Skip to comments.CBS Apologizes for Report on Bush Guard Service
Posted on 09/20/2004 7:57:38 PM PDT by NewMediaFan
After ten days at the center of a news media storm, Dan Rather and CBS News admitted yesterday that they could not authenticate four documents the network had used to raise new questions about President Bush's Vietnam-era National Guard service and said the news report had been a "mistake in judgment."
Network officials said a former Texas National Guard officer had misled their producers about how he had obtained the documents, which came under scrutiny almost as soon as the network broadcast its report on the CBS Evening News and "60 Minutes" on Sept. 8. While CBS stopped short of calling the memos a fraud, it said that it could not now say for certain where the documents came from.
"Based on what we now know, CBS News cannot prove that the documents are authentic, which is the only acceptable journalistic standard to justify using them in the report," said Andrew Heyward, the CBS News president. "We should not have used them. That was a mistake, which we deeply regret." The network's admission tarnishes the reputation of what was once the nation's most prestigious broadcast news division. Just two weeks ago, its 72-year-old anchor, Mr. Rather, seemed to have one of the biggest stories of the campaign, in the twilight of his career.
Mr. Rather, who initially insisted the wide questioning of the documents-purportedly from the personal files of Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, Mr. Bush's squadron commander-came in large measure from partisans, delivered his own apology during his evening broadcast. "I want to say personally and directly I'm sorry,'' he said, adding, "This was an error made in good faith.''
The day's concessions were a sharp turnaround from more than a week ago, when CBS news officials and Mr. Rather, for decades the face of CBS news, were standing steadfastly by the report, dismissing days of charges from document experts that the records were fakes produced on a modern-day computer.
Network officials yesterday admitted that the person who had given them the documents had lied about where he got them, and that inconsistencies in the cloak-and-dagger account he had given them in the past few days had left CBS unable to say definitively where they came from. Moreover, CBS never contacted the person originally said to be the source.
In an interview broadcast on CBS last night, the former national guardsman who gave the memos to the network, Bill Burkett, acknowledged that he had lied. Mr. Burkett told Mr. Rather that he had felt pressure from CBS to reveal his source, and so ''simply threw out a name'' to explain how he had come by the documents. He insisted he had not forged them.
The network said it was appointing an outside panel of experts to review the process by which such a flawed report got onto the air, especially one with such potential implications for a sitting president some 50 days before an election. It said it would make the results public.
The network's admissions quickly reverberated on the campaign trail. Mr. Bush's spokesman, Scott McClellan demanded that the source of the documents be found. Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee said that attention should still be paid to questions about whether Mr. Bush fulfilled his service obligations three decades ago.
In addition, Joe Lockhart, a senior adviser to the Democratic presidential candidate, Senator John Kerry, said he had talked to Mr. Burkett at the behest of a CBS producer, who had promised to help Mr. Burkett, an avid Bush opponent, relay some campaign advice. Mr. Lockhart said there was no connection between the campaign and the memos.
CBS News officials yesterday said "a perfect storm," of circumstances - including intense competition, faith in the reputation and judgment of a producer, and the reliance on a source with questionable integrity - had led to their journalistic lapse.
But there was dissension inside CBS news, according to a number of executives and producers interviewed, with some saying that Mr. Rather and his producer, Mary Mapes, had simply relied too much on one dubious source. "These are not standards that would ever be tolerated,'' said Morley Safer, a correspondent on the sister "60 Minutes" Sunday program.
By the accounts of Mr. Rather and other officials, they began to understand their report was falling apart last Thursday, when Mr. Burkett confessed to CBS that he had lied about where he got the four memorandums. While he had initially said he got them from another former guardsman, people at CBS said, he then told them that the documents came through a convoluted process that started with a phone call from a stranger and ended with the handoff of an envelope at the Houston Livestock Show, that city's version of Mardi Gras.
Mr. Rather flew to Texas to interview Mr. Burkett on Saturday. By Sunday, the tapes were back in New York, and network officials say they knew they had a serious problem.
They said they had had a brief moment of hope when they believed they had deduced the name of a woman who might have called Mr. Burkett to offer him the documents. But on Monday, they were giving up on that lead, too.
"We couldn't confirm the new story - maybe it's true - but we can't confirm it,'' said one official at the network who spoke on condition of anonymity. "And in the meantime we're hanging out there, we have vouched for these things and we don't have anything to stand on. We've come to the moment where there's nothing to prove his story."
Mr. Rather and Ms Mapes, a respected producer whose credits include securing the photographs that led CBS to break the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal this spring, had been working on the story of Mr. Bush's National Guard Service since Mr. Bush's first presidential campaign. They knew that other reporters were working on the same story.
Mr. Bush's aides have repeatedly said that the president fulfilled his service obligations, but the official record left gaps, including questions about why Mr. Bush failed to take his pilot physical.
Mr. Rather said he and Ms. Mapes had heard that there were records that could fill that gap and, Mr. Rather said, "We worked it."
About 18 months ago, they came upon Mr. Burkett, who said he had overheard aides to Mr. Bush, then the governor of Texas, instructing National Guard officials to scrub Mr. Bush's file of anything embarrassing. Mr. Burkett went public with that account last February. "We accelerated our questioning," Mr. Rather said.
By mid-August, they did not have the documents. Around then, Gary Killian, whose father had been Mr. Bush's squadron commander, got a call from Ms. Mapes, asking if he knew where she might find memos his father had apparently written criticizing Mr. Bush's service. Gary Killian said that he and his stepmother both told Ms. Mapes they did not believe the elder Mr. Killian had kept such records, and that he had thought well of Mr. Bush.
The Friday before Labor Day, Mr. Rather said in an interview yesterday, he heard from others at the network that Ms. Mapes had the documents. He was in Florida covering Hurricane Frances, and flew to Texas to begin filming the segment.
In the course of their conversations with Mr. Burkett, the team had grown increasingly confident in his story, he said. Mr. Rather said they had called his friends and neighbors to get a sense of his credibility and were satisfied.
"I knew him before by telephone,'' Mr. Rather said, "and otherwise had checked out what his reputation was in the community that he lived, and even people who disliked him and had arguments with him, including Republicans and supporters of Bush. They all said he's a truth teller."
Mr. Rather said that Mr. Burkett had initially refused to say who gave him the documents, and that CBS pressured him to do so. "We made it clear that the chain of possession was very important to us," Mr. Rather said.
Mr. Rather recalled that Mr. Burkett had said he had gotten the documents from a former guard member who was now overseas. Mr. Rather said producers had tried to get in touch with him, but had not, though knowing his identity bolstered the team's confidence just the same.
"It was a person who could have had direct access to Killian's files," he said. "That made it believable."
A lawyer for Mr. Burkett, Gabe Quintanilla, said Monday that his client was given the documents at the livestock show in March, and kept them to himself because he did not know whether they were authentic.
"This is a simple West Texan middle-aged gentleman going along his own way when this happens to get dumped in his lap," the lawyer said.
After months of pressure from CBS, Mr. Quintanilla said: "He said I'll give these to you on the condition that you have them subjected to the highest scrutiny. Quite frankly, it's unfortunate that their job wasn't done on that end."
In a posting on an e-mail newsletter for Texas Democrats, Mr. Burkett wrote yesterday, "Don't believe everything you read - even from CBS."
The network's executives acknowledge that its team's failure to get in contact with the supposed primary source should have been a red flag. But they said they had remained confident because Ms. Mapes and Mr. Rather had such confidence in Mr. Burkett. They also believed their other reporting had affirmed the sentiments Colonel Killian supposedly expressed in the documents.
"We were completely confident from what we were hearing from Mary, and there was no reason not to trust her," said Josh Howard, the executive producer of the "60 Minutes" Wednesday edition.
The documents seemed to hand the network a huge scoop, purporting to document how Colonel Killian - who has been dead for 20 years - had felt pressure to "sugar coat" Mr. Bush's record because the young lieutenant, whose father was the ambassador to the United Nations, was "talking to someone upstairs." They indicated that Mr. Bush had been suspended from flying because he had not met guard standards, and had failed to appear for a physical examination.
Mr. Heyward said his confidence had first been significantly jolted when Mr. Killian's secretary, Marian Carr Knox, stepped forward to say that while she had typed similar memos about Mr. Bush for Mr. Killian, she believed that the CBS documents were fake. About the same time, Mr. Burkett admitted to Ms. Mapes that he had lied about the provenance of the document.
Mr. Rather and Ms. Mapes persuaded Mr. Burkett to speak on camera. On Mr. Heyward's orders, one of his top deputies, Betsy West, who is responsible for overseeing "60 Minutes," accompanied Mr. Rather to Dallas for the interview, a four-hour session.
It was there that Mr. Burkett gave the tale of how a woman phoned him and told him that she could get documents to him if he could get himself to Houston.
Mr. Burkett, officials said, was believable in his delivery. But when researchers checked his past statements against a transcript of the interview, there were inconsistencies, executives said.
Officials convened at the CBS headquarters Sunday afternoon and decided they could hang on no longer.
Where's the apology to President Bush for destroying his reputation on the basis of forged documents? They still don't get it, the C-BS clymers.
BS, all of it.
These people could not be so stupid as to believe they were real.
They just didn't think some "Internet Kooks" would out them.
CBS is despicable, and without credibility.
They are below the Weekly World News.
Nice try CBS. We know better. And so do you.
Your legacy has been written in stone.
Anybody else notice in Rather's attempt at an apology he called Burkett a member of the AIR Nat'l Guard, not the ARMY which is the one I've read he was actually in?
'A lawyer for Mr. Burkett, Gabe Quintanilla, said Monday that his client was given the documents at the livestock show in March, and kept them to himself because he did not know whether they were authentic.'
Well, this is the first I have heard of getting documents at a livestock show. Of course, I have heard of finding other things at such an event that would resemble the document in question...
There's a cancer Bob, a cancer growing on the Kerry campaign.
Compacted Bull S#@^
A larger version can be downloaded here.
Download, print, add your own comments and send to Rather.
The lamestream media was more outraged about what Trent Lott said at a birthday party than they are about CBS trying to pass of forgeries as "news".
Burkett now says he got the docs from a mysterious stranger at the Houston Livestock Show?? CBS News will never live it down that they believed him.
Until he apologizes to President Bush, nothing he says is worth listening to
Hey now, easy. The WWN is some of the finest investigative reporting on the planet. < /MIB>
> They are below the Weekly World News.
The supermarket tabloids are at least smart enough anymore
to avoid giving the subject grounds for a libel suit. This
one might even meet the steep "public figure" tests.
Bush probably won't sue, but I'm not so sure that the
Texas ANG won't start a criminal investigation, not to
mention the many calls for a Congressional investigation.
That's got to be George Conn. He was in the guard with Burkett and was one of the guys Burkett said saw the papers in the trash can. My understanding is that Conn has denied it. Conn is currently working in Germany under a DOD contract.
And if Rather and/or CBS had apologized to President Bush, would you have believed them?
Clarification: Denied seeing the documents, not that he denied being the origial source Burkett claimed. (He probably wouldn't know that).
Actually, I might have. To see Dan Rather humbly apologize to anyone would HAVE to be sincere.
This circus is actually more like the Democrappers. Always passing the blame and taking the buck. Far more true to form.
Sounds like they have picked their sacrificial lamb.
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