Friday, September 17, 2004

Dan Rather, in a breathless “60 Minutes” piece, said he obtained documents showing then-Lt. George W. Bush didn’t report for a physical, and his commanding officer accused him of failing to meet National Guard standards.

Mr. Rather also interviewed former Texas House Speaker and Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, who says he used his influence to get Mr. Bush into the Texas Air National Guard (TexANG).

But a funny thing happened on the way to the expose. Mr. Barnes’ daughter — after saying she loves her father — called him a liar and said Mr. Barnes told her the opposite only a few years ago. Indeed, during the 2000 presidential campaign, Mr. Barnes dismissed accusations Mr. Bush received favoritism. Daughter Amy says Mr. Barnes is writing a book and spoke out against Mr. Bush to generate publicity.

Mr. Barnes, it turns out, is a vice-chairman to the campaign of … John Kerry. But suppose Swift Boat Veterans for Truth co-founder John O’Neill served as a Bush campaign vice-chairman? For mainstream media, that would have meant “case closed.” Indeed, the mainstream media virtually ignored the Swift Boaters’ accusations until Mr. Kerry’s counterassault.

Yet less than two months before the election, a man working for the Kerry campaign makes an accusation he earlier denied — and boom: A one-on-one with Dan Rather on “60 Minutes.”

CBS’ “60 Minutes” says it obtained documents from TexANG Col. Jerry Killian’s personal files. But Killian died in 1984, conveniently unavailable to comment. Killian’s son, a former TexANG captain, says the documents appear inconsistent with his father’s high opinion of the current president. Killian’s widow, Marjorie Connell, says her husband wasn’t a typist, handwrote his notes, kept no “personal files” and the wording does not reflect her late husband’s writing style. Killian’s son and widow say they talked to “60 Minutes” before the story aired — yet Mr. Rather did not mention them in his piece.

Former Guard commander Bobby Hodges — one of Killian’s “colleagues” CBS used to “verify” the documents — now says CBS read the documents to him over the phone, and he assumed they were handwritten notes. He told CBS the documents addressed issues he and Killian had discussed — that Mr. Bush’s failure to appear for a physical (as previously released records show) led to a flying suspension. But once he saw the documents after the broadcast, he concluded — based on inconsistencies he noticed — the documents were bogus.

There’s more. CBS identified its “document and handwriting examiner” as Marcel Matley. Mr. Matley, however, says he only examined the signature, and could not verify the documents’ authenticity. He also qualified his examination by noting he looked at copies, not originals.

Several outside handwriting experts think the signatures are fraudulent. William Flynn, considered one of the most respected American document analysts, says the documents appear phony. Why? The print type and spacing are “proportional,” extremely rare more than 30 years ago. (Proportional means skinny letters like “I” and “t” take up less space, common with modern computers and word processors, not common in the early ‘70s.) Mr. Flynn notes the line spacing would have been impossible on equipment available in 1973.

Also, the documents showed a superscripted “th” — as in “147th” — when typewriters in those days did not automatically elevate the “th” but typed it on the same line as other letters.

Mr. Rather addressed the “th” superscript controversy by producing a 1968 document with a small “th” next to the numbers “111.” But experts say Mr. Rather’s 1968 “proof” is not superscript, because the top of the “th” character is at the same level as the rest of the type, while superscripts rise above the rest of the type. None of more than 100 records made available by the 147th Group and TexANG shows proportional spacing or the superscripted “th.”

Previously released memos show Killian signed his rank “Lt Col” or “LT Colonel, TexANG,” in a single line after his name with no periods. CBS’ memos have “Lt Colonel” on the next line, sometimes with a period, and without the customary “TexANG.” The documents show the acronym “F.I.S.” (Fighter Intercept Squadron), but military acronyms don’t include periods. They have the abbreviations “grp” (group) and “OETR” (officer evaluation review) but the correct military terminology is “gp” and “OER.”

One May 4, 1972, memo shows G.H.W. Bush’s mailing address, which G.W. Bush stopped using in 1970, and didn’t use again until late 1973 or 1974 while attending Harvard Business School. Another dated Aug. 18, 1973, cites pressure from “Staudt” — yet Col. Staudt retired a year and half earlier.

CBS said their “evidence” included “… interviews with former Texas National Guard officials and individuals who worked closely back in the early 1970s with Col. Jerry Killian and were well acquainted with his procedures, his character and his thinking.” More “well acquainted” than Killian’s son or wife?

CBS’ Andy Rooney once called Dan Rather “transparently liberal” and advised him to “be more careful.” It appears Mr. Rather should have listened.

Larry Elder is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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