In Defense of CBS

Robert responds to a commentary ripping CBS for its conduct in pursuing a story on Disneyland safety last fall.

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Published: September 17, 2004 at 1:14 PM

One of the things I like so much about working online is its interactivity. Readers can respond to stories, adding or clarifying information. And writers can publicly respond to each other, building a dialogue that leaves readers better informed.

So let me respond to a piece that David Koenig published on MousePlanet this morning: Black Eye: How 60 Minutes almost went after Disneyland. He relates his experience being interviewed by a producer for the network's "60 Minutes" newsmagazine who reporting on safety at Disney theme parks.

Time to fess up: I spoke with that producer as well, via e-mail, on the phone, and at my home, where she visited not long after speaking with David last fall. A man had just died on Disneyland's Thunder Mountain roller coaster, and an author had approached 60 Minutes with a story about Disney management cutting maintenance. The producer was looking for a connection.

David criticizes the producer: "This reporter didn't seem to be investigating anything," he writes. "It was as if she'd already written the program in her head and was casting actors to play The Informants."

Personally, I don't accept the idea that a reporter can approach a potential story as a blank slate, with no ideas or suspicions about the subject. Reporters get tips, and check them out. A couple years in chemistry class taught me basic principle of the scientific method - the null hypothesis. You suspect something might be true, so you test it. Some reporters, with fat network budgets, get to fly around the country to do that. The rest of us pick up the phone.

The producer in question had a hypothesis, presented by an author, that budget cuts and management decisions made by Paul Pressler's team at Disneyland had endangered guest safety. So she tested it. She interviewed me, David Koenig and slew of other folks with experience working at or covering Disneyland.

I saw the same frustration in her face and voice when I spoke with her at my home that David described from their conversation. But I believe that her frustration came not from the fact that I, or any other source, failed to bash Disney hard enough. Her frustration resulted in the contradictory evidence she kept getting from her sources. An anecdote here and potentially spurious correlation there. But no "smoking gun," no financial document detailing a cut or management change that led directly to the fatal accident on Thunder.

Since she was finding so many disgruntled individuals who believed that Pressler's moves had hurt the park, she could not dismiss the hypothesis. But since no one could produce the smoking gun, she could not accept it, either. I've been there as a reporter in the past. Believe me, it's frustrating.

David suggests that "60 Minutes" should have played the story the same way the L.A. Times did – by putting out both sides of the story and letting the audience decide who was telling the truth. But the L.A. Times had already done *that* story. CBS wanted to advance the story, and find something new.

They didn't get it. A story never aired. Apparently, the "60 Minutes" crew could find no new information, beyond that already published by the L.A. Times or other news sources, that directly tied Disney's management decisions to the fatal accident at Thunder and other accidents elsewhere at the company's theme parks.

CBS did the right thing. The "60 Minutes" crew did not find enough evidence to support their hypothesis, so they did not run the story. That's not a blank eye. That's good, tough journalism.


Off-topic post-script: David draws an analogy between this incident and CBS's handling of the Bush National Guard memos. I'll defend CBS on that one, too. Let's not forget that no informed source disputes that the content of the memos in question are generally accurate. Not even the White House has disputed their content when given the chance. How Bush got a cushy National Guard gig to avoid service in Vietnam (while supporting the war, to boot) is fair game for a story. If anything, if CBS had been as tough about its sourcing on this one as it was on the Disneyland story, there'd have been no controversy. But don't fall into the trap of thinking that if CBS's documents are not proven authentic, then the charge that Bush's family pulled strings to get their kid into the Guard to avoid serving in a way they supported is not true. No one with even half a mind can dispute that.

Readers' Opinions

From J. Dana on September 17, 2004 at 1:24 PM
I agree with Robert that CBS (or any news organization for that matter) must have an inkling of an idea what they're going after (with investigative stories, that is--these type of stories must be dileanated, though, from simply reporting the news of the day). They're following a tip. Yes, we of the unwashed masses may view certain news organizations as advancing an agenda rather than digging in every direction, but Robert's point holds true: you chase down leads. You usually don't just show up and say, "Okay, so what's up?" If they don't find any evidence, then it's best NOT to just throw out theories. That's called propoganda, and we're seeing too much of that these days.

As far as the controversy surrounding our two presidential candidates: I don't give a rat's ass what Bush or Kerry did or didn't do during the Vietnam War. They were both how old? Young 20s at best. Let's evaluate them on job performance. Bush as governor and his first term as president, and Kerry on his 19 years in the senate. Because Bush's stateside National Guard service and Kerry's four months in Vietnam tell me little about presidential performance. HOWEVER, as Robert has pointed out, how each man RESPONDS to questions on his military record is a different thing altogether. I have problems with both sides:

Problems with Bush: Okay, so the president HAS signed the 180 form authorizing the government to release all his military records. That's good. So, in that sense, he's not holding back. HOWEVER, if some records are still missing, then he'd better get his rear in gear and find out where they're at. If, as has been suggested, he's purposefully having the pentagon hold back some information from his military records, then I want to know and it damn well does speak about his character. If he missed a physical or not is piddly. At that point he was leaving the service and the physical didnt matter. BUT, I want HIM to explain that, otherwise he's just leaving doubt in my (and everyone else's) mind. C'mon W, fess up.

Regarding Kerry: Since he reminds us with virtually every speech that he served in Vietnam, I guess he himself is bringing his service record into the debate. Yes, I do want to know if he falsified records to obtain a purple heart. Since he still talks about those purple hearts, the I want to know if they're legit. However, don't let me hear anyone saying, "Well, he only served 4 months." That's the depth of unpatriotism to say that about someone who went to Vietnam. He went. Both Bush and Clinton found other things to do. We need to honor him for that. If he ran away from gunfire or jumped off a boat or some such silly accusation, who cares? It's war. You're gonna try to stay alive. I think his public statements about the attrocities that both he and his fellow soldiers allegedly did is what is getting him in hot water with other vets. And the fact that he threw his medals/ribbons/etc across the wall in anti-war protest. If he continues to say that his actions in the war assure us of his presidential character, then let's examine his actions during the war. He's bringing it up. The fact that his campaing threatened to sue tv stations and bookstores over the book and message of the swift boat veterans is a very troubling thing for me. And the fact that he earlier wrote a book that details his experiences and ideas regarding the war, yet he doesnt' want to the book to get out troubles me (in the book, he further denigrates vets). The fact that he has yet to sign the 180 form releasing all his military records troubles me.

So, both candidates need to stop the smoke screen and come clean. But, of course, we all know that's not gonna happen. Best of luck to all of us to try to get past the spin and find out the facts.

Here's the pressing issue they should answer: Favorite three theme park attractions. Answer that question THEN we'll really know your positions.

From Kevin Baxter on September 18, 2004 at 1:27 AM
So, because SOME people had different reactions to their time in Vietnam, their stories are suddenly invalid? The effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are not only unimportant but should never be revealed by a news organization?

By this OUTSTANDING logic, Gulf War Syndrome should never have been discussed on television or newspapers, since MOST soldiers didn't suffer from it???? That soldier deaths should not be acknowledged since most soldiers come back alive???

Don't shoot the messenger because you aren't mature enough to handle the message! Bad things happen and if it weren't for news organizations, like 60 Minutes, how would we know about them? Are we expected to pretend we have left the 1950s behind?? Should we go back to pretending teenage pregnancy, spousal abuse, corruption and so on don't frigging exist?

How about opening up your worldview beyond the things you WANT to hear??? If you want to have the slightest clue as to what is happening in the world around you, try SEVERAL news sources, instead of the ONE that tells you what you want to hear. That ain't news, that's propaganda. At the very least, try out the BBC, which has no stake in the business or political worlds of the US. I suppose they are "liberal" too.

From Russell Meyer on September 18, 2004 at 8:49 AM
The bottom line is that CBS and most news outlest around the world have a theory or hypothesis, and do what they can to defend their hypothesis. What probably happens is that a reporter begins to investigate the story with a preconceived notion as to what the conclusions will be (after all it is human nature to make judgements based on speculation). As the investigation progresses, and a deadline nears, the reporter realizes that some, if not all, of the evidence debunks their original hypothesis. Either the reporter changes their conclusions and has an awkward story that begins telling one point of view and ends with another, or they interpret their facts to support their original hypothesis. When we're talking about the money and prestige of major news organizations, most reporters will do anything to further their careers, so to bend some facts here, or ignore some experts there is fine, as long as no one finds out about it.

That's what's wrong with journalism today...Major writers and reporters are all trying to make names for themselves that many times the truth is left on the cutting room floor, and their audience is left with a skewed version of the story. When a mojor reporter comes out and admits the evidence that a story is solely based on is fraudulent, but the material contained in the story is accurate is utter balderdash, and hypocritical. Regardless of the source of the information, and writer has an obligation to their audience an admit when an error has been made that discredits them instead of standing with egg on their face.

From Robert Niles on September 18, 2004 at 1:42 PM
I had to delete a post from Robert OGrosky above because it reproduced an article from some other source in its entirety. You cannot do that, folks. You can link to articles elsewhere on the Web, but you cannot copy and paste them. That's a copyright violation and a violation of the guidelines for writers you're supposed to follow when posting to the site.

That said, I'll agree with the point that journalists need to do a better job on focusing on telling the truth, rather than following the conventions of our craft. If we follow our conventions faithfully and publish something untrue or so misleading it causes our readers to believe something that is untrue, we've failed.

We live in a country where more Americans believe Saddam Hussein was connected to the 9/11 attacks that believe Dick Cheney is connected to Halliburton. Where a significant number of Americans believe there really were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And where many Americans believe that we are building a democratic government in Iraq. Wrong, wrong and wrong. It seems to me that journalists' failure to convince Americans of the truth -- and the administration's role in helping promote these falsehoods -- constitutes a much larger, more relevant story that American newspapers ought to be devoting their column issues to than the garbage about these supposed Guard memos.

If you want to bash CBS -- or any other firm in my field -- bash 'em for missing *that* story.

From Kevin Baxter on September 18, 2004 at 2:12 PM
I think American journalism is in a very sorry state when The Daily Show is more likely to condemn the way politics works than "reputable" news organizations. Using Cheney as an example... when he went on Meet the Press and told obvious lies to Tim Russert, Russert - who is one of the rare journalists who will even accuse any politician of lying (not counting those with obvious partisan leanings) - still only whipped out a piece of paper and repeated what Cheney had said previously, to which Cheney vehemently denied. Now there are many people out there who will choose to believe Cheney simply because he represents the "right" party. On The Daily Show, Jon Stewart not only showed that portion of the Meet the Press interview, but THEN showed the EXACT FOOTAGE Russert was referring to, proving Cheney was lying his ass off. Not only was it good television, but it was good journalism!

Not to get all partisan, but the Republicans are in power and therefore have had a hell of a lot more opportunities to be seen on news shows. Stewart went after Clinton with abandon during the Monica crap too. But this just underlines the fact that our national news media would rather kiss political ass than wipe the floor with it.

I like this quote from Jon Stewart in Entertainment Weekly: "Politicians are doing what politicians do. I liken it to when you go to the zoo, and the monkeys are sitting in there j@rking off and throwing their sh!t. And you just gotta go, "Well, they're monkeys." But you can yell at the media and go, "You know, your job is to tell them when they're being bad monkeys."


From J. Dana on September 18, 2004 at 2:54 PM
Okay, I admit it....I get my news from Saturday Night Live. At least THEY aren't afraid to skewer everyone with target painted on their chest.

Tim Russert, in my opinion, is the most fearless journalist on television. Other than that, I respect very few.

From Robert OGrosky on September 18, 2004 at 9:00 PM
Robert-Im sorry if i violated the guidelines as i wasnt aware of the copyright violation as what i did i find ALL over the web on numerous different sites.
I can see why you deleted that portion of the post, but there was no reason to delete the non-copyright portion of the post. And here is a link to a article I referenced that show rather and cbs have a history of making up stories to fit a political agenda which is the case in the current story.
From David Klawe on September 18, 2004 at 10:40 PM
There was an interesting article in today's LA Times. The weekly column titled "Regarding Media" by Tim Rutten had this to day (and a lot more, this is just a small quote),1,3386363.story

>>No reputable document examiner will authenticate anything from a photocopy — they simply are too easily manipulated. This is not complicated. Rather and Mapes, therefore, are in the position of having broadcast a report based on documents whose authenticity they cannot establish. It doesn't matter whether the contents are genuine or not, because nobody — not even "60 Minutes" — can prove it from photocopies. You do not report what you cannot prove. This, too, is not complicated.

None of this kept Rather from repeatedly going on the air and defending the memoranda's authenticity. One might have thought that his defense reached a low point when he aired an interview with Killian's 86-year-old former secretary in which she said she did not believe the documents were authentic but that they did accurately reflect what was happening with Bush at the time.

Truth through forgery — now there's a novel concept.<<

From Kevin Baxter on September 19, 2004 at 12:40 AM
I think CBS's big problem is that they trusted their source too much. The faxes are clearly from someone who had been badmouthing Bush's alleged service for quite a while. He was someone who obviously had access to these memos, but that doesn't mean he couldn't have made NEW memos trying to pass them off as the old ones. There is something to be said for trust, but with a story about the president, there should be corroboration. Like maybe asking the secretary about them BEFORE everything aired???

Hell, even Kitty Kelley is smart enough to have someone to corroborate Sharon Bush's comments about W's coke-snorting! Kitty Kelley, smarter than CBS News... go figure!

From Robert Niles on September 19, 2004 at 1:57 PM
Rutten lights his credibility on fire in this piece when he acknowledges a controversy over the origin of the documents... then proceeds with the piece under the assumption that they are fakes. Talk about "faith-based reporting." Um, what if they aren't fakes? And, even if they are, what if they are accurate reproductions of the originals? Rutten never considers these possibilities in his rush to promote the meme that CBS unfairly beats up on conservatives.
From J. Dana on September 20, 2004 at 10:35 AM
Dan Rather's statement Monday, Sept. 20:
For those of you who choose not to click on the link, Dan apologizes.

Another point of view:

The "source" now apparently admits to deliberately misleading CBS.

Although I don't consider CBS a partisan organ, it is pretty obvious that they were a bit lax in vetting the authenticity of this story. If all the other news organizations hadn't pointed it out, would CBS even have done any re-checking.

I personally think that CBS will probably come back with some slam-bang awesome reporting...too bad everyone will be too disenchanted with them to watch. We all know which way Fox News tends to lean. Maybe CBS would do well to just drop the pretense of unbiased and go whole-hog on the anti-Fox bandwagon. Hey, if we're talking pure ratings here, why not go for the gusto. FYI, I'm not bashing Fox...I like Fox News and think they actually do present both sides of the story, so don't send me hate mail. But, c'mon, let's not pretend we don't know they're a little bit more "wary" of anti-Bush stories. In the same way, let's not pretend we don't think that Dan Rather's presence at democratic fundraisers doesn't hurt his perceived objectivity. I do think that Dan first and foremost wants to break a big story to end his career on....I just hope he doesn't end his career on this stupid little mis-step.

From Robert OGrosky on September 20, 2004 at 10:44 AM
Kitty Kelly is a fraud as are all her unsourced books, if she wanted someone too believe her she should have taped her interviews so it would have some possiblity of being believable, but she is as reliable as d. rather is, not that that is saying much.
And not its no surprise that today even cbs news had to admit the documents are phony and they were based on a charlatan who has compared Pres. Bush to hitler among his rantings.
A link to the story-

But the best line of the story is this rather quote-
"We made a mistake in judgment, and for that I am sorry," he said. "It was an error that was made, however, in good faith and in the spirit of trying to carry on a CBS News tradition of investigative reporting without fear or favoritism."
He still cant be truthful and admitted they wanted the story to be true so they ran with it and had no concern for the what the facts were.
Of course the naive among us will still see no liberal bias/favortism in this story.

Hopefull this reporting by rather will be added to the DNC as a in kind campaign donation.

From Kenny Hitt on September 20, 2004 at 11:33 AM
1) Actually, a LOT of people are disputing the actual information contained in the memos...for example, a higher-up who was supposedly pressing the author to "sugarcoat" Bush's service in the Guard had been discharged a full YEAR before the memo was allegedly written.

2) This site really isn't the appropriate forum for political discussion, unless you're talking about the politics going on in the board rooms of Disney, Universal, and Six Flags. Not to berate anyone's political opinions, especially Robert and Kevin's as the heads of the site, but as they say, politics and religion are two things you never discuss in mixed company.

From David Klawe on September 20, 2004 at 1:04 PM
Here is a link to three statements, two from CBS, the first from the President of CBS News, and the other from Dan Rather.

The third is from the White House Press Secretary.

Should be interesting to see what this "Independent Review" will find...

From David Klawe on September 20, 2004 at 11:59 PM
And the story gets even more interesting....

>>CBS arranged for a confidential source to talk with Joe Lockhart, a top aide to John Kerry, after the source provided the network with the now-disputed documents about President Bush's service in the Texas National Guard.

Lockhart, the former press secretary to President Clinton, said a producer talked to him about the 60 Minutes program a few days before it aired on Sept. 8. She gave Lockhart a telephone number and asked him to call Bill Burkett, a former Texas National Guard officer who gave CBS the documents. Lockhart couldn't recall the producer's name. But CBS said Monday night that it would examine the role of producer Mary Mapes in passing the name to Lockhart.

The network's effort to place Burkett in contact with a top Democratic official raises ethical questions about CBS' handling of material potentially damaging to the Republican president in the midst of an election. This "poses a real danger to the potential credibility ... of a news organization," said Aly Colón, a news ethicist at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

The White House said CBS' contact with Lockhart was inappropriate. "The fact that CBS News would coordinate with the most senior levels of Sen. Kerry's campaign to attack the president is a stunning and deeply troubling revelation," said Dan Bartlett, White House communications director. <<

From Kevin Baxter on September 21, 2004 at 1:32 AM
Wow! So completely different than Karl Rove's connections to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

You know... Kerry isn't the stupid one here. And Bush isn't either. It's all you stoopid dipwads who sit there and claim one politician is a liar when they ALL ARE. Do you have the slightest clue how damned moronic you sound when you select one politician and go on and on about what a liar he is? Now multiply the idiocy by about 1000 if you believe YOUR guy hasn't lied. There are plenty of lies and mistruths and flip-flopping and jerkitude ON THE RECORD from both of these guys. If you want to ignore that, then fine. Be a retard. Just don't be so damn proud of it.

As for Kitty Kelley, WHAT A SURPRISE someone doesn't want to believe her. Especially when every review I have read said she DOESN'T BRING ANYTHING NEW to Bush's history. Meaning EVERYTHING has already been written about elsewhere. So what the hell did she make up this time?

I give her credit, because unlike people like O'Reilly or Rush, she at least does some research. Sure, she should tape things, but if your source doesn't want to be taped, you can't force her. Obviously the Sharon Bush stuff is true and she got major crap from it from someone surrounding Bush and she backed off. But her PR man was there at the meeting and he refuses to dispute the findings of Kelley's interview with Ms Bush. PLUS, W has never denied the coke-snorting rumors either, which has to make you wonder... unless you take the short bus to get to your computer.

From Robert OGrosky on September 21, 2004 at 10:38 AM
Of course all pols lie, but its the media,especially the major networks and newspapers like the nytimes/latimes/washington post that claim they are unbiased and only look for the truth and the current situation and all the reports of plagarism/jayson blair etc. show the mainstream media is as reliable/un reliable as anything you will find on the internet which all the mainstream media attacks as being reckless, when in fact they are just upset because there days of influence have waned as well as readership/viewership. And with other forms of media there relevance is dwindling and there bias is being exposed.
As for kelly, the only research she does is change the names and a few items as she makes up items for her book, and there is no proof at all that Sharon Bush made the statements claimed by kelly.
As for Rush if one actually listens to his show and then goes to his web site he has numerous links to the items that he talks about which is part of the large amount of research he and his staff do. And congrats to the swift boat veternans for there book being number one again for the fifth week without the support and suffering baseless attacks by the liberal rather led press.
Maybe kevin could tell us why the media isnt demanding that kerry release all his records and also demand his wife release her tax records like Geraldine Ferraro's husband had to do when it was demanded by the media yrs ago.
If there was nothing to hide they would already be released!!!
From J. Dana on September 21, 2004 at 12:20 PM
Speaking of O'Reilly, it's interesting to note that conservative talker Ann Coulter has been attacking him lately as a liberal. Who'd a thunk it? Agree or disagree with Coulter, at least she's nice to look at. Grrrrr.
From Kevin Baxter on September 22, 2004 at 9:00 PM
The woman who thinks Senator McCarthy was an American hero? Yeah, right.

Rush can CLAIM he researches all he wants, but look up the sites he gets that research from... Republican-sponsored think tanks. There is a cottage industry out there consisting of books describing the multitude of lies Rush tells. And they don't rely on groups that receive Republican money. More like historical records.

Ain't it funny that Jayson Blair was brought up AGAIN. One of the few liars ever in the long LONG history of the NY Times and his name gets dragged out YET AGAIN. Could that be desperation??? Jayson Blair lied and was fired. Rush and O'Lielly lie and lie and lie, and they get raises!!! Now who's biased???

In fact, the NY Times had this to say recently about this whole "liberal media" sh!t: What much of the other news media have offered as an alternative has not been an alternative at all. At some point after 9/11, the news business jumped the shark and started relaying unchallenged administration propaganda — though with less zeal and showbiz pizazz than Fox. The notorious March 2003 presidential news conference at which not a single probing question was asked by the entire White House press corps heralded the broader Foxification to come. As Michael Massing, a frequent critic of this newspaper and others, put it on PBS's NewsHour, the failure of the American news media to apply proper skepticism to the administration's stated rationale for war in Iraq is "one of the most serious institutional failures of the press" since our slide into Vietnam. Mr. Massing attributes some of this to the fear of challenging a president then at the height of his popularity. Whatever the explanation — and there are many, depending on the news organization — the net effect was that the entire press came off as Fox Lite. The motive to parrot the administration line may not have been ideological, as it was at Fox, but since the misinformation was the same, news consumers can't be blamed for finding that a distinction without a difference.


It is nice to see you jump on the liar bandwagon though with your claim that that Swift Boat sh!t was still number one. NOPE! Guess who the new Number One is??? HEEEEEEEE! I can live without Kitty Kelley, but I can live without people still living in Vietnam even more. And that includes Kerry and Bush. What a piece of neverending non-news that crap is!

And who's bending over and taking it from not only a politician but "news people" who claim they are "entertainers" to cover all the lies they tell????

Sad, sad, sad.

From David Klawe on September 23, 2004 at 6:52 PM

>>Dan Rather must go.

. . . . And Andrew Heyward must go with him.

Rather and Heyward, the anchor and president of CBS News, have together presided over a fiasco that has called into question their own veracity and competence and reflects on fair-minded journalists everywhere.

Rather has said that his first concern is "the reputation, integrity and honor of CBS News and the people that I work with. . . . I would never do anything to harm it at whatever expense to myself. I would never knowingly do that."

If he believes that, he must now walk away from his desk.<<

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