Monday, September 20, 2004

Rather Caves, Suits Rule

Last week, amid increasing questions about the authenticity of documents used in support of a 60 MINUTES WEDNESDAY story about President Bush's time in the Texas Air National Guard, CBS News vowed to re-examine the documents in question—and their source—vigorously. And we promised that we would let the American public know what this examination turned up, whatever the outcome.

Now, after extensive additional interviews, 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.

Please know that nothing is more important to us than people's trust in our ability and our commitment to report fairly and truthfully. -- statement of Dan Rather, 20 September 2004.

Dear Mary Mapes --

This is their opening salvo. The questions that arise are: (1) why didn't he "know then what he knows now?," and (2) who was primarily responsible for the "mistake in judgement?" The suits will answer both questions with your name.

Note the effort to separate the "story" from the "documents." Dan doesn't do document verification, that someone else's job. The suits will say it was your job.

Read tomorrow's newspapers very carefully, especially the NYT and the WaPo. The second salvo will be found therein.

All Best -- Ellisblog