Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Right's Double Standard On The Press

CBS was misled, and admitted their mistake. Not that it justifies CBS's mistake, but their underlying story was accurate. Witnesses verify that Killian made these statements, even if this was not put in writing. Even if Killian's statements are excluded along with the memos from consideration, the case against Bush remains strong.

The accusations of the Swift Boat Vets for Character Assasination had far more holes in them, as they contradicted the testimony of eye witnesses, the military record, and even their own prior statements. Despite this, the right wing media reported them as fact.

CBS admitted their mistake, but we are once again seeing a double standard from the right.

Fox News and the rest of the right wing media regularly distorts the news, and there is no doubt this is intentional. Right wing beliefs are regularly reported as fact, and the John Kerry they report is quite different from the real one.

Surveys verify that viewers of Fox News are much more likely to believe that Saddam had WMD and ties to al Qaeda. Or as Al Franken put it, "the more you watch Fox, the dumber you get."

Forged memos aren't even the first incidence of faked hard evidence. We've seen the faked pictures of Kerry next to Jane Fonda. Where was the outrange on the right in response to this?
We've seen both the Swift Boat Vets for Character Assasination and the Bush campaign itself take video clips and alter them to make a point (with Kerry's Vietnam testimony and interview with Chris Matthews respectively).

CBS made a mistake. I'm far more worried about all the distortions of news which are intentional.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

CBS did make a mistake, but the bigger mistake was made by Joe Lockhart in allowing himself to be caught in this Bush Dirty Trick and make it look like the Kerry Campaign was involved in the forged document scam. It was most likely a Bush campaign fishing expedition with forged documents as the bait, and Lockhart fell for it when he called Burkett. Wouldn't any political "expert" smell a rat when he's asked to call make such a call. Lockhart says he gained no new information. Of course not, there was none. Just getting him to call was the trick and they got him.

It's not about Vietnam, stupid. It's about the last four years of Bush failures and the mess we're in right now--the war, the economy, medicare, social security, the USA Patriot Act, the environmental disasters promoted by the Bushies. There are pleanty of real issues to fight about, VietNam is dead and burried. Who cares if Bush got preferrential treatment and missed some duty, it's what he's doing to this country now that matters. I couldn't believe that the DNC would base the entire Convention on Kerry's service in VietNam. A mention, o.k., but it just showed how out of touch the DNC really is with America and what really matters to Americans. The idiots running the DNC are doing their best to lose this election, and if not carefully watched, they may do just that.

5:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Listen to DNC and Kerry campaign officials talk about the CBS memo scandal, and you might start to think that they protest too much. Just read the email Howard Wolfson sent to the press corps the other day. Wolfson is a political consultant, a former spokesman for Hillary Clinton, and a senior adviser at the Democratic National Committee. He's in charge of Operation Fortunate Son, the DNC political outfit meant to attack President Bush's service in the National Guard, but he wants you to know he is shocked--shocked--to find that the memos Dan Rather said came from the personal files of Lt. Col. Jerry Killian are actually forgeries.

The Democrats' rap on George W. Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard runs roughly as follows: Political pressure must have helped Bush enlist in the Guard in 1968. There are gaps in his service record, notably some months in 1972-1973 when Bush was working on a political campaign in Alabama. There are missed medical exams and flight groundings, and some documents have never been found. The questions haven't been answered to the satisfaction of the president's critics--any more than the charges have been proved. And all this may be beside the point; Bush's activities from 1968 to 1973 have had no impact on voters' opinions of him. Yet.

Wolfson's job is to make Bush's Guard years matter. But, again, make no mistake: He wasn't involved with the forged memos. "Republican allegations of a 'Vast Left Wing Conspiracy' designed to expose the truth about the President's military service are laughable," he writes in his email. "No conspiracy is necessary to make clear that the President used strings to get into the Guard, missed his required physical, and failed to fulfill his duty." Is it even worth asking how the forgeries came to CBS? Nope. "The only outstanding questions here," he continues, "will be answered when the President steps forward, stops hiding behind spokespeople, and comes clean with the American people about his service."

Joe Lockhart agrees. Lockhart is the former Clinton spokesman who now serves John Kerry as a senior adviser. Shortly before 60 Minutes aired its now infamous report on September 8, CBS producer Mary Mapes arranged for Lockhart to have a conversation with Bill Burkett, the retired National Guard officer who gave CBS the forged documents. "It's baseless to say the Kerry campaign had anything to do with this," Lockhart told the Associated Press last week. Besides, USA Today reported, the documents "never came up in his conversation," which "lasted just a few minutes." However, theoretically, the documents could have come up before he talked to Burkett. "It's possible that the producer"--he means Mary Mapes--"said they had documents," Lockhart said. In any case, the conversation wasn't important, he said, because he speaks "to a lot of people." And the conversation was so meaningless, in fact, that once it was over, he told Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill about it, and she, in turn, told John Kerry, who, the New York Times reported, "did not think anything needed to be done in response."

And here is Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, on the forgeries: "I'd ask Karl Rove if he has any knowledge of these documents or if he or anyone close to him had seen the documents ahead of time," he told reporters on September 10, two days after the 60 Minutes piece aired. Last week, McAuliffe had a new suspect: sometime GOP consultant Roger Stone. Stone "refused to deny that he was the source of the CBS documents," McAuliffe said in a press release. "Will Ed Gillespie or the White House admit today what they know about Mr. Stone's relationship with these forged documents?"

McAuliffe's words sound desperate. But he needn't worry. So far, no one has said the Democratic National Committee or the Kerry campaign produced the forged documents. As this magazine goes to press, it's generally agreed that Bill Burkett, the former Texas National Guard officer who has carried out a one-man crusade against the Guard since he was discharged in the late nineties, gave the phony memos to CBS, and most likely produced them himself. Burkett has a history of unreliability. He told CBS that another Guard officer, a man named George Conn, gave him the documents, but last week changed his story and said a woman named Lucy Ramirez was his source, and that an intermediary passed them along at a Houston livestock sale in April. No one has been able to locate Lucy Ramirez or the man from the livestock sale.

What remains murky, however, is

the extent to which Bill Burkett, 60 Minutes, and the Kerry campaign were all talking to one another in the run-up to the September 8 broadcast. Last week, various media outlets reported on multiple contacts between Burkett, 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes, and Kerry campaign officials like Lockhart and Sen. Max Cleland. It's likely more will be revealed in the coming weeks. All of which suggests the story here isn't just CBS's credulity when Burkett provided the network with fakes. It's how CBS became, either unwittingly or consciously, an arm of the Kerry campaign's opposition research team.

Indeed, a look back at the months leading up to the 60 Minutes broadcast reveals that, at every stage of the National Guard segment's production, Democratic politicians or operatives cooperated with CBS and actively publicized the segment. Let's go through the chronology.

July 2004: "It is time Bush came clean . . ."

Mary Mapes, the 60 Minutes producer behind Dan Rather's piece on Bush's National Guard service, lives in Texas. She's investigated Bush's service record for five years. She is not alone, of course. Other news organizations have looked again and again at Bush's Guard record, always inconclusively. The story bubbled up in 2000, then receded, then bubbled up again last winter, then receded again.

In July, slowly but steadily, as Mapes worked to secure long-rumored documents on Bush and the Guard, the story percolated once more. On July 15, James Moore, a journalist and author of a couple of anti-Bush books and one of CBS's sources, wrote a lengthy article for the online journal Salon. Salon's Washington bureau chief is Sidney Blumenthal, the left-liberal journalist and Democratic publicist. The news peg for Moore's article was the Pentagon's announcement in July that some records relating to Bush's first months in the Guard had been destroyed accidentally. For Moore, the files were destroyed "accidentally"--he always puts scare quotes around the word.

In his article, Moore told Bill Burkett's story at length. Burkett, the former Guard officer, first surfaced in interviews for Moore's book Bush's War for Reelection, published last winter. In those interviews, Burkett claimed that in 1997 he overheard Joe Allbaugh, Bush's former chief of staff, and Gen. Danny James, the National Guard's commander in Texas, discuss purging Bush's Guard records. Burkett also claimed that 10 days later he came across portions of Bush's files in a wastepaper basket. His evidence? He had none. Moore wrote that all those involved deny Burkett's account, but, he continued, "Burkett remains unwavering, convinced there was a covert effort to leave enough of a trail to show Bush served during the months in question." It's clear from the article that Moore is sympathetic to Burkett's claims. "Is it possible," Moore wrote, that Bush's payroll records were "accidentally" destroyed?

It was a question Democrats were happy to answer. On July 20, Terry McAuliffe held a conference call with reporters. Holding conference calls is what national party chairmen do, of course, but this call was unusual. Apropos of nothing, McAuliffe brought up the National Guard. "It is time Bush came clean with the American people about what he was doing during the Vietnam War," McAuliffe said. Then he announced the creation of a new website. He read the URL aloud: www.democrats.org/wherewasbush. Go to the website today, and you see a picture of Bush looking smug. "The right-wing attack machine doesn't want you asking questions about Bush's record," it reads, "and they're doing everything they can to change the subject." The website was created so they can't.

August: "So I gave them the information to do it with."

In August, the presidential campaign swung into high gear, and so did DNC efforts to attack Bush's National Guard record. On August 11, Bob Tuke made an appearance on Nashville talk radio. Tuke is the Tennessee chairman of Veterans for Kerry, and an influential Tennessee Democrat. During the show, he took calls from listeners and compared Bush's service in the Guard with Kerry's service in the Navy. Soon, Tuke said, "We may also know why Bush failed to show up for his medical exam that caused him to lose his flight status."

At first blush, Tukes's comments are simply representative of a general Democratic strategy: Compare Bush's Vietnam service to Kerry's at any point possible. This has been a focus of the Kerry campaign for some time. At a breakfast with reporters during the Democratic National Convention, for example, Bob Shrum, the Kerry campaign's chief strategist, said that if Republicans wanted to attack Kerry on Vietnam, then that was a fight he was willing to have. "The Bush people can talk about that if they want," he said, smirking. The idea was that any time you contrast Bush's service with Kerry's, Kerry wins.

Yet Tuke's comments, if you think about it, were more specific than Shrum's. And he was alluding, after all, to an unresolved mystery--a mystery that would be addressed, once again, in one of the forged Killian memos.

It was in August, too, that the first of those memos reached CBS. Sometime in the middle of the month, Mapes, accompanied by CBS reporter Mike Smith, met with Bill Burkett and his wife in a Baird, Texas, pizza place. At the meeting, Burkett gave Mapes and Smith two photocopies of documents which he said were from Lt. Col. Jerry Killian's personal files. Mapes wasted no time. She called New York and told CBS brass that "she had finally tracked down a source" who possessed the long-rumored memos, according to the Washington Post. Shortly afterward, Dan Rather flew to Texas, where he met with Mapes and Burkett. After five years of work, Mapes had her story.

Events progressed quickly. During the weeks when Burkett was talking with Mapes, Smith, and Rather, he was also trying desperately to contact the Kerry campaign. Burkett spent much of his time online, posting messages to an email newsletter for Texas Democrats, and in his posts you sense his frustration at Democrats' reluctance to listen to his advice. In one message, Burkett wrote he'd been in contact with the Democratic National Committee, but to no avail. The DNC was "afraid to do what I suggest." What Burkett suggested was using "down and dirty" tactics against the president.

On August 21, with the Swift boat attacks on Kerry raging, Burkett posted another message. He was less pessimistic this time. "I spent some time on the phone with the Kerry campaign seniors yesterday," he wrote. After getting past "seven layers of bureaucratic kids," he continued, he finally reached former senator Max Cleland. "I asked if they wanted to counterattack or ride this to ground and outlast it, not spending any money. [Cleland] said counterattack. So I gave them the information to do it with," Burkett went on. He added that he had not heard from the Kerry campaign since. But he was being impatient. Eventually, he would.

Cleland, for his part, did not think the call from Burkett was unusual. "People call me with stuff all the time," he told AP last week. "I don't know whether this guy is legit or fraudulent. I have no idea. I just referred him to the campaign." After the call ended, Cleland says, he let the Kerry campaign's opposition research team know about Burkett, and gave them the former guardsman's name and contact information. In addition to Cleland, Burkett wrote in his email post that he had contacted another Kerry surrogate as well, former Vermont governor Howard Dean. (Dean has declined to say whether or not he spoke with Burkett.)

Meanwhile, there was progress on another front. Remember that the 60 Minutes story was not solely about the forged memos. It was also about Ben Barnes, the former speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. For years there had been rumors that Barnes pulled strings to get Bush into the Texas Guard, but he had never gone public with his story.

That was about to change. To get a sense of what is on the minds of Democratic party insiders, it's a good idea to visit liberal journalist Joshua Micah Marshall's blog, Talking Points Memo. If you had visited his website on August 22, you would have been treated to the first hint that Ben Barnes was about to go public with his story.

The timing was propitious. Late August, you'll recall, was a difficult time for Democrats. John Kerry was under attack by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who said the senator had inflated, even lied about, his Vietnam record, and the senator's poll numbers were beginning to slip. Like many others, Marshall wanted to fight back. "As long as reliving what we did in the late 1960s is all the rage," he wrote, "here's a thought." Then he brought up Barnes. "But [Barnes has] never really spoken openly about how he helped Bush hop in front of everyone else or other aspects of the president's abbreviated military service," he wrote. And this was a topic "about which [Barnes] is said to know a great deal." So "maybe now would be the time?"

This was not a rhetorical question. A few days later, on August 27, Marshall linked to a video clip from a June 8 John Kerry rally in Austin in which Ben Barnes said, among other things:

I walked through the Vietnam Memorial the other day and I looked at the names of the people that died in Vietnam and I became more ashamed of myself than I have ever been because it was the worst thing that I did. . . . I helped a lot of wealthy supporters and a lot of people who had family names of importance get into the National Guard and I'm very sorry about that and I'm very ashamed and I apologize to you as voters of Texas.

Marshall was agog. He wrote that he had confirmed the clip's authenticity with James Moore--the author of Bush's War for Reelection, a CBS source, and Bill Burkett's Boswell. A few hours later, Marshall linked to the story Moore had written for Salon a month earlier on Bush and the Guard. "More soon . . ." he wrote.

And there was more. Soon. On August 28, the Knight-Ridder news service picked up the story. The next day, Marshall blogged about Barnes again. "And as for the Barnes thing," he wrote, "I think we can be pretty confident we'll be seeing something a good deal more public in the next several days."

We can also be pretty confident, based on Marshall's blog and other reporting, that, by the end of August, Democrats were talking openly about Barnes's impending 60 Minutes appearance. On August 30, in a piece called "The Ben Barnes Blackout," a Salon writer wondered why major media outlets weren't covering the Barnes story, and suggested that Barnes would have "more to say" later in the week. On September 1, Marshall again blogged about Barnes. He said the former Texas house speaker had not come forward previously because of threats made by the Bushies. "But apparently those threats haven't done the trick," Marshall wrote. Why?

because [Barnes] has already taped a lengthy interview slated to appear in the not-too-distant future on a major national news show in which he'll describe the strings he pulled to keep Bush out of Vietnam and apparently more. (Between you and me, according to my three sources on this, Barnes told his story to Dan Rather--remember, the Texas connection--for 60 Minutes.)

It is worth asking why Ben Barnes decided to come forward with his story now, when he had stayed silent for so many years. And a report in the September 20 Newsweek suggests why: The Killian forgeries primed the pump. "Rumors about the memos had circulated in the Democratic party and media circles for weeks," write Howard Fineman and Michael Isikoff. "In fact, CBS had used their existence to help persuade Barnes to talk." And Barnes talked a lot: to CBS, of course, but also to friends, and politicians, and journalists. "If documents the network was hunting for were found,"Newsweek reports he told them, "'the election is over.'"

September: "Feel the buzz."

The final touches were put on the 60 Minutes segment in September, and liberal media outlets continued to hype the upcoming report. For example, another Salon piece, published on September 2, mentioned Barnes's impending 60 Minutes appearance. That same day, of course, was when Bush accepted his party's nomination in New York City. And that night, John Kerry held a last-minute midnight rally in Springfield, Ohio. Kerry looked ragged and tired, and he flailed about on the dais. But his message was clear. "I will not have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could have and who misled America into Iraq," he said. He was speaking, of course, about Vice President Cheney and President Bush.

And as Marshall and others hyped the upcoming 60 Minutes exclusive, Bill Burkett continued to play strategist for the Kerry campaign. On September 4, he spoke with Joe Lockhart. Burkett told USA Today that Mapes had arranged the conversation with Lockhart in exchange for the remaining forged Killian memos. Speaking to USA Today, a senior vice president at CBS News denied any "deal." For his part, Lockhart says Mary Mapes contacted him, and then he called Burkett. The two men spoke for several minutes. For the second time, a Kerry campaign official had contacted Bill Burkett.

On Sunday, September 5, Burkett gave the remaining forgeries to CBS's Mike Smith. The next day, Howard Wolfson showed up for work at the DNC, and Operation Fortunate Son began in earnest.

That same day, Terry McAuliffe, the DNC chairman, issued a press release summarizing "what we don't know" about Bush and the Guard. On Tuesday, September 7, Dan Rather interviewed Ben Barnes in New York. The big show, scheduled for the following evening, was coming together. (No thanks to outside document experts Linda James and Emily Will, who called Mary Mapes that day with concerns about the Killian forgeries. Will recalled to the Washington Post that she told Mapes, "If you air the program on Wednesday, on Thursday you're going to have hundreds of document examiners raising the same questions.")

Meanwhile, news of CBS's "scoop" had reached Washington. At 3:30 P.M., Josh Marshall posted on his blog:

FEEL THE BUZZ. Contrary to what I had originally understood, the Ben Barnes interview is running Wednesday evening. But, I'm told by several sources that the Barnes interview is only a relatively small part of the package 60 Minutes is running. There's other stuff that CBS has--newly discovered, or at least newly-revealed, documents that shed light on Bush's guard service or lack thereof.

And the DNC continued to issue press releases. "In response" to "breaking news reports," DNC spokesman Jano Cabrera wrote: "For months George Bush told the nation that all his military records were public. Now we know why Bush was trying so hard to withhold these records." Then Cabrera upped the ante. "It's time for President Bush to release all his records, come clean and tell the American people why he stopped flying when he was in the Air National Guard."

That evening, around 5:30 P.M., White House communications director Dan Bartlett contacted CBS. Bartlett had heard about the story 60 Minutes was planning and, according to the Washington Post, asked "whether the White House could respond to the widely rumored story." CBS agreed. (It's worth noting that the White House called CBS, and not the other way around.) A few hours after Bartlett contacted CBS, Marshall again plugged the 60 Minutes story on his website. "The big news won't be how Bush got into the Guard but how he blew off his duties once he got there," he wrote. "Again, new documents--stuff that is clear and straightforward and apparently puts beyond any debate or doubt that the now-President blew off the duties that he said, as recently as this year, that he fulfilled."

The assault on Bush's Guard service was threefold. There was a media component, there was the DNC component, and there was the independent advertising component. The morning of September 8, for instance, around the same time that CBS correspondent John Roberts was interviewing Dan Bartlett for 60 Minutes, a 527 group called Texans for Truth aired its first attack ad. The ad ran in several swing states--places like Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Its creator was a man named Glenn W. Smith. Smith ran Tony Sanchez's unsuccessful 2002 campaign for Texas governor, and nowadays runs a group called DriveDemocracy, based in Austin. And Smith is well connected. DriveDemocracy received its initial funding from the grandaddy of all Democratic 527s, MoveOn.

It's easy to forget, but the infamous 60 Minutes report wasn't the only major news story on Bush's Guard service that ran on September 8. If you read the Boston Globe that morning, you probably came across a 1,400 word "reexamination" of Bush's Guard records, which concluded, portentously, that the president "fell short" of his commitments in 1968 and 1973. A day earlier, the Associated Press published a lengthy examination into documents it had obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, and concluded, "Documents that should have been written to explain gaps in President Bush's Texas Air National Guard service are missing from the military records released about his service in 1972 and 1973." On September 8 many news outlets covered the ramifications of AP's story.

In other words, the media did feel the buzz about Bush and the Guard by September 8, for a couple of reasons. One is that many reporters felt it was only fair to subject Bush's Vietnam record to microscopic scrutiny, after the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth had gotten such traction with their attacks on John Kerry's war record in August. The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne summarized this view in an August 24 column: "This is also a test for the media," he wrote. "...[T]he media owe the country a comparable review of what Bush was doing at the same time and the same age."

Another reason is that many news organizations' FOIA requests for documents came through that week. And still another reason, and perhaps the most important one, is that the political machinery of Kerry-Edwards 2004, the Democratic National Committee, and Operation Fortunate Son was geared toward pushing the idea that Bush served dishonorably in the Guard, and has lied about his service ever since.

It is no exaggeration to say that Democrats viewed Dan Rather's 60 Minutes segment as the coup de grâce. As the program's airtime approached, the DNC continued to tout the impending story. In one press release, issued just before the CBS report aired, Terry McAuliffe said, "George W. Bush's cover story on his National Guard service is rapidly unraveling." And he went on: "George W. Bush needs to answer why he regularly misled the American people about his time in the Guard, and who applied political pressure on his behalf to have his performance reviews 'sugarcoated.'" McAuliffe was quoting directly from the Killian forgeries, which by that time were available on CBS's website. The DNC issued two other releases in the run-up to the 60 Minutes story. It aired at 8:00 P.M., and 8.1 million people were watching.

Sometime after the show aired, Mary Beth Cahill called Ben Barnes. She congratulated him on his interview. "You did a great job," she said, according to Newsweek magazine. "You did a brave thing." Nor was she the only prominent Democrat or Kerry campaign official who spoke with Barnes. Her former boss, Massachusetts senator Edward M. Kennedy, one of the Kerry campaign's national co-chairs, also called to congratulate the former speaker. And Democrats had every reason to be happy. The combination of Barnes's interview and the purported memos from Killian's "personal files" reinforced the idea that political influence had been used on Bush's behalf.

And that's why the DNC issued two more press releases the next day quoting from 60 Minutes. That's why Sen. Tom Harkin said "the documentation shows that the president was not being truthful." That's why Terry McAuliffe cautioned reporters that "CBS stands by their story" on September 10, and why the DNC was readying its web movie Fortunate Son for release on September 14. Ben Barnes, Bill Burkett, Dan Rather, Mary Mapes, and others were all part of a political campaign--whether they liked it or not.

The only problem was that the Killian memos were phony. All the coordination, all the reliance on dubious sources, all the hype--it was all for nought. The story collapsed under the weight of six fake memos. This was not what most Democrats expected would happen. Go back and read what some were saying in the hours after the 60 Minutes exposé first aired, and you detect in their remarks a sense of hope. A few hours after the broad-cast on September 8, for example, Joshua Micah Marshall responded to what he had just watched on television. He said the memos raised more questions than 60 Minutes had answered. "[C]learly there's quite a story to tell," he wrote. And he was right. There was a story packed in those short memos. It just wasn't the story he thought it was.

12:16 PM  

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