Four CBS News staffers were fired Monday following the release of an independent investigation that said a "myopic zeal" led to a "60 Minutes Wednesday" story about President Bush's military service that relied on allegedly forged documents.
The network fired Mary Mapes, producer of the report; Josh Howard, executive producer of "60 Minutes Wednesday" and his top deputy Mary Murphy; and senior vice president Betsy West.
Dan Rather, who narrated the report, announced in November that he was stepping down as anchorman of the "CBS Evening News," but insisted the timing had nothing to do with the investigation.
Rather "asked the right questions initially, but then made the same errors of credulity and over-enthusiasm that beset many of his colleagues in regard to this segment," top CBS executive Leslie Moonves said.
Given Rather's apology and announcement that he was stepping down, Moonves said further action against Rather was not warranted.
CBS News President Andrew Heyward kept his job. The panel said Heyward had explicitly urged caution before the report aired.
The report cited documents purported to be from one of Bush's commanders in the Texas Air National Guard. The documents say the commander, the late Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, ordered Bush to take a medical exam and the future president. Killian also reportedly felt pressured to sugarcoat an evaluation of then 1st Lt. Bush.
Questions were quickly raised about the memo, with some document experts saying it appeared were written on a computer not invented at the time they were supposedly written.
The independent investigators — former Republican Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and Louis Boccardi, retired president and chief executive officer of The Associated Press — said they could find no evidence to conclude the report aired two months before the election was fueled by a political agenda.
The network's drive to be the first to break a story about Bush's National Guard service was a key reason it produced a story that was neither fair nor accurate and did not meet CBS News' internal standards, the investigators said.
Although the panel said it couldn't prove conclusively the documents were forged, it said CBS News failed to authenticate them and falsely claimed an expert had done so when all he had done was authenticate one signature.
After questions were raised, CBS launched into a "strident defense" of its report without adequately probing whether the criticism was merited, compounding the damage, the panel said.
Howard was only months into his job as the executive responsible for "60 Minutes Wednesday," and gave too much deference to Mapes and Rather, the panel said in its 224-page report.
Two days after the report, Heyward ordered West to review the opinons of document examiners and confidential sources who had supported the story — but no such investigation was done.
"Had this directive been followed promptly, the panel does not believe that `60 Minutes Wednesday' would have publicly defended the segment for another 10 days," the panelists said.
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