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Amid mounting accusations he presented fabricated documents to bring damning charges against President Bush, CBS anchor Dan Rather used his Evening News broadcast tonight to defend a network story run earlier this week.
Rather opened the report, available on video, stating: “There were attacks today on the CBS News ’60 Minutes’ report this week raising new questions about President Bush’s Vietnam-era time in the Texas Air National Guard.”
The news anchor said “partisan political operatives” are behind much of the criticism, but did not mention that the widow and son of the author of the documents both think some or all of the papers are fraudulent.
As WorldNetDaily reported, CBS News is defending accusations that early 1970s documents used in the program Wednesday night to discredit Bush are forgeries, created with a modern word processing program.
Rather closed the segment tonight with, “The ’60 minutes’ report was based not solely on the recovered documents but on a preponderence of evidence, including documents that were provided by what we consider to be solid sources and interviews with former officials of the Texas National Guard. If any definitive evidence to the contrary of our story is found, we will report it. So far, there is none.”
In a CNN interview today, Rather asserted, “I know that this story is true.”
“I believe that the witnesses and the documents are authentic,” he said. “We wouldn’t have gone to air if they would not have been.”
Asked if there would be an apology or retraction, Rather replied, “Not even discussed, nor should it be. I want to make clear to you, I want to make clear to you if I have not made clear to you, that this story is true, and that more important questions than how we got the story, which is where those who don’t like the story like to put the emphasis, the more important question is what are the answers to the questions raised in the story, which I just gave you earlier.”
Meanwhile, another element in the “60 Minutes II” report Wednesday came under scrutiny when the daughter of Ben Barnes, Rather’s chief interview subject, called a radio station Thursday to charge her father falsely claimed he used his influence to ensure Bush did not have to go to Vietnam.
Ben Barnes told Rather he pulled strings in 1968 to get Bush, then a college graduate, into the Texas Air National Guard. But his daughter, Amy Barnes Stites, told WBAP in Dallas her father is a political opportunist who lied about Bush’s Guard record to help promote his upcoming book, elect John Kerry and “make Bush look like the bad person.”
‘Questions raised by our report’
The segment tonight began with Rather reiterating “questions raised by our report,” which include “Did a wealthy Texas oilman-friend of the Bush family use his influence with the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives to get George W. Bush a coveted slot in the National Guard, keeping him out of the draft and any probable service in Vietnam?”
On Wednesday, “60 Minutes II” used the documents in question – four memos purportedly written by the late Col. Jerry Killian, Bush’s squadron commander – to assert that the commander was pressed to “sugar coat” a performance evaluation for Bush and that Bush did not follow an order to report for a physical.
Rather said in the Evening News report, “Today, on the Internet and elsewhere, some people – including many who are partisan political operatives – concentrated not on the key questions the overall story raised but on the documents that were part of the support of the story.
“They alleged the documents are fake.”
Rather noted “many of those raising questions about the CBS documents have focused on something called superscript, a key that automatically types a raised ‘th.’ Critics claim typewriters didn’t have that ability in the ’70s.”
Rather’s report said “some models did,” however, pointing to other Bush military records, including one from 1968, that used it.
He also addressed the question of whether New Times Roman type face was available in the 1970s, arguing that the owner of the company that distributes the style says it has been available since 1931.
The segment featured handwriting examiner Marcel Matley, who said he believes the documents are real and that some who have analyzed them outside of CBS are using copies that have deteriorated from multiple reproductions.
Rather asked Matley, via a satellite feed: “Are you surprised that questions come about these? We’re not, but I was wondering if you’re surprised.”
Matley replied, “I knew going in that this was dynamite one way or the other, and I knew that potentially it could do far more potential damage to me professionally that benefit me. And I knew that. But we seek the truth. That’s what we do. You’re supposed to put yourself out. To seek the truth and take what comes from it.”
Rather brought back on camera from the “60 Minutes II” segment Robert Strong, a former administrative officer for the Texas Air National Guard who knew Killian.
“He is standing by his judgment that the documents are real,” Rather said.
The anchor asked, “When you read through these documents, is there any doubt in your mind that these are genuine?”
Strong replied: “Well, they are compatible with the way business was done at that time. They are compatible with the man I remember Jerry Killian being. I don’t see anything in the documents that’s discordant with what were the times, the sitaution or the people involved.”
Rather said Strong described the “highly charged political atmosphere of the Guard at the time” as being “perfectly represented in the new documents.”
The segment concluded with comments from Jim Moore, who has written two books critical of Bush’s National Guard service.
Responding to a question, Moore described the documents as “absolutely consistent with the records as I know it.”
Rather asked, “Put it in context and perspective for us … the story and what we call the counterattack on the story. Where are we right now?
Moore responded, “I think what has happened is some incriminating documents have come out. The White House has not discredited the documents. They’re relying on the blogosphere [weblogs] and other people to do that. Because the White House probably knows these documents are in fact real.”
The Web strikes back
One of the many weblogs that brought the story to life yesterday, National Review’s “The Kerry Spot,” reacted to Rather’s report tonight by pointing out it ignored numerous arguments raised since Wednesday night.
These included apparent anachronisms in language and style, including kerning, proportional spacing and paper size, and difference in tone and writing style from other memos by Killian.
Kerry Spot author Jim Geraghty noted CBS changed its contention that the memos came from Killians’s personal files to admitting it had only a photocopy to work from.
Some typewriters had superscript, he acknowledged, but “how common were they” and would “they have one of those typewriters in an Air National Guard office?”
The Times New Roman font may have been around for many years before the memo, Geraghty acknowledged, “but could you do it on a typewriter?”
Moreover, the report ignored published remarks from Killian’s widow and son who said the documents were fraudulent.
Both said they were contacted by CBS News but never asked to authenticate the documents.
Marjorie Connell told the Washington Post she was “livid” at CBS and described the records as “a farce.”
Connell said her husband did not keep files and considered Bush “an excellent pilot.”
“I don’t think there were any documents,” she said. “He was not a paper person.”
Gary Killian, who served in the Guard with his father, said a memo signed by his father appeared legitimate but doubted he wrote another that referred to the performance review.
“I am upset because I think it is a mixture of truth and fiction here,” Killian told the AP.
The wire service said another officer who served with Killian and a document expert also said the documents appear to be forgeries.
In the broadcast tonight, Rather said much of the criticism of the story is coming from “partisan political operatives.” But Geraghty pointed out forensic experts cited by mainstream media outlets such as ABC News and the Washington Post also have questioned the documents.
CNN said today it contacted experts who see inconsistencies in the type style and formatting, noting those styles existed on typewriters in the early 1970s but were not common.
The Dallas Morning News reported an apparent discrepancy in a memo dated Aug. 18, 1973, in which Col. Walter “Buck” Staudt is described as interfering with officers’ negative evaluations of Bush’s service. An order shows Staudt was honorably discharged March 1, 1972.
Earlier today, the Drudge Report said CBS News executives have launched an internal investigation into the authenticity of the records.
The anonymous “top source” at CBS described Rather as being privately “shell-shocked” by the increasing likelihood that the documents were fraudulent.
CBS News, however, issued a release later, which included the statement, “Contrary to some rumors, no internal investigation is under way at CBS News nor is one planned.”