Man Without Qualities

Monday, September 20, 2004


In a prior post The Man Without Qualities has suggested that Mr. Burkett was a conduit for the forged "Killian memos" between Democratic operatives, probably associated with the DNC and/or Kerry-Edwards, and CBS News. Now CBS News and Burkett are coordinating a story that, in fact, CBS News was a conduit introducing Burkett to Kerry-Edwards and the DNC, according to USA Today:

Burkett told USA TODAY that he had agreed to turn over the documents to CBS if the network would arrange a conversation with the Kerry campaign. The network's effort to place Burkett in contact with a top Democratic official raises ethical questions about CBS' handling of material potentially damaging to the Republican president in the midst of an election. This "poses a real danger to the potential credibility ... of a news organization," said Aly Colón, a news ethicist at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

"At Burkett's request, we gave his (telephone) number to the campaign," said Betsy West, senior CBS News vice president.

CBS would not discuss the propriety of the network serving as a conduit between Burkett and the Kerry campaign. "It was not part of any deal" to obtain the documents, West said, declining to elaborate.

The petty differences in their versions (CBS says the introduction was not a condition to delivery of the documents, but Burkett says it was) is hardly worth mentioning - of course CBS would say such a thing. They're coordinating their stories. Why would Mr. Burkett have needed an introduction to Kerry-Edwards at that time? According to USA Today:

Burkett said his interest in contacting the campaign was to offer advice in responding to Republican criticisms about Kerry's Vietnam service. It had nothing to do with the documents, he said. "My interest was to get the attention of the national (campaign) to defend against the ... attacks," Burkett said, adding that he also talked to former Georgia senator Max Cleland and Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean during the past 45 days. "Neither the Democratic Party or the Kerry campaign had anything to do with the documents," he said.

Really? What, specifically, did he want to add that he thought would have been valuable? There is no report that Mr. Burkett has any special knowledge of what happened to Senator Kerry in 1968.

Mr. Burkett's supposed desire to bloviate about something he knew little about would have come at a high cost to him if CBS had acted with ordinary journalistic ethics and turned down his demand. Indeed, Mr. Burkett already had CBS News ready, willing and able to go with his smear. If he did, in fact, demand that CBS News do such introductions as a condition to providing his documents to the network, he would thereby have seriously reduced the chances of his documents getting used and his smear getting spread. What did Mr. Lockhart and Kerry-Edwards in fact, do for or with Mr. Burkett? What did he and Mr. Lockhart actually discuss? Again, according to USA Today: Lockhart said the conversation lasted just a few minutes. ... At the end of the conversation, Lockhart said he thanked Burkett for his interest, and there was no further contact with him. For that Mr. Burlett supposedly put at serious risk his whole multi-year project to get his forged documents and his Bush-Guard smear out through CBS News - even at the very moment it was otherwise assured success? I don't think so.

This coordinated CBS-Burkett story just doesn't make a whole lot of sense on the known facts. In fact, it seems more like another joint fraud.

MORE: USA Today now confirms that Mr. Burkett has always presented himself as a "conduit" for the forged documents - although the original source is still very much unclear. As noted in my prior post, that "conduit" status would explain why CBS (and USA Today) have had such a hard time disclosing Mr. Burkett's identity even after the documents' were revealed as fakes. Here's the USA Today story:

In interviews in recent days with USA TODAY, both in person and on the phone, Burkett said he had merely been a conduit for the records purported to be from the private files of Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, one of Bush's former Guard commanders, who died in 1984. Burkett admitted lying to USA TODAY about the source of the documents but said he did not fabricate the papers.

In earlier conversations with USA TODAY, Burkett had identified the source of the documents as George Conn, a former Texas National Guard colleague who works for the U.S. Army in Europe. Burkett now says he made up the story about Conn's involvement to divert attention from himself and the woman he now says provided him with the documents. He told USA TODAY that he also lied to CBS.

Burkett now maintains that the source of the papers was Lucy Ramirez, who he says phoned him from Houston in March to offer the documents. USA TODAY has been unable to locate Ramirez. When Burkett gave copies of the documents to USA TODAY, it was on the understanding that his identity would not be disclosed. USA TODAY honored that agreement until Burkett waived his confidentiality Monday.

My guess is that whoever "Ramirez" is, the author of these documents is probably not Mr. Burkett, but some Democratic operative with strong ties to Kerry-Edwards and the DNC who may have created the documents based on Mr. Burkett's oral "information." I also suspect that the author was chosen by Kerry-Edwards or the DNC with enough distance to provide for "plausible deniability" on the part of the candidate and Terry McAuliffe.

Was there a written confidentiality agreement? If so, where is it? If not, who can say exactly what its terms were? Did it specifically disclaim all warranties as to the authenticity of the documents? I'll bet it did. What "conduit" warranties the substance of that which is merely conducted!? This is the kind of thing fancy lawyers - not retired, disgruntled Army officers - are paid the big bucks to think about.

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