No political bias, says panel investigating CBS

Richard Thornburgh and Louis Boccardi, chairmen of the independent panel investigating CBS News, talked to MSNBC's Dan Abrams about their finding of their finding of "no bias" over the reporting of CBS' Bush National Guard story. Click here to read the full report (PDF file).

Below is a transcript of their interview:

DICK THORNBURGH, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL:  We didn't find any political agenda on the part of any of the people involved in this.  There were a lot of other news organizations following the story.  We did find, however, an insensitivity to appearances.  Most of the sources for this story had a strong anti-President Bush agenda of their own.  And the contact between the producer of this segment and the Kerry campaign was universally condemned within and without CBS News.

DAN ABRAMS, HOST, 'THE ABRAMS REPORT':  I mean, when a producer calls up an ally of the Kerry campaign to say, “Hey, I want to put you together with someone,” how is that not political?

THORNBURGH:  It was a dreadful mistake to be sure, but we didn't find that there was an intention to further the political interest of the candidate.  What it really was an attempt to exert some further leverage on the source to make some documents available.

ABRAMS:  You had said, “You could not find a basis to accuse those who investigated, produced, vetted or aired the segment of having a political bias.”  Accusations aside, is it fair to say this might not have happened if the people involved had more of a conservative bend?

LOUIS BOCCARDI, FORMER ASSOCIATED PRESS CHIEF EXECUTIVE:  I don't see any basis on which I could make that judgment, no.  I think it's clear that they did things that could lead those who think there was a bias here to be convinced of it. But you know we didn't want to make the same mistake that the program made.

ABRAMS: How involved was Dan Rather in producing, in researching, in asking the tough questions about this piece?

BOCCARDI:  Before the show aired, his involvement was minimal.  He had been in a very busy 10 or 12-day period with the Republican Convention, chasing a hurricane in Florida, so he was not deeply engaged in the preparatory part of the program.

ABRAMS:  We know that very often, correspondents rely on producers for a lot, but a piece this sensitive, this important, and this close to the election, was coming from the voice of Dan Rather. Should he have done more?

BOCCARDI: I think Dan Rather was doing what CBS assigned him to do, which was a convention, the hurricane, and so forth.  We make a recommendation that CBS News management should look at the problem of whether correspondents have enough time to contribute their insights and their abilities and their news reporting ability to a segment, and if they can't, then that's something that needs to be addressed.

ABRAMS:  If you were going to describe the single biggest journalistic problem here, what would you say that it was?

THORNBURGH:  I think there are probably three different areas I would focus attention on in terms of the process shortcomings.  One was the failure to authenticate the documents or to report accurately upon what the experts said.  Second was to thoroughly examine the background of the principal source to see what his history was, what his biases were.  And the third was the whole vetting process that was gone through by the management of the program— the failure to ask the tough questions, the follow-up questions that would bring out these shortcomings.