NEW YORK (Talon News) — The 224-page report issued Monday by the independent panel headed by former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and Louis Boccardi, retired head of the Associated Press, prompted the ousting of four CBS News employees. However, reactions from CBS and its peers varied.
CBS presented multiple stories on its web site. Its two fiercest competitors, ABC and NBC, displayed wire stories from AP and Reuters and short video from their reporters on their web sites. USA Today and The New York Times, two news sources that have received black eyes recently for their own missteps in journalistic reporting, provided their own stories on their web sites.
The report stated that those involved in the preparation and reporting of President Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard did not follow basic journalistic principles. The panel also said CBS News compounded the failure with a “rigid and blind” defense of the 60 Minutes Wednesday report.
Division president Andrew Heyward has, for now, sidestepped the fate of his peers at USA Today and The New York Times. Those top executives were eventually forced out. In a memo to CBS News staff sent Monday afternoon, Heywood said it was a “difficult and important” day for CBS News.
“It is an important day because it represents a unique opportunity for all of us at CBS News to learn from the mistakes surrounding the flawed 60 Minutes Wednesday segment and reaffirm our commitment to the American public to practice journalism of the highest standard,” Heywood said.
The USA Today article reported that one CBS production staff member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said, “We are all sad and miserable”.
Another staffer said staff feelings toward Heyward were mixed, with some wondering “how everyone under him could be blamed and not him, and others hoping he would survive because the news division could not take any more losses.” Some news staff members were worried that newly implemented restrictions could impede aggressive reporting.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said, “CBS has taken steps to hold people accountable and we appreciate those steps.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said, “We should remember that today’s report would not have come about without a vigilant public.”
Conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh did not hold back his opinion that CBS “had an axe to grind” with President Bush.
Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz said it would take CBS a long time to get over “a high-profile blunder.”
Kent Collins, chairman of the broadcast news department at Missouri School of Journalism, said the report may have been negative for CBS but positive for journalism.
“There is such an appetite on air and in print and on the Internet for stuff, we risk our credibility on trying to feed that ferocious appetite too quickly,” Collins said.
Leslie Moonves, chairman and chief executive officer of CBS and co-president of parent company Viacom Inc., said in a statement, “There were lapses every step of the way. This should never have happened. This is a rude awakening for CBS News and the CBS News culture has to change.”
Continued Moonves, “We deeply regret the disservice this flawed 60 Minutes Wednesday report did to the American public, which has a right to count on CBS News for fairness and accuracy.”
“The bottom line is that much of the September 8th broadcast was wrong, incomplete or unfair,” Moonves said, promising to adopt changes to improve CBS’ credibility.
Moonves’s official statement potentially linked Anchor Dan Rather’s decision to step down from the anchor position to his association with the discredited report.
“Dan Rather has already apologized for the segment and taken responsibility for his part in the broadcast. He voluntarily moved to set a date to step down from the ‘CBS Evening News’ in March of 2005,” said Moonves. “We believe any further action would not be appropriate.”
Rather will remain with CBS News as a correspondent for 60 Minutes Sunday and 60 Minutes Wednesday.