The “60 Minutes Wednesday” report on President George Bush’s National Guard Service alleging that he received preferential treatment failed to meet the two core CBS News principles of accuracy and fairness, according to a report issued Monday from the panel investigating what went wrong.
Further, the panel found “serious questions” concerning the authenticity of documents at the heart of the report. While the panel did not address whether or not the documents were legitimate or fakes, it did conclude that “with better reporting those questions should have been raised.”
The thesis of the Sept. 8, 2004, report on “60 Minutes Wednesday” was that the president –then a lieutenant in the Texas Air National Guard - was given special treatment; failed to obey an order to take a physical; and that a retired guard general exerted pressure on other officers to “sugar coat” Bush’s officer evaluation. Documents, purported to be from Bush’s now-deceased superior office Lt. Col. Jerry Killian and supplied by retired Texas Air National Guard Lt. Col. Bill Burkett, were used as evidence for the “sugar coating” charge.
Shortly after the segment aired, Internet bloggers began to question the authenticity of the documents. Specifically, they questioned a superscript “th,” document formatting and the use of the Times Roman font in the documents – all of which they contended were not consistent with typewriters from the era. Print and broadcast journalists began investigating the story while CBS News issued reports in an attempt to verify the documents.
On Sept. 22, 2004, CBS President Les Moonves asked former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and retired Associated Press president and CEO Louis D. Boccardi to form an independent panel to investigate the matter.
The panel enumerated 10 “serious defects” in its 224 page report, which include:
- The failure to obtain clear authentication of any of the Killian documents from any document examiner.
- The false statement in the September 8, 2004, segment that an expert had authenticated the Killian documents when all he had done was authenticate one signature from one document used in the segment.
- The failure of "60 Minutes Wednesday" management to scrutinize the publicly available, and at times controversial, background of the source of the documents: Retired Texas Army National Guard Lieutenant Colonel Bill Burkett.
Four CBS News employees were terminated as a result of the matter. Dan Rather, who had announced that he would retire this year, will remain at CBS.
The panel also found the actions of Dan Rather’s producer, Mary Mapes, who was terminated, to be “highly inappropriate” when she called Democratic Presidential Campaign Advisor Joe Lockhart to notify him of the existence of the documents and requested a meeting between him and Burkett.
To read the entire report, visit www.cbsnews.com.