NEW YORK -- CBS issued a damning independent review Monday of mistakes related to last fall's "60 Minutes Wednesday" report on President Bush's National Guard service and fired three news executives and a producer for their "myopic zeal" in rushing it on the air.
The review said CBS compounded the damage with a circle-the-wagons mentality once the report came under fire. The independent investigators added, however, that they found no evidence of a political bias against Bush.
CBS News president Andrew Heyward and Dan Rather, who announced in November he was stepping down as the anchor of "CBS Evening News," escaped without any disciplinary action
"The system broke down on this one, for sure," said Louis D. Boccardi, retired chief executive officer of The Associated Press, who conducted the investigation along with former Republican Attorney General Dick Thornburgh. They delivered their 224-page report to CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves last week.
Fired were Mary Mapes, the story's producer; Josh Howard, executive producer of "60 Minutes Wednesday"; Howard's top deputy, Mary Murphy; and CBS News senior vice president Betsy West.
The "60 Minutes" story had questioned Bush's Vietnam War-era commitment to service in the Texas Air National Guard. Mapes began reporting the story in 1999, but the report centered on documents obtained only weeks earlier, supposedly written by Bush's commander, the late Lt. Col. Jerry Killian. The memos said that then 1st Lt. Bush did not take a mandatory medical exam and that Killian reportedly felt pressured to sugarcoat an evaluation of him.
Questions were quickly raised about the typed memos, with some document experts saying it appeared they contained a computer character inconsistent with typewriters at the time.
Boccardi and Thornburgh found that Mapes had said the documents were authenticated, when in fact she had found only one expert to vouch for only one signature in the memo. They said she also failed to look into the background of her source, retired Texas Army National Guard Lt. Col. Bill Burkett; to find Burkett's source; or to find other corroboration of the charges.
"Her confidential source was not reliable and her authenticators were unable to authenticate the documents, and yet she maintained the opposite. ... This is truly disquieting," CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves said in a statement released with the report.
Mapes said Monday she was "terribly disappointed" by the report's conclusions. She said she believed the story was corroborated by others and consistent with previously known records, and that the panel was quick to condemn her based on statements from people who said different things to her.
When the Bush report aired, Mapes was a veteran, respected producer on a professional high: She had produced the "60 Minutes" report last spring that showed the first pictures of Americans mistreating Iraqis in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison.
The review concluded that accomplishment essentially made her bulletproof despite the delicate, complicated nature of the Bush story, and that Howard and Murphy failed to adequately question her.
The independent panelists even faulted CBS' eventual apology for the story, saying the network placed too much blame on Burkett and not enough on itself.
Rather was portrayed as an overworked anchor who had just finished coverage of the Republican convention and Hurricane Frances in Florida. As a result, he did little to help prepare the original report, and did not even appear to have seen it before it aired, the panel said.
"He asked the right questions initially, but then made the same errors of credulity and overenthusiasm that beset many of his colleagues," Moonves said.
On the Net
Full report: www.cbsnews.com