Heads rolled today at CBS News after an independent panel found that a failure to follow ”basic journalistic steps” led to the airing of an erroneous 60 Minutes Wednesday report on President George W. Bush’s National Guard service. In a detailed statement, CBS President Leslie Moonves said the network had terminated the employment of Mary Mapes, the segment’s producer; Josh Howard, executive producer of 60 Minutes Wednesday; Mary Murphy, Howard’s right-hand; and Betsy West, CBS’ senior vice president of prime time.
The Sept. 8 report, widely referred to as ”Memogate,” has been a shiner for the Eye’s news division for months, prompting the network to greenlight an independent, three-month investigation. At the center of Memogate were allegedly forged documents about Bush’s service record. In the statement, Moonves said he was most troubled by Mapes’ ongoing contention, later proven to be false, that the documents used in the story were authenticated and had been obtained from a rock-solid source. He said she presented ”half-truths” to her coworkers, who relied on her ”impressive reputation and proven track record, and did not hold her to high standards of accountability.”
Moonves said that Dan Rather, who narrated the report, was ”pushed to the limit” in the week leading up to the report and ”asked the right questions initially,” but nonetheless ”made the same errors of credulity and overenthusiasm that beset many of his colleagues.” Rather announced in November his plan to step down end as anchor of CBS Evening News in March. Largely spared by the report’s findings was CBS News president Andrew Heyward, and Moonves reiterated his support for the exec.