First as farce, then as tragedy

My latest for The Guardian recounts an earlier lawsuit involving Dan Rather that hinged on — yes — an apparently phony document that Rather waved in front of his CBS viewers.

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24 thoughts on “First as farce, then as tragedy

  1. Anonymous

    “…lying Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth…” ????????????Okay. So when was John Kerry in Cambodia with his jucky CIA hat again?Glen BergendahlWeymouth

  2. Dan Kennedy

    More Blogger trouble … will the person who just posted a Robert Pollack piece about Kerry in Cambodia please try again?

  3. Rick

    Holiday in CambodiaThe most damning testimony on John Kerry in Vietnam has come from John Kerry.BY ROBERT L. POLLOCKMonday, August 16, 2004 12:01 a.m. EDTJohn Kerry volunteered for service in Vietnam. John Kerry was wounded in Vietnam. And a number of the men with whom John Kerry served testify to acts of courage on his part.This much seems beyond question, and I see no reason to weigh in on the factual disputes surrounding Mr. Kerry’s medals being waged by pro-Kerry vets like Jim Rassmann and the anti-Kerry vets of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Both sides strike me as sincere, but eyewitness accounts of fast-moving and stressful situations like combat are too unreliable for there to be much hope of getting at the “truth” here.But Americans have never accepted that a record of service, however honorable, should forever entitle a man to deference on matters of war and peace. (Ask George McGovern.) And the political uses to which Mr. Kerry would later put his Vietnam experience are certainly fair game for criticism. Which brings up Mr. Kerry’s claim–repeated in at least three different decades, and on the floor of the Senate–that he spent Christmas Eve of 1968 not in Vietnam but in Cambodia. He obviously considered it a point of some significance, since he used it to impugn the integrity of those who waged the Vietnam War.This is how he described it to the Boston Herald in 1979: “I remember spending Christmas Eve of 1968 five miles across the Cambodian border being shot at by our South Vietnamese allies. . . . The absurdity of almost being killed by our own allies in a country in which President Nixon claimed there were no American troops was very real.”In 1986 Mr. Kerry argued on the Senate floor against U.S. support for the Nicaraguan contras, again citing the 1968 Christmas in Cambodia and “the president of the United States telling the American people I was not there; the troops were not in Cambodia. I have that memory which is seared–seared–in me.” In a 1992 interview with the Associated Press the story came back: “By Christmas 1968, part of Kerry’s patrol extended across the border of South Vietnam into Cambodia.”Trouble is, the person who appears to have been wrong here about Mr. Kerry’s location was not the president–who was Lyndon Johnson, not Nixon, by the way–but Mr. Kerry himself. His commanding officers all testify to this fact, as do men who were on his boat at the time. And so now, reluctantly, does the Kerry campaign.Last Wednesday Kerry spokesman Michael Meehan sent me a statement saying that “During John Kerry’s service in Vietnam, many times he was on or near the Cambodian border and on one occasion crossed into Cambodia. . . . On December 24, 1968 Lieutenant John Kerry and his crew were on patrol in the watery borders between Vietnam and Cambodia deep in enemy territory.” I asked for clarification as to whether the “one occasion” was Christmas Eve 1968. “No,” was the reply.”Watery borders” is something of an evasion, intended to imply that Mr. Kerry’s “seared” memory might have been easily confused. But according to both the maps and the testimony of swift vets, the Mekong doesn’t run along the Cambodian border but bisects it, such that the coincidence between the two is obvious. In any case, Mr. Kerry’s own journal, as cited in Douglas Brinkley’s biography, records him being 50-some miles from the border at Sa Dec on that day contemplating visions of “sugar plums.”Does this matter? Well, if President Bush was found to be using tall tales from his National Guard days to justify his policies in the war on terror it would certainly attract some attention. So the would-be commander in chief can hardly complain of being subject to scrutiny, especially since he’s joined in criticism of Mr. Bush’s war record and made his own a campaign centerpiece. Never mind the anti-Kerry swiftees. So far the veteran whose testimony is doing John Kerry the most damage is . . . John Kerry.Mr. Pollock is a senior editorial page writer at The Wall Street Journal.

  4. Neil

    It’s weird that both of the last two non-casino comment threads, about Dan Rather and the MoveOn ad, have been redirected into the did-John-Kerry-really-earn-his-fourth-Bronze-Star rathole. Same old same old.Full moon tonight!

  5. Anonymous

    Dan,I’m familiar with the case. The Kerry camp changed its story several times when it was supplied proof positive Kerry was not in Cambodia on Christmas Eve.Glen BergendahlWeymouth

  6. Dan Kennedy

    The best evidence suggests that Kerry was in or near Cambodia around Christmas in 1968.The best evidence also suggests that Bush and Cheney were not.

  7. Rick

    Who said Bush or Cheney were in Cambodia? That’s a childish way to end a discussion. Kerry served his country well.Then decided to jump on the side of the anti-war crowd when he returned and accuse fellow soldiers of some pretty awful things. He must realize everything he says about his service is going to be checked out.I belive he was probably close to Cambodia but that didn’t fit his story of the searing memory of being in cambodia when the president said we had no soldiers there so he just stretched the truth a bit and got caught. Douglas Brinkley said so himself.

  8. Anonymous

    Rick – Accused? Or asserted what he’d witnessed with his own two eyes?Vietnam was a disaster and he is doubly a hero for being able to acknowledge that.

  9. Anonymous

    Dan, I don’t know – there’s just something about the way you seem all too happy to completely dismiss Rather and pile on with everyone else. Sidney Blumenthal’s take on this is a must read:salon.com/opinion/blumenthal/2007/09/27/dan_rather_suit/

  10. Rick

    I honestly think Dan Rather has a few screws loose. And not just for the lawsuit I have always thought that there was something not right with him. He has that look in his eyes like any second he will flip out.

  11. Bill Baar

    Blumenthal is right in the sense that Rather’s lawsuit will answer the questions of just who CBS was conspiring with…….problem is I think it will turn to be a story of CBS conspiring with the Kerry campagin to spring forged documents on the electorate in an attempt to subvert an election.Instead of… Rather will detail how network executives curried favor with the administration, offering him up as a human sacrifice. I find a Bush-CBS conspiracy a bit hard to swallow… but do let the lawsuit begin! There’s plenty unexplianed with this story.

  12. Anonymous

    Bill, I think Blumenthal pretty clearly illustrates the administration’s and CBS’s common interests here:As the panel called witnesses, Sumner Redstone, CEO of Viacom (CBS’s owner), declared his interest in the 2004 election. “I look at the election from what’s good for Viacom. I vote for what’s good for Viacom. I vote, today, Viacom,” he said. In fact, Viacom had a number of crucial issues before the Federal Communications Commission, including loosening media ownership rules. “I don’t want to denigrate Kerry,” said Redstone, “but from a Viacom standpoint, the election of a Republican administration is a better deal. Because the Republican administration has stood for many things we believe in, deregulation and so on. The Democrats are not bad people … But from a Viacom standpoint, we believe the election of a Republican administration is better for our company.”

  13. Anonymous

    . . . And here:”Two Bush family loyalists, Richard Thornburgh, former attorney general in the elder Bush’s administration, and Louis Boccardi, former executive editor and CEO of the Associated Press, were chosen to head the internal investigation. Thornburgh had been the subject of critical Rather reports, while Boccardi felt close and indebted to the elder Bush for being helpful as vice president in gaining the release of AP reporter Terry Anderson, held hostage for six years in Lebanon.”

  14. Steve

    I, too, enjoyed the Blumenthal piece. And just to cross the threads in this blog: Bill, if gambling were legal in this state, I’d wager a fair amount of money that your conspiracy theory is wrong. I’d even give you odds.

  15. Steve

    Jane Hamsher and the FirePups weigh in on the Blumenthal piece here.For what it’s worth, unlike Blumenthal and Hamsher and the Firepups, I don’t expect the Rather suit to reveal any deep conspiracy at all. I expect it to be contracts and media business as usual.BTW, for you armchair lawyers out there, Hamsher gives this link to Rather’s complaint.

  16. Anonymous

    Blumenthal’s big-picture analysis makes DK’s piece look narrow and simplistic in comparison, but he seems to have moved on from this topic. Maybe a good rule of thumb would be that when you find yourself, Donald Trump, and Katie Couric all happily piling on the same guy, it’s good to take a step back. Yeah, trained monkey – good one, Danno!The real story is Viacom and CBS caving to the republicans, on a TRUE story that could have, should have, cost George W. Bush re-election.

  17. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 9:59: There is so much that is wrong with Blumenthal’s analysis (and your take on my analysis) that it’s hard to know where to begin.Let me start with, yes, the big picture. As I wrote in The Guardian, George W. Bush’s dubious service — and lack of service — in the National Guard had already been the subject of several reports. In September 2004, it looked as though the media were finally going to dig into it and get to the truth. Unfortunately, CBS News botched the story, and no one dared touch it after that. Far from advancing the story, Rather and Mapes succeeded in killing it.Blumenthal’s thesis seems to be that in order to believe Bush did not fulfill his service in the Texas Air National Guard, it is somehow necessary to rehabilitate Rather and Mapes. That’s ridiculous. A few pertinent facts:1. Here is the most important fact — Rather’s statements that he essentially had nothing to do with the story. From the New York Times:”The portrait of Mr. Rather that emerges from the 32-page filing bears little resemblance to his image as a hard-charging newsman.”By his own rendering, Mr. Rather was little more than a narrator of the disputed broadcast, which was shown on Sept. 8, 2004, on the midweek edition of ’60 Minutes’ and which purported to offer new evidence of preferential treatment given to Mr. Bush when he was a lieutenant in the Air National Guard.”Instead of directly vetting the script he would read for the Guard segment, Mr. Rather says, he acceded to pressure from Mr. Heyward to focus instead on his reporting from Florida on Hurricane Frances, and on Bill Clinton’s heart surgery.”Mr. Rather says in the filing that he allowed himself to be reduced to little more than a patsy in the furor that followed, after CBS concluded that the report had been based on documents that could not be authenticated. Under pressure, Mr. Rather says, he delivered a public apology on his newscast on Sept. 20, 2004 — written not by him but by a CBS corporate publicist — ‘despite his own personal feelings that no public apology from him was warranted.’”If Killian comes back from the dead tomorrow and announces that, goddamn it, yes, he typed those documents himself in the early 1970s, how does that vindicate Rather, given his own contention that he was pathetically uninvolved in a huge story branded with his marquee name?The headline on Blumenthal’s piece is “Dan Rather stands by his story.” Good grief. If Rather is telling the truth about his lack of involvement, how would he even know?2. Blumenthal writes:”While the battle over the authenticity experts and assorted inconclusive sources continued, CBS interviewed Marian Carr Knox, who had been Col. Killian’s assistant when the memos were allegedly produced. She didn’t recall typing them and didn’t believe Killian had written them (though various handwriting experts had verified his signature), but she also asserted, ‘The information in here is correct.’”I happen to think Knox’s recall was pretty good, and that her story is as close as we’re ever going to get to the truth. But Blumenthal makes it appear that the tenacious newsies at CBS kept reporting the story and might have gotten to the bottom of all this if only the suits hadn’t stopped them.In fact, the Knox information was revealed exclusively by the Dallas Morning News on Sept. 14. As soon as that came out, CBS got very excited and conducted its own interview with Knox. CBS unearthed nothing. It followed up a scoop by the Dallas paper.3. The documents are almost certainly phony. They perfectly match the default settings of Microsoft Word. Rather’s and Mapes’ last best hope, Knox, says she never had a typewriter like that. Even if all the other information CBS reported was true, the entire story falls apart if it featured phony documents. And it did, beyond a reasonable doubt.I have no problem believing that the internal investigation was biased against Rather and Mapes. But that doesn’t change the incredibly shoddy work they did in presenting unverified, fake documents to support their reporting. The political motivations of those who exposed their fakery is irrelevant.

  18. Peter Porcupine

    Political bickering about motives aside, I expect this to be dropped in the discovery phase, when Rather has to answer questions under oath along the lines of – “How many times and on which stories did you over the years function as a Ron Burgundy-esque news reader?” and “If this was a CBS news pattern, whe did you not resign? Aand does that pattern continue?”

  19. Anonymous

    Dan,When you find yourself fighting aongside Peter Porcupine, you should stop and and wonder whether that odor you smell is brimstone. She may always be on the side of the “right” but she’s almost never on the side of truth or justice.The Republican Party has always had it out for Rather. Shoddy journalism is just an excuse to kick him.

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