Downfall: Forged Documents
Updated September 20, 2007
On September 8, 2004, Dan Rather cited “exclusive information, including documents” to justify major
CBS Evening News and 60 Minutes stories alleging that George W. Bush shirked his duties when he was in the Texas Air National Guard in the 1960s and 1970s. Within a few hours of those documents being posted on CBS News’ Web site, however, typography experts voiced skepticism that the documents had actually originated with their alleged author and Bush’s former commanding officer, the late Lt. Colonel Jerry Killian.
As the evidence mounted, Rather stubbornly clung to the idea that his story was bulletproof, and he derided critics as partisans and Internet rumormongers. When he “apologized” on September 20, Rather would not concede that the documents were forgeries, only that he and CBS could “no longer vouch for their authenticity.” On November 23, 2004, CBS announced that Rather would soon be leaving his job as anchor of the
CBS Evening News. An investigative report released on January 10, 2005 faulted CBS’s rush to put the flawed story on the air and their “stubborn” defense in the days that followed, but oddly decided that they could not blame partisan bias.
"Absolutely" Stands by Bush Story "Truth"
Declaring he "absolutely" believes "the truth" of his discredited
story based on forged memos, about President Bush's National Guard
record, on the July 12, 2006 Larry King Live on CNN Dan
Rather contended that "we had a lot, a lot of corroboration, of what
we broadcast about President Bush's military record. It wasn't just
the documents." Rather then attacked those who dared to expose his
misdeeds: "It's a very old technique used, that when those who don't like
what you're reporting believe it can be hurtful, then they look for the
weakest spot and attack it, which is fair enough. It's a diversionary
July 13, 2006)
National Guard Report Still "Is a Good Story"
But when Ross
asked, "isn't it the other way around? Don't you have to prove
they're authentic?", Mapes contended:
"Well, I think that's what critics of the story would say. I
know more now than I did then and I think, I think they have not
been proved to be false, yet." Ross pointed out: "Have they
proved to be authentic though? Isn't that really what
journalists do?" Mapes insisted: "No, I don't think that's the
November 10, 2005)
Guard Memo Story "Accurate," Never Proven Not So
Kalb pressed for clarification: "I believe you just said that
you think the story is accurate?" Rather affirmed: "The story is
accurate." Rather soon maintained that the public recognizes the
"hidden hand pressure" politicians exert on media executives and so
"they understood that what we reported as the central facts of the
story and there were new insights into the President's, were correct
and to this day, by the way have not been denied which is always the
test of whether," and he moved on before finishing his sentence
September 27, 2005)
Rather Insists the Memos Are Real
Rather Cries During Interviews
On Imus in the Morning on MSNBC, the New Yorker's Ken Auletta revealed that Dan Rather, in "the dozen or so hours of interviews we did, he cried very often, and unashamedly by the way. He wasn't, you know, embarrassed by the tears, but I think this is a man whose life is flashing before him and who worries that he's going to be judged, his entire career is going to be judged by that September 8th broadcast and not by the other good things he's done throughout his journalistic career." In the magazine, Auletta revealed that Rather was "heartened that the panel declared that it couldn't prove political bias or that the documents were fake."
(CyberAlert, March 3,
Hell No, They Won’t Go
More than a month after CBS President Leslie Moonves asked three senior employees to resign because of their role in CBS’s pre-election hit job on President Bush, all have refused to leave, the
New York Observer reported on February 16. The three — Josh Howard, the Executive Producer of the Wednesday edition of
60 Minutes, Mary Murphy, the Senior Producer for the program, and Betsy West, Senior Vice President of CBS News — have all hired lawyers and dispute CBS’s investigative report. Howard, the
Observer's Joe Hagan relayed, maintains that "the report itself excludes evidence that would implicate top management at CBS."
(CyberAlert, February 17,
New CBS Standards Boss: “It Was a Good Story”
On the January 16
Reliable Sources on CNN, the woman picked by CBS News to help prevent a new scandal defended the woman who helped engineer the National Guard forgery fiasco. Linda Mason, the newly named Vice President for Standards and Special Projects, ludicrously maintained that fired
60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes "would have done the same story about John Kerry. It was a good story."
(CyberAlert, January 18,
Ex-President Sees CBS News’ Bias
Van Gordon Sauter, President of CBS News in the early 1980s, revealed in a
Los Angeles Times op-ed that he "stopped watching" Dan Rather’s
CBS Evening News because "the unremitting liberal orientation finally became too much." Sauter is hardly a conservative; in 1990-91, for instance, he was a producer of the syndicated
Voices of America with Jesse Jackson. “Personally, I have a great affection for CBS News,” Sauter wrote. “But I stopped watching it some time ago. The unremitting liberal orientation finally became too much for me. I still check in, but less and less frequently. I increasingly drift to NBC News and Fox and MSNBC.”
(CyberAlert, January 14,
CBS Report Insists “No Political Agenda”
The day CBS’s investigative panel released its report on the fraudulent
60 Minutes National Guard story, Dan Rather avoided the CBS Evening
News, leaving the anchoring duties to Bob Schieffer. The newscast led with two stories, both of which highlighted the panel’s claim that CBS showed no partisan bias in its zeroing in on Bush. Reporter Wyatt Andrews emphasized how the panel ended up "accusing the network not of political bias, but of being in a competitive rush." In a second piece, however, Jim Axelrod acknowledged how others see bias, running a soundbite from a blogger who declared that "it's very clear to me that these people were on a mission to try to get President Bush for the purpose of influencing November's election."
(CyberAlert, January 11,
Rather Out as CBS Anchor
Eleven weeks after his fraudulent 60 Minutes story targeting President Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service was aired, Dan Rather announced he would be stepping down as anchor of the
CBS Evening News as of March 9, 2005. In recalling Rather’s long career, both the
Washington Post and New York Times touched on his history of liberal bias. “Mr. Rather's disputes with President Nixon and Vice President George H. W. Bush won him plaudits from peers and the continuing ire of conservatives,” the
New York Times’s Jim Rutenberg recalled.
(CyberAlert, November 24,
Bush’s Victory Bad News for CBS?
Those at CBS News involved in the forged documents scandal "may have been rooting for a John Kerry victory,"
Broadcasting and Cable magazine suggested, because "the feeling in some quarters at CBS was that if Kerry triumphed, fallout from the investigation would be relatively minimal." But with the re-election of the target of their hit, "executives at CBS parent Viacom could take a harder line on the executives involved."
(CyberAlert, November 9,
CBS’s Revolving (Democratic)
Josh Howard, the top producer for the Wednesday edition of 60 Minutes — the CBS program that used forged documents to attack George W. Bush’s National Guard service — previously worked for two liberal New York Democrats, then-Congressman Stephen Solarz and now-Senator Charles Schumer back when he was in the New York state assembly. And, after he started working at CBS, Howard made large contributions to the Solarz campaign, Bob Novak revealed in his September 25 column.
September 28, 2004)
The Pot Calling the Kettle
Two-and-a-half weeks after running its hit job on Bush using forged documents, CBS News decided that it would be "inappropriate" to air so close to the presidential election a
60 Minutes story about how the Bush administration relied on forged documents to justify the Iraq war, the Associated Press reported September 25. That and viewers would laugh at CBS’s chutzpah.
September 27, 2004)
Rather vs. Republican
On the September 22 CBS Evening News, Dan Rather continued to refuse to describe those memos as forgeries, merely as “documents CBS News has not been able to authenticate,” as if validation might be just around the corner. The
New York Times revealed Rather was angry that a Republican, former Attorney General Richard
Thornburgh, was one of the men appointed to independently investigate the forged memo scandal: “Mr. Rather considers Mr. Thornburgh a confounding choice in part because he served two Republican Presidents, Mr. Bush’s father and Richard M. Nixon, with whom Mr. Rather publicly clashed.”
September 23, 2004)
Mapes, Liberal Matchmaker
On the September 21 CBS Evening News, Dan Rather again failed to apologize to President Bush for his bogus
60 Minutes story based on forged documents, but the Evening News did acknowledge that Rather’s producer, Mary
Mapes, put the Kerry campaign in touch with CBS’s untrustworthy source, Bill Burkett. Reporter Bill Plante read from CBS’s official statement forbidding bias: “It is obviously against CBS News standards to be associated with any political agenda.” Meanwhile, Rather told the
Chicago Tribune that he still thinks the memos are real: “Do I think they’re forged? No.”
September 22, 2004)
The Slime Before the “Apology”
Before Dan Rather admitted his own errors in pushing a fraudulent anti-Bush story based on partisan sources and forged documents, he and his network chose to point fingers at others, falsely suggesting that CBS was promoting “truth” in the face of “partisan political ideological forces.” Of course, the “ideological forces” condemning CBS’s sloppy journalism were correct.
(Worst Of The Week,
September 21, 2004)
Dan Rather’s Sorry
While he did acknowledge it was “a mistake” to have used forged memos in his attack on George W. Bush, Rather on the September 20
Evening News refused to describe the memos as forgeries, offered no apology for impugning critics — who turned out to be accurate — as “partisan political operatives” and “partisan political ideological forces,” and he conceded CBS approached Bill Burkett despite Burkett’s well-known Bush-hating animosity. And the father of CBS producer Mary
Mapes, who engineered the flawed
60 Minutes hit piece, told a Seattle radio station: “I’m really ashamed what my daughter has become. She’s a typical liberal.”
September 21, 2004)
So Much for Dan’s
Dan Rather’s notion that “the thrust” of his report was unchallenged was destroyed September 17 when ABC News interviewed retired Brigadier General Walter
Staudt, the man whom the memos claimed was “pushing to sugar coat” George W. Bush’s National Guard performance record. Staudt told ABC he did not give Bush any favored treatment. But in the next morning’s
Los Angeles Times, 60 Minutes executive producer Josh Howard tried to blame the White House for CBS’s sloppy reporting, and the September 19
Washington Post exposed the new “experts” CBS touted as bolstering their case. “I’m not an expert and I don’t pretend to be,” former typewriter repairman Bill Glennon confessed.
September 20, 2004)
Dan Rather did not talk about the forged memo scandal on the September 16
CBS Evening News, but his case looked ever weaker. FNC’s Jim Angle interviewed Texas Air National Guard veterans who contradicted claims made by Rather and ex-secretary Marian Carr Knox on
60 Minutes the night before, and “none of the experts used by CBS are accredited by the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners,” CNN’s Jeanne Meserve reported on
NewsNight. Meanwhile, CBS News veteran Andy Rooney told the New York Daily News he thinks the memos are fakes, adding: “I’m surprised at their reluctance to concede they’re wrong.”
September 17, 2004)
On the September 15 60 Minutes, Dan Rather offered a sleazy new standard for journalists: Using phoney evidence is okay if “the major thrust” of the story might be true. Rather trumpeted how while the 86-year-old ex-secretary of Lt. Colonel Jerry Killian said CBS’s memos were not authentic, “she told us she believes what the documents actually say is exactly as we reported.” Later that night, Rather ludicrously boasted to the
Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz: “If the documents are not what we were led to believe, I’d like to break that story.”
September 16, 2004)
CBS Disregarded Experts, Challenged Laura
ABC’s Brian Ross reported on the September 14 World News Tonight that “two experts hired by CBS News say the network ignored concerns they raised prior to the broadcast about the disputed National Guard records.” But over on CBS, reporter John Roberts wondered why President Bush wasn’t taking those memos seriously: “The President has yet to weigh in on new documents about his National Guard record made public last week by
60 Minutes.” Roberts also chastised First Lady Laura Bush for doubting CBS’s memos were authentic: “Laura Bush offered no evidence to back up her claim, and CBS News continues to stand by its reporting.”
September 15, 2004)
Even CBS’s Expert Jumps
Just days after Dan Rather cited handwriting expert Marcel Matley as confirming the authenticity of those memos, Matley told the
Washington Post that he could not vouch for CBS’s memos. A September 14 article by Michael Dobbs and Howard Kurtz quoted Matley undermining Rather: “There’s no way that I, as a document expert, can authenticate them.” On the September 13
Evening News, however, Rather highlighted a typewriter repairman as evidence “that the documents could have been created in the ‘70s,” although he did not establish whether the Texas Air National Guard possessed the expensive equipment required to do so.
September 14, 2004)
More Evidence Contradicts
On the September 11 Good Morning America, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos relayed that retired Major General Bobby Hodges, “who CBS described as their ‘trump card,’ now says that he thinks the documents are not authentic and he does not believe the CBS story is true.” The
Dallas Morning News reported that retired General Walter
Staudt, “the man named in a disputed memo as exerting pressure to ‘sugar coat’ President Bush’s military record, left the Texas Air National Guard a year and a half before the memo was supposedly written, his own service record shows.” And the
Washington Times on September 12 quoted the reaction of Earl Lively, the director of Texas Air National Guard operations during Bush’s years of service: “They’re forged as hell.”
September 13, 2004)
Sticking By His
On September 10, Dan Rather responded to charges the memos he cited as proving Bush’s dereliction were forged, telling his
CBS Evening News audience that the memos were genuine and attacking any doubters as partisan rumor-mongers. “Today, on the Internet and elsewhere, some people, including many who are partisan political
not on the key questions of the overall story, but on the documents that
were part of the support of the story,” Rather castigated. But his lame
defense ignored key challenges to the documents’ typography and content,
and the doubts voiced by the widow and son of the supposed author, the
late Lt. Col. Jerry Killian. Instead, Rather chose to repeat his
indictment of President Bush’s National Guard service. Rather arrogantly
concluded: “If any definitive evidence to the contrary of our story is
found, we will report it. So far there is none.”
September 11, 2004)
A Question or a Threat?
During an interview with First Lady Laura Bush on the September 2 CBS Evening News (the last day of the Republican convention), Rather seemed to couch a threat in the form of a question: “Now that friends and supporters of the President have raised the issue of John Kerry’s combat record in Vietnam, do you or do you not think it’s fair now for the Kerry people to come back and dig anew into your husband’s military service record?” That was less than a week before Rather used forged memos as evidence in stories attacking Bush’s National Guard Service.
September 3, 2004)
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