WASHINGTON – The criticism of CBS’ reporting of President Bush’s Air National Guard service record boiled over among Capitol Hill Republicans on Wednesday with calls for a congressional investigation and for the network to retract its report.
CBS continued to stand by the accuracy of its reporting but in the face of the firestorm of the allegations that the documents it relied on are fake, the network says it will “redouble its efforts” to answer the questions swirling around its reports.
Rep. Christopher Cox, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee and a member of the GOP leadership, called for an investigation into whether CBS “aided and abetted fraud,” by relying on the documents.
And Rep. Roy Blunt, R- Mo., another member of the GOP leadership, sent a letter to CBS News President Andrew Heyward urging him to retract the story and “disclose the identities of the people who have used your network to deceive your viewers in the final weeks of a presidential election.” Blunt’s letter was signed by 38 other members.
CBS on Wednesday also aired a lengthy interview news anchor Dan Rather had with Marion Knox, the secretary of the late Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, Bush’s superior officer in the Texas Air National Guard whose personal memos are the subject of the controversy.
Knox reiterated that she believes the memos were not authentic but that the information contained in them – that Bush disobeyed a direct order to take a physical and that Killian was under pressure to “sugar coat” Bush’s performance ratings – was true.
“We would not have put the report on the air if we did not believe in every aspect of it,” Heyward said on Wednesday’s “CBS Evening News.” But the network chief added that they will try to answer what he called unresolved issues.
“Enough questions have been raised that we are going to redouble our efforts to answer those questions,” he said.
Cox, R-Calif., said in an interview Wednesday that it is Congress’ right to investigate whether government documents – in this case military records – were forged and who did it.
“There are federal and state laws that are both criminal and civil that penalize forgery and aiding and abetting the use of forged documents,” Cox said. “If these documents are in fact forgeries, someone is guilty of those crimes.”
But Cox’s request for a congressional investigation was immediately rebuffed by the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas. Barton said in a statement that while he doesn’t believe the documents CBS used are legitimate, “it seems clear that the press and the two presidential campaigns are properly dealing with that issue.”
Cox maintains that as long as CBS refuses to detail how it came in possession of the documents, it may have to fall to Congress to investigate. He plans to talk to Barton and other congressional leaders about his concerns.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan blamed the Democrats for the CBS attacks, a charge both the Democratic National Committee and the John Kerry campaign denied.
“These are old, recycled attacks, and the Democrats have made it clear that they intend to try to tear down the president and throw the kitchen sink at us because they can’t run on John Kerry’s record, and because they see him falling behind in the polls,” McClellan said.
Late Wednesday CBS issued a lengthy statement detailing that its reporting was based on many interviews in addition to the documents. And it reiterated its belief that the documents are genuine and provided statements from all four of the independent experts the network says it consulted to verify the authenticity of the paperwork.
One expert, James Pierce of Newport Beach, Calif., said in a statement that “with what I know and have examined based on the photocopied questioned documents, the documents in question are authentic.”
Other experts interviewed by the Washington Post and other media have questioned the authenticity of the documents.
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