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CBS May Say It Was Misled on Memos

The network could say today where and how papers were obtained, but not be able to clear up whether they're fakes.

September 20, 2004|Elizabeth Jensen | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — CBS News is expected to tell viewers as early as today that it was misled about the memos that were used in a "60 Minutes" report about President Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard.CBS anchor Dan Rather traveled to Texas over the weekend to interview Bill Burkett, a former lieutenant colonel in the Texas National Guard who is said to have had a key role in the network obtaining the documents, which many have argued are fake.

Although CBS is likely to identify where -- and how -- it got the documents, it still may not be able to clear up whether they are real, sources familiar with the situation said.

Network officials were meeting late Sunday and continued working into early this morning about a public acknowledgment, sources familiar with the situation said.

Dated from 1972 and 1973, the memos allegedly came from the personal files of the late Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, Bush's commander in the Texas Air National Guard. They purport to show that the future president, then the son of a powerful Republican politician, received preferential treatment while in the Guard as well as reveal that he was grounded from flying after missing a physical exam.

But since CBS' "60 Minutes" program revealed the documents, forensic experts and others have expressed skepticism about their authenticity, citing discrepancies in their typefaces, among other issues. Killian's secretary told Rather she believes the memos are forgeries, but that the content accurately reflected Killian's feelings at the time.

Others asked whether CBS did enough verification in its haste to get the documents on the air or whether some of the experts hired to study them had been ignored when they raised questions.

Acknowledging that it was deceived about the origins of the memos would represent a major turnabout for the network and its veteran anchor since the report first aired.

For several days after its Sept. 8 report on "60 Minutes," Rather and CBS officials had staunchly defended the authenticity of the documents.

CBS and Rather stood firm until Wednesday, after Killian's secretary was interviewed and the news division admitted that there were serious questions about the documents' authenticity. It vowed to "redouble" its efforts to resolve the problems.

By Friday, sources familiar with the situation were saying that the network had strong doubts about the authenticity of the memos.

Under pressure, CBS News executives said they were trying to persuade the confidential source or sources to come forward publicly. A CBS News spokeswoman declined to comment Sunday night.

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