Liberal Media Watchdogs Defend Content of CBS Memos

By Robert B. Bluey | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

( - On the day CBS News acknowledged it couldn't vouch for the authenticity of its memos on President Bush's National Guard service, a liberal media watchdog continued to stand by the substance of the documents.

"It is important to remember that the relevance of the memos is largely that they ostensibly convey the state of mind of Bush's commanding officer in the [Texas National] Guard," said Jim Naureckas, editor of Extra!, a publication of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).

That officer, the late Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, was the purported author of four memos from 1972 and 1973 that the CBS News program "60 Minutes Wednesday" unearthed for its Sept. 8 episode. The network apologized Monday for using the discredited documents in its Bush-bashing segment.

Naureckas acknowledged the memos were no longer "documentary evidence" of Killian's beliefs. But he cited a CBS interview with Killian's former secretary, 86-year-old Marian Knox, as proof that Bush benefited from favoritism. Knox is a Democrat and harsh Bush critic.

"While I think it is clear at this point the documents can't be relied on, I think it's too early to declare them forgeries," Naureckas said. "A lot of the evidence that has been pointed to in saying they're forgeries still doesn't seem to be compelling."

Throughout the course of the past 12 days, questions about the CBS report have engulfed anchor Dan Rather. Conservative groups, including the Media Research Center, parent of, have criticized the network, while liberal counterparts have tried to shift the focus off the documents.

Media Matters for America, the liberal watchdog run by author David Brock, wrote more than a dozen articles on the topic before falling silent Monday. The group used many of its reports to hammer the mainstream news media for asking questions of CBS rather than Bush.

"Media obsesses over CBS documents, ignores uncontested evidence that Bush didn't meet his Guard obligations," blared a report from Media Matters last Wednesday. It attacked CNN's Judy Woodruff for spending too much time on the "trivial memos" aired by CBS.

The report also criticized Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz for his analysis of the affair. Even the New York Times came under fire for using five paragraphs of a Sept. 14 article to mention the CBS controversy on the day Bush spoke to the National Guard Association.

"The article fails to note that there is considerable uncontested evidence about Bush's failure to perform his duty," according to the Media Matters report. "The Times thus creates the false impression that the question of Bush's failure to meet his requirement hinges on the validity of the CBS documents."

Another article from Media Matters titled, "Forgery feeding frenzy: Media falling afoul of the facts," which ran Sept. 10, attempted to debunk the criticism of typographers and document experts cited by mainstream news outlets. Rather used many of the same defenses on the "CBS Evening News" later that evening.

A spokeswoman for Media Matters didn't respond to's interview request Monday. As of Monday night, the website hadn't posted anything about the retraction issued by CBS News and Rather.

FAIR's Naureckas told on Sept. 10 that mainstream news outlets had become distracted by questions of the documents' authenticity and should instead be questioning Bush about alleged gaps in his service. At the time, he called the criticism of CBS "pretty thin."

Less than a week later, FAIR released an "action alert" calling on CBS to launch an internal investigation, while also "continuing to pursue the important questions raised in that reporting about a possible cover-up of Bush's record."

At the liberal, reporter Eric Boehlert offered a critical report Sept. 10 on media outlets that had questioned the CBS documents. He has continued to press the issue. Boehlert didn't respond to an e-mail requesting an interview Monday.

In his initial report, Boehlert linked to a document that he claimed debunked arguments about the superscript "th" found in the Killian documents and identical to a feature in modern-day versions of Microsoft Word. But Boehlert's argument was later dismissed by typography experts.

"The forgery flap has created a firestorm among mainstream media, but it is merely a sideshow in the larger National Guard controversy," Boehlert wrote. "To date, the voluminous information about the issue comes from Bush's own Texas Guard file, none of which has been called into question. And in fact, the veracity of the contents of the Killian memos remains undisputed."

See Earlier Story:
Liberal Media Group Defends Authenticity of CBS News Documents
(Sept. 10, 2004)

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