USA Today, the most read paper in the U.S., devoted over 2,000 words to Dan Rather’s resignation from the CBS Evening News. It noted in a timeline that Rather had apologized “for a CBS story that questioned President Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard. The story was based on documents that apparently were forged.” What the paper did not mention was that it had run the same phony story, using the same bogus documents and based on the same dubious source. In contrast to CBS, no one has apologized or been held accountable for this scandal at USA Today.
Accuracy in Media has been on top of this story since Day One, noting that CBS News and Dan Rather have been taking a beating over the use of the forged documents. USA Today has a lot to explain and heads should roll there, too. We noted at the time that USA Today received and publicized the phony documents from the CBS source, Bill Burkett, assuming they were authentic.
On September 9, one day after the 60 Minutes story aired, USA Today was out with its own story under the headline, “Guard commander’s memos criticize Bush,” by Dave Moniz and Jim Drinkard. The story was based on “newly disclosed documents,” the paper claimed. It said “the memos” were “obtained by USA Today and also reported Wednesday on the CBS program 60 Minutes?”
We pointed out that not only did USA Today make the same mistake as CBS News, but the newspaper’s editors used the CBS News broadcast of the story as further proof that they were somehow valid. Hence, USA Today made two critical mistakes. Its “fact-checking” was even worse than CBS News, which at least went through the motions of appearing to consult some “experts” about the documents’ validity.
A former USA Today staffer contacted us to say that he couldn’t believe they had the same kind of problem again so soon, and appeared to be ducking it. The “same kind of problem” is a reference to the Jack Kelley scandal, where a USA Today reporter was exposed as a massive fabricator. That scandal forced a shake-up in the paper, resulting in Ken Paulson coming aboard as editor. At first, Paulson seemed like a fellow who wanted to enforce honesty and integrity at the paper. But he covers up the scandal at the paper over the use of the forged documents. If Paulson thinks that Accuracy in Media is going to drop the story, he’s got another thing coming. We will pursue this all the way, including at next year’s annual meeting.
Dan Rather was criticized for stonewalling the evidence of forgery for two weeks before finally apologizing. USA Today has been stonewalling for about three months. And the rest of the media have let the paper off the hook. The one exception was media reporter Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post, who quoted USA Today Executive Editor John Hillkirk as telling him that “We never did vouch for the documents’ authenticity.” In effect, USA Today is saying that CBS is to blame because it vouched for the documents and USA Today didn’t take the time to do so, although it ran the same virtual story. What a disgrace. Come on, Mr. Paulson. Apologize before you are forced to resign.