As Michael Dobbs zeroes in on Bill Burkett as the source of the forged CBS/60 Minutes documents, keep in mind Dan Rather’s characterization of the source of the documents as “unimpeachable”: “Parallels drawn between CBS memos, Texan’s postings.” Several readers have drawn our attention to the concluding paragraphs of the story:
In an Aug. 21 posting, Burkett referred to a conversation with former senator Max Cleland (D-Ga.) about the need to counteract Republican tactics: “I asked if they wanted to counterattack or ride this to ground and outlast it, not spending any money. He said counterattack. So I gave them the information to do it with. But none of them have called me back.”
Cleland confirmed that he had a two- or three-minute conversation by cell phone with a Texan named Burkett in mid-August while he was on a car ride. He remembers Burkett saying that he had “valuable” information about Bush, and asking what he should with it. “I told him to contact the [Kerry] campaign,” Cleland said. “You get this information tens of times a day, and you don’t know if it is legit or not.”
See also this morning’s New York Times story: “Texan involved in CBS report tried to help Kerry campaign.”
Is it conceivable that Rather would characterize Bill Burkett as an “unimpeachable source”? Or would Rather be more likely to characterize a well-connected intermediary in that manner? The problem here is that we are unsure what rules apply in the parallel universe Dan Rather inhabits.
When I first saw Rather stand behind the authenticity of the documents based on their derivation from an unimpeabable source, I wondered if Rather was familiar with the downhome wisdom of populist demagogue Willie Stark, the antihero of Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men. In the novel Stark assigns narrator Jack Burden the task of uncovering dirt on the universally admired Judge Monty Irwin. When Jack objects that in the judge’s case there might not be anything to uncover, Stark replies:
Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the diddie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something.