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January 11, 2005
More Inconsistencies On Rather

The survival of Dan Rather and Andrew Heyward has become one of the more puzzling and infuriating developments to come out of CBS' response to its internal investigation into the Killian memo scandal. In a USA Today report, CBS staffers also question how four medium-level people got kicked out of Black Rock but the division president and its managing editor kept their jobs. One of the more prominent names at CBS spoke for the record:

"It's a sad day" is all Wallace would say of the fallout from the 60 Minutes "Memogate" story that questioned President Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard.

So it was left to Andy Rooney, the 85-year-old 60 Minutes commentator, to weigh in.

"The people on the front lines got fired while the people most instrumental in getting the broadcast on escaped," Rooney said He was referring to the firing of producer Mary Mapes and the requested resignations of a senior vice president and two 60 Minutes producers while anchor Dan Rather and CBS News chief Andrew Heyward kept their jobs.

The survival of both men came at the hands of Les Moonves, who gave a lengthy statement yesterday in conjunction with the release of the Thornburgh-Boccardi report. In his statement, Moonves says the following about Rather's involvement in the TexANG story:

The Panel found that Dan Rather was pushed to the limit in the week before the September 8th broadcast. He was finishing up the anchoring job at the 2004 Republican Convention and was covering Hurricane Frances in Florida. 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.

However, that isn't what Heyward told the panel. On page 104 of the full CBS report, Heyward testifies that Rather told him that the story occupied much more of his attention than most:

Heyward recalled speaking to Rather on Monday, September 6, and being told that the story was thoroughly vetted. Heyward also told the Panel that Rather said he had not been involved in this much checking on a story since Watergate. Heyward also said that Rather commented, This isnt as big as Abu Ghraib, but its very big, and you should probably look at it before it goes to air.

Either Heyward or Rather is lying about Rather's involvement in fact-checking the story. However, nothing in the report indicates any reason why Moonves discredits Heyward's testimony on this point. The report itself remains agnostic on this point, and so Moonves drew his own conclusion on Rather's involvement. If Moonves believes Rather, then what does that say about Heyward's credibility? If Heyward lied and tried to put the blame on Rather unfairly, then Heyward certainly should lose his job immediately. CBS, or any other corporation, cannot abide leaving managers or executives in place who run from responsibility and shift blame onto underlings. Especially in an organization that has had its share of morale-shattering blows, employees need leaders they can respect, not fear.

The more plausible explanation is that Rather lied, either to Heyward about his personal involvement in fact-checking Mapes' story, or to the panel about being too busy to be involved. Rather, on his WCBS interview with Marcia Kramer on September 20th, makes his participation sound somewhat less than Watergate levels:

KRAMER: How could you have been so misled that these documents were put on TV?

RATHER: I made a mistake. I didn't dig hard enough, long enough, didn't ask enough of the right questions. And I trusted a source who changed his story. And it turns out he misled us, lied to us about one thing. But there are no excuses. This is not a day for excuses. I made a mistake; we made a mistake and I'm sorry for it.

If Rather lied, then Moonves' desire to hang onto Heyward becomes a bit more understandable -- but then why allow Rather to stick around? Rather not only lied to Heyward (or the panel, Moonves, and Kramer), but he lied a number of times afterward in his response to the criticism that erupted after the publication of the memos. On page 154, the panel found that Rather had Mapes prepare a talking points list for defending the story. Rather then used these bullet points when addressing the criticism publicly, but expressed them as his own independent opinion:

1. There are an equal number of experts on both sides of the authenticity argument. We showed our documents to our experts and received confirmation that satisfied our news and reporting standards.

2. The truth of these documents also lies in the signatures and in the content of the documents, not just typeface and fontstyle, which are inexact science. This is not DNA testing folks .

3. The Washington Post has taken a couple of shots at us concerning the documents. We have answers to their negative commentsbasically, their points being that the address doesnt match the Bush service timeframe or their points about writing style in the military. Both allegations are wrong.

4. The criticism comes from two main areas: Partisans and the competitive response of other news organizations.

5. Before airing the story we confirmed it on and off the record with people who knew Killian, said he had felt this way about the physical and people who knew the Guard apparatus at the time. BObby [sic] Hodges, who confirmed to us that Killian felt this way then denied it. Confirmed it again to the NY Times in the Saturday or Sunday story.

6. Many people in the GUard [sic] confirmed to us that Staudt had great influence in the Guard long after he left the Guard.

7. August 18, 1973 document the memo written after Staudt left the Guard, clearly differentiates between Austin (the HQ where Staudt had been when he ran the Guard) and Staudt at the time of the memos writing. The memo talks about Staudts pressure on HOdges [sic] and then says Austin is not happy either. Clearly demonstrates the difference between Staudt and Austin.

8. People need to look at the information inside the documents. It rings true with Bushs service record at the time.

9. What degree of sophistication would be required to fabricate these documents? indepth knowledge of Air force manual from 1971 Bushs service record AF regulations from 1971 All of the people involved at that time The attitude of the time (pages 189-90)

Rather used these in his media appearances, not representing them as official CBS positions or the defense of 60 Minutes Wednesday producers, but his own. He also pointedly told the nation that he personally vouched for the authenticity of the documents, allowing the nation to believe that Rather had been closely involved in authenticating the memos.

The panel exploded these talking points in its investigation:

Points 1, 2 and 8. These points suggest that multiple 60 Minutes Wednesday experts had signed off on the authenticity of the documents before the Segment aired. That clearly was false. In addition, there is a further effort by 60 Minutes Wednesday to argue that the content of the documents somehow proves that the documents are authentic. That strategy was misguided and already clearly a failure.

Points 3 and 4. The talking points reference The Washington Post article but do not address at all most of the points made in the paper. Also, the talking points attempt to deflect the media criticisms by blaming partisanship and competition. This was no answer to the detailed substantive points raised by The Washington Post and others.

Points 6 and 7. The Panel has not been able to identify any person with personal knowledge to confirm that General Staudt had great influence after he left the TexANG. Indeed, the former Guardsmen who did have personal knowledge, including General Staudt himself and Major General Hodges, all stated that he did not. (page 190)

Not only did Rather lie about the story's defense and his own work on the story, he later lied in his apology to CBS viewers. I note above that on September 20th Rather told WCBS, the network's East Coast flagship station, that "I made a mistake and I'm sorry for it." When Rather spoke to the panel, he had a much different take on his WCBS appearance (page 208):

Rather said that he did not want to do the interview or the apology on September 20, but Heyward and Schwartz asked him to do so. Rather said that he made his case as to why an apology was not appropriate and that management did not agree with him. Rather agreed to do the apology on September 20 and the Marcia Kramer interview because he is a team player. 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.

It is clear that Rathers joining in the apology given his role as the correspondent on the Segment and his status as CBS News most visible presence was critical to its acceptance. The Panel finds his comments disavowing the apology to be troubling, notwithstanding that he said he regarded himself as carrying out what CBS News felt was in its best interest on September 20.

The panel found this "troubling," because it reveals a basic dishonesty in Rather's approach to his job. He assured Heyward (if Heyward is to be believed) that he took a large, personal role in authenticating the Killian story, and later told everyone the exact opposite. Heyward wanted the story checked carefully before airing and relied on Rather's assurances. After the show, with CBS and Rather suffering a hailstorm of criticism for using false information, he supplied even more of it by again asserting his personal assurance that the documents were authentic, clearly intending to leave the impression that he had worked on that task himself. He used Mapes' talking points as if they were his own opinion without ever informing people that he was speaking on behalf of her or the 60 Minutes Wednesday production team instead. And after the story collapsed completely, he again mouthed CBS' talking points without informing people that he didn't really believe what he was saying.

When seen in context, Rather's performance during this scandal is shockingly dishonest and deliberatly misleading. He seems to have no sense of loyalty to the truth or to his viewers; in fact, his actions appear quite contemptuous of the public. How could Moonves expect to retain any credibility for any story fronted by Rather in any capacity at CBS? Moonves may think that the storm has passed -- but as long as Dan Rather continues to represent CBS, their news organization will have no credibility whatsoever.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 11, 2005 6:37 PM

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