CBS News firings do little to quiet critics

NEW YORK: CBS News fired four executives last week following a four-month, independent investigation into a 2004 broadcast based on forged documents about President Bush's Texas Air National Guard service.

NEW YORK: CBS News fired four executives last week following a four-month, independent investigation into a 2004 broadcast based on forged documents about President Bush's Texas Air National Guard service.

But the move did little to silence the network's critics.

Both media and PR executives questioned whether the right people were punished, while others wondered if the move was adequate to repair the network's wounded image.

Mary Mapes, producer of the September 8 60 Minutes Wednesday segment, was fired. Producers Josh Howard and Mary Murphy, and SVP of primetime Betty West were asked to resign.

The move drew criticism from some who questioned the lack of punishment for Andrew Heyward, president of CBS News, and Dan Rather.

"Anyone who doesn't think Rather's resignation had something to do with this is living in a fantasy land," said Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute.

Lloyd Trufelman, president of Trylon Communications, said it was an issue of sloppy reporting. "This sends a message that they should've learned in school - check your facts," he said.

He added that the report did not seem to reveal any political bias on CBS' part, and that the correct people were punished.

"I think [CBS] did the right thing," he said. "In the current environment we're in, I think it's a positive development."

Trufelman added that CBS' handling of "Memogate" is reminiscent of NBC's response to a similar reporting scandal in 1992, when it rigged crashes of GM trucks to show possible fire dangers for a Dateline NBC segment. That incident eventually resulted in NBC News president Michael Gartner's resignation.

Although he feels CBS initially handled the situation poorly - standing by the story's flawed reporting for 12 days - Tompkins said it will eventually be able to repair its image.

"From a PR standpoint, I'd think a sincere investigation and full disclosure of your findings is a very good first step," he said.

Even so, Tompkins said, CBS still has a long way to go. "Nobody's kidding themselves. This doesn't silence the critics. In some ways it gives them more fuel," he said. "But it's part of the process that has to happen to regain the public's trust.

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