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Document Experts Say CBS Ignored Memo 'Red Flags'

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 15, 2004; Page A10

Two document experts retained by CBS News for the disputed "60 Minutes" story on President Bush's National Guard record said yesterday they had warned the program that the memos involved had significant problems but that their concerns were not heeded.

"What I was finding was a lot of red flags," Emily Will told The Washington Post last night. She said she listed five concerns in an e-mail three days before last Wednesday's broadcast and that in a call to a producer the day before the program, "I repeated all my objections as strongly as I could." Will said she told the producer: "If you air the program on Wednesday, on Thursday you're going to have hundreds of document examiners raising the same questions."

_____Documents' Differences_____
Compare: Memo obtained from Pentagon differs from disputed memo obtained by CBS.
_____Live Discussion_____
Transcript: Washington Post staff writer Michael Dobbs, who has been following the story about Bush's Vietnam-era service, was online Monday.

In a separate telephone interview, Linda James said that she told CBS the documents "had problems" and that she had questioned "whether they were produced on a computer."

Asked whether CBS took her concerns seriously, James said: "Evidently not."

The concerns of both women were first reported by ABC News correspondent Brian Ross. A third document consultant, Marcel Matley, told The Post on Monday that although he vouched for the signature of Bush's former squadron commander, the late Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, there was "no way" he could authenticate Killian's purported memos because they were copies.

CBS continued to strongly defend the authenticity of the memos, which it used as evidence that Bush received favorable treatment while he was in the Texas Air National Guard.

CBS News Senior Vice President Betsy West said last night: "As far as I know, Linda James raised no objections. She said she'd have to see more documents to render a judgment."

As for Will's account, West said: "I'm not aware of any substantive objection she raised. Emily Will did not urge us to hold the story. She was not adamant in any way. At one point she raised a concern about a superscript 'th,' which we then discussed with the other experts we hired to examine all four of the documents we aired. We were assured the 'th' was consistent with technology at the time, an assessment that has since been backed up by other experts."

CBS spokeswoman Sandy Genelius added that both women "played a peripheral role and deferred to another expert," Matley. But James said she did not defer to Matley and merely recommended him to CBS. The network says it relied on two additional document experts, whose names have not been made public.

In another development last night, Killian's former secretary told the Dallas Morning News that she believes the documents are fake but that they reflect authentic memos that once existed.

"These are not real," Marian Carr Knox told the paper after examining copies of the disputed memos. "They're not what I typed, and I would have typed them for him."

Knox, 86, who acknowledged she was not a supporter of the president -- calling him "unfit for office" and "selected, not elected" -- said the typeface on the documents did not match either of the two typewriters that she used during her time at the guard, a mechanical Olympia and later an IBM Selectric. But she said the contents reflected the views of her boss, who, she said, kept a personal "cover his back" file in a locked desk drawer.

Knox's recollections suggest that CBS may have been duped about the documents even if the substance of its story was accurate.

The new accounts add to mounting questions about whether the 1972 and 1973 memos obtained by CBS were bogus. This is the first time that people involved in the process have said that they raised warning flags about the memos, whose authenticity has been doubted by the president's wife, Laura, and some outside document experts.

CBS News President Andrew Heyward and anchor Dan Rather have defended the story, saying the program relied not only on document analysis but also on interviews with people who worked with Killian at the time.

Will said she examined two disputed Killian memos, one of which was not used on the broadcast. She said she saw discrepancies in Killian's signature from an undisputed military document bearing his handwriting. Will said she also questioned whether an early 1970s typewriter could have produced the superscript, such as a raised "th," on the memos, and noted differences in the letterhead, the salutation and the way the date was rendered.

All these discrepancies "looked like trouble to me," Will said, adding that she told CBS this "in a resounding way."

James said she examined two disputed Killian memos and found "they were structurally different" from a Killian document released by the Pentagon. James said she questioned differences in the signing of the "J" of Killian's first name, to the point of wondering whether the lieutenant colonel had health issues that would have affected his writing. She said she also told CBS that she questioned whether the superscript could have been produced on a Vietnam War-era typewriter.

Given these concerns, James said, she was surprised that "60 Minutes" went ahead with the story. Both women disputed the contention by CBS that they had deferred to the judgment of other document experts, though both said they could not be 100 percent certain about their findings and had recommended other analysts.

Asked about Will's written concerns, CBS's West said: "The only e-mail we received raised some preliminary points about the handwriting, which [CBS's] other experts addressed and ruled out."

CBS began to doubt Will because she started expanding her role and doing Google searches about Bush's whereabouts at the time, said an executive who insisted on anonymity because the network did not want to go beyond the official statements. But Will said she was merely doing research into whether superscript existed in 1972.

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