Man Without Qualities

Saturday, September 18, 2004

About That Rush Job

One of the defenses Dan Rather has offered in support of his and CBS News actions regarding the forged Killian memos is to point out that CBS had been working on this "story" for five years.

Rather's claim, which was clearly intended to suggest that CBS had carefully and actively accumulated and vetted evidence for that five year period, was deliberately highly misleading, as reported by the Los Angeles Times:

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. .... 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.

As excitement spread through CBS offices on West 57th Street, there was a rush to get the pieces in place. ....

On Sept. 5, Rather hopped a charter flight to Texas from Florida, where he'd been covering Hurricane Frances, to meet Mapes and to interview Robert Strong, a witness who helped confirm the story. Strong had run the Texas Air National Guard administrative office in the Vietnam era and was a friend of Bush's squadron commander, Killian.

Vacationing executives were looped in by phone on their various Labor Day getaways. Mapes spent the long weekend lining up experts to authenticate the papers and setting up interviews.

Mapes also set up the interview with Ben Barnes, who said that, as speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, he had intervened to make sure Bush was inducted into the National Guard.

Barnes flew to New York to be interviewed by Rather on Sept. 7, the same day that senior CBS News executives got back from the holiday and got their first look at the documents. Throughout the day, Howard said, there were numerous meetings in CBS' offices to discuss the documents' significance.

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. .... Will said she found "serious problems" with the documents. ....

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.

And so it is that what Dan Rather presented as five years of careful preparation and news gathering is revealed as a frantic Keystone Cops exercise in intellectual and actual dishonesty.

By the way, I have omitted the material in the Times article pertaining to CBS News' argument that the White House somehow "authenticated" the documents because one of its people - who had not been personally involved in Mr. Bush's Guard service - didn't immediately scream Fake!

Perhaps someone will now cobble up a whole sheaf of real and forged documents purporting to be critical 35-year old letters fond in the personal files of Mr. Rather's and Ms. Mapes' deceased neighbors, friends, university professors, and the like and demand that Mr. Rather and Ms. Mapes authenticate them. One can just imagine the interview:

"Mr. Rather, here is what purports to be a private CYA-Memo-to-Personal-Files by the girl you took to your high school prom saying that you attempted date rape on her that night. Is it authentic? Failure to denounce it will be construed as implicit authentication. And any reference by you to the contents of the memo to support your claim that you did not commit date rape will be construed as explicit authentication."

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