[Media-watch] Unaired Iraq story shows eyes on CBS - Porterville
Recorder - 4/10/2004
jadavies2004 at yahoo.co.uk
Mon Oct 4 10:53:24 BST 2004
4 October 2004
Unaired Iraq Story Shows Eyes on CBS
By DAVID BAUDER
NEW YORK - A postponed "60 Minutes" report about whether Iraq had nuclear
capabilities has quickly become CBS's most famous shelved story since the
1995 tobacco piece made famous in the movie "The Insider."
The Ed Bradley story questions a crucial piece of evidence used by the Bush
administration to support the war. CBS decided it was inappropriate to air
so close to the election.
That prompted an e-mail campaign by supporters of Democrat John Kerry
urging CBS to run the completed story. The liberal watchdog organization
Fairness and Accuracy in Media has tried, so far unsuccessfully, to find and
post a copy on the Internet. And the Web site Salon.com summarized Bradley's
story after receiving a copy before CBS decided to postpone it.
All this shows the scrutiny facing CBS journalists since the network's
discredited report last month on Bush's National Guard service. The famous
CBS corporate symbol of an eye, it seems, is now turned on the network
The Iraq story, scheduled to air on Sept. 8, was bumped for the infamous Dan
Rather story that now appears to have been based on forged memos about the
president's time in the National Guard.
"Yeah, I'm disappointed that it didn't run," Bradley said. "But I completely
understand why CBS made the decision that it did."
Bradley's report focuses on supposedly forged documents that showed Iraq had
purchased uranium from Niger. Salon said the story "contains little new
information, but it is powerfully, coherently and credibly reported."
The decision to put it off troubles media critics who were watching CBS News
for signs of timidity following the Guard controversy.
"The idea that you would withhold journalism because you think it would have
an effect on the world runs contrary to the whole idea of what journalism
should be," said Peter Hart, a FAIR analyst.
There is, however, a long tradition among media organizations about taking
particular care with stories that might be politically damaging so close to
an election, for fear of being accused of trying to sway results.
That was on CBS' mind in making the judgment call. The Bush administration
also declined several requests to comment for the story, Bradley said. And
if, as Salon indicates, the report broke little new ground, those factors
would have likely put CBS squarely in the crosshairs of those who accuse its
journalists of a liberal bias.
Then there was the supreme irony for CBS News: It was a report about forged
"The idea of CBS accusing anyone of relying on forgeries is laughable at
this point in time," said Matthew Sheffield, managing editor of the Web site
The story will eventually air, much like CBS's interview with Jeffrey Wigand
did in "The Insider" case. CBS had been accused then of backing off from the
Wigand interview because lawyers were nervous about offending the tobacco
But CBS News President Andrew Heyward said the piece would run after the
election. "It will run and it would be inappropriate for us to succumb to
partisan pressure to air it earlier," he said.
This is the new world facing CBS News, besieged by both sides of a bitterly
divided public that can make itself heard instantly through the Internet.
CBS used to be more insulated from such criticism because it had less
competition and benefited from the public's high level of trust in the
press, said Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University. That
trust and exalted position have been chipped away.
The network's initial response to the Guard controversy indicated it was
slow to realize that, he said.
"We're in somewhat uncharted waters here," Rosen said. "You have an attempt
to discredit an already weakened news organization in an environment where
things are already hotly politicized. You're going to see opportunistic
attacks on CBS that really come out of a larger ideological agenda."
The heat on Dan Rather has subsided slightly during an independent panel's
investigation into what went wrong with the Guard story. But there's still
an active petition campaign going on to remove Rather's CBS colleague, Bob
Schieffer, as a presidential debate moderator.
And an Internet flurry about a "CBS Evening News" story last week on the
prospects of a military draft showed how quickly critics can mobilize.
A Philadelphia woman who expressed worry for her two grown sons was
interviewed for a story about the possibility of reinstating a military
draft. Ratherbiased.com (motto: "Watching CBS News so you don't have to")
found evidence that the woman, although a Republican, was active in an
anti-draft organization dominated by Democrats.
That association wasn't mentioned in the report, which critics believe was a
sign of an anti-Bush bias.
"I find it amazing that more of the people who watch like hawks and attack
us for things they don't agree with don't write or call when people who are
supportive of the president or his policies are the predominant part of
stories," said Jim Murphy, executive producer of the "CBS Evening News."
Said Heyward: "We certainly intend to continue to report on the campaign and
all the issues without fear or favor. It will be up to the viewers and
listeners and Internet users to judge whether we have met that standard. The
fact that we're getting scrutinized is not going to stop us from pursuing
On the Net:
EDITOR'S NOTE _ David Bauder can be reached at dbauder(at)ap.org
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