Archive for Monday, October 4, 2004

CBS holds story until election

Critics question delay of Iraq findings

October 4, 2004

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— A postponed "60 Minutes" report about whether Iraq had nuclear capabilities has quickly become CBS's most famous shelved story since the 1995 tobacco piece made famous in the movie "The Insider."

The Ed Bradley story questions a crucial piece of evidence used by the Bush administration to support the war. CBS decided it was inappropriate to air so close to the election.

That prompted an e-mail campaign by supporters of Democrat John Kerry urging CBS to run the completed story. The liberal watchdog organization Fairness and Accuracy in Media has tried, so far unsuccessfully, to find and post a copy on the Internet. And the Web site Salon.com summarized Bradley's story after receiving a copy before CBS decided to postpone it.

All this shows the scrutiny facing CBS journalists since the network's discredited report last month on Bush's National Guard service. The famous CBS corporate symbol of an eye, it seems, is now turned on the network itself.

The Iraq story, scheduled to air on Sept. 8, was bumped for the infamous Dan Rather story that now appears to have been based on forged memos about the president's time in the National Guard.

"Yeah, I'm disappointed that it didn't run," Bradley said. "But I completely understand why CBS made the decision that it did."

Bradley's report focuses on supposedly forged documents that showed Iraq had purchased uranium from Niger. Salon said the story "contains little new information, but it is powerfully, coherently and credibly reported."

The decision to put it off troubles media critics who were watching CBS News for signs of timidity following the Guard controversy.

"The idea that you would withhold journalism because you think it would have an effect on the world runs contrary to the whole idea of what journalism should be," said Peter Hart, a FAIR analyst.

There is, however, a long tradition among media organizations about taking particular care with stories that might be politically damaging so close to an election, for fear of being accused of trying to sway results.

That was on CBS' mind in making the judgment call. The Bush administration also declined several requests to comment for the story, Bradley said.

Then there was the supreme irony for CBS News: It was a report about forged documents.

"The idea of CBS accusing anyone of relying on forgeries is laughable at this point in time," said Matthew Sheffield, managing editor of the Web site Ratherbiased.com.

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