Tick, tick, tick...
An examination of the process that led to the broadcast, based on interviews with the participants and more than 20 independent analysts, shows that CBS rushed the story onto the air while ignoring the advice of its own outside experts, and used as corroborating witnesses people who had no firsthand knowledge of the documents. As CBS pushed to finish its report, it was Bartlett who contacted the network -- rather than the other way around -- at 5:30 the evening before to ask whether the White House could respond to the widely rumored story.
Later, Bartlett would explain why he did not challenge the documents with a question: "How am I supposed to verify something that came from a dead man in three hours?"
Other questions abound: How could a program with the sterling reputation of "60 Minutes," which created the television newsmagazine during the Johnson administration, have stumbled so badly? And how could Rather, at 72 the dean of the network anchors, have risked his reputation on such a story in the heat of a presidential campaign?
And now, Dan has flown back down to Texas:
Several people involved in the reporting process said Mr. Rather and Ms. West flew yesterday to Texas, where they were to meet with at least one man who has been identified as a source for the report, a former Texas Air National Guard officer named Bill Burkett.
An executive involved in the investigation said the network was leaning on its initial sources to come forward and help resolve the questions, preferably by speaking publicly about how they got their hands on the documents.
(Actually, Burkett was in the Army National Guard, but we can't expect the New York Times to get everything right now, can we?)
One person at the network, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Mr. Burkett had been at the very least a go-between for the documents, but that very few people at the network know from whom he might have obtained them, if anyone.
Meanwhile, the L.A. Times has a scoop of their own that really reorders the timeline and raises some interesting questions:
Although CBS News notes that Mapes had been chasing the National Guard story for five years, it only came back on the active burner in mid- to late August.This totally screws up what we've been told before: Remember that CBS said that they had been checking out the memos for six weeks. According to this, it was several weeks later...in September. Burkett already has claimed that he gave the info to the Kerry campaign on Aug. 21. If this is true, then the Kerry campaign had Burkett's stuff before CBS got the memos from their "mystery source."
That's when executive producer Howard got a call from her, telling him "she was on to something" and wanted to put her other projects aside.
Over the next couple of weeks, he said, "she would call from time to time, telling me she was getting closer, not closer, something that she was looking up that was a blind alley — those kinds of things that reporters do when tracking a story. There was nothing definitive" until he got the call from her on Sept. 3, Howard recalled.
On that Friday, just before the Labor Day weekend, Mapes excitedly phoned her bosses from Texas to report a breakthrough in the document quest. "I've got them," she told Howard.
As excitement spread through CBS offices on West 57th Street, there was a rush to get the pieces in place...
On Sept. 5, Will sent notations on the memos to CBS via e-mail and also voiced her concerns to a producer over the phone. The producer said they had more material to send her, but Will said those additional documents never arrived....
"We knew it was a rush job. They wanted to air [the story] by Wednesday night," James said.
Also, remember that Cleland said in the Post that Burkett contacted him in mid-August and Cleland told him to send it to the Kerry campaign. So Mary Mapes started really digging back into this at the same time the Kerry's people were getting stuff from Burkett.