrubbing" incident.

That revelation failed to raise any red flags for this experienced investigative journalist. She simply believed that Conn’s denial was a means to protect his job with the military and she felt comforted that Burkett and his wife spoke well of Conn despite his prior statements undercutting charges Burkett had made.
Nevertheless, Mapes said she placed a call to Conn at a number believed to be his residence in Dallas, but was not able to contact him. Mapes knew that Conn worked in Germany, but she told the Panel that she tried his number in Dallas because it was her understanding that he was sometimes in Dallas.

Mapes said that she also asked former Chief Warrant Officer Harvey Gough, another former Guardsman, for Conn’s number in Germany, but he refused. She does not recall any subsequent attempts to reach Chief Warrant Officer Conn or asking anyone else to find him.

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. The telephone call prior to the Segment’s airing by Mary Mapes, 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.


Once questions were raised about the September 8 Segment, the reporting thereafter was mishandled and compounded the damage done.

Among the more egregious shortcomings during the Aftermath were:

The strident defense of the September 8 Segment by CBS News without adequately probing whether any of the questions raised had merit;
Allowing many of the same individuals who produced and vetted the by-then controversial September 8 Segment to also produce the follow-up news reports defending the Segment;
The inaccurate press statements issued by CBS News after the broadcast of the Segment that the source of the documents was "unimpeachable" and that experts had vouched for their authenticity;
The misleading stories defending the Segment that aired on the CBS Evening News after September 8 despite strong and multiple indications of serious flaws;
The efforts by 60 Minutes Wednesday to find additional document examiners who would vouch for the authenticity of the documents instead of identifying the best examiners available regardless of whether they would support this position; and
Preparing news stories that sought to support the Segment, instead of providing accurate and balanced coverage of a raging controversy."

Early on, for all intents and purposes the Panel lets Rather gently off the hook while hanging Mapes out to dry, stating that:"Rather and Mapes had worked together for more than five years, and Rather gave Mapes significant responsibility to produce stories, in part due to the great confidence and respect that he had for her work, and in part due to the demands of Rather’s other duties at CBS News.

In late August and early September 2004, as the September 8 Segment was being developed, Rather had even greater demands on his time than usual as he was covering the Republican Convention in New York City and then a hurricane in Florida. Thus, he was not able to spend extensive time on the development of the September 8 Segment."
The report goes further in exonerating Rather: "The Panel finds that the vetting process for the September 8 Segment was seriously flawed. The Panel believes that this was caused in large part by the speed with which this Segment was produced. The Panel also believes that the vetting process was not sufficient because too much deference was given to Mapes because of her experience and much admired history at CBS News and 60 Minutes Wednesday, as well as her association with Rather.
Rather does not appear to have participated in any of the vetting sessions or to have even seen the Segment before it was aired."

Mapes, however, was her own worst enemy, consistently misleading the panel by contradicting the testimony of a number of witnesses who refused to back her recollections of her dealings with them.

Moreover, she insisted that the Killian documents had been declared authentic by experts when in fact none of those retained by CBS would verify their authenticity.


The panel was diligent in digging into the facts and pulls no punches in meticulously documenting the shoddiness of the 60 Minutes segment dealing with the Bush National Guard story.

But they go out of their way to avoid any admissions that the subject documents were forgeries, that there was any political motive behind airing an anti-Bush story weeks before election day, and downplays Rather’s complicity in the fraudulent broadcast.

The panel asked how it all happened and found that it happened primarily because of a rush to air a program that rode roughshod over CBS own published News Standards and the people who are supposed to prevent the problems described in their Report.
"Those responsible for the Segment believed firmly that it was true (and some still do). In particular, the producer, Mary Mapes, had fervent faith in what she was reporting and the correspondent, Dan Rather, had great confidence in Mapes’ work," the report claimed. "Everyone involved wanted the Segment to be right. But in journalism, no less than in other fields, wanting is not enough."

As Bernard Goldberg told Fox News Monday, the story ran without being properly investigated because Rather and Mapes as a result of their liberal political leanings wanted it to air to hurt the President weeks before the election.
The Panel described the "missteps that led to the scandal:

A sometimes controversial source, Lt. Col. Burkett with a partisan point of view gave 60 Minutes Wednesday the documents. Only the most cursory effort – one unsuccessful attempt to contact the original source by telephone – was made to establish the chain of custody.

Efforts at authentication failed miserably. Hired document examiners whose views went against the rush to air were cast aside. The four original document examiners became two and ultimately one, who opined only on one signature in one document. Nevertheless, the Segment contained an unsupported declaration of authenticity.
Competitive zeal – the desire to be the first to break what was seen as a significant story – fed the rush to air to the point where holding the story to vet it more thoroughly became unthinkable because some other news organization might surely break the story.

The person relied on as the so-called "trump card" to confirm the content of the Killian documents was not shown any documents before the Segment aired. He was merely read some or all of the content of the documents over the telephone. The Panel finds this unacceptable as a basis for provenance of a story that turned on the authenticity of pieces of paper. In the rush to air, basic reporting suffered.
Mapes has now been fired. Dan Rather has a cushy new job waiting for him at “60 Minutes” when he steps down from his anchor post.

Go Wonder.

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