Something remains puzzling about the Rathergate scandal.
Where is the outrage? Where is the righteous rage of Dan Rather at the forgers of faked military records of George W. Bush, who played him for a fool?
Something is fishy here. And, indeed, the inexplicable absence of outrage suggests that there is more, much more, to this story
To understand, imagine this situation. Detectives come to the home of John Q. Citizen to inform him he has been the victim of a fraud. The hundred-dollar bills he used as a down payment on his new Cadillac all turned out to be counterfeit. The detectives then politely ask John Q. where he might have gotten the counterfeit bills.
John Q. goes back into the house for a while, and emerges to declare defiantly: "I do not believe those hundred-dollar bills were counterfeit. I stand by them. And I will not give up my source!"
If the detectives conclude that John Q. was probably not a victim of counterfeiters, but an accomplice, could you blame them?
And so it is with Dan Rather and Mary Mapes, the producer of "60 Minutes." Both are today material witnesses to a felony, the enablers of a criminal conspiracy to bring down a president through the creation and dissemination of forged U.S. government documents.
Yet, rather than acting like innocent parties of a vicious plot to destroy a president, Rather and Mapes are acting like a pair of co-conspirators, with grudging admissions and insincere apologies.
How should CBS behave, if it is innocent of any criminality or malice? Quite simple. Rather should go on camera and read, on behalf of CBS News, a statement something like this:
"We have discovered and concluded that the documents we used to assert that President Bush was an insubordinate officer in the Texas Air National Guard who used political influence to avoid being disciplined were forgeries. We were irresponsible in airing these documents. We now have no evidence and no credible witness to make such a charge. We hereby retract the charge and apologize to President Bush for any damage we have done to him. And we will do our best to repair that damage."
Why have we not heard this? The answer suggests itself.
While CBS probably did not know the documents it used were blatant forgeries, it is guilty of having aired a bigoted, misleading attack ad on George Bush masquerading as an investigative report.
Consider what Rather left out of this "60 Minutes" story.
He did not tell his audience that family members of Col. Jerry Killian and CBS' own document examiners had raised questions about the authenticity of the memos he was using to indict the president. He did not tell his audience that the source of the memos was an eccentric and an inveterate Bush-basher. He did not tell the CBS audience that Ben Barnes, the ex-lieutenant governor of Texas who claimed to have used his influence to get Bush into the Air National Guard, had earlier denied under oath that he had done any such thing.
Had Rather done an honest piece of journalism and let the CBS audience know there were questions about both the witnesses he had brought in to accuse Bush and the documentary evidence he had put forward to convict Bush, CBS' audience could have made an informed judgment. But Rather did not want that. For Rather was conducting a show trial. He was a prosecutor hiding from the defense all the exculpatory evidence in his briefcase. And prosecutors who engage in such unethical behavior usually end up being disbarred.
Another reason Rather and CBS are stonewalling may be that there was collusion and orchestration between CBS' source Bill Burkett, the "60 Minutes" staff, the Kerry campaign and the DNC's Terry MacAuliffe -- collusion that could make it appear that CBS News has become the clandestine TV production arm of MoveOn.org.
For it is now known that Mary Mapes, Rather's producer, called Joe Lockhart of the Kerry campaign to alert him that the attack on Bush was imminent and to steer him to Burkett. Lockhart called Burkett, but claims they did not discuss the impending explosive Guard story. Hard to believe. Burkett says he also talked to former Sen. Max Cleland, Kerry's liaison to veterans.
Then, there is the issue of why Ben Barnes changed his story. Did he inform the candidate for whom he has raised thousands of dollars, John Kerry, so that Kerry's campaign could coordinate its strikes with "60 Minutes"?
Yes, indeed, there is much more to this story. We are going to find out whether Dan Rather and CBS have been hauling contraband for the Kerry campaign, while flying under a false flag of neutrality.