CBS Awaits Scolding for Rather-gate, NY Times Skates

By David Thibault | July 7, 2008 | 8:22pm EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The reputation of CBS News and the jobs of some news division employees hang in the balance as a two-person panel prepares to judge how the network behaved in its now infamous story about President Bush's Vietnam-era National Guard service.

But while many other newspapers and media organizations repeated the details of the "60 Minutes Wednesday" story the morning after it aired, without authenticating the apparently forged documents that CBS used as the basis for its Sept. 8 report, none of those media entities appears vulnerable to the kind of criticism that CBS expects.

Daniel Okrent, ombudsman for The New York Times, even boasted on Dec. 7 about his newspaper's decision not to publish an original story about the National Guard documents, even though the Times apparently had also come into possession of the papers.

"The Times was onto that story as well," Okrent told MSNBC "Hardball" host Chris Matthews. However, he explained, the newspaper did not publish a report "because they weren't confident in the documents."

Actually, the Times did publish a front page article about the documents, but on the morning after the CBS story aired and with full attribution to "60 Minutes."

"The documents, obtained by the '60 Minutes' program at CBS News from the personal files of the late Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, Mr. Bush's squadron commander in Texas, suggest that Lieutenant Bush did not meet his performance standards and received favorable treatment," the New York Times article, written by Katharine Q. Seelye and Ralph Blumenthal, stated on the morning of Sept. 9.

"What I found most disappointing was that they did the cover story the day after the '60 Minutes' thing," said Clay Waters, director of Times Watch, an Internet watchdog group that monitors The New York Times.

The CBS segment, Waters added, provided the Times with "cover."

"Well, it's news now since '60 Minutes' ran it. We have no choice," Waters said, speculating about how the Times decided it could publish its Sept. 9 article.

However, Waters added that "when the bloggers got into it and started tearing the story apart, they ran the follow-ups not on the front page but on the back pages." As the blog chatter intensified on Sept. 9, CNSNews.com became the first news organization to report that typography experts were questioning the authenticity of the CBS documents.

A New York Times follow-up on Sept. 10, including questions about the authenticity of the CBS documents, was printed on page A17.

"Maybe they should be questioning their own fact checking," Waters said in reference to The New York Times. The newspaper, he added, didn't give the story front page attention again "until Dan Rather finally apologized." Times Watch is a project of the Media Research Center, the parent organization of CNSNews.com.

Another Internet-based critic of Rather, the CBS News anchor and "60 Minutes" correspondent who recently announced he'll be leaving the anchor chair in early 2005, believes The New York Times deserves some credit for at least initially holding back on its coverage of the National Guard document story.

"What it says is that it looks like the Times learned at least somewhat from the whole Jayson Blair fiasco and avoided getting their paper embarrassed once again by a large media scandal," said Matthew Sheffield, who operates Ratherbiased.com.

Jason Blair is the young reporter whose fabricated details and plagiarism caused the Times so much embarrassment that Blair and his top bosses at the newspaper lost their jobs.

In referring to the CBS story about Bush's National Guard service, Okrent said somebody at the network made "a terrible mistake."

It's unclear whether the special panel that CBS assembled, comprised of former U.S. attorney general Dick Thornburgh and retired Associated Press executive Louis Boccardi, will reach the same conclusion or when they will issue their findings about the decision-making related to the story.

While many people expected the Thornburgh-Boccardi report to be issued late last week or early this week, there is now speculation that it may be delayed until January.

Okrent did not respond to requests for comment for this report.

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