09/16/04 — The memos: OK, Dan Rather, it’s your turn now

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The memos: OK, Dan Rather, it’s your turn now

Dan Rather put his credibility and that of CBS on the line when he presented on “60 Minutes II” his “documentary” evidence that Lt. George W. Bush, former National Guard fighter-interceptor pilot, not only performed poorly but refused “direct orders” and sometimes did not show up during his service 30 years ago.

The evidence was based on memos that Rather said were written by Bush’s commanding officer in the Guard. (The officer is deceased.)

The revelation was seized upon immediately by the networks and The Associated Press.

But then something happened. To those with strong technical knowledge about such things, the memos appeared to be fraudulent.

Letters produced on typewriters and computers are a bit like fingerprints, DNA and ballistics of bullets fired through gun barrels.

Some experts — other than the one offered by Rather — denounced the “documents” as either fake or said their authenticity was “astronomically” unlikely.

Rather fired back that CBS stood by its report. What he called his “trump card” as to authenticity was a National Guard general.

But there was another development. It came to light that a commander who supposedly was blamed for pressuring a subordinate to “sugar coat” Bush’s record had retired 18 months before he was said to have applied the pressure.

Rather’s “trump card” then denounced the memos as fakes. He said he had never seen them and merely had responded to questions asked during a call from CBS two days before the broadcast.

There have been others who have come forth to question the CBS report, including the late commanding officer’s son.

As this is written, a few of the nation’s larger newspapers have had experts examine copies of the memos. Time and again they have been denounced as fraudulent.

Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center, has asked CBS to apologize. “The CBS story is a hoax and a fraud, and a cheap and sloppy one at that. It boggles the mind that Rather and CBS continue to defend it,” he declared.

Instead, Rather seems to take an all too familiar cue from a former president: Staring the American public straight in the eye, waving an admonishing finger and declaring unequivocally, “I did not...” (in this case “rely on fraudulent documents”).

Perhaps those of us in the media should insist that Dan Rather subject himself to the same kind of robust questioning he and his fellow journalists regularly employ in attacking public officials.

The national press is unquestionably powerful and should be challenged and held accountable for reports that can drastically or subtly alter public opinion — or elections.

Published in Editorials on September 16, 2004 11:48 AM