"I gave them a sword, and they ran it right through me," said Richard Nixon. Thirty years later, Nixon nemesis Dan Rather might say the same of the blunders that are about to bring an inglorious end to his long career.
What -- other than a blind bias against George Bush rooted in animus or ideology, or an obduracy bred of arrogance and hubris -- can explain Rather's near-suicidal behavior since his "60 Minutes" segment aired over a week ago.
In that piece, Rather revealed four newly discovered memos from the "personal file" of Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, George W. Bush's squadron commander in the National Guard. The memos seemed irrefutable proof that Killian thought Bush a shirker whose defiance of orders was being protected by higher-ups like Col. "Buck" Stoudt.
Rather thought he had a story that could bring down a president. Instead, he has ravaged what remains of the reputation of CBS News and made of himself a cartoon caricature of liberal bias. His stonewalling defense of his Guard story will be studied in journalism schools alongside the frauds perpetrated by Jayson Blair and Janet Cooke.
How could Rather have been so stubborn and blind?
At least two experts consulted by CBS warned against going with the Guard story, saying there were "problems" with the memos. Within hours of the airing of the Rather piece, the web had exploded with bloggers saying the Times New Roman font and "superscript" letters "th" in "111th squadron" appeared to have come from a word processor.
By Thursday night, the story of the forged memos was all over the country. Killian's widow and son declared them fakes. Ben Barnes, who told Rather he used his influence to get Bush into the Guard, was being called a liar by his own daughter.
But the smoke alarms at CBS were not working. Friday, a defiant Rather went on air to denounce his critics as partisans and assert that CBS stood by its story.
Over the weekend, the Dallas Morning News reported that Stoudt had been out of the Guard for 18 months when he was supposed to be pressuring Killian.
Rather's hole card, the testimony of Gen. Bobby Hodges, then head of the Guard, that the memos were consistent with what Killian believed, turned out to be a deuce. Hodges claims that he was misled by CBS into thinking the Killian memos were handwritten.
Shown copies, he dismissed them as computer-generated frauds.
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