KBTX Responds to Viewer Thoughts on CBS News and Dan Rather

On the morning KBTX-TV was to post our official stance on the Dan Rather saga to our new website, CBS News, though extremely late in doing so, issued an “official statement.” In reading this document, one could come away with more questions than answers, much less an explanation as to Dan Rather’s obsession with President Bush and his service in the Texas Air National Guard.

This past week, KBTX e-mails from concerned viewers rivaled in number those received after another embarrassing moment by CBS during the Super Bowl. While the Super Bowl half-time show was a disgrace to the network, the city of Houston and CBS affiliates, this latest scandal cuts into the very fabric of what news organizations are dependent upon: trust by the viewer.

KBTX takes our role in journalism seriously. Our self-imposed two-year improvement plan stresses accuracy, fairness, and attention to detail in all aspects of our news reporting. Our belief is that rewards come only from excellence. Mediocrity cannot be rewarding. And now, we find ourselves in the middle of a news story not about President Bush, per se, but about the very journalist who did work on this story: Senior Correspondent and Anchor of the CBS Evening News, Dan Rather.

During a 60-Minutes broadcast last week, Rather admitted that the documents were most likely forged. In a classic example of saving face, the focus shifted from the authenticity of the documents to the “accuracy of the information contained in the document,” depending on the recollections of Ms. Knox to justify pressing forward. At that point, if there was a doubt, CBS and Dan Rather had no story. The approach in this entire process had at its core the purpose of discrediting President Bush with whatever means were necessary. Once the documents were determined to be a forgery, the story is done. Finished. And if the documents were never confirmed to be authentic, there was no story.

Instead of cutting its losses, Dan Rather and CBS moved forward. This calls into question the integrity of many people above Dan Rather:

· Why, if there was doubt, did CBS allow this story to proceed?
· Why, if there was a problem with the source, was CBS in such a hurry to move forward?
· Why, after being questioned by experts in the field, was CBS intent on doing this story?
· Who was behind these forgeries? Who encouraged Mr. Burkett to do this?

We may never know the answers to the details surrounding CBS’s steadfast decision to move forward. Perhaps the person who says he supplied the information should be a little uneasy. Is there not a punishment for forging government documents with intent to mislead the public?

As for KBTX: we will continue to dedicate ourselves to accuracy and fairness. Those of you who watch regularly know we make mistakes. However, when we do, we admit it. We apologize. We seek to maintain your trust in KBTX as the regions primary and timely source for local news. While Dan Rather apologized in his statement released earlier, KBTX also apologizes as a conduit for this type of journalistic behavior. The CBS handling of this story was wrong.

Is this about politics? Not with us. Had the same hatchet job been part of CBS coverage of John Kerry, we would have the same strong opinion. I ask, however, would so many conservatives have been concerned with “journalistic integrity” had the attack been on John Kerry, just like I’ve heard from very few liberals during this Rather issue. It is a political season, and that question is “rather” rhetorical. Trust is at the core of concern; it matters not whom the target is.

As you will see on our web site, KBTX thought it was important to share concerns as we received them, as pointed as some may be. To those who wish to punish KBTX in this process, I ask you to reconsider.

At times like this, we seek people who will stand tall in the midst of fire, showing courage to stand up for what is right. Can KBTX influence the network? It has been my personal finding that they ARE listening to local affiliates, no matter where we are. We see even more the impact viewers have with CBS. To punish KBTX and its 80 employees who call the Brazos Valley our home is not the right thing to do, in my opinion. But – you expect me to say that.

We’re seeking your continued loyalty to your television station. So continue to let us know your opinion. Our cause is stronger together. More than ever, we are listening to every suggestion you have, all in an effort to be one of the finest local television stations in the country.

Mike Wright
Vice-President & General Manager