CBS News and anchorman Dan Rather have entered the journalistic equivalent of one of Dante's circles of Hell, forced to live forever with a scandal they created. With their Texas Air National Guard forgeries, they now live in a neighborhood of national media embarrassments. Faked Food Lion resumes. Staged GM pickup truck explosions. Janet Cooke's profile of Jimmy the eight-year-old coke addict. Jayson Blair's phony travelogues from "West Virginia."
Watergate was a scandal Mr. Rather thoroughly enjoyed, since he built his career on ripping into Richard Nixon. Now Rather is Nixon, a bitter, vengeful man who allowed his friends to use dirty tricks against his political opponents and when caught, can only deny, deny, deny and bluster about the evil intentions of his enemies.
To borrow lingo from John Kerry, Dan Rather has been reckless, arrogant, and ideologically blind in his pursuit of Moby Bush. When it became obvious that Rather and "60 Minutes" had passed off bad forgeries - and let's assume Rather was an irresponsible dupe, not an active participant - in an attempt to fill in the blanks of President Bush's 1972-73 Air National Guard service, the smart move would have been to come clean, apologize, and clear up the mess. Sure, it would have been humiliating for Rather and CBS - but only for a day. Thereafter CBS would have reaped the rewards. "At CBS, our focus is the truth," could have been their new rallying (and marketing) cry.
But no. Rather continues to stand by a disaster. As CNSNews.com first reported, and others have repeated, nearly every independent expert says CBS's "memos," supposedly from Bush's commander Jerry Killian, most assuredly were produced by a modern word processor, not a 1970s typewriter. Killian's widow and son testified that the idea he'd written these memos was preposterous. The widow said he didn't type and didn't keep files.
The son, also a National Guard officer, said no Guard officer in his "right mind" would write such a memo. The son was interviewed by CBS. CBS chose not in include him in the piece. The son recommended CBS talk directly to Lt. Bush's roommate. The CBS producer dismissed this witness as a Bush supporter.
Every new story brought more damning detail. The Dallas Morning News reported the commander who supposedly was blamed for pressuring a subordinate to "sugar coat" Bush's record had retired 18 months before he was said to have applied such pressure. The Los Angeles Times found Gen. Bobby Hodges, who CBS used to vouch for their documents, and he said CBS only described documents over the phone that he presumed were hand-written. When he saw the documents, he said they were forgeries. Marcel Matley, the lead expert Rather put forward as an authenticator of these memos, came forward and said "There's no way that I, as a document expert, can authenticate them," since they are weak copies, not original documents.
The CBS story is a hoax and a fraud, and a cheap and sloppy one at that. It boggles the mind that Dan Rather and CBS continue to defend it. The Wednesday night story imploded on Thursday, and by Friday night, Rather offered a six-minute response from his bunker on the "CBS Evening News." The aging anchor blustered on and on about all the questions George W. Bush urgently needs to answer. He ignored most of the substantive charges (including any mention of the Killian family) and painted CBS's critics as a vast right-wing conspiracy.
"Today, on the Internet and elsewhere, some people, including many who are partisan political operatives, concentrated not on the key questions of the overall story, but on the documents that were part of the support of the story," Rather complained. On Monday night, Rather tried the same rinse-and-repeat strategy, and it only looked sillier.
The responses of CBS flacks in print were even more comical. When confronted with the fact that their first line of defense, Gen. Hodges, found forgery, a spokeswoman told reporters, "We believed Gen. Hodges the first time we spoke to him." When it became apparent that the superior officer Killian was supposedly addressing, Buck Staudt, had retired 18 months before the memo, CBS proclaimed Staudt was a "mythic figure" in the Guard. You send official memos to "mythic figures"? When confronted with Mr. Matley's retrenchments, CBS flack Sandy Genelius declared, "In the end, the gist is that it's inconclusive." No, it's not. But even if it were, are these the ethical standards of CBS?
The ultimate excuse came from Rather himself, insisting his critics have to prove him wrong: "Until someone shows me definitive proof that they are not, I don't see any reason to carry on a conversation with the professional rumor mill." Mr. Rather, you have it completely backward. The responsibility is yours to get it right in the first place.