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As the preponderance of evidence in the Killian forgeries turns into a tsunami that threatens to overwhelm CBS news, the Washington Post reports on the string of events that led to the publication of the forgeries. It looks like the hunt is on for the scapegoat. In fact, one of the people that CBS attempts to hold responsible demonstrates their desperation:
In the early-morning hours of Sept. 8, Dan Rather was preparing to fly to Washington for a crucial interview in the Old Executive Office Building, but torrential rain kept him in New York.
White House communications director Dan Bartlett had agreed to talk to "60 Minutes," but only on condition that the CBS program provide copies of what were being billed as newly unearthed memos indicating that President Bush had received preferential treatment in the National Guard. The papers were hand-delivered at 7:45 a.m. CBS correspondent John Roberts, filling in for Rather, sat down with Bartlett at 11:15.
Half an hour later, Roberts called "60 Minutes" producer Mary Mapes with word that Bartlett was not challenging the authenticity of the documents. Mapes told her bosses, who were so relieved that they cut from Rather's story an interview with a handwriting expert who had examined the memos.
At that point, said "60 Minutes" executive Josh Howard, "we completely abandoned the process of authenticating the documents. Obviously, looking back on it, that was a mistake. We stopped questioning ourselves. I suppose you could say we let our guard down."
This is pathetic. What Josh Howard is saying, essentially, is that the entire episode is Dan Bartlett's fault for not doing the legwork that CBS should have done up front before running with the story. Since when do reputable journalists assign verification to the targets of their stories? After spending five years looking for dirt on George Bush's TANG service -- more on that later -- once they found something, they want us to believe that it was sufficient for authentication to hand the document to a press secretary and give him three hours to review it. And if he'd said that the memos looked suspicious, what would CBS have done -- shelved the story?
Once the Post gets by that half-assed attempt to pass the buck to the White House, they get into the meat of the process CBS used to perpetrate a smear during an election, something that the FEC and the FCC should investigate soon. The story, according to CBS sources, begins with one woman on a mission: producer Mary Mapes.
Mapes "had been trying to get her hands on the rumored documents for five years", since George Bush entered the presidential race for 2000. Why had Mapes been trying so hard with this story? It had fizzled in 2000, and the one person who had ever given any testimony to the "cover-up" meme was Bill Burkett, whose testimony had been debunked when it came out that the TANG records had not been stored where Burkett said he saw them being "cleansed".
None of this slowed Mapes down. In an interesting juxtaposition of dates, Ben Barnes told Mapes he would go on-air with his claims of using personal influence to get Bush into the TANG. Mapes jumped at the offer, despite Barnes' earlier false claims that he was the Lt. Governor of Texas when he had made the calls (he was a state legislator, which hardly gave him much juice with the National Guard). Mapes also conveniently forgot about Barnes' status as one of the top five contributors to the Democrats and the Kerry campaign, a status that generated a CBS News report on influence peddling three months earlier.
Mapes got the documents on September 3rd. How does that fit in with the Burkett timeline? On August 21, he writes an e-mail saying that he gave the information he had to the Democrats. On August 25, he publishes an op-ed piece saying that "we have reassembled the files" of Bush's service that he claimed were destroyed. By the weekend of 9/3, Burkett said he had advance information on an upcoming CBS story.
So, according to CBS sources, after five years Mapes finally had two sources to run the story -- a well-known and discredited crank and one of Kerry's biggest financial backers. CBS left this information out of their report, of course, and as it turns out, Mapes also ignored all of the experts she sought out to authenticate the physical evidence.
Emily Will of North Carolina, one of the experts CBS had asked to examine the memos, sent Mapes an e-mail outlining her concerns over discrepancies in Killian's signature. She also phoned CBS and raised more questions about whether the typography in the memos existed in 1972 and differences with other military documents. "They looked like trouble to me," Will said.
Linda James, a document examiner who lives near Mapes, was raising similar questions. The two memos she looked at "had problems," James recalled telling CBS, and she could not rule out that they had been "produced on a computer."
Document analyst Marcel Matley flew from California to New York, and Rather interviewed him on Labor Day, Sept. 6 -- footage that would end up on the cutting-room floor. But Matley limited his examination to Killian's signature, which he believed was probably valid, but not certain -- the lowest endorsement he offers. Because the memos were copies, Matley said in a recent interview, "there's no way that I, as a document expert, can authenticate them. . . . I can't say either way from my expertise, the narrow, narrow little field of my expertise."
Once the story began rolling downhill and picking up speed, CBS frantically looked for experts anywhere they could find them. Richard Katz only tried to prove that the memos could not have been created in Microsoft Word, a useless exercise, since Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs already had proved it could have been and almost certainly was. Katz made it clear he wasn't a document examiner, as did the other "expert" CBS called upon to save its bacon, Bill Glennon.
Why didn't CBS consult true document experts? Because most of them were being hired by websites like INDC Journal and CBS' competitors in the mainstream media, and all of them said the same thing: forgeries. The fact that Mapes and CBS did not even attempt to hire anyone certified by the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners is not only inexcusable but offers compelling circumstantial evidence that they knew the documents could not pass a rigorous examination.
In other words, they knew they had forgeries on their hands.
The Post does excellent work in teasing out all of the backroom finagling that dropped this hoax on the American electorate. But have they really gotten the entire story? Not yet.
For one thing, Mapes may be the producer at the center of the shenanigans, but she's not the managing editor of CBS News; that's Dan Rather. Rather's name is almost completely missing from this story. Mapes did not appear before the cameras in the aftermath of this debacle; Dan Rather did, and "personally" vouched for the authenticity of the documents. Either Rather knew the source, or he lied. If Rather knew the source, and the documents are forgeries, then Rather as managing editor should be held responsible. If he lied, then his credibility is shot -- and he should be held responsible.
None of the Post's CBS sources seem interested in pointing that out. It appears to me that Mapes is being groomed for the swift kick in the ass out the door as a way to mollify critics, and especially the affiliates, who have begun their rebellion this week. Mapes deserves to get canned over this hoax, without a doubt, but Mapes isn't responsible for enforcing standard journalistic procedures to verify evidence -- again, that belongs to the managing editor. That responsibility belongs to the man who has repeatedly tried to head off criticism of the report by shielding it with his own personal credibility.
Fire Mapes, certainly, but Dan Rather should be right behind her to turn in his credentials at the security office.Sphere It View blog reactions
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