Every new story brought more damning detail. The Dallas Morning News reported the commander who supposedly was blamed for pressuring a subordinate to "sugar coat" Bush?s record had retired 18 months before he was said to have applied such pressure. The Los Angeles Times found Gen. Bobby Hodges, who CBS used to vouch for their documents, and he said CBS only described documents over the phone that he presumed were hand-written. When he saw the documents, he said they were forgeries. Marcel Matley, the lead expert Rather put forward as an authenticator of these memos, came forward and said "There's no way that I, as a document expert, can authenticate them," since they are weak copies, not original documents.
The CBS story is a hoax and a fraud, and a cheap and sloppy one at that. It boggles the mind that Dan Rather and CBS continue to defend it. The Wednesday night story imploded on Thursday, and by Friday night, Rather offered a six-minute response from his bunker on the "CBS Evening News." The aging anchor blustered on and on about all the questions George W. Bush urgently needs to answer. He ignored most of the substantive charges (including any mention of the Killian family) and painted CBS?s critics as a vast right-wing conspiracy.
"Today, on the Internet and elsewhere, some people, including many who are partisan political operatives, concentrated not on the key questions of the overall story, but on the documents that were part of the support of the story," Rather complained. On Monday night, Rather tried the same rinse-and-repeat strategy, and it only looked sillier.
The responses of CBS flacks in print were even more comical. When confronted with the fact that their first line of defense, Gen. Hodges, found forgery, a spokeswoman told reporters, "We believed Gen. Hodges the first time we spoke to him." When it became apparent that the superior officer Killian was supposedly addressing, Buck Staudt, had retired 18 months before the memo, CBS proclaimed Staudt was a "mythic figure" in the Guard. You send official memos to "mythic figures"? When confronted with Mr. Matley?s retrenchments, CBS flack Sandy Genelius declared, "In the end, the gist is that it?s inconclusive." No, it?s not. But even if it were, are these the ethical standards of CBS?
The ultimate excuse came from Rather himself, insisting his critics have to prove him wrong: "Until someone shows me definitive proof that they are not, I don't see any reason to carry on a conversation with the professional rumor mill." Mr. Rather, you have it completely backward. The responsibility is yours to get it right in the first place.