In 2004, CBS News commissioned an external, two-person review panel to investigate the reporting methods employed by Dan Rather and producer Mary Mapes in their 60 Minutes segment revealing details about President George W. Bush’s famously sketchy Vietnam-era service in the Texas Air National Guard. The report had stirred controversy because it was based, in part, on documents whose authenticity couldn’t be verified. The review panel concluded that, though the story was flawed, it bore no evidence of political bias.
Internal notes from CBS brass (see below and the following four pages)—recently provided to Rather as evidence in his ongoing $70 million breach-of-contract lawsuit—suggest the same may not be said about the method by which CBS’s top executives selected the panel members.
The notes indicate that in choosing the so-called “independent” investigators, CBS sought input from the Republican Party. The network’s lawyers argue that CBS chose a GOP attorney (former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh; the other panelist was Louis D. Boccardi, former CEO of the Associated Press) “to open itself up to its harshest conservative critics and to ensure that the panel’s findings would be found credible.” But a list of potential candidates compiled by Linda Mason, CBS’s senior vice president for standards (below and the following four pages), suggests the effort was intended at least initially to quiet attacks from the political right. Mason compiled her list in consultation with CBS Washington lobbyists Carol Melton and Gail McKinnon.
A “GOP political operative” with whom Mason discussed possibly hiring retired Sen. Warren Rudman, a political moderate, “said he would be great” and added that Rudman was “known as his own man” (Page 3). But Dick Wiley, an attorney for CBS, was “not so sure” and worried “the right” would “criticize the selection.” Thornburgh, who had been a politically combative attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, received “high marks from GOP” (below).
CBS also considered for the panel such unbiased voices as Ann Coulter, Pat Buchanan, Rush Limbaugh, and Matt Drudge (Pages 4 and 5). Roger Ailes, president of rival network Fox News, was also considered (Page 5).
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