CBS News said today that a former Texas National Guard officer had “deliberately misled” it in its inquiry into President Bush’s National Guard service by providing it with “a false account” of the origins of documents used to reinforce questions raised about Mr. Bush’s activities three decades ago.
“Based on what we now know, CBS News cannot prove that the documents are authentic, which is the only acceptable journalistic standard to justify using them in the report,” the president of CBS News, Andrew Heyward, said in a statement issued by the network. “We should not have used them. That was a mistake, which we deeply regret.”
The network said the former Army National Guard officer, Bill Burkett, had “acknowledged that he provided the now-disputed documents” and that he “admits he deliberately misled the CBS News producer working on the report, giving her a false account of the documents’ origins to protect a promise of confidentiality to the actual source.”
In his statement, Mr. Rather said that “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.”
The seemingly unflappable confidence of Mr. Rather and top news division officials in the documents allayed fears within the network and created doubt among some in the news media at large that those specialists were correct. CBS News officials had said they had reason to be certain that the documents indeed had come from the personal file of Colonel Killian.
Sandy Genelius, a network spokeswoman, said last week, “We are confident about the chain of custody; we’re confident in how we secured the documents.”
In an e-mail message on Sunday, Mr. Burkett declined to answer any questions about the documents posed by The New York Times.
Mr. Howard also said in the interview that the White House did not dispute the veracity of the documents when it was presented to them on the morning of the report. That reaction, he said, was “the icing on the cake” of the other reporting the network was conducting on the documents. White House officials have said they saw no reason to challenge documents being presented by a credible news organization.
Several people familiar with the situation said they were girding for a particularly tough week for Mr. Rather and the news division should the network announce its new doubts.
One person close to the situation said the critical question would be, “Where was everybody’s judgment on that last day?”
Music on the Turntables Currently: The Postal Service – Brand New Colony