Last week, amid increasing questions about the authenticity of documents used in support of a 60 MINUTES WEDNESDAY story about President Bush's time in the Texas Air National Guard, CBS News vowed to re-examine the documents in question--and their source--vigorously. And we promised that we would let the American public know what this examination turned up, whatever the outcome.
Now, after extensive additional interviews, I no longer have the confidence in these documents that would allow us to continue vouching for them journalistically. I find we have been misled on the key question of how our source for the documents came into possession of these papers. That, combined with some of the questions that have been raised in public and in the press, leads me to a point where--if I knew then what I know now--I would not have gone ahead with the story as it was aired, and I certainly would not have used the documents in question.
But we did use the documents. We made a mistake in judgment, and for that I am sorry. It was an error that was made, however, in good faith and in the spirit of trying to carry on a CBS News tradition of investigative reporting without fear or favoritism.
Please know that nothing is more important to us than people's trust in our ability and our commitment to report fairly and truthfully.
The tone is pure Nixon. "Mistakes were made." Sanctimonious self-righteousness combined with self-pity and the portrayal of himself as a victim, ending with an outrageous howler that the CBS fraud was perpetrated "in good faith" based on "our commitment to report fairly and truthfully." And Rather's mother was a saint, too, no doubt.
Tactically, it looks like Rather is using Nixonian damage control strategies taken directly from the Watergate playbook, as well. This means the above statement may be classified as a "Modified Limited Hangout." This was Nixon's next step after "Stonewall" during Watergate. Rather even seems to have his own "Palace Guard" (aka Haldeman & Ehrlichmann) in CBS News executives Andrew Heyward and Josh Howard, who will say or do anything to protect him, no matter how absurd or dishonest it may seem. The next step, if Rather follows Nixon's footsteps a little longer, will be to release a partial set of documents while claiming it is full disclosure.