The final CBS News executive asked to resign for his role in the network’s discredited report on President Bush’s military service reached a settlement with CBS and quit Tuesday.
Josh Howard was executive producer of the “60 Minutes Wednesday” broadcast where the Sept. 8 report aired. An independent panel later concluded that documents used to question Bush’s National Guard service could not be verified.
“While I am proud of all I have accomplished at CBS News over my entire 23-year career, it has become clear to me that the time has come for me to move on,” Howard said in a statement.
CBS said it recognizes Howard’s contributions to CBS News, “and we wish him the best in his future endeavors.”
Neither Howard nor the network would comment further. CBS is part of the media conglomerate Viacom Inc.
Three others were ousted for their roles in the story: Mary Murphy, Howard’s deputy, and Betsy West, former CBS News senior vice president of prime time, both resigned earlier. Mary Mapes, the report’s producer, was fired. It was announced Tuesday that she’s writing a book, titled “The Other Side of the Story,” that will be published this fall.
Tuesday’s agreement ends any possibility of a wrongful termination lawsuit, which had been looming since top CBS executive Leslie Moonves asked for Howard’s resignation on Jan. 10. It was in response to the review of the story by former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh and former Associated Press chief executive Louis D. Boccardi.
Moonves concluded that Howard participated in rushing the report on the air without questioning Mapes thoroughly about her sources and documentation.
Howard “did little to assert his role as the producer ultimately responsible for the broadcast and everything in it,” Moonves said.
The independent panel said Mapes was questioned, but her reputation and the “60 Minutes” tradition of trusting producers led to the decision to go ahead.
Two days after the report was aired, with questions swirling about the key documents, Howard urged that the network publicly acknowledge the possibility that the documents were a hoax.
His advice was rejected, and Howard had no further involvement in how the aftermath was handled. Boccardi and Thornburgh wrote that if CBS News had “simply acknowledged the issues raised and told its viewers promptly that it would seek to re-verify what ‘60 Minutes Wednesday’ had reported and would correct and apologize if it found anything wrong, the panel would not be writing this report.”
Howard’s one-time boss, former “60 Minutes” executive producer Don Hewitt, said Tuesday that he attributed much of his success to deputies like Howard.
“I don’t believe in journalism making a mistake is a crime,” Hewitt said. “I think the crime is not admitting that you may have made a mistake.”
But Howard wasn’t guilty of that crime, Hewitt said.
Howard has gotten job inquiries from other news organizations and expects to remain in the news business, his lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said.
There has been one lawsuit as a result of Moonves’ personnel actions. Esther Kartiganer, a former senior producer in charge of reading broadcast news scripts, was demoted and had her pay cut as a result of her role in the story, and she has sued CBS charging age discrimination and defamation.