CBS Blogger Doesn't Press Producers Over Tenet/Perle Exchange That Never Happened

In an April 30 "Public Eye" entry, CBS ombudsblogger Brian Montopoli wrote about CBS's quandary over CIA director George Tenet has a faulty memory regarding an exchange with Richard Perle that supposedly happened the day after 9/11 at the White House. The problem, Perle was stuck in France. He returned to the country on Sept. 15, 2001. So what to do with Web site transcripts of the April 29 "60 Minutes" segment?

Well, it turns out CBS executives added an editor's note to online versions of the "60 Minutes" interview.

Montopoli wrote about the inclusion of the editor's note here, but it appears he failed to press the suits at CBS over why the supposed September 12, 2001, meeting was not verified before broadcast:

The situation left "60 Minutes" and CBS News with a decision to make. Should the interview, available to all on the Internet, be recut to reflect these developments? Should the text version of the story be edited? Should nothing be changed?

Ultimately, "60 Minutes" Executive Editor Patti Hassler, after consulting with "60 Minutes" Executive Producer Jeff Fager and CBS News Senior Vice President Linda Mason, decided to leave the story unchanged – but with an editor's note added to summarize the new developments. CBSNews.com Director of News and Operations Mike Sims discussed this course of action with "60 Minutes" as well.

"The reason that we decided to add the editor's note is because Richard Perle had disputed what George Tenet said in his book and also said to us, and we wanted to include both Richard Perle's version and George Tenet's response to that," Hassler told Public Eye. "The video is the story that we aired, so to change that would not be transparent."

Why didn't Montopoli pose questions to Hassler, Fager, Mason or Sims about how the assertion made it to broadcast? Or did Montopoli ask them but fail to document their responses in his blog entry?

What's more, although he cites Bill Kristol's April 29 Weekly Standard item in his blog entry, Montopoli leaves out Tenet's offending Perle/Septmeber 12th quote and consequently why Tenet's excuse that the date was off but the substance was correct doesn't fly (emphasis mine):

THE WEEKLY STANDARD has now learned of a second, more stunning error in Tenet's book (which is due to appear in bookstores tomorrow). According to Michiko Kakutani's review in Saturday's Times,

On the day after 9/11, he [Tenet] adds, he ran into Richard Perle, a leading neoconservative and the head of the Defense Policy Board, coming out of the White House. He says Mr. Perle turned to him and said: "Iraq has to pay a price for what happened yesterday. They bear responsibility."

Here's the problem: Richard Perle was in France on that day, unable to fly back after September 11. In fact Perle did not return to the United State until September
15. Did Tenet perhaps merely get the date of this encounter wrong? Well, the quote Tenet ascribes to Perle hinges on the encounter taking place September 12: "Iraq has to pay a price for what happened yesterday." And Perle in any case categorically denies to THE WEEKLY STANDARD ever having said any such thing to Tenet, while coming out of the White House or anywhere else.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters