Lockhart contacted memo scandal figure
Says CBS official suggested talk
The controversy over CBS's use of disputed documents to raise questions about President Bush's service record broadened from a journalism scandal into a campaign battle yesterday after Joe Lockhart, an adviser to John F. Kerry, said he had spoken to the man who provided the network with the documents.
Lockhart said that he called Bill Burkett at the suggestion of CBS producer Mary Mapes and that the two talked briefly about the Vietnam issue and attacks on Kerry's war record by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. USA Today reported yesterday that Burkett said having CBS arrange a conversation with the Kerry campaign was a condition for him turning over the documents.
The Bush campaign was quick to hop on the latest twist in the document drama. ''The fact that CBS News would coordinate with the most senior people in the Kerry campaign is troubling, and it is a stunning revelation that raises serious questions," said Scott Stanzel, a spokesman for the Bush campaign. ''The Kerry campaign should come clean about their involvement."
Reprising a line from the Watergate scandal during an appearance on CNN, Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said, ''The question to the Kerry campaign is, what did they know and when did they know it?"
The Kerry campaign dismissed any link with CBS's reporting on Bush. Speaking to reporters, spokesman Mike McCurry said Lockhart informed campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill about his talk with Burkett. ''Kerry didn't feel like he needed to pursue it beyond that," McCurry said. ''He does not believe Joe did anything improper. He made a call at the suggestion of CBS News."
Asked whether the White House was trying to exploit the issue, McCurry said: ''It changed the subject from talking about Iraq. Anything they can do to change the subject."
A day after anchor Dan Rather apologized for CBS's failure ''to properly, fully scrutinize the documents" that purported to show a former commanding officer was critical of Bush's National Guard service, network executives hunkered down as speculation swirled about the scandal's impact. In response to questions about Mapes's role in the conversation between Lockhart and Burkett, CBS released a statement saying: ''It is obviously against CBS News standards and those of every other reputable news organization to be associated with any political agenda. As to what actually happened here, it is one of the many issues the independent review will be examining." A CBS spokeswoman said no one at the network would comment further yesterday.
Lockhart's conversation with Burkett has presented CBS with another thorny problem and provided more fodder to its critics. ''I think the biggest news at this point is that CBS took their source to the opposition and didn't worry about how it would look," said S. Robert Lichter, president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, a nonpartisan research organization. ''I can't believe they let themselves be put in that position. I can't believe they acted as go-between."
In recent years, CBS and Rather have been frequently singled out by conservative critics accusing the network of liberal bias, an allegation certain to echo more loudly now.
''I think it is clearly and unmistakably a blind bias that took over at CBS," said L. Brent Bozell III, president of the Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog group. ''Unfortunately CBS is going to suffer the most, but I think it's going to have a ripple effect across journalism."
Officials at other networks said they feel confident they have safeguards in place to prevent similar problems. Neal Shapiro, president of NBC News, said his network learned ''painfully years ago [that] you need to question the premise of your story constantly."
That lesson took place in 1992 after a flawed ''Dateline NBC" report purporting to show that General Motors Corp. trucks were vulnerable to fiery explosions resulted in a public apology and retraction.
Lichter, however, said he is skeptical that the CBS scandal will have a lasting impact on television journalism. ''History shows that TV news doesn't learn from history," he said.
Glen Johnson of the Globe staff contributed to this story.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.