Friday, July 18, 2008

Dan Rather Rides Again!

UPDATES BELOW

The former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather (above) is suing his former employer for firing him.

Dan Rather was fired because he reported a story on 60 Minutes (9-8-04) that was based on unauthenticaed and possibly fabricated documents that purported to be George Bush's Texas National Guard military records. These are called the Killian Documents.

These documents could never be authenticated because the man who gave them to CBS, Lt. Col. Bill Burkett, claims he made copies of the documents for CBS and then burned the originals.

I think that if Burkett ever had real documents, he would not have burned his evidence. Also, Burkett's account of how he got these documents has changed several times, so we know that he lies. Burkett has admitted that he was lying to CBS when he claimed he got the documents from a Texas Guardsman named George Conn, and then he claimed that he got these documents indirectly from a lady named Lucy Ramirez, but nobody ever found her.

Bill Burkett claims that after he made copies of the original documents for CBS, he burned the original documents to destroy DNA so his source could never be identified. I think either Burkett himself or someone he is protecting fabricated these documents.

USA Today (9-21-04) reports that Burkett claims he was used:

"I didn't forge anything," Burkett said. "I didn't fake any documents. The only thing I've done here is to transfer documents from people I thought were real to people I thought were real. And that has been the limitation of my role. I may have been a patsy."

...Burkett recounted his continuing efforts — beginning before he was discharged from the Texas Army National Guard in 1998 — to clean up what he saw as Guard corruption and mismanagement. He said that activity led to a telephone call in March from Ramirez and her offer to provide documents damaging to President Bush.

Burkett said Ramirez told him she had seen him the previous month in an appearance on the MSNBC program Hardball, discussing the controversy over whether Bush fulfilled all his obligations for service in the Texas Air Guard during the early 1970s. "There is something I have that I want to make sure gets out," he quoted her as saying.

He said Ramirez claimed to possess Killian's "correspondence file," which would prove Burkett's allegations that Bush had problems as a Guard fighter pilot.

Burkett said he arranged to get the documents during a trip to Houston for a livestock show in March. But instead of being met at the show by Ramirez, he was approached by a man who asked for Burkett, handed him an envelope and quickly left, Burkett recounted.

"I didn't even ask any questions," Burkett said. "Should I have? Yes. Maybe I was duped. I never really even considered that."

By Monday, USA TODAY had not been able to locate Ramirez or verify other details of Burkett's account. Three people who worked with Killian in the early 1970s said they don't recognize her name. Burkett promised to provide telephone records that would verify his calls to Ramirez, but he had not done so by Monday night.

If Burkett believes he was used, why didn't he turn over the telephone records that would verify his calls to Ramirez?

It is hard to believe that the fabricator (if he was actually hoping to pass these documents off as authentic) was so unsophisticated that he never realized that typewriter and computer text have a different appearance.

Bloggers on the Internet quickly discovered that the documents, which purported to be from the 1970s, had been word-processed at a time when the Texas National Guard used typewriters.

Information in the documents also seemed wrong. For example, The Seattle Times (9-11-04), citing The Dallas Morning News, reported:

The man named in a disputed memo as exerting pressure to "sugarcoat" George W. Bush's military record left the Texas Air National Guard a year and a half before the memo supposedly was written, his service record shows.

An order obtained by The Dallas Morning News shows that Col. Walter "Buck" Staudt was honorably discharged March 1, 1972. CBS News reported this week that a memo in which Staudt was described as interfering with officers' negative evaluations of the future president's service was dated Aug. 18, 1973.

Some people have speculated that obviously fake documents were given to Dan Rather by Republican operatives such as Karl Rove in order to discredit Dan Rather when they were outed as fakes word-processed on a computer. Others speculate that Democratic operatives fabricated the documents. Probably only Bill Burkett, a person who was known for his dislike President Bush, knows what happened; and he isn't telling.

A media survey in the Washington Post (1-11-05) of the Report of the Independent Review Panel that CBS hired to conduct the postmortem on "Rathergate" concludes that CBS newspeople were uncritical in their handling of the Killian documents because they were motivated by partisanship against President Bush.

Now Dan Rather is suing his former employer CBS. The judge in Dan Rather's 70 million dollar lawsuit is named Ira Gammerman. This week, a blog I have never heard of called Connie Talk (7-16-2008) claims:

[Judge Gammerman decided] whether or not Rather's legal team can release a set of 10 so-called "secret" documents to the public.

According to Rather's attorneys, CBS has objected to the release of these documents, which reportedly support important facts in Dan's case and also relate to "matters of national significance."

CBS maintains, however, that they have nothing to hide.

In an update, Connie Talk (7-16-08) claims:

CBS argued that [the "secret" documents] remain sealed from the public eye, and the Court agreed, including documents that reportedly support Rather's claims.

I have no clue what this is all about. Today's NYT (7-18-08) story didn't mention a word about so-called "secret" documents that support Dan Rather's case and touch on "matters of national significance."

Dan Rather may have been tricked, but he was pretty gullible to believe these Killian documents without investigating their provenance very carefully. Dan Rather was so eager to find fault with President Bush that his judgement was clouded.

UPDATE
This article seems to be talking about what Connie Talk (above) refers to as "secret" documents.

Felix Gillette of the New York Observer (7-17-08) writes:

Dan Rather and his lawyers were back in a Lower Manhattan courthouse late Wednesday afternoon for yet another round in Mr. Rather's ongoing $70 million civil lawsuit against his former employers.

Over the course of a 45-minute hearing in front of Justice Ira Gammerman, tempers occasionally flared as the lawyers for both sides argued over a number of issues, ranging from the scheduling of depositions to the transparency of the discovery process.

On the latter issue, Mr. Rather and his lawyers petitioned the justice to release a number of key documents turned up in discovery. Mr. Rather's lead attorney, Marty Gold, suggested to Justice Gammerman that the documents, if released, would help refute CBS's repeated, public characterization of Mr. Rather's claims in the suit as a fantasy. He said that of the thousands of documents handed over by CBS, Mr. Rather would like to give the public access to roughly 10.

But the justice was unmoved. He reiterated that while he had no intention of imposing a gag order in the case, he considered the request to release the documents a distraction. He said he would continue to uphold CBS's request to keep the documents from discovery out of the public eye.

"We think the cat's already of out of the bag," said Mr. Gold.

"We can close the bag now," responded Judge Gammerman.

Judge Gammerman noted that eventually everything will come out to the public if the case goes to trial, as early as this November.

The other thorny question was about who should get deposed for this suit; in the process, it became clear who has delivered depositions already.

"Our position is that Sumner Redstone should not be deposed in this case," a lawyer for CBS told the judge in another part of the arguments yesterday afternoon.

Judge Gammerman was again unmoved, and said that he was inclined to order the deposition of Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone but would wait until the other depositions had taken place before ruling on CBS's objection.

Throughout the course of the hearing, it became much more clear for the first time who has already been deposed in the case, and who will be deposed in the coming months. According to proceedings today, Mr. Rather has already been deposed; so, too, former F.B.I. agent and Navy aviator Erik T. Rigler. Former CBS News president Andrew Heyward, on the other hand, is tentatively scheduled to be deposed on July 29th and 30th. Ditto CBS president Leslie Moonves, who is penciled in for a deposition on Sept. 24th. [See full text]

UPDATE 2

Sidney Blumenthal, a former assistant and senior advisor to President Clinton claimed in Salon (9-27-07):

Rather's suit will become an extraordinary commission of inquiry into a major news organization's intimidation, complicity and corruption under the Bush administration. No congressional committee would be able to penetrate into the sanctum of any news organization to divulge its inner workings. But intent on vindicating his reputation, capable of financing an expensive legal challenge, and armed with the power of subpoena, Rather will charge his attorneys to interrogate news executives and perhaps administration officials under oath on a secret and sordid chapter of the Bush presidency.

Well, I think I'll wait to see what the court says. Blumenthal's article didn't address the problems with the so-called Killian documents. He just claimed that Dan Rather was a victim of partisan politics. Blumenthal didn't tell that Mary Mapes disliked George W. Bush, yet he made a big deal out of the fact that the head of Viacom wanted George W. Bush to win the election.

Nobody forced Dan Rather to report on the Killian documents before he had established that they were genuine. A professional journalist doesn't do that. Who ever tricked Dan Rather could not have succeeded if Dan Rather had done his job.

Blumenthal writes:

[CBS producer Mary] Mapes' argument was that the Killian documents "meshed" with the facts in precise and nuanced ways. "The Killian memos, when married to the official documents, fit like a glove," she wrote. "There is not a date, or a name, or an action out of place.

I don't think this is right.

For example, The Seattle Times (9-11-04), citing The Dallas Morning News, reported:

The man named in a disputed memo as exerting pressure to "sugarcoat" George W. Bush's military record left the Texas Air National Guard a year and a half before the memo supposedly was written, his service record shows.

An order obtained by The Dallas Morning News shows that Col. Walter "Buck" Staudt was honorably discharged March 1, 1972. CBS News reported this week that a memo in which Staudt was described as interfering with officers' negative evaluations of the future president's service was dated Aug. 18, 1973.

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