An independent commission has found CBS News guilty of "myopic zeal" in its airing of possibly forged documents that suggested President Bush lied about his service in the National Guard. A 224-page report, whose chief authors were former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and former Associated Press Chief Executive Officer Louis D. Boccardi, claimed that the pressure of getting the story before competitors, and not political bias, was responsible for the lapse in journalistic judgment.
And Watergate was a "third-rate burglary."
CBS fired the producer of the report, Mary Mapes, and asked three other staffers to resign. Dan Rather, who is leaving his anchor post in March (but will stay on the payroll and report in other capacities), was not disciplined. CBS News president Andrew Heyward will stay.
This is the Watergate equivalent of locking up the men who conducted the break-in at Democratic Party headquarters, but ignoring Attorney General John Mitchell, Vice President Spiro Agnew and President Richard Nixon, which CBS News and Dan Rather famously did not do.
On Page 206, the report indicts "60 Minutes Wednesday," saying it "never carried out basic reporting to attempt to confirm Lieutenant Colonel Burkett's original story that Chief Warrant Officer (George) Conn provided him with the documents. Thus, from the outset, it was the deficient reporting by '60 Minutes Wednesday' that was at the heart of the failures that plagued the Segment."
But it was more than that. Only those who believe the big media are unbiased and lack an agenda will accept the explanation that this was a failure solely in journalistic judgment brought on by CBS's desire to beat its partner in the story, The New York Times, which first published it.
In Section X (Page 211) and headlined "Whether There Was A Political Agenda Driving The September 8 Segment," the report says this is "one of the most subjective, and most difficult (questions), that the Panel has sought to answer. The political agenda question was posed by the Panel directly to Dan Rather and his producer, Mary Mapes, who appear to have drawn the greatest attention in terms of possible agendas. Both strongly denied that they brought any political bias to the Segment."
I guess that settles it, then. Richard Nixon said he was not a crook, but that didn't stop Rather and CBS News from attempting to prove he was. How serious can one take a report that relies strictly on the testimony of the chief "suspects" that they had no political agenda?
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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