Dan Rather, successor to Walter Cronkite as anchor of CBS News, may be about to close out his career on a banana peel.
Last Wednesday, Rather launched a "60 Minutes" pre-emptive strike against the president. Rather's charges: Bush got into the National Guard through pull, was an insubordinate officer who refused to take the medical exam to keep flying and used clout to prevent his being disciplined.
Rather's attack was based on four newly discovered memos said to be from the personal files of Bush's squadron commander, Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian. The memos, writes The New York Times, indicate "Mr. Bush ... failed to take a physical examination 'as ordered' and that his commander felt under pressure to 'sugarcoat' his performance rating, because First Lieutenant Bush ... was 'talking to someone upstairs.'"
Rather seemed to have substantiated the rumors about Bush's Guard service, as his piece also featured an interview with former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, who confessed to having interceded to get Bush into the Texas Air National Guard.
Within hours, however, Rather's case was crumbling. From both independent analysis of the memos and witness testimony, it appears that Rather may have been duped into colluding with a scheme to use forgeries to smear and sink a president of the United States.
First, the new Killian memos appear to have been produced on a word processor that did not exist in 1972-73. They are written in a Times New Roman typeface rarely found on old typewriters. The letters "th" in "111th squadron" are written in a "superscript" few typewriters of the Vietnam era had. And the spacing of the letters on the memos is more like that of modern word processors than of early 1970s' typewriters, where letters were of equal size.
Killian's widow (he died in 1984) and son say he never kept notes and call the memos a farce. "No officer in his right mind would write a memo like that," says Killian's son Gary, an ex-Guardsman himself, of the memo in which Col. Killian says he is being pressured to "sugarcoat" Bush's record of insubordination.
Rufus Martin, personnel chief in Killian's unit, also calls the memos fakes: "I don't think Killian would do that, and I knew him for 17 years."