One of the only bloggers raising his voice against the report was Hugh Hewitt, who observed that the panel had abdicated the central question put to it.
HEWITT couldn't be more correct. Surely the blue-ribbon report had the responsibility not merely to critique CBS standards and practices, but to help us find out the truth about the incident at hand. To return to the New York Times analogy, it would be like judging the Jayson Blair case without knowing what he had and hadn't made up. By assiduously avoiding conclusions of any kind, the report has left only one possible conclusion: The Thornburgh-Boccardi panel believes that the way in which CBS went about its business may have been improper, but that the story they produced wasn't necessarily wrong. If anything, this represents a step backward in the
official reckoning of the case.
Dan Rather understands this. On page 208 we learn that "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."
And Mary Mapes understands it, too. "Indeed, in the end, all that the panel did conclude was that there were many red flags that counseled against going to air quickly . . ." she says now. "I am heartened to see that the panel found no political bias on my part, as indeed I have none."
Forget Rather's statement, it is sheer lunacy and comes from the panel report itself, not post-report fallout (although he undoubtedly believes that today). But what Last points out is worrisome: the panel report's failure to find that the documents were fake and motivations of CBS were wrong are both usable to defend CBS from charges of the bias it displayed by airing the piece in question based on obviously fake documents handed to it by a tainted source.
Understand this: the mere fact that CBS commissioned this outside investigation is a tacit admission of wrongdoing because news organizations are NOT open books regarding how they put stories together and get them to air or print. The panel report also contains tremendous evidence both of bias and the fake nature of the documents. But regardless of the actual mandate of the panel, its failure to ultimately issue the j'accuse at the end means that leftist nutters like Daily Kos and Atrios can claim there is no bias at CBS. No, the Mapes quote is not a joke, even though it is about as true and accurate as 1 + 1 = 3. But the fact that she can use the report as a shield against both her own improper motivations AND to defend the false documents she championed means that her "fake but accurate" defense is alive and well. Indeed, Powerline's Scott Johnson notes Mapes' use of the gaps in the report to make her case.
Here is more on that vein, this time from Hewitt:
With a punt on the central question of the controversy[,] CBS got what it wanted --a slap on the wrist, an apparent wrap-up with the dismissal of some underlings. The culture of undisclosed bias gets a pass, and the obvious corruption of the "news" process in the service of the Democratic Party is classified as "unknowable" because Dan Rather and Mary Mapes said they weren't partisans? What a joke, as transparent a whitewash as the documents were forgeries.
Indeed, as Captain's Quarters notes, the full report contains a 17+ page section detailing Mapes' willingness to proceed to air the piece with documents that were easily discoverable as fakes. The Capn has two main conclusions. First:
. . . we have CBS producers lying, management AWOL, and the entire enterprise embarassing itself. These aren't minor points, and admitting them doesn't make this a whitewash. The executive summary reads like a deposition in some sense, and while it gives a good overview of the conclusions Thornburgh-Boccardi were willing to unequivocally reach, the report itself contains much more meat, and many revelations that CBS will not find particularly complimentary in any journalistic or management sense.
And second, don't discount the reality of both bias and falsity:
. . . there are many more instances of [CBS's] carelessness, prevarications, and corner-cutting in this report. But the substantial representation made by the Thornburgh-Boccardi report demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt that CBS allowed Mapes to run wild with this story, that it followed none of its own internal checks and balances, and that CBS management simply allowed Mapes to put whatever she wanted on the air. It is impossible to imagine that CBS would have done anything like this on a story about John Kerry or anyone else other than George Bush.
Whether the panel wants to state it specifically or not, political bias is at the heart of this scandal. CBS undermines its own rehabilitation by attempting to pretend otherwise.
And for more fun, David Blum says Rather's and Heyward's heads should have rolled too.