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January 10, 2005
More On The CBS Report (Updated)

I would encourage everyone to make sure they read the entire report coming from the Thornburgh-Boccardi panel on the Killian memos. I have read a number of comments on my earlier post, and most of you see the report as a whitewash. I agree in part with this analysis, mostly on the question of motivation. The report gives way too much credence to the notion that the only motivating factor involved in Mapes' and CBS' decision to run a story without ever checking its central "evidence" was competitive pressure to air their expos first. CBS and Thornburgh-Boccardi never discuss in any detail Mapes' five-year quest on Bush's National Guard service, nor does competitive pressure explain how so many safeguards and direct orders from management were ignored, both before and after the segment aired. (See also this excellent piece of reporting by Michelle Malkin.)

However, on the question of authentication, the report itself damns Mapes and CBS rather conclusively. Read pages 133 - 150 especially, and appendix 4, where (as I pointed out earlier), the panel's documents expert concludes that the memos came from a computer. In the main report, the panel takes Mapes' assertion that she authenticated the Killian memos via a "meshing" method, meaning that she reviewed the documents in the context of other known-authentic memos from Bush's file. Thornburgh-Boccardi makes hash out of this argument:

The Panel addresses the meshing claim these issues in this Chapter. The Panel observes at the outset, however, that what was at first asserted by Mapes prior to the broadcast of the Segment to be a good meshing without any apparent qualification has now been transformed into an argument that there is nothing in the official Bush records that would rule out the authenticity of the Killian documents. This is similar to statements made by Matley, one of the document examiners, before the airing of the Segment that he could not see anything in the Killian documents that would rule out the possibility that they were authentic. While such an argument may have legitimacy in an advocacy proceeding, the Panel does not find it to be a sufficient standard for journalism, which should not stand on a nothing to rule it out foundation. ...

The Panel reaches no definitive conclusion as to whether the Killian documents are authentic. Given that the Killian documents are copies and not originals, that the author is deceased, that the Panel has not found any individual who knew about them when they were created, and that there is no clear chain of custody, it may never be possible for anyone to authenticate or discredit the documents. However, based on a comparison to the official Bush records and the other data referred to in this Chapter, the Panel finds many reasons to question
the documents authenticity. At a minimum, if the official Bush records had been compared carefully to the Killian documents prior to airing the September 8 Segment, there would likely have been, in the Panels view, enough issues raised to prevent a rush to air within days of obtaining them.

In lawyerese, the panel politely told Mapes that she's full of crap. Later, it goes on to say that while one could cherry-pick one or two items and claim they mesh, doing that while ignoring the vast number of other differences is intellectually indefensible.

So far, from what I read, the panel report tells us this:

1. CBS did not follow its own standards and practices in producing the segment.

2. CBS stonewalled and actually flat-out lied in its initial response to criticism on the segment. (page 155)

3. The documents on which Mapes relied for the story most likely were produced by a modern computer. (appendix 4)

4. CBS News management did not follow up on its own doubts about the story, allowing Mapes to continue her desperate cover-up. (page 161)

In other words, we have CBS producers lying, management AWOL, and the entire enterprise embarassing itself. These aren't minor points, and admitting them doesn't make this a whitewash. The executive summary reads like a deposition in some sense, and while it gives a good overview of the conclusions Thornburgh-Boccardi were willing to unequivocally reach, the report itself contains much more meat, and many revelations that CBS will not find particularly complimentary in any journalistic or management sense.

I'll have more later when I can read the entire report and its appendices.

UPDATE: I've read the section of the report (pages 211-216) where it discusses potential political bias. Here I think the panel became way too timid, hamstrung by its legalistic approach to the subject matter rather than its analytical mandate. For instance, it dismisses without any adequate explanation why Mapes' five-year pursuit of the National Guard story had no political connotations:

The Panel does not view the length of Rather and Mapes pursuit of this story as persuasive evidence of a political agenda. Mapes did not believe that she was able to gather enough meaningful information for a story in 1999 and 2000. Mapes and Rather pursued the story again in 2004, but only after a significant number of stories had appeared in the national media on the subject beginning in or about February 2004.

What the panel leaves out is that while Mapes didn't develop a story during the first Bush campaign in 1999-2000, several others brought the issue up -- and it was quickly discredited. The story had not changed significantly in the intervening time; the same sources were alleging the same charges. Why, then, pick it up again in 2004? If that question had been asked by the panel, perhaps they would have found the bias.

I find this analysis to be completely laughable:

The Panel reports elsewhere about Mapes contacts with the Kerry campaign. Mapes informed the Panel that she did not think that her request to have someone from the Kerry campaign call Lieutenant Colonel Burkett would result in anything that would assist the Kerry campaign.

Well, if Burkett couldn't help the Kerry campaign, then what good was he to CBS? Obviously, if the Killian memos were on the level, they would have seriously damaged Bush's re-election chances. Moreover, the reason given by Mapes for the contact assistance was that she hoped to get more information from Burkett. Doesn't this fall within the lines of paying Burkett off? The appearance and the reality was that putting Burkett in touch with Lockhart allowed the Kerry campaign to coordinate its attack on Bush's service with the 60 Minutes Wednesday report -- a rather obvious conclusion, and one that the panel avoids.

The Thornburgh-Boccardi panel has done some good work here, but they punted on the political-bias issue.

UPDATE: Many thanks to Jonathan Last for the link from his excellent analysis of the report, "Whitewash". However, Last and Hugh Hewitt both misunderstood my intent here. I had to wait until later to do an extensive analysis of the report, which I posted here last night. (Some of us have day jobs, after all.)

This story will have legs for a while. The blogosphere should be allowed a few days in which to absorb the impact of the report. We'll sort it out well enough in the end, as I think you'll see.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 10, 2005 12:25 PM

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