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CBS ousts four over Bush Guard story

Fired producer accuses brass of 'scapegoating'

George W. Bush
Dan Rather

NEW YORK (CNN) -- CBS News has ousted four employees over its "60 Minutes Wednesday" report about President Bush's National Guard service, the network said Monday.

The network fired Mary Mapes, producer of the report. Senior Vice President Betsy West was asked to resign, along with Josh Howard, executive producer of "60 Minutes Wednesday," and his top deputy, Mary Murphy.

In a statement released later in the day, Mapes insisted that the story was neither false nor misleading and accused CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves of "vitriolic scapegoating."

Dan Rather, anchor of the "CBS Evening News," who was the story's correspondent, announced in November he would be stepping down from his anchor position in March. Rather did not mention the controversy when he made his announcement. (Full story)

Rather was absent Monday from "CBS Evening News." The broadcast led with a report on the panel's findings.

According to a CBS statement, an independent panel appointed by the network concluded that CBS News failed to follow basic journalistic principles in putting together the piece, which aired September 8.

The panel's report said a "myopic zeal" led the program to air a story critical of Bush's service record that was based on documents that might have been forged.

The report also faulted CBS staffers involved for a "rigid and blind defense" of the story after it aired, despite growing questions about the documents.

But the investigative panel -- led by former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh and former Associated Press President Louis Boccardi -- said it was not able to determine conclusively that the documents were forgeries.

The panel also said that despite accusations of political bias against CBS, it could not "conclude that a political agenda at '60 Minutes Wednesday' drove either the timing of the airing of the segment or its content."

Still, "the bottom line is that much of the September 8 broadcast was wrong, incomplete or unfair," Moonves said in a statement announcing the ousters.

Documents immediately came under fire

In the broadcast, Rather reported allegations that during the Vietnam War era Bush received special consideration to get into the Texas Air National Guard and subsequently did not fulfill his service obligations, including ignoring an order to get a required physical exam.

Among the evidence cited were four memos critical of the future president, purportedly written by Bush's squadron commander, Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, who died in 1984.

Immediately after the broadcast, the documents came under fire in media reports, with some document experts saying that they were produced with a computer word-processing program, not by a 1970s-era typewriter.

Killian's former wife, son and secretary all questioned the validity of the memos, though his secretary said they did reflect his views at the time about Bush.

The documents were supplied by Bill Burkett, a retired Texas Army National Guard officer and longtime Bush critic. (Full story)

Early in the controversy, Rather and CBS News insisted that the documents came from a "solid" source, that their contents were backed up by other reporting and that the memos had been authenticated by document experts.

Rather conceded that CBS had obtained only photocopies of the documents, not the originals, which experts said would shed light on their authenticity.

On September 20, CBS announced it could no longer be sure the documents were genuine, and Rather apologized on the network's flagship "Evening News" broadcast. (Full story)

In a statement on the documents, CBS News President Andrew Heyward said, "We should not have used them. That was a mistake, which we deeply regret."

Mapes stands by story

In her statement, Mapes criticized Moonves and said she was "terribly disappointed in the conclusions of the report."

"I am very concerned that his actions are motivated by corporate and political considerations -- ratings rather than journalism," Mapes said.

She also said Moonves' response to the panel's report "and the panel's assessment of the evidence it developed in its investigation combine not only to condemn me, but to put all investigative reporting in the CBS tradition at risk."

In his own statement, Moonves said Mapes' "basic reporting was faulty, and her responses when questioned led others who trusted her down the wrong road."

Mapes denied misleading her superiors, insisting that she "vetted all aspects of the story with my editors."

"I told them everything," she said.

"Before the Bush/Guard story aired, the newly found documents that supported it were thoroughly examined and corroborated," she said.

"The contents of the new documents mesh perfectly, in large ways and small, with all previously known records.

"It is noteworthy the panel did not conclude that these documents are false," she said. "All that the panel did conclude was that there were many red flags that counseled against going to air quickly.

"I never had control of the timing of any airing of a '60 Minutes' segment. That has always been a decision made by my superiors."

Mapes said that she believes "the segment presented to the American people facts they were free to accept or reject, and that as those facts were presented, there was nothing that was false or misleading."

"For 25 years, I have built a reputation as a fair, honest and thorough journalist," she said. "I have had 15 wonderful years at CBS News and four very bad months."

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