A New York-based group petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to sanction CBS News and its parent organization, Viacom, Inc., for its recent broadcast of news reports based on forged documents.
The Media Ethics Project, a newly formed group, cites two recent “60 Minutes II” broadcasts and several editions of “CBS Evening News” in its petition.
“The actions of CBS News over the last week have been truly outrageous,” said MEP Chairman William L. Whitely. “Most people familiar with [anchor] Dan Rather’s reports have seen solid evidence from various credible sources showing the documents to be forged. Yet, day in and day out, CBS has stubbornly continued to maintain that the memos are authentic.”
MEP says it contacted Viacom counsel Monday and Tuesday to propose the entire controversy be referred to an independent reviewer.
But CBS News President Andrew Heyward said on Wednesday’s “Evening News” broadcast he remained satisfied the “memos were accurate” and vowed that CBS would “redouble” its efforts to answer questions raised by critics.
Whitely said the nework’s “supremely arrogant conduct” violates the public trust and the rules and policies of the FCC.
Viacom, as the holder of 39 television station licenses and 185 radio stations, cannot be allowed to flout FCC rules, he asserted.
MEP seeks a finding from the FCC that the actions of CBS and Viacom constitute fraud and, therefore, are deserving of sanction, including fines and forfeiture of one or more broadcast licenses.
Using documents regarded by document experts as forgeries, the CBS reports contend President Bush was given preferential treatment, allowing him to enter the Texas Air National Guard in order to avoid service in Vietnam.
After broadcast of the first “60 Minutes II” report Sept. 8, Internet weblogs began raising questions about the authenticity of the documents by analyzing them online.
MEP contends the network’s continued defense of the documents in the face of mounting contrary evidence violates FCC policies. The Commission, the group notes, prohibits the broadcasting of falsified, faked, distorted or staged news reports as contrary to the public interest.
Whitely said the whole episode “must be regarded as a remarkable failure of management.”
“It is truly sad that the proud traditions of professionalism of CBS News, the division built by the likes of Morrow, Severeid, Reasoner, Mudd and Cronkite, have been allowed to slowly fade away,” he said. “In their place is an organization where unprincipled ego, bias, negligence, partisanship and vindictiveness apparently determine the setting of management policy.”
Because of the CBS reports’ potential impact on the election, MEP is asking the FCC to expedite its request.