The weblogs that first revealed CBS News used phony documents as the basis for an election-season piece about President Bush’s National Guard service are in full force after release of the network’s independent-panel report yesterday, with most expressing surprise at its harsh, detailed criticism of news personnel but lamenting it couldn’t see political bias driving the story.
“We’re disappointed that the panel claimed there was not enough proof that those involved had political motivations,” said RatherBiased.com co-editor Matthew Sheffield.
But he surmised, “If the panel had made such a claim, CBS more than likely would have rejected the findings all together.”
The report by former Republican Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and retired Associated Press president and CEO Louis Boccardi concluded CBS News failed to follow basic journalistic principles in the preparation and reporting of the controversial Sept. 8 “60 Minutes Wednesday” segment.
CBS announced yesterday it asked for the resignations of 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 network reported.
Dan Rather, who reported the story on air, is stepping down as anchor of “CBS Evening News” in March but will stay with the network.
“We deeply regret the disservice this flawed ’60 Minutes Wednesday’ report did to the American public, which has a right to count on CBS News for fairness and accuracy,” said CBS President Leslie Moonves.
Greg Sheffield, another RatherBiased.com co-editor, said “Rather very clearly saw the writing on the wall and decided to retire late last year, despite his and CBS’ claims that he was not pressured.”
“These firings are a good start toward the path of objectivity for CBS,” Sheffield said. “But if the network wants to truly show that it is serious about being fair, it needs to fire news president Andrew Heyward, who personally approved a public relations strategy of stonewalling and lying when confronted with evidence that CBS had erred.”
Last fall, weblogs such as Charles Johnson’s Little Green Footballs presented convincing evidence the documents, dated in the early 1970s, were produced on a modern computer word processor, but the panel report reveals Rather has not completely backed down on his original assertions, notes RatherGate.com
The report says: “Rather informed the Panel that he still believes the content of the documents is true because ‘the facts are right on the money,’ and that no one had provided persuasive evidence that the documents were not authentic.”
Nevertheless, Kevin Aylward of Wizbang sees evidence that the panel believes Rather lied.
Among the panel’s 10 “most serious defects in the reporting and production of the September 8 segment” was No. 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.”
Aylward comments: “#2 is the killer. Dan Rather got on the air and flat lied to the American people. He should be fired.”
The panel said a key factor explaining the failure was a “myopic zeal” to be the first news organization to broadcast a groundbreaking story about Bush’s National Guard service. But Thornburgh and Boccardi said it “cannot conclude that a political agenda at ’60 Minutes Wednesday’ drove either the timing of the airing of the segment or its content.”
INDC Journal said, “The idea that Mary Mapes and Dan Rather had no political agenda is simply ludicrous, but the media and its established analysts need to play the old ‘vee know nussing’ game to maintain the grand illusion of ideological impartiality in journalism.”
But blogger Michelle Malkin, a WND columnist, points out the panel found Mapes’ contact with Joe Lockhart, a senior staff member of the Kerry presidential campaign, “troubling.”
The report said:
While it is certainly proper to receive information from a variety of sources, this contact crossed the line as, at a minimum, it gave the appearance of a political bias and could have been perceived as a news organization’s assisting a campaign as opposed to reporting on a story.
Jim Geraghty, in his TKS blog on National Review Online — formerly The Kerry Spot — says the panel’s ultimate conclusion that it could not prove political bias lacks credulity.
Does the panel really think that CBS would have acted in the same manner in a seemingly-great story that would have hurt John Kerry? Are we really to believe that it was solely ‘competitive pressures’ that led to this, and that no one in this process had their thinking influenced by a desire to see Bush defeated in this year’s election?
Blogger and talk-radio host Hugh Hewitt said, “As disgust with the Panel’s whitewash spreads across the blogosphere, expect a parallel universe to develop within MSM [mainstream media] — a sober toned but nevertheless congratulatory nod towards the “thoroughness” of the Panel’s effort and the severity of CBS’ response. Thus will the wagons of legacy media circle around Black Rock. The most interesting question will be how the legacy newspapers report the whitewash in tomorrow’s editions.”
Hewitt notes that Geraghty and other bloggers see a “silver lining” in the report, primarily because of its harsh criticism of those responsible for the story, but Hewitt disagrees, calling it the “CBS Whitewash Report.”
“By far the most important issue for the panel to investigate was the attempted manipulation of ‘prestige’ media to influence a presidential election,” he said.
“Now CBS has a report that says ‘mistakes were made’ but not because its employees were attempting to bring down a president. Had the Panel exonerated Rather and Mapes, et al., at least the Panel would not have dogged the central question. But of course, no one would have believed such an obviously absurd conclusion. So the Panel provided CBS the next best thing — a plausible cover for its political hackery. Unless and until MSM owns up to its deep seeded agenda journalism, it will never reform.”
“Captain Ed” of Captain’s Quarters was one who saw a silver lining.
“It appears that the full report will give the blogosphere material for much rumination and discussion over the next few days,” he wrote. “Whatever else, it isn’t the whitewash that most of us expected.”
Powerline’s John Hinderaker agreed.
“In general, the Thornburgh report is better than I expected,” he wrote. “It criticizes ’60 Minutes harshly,’ and is a treasure trove of factual information. However, while the report is damning, the question is whether it is damning enough. In two key respects, the report walks up to the precipice, but declines to jump.”
Yesterday, BoycottCBS.com founder Michael Paranzino responded to the CBS report, urging network executives to shun New York and broadcast the evening news “from the heartland” of America.