The CBS Report ignores the heart of the controversy, refuses to draw conclusions, and strengthens the hand of Mary Mapes and Dan Rather.
9:07 PM, Jan 10, 2005 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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."
Well, if the documents weren't forged and Mary Mapes acted with no political bias, then her firing would have been unjust and she really would be a scapegoat. But since there is abundant evidence that the documents were forgeries and that political attitudes were important in driving the story, the better conclusion is that the CBS Report is a whitewash.
Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard. He also runs the blog Galley Slaves.