Monday was an awful day for one of television’s proudest news divisions. CBS News, the network of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, issued a monumental apology. The network acknowledged it should not have relied upon questionable documents used in a story challenging President Bush’s military service.
In a blow to its credibility, CBS news said that when it used these documents to question President Bush’s National Guard Service, the news organization was misled.
CBS President Andrew Heyward issued an apology saying, “Based on what we know, CBS news cannot prove that the documents are authentic… we should not have used that. That was a mistake, which we deeply regret.”
Adding to the drama was Dan Rather, who first reported the documents and has been anchoring the CBS evening news for 23 years. In his own statement, Rather said, “We made a mistake in judgment, and for that, I am sorry. It was an error that was made, however, in good faith and in the spirit of trying to carry on a CBS news tradition of investigative reporting without fear of favoritism.”
On the Sept. 8th edition of “60 Minutes,” Rather reported that in 1972, George W. Bush failed to meet Texas National Guard Standards and refused a direct order.
But the documents were questioned almost immediately by experts watching from home. The problem, said the Internet bloggers, was that the typeface appeared to match computer word processors, and not the type of typewriters used by the military in the early 70s.
At first, CBS strongly defended its story. And last week, even after a crucial secretary said the memos were fake, CBS argued nobody has disputed that George W. Bush received preferential treatment.
Monday, however, after re-interviewing Bill Burkett, the source for the documents, CBS announced it had been misled, and the White House pounced.
“Why did CBS rely on Bill Burkett? CBS said he was an unimpeachable source... but in fact he very involved with Democrats,” said Scott McClellan.
For many Republicans, Dan Rather’s apology is about as glorious as it gets. Rather has been an infuriating thorn ever since Richard Nixon and Watergate.
But this week, it is Dan Rather who has given his long-time critics all the ammunition they need.
CBS News says it is launching an internal investigation that will review the mistakes in verifying the documents, and will undoubtedly try to piece together how an organization as proud as CBS, could have made itself look so foolish.