"I'm really sad to say that Dan Rather is acting like Richard Nixon," former CBS correspondent Bernard Goldberg said last week. "It's the cover-up, it's the stonewalling."
Perhaps. But it is more likely that Rather is acting like one of his own heroes, Bill Clinton.
On CBS's "60 Minutes II" September 8, Rather broadcast a hit piece on President Bush using a set of documents that Rather claimed came from the "personal file" of the late Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, Bush's commanding officer in the Texas Air National Guard in the early 1970s. The documents purported to show that Bush tried to use political influence to dodge his duties and had failed to obey Killian's direct order to report for a medical examination.
Rather vouched for the legitimacy of the documents by saying: "We consulted a handwriting analyst and document expert who believes the material is authentic."
But it turns out this was-at best-Clintonesque.
So far, it has been revealed that CBS consulted at least three document experts about the papers. None can be interpreted as having said they believed "the material is authentic." One expressly warned CBS not to use the papers.
Court-certified document examiner Emily Will told ABC News on September 14: "I found five significant differences in the questioned handwriting. And I found problems with the printing itself, as to whether it could have been produced by a typewriter."
"I told them that all the questions I was asking at that time, which was Tuesday night, they were going to be asked by hundreds of other document examiners on Thursday if they ran with the story," said Will.
Court-certified document examiner Linda James was also consulted by CBS. "I did not authenticate anything," James told ABC. "And I don't want it to be misunderstood that I did. And that's why I have come forth to talk about it because I don't want anyone to think that I did authenticate these documents."
Marcel Matley was a third document expert hired by CBS. But the Washington Post reported September 14 that Matley "examined only the late officer's signature" and did not try to authenticate the documents themselves. "There's no way that I, as a document expert, can authenticate them," Matley told the Post, explaining that what he saw were "copies" that were "far removed" from the originals.
So what is left of Rather's claim that "We consulted a handwriting analyst and document expert who believes the material is authentic"? Nothing. It doesn't even depend on what the meaning of "authentic" is.
Will Rather's colleagues in the liberal press now insist that he resign for broadcasting a fraudulent story and then stonewalling about it? Not if they act like they and Rather did when their man Clinton was impeached. In 2001, explaining to Fox News's Bill O'Reilly why he thought Clinton was an "honest man," Rather said: "But I think you can be an honest person and lie about any number of things."
No, Bernard Goldberg's wrong. Rather isn't acting like Nixon. He's acting like Clinton. Nixon retained enough respect for the office he held to resign when he had disgraced it.