US news corporation CBS has announced that four employees will be leaving after an independent report criticised its broadcast of a flawed news story about President Bush.

Senior vice president Betsy West, 60 Minutes executive producer Josh Howard and senior broadcast producer Mary Murphy have all been asked to resign. Producer Mary Mapes was dismissed and Dan Rather, the correspondent who presented the story, is staying on at CBS but stepping down as anchor of the evening news.

The sweeping move follows a damning investigation by attorney general Dick Thornburgh and former Associated Press president Louis Boccardi, which was published yesterday.

However, bloggers were the first to question the story, broadcast on 8 September during the 60 Minutes Wednesday news show.

The piece was based on four documents allegedly written by a commander who oversaw President Bush during his Texas Air National Guard service in the early 1970s. They appeared to show that influential friends of the Bush family tried to 'sugar coat' his national service, and suggested that Mr Bush had disobeyed an order to attend a physical exam.

CBS claimed the documents were written by Lt Colonel Jerry Killian, but a series of bloggers investigated the fonts and formatting of the material and concluded it could not be genuine as it appeared to have been produced by a modern PC.

CBS affiliates board chair Bob Lee described bloggers as a 'new watchdog' in an interview with reporter Al Tompkins at, and said the board was surprised by the immediacy and accuracy of the bloggers' analysis.

The investigation, commissioned by CBS, criticised the broadcaster for failing to follow basic journalistic procedures and said that in rushing to get the piece to air the team had not adequately authenticated the documents.

However, blogging journalist Amy Gahran said that CBS's response was not necessarily the correct one. High profile firings are more about public posturing than changes in the news gathering process, she said.

"Journalism is exceptionally difficult work, and even in the best circumstances the best journalists sometimes make mistakes," she told dotJournalism.

"That's why we need a diversity of news media and commentary with a diversity of perspectives - it's a system of checks and balances that everyone in the media should welcome.

"Too often in the media landscape, perceived credibility gets equated with the size of an organisation," said Ms Gahran.

"Many news stories hinge on the authenticity of documents, and it'll be interesting to see how CBS handles such stories going forward."

Charles Arthur, freelance journalist and former technology editor for the Independent, said that Rathergate could discourage news organisations from pursuing investigative journalism.

"News organisations are quite arrogant. They may just think it's easier to let the bloggers do the work," he said.

"But one weakness of blogging is that they focus on very small things and can miss the big picture - what was Bush doing during his time in the National Guard?

"What was Bush's war record?"

Amy Gahran's blog:
Amy Gahran:
Charles Arthur's blog:

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