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January 11, 2005
NY Sun: How Did Heyward And Rather Escape?

While the New York Times writes its moderate critique of CBS News' response to the Thornburgh-Boccardi report, another New York paper presents a devastating look at the network's decision to keep and protect the two people who should have taken responsibility for allowing the Killian memo segment to air. David Blum writes in the New York Sun that both men should have resigned in the wake of the scandal, and specifically their responses to it:

[W]e are supposed to accept Mr. Moonves's contention, in his statement that accompanied the report's release yesterday, that Mr. Heyward deserves to keep his job because "he issued direct instructions to investigate the sourcing of the story" and "pressed for his staff to come up with new and substantive information." But the report itself makes clear that Mr. Heyward (who personally screened the piece in advance of air) wrote his first significant questioning e-mail after watching a "Good Morning America" discussion between George Stephanopoulos and Charles Gibson almost 36 hours after the story aired. Is that supposed to be leadership?

As I have noted earlier, Heyward appears to carry little weight within his own news division. His early warnings to substantiate "evey syllable" of the Killian memos not only went unheeded, but completely ignored by his staff and producer Mary Mapes. Once the story broke, Heyward dithered in the face of its immediate and substantial criticism regarding the authenticity of the memos that formed the core of the story. He allowed the same team that produced the report to dictate the networks' response.

Small wonder that Heyward gets little attention to his directives. A leader, as Blum infers, does not stand around and let events consume him in a crisis. Heyward did just that. Moonves notes that Heyward "asked the right questions," but Heyward wasn't demanding the answers. Instead, he allowed Dan Rather and Mary Mapes to hijack the CBS News division in a destrutive wagon-circling exercise, blaming the criticism of their reporting on political partisanship.

Speaking of Rather, who CBS titled as their "managing editor", it turns out that Rather was nothing more than an empty suit, a mouthpiece in front of the camera. He did nothing to develop this story, and one suspects that this is the rule instead of the exception. However, Blum nails Rather not for the story itself, but his participation in the aftermath:

[H]ow does Mr. Rather, the story's on-air reporter - who, the commission reports, fought pressure to deliver the half-hearted on-air apology he eventually gave for the story on September 20 - avoid culpability for his egregious lack of involvement in the story he presented? According to the commission, Mr. Rather never even saw the story before it aired.

According to the report, Rather now renounces that half-hearted apology. He says he did it only to be a "team player" after CBS got shellacked by the media for the report. Amazingly, he still believes that the Killian memos are genuine, and he supports Mary Mapes' contention that the Thornburgh-Boccardi report actually bolsters that position. Rather will engage in endless spin instead of acknowledging his and CBS' egregious error -- a mindset that has proven dangerous in the newsroom, and one that should get him fired immediately, if for no other reason.

Another reason still exists, however. Rather, as Managing Editor, got in front of a camera after the storm of criticsm broke to do damage control. He told the nation that the documents were genuine, that they had been authenticated by experts, and that they originated from "unimpeachable" sources. Rather had no personal knowledge of any of these assertions, and yet he told his audience that he personally vouched for the truth of these statements. The most charitable explanation possible was that Rather put so much stock in Mapes that he believed her own assertions. It still doesn't change the fact that Rather lied, and Rather misrepresented his own involvement in ensuring the accuracy of the report.

For that reason alone, Rather should have gotten the axe.

The CBS response to the tepid Thornburgh-Boccardi report has proven disappointing. They fired two medium-level managers, one executive, and Mary Mapes, but addressed nothing to the two people who crafted the lies that CBS told in the aftermath of the scandal. Until they do, and until they address the rot that exists within their news division, CBS will never recover their credibility.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 11, 2005 6:10 AM

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