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Posted by on Jan 9, 2005 in At TMV | 0 comments

CBS’ Memogate Report Comes Out But It Won’t Stem The Controversy

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CBS’s has issued its long-awaited "Memogate" report over the Bush memo fiasco but it’s unlikely to totally end the controversy and could well spark an ongoing additional one.

Here’s why. According to the CBS website’s press release on the 224 page report:

  • It ousts four CBS employees, including three corporate bigwigs for their roles in the highly controversial and disputed story about the memos that purportedly raised questions about President George Bush’s military service.
  • The independent Panel report scolds CBS for making the problem worse by defending the story when the controversy broke and a slew of questions (many of them raised by blogs) started to swirl around particulars of the report.
  • It noted that CBS’s "myopic zeal" in being first is what led to the problem. It details the steps that led to airing a show where the authenticity of the core documents were disputed, and how the network was deceived. and it recommends specifics to safeguard this happening in the future.
  • It notes that CBS failed to follow "basic journalistic principles" in preparing the 60 Minutes Wednesday report.
  • It noted that Dan Rather is stepping down as CBS News’ anchor…HUH?

Wasn’t this story covered on 60 Minutes Wednesday?

The bottom line seems to be that the network has a lot of money, publicity and brand-identification invested in Dan  Rather.

So he’s not getting off with a slap on the wrist, but a corporate shrug of the shoulders — and an "oh well, let’s talk about the others we fired."

One issue has been whether the CBS report was due to political bias, CBS says that while "the panel found that some actions taken by CBS News encouraged such suspicions, “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.�

So it can’t find concrete evidence of that — but that is NOT the only issue at play here:

Perhaps the biggest issue is how could a bunch of highly paid executives and Rather violate basic journalistic confirmation rules that are taught in any Journalism 101 class and not confirm this report? The panel details the steps that led to the report getting on the air and takes them to task. And, yes, competition is heated.

But it still does NOT explain (from what we’ve read so far) in highly specific terms exactly how the basic checks and balances of solid confirmation were suspended and precisely WHY — even in the light of the warnings the network received.

The program had gotten enough red flags on this story to hold a bullfight in Madrid…

So some CBS bigwigs will now pay a price  –while Rather goes off to report on big stories all over the world and stay on the air, his longevity until his completely retirement assured, since four others CBS honchos were sacrificed and took away some of the personal political heat.

And — we are certain — he will do the BIG stories that can earn him a legacy to erase a slate soiled by the memos story.

And CBS is helping him do just that.

THAT’s the bottom line.

Excerpts  from the CBS news story (linked above):

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 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 Producer John 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.

Go to the complete story to get more details and judge for yourself (and leave some comments with YOUR interpretation).

UPDATE/ROUNDUP: We have some computer repairs that are about to get undeway. But we will do a roundup with a good cross section of views later on today. Keep checking back into the evening. (Our posts will be limited today due to this computer service which will take 2 1/2 hours)

Jeff Jarvis also got the feeling this report represented Committee City:

I see that the report is calling for more commissions and committees and all that — which is just the wrong thing to do: It puts yet more distance between the journalists and the public they are supposed to serve. They should be doing just the opposite: tearing down the walls, making journalists responsible for interacting with the public.

This is bigger than Dan Rather. This is bigger than CBS News. This is about the news and the new relationship — the conversation — journalism must learn to have with the public, or the public will go have it without them.

Elsewhere, he confirms what we said about about Dan’s continued future at CBS…but he promises to write a lot more about Dan in the future (we’d Rather not wait and anticipate it greatly).

Citizen Smash: "Let the feeding frenzy commence!"

Vodka Pundit’s Will Collier offers predictions on some things that will NOT happen, such as (read it all for all of them):

Neither Peter Jennings, nor Tom Brokaw, nor even Brian Williams will utter a peep of criticism in Rather’s direction. Ditto for Bill O’Reilly, who’ll blame the whole thing on Mary Mapes and dismiss anybody with a modem but not a TV show as being ‘nuts’ for questioning the credibility of a news anchor.

The word "blog" will not be uttered on CBS News tonight, or anytime this week, particularly not in context of this disgrace.

Steve Soto believes Karl Rove is a happy man and that some in the media  in Blogtopia are going to use this to obliterate the scandal surrounding conservative columnist Armstrong Williams taking money from the adminstration to pitch their line (must read it in full but):

Karl Rove is laughing his ass off this morning….

Rove is a happy guy because the fiasco has all the marks of a typical Rove effort to neuter a Bush weakness. He has done this before with the successful effort to destroy J. H. Hatfield over his book “Fortunate Son,â€? where Rove planted damaging information with Hatfield and then destroyed the author’s credibility by making sure the media found out about Hatfield’s criminal past. Once the media focused on Hatfield’s past, it served to take off the table the actual allegations about Bush’s own background….

Conveniently, there won’t be any more coverage of the Armstrong Williams propaganda campaign now after this has come out today. You can bet the Mighty Wurlitzer will be covering the CBS News story and sweeping under the rug the more important story about whether this administration systematically pays pundits for propaganda. Yes, it’s a good day for Karl Rove.

Rooftop Report has an excellent extended roundup, with its own comments such as this:

Though I think Rove is laughing right now, and that he probably helped this little investigation along, I don’t think he and Bush can be blamed for this. CBS had to scrap their Iraq story because of their mistake. CBS lost their credibility because of their mistake. Do I think it was an attempt at Bush bashing? No. Do I think it was over zealous reporting? Hell yeah.

Wizbang (here’s the general link) is a virtual treasure chest of detailed analysis. For starters go here, here, here and here. Just a few excerpts (NOTE IF THESE ARE NOT DONE ITS DUE TO MY COMPUTER REPAIR WHICH WILL START SOON)

NOTE 2: Repair has been done but The Moderate Voice now has to head up to L.A. in the face of a storm. His laptop is being fixed so he cannot post there. So he will continue to add to this roundup tomorrow afternoon, upon his return to The Moderate City, San Diego. No more additions can be made until then.

SUGGESTION: Go through the trackbacks listed here and visit each site and see some of the great ideas on this issue on all sides.

JAN. 12: ROUNDUP UPDATE CONTINUES

–RatherBiased.com, which has watched Dan Rather and the news biz for years, has a ton of stuff here.

–Powerline was also a hub in the Memogate controversy. They have many posts on this subject. One of the most recent from Hindrocket, among other things, argues this point:

(Let)  me offer this alternative theory: the fundamental problem that led to the downfall of 60 Minutes and, perhaps, CBS News, was the fact that no one involved in the reportorial or editorial process was a Republican or a conservative. If there had been anyone in the organization who did not share Mary Mapes’s politics, who was not desperate to counteract the Swift Boat Vets and deliver the election to the Democrats, then certain obvious questions would have been asked: Where, exactly, did these documents come from?

And so on, ad nearly infinitum. But, because virtually everyone in the CBS News organization shared Mary Mapes’s politics and objective (i.e., the election of John Kerry), skeptical questions were not asked. If there is a single overriding explanation for how a fake story, intended to influence a Presidential election through the use of forged documents, could have been promulgated by 60 Minutes, it is the lack of diversity at CBS News.

(UH OH: Are we now going to be getting into calls for ideological QUOATS for corporations? We hope not. Fox News may not also like the idea…)

Kos says the error on the memos was the only thing wrong with the 60 Minutes story:"With all the wingnut crowing about CBS and 60 Minutes, you’d think they blew the story that Bush had been AWOL. Fact is, CBS got one piece of evidence wrong, from a while truckload of evidence. Fact is, the Associated Press did the most work on the issue, filing a whole slew of FOIA requests and lawsuits to get the necessary docs." (It posts a LONG detailed Saon piece that details allegations about Bush’s military service, what has been confirmed, etc.)

Mark Daniels, in a post on bloggers’ response to the CBS action and report, believes bloggers should take a deep breath:

There are plenty of reasons to criticize the Mainstream Media. It is intrinsically biased toward the negative and the sensational, for example. Many journalistic practitioners are biased to the left, I think. But all of us also ought to be willing to give applause when applause is due. Perhaps not as many heads rolled as a result of the Rather investigation as some would like. But on balance, I think fairness has been served.