CBS apologized on Monday, Sept. 20, for “a mistake in judgement” concerning a broadcast on “60 Minutes” exploring President Bush?s service in the Texas National Guard. The error involves documents used in the report that now appear possibly forged.The memos originally stated that Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, now deceased, was pressured into sugarcoating Bush?s performance in the Texas National Guard. Once CBS discussed and released the documents on “60 Minutes” a few weeks ago, the controversy began. Killian?s former secretary claimed the memos were fake. Critics also argued that the memos were created on a computer, not a typewriter that would have existed in the 1970s when George Bush served in the National Guard. CBS now claims they were duped. According to the network, retired Texas National Guard official Bill Burkett misled the CBS news department.
According to reports, Burkett has recently publicly admitted that he lied about the source and background information concerning the documents. According to Burkett?s testimony to CBS last weekend, he did not obtain the memos from another National Guard official, like he told CBS before the network reported the story. Now, CBS can not prove that the memos are authentic.
Meanwhile, the controversy has deepened due to Bill Burkett?s political affiliations and connections. According to recent MSNBC and AP reports, Burkett sent e-mails and made phone calls to Texas democrats and Max Cleland, a former Democratic Senator from Georgia and a Kerry supporter. Burkett told Cleland and other democrats he had a story that would counter the attacks and criticism over John Kerry?s Vietnam service and anti-war activism.
The story Burkett imagined has become the CBS controversy, but it has not been proven that the democrats Burkett contacted, including Max Cleland, had anything to do with the scandal. The media has also discovered that Burkett talked to a top Kerry adviser, Joe Lockhart. Lockhart and the Kerry campaign deny any involvement with the controversy and story. Yet White House officials claim the controversy raises questions about a possible connection between the memos, Burkett, and the Kerry campaign.
Previously, CBS defended the story, until last week when CBS news anchor Dan Rather issued a public apology. “We made a mistake in judgement, and for that I am sorry,” he told the media and the country. CBS will also create an independent panel to investigate the reporting and sources surrounding the memos. Vietnam has been a key issue and an intense debate in the presidential election for a few months. Over the summer, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group of Vietnam veterans opposed to Kerry, created televised attack ads against Kerry. The ads hounded Kerry for opposing the war once he returned home from Vietnam.
One member of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, Larry Thurlow, also told the Washington Post over the summer that Kerry exaggerated his injuries in Vietnam. According to Thurlow?s story in the Washington Post, the swift boat Kerry commanded in Vietnam came under little enemy fire. Meanwhile, democrats have accused President Bush of escaping Vietnam, arguing that Bush?s political connections allowed him to dodge the war.
Kerry has also made his volunteer service in Vietnam part of his campaign platform, using his service as an advantage over President Bush, who did not serve in the war. Kerry has three purple hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star from his military service.
The CBS controversy only intensifies the debate over both presidential candidates? military service surrounding Vietnam. The scandal also raises serious questions about the reporting and ethics of Dan Rather and the CBS news department.