NEW YORK — With a tortured press release and an undisclosed cash payment, CBS attempted to shut the door on a scandal that rocked the network and hastened the retirement of Dan Rather from the anchor chair.
CBS reached a settlement with the final executive at the center of the fake-document scandal, “60 Minutes Wednesday” exec producer Josh Howard, who was at the helm of the show when it broadcast a segment on President Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard.
Howard submitted his resignation from the network Tuesday, following those of his deputy, Mary Murphy, and Betsy West, a vice president in charge of the broadcast.
Mary Mapes, the producer who most strenuously vouched for the authenticity of documents cited in the report, was fired in January. She will publish her side of the story this fall in a memoir from by St. Martin’s Press: “The Other Side of the Story.”
Esther Kartiganer, a producer in charge of quality control on the piece, is suing CBS for defamation and age discrimination after she was demoted and reassigned in the wake of the report.
Howard, a protege of “60 Minutes” creator Don Hewitt who had been at the helm of the Wednesday edition for only six days when the ill-fated segment ran, is said to have wanted his name cleared as a condition of his resignation.
CBS apparently agreed, saying in a press release: “Howard served CBS News with distinction for more than 20 years in a variety of roles, most recently as executive producer of ’60 Minutes Wednesday.’ ”
That assessment is a far cry from Jan. 10, when the company released the results of an independent report on the document scandal and said Howard “failed to assert his role as the producer ultimately responsible for the broadcast and everything in it.”
“This mistake dealt a tremendous blow to the credibility of ’60 Minutes Wednesday’ and to CBS News in general,” CBS chairman-CEO Leslie Moonves said in the statement.
Howard’s resignation came after more than two months of negotiations with the Eye. He had weighed a lawsuit against the network to clear his name, but in the end settled for a short, carefully worded statement.
West and Murphy also received substantial monetary settlements, which required no additional statement from CBS.
Many inside CBS felt that although Howard failed to halt the broadcast, the blame for the episode fell disproportionately on his shoulders.
In the end, they believe, CBS scapegoated Howard while failing to adequately pursue the truth about the origin of the fake documents.
Howard and his defenders felt his role had been vindicated by the independent report, which detailed his attempts to have the story delayed and then his desire to acknowledge publicly that CBS could have been the victim of an “elaborate hoax.”
For CBS, the settlement comes as the network is working to find a new cast to rebuild the “Evening News” franchise. Interim anchor Bob Schieffer and exec producer Jim Murphy have introduced some format changes, including correspondents introducing their segments at the top of the broadcast.
(Pamela McClintock contributed to this report.)