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Behind The 60 Minutes Story - The Early Years

[Note - What follows in an attempt to string together in a narrative, bits and pieces of information reported by a wide variety of sources. Several of the major sources are listed in the extended entry of this article.]

In the spring of 2000, 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes was working on the story of George W. Bush's Air National Guard service that she had been tracking since the previous year. With Bush having sewn up the Republican nomination she knew that this was exactly the kind of blockbuster story that CBS would want in the fall.

Mapes quickly distilled the various rumors and innuendos about Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard (TANG) down to three major areas of interest:

  1. Bush got into the Guard via the influence of his family.
  2. Several liberal websites had invested a lot of time an energy in trying to document that Bush went AWOL in 1972.
  3. Despite his honorary discharge, Bush had somehow failed to fulfill his service commitment.
In the course of her research Mapes contacted former Texas Air National Guard administrative officer Robert Strong, former Texan Lt. Governor Ben Barnes, and former Army Lt. Colonel Bill Burkett, Iowa farmer Martin Heldt, and several other people who served with or knew Bush in his National Guard days.

Lt. Col. Bill Burkett was medically retired from the US Army National Guard in 1998 after 28 years of service. Burkett suffered from meningoencephalitis on return from an assignment in Panama. From 1995 until his illness, Burkett served as State Plans Officer for the Texas Army National Guard and Governor George W. Bush. Ace of Spades HQ has a definitive look at Burkett's involvement in the 60 Minutes story.

Burkett maintains that President Bush's record as a member of the Guard was purged of potentially embarrassing material at the behest of high-ranking Bush aides laying the groundwork for Bush's 2000 run for the presidency. Burkett says he even heard one high-ranking officer issue a 1997 order to sanitize the Bush file, and later saw another officer poring over the records and discovered that some had been discarded. The problem for Mapes and lead reporter Dan Rather was that all of the other key witnesses to the events Burkett describes maintain his story is false.

In the year before the 2000 election Martin Heldt was also very interested in George W. Bush's Air National Guard service. The Iowa farmer made contact with Burkett sometime after Burkett first made his charges about the Bush record scrubbing operation and decided to do some gumshoe work of his own on the Bush military records. Heldt's thesis was that Bush was AWOL, or alternatively that Bush had deserted his post when he was in Alabama. I detailed Heldt's potential involvement as an unnamed source for the 60 Minutes story earlier this week.

After examining the existing records released during prior Bush campaigns (for the governorship in Texas), Heldt noticed that while the released documents aligned with the honorable discharge Bush had received, there was a large void of information about Bush from 1972 until his discharge in 1974.

Heldt filed Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the Department of Defense to obtain the full set of records on Bush. He got an initial delivery in early August 2000 and another larger delivery the last week in August. Heldt spent massive amounts of time sifting through the documents trying to re-create the narrative of Bush's service from 1972 until his separation.

In his writings in late 2000 Heldt thought that he had enough evidence to make a case that Bush was AWOL. He contacted several Democratic organizations offering to sell his documents, but even the Democratic National Committee wasn't convinced that Heldt actually had the goods on Bush. There were indications at the time that some of Heldt's documents might have been forgeries.

Mapes (and possibly other 60 Minutes producers) looked over the documents Heldt had compiled in the fall of 2000, and while they were impressed, they noted that Heldt hadn't completed his document set and there was no smoking gun. Clearly the Heldt documents wouldn't be the centerpiece of Mapes' story.

Mapes conducted interviews with all of the sources except for Barnes. Mapes and Dan Rather had concluded that the story depended on Barnes' cooperation. With Barnes uncooperative; Burkett's document shredding story unsubstantiated; and Heldt's documents incomplete; they were left with several tantalizing leads but no corroborated story. The story never aired because as Strong recently said, " [T]hey couldn't get [Ben] Barnes to talk. There were just too many holes and they never aired it.

Mapes and Rather put the story on the back burner, but as you now know they didn't give up on it.

Be sure to catch the next installment - Behind The 60 Minutes Story - Campaign 2004



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Comments (16)

OK, I'm confused - what's c... (Below threshold)

OK, I'm confused - what's changed since your bullshit story?

Kevin,Great summar... (Below threshold)


Great summary... Trying to convince others (especially Ace) that the forger has got to be Heldt or a fan of Heldt as this is the site the refers to the "OETR Scam" which Strong and Berkette almost definitely KNEW was the wrong acronym, but still shows up in the CYA memo.

- Why not collaboration ...... (Below threshold)

- Why not collaboration .... Heldt had a history of fakes and Berkette is a prolific writer who could fill in the blank spaces....

- Liked the Leno joke - "Teresa Kerry went to a burger king the other night and ordered the pheasent..."

- I see when she was in Florida handing out emergency supplies... she said ..."Let them go naked....food and water first..."...She's absolutely right and I'm sure the kids will get used to eating while taking their baths....

Am I missing something here... (Below threshold)

Am I missing something here?

Last week, Knox said she had no firsthand knowledge of Bush's time with the Texas Air National Guard, although she did recall a culture of special treatment for the sons of prominent people, such as Bush and others.


"...she had no firsthand knowledge of Bush's..."

Then she canít vouch for the validity of the ďcontentsĒ of the fake memos.

Why didnít CBS ask her what kind of typewriter she used back in the Guard? She would certainly remember if she had the latest, most expensive IBM model.

google burkett's lawyer.</p... (Below threshold)

google burkett's lawyer.

I just wrote about this in ... (Below threshold)

I just wrote about this in BIRD...but, here's the article from the WP:

Documents faxed from Kinko's in Abilene, TX, just 21 miles from Burkette's home in Baird (and also the closest and only Kinko's available to Baird, TX)....

Never know, but maybe Heldt... (Below threshold)

Never know, but maybe Heldt faxed or emailed or even delivered to Burkett, "documents" and then Burkett took the drive to Kinko's in Abilene and faxed them to CBS...he obviously faxed the same paperwork to CBS that CBS' Dan Rather used later for on air (per witness), so, question is complicity with Heldt and Burkett (d'oh).

Never mind this crap, Kevin... (Below threshold)

Never mind this crap, Kevin. You'll want to check out my latest profile on u, which should be 100% accurate according to my CBS fact checkers

It was probably a collabora... (Below threshold)

It was probably a collaboration with Burkett and Heldt at the bottom of the rung. If the authorities in TX would take a look at Burkett's computer, it should be easy to see if he created the docs. Same with Heldt's. Col. Lechliter wrote the "authoritative" 36-page essay, in which he admits Heldt, Lukasiak, and 2 Boston Globe reporters Latour and Walter Robinson assisted him in his research. The forger probably got his mistaken abbreviation "OETR" from Lechliter's essay. So they're all connected to each other. My list of links is a bit long, but if someone is interested, I will post it here.

Unfortunately, I fear, the ... (Below threshold)

Unfortunately, I fear, the damage is being done to Bush's campaign for re-election. What I want to know is where are the Republican senators and congressmen out there countering Kennedy, Harkin, et al who are all over the place calling Bush a liar.

One (kinda sidebar-ish) que... (Below threshold)

One (kinda sidebar-ish) question . . .

GWB, in the late 60s, supposedly used his family connections and gained preferential treatment to avoid VietNam, and subsequently had a "cake-walk" duty in the TANG.

My question: What did Bush do to piss off his "connections" to the point that he couldn't even get out of a DUI in 1976 (before many of the "hard-core" DUI laws were passed)?

Something about that doesn't add up.
Off the hook for VietNam = No problem
Dodging a DUI conviction = Sorry, buddy . . . you're on your own.

My apologies for allowing a little bit of logic to creep into the fray.

In reading several blogs th... (Below threshold)
Dave Aungst:

In reading several blogs this morning, I've read that Burkett has said that he witnessed the "cleansed" documents in a large garbage can, yet in other places the terms of "shredding" are used. I would tend to think that if Burkett was quoted correctly when he said he saw the discarded documents - that he is/was full of it - anyone "cleansing" official military documents would certainly shred, and not just put them in a dumpster.

- Dave

I Googled for his lawyer an... (Below threshold)

I Googled for his lawyer and got Harriet Miers, whom I then Googled and got...

Deputy chief of staff in the White House?

This is a copy of a letter... (Below threshold)

This is a copy of a letter I sent to all my representatives and hope that you might be interested doing the same.

To: The Honorable Robert E. Andrews
The Honorable Jon S. Corizone
The Honorable Frank Lautenberg


I am writing to you regarding the GW Bush National Guard story broadcast by CBS on 60 Minutes last week.

I concur with the experts that I have seen interviewed by the media and I believe the memos presented were fraudulent. I believe that somewhere in this great nation there are people who are guilty of perpetrating a crime, a crime against the American people. They are guilty of the crime of election fraud, guilty of attempting to influence the upcoming presidential election through deceit and misrepresentation. Such an attempt is abhorrent and must not be tolerated.

As I write this, CBS is asserting that the content of the memos has been vindicated by virtue of some 30 year old opinions, carefully selected opinions at that. They are defending forgeries with selected opinions!

I am writing to you to request that you support a Justice Department inquiry into this event. I want to know who it was that made the attempt to influence my vote by providing fraudulent documents to CBS. I want to know how and why CBS broadcast this fraudulent message to millions of American voters without sufficient safeguards to ensure the veracity of the story. Such actions by the media cannot be simply rationalized away.

A crime has been committed. Right now, CBS is abetting that crime. Media source confidentiality does not apply when the source provides blatantly false information in the commission of a crime.

We cannot, we must not, allow an attempt such as this, to subvert our electoral system, to go uninvestigated and unpunished. Turning a blind eye will only encourage more outrageous acts in the future. I expect you, as my representative, to pursue this travesty to its rightful conclusion.

Your summary is very helpfu... (Below threshold)

Your summary is very helpful. I would include a link to one USENET post in 1999 that refers to some bogus documents someone received from Marty Heldt that included PO Box 34567 and other items very similar to the Killian memos. That page is at:


I think everyone has missed... (Below threshold)

I think everyone has missed the boat on the whole thing. Danny Boy was on the way out anyway, that stopwatch has been running running backwards on the countdown to retirement anyway. Everyone has noticed how much attention memogate has gotten, could it be that Dan is planning his final autobiography? How many copies of "My Life" would have sold without Monica? How many people will be waiting breathlessly to read the "In retrospect, memogate was THE defining moment..." chapter of Rather's book? The whole thing that we're all looking as a major blow to his credibility could be pretty slick marketing tool, worth a few million more at least. Any loss of credibility now will be recouped with a NYT bestseller and multi-million payday. Just a thought.






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