CBS Firings: A 'Good Start' or 'Superficial Reforms?'

By Randy Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

( - The ousting of four CBS News journalists for their roles in the "60 Minutes" memo scandal is "a good start" by one assessment but merely a series of "superficial reforms," according to another media expert.

The firings were announced Monday as the long-awaited report from a special panel composed of former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and retired Associated Press executive Louis Boccardi was issued.

CBS News Senior Vice President Betsy West; "60 Minutes/Wednesday" Executive Producer Josh Howard; Howard's deputy, Mary Murphy; and "60 Minutes" producer Mary Mapes lost their jobs over the controversial segment that aired Sept. 8 about President Bush's service with the Texas Air National Guard.

The segment relied on documents that, following the broadcast, were immediately branded forgeries by typography experts nationwide. CBS News also had to eventually admit it could not guarantee that the memos were authentic.

"These firings are a good start toward the path of objectivity for CBS," said Greg Sheffield, one of the editors of the website, which has established itself as one of the loudest critics of outgoing CBS News anchor Dan Rather, who was the anchor of the Sept. 8 "60 Minutes" segment.

However, Sheffield added, "If the network wants to truly show that it is serious about being fair, it needs to fire News President Andrew Heyward, who personally approved a public relations strategy of stonewalling and lying when confronted with evidence that CBS had erred.

"Everyone who got fired deserved to be fired," Sheffield said. "No one who was deeply involved in the production of a report based on fraudulent documents deserves to work in any news organization."

Meanwhile, Michael Paranzino, founder of the site, said he felt the Thornburgh/Boccardi report and the network's reaction to it didn't go nearly far enough.

"The reforms suggested by the CBS News-paid 'independent' panel will help CBS News, but they will not solve the fundamental problem, which is that CBS News is dominated from page boy to president with Manhattan liberals who are out of touch with mainstream America," Paranzino stated.

"Does anyone really believe CBS News would have aired phony documents smearing President Bush, shortly before a close election, had a single conservative been anywhere near the newsroom to point out the obvious flaws in the story?" he asked.

"The report lists a devastating set of 16 egregious errors made by CBS News in airing the false story and then defending it for nearly two weeks," Paranzino stated. "Such error layered upon error can only happen when there is a rigid political orthodoxy that not only does not encourage dissent -- it does not even recognize that dissent might exist.

"CBS News has no respect for conservatives, people of faith or people who live east of Berkeley and west of Manhattan," he added.

Paranzino had three specific suggestions for CBS News to restore credibility, integrity and ratings:

"First, fire Dan Rather. Even the panel seemed stunned that Rather 'still believes the content of the documents is accurate.'

"Second, CBS News should adopt a program focused on introducing diversity of thought. People of faith, conservatives and people from the heartland of America should all be considered for jobs at CBS News.

"Third, CBS News should add a broadcasting location in the American heartland, and its evening news should either be solely or jointly anchored from Middle America, every night.

"But make no mistake: If CBS News makes only superficial reforms while maintaining its liberal advocacy 'DNA,' Americans will continue to turn away from CBS News," Paranzino concluded.

Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the Media Research Center -- the parent organization of the Cybercast News Service -- also thought the report exposed the political motivation of the CBS team.

"It's wrong for Thornburgh and Boccardi, or anyone else, to minimize the obvious liberal agenda behind what Dan Rather and others were trying to do to George Bush's electoral chances last September," Graham said.

"In a race in which John Kerry was touting his military service in Vietnam as making him a superior commander-in-chief to Bush, CBS's zeal on this Bush-bashing story with a Bush-hating source cannot be dismissed as merely a search for a ratings boost, as if the president were Michael Jackson or Scott Peterson," Graham stated.

The source of the documents for the "60 Minutes" segment was a long-time Bush opponent from Texas.

Peter Hart, an analyst with the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), claimed that the Thornburgh/Boccardi report contained "no surprises" and said it is "understandable that people would lose their jobs" over the lack of caution and scrutiny regarding the story.

"In journalism, you don't get a second chance," Hart added.

Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie also weighed in Monday afternoon.

"All Americans should welcome today's report on CBS News' unprofessional conduct regarding its story about President Bush's National Guard service," he said.

"CBS deserves praise for undertaking this effort in light of the concerns raised last fall. We should remember that today's report would not have come about without a vigilant public and also recognize that the vast majority of journalists are hardworking professionals who practice their craft with honesty and integrity," Gillespie added.

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