The heated debate over the authenticity of documents aired by CBS News purporting to show an effort to "sugar coat" President Bush's military record grew louder yesterday, when the Los Angeles Times reported that a retired major general who was consulted by CBS to verify the records now believes they were faked.
The newspaper said that, after being told by CBS that retired Major General Bobby W. Hodges would vouch for the documents, it contacted Hodges Friday evening only to find that Hodges believes the documents are inauthentic. The Dallas Morning News also reported that a key figure cited in one of the memos as pressuring commanders to give Bush preferential treatment had retired from the military more than a year before the memo was dated.
A CBS spokeswoman told the Globe in an interview that Hodges has changed his story, and that he initially told CBS that he believed the documents to be real. "We believed Bobby Hodges when we spoke to him," said Sandy Genelius. "When we read him the documents he said they sounded authentic to him."
In a CBS Evening News report last week, the network aired four documents that appeared to be typed by the late Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B. Killian, Bush's commanding officer, saying that Bush's flight status had been suspended because he had failed to perform at Texas Air Guard standards and had not received a required physical exam. CBS said the documents came from Killian's "personal files."
But Killian's son and widow disputed the authenticity of the records, saying they did not know how the documents might have been obtained while asserting that Killian had never complained about Bush's performance or about pressure he might have received from superiors in the Guard.
Hodges, in his interview with the Los Angles Times, also said he could not recall Killian objecting to Bush's performance or the fact that he failed to take a physical. "I have no recollection of anything like that happening," Hodges told the newspaper. Killian died in 1984.
New questions about the authenticity of the CBS documents were also raised yesterday by the Dallas Morning News, which reported that the one in which Killian appears to complain that Colonel Walter "Buck" Staudt was "pushing to sugar coat" an evaluation of Bush is dated a year and a half after Staudt was honorably discharged.
The newspaper said it did not interview Staudt but had obtained his discharge order, which it said is dated March 1, 1972. The memo in which Killian appears to complain about pressure from Staudt is dated Aug. 18, 1973.
But Genelius, the CBS spokeswoman, described Staudt as "a mythical figure in the Texas Air National Guard [who] wielded influence after his retirement." She also said the memo suggests Staudt was retired because it notes that Air Guard headquarters was also displeased with the way Killian was handling Bush's situation. "Austin is not happy today either," the memo notes.
Additional questions about the authenticity of the CBS documents have been aired by an array of forensic experts who have said that typographical elements -- such as a curved apostrophe, a raised or superscript "th" in notations such as "the 111th," and proportional spacing -- were not widely available on typewriters in the early 1970s, when the documents are dated.
But others have said that the elements were available on an
And documents produced with the typewriter reviewed by the Globe have proportional spacing and the curved apostrophe.
A Globe analysis of uncontested records in Bush's military file showed that he did not show up for required drills for extended periods of time and did not fulfill his commitment to the Guard, although he was honorably discharged.
Globe staff writer Francie Latour contributed to this story.