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CBS WATCH: “MYOPIC ZEAL,” “RIGID AND BLIND”

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By thisistwitchy  •  January 10, 2005 10:20 AM

MSNBC: Four let go over Memogate. The producer and three executives asked to step down…but not Andrew Heyward. “10 serious defects” identified.

CBS News’ coverage

(CBS) Four CBS News employees, including three executives, have been ousted for their role in preparing and reporting a disputed story about President Bush’s National Guard service.

The action was prompted by the report of an independent panel that concluded that CBS News failed to follow basic journalistic principles in the preparation and reporting of the piece. The panel also said CBS News had compounded that failure with “rigid and blind” defense of the 60 Minutes Wednesday report.

Asked to resign were Senior Vice President Betsy West, who supervised CBS News primetime programs; 60 Minutes Wednesday Executive Producer Josh Howard; and Howard’s deputy, Senior Broadcast Producer Mary Murphy. The producer of the piece, Mary Mapes, was terminated.

The correspondent on the story, CBS News anchor Dan Rather, is stepping down as anchor of CBS Evening News.

The panel said a “myopic zeal” to be the first news organization to broadcast a groundbreaking story about Mr. Bush’s National Guard service was a key factor in explaining why CBS News had produced a story that was neither fair nor accurate and did not meet the organization’s internal standards…The panel made a number of recommendations for changes, including:

# Appoint a senior Standards and Practices Executive, reporting directly to the President of CBS News, who would review all investigative reporting, use of confidential sources and authentication of documents. Personnel should feel comfortable going to this person confidentially and without fear of reprisal, with questions or concerns about particular reports.

# Foster an atmosphere in which competitive pressure is not allowed to prompt airing of reports before all investigation and vetting is done.

# Allow senior management to know the names of confidential sources as well as all relevant background about the person needed to make news judgments.

# Appoint a separate team, led by someone not involved in the original reporting, to look into any news report that is challenged.

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Previous:

Rathergate refresher course

The “C” in CBS no longer stands for “confident”

More BS from CBS News

Dan Rather’s next assignment?

There’s something about Mary Mapes

The death cry of snob journalism

Update: 234-page report is up (pdf). And Dick Thornburgh’s law firm has posted exhibits/appendices on its site here.

Update II: The 10 defects identified by the investigative panel…

1. The failure to obtain clear authentication of any of the Killian documents from any document examiner;

2. The false statement in the September 8 Segment that an expert had authenticated the Killian documents when all he had done was authenticate one signature from one document used in the Segment;

3. The failure of 60 Minutes Wednesday management to scrutinize the publicly
available, and at times controversial, background of the source of the documents, retired Texas Army National Guard Lieutenant Colonel Bill Burkett;

4. The failure to find and interview the individual who was understood at the outset to be Lieutenant Colonel Burkett’s source of the Killian documents, and thus to establish the chain of custody;

5. The failure to establish a basis for the statement in the Segment that the documents “were taken from Colonel Killian’s personal files”;

6. The failure to develop adequate corroboration to support the statements in the Killian documents and to carefully compare the Killian documents to official TexANG records, which would have identified, at a minimum, notable inconsistencies in content and format;

7. The failure to interview a range of former National Guardsmen who served with Lieutenant Colonel Killian and who had different perspectives about the documents;

8. The misleading impression conveyed in the Segment that Lieutenant Strong had authenticated the content of the documents when he did not have the personal knowledge to do so;

9. The failure to have a vetting process capable of dealing effectively with the
production speed, significance and sensitivity of the Segment; and

10. The telephone call prior to the Segment’s airing by the producer of the Segment to a senior campaign official of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry – a clear conflict of interest – that created the appearance of a political bias.

Update III: The failings identified in CBS’s reaction to the scandal…

Among the more egregious shortcomings during the Aftermath were:

1. The strident defense of the September 8 Segment by CBS News without adequately probing whether any of the questions raised had merit;

2. Allowing many of the same individuals who produced and vetted the by-then
controversial September 8 Segment to also produce the follow-up news reports
defending the Segment;

3. The inaccurate press statements issued by CBS News after the broadcast of the Segment that the source of the documents was “unimpeachable” and that experts had vouched for their authenticity;

4. The misleading stories defending the Segment that aired on the CBS Evening News after September 8 despite strong and multiple indications of serious flaws;

5. The efforts by 60 Minutes Wednesday to find additional document examiners who would vouch for the authenticity of the documents instead of identifying the best examiners available regardless of whether they would support this position; and

6. Preparing news stories that sought to support the Segment, instead of providing accurate and balanced coverage of a raging controversy.

Update IV: New posts…

CBS Watch: Mary Mapes and the Kerry Campaign

CBS Watch: Authenticity and Appendix 4

CBS Watch: The Mapes-Hackworth-Memogate-Abu Ghraib connection

CBS Watch: The John Roberts angle

CBS Watch: Reuters gets it wrong

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