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CBS News Announces Staff Shakeup

Jan 10, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Four CBS News producers and executives have been forced out and one may be reassigned in the wake of a long-awaited report into a “60 Minutes Wednesday” story about President Bush’s Vietnam War-era National Guard service. The two-man panel examining the story concluded that it was flawed and rushed because of a “myopic zeal” for a scoop, but apparently not politically motivated.

The piece made much of documents purporting to criticize President Bush’s service-memos whose authenticity was quickly and widely attacked.

Mary Mapes, the producer of the piece, was fired.

Asked to resign: The newsmagazine’s executive producer Josh Howard and his deputy, Mary Murphy, as well as Betsy West, the senior VP who supervised the news division’s prime-time programs.

Esther Kartiganer, the senior producer in charge of reading scripts and unedited transcripts, has been offered another assignment at CBS News.

Dan Rather, who was the correspondent on the piece, already has said he will step down as “CBS Evening News” anchor March 9. He was characterized as stretched too thin in the days leading up to the Sept. 8 broadcast and too slow to consider the criticisms of the story after it was broadcast.

The investigators, former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and retired Associated Press President Louis Boccardi, also concluded that pre-broadcast cautions and post-broadcast orders to recheck the sources and authenticity of the memos by CBS News President Andrew Heyward were not followed quickly or seriously enough.

“This raises questions of accountability at CBS News-questions that will have to be addressed by Andrew Heyward and me. We intend to do so,” said Leslie Moonves, CBS chairman and CEO and Viacom co-president and co-chief operating officer, in a statement released with the 224-page report Monday morning. “But Heyward is an executive of integrity and talent and the right person to be leading CBS News at this challenging time.”

Among the immediate moves is the creation of the position of senior VP of standards and special projects, which will report to Mr. Heyward. Filling this expanded and integrated role is Linda Mason, who has been the division’s public affairs VP since 1992. In that role she has sometimes, but not routinely, become involved in vetting stories. She now will review all investigative reporting. Ms. Mason has been the news division’s liaison with Mr. Boccardi, Mr. Thornburgh and the law firm Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham LLP, which helped conduct the three-month investigation.

All the personnel actions took place Monday morning. It was not known whether Ms. Kartiganer has been offered a specific alternate job.

Until the end of the season, Jeff Fager, the founding “60 Minutes Wednesday” executive producer who took over the Sunday “60 Minutes” franchise last spring, will supervise both newsmagazines. It was not known Monday what personnel changes that might involve.

Ms. Mason and Mr. Heyward are expected to share Ms. West’s duties until a replacement is found.

Other remedies recommended by the panel:

  • Encourage an environment in which stories will not be rushed to the air because of competitive pressures.

  • Reveal the identities and background of confidential sources to senior management.

  • Appoint teams led by people unrelated to the stories to probe any report that is challenged.