The Forgotten Truths of the Dan Rather Case

Dan Rather’s law suit against CBS was a much easier matter for the right wing blogosphere to jump upon than for liberal bloggers to discuss. This is a situation where there is fault on both sides. As Rather’s critics from the right are far more concerned with making political points than discovering the truth, it was a simple matter for them to repeat their usual attacks. In doing so they continue to ignore an important point. Although those who defend Bush pretend that the memos constituted the major evidence against Bush, the story about George Bush’s National Guard service was correct and stood up on its own without the questionable memos. It also remains strange that the White House never questioned these memos when given this opportunity to review the evidence before the story aired.

Dan Rather and some others continue to argue that the memos were not forgeries. A number of questions were raised, such as whether a typewriter at the time could have prepared documents in the font used. Rare typewriters from the era were found to be capable of this, but too many questions remained as to the legitimacy of the memos. Rather would be on much stronger ground, and the story would have been more effective, if it was run without use of these memos. Rather does deserve his case in court and it will be interesting to see if he does present further evidence as to the legitimacy of the documents. Even if the memos were forgeries, his entire career should not be judged on a single episode.

Rather’s defense that he had a marginal role in the development of this story also does not place him in a good light, but this is also the reality of network news. In such a case, CBS does share responsibility for any problems here and this does make Rather look like a scapegoat. Many of Rather’s complaints come down to matters of his contract and very well would best be settled in court.

While I have little concern with the details of Rather’s contract with CBS, there are matters of importance here. The most important is that it does appear that CBS did back down in the face of opposition from the Bush administration and attackers from the right. Many of the problems we currently face are partially a consequence of the media failing to do its job and investigate the false claims of the Bush administration, such as those made during the run up to the war. This raises questions as to how the media will respond in future situations where the government and right wing object to an investigation. As Eugene Robinson wrote:

The point is that when the next set of Pentagon Papers comes down the pike, how will our corporatized news media react? If such documents happened to be delivered into the hands of CBS News, would Redstone do what the Sulzbergers of the New York Times and the Grahams of The Post did back in the early 1970s? Would he put everything he owns at risk in the service of the public’s right to know?

That hope is “as thin as November ice,” Rather would say. Or maybe “as thin as turnip soup.” Take your pick.

CBS should have apologized for any error in using the memos but stuck by their story. Eric Boehlert reviews the case in depth at Media Matters. His post includes “10 discrepancies that would have gotten any other Air National Guard member severely reprimanded, and certainly would have, later in life, derailed any presidential aspirations.”

1. Upon entering the Guard, Bush agreed that flying was his “lifetime pursuit” and that he would fly for the military for at least 60 months. After his training was complete, he owed 53 more months of flying.

Bush flew for only 22 of those 53 months.

2. In May 1972, Bush left the Houston Guard base for Alabama. According to Air Force regulations, Bush was supposed to obtain prior authorization before leaving Texas to join a new Guard unit in Alabama.

Bush failed to get the authorization.

3. On his transfer request to Alabama Bush was asked to list his “permanent address.”

He wrote down a post office box number for the campaign where he was working on a temporary basis.

4. According to Air Force regulations, “[a] member whose attendance record is poor must be closely monitored. When the unexcused absences reach one less than the maximum permitted [sic] he must be counseled and a record made of the counseling. If the member is unavailable he must be advised by personal letter.”

There is no record that Bush ever received such counseling, despite the fact that he missed drills for months on end.

5. Bush’s unit was obligated to report to the Personnel Center at Randolph Air Force Base whenever a monthly review of records showed unsatisfactory participation for an officer.

Bush’s unit never reported his absenteeism to Randolph Air Force Base.

6. In July 1972, Bush failed to take a mandatory Guard physical exam, which is a serious offense for a Guard pilot. The move should have prompted the formation of a Flying Evaluation Board to investigate the circumstances surrounding Bush’s failure.

No such Flying Evaluation Board was convened.

7. On Sept. 29, 1972, Bush was formally grounded for failing to take a flight physical. The letter, written by the chief of the National Guard Bureau, ordered Bush to acknowledge in writing that he had received word of his grounding.

No such written acknowledgment exists.

8. Each time Bush missed a monthly training session he was supposed to schedule a make-up session, or file substitute service requests. Bush’s numerous substitute service requests should have formed a lengthy paper trail with the name of the officer who authorized the training in advance, the signature of the officer who supervised the training and Bush’s own signature.

No such documents exist.

9. During his last year with the Texas Air National Guard, Bush missed a majority of his mandatory monthly training sessions and supposedly made them up with substitute service. Guard regulations allowed substitute service only in circumstances that were “beyond the control” of the Guard member.

Neither Bush nor the Texas Air National Guard ever explained what the uncontrollable circumstances were that forced him to miss so many of his assigned drills during his last year.

10. On June 29, 1973, the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver instructed Bush’s commanders to get additional information from his Alabama unit, where he had supposedly trained, in order to better evaluate Bush’s duty.

Bush’s commanders ignored the request.

Update: Rather may call on Bush to testify. Will Bush confess or risk action for perjury?

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3 Comments

  1. 1
    wallybanners says:

    Dan Rather is a broken remnant of what he once was. Hes become a lousy reporter and a parasite. Always begging talkshow hosts for a job. The man is sad. Soon you will be able to read by Irans nuclear glow 🙂

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Rather doesn’t have to beg anyone for a job. Beyond having more than enough money to live quite well without working, he currently anchors a news program. While the ratings are a fraction of those at a major network, he continues to show his talents as an excellent reporter.

    Besides his own news show, Rather may have another career started. He had an appearance on the pilot of Dirty Sexy Money.

  3. 3
    Adanton says:

    Ijust wisu some people they would say somthing nice about him.i still think he is the reastys reporter.Adanton @molalla net.

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