But whose grave?
"What is in the '60 minutes' report CBS news believes to be true and believes to be authentic." [emphasis added]
Of course, as emailer S.R. notes, the White House's reaction in USATwasn't very strong either:
White House spokesman Dan Bartlett declined to offer an opinion Sunday and said, "We have not conducted an independent analysis of the documents." He said he showed Bush copies of the memos and the president "had no specific recollection of any of the documents I showed him." [emphasis added]
That's not quite the same as "There was no political pressure exerted and I never disobeyed an order so these documents can't possibly be authentic" is it? 2:35 A.M.
Here's how the brave Rather/CBS front in the hot docs mess might unravel: As Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum noted, USA Today obtained the Bush guard docs on its own and published a story last Thursday that treated them as authentic. (The story even included two new bonus docs.) But on Monday 9/13 deep within the paper (page A11) USA Today ran a multiple-reporter story that suddenly treated the docs with anything but respect--it said they "purport to show" problems with Bush's performance, and were "ostensibly written" by Lt. Col. Killian. "Purport" and "ostensibly" aren't words you use when you have great confidence in documents you proclaimed legit a few days earlier. A sidebar quoted USAT Executive Editor John Hillkirk, saying the paper was now "pursuing [questions of authenticity] aggressively." I'll let kf e-mailer Mr. X take it from there:
usa today is the ball to watch on this one. my understanding is that the paper is extremely nervous-- because of the jack kelly fiasco-- and could well be the first to come right out and say what they have already implicity ("ostensibly") said: we were had. these docs are bogus, or at a minimum, we can no longer stand by the docs we reported to you about last week. If that happens, then the pressure on rather and cbs intensifies significantly...leading to what? a rather apology to the president in the last few weeks of a presidential campaign? [link and emphasis added]
P.S.: Rather is obviously planning to retire at some point relatively soon. Do you think getting back at the Bushes for his humiliating 1988 on-camera putdown by George H.W. Bush might be one last thing he wanted to do before he stepped down? Might this have warped his journalistic judgment a wee bit? [What about USAT's judgment?--ed. They say they "relied in part on the fact that the White House did not challenge the memos' authenticity" after CBS broadcast its initial story. In other words, without Rather's decision it's not at all clear that USAT would have run with the docs.] 1:05 A.M.
Blogger David Feige compares the recent post-presidential political giving of former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and discovers it's no contest. Bush outspent Clinton 5-1. Indeed, Clinton's three contributions (all to Arkansas pols) are so pathetic I think the list must somehow be incomplete. ... 1:03 A.M.
Monday, September 13, 2004
A big reason Washington investigative reporters are suspicious of the CBS Bush-Guard docs is-- as Timothy Noah argues--we've been given no clear idea where they came from. Who stored them since 1972, why, and where? Answering those questions is normally part of verifying and explaining a document's authenticity. But it's worse than that. Newsweek has pointed to Bill Burkett, a "disgruntled former Guard officer," as a "principal source" for CBS. But Burkett has been interviewed by other journalists on the Bush-background beat, at length, as recently as a few months ago. And he wasn't then offering any hot Guard docs (though he clearly had the motive to do so). If some mystery person only recently gave the docs to Burkett, who was it? [What are you wearing?-ed Cutoffs!]... 11:53 P.M.
Jon Alter argues persuasively that the "debate over the debates" helps Bush: a) By apparently trying to duck a third debate, Bush lowers expectations about his debating skills far more effectively than if his aides simply (and ludicrously) talked up Kerry as "Cicero;" b) The "debate about debates" is a hardy perennial Neutral Story Line, taking up media space that otherwise might be spent talking about Iraq. ... 12:36 P.M.
Photograph of Howard Dean on the Slate home page by Jim Bourg/Reuters.