Accuracy in Media

In a bombshell in the CBS “Rathergate” panel report, it is revealed that Dan Rather personally assured CBS News President Andrew Heyward that the discredited Bush National Guard story was not only true but “very big.” At the same time, Rather said it wasn’t “as big as Abu Ghraib,” the Iraqi prisoner abuse story used by CBS and other media to blacken the reputation and image of the United States around the world. What’s more, it turns out that David Hackworth, a controversial retired colonel who has emerged as a strident opponent of how the Iraq war is being conducted, was a key source for canned CBS producer Mary Mapes in both stories.

Cliff Kincaid, editor of Accuracy in Media (AIM), commented that, “Rather’s reference to Abu Ghraib, in the context of preparing the bogus attack on Bush, demonstrates that the agenda of Rather and CBS was not only to sabotage Bush’s re-election campaign but to undermine the war in Iraq. They were looking for ‘big’ stories to hurt the U.S. at home and abroad. The Abu Ghraib story on CBS inflamed the Arab/Muslim world against the U.S., inevitably costing the lives of more American soldiers in Iraq at the hands of fanatical Muslim terrorists.” 

AIM consulted Herbert Romerstein, a retired government expert on anti-American and communist propaganda activities, for his comments about what the revelations say about the agenda of Rather, Mapes and their collaborators. “They had a political agenda,” he said. “They demonstrated it with the Abu Ghraib story and the Bush National Guard story. They wanted to damage the Administration and the war effort.” 

Romerstein headed the Office to Counter Soviet Disinformation at the United States Information Agency and understands how misleading, deceptive and false news reports in the U.S. and foreign media can undermine the U.S. position in the world.

AIM and Romerstein drew attention to another bombshell in the report–that CBS used David Hackworth to vouch for the authenticity of the fake documents. The report says that Hackworth, who writes a regular column running under the title “Defending America,” accepted the fake memos used by CBS as legitimate and taped an interview for broadcast saying so.

In what can only be seen as a major blow to his credibility as a spokesman on military affairs, the CBS report (page 96) says that Hackworth was interviewed by Rather for the Guard story “as an expert to evaluate the documents that Mapes obtained from Lieutenant Colonel Burkett.” Bill Burkett is the discredited “source” who now says he got the documents from yet another “source” who cannot be located. Burkett admits lying about his “source.”

Hackworth, the report says, concluded the phony documents were “genuine,” and Rather thought Hackworth was a “strong and valuable expert witness.” Mapes also thought Hackworth “was important for the segment” that aired on September 8, the report says, but the Hackworth excerpts were “ultimately cut from the final script” for reasons that aren’t explained.

In the Abu Ghraib story, Hackworth also played a controversial role, arranging for a soldier subsequently found guilty of abusing Iraqi prisoners in the Abu Ghraib scandal to funnel information through a relative to Rather, Mapes and CBS. The 60 Minutes Abu Ghraib story aired in April 2004. The soldier, Staff. Sgt. Ivan “Chip” Frederick, wanted to blame his own criminal conduct on higher-ups. Taking a similar approach, Hackworth accused “the very top of the Pentagon” of “covering up obscene behavior” at Abu Ghraib “while placing the sole blame on Joe and Jill Grunt.”

In fact, a commission run by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger investigated the controversy and found that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other military leaders did not set policies that approved or condoned torture and other abuse.

Kincaid commented, “So Hackworth got both stories wrong. He swallowed the fake documents in ‘Rathergate’ and accepted a self-serving version of the Abu Ghraib prison story. He should change the name of his column from ‘Defending America’ to ‘Defending CBS.'”

In regard to the Abu Ghraib matter, Romerstein told AIM, “Hackworth and Mapes collaborated on damaging the image of the United States based on information provided by one of the culprits who is now doing an eight-year prison sentence for his role in the activity. The CBS spin was that this was the fault of the United States Government. It was picked up by our enemies around the world as a weapon against us. They tried to protect the criminal at the expense of the United States.”

Romerstein also commented on the curious failure by Dan Rather to conclude that the fake documents were forgeries. “Documents cannot stand on their own two feet,” said Romerstein, who specialized in uncovering and exposing Soviet forgeries used against the U.S. in the Cold War. “There has to be a provenance for them–tracing them to their origin or the personal possession of someone. The fact that the CBS documents had no provenance makes them suspicious in the first place. In this case, somebody gave the documents to CBS and lied about where he got them. That should have been enough evidence that they were phony.”

Romerstein said that document examiners “also have to look at the content of the documents. In the case of the CBS documents, they had the wrong type face. The type-face didn’t exist when the documents were supposedly typed. When you’re dealing with an inaccurate or suspect document, then you can only conclude that it was a forgery.”

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