Richard Thornburgh was one of the two panelists responsible for the independent investigation of the CBS 60 Minutes story and the report released earlier this week. Thornburgh is of course the prominent former United States Attorney General and currently of counsel with the Kirkpatrick & Lockhart law firm. The firm itself served as counsel to the panel in the investigation; it appears to have had a substantial hand in the investigation and preparation of the report, which is in fact posted (at the link) on the firm’s site. Reader James Burns writes:
In connection with the Rather Report, a few people have questioned whether Kirkpatrick & Lockhart really were independent from CBS. I did a quick search and found that K&L has, at least in a few recent instances, represented both CBS and its parent Viacom. Here K&L touts its representation of Viacom in an insurance coverage dispute filed in 2003. Also, according to a 2003 S.D.N.Y. decision involving North Atlantic Insurance Company Limited (222 B.R. 229), K&L represents CBS.
Having conducted and advised companies regarding internal investigations, two elements are required for an internal investigation that could reach senior management levels to be considered independent. (1) It must be ordered and directed by a committee of independent directors so that management cannot influence the scope or content of the report. (2) The firm selected to manage the investigation must be a firm that does not have an ongoing relationship with the company so it is not influenced by the potential loss of future business.
Here, it appears that CBS failed both tests. Neither the Rather Report nor any of CBS’s press releases mention Board involvement in the investigation, much less the creation of a committee of independent directors. And, as described above, K&L appears to have an ongoing attorney-client relationship with Viacom and CBS.
In response to the email we called Kirkpatrick & Lockhart and asked for the firm’s press contact. We were directed to attorney Mike Missal. Mr. Missal stated that he did not know whether Viacom/CBS was a current Kirkpatrick & Lockhart client apart from the investigation, though he acknowledged that it sounded like they had at least been clients recently in light of the cases cited above. Mr. Missal also stated that he did not know whether CBS had established a committee of independent directors to insulate the panel from CBS management.
It seems odd that no journalist has followed up with the principals to establish what kind of internal investigation the panel conducted, what protocol governed the investigation, and whether Kirkpatrick & Lockhart had an attorney-client relationship with Viacom/CBS apart from the investigation.