Heads Roll at CBS News After Bush Report Slams Staff

12 January 2005

"Myopic zeal" to be first with a sensational story concerning the US president's one-time military service in the Texas warzone has led to a bloodbath at Viacom's CBS News.

Mary Mapes, producer of the network's flagship 60 Minutes current affairs program, was fired and three senior news executives 'requested' to resign, following publication this week of an allegedly independent report into a controversial news item broadcast in the throes of last fall's presidential election.

It concerned President George W Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard and centered around copy memos, purportedly from the private files of the future president's Texas Air National Guard commander. The latter, it appeared, was distinctly underwhelmed by GWB's devotion to military duty.

Unsurprisingly, the program and its sensitive timing aroused fury within the Republican high command, which promptly made its outrage known at the highest levels within CBS and parent Viacom.

Anxious to cool the situation, and likely mindful of the consequences should GWB be re-elected, CBS chairman Leslie Moonves commissioned two senior figures to investigate the story's veracity. This process was billed as 'independent'.

One investigator was Richard Thornburgh, a former Republican governor of Pennsylvania and US attorney general under President Bush senior - a choice seen by many observers as a curious manifestation of 'independence'. The other was ex-Associated Press chief executive Louis Boccardi, whose political affiliations are not publicly known.

Their conclusions, delivered in a 221-page report, have uncanny echoes of the Blair administration's Hutton Report. This too was an independent investigation into the BBC's news reportage of the government's alleged "sexing-up" of an intelligence dossier on Iraq's non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

Hutton dutifully judged the broadcaster 100% guilty of editorial negligence, while premier Blair and his administration emerged from the ordure smelling of roses.

Thornburgh and Boccardi likewise slam the CBS News Division for repeatedly failing to carry out "basic journalistic steps" to ensure accurate and fair reporting, "leading to countless misstatements and omissions".

Quoth President Bush, interviewed by the Wall Street Journal on Monday: "CBS said they would act. They did. And I hope their actions are such that this doesn't happen again."

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff