Bush Dodges Another Bullet

Dan Rather takes one for the president

"There are a lot of questions and they need to be answered." That was President Bush weighing in – not on his dishonest and disastrous war against Iraq, but on the far more pressing controversy of our time. That is, whether CBS anchor Dan Rather had used possibly forged documents regarding Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard in the late Sixties and early Seventies. The memos, purportedly written for a personal file by Bush's commanding officer Lt. Col. Jerry Killian complained that Killian was receiving pressure from superiors to "sugarcoat" Bush's record, and that Bush had refused a direct order to undergo a required physical examination. (An intriguing report by Russ Baker on the background of that episode, and why Bush may have needed to dodge his physical, is posted on The Nation Web site at www.thenation.com.)

On Monday, CBS and Rather released statements saying they could no longer vouch for the authenticity of the documents and apologized for using them in the report. "I find we have been misled," said Rather, "on the key question of how our source for the documents came into possession of these papers." On Monday night's CBS Evening News, the source in question, retired National Guard officer Bill Burkett of Baird (near Abilene), told Rather that he had lied to protect his own source when he told reporters he had received the memos from another Guard officer, and that he has no way of confirming if the documents are genuine. CBS says it is pursuing an "independent" investigation of the provenance of the memos.

The controversy over the documents has thus far managed to obscure the original subject of the story, the nature of Bush's service in the Guard. Rather's original report led with an interview of former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, who recounted using his influence on behalf of Bush (and the children of other favored politicians or supporters) in helping them avoid the draft and Vietnam by jumping long waiting lists for admission to the Guard. The Barnes information was immediately overshadowed by the alleged Killian documents – immediately called into question by bloggers (some of them Republican operatives) who said they appeared to have been typed on computers, not typewriters available in the early Seventies. Killian's former secretary, Marian Carr Knox, told Rather that she also believes the memos are forgeries – but that their content does represent her late boss' judgment of Bush and his service. "I know that I didn't type them," Knox said. "However, the information in there is correct," she added, saying that Killian and his fellow officers would "snicker about what [Bush] was getting away with."

And apparently still is. Said Bush on the campaign trail, "I think what needs to happen is people need to take a look at the documents, how they were created, and let the truth come out."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Election 2004, Dan Rather, George W. Bush, Jerry Killian, Texas Air National Guard, CBS News, Bill Burkett, Ben Barnes, Marian Carr Knox

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