The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

10 January 2005

How Does CBS Look Now?

My turn for a take on today's developments in the release of the CBS report on the Rathergate affair. The best analysis of the report so far comes from James Taranto in

But although the panel "found certain actions that could support" the view that the decision to pursue and air the story was politically motivated, it "cannot conclude that a political agenda at 60 Minutes Wednesday drove either the timing of the airing of the Segment or its content." CBS takes this as vindication, as Moonves's letter makes clear:

We are also gratified that the Panel, after extensive analysis and consideration, has found that, while CBS News made numerous errors of judgment and execution in this story, these mistakes were not motivated by any political agenda. As the Report states, "The Panel does not find a basis to accuse those who investigated, produced, vetted or aired the Segment of having a political bias."

This looks like a mistake on CBS's part. The panel's finding that there's no basis for an "accusation" is a lawyerlike one, and CBS shouldn't be satisfied that the panel didn't prove bias beyond a reasonable doubt. The report notes that several other news organizations were also pursuing the "story":

This is where CBS loses credibility. They are twisting words of the report's authors to make it sound like there was no basis for charges of political bias but that's simply not true.

Beyond that the fallout is pretty obvious and the results not surprising. CBS was ready to fire these four underlings on whatever day it would be released.

It's not as though they read and made the determination that as a result of its findings, the following newsroom hacks should be let go. Mapes was the obvious casualty, no doubt she will be back in a certain Seattle newsroom before long.

The other obvious question is why Rather was allowed to pick his own exit date, but that's one of the realities of the business. The rules are different for the stars and always will be.

The problem for the network is that every day Rather continues on CBS, the few remaining viewers are reminded of the scandal. There is no moving forward until the face of Rathergate goes away.


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