The jig is up. The game is over. CBS tried to energize the country into voting against President Bush by highlighting forged documents it said would prove Bush's failure to serve honorably in the Texas Air National Guard. The smoking gun went up in smoke. Once caught, CBS and Dan Rather could have responded with a simple apology. Instead, they went ballistic -- and now must pay the price for their defiance.
For more than a week, Dan Rather responded like a cornered politician, blaming a vast right-wing conspiracy of "partisan political activists" for unfairly trying to change the subject from Bush's alleged misdeeds to CBS's increasingly obvious misdeeds.
In an interview with USA Today, Rather became seriously overwrought, charging that his "partisan" critics want him ... dead? What? Look at Rather's glimpse inside the conservative mind, as he sees it and decrees it: "Because he won't report it our way, we're going to hang something bad around his neck and choke him with it, check him out of existence if we can , if not, make him feel great pain."
Rather's journalistic defenses weren't any more effective than his political attacks. First, CBS cited handwriting expert Marcel Matley and Gen. Bobby Hodges to vouch for its documents. But soon, Gen. Hodges had something else to say on the matter: CBS never showed him the documents, and when he finally did see them, he said they were forgeries. Matley also contradicted CBS, maintaining he could not authenticate the documents, because they're copies. The widow and son of Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, the supposed author of the phony memos, also denounced the documents as fake. The supposed superior pressing on Killian as described in the memos had retired 18 months earlier.
Innumerable news outlets easily found the inconsistencies and untruths within days -- even hours -- yet CBS, which claims it spent five years on the story, found ... nothing wrong?
The real turning point of the Rathergate scandal came when ABC interviewed two document authenticators hired by CBS who said they warned CBS just days before the offending segment aired that they found "red flags" in the documents. The "honest mistake" defense was dead. CBS was now outed as complicit in this very ugly plot.