The most serious defects in the reporting and production of the September 8 Segment were:
1. The failure to obtain clear authentication of any of the Killian documents from any document examiner;
2. The false statement in the September 8 Segment that an expert had authenticated the Killian documents when all he had done was authenticate one signature from one document used in the Segment;
3. The failure of 60 Minutes Wednesday management to scrutinize the publicly available, and at times controversial, background of the source of the documents, retired Texas Army National Guard Lieutenant Colonel Bill Burkett;
4.The failure to find and interview the individual who was understood at the outset to be Lieutenant Colonel Burkett’s source of the Killian documents, and thus to establish the chain of custody;
5. The failure to establish a basis for the statement in the Segment that the documents “were taken from Colonel Killian’s personal files”;
6. The failure to develop adequate corroboration to support the statements in the Killian documents and to carefully compare the Killian documents to official TexANG records, which would have identified, at a minimum, notable inconsistencies in content and format;
7. The failure to interview a range of former National Guardsmen who served with Lieutenant Colonel Killian and who had different perspectives about the documents;
8. The misleading impression conveyed in the Segment that Lieutenant Strong had authenticated the content of the documents when he did not have the personal knowledge to do so;
9. The failure to have a vetting process capable of dealing effectively with the production speed, significance and sensitivity of the Segment; and
10. The telephone call prior to the Segment’s airing by the producer of the Segment to a senior campaign official of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry – a clear conflict of interest – that created the appearance of a political bias.
#2 is the killer. Dan Rather got on the air and flat lied to the American people. He should be fired.
Once questions were raised about the September 8 Segment, the reporting thereafter was mishandled and compounded the damage done. Among the more egregious shortcomings during the Aftermath were:
1. The strident defense of the September 8 Segment by CBS News without adequately probing whether any of the questions raised had merit;
2. Allowing many of the same individuals who produced and vetted the by-then controversial September 8 Segment to also produce the follow-up news reports defending the Segment;
3. The inaccurate press statements issued by CBS News after the broadcast of the Segment that the source of the documents was “unimpeachable” and that experts had vouched for their authenticity;
4. The misleading stories defending the Segment that aired on the CBS Evening News after September 8 despite strong and multiple indications of serious flaws;
5. The efforts by 60 Minutes Wednesday to find additional document examiners who would vouch for the authenticity of the documents instead of identifying the best examiners available regardless of whether they would support this position; and
6. Preparing news stories that sought to support the Segment, instead of providing accurate and balanced coverage of a raging controversy.
#3 is the killer on this one. This was not just poor reporting or a “mistake.” The panel has found that they lied. When Dan Rather made the conscious decision to lie to the American people, he sealed his fate. Dan should be fired.
I could add one the panel missed. Dan said during his report that he had them vouched for by a person that had seen the actual documents in the 70’s. No such person existed and that was a lie. The Panel missed a serious firing offense.