Washington Prowler

Anatomy of a Forgery

How CBS got suckered and left with mud all over its dirty face.

By 9.10.04

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More than six weeks ago, an opposition research staffer for the Democratic National Committee received documents purportedly written by President George W. Bush's Texas Air National Guard squadron commander, the late Col. Jerry Killian.

The oppo researcher claimed the source was "a retired military officer." According to a DNC staffer, the documents were seen by both senior staff members at the DNC, as well as the Kerry campaign.

"More than a couple people heard about the papers," says the DNC staffer. "I've heard that they ended up with the Kerry campaign, for them to decide to how to proceed, and presumably they were handed over to 60 Minutes, which used them the other night. But I know this much. When there was discussion here, there were doubts raised about their authenticity."

The concerns arose from the sourcing. "It wasn't clear that our source for the documents would have had access to them. Our person couldn't confirm from what file, from what original source they came from."

The documents that CBS News used were not documents from any of Bush's personnel files from his time in the National Guard. Rather, CBS News stated that they were documents uncovered in the personnel files of Killian. That would explain why the White House or the Pentagon had never before released or even seen them.

According to a Kerry campaign source, there was little gossip about the supposedly hot documents inside the office of the campaign on McPherson Square. "Those documents were not something anyone was talking about or trying to generate buzz on," says the staffer. "It wasn't like there were small groups of people talking about this as a bombshell. I think people here weren't sure what to make of it, because provenance of these documents was uncertain."

A CBS producer, who initially tipped off The Prowler about the 60 Minutes story, says that despite seeking professional assurances that the documents were legitimate, there was uncertainty even among the group of producers and researchers working on the story.

"The problem was we had one set of documents from Bush's file that had Killian calling Bush 'an exceptionally fine young officer and pilot.' And someone who Killian said 'performed in an outstanding manner.' Then you have these new documents and the tone and content are so different."

The CBS producer said that some alarms bells went off last week when the signatures and initials of Killian on the documents in hand did not match up with other documents available on the public record, but producers chose to move ahead with the story. "This was too hot not to push. If there were doubts, those people didn't show it," says the producer, who works on a rival CBS News program.

Now, the producer says, there is growing concern inside the building on 57th Street that they may have been suckered by the Kerry campaign. "There is a school of thought here that the Kerry people dumped this in our laps, figuring we'd do the heavy lifting on the story. That maybe they had doubts about these documents but hoped we'd get more information," says the producer. "If that's the case, then we're bigger fools than we already appear to be judging by all the chatter about how these documents could be forgeries."

ABC News' political unit held a conference call at 7:00 p.m. Thursday evening to discuss the memo and its potential ramifications should the documents turn out to be a forgery. That meeting took place around the time that the deceased Killian's son made public statements questioning the documents' authenticity.

According to one ABC News employee, some reporters believe that the Kerry campaign as well as the DNC were parties in duping CBS, but a smaller segment believe that both the DNC and the Kerry campaign were duped by Karl Rove, who would have engineered the flap to embarrass the opposition.

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