The Rather Lather
I started reading the full text of Dan Rather’s complaint against CBS to prepare for a post comparing the Democrats’ recent cave-in on the “General Betray Us” ad to CBS’s cave-in on the Bush Air National Guard story, and this one name kept cropping up again and again…
CBS News President Andrew Heyward and Senior Vice President Betsy West were involved intimately in the editing and vetting process of the Abu Ghraib story. However, for weeks, they refused to grant permission to air the story, continuously insisting that it lacked sufficient substantiation. As Mr. Rather and Ms. Mapes provided each requested verification, Mr. Heyward and Ms. West continued to “raise the goalposts,” insisting on additional substantiation.
Even after obtaining a dozen, now notorious photos, which made it impossible to deny the accuracy of the story, Mr. Heyward and Ms. West continued to delay the story for an additional three weeks.
They only gave the go-ahead to air the story when CBS was about to get scooped, and forbade any kind of on-air promotion or repeats of the report. Next Hurrah commenter scribe has some more perspective on this.
Mr. Heyward instructed Mr. Rather to concentrate on hurricane coverage, stating that he would personally supervise the vetting of the Bush TexANG story and Documents, as he had done with the Abu Ghraib story. [Danger, Will Robinson!] Further, he assured Mr. Rather that he would assign other senior CBS News personnel to vet the story, including Betsy West.
That Andy Heyward’s a real helpful guy.
For several days [after the Killian memos were questioned], Mr. Heyward and CBS News determined to stand by the story. Mr. Heyward and CBS public relations executive Gil Schwartz directed Mr. Rather to defend the story in response to media queries, using “talking points” prepared by Ms. Mapes.
Mr. Heyward also directed Mr. Rather not to respond to the accusations of bias made against him personally, assuring Mr. Rather that CBS would defend and stand by him. Relying on these assurances, Mr. Rather complied and did not respond to personal attacks on his journalistic integrity.
On September 20, 2004, Mr. Heyward and Mr. Schwartz decided that CBS should completely change its position and issue an apology for the Broadcast. Although Mr. Heyward himself had undertaken personal responsibility for the vetting of the story, he instructed Mr. Rather to read a public apology, written by Mr. Schwartz, for both Mr. Rather and CBS’s handling of the story. Despite his own personal feelings that no apology from him was warranted, Mr. Rather read the apology as instructed. Mr. Rather also, as instructed, did not publicly defend the story.
Okay, one more:
At the time the Panel [to investigate what went wrong] was announced, CBS News President Andrew Heyward instructed the entire CBS News department to curtail any further investigation of the story underlying the Broadcast. Mr. Rather reminded Mr. Heyward that numerous leads remained open which should be investigated, and stated that if CBS News would not continue to investigate them he would personally retain a private investigator to pursue them. Mr. Heyward urged Mr. Rather to refrain from taking such action. He informed Mr. Rather that CBS News would retain a private investigator to thoroughly pursue all leads, and that all information uncovered by such investigator would be made available to Mr. Rather. In reliance on Mr. Heyward’s aforesaid promise, Mr. Rather did not retain any investigator.
Erik Rigler, the investigator hired by CBS, concluded that “the Killian Documents were probably authentic, and that the underlying facts in the Broadcast were certainly accurate.” This was not mentioned at all in the Panel report (which, ironically, also faulted Rather for supporting the memos’ authenticity for too long), and Rather was never given access to Rigler’s materials as promised. It is also worth noting that, per the complaint, Karl Rove managed Panel Chair Richard Thornburgh’s unsuccessful PA Senate campaign…
This whole sorry episode reeks of ratfuckery to me, with Viacom chairman and unabashed Bush supporter Sumner Redstone using Heyward as Rather’s minder and eventual hitman. Heyward’s actions went beyond simple incompetence and well into deliberate sabotage. His stalling of the Abu Ghraib story and forcing Rather (The Most Trusting Man On Earth) to take the fall for Heyward’s own questionable vetting were particularly heinous.
This also explains a question I’ve had for quite some time: Why didn’t Rather and CBS simply point out that even without the documents, the underlying story was still rock-solid? Dubya really did pull strings to get out of serving in a war he supported, and he really did quit his TANG commitment a year early.