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Monday, September 20, 2004

NYT: CBS News to crater on Rathergate — "Too flawed to have gone on the air"

It appears that when CBS News sent Dan Rather to interview Bill Burkett over the weekend, they sent along a grown-up with him — CBS News senior vice president Betsy West.  And the fairly direct result — under the headline "CBS News Concludes It Was Misled on National Guard Memos, Network Officials Say" — appears to be Monday's New York Times article by Jim Rutenberg (boldface added; hat-tip to Jim Geraghty's Kerry Spot on NRO):

After days of expressing confidence about the documents used in a "60 Minutes'' report that raised new questions about President Bush's National Guard service, CBS News officials have grave doubts about the authenticity of the material, network officials said last night.

The officials, who asked not to be identified, said CBS News would most likely make an announcement as early as today that it had been deceived about the documents' origins. CBS News has already begun intensive reporting on where they came from, and people at the network said it was now possible that officials would open an internal inquiry into how it moved forward with the report. Officials say they are now beginning to believe the report was too flawed to have gone on the air.

Apparently the weekend interview with Mr. Burkett was Dan Rather's last hope of salvaging his story, and perhaps his job; and apparently it failed utterly in at least the former respect, and perhaps in both:

[CBS News] officials decided yesterday that they would most likely have to declare that they had been misled about the records' origin after Mr. Rather and a top network executive, Betsy West, met in Texas with a man who was said to have helped the news division obtain the memos, a former Guard officer named Bill Burkett.

Mr. Rather interviewed Mr. Burkett on camera this weekend, and several people close to the reporting process said his answers to Mr. Rather's questions led officials to conclude that their initial confidence that the memos had come from Mr. Killian's own files was not warranted. These people indicated that Mr. Burkett had previously led the producer of the piece, Mary Mapes, to have the utmost confidence in the material.

It was unclear last night if Mr. Burkett had told Mr. Rather that he had been misled about the documents' provenance or that he had been the one who did the misleading.

Reading between the lines here:  Mr. Burkett claimed that before its demise, his dear departed dog ate the mailing envelope that his own "anonymous source" used to send the documents to Burkett, or some such equally implausible nonsense, but CBS News isn't ready yet to publicly label Burkett as the forger — and neither, to be fair, am I.  (And a small but not insignificant quibble — Mr. Burkett is a former Texas Army National Guard officer, not from the Texas Air National Guard, which of course was the branch of the Guard in which Dubya, Killian, Staudt, et al. served in.  When one sees this sort of distinction elude the NYT, one wonders if it also eluded CBS News, with serious consequences.)

But [the CBS News officials who spoke to the NYT] cautioned that CBS News could still pull back from an announcement. Officials met last night with Dan Rather, the anchor who presented the report, to go over the information it had collected about the documents one last time before making a final decision. Mr. Rather was not available for comment late last night.

Translation:  They haven't told Dan yet that he's going to be fired.  Perhaps they haven't decided yet.  Plus, having already picked their likely most sympathetic major media source (the NYT) to test the waters for them, they want to see what the early morning reaction is — whether their competitors will sheath the knives for now, or continue to slash and hack (pun on the word "hack" definitely intended).  There will be no backing off on the overall crater on the documents being forgeries.

More from renegade — i.e., truthful, to CBS News' acute embarrassment now that it can no longer ignore her — handwriting expert Emily J. Will:

Yesterday, Emily J. Will, a document specialist who inspected the records for CBS News and said last week that she had raised concerns about their authenticity with CBS News producers, confirmed a report in Newsweek that a producer had told her that the source of the documents said they had been obtained anonymously and through the mail.

In an interview last night she declined to name the producer who told her this but said the producer was in a position to know. CBS News officials have disputed her contention that she warned the network the night before the initial "60 Minutes'' report that it would face questions from documents experts.

A producer whose name starts with an M and ends with an A-P-E-S, perhaps?  In the LAT and WaPo descriptions of how CBS News rushed their broadcast together, I don't recall seeing anyone else identified as a co-producer along with Mary Mapes, although the WaPo article  does state that "Mapes, an associate producer and a researcher were carrying the journalistic load."

Meanwhile, we learn from this story just how tuned in to the basic facts Josh Howard is — or isn't:

In a telephone interview this weekend, Josh Howard, the executive producer of the "60 Minutes'' Wednesday edition, said that he did not initially know who was Ms. Mapes' primary source for the documents but that he did not see any reason to doubt them. He said he believed Ms. Mapes and her team had appropriately answered all questions about the documents' authenticity and, he noted, no one seemed to be casting doubt upon the essential thrust of the report.

"The editorial story line was still intact, and still is, to this day,'' he said, "and the reporting that was done in it was by a person who has turned in decades of flawless reporting with no challenge to her credibility.''

Ummm, Mr. Howard, the "editorial story line" included an allegation that Col. Killian was being pressured to sugar-coat Dubya's evaluations by retired Col. Walter B. ("Buck") Staudt, whom your forger didn't know had retired from the TANG a year and a half before his supposed pressure was applied on Col. Killian.  I'd call that a gaping hole in your "editorial story line," sir — one that doesn't depend on the Killian memos' authenticity or lack thereof.  Would you care to identify what shred of the "essential thrust of the report" remains?  Every bit of the "60 Minutes" broadcast that purported to add any material detail to what was previously known about George W. Bush's service record has turned out to be entirely bogus.  The only parts that haven't been challenged are the parts we all knew before, and have known for years — that he got permission to go to Alabama, and that he didn't maintain his flight status because he wasn't going to be flying there anyway.

[Mr. Howard] added, "We in management had no sense that the producing team wasn't completely comfortable with the results of the document analysis.''

Spoken like a manager who should lose his job, Mr. Howard.

Several people familiar with the situation said they were girding for a particularly tough week for Mr. Rather and the news division should the network announce its new doubts.

One person close to the situation said the critical question would be, "Where was everybody's judgment on that last day?''

Mr. Rather should spend his "tough week" in the unemployment line along with Mr. Howard, Ms. Mapes, and Mr. Heyward.  I'll reserve judgment on Ms. West — she might have redeemed herself on her trip to Texas with Mr. Rather.

I'm quite confident, however, that CBS News will never admit to the correct answer on the question, "Where was everybody's judgment" — because the obvious answer is that they had abandoned their judgment in their lust to bring down a sitting American president.  Whether that lust had its source in reckless desire for journalistic glory or, more likely, in overt partisanship — against Dubya and in favor of anybody-but-Dubya — ought not matter to their saving their jobs.  What does still need genuine investigation, however, is whether there was knowledge of and coordination between Burkett and the Kerry campaign's "Fortunate Son Offensive."

Separately, USA Today's Peter Johnson writes a highly unsatisfactory article for Monday's edition that mostly ducks the genuinely compelling question of its own involvement:

(USA TODAY obtained copies of the memos shortly after the 60 Minutes broadcast and reported that the next day. The newspaper's editors, like those at other media, relied in part on the fact that the White House did not challenge the memos' authenticity and released copies after the broadcast.)

Those parentheses are in the original, folks.  But whatever obligation USA Today may once have had to keep its source confidential — a joke, given that the LAT, WaPo, and NYT have now all but put up billboards in Times Square saying "The Source Was Burkett!" — expired once USA Today concluded that the documents were in fact bogus.  Perhaps USA Today is feverishly working to conduct its own investigation into, for example, connections between the Kerry campaign and their still-nominally-anonymous source.  But it's time for USA Today to stop thinking about scoops, and to start thinking about restoring some measure of public confidence in the mainstream media; playing cute like this isn't the way to do that.  Someone at USA Today should've written — before AllahPundit did late on Saturday, September 16th, and I did shortly after noon on Sunday, September 17th — that USA Today's source had given it two more memos than CBS News had revealed in its initial broadcast on the previous Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Burkett's lawyer, David Van Os, is laying the groundwork to try to absolve Burkett as the forger in a letter to the American Spectator (hat-tip, again, to AllahPundit):

As Lieutenant Colonel Burkett's personal attorney, I do not have the legal right to divulge anything that he may have said to me in confidence in the course of my professional relationship with him. Thus I cannot and will not do so, unless and until he releases me from that professional obligation, which is something that he has the legal right to do or not to do at any time. Based upon my personal knowledge of Bill Burkett's character from knowing him and knowing of his reputation among his peers, I will state unequivocally that Bill Burkett did not falsify or create the "CBS documents." I do not assume that anyone falsified or created those documents until more is known, but if anyone did, it was not Bill Burkett. I will stake my reputation and good name on this certainty. Further from my knowledge of Bill Burkett's character and integrity, I will state unequivocally that if, hypothetically speaking, Bill Burkett handled documents that were recent creations rather than true copies of originals, he would have done so only because he had reason to believe they were true copies rather than recent creations.

Mr. Van Os can't have it both ways here:  Either he doesn't know what the hell he's talking about because he hasn't discussed it with his client, or he's in fact reporting what Mr. Burkett's told him and hence has waived attorney-client privilege (despite his careful language attempting to preserve it).  From what I know of Mr. Van Os, his practice specialty has been in labor relations law, with perhaps some dabbling in civil personal injury work (as, for example, in his prior representation of Mr. Burkett in his claims to have suffered injuries while on a Guard assignment in Panama).  Mr. Van Os and his client would be well advised, if they have not already, to associate counsel whose specialty is criminal law, even if they genuinely believe that Mr. Burkett has committed no crime, lest Mr. Van Os inadvertently waive his client's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Posted by Beldar at 04:03 AM in Mainstream Media, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink


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Tracked on Sep 20, 2004 9:52:15 PM


(1) observer made the following comment | Sep 20, 2004 6:03:41 AM | Permalink

Kudos to you Beldar, great reporting.

While everyone is understandably fixated on Burkett, I still wonder if someone else (if anyone) might be the "unimpeachable" source. The DNC connection should be pursued because part of Rather's rush to broadcast may have been a coordination issue. The day after the 60 Minutes story, DNC's "fortunate son" commercial aired with visuals of Rather (not some other journalist) and memos (not logs or other entries) and Hodges (before it was known he was "on board" with the storyline). NOTE: these observations are based on comments in this blog, not personal research.

(2) observer made the following comment | Sep 20, 2004 6:08:17 AM | Permalink

correction: wasn't "on board"
and if not clear, I'm suggesting that Rather may have viewed a DNC figure, or even the DNC in general, as the "unimpeachable" source.

(3) Stephen M. St. Onge made the following comment | Sep 20, 2004 6:53:29 AM | Permalink

      What I want to know is, what changed CBS's mind?

      If you look at last week's article/interview in The New York Observer, Rather spends his time denying everything, distorting the picture, and generally hanging tough.  Very little new has come out since then.

      Did they change their mind because Knox said the memos were forgeries?  Was it because the MSM didn't believe them?  Because sources inside CBS leaked unpalatable truths?  Because their 'experts' ran for the hills?  What happened?

      I've been posting extended thoughts on this episode at my blog.  It will be years before we exhaust this subject.

      But whatever the cause of the fiasco, CBS has, much against its will, done its bit to re-elect George W. Bush.  Thanks, Dan.

(4) MaDr made the following comment | Sep 20, 2004 7:53:59 AM | Permalink

"CBS News has already begun intensive reporting on where they came from"

"Reporting"? What's that code for? I've only seen/heard obfuscation, denial, and probably prevarication from See BS. Will MSMs' final stories on this travesty be primarily on how the CBS "process" broke down? Bet it'll be up to the pajama-inclined to hunt this dog back to the DNC and/or Kerry camp.

First the Left noticed they had a talk radio gap - they tried to implement a new Fairness Doctrine and finally had to settle on Air America.

Next the Left decided they had a TV/cable broadcasting gap - they sent out Al Bore.

Now they're coming to realize they have a blogger gap - K-Mart's pajama stocks in recent days have been depleted.

(5) akmdave made the following comment | Sep 20, 2004 7:57:50 AM | Permalink

Did anyone see the David Van Os letter in
The American Spectator?

He writes:
"My real statement to the Times was that if hypothetically an individual in 2004 sat at a word processor and tried to create replicas of documents that they believed existed in 1972 or 1973, that could not change whatever the objective reality was of what George W. Bush was doing or not doing or where he was or wasn't at the times in question."

True enough in a literal sense. I'll have to remember it the next time I get in trouble. "Your honor, even if, hypothetically, my alibi affidavit is a forgery, that does not change whatever the objective reality of what I was or was not doing the day the bank was being robbed."

(6) rastajenk made the following comment | Sep 20, 2004 8:20:46 AM | Permalink

The way I'm reading things from over the weekend this morning, the so-called "unimpeachable source" is probably good ol' Max Cleland, unimpeachable meaning, you know, how can you question this guy, it's already established that his patriotism and integrity are out-of-bounds. He has set himself up to be exploited by the string pullers; the timing of the campy deliver-the-letter charade in Texas is probably somehow related to the timing of a concentrated new attack mode by the Dems. If so, he'll end up being a sad story in presidential campaign history, but it won't be at the hands of the evil Karl Rove.

(7) Bob F made the following comment | Sep 20, 2004 9:40:05 AM | Permalink

It ain't over till it's over. rather & cbs have now decided to metamorphosisize their fraudulent reporting into a Michael Moore type documentary entitled" How to make a Silk Purse out of a Sows ear".Their major difficulty of course, is how to exclude the words, honesty, integrity & fair play without sullying what's LEFT of the MSM

(8) Wacko made the following comment | Sep 20, 2004 10:57:02 AM | Permalink

I believe that only Burkett himself can waive the attorney-client privilege; Van Os cannot waive it for him unless he is speaking with Burkett's knowledge and consent. But I certainly agree that he'd better be looking for a good criminal defense lawyer.

(9) TmjUtah made the following comment | Sep 20, 2004 11:03:51 AM | Permalink

"Unimpeachable Source" = Somebody who doesn't have a job to be fired from.

I've been listening to my local CBS radio affiliate (KSL/Salt Lake) and our local talk radio host seems to think that CBS was had.


CBS could fire Hewitt and everyone south of him on the ratline that perpetrated this fraud (make no mistake - that's exactly what it was from the moment they started shopping document experts) and they might get back five percent of the viewers that have deleted CBS from their remotes. They are clearly going to play the next week like they are courageously self-correcting themselves after an innocent mistake.

The DNC or the Kerry campaign or both are in this up to their eyeballs. Tossing Mapes off the back of the sled doesn't explain the monolithic rush to air by the entire Rather clique nor does it adequately address the seamless coordination with "Fortunate Son".

Even a third rate grifter knows that you don't insult a mark's intelligence until AFTER the sting. And a third rate grifter also knows that you can't scam an honest man.

CBS assumed that their reputation was sufficient to slam a blatant lie down the throats of their audience. I think it is safe to say they view their audience with something less than respect. Something more like utter contempt.

The coming CBS stage production will fall somewhat short of O.J.'s national golf course murder investigation tour in the believablility column. I'm glad I don't own Viacom stock.

(10) Denis made the following comment | Sep 20, 2004 11:54:39 AM | Permalink

Rather only said now that he would have left off the memos, but hints he would have still run the story. Why did he not simply say, "We made a mistake and should not have run the story." PERIOD.

(11) Skip McRae made the following comment | Sep 20, 2004 12:40:06 PM | Permalink

Would someone please read CBS their rights? It is apparent a crime has been committed...and, they have rights, you know.

(12) Roundguy made the following comment | Sep 20, 2004 12:55:47 PM | Permalink


Linda Vester Judge Napolitano

"The forgery is a crime"

(13) jack white made the following comment | Sep 20, 2004 1:40:57 PM | Permalink

CBS obviously didn't run this story based solely on Burkett's claim an "unimpeachable source" provided him the forgeries. CBS knows who this individual, or whose these individuals, are.

Stonewalling, Part II, will begin as attention focuses on the "unimpeachable source." My money is that either the DNC or the Kerry campaign, or both, vouched for Burkett. This scandal inevitably will be of Watergate proportions. Max Cleland may or may not be the "unimpeachable source," or one of them, but it took someone of a former senator's stature to push this story.

(14) Al made the following comment | Sep 20, 2004 1:43:31 PM | Permalink

So... what's needed for Burkett's phone records? Or the Kinko's phone records?

(15) Tom Andrews made the following comment | Sep 20, 2004 2:54:21 PM | Permalink

Last week I stopped a deposition in a civil action concerning elder abuse, when the defendant's attorney sat there like a bump on a log and let his client testify to what could reasonably be considered a felony. Out of professional courtesy, I offered to allow a recess in order to give the attorney time to explore the Fifth Amendment, etc.; just because we took classes in law school concerning the Constitution and criminal law, does not mean we can presume the civil litigators are going to comprehend the illegalities of their clients' tortious conduct. Mr. Van Os should certainly consider a refresher course before making any more statements!

(16) TmjUtah made the following comment | Sep 20, 2004 3:24:45 PM | Permalink

Correction to my last post -

"CBS could fire Hewitt and everyone south of him..." should have read "Heyward" in place of "Hewitt".

Hewitt is retired, and laughing himself silly about what Rather has done to himself, while mourning what has happened to CBS.

I'll wear clean jammies next time I sit down to comment. I apologize for the sloppiness.

(17) MaDr made the following comment | Sep 20, 2004 3:34:54 PM | Permalink


Maybe we can get Hewitt's retirement package pulled. He's been involved in as many frauds and hit pieces as Blather.

(18) GoMax made the following comment | Sep 20, 2004 3:51:28 PM | Permalink

CBS News President to Staff today:
"... However, in the wake of serious and disturbing questions that came up after the broadcast, CBS News has done extensive additional reporting in an effort to confirm the documents' authenticity. ..."

Okay that does it for me; CBS is on crack. This statement confirms that CBS continues its search to prove the memos were created on a typewriter -- and is absolutely unbelievable.

(19) Mike G in San Diego made the following comment | Sep 20, 2004 4:08:44 PM | Permalink

Roger L. Simon made this comment, but IMHO it bears repeating:

"By the way, the Times calls its sources CBS News 'officials,' as if they were some governmental agency, not business 'executives,' which they are. Doesn't that say it all?"

(20) LaurieK made the following comment | Sep 20, 2004 5:31:02 PM | Permalink

The most disturbing thing to me about this whole thing is the willingness of CBS and their apologists to parade the "fake but true!" meme, as if it has any meaning or truth to it. I've heard this now for more than a week from everyone from John Edwards to Vanity Fair scribes, and each time it makes me shudder. Are these people that morally bankrupt? That they can look at crude forgeries, and insist that we take the "truths" of these fradulent documents to heart? WTF? Am I missing something?

(21) David S. Lott made the following comment | Sep 20, 2004 8:12:39 PM | Permalink

Another question for CBS:

What was the justification for having Mr. Burkett be an anonymous source in the first place?

Because of the inherent unfairness of anonymous accusations, anonymous sources should be viewed with great suspicion and used with great caution. News organizations have (or at least used to have) very specific ethical criteria that must be satisfied before using unidentified sources.

Burkett has been highly public in a variety of accusations against Bush. He had a clear animus against Bush. Other than personal preference (Mr. Rather’s, Mr. Burkett’s or both), he seems to have had no compelling reason to remain anonymous. On the other hand, the audience had every right to evaluate his credibility.

Since CBS made it clear that they approached Burkett first, it seems almost certain that someone else told him that Burkett had information. What is the ethical basis for continuing to maintain the confidentiality of this source, especially in light of the fact that the memos were forged?

It is very hard to escape the conclusion that Burkett’s participation was kept confidential simply because his identification would have undermined the story.

(22) Fergus made the following comment | Sep 20, 2004 10:49:44 PM | Permalink

It's started!

Did you catch MSNBC's Deborah Norville and Joe Scarbrough shows tonight? Big-time media personalities ripping CBS and Rather limb-from-limb and gagging them down in great bloody gulps.

Because of the Lockhart connection, it's going to the Kerry campaign by tomorrow.

I knew something was up when Rather took sooooo long to get something on the air, and another clue was how tepid an admission and apology it was. The delay was all about getting together a game plan to protect someone higher, and who could be higher than Gunga Dan. Kerry, that's who.

Why does all this matter? Because today the s**t-eating vomit-sucking terrorist dogs in Iraq beheaded another innocent American, and if Kerry and his ilk are elected they will keep us from justice.

Sorry... I don't usually talk that way, but now I did.


[Sentiments understood and shared, but edited slightly for profanity — Beldar.]

(23) J_Crater made the following comment | Sep 20, 2004 11:41:25 PM | Permalink

Now we have Joe "hat-size-IQ" Lockhart, doing the leg work for CBS. Fire them all .. all the way up to and including Sumner Redstone. Strip CBS of it's press credentials for Congress and the White House. The message that CBS and this "gentleman" from the Kerry campaign need to hear, and needs to be impressed on the entire press corps, is there is a price to be paid for colossal stupidity.

This cretin, Joe Lockhart, should be fired more than once by the Kerry campaign. "Political death" is too good for him.
Heinz Kerry said, "Oh, there is a lot of scumbags everywhere. Not just in politics." Well she is in close proximity to Mr. Lockhart, so I guess she has a good view.

(24) Rob Crocker made the following comment | Sep 21, 2004 5:18:01 AM | Permalink

One correction for the story. Kerry's new campaign routine is "Fortunate Son" not "Favorite Son".

If the current CBS storyline of Burkett receiving the documents anonymously is true than Rather and company were outright lying when they said "unimpeachable source". How can they say that if they can't identify the source?

I think we need to demand that the source be identified and be identified today!

(25) leaddog2 made the following comment | Sep 21, 2004 12:27:38 PM | Permalink

Go to Ballon Juice for their CBS time, DNC, Fraud time line.

CBS Fraud Investigation Help Needed

I wrote this comment there and am asking the question on other blogs. We need to do some more investigation. Who edited the Fortunate Son commercial? When was it finished? It was most likely before September 8th?

Do we have some people on the Blogosphere with film editing and production contacts? I read what Balloon Juice and others say about the Fortunate Son campaign following the day after the CBS report on September 8th.
(Fortunate Son started on September 9th). Film production and editing facilities have employees. Many of them are NOT Liberal. Even some Liberals are NOT America haters. So, let's put out a request for information.

Fortunate Son was OBVIOUSLY finished BEFORE the September 8th date of the CBS FRAUD. Can we find the connection through the blogosphere?

(26) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 22, 2004 12:41:29 AM | Permalink

Thanks, Rob, fixing that now.

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