The interview is written up and featured at correntewire
Q.What are you doing now? What effect has being?
‘producer fired by CBS’ had on you?? I would like to
know what the effect has been on you of
A. Right now, I am working on a documentary project.
For a long time, being identified primarily as a
“producer fired by CBS” was like waking up every
morning with an anvil on my head. I was saddened by
how my 15-year career at CBS had ended. I still am,
but as time has passed, as the Bush administration has
begun to stagger under the weight of multiple scandals
and as public opinion has changed, I have made some
peace with it. I believe that at the end of the day, I
will be more comfortable with my choices and actions
than many in the working press. I was fired for
raising a perfectly legitimate question in an age in
which Joe McCarthy would have felt comfortable.
I also am acutely aware that all I lost was my job.
During this president’s tenure, so many people have
lost much more -- a limb, a loved one, their lives. I
Q. (Ruth- you need to explain who C. is. Not everyone
is going to recognize his name)
While?William Campennini, the person claiming to be a
Guardsman with Bush said that he was going to?write a
book, he seems to have faded away without
ever?publishing that book. Do you have any other
knowledge about him and his info? If I were to ask
Powerline if they have ever established his
service?being actually with Bush, do you think I would
hear the truth?
A. Another fabulous book lost to history, I guess. I’m
sorry he didn’t go
forward. I would have loved to have seen it,
particularly since it would have been a quick read.
When it comes to the President’s military record,
there just isn’t that much to say.
I remember the name Campennini coming up during our
look at Bush’s service. Just from memory, I recall
that he was always considered an “F.O.B.,” a friend of
Bush’s who could be counted on to confirm the
President’s version of events in 1972. A reporter
named Corey Pein did a great piece in Columbia
Journalism Review not long after my impaling which
recounted the Bush team’s strategy of relying on a
core team of people like Campennini, Dean Roome, Maury
Udell, Bobby Hodges and Buck Staudt to back up the
President’s claims. These guys are the real
“dead-enders,” (as Dick Cheney called the fanatical
insurgents in Iraq) men who would never give up, never
change their stories no matter how much reality
I don’t know whether the other outlets that ran
interviews or quotations from Campennini ever actually
checked out his bona fides. Maybe the White House gave
them the name. The president’s team was always very
active in pointing the media to the same people again
and again to confirm the president’s story, creating
an echo chamber of agreement on Bush’s military
record. Without taking the initiative to look outside
that group, a reporter could never see the real story,
that there were tremendous contradictions between the
White House version of events and what could be found
in the records, the statements from those in the Guard
who were not aligned with the President and the
reality of how the Guard operated during Vietnam.
Q. Why did the controversy over authenticity of the
papers used in your
story on Bush’s Guard?service (or lack of) become the
main emphasis of that report? Why did the public
accept that so readily??
A. The reason that the font style, typeface and
proportional spacing questions became the dominant
issues in my story is that it was part of a
brilliantly executed, if deceitful, tactic to avoid
the subject at hand. It was also wildly successful.
All of the claims that “typewriters couldn’t do those
things in the early 1970s” were completely baseless.
That fraudulent strategy distracted the media and the
public from one of the really revealing incidents in
President Bush’s background. Focusing on these
peripheral issues allowed competing news organizations
(who had been taking dictation from the White House
for years) to attack someone who wasn’t falling into
line. The tactic also allowed a White House political
operation -- well-versed in changing the subject,
attacking the messenger and using savage personal
attacks on its political opponents -- to try out those
techniques against a news organization.
The strategy worked because our story was basically
about two-and-a-half years too early. I think if the
story ran today that the public and the media would
view it differently. We now all have greater clarity
about how the Bush White House operates. If documents
and records you want to examine don’t reflect
positively on the President, then they can’t be found.
If they are ever located and they aren’t supportive of
the White House version of events, then you can’t see
them because of executive privilege/national security
issues. And if you don’t find those answers
acceptable, YOU have a political bias. That is
standard operating procedure whether the subject is
FEMA during Katrina, the treatment of detainees, the
handling of White House emails, or the President’s
military service records.
I don’t know why the public or the mainstream media
accepted this at the time. Actually, many regular
Americans did not accept this behavior from the White
House, but they had no recourse. They found it
dishonest, but there was no Congressional oversight,
no way of forcing the administration to answer
questions, produce documents or in any way deign to
explain their actions to the country. In 2004, people
who were unhappy with this monarchical arrangement
were in the minority. In 2007, if polls are any
indication, it’s a majority.
After watching Attorney General Gonzales spend a
long day suffering under withering questions, I have
to say I believe we have reached a tipping point. As
an American, I am happy to see a strong two-party
system back in play, greater accountability in
government, and a public that is finally demanding
some answers. I feel like I live in the United States
Q. What do you think of the way that
present?administration behavior, such as the Gonzales
claims of nonparticipation in firing U.S. attorneys,
is?handled by the press?
A. I marveled at Gonzales’ spirited defense of his
actions as being too incompetent to be “improper.” He
just didn’t know or doesn’t recall what anyone in his
office was doing. This would be more amusing if his
work for the President was limited to bureaucratic
hirings and firings. Sadly, this guy was also in
charge of NSA wiretappings, the INS and determining
what constituted torture.
In his time in Texas, he was Bush’s counsel on death
penalty reviews, preparing thumbnail sketches of each
case so the Governor could determine whether to show
leniency or mercy. Not surprisingly, Gonzales’
consistently stellar work overlooked situations in
which the defendant was mentally ill or retarded, had
committed the crimes as a juvenile or had an attorney
who showed up in court drunk and fell asleep during
trial. He wasn’t bothered by cases in which
eyewitnesses had recanted their testimony. The
Attorney General has proudly recounted that he and
Governor Bush devoted a full 15 minutes to the
consideration of each case.
Gee, thanks for the effort, guys. It’s not like this
is a matter of life or death or anything.
Their partnership on Texas death penalty cases
certainly was productive. Then-Governor Bush rejected
only one execution while in office. He approved 152.
Having racked up that kind of death count, this
president and his
personal-attorney-turned-professional-counsel have, I
believe, more profound issues to worry about than
their political approval ratings or press coverage.
I think the mainstream media, particularly
broadcasting, which at this point is a
corporate-driven machine, is seeing that there is a
growing practical advantage in truly serving the
public, asking harder questions and characterizing
situations in a way that is less overtly supportive of
the Administration. That is finally beginning to
happen, and I am glad to see it. No administration,
Republican or Democrat, should be taken at its word.
Skepticism of government should be part of every
reporter’s tool kit. It is the American way and I am
Q.What would you like to be doing about it if you were
still at Sixty Minutes?
A. I would be looking at the U.S. Attorney scandal and
others, checking out where the next big revelation is
coming from, because there IS more to come. I think
this metastasizing of the problems in the Bush
administration is growing rapidly and raising all
kinds of issues. I would be looking for
whistleblowers. Gosh, I would still love to hear from
whistleblowers, even though I am not at 60 Minutes.
Q. Do you have any doubt as to the authenticity of the
documents that the
public has been led to believe were foisted on you?
And any further info
from the?man who passed them on to you? Or his
A. I know that if the documents we presented were
forgeries, they were a hell of a lot better forgeries
than the Niger documents the President relied on for
his State of Union speech in which he declared that
Iraq had been seeking nuclear weapons material in
This is what else I know: I know that we stated in
our initial report that because these documents we had
obtained were copies, they could not be verified with
ink-testing and the other techniques that provide
tangible physical evidence of their age. But before we
aired them, we did extensive meshing of these
documents with the President’s official records and
found no contradictions. Further, we found that our
new documents filled in some of the gaps in the
chronology of his official documents.
We also looked painstakingly for errors of fact,
date, department, personnel, personnel identification
information, address, 1972 Air Force handbook citings,
timing allowed for mail delivery, classification of
information, and practices in the Air Force/National
Guard at the time. We did not find a single problem.
Before our story aired, the content of the new
documents was corroborated by the commanding officer
of Lt. Col. Killian, who purportedly wrote the memos.
Killian’s secretary also confirmed the accuracy of the
documents’ content. We also had the Killian documents
examined and approved by two tremendously experienced
document and handwriting analysts who were ready to
testify in court as to their belief that these memos
That is pretty damn good. It is good enough to be
entered into court as evidence. It is good enough to
be presented to the public. It was, as the saying
goes, “good enough for government work”, particularly
when compared to the lax standards this government has
had for the past six years. It was good enough for me
and it still is.
If they had been proved false, so be it. But they
haven’t been, not even by the CBS panel that spent
millions of dollars and many months investigating the
In the ensuing two-and-a-half years, the right wing
blogosphere critics who attacked our story have made
claim after hateful claim about other supposedly false
stories, such as cameramen working in conjunction with
terrorists and exaggerations about the safety and
security of Baghdad. Without exception, their
politically motivated attacks have been proved dead
wrong. Is it possible that they were right about our
story and wrong about everything else? I believe they
were wrong about our story, too. I think they have
batted a thousand. They have always been wrong and as
long as their criticism is so exclusively partisan, it
will always be wrong.
Q.If the furor that was raised over an aspect of
the?documentary on Bush’s
service had not dominated the scene, do you think it
might have raised the kind of doubts that would have
defeated him in the ever so?narrow electoral college
victory he managed?
A. Gosh, I am not an election analyst. I just am not.
And I have not memorized his numbers, precinct by
precinct. I will leave that question to all the other
smart people out there who love to ponder that stuff.
I am a reporter. I deal in what I can see, what I
can hold in my hands, what I think people ought to
Q.Please give a background on how you became
concerned?about Bush’s TX national guard performance?
Do you?think your concerns have been borne out?
A.I became interested in the President’s service
record when he began making noises about running for
the White House in 1999. Before that, while I was
aware of the issue, I didn’t think it mattered. The
Governor of Texas cannot send men and women to war.
Say amen, everybody.
When George W. Bush did take this country into a war
of choice, this issue became even more important. I do
think those concerns have been tragically borne out.
We appear to be in a war with no exit strategy.
The President sometimes seems to be reading LBJ’s old
speeches: “We cannot let these brave men and women die
in vain; we have to send in more troops.” This is fast
becoming this generation’s Vietnam. And I can’t help
but think that part of the reason we are revisiting
this nightmarish folly may be that President Bush
didn’t learn the lessons of Vietnam the first time.
Now we all get to relearn it with him. It has cost so
many thousands and thousands of lives – American and
otherwise. That is a terrible price to pay in order
for one man to finally begin to grasp the blood,
sacrifice and heartbreak of war.
Q.Do you feel that a military background and/or
good?service record should be prerequisite for a
military?leader or for the presidency? Do you think
the military situation this country is in would have?>
happened if service had
been part of Bush's background? ?
A. I don’t think that a military background is a
necessity for the presidency. I think honesty is. And
I think an honest understanding of the sacrifice our
military makes in time of war, a sense of the terrible
price the families of both soldiers and civilians pay
in war is tremendously valuable for anyone making
those life and death decisions about diplomacy versus
invasion, sanctions versus bombing, war versus peace.
Q. You won an award for the revelations of Abu
Ghraib.?What would be the result of that not having
come out? Please tell how you learned about the
A.The irony of the tragedies at Abu Ghraib is that the
Iraqis knew about it, and had known about it for a
long time. It was the Americans who didn’t know. So we
didn’t know that some of our soldiers were being
attacked and killed because of the dark rage that grew
out of the treatment of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib. We
didn’t know that we were growing terrorists in our own
holding cells or because of our treatment of
prisoners. We didn’t know that the choices our
government had made in carrying out the war were
deepening and complicating the war.
We got a tip on the Abu Ghraib situation from someone
who did this country a great service, giving us a
chance to right terrible wrongs. I wish we as a nation
would have taken the message to heart and changed our
policies toward detainees across the board.