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By Carol Devine-Molin
Understandably, CBS required an internal investigation in the wake of the Rathergate debacle, cloaked in the veneer of objectivity and for the purposes of restoring CBS credibility and accountability, assuaging critics and muddying-up the waters on questions of criminal liability. But did the report (PDF format) succeed? I don't think so. The American public understands that it has a right to expect reasonable, common-sense conclusions from an investigation led by distinguished citizens such as former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh and former Associated Press chief executive Lou Boccardi. Instead, Americans received a whitewash -- a glossing over -- of scurrilous behaviors at the CBS news division, and the implications of those behaviors. Frankly, key issues were not properly addressed in the report.
Specifically, there was overwhelming evidence that Dan Rather, his producer Mary Mapes and their little team were hell-bent on perpetrating a politically-motivated hatchet job upon President George W.Bush, utilizing fraudulent documents. In any event, it was Rather's duty to be on top of that story, and he shares in overall responsibility by dint of that alone. Moreover, the timing of the National Guard story by CBS speaks volumes. It occurred approximately two months before Election Day, when Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry was falling behind in the polls. White House spokesman Scott McClellan incisively remarked in mid-September 2004: "In terms of the timing of these old, recycled (National Guard) attacks on the President, it's clear that this is an orchestrated effort by Democrats and the Kerry campaign". One could easily surmise that the CBS piece was meant to harm Bush politically and sway the election in favor of John Kerry. That being said, crimes may very well have been committed here, most notably promulgating fake National Guard documents, and attempting to influence the outcome of a presidential election. I wouldn't be surprised if this goes to a federal grand jury for consideration.
The report chalks up the unconscionable behaviors of Rather et al. to "myopic zeal" and pressure to get the story out. Richard Thornburgh even stated in a recent interview, ""If you're looking for a villain in this story, we have one. It's haste". Unfortunately, it really appears as if he's looking to excuse CBS, which doesn't bode well for an impartial evaluation of circumstances. The Thornburgh-Boccardi investigation also maintained that: a) political bias was unproven, and, b) authenticity of the National Guard documents remained inconclusive. Both assertions strain credulity. Why didn't the investigative panel at least bring in several experts to determine the likelihood of the documents being forged? But then again, given criminal liability of smearing the president during a tight election with false documents, maybe the investigative panel decided to finesse the issue and forgo the determination. No bias? That's very difficult to believe, given the very liberal culture of Big Media journalists. More importantly, Mapes chose to actively ignore all the red-flags pointing to fraudulent National Guard documents provided by political partisan Bill Burkett, who certainly had a vendetta against President Bush. She failed to properly vet the documents or establish a "chain of custody". It remained for the Internet bloggers to raise the specter of fake documents and a contrived news story.
And Mary Mapes lied to her superiors, assuring them that the documents had been properly vetted. According to Leslie Moonves, chairman and chief executive officer of CBS: "Most troubling, however, are the panel's findings regarding Mapes' ongoing contention, later proven to be false, that the documents used in the story were thoroughly authenticated and had been obtained from an 'impeccable' source who had established, in retrospect, a questionable chain of custody for them". Mapes demonstrated a concerted effort to move the story forward, and verifying facts clearly didn't matter. In other words, truth didn't matter. She clearly had an agenda. Why is the panel so sure that the Mapes' agenda was not politically motivated? Moreover, there's other notable evidence pointing to political bias -- Mary Mapes had been colluding with John Kerry senior campaign advisor Joe Lockhart, which has to call into question her political motives. In fact, Mapes phoned Lockhart to put him in touch with Burkett. She also advised Lockhart how much she wanted this National Guard story. Simply put, Mapes was cozy with the Kerry camp.
Regarding Dan Rather, he's a dyed-in-the wool liberal who has been known to attend Democratic functions. That's of significance only because Rather prides himself on journalistic objectivity. And he's exhibited personal animus toward the Bush family on previous occasions. Moreover, why didn't he rein-in Mary Mapes? Or was he totally oblivious to what was happening? Somehow, I doubt that. Rather is letting Mapes and others take the fall, but, frankly, I believe he understood the overall mindset and political proclivities over at CBS.
Anchorman Dan Rather and CBS news division chief Andy Heyward were both permitted to stay on at CBS, when accountability really should have emanated from the top. Both of them should have been fired. Sure, four mid-level heads ultimately rolled, but that's not sufficient when serious violations of protocol and journalistic ethics take place. It's time for journalistic standards and practices to be reinstated at CBS. Clearly, the CBS partisan network is no longer the Tiffany Network.
Carol Devine-Molin is a regular contributor to several online magazines.
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