CBS Had Iraq Story, Just Not in Time

Times Staff Writer

CBS News’ “60 Minutes” landed a major story last week: the disappearance in Iraq of a large cache of explosives supposed to be under guard by the U.S. military. But the network nevertheless found itself in the journalistically awkward position of playing catch-up when it wasn’t able to get the piece on the air as soon as its reporting partner, the New York Times, which made the report its lead story Monday.

Breaking the story would have been a welcome coup for CBS News as it seeks to emerge from the cloud cast by its use of unverified documents in reporting on President Bush’s 1970s military service.

Instead, CBS was relegated to airing a report Monday evening, and “60 Minutes” merely got credit in the newspaper, which ran an unusual box noting that the article “was reported in cooperation with the CBS News program ’60 Minutes.’ ‘60 Minutes’ first obtained information on the missing explosives.”


Jeff Fager, executive producer of the Sunday edition of “60 Minutes,” said in a statement that “our plan was to run the story on [Oct.] 31, but it became clear that it wouldn’t hold, so the decision was made for the Times to run it.”

“That’s what happened, and it was only fair to credit them,” said Lawrie Mifflin, executive director of television and radio for the New York Times.

Both organizations declined to comment further. People familiar with the situation, who asked not to be identified, said the source on the story first went to “60 Minutes” but also expressed interest in working with the newspaper. The two media organizations have worked together in the past and agreed to join forces again.

The tip was received Wednesday, and reporters from both organizations were in place Thursday, but by Friday, when the story came together, only a single TV interview had been taped, said one person familiar with the chronology. Over the weekend, the newspaper got wind that other journalists were on the story, and decided it had to break the story Monday, this source said.

CBS, however, had another major story set to air on “60 Minutes” Sunday: new reporting on the racially motivated slaying of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955. It also could not tape enough Iraq interviews in time for the Sunday broadcast.

Fager “reluctantly” agreed when the New York Times said it had to go with the story, one person involved said, adding that Fager was “distraught but understood.” The Times agreed to credit “60 Minutes.”