Rathergate

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Summary

Also referred to as "memogate," Rathergate is the scandal surrounding the 60 Minutes II story aired on CBS in 2004 about George W. Bush's National Guard service. Memos providing the basis for many of the claims in the report were supposedly created in 1973 and found in the files of the late Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B. Killian. Bloggers and blog readers investigated the suspicious looking documents which were made available to the public on the CBS website and found them to almost certainly be poor forgeries created on a modern era word processor. Four CBS employees lost their jobs over the report. Dan Rather famously defended the report, claiming the memos might be "fake, but accurate" and later went into early retirement.

Background: Media treatment of Bush Guard Service

The story of George Bush's Texas Air National Guard service is an integral part of the story of Rathergate. It is the claims regarding the facts of Bush's service that formed the basis for the story that became known as Rathergate. There were five essential claims made about Bush's Guard service.

Ancillary to these claims were additional claims that, as a result of the facts alledged, Bush was "AWOL", "a deserter" and "a coward" and that he "joined the Guard to avoid going to Vietnam". Click on Bush Guard Service for an extensive background on media treatment of George W. Bush's service in the National Guard.


Timeline

08 24 2004 Burkett offers to meet with Mapes and Smith to share the documents he posses concerning President Bush.

09 02 2004 Burkett provides two documents to Mapes claiming they are copies of originals obtained from Killian's personal files via Chief Warrant Officer George Conn.

09 05 2004 Burkett provides four more documents to Mapes claiming they are copies of originals obtained from Killian's personal files via Chief Warrant Officer George Conn.

09 05 2004 CBS interviews Robert Strong, a friend of Killian's who ran the Texas Air National Guard administrative office.

09 06 2004 CBS interviews General Robert "Bobby" Hodges, a former officer at the Texas Air National Guard and Killian's immediate superior at the time.

09 08 2004 CBS news magazine 60 Minutes II airs story about George W. Bush National Guard service, featuring memos said to be written in 1973 and found in the files of the late Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B. Killian.

09 08 2004 Commenter "Buckhead" at Free Republic website notices that the memos are proportionally spaced font which did not come into common use for office memos until the introduction of word processing software.

09 09 2004 Power Line blog posts The Sixty-first Minute where information is compiled from readers including an IBM typewriter expert. A reader points out the suspicious superscript "th" in the memos, which would have been virtually impossible to create on a 70's era typewriter.

09 09 2004 Charles Johnson of the blog Little Green Footballs copies one of the Killian memos into Microsoft Word and finds it is an exact match to the memo supposedly typed in 1973.

09 09 2004 CBS News releases a statement saying the memos were "thoroughly investigated by independent experts, and we are convinced of their authenticity.

09 10 2004 On the CBS Evening News, Rather dismisses critics of the story, whom he describes as "partisan political operatives."

09 10 2004 A CBS memo reiterates the company's confidence in the authenticity of the documents.

09 11 2004 A CBS News segment states that document expert Phillip Bouffard states that the documents could have been prepared on an IBM Selectric Typewriter, available at the time.

09 13 2004 Rather states that analysts and other experts strongly insist the documents could have been created in the 70s.

09 15 2004 Document authenticators Emily Will and Linda James both stated that the memos were of very poor quality and would not authenticate them.

09 20 2004 CBS stops defending the documents and reports that their source, Bill Burkett, "admits that he deliberately misled the CBS News producer working on the report, giving her a false account of the documents' origins to protect a promise of confidentiality to the actual source."

09 21 2004 CBS News addresses their contact with the Kerry campaign.

11 09 2004 Mary Mapes gives an interview to ABC News correspondent Brian Ross stating that the docuemtns have never been proven to be forgeries.

01 05 2005 Independent Panel Report (Thornburgh Report) released.

01 10 2005 CBS News reports four employees ousted for their roles in the 60 Minutes II story.

01 25 2005 Senior Vice President, Betsy West and Senior Broadcast Producer, Mary Murphy resign.

03 25 2005 Executive Producer Josh Howard resigns.

03 2005 Dan Rather resigns.

11 07 2006 Dan Rather defends the report in a radio interview and rejects CBS' findings.

09 19 2007 Dan Rather Files $70 Million Lawsuit Against CBS, Parent Company Viacom.

Content of the Original Memos

The memos allegedly showed that Bush disobeyed orders while in the Guard and had undue influence exerted on his behalf to improve his record. They included the following accusations:

  1. An order directing Bush to submit to a physical examination. This order was not carried out.
  2. A note that Killian had grounded Bush from flying due to "failure to perform to USAF/TexANG
standards," and for failure to submit to the physical examination as ordered. Killian also
requested that a flight inquiry board be convened, as required by regulations, to examine the
reasons for Bush's loss of flight status. Independent documents confirm Bush was grounded for
failure to complete a physical.
  3. A note of a telephone conversation with Bush in which Bush sought to be excused from "drill." 
  4. A note (labeled "CYA" for "cover your ass") claiming that Killian was being pressured from
above to give Bush better marks in his yearly evaluation than he had earned. The note attributed to
Killian says that he was being asked to "sugarcoat" Bush's performance. "I'm having trouble running
interference [for Bush] and doing my job."

USA Today also received copies of the four documents used by CBS and two additional memos. They identified Burkett as the source for this set of documents.

Impact of the original report.

Questions/problems with original report

Free Republic comment posted by "Buckhead":

"To: Howlin

Howlin, every single one of these memos to file is in a proportionally spaced font, probably Palatino or Times New Roman.

In 1972 people used typewriters for this sort of thing, and typewriters used monospaced fonts.

The use of proportionally spaced fonts did not come into common use for office memos until the introduction of laser printers, word processing software, and personal computers. They were not widespread until the mid to late 90's. Before then, you needed typesetting equipment, and that wasn't used for personal memos to file. Even the Wang systems that were dominant in the mid 80's used monospaced fonts.

I am saying these documents are forgeries, run through a copier for 15 generations to make them look old.

This should be pursued aggressively.

47 posted on 09/08/2004 8:59:43 PM PDT by Buckhead "

Conflicting information

Thornburgh Report

Thornburgh Report

Report of the Independent Review Panel Dick Thornburgh and Lewis D. Boccardi; Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham LLP, Counsel to the Independent Review Panel

Purpose:

The panel was established to review what errors occurred during the preparation and airing of CBS' 60 Minutes Wednesday segment: "For the Record" Concerning President Bush's Air National Guard Service. This segment aired on September 8th, 2004. The Report of the Independent Review Panel was released on January 5th, 2005.

Subsequent Report Findings:

... There was no clear authentication of any of the Killian documents from any document examiner.

... In CBS' segment, it was falsely stated that an expert had authenticated the Killian documents. In fact, he had only authenticated one signature from one document.

... The background of Texas Army National Guard Lieutenant Colonel Bill Burkett was never scrutinized by CBS or 60 Minutes Wednesday. This background is widely available and fairly easy to access. Since his background was controversial, it should have been disclosed as such to provide transparency of informational sourcing.

... A chain of informational custody was not established. Lieutenant Colornel Burkett's source was never found and verified concerning the Killian documents.

... No basis was established concerning the statement that the documents "were taken from Colonel Killian's personal files."

... Corroboration was not obtained or developed to support the statements in the Killian documents. The documents were also not adequately compared to the official TexANG records and therefore notable inconsistencies in content and format were overlooked.

... A selection of other National Guardsmen who served with Lieutenant Colonel Killian were not interviewed and therefore ancillary testimony was not collected in response to reviews and opinions on the Killian documents.

... A misleading perception was forwarded in the segment that Lieutenant Strong had verified and authenticated the documents when he did not have the personal knowledge to do so and therefore could not have done so realistically.

... The segment was not thoroughly reviewed. Instead it was rushed to production without thorough overview of significant and sensitive facts.

... The perception of political bias was established when a call was placed by the producer of the segment to a senior campaign official for the Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry prior to the segment airing.

... Aggressive proclamations of defense by CBS News without first doing due diligence to see if any questions raised concerning the segment had merit.

... CBS allowed many of the same individuals who produced and reviewed the original segment to also produce and review the follow-up news reports defending said original segment.

... The claims via press statements by CBS that their sources were "unimpeachable" and that various experts had vouched for the documents authenticity.

... Despite provable flaws, inconsistencies and errors, CBS continued to air stories after the original segment defending it.

... Instead of finding the best and most independent examiners and experts to review the segment, 60 Minutes Wednesday set out to find examiners and experts that would only vouch for the authenticity of the documents. This should have been done on the basis of credentials and unbiased viewpoint rather than trying to find only those that supported their viewpoint.

... Instead of providing an overall unbiased view of the story, CBS prepared only news stories that supported the segment. Creating and exascerbating more controversy than handling questions pertaining to the validity of the segment.

Peter Tytell, a New York City-based forensic document examiner and typewriter and typography expert was consulted by the Panel in lieu of thoroughly reviewing all the Killian documents. Tytell concluded that he believed the documents were forgeries and notified th 60 Minutes producers and the Panel of his conclusions.



Summation by Power Line:

January 10th, 2005 - Power Line - The Thornburgh Report: What It Says, And What It Doesn't Say - Content used with permission from Power Line.

"First, it directly addresses the question whether the 60 Minutes report was motivated by political bias against President Bush. The panel's conclusion is at page 211: "The Panel does not find a basis to accuse those who investigated, produced, vetted or aired the segment of having a political bias." But the grounds set forth in support of this conclusion are unpersuasive, and the authors completely fail to address the evidence of political bias that their own report contains, especially with respect to Mary Mapes."

...

"The second issue that the report fails to address is the communication and apparent coordination between 60 Minutes staff and the Kerry campaign. We now know that there was more communication than had previously been acknowledged. In addition to Mapes's famous phone call to Joe Lockhart, asking him to talk to Bill Burkett, she had several conversations with Chad Clanton, who also worked for the Kerry campaign. Clanton told the panel that Mapes asked him what information the Kerry campaign had gotten from other reporters about the National Guard story, and also told him about the story she was working on for 60 Minutes. So at a minimum, we know that the Kerry campaign knew about the 60 Minutes story while it was in preparation. And it is fair to assume that Clanton put the most benign interpretation on his several conversations with Mapes."

Rathergate: The cover-up

Reprinted from Power Line with permission - Rathergate: The cover-up

What the hell was Watergate? Thirty years later, we lack a clear understanding of the most basic facts regarding the scandal. Who ordered the bungled second break-in of the Democratic National Committee on June 17, 1972? What was the motive for the break-in? What was the role played by the CIA in the break-in or its bungling? We do know that as early as June 20, President Nixon took charge of efforts to cover up his campaign's link to the break-in and and manipulated the resources of the executive branch toward the cover-up.

During the long denouement in which Nixon sought to bring the scandal to a conclusion, he fired Robert Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, his top aides, as well as Attorney General Richard Kleindienst and presidential counsel John Dean. Nixon announced the four resignations/firings in a nationally televised speech on April 30, 1973.

Nixon purported to accept responsibility as "the man at the top" for wrongdoing committed on his behalf, but denied knowledge of events prior to March 21. As he explained in his memoirs, he thought he could put Watergate behind him with "excuses," but later realized that "he could not have made a more disastrous miscalculation."

It was the following March, as the House Judiciary Committee was adding impeachment concerns to Nixon's ongoing legal struggles, that Nixon made his most notable contribution to Dan Rather's career. At the broadcasters' convention meeting in Houston, Nixon held a press conference where Rather -- CBS's White House correspondent -- addressed a question to him. As Rather stood at the microphone, the rowdy applause of the assembled executives delayed his question. Nixon asked him, "Are you running for something?" Rather gibed, "No, Mr. President, are you?" Nixon's visible discomfort at being bested by Rather is unforgettable.

On July 27 the Judiciary Committee passed its first article of impeachment charging Nixon with participation in the cover-up of unlawful activities -- a cover-up that formed a "course of conduct or plan" to obstruct the investigation of the Watergate break-in. On August 8, 1974, only six months after Nixon's famous encounter with Rather, Nixon resigned in disgrace and was gone.

As the 60 Minutes story on President Bush's Air National Guard service was prepared for broadcast, Rather's career seemed to be turning full circle. Two days prior to the September 8 broadcast of the story, Rather spoke with CBS News President Andrew Heyward. Rather told Heyward (report page 104) that the story had been thoroughly reviewed; Rather said that he had not "been involved in this much checking on a story since Watergate."

Little attention has been paid to the Rathergate report's powerful narrative of the cover-up phase of the scandal. For twelve days, CBS attempted to wait out the storm raised first by the blogs and then by the media regarding the 60 Minutes story. During those twelve days, Dan Rather resembled no one so much as Richard Nixon himself as he stonewalled the issues, playing on his reputation and status to assure his audience that the story derived from an "unimpeachable" source. All that was lacking was Rather's denial that he is a crook.

The Rathergate report recounts the cover-up phase of the Rathergate scandal at pages 153-210. So far as it goes, the report's narrative of the cover-up is a bravura performance. It demonstrates that in every public communication, press release, and CBS News story following the September 8 broadcast until its September 20 apology, CBS flatly misrepresented the facts regarding the story and its continuing post-broadcast corroboration of the story.

The lies and misrepresentations documented in the report during the cover-up are manifold and shocking. On September 14, for example, CBS obtained signed statements regarding the fraudulent documents from Marcel Matley and James Pierce. CBS posted the statements on its Web site. The report (page 191) summarily disposes of the inadequacy of the Matley statement on its face. As to the Pierce statement, the report (page 192) makes this stunning disclosure:

   Pierce’s letter did state that he believed the documents to be authentic, the first such
unequivocal statement from any 60 Minutes Wednesday expert, albeit without any detailed rationale
for that conclusion. However, in a phone interview with counsel for the Panel, Pierce said that he
told 60 Minutes Wednesday personnel that he could not authenticate the documents, but that he was
asked by them to prepare a letter stating that he did. Pierce further advised counsel for the Panel
that he was merely giving the client what it wanted and that he informed 60 Minutes Wednesday
personnel they “could get into trouble” if they used the letter that he signed. Despite these
warnings, the letter from Pierce was posted on the CBS News website shortly thereafter along with
the Matley letter.

The report is more or less mysteriously silent on the inquiries, participation, knowledge or involvement of top CBS management including CBS News President Andrew Heyward and CBS President Les Moonves during the twelve-day cover-up. "Shortly" after Rather's on-camera interview of Burkett on September 18, the report (page 202) states, "Heyward determined that CBS News would issue an apology for the September 8 Segment on Monday, September 20 on the CBS Evening News."

One of the eerie echoes of Watergate in the Rathergate affair is the four terminations -- of CBS News Senior Vice President Betsy West; 60 Minutes Executive Producer Josh Howard; Howard's deputy, Mary Murphy; and 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes -- with which CBS has now sought to end the scandal. Dan Rather is not pulling the strings here; perhaps Rather himself is only a bit player like Ron Ziegler. Could it be that Moonves or Heyward, and not Rather, is playing the role of Richard Nixon in the Rathergate scandal?

UPDATE: Jack Risko writes:

   No one seems to care about this but me, but the Panel report makes clear that Heyward, West,
Howard, Rather, Mapes and Miller had all been informed, directly or indirectly, by document experts
(Tytell), or content experts (Hodges) by the evening of September 10, that the Rathergate memos
were phony.
   The cover-up then proceeded for another ten days. Sumner Redstone sold $12MM of Viacom stock on
September 14, in the midst of the cover-up, and with Rather's ratings plummeting (but not
disclosed).
   Doesn't that seem odd, in light of what we know now? 

Risko cites the report as follows:

   Miller and Howard both heard directly from an expert that the documents were phony
(pages 174-175):
       Tytell told the Panel that he told Miller on Friday, September 10, that the documents aired
on the Segment were prepared in Times New Roman, a typeface available on modern computers but
one that did not exist on typewriters in the 1970s. Tytell said that Miller responded that the
documents were “real” because the documents were obtained from a “trusted source” and other document
examiners had indicated that the documents were “good.” Tytell asked her to identify the other
examiners, but she declined.
       Later on September 10, Tytell spoke at length on the telephone with Howard.
[Footnote omitted.] Tytell explained his concerns in detail and offered to come to CBS News to
explain why he believed the Killian documents were forgeries. Howard told the Panel that he spoke
to Tytell for about 30 minutes and found Tytell to be convincing. He found the discussion to be
an “unsettling event” that shook his belief in the authenticity of the documents. Howard
later reported his conversation with Tytell to Mapes, West and Heyward. West suggested he
tell Mapes about the call. According to Howard, Mapes’ response was that one could always find
experts willing to take different sides in an authentication debate.
   Howard’s concerns increased during the day, and produced possibly the most damning lines in the
deeply flawed Panel report on Rathergate (page 163):
       Later on September 10, Howard would again express concerns to West, Mapes and Heyward about
the Segment after speaking with Peter Tytell, an individual with extensive typewriter experience.
At that time, Howard’s concerns again were not acted upon and thereafter Howard did not have
a major role in the Aftermath, with West apparently taking the management lead and Mapes taking the
production lead on follow-up stories that defended the Segment.

(Emphasis added in both quotations.) Click here and here for Risko's posts at Dinocrat.com.

Open Questions

Many questions related to the 60 Minutes II Bush National Guard story remain unanswered.

The documents that were the subject of the story have never been authenticated, nor have any originals ever been produced.

Lucy Ramirez, whom Bill Burkett claimed was his source for the documents, has never been located or even confirmed to be an actual person.

External Links

Killian Documents:

CBS Memo - May 4th, 1972

CBS Memo to File - May 19th, 1972

CBS Memorandum for Record - August 1st, 1972

CBS Memo to File - August 18th, 1973

USA Today Killian Documents - Multiple PDF's with Multiple Dates

Wikipedia - Killian documents

Thornburgh Report:

Thornburgh Report - January 5th, 2005

Thornburgh Report - Exhibits and Appendices - Multiple PDF's with Multiple Dates

Articles by Power Line:

September 9th, 2004 - The Sixty First Minute

September 9th, 2004 - CBS's House of Cards Collapses

September 10th, 2004 - Rather Puts Neck on Chopping Block

September 10th, 2004 - Rather knows best

September 10th, 2004 - Rather To Defend Himself Tonight

September 10th, 2004 - Waiting for the cavalry

September 17th, 2004 - The White House Strikes Back

September 18th, 2004 - Burkett to Cleland to Rather?

September 20th, 2004 - Staying Behind the Curve

November 23rd, 2004 - Rather Relieved

November 30th, 2004 - Rather's Ruin

January 13th, 2005 - The Rather follies

March 4th, 2005 - Dan Rather reporting

September 30th, 2005 - The Klueless Kalb Report

January 10th, 2005 - A Rather Sad Post Mortem

January 10th, 2005 - Power Line - The Thornburgh Report: What It Says, And What It Doesn't Say

January 16th, 2005 - Rathergate: The cover-up

News Items:

American Spectator -- Anatomy of a Forgery - September 10th, 2004

American Thinker -- Killian Memo Has Wrong Deadline, Cites Wrong Regulation - September 11th, 2004

Captain's Quarters -- CBS Coughs Up The Report - January 10th, 2005

CBS News -- CBS Ousts 4 For Bush Guard Story - January 10th, 2005

CNS News -- 60 Minutes Documents on Bush Might Be Fake - September 9th, 2004 (NOTE: This link no longer exists on CNS News.) CNS News -- Democratic National Committee 'Action Alert' E-mail - September 10th, 2004 (NOTE: This link no longer exists on CNS News.)

Columbia Journalism Review -- Blog-Gate

Cox and Forkum -- Yellow Journalism - September 20th, 2007

Fox News -- Dan Rather Files $70 Million Lawsuit Against CBS, Parent Company Viacom - September 20th, 2007

Fox News -- Dan Rather's Lawyer Says He Lost Income Due to CBS 'Fraud' - October 8, 2008

Fox News -- FOX Interviews Commander's Son - September 10th, 2004

Little Green Footballs -- CBS Killian Document Index - September 13th, 2004

Little Green Footballs -- AP Rewrites Rathergate History - January 12th, 2008

Mary Mapes -- Truth and Duty

Media Mythbusters -- CBS Says Dan Rather Is Nuts - November 15th, 2007

Joseph Newcomer -- The Bush "Guard memos" are forgeries! - A Response to the Columbia Journalism Review

The Seattle Times -- More challenges about whether Bush documents are authentic - September 11th, 2004

The Seattle Times -- "Buckhead," who said CBS memos were forged, is a GOP-linked attorney - September 18th, 2004

The Washington Post -- Some Question Authenticity of Papers on Bush - September 10th, 2004

The Washington Post -- Rather Defends CBS Over Memos on Bush - September 11th, 2004

The Washington Post -- Gaps in Service Continue to Dog Bush - September 12th, 2004

The Washington Post -- Difference in Documents - September 14th, 2004

The Washington Post -- Expert Cited by CBS Says He Didn't Authenticate Papers - September 14th, 2004

The Washington Post -- Document Experts Say CBS Ignored Memo 'Red Flags' - September 15th, 2004

The Washington Post -- CBS Guard Documents Traced to Tex. Kinko's - September 16th, 2004

The Washington Post -- Rather Concedes Papers Are Suspect - September 16th, 2004

The Washington Post -- The Paper Trail: A Comparison of Dcouments - September 18th, 2004

The Washington Post -- In Rush to Air, CBS Quashed Memo Worries - September 19th, 2004

The Washington Post -- Transcript of online Q&A with Mary Mapes - November 11th, 2005

The Weekly Standard -- What Blogs Hath Wrought by Jonathan Last - September 27th, 2004

Time -- The X Files Of Lt. Bush - September 13th, 2004

ToSetTheRecordStraight.com -- Rather's Ruin and the Rise of the Pajamahadeen - November 28th, 2007

Townhall.com -- Damage control at Black Rock - January 12th, 2005

USA Today -- Scoops and skepticism: How the story unfolded - September 21st, 2004


Commentary on Media Coverage

A Lost Fact in the Rathergate Mess Bernard Goldberg, August 25, 2009

A Lost Fact in the Rathergate Mess, An Update Bernard Goldberg, August 27, 2009

Of Course CBS Knew Bush Volunteered to Fly Combat Missions in Vietnam Lorie Byrd, Wizbangblog.com, August 26, 2009


Footnotes

JammieWearingFool -- 'For Us, This Was a Good Day' - July 21st, 2009

Yahoo! News -- Appeals court dismisses Dan Rather's suit vs. CBS - September 30, 2009

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