The man who gave CBS controversial documents that have fueled a firestorm of controversy over President Bush’s Vietnam-era Texas Air National Guard service has admitted that he deliberately misled the television network, CBS said in a statement Monday.
Over the weekend, CBS’ veteran news anchor Dan Rather flew to Texas to interview Bill Burkett , a man who was believed by some to be the source of the memos.
CBS said Monday that Burkett did in fact mislead a CBS News producer about the documents. The network acknowledged that, based upon subsequent reporting on questions about the documents, it cannot prove they are authentic and therefore, should not have been used in its “60 Minutes” report on Sept. 8.
“Burkett, a retired National Guard lieutenant colonel, also admits that he deliberately misled the CBS News producer working on the report, giving her a false account of the documents’ origins to protect a promise of confidentiality to the actual source,” network spokeswoman Kelli Edwards said in the statement.
Burkett’s full interview will be aired on Monday night’s edition of “CBS Evening News with Dan Rather,” from 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. EDT, PT.
“60 Minutes Wednesday” had full confidence in the original report or it would not have aired,” CBS News President Andrew Heyward said in a statement.
“However, in the wake of serious and disturbing questions that came up after the broadcast, CBS News has done extensive additional reporting in an effort to confirm the documents’ authenticity “¦ Based on what we now know, CBS News cannot prove that the documents are authentic, which is the only acceptable journalistic standard to justify using them in the report. We should not have used them. That was a mistake, which we deeply regret. Nothing is more important to us than our credibility and keeping faith with the millions of people who count on us for fair, accurate, reliable, and independent reporting. We will continue to work tirelessly to be worthy of that trust.”
The Tiffany network and its management are commissioning an independent review.
Rather himself also issued a statement, saying, “I no longer have the confidence in these documents that would allow us to continue vouching for them journalistically,” adding that airing the documents was an “error in judgment.”
“I find we have been misled on the key question of how our source for the documents came into possession of these papers,” Rather continued. “That, combined with some of the questions that have been raised in public and in the press, leads me to a point where – if I knew then what I know now — I would not have gone ahead with the story as it was aired, and I certainly would not have used the documents in question.”
“It’s about time. I think CBS is the last group in America that doesn’t understand these are forgeries – and really abusive forgeries,” former Republican National Committee Chairman Bill Brock told FOX News after the statement was released. “Hallelujah they are finally admitted they were wrong and I hope they will be very forthcoming about their source and that they were duped.”
Since the imbroglio began three weeks ago, the network has expressed confidence in the unidentified sources of the documents and the memos themselves, which suggest that Bush received special treatment to get into the Texas Air National Guard and may not have fulfilled his obligations to the Guard. After a myriad of document experts and others came forward questioning the authenticity of the papers, CBS last week said it would further investigate the authenticity of the memos.
“We’ve said we are trying very hard to get to the bottom of these questions,” Heyward said over the weekend.
Top network executives huddled throughout the weekend and refined the wording of its correction and apology throughout Monday morning.
CBS went into a “defensive crouch” and should have acknowledged sooner the possibility they were duped, Richard Cohen, a syndicated columnist for The Washington Post, told FOX News on Monday.
But “I essentially think it’s a tempest in the teapot — it was a mistake “¦ all news organizations make mistakes “¦ if they’re aggressive and really care about covering the news “¦ it’s part of the business.”
Burkett, has urged Democratic activists to wage “war” against Republican “dirty tricks.”
Adding more fuel to the fire, Burkett, who lives in Abilene, Texas, has now also said that he passed the documents on to former Sen. Max Cleland, a Georgia Democrat and triple amputee from Vietnam, who is working with the Kerry campaign.
Burkett’s had a long-running feud with then-Gov. Bush over health benefits and the Texas National Guard. FOX News asked a Republican legislator, Bob Hunter, who investigated Burkett’s charges but found they were groundless.
Over the weekend, Bush commented publicly on the issue for the first time.
“There are a lot of questions about the documents, and they need to be answered,” he told The Union Leader of Manchester, N.H. The president has continued to maintain that he is proud to have served in the Guard.
The original CBS report mainly relied on four memos purportedly written by the deceased Lt. Jerry B. Killian . Dated in the early 1970s, the papers say that Killian was pressured to “sugarcoat” the young Lt. Bush’s record and that he ignored a direct order to take a physical.
But many experts have come forth to say that the typeface and other features of the memos most likely were written on a personal computer using Microsoft Word instead of typewriters common 30 years ago. Others who were familiar with Killian have come forth — including his own family members — and have said there is no way Killian would have written such memos.
The Bush-Cheney campaign has maintained that campaign staffers of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry are behind the memo snafu.