A retired general cited by CBS as a source in a story asserting President Bush failed to perform to National Guard standards more than 30 years ago now claims he was misled by the network.
Retired Maj. Gen. Bobby W. Hodges, cited by a senior CBS official last week as the network’s “trump card” in verifying the controversial documents, told the Washington Post he now believes the documents to be forgeries.
Hodges said that he was read only excerpts of the documents and never saw the papers. A CBS spokeswoman reportedly said the network stands by its report.
The papers disclosed by CBS purported to show that Bush’s former commander, Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, was resisting pressure from his superior, Col. Walter B. “Buck” Staudt, to “sugarcoat” Bush’s officer evaluation files.
But document experts and amateur sleuths began questioning their authenticity within hours after they were published on the Internet, citing typographical and formatting issues that suggest they were created by a modern-day word processor rather than a Vietnam War-era typewriter.
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.
Killian’s widow and son have both said that they believe the records are fake. On Friday, CBS News anchor Dan Rather named one of Killian’s superiors, Hodges, as a key source in CBS’ authentication of the documents. He said that Hodges – whom he described as “an avid Bush supporter” – had told CBS that he was “familiar” with the documents.
But in a Washington Post interview yesterday from his Texas home, Hodges disputed Rather’s account. He said that he was called on Monday night by a CBS reporter who read him extracts from documents purportedly written by Killian. 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, told the Washington Post 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.
Another problem with the CBS documents, cited by Hodges and others, is that Staudt was no longer serving with the Texas Air National Guard when one of the memos was allegedly written.
“Staudt has obviously pressured Hodges more about Bush,” the document, dated Aug. 18, 1973, reads. “I’m having trouble running interference and doing my job.”
Records show Staudt retired from the guard in March 1972.