This is a full and comprehensive update to my original post providing a timeline and analysis of CBS News' response to criticism of the Killian memo forgeries (Incompetent or Unethical? The Story of CBS News' Response to Criticism Over the Killian Memos). Unfortunately, due to its length, this update has to be broken into two parts. This is part one and covers September 8-13. Part two, which covers Sept 14-21, is here: Incompetent AND Unethical: The Story of CBS News' Response to Criticism of the Killian Memo Forgeries - Part Two.
First, another note about why I'm writing this series of posts on the CBS memos scandal.
I didn't jump into the "memogate" fray immediately. My first post on this story came Monday evening after CBS News defended the authenticity of the memos with two "experts," one of whom clearly had no idea what he was talking about and another whose credentials were weak at best. See my first post here: CBS Memo Defense: Richard Katz Is Wrong About Ones and Els.
I never thought there would be any significant discussion of the story after the first weekend. Watching the story develop during the first couple of days, I fully expected that CBS News would do the rational and ethical thing and declare that they were going to investigate themselves and the memos in order to clear up credible questions about the authenticity of the documents. I believed that CBS News would engage in a transparent process to prove their credibility, such as releasing the "first-generation" copies they claimed to have as well as the names of the experts who had authenticated the documents prior to broadcast.
Of course, some of the conservative "wingnuts" wouldn't have been satisfied by such a course of action (and leftist "moonbats" would see it as caving into conservative pressure), but reasonable people would have accepted that CBS News might have made an error yet was working diligently to correct it. Had this happened, while there might still have been plenty of discussion of the issue among conservative circles, most everybody else would have gone into waiting mode, giving CBS News a reasonable amount of time to conduct the investigation and report on itself.
Instead, CBS News entered standard political/corporate damage control mode and began to stonewall.
It wasn't that CBS News may have erred that is important. Mistakes happen. You correct them, figure out why they happened, and try not to repeat them, knowing that you'll make another mistake down the road. This is not news, and while it would have gotten a little bit of play, especially on the right, it wouldn't have been that big a deal. Of course, as we are now learning, the mistakes may have gone beyond errors in "news judgement" and into the realm of misdeeds.
Nevertheless (and perhaps because of possible misdeeds), CBS News refused to acknowledge even the possibility of error.
Making mistakes is one thing. Absurdly defending those mistakes, stonewalling and casting aspersions on those who make credible and legitimate criticism is another. When a major news organization engages in flagrant violations of basic journalistic ethics with regard to a claim that might have significant impact on a presidential election, that is an important story.
It would be absurd to expect or demand aggressive investigative reporters to always get it right the first time. Yes, we should demand high standards, but perfection is not achievable. However, we should demand vigorous correction policies. Imagine if the documents had been better forgeries. What would it have taken to get CBS News to admit error? In this case, the cover up really is much worse than the crime.
Many claim that there are other important institutional media questions, such as potential bias, news judgement and emphasis: more coverage should be devoted to other issues, news organizations need to dig deeper into these stories, be more aggressive in investigating and uncovering government untruths, and etc. Absolutely. These are important questions and they need to be addressed, but the answers aren't simple or even readily apparent in many cases. However, if you don't take clear violations of the fundamentals seriously, you'll never get satisfactory answers to any of the more difficult questions.
Second, I'll reiterate my stand that this isn't about Dan Rather, but about CBS News. Dan Rather is important, it is clear, but he is only one link in the web of responsibility with regard to CBS News' response to valid criticism.
Third, my basic conclusion is that the upper management of CBS News has deliberately acted unethically in responding to legitimate criticism. If the management of CBS News was not deliberately unethical, their sheer incompetence rises to the level of culpability. This is not to say that the rank and file of CBS News are implicated in the guilt of the CBS News executives, just as the rank and file of Enron are only guilty of having the poor luck in inadvertantly choosing to work for a group of crooks.
For some ideas on what will or should happen next, see Press Think (Did the President of CBS News Have Anyone in Charge of Reading the Internet and Sending Alerts?) and Buzzmachine (A Charge to the CBS Comission).
That said, please consider the evidence. If there are any errors or omissions, please let me know.
Wednesday, September 8th
CBS News posts copies of the forgeries to their website and for this they should be commended. It is probably the last bit of transparency CBS News will engage in for at least a week.
Just a few hours after the broadcast, "Buckhead," posts a comment (#47) to a Free Republic thread arguing that the documents look like forgeries (Documents Suggest Special Treatment for Bush in Guard [post 47]):
Howlin, every single one of these memos to file is in a proportionally spaced font, probably Palatino or Times New Roman.
In 1972 people used typewriters for this sort of thing, and typewriters used monospaced fonts.
The use of proportionally spaced fonts did not come into common use for office memos until the introduction of laser printers, word processing software, and personal computers. They were not widespread until the mid to late 90's. Before then, you needed typesetting equipment, and that wasn't used for personal memos to file. Even the Wang systems that were dominant in the mid 80's used monospaced fonts.
I am saying these documents are forgeries, run through a copier for 15 generations to make them look old.
This should be pursued aggressively.
The LA Times tracked down the identity of and information about "Buckhead" (Blogger Who Faulted CBS Documents Is Conservative Activist
Thursday, September 9th
Weblogs such as Power Line (The sixty-first minute), Little Green Footballs (Bush Guard Documents: Forged), RatherBiased and INDC Journal (Are the CBS National Guard Documents Fake?) raise serious, credible questions about the authenticity of the documents. There were other blogs involved, but this isn't an exhaustive history of the blogger's role. In any case, although not all the arguments and questions raised were ultimately found valid, many remain unanswered. In particular, both INDC Journal and RatherBiased are to be commended for seeking and obtaining the opinion of recognized experts in the field of document examination.
The Washington Post has reported that CBS News was aware of at least some of these critiques that afternoon (In Rush to Air, CBS Quashed Memo Worries):
The first sign of trouble came the next afternoon, when a staffer told [60 Minutes executive Josh] Howard that a Web site was questioning whether the Killian memos could have been produced on an early 1970s typewriter. In fact, the Internet was buzzing with such critiques. Howard asked Mapes about one of the charges, that typewriters of that period did not use superscripts, such as a raised "th," that appeared in the memos. She came back with military documents that used a small "th," but the letter combination was not raised above the rest of the type, as true superscript would be. Howard said he believed some of the outsiders' questions about superscript and proportionate spacing were "kind of silly."
"Kind of silly." Heh.
Later that day, several major news organizations begin developing stories based on the concerns with the memos' authenticity raised by bloggers. When contacted by these organizations CBS News stood by its story and spokesperson Kelli Edwards made the following claim in an email according to WorldNetDaily (CBS News denies Bush docs forged):
"CBS verified the authenticity of the documents by talking to individuals who had seen the documents at the time they were written. These individuals were close associates of [Bush commander] Colonel Jerry Killian and confirm that the documents reflect his opinions at the time the documents were written." [emphasis added]
This is a remarkable claim and, if true, would do much to support the authenticity of the documents. Note that CBS claims not one contemporaneous witness but at least two "individuals."
Of course, as we now know, this claim was a lie.
The original story that CBS News' source provided was that the documents came from a fellow former member of the Army National Guard, CWO George Conn, according to USA Today (CBS backs off Guard story). How this claimed source, who was never spoken to, morphs into "talking to individuals who had seen the documents at the time they were written" and "were close associates of Colonel Jerry Killian" cannot easily, if at all, be explained as incompetence.
Furthermore, even if the statement was due to incompetence, CBS News never bothered to correct the obvious and misleading error for a week and a half. At some point, allowing misstatements to stand uncorrected clearly becomes lying.
This is particularly odd in light of the fact that a week after the original report CBS News reported the views of Killian's secretary, Marian Knox, who denied that Killian would have typed the documents himself or that the CBS News memos were consistent with documents from Killian's National Guard offices. Certainly, by that time, CBS News should have acknowledged that its original statements regarding the documents were not correct.
CBS News is now, allegedly, investigating who provided the false information, according to the Washington Post (Questions Surround Man Who Provided Documents):
CBS spokeswoman Kelli Edwards said yesterday that the network was investigating a Sept. 9 statement that asserted the network had spoken with "individuals who saw the documents at the time they were written."
That should be a real short investigation. After all, this is the same Kelli Edwards who made the claim in the first place. Who told her or did she simply make it up?
The Washington Post, which has been a leading light in the investigation also approached CBS News with the testimony of experts consulted by the Post (Some Question Authenticity of Papers on Bush):
Documents unearthed by CBS News that raise doubts about whether President Bush fulfilled his obligations to the Texas Air National Guard include several features suggesting that they were generated by a computer or word processor rather than a Vietnam War-era typewriter, experts said yesterday.
Experts consulted by a range of news organizations pointed out typographical and formatting questions about four documents as they considered the possibility that they were forged. The widow of the National Guard officer whose signature is on the bottom of the documents also disputed their authenticity.
It was here that CBS began to stonewall investigators:
CBS spokeswoman Kelli Edwards declined to respond to questions raised by experts who examined copies of the papers at the request of The Washington Post, or to provide the names of the experts CBS consulted.
Why not name all the experts? Why did it take CBS News an entire week to provide the names of all those it consulted and only after other news organizations had identified most of them? What valid reaons could CBS News have had in not identifying those who identified their documents? CBS News has never said. Their behavior here was a brazen and conspicuous flouting of elementary considerations of transparency. Compare this with the Washington Post, which named and provided at least some background for two of their experts.
The Washington Post went on to provide another remarkable claim by CBS News:
CBS officials insisted that the network had done due diligence in checking out the authenticity of the documents with independent experts over six weeks. The senior CBS official said the network had talked to four typewriting and handwriting experts "who put our concerns to rest" and confirmed the authenticity of Killian's signature.
Now, this isn't a direct quote but, if true, it seems to be at the very least misleading given later revelations. By CBS News' own claim, two of the experts were "peripheral" to the investigation. However, on the day after the 60 Minutes II
report, they didn't seem too peripheral to mention to the Washington Post. Furthermore, at least three of the experts now claim they did not authenticate the documents. CBS News claims they are mispresenting their discussions with CBS News.
We do know that CBS News was being misleading when they said the experts authenticated the "documents" as opposed to authenticating only photocopies of the documents. You might think that was worth mentioning, given that CBS News would later complain that the experts bloggers and other news organizations consulted did not have access to the high quality copies CBS News had.
Interestingly, three of the experts have been willing to talk directly to the press about what they told CBS News. No individual from CBS News who spoke to the experts has come forward to dispute the claims in person, or to provide a detailed accounting of what the two "peripheral" experts told CBS.
We also now know that the claim that CBS News had been "checking out the authenticity of the documents with independent experts over six weeks" is a lie. According to the USA Today report, CBS News did not receive the first two documents until sometime in August and the other four on September 5th. In either case, there would have been no six week period to check the documents. Furthermore, this CBS News timeline is entirely inconsistent with the testimony of the experts who have come forward. At best, the experts had a few days to look at the documents.
Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly claims to have spoken to someone "who's familiar with how the documents were vetted" (ARE THE KILLIAN MEMOS REAL?):
and the bottom line is that CBS is very, very confident that the memos are genuine. They believe that (a) their sources are rock solid, (b) the provenance of the documents is well established, and (c) the appearance of the documents matches the appearance of other documents created at the same place and time. In addition, people who knew Killian well have confirmed that the memos are genuine.
Later, Drum will consider outing this anonymous source (Anonymous Sources...
Last Thursday someone called me for the sole purpose of assuring me that CBS's source for the Killian memos was absolutely rock solid and had been vetted nine ways to Sunday. I should, I was told, feel comfortable blogging my heart out about the content of the memos without worrying about their authenticity.
As it happens, I declined to take that advice, but that's not what matters. What does matter is that my caller clearly knew that CBS's vetting was a judgment call, not a slam dunk, but was spinning very hard to convince me otherwise.
It is not entirely clear that source was a member of CBS News. However, this source was able to convince the reasonable Drum that he/she knew what was going on inside CBS News, and this should be investigated.
Friday, September 10th
MSNBC reports that CBS News calls their source for the documents, "unimpeachable" (CBS stands by documents on Bushs Guard service).
Extremely strong language for a source whose testimony has in fact been impeached and who most reasonable observers would consider anything but unimpeachable even before the fact. Don't take my word for it. Consider what the Washington Post had to say (Questions Surround Man Who Provided Documents):
The man CBS News touted as the "unimpeachable source" of explosive documents about President Bush's National Guard service turns out to be a former Guard officer with a history of self-described mental problems who has denounced Bush as a liar with "demonic personality shortcomings."
Incompetence and/or unethical? You make the call.
Blog O'Ram begins maintaing a list of experts named in various news stories who question or support the authenticity of the documents (A Scorecard). Perhaps someone at CBS News might have thought to consider something like this. We will see later how CBS chooses additional experts to examine the documents.
Dan Rather himself responds to the criticism's during the broadcast of that evening's CBS Evening News in a particularly unprincipled way. Of course, I doubt it likely that he writes his material entirely alone or without review of an editor. There are other individuals at CBS News responsible for this debacle. Furthermore, having broadcast this report, failing to reconsider or correct the same broadens responsibility for this unprincipled broadcast even further. CBS News' vaunted ethics are seriously challenged here.
Let us go to the transcript, as provided by KerrySpot on the National Review (This is a Defense?). I've removed and borrowed from many of Jim Geraghty's excellent annotations of the transcript to make my own points. Read his as well. Some people may consider some of my comments nit-picky, but when your journalistic integrity is being challenged, one would expect you to pick a few nits defending yourself. One shouldn't defend shoddy reporting with more shoddiness. Moreover, enough nits eventually become a pattern of less-than-forthrightness.
There were attacks today on the CBS News 60 Minutes report this week, raising questions about President Bush's Vietnam era time in the Texas Air National Guard. The questions included in our report were: Did a wealthy Texas oilman, friend of the Bush family, use his influence with the then speaker of the Texas House of Representatives to get George W. Bush a coveted slot in the National Guard, keeping him out of the draft and in the probable service in Vietnam? Did Lieutenant Bush refuse a direct order from his commanding officer? Was Lieutenant Bush suspended for failure to perform up to Air Force standards? Did Lieutenant Bush ever take a physical he was required and ordered to take? If not, why not? And did Lieutenant Bush, in fact, complete his commitment to the Guard?
This appears to be the beginning of the answer-a-question-with-a-question-game. This is a tactic that CBS News continues to use (although to a lesser extent having admitted error) to divert attention from the concerns its own behavior and the evidence has raised.
Some of these are important questions. However, is it really CBS News that should be raising them at this point? Shouldn't they have answered the legitimate questions about their own reporting first? Weren't there other news organizations, such as the New York Times, Boston Globe and others who were covering the issues regarding Bush' National Guard service?
What would Dan Rather's response have been if Bill Burkett had responded to questions regarding the origins of the documents by first claiming that the important questions were the above, and questions about the origin of the documents were a distraction?
This was clearly and even explicitly meant to distract attention from the very serious questions being raised about the CBS News documents. Is this proper behavior for a news organization? Politicians and others may use this tactic to distract questioners and avoid giving a direct answer. Wouldn't it have been much more appropriate for CBS to simply say they reported about certain allegations and then move directly into answering the questions that had been raised?
These questions grew out of new witnesses and new evidence, including documents written by Lieutenant Bush's squadron commander.
As Geraghty puts it, "This would be a fine place to use the word 'allegedly.'"
Today on the Internet and elsewhere,
Again, from Geraghty, "Where is elsewhere? Would this be the Washington Post or ABC News you're referring to?" Indeed. To many people, the "Internet" (with some justification) means an arena where wild and unsubstantiated allegations roam free. Why did CBS not mention the very prominent and respected organization bringing the questions? One might think this was inadvertant, perhaps, until you consider the rest of the statement.
some people, including many who are partisan political operatives,
Motivation is frequently a valid element in judging claims that are subjective. However, most of the criticisms of the documents, particularly the typographical evidence is fairly objective in nature. How important is motivation regarding these claims? Furthermore, this also casts aspersions on the reporting of other news organizations without any basis. Is this journalistic ethics?
One also boggles at the fact that CBS News thinks it worthy to note that some of its critics are partisan, but failed to note for over a week and a half that its source for the forgeries was partisan. Consistent much?
concentrated not on the key questions of the overall story, but on the documents that were part of the support of the story.
The answer-a-question-with-a-question-game continues. The documents were clearly an important and central part of the story when broadcast. Whether these documents are authentic is
a key question of the overall story. If Dan Rather and CBS News cannot see that, at some point, their blindness crosses the line into either professionally incompetent or unethical behavior.
They allege that the documents are fake.
"They," the mysterious "they." A confident (did I almost write "competent"?) news organization might have said "Experts allege" or something similar. Shouldn't a news organization confront challenges directly, rather than use rhetorical tricks to undermine the case for their critics? It would seem that CBS News was acting more as an advocate than an objective seeker of truth. If there is anything less "journalistic" than acting as an advocate for a particular position, I don't know what it is. Lawyers are supposed to be advocates. Journalists are supposed to seek something close to the truth.
Those raising questions about the CBS documents have focused on something called superscript, a key that automatically types a raised 'th.' Critics claim typewriters didn't have that ability in the 1970s, but some models did.
"Those raising questions," the mysterious tribe of "those." Will CBS ever dignify its critics by referring to them with anything other than a pronoun or partisan label?
Of course, the superscripting claim was only one of many. Furthermore, only the least sophisticated critics were still arguing that there were no ligature "th"s by Friday morning. In fact, most of the experts were arguing that it was uncommon, especially considering that this ligature was "superscripted", that is, printed immediately next to and slightly above another character.
More importantly, this ignores the argument that all the experts were making, that this was remarkably consistent with the output of a wordprocessing program. Indeed, many consider the most compelling demonstration of this the "smoking memo," which had been made available the day before on Little Green Footballs. Could it possibly be that CBS didn't notice this? Now it might be that some things just can't make the cut in the limited time of 30-minute news show. However, isn't there any obligation to provide your critics strongest arguments?
In fact, other Bush military records already officially released by the White House itself, show the same superscript. Here's one from 1968.
Uh, no it doesn't. Anyone looking at the two documents will clearly see that ligature isn't anything like the ligature in the disputed memos. See the original on page three of this document: Miscellaneous Bush National Guard Documents [PDF]
For example, it isn't superscripted. Like the vast majority of ligatures on typewriters it prints inline with the other characters. Second, it is clearly a different typeface. It is monospaced for gosh sakes.
Incompetent, blind, and/or unethical? You be the judge.
Some analysts outside CBS say they believe the typeface on these memos is New Times Roman, which they claim was not available in the 1970s. But the owner of the company that distributes this typing style says it has been available since 1931.
Geraghty says it well, "Yes, for printing books. Was New Times Roman available for typewriters for that era? Again, if it was, it was highly uncommon. And why has no other document from Bush's records from that era been printed in that font? And has anyone found any other document written in than font, by Killian, relating to anything else but Bush?" Indeed. At least they refer to "analysts."
Incompetent and/or unethical? You be the judge.
Document and handwriting examiner Marcel Matley analyzed the documents for CBS News. He says he believes they are real, but he is concerned about exactly what is being examined by some of the people now questioning the documents.
Actually, Matley didn't analyze the documents, only photocopies of the documents. A minor, but critical point - as even Matley acknowledges that it is impossible to conclusively authenticate a signature from a photocopy, since one can rather easily cut-n-paste a valid signature into a photocopy, but that it is possible to falsify it.
Strangely, Matley also now claims that he didn't analyze the "documents," but only a single signature. Indeed, his speciality is handwriting, not typeface identification. Is CBS lying or Matley? There are people who claim that everyone else is lying, but they aren't. We generally call these people "liars."
And how nice that Matley expresses his concern about what "people" (aka document authentication experts hired by other news organizations) are examining.
Because deterioration occurs each time a document is reproduced and the documents being analyzed outside of CBS have been photocopied, faxed, scanned, and downloaded, and are far removed from the documents CBS started with, which were also photocopies.
Nice of CBS News to mention that. They didn't mention it on Wednesday during the first report or, more importantly, when questioned on Thursday.
They might have also mentioned that if all you have is a photocopy that makes it impossible to conclusively authenticate a document based on analysis of the document alone.
Finally, this claim that outside experts don't have access to good copies of the documents is absolutely shameless. The only reason that other experts were not analyzing pristine copies is because CBS News had refused to make them available. Give me a break! Is this even a close ethical call or a gross violation?
In any case, does CBS News actually have pristine copies? It would be interesting if they made them available at this late date.
Document and handwriting examiner Marcel Matley did this interview with us prior to the 60 Minutes broadcast. He looked at the documents and the signatures of Colonel Jerry Killian, comparing known documents with the colonel's signature on the newly discovered ones.
Mr. MARCEL MATLEY (document and handwriting expert): We look, basically, at what's called significant or insignificant features to determine whether it's the same person or not. See I have no problem identifying them. I would say, based on our available handwriting evidence, yes, this is the same person.
"I have no problem identifying them," except for that little matter of the signatures being photocopies, I guess. Of course, Matley now claims that he only authenticated a single signature. Indeed, CBS News itself has put on its website a letter from Matley attesting to this claim without a disclaimer that it is misleading or a lie (Letter to 60 Minutes Wednesday from Marcel Matley [PDF]
). I guess this would mean that CBS News' defense was the misleading claim.
RATHER: Matley finds the signatures to be some of the most compelling evidence.
Compelling? They were the only
evidence Matley considered.
Incompetent or unethical? You decide.
We talked to him again today by satellite.
Are you surprised that questions come about these? We're not.....but I wondered if you were surprised.
The talked "by satellite" is a nice touch. Where was Matley? Antartica? The 1960s? Okay, a cheap shot.
If CBS wasn't surprised, then that means they knew they would have to be especially careful in authenticating these documents. It also means that they should have been prepared to answer questions. Interestingly, neither appears to be the case.
Incompetent or unethical? You decide.
Mr. MATLEY: I knew going in that this was dynamite one way or the other, and I knew that potentially it was far more potential damage to me professionally than benefit to me, and I knew that. And but we seek the truth, that's what we do. And, you know, you're supposed to put yourself out to seek the truth and take what comes from it.
Once again, Geraghty hits it on the head: "Poor Matley. Oddly, instead of asking Matley to explain in greater detail why he thinks the documents are genuine to address the criticism head-on Rather asks him whether he is surprised that some people question the validity of the documents. And Matley is lamenting that his work for CBS in this could do potential damage to him professionally. This exchange is almost a non sequitur." Indeed. Ignoring the question on point. Is this what passes for journalism nowadays?
Incompetent or unethical? You decide.
RATHER: Robert Strong was an administrative officer for the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam years. He knew Colonel Jerry Killian, the man credited with writing the documents. And paperwork, like these documents, was his specialty. He is standing by his judgment that the documents are real.
When you read through these documents, is there any doubt in your mind that these are genuine?
Mr. ROBERT STRONG (former administrator, Texas Air National Guard): Well, they are compatible with the way business was done at that time. They are compatible with the man that I remember Jerry Killian being. I don't see anything in the documents that are discordant with what were the times, what were the situation and what were the people that were involved.
RATHER: Strong says the highly charged political atmosphere of the Guard at the time was perfectly represented in the newly revealed documents.
Mr. STRONG: It verged on outright corruption in terms of the favors that were done, the power that was traded, and it was unconscionable. From a moral and ethical standpoint, it was unconscionable.
Geraghty again, "This is a nice supporting witness contending that it is possible Killian would write this memo. It would be nice if he addressed the claims that Killian didn't type and didn't keep memos at home, and spoke to whether the document looks like any other document generated in a National Guard office in the early 1970s."
RATHER: It is the information in the new documents that is most compelling for people familiar with President Bush's record in the National Guard. Author Jim Moore has written two books critical of President Bush and his service in the Guard.
Mr. JIM MOORE (Author): So there's no doubt in my mind that these documents are stating accurately what we know took place from the records that are available.
One supporting witness to the documents is probably okay. However, the vast majority of criticism of the documents, certainly on Thursday and Friday, had to do with technical details regarding the type and etc. Wouldn't it have made more sense to put on another technical expert, perhaps the one non-peripheral expert CBS also relied on?
Furthermore, there are a number of Killian's contemporaries, including his wife and son who dispute the story. Are they not as credible as Moore? Or were they unavailable for the show?
Incompetent or unethical? You decide.
RATHER: Put it in context and perspective for us, the story and the what we'll call the counterattack on the story. Where are we right now?
Well, to have a counterattack you have to have an attack in the first place. CBS News seems to be making an admission here that the original story was an attack. Is journalism supposed to be about attacks?
Furthermore, when people question your evidence, is it really fair to characterize that as an "attack"? And, moreover, even if it was a "counterattack," it wasn't on the story but on the evidence for the story. There is a crucial difference there. One the CBS News doesn't seem to grasp.
Incompetent or unethical? You decide.
Mr. MOORE: Well, I think what has happened is that some incriminating documents have come out. The White House, I should you should remember, has not discredited the documents.
Geraghty, "So what? How on earth would the White House know whether or not Killian kept personal documents?"
This is also one of the earlier examples of CBS News attempting to shift the burden of proof and play the answer-a-question-with-a-question-game. Go question the White House, CBS News is saying, don't question us.
RATHER: The 60 Minutes report was based not solely on the recovered documents, but on a preponderance 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.
Preponderance vs. definitive. Double-standards, a mainstay of journalistic ethics courses it would seem. For those who missed this point the first time, I'm saying that if preponderance is good enough to adjudge the documents authentic, then the preponderance standard is good enough to raise doubts about the documents. Instead, CBS News is saying the higher burden is on those who question the documents.
In any case, eventually CBS News acknowledged that there was enough evidence to question the validity of the documents. What exactly turned out to be definitive and why was the evidence developed through Friday not good enough?
Incompetent or unethical? You be the judge.
Saturday, September 11th
Joseph Newcomer posts his devastating expert critique of the CBS News Memos (The Bush "Guard memos" are forgeries!). I'd call it definitive, but CBS News didn't think so, as they haven't reported it. It has simply been lost in the mythical "expert debate" where nothing can be resolved, at least according to CBS News, which has yet to acknowledge that the documents are forgeries.
Incompetent or unethical? You decide.
The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz scores an interview with Dan Rather (Rather Defends CBS Over Memos on Bush):
"Until someone shows me definitive proof that they are not, I don't see any reason to carry on a conversation with the professional rumor mill," the CBS anchor said. "My colleagues and I at '60 Minutes' made great efforts to authenticate these documents and to corroborate the story as best we could. . . . I think the public is smart enough to see from whom some of this criticism is coming and draw judgments about what the motivations are."
Way to approach the issue with an open, inquiring, journalistic mind. Several responsible news organizations, many certified experts, and some excellent logic is "the professonal rumor mill." What should one call CBS News then, I wonder? The unprofessional rumor mill?
One might also wonder why the managing editor of CBS News considers what is later acknowledged to be inadequate efforts to authenticate as "great efforts to authenticate." Did he even bother to look into the issue at all before speaking with Howard Kurtz?
Furthermore, Rather implies the criticims should be judged based on their motivations. Here is a clue: the motivation is getting at the truth, something journalists are supposed to do. And, once again, if the motivations of CBS News' critics are to be suspect, why aren't the motivations of those CBS News relies upon as sources to be suspect or even acknowledged?
No question, this is clearly incompetency.
A new bit of information:
Rather said that CBS's lead expert was Marcel Matley of San Francisco, a member of the National Association of Document Examiners who has taught, lectured and written about his field, testified in numerous trials, and consulted for government agencies. Matley said last night that a "60 Minutes" executive had asked him not to give interviews.
Huh? Yet another flagrant, blatant example of what journalists are not supposed to do. Will someone please explain the concept of "journalism" to the "60 Minutes" executives? Thank you.
Why hasn't the executive who asked Matley not to speak to the press been revealed?
Before airing Wednesday's segment, he said, CBS "vetted" the confidential source who provided the memos and concluded that "he did have the ability to get access to these documents and he was being truthful."
Beyond that, Rather said, CBS consulted with military experts about Killian's language and the documents' format and compared them to other Bush service records previously released by the White House. "We decided there was a preponderance of evidence that they are what they purport to be," he said.
Other than Robert Strong and Major General Bobby Hodges, to whom CBS News read the documents over the phone, there were apparently no other military experts. Yet another misleading statement from CBS News' Managing Editor.
"It's hard to separate legitimate concern from political blowback and propaganda," Heyward [President of CBS News] said.
It may be difficult, but that is part of Heyward's job description, I would imagine. In any case, long after legitimate concerns have been raised, CBS News' managing editor is blaming partisans without noting the partisan source for the documents.
But Rather cautioned that the memos become less clear as they are downloaded and photocopied.
That would have been excellent opportunity for CBS News to provide the clearest copies of the documents they could.
Incompetence or unethical? You decide.
The LA Times also has some interesting responses from CBS (Amid Skepticism, CBS Sticks to Bush Guard Story)
Although many others helped report and corroborate the story, Rather said, "I'm of the school, my name is on it, I'm responsible."
That is good to know. One wonders what "school" casts aspersions on critics, refuses to name experts, witholds high-quality copies, and engages in advocacy as opposed to objective reporting when legitimate criticism is raised.
The LA Times article continues:
A CBS official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the network had two other document experts [other than Matley], who CBS did not identify, examine the documents, which were copies of the originals.
The experts studied the type font or style, spacing and other variables and deemed the memos legitimate, said the official.
Two? I thought there turns out only to be one. After all weren't two of the other three CBS News has named "peripheral"? And, of course, this complete ignores the fact that two of three have said they didn't authenticate, nor is it clear that the third claimed the documents were legitimate.
Incompetent of unethical? It is up to you.
The Boston Globe runs a story with a misleading headline (Authenticity backed on Bush documents). In fact, the article essentially supports the position that there are serious questions about the authenticity of the documents. Later, on September 15th, the Globe will run a correction (For the Record - Sept. 15, 2004):
Because of an editing error, the headline on a Page One story Saturday on whether documents released by CBS News about President Bush's Texas Air National Guard service are genuine ("Authenticity backed on Bush documents") did not accurately reflect the content of the story. The story quoted one analyst saying that the documents could have been produced on typewriters available in the early 1970s, but the analyst did not vouch for the authenticity of the documents. A second analyst quoted in the story said he doubts the documents are authentic.
However, this will not prevent CBS News from making a similar "editing" error in their Saturday Evening broadcast. Note that the anchor is not Dan Rather, but Russ Mitchell:
RUSS MITCHELL, CBS ANCHOR: This week, a "60 MINUTES" report raised new questions about President Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard some 30 years ago. Among them: Did then Lt. Bush receive preferential treatment to get into the National Guard and out of possible service in Vietnam? Did he refuse a direct order from a commanding officer? Did he ever take a required physical exam? And did he complete his commitment to the Guard? The questions grew out of interviews with new witnesses and four documents obtained by CBS News, written by then Lt. Bush's squadron commander.
The answer-a-question-with-a-question-game continues.
The documents were authenticated for CBS News by outside experts.
Well, actually, they weren't. Moreover, CBS News did not yet deign to reveal who the experts were, save for handwriting expert Matley.
On the Internet and elsewhere, some are have questioned the documents' authenticity, focusing on the type styles of the, suggesting the memos are fake.
Elsewhere, as in the Washington Post and ABC News.
Today one document expert, Philip Bouffard, who had expressed suspicions about the documents, told the "Boston Globe" and CBS News that he now believes the documents could have been prepared on an IBM Selectric Composer typewriter, available at the time.
Hmmmm ... "who had
expressed suspicions"? As if his suspicions were all in the past? Bouffard was not at all suspicious? Fantastic!
Of course, one wonders why Bouffard hasn't been subsequently touted by CBS News. Perhaps his suspicions have mysteriously returned?
Interestingly, Bouffard did not have access to the original photocopies that CBS had. The day before, CBS had expressed concern with experts using documents that had been "been photocopied, faxed, scanned, and downloaded, and are far removed from the documents CBS started with." Yet, when Bouffard lends the slightest support to CBS News' position, suddenly, that isn't a concern anymore.
And, most certainly, CBS News report lacks any nuance. Even if it were possible that the documents were created by an IBM Selectric Composer, is it at all likely that such a machine would have been used for personal memos? And, if so, wouldn't there have been many contemporaneous documents created using the same typeface? CBS News doesn't address these widespread criticisms at all.
Also, strangely, CBS News actually mentioned the Boston Globe by name, which lent further credence to their position. Apparently, CBS News didn't have time to mention any of the news organizations that detract from CBS's report by name, referring to them as "elsewhere."
Finally, this seems to be the point when CBS News begins cherry picking experts that support its position and essentially ignoring those who don't. CBS News' motto seems to be "Conclusion First, Expert Second." Rather than seek out neutral experts, CBS News will rely only on those who already support CBS News' position.
Incompetent or unethical? You be the judge.
Also today, there are reports that retired National Guard Maj. Gen. Bobby W. Hodges, one of the sources corroborating the CBS News account, now says he believes the documents were not real, in part because of recent statements of relatives of Jerry Killian, the squadron commander credited with writing the memos.
Or perhaps because he finally had the opportunity to see the memos, as CBS News only permitted him to hear the memos over the phone.
CBS News responded today: We believe Gen. Hodges the first time we spoke with him. We believe the documents to be genuine. We stand by our story and will continue to report on it.
The White House continues to say that President Bush served honorably, and that the memos surfaced as part of - quote - "an orchestrated effort by Democrats and the Kerry campaign to tear down the president" - end quote.
Sunday, September 12th
The Washington Post does a story on Bush's National Guard service or lack thereof (Gaps in Service Continue to Dog Bush). There is an interesting new bit of information about a claim CBS made on Thursday:
A CBS spokeswoman, Sandy Genelius, said 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.
So, not only are there at least two "individuals" who saw the documents when they were written, they are "sources."
This, of course, compounds the lie from Thursday. Instead of correcting the misstatement, if (generously) that is what it was, CBS News reiterates the lie.
Broadcasting and Cable, unfortunately, subscription only, had some interesting notes (Rather Defends Memos ... But)
Rather, who was the correspondent, says, Document analysis isnt a pure science. Its not fingerprints or DNA. Its a very crude art. You have one expert testifying one thing and one another.
Well, it would be pretty close, if you had the originals. I bet it wouldn't be more than a day or two to determine authenticity if you had the originals, if that.
Nevertheless, this is the beginning of CBS's claim of a battle of the experts. A "we may never know" stance. One might think CBS News would put together a blue ribbon panel of experts with the help of some other news organizations and provide high quality copies of the documents. One might think that.
To this day, CBS News insists that while they haven't been proved authentic, there is no way to know whether the documents are forgeries.
Incompetence or unethical?
Newsweek was also the first to report that Bill Burkett was the likely source for the CBS News story (Slime Time Live):
Where did the documents come from? CBS won't say. But the trail pieced together by NEWSWEEK shows that in a sulfurous season like this one, the difference between obscurity and power is small, and anyone can get a hearing. A principal source for CBS's story was Bill Burkett, a disgruntled former Guard officer who lives in Baird, Texas, who says he was present at Guard headquarters in Austin in 1997, when a top aide to the then Governor Bush ordered records sanitized to protect the Boss. Other Guard officials disputed Burkett's account, and the Bush aide involved, Joe Allbaugh, called it "absolute garbage." Burkett may have a motive to make trouble for the powers that be. In 1998, he grew gravely ill on a Guard mission to Panama, causing him to be hospitalized, and he suffered two nervous breakdowns. He unsuccessfully sued for medical expenses.
Not only had Newsweek figured out who the source was, but they had immediately noted that he wasn't the most reliable source in the world. It would take CBS News nearly another week to figure this out.
Monday, September 13th
The Baltimore Sun has some advice for CBS (Rather's doubters unmoved):
Any news organization broadcasting or publishing potentially highly charged reports - particularly in an election year - must make sure the information is accurate and that the public understands why it can be believed, said experienced reporters. [emphasis added]
Once again, unless by "several" you mean "two," CBS is claiming validation by more experts then they actually had, unless you also count "peripheral" experts:
According to Genelius, CBS stands by the story. The network interviewed "several" handwriting and documents experts on the record to ensure the memos' validity before last Wednesday's broadcast. None was interviewed in the Wednesday report. One was described on air to viewers - but not until last Friday when Rather was defending the network.
The authenticity of the memos is defended once again, quite vigorously on the CBS Evening News
DAN RATHER, CBS ANCHOR: Besides reporting on Senator John Kerry's Vietnam service record, CBS news has been checking President Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard, including whether he did or did not fulfill his commitment. CBS News is continuing to report the story, gathering information, asking questions and probing. CBS is also addressing questions about documents used to corroborate some of the information in our reporting. Some of these questions come from people who are not active political partisans. It's tonight's "Inside Story." (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
Finally, CBS concedes that some of the criticisms come from disinterested and non-partisan sources. One might ask, however, why it took so long. One might also question why CBS News once again failed to mention that its source for the documents was partisan.
RATHER (voice-over): At a Democratic National Committee press conference today, the shots being fired by some retired military men were aimed directly at President Bush's National Guard service.
GEN. MERRILL MCPEAK (RET.): But official records show that he skipped a physical and was grounded. You know how hard it is to forget your annual flying physical? I took 37 of them in a row.
Of course, one of big questions regarding CBS News' response is going to be when did CBS News know that Mary Mapes, producer of the original segment, put the source, Burkett, in contact with the Kerry campaign. If CBS News executives and/or Dan Rather knew by Monday, this segment might look a little different in that light.
RATHER: There has also been criticism of the new documents obtained by "60 Minutes" and CBS News, but CBS used several techniques to make sure these papers should be taken seriously, talking to handwriting and document analysts and other experts who strongly insist that the documents could have been created in the '70s.
Once again, here was an excellent opportunity for CBS News to name its experts. Don't forget, CBS News also claimed to have checked with military language and formatting experts who, other than Robert Strong and Bobby Hodges, have never been mentioned.
BILL GLENNON: Everything that's in those documents that people are saying can't be done, as you said, 32 years ago, is just totally false. Not true. Like I said, proportional spacing was available, superscripts was available as a custom feature, proportional spacing between lines was available. You could order that any way you like.
Where did this "expert" come from? Could it be that CBS was "expert shopping" once again? Conclusion First, Expert Second? Given the numerous certified document examiners available, CBS had to rely on a former typewriter repairman?
Indeed, it would seem that Glennon originally became known through a post supportive of CBS News' position he made on Kevin Drum's blog on the Washington Monthly (Comment: Killian Memo Update). His "expertise" was later picked up by the New York Times (CBS Defends Its Report on Bush Military Record).
Unfortunately, he actually hasn't been that helpful to CBS News. Consider this article from the Washington Post regarding this "expert" (Expert Cited by CBS Says He Didn't Authenticate Papers): "But Glennon said he is not a document expert, could not vouch for the memos' authenticity and only examined them online because CBS did not give him copies when asked to visit the network's offices."
This is very odd. On Friday, CBS was claiming that one should be careful about making pronouncements about authenticity without access to the pristine photocopies that CBS was holding onto. Indeed, that very day, CBS claimed that they believed they had first-generation copies, according to reporting by the Chicago Tribune (Laura Bush says papers likely forged): "CBS spokeswoman Sandy Genelius said Monday that the network possesses what it believes to be so-called 'first generation' copies, duplicated directly from the original documents."
Finally, since Glennon didn't (and couldn't) authenticate the documents, isn't it a bit misleading to feature him merely saying that similar documents could have been made without any qualification?
Finally, consider this later description of Glennon's "expertise" from the Washington Post (In Rush to Air, CBS Quashed Memo Worries): "While Glennon continues to insist that the documents could theoretically have been printed on a Vietnam War-era IBM Selectric, no one has been able to demonstrate this . Leading font developers say the technology simply did not exist 30 years ago."
Incompetence or unethical? You decide.
RATHER: Richard Katz, a software designer, found some other indications in the documents. He noted that the lowercase letter "l" is used for the numeral "1" in those documents instead of the actual numeral one. That would be difficult to reproduce on the computer printer today.
RICHARD KATZ, SOFTWARE DESIGNER: If you were doing this a week ago or a month ago on a normal laser jet printer, it wouldn't work. You just couldn't. The font wouldn't be available to you.
RATHER: Katz also noted that the documents have both the so-called superscript "th" and a regular-sized "th." That would be common on a typewriter, not a computer.
KATZ: There is one document from May of 1972 which contains a normal "th" at the top. To produce that in Microsoft Word, you would have to go out of your way to type the letters and then turn the "th" setting off or back over them, and type them again.
Yet another "expert." How did CBS find Katz? According to the New York Times
, Katz called his local CBS affiliate after looking at the memos on the website (CBS Offers New Experts to Support Guard Memos
). Once again, we have an "expert" making judgements based on poor quality copies. Perhaps there is some internal logic here, you can authenticate with poor copies, but you can't criticize CBS News based on poor copies.
One also has to ask how CBS checked Katz's credentials. At least Glennon has some remotely plausible credentials. Katz is a "computer software expert," yet he believes it is difficult to use "l" for "1" and use the undo button. I mean, really. I've written a more indepth dissection of his claims about ones and ells here: CBS Memo Defense: Richard Katz Is Wrong About Ones and Els.
Katz's other claim about the difficulty in removing Microsoft Word's superscripts is just as easily dismissed (Typewriter Repairman Promoted).
Finally, even the newspapers hardly bother to refute Katz. According to the Washington Post (In Rush to Air, CBS Quashed Memo Worries): "On Monday, CBS turned to two new analysts to counter the critics. One of them, Richard Katz, said later that he had merely set out to prove the memos had not been created with Microsoft Word or other modern computer programs. He told The Post that he is not a document examiner and that 'I have no interest in authenticating the documents.'"Incompetence or unethical? It's up to you.
RATHER: CBS News also relied on an analysis of the contents of the documents themselves, to determine the content's authenticity. The new papers are in line with what is known about the president's service assignments and dates.
For instance, the official record shows that Mr. Bush was suspended from flying on August 1, 1972. That date matches the one on a memo given to CBS News, ordering Mr. Bush be suspended.
Perhaps one might want to note that content analysis can only falsify, if the content is already public knowledge. Might be an important caveat.
In any case, there was dispute over the dates, such as questions regarding why a direct order to take a physical had been given early in the three-month window when a physical could be taken, or why Gen. Staudt had retired a year-and-a-half before exercising his influence. Neither of these points is damning by itself, but they should have raised flags. They were also both known at the time of this broadcast.
Shortly after "60 Minutes" broadcast the new documents last week, "USA Today" obtained another new document. In the memo dated February 2, 1972, Colonel Killian asked to be "updated as soon as possible on flight certifications, specifically Bush." That could be in line with what documents released by the White House last week show, that in the spring of 1972 then Lieutenant Bush stopped exclusively flying the F-102, and dropped back to piloting a training plane, part of an effort to maintain his flight certification.
RATHER: CBS News asked the White House today to give direct answers to a number of questions. Did a friend of the Bush family use his influence with the then Texas House speaker to get George W. Bush into the National Guard? Did Lieutenant Bush refuse an order to take a required physical? Was he suspended for failing to perform up to standards? And did he complete his commitment to the Guard?
In reply, a White House spokesman told CBS News today, "as you know, we have repeatedly addressed these issues."
These direct questions have not been fully, completely answered. The White House and the Bush-Cheney campaign always point out President Bush received an honorable discharge.
What's in the "60 Minutes" report CBS News believes to be true and believes the documents are authentic.
"Direct questions not fully, completely answered." Mr. Pot, meet Mr. Kettle. Is CBS even capable of seeing the irony? More importantly, is hypocrisy an admirable journalistic trait?
There was also an additional statement by CBS News head Andrew Heyward:
Asked at the time whether there was at least a slight chance that the documents were bogus, Heyward said: "I see no percentage of possibility."
One wonders at his news judgement.
This ends part one ... part two continues here: Incompetent AND Unethical: The Story of CBS News' Response to Criticism of the Killian Memo Forgeries - Part Two.