- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Last week, CBS News anchorman Dan Rather, commenting on the controversial story about President Bush’s National Guard service, stated, “CBS News stands by, and I stand by, the thoroughness and the accuracy of this report, period. Our story is true.” CBS News President Andrew Heyward told the New York Times, “I’m firmly convinced that the memos are authentic and the stories accurate.” No facts, no irrefutable testimony, not even a “Deep Throat” was offered to vouch for the authenticity of four memos CBS peddled on last Wednesday’s “60 Minutes II” segment. The comments by Messrs. Rather and Heyward form the entirety of CBS’s defense of the authenticity of memos allegedly written by President Bush’s National Guard commander, the late Col. Jerry Killian.

As their comments spell out all too clearly, CBS has chosen to bet its own credibility on the highly suspect memos. Why? The consequences are plain to everyone. As former NBC News President Larry Grossman told the Wall Street Journal: “If the documents are proven to be fake, it will be a terrible, devastating blow. People will be fired, the program loses its credibility and Dan Rather ends a distinguished career with his reputation besmirched.”

For now, the only available answer must rest with the person or persons who gave CBS the memos in the first place. Who are CBS and Mr. Rather protecting? So, let’s return briefly to how CBS says it obtained them. According to the “60 Minutes II” story, the memos were retrieved from Col. Killian’s “personal files.” Both Col. Killian’s widow and son dispute the assertion that he ever possessed a “personal” file. Moreover, the memos in CBS’s possession are copies, but there is no way at this point to know how many degrees separate the current copies from the originals. What happened to the originals? And in any event, how did CBS’s source happen to obtain these copies, especially since Mrs. Killian says her husband did not keep personal files?

CBS maintains that it will not reveal the source of the memos. No doubt such stonewalling is part of a strategy to weather the storm. Unfortunately, this ruse won’t work. The “60 Minutes II” story provided as fact four memos that are potentially damaging to the president. Fifty days away from an election, the story is newsworthy only insofar as it can affect the outcome of that election. As Hugh Hewitt points out on his blog hughhewitt.com: If the memos are proven to be forgeries, then “a network [CBS] is party to a fraud committed with the obvious intent of influencing that election.”

And by revealing its source, CBS News would not be violating journalistic ethics. If a source knowingly provides false information, he forfeits any legitimate claim to protection of his confidentiality. With its credibility on the line, the network needs to answer this question for viewers: Whodunit?

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