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Monday, January 10, 2005

Are We Looking at Actual Malice?

Perhaps the most damning incident in the run-up to the September 8 "60 Minutes Wednesday" broadcast segment on President Bush's National Guard service was the telephone call from producer Mary Mapes to Kerry campaign spokesman Joe Lockhart. Yet, the CBS Report on Rathergate said it "does not believe political motivations drove the September 8 segment ..."

The panel reached that conclusion despite the fact it was "unable to resolve definitively" the utter conflict between accounts of the Lockhart call given by Mapes and executive producer Josh Howard. Mapes told the investigators Howard gave her permission to call Lockhart, even encouraged her to do so. Howard claims he told investigators he specifically warned Mapes that "it would be inappropriate to intervene with Lockhart or anyone else associated with the Kerry campaign" on behalf of Bill Burkett, Mapes' document source.

"Whether or not permission was given to Mapes, the panel finds this contact to be highly inappropriate. The September 8 segment had a strong political focus and it was to air in the middle of a hotly contested presidential campaign. While it is certainly proper to receive information from a variety of sources, this contact crossed the line as, at a minimum, it gave the appearance of a political bias and could have been perceived as a news organization's assisting a campaign as opposed to reporting a story," the report said.

So what we have here is the panel saying that, despite its own damning indictment, it can't say if the documents were fakes, the litany of violations by the veteran CBS journalists of the most basic rules of honest journalism were simply the product of competitive pressures and no political agenda was involved even though one of those CBS veterans sought to connect the source of the tainted documents with the Kerry campaign more than a month before the election.

I hate to say it, folks, but, despite producing a report that presents as damning a description of unacceptable journalism as I have ever read, former U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh and former Associated Press head Lou Boccardi failed. Makes me want to watch an old Paul Newman/Sally Field movie, "Absence of Malice," (not the "Actual Malice" I initially and ineptly posted).

And thanks to an anonymous commenter who pointed out the correct title of that Newman/Field flick. You will love how the guy who ran the "investigation" in the movie used the results of his probe far better than did Thornburgh/Boccardi in real life.

Meanwhile, the Blogosphere is ripe with reactions to the CBS report that you must read, including Hugh Hewitt, Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine and, of course, RatherBiased.com. I can't wait to read assessments from LittleGreenFootballs and Powerline, but the former site seems to be inaccessible and the latter has not yet posted.