NBC and CBS Battled for Bush National-Guard Hit in 2000; John Kerry Forced Interview on CBS in '04

At Texas Monthly, liberal writer Joe Hagan dives again into the allegations about George W. Bush shirking duty in the Texas Air National Guard in the early 1970s. It's not news that Hagan again finds disgraced ex-CBS anchor Dan Rather yammering about how he still feels the fake documents are genuine. (Even Kevin Drum at Mother Jones calls Rather "delusional.")

It's more interesting that Rather source Ben Barnes was courted for weeks and months both by CBS and NBC in 2000, and that he only consented to CBS in 2004 because John Kerry leaned on him to help his fellow Democrat out: 

Kerry knew that in a private fund-raising speech earlier that year, Barnes had told how he visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington one night and grew ashamed at having helped sons of privilege into the Guard while others died in their places....

After the campaign meeting, Kerry grabbed Barnes’s arm. “You’ve got to help me,” he said. “What are we going to do about this?”

That’s when Barnes agreed, five years after [CBS producer Mary] Mapes began trying to persuade him, to finally tell his story on 60 Minutes.

Hagan says Barnes didn't move with his anti-Bush stories in 2000 because he didn't want to antagonize Bush if he won:

With the presidential campaign about to begin, it was now open season on the Guard story, which had still never drawn a sustained national investigation. Two TV producers pursued Barnes for his first on-air interview: Mary Mapes, Rather’s 60 Minutes producer at CBS, and David Bloom, the NBC correspondent who later died in Iraq. Mapes courted Barnes for months. Bloom spent two weeks in Austin, including a night drinking at Barnes’s estate, trying to cajole him into appearing on NBC.

Barnes basked in the attention but had no intention of elevating his court admission to a political attack. When I asked Barnes why a Democratic fund-raiser with a damaging story about the Republican presidential nominee wouldn’t help his party in the close 2000 election, he said that Al Gore didn’t ask him for help. But Barnes’s friends say he was just hedging his bets: if he told his story and Bush won the presidency, Barnes would have a powerful political enemy in the White House.

For the record, here once again is Dan Rather denying the obvious:

"The story we reported has never been denied by George W. Bush, by anyone in his close circles, including his family,” says Rather. “They have never denied the bulwark of the story, the spine of the story, the thrust of the story.” (In fact, Bush officials have indeed denied it, repeatedly. In a conversation I had with former White House director of communications Dan Bartlett in 2007, he told me, “We believe the story is inaccurate, both the general thrust of it and the questionable sources they used.”)

Rather tried making his case in a 2007 lawsuit against his former bosses, but it was thrown out of court two years later. Nonetheless, he remains convinced that he did nothing wrong. “I believed at the time that the documents were genuine,” Rather says, “and I’ve never ceased believing that they are genuine.”

...When it was dismissed, in 2009, he was devastated. He maintains a smoldering anger for CBS News. But Rather says he remains “optimistic” that somebody, somewhere, will one day come forward and reveal the truth of what happened. “They’re out there,” he says. “Let’s set the record straight.”

Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum slams Hagan for being too agnostic on whether the fake National Guard memos were fakes. It's interesting that Drum and Hagan each think the Bush behavior alleged here is really not such a big deal -- and yet, top liberal journalists devoted months and years to pursuing them -- some of them, right into presenting fake news. They certainly felt this could be a silver bullet against Bush's presidential election or re-election.
 

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis