Truth or Consequences

Texas Monthly gets to the bottom of the "greatest untold story in modern politics" - Dan Rather's broadcasting of a (potentially) inaccurate claim about George Bush's military service. A long but interesting read for anyone who has the time today.

UCampus
Posted on 4/16/2012

A brief introduction to the controversy:

By all rights, Rather, who turns 81 this year, should be enjoying a few victory laps at the close of a remarkable career. And he would be, except for one report that he will never forget, because no one will ever let him: the botched 60 Minutes segment in 2004 on George W. Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service. The report, which lasted fifteen minutes, forever damaged Rather’s reputation and ended his network TV career after forty years. Its claims were potentially explosive—that Bush had received preferential treatment to enter the National Guard in 1968 in order to avoid the Vietnam draft and that he had then shirked his duty without repercussion. As evidence, Rather produced six documents that described the alleged political pressure Bush’s commanding officer was under to “sugarcoat” possibly embarrassing moments in Bush’s record, specifically his failure to show up for a flight physical and his loss of flight status. In a presidential campaign that had become a referendum on who had the credibility to take control of the quagmire in Iraq, Rather’s report could have seriously damaged Bush’s reelection effort. But he went at the king—and he missed.

Almost as soon as the broadcast aired, a swarm of right-wing blogs assailed Rather’s documents, claiming their typeface and spacing was inconsistent with any known typewriter of the early seventies. Within days CBS was reeling as Bush allies accused Rather and his longtime producer, Mary Mapes, of using forgeries to tip a presidential election in favor of the Democrats. Twelve days after the story aired, CBS backed down, forced Rather to apologize, and established a special panel to investigate what went wrong. Forty-three days later, Bush was reelected, beating Senator John Kerry by a two-point margin in the pivotal swing state of Ohio. By the time Mapes and three other producers were ousted by CBS, the Bush National Guard story was dead and buried, with Rather’s reputation as the tombstone.

 

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