Amid mounting pressure, CBS News President Andrew Heyward defended disputed memos concerning President Bush’s National Guard duty as “accurate” but acknowledged the network needs to increase its effort to respond to lingering questions.
“We established to our satisfaction that the memos were accurate or we would not have put them on television,” Heyward said on tonight’s Evening News broadcast. “There was a great deal of corroborating evidence from people in a position to know. Having said that, given all the questions about them, we believe we should redouble our efforts to answer those questions, so that’s what we are doing.”
As WorldNetDaily reported, CBS News has stood by its claims in the face of widespread accusations that early 1970s documents used on a “60 Minutes II” segment last Wednesday to discredit Bush are forgeries, created with a modern word processing program.
Among the assertions “60 Minutes II” derived from the documents – four memos by Bush’s late squadron commander Col. Jerry Killian – were that the commander was pressed to “sugar coat” a performance evaluation for Bush and that the future president did not follow an order to report for a physical.
In an interview with WorldNetDaily, CBS News spokeswoman Sandy Genelius said Heyward’s pledge to “redouble” efforts to answer questions does not mean the network is conducting an internal probe.
“It means we will continue to aggressively report this story in the course of our normal day-in and day-out reporting,” she said.
Genelius said she could not clarify Heyward’s statement that the memos are “accurate,” because she had not seen the Evening News broadcast and was not familiar with the statement.
WND asked whether Heyward’s particular wording meant CBS believes the content of the memos is accurate but reserves judgment on the authenticity of the documents themselves.
For that question, she referred WND to spokesman Kevin Tedesco, but he was unavailable.
On the CBS Evening News tonight, anchor Dan Rather said he “drew new fire today” over his “60 Minutes II” piece, reporting the “latest attack” as a charge from congressional Republicans that the accusations against President Bush are based on fake documents.
Rather interviewed Killian’s secretary, Marian Knox, 86, who said she did not type the memos but believes the information contained in them is accurate.
Killian’s widow has told reporters her husand didn’t type.
In the interview, conducted for a “60 Minutes II” segment tonight, Knox told Rather that Killian liked Bush but not his attitude.
“First of all Killian was very friendly with Bush, they had fun together,” she said. “And I think it upset him very much that he was being defied.”
Reporter Wyatt Andrews said “CBS News officials say the memos came from a confidential source – and that they remain certain the content of the story is true.”
The Evening News report then featured Heyward’s statement.
Andrews closed with: “Some at this network believe the backlash against the ’60 Minutes’ report is pure politics. But that’s the critics’ point as well – that fake, or real, the fact that ’60 Minutes’ got these documents during an election year was no accident.”
Along with the Evening News broadcast, CBS issued a statement [pdf file] saying the “60 Minutes” report “was based on a preponderance of evidence: many interviews, both on- and off-camera, with individuals with direct and indirect knowledge of the situation, atmosphere and events of the period in question, as well as the procedures, character and thinking of” Killian.
The statement said, “In accordance with longstanding journalistic ethics, CBS News is not prepared to reveal its confidential sources or the method by which” it received the documents.
“CBS News’ reporting determined that the source of the memos had access to the documents he provided and an opportunity to obtain copies of them. Our sources included individuals who had first-hand knowledge of the events in question.”
Additionally, the statement said, “Mary Mapes, the producer of the report and a well-respected, veteran journalist whose credibility has never been questioned, has been following this story for more than five years. She has a vast and detailed knowledge of the issues surrounding President Bush’s service in the Guard and of the individuals involved in the story. Before the report was broadcast, it was vetted and screened in accordance with CBS News standards by several veteran “60 Minutes Wednesday” senior producers and CBS News executives.”
Experts have concerns
On Friday, Rather used his Evening News broadcast to defend the “60 Minutes” report, claiming “partisan political operatives” are behind much of the criticism, without mentioning that Killian’s widow and son both think some or all of the papers are fraudulent.
Rather followed up on broadcasts this week with continued defense of the memos despite further questions raised by experts in mainstream media stories and on the Internet weblogs where the story came to life.
ABC News reported, for example, that two of the document experts hired by CBS say the network ignored concerns they raised prior to broadcast of the report.
Yesterday, Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., asked for a congressional probe into CBS. In a letter to Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Cox asked for an official investigation “into the continued use by CBS News of apparently forged of documents concerning the service record of President George W. Bush intended to unfairly damage his reputation and influence the outcome of the 2004 presidential election.”
Cox cites several news stories and opinions of experts who say the documents are fake and alleges CBS has tried purposely to damage Bush’s reputation ahead of the November presidential election.
Rather closed his segment on the memos Friday with an assurance to viewers that the network would welcome any evidence that indicated the documents were not authentic.
He said, “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 an interview with the New York Observer published today, Rather said questions raised by the memos “have remained unanswered by the Bush administration: Did Mr. Bush get preferential treatment for the Texas Air National Guard? Was then-Lt. Bush suspended for failing to perform up to Texas and Air Guard standards? Did then-Lt. Bush refuse a direct order from his military superior to take a required examination?”
“It’s never been fully, completely denied by the Bush-Cheney campaign or even the White House that he was suspended for meeting the standards of the Air Force or that he didn’t show up for a physical,” Rather said.
The news anchor said focus on “questions over the veracity of the memos was a smoke screen perpetrated by right-wing allies of the Bush administration.”
“This is your basic fogging machine, which is set up to cloud the issue, to obscure the truth,” he said.
But CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer said yesterday the network needs to prove the authenticity of the documents.
“I think we have to find some way to show our viewers they are not forgeries,” Schieffer told reporters in Sioux City, Iowa. “I don’t know how we’re going to do that without violating the confidentiality of sources.”
Schieffer, who said he has talked to Rather daily during the controversy, noted the anchor is “very confident of his sources.”
“He says he is absolutely convinced these documents are real,” Shieffer said.
The veracity of the main interview subject in the Sept. 8 “60 Minutes” report, former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, also has been questioned.
Barnes’ daughter, Amy Barnes Stites, called in to a Dallas radio talk show Thursday to say her father fabricated claims he used his influence to help President Bush avoid going to Vietnam 36 years ago.
Stites said that several years ago, her father told her a completely different story than the one aired last Wednesday.
She described her father as a political opportunist who lied about Bush’s National Guard record to help promote his upcoming book, elect John Kerry and “make Bush look like the bad person.”
The controversy over the documents apparently has gained wide attention among voters.
According to a Rasmussen poll, 27 percent of voters believe the memos are authentic, compared to 38 percent who think they are forgeries.
Among voters following the story very closely, 56 percent believe the memos are forgeries and 27 percent believe they are authentic.
Overall, 38 percent of voters say they are following the story “very” closely and 34 percent say they are following it “somewhat” closely.
Only 16 percent of voters think questions about President Bush’s National Guard service are “very” important.
The poll also asked voters their opinion of Dan Rather. Forty-two percent have a favorable opinion while 33 percent view him unfavorably.
“60 Minutes II” reported Sept. 8 it had “previously unseen documents” from the personal office file of Bush’s squadron commander Killian.
In a memo dated May 1972, Killian purportedly writes that Lt. Bush called him to talk about “how he can get out of coming to drill from now through November.”
The document says Lt. Bush told his commander “he is working on a campaign in Alabama … and may not have time to take his physical.” Killian adds that he thinks Bush has gone over his head, and is “talking to someone upstairs.”
One of the Killian memos is an official order to Bush to report for a physical, which never was carried out.
CBS says, in an Aug. 1, 1972, memo Killian wrote, “On this date I ordered that 1st Lt. Bush be suspended from flight status due to failure to perform to USAF/TexANG standards and failure to meet annual physical examination … as ordered.”
A memo from Aug. 18, 1973, according to CBS, has Killian saying Col. Buck Staudt, head of the Texas Air National Guard, is putting on pressure to “sugar coat” the evaluation of Lt. Bush.
But Staudt retired from the National Guard 18 months before that date.
In the statement issued today, however, CBS News said its “background reporting determined that Staudt remained a powerful figure in the Guard for years after his retirement, a fact that is confirmed by Ms. Knox in a newspaper interview. More importantly, the same memo referred to unhappiness in Austin, an obvious reference to Staudt’s successor at the Austin, Texas, headquarters of the Texas Air National Guard.”
The CBS statement said four experts were consulted prior to the broadcast, Marcel B. Matley, James J. Pierce, Emily Will and Linda James.
CBS claimed Matley and Pierce “continue to attest to their belief in the documents’ authenticity,” and Will and James, appearing on “a competing network,” ABC News, “misrepresented their conversations and communication with CBS News.”
“In fact,” the statement said, Will and James “assessed only one of the four documents used in the report, and while one of them raised a question about one aspect of that one document, they did not raise substantial objections or render definitive judgment on the document. Ultimately, they played a peripheral role in the authentication process and deferred to Mr. Matley, who examined all four of the documents used.”
But Matley has told other reporters he can only vouch for the signature. Moreover, Matley has written in the past that it’s impossible to judge a document’s authenticity from a copy.
CBS also said Bill Glennon, “a technology consultant and long-time IBM typewriter service technician,” and Richard Katz, “a computer software expert,” found nothing “to lead them to believe that the documents did not date back to the early 1970s.”
The statement concludes with:
“The editorial content of the report was not based solely on the physical documents, but also on numerous credible sources who supported what the documents said.
“Through all of the frenzied debate of the past week, the basic content of the ’60 Minutes Wednesday report’ – that President Bush received preferential treatment to gain entrance to the Texas Air National Guard and that he may not have fulfilled all of the requirements – has not been substantially challenged.
CBS News will make every effort to resolve the contradictions and answer the unanswered questions about the documents and will continue to report on all aspects of the story.