Monday, January 10, 2005

The Rathergate Report

Months, not days or weeks after the scandal broke, the "Independent Review Panel" report on Rathergate has been issued. The full text of the document may be found in PDF form here. Four CBS execs have lost their jobs as a result of the report. These four are sacrificial lambs. There are only two things you need to take away from the 224 page report. First, as to the authenticity of the forged documents (from page 18 of the report):
F. Authenticity of the Killian Documents

The Panel was not able to reach a definitive conclusion as to the authenticity of the Killian documents. However, Mapes made oral and written presentations to the Panel during its investigation in an effort to demonstrate that the content of the Killian documents was in fact authentic. These presentations were done primarily by comparing the Killian documents with official Bush records to show how well she believed that the Killian documents “meshed” with the official Bush records.

The Panel finds that the meshing analysis submitted by Mapes does not withstand scrutiny for two reasons. First, in many instances, the content of the Killian documents does not mesh well substantively with the official Bush records. Second, the Killian documents vary in significant ways from the standard format and jargon of documents issued by the 147 th Fighter Interceptor Group in the early 1970s. Thus, the Panel believes that there remain substantial questions regarding the authenticity of the Killian documents. The Panel believes that careful reporting prior to airing the Segment should have identified these questions and, at a minimum, should have delayed the broadcast so that more reporting could be conducted.
Translation: The documents are fake but accurate. Mapes should have spent more time making sure that the forgeries wouldn't be detected.

Second, on CBS's political agenda (from page 28 of the report):
H. Political Agenda

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 Panel heard from many that the Rather/Mapes team was a formidable force at 60 Minutes Wednesday. Great trust was placed in Mapes, a highly respected producer who had just produced a widely acclaimed segment on the Abu Ghraib prison abuses, and vast deference was given to Rather, the “face” of CBS News. These factors, along with the “crash” of the production, contributed greatly to the failures of the September 8 Segment and the Aftermath.
Translation: Everyone we talked to at CBS assured us they didn't have a political agenda, and that's good enough for us.

This result is unsurprising, but still disappointing. Glenn Reynolds says "Indeed" to Soxblog's comment that "The Report lays out the facts and those alone are damning enough." Sure, the facts are plenty damning, but we already HAD the facts. Based on my admittedly Mapes-like review of the Report (I've only skimmed it at this point), there's nothing in these 224 pages that we haven't already heard from the Powerline boys or RatherBiased. So what good IS the report if it tells us nothing new and refuses to say what everyone already knows?

Answer: Not much. CBS has made its token firings, Dan Rather continues to vouch for the documents, the Panel tells CBS to "be more careful next time." Business as usual.

In my opinion, the biggest impact of the Report will be to only increase the derision that has already been rightfully heaped upon that moribund organization. What the American people needed was an acknowledgment of what they already knew was wrong. What they got was 224 additional pages of denial. Just one more bad move in a whole litany of bad moves.