Man Without Qualities

Saturday, September 18, 2004

To Protect And Serve

There has been a good deal of comment on Dan Rather's refusal to disclose the identity of "The "Source" of the forged Killian memos - now widely believed to be Bill Burkett. Mr. Rather has cited his confidentiality agreement with The Source, but that shouldn't apply to forged documents.

Or would it? Is it possible that Rather/CBS specifically agreed to confidentiality terms that do not allow The Source to be revealed just because the documents are forgeries?

This article from the Washington Post suggests - but by no means proves - a possible role for the Kerry-Edwards campaign and/or the Democratic National Committee in the affair, although the Post's own interpretation of its evidence seems flawed. Specifically, the Post reports that the evidence it has found suggests that Mr. Burkett may be the actual author of the memos. But the most suggestive of the evidence seems to be summarized in this one paragraph:

The CBS documents include several phrases that crop up in Web logs signed by Burkett, including "run interference," and references to a pilot's "billet." Former Air National Guard officers have pointed out that "billet" is an Army expression, not an Air Force one. Burkett has also used the expression "cover your six," a military variant of the vulgar abbreviation "CYA," which appears in one of the CBS documents.

Others may disagree, but I find nothing suggestive about any person using the expression "run interference" - it's too common and generic, especially in sports loving Texas. "Billets" is a little more interesting, but this is an army term - and Burkett was an army man. His using this term on a web board means very little. "Cover your six?" Please. And, in any event, the forged Killian memos have "CYA" in them - not "CYS."

But the Post article does raise the possibility that Burkett may have communicated his ideas for creating the forged documents to the DNC:

In e-mail messages to a Yahoo discussion group for Texas Democrats, Burkett laid out a rationale for using what he termed "down and dirty" tactics against Bush. He said that he had passed his ideas to the Democratic National Committee but that the DNC seemed "afraid to do what I suggest."

If the DNC or Kerry-Edwards (Max Cleland suggested Burkett talk to them) ultimately overcame the fear that Burkett mentions in his post, the DNC or K-E may have had someone forge the documents based on Burkett's "ideas" and possibly including terms (such as "billets") that he probably uses when speaking. The documents could then have been given to Burkett for delivery to Rather. Indeed, one curious aspect of this matter is that Burkett spoke to media representatives not long ago and didn't mention any documents at that time - which suggests he obtained them (one way or another) only recently. Burkett may have presented the documents to Rather as coming from a well positioned inside source in a position to know, but specifically disclaimed any warranty or personal vouching for the authenticity of the documents - Burkett may not even have read the documents before faxing them to CBS. Burkett's agreement with Rather may specifically be structured on the assumption that Burkett is a mere conduit - and therefore specifically not be conditioned on authenticity. A mere conduit for documents is no more to be expected to vouch for their authenticity than the telephone company vouches for the authenticity of the calls it places.

If that were the structure of the confidentiality agreement, then unless Rather can prove that Burkett was not duped by his "inside source," Rather couldn't avoid the confidentiality agreement. But how, practically, could Rather prove such a thing? If Rather complains to Burkett that the documents are fake, Burkett can claim that he was duped, too - and he disclaimed warranty of their authenticity in the confidentiality agreement. Such an agreement structure might help explain Rather's weird statements that he will require clear proof that the documents are inauthentic before recanting. And such a structure would help explain why Rather doesn't - and can't - go public with the identity of The Source without breaking the confidentiality agreement with Burkett, who may not be the author of the forged documents even if he is The Source as far as Rather is concerned. That would be the kind of confidentiality agreement a fancy lawyer might dream up - the kind of fancy lawyer that the DNC hires to help them not be so "afraid."

Just a thought.

Comments: Post a Comment