Skip to comments.The CBS Whitewash (The coverup continues)
Posted on 01/14/2005 7:34:57 PM PST by RWR8189
LAST SEPTEMBER, CBS NEWS president Andrew Heyward promised a full accounting within "weeks, not months" of his network's attempt to pass off as genuine four fraudulent memos about President Bush's long-ago service in the Texas Air National Guard. Last Monday--nearly four months later--CBS released its report.
Compiled by independent investigators Dick Thornburgh and Louis D. Boccardi, the 224-page document looked thorough enough, and its executive summary contained some bracing language. The 60 Minutes Wednesday segment shown on September 8, 2004, suffered from "considerable and fundamental deficiencies." Its producers had "failed miserably" to authenticate the purported memos from Col. Jerry Killian that supposedly substantiated the old claim that George W. Bush had received favorable treatment in the TexANG in the 1970s. The network had been guilty of "myopic zeal" in rushing the story onto the air. The Wall Street Journal deemed the report "scathing," and the New York Times called it a "crushing blow" to CBS's credibility.
Only on closer examination do the report's core weaknesses become clear. For while it includes quite a lot of detail, its authors decline to draw conclusions on two essential factual matters: Were the documents CBS relied on copies of authentic 1972 memos? And was the reporting of them motivated by political bias? Without a final judgment on these counts, the report is useless--or worse.
WERE THE KILLIAN MEMOS FORGED? The Thornburgh-Boccardi panel makes a great show of its agnosticism on this question. Its members are certain of their uncertainty: "The Panel was not able to reach a definitive conclusion as to the authenticity of the Killian documents."
This was perhaps the most newsworthy statement in the CBS report. Most people considered it long since established that the documents were fakes. This had been settled by a large cohort of experts, a bevy of testimony from the blogosphere, and most definitively by Dr. Joseph Newcomer.
When the scandal broke last fall, Newcomer, one of the fathers of modern electronic typesetting, found himself intrigued. Not normally interested in politics, he was interested in typography and fonts, and he noticed problems with the CBS memos almost immediately. After investigating, he came to the unequivocal conclusion that the documents were "modern forgeries." What many on the Internet had suspected, Newcomer proved. On Friday, September 10, he sent his lengthy analysis to a number of local and national media outlets, including Time and Newsweek. No one bothered to call him back, so on September 11 he posted his work on a website. A few hours later, it was everywhere.
Newcomer's analysis and conclusions, soon joined by other experts, quickly came to be accepted as definitive. So why did the Thornburgh-Boccardi panel spurn Newcomer and the rest of the body of expert opinion? What caused them to reopen the possibility that the documents might be copies of authentic memos after all?
Appendix 4 of the CBS report details the panel's inquiry into the technical aspects of the memos. It relies heavily on the testimony of Peter Tytell, a forensic document examiner with impressive qualifications, including having once been called a "famous typewriter detective" by CBS's own Andy Rooney.
Like Newcomer, Tytell came to some quick conclusions. He told the panel that even while watching the September 10 CBS Evening News broadcast at home, he'd known "within 5 seconds" that something was wrong with the documents CBS was showcasing as newly discovered memos from 1972. In fact, on September 10--the same day Newcomer sent his essay to members of the media--Tytell had contacted CBS to explain "in detail why he believed the Killian documents were likely fakes."
Eventually, the panel hired Tytell to serve as its document expert. He examined the Xeroxes carefully and came to three conclusions: (1) Previously released Texas Air National Guard documents from the early 1970s had been created on an "Olympia manual typewriter." (2) The four disputed Killian memos "were not produced on an Olympia manual typewriter." And (3) "The Killian documents were produced on a computer in Times New Roman typestyle."
Why was Tytell so sure? The Killian memos had proportional spacing, a superscript "th", and a serif typestyle. Tytell consulted the Haas Atlas--the typesetter's bible--looking for a typewriter model that could have produced these features in 1972, and "did not find a single match with the Killian documents."
Still, it had been suggested that an IBM Selectric could have produced a match. Tytell was thorough on this point. First, he noted that during the early 1970s, "a typical TexANG office was unlikely to have had an IBM Selectric Composer" because "the machines were very expensive, difficult to use and designed primarily for the commercial production of books, newspapers and other printed material." Still, supposing Killian's unit had had one of these machines, what would it have taken to render it capable of creating the Killian memos? Tytell concluded that the TexANG office would have had to weld both a superscript "th" and a "#" key to its IBM Selectric, a process Tytell calls "highly inconvenient."
And even allowing for these mounting improbabilities, the typestyle from such a modified Selectric Composer still would not have matched exactly the type in the Killian memos. The two typestyles are "very close," Tytell concluded, but there are "noticeable differences." Tytell told the panel that he did "not believe that any manual or electric typewriter of the early 1970s could have produced the typeface used in the Killian documents." As the panel sums up his findings,
the documents appear to have been produced in Times New Roman typestyle. . . . Times New Roman was only available on typesetting and other non-tabletop machines until the desktop publishing revolution in the 1980s. Therefore [Tytell] concluded that Times New Roman could not have been available on a typewriter in the early 1970s and the Killian documents must have been produced on a computer.
Which brings us back to Joseph Newcomer. After all his careful study, Peter Tytell reached exactly the same conclusion as Newcomer. And, like Newcomer, Tytell offered a forthright judgment. The panel reports, "Tytell concluded that the Killian documents were generated on a computer."
So, again, how did Thornburgh and Boccardi manage to walk away from their own expert's unambiguous verdict? The answer is hidden in footnote 16 on page 7 of Appendix 4:
Although his reasoning seems credible and persuasive, the Panel does not know for certain whether Tytell has accounted for all alternative typestyles that might have been available on typewriters during that era.
If they were concerned about gaps in Tytell's knowledge, did the panel consult other experts? No. Instead, Thornburgh and Boccardi solicited the opinion of this single expert; then, when he reached an unwanted conclusion, they turned their backs on it.
WAS THERE A POLITICAL AGENDA BEHIND THE SEGMENT? The CBS report addresses this question head-on, too, and again fails to reach a solid conclusion. In a six-page section entitled "Whether There Was a Political Agenda Driving the September 8 Segment," the report acknowledges that some sectors of the media imputed bias to CBS. To explore this charge, the panel simply asked two of the principals--correspondent Dan Rather and producer Mary Mapes--directly whether or not their motivation had been political: "Both strongly denied that they brought any political bias to the Segment."
It seems unlikely that either Rather or Mapes would perceive their own political bias--and even more unlikely that they would cop to it if they did. Yet Thornburgh and Boccardi accept their denials and pronounce, "The Panel will not level allegations for which it cannot offer adequate proof." Which is curious, since the panel then proceeds to pile up a high mound of proof that at least some CBS journalists were indeed motivated by political bias.
To wit: The report tells us that Mapes and Rather had pursued the story for five years; that they relied on a number of anti-Bush sources; that they tried to use a "gratuitous" and "inflammatory" interview with one Colonel David Hackworth; and that Mapes attempted to put Bill Burkett, the source of the Killian Xeroxes, into contact with the Kerry campaign.
Thornburgh and Boccardi reject the length of time spent on the story as "persuasive evidence of a political agenda." Moreover, they do "not believe that evidence exists to demonstrate" that the political leanings of the anti-Bush sources influenced the story. And they "cannot conclude that this proposed use of Colonel Hackworth was part of any political agenda."
But there is more. The report tells us that back in 1999, early in their pursuit of the story, Mapes sent an internal email to CBS senior and executive producers including Rather, in which she opined--with no evidence--that "in his military career, Bush was truly born on third base." During the summer of 2004, "Mapes and her team were not focused on any particular event or topic . . . but instead . . . were trying to identify a viable story line regarding the President's military service."
It was at this point that Mapes linked up with a Texas journalist named Michael Smith. Smith had been dangling in front of her the prospect of anti-Bush evidence (a "tasty brisket," in his words), but wanted to be hired on for the expedition. He was, and became an associate producer for 60 Minutes Wednesday. Smith led Mapes to Paul Lukasiak and Linda Starr, Texas activists who ran anti-Bush websites, who in turn sent her to the now infamous Bill Burkett. (This was not the first time CBS had crossed Burkett's path. For an earlier story on Bush and the national guard on the CBS Evening News in February 2004, John Roberts had interviewed Burkett and found him to be "unreliable.")
Burkett played hard to get, so Smith got creative. Why not offer Burkett an inducement? He wrote an email to Mary Mapes:
Today I am going to send the following hypothetical scenario to a reliable, trustable editor friend of mine. . . . What if there was a person who might have some information that could possibly change the momentum of an election but we needed to get an ASAP book deal to help get us the information? What kinds of turnaround payment schedules are possible, keeping in mind the book probably could not make it out until after the election. . . . What I am asking is in this best case hypothetical scenario, can we get a decent sized advance payment, and get it turned around quickly. Then they will respond with some possible scenarios of what they could do. When we get to Burkett's house I will have at least some scenarios to show Burkett about what could happen if he played ball with the documents. [Ellipses in the original.]
Mapes responded: "That looks good, hypothetically speaking of course."
This talk of securing an advance for a source and "changing the momentum" of the election is not normal journalistic practice. It is damning stuff. To counter it, Thornburgh and Boccardi offer only Mapes's and Rather's denials. Was it bias? "Absolutely, unequivocally untrue," thunders Rather. It was "proximity, not politics," demurs Mapes.
Thornburgh and Boccardi sum up: "The Panel cannot conclude that a political agenda at 60 Minutes Wednesday drove either the timing of the airing of the Segment or its content."
THE REPORT IS CURIOUS in its shifting standards of proof. While Thornburgh and Boccardi require metaphysical certainty in some areas, in others they eagerly jump to conclusions. Thus, despite all the complexities, the panel was able to find a single explanation for what went wrong at CBS. As Dick Thornburgh explained on the January 10 NewsHour, "If you're looking for a villain in this story, we have one. It's haste." How they were able to conclude that haste alone accounted for the deficiencies of the 60 Minutes Wednesday segment is unclear. The report contains a dash of hearsay, but little factual evidence on this score.
It is also curious that while the panel could discover no political agenda at CBS, it readily found one elsewhere. Explaining how the authenticity of the documents first came to be questioned, Thornburgh and Boccardi--again without citing evidence--trace this to "some people on the Internet, at first primarily supporters of President Bush with their own conservative political agenda."
Still another curiosity is that the Thornburgh-Boccardi report makes little effort to reinvestigate the particulars of the segment in question. Where, for instance, did the documents come from? We are told that Bill Burkett, who gave them to Mapes, first claimed to have received them from someone in the TexANG, then later informed CBS that a woman named Lucy Ramirez had arranged for the documents to be handed to him at a livestock show in Houston. We are also told that Burkett declined to cooperate with the panel. And that's that.
But what about Lucy Ramirez? Who is she? What was her role? Does she even exist? Here is the report's final mention of her: "[CBS News, after the story aired] sent personnel into the field to attempt to find Ramirez and thus possibly to confirm the new account. This effort proved unsuccessful." Exit Lucy Ramirez.
IN SOME QUARTERS, the report's findings have been welcomed. CBS News, for instance, is now using it as a talisman to ward off charges of political bias. Taking note of Thornburgh and Boccardi's omnibus exoneration ("The Panel does not find a basis to accuse those who investigated, produced, vetted or aired the Segment of having a political bias"), Les Moonves, the head of CBS, said he was "gratified that the Panel, after extensive analysis and consideration, has found that, while CBS News made numerous errors of judgment and execution in this story, these mistakes were not motivated by any political agenda."
Dan Rather and Mary Mapes have found comfort in the report as well. For his part, Rather has said that he takes it "seriously" and will "keep its lessons well in mind." Maybe. Testifying before Thornburgh and Boccardi, "Rather informed the Panel that he still believes the content of the documents is true because 'the facts are right on the money,' and that no one had provided persuasive evidence that the documents were not authentic." Rather is sticking to his guns, in other words, and Thornburgh and Boccardi have now given him cover he previously lacked.
And then there is Mapes, the lone figure to be formally fired. (Rather is stepping down as anchor, but will remain a correspondent for 60 Minutes Wednesday; three other CBS employees were asked to submit their resignations.) The former star producer accuses CBS of "scapegoating" her, and says that her dismissal is the result of "corporate and political considerations."
Like Rather, Mapes finds vindication in the panel's refusal to judge the memos forgeries. "It is noteworthy the panel did not conclude that these documents are false," she says in her defense. "Indeed, in the end, all that the panel did conclude was that there were many red flags that counseled against going to air quickly," she says, noting that her superiors, not she, determined when the story would air. "I am heartened," she says, "to see that the panel found no political bias on my part, as indeed I have none."
Mapes is supported in each of these particulars by the panel's report. With Thornburgh and Boccardi on her side, perhaps she's right--that her firing is unjust and she's been made a scapegoat.
The only other possible conclusion is that CBS's promised full accounting is a whitewash.
Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard.
If they were, wouldn't that be a crime? Weren't these being sold to us as government documents?
Best dissection of the report yet.
Oh Gee .. could it be because by doing so would implement CBS in a crime????
Forging Military Documents is a FEDERAL CRIME!
And THAT is the REAL cover up in this whole report!
Dan Rather has made his place in history. He will forever be remembered as the anchor who broke the MSM camel's back, and not as the outer but as the outee. Too bad. He was such a good man. Courage.
Forging military documents is a Federal Crime ... and that ladies and gentlemen is the REAL cover up
The bias to change the out come of a Presidential Election is a different issue
Another Emperor's New Clothes liberal media situation.
More of the same: http://www.profesionalespcm.org/foto/posters/212LeninPravda.jpg
And wasn't Thornburgh an Attorney General? What a dumbass.
Hillary Clinton figures in.
yes he was
Is it true that he was AG during President Bush's father's administration?
Yes .. he was AG under Reagan and Bush 41 Admin
After his unanimous confirmation by the United States Senate, Thornburgh served three years as Attorney General of the United States (1988-1991) in the cabinets of Presidents Reagan and Bush.
Check Hackworth's hard drive.
Why isn't the FBI involved, or would we even know?
Excellent analysis. They really pick the report to pieces.
There's just one flaw in this article, and it's a big one. Johnathan Last asks WHY the authors of the report failed to hit CBS on the two issues of political corruption forgery. The answer to that question is clear: Because that was their job. It was what they were paid to do.
Last says right near the beginning, in passing: "Compiled by independent investigators Dick Thornburgh and Louis D. Boccardi." Sorry, they are NOT independent investigators. They were paid by CBS and they were heading a team of LAWYERS paid for by CBS. In other words, they had an OBLIGATION NOT TO FIND ANYTHING DAMAGING TO THEIR CLIENT.
"Independent Investigators," my Aunt Tillie.
CBS bought and paid for the investigation and received satisfaction for their money.