Accuracy in Media

Commenting on Rathergate, columnist Pat Buchanan says that, “CBS appears to have been complicit in a criminal conspiracy to use forged U.S. government documents to bring down a president.  CBS must have suspected it was using counterfeit documents.   An investigation must be conducted into who tried to affect an election using forgeries of federal documents.”

Those are tough words, but the fact is that federal law prohibits the forging of public records for the purpose of defrauding the U.S.  Federal law also prohibits conspiracy to defraud the United States.  In a Supreme Court case, Hammerschmidt v. United States, Chief Justice Taft defined “defraud” as follows: “To conspire to defraud the United States means primarily to cheat the Government out of property or money, but it also means to interfere with or obstruct one of its lawful governmental functions by deceit, craft or trickery, or at least by means that are dishonest.”  This means, the Justice said, that it “is not necessary that the Government shall be subjected to property or pecuniary loss by the fraud, but only that its legitimate official action and purpose shall be defeated by misrepresentation” or fraud. 

The broadcasting of forged documents to affect a presidential campaign and election clearly falls in the parameters of “conspiracy to defraud.”  In terms of state law, the Texas Penal Code explicitly outlaws the use of forged government or public documents.

Ironically, CBS is now claiming that it was the responsibility of the White House to expose the documents as forgeries.  Its rationale is that it turned the forgeries over to the White House communications director Dan Bartlett, who did not immediately expose or denounce them as forgeries.  The Washington Post reported that CBS correspondent John Roberts called “60 Minutes” producer Mary Mapes “with word that Bartlett was not challenging the authenticity of the documents.  Mapes told her bosses, who were so relieved that they cut from Rather’s story an interview with a handwriting expert who had examined the memos.  At that point, said ’60 Minutes’ executive Josh Howard, ‘we completely abandoned the process of authenticating the documents.'”

With such a position, CBS should not now object to an FBI investigation into the origin and distribution of the forgeries.  It should be prepared to waive its First Amendment privileges in order to determine the truth and punish the perpetrators of this fraud. 

The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather ran several stories about forgeries that described Iraqi interest in buying uranium from Africa.  Rather tried to tie these forgeries to the Bush Administration’s drive for war against Iraq.  In March 2003, the FBI announced that it was investigating the matter after West Virginia Democratic Senator Sen. Jay Rockefeller said that, “he was concerned about a possible campaign to deceive the public on Iraq?”  It looks like the use of the forgeries against Bush was another campaign to deceive the public.  Why isn’t this a matter for the FBI?

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