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January 10, 2005
CBS Coughs Up The Report

CBS has produced its long-awaited report on the TANG/Killian documents fiasco it started in September last year, when its news program 60 Minutes Wednesday published four memos purporting to document preferential treatment for George Bush. The hammer fell on four CBS employees as well -- three executives and producer Mary Mapes:

Four CBS News employees, including three executives, have been ousted for their role in preparing and reporting a disputed story about President Bushs 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 Howards deputy, Senior Broadcast Producer Mary Murphy. The producer of the piece, Mary Mapes, was terminated.

CBS released the findings of the Thornburgh-Boccardi investigation in PDF form here. I plan on doing a more thorough analysis later, but the findings appear fairly detrimental to CBS and its many apologists on this issue. Here is the executive summary of the report:

The stated goal of CBS News is to have a reputation for journalism of the highest quality and unimpeachable integrity. To meet this objective, CBS News expects its personnel to adhere to published internal Standards based on two core principles: accuracy and fairness. The Panel finds that both the September 8 Segment itself and the statements and news reports by CBS News that followed the Segment failed to meet either of these core principles.

The Panel has not been able to conclude with absolute certainty whether the Killian documents are authentic or forgeries. However, the Panel has identified a number of issues that raise serious questions about the authenticity of the documents and their content. With better reporting, these questions should have been raised before the September 8 Segment aired.

While the focus of the Panels 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. 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 Bushs TexANG service, and the rigid and blind defense of the Segment after it aired despite numerous indications of its shortcomings.

Oddly, and perhaps covered in better detail later, the report takes no definite position on the documents themselves. Neither does CBS hold Dan Rather responsible for any of the damage, even though the Thornburgh-Boccardi report points out specifically that one of the major failings of CBS was its "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" -- statements made by Dan Rather.

It appears that the full report will give the blogosphere material for much rumination and discussion over the next few days. Whatever else, it isn't the whitewash that most of us expected.

UPDATE: QandO notes that Les Moonves has harsher words for his team than the Thornburgh-Boccardi report, at least in the latter's executive summary:

Mary Mapes ... her basic reporting was faulty and her responses when questioned led others who trusted her down the wrong road. Her confidential source was not reliable and her authenticators were unable to authenticate the documents, and yet she maintained the opposite. In addition, the Panel cites a number of instances where Mapes accounts radically differ from those of her colleagues and sources. This is truly disquieting. For these reasons and many others outlined in the Panels work, Mary Mapes is terminated, effective immediately.

Josh Howard ... he participated in rushing this key investigative report onto the air without questioning the producer, Mary Mapes, thoroughly about sources and documentation, and did little to assert his role as the producer ultimately responsible for the broadcast and everything in it. This mistake dealt a tremendous blow to the credibility of 60 Minutes Wednesday and to CBS News in general, one which it was his duty to avert. For his role in the production of the segment, Howard has been relieved of his duties at 60 Minutes Wednesday and asked to resign from CBS News.

Betsy West ... Before the broadcast, it was Wests job to make sure that the vetting of the documents and sources used in this investigation was complete and that the final segment was fair and unbiased. As noted above, the Independent Panel found that the vetting process was not only incomplete but, in the end, utterly ineffectual. After the broadcast, the Panel found that West continued to defend the segment even when it was becoming increasingly apparent that it was flawed, and even when Howard suggested that the time had come to back away from the authenticity of the documents.

Even Dan Rather gets a bit of a slap from Moonves, even if it's damning with faint praise:

He asked the right questions initially, but then made the same errors of credulity and over-enthusiasm that beset many of his colleagues in regard to this segment. He was convinced that the documents were authenticated because he was told in no uncertain terms that this was so. He defended the story over-zealously afterwards; again, he believed in a star associate with whom he had worked often, and to award-winning result. The Panel has found that his unwillingness to consider that CBS News and his colleague were in the wrong was a mistake, and that the broadcast would have benefited from a more direct involvement on Rathers part.

In other words, we can't blame Dan for being the mouthpiece and the empty suit in front of the camera. He just does what he's told, even if we gave him the title "managing editor" here at CBS News. It's an embarassing admission for the longtime anchorman, and one that provides a humiliating valediction to his career. (Full text of Moonves' statement at The Anchoress.)

UPDATE II: Michelle Malkin notes that the failure to reach a conclusion on the Killian forgeries may just be a smart move from a legal standpoint. The appendices do everything but explicitly call them deliberate frauds:

The Killian Documents Were Likely Produced On A Computer

Tytell concluded that the Killian documents were produced in a typestyle that closely resembles Times New Roman, a typestyle that he explained was not available on standard typewriters in the early 1970s.6 Tytell explained to the Panel that although the typestyle of the Killian documents has certain similarities with the "Press Roman" typestyle on the IBM Selectric Composer typewriter that was available in the early 1970s, there are enough significant differences in his opinion to conclude that the Killian documents were not produced by an IBM Selectric Composer. The basis for his conclusion is summarized below.

According to Tytell, the Killian documents are proportionally spaced and therefore could not have been produced by monospaced typewriters, which constituted a substantial majority of the typewriters available in the early 1970s...

If calling them forgeries left the commission at risk for a defamation lawsuit from the ever-litigious Bill Burkett, then this report constitutes the next-best thing. Thornburgh-Boccardi leaves no doubt they're frauds.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 10, 2005 9:34 AM

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