One of the smartest things James Carville has ever said is his comment from the documentary, The War Room:
“There’s a simple doctrine. Outside of a person’s love the most sacred thing they can give is their labor. Labor is a very precious thing you have and any time you can combined labor and love you’ve really made a match.”
Carville, speaking at that moment to Clinton campaign workers, tears up as he recognizes he’s found a cause and a boss–Bill Clinton–that he can truly believe in.
We can quibble with Carville’s choice of labor-worthy bosses, but we can agree that one of the biggest and earliest lessons of the working world is the importance of bosses. A good one can make Herculean tasks manageable; a bad one can ruin a workplace. The Thornburgh-Boccardi report offers a fascinating portrait of Dan Rather as a boss, and leader at CBS News.
Rather and Mapes had worked together for more than five years, and Rather gave Mapes significant responsibility to produce stories, in part due to the great confidence and respect that he had for her work, and in part due to the demands of Rather’s other duties at CBS News.
The Panel also believes that the vetting process was not sufficient because too much deference was given to Mapes because of her experience and much admired history at CBS News and 60 Minutes Wednesday, as well as her association with Rather. Rather does not appear to have participated in any of the vetting sessions or to have even seen the Segment before it was aired.
Third, Major General Hodges contacted Mapes and Rather and told them that Mapes had misquoted him about his alleged confirmation of the Killian documents and now that he had had the opportunity to review them, he believed that the documents were not authentic. Neither Mapes nor Rather asked Major General Hodges to explain why he believed the documents were not authentic and the Panel finds no discussion of this conversation with others at CBS News at the time.
Rather told the Panel that he delivered the apology and gave the WCBS interview in support of CBS News’ decision that the time had come to stop defending the Segment and, indeed, to disown it. He told the Panel, however, that he did not fully agree with this decision and still believes that the content of the documents is accurate. The Panel is troubled by these conflicting statements.
Rather had only a vague recollection of speaking to Mapes either late on Thursday, September 2, or early on Friday September 3, but said he could not recall the specifics of the conversation as he was focused on getting to Florida to cover Hurricane Frances. Rather told the Panel, however, that he was not aware before the September 8 broadcast of Lieutenant Colonel Burkett’s notoriety, that Lieutenant Burkett had been interviewed by John Roberts on the CBS Evening News in February 2004 or that Lieutenant Colonel Burkett was a source for Jim Moore’s book.
Rather did recall at some point learning Lieutenant Colonel Burkett’s name and knowing that he was a “key source” but not necessarily the source of the documents. He also said that he did not know before the broadcast that there was another source. He told the Panel that he recalled hearing something about the “scrubbing” allegations, and he recalled Mapes telling him that Lieutenant Colonel Burkett had been in the Texas National Guard for a long time and would have had access to the documents.
According to Rather, he told Heyward that the story could be “radioactive” and that Heyward should have it “checked out thoroughly.” Rather said that he and Heyward agreed that Betsy West should be brought in to look at it closely. Rather told the Panel that Heyward said to him, “Keep your focus on the hurricane. We’re looking a full day broadcast.” Heyward, on the other hand, told the Panel that sometime during that weekend, Rather told him that the “big story” to which Rather had previously referred was going forward and involved President Bush’s TexANG service and that they had documents. Heyward also recalled that, when Rather mentioned documents, he told Rather that they had to make sure the documents were real. He said that Rather responded, “Of course.”
While they were sitting in the public waiting area at the gate for their connection to Austin, Mapes showed Rather the six Killian documents for the first time. According to Rather, he told Mapes that she needed to vet the documents completely. He knew at that time that the documents had been given to Mapes by a confidential source, but he told the Panel that he did not know where the documents had been or how long the source had possessed the documents.
He also said that he did not recall whether Mapes had mentioned Lieutenant Colonel Burkett’s name to him at that time. Rather said that he did not spend much time going over the documents with Mapes as he was trying to get focused on preparing for the Lieutenant Strong interview he was to do in a few hours.
Mapes’ recollection regarding their preparations for the Lieutenant Strong interview is somewhat different. She told the Panel that she and Rather spent most of the time before and during the flight going over the Killian documents.
Rather told the Panel that, during the flight back to New York, he discussed the Killian documents with Mapes. He said that he told Mapes that they needed to authenticate the documents and make sure they were accurate. According to Rather, Mapes said that the “process was under way and . . . would be accelerated upon their arrival in New York.” Rather did not recall being told at the time that any experts had been retained. Rather said that he told Mapes to retain “at least four independent experts” who did not know of the other experts retained so that their views would not be influenced by the others. Rather also recalled discussing the Barnes interview with Mapes.
Major General Hodges told the Panel that at around 9:30 p.m. Central time on Friday, September 10, Rather called him with Mapes on the line. Rather told Major General Hodges that he was proud of his service to our nation and wanted to know if he had any comments about the Killian documents. Major General Hodges told Rather that he had been misquoted by a senior CBS News official and asked: “Is that you, Dan?” Rather denied being the official, but stated that the network knew who the official was. Major General Hodges then told Rather that he did not think the documents were authentic. He told the Panel that Rather responded with words to the effect that “We have to go by our experts,” and did not ask him why he did not believe the documents were authentic…
The Panel asked Rather why he had failed to ask Major General Hodges why he believed the documents were fake. Rather told the Panel that he has dealt with many interviewees over the years who have changed their stories once their names became public. The Panel finds the lack of interest in learning more about what Major General Hodges felt to be very unusual, especially since he was Lieutenant Colonel Killian’s former commanding officer and had been described by somebody at 60 Minutes Wednesday as its “trump card.”
Rather said that he made his case as to why an apology was not appropriate and that management did not agree with him. Rather agreed to do the apology on September 20 and the Marcia Kramer interview because he is a “team player.” Rather informed the Panel that he still believes the content of the documents is true because “the facts are right on the money,” and that no one had provided persuasive evidence that the documents were not authentic. It is clear that Rather’s joining in the apology given his role as the correspondent on the Segment and his status as CBS News’ most visible presence was critical to its acceptance. The Panel finds his comments disavowing the apology to be troubling, notwithstanding that he said he regarded himself as carrying out what CBS News felt was in its best interest on September 20.
Knowing what we know now, would you want to work for Dan Rather?
He gives his subordinates a wide latitude and responsibility…perhaps too much. He doesn’t ask too many questions about Bill Burkett. He doesn’t watch the segment before it is broadcast. Their “trump card” supporting witness changes his story, and he dismisses it as unimportant because of the “other experts.” He offers a public apology that he doesn’t believe in, then tells others that he didn’t think it was warranted.
Afterwards, he claims to have warned others at CBS that the story could be “radioactive,” while the people he spoke to fail to recall those warnings. He claims to have warned Mapes to vet the documents completely and to get four independent experts, but she doesn’t recall those warnings.
All around him, his coworkers are forced to resign, and his longtime producer is fired.
Yet he is not at the anchor desk the day the report is released, and the next day issues only a brief statement to his coworkers. No press conference, no hard-hitting interview. He clams up and avoids the press like…well, like the corporate or government officials who are usually the targets of 60 Minutes investigations.
What a leader.