Accuracy in Media

While sincere journalists were appalled over the astonishing failures of CBS News outlined in the independent panel review of the Bush National Guard document scandal, Forbes senior columnist Dan Ackman was busy scratching out a bizarre spin theory that would’ve delighted both Mary Mapes and The Onion?a news-comedy website.

In “CBS’s Show Trial” Ackman writes:  “If CBS’s Mary Mapes and Josh Howard, two of the producers who worked on the now-infamous 60 Minutes report regarding President George W. Bush’s military record should be fired, it’s hard to imagine what reporter should not be.”

Yes,  Ackman is floating a nutty argument that the standards these producers were held to in the report were unfair, unreasonable “courtroom-high standards.” If all reporting was held to those standards, the breathless Ackman writes, “they might have to scrap the news altogether.”

One can only conclude that Ackman is banking on his readers not having read the 224-page report.

To underscore the “courtroom-high standards” theme, Ackman repeatedly refers to the investigation as being led by former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh. Notably, Ackman makes no mention of the other investigation leader?Louis D. Boccardi?former Chief Executive Officer and President of The Associated Press.

Busy creating martyrs out of perpetrators, Ackman writes: “No one should hold them?to the standard of the courtroom, because such a standard would be impossible to meet.” He fails to tell the reader that the report repeatedly refers to not courtroom standards, but CBS News’ own Standards Manual and universally accepted journalism ethics.

After pointing out the investigation denounced the journalists’ failures, Ackman defends them in remarkably dissembling language: “[T]hey did make an effort to determine the reliability of the Killian memos?.[They] hired four document examiners?The documents came from a source?Bill Burkett, who was a Kerry supporter. But if news reporters were to exclude partisan sources, they might as well close shop altogether?.”

Only those who have read the report will know that the producers made no serious effort at all to authenticate the documents. They used four document examiners, some with dubious credentials. All raised questions and none could authenticate the documents because they were dealing with copies. The only thing supposedly “authenticated” before the broadcast was one signature and that “forensic” document analyst learned his trade by “self-study.”

Many of the suspicions raised were similar to what bloggers noticed immediately after the broadcast. Even after experts contacted CBS with their concerns, CBS continued to engage in stonewall and cover-up. CBS violated journalistic standards and ethics, not “courtroom-high standards.”

If Ackman is really interested in courtroom standards, he should consider the views of legal experts who say that CBS may also have violated federal or state law by distributing and airing forged government documents.

As far as that “source” is concerned, Burkett lied about where he got the documents, and he now says he got them from another source, who conveniently can’t be located. Ackman didn’t mention that.




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