As media attention has fixated on the authenticity of controversial memos questioning President George W. Bush's service in the National Guard (first aired by CBS News), three firsthand witnesses who doubt the authenticity of the memos have also confirmed that the content of the memos is accurate. As the media has seized on the forgery angle, this aspect of the story has received little attention, even though it adds to voluminous evidence indicating that Bush did not properly fulfill his Guard duty.
Regardless of authenticity, three witnesses confirm content of memos ...
• The Dallas Morning News reported on September 15 that Marian Carr Knox, former secretary for Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Killian, purported author of the memos, said that although she did not recall typing the memos reported by CBS News, they accurately reflect the viewpoints of Killian and documents that would have been in the personal file. Knox told The Morning News: "The information in here was correct, but it was picked up from the real ones. ... I probably typed the information and somebody picked up the information some way or another."
• Colonel Bobby W. Hodges, Killian's superior officer, has also confirmed that the content of the memos reflects Killian's true sentiments. CBS cited Hodges in its initial defense (video links: MPEG-4, Windows Media) of the documents on September 10, but as The New York Times reported, Hodges changed his opinion because "network producers had never showed him the documents but had only read them to him over the phone." Once Hodges saw the actual documents, he judged them to be forgeries. "I thought they were handwritten notes," Hodges told the Times. But the same article made clear that Hodges confirmed the accuracy of the contents of the memos:
He [Hodges] said he had not authenticated the documents for CBS News but had confirmed that they reflected issues he and Colonel Killian had discussed -- namely Mr. Bush's failure to appear for a physical, which military records released previously by the White House show, led to a suspension from flying.
• Richard Via, another former Texas National Guard officer, told USA Today that "the documents were fakes but that their content reflected questions about Bush that were discussed at the time in the hangar at Ellington Air Force Base, where he had a desk next to Killian's."
... but primetime shows focused only on forgery question
Primetime broadcasts focused on the issue of the memos' authenticity rather than on the far more relevant issue of whether Bush shirked his Guard duties and, if so, whether he benefited from his family's connections in escaping punishment for shirking his duty. There is ample evidence, wholly apart from the disputed documents, that both claims are true; statements by Knox, Hodges, and Via provide further evidence. While each of the three major network evening news programs -- CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and ABC World News Tonight -- addressed the memo controversy on September 14, only ABC reported on Killian's former secretary. And of the eleven primetime cable news shows that discussed the CBS memos on the evening of September 14, only four mentioned Knox. Although Via's account didn't emerge until late on the evening of September 14, not a single news program made the connection to Hodges.
• Several September 14 primetime reports reported Knox's comments in the context of her questioning the memos' authenticity but mentioned her endorsement of their substance only tangentially:
Brit Hume (FOX News Channel managing editor and chief Washington correspondent): Jim [Angle], we have one late piece of information on this story. Marian Carr Knox, who worked with Jerry Killian at the Air National Guard down in Ellington Air Force Base in Houston, said she typed up everything from 1956 to 1979 when she was working there. And that she looked at these memos and says that they are most certainly fake memos. She didn't type them, doesn't recognize them. However, she says that they do reflect sentiments that she heard expressed by Killian and others at the time. [FOX News Channel, Special Report with Brit Hume, 9/14/04]
Jim Angle (FOX News Channel senior White House correspondent): Though CBS continues to stand by those documents ... a growing number of experts have concluded that those documents could not have been written in the 1970s. ... The 86-year-old former secretary to Colonel Killian says she typed all of his documents at the time, that the CBS documents are fake, but that they do reflect some of his viewpoints back then. [FOX News Channel, FOX Report with Shepard Smith, 9/14/04]
Brian Ross (ABC News chief investigative correspondent): CBS said they believe the authenticity of the documents reflect the thoughts and behavior of Lieutenant Colonel Killian at the time. That's exactly what Colonel Killian's former secretary told ABC News today saying she believes the documents are fake but Peter they do reflect some of what her boss thought of Lieutenant Bush at the time. [ABC World News Tonight, 9/14/04]
• Other primetime reports discussed the memo controversy while ignoring entirely the issue of whether they accurately reflect Killian's views and Bush's actions in the National Guard:
Networks: CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News
FOX News Channel: The O'Reilly Factor
MSNBC: The Abrams Report, Deborah Norville Tonight, Scarborough Country
CNN: Anderson Cooper 360, Paula Zahn Now, NewsNight with Aaron Brown (No CNN primetime coverage of the memo controversy addressed Knox's remarks.)
• Still others simply misrepresented Knox's remarks, noting that she believed the documents are fake, but failing to add her statement that their content was accurate:
Sean Hannity (FOX News Channel co-host): Colonel Killian's own secretary tells The Dallas Morning News she doubts their authenticity as well. [FOX News Channel, Hannity & Colmes, 9/14/04] (It wasn't until after a commercial break that Hannity & Colmes co-host Alan Colmes corrected Hannity's truncated version of Knox's remarks, pointing out that "she [Knox] said the substance of the memos were true. She believes that the memos are fake but what they said probably represents the truth.")
Also, in the September 15 edition of its daily "Wake-up Call" political e-mail, National Journal provided a link to the Dallas Morning News story, but National Journal echoed Hannity's limited presentation of Knox's remarks, neglecting to mention her affirmation of the substance of the memos: "Ex-Killian secretary Marian Carr Knox, on the CBS memos: "These are not real. ... They're not what I typed, and I would have typed them for him."
One exception to the primetime coverage was Keith Olbermann's comprehensive report on the September 14 edition of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann:
OLBERMANN: The woman who was the secretary to Lieutenant Colonel Killian in the 1970s says that she believes that the documents are, in fact, fraudulent but that the sentiments are, in fact, accurate. ... Those are not real, said this woman, Marian Carr Knox. "They're not what I typed and I would have typed them for him." But she says the information in here was correct, but it was picked up from the real ones, Knox says as she looked at the memos. She said she remembered vividly when Bush was there and all the yak-yak that was going on about it. So a breaking development that sends a question of authenticity through the roof in terms of the documents but also questions whether or not they're stating the truth even if the documents themselves are false.