Acknowledging crushing public criticism, CBS News President Andrew Heyward said yesterday that his network would seek to resolve questions about disputed documents relied on in a story a week ago to allege that President Bush had used well-placed connections to avoid fulfilling his military duties while in the Texas Air National Guard.
Some leading Republicans on Capitol Hill denounced CBS yesterday, calling on the network to characterize the unnamed source of the papers. Rep. Christopher Cox, a California Republican, called for a congressional investigation, saying there was a "growing abundance of evidence that CBS News has aided and abetted fraud."
The network continued to maintain yesterday that its documents are real based on a "preponderance of the evidence." But on the CBS Evening News last night, Heyward said: "Enough questions have been raised that we're going to redouble our efforts."
The original story, narrated by Dan Rather and broadcast Sept. 8 on 60 Minutes, featured an interview with Ben Barnes, a powerful Texas Democrat who said he intervened to secure a slot for Bush in the Texas Air National Guard. He said he was acting at the behest of a friend of Bush's father, then a congressman, to protect the younger Bush from serving in combat in Vietnam. But Rather told viewers new revelations were contained in "a number of documents we are told were taken from [Lt. Col. Jerry B.] Killian's personal file." Killian, then Lieutenant Bush's squad commander, complained that Bush had refused direct orders and used connections to avoid fulfilling his duties, according to the documents.
Elements of the story quickly came under withering fire. Independent document experts questioned the style and spacing of the type on the supposed memos. Family members of Killian, who died in 1984, said they doubted the memos were real. And Marion Carr Knox, Killian's former secretary, told newspapers and CBS that they were not genuine, although she said his reported feelings toward Bush had been reflected in similar documents that she had typed at the time.
Referring to the records obtained by CBS, Knox told Rather: "I know that I didn't type them. However, the information in those is correct."
Last night, CBS seized on Knox's characterization to bolster its case for the memos.
CBS also identified the four experts it had consulted to authenticate the Killian papers. In recent days, Linda James and Emily Will, two analysts who said they were asked by CBS to review the documents before the broadcast, have stepped forward to say they raised questions about the memos before the broadcast, but the network brushed their doubts aside. In a statement, CBS said that the two had misstated their involvement, adding that the two women "played a peripheral role in the authentication process" and had deferred to the judgment of San Francisco-based document examiner Marcel Matley, who has defended the authenticity of some aspects of the memos. A fourth examiner, James J. Pierce, also continues to support the documents, the network said.
But in interviews with The Sun, both women said they had not deferred to Matley.
"That is untrue," James said yesterday by telephone. "I did not authenticate them. This keeps on getting more and more involved."
Instead, James, a document examiner from Texas, said that she had been asked by CBS to look at several apparent Killian documents five days before the broadcast and that she made clear her reservations about them.
Will, a North Carolina-based documents consultant, said she was sent two copies of memos to review by the network three days before the broadcast. One, a document dated August 1972 that was used on the air, contained only initials, not a signature.
Before the broadcast, Will said, she told the network she could not vouch for the authenticity of the initials and also expressed reservations about some of the typewriting features - for example, a superscript "th" next to the number 111, which is more common to papers produced on modern word processors than typewriters of the early 1970s.
In an interview yesterday, Will said she called a journalist at CBS the night before the broadcast - she declined to name the person - to ask whether the network was pressing on with the story. When she learned it was, she repeated her concerns, telling them: "If you run that on the air Wednesday, you're going to have problems with people like me on Thursday."
Will said the network's reliance on photocopies made it difficult to speak with any certainty on the documents' validity.
CBS also produced two experts after the first broadcast who said it was possible such documents dated back to the early 1970s because typewriters with such features did exist. And the network also said that, in addition to the now-disputed papers, it relied on corroborating interviews from Killian's Air National Guard colleagues to support the depiction of his views.
Until last night, CBS had declined to release the names of the experts it relied on to review the documents. Will said that that confidentiality came at the direction of the network and that she felt they were abusing that agreement to misrepresent her stance.
"The statements they were issuing made it sound like they had no reason to doubt the documents at all - that the experts all backed them up," Will said. "Considering the things they were continuing to say, I felt morally released from that agreement."
Rather's involvement in the politically charged story has led some Bush allies to challenge the network's general credibility.
The conservative talk show host Sean Hannity questioned the legitimacy of photographs obtained by the same 60 Minutes producer, Mary Mapes, that led to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal this year. Yesterday, CBS called Mapes "a well-respected, veteran journalist whose credibility has never been questioned [and who] has been following this story [on Bush] for more than five years."
Some other observers argued that CBS has been too slow to respond.
"CBS was had," an editorial in the Los Angeles Times said yesterday. "Who fed a seeming ringer to CBS, and why did the network fall for it?"Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun