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The End Of "Star Journalism"

The panels report on Rathergate is clear on one point - the atmosphere of "star journalism" that exists at CBS was a primary contributor to the mess CBS got itself into. At every turn the conventions of investigative journalism were short-shrift or ignored altogether because the "A" team was on the case. They rode the story like a bull through a china shop, leaving co-workers either shell-shocked or complicit in their haste to run with their new "evidence."

On ABC's Nightline, former Attorney General Dick Thornburg stated that if there was any villain in this report it would be "haste." One suspects that he is being overly generous to the principals at CBS, since the full report catalogs an atmosphere where the "haste" was manufactured. That "haste" was created, then exploited, by segment producer Mary Mapes and to a lesser extent anchor Dan Rather.

In his response [PDF] to the report, CBS CEO Leslie Moonves lays in to the "star" producer.

Mary Mapes. Mapes was the producer of the segment. An Emmy Award-winning producer, one of the most highly regarded professionals in the business, she recently had broken the story on the Abu Ghraib prison abuses. The Panel shows that it was that record and level of trust that led those around Mapes to defer to her to a far greater extent than was warranted.

In this case, as described by the Panel, her basic reporting was faulty and her responses when questioned led others who trusted her down the wrong road. Her confidential source was not reliable and her authenticators were unable to authenticate the documents, and yet she maintained the opposite. In addition, the Panel cites a number of instances where Mapes' accounts radically differ from those of her colleagues and sources. This is truly disquieting. For these reasons and many others outlined in the Panel's work, Mary Mapes is terminated, effective immediately.

Moonves is less damning toward Dan Rather, but hints that the retirement was most likely a orchestrated "save face" maneuver.
The Panel found that Dan Rather was pushed to the limit in the week before the September 8th broadcast. He was finishing up the anchoring job at the 2004 Republican Convention and was covering Hurricane Frances in Florida. He asked the right questions initially, but then made the same errors of credulity and over-enthusiasm that beset many of his colleagues in regard to this segment. He was convinced that the documents were authenticated because he was told in no uncertain terms that this was so. He defended the story over-zealously afterward; again, he believed in a star associate with whom he had worked often, and to award-winning result. The Panel has found that his unwillingness to consider that CBS News and his colleague were in the wrong was a mistake, and that the broadcast would have benefited from a more direct involvement on Rather's part.

Dan Rather has already apologized for the segment and taken personal responsibility for his part in the broadcast. He voluntarily moved to set a date to step down from the CBS Evening News anchor chair in March of 2005, which will give him more time to concentrate on his reporting for CBS NEWS. After examining the report and thinking about its implications, we believe any further action would not be appropriate.

In September 2004, Pulitzer Prize winning author and best selling journalist, David Halberstam noted that the "star journalism" culture at CBS was a long standing problem that affected many other stories at the network. In this case Dan Rather rushed to broadcast a story that didn't withstand even the most cursory review, save for Mapes manipulation of the process. Whether Rather was manipulated by Mapes or whether he was a willing participant; we may never know for sure.

CBS's own Andy Rooney sees that distinction as irrelevant. He tells USA TODAY, "The people on the front lines got fired while the people most instrumental in getting the broadcast on [Rather and CBS News chief Andrew Heyward] escaped."

For Dan Rather it is a Pyhrric victory. He ends his storied career with the fallout of the scandal resting square on his shoulders, and that will stick to him forever regardless of his "escape."

Comments (8)

Go Andy Rooney.... (Below threshold)

Go Andy Rooney.

You need to remember what a... (Below threshold)

You need to remember what a little controversy will mean in Dan's book deal that will be coming soon after his semi-retirement. Add 15-25% if he promises a tell-all and he won't have to deliver any truth on the Memogate matter. It was a win-win situation for him from day one, even though his main objective of putting Kerry in the Whitehouse wasn't met, he still comes out smelling like a rose financially. He was heading out the door anyway, might as well pick up a few bucks extra on the way. Kinda like dropping a quarter in a slot machine as you leave the casino, but one that guarantees you'll get some return, just not everything you hoped for.

First, sincere kudos to WIZ... (Below threshold)

First, sincere kudos to WIZBANG, who has been in the forefront of this matter from the very beginning, and who has been on the very top of the technical issues. This is surely a time for a tiny bit of self-congratulation.
Regarding Rather and his extra two bits as the door hits him on the way out, I doubt that financial considerations weigh heavily on Dan's self-absorbed mind. He has already achieved "critical mass". But slinking into oblivion as an asterisk in the history books of American presidential campaigns is not exactly what he had in mind as a legacy.
The blogosphere has not only become powerful, but ferociously so. Those who grew up in frustration at the monumental power of Cronkite and Rather had no reason to hope that they would ever be brought back to earth, and, certainly, no reason beyond "the gods of the copybook maxims" to expefct hope that the mills of the gods would grind them so exceedingly fine.

Rather isn't "officially" t... (Below threshold)

Rather isn't "officially" terminated, or even unofficially, so I guess by holding the others involved, to a point, responsible for irresponsible information and proliferation of same under the guise of reporting "news" moreorless shoots holes in any possible credibility Rather would or could ever have as to him being "a reporter."

At this point, reporter of what? If he's not responsible (and therefore fully punishable) for his actions, then what the heck IS he responsible for?

CBS was right to terminate Mapes and the other three producers/executives involved but they are hardly looking responsible themselves by even allowing Rather to continue on in any capacity with a "news" source, such as CBS, ahem, NEWS is supposed to be, assumed to be.

It's not news, it's entertainment. I mean, I GUESS. Otherwise, whattheheck IS it? CBS, that is. Viacom needs to clear out the place and just start over and Moonves is doing a dance. A very handsome dance, yes, but still a dance.

It's the Michael Moore interpretation of "documentary" that CBS News has butchered journalism as they have, and aren't looking too likely to correct anytime soon, despite the various being booted. Rather is still affiliated, preposterously.

I now, in retrospect, truly and completely question most if not all of what has been daily presented into the households of us Americans and the world via transport by sources such as are Rather, Cronkite, CBS and others affiliated. It seems we've all been misled, to understate the issue here.

Re Mapes: "...An Emmy Award... (Below threshold)

Re Mapes: "...An Emmy Award-winning producer, one of the most highly regarded professionals in the business, she recently had broken the story on the Abu Ghraib prison abuses..."

CBS ought to investigate all her earlier work too.

Here are 2 examples from Rathergate.com where review of discredited journalists' work was done correctly:

"USA Today reporter Jack Kelley resigned in January 2004 after management discovered he had been making up sources and having friends made during his travels portray them to cover his lies. Within two months, a team of reporters had combed through 720 Kelley stories spanning 10 years."

"Jayson Blair resigned from The New York Times on May 1, 2003, after editors discovered he had plagiarized much of a story about the mother of a dead soldier from a San Antonio newspaper. Eleven days later the Times printed a 7,200-word monster story about Blair’s misdeeds and the numerous newsroom failures that made Blair possible. In that span, reporters found problems in 36 of 73 stories Blair wrote since joining the national desk, and spot-checked 600 more. The Times set up a special e-mail address for people who were wronged by Blair in print."

Rather's statements try to ... (Below threshold)
Will Pickering:

Rather's statements try to give the impression that he's out there in the trenches, sleeves rolled up, wearing out shoe leather and getting his hands dirty. From what I could see in the report, he didn't do much but read what was put in front of him by Mapes.

As far as bias goes, if Rather and Mapes are so stubborn and deluded as to still believe the documents may be real, they may also truly believe they are not biased.

Also, did anyone notice that 60 Minutes has a special vetter whose job is to make sure that interviews are fairly presented? I wonder if that goes back to the libel suit against CBS by General Westmoreland in the 80s, which the General lost. It came out that 60 Minutes and had edited interviews in a very distorted fashion. There were some other embarrasing revelations about their reporting methods, and Rather was involved. Why do we keep hearing that he has such a great reputation?

One more thing - My favorite part of the report related how as early as 1999 Mapes talked to Guard members who said that Bush actually wanted to go to Vietnam but didn't have enough flight experience.

"Haste" is the culpirt? The... (Below threshold)

"Haste" is the culpirt? They got to be kidding. Let's diffuse the issues and blame everybody and everything except the guilty. And if "timing," i.e., they weren't timing it to screw Bush, was not an issue, why is "haste" a culprit?

yo kevin, your such a borin... (Below threshold)

yo kevin, your such a boring fool like JAY TEA. you guys always end up posting some boring useless articles. how boring can you two get?????

from amelia martinez from london






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