Fat Steve's Blatherings

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Meaning of Rathergate, Part Three: Egregious and Total DishonestY

      The single most important fact about the Rathergate mess is that the moment the memos were challenged Rather, 60 Minutes Wednesday, and the CBS network commenced lying to their colleagues, their fellow newmen, and the public.

      That's lied as in spoke untruths, conned, dissembled, dissimulated, distorted, faked, falsified, fibbed, fudged, invented, made believe, misinformed, misled, misrepresented, perjured, perverted the facts, phonied, prevaricated, put on, snowed, strung along the people they talked to.  In addition they falsely and dishonestly bad-mouthed, blackened the reputations of, cast aspersions on, calumniated, caricatured, defamed, denigrated, derogated, knocked, maligned, reviled, slurred, smeared, tore down, traduced and vilified those who were trying to get at the truth.

      And the only reason they've pulled back is because they can't get away with it very well any more.  Note well that, to the extent they can pull it off, they continue their deception.

      In the twelve days it took CBS to decide that it had goofed big time with the 'Killian Memos' story, there was a lot of talk by the network explaining why we should all trust their reporting.  So, let's reprise the news about the news.

      In the original broadcast, we heard:
But 60 Minutes has obtained a number of documents we are told were taken from Col. Killian's personal file. Among them, a never-before-seen memorandum from May 1972, where Killian writes that Lt. Bush called him to talk about "how he can get out of coming to drill from now through November."

Lt. Bush tells his commander "he is working on a campaign in Alabama…. and may not have time to take his physical." Killian adds that he thinks Lt. Bush has gone over his head, and is "talking to someone upstairs."

Col. Killian died in 1984. 60 Minutes consulted a handwriting analyst and document expert who believes the material is authentic.

Robert Strong was a friend and colleague of Col. Killian who ran the Texas Air National Guard administrative office in the Vietnam era. Strong, now a college professor, believes these documents are genuine.

      That was Wednesday, Sept. 8th.  On the 9th, questions about the authenticity of the documents spread.  Kevin Drum of Washington Monthly posted:

For what it's worth, I spoke to someone a few minutes ago who's familiar with how the documents were vetted, and the bottom line is that CBS is very, very confident that the memos are genuine. They believe that (a) their sources are rock solid, (b) the provenance of the documents is well established, and (c) the appearance of the documents matches the appearance of other documents created at the same place and time. In addition, people who knew Killian well have confirmed that the memos are genuine.

      The next day, Friday the 10th, their were new assurances from CBS reported in The Washington Post:
CBS News released a statement yesterday standing by its reporting, saying that each of the documents "was thoroughly vetted by independent experts and we are convinced of their authenticity." The statement added that CBS reporters had verified the documents by talking to unidentified people who saw them "at the time they were written." . . .

A senior CBS official, who asked not to be named because CBS managers did not want to go beyond their official statement, named one of the network's sources as retired Maj. Gen. Bobby W. Hodges, the immediate superior of the documents' alleged author, Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian. He said a CBS reporter read the documents to Hodges over the phone and Hodges replied that "these are the things that Killian had expressed to me at the time."

"These documents represent what Killian not only was putting in memoranda, but was telling other people," the CBS News official said. "Journalistically, we've gone several extra miles." . . .

CBS officials insisted that the network had done due diligence in checking out the authenticity of the documents with independent experts over six weeks. The senior CBS official said the network had talked to four typewriting and handwriting experts "who put our concerns to rest" and confirmed the authenticity of Killian's signature.

      On Saturday the 11th, the Post had more from CBS:
Dan Rather vigorously defended his "60 Minutes" story on President Bush's National Guard service yesterday, saying the 30-year-old memos he disclosed on the show this week "were and remain authentic," despite questions raised by some handwriting and document experts. . . .

Rather said that CBS's lead expert was Marcel Matley of San Francisco, a member of the National Association of Document Examiners who has taught, lectured and written about his field, testified in numerous trials, and consulted for government agencies. . . .

CBS News President Andrew Heyward staunchly defended the piece. "I have full confidence in our reporting on this story and in every reporter on both sides of the camera," he said last night. "This is going to hold up. This was thoroughly vetted." . . .

In an interview, Rather stressed that CBS had talked to two people who worked with Killian in the Texas Guard -- his superior, retired Maj. Gen. Bobby Hodges, and his administrative assistant, Robert Strong -- and both described the memos as consistent with what they knew of Killian. Hodges, who told CBS he was "familiar" with the documents, is an avid Bush supporter, and "it took a lot for him to speak the truth," Rather said.

Before airing Wednesday's segment, he said, CBS "vetted" the confidential source who provided the memos and concluded that "he did have the ability to get access to these documents and he was being truthful." Beyond that, Rather said, CBS consulted with military experts about Killian's language and the documents' format and compared them to other Bush service records previously released by the White House. "We decided there was a preponderance of evidence that they are what they purport to be," he said. . . .

On last night's "CBS Evening News," Rather defended the piece against what he called the "counterattack." He interviewed Matley, who said he concluded after comparing Killian's signature on the memos to other undisputed documents that "yes, it's the same person."

Rather noted the critics' claim that typewriters in the Vietnam War era could not produce a raised superscript, such as the letters "th," but he maintained: "Some models did." As for contentions that the memos were written in a more modern font called Times New Roman, Rather said: "The company that distributes this typeface says it has been available since 1931."

      As the week ended, CBS was saying less and less:
. . . A CBS spokeswoman said the network stands by its report. . . .

CBS officials have declined to say who provided "60 Minutes" with the documents, other than that it was an "unimpeachable source" -- or exactly where they came from, other than the "personal file" of Killian, who died in 1984. . . .

. . .Hodges said that he may have told CBS that he had conversations with Killian about Bush, but he denied confirming the authenticity of the documents in any way.

"Now that I have had a chance to see them, I think they are fake," Hodges said.

A CBS spokeswoman, Sandy Genelius, said the network "believed General Hodges the first time we talked to him." She said CBS continued to "stand by its story" and a statement it issued on Thursday saying that "60 Minutes" reporters had talked to "individuals who had seen the documents at the time they were written." She declined to name the "individuals," describing them as sources.

      On the 14th, The New York Observer published its interview/article with Rather:
CBS News, he [Rather] said, "believed" the memos were real based on a new set of document experts who said "the documents could have been created in the 70’s.

. . . "Let me emphasize once again, these are not exact sciences. Not like DNA or fingerprints."

That was why, he said, half of the experts agreed and the other half didn’t.

"In terms of the experts, you’re going to find an equal number of experts on the authenticity arguments," he said. . . .

And what if it was discovered that the documents were indeed forged?

"If," said Mr. Rather, reiterating "if," "if at any time we’re able to come up with information that demonstrates that we’re wrong, we’ll report it. We won’t wait. But I don’t think it’s going to happen. The story is true." . . .

"We eventually came in contact with somebody who said he knew about the documents, and it took a while to get in contact with the man who was supposed to have had the documents," he said. "It took a long time for us to create a reportorial relationship with him in which he trusted us, and at the same time we were checking him out to see if he was a trustworthy person."

While Mr. Rather and Ms. Mapes were able to glean the contents of the memos before they actually acquired them, and while they worked to convince the source to hand over the memos, he said they tried to verify the facts in them so they could be sure they were on the right trail.

"Within the last few months," he said, "we got a look at the documents, and we said we’d like to have a copy of the documents. . . .

Finally, after showing the reporting to CBS News president Andrew Hayward, senior vice president Betsy West and 60 Minutes Wednesday executive producer Josh Howard, Mr. Rather said he went to officials at the White House.

"Look, we have accumulated a body of information based on some long reporting that lays out a different picture of then-Lieutenant Bush’s service," he said, "and we now have documents which to our own satisfaction we believe to be authentic, we believe to be true …. These are unpleasant truths. But they are truths. There was and is no joy in reporting them. But part of what reporters are supposed to do is ask questions, dig for facts and, when truths are found, share them with the public and, when called upon to do so, speak truth to power. This we did."

      More assurances were given:
When the CBS News anchor Dan Rather defended himself on camera and in interviews last Friday against questions being raised about documents he had used to bolster a report on President Bush's National Guard service, he and network executives considered the case closed.

Mr. Rather himself said emphatically: "CBS News stands by, and I stand by, the thoroughness and accuracy of this report, period. Our story is true." . . .

Andrew Heyward, the CBS News president, said in an interview on Sunday that he was not concerned about the validity of the documents or the report CBS News presented. "I'm firmly convinced that the memos are authentic and the stories are accurate," he said.

Addressing staff concerns, Mr. Heyward said, "The story was thoroughly vetted as all pieces of '60 Minutes' are, and the more they know about the process, the more reassured they will be that we used every appropriate journalistic standard and safeguard in reporting the story." A spokeswoman said yesterday he had not changed his position.

. . .Sandy Genelius, a network spokeswoman, said, "We are confident about the chain of custody; we're confident in how we secured the documents." She would not elaborate.

      It was also reported:
"But CBS used several techniques to make sure these papers should be taken seriously, talking to handwriting and document analysts and other experts who strongly insist the documents could have been created in the '70s," Rather told viewers as video of an unidentified man examining enlarged versions of the documents was aired.

      On the 15th, Fox reported:
CBS said its story about Bush's Guard service relied on much more than the documents. . . .

CBS contacted five document experts before the report aired and two since, and continues to report the story, the network said.

      Dealing with two dissenting documents examiners, CBS claimed:
CBS News Senior Vice President Betsy West said last night: "As far as I know, Linda James raised no objections. She said she'd have to see more documents to render a judgment."

As for Will's account, West said: "I'm not aware of any substantive objection she raised. Emily Will did not urge us to hold the story. She was not adamant in any way. At one point she raised a concern about a superscript 'th,' which we then discussed with the other experts we hired to examine all four of the documents we aired. We were assured the 'th' was consistent with technology at the time, an assessment that has since been backed up by other experts."

CBS spokeswoman Sandy Genelius added that both women "played a peripheral role and deferred to another expert," Matley. But James said she did not defer to Matley and merely recommended him to CBS. The network says it relied on two additional document experts, whose names have not been made public. . . .

Asked about Will's written concerns, CBS's West said: "The only e-mail we received raised some preliminary points about the handwriting, which [CBS's] other experts addressed and ruled out."

CBS began to doubt Will because she started expanding her role and doing Google searches about Bush's whereabouts at the time, said an executive who insisted on anonymity because the network did not want to go beyond the official statements.

      Finally, on Thursday the 16th, CBS began to crack:
CBS News said for the first time last night that there were legitimate questions about the authenticity of documents it presented in a "60 Minutes" report last week that raised new issues about President Bush's service in the National Guard - and said it would aggressively investigate them.

The news division continued to insist that the general thrust of the documents was accurate: that a commander felt Mr. Bush had been shirking his duties and receiving preferential treatment because of his connections. But Andrew Heyward, the president of CBS News, said the network would "redouble its efforts" to determine whether the documents were authentic.

"Because there continue to be questions swirling around the documents, it's important to keep looking into those as best we can," Mr. Heyward said in an interview last night. "I'm very confident in the report, but I want to get to the bottom of these continuing questions."

      Still, they kept insisting:
"We've got to find some way to show our viewers why we believe so strongly in this story, and that's very difficult without breaching the confidentiality of the source," said Bob Schieffer, the moderator of "Face the Nation" on CBS. He added, "I have confidence in Dan."

One thing bolstering Mr. Rather's colleagues, they said, was the confidence of him and his producer, Josh Howard that the documents are authentic.

As of late yesterday morning, at least, Mr. Howard said he still had the utmost confidence in the initial report. "Everything I've seen makes me completely confident in the documents, in the reporting, in the story, in what we've done," he said.

      We now know that everything CBS said was a lie, "including the 'and' and the 'the.'"  I repeat, EVERYTHING.

      CBS did NOT consult "a handwriting analyst and document expert who believes the material is authentic," neither were the memos "thoroughly vetted.”  CBS consulted four document and handwriting experts.  Two doubted the documents were authentic.  The other two said the signatures looked all right, but they couldn't verify the documents.  Only one had a final conclusion, and only on the signature: "probably valid".

      Further, that lone expert, Matley, had written that a signature on a photocopy can't really be verified: modern copying technology can transfer a signature to a forged document too easily.  None of the experts submitted a written report.  Nor was there an even split among "experts.”  Almost all experts were dubious, and many flatly denounced the memos as frauds.

      As for the "new set" of "documents experts" CBS produced later, one was Glennon, a "technology consultant" (i. e., a former typewriter repairman), who CBS didn't even allow a look at the documents, and whose statements were a mixture of error and irrelevancy.  The other “new expert” was Katz, a "computer software expert" who ignored the effects of repeated xeroxing on line thickness and darkness.

      The appearance of the documents was wildly at variance with that of other documents of the time.  Bloggers tested the claims that IBM machines of 1972 could produce such memos, and easily showed them false.  There were no typewriters capable of making a superscript like that in the memos, or doing "pseudo-kerning," and Times New Roman was NOT available as a TYPEWRITER FONT .

      The source was not "unimpeachable," and CBS didn't spend "a long time" checking out their source to see if he was "trustworthy.”  The source was the easily impeached Bill Burkett, a man with a history of depression and nervous breakdowns, a political partisan previously caught lying about Bush.  Burkett gave them the documents.  Another source, still anonymous, directed them to Burkett.  (And who was that? Inquiring bloggers want to know! But I'll bet blind that it was a Democratic activist, or member of the DNC.)

      The provenance of the documents wasn't “well established;” they only had Burkett's word for it.  The chain of custody was never verified.  The man Burkett claimed to have received the memos from denied everything as soon as he was asked.

      Robert Strong believed the documents COULD be real, but didn't attempt to authenticate them.  Hodges did not verify the documents.  He was not "familiar with them," and in fact had never seen them or heard of them before. He thought CBS was reading him handwritten Killian memos.  CBS did NOT talk to anyone who saw the documents at the time they were written.  Aside from the information in the public record, which anyone could copy, they didn't "verify the facts."

      CBS didn't get a look at the documents "within the last few months," nor were they were verified over the course of six weeks.  The network saw them at most two or three weeks before the broadcast, and CBS only received them five or six days prior to airtime.

      CBS was so nervous concerning the documents that they tried to get the White House to verify them for the network.

      Rather and Mapes didn't show the report to the CBS brass and then go to the White House.  Rather and Mapes were still working on the report when the White House, hearing rumors of it, came to CBS.

      And they most certainly didn't dig for facts, share them with public, or "speak truth to power.”  They lied, repeatedly, from day one.  And when they finally gave up, they didn’t admit the documents were frauds, as Rather had said they would.  They only said that they couldn’t ‘authenticate’ them, falsely implying that they might be genuine.

      What actually happened, as these stories show, is that someone told Mapes that Burkett had copies of the long sought memos; she and Rather persuaded Burkett to give them copies.

      Only when Mapes had memo copies in hand did she look for people who could verify the documents, something she should have done previously.  Important potential witnesses were ignored or misled.  When the documents experts gave opinions Mapes and Rather didn't like, said experts were ignored.  Mapes and Rather lied to their own colleagues about the story they were pushing, claiming much better evidence than they had.  The fact that the White House didn't cry "Fraud!" when it saw the documents made CBS think it could get away with the attack.  AND WHEN THEY WERE CHALLENGED BY THE BLOGOSPHERE, THEY JUST MADE STUFF UP TILL THE STORY COLLAPSED.

      I've long distrusted the Main Stream Media, but this leaves me shocked.  I never at my most cynical expected any network to invent things this way.  It changes my whole perspective on the news business.  At the least, it raises the question of whether such episodes as TAILWIND were errors, or conscious deceptions.

      Let this episode be "seared, SEARED" into your memory: at least some members of the MSM are willing to lie to us without hesitation -- and they're "unusually good at it."  That skill was probably acquired through practice.



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