Bush has often asserted that he does not read newspapers or watch television, preferring to get news from his top aides. During a presidential debate in October, after Kerry said that "two leading national news networks" had labeled a Bush commercial untrue, Bush retorted: "I'm not so sure it's credible to quote leading news organizations."
Media credibility has been declining for years. In 1988, 58 percent of the public found no bias in political reporting, according to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. By 2004, the figure had dropped to 38 percent.
"If you're a Bush person," Alex S. Jones, who runs Harvard's Shorenstein media center, said of yesterday's report, "it confirms in your mind that the press is out to get Bush. If you're a non-Bush person, you'll be dismayed that George Bush will appear to be vindicated and validated by CBS's humiliation."
Although CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves made no attempt to defend the story, credible reporting by other media outlets has raised questions about whether Bush received favorable treatment in the Texas Air National Guard.
Democrats chafed at the notion that CBS's failings would put to rest any question about Bush's wartime service. "I understand why the right will whip this up as a vindication, but they're just being partisan," said Joe Lockhart, a former spokesman for President Bill Clinton and for Kerry's presidential campaign.
Lockhart said "there was just as much sloppiness, just as much of a rush to judgment and just as many mistakes" during Clinton's impeachment. "I don't think we're certain the president fully fulfilled his National Guard service," he added.
Democratic National Committee spokesman Jano Cabrera tried to change the subject to reports last week that conservative television host Armstrong Williams received $241,000 in administration funding to promote Bush's education policy. "If anything constitutes unprofessional media conduct, it's paying nearly a quarter of a million dollars to a right-wing commentator to push out political propaganda," he said in a statement.
With Democrats and CBS on the defensive, some Republicans seized upon the panel's findings. "Now it is time for CBS to take the responsible step and formally retract the story," House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said in a statement. "Certainly President Bush, after four months, deserves an on-air retraction." Moonves said it is clear that CBS has retracted the story.