Saturday, September 22, 2007

CBS Management Tried To Keep Abu Ghraib Story Off the Air

Greg Sargent has been reading through the complaint filed in the Dan Rather v. CBS lawsuit, and finds some unexpected stuff in it:

Rather's lawsuit, of course, deals mostly with the scandal around the story about Bush and the Air National Guard. But as TPM Reader KC alerted us, there are some peripheral allegations in the suit that are at least as interesting, and these concern another story CBS broke: The Abu Ghraib torture scandal.

Specifically, buried in the lawsuit is the allegation that top CBS execs, under intense pressure from government officials, refused for weeks to air the torture story, despite mounting evidence that the story was solid. The execs fingered are CBS News president Andrew Heyward and senior vice president Betsy West.

This episode has been referenced in passing here and there in news accounts, and some of the details about CBS' foot dragging on Abu Ghraib have been known for years. But here you have Rather himself making these allegations from the inside, on the record. And the lawsuit spells out the whole episode in ugly detail.

Here's what happened, according to an excerpt buried on page 11 of the complaint:
38. In late April 2004, Mr. Rather, as Correspondent, and Mary Mapes, a veteran producer, broke a news story of national urgency on 60 Minutes II — the abuse by American military personnel of Iraqi prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison. The story, which included photographs of the abusive treatment of prisoners, consumed American news media for many months.

39. Despite the story's importance, and because of the obvious negative impact the story would have on the Bush administration with which Viacom and CBS wished to curry favor, CBS management attempted to bury it. As a general rule, senior executives of CBS News do not take a hands-on role in the editing and vetting of a story. However, CBS News President Andrew Heyward and Senior Vice President Betsy West were involved intimately in the editing and vetting process of the Abu Ghraib story. However, for weeks, they refused to grant permission to air the story, continuously insisting that it lacked sufficient substantiation. As Mr. Rather and Ms. Mapes provided each requested verification, Mr. Heyward and Ms. West continued to "raise the goalposts," insisting on additional substantiation.

40. Even after obtaining nearly a dozen, now notorious, photographs, which made it impossible to deny the accuracy of the story, Mr. Heyward and Ms. West continued to delay the story for an additional three weeks. This delay was, in part, occasioned by acceding to pressures brought to bear by government officials urging CBS to drop the story or at least delay it. As a part of that pressure, Mr. Rather received a personal telephone call from General Richard B. Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, urging him to delay the story.

41. Only after it became apparent that, due to the delay, sources were talking to other news organizations and that CBS would be "scooped," Mr. Heyward and Ms. West approved the airing of the story for April 28, 2004. Even then, CBS imposed the unusual restrictions that the story would be aired only once, that it would not be preceded by on-air promotion, and that it would not be referenced on the CBS Evening News.

Your liberal media.

The lawsuit adds elsewhere that CBS chief Sumner Redstone "considered it to be in his corporate interest to curry favor with the Bush administration."

For anyone who has not read it, Mary Mapes' book, Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power, out in paperback for almost a year now, is a compelling account of the events at CBS.

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