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January 10, 2005

Pajamaheddin 4, CBS 0

Do you smell that? Blogger triumphalism, son, nothing else in the world smells like that, that fresh pajamas smell, I love the smell of triumphalism in the morning. You know, one time we had a network bomb. When it was all over I walked up. We didn't find one of 'em, not one stinkin' memo. The smell, you know that pajama smell, the whole network. Smelled like... victory.

Outakes from the CBS report.(lvi) We read it so you don't have to!

Though admittedly, I would be reading it anyway.

Within hours after the Segment aired, questions about the authenticity of the Killian documents were raised, initially in an outpouring from the so-called blogosphere on the Internet.

Congrats to F0H Bill Quick, who coined the term.

It's a Harsh Harsh Harsh Harsh Executive Summary.

While the focus of the Panel’s investigation at the outset was on the Killian documents, the investigation quickly identified considerable and fundamental deficiencies relating to the reporting and production of the September 8 Segment and the statements and news reports during the Aftermath. These problems were caused primarily by a myopic zeal to be the first news organization to broadcast what was believed to be a new story about President Bush’s TexANG service, and the rigid and blind defense of the Segment after it aired despite numerous indications of its shortcomings.

Rather gets a pass.

In late August and early September 2004, as the September 8 Segment was being developed, Rather had even greater demands on his time than usual as he was covering the Republican Convention in New York City and then a hurricane in Florida. Thus, he was not able to spend extensive time on the development of the September 8 Segment.

Speed kills.

Given the tight deadline, Miller did not have sufficient time to learn the fundamentals of document authentication. Had she known the basics, she would have realized that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to authenticate the Killian documents because they were copies, the alleged author was dead and no person could be located who was alleged to have been present when the documents were prepared. She instead called various people who she believed had experience in the document and handwriting field to identify potential examiners with requisite expertise.
...
The Panel finds that the vetting process for the September 8 Segment was seriously flawed. The Panel believes that this was caused in large part by the speed with which this Segment was produced. The Panel also believes that the vetting process was not sufficient because too much deference was given to Mapes because of her experience and much admired history at CBS News and 60 Minutes Wednesday, as well as her association with Rather. Rather does not appear to have participated in any of the vetting sessions or to have even seen the Segment before it was aired.


Bias can sneak up on you.

This alleged confirmation by Major General Hodges started to march 60 Minutes Wednesday into dangerous and ultimately unsustainable territory: the notion that since the content of the documents was felt to be true, demonstrating the authenticity of the documents became less important.

The first rule of holes is that, when you find yourslef in one, quit digging.

Over the next week or so, CBS News issued a number of press statements and CBS Evening News reports that staunchly defended the September 8 Segment despite increasingly strong indications that the reporting for the Segment was flawed. The Panel finds that these statements and reports contained numerous misstatements and inaccuracies. Moreover, the Panel finds that once serious questions were raised, the defense of the Segment became more rigid and emphatic, and that virtually no attempt was made to determine whether the questions raised had merit.
...
On Thursday, September 9, in response to growing criticism of the Killian documents on the Internet and in mainstream media like ABC News and The Washington Post, CBS News issued its first statement defending the Segment. That statement said that the documents had been “thoroughly examined and their authenticity vouched for by independent experts.” The Panel finds that this statement is not accurate as no expert had vouched for the authenticity of the documents.

On Friday, September 10, press coverage about the authenticity of the documents intensified. In an effort to respond to the mounting criticism, CBS News issued a statement that the September 8 Segment “was not based solely on recovered documents, but rather on a preponderance of evidence, including documents that were provided by unimpeachable sources. . . . . In addition, the documents are backed up not only by independent handwriting and forensic document experts, but sources familiar with their content.” The Panel finds that Lieutenant Colonel Burkett could not be reasonably described as an “unimpeachable source,” given his own inconsistent public statements, as well as his criticisms of President Bush and the National Guard. Further, the statement was inaccurate because the Killian documents were not backed up by forensic document experts.
...
The Panel finds a number of deficiencies with the September 10 CBS Evening News report. First, while an official Bush record did include a superscript “th,” it is far different in appearance from the superscript “th” in the May 4, 1972 and August 18, 1973 memoranda. Second, while Times New Roman typeface may have been available since 1931, the Panel understands that it was only available in typeset machines and not in typewriters during the period the Killian documents were allegedly written. Third, neither Matley nor Lieutenant Strong ever authenticated the documents or said that they were “real.” Fourth, no one asked Lieutenant Strong after the Segment aired and before the September 10 report whether he was “standing by his judgment.”

It's best not to trust CBS. Come to think of it, you really shouldn't trust me either, but it's either that or read the whole thing on your own.

Pierce would not agree to be interviewed by the Panel. However, in a conversation with counsel to the Panel, Pierce stated that a representative of 60 Minutes Wednesday asked him to strengthen his conclusion and that he informed her that it did not represent his views. He said that he told the representative that he would provide an unqualified opinion since he was asked to do so by 60 Minutes Wednesday, but only if the letter was not made public. Pierce told counsel to the Panel that he further told the representative that 60 Minutes Wednesday would “get in trouble” if it made his letter public. Nevertheless, the revised letters from Matley and Pierce were posted on the CBS News website.

When you believe in a higher truth, it's best to ignore inconvenient facts.

Rather told the Panel that he delivered the apology and gave the WCBS interview in support of CBS News’ decision that the time had come to stop defending the Segment and, indeed, to disown it. He told the Panel, however, that he did not fully agree with this decision and still believes that the content of the documents is accurate. The Panel is troubled by these conflicting statements.

While there are indications of political bias, the in-house deference to Mapes and Rather was a much bigger problem.

The Panel is aware that some have ascribed political motivations to 60 Minutes
Wednesday’s decision to air the September 8 Segment just two months before the presidential election, while others further found political bias in the program itself. The Panel reviewed this issue and found certain actions that could support such charges. However, the Panel cannot conclude that a political agenda at 60 Minutes Wednesday drove either the timing of the airing of the Segment or its content.

Given that the Panel does not believe that political motivations drove the September 8 Segment, questions likely will be raised as to why these massive breakdowns occurred on this story at an organization like CBS News with its heritage and stated commitment to the highest standards of journalism.

The Many Faces of Eve.

The Panel concludes that the September 8 Segment reflected a widespread breakdown of fundamental processes at 60 Minutes Wednesday. CBS News has an historic and deep-seated commitment to accurate and fair reporting, and the Panel was impressed by the fact that so many of its personnel have been with CBS News for many years and appear fully committed to the Standards of accuracy and fairness that CBS News has articulated. That makes it all the more difficult for the Panel to understand how this breakdown could have occurred.

Once Burned, Twice Shy

With two notable exceptions, the Panel was able to speak with the individuals the Panel believed were important to its investigation. The Panel requested on several occasions the opportunity to speak with Lieutenant Colonel Bill Burkett and Chief Warrant Officer George Conn. Lieutenant Colonel Burkett initially informed the Panel that he did not believe that he had been treated in a professional or ethical manner by CBS News and did not want to speak with the Panel. The Panel also invited Lieutenant Colonel Burkett to make a written submission or respond to written questions submitted to him by the Panel. Lieutenant Colonel Burkett never provided a definitive response to these requests but did later inform the Panel, through an intermediary, that he would consider providing information to the Panel if it was agreed that the Panel would not include such information in its Report. The Panel could not agree to such a condition. Chief Warrant Officer Conn did not respond to two requests made by the Panel to be interviewed.

Air National Guard Stories: Only newsworthy during an election year.

Mapes began her research in early 1999, when then-Governor Bush’s first presidential campaign was getting under way but did not produce a segment at that time. After the 2000 presidential election, Mapes did not pursue this topic again until during the next presidential campaign in mid-2004. In search of a story about President Bush’s TexANG service record, Mapes and her team attempted to interview as many people as they could at the time and to obtain many official records of his service.

Paging Jim Hightower.

Mapes observed in an e-mail to her then-Senior and Executive Producers on April 27, 1999, on which she copied Rather, that “in his military career, Bush was truly born on third base.” She suggested that “the way we ultimately do the story [could be] by establishing a pattern in this unit that just happened to have been a safe haven for children of privilege at the height of the Vietnam War.”

Why "spin" has no place in the practice of journalism.

Significantly, Mapes indicated in the April 1999 e-mail that she had been informed that there was no waiting list for President Bush’s TexANG unit at the time he entered. She posited the “darkest spin” that then-Colonel Walter Staudt, then in charge of the 147th Fighter Interceptor Group, deliberately kept these spots open “to take in the children of privilege . . . while maintaining deniability.” Mapes told the Panel that she never found any proof for this theory.

Lexis/Nexis is an underutilized tool.

The various interviews and statements revealed inconsistencies in Lieutenant Colonel Burkett’s allegations, which led to questions regarding his credibility and whether his claims could be proven. Mapes told the Panel that she was aware of the news reports at the time, but she was not involved in any of the contemporaneous reporting related to Lieutenant Colonel Burkett given that she was then investigating the Abu Ghraib Iraq prison scandal.

The Panel views this news coverage as significant because, although such information could have been accessed nearly instantly through Internet or Lexis-Nexis searches, the Panel found that no one involved in the vetting of the September 8 Segment seemed to be aware of it. The Panel finds it unlikely that the Segment would have aired as it did if the vetters had been provided details of Lieutenant Colonel Burkett’s controversial history.

One of the footnotes to the paragraphs above reference an interview with Burkett by blogger Kevin Drum, which can be found here.

Other people's email is always interesting.

At the end of June, Smith asked Mapes whether she was “serious” about pursuing the TexANG story. Mapes responded:

I am DEADLY serious about it. I have two other people working with me, looking at various aspects of the story, trying to find an opening. Barnes is on board, as on board as he can be anyway. I expect him to do it. The piece (if I get it) will run in early September. I need all the help I can get. Just tell me what you’ve got.
...
On July 30, Mapes e-mailed Howard and said, among other things:

. . . there is some very interesting Bush stuff shaking out there right now. I
am getting about 4 calls a day from Austin. Re . . . his qualification and
refusal of service in Vietnam, etc. Lots of goodies. We are in pursuit . . .
as are Vanity Fair, NY Times, New Republic, various others. I’ll let you
know what (if anything) comes of it.

A few days later, on August 3, Mapes again e-mailed Howard and Murphy:

There is a bit of a storm brewing in Austin re the Bush stuff. Many many
reporters from various print outlets (Harpers, Vanity Fair, NY Times mag,
etc) all chasing the Bush National Guard stuff again. It is much more
intense than it was four years ago and there is a strong general feeling that
this time, there is blood in the water.

Be nice to know what, if anything Harpers, Vanity Fair, the NYT magazine and the New Republic have on this story.

People with an axe to grind might not be the best sources for a story.

On Monday, August 23, Mapes learned that Lieutenant Colonel Burkett was rumored to have important documents regarding the President’s TexANG service. Paul Lukasiak, who operates a website on which he posts disparaging analyses of President Bush’s TexANG service, told Mapes that another blogger, Linda Starr, had seen new TexANG documents regarding President Bush. Starr hosts a website that recently contained the slogan, “Bush lied, Americans died,” and is the editor of Online Journal, an online newsletter often critical of President Bush.

People looking for a book deal and an in with the Kerry campaign might not be the best sources for a story.

Today I am going to send the following hypothetical scenario to a reliable,
trustable editor friend of mine . . .

What if there was a person who might have some information that could
possibly change the momentum of an election but we needed to get an
ASAP book deal to help get us the information? What kinds of turnaround
payment schedules are possible, keeping in mind the book probably could
not make it out until after the election . . . . What I am asking is in this best
case hypothetical scenario, can we get a decent sized advance payment,
and get it turned around quickly.

Then they will respond with some possible scenarios of what they could
do. When we get to Burkett’s house I will have at least some scenarios to
show Burkett about what could happen if he played ball with the
documents. If he shows us what we want, then I can call my friend and
tell him the real details and start the process.

Smith told the Panel that the book deal was his idea, and that it was “not a 60 Minutes deal." Mapes responded in an e-mail to Smith’s proposal, stating “that looks good, hypothetically speaking of course.” Notably, she did not tell Smith in her reply e-mail that he could not promote the book deal in order to entice Lieutenant Colonel Burkett, although she told the Panel that neither this, nor the options presented in Smith’s reply e-mail described below, were real options in fact. Smith wrote in reply:

Just in case Burkett asks – let me make sure I have this right. This is our
plan: If he shows us some leg, we are going to talk to him about his
options in the following areas: 1) Security, 2) Publishing, 2A) (related
topics of “taking care of him” with money) and 3) forcing Kerry campaign
to acknowledge his wisdom and strategic abilities . . . If his leg is sexy and
useful then we are going to then do whatever it takes to help him in those
areas.

Was Burkett the victim of a hoax?

Colonel Charles also recalled hearing from Smith or Mapes that Lieutenant Colonel Burkett “had received the two documents in the mail from an anonymous source after he appeared on television in February 2004” and his recollection is consistent with his contemporaneous notes. Thus, Colonel Charles’ handwritten notes, apparently reflecting a phone call with Mapes or Smith on September 2, state “Bill B got them in the mail after going on TV” and “source anonymous.” Mapes told the Panel that she did not recall Lieutenant Colonel Burkett ever saying that he received them anonymously in the mail.

Mapes told the Panel that she informed the Burketts that she was worried the documents might be a “political dirty trick.” Mapes said that the Burketts appeared “genuinely shocked” at the suggestion and this reaction gave her comfort. She said that she also told Lieutenant Colonel Burkett that she would “verify” the documents and noted that this seemed to be important to him as well.

The "science" of graphology.

At its base, document examination is divided by a fundamental difference over the significance of training in “graphology.” Graphologists claim to be able to determine personality characteristics through the analysis of handwriting. Graphology training is the focal point of controversy in the field. Some document experts believe graphology is akin to astrology, and do not believe that those trained as graphologists can perform as competently as document experts.

The origins of the "Karl Rove did it" theory.

At some point over the Labor Day weekend, Mapes also spoke to Van Os. Van Os recalled that they spoke about his concern, which was shared by Mapes, that a senior campaign strategist for President Bush was “capable of doing this as a setup,” i.e., of planting fake documents. He recalled that Mapes reassured him that 60 Minutes Wednesday “had really good experts . . . and that CBS was not going to do anything with the documents until they were absolutely sure they were authentic.”

Typology first rears its proportionally spaced head.

Will told the Panel that she informed Mapes that she wanted more documents for comparison and analysis, and Mapes told her that she would send them. Will was never sent any more documents. Will also recalled that, when she started to discuss concerns regarding the content of the documents, Mapes cut her off. Will’s notes regarding her conversation with Mapes indicate that Mapes told her that this was not something Will “should be worrying about [because] she [had] taken care of that part of it.” Miller also recalled that Mapes had commented that Will was focused on the substance of the memoranda, but that it did not matter for purposes of her analysis what the facts were. Mapes told Miller that she just wanted Will to look at the signature. Will told the Panel she regarded examining content to be part of her job in assessing a document’s authenticity.

Based on Will’s recollection and her notes, it appears that Will raised the issue of proportional spacing with Mapes on Sunday. This topic would receive substantial attention in the Aftermath of the broadcast of the Segment. The Panel finds it significant that Mapes did not focus on this criticism and later would alert 60 Minutes Wednesday management only to the issue of the superscript “th.”

The emphasis is on the first syllable.

Colonel David H. Hackworth was interviewed by Rather as an expert to evaluate the documents that Mapes obtained from Lieutenant Colonel Burkett. Colonel Hackworth is a retired Army officer who has been a columnist, commentator and reporter for various news organizations. Mapes said that she asked Colonel Hackworth to “look at the back and forth” in the Killian documents because he had worked in the Pentagon and knew about Pentagon politics. Even though Colonel Hackworth was never in the TexANG, did not know Lieutenant Colonel Killian or any of the other relevant individuals, had no personal knowledge of President Bush’s service in the TexANG and had no personal knowledge regarding the Killian documents, he reached some highly critical conclusions in his interview regarding President Bush’s TexANG service based solely on the purported authenticity of the Killian documents and his general knowledge of the military.
...
These excerpts were ultimately cut from the final script by Heyward and West.

Never put your trust in CBS, Part Deux.

Matley, whose specialty is handwriting analysis, was invoked as the authority for the following statement in the September 8 Segment: “We consulted a handwriting analyst and document expert who believes the material is authentic.” The Panel finds this statement troubling given that of the four Killian documents relied on in the Segment:
• Two had no handwriting at all on them;
• One had only initials which Matley said he could not verify; and
• One had a signature which Matley said matched, with qualifications, signatures in the official documents.
These points are all reflected in Matley’s handwritten notes that he prepared that day, which are attached as Exhibit 5. Matley said that Mapes and Miller did not make a copy of his notes. He recalled that Mapes said to him that they were “not interested in all the parameters” of his findings.

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

Mapes introduced Matley to Rather shortly before the interview as the “leading authority on documents.” According to Rather, Mapes said that he was “the best,” and that he was an expert on both signature and document authentication. He also recalled that Mapes had told him that Matley was “going toexplain . . . why the documents are real.”

Rather interviewed Matley in front of the easels with the enlarged signatures. By allaccounts, the interview did not go well. Rather said that he did not have concerns regardingMatley’s expertise and noted that he “came across strong and solid in person,” but did not interview well on-camera. Rather said that he was concerned only that “if CBS News had to put an expert out there, [Matley] would not be very persuasive.”

As a result of the problems with the interview, 60 Minutes Wednesday decided to do a second interview immediately following the first one.64 This second interview appeared to have gone better than the first. Rather felt that they “were able to get what they needed in the retake.”


What's a little "th" amnong friends?

Will said that she told Mapes that Matley’s theory about stress was speculative and that Major General Hodges’ statement did not go to the authenticity of the documents. Will also told the Panel that she warned Mapes that, if she used the documents, “every document expert in the country will be after you with hundreds of questions.” Will told the Panel that she had typed the two documents in Microsoft Word and noticed they were very similar to the documents she had been provided, but she is not sure that she told this to Mapes. Will recalled that Mapes asked her whether she was absolutely certain that the superscript “th” could not have been produced by a typewriter in the 1970s because she did not want to lose the story over the “little ‘th.’ ”
...
Miller said that when she told Mapes about James’ call, Mapes responded, “Enough about the [expletive] ‘th’.”

Researching an issue can be a highly suspicious activity.

After Will spoke to Mapes, Mapes told Miller again, as she had on Sunday, that Will was “more concerned about the facts about President Bush’s National Guard service than on her job and that the facts were none of Will’s business.” Miller said that Mapes was not concerned about Will’s comments because she believed that she had enough information to support the story and the content of the documents. Scott also recalled that Mapes said that one of the experts “canceled herself out” and showed a bias by researching President Bush’s TexANG service on the Internet.
...
Shortly after midnight, Mapes told Howard in an e-mail that she was “pretty much over that whole little “th” problem I had. No one can agree on it because no one knows . . . and if [Will] had not brought it up, I wouldn’t have obsessed about it. She is also the woman who started arguing with me about when Bush was in Alabama . . . I think all these people are nuts.”

Move along. Nothing to see here.

In many respects, Barnes’ interview was about Barnes and his own
sense of responsibility for actions he took at a time when he had political ambitions and political power. Significantly, it does not appear that Barnes’ interview was especially newsworthy, given the fact that he had issued through his lawyer a press release containing essentially the same information in September 1999 following his deposition in the GTECH Corp. litigation and
a video of similar statements by Barnes was already on the Internet. Thus, the Barnes interview could hardly be regarded as shedding significant new information or light regarding his role in getting President Bush into the TexANG.
...
Significantly, Barnes said that he did not know whether his recommendation “was the absolute reason [President Bush] got into the Guard.” Although Barnes had a vague recollection of President Bush thanking him for his help after he was elected Governor, he could not describe the communication in detail. Further, when commenting on President Bush’s assertion that he “just happened to get one of the spots” in the TexANG, Barnes said that he could not
“answer . . . with any real certainty” whether or not that was possible. He also had no knowledge regarding President Bush’s service while in the TexANG.

Hearsay: Ibadmissable in court, Admissable for 60 Minutes Wednesday

One or more of the people present at the meeting recalled that Mapes was asked various questions about the source, such as who he was, did she trust him, what was the source’s relationship to the documents, where did the “scrubbing” take place and whether the source had witnessed the “scrubbing.” Several people recalled that Mapes said that her source and her source’s source had witnessed the purging of President Bush’s files in the 1990s, were offended by this and had taken other files that they realized might have been purged, including those of Lieutenant Colonel Killian. One person recalled that Mapes said her source was nearby when her source’s source took the documents and that the documents remained with her source’s source, who now lived in Germany and was “unavailable,” until he gave copies to her source. No one present at the meeting asked Mapes why the source’s source was “unavailable” or demanded that she find him before airing the Segment. The Panel finds this to be a significant.

Blame Enough For All

Based on the recollections of those present at the meeting and the vetting sessions the previous day, it appears that Mapes did not disclose the following to 60 Minutes Wednesday management prior to the airing of the Segment on September 8:

• That she had interviewed several people in 1999, including General Staudt and Major General Hodges, who told her that, contrary to Barnes’ statements, no influence was used to get President Bush into the TexANG, and that Barnes himself was not certain that his call to General Rose had gotten him in;
• That Barnes had given a speech similar to his interview in May at a Kerry campaign rally;
• That none of the experts could authenticate the documents because they were copies;
• That Matley’s analysis was limited to the Killian signatures, which appeared on only one of the four documents used in the Segment, and that the other three documents used had not been verified by any of the document examiners;
• That at least one expert had raised concerns not only about the superscript “th,” but also proportional spacing, font, terminology and the signatures;
• That Lieutenant Strong did not have personal knowledge of then-Lieutenant Bush’s service record in the TexANG or the Killian documents;
• That inadequate steps had been taken to confirm Lieutenant Colonel Burkett’s
statement, which would be included in the Segment, that the Killian documents were taken from Lieutenant Colonel Killian’s personal files.

The Panel finds that Mapes’ failure to disclose to the vetters and the lawyers all of the information that tended to undermine the Segment was a serious problem in the production of the Segment. The Panel faults not only Mapes, however. The Panel also finds that those present at the meeting, including 60 Minutes Wednesday management, West and the lawyers, should have
probed more deeply.
...
The Panel does not feel that it is unfair hindsight to have expected the vetters to have probed far more deeply at the meeting on September 8. This was an extraordinarily sensitive and significant story that was being crashed, which should have caused great care and thoroughness in the vetting process. This clearly was not achieved
.

The word "rife" springs to mind.

Rather said, “60 Minutes has now obtained a number of documents we are told were taken from Lieutenant Colonel Killian’s personal files . . . . We consulted a handwriting analyst and document expert who believes the material is authentic.” (emphasis added). This statement was without factual support.
...
The Panel finds that virtually every excerpt used from the Lieutenant Strong interview was either inaccurate or misleading. Indeed, the Panel questions whether any Lieutenant Strong excerpts should have been used at all, given his total lack of personal knowledge.
...
In sum, the Panel finds that the inaccuracies and misleading statements and sound bites contained in the final Segment that aired on September 8 resulted from failures at every level. They also reflect the deficiencies in both the reporting and the vetting process and the failure of Mapes and others at 60 Minutes Wednesday to probe deeply enough into the factual accuracy of the story.

Objectivity: Not a Strength

The clear inference from this excerpt is that President Bush was in the TexANG to avoid service in Vietnam. Bush did state in his 1968 TexANG application that he did not volunteer to go overseas. However, Mapes had information prior to the airing of the September 8 Segment that President Bush, while in the TexANG, did volunteer for service in Vietnam but was turned down in favor of more experienced pilots.72 For example, a flight instructor who served in the TexANG with Lieutenant Bush advised Mapes in 1999 that Lieutenant Bush “did want to go to Vietnam but others went first.” Similarly, several others advised Mapes in 1999, and again in 2004 before September 8, that Lieutenant Bush had volunteered to go to Vietnam but did not have enough flight hours to qualify.

Explaining journalism to a journalist.

The Panel observes at the outset, however, that what was at first asserted by Mapes prior to the broadcast of the Segment to be a good meshing without any apparent qualification has now been transformed into an argument that there is nothing in the official Bush records that would rule out the authenticity of the Killian documents. This is similar to statements made by Matley, one of the document examiners, before the airing of the Segment that he could not see anything in the Killian documents that would rule out the possibility that they were authentic. While such an argument may have legitimacy in an advocacy proceeding, the Panel does not find it to be a sufficient standard for journalism, which should not stand on a “nothing to rule it out” foundation.

Why dwell on forgery when there's so much else wrong with the report?

The Panel acknowledges that it is possible to seize on one or other fragment of “proof” in the meshing analysis from which one could conclude that the Killian documents mesh to some degree with the official Bush records. However, when a careful analysis is conducted, which was not done by September 8, it is evident that there are serious inconsistencies. This is another instance where it appears that the zeal to air the Segment trumped the need for thorough reporting and vetting.

Again, the Panel stresses that it is making no finding as to the authenticity of the Killian documents. The Panel, with the assistance of its counsel, has sought to review the Killian documents carefully against the official Bush records and other available information. The Panel also acknowledges, however, that the review of military records is a highly technical exercise, which is fraught with difficulties even with the help of knowledgeable Guardsmen. Accordingly,
it bears repeating that the Panel simply finds that its meshing review has revealed inconsistencies between the official Bush records and the Killian documents that have not been satisfactorily explained.

Repeating the first rule of holes.

In dealing with the Aftermath, 60 Minutes Wednesday and CBS News made numerous mistakes. Among other things: it refused for a long period even to acknowledge that it might have erred; it focused its search for fresh examiners only on those who would agree with the conclusions of the September 8 Segment; it let “We stand by our story” substitute for “Let’s
make sure we’re right”; it brushed aside criticism; and it issued inaccurate public statements.

Indeed, in the Panel’s view, if 60 Minutes Wednesday and CBS News had simply
acknowledged the issues raised and told its viewers promptly that it would seek to re-verify what 60 Minutes Wednesday had reported and would correct and apologize if it found anything wrong, the Panel would not be writing this Report.
...
The Panel finds that the questions and assaults directed towards the September 8 Segment should have been answered with fresh, independent reporting to determine their validity, certainly by or shortly after September 10. Instead, 60 Minutes Wednesday answered with an unyielding and strident defense and lost the battle.

Other people's email: Still fun to read.

This prompted an immediate reaction from Schwartz:

We need two things:
1. We need our expert available NOW to speak to all those who are reporting this story. We need the expert. Now. We need him now.

2. We need the talking points that can be crafted into a statement of defense and talked about by Dan when he calls people.

#1 is essential RIGHT NOW. We NEED THAT EXPERT.
[W]ithout him, we’re TOAST.

Then we need #2, about six seconds later.

Mapes, meanwhile, appears to have been focused on the superscript “th” and on
producing a piece for the September 10 CBS Evening News. She sent an e-mail to Schwartz, stating that they had put the superscript “th” issue to rest by finding the superscript “th” in the official Bush records:

[F]OR THE 100TH TIME, THE “TH” ISSUE IS GONE. WE HAVE
EXAMPLES FROM THE “OFFICIAL” WHITE HOUSE DOCS.
WE’RE SET.

This prompted an almost immediate reaction from Schwartz, who again expressed frustration that 60 Minutes Wednesday’s experts were nowhere to be seen:

The problem, Mary, is one of perception. As far as the press is concerned,
the “th” issue is NOT gone. It’s very much alive, and they have people crawling all over it. If we wait to address the issue until tonight’s news, we will DIE in the press tomorrow. Die. As in…dead.

You tell me. How do I get the message out RIGHT NOW, as in RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE, that the “th” thing is no longer an issue? They’ve got a bunch of “experts.” We have nothing. We need to communicate something in the next hour or so if the story isn’t going to thunder away from us on a Friday afternoon. Help me out.

Blogs affected CBS sooner, rather than later.

Howard had developed concerns about the September 8 Segment on September 9, and acknowledged that the bloggers and other matters, such as the differences in the superscript “th” in the official Bush records as opposed to the Killian documents and the ABC News Nightline report that he found “credible,” had shaken his confidence. Indeed, when asked by the Panel if
he found the events of September 9 unsettling, Howard stated: “Yes, that is an understatement.”

The Font Wars end with a whimper, not a bang.

...the September 10 broadcast contained the following statement:
Some analysts outside CBS say they believe the typeface on these memos
is New Times Roman which they claim was not available in the 1970s.
But the owner of the company that distributes this typing style said that it
had been available since 1931.

The Panel has been informed by New York City typewriter expert Peter Tytell that Times New Roman has indeed been available since the 1930s, but only on typesetting machines. The Panel was further informed by Tytell that it did not become available on typewriters or computers until the 1980s. See Appendix 4 at 4. The Panel discovered no credible evidence to the contrary.

Say "I'm Sorry" like you mean it, next time.

The Panel is troubled by this apology. While the apology does address the failure of 60 Minutes Wednesday to authenticate the documents, the thrust of the apology is that 60 Minutes Wednesday made mistakes because it was misled by Lieutenant Colonel Burkett. The Panel feels that was unfair. 60 Minutes Wednesday never carried out basic reporting to attempt to confirm Lieutenant Colonel Burkett’s original story that Chief Warrant Officer Conn
provided him with the documents. Thus, from the outset, it was the deficient reporting by 60 Minutes Wednesday that was at the heart of the failures that plagued the Segment.

Many Prostitutes Deny They Are Prostitutes When Asked

The question of whether a political agenda played any role in the airing of the Segment is one of the most subjective, and most difficult, that the Panel has sought to answer. The political agenda question was posed by the Panel directly to Dan Rather and his producer, Mary Mapes, who appear to have drawn the greatest attention in terms of possible political agendas. Both strongly denied that they brought any political bias to the Segment. The Panel recognizes that
those who saw bias at work in the Segment are likely to sweep such denials aside. However, the Panel will not level allegations for which it cannot offer adequate proof.

The Panel does not find a basis to accuse those who investigated, produced, vetted or aired the Segment of having a political bias. The Panel does note, however, that on such a politically charged story, coming in the midst of a presidential campaign in which military service records had become an issue, there was a need for meticulous care to avoid any suggestion of an agenda at work. The Panel does not believe that the appropriate level of care to avoid the appearance of political motivation was used in connection with this story.
...
Many of the sources of information that were used for the September 8 Segment had an anti-Bush political agenda. First, Lieutenant Colonel Burkett was a visible and outspoken critic of President Bush. Second, Mapes and Smith also relied on Linda Starr to assist in obtaining the documents from him. Her website was and still is filled with anti-Bush statements. Third, it appears that Mapes first came to learn about Linda Starr and her possible link to TexANG
records from Paul Lukasiak, another anti-Bush blogger. Fourth, Ben Barnes appeared on the September 8 Segment to claim that he provided assistance to President Bush to gain entry to the TexANG. Barnes was a well-known supporter of, and fundraiser for, Senator Kerry’s presidential campaign.

Who's to blame?

How did it happen? The Panel believes it happened primarily because of a rush to air that overwhelmed the proper application of the CBS News Standards and the people who are supposed to prevent the problems described in this Report. Those responsible for the Segment believed firmly that it was true (and some still do). In particular, the producer, Mary Mapes, had fervent faith in what she was reporting and the correspondent, Dan Rather, had great confidence in Mapes’ work. Everyone involved wanted the Segment to be right. But in journalism, no less than in other fields, wanting is not enough.
...
The Segment was the product of a strong and accomplished team – Dan Rather and Mary Mapes. Rather has been the “face” of CBS News for almost a quarter of a century and is one of the dominant figures in all of television news. Mapes has been a widely admired star producer with a stunning set of story successes to her credit. A new management team was in charge at 60 Minutes Wednesday with some 71 years of CBS News experience among them, but they were a new team running the rapids on their first show.

Sausage and politics are two things that, famously, shouldn't be seen close up by those of weak stomach. As the report above details, journalism as practiced by the major media comes in a close third--and as long as it does, the blogosphere will not lack for material.

Posted by Bigwig at January 10, 2005 12:05 PM | TrackBack
Postscript:
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Comments

Thanks Big, it was a fun read.

Posted by: Sully at January 11, 2005 07:57 AM
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