washingtonpost.com  > Politics > Elections > 2004 Election
Page 3 of 4  < Back     Next >

In Rush to Air, CBS Quashed Memo Worries

Emily Will said she called the network that Tuesday and repeated her objections as strongly as possible. "If you air the program on Wednesday," she recalled saying, "on Thursday you're going to have hundreds of document examiners raising the same questions."

Howard said "60 Minutes" had planned to call Bartlett for an interview when the Texas-born Bush aide contacted CBS first on Tuesday evening. Back in his Manhattan apartment that night, at 11 o'clock, Howard got an e-mailed version of the script from Mapes. He sent it back with suggestions. The next morning -- which loomed as deadline day -- he got up at 6 to look at a revised version.

The dispute over memos of President Bush's National Guard record centers on the technology available in the early '70s, when the documents would have been typed. (George Bush Presidential Library Via AP)

The Paper Trail
_____Live Online_____
Post's Michael Dobb's discussed investigations into Bush's service record and the disputed documents. (Transcript)
_____CBS Statement (9/15)_____
Latest Statement from CBS (PDF)

Rather was already at the studio, recording the audio track. At 11 a.m., Howard, West, Murphy and Kartiganer gathered to watch another piece in the screening room, where they were joined by two CBS lawyers as they began discussing the Guard story. Howard had a backup segment planned -- "60 Minutes" was still in rerun season -- in case he decided to hold the Rather story. Mapes left the meeting to take John Roberts's call from the White House.

Bartlett said he caught the president leaving for a campaign trip that morning and showed him the memos. Bush had "no recollection of having seen them," Bartlett said, and would not necessarily have seen papers from a commander's personal file.

Howard was struck by the fact that Bartlett, in his interview, kept referring to the Killian memos to support his argument that the president had fulfilled his military obligations.

"This gave us such a sense of security at that moment that we had the story," Howard said. "We gave the documents to the White House to say, 'Wave us off this if we're wrong.' " But Bartlett said CBS never asked him to verify the memos and that he had neither the time nor the resources to do so.

The wheels were in motion. In mid-afternoon, the CBS executives went into a pair of eighth-floor editing rooms where the segment was being put together in pieces, over Rather's soundtrack. They made some script changes as the crew struggled to slice three minutes out of the 15-minute segment.

At 7 p.m., Heyward joined the other executives in the Broadcast Center screening room for a final look at the piece as it was being fed into the show. He could still raise objections, but it would be difficult to make major changes with the clock ticking like the famed "60 Minutes" stopwatch. No changes were made.

Forty-five minutes later, 8.1 million people watched Rather report that Bush had received preferential treatment in the Guard. The program rated second, finishing behind the NBC drama "Hawaii."

After the show, one colleague asked an elated Rather whether he was sure the documents were real. "I have never been more confident of a story in my life," he said.

Typing and 'th's

The first sign of trouble came the next afternoon, when a staffer told Howard that a Web site was questioning whether the Killian memos could have been produced on an early 1970s typewriter. In fact, the Internet was buzzing with such critiques. Howard asked Mapes about one of the charges, that typewriters of that period did not use superscripts, such as a raised "th," that appeared in the memos. She came back with military documents that used a small "th," but the letter combination was not raised above the rest of the type, as true superscript would be. Howard said he believed some of the outsiders' questions about superscript and proportionate spacing were "kind of silly."

On Friday, Sept. 10, as major news organizations began questioning the validity of the memos, Rather interviewed document expert Matley by satellite from San Francisco and used his comments on the "CBS Evening News." In the piece, Rather strongly defended the network's story, even while noting that "some people, including many who are partisan political operatives," were questioning whether the documents were authentic. Rather, who had first tangled with a Republican White House during Watergate, said in an interview that the focus should not be on CBS and that journalists "should be asking President Bush and his staff questions about what is true and not true about the president's military service."

A new problem surfaced when reporters found that the man cited in a 1973 memo as pushing to "sugarcoat" Bush's record, Col. Walter B. "Buck" Staudt, had been honorably discharged a year and a half earlier.

On Monday, CBS turned to two new analysts to counter the critics. One of them, Richard Katz, said later that he had merely set out to prove the memos had not been created with Microsoft Word or other modern computer programs. He told The Post that he is not a document examiner and that "I have no interest in authenticating the documents." The other analyst, Bill Glennon, said he is an information technology consultant, adding: "I'm not an expert, and I don't pretend to be."

< Back  1 2 3 4    Next >

© 2004 The Washington Post Company