Video: How Legitimate?

updated 9/16/2004 11:13:14 AM ET 2004-09-16T15:13:14

Anchor Dan Rather and other top figures at CBS News are softening their defense of the authenticity of challenged documents purporting to prove lapses in President Bush’s National Guard service while standing by the thrust of their story.

In a series of newspaper interviews, a company statement and an updated story broadcast Wednesday evening, the network moved to counter a mounting wave of doubt about the documents.

“If the documents are not what we were led to believe, I’d like to break that story,” Rather told The Washington Post. “Any time I’m wrong, I want to be right out front and say, ‘Folks, this is what went wrong and how it went wrong.”’

He spoke with the Post after interviewing a typist for Bush’s former squadron commander in which she said the memos attributed to her late boss are fake, even though she said they reflect his belief that Bush received preferential treatment in the Guard.

The former secretary, Marian Carr Knox, 86, was flown to New York by CBS for an interview, broadcast Wednesday evening, after telling other news organizations a day earlier that she believes the memos were fake.

Rather told the Post he was “relieved and pleased” by her comments that the disputed memos reflected the sentiments of the late Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, but that “I take very seriously her belief that the documents are not authentic.” He said if the network concludes the documents were faked, the public “won’t hear about it from a spokesman. They’ll learn it from me.”

Rather told USA Today that no one has disputed “the heart” of his report last week, but complained that a “thick partisan fogging machine seeks to cloud the core truth of our story by raising questions about the messenger, methods and techniques.”

Meanwhile, CBS News president Andrew Heyward promised in a statement and series of interviews to work harder to answer questions about the veracity of memos, even as it stands by “the content” of the story.

“I have great confidence in our sources and reporting, but obviously there are unanswered questions,” he told the Los Angeles Times. He said the network’s new efforts were not an investigation, but “an extension of the reporting we said we’d do.”

“Because there continue to be questions swirling around the documents, it’s important to keep looking into those as best we can,” Heyward told The New York Times. “I’ve very confident in the report, but I want to get to the bottom of these continuing questions.”

Pressure to 'sugarcoat'
Video: Kerry adds veteran to staff The documents attributed to Killian indicated he felt pressure to “sugarcoat” the performance ratings of Bush, whose father was a congressman at the time, and that Bush failed to follow orders to take an annual physical to maintain flight status.

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Several experts have said the documents, disclosed last week, are fakes, prepared on a modern computer rather than a typewriter in 1972 and 1973.

“I know that I didn’t type them,” Knox said in an interview Wednesday on the “CBS Evening News.” “However, the information in those is correct.”

Bill Burkett, a retired National Guard officer from Texas, has been cited in reports in Newsweek and The New York Times as a source for CBS’ report. Neither Burkett nor his lawyer, David Van Os, returned repeated phone calls from The Associated Press on Wednesday, but Van Os issued a statement saying Burkett “no longer trusts any possible outcome of speaking to the press on any issue regarding George W. Bush.”

Robert Strong, another former National Guard officer, told The Washington Post that at least one of the documents used by CBS bore a faxed header indicating it had been sent from a Kinko’s copy shop in Abilene, Texas, about 20 miles from Burkett’s home. Strong said he was shown copies of the documents three days before the “60 Minutes” broadcast on which he appeared.

Burkett,55, told The Associated Press in February that he had overheard a conversation in 1997 between then-Gov. Bush’s chief of staff, Joe Allbaugh, and then-Adjutant Gen. Daniel James of the Texas Air National Guard in which the two men spoke about getting rid of any military records that would “embarrass the governor.”

Burkett said he saw documents from Bush’s file discarded in a trash can a few days later at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas. Burkett described them as performance and pay documents. He said the documents bore the header: “Bush, George W. 1lt.” — meaning first lieutenant.

Allbaugh and James denied the allegations.

'Things' from the trash
Dennis Adams, a retired National Guard lieutenant colonel, who served with Burkett told The New York Times that Burkett once told him “that some of the things in the trash were pulled out.”

“He never did say by whom,” Adams added. “I don’t have the foggiest idea what documents of any kind he ever had.”

Rep. Chris Cox, R-Calif., called Wednesday for a congressional investigation, saying CBS has declined to reveal its source “despite the growing abundance of evidence that CBS News has aided and abetted fraud.”

However, fellow Republican Joe Barton of Texas, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, quickly rejected Cox’s request.

BUSH VS. KERRY: Comparing the candidates from issue-to-issue.“A news organization’s responsibility is to facts and truth, but the oversight of network news generally is a matter best sorted out by the viewing public and the news media,” Barton said. “I do not personally believe these documents are legitimate, and it seems clear that the press and the two presidential campaigns are properly dealing with that issue.”

Dozens sign retraction demand
Forty congressional Republicans joined House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, in a letter calling on Heyward to retract the story.

The Republican National Committee cited CBS in criticizing a Democratic National Committee video that portrays Bush as a “fortunate son” who used family connections to dodge the Vietnam War and then lied about it.

RNC spokesman Jim Dyke said the video was “as creative and accurate as the memos they gave CBS.”

Responded Phil Singer, Kerry campaign spokesman: “It’s ridiculous. We didn’t give CBS anything.”

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said: “The one thing that is not under question is the timing of these orchestrated attacks by the Democrats on the president’s service. And these are old, recycled attacks.”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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