The headline from the New York Times sounds damning: “Rather’s Lawsuit Shows Role of G.O.P. in Inquiry.” The subhead to the article explains that Dan Rather’s lawsuit over his dismissal from CBS News “seems to have unearthed evidence of political influence in an internal CBS investigation.”
Wow. Pretty shocking. Here’s the nut graph that explains the wrongdoing:
Among the materials that money has shaken free for Mr. Rather are internal CBS memorandums turned over to his lawyers, showing that network executives used Republican operatives to vet the names of potential members of a panel that had been billed as independent and charged with investigating the “60 Minutes” segment.
Through the process of discovery, Rather obtained a memo written after the network pledged to investigate his erroneous reporting on President Bush’s National Guard service. Rather based his story, of course, on a clearly fraudulent memo that he obtained from a known partisan.
After Rather retracted the story and offered his apology, the network created an independent panel to investigate what went wrong. The smoking gun is a memo that indicated Dick Thornburgh, a former Republican Attorney General, would garner approval from G.O.P. critics as an acceptable member of the panel. Thornburgh was eventually chosen for the two-person panel along with Louis Boccardi, a former chief executive of The Associated Press.
Now, the process of vetting Thornburgh does clearly show the role of the GOP in the inquiry and does provide evidence of “political influence.” But, I see no alternative to this type of vetting. When selecting members for any independent panel, ideology must be taken into account. For instance, the 9/11 Commission featured five Republicans and five Democrats. Had one party outweighed the other, its results would not have been as trusted. Independent panels, by their very nature, must weigh the ideological baggage of its members. Otherwise, they aren’t independent.
Andrew Haywood says as much toward the end of this New York Times report:
Asked about the assembly of the panel in a sworn deposition, Andrew Heyward, the former president of CBS News, acknowledged that he had wanted at least one member to sit well with conservatives: “CBS News, fairly or unfairly, had a reputation for liberal bias,” and “the harshest scrutiny was obviously going to come from the right.”
Well, that seems reasonable … to everyone except Dan Rather and the editors of the New York Times.