The Real CBS Bias
By Staff -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/16/2005 7:00:00 PM
Did CBS News executives let their bias blow up what may potentially have been a big story on the eve of an even bigger election? Yes, but that answer depends on what bias we're talking about. If we are talking about the journalist's bias for the “big get,” yes, CBS was guilty.
That is the bias that really did in the network. It's odd, too, because the story of President Bush's less-than-distinguished National Guard experience was, months before the election, more or less conceded. This was a story that was around in 2000, but the Swift Boat attacks on Sen. Kerry gave 60 Minutes a new hook for a thorough re-examination of Bush's National Guard record.
And as we've noted before, the rush to beat bloggers and the 24-hour news operations next door with a potentially incendiary story trumped the absolute necessity of nailing it down first.
Pursuing a political story, even one you hope falls one way rather than the other, is not the same thing as a liberal bias that colors the reporting. That was the conclusion of the investigative team, consisting of former Republican Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and former Associated Press chief Lou Boccardi. We agree with their conclusions.
Investigative reporting is by definition an attack on the “official version” of events. Whether or not Dan Rather and Mary Mapes are liberals shouldn't change the essence of the work: to discover new truths, right wrongs, and upset rotten apple carts.
What journalists can't do, liberal or conservative, is take short cuts and make mistakes. But that is what CBS did, and now regrets.
We applaud the network's strong measures in response to the report, and we favor CBS News President Andrew Heyward's new, more rigorous standards for putting cooler heads on hot stories. We hope those measures send strong signals both inside and outside the company, but we also hope that the aggressiveness that has marked CBS News continues. That is vital.
We note, finally, that Dan Rather retires from the CBS Evening News on March 9. We assume it is just by coincidence that his sign-off comes 51 years to the day after CBS-TV news came of age with Edward R. Murrow's blistering indictment of the demagogic Sen. Joseph McCarthy—a Democrat, by the way.
The National Guard story has blackened the CBS eye. But the network has admitted its mistake and has begun to take corrective action. It's now time for CBS to double its resolve to restore the kind of journalism that would have made Murrow proud.
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