This story by Bernard Goldberg certainly takes me back to the early days of my blogging career.  Shortly after the 2004 Republican convention, Mary Mapes produced a segment for 60 Minutes II that alleged that George W. Bush had manipulated his enlistment in the Texas Air National Guard to avoid serving in combat in Vietnam.  The documents used by CBS, Mapes, and Dan Rather turned out to be clumsy hoaxes, which the blogosphere exposed through careful review of their substance and their form (the latter of which I played a small part in refuting, with my expertise in printing and fonts, among larger efforts from Power Line, Bill Ardolino, and LGF, and mainstream media reporter Thomas Lipscomb).

CBS did an internal investigation that discredited the memos and caused the network to fire Mapes.  Buried in the report, however, is an admission that has not been noticed until now — which is that Mapes knew the basis of her story was an outright lie from the beginning (emphases Goldberg’s):

Until now, the controversy over the Rather/Mapes story has centered almost entirely on one issue:  the legitimacy of the documents – a very important issue, indeed.  But it turns out that there was another very important issue, one that goes to the very heart of what the story was about – and one that has gone virtually unnoticed.   This is it:  Mary Mapes knew before she put the story on the air that George W. Bush, the alleged slacker, had in fact volunteered to go to Vietnam.

Who says?  The outside panel CBS brought into to get to the bottom of the so-called “Rathergate” mess says. I recently re-examined the panel’s report after a source, Deep Throat style, told me to “Go to page 130.”  When I did, here’s the startling piece of information I found:

Mapes had information prior to the airing of the September 8 [2004] Segment that President Bush, while in the TexANG [Texas Air National Guard] did volunteer for service in Vietnam but was turned down in favor of more experienced pilots.  For example, a flight instructor who served in the TexANG with Lieutenant Bush advised Mapes in 1999 that Lieutenant Bush “did want to go to Vietnam but others went first.”  Similarly, several others advised Mapes in 1999, and again in 2004 before September 8, that Lieutenant Bush had volunteered to go to Vietnam but did not have enough flight hours to qualify.

This information, despite the fact that it has been available since the CBS report came out four years ago, has remained a secret to almost everybody both in and out of the media — one lonely fact in a 234- page report loaded with thousands of facts, and overshadowed by the controversy surrounding the documents.

Recall that the heart of Mapes’ story was that Bush was a coward who didn’t want to face combat.  In the context of the 2004 election, the importance of this attack cannot be underestimated.  Bush had put the country into two shooting wars, one popular (Afghanistan) and one decidedly not by 2004 (Iraq).  Even though the previous Democratic president had been a flat-out draft dodger and the Democratic contender was battling a reputation as a medal-polisher and backstabber from a collection of his former colleagues in the Navy, substantiation of Mapes’ allegation would have proven fatal to Bush’s re-election.

Volunteering for combat, however, contradicts that entirely.  Everyone understood that Bush didn’t want to go into the infantry, but then again, neither had John Kerry.  Both volunteered to serve in other capacities.  Bush asked to go to Vietnam, and except for his inexperience, would have been sent into combat.  Mapes knew this — and pursued the allegations of cowardice anyway.

That goes beyond being hoaxed by Bill Burkett and the mythical “Lucy Ramirez” and running a story with no corroboration.  It indicts Mapes and by extension Rather (who apparently couldn’t be bothered to check on the documents or story on his own) in a plot to deliberately conduct a character assassination from a broadcast booth, in an explicit attempt to manipulate an election.  It should be the final nail in the coffins of their credibility, and it will be interesting to see if anyone other than Goldberg reports it.

Update: I forgot to put Bill Ardolino among those top-drawer blogger efforts.  Ardolino hired a document examiner for a truly independent look at CBS’ claims.

Update II: I also forgot Thomas Lipscomb, one of the few reporters in the mainstream media willing to write about CBS’ hit piece in those first days, who did a great service in helping to expose it.

Tags: Texas