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In a sure sign that the Thornburgh-Boccardi report and Les Moonves' following announcement has backfired, a groundswell of criticism continues to grow against CBS News and Moonves for its half-hearted corrective actions and its refusal to admit to the bias at the heart of the scandal. Yesterday, Van Gordon Sauter slammed CBS for its "unremitting liberal orientation" that makes its news shows "unwatchable." Today, two new front-line essays reject the whitewash. Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today, calls out CBS for its inaction:
Rather absented himself from the newscast Monday evening, the day the independent investigators' report and Moonves' response were made public. Then on Tuesday he was back in his usual role, after issuing a statement to CBS News colleagues that concluded: "I have seen us overcome adversity before. I am convinced we can do it again."
No apology. No acknowledgement that the buck stopped with him.
Rather has had many high points in a distinguished career since he succeeded Walter Cronkite on March 9, 1981. But this low point likely will haunt him forever, unless ...
Unless he quits the anchor's chair now, gives up any thought of continuing on 60 Minutes and helps his former co-workers who took the fall for his fumbling the ball find new jobs.
Interestingly and somewhat ironically, the paid advertisement for Neuharth's screed promotes NBC's Nightly News with new anchorman Brian Williams. Williams strikes a skeptical look for the camera, a hilarious counterpoint to Neuharth's scolding. He gazes out from the page as if thinking, "That's all you got?"
USA Today played its part in reporting the Killian memos, too. USA Today got all six Burkett-supplied documents and posted them on their website along with their interview of Bill Burkett on September 21st. This interview was the first time that audiences heard the tortured explanation of the chain of custody of the memos, the one involving "Lucy Ramirez," a livestock show, and burned originals. USA Today's Burkett interview demolished the notion that anyone not predisposed by bias against George Bush could have found Burkett an "unimpeachable" source:
Burkett's emotions varied widely in the interviews. One session ended when Burkett suffered a violent seizure and collapsed in his chair. ...
Burkett said he arranged to get the documents during a trip to Houston for a livestock show in March. But instead of being met at the show by Ramirez, he was approached by a man who asked for Burkett, handed him an envelope and quickly left, Burkett recounted.
"I didn't even ask any questions," Burkett said. "Should I have? Yes. Maybe I was duped. I never really even considered that." ...
After he received the documents in Houston, Burkett said, he drove home, stopping on the way at a Kinko's shop in Waco to copy the six memos. In the parking lot outside, he said, he burned the ones he had been given and the envelope they were in. Ramirez was worried about leaving forensic evidence on them that might lead back to her, Burkett said, acknowledging that the story sounded fantastic. "This is going to sound like some damn sci-fi movie," he said.
Now we know, of course, that Burkett even lied while supposedly coming clean to USA Today. Far from the notion of being duped never crossing his mind, we know from the CBS report that Burkett repeatedly insisted that CBS independently authenticate the documents (page 78, among others). In fact, that insistence should have raised immediate red flags for CBS producer Mary Mapes about the validity of the memos. Burkett couldn't tell the truth if he was bleeding to death, apparently.
Neuharth isn't the only one taking CBS to the woodshed today. Charles Krauthammer at the Washington Post also considers their response completely unaccpetable and says so in much stronger terms than Neuharth:
First comes the crime: Dan Rather's late hit on President Bush's Air National Guard service, featuring what were almost immediately revealed to be forged documents.
Then comes the coverup: 12 days of CBS stonewalling, with Dan Rather using his evening news platform to (a) call his critics "partisan political operatives," (b) claim falsely that the documents were authenticated by experts, and (c) claim that he had "solid sources," which turned out to be a rabid anti-Bush partisan with a history of, shall we say, prolific storytelling.
Now comes the twist: The independent investigation -- clueless, uncomprehending and in its own innocent way disgraceful -- pretends that this fiasco was in no way politically motivated.
If Les Moonves hoped to bury this scandal by using a supposedly independent panel, he finds himself very much in error. The nation's biggest media outlets have blasted the cowardice of the final report in its refusal to reach any conclusions, calling into question what it saw as its role in the first place. Moonves has compounded the mistake by firing four mid-level employees instead of the two people in charge at CBS News who not only approved the debacle for publication, but also by commission (Rather) and omission (Heyward) allowed the news division to stonewall and attack its critics for partisanship in a classic case of corporate projection.
The four fired employees reportedly will fire wrongful-termination lawsuits against Viacom and CBS, a development we should all support. Not that the four didn't deserve to get fired, or even that their terminations were unfair in light of the escapes of Heyward and Rather; they all clearly deserved termination for incompetence at the least, and Mapes for a breathtaking record of lies and misleading statements connected to the story which should destroy her credibility for all time. No, the depositions and testimony of the lawsuit will finally force CBS and its executives -- including Dan Rather -- to come completely clean about the collapse of the once-dominant broadcast news outlet, and the mainstream media in general.
Now that's a report I'd like to read.
UPDATE: Tapscott's Copy Desk wants to know why CBS is so disinterested in the origin of the forgeries. Good question.Sphere It View blog reactions
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Sadly, I find myself in complete agreement with our friends on the right when they say that Dan Rather has simply got to go. That said, though, I can't help but wonder where these high-minded defenders of journalistic purity were just a few short year... [Read More]
Tracked on January 15, 2005 3:11 AM
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