Monday, January 10, 2005

The Panel Report on the "Rathergate Five"

The report of the independent panel (I'm still not sure how two people comprise a "panel") on the "Rathergate" scandal has resulted in three resignations and one firing at CBS.

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 a “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 report itself is 234 pages long, and you can download a copy here.

Two curious things about this report:

First, I haven't skimmed through the whole thing yet, but so far I haven't found any mention of the role of the internet or blogs in quickly debunking this story. I can only find references to "an escalating controversy" that occurred almost immediately after the airing of the 60 minutes program, and "criticisms" that focused on the use of the superscripted "th" in the memos.

I guess that's okay -- the most important thing is that we're starting to see some justice here. But it is a curious omission to leave out the sources of criticism, given that without bloggers and their readers, this panel wouldn't have much to investigate. (Though perhaps they're mentioned later and I just haven't gotten to that part of the report yet.)

The other curious thing about the report is the refusal to recognize the role of political bias in the scandal. The report states:

The Panel is aware that some have ascribed political motivations to 60 Minutes Wednesday's decision to air the September 8 Segment just two months before the presidential election, while others further found political bias in the program itself. The Panel reviewed this issue and found certain actions that could support such charges. However, the Panel cannot conclude that a political agenda at 60 Minutes Wednesday drove either the timing of the airing of the Segment or its content.

Instead, the report describes four factors that led to CBS going ahead with the story in spite of the forgeries:

The combination of a new 60 Minutes Wednesday management team, great deference given to a highly respected producer and the network’s news anchor, competitive pressures, and a zealous belief in the truth of the segment seem to have led many to disregard some fundamental journalistic principles.

Well what might that "zealous belief" be other than political bias?

I understand this reluctance to pin the charge of political bias on CBS, and I should support the panel's reluctance to judge the beliefs of the "Rathergate Five." They should be free to harbor whatever political biases they wish without fear of reprisals. It is enough for me to read that the panel "found certain actions that could support such charges" even if in the end it could not make that conclusion. Even if it's not a part of the official report, it's obvious on the face of it, and the report itself is very damning.

More: I don't have time right now to get into it, but The Anchoress has an internal memo from Les Moonves to all CBS employees.


At 3:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The panel was not "independent". Viacom put Dick on the panel because he has been a Bush basher for 13 years. Viacom wanted to mask their ungainly smear of America and Dick masked it for them.
Rod Stanton


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