Archive for Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Independent review of CBS Bush report scathing

January 11, 2005

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— CBS News producers and executives repeatedly failed to meet basic journalistic standards in preparing a "60 Minutes" report on President Bush's National Guard service and compounded the errors by issuing a series of misleading statements in defense of the story, an independent investigative panel concluded in a report released Monday.

In response to the 224-page report commissioned by CBS, the network fired Mary Mapes, the producer of the National Guard story, and demanded the resignations of three news executives including Josh Howard, the executive producer of the Wednesday edition of "60 Minutes."

The report was authored by former U.S. Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh and former Associated Press chief executive Louis Boccardi, who blamed the airing of the discredited segment on a "myopic zeal" among staffers determined to be first with the story but found no evidence of political motivations.

"The fact is that basic journalistic steps were not carried out in a manner consistent with accurate and fair reporting," Boccardi and Thornburgh wrote, "leading to countless misstatements and omissions in the reporting by '60 Minutes Wednesday' and CBS News."

"There are errors here of both commission and omission," said CBS co-president and co-chief operating officer Leslie Moonves in a statement. "Each and every such failure must be met with an appropriate action that will demonstrate CBS' intolerance of such performance."

Neither Dan Rather, who served as the story's on-air correspondent, nor Andrew Heyward, the president of CBS News, will be punished.

The report describes in detail a "perfect storm" of factors that led to the flawed Sept. 8 broadcast, in which Rather presented documents, allegedly from the personal file of Bush's former Texas Air National Guard commander, suggesting that Bush received preferential treatment during his Guard service. CBS later retracted the story after questions were raised about the authenticity of the documents.

Among those factors, according to the report, were a dogged producer, Mapes, whose fervent belief in a story she had pursued for five years led her to insufficiently question sources she wanted to believe; an out-of-the-loop correspondent, Rather, whose involvement with the segment bearing his face and name was so minimal that there is no evidence he saw it before broadcast; and a triumvirate of unseasoned CBS News executives whose respect for Mapes and determination to be first on the story led them to overlook serious flaws in her reporting.

It reserves most of the blame for Mapes, who, the report says, failed to thoroughly authenticate the memos, relying on a handwriting expert who confirmed the authenticity of signatures on the memos while ignoring the concerns of other experts who warned that the documents could be fakes.

While it cites many factors indicating that the documents are not authentic, the report does not definitively identify them as forgeries.

Boccardi and Thornburgh also found fault with the "60 Minutes" vetting process and the news executives who conducted it. Because Mapes was a highly respected producer who had broken the Abu Ghraib prison abuse story, her superiors put too much faith in her, the report said.

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