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CBS Cleans House In Wake of Erroneous Story 217

An independent review panel gave CBS News a scathing rebuke for its story last fall about President Bush's national guard service. The report noted that in a story that was neither fair nor accurate, and did a "disservice" to the American public, the CBS News staff had a "myopic zeal" to get the story first and gave a "rigid and blind defense" after it aired. The story's producer, Mary Mapes, was fired. Three other executives were asked to resign. The network, noting that he was scheduled for retirement from CBS Evening News in a couple of months, recommended no action be taken against Dan Rather.
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CBS Cleans House In Wake of Erroneous Story

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  • No surprise? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SilverspurG ( 844751 ) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @12:36AM (#11317819) Homepage Journal
    Would it have been different had the election turned out different?
    • Re:No surprise? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Ieshan ( 409693 ) <ieshan&gmail,com> on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @01:53AM (#11318301) Homepage Journal
      Not likely. Republicans would have just blamed the liberal media, just as Democrats are now blaming the liberal media (and exit/internet pollsters) for overstating their position.

      "The Media" is a real easy target to blame, because it basically refers to everything that's been said about you and anything that's supposed to alter people's perceptions about you. I mean, on the surface, blaming the media makes sense, but when you look at it a little deeper, The Media is obviously involved in the public's vote, since The Media is essentially what "educates" the public.

      Anything you read, even government documents, have been written in such a way as to project an opinion or include a bias. There's no such thing as "unbiased reporting". Some reporting is factually inaccurate (that's why these people are getting fired, or so they say), some reporting is factually accurate but draws incorrect or very shaky conclusions (Michael Moore is basically the champion of this, with sentences like, "Could Bush have been plotting TO KILL YOU?), some reporting is factually accurate and draws correct conclusions when approached by the specific type of bias with which you read the media.

      It would have been different because someone else was blaming "The Media", but other than that, probably not.
  • by sithkhan ( 536425 ) <> on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @12:38AM (#11317832)
    2004 was the Year Of The Blogger? Bringing down a shady and haphazard 'unbiased' report about a presidential candidate through fact-checking and plausibility is a powerful statement of the strength of the internets ...
    • Or of coordinated efforts at distraction. Bush did go AWOL, it's just those documents that were apparently forgeries. And IIRC they were forgeries of documents that did, according to eyewitnesses, exist.

      Or do you think Bush didn't go AWOL?

    • Even if you assumme the documents were planted by the Republicans, CBS was a bunch or morons for believing them.

      And they certainly were just acting like idiots, not like the "vast left-wing conspiracy" so many believe. If they were evil they certainly would not have released the document images if even one person there said "these look fake".
  • Rather still stands by the story. The old coot has lost it. Sadly, he is just the poster child of what is wrong with the main stream media. They are used to watching others but sure shrivel up when the light is turned on them. Booyah to all the unwashed masses in their pajamas. I think that this year has shown a step forward for democracy and the citizenry taking back the country from the elites. Next target should be lifetime Congress Critters. Let's start with my state, and oust McCain.
    • Hm. I am in favor of term limits and ousting career politicians, but one of the greatest problems with career politicians is that they secure their positions through pork, and McCain is one of the few who tries to stand against that practice. Let's save McCain for the end, and start with Ted Kennedy instead. :-)
      • I am for this type of action, and I do support targeting Kennedy first. But for the love of all that is praiseworthy and of good report let's not target someone because of their political affiliations. Both sides have politicans that need to be ousted.
        • I didn't mention Kennedy because he is a Democrat, but because he is the best example of the two things I was talking about (too many years in Congress, and too much pork sent back home [e.g., the Big Dig]), and because he is from "my" state (well, I lived there 20 years, and until recently).
      • McCain? Didn't he get his name on the Incumbent protection act? He clearly doesn't believe in freedom of speech when it could cost him re-election. Reason enough to not vote for him.

        • I won't defend McCain on his bogus election reform efforts. I just think that if you're gonna start bumping long-term incumbents, he shouldn't be at the top of the list, because one of my main interests in getting rid of incumbents relates to pork.
          • Since both of my senators are on their first term, and my representative is on his second (third?) term, I can't say they are long term incumbents, though I agree those who are in that situation need to start voting them out. I wasn't going to vote for my representative, except his opponent was truly awful and the third parties didn't have good options.

      • We've had term limits in this country since it was founded. The technical term for them is elections.
        • by dpilot ( 134227 ) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @09:11AM (#11319706) Homepage Journal
          The problem is YOUR incumbent. MY incumbent is ok, or at least it would prove disastrous to my state to lose his seniority.

          Unfortunately, anyone in any state can make this same statement, and feel equally truthful.
          • I think you hit the nail on the head, there.

            It gets to the point where your Republican senator has been there since time-immemorial, is a committee chair, and even though you disagree with him on everything, you still think, "Well, what could a freshman Democrat do for me? Is this guy really that bad? I mean, he's bringing home $50 million in "free" money for a fake indoor rain-forest that no one wants... Yay, our state!"

            Does explain how one of the tightest races in last year's Presidential election sti
    • So did Bush go AWOL or not? I know the documents in question were forged, but to my knowledge the underlying story was never in doubt. Bush didn't complete his service, missed the physical, etc., etc.
      • So did Bush go AWOL or not?

        Technically, probably. But realistically, not really. Like Cecil says [], he was just a pampered rich kid who took advantage. It wasn't AWOL so much as his immediate superiors not caring if he did things that were technically against the rules. AWOL implies a situation that wasn't present here, he didn't desert. It seems like his immediate superiors said "sure, go" but his paperwork was denied and no one on either base really cared because they already told him to go.

          1. Get one news organisation to discredit itself while claiming you did something bad
          2. ???
          3. Profit.
          There's teflon-coated and then there's Bush. He may not be able to pronounce nuclear, but he takes avoiding repercussions to a new level.
      • Probably. IIRC, the secretary of the guy who was supposed to have written the memo said that the memo was a fake, but the information in it was correct.
        • The story is accurate. There was plenty of other evidence besides phony memos. Which makes me suspect Karl Rove as the source of the forged memos, since the forgeries effectively cut off legitimate discussion of this issue. Now conservatives can just laugh off the charges and blame them on the phony memos rather than actually respond to them.
  • Great! (Score:3, Funny)

    by maskedbishounen ( 772174 ) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @12:49AM (#11317894)
    Now when is /. going to start doing the same?

    Proudly awaiting my flamebait mods. :)
  • Has anyone else here noticed an extreme lack of scrutiny of the source of the documents? No interview in which he's asked why he did it. He never made a public statement explaining how he created the documents. Ironic that the story about CBS not asking the tough questions is not asking any of the hard questions.
    • We don't know where the documents originally came from, last I saw (I've not read the whole report). Burkett says he got them from someone, but won't say whom. And Burkett maintains he thinks they are real.
      • Wasn't it some mystery woman on an animal show who gave them to him, and then he copied them and burned the "originals"? That's the latest I heard, but I didn't pay attention during Christmas. (Tsunami etc.)
    • I agree - this is the most interesting aspect of this story; that nobody seems to want to investigate who forged the documents. I have my suspicions and they're on the right, not the left, of the political spectrum. I have no evidence for that other than Rove's history of dirty tricks and the fact that this incident ONLY benefited the Bush conservatives. But that's circumstantial at best -- it could very well have been a liberal DUMBASS who thought it would be a good idea to forge documents. But I suspe
      • But how could they know that CBS would be so gullible as to fall for some .doc's?

        My theory: It started as a joke when the Bush AWOL story started circulating. Then it got passed on from hand to hand gaining credibility; in which case there's some prankster sitting around both snickering/crying and fearing prosecution.

        Or it could be this Martin Heldt guy that started researching it and was told that he didn't have a smoking gun.

        Then there's the shady hand-overs, Burkett claiming copying them and then burn
        • "But how could they know that CBS would be so gullible as to fall for some .doc's?"

          At that level of the media, the social networks are unbelievable. eg. Brit Hume plays tennis with Bush Sr., going all the way back to when he was the ABC Whitehouse correspondent. Perhaps the social bond between the source and a producer, Dan Rather, etc, was strong enough that there was no question of their authenticity -- not knowing that their source was duped, or maybe their source's source. Ever play the game "Telephon
  • Of course the CBS producers should be accountable for publishing simulated memos. But, lost in the story of the memos, is the fact that the story of Bush skipping Vietnam out of privilege was verified in their story, outside of the simulated documentation. They put the secretary in the office at the time, who said the memos were fake, on the air, where she said that the story itself was true, in her eyewitness experience. Others party to Bush's favorable treatment also gave their eyewitness accounts, corrob
    • Mapes was actually told, by more than one person, that the unit actually DIDN'T have a waiting list for becomming a fighter pilot.
      There were waiting lists for becomming a regular enlisted man (ground crew etc.) in the TANG, though. (One of the guys said they didn't have a waiting list at ALL.)

      Mapes was also told that after training, Bush Jr. volunteered to go to Vietnam, a request that was denied because he had to few flying hours.

      BTW: Is David Boise's schedule free to represent her in the wrongfull termi
  • How much did he do? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Apreche ( 239272 ) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @02:22AM (#11318437) Homepage Journal
    I wonder how much exactly did Dan Rather have to do with the story? I mean, is his job literally just to read whatever the behind the scenes people write? Or does he actually have some input into writing the stories and doing the research, etc. While he's "retiring" and they're not doing anything to him its a tremendously transparent cop out. But I wonder if its justified. If his job is really to just read whatever they tell him to, then he should be completely absolved of all fault.

    Besides, a little house cleaning couldn't hurt. The news can stand to lie a little less.
  • Just Unlucky (Score:2, Interesting)

    by warmgun ( 669556 )
    I thought taking risks by trusting sources is something journalists did regularly. Woodward and Bernstein did this and happened to be right. Now we treat them and their investigative reporting as ideals of the fourth estate. I just hope the backlash from this incident doesn't make journalists too cautious when reporting the news for fear of being wrong, or worse, being labeled as biased.
    • I just hope the backlash from this incident doesn't make journalists too cautious when reporting the news for fear of being wrong, or worse, being labeled as biased.

      I don't know what "too" cautious is to your mind, but if it means "a lot more cautious than they are now," then I hope it certainly does have this effect. Woodward and Bernstein and their editors were extremely cautious, far moreso than Mapes and Rather.

  • Be careful about the Slashdot story. It does not say what you might imagine it says. Below are quotes from a video of a CBS newscast, CBS Panel's Conclusions []:

    "The story wasn't ready." "The panel did not conclude the documents were forgeries." "We didn't find any actual [political] bias." "Mary Mapes said she still believes the documents were well corroborated."

    NOTE: CBS has recently begun offering videos of its most important newscasts online, mostly without commercials. The videos display only in Internet Explorer, not the latest versions of Mozilla or Firefox. CBS uses Javascript in poor ways, there are problems with its video servers, and some videos have been edited incorrectly for transmission. I get different results at different times. I complained to CBS about this about two weeks ago in connection with another story, and did not receive a reply. They seem to be working on the problems, since delivery has changed and improved in the last two weeks. Ignore messages that say, "Could not connect to remote server." I could not play the videos with the latest version of Opera, which is quite compatible with IE-specific coding, but that may have been because of my specific installation.

    Note that the quotes from the CBS newscast don't say that CBS has decided the story was false. CBS only fully accepts its responsibility for sloppiness in the preparation of the story.

    Also, the CBS focus was misleading. The real story was that George W. Bush disappeared from Air National Guard records in exactly the same month that the ANG instituted drug testing.

    Lt. Bush's reported behavior was consistent with the known behavior of alcoholics, and Bush has admitted to being an alcoholic. Alcoholics often use other drugs to heighten the desired effects of alcohol and to try to diminish the undesired effects.

    I served in the U.S. Air Force in the years around the time that Lt. Bush served, and I was stationed at a base that had the aircraft he flew. The CBS documents were consistent with the operation of the Air Force at that time, which was remarkably tolerant of alcoholism. The entire U.S. culture at the time was tolerant of alcoholism, but the USAF as I experienced it was even more so.

    I have specific, detailed knowledge that the Air Force was far more corrupt than has been reported in stories I've seen. For example, F-106 aircraft, the successors to the F-102 aircraft that Lt. Bush flew, had severe defects in their inertial guidance systems that meant that F-106s were often not available to perform their mission. This was not a conscious conspiracy; they could not get the systems to work properly, and apparently all USAF departments tended to cover up failures rather than report them sufficiently. Remember that this was a time when people had far less technical knowledge than people generally have today.

    At the time, no one would have found it remarkable that a pilot was an alcoholic, or that someone received special treatment because of political pressure. That was just the way things worked. This is so important that maybe I should repeat it: That's just the way things worked back then. Back then few adults had parents who had attended college. The accepted educational level was far less in a way that cannot be measured by the number of college years someone had.

    I know about the failure in F-106s because I fixed the problem. I found that some of the amplifiers used in the inertial guidance system had parasitic oscillations because of solder joints of amazingly poor quality. At the time, I was familiar with all base operations that involved electronics repair, and I very much doubt there was anyone else on base who had enough technical knowledge to know what parasitic oscillations were. Mostly they just kept replacing things until they found that the symptom of the problem had gone away. We Slashdot readers take technical knowledge for granted, but widespread te
    • by GQuon ( 643387 ) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @04:59AM (#11318954) Journal
      "The panel did not conclude the documents were forgeries."

      But their document expert concluded, categorically, that the documents were produced on a computer after the 1970s. That's pretty close to saying "forgery". The only reservations against declaring them a forgery, that I can think of, is that they were copies, that time travel could be at play here, or the remote possibility that they were indeed TANG documents about ANOTHER Lt. Bush from the 1990s misdated to the 1970s.

      "We didn't find any actual [political] bias."

      To do that Mapes & Co would have to admit it, or submit to polygraphs or whatever. But Mapes' emails show how she was trying to get the documents from Bill Burkett by connecting him with the DNC, and by getting him a book deal. Something about affecting the momentum of the campaign.

      But is bias onlyt a clearly stated policy of working for one of the candidates, which she came pretty close to doing, or is bias also letting yourself be affected by wishing that the story is true?

      Something rather unimportant to our world today turned into quite farce. But aren't anybody going to look at WHO actually made the documents? It's illegal to forge military documents, and some states have laws against trying to influence elections with false documents.

      • You said, But their document expert concluded, categorically, that the documents were produced on a computer after the 1970s. That's pretty close to saying "forgery".

        Haven't you ever seen an old magazine or newspaper? They were all typeset. How do you think that was done?

        Everyone agrees that they would have been produced with some kind of computer, or a Linotype machine!!! Linotype machines were made in the 1940's.

        The only way to get proportionally-spaced type without a computer is to set the type
    • Times New Roman was used from the early 1930s. But Microsoft Times New Roman was a later development.

      • There is no difference between Microsoft Times New Roman and anyone elses' Times New Roman. Linotype licenses them all, and is not about to corrupt their most famous font. "Microsoft Times New Roman" merely refers to Microsoft's license from Linotype. Anyhow, the fonts used in the CBS Bush documents are definitely NOT the Time New Roman font. They merely use the same spacing, like hundreds or maybe even thousands of fonts.
        • Did a lot of typesetters have the same spacing as TrueType-style ABC dimensions horizontal spacing?

          • There's really no need to rely on me for information about this subject. Just go to your local library and find magazines from the 1970s. You will find lots of Times New Roman, and you can see the letter spacing and line spacing yourself. You need a magazine that published in ragged right, the same as the CBS Bush documents. Try People Magazine, for example.

            When Microsoft Times New Roman was introduced, the entire point was not to irritate those who had decades of experience with typesetting Times New R
            • And while you're checking those magazines, be sure to look for ads featuring typewriters that produce the same typeface.

              Pity that you won't find any though.

    • It seems that there is always some uninformed person who posts comments to stories like this who doesn't realize that both U.S. President George W. Bush and U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney were both active alcoholics. So, here are some of their arrest records:

      Bush and Cheney are the most arrested U.S. president and vice-president in history. George W. Bush was arrested once for the crime of DUI and Dick Cheney twice:

      George W. Bush DUI, 1st record of arrest []

      George W. Bush DUI, 2nd record of arrest []
    • The panel's scope was limited to looking at the existing evidence and determining what the journalists did wrong. So they cannot say the documents were forged, they can only say there was not enough evidence supporting them to justify their use, etc.

      Their job was to say how well the journalists acted, and their conclusion was "poorly."

      That said, they did note all through their report that many statements in the CBS stories were "not accurate" or "inaccurate" and such, and several other parts of the story
  • by Jhon ( 241832 ) * on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @06:05AM (#11319154) Homepage Journal
    ... but little attention has been paid to the communications between CBS news and the Kerry campaign.

    Let me back up a bit.

    When the entire 'memogate' deal started, I held out. I kept saying, "I trust Rather. I trust CBS". Sure Rather is biased. It's fairly obvious to anyone to takes a look. But he has a great history behind him. That history was hard to ignore. It took me a few days to see the memos for what they really were. And when I did, I was upset. And when Rather continued to defend them, in spite of CBS's own document experts coming forward saying they NEVER validated the documents, I got pissed.

    When it came out that there was at least SOME communication between CBS and the Kerry campaign and the story aired the same flippin' time the "Fortunate Son" BS started from the Kerry camp, I became livid.

    Mapes claimed at the time that the only communication she had with the Kerry camp was when she put Burkett in touch with them. That, it turns out, was a lie. It appears Chad Clanton tells a story a bit different than Mapes.

    As the report states, there is no evidence that the CBS piece was politically biased. Yet there is certainly quite a bit of circumstantial evidence that the driving force of this piece, Mapes, WAS politically motivated. No. Obsessed would be a better word. The apparent collusion between CBS news and the Kerry campaign was not addressed to my satisfaction. Her outright lies that the documents had a clear chain of custody, came from an 'unimpeachable' source and continued insistence of their accuracy -- it's just appalling. Add to this the links to the Kerry campaign and coincedental "Fortunate Son" ads, any reasonable person should suspect Mapes of being out to "get" Bush.

    And that is what I suspect. I believe Rather stuck with story so long out of trust of Mapes. And I believe Mapes had an agenda that those around her refused to see. I'm glad Mapes was fired. I don't think she'll ever have a name in her field again. I have little doubt she'll write a book, make a bundle and retire. But she will no longer be working.
  • by AtariAmarok ( 451306 ) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @09:02AM (#11319658)
    In the wake of these troubles, Dan Rather plans to turn to other matters after he retires in March. According to unnamed sources, Rather claims to have located Jack Ruby's Blackberry. He is going to use the information in it to reveal amazing breaththroughs in the JFK assassination.
  • They blew it too:

    Columbia Journalism Review | Blog-Gate []

    Yes, CBS screwed up badly in 'Memogate' -- but so did those who covered the affair

    By Corey Pein

    Bloggers have claimed the attack on CBS News as their Boston Tea Party, a triumph of the democratic rabble over the lazy elites of the MSM (that's mainstream media to you). But on close examination the scene looks less like a victory for democracy than a case of mob rule. On September 8, just weeks before the presidential election, 60 Minutes II ran a s

    • The CJR article has been as throroughly debunked as the original memos were. I really like you highlight his attacks on the bloggers but not any actual *evidence* that his charges were true.
      • I really like you highlight his attacks on the bloggers but not any actual *evidence* that his charges were true.


        In order to understand "Memogate," you need to understand "Haileygate." David Hailey, a Ph.D. who teaches tech writing at Utah State University -- not a professional document examiner, but a former Army illustrator -- studied the CBS memos. His typographic analysis found that, contrary to widespread assumptions, the document may have been typed. (He points out, meanwhile, that beca

  • by DesScorp ( 410532 ) <> on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @11:34AM (#11320959) Homepage Journal
    I'm cribbing from Jonah Goldberg here, but he nailed it this morning at NR...

    "First, the CBS report was supposed to do many things, two of them were: 1) Authenticate/explain the origin of those documents and, 2) address the issue that the Memo story was politically motivated. The report punts on both. They can tell us that the blogs were politically motivated from a conservative perspective, but on the biases that caused this entire scandal, we get silence."

    While CBS is doing the right thing in at least admitting that the whole mess is their fault, they're still trying to stonewall on the all important issue of bias. As the note above said, they didn't hesitate to ascribe a political motive to the bloggers that called foul on Rather's report, but refuse to shine the same harsh light on themselves. One of the four execs that were chopped was closely involved with the Kerry Campaign throughout the whole story, and the source of the forged documents themselves was desperately trying to GET into the Kerry Campaign. So this wasn't a simple case of a mistake in the haste to break a story. Long after a long line of experts testified that the docs looked faked (and badly faked, at that), Dan Rather and his team stonewalled and held fast to the position that the story was true, the documents were real, their source was, in Rather's words, "unimpeachable", and that complaints were simply right wing anger, nothing more. That's not a simple matter of "haste"; that's partisan warfare, sorry Dan, but calling it like it is here.

    Rather, because of his star status, was allowed to gracefully step down from the anchor position. But his team got sacked. Sounds to me like they took one for the boss...
  • People keep on making jokes about that "fake but accurate" line, but what phrase could better describe the Bush administration's opinion of the "evidence" of WMDs in Iraq?

    Honestly, I sometimes wonder if anyone involved in politics isn't a complete hypocrite.


Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed. -- Neil Armstrong