On September 8, 2004, CBS News and Dan Rather claimed that President George W. Bush had received special treatment while serving with the Texas Air National Guard, but they proved unable to substantiate those claims. CBS anchorman Dan Rather produced memos, purportedly written by Bush's squadron commander in 1972 and 1973, in the course of a "60 Minutes II" report. He used them as evidence that the President's superiors in military service had been pressured into allowing him more freedom than was normal with others in his unit. However, "critics said the documents showed characteristics of having been created by a computer word processor," Marlon Manuel stated in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "not the 1970s-era typewriters in use when they were purportedly written." The controversy severely damaged CBS's credibility and helped end Rather's twenty-four-year career as a major anchor with the channel's news agency.
The memos in question supposedly came from the personal files of Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Killian. "The memos indicated that Mr. Bush, who has long faced questions about his service in the Air National Guard, failed to take a physical examination 'as ordered,'" explained Jim Rutenberg and Kate Zernike in the New York Times, "and that his commander felt under pressure to 'sugarcoat' his performance rating, because First Lieutenant Bush, the son of a prominent congressman, was 'talking to someone upstairs.'" Although CBS refused at first to name the source that made the memos public, both the officer's widow and his son both rejected the idea that Killian had kept, or even signed, copies of the documents. "In a telephone interview from her Texas home, Killian's widow, Marjorie Connell," reported Michael Dobbs and Mike Glenn in the Houston Chronicle, "described the records as 'a farce,' saying she was with her husband until the day he died in 1984 and he did not 'keep files.'"
Other prominent document experts and people associated with Killian also rejected the memos' authenticity. "Experts interviewed by the Washington Post," stated Dobbs and Glenn, "pointed to a series of telltale signs suggesting that the documents were generated by a computer or word processor rather than the typewriters in widespread use by Bush's National Guard unit." Clues that the documents were not original included the facts that they were typed using a proportional font, they used superscripts, and they have unusual apostrophes. All these are common on modern word processors, but they were not regular features of typewriters in the early 1970s. Although CBS claimed that the features were available on machines during the time the memos were produced, critics stated that it was very unlikely that Killian's unit had such machines available to them. "But CBS News," Matt Kelley wrote in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "said in a statement: 'The documents are backed up not only by independent handwriting and forensic document experts but sources familiar with their content.'"
The memos were more significant for their political influence on the approaching U.S. elections than they were for the light they might have shed on Bush's Vietnam-era service. "Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe," wrote Hugh Aynesworth in the Washington Times, "called the documents 'further evidence, really, that George W. Bush failed this country when it was his time to serve and he hid out.'" On the other hand, "White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Friday," Aynesworth continued, "that the materials surfaced as part of 'an orchestrated effort by Democrats and [the Sen. John] Kerry campaign to tear down the president.'" If that was the Democrats' intent, then it did not have the desired effect. "The DNC's decision to use Rather in its anti-Bush ad had many Democrats as well as Republicans shaking their heads," declared a reporter for the New York Post. "'They're acting as if they just scream louder, people will listen and it doesn't work,' said a disgruntled Democratic strategist."