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Dan Rather: Unindicted Co-Conspirator | Main | Plan B: "What Difference Would It Make?"
September 15, 2004

Dan Rather's Unimpeachable Source

Even if Rather admitted that he put the BS in CBS, it's too late to save his reputation with millions. Besides, once he admits that the documents are fake, he has to reveal his source, because there is no journalistic obligation to protect con artists who humiliate you. And my guess is that the source is even more embarrassing than the fraud.

I can't prove that. But who says I have to?

-- Jonah Goldberg

But it already has been proven, Mr. Goldberg.

It has been my contention since Sunday that the identity of at least one of Dan Rather's primary sources -- and perhaps the very source who provided him with the forgeries -- is being concealed not at the source's insistence, but at Rather's contrivance.

This source's identity is withheld not to protect the source, but to protect Rather-- because exposure of this source to scrutiny would prove embarassing to Rather and CBS News. The source in question has a strong political animus against George Bush -- he is a member of what might be charitably called "the florid left" -- and a personal animus against Bush as well. The source in question blames Bush personally for (as Governor) denying him medical treatment he needed due to illness resulting in subsequent nervous breakdowns (the latter according to Newsweek).

This man is Bill Burkett. Although he has an obvious motive to lie about Bush, Burkett was nevertheless used as a principal source for Dan Rather's now-infamous 60 Minutes II attack on George Bush's TANG service, and, indeed, is one of the sources called "unimpeachable" by Rather in defense of that report.

The New York Times has asked his lawyer whether Burkett was responsible for providing Dan Rather with the forgeries, a question the lawyer refused to answer. But it is not necessary to assume he had anything at all to do with the actual forgeries to question Rather's objectivity and ethics in using Mr. Burkett as a source at all -- and an anonymous one at that.

Because even if Burkett only provided background information and confirmations for other parts of the story, his credibility is extremely questionable -- and certainly not "unimpeachable" credibility in any event.

The following relies upon the work of two other bloggers. Part I draws heavily on Kevin Drum/Calpundit's preliminary research into Burkett. Part II draws heavily from "Who Is Bill Burnett?" by blogger Fried Man. (Note that many of the articles Fried Man cites are no longer available on line.) Part III draws from both Calpundit's preliminary research and his interview with Bill Burkett. Sources found in those posts are linked directly in the article for reader convenience, not to claim independent discovery.

I.

Burkett sued superior officers for refusing to grant him the active-duty status he needed in order to secure medical treatment for an illness contracted in Panama. He sued the officers as individuals, charging that they had "acted purely as individuals, not as military officers, albeit pretending to have military authority and abusing their offices through such pretense in order to willfully and maliciously wreak havoc upon [Burkett's] life."

He ultimately received treatment from the military, but by that time "the disease had ravaged his body, and left him disabled and unable to return to either military duty or gainful civilian employment."

The suit was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds. Whether he actually had good cause to complain is not relevant to this discussion; wronged or not, he blamed his superior officers for "wreak[ing] havoc upon [his] life." Furthermore, he blamed then-Governor Bush specifically; he believed that the denial of health care was a retaliation for Burkett's previous whistle-blowing in the Guard.

II.

But Burkett's animus against Bush is not only personal. He also loathes Bush's politics. Burkett is a left-liberal of a fairly intemperate sort. He's far more extreme in his political views and passions than the average Republican voter -- or the average conservative blogger, for that matter.

"Who Is Bill Burnett?" by blogger Fried Man documents some of Burkett's political writings (unfortunately, many of his links are no longer working; uncited quotes come from his article).

First of all, Burkett is a partisan Democrat, as should be obvious from his membership in a Texas Democrats yahoo group.

And Burkett is not what you'd term a moderate Democrat, either:

That's right, [the Texas redistricting is] the same concept that was tried in South Africa within the past 30 years. It's also the root of the Tulsa massacres in which "black districts" were eventually attacked by the Oklahoma National Guard and the police.

Don't even get him started on Iraq:

I've sat in total grief for the past three years, watching the institutions of America being spent as if they were lottery winnings.

...

As I said, a UN vote would not stop GW Bush from attacking Iraq. Nor will anything else. And weapons of mass destruction will be discovered in great quantities; but the entire affair will stink to high heavens because it will be as staged as the White House press conference you just viewed.

... We will have insured that America's dynasty is nearing an end.

While GW Bush will be cast as a conquering hero by his political team and accepted by the population as such, history will treat him as Napoleonic. Bush will reach a new lofty level of acceptance by first fear and then staged triumph. Those who waited too long to gain their voice will lose their voice again.

America will over pledge economically in order to establish this new footprint; but the economic worth will not go to offset our fiscal investment, or to the Iraqi people. Iraq will be stripped by the vanquishers; the major corporations, who will then control not only the assets, but the cash flow. Their names will be Mobil, Exxon, Halliburton and the likes.

...

What do you do? Watching the sunrise on a beautiful morning, I used to feel hope. Before my illness, I felt exhilaration at the prospects of the day. After my illness, I felt hope that I might work hard to live. Now I feel sickness that today another massive group of people, held worthless by this anointed king, will be trampled upon like grapes. But their blood will not be rendered into wine. It will be spilled into the sands of this desert or another, or on the streets of Washington, or in the halls of the US Congress, or in the courts.

...

We must now revert to the history of Europe to discern what to do. We must study the nemesis of France and how Napoleon was felled before understanding the damage a tyrant does to a nation and society. We must examine the ruthless and dictatorial rise of yet another of the three small men - one whose name is not spoken out of fear of reprisal, but his name was Adolf. We must examine history, in order to not repeat it, and to understand the mesmerism of a public to a murderous scheme. Three small men who wanted to conquer . . . and vanquish. Each created a need for a balancing throng; history then recorded the damage from a far better perspective.

And there's more. Because apparently this lieutenant colonel in the National Guard was involved in high-level foreign policy debates with current Bush Administration officials as far back as 1996:

I have argued with the senior members of the Bush team since 1996, insisting that preventive war was not an option for the United States. The Preventive War concept is a WARHAWK product which, in my opinion, is totally foreign to the principles the Founding Fathers established for the USA.

I don't like being snide, but if there's one thing I've learned on the internet, it's Watch out for people who use CAPITALIZED BUZZWORDS for EMPHASIS.

In Demand Integrity, Burkett instructs us thusly:

America recently reached a point of understanding within her World of denial. ...

The Israeli intelligence network Mossad dispatched two agents to Washington to hand over evidence of the threat of 9-11, and even gave a timeline within the week of 9-11. Instead of saying, "We Blew it, America, and it won't happen again," we have again chosen denial and excuse.

...

Only one Democrat chose to step forward and openly place blame, which was deserved, squarely on the shoulders of high-paid professionals who were armed with every advantage other nations would die for. She was castigated and called every named. She is now ostracized from her own party as well as the party of the President. Where were her defenders? More important, where were the defenders of the Constitution and this nation?

He's talking about Cynthia McKinney there, in case you weren't sure.

This isn't liberalism; this is left-liberalism of the paranoid style, the overheated Hitlerian rhetoric of the Michael Moore wing of the Democratic Party. It has to be pointed out again that Dan Rather dismisses nearly all conservative critics as inherently untrustworthy simply because of their political beliefs, and yet he apparently finds no fault at all in Burkett's screeds.

If Dan Rather finds critics like PowerLine and Charles Johnson presumptively dishonorable and dishonest because they dare to vote Republican, shouldn't he be a little more wary of a declared Cynthia McKinney fan?

III.

It is against this background of extreme loathing of George Bush that Burkett's claims must be evaluated. Having a motive to lie does not make one a liar, and being strongly opposed to a political figure does not necessarily make one's claims untrue-- although Dan Rather ought to consider that himself the next time he's inclined to dismiss his critics as "political partisans."

Nevertheless, strong reasons to lie also do not buttress one's credibility.

Burkett claims to have personally witnessed other military personnel "scrubbing" or "cleansing" Bush's Texas Air National Guards records of embarassing files. Actually, Burkett seems to have been one of the first to make the Bush AWOL charges-- if he wasn't the innovator, he does seem to have at least been there at the creation.

But his accounts have not been consistent.

In November 2000, he was quoted by OnlineJournal as saying:

“As the State Plans Officer for the Texas National Guard, I was on full-time duty at Camp Mabry when [Bush aide] Dan Bartlett was cleansing the George W Bush file prior to G.W.'s presidential announcement. For most soldiers at Camp Mabry, this was a generally known event. The archives were closely scrutinized to make sure that the Bush autobiography plans and the record did not directly contradict each other. In essence it was the script of the autobiography which Dan Bartlett and his small team used to scrub a file to be released. This effort was further involved by General Daniel James and Chief of Staff William W. Goodwin at Camp Mabry.”

He then stepped back from the "cleansing" charge in press release. Asking himself (it seems) if he had been alleging that Bush's records had been "doctored," Burkett answered:

No, instead I stated that the way this had been handled by the Bush staff including knowledgeable military officials at the Texas national guard, that it left the implication that the Bush staff had first incompetently provided an incomplete military file for the Governor which was consistent with his autobiography....

His story then changed again. In an interview with Greg Palast, he now claimed that the files had not been handled incompetently, but rather criminally, and that he heard Bush Chief of Staff Joe Allbaugh say, over a speakerphone, to General Daniel James, "Make sure there’s not anything in there that’ll embarrass the Governor."

He then claimed to have actually seen discarded files -- files being criminally removed from the records, all within the plain sight of a non-paticipant in the crime -- in a trashcan.

But in his interview with Calpundit, he adds a new wrinkle-- that he had actually physically touched the "cleansed" files:

Instead I looked down into the trashcan.... And on top of that pile of paper, approximately five-eighths of an inch thick, and Jim wanted me to estimate the number of pages and I said probably between 20 and 40 pages of documents that were clearly originals and photocopies. And it wasn't any big deal, I looked at it, it was a glance situation, and it made no sense to me at all except at the top of that top page was Bush, George W., 1LT.

And I look back at it now and I know I was troubled that those documents were in the trashcan. I did ruffle through the top six to eight pages.

He described those documents as

Those documents were performance, what I term performance documents, which would include retirement points, [unintelligible] type documents, which would be a record of drill performance or nonperformance, and there was at least one pay document copy within the top six to eight pages of that stack that was in the trash…

It seems fairly unlikely that Republican political operatives committing a federal crime could be so indiscreet as to announce their intent within earshot of a noncooperating witness.

And it seems just plain outlandish that persons committing such a crime would invite a noncriminal in to watch them as they work and then ask that noncriminal to count the number of pages they were illegally removing from the files.

The story is further undermined by the fact that two of the fellow Guardsmen supposedly involved in the records-scrubbing flatly deny that any such thing happened.

Despite Calpundit's claim, there is no one who corroborates Burkett's story.

One man does report that Burkett told him this story (or something similar) shortly after it was supposed to have happened, but that only proves that Burkett has been telling the story for a while.

Calpundit's other "witnesses" in Burkett's favor are men making general statements; one man says he believes there was some "scrubbing" of Bush's files and an anonymous source says he believed the Bush people were worried what might be in the files as regards arrests and the like. Neither man actually claims to have witnessed the events in question, or any scrubbing at all for that matter.

IV.

This is the man upon whom so much of Dan Rather's story relies.

Bill Burkett, according to Newsweek, was a principal source for Dan Rather's story.

Bill Burkett, by implication, is an "unimpeachable" source, according to Dan Rather.

I don't know Bill Burkett and I don't know for certain if he is lying. I believe his story is fairly implausible, and his obvious hatred of Bush the man and Bush the President makes me even less willing to give his tales any credence. He has no witnesses to the crimes he claims he overheard, witnessed, and, ultimately, inadvertantly cooperated in by agreeing to count files for records-scrubbing political operatives.

And yet this is the man upon CBS News has decided to risk its reputation.

Bill Burkett has previously been all-too-willing to speak to the press. He's done so on numerous occasions, and he's written political columns for the internet under his own name.

Why is he suddenly so camera-shy that CBS News must protect his identity and treat him as an anonymous source?

Is this Bill Burkett's idea?

Or has this been Dan Rather's decision all along? Should Burkett's prior history and extreme political partisanship be revealed to the press, the story would be immediately condemned as irresponsible and baseless; but, as stealth techonology teaches, you can't hit what you can't see. Perhaps better to hide away this source, lest he whither in the light.

There is one final point to be made. I don't know who provided Dan Rather with his shoddy forgeries. It could have been anyone.

But if, hypothetically, Bill Burkett did provide those documents to Rather -- something, again, that Burkett's lawyer repeatedly refused to deny, but for which there is no genuine evidence -- then this would be a grave indictment of Dan Rather's integrity.

For here we would have a man who, for four years, has been making these very same allegations against George Bush, only to be dismissed by the press as lacking credibility. And yet we would have to believe two things:

1) That all along -- all the time since Burkett first "ruffled through" Bush's files in 1997 -- he actually had copies of those files all along, but has never once mentioned them before now; and

2) That Dan Rather actually believed Burkett's ludicrous claim, and was untroubled by Burkett's surprise announcement that he'd been secretly hanging on to the files for seven years.

If Bill Burkett is the source of the documents, it should have been plain to any reporter that they were forgeries; a man trying to prove an allegation doesn't wait five years to reveal he's had the proof all along.

You wouldn't need technical typographical analysis to determine that they're forgeries; you would just need a dollop of common sense.

But if Burkett was the source, and yet Dan Rather went along with this transparent hoax anyway, then he is guilty of something much worse than negligence.

Either way, it seems that Rather had good reason to want to hide his Unimpeachable Source away from the world, and away from prying eyes, and away from nosey questions.

And away farthest of all from all those conservative critics who just can't be trusted because they -- they! -- have a political agenda at work that makes them inherently untrustworthy.

Humor Break: If anyone wants a few Friday laughs, make sure you check out the main page of the site. I'm posting a Best of Ace of Spades HQ today -- lots of funny stuff.


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posted by Ace at 02:42 AM

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