Jewish World Review Sept. 14, 2004 / 28 Elul, 5764

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Dan Rather not — just like his old nemesis Nixon | Dan Rather made his bones as a White House correspondent hounding President Nixon on the Watergate scandal. He is ending his career as Nixon ended his, stonewalling the indefensible.

On Sixty Minutes II last week, Rather broadcast a report alleging President Bush received special treatment in the Texas Air National Guard, and disobeyed a direct order to take a flight physical.

The report was based on memoranda purportedly written by LtCol. Jerry Killian, who commanded the 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron in which then Lt. Bush served. Killian died in 1984.

It took less than a day for the story to blow up in Rather's face.

  • A host of experts say they are 90-99 percent sure the documents were typed on a computer using Microsoft Word, which hadn't been invented at the time these memos were supposed to have been written. (The only reason the experts say they aren't 100 percent certain the documents are forgeries is because they haven't been able to examine the originals, which CBS has not made available.)

  • The memos contain many formatting and terminological errors. Headings, and abbreviations are incorrect; the signature block is in the wrong place.

  • The purported order to Bush to appear for his physical references an Air Force manual (AFM 35-13) which does not exist. And manuals relate to operational procedures, not to enforcement of standards, and thus wouldn't be cited in an order.

  • In a memo dated Aug. 18th, 1973, Killian complains of pressure from Brigadier Gen. Walter Staudt to write a favorable evaluation of Lt. Bush. But Staudt had retired the year before.

  • CBS says the memos came from Killian's "personal file." But Marjorie Connell, Killian's widow, and Gary Killian, his son, said he kept no such files, and wouldn't have written the things in the suspect memoranda. Rufus Martin, personnel chief for the 111th at the time, and a friend of Killian's for 17 years, agreed.

  • Killian's signature on the suspect memos is different from his signature on other documents. (Fred Showker, who teaches typography at James Madison University, told CNS News that Killian's signature on the document ordering Bush to take a physical appears to have been cut and pasted from another document.)

  • The main sources for its story CBS has identified are retired MajGen. Bobby Hodges, and handwriting expert Marcel Matley. But Hodges told ABC News that he thought the documents were fake. And Matley told the Los Angeles Times he could authenticate only one of the four documents in question.

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The Prowler column at the American Spectator online (always entertaining, but often inaccurate) says the documents were sent to the Democratic National Committee more than six weeks ago.

"I heard they ended up at the Kerry campaign, for them to decide how to proceed, and presumably they were handed over to 60 Minutes," his source at the DNC told the Prowler. "I know this much. When there was discussion here, there were doubts raised about their authenticity."

There were concerns at CBS, too, according to the Prowler.

"The problem was we had one set of documents from Bush's file that had Killian calling Bush 'an exceptionally fine young officer and pilot,' and someone who Killian said 'performed in an outstanding manner.' Then you have these new documents and the tone and content are so different," the Prowler said a CBS producer told him.

Alarm bells went off, the producer said, when the signatures and initials of Killian did not match up with other documents on the public record. But CBS went ahead with the story anyway.

Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe has tacitly conceded the memos likely are forgeries, by charging that they had been planted by Bush political aide Karl Rove to embarrass CBS and the Democrats by catching them peddling bogus information.

Despite the mounting evidence of fraud, Dan Rather is sticking to his story. CBS insists the memos are genuine, but will not disclose from whom they were obtained, nor will CBS permit outside experts to examine the originals.

The ghost of Richard Nixon could remind Rather that stonewalling usually doesn't work, and it's more often the cover up than the original offense that proves your downfall.

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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. Comment by clicking here.

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