The news was all bad this week for CBS when an independent panel led by former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh and former Associated Press President Louis Boccardi issued its report about how "60 Minutes" erred so badly in airing a segment attacking President Bush based on memos that were apparently forged. Based on that independent internal investigation, the network fired four CBS News staffers on Monday, including the segments producer, Mary Mapes, and the executive producer of "60 Minutes Wednesday" (on which the segment aired), Josh Howard. Dan Rather, who narrated the segment, announced in November that he will leave his position as anchor of the CBS Evening News in March, but has insisted that his decision had nothing to do with the much-criticized "60 Minutes" segment.
According to the report, the "60 Minutes" segment was plagued by numerous "serious defects in reporting and production," including a "failure to obtain clear authentication of any of the [memos]," the "false statement that an expert had authenticated the [memos]," and a "telephone call by the producer of the segment to a senior campaign official of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry." The report called this last error in judgment "a clear conflict of interest that created the appearance of political bias."
In fact, the report details how the collusion between CBS News and the Kerry campaign went much deeper than a single phone call by the segments producer. The independent investigation confirmed that, from the very beginning, the source of the unverifiable memos demanded that he be put in touch with the Kerry campaign, and that the producer of the "60 Minutes" segment brokered that relationship.
According to the report, a Kerry campaign communications official said that he and the CBS producer "spoke several times" in the weeks before the "60 Minutes story" aired, and that those conversations led the producer to contact Joe Lockhart, a senior advisor to the Kerry campaign. The report also includes testimony from Joe Lockhart about how the CBS producer "indicated that [the source of the memos] wanted to talk to the Kerry campaign regarding strategy." Lockhart told the investigating panel that he understood "there was some connection between his talking to [the source of the memos] and the latters willingness to cooperate further with [CBS]." Nevertheless, according to the report, "Lockhart ultimately called [the source of the memos] at the behest of the CBS producer, engaging in a conversation "about the direction of the campaign and about how the campaign could push back on the Swift Boat attacks" on Kerrys military service in Vietnam.
Numerous revelations in the independent report also reinforce the Complaint filed by the Center for Individual Freedom with the Federal Election Commission, which accuses both CBS and the Kerry campaign of violating federal election laws in the coordination and airing of attacks on President Bush. The Center updated its filing with the Federal Election Commission this week, asking the Commission to consider facts detailed in the report and include the report in the record.January 13, 2005