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Texas Monthly has a very long and thoroughly researched report detailing the story behind former President George W. Bush‘s Texas Air National Guard service, and the fallout it had for Dan Rather and CBS News.
Most of the story examined Bush’s Air National Guard record, and tries to figure how the forged documents came to be at CBS, while also examining the real story behind them. It also details some of the behind-the-scenes machinations at work at CBS before the now-infamous “60 Minutes” report aired.
The morning before the broadcast was scheduled to air, CBS showed the memos to the White House for a response. Dan Bartlett was the network’s contact. Before Bartlett was interviewed, he emailed copies of the memos to Albert Lloyd, Bush’s longtime National Guard expert. In an interview in 2008, Lloyd told me he immediately recognized them as forgeries: “I looked at them and I said, ‘Don’t do a damned thing with these, because these are fake.’ ”
Bartlett, however, appears to have ignored Lloyd’s assessment. When asked by CBS whether he doubted the authenticity of the memos, Bartlett replied, “I’m not saying that at all,” adding that he only questioned the timing of their release. His interpretation of the memos, in fact, was that they “reaffirm what we’ve said all along.”
When the panel report finally came out in January 2005, it did not determine whether the documents were real, but it did blame Mapes and three other CBS producers for failing to properly vet them. CBS fired Mapes and asked the three others to resign. All three threatened to sue and were subsequently paid settlements to stay quiet about the story.
Rather was spared (a humiliating forensic examination revealed his virtual absence from the reporting process), but he agreed to resign from the CBS Evening News in the spring. Mapes went home to Dallas and began writing her book-length defense.
Related: Dan Rather talked to mediabistroTV about his “First Big Break” earlier this year: