Rathergate: Sumner M. Redstone, George W. Bush & CBS

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The Story: Rathergate: Sumner M. Redstone, George W. Bush & CBS

CBS News, owned by Sumner Redstone's Viacom multimedia conglomerate, announced January 10, 2005, that it had fired four CBS News employees, "including three executives, ousted for their role in preparing and reporting a disputed story" about George W. Bush's military service, which aired September 8, 2004, on 60 Minutes.[1]

The story relied on four documents which suggested that, first, Bush had "disobeyed an order to appear for a physical exam," and second, that "friends of the Bush family tried to 'sugar coat' his Guard service."[1]

The authenticity of the documents allegedly written by the late Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian,[2] "one of Mr. Bush's Texas Air National Guard commanders in the early 1970, ... were raised almost immediately."[1]

"Some critics said the documents were most probably forgeries prepared on a modern word processor. Other critics questioned whether Killian would have - or could have - written them."[1]

"After a stubborn 12-day defense of the story, CBS News conceded that it could not confirm the authenticity of the documents and asked former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and former Associated Press President Louis Boccardi to conduct an independent investigation into the matter."[1]

CBS said that its personnel "action was prompted" by the independent panel's 234-page report.[3] The panel concluded that CBS News "failed to follow basic journalistic principles in the preparation and reporting of the piece" and that CBS News "compounded that failure with a 'rigid and blind' defense" of the 60 Minutes segment.[1]

As a result, "Senior Vice President Betsy West, who supervised CBS News primetime programs; 60 Minutes Wednesday Executive Producer Josh Howard; and Howard’s deputy, Senior Broadcast Producer Mary Murphy" were asked to resign. Mary Mapes, the producer of the piece, was terminated.[1]

CBS also reported that CBS News anchor Dan Rather had announced in November 2004 that, in March 2005, he would be "stepping down as anchor of The CBS Evening News on the 24th anniversary of his first broadcast as anchor," but would "remain with CBS News as a correspondent for 60 Minutes Sunday and 60 Minutes Wednesday."[1]

The Documents

  • Subsequent to the 60 Minutes report, Marian Carr Knox, secretary 1957 to 1979 at Ellington Air Force Base in Houston, provided comments about the four documents[4] allegedly written by Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian. As reported by Pete Slover in the September 15, 2004, Dallas Morning News, Knox inadvertently lent credence to their substance, if not their authenticity:[5][emphasis added]
... they accurately reflect the viewpoints of Col. Killian and documents that would have been in the personal file.
... information in here was correct, but it was picked up from the real ones ... somebody [probably] picked up the information some way or another'.
re Col. Walter 'Buck' Staudt pressuring officers to "sugar coat" Bush's record: such a portrayal of Col. Staudt was consistent with his character and Col. Killian's opinion of his superior officer.
re Col. Staudt's discharge papers showed he retired 18 months before the 'sugar coat' memo was supposedly written: there's no way Col. Staudt could have exerted that influence after he retired.
.. missing the physical would have itself been a violation of standards, so there were not separate issues concerning Mr. Bush.
re disposition of Killian's files: it would have been logical that a master sergeant who worked in the squadron headquarters would have destroyed any such nonofficial documents after Col. Killian's death.
  • Jim Drinkard and Dave Moniz reported September 14, 2004, for USA TODAY[6] that "Another former Texas National Guard officer, Richard Via, also said that the documents were fakes but that their content reflected questions about Bush that were discussed at the time in the hangar at Ellington Air Force Base, where he had a desk next to Killian's.
"Via said he and others he worked with 'remember the physical, and him going to Alabama was an issue.' He said Killian 'made notes and put them in his files about things like that.'
"Killian kept the files because 'he was trying to cover his ass,' Via said. 'He was always worried something would come back on him.'"

"Breaking the Story"

Although bloggers almost immediately questioned the authenticity of the documents,[7] the White House correspondent Jeff Gannon of the Talon News/GOPUSA manufactured journalism scandal was apparently ahead of the mainstream media in questioning the integrity of not only the documents but also that of CBS and Dan Rather. For details see Rathergate: Jeff Gannon and Talon News.

  • On February 18, 2005, in an AMERICAblog piece on Gannon, John Aravosis asks:[8] "How would Gannon get inside information on the Dan Rather scandal BEFORE the rest of the major media? Assuming the producer is correct, did it come from a White House source, and if so, what does this say about possible White House involvement in creating this scandal in the first place? [emphasis added].
"According to my source," Aravosis writes, "Gannon's insider tidbits were always on the mark. 'Gannon's stuff was always golden,' the producer says. My source says they kept asking themself, 'how does this small news outfit get this info?'
"How indeed," Aravosis adds.

Redstone's Political "Flip-Flop"

  • Prior to Rathergate, Democratic supporter Sumner Redstone, the head of Viacom, "overwhelmingly supported John Kerry's senatorial and presidential campaigns, other Democratic candidates and the Democratic National Committee, while his donations to Republican politicians and the GOP's congressional committees are paltry in comparison. ... Redstone has donated the maximum allowed by law to Kerry's presidential effort, $2,000, and $7,500 to his senatorial runs, for a total of $9,500 over the years. ... He's also given $196,025 to Democrats and the DNC since 1980. That amount includes Redstone's contributions to Kerry. .. On the other side of the political aisle, Redstone has given only $10,500 in that same time period to GOP candidates and the RNC."[9]
  • However, on September 24, 2004, when the Rathergate story was still unfolding, without nary a blink, now Republican supporter Redstone endorsed George W. Bush for re-election, saying that "the reason was simple: Republican values are what U.S. companies need. ... 'I look at the election from what's good for Viacom. I vote for what's good for Viacom. I vote, today, Viacom.'"[10]
  • David Podvin commented September 25, 2004, on the significance of Redstone's explanation: "In the wake of the Federal Communications Commission fining Viacom more than five hundred thousand dollars for broadcasting a glimpse of Janet Jackson's socially corrosive right nipple, Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone has endorsed George W. Bush for president."[11]
  • The New York Times's Frank Rich wrote October 14, 2004:[12] "The current White House has been practicing pre-emptive media intimidation to match its policy of preemptive war. Its F.C.C. chairman, using Janet Jackson's breast and Howard Stern's mouth as pretexts, has sufficiently rattled Viacom, which broadcast both of these entertainers' infractions against 'decency,' that its chairman, the self-described 'liberal Democrat' Sumner Redstone, abruptly announced his support for the re-election of George W. Bush last month. 'I vote for what's good for Viacom,' he explained, and he meant it. He took this loyalty oath just days after the 60 Minutes fiasco prompted a full-fledged political witch hunt on Viacom's CBS News, another Republican target since the Nixon years."

CBS programming changes

  • On September 25, 2004, the day following Redstone's shift in political support to Bush, the Associated Press announced that:[13]
"CBS News has shelved a 60 Minutes report on the rationale for war in Iraq because it would be 'inappropriate' to air it so close to the presidential election, ... The report on weapons of mass destruction was set to air on Sept. 8 but was put off in favor of a story on President Bush's National Guard service.
"CBS News spokeswoman Kelli Edwards would not elaborate on why the timing of the Iraq report was considered inappropriate."
"The report, with Ed Bradley as the correspondent, has long been in the works. Originally scheduled for June, it was first put off because of new developments, Edwards said."
  • The Left Coaster comments September 25, 2004:[15]
"Here's an example of how the corporate media takes a manufactured loss of credibility and then prevents important news from being seen before the election. After Dan Rather and CBS News allowed themselves to be bullied by the Mighty Wurlitzer into eating their story on Bush's pathetic performance in the Guard, without the White House or the Wurlitizer ever rebutting the premise of the piece, the corporate types at Viacom have now bullied CBS News into hiding a more important story until after the election."
  • Salon acquired the 60 Minutes program that "never was".[14]
  • Next, on October 18, 2004, FAIR reported that: "In the wake of the CEO of Viacom's declaration of support for George W. Bush, the media giant that owns both CBS and MTV Networks is refusing to air political advertising from advocacy organizations on its cable channels (MTV, VH1 and Comedy Central)."[16]

The "First" Rathergate

  • David Corn brings up the little matter of "Rather vs Bush41 vs Rather",[17] which Rather's right-wing critics have placed at the top of their gloat-list
"... Rather's interview with Vice President H.W. Bush in 1988, during the presidential campaign. Rather focused on Bush's role in the Iran-contra scandal. For much of the campaign, Bush had avoided any detailed discussion of this subject. The showdown with Rather promised to be a dramatic moment. And it was. Bush was contentious, and Rather pushed back. It turned into a verbal shoving match."
  • Anne Morse's article "The First Rathergate"[18] published September 15, 2004, by the National Review Online, can be found cited ad nauseum on the web. However, a closer look at the author should convince some of the true agenda behind the "report."


Related SourceWatch articles


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 "CBS Ousts 4 For Bush Guard Story. Independent Panel Faults 'Myopic Zeal' To Be 1st To Deliver Story," CBS News, January 10, 2005.
  2. Jerry B. Killian in the Wikipedia.
  3. "Report of the Independent Review Panel on the September 8th, 2004 60 Minutes Wednesday Segment 'For The Record' Concerning President Bush's Texas Air National Guard Service," CBS, January 5, 2005.
  4. Documents, USA TODAY, September 9, 2004; updated September 21, 2004.
  5. The link Pete Slover's September 15, 2004, Dallas Morning News story is no longer active.
  6. Jim Drinkard and Dave Moniz, "Secretary: Memos are forgeries," USA TODAY, September 14, 2004.
  7. Stephen F. Hayes, "Is It a Hoax?," The Weekly Standard, September 9, 2004: "The memos were almost immediately questioned in the blog world, with blog Power Line leading the charge."
  8. This link is no longer active.
  9. Re Redstone's Campaign Contributions, mpetrelis Blogspot, September 22, 2004.
  10. "Guess Who's a GOP Booster? The CEO of CBS's parent company endorses President Bush," Asian Wall Street Journal (OpinionJournal), September 24, 2004.
  11. *David Podvin, "Charade," Make Them Accountable, September 25, 2004.
  12. Frank Rich, "Will We Need a New 'All the President's Men'?," New York Times, October 17, 2004.
  13. "CBS Nixes '60 Minutes' Story on Iraq War," Associated Press (CBS), September 25, 2004.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Mary Jacoby, "The Cowardly Broadcasting System," Salon, September 29, 2004: "CBS cravenly killed a "60 Minutes" segment about Bush's deceptive case for invading Iraq. What did it contain that was too much for voters to see?"
  15. This blog September 25, 2004, post at The Left Coaster is no longer available.
  16. "Viacom Blocking Independent Political Ads," FAIR, October 18, 2004.
  17. David Corn, "When Dan Rather Tried To Hold a Bush Accountable," DavidCorn.com, March 11, 2005.
  18. Anne Morse, "The First Rathergate. The CBS anchor's precarious relationship with the truth," National Review Online, September 15, 2004.


External articles

Jeff Gannon & Talon News

  • Jeff Gannon, "CBS Producer Who Obtained Questionable Guard Documents Identified," Talon News (Free Republic), September 13, 2004.
  • Jeff Gannon, "CBS 'Rathergate' Producer Under Pressure from Network," Talon News (The Weekly), September 17, 2004.
  • Doug Schmitz, "Dan Rather's Suspicious Alliance with the Kerry Campaign," Etherzone, September 17, 2004: "CBS is being a willing accomplice to something that was meant to disparage the president," Bobby Eberle of Talon News told Fox News Monday night about Rather’s unprofessional behavior regarding bogus memos Rather used to slam Bush. 'They look like they’re supporting the Democratic Party and promoting an agenda of their own.' ... Brent Bozell, director of the Media Research Center and author of the now-prophetic book, 'Weapons of Mass Distortion: The Coming Meltdown of the Liberal Media,' told CBN News in a July interview that 'there’s a tremendous movement away, even an exodus, from the mainstream press' because of their slanted news reporting. ... Echoing Bozell’s sentiments, Eberle added that Rather has had a serious stranglehold on the ebb and flow of news and information at CBS News, but now 'he’s been unmasked'."
  • Jeff Gannon, "CBS Apologizes for Using Forged Documents," Talon News (MensNewsDaily.com), September 21, 2004.
  • Jeff Gannon, "CBS, Kerry Campaign Hit With FEC Complaint," Talon News (MensNewsDaily.com), September 24, 2004: "The Center for Individual Freedom, a Virginia-based, constitutional advocacy group filed a complaint last week with the Federal Election Commission charging that CBS and Kerry-Edwards 2004, Inc. illegally coordinated election communications. The complaint charges that CBS and the Kerry campaign violated federal campaign finance laws when they colluded to attack President George W. Bush based on claims and documents now believed to be fake." Also: "Talon News was first to report that on Wednesday, Anthony Bongiorno, counsel for the beleaguered network ordered a legal hold on all tapes and material relating to the report. A source reported that the hold was in anticipation of various lawsuits and investigations. On the same day, CBS announced an independent commission comprised of Dick Thornburgh, former governor of Pennsylvania and Attorney General under Presidents Reagan and Bush 41 and also Louis D. Boccardi, retired president and chief executive officer of the Associated Press." [emphasis added].
  • Jeff Gannon, "CBS Fires 4 in Forged Documents Scandal," Talon News, January 11, 2005; archived partially in Mangled Thoughts Blog and Gravett.org.
  • Compare Gannon's January 11th Talon News "news report" to this one posted January 10th from CBS News: "CBS Ousts 4 For Bush Guard Story". Perhaps those allegations of plagiarism are not too far off mark.

The bloggers

The memos & CBS "Independent Review Panel"

Sumner Redstone & campaign contributions