Cal  Thomas

End-of-life issues are always difficult for any family, and the once-great news division of a once-great network is critically ill and possibly beyond resuscitation.

What is killing the remnants of CBS's credibility is the controversy over documents "60 Minutes" obtained that purport to reveal George W. Bush's failure to submit to a physical "as ordered" while he was in the Texas Air National Guard. There is also a document asserting that Bush's squadron commander, Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, succumbed to pressure from a superior to sugarcoat Bush's performance rating because of his influential father.

The problem with this latter assertion is that the superior, Col. Walter "Buck" Staudt, had retired 18 months before the document was supposedly written.

Another question that was raised about the documents concerns the typeface that was used. Some "experts" said the type was not in use in the early 1970s.

Then there were questions about former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, who claimed he helped get Bush into the Guard in 1968. The trouble with that story is that Barnes contradicted his earlier statements (no wonder he's a top fund-raiser for John Kerry). Barnes' daughter called him a liar for his latest remarks.

Next it was revealed that retired Maj. Gen. Bobby Hodges claimed CBS had misled him by reading from the documents over the phone instead of showing them to him. When he said they "sounded" like they were written by Killian, CBS took that as confirmation of their authenticity. The problem for CBS is that Killian died in 1984 and is not available for comment.

Anchor Dan Rather, who says the documents are genuine, says CBS management is not conducting an internal investigation. But that is no more credible than the documents in question. Unnamed sources within CBS News told The American Spectator magazine that CBS management is nervous about the fallout from this story. One producer was quoted as saying, "All Dan could say was that this was an attack from the right-wing nuts, and that we should have expected this, given the stakes. He was terribly defensive and nervous."

The way to clear the air is for the original documents to be produced so they can be examined by independent experts. But, according to The American Spectator, CBS doesn't have the originals. The producer is quoted: "Our sources have indicated to us that we will not be getting the originals. How that is possible I don't know."

Cal Thomas

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Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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