NEW YORK – The ousting of four CBS News employees over the so-called "Memogate" controversy on Monday has led the Tiffany Network (search) to make some immediate decisions about its future and has many wondering what's on the horizon for the news organization.
Immediately following the announcement that it was firing producer Mary Mapes (search), senior vice president Betsy West (search) and two others involved in the story critical of President Bush's National Guard service, CBS News created a new position recommended by the panel that investigated the disputed story.
The news network appointed executive Linda Mason (search) to the newly created role of senior vice president of standards and special projects. Mason's job will be to thoroughly review each aspect of an investigative piece before it airs.
Les Moonves (search), co-president of CBS parent Viacom Inc. (search), said he hopes the shakeup won't have a "chilling effect" on investigative journalism at CBS News, a sentiment also expressed by the independent panel in charge of investigating what went wrong with the "60 Minutes Wednesday" segment.
"By doing what needed to be done, as painful as some of these steps are, we hope to have moved decisively to set the record straight, and to turn this crisis into an opportunity to make CBS News stronger than it ever has been," Moonves said.
At issue were the sources and disputed memos at the heart of the scandal. CBS based its "60 Minutes" segment on memos whose authenticity couldn't be proven and were questioned immediately after the report aired.
Some of CBS' sources later backed away from their statements supporting claims that Bush got special treatment and shirked some of his duties when he served in the Texas Air National Guard.
Jeff Fager, executive producer of "60 Minutes Sunday," will oversee the Wednesday broadcast for the rest of the television season. The Sept. 8 story aired on "60 Minutes Wednesday"; the show's new management team contributed to errors in the report, the panel found.
One of the major questions on everyone's mind is who will replace "CBS Evening News" anchor Dan Rather (search), 73. Rather was the narrator on the Bush National Guard story and has been the face of CBS News since he took over for Walter Cronkite (search) in 1981.
Among the names rumored to be under consideration are NBC's "Today" host Katie Couric, "Face the Nation" moderator Bob Schieffer, "60 Minutes" correspondent Ed Bradley and "The Early Show" co-host Harry Smith.
Rather himself, whose final show at the helm of the "CBS Evening News" is scheduled to be March 9, wasn't in the anchor chair Monday night.
But he said in the November announcement about his retirement that he'd be staying on full-time at CBS working on "60 Minutes" segments.
Some have speculated that the CBS scandal and shakeup are a wake-up call to network news that its days are numbered.
"I think the network news will keep whittling down and down. It's still a big franchise and still important, and we watch it and that's fine," TV Guide reporter Jeff Jarvis told FOX News. "I think network newscasts will get smaller and smaller and smaller, and they will become marginalized."
But Carl Bernstein — the former Washington Post reporter who was at the heart of the Watergate scandal with colleague Bob Woodward — said that though journalism has its issues, all media outlets make mistakes.
“To expect that news organizations — like this one or CBS or ours — are not going to make an egregious error at any time is itself a mistake,” Bernstein told FOX News. “Like all professions, we are susceptible to systemic failures. ... We need to protect against them."
Though Mapes and CBS had been looking into the story on and off since 1999, Moonves told FOX News that a number of mistakes were made by the time the piece aired two months before the hotly debated 2004 presidential election.
"We feel like the right people were disciplined for this, let go for this," Moonves told FOX News. "It's more important to be accurate than fast — a lesson for CBS News and journalists all over the world."
In addition to the creation of the "senior standards and practices" executive, the panel made a number of recommendations for changes, according to CBS. Among them:
— Foster an atmosphere in which competitive pressure is not allowed to prompt airing of reports before all investigation and vetting is done.
— Allow senior management to know the names of confidential sources as well as all relevant background about the person needed to make news judgments.