If CNN doesn’t hire them, Dan Rather and his producers can always get a job teaching at the Columbia School of Journalism. The Columbia Journalism Review recently defended the CBS report on George Bush using forged National Guard documents with the Tawana Brawley excuse: The documents might be “fake but accurate.”
Dan Rather and his crack investigative producer Mary Mapes are still not admitting the documents were fakes. Of course, Dan Rather is still not admitting Kerry lost the election or that a woman named Juanita Broaddrick credibly accused Bill Clinton of rape.
Responding to Bill O’Reilly’s question in a May 15, 2001, interview on “The O’Reilly Factor” about why CBS News had mentioned crackpot rumors of George Bush’s drug use on air seven times, but the name “Juanita Broaddrick” had never crossed Dan Rather’s lips (and was only mentioned twice on all of CBS News), Rather replied: “Juanita Broaddrick, to be perfectly honest, I don’t remember all the details of Juanita Broaddrick. But I will say that – and you can castigate me if you like. When the charge has something to do with somebody’s private sex life, I would prefer not to run any of it.”
If only the press had extended that same courtesy to Mike Tyson! Rape has as much to do with “somebody’s private sex life” as Bush’s National Guard service does.
Admittedly, Juanita Broaddrick’s charge against Clinton – that Bill Clinton raped her so brutally that her clothing was torn and her lip was swollen and bleeding, hence his parting words of “you’d better put some ice on that” – was not a story on the order of Augusta National Golf Course’s exclusion of women members. But, unlike the Bush drug-use charge, which remains unsupported to this day, Broaddrick’s allegations had been fully corroborated by NBC News – which then refused to air Lisa Myers’ report until after Clinton’s acquittal in the Senate.
Fortunately for Ms. Mapes, Rather also described Bill Clinton as “honest,” explaining to O’Reilly, “I think you can be an honest person and lie about any number of things.” This must have come as great comfort to Mapes, as she based an entire story about Bush’s outrageous behavior in the National Guard on one Lt. Col. Bill Burkett.
Among the issues that might have raised questions about relying on Burkett as your source before accusing a sitting president of having disobeyed direct military orders are:
- Burkett had a long-standing grudge against the National Guard for failing to pay for his medical treatment for a rare tropical disease he claims he contracted during Guard service in Panama.
- He blamed Bush, who was governor at the time, for the Guard’s denial of medical benefits because, as everyone knows, the Texas governor’s main job is processing medical claims from former National Guard members.
- After leaving the Guard, Burkett suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for depression.
- At the meeting where he was supposed to give Mapes the National Guard documents, Burkett brought “two binders full of depositions and other documents that were apparently from his litigation with the National Guard over health benefits” – apparently he forgot the two shoeboxes full of UFO photos he’d collected over the years.
- He had compared Bush to Hitler – which admittedly could have been just his way of establishing his bona fides to Democrats.
- He had told a number of stories over the years about Bush’s National Guard service, all of which had collapsed under conflicting evidence and even his own contradictory accounts – which is to say the stories were both made up and inaccurate.
- In exchange for the National Guard documents, Burkett demanded money, “relocation assistance” if the story put him or his family in danger (perhaps oceanfront property for a quick getaway) and direct contact with the Kerry campaign.
Even before the story aired, Burkett’s description of his own source for the documents kept changing. He said he received the documents anonymously in the mail. He said he was given the documents by someone who would “know what to do with [the documents] better than” he would. He said his source was Chief Warrant Officer George Conn – amid copious warnings that CBS “should not call Chief Warrant Officer Conn because he would deny it” and further that “Conn was on active duty and could not be reached at his Dallas home.”
Burkett needn’t have worried about crack investigator Mary Mapes getting in touch with his alleged source. Even though a three-second search on Google would have revealed that (1) Burkett was crazy, and (2) he had tried to use Conn as a source before and Conn had vehemently denied Burkett’s claims, Mapes told the investigating committee “she did not consider Chief Warrant Officer Conn’s denial to be reliable.”
It seems Burkett had told Mapes that “Conn was still in the military and that his wife threatened to leave him if he spoke out against President Bush.” That was good enough for Mapes. She concluded that Conn – the only person who could have corroborated Burkett’s story – was not to be trusted. Instead, Mapes placed all her faith in the disgruntled, paranoid nut with a vendetta against Bush, an extensive psychiatric history and an ever-growing enemies list. I’m referring to Bill Burkett here, not Dan Rather.
Finally, Burkett claimed a woman named Lucy Ramirez had passed the documents to him at a livestock show in Houston. It is believed that this account marks the exact day that Burkett’s lithium prescription ran out. Despite the fact that no one at CBS was able to locate Ramirez, CBS stuck to the story.
This isn’t a lack of “rigor” in fact-checking, as the CBS report suggests. It’s a total absence of fact-checking. CBS found somebody who told the story they wanted told – and they ran with it, wholly disregarding the facts.
Curiously, though Mapes trusted Burkett implicitly, she was very careful not to reveal his name to anyone at CBS, probably because she would have been laughed out of the room.
Instead, Mapes described Burkett in the abstract as: “solid,” “without bias,” “credible,” “a Texas Republican of a different chromosome,” a “John McCain supporter,” “reliable” and “a maverick” – leaving out only “Burkett is convinced he can communicate with caterpillars” and “his best friend is a coffee table.” His name was not important. It’s not as if he was the sole source for a highly damaging story about the president eight weeks before the election or anything. Oh wait …
At a meeting with CBS lawyers the day the story would air, Mapes “did not reveal the source’s name or anything negative about the source,” but “expressed ‘enormous confidence’ in her source’s reliability and said that he was solid with no bias or credibility issues.” She described Burkett as a “moralistic stickler.” The subject of UFOs simply never came up.
Mapes trusted Burkett on the basis of the following:
- “Mapes told the panel that she spoke to a mainstream media reporter, who had known Lt. Col. Burkett since 2001, and she stated that he viewed Lt. Col. Burkett as reliable.” At least it wasn’t one of those unreliable bloggers throwing anything up on the Net and ruining reputations!
- “Mapes told the panel that she informed the Burketts that she was worried the documents might be a ‘political dirty trick.’ Mapes said that the Burketts appeared ‘genuinely shocked’ at the suggestion and this reaction gave her comfort.” (You could tell they were really shocked because they had the same look on their faces that Condi Rice had when Richard Clarke first told her about al-Qaida.)
- Mapes really hated George Bush and would do anything to make him lose the election.
Actually, Mapes did not put her last reason in writing, which created a real mystery for the CBS investigating committee. Proving once again how useless “moderate Republicans” are, “The CBS Report” – co-authored by moderate Republican Dick Thornburgh – found no evidence of political bias at CBS.
If Fox News had come out with a defamatory story about Kerry based on forged documents, liberals would be demanding we cut power to the place. (Fortunately, the real documents on Kerry were enough to do the trick.) But the outside investigators hired by CBS could find no political agenda at CBS.
By contrast, the report did not hesitate to accuse the bloggers who exposed the truth about the documents of having “a conservative agenda.” As with liberal attacks on Fox’s “fair and balanced” motto, it is now simply taken for granted that “conservative bias” means “the truth.”