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The question at CBS News no longer concerns the authenticity of
documents used in the “60 Minutes” report on George W. Bush’s service in the
Texas Air National Guard. That issue is settled. Instead, the question now
is: Which heads will roll? Judging by news leaking out of the network’s
headquarters, efforts at finger-pointing and buck-passing are in high gear
as CBS News prepares to admit that it based its report on forged documents.
At the very least, top management seems ready to axe “60 Minutes” segment
producer Mary Mapes. Their rationale will be that, during the
extraordinarily rushed production of the Bush/Air National Guard piece,
executives asked Mapes a series of questions about the documents and relied
on her confident answers in deciding to go ahead with the segment. The
question then will be whether CBS News executives make the calculation that
they can get away with firing just one person in the decision-making chain.
CBS News officials certainly remember the “Dateline NBC” scandal which
brought down not only the producer of the offending segment, but the on-air
reporter for the segment, and, ultimately, the president of NBC News. In
this case, the president of CBS News is Andrew Heyward, the executive
producer of the “60 Minutes” program in question is Josh Howard, and the
on-air reporter is Dan Rather. All were closely involved in the decision to
air the Bush piece, and all have vigorously defended the documents’
authenticity in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And there
appear to be forces inside CBS — the network at large, not just the news
division — who are laying the groundwork for the removal of at least some,
if not all, of them. Today’s New York Times reports that, “The seemingly
unflappable confidence of Mr. Rather and top news division officials in the
documents allayed fears within the network” when doubts arose about the
documents’ authenticity. That can be read as coming from executives at
CBS/Viacom, which oversees CBS News. In an argument that will mirror the
rationale Heyward and others will likely use in getting rid of Mapes, top
CBS/Viacom officials could argue — in this case, with some good reason –
that that they were misled by CBS News officials who expressed confidence in
the “60 Minutes” story.



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