Debra J. Saunders

 Burkett gave different explanations as to how he got the documents. No problem-o. All four experts hired to authenticate the documents refused to do so, although one authenticated Killian's signature. Two, however, warned that the documents had big problems. Mapes ignored them. She only saw her Holy Grail.

 Burkett had told the CBS crew that he wanted to be a paid consultant and that he wanted the network to provide him protection and, if necessary, pay to relocate his family. Still, CBS put its reputation in his hands.

 Burkett also wanted Mapes to put him in touch with John Kerry campaign biggies so that Burkett could tell them how he thought they should rebut charges made by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Mapes delivered.

 Thornburgh and Boccardi summed up her call to Kerry adviser Joe Lockhart as "a clear conflict of interest that created the appearance of political bias." But they refused to "conclude that a political agenda at '60 Minutes Wednesday' drove either the time or the airing of the segment or its content."

 Meanwhile, they provided plenty of ammo for those who see bias. There were the men who were cited as authorities on air, even though they had no personal knowledge of the documents. There were the voices that contradicted Burkett -- Killian's wife, son and superior officer -- but who were left out of the story or misrepresented. Not only did the show not heed experts who warned that the documents were dicey -- it told the public these experts authenticated the papers.

 Worse, there was no voice of reason that questioned how CBS got information in a week that a pack of journalists had tried to unearth for years.

 The worst of it is that Mapes, Rather and company saw this as the "Holy Grail" -- when it was a nothing story.

 As the report noted, even those who served with Bush had widely disparate views of his service. Some said Bush had a free ride, others that he was an exemplary officer. News organizations already had reported information that supported those who believe Bush slacked off. This one 30-years-cold tidbit -- if it were true -- would have changed nothing. That's Mapes' Holy Grail.

Debra J. Saunders

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