The "60 Minutes" Report

On September 8, 2004 CBS "60 Minutes" reported that "President Bush received preferential treatment to gain entrance to the Texas Air National Guard and that he may not have fulfilled all of the requirements."  The report featured memos purportedly by the late Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, who commanded Bush's squadron in Texas.

However, online activists quickly raised questions, in particular challenging the authenticity of the memos.  For example "Buckhead," writing on the FreeRepublic website later on September 8, noted:

"The use of proportionally spaced fonts did not come into common use for office memos until the introduction of laser printers, word processing software, and personal computers.  They were not widespread until the mid to late 90's.  Before then, you needed typesetting equipment, and that wasn't used for personal memos to file.  Even the Wang systems that were dominant in the mid 80's used monospaced fonts.

"I am saying these documents are forgeries, run through a copier for 15 generations to make them look old.

"This should be pursued aggressively."

Two weeks of controversy followed.  On September 20 CBS News anchor Dan Rather apologized for using the documents, stating that he no longer had confidence in them and that it was a "mistake in judgment" to use them.

The website summarized the episode thusly:

Just weeks away from a national election, Dan Rather and CBS News broadcast phony documents smearing President Bush.  They coordinated this attack with the John Kerry campaign.  They kept this all secret for two weeks until their fraud and coordination was exposed.

Even after Rather's apology, many questions remained, as the Republican National Committee pointed out (Ed Gillespie Sept. 22, 2004 statement).

The conservative Media Research Center named "Dan Rather's Forgery Fiasco" as number on on its list of "The Ten Worst Media Distortions of Campaign 2004" (Oct. 28, 2004).  >>

Producer Mary Mapes later covered this episode as part of her book:
TRUTH AND DUTY: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power (St. Martin's Press, Nov. 2005).  >>

Copyright © 2004, 2005  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.