Dan Rather's gift to Bush

By Geraldine Sealey

Published September 20, 2004 9:20PM (EDT)

Dan Rather now admits he was duped by the guy who gave him the infamous memos used for the 60 Minutes report two weeks ago about President Bush's National Guard service -- and apologized for it. But it's still unclear where the documents came from. Former Texas Guard official Bill Burkett openly says he gave CBS the documents that CBS said were from the personal file of Bush's former commanding officer Jerry Killian. And Burkett admits he "deliberately misled" a CBS producer by lying to her about where the documents came from to "protect a promise of confidentiality to the actual source." But the "actual source" is still unknown. Rather said in his statement that CBS has been unable to verify this other supposed source's connection to the documents. At this point, after days of media reports questioning where the documents came from and if they're real -- and with reporters camped outside Burkett's ranch waiting for him to be ID'd as one of CBS's sources -- this is no surprise to anyone but perhaps Dan Rather.

But CBS's admission is a major development in the sideshow that has been the Killian memos. It will be interesting to see whether the CBS flap continues to overshadow the larger story the 60 Minutes segment sought to cover -- the evidence that Bush shirked his Guard duty. As Eric Boehlert points out in Salon today, Killian memos or no Killian memos, we know all we need to know about Bush's service. But the CBS embarrassment, which will go down in journalism textbooks as a breach of professional standards of the exploding truck magnitude, will give Bush further cover from questions about his record.

On washingtonpost.com today, media reporter Howard Kurtz explained why he thinks the CBS flap will continue to get more attention than whether Bush fulfilled his Guard obligations. "I happen to believe, and have written, that most people care far more about the problems of the next four years than what Bush and Kerry did during Vietnam," he wrote in an online chat. "But when you have a major anchor and the most respected television magazine accuse the president of the United States in the middle of his reelection campaign based on memos that turn out to be forgeries, that is a huge development for both politics and the press." Never mind that even if the CBS segment never aired, there is enough evidence that Bush's didn't fulfill his duty.

Republicans are poised to milk this for all it's worth. Already, the RNC wants to know if the DNC is behind it -- and suggested ominously that what took place was way more than a case of journalists being misled. From the RNC statement: "Terry McAuliffe said yesterday that no one at the DNC or Kerry campaign, 'had anything to do with the preparations of the documents,' but what about the distribution or dissemination? In an effort to regain the trust of the American people CBS should not only investigate the process that led to the use of these documents but they should identify immediately those engaged in possible criminal activity who attempted to use a news organization to affect the outcome of a Presidential election in its closing days."

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

MORE FROM Geraldine Sealey

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

War Room