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Ernest Miller Ernest Miller pursues research and writing on cyberlaw, intellectual property, and First Amendment issues. Mr. Miller attended the U.S. Naval Academy before attending Yale Law School, where he was president and co-founder of the Law and Technology Society, and founded the technology law and policy news site LawMeme. He is a fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. Ernest Miller's blog postings can also be found @

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« Incompetent AND Unethical: The Story of CBS News' Response to Criticism of the Killian Memo Forgeries - Part Two | Main | The Importance of ... Law and IT: The INDUCE Act 2.0 »

September 22, 2004

CBS Investigation Only on Process to Broadcast - Not Stonewalling

Posted by Ernest Miller

CBS News has announced a panel led by two distinguished Americans to look into the memogate scandal (CBS News Statement On Panel). Unfortunately, it seems that CBS News only wants to know how the forgeries got on the air and not look at the actions of CBS News after the memos were broadcast.

The Honorable Dick Thornburgh, former governor of Pennsylvania and United States attorney general under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and Louis D. Boccardi, retired president and chief executive officer of the Associated Press, will comprise the independent review panel that will examine the process by which a recent "60 Minutes Wednesday" report was prepared and broadcast. ....

Two days ago, CBS News and CBS announced the commissioning of an independent review to help determine what errors occurred in the preparation of the report and what actions need to be taken. [emphasis added]

As I've said time and again, some of the most shameful violations of journalistic ethics by CBS News took place after the broadcast, when CBS began receiving many credible and legitimate criticisms. If this panel is not going to look into the terrible errors that took place after the broadcast, it is clear that CBS News is not truly interested in resolving this matter and holding itself to the highest standards of journalism.

See my timeline and analysis of CBS News' response to criticism of the Killian memo forgeries:
Part I: September 8-13
Part II: September 14-21


See also, Jeff Jarvis Two Little.

UPDATE 23 Sep 2004

The stonewalling will be looked into: CBS Investigation Will Look Into Stonewalling.

Comments (12) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism


1. JBK on September 22, 2004 07:50 PM writes...

In my mind Boccardi is a rather suspicious choice looking at the recent actions of the AP in regard to the fake 'crowd booed' story. While AP did issue a retraction of sorts it did not name the responsible reporter or reveal what, if any, actions were taken against him.

So coverups are part of the AP playbook.


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2. Seth Finkelstein on September 22, 2004 07:51 PM writes...

We really don't need a panel for this. It's very clear.

This what "denial" means. This is how people react when they've been conned. They don't want to believe it at first. It's classic.

There is basically nothing to say on the matter, in terms of a commission.

What could there be?

"We hereby find that Dan Rather is a human being, and isn't perfect"?

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3. Ernest Miller on September 22, 2004 07:56 PM writes...

There is plenty to be said. Who was behind the lies the CBS News promulgated regarding the claim that they had sources who had "seen the documents when they were written"? Why was the claim not retracted immediately or in a few days? Who's decision was it to withold the names of the "experts" from the public? Who's decision was it to castigate outside experts because they didn't have access to pristine copies of the memos, but never release those pristine copies?

And that is only for a start.

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4. Seth Finkelstein on September 22, 2004 08:08 PM writes...

"Who was behind the lies ... seen the documents ..."

Figuring out who vouched for the documents in the first place will almost certainly get the relevant party. There's no sense in going after a secondary person who likely believed the first one.

"Why was the claim not retracted immediately or in a few days?"

"Denial" is not just a river in Egypt.
And again, find the voucher in the first place, and this falls out.

"Who's decision was it to castigate outside experts because they didn't have access to pristine copies of the memos, but never release those pristine copies?

Back to the problem of dismissal. It's not a panel-level topic to say "We blew off our critics as wingnuts (ad-hominem), because they were wingnuts, and incoming flack from the right-wing PR flackery firm made it all look like a partisan smokescreen."

The above may have been ultimately wrong factually, but it's certainly a very understandable reaction.

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5. Tim on September 22, 2004 09:56 PM writes...

This is what I'm reading in the penumbra of this panel: "How was one producer (Mapes) able to fool all of us into airing and standing by this story?"

Blame has already been fixed. The process to prevent another rogue producer from embarrassing us needs to be examined and fixed. Everything that happened after the program aired was a result of trusting this rogue producer.


We must be able to circle the wagons in the future when attacked, and attack the credibility of our accusers, with confidence that the process is fool-proof.

(Rather, Heyward, Howard, ..., are off the hook. Besides, anchors and executives can't be expected to know every detail of the story, the producer does the heavy-lifing and leg work.)

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6. Tim on September 22, 2004 11:48 PM writes...

Gallup questions reveal CBS fallout

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7. Tim on September 23, 2004 01:24 AM writes...

SPJ Ethics: Relevant portions violated by CBS News IMO by airing and then lashing out at their critics. And yes, perceived "wingnutters", whether from the Left or Right are readers, listeners, viewers and each other.

Seek Truth and Report It: Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

Journalists should:
  • Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
  • Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.
  • Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources' reliability.
  • Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.
  • Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
  • Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
Act Independently: Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know.
Journalists should:
  • Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
  • Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
Be Accountable: Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.
Journalists should:
  • Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.
  • Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.
  • Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
  • Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.
  • Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.
Something I noticed that may be missing (besides community or nation) is the use of experts: identifying them, their credentials, and how they contributed to the story. CBS trying to keep their experts anonymous and, if true, telling Matley not to give interviews should be something the SPJ ethics code addresses.

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8. Ron on September 23, 2004 03:31 AM writes...

Sorry to be cynical, but what could one expect? No unfettered investigation could avoid focusing on Rather, therefore no unfettered investigation will be forthcoming. Like Chrysler in the 80s, Rather is too big to fail. John Ellis had it right: Mary Mapes will take the fall, and everything else will be swept under the institutional rug.

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9. Tim on September 23, 2004 05:11 AM writes...

A charge to the CBS Commission

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10. fatdude on September 23, 2004 02:31 PM writes...

The problem with the outside, non-law enforcement, committee investigating anything is their lack of authority to subpeana and search. Why is Lockhart going to say anything about this that he hasn't said? How about Cleland? Or Burkett who will undoubtably hide behind his forthcoming law suit? The panel can't search hard drives or phone records so all they can do is ask questions that have been asked and answered. Want to get to the bottom of the whole thing? Read the blogs.

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11. Tim on September 23, 2004 08:23 PM writes...

How did CBS News get "fooled"?

The Master Narrative (scroll up/left column for more recent articles, down for older ones).

Chronology Of Character Assassination

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12. Tim on September 23, 2004 08:25 PM writes...

Correction: scroll up/left column -> scroll up/right column

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