AP Writer Omits Fake Documents, Panel Finding from Rather Lawsuit Story

Dan Rather's lawsuit against CBS may go forward.

By omitting key facts of the original "Rathergate" story from his report Thursday, Associated Press Writer Samuel Maull managed to give the former CBS news anchor's contentions an appearance of credibility.

Here is how Maull's report began (HT Little Green Footballs; more permanent link to same story used here):

A judge said Wednesday that he was leaning toward allowing Dan Rather's $70 million lawsuit over his being fired by CBS to proceed.

"I concluded there was enough in the complaint (by Rather) to continue with discovery (pretrial research)," state Judicial Hearing Officer Ira Gammerman said at a hearing on CBS' motion to dismiss the case.

The judge did not issue a final ruling on CBS' motion, but he suggested the parties try to agree on the scope of pretrial discovery -- just in case -- and told them to return to court Jan. 23 for a conference.

Rather, whose last months at CBS were clouded by a disputed story on President Bush's Vietnam-era military service, says his employers made him a "scapegoat" to placate the White House after questions arose about the story.

The lawsuit names CBS Corp., former CBS parent Viacom Inc., CBS President Leslie Moonves, Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone and former CBS News President Andrew Heyward. It seeks $20 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages.

Rather, 75, said after attending the hearing in Manhattan's state Supreme Court that he was pleased by the judge's statements.

"Allowing the case to go forward with discovery will put us on the road to finding out what really happened involving big corporations and powerful interests in Washington and their intrusions into newsrooms, which is the reason I'm here," Rather said. "That is the red, beating heart of this case."

In his final paragraph, Maull rendered this synopsis of the events that led to Rather's suit:

Rather was removed from his "CBS Evening News" post in March 2005, six months after he narrated a report that said Bush disobeyed orders and shirked some of his duties during his National Guard service. The report also said a commander felt pressured to sugarcoat Bush's record.

Maull makes no mention of the smoking gun that ripped the credibility of Rather's report to shreds. That smoking gun was the clearly non-contemperaneous nature of the documents used as the basis for the Bush-Texas Air National Guard story.

Specifically, very shortly after the airing of Rather's report, FreeRepublic poster Buckhead contended that "these documents are forgeries." Within 24 hours of Buckhead's post, Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs showed that those documents, allegedly created in the early 1970s, could not possibly have been (bold, italics, and external link are in original):

Bush Guard Documents: Forged
Thu, Sep 9, 2004 at 10:24:36 am PST

I opened Microsoft Word, set the font to Microsoft’s Times New Roman, tabbed over to the default tab stop to enter the date “18 August 1973,” then typed the rest of the document purportedly from the personal records of the late Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B. Killian.

And my Microsoft Word version, typed in 2004, is an exact match for the documents trumpeted by CBS News as “authentic.”

..... The spacing is not just similar—it is identical in every respect. Notice that the date lines up perfectly, all the line breaks are in the same places, all letters line up with the same letters above and below, and the kerning is exactly the same. And I did not change a single thing from Word’s defaults; margins, type size, tab stops, etc. are all using the default settings. The one difference (the “th” in “187th” is slightly lower) is probably due to a slight difference between the Mac and PC versions of the Times New Roman font, or it could be an artifact of whatever process was used to artificially “age” the document. (Update: I printed the document and the “th” matches perfectly in the printed version. It’s a difference between screen and printer fonts.)

There is absolutely no way that this document was typed on any machine that was available in 1973.

Curiously, the CBS story Johnson linked to is now dated September 20, 2004, though the story's URL indicates that it was created on September 8. There is no identification of what changes, if any, CBS made to the report in the intervening 12 days.

However, there is now, at the very beginning of the CBS story, this Editor's Note:

(CBS) EDITOR'S NOTE: A report issued by an independent panel on Jan. 10, 2005 concluded that CBS News failed to follow basic journalistic principles in the preparation and reporting of this Sept. 8, 2004 broadcast.

Maull owed it to readers unfamiliar with the details to inform them of the forged documents issue and the independent panel report's "fail(ure) to follow basic journalistic principles" finding. By failing to do so, he gave Rather's lawsuit plausibility beyond what it deserves.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.