CBS News Vows to Be Aggressive

Sep 20, 2004  •  Post A Comment

CBS News does not yet know whether controversial documents regarding President Bush’s Vietnam-era duty in the Texas Air National Guard that aired on “60 Minutes” will be proven real, or how long an ongoing internal investigation will take.

However, CBS News President Andrew Heyward promised that the effort to resolve issues will be as aggressive and “transparent” as possible.

“Based on the speed at which this story has been moving the last few days, [a timetable] is difficult to predict,” Mr. Heyward told TelevisionWeek last Friday. “I can’t promise resolution [by this week]. But we’re certainly going to try to have at least some progress to report. And we’re trying to go beyond the forensic debate, which seems to be at a bit of a stalemate, and try to find other ways to resolve these questions.”

Apparently there will be no congressional investigation into the authenticity of documents first revealed in a Sept. 8 report by Dan Rather. That should remove one potential distraction for CBS-not to mention the Bush administration, which was not believed to favor further examination of the president’s National Guard service.

A spokesman for Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the House Commerce Committee, said the congressman feels a hearing “would just make this more of a partisan matter than it already is.”

The spokesman also said Rep. Barton feels that there is “a public investigation going on” via the aggressive reporting by most major TV and print news outlets-as well as a number of Internet bloggers.

The questions about the documents have included an examination of whether the typeface, spacing and superscript “th” means the memos could have been typed in 1972 and 1973.

CBS News presented compelling evidence that it was entirely possible. But it also provoked new criticism when “60 Minutes” last Wednesday aired a new interview in which the secretary to the commander of President Bush’s Guard squadron said that the content rang true but that she had not typed the memos.

By late last week Andy Rooney, commentator on the original “60 Minutes,” told the N.Y. Daily News: “I’m surprised at [CBS News executives’] reluctance to concede they’re wrong.”

Some people tried to interpret a small ratings dip for “60 Minutes” as a barometer of public sentiment about the report and Mr. Rather. On Sept. 15 viewership was off 4 percent compared with the show’s summer averages. But the newsmagazine was preempted for Hurricane Ivan coverage and a syndicated Billy Graham special in more than 11 percent of the country, according to Nielsen Media Research data.

“CBS Evening News”‘ ratings in the top 10 markets were actually up Sept. 14, 15 and 16 by about 7 percent compared with the same days the week before. (On Sept, 16, “Evening News” was preempted by coverage of Hurricane Ivan in Atlanta.)

The CBS News president said no outsiders have yet been part of the examination of the story, He is not sure whether or when outsider help might be sought. “I guess I’d like to reserve judgement until I have a better sense of how far we’re going to get in resolving these issues,” Mr. Heyward said. “Put another way, it’s not completely clear what we’re dealing with here, and I’d like to know more.

Asked if he is confident the questions ultimately can be answered definitively, Mr. Heyward said: “I hope so.

“We certainly will be transparent about the degree to which we can or cannot resolve these questions, but there’s a possibility that not all of these questions can be answered adequately. I hope that’s not the case, but if that turns out to be the case, then we’ll say so,” said Mr. Heyward. ” I don’t think this can be allowed to become a grassy knoll.”