CBS Backtracks, Says It Will Examine "Unresolved Issues" In Memo Story
After standing fast since questions first arose a week ago, CBS News last night said it will examine what he called "unresolved issues" surrounding a CBS 60 Minutes II story questioning President Bush's military record. The story was largely based on memos purported to be from Bush's National Guard superior, Lt. Col. Jerry Killian. The memos' authenticity has been challenged by numerous experts (including those CBS contacted before airing the story and Killian's own secretary) and many now believe they were forged. Last night, on the CBS Evening News, News Division president Andrew Heyward said that "enough questions have been raised that we are going redouble our efforts to answer those questions." This morning, CBS News Radio reported that "amid increasing criticism about the authenticity of the papers, CBS News has launched its own probe."
While CBS, as the New York Times says, continues "to insist that the general thrust of the documents was accurate," the network's new stance is a sharp reversal from its position throughout the week. "CBS Blinked," says this morning's Newsday, while the Los Angeles Times headlines its story "CBS Backs Away From Authenticity of Documents." Heyward, reports the Times, "wouldn't comment when asked if he still believed that the documents, purportedly from the early 1970s, were genuine, as he had insisted a day earlier."
The NBC Nightly News covered the story at length last night, devoting a third of its newscast to it, concluding that "at stake" in the memo controversy, "more than votes, is the reputation of CBS News and other media, already suspect in the minds of voters as being too liberal and too intent on trying to influence this election."
Rather Says If Memos Are Fakes, He'd "Like To Break That Story."
Under the headline "CBS Anchor Urges Media to Focus On Bush Service," the Washington Post this morning reports that Dan Rather last night "acknowledged for the first time yesterday that there are serious questions about the authenticity of the documents." In an interview, Rather said, "If the documents are not what we were led to believe, I'd like to break that story. . . . Any time I'm wrong, I want to be right out front and say, 'Folks, this is what went wrong and how it went wrong.'"
Rather's comments last night a pointed departure from assertions he made just days ago to Joe Hagan, a columnist for the New York Observer. Rather said "that the focus on questions over the veracity of the memos was a smoke screen perpetrated by right-wing allies of the Bush administration. . . . I think the public, even decent people who may be well-disposed toward President Bush, understand that powerful and extremely well-financed forces are concentrating on questions about the documents because they can't deny the fundamental truth of the story."
Documents Traced To Texas Kinko's Closest To Burkett's Home.
Media reports this morning indicate that the controversial memos have been traced to a Kinko's in Texas, and according to the Washington Post, there "is only one Kinko's in Abilene, and it is 21 miles from the Baird, Tex., home of retired Texas National Guard officer Bill Burkett, who has been named by several news outlets as a possible source for the documents." Burkett "has accused Bush aides of ordering the destruction of some portions of the president's National Guard record because they might have been politically embarrassing." The Washington Times describes Burkett as a "disgruntled former Texas National Guard soldier" who "once claimed that he was sent to Panama as retaliation for making the charge against Mr. Bush's aides. He later retracted that version."
Burkett's Lawyer A Texas Democrat Who Aided Gore Recount Effort In Florida.
According to the Washington Post, Burkett's lawyer, David Van Os, last night issued a statement on Burkett's behalf saying he "no longer trusts any possible outcome of speaking to the press on any issue regarding George W. Bush and does not choose to dignify recent spurious attacks upon his character with any comment." Van Os is a Democrat currently running for the Texas Supreme Court. In his campaign web site, he discloses his membership in the NAACP, the Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation, as well as the fact that he "attended every Texas Democratic State Convention since 1974" and "block-walked for Democratic Party general election tickets in 1972, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, and 2002." He was "President" of the "Northeast Austin Democrats, 1978-1980 - Democratic Precinct Chairman, Travis County, 1981-88 - Travis County Democratic Party Chairman, 1996-98," and "ran in statewide General Election as Democrat for Texas Supreme Court, 1998," among other partisan activities. In addition, Van Os says he "traveled to Palm Beach, Florida, November-December 2000, to assist Democratic Party in vote recount efforts."
Lawmakers Urge CBS Retraction, Congressional Investigation. CNN says GOP lawmakers, including the No. 3 Republican in the House of Representatives, Roy Blunt, have written "a strongly worded letter signed by 39 members of the House of Representatives to the president of CBS News. It accuses CBS of becoming part of a campaign to deceive the public and defame the president. The next to last line in the letter says, 'We urge CBS to retract its story and to disclose the identities of the people who have used your network to deceive your viewers in the final weeks of a presidential election.'" Meanwhile, Rep. Chris Cox, a Republican from California, is calling for an investigation into "the use of apparently forged documents...to influence the outcome of the 2004 presidential election." According to USA Today, Cox "asked Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the telecommunications subcommittee, to begin an investigation 'with all deliberate speed.'"
New York Times Alleges White House Spokesman Claims DNC, Kerry Camp Behind Memos.
According to the New York Times, Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, "said at a news briefing that the Democratic National Committee and the Kerry campaign were behind the documents, an accusation both camps denied." The Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, says McClellan "declined to speculate about who might have falsified the documents," although he did accuse "the Democrats of 'orchestrated attacks' on the president."
On CNN's Crossfire, Kerry adviser Ann Lewis said, "We have serious questions that have been raised about George Bush's credibility. This is the president who said when he was a candidate, if you remember, I didn't get special treatment to get into the National Guard. Right, like they had posters in store windows, come here. And now it turns out not only did he get special treatment. He told his professor at Harvard he knew he got special treatment. This is the president who said, I fulfilled my obligations. He didn't. So you know what? We're going to keep talking."
The growing controversy was widely covered by local TV newscasts around the nation, including those in key battleground states. Nearly all of the coverage focused on questions about the authenticity of the memos. House GOP calls for an investigation into the disputed documents also received attention in several reports. Typical of the coverage was KDKA-TV of Pittsburgh, which said, "Calls for an investigation of those documents used by CBS to show President Bush's military record. CBS News is defending its story on the President's service in the Texas Air National Guard but a Republican Congressman said, CBS News has, quote, aided and abetted fraud." WCPO-TV of Cincinnati reported, "The storm over a CBS News report about President Bush's National Guard service is swelling. A possible congressional hearing begins our look at vote 2004." KOAT-TV of Albuquerque, meanwhile, said "CBS continues to stand by a recent report questioning President Bush's National Guard service during the Vietnam War, but two document experts hired by CBS say the network ignored concerns about the legitimacy of the documents."