CBS News now says it was misled about the origins of disputed memos on President George W. Bush's National Guard service, it has apologized for using documents and it will launch an internal investigation into how the documents made it to air.
Questions about the documents' authenticity has far overshadowed the original story since the piece, reported by Dan Rather, aired Sept. 8.
"60 Minutes Wednesday had full confidence in the original report or it would not have aired," said CBS News President Andy Heyward in a lengthy mea culpa Monday, "However, in the wake of serious and disturbing questions that came up after the broadcast, CBS News has done extensive additional reporting in an effort to confirm the documents' authenticity....That included an interview featured on last week's edition of 60 Minutes Wednesday with Marian Carr Knox, secretary to the late Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, the officer named as the author of the documents; the interview with Bill Burkett to be seen tonight; and a further review of the forensic evidence on both sides of the debate.
"Based on what we now know, CBS News cannot prove that the documents are authentic, which is the only acceptable journalistic standard to justify using them in the report. We should not have used them. That was a mistake, which we deeply regret. Nothing is more important to us than our credibility and keeping faith with the millions of people who count on us for fair, accurate, reliable, and independent reporting. We will continue to work tirelessly to be worthy of that trust."
Rather issued a separate statement, the gist of which was:
"I no longer have the confidence in these documents that would allow us to continue vouching for them journalistically. I find we have been misled on the key question of how our source for the documents came into possession of these papers. That, combined with some of the questions that have been raised in public and in the press, leads me to a point where—if I knew then what I know now—I would not have gone ahead with the story as it was aired, and I certainly would not have used the documents in question.
"But we did use the documents. We made a mistake in judgment, and for that I am sorry. It was an error that was made, however, in good faith and in the spirit of trying to carry on a CBS News tradition of investigative reporting without fear or favoritism."
CBS is not saying the documents are necessarily forgeries, however. Burkett told the network in the interview that he misled CBS about the origins of the documents and that he actually got them from another source.
CBS conceded during its evening newscast that Burkett had insisted that the network independently authenticate the memos. Rather admitted it had not. “The failure of CBS News to do just that— to properly, fully scrutinize the documents AND their source—led to our airing the documents when we should not have done so. “
CBS corporate and the news department will commission an independent study, which it will make public, of how the broadcast was prepared and made it to air, "to help determine what actions need to be taken."
One thing that investigation will look into are allegations from one of CBS' document experts, denied by CBS, that she strongly warned 60 Minutes of possible problems with the document's authenticity.