Don Hewitt, RIP: Reprimanded Rather and CBS Over Bush National Guard Hit Piece

Don Hewitt, the creator and long-time Executive Producer of CBS's 60 Minutes, who passed away this morning (Wednesday) at age 86, had recognized the bias which led Dan Rather to target President George W. Bush with a 2004 story based on forged documents, as he suggested such a flimsy hit piece damaging to the liberal candidate would have earned more scrutiny for accuracy before it ever got onto the air: “Does anybody really think there wouldn't have been more scrutiny if this had been about John Kerry?” (Rather's piece aired on the weekday 60 Minutes, which Hewitt did not oversee, four months after Hewitt's retirement.)

Though in 2004 he predicted “I would bet I'll probably vote for Kerry” since “I know why I don't want to vote for George Bush,” in 2007 he recalled how in the aftermath of the Bush National Guard story he had proposed to Rather: “If this had been John Kerry, wouldn't you have been more careful about the story?” He also defended CBS's decision to fire Rather: “Any news organization, print or broadcast, has the right to protect its reputation by divesting itself of a reporter, irrespective of who he or she is, who it feels reported as fact something that reflected his or her biases more than the facts bear.”

In early January of 2005, on MSNBC's Hardball, Chris Matthews quoted Hewitt, the Executive Producer of 60 Minutes until May of 2004, as conceding during a meeting at CBS: “Does anybody really think there wouldn't have been more scrutiny if this had been about John Kerry?”

A September of 2007 item, “Ex-60 Minutes Boss: I Asked Rather If He'd Whack Kerry Like Bush,” recounted:
In a Friday afternoon Newsweek Web exclusive, reporter Johnnie Roberts talked to CBS insiders about Dan Rather's lawsuit against his long-time employer. Don Hewitt, the founder and long-lasting Executive Producer of 60 Minutes, told the magazine he asked Rather the big bias question: "If this had been John Kerry, wouldn't you have been more careful about the story?"

Roberts reported that while the network wouldn't comment beyond saying it was old news, others were more forthcoming:
Take, for example, Don Hewitt, the legendary producer of 60 Minutes. "Any news organization, print or broadcast, has the right to protect its reputation by divesting itself of a reporter, irrespective of who he or she is, who it feels reported as fact something that reflected his or her biases more than the facts bear," he said in a NEWSWEEK interview. "And if the reporter's defense is that he or she had been 'had,' isn't he or she someone a news organization worth its salt can no longer trust not to be 'had' again."

Hewitt says he had questioned whether the reporting was biased at a CBS meeting convened to discuss the controversy that began to swell after the story aired. "Let me ask one question," he recalls addressing the gathering. "If this had been John Kerry, wouldn't you have been more careful about the story?" A senior CBS News insider said Rather is further damaging his reputation by suing. "I think it looks pathetic," this executive told NEWSWEEK on condition of not being identified. "It looks like the musing of an older man who can't let go. This will have no winners. But the biggest loser will be Dan."
A couple of more posts conveying interesting comments Hewitt made during interviews on C-SPAN and FNC in April of 2001 to plug his book, Tell Me a Story: 50 Years & 60 Minutes in Television.

From the April 3, 2001 MRC CyberAlert:
Discussing on C-SPAN’s Booknotes on Sunday night his new book about his career, 60 Minutes Executive Producer Don Hewitt disclosed he voted for Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and Gore, conceded that he and correspondent Steve Kroft knew Bill and Hillary Clinton "were lying" about Gennifer Flowers during the Super Bowl night 60 Minutes appearance and, that in the midst of the 1992 interview, James Carville arrived and began sobbing: "Oh I love them, I love those people, I love them so much, I love them." Plus: Hewitt acknowledged that Dan Rather "likes" Bill Clinton.
From the April 16, 2001 MRC CyberAlert:
Don Hewitt, Executive Producer of CBS’s 60 Minutes, refused last week to defend Dan Rather for attending a Democratic fundraiser, denied 60 Minutes is liberal or conservative, argued that those two terms are "ridiculous" and that he believes in "sense" and "nonsense." But he revealed that his view of "sense" follows the liberal line: "It makes no sense to me that there are 200 million handguns in American cities. I have always believed that if you get the NRA out of the way, decent reasonable Americans would figure out a way to respect the Second Amendment and get guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them."
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center