On September 8, 2004, the CBS program 60 Minutes, anchored by Dan Rather, carried a segment detailing George W. Bush's service in the Texas National Guard.
It was a "riveting" and revealing report. Mary Mapes, a long-time reporter and producer for CBS News, and the producer of this 60 Minutes segment, tells the tale in her book, Truth and Duty -- The Press, The President, and the Privilege of Power.
The September 8 program aired the "first ever" interview with former Texas Lt. Governor Ben Barnes who admitted that he had helped Bush get into the Texas Air National Guard as a way of avoiding service in Vietnam.
New documents were obtained which showed that Bush had, in effect, gone AWOL; Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, Bush's commander, "had not approved Bush's departure from the Guard in 1972 to work on a U.S. Senate campaign for Republican Winton Blount in Alabama.
"They [documents] showed that Killian had ordered Bush to take a physical that was never completed and that Killian had been pressured from higher up to write better reports on Bush than were merited by the future president's performance. ... These new memos made Bush look like a slacker, not an ace pilot."
It was clear that George W. Bush was a neer-do-well who had used his family connections to pull plush duty, avoid combat, and then duck out of his commitment many months before his scheduled discharge.
The report, instead of receiving the immediate acclaim and applause which Rather and Mapes were justifiably sure it deserved, was greeted by a wave of derision and right-wing hate. CBS, to its eternal shame, not only failed to defend its reporters and producers, who had put their heart and soul into the investigation over a period of years, it threw those reporters and producers to the rabid, blood-thirsty wolves snarling on the right.
Although the documents used by 60 Minutes to build its case had been thoroughly vetted by experts, CBS caved to the crowd and its corporate ownership, and like a whimpering dog said "it could no longer vouch for the authenticity of the documents."
To soothe the wounded beasts crying for the heads of Rather and Mapes and all others involved in that 60 Minutes segment, the network declared it would commission an investigation to "determine how the segment got on the air," which is more less admitting that Rather and Mapes had deliberately done a hatchet job on the "Smirking Chimp."
The investigation was to be led by Republican smurf, Dick Thornburgh, who had been the attorney general for Reagan and the elder Bush. That tells us something. But there is further evidence that this so-called "investigation" was intended from the first to be a lynching party. Other people being considered to serve on the panel included Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, Ann Coulter and Pat Buchanan. Also, it is likely that Roger Ailes, founder of Fox News, was a candidate.
Talk about "rabid, blood-thirsty wolves on the right"!
The panel issued its final report in January 2005 and, while it "found no evidence of liberal bias in CBS's preparation of the segment, it did rush "the Bush segment onto the air."
Big fricking deal. Too late. Mary Mapes' career was trashed. Dan Rather announced he was stepping down as the anchor of CBS Evening News, "under pressure."
Last year, in September, Rather filed a $70 million lawsuit against CBS "charging that CBS had violated his contract and that the investigation was compromised. Evidence has been discovered that CBS was very much involved in the investigation, even while claiming the opposite, and that the investigation was tilted against Rather.
In spite of efforts by CBS lawyers to have the case tossed, Judge Ira Gammerman has said it will continue. It could go trial in the first part of next year.
While I don't expect a trial will validate the truth contained in that 60 Minutes segment of 2004, it will, hopefully, show the world how CBS News, owned body and soul by corporate America, caved to the power of the Bush dynasty and the right-wingers. And while $70 million won't put much of a dent in CBS's finances, it would be a nice middle-finger for Rather to wave as he walks out of the Manhattan courtroom into a new New York moment!