CBS chief Moonves talks

In an interview with MSNBC's Dan Abrams, CBS President Les Moonves discusses the result of the independent panel's report on the CBS report on the Bush National Guard story. Click here to read the full report (PDF file).

Below is a transcript of the interview:

DAN ABRAMS, HOST, 'THE ABRAMS REPORT': Mr. Moonves,  what went wrong.

LESLIE MOONVES, CBS PRESIDENT:  It was such an overzealousness to get the story on the air that the experts weren't authenticated, the documents weren't authenticated, and I don't think they checked out the sources sufficiently.

ABRAMS:  Is CBS ready to say we got it wrong?

MOONVES:  Oh, there's no question about it... The panel, wrote a very in-depth report of 225 pages, and in my statement about it, which said we were unfair and inaccurate at certain points in time throughout this.

ABRAMS:  But is CBS now confident that that document was a fake?

MOONVES:  No.  You know what?  It's interesting, the panel never said the document wasn't a fake, but if you can't authenticate that it was a true document, it might as well have been a fake.

ABRAMS:  Four producers were either asked to resign or fired, and yet Dan Rather, the face of the piece, and not just the face of the piece, someone who was working on the piece behind the scenes...

MOONVES:  Right.

ABRAMS:  ... no consequence.

MOONVES:  Well, it's three producers and an executive at CBS.  Look, the report very clearly states Dan was working on the Republican National Convention, he was working on a hurricane story, and clearly when the story went on the air, I think Dan's biggest faults was trusting a producer he had worked with before, obviously they had great success together.

ABRAMS:  So Dan Rather hadn't verified the sources.  Dan Rather hadn't asked the tough questions.

MOONVES:  As you know, you can't always do that as a reporter.  You trust the people you work with.

ABRAMS:  Let me read one line from the panel: “The panel does not believe that the appropriate level of care to avoid the appearance of political motivation was used in connection with this story.”  Does that now mean that people won't be able to trust CBS News, do you think?

MOONVES:  That's not the case.  Clearly 99 percent of the people in the stories reported at CBS News are dead accurate.  This was the case where the appropriate steps weren't taken and things were printed that were unfair, untruthful, and possibly not able to be substantiated.

ABRAMS:  What was it about this story though?  I mean, CBS goes through this all the time and there are going to be stories that are going to be pulled all the time because they aren't able to verify it.  Why did this one slip through?

MOONVES:  You know what?  I don't know the answer to that question.  It's a very good question.  Clearly it's a story that Mary Mapes had been chasing for many years.  As they said on the panel, it obviously was the perfect storm.  People were rushing to judgment.  They were rushing competitively.  It was an important story.  I don't know the answer to that question.

ABRAMS:  Do you think it was purely journalistic errors?  Do you think that if there had been journalists, producers, with a more conservative bend at the helm that the result might have been different?

MOONVES:  I don't think it had anything to do with whether they're conservative or liberal or Republicans or Democrats.  I don't think producers checked appropriately. I don't think they vetted the report.  Forget about political bent.  I don't think it had anything to do with it.  I think it had to do with not doing their jobs.

ABRAMS:  In a CBS statement on the CBS Web site, says the correspondent on the story, CBS News anchor Dan Rather is stepping down as anchor of “CBS Evening News”.  It makes it sound as if that's part of the result of this investigation.  If Dan Rather had not stepped down as anchor, would you have asked him to resign?

MOONVES:  That's purely conjecture.  I mean we just started discussing Dan Rather leaving his anchor chair this past summer, long before this story came up or even the idea for the story came up.  In November, he announced that on March 9 he'd be leaving the chair, just as NBC did five years before Brokaw left, they announced Brian Williams or what ever the amount of time.  We have had a logical succession and it was all in place and it would have been in place with this story or without it.

'The Abrams Report' airs weeknights, 6 p.m. ET