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Another Memogate Scandal?

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By Cliff Kincaid
30, 2009

For those interested in getting to the bottom of Dan Rather’s smear of George W. Bush, just before the 2004 presidential election, there are some interesting new developments. Former CBS News employee Bernard Goldberg started the controversy anew with his Tuesday night appearance on the O’Reilly Factor to talk about what became known as Rathergate.

Goldberg said that a “lost fact”—that George W. Bush had actually volunteered for service in Vietnam, thereby completely undermining one of the main premises of the scandalous September 8, 2004, broadcast—was included on page 130 of the official report into the hit job. Goldberg is correct, although AIM had published this “lost fact” back in 2005 in a press release, an AIM Report, and a series of columns about the report. We gave dozens of interviews about this critical piece of information.

In a follow-up report on his website, Goldberg now acknowledges that he should have given AIM credit. He writes that, “…I should have mentioned that Accuracy in Media was one of the very few organizations to report this fact early on. I merely said that ‘a few websites’ had noted the finding. My apologies to AIM.”

The issue is legitimate, however, and the evidence actually shows that the “lost fact” surfaced and was on the public record before the special panel issued its report into what Dan Rather, the successor to Walter Cronkite as anchorman of the CBS Evening News, knew and when he knew it. So there was absolutely no excuse for Rather and Mary Mapes, who was Rather’s producer on the broadcast, to have ignored it.

The “lost fact,” which is critically important in the controversy, was included in a February 11, 2004, letter in the Washington Times from Bill Campenni, a retired Colonel in the U.S. Air Force/National Guard, who revealed that “A pilot program using ANG [Air National Guard] volunteer pilots in F-102s (called Palace Alert) was scrapped quickly after the airplane proved to be unsuitable to the war effort. Ironically, Lt. Bush did inquire about this program but was advised by an ANG supervisor (Maj. Maurice Udell, retired) that he did not have the desired experience (500 hours) at the time and that the program was winding down and not accepting more volunteers.”

Bush and Campenni were lieutenants and pilots in the 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (FIS), Texas Air National Guard from 1970 to 1971.

This information appeared seven months before Rather and Mapes aired the 60 Minutes program that included the implication that Bush had joined the National Guard for the purpose of avoiding the Vietnam War.

Campenni also tells me that on February 14, 2004, Peter Bacque of the Richmond Times Dispatch ran an article about the information under the headline:


Rather was kept mostly off the air but temporarily on the payroll in the wake of the scandal, while Mapes was fired and then tried to cash in by writing a book with the lofty title, Truth And Duty: The Press, The President, And The Privilege Of Power. She now writes occasionally for the liberal website the Huffington Post, which insists that “she was fired for producing a controversial report on President George W. Bush's military service.”

The new controversy sparked by Goldberg raises more questions about whether Rather, increasingly isolated from his former colleagues and relegated to a back pew at the Cronkite memorial service, can continue with his questionable lawsuit against his former employer over how they treated him when the broadcast backfired. Incredibly, Rather is asking for $70 million in damages when the broadcast that he narrated brought disrepute on the network.

Thanks to billionaire Mark Cuban, Rather now works for Cuban’s little-watched HDNet channel. Rather has also tried to remake himself, showing up as a speaker at a 2008 “media reform” conference sponsored by the George Soros-funded Free Press organization on the subject of how corporations supposedly threaten journalistic independence.

Conservative bloggers were the first to question the phony “documents” used by Rather on the air that ultimately forced a public retraction and the investigation of the program. AIM honored two of those bloggers, Harry MacDougald and Paul Boley, with the Reed Irvine Investigative Journalism Award, named after the AIM founder.


Campenni also gives the bloggers credit for being the first to report the information that Bush volunteered to go to Vietnam. He adds that “the information was already out there even earlier in 1999, when media contacted Bush fellow pilots like Maury Udell and Fred Bradley specifically about Bush and the Palace Alert volunteer program. Ironically, Mapes was one of Udell’s interviewers.”

A strange twist on the current controversy has been offered by Felix Gillette, who purports to cover the media for the New York Observer and has tried to give Mapes some kind of credit for eventually reporting the information.

Acting like he has made a startling discovery, he writes that the discredited Mapes had acknowledged in her book—published two years after the scandal—that “Udell told me that Bush had wanted to go to Vietnam.” Gillette presents this information as if it undermines Goldberg’s appearance on O’Reilly. Goldberg’s point was that Mapes had this information before the broadcast but proceeded to do a program that left it out and led viewers to believe that Bush had joined the National Guard to avoid Vietnam.

The question that Gillette ignores—and which Goldberg was absolutely correct to bring up—was why Mapes omitted the information that undercut one of the central premises of the broadcast. The quick answer is blatant anti-Bush, anti-conservative political media bias.

In the context of the program and its timing, however, the purpose was to present Bush as a draft dodger and coward who nevertheless was sending young men off to die in a bloody war in Iraq. The other theme was to give the impression that Bush had used his family connections to get into the Texas Air National Guard Unit. But if you go to pages 13 and 46 of the same report, you find that while Mapes had tried to make that point in the discredited “60 Minutes” story, she knew that there was no waiting list to get into the difficult fighter-pilot training program and that several former Air National Guard officials had already told her there had been no preferential treatment.

The politically potent broadcast, if accurate, might have destroyed Bush’s re-election campaign and handed the victory to Senator John Kerry.

But the broadcast backfired because it was based on forged documents and was not accurate. The outcome of the scandal was so startling and damaging to CBS that there was speculation on the fringe left that Bush adviser Karl Rove had somehow planted the forged documents with CBS as part of a bizarre plot to embarrass the network, discredit the media, and help Bush win.

The disgraced Rather, who had been the subject of a long-running “Can Dan” campaign by Accuracy in Media over a history of slanted news reports, left the network and subsequently filed his $70 million breach of contract suit against CBS, insisting he had been mistreated. Among Rather’s most notorious reports was that the Soviets had accused the Pentagon of manufacturing the AIDS virus. Rather gave credence to the report by not even seeking a U.S. government response.

Into this ongoing legal battle steps Bernard Goldberg, insisting on the O’Reilly Factor on Tuesday night that this “lost fact” has come from some mysterious “Deep Throat” type of source somewhere.

Coming down hard on Rather personally, Goldberg, who used to work for CBS News and blew the whistle on the network’s liberal bias, said that it was clear that Mapes didn’t share the information about Bush volunteering for Vietnam duty with the CBS audience but the question is, “Did she share it with her correspondent, Dan Rather?”

Goldberg asked, “What did Dan know and when did he know it?”

O’Reilly, a former CBS News correspondent, promised, “The next time we see Dan Rather we’ll ask him: did you know about this deal that he volunteered in Vietnam?”

“We can find him,” O’Reilly vowed. “You know us.”

In fact, Rather has an office in New York City, not too far from where O’Reilly has his own. It doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch for Rather to appear on the O’Reilly show to answer these serious charges from a former CBS insider.

If Rather declines the invitation to appear, why not send O’Reilly producer Jesse Watters down to Rather’s office for one of those famous ambush interviews?

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Rather, of course, loses no matter what he says. If he claims ignorance, he looks like a dolt. If he admits knowledge of the evidence and the cover-up, he looks like a dishonest hatchet man. If he avoids an interview and the questions, he looks like someone with something to hide.

The result: his lawsuit looks increasingly like a hopeless personal vendetta—and very costly to someone whose reputation is already in tatters.

© 2009 Cliff Kincaid - All Rights Reserved

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Cliff Kincaid, a veteran journalist and media critic, Cliff concentrated in journalism and communications at the University of Toledo, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Cliff has written or co-authored nine books on media and cultural affairs and foreign policy issues. One of Cliff's books, "Global Bondage: The UN Plan to Rule the World" is still awailable.

Cliff has appeared on Hannity & Colmes, The O’Reilly Factor, Crossfire and has been published in the Washington Post, Washington Times, Chronicles, Human Events and Insight.

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Rather was kept mostly off the air but temporarily on the payroll in the wake of the scandal, while Mapes was fired and then tried to cash in by writing a book with the lofty title, Truth And Duty: The Press, The President, And The Privilege Of Power.