How I almost saved the world
Okay, so I’m no Wil Wheaton tooting around the galaxy and saving the earth (in re-runs) every week, but I did almost save Dan Rather’s career once. Seriously.
By now, every blog reader knows that Captain’s Quarters is reporting that the Downing Street Memos may be fake, or at the very least have a suspect chain of evidence. The Captain wonders whether Lucy Ramirez was the source of the memos. As a refresher, someone named Lucy Ramirez was supposedly the source of the infamous National Guard documents that were given to Bill Burkett, who then forwarded them on to Gunga Dan and friends. CBS acknowledged that Burkett, a former lieutenant colonel in the Texas Army Guard, was its source for the memos that were, ahem, “fake but accurate.”
Now, here’s the part where I come in. On February 13th, 2004, I was peeved that the Dallas Morning News refused to print or acknowledge the photo of John Kerry with Jane Fonda. I was corresponding with reporter Michelle Mittelstadt at the time (a nice person and usually a good reporter) and she told me that, sometimes, “sifting fact from fiction takes time.” Even though I respect Michelle as a reporter, I still thought that was pretty funny coming from somebody working for the Dallas Morning News. I fired back a note chiding her for her part (very little part, to her credit) in writing this above-the-fold, front-page story based around Bill Burkett claiming that Bush ordered certain of his National Guard records destroyed. Here’s the e-mail that I sent her:
Thanks - I won’t bug you any more after this e-mail but I would argue that “sifting fact from fiction” is exactly what was NOT done with the recent article that used Bill Burkett as a source. Burkett has changed his story from this one during the 2000 campaign. In 2000, Burkett denied that the Bush team had “doctored” Bush’s military records; now he’s claiming that in 97 he heard orders over a speakerphone from Joe Allbaugh to destroy damaging records. Check out the link that I provided.
Why did Burkett change his story so radically since 2000 and how can he now remember with such clarity an event that he apparently couldn’t remember 4 years ago? I’m no journalist but I believe that this source has a severe credibility problem.
Further, Burkett has long been a vocal Bush opponent and has other credibility issues, such as this court case where he sued his superior officers for denying him military medical care. His case was dismissed by the trial court and was thrown out again when he appealed. He was featured in a story for Pacifica Radio, which is somewhere to the ideological left of Joe Stalin, that they titled Former Texas Army National Guard Lt. Col. Bill Burkett on Bush the Chicken hawk. He’s not a disinterested party when it comes to Bush.
My point is this: there seems to be an awful lot of care to make sure that the Kerry story has substance while there was evidently quite a bit less care taken in the story (front-page, if I remember correctly) that used Burkett as the main source. All I want is for the press to apply the same standard to both conservative and liberal candidates.
Just to let you know, I do vote for fiscally and socially conservative candidates but I have no connection to anyone’s campaign or to any special interest group - feel free to research me if you wish to confirm that I’m a nobody. I write software and occasionally write articles for trade journals for a living but keeping up with politics is just a hobby for me.
Michelle forwarded the e-mail on to the primary author of the story, Wayne Slater, who pretty much ignored my pleas over the ensuing months to back off from his allegation. In fact, I bugged a lot of Dallas Morning News folks, editors and reporters alike. They were a lot more willing to believe Slater’s version of Bill Burkett’s ever-changing story than a little bit of old-fashioned research. I hounded them on this and other bad reporting, but to little avail. I changed a few minds here and there on a few stories, but no one was willing to admit that they had it dead wrong on this one.
Wayne Slater and I made peace with one another late on the night of September 15, 2004 when Dan Rather’s story was falling faster than Bill Clinton’s trousers at a sorority party. Yes, everyone deserves a second chance. Still, Slater should never have been staffed to write the story. Slater was co-author of the tinfoil-hat conspiracy book, Bush’s Brain, that engaged in the wildest theories about Bush being a simpleton controlled by the brilliant yet evil Karl Rove. Slater’s not a bad writer and I’m sure he’s not a bad person either, but he should have been relegated to the opinion section, not trusted to cover Bush’s “scandals.”
So, kiddos, if the Dallas Morning News had listened to me, Dan Rather would still have a job today. And now you know the rest of the story!
UPDATE: According to the Washington Post, Mary Mapes’ husband, Mark Wrolstad, is a reporter for the Dallas Morning News! Just a coincidence, I’m sure.
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