Dan Rather appeared miffed that he even had to spend five minutes of his broadcast tonight responding to what he called the none-too-surprising counterattack led by partisan operatives against his 60 Minutes segment on Wednesday about Bush’s Guard service. Putting the whole superscript frenzy into perspective, Rather recapped the central points of his piece: Did Ben Barnes use his influence to get Bush into the Guard? Did Bush refuse a direct order from his commanding officer? Was he suspended for failing to perform? Did he take his physical as ordered, and if not, why not? And did Bush complete his commitment to the Guard?
The 60 Minutes story was based, Rather reminds us, not just on documents but on new credible witnesses and other evidence. But the hype has centered on the memos. Some people, Rather said, “including many who are partisan political operatives,” contend the documents are fake. Rather was not impressed with their arguments. “These critics have focused on something called superscript that automatically makes a raised ‘th.’ Critics claim it didn’t exist,” he said. But CBS showed one document not in dispute — it looked like the document we linked to earlier — that was released by the White House. The document is from 1968, but lo and behold, there is a raised, smaller “th.”
Then there’s the font question. “Some analysts outside CBS,” as Rather called them, claim the font looks like Times New Roman, which they say was not available in the 1970s. CBS called the company that distributes this typing style, Rather said, and it turns out the style has been available since 1931.
And he pointed out that all of the critics of these memos — and experts who are being quoted by news organizations, including Salon, are basing their judgments on copies that inevitably deteriorate with photocopying, faxing and downloading.
Putting the type-style and superscripting aside, there is the issue of Killian’s signature, which is not a main focus of the debate. CBS’ analyst, Marcel Matley, says the signature on the memos was the same as another document signed by Jerry Killian, Bush’s commanding officer.
It’s clear that Rather is feeling Swift Boated by the allegations that began in the right-wing blogosphere and crept into the major newspapers under headlines that warned of “serious questions” about his work. “Are you surprised these questions are coming about?” Rather asked his analyst Matley. “We’re not,” Rather added.
Clearly, Rather said, his piece was based not solely on the documents — that were provided by solid sources, he said — but on a “preponderance of evidence.” As far as Rather is concerned, his work here is done. He ended tonight by saying: “If any definitive evidence to the contrary of our story is found, we will report it. So far, there is none.”