Like it or not, I have to deal with the Dan Rather Factor. It is important because Dan presented memos on "60 Minutes II" allegedly written by a colonel concerning how George W. Bush behaved in the Air National Guard. The memos have been questioned and appear to be forgeries.

This is what we know so far. Bush served honorably, but out of harm's way, in Alabama. Dan did not serve in the National Guard, but was in harm's way all that time.

We don't know where George was for six months of his service -- and the White House won't tell us.

According to the memorandums, Bush refused to obey orders and had a "bad attitude." Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, who has gone to that big Air National Guard in the sky, said the future president could not qualify to fly jet planes because he did not show up for his physical. Killian's secretary, who did all his typing, said she didn't type the memos -- though she told Rather they were the colonel's thoughts.

Handwriting experts hired by CBS said they warned Rather that the documents might not be kosher. The question raised was whether the notes were made on an IBM Selectric or with word-processing software at a Kinko's in Abilene, Tex. What makes the story more interesting is that, it turns out, no one on the "60 Minutes II" staff has ever been in Abilene.

Dan said, after questions hit the fan, that he intended to get to the bottom of his broadcast. Apparently he did, and the bottom was that the documents were forged.

The questions they had to answer were:

What kind of officer was George Bush in the Air National Guard?

Did he really lean on his father's contacts to stay out of Vietnam?

Did John Kerry forge any papers to get his medals?

As commander in chief, can Bush order Rather to go to Iraq?

How will this affect CBS's "Survivor" ratings?

What if Kitty Kelley was wrong about George W. Bush snorting cocaine at Camp David?

What is the connection among Dan Rather, Kitty Kelley and Martha Stewart?

As you can see, "60 Minutes II" opened up a whole can of beans -- or, as we say in Texas, the whole enchilada. At the beginning, I was on Dan's side. Then I switched to Kinko's side.

Every time there is a new charge concerning George's service in the Guard, the Pentagon "finds" a new piece of paper in its files showing Bush was one heckuva flier. The last was a letter from George the First to Dubya's commanding officer thanking him for writing and telling him what an outstanding pilot his son was.

How will all this affect the elections? Nobody knows. I am not going to vote based on whether Dan Rather got suckered by someone who didn't like George Bush. I know it will not be an issue because nobody cares where the next president of the United States served.

But if he wins, don't expect George Bush to invite Dan Rather for dinner.

(c) 2004 Tribune Media Services