Accuracy in Media

Accuracy in Media said today that the newly released report on how CBS News handled the Bush National Guard story contains a bombshell that further undermines the credibility of CBS News anchorman Dan Rather and his close collaborator and associate, producer Mary Mapes.

The report reveals on page 130 that Mapes, one of those fired because of the scandal, had documented information in her possession before the controversial September 8 broadcast that George W. Bush, while in the Texas Air National Guard, “did volunteer for service in Vietnam but was turned down in favor of more experienced pilots.” This information is critical because Dan Rather, in the broadcast, insinuated that Bush was among the “many well-connected young men [who tried to] pull strings and avoid service in Vietnam.”

AIM Editor Cliff Kincaid explained the significance of the panel’s revelation: “Mapes, who was very close to Rather and enjoyed his confidence, had the evidence exonerating Bush of this malicious charge. The report shows that there were multiple credible sources to prove that Bush did not try to avoid Vietnam by going into the National Guard and that he was in fact willing to go to Vietnam as a pilot. However, CBS News deliberately kept this information from its viewers and conveyed an opposite impression because Rather, Mapes & Company were trying to depict Bush as a coward who, as Commander-in-Chief, was sending American soldiers to their deaths in Iraq.”

The report reveals that Rather assured CBS News President Andrew Heyward that he, Rather, had not “been involved in this much checking on a story since Watergate,” and that it was “very big.” The report says that Rather assured Heyward that the story was “thoroughly vetted” or documented and verified.

Kincaid explained, “Rather saw this as a Watergate-style story that could damage the Bush campaign and sink the President’s chances for re-election, as Americans were fighting and dying in Iraq. He seemed to be making a virtual guarantee that the story would be a smoking gun that would usher John Kerry into the White House. Instead, the story backfired, implicating Rather and his associates in a sleazy political operation, with links to the Kerry campaign, that was intended to mislead and misinform the American people as they prepared to vote on issues of war and peace. Even Al Jazeera couldn’t have concocted a more sinister and dishonest attack on the President of the United States.” 

The “Rathergate” affair involved Dan Rather narrating a pre-election September 8 CBS “60 Minutes” story, based on forged documents, charging that President Bush not only used connections to join the Texas Air National Guard to avoid service in the Vietnam War, but didn’t fulfill the terms of his Guard service.

When questions surfaced about the authenticity of the documents, CBS stonewalled, covered-up, and eventually apologized. An “Independent Review Panel” was formed to investigate. Former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and former Associated Press president Louis Boccardi were in charge of the probe.

Now, three months later, the findings have been issued and four mid-level employees have been fired.  They are Senior Vice President Betsy West, “60 Minutes Wednesday” Executive Producer Josh Howard, Senior Broadcast Producer Mary Murphy, and producer Mapes.

However, other major players in the fiasco were not fired. They are Heyward, Rather, and CBS News White House correspondent John Roberts. Rather is retiring in March and Roberts is said to be in the running as Rather’s successor.

Kincaid noted that CBS chairman Les Moonves, who issued a statement on the matter, insists that Heyward should stay in his job “during this challenging time.” Kincaid said, “It’s like rewarding the skipper of the Titanic for promising not to hit an iceberg again. Heyward was the captain of the CBS news ship and he and Rather have survived only because Moonves has thrown the women and children overboard.”

Kincaid was amused by several references in the report to how hard Dan Rather was working at the time, as if this gets him off the hook for narrating the discredited report. “I understand it is par for the course in network news magazine shows for a network star to put his face on the work of others,” Kincaid said. “But the report also quotes Heyward as saying that Rather had assured him that the story was solid, documented and verified. So why are Rather and Heyward still in their jobs?”

While the report claims no hard evidence of anti-Bush political bias on the part of CBS News, Kincaid said the report is full of evidence of such bias. “Why is it that CBS News and so many other news organizations cited in the report were so anxious to do a story attacking President Bush’s National Guard service?” asked Kincaid. “Why is it that the same news organizations were not eager to attack Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s failure to release all of his military and medical records? The answer is simple: they wanted Kerry to win and Bush to lose. This is partisan political bias, pure and simple.”

The report notes that other news organizations on the Bush story were the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, Associated Press, and USA Today (which published a story using the same dubious documents that the dubious CBS source, Bill Burkett, had given to CBS. USA Today has not apologized for running this story.)

The survival of CBS News White House correspondent John Roberts, rumored as a possible successor to Rather, is also curious. The report says that Roberts had interviewed Burkett for a February 12, 2004 CBS Evening News broadcast―months before the anti-Bush hit piece aired―and aired a portion of that interview, even though Roberts had found Burkett “unreliable.”

As we have explained in a previous release, Roberts was the personal representative of CBS News, sitting in for Dan Rather, in a meeting with White House communications director Dan Bartlett, at a critical time when CBS News was developing its fake “story.” In the meeting with Roberts, Bartlett was told that he was supposed to confirm or deny authenticity of the National Guard documents that turned out to be bogus. When Bartlett did not immediately denounce them as forgeries, Roberts provided that information to “60 Minutes” producer Mary Mapes, as if Bartlett’s refusal to disavow the documents meant that they were authentic. This was seen as the critical green light for Mapes (and Rather) to go ahead with the bogus story.

Bartlett later explained that CBS News provided documents that CBS News had said had “come from the personal file of a former commander” in the National Guard and that Roberts expected Bartlett “to authenticate them.” The White House received the documents only three and one-half hours before Bartlett was interviewed by Roberts about them. Bartlett commented that “CBS had the obligation to authenticate them before they were used. They could have also given them to the White House much earlier so we had more time to verify them as well.”

Kincaid commented, “John Roberts was in a position to stop this fraudulent story before it aired. He did not.”

The new panel report sheds some light on this controversy, noting that Roberts said the Bartlett interview had “gone well and that he had not disputed the authenticity of the documents?” The panel said “this reaction” by Roberts and CBS “seriously misplaced responsibility for making sure that the documents were authentic.”

So John Roberts, the likely successor to Dan Rather, was guilty of helping to perpetuate this journalistic fraud. The facts are clear. 

For comments or interviews from Accuracy in Media, call Sherrie Gossett at 202-364-4401, ext. 106, or at 202-215-0680.

Ready to fight back against media bias?
Join us by donating to AIM today.


Comments are turned off for this article.