On the November 13 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources, Scott Johnson, a fellow at the conservative Claremont Institute and a contributor to the right-wing weblog Power Line, falsely claimed that the independent panel hired by CBS to investigate the reporting of a September 8, 2004, 60 Minutes Wednesday segment questioning President Bush's Texas Air National Guard service found that documents cited in the 60 Minutes Wednesday story were forgeries. But contrary to Johnson's assertion, the independent panel's report reached no conclusion as to whether the documents were forged.
Johnson appeared on Reliable Sources opposite Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer at the online magazine Salon and a contributor to The Huffington Post website. During the segment, Boehlert asked rhetorically, "[I]f the documents [upon which the 60 Minutes Wednesday segment was based] were forgery [sic], why didn't Republican Richard Thornburgh [co-chairman of the panel investigating the 60 Minutes Wednesday segment] make that conclusion in his report? He couldn't. And he wouldn't." Johnson responded, “It's on Page 175 [of the report].”
In fact, Page 175 of the independent panel report contains no conclusions about the authenticity of the documents. Page 175 contains the panel's assessment of testimony provided by typography expert Peter Tytell (whose testimony Johnson cited during the Reliable Sources segment). The report states that the panel “found [Tytell's] analysis sound in terms of why he believed the documents were not authentic,” but adds, "[t]he [p]anel reaches no conclusion as to whether Tytell was correct in all respects." Moreover, in its executive summary, the report states that although the panel “identified a number of issues that raise serious questions about the authenticity of the documents and their content,” it “has not been able to conclude with absolute certainty whether the ... documents are authentic or forgeries.”
In the executive summary, the report states that the September 8, 2004, 60 Minutes Wednesday story on Bush's Texas Air National Guard service “failed to meet” CBS' standards of “accuracy and fairness.” The panel found that “with better reporting ... questions [about the authenticity of the documents] should have been raised before the September 8 [s]egment aired.” The panel's report, made public on January 10, prompted the ouster of four CBS News employees, including Mary Mapes, the producer of the faulted segment, who also appeared on the November 13 edition of Reliable Sources. CBS News' Dan Rather, who reported the 60 Minutes Wednesday segment on Bush's Texas Air National Guard service, also announced his retirement as anchor of CBS' Evening News November 23, 2004, following the flap over the story. Rather claimed he made the decision to resign during the summer of 2004, and he continued to host the Evening News until March 9, 2005.
From the November 23 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
JOHNSON: Well, I just go back to the fact that the substance of the story was a hoax without those documents, which were absolutely forgeries. Look at -- look at the Thornburgh report has the testimony of Peter Tytell, who indicates that this Times New Roman type that those four documents were prepared in didn't exist on typewriters. And he concludes that those were word-processed documents.
HOWARD KURTZ (host): Right.
JOHNSON: Without the documents, there was no story.
KURTZ: In fairness, there were different experts, although many experts do agree with the expert hired by the commission. But you just used the word “hoax.” That's a very strong word, because that suggests that CBS and Mary Mapes and Dan Rather did this deliberately, as opposed to perhaps not being careful enough. Do you believe they actually tried to mislead viewers?
JOHNSON: Well, all I would say is the evidence in the report of coordination with the Kerry campaign is substantial. But I will say, now, for Mary Mapes to come on this show this morning and reiterate these fraudulent charges, is a hoax, is a deliberate fraud. Whatever was the status of the story on September 8, 2004, in November 2005, it is a knowing fraud.
KURTZ: Eric Boehlert, you've got the last 20 seconds.
BOEHLERT: Well, that's the problem with this. You know, I think the bloggers got -- hit a home run with this, and their arrogance is now out of control. They're saying the whole Bush National Guard story is a joke. And if the documents were forgery [sic], why didn't Republican Richard Thornburgh make that conclusion in his report? He couldn't. And he wouldn't.
KURTZ: All right.
JOHNSON: It's on Page 175.