by David Sisler

Well, the headlines this morning said that Dan Rather and CBS may admit they were fooled. And, lo and behold, before the six o’clock news, Mr. Rather said, “I no longer have the confidence in these documents that would allow us to continue vouching for them journalistically.”

While most of the rest of us already knew that, the Big Eye Guys have kept their heads buried in the sand, looking for ways to boost their discredited story. Now they are forced to come clean, or as clean as their egos will allow. With CBS’s admission there should remain no doubt that the documents about President George W. Bush’s service in the National Guard are a hoax worthy of Clifford Irving.

Clifford Irving, you say?

Mr. Irving, you remember, wrote to McGraw-Hill in January 1971 saying he had been in touch with billionaire recluse Howard Hughes. Mr. Hughes, he said, wanted Irving to write his autobiography.

In a meeting with the publishers, Irving produced three letters which he claimed were written by Hughes himself.

Overjoyed to have such a project, McGraw-Hill authorized a $500,000 advance, one of the industry’s largest at the time, and Time-Life Magazine offered $250,000 for the serial rights. Right behind was Dell Publishing with $400,000 for the paperback rights.

When checks for $750,000 were cashed – $100,000 going to Irving, $650,000 going to Hughes – McGraw-Hill et al had no idea that Clifford Irving was forging Hughes’ signature, that Clifford Irving had never communicated with Howard Hughes, and that the whole project was a con.

The following year, after a telephone call from Howard Hughes, revealing the autobiography was a hoax, Clifford Irving continued to claim – on 60 Minutes, no less – that his book was genuine. When persistent investigation uncovered more and more inconsistencies, Irving confessed to perpetrating one of the most elaborate hoaxes in journalistic history.

Now comes the topper. Clifford Irving, you are just small potatoes. You must take the back seat to Dan Rather, CBS News and Bill Burkett.

Bill Burkett, a retired Texas National Guard officer and long time Bush family antagonist, says he contacted the Kerry campaign, talked with former Georgia Senator Max Cleland and offered a counterattack.

Burkett said he passed his ideas for “down and dirty” tactics against President Bush to the Democratic National Committee, but the DNC seemed “afraid to do what I suggest.”

CBS News had no such fear.

All morning long CBS network officials, who asked not to be identified (would you want your name linked with this mess if you could keep it out of print?) said CBS News would most likely make an announcement as early as today that it had been deceived about the documents’ origin.

Mr. Rather finally confessed, “I find we have been misled on the key question of how our source for the documents came into possession of these papers ... If I knew then what I know now, I would not have gone ahead with the story as it was aired, and I certainly would not have used the documents in question.”

So, Dan and company have said, “Oops! Sorry about that!”

It seems to me that if they are sorry, they are only sorry about being caught. In the face of mounting evidence that they based their story on fraudulent documents, and before Dan Rather could give his mea culpa, which – interestingly – did not admit that the documents are fraudulent, Josh Howard, the executive producer of the 60 Minutes edition which produced the story, made two revealing comments.

First, he said, as reported by Jim Rutenberg for The New York Times, “We in management had no sense that the producing team wasn’t completely comfortable with the results of the document analysis.”

Mr. Rutenberg seemed to be doing what the fraudulent documents were advising: “cover your six.”

In other words, we supported you while your stock was soaring, but now, that the bear is about to get you, we want to make it perfectly clear, that we had no idea what was going on.

The second statement from Mr. Rutenberg is even more tragic: “The editorial story line was still intact, and still is, to this day.”

A story which was presented as unimpeachable fact about a Republican president running for reelection was based on fraudulent documents, and while the stories may be false, the idea behind them is true and deserves investigation. That is what Rutenberg meant, and what other CBSers have publically stated.

If that scenario were presented by a Republican president running for reelection, Dan Rather and company would be foaming at the mouth to ridicule and debunk such an idea.

It is not bad enough for them to foist forged documents on their viewing public – documents that their own experts warned could not be substantiated – now they are trying to cover up their sloppiness by diverting attention. Now that Dan Rather and his news organization have been caught with their collective pants down, they are saying, “Yes, but!”

Dan Rather has made a pitiful attempt to face the nation. He said he would not have gone ahead with the story “as it was aired,” meaning that he would have gone ahead with the story, but not used the phony documents.

In his apology statement, Mr. Rather said, “Nothing is more important to us than people’s trust in our ability and our commitment to report fairly and truthfully.” If that were true, Rather and CBS would have exhausted every source to have verified the documents before airing the story. Especially since they admitted having the documents in their possession for a long time before they ran the story.

Since the fraud has been exposed, Rather’s high-sounding words ring very hollow.

Mr. Rather, just come right out and tell us of your unabashed support for John Kerry. You saw a chance to harm President Bush’s reelection effort and you gleefully ran with it. I think your real regret is that you have been exposed as a shill for the Democratic Party. You are not an impartial witness, the impartial fly on the wall, and the truth will never survive the fulfilling of your personal agenda.


Copyright 2004 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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