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Saturday, September 18, 2004

CBS News thought Rathergate docs were real because White House didn't object — even though its own experts already had!

Saturday's Los Angeles Times reports (reg. req'd, but don't bother, I've got the juicy bits) — in an article aptly headlined "In the Rush for a Scoop, CBS Found Trouble Fast" — that CBS News blames the White House for letting it blunder into Rathergate:

It was 11 a.m. on Sept. 8 — nine hours before "60 Minutes" was to air. But as news executives debated whether to broadcast a story on newly obtained paperwork offering fresh evidence about President Bush's National Guard service, a big question hung over CBS News' Westside headquarters: Were the photocopied documents real or fake?

Suddenly, the answer seemed to materialize, and from an unlikely source — the White House itself.

John Roberts, the network's White House correspondent, called to report he'd just completed an on-camera interview with Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director. Bartlett, it appeared, had no quarrel with the authenticity of the documents.

That was the turning point.

"If we had gotten back from the White House any kind of red flag, raised eyebrow, anything that said, 'Are you sure about this stuff?' we would have gone back to square one," Josh Howard, the program's executive producer, told the Los Angeles Times in an interview Friday. "The White House said they were authentic, and that carried a lot of weight with us."

The story aired that night, and Dan Rather, the CBS News anchor, seemed to have scored yet another coup in his broadcasting career. Hours later, the roof fell in.

Critics, many of them Internet-based, immediately charged that CBS had relied on phony documents from a shadowy, unnamed source. Rather, 72, long a target for conservative critics, was again fending off allegations of liberal bias. A growing chorus of media observers voiced distress that CBS had hurried a story onto the air without fully checking the facts.

And Friday evening, the White House denied that it ever confirmed the documents as authentic. "For them to suggest that [the interview was] an endorsement or ratification of the documents is a terrible stretch of reality," Bartlett said in an interview.

He also disclosed that he had shown the documents that morning to President Bush. "He had no recollection of these specific documents," Bartlett said, though the president said some of the information seemed accurate. For instance, he did go to Alabama. But he denied having defied orders from his superiors, Bartlett said....

In the crucial interview with the White House communications director, Howard noted that Roberts had specifically asked if the documents were fake. Bartlett's answer was: "I'm not saying that at all. I'm just saying that the fact that documents like this are being raised when, in fact, all they do is reaffirm what we've said all along, is questionable."

Now how stupid is this defense?  "The White House made us do it!"  Or, more charitably, "We can't find out butts with both hands and a roadmap, so we relied on the White House to keep us from making complete fools of ourselves!"

How was Dubya supposed to immediately recognize as a forgeries documents that (1) no one claimed he'd ever seen before, (2) that supposedly came from the "private file" (3) of someone whose been dead for years?

If they'd said, "1st LT George W. Bush was banned from further command of a Navy Swift Boat," then sure — he might have been expected to snap to them being fake.  Just as, perhaps, John Kerry would instantly recognize this document as a forgery — if, in fact, it is one, and it hasn't been proved to be yet, even though the Kerry campaign has now had almost two full days to respond to it!

But the forger went to enough trouble to get some basic dates and facts somewhere in the general ballpark.  Did CBS expect Pres. Bush to drop all his duties and spend a half-day sitting in the Oval Office with a magnifying glass — maybe doing a Charles Johnson-type experiment with Microsoft Word?

CBS News' own experts were already telling them the documents were questionable — did they tell the White House that?  I think we all know the answer to that question.

And yet they expect the White House to make a definitive, on-the-spot decision.  Incredible — the arrogance!  The stupidity!

I'm more convinced than ever that CBS News is getting its strategic pointers — as well as its "experts" — from the moonbats at dKos and DU.

More interesting bits from this LAT article:

The network's new reporting will be wrapped up soon, perhaps this weekend or early next week, Howard said. More sources have come forward in recent days, and CBS is leaning on its original sources to see if they will go on the record, he added.

A behind-the-scenes look at how CBS raced to make a Sept. 8 broadcast deadline offers a cautionary tale of television news in an age of mounting competitive pressures. Although many news organizations were pursuing a definitive breakthrough on the National Guard story, CBS appeared to have the competition beat — until its scoop became a public relations disaster.

Many observers believe Rather and CBS will survive the storm — but only if they make a quick admission of guilt, assuming the documents are fraudulent. The anchor has complained that the furor over the documents has distracted attention from the truth of the story about Bush. Yet critics don't buy that argument.

"The fact is CBS used those documents as the smoking gun," said Alex Jones, head of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. "I don't believe Dan set out to mislead anybody, but he's got to stand up and take a bullet. His credibility and that of CBS are very much on the line."

And about Ms. Mapes:

The news business is built on trust, and there was no reason for "60 Minutes" not to trust Mary Mapes, 48, who lives in Dallas. She is universally well regarded by her colleagues, with a number of big stories to her credit.

Most notably, she was the producer on Rather's major scoop earlier this year making public pictures of U.S. soldiers degrading and humiliating prisoners in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. CBS went through a similar vetting process to make sure that those pictures were authentic, CBS executives said.

Mapes could not be reached for this story.

Although CBS News notes that Mapes had been chasing the National Guard story for five years, it only came back on the active burner in mid- to late August.

That's when executive producer Howard got a call from her, telling him "she was on to something" and wanted to put her other projects aside.

Over the next couple of weeks, he said, "she would call from time to time, telling me she was getting closer, not closer, something that she was looking up that was a blind alley — those kinds of things that reporters do when tracking a story. There was nothing definitive" until he got the call from her on Sept. 3, Howard recalled.

On that Friday, just before the Labor Day weekend, Mapes excitedly phoned her bosses from Texas to report a breakthrough in the document quest. "I've got them," she told Howard.

The only phrase that comes to mind for this is:  "eager, willing, gullible tool."  But wait, there's more, about the early warnings that CBS News willfully ignored:

They had consulted outside experts to help them check the papers, and several confirmed their accuracy.

Marcel B. Matley, a handwriting expert from San Francisco, signed a letter this week saying he found "nothing about the documents that could disprove their authenticity." And James J. Pierce, a forensic examiner from Newport Beach, also signed a letter vouching for the signatures and typeface in the documents.

But others said they had voiced strong warnings to the network.

Emily Will, a professional document examiner in North Carolina consulted by the network to help assess two memos related to Bush's military service, said her copies showed a fax footer with a time stamp that read 6:41 p.m. Sept. 2.

The header of the fax, which presumably showed information about the sender, referred to a Kinko's shop near Abilene, Texas.

Will and another document examiner, Linda James of Plano, Texas, said they were first contacted by CBS News on Sept. 3.

"They said they had some documents, some sensitive documents, and would I mind working over the Labor Day weekend," Will said in an interview. "They wanted to know whether the signatures were genuine and the documents were genuine."

Will said she found "serious problems" with the documents. She isolated five ways in which the Killian signature on a 1973 memo did not match up with the other provided samples of his handwriting. She also wondered whether the memos contained superscripts and proportional spacing that existed in 1972 and '73, although she emphasized that her expertise mainly concerned handwriting and signatures and not the finer points of typography.

On Sept. 5, Will sent notations on the memos to CBS via e-mail and also voiced her concerns to a producer over the phone. The producer said they had more material to send her, but Will said those additional documents never arrived.

Meanwhile, James told producers she was troubled that she was looking at only copies and not originals. "[I] described what I needed in order to go ahead with the examination," James said. CBS promised it would send more paperwork, but according to James it never arrived.

"We knew it was a rush job. They wanted to air [the story] by Wednesday night," James said.

When time passed and Will heard nothing, she called CBS News the night of Sept. 7. She said she told her contact — whom she declined to name — "If you run this story, you'll get all sorts of questions from hundreds of document examiners." Will declined to say what if any reply CBS gave to her warning.

Simply astonishing.  And my hat's off to LAT staff writers Josh Getlin, Elizabeth Jensen and Scott Collins — damned fine reporting, folks!

What Beldar wants to know:  The election's not until November 2nd.  What was the rush?  Who else was the forger stringing along?  Was he threatening to take his goodies somewhere else unless CBS News rushed to judgment and onto the air?

I wonder if anyone at USA Today reads BeldarBlog?  Probably not — but I'll bet they read the LAT.  It's about time for those folks to speak up — past time, actually.

Posted by Beldar at 06:17 AM in Mainstream Media, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink

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Comments

(1) Kathy made the following comment | Sep 18, 2004 8:04:46 AM | Permalink

Can you just imagine the story if the White House had expressed reservations about the documents authenticity? Dan would have said that Bush was trying to suppress the news and had used threatening remarks to 60 Minutes if they went to air with story. The spin on that would have been mind boggling. John Roberts all but called Laura Bush a liar when she said that the documents were false.

It's just as bad as Dan saying if the documents are proven false, he wants to be the one to break the story! Pretzel logic at its best. LOL

The LSM are worse than 2 year olds who haven't learned to accept responsibility for their actions and that yes, there are consequences.

(2) Randal Robinson made the following comment | Sep 18, 2004 8:08:23 AM | Permalink

I think another possibility is that the White House intentionally suckered CBS into running the story by releasing the memos. They had experts look at the documents who told them that they were not only forgeries but very obvious ones. Karl Rove couldn't believe his luck that 60 Minutes was going to run a story based on such easily discredited documents. Instead of complaining to CBS, the WH released the memos to insure they were available to the public where they would soon be outed as frauds causing the credibility of CBS and, possibly, the Kerry campaign to be damaged in the process.

(3) Bob F made the following comment | Sep 18, 2004 8:53:48 AM | Permalink

It would appear that the consensus is that the documents were Faxed from Texas DIRECTLY to CBS. Perhaps, they were sent to the DNC initially which then forwarded them to CBS This scenerio would of course explain the CBS stonewalling on the source of the forged documents.

(4) Capitalist Tool made the following comment | Sep 18, 2004 8:59:56 AM | Permalink

This is just another (im)perfect "damned if you do, damned if you don't" snare for CBS to use to vilify the administration. The twisted logic employed by those who would blame Bush for this CBS folly is typical of what we have seen from the left for a very long time.

(5) chuckr made the following comment | Sep 18, 2004 9:27:18 AM | Permalink

Don't forget that 60 Minutes and Rather have a long history of using questionable documents and witnesses to put over their side of the story. Think of Gen Westmoreland, the crazy killer Vietnam Vets story, and the border guard story. There's a predisposition at CBS that let's them go running off half-cocked. Fortunately for the nation this time there was the blogshpere to immediately jump on the story.

(6) MaDr made the following comment | Sep 18, 2004 9:59:03 AM | Permalink

CBS has the proof that they were “had” by the White House, but in releasing it, they’ll incriminate themselves. After Wing Commander Kos (1st Donk moonbat squadron) closely examined the Bartlett-Roberts interview, he noticed fine lines (strings) running from different anatomical points on Bartlett up towards the ceiling. Upon repositioning and magnifying the images, he identified Karl Rove, manipulating Bartlett’s strings while twisting his moustache (with audio amplification a clear ‘ya ha ha’ could be heard). As a triumphant Kos turns to a jubilant, pant wetting Mapes, he inadvertently displaces his joystick. What’s this? Zoom in on Roberts. What’s that liquid around Roberts’ mouth? Yikes – Kool-Ade! Oh no, that idiot James (Carville) – images pans to cameraman – his wig slipped and it’s easily recognizable as him. Foiled again.

“The only phrase that comes to mind for this is: "eager, willing, gullible tool."

How about “useful idiots” ?

(7) J_Crater made the following comment | Sep 18, 2004 10:36:23 AM | Permalink

Exactly how does anyone react to memos (supposedly) written by someone else. At best you can say is something to the effect of "news to me." I rightly doubt that they would object to authenticity, at least at the outset.

(8) jaed made the following comment | Sep 18, 2004 1:37:27 PM | Permalink

If the White House had told CBS, "Look, these are obvious forgeries. Only a child would be fooled by these. Couldn't you have at least told your source to use Courier instead of Times? Sheesh." then the forgery story would have been framed as a conflict between Bush and the press. The press's reflex is to split the difference in a conflict/2-sides story, and people would have ended up with the impression that the documents were just as likely real as fake.

Much better to let the debunking come from third parties. That way the frame is "possible forgeries" and it's a story about CBS stonewalling, not about a conflict between CBS and Bush.

It's a risk for Evil Mastermind Rove- perhaps no one would look closely at the documents - but not much of one, since the forgeries were so remarkably obvious to anyone who remembers what office correspondence looked like in 1972. And to make sure possible debunkers have access, the WH puts the PDFs on its website - without saying anything about their authenticity, which would inevitably have triggered the "2 sides to every story" journalist thought-pattern.

(9) Jumbo made the following comment | Sep 18, 2004 9:14:59 PM | Permalink

The White House is now saying that Bush has reviewed the docs and "doesn't remember anything like that happening," and says they told CBS this when they asked.

Of course, CBS says the White House gave no comment, didn't confirm or deny. The problem for CBS is, this last two weeks has taught America that-

No one should ever believe anything CBS says, especially if it has an interest in the subject.

(10) Ric Locke made the following comment | Sep 19, 2004 4:20:37 PM | Permalink

There's another problem, and it's for the whole MSM, not just CBS. Howard complains that they weren't given any warning that the memos might be faked. Sheesh. Given the experience of the last four years, why should anyone in the media expect the White House to piss on their heads if their hair was on fire?

Mr. Bartlett seems a decent and patient man, but I doubt even he was eager to leap to correct CBS's mistake. The vague, waffling statement from him, over the imprimatur of the Bush administration, is easy to translate into concrete terms, at least in retrospect. Translation as follows:

"You want rope? Sure. Take all you want. No, no, take more, there's plenty. And if you need help, one of the Secret Service guys remembers how to tie a noose..."

Regards,
Ric Locke

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